William Kelly Major Works Commentary
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.2 Corinthians Chapter 5
This leads the apostle to open out the power of life we have in Christ, and its results. "For we know that if our earthly tabernacle-house be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, everlasting in the heavens. For also in this we groan, longing to clothe ourselves with our dwelling which is from heaven, if indeed* also when clothed† we shall not be found naked." (Vers. 1-8.)
* γε CKLP and almost all cursives, and fathers; περ B D E F G, 17, 80, etc.
† ἐκδ. is the strange error of Dp.m. F G etc., contrary to all the set.
What calm and confident knowledge the apostle here predicates of Christians as such! And what a contrast with the dark uncertainty of unbelief, or with its impious audacity! The eternal things are none the less sure in hope because they are not seen. For we know that, if death destroy the earthly tent we live in, we have a building of God. The body in its present state he compares to a tabernacle to be taken down, in its future to a building from God as the source, and to a house not made with hands, and hence everlasting in the heavens, its suited and purposed sphere for ever. As we already heard, God who raised up the Lord Jesus shall also raise up by Him those also who sleep, and then present us all together faultless before the throne of His glory: here details are entered into with clearness and discrimination. It is one of the few passages which treat of the intermediate state, as well as of the resurrection or change of the body for glory, and therefore of the deepest interest to the faithful personally and relatively. And in a few brief and plain words adequate light is given, without the smallest indulgence of irreverent curiosity, for all that concerns the family of God after death as well as the change at Christ's coming. One cannot conceive a communication more worthy of God, or more characteristic of His word generally, while it bears the deep impress of His blessed servant who was inspired to give it.
Of course theology is here little more than a Babel of discordant tongues; and even the more pious and learned seem unable to answer with precision what is meant by the building we have of God. Some will have it that this house not made with hands is heaven itself, but how then could it be said to be "in the heavens?" How could we be in this case said to be clothed with our house or "dwelling which is from heaven?" The house and heaven itself are carefully distinguished. Others again, with less error but with an imperfect view of the passage as a whole, think only of the resurrection body. But it does not follow that the passage throws no light on the state of the soul between death and the resurrection, or that it treats solely of what is to happen after Christ's second coming.
The lowest and most mischievous of these interpretations is that of Olshausen and others who admire petty philosophising,* and contend that the house entered at death is an ethereal corporeity adapted to the heavenly condition of the soul, either intermediate between death and the resurrection, or (as bolder spirits say) to the exclusion of the body which is not to be resuscitated and changed. The intermediate and glorified vehicle of the soul is directly at issue with the plain and decisive language of this very passage. The house is described not only as in the heavens, but as "everlasting." Scripture shuts out therefore all notion of a temporary body, for the soul in heaven before the resurrection of the body we now have. And a man must be a sceptical Sadducee who denies that He who raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken our mortal bodies by (or, by reason of) His Spirit that dwelleth in us. (Romans 8:11) There is intermediate blessedness for the believer apart from his body with Christ on high; but the resurrection from the dead awaits His coming.
* It is false and anti-scriptural that "without body there is no soul," that "the continuance of the soul as a pure spirit without a body is to the apostle an impossibility: the doctrine of the soul's immortality is like the term, strange to the Bible. And no wonder, a self-consciousness in a created being necessarily supposes the limit of a bodily organisation." This denies angel and spirit really, as well as what scripture teaches of the separated soul.
In opposition to the true bearing it is argued:
1. That heaven is often in scripture compared to a house in which there are many mansions (John 14:2); or to a city in which there are many houses (Hebrews 11:10; Heb 11:14; Hebrews 13:14; Revelation 21:10); or more generally to everlasting habitations. (Luke 16:9.) But we have already seen that, whatever be the figures used of the portion of the glorified saints in other scriptures, the house in this passage cannot mean heaven, because it is said here to be from heaven and in the heavens.
2. Whatever the reasoning to show that, as the soul now dwells in the body, heaven will be its house after death, it is inconsistent with the thoughts and language of the context.
3. Again, the effort to press that the discipline given here of the house agrees with that of heaven elsewhere is vain, if it were only because the state on which the soul enters after death is so far from "everlasting," that the change we await is at Christ's coming. The body is not in heaven now, nor is it said to be brought down to us from heaven; but Christ is there and is coming thence when we shall have in power and actuality what we have now in faith.
4. And this is the true force of ἔχομεν, not in the least as conveying that the house is one on which we enter immediately after death, but its certainty to faith. That it is synchronous with death is mere assumption, and would involve the idea, not of heaven, but of a new vehicle for the soul which we have already seen to be wholly inconsistent with this passage and all truth. Hence it is not said that when our tent-house, or the body is dissolved, but if it should be. This leaves it equally open when, as now, the building from God is entered, and only declares the certainty that such a house of permanence we have. The present in Greek, as in other languages and our own, is frequently used (when required) to express, not merely actual time, but a truth apart from time in its abstract character or certainty. This must be, from what we have observed, its force here. To give it the meaning of actual fact now going on introduces nothing but confusion and error. What the apostle expresses is certainty of possession. He speaks of incomparably better habitations, supposing the dissolution of the present; but the time and way of entering on it had to be learnt from other scriptures. He does speak of being absent from the body and present with the Lord a little farther on, but neither of being in a new body while absent from the body, nor of heaven being like a body meanwhile, which seems, if possible, more absurd, as both thoughts are alike baseless. Matthew 22:32 speaks only of the resurrection. Luke 20 38 adds that the souls of the deceased live to God, though away from men, before they rise. Nor is there any doubt, if we believe Luke 16; 22; 2 Corinthians 5; and Philippians 1, that it is far better with the departed saints, and that they are in paradise, the brightest part of heaven, with Christ. (Cf. Hebrews 12:23.)
If death come, the resurrection body, already fully described in 1 Corinthians 15, is sure, in all its contrast with tent or any other building of time or of this creation, crumbling to rain as it is. And the blessedness of what we thus have in hope is such that only the more do "we groan in this, longing to have put on our house which is from heaven, if indeed also when clothed we shall not be found naked." (Vers. 2, 3.) That is, the brightness of the life he now had in Christ was so hindered by the body as it is that he could but groan in his ardent desires after the glorified condition with which Christ will invest him. It is the groaning not of a disappointed sinner nor of an undelivered saint, but of those who, assured of life and victory in Christ, feel the wretched contrast of the present with the glory in prospect. Only he adds the cautious proviso, that is, supposing we are really Christ's. The anxiety expressed more plainly at the close of 1 Corinthians 9 is not quite gone from the beginning of 2 Corinthians 5.
Hence one must reject every attempt to tamper with the conditional rendering of verse 3. The ordinary text εἴ γε (or εἴγε) has excellent support, not only in the vast majority of the manuscripts, but in the antiquity and goodness of some, as the Sinaitic, Rescript of Paris, and others; and this is adhered to by most critics. But Lachmann and Tregelles prefer εἴπερ with the Vatican, Cambridge, and a few other authorities. But the alleged distinction (of Hermann's notes on Viger) is unfounded in the New Testament, as elsewhere also. It has been even remarked by one of remarkable penetration that the converse is true, and that the true difference is: εἴπερ puts the case that a thing is; εἴγε the possibility that it is not. Εἴγε, says J. B. Lightfoot, leaves a loophole for doubt; εἴπερ is, if anything, more directly affirmative than εἴ γε. Assuredly this seems rather confirmed by their distinctive origin, for as per is intensive, ye is restrictive. But the usage appears to indicate that the context must be taken into consideration in order to decide the true bearing. So Meyer and Ellicott confess that it is the sentence, and not the particle, which determines the rectitude of the assumption. It is utterly false that, either in or out of the New Testament, εἴγε as a matter of course means "since" any more than εἴπερ always expresses doubt.
The various reading ἐκδυσάμενοι, "unclothed," in the Clermont, Augian, and Boernerian manuscripts, etc., accepted by many fathers and even by a few critics, is a mere effort to get rid of difficulty. The sense may be plainer, but it is worthless. The true reading ἐνδυσάμενοι is most pertinent and forcible, unless indeed we translate εἴγε "since," which reduces the clause to a platitude: "since when clothed we shall not be found naked," or "seeing that we shall verily be found clothed, not naked," which is a poor tautology unworthy of scripture, and as far from Pauline as possible. Translate it, "if at least, even when clothed, we shall be found not naked," and the propriety is as great as its strength. For the solemn fact is, that there is a resurrection of unjust no less than just. All therefore are to be clothed. An hour is coming when all that are in the tombs shall hear the voice of the Son, and shall go forth, those that have practised good to a resurrection of life, and those that have done evil to a resurrection of judgment. The resurrection of the body for all will be the clothing of all, though not of all at the same time nor with like result, but with the most marked contrasts and unchanging issues. For when the wicked are raised, they may and shall be clothed indeed, but shall be found naked. They have not the wedding robe, they have no righteousness before God; they rejected, despised, or did without Christ; they have nothing but sins, and cannot escape everlasting judgment. Whilst in the body here, they might pass muster; when clothed with the resurrection body (for all must rise), those who here lived and died without Christ will be found naked. The apostle therefore solemnly warns, in this passage of the richest comfort for the true, that some might prove false. The everlasting and heavenly glory will be for us at the resurrection, if at least when clothed we shall be found not naked: a seeming paradox, but not more startling than true. Blessed they, and they only, who now have and have put on Christ.
The words "clothed" or "unclothed" refer to the being in or out of the body; "naked" to being destitute of Christ. This distinction was overlooked by Calvin, as it has been by others since. They conceive that the idea was to restrict the clothing to the righteous; and hence that the wicked are, stripped of their bodies, to appear naked before God; whereas believers, clothed with Christ's righteousness, are to be invested with a glorious nature of immortality. Had it been observed that "not naked" alone refers to the putting on Christ now with its everlasting consequences, the confusion would have been avoided. The apostle speaks of the common portion we have in Christ (in presence of death, as by-and-by of the judgment-seat), of the triumph assured in His life who died but is risen and alive again for evermore; but this in no way hinders a passing and grave caution to such as might boast of gifts without grace or conscience.
Other speculations, such as of Grotius, are hardly worth a notice; and that of Meyer followed by Alford ("if, as is certain, we in fact shall be found clothed, not naked") demands no more words, having been disposed of already. Nor need we discuss at greater length Hodge's attempt from the same rendering to sustain his notion that the apostle here refers not to the risen body but to a mansion in heaven. The simple but profound truth of God delivers from every mist of error.
Having given so solemn a word of warning for conscience, the apostle returns to the groaning and the longing spoken of in verse 2 in order to clear the truth more fully.
"For also we that are in the* tabernacle groan, being burdened, because† we desire not to be unclothed but clothed upon, that what is mortal should be swallowed up of life. Now he that wrought‡ us for this very thing [is] God, that gave§ us the earnest of the Spirit." (Vers. 4, 5.)
* D E F G, etc., with many versions and fathers read τούτῳ "this," contrary to B C K L P and the great majority.
† ἐπειδή St. (not Elz.) with a few juniors.
‡ D E F G etc., κατεργαζόμενος "worketh."
§ καί is added by some uncials and most cursives, contrary to the best authorities.
The true knowledge of the living possession of Christ, far from neutralising one's sense of the groaning creation, deeply increases it. Peace and joy in believing there is most really and to the full; but it is in Him who suffered here and is glorified above the sorrow and death that He tasted and the sins which He bore in His own body on the tree. Our body is the tabernacle in which we are, a part itself of the creation made subject to vanity; and we who are in it groan under the oppressive sense of its utter ruin, not because we are not delivered in Christ, but the rather because we are and feel deeply therefore what is under the bondage of corruption. We know that deliverance is at hand, not merely for our body but for all that is now travailing in pain, and that Christ will have the glory, as all creation will have the joy in that day.
Difficulties have been made about the phrase, which opens the next clause; but it seems rather needlessly, for ἐφ᾽ ῳ, the true reading, is not uncommon in our apostle, whose use of it quite falls in with its regular application in all correct Greek to express the condition, or occasion, under which a thing or person is characterised, and may be rendered "for," "seeing," "in that," or "because" qualifying what precedes. Compare Romans 5:12, Php 3:12, Php 4:10, with the clause before us, in all of which may be found a like sense substantially, though modified by a different context. "Wherefore," or "in which," seems as feeble as misleading. The fact is that it is but a special case of its general sense as the ground, condition, or occasion of anything - the term on which a thing is based.
Here the apostle qualifies our burdened groaning in the tabernacle, as no selfish desire to escape trial, however aggravated. Yet no man experienced this so deeply, variously, or unremittingly as himself; none therefore was so exposed to wish that such a path should be closed by departure to be with the Lord. But this he deprecates for the saints as well as himself, not for that we wish to be unclothed but clothed upon, that what is mortal should be swallowed up by life. He is contrasting the power of life in Christ at His coming with going to Him in the separate state. No doubt this is better, far better, for us than abiding here in sorrow and suffering. But the apostle thought of Christ's glory in this scripture, as of the need of souls in Philippians 1. Hence in the latter he recognised the value of his staying for their help, and that so it would be. Here he expresses the exceeding blessedness of bringing the body under the power of that life which he already knew for his inner man in Christ. Nothing less than this therefore could satisfy him.
To be "unclothed" is to be rid of the body by death when the believer goes to be with Christ. But this is expressly what he did not wish, however blessed in itself, for the very reason that the blessing was only for himself in His presence. What he desired was fresh glory to Christ when He comes; for then and only then is the believer "clothed upon." He resumes the body then, no longer like the first Adam, but like the Last, once having borne the image of the earthy, thenceforward bearing that of the Heavenly. We will have put on our house which is from heaven, according to our longing desire. For it is not even necessary to be "unclothed," that is, to put off the body by dying. All turns on the coming of Christ who is our life in all its fulness. If He tarry and call us meanwhile to be with Him, we shall of course be "unclothed;" but if He come while we wait for Him here, we shall be "clothed" upon without the putting off of our tabernacle. For from the heavens we await Him as Saviour, who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory according to the power which He has even to subdue all things to Himself. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last tramp; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. Hence it is said here "that what is mortal shall be swallowed up by life," not merely raised up out of death, but the mortal in us yielding to the superior and all-transforming power of the life in Christ, the body no longer as it was in Adam, but as in the Second man coming again from heaven.
The New Testament apostle goes considerably and characteristically beyond the Old Testament prophet, though both statements be true and one writer be inspired as really as the other. Yet the truth is not quite the same; for Isaiah speaks of Jehovah swallowing up "death" in victory [or, for ever], and this will be verified ex abundanti at Christ's coming, when there will be not only the raising of the dead in Christ but the arrest of mortality in the living saints, or, as it is here figuratively designated, the swallowing up of what is mortal by life. Even such a resurrection of the faithful would be a manifest triumph of gracious power over utter ruin: how much more that mortality should never work out into death, but be absorbed by the all conquering power of life in Christ!
Nor does the apostle allow the smallest uncertainty in the hope before the believer; nay, he affirms an actual and divine pledge which cannot fail. "Now He that wrought us for this very thing [is] God that gave us the earnest of the Spirit." (Ver. 5.) How blessed to have come under the operation of His grace, even while here we groan in the tabernacle! But so it is. We have life in Christ, yea, everlasting life, and everlasting redemption. God, who cannot fail, does not begin to leave His work an unfinished thing. He that wrought us for this very thing, the swallowing up of the mortal by the life which triumphs for ever, the self-same portion as Christ, is God, as indeed He only would have thought of it or could have so wrought; nor this only, for He gave us the earnest of the Spirit that we might taste the joy of coming glory, having its pledge even in our utter weakness. It is not the "anointing" us here as elsewhere, which has a larger force, not yet the "sealing" us, but that aspect of the Spirit given to us which is in relation to Christ's coming again, and our entering on the inheritance with Him. It is "the earnest of the Spirit" given in our hearts, that we might not rest here, vainly contenting ourselves with what is present, or groaning without a divine taste of that which we shall share with Christ, as even hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost that was given to us.
It is instructive to notice how the coming of the Lord is not only urged continually in the scriptures as the constant and proximate expectation of the saints, but underlies all and accounts for much even where not a word is said about it directly or openly as here. It is the failure of the divines, and even of commentators, in perceiving this which has exposed them to such poverty (if not perversity) of interpretation in speaking of this momentous passage, which ought not to present a difficulty to a single believer, but to be the cheer of every christian heart, as evidently intended of God. Had the coming of the Lord been a practical truth living in the souls of good men like Dr. John Guyse and the mass of even orthodox and godly Protestants, could they have applied these words to that which is immediately after their death, merely allowing that, as the happiness of the soul in heaven will be followed and completed by the resurrection of the body, the apostle might also have that in his ultimate view? No, it is not true, (whatever the happiness of the separate state with Christ, of which we shall hear anon,) that he is here treating of "the transcendent undefiled felicities of an immortal life, which the soul shall enter upon as soon as ever it is separated from the body," but of the resurrection or change when Christ comes. Of this theology stops short; and hardly any other cause has produced wider or deeper effects on saints in Christendom than such habitual and systematic forgetfulness of our proper hope. On the other hand, nothing has contributed more than its recovery to awaken the faithful by self-judgment to their past low estate and their true posture of waiting for the Lord, yea, going out to meet Him, according to His own parabolic prediction.
Such then is the power of life in Christ which we possess now. We look for glory even for the body if it were dissolved, for mortality to vanish before it if Christ came, without any need of death, which was already vanquished. God has wrought us for this very thing, the same glory as Christ, and meanwhile has given us the earnest of the Spirit.
"Therefore being always confident, and knowing that, while present in the body, we are absent from the Lord (for we walk by faith, not by appearance [or, sight]), we are confident and well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore also we are zealous that, whether present or absent, we may be agreeable to him." (Vers. 6-9.)
The good courage of the Christian is unbroken by death, though he looks not for death as a man does. His confidence is founded on Christ, he knows God for him, and he has the Spirit as earnest of all he hopes for. All things are sure, and among them life or death: but Christ governs all, and we are Christ's, and Christ is God's. Neither death nor life nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. We are courageous then at all times, whatever the way of God with us meanwhile, and know that, while at home in the body, we are abroad from the Lord. This is not our rest, it is polluted. He is not here but risen and in glory, and our hearts are with Him where He is, and we look for Him to be like Him as well as with Him. But this is not all. We know that, while sojourning in the body as now, we are away from the Lord. This is neither the ground of our confidence, as Calvin most strangely misconceived,* nor is it an exception to it as Romanists and Rationalists have thought. It accompanies our good cheer and falls in with it as a part of our christian knowledge, and it accounts for our readiness of mind to quit the body when summoned, and to go home with the Lord. The connection of εἴδοτες is both grammatically and logically with εὐδοκοῦμεν, though afterwards resumed in another shape.
* Thus he writes (Comm. in loco, ed. A, Tholuck, Halis Sax., i. 459), "Copula quae mox sequitur, resolvi debet in causalem particulam, hoc modo: Bono animo sumus quia scimus nos peregrinari a corpore, etc. Nam haec cognitio nostrae tranquillitatis et fiduciae causa est."
The wisdom of God is apparent in this. For here we have one of the few scriptures which give us the light of God on the intermediate state of the Christian: and it is of great moment that the immense blessedness of the final victory should not cloud that state of bliss which intervenes.
There is on the one hand no excuse for the unbelief which makes everything of going to be with Christ after death and stops short of the only adequate answer in our resurrection and change at Christ's coming by the power of His resurrection. But on the other it is a real slight of God's grace and of Christ's redemption to darken the condition of the disembodied soul in order to heighten the splendour of the resurrection morn. It is not true that the apostle when looking to the dissolution of his earthly tabernacle was comforted only by the building of God not made with hands, eternal in the heavens; for in this very context he shows that we choose rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. And in fact inability to look at death or Satan in the face is a proof of weakness, not strength, of faith. The apostle does exactly the right thing in the Holy Ghost: for while he does present in the forefront the full triumph of life in Christ, he does not misrepresent departure to be with Him as bare and ghastly, or the state as airy, shadowy, or fantastical. It is of course unworldly, but not therefore inert; for it is to be with Christ which is far better than remaining in the flesh, though far short of the triumph we shall share when He comes. Never does the apostle treat it as sepulchral gloom and pale moonlight, which is the mere depreciation of the human spirit vexed with the perversity of such as blot the glorious hope of resurrection from their Bibles. Again, leaving out Christ. death is a parting, not a meeting; but is it a sorrowful parting if we go to be with Him in paradise? No doubt it is not our one hope; but is it then the cheerless parting, the sorrow without hope, which unbelief makes it? Such exaggeration is mischievous, most of all in those who call on the saints to wait for Christ's coming; for what is false in their statements acts powerfully to discredit what is true, and thus to hinder souls instead of helping them. The balance of truth is lost, and such as on scripture warrant look for the blessedness of those with Christ who fall asleep are stumbled by the doubt cast on it and indisposed to receive what may be doubtless truly said of the triumphant result of His coming.
As death then will own itself vanquished in every saint, yea, mortality itself in the living saints be swallowed up of life when Christ comes, so even now death itself in no way hinders the saint from enjoying the presence of the Lord. Both truths are clearly revealed here and in this order. They are due to Him and the redemption He has accomplished for us; they are of the utmost moment for the heart of every saint. It is ignorance to overlook either; it is of the enemy to misuse one to destroy or enfeeble the other.
The parenthetic verse 7 has given much trouble to scholars, though the general sense is plain enough. But εἶδος in the New Testament, as in ordinary Greek authors, seems rarely if ever used like ὄψις for sight, but for "appearance" (as in Luke 9:29), or "form" (as in Luke 3:22; John 5:32, as also derivatively in an ethical sense in 1 Thessalonians 5:22). Every intelligent reader of Plato and Aristotle knows its philosophic bearing as modified by their respective theories. But "species," or "sort," or "form," cannot be meant here. We are shut up therefore by New Testament usage to the alternative "appearance," unless we admit the sense of "sight" with our authorised translators, though its occurrence in this subjective meaning seems doubtful in any author, sacred or profane. The substantial meaning however amounts to the same. We walk by faith, not by appearance, being absent from the Lord and heaven. If we look at the unseen and eternal, it is by faith, not on the things or persona themselves, as we shall when actually there.
Hence the apostle sums up with a somewhat irregular but all the more forcible emphasis, δέ being used like our "well," or "why," or "nay." "We are confident and well pleased rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord." (Ver. 8.) Granted, that it is a state imperfect for man, and short of the glorious consummation according to the counsels of God. But grace has intervened even now; and as the God who spake light to shine out of darkness, shone in our hearts here below for the shining forth of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ, so our departure is, if we value His presence, incomparable accession of enjoyment. For we go to no abode of dimness unworthy of Him and His blood, but to the brightest realms of heaven where He is in everlasting joy and glory. The Lord Jesus receives our spirits; as it is to be with Him. No wonder we are pleased rather to go from our home in the body, and to come to our home with the Lord.
"Wherefore also we are zealous, whether present or absent, to be agreeable to him." (Ver. 9.) The common version conveys an utterly misleading idea, which if fully received would destroy the gospel; and the more so as φιλοτιμούμεθα is rendered "we labour" or "endeavour," and εὐάρεστοι "accepted," to the danger of insinuating salvation by works in the most bare-faced manner. Already accepted in the Beloved (Eph. 1) we aspire - it is our zealous aim - to serve Him well, whether present or absent. This is in His hands, and our confidence either way is unbroken; but our ambition, if we have any in the Holy Ghost, is to be agreeable to Him. As His favour is better than life, so would we devote ourselves to His pleasure who delights only in what is good, holy, true, lowly and loving.
The apostle now introduces the very solemn consideration, not exactly of judgment, but of the judgment-seat of Christ. Judgment of course is included, but the judgment-seat embraces more, as we shall see.
"For we must all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each may receive the things [done] in [literally, by] the body according to what he did, whether good or evil. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuade men; but we have been manifested to God, and I hope also to have been manifested in your consciences." (Vers. 10, 11)
Grace is not at variance with righteousness, but on the contrary reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. Nor can any truth be more indisputable or universally applicable than the manifestation of every man, saint or sinner, before the Lord. There is the utmost precision in the language as always in scripture. Never is it written that we must all be judged. Indeed this would contradict the clear declaration of our Lord in John 5 that the believer has eternal life and does not come into judgment (εἰς κρίσιν οὐκ ἔρχεται). It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; whereas we, believers, are not all to die, but all to be changed: in fact, none of us alive when Christ comes shall fall asleep but be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven without passing through death, mortality being swallowed up of life. But if no believers shall be judged, all must be manifested, saint no less than sinner, that each may receive the things [done] by the body (or, as the Authorised Version says, done in it), according to what he did, whether good or bad.
Hence it may be noticed that the form of the phrase favours the universality of the manifestation. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, where no more is meant than all of us Christians, it is ἡμεῖς δὲ πάντες, whereas here it is τοὺς γὰρ πάντας ἡμᾶς, which lays greater stress on the totality, and makes it thus absolute. Accordingly the language suits the aim of comprehending Christians within an area which has no exception.
So again it is not a question of rewarding service as in 1 Corinthians 3:8; 1Co 3:14, but of retribution in the righteous government of God according to what each did whether good or bad. This covers all, just or unjust. It is for the divine glory that every work done by man should appear as it really is before Him who is ordained by God Judge of living and dead. Only as the believer is by grace exempted from judgment both as a partaker of everlasting life and as having in Jesus a perfectly efficacious Saviour, his standing before the judgment-seat assumes the character of manifestation, and in no way of a trial with the awful possibility of destruction. There is not the smallest compromise of the salvation he now enjoys by faith; and he is accordingly glorified before he stands there. He will give account of himself to God and be manifested; but there is no condemnation depending on the issue then, as there is none now to those that are in Christ. This may not be reasonable in man's eyes, but it suits the God of all grace and is due to the glory and suffering of the Son of God, and harmonises with the testimony of the Holy Spirit, whose seal will not be broken or dishonoured in that day. And as it is for God's glory, so it is for the perfect blessing of the believer that everything should stand out in the light and he himself should know even as he is known.
Nothing will blind the eye then, no unsuspected motive warp the heart or mind before the judgment-seat of Christ. The merciful care, the overruling power, of God in all our ways will appear in their astonishing wisdom and goodness, no longer concealed by the mists of this life. We shall know perfectly what debtors we were to grace, and the resources and activity of that grace in our chequered history and experience even as saints, and the boundless patience of God to the last, as well as His rich mercy at the first. Even now what a comfort for us to have renounced the dishonesty of the natural heart, to judge ourselves unsparingly in presence of love that never fails, to be in the light of God, and have no guile in our spirit as those who know Him who by redemption can and will impute nothing to us! And this is true to faith now that we believe in Him who suffered once for us that He might bring us to God: not a cloud above, not a spot within. The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. Perfect love casts out fear. We love Him who first loved us, and shirk not but welcome the light which makes everything manifest. "We have been - we are - manifested to God." It is the mighty and abiding effect of Christ's work, which made us meet for sharing the inheritance of the saints in light. We no longer walk in darkness as once when we had on true knowledge of God; we walk in the light as He is in the light.
Yet are there times when what is always true in principle is applied powerfully in fact to the Christian whom God gives in quiet retirement, often in a sick chamber, to review his ways and examine himself alone with God, when energy or self-love or flattery do not enfeeble a holy self-judgment; and all the more deeply, as he firmly holds to the assurance of God's changeless favour. What is thus verified in a high degree by the way will be complete and perfect at that day, when we already caught up and glorified in the body shall be manifested before the judgment-seat without a trace of the shame that either hides or with pain confesses. It is great gain to have such times on earth, though the process be but imperfect, greater still the more it approaches an habitual state. How full the blessing when all is absolutely out in love and light with Christ!
But, as we have seen, the manifestation has an end here described, that each may receive the things [done] in [or, by] the body, good or bad. Even in the saints all had not been good; and all has its result, though not to jeopard the grace that saved by Christ. But as God is not unrighteous to forget the work of faith and labour of love, so failure and wrong entail loss; and the soul itself will in full intelligence and unmurmuring adoration bow and bless Him who orders the place of each in the kingdom, and who (while never abandoning His own sovereignty) will take note of the greater or less fidelity and devotedness of each in service or ways.
Thus will God be vindicated, displayed and enjoyed in all that He is and does; and thus will the saint have perfect communion with all, in not a single detail any more than as a whole missing the joy and blessedness of what He is to all His own and to each for ever.
But the manifestation of the wicked, as it will be at a considerably later time, so it will have a wholly different character and effect. The judgment-seat in this case will be the judgment of the great white throne after the reign of the thousand years, as for the righteous it will be before that, when the dead small and great are (not manifested only but) judged each according to their works. (Rev. 20) They refused the Saviour; they stood in their own righteousness or were indifferent about the lack of it, thinking nothing of God or counting Him like themselves. They had no life, as no faith, in Christ; they rise to a resurrection not of life but of judgment, for God will judge all who believe not by Him whom they despised. And if the righteous be saved with difficulty, with a difficulty which nothing but sovereign grace in Christ could surmount, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear? It is eternal judgment dealing with evil, and the issues are as sure as awful and endless.
"Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuade men; but we have been manifested to God, and I hope also to have been manifested in your consciences." (Ver. 11)
The language here again confirms and necessitates the universality of the manifestation already noticed. For as there is no reason to soften down "the terror of the Lord," so there seems no force in our persuading men if it does not mean the heart of the saint urged in love by the tremendous sense of divine judgment impending on the heedless yet guilty sinner. How deep and loud and constant the call for those who believe to arouse those who believe not, while the day of grace lingers, that they may not unwarned brave that judgment which will be their irremediable ruin to "persuade men" on the one hand of the wickedness, the folly, and the danger of sin; on the other of the reality and freeness, of the fulness and certainty, of salvation in Christ. Fearing always ourselves, no less than knowing His love, we realise for them what unbelief easily forgets till too late, and would be therefore the more in earnest to call to repentance in the light of the gospel of God's grace. And in this we are the more free, because we have been and are manifested to God. Our guilt is gone; we are justified, and are children of light, though once darkness - light in the Lord. Hence we speak what we know and press a remedy, a deliverance, we have proved. We are already manifested to God; so that the manifestation before the judgment, let it be ever so profound or minute, awakens no alarm for ourselves but anxiety for "men," for all in their natural state, who have not Christ. "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuade men; but we have been manifested to God; and I hope also to have been manifested in your consciences." A most pressing motive was that judgment-seat, with the terror of the Lord for men, to preach the gospel far and wide; and the more because consciously before God, as he humbly but not without a reproof adds, "and I hope also to have been manifested in your consciences." Of the former he was sure and speaks absolutely; of the other he could only say "I hope also," not because it ought to have been doubtful, but because their state was not all he could desire. And a state that is not good is apt to suspect evil in those who reprove it. The Corinthian saints, though in a measure restored and restoring, had not dealt with the apostle as became them. Love ought always to be able to count on love; but he had to say of them that, the more abundantly he loved them, the less he was loved.
The apostle felt, as we have seen, that he could appeal to their consciences, now that self-judgment was begun in the Corinthians. We have been and are manifested to God; and I hope also to have been manifested in your consciences. This might have seemed, to ill-disposed men, savouring of self-complacency. It is really what every saint walking in the truth with integrity of heart is entitled to say, whatever an enemy might insinuate: a blessed state and statement doubtless; but what does not grace give to and effect in the Christian? And when strife and party-feeling are rebuked and hushed, conscience cannot but approve what is of God, even in those most defamed like the apostle. In this confidence of love he had written, and quickly guards the sheep from any misleading shaft; and this for their sakes rather than his own. A calumny indeed injures not the assailed, but those who are influenced by it.
"For we are not again commending ourselves to you, but giving you occasion to boast on our behalf, that ye may have [it] with those boasting in face and not in heart. For whether we are beside ourselves, [it is] to God; or are sober, [it is] for you. For the love of Christ constraineth us, having judged this, that if* one died for all, then the all were dead [or, died]; and he died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for them died and rose." (Vers. 12-15.)
* The mass of authority and of the highest character omits εἰ "if," which Text. Rec. has with corr. C, etc. Vulg., Cop. and Arm. and many fathers. it seems a mere slip to omit it, because of the εἶς following.
Nothing can be conceived more admirably than the apostle's delicacy, as far from indifference to the saints as from lording it over them, and equally far from the arts of those who, while ingratiating themselves with the Corinthian assembly, in order to exalt their own reputation and lower the apostle, were blinded by the enemy to attribute to him their own unscrupulous ways. He loved the saints with an unsullied conscience and an unselfish heart, and he counted on their confidence, now that grace had begun to work restoratively. As he did not seek to commend himself by what he said of his ministry, so neither did he again by appealing to their consciences as to his ways. He was but affording them occasion for boast, as he says, "on our behalf, that ye may have [it] with those that boast in face [or person], and not in heart." (Ver. 12.) For, on the one hand, holiness and truth go together, care for God's glory and love of His children; and, on the other, those who however fair in his presence aimed at undermining the apostle, were serving not the Master but their own belly.
But was he not inconsistent and capricious, at one time so ecstatic that none could follow his transports, at another so sedate as to chill his brethren and abridge their liberty? Not so; "For whether we are* beside ourselves, [it is] to God; or are sober, [it is] for you." (Ver. 13.) Cold is the heart that knows no rapture before God as one thinks of His grace in Christ. Such certainly was not St. Paul's case, as we may see in many a doxology which interrupts a chain of closest reasoning, and yet more when the love of Christ or the counsels of God are before his eyes. But the same Paul can come down to the most ordinary questions of daily walk, can regulate the relations of husband and wife, or of master and slave, can prescribe for a weakly man, and cheek a woman's taste for dress. There is one name, and but one, which draws out and accounts for both feelings, raising the heart above all that is seen and temporal, yet giving the most lively interest in the smallest detail of the life that now is. And He who, bears that name is both God and man in one person.
* The Five Clergymen, like others, argue for "have been beside ourselves," but while there is a propriety in the aorist as transient, our English idiom seems to require a present here, as in many other cases. The sobriety was continuous.
"For the love of Christ constraineth us, having judged this, that, if one died for all, then the all were dead [or, died]; and he died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for them died and rose." (Vers. 14, 15.)
If transported when turning to God, the need of saints and desire for the Lord's glory in them awoke sober thoughts; nor this only, for the love of Christ urged his soul toward men, sinners no less than saints, in loving service and faithful testimony of the truth. If there was the solemnity of manifestation before the judgment-seat of Christ, there was the constraining energy of His love. There was no vain conceit of man's improveableness, no crying up of intellectual culture, nor even the most distant hope of good from further moral training. He had judged this that, if one died for all, then the all died or were dead. Christ's death for all is the proof that it was all over with mankind. If He went down in grace to the grave, it was just because men were already there, and none otherwise could be delivered. In this way of death is Christ here known, not a living Messiah to reign over the quick, but One who died for all, for all were under death; and it is a question of man universally, not of Israel only, and of the power and triumph of life in Christ over death.
Hence, if nothing short of this is the judgment of the Christian as of the apostle, if there is no slighting of the fatal effects of sin, if death is seen and owned to be written on all, the death of Christ, though so unsparing in its import becomes the ground of deliverance; for we have judged also that He died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves. There is then life in Him risen, and this not in Him only, but for those who believe. He is our life. And such is the meaning of "those who live;" not merely those alive on earth (though this be implied, of course) but living of His life, in contrast with "all dead."
It is contended, as I am aware, that ἀπέθανον can only mean "died," and not "are" or "were dead." But this is an oversight from pressing too technically the aoristic force, so as to clash with English idiom. We may see how harsh it would be to absolutely reduce us to the English preterite by a glance at the same or a kindred word in the case of Jairus' daughter. Even the most servile of translators gives us Matthew 9:18 as "My daughter is just dead" (ἄρτι ἐτελεύτησεν), though he represents verse 24, "For the maid did not die but is sleeping" (οὐ γὰρ απέθανεν); and Mark 5 as "My daughter is dead" (ver. 35), but "The child did not die" (ver. 39); and Luke 8, She did not die." Is it not evident that the nature of the case modifies the aorist? Although strictly ἀπέθανεν expresses only the fact that one died, still, death being for the present final, it may be used for, as it implies, the condition of death: if one died, one is dead. But where express precision is intended, the perfect appears as in Luke 8:49, "My daughter is dead," τέθνηκεν. Yet in verses 52, 53, it is in both cases ἀπέθανεν. To say here "She did not die," and "she did die," is mere pedantry, not good English; and in this connection the Authorised Version more fittingly gives "she is not dead," and "she was dead." It is not that the aorist is ever used with impropriety, or confounded with the perfect; but that the fact in Greek is enough, where English gives the state.
The same thing is no less appropriate here, where death spiritually, not physically, is in question. Grammar does not touch the question, whether the death is of all men as such, or of the saints; ἀπέθανον might be used either of death by sin or of death to sin. There was intention, it seems, in retaining the same word for all as for Christ, though a different expression for men might have been used, as in Ephesians 2. But this would have interfered with the aim, which is as much as possible to link His death in grace with theirs in sin.* "If one died for all, then the all died," or "were dead." And that this is the universal condition of mankind, is made the more apparent by the further judgment that He died for all, that those who live, etc. It is not ζῶντες as including all for whom He died, but οἱ ζῶντες as some out of all, "those that live" in contradistinction to all dead. It is the solemn judgment of faith that all are dead, whatever appearances may say; it is its no less sure but happy judgment that Christ died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to Him who for them died and rose. What men call a judgment of charity is Satan's cheat, and as far from the truth as from real love. It is the delusion of trusting appearance and feeling and reason against God's word. True love according to God owns that all are dead, but in the faith of Christ's death seeks that others too might believe and live, and that those who live should live to Christ.
* Chrysostom takes the Greek thus without hesitation, and he surely must have known his own tongue. Οὐκοῦν ὡς πάντων ἀπολομένων, φησίν. Οὐ γὰρ ἄν, εἰ μὴ πάντες ἀπέθανον, ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀπέθανεν. Hom. xi. in 2 Corinth. tom. iii. 127: ed. Field. Oxon. 1845.
The reader will observe that Christ's resurrection is associated only with "those who live." This again confirms the special class of the living, as only included in, and not identical with, all for whom He died. Those who would narrow the all for whom He died to the elect, lose the first truth; those who see the special blessedness but responsibility of the saints, those that live, lose the second. He died for all; He was raised again for the justifying of those who believe, and who consequently had life in Him; that they might live no longer to themselves, as of old in their sinful folly, but to their dead and risen Saviour. It was not only "the terror of the Lord" that acted on the apostle's soul, but the constraining love of Christ. His outgoings of heart, and labours of love were not bounded by the church, however dear to him; as we saw, he would not only feed the flock, but "persuade men." He knew what the judgment-seat must be to sinful man, but he knew also the efficacy of Christ's death, and the power of His resurrection. If Christ died for all, he earnestly sought all, and preached to all, urgent in season and out of season. The judgment which faith gave him seems therefore, like the context before and after, to take in all men, no less than the saints; whereas another line is brought in, out of harmony with what we have, if we speak of death to sin only, limiting the range of the first clause to the elect, instead of seeing its universality.
Thus the apostle sees death come in for all, and judgment awaiting men as such; and, because this was the fact for all, Christ dead for all. Promises avail not, nor the kingdom: so complete is man's ruin. Else a living Messiah would have sufficed. But no! only a Saviour that died could meet the case; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live to themselves, but to Him who for them died and rose. This closes the door, not for Him only who died, but for those that by and in Him live, on the world and man. Not "all" alas! but only "those who live," really live to Him who died and rose for them. All outside Him and them is death; and they, now living, are called to live to Him: how could those who rejecting Him have not life?
This is practical Christianity. They are bound, as they owe all, to the Saviour, but to Him not in this world, but gone out of it as dead and risen for them. It is Christ who determines and characterises all for the Christian. It is not Christ as He was when coming into the world on this side of the grave; nor Christ as He will govern the world by-and-by in power and glory, but Christ who for them died and rose. Thus is He known to the Christian, and thus is the Christian to live. Nor is it, as sense and tradition reckon, that in the midst of life we are in death, or exposed to it, but that now in the midst of death we by grace live, but would live and own our obligation to live to Him who dead and risen is in a new sphere, to which we too belong, though still on earth, as the apostle proceeds to set forth, man as well as self being done with to faith, and ourselves belonging to Him. Thus He who is the source of life is also the object of life to the Christian; and this in His full character of death and resurrection, so as to act the more on the affections. For if He died for us in grace, He rose for us in power, that we might devote ourselves thus set free to His service and glory.
The sin of Adam ruined creation here below. It fell in its head. Not less but more, as is due to the surpassing glory of His person, has the death and resurrection of Christ changed all gloriously for faith. The apostle draws the consequence for the present characteristic knowledge of the Christian.
"So that we henceforth know no one as to flesh:* if we have even known Christ as to flesh, yet now are no longer knowing [him]; so that, if one [is] in Christ, [there is] a new creation; the old things passed; behold, they [or, all things]† are become new." (Vers. 16, 17.)
* Text. Rec. adds δέ "but" with the majority, but not p.m. B D, etc. F G, etc., and in καὶ εἰ, "and if;" as some also add κατὰ σ. as to flesh" at the end of the verse.
† Text. Rec. with most adds τὰ πάντα before or after κ., but not "B C Dp.m. F G nor most of the very ancient versions.
Man as he is in his present life, with all its objects, pursuits, and interests, is morally judged in the cross of Christ, where alone God is glorified as to sin. Where are earthly rank, grandeur and power? Where are intellectual activity and learned attainment? Where is mental acuteness or far-reaching all-embracing thought? Where the wisdom of the wise, or the understanding of the prudent? Where even are moral exercise, and reverence in religion? All are closed in death, all proved worthless in presence of perfect holiness and most lowly love. It is no question now of thunders and lightnings, and of Jehovah descending in fire, and every heart quaking for fear. The same God descended in grace, yet all that was of man cast Him out in the person of Jesus; and so death is stamped on all. Man judged himself in judging Him, and proved his own worthlessness, either with the pride of vain knowledge, in not knowing Him who made the world, or in receiving Him not, whom the living oracles attested and every testimony that should have gone home if man had not been deaf, yea, dead. Christ's death under man's guilty hand proved the moral death of all; and as all played their part in it, so all were sentenced before God by it.
But He is risen; and thus by divine power and grace a door is opened, not of hope merely, but of life and salvation in the midst of a waste of death. Doubtless the mass of men go on as heedless as ever, the Gentiles abusing their power, the Jews striving to drown their judicial misery; but we, if none else, by faith beholding the dead and risen Christ, are in the secret of God now so clearly revealed in His word; we, perhaps primarily the apostle and his fellow-labourers, but we Christians also in contrast with all under death. Beyond question Paul entered into the full truth of all this, as no one else did; but surely it is no apostolic prerogative to know none according to flesh, to value nothing before God which flows not from Him who is risen from the dead.
The apostle goes even farther. "But if even we have known Christ as to flesh, yet now no longer know we him." This is so strong that it is impossible to go beyond it. For Christ was the just cause of every expectation of blessing here below. In Him all promises centred, not only a rod out of Jesse's stem, but a root of Jesse, to which the Gentiles should seek. All hopes for men living on the earth were buried in the grave of Christ: not because of any defect of power or grace in Him, but because man is dead Godward, and how could He reign at God's expense? How take pleasure in governing a nature at enmity with God? No; He died, not only as the full witness of man's state, but to lay a righteous ground of deliverance to God's glory.
No doubt the Jews looked for Him to reign after an earthly sort, exalting the chosen nation of whom He is the chief. But we know Him only as a dead and risen Christ; and if even, as the apostle adds, we have known Him according to flesh, that is, on this side the grave, yet now we know Him so no more. Our association is with Him in that new and heavenly glory, where the death through which He passed has met our evil, and now He is risen and gone on high, and our life is bid with Him in God. The apostle does not say that He ever did not know the Lord thus; but that, if it were even so, we now only know Him as the risen and heavenly Christ. The lustre of an earthly Messiah was quite swallowed up in the surpassing glory of His now place and condition. And this it is which imprints its heavenly character on Christianity. "As is the Heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly." Had we been Israelites, of the tribe of Judah, of the family of David, we know Christ now in a brightness beyond the sun at noon-day, which utterly dims the light of promise to which we had formerly turned fondly with all our souls.
Nor is this all; for there is power in Him as well as an object that we know. It is not a question of apprehending Christ no more as Messiah, nor even of only knowing Him above. The life that is in Him has won the victory for us already and entitled us to regard and speak of ourselves according to His new estate. So that, if one is in Christ, [there is] a new creation the old things passed; behold, they [or, all things together] are become new." We do not wait for the kingdom, still less the eternal state, before we know and can say so if any are in Christ, as every Christian is. A new creation can be predicated of such an one, Christ in risen and heavenly glory being the Head. What is true of Him can be said of His, as being in Him. The old things have passed; behold, all things together (τὰ π.) are become now. Faith sees the end from the beginning and looks for all the consequences according to Christ risen. It is no question, as so many make it, of examining ourselves within and seeing how completely we are changed in principles and path as well as spirit and end, since we believed in Christ, though there is a vital change and self-judgment be incumbent on us. It is what faith knows and can say, because of being "in Christ" and knowing Him only as risen, not connected with man on the earth, for this is closed in His death for ever. It is true of "any one in Christ." Whatever he may have been, Gentile or Jew matters not; if in Christ, there is a new creation, and from the starting-point the end is as sure as the beginning is the great all-including fact in Christ's person.
The marginal reading, "let them be" a new creature, was probably due to Calvin, whose notion at any rate agrees with it; but it destroys all the force and beauty of the passage by making it no more than exhortation. On the other hand, it is no question of mere experience, which would reduce the language miserably. It is faith judging and speaking according to Christ, in whom the believer is. Thus new creation has all its scope. But it is of all moment to be ever measuring and forming experience by faith, and not to lower faith by experience.
Nor is it a question of new creation alone, great as is the power requisite for it, and precious as its exercise is in presence of death and ruin. Man can avail nothing. It is a question therefore of God; and love and righteousness would reconcile the lost and guilty foes to God, without which His glory must be compromised. Hence it is written, after "all things [or, they] are become now," "And they all [are] of God that reconciled us to himself by Christ* and gave to us the ministry of the reconciliation: how that it was God in Christ reconciling [the] world to himself, not reckoning to them their offences, and putting in us the word of the reconciliation. For Christ then we are ambassadors, God as it were beseeching by us, we entreat for Christ, Be reconciled to God: him† that knew not sin he made sin for us, that we might become‡ God's righteousness in him." (Vers. 18-21.)
* Text. Rec. adds "Jesus," with a few uncials and the bulk of the cursives, etc., against the best MSS. and all the ancient versions.
† γάρ, "for" is added in Text. Rec., with many uncials, most cursives, and several ancient versions; but the weight of authority is against it, as also yet more in favour of γενώμεθα, instead of the present form (γιν.).
‡ Dean Alford has no reason to identify "us" in verse 18 with the" world" in verse 19. There is marked difference in the two verses, and no room for the confusion of the saints with the world. Nor was he the worst instance of such confusion.
One object of reconciliation, as we read in Col. 1 embraces all things in heaven and on earth. But this is future, and awaits the appearing of Christ. Meanwhile believers are already reconciled, being not only born of God but redeemed. In virtue of the work of Christ God can act freely, not reinstating merely but making good their relationship, as it suits His own nature as well as theirs, according to His love and for His glory. Traditional orthodoxy errs in insisting on the death of Christ to reconcile His Father to us. Scripture never speaks thus. But if it declares that God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son in order that the believer should not perish but have everlasting life, it is no less peremptory that the Son of man must be lifted up in order to the same blessed result. (John 3:14-16.) Still more dangerous is the error which leaves out that God is light in the anxiety to press that He is love. Grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. We must not let the needed expiation of our sins by the blood of Christ be weakened by the blessed fact that we are also reconciled to God. The enmity was on our side, not on His; but what was our evil nature, what our sins, in His eyes? Does not God abhor iniquity and rebelliousness, hypocritical form or even indifference to His will? And, if He abhor, has He no majesty to vindicate, nor authority to judge? After sin and before judgment came Christ, who gave Himself up not only to manifest God in this world but to suffer on the cross. Hence, instead of nothing but righteous judgment awaiting guilty man at the end, the Lord Jesus has so met and even glorified God as to sin in His death, that divine righteousness now justifies the believer; and the reconciliation is so complete that in virtue of His redemption we stand in a wholly new relationship which derives its character from Christ risen from the dead. In due time all things in heaven and on earth shall be made new accordingly. Even now if one is in Christ, it is a new creation. The rest will follow in its season, whether for our body, or for heaven and earth; but for us reconciliation is a fact now. God reconciled us to Himself by Christ, as surely as He gave the ministry of reconciliation.
For the saving grace of God has a service suited to itself. It does not, like the law, govern a people already in relationship with God; it calls, as Christ did, not the righteous but sinners to repentance. The word of truth it proclaims for all to hear is the gospel of salvation; and those who hear not only live but are saved by grace through faith, quickened with Christ, raised up together, and made to sit down together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, that God might display in the coming ages the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Reconciliation therefore is a term of rich meaning, and goes far beyond repentance or faith, quickening or justification. It is, if we may borrow the figure which lies at the root of the word, God's settlement of account in favour of him who, if he have nothing to pay, submits to His righteousness. Divine love in Christ has undertaken all and has set down the enemy and lost one, not only in deliverance, but in full favour, boasting in hope of God's glory, yea even now in God Himself through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not a question of our dispositions and feelings only but of relationship with God, out of which we were as sinners, into which His grace has now brought us who believe, not according to Adam unfallen, but according to Christ dead, risen, and glorified, in virtue of His redemption outside us, though of course not without our being born anew.
But let us follow the apostle's explanation of the ministry of reconciliation: "How that it was God in Christ reconciling [the] * world to himself, not reckoning to them their offences, and having put in us the word of the reconciliation." (Ver. 19.) By a change of form in the participles, there appears to be intimated, first, the continuous aspect of Christ's presence here below, and, secondly, the gospel charge deposited in His servants when He was no longer here. God put in us, says the apostle, the word of the reconciliation. But what was He doing when the Reconciler Himself was here? It was not the law, which forbade all approach and registered every transgression; it was God (or, God was) in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not reckoning to them their offences. This is not Christ's death, but His living presence; nor is it consequently that He reconciled the believers by His death, but the bearing of God in Him toward not Jews only but a guilty rebellious world; and it was reconciling - Jew or Gentile, it matters not, if it was God there and thus in Christ - reconciling the world, and consequently not reckoning to them their offences. Was it not thus He bore Himself to the woman in Luke 7? to the Samaritans in John 4? But why enumerate? It was His special aspect in Christ here below, dealing in grace, not law, and hence indiscriminately, not reckoning to them their offences. On the one hand, He came to seek and to save the lost; on the other "him that cometh to me I will in nowise cast out." For the bread of God is He that came down from heaven and gives life to the world. As He was far beyond the rnanna, angels' food (Psalm 78:25), so He is for the world, not for Israel only. For this is the will of His Father' that every one that sees the Son and believes on Him should have life eternal, and He will raise him up at the last day. Christ's presence, or God's in Him, was the full proof that fallen man is irremediable. Before the flood he was left to himself; and such was the corruption and violence that God had to sweep all away, save Noah's family in the ark. After the flood in due time the great trial of law was carried on in the chosen and separate nation; but they transgressed in every way, people and priests, judges and kings, till there was "no remedy," even after prophet on prophet was sent in patience truly divine. Last of all He sent to them His Son, saying, They will reverence My Son. But when the husbandmen saw Him, they said among themselves, This is the heir: come, let us kill Him, and let us seize on His inheritance. And they caught Him, and cast Him out of the vineyard and slew Him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard comes, what will He do to those husbandmen?
*There is no real ground for Bishop Middleton's remark (Doctrine of the Greek Article, pp. 350, 351, Rose's ed. 1845) that κόσμος here and in Galatians 6:14 is one of those words which partake of the nature of proper names, and so dispense with the article exceptionally in these two instances. The true reason has nothing to do with its emphatic position, and simply is that the word is used characteristically in both, and hence, though we cannot so express it in English, more forcibly than if "the" world in either case were presented as an objective fact. Hence the critical reading which drops not only ὁ but τῳ in Galatians 6:14 is right. Further, it is not the fact that Plutarch (περὶ Στωικ. ἐναντ.) omits the article With κόσμος, for it is inserted in both Reiske's ed. 1778, x. 348. and Wyttenbach's, Oxon. 1800, v. 193.The Bishop's citation was from an old edition and a bad text. Winer and T. S. Green follow in the same wake, classing k. with many other words like ἥλιος, γῆ, which may drop the article, as nearly equivalent to proper names. This is as to all defect of analysis. They probably misled Alford and Ellicott, but not Dr. Lightfoot, who evidently sees nothing irregular, and simply remarks that the sentence thus (i.e., by the anarthrous form) gains in terseness. So in our passage the entire clause is intentionally and essentially characteristic, θεὸς ἦν ἐν Χριστῳ κόσμον καταλλάσσων ἑαυτῳ, and τόν would have brought in fact, which is exactly what is not intended, any more than ἦν καταλλάσσων = reconciliavit as Wetstein says. It is the aspect or bearing of His presence in Christ, not an accomplished fact (which is expressed by the aorist part. in verse 18).
Such is the divine account of human responsibility as tested in Israel even till judgment. But the display of grace in Christ here below is no less true and of infinite moment; and man's rejection of God in grace was as evident and complete as his total failure under law. For though Christ was here and the fulness of grace and truth in Him, receiving publicans and sinners, not reckoning to them their offences, they crucified Him as they had forsaken Jehovah for an idol.
But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; and over human iniquity at its worst God triumphs in Christ, yea in His cross. Hence, when the Son of man was cast out of the world, when it is no longer God in Christ reconciling the world and rising above every offence, He put the word of the reconciliation in chosen vessels; and as we have had the character of God's action in Christ in the days of His flesh, so here follows their character as sent out to testify of Him. "For Christ then we are ambassadors, God as it were beseeching by us, we entreat for Christ, Be reconciled to God: him that knew not sin he made sin for us, that we might become God's righteousness in him." (Vers. 20, 21.) The dignity is indeed great. They represent, not Levites, nor priests, nor yet the high priest, but Christ dead and risen, and this in the aspect of divine grace, God as it were (it was not meet to speak absolutely) beseeching by us: we entreat on behalf, or instead, of Christ, Be reconciled to God. Such is the gospel call to the world in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. The grace of God and of Christ is stamped on every word; and human assumption as wholly excluded from its nature, as human worth or means from that new creation where all things are of God, flowing through Christ risen from the dead.
Calvin expounded verse 20 as the apostle addressing himself to believers. He declares that he brings to them this embassy every day. Christ therefore did not suffer that He might expiate our sins once only, nor was the gospel ordained merely with a view to the pardon of those sins which we committed previously to baptism, but that, as we daily sin, so we might also by a daily remission be received by God into His favour. For this is a perpetual embassy, which must be assiduously sounded forth in the church till the end of the world; and the gospel cannot be preached unless remission of sins is promised.* This is as great at an error, if not so pernicious, as the broad-church rationalism which teaches that the world is reconciled to God. The contrary of this last appears from this very verse. The apostle exemplifies the gospel call he was commissioned to declare in the words, Be reconciled to God. This exhortation does imply that they were not yet reconciled; and no boldness of assertion, no tortuous reasoning, can elude the plain expression of scripture. Not less plainly does the apostle contradict the first error in verse 18, which states that God reconciled us to Himself by Christ - a fact accomplished for the believer, as other scriptures treating of the subject confirm. It is false that the apostle is here addressing himself to believers; he is giving a specimen of the true call to the unconverted. Neither here nor anywhere else does he testify that he brings to the saints such an embassy as this every day.
* "Observandum hic Paulo negotium esse cum fidelibus. testatur se quotidie id illos perferre hoc mandatum. non ergo passus est Christus ut semel tantum peccata nostra expiaret; neque in hoc institutum Evangelium ut quae ante Baptismum." etc. 1. Calv. Nov. Opera Omnia, vii. 244, Amstel. 1671.
Another apostle, not less truly inspired of God, expressly declares that Christ did once suffer for sins; as the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 10:11-14) pointedly sets aside the Judaism of a daily provision to meet daily sins by the revelation that Christ, having offered one sacrifice for sins, sat down in perpetuity (εἰς τὸ διηνεκές) at God's right hand . . . . for by one offering He has perfected in perpetuity the sanctified. It is not denied that we need our feet washed day by day, to use the expressive figure of our Lord; but this is the washing of water by the word in answer to His advocacy, not a fresh application of blood or another reconciliation into God's favour: strange doctrine from the head of Calvinism. The truth is that none of the Reformers knew the blessed comfort of Christ's having come by water as well as blood; and the effort to make the blood do the work of the water also has impaired in the minds of Protestants generally the full efficacy of the blood that cleanses from every sin. Of Romanists we need not speak, as they refused to profit by the candle of the Reformation.
It will be noticed that the critical text drops the argumentative particle with which the Authorised Version opens the last verse. The sentence is not so much a reason for the call that precedes as an explanation which the apostle adds in continuance, yet more enforcing the call. Him that knew no sin - not merely is it a fact, but no other supposition is admissible - He [God] made sin for us, that we might become God's righteousness in Him: a most full and blessed statement of the way in which grace secured its victory when guilty man seemed to have lost the last possible hope through Christ, by rejecting Him even on His errand of reconciling love. In that rejection to the death of the cross God wrought another thing, even atonement; He made Christ sin, laying for us His solemn unsparing judgment of sin on His holy head, that we might become God's righteousness in Him. Thus was our reconciliation effected by propitiation and substitution, the two goats of atonement-day, which find their meaning in the work of Christ on the cross, as we may see both parts distinguished in Hebrews 9:26-28. He became a curse for us, that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:13-14.)
The aoristic, not present, subj. is the true form, for "we might become," as all critics allow following every manuscript of value. Why Scholz and others read γινώμεθα, it is hard to say, for every authority he cites is against him. Indeed it would be hard to show what manuscript reads the present, not even Matthaei or Scrivener citing a single cursive for it. Yet Dr. Hodge also says the apostle uses the present tense, because this justification is continuous: doctrine and criticism equally erroneous. For Christian justification is regularly spoken of as past, e.g. in Romans 5 as a fact, in Romans 6 as a state. But this last is the perfect. Where the present is used, it is abstract.
The Christian will notice the peculiar manner in which God's righteousness is here predicated of "us." Elsewhere it is what is revealed in the gospel, and declared both to vindicate His dealings with saints of old and still more fully at this time. (Rom. 1, 3) It is what the zealous but unbroken Jew did not submit to (Romans 10), losing that blessing in refusing Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us righteousness and all else we need. (1 Cor. 1) It is of God by faith, in contrast with one's own. (Phil. 3) But here and here only are we said to become such, a fact as truly accomplished in the believer as the incomparable work of Him in whom He believes. Christ in virtue of His work was set at God's right hand in heaven: no other seat was adequate to express God's sense of His death in which sin was judged and God for ever glorified. Therefore did He raise Christ from the dead and set Him in the heavenlies; or, as the Lord said, the Spirit should convict the world of righteousness by His going to His Father and their seeing Him no more. Had there been righteousness here, the world would have received Christ to reign; but the world proved itself under Satan's dominion by casting Him out, as God showed His righteousness by receiving Him in the highest place above; and there, associated with Him, we become God's righteousness in Him. His righteousness wrought not only in thus exalting Christ but in justifying us according to Him. Nothing can exceed the energy of the inspired expression as to both sin and righteousness to the Saviour's praise and our blessedness.
For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:
If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.
For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.
Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.
For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart.
For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause.
For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:
And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.
Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.