After all, who is our hope, our joy, our crown of boasting, if it is not you yourselves in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?
Acts 17:13, 14); or it may have been bodily sickness - "a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan." Whatever this immediate and visible hindrance was, the point of interest to us is that St. Paul attributed it to Satan. Let us consider the hindrance thrown in the way of good work by Satan.
I. SATAN HINDERS THE WORK OF THE GOSPEL.
1. The hindrance is to be seen in all times. Doors are shut; enemies are raised up; misunderstandings throw mission work into confusion.
2. The source of the hindrance may be discovered by its character. "By their fruits they shall know them." The excuse may be the preservation of order, the restraint of excesses, or conservative respect for old ways. That the real source of opposition is Satanic may be known when
(1) bad men are the agents,
(2) a good moral reformation is frustrated.
3. This hindrance converts mission work into a warfare. The Church becomes an army. The forces of light and darkness are drawn up in battle array. New territory cannot simply be claimed by planting the standard of the cross upon it. It must be fought for and won in conquest.
II. SATAN'S HINDRANCE IS INDEPENDENT OF THE CHARACTER OF THE CHRISTIAN LABORERS. Of course, if these men receive Satan into their hearts, so much the more effectually will their mission be frustrated. They become traitors who destroy their own cause by opening the gates of the citadel to the foe. Sin indulged by the servant of Christ is treason. This is a certain and fearful hindrance to success. But the Christian laborer may be faithful and may stilt be hindered by Satan. In the old tradition Satan dared to oppose the archangel Michael Shall we be surprised that he opposes a man? Satan resisted and tempted Christ. He hindered St. Paul. Therefore do not let us think that all difficulties will vanish if only we are true and faithful. Satan may hinder us, though we are innocent, through the wickedness of other men.
III. SATAN'S HINDRANCE IS OVERRULED BY GOD'S PROVIDENCE. Here St. Paul writes of Satan hindering him. In the Acts St. Luke tells us how, when the apostle and his friends "assayed to go into Bithynia... the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not" (Acts 16:7). Is it not possible that sometimes the two influences may have concurred in effecting the same results though originating in the very opposite sources and prompted by contradictory motives? Thus the messenger of Satan that was sent to buffet St. Paul was the means of applying a wholesome discipline and of saving him from undue self-exaltation. Thus, too, though Satan troubled Job, with the object of showing him to be a hypocrite; the great trial proved to be for the glory of God as well as for the honor of his servant. Satan tempted Christ, and so made him the better High Priest for us. Satan compassed the death of Christ, and thereby led to the redemption of the world. Satan's hindrance to our work may be overruled for its more full accomplishment in the end, just as the east winds of early spring help to secure a good fruit harvest by checking the too-early development of bud and blossom. Moreover, all this hindrance is but temporary. Satan's reign is for a season only. And when the hindrance is removed the final result will not have suffered for the delay. Perhaps it will even come the quicker for the temporary hindrance, as, when once it bursts its bounds, the stream rushes out with the more vehemence for having been dammed up. Let us not be impatient. Remember that God has all eternity to work with. - W.F.A.
What is our hope, or Joy, or crown of rejoicing?
I. PAUL WAS NOT CONCERNED ABOUT HIS OWN SALVATION. That was as far behind him as that spot on the way to Damascus. His hope, his joy, was in the salvation of others.
II. HE EXPECTED TO KNOW THEM IN THE RESURRECTION. For this would be the source of his joy. They, for whom he laboured, would then be his crown. The indefinite thought that somewhere in the universe were a crowd of persons who had been saved through his labour would not have satisfied. There follows the inference that identity will not be destroyed. To destroy identity is to destroy the person. Nor is there continuity of existence save in memory. We go into the other world with the totality of our natures. There can be no reward save there is a consciousness of work done, and this consciousness will depend on the memory being intact. Otherwise, God may give joy, but that will not be reward; He may torture, but that will not be punishment.
III. THEN IT WILL BE KNOWN TO THESE SAVED ONES WHAT PAUL HAD WROUGHT FOR THEM. Else, how could their salvation be his joy and his crown? He would need more than the unselfish thought of what he had done. God will have glory. Christ was never more unselfish than when on the cross, despising the shame, yet He thought of the "joy that was set before Him." An element in Paul's joy will be the honour and praise given him by those who will be conscious of the good he did them.
IV. PAUL WAS NOT A MERE INSTRUMENT, BUT A CO-WORKER WITH GOD. He was a factor in the power that saved his pupils. He speaks of God and the Holy Spirit, and also of himself, and claims for himself a crown of rejoicing in the work wrought Then God, Paul, and you are to work out the salvation of men.
V. PAUL WILL TAKE HIS CROWN IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD. Christ will recognize him as a factor. Christ will not be jealous. The elder brother goes out to find file prodigal. Observe —
1. Selfish motives are admissible in our Christian work. The Lord, perhaps, never had a more self-sacrificing servant than Paul. He cultivated such familiarity with the spiritual world as to make it present. He thought Christ might come any minute. His was a personal hope, a personal joy, a personal crown. Heaven to us is a pretty place, talked about in Revelation, or by Milton. It is not to us sufficiently real to dry our tears.
2. The selfish interests we aim at in this world are but trifles, compared with the crown, the joy, the hope, we may have. We take from this life nothing but our characters, and there await us cycles of eternities upon eternities, and yet what time we devote to our wardrobes, to trifles. Think of our translation to that other world; think of meeting men, women, and children leaping for joy, harp in hand, singing praises to God, and, at the same time, acknowledging us, with grateful hearts, as factors in the power that secured their salvation.
3. What dignity this gives the work of the Church. We are living in a time when the dignity of Christianity seems endangered.
(T. T. Duryea, D. D.)
I. THE NATURE OF THE GOOD WHICH HE REGARDED AS A REWARD FOR HIS LABOURS. It was not wealth or enjoyment on earth, nor his own heaven in the future, but the spiritual excellence of those for whom he laboured; their deliverance from moral evil; their restoration to the image of God. He sought nothing higher as a recompense. This was his highest hope — his joy. Nothing thrilled him with a keener delight than to see sin crushed and virtue triumphant. This was his crown of glorying. The pleasure which the victor in the Grecian games felt in the garland he had won was nothing compared to Paul's.
II. THE PERIOD WHEN THIS GOOD WOULD BE MANIFESTED TO HIS ADMIRING EYES. "Are not ye," etc., which implies —
1. His belief in the final advent of Christ. Paul never doubted this, nor did the early disciples. They were not inspired as to its specific time; hence the latter mistook and thought it just at hand.
2. His belief that at that period when he should meet and recognize all his converts, and they would be presented to the Great Head "without spot or wrinkle," filled him with joy.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)1. Numerous causes of depression are connected with the lives of faithful ministers. Their office necessarily brings them into collision with the passions of others. Hostility to the truth frequently assumes the character of personal spite against the preacher, who is misrepresented, contemned, and persecuted.
2. During these seasons the apostles were able to state their possession of supports and consolations which had imparted to them animation and perseverance (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9, 16; 2 Corinthians 6:9, 10). These are comforts permanently provided for the work of the ministry, and not the least is that of the text.
I. THERE IS A STRONG RELIGIOUS AFFECTION CHERISHED BY MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL TOWARDS THEIR RELIEVING HEARERS. This is well illustrated by previous expressions in this Epistle.
1. The relation of ministers to their people must of necessity always involve the exercise of kindly solicitude on their behalf. This is clear from Scriptural designations of their vocation. It is impossible to fulfil that vocation without feeling towards those whom they feed as shepherds, protect as watchmen, instruct as teachers, lead as guides, an affectionate interest.
2. This affection is also founded, as is all intelligent affection, on the possession of some common property. Both have been "called in one hope of their calling," received the same Divine grace in their hearts, brought from the same spiritual bondage, washed in the same fountain, justified by the same righteousness, etc.
3. This affection becomes still more powerful when pastors have reason to conclude that to their instrumentality believers have been indebted for their introduction to spiritual life. Thus it was here. This connection is more close than others. It is not the relation of a friend to a friend, but of a father to a son (3 John 1:2-4).
II. THERE IS AN IMPORTANT EVENT WHICH IT BECOMES MINISTERS AND THEIR BELIEVING HEARERS TO ANTICIPATE. Those who are united in the bond of Christian attachment ought to hold in remembrance that their communion on earth must soon terminate. But we have not to stay our contemplation of the future with the point of death. We have to look beyond to a period of high restoration. Throughout the Epistle the thought of the Lord's coming is associated with the well-being of the saints.
1. Let the minister habitually anticipate this, and he cannot but be careful that he may answer the claims and fulfil the obligations of his office.
2. Let private Christians regard this, and they, too, will earnestly cultivate the graces appropriate to their station.
III. THE EVENT ANTICIPATED WILL INVOLVE THE MUTUAL RECOGNITION OF THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN SPIRITUALLY RELATED ON EARTH. This involves the general principle that all pious friendships will be restored to be perpetuated forever.
1. The ultimate recognition of the saints is a truth adapted to administer substantial consolation amidst the numerous and painful separations inflicted by death. What gratitude should arise towards that religion which affords such a hope!
2. This doctrine is applied to the recognition of preachers and believers. That connection which on earth is the parent of so much pure enjoyment will then be restored.
1. The consideration of the unspeakable misery which believers have avoided, and the happiness to which they are exalted.
2. Saved believers will be a public testimony to the universe of official faithfulness and success. What a transcendent honour to be acknowledged in the presence of the Father and the holy angels. Here we do not witness all the results of our ministry.
3. The salvation of others will add new and permanent value to ministerial reward.
I. THE AIM OF A TRUE MINISTRY. To get men ready to stand in the presence of Christ. The apostle lived in expectation of the appearance of the Saviour. That great hope was his own perpetual inspiration, and by the teaching of it he ever urges his disciples to live holier and more consecrated lives.
II. THE JOY IT GIVES THE MINISTER TO WORK WITH THIS FOR HIS AIM. There is a passionate kind of joy known by the man who is the means of many conversions. There is surely a deeper, holier joy known by him who watches over the growth of holy character, and the settling of holy principle, and the arrangements of a holy life — those further stages of the work of conversion. There must have been a great thrill of joy in the heart of the old alchemist as he watched the metals simmering, and changing form; and as he fancied he caught, again and again, signs that the long-sought elixir was yielding to the fires. How intense must be the joy of the sculptor who works at the rough quarry block, and sees under each chisel stroke a new proof that the image of his soul is gaining form before him! The artist must know true joy in his work as the bare canvas gradually fills with the creations of his genius. The architect watches stone laid on stone, and fair proportions and graceful forms growing up before him with ever-new delight, We know there is no joy on earth like that of the mother who watches the babe unfold in strength and intelligence; and on up through the stages of childhood and youth that mother watches with a perpetual soul thrill as intelligence and character are developed and perfected. I have sometimes tried to conceive the inconceivable, and imagine I stood beside Jehovah, and felt the thrill of His great joy as He watched creation unfold all its fitnesses and beauties before His Divine commands: as chaos broke up into movement, and rocks gathered round their centre, and water floods separated themselves from the land. Who shall tell the joy of Him who watched the stages of that wondrous growth? It is but suggested in the words, "And God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good." But all these fail before the joy to God, and to the good, that is found in watching the new creation of a soul, the regeneration and sanctification of a soul. All these can be but images and suggestions of the far greater joy he knows who watches the growth of souls, and can say, "What is our joy?...are not even ye in the presence of the Lord Jesus at His coming?" God must have more joy in the sanctifying of a soul, for He gave His only Son to accomplish that end.
III. THE HOPE THE MINISTER MAY CHERISH THAT IN SOME HIS AIM WILL BE REALIZED. When we stand in the presence of Christ we shall each have several persons to thank for helping us forward on the road to holiness and God.
(R. Tuck, B. A.)I. THE REASONS UPON WHICH CHRIST'S FAITHFUL MINISTERS ARE SO SERIOUSLY ENGAGED IN SAVING SOULS, making it the great object of their desire and hope, the scope of their prayers, and the business of their lives.
3. The example of Christ, who came "to seek and save the lost"; and whose meat was to "do the will of His Father," etc.
4. The worth of souls.
5. The danger they are in from the world without and corruption within.
6. The price paid for souls (Acts 20:28).
7. The strict account they will have to give of their ministry (Ezekiel 3:17, 18).
8. Future glory.
II. THE JOY THEY WILL HAVE IN THE SOULS THEY WIN IN THE PRESENCE OF JESUS CHRIST.
1. Every recovered soul will be a jewel added to their crown.
2. Their converts will be eternally safe.
3. They will spend eternity in their company whom they have loved most below.
4. They will receive the special commendation of the Lord.Conclusion.
1. How important the work of labouring for souls.
2. The prospect should animate pastors and people in times of depression.
3. How heavy will be the doom of those who have despised the preached gospel.
I. WHAT YOU ARE TO ME IN THE PRESENT.
1. Some of you are my hope. Joy comes of anticipations realized, but we hope for that we see not. Some of you are my hope because there are possibilities which have never been developed, aspiration s which have never been fulfilled, blessings not yet experienced. At the same time you have not yet turned your backs upon them. You and I are hoping that the seed may yet bear fruit.(1) Some of you young men have not yet become corrupted by a life of sin; but you have not yet given your hearts to God. Turn my hope into joy by deciding for Christ.(2) Some of you maidens have not yet yielded to the fashions and frivolities of the world, and have indeed been drawn after Christ; but you have not yet embraced Him. Make my hope joy by doing so now.(3) Whether old or young you are my hope if you are convinced that what I say is and has been true. No longer halt, then, between two opinions.
2. Some of you are my joy. My hopes have been realized. You have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. Cleave to Him and work for Him so that you may continue to be my joy, and be something more by and by.
II. WHAT YOU MAY BE TO ME IN THE FUTURE. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ: I as your pastor to render an account of my ministry. Whether I have done my work well or ill it cannot be altered now; but if you have been unprofitable hearers you may remember in days to come what you have heard, and by giving yourselves to Christ be my "crown of rejoicing." Then I shall be able to point to you and others and say, "Here am I and the children Thou hast given me." And if any shall say, "He did not feed the flock, comfort the sorrowful," etc., I shall be able to point to you in refutation.
(R. Davey.)I. THE TEXT POINTS TO THE FUTURE. Instead of indulging in fond regrets, lamenting over the severance of old ties, and giving himself up to the fascination of sentimental reminiscences, Paul looks onward to the future — hopefully, cheerfully, anticipating renewed friendship, calculating on continued usefulness. But beyond the horizon of time, Paul's eager gaze penetrates eternity. He and his brother believers did not forget the first Advent, but they seem to have been more mightily moved by the hope of the second. When this hope will be consummated they could not tell, neither can we; but it will be some day.
II. THE TEXT RECOGNIZES AN EVERLASTING BOND OF UNION BETWEEN A CHRISTIAN PASTOR AND HIS FLOCK.
1. Moral influences work forever. Mind affects mind, and will affects will, and character, character in everlasting consequences of action and reaction. People cannot live and work together without making one another different. All relationships may be said to be interminable, because the influence for good or evil is perpetually operative.
2. But the relation between pastor and people is noticed in Scripture in a way no other is. Nothing is said about the meeting of kings and subjects, brothers and sisters, etc. This relationship of ministerial labour and oversight is alone placed in the eternal light; because a preacher has to do a work which no others do. He toils for eternity; and the result of his employment will not appear till time shall end. Many kinds of efforts produce immediate results; but with our sacred occupation "the harvest is the end of the world."
III. The text SUGGESTS THE CONDITIONS ON WHICH THE APOSTOLIC HOPE EXPRESSED MAY BE FULFILLED. This hope is sublimely disinterested. Paul here stands before us, a true philanthropist, who loses himself in the good of others, whose heaven is to lead others to heaven. The hope of the salvation of others is his own great hope; their joy his own joy; their crowns his own crown. The conditions upon which such a lofty hope can be fulfilled are these —
1. The conversion of men to Christ through repentance and faith. The feelings with which one regards a pupil or adopted child may be very tender and grow into the semblance of paternal affection, but it is only a semblance at best. A father's love and joy no stranger intermeddleth with. And so there is pure ministerial satisfaction in being an instructor of Christianity; but to be really a father in God, to beget a soul for Christ through the gospel — that is a joy which no man knoweth save he who receiveth it. The thought of that fills an apostolic mind with ecstasy.
2. The edification, improvement, growth in holiness of those so converted, whether by the minister himself or his brethren. To educate one's child is a most precious task; to have under one's pastoral care a person who attributes to you his conversion is a similar and yet nobler employment. To carry on step by step the purifying and ennobling process; to help to polish pillars in the house of God that are to go out no more forever; to add any touches to the likeness of Christ drawn in the lives of His people — that is to enter into the noblest kind of partnership, to share in the consummation of the grandest of purposes. And it all bears on the anticipated felicity at "the coming of the Lord Jesus."
3. The consolation of the afflicted in this world of trial. No man entered more deeply into the feelings of others than did Paul. Perhaps the strongest of all ministerial power is sympathy in affliction; and the prospect of spending eternity together with the sons and daughters of sorrow in that world where tears are wiped from all faces will form no small part of our crown of rejoicing.
(J. Stoughton, D. D.)
I. THE SWEETEST JOY THAT EARTH GIVES IS THE JOY OF DOING GOOD.
1. Here is a high hill, its sides rocky, its surface sterile, its contour uncomely. Nobody wants it or values it. Presently a wise man walks over it, purchases it, cuts away at its sides, and after long and expensive toil lays bare a wealth of precious minerals. So there is many a deed of kindness that waits to be done; yet no one does it. It seems an unpleasant, hard, costly thing; yet he who at last does it finds in it a treasure. In every kindness there is a joy locked up for your own soul, and the more difficult it is the sweeter the joy. It is sweet to take a loaf of bread to the starving, although it may leave you hungry; to deny yourself of some ornament to clothe the naked; to lose your own sleep to watch beside the suffering. Pearls are found in the unsightly oyster, so pearls of joy are found in tasks from which we shrink.
2. But the sweetest joy is that of saving souls. A man once saved a child's life by snatching it from under the feet of a galloping horse, and ever after that one deed illumined that man's life. He lay for years in prison cells, but the joys of that heroic hour shone ever in upon his gloom. If it is so blessed to save from physical, how much more to save from eternal death! When Dr. Lyman Beecher was dying some one asked him what was the greatest of all things. He answered, "It is not theology; it is not controversy; it is saving souls." As the Christian approaches the sunset of life he feels that this is the only work worth doing, A preacher may draw crowds, and be rewarded with academic titles, and achieve great fame; but if souls are not saved his ministry is a failure.
II. THOSE WHOM WE LEAD TO CHRIST WILL BE OUR CROWN OF JOY IN HEAVEN.
1. Reference is here made to the ancient games. At the end of the race the victor is crowned. So at the end of the apostle's course he should receive a crown jemmed with saved souls. He who gives a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple will be rewarded, and he who saves souls will receive the most glorious rewards.
2. There seems also to have been in the apostle's mind the thought that his spiritual children would be grouped round him as a glory, as children gather round a parent. Jesus is the Saviour around whom all the saved shall gather. But that one family will be broken up into countless groups gathered about those who have led them to Jesus. All whom we have helped to the Saviour will greet us as we pass inside heaven's gates. Every Christian pastor or worker will, in heaven, be like a tree with many or few branches on which all the fruits of his life will hang. Conclusion: Our joy in heaven will be measured by our deeds of kindness on earth. The gold and silver we have spent in benefitting our race, will be transmuted into crowns of glory. Those who are spending themselves for Christ are weaving fadeless garlands for their brows. They who are saving souls are gathering and polishing jewels for their heavenly crowns.
(J. R. Miller.)I. INQUIRE WHEN CHRISTIAN PROFESSORS MAY BE STYLED THE HOPE, THE JOY, AND THE CROWN OF THEIR MINISTERS.
1. When they appear to be truly converted to God.
2. When they grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ.
3. When they walk worthy of their heavenly calling, and bring forth the fruits of righteousness, such as closet duties, family religion, love for Divine ordinances, and Christian ministers, and consistent deportment in the world.
II. THE SOLEMN TIME IN WHICH THEY SHALL BE THE HOPE, THE JOY, AND THE CROWN OF THEIR MINISTERS.
1. The second coming of Christ.
2. Ministers and hearers must then meet.
3. Their hope is to meet them at the right hand of God.
4. Their joy to see them partakers of Divine glory.
5. Their crown of rejoicing to behold them as the seals to their ministry.
(C. Evans, D. D.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(Andrew Fuller.)2 Corinthians 8:23 as "the glory of Christ." They are also in a lower sense the glory of Christ's ministers. The pastor will find in his congregation either his glory or his shame. It was the boast of the Jews that to them had been given three crowns — the crown of the law, the crown of the priesthood, and the royal crown. These they highly prized, but they often added, better than these is the crown of a good name. Paul's crown of a good name in the presence of Christ Jesus was his converts. The same crown is offered to us all, and is in keeping for us all if we are found faithful. History tells us that when in Philip II's reign a rebel claimed and gained the crown of Granada, he bore at the ceremony of coronation in his right hand a banner bearing the inscription "More I could not desire, less would not have contented me." These words cease to be presumptuous and become the utterance of truest wisdom only, when they refer to the crown of heavenly rejoicing, and when they are the legend of the banner under which he fights in "the sacramental host of God's elect." In view of the truth that converts are the crown of boasting in store for all faithful witnesses for Christ, the words are invested with a solemn significance "We live if ye stand fast in the Lord." "Now, little children, abide ye in Him, that when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming."
(J. Hutchison, D. D.)
I. THE DOCTRINE OF HEAVENLY RECOGNITION.
1. The enjoyments and occupations of heaven are uniformly represented as social; but where is the charm of society without mutual knowledge?
2. Heaven is uniformly represented as perfecting all our faculties. Is it then probable that it will diminish, nay, entirely abolish memory, one of the most important of them?
3. The chief grace that will be exercised in the regions of the blest, next to love to God, will be love to our companions in glory. But what kind of love is that which is felt for an object which we know not?
4. In the general judgment which is appointed to vindicate the ways of God to man, it is certain that every individual will be known to the vast assembly as distinct from all other persons. Is it probable that God, after thus making the blessed acquainted with each other, should immediately afterward obliterate this knowledge?
5. It is certain that we shall see and know the glorious manhood of our blessed Saviour, elevated above all the heavenly powers; and if we shall know one body, why not mere? During His abode on earth, He afforded to three favoured disciples a glimpse of His Divine glory. He was transfigured, and Moses and Elias descended in celestial brilliancy: the disciples knew them distinct from the Saviour, and each as distinct from the other; and if they knew them on the solitary mount, why should they not know them in the New Jerusalem?
6. We find the apostle Paul very frequently consoling himself under the sufferings and persecutions which he had to endure, by the prospect of meeting in heaven those who had been converted by his ministry on earth.
II. THE TEACHING OF THIS DOCTRINE.
1. What a delightful idea does it give of the felicity of the celestial world! Surely nothing, except the vision and enjoyment of God and the Lamb, can equal the joys of knowing and being known to all the Church triumphant above — of living in an eternal brotherhood — of forming an indissoluble connection with all the good men that ever have existed, or that ever shall exist, till the trump of the archangel shall shake the earth to its centre. Who can even conceive the raptures of such an intercourse?
2. The doctrine that in heaven we shall know each other, and all the pious who have preceded us, affords one of the sweetest consolations to the Christian against the natural fear of death. To a soul that has made its peace with God, death has nothing so terrible as those agonizing adieus which are to be given to those whom we love; but the anguish arising from this source is removed when the dying believer can strain his closing eyes upon those who surround his bed of death, and say to them, "Suffer me to go and join yon heavenly company with the bright hope that you will ere long come to me, and we shall be beyond the reach of death, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ."
3. The doctrine of future recognition teaches relatives and friends how they should act in order that the sentiments of affection which they entertain for each other may have their greatest force, and they be saved from the severest pains. Form your attachments for eternity; build them on the basis of religion; strive to cement the ties of relationship by the more indissoluble bonds of grace; and then your future will be ineffably blessed and glorious.
(H. Kollock, D. D.).
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