2 Corinthians 4:1
Therefore, since we have this ministry through the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.
Sermons
Paul, the Model MinisterA. J. Parry.2 Corinthians 4:1
The Apostolic MinistryF. W. Robertson, M. A.2 Corinthians 4:1
Full Confidence in the Power of the TruthR. Tuck 2 Corinthians 4:1, 2
Glory of the Apostolic Ministry; How its Duties Were DischargedC. Lipscomb 2 Corinthians 4:1-6
How Men Should PreachE. Hurndall 2 Corinthians 4:1-6
It is still "this ministry." The question, "Who is sufficient for these things?" has been answered in part by a statement of his "sincerity" and "plainness of speech," and he now proceeds to Speak of his courage and steady zeal. "We faint not," allowing no difficulties or dangers to dishearten us. But what was the nature or spirit of this resolute energy? Energetic men, brave men, who are bent on their purpose, are not always choice or chary of the means employed to gain their ends. "Hidden things of dishonesty," plots, schemes concocted in secret, were renounced, nor did he in any way adulterate the gospel. Not only did he preach the Word, but he delivered it as received from the Lord Jesus. The mirror was kept clean and bright, so as to reflect the image. Of course, he contrasted himself with his opponents, who used intrigues to acquire influence. If certain men handled the Word of God deceitfully, he was not one of that number, for his single aim was; "by manifestation of the truth," to commend himself "to every man's conscience in the sight of God." Divine truth, such as the gospel contained, was a manifestation, a showing of its real and intrinsic character, to the only faculty competent to receive it as a self-evidencing system; and that faculty was the conscience. Reason lies back of all our reasoning, and is greater and truer than our formal logic. Instinct antedates experience, and is the condition precedent to experience. And these instincts with their intuitions constitute their own evidence and form the basis of all knowledge. St. Paul argued that the spiritual doctrines of the gospel, if faithfully presented to the conscience, would be recognized and accepted by conscience as the truth of God. History is history; testimony is testimony; judgment is judgment; conscience is conscience; and he will not disparage any one of these to exalt another, but will keep each in its place according to the constitution of our nature. Yet the human mind, made in God's image, must be master of its impressions, sovereign over its motives, lord of itself when most obedient to God; and, accordingly, it must have a conscience to witness "magisterially," as Bishop Butler puts it, for the authority of God. It was not to worldly taste and selfish intellect St. Paul appealed in preaching the gospel, nor to low and mercenary feelings of any kind, but to the conscience as the supreme sense of right in man. And was this all? Nay; they commended themselves, their persons, their private and public lives, their experience and conduct, to the consciences of others. Witness what we are, what we do, how we live, as well as what we preach, was St. Paul's argument. No man enjoyed true appreciation and love more than he; but, most of all, he sought the testimony of their conscience that he was their servant for Christ's sake, and was in no respect crafty and dishonest in his relations to the brethren. Private character and public character are, alas! too often disjoined, and not seldom are opposites; but St. Paul thought that gifts and graces should go together. What he professed as an apostle be would practise as a man, and in each respect he would commend himself to conscience. On no account would he have the confidence and regard of the Church except so far as he impressed this purest and safest kind of human judgment. And he did this most solemnly, "in the sight of God." Observe, then, it was not to their consciousness but conscience, to which his ministry, character, and life appealed. Nor was this limited to the Church. It was exhibited before all, believers and unbelievers, a savour of life, a savour of death. The manifestation of the truth would commend itself to every man's conscience; and yet the general verdict of conscience would be accepted and acted on by some, while it would be opposed and disobeyed by many. But who were the rejecters? "If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost" (who are now perishing), not finally lost, but at present unsaved, their day of grace not over, salvation yet possible. The state spoken of is one of mental blindness, which includes the want of spiritual perceptions and the darkness of the understanding. Conscience is instructed, but the intellect overpowers conscience. Conscience is on the side of truth; intellect on the side of the senses. Conscience entreats, warns, condemns, in the name of God; intellect is sophistical and imperious in behalf of the carnal man. And the intellect is thus alienated from its rational subordination to a ruling conscience by a usurper who is Satan, "the god of this world." Men have allowed him to assert sovereignty over them, have made him "a god," and have yielded to his wicked agency what belongs to the one God. They hays robbed God to give him power over their bodies and souls. Without this clear and vivid recognition of the personality, the activity, the prodigious energy of Satan, the theology of St. Paul would have no consistency, no logical coherence, no adaptiveness to the convicting and renewing work with which he associates it. With him, human depravity is not an abstract thing, an isolated thing, but part and parcel of a vast system of evil, an immense empire of untruth, deception, fraud, cruelty, of which Satan is head and front. Is unbelief powerful? Satan is behind it. Are the lusts and appetites of the flesh tyrannic? Satan is the tyrant. Are men blinded to their interest and well being? By him, "god of this world," are they blinded. One who estimates human depravity solely by what it is in itself will have a very different view of its actual character in experience and outworking from one who looks at it as an instrumentality in such hands as Satan's. In the former case it is the man indulging in depravity for his own gratification - he personally and individually and directly is its motive, impulse, and end; in the latter there is a kingdom and a despotic ruler, whose objects are furthered by widening his dominion and enhancing his sway. St. Paul is explicit. Satan is the blinder, and he is the blinder as "the god of this world." And he blinds the minds of men, "lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the Image of God, should shine unto them." Turn to the close of the previous chapter and read of the "open face," of the reflected "glory of the Lord," of the assimilating power of the "image," of its transforming wonder in changing "from glory to glory." And now take this awful contrast - a fallen angel, a dethroned principality and power the "god" among his hierarchies, the "god" of a world where men are on probation for an immortality of good or evil, and thin "god" of darkness busy everywhere to hide the only light that reveals Christ as the Image of God. Here is this light in the history of Christ's life, death, resurrection, exaltation. It is glorious. It is preached as a "glorious gospel;" it is preached by men. who have "renounced the hidden things of dishonesty," and who themselves, by their candour, integrity, purity, commend themselves to every man's conscience under the eye of God, But Satan exerts all his skill and influence, controls myriad agencies, works continually and works so successfully that the minds of many are blinded by unbelief. Destroy belief and you destroy the soul. And this is the Satanic might of evil, the climax of all his influence, that the blindness with which he shrouds the soul is the blindness of unbelief. Can he think of "the glorious gospel of Christ" and not be humbled? "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." And now the idea which has occupied so much of his attention - the veiled face of Moses, the open vision of Christ, the image of the Father in him, the glory that excelleth, the ministry as a manifestation of glory, Christian growth as an expansion from one degree of resplendency to another till it reaches "the perfect day," and the contrasted blindness of unbelievers who are under Satan's power, - this idea, so suggestive, attains its final expression in the sixth verse. God had once said, "Let there be light, and there was light." It was the opening grandeur of creation; but was this all? This was to be the permanent symbol of God, the source and centre of more associations and suggestions than any other object in the material universe, a creative force to the imagination of metaphor, image, and illustration that cannot be measured. And, as such, St. Paul uses it when he says that "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts." What fuller embodiment could the thought take than "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"? "Light," "knowledge," "glory of God," "face of Jesus Christ," - what a collocation of sublime ideas! - L.







Therefore seeing we have received this ministry.
Paul represents this

I. AS A MINISTRY OF LIGHT (vers. 4-6).

1. Cf. John 1:5. Nothing could be more different than the minds of Paul and John, and yet both call revelation "light." According to John, to live in sin was to live in darkness; according to Paul, it was to live in blindness. The gospel threw light —(1) On God: light unknown before, even to the holiest. Out of Christ, our God is only a dreadful mystery.(2) On man. Man, with godlike aspirations and animal cravings, asks, "Am I a god or beast?" The gospel answers, "You are a glorious temple in ruins, to be rebuilt into a habitation of God."(3) On the grave; for "life and immortality" were "brought to light through the gospel." Until then immortality was but a mournful perhaps.

2. Note three practical deductions.(1) Our life is to be a manifestation of the gospel. We do not tamper with the Word of God (ver. 2). It is not concealed or darkened by us, for our very work is fearlessly to declare the truth, and to dread no consequences.(2) Light is given to us that we may spread it (vers. 5, 6). If God has illuminated us, then we are your servants, to give you this illumination. This Paul, who had himself been in darkness, felt vividly; and shall we refuse to feel it? Perhaps we who have been in the brightness of his revelation all our lives scarcely appreciate the necessity which he felt so strongly of communicating it.(3) It is the evil heart which hides tim truth. Light shines on all who have not deadened the spiritual sense. "Every one that is of the truth heareth Christ's voice." "The evidences of Christianity" are Christianity. The evidence of the sun is its light. Men who find their all in the world (ver. 4) — how can they, fevered by its business, excited by its pleasures, petrified by its maxims, see God in His purity, or comprehend the calm radiance of eternity?

II. AS A REFLECTION OF THE LIFE OF CHRIST.

1. In word. Cf. vers. 2 and 13. We manifest the truth, "commending ourselves to every man's conscience," because we speak in strong belief. Observe the difference between this and theological knowledge. It is not a minister's wisdom, but his conviction, which imparts itself to others. Nothing gives life but life. Real flame alone kindles other flame. We only half believe. In ver. 5 Paul says he preaches Christ, and not himself. The minister is to preach, not the Christ of this sect or of that man, but Christ fully — Christ our hope, our pattern, our life.

2. In experience. It might be a matter of surprise that God's truth should be conveyed through such feeble instruments — "earthen vessels" (ver. 7). But this very circumstance, instead of proving that the gospel is not of God, proves that it is. For what was the life of these men but the life of Christ over again — a life victorious in defeat? (ver. 8-11). In their sufferings the apostles represented the death of Christ, and in their incredible escapes His resurrection. Figuratively speaking, their escapes were as a resurrection. In different periods of the same life, in different ages of freedom or persecution — as we have known in the depressed Church of the Albigenses and the victorious Church of England — in different persons during the same age, the Cross and the Resurrection alternate and exist together. But in all there is progress — the decay of evil or the birth of good (ver. 16).

(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

I. HIS MOTIVES.

1. His sense of the glory of his office. "Seeing we have this ministry." This arose out of iris conception of the glory of the gospel (Romans 11:13). With this view of his office the apostle always strove to rise to the level of its dignity (1 Thessalonians 2:4),

2. His sense of his indebtedness to Divine mercy. "As we have received mercy, we faint not." His whole being was penetrated with a sense of the munificence of God towards him. He never touches upon this theme but his words glow with extraordinary power.

3. The Divine cognition. "In the sight of God" (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:11). What an incentive to earnestness and honesty of purpose is this fact of God's infinite eye being ever upon us! By these motives Paul was sustained, so that he fainted not. His sail was the exalted dignity of his office, his rudder his sense of the Divine eye ever upon him, his ballast the deep-felt gratitude of his heart for the mercy of God. Every Christian minister has need of the same motives —

(1)To stimulate industry and conscientiousness.

(2)To sustain in the face of apparent want of success.

(3)To inflame zeal in the face of want of appreciation.

(4)For support in face of the difficulties usually besetting ministerial work.

(5)To guard against any partial discharge of duties.

II. HIS METHOD.

1. Negative. "But have renounced," etc. In the discharge of the duties of his exalted office he totally repudiated all methods and practices of which he had reason to be ashamed. He entirely avoided "tricks of the trade." By his emphatic repudiation he implies —(1) That particular care should be shown by us to avoid degrading our office by resorting to unworthy tricks and dishonest craft for securing success.(2) That peculiar care should be shown to avoid all tampering with God's Word with a view to please men.

2. Positive. "By manifestation of the truth." What does this involve?(1) An honest, clear, naked statement of it. It is impossible to convey gospel truth in too naked a form. The painted window of the cathedral may be exquisitely beautiful, yet it dims the light, and clothes the surrounding objects with false though gorgeous hues. The window which does the greatest justice to the light is the one that transmits it in all its purity, without manipulation or distortion.(2) A full statement of it in all its parts and bearings. It is only as it is thus presented in its completeness that it can prove a saving power upon men's hearts. Any one-sided presentation of it will certainly fail to attain that perfecting effect it is calculated to produce. Light consists of three primary colours — red, blue, and yellow. Not one, however, of these elements alone will produce vegetable growth in full perfection. Experiments have shown that yellow, while yielding the largest amount of light, prevents the germination of seed. Under the red the most heat is produced, but the plant is unhealthy. Beneath the blue the strongest chemical effect is produced, but under this influence the strength of the plant fails to keep pace with its growth. So a representation of the truth all doctrinal is like light all yellow; it has in it only illumination for the head. A representation of it all love is like light all red; ii has in it only warmth for the heart. A representation of it all ethics is like light all blue; it has but chemistry for the conscience.(3) A manifestation in the life. The ministry must needs be illustrated by the life.

III. HIS POWER. "Commending ourselves to every man's conscience" — not to their prejudices, passions, or tastes. It was a power arising, not from the charm of office, but from the charm of truth, earnestness, and holiness.

(A. J. Parry.)

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