2 Corinthians 1:12
For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom…
These words have the charm of life in them. They tell us how a man lived: and not in smooth circumstances in sunny weather, but when beset by enemies, difficulties and sorrows; and not in conspicuous places merely, but everywhere, and not for a short time, but always. Here is the kind of life which each one of us should endeavour after as his own.
1. The supreme faculty, or something that has supreme place, in man's moral life. The moral life is higher than the intellectual, and the dignity of conscience is that it is the governing element in the moral life.
2. Every one knows what conscience is. Find one who knows that there is a right and a wrong, he knows that by his conscience. Conscience always uses the reason, as, indeed, the other powers, in forming its judgments. But the judgments formed arc higher than the deliverances of reason.
3. Conscience is not infallible; but still it is supreme. It needs instruction, but still a man must act according to the light he has, while always seeking for more. It is the only clock that points to the moral time of day. It is the only shadow that falls on the sun-dial of life. The only barometer that gives true indication of the state of the moral atmosphere within. Go by it. Do not look up at the clock, etc., which rules another man's conscience.
4. A good conscience, like a good wife or husband, deserves only faithful loyalty "as long as ye both shall live." Indeed, moral death has come when conscience has no more testimony to give, or when its witness is systematically disobeyed. But the description of life and character in this passage is yet more pacific. Conscientiousness, after all, is a general quality. In order to know a man — what he is, and how he lives — we need information in particulars. Well, here is one of the particular qualities.
II. SIMPLICITY — singleness of mind, purpose, character, life — the opposite of duplicity — doubleness in speech, behaviour, heart.
1. All who are much in the world know very well how full it is of this. Double-speaking — saying one thing and meaning another — using language to hide meaning, or, equivocally, in order to mislead. Double-dealing. "It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer; but when he is gone his way then he boasteth." Double-seeming, too. What masks men wear! Sometimes glittering, sometimes sordid! A man comes rolling home in a carriage, and enters a magnificent house, and after entertaining a splendid company, goes into his own room, brings out his bank-book, and lays it, open, beside the claims upon him which that book shows no way to meet, and sits down there for a little, in misery, under the shadow of the ghastly fact that he is, in reality, a bankrupt. Take an instance on the other side. A man comes trudging home through wet streets, enters a plain house, moderately furnished, takes a simple ordinary meal, and then receives a friend or two. One of them in leaving asks a guinea for some charity. This plain, good man expresses good-will, but shakes his head saying, "You see I am in a very humble way; you must go to the rich." Then, by-and-bye, he too looks at his balance-sheet. This man is rolling in wealth, although without any of its outward signs. Yet he can thus hide himself from his own flesh. "Our rejoicing," if we are Christians, is this, the testimony of our conscience that "in simplicity" we live, not saying what we do not mean, nor seeming what we are not.
2. Most of all should we keep this pure simplicity in the religious sphere; avoiding, on the one hand, the high phraseology which expresses for more than we believe, feel, or indeed, really mean; and, on the other, the compromising silence, or brief and hesitating speech, which expresses less than we believe, and feel, and are.
III. SINCERITY, which perhaps brings in no characteristically different element. They are almost as twin sisters. The word means, literally, translucence, clearness, of mind. When you took into a diamond you might say it is sincere! Or into a crystal well, or down to the depths of the calm and silent sea! Such is the sincerity of a devout soul. It is called, literally, "the sincerity of God," either because it is like His own, or because it comes directly from Him, and makes us partakers of the Divine nature. Now see what that is, and how it pervades —
1. Nature. Does the sun ever stay his shining? Or the gentler moon withhold her light? Do rivers ever run back to their sources, or tides begin to ebb at half-flood? Has there ever been a spring-time which went round the world to call out flower and leaf, which has not been followed by an autumn with more or less of fruit? Will wood sink? will iron swim?
2. Providence. Does God not rule the world, so that he who speaks the truth and does the right has always the best of it in the end? Yes; and in the middle also, and from the beginning.
3. The gospel, with its great revelation of love, its great donation of life, its power of redemption from sin, its promises of seasonable helps, and its grand, last promise of "eternal life." God is sincere in all. We cannot aim too high, or hope for too much. "If it were not so, He would have told us." He is sincere. Are there any to aver the contrary? Who has come to a throne of grace and been repulsed? Such is the sincerity of God; and it is of this very quality that His children partake when they live the life befitting them. They cannot but be sincere when they yield to His gracious nurture.
IV. REJOICING. This kind of life is well adapted to make men glad. Remember, he who writes these words is often weighed down with great labours, suffers much persecution, is misjudged even by his friends. And yet here he retires into his own happy consciousness as into a fortress of peace and safety! And, indeed, no moral state could be imagined so strong, so safe as this. When he has a conscience which he "keeps," or rather which keeps him — when he lives a simple life — when he breathes in the sincerity of God — let him have no fear.
V. But now we begin to long for another word that shall MAKE THIS SECURITY WHOLESOME TO US, as well as deep and assured. For is there not some possibility that this profoundly conscious satisfaction in the possession of personal righteousness may come to have some tinge of "self-righteousness" in it?
VI. The word is GRACE. "By the grace of God" we have so lived. Particularly "not by fleshly wisdom." No man can ever reach the heights of safety and purity and joy by that way. Yet that is the principle which multitudes of people are adopting for self-development. "The fleshly wisdom" is just "the wisdom of the world," with its watchings, and windings, and insincerities, with its soft speech, and fair appearance, and secret ways. Does any one think he can develop his nature, and do justice to his immortality by that? Oh, miserable mistake! Not with fleshly wisdom, "but by the grace of God" — by its cleansings, its kindlings, its renewings, its growth; by its whole drift and discipline we have "our conversation in the world." And because it is "the grace of God," those who take it, and trust in it, and put it to use, cannot fail in some measure to realise and embody, and cannot fail, ultimately, to perfect the fair ideal of Scriptural holiness.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.
WEB: For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and sincerity of God, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God we behaved ourselves in the world, and more abundantly toward you.