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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : 2 Corinthians 4:7-12

Commentary On Corinthians Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

2 Corinthians 4:7-12

7. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

7. Habemus autem thesaurum hunc in vasis testaceis: ut exsuperantia potentira sit Dei, et non ex nobis:

8. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;

8. Quando in omnibus premimur, at non anxii reddimur: laboramus inopia, at non destituimur:

9. Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;

9. Persequutionem patimur, at non deserimur: deiicimur, at non perlinus:

10. Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.

10. Semper mortificationem Iesu Christi circumferentes in corpore nostro, ut vita Iesu manifestetur in corpore nostro.

11. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

11. Semper enim nos, dum vivimus, in mortera tradimur propter Iesum, ut vita Iesu manifestetur in mortali carne nostra.

12. So then death worketh in us, but life in you.

12. Itaque mors quidem in nobis operatur, vita autem in vobis.

7. But we have this treasure. Those that heard Paul glorying in such a magnificent strain as to the excellence of his ministry, and beheld, on the other hand, his person, contemptible and abject in the eyes of the world, might be apt to think that he was a silly and ridiculous person, and might look upon his boasting as childish, while forming their estimate of him from the meanness of his person. The wicked, more particularly, caught hold of this pretext, when they wished to bring into contempt every thing that was in him. What, however, he saw to be most of all unfavorable to the honor of his Apostleship among the ignorant, he turns by an admirable contrivance into a means of advancing it. First of all, he employs the similitude of a treasure, which is not usually laid up in a splendid and elegantly adorned chest, but rather in some vessel that is mean and worthless; and then farther, he subjoins, that the power of God is, by that means, the more illustrated, and is the better seen. |Those, who allege the contemptible appearance of my person, with the view of detracting from the dignity of my ministry, are unfair and unreasonable judges, for a treasure is not the less valuable, that the vessel, in which it is deposited, is not a precious one. Nay more, it is usual for great treasures to be laid up in earthen pots. Farther, they do not consider, that it is ordered by the special Providence of God, that there should be in ministers no appearance of excellence, lest any thing of distinction should throw the power of God into the shade. As, therefore, the abasement of ministers, and the outward contempt of their persons give occasion for glory accruing to God, that man acts a wicked part, who measures the dignity of the gospel by the person of the minister.|

Paul, however, does not speak merely of the universal condition of mankind, but of his own condition in particular. It is true, indeed, that all mortal men are earthen vessels Hence, let the most eminent of them all be selected, and let him be one that is adorned to admiration with all ornaments of birth, intellect, and fortune, still, if he be a minister of the gospel, he will be a mean and merely earthen depository of an inestimable treasure Paul, however, has in view himself, and others like himself, his associates, who were held in contempt, because they had nothing of show.

8. While we are pressed on every side. This is added by way of explanation, for he shows, that his abject condition is so far from detracting from the glory of God, that it is the occasion of advancing it. |We are reduced,| says he, |to straits, but the Lord at length opens up for us an outlet; we are oppressed with poverty, but the Lord affords us help. Many enemies are in arms against us, but under God's protection we are safe. In fine, though we are brought low, so that it might seem as if all were over with us, still we do not perish.| The last is the severest of all. You see, how he turns to his own advantage every charge that the wicked bring against him.

10. The mortification of Jesus He says more than he had done previously, for he shows, that the very thing that the false apostles used as a pretext for despising the gospel, was so far from bringing any degree of contempt upon the gospel, that it tended even to render it glorious. For he employs the expression -- the mortification of Jesus Christ -- to denote everything that rendered him contemptible in the eyes of the world, with the view of preparing him for participating in a blessed resurrection. In the first place, the sufferings of Christ, however ignominious they may be in the eyes of men, have, nevertheless, more of honor in the sight of God, than all the triumphs of emperors, and all the pomp of kings. The end, however, must also be kept in view, that we suffer with him, that we may be glorified together with him. (Romans 8:17.) Hence he elegantly reproves the madness of those, who made his peculiar fellowship with Christ a matter of reproach. At the same time, the Corinthians are admonished to take heed, lest they should, while haughtily despising Paul's mean and abject appearance, do an injury to Christ himself, by seeking an occasion of reproach in his sufferings, which it becomes us to hold in the highest honor.

The word rendered mortification, is taken here in a different sense from what it bears in many passages of Scripture. For it often means self-denial, when we renounce the lusts of the flesh, and are renewed unto obedience to God. Here, however, it means the afflictions by which we are stirred up to meditate on the termination of the present life. To make the matter more plain, let us call the former the inward mortification, and the latter the outward. Both make us conformed to Christ, the one directly, the other indirectly, so to speak. Paul speaks of the former in Colossians 3:5, and in Romans 6:6, where he teaches that

our old man is crucified, that we may walk in newness of life

He treats of the second in Romans 8:29, where he teaches, that we were predestinated by God to this end -- that we might be conformed to the image of his Son. It is called, however, a mortification of Christ only in the case of believers, because the wicked, in the endurance of the afflictions of this present life, share with Adam, but the elect have participation with the Son of God, so that all those miseries that are in their own nature accursed, are helpful to their salvation. All the sons of God, it is true, have this in common, that they bear about the mortification, of Christ; but, according as any one is distinguished by a larger measure of gifts, he, in that proportion, comes so much the nearer to conformity with Christ in this respect.

That the life of Jesus. Here is the best antidote to adversity -- that as Christ's death is the gate of life, so we know that a blessed resurrection will be to us the termination of all miseries, inasmuch as Christ has associated us with himself on this condition, that we shall be partakers of his life, if in this world we submit to die with him.

The sentence that immediately follows may be explained in two ways. If you understand the expression delivered unto death as meaning to be incessantly harassed with persecutions and exposed to dangers, this would be more particularly applicable to Paul, and those like him, who were openly assailed by the fury of the wicked. And thus the expression, for Jesus' sake, will be equivalent to for the testimony of Christ. (Revelation 1:9.) As, however, the expression to be daily delivered unto death, means otherwise -- to have death constantly before our eyes, and to live in such a manner, that our life is rather a shadow of death, I have no objection, that this passage, also, should be expounded in such a way as to be applicable to all believers, and that, too, to every one in his order. Paul himself, in Romans 8:36, explains in this manner Psalm 44:22. In this way for Christ's sake would mean -- because this condition is imposed upon all his members. Erasmus, however, has rendered it, with not. so much propriety, we who live. The rendering that I have given is more suitable -- while we live. For Paul means that, so long as we are in the world, we resemble the dead rather than the living.

12. Hence death indeed. This is said ironically, because it was unseemly that the Corinthians should live happily, and in accordance with their desire, and that they should, free from anxiety, take their ease, while in the mean time Paul was struggling with incessant hardships. Such an allotment would certainly have been exceedingly unreasonable. It was also necessary that the folly of the Corinthians should be reproved, inasmuch as they contrived to themselves a Christianity without the cross, and, not content with this, held in contempt the servants of Christ, because they were not so effeminate. Now as death denotes all afflictions, or a life full of vexations, so also life denotes a condition that is prosperous and agreeable; agreeably to the maxim: |Life is -- not to live, but to be well.|

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