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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : 2 Corinthians 5:1-8

Commentary On Corinthians Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

2 Corinthians 5:1-8

1. 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.

1. Scimus enim, quod, si terrenum nostrum domicilium destruatur, aedificationem ex Deo habemus, domum non manufactam, aeternam in coelis.

2. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:

2. Etenim in hoc gemimus, domicilium nostrum quod est e coelo, superinduere desiderantes:

3. If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.

3. Siquidem etiam vestiti, non nudi reperiamur.

4. 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.

4. Etenim dum sumus in tabernaculo, gemimus gravati; eo quod non exui volumus, sed superindui, ut destruatur, quod mortale est, a vita.

5. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.

5. Qui autem aptavit nos ad hoc ipsum, Deus est: qui etiam dedit nobis arrhabonem Spiritus.

6. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:

6. Confidimus ergo semper, et scimus, quod habitantes in corpore, peregrinamur a Domino.

7. (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)

7. Per fidem enim ambulamus, et non per aspectum.

8. We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.

8. Confidimus, inquam, et libentius optamus peregrinari a corpore, et habitare apud Dominum.

1. For we know. Here follows an amplification (epexergasia) or embellishment of the foregoing statement. For Paul has it in view, to correct in us impatience, dread, and dislike of the cross, contempt for what is mean, and in fine, pride, and effeminacy; and this can only be accomplished by raising up our minds as high as heaven, through contempt of the world. Now he has recourse to two arguments. On the one hand, he shows the miserable condition of mankind in this life, and on the other hand, the supreme and perfect blessedness, which awaits believers in heaven after death. For what is it that keeps men so firmly bound in a misplaced attachment to this life, but their deceiving themselves with a false imagination -- thinking themselves happy in living here? On the other hand, it is not enough to be aware of the miseries of this life, if we have not at the same time in view the felicity and glory of the future life. This is common to good and bad alike -- that both are desirous to live. This, also, is common to both -- that, when they consider, how many and how great miseries they are here exposed to, (with this difference, however, that unbelievers know of no adversities but those of the body merely, while the pious are more deeply affected by spiritual distresses,) they often groan, often deplore their condition, and desire a remedy for their evils. As, however, all naturally view death with horror, unbelievers never willingly quit this life, except when they throw it off in disgust or despair. Believers, on the other hand, depart willingly, because they have a better hope set before them beyond this world. This is the sum of the argument. Let us now examine the words one by one.

We know, says he. This knowledge does not spring from the human intellect, but takes its rise from the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Hence it is peculiar to believers. Even the heathens had some idea of the immortality of the soul, but there was not one of them, that had assurance of it -- not one of them could boast that he spoke of a thing that was known to him. Believers alone can affirm this, to whom it has been testified of by the word and Spirit of God.

Besides, it is to be observed, that this knowledge is not merely of a general kind, as though believers were merely in a general way persuaded, that the children of God will be in a better condition after death, and had no assurance as to themselves individually, for of how very little service this would be for affording a consolation, so difficult of attainment! On the contrary, every one must have a knowledge peculiar to himself, for this, and this only, can animate me to meet death with cheerfulness -- if I am fully persuaded, that I am departing to a better life.

The body, such as we now have it, he calls a house of tabernacle For as tabernacles are constructed, for a temporary purpose, of slight materials, and without any firm foundation, and then shortly afterwards are thrown down, or fall of their own accord, so the mortal body is given to men as a frail hut, to be inhabited by them for a few days. The same metaphor is made use of, also, by Peter in his Second Epistle, (2 Peter 1:13, 14,) and by Job, (Job 4:19,) when he calls it a house of clay. He places in contrast with this a building of perpetual duration. It is not certain, whether he means by this term a state of blessed immortality, which awaits believers after death, or the incorruptible and glorious body, such as it will be after the resurrection. In whichever of these senses it is taken, it will not be unsuitable; though I prefer to understand it as meaning, that the blessed condition of the soul after death is the commencement of this building, and the glory of the final resurrection is the consummation of it. This exposition will correspond better with the Apostle's context. The epithets, which he applies to this building, tend to confirm more fully its perpetuity.

3. Since clothed He restricts to believers, what he had stated respecting the certainty of a future life, as it is a thing peculiar to them. For the wicked, too, are stripped of the body, but as they bring nothing within the view of God, but a disgraceful nakedness, they are, consequently, not clothed with a glorious body. Believers, on the other hand, who appear in the view of God, clothed with Christ, and adorned with His image, receive the glorious robe of immortality. For I am inclined to take this view, rather than that of Chrysostom and others, who think that nothing new is here stated, but that Paul simply repeats here, what he had previously said as to putting on an eternal habitation. The Apostle, therefore, makes mention here of a twofold clothing, with which God invests us -- the righteousness of Christ, and sanctification of the Spirit in this life; and, after death, immortality and glory. The first is the cause of the second, because

those whom God has determined to glorify, he first justifies. (Romans 8:30.)

This meaning, too, is elicited from the particle also, which is without doubt introduced for the purpose of amplifying -- as if Paul had said, that a new robe will be prepared for believers after death, since they have been clothed in this life also.

4. We groan, being burdened, because we desire not to be unclothed. The wicked, too, groan, because they are not contented with their present condition; but afterwards an opposite disposition prevails, that is, a clinging to life, so that they view death with horror, and do not feel the long continuance of this mortal life to be a burden. The groaning of believers, on the other hand, arises from this -- that they know, that they are here in a state of exile from their native land, and that they know, that they are here shut up in the body as in a prison. Hence they feel this life to be a burden, because in it they cannot enjoy true and perfect blessedness, because they cannot escape from the bondage of sin otherwise than by death, and hence they aspire to be elsewhere.

As, however, it is natural for all animals to desire existence, how can it be, that believers are willing to cease to exist? The Apostle solves this question, when he says, that believers do not desire death for the sake of losing any thing, but as having regard to a better life. At the same time, the words express more than this. For he admits, that we have naturally an aversion to the quitting of this life, considered in itself, as no one willingly allows himself to be striped of his garments. Afterwards, however, he adds, that the natural horror of death is overcome by confidence; as an individual will, without any reluctance, throw away a coarse, dirty, threadbare, and, in one word, tattered garment, with the view of his being arrayed in an elegant, handsome, new, and durable one.

Farther, he explains the metaphor by saying --

that what is mortal may be destroyed by life. For as flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, (1 Corinthians 15:50,)

it is necessary, that what is corruptible in our nature should perish, in order that we may be thoroughly renewed, and restored to a state of perfection. On this account, our body is called a prison, in which we are confined.

5. Now he that hath fitted us. This is added in order that we may know, that this disposition is supernatural. For mere natural feeling will not lead us forward to this, for it does not comprehend that hundredfold recompense which springs from the dying of a single grain. (John 12:24.) We must, therefore, be fitted for it by God. The manner of it is at the same time subjoined -- that he confirms us by his Spirit, who is as it were an earnest At the same time the particle also seems to be added for the sake of amplification. |It is God who forms in us this desire, and, lest our courage should give way or waver, the Holy Spirit is given us as an earnest, because by his testimony he confirms, and ratifies the truth of the promise.| For these are two offices of the Holy Spirit -- first, to show to believers what they ought to desire, and secondly, to influence their hearts efficaciously, and remove all their doubt, that they may steadfastly persevere in choosing what is good. There would, however, be nothing unsuitable in extending the word fitted, so as to denote that renovation of life, with which God adorns his people even in this life, for in this way he already separates them from others, and shows that they are, by means of his grace, marked out for a peculiar condition.

6. Therefore we are always confident That is, as exercising dependence on the earnest of the Spirit; for, otherwise, we always tremble, or, at least, are courageous or alarmed by turns, and do not retain a uniform and even tenor of mind. Hence, that good courage of which Paul speaks has no place in us, unless it is maintained by the Spirit of God. The connecting particle and, which immediately follows, ought to be understood as meaning because, in this way: We are of good courage, Because we know that we are absent, etc. For this knowledge is the cause of our calmness and confidence; for the reason, why unbelievers are constantly in a ferment of anxiety, or obstinately murmur against God, is, that they think they will ere long cease to exist, and they place in this life the highest and uppermost summit of their felicity. We, on the other hand, live in the exercise of contentment, and go forward to death with alacrity, because a better hope is laid up for us.

We are absent from the Lord Scripture everywhere proclaims, that God is present with us: Paul here teaches, that we are absent from him. This is seemingly a contradiction; but this difficulty is easily solved, when we take into view the different respects, in which he is said to be present or absent. He is, then, present with all men, inasmuch as he upholds them by his power. He dwells in them, because

in him they live and move and have their being. (Acts 17:28.)

He is present with his believing people by the energy of his Spirit; he lives in them, resides in the midst of them, nay more, within them. But in the mean time he is absent from us, inasmuch as he does not present himself to be seen face to face, because we are as yet in a state of exile from his kingdom, and have not as yet attained that blessed immortality, which the angels that are with him enjoy. At the same time, to be absent, in this passage, refers merely to knowledge, as is manifest from the reason that is afterwards added.

7. For we walk by faith (Eidos) I have here rendered aspectum, (sight,) because few understood the meaning of the word species, (appearance.) He states the reason, why it is that we are now absent from the Lord -- because we do not as yet see him face to face. (1 Corinthians 13:12.) The manner of that absence is this -- that God is not openly beheld by us. The reason why he is not seen by us is, that we walk by faith Now it is on good grounds that faith is opposed to sight, because it, perceives those things that are hid from the view of men -- because it reaches forth to future things, which do not as yet appear. For such is the condition of believers, that they resemble the dead rather than the living -- that they often seem as if they were forsaken by God -- that they always have the elements of death shut up within them. Hence they must necessarily hope against hope. (Romans 4:18.) Now the things that are hoped for are hid, as we read in Romans 8:24, and faith is the

manifestation of things which do not appear. (Hebrews 11:1.)

It is not to be wondered, then, if the apostle says, that we have not as yet the privilege of sight, so long as we walk by faith For we see, indeed, but it is through a glass, darkly; (1 Corinthians 13:12,) that is, in place of the reality we rest upon the word.

8. We are confident, I say He again repeats, what he had said respecting the confidence of the pious -- that they are so far from breaking down under the severity of the cross, and from being disheartened by afflictions, that they are made thereby more courageous. For the worst of evils is death, yet believers long to attain it, as being the commencement of perfect blessedness. Hence and may be regarded as equivalent to because, in this way: |Nothing can befall us, that can shake our confidence and courage, since death (which others so much dread) is to us great gain. (Philippians 1:21.) For nothing is better than to quit the body, that we may attain near intercourse with God, and may truly and openly enjoy his presence. Hence by the decay of the body we lose nothing that belongs to us.|

Observe here -- what has been once stated already -- that true faith begets not merely a contempt of death, but even a desire for it, and that it is, accordingly, on the other hand, a token of unbelief, when dread of death predominates in us above the joy and consolation of hope. Believers, however, desire death -- not as if they would, by an importunate desire, anticipate their Lord's day, for they willingly retain their footing in their earthly station, so long as their Lord may see good, for they would rather live to the glory of Christ than die to themselves, (Romans 14:7,) and for their own advantage; for the desire, of which Paul speaks, springs from faith. Hence it is not at all at variance with the will of God. We may, also, gather from these words of Paul, that souls, when released from the body, live in the presence of God, for if, on being absent from the body, they have God present, they assuredly live with him.

Here it is asked by some -- |How then did it happen that the holy fathers dreaded death so much, as for example David, Hezekiah, and the whole of the Israelitish Church, as appears from Psalm 4, from Isaiah 38:3, and from Psalm 115:17?| I am aware of the answer, that is usually returned -- that the reason, why death was so much dreaded by them was, that the revelation of the future life was as yet obscure, and the consolation, consequently, was but small. Now I acknowledge, that this, in part, accounts for it, but not entirely, for the holy fathers of the ancient Church did not in every case tremble, on being forewarned of their death. Nay more, they embraced death with alacrity, and with joyful hearts. For Abraham departed without regret, full of days. (Genesis 25:8.) We do not read that Isaac was reluctant to die. (Genesis 35:29.) Jacob, with his last breath, declares that he is

waiting for the salvation of the Lord. (Genesis 49:18.)

David himself, too, dies peacefully, without any regrets, (1 Kings 2:10,) and in like manner Hezekiah. As to the circumstance, that David and Hezekiah did, each of them, on one occasion deprecate death with tears, the reason was, that they were punished by the Lord for certain sins, and, in consequence of this, they felt the anger of the Lord in death. Such was the cause of their alarm, and this believers might feel even at this day, under the reign of Christ. The desire, however, of which Paul speaks, is the disposition of a well-regulated mind.

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