1. This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.
1. Hic tertius erit adventus meus ad vos. In ore duorum aut trium testium stabilietur omne verbum. (Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; John 8:17; Hebrews 10:28.)
2. I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare:
2. Praedixi et praedico, ut praesens quum essem iterum, ita et absens nunc scribo iis, qui ante peccaverunt, et reliquis omnibus: quod, si venero denuo, non parcam.
3. Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you.
3. Quandoquidem esperimentum quaeritis in me loquentis Christi: qui erga vos non est infirmus, sed potens est in vobis.
4. For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you.
4. Nam quamvis crucifixus fuit ex infirmitate, vivit tamen ex virtute Dei: siquidem et nos infirmi sumus in illo, sed vivmus cum illo ex virtute Dei erga vos.
1. This will be the third. He goes on to reprove still farther the insolence of those of whom he had been speaking, some of whom living in profligacy and licentiousness, and others, carrying on contentions and strifes among themselves, cared nothing for his reproof. For his discourse did not apply to the entire body of the Church, but to certain diseased and half-rotten members of it. Hence he now, with greater freedom, uses sharpness, because he has to do with particular individuals, not with the whole body of the people, and besides this, it was with persons of such a stamp, that he perceived, that he would do them no good by kindness, and mild remedies. After having spent a year and a half among them, (Acts 18:11,) he had visited them a second time. Now he forewarns them, that he will come to them a third time, and he says, that his three comings to them will be in the place of three witnesses. He quotes the law as to the authority of witnesses; not in the natural and literal sense, as it is termed, but by accommodation, or similitude, applying it to his particular purpose.
|The declaration of the law,| says he, |is, that we must rest on the testimony of two or three witnesses for putting an end to disputes.| (Deuteronomy 19:15.)
For the word established means that a decision is pronounced respecting a matter, that the strife may cease. |I, indeed, am but one individual, but coming a third time I shall have the authority of three witnesses, or, my three comings will be in the place of three testimonies.| For the threefold effort that was made for their welfare, and perseverance, as made trial of on three different occasions, might, with good reason, be held equivalent to three persons.
2. I told you before, and foretell you. The friendly and agreeable admonitions, that he had addressed to them so frequently, had been of no advantage. He, accordingly, betakes himself to a more severe remedy, with which he had previously threatened them in words when present with them. When we see him act with so much strictness, we need have no doubt, that they were surprisingly ungovernable and obstinate; for it appears from his writings, what mildness, and what unwearied patience he was otherwise prepared to manifest. As, however, it is the part of a good parent to forgive and bear with many things, so it is the part of a foolish parent, and one that has no proper regard for the welfare of his children, to neglect to use severity, when there is occasion for it, and to mingle strictness with mildness. We are well aware, that nothing is more hurtful than excessive indulgence Let us, therefore, use mildness, when we can safely do so, and that too, dignified and properly regulated: let us act with greater severity, when necessity requires.
It is asked, however, why it was, that the Apostle allowed himself to expose the particular faults of individuals in so open a manner, as in a manner to point his finger at the very persons? I answer, that he would never have done so, if the sins had been hid, but as they were manifest to all, and matter of notoriety, so as to furnish a pernicious example, it was necessary that he should not spare the authors of a public scandal.
It is asked, secondly, what kind of chastisement he threatens to inflict upon them, as he could scarcely chastise them more severely in words. I have no doubt that he means, that he will inflict punishment upon them by excommunication. For what is more to be dreaded, than being cut off from the body of Christ, expelled from the kingdom of God, and delivered over to Satan for destruction, (1 Corinthians 5:5,) unless you repent?
3. Since ye seek a proof A twofold meaning may be drawn from these words. The first is, |Since you wish to try me, whether I speak of myself, or whether Christ speaks by me;| and in this way Chrysostom, and Ambrose, explain it. I am rather inclined, however, to understand him as declaring, that it does not so much concern himself as Christ, when his authority is detracted from -- that when his admonitions are despised, Christ's patience is tried. |It is Christ that speaks by me; when therefore, you bring my doctrine under your lash, it is not so much to me as to him that you do injury.|
Some one, however, will object thus: |What! Will a man's doctrine, then, be exempted from all investigation, so soon as he makes it his boast, that he has Christ as his authority? And what false prophet will not make this his boast? What distinction, then, will there be between truth and falsehood, and what will, in that case, become of that injunction:
Try the spirits, whether they are of God.| (1 John 4:1.)
Every objection of this nature Paul anticipates, when he says that Christ has wrought efficaciously in them by his ministry. For these two clauses, Christ speaking in me, and, who is mighty in you, not weak, must be read in connection, in this sense: |Christ, by exercising his power towards you in my doctrine, has declared that he spoke by my mouth, so that you have no excuse on the ground of ignorance.|
We see, that he does not merely boast in words, but proves in reality that Christ speaks in him, and he convinces the Corinthians, before requiring them to give him credit. Whoever, then, will speak in the Church, whatever be the title that he claims for himself, it will be allowable to inquire as to his doctrine, until Christ has manifested himself in him, and thus it will not be of Christ that judgment will be formed, but of the man. When, however, it is apparent, that it is the word of God that is advanced, what Paul says holds good -- that it is God himself who is not believed Moses spake with the same confidence. (Numbers 16:11.)
What are we -- I and Aaron? You are tempting God.
In like manner, Isaiah:
Is it too small a thing that you grieve men, unless you grieve my God also? (Isaiah 7:13.)
For there is no more room for shuffling, when it has been made apparent, that it is a minister of God that speaks, and that he discharges his office faithfully. I return to Paul. As the confirmation of his ministry had been so decided among the Corinthians, inasmuch as the Lord had shown himself openly, it is not to be wondered, if he takes it so much amiss, that he meets with resistance. On good grounds, truly, might he throw back upon them, as he does, the reproach, that they were rebels against Christ.
4. For though he was crucified. He speaks, with particular intention, of Christ's abasement, with the view of intimating indirectly, that nothing was despised in him, but what they would have been prepared to despise, also, in Christ himself, inasmuch as he
emptied himself, even to the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:8.)
He shows, however, at the same time, how absurd it is to despise in Christ the abasement of the cross, inasmuch as it is conjoined with the incomparable glory of his resurrection. |Shall Christ be esteemed by you the less, because he showed signs of weakness in his death, as if his heavenly life, that he leads subsequently to his resurrection, were not a clear token of his Divine power?| For as the term flesh here means Christ's human nature, so the word God is taken here to denote his Divinity.
Here, however, a question arises -- whether Christ labored under such infirmity as to be subjected to necessity against his will; for, what we suffer through weakness, we suffer from constraint, and not from our own choice. As the Arians of old abused this pretext for effectually opposing the divinity of Christ, the orthodox Fathers gave this explanation of it -- that it was effected by appointment, inasmuch as Christ so desired, and not from his being constrained by any necessity. This answer is true, provided it be properly understood. There are some, however, that mistakenly extend the appointment to Christ's human will -- as if this were not the condition of his nature, but a permission contrary to his nature. For example: |His dying,| they say, |did not happen because his humanity was, properly speaking, liable to death, but by appointment, because he chose to die.| I grant, indeed, that he died, because he chose to do so; but, whence came this choice, but from this -- that he had, of his own accord, clothed himself with a mortal nature If, however, we make Christ's human nature so unlike ours, the main support of our faith is overturned. Let us, therefore, understand it in this way -- that Christ suffered by appointment, not by constraint, because, being in the form of God he could have exempted himself from this necessity, but, nevertheless, he suffered through weakness, because he emptied himself (Philippians 2:6.)
We are weak in him. To be weak in Christ means here to be a partaker of Christ's weakness. Thus he makes his own weakness glorious, because in it he is conformed to Christ, and he no longer shrinks back from the disgrace, that he has in common with the Son of God; but, in the mean time, he says that he will live towards them after Christ's example. |I also,| says he, |will be a partaker of Christ's life, after I shall have been exempted from weakness.| To weakness he opposes life, and, accordingly, he understands by this term a condition that is flourishing, and full of honor. The clause towards you may also be taken in connection with the power of God, but it is of no importance, as the meaning always remains the same -- that the Corinthians, when they began to judge aright, would have respectful and honorable views of the power of God, which was in Paul, and would no longer despise outward infirmity.