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- 2 Corinthians
by John Calvin
SECOND EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS.
So far as we can judge from the connection of this Epistle, it appears that the first Epistle was not without some good effect among the Corinthians, (199) but at the same time was not productive of so much benefit as it ought to have been; and farther, that some wicked persons, despising Paul’s authority, persisted in their obstinacy. For the fact of his being so much occupied, at one time in declaring his fidelity, and at another in maintaining the dignity of his office, is itself a token that they had not as yet been thoroughly confirmed. He himself, too, complains in express terms, that there were some that made sport of his former Epistle, instead of deriving benefit from it. Understanding, then, the condition of the Church among them to be such, and being detained by other matters, so as to be prevented from coming to them so soon as he had at that time contemplated, he wrote this Epistle from Macedonia. We are now in possession of the purpose which he had in view in writing this Epistle — that he might perfect what he had already begun, in order that he might, when he came, find every thing in proper order.
He begins, as he is wont, with thanksgiving, rendering thanks to God, that he had been marvellously rescued from the most imminent dangers, and at the same time he calls them to notice, that all his afflictions and distresses tended to their benefit and welfare, that he may the better secure their favor by this farther pledge of union, (200) while the, wicked perversely took occasion from this to lessen his influence. Farther, when wishing to apologize for delaying to come to them, he declares that he had not changed his purpose from lightness or unsteadiness, and that he had not, for the purpose of deceiving, professed anything that he had not really had in view; (201) for there was the same consistency to be seen by them in all his sayings, that they had had experience of in his doctrine. Here, too, he briefly notices, how stable and sure was the truth of his preaching, as being founded on Christ, by whom all the promises of God are fixed and ratified — which is a high recommendation of the gospel.
After this he declares, that the reason why he had not come was this, that he could not appear among them cheerful and agreeable. In this statement, he reproves those, who, from his change of purpose, took occasion to calumniate him. He accordingly throws the blame upon the Corinthians, as being not yet well prepared for receiving him. He shows, at the same time, with what fatherly forbearance he was actuated, inasmuch as he kept himself back from visiting their city for this reason — that he might not be under the necessity of exercising severity upon them.
Farther, lest any one should object, that he had in the mean time not at all refrained from handling the Corinthians severely in his writings, he apologizes for the vehemence that he made use of in his first Epistle, by saying that it was owing to others — they having shut him up to the necessity of this against his will. That this keenness had proceeded from a friendly disposition he satisfactorily shows, by ordering that the incestuous person himself, on whose account he had been much exasperated, should be received back into favor, having since that time given some evidence of repentance. Farther, he brings forward this additional evidence of his affection towards them, that he had no rest in his mind (2 Corinthians 2:13) until he had learned through means of Titus the state of their affairs, for an anxiety of this kind originates in affection.
Having had occasion, however, to make mention here of his journey to Macedonia, he begins to speak of the glory of his ministry. As, however, those darling Apostles, who endeavored to detract from him, had obtained an easy victory over him by trumpeting their own praises, that he may have nothing in common with them, and that he may at the same time beat down their foolish boasting, he declares that he derives commendation from the work itself, (202) and does not borrow it from men. In the same passage, he extols in magnificent terms the efficacy of his preaching, and sets off to advantage the dignity of his Apostleship by comparing the gospel with the law, declaring, however, first of all, that he claimed nothing as his own, but acknowledged everything, whatever it might be, to have come forth from God.
After this he relates again, with what fidelity and integrity he had discharged the office intrusted to him, and in this he reproves those who malignantly reproached him. Nay more, rising still higher in holy confidence, he declares, that all are blinded by the devil, who do not perceive the lustre of his gospel. Perceiving, however, that the meanness of his person (as being contemptible) (203) detracted much from the respect due to his Apostleship, embracing this favorable opportunity, he does not merely remove this occasion of offense, but turns it into an opposite direction, by saying, that the excellence of God’s grace shines forth so much the more brightly, from the circumstance that so valuable a
treasure was presented in earthen vessels.
(2 Corinthians 4:7.)
Thus he turns to his own commendation those things which the malevolent were wont to cast up to him by way of reproach, because on his being weighed down with so many distresses, he always, nevertheless, after the manner of the palm tree, (204) rises superior to them. He treats of this subject up to the middle of the fourth chapter, (2 Corinthians 4:0). As, however, the true glory of Christians lies beyond this world, he teaches that we must, by contempt of this present life and mortification of the outward man, set ourselves with the whole bent of our mind to meditation on a blessed immortality.
Farther, near the beginning of the fifth chapter, (2 Corinthians 5:0), he glories in this — that being actuated by such a disposition, he has nothing else as the object of his desire, than to have his services approved unto the Lord, and he entertains a hope, that he will have the Corinthians as witnesses of his sincerity. As, however, there was a danger of his being suspected of vanity, or arrogance, he again repeats, that he is constrained to this by the unreasonableness of wicked persons, and that it was not for his own sake, as though he were eager to retain their good opinion, but for the benefit of the Corinthians, to whom it was of advantage to have this opinion and persuasion; and he declares that he is concerned for nothing but their welfare. With the view of confirming this, he subjoins a universal statement, showing what ought to be the object aimed at by the servants of Christ — that, losing sight of themselves, they should live to the honor of their Lord; and at length he concludes, that everything except newness of life ought to be reckoned of no importance, so that he alone, who has denied himself, is to be held in esteem. From this he passes on to unfold the sum of the Gospel message, that by the magnitude and excellence of it he may stir up both ministers and people to a pious solicitude. This he does in the beginning of the sixth chapter, (2 Corinthians 6:0).
Here again, after having noticed how faithfully he discharged his office, he gently reproves the Corinthians, as being hinderances to themselves in the way of their reaping advantage. To this expostulation he immediately subjoins an exhortation, to flee from idolatry— from which it appears, that the Corinthians had not yet been brought so far as he wished. Hence it is not without good reason that he complains, that they had themselves to blame, inasmuch as they had not had their ears open to doctrine so plain. But lest he should, by pressing too severely their tender minds, dishearten or alienate them, he again assures them of his kind disposition towards them, and resuming his apology for severity, which he had left off in a manner abruptly, he brings it to a conclusion, though in a different way. For assuming greater confidence, he acknowledges that he is not dissatisfied with himself for having grieved them, inasmuch as he had done it for their good; (205) while at the same time, by congratulating them on the happy issue, he shows them how cordially he desires their best interests. These things he treats of to the end of the seventh chapter, (2 Corinthians 7:0).
From the beginning of the eighth chapter, (2 Corinthians 8:0), to the end of the ninth, (2 Corinthians 9:0), he stirs them up to cheerfulness in giving alms, of which he had made mention in the last chapter of the first Epistle. He commends them, it is true, for having begun well, but lest the ardour of their zeal should cool in process of time, as often happens, he encourages them by a variety of arguments to go on perseveringly in the course on which they had entered.
In the tenth chapter, (2 Corinthians 10:0), he begins to defend himself, and his office as an Apostle, from the calumnies with which the wicked assailed him. And in the first place, he shows that he is admirably equipped with the armor that is requisite for maintaining Christ’s warfare. (206) Farther, he declares, that the authority which he had exercised in the former Epistle was grounded on the assurance of a good conscience, and he shows them that he had no less power in his actions, when present, than authority in his words when absent. Lastly, by instituting a comparison between himself and them, he shows how vain their boasting is. (207)
In the eleventh chapter, (2 Corinthians 11:0), he calls upon the Corinthians to renounce those depraved inclinations, by which they had been corrupted, showing them that nothing is more dangerous than to allow themselves to be drawn aside from the simplicity of the Gospel. The fact of his having begun to be somewhat disesteemed among them, while others had been more favorably received by them, had arisen, as he shows, not from any fault on his part, but from their being haughty or nice to please; inasmuch as those others had brought them nothing better or more excellent, while he was contemptible in their view because he did not set himself off to advantage by elegance of speech, (208) or because he had, by voluntary subjection, by way of humouring their weakness, given up his just claim. This irony (209) contains in it an indirect reproach for their ingratitude, for where was the reasonableness of esteeming him the less, because he had accommodated himself to them? He declares, however, that the reason why he had refrained from taking the wages to which he was entitled, was not that he had less affection to the Corinthians, (210) but in order that no advantage might be gained over him in any respect by the false apostles, who, he saw, laid snares for him by this stratagem.
Having reproved the unreasonable and malignant judgment of the Corinthians, he magnifies himself in a strain of pious glorying, letting them know in what magnificent terms he could boast, were he so inclined, premising however, that it is for their sakes that he acts the fool (211) in heralding his own praises. At length, checking himself, as it were, in the middle of the course, he says that his chief ground of glorying is that abasement which was despised by the proud, for he had been admonished by the Lord, not to glory in anything but in his infirmities.
Towards the close of the twelfth chapter, (2 Corinthians 12:0), he again expostulates with them for shutting him up to the necessity of thus playing the fool, while they give themselves up to ambitious men, (212) by whom they are estranged from Christ. Farther, he inveighs keenly against those who wantonly raged against him, adding to their previous crimes this impudence of opposition. (213)
In the thirteenth chapter, (2 Corinthians 13:0), by forewarning such persons, that he will treat them with peculiar severity, he exhorts all in general to recognise his apostleship, as it will be for their advantage to do so; while it is a dangerous thing for them to despise one, whom they had found by experience to be a trusty and faithful ambassador from the Lord.
(204) The palm is one of the most beautiful trees in the vegetable kingdom; it is upright, lofty, verdant, and embowering. It grows by the brook or well of living water; and, resisting every attempt to press or bend it downwards, shoots directly towards heaven. For this reason, perhaps, it was regarded by the ancients as peculiarly sacred, and, therefore, most frequently used in adorning their temples. The chosen symbol of constancy, fruitfulness, patience, and victory; the more it is oppressed the more it flourishes, the higher it grows, and the stronger and broader the top expands. — Paxton’s Illustrations, (Edin. 1842,) volume 2. — Ed.
the Second Week of Advent