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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 6

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Verse 1


‘We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.’

2 Corinthians 6:1

The two most solemn words in our language are, perhaps, the words ‘opportunity’ and ‘responsibility.’ And they mutually connote one another, for every opportunity involves a corresponding responsibility, and every real responsibility implies an opportunity.

I. It will help us to realise the solemnity which attaches to opportunity if we call to mind that the most bitter regrets of life are our regrets for lost opportunities. Think of the man of business who sees the opportunity of his lifetime after it has passed; the man of letters who looks back upon school and college days wasted; the friend who looks back upon the opportunity for explanation or forgiveness in that quarrel which parted him from the one he loved best—parted him for life. Yes! the bitterest regrets of life are those which belong to lost opportunities. But this will also be one of the chief punishments of the lost in eternity—the remorse of sorrow; the torments of self-reproach; the thought—I had my opportunity to save my soul, to win heaven, and—I lost it.

II. Seasons of opportunity.—We have our seasons of spiritual opportunity (e.g. Lent). Lent is indeed an accepted time, a day of salvation—a season of opportunity—because in Lent the Church on earth and the Church beyond is praying for the conversion of sinners; and the multitude of services, the spiritual instructions, the increased fervency of our private prayers—all these help to make Lent a season of marvellous grace. On this account it is easier to repent in Lent, to conquer our sins, to make sacrifices, to do disagreeable duties, to learn more of God and His revelation to man. In other words, Lent is undoubtedly the great opportunity of the Christian year, and the exhortation comes home to us ‘that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.’

III. What is grace?—If one may use an inadequate illustration, grace is something like electricity—a mysterious power, little understood in regard to its nature, and yet easily seen in its effects. How little we really know about it! and that almost entirely empirical. We have gained what we know of electricity by making experiments, watching its effects, seeing how it works, and so learning its laws, which, however, are not laws, but merely observed phenomena.

( a) How mighty it is!—watch the lurid lightning flash and hear the thunderclap. The giant tree, the lofty tower are rent—as though they were but toys! How mighty is its power and its utility! We watch the great dynamos generating the motive force for all the machinery in some great factory, or which keeps in motion the cars upon miles of railroad. And yet—

( b) How delicate in its operations, registering through the telephone the slightest vibration of the human voice at a distance of a thousand miles; flashing in a few seconds its messages around the globe; laughing alike at time and space! And yet—this mighty force is useless unless its laws are obeyed. For centuries man lived with this force unknown and useless to him; and even now he must comply with its laws absolutely to gain their beneficent effect. A break in the wire, and the current stops; imperfect insulation, and the current is grounded, and the electricity which could have produced such great results goes off into the earth and is lost.

How like grace, the mightiest power in the spiritual world!

IV. The warning.—And so the Church gives us this warning: ‘We then as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.’ She does not merely exhort us to receive grace, but she warns us that, after we have sought it and received it, there is the danger of not using it. Pray then for grace; but pray also for grace to use the grace received; and watch for opportunities, not only of receiving it, but of using it. One of the laws of grace is that it only manifests itself in action. Therefore, ‘We beseech you that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.’

—Rev. Dr. A. G. Mortimer.


‘Do you ask what this “grace of God” is? If a judge has condemned a murderer to death, and he knows no other than that in a few days he will suffer the last penalty of the law, and when he looks with fear and trembling for the dread appearance of the executioner, but instead a royal messenger appears with a reprieve and says, “Your king offers you life”—does he inquire what is the grace of the king? “Thou shalt surely die” is the sentence of the law, but the Son of God has appeared and offered life. This is the “grace of God,” which the minister as an ambassador of Christ offers to men. Some will not have this grace. Some receive it in vain.’



The Apostle warns us against what we fear is a very common fault in the present day. So many people seem to receive the grace of God, but it has no influence upon their lives, they receive that grace in vain. I want to say a word or two about the importance of sincerity and reality in religion. If we profess to have any religion at all, let us take great care that it is real.

I. What saith the Scriptures?

( a) Look at the parables of our Lord. The sower, the wheat and tares, the draw-net, the two sons, the wedding garment, the ten virgins, the talents, the great supper, the pounds, the two builders, contrast the true believer and the mere nominal disciple; all bring out in striking colours the difference between reality and unreality in religion, its uselessness and danger.

( b) Look at our Lord’s denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees; eight times in one chapter He denounces as hypocrites, in the most scathing words, men who, at any rate, were more moral and decent than the publicans and harlots. It was all intended to teach the abominableness of false profession and mere outward religion in God’s sight. Open profligacy and sensuality are indeed ruinous sins, if not flung aside; but there seems nothing so distasteful to Christ as hypocrisy and unreality.

II. There is hardly a Christian grace or virtue which has not its counterfeit described in the Word of God.

( a) There is an unreal repentance. Saul, Ahab, Herod, Judas Iscariot, had feelings of sorrow for sin, but they never really repented unto salvation.

( b) There is an unreal faith. Simon Magus ‘believed,’ yet his heart was not right in the sight of God. So also the devils ‘believe and tremble’ ( Acts 8:13; James 2:19).

( c) There is an unreal holiness. Joash, King of Judah, became apparently very holy and good while Jehoiada lived, but at his death the king’s religion vanished ( 2 Chronicles 24:2). Judas Iscariot’s life resembled that of his fellow Apostles until he betrayed his Master; nothing outwardly suspicious, yet he was a thief and a traitor.

( d) There is an unreal love and charity. There is a love which consists in tender expressions, and a show of affection in which the heart has no part. So St. John exhorts: ‘Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth’; and St. Paul: ‘Let love be without dissimulation’ ( 1 John 3:18; Romans 12:19).

( e) There is an unreal humility. An affected lowliness of demeanour which covers a very proud heart ( Colossians 2:18; Colossians 2:23).

( f) There is unreal prayer. Our Lord denounced this as one of the sins of the Pharisees: ‘for a pretence they made long prayers.’ Their sin did not consist in making no prayers, or short prayers, but unreal prayers.

( g) There is unreal worship. ‘This people draw nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honour Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me’ (St. Matthew 15:8). The fatal defect of the Jewish worship was its want of heart and reality.

( h) There is unreal religious profession and talk. In Ezekiel’s time, some talked like God’s people, ‘While their hearts went after their covetousness’ ( Ezekiel 33:31). St. Paul tells us that we may ‘speak with the tongues of men and angels,’ and yet be no better than sounding brass and tinkling cymbals ( 1 Corinthians 13:1). These things show clearly the immense importance which Holy Scripture attaches to reality in religion.

III. See to it that your Christianity be genuine, thorough, real, and true.—Beware lest your Christianity consist of nothing but Churchmanship; that you base all on membership, on the fact that you have been baptized, married, and will be buried, according to her formularies, but have never followed her doctrine or lived the life of a true Churchman. Beware lest your Christianity consist of nothing but dissent; that while you boast, as do many, in the exercise of private interpretation of Scripture, and reject the Church’s authority; that while you profess to despise her ceremonial, her liturgy, her episcopate, your religion is sapless and dry as a dead tree, having neither grace, nor faith, nor repentance, nor personal holiness of life; Dissentianity and nothing more. ‘Unreality’ injures the cause of true religion, and gives occasion to God’s enemies to blaspheme; it is a counterfeit Christianity, an imposture, a cheat, a caricature, and worthless in the sight of God.

Bishop J. C. Ryle.


‘You all receive the grace of God. The child has grace according to a child’s needs. The man or woman receives it according to the needs and temptations of adult life. Both the child and the grown person may obey it and follow it, or they may disobey it and walk otherwise than it bids. If they follow it, well; it has done its appointed work; but if not, then it has been “ in vain” for them. You have had it, and have made no use of it. It has done you no good, because you have resisted it. But yet you will have to give account for it at your judgment as a Divine gift wasted or misused. This will be the case with every degree and every kind of gift which we receive at the hand of God and do not improve.’



Take heed that you do not receive the grace of God in vain.

I. The Holy Spirit is a continual guest.—You are called by Him very often and in many ways. Every blessing of this life that He sends you is a call to you to be grateful. Every painful accident or solemn death that takes place before your eyes or within your knowledge is a warning to you to live closer with God, and so prepare for your last end. These are providential calls—calls in which you may hear the voice of God Himself speaking through the toils and distractions of this world, and even by their means.

II. The Church has her calls to give, and for you to ponder well. It is the duty of God’s ministers to warn and to exhort each and all who will listen to us to flee from the wrath to come. Suffer me thus to warn you, that you receive not the grace of God in vain. Often and often, year by year, and day by day, you have received and are receiving this grace. How have you used it? That is the question. That will be the question to be asked and answered at the Day of Judgment. That therefore is the question you should ask yourselves now. What use have I made of God’s grace? Has it made me (you must ask) a humble, faithful, and consistent Christian? If not, then it has been in vain for me. All the opportunities I have had—faithful and pious teaching through a well-trained childhood and youth at school and at church, all the means of grace which have met me in rich profusion since my youth up—have they done their work with me and trained me in some measure into the likeness of Jesus?

III. It can never be pleasant to go back over one’s past life, raking up the old sins and failures which we had utterly forgotten, in order that we may repent of them and confess them to God and take more heed for the future. Yet how needful it is to do it! Would you wish to wait until it was too late to turn and amend? Do not you know how surely and how quickly those forgotten sins accumulate, to weigh upon your soul at the last? The more sins you keep out of sight and thought now, the more you will have to think of then. Persons who have been nearly drowned and afterwards restored to consciousness have said that just before they became insensible they seemed to perceive their whole lives unrolled before them. Sayings and doings of theirs which they had forgotten for many years came back to their memories with wonderful clearness in that moment of agony. So it often is—perhaps it is always—at the hour of death. Then old sins rise up to torment. Then the memory of duties neglected, of privileges misused, of grace received and wasted, is an inexpressible burden to the sad, weary, trembling, frightened soul.


‘In the Eastern country there are great deserts of sand. For many miles in every direction you can see nothing but bare and barren sand. You might dig down and down, and you would still find nothing but sand, until you came to the hard rock. Nothing grows in these deserts; nothing can grow there. When the rain which brings greenness and fertility, grass and corn and palm trees, everywhere else falls on this barren sandy tract, it does no good at all. It just sinks in for a time, until the surface is baked again by the hot sun, and then it rises up again in vapour. Anywhere else it would clothe the soil with greenness; but here it is useless; it does no good. What a picture this is of the heart that receives and does not obey God’s grace!’

Verse 2


‘Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.’

2 Corinthians 6:2

This repeated word ‘now’ reminds us that the time it embraces is a short time. Whether we interpret it to mean to-day, or yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow, or even extend it to the threescore years and ten, the normally allotted years of man, it is still very short.

I. To every individual there is a golden present which can never return, and in which may lie boundless opportunities for the future. Indeed, there is a ‘now’ running all through the ages, and applies equally to nations and churches as to individuals. Because at the crucial moment of their existence those responsible for their well-being have failed to grasp their opportunities and have been content with a dead past, and instead of rising to the occasion have failed to see the danger. Blinded by the pleasures of the moment, like Rehoboam they have blundered into a revolution. History has seen ancient and powerful civilisations pass into nothingness, because they have trusted to the successes of the past and missed the opportunities of the present.

II. The same may be said of Churches.—Where are the churches of which we read so much in the New Testament? Most of them have lost their influence as centres of Christianity, because of their lethargy and unfaithfulness. Many of them have fallen into the hands of the enemies of Christianity; and the standard of the Cross has had to be borne by those which once formed the outposts of the Church. Constantinople, the city of Constantine—the new Rome—built as a distinctly Christian city, by the first Christian Emperor, is now the chief centre of Mohammedanism. Antioch, Carthage, Alexandria, have lost their old prestige, because those responsible for them have failed to recognise the importance of this Scripture, ‘Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.’

III. Let us beware, lest we, as a Church, and as individuals, make a singular mistake.—If we do not seek to go foward, we shall go backward. There is no such thing as standing still in the Christian life. It is a race to be run—a race that can only be won by training and exercise. We must not rest on our oars; we must never weary of ‘toiling in rowing’ if we wish to reach the other side. Since ‘sin entered into the world’ the religious life is a constant struggle with opposing forces. We must breast the stream with the tide against us. We are so apt to forget this, and to rest content with what we do, or with what we have done, rather than in thinking what we might do, and so trying to do more. The best way to begin is to try and better our own spiritual life, by living nearer to God.

—Rev. C. Rhodes Hall.


‘We must never rest content with the past. No doubt, once, we did run well. We can recall our first love and enthusiasm for Christ. Then we thought we were capable of doing great things for Him. With our larger experience now, we are able to see that feeling and emotion had a large share in our enthusiasm. We may have learnt to rest our faith upon a more solid foundation than the shifting sands of feeling, yet, in the routine of our religion, there is a danger of performing our spiritual duties in a mechanical and perfunctory manner, which is not only displeasing to God, but robs us of that pleasure and satisfaction which our religion is intended to impart. To worship and serve God as a matter of duty is better than not attempting to do it at all, but duties, unless they are sweetened by love, are apt to become irksome. Lent, then, is a season when we may attempt to realise once more that in the presence of God there “is fullness of joy,” and “at His right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” ’

Verse 6


‘By the Holy Ghost.’

2 Corinthians 6:6

The Holy Ghost is the greatest power in the world in the formation of character, in the shaping of history, in the ordering of the universe. To ignore this in education is to put the clock back; to neglect it in morals is retrogressive to the last degree; to supersede its influence is to put a bar in the way of progress.

I. Patient, kind, long-suffering a man may be, but he will not be what he might be without the Holy Ghost.—It may be that the Holy Ghost is a power unrecognised, ignored, and forgotten, and even unknown, but still He is a great force for all that. So the lightning flash toppled down towers, crashed trees, and killed life before men bound electricity to be their servant. So steam displayed its power in every house in the land before men thought how to bind that power to their service. So now and then a brilliant life starts up out of an inexplicable environment. The lake fisherman lives where great names are forgotten, a humble Customs House officer writes a book of imperishable fame. A saint starts up out of Cæsar’s household, and the victories of simple goodness startle and confound those who thought to appeal to their generation, and to demand the homage of those who now neglect them. But still few pause to think of this great power as connected with us all, as offered to us all, open to us all—the Holy Ghost. We are face to face to-day with the greatest of all influences, the Holy Ghost. Here is the Maker of heroism, the Fount of saintliness, the Author of greatness, the Parent of unselfishness. Here is the Influence in Whose power, if we were true to it, we could become really ourselves, and give that message to the world for which we were sent here, that message which we alone can give, that individual contribution, that life’s work which we are kept alive to accomplish.

II. The Holy Ghost is the very spirit of unity and truth.—Do not let us for one moment think that unity is to be brought about by the concession of vital faith, or that any unity is possible but unity in the truth. If we are true to ourselves, if we are true to God and His revelation, then as in some strong building as it rises in its might there will be seen those points of junction, those projecting stones and half-turned arches which speak of incompleteness and invite union; but you will never be able to build on to a crumbling wall without foundation, without stability. In bridging a river we see just rising up, on deeply submerged foundations, those solid piers, stately, tall, isolated as they seem, which are, however, at last to carry the roadway. So one contribution to unity among Christians to-day, and a solid one, will be to build up ourselves on our most holy faith, and to throw into that great cause our own individual life, strong in the power of the Holy Ghost. A great deal of the controversy of the day, which keeps us so much apart, is kept alive by men who have failed, by men who have spent their whole lives in watching other people, and who turn polemical bitterness into gain. One great source of discord would be removed if there were a greater effort after self-discipline, if people bestowed on themselves much of that criticism which they expend on others. If every man were to answer to the call which God makes, and throw himself resolutely into that which henceforth becomes to him his vocation, then he would stretch out hands on either side of him, not to rivals but to fellow-workers; then he would seek not to pull down, but to build up; then he would feel that the work was great, and the work was large, and that his contribution to the unity of the whole was first himself, and then the portion of the work allotted to him.

III. Let us anxiously seek to know whether this Holy Spirit is the predominant power in the formation of our character, for He brooks no rival. It is no use attempting to be centres of unity if our own lives are torn and distracted and rent with rebellious factions which war in our members. It is no use praying for the unity of Christendom if we are merely praying for the success of our own party or for the wilful having of our own way. It is no use pulling down the sheepfold in order to increase, as we think, the amplitude of our flock. It is no use burning and slaying with political rancour and deadly rivalry, and making a solitude and calling it peace. My first contribution to unity to-day shall be myself. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty; where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is unity; where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is power. Are all the channels open by which He may enter into my heart? Prayer, with its wide door reaching up into the very courts of heaven. Sacraments, laden with which the spies from the good land come to me, bearing the fruits of the country. The Holy Scriptures, with their never-dying message, the news of a far country, welcome as cold in the time of harvest. At certain great times of our life the Holy Spirit has entered. He breathed order upon chaos at baptism and gave us the gift of new life. He strengthened us with His might at confirmation, He dissipated in absolution the powers of evils. By His might Jesus Christ waits to be gracious to us in His Sacrament. Only remember that in whatever way He comes, it is for us to yield ourselves to His power. The Holy Spirit and sin cannot dwell together in the same heart. And if we will then trust Him, and work with Him, we shall see how true it is that here is a power greater than skill, intellect, endowment, or any bodily strength; here is a centre of unity which nothing can resist—the power of the Holy Ghost.

—Rev. Canon Newbolt.


‘A distinguished modern psychologist has said, “Economically the saintly group of qualities is indispensable to the world’s welfare. The great saints are immediate successes; the smaller ones are at least heralds and harbingers, and they may be leavens also of a better mundane order.” ’

Verse 10


‘Poor, yet making many rich.’

2 Corinthians 6:10

An instrument is valued for what it accomplishes, and not for its accidental richness in material. A steel pen or quill that will write well is better than a gold one which will not write at all; a poor reed or pipe that gives music than a stately and costly structure that only looks like an organ. We are meant to be instruments in God’s hand, and our worth is measured by the work we do.

I. The casket may be poor, and yet contain the costly jewel; the cart may be rude, and yet bear a valuable burden; the paper may be coarse, and yet have written on it great news. And so we may in spite of poverty be of signal use in the world. Socrates dressed in the plainest garb and lived on the poorest fare, and yet taught philosophers and kings; the Apostles were poor fishermen, and yet turned the world upside down; Christ Himself was a humble carpenter, and yet has enriched the world with wisdom and purity and love and immortal hope. Poverty leaves you, at least, with a heart that can pity, a tongue that can instruct and comfort and bless, a hand that can be gentle and helpful, whole treasures of spiritual wealth which can ‘make many rich.’

II. Our poverty may be necessary to our enriching of our fellow-men.—Our poverty may be like the lowly craft that are used for running up shallow rivers and creeks. We can have access to people and places which rich men cannot reach. Our contentment, sweetness of spirit, etc., will shine all the more brightly as a jewel, having poverty for its foil. Christ became poor that we through His poverty might be rich. So, in some sense, we must all do, whether we are poor or rich, if we are truly to serve and enrich our fellow-men. If the foundation-stones are to bear up the tower, they must not insist on being seen themselves; if the tree is to be laden with heavy fruit, it must bend its head; if the tongue is to bless, it must speak low and sweet; if the heart is to comfort by true sympathy, it must stoop and share others’ burdens.

Be content to be nothing that Christ may be all; to be a lowly instrument in His hand for serving and enriching your fellow-men.

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 6". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/2-corinthians-6.html. 1876.
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