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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 6

Parker's The People's BibleParker's The People's Bible

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Verses 1-18

Literary Altruism

2Co 6:9

To say that these words apply to apostolic life is right. Their whole meaning might be exhausted by quotations from the experience of the Apostle Paul. Then again comes up the statement kindred to that in the text although literally exhaustible in the case of Paul, yet every word that is here is fruitful of suggestion regarding larger doctrine and larger application. A very few steps along this line will show us somewhat of its extent and solidity as a line of argument.

In the Scriptures we continually come upon double statements of this kind: unknown, yet well known; possible, yet impossible; absent, yet present; on earth, yet in heaven; knowing nothing, yet judging all things. So we are at liberty to apply the words, which in their first meaning were restricted to personal experience, to the illustration of profounder truths and wider doctrines. Do we recall anything that is at once "unknown, and yet well known"? A moment's thought may help us to an hour's reflection. Suppose we suggest future time. That is unknown, yet well known. Futurity is the mystery of life, the Divine presence amongst the hours here, yet yonder; near as the next moment, yet far away in the eternities; a line an hour long, yet a line long as God's duration. Consider the future well, for they who can get over all its difficulties and mysteries ought to have no difficulty about God. I do not remember at this moment anything within the compass of human thought which so strikingly and vividly represents the mystery of Divine personality as does what we term the future. We live for the future, even whilst we may deny its broader aspects. What is this magnet that draws us on? Its name is To-morrow. We want to get away from yesterday, but there is a mysterious compulsion acting upon the life at every point: what is the name of that compulsion? Its name is To-morrow. Who has seen it? No man. What will it bring to us? None can tell. Will it be a stormy sea? It may be, or it may be a harvest field. Will it be bright? Will it be a joyous meadow crowned with flowers, fragrant with garden memories? or will it be a deep, black grave that will swallow up our house and all its contents? No man hath seen To-morrow at any time, any more than any man hath seen God at any time. Yet we cannot deny it, though we have never seen it, we have never lived it, we have no experience of it; we have a symbol by which we represent it, we acknowledge its inspiration, its mysterious, elevating, animating influence; but what it is whence it comes, what it will bring, in what shape it will accost us, in what tone of voice, how grim its silence, how eloquent its salutation, none can tell. So we say the future is unknown, yet well known. Thus, in detail, for one moment. The farmer speaks of next harvest: will there be a harvest time? No man doubts it. What will it be in yield and in value? None can tell. It is known, yet unknown known as a broad fact, unknown in all the minuteness of its detail, and the palpitation of its' immediate results. Take the grim certainty of death. We now call it a commonplace when we say "all men are mortal." That is undoubted; criticism does not pause to look upon so well-known and commonplace a statement; instantly it is acknowledged by every man that he will die: now the altruistic statement. When? how? By what gate will you go out of this little land into the unknown territory? Will you begin to die in the feet or at the head? Will your heart suddenly stop like a hindered pendulum? Will the brain give way? or shall there be some subtle action in the blood that will bring you to the dissolution of death? So we have the known and the unknown. If we are asked what are all the details of death, we say "unknown;" if we are asked about our death, we say "yet well known."

Is there anything else that combines these marvellous features of being at once unknown, yet well known? Take life. Who knows it? No man. It is as mysterious as God. The man who can accept life ought to have no difficulty in accepting the Triune God. What is life? No man has ever told. Where is it? No man has seen its sanctuary. Take out the pulse that we may look at it We cannot. What is this marvellous life, a flash of fire, a look of love, a touch of kinship, a feast of brotherhood, a hatred that would destroy its object, a redemption that would die for its love, what is it? Unknown, yet well known; only represented by incarnation, as is God himself, only known phenomenally, as is God himself: for it is the living God that palpitates in all this framework called the universe; it lives in God. We find, therefore, that if we leave ground that is purely and distinctively theological, and go down to some lower level, that we do not leave mystery behind us, and enter upon plain ground, easy sailing, where everybody knows everything, and where there is nothing worth knowing. Go where we may, the spiritual mystery accosts us and asks our homage. We say of the living God "Whither shall I go from thy presence? If I take the wings of the morning, and flee into the uttermost parts of the earth, behold O thou silent, radiant, impenetrable Mystery behold, thou art there; if I ascend into heaven, thy throne is there: if I dive into hell's caverns and fires, behold, thy judgment is there: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee." We have our choice of mysteries: either the mystery which is all light, or the mystery which is nothing but darkness the mystery which is associated with beneficence, or the mystery which is associated with increasing darkness and increasing torment.

Is there any other illustration open to the the general mind which confirms this altruism, which "the Apostle so graphically represented? Take character. What is character? How is it made up? Can you handle it and say, Behold, such is its figure? Can you weigh it in pounds troy, and assign its weight, to the utmost ounce or carat? Can you sell it? Can you walk around it? Can you lay a measuring-line upon it? Have you ever seen it? Only in incarnation, just as you have seen God. You may say concerning a certain man, Behold, a beautiful character! How do you know that? The man is laughing at you, mocking you, plundering you, defying you. What do you know about "a beautiful character"? You say how mild, how modest, how genial, how courteous. How do you know? A child might lay its hand upon some parts of a tiger and say how soft! how deliciously, beautifully gentle and gracious! We know nothing about character. Call no man good until he is dead, and even after death there may come revelations which will "fright the isle from its propriety."

So we come to the great mystery of all God. He is unknown. We acknowledge it. The Bible says so. Agnosticism is a child of the Church, a worshipper at the altar, and a baptised minister of faith. Call it not an alien, a heathen, an outsider; give it ample place in God's sanctuary, for its ignorance may become an explanation of modesty, silence, reverence, not its intellectual ignorance, which is but another aspect of vanity, but its inability to know the infinite, and to guest in its little dying heart the fulness of eternity. Yet God is well known. We cannot tell how we know him, but we do know him; imagination knows him, the heart knows him, reason feels him near, conscience hushes the whole being into silence, because of a mysterious presence. We know some realities by the power of love not by the power of genius. Sympathy is a wide and beautiful gate, which opens upon the heart's confidence, as well as school learning, academic training, book information, which after all may only be a weight we carry, not a food which we digest and reproduce in sacred strength. So we enlarge the whole sphere of altruistic vision, and come upon such words as "possible, yet impossible." "With God all things are possible," says Jesus Christ, and one of his apostles wrote in an epistle, "it is impossible for God." Both statements are true, and both are needed to complete a statement of the truth. We refer to this now, because it helps us to a most practical point. It is possible for you to pull down your house, brick by brick, stone by stone, and to begin immediately to unroof the family dwelling; you have strength, you cannot procure instruments, all needful aids are at your service; you could in one short day dismantle and destroy your dwelling; yet you could not, you could do nothing of the kind. What hinders you? An invisible power. What is its name? Reason, common-sense, a correct apprehension of justice and righteousness. Then we are under spiritual control, notwithstanding our irreligiousness? Certainly. It is not because the constable is looking at us that we do not tear down the dwelling; it is because, though we have the power, we have not reason on our side; conscience, understanding, justice, all moral elements and considerations, say to us in an inaudible voice, "Thou shall not," and thus it becomes impossible. It is possible for you not to go to your business any more; you can take ship and go to the uttermost parts of the earth; after leaving your family in the morning you need never return, so far as mere possibility is concerned; you could destroy yourself, you could leap into the river; and yet you could not. What keeps you back? The ghost or spirit of reason, sanity of mind, and justice to those who depend upon you, and a sense of self-respect.

Now we come to answer the great question Is it not possible for mortals to sin wherever they are? Yes. Is it not possible then for mortals to sin in heaven? Yes; yet impossible precisely as it is with yourselves in certain relations and aspects of life. You, the most honest man that ever lived, so far as is known, could now put your thievish hand into your neighbour's pocket: and yet you could not If you find it impossible to do the possible even here, with all the conditions of time and space and flesh and temptation, what is there to hinder the reasoning that, though it be possible for the creature to sin against the Creator, it should one day be impossible, not because of omni-potency, or oppressiveness, but because such is the culture of all that is noblest in the nature that you could not indulge an unholy look or do a questionable deed. Reason from the lower to the higher. "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not," said Christ, "how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?" It is because men are not faithful to what they do know that they fail in reaping the largest harvests of Divine grace and love. If men would complete their own reasoning it would be said of the most stubborn doubter, "behold, he prayeth." Yes, possible yet impossible. Character is the real guarantee, a guarantee founded in reason, proved by experience, illustrated by all the discipline of life. As we have now come to understand that it is possible for us to do wrong in certain directions, and yet impossible, so it becomes easy to believe that when this mortal is swallowed up in immortality, when this corruption is clothed with incorruption, when this common body is changed and made like unto Christ's glorious body, then it will be impossible for us to think or feel anything that God himself, cannot regard with complacency. Let us take out this line here, and we shall have no difficulty about it hereafter. Instead of speculating whether it is possible to sin in heaven, let us take care that, by the grace of God, it is impossible for us to sin on earth.

Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 6". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jpb/2-corinthians-6.html. 1885-95.
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