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Tuesday, November 28th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 4

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4064. A.D. 60.

Here the apostle declares,

(1,) That, animated by views of the excellence and power of the gospel ministry, he and his brethren had discharged it with unwearied diligence, sincerity, and faithfulness, though not with equal success to all, 2 Corinthians 4:1-7 .

(2,) That their sufferings for it were exceeding great, but attended with rich supports and spiritual advantages, 2 Corinthians 4:8-12 .

(3,) That their prospects of eternal glory chiefly preserved them from fainting under their tribulations, 2 Corinthians 4:13-18 .

Verses 1-2

2 Corinthians 4:1-2. Therefore, seeing we have this ministry Spoken of from 2Co 4:6-11 of the preceding chapter, with which this is closely connected; a ministry so superior to that wherewith Moses was intrusted; as we have received mercy To be accounted faithful; as God has in mercy accepted us as his servants, and supported us in our work; we faint not Under any of those sufferings which we are called to endure; nor desist, in any degree, from our glorious enterprise. But have renounced Or set at open defiance; the hidden things of dishonesty Or of shame, as της αισχυνης properly signifies; all things which men need to hide or be ashamed of; not walking in craftiness Using no disguise, subtlety, or guile; nor handling the word of God deceitfully Not privily corrupting the pure truth of God by any additions of our own, or alterations, or by attempting to accommodate it to the taste of our hearers. But, by manifestation of the genuine and unsophisticated truth, commending ourselves to every man’s conscience Appealing to the consciences of sinners for the truth and importance of our doctrine; or acting in such a manner as all men, in their consciences, if rightly informed, must approve of; in the sight of God Whose eye we know is upon us, observing the secrets of our hearts, and therefore we desire, by the most perfect integrity and uprightness, to approve ourselves to him. The apostle does not mean that they actually recommended themselves to the conscience of every man, so that they had the approbation of every man; but that they behaved in such a manner as ought to have convinced every man of their honesty and fidelity in their preaching, and in the exercise of every other branch of their ministry.

Verses 3-4

2 Corinthians 4:3-4. But if our gospel also, (so it is in the original,) be hid Κεκαλυμμενον , veiled, as well as the law of Moses; it is veiled to them that are lost Εν τοις απολλυμενοις , in those that are perishing, namely, in a state of ignorance and unbelief; of guilt, depravity, weakness, and wretchedness. “In 2 Corinthians 3:13-14, the apostle had observed that there were two veils, by which the Israelites were blinded, or prevented from understanding the meaning of the law, and from perceiving that it was to be abolished by the gospel. The first was a veil which lay on the law itself. This veil was formed by the obscurity of the types and figures of the law, and was signified by Moses putting a veil upon his face when he delivered the law. The other veil lay upon their hearts, and was woven by their own prejudices and corrupt affections, which hindered them from discerning the true design of the law, and the intimations given in it concerning its abrogation by the gospel. Now, in allusion to these causes of the blindness of the Israelites, the apostle told the Corinthians that the gospel had been so plainly preached, and so fully proved, that if its divine original and true meaning was veiled, it was veiled only to them who destroyed themselves. It was not veiled by any veil lying on the gospel itself, but by a veil lying on the hearts of men, who would destroy themselves, by hearkening to their own prejudices and lusts.” Macknight. In, or among whom the god of this world Grandis et horribilis descriptio Satanæ, a grand and terrible description of Satan, says Bengelius. Satan is repeatedly styled by our Lord, the prince of this world. See John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11; that is, the prince of those who are men of the world, (Psalms 17:14,) and who freely subject themselves to him. Thus, (Ephesians 6:12,) he and his associates in rebellion against God are termed the rulers of the darkness of this world. Satan is termed by the apostle here, the god of this world, because he makes use of the things of this world, especially of its riches, honours, pleasures, and various vanities, to obtain and establish his dominion over a great part of mankind, even over all that continue under the power of unbelief and sin. Hath blinded Not only veiled; the minds of them that believe not So that they have no true apprehension nor discernment of spiritual things: which indeed none can savingly know, nor duly appreciate, but by the teaching of the Spirit of God, (1 Corinthians 2:11,) even the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, by which alone the eyes of our understanding can be enlightened, Ephesians 1:17-18: lest the light Τον φωτισμον , the illumination; of the glorious gospel of Christ, should shine Or beam forth, as the apostles expression signifies; upon them By our ministry. Illumination is properly the reflection, or propagation of light, from those who are already enlightened, to others; and the apostle appears to allude to the splendour of God’s majesty shining from Moses’s face on the people. Who is the image of God This appellation is frequently given to Christ, who is so called, because, in his complete person, he was in such a sense God manifest in the flesh, and so exactly exhibited the Father to mankind, that they who saw him, saw the Father, as far as he could be seen on earth. See notes on John 14:7-11. Hence he is termed, (Hebrews 1:3,) the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person. Though the devil is said here to blind the minds of unbelievers, no person understands the apostle to mean that he hath the power of blinding men’s minds directly; far less that he hath the power of blinding them forcibly; for in that case, who could remain unblinded? But he means, that Satan blinds unbelievers, by suggesting those thoughts and imaginations, and exciting those lusts and passions, by which such as believe not are easily persuaded to shut their eyes against the light of the gospel, because it condemns their vicious practices. Thus our Lord testifies that men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. The ignorance, therefore, of unbelievers does not proceed from the obscurity of the gospel, but from their own lusts and passions, which, by the grace of God, not withheld from them, (for it visits all, Titus 2:11-12,) they might resist and mortify, Romans 8:13; but to which they voluntarily, wickedly, and generally in opposition to their better judgment, yield themselves willing servants.

Verses 5-6

2 Corinthians 4:5-6. For, &c. As if he had said, The cause of their continuing in unbelief, and perishing, is not in us, nor in the doctrine they hear from us; for we preach not ourselves As able either to enlighten, or pardon, or sanctify mankind; but Christ Jesus the Lord Their only infallible Teacher, all-sufficient Saviour, and righteous Governor; their only wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; and ourselves your servants Ready to do the meanest offices, and advance the best interests of you, and all the other disciples of Christ, to whom we minister; for Jesus’s sake Out of love to him, and with a view to his glory; and not for honour, interest, pleasure, or any worldly consideration. For To produce in us this disposition, and to qualify us for this great and important work; God, who In the first creation of this world; commanded the light to shine out of darkness By his infinitely powerful word; hath shined in our hearts And not only in the hearts of us apostles, and his other ministers, but in the hearts of all those whom the god of this world no longer blinds, and thereby shuts them up in unbelief: to give the light of the knowledge, &c. Προς φωτισμον της γνωσεως , &c. In order to our illumination with, or to impart the lustre of; the knowledge of the glory of God Of his glorious perfections, especially of his glorious love, and his glorious image, see on 2 Corinthians 3:18; in the face of Jesus Christ Which reflects this glory in another manner than the face of Moses did. Or, as εν προσωπω Ιησου Χριστου , may be properly rendered, in the person of Jesus Christ; for undoubtedly the glory here spoken of was reflected not merely from his face, but from his whole person, through the union of Deity with humanity in him, and all the wonderful things he did and suffered in consequence of it.

Verse 7

2 Corinthians 4:7. But we The apostles, and all other ministers of Christ, yea, and all true believers; have this treasure Of the gospel, or of the truth and grace of God; in earthen vessels In frail, feeble, perishing bodies, formed out of the dust of the earth, and, because of sin, returning to it; mean, vile, compassed about with infirmity, and liable to be broken in pieces daily. Even the whole man, the soul as well as body, is but a vessel, in which the treasure is lodged, and upon which it confers a value and dignity, but from which it receives none, but is rather disgraced and injured, by being deposited in such a mean and impure vessel. The gospel is properly termed a treasure, 1st, Because of its great excellence, manifested in the truth and importance of its doctrine; the equity, purity, goodness, and clearness of its precepts; the suitableness, value, and certainty of its promises, the awfulness and terror of its threatenings, revealed for our warning and caution. 2d, Because it is the means of enriching us, even in this world, with the truest and most valuable treasure; a treasure, of all others, the most suited to our rational and immortal nature, and which as far exceeds the riches of this world, as the soul exceeds the body, as heaven exceeds earth, or eternity time, namely, divine knowledge, rendering us wise unto eternal salvation; true holiness, conforming us to the image of him that created us; and solid happiness, giving us, in communion with God, an earnest of our future inheritance. 3d, Because it offers to us, and shows us how to attain, the greatest and most valuable treasure in the life to come, even all the joys and glories of the heavenly state. That the excellency of the power may be of God This power is three-fold: 1st, The inherent virtue of the gospel doctrine, whereby, when understood, believed, and laid to heart, it shows itself to be quick and powerful, spirit and life; becoming a seed of genuine repentance, of justifying faith, of immortal hope, of sincere love, and new obedience. 2d, Those miraculous operations, whereby God bore witness to, sealed, and confirmed the truth and importance of the doctrine of his first messengers. 3d, Those ordinary influences of his Spirit as a Spirit of truth and grace; of light, life, purity, and comfort, which fails not to accompany the faithful preaching of it in every age. By this three-fold energy, the gospel overcame of old, and still overcomes, the obstacles in the way of its progress: 1st, From within, through the corruption of nature, the prejudice of education, the love of false religion, unbelief, the love of sin, and of the world. 2d, From without, as the contradiction of philosophers, of heathen, Jewish, or Christian priests and magistrates; of sinners of all descriptions; persecutions from Jews and Gentiles, and the carnal part of mankind in every age; reproaches, spoiling of goods, imprisonments, racks, tortures, and martyrdoms. 3d, From the gospel itself, exhibiting, as an object of confidence, love, obedience, and worship, one who was crucified, to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. For, as Macknight observes, “the greatness of this power can only be estimated by the greatness of the obstacles which it had to remove, and by the greatness of the effects which it then produced. No sooner was the gospel preached in any country, whether barbarous or civilized, than great numbers forsook idolatry, and devoted themselves to the worship of the true God. Moreover, instead of wallowing, as formerly, in sensuality, and practising all manner of wickedness, they became remarkably holy. But it is evident, that before such an entire change in the faith [and practice] of any heathen could take place, the prejudices of education were to be overcome; the example of parents, relations, and teachers, was to be set aside; the reproaches, calumnies, and hatred of persons most dear to the convert, were to be disregarded; the resentment of magistrates, priests, and all whose interests were any way connected with the established religion, was to be borne; in short, the ties of blood and friendship were to be broken, considerations of ease and interest were to be silenced; nay, the love of life itself was to be cast out; all which were obstacles to the heathen changing their faith and practice, next to insurmountable;” and such as could not have been overcome by any natural power, which the first preachers of the gospel can be supposed to have possessed. The beautiful and strong expression here used by the apostle, ινα η υπερβολη της δυναμεως η του Θεου , evidently contains an ellipsis, which Grotius supplies thus, That the excellency, &c., may appear to be of God. Men, it must be observed, are always inclined to ascribe to second causes effects which belong only to the first cause. Whenever we see any effects which astonish us, instead of elevating our thoughts to God, and giving him the glory, we meanly sink into creature admiration, and creature attachments, as if the events were to be ascribed to instruments. Thus the heathen beholding the sun, and the astonishing effects produced by it in the world, took it for a god; not considering that it was only a servant, and an image of God, the invisible Sun. The Lycaonians, seeing Paul and Barnabas work a miracle, would have sacrificed to them, not considering that they were only instruments of the divine power. Nay, and the Jews, although instructed in the knowledge of the true God, yet when they saw Peter and John restore a cripple, crowded about them, greatly wondering, as though the miracle was to be ascribed to their power or holiness. And even the Apostle John, illuminated as he was by the Spirit of truth, suffered himself to be surprised at two different times by this imprudent inclination, (so natural is it to all mankind!) for, being dazzled with the glory of the angel who talked with him, he fell prostrate before him, and would have adored him, had not the angel corrected his folly. Now to prevent every thing of this kind, which would have entirely frustrated the design of the gospel, (which is to draw people from the creature to the Creator,) the power intended to convert the nations is put into earthen vessels, that a sight of the meanness of the instruments might prevent men from ascribing any thing to them. And the weaker the instruments are, the more is the divine power manifested and known to be of God, because there is no proportion between the instruments and the work. How glorious was the power which triumphed over the proud and mighty Pharaoh by the simple rod of Moses; that overthrew the walls of Jericho by the sounding of rams’ horns! And how illustrious the power which triumphed over principalities and powers, by the doctrine of the cross preached by mortals sinners men, mean and despised by tax-gatherers, fishermen, and tent-makers; men without letters arms power intrigue; men, poor, persecuted, forsaken! Yet idols fell: temples were demolished: oracles struck dumb: the reign of the devil abolished: the strongest inclinations of nature conquered: ancient habits and customs changed: superstitions annihilated: people flocking in crowds to adore the Crucified! The great and the small, the learned and the ignorant; kings and their subjects; yea, whole provinces and kingdoms, presenting themselves at the foot of the cross! Surely this is the finger of God, or rather it is the outstretched arm of Jehovah!

Verses 8-12

2 Corinthians 4:8-12. We are troubled The four articles in this verse respect inward, the four in the next outward afflictions. In each clause the former part shows the earthen vessels; the latter, the excellence of the power. Yet not distressed Στενοχωρουμενοι , pressed into a strait place, so as to find no way of escape; perplexed The word απορουμενοι , so rendered, signifies persons involved in evils from which they know not how to extricate themselves: but not Εξαπορουμενοι , reduced to such despair as to give up all hope of deliverance from God. Persecuted Continually by men; but not forsaken Of God; cast down By our enemies; but not destroyed Entirely by them. Always Wherever we go; bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus Continually expecting to lay down our lives as he laid down his; that the life also of Jesus Who is now triumphant above all hostile power; might be made manifest in our body That is, in the preservation of it, feeble as it is, and exposed continually to destruction. Or the expression may mean, that we, through our various dangers and sufferings, being conformed to his life here, may hereafter rise from the dead, and be glorified like him. For we who live Those of us, the apostles and ministers of Christ, who are not yet killed for the testimony of Jesus; are always delivered unto death Are perpetually in the very jaws of destruction, which we willingly submit to, that we may obtain a better resurrection. So then Or so that, upon the whole; death worketh in us Is very busy, active, and always at work, to bring us under its power by these sufferings; but life in you Spiritual life has been conveyed to you by our ministry: or the sense may be, we undergo many miseries, and are in continual danger of death; but you are in safety, and enjoy all the comforts of life!

Verses 13-15

2 Corinthians 4:13-15. We having the same spirit Which you have, because we have the same faith: or, we have the same spirit of faith which animated the saints of old, David in particular, when he said, I believed, and therefore have I spoken That is, I trusted in God, and therefore he has put this song of praise in my mouth. We also believe Have the same confidence that God will also deliver us out of our troubles; and therefore speak Declare this our confidence by preaching the gospel openly, even in the midst of affliction and death, supported by an inward consciousness of our integrity, and animated by a powerful sense of duty to God, and a persuasion that he who raised up the Lord Jesus The first-fruits of them that sleep; shall raise us up also, and present us, ministers, with you With all his members, faultless before his presence with exceeding joy. For all things Whether adverse or prosperous; are for your sakes For the profit of all that believe as well as all that teach; that the abundant, πλεονασασα , overflowing grace Which preserves you and us alive, both in soul and body; might abound yet more through the thanksgiving of many For thanksgiving invites more abundant grace.

Verses 16-17

2 Corinthians 4:16-17. For which cause Because of which abounding grace that supports us; we faint not Under any of our present pressures; but though our outward man The body; perish Be worn out and brought to dust prematurely, by our continual labours and sufferings; our inward man The soul; is renewed day by day After the divine nature and likeness, receiving fresh degrees of spiritual strength, purity, and consolation, in proportion as the body grows weaker, and we feel our dissolution approaching. And it is reasonable that this should be the case; for our light affliction Το παραυτικα ελαφρον της θλιψεως , momentary lightness, or light thing (as Macknight renders it) of our affliction; worketh, or rather worketh out, for us a far more exceeding weight of glory That is, a weight of glory far exceeding the affliction, both in degree and duration: or, far greater than we could have received if we had not passed through the affliction. For the affliction, by correcting our faults, exercising and thereby increasing our graces, and purging us as gold and silver are purified in the furnace, increases our holiness and conformity to God, and thereby prepares us for a greater degree of future felicity than could otherwise have been assigned us; God also as certainly rewarding his people hereafter for their sufferings patiently endured, as for their labours diligently and cheerfully accomplished. “The Hebrew word,” as Macknight justly observes, “answering to glory, signifies both weight and glory. Here the apostle joins the two significations in one phrase; and describing the happiness of the righteous, calls it not glory simply, but a weight of glory, in opposition to the light thing of our affliction; and an eternal weight of glory, in opposition to the momentary duration of our affliction: and a more exceeding eternal weight of glory, as beyond comparison greater than all the dazzling glories of riches, fame, power, pleasure, or any thing which can be possessed in the present life. And after all it is a glory not yet to be revealed; it is not yet fully known.” But, as Blackwell ( Sacred Classics, vol. 1. p. 332) well expresses it, “This is one of the most emphatic passages in all St. Paul’s writings, in which he speaks as much like an orator, as he does as an apostle. The lightness of the trial is expressed by το ελαφρον της θλιψεως , the lightness of our affliction, which is but for a moment; as if he had said, It is even levity itself in such a comparison. On the other hand, the καθ ’ υπερβολην εις υπερβολην , which we render far more exceeding, is infinitely emphatical, and cannot be fully expressed by any translation. It signifies that all hyperboles fall short of describing that weighty, eternal glory, so solid, so lasting, that you may pass from hyperbole to hyperbole, and yet when you have gained the last, you are infinitely below it.” Indeed, as another eminent writer observes, the beauty and sublimity of St. Paul’s expressions here, as descriptive of heavenly glory, opposed to temporal afflictions, surpass all imagination, and cannot be preserved in any translation or paraphrase, which after all must sink far, very far below the astonishing original.

Verse 18

2 Corinthians 4:18. While we look That is, this weight of glory will be wrought out for us while we look, or provided we look, namely, by faith and expectation; not at the things which are seen Men, money, honour, pleasure, the things of earth; for to look at these will only render us more earthly and carnal, more unfit for the heavenly state; but at the things which are not seen God, Christ, grace, glory; the things of heaven: to look at which with faith, desire, and expectation, will naturally tend to render us more heavenly, holy, and divine, in our intentions and affections. The word σκοπεω here used, and rendered to look, properly signifies to look or aim at a mark which we intend to hit, or an object which we wish to lay hold on, and consequently endeavour to obtain; our English word scope, or mark aimed at, is derived from the same Greek theme. For the things which are seen, &c. As if he had said, We have great reason to desire, expect, and aim at the latter, rather than the former; for the former, being visible, are also temporal, or temporary and transient; but the others, which are invisible, are eternal, and therefore suited to the duration of that immortal soul which God hath given us, and in the felicity of which our true happiness must consist. This quality of future happiness, that it is eternal, not only implies that its joys and glories will have no end, not even after a duration hath passed beyond all computation of numbers, or conception in thought, but also that these joys will suffer no interruption or abatement whatever, in the course of a duration absolutely everlasting.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". Benson's Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/2-corinthians-4.html. 1857.
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