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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

2 Corinthians 5

 

 

Verse 8

HOME AT LAST

‘At home with the Lord.’

2 Corinthians 5:8 (R. V.)

That is heaven at last. ‘There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.’ I can tell you two things about that home.

I. It is a home where Christ is.—It is ‘home with the Lord.’ He will unlock the treasures of heaven and unfold its wonders.

II. It is where our loved ones are.

—Rev. F. Harper.

Illustrations

(1) ‘One of the most touching scenes in fiction is where Thackeray describes Colonel Newcome’s last moments on earth and first moments with Christ. He thought he heard the school-bell ringing, and that his name was being called, and he answered “Present” as he used to do when he was a boy at the Charterhouse School. At the usual evening hour the chapel bell began to toll, and Thomas Newcome’s hands outside the bed feebly beat time. And just as the last bell struck, a peculiar sweet smile shone over his face, and he lifted up his head a little, and quickly said “Adsum” and fell back. It was the word we used at school, when names were called; and lo, he whose heart was as that of a little child, had answered to his name, and stood in the Presence of the Master.’

(2) ‘When Wordsworth was dying, suddenly he awoke from the stupor in which he lay, his face filled with life and the eyes with the light of a glad surprise. “Dora,” cried the dying poet, recognising the daughter he had lost.’


Verse 10

THE CHRISTIAN AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT

‘We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body.’

2 Corinthians 5:10

Not so much a universal judgment hour is in view here, with its dread appeal to the universal conscience, as an investigation within the family circle of the disciples—a forum domesticum—the Lord’s particular scrutiny of His servant-brethren.

I. He has not left them unreminded in their service time that all these things are placed in their hands to hold, in the inmost truth of the matter for Him. The books must all be opened. And the opinion of the Supreme Examiner must be announced—to be remembered and to take effect for ever—yes, even amidst the conditions of the world of bliss.

II. There is serious reason why, precisely in our own period of time, this aspect of our years on earth should be put in prominence before us. Never was there an age whose characteristics have seemed in many respects so to cross and contradict each other, as do those of our own. It would be easy to argue for any one of many quite opposite assertions about the present day, and to maintain with equal plausibility, for example, that it was more strenuous or more purposeless, more light-minded or more overcast with a certain gloom than its forerunners. But we need not linger over comparisons or subtle equipoises of that sort before saying with confidence that for innumerable minds, above all in the more recent generations, born into a time already used to wide invasions of materialistic thought, one imminent danger of to-day is an oblivion of the whole ideal of the Christian life, not least upon the side of its grave but magnificent responsibility. The awe of responsibility is not felt as it was, even where the Lord is duly worshipped. The presence of Jesus Christ as Possessor and as Observer in the whole life, and over the whole field of gift and circumstance, is more feebly recognised by Christians. The confidence of faith in the eternal, now and here, and also in the eternal, as it looks upon us from beyond the tomb as a boundlessly living life to come, whose heart and bliss is the unveiled face of Christ, and whose law is His everlasting service—this is not quite what it was in the current consciousness of Christian hearts. So there is need to think, to watch, to pray, till we get back into the power of that recollection again, alike for the animation of our hearts with the joy which is native to the Gospel, and for that purposeful remembrance of the eternal Master, and of His scrutiny to come, which is anything rather than a contradiction to that joy; no more such than fuel is a contradiction to the flame.

III. Is there not occasion for the appeal?—Is the presence of things eternal felt in anything like the old force in our modern habits of thinking and of behaving? Is it a dominant power in the current ideals of the English home? Do we parents present as we should to our sons and daughters the prospect of life in its noble Christian gravity, its lofty aspect as the discipline and palœstra of our being, in which, through faithful service here of God and of man, the whole responsible personality is to be trained for inconceivable activities and utilities, day without night, in the upper life, in the heaven of the sight of God? Are our common habits at all disciplined and informed by the elevating, the invigorating restraints of that recollected prospect? Or are they allowed to drift as they will from comfort to comfort, till the day knows no deliberate worship, and the week knows no Sabbath other than an interval of all too selfish indolence?

God grant us a revival, deep and large, of the Christian ideal of duty, not least within the home.

—Bishop H. C. G. Moule.

Illustration

‘Two variations upon the English appear to be called for by the Greek of the Apostle. For the words “We must all appear,” we do well, with the Revisers, to read “We must all be made manifest.” It is to be not merely the putting in of an appearance, an adsum, a formal muster before the Prince’s chair; it is to be a making manifest, an opening out of characters, a showing up of all that the Christian has come to be through the use of faculty and circumstance, a disclosure and display of it before his Master, and his fellow-servants, and himself. Again, for the words, “done in the body,” we must unquestionably read, to be literal, “done through the body.” And why not accept the literal here as the true? The things in respect of which the man is to be made manifest are the things of his conduct in mortal life. And how can conduct in its development be more vividly presented to our thought or more significantly than as the things done through the body?’


Verse 14

CONSTRAINING LOVE

‘The love of Christ constraineth us.’

2 Corinthians 5:14

The fascination of the Cross is that there the ineffable love of God is manifested. The spectacle is horrible, piteous, agonising, yet on that scene have been fixed the highest, tenderest, holiest thoughts of men for nineteen centuries. Till Christ came men feared God rather than loved Him. The Cross of Christ proclaimed a fuller revelation—‘God so loved the world.’

I. The Atonement is a great mystery and its method cannot be explained.—But from the point of Christian faith and experience see what it has done for humanity. ‘We have not a high priest who cannot be touched,’ etc. The Cross of Christ has done much to sweeten and sanctify beds of sickness and hours of suffering which before were endured with a kind of stoical apathy. (Contrast patience of Job with patience of St. Paul.) No wonder symbol of Cross meets us everywhere; it is the symbol of love of God to heart of man. It is the heart rather than the intellect which has embraced it. The ‘I know’ and ‘I am persuaded’ of St. Paul were conclusions, not of his reason, but of his faith. Love is the passion of the soul, not an inference of the understanding.

II. Does this love draw out any corresponding affection?—Christ’s love to me and my love to Christ act and react. Christ showed love that He might win love. ‘If God so loved us’ we ought also to love one another. Faith must be energised by love; love the moving and sustaining power of faith.

III. We should be strong if indeed we could lay hold of this Cross with the faith and firmness of St. Paul. ‘God forbid that I should glory,’ etc. ‘He hath made Him to be sin,’ etc. This is love of Christ in its fullness and power.

—Bishop Fraser.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

MISSIONARY SERVICE

Generosity is not extinct among us—why is it that the offerings to a cause so grand and noble as that of Christian missions are given not spontaneously, but after long solicitation, and flow with a comparatively scanty and stinted stream? Is it not in truth, let me ask you to consider, because ‘the love of Christ’ does not constrain us?

Or, again, look at the question of missions from the side of the men who go. Money will not preach the Gospel; that is a work for human souls and human tongues. The riches of all London will not convert a single soul. That is the work of the Holy Spirit of God. He uses the instrumentality of human workers. But what if He finds no co-workers? There are few, sadly too few, just to show that faith has not quite died out among us, and that the love of souls is not utterly extinct. But this, more than the other—the sparingness in money—is an ominous sign that not as it should constrain, and as it did constrain the souls of the generations of old, does ‘the love of Christ constrain us.’

I make appeal first to the young among you, and second to the mature.

I. To the young.—Has missionary enterprise no attraction for you? Does the work of winning souls not beckon you with an irresistible force? Will not some of you turn from working wholly for yourselves and for your own profit and advantage in this world, to give your lives to the noble, the Christ-like task, of striving for the highest good of others in the field of missions? I know how youth has its dreams, its high ideals, of great deeds that you would like to do, of a noble life that you would desire to live. Here may be the realisation of those desires. I do not exaggerate one iota when I declare that the life of the missionary servant of Christ, lived faithfully, is the noblest life in this world of ours, and gives opportunity for the exercise of the highest chivalry and the truest heroism. Beside it pale the commonplace careers of us who do our duty in humbler spheres at home. It does not hold out riches or an easy life, or the avoidance of danger, or a long succession of tranquil days as an inducement. But it is a calling for which, unlike some others, poverty is no disqualification. The poor may offer himself equally with the rich, if he have the indispensable qualifications of piety, ability, and obedience. Who is there among you who will make answer to the Lord’s call this day, ‘Here am I, send me’? Which of you now, in the bloom of your youth, and the freshness of your powers, feels in the depths of his heart ‘The love of Christ constraineth me ‘to do as Christ did—give away my life to bring about the salvation of souls?

II. To those of older and maturer years.—Every one of us has his lot in life providentially fixed; and if God does not call upon us to serve Him in one way, He does in another. If ‘the love of Christ constrains you,’ there will be a work for you to do at home for the good of souls, though it be a different work from those who go out to the forefront of the battle against ignorance and heathen darkness. ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’ Without you the strife against sin could not be carried on, for it is your part to provide the necessary funds; it is your part to encourage and strengthen the hands of those who come forward to go; it is your part to share the cares and to rejoice in the successes of those who are labouring in the field by a hearty and unwearied sympathy in the progress of the work.

Illustration

‘These words express the distinctively Christian temper—the disposition of mind that the knowledge of Jesus and the endeavour to follow and be like Him works in our souls—and which becomes the source of any and all good works which we do, missions to the heathen among the rest. They do not tell us anything expressly about missions. But they hold up for our imitation that which is the motive power of missions as of everything good that the Christian may do. They give us the reason which, in all ages, has inspired the missionary to give himself to the laborious work of preaching the Gospel—which has been to him a recompense for all that earth held dear, which he gave up; which has spurred him on to the lavish spending of health and strength in the cause of Christ; which has brought him not seldom to the fellowship of Christ’s Calvary and to the winning of the martyr’s crown.’

(THIRD OUTLINE)

TRUE RELIGION

The object of true religion is to cast the self out of the human heart and to set God in the vacant place.

I. There are three things that are insufficient to achieve the purpose, although they certainly seem to point in the direction of it. They are—

(a) The tendency to worship, which may be said to be innate in all men.

(b) The sense of duty, which is very strong in some.

(c) The inclination to aim at a lofty standard of excellence or of capability, which is characteristic of not a few.

These three things are well, so far as they go. They may lead on to higher results; but at the same time they may not. We may be religious—you know what I mean—and we may be anxious to fulfil our duty, and we may honestly strive to be better than we are; and yet the tendency which makes a man’s self the very pivot and centre of his whole existence may remain in us, with all its vitality, as strong and as unimpaired as ever.

II. We need the introduction of another influence, which shall assume the leadership and revolutionise our whole being—and that influence is the influence of love. And here it is that Christianity comes in. Christianity is the only religion on the face of the earth that works by love, that uses as its chief instrumentality the love of God for man.

III. We all know what ruling passions are.—One man lives for art—it is his thought night and day: the vision of beauty floats continually before him, and everything about him is drawn in that particular direction. Another, with an equally passionate fervour, lives for gold: for gold he rises early, and late takes rest, and eats the bread of carefulness. A third for something else. But the ruling passion of St. Paul is to follow Christ, to imitate Christ, to spend and be spent in the service of Christ; and most willingly and joyfully would the Apostle lay down his life, if only by so doing the cause of his Divine Master should be to any extent advanced in the world. And such, although on a lower level, and at a humble distance, is the feeling of every one who is born again of the Spirit and made a new creature in Jesus Christ. The man is animated by a new nature. He has, as it were, gone out of himself and become the property of another; and he is proud to be able to say, ‘I am a bondservant of the Lord Jesus Christ.’

—Rev. Prebendary Gordon Calthrop.

Illustration

‘There are limits to the human affection. The mightiest and most enduring of all human loves is that of a mother for her child; and yet even that may be worn out by a long persistent course of vice and rebellion and ingratitude. It is not so with Christ. His love for us is patient, and never tires. We cannot quench it by our unworthiness. It still rises above our sin. “Having loved His own, He loved them to the end.” And there are limits to the self-sacrifice involved in the human affection. You may do much for a person you love: you may surrender comfort, property, position, credit—almost everything that belongs to you—for his sake; but you may stop short at the point of the surrender of life. It was not so with Christ. He went the whole length. He did not merely give up what belonged to Him, He gave Himself.’


Verse 15

THE SUMMING-UP OF LIFE

‘He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him Which died for them, and rose again.’

2 Corinthians 5:15

Have you ever considered the meaning of life? You say to me, ‘It is a mystery which no man can explain,’ and you are quite right. Of all the wise men that have lived up to the present not one yet has been able to explain to us the mystery of life. We can speak of the power of thought, the gift of speech, and the wonderful gift of action, but we are no nearer explaining the mystery of life.

If God has given to us this wonderful gift of life, then you and I will be held responsible for its use. Around one of two pivots every human life revolves: the one pivot is self and the other pivot is Christ. But true life may be summed up in three short sentences: letting go, taking hold, and keeping hold.

I. There is the letting go.—Before we can live the life we must get rid of certain things, and this, of course, by the power of the Holy Ghost. There must be a letting go. If you have seen a balloon inflated you have seen it floating now to the right and now to the left, and only held down to the earth by a number of small weights in the form of sand-bags. How many a Christian has named the name of Christ, but not departed yet from iniquity! He is kept down by the sand-bags! I do not know what your ‘sandbag’ may be; perhaps it is a quick temper, or it may be that there is a tendency to make merry at the expense of some one who is trying to follow Christ. (It is easy to laugh and scoff at a brother, a professing Christian!) With some it may be that drink is a snare, or it may be lust. I do not know; God only knows our hearts. But every sand-bag must be slipped. It is not till the sand-bags are gone that the balloon rises. Every balloon I see reminds me of those words in the New Testament, ‘Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us … looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith.’ It is only thus that we can rise. Now it is for you to say whether you are letting go; you will never make progress in the heavenly journey until you are willing to let go, because until you let go your hands are full of iniquity, and you have to make them clean before you can get hold.

II. There is the taking hold.—When you are free you can make a fresh start and make progress. You say, How can I make progress? You say, How can I take hold? The fingers of the hands which lay hold of God are these, f-a-i-t-h and t-r-u-s-t, and the hands which lay hold of heavenly things lay hold of God. Without them you can make no progress. Lay hold of God. If any man has lost the light, or the power, or the life, lay hold of God afresh to-day. But it will not be your hold of God so much as His hold of you. Nothing comforts me more than this, not that I have chosen God, but that God has chosen me. It is God the Father’s grip of the child, not the child’s grip of the Father, though both are necessary. It is the Father’s grip which means salvation, keeping from falling.

III. There is the keeping hold.—Then let me say to each, Keep hold, do not let go. How shall I keep hold?

(a) First of all, by reverencing and using and reading and feeding upon God’s holy Word. There are men who will speak and there are writers who have written against this precious Word of God, but it is still the Sword of the Spirit, it is still the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. Do not neglect to read your Bible; if it is only one text before you go to work in the morning, that text will keep you and strengthen you and help you all the day. If you are going to keep hold, if you are going to live not unto yourselves, but unto Him, you must do your part. The sparrows that we feed out of our windows, every bird has to pick up his own crumb. God feedeth the birds, and God has provided food for your soul and mine, but every man, like every bird, has to pick up his own crumb. And not only must you do your part, but there is one other word of advice I would give you. It is this:

(b) See that you keep near to Jesus all the way, and to the death. Make everything a matter of prayer. Every man we meet is either a bother or a brother. God grant that we may look upon him as a brother, and try to win him for our Master Christ. And the very sins that have possessed you in the past—that fiery temper, Christ shall turn to zeal. Everything that hindered you in the past, when it has been turned round and consecrated, becomes useful in the Master’s service.

Bishop J. Taylor Smith.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Under a palm tree in one of the islands of the Pacific there was sitting a poor black man who once had been a cannibal, and he was reading his Bible, and there came along a French trader, smoking his cigar. He went up to the poor black man, and he said, “What is that you are reading?” The man said, “I am reading the Bible.” Then the Frenchman said, “Reading the Bible? That is out of date. Why, we have given up that long ago in our country. You are a foolish man to be reading the Bible.” And the Christian man who had once been a cannibal went to him and said, “Not so much out of date, sir, for if it had not been for this Book you would have been eaten long ago.”’

(2) ‘The impetuous Peter, he led the way on the day of Pentecost to the conversion of three thousand. During the French War the cannon that were captured were turned into church bells, and even the empty shells from the war in South Africa are now being turned into dinner gongs. Oh, what a splendid change, to change these destructive forces into the most helpful ministrations!’


Verse 17

A NEW CREATION

‘Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.’

2 Corinthians 5:17

Had you asked St. Paul to define a Christian he would have answered, ‘a man in Christ.’ Had you further asked what he meant by being ‘in Christ’ I think he would have said, united to Christ. Christ’s own mystic words to His disciples in the upper room, ‘I am the Vine, ye are the branches.’

I. A new life.—‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life’ (John 3:36). Therefore if any man be in union with Christ, he is a new creature.

II. A new hope.—The believer has a living hope because his hope is fixed on a Living Saviour and rests on the Living Promise of the Living God. He has a hope of experiencing God’s goodness and help and strength in this world, and a hope of a fuller, richer, better, higher life with Christ and like Christ beyond the gates of death.

III. A new work.—‘Work out your own salvation,’ says St. Paul. Not, work for it, but, from it. In other words, work out the new life Christ has given you. You cannot work out a salvation you have not received. Especially note Titus 3:8. It seems a new discovery to many people that religion should be linked to business. Yet it is the common teaching of the New Testament. ‘Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works.’ So you will be able to say, ‘I do this, I give this, for Christ’s sake.’ If you ask Him, God will show you what things you ought to do, and give you grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same.

Rev. F. Harper.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Sir Monier Williams, a great authority on all Oriental religions, has said that the doctrine of Life in Christ is the one thing which distinguishes Christianity from every other historic religion in the world. No one can realise the uniqueness of Christianity till he has grasped the truth of the believer’s living union with Christ.’

(2) ‘George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, records his vivid experiences when he first found the way of life. “I had now come up in spirit,” he said, “past the naming sword, into the paradise of God. All things are now new to me, even the outward world is more beautiful since love for Christ and His truth have been kindled in my heart. Even the sun shines more brightly, the air is more soft, the flowers more fragrant, the mountains more majestic, the sea more sublime.”’


Verse 21

‘SUBSTITUTION’

‘For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.’

2 Corinthians 5:21

I cannot understand the mind of that man who can read the Gospel and not see ‘substitution.’ From all eternity Christ had undertaken, in the sovereignty of His grace and love, to become a surety for His people. A surety has two things to do—he has to suffer, in place of the person whom he guarantees, whatever that person would otherwise have endured; and he has to pay, if demanded, whatever demand may justly be made on behalf of him whom he represents. And the text puts the thing before us exactly in that order. We, being guilty, and therefore under sentence, our innocent Surety, having first by His humanity made Himself next of kin in order that He might do it, and then made Himself guilty and passed under the whole sentence. He was treated just as if He were in His own person all the sin that ever has been or ever will be forgiven in this world. ‘He was made sin.’

I. The sentence under which the condemned sinner laboured was fourfold exile, sin, death, and hell; and in its fourfold fullness the undeserving Surety bore it.

(a) Exile. See Him in the very fact of His presence in this world, in banishment from His Father’s kingdom, walking this cold, wicked earth so long, far away from all proper happiness, holding intercourse by prayer with Him on Whose bosom He had dwelt and with Whom He was one; till, as the consummation draws on, He goes out into further and further separation, and experiences the actual hiding of His Father’s countenance—that sinking sense of loneliness, bereft of God and man.

(b) Sin. And what is that desolate feeling which overspreads that dying hour? what is that anguish cry, ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ Why is that Father’s eye averted from that beloved One and His departing spirit left to endure the misery such as waits on some poor outcast rebel? ‘He was made sin.’

(c) Death. But Christ goes to His death, and neither God nor man to cheer Him. Had he been the guiltiest man of all our race, He could not have died more wretchedly. There is not an accent to mitigate, not one ray of light to illume that midnight darkness. Can you explain it on any other possible ground than that He was actually ‘made sin for us’?

(d) Hell. And further, in the strong language of our Church, I do not hesitate to say of Him, ‘He descended into hell.’

And the exile, and the sin, and the death, and the hell, they all say with one voice, ‘He was made sin for us.’

II. Thus we arrive at our true, our comforting, our saving contemplation.—Those groans, that dying struggle, that heavy punishment, what are they? Sin is the cause—sin’s struggle, sin’s punishment. It is sin—my sin and your sin, if we believe it. It is sin that is dying there. Therefore the horrors of that scene. It is the dark death of that black thing, sin. It is the execution of sin. Sin is vanquished—sin is dead—sin is buried. I write sin’s epitaph, ‘It is gone!’ Therefore, brethren, it is all passed now. Death is dead—punishment is punished—hell is closed—all done. God cannot demand the same debt twice—that would not be just. He cannot punish the Surety and the man. He cannot punish Christ and me. It was His own counsel and His own hand that did it. He ‘made Christ sin’ for me, and the very reality of the whole sentence He has borne: and I will ‘go delicately, for the bitterness of death is past.’

III. Christ gave God a perfect obedience from the cradle to the grave.—He gave it Him as a man. It was God’s own righteousness—for it was just the righteousness which God loves and God requires. This righteousness, again, Christ did not work for Himself—He did not need it; but if I may so speak, He paid it into the hands of God, to be placed to the account of His Church, that it might be available for every man who really wants it and really takes it. Accordingly, every true penitent, in his turn, comes up naked, and puts on that beautiful robe, and then he is seen in it—he is seen in Christ; and, as Christ was once placed in our stead for punishment, when He was ‘made sin for us,’ we are now placed in Christ’s stead for righteousness, when we are clothed in His merit—God Himself requires nothing further—God Himself, I speak it reverently, can conceive nothing further—He sees us in Him, ‘perfect and entire, wanting nothing.’ We stand in all Christ’s obedience, and present to God a law kept in our Surety. Therefore, as surely as He, being us, was in exile, we, being Him, are in the family; as He grieved in our place, we rejoice for ever in His; as He died an accounted sinner, we live for ever accounted saints; and as He went down to hell in our name, we mount up to heaven in His.

Rev. James Vaughan.

Illustration

‘The circumstances of Our Lord’s sufferings and death are certainly the most momentous in the history of mankind, and it is trifling with the deepest experiences of human nature not to endeavour to realise and apprehend them. According to the Apostles, they are nothing less than a revelation of the love of God in bearing the consequences of our sins Himself, in order that, if possible, we may be spared those consequences. They are intended to bring home to us, in the most affecting form, the loving will of God that we should accept His truth and submit to His righteousness; and He not merely requires us to do this, or exhorts us to it, but suffers with us and for us, in the human nature He has assumed, in order that He may save us by the manifold influences of that suffering. Contemplate God in Christ, thus reconciling the world to Himself, and how can we fail to respond to the appeal which follows?—“We pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” “He Himself bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.”’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/2-corinthians-5.html. 1876.

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