Paul's Ministry in Second Corinthians.

(Notes of an address.)

When the Apostle Paul first came to Corinth, declaring the testimony of God, he determined not to know anything among them, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. Human wisdom ranked very high in the esteem of the Corinthians, and the Apostle judged that this should be met with the truth of the cross, which sets aside all man's vaunted wisdom. What could all the wisdom of this world avail poor sinners? Salvation could not be procured for men by the wise, the scribe or the disputer of this world; but the cross of Christ, which appeared so utterly weak to the Jew, and so foolish to the learned Gentile, was the means by which God secured His great salvation.

Speaking of this same testimony, in the second epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle says, "For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, Who was preached among you by us — was not yea and nay, but in Him was yea. For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us" (2 Cor. 1:19-20). So that, the Lord Jesus is not only presented to us as the crucified One, but as the One in Whom every promise of God is announced and secured for the glory of God.

What a wonderful ministry was given to Paul — a ministry that brought from heaven the knowledge of God in the Person of Christ. In ministering the Gospel, Paul and his fellow-labourers made manifest the heavenly savour of the knowledge of God wherever they went; and all who came under the influence of the word learned what Christ was to God. Whatever men might think of Christ, He was a sweet odour to God. To those who received Paul's testimony, it was like a life-giving odour from the realm of life; but to those who rejected it, it was as a deadly odour from the region of death. Bearing about such a message, the acceptance or rejection of which determined the eternal destiny of men, is it to be wondered at that Paul said, "Who is sufficient for these things?"

In the third chapter we learn something of the character of this wonderful ministry. It was not like the Old Covenant, which was a ministry of condemnation and of death; it was a ministry of the Spirit, which brought righteousness and life to men; and I trust that every one present has received this New Covenant ministry with its righteousness and life, of which Paul and his companion Timothy were ministers. Paul speaks in this epistle of "Our Gospel;" in other epistles he calls it "My Gospel." It was the Gospel specially committed to the Apostle by the Lord, but as associating Timothy with himself in the writing of this epistle, he graciously speaks of "Our Gospel." Timothy was most intimately attached to Paul, and writing to him later the Apostle can say, "Thou hast been thoroughly acquainted with my doctrine" (2 Tim. 3:10); and it was what he had learned from Paul that Timothy no doubt preached.

Fundamentally, Paul's Gospel is that preached by the other apostles, but it had its own peculiar features and divine revelations. He received his call from the Son of God in heaven, and this gave character to his preaching. He did not receive what he preached from men or through men; he received it directly from the heavenly Christ, with His authority to make it known. In presenting his Gospel to the Romans, Paul shows that it is according to what God had before promised by His prophets in the holy Scriptures; and in this epistle deals with the subjects of righteousness and deliverance; speaking in chapter 8 of God's purpose and of Christ at the right hand of God.

In 1 Corinthians 15 we have one of the special revelations of Paul's Gospel, where he says, "Behold I tell you a mystery: we shall not all fall asleep, but we shall all be changed… ." Should the Lord come tonight, the dead in Christ would be raised from their graves in incorruptibility, and our bodies would be changed to conformity with His body of glory. Is that your prospect dear friend? What would happen to you if the Lord Jesus should come tonight? Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved — not only from the consequences of your sins, but saved completely out of this world when that happy moment of which we have been speaking comes. Another of the special revelations of Paul's Gospel is found in 1 Thessalonians 4, where Paul says, "This we say to you in the word of the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:15). We have then unfolded the truth of the rapture — the catching away of the saints to heaven by the Lord, so that they might later appear with Him in His glory.

At the close of 2 Corinthians 3, the Apostle shows where His ministry leads us: it leads us to the Lord Jesus Christ in glory, for he says, "We all, looking on the glory of the Lord with unveiled face." The Christian passes through this world not only looking back to the cross, but looking up to see the glory that shines unveiled in Jesus' face. He is the great administrator into whose hands God has committed everything, and He is our Lord. We have come under His authority, and as we are subject to Him, through being occupied with Him in His glory, we become like Him morally. Have you ever noticed that a child, though taking its nature from its father or mother, largely takes its character from its mother; being mostly with her, and occupied with her. Thus dear friends, as we are occupied with the Lord in glory, we become like Him — we take character from Him. When Moses came from the presence of God his face shone, and the people could not look on his face. It is altogether different with Jesus: there is no veil on His face, and those who believe in Him are able to look upon His glory. What an occupation for us!

At the commencement of chapter 4 Paul says, "Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not." 2 Cor. 4:1. He feels that the trust of a ministry engaging men with such amazing heavenly things, and which had eternal issues and present results, could only be sustained by mercy from God. Moreover, those who minister the pure light of God, and speak of the glory of God, must live in consonance with what they minister. But there were some, of whom the Apostle speaks, who handled the word of God deceitfully, and whose lives were thoroughly inconsistent with the truth. In contrast, Paul endeavoured to manifest in his life the truth he ministered. We see this in its perfection in the Lord Jesus, Who said, I am "altogether that which I also say to you." He was the perfect expression of all that He spoke. This was the line pursued by Paul: he could not be perfect like his Master, but according to the divine grace ministered to him, his manner of life was to live in the light and power of the truth he made known in ministry. We may not all be privileged to minister the truth, but we can all hold the truth in love, and thus seek to manifest it. Paul did not endeavour to commend himself to every man's judgment or thoughts but to their consciences; living before them so that none could say his life was inconsistent with his word.

Returning to Paul's ministry, he says, "If our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost." The light of the Gospel which brings to us the knowledge of God also exposes the lost condition of those who know not the Gospel; and if it is hidden from men, it is because Satan has blinded them; they are under his influence. But the Gospel has been sent to men "to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God" (Acts 26:18).

We have been speaking about the glory of the Lord: now the Apostle brings before us the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God. The Gospel of God's grace tells of the divine resources to meet the need of the sinner, but the Gospel of the glory of Christ sets before us the last Adam, Who is the image of God. The first man was made in God's image to represent Him on earth; but Christ is the perfect representation of God in heavenly glory. What God is, in His disposition towards men in righteous grace, is seen in the glory of Christ. But all that Man is for God, not only in relation to earthly things, but also in relation to what is heavenly, is displayed to the eye of faith in the glory of Christ. (The Son as the image of the invisible God, in Colossians 1:15 is somewhat different from what is brought out here. There we see God, Who dwells in unapproachable light, coming forth in the Person of the Son; seen as only He can be seen, in the Son of His love). In the preaching of the Gospel, Paul called upon men to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ: it was Christ he preached, not himself. True servants of the Lord serve the saints for Jesus' sake.

Another feature of Paul's Gospel engages us now: "For God, Who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts." He looks back to the time when the light broke in upon the darkness of the old creation, and shows that God is dispelling a greater darkness, a moral darkness, by sending His heavenly light into our hearts that sin had benighted. The light of Genesis 1 heralded the commencement of the divine operations to rescue the world from the darkness and chaos that ensued, revealing the power and wisdom of God; but the light shining in the face of Jesus Christ displays a divine glory of different character. It brings to us the knowledge of God's glory in relation to His rescuing men from the gross darkness and confusion introduced by sin, and manifests through redemption the resources of God's wisdom and power. How God's glory shines out in all that His grace has accomplished through the cross! In Christ glorified we learn what God is in the great love of His heart towards sinners, for in Him all the blessing of God, made available through His death, is presented to us in the Gospel.

This wonderful heavenly light had shone into the hearts of those faithful servants of the Lord who came to Corinth with the testimony of God. The light that shone upon Saul of Tarsus on the way to Damascus had penetrated his dark heart, and had forever claimed him for the Lord, to minister the glad tidings that light brought to him. God's servants can only minister with power the truth that has entered their hearts and affected their own lives. Thus it was that Paul could speak with power of the light that revealed the nature and character of God outshining in grace and love. When God first called Paul to preach Jesus as the Son of God, He revealed His Son in him, even as we read in Galatians 1:15-16, "But when it pleased God — to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him."

We have seen that the light of the knowledge of the glory of God is connected with the results of the great work wrought out by the Lord Jesus on the cross for the blessing of men; but it also makes known the deep satisfaction of God in Him Who completed the work. The propitiation secured by the death of Christ abides in Him, where He is glorified, in all its eternal and infinite efficacy; and the testimony of this forms an integral part of the Gospel. God's glory in creation is very wonderful, for "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork" (Psalm 19:1); but how surpassing wonderful is the knowledge of the glory of God as seen in His own blessed Son, Who secured His glory by His death upon the cross, and now sits at His right hand in heaven.

Such amazing knowledge is a treasure far surpassing anything in this world, and "We have this treasure in earthen vessels." Each believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, according to his measure, has the privilege of carrying through this world the priceless knowledge of God's glory. But Paul and Timothy were special vessels as having the testimony of these things committed to them in a peculiar way, and only through the supply of God's grace and mercy could the earthen vessels, which contained the divine treasure, be constantly sustained. They were the objects of Satan's malice and man's hatred, being persecuted and troubled wherever they went; but God allowed these things that the treasure in the vessels might shine out in testimony for the Lord. What did all the trouble accomplish? It broke down the vessels, and the light shone out! Why were these devoted men not distressed or destroyed in all their troubles and persecutions? Because God sustained the earthen vessels! They learned that the excellency of the power to sustain them was of God, not of themselves.

A life of persecution with martyrdom for Christ ever staring them in the face, produced in Paul and Timothy the same features of beauty that came out in their Master. Satan and his dupes may have been the instruments, but God was behind it all, ordering the circumstances of His servants, to keep death ever before them, so that the meekness, gentleness, kindness and other sweet graces of the life of Jesus might be seen by all around. We know for ourselves the danger of settling down here if our circumstances are quiet and comfortable; but when God stirs up the nest, and we feel the thorns and the pangs of trouble, our thoughts are taken from what has engaged us to the things of Christ in heaven. When everything seems to be against us here; when we are the objects of human malice; troubles and persecution assailing; we can rest assured that God's object is to manifest in us, in our mortal flesh, the features of the heavenly life of Christ that will never pass away.

When we come to the end of the chapter, the Apostle speaks of all the sufferings through which he passed for Christ, as light affliction, and as but for a moment. He seems to say "Come with me into the presence of Christ in glory, and we shall weigh all these things in the balances of the sanctuary." He places all the sufferings in one scale, and in the other the glory to be shared with Christ in the coming day; and thus enables us to realise why he can reckon all through which he passed as "light affliction." Long years had he suffered for Christ, to bring His word to those blest through the Gospel; but when he compares those years with the eternity in which he will inherit with Christ all that lies in the will and counsels of God for the saints, he sees it but to be a moment of time. When we consider the labours, persecutions, perils and other sufferings endured by Paul, as brought out in 2 Corinthians 11, we can form some little idea of how he was enlightened and controlled in his thoughts, feelings and judgments, by the unseen things in Christ in glory.

The normal attitude of the Christian is to be engaged with things unseen; the eyes closed to the things of this world, and opened through faith, and in the Spirit's power, to the world where we can behold the glory of the Lord, the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God, and the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ. If thus occupied with Christ in glory, we can reckon the present conflicts, trials and sorrows, through which God calls us to pass, as light afflictions. All the glory of this world is quickly passing, but the glory that shines in the face of Jesus abides; it is therefore blessed for us to be occupied with what is real and permanent.

What a wonderful ministry was committed to the Apostle Paul, and brought to us! We have touched but lightly on part of the ministry given to him. That ministry embraces a whole wealth of truth connected with the counsels of God, but the way into these things lies in the chapters we have considered and in allowing the light of Paul's Gospel to have its true place in our hearts.
Wm. C. Reid.