Having shewed the reason why he came not to them, he requireth them to forgive and to comfort that excommunicated person, even as himself also, upon his true repentance, had forgiven him: declaring withal why he departed from Troas to Macedonia, and the happy success which God gave to his preaching in all places.
Anno Domini 58.
THE Apostle's apology for delaying his visit to the Corinthians, which was begun in the preceding chapter, is continued in this. Earnestly desirous of their repentance, he had delayed to come, having determined with himself not to come among them with sorrow, by punishing the guilty, if he could by any means avoid it, 2 Corinthians 2:1-2.—And therefore, instead of coming to punish them, he had written to them, that he might have joy from their repentance, 2 Corinthians 2:3.—And, to meliorate the severity of his first letter, he told them that he wrote it in the deepest affliction; not to make them sorry, but to shew the greatness of his love to them, 2 Corinthians 2:4.
On receiving the Apostle's former letter, the sincere part of the Corinthian church, which was much more numerous than the faction, immediately excommunicated the incestuous person, in the manner they had been directed. And he appears to have been so affected with his punishment, that in a little time he dismissed his father's wife, and became a sincere penitent. Of these things the Apostle had been informed by Titus, who, I suppose, was present at his excommunication. The Apostle, therefore, in this letter, told the Corinthians, that the punishment which they had inflicted on their faulty brother, having induced him, through grace, to repent of his crime, they were now to forgive him, by taking him again into the church; and even to confirm their love to him, by behaving towards him in a kind and friendly manner, lest Satan should drive him to despair, 2 Corinthians 2:5-12. Farther, to make the Corinthians sensible how much he loved them, the Apostle described the distress he was in at Troas, when he did not find Titus there, from whom he expected an account of their affairs. For, although he had the prospect of much success at Troas, he was so concerned in his mind that he could not remain there, but went forward to Macedonia, in expectation of meeting Titus. In Macedonia his concern was somewhat alleviated, by the success with which his preaching was attended. For in Macedonia God caused him to ride in triumph with Christ, having enabled him to overcome all opposition, 2 Corinthians 2:13-14.—The idea of riding in triumph with Christ, naturally led the Apostle to describe the effects of his preaching, both upon believers and unbelievers, by images taken from the triumphal processions of the Greeks and Romans, 2 Corinthians 2:15-16.—This beautiful passage he concluded with a solemn affirmation that he did not, like some others, corrupt the word of God with foreign mixtures; but always preached it sincerely and disinterestedly, as in the sight of God, 2 Corinthians 2:17.—By thus speaking he plainly insinuated, first, that the false teacher, on whom too many of the Corinthians doated, had corrupted the word of God from worldly motives: and, secondly, that God, in his infinite mercy, had owned and blessed the fidelity with which he preached the doctrines and precepts of the gospel, however contrary they might be to the prejudices and passions of mankind: besides, the disinterestedness of his conduct, which was evident to all with whom he conversed, manifested, to every ingenuous mind, that, in preaching the gospel, he did not propose to acquire either riches, or fame, or worldly power among his disciples.
For—I would not come again, &c.— "I purposed in myself, it is true, to come to you again; but I resolved too that it should be without bringing sorrow with me." That this is the meaning of this verse, and not that he would not come to them in sorrow a second time, is past doubt, since he had never been with them in sorrow a first time. See ch. 2 Corinthians 1:15.
For if I make you sorry, &c.— "For if I were to do any thing that would be a trouble to you, whom I so dearly love, nothing but a sense of duty, and hope of rectifying what was amiss among you, could ever reconcile me to it, much less give me any satisfaction in it: and which of you, in that case, could exhilarate my spirits, and make me rejoice again; unless it were the very person, or persons, whom I should have made uneasy by sharp rebukes, both of the principal offenders, and of others among you that were puffed up, and countenanced them, instead of mourning over them, and taking care to purge the church of them? See 1 Corinthians 5:2; 1 Corinthians 5:7. It is only the repentance of such, and their recovery from the guilt which they respectively had contracted, that could turn my own sorrow into joy."
I wrote this same unto you,— That I wrote relates to the first epistle to the Corinthians is evident, because it is so used in the next and the ninth verse; and what he wrote in that epistle, which he calls αυτο τουτο, this very thing, was, most probably, concerning the punishment of the fornicator; as appears by what follows to 2 Corinthians 2:11 especially if it be compared with 1 Corinthians 4 and 1 Corinthians 5:8. For there he writes to them to punish that person; and if St. Paul had come himself before it was done, he must have come with a rod, as he calls it, and have himself chastised them: but now, knowing that the Corinthians had punished him, in compliance with his letter, and having had this trial of their obedience, and the offender being become a genuine penitent, he is so far from continuing the severity, that he writes to them to forgive him, and to take him again into their affection.
But if any have caused grief, &c.— St. Paul being satisfied with the Corinthians for their ready compliance with his orders in his former letter to punish the fornicator, intercedes to have him restored; and to that end speaks of him as a penitent in milder terms. St. Chrysostom, the Syriac, and Arabic, render this verse thus: He has not grieved me, but (not to aggravate too much) in some sort all of you. Pere Simon has it, He has not only grieved me, but some of you. The following version of Dr. Heylin is paraphrastical, though expressive of the sense: "Whatever affliction I have had, I am not the only person concerned; so that I must not charge you all with what comes but from a part of you."
Sufficient to such a man, &c.— "Sufficient to such a one, who has here been the aggressor, but is now a penitent, is this rebuke and censure, which he has already suffered by many, and, indeed, by the whole body of your society, which has shewn so wise and pious a readiness to pursue the directions that I gave for animadverting upon him; and bringing him, through grace, to repentance." It is observable, how tenderly St. Paul deals with the Corinthians in this epistle; for though he treats of the fornicator from the 5th to the 10th verse, inclusively, yet he never mentions him under that, or any other painful title, but in the soft terms of any one, or such a one. Instead of this punishment, &c. some read, this rebuke from the majority.
When I come to Troas— When I came to Troas, and a door to the gospel of Christ was opened. Knatchbull. How uneasy St. Paul was, and upon what account, see ch. 2 Corinthians 7:5-16. It was not barely for the absence of Titus, but for want of the news he was to bring with him, ch. 2 Corinthians 7:7. Instead of, I went thence into Macedonia; some read, I came from thence, &c.
Which causeth us to triumph in Christ,— That is, "In the success of my preaching in my journey to Macedonia, and also in my victory at the same time at Corinth, over the false Apostles, my opposers, who had raised a faction against me among you." Thus St. Paul represents himself as triumphing through the divine power; and, as, in triumphal processions, especially in the east, fragrant odours and incense were burnt near the conquerors, he seems beautifully to allude to this circumstance in what he says of the οσμη, the odour of the gospel, in the following verses: and he seems further to allude to the different effects of strong perfumes, to cheer some, and to throw others into violent disorders, according to the different dispositions they are in to receive them. AElian observes, that some kinds of animals are killed by them. Hist. Animal. 50: 3 : 100: 7. Dr. Heylin observes, that the knowledge of God, or knowledge that there is a God, may be a mere speculation; not so the savour, relish, or mental sensation of God, called here the savour of his knowledge. Now an apostle speaking by the spirit of God, really excites this savour or sensation in the minds of his believing hearers: being himself actuated by God, he gives, through grace, some real perception of him.—Those who piously cultivate this, improve accordingly; those who understand it, and will not be wrought upon by it, grow more indisposed and hardened: as is shewn in the following verses.
For we are unto God, &c.— For, upon God's account, [or, in order that God may be known] we communicate a savoury odour of Christ, to them who are saved, and to them who are not, 2 Corinthians 2:16. To the one we are the savour of death, so as to prove mortal to them; and to the others the savour of life, so as to revive them. The phrase, For upon God's account, is, literally, For God. That God cannot be effectually known, but through Christ, is the constant doctrine of scripture. See Heylin, Mill, and Wall.
Which corrupt the word of God:— Καπηλευοντες, adulterating, is an expressive phrase, alluding to the practice of those who deal in liquors, which they debase for their own greater gain; and it insinuates, in strong terms, the mean temper and conduct of their false teachers.
Inferences.—What a tender love and concern have faithful pastors for their flocks! They are exceeding solicitous about their affairs: they make their sorrows and joys their own, and are willing to keep up as good an opinion of them as possible: they are grieved at heart when any of them fall into sin, and persist with such obstinacy in it, as to oblige the church to cast them out of its communion: they are earnestly desirous that such offenders may be brought to repentance, and, upon good evidence that they are so, would have them restored to the fellowship and affection of the whole community, lest they should be swallowed up with over-much sorrow. And why should not churches take off their censures, when the proper ends for which they were inflicted are answered? To be unforgiving to those whom we have ground to hope God has pardoned, is a disobedience to Christ's authority, and gives Satan an advantage against the humble penitent, to drive him to despair; and against the church, to bring an odium upon it, as though it were uncharitably severe. And, alas! how many are the wiles of the devil for supplanting the cause of Christ, which it is our wisdom and duty to observe, and guard against! But blessed be God, who will make his precious gospel triumphant, to the joy of his servants, whose consciences bear witness to their integrity, in defiance of all opposition; and will take pleasure in its ministrations, whether they issue in the righteous destruction of those whose carnal hearts are averse to it, or in the spiritual life and eternal salvation of those that believe through grace. O how awful on the one hand; how delightful on the other; and how difficult and important, on the whole, is the work of the ministry! We may well cry out, Who is sufficient for these things? And if any are wise and faithful stewards in dispensing them, and that with good effect, all the glory belongs to God. Woe be to those, the number of whom is too great, that corrupt the simplicity of the gospel: but they who, through divine light and influence, preach and maintain the purity of its doctrines, according to the word of God, as in the integrity of their hearts, with disinterested views, and as under his all-seeing eye, may be humbly confident, for their encouragement, that whether their success be more or less, they and their labour shall be graciously accepted of him in the Beloved.
REFLECTIONS.—1st. The Apostle suggests another reason why he would not come now to Corinth, (which, indeed, he had intimated in the former chapter,) lest he should be compelled to exercise such severity on offenders as would be bitter to them, and painful to himself; and in such circumstances it must be a melancholy meeting, when he must make those sorrowful who should have made him glad; and, while this was the case, his tender sympathy with them must occasion heaviness to his own spirit. He wished, therefore, rather that all offences might be first removed, for which end he had written the former letter, and that he might not be obliged to sorrow over those as impenitent, in whom he hoped to rejoice as faithful or penitent; and he would fain hope, from his confidence in their affection and regard, that his joy was theirs, and that they would be ready to remove every cause of uneasiness, and delight to make him happy. With much anguish of heart, and many tears, he had dictated this epistle, not to grieve them, but to profit them, and that his own love towards them, and jealousy over them, might be more abundantly manifested. Note; (1.) Faithful rebuke is the surest mark of love. (2.) Correction is an unpleasing though necessary talk. (3.) The design of every reproof should not be to grieve, but to recover.
2nd, The Apostle directs them how to behave towards the incestuous person, who had been, according to his orders, excommunicated.
1. He had been grieved, in part, that he was compelled to punish; but, since this man had testified his repentance, the cause of his sorrow was removed: and thought he had found fault with many who were puffed up, and had not mourned on this occasion, he would not overcharge them with farther reproof, since they had, as a body, cleared themselves by their obedience to his letter.
2. The punishment which had been inflicted on the offender was sufficient, seeing that he was penitent; and, since he was humbled and restored, the sentence of excommunication should be removed. He exhorts them therefore, (1.) to forgive him; (2.) to comfort him under the deep wounds of shame and remorse, which he must have felt, lest Satan should take advantage of his distress to overwhelm him with despair; (3.) to confirm their love towards him, and receive him into their church with all the cordiality of warm affection. Note; We ought to be peculiarly tender of broken spirits, not aggravating their offences, but sympathizing with their anguish.
3. This was the end which the Apostle proposed in respect to the present subject, both in his former and present epistle, that he might have a proof of their obedience. And, to engage them to a ready compliance with his present exhortation, he mentions his own willingness to concur with them in forgiving this penitent; and this he did also thus publicly for their sakes, as a fresh mark of his love to them, and to promote their welfare, lest Satan should take advantage, from any severity shewn to this offender, to discourage the hearts of backsliders from returning, through despair of pardon, or raise prejudices against the members of the church as of an unforgiving and inexorable spirit. For we are not, says he, ignorant of his devices, how by every method he strives to obstruct the success of the gospel, and disturb the peace of the church.
3rdly, The Apostle,
1. Acquaints them with another thing which retarded his journey to Corinth. Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, that constant delightful theme on which I dwell, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord, he, who hath the hearts of all men in his hand, having given me a pleasing prospect of success, so anxious was I to hear of you, that I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother, whom I expected to arrive there from you: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia, where I met him, and heard with delight the account which he brought from you.
2. Having hinted his successful labours at Troas, he breaks forth into thanksgiving to God. Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph, in the midst of all our tribulations, raising us superior to our foes, and filling us with exultation and joy in Christ, the rock of our confidence; and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place, diffusing his gospel as fragrance, and causing our labours to be acceptable to himself, and profitable to those among whom he sends us to minister. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ; his precious name in our lips, and his grace in our hearts, render us pleasing to God, in them that are saved, who yield to be saved by grace, and in whom God's rich mercy is magnified, being called by him to the faith and privileges of the gospel, and accepting the call to the glory of God; and also in them that perish, in whom his justice is displayed in punishing their obstinate infidelity; and, though they are not gathered, yet are we alike glorious in the eyes of the Lord, who regards not our success so much as our fidelity. To the one we are the savour of death unto death, a despised and abused gospel aggravating their guilt, and increasing their condemnation; and to the other the savour of life unto life: like a sweet perfume that recovers the fainting spirit, so does the gospel, through the power of the Holy Ghost, quicken the souls of believers from the death of sin unto a life of righteousness, and continues to refresh and revive them amidst all their trials and sufferings. And, in the view of these eternally important truths, and the awful and difficult charge lying upon us, who needs not to tremble for himself, and to cry out, Who is sufficient for these things? The greatest, the best of men, will be most conscious of their own weakness, and be looking up for more than human power to enable them for the discharge of this arduous employment. Note; (1.) The gospel word never returns void. Where it is not a savour of life, it will be a savour of death. (2.) The more we are sensible of our own insufficiency, the more shall we look up to him who giveth strength to the weak.
3. He vindicates himself, and glances at their false teachers. For we are not as many, which corrupt and adulterate the word of God, to make advantage thereby; but as of sincerity, without guile or deceit; but as of God, speaking under his influence, guidance, and authority, in the sight of God speak we in Christ, approving ourselves to the great Searcher of hearts, with a single eye to the Redeemer's glory, and making him the grand subject of all our ministrations.