Notes on 2 Corinthians 1:21-24

2 Corinthians 1:21‑24  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The apostle refutes yet more the insinuation of uncertainty in his preaching, by the drawing out, not merely of the verification of the truth, and accomplishment of all God's promises in Christ, but of our firm association with it all in Him.
“Now he that establisheth us with you1 in Christ, and anointed us is [God], who2 also sealed us, and gave the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” (Ver. 21.) It is not man's own will or effort that is able to secure us Christward, nor, consequently, is it a mere question of his fickleness, feebleness, or failure in any way. He that binds us fast to Christ is God; and the emphasis is all the greater, because God is expressed, not objectively, but as a predicate. It is truly surprising, then, that a professed commentator, and a distinguished scholar, should have said that ὁ δὲ βεβ....ἡμᾶς is the (prefixed) predicate, and θεὀς the subject; for this is to reverse all that is certain in the language, and to lose the true force of what is here insisted on. Had ὁ δὲ β.....ἡμᾶς been affixed to θεὀς, instead of prefixed, the sense had been the same, the order of the words in a sentence affecting it only as a matter of emphasis, and in no way disturbing the relation of the subject to the predicate, which it is the chief function of the article to distinguish. Compare chapter 5:5, where a precisely similar construction occurs. Nor is this a casual mistake, for it re-appears no less distinctly in the comment on Heb. 3:44For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. (Hebrews 3:4), where θεὀς is said to be the subject, and ὁ πάντα κατασκευάσας the predicate, though it is allowed that the ancient expositors, almost without exception, take θ. as predicate, and ὁ π. κ. as a designation of Christ, thus making the passage a proof of His deity. It ought not to be disputed that in all these, or the like, instances, the object before the mind, or subject of each proposition, designated as operating in the way described, as to either the saints or the universe, is declared to be God. Man is excluded by the nature of the case, as in Hebrews; or he that is said so to act is affirmed to be God, for the confirmation of the saints, as here. Had it been ὁ θ. in these cases, the propositions would have been reciprocal, and either might have been viewed as subject or as predicate. But the effect of the absence of the article is to characterize Him who works as is described in each instance. He as divine is God: a very different statement from saying that God so works.
Here, then, it is laid down that He who firmly attaches us to Christ is God, as elsewhere we are declared to be in Him. Man is weak and vacillating, and yet more in deed than in word; but He who binds fast unto Christ is God, and this, not the strong only, but the weakest, as needing most such securing grace and power. Hence, in a love that rises above all that wounds the spirit, the apostle adds, as coupling the saints in Corinth with himself and Timothy, “He that establisheth us with you.” Christ for both was the impregnable fortress, the rock that never can be moved.
But more than this follows: we are anointed as believers, we receive the unction from the Holy One, whereby, as John says, we know all things. God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power the Lord Jesus, who went about doing good and healing that were oppressed by the devil. (See Luke 4:1818The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, (Luke 4:18); Acts 4:27, 2827For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, 28For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. (Acts 4:27‑28).) To us who believe it is rather energy of communion with His revealed mind; still the Spirit given is of power, and love, and a sound mind; and He that anointed us is not man, but God. Hence, as the apostle with the last hour before his eyes says, the unction as surely abides as it teaches us of all things. It is no transient display of power over Satan outwardly, no qualification of apostles only, as some have thought. It is the permanent privilege of the Christian for his own soul's entrance into the revealed mind of God; and “the babes” (τὰ παιδία) have it as truly, if not so manifestly, as the most mature. The apostles and prophets of the New Testament received, of course, gift or energy for their work; but they are never said to be “anointed” as such.
But our apostle tells us that God also “sealed us, and gave the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” Not as if the Spirit were given in so many distinct epochs according to the difference of His operation. The gift of the Spirit to us, as believing in Christ and resting on His redemption, is really the powerful source of all. He that establishes us in Christ, and anointed no, as we had seen, also sealed us, and gave us the earnest. The Father, even God, sealed the Son of man. This, we can easily understand, was only meet, for He was not only from eternity but as man His Son, the constant and perfect object of His delight. But how could we be sealed who were in sin and wretchedness, the marked contrast of the Lord Jesus? His redemption completely delivers us from Satan's thraldom, and we are not only born of God and His eons, but washed from our sins in His blood, and sin in the flesh is condemned in His death as a sacrifice, as truly as ourselves forgiven. Hence, in virtue of that work, God also sealed us, and gave the “earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” The Holy Spirit is not only the seal of redemption, but the pledge of the inheritance. The meaning is in no way the Spirit given in measure as the earnest of more. He is the witness of what has been done and accepted on our behalf; He is also the foretaste of the glory that is assuredly to follow. And all things are of God, who sent first His Son, that every promise should be verified, and then His Spirit, that we who believe should be brought into the security, knowledge, and enjoyment of all this blessedness, past, present, or to come, in Christ our Lord.
Having thus turned in grace the Corinthian disparagement of his own word to the praise of the gospel, the apostle next passes, with great solemnity, to explain his real motive for not coming before to their city. “But I call God as witness upon my soul, that to spare you I did not yet come unto Corinth; not that we rule over your faith, but are fellow-workers of your joy, for by faith ye stand.” (Vers. 23, 24.) Had he come before, it must have been with a rod. (Cf. 1 Cor. 4:2121What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness? (1 Corinthians 4:21).) Desirous of uniting them in love, and in a spirit of meekness, he had deferred his coming till grace had wrought self-judgment among them. The delay, and turning elsewhere meanwhile, furnished the occasion for unworthy insinuations, already touched on. It was really as sparing them he did not come; but he carefully guards against the charge of assuming undue authority; “not that we rule over your faith, but are fellow-workers of your joy.” Nothing is truly done that is not in the soul before God. Even an apostle like Paul or John sought not for a moment to step between the faithful and God. The apostles communicated His mind, that the saints might have the same assurance of it as themselves, and so their joy be full. “For by faith ye stand.” So it must be in order to please God. Without faith it is impossible. It is not by the fear or favor of men, however blessed, that the saints stand, but by faith. A fellow helper of their joy, he would rather expose himself to the charge of changing his mind, if any were low enough so to think and speak of him, than to deal harshly with them, as he in faithfulness must, had he come as he first purposed. He waited, that the word of God might work its salutary aim, mixed with faith in those who heard it. He wished to do his work with joy, and not groaning, for this would be unprofitable for them. Was this to lord it over them, as proud men might allege? It was to further their joy of faith, as their servant for Jesus' sake.