Notes on 2 Corinthians 4:1-4

2 Corinthians 4:1‑4  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The apostle returns to the manner and spirit of his service in the gospel. Such a hope, such glory, demands and by grace inspires good courage, as well as conduct, of a divine sort. “On this account, having this ministry, according as we obtained mercy, we faint1 not, but refused the hidden things of shame, not walking in deceit, nor guilefully using the word of God, but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every conscience of men in the sight of God. But if even our gospel is veiled, in those that perish it is veiled, in whom the god of this age blinded the minds [or thoughts] of the faithless, that the illumination of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is [the] image of God, should not shine forth.” (Vers. 1-4.)
It was not only the surpassing and abiding excellence of this ministry, but the possession of it, which touched the heart with the sense of divine mercy, and took away all disposition to be craven-hearted in presence of the gravest difficulties, and the keenest and constant sufferings. It is true that the Corinthians knew but little of such experience, but therefore was it the more needful that the apostle, who knew little else here below, should bring it out clearly. On the other hand, men admire cleverness in baffling adversaries, and in evading dangers or difficulties, alas! too often in glossing over what cannot bear the light, and in turning aside the edge of what exposes and condemns. Here also the saints at Corinth were not without the contagion of their city and its schools. Could they, like the apostle, say that they refused the secret things of shame?—that they did not walk in trickery?—that they did not falsify the word of God? Some among them certainly gave too much appearance of being thus lacking in the faith that counts on God, and declines secret influence, and shrewd, if not unscrupulous, plans after the flesh. The ways of the servant should harmonize with His blessed service, as they did in Paul's case, leaving to the children of darkness all that shrinks from the light, which it does not suit, no less than evil surmisings of the good they cannot sympathize with. It is not only what is scandalous, but all cunning, which is abhorrent to Christ, who needs nothing that is not of the Spirit. And if Satan lures us to the path of self-seeking, the desire to win others soon slips from hesitation into a guileful handling of that word which breathes only light and love, like its source.
The apostle, far from uncertainty in his own soul, acted and spoke in the consciousness of divine authority, as he says, “by the manifestation of the truth” (what a blessing in a world of darkness!) “commending ourselves to every conscience of men in the sight of God.” Activity of mind, which likes to propagate its ideas, and to produce common action, was not wanting at Corinth; but where was this conscious possession of truth which formed the ways in accordance with it, and sought no other influence, but only thus in love to appeal to conscience in God's sight? To shine before men, to gain applause, to have a party, are snares to avoid, unworthy of Christ's servants. To seek, or even to receive, glory one of another, instead of seeking the glory which is from the only God, is the ruin of faith, and wrought not in the Jewish unbeliever, but in many a Corinthian believer. The apostle, in unwearied love, and unquailing before difficulties, and unflinching in candor, pressed the truth in season, out of season, whether men heard or forbore, fissured that, while he preached as in God's presence, every conscience bowed inwardly, even if the will were set on its own way in defiance of God.
Moreover, the vividness of the heavenly vision, to which he was nut disobedient, reproduced itself by the Spirit in his evangelizing. All was out, without disguise, radiant with the light of heaven and the glory of the Christ he had seen on high. Hence he could add, that even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in the perishing, in whose case the god of this age blinded the minds of the faithless. He had no veil like Moses: the gospel effectually repudiates it—at least the gospel as he and his fellows preached it. As he believed, so he preached. There was for him no affectation of depth or sublimity. The truth needs no arts to set it off. Nothing else is so lofty, nothing else so deep. It is Christ, the Word, who was God and yet was made flesh, life eternal yet dying for sinners, who descended into the lower parts of the earth, and also ascended up above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. If such glad tidings were veiled, they were veiled in the lost, not by those that preached the truth. In their ease, the god of this age blinded the thoughts, or understandings, of the unbelieving. It was no defect in the truth, no obscurity in the message from God, nor insincerity in the messenger, who gave it out as purely as he received it.
Alas! there is a subtle and energetic adversary of God and man; there are men who have not faith, but passions and lusts, which expose them to his influence in blinding them to the truth. And such are all nature since sin ruined mankind, till grace work repentance to acknowledgment of the truth. But men who are feeble in owning the power of the Spirit are apt to be slow to perceive Satan's workings; and controversial zeal increases this unscriptural bias. Hence we see that the fathers in general, early and late, Greek and Latin, misapplied this simple and weighty statement of scripture, and denied the devil to be meant here, construing it as God blinding the minds of the unbelievers of this age! (See Cramer's Cat. Patr. Gr. v., 878, 874, Oxon. 1844; Iren. Haer. iv. 892; Tert. advers. Mare. L, Aug. c. adv. Leg. iii., vii. 29.) Hilary, in his zeal against the Arians, and among the Greeks, Chrysostom, would not allow Satan to be called god of this age, lest it might tell against the deity of Christ; and so Ecumenius and Theodoret, &c., down to Theophylact; as others, like Origen, against other early heretics, Marcionites, Manicheans, &c. It is instructive as a plain proof of patristic shallowness, where they agreed, as they rarely did, on an interpretation. They failed to distinguish between “God” used absolutely, and “God” with a distinct and restricted qualification. And as the Lord, in view of His own rejection unto death, spoke of the devil as the prince of this world (John 12; 14), so the apostle here designates him, with striking propriety, as “god of this age.” During the new age, when the Lord takes the sovereignty of the world (Rev. 11), it will not be so; he will be bound, and thereby kept from his old deceits. Now he takes advantage of all truth to dishonor God and destroy men, his wretched slaves, who, in doing their own will, serve him effectually. Thus are they blinded, that the illumination of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine forth.2
Here also it is well to notice that “the glorious gospel,” as in the Authorized Version, is not only inadequate, but incorrect. For “the glory” is definitely of Christ exalted to God's right hand, in virtue of not His person only but redemption, that we who now believe might see Him, and have our place in Him, there. What enlightenment can compare with this! It is part of what the apostle calls “my” and “our gospel.” Christ was, and is, God's image, alone fully representing Him; but the gospel, as Paul preached it, was not of His descent and life here only, nor of His death and resurrection, but of His glory in heaven also. Hence the appropriateness of the language, with which the reader may contrast the vague platitudes of the Cat. Patr. v. 374, 876.