Notes on 2 Corinthians 7:1-16

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The apostle returns to the expression of his affection towards the Corinthians, as he desired their love.
“Receive us: we wronged none, we corrupted none, we overreached none. For condemnation I do not speak; for I have said before that ye are in our hearts to die with and to live with. Great [is] my frankness toward you, great my boasting in respect of you: I am filled with encouragement, I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction. For also when we came into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but [we were] afflicted in every way; without fightings, within fears. But he that encourageth the lowly, God, encouraged us by the coming of Titus, and not by his coming only but also by the encouragement with which he was encouraged in your case, declaring to us your longing desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I the more rejoiced. Because if also I grieved you in the letter, I do not regret, if also I did regret;1 for I see that that letter if also for a time grieved you. Now I rejoice, not that ye were grieved but that ye were grieved unto repentance, for ye were grieved according to God that in nothing ye might suffer damage from us. For grief according to God worketh2 repentance to salvation not to be regretted; but the grief of the world worketh out death. For, behold, this very thing that ye were grieved according to God, how much diligence it wrought out in you, nay self-clearing, nay indignation, nay fear, nay longing desire, nay zeal, nay avenging! In everything did ye prove yourselves to be pure in the matter. Wherefore, if also I wrote, [it was] not for the sake of him that wronged, nor for his sake that was wronged, but for the sake of your diligence for us (or, ours for you)3 being manifested unto you before God. On this account we have been encouraged; but4 in our comfort we rejoiced the more exceedingly over the joy of Titus, because his spirit hath been refreshed by you all. Because if I have boasted to him anything of you, I was not put to shame; but as we speak all things to you in truth, so also our boasting of you to Titus was truth. And his affections are more exceedingly toward you, calling to mind the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him. I rejoice5 that in everything I am confident in you.” (Vers. 2-16.)
Thus does he call for room in their hearts: a touching appeal when we reflect who and what he was, who and what they were. The lack of love was certainly not in him; nor was lowliness absent from him who deigns to repudiate the unworthy insinuations whispered against him, which they had better see whether they might not be more applicable elsewhere: neither injustice nor corruption nor fraudulent gain were true of him. He was careful to exclude even the appearance of these evils. But if the Holy Spirit work in the saints, Satan is ever busy and knows how to avail himself of all circumstances to detract and undermine, especially where love should most abound. In speaking thus however the apostle is careful to guard his words from the semblance of a condemnatory spirit. As he had already implied in chapter 6: 11, they were in his heart to die with and to live with. He that is familiar with the Latin lyric may remember the well-known line which resembles this sentiment in form—O how different in reality! “Teem vivere amem, tecum obeans libens.” And how infinitely superior, in strength as in purity, is this outpouring of unselfish affection, where the Christian begins with dying together whilst the heathen can but end with it!
Far from a word to wound their spirits now restored, he can and does speak freely and in the strongest confidence. “Great [is] my frankness toward you, great my boasting in respect of you: I am filled with encouragement, I am overflowing with joy in all our afflictions.” Sorrow closes the heart, joy opens it; and now the apostle's gladness of heart was proportionate to the depth of his pain over saints so dear in the Lord. “For also when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way: without fightings, within fears. But he that encourageth the lowly, God, encouraged us by the coming of Titus, and not by his coming only but also by the encouragement with which he was encouraged in your case, declaring to us your longing desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I the more rejoiced.” It was not only in Troas he was full of heaviness and anxiety, but also in Macedonia whither he had gone in the hope of hearing the latest tidings from Titus. There he had yet more pressure of trouble till the good news came. Deeply interesting and affecting it is to hear the apostle opening his heart thus freely and to know how distracted and burdened he had been by all. “Our flesh” (ver. 5) is a peculiar expression, signifying I suppose his human weakness as such; “afflicted in every way” describes the circumstances (“without fightings, within fears") inward and outward. But God does not fail. He is the encourager of the depressed as He resists the proud; and He it was who now appeared to cheer the distressed apostle by the coming of Titus, above all by the tidings of what grace had wrought in the Corinthians, restoration in affection, and, as we shall see later, in conscience too.
The reason or explanation of his former severity, given in the verses that follow is highly interesting and important in various respects. It is not “a” but the letter, clearly referring to the first epistle to the Corinthians. Did our translators wish to conceal this? It is not the only instance here of want of faith in men of God; for Calvin also shirks the truth, when he contends that μετεμελόμην “I repented” is used in the passage improperly for being grieved. For (argues he) when Paul made the Corinthians sad, he himself also shared in the grief and in a certain way inflicted sadness on himself at the same time. It is therefore just as if he said, Though I unwillingly pained you, it grieved me too that I was forced to be harsh to you; now I cease to grieve on this account whilst I see it has been useful to you. Otherwise if we own that Paul was concerned at what he had written, Calvin thought it would involve the grave absurdity that the former epistle was written under inconsiderate impulse rather than by the direction of the Spirit.6 So Erasmus considered that the supposition was not the fact.7
But there is not the smallest need for toning down or altering the language. It is indeed, however common, an erroneous view of inspiration, which does in no way preclude the working of motive as we see in Luke 1:1-31Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; 3It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, (Luke 1:1‑3), any more than deep exercise of mind as here. We are bound to accept the plain words of the apostle, which show his anxiety after he had written an unquestionably inspired epistle. “Because if also I grieved you in the letter I do not regret, if also I did regret; for I see that that letter if also for an hour grieved you. Now I rejoice not that ye were grieved but that ye were grieved unto repentance; for ye were grieved according to God that ye might in nothing suffer loss from us.” He recognized the indubitable fruit of the Holy Spirit's operation through the very epistle which had harassed his spirit after he had written and sent it off. He had no question more. It was of God, as he was divinely convinced and reassured; but now in his joy at their restoration he could tell them all his feelings freely, even a passing regret for having written the first epistle, truly inspired of God as it was, though joy abounded the more now for the blessing that had resulted.
It is a mistake to call even an inspired man infallible: none but Christ was, and He was pleased to write neither Gospels nor Epistles, without overlooking of course what He commanded His servants to write in the great and final book of the Canon. But the Spirit of God guided and kept the vessels of His inspiration, so that, maintaining the individuality of each writer, He should give a result perfectly according to God. In the first Epistle the apostle distinguishes between the fruit of his spiritual judgment and the positive commandments of the Lord; but he was inspired to give us both in chapter vii. Here he is inspired to tell us how his spirit was agitated even about that inspired epistle, in no way as to its absolute truth, but through his anxiety lest the very desire to win his beloved children back might not have estranged them forever.
Farther, we have precious light from God here as to that great work in the awakened soul, repentance. It is quite distinct from regret or change of mind. Even sorrow however deep is not repentance, though sorrow according to God works it out. Again, it is not correct to confound repentance with conversion to God, which is surely a turning from sin with earnest desire for holiness. Repentance is the soul as born of God sitting in judgment of the old man and its acts, its words and its ways. And as repentance for remission of, sins was to be preached in Christ's name, so He was exalted to give both. It is not a changed mind however great about God in Christ, which is rather what faith is and gives; it is the renewed mind taking account of the man and his course according to God's word and nature. Hence it is said to be not about God, but “toward God” or Godward; for the conscience then takes His side in self-judgment before Him, and all is weighed as in His sight. It is of course of the Spirit, not intellectual but moral. “Surely after that I was turned, I repented.” It follows conversion and consequently that application of the word which arrests the soul by faith, though it be not yet the faith of the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, which brings into peace.
Here of course it is the repentance of saints who had sinned. But it is the same principle, and in contrast with the world's grief which, knowing not God, gives itself up to despair and works out death. However overwhelmed may be the believer, God takes care that there shall be enough hope in His mercy to guard from the despairing fear which Satan wields for his deadly purposes.
And what a picture the apostle draws of God's recent work in the repentant Corinthians! “For behold this very thing, that ye were grieved according to God how much diligence it wrought out in you, nay self-clearing, nay indignation, nay fear, nay longing desire, nay zeal, nay avenging! In everything did ye prove yourselves to be pure in the matter.” (Ver. 11.) Of course its precise character was modified by the generally bad state of the assembly before grace thus used the first epistle. No indifference now, but earnest care; no extenuation of the evil, but thorough cleansing of themselves; a burning sense of indignation, fear, longing desire, zeal, and revenge, all had their place; so that he who had sternly reproved them could say that they had proved themselves clear in the matter: a, if not the, grand aim of the Spirit in discipline, and not merely getting rid of the offender.
Sometimes in a case of disciplinary truth, it is a question as at Corinth of the assembly's state as a whole. Before the first Epistle they were wholly ignorant that all were involved in the evil which was before their eyes, and which they did not know they were bound to judge. When we read that they were puffed up and had not rather mourned, we must bear in mind that they were quite inexperienced, and that the mind of the Lord as to dealing with wickedness in the assembly or its members, had not yet been revealed to them. Still as saints they ought to have felt the sin and scandal deeply, and if they did not know how to act, they should have betaken themselves to mourning in order that he that had done this deed should be taken sway out of the midst of them. Spiritual instinct should have felt thus and laid it with shame and earnest desire before the Lord who never fails. But that epistle was blessed of God, to deal with their souls, not only as to the offender, but, as to their own state, and thus gave occasion for the apostle to open his heart so painfully burdened, and sorely agitated with all the fervor of a real love which only overleaps its old channel, because of the temporary repression.
Where souls since then, in the face of these epistles, have tampered with grave evil whatever it be, where palliation has been at work, where ingenious excuses have blunted the sense of right and wrong, as may be at any time among Christians, it is a state of things worse in some respects than that at Corinth. For there ignorance of the duty of the assembly in discipline prevailed, and we cannot wonder at it, though the sin was appalling. The mere getting the wicked person outside, important as it may be, is not what comforted the apostle's heart, but the working of deep and united moral feelings all round. “In everything ye have proved yourselves to be pure in the matter.” Where there had been such indifference to their complicity, even though in ignorance of their responsibility as at Corinth, the saints had to clear themselves and prove it for the Lord's vindication. But it is, I doubt not, a general principle, and always incumbent. Merely to have done with the offender would show in others an unexercised conscience, or but judicial hardness. The happy contrast with all this was here manifest. They had indeed been grieved according to God.
Hence the apostle adds that, if also he wrote to them, it was not for the sake of the wrong-doer nor of the one wronged, but for the manifestation to them before God of their diligent zeal for them or of the apostle's for them. (Ver. 12.) It seems passing strange that the early clauses should seem obscure; as to the latter in opposite ways, the copies singularly differ, some as the Sinaitic and the Boernerian yielding no good sense. Whatever the adversary had wrought for a while, their true zeal for the apostle was made plain to themselves at last before God. This is the best supported sense.
“On this account we have been encouraged; and in (or in addition to) our encouragement, we rejoiced much more abundantly at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.” Grace had given the happiest issue to that which fleshly energy or ease had ruined for a time. And joy abounded not in them only but more in Titus, most in Paul himself. And there were other grounds beyond, though connected with, their present state. “Because if I have boasted anything to him over you, I was not put to shame; but as we spoke all things to you in truth, so also the boasting about you before Titus was truth; and more abundantly toward you are his bowels, while calling to mind the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him. I rejoice that in everything I have good courage in respect of you.” Such an allusion to his feelings towards the Corinthians, when they must have been conscious of their temporary alienation, and deplorably low state, would more than over seal their affection, as it proved his to have been true from first to last. His heart was not inconstant, nor was his tongue insincere. He loved, if also he had blamed his beloved children at Corinth, and they could now appreciate all better, as he could tell out all freely, however delicately.