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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
The apostle vindicates himself against the aspersions cast on his person by the false apostle; and takes occasion to mention his spiritual might and authority, 2 Corinthians 10:1-6. He shows them the impropriety of judging after the outward appearance, 2 Corinthians 10:7. Again refers to his apostolical authority, and informs them that when he again comes among them he will show himself in his deeds as powerful as his letters intimated, 2 Corinthians 10:8-11. He shows that these false teachers sat down in other men's labors, having neither authority nor influence from God to break up new ground, while he and the apostles in general had the regions assigned to them through which they were to sow the seed of life; and that he never entered into any place where the work was made ready to his hand by others, 2 Corinthians 10:12-16. He concludes with intimating that the glorying of those false apostles was bad; that they had nothing but self-commendation; and that they who glory should glory in the Lord, 2 Corinthians 10:17, 2 Corinthians 10:18.
1Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you:
I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness - Having now finished his directions and advices relative to the collection for the poor, he resumes his argument relative to the false apostle, who had gained considerable influence by representing St. Paul as despicable in his person, his ministry, and his influence. Under this obloquy the apostle was supported by the meekness and gentleness of Christ; and through the same heavenly disposition he delayed inflicting that punishment which, in virtue of his apostolical authority, he might have inflicted on him who had disturbed and labored to corrupt the Christian Church.
Who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you - He seems to quote these as the words of his calumniator, as if he had said; "This apostle of yours is a mere braggadocio; when he is among you, you know how base and contemptible he is; when absent, see how he brags and boasts." The word ταπεινος, which we render base, signifies lowly, and, as some think, short of stature. The insinuation is, that when there was danger or opposition at hand, St. Paul acted with great obsequiousness, fearing for his person and authority, lest he should lose his secular influence. See the following verse.
2But I beseech you, that I may not be bold when I am present with that confidence, wherewith I think to be bold against some, which think of us as if we walked according to the flesh.
Some, which think of us as if we walked according to the flesh - As it is customary for cowards and overbearing men to threaten the weak and the timid when present; to bluster when absent; and to be very obsequious in the presence of the strong and courageous. This conduct they appear to have charged against the apostle, which he calls here walking after the flesh - acting as a man who had worldly ends in view, and would use any means in order to accomplish them.
3For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:
Though we walk in the flesh - That is: Although I am in the common condition of human nature, and must live as a human being, yet I do not war after the flesh - I do not act the coward or the poltroon, as they insinuate. I have a good cause, a good captain, strength at will, and courage at hand. I neither fear them nor their master.
4(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
The weapons of our warfare - The apostle often uses the metaphor of a warfare to represent the life and trials of a Christian minister. See Ephesians 6:10-17; 1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 2:3-5.
Are not carnal - Here he refers to the means used by the false apostle in order to secure his party; he calumniated St. Paul, traduced the truth, preached false and licentious doctrines, and supported these with sophistical reasonings.
But mighty through God - Our doctrines are true and pure, they come from God and lead to him, and he accompanies them with his mighty power to the hearts of those who hear them; and the strong holds - the apparently solid and cogent reasoning of the philosophers, we, by these doctrines, pull down; and thus the fortifications of heathenism are destroyed, and the cause of Christ triumphs wherever we come; and we put to flight the armies of the aliens.
5Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
Casting down imaginations - Λογισμους· Reasonings or opinions. The Greek philosophers valued themselves especially on their ethic systems, in which their reasonings appeared to be very profound and conclusive; but they were obliged to assume principles which were either such as did not exist, or were false in themselves, as the whole of their mythologic system most evidently was: truly, from what remains of them we see that their metaphysics were generally bombast; and as to their philosophy, it was in general good for nothing. When the apostles came against their gods many and their lords many with the One Supreme and Eternal Being, they were confounded, scattered, annihilated; when they came against their various modes of purifying the mind - their sacrificial and mediatorial system, with the Lord Jesus Christ, his agony and bloody sweat, his cross and passion, his death and burial, and his glorious resurrection and ascension, they sunk before them, and appeared to be what they really were, as dust upon the balance, and lighter than vanity.
Every high thing - Even the pretendedly sublime doctrines, for instance, of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics in general, fell before the simple preaching of Christ crucified.
The knowledge of God - The doctrine of the unity and eternity of the Divine nature, which was opposed by the plurality of their idols, and the generation of their gods, and their men-made deities. It is amazing how feeble a resistance heathenism made, by argument or reasoning, against the doctrine of the Gospel! It instantly shrunk from the Divine light, and called on the secular power to contend for it! Popery sunk before Protestantism in the same way, and defended itself by the same means. The apostles destroyed heathenism wherever they came; the Protestants confuted popery wherever their voice was permitted to be heard.
Bringing into captivity every thought - Heathenism could not recover itself; in vain did its thousands of altars smoke with reiterated hecatombs, their demons were silent, and their idols were proved to be nothing in the world. Popery could never, by any power of self-reviviscence, restore itself after its defeat by the Reformation: it had no Scripture, consecutively understood; no reason, no argument; in vain were its bells rung, its candles lighted, its auto da fe's exhibited; in vain did its fires blaze; and in vain were innumerable human victims immolated on its altars! The light of God penetrated its hidden works of darkness, and dragged its three-headed Cerberus into open day; the monster sickened, vomited his henbane, and fled for refuge to his native shades.
The obedience of Christ - Subjection to idols was annihilated by the progress of the Gospel among the heathens; and they soon had but one Lord, and his name one. In like manner the doctrines of the reformation, mighty through God, pulled down - demolished and brought into captivity, the whole papal system; and instead of obedience to the pope, the pretended vicar of God upon earth, obedience to Christ, as the sole almighty Head of the Church, was established, particularly in Great Britain, where it continues to prevail. Hallelujah! the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!
6And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.
And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience - I am ready, through this mighty armor of God, to punish those opposers of the doctrine of Christ, and the disobedience which has been produced by them.
When your obedience is fulfilled - When you have in the fullest manner, discountenanced those men, and separated yourselves from their communion. The apostle was not in haste to pull up the tares, lest he should pull up the wheat also.
All the terms in these two verses are military. Allusion is made to a strongly fortified city, where the enemy had made his last stand; entrenching himself about the walls; strengthening all his redoubts and ramparts; raising castles, towers, and various engines of defense and offense upon the walls; and neglecting nothing that might tend to render his strong hold impregnable. The army of God comes against the place and attacks it; the strong holds οχυροματα, all the fortified places, are carried. The imaginations, λογισμοι, engines, and whatever the imagination or skill of man could raise, are speedily taken and destroyed. Every high thing, παν ὑψωμα, all the castles and towers are sapped, thrown down and demolished; the walls are battered into breaches; and the besieging army, carrying every thing at the point of the sword, enter the city, storm and take the citadel. Every where defeated, the conquered submit, and are brought into captivity, αιχμαλωτιζοντες, are led away captives; and thus the whole government is destroyed.
It is easy to apply these things, as far as may be consistent with the apostle's design. The general sense I have given in the preceding notes.
7Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ's, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ's, even so are we Christ's.
Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? - Do not be carried away with appearances; do not be satisfied with show and parade.
If any man trust to himself that he is Christ's - Here, as in several other places of this and the preceding epistle, the τις, any or certain, person, most evidently refers to the false apostle who made so much disturbance in the Church. And this man trusted to himself - assumed to himself that he was Christ's messenger: it would not do to attempt to subvert Christianity at once; it had got too strong a hold of Corinth to be easily dislodged; he therefore pretended to be on Christ's side, and to derive his authority from him.
Let him of himself - Without any authority, certainly, from God; but, as he arrogates to himself the character of a minister of Christ, let him acknowledge that even so we are Christ's ministers; and that I have, by my preaching, and the miracles which I have wrought, given the fullest proof that I am especially commissioned by him.
8For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed:
For, though I should boast, etc. - I have a greater authority and spiritual power than I have yet shown, both to edify and to punish; but I employ this for your edification in righteousness, and not for the destruction of any delinquent. "This," says Calmet, "is the rule which the pastors of the Church ever propose to themselves in the exercise of their authority; whether to enjoin or forbid, to dispense or to oblige, to bind or to loose. They should use this power only as Jesus Christ used it - for the salvation, and not for the destruction, of souls."
9That I may not seem as if I would terrify you by letters.
That I may not seem, etc. - This is an elliptical sentence, and may be supplied thus: "I have not used this authority; nor will I add any more concerning this part of the subject, lest I should seem, as my adversary has insinuated, to wish to terrify you by my letters.
10For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.
For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful - He boasts of high powers, and that he can do great things. See on 2 Corinthians 10:1-2 (note).
But his bodily presence is weak - When you behold the man, you find him a feeble, contemptible mortal; and when ye hear him speak, his speech, ὁ λογος, probably, his doctrine, εξουθενημενος, is good for nothing; his person, matter, and manner, are altogether uninteresting, unimpressive, and too contemptible to be valued by the wise and the learned. This seems to be the spirit and design of this slander.
Many, both among the ancients and moderns, have endeavored to find out the ground there was for any part of this calumny; as to the moral conduct of the apostle, that was invulnerable; his motives, it is true, were suspected and denounced by this false apostle and his partisans; but they could never find any thing in his conduct which could support their insinuations.
What they could not attach to his character, they disingenuously attached to his person and his elocution.
If we can credit some ancient writers, such as Nicephorus, we shall find the apostle thus described:
Παυλος μικρος ην και συνεσταλμενος το του σωματος μεγεθος· και ὡσπερ αγκυλον αυτο κεκτημενος· σμικρον δε, και κεκυφος· την οφιν λευκος, και το προσωπον προφερης, ψιλος την κεφαλην, κ. τ. λ.
Nicephor., lib. ii., cap. 17.
"Paul was a little man, crooked, and almost bent like a bow; with a pale countenance, long and wrinkled; a bald head; his eyes full of fire and benevolence; his beard long, thick, and interspersed with grey hairs, as was his head, etc."
I quote from Calmet, not having Nicephorus at hand.
An old Greek writer, says the same author, whose works are found among those of Chrysostom, tom. vi. hom. 30, page 265, represents him thus: - Παυλος ὁ τριπηχυς ανθρωπος, και των ουρανων ἁπτομενος· "Paul was a man of about three cubits in height, (four feet six), and yet, nevertheless, touched the heavens." Others say that "he was a little man, had a bald head, and a large nose." See the above, and several other authorities in Calmet. Perhaps there is not one of these statements correct: as to Nicephorus, he is a writer of the fourteenth century, weak and credulous, and worthy of no regard. And the writer found in the works of Chrysostom, in making the apostle little more than a pigmy, has rendered his account incredible.
That St. Paul could be no such diminutive person we may fairly presume from the office he filled under the high priest, in the persecution of the Church of Christ; and that he had not an impediment in his speech, but was a graceful orator, we may learn from his whole history, and especially from the account we have, Acts 14:12, where the Lycaonians took him for Mercury, the god of eloquence, induced thereto by his powerful and persuasive elocution. In short, there does not appear to be any substantial evidence of the apostle's deformity, pigmy stature, bald head, pale and wrinkled face, large nose, stammering speech, etc., etc. These are probably all figments of an unbridled fancy, and foolish surmisings.
11Let such an one think this, that, such as we are in word by letters when we are absent, such will we be also in deed when we are present.
Such as we are in word - A threatening of this kind would doubtless alarm the false apostle; and it is very likely that he did not await the apostle's coming, as he would not be willing to try the fate of Elymas.
12For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
We dare not make ourselves, etc. - As if he had said: I dare neither associate with, nor compare myself to, those who are full of self-commendation. Some think this to be an ironical speech.
But they, measuring themselves by themselves - They are not sent of God; they are not inspired by his Spirit; therefore they have no rule to think or act by. They are also full of pride and self-conceit; they look within themselves for accomplishments which their self-love will soon find out; for to it real and fictitious are the same. As they dare not compare themselves with the true apostles of Christ, they compare themselves with each other; and, as they have no perfect standard, they can have no excellence; nor can they ever attain true wisdom, which is not to be had from looking at what we are but to what we should be; and if without a directory, what we should be will never appear, and consequently our ignorance must continue. This was the case with these self-conceited false apostles; but ου συνιουσιν, are not wise, Mr. Wakefield contends, is an elegant Graecism signifying they are not aware that they are measuring themselves by themselves, etc.
13But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you.
Things without our measure - There is a great deal of difficulty in this and the three following verses, and there is a great diversity among the MSS.; and which is the true reading can scarcely be determined. Our version is perhaps the plainest that can be made of the text. By the measure mentioned here, it seems as if the apostle meant the commission he received from God to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles; a measure or district that extended through all Asia Minor and Greece, down to Achaia, where Corinth was situated, a measure to reach even unto you. But the expressions in these verses are all agonistical, and taken from the stadium or race course in the Olympic and Isthmian games. The μετρον, or measure, was the length of the δρομος, or course; and the κανων, rule or line, 2 Corinthians 10:15, 2 Corinthians 10:16, was probably the same with the γραμμα, or white line, which marked out the boundaries of the stadium; and the verbs reach unto, stretch out, etc., are all references to the exertions made to win the race. As this subject is so frequently alluded to in these epistles, I have thought it of importance to consider it particularly in the different places where it occurs.
14For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached not unto you: for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ:
For we stretch not ourselves beyond - We have not proceeded straight from Macedonia through Thessaly, and across the Adriatic Gulf into Italy, which would have led us beyond you westward; but knowing the mind of our God we left this direct path, and came southward through Greece, down into Achaia, and there we planted the Gospel. The false apostle has therefore got into our province, and entered into our labors, and there boasts as if the conversion of the heathen Achaians had been his own work. As there is an allusion here to the stadium, and to the Olympic games in general, we may consider the apostle as laying to the charge of the disturber at Corinth that he had got his name surreptitiously inserted on the military list; that he was not striving lawfully; had no right to the stadium, and none to the crown. See the observations at the end of 1 Corinthians 9; (1 Corinthians 9:27 (note)) and the note on 2 Corinthians 10:13 of this chapter; (2 Corinthians 10:13 (note)).
15Not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men's labours; but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly,
Not boasting of things without our measure - We speak only of the work which God has done by us; for we have never attempted to enter into other men's labors, and we study to convert those regions assigned to us by the Holy Spirit. We enter the course lawfully, and run according to rule. See above.
When your faith is increased - When you receive more of the life and power of godliness, and when you can better spare me to go to other places.
We shall be enlarged by you - Μεγαλυνθηναι probably signifies here to be praised or commended; and the sense would be this; We hope that shortly, on your gaining an increase of true religion, after your long distractions and divisions, you will plainly see that we are the true messengers of God to you, and that in all your intercourse with your neighbors, or foreign parts, you will speak of this Gospel preached by us as a glorious system of saving truth; and that, in consequence, the heathen countries around you will be the better prepared to receive our message; and thus our rule or district will be abundantly extended. This interpretation agrees well with the following verse.
16To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man's line of things made ready to our hand.
To preach the Gospel in the regions beyond you - He probably refers to those parts of the Morea, such as Sparta, etc., that lay southward of them; and to Italy, which lay on the west; for it does not appear that he considered his measure or province to extend to Libya, or any part of Africa. See the Introduction, Section 12.
Not to boast in another man's line - So very scrupulous was the apostle not to build on another man's foundation, that he would not even go to those places where other apostles were labouring. He appears to think that every apostle had a particular district or province of the heathen world allotted to him, and which God commissioned him to convert to the Christian faith. No doubt every apostle was influenced in the same way; and this was a wise order of God; for by these means the Gospel was more quickly spread through the heathen provinces than it otherwise would have been. The apostles had deacons or ministers with them whose business it was to water the seed sown; but the apostles alone, under Christ, sowed and planted.
17But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord - Instead of boasting or exulting even in your own success in preaching the Gospel, as none can be successful without the especial blessing of God, let God who gave the blessing have the glory. Even the genuine apostle, who has his commission immediately from God himself, takes no praise to himself from the prosperity of his work, but gives it all to God. How little cause then have your uncommissioned men to boast, to whom God has assigned no province, and who only boast in another man's line of things made ready to their hand!
18For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.
Not he that commendeth himself - Not the person who makes a parade of his own attainments; who preaches himself, and not Christ Jesus the Lord; and, far from being your servant for Christ's sake, affects to be your ruler; not such a one shall be approved of God, by an especial blessing on his labors; but he whom the Lord commendeth, by giving him the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit, and converting the heathen by his ministry. These were qualifications to which the false apostle at Corinth could not pretend. He had language and eloquence, and show and parade; but he had neither the gifts of an apostle nor an apostle's success.
1. Dr. Whitby observes that the apostle, in the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th verses, (2 Corinthians 10:13-16) endeavors to advance himself above the false apostles in the three following particulars: -
(1.) That whereas they could show no commission to preach to the Corinthians, no measure by which God had distributed the Corinthians to them as their province, he could do so. We have a measure to reach even to you, 2 Corinthians 10:13.
(2.) That whereas they went out of their line, leaping from one Church to another, he went on orderly, in the conversion of the heathens, from Judea through all the interjacent provinces, till he came to Corinth.
(3.) Whereas they only came in and perverted the Churches where the faith had already been preached, and so could only boast of things made ready to their hands, 2 Corinthians 10:16, he had labored to preach the Gospel where Christ had not been named, lest he should build on another man's foundation, Romans 15:20.
2. We find that from the beginning God appointed to every man his promise, and to every man his labor; and would not suffer even one apostle to interfere with another. This was a very wise appointment; for by this the Gospel was not only more speedily diffused over the heathen nations, as we have already remarked, but the Churches were better attended to, the Christian doctrine preserved in its purity, and the Christian discipline properly enforced. What is any men's work is no man's in particular; and thus the work is neglected. In every Church of God there should be some one who for the time being has the care of it, who may be properly called its pastor; and who is accountable for its purity in the faith, and its godly discipline.
3. Every man who ministers in holy things should be well assured of his call to the work; without this he can labor neither with confidence nor comfort. And he should be careful to watch over the flock, that no destroying wolf be permitted to enter the sacred fold, and that the fences of a holy discipline be kept in proper repair.
4. It is base, abominable, and deeply sinful, for a man to thrust himself into other men's labors, and, by sowing doubtful disputations among a Christian people, distract and divide them, that he may get a party to himself. Such persons generally act as the false apostle at Corinth; preach a relaxed morality; place great stress upon certain doctrines which flatter and soothe self-love; calumniate the person, system of doctrines, and mode of discipline, of the pastor who perhaps planted that Church, or who in the order of God's providence has the oversight of it. This is an evil that has prevailed much in all ages of the Church; there is at present much of it in the Christian world, and Christianity is disgraced by it.