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OF ST. PAUL'S SECOND
EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS.
Of St. Paul's Design in writing his second Epistle to the Corinthians. W
HEN the apostle sent his first letter to the church at Corinth, he resolved to remain in Ephesus till the following Pentecost, (1 Cor. xvi. 8.) that Titus, who carried his letter, might have time to return, and bring him an account of the manner in which it was received by the Corinthians. But the riot of Demetrius happening soon after it was sent away, the apostle found it necessary to avoid the fury of the rioters and of the idolatrous rabble, who were all greatly enraged against him, for having turned so many of the inhabitants of Asia from the established idolatry. Wherefore, leaving Ephesus, he went to Troas, a noted sea-port town to the north of Ephesus, where travellers, coming from Europe into Asia, commonly landed. Here he proposed to employ himself in preaching the gospel of Christ, (2 Cor. ii. 12.) till Titus should arrive from Corinth. But Titus not coming at the time appointed, St. Paul began to fear that the Corinthians had used him ill, and had disregarded the letter which he delivered to them. These fears so distressed the apostle, that notwithstanding his preaching at Troas was attended with uncommon success, he left that city and went forward to Macedonia, expecting to find Titus. But in this expectation he was disappointed. Titus was not in Macedonia when the apostle arrived. He therefore resolved to wait in that country, till Titus should come and inform him how the Corinthians stood affected towards their spiritual father. It seems he judged it imprudent to visit them till he knew their state.--In Macedonia, St. Paul had many conflicts with the idolaters, (2 Cor. vii. 5.) who were greatly enraged against him, as all the other idolaters were, for opposing both the objects and the rites of their worship. These fightings, joined with his fears for Titus, and his uncertainty concerning the disposition of the Corinthians, exceedingly distressed the apostle at this time. But his uneasiness was at length happily removed by the arrival of Titus, and by the agreeable accounts which he gave him of the obedience of the greatest part of the Corinthians, in excommunicating the incestuous person; at which solemn action Titus may have been present. Much encouraged therefore by the good news, the apostle wrote to the Corinthian church this second letter, to confirm the sincere part in their attachment to him, and to separate the rest from the false teacher who had led them so far astray.
To understand this epistle rightly, the reader must recollect, that as Titus spent some time in Corinth after delivering the apostle's first letter, he had an opportunity to make himself acquainted, not only with the state of the sincere part of the church, but with the temper and behaviour of the faction. Wherefore when he gave the apostle an account of the good disposition of the church, he no doubt at the same time informed him concerning the faction, that some of them still continued in their opposition to him, and in their attachment to the false teacher; and that that impostor was going on in his evil practices. Farther, Titus, by conversing with the faction, having learned the arguments and objections by which their leaders endeavoured to lessen the apostle's authority, together with the scoffing speeches which they used to bring him into contempt, we may believe that he rehearsed all these matters to him. Being thus made acquainted with the state of the Corinthian church, St. Paul judged it fit to write to them this second letter. And that it might have the greater weight, he sent it to them by Titus, the bearer of his former epistle, 2 Cor. viii. 17, 18.-In this second letter, the apostle artfully introduced the arguments, objections, and scoffing speeches, by which the faction were endeavouring to bring him into contempt; and not only confuted them by the most solid reasoning, but even turned them against the false teacher himself, and against the
faction, in such a manner as to render them ridiculous. In short, by the many delicate but pointed ironies with which this epistle abounds, the apostle covered his adversaries with shame, and shewed the Corinthians that he excelled in a talent which the Greeks greatly admired.—But while St. Paul thus pointedly derided the faction and its leaders, he bestowed just commendations on the sincere part of the church, for their persevering in the doctrine he had taught them, and for their ready obedience to his orders concerning the incestuous person. And to encourage them, he told them, that having boasted of them to Titus, he was glad to find his boasting well founded in every particular.
The Corinthian church being composed of persons of such opposite characters, the apostle in writing to them, was under the necessity of suiting his discourse to them, according to their different characters. And therefore, if we apply to the whole church of Corinth, the things in the two epistles, which apparently were directed to the whole church, but which were intended only for a part of it, we shall think these epistles full of inconsistency, if not of contradiction. But if we understand these things according as the apostle really meant them, every appearance of inconsistency and contradiction will be removed. For he himself hath directed us to distinguish the sincere part of the Corinthians from the faction, 2 Cor. i. 14. Ye have acknowledged us in part, that is, a part of you have acknowledged that we are your boasting - Chap. ii. 5. Now if a certain person hath grieved me, he hath not grieved me except by a part of you, that I may not lay a load on you all. It is therefore plain, that the matters in the two epistles to the Corinthians which appear inconsistent, are not really so; they belong to different persons. For example, the many commendations bestowed on the Corinthians in these epistles, belong only to the sincere part of them. Whereas the sharp reproofs, the pointed ironies, and the severe threatenings of punishment found in the same epistles, are to be understood as addressed to the faction, and more especially to the teacher who headed the faction. And thus by discriminating the members of the Corinthian church according to their true characters, and by applying to each the passages which belonged to them, every appearance of contradiction vanishes.
Of the Matters contained in the Epistles to the Corinthians ; and of their
Usefulness to the Church in every Age. St. Paul's intention in his Epistles to the Corinthians, being to break the faction which the false teacher had formed in their church in opposition to him, and to confute the calumnies which that teacher and his adherents were industriously propagating, for discrediting him as an apostle, many of the things contained in these epistles were necessarily personal to him and to the faction. Nevertheless we are not on that account to think lightly of these writings, as fancying them of little use now to the church of Christ. The things in them which are most personal and particular, occasioned the apostle to write instructions and precepts, which are of the greatest use to the church in every age.--For example, in answering the calumnies by which the faction endeavoured to discredit him as an apostle, he was led to mention facts which demonstrate him to have been an apostle, commissioned by Christ to direct the faith and practice of all the members of the church. Such as his having wrought miracles for converting the Corinthians, and his having imparted to them spiritual gifts after they believed: his having preached the gospel to them without receiving any reward from them; not even the small reward of maintenance while he preached to them: his having endured innumerable hardships in the long journeys which he undertook for the sake of spreading the gospel, and heavy persecutions in every country from enemies and opposers, 1 Cor. iv. 11, 12. 2 Cor. iv. 8. xi. 23. His rapture into the third heaven: with a variety of other facts and circumstances respecting himself, which we should not have known, had it not been for the calumnies of the Corinthian faction, and of the Judaizing teachers, who infested the church at Corinth, and other churches, (See Pref. to Galat. Sect. 3.) but which, now that they are known, give us the fullest assurance of his apostleship, and add the greatest weight to his writings.- Next, in reproving the faction for their misdeeds, the apostle hath explained the general principles of religion and morality, in such a manner that they may be applied for regulating our conduct in cascs of the greatest importance; and hath delivered rules and advices which, if followed, will have the happiest influence on our temper. For instance, when he