A Study of 2nd Corinthians 6:9-10
“As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed;
As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”
(2 Corinthians 6:9-10)
We may well call our text a chain of paradoxes. Observe how each spiritual paradox is fastened together by a double link. In seeking therefore this morning to unwind this chain, I shall take up these double links in the order in which they present themselves to my hand. Let us look, first, at the double link that presents itself in the very opening of our text—
I. “As unknown and yet well known.”
A. “As UNKNOWN.” This is true in a LITERAL sense. God’s people, as well as God’s servants, are little known and less esteemed in this world. It is God’s purpose and a part of his infinite wisdom that it should be so. The Lord is training up heirs of an exceeding and eternal weight of glory, and preparing them for those mansions of holiness and bliss which he has prepared for them before the foundation of the world. But while they are here below, they are in a state of obscurity. We may compare them to a large and valuable diamond, which is now undergoing the operations of cutting and polishing in some obscure court in the city, no one scarcely knowing of its existence or value, but its owner and the jeweler who is patiently cutting it into shape. But one day it may adorn a monarch’s crown.
So while God is cutting and polishing his diamonds by trials and temptations, sufferings and afflictions, they are hidden from the eyes of men, many of them literally and actually in obscure alleys and courts, in garrets and alms-houses. But when the Lord makes up his jewels, they will shine forth forever in his crown! God has chosen the poor of this world, for the most part, to be rich in faith. Not many notable in the annals of learning, power, or rank; not many noble, not many rich, not many mighty, has he called by his grace to a knowledge of himself. The Lord’s people rarely possess any wealth, station, property, or worldly distinction. They are for the most part poor and despised, as their Lord and Master was before them, and such the world cares neither to know, nor notice.
But not only in a literal sense are the saints and servants of God unknown to the men of this world, but they are SPIRITUALLY unknown. What does the world know of their sorrows, their distress of conscience, the bitterness they feel under the application of a broken law, under the hidings of God’s face, under the cruel temptations of Satan, under the misgivings and fears, the doubts and exercises, by which they are so cast down? And what does it know of their joys and consolations, deliverances and manifestations; the sweet discoveries of the love and grace of Christ to their heart; the love of God shed abroad in their soul, and the inward witness of the Spirit to their spirit that they are God’s children? As they are unknown in their sorrows, they are unknown in their joys; for their joy is that which a stranger cannot understand. What does the world know of their doubts and fears; of their misgivings and apprehensions whether the work upon their hearts be genuine, whether they have a saving interest in the finished work of the Son of God, whether what they have experienced has been wrought in their soul by a divine power? What does the world know of their earnest and prayerful desires after God and their seeking after his presence and favor; of what they feel and enjoy in hearing their experience described by a servant of God, and the testimony thereby afforded to the reality of the work upon their heart? What does the world know of the breaking in of the light of the Lord’s countenance, and the sweet springing up of a good hope through grace?
What does the world know of their temptations to disbelieve and question every sacred truth, or what they experience under the fiery darts of Satan, stirring up every base and bad feeling in their wretched hearts? Or what does the world know of their deliverance from these temptations, the support they receive under them, and the way in which the Lord makes them work for their spiritual good? Look at the dying believer—what does the world know of the sweet consolation which that dying believer is experiencing in the very agony of death? What does it see of the glorious vision of an eternal crown which the Holy Spirit anoints his dying eyes to behold as eternally his? What does it see of the choir of angels surrounding his bed, and how they are waiting to waft his soul to heaven?
B. “Yet WELL KNOWN.” But if “unknown,” yet—and here is the paradox—they are well known.
1. They are well known to God the Father, for he knew them with the foreknowledge of approbation when he chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world. We therefore read “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet. 1:2); and “whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate.” (Rom. 8:29.)
But God the Father knows them also in time as well as eternity; for he “knows the way of the righteous.” He knows therefore every thought of their heart, every word of their lip, every action of their hands. He knows too all their needs, with every desire that springs up in their mind, every secret cry and inward groan, every feeling of contrition, brokenness, repentance, and humility; all their self-abasement and self-loathing on account of sin, with all their confessions and supplications before the throne of grace. He knows too the faith that he himself gives them to lay hold of the Son of his love; the hope he inspires in his mercy, the love he sheds abroad to his name. These things are not concealed from the eye of God, who searches all hearts, and before whom every secret lies naked and bare. How beautifully is all this expressed in Psalm 139. “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my every thought when far away. You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You both precede and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.” (Psalm 139:1-5.)
2. Nor are they unknown to the Lord Jesus Christ; for “the Lord knows them that are his.” And does he not say “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known by them?” And again, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” They often do not know themselves, for the work of grace is obscured by the darkness of their minds and the unbelief of their hearts. But he can distinguish his own work, not only from any base imitation of it, but in the depths of its obscurity. He can see sincerity, uprightness, and godly fear at work in the hearts of his people, though they may be tempted to think there is nothing in them but insincerity and hypocrisy. The Lord can discern his own work and his own grace, however weak, feeble, or disputed; and therefore however low his people may sink, he knows all their sinkings and all their risings, all their temptations and all their afflictions; and not only so, but he is able to stretch forth his hand to give support under them, and deliver out of them.
3. And they are well known to the Holy Spirit, who began the work of grace upon their heart, who is poured out upon them and abides in them as a Spirit of grace and of supplication, who helps their infirmities, teaches them how to pray and what to pray for, and intercedes in them and for them with groanings which cannot be uttered. He knows when and what promises to apply to their hearts, and how to comfort them in their afflictions, to reveal Christ to them, and form him in them, as the hope of glory.
4. And they are well known by each other; for they are taught by the same Spirit, led into the same faith, have the same sorrows and the same joys, can speak the same language, are walking in the same path of tribulation, and are looking forward to the same heavenly crown.
5. Ministers of Christ also are in another sense, “though unknown, yet well known.” There is spread through this country a people little known and observed by the world, but who are in close union with each other; and by this people the real servants of Christ are well known and highly esteemed. Being taught by the same Spirit, there is a fellow feeling in the saints of God, uniting them to each other and to the servants of God, and kindling in the bosom love and affection to those whom they only know by their writings, or their general acceptability to the living members of the mystical body of Christ.
II. But now we come to another double link, equally mysterious, equally paradoxical, yet equally disposed to a gracious interpretation—”As dying, and, behold, we live.”
A. “As DYING.” This is true LITERALLY. Many of the Lord’s people are dying the greater part of their lives, and yet live until their work is done. It is just thirty years ago since I was first laid aside from the work of the ministry by a severe and protracted illness, mainly brought on I believe by hard labor; for I was then in the Church of England, and like most zealous young men worked hard in my parish, preaching, lecturing, and visiting the poor, beyond my bodily strength. But by that illness I was so prostrated, that I scarcely got over it for several years, and indeed have never fully recovered from it to this day. Thus in a sense I have been dying these last thirty years, and yet I live, and shall live until my work is done. And yet a great deal of work since then I have done both with tongue and pen, for I have an active mind in a weak body, and hate idleness whether in myself or others.
But look at the words in a SPIRITUAL sense. How true it is that the Lord’s people are always dying. How they die for instance under the law. When Moses comes with the application of the fiery law, it burns up all the dross and tin of their self-righteousness. How they sink under the feeling sense of the wrath of God, so as sometimes to have scarcely any more hope of being saved than those at this moment in hell! How they die under this killing sentence of a fiery law to their own righteousness. How they die to their own strength and wisdom and every creature hope. How they die to any expectations of being saved by the works of the flesh or by any obedience the creature can pay! And not only once or twice do they thus die, but they are always dying. Continual discoveries of the majesty of God, of his holiness and purity, with a daily sense of their own sinfulness, weakness, helplessness, and inability to deliver their own souls—all these things working in them, make them in a spiritual sense, to be dying every day.
As the apostle speaks of himself, “I die daily.” Thus they die to all hope of salvation by the works of the law, die to all idea of strength as wrought by an arm of flesh, die to any expectation of happiness in this world, any prospect of creature enjoyment, or any fancied paradise of earthly pleasure. They carry, too, about with them more or less a daily sense of their mortality, often meditate upon their latter end, and feel that the time must shortly come when the ‘scythe of death’ will cut them down, and lay their body in the grave.
B. “And, behold, we LIVE.” But though they thus die, yet they live. When the law first arrested you with its tremendous curse, and brought the sentence of death into your conscience, it was not to kill you outright, but to make you alive unto God. It was a sentence of death in itself, but it was a living Spirit who applied it. So dying under the law, your quickening into divine life was made manifest. To cry and sigh for mercy, to groan for pardon, to be favored with a spirit of prayer and supplication, and with wrestlings and beseechings to God for mercy—are not these evidences that there was life even in death? When God strikes with fiery displeasure a reprobate, it is like Joab striking Amasa—he strikes not again—he needs not to “double his stroke,” as the margin reads. (2 Sam. 20:10.) When God struck Saul and Judas, he did not strike them twice.
I was reading the other day an instance in the life of godly Mr. Welch, one of the old Scotch Covenanters. He was entertaining some company with godly conversation and among those present was a profane youth, who openly mocked, sneered, and ridiculed what he said upon the solemn matters of eternity. The godly man paused a moment, looked at him, and said aloud, “Behold the judgment of God!” In a moment the profane youth fell dead under the table. He died at once under the manifested wrath of God. No second stroke was needed; down came the sword of justice and cleft him asunder before the frightened guests. Have you not sometimes feared lest you might so die too, a dreadful monument of the just displeasure of the Almighty? But the Lord did not so deal with you. He smote you with his rod, not with his sword. He smote you not that you should die under his frown, but that you might repent and live. “By these things men live,” said the afflicted king Hezekiah, “and in all these things is the life of my spirit.” (Isaiah. 38:16.)
But not only in the first dealings of God with the soul, but all through the godly man’s experience he is ever dying, yet behold a mystery—he is ever living. At this time of the year the trees for the most part drop their leaves; but do the trees die? They are rather preparing themselves for a spring suit; and when the warm days of April and May return, those dead branches will reclothe themselves with foliage. So it is with the soul. Your faith may seem almost gone, your hope to be removed, and your love to drop out of your soul as the leaves drop from a tree in autumn; but behold, you live! There is life in the root, life in the stem. Look at the vine at this time of the year, especially if it has undergone a sharp pruning– the grapes all gone, the leaves dropped off, the branches apparently dead; but when the spring returns there will be a revival.
So it is with you. Like the vine, you may have dropped the leaf; or the sharp pruning knife of affliction may have cut into the branch; but in due time you will again put forth leaves and flowers and fruit. Is not this Scripture language and a Scripture figure? My figures are sometimes objected to as natural, not Scriptural comparisons; but this time I will not so offend the critical ear. What says the prophet? “Even if only a tenth—a remnant—survive, it will be invaded again and burned. Israel will remain a stump, like a tree that is cut down, but the stump will be a holy seed that will grow again.” (Isaiah. 6:13.) Thus, though the trees casts off their leaves, yet the holy stump is in them, and this gives them an enduring substance and a future revival.
Thus, though we die and die daily, yet behold, we live—and in a sense, the more we die, the more we live. The more we die to self, the more we die to sin; the more we die to pride and self-righteousness, the more we die to creature strength; and the more we thus die to nature—the more we live to grace. And this runs all the way through the life and experience of a Christian. Nature must die, that grace may live. The weeds must be plucked up that the crop may grow; the flesh be starved that the spirit may be fed; the old man put off that the new man may be put on; the deeds of the body be mortified that the soul may live unto God. As then we die, we live. The more we die to our own strength, the more we live to Christ’s strength; the more we die to creature hope, the more we live to a good hope through grace; the more we die to our own righteousness, the more we live to Christ’s righteousness; and the more we die to the world, the more we live to and for heaven.
This is the grand mystery, that the Christian is always dying, yet always living—and the more he dies, the more he lives. The death of the flesh is the life of the spirit; the death of sin is the life of righteousness; and the death of the creature is the very life of God in the soul.
III. But let us pass on to our next double link; for these paradoxes are most blessedly linked together, and each one strengthens and confirms the other—”As chastened, and not killed.”
A. “As CHASTENED.” Chastisement is part of the covenant—that is God’s own declaration of it—”But if his sons forsake my law and fail to walk in my ways, if they do not obey my decrees and fail to keep my commands, then I will punish their sin with the rod, and their disobedience with beating. But I will never stop loving him, nor let my promise to him fail. No, I will not break my covenant; I will not take back a single word I said. I have sworn an oath to David, and in my holiness I cannot lie.” (Psalm 89:30-35.) And is not this New Testament language too? How striking, how decisive are the words of the apostle. “And have you entirely forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you, his children? He said, ‘My child, don’t ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don’t be discouraged when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes those he accepts as his children.’ As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Whoever heard of a child who was never disciplined? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children after all.” (Heb. 12:5-8.)
There are men in our day who deny chastisement—who would take the rod out of God’s hands, and boldly teach that the Lord never chastens his people. All I can say of them is, that they proclaim they are not really his children after all. They virtually say with a loud voice, “we are illegitimate children.” Now a man must be dead to shame to make such a proclamation. A person told me some years ago that she heard a well-known London preacher thus open his sermon, “I am a illegitimate child!” Methinks he need not have thus openly revealed his mother’s sin and shame, or made a sport for the profane. But what he was bold enough to proclaim of himself literally these men proclaim of themselves spiritually, when they say, “The rod of God never has been, and never will be upon me.” Can they not see, that in denying the chastening hand of God, they deny that they are the children of God? But all the Lord’s people know by their own experience that he is a chastening God, for they have often felt the rod upon their own back.
But what are these chastenings?
1. Some of them are BODILY. We find this spoken of by Elihu in the book of Job, where, describing the way in which God sometimes deals with his people, he says, “God disciplines people with sickness and pain, with ceaseless aching in their bones. They lose their appetite and do not care for even the most delicious food. They waste away to skin and bones.” (Job 33:19-21.) This is a description of God’s chastening the body. A large share have I had of that rod from God’s hand, and in a measure am experiencing it now. But the Lord does not see fit to lay the same chastisements upon all his people. He has rods of different sizes and different descriptions; though all are felt to be rods when God brings them upon the back.
2. There are FAMILY AFFLICTIONS which the Lord sometimes makes use of as chastening rods. Such are bereavements of those near and dear in the prime of life, just when they seem most needed, as the husband to sustain the scantily provided wife, the father to bring up the children, the mother to nurse the new-born babe. Few are there who have families who have not tasted the bitter as well as the sweet. And children can be made rods as well as comforts—as Isaac, Jacob, Eli, and David found to their grief and sorrow.
3. PROVIDENTIAL TRIALS are sometimes twigs of this chastising rod. Heavy losses in business, unexpected and unavoidable calls on a small income, entanglements through the default or dishonesty of others—perhaps children or relations, a worn out farm, a sinking shop, long doctor’s bills—these are some of the deep trials of the middle classes, as hard to bear as loss of work and wages to the day-laborer. Attending these, as increasing the calamity, there fly about painful misgivings as to the future, dark clouds lowering over the mind, with many dismal apprehensions what the result may be to one’s self and those dearer than self—the wife and family. Who shall say that the Lord does not make use of these providential trials and afflictions sometimes as a chastening rod?
4. But for the most part these chastenings are of an INWARD and SPIRITUAL nature. Hidings of his face, frowns of his brow, reproofs administered in the conscience, denials of answer to prayer, secret rebukes, letting the soul hang in doubt which way the scale will turn, so that it trembles before his terrible Majesty—in these and other ways the Lord chastises many of his dear family, that they may be partakers of his holiness.
B. “And not killed.” But though “chastened” by these afflictions, they are “not killed.” The Lord chastises with one hand, and upholds with the other. You may have passed in your spiritual experience under many chastising strokes; and when they fell upon you, they seemed to come as a killing sentence from God’s lips. Your illness, you feared, might end in death; under your bereavement, you felt as if you never could hold up your head again; your providential losses you apprehended might prove your earthly ruin; your family afflictions seemed to be so heavy as to be radically incurable; the hidings of God’s face so great that he never would look upon you with love again; the rebukes and reproofs of his voice so cutting that you felt as if he would never apply a promise to your soul any more. These were in your feelings killing strokes; but though chastened you were not killed. You lost no divine life thereby; but you lost much that pleased the flesh, much that gratified the creature, much that looked well for days of prosperity, but would not abide a storm.
But you lost nothing that was for your real good. If you lost bodily health, you gained spiritual health. If you lost a dear husband or child, God filled up the void in your heart by making Christ more precious. If you had troubles in your family, the Lord made it up by giving more manifestations of his love and grace. Your very losses in providence were for your good, for he either made them up, or what you lost in providence he doubled in grace. So that though chastened, you are not killed!
Is not your hope still alive? Does not the holy flame that God kindled in your bosom still burn, though it may burn dimly? Has anything that has happened to you in providence or in grace quenched, extinguished forever the life of God in your soul? Has it not rather brought it out more clearly? As the dross and tin were more separated, has not the gold shone more brightly? Have you not held spiritual things with a tighter grasp? When God chastens his people, it is not to kill them—it is to make them partakers of his holiness; it is to revive their drooping graces, to make them more sincere and upright and tender in conscience, to become more separate from the world, to seek more his glory, to have a more single eye to his praise, and to live more a life of faith upon the Son of God. Here is the blessedness, that when God chastises his people, it is not for their injury, but for their profit; not for their destruction, but for their salvation; not to treat them with the unkindness of an enemy, but with the love of a friend.
Look at the afflictions, chastenings, grievous sorrows, and exercises that you have passed through. Have they been friends to you or enemies; instruments of helping you, or hindrances; ladders whereby you have climbed up to heaven, or steps whereby you have descended into hell; means of taking you near to Christ, or means of carrying you more into the spirit of the world? If you know anything of God’s chastening, you will say, “Every stroke has brought me nearer to God; he has flogged me home.” As a father will seize his truant boy out of a mob of other children and flog him home, so the Lord sometimes flogs his children home; every stroke laid upon their back bringing them a step nearer to their home in the mansions above. In your own experience, therefore, without my teaching or explanation, you can set to your seal that God’s chastenings have not killed you, but rather they have been the means of reviving and keeping alive the work of grace upon your heart.
IV. But we now take hold of the next double link—”As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
A. “As SORROWFUL.” Many of the Lord’s people are stamped with a sorrowful spirit; and had we a deeper sense of what this world is, and what we are as dying sinners in it, we would have more of a sorrowful spirit among us than we have. The world may dance, as it were, upon the very brink of hell. But the saint of God has much to make him sorrowful, for he feels himself to be a sinner in a sinful world, far from happiness and home.
For the most part his path in PROVIDENCE is one of sorrow; and his very social cup is often embittered by many painful ingredients, for the Lord knows what our carnal mind is—that we would drink the cup of this life with gall and wormwood in it.
But as regards SPIRITUAL things, how many causes there are that the Christian should be of a sorrowful spirit. When he looks at his blessed Lord, who was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” he sees an example to which he has to be conformed. We read that Jesus wept (John 11); we never read that Jesus laughed or even smiled. We read of his sighing and groaning in spirit (Mark 7:34; John 11:33), and that he “rejoiced in spirit.” (Luke 10:21.) But he who “bore our sins in his own body on the tree” has also “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” (Isaiah. 53:4.) Now we have to be conformed to this suffering image of the Lord Jesus; for we must “suffer with him if we are to be glorified together.” (Rom. 8:17.) And the promise is sure—”If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.” (2 Tim. 2:12.) This made the apostle say, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:18.)
And abundant cause there is for sorrow of heart. O if we could view by the eyes of faith how God looks down upon the WORLD—what a scene of wickedness and abomination it is in his holy and pure eyes, we should carry about with us more of that sorrowful spirit which our blessed Lord so signally displayed. Can we wonder that the Lord Jesus was grieved for the hardness of men’s hearts (Mark 3:5); or that his holy soul was pained within him at the continual spectacle of sin and woe? A similar feeling will be in our breasts, if we are in any way imbued with the same spirit. If righteous Lot, dwelling among the wicked, in seeing and hearing vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds (2 Pet. 2:8), should not we feel a measure of the same inward vexation with the filthy conversation of the wicked?
When, too, we turn from looking at others to look at OURSELVES, what fresh and additional reason we have to be sorrowful before God. Our shortcomings, our numerous slips and falls, our grievous backslidings, our little living to God’s praise, our doing so little the things which are pleasing in his sight, our crooked tempers, vile imaginations, foolish words, vain thoughts, and many inconsistencies—were these laid with any weight and power upon our conscience, they would make us sorrowful indeed, and force us often to smite upon our bosom and cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner!”
To enjoy so few visits from Jesus, to know so little of his dying love, to walk so little in his holy, humble, self-denying footsteps, to have our affections so little fixed upon things above—if these things were laid upon our conscience with greater weight and power, they would make us also of a sorrowful spirit!
To see how few there are who are walking in the straight and narrow way; to behold how many even of those who name the name of Christ do not depart from iniquity; to view how thousands round about us are filling up the measure of their iniquities, and upon whom the wrath of God will speedily fall; to feel how the name of God is openly blasphemed and abused, his mercies in providence disregarded, his truth hated and reviled, his people condemned and despised; to think how little professors of the truths of the gospel generally adorn the doctrine by a godly life; how little fruit is borne by the church and congregation where the word of life has been preached for years; what strifes and divisions there are in all our churches; what abounding errors in many who have sat half their lifetime under the sound of the gospel truth; and how little the Lord Jesus Christ is admired, loved, and honored in this world by those who call themselves Christians, as if they were true followers of him—if we carried about with us a deep and daily sense of these things we might well be sorrowful! For there is everything in self and in others, in the world and in the church, to make us of a sorrowful spirit before God!
The apostle said of himself, “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.” (Rom. 9:1, 2.) Now what was the cause of his sorrow? It was for “his brethren, his kinsmen, according to the flesh,” as seeing the hardness and unbelief of their hearts; and how again he says, “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.” (2 Cor. 2:4.) Thus where there is love to the Lord, a zeal for his glory, and affection to his people, there will be continual occasion for sorrow of heart!
B. “Yet always REJOICING.” And yet here again we have a spiritual paradox, that is, an apparent, but not real contradiction. The word “paradox” means literally “something contrary to expectation;” and does not this definition agree with all the spiritual paradoxes which we have been explaining? Thus the apostle says of himself, “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Is not this a paradox—a thing contrary to expectation; what we never could have supposed probable or possible? For is it not a manifest contradiction that the same man should be ever sorrowful—yet be always rejoicing? It is as if the ‘rejoicing bride’ and the ‘mourning widow’ were one and the same person.
But what is a contradiction in nature is not a contradiction in grace. Let us seek then to solve the mystery, to open and unfold the paradox. And this we shall best do by setting before our eyes the Lord Jesus Christ. For in what or in whom are we to rejoice but in him? This made the apostle say, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” And do observe how he gives rejoicing in Christ Jesus as a mark of true circumcision. “For we are the true circumcision, who worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil. 3:3.) If we rejoice, then, it is not in ourselves, for the more we see of ourselves, the more cause we shall have for sorrow; not in our own strength, or wisdom, or righteousness, for I have already shown you that to all these things we have to die; and how can we rejoice in a thing of death?
But if we rejoice it must be in the Lord Jesus, and what he is made of God unto us—”Wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” When, too, we are favored with the visitations of his presence, we may rejoice in hope of eternal life; in a conscience made honest and tender in God’s fear, and purged by the blood of sprinkling from filth, guilt, and dead works; in the promises as they are applied with power to the soul; in fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ; in the views of rest and peace beyond the grave in that happy land where tears are wiped from off all faces, and the very names of sin and sorrow are unknown.
Thus though the Christian in himself is sorrowful, and has reason to be so all the day long, yet so far as he has any views by faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, any good hope through grace, or any manifestation of his Person, work, death, and love—he may be always rejoicing. No—his very sorrow opens up a way for joy. There is room in a ‘broken heart’ for spiritual joy, for the Lord gives joy in sorrow. When the heart is sunk in gloom and fear, and doubt and distress take possession of the mind, when family afflictions, or painful bereavements, or trying circumstances, fill the heart with grief and dismay, that is the very time for the Lord to pour joy into the soul.
As afflictions abound, so do consolations. Sorrow and joy are linked together as night and day, as sun and moon, as heaven and earth. Without sorrow, there can be no joy—for joy is its counterbalance. If you had every worldly thing that your heart could desire, what room would there be for spiritual joy? But when all sources of earthly joy dry up, and there is nothing but sorrow and trouble before you in this world; when you are afflicted in body, poor in circumstances, tried in your family, distressed in your mind, and there is nothing but grief and misery—then you have room, as it were, made in your heart to receive the sweet consolations of God’s grace.
Thus, so far from sorrow and joy being inconsistent with, or destructive of each other, whatever may be the case naturally, we may say that spiritually, one is needful, no, indispensable to the other; for if there is no sorrow, there can be no joy. No, the more sorrow, the more joy—spiritual sorrow killing all earthly joy, and yet opening up a way for spiritual joy to come in. And is not this the very meaning and language of the apostle, where he says, “All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.” (2 Cor. 1:3-5.) So again he says, “I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation.” (2 Cor. 7:4.)
Well then may we call these divine realities spiritual paradoxes—I say spiritual, because they are heavenly mysteries, and as such among the things which God has hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes. (Matt. 11:25.) If then you have not the key, you cannot open this cabinet—if you have not the solution, you cannot decipher this riddle. But if you have the teaching of the Spirit, and understand anything of these divine mysteries by divine teaching, you will understand what it is to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
V. I now pass to another spiritual paradox—”As poor, yet making many rich.”
A. “As POOR.” This paradox is especially applicable to the servants of God, many of whom, by far the great majority, are very poor in WORLDLY circumstances. And the Lord sees fit it should be so, to make them more dependent upon himself in providence. Few men, very few, are fit to be trusted with money; for there is a tendency in the possession of property to lift up the mind, and make the person who has much of it, so to speak, independent of God. But all rules have their exceptions, and so it may be in this instance.
But if all the servants of God are not poor in worldly circumstances, they are all poor, or at least should be so in SPIRIT. He who is rich in his own eyes is not fit to speak to those who are poor in their own eyes. The rich man naturally has no sympathy with the poor man. A merchant upon with a ten thousand dollars in his pocket has no sympathy with a bankrupt. A man sitting down to every delicacy and the choicest wines, has no sympathy with a beggar shivering with cold and hunger in the street. So if a minister has not been made poor in his own soul, he will not be much of a preacher to those who have been made poor in spirit. He who would bring forth the riches of the gospel must be made poor in soul, if not made poor in pocket—made poor in spirit, if not poor in substance.
But you may extend, as I have done before, the paradox to include others besides the servants of Christ. The saints of God then are made poor, as well as the servants of God, nor is there a feature more general, more descriptive, or more characteristic of the family of God than poverty—I mean ‘spiritual poverty’. Were I to speak of great spiritual manifestations and deliverances, I might be shooting over some of your heads; but coming down to ‘poverty and necessity’—there I meet your case. If the Lord has but touched your heart with his finger, brought you down and laid you low at his feet, I shall meet you upon that ground—because he has stripped you or is stripping you of all ‘creature sufficiency’. Thus poverty of spirit is a feature common to every saint of God.
How did the Lord open his ministry in the sermon upon the Mount? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” If, therefore, you have no poverty of spirit, you have no kingdom of heaven as your inheritance; and recollect that we must enter into the kingdom of heaven while here upon earth, for it is “within us;” so that if you are not partakers of the kingdom of grace below, you will not inherit the kingdom of glory above. But as I have spoken so much before on the same point and to the same effect under my preceding heads, I shall pass on to the second link of the paradox.
B. “Yet making many RICH.” And surely this is a paradox of paradoxes, a mystery of mysteries—that a poor man can make many rich.
If I were to walk out some day and find out upon examination that the stone quarries near this town covered a gold mine, how many thousands would be glad to listen to such news, and what a rush there would be if I could assure them that under a certain stone in a certain quarry there was a vein of gold. Tomorrow would not pass without thousands flocking to pick it up. But tell them of the glorious riches of Christ, of the treasures of grace and glory which are hidden in the Person and work, blood and righteousness of the incarnate God—where is the heart to listen to that wondrous truth? Where is the hand stretched out to dig into that vein “which no fowl knows and which the vulture’s eye has not seen?” And why is this, but because there is no desire for that wealth which makes the ‘soul’ rich for eternity.
But what a view had the apostle of these riches when he said, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ!” (Eph. 3:8.) How remarkable the words, “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” So he speaks also in another epistle—”to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles—who is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27); and again, “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 2:3.) How low, how poor are all earthly riches compared with these heavenly treasures of which the Lord himself said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” (Matt. 6:19, 20.)
But let us now see HOW the servants of God though poor, yet make many rich. It is because God uses them as the means of conveying his kingdom into many a sinner’s heart—and to make any rich for eternity, is the greatest wealth God can bestow through the instrumentality of man. If the Lord has blessed my testimony to any of your consciences, I have done more for you than if I had given you a million dollars! You have more reason to bless God than if I could at this moment put a bag of gold into your hand—for that money might soon be spent. It would make you comfortable for a short space—but where would it be, and of what value would you find it, when death knocked at your door?
But to be put into possession of a kingdom which cannot be moved, to be favored and blessed with a knowledge of the eternal salvation of your soul, and to find in a dying hour the peace of God in your heart—what language can express the value of a treasure like this? And yet God’s servants, though poor, most of them literally—and all of them spiritually—have this wonderful privilege committed to them, that they make many rich. O how many a dying saint has blessed God for the ministry of the gospel; and how he can look back upon times and seasons when the preached word communicated to his soul that heavenly treasure of life, light, and power which is his support in the very arms of death. What an honor then is this which God confers upon his servants—that he enables them to enrich the souls of his people by ‘instrumentally conveying’ into their heart, the riches which are stored up in Christ Jesus.
This, however, they can only do by preaching ‘free grace’—by holding up before the eyes of the people the Lord of life and glory as the only object of faith, hope, and love—by proclaiming the blood of the cross as the only way of pardon and peace—by tracing out the work of grace upon the heart as a means of encouraging the cast down and distressed—and setting before them salvation as the free gift of God. When, then, the poor and needy receive these glorious tidings into their heart under the power and unction of the blessed Spirit, and feel a sweet conviction of their saving interest in these heavenly realities—then are they made rich indeed! You who have been so blessed need not envy the wealthiest noble who ever walked before the Queen in a robe of ermine, and with a crown on his head—you need not envy the King of Italy with his newly acquired kingdom, nor the Emperor of the French at the head of his armies—if God has put his fear into your heart and blessed you with a living faith in his dear Son—for all these ‘earthly pageants’ will sooner or later come to a close.
I am not speaking, I would have you observe, against kings and queens, rank and station, for all these things are necessary in this present world, and it is only the “presumptuous and self-willed” who “despise government and are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.” (2 Pet. 2:10.) I bless God that we have in this country a gradation of ranks and stations, and that society is linked together from the Queen on the throne, to the ploughman in the field. But what is good for time, is of no avail for eternity. Thus all earthly dignity, wealth, rank, and power pass away—like a ‘pageant moving over a stage’—but those who are blessed with a living faith, with a good hope in God’s mercy, and any discovery of the Lord Jesus Christ to their souls to make them love his dear name will live forever and ever—yes, live when time itself shall be no more. As our Lord said, “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43); or, as it is so beautifully expressed by the prophet Daniel—”Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who turn many to righteousness will shine like stars forever.” (Dan. 12:3.) What riches, I may well ask, are to be compared with this? If the gold of all California and all Australia with all the gold in the Bank vaults could be made yours, what would they be in comparison with shining as a star forever and ever in the kingdom of glory?
VI. But now we come to our last double link of these spiritual paradoxes—”as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”
A. “As HAVING NOTHING.” This is true sometimes in a LITERAL sense, but as I have before sufficiently dwelt upon this point I shall not again call your attention to it, but direct your thoughts to its spiritual meaning. How true then it is, in a spiritual sense, both of ministers and people, both of the servants and the saints of God, that they have nothing. Have you not looked at your heart again and again, pondered over your past words and works, examined the whole course of your life, viewed and reviewed it both before and after you made a profession of religion? Now when you have taken a solemn view of yourself, probing and examining heart and life by the light of God’s word, have you not come to the conclusion that you have been and are exceedingly vile—and that as regards your best attainments you are nothing and less than nothing—for whatever you have done, even with the best motives and to the highest ends, has been effectually marred, as stained and polluted by sin?
Suppose a manufacturer gave to a weaver a quantity of beautiful silk for him to weave out of it a costly robe for the Queen, and suppose that when he had executed his task with great labor and skill, he purposely or accidentally spilt a bottle of ink over it. Would his employer take it? Could it be made up into a royal robe? He would say, “You have spent a vast deal of labor upon this piece of silk, but look at it. It is covered with ink; I cannot take it. It is worthless and valueless by your folly or mismanagement.” So man may work and work and work again to weave for himself a robe of righteousness, but if sin is spilt all over his work, how can God accept it at his hands? The manufacturer will not accept spoiled work; and can we therefore expect that God will take work which sin has polluted? That holy Being, before whose eyes the heavens themselves are not clean—will he take the polluted work of a polluted soul, and crown it with eternal glory? Thus when you view and review the works of your hands, and the words of your lips—what claim have you upon God?
Within the last thirty years I must have preached thousands of sermons and traveled thousands of miles in the service of the sanctuary. But can I bring any of these words and works before God’s heart searching eye, as possessing any merit, when the sin of my heart, poured all over them like the bottle of ink, has spoiled them all? And what is all my knowledge and learning, if I have any; all my natural and acquired abilities, if I possess them; and all my gifts, if endowed with them; what is all I have done in these thirty years for the Lord and his people, if the inward sin of my heart has run over, stained, and defiled it all? So in taking a solemn review of all I have and am as a Christian man or minister, and all I have said, thought, and done—I feel that sin has defiled the whole. Then I have nothing. I cannot boast of my gifts, my abilities, my knowledge, my learning, or labors, because the inward sin of my heart has polluted and defiled all my words, works, and ways. Then I have nothing; I am a beggar, living upon alms. And are not you the same, if the Lord has stripped you of all your strength, wisdom, and goodness?
B. “Yet possessing ALL THINGS.” Yet, mystery of mysteries, paradox of paradoxes, though we have nothing, yet we possess all things. But how do we possess all things? In possessing Christ who is heir of all things. If we possess Christ, what have we not in him? We have wisdom to teach us, righteousness to justify us, sanctification to make us holy, and redemption to deliver us from sin, death, and hell. If we have him, we have the favor and love of God; we have the pardon of our sins, the reconciliation of our persons, the casting behind God’s back of all our backslidings, and a title to a heavenly crown. If we have him, we have everything in him, for Christ is ours, and Christ is God’s. Therefore in him we possess all things. We shall have in providence things sufficient to carry us to the grave. He will give us everything that is for our good, and keep back nothing that is for our benefit. If we possess him, what have we not in him?
Now the worldling, when death comes, what does he have? Nothing to look to, but the anger of God and a fearful judgment.
But the saint of God, when death comes to him, what has he to look to? A crown of life, a mansion in the skies, a smiling God, and a blessed assurance that he shall sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb. Thus though the saints of God have nothing, yet they possess all things; and possessing a heavenly crown, what can God give them more? He has given his dear Son that he might shed his atoning blood to wash away their sins, and work out a perfect righteousness to justify their persons. He has now given them a complete salvation, and in giving them that he has withheld nothing; for in not keeping back his Son, he has kept nothing back that his loving heart could bestow. This made Paul say, “He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32.)
Now see how far you can lay your experience side by side with these heavenly paradoxes; and you must take them together. You must not take the bright side and leave out the dark—take the riches and trample upon the poverty—take “possessing all things,” and not take “having nothing.” You must take them as God has put them, for they are linked together, and what God has joined together let no man put asunder. If you can find these heavenly paradoxes, these divine mysteries wrought by a divine power in your soul, you are sure of heaven. God is as much your God, as he was Paul’s; Christ as much your Christ, and heaven as much your own. But if you know nothing of these paradoxes in your own experience, I would plainly ask you how you expect to meet him who is a consuming fire? May the Lord enable you to lay these things to heart.
Preached at North Street Chapel, Stamford, 1860, by J. C. Philpot