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2 Corinthians 2:14-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
Edward D. Andrews writes,
Paul used the imagery of the triumphal procession illustratively, which was a reference to the Levitical sacrifices of the Old Testament when he wrote his second letter to Christians in Corinth in 55 C.E. While such (εὐωδία euōdia) “aroma” is likely repulsive to unrighteous individuals, it is a pleasant fragrance, pleasing aroma (2Co 2:15; Eph 5:2; Php 4:18), sweet-smelling to God and righteous hearted ones. Here Paul and other Christians are characterized as dedicated subjects of God “in triumph in Christ.” They are depicted as sons, officers, and soldiers who follow in God’s train and are led by him in a triumphal procession along a perfumed route. A train is a succession of military persons, followed by attendants, followed by captives of war, traveling usually with a military leader or emperor.
Craig S. Keener on the background, “Roman conquerors would lead their shamed captives in a ‘triumphal procession’; in this period, only the emperor was allowed to lead triumphs. *Christ had triumphed and now led believers in him as his captives (the image is similar to that of being Christ’s servants); cf. Psalm 68:18, used in Ephesians 4:8. The Roman senate normally decreed public thanksgivings before the triumphal processions, so they were great celebrations for the victors and great humiliations for the defeated. Most of the captives were executed after the triumph. But Paul glories in the image of Christians as peoples taken captive by Christ (cf. 1 Cor 4:9, etc.), and this prisoner of war himself, who identifies with Christ’s death in the following chapters, offers the thanksgiving! When sacrifices were offered in the *Old Testament and elsewhere in the ancient world, incense was burned to offset the stench of burning flesh (cf. Ps 141:2), and the same would have been true at Roman triumphal celebrations.”
Clinton E. Arnold on the background, “One of the standard features of religious or civic rituals in antiquity was the use of incense and other fragrant materials. Religious processions, the arrival of an important dignitary, the triumphal return of a Roman general, and so on, were all occasions on which such aromatics might be used. In describing the triumphal procession of Aemelius Paulus, Plutarch tells us that “every temple was open and filled with garlands and incense.” Continuing the image of the Roman triumph, Paul portrays his crushed and vanquished apostolic existence as the means through which the aroma of the crucified Christ is mediated to those around him. Paradoxically, God’s strength is most potently displayed through Paul’s weakness. Already the apostle is preparing the ground for his startling declaration in 12:10, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
This instructive, descriptive, symbolic use of such a procession also implies that those who reject the gospel have in their future nothing but death. However, it is completely different for Jesus’ disciples! They have the hope of salvation to eternal life with Christ.
Albert Barnes writes,
2 Corinthians 2:14. Now thanks be to God, etc. There seem to have been several sources of Paul’s joy on this occasion. The principal was, his constant and uniform success in endeavoring to advance the interests of the kingdom of the Redeemer. But in particular he rejoiced, (1.) Because Titus had come to him there and had removed his distress; comp. ver. 13. (2.) Because he learned from him that his efforts in regard to the church at Corinth had been successful, and that they had hearkened to his counsels in his first letter; and (3.) Because he was favored with signal success in Macedonia. His being compelled, therefore, to remove from Troas and to go to Macedonia had been to him ultimately the cause of great joy and consolation. These instances of success Paul regarded as occasions of gratitude to God.
Who always lead us. Whatever may be our efforts, and wherever we are. Whether it is in endeavoring to remove the errors and evils existing in a particular church or whether it be in preaching the gospel in places where it has been unknown, success still crowns our efforts, and we have the constant evidence of divine approbation. This was Paul’s consolation amid his many trials, and it proves that, whatever may be the external circumstances of a minister, whether poverty, want, persecution, or distress, he will have abundant occasion to give thanks to God if his efforts as a minister are crowned with success.
To triumph in Christ. To triumph through the aid of Christ or in promoting the cause of Christ. Paul had no joy, which was not connected with Christ, and he had no success that he did not trace to him. The word which is here rendered triumph (θριαμβευοντι from θριαμβέυω) occurs in no other place in the New Testament, except in Col. 2:15. It is there rendered “triumphing over them in it,” that is, triumphing over the principalities and powers which he had spoiled, or plundered. It there means that Christ led them in triumph after the manner of a conqueror. The word is here used in a causative sense—the sense of the Hebrew Hiphil conjugation. It properly refers to a triumph or a triumphal procession. Originally, the word θρίαμβος meant a hymn which was sung in honor of Bacchus; then the tumultuous and noisy procession which constituted the worship of the god of wine; and then any procession of a similar kind.—Passow. It was particularly applied among both the Greeks and the Romans to a public and solemn honor conferred on a victorious general on a return from a successful war in which he was allowed a magnificent entrance into the capital. In these triumphs, the victorious commander was usually preceded or attended by the spoils of war; by the most valuable and magnificent articles which he had captured; and by the princes, nobles, generals, or people whom he had subdued. The victor was drawn in a magnificent chariot, usually by two white horses. Other animals were sometimes used. “When Pompey triumphed over Africa, his chariot was drawn by elephants; that of Mark Antony by lions; that of Heliogabalus by tigers; and that of Aurelius by deer.”—Clark. The people of Corinth were not unacquainted with the nature of a triumph. About one hundred and forty-seven years before Christ, Lucius Mummius, the Roman consul, had conquered all Achaia, and had destroyed Corinth, Thebes, and Colchis, and by order of the Roman senate was favored with a triumph, and was surnamed Achaicus. Tyndale renders this place, “Thanks be to God which always gives us the victory in Christ.” Paul refers here to a victory which he had, and a triumph with which he was favored by the Redeemer. It was a victory over the enemies of the gospel; it was success in advancing the interests of the kingdom of Christ; and he rejoiced in that victory, and in that success, with more solid and substantial joy than a Roman victor ever felt on returning from his conquests over nations, even when attended with the richest spoils of victory, and by humbled princes and kings in chains, and when the assembled thousands shouted Io triumphe!
And manifest through us. Makes known; spreads abroad—as a pleasant fragrance is diffused through the air.
The sweet aroma (ὀσμὴν). The smell, the fragrance. The word in the New Testament is used to denote a pleasant or fragrant odor, as of incense or aromatics; John 12:3; see Eph. 5:2; Phil. 4:18. There is an allusion here doubtless to the fact that in the triumphal processions, fragrant odors were diffused around; flowers, diffusing a grateful smell, were scattered in the way; and on the altars of the gods incense was burned during the procession, and sacrifices offered, and the whole city was filled with the smoke of sacrifices, and with perfumes. So Paul speaks of knowledge—the knowledge of Christ. In his triumphings, the knowledge of the Redeemer was spread abroad, like the odors which were diffused in the triumphal march of the conqueror. And that odor or savor was acceptable to God—as the fragrance of aromatics and incense was pleasant in the triumphal procession of the returning victor. The phrase “makes manifest the savor of his knowledge,” therefore, means that the knowledge of Christ was diffused everywhere by Paul, as the grateful smell of aromatics was diffused all around the triumphing warrior and victor. The effect of Paul’s conquests everywhere was to spread the Savior’s knowledge—which was acceptable and pleasant to God—though there might be many who would not avail themselves of it and would perish; see 2 cor 2.15.
2 Corinthians 2:15. For we are unto God. We who are his ministers, and who thus triumph. It is implied here that Paul felt that ministers were laboring for God and felt assured that their labors would be acceptable to him.—The object of Paul in the statement, in this and in the following verses, is undoubtedly to meet the charges of his detractors and enemies. He says, therefore, that whatever was the result of his labors regarding the future salvation of men; yet, his well-meant endeavors, labors, and self-denials in preaching the gospel, were acceptable to God. The measure of God’s approbation in the case was not his success but his fidelity, his zeal, his self-denial, whatever might be the reception of the gospel among those who heard it.
A sweet aroma. Like the smell of pleasant incense or of grateful aromatics, such as were burned in the triumphal processions of returning conquerors. The meaning is that their labors were acceptable to God; he was pleased with them and would bestow on them the smiles and proofs of his approbation. The word here rendered “sweet savor” (εὐωδία) occurs only in this place and in Eph. 5:2; Phil. 4:18; and is applied to persons or things well-pleasing to God. It properly means good aroma or fragrance, and in the Septuagint, it is frequently applied to the incense that was burnt in the public worship of God and to sacrifices in general; Gen. 8:21; Ex. 29:18, 25, 41; Lev. 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2, 9, 12; 3:5, 16; 4:31, etc. Here it means that the services of Paul and the other ministers of religion were as grateful to God as sweet incense or acceptable sacrifices.
Of Christ. That is, we are Christ’s sweet savor to God: we are that which he has appointed and which he has devoted and consecrated to God; we are the offering, so to speak, which he is continually making to God.
In them that are saved. In regard to those who believe the gospel through our ministry and who are saved. Our labor in carrying the gospel to them and in bringing them to the knowledge of the truth is acceptable to God. Their salvation is an object of his strongest desire, and he is gratified with our fidelity and with our success. This reason why their work was acceptable to God is more fully stated in the following verse, where it is said that in reference to them, they were the “savor of life unto life.” The word “saved” here refers to all who become Christians and who enter heaven; and as the salvation of men is an object of such desire to God, it cannot but be that all who bear the gospel to men are engaged in an acceptable service and that all their efforts will be pleasing to him and approved in his sight. Concerning this part of Paul’s statement, there can be no difficulty.
And among those who are perishing. In reference to those who reject the gospel and who are finally lost.—It is implied here, (1.) That some would reject the gospel and perish, with whatever fidelity and self-denial the ministers of religion might labor. (2.) That though this would be the result, yet the labors of the ministers of religion would be acceptable to God. This is a fearful and awful declaration and has been thought by many to be attended with difficulty. A few remarks may present the true sense of the passage and remove the difficulty from it. (1.) It is not affirmed or implied here that the destruction of those who would reject the gospel, and who would perish was desired by God or would be pleasing to him. This is nowhere affirmed or implied in the Bible. (2.) It is affirmed only that the labors of the ministers of religion in endeavoring to save them would be acceptable and pleasing to God. Their labors would be in order to save them, not to destroy them. Their desire was to bring all to heaven—and this was acceptable to God. Whatever might be the result, whether successful or not, yet God would be pleased with self-denial, and toil, and prayer that was honestly and zealously put forth to save others from death. They would be approved by God in proportion to the amount of labor, zeal, and fidelity that they evinced. (3.) It would be by no fault of faithful ministers that men would perish. Their efforts would be to save them, and those efforts would be pleasing to God. (4.) It would be by no fault of the gospel that men would perish. The regular and proper tendency of the gospel is to save, not to destroy men; as the tendency of medicine is to heal them, of food to support the body, of air to give vitality, of light to give pleasure to the eye, etc. It is provided for all and is adapted to all. There is a sufficiency in the gospel for all men, and in its nature, it is as really fitted to save one as another. Whatever may be the manner in which it is received, it is always in itself the same pure and glorious system, full of benevolence and mercy. The bitterest enemy of the gospel cannot point to one of its provisions that is adapted or designed to make men miserable, and to destroy them. All its provisions are adapted to salvation; all its arrangements are those of benevolence; all the powers and influences which it originates are those which are fitted to save, not to destroy men. The gospel is what it is in itself—a pure, holy, and benevolent system, and is answerable only for effects that a pure, holy, and benevolent system is fitted to produce. To use the beautiful language of Theodoret, as quoted by Bloomfield, “We indeed bear the sweet aroma of Christ’s gospel to all; but all who participate in it do not experience its salutiferous [salvation] effects. Thus to diseased eyes, even the light of heaven is harmful, yet the sun does not bring injury. And to those in a fever, honey is bitter; yet it is sweet nevertheless. Vultures, too, it is said, fly from sweet odors of myrrh, yet myrrh is myrrh though the vultures avoid it. Thus, if some are saved, though others perish, the gospel retains its own virtue, and we, the preachers of it, remain just as we are. The gospel retains its aroma and salvation properties, though some may disbelieve and abuse it and perish.” Yet, (5.) It is implied that the gospel would be the occasion of heavier condemnation to some and that they would sink into deeper ruin in consequence of its being preached to them. This is implied in the expression in 2 cor 2.16. “to the one we are an aroma of death to death.” In the explanation of this, we may observe (a) that those who perished would have perished at any rate. All were under condemnation whether the gospel had come to them or not. None will perish in consequence of the gospel’s having been sent to them who would not have perished had it been unknown. Men do not perish because the gospel is sent to them, but for their own sins. (b) It is, in fact, their own fault that men reject the gospel and that they are lost. They are voluntary in this, and whatever is their final destiny, they are not under compulsion. The gospel compels no one against his will either to go gain eternal life or eternal destruction. (c) Men under the gospel sin against greater light than they do without it. They have more to answer for. It increases their responsibility. If therefore, they reject it and go down to eternal death, they go from higher privileges; and they go, of course, to meet a more aggravated condemnation. For condemnation will always be in exact proportion to guilt, and guilt is in proportion to abused light and privileges. (d) The preaching of the gospel, and the offers of life, are often the occasion of the deeper guilt of the sinner. Often, he becomes enraged. He gives vent to the deep malignity of his soul. He opposes the gospel with malice and infuriated anger. His eye kindles with indignation, and his lip curls with pride and scorn. He is profane and blasphemous, and the offering of the gospel to him is the occasion of exciting deep and malignant passions against God, against the Savior, against the ministers of religion. Against the gospel, men often manifest the same hatred and scorn as they did against the Savior. Yet this is not the fault of the gospel nor of the ministers of religion. It is the fault of sinners themselves, and while there can be no doubt that such a rejection of the gospel will produce their deeper condemnation and that it is an aroma of death to death to them; still the gospel is good and benevolent, and still God will be pleased with those who faithfully offer its provisions, and who urge it on the attention of men.
2 Corinthians 2:16. To the one an aroma from death to death. To those who perish.
The one an aroma from death to death. We are the occasion of deepening their condemnation and of sinking them lower into ruin. The expression here used literally means, “to the one class we bear a death-conveying odor leading to their death”—an aroma, a smell which, under the circumstances, is destructive to life and leads to death. Mr. Locke renders this, “To the one, my preaching is of ill savor, unacceptable and offensive, by their rejecting whereof they draw death on themselves.” Grateful as their labors were to God, and acceptable as would be their efforts, whatever might be the results, yet Paul could not be ignorant that the gospel would in fact be the means of greater condemnation to many; see 2 cor 2.15. It was indeed by their own fault, yet wherever the gospel was preached, it would to many have this result. The language used here is probably borrowed from similar expressions which were common among the Jews. Thus, in Debarim Rabba, sec. 1, fol. 248, it is said, “As the bee brings home honey to the owner, but stings others, so it is with the words of the law.” “They (the words of the law) are a savor of life to Israel, but a savor of death to the people of this world.” Thus, in Taarieth, fol. 7, 1, “Whoever gives attention to the law on account of the law itself, to him it becomes an aromatic of life (סם הייב), but to him who does not attend to the law on account of the law itself, to him it becomes an aromatic of death (סם מות)”—the idea of which is, that as medicines skillfully applied will heal, but if unskillfully applied will aggravate a disease, so it is with the words of the law. Again, “The word of the law which proceeds out of the mouth of God is an aroma of life to the Israelites, but an aroma of death to the Gentiles;” see Rosenmüller, and Bloomfield. The sense of the passage is plain that the gospel, by the willful rejection of it, becomes the means of the increased guilt and condemnation of many of those who hear it.
And to the other. To those who embrace it, and are saved.
The aroma of life. An aroma or fragrance producing life or tending to life. It is a living or life-giving aroma. It is in itself grateful and pleasant.
To life. Tending to life or adapting to produce life. The word life here, as often elsewhere, is used to denote salvation. It is (1.) Life in opposition to the death in sin in which all are by nature; (2.) In opposition to death in the grave—as it leads to a glorious resurrection; (3.) In opposition to eternal death; to the second death, as it leads to life and peace and joy in heaven; see the words “life” and “death” explained in the Notes on Rom. 6:23. The gospel is “the savor of life unto life,” because, (1.) It is its nature and tendency to produce life and salvation. It is adapted to that and is designed to that end. (2.) Because it actually results in the life and salvation of those who embrace it. It is the immediate and direct cause of their salvation, of their recovery from sin, of their glorious resurrection, of their eternal life in heaven.
And who is adequate in these things? For the arduous and responsible work of the ministry; for a work whose influence must be felt either in the eternal salvation or the eternal ruin of the soul. Who is worthy of so important a charge? Who can undertake it without trembling? Who can engage in it without feeling that he is in himself unfit for it, and that he needs constant divine grace? This is an exclamation that anyone may well make given the responsibilities of the work of the ministry. And we may remark, (1.) If Paul felt this, assuredly, others should feel it also. If with all the divine assistance which he had; all the proofs of the peculiar presence of God, and all the mighty miraculous powers conferred on him, Paul had such a sense of unfitness for this great work, then a consciousness of unfitness, and a deep sense of responsibility, may well rest on all others. (2.) It was this sense of the responsibility of the ministry which contributed much to Paul’s success. It was a conviction that the results of his work must be seen in the joys of heaven, or the woes of hell, that led him to look to God for aid and to devote himself so entirely to his great work. Men will not feel much concern unless they have a deep sense of the magnitude and responsibility of their work. Men who feel as they should about the ministry will look to God for aid and will feel that he alone can sustain them in their arduous duties.
2 Corinthians 2:17. For we are not, like so many. This refers doubtless to the false teachers at Corinth; and to all who mingled human philosophy or tradition with the pure word of truth. Paul’s design in the statement in this verse seems to be to affirm that he had such a deep sense of the responsibility of the ministerial office and its necessary influence on the eternal destiny of man that it led him to preach the simple gospel, the pure word of God. He did not dare to dilute it with any human mixture. He did not dare to preach philosophy or human wisdom. He did not dare to mingle with it the crude conceptions of man. He sought to exhibit the simple truth as it was in Jesus, and so deep was his sense of the responsibility of the office, and so great was his desire on the subject that he had been enabled to do it and to triumph always in Christ. So that, although he was conscious that he was in himself unfit for these things, yet by the grace of God, he had been able always to exhibit the simple truth, and his labors had been crowned with constant and signal success.
Peddlers of God’s word (Which corrupt the word of God). (καπηλεύω kapēleuō; from κάπηλος kapēlos) which has the sense of selling or offering second-hand goods from place to place; characterized by false and deceptive practices and peddling for profit. A deceptive, greedy businessperson, a petty retailer, a huckster, or a peddler. The word here used (καπηλεύοντες) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament and does not occur in the Septuagint. The word is derived from κάπηλος, which properly signifies a huckster, a man who buys up articles to sell them again. The proper idea is that of a small dealer and especially in wine. Such persons were notorious, as they are now, for diluting their wines with water (comp. Sept. in Isa.1:22); and for compounding wines of other substances than the juice of the grape for purposes of gain. Wine, of all substances in trade, perhaps, affords the greatest facilities for such dishonest tricks; and accordingly, the dealers in that article have generally been most distinguished for fraudulent practices and corrupt and diluted mixtures. Hence, the word comes to denote adulterate, corrupt, and so on. It is here applied to those who adulterated or corrupted the pure word of God in any way and for any purpose. It probably has particular reference to those who did it either by Judaizing opinions or by the mixtures of a false and deceitful philosophy. The latter mode would be likely to prevail among the subtle and philosophizing Greeks. It is in such ways that the gospel has usually been corrupted. (1.) It is done by attempting to attach a philosophical explanation to the facts of revelation and making the theory as important as the fact. (2.) By attempting to explain away the offensive points of revelation with the aid of philosophy. (3.) By attempting to make the facts of Scripture accord with the prevalent notions of philosophy and by applying a mode of interpretation to the Bible which would fritter away its meaning and make it mean anything or nothing at pleasure. In these, and in various other ways, men have corrupted the word of God; and of all the evils Christianity has ever sustained in this world, the worst have been those it has received from philosophy and from teachers who have corrupted the word of God. The fires of persecution it could meet, and still be pure; the utmost efforts of princes, and monarchs, and of Satan to destroy it, it has outlived and has shone purely and brightly amidst all these efforts; but, when corrupted by philosophy, and by “science falsely so called,” it has been dimmed in its luster, paralyzed in its aims, and shorn of its power, and has ceased to be mighty in pulling down the strongholds of Satan’s kingdom. Accordingly, the enemy of God has ceased to excite persecution and now aims in various ways to corrupt the gospel by the admixture of philosophy and of human opinions. Tyndale renders this passage, “For we are not as many are which choppe [chop] and change [change] with the word of God”—an idea which is important and beautiful—but this is one of the few instances in which he mistook the sense of the original text. In general, the accuracy of his translation and his acquaintance with the true sense of the Greek text are very remarkable.
But as men of sincerity. Sincerely, actuated by unmingled honesty and simplicity of aim; see chap. 1:12.
As commissioned by God. As influenced by him; as under his control and direction; as having been sent by him; as acting by his command; see chap. 1:12.
In the sight of God. As if we felt that his eye was always on us. Nothing is better fitted to make a man sincere and honest than this.
We speak in Christ. In the name and the service of Christ. We deliver our message with a deep consciousness that the eye of the all-seeing God is on us, that we can conceal nothing from him, and that we must soon give up our account to him.
(1.) In this chapter, and in managing the whole case to which Paul here refers, we have an instance of his tenderness in administering discipline. This tenderness was manifested in many ways. (1.) He did nothing to wound the feelings of the offending party. (2.) He did nothing in the way of punishment which a stern sense of duty did not demand. (3.) He did it all with many tears. He wept at the necessity of administering discipline at all. He wept over the remissness of the church. He wept over the fall of the offending brother. (4.) He did not even mention the name of the offender. He did not blazon his faults abroad; nor has he left any clue by which it can be known; nor did he take any measures which were fitted to pain, unnecessarily, the feelings of his friends. If all discipline in the church were conducted in this manner, it would probably always be effectual and successful, 2 cor 2.1–10.
(2.) We ought cordially to receive and forgive an offending brother as soon as he gives evidence of repentance. We should harbor no malice against him, and if, by repentance, he has put away his sins, we should hasten to forgive him. This we should do as individuals and as churches. God cheerfully forgives us and receives us into favor on our repentance; and we should hail the privilege of treating all our offending brethren in the same manner, 2 cor 2.7-8.
(3.) Churches should be careful that Satan should not get an advantage over them, 2 cor 2.11. In every way possible, he will attempt it; and perhaps in few modes is it more often done than in administering discipline. In such a case, Satan gains an advantage over a church in the following ways. (1.) In inducing it to neglect discipline. This often occurs because an offender is rich or talented or is connected with influential families; because there is a fear of driving off such families from the church; because the individual is of elevated rank, and the church suffers him to remain in her bosom. The laws of the church, like other laws, are often like cobwebs: Great flies break through, and the smaller ones are caught. The consequence is that Satan gains an immense advantage. Rich and influential offenders remain in the church; discipline is relaxed; the cause of Christ is scandalized, and the church at large feels the influence, and the work of God declines. (2.) Satan gains an advantage in discipline, sometimes, by too great severity of discipline. If he cannot induce a church to relax altogether and to suffer offenders to remain, then he excites them to improper and needless severity. He drives them on to harsh discipline for small offenses. He excites a spirit of persecution. He enkindles a false zeal on account of the shibboleth of doctrine. He excites a spirit of party and causes the church to mistake it for zeal for truth. He excites a spirit of persecution against some of the best men in the church on account of pretended errors in doctrine, and kindles the flames of civil war, and breaks the church up into parties and fragments. Or he urges on the church, even in cases where discipline is proper, to needless and inappropriate severity; drives the offender from its bosom; breaks his spirit; and prevents ever onward his usefulness, his return, and his happiness. One of the chief arts of Satan has been to cause the church in cases of discipline to use severity instead of kindness; to excite a spirit of persecution instead of love. Almost all the evils which grow out of attempts at discipline might have been prevented by a spirit of love. (3.) Satan gains an advantage in cases of discipline when the church is unwilling to re-admit fellowshipping an offending but penitent member. His spirit is broken; his usefulness is destroyed. The world usually takes sides with him against the church, and the cause of religion bleeds.
(4.) Individual Christians, as well as churches, should be careful that Satan does not get an advantage over them, 2 cor 2.11. Among the ways in which he does this are the following: (1.) By inducing them to conform to the world. This is done under the plea that religion is not gloomy, and sad or sullen, and severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence. Thence he often leads professors into all the lighthearted or cheerful and entertainments or amusements and follies of which the world partake. Satan gains an immense advantage to his cause when this is done—for all the influence of the professed Christian is with him. (2.) By producing laxness of opinion regarding doctrine. Christ intends that his cause shall advance by the influence of truth; and that his church shall be the witness of the truth. The cause of Satan advances by error and falsehood, and when professed Christians embrace falsehood or are indifferent to truth, their whole influence is on the side of Satan, and his advantage is immense when they become the advocates of error. (3.) By producing among Christians despondency, melancholy, and despair. Some of the best men are often thus afflicted and thrown into darkness, as Job was; Job 23:8–9. Indeed, it is commonly the best members of a church that have doubts in this manner, that fall into temptation, and that is left to the buffetings of Satan. Your happy, and worldly, and fashionable Christians have usually no such troubles—except when they lie on a bed of death. They are not in the way of Satan. They do not oppose him, and he will not trouble them. It is your humble, praying, self-denying Christians that he dreads and hates, and it is these that he is suffered to tempt, and to make sad, and to fill with gloom and doubt. And when this is done, it is an immense advantage to his cause. It produces the impression that religion is nothing but gloom and melancholy, and the people of the world are easily led to hate and avoid it. Christians, therefore, should be cheerful, generous, gracious, hospitable, compassionate, and happy—as they may be—lest Satan should get an advantage over them. (4.) By fanaticism. For when Satan finds that he can get no advantage over Christians by inducing them to do nothing or to do anything positively wrong or immoral, he drives them on with over-heated and ill-timed zeal; he makes them unreasonably strenuous for some single opinion or measure; he disposes them to oppose and persecute all who do not fall into their views and feel as they feel. (5.) By contentions and strifes. Satan often gets an advantage in that way. No matter what the cause may be, whether it be for doctrines or any other cause, yet the very fact that there are contentions among the professed followers of “the Prince of peace” does injury and gives Satan an advantage. No small part of his efforts, therefore, have been to excite contentions among Christians, an effort in which he has been, and is still, eminently successful.
(5.) Satan gets an advantage over sinners, and they should be on their guard. He does it (1.) By producing a sense of security in their present condition; and by leading them to indifference regarding their eternal condition. In this, he is eminently successful; and when this is gained, all is gained that his cause demands. It is impossible to conceive of greater success in anything than Satan has in producing a state of indifference to the subject of religion among men. (2.) By inducing them to defer attention to religion to some future time. This is an advantage because (a) It accomplishes all he wishes at present; (b) Because it is usually successful altogether. It is usually the same thing as resolving not to attend to religion at all. (3.) By producing false views of religion. He represents it at one time as gloomy, sad, and melancholy; at another, as so easy that it may be obtained whenever they please; at another, by persuading them that their sins are so great that they cannot be forgiven. One great object of Satan is to blind the minds of sinners to the true nature of religion, and in this, he is usually successful. (4.) He deludes the aged by telling them it is too late, and the young by telling them that now is the time for merriment and pleasure and that religion may be attended to at some future period of life. (5.) He gains an advantage by plunging the sinner deeper and deeper into sin; inducing him to listen to the voice of temptation; making him the companion of the wicked; and deluding him with the promises of pleasure, honor, and gain in this world until it is too late, and he dies.
(6.) Ministers of the gospel may have occasion to triumph in the success of their work. Paul always met with success of some kind; he always had some cause of triumph. In all his trials, he had an occasion of rejoicing and always was assured that he was pursuing that course which would lead him ultimately to triumph, 2 cor 2.14.
(7.) The gospel may be so preached as to be successful, 2 cor 2.14. In the hands of Paul, it was successful. So, it was with the other apostles. So, it was with Luther, Knox, and Calvin. So, it was with Whitefield, Edwards, Wesley, and Payson. If ministers are not successful, it is not the fault of the gospel. It is adapted to do good and to save men, and it may be so preached as to accomplish those great ends. If all ministers were as self-denying, laborious, and prayerful as these men, the gospel would be as successful now as it has ever been.
[There is much truth in this representation. Certainly, no great revival of religion can rationally be expected when the ministers of the gospel are not self-denying, laborious, and prayerful. Yet, we cannot certainly pronounce that equal diligence in the use of means will, in every case, be attended with equal success. Allowance must be made for God’s sovereignty in dispensing his grace. Otherwise, wherever the word was preached under the most favorable circumstances, as far as the excellence of means is concerned, there also, we should expect and find the most success. But it has not been so in reality. Hearers never enjoyed a more favorable opportunity for conversion than when more than the eloquence of angels fell from the lips of Jesus, and he taught the people as one having authority and not as the Scribes. Yet comparatively few, a solitary one here and there, listened to the voice of the charmer, though he charmed so wisely. Was it that he did not display the gospel in all its fullness, sufficiency, and loveliness? Was there any want of moral suasion, powerful argument, strong motive, or touching appeal in the Savior’s addresses? No! Yet immediately after the ascension of Jesus, the word of God subdued thousands on thousands, although employed by apostles only, whose ministrations, considered apart, must have been immeasurably inferior to those of Jesus. The same Jews that persisted in their unbelief under the ministry of Christ were disarmed of their prejudice under the preaching of Peter! Whence the difference of efficacy? Whence the want of success, where most we should have expected to find it, and the command of it, where least we could have looked for it? One sentence solves the difficulty. “The Holy Spirit was not yet given because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Similar comparisons might be made between the ministrations of different individuals now. Men of the highest abilities, persevering diligence, and elevated piety have been left to complain of comparative barrenness in the sphere which they occupied, while humbler instruments, in a field no way more promising, have been blessed with the harvest of souls. The comparison might even be made of different periods of the same ministry. All other circumstances being equal or differing so slightly as not to affect the argument, the word spoken at one time seems to fall powerless to the ground, as the arrow on the breast of steel. No shaft hits the mark; no sinner retires like the stricken deer to bleed alone. At another time, the people are made willing in the day of power. Conviction spreads with the rapidity of contagion, and the Lord daily adds to his people such as shall be saved. Now, this difference cannot be explained but by referring it to the different measures in which God is pleased to communicate his Spirit.]
(8.) Much of the work of the ministry is pleasant and delightful. It is the aroma of life to life, 2 cor 2.15-16. There is no joy on earth of a higher and purer character than that which the ministers of the gospel have in the success of their work. There is no work more pleasant than that of imparting the consolations of religion to the sick and the afflicted; than that of directing inquiring sinners to the Lamb of God; no joy on earth so pure and elevated as that which a pastor has in a revival of religion. In the evidence that God accepts his labors and that to many his message is a savor of life unto life, there is a joy which no other pursuit can furnish; a joy, even on earth, which is more than a compensation for all the toils, self-denials, and trials of the ministry.
(9.) Given the happy and saving results of the work of the ministry, we see the importance of the work. Those results are to be seen in heaven. They are to enter into the eternal destiny of the righteous. They are to be seen in the felicity and holiness of those who shall be redeemed from death. The very happiness of heaven, therefore, is dependent on the fidelity and success of the ministry. This work stretches beyond the grave. It reaches into eternity. It is to be seen in heaven. Other plans and labors of men terminate at death. But the work of the ministry reaches its results into the skies and is to be seen ever onward in eternity. The apostle might ask, “Who is sufficient for these things?”
(10.) The ministers of the gospel will be accepted of God, if faithful, whatever may be the result of their labors, whether seen in the salvation or the augmented condemnation of those who hear them, 2 cor 2.15. They are a sweet aroma to God. Their acceptance of him depends not on the measure of their success but on their fidelity. If men reject the gospel and make it the occasion of their greater condemnation, the fault is not that of ministers but is their own. If men are faithful, God accepts their efforts; and even if many reject the message and perish, still a faithful ministry will not be to blame. That such results should follow from their ministry, indeed increases their responsibility and makes their office more awful, but it will not render them less acceptable in their labors in the sight of God.
(11.) We are to anticipate that the ministry will be the means of the deeper condemnation of many who hear the gospel, 2 cor 2.16. The gospel is to them a savor of death unto death. We are to expect that many will reject and despise the message and sink into deeper sin, condemnation, and woe. We are not to be disappointed, therefore, when we see such effects follow and when the sinner sinks into a deeper hell from under the ministry of the gospel. It always has been the case, and we have reason to suppose it always will be. And painful as is the fact, yet ministers must make up their minds to witness this deeply painful result of their work.
(12.) The ministry is a deeply and awfully responsible work, 2 cor 2.16. It is connected with the everlasting happiness or the deep and eternal condemnation of all those who hear the gospel. Every preached sermon makes an impression that will never be obliterated and produces an effect that will never terminate. Its effects will never all be seen until the day of judgment and in the awful solemnities of the eternal world. Well, might Paul ask, “Who is sufficient for these things?”
(13.) It is a solemn thing to hear the gospel. If it is solemn for a minister to dispense it, it is not less solemn to hear it. It is connected with the eternal welfare of those who hear. And thoughtless as are multitudes who hear it, yet it is deeply to affect them hereafter. If they ever embrace it, they will owe their eternal salvation to it; if they continue to neglect it, it will sink them deep and forever in the world of woe. Every individual, therefore, who hears the gospel dispensed, no matter by whom, should remember that he is listening to God’s solemn message to men; and that it will and must exert a deep influence on his eternal doom.
(14.) A people should pray much for a minister. Paul often entreated the churches to which he wrote to pray for him. If Paul needed the prayers of Christians, assuredly, Christians now do. Prayer for a minister is demanded because (1.) He has the same infirmities, conflicts, and temptations as other Christians. (2.) He has those which are peculiar and which grow out of the very nature of his office, for the warfare of Satan is carried on mainly with the leaders of the army of God. (3.) He is engaged in a great and most responsible work—the greatest work ever committed to mortal man. (4.) His success will be generally in proportion as a people pray for him. The welfare of a people, therefore, is identified with their praying for their minister. He will preach better, and they will hear better, just in proportion as they pray for him. His preaching will be dull, dry, and heavy; will be without unction, spirituality, and life unless they pray for him; and their hearing will be dull, lifeless, and uninterested unless they pray for him. No people will hear the gospel to many advantages who do not feel anxious enough about it to pray for their minister.
(15.) The interview between a minister and his people on the day of judgment will be a very solemn one. Then the effect of his ministry will be seen. Then it will be known to whom it was a savor of life unto life, and to whom it was a savor of death unto death. Then the eternal destiny of all will be settled. Then the faithful minister will be attended to heaven by all to whom his ministry has been a savor of life unto life, and then he will part forever with all whom he so often warned and entreated in vain. In distant worlds—worlds forever separated—shall be experienced the result of his labors. O! how solemn must be the scene when he must give up his account for the manner in which he has preached; and they, for the manner in which they attended on his ministry!
(16.) Let all ministers, then, be careful that they do not corrupt the word of God, 2 cor 2.17. Let them preach it in simplicity and in truth. Let them not preach philosophy, or metaphysics, or their own fancy, or the tradition of men, or the teaching of the schools, but the simple truth as it is in Jesus. Let them preach as sent by God; as in the sight of God; as commissioned by Christ to deliver a simple, plain, pure message to mankind, whether they will hear or forbear. Their success will be in proportion to the simplicity and purity of the gospel which they present; their peace and joy in death and in heaven will be just as they shall have evidence then that in simplicity and sincerity they have endeavored to present everywhere, and to all, the pure and simple gospel of Jesus Christ. As ministers, therefore, desire acceptance with God and success in the work, let them preach the pure gospel; not adulterating it with foreign admixtures; not endeavoring to change it so as to be palatable to the carnal mind; not substituting philosophy for the gospel, and not withholding anything in the gospel because men do not love it, and let the people of God everywhere sustain the ministry by their prayers, and aid them in their work by daily commending them to the God of grace. So shall they be able to perform the solemn functions of their office to divine acceptance, and so shall ministers and people find the gospel to be “an aroma from life to life.”
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 A deceptive greedy businessperson, a tavern keeper, or a wine merchant, a petty retailer, a huckster, a peddler.
 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downer Groves, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 502-503.
 Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Romans to Philemon., vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 207.
 Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: II Corinthians & Galatians, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 39–49.