2 Corinthians 5:11- 21; 6:1; 7:2-4 Anique Commentary Quotes

John Calvin
2Co 5:11
11.Knowing therefore.He now returns to speak of himself, or he again applies the general doctrine to himself personally. “I am not ignorant,” says he, “nor devoid of the fear of God, which ought to reign in the hearts of all the pious.” To know the terror of the Lord,then, is to be influenced by this consideration — that an account must one day be rendered before the judgment-seat of Christ; for the man who seriously considers this must of necessity be touched with fear, and shake off all negligence. He declares, therefore, that he discharges his apostleship faithfully and with a pure conscience, (2Ti_1:3,) as one that walks in the fear of the Lord, (Act_9:31,) thinking of the account to be rendered by him. As, however, his enemies might object: “You extol yourself, it is true, in magnificent terms, but who is there that sees what you affirm?” He says, in reply to this, that he discharges indeed the work of a teacher in the sight of men, but that it is known to God with what sincerity of mind he acts. “As my mouth speaks to men, so does my heart to God.”

And I trust This is a kind of correction of what he had said, for he now boasts that he has not merely God as the witness of his integrity, but also the Corinthians themselves, to whom he had given proof of himself. Two things, therefore, are to be observed here: in the first place, that it is not enough that an individual conducts himself honorably and assiduously among men, if his heart is not right in the sight of God, (Act_8:21;) and secondly, that boasting is vain, where evidence of the reality itself is wanting. For none are more bold in arrogating everything to themselves, than those that have nothing. Let, therefore, the man who would have credit given him, bring forward such works as may afford confirmation to his statements. To be made manifest in their consciences is more than to be known by proofs; for conscience reaches farther than carnal judgment.

Adam Clarke
2 Cor 5:11
Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord – This, I think, is too harsh a translation of ειδοτες ουν τον φοβον του Κυριου, which should be rendered, knowing therefore the fear of the Lord; which, strange as it may at first appear, often signifies the worship of the Lord, or that religious reverence which we owe to him; Act_9:31; Rom_3:18; Rom_13:7; 1Pe_1:17; 1Pe_2:18; 1Pe_3:2. As we know therefore what God requires of man, because we are favored with his own revelation, we persuade men to become Christians, and to labor to be acceptable to him, because they must all stand before the judgment seat; and if they receive not the grace of the Gospel here, they must there give up their accounts with sorrow and not with joy. In short, a man who is not saved from his sin in this life, will be separated from God and the glory of his power in the world to come. This is a powerful motive to persuade men to accept the salvation provided for them by Christ Jesus. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; the terror of God confounds and overpowers the soul. We lead men to God through his fear and love, and with the fear of God the love of God is ever consistent; but where the terror of the Lord reigns there can neither be fear, faith, nor love; nay, nor hope either. Men who vindicate their constant declamations on hell and perdition by quoting this text, know little of its meaning; and, what is worse, seem to know but little of the nature of man, and perhaps less of the spirit of the Gospel of Christ. Let them go and learn a lesson from Christ, sweeping over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how oft would I have gathered you together, as a hen would her brood under her wings!” And another from his last words on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”

But we are made manifest unto God – God, who searches the heart, knows that we are upright in our endeavors to please him; and because we are fully persuaded of the reality of eternal things, therefore we are fully in earnest to get sinners converted to him.

Manifest in your consciences – We have reason to believe that you have had such proof of our integrity and disinterestedness, that your consciences must acquit us of every unworthy motive, and of every sinister view.

Albert Barnes
2Co 5:11
Knowing therefore – We who are apostles, and who are appointed to preach the gospel, having the fullest assurance of the terrors of the day of judgment, and of the wrath of God, endeavor to persuade people to be prepared to meet Him, and to give up their account.

The terror of the Lord – This is, of the Lord Jesus, who will be seated on the throne of judgment, and who will decide the destiny of all people, 2Co_5:10; compare Matt. 25. The sense is, knowing how much the Lord is to be feared; what an object of terror and alarm it will be to stand at the judgment-seat; how fearful and awful will be the consequences of the trial of that day. The Lord Jesus will be an object of terror and alarm, or it will be a subject inspiring terror and alarm to stand there on that day, because:

(1) He has all power, and is appointed to execute judgment;

(2) Because all must there give a strict and impartial account of all that they have done;

(3) Because the wrath of God will be shown in the condemnation of the guilty.

It will be a day of awful wailing and alarm when all the living and the dead shall be arraigned on trial with reference to their eternal destiny; and when countless hosts of the guilty and impenitent shall be thrust down to an eternal hell. Who can describe the amazing terror of the scene? Who can fancy the horrors of the hosts of the guilty and the wretched who shall then hear that their doom is to be fixed forever in a world of unspeakable woe? The influence of the knowledge of the terror of the Lord on the mind of the apostle seems to have been two-fold; first, an apprehension of it as a personal concern, and a desire to escape it, which led him to constant self-denial and toil; and secondly, a desire to save others from being overwhelmed in the wrath of that dreadful day.

We persuade men – We endeavor to persuade them to flee from the wrath to come; to be prepared to stand before the judgment-seat, and to be suited to enter into heaven. Observe here the uniqueness of the statement. It is not, we drive people; or we endeavor to alarm people; or we frighten people; or we appeal merely to their fears, but it is, we persuade people, we endeavor to induce them by all the arts of persuasion and argument to flee from the wrath to come. The future judgment, and the scenes of future woe, are not proper topics for mere declamation. To declaim constantly on hell-fire and perdition; to appeal merely to the fears of people, is not the way in which Paul and the Saviour preached the gospel. The knowledge that there would be a judgment, and that the wicked would be sent to hell, was a powerful motive for Paul to endeavor to “persuade” people to escape from wrath, and was a motive for the Saviour to weep over Jerusalem, and to lament its folly, and its doom; Luk_19:41. But they who fill their sermons with the denunciations of wrath; who dwell on the words “hell” and “damnation,” for the purpose of rhetoric or declamation, to round a period, or merely to excite alarm; and who “deal damnation around the land” as if they rejoiced that people were to be condemned, and in a tone and manner as if they would be pleased to execute it, have yet to learn the true nature of the way to win people to God, and the proper effect of those awful truths on the mind. The true effect is, to produce tenderness, deep feeling, and love; to prompt to the language of persuasion and of tender entreaty; to lead people to weep over dying sinners rather than to denounce them; to pray to God to have mercy on them rather than to use the language of severity, or to assume tones as if they would be pleased to execute the awful wrath of God.

But we are made manifest unto God – The meaning of this is, probably, that God sees that we are sincere and upright in our aims and purposes. He is acquainted with our hearts. All our motives are known to him, and he sees that it is our aim to promote his glory, and to save the souls of people. This is probably said to counteract the charge which might have been brought against him by some of the disaffected in Corinth, that he was influenced by improper motives and aims. To meet this, Paul says, that God knew that he was endeavoring to save souls, and that he was actuated by a sincere desire to rescue them from the impending terrors of the day of judgment.

And I trust also … – And I trust also you are convinced of our integrity and uprightness of aim. The same sentiment is expressed in other words in 2Co_4:2. It is an appeal which he makes to them, and the expression of an earnest and confident assurance that they knew and felt that his aim was upright, and his purpose sincere.

John Calvin
2Co 5:12
12.For we commend not ourselves.He confirms what he had said immediately before, and at the same time anticipates a calumny that might be brought against him. For it might seem as if he were too careful as to his own praise, inasmuch as he spoke so frequently respecting himself. Nay, it is probable that this reproach had been cast upon him by the wicked. For when he says — We commend not ourselves again, he says this as if speaking in his own person. To commend is taken in a bad sense, as meaning to boast, or to brag.

When he adds — that he gives them occasion of glorying, he intimates in the first place, that he pleads their cause rather than his own, inasmuch as he gives up all with a view to their glory, and he again indirectly reproves their ingratitude, because they had not perceived it to be their duty to magnify, of their own accord, his Apostleship, so as not to impose upon him this necessity; and farther, because they had not perceived, that it was their interest rather than that of Paul himself, that his Apostleship should be accounted honorable. We are here taught, that Christ’s servants ought to be concerned as to their own reputation, only in so far as is for the advantage of the Church. Paul affirms with truth, that he is actuated by this disposition. Let others see that they do not on false grounds pretend to follow his example. We are taught farther, that that alone is a minister’s true praise, that is common to him with the whole Church, rather than peculiar to himself exclusively — in other words, that redounds to the advantage of all.

That ye may have something in opposition to those He intimates, in passing, that it is necessary to repress the vanity of those that make empty boasts, and that it is the duty of the Church to do so. For as ambition of this nature is a peculiarly destructive pestilence, it is dangerous to encourage it by dissimulation. As the Corinthians had not taken care to do this, Paul instructs them how they should act for the future.

To glory in appearance, not in heart, is to disguise one’s self by outward show, and to regard sincerity of heart as of no value; for those that will be truly wise will never glory but in God. (1Co_1:31.) But wherever there is empty show, there is no sincerity, and no integrity of heart.

Albert Barnes
2Co 5:12
For we commend not ourselves again unto you – This refers to what he had said in the previous verse. He had there said that he had such a consciousness of integrity that he could appeal to God, and that he was persuaded that the Corinthians also approved his course, or admitted that he was influenced by right motives. He here states the reason why he had said this. It was not to commend himself to them. It was not to boast of his own character, nor was it in order to secure their praise or favor. Some might be disposed to misrepresent all that Paul said of himself, and to suppose that it was said for mere vain-glory, or the love of praise. He tells them, therefore, that his sole aim was necessary self-defense, and in order that they might have the fullest evidence that he, by whom they had been converted, was a true apostle; and that he whom they regarded as their friend and father in the gospel was a man of whom they need not be ashamed.

But give you occasion – This is a very happy turn of expression. The sense is, “You have been converted under my labors. You profess to regard me as your spiritual father and friend. I have no reason to doubt of your attachment to me. Yet you often hear my name slandered, and hear me accused of wanting the evidence of being an apostle, and of being vain-glorious, and self-seeking. I know your desire to vindicate my character, and to show that you are my friends. I, therefore, say these things in regard to myself in order that you may be thus able to show your respect for me, and to vindicate me from the false and slanderous accusations of my enemies. Thus doing, you will be able to answer them; to show that the man whom you thus respect is worthy of your confidence and esteem.”

On your behalf – For your own benefit, or as it were in self-vindication for adhering to me, and evincing attachment to me.

That ye may have somewhat to answer them – That you may be furnished with a ready reply when you are charged with adhering to a man who has no claims to the apostleship, or who is slandered in any other way.

Which glory in appearance – The false teachers in Corinth. Probably they boasted of their rank, their eloquence, their talents, their external advantages; but not in the qualities of the heart – in sincerity, honesty, real love for souls. Their consciences would not allow them to do this; and they knew themselves that their boasting was mere vain pretence, and that there was no real and solid ground for it.

The margin is, “in the face.” The meaning is, probably, that their ground of boasting was external, and was such as can be seen of people, and was not rather the secret consciousness of right, which could exist only in the conscience and the heart. Paul, on the other hand, gloried mainly in his sincerity, his honesty, his desire for their salvation; in his conscious integrity before God; and not in any mere external advantages or professions, in his rank, eloquence, or talent. Accordingly, all his argument here turns on his sincerity, his conscious uprightness, and his real regard for their welfare. And the truth taught here is, that sincerity and conscious integrity are more valuable than any or all external advantages and endowments.

John Calvin
2Co 5:13
13.Whether we are beside ourselves.This is said by way of concession; for Paul’s glorying was sane, or it was, if we may so term it, a sober and most judicious madness; but as he appeared foolish in the eyes of many, he speaks according to their views. Now he declares two things: in the first place, that he makes no account of himself, but has this one object in view — that he may serve God and the Church; and, secondly, that he fears not the opinion of men, so that he is prepared for being reckoned either sane or insane, provided only he transacts faithfully the affairs of God and the Church. The meaning, therefore, is this: “As to my making mention so frequently of my integrity, persons will take this as they choose. It is not, however, for my own sake that I do it, but, on the contrary, I have God and the Church exclusively in view. Hence I am prepared to be silent and to speak, according as the glory of God and the advantage of the Church will require, and I shall be quite contented that the world reckon me beside myself, provided only it is not to myself, but to God, that I am beside myself.” This is a passage that is deserving not merely of notice, but also of constant meditation; for unless we shall have our minds thus regulated, the smallest occasions of offense will from time to time draw us off from our duty.

Adam Clarke
2Co 5:13
Beside ourselves – Probably he was reputed by some to be deranged. Festus thought so: Paul, thou art beside thyself; too much learning hath made thee mad. And his enemies at Corinth might insinuate not only that he was deranged, but attribute his derangement to a less worthy cause than intense study and deep learning.

It is to God – If we do appear, in speaking of the glories of the eternal world, to be transported beyond ourselves, it is through the good hand of our God upon us, and we do it to promote his honor.

Whether we be sober – Speak of Divine things in a more cool and dispassionate manner, it is that we may the better instruct and encourage you.

Albert Barnes
2Co 5:13
For whether we be beside ourselves – This is probably designed to meet some of the charges which the false teachers in Corinth brought against him, and to furnish his friends there with a ready answer, as well as to show them the true principles on which he acted, and his real love for them. It is altogether probable that he was charged with being deranged; that many who boasted themselves of prudence, and soberness, and wisdom, regarded him as acting like a madman. It has not been uncommon, by any means, for the cold and the prudent; for formal professors and for hypocrites to regard the warm-hearted and zealous friends of religion as maniacs. Festus thought Paul was deranged, when he said, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad,” Act_26:24; and the Saviour himself was regarded by his immediate relatives and friends as beside himself, Mar_3:21. And at all times there have been many, both in the church and out of it, who have regarded the friends of revivals, and of missions, and all those who have evinced any extraordinary zeal in religion, as deranged. The object of Paul here is to show, whatever might be the appearance or the estimate which they affixed to his conduct, what were the real principles which actuated him. These were zeal for God, love to the church, and the constraining influences of the love of Christ, 2Co_5:14-15. The word rendered here as “be beside ourselves” (εξεστημεν exestemen, from εξίστημι existemi) means properly, to put out of place; to be put out of place; and then to be put out of oneself, to astonish, to fill with wonder; Luk_24:22; Act_8:9, Act_8:11; and then to be out of one’s mind, to be deranged. Here it means that they were charged with being deranged, or that others esteemed, or professed to esteem Paul and his fellow-laborers deranged.

It is to God – It is in the Cause of God, and from love to him. It is such a zeal for him; such an absorbing interest in his cause; such love prompting to so great self-denial, and teaching us to act so much unlike other people as to lead them to think that we are deranged. The doctrine here is, that there may be such a zeal for the glory of God, such an active and ardent desire to promote his honor, as to lead others to charge us with derangement. It does not prove however that a man is deranged on the subject of religion because he is unlike others, or because he pursues a course of life that differs materially from that of other professors of religion, and from the man of the world. He may be the truly sane man after all; and all the madness that may exist may be where there is a profession of religion without zeal; a professed belief in the existence of God and in the realities of eternity, that produces no difference in the conduct between the professor and other people; or an utter unconcern about eternal realities when a man is walking on the brink of death and of hell. There are a few people that become deranged by religion; there are millions who have no religion who act as madmen. And the highest instances of madness in the world are those who walk over an eternal hell without apprehension or alarm.

Or whether we be sober – Whether we are sane, or of sound mind; compare Mar_5:15. Tyndale renders this whole passage: “For if we be too fervent, to God we are too fervent; if we keep measure, for our cause keep we measure.” The sense seems to be, “if we are esteemed to be sane, and sober-minded, as we trust you will admit us to be, it is for your sake. Whatever may be the estimate in which we are held, we are influenced by love to God, and love to man. In such a cause, we cannot but evince zeal and self-denial which may expose us to the charge of mental derangement; but still we trust that by you we shall be regarded as influenced by a sound mind. We seek your welfare. We labor for you. And we trust that you will appreciate our motives, and regard us as truly sober-minded.”

John Calvin
2Co 5:14
14.For the love of Christ.The term love may be taken either in a passive signification, or in an active. I prefer the latter. For if we be not harder than iron, we cannot refrain from devoting ourselves entirely to Christ, when we consider what great love he exercised towards us, when he endured death in our stead. Paul, too, explains himself when he adds, that it is reasonable that we should live to him, being dead to ourselves. Hence, as he had previously stated: (2Co_5:11,) that he was stirred up to duty by fear, inasmuch as an account was one day to be rendered by him, so he now brings forward another motive — that measureless love of Christ towards us, of which he had furnished us with an evidence in his death. “The knowledge,” I say, “of this love, ought to constrain our affections, that they may go in no other direction than that of loving him in return.

There is a metaphor implied in the word constrain, denoting that it is impossible but that every one that truly considers and ponders that wonderful love, which Christ has manifested towards us by his death, becomes, as it were, bound to him, and constrained by the closest tie, and devotes himself wholly to his service.

If one died for all.This design is to be carefully kept in view — that Christ died for us, that we might die to ourselves. The exposition is also to be carefully noticed — that to die to ourselves is to live to Christ; or if you would have it at greater length, it is to renounce ourselves, that we may live to Christ; for Christ. redeemed us with this view — that he might have us under his authority, as his peculiar possession. Hence it follows that we are no longer our own masters. There is a similar passage in Rom_14:7. At the same time, there are two things that are here brought forward separately — that we are dead in Christ, in order that all ambition and eagerness for distinction may be laid aside, and that it may be felt by us no hardship to be made as nothing; and farther, that we owe to Christ our life and death, because he has wholly bound us to himself.

Albert Barnes
2Co 5:14
For the love of Christ – In this verse, Paul brings into view the principle which actuated him; the reason of his extraordinary and disinterested zeal. That was, that he was influenced by the love which Christ had shown in dying for all people, and by the argument which was furnished by that death respecting the actual character and condition of man (in this verse); and of the obligation of those who professed to be his true friends 2Co_5:15. The phrase “the love of Christ” (αγαπη του Χριστου agape tou Christou) may denote either the love which Christ bears toward us, and which he has manifested, or our love toward him. In the former sense the phrase “the love of God” is used in Rom_5:8; 2Co_13:13, and the phrase “love of Christ” in Eph_3:14. The phrase is used in the latter sense in Joh_15:9-10, and Rom_8:35. It is impossible to determine the sense with certainty, and it is only by the view which shall be taken of the connection and of the argument which will in any way determine the meaning. Expositors differ in regard to it. It seems to me that the phrase here means the love which Christ had toward us. Paul speaks of his dying for all as the reason why he was urged on to the course of self-denial which he evinced. Christ died for all. All were dead. Christ evinced his great love for us, and for all, by giving himself to die; and it was this love which Christ had shown that impelled Paul to his own acts of love and self-denial. He gave himself to his great work impelled by that love which Christ had shown; by the view of the ruined condition of man which that work furnished; and by a desire to emulate the Redeemer, and to possess the same spirit which he evinced.

Constraineth us – (συνεχει sunechei). This word (συνεχω sunecho) properly means, to hold together, to press together, to shut up; then to press on, urge, impel, or excite. Here it means, that the impelling, or exciting motive in the labors and self-denials of Paul, was the love of Christ – the love which he had showed to the children of men. Christ so loved the world as to give himself for it. His love for the world was a demonstration that people were dead in sins. And we, being urged by the same love, are prompted to like acts of zeal and self-denial to save the world from ruin.

Because we thus judge – Greek “We judging this;” that is, we thus determine in our own minds, or we thus decide; or this is our firm conviction and belief – we come to this conclusion.

That if one died for all – On the supposition that one died for all; or taking it for granted that one died for all, then it follows that all were dead. The “one” who died for all here is undoubtedly the Lord Jesus. The word “for” (υπερ huper) means in the place of, instead of; see Phi_2:13 and 2Co_5:20. It means that Christ took the place of sinners, and died in their stead; that he endured what was an ample equivalent for all the punishment which would be inflicted if they were to suffer the just penalty of the Law; that he endured so much suffering, and that God by his great substituted sorrows made such an expression of his hatred of sin, as to answer the same end in expressing his sense of the evil of sin, and in restraining others from transgression, as if the guilty were personally to suffer the full penalty of the Law. If this was done, of course, the guilty might be par doned and saved, since all the ends which could be accomplished by their destruction have been accomplished by the substituted sufferings of the Lord Jesus; see the notes on Rom_3:25-26, where this subject is considered at length.

The phrase “for all,” (υπερ παντων huper panton) obviously means for all mankind; for every man. This is an exceedingly important expression in regard to the extent of the atonement which the Lord Jesus made, and while it proves that his death was vicarious, that is, in the place of others, and for their sakes, it demonstrates also that the atonement was general, and had, in itself considered, no limitation, and no particular reference to any class or condition of people; and no particular applicability to one class more than to another. There was nothing in the nature of the atonement that limited it to anyone class or condition; there was nothing in the design that made it, in itself, anymore applicable to one portion of mankind than to another. And whatever may be true in regard to the fact as to its actual applicability, or in regard to the purpose of God to apply it, it is demonstrated by this passage that his death had an original applicability to all, and that the merits of that death were sufficient to save all. The argument in favor of the general atonement, from this passage, consists in the following points:

(1) That Paul assumes this as a matter that was well known, indisputable, and universally admitted, that Christ died for all. He did not deem it necessary to enter into the argument to prove it, nor even to state it formally. It was so well known, and so universally admitted, that he made it a first principle – an elementary position – a maxim on which to base another important doctrine – to wit, that all were dead. It was a point which he assumed that no one would call in question; a doctrine which might be laid down as the basis of an argument, like one of the first principles or maxims in science.

(2) it is the plain and obvious meaning of the expression – the sense which strikes all people, unless they have some theory to support to the contrary; and it requires all the ingenuity which people can ever command to make it appear even plausible, that this is consistent with the doctrine of a limited atonement; much more to make it out that it does not mean all. If a man is told that all the human family must die, the obvious interpretation is, that it applies to every individual. If told that all the passengers on board a steamboat were drowned, the obvious interpretation is, that every individual was meant. If told that a ship was wrecked, and that all the crew perished, the obvious interpretation would be that none escaped. If told that all the inmates of an hospital were sick, it would be understood that there was not an individual that was not sick. Such is the view which would be taken by 999 persons out of 1,000, if told that Christ died for all; nor could they conceive how this could be consistent with the statement that he died only for the elect, and that the elect was only a small part of the human family.

(3) this interpretation is in accordance with all the explicit declarations on the design of the death of the Redeemer. Heb_2:9, “that he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man;” compare Joh_3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” 1Ti_2:6, “who gave himself a ransom for all.” See Mat_20:28,” The Son of man came to give his life a ransom for many.” 1Jo_2:2,” and he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

(4) the fact also that on the ground of the atonement made by the Redeemer, salvation is offered to all people by God, is a proof that he died for all. The apostles were directed to go “into all the world and to preach the gospel to every creature,” with the assurance that “he that believeth and is baptized shall he saved;” Mar_16:15-16; and everywhere in the Bible the most full and free offers of salvation are made to all mankind; compare Isa_55:1; Joh_7:37; Rev_22:17. These offers are made on the ground that the Lord Jesus died for people; Joh_3:16. They are offers of salvation through the gospel, of the pardon of sin, and of eternal life to be made “to every creature.” But if Christ died only for a part, if there is a large portion of the human family for whom he died in no sense whatever; if there is no provision of any kind made for them, then God must know this, and then the offers cannot be made with sincerity, and God is tantalizing them with the offers of that which does not exist, and which he knows does not exist. It is of no use here to say that the preacher does not know who the elect are, and that he is obliged to make the offer to all in order that the elect may be reached. For it is not the preacher only who offers the gospel. It is God who does it, and he knows who the elect are, and yet he offers salvation to all. And if there is no salvation provided for all, and no possibility that all to whom the offer comes should be saved, then God is insincere; and there is no way possible of vindicating his character.

(5) if this interpretation is not correct, and if Christ did not die for all, then the argument of Paul here is a non sequitur, and is worthless. The demonstration that all are dead, according to him is, that Christ died for all. But suppose that he meant, or that he knew, that Christ died only for a part, for the elect, then how would the argument stand, and what would be its force? “Christ died only for a portion of the human race, therefore all are sinners. Medicine is provided only for a part of mankind, therefore all are sick. Pardon is offered to part only, therefore all are guilty.” But Paul never reasoned in this way. He believed that Christ died for all mankind, and on the ground of that he inferred at once that all needed such an atonement; that all were sinners, and that all were exposed to the wrath of God. And the argument is in this way, and in this way only, sound. But still it may be asked, What is the force of this argument? How does the fact that Christ died for all, prove that all were sinners, or dead in sin? I answer:

(a) In the same way that to provide medicine for all, proves that all are sick, or liable to be sick; and to offer pardon to all who are in a prison, proves that all there are guilty. What insult is it to offer medicine to a man in health; or pardon to a man who has violated no law! And there would be the same insult in offering salvation to a man who was not a sinner, and who did not need forgiveness.

(b) The dignity of the sufferer, and the extent of his sufferings, prove that all were under a deep and dreadful load of guilt. Such a being would not have come to die unless the race had been apostate; nor would he have endured so great sorrows unless a deep and dreadful malady had spread over the world. The deep anxiety; the tears; the toils; the sufferings, and the groans of the Redeemer, show what was his sense of the condition of man, and prove that he regarded them as degraded, fallen, and lost. And if the Son of God, who knows all hearts, regarded them as lost, they are lost. He was not mistaken in regard to the character of man, and he did not lay down his life under the influence of delusion and error. If to the view which has been taken of this important passage it be objected that the work of the atonement must have been to a large extent in vain; that it has actually been applied to but comparatively a small portion of the human family, and that it is unreasonable to suppose that God would suffer so great sorrows to be endured for nothing, we may reply:

(1) That it may not have been in vain, though it may have been rejected by a large portion of mankind. There may have been other purposes accomplished by it besides the direct salvation of people. It was doing much when it rendered it consistent for God to offer salvation to all; it is much that God could be seen to be just and yet pardoning the sinner; it was much when his determined hatred of sin, and His purpose to honor His Law, was evinced; and in regard to the benevolence and justice of God to other beings and to other worlds, much, very much was gained, though all the human race had rejected the plan and been lost, and in regard to all these objects, the plan was not in vain, and the sufferings of the Redeemer were not for nothing. But,

(2) It is in accordance with what we see everywhere, when much that God does seems to our eyes, though not to his, to be in vain. How much rain falls on ever sterile sands or on barren rocks, to our eyes in vain! What floods of light are poured each day on barren wastes, or untraversed oceans, to our eyes in vain! How many flowers shed forth their fragrance in the wilderness, and ‘waste their sweetness on the desert air,” to us apparently for nothing! How many pearls lie useless in the ocean; how much gold and silver in the earth; how many diamonds amidst rocks to us unknown, and apparently in vain! How many lofty trees rear their heads in the untraversed wilderness, and after standing for centuries fall on the earth and decay, to our eyes in vain! And how much medicinal virtue is created by God each year in the vegetable world that is unknown to man, and that decays and is lost without removing any disease, and that seems to be created in vain! And how long has it been before the most valuable medicines have been found out, and applied to alleviating pain, or removing disease! Year after year, and age after age, they existed in a suffering world, and people died perhaps within a few yards of the medicine which would have relieved or saved them, but it was unknown, or if known disregarded. But times were coming when their value would he appreciated, and when they would be applied to benefit the sufferer. So with the plan of salvation. It may be rejected, and the sufferings of the Redeemer may seem to have been for nothing. But they will yet be of value to mankind; and when the time shall come for the whole world to embrace the Saviour, there will be found no lack of sufficiency in the plan of redemption, and in the merits of the Redeemer to save all the race.

(A measure of truth is, doubtless, involved in this controversy concerning the universality of atonement; and the discussion of the subject in America, and more recently in this country, cannot fail ultimately to produce the most beneficial results. Yet we must express our conviction, that the seeming difference of opinion among evangelical people, has arisen from mutual misunderstanding, and that misunderstanding from the use of ambiguous phraseology. One says, Christ died for all people. No, says another, for the elect only. The dispute goes on and on, until at last the discovery is made, that while the same words were used by the disputants, each attached his own meaning to them. This ambiguity is painfully felt in the treatise of a distinguished writer, who has recently appeared on the limited side of the question. He does not explain, until he has advanced very far in the discussion, what sense be attaches to the common phraseology of “Christ dying for all men.”

He tells us afterward, however, that he understands it in the highest sense of securing salvation for them; when we are convinced, that much of the argument might have been spared, or at all events better directed, than against a position which few or none maintain. The author is himself sensible of this. “The question,” says he, “might, perhaps, have been settled at the outset by a careful definition of terms; but I have purposely deferred doing so, judging, that it might be done with better effect as the discussion proceeded. In speaking of the Saviour’s dying for people, or dying for sinners, I have used the expression in what I conceive to be the strict and proper meaning, namely, as signifying his dying with an intention to save them. This, however, is not the only meaning the expression will bear, For all people, for sinners in general, the Saviour died. He died in their nature, he died in their stead, he died doing honor to the Law which they had violated; in other words, he died removing every legal obstruction that lay in the way of their obtaining life.”

The Death of Christ the Redemption of his People, p. 70. Now, it is only in this last sense, that any rational advocate of general aspect in the atonement will maintain that Christ died for all people. Nor could he desire better language in which to express his views, than that which is furnished in the above quotation. That the atonement has certain general aspects is now nearly admitted on all hands. “General it must be in some sense,” says the author already quoted, “if in some sense it be applicable to all, and that this is the case the foregoing statement undeniably proves,” p. 68. The general aspect of the atonement is argued, from those well-known passages in which it is declared to have a reference to people, all people, the world, and the whole world. The reader will find some of these passages quoted above in the commentary. Of this universal phraseology various explanations have been given.

Some have supplied the qualifying adjective “elect” in these places, where the design of atonement is said to embrace the “world.” Modern writers of the highest name, however, and on both sides of the question, have vied with each other in their indignant repudiation of any such expletive. “I have felt myself,” says Dr. Wardlaw, “far from satisfied with a common way of interpreting some of those texts which express the extent of the atonement in universal terms by means of a convenient supplement. According to this method of explanation, the world is, in such occurrences of it, made to signify the ‘elect world,’ the word ‘elect’ being inserted as a supplement, conceived to be necessary for the consistency of scripture. An ‘elect world’ indeed, has become a phrase in common use with a particular class of commentators and divines; being employed with as much matter of course freedom, as if it had actually had the sanction of ordinary usage in the sacred volume; but it is not to be found there.”

And subjoins Dr. Marshall, writing on the limited side of the question, “It certainly is not to be found there, and with every word of this well-deserved censure I cordially agree.” Here then is one principle of interpretation fairly exploded, and few nowadays will have the hardihood to espouse it. Again, the phraseology has been explained of the world of Jews and Gentiles indiscriminately, Gentiles as well as Jews; and those who adopt this view tell us, that the Jewish system was narrow and exclusive, embracing only one people, the progeny of Abraham; that it was the design of God, in the fullness of time, to enlarge his church and to receive within her ample arms people of all nations, Jew and Gentile, Barbarian and Scythian, bond and free; that the death of Christ was at once the fulfillment and abrogation of the typical system with all its special and exclusive rites; that by it the middle wall of partition between the Jew and the rest of the world was thrown down; that, therefore, it was natural to represent it as having a reference to all people and to the world, even when absolute universality was not and could not be intended. Such a vast enlargement of the scale on which spiritual blessings were now to be conferred, in consequence of the death of Christ, could not well have been expressed, it is alleged, in any other or in less universal terms. See this view of the subject well exhibited in Hill’s System, vol. ii., 2 Cor. 5.

To this principle of interpretation we have no great objection. There is doubtless much truth in it. It lends valuable assistance in the investigation of many passages. But is there not some sense in which that atonement has an aspect absolutely to all, and every man? As much we have seen admitted above. Now, if the Saviour “died in the nature and stead of all, removing every legal obstruction that lay in the way of their obtaining life,” how comes it to pass, that this universal aspect cannot be found in any of those confessedly the most universal passages in the Bible? If it be true, it must be found somewhere in the scriptures, and nowhere so likely, as in this class of texts; and the language, moreover, is just such as is naturally suited to express this sense. While then we allow, that the phraseology in question may be in part explained by the admission of Gentiles as well as Jews into the kingdom of God; we maintain at the same time, that there is nothing in it which prevents us from including all in each of those divisions of mankind. Nay, if the apostles had wished to express this idea, how otherwise could they have done it? “Say if you will,” says Dr. Wardlaw, commenting on Joh_3:16-17, “that the ‘world’ means Jews and Gentiles, still if it is not any definite number of Jews and Gentiles, it is Jews and Gentiles as together composing the world of mankind.”

That the atonement, indeed, has a certain benign aspect toward all people, appears from its very nature. The exact equivalent view, as it has been not inappropriately termed, is now nearly abandoned. Rarely do we find any one affirming, that Christ endured exactly what the elect would have suffered and deserved, and that, therefore, there can be sufficiency in his death for that favored number and for none besides. What then is the light in which the atonement of Christ ought to be viewed? We think the only rational and scriptural account of it, is that which regards it as a great remedial scheme, which rendered it consistent with the divine honor and all the interests of the divine administration, to extend mercy to guilty people at large, and which would have been equally requisite, had there been an intention to save one only, or a million; numbers indeed not forming any part of the question. Here then is something done, which removes legal obstructions and thereby opens the way to heaven for all. And if any do not enter in, their inability is moral, and lies not in any insufficiency of the divine provision. This view, however, seems to furnish a just foundation for the universality of gospel invitations, while it fastens the guilt of rejecting gospel provision on the sinner himself.

Thus far we feel disposed to agree with our author in his commentary, or rather dissertation on the verse and the subject it involves. We maintain, however, that the atonement has a special as well as a general aspect; that while it is gloriously true that it looks to all people, it has at the same time a special regard to some. We object, therefore, to the statement, “that the atonement in itself considered had no limitation and no particular reference to any class or condition of people, and no particular applicability to one class more than to another.” This is similar to certain rash assertions that have recently been current in our own country; as that “while the atonement opens the door of mercy to all, it secures salvation to none;” that “Christ died as much for those who perish, as for those who are saved.” We cannot envy that reputation for acuteness which may be gained by the free use of such language.

Is it not God’s design to save his people? Is not the atonement the means by which he does so, the means by which the purpose of electing love is fulfilled? And yet has that atonement no special reference to the elect? Further, if it be the means of saving them, does it not secure their salvation? Certainly, among people, if any effectual means were devised to accomplish a particular end, that end would be said to be secured by such means. The writer is aware of the ingenious evasion, that it is God’s gracious purpose to apply the atonement, and not the atonement itself, that connects it with the elect, and secures their salvation. We are told, moreover, that we should look on the atonement by itself, and consider it in a philosophical way. The purpose to apply is an after arrangement. But first, a purpose to apply the atonement to a special class, differs in nothing from an original design to save such class by it, for that purpose must have been present to the mind of God in determining on atonement. To say that God saves a certain number by the atonement, and that yet in making it he had no special design in their favor, however it may recommend itself to philosophical refinement, will always be rejected by the common sense of mankind. Second. If we must consider the atonement apart from any special purpose connected with it, why not divest it also of any general purpose, that we may look on it steadily per se, and in this way reduce it to a mere abstraction, about which nothing could be either affirmed or denied?

The advocates of universal atonement, or some of the more forward among them, have recently carried out their views so far, as to deny that God in providing the atonement, or Christ in making it, had any special love to the elect. An eminent writer on that side, however, to whom reference has already been made, while he goes the length of denying special design, maintains the existence of special love, and administers a reproof to those of his own party, who go to this extreme. This is indeed an important concession, for special love is not very different from special design, nor is it easy to see how, in the mind of God, the one could subsist with out the other. “The love of the Father is the same thing as election. Election is nothing but the love of the Father formed into a purpose” – Marshall. Or the point may be put in this way. Had God in providing the atonement special love to the elect? Where is the proof of it? Doubtless in that very provision. But if God in making it had no design to save them by it, the proof is not only weakened but destroyed. Special love, therefore, necessarily involves special design.

To do away with anything like speciality of design, much has been said on the order of the divine decrees, especially as to whether the decree of atonement, or that of election, be first in order of nature. If that of atonement be first, it is asserted speciality is out of the question, as that is secured only by election, which is a posterior arrangement. On this subject it is more easy to darken counsel by words without knowledge, than to speak intelligibly. It may be fairly questioned, if those who have written most on it, fully understand themselves. Nor can we help lamenting, that so great a part of the controversy should have been made to turn on this point, which has hitherto eluded the grasp of the most profound, and drawn the controvertists into regions of thought, too high for the boldest flights of human intellect. After all that can be said on the subject, it must be allowed that the whole arrangement connected with the salvation of man, existed simultaneously in the mind of God, nor will anyone rise much wiser from inquiries into which was first and which last.

The truth on the whole subject, then, seems to be, that while the atonement has a general reference toward all, it has at the same time a special reference to the elect of God, or as it is well expressed in a recent synodical decision, “The Saviour in making the atonement bore special covenant relation to the elect; had a special love to them, and infallibly secured their everlasting salvation, while his obedience unto death, afforded such a satisfaction to the justice of God, as that on the ground of it, in consistency with his character and law, the door of mercy is open to all people, and a full and free salvation is presented for their acceptance.” The special aspect, indeed, ought no more to be denied than the general. It rests on a large number of what may be called special texts; as, “Christ also loved the Church and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it,” etc. “For the transgression of my people was he stricken.” “I lay down my life for the sheep,” Eph_5:25; Isa_53:8; Joh_10:15.

Nor will it do to say of this numerous class of passages, that they find a sufficient explanation in the purpose of application, which is connected with the remedy for sin, since most of them are of a kind that connect the salvation of the elect directly with the atonement itself, and not with any after design of applying it. This idea seems but an ingenious shift to sustain a favorite theory. How direct, for example, is this connection in the following passage: “who loved me and gave himself for me.” No one who had not a theory to support, would ever think of introducing an after design of application to explain this. Indeed, as an able reviewer in one of our periodicals observes of the scheme that excludes a special design, “it separates too much the atonement from the salvation of man. It does not connect those that are saved, those that are regenerated by divine grace, at all specially with the sacrifice of Christ.” Another important branch of evidence on this point, lies in the special relation which Christ in dying sustained toward his people, as that of shepherd, husband, surety, etc., and which cannot be explained on any other principle than that of special design.

If the question were put, how we preserve our consistency, in thus maintaining both the general and special view, we reply, first, that if both views are found in scripture, it matters not whether we can explain the consistency between them or no. But second, it is not so difficult as some would imagine, to conceive of God appointing a remedy with a general aspect toward the race, but specially intended to secure the salvation of his chosen people.)

Then were all dead – All dead in sin; that is, all were sinners. The fact that he died for all proves that all were transgressors. The word “dead” is not unfrequently used in the scriptures to denote the condition of sinners; see Eph_2:1. It means not that sinners are in all senses, and in all respects like a lifeless corpse, for they are not. They are still moral agents, and have a conscience. and are capable of thinking, and speaking, and acting. It does not mean that they have no more power than one in the grave, for they have more power. But it means that there is a striking similarity, in some respects, between one who is dead and a sinner. That similarity does not extend to everything, but in many respects it is very striking.

(1) the sinner is as insensible to the glories of the heavenly world, and the appeals of the gospel, as a corpse is to what is going on around or above it. The body that lies in the grave is insensible to the voice of friendship, and the charms of music, and the hum of business, and the plans of gain and ambition; and so the sinner is insensible to all the glories of the heavenly world, and to all the appeals that are made to him, and to all the warnings of God. He lives as though there were no heaven and no hell; no God and no Saviour.

(2) there is need of the same divine power to convert a sinner which is needful to raise up the dead. The same cause does not exist, making the existence of that power necessary, but it is a fact that a sinner will no more be converted by his own power than a dead man will rise from the grave by his own power. No man ever yet was converted without direct divine agency, anymore than Lazarus was raised without divine agency. And there is no more just or melancholy description which can be given of man, than to say that he is dead in sins. He is insensible to all the appeals that God makes to him; he is insensible to all the sufferings of the Saviour, and to all the glories of heaven; he lives as though these did not exist, or as though he had no concern in them; his eyes see no more beauty in them than the sightless eyeballs of the dead do in the material world; his ear is as inattentive to the calls of God and the gospel as the ear of the dead is to the voice of friendship or the charms of melody; and in a world that is full of God, and that might be full of hope, he is living without God and without hope.

Adam Clarke
2Co 5:15
And that he died for all, that they which live, etc. – This third position he draws from the preceding: If all were dead, and in danger of endless perdition; and if he died for all, to save them from that perdition; then it justly follows that they are not their own, that they are bought by his blood; and should not live unto themselves, for this is the way to final ruin; but unto him who died for them, and thus made an atonement for their sins, and rose again for their justification.

Albert Barnes
2Co 5:15
And that he died for all … – This verse is designed still further to explain the reasons of the conduct of the apostle. He had not lived for himself. He had not lived to amass wealth, or to enjoy pleasure, or to obtain a reputation. He had lived a life of self-denial, and of toil; and he here states the reason why he had done it. It was because he felt that the great purpose of the death of the Redeemer was to secure this result. To that Saviour, therefore, who died for all, he consecrated his talents and his time, and sought in every way possible to promote his glory.

That they which live – They who are true Christians, who are made alive unto God as the result of the dying love of the Redeemer. Sinners are dead in sins. Christians are alive to the worth of the soul, the presence of God, the importance of religion, the solemnities of eternity; that is, they act and feel as if these things had a real existence and as if they should exert a constant influence upon the heart and life.

(“They which live.” This spiritual life, doubtless, implies that a man is alive to the worth of the soul, the presence of God, etc.; but it intimates something deeper too, which is the foundation of those things, and without which they could not exist. Scott paraphrases thus, “were quickened and pardoned, and so passed from death to life;” and Guyse still more explicitly, “were made supernaturally alive by his quickening spirit and by faith in him.” This is the root; the things mentioned in the comment, the fruit; this the cause, these only the effects.)

It is observable that Paul makes a distinction here between those for whom Christ died and those who actually “live,” thus demonstrating that there may be many for whom he died who do not live to God, or who are not savingly benefitted by his death. The atonement was for all, but only a part are actually made alive to God. Multitudes reject it; but the fact that he died for all; that he tasted death for every man, that he not only died for the elect but for all others, that his benevolence was so great as to embrace the whole human family in the design of his death, is a reason why they who are actually made alive to God should consecrate themselves entirely to his service. The fact that he died for all evinced such unbounded and infinite benevolence that it should induce us who are actually benefitted by his death, and who have any just views of it, to devote all that we have to his service.

Should not henceforth live unto themselves – Should not seek our own ease and pleasure; should not make it our great object to promote our own interest, but should make it the grand purpose of our lives to promote his honor, and to advance his cause. This is a vital principle in religion, and it is exceedingly important to know what is meant by living to ourselves, and whether we do it. It is done in the following, and perhaps in some other ways:

(1) When people seek pleasure, gain, or reputation as the controlling principle of their lives.

(2) when they are regardless of the rights of others, and sacrifice all the claims which others have on them in order to secure the advancement of their own purposes and ends.

(3) when they are regardless of the needs of others, and turn a deaf ear to all the appeals which charity makes to them, and have no time to give to serve them, and no money to spare to alleviate their needs; and especially when they turn a deaf ear to the appeals which are made for the diffusion of the gospel to the benighted and perishing.

(4) when their main purpose is the aggrandizement of their own families, for their families are but a diffusion of self. And,

(5) When they seek their own salvation only from selfish motives, and not from a desire to honor God. Multitudes are selfish even in their religion; and the main purpose which they have in view, is to promote their own objects, and not the honor of the Master whom they profess to serve. They seek and profess religion only because they desire to escape from wrath, and to obtain the happiness of heaven, and not from any love to the Redeemer or any desire to honor him, Or they seek to build up the interests of their own church and party, and all their zeal is expended on that and that alone, without any real desire to honor the Saviour. Or though in the church, they are still selfish, and live wholly to themselves. They live for fashion, for gain, for reputation. They practice no self-denial; they make no effort; to advance the cause of God the Saviour.

But unto him … – Unto the Lord Jesus Christ. To live to him is the opposite to living unto ourselves. It is to seek his honor; to feel that we belong to him; that all our time and talents; all our strength of intellect and body; all the avails of our skill and toil, all belong to him, and should be employed in his service. If we have talents by which we can influence other minds, they should be employed to honor the Saviour. If we have skill, or strength to labor by which we can make money, we should feel that it all belongs to him, and should be employed in his service. If we have property, we should feel that it is his, and that he has a claim upon it all, and that it should be honestly consecrated to his cause. And if we are endowed with a spirit of enterprise, and are suited by nature to encounter perils in distant and barbarious climes, as Paul was, we should feel like him that we are bound to devote all entirely to his service, and to the promotion of his cause.

A servant, a slave, does not live to himself but to his master. His person, his time, his limbs, his talents, and the avails of his industry are not regarded as his own. He is judged incapable of holding any property which is not at the disposal of his master. If he has strength, it is his master’s. If he has skill, the avails of it are his master’s. If he is an ingenious mechanic, or labors in any department; if he is amiable, kind, gentle, and faithful, and adapted to be useful in an eminent degree, it is regarded as all the property of his master. He is bound to go where his master chooses; to execute the task which he assigns; to deny himself at his master’s will; and to come and lay the avails of all his toil and skill at his master’s feet. He is regarded as having been purchased with money; and the purchase money is supposed to give a right to his time, his talents, his services, and his soul. Such as the slave is supposed to become by purchase, and by the operation of human laws, the Christian becomes by the purchase of the Son of God, and by the voluntary recognition of him as the master, and as having a right to all that we have and are. To him all belongs; and all should be employed in endeavoring to promote his glory, and in advancing his cause.

Which died for them, and rose again – Paul here states the grounds of the obligation under which he felt himself placed, to live not unto himself but unto Christ.

(1) the first is, the fact that Christ had died for him, and for all his people. The effect of that death was the same as a purchase. It was a purchase; see the note, 1Co_6:20; 1Co_7:23; compare 1Pe_1:18-19.

(2) the second is, that he had risen again from the dead. To this fact Paul traced all his hopes of eternal life, and of the resurrection from the dead; see Rom_4:25. As we have the hope of the resurrection from the dead only from the fact that he rose; as he has “brought life and immortality to light,” and hath in this way “abolished death” 2Ti_1:10; as all the prospect of entering a world where there is no death and no grave is to be traced to the resurrection of the Saviour, so we are bound by every obligation of gratitude to devote ourselves without any reserve to him. To him, and him alone should we live; and in his cause our lives should be, as Paul’s was, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable in his sight.

John Calvin
2Co 5:16
16.Therefore we henceforth know no man.To know, here, is taken as meaning to reckon. “We do not judge according to external appearance, so as to reckon that man to be the most illustrious who seems so in appearance.” Under the term flesh, he includes all external endowments which mankind are accustomed to hold in estimation; and, in short, every thing which, apart from regeneration, is reckoned worthy of praise. At the same time, he speaks more particularly of outward disguise, or appearance, as it is termed. He alludes, also, without doubt, to the death of which he had made mention. “Since we ought, all of us, to be dead to the present life, nay more, to be nothing in ourselves, no one must be reckoned a servant of Christ on the ground of carnal excellence.”

Nay, though we have known Christ.The meaning is — “Though Christ lived for a time in this world, and was known by mankind in those things that have to do with the condition of the present life, he must now be known in another way — spiritually, so that we may have no worldly thoughts respecting him.” This passage is perverted by some fanatics, such as Servetus, for the purpose of proving, that Christ’s human nature is now absorbed by the Divinity. But how very far removed such a frenzy is from the Apostle’s intention, it is not difficult to perceive; for he speaks here, not of the substance of his body, but of external appearance, nor does he affirm that the flesh is no longer perceived by us in Christ, but says, that Christ is not judged of from that.

Scripture proclaims throughout, that Christ does now as certainly lead a glorious life in our flesh, as he once suffered in it. Nay more, take away this foundation, and our whole faith falls to the ground; for whence comes the hope of immortality, except from this, that we have already a pattern of it in the person of Christ? For as righteousness is restored to us on this ground, that Christ, by fulfilling the law in our nature, has abolished Adam’s disobedience, so also life has been restored to us by this means, that he has opened up for our nature the kingdom of God, from which it had been banished, and has given it a place in the heavenly dwelling. Hence, if we do not now recognize Christ’s flesh, we lose the whole of that confidence and consolation that we ought to have in him. But we acknowledge Christ as man, and as our brother in his flesh — not in a fleshly manner; because we rest solely in the consideration of his spiritual gifts. Hence he is spiritual to us, not as if he laid aside the body, and became a spirit, but because he regenerates and governs his own people by the influence of his Spirit.

Albert Barnes
2Co 5:16
Wherefore henceforth – In view of the fact that the Lord Jesus died for all people, and rose again. The effect of that has been to change all our feelings, and to give us entirely new views of people, of ourselves, and of the Messiah, so that we have become new creatures. The word “henceforth” (απο του νυν apo tou nun) means properly from the present time; but there is no impropriety in supposing that Paul refers to the time when he first obtained correct views of the Messiah, and that he means from that time. His mind seems to have been thrown back to the period when these new views burst upon his soul; and the sentiment is, that from the time when he obtained those new views, he had resolved to know no one after the flesh.

Know we no man – The word “know” here (οιδαμεν oidamen) is used in the sense of, we form our estimate of; we judge; we are influenced by. Our estimate of man is formed by other views than according to the flesh.

After the flesh – A great many different interpretations have been proposed of this expression, which it is not needful here to repeat. The meaning is, probably, that in his estimate of people he was not influenced by the views which are taken by those who are unrenewed, and who are unacquainted with the truths of redemption. It may include a great many things, and perhaps the following:

(1) He was not influenced in his estimate of people by a regard to their birth, or country. He did not form an attachment to a Jew because he was a Jew, or to a Gentile because he was a Gentile. He had learned that Christ died for all, and he felt disposed to regard all alike.

(2) he was not influenced in his estimate of people by their rank, and wealth, and office. Before his conversion he had been, but now he learned to look on their moral character, and to regard that as making the only permanent, and really important distinction among people. He did not esteem one man highly because he was of elevated rank, or of great wealth, and another less because he was of a different rank in life.

(3) it may also include the idea, that he had left his own kindred and friends on account of superior attachment to Christ. He had parted from them to preach the gospel. He was not restrained by their opinions; he was not kept from going from land to land by love to them. It is probable that they remained Jews. It may be, that they were opposed to him, and to his efforts in the cause of the Redeemer. It may be that they would have dismissed him from a work so self-denying, and so arduous, and where he would be exposed to so much persecution and contempt. It may be that they would have set before him the advantages of his birth and education; would have reminded him of his early brilliant prospects; and would have used all the means possible to dissuade him from embarking in a cause like that in which he was engaged. The passage here means that Paul was influenced by none of these considerations.

In early life he had been. He had prided himself on rank, and on talent. He was proud of his own advantages as a Jew; and he estimated worth by rank, and by national distinction, Phi_3:4-6. He had despised Christians on account of their being the followers of the man of Nazareth: and there can be no reason to doubt that he partook of the common feelings of his countrymen and held in contempt the whole Gentile world. But his views were changed – so much changed as to make it proper to say that he was a new creature, 2Co_5:17. When converted, he did not confer with flesh and blood Gal_1:16; and in the school of Christ, he had learned that if a man was his disciple, he must be willing to forsake father and mother. and sister and brother, and to hate his own life that he might honor him, Luk_14:26. He had formed his principle of action now from a higher standard than any regard to rank, or wealth, or national distinction; and had risen above them all, and now estimated people not by these external and factitious advantages, but by a reference to their personal character and moral worth.

Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh – Though in common with the Jewish nation we expected a Messiah who would be a temporal prince, and who would be distinguished for the distinctions which are valued among people, yet we have changed our estimate of him, and judge of him in this way no longer. There can be no doubt that Paul, in common with his countrymen, had expected a Messiah who would be a magnificent temporal prince and conqueror, one who they supposed would be a worthy successor of David and Solomon. The coming of such a prince, Paul had confidently expected. He expected no other Messiah. He had fixed his hopes on that. This is what is meant by the expression ‘to know Christ after the flesh.’ It does not mean that he had seen him in the flesh, but that he had formed, so to speak, carnal views of him, and such as people of this world regard as grand and magnificent in a monarch and conqueror. He had had no correct views of his spiritual character, and of the pure and holy purposes for which he would come into the world.

Yet now henceforth know we him no more – We know him no more in this manner. Our conceptions and views of him are changed. We no more regard him according to the flesh; we no longer esteem the Messiah who was to come as a temporal prince and warrior; but we look on him as a spiritual Saviour, a Redeemer from sin. The idea is, that his views of him had been entirely changed. It does not mean, as our translation would seem to imply, that Paul would have no further acquaintance with Christ, but it means that from the moment of his conversion he had laid aside all his views of his being a temporal sovereign, and all his feelings that he was to be honored only because he supposed that he would have an elevated rank among the monarchs of the earth. Locke and Macknight, it seems to me, have strangely mistaken this passage. The former renders it, “For if I myself have gloried in this, that Christ was himself circumcised as I am, and was of my blood and nation, I do so now no more any longer,” The same substantially is the view of Macknight. Clarke as strangely mistakes it, when he says that it means that Paul could not prize now a man who was a sinner because he was allied to the royal family of David, nor prize a man because he had seen Christ in the flesh.

The correct view, as it seems to me, is given above. And the doctrine which is taught here is, that at conversion, the views are essentially changed, and that the converted man has a view of the Saviour entirely different from what he had before. He may not, like Paul, have regarded him as a temporal prince; he may not have looked to him as a mighty monarch, but his views in regard to his person, character, work, and loveliness will be entirely changed. He will see a beauty in his character which he never saw before. Before, he regarded him as a root out of dry ground; as the despised man of Nazareth; as having nothing in his character to be desired, or to render him lovely Isa_53:1-12; but at conversion the views are changed. He is seen to be the chief among ten thousand and altogether lovely; as pure, and holy, and benevolent; as mighty, and great, and glorious; as infinitely benevolent; as lovely in his precepts, lovely in his life, lovely in his death, lovely in his resurrection, and as most glorious as he is seated on the right hand of God. He is seen to be a Saviour exactly adapted to the condition and needs of the soul; and the soul yields itself to him to be redeemed by him alone.

There is no change of view so marked and decided as that of the sinner in regard to the Lord Jesus Christ at his conversion; and it is a clear proof that we have never been born again if our views in reference to him have never undergone any change. “What think ye of Christ?” is a question the answer to which will determine any man’s character, and demonstrate whether he is or is not a child of God. Tyndale has more correctly expressed the sense of this than our translation.” Though we have known Christ after the flesh, now henceforth know we him so no more.”

John Calvin
2Co 5:17
17.Therefore if any man is in Christ.As there is something wanting in this expression, it must be supplied in this way — “If any one is desirous to hold some place in Christ,that is, in the kingdom of Christ, or in the Church let him be a new creature” By this expression he condemns every kind of excellence that is wont to be in much esteem among men, if renovation of heart is wanting. “Learning, it is true, and eloquence, and other endowments, are valuable, and worthy to be honored; but, where the fear of the Lord and an upright conscience are wanting, all the honor of them goes for nothing. Let no one, therefore, glory in any distinction, inasmuch as the chief praise of Christians is self-renunciation.”

Nor is this said merely for the purpose of repressing the vanity of the false apostles, but also with the view of correcting the ambitious judgments of the Corinthians, in which outward disguises were of more value than real sincerity — though this is a fault that is common to almost all ages. For where shall we find the man that does not attach much more importance to show, than to true holiness? Let us, therefore, keep in view this admonition — that all that are not renewed by the Spirit of God, should be looked upon as nothing in the Church, by whatever ornaments they may in other respects be distinguished.

Old things are passed away.When the Prophets speak of the kingdom of Christ, they foretell that there will be new heavens and a new earth, (Isa_65:17,) meaning thereby, that all things will be changed for the better, until the happiness of the pious is completed. As, however, Christ’s kingdom is spiritual, this change must take place chiefly in the Spirit, and hence it is with propriety that he begins with this. There is, therefore, an elegant and appropriate allusion, when Paul makes use of a commendation of this kind, for the purpose of setting forth the value of regeneration. Now by old things he means, the things that are not formed anew by the Spirit of God. Hence this term is placed in contrast with renewing grace. The expression passed away, he uses in the sense of fading away, as things that are of short duration are wont to fall off, when they have passed their proper season. Hence it is only the new man, that flourishes and is vigorous in the kingdom of Christ.

Adam Clarke
2Co 5:17
If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature – It is vain for a man to profess affinity to Christ according to the flesh, while he is unchanged in his heart and life, and dead in trespasses and sins; for he that is in Christ, that is, a genuine Christian, having Christ dwelling in his heart by faith, is a new creature; his old state is changed: he was a child of Satan, he is now a child of God; he was a slave of sin, and his works were death; he is now made free from sin, and has his fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. He was before full of pride and wrath; he is now meek and humble. He formerly had his portion in this life, and lived for this world alone; he now hath God for his portion, and he looks not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are eternal. Therefore, old things are passed away.

Behold, all things are become new – The man is not only mended, but he is new made; he is a new creature, καινη κτισις, a new creation, a little world in himself; formerly, all was in chaotic disorder; now, there is a new creation, which God himself owns as his workmanship, and which he can look on and pronounce very good. The conversion of a man from idolatry and wickedness was among the Jews denominated a new creation. He who converts a man to the true religion is the same, says R. Eliezer, as if he had created him.

Albert Barnes
2Co 5:17
Therefore if any man be in Christ – The phrase to “be in Christ,” evidently means to be united to Christ by faith; or to be in him as the branch is in the vine – that is, so united to the vine, or so in it, as to derive all its nourishment and support from it, and to be sustained entirely by it. Joh_15:2, “every branch in me.” Joh_15:4, “abide in me, and I in you.” “The branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine; no more can ye except ye abide in me.” See also Joh_15:5-7, see the note on Joh_15:2. To be “in Christ” denotes a more tender and close union; and implies that all our support is from him. All our strength is derived from him; and denotes further that we shall partake of his fullness, and share in his felicity and glory, as the branch partakes of the strength and vigor of the parent vine. The word “therefore” (Ωστε Hoste) here implies that the reason why Paul infers that anyone is a new creature who is in Christ is that which is stated in the previous verse; to wit, the change of views in regard to the Redeemer to which he there refers, and which was so great as to constitute a change like a new creation. The affirmation here is universal, “if any man be in Christ;” that is, all who become true Christians – undergo such a change in their views and feelings as to make it proper to say of them that they are new creatures. No matter what they have been before, whether moral or immoral; whether infidels or speculative believers; whether amiable, or debased, sensual and polluted yet if they become Christians they all experience such a change as to make it proper to say they are a new creation.

A new creature – Margin, “Let him be.” This is one of the instances in which the margin has given a less correct translation than is in the text. The idea evidently is, not that he ought to be a new creature, but that he is in fact; not that he ought to live as becomes a new creature – which is true enough – but that he will in fact live in that way, and manifest the characteristics of the new creation. The phrase “a new creature” καινη κτισις kaine ktisis) occurs also in Gal_6:15. The word rendered “creature” (κτίσις ktisis) means properly in the New Testament, creation. It denotes:

(1) The act of creating Rom_1:20;

(2) A created thing, a creature Rom_1:25; and refers:

(a) To the universe, or creation in general; Mar_10:6; Mar_13:9-11; 1Pe_3:4.

(b) To man, mankind; Mar_16:15; Col_1:23.

Here it means a new creation in a moral sense, and the phrase new creature is equivalent to the expression in Eph_4:24, “The new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” It means, evidently, that there is a change produced in the renewed heart of man that is equivalent to the act of creation, and that bears a strong resemblance to it – a change, so to speak, as if the man was made over again, and had become new. The mode or manner in which it is done is not described, nor should the words be pressed to the quick, as if the process were the same in both cases – for the words are here evidently figurative. But the phrase implies evidently the following things:

(1) That there is an exertion of divine power in the conversion of the sinner as really as in the act of creating the world out of nothing, and that this is as indispensable in the one case as in the other.

(2) that a change is produced so great as to make it proper to say that he is a new man. He has new views, new motives, new principles, new objects and plans of life. He seeks new purposes, and he lives for new ends.

If a drunkard becomes reformed, there is no impropriety in saying that he is a new man. If a man who was licentious becomes pure, there is no impropriety in saying that he is not the same man that he was before. Such expressions are common in all languages, and they are as proper as they are common. There is such a change as to make the language proper. And so in the conversion of a sinner. There is a change so deep, so clear, so entire, and so abiding, that it is proper to say, here is a new creation of God – a work of the divine power as decided and as glorious as when God created all things out of nothing. There is no other moral change that takes place on earth so deep, and radical, and thorough as the change at conversion. And there is no other where there is so much propriety in ascribing it to the mighty power of God.

Old things are passed away – The old views in regard to the Messiah, and in regard to people in general, 2Co_5:16. But Paul also gives this a general form of expression, and says that old things in general have passed away – referring to everything. It was true of all who were converted that old things had passed away. And it may include the following things:

(1) In regard to the Jews – that their former prejudices against Christianity, their natural pride, and spirit of seducing others; their attachment to their rites and ceremonies, and dependence on them for salvation had all passed away. They now renounced that independence, relied on the merits of the Saviour, and embraced all as brethren who were of the family of Christ.

(2) in regard to the Gentiles – their attachment to idols, their love of sin and degradation, their dependence on their own works, had passed away, and they had renounced all these things, and had come to mingle their hopes with those of the converted Jews, and with all who were the friends of the Redeemer.

(3) in regard to all, it is also true that old things pass away. Their former prejudices, opinions, habits, attachments pass away. Their supreme love of self passes away. Their love of sins passes away. Their love of the world passes away. Their supreme attachment to their earthly friends rather than God passes away. Their love of sin, their sensuality, pride, vanity, levity, ambition, passes away. There is a deep and radical change on all these subjects – a change which commences at the new birth; which is carried on by progressive sanctification; and which is consummated at death and in heaven.

Behold, all things are become new – That is, all things in view of the mind. The purposes of life, the feelings of the heart, the principles of action, all become new. The understanding is consecrated to new objects, the body is employed in new service, the heart forms new attachments. Nothing can be more strikingly. descriptive of the facts in conversion than this; nothing more entirely accords with the feelings of the newborn soul. All is new. There are new views of God, and of Jesus Christ; new views of this world and of the world to come; new views of truth and of duty; and everything is seen in a new aspect and with new feelings. Nothing is more common in young converts than such feelings, and nothing is more common than for them to say that all things are new. The Bible seems to be a new book, and though they may have often read it before, yet there is a beauty about it which they never saw before, and which they wonder they have not before perceived. The whole face of nature seems to them to be changed, and they seem to be in a new world. The hills, and vales, and streams; the sun, the stars, the groves, the forests, seem to be new. A new beauty is spread over them all; and they now see them to be the work of God, and his glory is spread over them all, and they can now say: “My Father made them all.”

The heavens and the earth are filled with new wonders, and all things seem now to speak forth the praise of God. Even the very countenances of friends seem to be new; and there are new feelings toward all people; a new kind of love to kindred and friends; and a love before unfelt for enemies; and a new love for all mankind.

John Calvin
2Co 5:18
18.All things are of God.He means, all things that belong to Christ’s kingdom. “If we would be Christ’s, we must be regenerated by God. Now that is no ordinary gift.” He does not, therefore, speak here of creation generally; but of the grace of regeneration, which God confers peculiarly upon his elect, and he affirms that it is of God— not on the ground of his being the Creator and Artificer of heaven and earth, but inasmuch as he is the new Creator of the Church, by fashioning his people anew, according to his own image. Thus all flesh is abased, and believers are admonished that they must now live to God, inasmuch as they are a new creature. (2Co_5:17.) This they cannot do, unless they forget the world, as they are also no longer of the world, (Joh_17:16,) because they are of God

Who hath reconciled us Here there are two leading points — the one relating to the reconciliation of men with God; and the other, to the way in which we may enjoy the benefit of this reconciliation. Now these things correspond admirably with what goes before, for as the Apostle had given the preference to a good conscience above every kind of distinction, (2Co_5:11,) he now shows that the whole of the gospel tends to this. He shows, however, at the same time, the dignity of the Apostolical office, that the Corinthians may be instructed as to what they ought to seek in him, whereas they could not distinguish between true and false ministers, for this reason, that nothing but show delighted them. Accordingly, by making mention of this, he stirs them up to make greater proficiency in the doctrine of the gospel. For an absurd admiration of profane persons, who serve their own ambition rather than Christ, originates in our not knowing, what the office of the preaching of the gospel includes, or imports.

I now return to those two leading points that are here touched upon. The first is — that God hath reconciled us to himself by Christ This is immediately followed by the declaration — Because God was in Christ, and has in his person accomplished reconciliation. The manner is subjoined — By not imputing unto men their trespasses Again, there is annexed a second declaration — Because Christ having been made a sin-offering for our sins, has procured righteousness for us. The second part of the statement is — that the grace of reconciliation is applied to us by the gospel, that we may become partakers of it. Here we have a remarkable passage, if there be any such in any part of Paul’s writings. Hence it is proper, that we should carefully examine the words one by one.

The ministry of reconciliation Here we have an illustrious designation of the gospel, as being an embassy for reconciling men to God. It is also a singular dignity of ministers — that they are sent to us by God with this commission, so as to be messengers, and in a manner sureties. This, however, is not said so much for the purpose of commending ministers, as with a view to the consolation of the pious, that as often as they hear the gospel, they may know that God treats with them, and, as it were, stipulates with them as to a return to his grace. Than this blessing what could be more desirable? Let us therefore bear in mind, that this is the main design of the gospel — that whereas we are by nature children of wrath, (Eph_2:3,) we may, by the breaking up of the quarrel between God and us, be received by him into favor. Ministers are furnished with this commission, that they may bring us intelligence of so great a benefit, nay more, may assure us of God’s fatherly love towards us. Any other person, it is true, might also be a witness to us of the grace of God, but Paul teaches, that this office is specially intrusted to ministers. When, therefore, a duly ordained minister proclaims in the gospel, that God has been made propitious to us, he is to be listened to just as an ambassador of God, and sustaining, as they speak, a public character, and furnished with rightful authority for assuring us of this.

Albert Barnes
2Co 5:18
And all things are of God – This refers particularly to the things in question, the renewing of the heart, and the influences by which Paul had been brought to a state of willingness to forsake all, and to devote his life to the self-denying labors involved in the purpose of making the Saviour known. He makes the statement general, however, showing his belief that not only these things were produced by God, but that all things were under his direction, and subject to his control. Nothing that he had done was to be traced to his own agency or power, but God was to be acknowledged everywhere. This great truth Paul never forgot; and he never suffered himself to lose sight of it. It was in his view a cardinal and glorious truth; and he kept its influence always before his mind and his heart. In the important statement which follows, therefore, about the ministry of reconciliation, he deeply feels that the whole plan, and all the success which has attended the plan, was to be traced not to his zeal, or fidelity, or skill, but to the agency of God; see the note on 1Co_3:6-7.

Who hath reconciled us to himself – The word “us” here includes, doubtless, all who were Christians – whether Jews or Gentiles, or whatever was their rank. They had all been brought into a state of reconciliation, or agreement with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Before they were opposed to God. They had violated His laws. They were his enemies. But by the means of the plan of salvation they had been brought into a state of agreement, or harmony, and were united in feeling and in aim with him. Two people who have been alienated by prejudice, by passion, or by interest, are reconciled when the cause of the alienation is removed, on whichever side it may have existed, or if on both sides, and when they lay aside their enmity and become friends. Thenceforward they are agreed, and live together without alienation, heart-burnings, jealousies, and strife. So between God and man. There was a variance; there was an alienation.

Man was alienated from God. He had no love for Him. He disliked His government and laws. He was unwilling to be restrained. He sought his own pleasure. He was proud, vain, self-confident. He was not pleased with the character of God, or with his claims, or his plans. And in like manner, God was displeased with the pride, the sensuality, the rebellion, the haughtiness of man. He was displeased that His Law had been violated, and that man had cast off his government. Now reconciliation could take place only when these causes of alienation should be laid aside, and when God and man should be brought to harmony; when man should lay aside his love of sin, and should be pardoned, and when, therefore, God could consistently treat him as a friend. The Greek word which is used here (καταλλασσω katallasso) means properly to change against anything; to exchange for anything, for money, or for any article – Robinson. In the New Testament it means to change one person toward another; that is, to reconcile to anyone; see the note on Rom_5:10.

It conveys the idea of producing a change so that one who is alienated should be brought to friendship. Of course, all the change which takes place must be on the part of man, for God will not change, and the purpose of the plan of reconciliation is to effect such a change in man as to make him in fact reconciled to God, and at agreement with him. There were indeed obstacles to reconciliation on the part of God, but they did not arise from any unwillingness to be reconciled; from any reluctance to treat his creature as his friend; but they arose from the fact that man had sinned, and that God was just; that such is the perfection of God that He cannot treat the good and evil alike; and that, therefore, if He should treat man as His friend, it was necessary that in some proper way He should maintain the honor of His Law, and show His hatred of sin, and should secure the conversion and future obedience of the offender.

All this God proposed to secure by the atonement made by the Redeemer, rendering it consistent for him to exercise the benevolence of his nature, and to pardon the offender. But God is not changed. The plan of reconciliation has made no change in his character. It has not made him a different being from what he was before. There is often a mistake on this subject; and people seem to suppose that God was originally stern, and unmerciful, and inexorable, and that he has been made mild and forgiving by the atonement. But it is not so. No change has been made in God; none needed to be made; none could be made. He was always mild, and merciful, and good; and the gift of a Saviour and the plan of reconciliation is just an expression of his original willingness to pardon. When a father sees a child struggling in the stream, and in danger of drowning, the peril and the cries of the child make no change in the character of the father, but such was his former love for the child that he would plunge into the stream at the hazard of his own life to save him. So it is with God. Such was his original love for man, and his disposition to show mercy, that he would submit to any sacrifice, except that of truth and justice, in order that he might save him. Hence, he sent his only Son to die – not to change his own character; not to make himself a different being from what he was, but in order to show his love and his readiness to forgive when it could be consistently done. “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son,” Joh_3:16.

By Jesus Christ – By the agency, or medium of Jesus Christ. He was the mediator to interpose in the work of reconciliation. And he was abundantly qualified for this work, and was the only being that has lived in this world who was qualified for it. Because:

(1) He was endowed with a divine and human nature – the nature of both the parties at issue – God and man, and thus, in the language of Job, could “lay his hand upon both,” Job_9:33.

(2) he was intimately acquainted with both the parties, and knew what was needful to be done. He knew God the Father so well that he could say, “No man knoweth the Father but the Son,” Mat_11:27. And he knew man so well that it could be said of him, he “needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man,” Joh_2:25. No one can be a mediator who is not acquainted with the feelings, views, desires, claims, or prejudices of both the parties at issue.

(3) he was the friend of both the parties. He loved God. No man ever doubted this, or had any reason to call it in question, and he was always desirous of securing all that God claimed, and of vindicating him, and he never abandoned anything that God had a right to claim. And he loved man. He showed this in all his life. He sought his welfare in every way possible, and gave himself for him. Yet no one is qualified to act the mediator’s part who is not the common friend of both the parties at issue, and who will not seek the welfare, the right, or the honor of both.

(4) he was willing to suffer anything from either party in order to produce reconciliation. From the hand of God he was willing to endure all that he deemed to be necessary, in order to show his hatred of sin by his vicarious sufferings, and to make an atonement; and from the hand of man he was willing to endure all the reproach, and contumely, and scorn which could be possibly involved in the work of inducing man to be reconciled to God. And,

(5) He has removed all the obstacles which existed to a reconciliation. On the part of God, he has made it consistent for him to pardon. He has made an atonement, so that God can be just while he justifies the sinner. He has maintained His truth, and justice, and secured the stability of His moral government while He admits offenders to His favor. And on the part of man, He, by the agency of His Spirit, overcomes the unwillingness of the sinner to be reconciled, humbles his pride, shows him his sin, changes his heart, subdues his enmity against God, and secures in fact a harmony of feeling and purpose between God and man, so that they shall be reconciled forever.

And hath given to us – To us the apostles and our fellow-laborers.

The ministry of reconciliation – That is, of announcing to people the nature and the conditions of this plan of being reconciled. We have been appointed to make this known, and to press its acceptation on people; see 2Co_5:20.

John Calvin
2Co 5:19
19.God was in Christ.Some take this as meaning simply — God reconciled the world to himself in Christ; but the meaning is fuller and more comprehensive— first, that God was in Christ; and, secondly, that he reconciled the world to himself by his intercession. It is also of the Father that this is affirmed; for it were an improper expression, were you to understand it as meaning, that the divine nature of Christ was in him. The Father, therefore, was in the Son, in accordance with that statement — I am in the Father, and the Father in me. (Joh_10:38.)

Therefore he that hath the Son, hath the Father also. For Paul has made use of this expression with this view — that we may learn to be satisfied with Christ alone, because in him we find also God the Father, as he truly communicates himself to us by him. Hence the expression is equivalent to this — “Whereas God had withdrawn to a distance from us, he has drawn near to us in Christ, and thus Christ has become to us the true Emmanuel, and his coming is God’s drawing near to men.”

The second part of the statement points out the office of Christ — his being our propitiation, (1Jo_2:2,) because out of Him, God is displeased with us all, inasmuch as we have revolted from righteousness. For what purpose, then, has God appeared to men in Christ? For the purpose of reconciliation— that, hostilities being removed, those who were aliens, might be adopted as sons. Now, although Christ’s coming as our Redeemer originated in the fountain of Divine love towards us, yet until men perceive that God has been propitiated by the Mediator, there must of necessity be a variance remaining, with respect to them, which shuts them out from access to God. On this point we shall speak more fully ere long.

Not imputing to them.Mark, in what way men return into favor with God — when they are regarded as righteous, by obtaining the remission of their sins. For so long as God imputes to us our sins, He must of necessity regard us with abhorrence; for he cannot be friendly or propitious to sinners. But this statement may seem to be at variance with what is said elsewhere — that, we were loved by Him before the creation of the world, (Eph_1:4,) and still more with what he says, (Joh_3:16,) that the love, which he exercised towards us was the reason, why He expiated our sins by Christ, for the cause always goes before its effect. I answer, that we were loved before the creation of the world, but it was only in ChristIn the mean time, however, I confess, that the love of God was first in point of time, and of order, too, as to God, but with respect to us, the commencement of his love has its foundation in the sacrifice of Christ. For when we contemplate God without a Mediator, we cannot conceive of Him otherwise than as angry with us: a Mediator interposed between us, makes us feel, that He is pacified towards us. As, however, this also is necessary to be known by us — that Christ came forth to us from the fountain of God’s free mercy, the Scripture explicitly teaches both — that the anger of the Father has been appeased by the sacrifice of the Son, and that the Son has been offered up for the expiation of the sins of men on this ground — because God, exercising compassion towards them, receives them, on the ground of such a pledge, into favor.

The whole may be summed up thus: “Where sin is, there the anger of God is, and therefore God is not propitious to us without, or before, his blotting out our sins, by not imputing them. As our consciences cannot apprehend this benefit, otherwise than through the intervention of Christ’s sacrifice, it is not without good reason, that Paul makes that the commencement and cause of reconciliation, with regard to us.

And hath committed to us.Again he repeats, that a commission has been given to the ministers of the gospel to communicate to us this grace. For it might be objected, “Where is Christ now, the peacemaker between God and us? At what a distance he resides from us!” He says, therefore, that as he has once suffered, (1Pe_3:18,) so he daily presents to us the fruit of his suffering through means of the Gospel, which he designed, should be in the world, as a sure and authentic register of the reconciliation, that has once been effected. It is the part of ministers, therefore, to apply to us, so to speak, the fruit of Christ’s death.

Lest, however, any one should dream of a magical application, such as Papists contrive, we must carefully observe what he immediately subjoins — that it consists wholly in the preaching of the Gospel. For the Pope, along with his priests, makes use of this pretext for giving a color of warrant for the whole of that wicked and execrable system of merchandise, which they carry on, in connection with the salvation of souls. “The Lord,” say they, “has furnished us with a commission and authority to forgive sins.” This I acknowledge, provided they discharge that embassy, of which Paul here makes mention. The absolution, however, which they make use of in the Papacy, is entirely magical; and besides, they inclose pardon of sins in lead and parchment, or they connect it with fictitious and frivolous superstitions. What resemblance do all these things bear to the appointment of Christ? Hence the ministers of the Gospel restore us to the favor of God in a right and orderly manner, when they bear testimony to us by means of the Gospel as to the favor of God having been procured for us. Let this testimony be removed, and nothing remains but mere imposture. Beware, then, of placing even the smallest drop of your confidence on any thing apart from the Gospel.

I do not, indeed, deny, that the grace of Christ is applied to us in the sacraments, and that our reconciliation with God is then confirmed in our consciences; but, as the testimony of the Gospel is engraven upon the sacraments, they are not to be judged of separately by themselves, but must be taken in connection with the Gospel, of which they are appendages. In fine, the ministers of the Church are ambassadors, for testifying and proclaiming the benefit of reconciliation, only on this condition — that they speak from the Gospel, as from an authentic register.

Adam Clarke
2Co 5:19
That God was in Christ – This is the doctrine which this ministry of reconciliation holds out, and the doctrine which it uses to bring about the reconciliation itself.

God was in Christ:

1. Christ is the same as Messiah, the Anointed One, who was to be prophet, priest, and king, to the human race; not to the Jews only, but also to the Gentiles. There had been prophets, priests, and kings, among the Jews and their ancestors; and some who had been priest and prophet, king and priest, and king and prophet; but none have ever sustained in his own person the threefold office except Christ; for none have ever ministered in reference to the whole world but he. The functions of all the others were restrained to the ancient people of God alone.

2. Now all the others were appointed of God in reference to this Christ; and as his types, or representatives, till the fullness of the time should come.

3. And that this Christ might be adequate to the great work of reconciling the whole human race to God, by making atonement for their sins, God was in him. The man Jesus was the temple and shrine of the eternal Divinity; for in him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, Col_2:9; and he made peace by the blood of his cross.

4. Christ, by his offering upon the cross, made atonement for the sins of the world; and therefore one important branch of the doctrine of this reconciliation was to show that God would not impute or account their trespasses to them, so as to exact the penalty, because this Jesus had died in their stead.

The whole of this important doctrine was short, simple, and plain. Let us consider it in all its connections:

1. You believe there is a God.

2. You know he has made you.

3. He requires you to love and serve him.

4. To show you how to do this he has given a revelation of himself, which is contained in his law, etc.

5. You have broken this law, and incurred the penalty, which is death.

6. Far from being able to undo your offenses, or make reparation to the offended majesty of God, your hearts, through the deceitfulness and influence of sin, are blinded, hardened, and filled with enmity, against your Father and your Judge.

7. To redeem you out of this most wretched and accursed state, God; in his endless love, has given his Son for you; who has assumed your nature, and died in your stead.

8. In consequence of this he has commanded repentance towards God, and remission of sins, to be published in his name in all the earth.

9. All who repent, and believe in Christ as having died for them as a sin-offering, (2Co_5:21), shall receive remission of sins.

10. And if they abide in him they shall have an eternal inheritance among them that are sanctified.

Albert Barnes
2Co 5:19
To wit – (Greek, Ως οτι Hos oti), namely This verse is designed further to state the nature of the plan of reconciliation, and of the message with which they were entrusted. It contains an abstract, or an epitome of the whole plan; and is one of those emphatic passages in which Paul compresses into a single sentence the substance of the whole plan of redemption.

That God was in Christ – That God was by Christ (εν Χριστω en Christo), by means of Christ; by the agency, or mediatorship of Christ. Or it may mean that God was united to Christ, and manifested himself by him. So Doddridge interprets it. Christ was the mediator by means of whom God designed to accomplish the great work of reconciliation.

Reconciling the world unto himself – The world here evidently means the human race generally, without distinction of nation, age, or rank. The whole world was alienated from him, and he sought to have it reconciled. This is one incidental proof that God designed that the plan of salvation should be adapted to all people; see the note on 2Co_5:14. It may be observed further, that God sought that the world should be reconciled. Man did not seek it. He had no plan for it, he did not desire it. He had no way to effect it. It was the offended party, not the offending, that sought to be reconciled; and this shows the strength of his love. It was love for enemies and alienated beings, and love evinced to them by a most earnest desire to become their friend, and to be at agreement with them; compare note on Rom_5:8. Tyndale renders this very accurately: “For God was in Christ, and made agreement between the world and himself, and imputed not their sins unto them.”

Not imputing their trespasses – Not reckoning their transgressions to them; that is, forgiving them, pardoning them. On the meaning of the word impute, see the note, Rom_4:3. The idea here is, that God did not charge on them with inexorable severity and stern justice their offences, but graciously provided a plan of pardon, and offered to remit their sins on the conditions of the gospel. The plan of reconciliation demonstrated that he was not disposed to impute their sins to them, as he might have done, and to punish them with unmitigated severity for their crimes, but was more disposed to pardon and forgive. And it may be here asked, if God was not disposed to charge with unrelenting severity their own sins to their account, but was rather disposed to pardon them, can we believe that he is disposed to charge on them the sin of another? If he does not charge on them with inexorable and unmitigated severity their own transgressions, will he charge on them with unrelenting severity – or at all – the sin of Adam? see the note on Rom_5:19. The sentiment here is, that God is not disposed or inclined to charge the transgressions of people upon them; he has no pleasure in doing it; and therefore he has provided a plan by which they may be pardoned. At the same time it is true that unless their sins are pardoned, justice will charge or impute their sins to them, and will exact punishment to the uttermost.

And hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation – Margin,” put in us.” Tyndale renders this: “and hath committed unto us the preaching of the atonement.” The meaning is, that the office of making known the nature of this plan, and the conditions on which God was willing to be reconciled to man, had been committed to the ministers of the gospel.

John Calvin
2Co 5:20
20. As if God did beseech you This is of no small importance for giving authority to the embassy: nay more, it is absolutely necessary, for who would rest upon the testimony of men, in reference to his eternal salvation? It is a matter of too much importance, to allow of our resting contented with the promise of men, without feeling assured that they are ordained by God, and that God speaks to us by them. This is the design of those commendations, with which Christ himself signalizes his Apostles: He that heareth you, heareth me, etc. (Luk_10:16.) Whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven, (Mat_18:18,) and the like.

We entreat you, in Christ’s stead.Hence we infer, with what propriety Isaiah exclaims, How blessed are the feet of them that preach the Gospel!(Isa_52:7.)

For that one thing, that is of itself sufficient for completing our felicity, and without which we are most miserable, is conferred upon us, only through means of the Gospel. If, however, this duty is enjoined upon all the ministers of the Church, in such a way, that he who does not discharge this embassy is not to be regarded either as an Apostle, or as a Pastor, we may very readily judge from this, as to the nature of the Pope’s entire hierarchy. They are desirous, indeed, to be looked upon as Apostles and Pastors; but as they are dumb idols, how will their boasting correspond with this passage of Paul’s writings. The word entreat is expressive of an unparalleled commendation of the grace of Christ, inasmuch as He stoops so low, that he does not disdain to entreat us. So much the less excusable is our depravity, if we do not, on meeting with such kindness, show ourselves teachable and compliant.

Be reconciled. It is to be observed, that Paul is here addressing himself to believers. He declares, that he brings to them every day this embassy. Christ therefore, did not suffer, merely that he might once expiate our sins, nor was the gospel appointed merely with a view to the pardon of those sins which we committed previously to baptism, but that, as we daily sin, so we might, also, by a daily remission, be received by God into his favor. For this is a continued embassy, which must be assiduously sounded forth in the Church, till the end of the world; and the gospel cannot be preached, unless remission of sins is promised.

We have here an express and suitable declaration for refuting the impious tenet of Papists, which calls upon us to seek the remission of sins after Baptism from some other source, than from the expiation that was effected through the death of Christ. Now this doctrine is commonly held in all the schools of Popery — that, after baptism, we merit the remission of sins by penitence, through means of the aid of the keys, (Mat_16:19,) — as if baptism itself could confer this upon us without penitence. By the term penitence, however, they mean satisfactions. But what does Paul say here? He calls us to go, not less after baptism, than before it, to the one expiation made by Christ, that we may know that we always obtain it gratuitously. Farther, all their prating as to the administration of the keys is to no purpose, inasmuch as they conceive of keys apart from the Gospel, while they are nothing else than that testimony of a gratuitous reconciliation, which is made to us in the Gospel.

Albert Barnes
2Co 5:20
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ – We are the ambassadors whom Christ has sent forth to negotiate with people in regard to their reconciliation to God, Tyndale renders this: “Now then are we messengers in the room of Christ.” The word used here πρεσβευομεν presbeuomen, from πρεσβυς presbus an aged man, an elder, and then an ambassador) means to act as an ambassador, or sometimes merely to deliver a message for another, without being empowered to do any thing more than to explain or enforce it – Bloomfield. See Thucydides 7, 9. An ambassador is a minister of the highest rank, employed by one prince or state at the court of another, to manage the concerns of his own prince or state, and representing the dignity and power of his sovereign – Webster. He is sent to do what the sovereign would himself do were he present. They are sent to make known the will of the sovereign, and to negotiate matters of commerce, of war, or of peace, and in general everything affecting the interests of the sovereign among the people to whom they are sent.

At all times, and in all countries, an ambassador is a sacred character, and his person is regarded as inviolable. He is bound implicitly to obey the instructions of his sovereign, and as far as possible to do only what the sovereign would do were he himself present. Ministers are ambassadors for Christ, as they are sent to do what he would do were he personally present. They are to make known, and to explain, and enforce the terms on which God is willing to be reconciled to people. They are not to negotiate on any new terms, nor to change those which God has proposed, nor to follow their own plans or devices, but they are simply to urge, explain, state, and enforce the terms on which God is willing to be reconciled. Of course they are to seek the honor of the sovereign who has sent them forth, and to seek to do only his will. They go not to promote their own welfare; not to seek honor, dignity, or emolument; but they go to transact the business which the Son of God would engage in were he again personally on the earth. It follows that their office is one of great dignity, and great responsibility, and that respect should be showed them as the ambassadors of the King of kings.

As though God did beseech you by us – Our message is to be regarded as the message of God. It is God who speaks. What we say to you is said in his name and on his authority, and should be received with the respect which is due to a message directly from God. The gospel message is God speaking to people through the ministry, and entreating them to be reconciled. This invests the message which the ministers of religion bear with infinite dignity and solemnity; and it makes it a fearful and awful thing to reject it.

We pray you in Christ’s stead – (υπερ Χριστου huper Christou). In the place of Christ; or doing what he did when on earth, and what he would do were he where we are.

Be ye reconciled to God – This is the sum and burden of the message which the ministers of the gospel bear to their fellow-men; see the note on 2Co_5:19. It implies that man has something to do in this work. He is to be reconciled to God. He is to give up his opposition. He is to submit to the terms of mercy. All the change in the case is to be in him, for God cannot change. God has removed all the obstacles to reconciliation which existed on his part. He has done all that he will do, all that needed to be done, in order to render reconciliation easy as possible. And now it remains that man should lay aside his hostility, abandon his sins, embrace the terms of mercy, and become in fact reconciled to God. And the great object of the ministers of reconciliation is to urge this duty on their fellow-men. They are to do it in the name of Christ. They are to do it as if Christ were himself present, and were himself urging the message. They are to use the arguments which he would use; evince the zeal which he would show; and present the motives which he would present to induce a dying world to become in fact reconciled to God.

John Calvin
2Co 5:21
21. Him who knew no sin.Do you observe, that, according to Paul, there is no return to favor with God, except what is founded on the sacrifice of Christ alone? Let us learn, therefore, to turn our views in that direction, whenever we desire to be absolved from guilt. He now teaches more clearly, what we adverted to above — that God is propitious to us, when he acknowledges us as righteous. For these two things are equivalent — that we are acceptable to God, and that we are regarded by him as righteous.

To know no sin is to be free from sin. He says, then, that Christ, while he was entirely exempt from sin, was made sin for us.It is commonly remarked, that sinhere denotes an expiatory sacrifice for sin, and in the same way the Latin’s term it, piaculum Paul, too, has in this, and other passages, borrowed this phrase from the Hebrews, among whom אשם(asham) denotes an expiatory sacrifice, as well as an offense or crime. But the signification of this word, as well as the entire statement, will be better understood from a comparison of both parts of the antithesis. Sin is here contrasted with righteousness, when Paul teaches us, that we were made the righteousness of God, on the ground of Christ’s having been made sin. Righteousness, here, is not taken to denote a quality or habit, but by way of imputation, on the ground of Christ’s righteousness being reckoned to have been received by us. What, on the other hand, is denoted by sin? It is the guilt, on account of which we are arraigned at the bar of God. As, however, the curse of the individual was of old cast upon the victim, so Christ’s condemnation was our absolution, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isa_53:5.)

The righteousness of God in him In the first place, the righteousness of God is taken here to denote — not that which is given us by God, but that which is approved of by him, as in Joh_12:43, the glory of God means — that which is in estimation with him — the glory of men denotes the vain applause of the world. Farther, in Rom_3:23, when he says, that we have come short of the glory of God, he means, that there is nothing that we can glory in before God, for it is no very difficult matter to appear righteous before men, but it is a mere delusive appearance of righteousness, which becomes at last the ground of perdition. Hence, that is the only true righteousness, which is acceptable to God.

Let us now return to the contrast between righteousness and sin How are we righteous in the sight of God? It is assuredly in the same respect in which Christ was a sinner. For he assumed in a manner our place, that he might be a criminal in our room, and might be dealt with as a sinner, not for his own offenses, but for those of others, inasmuch as he was pure and exempt from every fault, and might endure the punishment that was due to us — not to himself. It is in the same manner, assuredly, that we are now righteous in him— not in respect of our rendering satisfaction to the justice of God by our own works, but because we are judged of in connection with Christ’s righteousness, which we have put on by faith, that it might become ours. On this account I have preferred to retain the particle ἐν,(in,) rather than substitute in its place per, (through,)for that signification corresponds better with Paul’s intention.

Albert Barnes

2Co 5:21
For he hath made him to be sin for us – The Greek here is, ‘for him who knew no sin, he hath made sin, or a sin-offering for us.’ The design of this very important verse is, to urge the strongest possible reason for being reconciled to God. This is implied in the word (γὰρ gar) “for.” Paul might have urged other arguments, and presented other strong considerations. But he chooses to present this fact, that Christ has been made sin for us, as embodying and concentrating all. It is the most affecting of all arguments; it is the one that is likely to prove most effectual. It is not indeed improper to urge on people every other consideration to induce them to be reconciled to God. It is not improper to appeal to them by the conviction of duty; to appeal to their reason and conscience; to remind them of the claims, the power, the goodness, and the fear of the Creator; to remind them of the awful consequences of a continued hostility to God; to persuade them by the hope of heaven, and by the fear of hell 2Co_5:1 l to become his friends: but, after all, the strongest argument, and that which is most adapted to melt the soul, is the fact that the Son of God has become incarnate for our sins, and has suffered and died in our stead. When all other appeals fail this is effectual; and this is in fact the strong argument by which the mass of those who become Christians are induced to abandon their opposition and to become reconciled to God.

To be sin – The words ‘to be’ are not in the original. Literally, it is, ‘he has made him sin, or a sin-offering’ αμαρτιαν εποησεν hamartian epoiesen . But what is meant by this? What is the exact idea which the apostle intended to convey? I answer, it cannot be:

(1) That he was literally sin in the abstract, or sin as such. No one can pretend this. The expression must be, therefore, in some sense, figurative. Nor,

(2) Can it mean that he was a sinner, for it is said in immediate connection that he “knew no sin,” and it is everywhere said that he was holy, harmless, undefiled. Nor,

(3) Can it mean that he was, in any proper sense of the word, guilty, for no one is truly guilty who is not personally a transgressor of the Law; and if he was, in any proper sense, guilty, then he deserved to die, and his death could have no more merit than that of any other guilty being; and if he was properly guilty it would make no difference in this respect whether it was by his own fault or by imputation: a guilty being deserves to be punished; and where there is desert of punishment there can be no merit in sufferings.

But all such views as go to make the Holy Redeemer a sinner, or guilty, or deserving of the sufferings which he endured, border on blasphemy, and are abhorrent to the whole strain of the Scriptures. In no form, in no sense possible, is it to be maintained that the Lord Jesus was sinful or guilty. It is a corner stone of the whole system of religion, that in all conceivable senses of the expression he was holy, and pure, and the object of the divine approbation. And every view which fairly leads to the statement that he was in any sense guilty, or which implies that he deserved to die, is “prima facie” a false view, and should be at once abandoned. But,

(4) If the declaration that he was made “sin” (αμαρτιαν hamartian) does not mean that he was sin itself, or a sinner, or guilty, then it must mean that he was a sin-offering – an offering or a sacrifice for sin; and this is the interpretation which is now generally adopted by expositors; or it must be taken as an abstract for the concrete, and mean that God treated him as if he were a sinner. The former interpretation, that it means that God made him a sin-offering, is adopted by Whitby, Doddridge, Macknight, Rosenmuller, and others; the latter, that it means that God treated him as a sinner, is adopted by Vorstius, Schoettgen, Robinson (Lexicon), Dr. Bull, and others. There are many passages in the Old Testament where the word “sin” (ἁμαρτία hamartia) is used in the sense of sin-offering, or a sacrifice for sin. Thus, Hos_4:8, “They eat up the sin of my people;” that is, the sin-offerings; see Eze_43:22, Eze_43:25; Eze_44:29; Eze_45:22-23, Eze_45:25.

See Whitby’s note on this verse. But whichever meaning is adopted, whether it means that he was a sacrifice for sin, or that God treated him as if he were a sinner, that is, subjected him to sufferings which, if he had been personally a sinner, would have been a proper expression of his hatred of transgression, ands proper punishment for sin, in either case it means that he made an atonement; that he died for sin; that his death was not merely that of a martyr; but that it was designed by substituted sufferings to make reconciliation between man and God. Locke renders this: probably expressing the true sense, “For God hath made him subject to suffering and death, the punishment and consequence of sin, as if he had been a sinner, though he were guilty of no sin.” To me, it seems probable that the sense is, that God treated him as if he had been a sinner; that he subjected him to such pains and woes as would have been a proper punishment if he had been guilty; that while he was, in fact, in all senses perfectly innocent, and while God knew this, yet that in consequence of the voluntary assumption of the place of man which the Lord Jesus took, it pleased the Father to lay on him the deep sorrows which would be the proper expression of his sense of the evil of sin; that he endured so much suffering, as would answer the same great ends in maintaining the truth, and honor, and justice of God, as if the guilty had themselves endured the penalty of the Law. This, I suppose, is what is usually meant when it is said “our sins were imputed to him;” and though this language is not used in the Bible, and though it is liable to great misapprehension and perversion, yet if this is its meaning, there can be no objection to it.

(Certainly Christ’s being made sin, is not to be explained of his being made sin in the abstract, nor of his having actually become a sinner; yet it does imply, that sin was charged on Christ, or that it was imputed to him, and that he became answerable for it. Nor can this idea be excluded, even if we admit that “sin-offering” is the proper rendering of αμαρτια hamartia in the passage. “That Christ,” says an old divine commenting on this place, “was made sin for us, because he was a sacrifice for sin, we confess; but therefore was he a sacrifice for sin because our sins were imputed to him, and punished in him.” The doctrine of imputation of sin to Christ is here, by plain enough inference at least. The rendering in our Bibles, however, asserts it in a more direct form. Nor, after all the criticism that has been expended on the text, does there seem any necessity for the abandonment of that rendering, on the part of the advocate of imputation. For first αμαρτια hamartia in the Septuagint, and the corresponding אשׁם ‘aashaam in the Hebrew, denote both the sin and the sin-offering, the peculiar sacrifice and the crime itself. Second, the antithesis in the passage, so obvious and beautiful, is destroyed by the adoption of “sin-offering.” Christ was made sin, we righteousness.

There seems in our author’s comment on this place, and also at Rom. 5, an attempt to revive the oft-refuted objection against imputation, namely, that it involves something like a transference of moral character, an infusion, rather than an imputation of sin or righteousness. Nothing of this kind is at all implied in the doctrine. Its advocates with one voice disclaim it; and the reader will see the objection answered at length in the supplementary notes at Rom. 4 and Rom. 5. What then is the value of such arguments or insinuations as these: “All such views as go to make the Holy Redeemer a sinner, or guilty, or deserving of the sufferings he endured, border on blasphemy,” etc. Nor is it wiser to affirm that “if Christ was properly guilty, it would make no difference in this respect, whether it was by his own fault or by imputation.” What may be meant in this connection by “properly guilty,” we know not. But this is certain, that there is an immense difference between Christ’s having the guilt of our iniquities charged on him, and having the guilt of his own so charged.

It is admitted in the commentary, that God “treated Christ as if he had been a sinner,” and this is alleged as the probable sense of the passage. But this treatment of Christ on the part of God, must have some ground, and where shall we find it, unless in the imputation of sin to him? If the guilt of our iniquities, or which is the same thing, the Law obligation to punishment, be not charged on Christ, how in justice can he be subjected to the punishment? If he had not voluntarily come under such obligation, what claim did law have on him? That the very words “sin imputed to Christ” are not found in scripture, is not a very formidable objection. The words in this text are stronger and better “He was made sin,” and says Isaiah, according to the rendering of Dr. Lowth, “The Lord made to meet upon him the iniquities of us all. It was required of him, and he was made answerable.” Isa, Isa_53:6.)

Who knew no sin – He was not guilty. He was perfectly holy and pure. This idea is thus expressed by Peter 1Pe_2:22; “who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth;” and in Heb_7:26, it is said he was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” In all respects, and in all conceivable senses, the Lord Jesus was pure and holy. If he had not been, he would not have been qualified to make an atonement. Hence, the sacred writers are everywhere at great pains to keep this idea prominent, for on this depends the whole superstructure of the plan of salvation. The phrase “knew no sin,” is an expression of great beauty and dignity. It indicates his entire and perfect purity. He was altogether unacquainted with sin; he was a stranger to transgression; he was conscious of no sin; he committed none. He had a mind and heart perfectly free from pollution, and his whole life was perfectly pure and holy in the sight of God.

That we might be made the righteousness of God – This is a Hebraism, meaning the same as divinely righteous. It means that we are made righteous in the sight of God; that is, that we are accepted as righteous, and treated as righteous by God on account of what the Lord Jesus has done. There is here an evident and beautiful contrast between what is said of Christ, and what is said of us. He was made sin; we are made righteousness; that is, he was treated as if he were a sinner, though he was perfectly holy and pure; we are treated as if we were righteous, though we are defiled and depraved. The idea is, that on account of what the Lord Jesus has endured in our behalf we are treated as if we had ourselves entirely fulfilled the Law of God, and bad never become exposed to its penalty. In the phrase “righteousness of God,” there is a reference to the fact that this is his plan of making people righteous, or of justifying them.

They who thus become righteous, or are justified, are justified on his plan, and by a scheme which he has devised. Locke renders this: “that we, in and by him, might be made righteous, by a righteousness imputed to us by God.” The idea is, that all our righteousness in the sight of God we receive in and through a Redeemer. All is to be traced to him. This verse contains a beautiful epitome of the whole plan of salvation, and the uniqueness of the Christian scheme. On the one hand, one who was perfectly innocent, by a voluntary substitution, is treated As if he were guilty; that is, is subjected to pains and sorrows which if he were guilty would be a proper punishment for sin: and on the other, they who are guilty and who deserve to be punished, are treated, through his vicarious sufferings, as if they were perfectly innocent; that is, in a manner which would be a proper expression of God’s approbation if he had not sinned. The whole plan, therefore, is one of substitution; and without substitution, there can be no salvation. Innocence voluntarily suffers for guilt, and the guilty are thus made pure and holy, and are saved. The greatness of the divine compassion and love is thus shown for the guilty; and on the ground of this it is right and proper for God to call on people to be reconciled to him. It is the strongest argument that can be used. When God has given his only Son to the bitter suffering of death on the cross in order that we may be reconciled, it is the highest possible argument which can be used why we should cease our opposition to him, and become his friends.

(See the supplementary notes on Rom_1:17; note at Rom_3:21. See also the additional note above on the first clause of the verse. The “righteousness of God,” is doubtless that righteousness which the divine Saviour worked out, in his active and passive obedience, and if ever any of the guilty race of Adam are “treated as righteous” by God, it must be solely on the ground of its imputation.)

18. We should endeavor to save others from eternal death, 2Co_5:11. If we have ourselves any just views of the awful terrors of the day of judgment, and if we have any just views of the wrath of God, we should endeavor “to persuade” others to flee from the wrath to come. We should plead with them; we should entreat them; we should weep over them; we should pray for them, that they may be saved from going up to meet the awful wrath of God. If our friends are unprepared to meet God; if they are living in impenitence and sin, and if we have any influence over others in any way, we should exert it all to induce them to come to Christ, and to save themselves from the awful terrors of that day. Paul deemed no self-denial and no sacrifice too great, if he might persuade them to come to God, and to save their souls. And who that has any just views of the awful terrors of the day of judgment; of the woes of an eternal hell, and of the glories of an eternal heaven; can deem that labor too great which shall be the means of saving immortal souls? Not to frighten them should we labor, not to alarm them merely should we plead with them, but we should endeavor by all means to persuade them to come to the Redeemer. We should not use tones of harshness and denunciation; we should not speak of hell as if we would rejoice to execute the sentence, but we should speak with tenderness, earnestness, and with tears (compare Act_20:31), that we may induce our friends and fellow-sinners to be reconciled to God.

19. We should not deem it strange or remarkable if we are charged with being deranged for being active and zealous in the subject of religion, 2Co_5:13. There will always be enough, both in the church and out of it, to charge us with over-heated zeal; with lack of prudence; or with decided mental alienation. But we are not to forget that Paul was accused of being “mad;” and even the Redeemer was thought to be “beside himself.” “It is sufficient for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his Lord;” and if the Redeemer was charged with derangement on account of his special views and his zeal, we should not suppose that any strange thing had happened to us if we are accused in like manner.

20. The gospel should be offered to all people, 2Co_5:14. If Christ died for all, then salvation is provided for all; and then it should be offered to all freely and fully. It should be done without any mental reservation, for God has no such mental reservation; without any hesitation or misgiving; without any statements that would break the force, or weaken the power of such an offer on the consciences of people. If they reject it, they should be left to see that they reject that which is in good faith offered to them, and that for this they must give an account to God. Every man who preaches the gospel should feel that he is not only permitted but required to preach the gospel “to every creature;” nor should he embrace any opinion whatever which will in form or in fact cramp him or restrain him in thus offering salvation to all mankind. The fact that Christ died for all, and that all may be saved, should be a fixed and standing point in all systems of theology, and should be allowed to shape every other opinion, and to shed its influence over every other view of truth.

21. All people by nature are dead in sins, 2Co_5:14. They are insensible to their own good; to the appeals of God; to the glories of heaven, and to the terrors of hell. They do not act for eternity; they are without concern in regard to their everlasting destiny. They are as insensible to all these things, until aroused by the Spirit of God, as a dead man in his grave is to surrounding objects. And there is nothing that ever did arouse such a man, or ever could, but the same power that made the world, and the same voice that raised Lazarus from his grave. This melancholy fact strikes us everywhere; and we should be deeply humbled that it is our condition by nature, and should mourn that it is the condition of our fellowmen everywhere.

22. We should form our estimate of objects and of their respective value and importance by other considerations than those which are derived from their temporal nature, 2Co_5:16. It should not be simply according to the flesh. It should not be as they estimate them who are living for this world. It should not be by their rank, their splendor, or their fashion. It should be by their reference to eternity, and their bearing on the state of things there.

23. It should be with us a very serious inquiry whether our views of Christ are such as they have who are living after the flesh, or such only as the unrenewed mind takes, 2Co_5:16. The carnal mind has no just views of the Redeemer. To every impenitent sinner he is “a root out of a day ground.” There is no beauty in him. And to every hypocrite, and every deceived professor of religion, there is really no beauty seen in him. There is no spontaneous, elevated, glowing attachment to him. It is all forced and unnatural. But to the true Christian there is a beauty seen in his character that is not seen in any other; and the whole soul loves him, and embraces him. His character is seen to be most pure and lovely; his benevolence boundless; his ability and willingness to save, infinite. The renewed soul desires no other Saviour; and rejoices that he is just what he is – rejoices in his humiliation as well as his exaltation; in his poverty as well as his glory; rejoices in the privilege of being saved by him who was spit upon, and mocked, and crucified, as well as by him who is at the right hand of God. One thing is certain, unless we have just views of Christ we can never be saved.

24. The new birth is a great and most important change, 2Co_5:17. It is not in name or in profession merely, but it is a deep and radical change of the heart. It is so great that it may be said of each one that he is a new creation of God; and in relation to each one, that old things are passed away, and all things are become new. How important it is that we examine our hearts and see whether this change has taken place, or whether we are still living without God and without hope. It is indispensable that we be born again; John 3. If we are not born again, and if we are not new creatures in Christ, we must perish for ever. No matter what our wealth talent, learning, accomplishment, reputation, or morality; unless we have been so changed that it may be said, and that we can say, “old things are passed away, and all things are become new,” we must perish forever. There is no power in the universe that can save a man who is not born again.

25. The gospel ministry is a most responsible and important work, 2Co_5:18-19. There is no other office of the same importance; there is no situation in which man can be placed more solemn than that of making known the terms on which God is willing to bestow favor on apostate man.

26. How amazing is the divine condescension, that God should have ever proposed such a plan of reconciliation, 2Co_5:20-21. That he should not only have been willing to be reconciled, but that he should have sought, and have been so anxious for it as to be willing to send his own Son to die to secure it! It was pure, rich, infinite benevolence. God was not to be benefitted by it. He was infinitely blessed and happy even though man should have been lost. He was pure, and just, and holy, and it was not necessary to resort to this in order to vindicate his own character. He had done man no wrong: and if man had perished in his sins, the throne of God would have been pure and spotless. It was love; mere love. It was pure, holy, disinterested, infinite benevolence. It was worthy of a God; and it has a claim to the deepest gratitude of man.

Let us then, in view of this whole chapter, seek to be reconciled to God. Let us lay aside all our opposition to him. Let us embrace his plans. Let us be willing to submit to him, and to become his eternal friends. Let us seek to heaven to which he would raise us; and though our earthly house of this tabernacle must be dissolved, let us be prepared, as we may be, for that eternal habitation which he has prepared for all who love him in the heavens.

John Calvin
2Co 6:1
1.Assisting.He has repeated the instructions of embassy with which the ministers of the gospel have been furnished by God. After they have faithfully communicated these instructions, they must also use their endeavor, that they may be carried into effect, in order that their labor may not be in vain. They must, I say, add continual exhortation’s, that their embassy may be efficacious. This is what he means by συνεργοῦντες, (fellow-workers,) that is, devoted to the advancement of the work; for it is not enough to teach, if you do not also urge. In this way, the particle σύν would have a relation to God, or to the embassy, which he assigns to his servants. For the doctrine of the gospel is helped by exhortations, so as not to be without effect, and ministers connect their endeavors with God’s commission; as it is the part of an ambassador to enforce by arguments, what he brings forward in the name of his prince.

The particle σύν may also be taken as referring to the endeavors of ministers in common; for if they do the Lord’s work in good earnest, they must mutually lend a helping hand to each other, so as to give assistance to each other. I rather prefer, however, the former exposition. Chrysostom interprets it as referring to the hearers, with whom ministers are fellow-workers, when they rouse them up from slothfulness and indolence.

Ministers are here taught, that it is not enough simply to advance doctrine. They must also labor that it may be received by the hearers, and that not once merely, but continually. For as they are messengers between God and men, the first duty devolving upon them is, to make offer of the grace of God, and the second is, to strive with all their might, that it may not be offered in vain.

Albert Barnes
2Co 6:1
We then, as workers together with him – On the meaning of this expression, see the note, 1Co_3:9. The Greek here is (συνεργουντες sunergountes) “working together,” and may mean either that the apostles and ministers to whom Paul refers were joint-laborers in entreating them not to receive the grace of God in vain; or it may mean that they cooperated with God, or were engaged with him in endeavoring to secure the reconciliation of the world to himself. Tyndale renders it: “we as helpers.” Doddridge, “we then as the joint-laborers of God.” Most expositors have concurred in this interpretation. The word properly means, to work together; to cooperate in producing any result. Macknight supposes that the word here is in the vocative, and is an address to the fellow-laborers of Paul, entreating them not to receive the grace of God in vain. In this opinion he is probably alone, and has manifestly departed from the scope and design of the passage. Probably the most obvious meaning is that of our translators, who regard it as teaching that Paul was a joint-worker with God in securing the salvation of people.

That ye receive not the grace of God in vain – The “grace of God” here means evidently the gracious offer of reconciliation and pardon. And the sense is, “We entreat you not to neglect or slight this offer of pardon, so as to lose the benefit of it, and be lost. It is offered freely and fully. It may be partaken of by all, and all may be saved. But it may also be slighted, and all the benefits of it will then be lost.” The sense is, that it was possible that this offer might be made to them, they might hear of a Saviour, be told of the plan of reconciliation and have the offers of mercy pressed on their attention and acceptance, and yet all be in vain. They might notwithstanding all this be lost, for simply to hear of the plan of salvation or the offers of mercy, will no more save a sinner than to hear of medicine will save the sick. It must be embraced and applied, or it will be in vain. It is true that Paul probably addressed this to those who were professors of religion; and the sense is, that they should use all possible care and anxiety lest these offers should have been made in vain. They should examine their own hearts; they should inquire into their own condition; they should guard against self-deception. The same persons 2Co_5:20 Paul had exhorted also to be reconciled to God; and the idea is, that he would earnestly entreat even professors of religion to give all diligence to secure an interest in the saving mercy of the gospel, and to guard against the possibility of being self-deceived and ruined.

John Calvin
2Co 7:2
2.Make room for us.Again he returns from a statement of doctrine to treat of what more especially concerns himself, but simply with this intention — that he may not lose his pains in admonishing the Corinthians. Nay more, he closes the preceding admonition with the same statement, which he had made use of by way of preface. For what is meant by the expressionsReceive us, or Make room for us? It is equivalent to, Be ye enlarged, (2Co_6:13;) that is, “Do not allow corrupt affections, or unfavorable apprehensions, to prevent this doctrine from making its way into your minds, and obtaining a place within you. For as I lay myself out for your salvation with a fatherly zeal, it were unseemly that you should turn a deaf ear upon me.”

We have done injury to no man.He declares that there is no reason why they should have their minds alienated, inasmuch as he had not given them occasion of offense in any thing. Now he mentions three kinds of offenses, as to which he declares himself to be guiltless. The first is, manifest hurt or injury. The second is, the corruption that springs from false doctrine. The third is, defrauding or cheating in worldly goods. These are three things by which, for the most part, pastors are wont to alienate the minds of the people from them — when they conduct themselves in an overbearing manner, and, making their authority their pretext, break forth into tyrannical cruelty or unreasonableness,— or when they draw aside from the right path those to whom they ought to have been guides, and infect them with the corruption of false doctrine, — or when they manifest an insatiable covetousness, by eagerly desiring what belongs to another. Should any one wish to have it in shorter compass-the first is, fierceness and an abuse of power by excessive insolence the second, unfaithfulness in teaching. the third, avarice.

Albert Barnes
2Co 7:2
Receive us – Tyndale renders this: “understand us.” The word used here (χωρησατε choresate) means properly, give space, place, or room; and it means here evidently, make place or room for us in your affections; that is, admit or receive us as your friends. It is an earnest entreaty that they would do what he had exhorted them to do in 2Co_6:13; see the note on that verse. From that he had digressed in the close of the last chapter. He here returns to the subject and asks an interest in their affections and their love.

We have wronged no man – We have done injustice to no man. This is given as a reason why they should admit him to their full confidence and affection. It is not improbable that he had been charged with injuring the incestuous person by the severe discipline which he had found it necessary to inflict on him; note, 1Co_5:5. This charge would not improbably be brought against him by the false teachers in Corinth. But Paul here says, that whatever was the severity of the discipline, he was conscious of having done injury to no member of that church. It is possible, however, that he does not here refer to any such charge, but that he says in general that he had done no injury, and that there was no reason why they should not receive him to their entire confidence. It argues great consciousness of integrity when a man who has spent a considerable time, as Paul had, with others, is able to say that he had wronged no man in any way. Paul could not have made this solemn declaration unless he was certain he had lived a very blameless life; compare Act_20:33.

We have corrupted no man – This means that he had corrupted no man in his morals, either by his precept or his example. The word (φθειρω phtheiro) means in general to bring into a worse state or condition, and is very often applied to morals. The idea is, here, that Paul had not by his precept or example made any man the worse. He had not corrupted his principles or his habits, or led him into sin.

We have defrauded no man – We have taken no man’s property by cunning, by trick, or by deception. The word πλεονεκτεω pleonekteo means literally to have more than another, and then to take advantage, to seek unlawful gain, to circumvent, defraud, deceive. The idea is, that Paul had taken advantage of no circumstances to extort money from them, to overreach them, or to cheat them. It is the conviction of a man who was conscious that he had lived honestly, and who could appeal to them all as full proof that his life among them had been blameless.

John Calvin
2Co 7:3
3.I say not this to condemn you. As the foregoing apology was a sort of expostulation, and we can scarcely avoid reproaching when we expostulate, he softens on this account what he had said. “I clear myself,” says he, “in such a way as to be desirous to avoid, what would tend to your dishonor.” The Corinthians, it is true, were unkind, and they deserved that, on Paul’s being acquitted from blame, they should be substituted in his place as the guilty party; nay more, that they should be held guilty in two respects — in respect of ingratitude, and on the ground of their having calumniated the innocent. Such, however, is the Apostle’s moderation, that he refrains from recrimination, contenting himself with standing simply on the defensive.

For I have before said. Those that love do not assail; nay more, if any fault has been committed, they either cover it over by taking no notice of it, or soften it by kindness. For a disposition to reproach is a sign of hatred. Hence Paul, with the view of showing that he has no inclination to distress the Corinthians, declares his affection towards them. At the same time, he undoubtedly in a manner condemns them, while he says that he does not do so. As, however, there is a great difference between gall and vinegar, so there is also between that condemnation, by which we harass a man in a spirit of hatred, with the view of blasting him with infamy, and, on the other hand, that, by which we endeavor to bring back an offender into the right way, that, along with safety, he may in addition to this regain his honors unimpaired.

Ye are in our hearts— that is, “I carry you about with me inclosed in my heart.”

To die and live with you — that is, “So that no change can loosen our attachment, for I am prepared not merely to live with you, but also to be associated with you in death, if necessary, and to endure anything rather than renounce your friendship.” Mark well, in what manner all pastors ought to be affected.

Albert Barnes
2Co 7:3
I speak not this to condemn you – I do not speak this with any desire to reproach you. I do not complain of you for the purpose of condemning, or because I have a desire to find fault, though I am compelled to speak in some respect of your lack of affection and liberality toward me. It is not because I have no love for you, and wish to have occasion to use words implying complaint and condemnation.

For I have said before – 2Co_7:11-12.

That ye are in our hearts – That is, we are so much attached to you; or you have such a place in our affections.

To die and live with you – If it were the will of God, we would be glad to spend our lives among you, and to die with you; an expression denoting most tender attachment. A similar well-known expression occurs in Horace: With the world I live, with the world I die.

This was an expression of the tenderest attachment. It was true that the Corinthians had not shown themselves remarkably worthy of the affections of Paul, but from the beginning he had felt toward them the tenderest attachment. And if it had been the will of God that he should cease to travel, and to expose himself to perils by sea and land to spread the knowledge of the Saviour, he would gladly have confined his labors to them, and there have ended his days.

John Calvin
2Co 7:4
4.Great is my boldness.Now, as if he had obtained the enlargement of heart that he had desired on the part of the Corinthians, he leaves off complaining, and pours out his heart with cheerfulness. “What need is there that I should expend so much labor upon a matter already accomplished? For I think I have already what I asked. For the things that Titus has reported to me respecting you are not merely sufficient for quieting my mind, but afford me also ground of glorying confidently on your account Nay more, they have effectually dispelled the grief, which many great and heavy afflictions had occasioned me.” He goes on step by step, by way of climax; for glorying is more than being of an easy and quiet mind; and being freed from grief occasioned by many afflictions, is greater than either of those. Chrysostom explains this boldness somewhat differently, in this manner — “If I deal with you the more freely, it is on this account, that, relying on the assurance of your good will towards me, I think I may take so much liberty with you.” I have stated, however, what appeared to me to be the more probable meaning — that the report given by Titus had removed the unfavorable impression, which had previously racked his mind.

Adam Clarke
2Co 7:4
Great is my boldness of speech – He seems to refer to the manner in which he spoke of them to others.

Great is my glorying of you – They had probably been very loving and affectionate previously to the time in which they were perverted by their false apostle. He therefore had boasted of them in all the Churches.

I am filled with comfort – My affection for you has still the most powerful ascendancy in my soul. Here we may see the affection of the most tender father to his children.

I am exceeding joyful – Υπερπερισσευομαι· I superabound in joy; I have a joy beyond expression. Υπερπερισσευω is an extremely rare verb. I have not met with it in any Greek author; and it occurs no where in the New Testament but here and in Rom_5:20.

In all our tribulation – Perhaps επι here should be rendered under instead of in, as it signifies, Mar_2:26; Luk_3:2; Act_11:28. Under all our tribulations, I feel inexpressible joy on your account.

Albert Barnes
2Co 7:4
Great is my boldness of speech toward you – This verse seems designed to soften the apparent harshness of what he had said 2Co_6:12, when he intimated that there was a lack of love in them toward him (Bloomfield), as well as to refer to the plainness which he had used all along in his letters to them. He says, therefore, that he speaks freely; he speaks as a friend; he speaks with the utmost openness and frankness; he conceals nothing from them. He speaks freely of their faults, and he speaks freely of his love to them; and he as frankly commends them and praises them. It is the open, undisguised language of a friend, when he throws open his whole soul and conceals nothing.

Great is my glorying of you – I have great occasion to commend and praise you, and I do it freely. He refers here to the fact that he had boasted of their liberality in regard to the proposed collection for the poor saints of Judea 2Co_9:4; that he had formerly boasted much of them to Titus, and of their readiness to obey his commands 2Co_7:14; and that now he had had abundant evidence, by what he had heard from Titus (verses 5ff), that they were disposed to yield to his commands, and obey his injunctions. He had probably often had occasion to boast of their favorable regard for him.

I am filled with comfort – That is, by the evidence which I have received of your readiness to obey me.

I am exceeding joyful – I am overjoyed. The word used here occurs nowhere else in the New Testament except in Rom_5:20. It is not found in the classic writers; and is a word which Paul evidently compounded (from υπερ huper and περισσευω perisseuo), and means to superabound over, to superabound greatly, or exceedingly. It is a word which would be used only when the heart was full, and when it would be difficult to find words to express its conceptions. Paul’s heart was full of joy; and he pours forth his feelings in the most fervid and glowing language. I have joy which cannot be expressed.

In all our tribulation – see the note, 2Co_1:4.

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