In these verses the apostle gives an account of their courage and patience under all their sufferings, where observe,
I. How their sufferings, and patience under them, are declared, 2 Cor. 4:8-12. The apostles were great sufferers; therein they followed their Master: Christ had told them that in the world they should have tribulation, and so they had; yet they met with wonderful support, great relief, and many allays of their sorrows. “We are,” says the apostle, “troubled on every side, afflicted many ways, and we meet with almost all sorts of troubles; yet not distressed, 2 Cor. 4:8. We are not hedged in nor cooped up, because we can see help in God, and help from God, and have liberty of access to God.” Again, “We are perplexed, often uncertain, and in doubt what will become of us, and not always without anxiety in our minds on this account; yet not in despair (2 Cor. 4:8), even in our greatest perplexities, knowing that God is able to support us, and to deliver us, and in him we always place our trust and hope.” Again, “We are persecuted by men, pursued with hatred and violence from place to place, as men not worthy to live; yet not forsaken of God,” 2 Cor. 4:9. Good men may be sometimes forsaken of their friends, as well as persecuted by their enemies; but God will never leave them nor forsake them. Again, “We are sometimes dejected, or cast down; the enemy may in a great measure prevail, and our spirits begin to fail us; there may be fears within, as well as fightings without; yet we are not destroyed,” 2 Cor. 4:9. Still they were preserved, and kept their heads above water. Note, Whatever condition the children of God may be in, in this world, they have a “but not” to comfort themselves with; their case sometimes is bad, yea very bad, but not so bad as it might be. The apostle speaks of their sufferings as constant, and as a counterpart of the sufferings of Christ, 2 Cor. 4:10. The sufferings of Christ were, after a sort, re-acted in the sufferings of Christians; thus did they bear about the dying of the Lord Jesus in their body, setting before the world the great example of a suffering Christ, that the life of Jesus might also be made manifest, that is, that people might see the power of Christ’s resurrection, and the efficacy of grace in and from the living Jesus, manifested in and towards them, who did yet live, though they were always delivered to death (2 Cor. 4:11), and though death worked in them (2 Cor. 4:12), they being exposed to death, and ready to be swallowed up by death continually. So great were the sufferings of the apostles that, in comparison with them, other Christians were, even at this time, in prosperous circumstances: Death worketh in us; but life in you, 2 Cor. 4:12.
II. What it was that kept them from sinking and fainting under their sufferings, 2 Cor. 4:13-18. Whatever the burdens and troubles of good men may be, they have cause enough not to faint.
1. Faith kept them from fainting: We have the same spirit of faith (2 Cor. 4:13), that faith which is of the operation of the Spirit; the same faith by which the saints of old did and suffered such great things. Note, The grace of faith is a sovereign cordial, and an effectual antidote against fainting-fits in troublous times. The spirit of faith will go far to bear up the spirit of a man under his infirmities; and as the apostle had David’s example to imitate, who said (Ps. 116:10), I have believed, and therefore have I spoken, so he leaves us his example to imitate: We also believe, says he, and therefore speak. Note, As we receive help and encouragement from the good words and examples of others, so we should be careful to give a good example to others.
2. Hope of the resurrection kept them from sinking, 2 Cor. 4:14. They knew that Christ was raised, and that his resurrection was an earnest and assurance of theirs. This he had treated of largely in his former epistle to these Corinthians, 1 Cor. 15:1-58. And therefore their hope was firm, being well grounded, that he who raised up Christ the head will also raise up all his members. Note, The hope of the resurrection will encourage us in a suffering day, and set us above the fear of death; for what reason has a good Christian to fear death, that dies in hope of a joyful resurrection?
3. The consideration of the glory of God and the benefit of the church, by means of their sufferings, kept them from fainting, 2 Cor. 4:15. Their sufferings were for the church’s advantage (2 Cor. 1:6), and thus did redound to God’s glory. For, when the church is edified, then God is glorified; and we may well afford to bear sufferings patiently and cheerfully when we see others are the better for them—if they are instructed and edified, if they are confirmed and comforted. Note, The sufferings of Christ’s ministers, as well as their preaching and conversation, are intended for the good of the church and the glory of God.
4. The thoughts of the advantage their souls would reap by the sufferings of their bodies kept them from fainting: Though our outward man perish, our inward man is renewed day by day, 2 Cor. 4:16. Here note, (1.) We have every one of us an outward and an inward man, a body and a soul. (2.) If the outward man perish, there is no remedy, it must and will be so, it was made to perish. (3.) It is our happiness if the decays of the outward man do contribute to the renewing of the inward man, if afflictions outwardly are gain to us inwardly, if when the body is sick, and weak, and perishing, the soul is vigorous and prosperous. The best of men have need of further renewing of the inward man, even day by day. Where the good work is begun there is more work to be done, for carrying it forward. And as in wicked men things grow every day worse and worse, so in godly men they grow better and better.
5. The prospect of eternal life and happiness kept them from fainting, and was a mighty support and comfort. As to this observe, (1.) The apostle and his fellow-sufferers saw their afflictions working towards heaven, and that they would end at last (2 Cor. 4:17), whereupon they weighed things aright in the balance of the sanctuary; they did as it were put the heavenly glory in one scale and their earthly sufferings in the other; and, pondering things in their thoughts, they found afflictions to be light, and the glory of heaven to be a far more exceeding weight. That which sense was ready to pronounce heavy and long, grievous and tedious, faith perceived to be light and short, and but for a moment. On the other hand, the worth and weight of the crown of glory, as they are exceedingly great in themselves, so they are esteemed to be by the believing soul—far exceeding all his expressions and thoughts; and it will be a special support in our sufferings when we can perceive them appointed as the way and preparing us for the enjoyment of the future glory. (2.) Their faith enabled them to make this right judgment of things: We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, 2 Cor. 4:18. It is by faith that we see God, who is invisible (Heb. 11:27), and by this we look to an unseen heaven and hell, and faith is the evidence of things not seen. Note, [1.] There are unseen things, as well as things that are seen. [2.] There is this vast difference between them: unseen things are eternal, seen things but temporal, or temporary only. [3.] By faith we not only discern these things, and the great difference between them, but by this also we take our aim at unseen things, and chiefly regard them, and make it our end and scope, not to escape present evils, and obtain present good, both of which are temporal and transitory, but to escape future evil and obtain future good things, which though unseen, are real, and certain, and eternal; and faith is the substance of things hoped for, as well as the evidence of things not seen, Heb. 11:1.