While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
4:13-18 The grace of faith is an effectual remedy against fainting in times of trouble. They knew that Christ was raised, and that his resurrection was an earnest and assurance of theirs. The hope of this resurrection will encourage in a suffering day, and set us above the fear of death. Also, their sufferings were for the advantage of the church, and to God's glory. The sufferings of Christ's ministers, as well as their preaching and conversation, are for the good of the church and the glory of God. The prospect of eternal life and happiness was their support and comfort. What sense was ready to pronounce heavy and long, grievous and tedious, faith perceived to be light and short, and but for a moment. The weight of all temporal afflictions was lightness itself, while the glory to come was a substance, weighty, and lasting beyond description. If the apostle could call his heavy and long-continued trials light, and but for a moment, what must our trifling difficulties be! Faith enables to make this right judgment of things. There are unseen things, as well as things that are seen. And there is this vast difference between them; unseen things are eternal, seen things but temporal, or temporary only. Let us then look off from the things which are seen; let us cease to seek for worldly advantages, or to fear present distresses. Let us give diligence to make our future happiness sure.
While we look ... - Or, rather, we not looking at the things which are seen. The design of this is, to show in what way the afflictions which they endured became in their view light and momentary. It was by looking to the glories of the future world, and thus turning away the attention from the trials and sorrows of this life. If we look directly at our trials; if the mind is fixed wholly on them, and we think of nothing else, they often appear heavy and long. Even comparatively light and brief sufferings will appear to be exceedingly difficult to bear. But if we can turn away the mind from them and contemplate future glory; if we can compare them with eternal blessedness, and feel that they will introduce us to perfect and everlasting happiness, they will appear to be transitory, and will be easily borne. And Paul here has stated the true secret of bearing trials with patience. It is to look at the things which are unseen. To anticipate the glories of the heavenly world. To fix the eye on the eternal happiness which is beyond the grave; and to reflect how short these trials are, compared with the eternal glories of heaven; and how short they will seem to be when we are there.
The things which are seen - The things here below; the things of this life - poverty, want, care, persecution, trial, etc.
The things which are not seen - The glories of heaven, compare Hebrews 11:1.
The things which are seen are temporal - This refers particularly to the things which they suffered. But it is as true of all things here below. Wealth, pleasure, fame, the three idols which the people of this world adore, are all to endure but for a little time. They will all soon vanish away. So it is with pain, and sorrow, and tears. All that we enjoy, and all that we suffer here, must soon vanish and disappear. The most splendid palace will decay; the most costly pile will moulder to dust; the most magnificent city will fall to ruins; the most exquisite earthly pleasures will soon come to an end; and the most extended possessions can be enjoyed but a little time. So the acutest pain will soon be over; the most lingering disease will soon cease; the evils of the deepest poverty, want, and suffering will soon be passed. There is nothing on which the eye can fix, nothing that the heart can desire here, which will not soon fade away; or, if it survives, it is temporary in regard to us. We must soon leave it to others; and if enjoyed, it will be enjoyed while our bodies are slumbering in the grave, and our souls engaged in the deep solemnities of eternity. How foolish then to make these our portion, and to fix our affections supremely on the things of this life? How foolish also to be very deeply affected by the trials of this life, which at the furthest can be endured but a little longer before we shall be forever beyond their reach!
The things which are not seen are eternal - Everything which pertains to that state beyond the grave:
(1) God is eternal; not to leave us as our earthly friends do.
(2) the Saviour is eternal - to be our everlasting friend.
(3) the companions and friends there are eternal. The angels who are to be our associates, and the spirits of the just with whom we shall live, are to exist forever. The angels never die; and the pious dead shall die no more. There shall be then no separation, no death-bed, no grave, no sad vacancy and loss caused by the removal of a much-loved friend.
(4) the joys of heaven are eternal; There shall be no interruption; no night; no cessation; no end. Heaven and all its joys shall be everlasting; and he who enters there shall have the assurance that those joys shall endure and increase while eternal ages shall roll away.
(5) it may be added, also, that the woes of hell shall be eternal. They are now among the things which to us "are not seen;" and they, as well as the joys of heaven, shall have no end. Sorrow there shall never cease; the soul shall there never die; the body that shall be raised up "to the resurrection of damnation" shall never again expire. And when all these things are contemplated, well might Paul say of the things of this life - the sorrows, trials, privations, and persecutions which he endured, that they were light, and were for a moment." How soon will they pass away; how soon shall we all be engaged amidst the unchanging and eternal realities of the things which are not seen!
1. Ministers of the gospel have no cause to faint or to be discouraged, 2 Corinthians 4:1. Whatever may be the reception of their message, and whatever the trials to which they may be subjected, yet there are abundant sources of consolation and support in the gospel which they preach. They have the consciousness that they preach a system of truth; that they are proclaiming that which God has revealed; and, if they are faithful, that they have his smiles and approbation. Even, therefore, if people reject, and despise their message, and if they are called to endure many privations and trials, they should not faint. It is enough for them that they proclaim the truth which God loves, and that they meet with his approbation and smiles. Trials will come in the ministry as every where else, but there are also special consolations. There may be much opposition and resistance to the message, but we should not faint or be discouraged. We should do our duty, and commit the result to God.
2. The gospel should be embraced by those to whom it comes, 2 Corinthians 4:2. If it has their reason and conscience in its favor, then they should embrace it without delay. They are under the most sacred obligation to receive it, and to become decided Christians. Every man is bound, and may be urged to pursue, that course which his conscience approves; and the gospel may thus be pressed on the attention of all to whom it comes.
3. If people wish peace of conscience, they should embrace the gospel, 2 Corinthians 4:2. They can never find it elsewhere. No man's conscience is at peace from the fact that he does not repent, and love God and obey the gospel. His heart may love sin; but his conscience cannot approve it. That is at peace only in doing the work of God; and that can find self-approbation only when it submits to him, and embraces the gospel of his Son. Then the conscience is at ease. No man ever yet had a troubled conscience from the fact that he had embraced the gospel, and was an humble and decided Christian. Thousands and million have had a troubled conscience from the fact that they have neglected it. No man on a death-bed ever had a troubled conscience because he embraced religion too early in life. Thousands and million have been troubled when they came to die, because they neglected it so long, or rejected it altogether. No man when death approaches has a troubled conscience because he has lived too much devoted to God the Saviour, and been too active as a Christian. But O how many have been troubled then because they have been worldly-minded, and selfish, and vain, and proud? The conscience gives peace just in proportion as we serve God faithfully; nor can all the art of man or Satan give peace to one conscience in the ways of sin, and in the neglect of the soul.
While we look not at the things which are seen,.... These are the things of this world, such as riches, honours, pleasures, profits, &c. which are visible to, and strike the senses of a natural man, and are temporal, endure but for a time, are transitory, fleeting, and quickly gone. To "look" at these things is to desire them, set the affections on them, and to make the enjoyment of them a man's chief scope and aim; and when this is the case, afflictions cannot be said to work for such, or to work them for an eternal weight of glory; but when believers have their eyes and hearts taken off of these things, they either look not at them, or with contempt upon them; "while", and when they are in such frames of soul, afflictions are operating for their future good. Or by these things that are seen may be meant afflictions themselves, the cross, with all that belongs to it; which also are discernible by the outward senses, and are but for a time. Now a believer is not to stand looking and poring upon his afflictions; for while he does so, they work impatience, murmurings, repinings, unbelief, &c. but when and while he looks off of these to Christ, and to what he has done and suffered, and to the glories of another world, and to the recompense of reward, he not only finds himself supported under his present afflictions, which he does not so overlook as to despise; but he also finds his heart seeking after, and his affections set upon, and his faith, hope, and expectation raised in the views of things above, where Christ is: and so he is kept looking
at the things which are not seen; by the corporeal eye, nor by the eye of carnal sense and reason; only by the eye of faith, which is "the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen": and these things, the joys and glories of heaven, "are eternal"; will last for ever, will never end; all which is great encouragement to faith and patience under the present afflictive dispensations of Providence. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Seen - not seen
Compare the beautiful passage in Plato's "Phaedo," 79.
18. look not at—as our aim.
things … seen—"earthly things" (Php 3:19). We mind not the things seen, whether affliction or refreshment come, so as to be seduced by the latter, or deterred by the former [Chrysostom].
things … not seen—not "the invisible things" of Ro 1:20, but the things which, though not seen now, shall be so hereafter.
temporal—rather, "for a time"; in contrast to eternal. English Version uses "temporal" for temporary. The Greek is rightly translated in the similar passage, "the pleasures of sin for a season."
While we look not at the things which are seen - Μη σκοπουντων. While we aim not at the things which are seen; do not make them our object; are not striving to obtain them; for they are not worthy the pursuit of an immortal spirit, because they are seen; they are objects to which the natural eye can reach; and they are προσκαιρα, temporary; they are to have a short duration, and must have an end. But the things which we make our scope and aim are not seen; they are spiritual, and therefore invisible to the eye of the body; and besides, they are αιωνΐα, eternal - things that are permanent; that can have no end; they are things which belong to God; holiness, happiness, and the endless communication and fruition of himself.
But we must remark that the light afflictions work out this far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory only to those who do not look at the things which are seen. A man may be grievously afflicted, and yet have his eye bent on temporal good; from his afflictions he can derive no benefit; though many think that their glorification must be a necessary consequence of their afflictions, and hence we do not unfrequently hear among the afflicted poor, "Well, we shall not suffer both here and in the other world too." Afflictions may be means of preparing us for glory, if, during them, we receive grace to save the soul; but afflictions of themselves have no spiritual nor saving tendency; on the contrary, they sour the unregenerated mind, and cause murmurings against the dispensations of Divine Providence. Let us, therefore, look to God, that they may be sanctified; and when they are, then we may say exultingly, These light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. O world to come, in exchange for the present! O eternity, for a moment! O eternal communion in the holy, blessed, and eternal life of God, for the sacrifice of a poor, miserable, and corrupted life here on earth! Whoever sets no value on this seed of a blessed eternity knows not what it comprehends. That which the eyes of the flesh are capable of perceiving is not worthy of a soul capable of possessing God. Nothing which is of a perishable nature can be the chief good of a being that was made for eternity! - Quesnel.
4:18 The things that are seen - Men, money, things of earth. The things that are not seen - God, grace, heaven.
4:18 While we look not at things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.
Our eyes are fixed on the unseen things beyond, the glory that the flesh cannot behold. Hence, we turn away from present afflictions as momentary, as belonging to the seen and the transient, and only regard them as adding to the weight of our unseen, eternal joys. Our goal is beyond.
For the things which are seen are temporal. All material things, and all that the world values, are perishing. All things of sense shall pass away; Caesar's greatness, the might of Roman power, the strength of man, the glory of the magnificence of Corinth; even the visible heavens and the earth.
But the things which are not seen are eternal. The things which the sense see not, but which faith reveals--God, heaven, the unseen spirit. Let the eye be turned upon the unseen, rather than the things of sense.