2 Corinthians 2:16
(16) To the one we are the savour of death unto death.--As with other instances of St. Paul's figurative language, we note the workings of a deeply, though unconsciously, poetic imagination. Keeping the image of the triumph in his mind, he thinks of the widely different impression and effect which the odour of the incense would work in the two classes of the prisoners. To some it would seem to be as a breath from Paradise, giving life and health; to others its sweetness would seem sickly and pestilential, coming as from a charnel house, having in it the "savour of death," and leading to death as its issue.

And who is sufficient for these things?--The question forced itself on St. Paul's mind as it forces itself on the mind of every true teacher, Who can feel qualified for a work which involves such tremendous issues? If we ask how it was that he did not draw back from it altogether, the answer is found in other words of his: "God has made us able (sufficient) ministers of the New Testament" (2Corinthians 3:6); "our sufficiency is of God" (2Corinthians 3:5). It is obvious that even here he assumes his sufficiency, and gives in the next verse the ground of the assumption.

Verse 16. - The savour of death unto death; rather, a savour from death to death. To those who are perishing, the incense of the Name of Christ which our work enables them to breathe, seems to rise from death, and to lead to death. They (for here again the outlines of the metaphor shift) are like the doomed captives, who, as they breathed the incense on the day of triumph, knew where that triumph would lead them before the victors can climb the Capitol. To them it would seem to bring with it not "airs from heaven," but wafts from the abyss. So Christ was alike for the fall and for the rising again of many (Luke 2:34). To some he was a Stone of stumbling (Acts 4:11; Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8), which grinds to powder those on whom it falls (Matthew 21:44). This contrast between the intended effect of the gospel as the power and wisdom of God, and its accidental effect, through man's sin and blindness which converts it into a source of judgment, is often alluded to in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23, 24; John 3:19; John 9:39; John 15:22, etc.). St. Paul is fond of intensified expressions, like "from death unto death," as in Romans 1:17; "from faith to faith," etc. (2 Corinthians 4:17). Savour of life unto life; rather, a savour from life, as before. It came from the Source of life; it is issued in the sole reality of life. Similarly the rabbis spoke of the Law as "an aroma" alike of death and of life. "Why are the words of the Law likened to princes (Proverbs 8:6)? Because, like princes, they have the power to kill and to give life. Rays said to those that walk on its right, the Law is a medicine of life; to those that walk on the left side, a medicine of death" ('Shabbath,' f. 88, 2; 'Yoma,' f. 72, 2) Everything is as a two-edged sword. All Christian privileges are, as they are used, either blessings or banes (Wordsworth). And who is sufficient for these things? St. Paul always implies that nothing but the grace of God could enable him to discharge the great duty laid upon him (2 Corinthians 3:5, 6; 1 Corinthians 15:10).

2:12-17 A believer's triumphs are all in Christ. To him be the praise and glory of all, while the success of the gospel is a good reason for a Christian's joy and rejoicing. In ancient triumphs, abundance of perfumes and sweet odours were used; so the name and salvation of Jesus, as ointment poured out, was a sweet savour diffused in every place. Unto some, the gospel is a savour of death unto death. They reject it to their ruin. Unto others, the gospel is a savour of life unto life: as it quickened them at first when they were dead in trespasses and sins, so it makes them more lively, and will end in eternal life. Observe the awful impressions this matter made upon the apostle, and should also make upon us. The work is great, and of ourselves we have no strength at all; all our sufficiency is of God. But what we do in religion, unless it is done in sincerity, as in the sight of God, is not of God, does not come from him, and will not reach to him. May we carefully watch ourselves in this matter; and seek the testimony of our consciences, under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, that as of sincerity, so speak we in Christ and of Christ.To the one we are the savour of death unto death,.... Who are for death, or appointed to it; see Jeremiah 43:11. What the apostle says of the Gospel, and Gospel ministers, the Jews his countrymen used frequently to say of the law, and to which he seems to refer;

"saith Rabba (f), to them that go on the right hand of it, (the law,) it is , "the savour of life"; but to them that go on the left hand of it, it is , "the savour of death".''

Again (g),

"everyone that studies in the law for the sake of it, to him it becomes , "the savour of life", according to Proverbs 3:18, but everyone that studies in the law, not for the sake of it, to him it becomes , "the savour of death";''

once more (h),

"if a man is worthy or righteous, to him the law becomes , "the savour of life"; but if he is not righteous, it becomes to him , "the savour of death":''

and this they not only say of the written law, but also of their oral law (i), and are not contented with those general descriptions of persons to whom the law is so, but particularly mention the Gentiles;

"the words of the law (say they (k)) are , "the savour of life", to the Israelites; and , "the savour of death", to the nations of the world:''

that the law should be the savour of death, since it is the ministration of it, and cannot give life, see Galatians 3:21, is no wonder; but that the Gospel and the ministers of that, should be the savour of death unto death, may seem strange, but so it is. These preach up salvation by the death of Christ, and so are the sweet savour of the death of Christ; but this being despised and rejected by the sons of men, is "unto the death", and issues in the eternal death of the despisers and rejecters of it; likewise this doctrine preached by them, strikes with death all a man's wisdom, righteousness, and holiness, and declares that life and salvation are only by Christ and his righteousness; and besides, is attended with persecution and death, and therefore is foolishness to them that perish; and so becomes "the savour of death unto death"; a savour, but not a sweet savour, nor the sweet savour of Christ; a sweet savour indeed to God, whose justice, holiness, power, and wisdom, are displayed in the death and righteous destruction of sinners, but not to them:

to the other, the savour of life unto life; those who are ordained to eternal life. The Gospel preached by Christ's faithful ministers is the means of quickening souls, and giving them "spiritual life"; and of supporting and maintaining that life, and of nourishing them up unto "eternal life"; and so becomes "the savour of life" spiritual, "unto life" eternal. The Alexandrian copy, and some others, and so the Ethiopic version, read both clauses, "from death to death, and from life to life"; with which compare Romans 1:17, and then the meaning may be, either as Grotius observes, that the ill report of the Gospel from men dead in sin, brings death to those who give credit to it; and the good report of it from God, the author of life, to which may be added from ministers, who are alive in a spiritual sense, is the means of life to others: or they are the means of adding death to death, death eternal, to death spiritual, or moral; death for sin, to death in sin, the Gospel being despised; and of increasing spiritual life, the comforts of it; and of adding eternal life to spiritual life: upon the whole of which, the apostle makes this exclamation,

and who is sufficient for these things; the meaning of which is either, who is able to search and find out the reason of this different influence of the Gospel ministry upon the souls of men? no man can do it; it must be ascribed to the sovereign will and pleasure of God, who hides the Gospel from some, and reveals it to others; or who is sufficient for the preaching of the Gospel? no man is sufficient of himself, very insufficient in the best sense, and none so but by the grace of God, and gifts of his Spirit; or who is sufficient to give success to the Gospel when preached? none can do this; Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but it is God alone that gives the increase.

(f) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 88. 2.((g) Taanith, fol. 7. 1.((h) Yoma, fol 72. 2.((i) Zohar in Gen. fol. 19. 3.((k) Vajikra Rabba, fol. 147. 1. Debarim Rabba, fol. 233. 3. Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 9. 4.

2 Corinthians 2:15
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