April 15th, 1956 @ 7:30 PM
2 Corinthians 4:7-18
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 4:7-18
4-15-56 7:30 p.m.
Now in your Bible, let us turn to the fourth chapter of the second Corinthian letter, and we will the read the passage together. This morning we left off is at the sixth verse [2 Corinthians 4:6], and tonight we will begin at the seventh verse and read to the end of the chapter [2 Corinthians 4:7-18]; 2 Corinthians, the fourth chapter, and beginning at the seventh verse. This is one of the most beautiful and most meaningful of all of the chapters in the Bible, 2 Corinthians 4:7 to the end of the chapter. All right, together, let us read it:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.
So then death worketh in us, but life in you.
We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak;
Knowing that He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you.
For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
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
[2 Corinthians 4:7-18]
And the text tonight is the last two verses, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 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” [2 Corinthians 4:17-18]. And the title of the message is The Things Eternal.
There is no possibility of any true understanding of our life, and of our world, and of our time without perspective and proportion. We are not conclusive in ourselves, nor are we ends within ourselves, but we are part of a vast and a greater whole. So I say for any proper understanding of our own selves and of our place and our destiny in life and in time, we must look at it in perspective, in proportion.
It is like a picture. However a picture is drawn, it has been to be drawn from a certain perspective, and it must be built around a certain proportion, else it has no meaning at all. For example, when a man draws a landscape, wherever he stands to draw the picture, everything must be in proportion. If the land that he drew were five or six times as big as the mountains that he drew, why, the thing would be all out of proportion. But as he looks at the scene, here is the mountain, and there are the trees. Here is the land, and there are the cattle of the field. And here is the river and all of the other things; and the perspective and the proportion make possible a true presentation of the picture. That is the way it is when we accommodate ourselves, as we find ourselves acclimated in the world around us. We first must orientate ourselves where we are, or else we have no feeling of the proportion of the city or the place in which we then stand
For example, the first time I was in New York City, a country boy, I was lost and amazed of an endless, endless metropolis. But I paid a dollar bill for the privilege of getting on top of the Empire State Building. And when I stood up there and looked over that vast area—there is Brooklyn and Long Island. There is the East River, and here is the Hudson River. This is Manhattan. That is the Bronx. Here are all of these buildings that you can easily pick out—then, when I went back down and walked among the streets of New York City, I had a fine sense of where I was—the location of this building and that street and this park.
When I went to Bangkok, the capital of Siam, I had the most terrible time trying to find myself in that endless maze of canals, and throngs, and streets, and cities, and temples. It was just a vast conglomerate to me. But when we left, the plane flew over the city and down the river and out to the sea, and when I could see it from above, I could easily find myself in my thinking of where this temple was, where the market is, and where our Baptist work is, and where the main streets are, and where the big river flows through. Well, life is like that. As long as the piece of it that we are in is isolated and unrelated, then it has no meaning. But for it to have real significance and real meaning, it must fit into the great eternal pattern of the Lord God Almighty.
Now, that is especially true with things of time. When I was a boy, things looked thus and so, and the troubles that came upon me as a child were thus and so. But when I became a man, those childish things passed away. I must remember that now that I am in manhood. For the—for the life that we live and the times in which God has cast us, are always against a great, vast background of eternity. “For our light affliction is but for a moment” [2 Corinthians 4:17].
“We are not to look 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” [2 Corinthians 4:18]. Against the background of an eternity are we to view our lives and our times and the incidents of life that come upon us. So may I say first then that our afflictions are to be viewed in the light of an eternity of things eternal?
He begins the passage, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment” [2 Corinthians 4:17]. I can easily hear someone stand up to say, “Whoever wrote that passage certainly did not understand my woe and my sorrow in life. Whoever said affliction is light and is but for a moment [2 Corinthians 4:17], whoever wrote that,” I can hear someone say, “certainly knew nothing of the reality of the pain and the sorrow of life.” I can hear another speak up and say, “Yes, and whoever wrote that passage, light affliction, but a moment, he must have been in robust health. The gentleman that wrote that certainly did not know what it was to be in sickness and in pain and in agony.” And I can hear another one speak up and say, “Yes. That’s right, and whoever wrote that passage certainly did not have to bear the burdens that I have to bear. He didn’t have a sick wife and a large family to support and live next to death’s poverty. Whoever wrote that certainly—certainly must have had all of the possessions that heart could desire, and he lived a life of ease and of pleasure.” And I could hear a man speak up and say, “And that’s right for me, too. For whoever wrote that passage, and called our affliction light and but for a moment, had never stood by an open grave and saw buried out of sight the very heart and soul and love of life.”
Look, the man who wrote that passage, just turn the page here, the man who wrote that passage is the same one that wrote this passage:
in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons frequent, in deaths oft.
Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned.
Five times was I beaten with stripes, forty of them save one.
In journeyings often, in perils of waters, of robbers, of my countrymen, of heathen, in the city, in the wilderness, in the sea, among false brethren:
In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
[2 Corinthians 11:23-27]
The man [Paul] that said, “Our light affliction is but for a moment” [2 Corinthians 4:17], is a man who experienced in his life all of those sorrows and burdens that I’ve just named [2 Corinthians 11:23-27]. And besides that, he began this letter, “Brethren, I would not have you without knowledge concerning our troubles which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure . . . that we despaired even of life: Yea we have the sentence of death in ourselves” [2 Corinthians 1:8-9]. That is the man who is writing this passage and speaks of our light affliction, which is but for a moment [2 Corinthians 4:17].
Then somebody speaks up and says, “Why, then he must have been—he must have been careless, and he must have been light-hearted, and he must have had a philosophy: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” [Ecclesiastes 8:15; 1 Corinthians 15:32]. Oh no, not the man who wrote that. He was the most careful and logical and considerate of all the men you could ever read after in your life.
Then finally, somebody says, “Well, whoever wrote that passage and spoke of affliction as being light and but for a moment, he must have been hardened and inured against all of the sorrows and despairs of life. And he must have been a Stoic under an unmoved countenance. He hid all of the feelings of his heart and his life, and he must have accepted them with a stoical philosophy, ‘Allah’s will be done.’” No, not the man who wrote that passage, for that man was the tenderest, I suppose, next to the Lord Christ Himself. I preached a sermon one time on the tears of Paul. This man, so highly educated and so fitted and trained for a fine profession and a place in the theological world, says that, he made his living with his own hands and supported himself [Acts 20:34] in order that he might preach the unsearchable riches of the gospel in Christ Jesus [Ephesians 3:8].
Well, Paul, then why, then how could a man ever write whoever lived in this world, in this veil of tears, how could a man ever write about affliction being light and but for a moment [2 Corinthians 4:17], when sometimes it crushes us in the dust and lasts all of the days of our lives? But there’s no fleeing away, and there is no escape.
Well, he writes against the background of the things eternal [2 Corinthians 4:18]. Speaking of the very afflictions themselves, working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at these things that are seen, but at the things when are not seen: for these that we see are temporal, they pass away, they are but for the moment; but the things that are not seen are eternal, they abide forever [2 Corinthians 4:17-18]. So he looks upon all of the sorrows, and pains, and illnesses, and sicknesses, and disappointments, and despairs of life against the great eternal background of the eternities that are yet to come. And he says that our afflictions are light, and they are but for the moment, and they soon pass away, and they work for us that far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory [2 Corinthians 4:17].
The same thing that the twelfth chapter of the Book of Hebrews describes in the life of Jesus, remember the second verse? “Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and”—the eternal weight of glory—”is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” [Hebrews 12:2]. Even the cross to Christ, with its suffering and its blood and its agony, was as nothing compared to the joy that was set before Him. It is the same thing as a mother who will all night long watch over her child, and the burden of it, and the sleeplessness of it, and the wearisomeness of it is as nothing compared to the winning back and the nurturing of the life of the little child. That’s it. Our affliction is just for the moment, and it is light compared to those eternal glories that God shall reveal in us [2 Corinthians 4:17].
Now there is another thing. Not only are our afflictions light and but for a moment compared to the great eternities that are yet to come, but also the incidents and the vicissitudes and the fortunes of life are always to be considered in the backdrop and in view of the great eternities of God, while we look not at the things which are seen, but the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; and the things which are not seen are eternal [2 Corinthians 4:18]. All of the fortunes, the turns that come into my life, I must remember to view them in view of the great eternities that are yet to come.
I spoke a moment ago about things that happened when I was a child. Why, I can call to mind here and another and there, and you can also, when you cried your little hearts, the very soul on the inside. Childish cares and troubles are as great and as sorrowful to children as your present cares and troubles that overwhelm you today. Only thing is, a grown man or a grown woman will see a little child cry because mother is gone away, or because the child couldn’t go with father and mother—left there behind. And the little thing just cries and cries. Well, we look at it in view of a lifetime, but that little sorrow and that little loneliness and that little forsakenness is just as much to that little child as your loneliness and forsakenness is to you today. Childish troubles and the tears that go with it are meaningful and big when ye are a child. But now that I am grown, I look back over those things, and I smile at some of them; some of things that so troubled me, over which I was so disappointed, over which I cried as a little boy, as I look over them now, they are as nothing. I try to remind myself of that same thing now that I have reached manhood. Some of these things that so overwhelm me now, some of things that loom so great and large now and cover the horizon. When I am living a thousand years hence and look at them against the background of an eternity, I wonder then if I will not smile at some of perplexities and sorrows that overwhelm me today.
Most of you, I suppose, have come to this city and have joined this church since the death of Brother Bob Coleman. We have a mission named for Bob Coleman. Our dining hall is named for Bob Coleman. He was the pastor’s assistant here for two and forty years. For about forty-and-a-half years of that, he was with the great pastor Dr. Truett, and for a year-and-a-half of his life he helped me. God left him here for that little space of time, as I said on the Lord’s Day following his translation—God left him here for that little space of time that he might help us over that hill getting started in this ministry here in this great church.
Well, when I came here, Brother Bob Coleman had for several years conducted almost all of the funeral services of the church. He told me that he had buried more than four thousand, that he had conducted that many funerals and more. So I say, when I first came almost all of the funeral services were conducted by Brother Bob, and I would go along with him and assist him in those memorial services.
One of them was [for the mother of] a dear lady—and she still lives, and she still belongs to this church—a maiden lady, all of the family had died except her mother, and now her mother had died, and she was left alone. So I went with Brother Bob to conduct the memorial service for the mother. And there to our left seated by herself was this maiden girl that the mother had left behind, the only member of the family. And when Brother Bob conducted that funeral service, he quoted a poem. First time I had ever thought of it in connection with a memorial hour. First time I had thought of it since I was a boy and read it in my schoolbook. But this is the poem that Brother Bob quoted in that memorial hour with that girl by herself, weeping over the loneliness and the forsakenness of life. And this is it:
THERE! Little girl; don’t cry!
They have broken your doll, I know;
And your tea-set blue,
And your play-house, too,
Are things of the long ago;
But childish troubles will soon pass by.—
There! Little girl; don’t cry!
There! Little girl; don’t cry!
They have broken your slate, I know;
And the glad, wild ways
Of your schoolgirl days
Are things of the long ago;
But life and love will soon come by.—
There! Little girl; don’t cry!
There! Little girl; don’t cry!
They have broken your heart I know;
And the rainbow gleams
Of your [girl-hood] dreams
Are things of the long ago;
But Heaven holds all for which you sigh.—
There! Little girl; don’t cry!
[“A Life Lesson,” James Whitcomb Riley]
It is as fitted in my memory today as it was almost ten or eleven years ago. Against the great background of God’s infinitude, our childish troubles are like the troubles of manhood and womanhood, they soon pass by. While we look not at the things which are not temporal, but at the things which are eternal, for the things which are seen—the flowers, the casket, the open grave, our sorrowing hearts—these are the temporalities, these are things that are seen. But the great eternities, the great unseen, these never pass away [2 Corinthians 4:18].
And now, in the Spirit of God and upon your prayerful hearts, may I now bring the final word of the great unseen eternities and realities of God? For, you see, I still believe that Plato had an insight into the truth and the realities in this world that is almost inspired. It’s like the revelation of God here in the Book, and it’s like my text tonight. For Plato’s philosophy was this: that the things that I see are the things that are copies, temporalities, materialities of the great realities, of the great pattern. Sometimes he would use the word the “ideas,” there are the unseen that are real things up and beyond and away, and what is here are just the temporalities, the copies of the great types of the great patterns, and the great ideas that abide forever.
Now that philosophy, so keenly and wonderfully and by insight written out by Plato is the same thing that Paul speaks of here in this Book. He says that the things that we see, the things that we see are not the real things. But he says that the real things are the things we never see. They are the unseen things, and they are the eternities, and when you think of that, looking around you, you find it verified in all of the parts of life. The great things of nature, of God’s world, the great realities, the abiding things are never seen. I cannot see air, but all life depends upon it, every piece of it. “And the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whether it goeth” [John 3:8], so the Spirit of God, the breath of God. I cannot see air, but everything of life depends upon it.
No man has ever seen electricity. You can point out the transmission line, but you cannot see the power that flows through them. These great guiding principles of life, no man could ever see them. The scientist speaks of chemical affinity. He speaks of dynamics. He speaks of gravitation. No man has ever seen affinity. No man has ever seen dynamics. No man has ever seen the great principles of gravitation. In these little microcosms, these little universes of the atom, as in the great microcosm above us, there is an unseen hand that seems to guide with uncanny accuracy and precision every movement in it. But no man has ever seen that uncanny guiding hand that moves with such great precision.
So with all of the principle of life, no man has ever seen the principle of life. We can see the trees sway in the breeze. We can see the wind ripple over the grasses in the meadow. We can hear the rustle of the corn in the field. We can see the sheep gather in the fold. We can see the cattle graze out on a thousand hills. A man can describe by minute detail every piece and part of a giant oak. But he cannot see, nor can he describe the principle of life that guides the substance and the creation of that oak, or of that field, or of that land, or of that grass, or of that tree.
For example, who is the architect that builds a watermelon? Think of the ingenious, miraculous power of the building of a watermelon. Who is the architect that colors it just so, shapes it just so, puts it very life all through those little seeds? Who does that? Who makes a grapefruit? Who is it; the great unseen principle of life that lies back of all of these beautiful things? Who in the earth could ever speak that out of this and this out of that? There is somebody, there is something that is at work all around us and in us. For that principle of life which is God Himself is ever present and ever near.
You know, standing on a corner in Rome, looking at the Coliseum right there and thinking about the Coliseum, and then looking upon the Arch of Constantine right there, and looking at the great Roman Forum right there, just standing there waiting, just looking at those great and ancient and marvelously historical significant objects, those vast colossal ruins, just looking at them, I happened to see right across the street from me, playing on the vast ruins of the Roman Forum, little children. And I thought, “Isn’t that God? This great majestic Coliseum in ruins; the Arch of Constantine at that time being built up so it could be preserved for posterity, and that vast Roman Forum in a tremendous ruin and decay, but humanity, the principle of life going on and on and on like an endless river. But you cannot see the principle that preserves it and guards it and keeps it. It is hid in the great unseen hand of God.
Now, I have said that just to say this—so those great, moving, regenerating powers that make us new men and new women, that make us sons of God, that regenerate our souls and our lives, these are the great unseen things of God, and they are the eternities. When Saul was going down the road to Damascus, he was one man. When Saul entered the city of Damascus, he was another man, but he was the same man. Something had happened inside of his heart; that great, unseen, moving, regenerating Spirit of the living God [Acts 9:1-18].
And that is what all of our hearts hunger for and long for and pant for is the presence of the eternities, the presence of the Lord God, the nearness of the Savior. Somehow there is a lost-ness and a forsakenness and a darkness outside of Him that no man can penetrate and no man is adequate or sufficient for. But God made us for Himself; and until we find ourselves in God, we are lost, and lost, and lost, and lost. An animal can live by bread alone, but a man cannot, not a man made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27]. He lives by the breath and the Word of the Lord [Matthew 4:4]. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth our heart after Thee, O God” [Psalm 42:1].
That unseen, that something other, and our spirits cry out for an affinity with Him. We are made that way. It is something on the inside of us that without that, without Him, without God, we are so empty and lost, living in an impenetrable and inexplicable world. Like Shakespeare says, “Life outside of God, life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, expressing nothing.” But in God, in Him, in that something for which He hath made our hearts, we find the true meaning, and destiny, and call, and glory of life. These are the eternities that are not seen.
May I share something that I read this week? Long time ago, there lived a wonderful musician, a glorious violinist. And I remembered his name, I remembered his name because it is spelled O-L-E — B-U-L-L. I remembered that as I boy. I thought that was the strangest name that I ever heard in my life, that I ever saw. Well, it is pronounced Ole Bull.
Ole Bull was, I suppose, the greatest violinist who ever lived. He was born in Norway. He grew up in a little place in Norway, and he loved Norway. And he interpreted the soul and the music of Norway, and when he died—died in 1880—when he died, his death was taken as a great national loss, and the whole nation mourned, Europe’s greatest violinist, I suppose.
Well, in that little place in Norway, there grew up with Ole Bull, there grew up another boy by the name of John Ericsson. Now, John Ericsson and Ole Bull were friends, and they grew up together, but they were so different. Ole Bull loved music, and he loved his violin, and he loved the things of the soul. And John Ericsson was a mathematic and a mechanical genius, and he looked upon Ole Bull as being a visionary and somebody who would never come to any good end.
Well, when they grew up and the days passed, why, John Ericsson came, immigrated to the United States. And being a mathematical wizard and a mechanical genius, he built a factory here in the United States. And he greatly prospered. He became a rich man with a great industrial empire. And from time to time, John Ericsson would read about his old friend Ole Bull in the newspapers and in the headlines. But he never paid any attention to it. And he never thought anything about it. That is just something out—out of his life. [He] didn’t need anything like that.
So, upon a time, his old friend, Ole Bull, came to the United States, and he was in a great concert here. And the most successful, I suppose, that the United States has ever enjoyed. And he played in John Ericsson’s hometown. John Ericsson was too busy, and he didn’t have time for such things as that anyway. He was running his factory, and he was building an industrial empire. And who had time to go down there to hear his old friend Ole Bull play the violin? Well, Ole Bull went down to the factory, and he went to the office of his old friend John Ericsson and called on him. And he began to talk to John about these things, and then finally about what John was doing, and finally about those manufacturing processes. And John was amazed at what Ole Bull knew, as Ole talked to him about all kinds of fabrics and all kinds of materials and all kinds of things that John himself was producing there in that plant. By and by, Ole Bull began to talk to him about some of those things that enter into the science of music and vibration and resonance. And he took out his violin, and he began to talk John Ericsson about some of those mechanical things in the making of beautiful music. And he put the violin up to his chin and his shoulder, and he swept the bow across it, and explained some other things, and he got John’s attention.
And then, with that sweep of the bow, Ole Bull began to play one of those old Norwegian songs that he and John used to love when they were back in Norway. And then he played another, one of those beautiful old Norwegian melodies that John had known back yonder in childhood days. And then he played another one, and John Ericsson began to weep. And when Ole Bull stopped, he said, “Oh, Ole, keep on playing. Play again. Play again.” He said, “That’s been out of my heart, that’s been lacking in my life all through these years. Ole, play again. Play again.”
And as the great violinist played again, the workers began to come and to listen into the office. John opened the door and stepped out and made an announcement to the whole plant that that hour everything was to shut down and all of his operatives and all of his employees were to gather around in order that they might hear his old friend Ole Bull play the music of the soul and of the heart.
When I read that, I said that’s this text; that’s this text. You’re just not made for the temporalities, you’re just not! You’re just not made for the materialities, you’re just not. You’re not made for the things that are seen, you’re just not. You’re made for God, and you’re made for heaven, and you’re made for the eternities that are yet to come! God put it in your soul. God put it in your heart. And we are lost and restless until we find that ultimate answer in Him, in God [2 Corinthians 4:17-18].
And that’s our appeal and our invitation tonight. While we sing this song, somebody you, anywhere you, somebody tonight give your heart to God, place your trust in Him, would you come? Into that aisle and down here to the front, put your hand in the hand of the pastor, “Here I am, preacher, and here I come. This night I give my heart in faith and in trust to the Lord Jesus.” Will you do it? A family you, put your life in the church; somebody you, by letter, by statement, by baptism, by confession of faith; however God shall say the word and lead the way, while we sing, while we make appeal, will you come? Will you come, while we stand and while we sing?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 4:7-18
A. No true understanding of our life and world without perspective and proportion – we are part of a vast and greater whole
1. Like a picture has to be drawn from a certain perspective
2. Elevation – New York from Empire State Building, Bangkok from an airplane
3. Time against the background of eternity(2 Corinthians 4:17-18)II. Affliction in the light of the eternities
A. Paul calls it “light afflictionâ€¦for a moment”
1. Some say he must not understand pain and sorrow, must have been in robust health, and must have lived in a life of ease and pleasure
a. Paul experienced sorrows and burdens (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, 11:23-27)
2. Some say he must have been careless, lighthearted; or hardened and a stoic
a. Paul most thought, logical, careful of all men, and a man of great tenderness(Acts 20:34)
B. How could affliction ever be called “light”?
1. Paul’s answer: they work for us a more exceeding weight of glory(2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
a. The life of Jesus (Hebrews 12:2)
A. As a child, what then seemed so big, now is so little
B. As a man now must remember that some of the things that overwhelm today will be as nothing a thousand years hence
1. Funeral service with Bob Coleman
2. Riley’s “A Life Lesson”IV. The true forces of life in the light of the eternities
A. The unseen things are the real things
1. Philosophy of Plato
2. In nature, the most powerful forces are invisible(John 3:8)
B. The principle of life itself is unseen
1. Children playing on the ruins of Rome
C. The powers that make for the renewal of human life, soul are unseen
1. Saul on the way to Damascus – Paul who enters the city(Acts 9:1-18)
D. The soul’s hunger for God(Psalm 42:1)
1. Ole Bull, John Ericsson