"For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?"
The term "savor," signifies literally, anything that affects the organs of taste or smell; a sweet savor, is that which has a pleasant odor or taste. The incense and perfumed offerings which were made under the law, were to signify such offerings as are acceptable to God, and things with which God is well pleased; and in this sense we understand it is used by the apostle in our text. In the preceding verse Paul says, "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of his knowledge by us in every place: for we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ," &c. As the members of Christ, as his apostles, standing in him, by whom the savor of his knowledge is made known in every place, the apostles, their gifts and labors in the gospel, are well pleasing to God, not only in the effect produced on them that are saved, but also on them that perish. In drawing the line between the living and the dead, in feeding, comforting and building up the saints, and in exposing the hidden things of dishonesty, they draw down on themselves the wrath and persecution of the enemies of God and truth. So that in every place where they were called to labor, whether men would hear or forbear to hear, whether sinners were converted to God, or enraged by the testimony, in all cases God caused them to triumph, or made their ministry effectual, either by bringing to light those who have an ear to hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches, or in exposing those who were those who were of the opposite character; in no cases were their labors in vain in the Lord. "We are unto God a sweet savor of Christ." There was nothing in even the apostles, which was well pleasing unto God but what was of Christ. They, in themselves, were by nature children of wrath even as others, hence all that they possessed as the children of God, disciples of Christ, or apostles of the Lamb, was of Christ, and the savor of that treasure which was committed to them, as unto earthen vessels, was a savor of Christ unto God. Their election, their calling, their qualifications for the ministry, and their administrations, were acceptable unto God by Jesus Christ.
"To the one we are the savor of death unto death." That is to the one class, for they are presented in our subject as two classes, them that are saved, and them that perish. To the latter class, the apostle says we are the savor of life unto life. But how are we to understand this declaration? Does he mean that the preaching of the gospel is to them who perish the cause of their damnation, or of their perishing? That the gospel proposes to them terms, conditions, and proffers, and their rejection of them, or failure to comply with them, is the cause of their eternal death? Certainly not, for such is not the truth. Neither the gospel itself, nor the preaching of the gospel, can possibly injure any one. The gospel has no more power to damn, than the law has to justify and save. Condemnation and wrath is by the law, justification and immortality is by the gospel. The law is the administration of death, but the gospel administers life only to them that are saved, for those unto whom this life is administered cannot perish. Christ has said, I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall any pluck them out of my hands. How then, are these apostles the savor of death unto death in them that perish? We understand the matter thus. To them that are dead in trespasses and sins, the preaching of the gospel only comes in the letter, or external sound of it; it falls upon their deaf ears as a dead letter; it has no life in it to them, inasmuch as they being dead, cannot receive it in its spirit and life. Take a bird from the open air, and confine it in water, as its nature is not adapted to the water, this element is death to the bird, but it is life to the fish. But the water, although adapted to the nature of the living fish, can administer no life to the dead fish. So the preaching of the apostles was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. The word can only come to the dead, in the oldness of the letter, and not in the newness of the Spirit. To them it comes in word only, not in power, or in the Holy Ghost, or in much assurance, as it comes to quickened sinners; to them, Christ who is the substance of the gospel, is as a root out of dry ground, having no form or comeliness, and they have no desire for a knowledge of his ways, and the preaching of the cross is to them foolishness. It being spiritual, and they being carnal, they cannot comprehend it, they cannot feast upon it, nor can they derive vitality from it until they are quickened by the Spirit, and born of God; for the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit; for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned.
But to the other, that is to the living children of God, who possess life, the gospel is the power of God and the wisdom of God, it has life and comfort in it to cheer, sustain and animate that life that is in them. It is death to their carnal nature, to their outward man which perishes it has no life; but the inward man is by it renewed day by day. Every Christian must know in his own experience, that the gospel is full of life, joy and consolation to them, for they live upon it; it is Christ, and him crucified, and it is therefore the bread of heaven unto them. When the apostles and primitive ministers of the word were preaching, in all the examples recorded in the New Testament, there were some who gladly received the word, who fed upon it, and there were others who had no relish for it, who could not receive it, and who resisted and blasphemed. They preached Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and tot he Greeks foolishness, but unto them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, it was Christ, (and therefore life, for Christ is the Life) the power of God, and the wisdom of God. "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us what are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." Not them which do not believe, it is death to them, but the sheep of Christ, and they hear his voice, and they know his voice; but a stranger they will not follow, for they know not the voice of strangers.
"And who is sufficient for these things?" Who is sufficient to discriminate between the living and the dead, between them that are saved, and them that perish? Who is sufficient to pour forth into the hearts of God’s living children the streams of that river that makes glad the city of our God, to warm, revive, comfort and refresh them, while in their pilgrimage, and to bear the reproach, persecution, rage and violence of those unto whom the preaching of the word is foolishness? Those, and those only, whom God sustains, whom he causeth to triumph in Christ, as he did the apostles, are sufficient for the work whereunto the Holy Ghost has called them. Through him they can feed the flock of God, over the which the Holy Ghost has made them overseers, and through their God they can rush through a troop, and leap over a wall. But no part of the excellency of the power of the gospel is of them; it is of God, it is a sweet savor of Christ unto God, in them that are saved. The very fact that the gospel as preached by them does not feed, comfort or build up the unregenerate, that it is death unto death unto them that perish, is as irrefragable testimony that they are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, as when they are the messengers of joy and comfort to them that are saved. For the preaching of the cross, if preached in its purity, is just as sure to be foolishness to the ungodly, as it is to be the wisdom of God to them that are saved.
June 15, 1855
Elder Gilbert Beebe