Fully and Fragrantly Confessing Jesus Christ
Surely some of the most staggering words in the New Testament are found in 2 Corinthians 2:14: ‘But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.’ If you are a Christian, however bad or poor or despondent you feel yourself to be, God is leading you ‘always’ in your Saviour’s triumphal procession. He has conquered you by his grace and brought you into the glory of his triumph over sin and death and hell (read Col. 2:15).
However, it is Paul’s next words that I want especially to consider with you: ‘and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere’. Why does Paul introduce the word ‘fragrance?’ For one very good and important reason – the knowledge of God is not a brute chunk of fact, however evangelical and Reformed! God’s revealed truth about him is not clinical, far less cold; it is warm, sweet, winsome and compelling. The Psalmist understood this well: ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul . . . sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb’ (Psa. 19:7, 10). The Bible is not a catechism. It is the revelation of God to us clothed with the grace of his love and the incarnate humanity of his Son. It ‘drips’ with tenderness (and with holy awesomeness). It comes to us with tender, affectionate appeals (Matt. 11:28-30). Those of us who confess to be Christ’s must reflect, in some measure, that ‘fragrance’ in our lives and witness.
James Denney has some searching things to say on these words of Paul.
The very word ‘savour’ (fragrance), in connexion with the ‘knowledge of God’ in Christ, is full of meaning. It has its most direct application, of course, to preaching. When we proclaim the Gospel, do we always succeed in manifesting it as a ‘savour’? Or is not the savour – the sweetness, the winsomeness, the charm and attractiveness of it – the very thing most easily left out? . . . We miss what is most characteristic in the knowledge of God if we miss this. We leave out that very element in the Evangel which makes it evangelic, and gives it its power to subdue and enchain the souls of men (Commentary on Second Corinthians).
Denney goes on to tell us that it is not only to preachers that this word ‘fragrance’ applies, ‘it is of the widest possible application.’
Do you know what Denney is talking about? Do you understand that there is a diameter of distance between confessing Christ accurately and confessing him accurately with warmth, personal delight, and a profound sense of your indebtedness to God’s amazing grace? In the gospel, divine omnipotence is married to divine graciousness; indeed it is clothed in graciousness.
This is something preachers must not only convey in their preaching but manifest in their living. Preaching is an extension of life, not something tacked on. What preachers are as men will be carried with them into their preaching. This is deeply convicting. I wonder if at times we reduce the word ‘Reformed’ to a catalogue of particular truths. The Reformed faith is a catalogue of particular truths (though it is better to see it as a universe of truth), but truths that are clothed with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have been reading this past week Thomas Goodwin’s The Heart of Christ (Banner of Truth). Let me encourage you to buy and read this rich exposition of the gospel heart of Christ. Here you will encounter ‘the fragrance of the knowledge of (Christ)’ that Paul writes about – and I guarantee you will be stirred and moved (at least I hope you will be).
We are not the best assessors of whether or how much of this fragrance is evident in our lives and witness. But let it be a constant prayer that God will, by the power of the Holy Spirit, cause the sap of the Saviour’s grace to more and more suffuse all we are and all we say.
Ian Hamilton is Pastor of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church, now worshipping God on Sunday mornings in All Saints’ Church, Jesus Lane, Cambridge and in the Lutheran Church, Huntingdon Road, on Sunday evenings.
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