Paul’s Methods - Page 2 of 9 (series: Lessons on 2nd Cor.)
by John Lowe
2 For He says: "In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
For He says: "In an acceptable time I have heard you
These words are a quote from Isaiah 49:8—“Thus says the Lord: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard You, And in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will preserve You and give You As a covenant to the people, To restore the earth, To cause them to inherit the desolate heritages’”—and they are spoken by the Father to the Son, announcing that He had heard Him, as He always did. He heard Him when He spoke that prayer recorded in John 17:1—“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you”—and he heard him in the garden, and answered him; and He heard him as he hung on the cross. Here, this period of time in which he was heard on these several occasions, is called “an acceptable time”; a time when God expressed His goodwill to men by sending His own Son to work out salvation for them. In God’s dealings with His people through Christ the Apostle saw the true fulfilment of Isaiah’s words. Never, in spite of all outward tragedies, had there been a time so acceptable, a day so full of deliverance.
In Isaiah 49:8, the announcement refers to the Messiah, and the purpose is to show that God would be favorable to Him; that he would hear Him when He prayed, and would make Him the medium of establishing a covenant with His own people, and of spreading the true religion around the earth. Under the Messiah, it is said by Isaiah, God would be willing to show mercy. That would be an acceptable time. That time says Paul, has arrived. The Messiah has come, and now God is willing to pardon and save. And the doctrine in this verse is that under the Messiah, or in the time of Christ, God is willing to show mercy to people. In Him alone is the throne of grace accessible, and now that he has come, God is willing to pardon, and people should avail themselves of the offers of mercy.
The idea contained in the words “In an acceptable time” is that Christ had prayed in a time when God was willing to show mercy; the time when in His wise planning He had predetermined that His salvation would be extended to the world. It is a period which he had fixed in time as the appropriate period for extending the knowledge of His truth and His salvation; and it proves that there was to be a period which was the favorable period of salvation, that is, which God determined to be the proper period for making his salvation known to people. At such a period the Messiah would pray, and the prayer would be answered.
“I have heard you” (the Messiah). I have listened to thy prayer for the salvation of the pagan world. The promise to the Messiah was that the pagan world would be given to Him; but it was a promise that would be in answer to His prayers and intercessions. “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the pagan for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Psalm 2:8). The salvation of the pagan world, and of all who are saved, is to be in answer to the powerful intercession of the Lord Jesus.
And in the day of salvation I have helped you
“In the day of salvation” refers to that window in time during which God is willing to save the lost sinner. These words are still spoken to Christ, who while He was in a human body, working out the salvation of His people, by His obedience, suffering, and death, was aided, or helped by His Father. This help was promised to Him when He lived as a man, and he expected it, and exercised faith in God for it, and which was actually and punctually given him; and which doesn’t indicate any weakness in Christ, who is the mighty God, and was mighty to save; but is instead, an indication of the Father's regard for the human nature of Christ, and of His concern for the salvation of men; and also shows what power and strength were necessary to accomplish it.
“I have helped you” (the Messiah). I have supported you in the effort to make salvation known. God speaks of there being an accepted time, a limited period, in which petitions made for the salvation of the world would be acceptable to him. That time Paul says had come; and he urges people to avail themselves of the opportunity, and embrace the offers of mercy that are now available.
Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation
“Behold” (observe; look at; see) is prefixed to each sentence, in order to raise attention to what follows.
“Now is the accepted time” does not mean that the Gospel dispensation is a milder dispensation in which God will accept an insincere obedience to his law in place of a perfect one; but it is called “the accepted time,” because God and Christ now show goodwill to men, and are ready to embrace poor sensible sinners who come to them in faith.
The word which has been translated “accepted” is much stronger than in the first clause. Entirely acceptable is, perhaps, its best equivalent. The seriousness of the word may have been intensified in Paul’s thoughts by what seemed to him to be the nearness of the impending judgment. Opportunities, in a manner of speaking, were offered which might never be offered again. The longsuffering of God has given to these words a more profound significance, for there is, so to speak, a “now” running through the ages. For each church and nation, for each individual soul, there is a golden present which may never again recur, and in which lie boundless possibilities for the future. The words of the Apostle are, as it were, the generalization of a common experience which tells us that—
“There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune:
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.”
—Shakespeare, Julius Cœsar, iv. 3.
The “accepted time” is the same as what the apostle calls, the fullness of time, Galatians 4:4: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” And it may be called accepted in the same sense that the apostle called the Gospel “a faithful saying, worthy of all acceptance” in 1 Timothy 1:15—“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
Now is the day of salvation, because the Gospel publishes salvation by Christ: now is salvation preached as being done, already obtained by Christ for sinners. It is now brought home to their souls by the ministry of the Gospel under the influence of the Spirit of God. Now sinners are convinced that they need it, and that it cannot be obtained elsewhere, or by any other means than by submitting to Christ, to be saved by him, and him alone. Now men are encouraged to believe in Him, and are brought by Him to actually possess salvation. Observe. "Now" is, and not yesterday was, “the day of salvation;” and “now” is forever, that is, as long as the Gospel dispensation continues; for it will always be now until all the elect of God are gathered in. This day of grace and salvation will never be over till that time comes; it is still “now is the day of salvation,” though men may have withstood the ministry of the Gospel for many years, and may have been dyed-in-the-wool sinners the entire time. There is no withstanding the “now” of grace when it comes with the power of the Holy Ghost. No doubt, Paul meant that as long as life lasts, the door of repentance is never absolutely closed.
The message of this verse is that the “Messiah has come. The time referred to by Isaiah has arrived. It is now a time when God is ready to show compassion, to hear prayer, and to have mercy on mankind. Only through the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, does He show mercy, and people should therefore now embrace the offers of pardon.” The doctrine taught here, therefore, is that through the Lord Jesus, and where he is preached, God is willing to pardon and save people; and this is true wherever He is preached, and as long as people live under the sound of the gospel. The world is under a dispensation of mercy, and God is willing to show compassion, and while this exists, that is, while people live, the offers of salvation are freely made to them. The time will come when it will not be an acceptable time with God. The day of mercy will be closed; the period of trial will be ended; and people will be removed to a world where no mercy is shown, and where compassion is unknown. The general doctrine is, that people should seek reconciliation with God. To reinforce that, he says here that it was now the acceptable time, the time when God was willing to be reconciled to human beings.
If people grieve away the Holy Spirit; if they continue to reject the Gospel; if they go unprepared to eternity, no mercy can be found. God does not plan to pardon anybody beyond the grave. He has made no provision for forgiveness there; and those who are not pardoned in this life, must be unpardoned forever.