“We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ in them that are saved, and in them that perish. To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life.” (2 Cor. 2:15).
These words are often quoted as teaching that the gospel is the occasion of deepening the condemnation of those that hear and reject it, and of sinking them into lower ruin. On examination, however, this interpretation proves untenable.
St. Paul alludes to the triumph of a Roman Conqueror, leading home his captives. As the procession moved along, sweet spices were burnt in honour of the victor, and the perfume thus diffused, while delightful to his own troops, would be intolerably painful to the captives. The one it would remind of victory, joy, reward, and rest. To the others, it would recall loss, degradation, and doom. Thus what was fragrant to the first, would, to the second, be associated with all that was painful.
So with the Gospel. Some that hear it are “dead in trespasses and sins,” and its message to them is most sad. It tells them of a Saviour they neither know nor desire. It tells them of the necessity of a change which they have never experienced. It tells them of the power of atoning blood to cleanse from sin; but sin is no burden to them, nor do they wish for its removal. It tells them of a heaven which they have no capacity for enjoying. How, then, can it be like fragrant perfume to them? They may be stoical and unconcerned, or they may wince and tremble—but they cannot love the Gospel till they feel what it is to be lost.
Again. Some hear the Gospel with sacred pleasure. It describes their characters. It breathes hope to their distressed souls. It depicts a Saviour perfectly adapted to meet their requirements. It tells of precious blood which can remove their weightiest burdens. Its message is mercy to the guilty, and they stand self-condemned. Its consolations are addressed to the “poor and needy;” to those “that labour and are heavy laden:” to the hungry and thirsty, the weary and the lost; and such they feel themselves to be. It portrays a great change—a change from death unto life, which they hope they have known. It is therefore a welcome report to them. It is grateful as sweet perfume—“a savour of life unto (those that possess spiritual) life” (Compare Isa. 52 and 61:1, 3).
But whether sinners are saved or remain in sin under the preaching of the Gospel, those that faithfully proclaim it are equally pleasing to God. The results accord with His design—nor does He frown on those who are made instrumental in winning but few souls. “We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish.”