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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

2 Corinthians 12

Verse 2


‘In Christ.’

2 Corinthians 12:2

We are to believe that, if we have the faith to accept it, we are so completely united with Christ that God Himself sees us as one—‘accepted in the Beloved.’

I. Christ is in you as the life-blood is in the members.—He moves and directs you as the head guides the limbs. His mind and His spirit pervade you as a man’s moral and intellectual being pervades his spiritual being. And you—all your cares and all your sorrows—pass to Christ, just as the nerves go up and meet in the brain. And no less your joys, for they are His joys. What Christ did, it is as though you did it. What Christ suffered, it is as though you suffered it. You died in and with Him on the Cross. You descended with Him into hell. Death and hell are things of the past to you, and they can never be repeated to you. And your righteousness—poor, vile, wicked sinner as you are—your righteousness is as spotless before God as His own immaculate Son.

II. All words, all thoughts fail to reach the height of that great mystery—a ‘life in Christ.’ Therefore we are above angels, for they are with Christ; they are not ‘ in Christ.’ Therefore we are restored to more than we lost—for we are like God—in His image: not as Adam was, but because we are ‘in Christ.’ Therefore we are ‘sons of God,’ not as Adam was, but because we are in the Son.’ Therefore we shall not be ashamed in the judgment, because we present Christ as us, and us as Christ. And therefore we can stand in the holy presence of God, because found ‘in Christ,’ in grace, we shall be found ‘in Christ’ in glory. Oh, the safety of that ‘life in Christ’! How can they perish who are ‘in Christ’?

III. In that man who is ‘in Christ,’ there is an inner life, which is independent of all outward circumstances. It may be all changing about him; but that life does not change. It may be all sad and dark in the outer world; but that life cannot be touched. It is so secret; so secure! And its purity and its brightness shine out in the man’s walk of holiness and charity. And men will catch glimpses of the Christ that is in him. Do I say then there will be no painful feeling of sin, no infirmities, no distresses, no struggles, no falls to the ‘life in Christ’? Nay, many more than any other life. But what I say is this— the life is sure, for it is ‘ the life.’ It is the life of a Man, and it is the life of God.

—Rev. James Vaughan.


(1) ‘The tongue of an archangel would stammer in telling what Christ is, and what Christ has, for all who trust in Him. Forgiveness is in Christ”—“In Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” ( Ephesians 1:7). Peace is in Christ”—“These things have I spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace” ( John 16:33). Joy is in Christ”—“In Whom believing ye rejoice with joy unspeakable” (1 St. Peter 2 Corinthians 1:8). Safety is in Christ”—Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” ( Romans 8:36). Victory is in Christ”—“Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” ( Romans 7:24-Lamentations :).’

(2) ‘We have the twofold expression—of “Christ in us” and “we in Christ.” And we may take the “Christ in us” to be the one inward power of holiness which we have, and the “we in Christ” to be our clothing in the righteousness of Christ, which is our justification and our acceptance with God. If we make this distinction, we must be careful not to confound the “Christ in us” with the work of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in us. Our sanctification is the office of the Holy Ghost. But there is a “Christ in us” besides, over and above, the work of the Holy Spirit in us.’

Verses 8-9


‘For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’

2 Corinthians 12:8-1 Samuel :

Whatever the exact nature of this affliction may have been, there is one point upon which we cannot be mistaken.

I. He tells us himself that it seemed to him to be a ‘messenger of Satan.’—It was not merely a suffering. That he could have borne with joy. He has told us already of many different sufferings and trials, which were very grievous in themselves, but were very easy to bear compared with this, because their nature seemed to be different. This seemed to come directly from the power of evil. It seemed to have come upon him expressly that it might oppose the will and purpose of God concerning him. Just when he was most longing to be strong in the spirit, this made him feel the infirmity of the flesh. Just when he was ready to wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world, this ‘messenger of Satan’ reminded him that his strength was utter weakness. It seemed to thwart and hinder the work which he was doing for God in the world, and the work which God was doing in his own heart. It seemed to him that, if it were not for this, he might be more of an Apostle, a better soldier of the Cross, more able to accomplish the mission upon which he felt that God had sent him. His thoughts sometimes dwelt in sadness upon what his life might have been, how much better, how much brighter, how much nearer heaven, if he were delivered from this one burden.

II. And his heart’s desire was that it might be removed.—And while the cherished hope was still deferred, he cast his burden upon the Lord. Time after time that heart’s desire was ‘made known unto God,’ and the strong fervent prayer rose before the Throne that the evil thing might depart from him. Surely we should expect that such a prayer must be granted. It was the fervent prayer of a righteous man praying righteously, praying, that is, not for his own ease, but for God’s glory; asking, not that he might enjoy life more, but that he might be enabled to work better for God; staying himself upon such words as these, ‘Ask and ye shall have, seek and ye shall find.’ Yet the thorn in the flesh did not depart. And are we then to believe that that fervent prayer was offered in vain? When we think of this passage in the life of the Apostle, we cannot but be reminded of another and Diviner prayer, which also seemed to be denied. For we know that the Son of Man lay prostrate in the Garden of Gethsemane, and with strong crying and tears poured out the request of His heart, saying, ‘Father, all things are possible unto Thee; take away this cup from Me.’ And the cup was not taken away. But it was the prayer of One Who said, ‘Father, I know that Thou hearest Me alway.’ The cup did not pass away, but ‘Behold there appeared unto Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him.’ And as with the Master so with the servant.

III. The prayer might seem to be denied, but an answer came.—‘And He said, My Grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ He had been thinking of his own weakness, but when the answer came it spoke only of God’s strength. His thoughts had been dwelling sadly upon the gloom which darkened his life, the burden which pressed upon his spirit; but the heavenly answer does not touch upon that burden; there is not a word of that gloom; it only bids the eye which was closed in darkness look up and behold the Sun shining in His strength. ‘My Grace is sufficient for thee.’ O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? Not that heavy burden, but thine own downward look, hath made thee faint. Look up to the infinite mercy. When thou art in heaviness, think upon God; when thou art in weakness, lay hold on Strength. Not for an instant shall the sufficient Grace be wanting. Eternal Love must needs be strong enough to bless. ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness.’


‘What was the “thorn”? It might have been some bodily pain, possibly an affection of the eyes. Or some temptation of the world, the flesh, or the devil. Or the opposition and persecutions and troubles he met with everywhere, so Chrysostom and the Greek Fathers took it. But whatever it was, it certainly worked for St. Paul’s own good. It taught him the power of Christ. “Continually we are weakened by some remaining reliance on our own strength. Our talent, eloquence, science, influence, forms within a little favoured sanctuary, which our jealous pride keeps closed against the strength which God would give. Only when this is given up in self-resignation can we be filled with all the fullness of God.” And this trouble certainly worked for the good of others, for think of the millions who have been helped and comforted and blessed by the words “My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” ’

Verse 9


‘My strength is made perfect in weakness.’

2 Corinthians 12:9

How can I get this strength?

I. In answer to prayer.—‘They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.’

II. It is found in the study of the Bible.—Dr. Doddridge was one day greatly depressed, his very heart desolate within him. But he passed the open door of a cottage, and heard a child reading, ‘As thy days so shall thy strength be.’ It was like life from the dead. He went on his way rejoicing. But we should read God’s Word with care and diligence. We cannot see the beauty of a country if we only hurry through it in a train. If we would lay hold on God’s strength, we must wrestle with the Bible, as Jacob wrestled with the angel. So shall our empty, fainting heart be filled with the strength of Christ.

III. It is imparted at the Holy Table.—For Christ still makes Himself known to His people in the breaking of bread. And His people still feed on Him in their hearts by faith.

IV. It is gained in the communion of saints.—For Christ is as truly present when two or three are gathered together in His name as when He walked on the hills of Galilee, and healed the sick and raised the dead. And His Presence is the blessing.

Rev. F. Harper.

Verse 14


‘I seek not your’s, but you.’

2 Corinthians 12:14

As if St. Paul would say, I do not want your silver, I do not want your gold, or even your praise, I want you; I want you for Christ.

I. He knew the worth of souls.—See what he says in 2 Corinthians 12:15: ‘And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you.’

II. He knew the power of Christ.—In the Revised Version we read in Revelation 1:5: ‘Unto Him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by His blood.’ Christ delivers us from the chains of sin. Christ conquers the human heart as the summer conquers the land. There is not a more blessed sight under heaven than when some young heart, conquered by love, kneels at the Cross and cries—

(1) ‘There is a striking title to one of Newman’s sermons—“The salvation of the hearer, the motive of the preacher.” Goethe said he admired the man who knew precisely what he aimed at. Then he ought to have admired St. Paul, for St. Paul certainly knew. “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” ( 1 Corinthians 9:22). “I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” ( Acts 20:31). “I lay in tears” Henry Martyn wrote, “interceding for the unfortunate natives of this country.” Samuel Rutherford could say to his people at Anwoth, “My witness is above, your heaven would be two heavens, and the salvation of you all, as two salvations to me.” “Build me a hut to die in,” was the last sentence of David Livingstone, so utterly unselfish was the great missionary and philanthropist. Richard Knill wept before a blasphemer, and those tears did more than any words. These men knew the worth of souls, and their hearts were filled with some of the same compassion that filled the heart of the Son of God.’

(2) ‘Almost the last words that Thomas Carlyle wrote were these: “The longer I live the more I feel the truth of the old words of the Scotch catechism, ‘What is the chief end of man?’ ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.’ ” ’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.