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2 CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 12
2 Corinthians 12:1-4 Paul showeth that, though he had been favoured with visions and revelations,
2 Corinthians 12:5-10 yet for commendation of his apostleship he chose rather to glory in his infirmities,
2 Corinthians 12:11-13 blaming the Corinthians, who had seen in him all the signs of an apostle, for forcing him to such vain boasting.
2 Corinthians 12:14,2 Corinthians 12:15 He telleth them of his design of visiting them again with the same disinterestedness and fatherly affection as before.
2 Corinthians 12:16-19 He justifieth himself from any crafty extortion by his messengers,
2 Corinthians 12:20,2 Corinthians 12:21 and expresseth his fears, lest, both to his sorrow and theirs, he should find many notorious disorders still unredressed among them.
It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory; it is neither comely, nor of any advantage to myself, to glory; nor would I do it but in this case of necessity, where glorying is necessary for the glory of God, and for your good, to vindicate myself to you from the imputations that some others lay upon me.
I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: do any of them boast of visions and revelations from God? I have something of that nature to glory in as well as they. Some make this difference between visions, and revelations; that visions signify apparitions, the meaning of which, those that see them do not understand; revelations signify the discoveries of the mind and will of God to persons immediately, either by dreams, or by some audible voice, which maybe without any object represented to the eye. Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar seem to have had such visions as they did not understand, till interpreted by Joseph and Daniel; but undoubtedly Paul’s visions were not such. The difference therefore seems rather to be, that in all visions which good and holy men had, there was a revelation; but every revelation did not suppose a vision.
Some doubt whether εν χριστω, in this place, be so well translated
in Christ, ( so signifying, that the person spoken of was a Christian, one that had embraced the gospel), as by Christ, (as the particle is sometimes used), so signifying, that this vision was given to him by the grace and favour of Christ. The
man he speaketh of was, doubtless, himself, otherwise it had been to him no cause or ground of glorying at all. Thus several times in Scripture, the penmen thereof speaking in commendation of themselves, they speak in the third person instead of the first. In his saying, it was
about fourteen years ago, and in that we do not read that he did ever before publish it, he avoids the imputation of any boasting and glorying; and showeth, that had he not been now constrained, for the glory of God, and the vindication of his own reputation, to have spoken of it, he would not now have mentioned it.
Whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body. I cannot tell: what the circumstances of the apostle were in this ecstasy, he professeth not to know; and therefore it seems too bold for us curiously to inquire, or positively to determine about it. It is not very probable that his soul was separated from his body; but whether his body was, by some angel, carried up to the sight of this vision, or things absent were made present to him, the apostle himself, being deprived of the use of his senses, could not tell. But
such an one (he saith) he knew,
caught up to the third heaven; by which he means the highest heavens, where God most manifesteth his glory, where the blessed angels see his face, and where are the just souls made perfect. The Scripture, dividing the world into the earth and the heavens, calleth all heaven that is not earth or water; hence it mentioneth an aerial heaven (which is all that space between the earth and the place where the planets and fixed stars are); hence we read of the fowls of the heaven, Daniel 4:12, of the windows of heaven, Genesis 7:11, of a starry heaven, where the stars are, which are therefore called the stars of the heaven, Genesis 22:17; and then the highest heaven; which was meant in the Lord’s prayer, when we pray: Our Father which art in heaven; and is called the heaven of heavens. This is the heaven here spoken of.
How that he was caught up into paradise: some by
paradise understand a place distinct from
the third heaven before mentioned, and think the apostle here speaks of more visions than one; but they speak much more probably, who interpret it of the third heaven before mentioned, called paradise, in regard of the delight and pleasures of it. Thus the term is used by our Saviour to the thief upon the cross, Luke 23:43, and thus it is used, Revelation 2:7.
And heard unspeakable words; what these unspeakable words, or things, were, which the apostle heard in this ecstasy, is vainly inquired; whenas the apostle hath told us twice, that he could not tell whether he was in or out of the body; and that the words or things were such as were unspeakable.
Which it is not lawful for a man to utter; such as were either impossible to be uttered, or at least which he was prohibited to utter; so they could be made known to none but only to him that heard them. If any inquireth, for what purpose God showed them to Paul, if he might not communicate them for the good of others? The answer is easy; that this vision might be for his own confirmation, as sent of God, and for his consolation under all those hazards and dangers which he was to undergo in the ministry of the gospel, to which God had called him.
Of such an one will I glory: the apostle, as appeareth by what followeth, speaketh of himself; but he does it in a third person. The meaning is, that that man who had been thus dignified of God, in such revelations and visions, might well glory of such a favour; but yet (saith he) of myself will I glory. But how doth the apostle say, that of himself he will not glory, if he were the person intended?
Answer. Some say, he distinguisheth concerning himself; as to his inward man, his soul, (which was rapt into the third heavens) he did glory; but as to his body, or outward man, he would not glory in any thing which he had done, but only in what he had suffered. I should rather interpret it thus: In this the Lord greatly dignified me; but here was nothing of myself; of myself therefore I will not glory in any thing, except those things which I have suffered for the name of God.
If I should have a mind to glory, I should not be a fool; for I would not glory in things that were not true. And though a man, in speaking things of himself which are true, may sometimes betray folly (viz. where he doth it merely to set forth himself, and make himself to appear a greater person than indeed he is); yet for a man to glory of himself, where the honour of God is concerned in the vindication of himself from reproaches and calumnies, speaks not any folly.
But (saith the apostle) I forbear, having no desire that any should think of me above what he seeth in me, or heareth of me from others’ mouths, and not mine own.
The best of God’s people have in them a root of pride, or a disposition to be
exalted above measure, upon their receipt of favours from God not common to others; of which nature extraordinary revelations are none of the meanest, especially when they are multiplied, as it seems they were here to Paul. To prevent the breaking out of which, the apostle here tells us, that he had
a thorn in the flesh given him. It is variously guessed what this was; he calleth it a thorn in the flesh; but whether (supposing flesh to be here strictly taken) he meaneth some disease affecting his body with pain and smart, and if so, what that specifical disease was, is no where revealed, and very uncertainly conjectured: or whether (taking flesh in a large sense, for his state in the flesh) he meaneth some motions to sin made to him from the devil; the importunity of which made them very grievous and afflictive to him, being in the flesh: or (as others think) motions to sin from his own lusts; which God suffured to stir in him, withholding such influence of his grace, by which he ordinarily kept them under, and in subjection; is very uncertain. The last mentioned seem to be least probable. For although the devil hath an influence upon our lusts, to excite and educe them into acts, yet it seems not according to the language of holy writ, to call these
messengers of Satan; neither is it probable that St. Paul would have reckoned these amongst the gifts of God unto him: nor was this an infirmity which he would have gloried in, or which would have commended him; nor doth the term
buffet so well agree to this sense. It seems therefore more properly to be interpreted, either of some great bodily affliction, or some diabolical importunate temptation, with which God, after these abundant revelations, suffered this great apostle to be infested; that he might be kept humble, and not lifted up upon this great favour which God had showed him; which, considering the danger of pride, might well be reckoned amongst the gifts of God to this great apostle. And so he here gives another reason why he would not glory in the abundance of his revelations, because God by this providence had let him know, that his will was, that he should walk humbly notwithstanding them; and it had been very improper for him, being immediately upon this favour humbled by such a providence, to have lifted up himself by reason of it.
For the removal of this affliction, (of what nature soever it was), for the taking of this thorn out of my flesh, I prayed often. It is lawful for us to pray for the removal of bodily evils, though such prayer must be always attended with a due submission to the wisdom and will of God; they being not evils in themselves, but such trials as God intendeth for our good, (as it was here in Paul’s case), and which issue in our spiritual advantage.
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: Paul prayed, and God answered, not in specie, ( doing the very thing for him which he asked), but in valore, giving him what was every whit as valuable. His answer was: My grace (my love and favour, not that which the apostle had already received, but which God was resolved further to show him, strengthening and supporting him under his trials, as also comforting and refreshing him) shall be enough for thee, to uphold thee under the present trial which is so burdensome to thee.
For my strength is made perfect in weakness; for my Divine power, in upholding and supporting my people, is never so glorious as when they are under weaknesses in themselves. When they are sensible of the greatest impotency in themselves, then I delight most to exert and put forth my power in them and for them, my power then is most evident and conspicuous, and will be best acknowledged by my people.
Therefore (saith the apostle) I will choose to glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Those dispensations of providence, in which the souls of men have the greatest experiences of the power and strength of Christ, are most to be gloried in; but such are slates of infirmities. This text confirmeth Christ to be God blessed for ever; for by his power it is that we are supported under trials, his strength it is which is made perfect in the weakness of poor creatures.
Amongst other reasons why I rather choose to glory in what I suffer for Christ, (which is what he here calleth
infirmities, and further openeth by reproaches, necessities, persecutions, and distresses for Christ’s sake), this is one; that I never find myself more strong in the habits and acts of the grace that is in me, than when I am thus made weak. What the apostle here saith of himself, the people of God have ever since his time ordinarily experienced: then it is that they are made strong in the exercises of faith, and patience, and love to God. A child of God seldom walks so much in the view of God as his God, and in the view of his own sincerity, as when, as to his outward condition and circumstances in the world, he walks in the dark and seeth no light.
I am become a fool in glorying; I may amongst some of you (who interpret all things I say into the worst sense) gain nothing but the reputation of a weak man, wanting understanding, for speaking so much in my own commendation (contrary to the rules of modesty in ordinary cases).
Ye have compelled me; but it is not matter of choice, but of necessity to me; the ill-will which some amongst you have to my honour and reputation, and continual defaming me as a vile and contemptible person, hath constrained me, for the honour of Christ, (whose apostle I am), and the vindication of my own reputation, to boast in this manner; at least to relate what God hath done for, and in, and by me.
For I ought to have been commended of you; it was your duty to have vindicated me from the aspersions cast upon me; so others’ mouths should have praised me, and not my own: I must speak, because you hold your peace, or do worse in calumniating me.
For in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing; for you cannot but say that I, neither in my apostolical call and commission, nor yet in my gifts and graces, nor in my labours, nor in my sufferings, come behind those that are commonly thought to be the chiefest of the apostles; though (in some of your opinions) I be nothing; or indeed, of or from myself, am nothing; doing all that I do through Christ that strengtheneth me, and by the grace of God being what I am.
I had not only a call to my apostleship, (of which indeed you were no witnesses), but I amongst you evidenced my call by such signs, as were sufficient to declare me to you to be a true apostle. Amongst these, he reckons:
2. Mircles. The first refers to those many labours which he had, in travelling to propagate the gospel, in preaching, writing, &c.; this manifested him called of God to the work.
2. Miraculous operations were another sign; for though the working of miracles was not restrained to the apostolical office, yet when they were wrought in confirmation of the doctrine which the apostle had first preached, and so were a seal of his ministry, they were truly signs of his apostleship; it being no way probable, that the God of truth would have communicated his power to men for the confirmation of lies, or of an employment to which he had never called them.
Wherein have not you been used as any other gospel churches were, where Peter, or James, or any other of the apostles have laboured? Hath not the same doctrine been preached to you? Have not as great miracles been wrought amount you? Hath not the Holy Ghost been as plentifully shed abroad amongst you, to enrich you with all spiritual gifts, so as you have come behind in no gospel benefit? I know of nothing in which it hath not fared with you as with other churches, except in this; that whereas in other churches the apostles, or their pastors, have been burdensome to them, taking stipends and salaries for their pains, I have forborne it, and have not at all charged you. If this be a wrong to you, I hope it is not of that nature, but I may obtain a pardon for it. The reasons of the apostle’s thus sparing the church of Corinth more than some other churches, we have before guessed at.
Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you: we read in holy writ but of two journeys which the apostle made to Corinth, Acts 18:1; Acts 20:2, and the latter is believed to have been after the writing of this Epistle. We must not think that all these motions are set down in Scripture. It is manifest that Paul had thoughts of going oftener, Acts 19:21; 1 Corinthians 16:5; 2 Corinthians 1:15. Man purposeth, but God disposeth. For which reason, James adviseth us to add:
If the Lord will, to our expressions testifying our resolutions.
And I will not be burdensome to you; he lets them know, that he was coming to them with the same resolutions he had before taken up, not to put them to any charge.
For I seek not yours, but you; for that, which should be the design of every faithful minister, was his design; viz. the gaining of their souls to Christ, and protecting of them, that in the day of judgment he might present them as a pure and chaste virgin unto Christ. His business was not to enrich himself by them; he sought the good of their souls, not their estates.
For the children ought not to lay up for the parents: he looked upon them as his children, upon himself as their parent. And though indeed children ought to relieve their parents, if in want, yet it is not the course of the world for children to lay up for their parents.
But the parents for the children; but, on the contrary, it is the course of parents to maintain their children, and to lay up for them.
And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; I am so far from desiring your money, that, if I had it, I would willingly spend it for you; and I do spend my strength for you, willing to die in your service, labouring for the good of your immortal souls.
Though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved; but I am very unhappy as to some of you, who will not rightly understand me, but love me the less, the more they see my love to them.
I hear what some say: It is true, that when I was myself with you, I laid no burden upon you, did not put upon you any collection for me; but, like a crafty man, I set others to take money of you for my use; so as, what I did not by myself, I did by those whom I employed. This appeareth to be the sense by what followeth in the next verse, where he appealeth to them for his vindication of this particular.
The apostle, to avoid or wipe off this imputation, appealeth to themselves to name any person (whom he had sent unto them) that had taken any thing of them for his use. He saith, that he desired Titus to come to them: of this desire we read before, 2 Corinthians 8:6,2 Corinthians 8:16,2 Corinthians 8:18,2 Corinthians 8:22.
With him (he saith) he sent another brother: this is that brother, of whom he had said, 2 Corinthians 8:18, that his praise was in the gospel throughout all the churches. Some guess it was Luke, but there is no certainty of that. He appeals to them, whether either of these made a gain of them? That is, took any thing of them: and whether they did not walk in the same spirit, and
in the same steps? Whether they did not show the same generosity and freedom? And by their behaviour amongst them did not show, that they did not seek what was theirs, (to be enriched by their estates), but them; to communicate the riches of grace to their souls? The circumstances of God’s providence may be such towards faithful ministers, as that they may be constrained to make use of others to do their work; but such, so near as they can judge, will never make use of any therein, but such as are of
the same spirit with themselves, and walk in the same steps.
Think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? Some of you may think, that I speak all this in my own defence, and seek only my own credit and reputation amongst you. I do not so.
We speak before God in Christ; I speak as a Christian, as one who knows that God knoweth, seeth, and observeth what I say; searching my heart, and trying my reins.
But we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying; all that I say I speak for your good, that you may be built up in faith, and love, and all other graces: a great hinderance to which, is prejudice against me, and such as are the ministers of the gospel to you; which I therefore desire (what in me lieth) to prevent and obviate: The apostle, not only here, but in several other parts of these and other his Epistles, declares what ought to be the great end of him, and all other ministers, viz. the edification of people; the conversion of the unconverted, and the perfecting of those in whom the foundation is laid, building them up in all good spiritual habits; both of these come under the notion of edification. If we consider Christ as the Foundation, conversion is edification; the building up of souls upon Christ, who is the gospel foundation; and other foundation can no man lay. If we consider the infusion of the first habits of grace into the soul as the foundation, edification signifies a going on from faith to faith; a growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, a going on to perfection. The true minister of Christ ought to make edification in both of these senses his end, and his great end; for by this means is God glorified, the souls of his people benefited, and eternally saved.
For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would; a good man, especially a faithful minister of the gospel, will be concerned at the sins of others, and as to their spiritual welfare. A profane person either rejoiceth in the sins of others, or at least is unconcerned for them; but a good man cannot be so, as knowing the sins of others reflect dishonour upon God.
And that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not; he also cannot delight in the punishments of others, or doing any thing which may be ungrateful to them. Paul feareth lest the miscarriages of this church should enforce from him some acts of severity. He instanceth in some particular disorders in the members of this church, which he feared that he should find amongst them not amended; all the effects of pride and passion.
Debates, or contentions, such as he had taxed them for, 1 Corinthians 1:11; 1 Corinthians 3:3.
Envyings, or heats of passion; envying of one another for their gifts, &c. The other things which he mentioneth, are all sins against that brotherly love which ought to be found amongst Christians, and tending to ruptures amongst them; and teach us how contrary these are to the duty of Christians, who are one body.
From hence it appeareth, that this church of Corinth, though it had many in it, without doubt, who were true and sincere Christians, yet had also many it which were otherwise; yea, many that were scandalous; for such are those mentioned in this verse. Again, the apostle’s mentioning of
many that had committed uncleanness, fornication, and lasciviousness, and not repented; wheras he had only given order for the excommunication of one incestuous person, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, and in this Epistle, 2 Corinthians 2:1-17, had given order for the restoring him upon his repentance; lets us know, that the governors of churches ought to use a great deal of prudence in the administering of church censures. We are also further taught, that nothing more afflicteth a godly person, who hath the charge of the souls of others, than to see them go on in courses of sin without repentance. Whether bewailing, in this verse, implieth proceeding to ecclesiastical censures, (as several interpreters think), I doubt; for as the word doth not necessarily imply it, so his sparing use of that rod, which he could (though absent) have as well used against other unclean persons as one incestuous person; and choosing rather that the sentence should be declared against him by the church in his absence, than by himself when present; inclineth me to think, that by bewailing, here, he only means a Christian, afflictive sense of their miscarriages; whereas his desire was, that he might have a cheerful, comfortable journey to and abode with them. But yet, in the next chapter, he seemeth to threaten something more against some particular offenders.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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