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2 Corinthians 12:1.—Note reading; probably, as in R.V. Remember how full is Paul’s sense of “expedient” (1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 10:23; 1 Corinthians 8:10, here); deep moral inexpediency is here involved. “Glory” here (almost) = “brag.” Visions, revelations.—“Various kinds of visions, and (to use a wider word) revelations in any mode, imparted by Christ” (Beet); who also compares as “interesting parallels,” Acts 26:19; Galatians 1:16, visions vouchsafed to Paul that he might make, or upon which he made, a quasi-revelation to men. But query? Whole section (2 Corinthians 12:1-10) moves in a world of supersensuous things, where knowledge is scanty [even Paul’s own (2 Corinthians 12:2), and how much more, then, ours]; and where much precision of interpretation is unattainable [as, in “doth not yet appear,” etc., 1 John 3:2, it is not altogether, or in any great degree, an intentional concealment or withholding, that creates the mystery. Rather the impossibility of telling us more of what has nothing in our experience or in the analogies of earth to help us, even to knowledge “in part”]. Choose between
(1) revelations of which Christ is the subject, and
(2) revelations of which Christ is the Giver.
2 Corinthians 12:2.—Note “know” (accurately), more clearly connecting the (intentionally) oblique reference with himself. I.e. “I knew the man at the time, and how he was …; and I still know the man who was then,” etc. Third heaven.—Talmudic references to seven [not always consistently enumerated] heavens are common. Quite uncertain [since “Talmud” unwritten until after this] whether this opinion is as old as, or older than, Paul’s day. There is also found a simpler Rabbinic view based on Deuteronomy 10:14, making three spheres:
(1) “heaven,” i.e. that of birds and clouds;
(2) “heaven of heavens,” i.e. the clear sky beyond;
(3) the invisible world beyond. [Aërial, astral, angelic.] Also it may be a question whether Paul makes “Paradise” a fourth sphere, or only the same as the “third heaven.” Perhaps something behind the distinction of prepositions (equivalent to) “up to,” “into.” [“Questions of words, to no profit, but to the subverting of (at best the attention of) the hearers” (2 Timothy 2:14).] Only certain Scriptural facts are:
(1) that “heaven” is often “heavens” as if a complex conception (e.g. in Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6:9-10; Ephesians 4:10);
(2) Paradise; most definite indication being that to dying thief, Luke 23:43 (only use of word by Christ, and that rather as an adoption of the man’s standpoint); also found in Revelation 2:7, which probably (remembering how the symbolism of the Revelation is saturated with Old Testament histories and imagery) links the future world of happiness with the lost (ideal) world of unfallen man in Eden. “The present abode of the faithful dead” (Beet).
2 Corinthians 12:4.—“Unutterable utterances” imitates Paul’s Greek phrase. “Words, and no words” (Stanley). “Expression taken from the secrecy of the Greek mysteries” (ib.); but this, taken with the former phrase of Stanley, combines
(1) impossible to utter, and
(2) not allowable to utter. Usually, a choice made between
(2). He adds: “Man cannot speak them; God may.”
2 Corinthians 12:5.—Waite (in Speaker) makes “such a one” (2 Corinthians 12:2) and “such a one” (2 Corinthians 12:5) not reiterative, but cumulative. “I knew a man caught up to third heaven.… Further, I knew a man, so caught up, also caught up into Paradise; and further, hearing there.… Of a man so caught up, and indeed, so caught up into Paradise, and there, moreover, hearing.… I will glory.” “On behalf of one, who in all this was entirely passive and recipient, without exertion or merit of his own, he will boast, but not on behalf of his personal self, his own will, work, and service, except with regard to his infirmities.”
2 Corinthians 12:6.—Oblique reference to the Corinthian “boasters.” Q. d. “If I were disposed to enter into a boasting-match with your braggarts, I should win; at least (unlike them) I should only need to speak facts about such a man as that” (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:7; 2 Corinthians 11:21 sqq.; Philippians 3:4-6). Of me.—As R.V.; not “about me,” but “from me” (“his letters, say they,” etc., 2 Corinthians 10:10).
2 Corinthians 12:7. Exceeding greatness (R.V.).—Cf. cognate words (and thoughts) in 2 Corinthians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Corinthians 9:14; Ephesians 1:19; Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:19; Ephesians 4:7; also 2 Corinthians 11:23; 2 Corinthians 1:8; Galatians 1:13 (also 1 Corinthians 12:31; Romans 7:13). Note also, the broken grammar (as in R.V.), as if the rush of feelings and memories confused utterance. Thorn.—See Separate Note
(3). Lit. “ ‘Thorn’ for the flesh.”
2 Corinthians 12:8.—As “the Lord” had Himself done in Gethsemane. [I. e. taking this as a thrice repeated request, on some one occasion. Farrar (and others) would make three separate occasions of recurrence (perhaps of “special revelations” and) of the physical visitation, and three occasions of prayer. This depends, in part, on (precarious) deductions as to the chronology of Paul’s life.] Besought.—Lit. “entreated”; vivid sense of personal communication with Christ. Clear case of prayer to Christ. Good illustration of meaning of Paraclete (same root); he called to his aid Christ and His help.
2 Corinthians 12:9. Said.—“Hath said” (R.V.). As if the assuring word were ever freshly being spoken; true when first given, and abidingly true; a standing law of Paul’s continuous life. Sufficient.—Cf. cognate word, 2 Corinthians 9:8 [also (for thought) cf. Philippians 4:10-19]. “Don’t press thy request; sufficient for thee that thou hast My grace.” Made perfect.—“Has its full development” (Conybeare and Howson); q.d. comes to its full-grown, adult strength. Keep “weakness” and “weaknesses” (for “infirmities”). Observe “My” (in “My strength”) is doubtful; the omission makes the passage a perfectly general truth (so Stanley. But is this so generally true? Is it not true simply when spoken of Divine strength relatively to human weakness?). Rather.—Rather boast than complain (Stanley); rather boast than seek to have removed (Beet, Waite). That.—“A purpose which in his boasting Paul cherishes, and which is to some extent attained by his boasting” (Beet). [Rather too forced, too close, a connection? Query, more loosely, “I will not (I say) ask for their removal; that would rob me of a great honour, and blessing, and joy; I will keep them, if thus the power,” etc. Rest.—Lit. “tabernacle.” “To come to a place for the purpose of fixing one’s tent there” (Conybeare and Howson). Cf. Exodus 40:34; Exodus 40:36 (where both “upon” and “in” are found conjoined (as in Acts 2:3-4, “upon,” “filled with”); John 1:14; Revelation 7:15; Revelation 12:12; Revelation 13:6; Revelation 21:3 [John 2:21 (see also 11); 2 Peter 1:13-14 (also Matthew 17:4, and parallels]). [Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7.]
2 Corinthians 12:10.—“Four outward circumstances in which Paul often felt his weakness … Acts of purposeless cruelty, repeated lack of the most needful things, the repeated pursuit of enemies, positions in which there seemed no way of escape.” (Beet.) “For Christ’s sake” belongs to each of the four.
2 Corinthians 12:11.—Verdict, self-pronounced: “How foolish I am to boast.” Yet “with extenuating circumstances.” “It was your doing, not mine (you ought to have saved me the task of commending myself)” (Stanley). “For their good he condescends to say things which, but for their motive, would be unworthy of an intelligent man. Than this, no kind of self-denial is to sensible persons more difficult or more noble.” (Beet.) Return to point quitted at 2 Corinthians 10:7. “This concluding section … filled with traces of the torrent which has passed through his mind in the interval” (Stanley). Very chiefest.—“Ever so much of apostles” (Stanley); “superlative apostles” (Speaker); “super-apostolic apostles,” “super-eminent apostles” (Conybeare and Howson). Nothing.—In his own reckoning? or theirs? Both; “as you say … and I in a deeper sense agree with you.”
2 Corinthians 12:12. Signs, wonders, mighty deeds.—Three Scripture words for miracles, in complete enumeration. Complete definition of a “miracle” given by them. Signs of an apostle.—I.e. characteristic credentials of an apostle. Cf. “John heard in the prison the” characteristic “Messiah-works” reported as done by Jesus (Matthew 11:2). In all patience.—Meaning, probably, refraining again and again, when under great provocation to use His miraculous power to silence or punish opponents? (Waite, in Speaker). How easily and certainly would this challenge have been met and this claim refuted if miracle is an impossibility, or if Paul had wrought none. His opponents could do none; fell short here, at least.
2 Corinthians 12:13.—Ironical, “this wrong.” Forgive me.—Prospective, as well as retrospective, “for I am going to do it again. Don’t think of giving me anything, now that we are to be friends again.”
2 Corinthians 12:14.—Understand, “to come a third time”; not merely “am ready a third time.” Two visits to Corinth? Or three? Most, “three.” Some: two, viz.
(1) Acts 18:1;
(2) The visit now impending, and, between, the intended visit of 2 Corinthians 1:15-16. “I ought to do this, as a parent. What do children, then, give their parents in return? Children, give me your hearts.”
2 Corinthians 12:15.—Notice the R.V., and its margin. How Christ may borrow these words!
2 Corinthians 12:16.—“You say,—I will not dispute,—I did not ask you to maintain me. But that was only ‘the depth of the fellow’! It amounted to ‘pretty much the same thing,’ if I asked you to support my friends, Titus and the rest! Indeed, what if they ‘all helped themselves out of this collection money,’ pretending to be so extremely disinterested!”
2 Corinthians 12:18. Spirit.—As usual, the Holy Ghost. Cf. Galatians 5:25. This secures the walking in the same “spirit,” in the feeble, modern sense.
2 Corinthians 12:19.—Observe new and better reading, and consequent vivid rendering. “Whilst you have been reading this (apologetic-seeming) letter.” “To you? O dear no! Not at all! Before a seeing, listening God I speak!” Beloved.—A relapse into love; cannot bear to keep up the tone of rebuke or irony: “Beloved.”
2 Corinthians 12:21.—A residual section, not even now penitent or submissive, as most who had been rebuked in the First Epistle now were.
FULLER NOTES ON SPECIAL POINTS
1. [Good note in Stanley upon 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. “The description of his vision … throws light upon similar ecstasies … as Acts 10:10; Acts 8:39; and especially of John in the Apocalypse (2 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 4:1, etc.); the ‘dreams and visions’ … in Acts 2:16; and the speaking with tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:2. The details may be different, but this description contains their common characteristics; the loss of self-consciousness [?], the sense of being hurried into a higher sphere, and the partial and mysterious glimpses of the invisible world. And it illustrates especially the ecstatic state in which he himself largely partook, as appears from the attacks of his enemies, still preserved in the Clementines.… Compare also the facts in Acts 9:12; Acts 22:17, and his expression in 1 Corinthians 14:8.… And further, the strong line of demarcation which he has drawn between bis ecstasy and his ordinary state, is a warrant to us that he does not needlessly confound things human and Divine, things earthly and things spiritual. What he does say gives us a picture, at least conceivable, of the mode in which he may have received his ‘revelations from the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:12; Galatians 1:16). What he does not say—the silence respecting the things which cannot be uttered—furnishes a remarkable contrast to the elaborate description given by Mahomet, of his nocturnal journey to Jerusalem and to paradise” (p. 563).]
2. [So also this sobriety of language and thought marks off Paul’s experiences from those “parallels” often adduced to discredit him, as a half-epileptic whose brain was affected by his sickness. E.g. as enumerated by Farrar, p. 713: “The trances of Socrates, the fits of Mohammed, accompanied by foaming at the mouth, and followed by the sleep of exhaustion, the faintings and ecstasies of St. Bernard, St. Francis, and St. Catherine of Siena, have been adduced as parallels.… We may add the cases of George Fox, Jacob Behmen, of Swedenborg, etc.”]
3. [2 Corinthians 12:7. Thorn in flesh. In the pulpit, the general result of the inquiry is alone of much service. In the Bible-class, the detailed process may be useful.
I. “Thorn,” or “stake.” Some Eastern thorns are much larger than ours; long, stout spines, capable of penetrating a thick leather boot. (Force given to Hosea 2:6.) Word does mean stake, e.g., for military palisade, or for impaling criminals. Also, literally, Paul says, “A stake for the flesh.” Hence the suggestion that this stake is practically (as the word was lexically) equivalent to a cross (which had not necessarily a cross beam); and the thought here is then linked with “I am crucified with Christ.” But in Numbers 33:55 Paul’s word is used for “pricks in the eyes.” In both cases, therefore, the idea may be a thorn buried in the flesh, but large enough, or giving pain enough, to be rather a stake than a thorn.
II. Nature of the affliction. Physical (almost universal consensus of opinion amongst non-Romanist expositors). But not
(1) Sensual temptation; later Patristic, monastic, Romanist view. He would not “glory” in these, for any reason, direct or indirect. Remember also how he (perhaps) claims to be little affected by these (1 Corinthians 7:8-9). 1 Corinthians 9:27; Romans 7:23 quite general in reference; latter scarcely personal. Also not
(2) Spiritual temptation, e.g stings of conscience about past life, temptations to pride [N.B. the thorn itself was a check to pride in spiritual gifts], or discouragement, or doubt, in connection with his work (Calvin, Luther, Imitation of Christ). No trace of these in his writings. Lias (in loco) thinks Paul suffered from irritability of temper, and a consequent asperity of manner. But this would not be in “the flesh,” in the physical sense required here. Also, again, would anything, even the glory of Christ (indirectly secured), have made him “glory” in these? Further, not
(3) Opponents, particularly the opponent (possibly) mentioned in 2 Corinthians 10:7; Greek fathers’ view. Not personal enough nor definite enough for “thorn,” “in the flesh.” Nor
(4) Afflictions and persecutions. Would he have prayed—could he have hoped—for the removal of
(5) Facts are: (a) Probably (not certainly) this to be identified with Galatians 4:14. (b) Something which made his appearance less impressive than, for his work’s sake, he could have desired. [Lystrans “called Barnabas,” not Paul, “Jupiter,” perhaps as the nobler-looking, as well as because Paul was a better representative of the eloquent “Mercury.” Some foundation for what Corinthian depreciators said, “bodily presence weak” (2 Corinthians 10:10). Observe, “despised not” (Galatians 4:14); he might have expected that they would.] (c) This “buffeted” him. [Not the boxer’s blow as in 1 Corinthians 9:27; but the “slap” as given to Christ (Matthew 26:67); and 1 Corinthians 4:11; 1 Peter 2:20.] Not only, or chiefly, Satan’s hindrance to his work; also, and first, it was expressly something from God, overruled as a rebuff and check to (possible) spiritual pride. (d) Too precarious to decide precisely for (say) acute ophthalmia. [Very common in East; aggravated by the excessive light and glare; very sharply painful, recalling Numbers 33:55 again.] Not certain that his three days’ blindness at Damascus left any effects. Galatians 4:15 does not (in Greek) say “your own eyes,” but “your eyes.” Galatians 4:11 may mean “in how large letters”; but, even so, this may have been for emphasis, to exhibit vividly, and call special attention to, his unusual concern about them. Still, he did for some reason generally employ an amanuensis; a defective sight well explains Acts 23:0 (a saying for which he never expresses any degree of regret, as he does for another on the same occasion, Acts 12:6, cf. Acts 26:5, as if it were not quite consistent with Christian sincerity and simplicity). Nothing must be inferred from, e.g., 2 Corinthians 13:9, which is used of others also, (e) Earliest Patristic identifications were headache, earache, etc.—all physical. Much modern favour toward epilepsy. [Sometimes with a plain animus.] A parallel with the case of Alfred the Great (whose mysterious sickness may have been epilepsy) very tempting. [See in Lightfoot, Galatians. Also Napoleon said of Archduke Albert, who, with great tactical genius, was often at critical moments in a campaign or battle rendered helpless by it, “If it had not been for that, the Archduke would have been the greatest general of us all.”] An acutely painful, visible, humiliating, (hindering), chronic, physical visitation.]
HOMILETIC ANALYSIS.—2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Human Life circumscribed by Limitations.
I. (2 Corinthians 12:1.) Paul repeatedly points out how Expediency is a limitation upon Liberty (1 Corinthians 6:12 and ‖ s). Here Necessity is a limitation to, and overrules, Expediency.
1. As a general, safe rule for conduct and speech, “glorying” is “inexpedient.” Between man and man it is “bad form.” The gentleman “vaunteth not himself” (1 Corinthians 13:4). This Modesty—self-suppression, self-effacement—is a social virtue, sometimes severed from its true Christian root, Humility. The Christian is modest before men because he knows that before God he is, and has, nothing of himself.
2. Between God and man “glorying” is out of place altogether; a sin against the very relation between them; of whom the One is all Giver, the other entirely a receiver, and has, indeed, in himself nothing to give status before, or acceptance with, God at all.
3. Boasting manifests self; ministers to self; gives Devil an opening for further temptation; to self-exaltation in the man himself; to man-worship in his friends and partisans (2 Corinthians 12:6). Yet,
4. May need to do violence to the instincts of modesty and humility, and speak out plainly and fully one’s character and position. Principle may be involved. Paul is compelled to speak and “glory” by charges and insinuations which not only, or principally, impinged upon him, but really struck at Christ, Who had made him an apostle, and had charged him with work which could only be done if he were really such. “Of such a one, … but not of myself.” I speak of him, because I must, as if he were some other man, to whom God was wonderfully gracious (2 Corinthians 12:5). If I begin about myself, I must play on another theme, “weaknesses.” A man may represent principles. A minister may need, for his Church’s sake and his brethren’s, to defend his status and ordination. For his converts’ sake, he may need to assert the validity of his and their position, and the truth of his preaching. His personal character may have to be asserted. “We were not ‘Yes and No’ men among you; else, perhaps, you had a ‘Yes and No’ Gospel, a ‘Yes and No’ Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:18 sqq.).
5. Above all, when what one is, and has become, and accomplished, is needed as a testimony for Christ. If it will preach Him to put oneself forward; if others will be encouraged to hope in Him for larger blessings, and through Him to accomplish larger service,—then one must crucify modesty, reticence, reserve, and must say out, and give Him credit for, all He has done in one’s own case. But always reluctantly, always with prayerful guard upon one’s spirit, and always “dropping” it, as soon as may be (2 Corinthians 12:1; 2 Corinthians 12:5-6).
II. Limitations of knowledge. “I know … I know not” (2 Corinthians 12:2-3).—
1. Our known area is very narrow, a little rock standing up out of midst of waves of a sea of mystery, not absolutely bottomless, (ours is finite ignorance); but soon too deep for our stature. We wade out from our little bit of dry ground; we soon are out of our depth; the only difference between “wise” and “ignorant” is that some are taller than the rest, and can go little farther out before losing their footing or sinking overhead. If we quit the little, clear, light area, we soon find ourselves lost in pathless fog, and must turn back. We soon beat our wings against the bars of our imprisonment. [Origin of being, of creaturely being; ultimate meaning of “matter,” etc. In theology, or philosophy, no matter what track of inquiry is pursued, or in what direction, we very soon find ourselves face to face with dead walls, impassable, e.g. the Problem of Evil.]
2. Here an inspired man, supernaturally assisted, has been led to depths ordinarily beyond man; has been taken, indeed “caught up,” to heights, as yet, usually inaccessible. Indeed, he has been led through the Veil—lifted over one of the highest of the Barrier-walls that environ us—and now comes back, knowing where he has been, and what he has seen and heard; but not knowing how he got there; nor whether indeed all of him went there, or whether the body was left behind. And as to telling his experiences—no!
3. He cannot; or if he could, he may not. Human language, human thought, have no vessels to hold and carry and convey such contents. We ask him many questions, but in vain; and he breaks off, and leaves us to wonder, and query, and perhaps to chafe against the limitations of our knowledge. [“Foolish and unlearned questions avoid.” See how Christ dealt with useless inquiries, impossible or unprofitable to answer.
(1) “Few that be saved?” “There are many that be lost! See that thou enter in at strait gate.”
(2) “What shall this man do?” “Rather, this would I have thee do: follow thou Me!”
(3) “Who did sin, this man or his parents?” “We must work the works … whilst it is day!” Sir Henry Wootton was asked, “Can a Papist be saved?” “You may be saved without knowing that; look to yourself.”]
3. Our inquiries may only mean curiosity, that (Pilate-like) plays with big questions, and has hardly enough of serious interest in them to make us wait for answer. God has nothing to say, or show, or give, to such. To equip a Paul He will give, with all their limitations, wondrously large “visions and revelations of the Lord.”
III. Limitations to the blessedness of large and gracious communications from God.—Paul was soon brought back to the body. He was soon made to know “whether in the body,” ordinarily, or not. His body will not let him forget it. The “thorn” is a perpetual reminder.
1. Not even Paul is to be trusted to hold third-heaven converse with God and Divine things, without some compensating abatement. [So after Abraham’s victorious waiting in faith for the promised Isaac during a whole quarter of a century, we might have thought that he would have been left peacefully alone, to enjoy his home-life with his boy. No, not even God’s tested “friend” must be left many years without some disciplinary circumstances. So, “Offer Isaac up, a burnt offering.” If the physical “thorn” were in any way the result of the manifestation on the road to Damascus, or of the breaking down of human nature beneath the strain of ecstatic feeling; and thus consequent upon, and not simply subsequent to, the “revelations”; it would be fully analogous to many ordinary experiences of believers. Such pre-eminent gifts bring their penalties, or must be had at their price. A great access of holy exaltation in the sanctuary, e.g., or at the Lord’s Table, will exhaust the frame, and leave the system dead to all spiritual impression for some time after. The temperament capable of much blessing is also capable of and liable to great depression.
2. But the limitations are safeguards. They indicate no grudging of God to see us perfectly happy; no mere “stone put by Him into the other pocket,” as if from any “evil eye” towards our pleasure. He means our safety. Such limitations remind us of the “perishing” life; the uncertain tenure of all our earthly good; the vanity of self and human strength. If known to others, they are a salutary, objective check upon self-complacency; they keep the worker from any self-reliance which would dishonour God’s sole might working through him; they train habits of dependence upon God. This calls out prayer and faith; these secure Divine strength. And,
3. Best of all, if on His whole view of the conditions of the case, God sees that thus, and only thus, can we be best utilised for the exhibition and glory of His grace; if, to others, and to ourselves, the results and success of our life are so manifestly not to be accounted for on “natural” grounds, or by any “natural” equipment and advantages, (say) of personal appearance, voice, intellectual power; then the limitation which in one direction seems an evil becomes a good, and a new occasion of glorying. And the man who, for such a reason, rejoices in his very limitations, or even gives thanks for them, always finds new power resting upon him.
IV. One thing in our life is without limitation.—The “sufficiency” of the “grace” of Christ.
1. Generally, “Sufficient for thee, that thou hast behind thee My strength.” The presence of Christ and His strength is a background on which all the detailed working out of life is superposed; a general truth, to be assumed and reckoned with in all the working out of the problem of our life; whatever may or may not be, that is; other persons may enter into or pass out of my life; their help may vary in its adequacy, or may fail altogether, and that at a critical moment,—this is a permanent condition of my life, and as unvarying as permanent. This is a spring never failing, and constant in quantity. I shall find His supply accompanying my Needs, in absolute continuity, two parallel lines running in continuous adaptation. “Because He ever liveth,” “saving (continuously) by His (continuous) life”; sending me continuous, sufficient, saving help, to the uttermost moment and extent of my need.
2. In detail. Not merely a general correspondence, Need and Supply lying side by side as two series of incidents. They also correspond in minute detail, new help arising, as new needs are arrived at in one’s life-course. Every page in our story shall have its counterpart page in the story of Christ’s “sufficient grace.” Needs will be many, troublesome, recurrent, petty, urgent, unexpected, unprecedented,—“He shall supply all your need.” No draft upon this Friend’s supply is ever returned bearing the words, “No effects.”
2 Corinthians 12:7-10. The Thorn in the Flesh.
I. Threefold combination of personalities.—Christ; Paul; Satan.
1. Personality of last matter of pure revelation. Belief in it stands or falls with degree of final authority accorded to statements of Scripture. Acknowledged that Scripture [and Christ] assume a personal Devil. The “proof texts” from Scripture are (not quite as abundant but) precisely parallel in kind to those by which a personal Holy Ghost is established from Scripture. [
1. Personal name given to him;
2. Personal will and intelligence ascribed to him;
3. Personal acts done by him.] In the Order of Evil he is the counterpart of God,—“the god of this world.”
2. Paul is here midway; the object of the Lord’s care; the object of Satan’s attack. (Cf. Luke 22:31.) Every man is the centre of attention to the unseen world of good and the world of evil; the prize of conflict for which they strive together. [Cf. perhaps, as to the very body of Moses (Jude 1:9).] Every Christian man takes into account another world and another set of agencies, for both danger and deliverance, besides those which enter into the reckoning of the “man of this world.”
3. This Evil One is his enemy; he can (under permission; he is a “chained lion,” who may not go beyond the radius of activity his Maker and Master and King, for His own larger purposes, permits; no such co-ordinate power of evil, an Ahriman parallel to an Ormuzd, as in many heathen religions and philosophies was assumed or taught) inflict physical suffering [assumed also in the case of discipline (1 Corinthians 5:5)]. Or, at least, makes the “natural” incidence of physical disorder the occasion and opportunity and basis of his attack.
4. Christ is a mightier Friend. Observe how, as by instinct, Paul cries out for help to Christ; as, a very short while before the first access of Paul’s “thorn,” he had seen and heard dying Stephen do. No neglect of, or dishonour to, the Father: “all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father” (John 5:23). To Paul “to live is Christ.” A Christian has One most real, unseen Friend, Whom some day he shall actually see, with Whom even now he has most intimate, constant communication. His life, thought, heart, prayers, turn (sunflower-like) towards Christ. Christian children have no “God” but “Jesus,” and the “perfect man” may be a little child in this. Expand this:
II. A twofold contrast of purposes.—
1. Same set of physical circumstances, Janus-like, has two faces, wears two aspects. From the Christward side they are a safeguard, a piece of moral training, “lest I should be exalted,” etc. From the Satanward side, they are an “angel” of his “to buffet.”
2. All our life is complex; no single, simplest incident, but has many-sided relations to every other—equally many-sided—incident. All is ethical. Everything is “a providence,” i.e. an item, a factor, in God’s great “providence,” i.e. His wise, loving scheme for our life, designed, ordered, executed for our “good” (Romans 8:28). Even physical, natural disadvantages, which “handicap” in the race, or disable one hand for the conflict, or make us (Jacob-like) halt upon our thigh for the pilgrimage, have wise, loving, high place amongst the elements of the education of God’s children. “Thorns” are “given” by God; but it is the business of the Evil One to take each of these and endeavour to make it serve his evil turn. Thus each is of God, or of Satan, according as it may be regarded. We may say with equal truth, and with equal devoutness, “God is in this”; or “Devil has a hand in this.” (Cf.2 Samuel 24:1; 2 Samuel 24:1; 1 Chronicles 21:1.) (How far any of them is permitted to originate with him, we cannot say. Part of the insoluble Problem of Evil which sooner or later blocks the way of moral inquiry, in every religion, in every philosophy.)
3. Particularly, such a sharply painful reminder of his physical limitations may appeal in one of two ways to an earnest, holy worker for Christ. [E.g. excessive nervousness which will not allow the full heart and competent brain to deliver with any sort of effect its urgently needed message; or want of stamina, which prevents any continuous or trying work being undertaken, for which in all other respects the man is admirably qualified, or which gives way even under great spiritual exaltation and blessing such as would effectively equip him for service, or which perpetually lays him aside in the midst of successful work, or relegates him altogether to invalid-couch or sick-room; or some actual disease or defect, blindness, deafness, lameness, skin affection, crippling or rendering free intercourse with others almost impossible; and the like.]
(1) It may come like a smart “slap in the face” to a busy talker, or worker; like a sharp blow upon the ankle to the eager runner; like the sharp prick of a big thorn in the hand, which makes the worker drop his work, or the carrier his vessel. It may “pull up,” by the want of natural “capital,” the man of eager, large heart, and broad views, who sees how to do a large business for Christ. The work must go undone, the scheme be only in part carried out. “If only I had So-and-so’s five talents of natural endowment!” Less work seems done than might otherwise be: Satan’s aim seems thus well served! Then if the man chafes, or begins to “wonder” about the wisdom and love of his limitations—why he has not five talents like So-and-so, why he must have this thorn in the flesh, he sets the door open for Satan to find an almost invited entrance. Or
(2) he may rise higher, and so get a broader view. “See the perils of five talent men! If I had the treasure in So-and-so’s vessel, instead of my poor earthen one (2 Corinthians 4:7), I might be tempted to …! Perhaps I ‘cannot carry corn.’ Perhaps my Master knows that the build of my ship will not let me carry a large cargo of blessing and revelation without a big ballast of compensating limitations. If I had that man’s personal presence, and address, and social gifts, and clearness of thought, and readiness of utterance, and faculty of persuasion, and skill in organisation, and abundant, unbroken health, perhaps my Lord could not also trust me with the spiritual equipment, the disclosures of His heaven, and of Himself, and the unspeakable words of our close fellowship, which are so often a holy secret between Him and my soul; and I should from that side be disabled for the work He honours me to do.” So rather he is led to—
III. One blessed issue.—Paul is saved from personal, spiritual peril; he is brought down to the perfect fitness for a display in Him of Christ’s strength; Christ is glorified.
1. Think of Paul in danger of pride, “boasting of what he received, as though he had not received it” (1 Corinthians 4:7), in regard to his full experiences. See how near great blessing is to great danger; “thin partitions do the bounds divide.” A man of great “revelations” is “in slippery places.” No great wonder if the men of great reputation, or profession, sometimes make a great fall. Sin is never far away, nor Satan. Paul’s physical disqualifications kept others from unduly exalting him, and kept him from unduly exalting self. He learns to thank Christ for what keeps him from going too near the giddy edge.
2. Better still, his own manifest limitations leave the field clear for the display of Christ’s strength. He learns to make a new occasion of “boasting” out of the very “infirmities” [afflictions, not sins], which are a foil the better to set off the “grace of Christ” in perfect display. Our “strength” is sadly in the way of our being “successful”; we cannot be trusted with success; there must not even be the danger that the glory of “success” should even seem to be shared with man. It must be evidently Christ, not Paul. Christ reduces His best workers to “nothing” (2 Corinthians 12:11), that they may plainly be nothing except His instruments. “Dost thou desire the work done perfectly, in My perfected strength?” “Yes, Lord.” “Then I must say ‘no’ to thy prayer. Thou must keep thy ‘thorn’; must do thy—My—work, conditioned by it; I will perfectly strengthen thee; thou shalt not be useless; and I shall be glorified.”
3. All leads up to this. Paul’s prayer turns to Christ; Satan’s buffeting is ruled, conditioned, utilised by Christ; above all, Paul’s weakness sets him aside, so that the figure in full view, and the strength in palpable evidence, are Christ and His strength. [“How heroic,” we say of an ordinary worker in some secular field, who persists and triumphs and leaves the world better, in the face of some great natural, physical, painful limitation. Paul was really “heroic,” to do what he did, with a perpetual, hampering “thorn.” Yet he says, not “heroism” but, “grace.”]
2 Corinthians 12:7. “Lest … lest.” The Perils of Great Grace.
I. The privilege of it.—“Caught up into Paradise, hearing unspeakable words.” Whatever they meant to Paul, these words suggest the many moments of wonderful exaltation of spirit to believers; of close communion, when “the secret of the Lord” is told to “them that fear Him”; of mountain-top fellowship, when the unseen is revealed, and Moses and Elijah speak of the atoning “decease,” and hearts cry, “Good to be here!” The Word speaks things to our inner ear, which call up suggestions, and waken hope and desire, “groanings which cannot be uttered.” The Spirit leads out in desire vaguely large, too large to be apprehended or clothed in language. Preacher’s heart gets filled with his theme, with yearning over his hearers beyond what is common. Regions where very few walk; into which very few Christians penetrate at all. On our knees, in the Sanctuary, at the Lord’s Table.
II. The peril of it.—Must be remembered that perfect holiness would include perfect humility.
1. Lest: begin to carry head high, as one of the privileged ones who have the entrée into the Presence, looking down upon the common run of fellow-Christians, the Mordecais at the gate, who never hear, see, get, care for, “nor are capable of,” such things; begin to despise these less richly favoured ones, or uncharitably esteem them as “less devoted, less earnest, a poor half-hearted set of people”; begin to forget that all such special blessing is only a means to greater usefulness, that all is given that we may give, not that we may simply felicitate ourselves, or enjoy our portion alone; such gifts are—as after Pentecost—to be brought into the common stock, for the help of the Church. [Peril of losing oneself and of losing the blessing in over-subtle analysis of “the blessing”; of dilettante-like expositions of it, till nothing is left but the œsthetics of “experience,” and a sensuous self-indulgence in the mere joy of the “revelations.”] Then comes peril lest Satan get advantage, and the Spirit be with-drawn. The fall of the highest is the lowest. Don’t envy the five-talent man; pray for him!
2. Yet even at the price of such a peril, we shall welcome and glory in the revelations. “He revealed His Son in me.”
III. The safeguard.—Perhaps
1. Some “buffet in the face,” some “thorn in the flesh. Note
(1) Paul was in fact kept safe from the peril. Much grace can always be kept by getting more grace. No necessity that after exaltation should come pride, or self-complacency, or contempt and harsh judgment of others. Christ can keep the highly honoured man, though both his own heart and Satan put him into peril. Note
(2) No need in times of specially “abundant revelations” to begin to look out for the sending of some “thorn in the flesh.” Or after some unusual blessing to say, “Ah! now I shall have some big trial.” As if some unusually bright weather in our pilgrimage were bound to bring a storm.
2. Always the grace of Christ. “This sufficeth, sufficeth, sufficeth, for thy soul: viz. thou hast My grace! Say no more; fear no more; rest there.”
2 Corinthians 12:8. “Unanswered Prayer.”
I. An apparent contradiction.—How many Scripture passages run in the strain of: “Him that cometh … I will in no wise cast out.” “Whatsoever things ye desire, … believe that ye receive them” [not “will receive”; indeed, R.V. “received”], etc. Yet did not Christ in effect “cast out” the rich young ruler? Did not Paul thrice ask—like his Lord in Gethsemane—what, in the terms of the request, was not granted? Do not we ask much, and strongly “believe” [often this only means strongly persuade ourselves] that we shall have, yet we do not receive it? Sometimes we “ask amiss” (James 4:3). Sometimes, like the ruler, we will not accept our blessing upon Christ’s terms and fulfil His conditions. Such must be cast out. Further:
II. The real harmony.—
1. There are no unanswered prayers. “No” is an answer, real, true, kind. Prayers, petitioners, are never simply disregarded, nor apply to a God who looks, hears, knows, yet makes no response. Always “attends to our voice.” God’s refusal does not mean indifference or rebuff.
2. God’s promise to hear prayer, by no means binds Him to be mechanically at the mere service of His client’s wish. [As Faust’s “familiar” must obey his every command, however capricious or foolish.]
3. Prayer does include petition; definite requests may be, should be, made; to make them honours God; but they are the requests of children addressed to a greater, wiser Father. He had rather say, ‘Yes’ than ‘No’; always says ‘Yes,’ if that may fall in with His purpose and training for His child. If He say ‘No,’ it is that He may take up the desire we imperfectly clothe or conceive, and give it a better embodiment, and one consistent with His larger view of the present conditions, and the future developments of the particular life and its “education.”
4. Immediately, and for Paul’s mere comfort, the better thing seemed to be to take away the “thorn.” Remotely, more widely, with larger consequences of blessing to Paul and to others, and with more glory to the Master Christ, it was better to leave the “thorn” and to add the “sufficient grace.” Take in all the conditions, then the balance of advantage, blessing, glory to Christ, is very preponderantly in favour of saying “No” to the mere letter of the request, and giving a larger “Yes” of eternal blessing.
III. No wrong in tedly urging our request.—Christ did it. Only be careful not to suffer our urgency to lose submissiveness, and become dictation. Keep an ear, a heart, ready to catch the first, plain, tender denial: “Don’t ask that any longer.” Then “be silent unto the Lord” (Psalms 62:5, Heb.). Acquiesce in, until this grows to embracing (2 Corinthians 12:10), His will; until this grows to “glorying” in the very “infirmities.” Especially, if they may be the occasion, the vehicle, the theatre, of a glorious display of the power of Christ. And if the acquiescence be more than mortal strength can compass, grace will bear in upon the soul a strong peace. “An angel from heaven strengthening,” over against the “angel from Satan buffeting.” [No need to “take pleasure,” or to pretend to take pleasure, in such things (as in 2 Corinthians 12:10), unless they be “for Christ’s sake” (1 Peter 2:9-10)].
2 Corinthians 12:9. “Tabernacling.”—One of the many lines of reiterated, recurrent, continuous teaching by symbolism which bind Revelation and its Record together into an organic whole. One Mind is in such lines of symbolism seen pursuing Its theme, fulfilling Its purpose, through the ages.
I. Bible begins and ends with a garden, a “Paradise of God.” God vouchsafing, desiring, free intercourse with man; “walking in the garden in the cool of the day,”—at the one end of one Book. At the other, the garden (like the Paradises of Persian Kings) is in a city, New Jerusalem; a great voice proclaims that God and man are in perfect fellowship again (Revelation 21:3). “The tabernacle of God is with men,” etc. (Zechariah 8:8 is fulfilled.) (And earlier: Revelation 7:15, “tabernacle upon them.”) In the earlier Paradise the idea of “tabernacling” does not yet, of course, appear. The actual, illustrative Tabernacle is in date midway between the two Paradises.
II. God has been all through testifying to desire for the renewal of communion.—
1. In Israel’s camp, Moses had his tent, but there was also another, larger, more costly Tent; understood to be Jehovah’s tent; the tent of the True Chief in the camp. Jehovah “spread His tabernacle” among them. Over it, and within it, hung a cloud of glory, the King’s symbol, occupying His tent amidst the tents of His nation.
2. “When the earthly house of “His “tabernacle was dissolved,” there arose “a building of” Solomon’s. The people are in houses; Solomon lives in a palace; the King must therefore no longer have a tent, but a Palace. Again the cloud comes upon and abides within; the King is resident, and holds His court in His capital, Jerusalem.
3. Just as the earthly house of His dwelling was passing wholly away, to have no structural successor, there came amongst men “a Building of God,” an Incarnate Word, “setting up His tabernacle” (John 1:14) “amongst us.” John and his fellow-believers are permitted to enter and “behold His glory,” the Shekinah-cloud of Godhead discernible in Him. (The two veils were rent together.) No such emphatic sign of His desire and heart had God hitherto given. This Word is Immanuel, and, by what He is, says “Immanuel.”
4. All this is blessedly reproduced in His people. We have “seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The man in Christ has “the earthly house of his tabernacle” (2 Corinthians 5:1), and he looks for a day when he shall have a body, a nature, which shall be no (temporary) tent, but a (permanent) “building,” a temple, fitted to be the eternal sphere of a communion with God which shall be eternal and perfect in Christ.
III. Meanwhile he walks in and out amongst his fellows, bearing in himself a shrine; being himself a shrine, in which God dwells by His Spirit [or in the person of Christ (Ephesians 3:17; 1 Peter 3:15)]. He turns within, and finds a light and a glory: “God’s Son revealed in him.” Also the power of Christ spreads a tent over him; invests him, covers him, as did the glory which took possession of Solomon’s Temple, with a power and an awful beauty of holiness, evidently not his own. He has been “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Such a life,—as, for example, Paul’s,—no wonder that it is a centre of power and prevalent influence. It only rests upon him; it is not inherent; he can be divested of it, if unfaithful to it; but while he wears it, how mighty he is for Christ. [Shall we call it the official garment of the ambassador for Christ?]
2 Corinthians 12:9; 2 Corinthians 12:11. Strength and Weakness.
I. “A distinct principle is announced of universal significance. ‘Strength is made perfect in weakness,’ ‘When I am weak, then am I strong,’ are expressions which have now passed almost into the proverbial language of man-kind. It was true, in the highest sense, of Him that uttered it, that ‘His strength was made perfect in the weakness of His sufferings.’ The Cross of Christ is, indeed, the strength of Christianity. [His sceptre was a reed; not yet the rod of iron (Psalms 2:0).] It was true, also, though not in the highest sense, yet still in a sense so great as to be a lesson and an example to all the world, that His strength was perfected in the weakness of the Apostles, above all, of St. Paul. ‘I thank Thee, O Father, that Thou hast concealed these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.’ Who can say how much of the purity and simplicity, and therefore universal strength of the first teaching of the Gospel, we owe (humanly speaking) to the humble station and uneducated character of the first Apostles, which thus received, at once, and without perversion or intrusion of alien thoughts, the original impression of the Word made flesh? Who can say how great would have been the loss to the world had the Gospel originated, not in the weakness of Palestine and Galilee, but in the learning of Alexandria or the strength of Rome? And again, in St. Paul himself, it might have seemed at the time to all, as it did on this occasion seem to him, that the cause of the Gospel would have been better served, had he been relieved from his infirmity and gone forth to preach and teach with unbroken vigour of body and mind, his bodily presence strong, his speech mighty and powerful. But history has answered the question otherwise, and has ratified the Divine answer, in which the Apostle acquiesced. What the Apostle lost for himself, and Christianity lost for the moment, has been more than compensated by the acknowledgment that he was beyond doubt proved to be, not the inventor of Christianity, but its devoted and humble propagator. In his own weakness lies the strength of the cause. When he was weakest as a teacher of the present, he was strongest as an apostle of the future. And what his trial was to him and to the world on a large scale, that the trial of each individual Christian may have been ever since, the means in ways inconceivable to him now, of making himself and others strong in the service of God and man.” (Stanley, Corinthians, 569.)
1. Compare also: “The meek”—not the self-assertive, masterful men, insistent on “rights,” combative in their assertion and maintenance, tolerating no smallest slight—“shall inherit the earth.” Like their Lord, “Who shall not strive nor cry … until (in the midst of, and by means of, the work of ‘weakness’) He bring forth judgment unto victory.” The triumph of Christianity in the Roman Empire was the “victory of the vanquished.”
2. How often the preacher, the teacher, the worker, do most when they have gone to their work trembling, discouraged, but the more flung upon God’s strength. History of some men, some ministries, some Churches, is summarised in Hosea 13:1. (“Baal” has been some idol of self-sufficiency, or human reliance; before which they have bowed down, turning aside from Jehovah to do so.)
3. How the women, the very children, have found all fear vanish, and the flesh strengthened, to walk to the stake for Christ! Sometimes even shaming the men! How the simple women, in Marian days, silenced the cavil and the argument, strong in their only learning,—the Word of God! How they will bear the daily persecution, strong in their very humility, till the very malice of the world gives way, beaten! “Galilæan, thou hast conquered!”
4. Secret of all is, that conscious weakness turns to Infallible Might. (Storm breaks or uproots the oak that will not bend; the pliant sapling escapes, and is the more deeply rooted because of the storm.) Everything that grieves (as does self-sufficiency or reliance on human wisdom or strength) the Spirit, Whose indwelling is our only strength, weakens us. Everything that leaves room for Him to be exalted, brings His strength increasingly. [Illustrate by bar of soft iron, forming the core of an electro-magnet; cold, and in itself powerless to attract or support. Set the current circulating around it, it is full of power,—which disappears, and is gone, in an instant, if the current stop. “Out of weakness” it “is made strong.”]
2 Corinthians 12:14-15. God’s Appeal to the Soul.—May fairly borrow these Pauline words and make them the words of God in Christ appealing to the sinner. For “he that hath seen a Christian hath seen Christ” (cf. John 14:9; more than a mere rhetorical parallel). He is a replica of Christ, and so of God. If Paul feels and does this, he has learned it from Christ. He is “in Christ,” in it all.
I. God makes the advances; not man first.—
1. Always the “law” of His dealings. “I said, Thy face … will I seek, because thou saidst (first), Seek ye My face” (Psalms 27:8). After sin’s alienation, He makes the first approaches: “I seek you.” “The Father seeketh” spiritual, sincere worshippers (John 4:23). We do not solicit the mercy of a reluctant God. No need to “beg Him into the mind” to bless. He is forward, beforehand, with us, proffering, pressing upon our acceptance, His love.
2. Persistently does this.—“This third, tenth, thirtieth time I am coming to you, soul!” Through long years of merciful waiting, rebuffed affection, long-tired patience. [“Came seeking fruit these three years.”] If His patience had not been His, it would have given way long ago. “Come to me.… I am meek, (and therefore have borne your slight of my love)” (Spurgeon). No runaway knock: “I stand at the door, and knock.”
3. “Spent” is “spent out.”—“ ‘It is finished’; He gave up the ghost.” The last was spent, and paid down then.
“What could your Redeemer do,
More than He hath done for you?”
The Father “spared not His own Son,” His unique One, the only “Son” of that kind, the only-begotten. Our sin and need required even That Gift; and He would not stop at even That, when it was a question of our “souls.” How He lavishes love; as if by His gifts to awaken and win for Himself our reluctant, indifferent heart!
4. “More abundantly.”—Another Divine word. John 10:10; Hebrews 6:17; Romans 15:13; Romans 5:15 (our word or its cognates). “My cup” is not simply full but, “runneth over.” Man’s measure for man is God’s measure to man (Luke 6:38).
5. Think of the ages of preparation for Christ, during which God was “laying up for the children.”
II. How man meets the advances.—[This is the bitter wail of some aged fathers, who have slaved, saved, given life, for sons who think the “old man” a burden: “Why does he not take himself off to heaven or some-where!”]
1. Think God a “burden.” [Word (so Jerome in Stanley) a local, Cicilian word, root of which was the name of the torpedo-fish.] His clinging love, hanging around our neck, caressing, wooing, pleading, is unwelcome; it is counted a dead weight, the cling of a torpedo that shocks, and paralyses, and spoils all our possibility of enjoyment! We grudge what His house and service cost us! Grudge what He asks us to give up, if we are to be His. Yet He does not want it, or want to take it, for His own sake. He seeks “not yours, but you.”
2. The more He loves, the less He is loved. Heart gets harder under the very impact of His streaming sunshine! How Nazareth thrust back into the heart of Jesus the love that came unsolicited to do “many mighty works”!
3. Happy for us, that “more abundantly.” We build the dykes, and shut the floodgates [as the Dutchmen, for their good, shut out the ocean]; but the flood of love flows right over the barrier, and brings life into our barren death.
2 Corinthians 12:10. “Pleasure!”
1. Submission may be much, and more than merely sitting to bear whatever is laid upon us, but with an attitude of heart that means, “I would not if I had any choice. Must bear it; all right, I suppose, but—”
2. Wonderful power of accepting, adjusting self to surroundings. Can accommodate, accustom ourselves to anything; until we move amidst and under the burden of discomfort or deprivation, with a mere indifference that stolidly holds on its way, “blow, hail, shine”!
3. Embracing the will of God is much more.
4. But “take pleasure in”! Unnatural, incredible, impossible,—True!
5. “For His sake” makes the difference. What a reality, and a power, is Christ in Paul’s life! No teacher, no compeller, no enabler, for unwelcome burdens or impossible tasks, like Grateful Love!
2 Corinthians 12:10. May we make a counter-part saying, “When Paul is strong, then is he weak”? Two suggestions then:
I. Weakness in strength.
II. Strength in weakness.
I. “Strong” have “no need” of help, and do not seek it.
II. “Weak” know their need and lay hold of Almighty strength.
2 Corinthians 12:11-13. “In all patience.”—May be made central word of paragraph. As usual, “patience” is not merely “endurance,” but “pressing on and bearing up.”
I. His own converts, who owe him everything, will not say a word for him,—say many against him. “Be patient, Paul.” Down, proud heart! Stoop, for the cause’ sake, to commend yourself. Crucify personal feeling. Be “a fool.”
II. His enemies resist him, and decry, and depreciate. Yet he has a credential none of them possess. It might become a weapon against them. But no! “Be patient, Paul!” Never use miracle-working power for a weapon of revenge or self-vindication! [Cf. “Withdrew Himself from them,” when He could have slain such murderous-hearted wretches, with the same power that had healed the withered hand (Matthew 12:14-15). Simply went out of their way!]
III. His Churches are ready to think the worst, if he ask an apostle’s rightful maintenance. “Be patient, Paul!” Let Philippi help thee, indeed, “once and again” (Philippians 4:16). But for Corinthians (and Ephesians),—well, thou hast a trade in thy hand; turn to thy tentmaking!
2 Corinthians 12:14. (See another line of suggestion homiletically dealt with more fully below.)
I. “Not yours”: your gifts; applause; influence. “I am your minister for Christ’s sake,”—your servant; not “lording it” over the Lord’s “heritage” (1 Peter 5:13).
II. “You.” “Watching for your souls as one who must give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). “Your love, for my own sake. And that, because I cannot help you unless I have it. Your welfare, here and hereafter; by your conversion and your perfecting in holiness.”
2 Corinthians 12:16-19 (first clause).
I. Self-vindication sometimes necessary for the credit of religion.—[Cf. Samuel’s self vindication (1 Samuel 12:2-4). Yet higher Example: “Which of you convicteth Me of sin?” (John 8:46). David’s assertions of innocence are no personal boasting; they are the appeal of a smarting sense of injustice, involving the cause of God and its credit, to a Higher Court.]
II. Man who does it should be very sure that he can offer
(1) a clear conscience to the examination of God and
(2) clear accounts, and a clean record, to the examination of man.
1. “In sight of God speak we.” [Then use may be made of “boasting,” and of irony,—both edged tools to deal with, and dangerous to a man’s own spiritual life. Did Christ ever use irony? F. W. Robertson thought so; “Full well” (Mark 7:9).]
2. Christian men should be more particular than others in money matters. Mercenary motives will be charged; because of the misconduct of some; because the world understands no higher motive; or from pure maliciousness. Poor excuse for muddle, hard to distinguish from dishonesty: “He meant no wrong!” Particularly in dealing with money of others, or of the Church. In even such secularities, “temporals,” Paul and Titus “walk in the Spirit.” As the early “deacons” (Acts 7:0) were to be “full … of the Holy Ghost.” Oh for spiritual treasurers, secretaries, stewards!
3. There are sins in a man’s past record which, though pardoned, and not affecting his present standing or holiness before God, render it inexpedient that he should be in the ministry. Paul and Titus should have clean hands, and a clean record. [Rev. Thomas Collins, on platform of a meeting full of opponents: “Mr. Chairman, Christian friends, I am a man who neither fears the frown, nor courts the smile, of any living. I am a man through whose soul the light of the Sun of Righteousness beams all day and all night.” (Coley, Life of Collins, 308.) In similar circumstances at Truro he said: “[You say] ‘you are designing men.’ That is true. I am a designing man.… I have a design to draw my family closer to God, and to get my hearers into the same mind. These are my chief designs at present. All others that I have bow down to them and serve them. Could you this moment scan the naked hearts of my brethren, you would, I doubt not, find some such designs in them.” (Ib. 309.) Very close parallels, even in form, to Paul’s case here.]
2 Corinthians 12:19 (second clause)—21. A New Testament Nehemiah.
1. I am coming to Corinth; “to build you up” (2 Corinthians 12:19).
2. I hear, and fear, that I shall find sad havoc and ruin in the Church of God; “walls broken down”; “gates burnt with fire.”
3. I shall be such as ye would not: a stern, authoritative, authorised reformer, sparing no wrong, or wrongdoer; as every true minister of Christ must on occasion be.
4. I fear I shall have a bitter hour of speechless humiliation among you (Nehemiah 1:4; good parallel in Ezra 9:3-4).
II. Man who loves, and understands, the true methods and meaning of the Work of God, finds no keener distress, no greater humiliation before God, than in the sins which are the weakness and the shame of the Church.
III. How easily old sins, or the customary sins of our world and our time, regain ascendency over Church members, and creep into the Church. [See again how Nehemiah kept the gates, nor would even suffer the expelled traders to tempt his citizens by remaining even in the neighbourhood of the walls (Nehemiah 13:21).]
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12