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Paul is here speaking of Visions and Revelations, with which the Lord favored him. He speaks of his Infirmities.
2 Corinthians 12:1
(1) It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
As everything relating to those supernatural manifestations Paul was favored with, and which God the Holy Ghost hath been pleased to have recorded , for the comfort of the Church, becomes highly interesting; I would here more particularly beg the Reader's attention. All the visions and revelations which have been made to the Church, in the several periods of it have been uniformly intended to bring the Church, into some acquaintance with the Person, and eternal glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, as God-man mediator. As Christ in his Person, that is God and man in one is the first in all Jehovah's designs, and in Him, and through Him, and by Him, all revelations of Jehovah, in his threefold character of Persons are made, or capable of being made towards the Lord's intelligent creation; so, the ultimate end and design is, to centre all the glory of Jehovah; that is capable of being made visible to his creation, in the Person of the God-man Christ Jesus, that at the last day, all God's creatures may behold in Him the final issue of all Jehovah's decrees, in all the purposes of revelation, Ephesians 1:10 . Hence all those occasional glories which have been shewn the Church, during the different periods of the Church, both under the Old Testament dispensation and the New, have been with the express design to bring the Church into an acquaintance with her Lord's Person and glory, as God-man mediator. And for this end, and to this purpose, the several servants of the Lord, as so many representatives of his Church, have been favored with these glorious manifestations, such as Paul is here about to speak of, and such as we read of others, both in the Old and New Testaments, Exodus 3:2 &c; Exodus 24:9 to the end; Joshua 5:13 &c; Isaiah 6:1 &c, with John 12:41 ; Ezekiel 1:4-28 ; Daniel 10:5-6 ; Matthew 17:1-9 .
Reader! before we proceed, let us pause over the subject. If you recollect, when the Lord Jesus Christ was about to return to heaven, and when redemption-work was nearly finished, Jesus addressed himself in these remarkable words to his Father: And now, 0 Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was, John 17:5 . The question is, what glory is here meant? Not, surely, the glory essential in the Godhead, for this was, and is, the Son of God's own, unasked, underived, eternal, and unchangeable. But the glory which Christ had, as Christ, that is, God and man in one Person, in his covenant subsistence, and in his mediatorial glory before all worlds. This glory, except in the occasional burstings forth of it, as we read upon several instances in scripture, when it brake forth through the manhood, had been obscured during the ministry of Jesus upon earth. But now the offices which he came to perform, being fulfilled, Jesus thus spake in that sweet scripture, of being again glorified with his own personal glory as Mediator, which he possessed in this Almighty character before the earth was laid.
Now let us connect with this original and eternal glory of the God-man mediator, which Jesus possessed before he openly assumed humanity, and came upon earth, the glory of the same Almighty character, when he shall come to be glorified with his saints, and be admired in all that believe, 2 Thessalonians 1:10 , and we shall then form some faint, however imperfect idea, of those intermediate visions and revelations, in which the Lord hath been pleased to make himself known unto his people. Every manifestation is with a view to glorify Jesus. Every revelation hath this for its great and leading object. And Peter's explanation of the instance he had, when with James and John in the mount, plainly shews for what purpose, in every instance, the mercy was granted. We were eye-witnesses (said Peter) of his Majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, 2 Peter 1:16-17 . If the Reader be enabled to connect those views of Christ's personal glory, as God-man before all worlds, and Christ's personal glory, as God man at the end of the world; he will then, under the same divine teaching, be prepared for the right apprehension of all the visions and revelations of the Lord which have ever taken place in the present time-state of the Church, and he will also be the better qualified to enter into the apprehension of the One which Paul had, as he hath related in this chapter.
(2) I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such a one caught up to the third heaven. (3) And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) (4) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. (5) Of such a one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. (6) For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.
There are so many precious and blessed things contained in this vision the Apostle was favored with, that I can only glance at them in the mere outlines of the subject, without entering largely into the particulars.
And first. The Apostle saith, that he knew a man in Christ; and there can be no doubt, from what he soon after added, concerning the abundance of revelations given to him (2 Corinthians 12:7 ), that he meant himself. And it was no uncommon thing, in the Eastern world, for men to speak of themselves as in the third person. Indeed it is not unusual now. And upon the present occasion, Paul studied to avoid all vain-glory. By the expression itself of a man in Christ, it Is plain Paul meant one of Christ's people, his seed, his chosen. And of all these it must be said, that every individual of Christ's seed was in Christ from all eternity, for they were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4 . And all the purposes and grace designed the Church in time, with the sure hope of eternal life in the world to come, were all given to every individual of the Church , before the world began, 2 Timothy 1:9 ; Titus 1:2 . Of Christ's whole seed, it may be truly said, as was said by the Holy Ghost of Levi, being in the loins of his father Abraham, when Melchizedeck met him; so all of Christ's seed were in Him, and He their everlasting Father from all eternity, Hebrews 7:10 ; Isaiah 9:6 . Hence those sweet promises: Isaiah 59:21; Isaiah 59:21 .
A man in Christ is one of the members of Christ's mystical body: And having been chosen in Christ, when Christ at the call of God; stood up the Head and Husband of his people before all worlds; so; in the time-state of the Church, every man in Christ is proved to belong to Christ by regeneration, adoption, justification, and grace. Hence, as Paul elsewhere saith, his life is hid with Christ in God; Colossians 3:3 , a life of secresy, security, and interest in all that belongs to Christ. He is, therefore, properly called one in Christ, beheld in Christ, accepted in Christ, justified in Christ, sanctified in Christ, and must be , finally, glorified in Christ. And thus the Holy Ghost testifieth: For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that He might be the first born among many brethren. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified, Romans 8:29-30 . Reader! are you a man in Christ?
In relation to the time of this vision, with which Paul was favored, the Apostle dates it about fourteen years before the time that he wrote this Epistle. And it appears, at the close of the next chapter that he wrote it from Philippi; consequently, it must have been about the year 60 when written, and fourteen years before would place the vision in the eleventh year after his conversion. Some have conceived that this vision is the same, which is spoken of when Paul arrived at Jerusalem, Acts 22:17 . But it should, seem to have been a perfectly distinct revelation, and to a very different purport from that. It appears to me, I confess, to have been a very glorious manifestation of the Person of Christ, similar, or perhaps in greater degree, to those with which the saints of God in the Old Testament were favored, for the special comfort of those holy servants of the Lord, as well as for the general confirmation of the faith. But, certain it is, that the revelation was so abundant and overwhelming, that during the continuance of it, the Apostle was altogether unconscious of any bodily sensations. See Ezekiel 8:3 ; Daniel 8:27; Daniel 8:27 ; Revelation 1:10 .
The paradise, or third heaven, the Apostle speaks of (for he calls it by both names,) evidently mean one and the same; and seems to be in conformity to the Jewish notions; who, when speaking at any time of heaven, were accustomed to call it paradise. There doth not, however, appear any reason assigned wherefore it is called the third heaven. The generally received opinion is, that it is the blessed habitation of the spirits of just men made perfect, Luke 23:43 . Several scriptures seem to favor the opinion, but none decide. And, as the Holy Ghost is silent on the subject, it becomes us to be also, and not presume to be wise above what is written, Revelation 6:9-10 . Indeed there is nothing so weak as men's conjectures on subjects of this sublime nature. Paul's own account of this is that had heard unspeakable words or such as a man cannot utter. How then can another explain, or even form an idea of them? Reader! it is enough, for the exercise of faith, to receive from God the Holy Ghost the record of the fact. Here then we ought to rest. It is a sad misuse of the word of God, when upon any exercise of mystery we become reasoners instead of believers.
I pray the Reader to notice the Apostle's words, when passing by all glorying on account of the wonderful condescension of his Lord, he declares his wish, rather to glory in his infirmities. By which we are to suppose Paul meant, not the desperately wicked state of his heart in the days of his unregeneracy, for there could be nothing to glory in them; but rather the circumstances, which, arising out of a fallen state, made Christ dear, and kept the soul humble. And, indeed, the word infirmities means as much. Some have thought the infirmities Paul alluded to, were only such as he mentions in the tenth verse, where be speaks of taking pleasure in them, in being reproached and persecuted for Christ's sake. And, no doubt, these exercises afforded much satisfaction when ever, in suffering shame for the name of Jesus, Acts 5:41 . But had these been all, and Paul had had no other infirmities in himself to be humbled for; it is to be apprehended by what we see and know of human nature, that instead of glorying in infirmities which kept the soul humble and made Christ dear, Paul, as well as other saints of God, would have become proud of what some men talk of, but none in themselves know, a fancied holiness, inherent in themselves, and which must render in their view, Christ less and less necessary. Reader! I pray you to pause over the subject, and may God the Holy Ghost be your teacher. Paul felt, if I mistake not, what all the children taught of God feel, daily infirmities from a body of sin and death, which makes the Lord Jesus dear, yea, increasingly dear and precious. And those infirmities compelled him to seek strength from Christ, in like manner as the hunger of an healthy man compels him to seek food. Paul's daily wants, daily cravings, daily emptiness, taught him that he could not live upon past attainments, but Jesus was needful every day, and all the day, and without those supplies from the Lord, he should go lean and barren. It was not the having been caught up to the third heaven would satisfy his soul, when he found his soul afterwards encompassed by a body of flesh and blood, and returned to the earth. He, therefore, gloried that those infirmities made him sensible where he was, and how increasingly needful Christ was to keep him humble, and exalt the Savior. And very sure I am, that every child of God, truly taught of God, knows the same by daily experience. My sense of sin makes Christ's blood precious. My poverty in spirituals gives A blessed occasion to seek and make use of his riches. And my conscious weakness, unless supported and upheld by the Lord my righteousness, makes me continually cry out: Hold thou me up, and shall be safe: and then shall I have respect unto thy statutes continually, Psalms 119:117 . Reader! what knowledge have you of these things? When a child, of God makes use of his experiences in this way, that by feeling and knowing in himself his own nothingness, and his wants of Jesus increasing, and his desires after Jesus more pressing; this is to make our experiences profitable, because they lead to Christ instead of leading from Christ. But when men live, as, the major part of those who profess the truths of God do live, upon a work, as they suppose, wrought in them, rather than what Christ hath wrought for them, and instead of drawing comfort wholly from Christ, they take it from themselves, magnifying the effect before the cause; this is inverting things, and living upon Christ, if it can be called living, at second hand. Better to be humbled with an infirmity, than made proud with some supposed merit. Reader! do not dismiss the subject without due consideration!
(7) And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. (8) For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. (9) And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
It would lead into a very extensive subject of enquiry, and after all be only matter of conjecture, what this sharp exercise of the Apostle consisted in. Some have thought, that by a thorn in the flesh, is meant heavy sickness of the body. Others, the lusts of the flesh, corruptions, temptations to uncleanness, and the like, and which are in the fullest and most grievous sense of the word, thorns in the flesh. And some have thought that in the latter days of the Apostle, he had an impediment in his speech, and which mightily afflicted him, because he could not speak of the glories of Christ with that eloquence as heretofore. And from what Paul himself hath said in this same Epistle, it is very probable that he was so afflicted. See chapter 10:10 (2 Corinthians 10:10 ). Others accept the words in their literal sense, and conclude that this messenger of Satan acted upon Paul as he had upon Job, personally tempting and buffeting the Apostle. But the Holy Ghost is silent upon the subject of what nature the affliction was, only relating enough to shew, that it bore hard upon Paul, to compel him to fly to Christ. And also observing, (and which is highly important to regard,) that the permission of this exercise was, lest from the abundance of revelations with which Paul was blessed, temptations of a different nature, to induce spiritual pride, might arise.
Reader! before we proceed, let us pause over this view. Here is an Apostle of Christ brought under humbling providences of very sore temptations, lest from an abundance of grace, his mind should be lifted up with a supposed excellency in himself, as if his merit, and not grace alone, was the sole cause of the distinguishing mercy. And doth it not teach us, among other blessed things, to form those profitable conclusions, and which, under grace, may be highly improved. As first, that where the Lord gives great grace, there may be expected in the same persons, great occasions for the exercise of it. Grace and corruption are near neighbors, and dwell close together. A child of God, when regenerated, is holy altogether in spirit, while in body altogether sinful; hereby sin appears more clearly what it is, exceeding sinful. Hence many of God's dear children, which have large portions of grace, have large portions of corruptions, which need the Lord's grace to keep under. And blessed, yea, very blessed it is, when a child of God feels the aboundings of indwelling sin, to feel also the more abounding manifestations of grace, that sin shall not have dominion over him!
Secondly. Nothing under the influence of God the Spirit; tends so effectually to keep open a constant spring of true sorrow in the soul, as a constant sense of those thorns in the flesh, in the remains of indwelling corruption. Self loathing, and self abhorring, are sweet tokens of holy mourning. A man will go softly all his day, as long as those thorns goad and prick him. The Lord's account of his people, under those humbling circumstances, is very striking: And there shall ye remember your ways and all your doings wherein ye have been defiled: and ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed: and ye shall know that I am the Lord, Ezekiel 20:43-44 .
And, thirdly, as a very blessed property which springs out of those thorny dispensations, nothing can operate so effectually, under the Lord's grace, to hide pride from the eyes, and to throw to the ground every budding forth of self-righteousness, as the conscious sense of daily infirmity. Reader! depend upon it, nothing is more odious in the sight of God, than when dust and ashes become proud. When a child of God is tempted, after many humblings, by reason of sin, yet still to take up with the supposed idea of somewhat good in him. This dreadful weed, which is the very ground-sill of our nature, planted by the devil, is rooted in our very inmost affections. And the humblest of God's people too often discover, when grace enables them to discern spiritually, the buddings forth again and again of the baleful blossom. Now, it is the Lord's mercy, when, like Paul, lest there should be an exalting above measure, a thorn in the flesh breaks out afresh.
And what is infinitely above all; fourthly, and lastly, let me observe, nothing preacheth Christ in his Person, glory, and absolute necessity, as when from messengers of Satan, and thorns in the flesh, my soul daily feels my whole need of Jesus. Oh! how precious Christ is, when the enemy cometh in like a flood? Oh! who knows the value, the infinitely precious value of Christ, but he who feels most his utterly lost estate without him. Reader! what are your views of these things?
The earliest cry of Paul, and the repeated cry of thrice, and, no doubt, with great vehemency, may best serve to shew how the affliction pressed upon him. But what I particularly desire the Reader not to overlook, is, that the cries were directed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul remembered how Jesus delivered his people from the influence and dominion of Satan, when He was upon earth, and, therefore, to Him he looked for deliverance now He was in heaven. Sweet is it to learn from hence, how specially and personally Jesus little ones are to look to Him under their temptations. He who was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, knows in his own experience what temptations are, and how to succor the tempted. And; as an angel was sent to Christ, in his unequalled hours of sorrow; so will He impart all suited strength to the sorrows of his tempted people, Matthew 4:11 ; Luke 22:43 ; Hebrews 2:14-18 . Christ's answer to the Apostle, upon this occasion, is most blessed, full, sufficient, and abundantly satisfactory. And what is never to be lost sight of, this answer, though addressed to Paul for the moment of his immediate necessity, is as much in reality said to every child of God, under similar circumstances of exercise and trial, and equally to be brought into use by the whole redeemed family. It is as if Jesus said to you, to me, to each, to all, my grace is sufficient for thee; meaning, that there is a sufficiency of grace laid up for each and for all, and always ready to be given out in the very moment of need. Christ's grace is in exact correspondence to the want of each. It is laid up for that child from everlasting. It is, as if Jesus said, I foresaw the very portion which would be required, and have kept it, and do keep it, for the time foreseen, and provided for! Our Jesus is El-shaddai, God all-sufficient. And his mercies are mediator-mercies, that is God-man mercies. His Godhead providing an everlasting fulness of supply. And his Manhood sweetly assimulating them to our special joy and comfort, coming also from and through, and in a nature like our own. My grace, my mediator-grace is sufficient for thee! And both the occasion for the display of it, and the opportunity for the magnifying of it are in exact proportion to the precise wants of my people, my strength becoming the more conspicuous to their view in their creature-weakness. Reader! pause over those gracious words of Christ, and may the Lord give both to Writer and Reader of this Poor Man's Commentary unceasing evidences of their sweet application upon every occasion of their exercises.
(11) I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. (12) Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. (13) For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong. (14) Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. (15) And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. (16) But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile. (17) Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? (18) I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps? (19) Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying. (20) For I fear, lest when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults: (21) And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.
I have already observed, that everything as relating to the Apostle's person, hath been, as much as could be, avoided enlarging upon. The Church of Corinth, (of whose infirmities and unkindness to him Paul complained,) and Paul himself, (with all those complaints,) have long since ceased. Our improvements of those sweet scriptures, are to be directed to such parts of them as are detached from all matters of a private, transient nature, and are of public and everlasting usefulness its the Church of Christ. And these are very sweet and precious. It will be our mercy to be looking unto the Spirit for grace, while perusing those holy records concerning the Church, that the improvements the Lord intended for them may not be overlooked by us, but that Christ's grace to us, as it was to the Apostle, may be suited in all departments, and with all-sufficiency, that we may find cause, as Paul did, to give Jesus all the glory, when his strength is made perfect in our weakness, and we find more strength' in the Lord, when discovering greater weakness in ourselves.
READER! let us pause and contemplate the highly favored state of the Lord's faithful servant, thus admitted to visions and revelations of God. No doubt, the very recollection warmed his soul in all the after stages of life. Paul felt the blessedness of them, and, like Peter, well knew, to his soul's joy, that he had not followed cunningly devised fables, when was made known unto him the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but was an eye-witness of his majesty. Reader! though the manifestations the Lord Jesus now makes to his people are not so splendid, for they are not now so necessary for confirmation to the Church, yet are they equally sure for the private consolation of every child of God. When God the Holy Ghost in regeneration, calls his redeemed from the Adam - darkness of nature to the light of life in Christ, not unfrequently, his manifestations are so sweet and gracious, that their remembrance becomes a comfort, through all the after parts of life. Yea, many a child of God in a dying hour, like Jacob in recollection of his Bethel, and Moses of his Bush, hath found the cold, clammy sweat of death unable to destroy the warm fervor of the precious remembrance! Oh! for grace for the soul to live in the enjoyment of Christ; and, sure I am, Christ himself will be the enjoyment of the soul in death!
Reader! do not overlook the personal interest which every child of God hath in the Lord Jesus's sweet answer to Paul: My grace is sufficient for thee! Messengers of Satan, thorns in the flesh, infirmities and reproaches, these all belong to the present time-state of the Church. There is a needs-be for them. The Church of God is passing through a wilderness, and cannot get to heaven without them. But Jesus knows them all, permits them all, overrules them all, sanctifies all. And Jesus hath, from all eternity, the very portion of grace to bear up all his members under all, as is exactly suited to all, and will assuredly give it out to each, and to all in the hour of need. Precious Lord Jesus! may I never lose sight of this! my God, my Savior hath the very portion of grace I require for this and that occasion, and I have nothing to do but to ask it from him as oft as that occasion shall require. Amen! My God will then suit His strength to my weakness, and bruise Satan under my feet shortly!
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17