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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

2 Corinthians 12

Verses 7-9


2 Corinthians 12:7-9. 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. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

THERE is scarcely any thing in the Scriptures that more deserves our attention than the remarkable instances of answers to prayer. Throughout the whole Bible, if we see any one betake himself to prayer, we may know beforehand the issue of his conflicts: whatever be his difficulties, if only he go to God, saying, “I have no might in myself, but mine eyes are unto thee,” we may be well assured of his success: his petition invariably brings Omnipotence to his support; and he is made more than conqueror over all his adversaries. St. Paul relates a most encouraging instance respecting himself, wherein he found to his unspeakable comfort the efficacy of prayer. To illustrate it, we shall consider,


The trial with which he was so oppressed—

Highly favoured as the Apostle was, he was nevertheless bowed down with a heavy affliction—
[None, however honoured and beloved of God, can hope to escape trouble. “What the particular trial was, with which the Apostle was assaulted, it is impossible to say. The most reasonable conjecture seems to be, that it was something occasioned by his vision, perhaps some distortion of his features, or impediment in his speech, that rendered both his person and his speech contemptible; and of which the false teachers, those “messengers and ministers of Satan [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:14-15.],” took advantage, to undermine his influence in the Church of God [Note: Construe ἄγγελος Σατᾶν with ἵνα με κολαφίζῃ; and compare 2 Corinthians 10:10. with Galatians 4:13-14.]. This to the Apostle, whose heart was wholly bent upon glorifying God, and saving the souls of men, would be a heavy affliction, like “a thorn in the flesh,” festering and causing the acutest pain. But, whatever it was, Satan took occasion from it to distress the mind of the Apostle with a far keener anguish than his body could have sustained from the severest blows of men [Note: κουφίζῃ.]. Nor need we regret that we are ignorant of the precise temptation with which St. Paul was harassed; since whatever our trials be, we may consider ourselves as in his situation, and obtain relief in the same way that he did.]

The reason for which that affliction was sent him, it is of great importance to observe—
[The Apostle was not yet perfect: and though he had been caught up into the third heavens, he was yet liable to sin: the seeds of pride were yet in his heart; and they would derive life and vigour even from those very mercies, which, to human appearance, should have had a tendency to destroy them. To counteract this evil of his heart, God sent him a heavy trial [Note: This is twice mentioned in ver. 7.]. And, if we were more attentive to the ends of God’s dispensations towards ourselves, we might always find some good reason for them within our own hearts. Pride is a hateful and accursed evil; and, if suffered to reign within us, will bring us “into the condemnation of the devil:” nor, however severe the remedy may be, should we be averse to endure it, if only it may be instrumental to the extirpating of this deeply-rooted propensity. In this case, though Satan may be the agent that inflicts the stroke, God is the kind friend that “gives” it: and though Satan intends us nothing but evil, God overrules it for our good.]

The conduct of the Apostle under his trial will be instructive to us, if we consider,


The means by which he obtained deliverance from it—

He carried his trouble to a throne of grace—
[Paul well knew the efficacy of fervent prayer, and how vain it was to contend with Satan in his own strength. He therefore besought the Lord to extract this thorn, and to relieve him from his distress. The Lord not immediately vouchsafing him an answer, he renewed his petitions with yet greater fervour: and when still no answer came, he became more and more urgent, determining, like Jacob of old, that he would not go without a blessing. This was a certain mean of obtaining deliverance. It was the mean which our Lord himself used under the pressure of that wrath that was due to our sins: He prayed “thrice” that the cup might pass from him. Nor is such urgent prayer at all expressive of a want of resignation to the will of God: it is our privilege and our duty to “call upon God in the time of trouble;” and troubles are often sent for this very purpose, to bring us nearer to God; and are continued for a time, to discover to us more abundantly the condescension of God in the removal of them.]

The person, whom he immediately addressed, was the Lord Jesus—
[Paul had heard Stephen in the hour of martyrdom calling on the Lord Jesus; and had seen what support was administered to him on that trying occasion [Note: Acts 7:58-59.]. And whither should he himself fly but to that same adorable Friend, who is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” and, “having been in all points tempted like us, is able and willing to succour his tempted people [Note: Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15.]” That his petitions were immediately addressed to Christ, is certain; for we are told in the text, that it was Christ who answered him, and on whose promised aid the Apostle was enabled to rely.]

In due time he received an answer to his petitions—
[At last the suppliant was informed, that the grace of Christ which had already been so abundant in his first conversion, should be “sufficient for him” under every subsequent trial: and that however disheartened the Apostle might be on account of his great and manifold infirmities, he should experience no real evil from them: on the contrary, they should be a source of much good, inasmuch as they should be the means of displaying, and magnifying, the strength of Christ. Thus all cause of complaint was taken away from him, because Satan was sure to be defeated by him, and the work of Christ to be advanced both in his own heart, and by his ministrations in the world. This answer, though not precisely agreeable to the letter of the Apostle’s petition, fully corresponded with the spirit of it. Our blessed Lord himself, when “supplicating with strong crying and tears” for the removal of the cup, did not obtain the precise object of his request; yet we are told that he “was heard,” because he was strengthened, and enabled to drink it [Note: Hebrews 5:7.]. Thus the Apostle’s petitions also were crowned with success. The trial was indeed continued: but the end for which God sent it, was accomplished. Had God removed the thorn, it is possible that the Apostle might have been “exalted above measure,” and might thereby have suffered irreparable loss in his soul: but by sanctifying the trouble, God confirmed him in his humility, and rendered him a distinguished instrument of good to his Church.]

That the Apostle considered his petition as completely answered, will appear from,


The effect which this answer produced upon him—

From this moment all his sorrows were turned into joy—
[St. Paul did not merely submit to the Divine will, and bear with patience a trial which he could not remove; but he even gloried in his tribulations; and made those very infirmities, which just before had been a subject of such pathetic lamentation, an occasion of joy and triumph. It is thus that every Christian is called to manifest his acquiescence in the appointments of heaven: he should count it all joy when he falls into divers temptations, and, being strengthened unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness, he should give thanks unto the Father, who, by trials, is fitting him for glory [Note: 2 Chronicles 1:11-12; 2 Chronicles 1:11-122 Chronicles 1:11-12.].]

The consideration that Christ would be glorified in him, was sufficient to counterbalance all that lie had suffered, or might yet suffer for his sake—
[The honour of Christ was dear unto the Apostle, and should be dear unto all who call themselves Christians. The continuance of the trial in the Apostle’s flesh, was an occasion of Christ’s more abundant kindness towards him. His compassionate Saviour drew nigh unto him, and dwelt as it were upon him, as God, by the symbol of his presence, had formerly rested on the tabernacle in the wilderness [Note: ἐπισκηνώσῃ.]. And as the rebellious Israelites had been constrained to acknowledge the presence of God with Moses, so were Paul’s enemies constrained to acknowledge that Christ was with him of a truth. The more weak and contemptible he was in their eyes, the more they must be compelled to glorify Christ, by whom he was strengthened in his spirit, and made successful in his ministrations. And if more glory might be brought to Christ by means of these infirmities, he was not only willing to endure them, but ready to glory in them even unto death [Note: Philippians 1:20.].]


Let us inquire into the cause of our troubles—
[The rod has a voice which we ought to hear [Note: Micah 6:9.]: and, if we would attend to it, it would discover to us many hidden but grievous abominations, which lurk unseen in our hearts; and we should almost invariably find, not only that the chastisement was needed by us, but that it was that very trial which was most of all calculated to promote our spiritual and eternal good — — —]

Let us carry them all to a throne of grace—
[It is to little purpose to complain of them to our fellow-creatures: but “God never says to any, Seek ye my face in vain.” Who could have conceived that Paul should receive such a speedy and effectual answer to his prayer? But if we were alike urgent in our supplications, we should be crowned with the like success — — —]

Let us exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—
[He says to us, “Believe in God; believe also in me [Note: John 14:1.].” He is God, equal with the Father; and “in him all fulness dwells.” His promise is addressed to all his suffering and tempted people; and the truth of it shall be experienced by them all. Only let us believe in him; and no adversary shall be too strong, no calamity too heavy, no duty too difficult; for “all things are possible to him that believeth.”]

Verse 10


2 Corinthians 12:10. When I am weak, then am I strong.

THERE are many things in Scripture which appear inconsistent and contrary to truth. Christ is represented as God, and yet a man; as the Lord of David, and yet his son; as a lion, and yet a lamb. And, as his person is thus variously described, so is his work: he is said to heal us by his own stripes, and to give us life by his death. But, however strange such expressions may seem, they contain many important truths. In the same manner the Apostle’s words, which we have now read, may be thought to imply a contradiction: but they accord with the experience of all God’s people, and justly deserve the most attentive consideration.
In discoursing on this paradoxical assertion, we shall illustrate, confirm, and improve it.


Illustrate it—

A part of David’s history will help us to elucidate the words before us—
[When the champion of the Philistines defied, and terrified, the whole army of Israel, David, “a stripling,” without armour, defensive or offensive (except a sling and a stone), went forth against him; and, though unused to war himself, entered into combat with that experienced and mighty warrior. But the weaker he was in himself, the more confident was he in his God; and instead of being intimidated by the threatening aspect and boasting menaces of his adversary, he was as assured of victory, as if he had seen his enemy already under his feet [Note: 1 Samuel 17:45-47.].]

But the context will give the best clew to the Apostle’s meaning—
[St. Paul laboured under a heavy trial, which he calls a thorn in his flesh [Note: ver. 7, 8.]. Apprehensive that this would counteract his usefulness in the world, he cried most earnestly to the Lord Jesus Christ to remove it from him. But the Lord, not judging it expedient to grant him his request, promised him (what was incomparably better) more abundant communications of grace, whereby he should obtain in a more advantageous manner the desires of his soul. Observe the effect—Paul remained as weak as ever; but, being persuaded that Christ’s power should be the more magnified through his weakness, he was satisfied; yea, rather, he made that a matter of joy and triumph, which had just before been a source of the greatest trouble. He was well assured that, however unable he was in himself either to bear his trials, or to fulfil his duties, he could not but succeed, when his Almighty Friend was pledged to succour and support him.]

The Apostle’s assertion being equally applicable to all believers, we shall,


Confirm it—

A sense of weakness necessarily tends to make us strong, inasmuch as it makes us,


Watchful against temptations—

[If we conceive ourselves to be strong, we shall be fearless of temptation; and by exposing ourselves to it, shall be in greater danger of falling: whereas, if we feel our utter weakness, we shall not only pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” but shall carefully shun the places, the books, the company, that may ensnare us. Like Joseph, we shall not parley with the tempter, but flee in haste: or, if we cannot flee, we shall oppose our enemy at first; and thus vanquish that, which, if it had time to gather strength, would soon vanquish us.]


Importunate in prayer—

[It is the sick alone who calls for a physician; they who are strong in their own conceit, will never pray in earnest; but he who feels his need of divine assistance will seek it at a throne of grace. Now if we do not pray for God’s aid, we cannot receive it; and therefore in the hour of trial shall surely fail. But, if we pray with importunity and faith, we shall obtain the things we ask for; and consequently shall be upheld, while others fall. It was by this means that Paul obtained strength; “he prayed to the Lord thrice:” the answer vouchsafed to his petition dissipated all his fears, and strengthened him with might in his inner man: and similar means will always be attended with similar success.]


Dependent on the Lord Jesus Christ—

[In proportion as we fancy ourselves strong, we must of necessity confide in our own strength; the consequence of which may be sufficiently seen in the repeated falls of Peter. Being strong in his own apprehension, he proved himself lamentably weak. But, if we are conscious that we are wholly without strength, and can do nothing of ourselves, we shall be more simple and uniform in our dependence on Christ. Now Christ will never suffer those who trust in him to be confounded. He would consider it as an impeachment of his own veracity, if he did not give them “grace sufficient for them;” consequently we never are so truly strong, as when we are deeply convinced of our own utter impotence.]

This truth enters deeply into the experience of all the Lord’s people: we shall therefore endeavour to,


Improve it—

Among the various lessons which it teaches us, let us especially learn two:


Not to be too much elated on account of any manifestations of the Divine favour—

[Paul was caught up into the third heavens; but soon afterwards we behold him crying, with much anguish of mind, under a severe affliction. Thus it may soon be with us. Indeed the seasons most distinguished by God’s favour to us, are often most distinguished also by Satan’s malice. It was immediately after they had received peculiar tokens of God’s love, that he assaulted Paul [Note: ver. 4.], and Peter [Note: Matthew 16:17; Matthew 16:23.], and Christ himself [Note: Matthew 3:17; Matthew 4:1.]. Let us then, when most highly favoured, “rejoice with trembling [Note: Psalms 2:11.],” and not while harnessed, boast as if we had put off our armour [Note: 1 Kings 20:11.].]


Not to be too much dejected on account of our manifold infirmities—

[Jacob was lamed by God himself, that he might know he had not prevailed by his own strength [Note: Genesis 32:25.]. And Paul had a thorn in the flesh given him, “lest he should be exalted above measure.” Now our infirmities are very painful: but they are necessary, in order to keep alive in our minds a remembrance of our own weakness and vileness: and, if we do but carry them to God in fervent prayer, he will glorify himself by means of them, and “perfect his strength in our weakness.” “Let the weak then say, I am strong [Note: Joel 3:10.];” let them “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might [Note: Ephesians 6:10.];” and, doubtless, they shall receive that effectual succour which believers, in all ages, have experienced [Note: Hebrews 11:34.], and shall invariably find their “strength according to their day” of trial [Note: Deuteronomy 33:25.].]

Verse 14


2 Corinthians 12:14. I seek not yours, but you.

DISINTERESTEDNESS, in whatever it appears, is universally admired—-But most of all does its excellency appear, when it is manifested in the service of the sanctuary. The ministers, whom the prophet represents as “greedy dogs that could never have enough [Note: Isaiah 56:11.],” and who would “not so much as shut the doors of the temple, or kindle a fire on the altar for nought [Note: Malachi 1:10.],” must be considered by every one as the most contemptible of men: whereas the appeal which the Apostle makes to the Church at Corinth, cannot fail of exalting his character in the eyes of all. We may learn from this declaration,


The paramount duty of ministers—

Ministers are the pastors of their flock; and ought to watch over them as parents over their children. Now a parent does not exercise kindness to his children from a selfish consideration of the profit which he may one day make of them, but from a real delight in their welfare; and he regards their happiness as his reward. Thus a minister must seek,


Not his own advantage—

[To obtain honour and emolument is ardently desired by carnal and worldly men: but a minister of God must be superior to such low pursuits. He must not court the favour of men. He ought indeed to avoid needless offence both in his preaching and conduct: he should “choose out acceptable words [Note: Ecclesiastes 12:10.],” and endeavour to “please all men for their good to edification [Note: Romans 15:2.]:” but he must not conceal or adulterate any single expression of the word of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:17.], or attempt to set forth the truths of God in a fascinating manner, for the purpose of gaining applause, or of shunning persecution [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:17.]: he must faithfully “declare the whole counsel of God,” and “commend himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God:” and, if he do not preach in this manner, “he cannot be a servant of Jesus Christ [Note: Galatians 1:10.].”

Neither must he seek to enrich himself with their property: “Those who serve at the altar have a right to live of the altar:” “The ox was not to be muzzled, while he was treading out the corn.” “The labourer is worthy of his hire.” But the obtaining of a maintenance should not in the least degree operate with a minister as an inducement to undertake or execute his high office. If he were actuated by such a principle as this, he would degrade himself to a mere hireling [Note: 1 Samuel 2:36.]. Nor can he suffer so mean a principle to influence him at all in his work, without greatly diminishing the value of his services, and their acceptableness in the sight of God [Note: 1 Peter 5:2.]. The injunction given to Christians in general should be regarded with peculiar scrupulosity by him, “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:24.Philippians 2:4; Philippians 2:4; Philippians 2:21.].”]


The advantage only of his flock—

[Their sincere conversion to God, their progressive edification in faith and love, and their final everlasting salvation, are to be the unvaried aim of all his labours. “He must lift up his voice like a trumpet, and shew the house of Israel their sins.” He must not be satisfied with effecting a change in their sentiments and external conduct, but must continue “travailing in birth with them, till Christ be manifestly formed in their hearts.” When that end is attained, his care of them, instead of being relaxed, must be increased. They still need his unremitting exertions, to administer to their numerous wants, and to give them from time to time that direction and encouragement which their necessities require [Note: Ezekiel 34:4.]. As long as they continue in this world, he is God’s minister to them for good, and the medium through whom he will communicate to them the blessings of grace and peace. He is to live for them, to the end that he may be “an helper of their joy,” and “perfect that which is lacking in their faith.” This is to be his one employment; and he is to consider the salvation of their souls his richest recompence [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20.].]

This subject naturally involves in it,


The corresponding duty of the people—

The relation of pastor and flock, like every other relation in life, has its peculiar and appropriate obligations. Those which arise out of the text, as pertaining to the people, are,


To seek above all things the salvation of their own souls—

[We are far from saying that people are not to attend to their temporal concerns: on the contrary, we affirm, that a neglect of their worldly business is exceeding criminal in the sight of God; that their duties in civil and social life are as much to be attended to as any other duties whatever; and that their families and dependents would have just cause of complaint, if their temporal interests were disregarded. But still, the first of all duties is, the care of our own souls. Nothing can equal the value of the soul: “if we would gain the whole world, and lose our own soul, what should we be profited?” If a minister must not suffer any earthly interests to stand in competition with the souls of his people, how much less should the people suffer them to stand in competition with their own souls! In this view their duty is very strongly marked; and the reasonableness of attending to it is incontrovertibly established.]


To improve the ministry with all diligence—

[It has been shewn that ministers should invariably keep in view the salvation of their hearers. What then should the hearers do when about to attend upon the means of grace? Should they not bear in mind their own responsibility for their due improvement of the ordinances? Should they not pray earnestly to God to prepare their hearts for the reception of divine truth, and to accompany it with the effectual working of his almighty power? Should they not entreat him to give unto their minister “a mouth and wisdom which none shall be able to gainsay or resist;” and to direct him “how to speak a word in season to their weary souls?” In short, should they not be as solicitous to receive, as their minister can be to communicate, good; and should not every other consideration be regarded as a matter of comparative indifference? Happy would it be for the Church of God, and happy for the world at large, if such dispositions obtained amongst the hearers, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed!]


[We ask, What is the improvement which you have made of our ministry? We presume not to compare ourselves with the holy Apostle: we know full well how remote we are from him in every attainment: yet we hope that, in some small measure, we may adopt his language in the text, and say, “We seek not yours, but you.” (Would to God that we could affirm it as fully, and as confidently, as Paul himself!) Let each of you then put the question to himself, and ask, Whether the pursuit of your own salvation be the one concern which swallows up, as it were, all others? At least, are all other things comparatively worthless in your eyes? And are you, “as new-born babes, desiring the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby?” Remember that, if we must give an account of your souls to God, much more must you give an account of your own souls; and the more our exertions for you are increased, the more will your condemnation be aggravated, if the prove ineffectual for your salvation.]

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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.