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That is, "I acknowledge it neither decent nor advantageous, with respect to myself, to go on in farther boasting and glorying; but since it may be necessary with respect to you, I will declare what visions and revelations I have received from the Lord; in which I shall give such an evidence of the favours of Christ to me, and such a testimony of my mission from heaven, as none of these false apostles or dceitful workers can pretend unto."
Learn hence, That although glorying or boasting, in itself is so expedient a thing, savours of pride, and is an evidence of folly, when it is not necessary and just, and therefore all Christians should be backward to it: Yet that which is so inexpedient in itself, may, upon a just and fitting occasion, be not only lawful, but laudable, both a necessary and commendable duty.
Observe, 2. The present subject matter of St. Paul's glorying; it was heavenly raptures and visions which he gloried in.
Learn thence, That divine revelations, acquainting the soul with heaven, are matters most worthy of humble and modest glorying. Oh! if God would vouch-safe to favour us with the sight of what St. Paul saw, what little things would crowns and sceptres, empires and kingdoms, seem to us? How would it make us long, groan and cry, to be with Christ!
But though none of us must expect such raptures and ecstasies as the apostle had, blessed be God for that clear revelation of his heavenly glory which the gospel gives, and for that assurance which faith gives, that Christ as our forerunner is entered into, and keeps possession of it, in the name and stead of all believers: He has prepared it for us, and is daily preparing us for that, and in his own appointed time will put us into the actual possession of it; not for a few hours (which was all the apostle enjoyed) but for eternal ages.
Observe, 1. That the person here spoken of was doubtless himself, otherwise it had been no cause or ground of glorying to him at all; yet he speaks in the name of a third person.
Thence note, That they who know most of God, are most modest when they come to speak of themselves.
Observe, 2. The description of the person, a man in Christ; that is, a man acted by the Spirit of Christ, above himself; and also a description of the place he was caught up into, paradise, the seat of the blessed.
Learn thence, That there is a third heaven, or heavenly paradise, where are the concerns and hopes of holy souls: And souls are not so closely tied to the body, but they may, whenever God pleases, be wrapt up into paradise, or the third heaven. The apostle not being able to tell whether he was in the body, or out of the body, sheweth that somehow the soul was there, though he could not declare nor discover the manner how.
Observe, 3. What St. Paul heard when thus wrapt up into paradise, namely, unspeakable words, such as cannot be uttered; or, if uttered, cannot be understood.
Learn thence, That the things of the heavenly paradise are to mortal men unspeakable; there is no human language that hath words fit to reveal that part of heavenly things which God hath shut up as secret from us.
Observe, lastly, St. Paul's great humility, both in concealing formerly this extraordinary favour, and now not without some difficulty and disguise mentioning it, though for defence of the gospel, in a manner, constrained thereunto; contenting himself with such a fame as his deportment and outward actions, in serving the interest of Christ, could procure, and no way avoid.
Here the apostle declares, that although this foretaste of the heavenly glory was worthy to be gloried in, and though he might boast of himself as thus exalted, yet he being purely passive in it, and advanced freely by God to it, he chose rather to ascribe unto God the entire glory of that, and content himself with glorying in such infirmities, and debasing sufferings, as he could strictly call his own, being undergone by him with an invincible courage and constancy of mind.
However, he assures them, that if he had a mind to glory of this rapture and revelation, he might do it without folly or vanity, it being most certainly true; but he chose rather to forbear, lest he should thereby give occasion to any to over-value him, and to think more highly of him, that his common behaviour, his ordinary words and actions gave them reason to do.
A wise and good man is not ambitious of more applause or commendation that what his personal worth or merits deservedly challenge; he desires no man to think or speak of him above that which he appeareth to be, which is always as he really is, being that in reality, which he is in appearance.
Observe here, The great and special sin which St. Paul was in danger of, by the abundance of revelations, namely, the sin of spiritual pride.
Learn hence, That heavenly revelations may be matter and occasion of unmeet and sinful exaltation; The holiest Christians, after their most heavenly acquaintance, are not out of danger of spiritual pride, or being too much exalted. Pride is such a sin as the holiest saint is not fully secured from; no, not when he hath been hearing unutterable words, and seeing the heavenly paradise itself; no, not if he came down from the third heaven, newly from converse with angels, yet bringing an imperfect nature with him, is he not out of danger of this sin, much less is he so when he cometh off his knees from prayer, &c.
Observe, 2. The way and means which the wisdom of God made use of for preventing St. Paul's falling into this dangerous sin of spiritual pride, and that was, the giving him a thorn in the flesh; a bodily pain, say some; a bitter persecution, say others; something that was very afflictive to the flesh, say all.
Learn thence, That spiritual pride is so dangerous a sin, that it is a mercy to be freed from it, even by bodily pain: God seeth our danger when we see not our own, and will hurt the body, to save the soul of his dearest children.
Oh, how much better is it that the body should smart, than that the soul should be overmuch exalted! It is an happy thorn in the flesh, which lets the pestilent and corrupt blood of spiritual pride out of the soul.
Lord! why do we contend and quarrel with thee for every sickness, bodily pain, or afflictive cross? Can sin be prevented or killed at too dear a rate?
Observe, 3. This thorn in the flesh is called the messenger of Satan, from whence St. Chrysostom concluded that it was some evil angel that was permitted and impowered by God to scourge and buffet him. The sufferings of the best and holiest persons in the flesh, may be the buffetings of a messenger of Satan , and yet be from God. Satan certainly intendeth our hurt, but God over-rules him as an instrument to do us good: It is no proof that a man is not a child of God, because Satan has a permission to torment his flesh. The messenger of Satan was sent to buffet me, says St. Paul, lest I should be exalted.
Note here, 1. The person prayed to, the Lord; that is, the Lord Jesus, as appears by the two next verses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Here is an instance of prayer directed to Christ, therefore here is an instance of Christ's divinity; prayer made to Christ at all times, in all places, and for all things, is an evidence of his omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, and consequently of his being truly and essentially God.
Note, 2. The subject-matter of this prayer, and that was, for the removal of the affliction; I prayed that it might depart from me; together with the reiterated frequency of it, I besought the Lord thrice.
Learn hence, That peace with God doth not make the flesh insensible; a good man may groan under bodily pain, and lawfully pray for the removal of it; yea, be oft in prayer for it; earnest and frequent prayer is not unsuitable to sharp affliction; For this I besought the Lord thrice.
Where mark, St. Paul's conformity to his Saviour, who in his agony prayed thrice that the cup might pass, but both of them with profound submission.
Note also, That the apostles gifts of healing were not to be used at their own pleasure (then St. Paul might have healed himself) but for the confirmation of the faith, when it pleased the Holy Spirit.
Observe, In this answer that is given to St. Paul's prayer, that the mercy prayed for, is not in kind given unto him, but promised grace and strength, which is better than the mercy he prayed for.
Learn hence, That the frequent and earnest prayers of the most holy and eminent saints, for deliverance from outward troubles, may not be granted in the kind or thing desired. We are not lords, but beggars, and must leave it to God to determine the matter, the manner, the measure, the time of our afflictions.
Note farther, That as in the prayer, so in the answer, St. Paul was conformed to Christ; the one was heard, but not by removing the thorn in the flesh; but both were heard by assurance and supply of divine strength, and sufficient grace to help in time of need; He said unto me, my grace is sufficient for thee.
Learn hence, That the grace of Christ is sufficient for his people in all their afflictions; sufficient for their preservation, to keep them from falling away from God and godliness, by the temptation which always attends affliction; sufficient for their sustentation, to uphold and support them in and under their heaviest pressures and afflictions and sufficient to render their afflictions truly advantageous and serviceable to them, to make them more holy, humble, heavenly, conformed unto Christ, &c.
This is not to be understood as if our weakness added any thing to God's power, or could make his power perfect. But our weakness renders God's power more illustrious, he delights in and under our weakness, to manifest most of his helping power; as the stars never shine so gloriously as in the sharpest frosty night, so the power of God never appears so signally and conspicuously, as in and under our weakness.
Learn hence, That when God, upon our prayer, doth not deliver us from bodily sufferings, he will be sure to come in with sufficient grace, and manifest his strength in how long we could bear and hold out, 'till God made manifest his own strength in our weakness. More of the power of grace is seen in the sufferings of believers, than ever was seen in their prosperity: Beg then, Oh Christian! more importunately for divine strength, than for the departing of the thorn: Grace is better than ease or health; the one is proper to saints, the other is common to wicked men and brutes.
Here our apostle tells the Corinthians, that most gladly he chose rather to glory in his afflictions and tribulations than in his visions and revelations, because by them he had greater experience of the power and presence of Christ with him, and of supporting him under all his pressures.
Learn hence, 1. That the people of God are supported under, and carried through, all their sufferings and afflictions, by the power of Christ; a divine power above their own strength, like everlasting arms, is underneath them in the hour of trial.
Learn, 2. That to glory in afflictions and tribulations is an high pitch of holiness and grace, but attainable.
To glory in tribulation is,
1. To rejoice in it.
2. To express that joy outwardly, upon a fit occasion.
3. To express it with a great degree of exultation and boasting:
many of the martyrs were so far from changing countenance at the stake, that they sung and triumphed in the midst of flames.
Quest. But can any comfort be derived from this text for sinful infirmities?
Ans. From the power of Christ, in this text, there may.
Thus the powerful mediation and intercession of Christ is magnified in procuring the acceptance of our persons and services, notwithstanding the sinful infirmities cleaving to them: also the power of his grace will at death be magnified, in purging and purifying his people from all their dross and dregs.
There is nothing uneasy to a child of God, but there is something in Christ to alleviate it: affliction is uneasy, temptation uneasy, death uneasy, the wrath of God uneasy, the law, as condemning, is uneasy and unpleasing; but Christ has delivered from the curse of the law, satisfied the justice of God, sanctified the cross, sweetened death! Oh, how adorable is the power, how desirable the grace of Christ!
Observe here, 1. The high and heroic pitch which St. Paul's spirit was raised to: He took pleasure in reproaches and persecutions. Pleasure is a degree beyond joy; though these sufferings were painful to the flesh, yet were they pleasing to the spirit. A Christian may not love that which he bears, yet may he love to bear: to bear, is the patience of necessity; to love to bear, is the patience of virtue: to delight to bear reproach or persecution for Christ, is expressive of the highest affection towards Christ, and lowest subjection to him, If nature suffers not a saint to take pleasure in reproaches, as such, yet grace enables him to take pleasure in what he is reproached for.
Observe, 2. The cause assigned why the apostle took such pleasure in his sufferings and abasements, because they gave him such experience of the power of Christ; insomuch that when he was most weak in himself, he was then most strong in Him. When I am weak, then am I strong; which words are a divine paradox or riddle.
The apostle affirms one contrary of another: weakness is contrary to strength; how then can a weak man be strong, when he is weak? The meaning is, That when a Christian is most sensible of his own weakness, and most diffident and distrustful of his own strength, then the power of Christ rests upon him, and he experiences divine strength coming in unto him. Christ fills none but the hungry, nor doth he strengthen any but the weak; only by going out of our strength, do we get strength; when in an humble sense of our weaknesses we rest upon Christ, the power of Christ rests upon us.
Here again does our apostle excuse his boasting, and tells the Corinthians that they had compelled him to it, and ought to have saved him the labour of it, by defending him themselves. For he had done and suffered as much as any of the most eminent apostles, though he looked upon all as nothing: and consequently his services and sufferings, his miracles, signs, and wonders, were sufficient arguments, and undeniable demonstrations, that he was indeed an apostle of Jesus Christ.
He farther adds, That the church at Corinth had as great and excellent gifts of the Spirit bestowed upon them, by his ministry, as any church whatsoever; all the difference was, that whatever was done for them was done freely: he spared their purses, and put them to no charge. Now, says he, if that be a wrong, I hope you can easily forgive it. Corinth was a very rich and wealthy city, but they loved a cheap gospel; the apostle spared their purses, not because they were unable, but unwilling to draw them.
Here observe, That the people ought to give testimony to their minister's integrity, and do all that in them lies to support and maintain the honour of his ministry: I ought, says the apostle, to be commended of you.
Observe farther, That when the people omit and neglect this necessary part of their duty towards their ministers, it is lawful, and not discommendable, for the ministers of Christ themselves, in a modest humble manner, to declare both what they have been, and what they have done. In nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.
As if the apostle had said, "Verily, I am as much an apostle saw they who think themselves more than apostles; though you and they through envy count me nothing, and though I in humility account myself nothing."
Thus the ministers of Christ may stand upon terms of credit with any who lay their persons low, that they may disparge their work, and lay that service low to which God hath called them. Though the ministers and members of Christ ought in lowliness to submit to one another, yet must they not submit to the pride or lusts of any, how high soever in their own or other's account.
The apostle here acquaints the Corinthians, that he prepared himself a third time to come unto them, being providentially hindered twice before, yet with a firm resolution not to be any ways burdensome to them; for he coveted not their possessions, but was desirous of their salvation.
And as a parent lays up for his children, and takes not from them; so he desired, as their spiritual father, to enrich them with spiritual good things, and not to take from them any of their temporal riches. Nay, he adds, that he was willing to spend and be spent; that is, to spend his time, his strength, his pains, his life, although he met with very undue returns from some of them, who loved him so little, because he loved them so much; showing more kindness to the false apostles, than to him their spiritual father.
Behold here an imitable pattern of ministerial diligence and faithfulness, love and affectionateness: the apostle was willing to spend and be spent; not only his purse and pains, but time and strength, life and health.
Oh, how tender are some of their carcass, how fearful of their skin, how sparing of their pains, for fear of shortening their days and hastening their end!
Whereas the lamp of our lives can never burn out better than in lighting others to heaven: is it not better that our flesh consume with industry and usefulness, than wear out with rust and idleness?
As it is the duty, so 'tis the dispostion of the faithful ministers of Christ to spend and to be spent for souls.
Here the apostle answers an objection, which without any just cause was made against him by some: it was suggested, "that though he was not burdensome to the Corinthians himself, nor took any thing of them for preaching the gospel, yet that he cunningly and craftily sent others to them, and set them at work to take money for him."
Now, to wipe off this aspersion, the apostle appeals to themselves, whether any person he ever sent to them received any thing of them for his use? Neither Titus nor Luke made a gain of them, but with the same generosity and freedom preached the gospel, and communicated the riches of grace to their souls.
When the ministers of the gospel at any time call in the assistance of others to help them in their work, their care is to employ such, as near as they can judge, who are of the same spirit, and walk in the same steps, with themselves.
St. Paul, Titus, and Luke, all agree together in carrying on a generous design for the preaching the gospel to the Corinthians freely, and are of the same mind and practice in every thing.
As if the apostle had said, "Think not that for any sinister or by-ends of my own, I excuse myself so often to you, for deferring so long my promised and intended journey among you; for all I do is with an eye to your advantage. 'Tis your benefit and reformation I aim at; for verily I fear, whenever I come, I shall find those sins unrepented of, and unhumbled for, by many of you, which will be matter of humiliation, sorrow, and lamentation, to me; and that I must be necessitated, contrary to my inclinations and desires, to inflict censures and corporal punishments upon many among you, for the schisms, debates, and strifes, of some; for the uncleanness, fornication, and lasciviousness, of others."
Note here, 1. What great disorders and scandalous crimes were found in the church of Corinth, and yet she retained the denomination and character of a true church: the apostle fears, and not without cause, that he should find debates, envyings, wrath, and strifes, among them, the usual and necessary consequences of schisms and factions in the church.
Note, 2. That notwithstanding all these corruptions and scandalous abuses, St. Paul neither separate from them. Nothing will justify a separation from a church, but that which makes a separation between God and that church, namely, heresy in doctrine, or idolatry in worship.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18