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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
2 Corinthians 12

 

 

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Verse 1

2 Corinthians 12:1. I will come to visions, &c.— The Apostle's speaking of his visions and revelations, which, indeed, did him the highest honour, could not be a proof that he was determined not to vindicate himself: it is evident, therefore, that the word γαρ in the original [ ελευσομαι γαρ] cannot have its original signification, and be rendered for. Our translators take it for a mere expletive. Dr. Doddridge translates it nevertheless; and it is certain that it has various significations, and must have this signification here, if it express any thing. Some would read the verse, Is it not expedient for me to glory?—I will come therefore to visions, &c.


Verse 2

2 Corinthians 12:2. I know a man in Christ St. Paul must undoubtedly mean himself, or the whole article had been quite foreign to his purpose. It hence appears, that the Apostle had concealed this extraordinary event fourteen years; and if this Epistle was written about the year 58, as is supposed, this vision must have fallen out in the year 44, which was so long after his conversion as to prove it quite different from the trance mentioned, Acts 9:9. Some think that this glorious representation was made to him in the temple, on the journey mentioned, Acts 9:30; Acts 22:17 and intended to encourage him against the difficulties which he was to encounter in preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Whether in the body or out of the body, must mean, "I know not whether he was then in the body, during that extraordinary extacy, or for a time taken out of the body, so that only the principle of animal life remained in him." As St. Paul must have known that his body was not actually dead during this trance, but that the animal motion of his lungs and heart continued, it tends to prove that he really considered the principle of animal life to be something distinct from the rational soul. See Bishop Brown's distinction of Spirit, Soul, and Body, in his "Procedure of the Understanding," b. 2 Chronicles 10. Castalio and Bengelius translate the beginning of this verse, I know a Christian caught up fourteen years ago, &c. Instead of I cannot tell, here and 2 Corinthians 12:3 some read, I know not.


Verse 4

2 Corinthians 12:4. Caught up into Paradise By the third heaven, 2 Corinthians 12:2 some understand the seat of the divine glory, the place where Christ dwelleth at the Father's right-hand; and by Paradise, that garden of God, which is the seat of the happy in the intermediatestate,andduringtheirseparationfromthebody.BishopBull,discoursing on this subject, observes, "St. Paul,—who had been caught up into the third heaven, and also into Paradise, (which the scriptures tell us is the receptacle of the spirits of good men, separated from their bodies) and therefore was best able to give us an account of the state of souls dwelling there,—assures us, that those souls live and operate, and have a perception of excellent things; nay, in the very same passage, where he speaks ofthat rapture of his, he plainly enough confirms this hypothesis: for first when he declares himself uncertain whether he received those admirable visions in or out of the body, he manifestly supposes it possible for the soul, when out of the body, not only to subsist, but also to perceive and know—and even things above the natural apprehension of mortal men; and then when he tells us that he received in Paradise visions and revelations, and heard there αρρητα ρηματα, unspeakable words, not lawful, or rather, not possible for a man to utter, he directly teaches that Paradise is so far from being a place of darkness and obscurity, silence and oblivion, where the good spirits, its proper inhabitants, are all in a profound sleep, as some have vainly imagined,—that, on the contrary, it is a most glorious place, full of light and ravishing vision; a place where mysteries may be heard and learned, far surpassing the reach of frail mortals. In short, the glories of the third heaven, and of Paradise, seem to have been, by an extraordinary revelation, opened and discovered to St. Paul, not only for his own support under the heavy pressure of his afflictions, but also that he might be able to speak of them with greater assurance to others. And the order is observable: first, he had represented to him the most perfect joys of the third or highest heaven, of which we hope to be partakers after the resurrection; and then, lest so long an expectation should discourage us, he saw also the intermediate joys of Paradise, wherewith the souls of the faithful are refreshed until the resurrection: and for our comfort he tells us that even these also are inexpressible."


Verse 5

2 Corinthians 12:5. But in mine infirmities "In those things which carry the marks of weakness, though, in a certain connection, they will appear honourable too."


Verse 7

2 Corinthians 12:7. Was given to me a thorn in the flesh, The conjectures of commentators respecting St. Paul's thorn in the flesh, have been innumerable. We shall not dwell upon them, but insert the following, as it appears to be the most rational interpretation. Ezekiel has a parallel passage, Ezekiel 28:24 where the pricking briar, and grieving thorn, are used to express a great affliction. In allusion to which the Apostle might use this term, to signify some paralytic disorder, which affected his speech and aspect, owing to the insufferable glories of this vision, which, might weaken and relax the nervous system. This infirmity in his flesh might give occasion to the messenger of Satan, or the false teacher and calumnious adversary who opposed the Apostle, to representhiminadespicablelight.As this disorder might threaten both his acceptance among the Corinthians and others, and his usefulness, it is no wonder that he was so importunate for its removal; yet, being the effect of so great and singular a favour, he might, with the highest propriety, talk of glorying in it, 2 Corinthians 12:9. However, as St. Paul thought fit to conceal what this thorn in the flesh was, it is not easy for us to discover, nor is it very material to know what it was.


Verse 9

2 Corinthians 12:9. My strength is made perfect in weakness. "Is illustrated in proportion to the weakness of the instrument I make use of." The word ' Επισκηνωση, which we render, may rest upon, is emphatical, and signifies literally, may pitch its tent upon. See John 1:14.


Verse 10

2 Corinthians 12:10. For when I am weak, &c.— "For when, viewed in my outward state, I appear weak, then, by the power of Christ, which dwelleth in me, I am found to be strong."


Verse 12

2 Corinthians 12:12. In all patience, This may well be understood to reflect on the haughtiness and plenty, wherein the false apostle lived among them.


Verse 14

2 Corinthians 12:14. The third time I am ready, &c.— Having been disappointed twice before, 1 Corinthians 16:5. 2 Corinthians 1:15-16.


Verse 15

2 Corinthians 12:15. I will very gladly spend and be spent "I will gladly exhaust my strength, and put myself to any expence too, for your salvation; though the consequence of all should be, that the more abundantly I love you, the less I should be loved by you." See 2 Timothy 2:10. 1 Thessalonians 2:8.


Verse 16

2 Corinthians 12:16. But be it so, I did not burden you, &c.— But be it so that I did not burden you, yet [perhaps it will be suggested] that, being a crafty deceiver, I circumvented you with guile.


Verse 18

2 Corinthians 12:18. I desired Titus, "To go to you."


Verse 19

2 Corinthians 12:19. Again, think ye that we excuse, &c.— He had before given the reason, ch. 2 Corinthians 1:23 for his not coming to them, with the same asseveration as in the present verse. If we trace the thread of St. Paul's discourse, we may observe that, having concluded the justification of himself and his apostleship by his past actions, 2 Corinthians 12:13 he had it in his thoughts to tell them how he would deal with the false apostle and his adherents when he came, as he was now ready to do; and therefore he solemnly begins, 2 Corinthians 12:14 with Behold; and tells them, that now the third time he was ready to come to them: to which joining what was much upon his mind, that he would not be burdensome to them when he came, an objection was presented to his thoughts, namely, that this personal shyness in him was but cunning, for that he designed to draw gain from them by other hands; from which he clears himself by the instance of Titus, and a brother, whom he had sent together with him; who were as far from receiving any thing from them as he himself. Titus and his other messenger being thus mentioned, he thought it necessary to obviate another suspicion which might be raised in the minds of some of them, as if he mentioned the sending of those two as an apology for his not coming himself. This he utterly disclaims; and, to prevent any thoughts of that kind, solemnly protests to them, that, in all hisconduct towards them, he had done nothing but for their edification; that he had no other aim in any of his actions; and that he forbore coming, merely out of respect and good-will to them. So that the whole, from 2 Corinthians 12:14 to ch. 2 Corinthians 13:1 must be looked upon as a discourse which fell in occasionally, though tending to the same purpose with the rest:—a way of writing very usual withour Apostle, and with other writers, who abound in quickness and variety of thoughts, as he did. Such men, by new matter rising in their way, are often put by from what they were going, and had begun to say; which therefore they are obliged to take up again, and continue at a distance, as St. Paul does here, after the interposition of eight verses. But we must never forget that, however the Holy Spirit was pleased to operate on the Apostle's mind, the whole was written under his infallible direction.


Verse 20

2 Corinthians 12:20. Lest there be—envyings, &c.— All these were the natural consequences of those debates which had arisen among them; and therefore St. Paul, in a very judicious manner, gives this solemn warning with relation to them.

Inferences.—What vicissitudes are there in the Christian's comforts and afflictions! He is sometimes lifted up, as it were, to the third heaven, which is like a paradise, for all delights, and unutterable glories; and he presently falls under the buffetings of Satan, and the sorest trials, which God orders and over-rules to prevent spiritual pride, lest it should rise, even upon the ground of the most distinguishing and endearing manifestations of divine favour. How earnestly does the believer betake himself to the Lord Jesus for deliverance from temptations and afflictions, which he finds to be more than his own match! And how certain is it that his prayers shall not be in vain, though they may not always be answered in the very thing that he asked! A promise of Christ's grace as sufficient for us, and of his strength, as to be made perfect in our weakness, is the noblest support under every difficulty or danger, and the best security for a due improvement of it, and for victory and triumph in the issue. We may well glory in those trials which give occasion for, and are attended with, the most evident demonstrations of the power of Christ, as resting upon us; though, in the midst of the highest privileges, manifestations, and attainments, we are, as of ourselves, and ought to be in our own account, as nothing. How happy is it, when the servants of Christ can appeal to him for the sincerity of their aims in all their holy ministrations; and can appeal to the consciences of their hearers that the signs of their divine mission are made known among them, by their patient, faithful, tender, and disinterested behaviour; by the good fruits of their labours; and by plain tokens of God's being with them! And how cheerfully will they spend, and be spent, for the good of souls, and do all things for their edification, while they seek not theirs, but them; and resolve, by the Grace of God, to persist therein, even though the more they love them, and, like parents, provide for their spiritual welfare, the less they were to be loved of them! How desirous should they all be to act under the influence of the same divine Spirit, and with the same Christian temper; and to tread in the same laudable steps, in pursuing the great ends of their ministry! And, as far as they do so, how ready should their people be to encourage and speak well of them, and to save them the irksome task of saying any thing that looks like self-applause, to vindicate their own characters! But, O how humbling and grievous is it, not only to be themselves vilified, but to see their hopes blasted, and their labour lost upon those, who, instead of answering just expectations of yielding obedience to the authority of Christ, in all holy conversation and godliness, are guilty of such scandalous enormities in temper and behaviour, and continue so impenitent in them, as to need the severest animadversions upon them!

REFLECTIONS.—1st. Once more he will speak. Though (ordinarily the Apostle confesses) it is not expedient for me, doubtless, to glory; yet since others boast of extraordinary manifestations, I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord; one remarkable instance of which I will only mention.

I knew, or I know, a man in Christ, a faithful soul, above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, whether in his spirit only, or in his whole man, I cannot tell: God knoweth) such an one caught up to the third heaven, where angels dwell, and the most illustrious display of the divine glory is made. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth) how that he was caught up into Paradise, the region of the blessed, and heard unspeakable words, which contained such sublimity of ideas, and were delivered in such language as it is not lawful, or possible, for a man to utter, in his present mortal state of weakness. Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities, and in such things as carry evident marks of my own weakness. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth, I will speak with the utmost sincerity and simplicity: 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, supposing me to be more than human, who am a mere worm. 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. What this was, whether same bodily affliction, or outward reproach, whatever it was, it was very grievous, yet sent for the most blessed purpose, and served to keep him humble. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice importunately, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, by an audible voice, or same divine impression on my spirit, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness—simple faith in my power and love shall make thee in all things victorious, yea, more than conqueror. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me, and be the more transcendently exalted in rescuing me out of all my trials, and carrying me safe through every temptation. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake; not only resigned, but happy, rejoicing in the sufferings that I endure: for when I am weak, then am I strong, and rise victorious over every foe, through the power of divine grace. Note; (1.) To be humble in the midst of high attainments is doubly excellent. (2.) Prayer is the great relief under every distress. (3.) Though God does not always answer us according to our petitions, yet, if he gives as strength to stand in our difficulties, we are bound to acknowledge that our prayers are answered. (4.) There is a sufficiency of grace in the Redeemer to carry the faithful soul safe through every trial. (5.) The more the believer sees and feels his own weakness, the more firm he stands in the power of God.

2nd, The Apostle returns again:

1. To apologize for what might in appearance savour of vanity. I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you, who have received such peculiar benefit by my labours: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest Apostles in my sufferings and labours, though I be nothing, considered as of myself; our sufficiency and success is of God. Truly the signs of an Apostle were wrought among you in all patience, amidst innumerable provocations and sufferings, in signs, miracles, and wonders of various kinds, and mighty deeds, which speak the arm of omnipotence. For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, in gifts and privileges, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong; than which never was a more beautiful turn, and a more poignant, though polite, rebuke, if it be considered as spoken ironically; or, seriously, it pleads in a most elegant manner his excuse for refusing that reward from them which might be construed as a mark of disdain. Note; (1.) Where we have received spiritual benefit, it is a debt that we owe to our ministers to vindicate their injured characters. (2.) The greater of men and ministers, when viewing themselves in their true colours, cannot but own "I am nothing."

2. He declares his purpose to shew the same disinterested conduct. Behold the third time I am ready to come to you, having the second time been disappointed; and I will not be burdensome to you, but will preach the gospel to you freely: for I seek not your's, but you, your spiritual benefit, not your worldly substance. For I consider myself as your father in Christ, and shall treat you with paternal care, not desiring nor accepting aught at your hands; for, in general, the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And all I have shall be willingly laid out for you; for I will very gladly spend and be spent for you, to promote the good of your souls, ready, if need be, to lay down my own life, though I should meet with the most ungrateful returns, and the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved, and even those who seduce you be preferred before me. Note; (1.) A true minister of Christ never serves for hire, but for love, delighting to feed, not to fleece the flock. (2.) True zeal for Christ and his cause will make his servants nobly prodigal of life, unto their power, and sometimes above their power, exerting themselves in his service. (3.) The most ungrateful returns must not stay us from doing good even to the evil and unthankful.

3. He obviates an insinuation which the seducers suggested, that though he took no wages for himself, those whom he sent were well paid. Be it so, they will argue, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile; so invidiously would they misrepresent my conduct. But in answer, I appeal to yourselves, Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? 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? shewing the same disinterested generosity, and following my example in preaching the gospel freely, without any expence to you? Again,

4. Think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? and want, by specious pretences, for sinister ends, to insinuate others into your regard, or to get off from visiting you as I promised? We speak before God in Christ, appealing to him for our sincerity; but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying, having this great end ever in view.

5. He declares his jealous fears for them. For I fear, lest when I come I shall not find you such as I would, obedient and orderly; and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not; obliged, though with reluctance, to exert my apostolic authority; lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults, and all other evil fruits of a proud, contentious, uncharitable spirit: 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. Note; (1.) The falls of professors are a real grief to their faithful ministers; and every gracious soul cannot but mourn over them. (2.) They who persist in their iniquities must be faithfully rebuked; and if they do not amend, their obstinate impenitence will inevitably issue in final perdition.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/2-corinthians-12.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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