Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
a keener sense of his infirmities by "a thorn in the flesh" All along St. Paul has been painfully aware that his enemies were using these infirmities to his official disparagement. Painfully, we say, for it is obvious that he was sensitive to the disadvantages under which he appeared before the public. "Humble," "rude in speech," "bodily presence weak," "speech contemptible," were things that had some foundation in fact. Of course, his adversaries exaggerated them, but the apostle could not escape instinctive feeling, and at times acute feeling, touching this matter. This, however, was only one source of depression. A fuller account of his sufferings, physical and mental, than he had ever given bad just now been presented, and the conclusion of it was that his bodily disadvantages as a speaker, his low repute as a public teacher, his constant endurance of pain and solicitude, had resulted in his realizing the fact that this very weakness was his strength. Could "visions and revelations" be entrusted to him - such visions and revelations - and he not be humbled by Divine direction? The more glorious the revelation, the greater the necessity for him to be reminded, and most painfully reminded, that the treasure was committed to an "earthen vessel." Witness the following: a man fourteen years ago - the memory of it still vividly present as a reality of today - such a man, whether in the body or out of the body it was impossible to tell, elevated to, the third heaven, and hearing "unspeakable words not lawful for a man to utter." "Fourteen years ago" the fact now first divulged, and yet the fact alone; the secret disclosures still a secret and personal to the man alone; and the sanctity such that it would be profanation to make the contents of the communication known. "Caught up to the third heaven, caught up into Paradise," face to face with the Lord Jesus in his mediatorial glory; and there, the senses laid to rest and the body forgotten and the spirit opened to receive instruction and inspiration, the man taught what he was to be and what he was to do as the servant on earth of his Divine Master. Of this man, as a man in Christ, he would boast; of himself in the flesh and subject to its infirmities, be would not boast save of his weakness. Under grace, what a debtor was he to these humiliations! Intellectual pride and vanity, spiritual pride and vanity, pride and vanity as a Jew to whom the God of the fathers had manifested himself - how could these be kept down except by mortifications of the flesh? If, nevertheless, he were to boast of these revelations, he should do it truthfully. Suppose, then, that he should make this boast; who would be able to transfer himself into the proper attitude of a listener? It would not be weakness, but power, the observer would see. "I forbear," and I shrink from it, lest the contrast between this power and my visible weakness, this glory and my present humiliation, be too great for any man to bear. - L.
I. THE APOSTLE HAD A HEAVENLY EXPERIENCE DURING HIS EARTHLY LIFE. His earthly experience was, vary largely, dark and sorrowful; but amidst the darkness appears this brilliant flash of heavenly light.
1. He gives us this experience as an actual fact, and as such we must receive it. It was a reality to him. He records it that it may come before us as a reality, not as a mere fancy or illusion.
2. It furnished him with an opportunity of contrasting man's treatment and God's. In the closing verses of the preceding chapter we have a catalogue of Paul's tribulations, many of these occasioned by human perversity and enmity. Men treated Paul evilly; God gave him this special and marvellous heavenly experience!
II. THE CHARACTER OF THIS EXPERIENCE.
1. A real entrance into the heavenly world. Paul has no doubt about this. His only doubt is whether he was in the body at the time. He most distinctly conveys that there was a removal of his spirit into another sphere; he is not sure whether his body accompanied his spirit. There could not have been a doubt as to whether he was "in the body" if his experience had been a mere trance or any special influence brought to bear upon his mind. There was a removal, but whether of body and spirit, or of spirit alone, the apostle cannot declare. We may note the apostolic belief that conscious life is possible to us when we are "out of the body." The apostle did not know whether his experience was of this order, but he evidently recognizes this order of experience as possible. We may note further that the apostle regarded heaven or paradise as a place as well as a state. "Third heaven" and "paradise" seem to be used synonymously - "third heaven" indicating the realm in which God's glory is pre-eminently manifested. The rabbins taught the existence of seven heavens, but it is not probable that Paul refers to their notions.
2. An entrance effected by God. It was not by the apostle's merit or power; it was by a Divine act - he was "caught up." Admittance to the heavenly world is in the hands of God; if we enter, then God must effect the entrance for us. Christ, the Way, is given to us by God.
3. Astonishing visions. Paul saw much (ver. 1).
4. Wonderful revelations. He heard much. "Unspeakable words," understood by him, but not to be repeated on earth. Possibly they would not have been intelligible to any who had not participated in the heavenly experience. Our curiosity craves to know what Paul saw and heard, but our needs do not demand it. We have the speakable words of the gospel, which, rightly received, will prepare us to hear by and by the "unspeakable words" of heaven and to behold the heavenly glories.
III. THE OBJECT OF THIS EXPERIENCE.
1. To encourage the apostle in his many labours and sufferings. Christ took his disciples up into the mountain and was transfigured before them; then he brought them down into the world of men to toil and to endure.
2. To quicken his faith in the unseen. Great natures doing great works have often great trials of faith. A big devil always comes against a big Christian.
3. To speed him onward to the final rest of God's people. He was a much loved child; the Father showed him special favour.
4. That others to whom the experience should be recounted might participate in the benefit. The experience was for us as well as for the apostle. From us its special features are largely hidden; but it is revealed to us, and this knowledge may well encourage us in the earthly service, quicken our faith, and hasten our footsteps towards the glories beyond the veil. A general lesson may be learnt from the event that those who have special trials and sorrows experience also special comforts and helps. - H.
Acts 9:4-6; Acts 16:9; Acts 18:9; Acts 22:18; Acts 23:11; Acts 27:23; Galatians 2:2; and the scenes recorded in the chapter now before us. This claim to direct revelation the enemies of St. Paul denied, and laughed to scorn his pretensions as the indications of insanity. Dean Plumptre tells us that "in the Clementine Homilie's - a kind of controversial romance representing the later views of the Ebionite or Judaizing party, in which most recent critics have recognized a thinly veiled attempt to present the characteristic features of St. Paul under the pretence of an attack on Simon Magus, just as the writer of a political novel in modern times might draw the portraits of his rivals under fictitious names - we find stress laid on the alleged claims of Simon to have had communications from the Lord through visions and dreams and outward revelations; and this claim is contrasted with that of Peter, who had personally followed Christ during his ministry on earth. What was said then, in the form of this elaborate attack, may well have been said before by the more malignant advocates of the same party. The charge of insanity was one easy to make, and of all charges, perhaps, the most difficult to refute by one who gloried in the facts which were alleged as its foundation - who did see visions and did 'speak with tongues' in the ecstasy of adoring rapture." Compare the expression, "whether we be beside ourselves," in 2 Corinthians 5:13. When the particular visions came to which reference is made in the passage before us cannot certainly be known. St. Paul only aids us by referring to the time as "about fourteen years ago." The suggestion we prefer is that they were granted during the time of his fainting after the stoning at Lystra, and were the Divine comfortings of that hour of sorest peril and distress (Acts 14:19).
I. VISIONS AND REVELATIONS ARE AGENCIES WHICH GOD HAS ALWAYS USED. They do not belong to any one age. We have no right to say that they are limited to ancient times. There have always been the true and the counterfeit; but the true should not be missed or denied because the false have been found out. There are good gold coins, or men would not trouble to make spurious sovereigns. Fanaticism deludes its victims into imaginary visions, but souls that are kin with God, and open to him, can receive communications from him. Illustrate from all ages, e.g. Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Joseph (the husband of Mary), aged Simeon, Zacharias, etc. So in the Christian age we find visions granted to Cornelius, Philip, Peter, and John, as well as Paul, and traces of prophets, such as Agabus, and even of prophetesses. St. Paul's visions were probably of the nature of a trance; the mind being absorbed in contemplation may be prepared to receive Divine revealings. It is right to subject all claims to visions to careful scrutiny, and the things communicated to men at such times must be tested by their harmony with the written revelation; but we need not refuse to recognize the truth that God has direct relations to souls now as certainly as in past ages. Both truth and duty may still be directly revealed.
II. THEY COME TO CERTAIN PREPARED INDIVIDUALS. Not to masses, not to Churches, not to meetings. The vision is for individuals, who are thus made agents in the communication to men of the Divine thought and will. F.W. Robertson says, "To comprehend the visions we must comprehend the man. For God gives visions at his own will, and according to certain and fixed laws. He does not inspire every one. He does not reveal his mysteries to men of selfish, or hard, or phlegmatic temperaments. He gives preternatural communications to those whom he prepares beforehand by a peculiar spiritual sensitiveness. There are, physically, certain sensitivenesses to sound and colour that qualify men to become gifted musicians and painters; so, spiritually, there are certain strong original susceptibilities (I say original, as derived from God, the origin of all), and on these God bestows strange gifts and sights, deep feelings not to be uttered in human language, and immeasurable by the ordinary standard. Such a man was St. Paul - a very wondrous nature, the Jewish nature in all its strength. We know that the Jewish temperament fitted men to be the organs of a revelation. Its fervour, its moral sense, its veneration, its indomitable will, all adapted the highest sons of the nation for receiving hidden truths and communicating them to others."
III. THEY COME ON PARTICULAR OCCASIONS. By the law of Divine economy, only when they are the precise thing demanded, the only agency that will efficiently meet the case.
IV. THEY COME IN GRACIOUSLY ADAPTED FORMS. Heard voices sometimes, at other times dreams, ocular visions, symbols, trances, and mental panoramas. Close by showing that, because the modern mode is direct to souls, immediate to the shaping of men's thoughts, and not through symbols, or dreams, or visions, we need not lose the conviction that, upon due occasions still, God gives to some amongst us insight and revelation of his truth. - R.T.
I. THE NATURE OF THE UNION THUS DESCRIBED.
1. The Christian is grafted "in Christ" as a graft in a tree, joined to him as a branch to a vine. The union is thus a vital union, and is to the Christian the means and the occasion of spiritual life.
2. The Christian is accepted "in Christ," i.e. in the Beloved. For Christ's sake the Christian is received into Divine favour. The Saviour is in this capacity a Representative, a Mediator, an Advocate.
3. The Christian is incorporated "in Christ" as the member in the body, and has a new function to discharge in consequence of this relationship.
4. The Christian is hidden "in Christ" as the traveller in the cleft of the rock, as the voyager in the ark, when "the Lord shut him in."
5. The Christian dwells "in Christ" as in a house, a home appointed for him by Divine wisdom and goodness.
II. THE IMPORTANCE AND ADVANTAGES OF THIS UNION.
1. As is apparent from considering the position of those who are out of Christ. For such, where is safety, where is a law of life, where is a prospect for immortality? For to be out of Christ is to be without God, and so without hope.
2. From considering what in this life they possess who have Christ and are in him. Whilst, so far as the bodily life is concerned, they are in the world, they are in spirit in the Lord, and thus partake a higher nature and existence than belong to earth and to time.
3. From considering the imperishable character of this union. To be "in Christ" now is to be "with Christ" forever. To those who are in him there is no condemnation now, and from him there shall be no separation hereafter. The visions which Paul beheld, and the declarations he heard when he was caught up into the third heaven, were to him, and may be to us, an earnest and promise of immortal union. Therefore "Abide in him." - T.
I. CHOSEN IN CHRIST. (Ephesians 1:4.) We put this first, because this must come first in the Divine order and in the very nature of things. But man does not begin with any knowledge of this as affecting himself. He grounds his faith, not on the secret purpose, but on the revealed good will of God to all in the gospel. It is after he has believed that he learns gratefully to trace his own calling and salvation, in common with that of all his fellow believers, to the gracious choice and purpose of God. Then, as the seventeenth Article of the Church of England expresses it, "The godly consideration of predestination and our election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ."
II. FREELY GRACED IN THE BELOVED. (Ephesians 1:6.) The man in Christ is embraced in the favour with which God regards his beloved Son. He has redemption and reconciliation to God, unsearchable riches, spiritual blessings in heavenly places, and continual freedom of access to the Father in heaven.
III. CREATED ANEW IN CHRIST JESUS. (Ephesians 2:10.) God begins this work, as of old, by causing light to shine out of darkness; then he introduces a new order, peace and fertile life, and this is wrought on and in every genuine Christian. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation." And therefore he does what is right, not by a continual strain and effort against nature, but spontaneously and naturally, because he has a clean heart and a right spirit.
IV. ESTABLISHED IN CHRIST. (2 Corinthians 1:21.) He who comes to Christ under the drawing grace of the Spirit of God abides in him by the same Spirit, so as to imbibe his wisdom, experience his support, and learn what consolation there is in him, and what comfort of love. So God confirms and establishes his people in Christ, making good to them his promises, anointing them, sealing them, and giving "the earnest of the Spirit" in their hearts. This is much more than being settled in one's religious opinions and habits. It is the staying of the mind on Christ. And usually it is reached through conflicts and sufferings that compel the soul to grapple more firmly the reality of Christ and the security of Divine promises in him, just as trees rocked by the winds strike their roots the more widely and deeply into the ground (see 1 Peter 5:10).
V. APPROVED IN CHRIST. (Romans 16:10.) Establishment relates to faith, knowledge, and comfort; approval refers to service. Labour for the Lord ought to be rendered in the Lord, i.e. in virtue of union with him, and by the power derived from such union. But as there are gradations of faith and love among true Christians, so also there are degrees of diligence and thoroughness in service; and some servants are more approved than others, and shall have a more full reward. Oh to serve so as to have our Master's smile upon us now, and to be openly accepted of him at his coming as good and faithful servants!
VI. PERFECT IN CHRIST JESUS: COMPLETE IN HIM. (Colossians 1:28; Colossians 2:10.) There is all-perfect resource in our Lord. But all have not attained. There are babes in Christ, not perfect or mature; let them go on to fuller stature and strength. It is an object to be desired and. worked for, that every believing man may be presented perfect in Christ Jesus, i.e. ripe and mature, not crude or ill-developed in the Christian character.
VII. ASLEEP IN JESUS. (1 Corinthians 15:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:14, 18.) If we are Christ's, death is ours. It cannot do us hurt or separate us from the love of God. For a man who is in Christ, the whole state of death is brightened by the love and faithfulness of the Lord. Blessed are the dead who die in him. Sweetly sleep the laborers who, when their day's work for Jesus is ended, fall asleep in him.
"Oh, never doleful dream again
I. THE WEAKNESSES IN WHICH THE APOSTLE GLORIED.
1. His own bodily infirmity was especially present to his thoughts, when using this language. Whatever this was, whether general ill health or some special malady, as of the eyes, it was naturally distressing to himself, as it prevented him from doing his work with the ease and pleasure which he might have experienced had he possessed health and vigour of body.
2. The contempt he met with from some amongst whom he laboured was to Paul no cause of mortification, but cause of rejoicing. Let men despise him; if he was able to serve and please his Master, that was enough.
3. The hardships and privations and persecutions he endured in the fulfilment of his ministry were matter of glorying. In these he took pleasure, contrary as such a fact was to ordinary human experience.
II. THE GROUND OF THE APOSTLE'S GLORYING IN HIS WEAKNESSES.
1. There can be no doubt that the deepest ground lay in Paul's sympathy with his Divine Lord. The humiliation and obedience unto death of the Lord Jesus in order to secure man's salvation became a new source of inspiration, in the direction both of human action and of human suffering, and Paul was crucified with Christ unto the world. He bore about with him in the body the marks of the Lord Jesus, and of this he justly boasted.
2. Personal weakness was the occasion of the reception of new and spiritual strength. For Christ made his own grace sufficient when his servant's strength was gone. And by a sublime paradox the apostle learned that when he was weak, then was he strong. And thus the very infirmities which seemed to disqualify for service became the occasion of the communication of such spiritual power and aid as rendered the apostle more efficient and successful in the service of the Lord. - T.
the apostle to the Gentiles, that he was specially afflicted. Pain is instinctively resisted as an enemy to the activity, comfort, and pleasure of life. Naturally, therefore, St. Paul felt that it would interfere with his energy and happiness, and, of course, the Satanic side of the torture would be uppermost in his thought. The evil in pain is what we see first. If this were not realized, it could not be an affliction. Hence he prayed thrice to the Lord that it might depart from him. But his prayer was denied. At the same time, the promise was given - a promise worth far more than the removal of the pain - "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." The thorn was to continue - a lifelong suffering in addition to his other infirmities was to be fastened upon him, a special and grievous suffering. Yet, while it had to remain a sad memorial, not of his exaltation, but of human frailty in connection with great endowments, there was an assurance direct and specific of sustaining grace. Along with that a most important truth was taught him, namely, that the perfection of strength is attained through the consciousness of our utter weakness. First, then, the evil of pain; next, the good of pain under the agency of God's grace; - this is the method of providence and grace, for the two are one in the Divine purpose. Alas! had the prayer of those sensitive nerves of his been literally answered, what a loser would he and we have been! How much of his power would have vanished with the pain! How many thoughts and emotions that have cheered the afflicted and inspired the weak to be heroic, would have been unknown! Such Epistles as the apostle wrote (to say nothing of his other services to the world) could never have been written under the ordinary experience of the ills of life. All men have thorns in the flesh, for there is no perfect health, no human body free from ailments. But in St. Paul's case the thorn was a superaddition to existing infirmities. Nor is it difficult for us to see how this particular infirmity, sanctified by the Spirit, was specially adapted to guard him at a most exposed point. Inasmuch as he was the object of a peculiar and violent opposition, he was singularly liable to the temptation of over asserting himself and his merits, the more so as his enemies took delight in taunting him with his personal defects as to manner and appearance. The safeguard was provided where it was most wanted. Such, in fact, was his own view of the matter: "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." "My infirmities," he argues, "instead of being the hindrance they would be if left to themselves, are helpers, since they are the occasions of grace, and this grace rests upon me, i.e. abides continually. The thought is precious; it must be repeated. "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities," etc.; for the power of Christ had been imparted to him with such fulness as to transform pain into pleasure so far as his spiritual nature was concerned. The body continued to suffer, the humiliations were increased, but his soul was filled with Christ as the Christ of his pains and sorrows, and thus he had the victory, not only over physical misery, but over all pride and vanity that might have sprung up "through the abundance of the revelations." Glorious words are these: "When I am weak, then am I strong." Notice the clear view St. Paul has of the Divine hand in his thorn in the flesh. If he is perfectly assured of the abundance of the revelations, if he can locate the scene in Paradise, if he realizes the sanctity of these disclosures in the "unspeakable words," he is just as certain that the thorn "was given" him. He knew it was a "thorn," and he knew whence it came. He acknowledged God in it, and, in this feeling, prayed thrice for its removal. Christians often fail at this point. They doubt at times whether their afflictions come from God. Some Christians cannot be induced to believe that their sufferings are sent from above, and they see in them nothing more than evil casualties. But if they fail to recognize God in the sorrow, they will not find him in the joy of his blessed promise, "My grace is sufficient for thee." It was not merely the "them" that St. Paul had to endure. This was a source of pain, and it aggravated, doubtless, his other physical infirmities, and, in turn, was augmented by them. But we must not forget the state of mind such an affliction naturally produced - the surprise that it should follow such wonderful signs of God's favour as had been vouchsafed in the "abundance of the revelations," the temptation to a rebellious spirit and the occasion for unbelief it would furnish. A literal answer to his prayer was refused; a spiritual answer was granted. The "grace" bestowed was "sufficient," not only to bear the pain as a peculiar addition to his "infirmities" already existing, but to enable him to "glory" in it; and the providence of it was specially manifested in the power it had given him to be patient, forbearing, humble, in the late trouble with the Corinthians. O Christians, who are called to a lifelong discipline in the school of suffering, think of the measure implied in the sufficient grace! Sufficient for what? Sufficient, not only to glory in pain and infirmity, but to glory "most gladly." - L.
I. WHAT WAS IT?
1. In itself. There have been almost infinite conjectures. As to the figure: some prefer a "goad for the flesh," a sharpened stake; others, a rankling thorn; others, a stake on which offenders were impaled or the cross to which they were fastened. As to the reality: evil suggestions; fiery darts of Satan; some prominent adversary; some painful bodily affection, weak eyesight, defective speech, carnal cravings; whilst a bold imaginationist has had the temerity to suggest a termagant wife! Possibly the precise nature of the affliction is concealed that no one may say, "Ah, that is not my trouble." It was very grievous to the apostle whatever its precise nature.
2. As Satan was concerned in it. Paul recognized Satan's hand (see Job 2:7; Luke 13:16). It was used of Satan to annoy, pain, depress, and harass Paul, and with the hope that it would hinder his great work. Satanic malice rejoiced in the anticipation that it might prove the last straw upon the camel's back. Paul interfered much with the devil's kingdom; it is no wonder that the devil sought to interfere with him. Satan can afford to leave some people alone; but if we faithfully attack his kingdom and his rule we may expect reprisals. Yet Satan is but a fool after all, and constantly overreaches himself. One has well said, "The devil drives but a poor trade by the persecution of the saints - he tears the nest, but the bird escapes; he cracks the shell, but loses the kernel."
3. As allowed by God. God's hand was in it as well as Satan's. This is so with all our tribulations; in one aspect they are messengers of Satan, in the other messengers of God. All depends upon which message we listen to. Paul's thorn in the flesh was God's teacher of humility. There was danger that the extraordinary revelations made to the apostle might foster pride. Human nature is intensely susceptible to this temptation. Those who enjoy remarkable favours often experience remarkable affliction. The ship in the high wind needs plenty of ballast. When we build high we must also build low - the lofty building requires a deep foundation. It is well for us that God is not merely indulgent. God will not allow us to become spoilt children.
II. THE APOSTLE'S RESTLESSNESS UNDER THE AFFLICTION. Paul was very human. He would not have been so could he have borne this additional trouble with indifference. Remember his other troubles. If this special affliction seemed likely to hinder his lifework, how keenly would he feel it! 'Tis hard to dance in chains. Heavy labour tries the healthy; how exceedingly burdensome to the sick! Yet he did not grumble, or make himself a nuisance, or find fault with God, or sit down in despair. It was said of him once, "Behold, he prayeth;" it may be said of him again.
III. HIS PRAYER.
1. In his distress he betook himself to the mercy seat. Like Hezekiah, he spread the matter before the Lord. Affliction should drive us to, not from, God. And we should come to pray, not to complain. The throne of grace is sometimes turned into a bar of judgment, at which men arraign God. When some strange experience comes upon us we should ask concerning it in the audience chamber.
2. He prayed to the Lord Jesus. This seems evident from ver. 9, "that the strength of Christ may rest upon me." The servant's difficulties may well be submitted to the Master. Christ had directly appointed the apostle; to Christ, therefore, Paul brings his seeming hindrance. Whilst usually we pray to the Father in the Name of Christ, we may at other times pray to Christ himself.
3. He prayed with importunity. There was no mistaking his earnestness. As Christ in Gethsemane prayed "the third time," so thrice did this Christ-like apostle knock at heaven's gate. He went on knocking until he got a response. Many in prayer want nothing, ask nothing, get nothing. Some are so polite that they dread lest they should disturb God, and knock so lightly and daintily that it would require a microphone to make the sound audible. Others ring and run away. The apostle stood at the gate till he was answered. Such holy boldness delights God instead of affronting him.
4. He prayed definitely.
(1) For "this thing." Some pray foreverything in general, and therefore get nothing in particular.
(2) That it might depart. Here, perhaps, he went too far. If our troubles were sent away, our best friends might be sent away. The counterpart of "a thorn in the flesh" may be "grace in the spirit." It is a good thing that it does not rest with us to send away or to retain; we should often send away the good and draw to ourselves the injurious and evil.
IV. THE ANSWER.
1. A true answer, yet not what was looked for. (Ver. 9.) Such a prayer, offered in such a manner, was certain of a response, but not of the response anticipated. God often answers our prayers by not answering them. We get what we want, not what we wish. We dictate our prayer; God dictates the answer. Generally we do not ask enough - the apostle did not; to take away the thorn was small compared with sanctifying its presence. To eject the devil's messenger was poor compared with transforming it into a ministering spirit.
2. A lesson of faith. Paul's faith must transcend his feeling. He must lay hold of Christ with more tenacious grasp; he must believe that Christ can use this trouble for high purposes. Perhaps as he looked to Christ with stronger faith he could realize that, as great purposes were accomplished by the many thorns in the flesh of Christ (he was crowned with thorns), so the one thorn in his flesh should not prove unfruitful. Grapes might be gathered from this thorn.
3. A definite assurance. There was a basis for the faith demanded, as there always is. "My grace is sufficient for thee" (ver. 9). Christ engages to bear him through; can he believe this? The Lord's resources are boundless; they are our resources when strong faith binds us to their possessor. My "grace" may mean my "love," which secures all things needful for my servants; or the aid of the Holy Spirit, which will prove sufficient forevery exigency.
4. In intimation of purpose. There was no mistake, in sending or allowing the" thorn in the flesh." Prayer becomes blasphemous when it proceeds upon the assumption that God has made a blunder! The thorn in the flesh was the stem upon which the flower of the Divine glory was to blossom. The "messenger of Satan" would be made a herald proclaiming the power of Christ. The apostle's flesh was to be a battle field on which Christ would triumph.
V. THE ISSUE. A new thought has been given to Paul - Christ's glory will be enhanced. At once he begins to glory in this infirmity, "Most gladly" (ver. 9), or most sweetly; it became a delight of the highest kind. What he wanted to lose he now wants to keep. With the thorn in the flesh he can become, as he could not without it, the dwelling place of the power of Christ. It is enough if through his humiliation Christ may be exalted, if through his suffering Christ may be glorified. Many are more than content with being resigned under suffering; to submit they think is a mark of highest grace. But the apostle is far beyond this. He can "take pleasure" (ver. 10) in troubles, because through his troubles the power of Christ is more strikingly and impressively exhibited. - H.
I. AFFLICTION THE ANTIDOTE TO PRIDE. We do not speak so much of the natural pride of men over personal advantages of body or mind, over rank or riches, as of that subtle pride which is apt to creep into the heart after a great influx of spiritual light and joy. One may be exalted overmuch on account of the clearer vision of heavenly things or the near access to the Lord which he has enjoyed. But there comes a timely affliction or rebuke, not merely to correct pride if it is indulged, but to anticipate and prevent its rising. "Lest I should be exalted." The wise man accepts this as a kindness from God. "There was given to me a thorn in the flesh."
II. PRAYER THE ANTIDOTE TO DESPONDENCY. "I besought the Lord thrice." When one is cast down, worldly wise friends can only bid him cheer up, cast off dull care, etc. But the resource of the Christian is to pray to the God of his life. And prayer must be repeated. The Saviour prayed thrice before the angel from heaven appeared to strengthen him. Paul prayed thrice before the answer of grace and peace fell upon his fainting soul.
III. CHRIST'S GRACE THAT SWEETENS ALL. He knows well the piercing of thorns, the fiery darts, and the "blast of the terrible ones," and he can have compassion. He did not, indeed, see fit to relieve his servant Paul at once of his distress, but assured him of compensative grace and sustaining strength; and so the apparent evil was turned into a blessing, the pain and sorrow into joy. Be of good comfort, O believers! Against your own felt weakness set Christ's strength; and against all malice of Satan and his messengers set Christ's sufficient grace. - F.
Luke 13:16; Acts 10:38; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 1 Timothy 1:20. "These are enough to prove that, while men referred special forms of suffering of mind and body, chiefly the former, to the agency of demons, they were prepared to recognize the agency of Satan in almost every form of bodily calamity." No single description of Satan can cover the entire Scripture representation of him, but one aspect presented by it has not been duly considered. He is sometimes regarded as the agent, or executor, of the Divine purpose in physical calamity, and even in moral testings through temptation. We may think of an angel of temptation as well as of an angel of death. We may not even think of Satan as m any sense acting independently. He, too, comes fully within the Divine rulings and overrulings. What the nature of the apostle's affliction or temptation was cannot be certainly known from his descriptions of it. Many explanations have been suggested. Lightfoot summarizes them thus:
(1) a bodily ailment of some kind:
(2) some opposition encountered from his enemies, or suffering endured;
(3) carnal longings;
(4) spiritual trials, doubtings, etc.
Archdeacon Farrar thinks the "thorn" must have been some physical malady, and suggests epilepsy, of which he says, "It is painful; it is recurrent; it opposes an immense difficulty to all exertion; it may at any time cause a temporary suspension of work; it is intensely humiliating to the person who suffers from it; it exercises a repellent effect on those who witness its distressing manifestations." But he adds that there can be no doubt that St. Paul also suffered from ophthalmia, and that this disease fulfils in every particular the conditions of the problem. Dean Plumptre favours the idea of corporeal rather than mental suffering, and says, "Nor need we be surprised that this infirmity - neuralgia of the head and face or inflammation of the eyes, perhaps in some measure the after consequences of the blindness at Damascus - should be described as 'a messenger of Satan.'" Another suggestion has been made which is fresh and interesting, and worthy of very patient consideration. Professor Lias writes, "Our last alternative must be some defect of character, calculated to interfere with St. Paul's success as a minister of Jesus Christ. And the defect which falls in best with what we know of St. Paul is an infirmity of temper. There seems little doubt that he gave way to an outbreak of this kind when before the Sanhedrim, though he set himself right at once by a prompt apology (Acts 23:2-5). A similar idea is suggested by St. Paul's unwillingness to go to Corinth until the points in dispute between him and a considerable portion of the Corinthian Church were in a fair way of being settled. In fact, his conduct was precisely the reverse of that of a person who felt himself endowed with great tact, persuasiveness, and command of temper. Such a man would trust little to messages and letters, much to his own presence and personal influence. St. Paul, on the contrary, feared to visit Corinth until there was a reasonable prospect of avoiding all altercation. In fact, he could not trust himself there. He 'feared that God would humble him among them' (2 Corinthians 12:21). He desired above all things to avoid the necessity of 'using sharpness,' very possibly because he feared that, when once compelled to assume a tone of severity, his language might exceed the bounds of Christian love. The supposition falls in with what we know of the apostle before his conversion (Acts 7:58; Acts 9:1). It is confirmed by his stern language to Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:10), with which we may compare the much milder language used by St. Peter on a far more awful occasion (Acts 5:3, 9). The quarrel between St. Paul and St. Barnabas makes the supposition infinitely more probable. The passage, Galatians 4:13, 14, may be interpreted of the deep personal affection which the apostle felt he had inspired in spite of his occasional irritability of manner. The expression (Galatians 4:20), that he 'desired to be present with them, and to change his voice,' would seem to point in the same direction. And if we add to these considerations the fact, which the experience of God's saints in all ages has conclusively established, of the difficulty of subduing an infirmity of temper, as well as the pain, remorse, and humiliation such an infirmity is wont to cause to those who groan under it, we may be inclined to believe that not the least probable hypothesis concerning the 'thorn,' or 'stake,' in the flesh is, that the loving heart of the apostle bewailed as his sorest trial the misfortune that by impatience in word he had often wounded those for whom he would willingly have given his life." What. ever the form of the trial may have been, we note -
I. ST. PAUL'S THOUGHTS ABOUT IT. These may be unfolded and illustrated generally, in relation
(1) to Christian culture;
(2) to Christian work, and especially
(3) in relation to peril of spiritual pride.
St. Paul saw clearly that the humiliation came "through the abundance of the revelations;" and "lest he should be puffed up beyond measure."
II. ST. PAUL'S LESSON LEARNED FROM IT. It was mainly this - that the mission of suffering may be continuous through life. It may be the point of God's dealing with us that he does not sanctify us by sudden, occasional, and severe afflictions, but by calling us to bear a lifelong burden of disability or frailty. Troubles of this kind cannot be removed in response to prayer, because to remove them would be to check the sanctifying process. God, in sending a temporary affliction, may have a temporary end in view, and so, when that end is duly reached, the affliction may be removed. But if the work of our sanctification is, in the Divine wisdom, to be wrought by a continuous life pressure, then the response to our prayer can only be this: "My grace is sufficient for thee." Dean Stanley points out that "St. Paul's sufferings were to him what the mysterious agony that used at times to seize on Alfred, in the midst of feast and revel, had been to the saintly and heroic king, a discipline working for his perfection." - R.T.
I. THE NEED FOR THIS SUFFICIENCY.
1. The manifold duties, the severe temptations, the wried sorrows and troubles, incidental to the Christian life. There are difficulties and trials common to the Christian with all men, but there are others peculiar to him, arising from the higher view he takes of life, both as a personal discipline and as an opportunity for serving and glorifying God.
2. The conscious insufficiency of human resources. This, indeed, accounts for the universal practice of prayer, frequent or occasional, deliberate or spontaneous. Men feel their utter helplessness in the presence of the demands of life, and therefore they call upon God. Much more keenly does the follower of the Lord Jesus realize his need of a higher than human aid. Conscious that only Divine grace has reconciled him to God, he daily acknowledges his dependence upon the same grace for the maintenance of his spiritual life and usefulness.
II. THE GROUND OF THIS SUFFICIENCY.
1. The divinity of the Saviour. Can we imagine any other than Christ using this language, "My grace is sufficient"? It is becoming, it is possible, only to him who possesses Divine resources, who is spiritually present with all his people.
2. Christ's mediatorial position. This involves the possession and the disposal of whatsoever is necessary for the spiritual welfare of those whom the Lord Jesus saves. Accepted as our Representative, he has received gifts for men; and it is in the fulfilment of his mediatorial office that he imparts to each individual disciple and friend the specially needed grace.
3. The spiritual dispensation over which the Lord Jesus presides. He is Head over all things unto his Church. He distributes to every man severally as he will. His Spirit is the Spirit of truth, of holiness, of power.
III. THE EVIDENCE OF THIS SUFFICIENCY.
1. The personal experience of Paul as recorded in this passage. He tells us here, not only what Christ promised, but what he performed. He was perfectly satisfied with the course he had taken. He did not find His own personal weakness and insufficiency a barrier to his efficiency and usefulness. What he lacked, his Lord supplied.
2. The recorded experience of all who have trusted to the same Divine Source of all-sufficiency. There is no discordant note in the song of grateful, affectionate adoration which fills the Church of the Redeemer. All his people have known their own demerits, their own powerlessness, and all have known the sufficiency of their Lord. And every Christian has reason to acknowledge -
"And when my all of strength shall fail,
circumstances, but always first in him. The grace given is grace helping him in the circumstances. So the Christian often knows that he is helped when those around him can see no signs of the helping. God's promise from the olden time is this, "As thy day so shall thy strength be." In all our relations with human trouble, our attention is directed to the removal of the trouble itself or the change of the circumstances which occasioned the trouble. We move the pain wearied sufferer into a position of greater ease. We soften and smoothe the pillow for the aching head. We offer temporary help to the man distressed in business. But God does not promise any man that he will alter his circumstances or altogether relieve him from his trouble. The economy of life is arranged, in the Divine wisdom, for the greatest good of the greatest number, and consequently some of those circumstances which bring trouble to Christian hearts cannot be altered without involving injury to others. God "strengthens with strength in the soul." To him body and circumstance are secondary things; souls are of the first importance, and bodies and circumstances gain their importance by their influence on souls. Inward strength to bear is a far higher provision than any mere mastery of the ills and troubles of the life. A man is never lost until he has lost heart. But if God supplies inward strength we never shall lose heart, and so we never shall be lost. Outwardly a man may be tossed about, worn, wearied, lost, wounded, almost broken, and yet inwardly he may be kept in perfect peace; his mind may be stayed on God; he may be "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." We may say of this "sufficient grace" that it is -
I. ADAPTED. We are to conceive of the grace of God, not as a great mass, a quantity of which is duly measured out to meet our need, but rather as a treasury of various kinds and various colours, from which may be obtained just those threads that will match our circumstances and repair the disasters into which we have fallen.
II. TIMELY. Here we require to distinguish between what we think to be timely and what God thinks to be timely, remembering that God never delays, but is never hurried. He waits for the moment of extremity. "When the tale of bricks is doubled, then comes Moses." And it should also be shown that we may not look for some particular grace and help today, which God knows will only be required tomorrow. The very charm of "sufficient grace" is that it is precisely the thing "for the occasion." Those who are looking for kinds of grace for which they have no immediate and pressing needs will be in danger of missing the gracious provisions which their Lord is ever making for them. The way between earth and heaven is a ladder - Jacob saw it - and the angels came up and down it. We cannot reach the top by looking up; only by putting our feet up one round after another. And God is willing to be ever close beside us, holding us with his hand and strengthening us for each uplifted step.
III. ABUNDANT. That is assured in the fact that it is the grace of God, who is able to do exceedingly abundantly for us above all that we ask or think. The man with "sufficient grace" is efficient to all work, whether it be bearing or doing. He is nowhere alone; grace is with him. - R.T.
e.g. Baxter, Robert Hall, H. Martyn, C. Pattison, F.W. Robertson, etc. Show that, while bodily strength may be consecrated to God's service, it is also true that physical weakness may serve him, and a man's very frailty glorify his Lord. This may be further opened out by showing how -
I. IT BEARS UPON HUMILITY. The grace which is the necessary completion and final adornment of Christian character. The grace which puts on Christian fruitage all the bloom. Humility is won by the pressure of God's hand upon us.
II. IT NOURISHES DEPENDENCE ON GOD. "When I am weak, then am I strong." This is the Christian paradox. Such dependence is not easy; it is one of the things to which experience of failure and frailty alone can bring us. He is fitted for life and for heaven who from his deep heart says, "I cannot, but God can."
III. IT CULTIVATES CHARACTER. We know that physical weakness bears directly and continuously upon temper, disposition, and virtue. Afflictions never test us, never bear upon the whole culture of character, as does continuous pain or frailty. "As the outward man perishes, the inward man is renewed day by day."
IV. IT KEEPS A MAN OPEN TO GOD. By its constant reminder of the need of God. The frail man proves the preciousness of prayer. F.W. Robertson most forcibly says of prayer, "The true value of prayer is not this - to bend the eternal will to ours, but this - to bend our wills to it." Frail, ever-suffering Paul laboured "more abundantly than they all," and astonishing still is the soul-work that can be gotten out of feeble men and women - with God's grace. - R.T.
2 Corinthians 11:5, adding in this instance, "though I be nothing." Was he thinking of the abundant revelations with which he could not have been entrusted save on the condition of a thorn in the flesh? Only a brief utterance, yet very sincere - "though I be nothing." It was safe for such a man in his impaled situation to dramatize the "fool," but he hastens to serious work and mentions that "the signs of an apostle" had been wrought among them. His language is, full and earnest; "truly," "in all patience," "signs and wonders and mighty deeds," no lack, no irritating haste, no deception, number and variety and extraordinary power all provided for. Despite of the accumulation, the magnitude, the unimpeachable quality of these Divine evidences, God among you of a truth, Christ honouring his servant and his servant's work, ye Corinthians, or some of you, have not "commended" me! In what respect were ye inferior to other Churches? Look at Macedonia, look at Asia; wherein were you less favoured than they? They commended me; what have you done to exemplify your sense of my apostleship? I remember but one thing in which ye were "inferior" - and the irony is keen now - I remember that I preached the gospel gratuitously, so as not to be "burdensome to you;" and this is your acknowledgment, this your commendation of my course! What a mistake my disinterestedness was! What a "fool" in my goodness! "Forgive me this wrong!" Despite of it all, I am not weaned from Corinth. "The third time I am ready to come to you." Though my self-denying conduct has been used to bring me into contempt, I shall repeat it without any abatement, for "I will not be burdensome to you." And now his heart swells as he says, "I seek not yours, but you" - words that he bequeathed to the admiration of ages; for was he not their spiritual father? If, at the bidding of natural instinct, children were not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children, then it became him to provide for his spiritual children. But was this all that his love had to promise? Nay; what means he had or might have should not only be freely used in their behalf, but he would give his faculties, his heart, his whole self, to advance their well being. "Signs of an apostle" had been wrought at Corinth, "wonders and mighty deeds," but the signs of a sublime moral manhood rise before us when he declares, "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you." Will this avail? "If I love you more abundantly, am I loved the less?" - L.
I. THE APOSTLE'S CLAIM. A large claim, put strongly. Paul claimed to be on a perfect equality with the leading apostles. Unwillingly he referred to this matter, which might look like self-glorification; but when the occasion came, his utterance was full and unmistakable. There is nothing derogatory in magnifying our office, the evil lies in magnifying ourselves in it. It is not conceitedness but righteousness to assert for ourselves what God has already asserted for us. Paul felt that he must not lightly esteem, or allow others to lightly esteem, a high office conferred upon him by God, and. an office in which God had signally witnessed to his efforts. Paul speaks about "the signs" of an apostle; the interesting question arises - What were these signs? We may note the following: -
1. Knowledge of the gospel derived by immediate revelation from Christ (Galatians 1:12).
3. External manifestations of Divine favour sanctioning claim to the apostleship.
4. Continued faithfulness to the gospel (Galatians 1:8, 9).
5. Success in preaching the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:2).
6. Power of communicating the Holy Ghost by imposition of hands (Acts 8:18).
7. Power of working miracles (ver. 12; Romans 15:18, 19).
8. Holiness of life (2 Corinthians 6:4). Such of these as could be exhibited to the Corinthians, had been, and there was one respect in which his readers would scarcely contest Paul's claim, and to this with his accustomed dexterity the apostle refers. If founding great Churches was a mark of great apostleship, what an apostle Paul must have been to found such a Church as the Corinthian (ver. 13)! This was a perfectly sound argument, but it was an argumentum ad hominem of a singularly happy character. There was only one thing lacking, and here the apostle blends irony with pathos - "I myself was not a burden to you: forgive me this wrong" (ver. 13). For reasons given elsewhere in the Epistle, he had resolved not to derive any part of his temporal support from them. They might esteem this a slight. Had they lived in later days they would have counted it a virtue!
II. THE APOSTLE'S ACKNOWLEDGMENT. Paul's humility is marvellous. Yet it was not one whit greater than it ought to have been. The "thorn in the flesh" (ver. 7) has accomplished a gracious work. Paul has at the same time the clearest view of the Divine power and glory, and of his own insignificance and impotence. He does not take to himself for a moment what was not of himself. Note in ver. 12 he says, not "I wrought," but "were wrought" - he distinguishes between God and Paul! We have a beautiful insight into the apostle's mind. He has risen too high to deck himself in plumes stolen from his Lord. Though divinely endowed, strikingly witnessed to in his labours, beyond question the pre-eminent apostle, he says, "I am nothing." We wonder not that God used such a man. We magnify God's grace in him. Truly the promise had been amply fulfilled, "My grace is sufficient for thee" (ver. 9). Our pride is our folly - it drives God out and lets the devil in. We cannot be great because we will be so great. The bag is full of wind, so that it cannot be filled.
1. Humility becomes us. It became Paul. If he had so lowly an estimate of himself, how little should we think of ourselves! Even if we are "great men," we are very small men compared with him.
2. Humility is reasonable. It is not fiction, but fact, to say that we are nothing. Pride is based on a lie.
3. Humility is generally associated with large usefulness. - H.
I. MIRACULOUS EVIDENCES OF APOSTLESHIP. Upon due occasion the apostle did not hesitate to bring forward and adduce as proofs of his commission the supernatural gifts which had been bestowed upon him. How could he have publicly made such a claim as this in an authentic letter, unless the Corinthians, friendly and inimical, were ready to witness to the truth of his language? It would not be fanciful to discriminate among the terms which Paul in this passage applies to these miraculous evidences. Observe that they are designated:
1. Powers, as pointing to the heavenly and Divine source to which they must needs be traced. Whether exercised in controlling nature, in healing disease, or in inflicting punishment, they bore upon their very presence the evidences that they were of superhuman origin.
2. Wonders, as fitted and indeed intended to awaken the interest, the inquiry, the amazement, of all beholders. Wonder may be useful in leading to such reflection, such emotion, as may surpass itself in value.
3. Signs, as indicating the authority of those at whose prayer or command these marvels were wrought "among" the Corinthians.
II. THE MORAL EVIDENCE OF APOSTLESHIP. Nowhere in the New Testament is the portent placed above the spiritual. Christ's mighty works answered their purpose when they prompted the exclamation and inquiry, "What manner of man is this!" And in Paul's character there was seen an evidence of apostleship far more convincing and far more instructive than the most marvellous deeds which he performed. He justly claims to have exhibited patience, both in his continuing to work for the Corinthians and to interest himself in them notwithstanding their ingratitude, and in his tender and brotherly treatment of them with a view to their restoration to entire sympathy with himself. - T.
I. A SINCERE PROFESSION. Had Paul been a stranger to his correspondents he could not have used such language as this. But he was well known to them, having lived and laboured in Corinth, working with his own hands for his maintenance, and putting forth every effort for the spiritual enlightenment and salvation of the citizens.
1. The minister of Christ spends for the enrichment of his people's souls. He has "treasure," though in earthen vessels. He has "the true riches" committed to his keeping. His sire is to bestow the choicest and most precious blessings upon the spiritually necessitous. All he has he longs to part with.
2. The minister of Christ is willing to be spent for his people's souls. Labour often involves suffering. Bodily powers may be exhausted; even the mind itself may give way under the strain of a toilsome, emotional, prolonged ministry. The missionary may sink beneath the burden of climate, of unrequited toil, of persecution. Every faithful minister must lay his account, not only with effort, but with self-denial and self-sacrifice.
II. AN ARDENT APPEAL. The Revisers adopt a rendering of the latter part of this verse which harmonizes with what we may well believe to have been the sentiment of the apostle.
1. Paul has proved the abundance of his love; and every true minister, animated by the love of Christ and by pity for souls, has shown himself to be a true lover and friend of his fellow men.
2. Shall it, then, be the ease that those whom the Christian minister loves, and whose welfare he seeks, shall be indifferent and ungrateful? It is sometimes so; the very faithfulness and earnestness of the minister may occasion the aversion of those who desire that he should "prophesy smooth things," and leave them to their sinful pursuits and pleasures uninterrupted. Yet the affection and devotion of spiritual workers deserve a very different return. - T.
I. A SPLENDID ILLUSTRATION OF CHRISTIAN SERVICE. The apostle is carried beyond the thought of giving some time, or strength, or property, for his beloved Corinthians; he expresses his perfect willingness to give himself. He will not count it a grief, but a gladness, to expend himself for them. Whilst many find great difficulty in giving a little for others, the apostle seems to find none in giving all. Here we have:
1. Whole-souled devotion. Nothing can transcend the apostle's offer. And the voluntariness and the joy of the devotion place it in the first rank of excellence.
2. Earnest desire for welfare. The love of Paul for the Corinthians could not have been more forcibly expressed. Men gauge our love for them by what we are willing to give up for them; when we are willing to give up ourselves for them, they cannot but be convinced of our sincerity.
3. Indication of the importance of Christian work. For nothing else in the world would Paul have willingly spent himself. But Christian service more than justified the self-sacrifice. In his judgment nothing could compare with it for a moment. We may remember that in all departments of life we can render Christian service; spheres of labour become insignificant and mean only when Christian service is excluded from them.
4. A striking imitation of Christ. Paul has caught his Master's spirit. His Lord laid down his life for him; he will now lay down his life for his Lord. Christ "gave himself." The Lord's servant is most fitted to do his Lord's work when he is most like his Lord.
5. A secret of success. When we labour for Christ in such a spirt as this we are certain to prosper. Failure is the child of half heartedness and selfishness. Christ honour an entire consecration to his service.
II. SELF-EXPENDING CHRISTIAN SERVICE PROMPTED BY A HIGH MOTIVE. The apostle was willing to spend himself for the souls of the Corinthians - "and be spent for your souls" (New Version). In this labour he was seeking at the same time the highest glory of God and Christ, and the truest welfare of men. These objects unite in Christian service, which aims pre-eminently to do good to the souls of men. The saving and perfecting of souls redounds supremely to the glory of the Divine Being, whilst it secures the highest good for humanity. So dominated was the apostle by the desire to do good to the souls of men, that what is usually a very strong motive for action, viz. the love of others for us, was quite swept away. He declares that he will expend himself for the Corinthians, though this strongest indication of his love to them should produce a decreasing love for him on their part. The disinterested character of true Christian service is here very strikingly displayed. It was by such self-expenditure as that of Paul's that early Christianity won its triumphs; it is for such self-expenditure that later Christianity pathetically calls. God is always thoroughly in earnest, but men are not. When men become so then "the arm of the Lord is revealed." - H.
I. THE IDEA OF "CAUGHT WITH GUILE" THAT IS INADMISSIBLE IN CHRISTIAN WORK.
1. Anything approaching to "doing evil that good may come" is inadmissible.
2. So is any altering or qualifying the fundamental truths, claims, and duties of the gospel.
3. So is any kind of action that is immoral, or of which the morality is even doubtful. Illustrate by some of the guileful principles enunciated by the Jesuit fathers, and so mercilessly exposed by Pascal in the 'Provincial Letters.' Sincerity and simplicity are first virtues in Christian workers; both the man and his labours must be such as can be searched through and through. Guile, as the world understands the term, must not be once known among us, as becometh saints.
II. THE IDEA OF "CAUGHT WITH GUILE" THAT IS ADMISSIBLE IN CHRISTIAN WORK. In the sense of adaptation to capacity it is an essential feature of Christian service. This may sometimes appear to the onlooker as guile. In teaching children or uneducated people, truth has to be simplified, to be set in figure and parable, and broken up into parts and pieces, and such guilefulness St. Paul recognizes as valuable. He fed the people with "milk" when he knew that they were unlit to receive "strong meat" of truth. Our Lord himself was guileful in this good sense, for at the close of his intercourse with his disciples he said, "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." It may also be shown that there is a "quick wittedness" and skilful seizing of opportunities, which are gifts finding honourable spheres in the Christian Church.
III. THE IDEA OF "CAUGHT WITH GUILE" THAT NOBLE-MINDED MEN SHRINK FROM EMPLOYING. Such are the various sensational devices of modern revivalism. The masses are to be caught with the guile of trumpet, and drum, and dress, and excited meetings. We need not say that such things are inadmissible, because they are not morally wrong. But where there is a full sympathy with the Divine Lord, who "did not strive, nor cry, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets," all such guilefulnesses cannot but be painful. Anything approaching to an advertising of the gospel or the preachers of the gospel grieves the sensitive feeling of all who know that the gospel needs no such introductions, but is itself God's power unto salvation to every one that believes. Our "yea" had better be simple "yea;" with no blast of trumpet or roll of drum let us tell men of the life there is for all in Christ our living Saviour; and let our only guile be adaptation. - R.T.
I. IN WHAT DOES EDIFICATION CONSIST?
1. It has respect to those who are already built upon the one Foundation - Christ. The minister of Christ, like other workmen, must begin at the beginning. When men receive the gospel, then, and only then, are they in a position to be "edified."
2. It consists in the building up of the Christian character in the case of individuals. The resemblance to Christ is what is mainly to be sought.
3. And in the formation of solid and serviceable Christian societies, all of which are parts of the holy temple which is being reared to the glory of God.
II. BY WHAT MEANS IS EDIFICATION PROMOTED?
1. The means divinely appointed and approved are moral and spiritual. All employment of mechanical or political agency to secure such an end is to be condemned, as both inappropriate and useless.
2. Personal agency is that which the New Testament exemplifies and which experience approves. Living spirits, full of love and sympathy, are divinely qualified to engage in such a work as this.
3. The presentation of truth, the addressing of language of encouragement and promise, of admonition and rebuke, - these are emphatically the scriptural methods of edification. Of all these abundant and very instructive examples may be found in this very Epistle.
III. WHAT PURPOSES DOES EDIFICATION SUBSERVE?
1. The welfare, the highest spiritual development and happiness, of those who are edified.
2. The impression thus made upon the world by the presence in the midst of it of a Divine temple reared with human souls.
3. The honour and glory of the heavenly Architect himself. - T.
I. SUCH HUMBLINGS COME FROM SEEMING FAILURES. Compare our Lord's distressful reproach of Capernaum and other towns on the shores of the lake of Galilee. See also St. Paul's trouble over the failure of the Galatians from their primitive faith: "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?" etc.
II. SUCH HUMBLINGS COME FROM STRIFE AND DIVISIONS. As illustrated in the Corinthian Church (see 1 Corinthians it.). Such strife may arise from
(1) false teaching;
(2) masterful individuals, who make parties;
(4) exercise of necessary Church discipline.
III. SUCH HUMBLINGS COME FROM INDIVIDUAL BACKSLIDINGS. There is no sadder phase of experience for Christian ministers than the spiritual and moral failure of their converts, and of those whom they have most fully trusted in Christian life and work. So often men fall into temptation and are overcome in their middle life. When ministers look for the ripest fruitage, then there is blight and death; wealth, pleasure, vice, smite and kill the soul, and the pastor weeps over the toil of life that seems to have been all in vain. St. Paul spoke of the Corinthians as "his glory and joy;" and the things which he goes on to mention in this verse put shame on his work, for the gospel call is "not unto uncleanness, but unto holiness." And ministers spend their strength for nought if those who believe are not "careful to maintain good works." - R.T.