2 Corinthians 11
The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me.
Paul's Self-vindication

2 Corinthians 11, 2 Corinthians 12

It was difficult for some of the Corinthians to believe that Paul was an apostle. That comes of a man making himself too familiar with his people. Preachers should hardly ever be seen by some people; they cannot understand the mystery of reaction, they do not comprehend all the suggestiveness and blessedness of free, genial, generous intercourse. Some people can only understand a little of religion when it is written in polysyllables. It would be possible to destroy the faith of some men by destroying their superstition. If their religion were written in modern English they would not know it; because we have instead of "loves," "loveth"; instead of "hears," "heareth"; instead of "understands," "understandeth": it is in these archaic endings of words that many people find what small piety they have. They cannot follow apostolicity itself in its stoopings and condescensions and variations, and in its adaptation of immediate instruments to the accomplishment of the supreme purpose of the Christian ministry. Paul stoops to talk to such people: but even when Paul stoops his attitude is greater than the elevation of other men. In Paul's self-vindication there is no egotism, no vanity, no taint of mere personal conceit; it is heroic individualism, a broad, generous projection of himself from the Cross and towards the Cross: a mysterious action not to be understood in mere letters. It will be interesting to be present when he holds conference with Corinthian doubters.

They assail his apostolicity. He first defends himself by his record of work. Having given an account of his pedigree, he leaves that, and he says,

"Are they ministers of Christ?" [then in a parenthesis—"(I speak as a fool)"—because I am talking to fools] "I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches." (2Corinthians 11:23, 2Corinthians 11:28)

Paul's argument is this: Would any man undergo such sufferings and privations but for an impulse that must have come from eternity? Saith he, I will tell you what my wages are:

"Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was 1 stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness." (2Corinthians 11:24-27)

These wages were regularly paid: nothing was begrudged: the remuneration was handed to him with a lavish generosity. What else could I be, Paul would continue, than an apostle, to have undergone all this discipline, pain, privation, and excommunication from the security and delights of civilised life? That argument will be hard to answer. While he was dealing with his pedigree it seemed as if some man might arise and say, My parents were born a hundred and fifty years before yours: but when he came to his record of work there was great silence in the Church. Suppose that an opportunity were given for a man to outrival this citation of labour, you can imagine the melancholy, suggestive, humiliating pause that would follow a challenge so broad and striking. We never know what this record is until we try to put our own record side by side with it Would any man know how far he has gone in the direction of religious progress and heavenly attainment? Let him read 2Corinthians 11:23-28, let him write that record on one side of the page, on the other let him write what he himself has done.

We all suffer from occupying the position of mere critics: It is when we come to attempt the emulous work of rivalry that we find how feeble we are. A man shall sit and criticise an oratorio by Handel; whilst he criticises he seems to know something about the matter: now let him produce a composition of his own and put it into the hands of the musician whom he has criticised. There are those who have disputed the apostolicity and consequent authority of Paul: here is the man's own record. Where is the record of his critics, then, his despisers? No apostolicity is to be tolerated for a moment that is not backed up, certified, and glorified by hard work. Yet the record must go farther, for even hard work is not enough. There are some men magnificent in work, who are contemptible in suffering. Give them enough to do, and they will do it with a strong, steady hand; they like work, they like publicity, they like motion: call upon them to give, to expend, to suffer, to see excisions completed upon patience, strength, property, friendship, and the like, then you see their true quality. We are Christians: how then does our record run? "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one" (2Corinthians 11:24). What line do we put down in juxtaposition with that? When did we receive forty stripes? That line must be a blank. "Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep" (2Corinthians 11:25). How shall we match that record?—"beaten with rods," that must go; "stoned," that must go; "thrice I suffered shipwreck," that must go; "a night and a day have I been in the deep," that must go. Two blank lines. "In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren" (2Corinthians 11:26). What perils have we ever been in for Christ's sake? None. Three blank lines. "In weariness and painfulness"—the suffering that has got no words to express it adequately; a sense of depletion, exhaustion, utter nothingness—"in watchings often," till our eyes have been sore with looking, "in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness"—and all for Christ. If Christ were not in a man he could not undergo this discipline. Let the Church be judged by its works. Pay no heed to its articles of belief, regard not its mere ministry in words, do not look even at its works; go beyond and ask whether it has worked up to the point of pain, weariness, feebleness, extremity; ask whether it has suffered for its faith. I should say about any faith that it ought to be revered in the degree in which its devotees have suffered. This is true of the faiths of paganism, of the faiths of twilight thought. Only earnest men can nobly suffer, only souls that are charged with the inspiration of God can accept penalty, infliction, loss, and all manner of evil patiently, uncomplainingly.

But did the Apostle Paul receive his lot in life in a merely negative condition of mind? Did he say, We must not complain: this was promised or predicted, and therefore nothing has happened to us not of the usual course: we cannot murmur against such providences? The Apostle Paul got far beyond that; he wrote a sentence that has in it all the poetry of heroism, he said, "Yea, we exceedingly glory in tribulation also." He did not accept it, he gloried in it; his sufferings were his crown in forecast.

In writing his record Paul does not forget some of the more or less amusing circumstances that occurred in the course of so varied and tumultuous a life. There are circumstances that do not look amusing at the time, but as the days come and go, such circumstances show the underlying comedy. Paul says, Once through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped from the hands of the governor of the city of the Damascenes (2Corinthians 11:32-33). What a fall in the nobility of the record! Beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, wearied, pained to agony, watching to blindness, hungered to starvation; and yet this man consented to escape, by getting into a basket and being let down like a load from a window. Paul makes no apology for this; he does not say, I know the contrast is very striking and startling: I ought not to have done it. You cannot tell what you ought to have done. Let us hear what you did in reality. Sometimes we have only a moment in which to think and to decide. Paul, the basket is ready, the window is open, danger is imminent! He does not say, I must take three days to think about what course I shall pursue. The Lord trains us by making extemporaneous demands upon us. He expects us sometimes to answer in a moment. You and I have done many things which we would not do again. I am not aware that Paul ever went anywhere else in a basket, or was let down by the wall, or escaped by the back-door. Yet it was well that he did this. If he had always been on the star-line he would have been out of our way wholly; but he tells us with the frankness of sincerity that he has been as weak as other men, and oftentimes has felt the weariness which is akin to despair.

But he will not rest his authority upon his hard work and his sufferings alone. He says—I will give you the spiritual aspect of my apostolicity, "I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord." There is an outside record, of action, of suffering, an obvious and public record, which everybody can read. We ourselves live a newspaper life. We are paragraphed into momentary publicity. Paul says, I will tell you something that nobody else could tell you, I will take you into my confidence, I will let you see a little of my subjective and most profoundly spiritual experience; I will come now from suffering, loss, and defeat to visions and revelations of the Lord. Now we shall enter into the sanctuary of the soul. Paul would not make these things public but in vindication of his apostolicity; nor would he vindicate his apostolicity but to acquire the kind of influence which he could most successfully employ in doing good. "I knew a man—." That is cold; that is whipping up recollection to supply an incident; the literal reading would be, "I know a man." There is a good deal of meaning in this change of tense:—I knew a man who has become a memory, a shadow, a thin outline on the horizon of the heaven. We do not want to hear about such outlines, we want to live in the present. Paul therefore said literally in his own grammar, I know a man in Christ: that man is living now, though the incident I am about to relate occurred fourteen years ago: and how it occurred I cannot tell; whether the man was in the body I do not know; whether he was out of the body I do not know. There are times when the body is nothing to us, and has no record in the fight, the rapture, the realised heaven. Blessed are the hours when a man can get rid of his body, the death-doomed flesh. We have had experiences of this happy disseverance, when we have been all soul, free emancipated spirit, and have had masonic entrance through the stars into the very glory of God. We shall come to understand this drag of a body better by-and-by, this cursed flesh. "I knew a man"—I know a man—"in Christ"—the larger man, the truer, completer, tenderer man. The words "in Christ," must not be omitted from the poetry of the expression; the spirituality and divinity of the utterance, you will find in the words "in Christ." God knoweth whether he was in the body or out of the body. We are afraid of rapture, ecstasy, contemplation, that kind of spiritual absorption which leaves time and space and all the landmarks which indicate exactness of material position and relationship. Probably it is well that we should be on our guard against false rapture; that, however, ought not to exclude the possibility of lofty, pure contemplation; that sweet, tender, ineffable consciousness of nearness to the Cross and the Sufferer, the throne and the King, which constitute the very beginning and the truest enjoyment of heaven. "How that he was caught up into paradise"—the place of blessed spirits, the home of the white-robed and the free, the abiding place of those who have not known sin, or who having known it shall know it no more for ever, because they have lost the sin in losing the body—"and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." The pedant would find here a striking contradiction in terms. The pedant is always in search of such small game; let him fill his bag with them, he may eat them all, and he will be the leaner for his feast. "Unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter,"—which it is not possible for a man to utter: incoherences, wave of music rolling on wave, billow interlapping with billow, shoutings, exclamations, whisperings hardly breaking silence, minor tones which children or child-angels might utter in a state of fear or reverent expectancy, and great thunderings that shook the sanctuary of the heavens: what the music said I cannot tell. It is poor music that can be shut up in the prison of words. Music takes words as a starting point; music leaves the point of articulate origin and flies away, talks all languages. Paul says "Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities." (2Corinthians 12:5.) And yet he was talking all the time about himself. But a man has many selves. He has a past self, a dead self, a blessed self, a mean, sneaking, infamous, detestable self, and sometimes a heroic and majestic self. Here the pedant would be at home again. If the pedant can be at home anywhere do not begrudge him a lodging. "For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me" (2Corinthians 12:6). I will not have my reputation founded on things that cannot be tested: in other words, If the part of my life that can be tested is not real, solid, criticism-proof, then I will not ask you to accept any ghostly pretensions I may have to offer: judge the internal by the external: where you cannot follow me in my ecstasies follow me in my endurances: if you give me credit for having been and having suffered all that I have just detailed, then you will have no difficulty in following me into the mystic region that you may hear what I have passed through in my passage into the eternal sanctuary.

"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" (2Corinthians 12:7).

A "thorn" seems a very slight thing; but the word "thorn" is not the word which the Apostle used,—There was given to me a stake in the flesh, a great beam sharpened at one end was set upon me and driven in, until my body was impaled. The Apostle Paul had a body that was hardly manageable. All his writings contain subtle references to this fact. We speak of Paul's raptures and ecstasies, and we say if we were only like Paul, what we would be and do in relation to the age in which we live. No man had such a fight of it as the Apostle Paul. He was all fire. His blood was ablaze night and day. He dared hardly look in some directions. This is to be found out by a careful and critical perusal of his writings. He says, I find a law in my members warring against the law of the spirit; he says O, wretched man that I am, who will cut off this dead carcase; it will damn me; is there no knife sharp enough to cut this body? He says, I keep myself under, I strike myself in the eyes, lest having preached to others I myself should be a castaway. Every morning Paul had a controversy to settle with his body; every night he had a battle to fight with his flesh; all the day long the devil sprang upon his passions, and sought to drive him to hell. There have been spiritualisers who have found various interpretations of this image of the thorn or the stake in the flesh. It can only be understood by reading the whole of the Pauline experiences as subtly and indicatively written in the Epistles themselves. Some have said that the Apostle suffered in his eyes. All this seems to me to be frivolous and trifling. The Lord gave him work enough at home to do, and because be battled well himself he battled well with the world. Men who have never been in hell are not fit to speak of heaven. Beware of your little dainty epicurean confectionery preachers, who have never been scorched in perdition. The greatest souls are they who have been their three days in hell as well as their three days in heaven.

What became of this fray? "For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me." That was a mean prayer. Yet now and then we must be mean even in our supplications, because we are still in the flesh, and we are still human. Paul the majestic, the royal, once uttered this mean petition—"that it might depart from me." What was the answer? The answer was greater than the prayer. God's answers always humble our petitions by their excess of donation, inspiration, and blessing:—And the Lord said unto me, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." It is better to wrestle under the inspiration of the grace of God than to live a merely negative life, of having no temptation, and no thorn in the flesh, and no difficulty in the life. Yet we want to pray God day by day that we may have nothing to do. Our prayer would seem to be run into this mean form; Lord, kill the devil; take away temptation: let me know no more of the solicitude that plagues my life; but give me perfect immunity from all the disasters and assaults and perils that have hitherto beset my struggling life. That is meanness. The great bold heroic prayer is—Lord give me grace to fight this also; in thy power I can trample down a thousand; I am but a little one, but if thou wilt fight in me, I shall put ten thousand to flight, I shall burn the gates of the city of the enemy, and come back laden with spoil taken from the hand of the foe; give me more suffering, if by it I can do better work; let the controversy increase in urgency, if by thy grace I can conquer the temptation and become mellow, tender, richer in all spiritual experience, and in all religious and sympathetic utterance. But we cannot begin with that prayer: such prayers are to be grown up to; the next thing after such prayers is music, triumph, heaven.

Now the Apostle passes out of the negative condition altogether, and says: "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2Corinthians 12:10). I have again found myself in a paradox. You Corinthians and you Galatians will always think me paradoxical:—I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God—it is not a flesh life at all: and now when I am weak, then am I strong; when I have nothing, I have all things. To the pedant, these are paradoxes, literal contradictions, fine food for the dainty stomach of ill-favoured and ill-natured criticism: but in the higher ranges of experience they are the commonplaces of the spiritual life; for now the Christian is as low as earth, and now high as heaven; now midnight is midday, and now midday is midnight.

Then the Apostle takes himself to task and says,—

"I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches?" (2Corinthians 12:11-13).

He turns upon the Corinthians now. When a man has treated himself in a right way his back-stroke upon the foe is like the stroke of a battering-ram. Let me see, as if the Apostle would say, wherein did I get wrong: I know it: I myself was not burdensome to you; I took no salary, I took nothing from you; I did not ask you to give me of your carnal things in return for my spiritual things—"forgive me this wrong." What a man he was! How many his moods! A man of a thousand faces, a man of a thousand tones of expression. He comes to this, that at last he sees where he got wrong. He says, I took nothing from you, I gave you my soul; and you gave me nothing—"forgive me this wrong." "I seek not yours, but you," and therefore yours. What a statesmanlike conception! "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you the less I be loved." There the Apostle parts company with us. But such deeds have been done by our elder brother, the Apostle Paul. We have not yet begun that course of high athletics. The more I love you, the less I be loved. I have laid down my very soul for you, yet you never gave me a crumb from your tables. I was wrong in not asking for it—forgive me this wrong.


"The particular nature of this Epistle, as an appeal to facts in favour of his own Apostolic authority, leads to the mention of many interesting features of St. Paul's life. His summary, in 2Corinthians 11:23-28, of the hardships and dangers through which he had gone, proves to us how little the history in the Acts is to be regarded as a complete account of what he did and suffered. Of the particular facts stated in the following words, 'Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one; thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep,'—we know only of one, the beating by the magistrates at Philippi, from the Acts. The daily burden of 'the care of all the churches' seems to imply a wide and constant range of communication, by visits, messengers, and letters, of which we have found it reasonable to assume examples in his intercourse with the Church of Corinth. The mention of 'visions and revelations of the Lord,' and of the 'thorn (or rather stake) in the flesh,' side by side, is peculiarly characteristic both of the mind and of the experiences of St. Paul. As an instance of the visions, he alludes to a trance which had befallen him fourteen years before, in which he had been caught up into paradise, and had heard unspeakable words. Whether this vision may be identified with any that is recorded in the Acts must depend on chronological considerations: but the very expressions of St. Paul in this place would rather lead us not to think of an occasion in which words that could be reported were spoken. We observe that he speaks with the deepest reverence of the privilege thus granted to him; but he distinctly declines to ground anything upon it as regards other men. Let them judge him, he says, not by any such pretensions, but by facts which were cognizable to them (2Corinthians 12:1-6). And he would not, even inwardly with himself, glory in visions and revelations without remembering how the Lord had guarded him from being puffed up by them. A stake in the flesh (σκόλοψ τή σαρκί) was given him, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be exalted above measure. The different interpretations which have prevailed of this σκόλοψ have a certain historical significance, (1) Roman Catholic divines have inclined to understand by it strong sensual temptation. (2) Luther and his followers take it to mean temptations to unbelief. But neither of these would be 'infirmities' in which St. Paul could 'glory.' (3) It is almost the unanimous opinion of modern divines—and the authority of the ancient fathers on the whole is in favour of it—that the σκόλοψ represents some vexatious bodily infirmity (see especially Stanley in loco). It is plainly what St. Paul refers to in Galatians 4:14 : 'My temptation in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected.' This infirmity distressed him so much that he besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from him. But the Lord answered, 'My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.' We are to understand therefore the affliction as remaining; but Paul is more than resigned under it, he even glories in it as a means of displaying more purely the power of Christ in him. That we are to understand the Apostle, in accordance with this passage, as labouring under some degree of ill-health, is clear enough. But we must remember that his constitution was at least strong enough, as a matter of fact, to carry him through the hardships and anxieties and toils which he himself describes to us, and to sustain the pressure of the long imprisonment at Cæsarea and at Rome."—Smith's Dictionary of the Bible.

In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;

2Corinthians 11:26

Let us talk a little about what is known as environment. Men are apt to think they would be better if their circumstances, their surroundings, were of another kind and quality. They do not go in upon themselves, and say, We are to blame. They look outside and say, If the house were larger, if the circumstances were pleasanter, if the neighbourhood were other than it is, one could live and grow, and realise a large measure of happiness. There is no greater delusion. We must get rid of that delusion before we can make any real progress in life. All history shows us that whatever a man's environment may be, he can conquer it, he can rise above it; or he can respond to it in the degree in which it is Divine, beautiful, and fascinating. Where did man first fall, according to the biblical history? Was it in some narrow, ill-lighted street? Was it in some swamp, or wilderness? What was the environment in the first case? There is your answer to the foolish and often wicked sophism that there is no fault in you, but the fault lies wholly in the circumstances, and if you were only surrounded as you would like to be, there would be no better man. The Bible tells us that our first parents fell in a garden; fell in Paradise; fell where the air was clear, where the skies were blue, where the rivers fourfold threw back all the beauty of heaven. That is your answer. It was possible to fall in Eden. Therefore do not say that if you were in Eden you would be safe. Pay some respect to the monitions of history. Always allow within the scope of your reasoning a place for facts.

Men say that, if they were only in the city, at the very centre of civilisation, if they had the security of social life as it is to be found in the metropolis of any country, all would go well. The Apostle Paul answers that in our text, "In perils in the city." You thought you would be safe in the city. There is no place so unsafe. We are not aware that God ever built any city; the city-builder was a man of poor fame. Here is Paul in all kinds of cities, classical, advanced, thoughtful, immoral; and he says he was "in perils in the city." Men think that if they could be only in the city, in the metropolis, where there is an abundance of literature, where all kinds of galleries are open to the people—picture-galleries, museums, art-repositories, music of every hue and range—then they would have something to think about, and to engage their attention, and to divide at least the intensity of the temptations by which souls are besieged. Paul says, let us repeat again and again, "In perils in the city." The city grows its own weeds; the city opens its own fountains of poison-water. It is almost impossible to get to heaven from the city: blessed be God for that word "almost"; it is beautiful as a path lying through a wilderness, or trackless forest. We do not need much path to walk upon, if we want to get away; we do not stand and say, If this road were large, if it were sixty feet wide, if it were well macadamised, we would not mind taking it, in order to get clear of this difficulty or perplexity. The moment we see one little footprint, the moment we see what may even be little more than a sheep-track, away we fly, because we want to get rid of danger, and we want to get into security, and we do not wait until a great broad turnpike is made, or where there is a path specially made by other human feet; we enlarge the whole occasion into an opportunity of deliverance, we seize it, and realise it, and fly for our lives. Why do we not do the same in all moral difficulty, in all moral danger? The "city" may be taken as representing all cities; we are not speaking about a city, a particular or specific city, but about the city,—the place where men do gather together in great crowds—the centres of population. The city is eating out the best life of the nation.

We should be surprised, it a true census could be taken, how much evil is being done by men whom we do not suspect as connected with any evil at all. The public journals very often contain painful illustrations of this. A man has been found in circumstances of criminality. He has been detected; and to the surprise of the whole town he is found to be a man somewhat noted for activity in Christian service. He wore his religion as a cloak, nobody would suspect him, and he therefore could play the burglar without suspicion. When will a true census be taken? When will every man be classified in the right category? God forbid we should ever see the lists, it would shock our faith in man, it might shatter our faith in God.

"In perils in the city." Yet how many of these perils do we make ourselves, and how eagerly do we avail ourselves of many an open door that invites us to enter and go down to hell! I have seen this in the city—namely, young men, certainly not five-and-twenty years of age, before ten o'clock in the morning going into public-houses. Not vagabonds, but men who were evidently going to some kind of business afterwards, well-dressed young men. What would you say about an instance of that kind, except that it means ruin? I do not care who the man is; no man can indulge in a practice of that kind, and be either a good man or a good man of business, a good citizen or a good neighbour, or a good member of any family; certainly he can never secure success. There is something vitally wrong there; the end of that course is death. I know of young men who have had their homes broken up and their families scattered, because of this same temptation and yielding to it. Men have said, under other circumstances, men who have read a good deal, and men who are not indisposed to certain kinds of Christian practice, that the evil power has got such a hold upon them that it laughs at them, and says in effect, You cannot pass this inn. And the man says, I will go by this bar to-day. Ten yards off he prays that he may get past it; five yards nearer he thinks he has received an answer to prayer; two yards, and still his will seems equal to the occasion; when suddenly, as if the whole air had become a tempter, he is arrested and turned in, and a spirit of mockery laughs in the wind, because he has once more stooped over the pit, and told the devil to reckon upon him as one of his black army. You cannot trifle with that state of affairs. You cannot begin a little reform now and a little then. You must throw your enemy now I "In perils in the city." What a temptation there is there to bet and gamble and trifle with other people's money! You do not suppose that a young man makes up his mind to be a thief. In many instances he knows that he is honest in purpose, and he says that, if he can only succeed, no man shall lose a penny by him; he will only back his own judgment against some other man's judgment. He says, "What harm can there be in my setting up my sagacity against the sagacity of some other man? He says that such and such issues will take place, I say they will not take place, we stake a hundred pounds upon the consequence: have I not a right to back my judgment against his?" No, you have not; you have no right to do anything that will burn up your brain; you have no right to give yourself a fever; you have no right so to strain your nervous system that you will lose every faculty of manhood, and subject yourself to all the humiliation of the most pitiable imbecility. The question does not lie between A and B, between this man and that man; the question touches the whole universe, and no man has any right to do anything that will infect and vitiate the air of society. You cannot be fortunate in betting and gambling. Do not say that you know instances in which men have made tens of thousands of pounds, and are in great prosperity. There are no such instances. They may have all the pounds, but they have not the prosperity. They cannot enjoy them; they are living a false life, their whole life is set in a false key, and if they had all the millions that are in the repositories of the banks of the world they would still be poor miserable, despicable creatures. There is no prosperity in wickedness. It looks like prosperity, it has all the appearance of it, but though the men you speak of be clothed in purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day, it all ends in "He died, he was buried, and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment,"—a poor ending, a miserable dénouement. Oh, to have lived to this catastrophe!—tell me, is it worth your while? You say you only bet a little. That is impossible. A man cannot bet a little. It may be little merely as to the nominal amount, little in an arithmetical sense, but when a man bets his soul is the wager; the devil will take nothing less. The sixpence you bet is the earnest that your soul is coming. Do not think you can trifle with the spirit of evil, and succeed; do not imagine that you, poor lad, a boy, can go out and talk such eloquence to that old serpent the devil, that you will be able to convert him. He has no pity, he has nothing within him that can be appealed to by human reason and human need, he lives to destroy. Resist the devil, and he will flee from thee.

Then what do men say? They continue in this fashion,—namely, If I could only get away from the city. I have such young men now as my clients and appellants for pastoral direction and friendly sympathy. If I could only get away from the city, if I could get into the country somewhere, if I could get into some quiet place, then all would be well. Paul says, "in perils in the wilderness." There is the contrastive word. If he ran away from the city that he might find security and peace in the wilderness, he made a mistake and he confesses it. Observe the obvious and tremendous contrast—"In perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness"—in the solitude, in the great emptiness; as much peril in the wilderness as there is in Cheapside, as much peril in the desert as there is in the Stock Exchange. "In perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness." How often in passing through beautiful places have we said, Surely there must be peace in. that habitation and in yonder dwelling: how lovely the situation! see the flowers creeping all over the windows, see the roses drooping over the doorway; hear the birds, how they sing, and lilt, and trill: here and there surely unrest is impossible, and sin must be unknown. Hear the Apostle Paul,—"In perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness;" let the word "wilderness" stand for solitude, for peacefulness, for all that is typical of being secured from the ravages of so-called civilisation. Go where you will, you will find the devil has been there before you. There are great perils even in solitude: in fact, it is possible that solitude may be the greatest peril of all. It is the voice of history that the devil comes to men individually, and not to them in crowds only. All the great tragedies are connected with individual instances. The woman was walking alone, and the serpent said unto her—but one life—"Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" The devil entered into Cain: the devil entered into Judas: the devil finds out the individual case that will serve his interests most, through which he can do the largest amount of mischief, and there he works with characteristic, with indomitable, and often successful, energy. Solitude gives us a false standard of self-judgment. A man becomes important in the sense in which he dwells alone. If he never speaks to anybody but himself and to those who may be a little lower than he is, see how he fattens on his own conceit; what a man of judgment he is, and what a man of authority! he is monarch of all he surveys; he never goes outside his own limitation, and therefore he feeds himself with vanity, and he knows not that he is poor and weak as other men. See how soon he is offended; observe what a distaste he has for the society of mankind. All his judgments are thus judgments of mental vanity and conceit; they want largeness, massiveness; they want the education of attrition, friction, conflict. It is only by man meeting man, comparing himself with his fellow-men, seeking the judgment of higher minds than his own, that he becomes chastened, and thus ennobled; rebuked, and thus elevated.

Observe, then, that circumstances cannot give us security. You thought that, when you made ten thousand pounds, you would be perfectly secure. No man ever rested content with ten thousand pounds, or ten million pounds; there was always another sovereign which some other man had, which he wanted; there was always another field which, if he obtained, would beautifully sphere out his estate; and going after fields is like going after the horizon, there is always "another." Do not imagine that if you were rich you would be good, or even that if you were in strong, robust health you would be without vice; understand that the true environment is within, and understand that it is indwelling that Christ promises to us. He does not promise a cordon of security, as a belt of armed men; he promises that he will come and his Father will come and sup with the man, and will abide with the heart. That is the environment, the spiritual association, the noble sympathy with noble thought. Let no man be discouraged because of his environment. You say, What can a young man do in my circumstances? He can do everything through Christ strengthening him. A short time since I met the man who is the hero, and justly the hero, of the hour. I refer to the great African traveller. What has he done? He has shamed many of us. We thought we were doing much, but having read his record we feel that we have been doing nothing, compared with what he has done, by courage, by resoluteness, by self-denial, by heroic ideals. He was born under circumstances which might well have discouraged any man; the universe must look very small and poor and distressful from the workhouse window. If men begin to sit down and say, What can I do with only five shillings a week? what can I do with only a workhouse education? what can I do with people such as these round about me? they will never come to anything. A man must not look at his surroundings, but he must look at his universe and at God enthroned above its riches and forces; and he must say, It is my business by the blessing of God to take hold of circumstances and twist them and bind them, and round them into a garland or a diadem. So long as history is accessible, all your moaning and whining about your circumstances must amount to nothing. It may be difficult to find any great and grand man as to circumstances who ever did anything very great; or, if he did it, he often did it through the instrumentality of men that were of no account. I find that our hero of the hour has written it that he received a workhouse training. There he stood, physically not tall, and not imposing-looking. What have these great grand men around him done? Dined with him!

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

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