Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.The Dignity of Suffering
2 Corinthians 12:5
It was a strange catalogue out of which St. Paul made his one solitary 'glory'—he, who could boast such learning, such teaching, such influence, such spiritual triumph as never, perhaps, fell to any other man! 'Thrice beaten,' 'stoned,' 'shipwrecked,' 'journeyings,' 'perils,' 'weariness,' 'painfulness,' 'watchings,' 'hunger,' 'thirst,' 'fastings,' 'nakedness,' 'weakness,' 'cares,' 'a thorn'. Never hero goes so low to gather all his laurels. He knew 'The Dignity of Suffering'—a truth good and great to know. God help us to learn the lesson.
I. At the Threshold.—The first thought which it is the duty and privilege of every Christian to think when he is passing into a trial is one full of dignity at the threshold: 'I am in the hands of God'. A man feels this—whether rightly or wrongly—more in his sorrows than he does in his joys. Sorrows generally drive us to our greatest thought. And strangely—though heaven is joy—we always feel nearer heaven when we are unhappy. I suppose it is because this world grows less—therefore the next grows greater. If you wish to elevate any pain or affliction, determine first that you will see nothing in it but the hand of God.
II. Suffering is always a Proof of Grace.—No skilful man ever puts a greater strain upon a machine than he knows it is able to bear. The severity of the stress is the proof of the excellence of the work. And, as Archbishop Leighton says, 'The pirate never attacks the empty vessel going out, but the rich argosy coming home'. The attack is the evidence of the good we carry. That man is worthy of all honour, and must command respect, who simply wears a calm aspect and a self-sustained deportment under all circumstances. But we go beyond that. It may have fallen to some of us to see—what is to my mind one of the most touching spectacles that any man can show—a person in great pain and sorrow and yet so sustained and ennobled by the Spirit in his own soul that he was not so much a receiver as an imparter of sympathy and the comforter and the guide and the helper of all about him.
III. The Dignity of our Lord's Bearing during His Last Agony.—Of all the noble spectacles man has ever seen, I know none to be compared for a moment with the grandness of our Saviour's bearing during His last agony—the last acts of that wonderful life.
(a) Hear Him as He utters that awful passage, in His unparalleled composure, in that pious argument with His own soul: 'Father, the hour is come!... Father, glorify Thy name'.
(b) And what dignity upon this earth was ever to be compared with the washing of the disciples' feet!
(c) And then that mandate of the King of kings, that sovereignty, ordering His own betrayal—'That thou doest, do quickly'.
(d) Or, see Him—that meek and oppressed Man, standing in such an attitude of innocence and patient holiness that, before its fascination, a whole ruffian band goes back and falls to the ground!
(e) And, when a prisoner at the bar, before the proud representative of Rome, not using any but the language of pity to that proud potentate: "Thou couldest have no power at all against Me'.
(f) And who cannot but see, and wonder, and admire the dignity of the Son of Man standing out against all the horrors of His cross in the strength of His one grand purpose! Then He so disengaged Himself that He could offer up that exquisite prayer for His murderers.
It is not the endurance only, or the love, or the power, or the peace of our suffering Master we are to study and copy, but it is the dignity, the dignity of Jesus!
Be like Him. Never degrade your own or another's suffering. The sufferers are the great ones of the earth. Be dignified in misery. There is no glory like abasement. There is no strength so great as infirmities coming from God and borne for God; and nothing more truly Christlike, or dignified, than the struggles of a lifetime of sorrow and suffering for Jesus Christ's sake!
Cut to the Quick
2 Corinthians 12:7
Let us consider:—
I. The Special Suffering of which the Apostle Complains.—(1) It was acute. Froude says that all Carlyle's troubles were imaginary; and very many of our troubles are that, or little more. Yet we have real misfortunes and sorrows, and occasionally these are profound and acute. Many misfortunes scratch the surface; a few times at least in life they search the depths and sting the soul. (2) It was unutterable. St. Paul does not disclose the character of his special sorrow, and commentators have sought in vain to pick the lock and reveal the hidden skeleton. But the great lesson to be learnt from the Apostle's silence is this, that there are sorrows in life which cannot be expressed. Superficial souls incapable of great grief will, upon the slightest provocation, fetch out their skeleton from its cupboard and dilate on its special features; but real griefs are sacred, and noble men are reticent. There is the silence of self-respect. There is the silence of delicacy. There is the silence of honour. There is the silence of affection. There is the silence of surprise and dismay. There is the silence of necessity. (3) It was incurable. Most troubles are forgotten with time, nay, time often gives them a tender grace, and it is not altogether sorrowful to recall them. But it is not thus with all our griefs: some of them are manifestly irremediable. (4) It was malignant. 'A messenger of Satan to buffet me.' We find most difficult to bear the sufferings which somehow make us most conscious of the presence and action of the powers of darkness.
II. The Design of the Apostle's Affliction.—(1) It contemplated his safety. 'Lest I should be exalted above measure.' Most subtle are the temptations of high spiritual estate; hard by are pitfalls and the valley of the shadow of death. (2) It designed his more complete strength. 'My grace is sufficient for thee.' 'When I am weak, then am I strong.' God takes away our natural strength, chastens the pride of our understanding and will, deprives us of worldly confidences and hopes, that He may reveal in us a new and Diviner strength. (3) It designed his larger service. We often see that through personal frailty and suffering men become more effective teachers of the highest truths—more pathetic painters, mightier poets, nobler preachers; and through his personal sorrows the Apostle was fitted for more effective service. Tens of thousands of God's people know that the blow which shattered them, and reduced them to what the world calls weakness, was the very providence that awoke in them a Diviner life, and fitted them for higher and holier service.
—W. L. Watkinson, The Bane and the Antidote, p. 247.
2 Corinthians 12:7
God saw that the Apostle was a better man with the thorn than he would have been without it. The prayer was heard, and the answer was 'No'. Who knows what sins and failures St. Paul was saved from, by the constant pricking of the warning thorn? Was it not, indeed, a fairy thorn in his flesh touching him at risky moments, as though endued with some warning power, a mystic spike plucked from the very Crown of Thorns itself? Who knows?
—E. E. Holmes, Prayer and Action, p. 12.
References.—XII. 7.—C. Bradley, The Christian Life, p. 393. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 238; ibid. vol. x. p. 118. XII. 7-9.—Brooke Herford, Courage and Cheer, p. 54. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1084. R. C. Trench, Sermons New and Old, p. 86. XII. 8, 9.—Expository Sermons on the New Testament, p. 204. XII. 9.—Newman Smyth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 97. J. C. Wright, The Record, vol. XXVII. p. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1287: and vol. lii. No. 2974. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 494. XII. 9.—G. H. Morrison. Christian World Pulpit, 22nd June, 1910. XII. 10.—C. F. Aked, The Courage of the Coward, p. 47. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 365. T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 139. S. H. Fleming, Fifteen-minute Sermons for the People, p. 190. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2050. XII. 11.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv. No. 1458. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 73. XII. 14.—J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 269. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 184; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 278.
2 Corinthians 12:14
In Luther's Table-Talk the following remarks are quoted under the heading 'Patres thesaurizent liberis:' Cordatus said: 'Many disapprove of this'. The Doctor [Luther] said: 'If our predecessors had left no treasures to us, what should we possess now? Today we might live in idleness, if we were not obliged by God's commandment to leave something to our children" [E. Kroker, Luther's Tischreden, 1903, p. 183]. Luther's words are the more noteworthy as he was generous almost to a fault in his gifts to those outside his own family. Like his co-worker Melanchthon, he could never allow a beggar to knock in vain at his door. Unlike Melanchthon, Luther possessed a wife with keen business instincts, and a steady determination to increase her husband's property.
References.—XII. 18.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 117. XIII. 1.—Ibid. vol. i. p. 401. XIII. 2-10.—Ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p. 234. XIII. 3-5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1788.
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.
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.
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.
For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
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.
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, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.
Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.
And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.
But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile.
Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you?
I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps?
Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying.
For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults:
And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.