2 Corinthians 12:7
or with these surpassingly great revelations. So to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
Sermons
Satan's Messenger; Or, the Thorn in the FleshR. Tuck 2 Corinthians 12:7
The Thorn in the FleshE. Hurndall 2 Corinthians 12:7
On Paul Being Caught Up to the Third HeavenF. W. Krummacher.2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Paul's VisionF. W. Robertson, M. A.2 Corinthians 12:1-10
St. Paul's Rapture and Thorn in the FleshJ. Leifchild, D. D.2 Corinthians 12:1-10
An Instructive ExperienceD. Fraser 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
Need of Humility Add the Means Appointed to Secure itC. Lipscomb 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Affliction an Antidote to TemptationC. F. Childe, M. A.2 Corinthians 12:7-11
Paul's Thorn in the FleshJ. A. Beet, D. D.2 Corinthians 12:7-11
Pride and its AntidoteT. Turner.2 Corinthians 12:7-11
Rejoicing At the Misfortunes of OthersA. K. H. Boyd, D. D.2 Corinthians 12:7-11
St. Paul's Thorn in the FleshF. W. Robertson, M. A.2 Corinthians 12:7-11
St. Paul's Thorn in the FleshJ. F. S. Gordon, M. A.2 Corinthians 12:7-11
The Temptation of St. PaulC. Bradley, M. A.2 Corinthians 12:7-11
The Thorn in the FleshW. Cardall, B. A.2 Corinthians 12:7-11
The Thorn in the FleshB. D. Johns.2 Corinthians 12:7-11
The Thorn in the FleshAbp. Trench.2 Corinthians 12:7-11
The Thorn in the FleshC. H. Spurgeon.2 Corinthians 12:7-11
The Thorn in the FleshW. Bird.2 Corinthians 12:7-11
The Thorn in the FleshW. Jay.2 Corinthians 12:7-11
The Thorn in the FleshR. Collyer, D. D.2 Corinthians 12:7-11
The Thorn in the Flesh, or Soul SchoolingD. Thomas, D. D.2 Corinthians 12:7-11


If the Lord Jesus passed from the baptism in the Jordan, and the dovelike descent of the Holy Ghost upon him, to the solitude of the wilderness and the assaults of the tempter; if he came down from the mount of transfiguration to witness the failure of the disciples to heal the lunatic boy, and to give expression to his sorrow in the words, "O faithless and perverse generation!" etc. - it is not surprising that an apostle should be sorely tried after his exaltation. New endowments must have new tests. New and larger grace must be immediately put off probation, since there are many probations in this one probation that have eternal issues. "Lest I" - this man in Christ, who fourteen years ago was prepared by special revelation for the toil and trial of his Gentile apostleship - "lest I should be exalted above measure;" and what was the danger? "The abundance of the revelations." Against that danger he must be fortified. If new endowments and new graces are instantly put on trial, and the conditions of life's general probation changed, then, indeed, a new check to guard against abuse of increased gifts must not be lacking. The man is not precisely the same man as before, nor is he in the same world that he previously occupied. Accessions of outward advantages, such as wealth and social position, are full of risks, but accessions of inward power are far more perilous. To preserve St. Paul from self-glorification, there was given him "a thorn in the flesh." First of all, the revelations were as to the fact itself to be kept a secret, and this was a means of humility, but the thorn in the flesh was added. What it was we know not, but it was a bodily infirmity that caused him much suffering. "This is significant. It is of the very nature of thorns to be felt rather than seen, and to appear trifling evils to all but those directly stung by them" (Dr. Bellows). It was "a messenger of Satan," though this does not imply that it was not under God's direction. The idea is that this "angel of Satan" was an impaling stake that produced severe and continued pain, and the reason therefore is twice stated, "lest I should be exalted above measure." So, then, it was not as an apostle, but as 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.







And lest I should be exalted above measure... there was given me a thorn in the flesh.
I. THESE VERSES TREAT OF CHRISTIAN TRIALS UNDER THE FIGURE OF A THORN IN THE FLESH. We should inquire not what the thorn was, but why it was sent. Some trials are evidently not of the nature of a thorn.

1. A thorn is a small, invisible cause of suffering; some secret trouble.

2. St. Paul's thorn was something evil, for he calls it a messenger of Satan. Pain can be blessed to us, but it is not in itself a blessed thing. Now the Bible calls these things evils, to be got rid of if possible. God does not command St. Paul to think the throb of his thorn enjoyable.

3. A thorn causes unvarying, incessant pain: to forget it is impossible. It seems perversely to come in contact with every obstacle. And some sorrows are for ever smarting; some blot on our birth, or some domestic incongruity which the man may forget at his labour; but the time comes when he must go home, and there is the thorn awaiting him.

II. THE SPIRITUAL USES OF THIS EXPERIENCE.

1. To make us humble. "Lest I should be exalted above measure." It is strange that pride is felt for those things over which we have the least control, and to which we have the least right. In the school the vain boy is not he who has amassed knowledge by hard toil, but he whose genius is often made an excuse for idleness. Hereditary rank, over which we have no control, and which demands that we should be more noble than other men, is often the cause of pride. He is not usually proud of wealth who has toiled for it, but rather he who has won it by a lucky speculation. The real hard worker is seldom proud; he has known so much of his ignorance, his weakness, in the hard work of acquiring. So in things spiritual. The proud man is he who dreams and lives in the third heaven, and is too grand to have to do with this low earth, and who substitutes his frames and fine feelings for good works. Now to bring all this down God sends thorns. Bitter penury will guard a man from extravagance; and great reverses from reckless speculation will often bring to experience the meanness of debt. There is no better humiliator than constant physical pain. By the constitution of our planet there are peculiar trials to our physical frame; in the temperate zone, biting frosts and cold; in the warmer climate, the serpent and the constant fever; everywhere there is the thorn in the flesh.

2. To teach us spiritual dependence. Liberty is one thing — independence another; a man is free, politically, whose rightful energies are not cramped by the selfish, unjust claims of another. A man is independent, politically, when he is free from every tie that binds man to man. One is national blessedness, the other is national anarchy. Liberty makes you loyal to the grand law, "I ought"; independence subjects you to the evil law, "I will." So also religious freedom emancipates a man from every hindrance which prevents his right action. Every Christian ought to be a free man, but no Christian is or ought to be independent. "Look not every man on his own things, but on the things of others." "Bear ye one another's burdens." "All things are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient," etc. Is that independence? There is no independence on earth; we are all dependent on the breath of God. Trial soon forces us to feel this. As well might the clouds that surround the setting sun, tinged with gold and vermilion, boast that they shine by their own light. So when we know ourselves aright we shall feel that we are strengthless and must depend entirely on His all-sufficient grace.

(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

I. THE APOSTLE'S TRIAL. "There was given to me," says he, "a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me."

1. Observe, he traces the dispensation to its appointment, "There was given to me." Affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground." "I was dumb," says David, "and opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it." "It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth Him good."

2. Observe further, that although St. Paul looks upon his trial as proceeding from God, he still denominates it the messenger of Satan. Does this appear strange? The bitter draught was only administered by Satan; it was prescribed by God. God appointed the evil, and Satan, by His permission, inflicted it. This is all that the devil can do.

II. But let us inquire into THE DESIGN OF THE APOSTLE'S AFFLICTION. As our heavenly Father gives every trial, so He has some object in view in giving them. "He doth not," says the prophet Jeremiah, "afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men." The Physician frequently, however, sends trials not to heal our spiritual maladies but to prevent them. "O Lord, Thou hast searched me and known me; Thou understandest my thoughts afar off." God does not, therefore, require that sin should manifest itself in the outward conduct in order to attract His notice; He beholds its secret risings in the heart; and often before the storm arises He drives us to a place of refuge.

III. THE APOSTLE'S CONDUCT UNDER HIS TRIAL. He did not give way to fretfulness or become sullen and dejected; he did not begin to quarrel with God, to charge Him foolishly, to murmur at His dealings, or to insinuate that the same end might have been attained by less severe means. Three things are deserving of notice in this prayer of the apostle.

1. The subject of it. He prayed that his affliction might be removed. To be patient and submissive under afflictive dispensations is plainly a Christian duty. But prayer for the removal of our trials is not inconsistent with submission under them.

2. And observe how he prayed —(1) Earnestly. "I besought the Lord." His was not a cold and lifeless prayer, the prayer of the formalist who is indifferent about its success.(2) Perseveringly. He besought the Lord thrice. He humbly resolved, like Jacob, to wrestle till he prevailed. He continued to knock till the door was opened.

3. Observe, further, to whom the apostle prayed. It was to Jesus Christ. This is evident, for St. Paul distinctly regards the answer as having come from the Saviour: "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me." And to whom should we fly in the hour of trial but to the same almighty Saviour, who "took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses"? He can enter into all the trials of His people. "We have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin."

IV. The next point for our consideration is, THE ANSWER RECEIVED BY THE APOSTLE. "And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." As our prayers are not always answered when we expect, so neither are they at all times answered in the way that we look for. Was it not the same thing to him whether his burden were removed or whether strength were given to sustain him under it? Nay, was it not infinitely better for him that the gold should remain in the furnace since it was promised that the fire should not destroy or injure but only refine it?

V. Notice in the last place HIS PIOUS RESOLUTION: "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." Earnestly as he had before desired the removal of his trial he desires it no longer.

(W. Cardall, B. A.)

These words teach us —

I. THAT THE EXERCISE OF SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE IS EXPEDIENT FOR THE BEST OF MEN. Paul required it. "Lest I should be exalted," etc.

1. Pride is a great spiritual evil.

(1)Most inimical to soul-progress. "Pride goeth before destruction," etc.

(2)Most offensive to God. "He resisteth the proud," etc.

2. Good men have sometimes great temptations to pride.

II. THAT THE MODE OF SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE IS SOMETIMES VERY PAINFUL. Paul was visited with a "thorn in the flesh." What the thorn was is a question for speculation; the idea is plain. Note —

1. That suffering stands connected with Satan. The great original sinner is the father of suffering.

2. That both suffering and Satan are under the direction of God. He makes them subserve the discipline of His people, the good of the universe, and the glory of His name.

III. THAT THE MEANS OF SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE ARE SOMETIMES MISUNDERSTOOD. Paul prays to be delivered from that which was sent for his good. Note —

1. The ignorance which sometimes marks our prayers. We often, it is to be feared, pray against our own interests like a patient seeking the removal of a medicine which alone could restore him. Do you pray for the recovery of a child? Should that child grow up to manhood he might perhaps break your heart; spread vice and misery through the entire circle of his life. There are some blessings which are positively promised by God, such as pardon, etc., for which we may pray not only "thrice," but incessantly; and there are others which we may esteem desirable, but which are not promised. These we must seek in submission to His will.

2. The kindness of God in not always answering our prayers. He knows what is best. He deals with us as a wise and merciful Father.

IV. THAT THE SUPPORTS UNDER SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE ARE ABUNDANT. "My grace is sufficient for thee," etc. Observe —

1. The nature of this support. What matters the weight of the burden if the "strength" is equal to bear it with ease! "As thy day so shall thy strength be."

2. The principle of the support — "Grace." It comes not from merit.

3. The influence of this support. "Most gladly therefore," etc.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

I. DISCIPLINE (ver. 7).

1. It was painful in its nature.

2. It was Satanic in its agency — "The messenger of Satan sent to buffet me." The devil has been the opponent of the good in all ages. Adam. David. Peter. Good out of evil.

3. It was counteracting in its influence — "Lest I should be exalted above measure." Counteraction a great principle in the economy of God. In the moral realm — "goodness and severity" of God. Man is prone to the excesses of despair and pride. Paul's old sin was self. The "besetting sin" before conversion threatens to reassume its old power after conversion. The balloon requires the weight of sandbags. Paul learnt the lesson of humility. He speaks of himself as one "not worthy to be called an apostle"; "less than the least of all saints"; "the chief of sinners." "Only two safe places for the believer," says an old preacher, "the dust and heaven, and of the two, the dust is the safer; for the angels fell from heaven, but no one was ever known to fall from the dust." One way from the valley of humility — upward, and that ends in eternal honour.

II. PRAYER (ver. 8).

1. The prayer was Divine in its object — "the Lord." Throne of grace the best resort in trouble. Men are foolish to attempt to carry their own burdens.

2. The prayer was earnest in its spirit — "I besought the Lord thrice."

3. It was ignorant in its request — "That it might depart from me." The "thorn" was not pleasant, but it was profitable. Trials are blessings in disguise. Zigzag is often better than straight — though not so easy. Trials bring triumph, and losses gain. A forest in Germany was consumed by fire, but underneath a precious vein of silver was discovered.

III. SUPPORT (ver. 9).

1. Its nature — "My strength." Conscious weakness is God's instrumentality. Thus there is not the shadow of a doubt who the real worker is. God, not man, to have the glory. "Moses' rod" used to divide the Red Sea. A cannon in itself is a lifeless piece of iron; but when loaded with ball and powder and the spark applied, the ball becomes a thunderbolt, and the powder a flash of lightning, then the fortress comes crashing in ruins to the ground.

2. Its principle — "My grace." Trials of grace are supports of grace.

3. Its effect (ver. 10)."Rejoice in tribulation." Tunnel leads to the terminus. Why should we complain and despair? Let us remember the Master, whose brow was pierced with a crown of thorns.

(B. D. Johns.)

I. SIGNAL MANIFESTATIONS OF DIVINE FAVOUR ARE APT TO BEGET SPIRITUAL PRIDE. It was after he had been signally honoured that Haman began to boast. In like manner, it was after Paul had witnessed the glory of heaven that he was in danger of being elevated "above measure."

II. AFFLICTION IS INTENDED TO PREVENT AS WELL AS TO RECOVER — "Lest I should be," etc. The prophet Hosea, when speaking of the infatuated inclination of Israel to wander from the Lord, tells us that God determined to hedge her way with thorns, and make a wall about her, that she shall not find her paths. And in this is the goodness of God, as well as His severity, made manifest.

III. GOD OVERRULES THE IMMEDIATE ACTIONS OF SATAN FOR HIS OWN GLORY AND GOOD OF HIS PEOPLE. Our text tells us of Satan casting out Satan. St. Paul was preserved from spiritual pride by a "messenger of Satan."

IV. PRIDE IS AN OBJECT OF GOD'S UTTER AVERSION.

(J. F. S. Gordon, M. A.)

1. We have an apostle in danger.

2. We have Christ using means to protect His servant.

3. We have the wonderful effect of the means which Christ used.The danger was a real one. This thorn in the flesh was no needless pain. Given by God, it could never have come without necessity. It was a real spiritual danger which confronted St. Paul. But how? St. Paul tells us that the danger was lest he should be exalted above measure, lest his spiritual joy at the revelations should pass into spiritual pride. It is undoubtedly strange that revelations from God should expose His servants to such danger. Some say that it is impossible that it should be so; that spiritual light could never be a danger, or at least not in the case of such a man as St. Paul. St. Paul knew better; he knew that whatever lifts a man above his fellows is in danger of lifting him too far, exalting him above measure. The lesson here is that even God's best gifts may expose to danger. Illustrations of this may be seen every day in modern life, and the preacher cited the case of a man who had been God's instrument in the salvation of many souls whose own soul was damaged by it. He learned to boast of his power and fell, and died an awful death. St. Paul knew his peril, and, what is more, he acknowledged it. The means employed to protect St. Paul was a gift from God, though a messenger of Satan. We see that it came from God by reason of the aim for which it was sent. Here, then, we have the wary eye of the Great Shepherd on the watch for the good of His servant. This "thorn in the flesh" was an abiding pain. Three times had the apostle prayed for its removal. At the same time it was something which could be removed, or why the prayer? St. Paul obtains a completely new view of life. The one thorn has explained to him all forms of suffering, and now he takes pleasure in them. Though some of his afflictions came by bad men, he recognises them as a gift of God; and this thorn, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, is transformed into a minister of heaven. Many seem handicapped in their life-work by pain and suffering in themselves and others. Take the case of a young man whose sick mother seemed to be a burden to his every effort. In the light of the text we see that that sickness may be, instead of a burden, the very ballast the young man needs to ensure his safety.

(J. A. Beet, D. D.)

I. THE TEMPTATION OF PAUL.

1. This was probably some physical infirmity, and if it did not obstruct him in his ministerial labours, it rendered them difficult and distressing. He was like a workman whose hand was smarting from a festering wound, or like a traveller with a foot lacerated and lamed. And his affliction was aggravated by the advantage Satan took of it. The Lord put in the thorn, and for gracious purposes; but Satan endeavoured to defeat those purposes by turning the thorn into a temptation. And so Satan may make our afflictions as well as our blessings snares to us or poisons, instead of medicines and blessings. And the apostle represents it as striking and bruising him, and thus felt disgraced.

2. And how many of us can feelingly place ourselves in St. Paul's situation! We have had thorns in our flesh, shameful marks which the world has seen. Sometimes we are ready to say when suffering under any of these, "Were we really the servants of Christ, it would not be thus with us," and a scoffing world may say the same; but here is one of the most beloved, honoured, of all the Lord's servants in the same situation as we. And the Bible and Church history show that it has been the lot of the holiest men.

II. ITS DESIGN. "Lest I should be exalted." These words show us —

1. That the Lord foresees any spiritual danger that is coming on us.

2. That the Lord often graciously guards against the danger He foresees. He sends us affliction sometimes, not to chasten us for having fallen into sin, or to recover us out of it, but to keep us out of it.

3. That the Lord sometimes keeps off evil from us by Satan's efforts to bring us into evil; He overrules temptation by temptation. We shall never know how much we are indebted to Satan till we are safe in heaven, and look back there on all the perilous way which has led us to it.

4. How offensive sin is in the sight of God! He will afflict the servant He loves, rather than allow him to fall into it.

5. What a load of suffering the mere tendency to pride within our souls may bring on us!

6. What danger we are all in of yielding to this hateful and tormenting sin.

III. PAUL'S CONDUCT UNDER IT (ver. 8). One end why the Lord sends us temptation is to quicken us to prayer. When all is smooth the spirit of prayer too often declines. Here, too, is a practical carrying out of the truth on which this apostle is so often dwelling — the ability and willingness of Christ to sympathise with us when suffering and to help us.

IV. THE RESULT.

1. A virtual denial of his request. Twice he prays — no answer comes. Here then was a deathblow to all Paul's hopes of relief. It was like telling him that he must carry his thorn down to the grave. But this is the way in which the Lord often answers His praying people. We know not what to pray for as we ought. We give way to sense and feeling. But though we may not know what to ask, the Lord well knows what to give. Hence He sifts our prayers before He answers them, sees whether they correspond with our necessities and His purposes. Instead of giving us relief He gives us strength; He leaves the burden on us heavy as ever, but He places His everlasting arm underneath us, and causes it so to bear us up, that we hardly feel our burden.

2. A complete change in the view he took of his affliction. Before he regarded it as an evil to be, if possible, got rid of; but now, observe, he has learnt to "glory" in it and "take pleasure" in it. "My infirmities bring glory to Christ, then let me keep them."

(C. Bradley, M. A.)

Apply this to —

I. TEMPORAL CIRCUMSTANCES.

1. If we examine closely the lot even of those who seem the most signally favoured of fortune, we shall perceive that their happiness is not full-orbed. Something is wanting. He is rich, but a stranger, it may be, shall inherit all that he has. He is famous in the world, but has no joy at his domestic hearth. A noble career opens to him, but health fails. Fortune seems to give everything, but yet in a strange irony withholds the one thing which would make all the rest to have any true value. This, of course, is still more observable with the many who are not so favoured; everywhere there is some good thing withheld or some sad thing added, some "thorn in the flesh." It is sometimes evident to all the world, in other cases only the sufferer himself knows.

2. How easy it is to grow impatient under a discipline such as this — at first to ask that it might be removed, and then if, as it seems, we are not heard, to fret and murmur. Very often a man is the more irritated because there is nothing romantic or heroic about it. Alas! we do not know that such messengers as these to humble us are a most important part of the discipline of our lives. It takes very little to puff up these vain hearts of ours. The "thorn in the flesh," that is the appointed means to keep us low.

II. SPIRITUAL LIFE. There is perhaps nothing which so much disappoints the young and earnest Christian as the slow progress which he makes in holiness, and his exposure to temptations of the lowest, the meanest kind. He had hoped that he was to travel on from one height of Christian attainment to another without hindrance. He, too, having been in his third heaven, counts that he shall never come down from it, or at any rate does not expect that henceforth he shall be liable to the everyday vulgar temptations which he sees to be besetting so many round him. Soon, however, he learns his mistake. God has provided some better thing, not release from temptation, but victory in and over temptation.

(Abp. Trench.)

Many desire to gaze on the secret lives of eminent personages. For once we are able to gratify curiosity, and yet minister to edification. We are plainly taught how mistaken we are when we set eminent saints upon a platform by themselves, as though they were a class of superhuman beings. Paul enjoyed more revelations than we have, but then he had a corresponding thorn in the flesh. He was a good man, but he was only a man. Note —

I. A DANGER to which the apostle was exposed .... "Lest I should be exalted above measure."

1. It was natural that he should stand in danger of this. When God lifts us up we may lift up ourselves, and then we fall into serious mischief. How many among us could bear to receive such revelations as Paul had? Now, if Paul was in this danger, so holy, humble, wise, and experienced; if so massive a pillar trembles, what peril surrounds poor reeds shaken of the wind! Observe that in Paul's case the temptation was not one which operates in the common, coarse way. It was that he should say within his own soul, "I have seen as others have not. I am the favourite of heaven."

2. Now, although in Paul's particular form of it, this temptation may not be common, yet in some shape it waylays the best of Christians.(1) Every man loves the commendation of his fellow-men. It is vain for us to boast of not caring about it; we do care about it, and our duty is to keep that propensity in check.(2) There are some men in whom self-consciousness is so strong, that it will come up in the form of being very easily annoyed because they are overlooked, or in being easily irritated because they fancy that somebody is opposing them.(3) Others who, because they have more real spiritual knowledge, and a deeper inward experience when they hear the prattle of young beginners, or the blunders of saints, cannot help saying to themselves, "Thank God, I do know better than that." They have probably also been successful in sacred work, a legitimate source of rejoicing, but a temptation to boastfulness. Among the flowers of gratitude will grow the hemlock of pride.

3. None of the things we have spoken of are justifiable grounds for boasting. What if a believer should have received more Divine illuminations than his fellow? Did not the Lord give them to him? There are two beggars in the street; I give one a shilling and the other a penny; shall the man who obtains the shilling be proud, and glory over his companion? Generally the loudest boasting is excited by accidental circumstances.

4. It is dangerous for a Christian to be exalted above measure, for if he be —(1) He will rob God of His glory, and this is a high crime and misdemeanour.(2) It is equally evil to the Church. Had Paul been lifted up he would have become the leader of a sect; the rival rather than the servant of Jesus.(3) It would have been bad for ungodly sinners, for proud preachers win not men's hearts. He who is exalted in himself will never exalt the Saviour.(4) It would have been worst of all for the apostle himself, for pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

II. THE PREVENTATIVE.

1. Note every word here.(1) "There was given to me." He reckoned his great trial to be a gift. You have not one single article that is a better token of Divine love to you than your daily cross.(2) "A thorn." A thorn is —

(a)But a little thing, and indicates a painful but not a killing trial.

(b)Yet it is almost a secret thing, not very apparent to any one but the sufferer.

(c)A commonplace thing, such as might grow in any field and fall to any man's lot — nothing to make a man remarkable.

(d)One of the most wretched intruders that can molest our foot or hand. Those pains which are despised because they are seldom fatal, are frequently the source of the most intense anguish — toothache, headache, earache, what greater miseries are known to mortals?(3) "In the flesh." The evil had an intimate connection with his body. Each expositor seems to have selected that particular thorn which had pierced his own bosom. The apostle did not tell us what it was, perhaps that we may every one feel that he had sympathy with us — that ours is no new grief.(4) "The messenger of Satan." Not Satan, but one of Satan's errand boys. An encounter with Satan might not have humbled him. It is a grand thing to fight Satan face to face and foot to foot; but to be beset by a mere lackey of hell, to be tormented by so mean an adversary, this was galling to the last degree, and therefore all the better for the purpose for which it was sent.(5) To buffet, i.e., to cuff him. Not to fight with him with the sword; that is manly, soldierly work; but to buffet him as pedagogues box the ears of boys.

2. This preventative was well adapted to work out its design, for assuredly it would recall the apostle from ecstacies. He said once, "Whether in the body, or whether out of the body, I cannot tell"; but the thorn in the flesh settled that question. He had dreamed, perhaps, that he was growing very angelic, but now he feels intensely human. This made him feel that he was —(1) A weak man, for he had to do battle with base temptations that seemed not worth fighting with.(2) A man in danger, and needed to fly to God for refuge.

3. From all this I gather —(1) That the worst trial may be the best possession; that the messenger of Satan may be as good as a guardian angel.(2) That the worst and deepest experience may only be the needful complement of the highest and the noblest; it may be necessary that if we are lifted up we should be cast down.(3) That we must never envy other saints. If we meet with a brother whom God blesses, let us not conclude that his pathway is all smooth. His roses have their thorns, his bees their stings.

III. THE IMMEDIATE EFFECT OF THIS THORN UPON PAUL.

1. It drove him to his knees. Anything is a blessing which makes us pray.

2. In this way Paul was kept from being proud. The revelation now seemed forgotten. A man does not want to tell pretty stories when sharp pains are goading him.

3. Paul continued to pray, till at last he received for an answer, not the removal of the thorn, but the assurance, "My grace is sufficient for thee." God will always honour our prayers, and sometimes it is a golden answer to deny us our request, and give us the very opposite of what we seek.

4. The result was that the grace given him enabled him to bear the thorn, and to glory that he was permitted so to suffer. Wish not to change your estate. Your heavenly Father knoweth best.

IV. THE PERMANENT RESULT.

1. It kept him humble always. Fourteen years rolled away, and the apostle never told anybody that he had been caught up into the third heaven. When he did tell it, it was dragged out of him.

2. It is no small matter when God sends a thorn in the flesh and it answers its end, for in some cases it does not. We have known some whom poverty has made envious, whom sickness has rendered petulant, whom personal infirmity has rendered rebellious against God. Let us labour against this, and if God has been pleased to put a fetter upon us in any shape, let us ask Him not to allow us to make this the occasion for fresh folly, but, on the contrary, to bear the rod and learn its lessons.Conclusion:

1. What a happy people God's people ought to be, when a curse becomes to them a blessing! If the thorn be a blessing, what must the blessing itself be?

2. What a sad thing it must be not to be a believer in Christ, because thorns we shall have if we are not in Christ, but those thorns will not be blessings to us. I understand drinking bitter medicine, if it is to make me well; but who would drink wormwood and gall with no good result to follow?

3. Remember that he who sent Paul thorns for his good once wore a thorn-crown Himself for the salvation of sinners; and if you will trust Him you shall be saved from the thorn of unforgiven sin, the fear of the wrath to come.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

The attempt to determine the exact nature of Paul's trial is like the attempt to ascertain the species of the lily Christ alluded to in the Sermon on the Mount. Scientific determination of the plant may be interesting to the botanist, but the lesson of trust in Providence can be learnt equally well from the daisy or violet. So here, many of the ills that flesh is heir to, can effect the same moral discipline produced by Paul's special affliction, if borne in the same spirit. There are, however, two figures applied to it in this passage, which partially characterise it. It was "a thorn in the flesh." Not a crushing stroke, but a protracted trouble, that seemed like a thorn that had buried itself below the skin, and caused a constant sense of irritation. It is also termed "a messenger of Satan" sent to "buffet" him. This expression recognises the frequent connection there is between suffering and moral evil. What is of more importance than a knowledge of the specific nature of "the thorn," is that Paul felt it was designed to produce spiritual results in his character. That Paul was a man of high spirit we gather from several incidents in his history; we also know that he was a man of fine sensibilities, and the combination of these two qualities form a temperament very apt to run into pride. It was not excessive self-esteem of the ordinary sort that constituted his special danger, but self-esteem in its most dangerous form of spiritual pride; exaltation above measure on account of the abundance of the revelations. Religious ecstacy is a gift rather than an acquirement, and those whose temperament leads to it are liable to plume themselves on this account on a supposed superiority to their fellow-Christians. As he could soar, while others had to remain on the level, he might be tempted to underestimate them and to overestimate himself. Whenever such feelings arose, there was the sharp pang of the thorn to recall him to himself, and remind him that he shared the infirmities of humanity. For just such a purpose does God frequently send a permanent trial. An excessive valuation of self is brought down by repeated failures in life, which remind us how narrow are the limits of human power. It was not at first that Paul comprehended the real meaning of his thorn in the flesh. His first impulse was to get rid of it, and he prayed to the Lord for its removal. Christianity never teaches us to value pain for its own sake, never represents it as good in itself. That is the idea of Indian fakirs or medieval monks. Don't press the thorn into the flesh; extract and throw it away if it is possible; but if all efforts are unavailing, then submit to it as to the will of God.

(W. Bird.)

Note —

I. PAUL'S DANGER. "Lest I should be exalted," etc. He was in danger of being raised too high —

1. For his usefulness as a minister. Paul had to do with poor mortals upon earth — what was the language of paradise to them? But when he spoke to them of thorns, and prayer, and sustaining grace, he was on their level.

2. For his present condition as a Christian. Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration exclaimed, "Master, it is good for us to be here," etc.; but he "knew not what he said." What would have become of his wife and family? As the Saviour does not pray that His followers should be taken out of the world by death, so neither does He draw them out of it by religion.

3. As a favourite of Heaven. Christians are not like the Holy One of God. Owing to the sin that dwelleth in us, we are in danger from everything around us; and therefore must walk circumspectly, and watch and pray.

II. HIS PRESERVATION. "There was given to me a thorn," etc. All creatures are in the Lord's hand, and under His control; He gave Joseph favour in the sight of the jailer; brought Elijah food by ravens; and sent Paul safety by Satan himself! Paul does not say, "Because I was exalted above measure," but "lest I should be." Affliction is designed to prevent as well as to recover. You were not vain and worldly — but God saw a train of circumstances which would flatter you into self-importance. He therefore determined to prevent the evil; and it is commonly said, Prevention is better than cure.

III. HIS PRAYER. Prayer is the refuge of the afflicted, and cannot be offered in vain; its very exercise brings succour. How does your affliction operate? Does it lead you to quarrel with instruments, or to commit your cause unto God? A man under sanctified affliction will "continue instant in prayer." Thus Paul besought the Lord thrice. The prayer of faith is always heard, but not always immediately answered. The reason is not that God is wanting in kindness, but that He exercises His kindness wisely. We are like children; we wish to gather the fruit while it is yet unripe. But He pulls back our impatient hand. The time of delay is often peculiarly trying. But "he that believeth maketh not haste."

IV. HIS ANSWER.

1. The answer does not apparently correspond with the petition. Paul prayed to have the thorn removed: to this God says nothing, but assures him of something unspeakably better. With regard to temporal things we cannot be too general in our prayers, or refer ourselves too much to the pleasure of God. For our prayers, like ourselves, are imperfect; nature sometimes speaks, without our being' aware of it, in the tone of grace. Hence God sometimes denies a request entirely; at other times He separates the good from the evil, and grants us a part; while frequently He answers by way of exchange. If a child was to ask of a father a fish, and he should give him a serpent, we should be shocked. But suppose the child, by reason of his ignorance, should ask for a serpent instead of a fish; we should then admire the father if he refused what he asked and gave him what he did not ask. Our Heavenly Father always gives according to what we ought to ask.

2. The answer is yet blessed and glorious. "My grace is sufficient for thee!" Sufficient for what? Write all thy wants underneath. Sufficient for —(1) Thy work, which often discourages thee. "As thy day, so shall thy strength be."(2) Thy warfare, which often alarms thee. But "more are they that are for thee than they that are against thee."(3) Thy affliction, which often depresses thee. But "When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee." It is sufficient

(a)To sanctify your afflictions.

(b)To render them supportable; yea, to enable you to "glory in tribulation also."

(W. Jay.)

This has been a thorn in the pulpit expositions of all the Christian ages. By carefully concealing it Paul has made all that want to be wise above what is written uneasy to find it out. But it cannot be of much use to us to know what it was, since the man who suffered from it did not care to tell us, and if we could know that it was a defect in his eyes, or his speech, or a pain in his head, or the want of a foot to his stature, that particular thorn would fasten us down to a particular experience, and we should lose the great general lesson. Note —

I. THE THORN IN THE FLESH OF OUR COMMON HUMANITY.

1. We cannot fail to see it in the greatest and noblest lives. It may be a mean thing, like Byron's club-foot, or as great a thing as Dante's worship of Beatrice, or a great vice, like that which held Coleridge and De Quincey, or only like the dyspepsia that darkened the vision of Carlyle. In David it was a great sin; in Peter it was the memory of that morning, when he turned his back on the noblest friend that ever a man had; in Luther it was a blackness of darkness, defying both physicians and philosophy; in Wesley it was a home without love, and a wife insane with jealousy, with an old love that was never permitted to bloom. We need not be anxious about Paul's mystery; some of these things hurt him, and made the poor manhood of him quiver, I was talking with a gentleman who knows intimately one of our greatest living Americans; and I said he must be one of the happiest of men. "There is that in his life," my friend said, "you do not see, and very few are aware of. I knew him a long time before I guessed it: it is a pain that he carries about with him like his shadow; not a bodily, but a mental pain, which he will carry with him to his grave."

2. And what the thorn is to these men in their great estate it may be to us in ours.(1) We feel the pain of personal defect, and very naturally, because the standard of physical beauty and perfection can no more be altered than the standard of geometry. We admire physical perfection. We notice and pity defects. To those who endure them they are a thorn in the flesh, bringing keen suffering and morbid brooding. I never blamed Byron for feeling as he did about his foot. The blame lay in his never summoning to the maimed part the strength that is made perfect in weakness.(2) Paul's thorn may have been a defect in his utterance. What a thorn it is to many that they can never adequately express their thought! "You will find him to be a great lumbering waggon, loaded with ingots of gold," Robert Hall said of John Foster in recommending him to a church, "and I hope you know gold when you see it, or else he will never do for you." They called him, and he failed, as he had failed elsewhere.(3) Nothing but Paul's saintliness has saved him from the guess that his thorn was some bad passion or appetite. Very sore is this pain, and very common. Children are sometimes born with appetites fatally strong. Old Dr. Mason used to say, as much grace as would make John a saint, would barely keep Peter from knocking a man down. I heard a man say once, that for eight-and-twenty years the soul within him had to stand, like an unsleeping sentinel, guarding his appetite for strong drink.

II. WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT? We can make the best of it, or the worst of it. If I find myself, e.g., in early life in the possession of a passion that is rapidly growing into a curse, I can submit to its dictate without a struggle, or I can stand up and fight it. There may be manliness where there is little grace. I can be so manly in bearing my burden that my silence shall be golden. "Did I break down? was I unmanned?" a great man said when the thorn in the flesh had hurt him so terribly that he lost his consciousness. He felt he must be a man even then.

III. WHAT CAN COME OF THE THORN IF WE FIND OUT PAUL'S WAY OF DEALING WITH IT. He bore his trouble man fashion, as well as he could; but then found himself unable to win much of a victory. The pain was there still, and he felt as if he would have to give way at last, and go down. So, in the simple old fashion, he took the matter into the Supreme Court, and said, "I want this thorn removed; I can bear it no longer." But the Judge said, "No, it must stay. To take it away would be to destroy the grace to which it points. I will not take the bane, but I will give you another blessing." Lately, when I crossed Suspension Bridge, I got talking with a gentleman about the crystallisation of iron. We agreed that every train which crossed the bridge did something to disintegrate the iron particles and break the bridge down, and that if this process could go on long enough, there would be a last train, which would shoot right down into the gulf. But long before this could come to pass all these strands and cables would be made over again in the fire and under the hammer, and come out as strong and good as ever. To take them out and then let them lie at rest on the banks would be no sort of use. The iron-masters would say, "That would make the strands eternally unfit for their purpose; the hammer and fire can make them better and stronger than ever." Is not this also the law of life, that the fineness and strength essential to our best being, and to make us do our best work, come by the thorn in the flesh, which may act in us as the fire acts in the iron, welding the fibre afresh, and creating the whole anew (as the apostle would say) unto good works?

(R. Collyer, D. D.)

We have all known people who had no greater enjoyment than to see an acquaintance taken down. The misfortune of a neighbour was a real blessing to these miserable creatures, and I have not the least doubt but that among people who knew St. Paul there would be a man here and there envious of the great apostle's gifts and usefulness, who would chuckle over the thorn in the flesh, who in his heart would rejoice at the suffering it caused the apostle. Yet who would not venture to express his secret exultation, but would go about saying, "Oh, that Saul of Tarsus needs it all. Very conceited man; do him a great deal of good. It will take him down; teach him sense; and he needs very much to be taught that!" Cannot you imagine how the envious, malicious, tattling gossips at Corinth would go about from house to house saying that kind of thing? Now, let none of us here give way to this wicked and contemptible fashion of thinking and talking

(A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)

Lest I should be exalted above measure
I. THE DANGER TO WHICH THE APOSTLE FELT HIMSELF EXPOSED, is that of being "exalted overmuch," or lifted up by pride. In one aspect of the case it seems that of all mere men St. Paul was the least likely to "fall into this snare of the devil." He was not accustomed to "boast of things without measure" (2 Corinthians 10:12, 13). "I have learned, in whatsoever estate I am, therewith to be content," etc. (Philippians 4:11-13). The life he lived, the suffering he bore, and the shame and reproach that were cast upon him, are not the things which generally cause men to be "puffed up." But, in another aspect, it is easy to discover in the apostle a disposition to "think of himself more highly than he ought to think." His spirit, though patient, serene, and humble, when under the influence of God's grace, was naturally proud and ambitious. His training, too, had fostered this spirit. His educational attainments were in no way despicable. And further, if we think of the manner in which some churches received him — as "an angel from heaven"; the profound respect in which he was held by some of his fellow-Christians, so that "if it had been possible, they would have plucked out their very eyes, and given them to him"; his equality with the chiefest of the apostles, and his almost unparalleled success in preaching the gospel, we shall have little difficulty in conceiving how Paul would be liable to regard himself as superior to most men of his day. This danger arose not from either of the things we have already named, as likely to produce self-glory, but from the abundance of the revelations God had given to him. And is it not so with ourselves? Our greatest successes are our greatest temptations. Failure humbles us.

II. GOD'S DESIGN IN GIVING PAUL "A THORN IN THE FLESH" WAS TO TEACH HIM A LESSON OF HUMILITY. Humility is the antithesis of pride, and it is also its antidote. It is a grace of the gospel of the choicest quality, and its cultivation is obligatory on all Christians. And yet humility is so repugnant to human nature, is a virtue so difficult of practice, that it seldom occupies its proper place, even in the heart of renewed man. Hence God has to humble us oftentimes by some painful trial.

(T. Turner.)

I. THE DESIGN OF THE TEMPTATION. The design of this temptation was to subdue the risings of spiritual pride, to which the apostle, from his peculiar circumstances, was peculiarly liable. No one will understand me as saying that this was the design of the tempter. Respecting him, as of Sennacherib of old, it might be remarked, "Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off." There is no recorded incident which conveys such a significant intimation of the utter depravity of the heart of man as the one under consideration. Here was a servant and apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ made a new creature in Christ Jesus, and living under the constant operation of the indwelling Spirit; yet with so much of remaining corruption, that an extraordinary measure of Divine favour would have provoked the pride and naughtiness of his heart but for the gracious provision made to counteract the danger. It teaches us that human nature, fallen nature, is the same under all circumstances. Subject it to what process you choose — put it into what alembic you may — translate it, if you will, in a chariot of fire into the third heaven — yet until that wondrous hour arrives, when we shall all be changed, and this corruptible shall put on incorruption, it will remain corrupt to the last. Let it not be supposed that it requires an equal amount of attainment and privilege to incur an equal liability to the suggestions of the evil one. Alas! which of us does not know that it needs no elevation into the third heaven to exalt us above measure? A little knowledge soon puffeth up.

II. To INVESTIGATE ITS NATURE.

1. A thorn;

2. The messenger of Satan; and —

3. Designed and calculated to buffet the apostle's spirit.In the text he characterises this temptation as "a messenger of Satan." And here the remark seems extorted, How few there are who realise the active agency of the prince of the power of the air in the same sense and to the same extent as did Christ and His apostles — now sowing tares in the Church — now sifting the apostles — now entering into Judas — now assaulting the Son of God Himself! But this is not the particular feature in his work of evil which the text suggests. He is represented as interfering (doubtless by sufferance of the Most High) with the daily providences, and outward circumstances, and bodily condition of our life.

III. What was his RESOURCE in this time of need? See wherein consists the real benefit of sanctified affliction. It sends you to your knees.

IV. Let us now notice the ANSWER GIVEN TO THE APOSTLE'S PRAYER.

V. Such was the apostle's case, and HIS AFTER-ESTIMATE OF THE WHOLE DISPENSATION was to that effect. "Blessed thorn which occasions the power of Christ to rest upon me!" Infinite strength sheltering perfect weakness. How grand, how comforting, how transporting the idea! God protecting a worm of the earth; nay, and strengthening it with might. Let me suggest this brief exhortation in conclusion.

1. Adore the gracious providence and consummate skill of the Most High in thus from seeming evil still educing good. Thus the Lord leads captivity captive, and Satan himself is in a manner transformed into an angel of light.

2. Lastly, learn to form a proper estimate of your afflictions, and to believe that, painful as it may be, the thorn which mortifies your pride, sends you to the throne of grace, and issues in praise, must be an unspeakable blessing.

(C. F. Childe, M. A.)

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