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12. Paul's Vision and His Thorn

It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2I 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. 3And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) 4How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 5Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. 6For 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. 7And 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. 8For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9And 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. 10Therefore 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.

11I 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. 12Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. 13For 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. 14Behold, 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. 15And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. 16But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile. 17Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? 18I 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? 19Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying. 20For 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: 21 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.

7. And lest through the superiority of revelations. Here we have a second reason — that God, designing to repress in him every approach to insolence, subdued him with a rod. That rod he calls a goad, by a metaphor taken from oxen. The word flesh is, in the Greek, in the dative 898898     Selon le Grec il faudroit dire A la chair;” — “According to the Greek, we would require to say, To the flesh. Hence Erasmus has rendered it “by the flesh.” I prefer, however, to understand him as meaning, that the prickings of this goad were in his flesh.

Now it is asked, what this goad was. Those act a ridiculous part, who think that Paul was tempted to lust. We must therefore repudiate that fancy. 899899     Il faut reietter loin ce songe;” — “We must put far away from us that dream.” Some have supposed, that he was harassed with frequent pains in the head. Chrysostom is rather inclined to think, that the reference is to Hymeneus and Alexander, and the like, because, instigated by the devil, they occasioned Paul very much annoyance. My opinion is, that under this term is comprehended every kind of temptation, with which Paul was exercised. For flesh here, in my opinion, denotes — not the body, but that part of the soul which has not yet been regenerated. “There was given to me a goad that my flesh might be spurred up by it, for I am not yet so spiritual, as not to be exposed to temptations according to the flesh.”

He calls it farther the messenger of Satan on this ground, that as all temptations are sent by Satan, so, whenever they assail us, they warn us that Satan is at hand. Hence, at every apprehension of temptation, it becomes us to arouse ourselves, and arm ourselves with promptitude for repelling Satan’s assaults. It was most profitable for Paul to think of this, because this consideration did not allow him to exult like a man that was off his guard. 900900     Ceste consideration ne luy donnoit point le loisir de s’egayer, comme vn homme sans souci, mais l’admonestoit de se tenir sur ses gardes;” — “This consideration did not allow him leisure to sport himself, like a man that is devoid of care, but warned him to be upon his guard.” For the man, who is as yet beset with dangers, and dreads the enemy, is not prepared to celebrate a triumph. “The Lord, says he, has provided me with an admirable remedy, against being unduly elated; for, while I am employed in taking care that Satan may not take advantage of me, I am kept back from pride.”

At the same time, God did not cure him by this means exclusively, but also by humbling him. For he adds, to buffet me; by which expression he elegantly expresses this idea. — that he has been brought under control. 901901     “Qu’il a este reprime et range a humilite;” — “That he has been restrained and brought down to subjection.” For to be buffeted is a severe kind of indignity. Accordingly, if any one has had his face made black and blue, 902902     Si quelq’vn a este tellement frappe au visage, que les taches noires y demeurent;” — “If any one has been struck on the face, in such a way, as to leave black marks upon it.” he does not, from a feeling of shame, venture to expose himself openly in the view of men. In like manner, whatever be the infirmity under which we labor, let us bear in mind, that we are, as it were, buffeted by the Lord, with the view of making us ashamed, that we may learn humility. Let this be carefully reflected upon by those, especially, who are otherwise distinguished by illustrious virtues, if they have any mixture of defects, if they are persecuted by any with hatred, if they are assailed by any revilings — that these things are not merely rods of the Heavenly Master, but buffetings, to fill them with shame, and beat down all forwardness. 903903     Toute orgueil et insolence;” — “All pride and insolence.” Now let all the pious take notice as to this, that they may see 904904     “Or ie prie maintenant sur cepassage tous fideles, qu’ils auisent;” — “But I entreat now in connection with this passage all believers to take notice.” how dangerous a thing the “poison of pride” is, as Augustine speaks in his third sermon “On the words of the Apostle,” inasmuch as it “cannot be cured except by poison.” 905905     “Veu qu’il ne pent estre guari que par d’autre poison;” — “Inasmuch as it cannot be cured except by another poison. And unquestionably, as it was the cause of man’s ruin, so it is the last vice with which we have to contend, for other vices have a connection with evil deeds, but this is to be dreaded in connection with the best actions; and farther, it naturally clings to us so obstinately, and is so deeply rooted, that it is extremely difficult to extirpate it.

Let us carefully consider, who it is that here speaks — He had overcome so many dangers, tortures, and other evils — had triumphed over all the enemies of Christ — had driven away the fear of death — had, in fine, renounced the world; and yet he had not altogether subdued pride. Nay more, there awaited him a conflict so doubtful, that he could not overcome without being buffeted. Instructed by his example, let us wage war with other vices in such a way, as to lay out our main efforts for the subduing of this one.

But what does this mean — that Satan, who was a

man-slayer 906906     Dr. Campbell, in his Translation of the Gospels, makes use of the term manslayer, as Calvin does here, and makes the following observations in support of this rendering: “The common term for murderer in the New Testament is φονεὺς. I have here made choice of a less usual name, not from any disposition to trace etymologies, but because I think it is not without intention, that the devil, as being not of earthly extraction, is rather called ἀνθρωποκτόνος than φονεὺς, as marking, with greater precision, his ancient enmity to the human race. When the name murderer is applied to a rational being of a species different from ours, it naturally suggests, that the being so denominated is a destroyer of others of his own species. As this is not meant here, the Evangelist’s term is peculiarly apposite. At the same time, I am sensible, that our word manslaughter means, in the language of the law, such killing as is, indeed, criminal, though not so atrocious as murder. But, in common use, it is not so limited. Heylyn says, to the same purpose — a slayer of men.” — Campbell on the Gospels, (Edin. 1807,) volume 2. — Ed. from the beginning, (John 8:44,)

was a physician to Paul, and that too, not merely in the cure of the body, but — what is of greater importance — in the cure of the soul? I answer, that Satan, in accordance with his disposition and custom, had nothing else in view than to kill and to destroy, (John 10:10,) and that the goad, that Paul makes mention of, was dipt in deadly poison; but that it was a special kindness from the Lord, to render medicinal what was in its own nature deadly.


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