2 Corinthians 12
In this chapter the apostle proceeds in maintaining the honour of his
apostleship. He magnified his office when there were those who vilified
it. What he says in his own praise was only in his own justification
and the necessary defence of the honour of his ministry, the
preservation of which was necessary to its success. First, He makes
mention of the favour God had shown him, the honour done him, the
methods God took to keep him humble, and the use he made of this
2 Corinthians 12:1-10.
Then he addresses himself to the Corinthians, blaming them for what was
faulty among them, and giving a large account of his behaviour and kind
intentions towards them,
2 Corinthians 12:11-21.
|The Apostle's Rapture.
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1 It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to
visions and revelations of the Lord.
2 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.
3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the
body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard
unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
5 Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory,
but in mine infirmities.
6 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.
7 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.
8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might
depart from me.
9 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.
10 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.
Here we may observe,
I. The narrative the apostle gives of the favours God had shown him,
and the honour he had done him; for doubtless he himself is the man in
Christ of whom he speaks. Concerning this we may take notice,
1. Of the honour itself which was done to the apostle: he was caught
up into the third heaven,
2 Corinthians 12:2.
When this was we cannot say, whether it was during those three days
that he lay without sight at his conversion or at some other time
afterwards, much less can we pretend to say how this was,
whether by a separation of his soul from his body or by an
extraordinary transport in the depth of contemplation. It would be
presumption for us to determine, if not also to enquire into, this
matter, seeing the apostle himself says, Whether in the body or out
of the body, I cannot tell. It was certainly a very extraordinary
honour done him: in some sense he was caught up into the third
heaven, the heaven of the blessed, above the aërial heaven, in
which the fowls fly, above the starry heaven, which is adorned with
those glorious orbs: it was into the third heaven, where God most
eminently manifests his glory. We are not capable of knowing all, nor
is it fit we should know very much, of the particulars of that glorious
place and state; it is our duty and interest to give diligence to make
sure to ourselves a mansion there; and, if that be cleared up to us,
then we should long to be removed thither, to abide there for ever.
This third heaven is called paradise
(2 Corinthians 12:4),
in allusion to the earthly paradise out of which Adam was driven for
his transgression; it is called the paradise of God
signifying to us that by Christ we are restored to all the joys and
honours we lost by sin, yea, to much better. The apostle does not
mention what he saw in the third heaven or paradise, but tells us that
he heard unspeakable words, such as it is not possible for a man
to utter--such are the sublimity of the matter and our unacquaintedness
with the language of the upper world: nor was it lawful to utter those
words, because, while we are here in this world, we have a more sure
word of prophecy than such visions and revelations.
2 Peter 1:19.
We read of the tongue of angels as well as men, and Paul knew as much
of that as ever any man upon earth did, and yet preferred charity, that
is, the sincere love of God and our neighbour. This account which the
apostle gives us of his vision should check our curious desires after
forbidden knowledge, and teach us to improve the revelation God has
given us in his word. Paul himself, who had been in the third heaven,
did not publish to the world what he had heard there, but adhered to
the doctrine of Christ: on this foundation the church is built, and on
this we must build our faith and hope.
2. The modest and humble manner in which the apostle mentions this
matter is observable. One would be apt to think that one who had had
such visions and revelations as these would have boasted greatly of
them; but, says he, It is not expedient for me doubtless to
2 Corinthians 12:1.
He therefore did not mention this immediately, nor till above
fourteen years after,
2 Corinthians 12:2.
And then it is not without some reluctancy, as a thing which in a
manner he was forced to by the necessity of the case. Again, he speaks
of himself in the third person, and does not say, I am the man who was
thus honoured above other men. Again, his humility appears by the
check he seems to put upon himself
(2 Corinthians 12:6),
which plainly shows that he delighted not to dwell upon this theme.
Thus was he, who was not behind the chief of the apostles in dignity,
very eminent for his humility. Note, It is an excellent thing to have
a lowly spirit in the midst of high advancements; and those who abase
themselves shall be exalted.
II. The apostle gives an account of the methods God took to keep him
humble, and to prevent his being lifted up above measure; and
this he speaks of to balance the account that was given before of the
visions and revelations he had had. Note, When God's people communicate
their experiences, let them always remember to take notice of what God
has done to keep them humble, as well as what he has done in favour to
them and for their advancement. Here observe,
1. The apostle was pained with a thorn in the flesh, and buffeted with
a messenger of Satan,
2 Corinthians 12:7.
We are much in the dark what this was, whether some great trouble or
some great temptation. Some think it was an acute bodily pain or
sickness; others think it was the indignities done him by the false
apostles, and the opposition he met with from them, particularly on the
account of his speech, which was contemptible. However this was, God
often brings this good out of evil, that the reproaches of our enemies
help to hide pride from us; and this is certain, that what the apostle
calls a thorn in his flesh was for a time very grievous to him: but the
thorns Christ wore for us, and with which he was crowned, sanctify and
make easy all the thorns in the flesh we may at any time be afflicted
with; for he suffered, being tempted, that he might be able to
succour those that are tempted. Temptations to sin are most
grievous thorns; they are messengers of Satan, to buffet us. Indeed it
is a great grievance to a good man to be so much as tempted to sin.
2. The design of this was to keep the apostle humble: Lest he should
be exalted above measure,
2 Corinthians 12:7.
Paul himself knew he had not yet attained, neither was already
perfect; and yet he was in danger of being lifted up with pride. If
God love us, he will hide pride from us, and keep us from being exalted
above measure; and spiritual burdens are ordered, to cure spiritual
pride. This thorn in the flesh is said to be a messenger of Satan,
which he did not send with a good design, but on the contrary, with ill
intentions, to discourage the apostle (who had been so highly favoured
of God) and hinder him in his work. But God designed this for good, and
he overruled it for good, and made this messenger of Satan to be so far
from being a hindrance that it was a help to the apostle.
3. The apostle prayed earnestly to God for the removal of this sore
grievance. Note, Prayer is a salve for every sore, a remedy for every
malady; and when we are afflicted with thorns in the flesh we should
give ourselves to prayer. Therefore we are sometimes tempted that we
may learn to pray. The apostle besought the Lord thrice, that it
might depart from him,
2 Corinthians 12:8.
Note, Though afflictions are sent for our spiritual benefit, yet we may
pray to God for the removal of them: we ought indeed to desire also
that they may reach the end for which they are designed. The apostle
prayed earnestly, and repeated his requests; he besought the Lord
thrice, that is, often. So that if an answer be not given to the
first prayer, nor to the second, we must hold on, and hold out, till we
receive an answer. Christ himself prayed to his Father thrice. As
troubles are sent to teach us to pray, so they are continued to teach
us to continue instant in prayer.
4. We have an account of the answer given to the apostle's prayer,
that, although the trouble was not removed, yet an equivalent should be
granted: My grace is sufficient for thee. Note,
(1.) Though God accepts the prayer of faith, yet he does not always
answer it in the letter; as he sometimes grants in wrath, so he
sometimes denies in love.
(2.) When God does not remove our troubles and temptations, yet, if he
gives us grace sufficient for us, we have no reason to complain, nor to
say that he deals ill by us. It is a great comfort to us, whatever
thorns in the flesh we are pained with, that God's grace is sufficient
for us. Grace signifies two things:--
[1.] The good-will of God towards us, and this is enough to enlighten
and enliven us, sufficient to strengthen and comfort us, to support our
souls and cheer up our spirits, in all afflictions and distresses.
[2.] The good work of God in us, the grace we receive from the fulness
that is in Christ our head; and from him there shall be communicated
that which is suitable and seasonable, and sufficient for his members.
Christ Jesus understands our case, and knows our need, and will
proportion the remedy to our malady, and not only strengthen us, but
glorify himself. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
Thus his grace is manifested and magnified; he ordains his praise out
of the mouths of babes and sucklings.
III. Here is the use which the apostle makes of this dispensation:
He gloried in his infirmities
(2 Corinthians 12:9),
and took pleasure in them,
2 Corinthians 12:10.
He does not mean his sinful infirmities (those we have reason to be
ashamed of and grieved at), but he means his afflictions, his
reproaches, necessities, persecutions, and distresses for Christ's
2 Corinthians 12:10.
And the reason of his glory and joy on account of these things was
this--they were fair opportunities for Christ to manifest the power and
sufficiency of his grace resting upon him, by which he had so much
experience of the strength of divine grace that he could say, When I
am weak, then am I strong. This is a Christian paradox: when we are
weak in ourselves, then we are strong in the grace of our Lord Jesus
Christ; when we see ourselves weak in ourselves, then we go out of
ourselves to Christ, and are qualified to receive strength from him,
and experience most of the supplies of divine strength and grace.
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11 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.
12 Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all
patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.
13 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.
14 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
15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though
the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.
16 But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being
crafty, I caught you with guile.
17 Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto
18 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?
19 Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak
before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for
20 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:
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.
In these verses the apostle addresses himself to the Corinthians two
I. He blames them for what was faulty in them; namely, that they had
not stood up in his defence as they ought to have done, and so made it
the more needful for him to insist so much on his own vindication. They
in manner compelled him to commend himself, who ought to have been
commended of them
2 Corinthians 12:11.
And had they, or some among them, not failed on their part, it would
have been less needful for him to have said so much on his own behalf.
He tells them further that they in particular had good reason to speak
well of him, as being in nothing behind the very chief apostles,
because he had given them full proof and evidence of his apostleship;
for the signs of an apostle were wrought among them in all patience,
in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. Note,
1. It is a debt we owe to good men to stand up in the defence of their
reputation; and we are under special obligations to those we have
received benefit by, especially spiritual benefit, to own them as
instruments in God's hand of good to us, and to vindicate them when
they are calumniated by others.
2. How much soever we are, or ought to be, esteemed by others, we ought
always to think humbly of ourselves. See an example of this in this
great apostle, who thought himself to be nothing, though in truth he
was not behind the greatest apostles--so far was he from seeking praise
from men, though he tells them their duty to vindicate his
reputation--so far was he from applauding himself, when he was forced
to insist upon his own necessary self-defence.
II. He gives a large account of his behaviour and kind intentions
towards them, in which we may observe the character of a faithful
minister of the gospel.
1. He was not willing to be burdensome to them, nor did he seek theirs,
but them. He says
(2 Corinthians 12:13)
he had not been burdensome to them, for the time past, and tells them
(2 Corinthians 12:14)
he would not be burdensome to them for the time to come, when he should
come to them. He spared their purses, and did not covet their money:
I seek not yours but you. He sought not to enrich himself, but
to save their souls: he did not desire to make a property of them to
himself, but to gain them over to Christ, whose servant he was. Note,
Those who aim at clothing themselves with the fleece of the flock, and
take no care of the sheep, are hirelings, and not good shepherds.
2. He would gladly spend and be spent for them
(2 Corinthians 12:15);
that is, he was willing to take pains and to suffer loss for their
good. He would spend his time, his parts, his strength, his interest,
his all, to do them service; nay, so spend as to be spent, and be like
a candle, which consumes itself to give light to others.
3. He did not abate in his love to them, notwithstanding their
unkindness and ingratitude to him; and therefore was contented and glad
to take pains with them, though the more abundantly he loved them
the less he was loved,
2 Corinthians 12:15.
This is applicable to other relations: if others be wanting in their
duty to us it does not follow therefore that we may neglect our duty to
4. He was careful not only that he himself should not be burdensome,
but that none he employed should. This seems to be the meaning of what
2 Corinthians 12:16-18.
If it should be objected by any that though he did not himself burden
them, yet, being crafty, he caught them with guile, that is, he
sent those among them who pillaged them, and afterwards he shared with
them in the profit: "This was not so," says the apostle; "I did not
make a gain of you myself, nor by any of those whom I sent; nor did
Titus, nor any others--We walked by the same spirit and in the same
steps." They all agreed in this matter to do them all the good they
could, without being burdensome to them, to promote the gospel among
them and make it as easy to them as possible. Or, this may be read
with an interrogation, as utterly disclaiming any guile in himself and
others towards them.
5. He was a man who did all things for edifying,
2 Corinthians 12:19.
This was his great aim and design, to do good, to lay the foundation
well, and then with care and diligence to build the superstructure.
6. He would not shrink from his duty for fear of displeasing them,
though he was so careful to make himself easy to them. Therefore he was
resolved to be faithful in reproving sin, though he was therein
found to be such as they would not,
2 Corinthians 12:20.
The apostle here mentions several sins that are too commonly found
among professors of religion, and are very reprovable: debates,
envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings,
tumults; and, though those who are guilty of these sins can hardly
bear to be reproved for them, yet faithful ministers must not fear
offending the guilty by sharp reproofs, as they are needful, in public
and in private.
7. He was grieved at the apprehension that he should find scandalous
sins among them not duly repented of. This, he tells them, would be the
cause of great humiliation and lamentation. Note,
(1.) The falls and miscarriages of professors cannot but be a humbling
consideration to a good minister; and God sometimes takes this way to
humble those who might be under temptation to be lifted up: I fear
lest my God will humble me among you.
(2.) We have reason to bewail those who sin and do not repent, to
bewail many that have sinned, and have not repented,
2 Corinthians 12:21.
If these have not, as yet, grace to mourn and lament their own case,
their case is the more lamentable; and those who love God, and love
them, should mourn for them.