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latians iv. 19. And if we be true Christians, though all generations do not call us blessed, as the holy Virgin, yet together with her we shall be indeed blessed beyond all generations, even for ever and ever.
To God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, be given and ascribed all honour and glory, all religious worship and adoration, now and for evermore. Amen.
ST. PAUL'S THORN IN THE FLESH, THE MESSENGER OF SATAN,
SENT TO PREVENT HIS BEING EXALTED ABOVE MEASURE, CONSIDERED AND EXPLAINED; WITH SEVERAL PRACTICAL OBSERVATIONS DRAWN FROM THAT SUBJECT.
2 Cor. xii. 7, 8, 9. 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 bem. sought 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. ST. PAUL, of all the apostles of Christ, met with the greatest opposition and contempt from the false Judaizing apostles, that troubled the church in his time. The true reason whereof was, that he first of all openly and every where proclaimed and preached the utter abolition of the Mosaic law, both as to Jews and Gentiles. But the pretence seems to be this, that. he was none of the twelve apostles, called by Christ himself when on earth; nor afterwards duly elected an apostle in the room of any of that number, as Matthias was: but an odd thirteenth apostle, thrusting himself into that sacred office, they knew not how, or by what authority. For the relation of Christ's glorious appearance to him from heaven, and
sending him to preach his Gospel among the Gentiles, (which indeed was a higher call than any of the other apostles had,) doubtless they rejected as a mere fiction; though the visible effect of that apparition, his strange and sudden alteration and change from a violent persecutor, to be a preacher of the Gospel, yea and willingly to be persecuted for it, was of itself sufficient to convince all sober and unprejudiced persons of the certain truth of it.
. Against these calumniators he strenuously vindicates his divine mission and authority in the two preceding, in this, and in the following chapters. In pursuance of which design, he is constrained to do that, which in itself, and prescinded from the circumstances he was in, had been sin and folly, that is, to commend himself. And he excellently and fully demonstrates, that he was not in any respect inferior to the very chiefest of the apostles ; neither in his sufferings, nor in his miracles, nor in his generous charity and unwearied diligence in the discharge of his office, nor in the success of it; nay, that in the three things last mentioned he exceeded all the other apostles; nor in the point of revelations made known to him.
And upon this last head he insists in the beginning of this chapter, out of which my text is taken; where he speaks of admirable visions and revelations he had received from God at several times, once in the third or highest heaven, and another time in paradise, ver. 2, 3, 4. The úmep Bonn, the exceeding greatness or excellency of these revelations, he declares to be such, that he was in danger by them to be transported beyond the bounds of sobriety and modesty, into pride and vanity, had not God in his wisdom and goodness, by a very severe discipline on his flesh or body, prevented that undue elation of his mind. Which discipline, he farther shews, the gracious God thought necessary, for the same reason, still to continue on him, notwithstanding his earnest repeated and reiterated prayers and supplications for the removal of it; only assuring him, that his grace should be sufficient for him, and that his strength should be made perfect in that weakness of his; and that thereupon he fully acquiesced in the good-will and pleasure of God, yea and rejoiced and gloried in that sharp chastisement. . And lest I should be exalted above measure, &c.
For the understanding of which text, we are to inquire into these three things. I. What is meant in those words of St. Paul, lest I should be exalted above measure. II. What we are to understand by the thorn in the flesh. III. What by the messenger of Satan, sent to buffet the apostle.
I. Let us inquire what is meant in those words of St. Paul, lest I should be exalted above measure; for that is questioned by some. Photius, in Ecumenius, understands the words, not of St. Paul's being over much exalted in his own conceit, but of his being too much extolled in the esteem and praises of others. And Theophylact also mentions the same interpretation, though he himself utterly dislikes it. Indeed the Greek will bear it well enough; for (va rin inepaipwpar may not unfitly be translated, lest I should be too much extolled, that is, magnified by others. And of this he speaks in the verse immediately preceding, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be. And it seems a very good and pious design to endeavour to excuse the excellent apostle from so shameful an infirmity, as a propension to pride. But yet this interpretation is by no means to be admitted. For, 1. all the most ancient doctors of the church, with one consent, understand the words as we do, of St. Paul's being in danger to be too much lifted up in his own conceit. So Irenæus, in his fifth book, chap. 3. tells us, that the words of the apostle here signify “ being lifted “ up to fall from the truth a;” and “to be exalted “ against God, and presumptuously to assume glory “ to one's self b.” And so all the rest of the Fathers, who are herein followed by a full stream of modern interpreters. And to oppose so general a consent would savour something of that sin of pride in ourselves, which we endeavour to excuse St. Paul from a propension to. 2. It is not so reasonable to conceive that St. Paul should be so severely afflicted, and thus buffeted, to prevent the sin of others, as that he should suffer so much to prevent or cure a sin of his
3. The exaltation spoken of in the text is plainly expressed as an effect likely to have immediately happened from those visions and revelations, which St. Paul received in secret, and which were not known to others, till he thus declared them. The danger therefore he speaks of was to himself, and not to others. 4. As for the context, if it be more closely considered, it doth not necessarily confirm the other interpretation. For of the connection of my text with what went before, a clear account may be given without it. For the apostle having said, he would forbear to insist on his revelations,
a Elatum excidere a veritate.
b Extolli adversus Deum, et præsumptionem suæ gloriæ assumere.