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lest, if he should set them forth to the full, other men might be tempted to think too highly of him; he proceeds in the text to shew, that the revelations were indeed so great and excellent, that he himself, after he had received them, was in danger of being transported into pride, if God had not administered an effectual remedy to prevent that distemper of his mind. Besides, having, verse 5, said, that he would rather glory in his infirmities, than in his revelations; in the text he accordingly speaks of those infirmities, and that as they were on purpose inflicted on him by God, to keep him from glorying too much in the revelations he had received. Lastly, Though St. Paul were an excellent apostle, yet he was still but a man, and a man on earth, not yet in heaven, a viator not a comprehensor, a proficient, not yet fully perfect, or so immutably confirmed in virtue, as to be out of all danger of the sin of pride, which even the angels of heaven fell into. Hence Theophylact having thus paraphrased the words of St. Paul, “ lest “ I should be vainglorious," presently subjoins, “for “ St. Paul himself also was a mand.” The commonly received interpretation therefore here is undoubtedly the truest.
II. Our second inquiry is, what is meant by the thorn in the flesh. The Greek word okónoy signifies quicquid acuminatum est, “any thing that is
sharp-pointed,” as a goad, or stake, or arrow, or thorn, or the like; which being fixed in the flesh or body is very painful and troublesome. It is a metaphor; and what the thing is St. Paul intended by it, is the great question. I shall set before you the se
• “Ινα μη κενοδοξώ.
d"Ανθρωπος γάρ ήν και αυτός.
veral interpretations of expositors, rejecting those which I have evident reasons to conclude false, and establishing that which I think to be the true one.
First, Some e by the thorn in the flesh understand “ those troubles, afflictions, and persecutions, which “ St. Paul suffered, and wherewith he was continually “ molested in the preaching of the Gospel.” But I do not think this to be the meaning of the apostle, for these reasons. 1. The thorn in the flesh he speaks of seems to be some trouble more peculiar to himself, and adapted to his particular circumstances; whereas troubles and persecutions for the sake of the Gospel were common to him with all the rest of the apostles; and yet we hear not a word of any thorn in the flesh given to any of them. 2. Troubles and persecutions for the Gospel are too general a thing to agree to the expressions in the text, which are more particular, and plainly denote some special trouble or evil, wherewith St. Paul was exercised. For it is said in the singular number, a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan. To evade which argument, some have answered, that here is meant some one particular and more notable adversary of the apostle, that continually set himself to oppose and persecute him, as Alexander the coppersmith, or the like. But it were vain to conceive, that either Alexander the coppersmith, or any other adversary of St. Paul, should continually dog him at the heels whithersoever he went, and be a perpetual vexation to him, as the thorn he speaks of was. Besides, the thorn is said to have its seat in the flesh or body of St. Paul, and therefore was some inherent grief in himself, and not any external trouble from without. 3. The thorn in the flesh St. Paul speaks of was not given him till after his being caught up into the third heaven, and into paradise; whereas St. Paul's troubles and persecutions for the Gospel's sake commenced from his very first giving up his name to Christ. 4. It became not St. Paul to pray so earnestly and so often, to have his persecutions removed from him, who could not but know, that they were his allotted portion, bequeathed to him in his very first conversion, Acts ix. 16. yea, and that all who should then live godly in Jesus Christ were of necessity to suffer persecution, 2 Tim. ii. 12. The chiefest colour for this interpretation is, that St. Paul doth indeed presently after make mention also of his persecutions and distresses for the Gospel's sake, verse 10. But of this I shall give a very clear and satisfactory account afterwards in this discourse.
e [Erasmus, after Chrysostom and Ambrose.]
Secondly, Some by the thorn in the flesh understand uredinem libidinis, which I am ashamed to translate. Yet it being a very common exposition, it will be necessary to shew the great absurdity and folly of it. 1. This interpretation contradicts the plain and express profession of St. Paul concerning himself, that he had the gift of continence, and that in so eminent a degree, that he wished all Christians were in this like himself, 1 Cor. vii. 7. 2. If this had been the thorn in the flesh St. Paul was troubled with, he had a remedy at hand, the same he proposed to others, and which he tells us he might himself have made use of as well as some other of the apostles, if he had seen occasion for it, viz. honest and honourable matrimony, 1 Cor. vii. 9. and ix. 5. 3. St. Paul when he wrote this Epistle was, by the compu
tation of chronologers, about sixty years old : and it is a foul slur to so great and holy an apostle to imagine, that he should burn in that frozen age, which useth to extinguish, or at least to allay, those flames in the most unclean persons. 4. If this had been St. Paul's thorn in the flesh, he could not without blasphemy have said of it, édóón pos; it was given me,
Moto viz. by God, the same gracious God, who in giving it intended to keep me from being undone by pride. The sparks of lust issue from hell, and lead also to those unquenchable flames. 5. If this had been the thorn in the flesh, St. Paul would have prayed for the removal of it, not only thrice, but a thousand times; yea he would never have given over, till by an unwearied importunity, he had obtained his desire; and the most holy God would not, could not have denied him so just and holy a request. Lastly, St. Paul's thorn in the flesh was something, wherewith, when he was denied the removal of it, he not only rested contented, but even gloried in it, verse 9. Now it had been the greatest impiety in him to have gloried in his impure motions and desires., And this same reason equally overthrows all those other interpretations that expound the text of any other sinful affection or infirmity in St. Paul. But let us proceed.
Thirdly, Others by the thorn in the Aesh understand original sin, or the relics of it in St. Paul. But this interpretation likewise we may boldly pronounce absurd, not only for the reason last mentioned, but upon other accounts also. For, 1, original sin was not given to St. Paul by God: nor, 2, was it given after his rapture into the third heaven, and into paradise; but it was, howsoever you define it, born with him.
Fourthly, Some there are that by the thorn in the flesh understand solicitations to pride. But this is the most senseless interpretation of all. For besides that, 1. this could not be said to be given by God; nor, 2. could it be called a thorn in the flesh, pride being a vice seated in the mind; 3. this interpretation implies a manifest contradiction. For pride was the disease to be cured in St. Paul, and therefore could not be itself the cure or remedy.
Fifthly and lastly, Others expound the thorn in the flesh of some bodily disease in St. Paul, extraordinary painful and troublesome to him; which he aptly calls a thorn, for its sharpness and pungency; and a thorn in his flesh, for the seat of it, which was his body. This is the consentient interpretation of the most ancient doctors of the church, who have happened to make mention of this text. And they are the most . likely men to have understood the history of St. Paul, and what (at least extraordinarily) happened to him. Irenæus, in his fifth book, chap. 3. cites my text, and expressly expounds the thorn in the flesh, of some bodily infirmity of the apostle, such as might shew him to be a mortal man. For after he had alleged my text, he thus glosseth upon it.
66 What “ therefore, (may some say,) would the Lord then “ have his apostle so buffeted, and to undergo such “ an infirmity? Yea, saith the word: for strength is “ perfected in weakness. For how could man have
learnt, that he himself is infirm, and by nature mor“ tal, and God immortal and powerful, unless he had
experimented what is in both ?” that is, both the - f Quid ergo? (dicet enim aliquis) voluit ergo Dominus apostolum suum sic colaphizari, et talem sustinere infirmitatem? Etiam,