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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : 2 Corinthians 12:6-10

Commentary On Corinthians Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

2 Corinthians 12:6-10

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.

6. Nam si voluero gloriari, non ero insipiens: veritatem enim dicam: sed supersedeo: ne quis de me cogitet supra id quod videt esse me, aut quod audit ex 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.

7. Et en exellentia revelationum suppra modum efferrer, datus mihi fuit stimulus carni, nuntius Satanae qui me colaphis caederet, ne supra modum efferrer.

8. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

8. Supra hoc ter Dominum rogavi, ut discederet a 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.

9. Et dixit mihi: Sufficit tibi gratia mea: nam virtus mea in infirmitate perficitur: libentissime igitur gloriabor super infirmitatibus meis, ut inhabitet in me virtus Christi.

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.

10. Quamobrem placeo nihi in infirmitatibus, in contumeliis, in necessitatibus, in persequutionibus, in anxietatibus pro Christo: quum enim infirmus sum, tinc robustus sum.

6. For if I should desire. Lest what he had said, as to his having no inclination to glory, should be turned into an occasion of calumny, and malevolent persons should reply -- |You are not inclined for it, because it is not in your power, he anticipates such a reply. |I would have it quite in my power,| says he, |on good grounds; nor would I be justly accused of vanity, for I have ground to go upon, but I refrain from it.| He employs the term folly here in a different sense from what he had done previously, for even those that boast on good grounds act a silly and disgusting part, if there appears any thing of boasting or ambition. The folly, however, is more offensive and insufferable, if any one boasts groundlessly, or, in other words, pretends to be what he is not; for in that case there is impudence in addition to silliness. The Apostle here proceeded upon it as a set, tied matter, that his glorying was as humble as it was well founded. Erasmus has rendered it -- |I spare you,| but I prefer to understand it as meaning -- |I refrain,| or, as I have rendered it, |I forbear.|

Lest any one should think of me He adds the reason -- because he is contented to occupy the station, which God has assigned him. |My appearance,| says he, |and speech do not give promise of any thing illustrious in me: I have no objection, therefore, to be lightly esteemed.| Here we perceive what great modesty there was in this man, inasmuch as he was not at all concerned on account of his meanness, which he discovered in his appearance and speech, while he was replenished with such a superiority of gifts. There would, however, be no inconsistency in explaining it in this way, that satisfied with the reality itself, he says nothing respecting himself, that he may thus reprove indirectly the false Apostles, who gloried in themselves as to many things, none of which were to be seen. What I mentioned first, however, is what I rather approve of.

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 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. 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. 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. For to be buffeted is a severe kind of indignity. Accordingly, if any one has had his face made black and blue, 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. Now let all the pious take notice as to this, that they may see 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.| 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 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.

8. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice. Here, also, the number three is employed to denote frequent repetition. He means, however, to intimate, that this annoyance had been felt by him distressing, inasmuch as he had so frequently prayed to be exempted from it. For if it had been slight, or easy to be endured, he would not have been so desirous to be freed from it; and yet he says that he had not obtained this: hence it appears, how much need he had of being humbled. He confirms, therefore, what he had said previously -- that he had, by means of this bridle, been held back from being haughty; for if relief from it had been for his advantage, he would never have met with a refusal.

It may seem, however, to follow from this, that Paul had not by any means prayed in faith, if we would not make void all the promises of God. |We read everywhere in Scripture, that we shall obtain whatever we ask in faith: Paul prays, and does not obtain.| I answer, that as there are different ways of asking, so there are different ways of obtaining. We ask in simple terms those things as to which we have an express promise -- as, for example, the perfecting of God's kingdom, and the hallowing of his name, (Matthew 6:9,) the remission of our sins, and every thing that is advantageous to us; but, when we think that the kingdom of God can, nay must be advanced, in this particular manner, or in that, and that this thing, or that, is necessary for the hallowing of his name, we are often mistaken in our opinion. In like manner, we often fall into a serious mistake as to what tends to promote our own welfare. Hence we ask those former things confidently, and without any reservation, while it does not belong to us to prescribe the means. If, however, we specify the means, there is always a condition implied, though not expressed. Now Paul was not so ignorant as not to know this. Hence, as to the object of his prayer, there can be no doubt that he was heard, although he met with a refusal as to the express form. By this we are admonished not to give way to despondency, as if our prayers had been lost labor, when God does not gratify or comply with our wishes, but that we must be satisfied with his grace, that is, in respect of our not being forsaken by him. For the reason, why he sometimes mercifully refuses to his own people, what, in his wrath, he grants to the wicked, is this -- that he foresees better what is expedient for us, than our understanding is able to apprehend.

9. He said to me. It is not certain, whether he had this answer by a special revelation, and it is not of great importance. For God answers us, when he strengthens us inwardly by his Spirit, and sustains us by his consolation, so that we do not give up hope and patience. He bids Paul be satisfied with his grace, and, in the mean time, not refuse chastisement. Hence we must bear up under evil of ever so long continuance, because we are admirably well dealt with, when we have the grace of God to be our support. The term grace, here, does not mean here, as it does elsewhere, the favor of God, but by metonymy, the aid of the Holy Spirit, which comes to us from the unmerited favor of God; and it ought to be sufficient for the pious, inasmuch as it is a sure and invincible support against their ever giving way.

For my strength Our weakness may seem, as if it were an obstacle in the way of God's perfecting his strength in us. Paul does not merely deny this, but maintains, on the other hand, that it is only when our weakness becomes apparent, that God's strength is duly perfected. To understand this more distinctly, we must distinguish between God's strength and ours; for the word my is emphatic. |My strength,| says the Lord, (meaning that which helps man's need -- which raises them up when they have fallen down, and refreshes them when they are faint,) |is perfected in the weakness of men;| that is, it has occasion to exert itself, when the weakness of men becomes manifest; and not only so, but it is more distinctly recognized as it ought to be. For the word perfected has a reference to the perception and apprehension of mankind, because it is not perfected unless it openly shines forth, so as to receive its due praise. For mankind have no taste of it, unless they are first convinced of the need of it, and they quickly lose sight of its value, if they are not constantly exercised with a feeling of their own weakness.

Most gladly, therefore This latter statement confirms the exposition that I have given. I will glory, says he, in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me Hence, the man that is ashamed of this glorying, shuts the door upon Christ's grace, and, in a manner, puts it away from him. For then do we make room for Christ's grace, when in true humility of mind, we feel and confess our own weakness. The valleys are watered with rain to make them fruitful, while in the mean time, the high summits of the lofty mountains remain dry. Let that man, therefore, become a valley, who is desirous to receive the heavenly rain of God's spiritual grace.

He adds most gladly, to show that he is influenced by such an eager desire for the grace of Christ, that he refuses nothing for the sake of obtaining it. For we see very many yielding, indeed, submission to God, as being afraid of incurring sacrilege in coveting his glory, but, at the same time, not without reluctance, or at least, less cheerfully than were becoming.

10. I take pleasure in infirmities There can be no doubt, that he employs the term weakness in different senses; for he formerly applied this name to the punctures that he experienced in the flesh. He now employs it to denote those external qualities, which occasion contempt in the view of the world. Having spoken, however, in a general way, of infirmities of every kind, he now returns to that particular description of them, that had given occasion for his turning aside into this general discourse. Let us take notice, then, that infirmity is a general term, and that under it is comprehended the weakness of our nature, as well as all tokens of abasement. Now the point in question was Paul's outward abasement. He proceeded farther, for the purpose of showing, that the Lord humbled him in every way, that, in his defects, the glory of God might shine forth the more resplendently, which is, in a manner, concealed and buried, when a man is in an elevated position. He now again returns to speak of his excellences, which, at the same time, made him contemptible in public view, instead of procuring for him esteem and commendation.

For when I am weak, that is -- |The more deficiency there is in me, so much the more liberally does the Lord, from his strength, supply me with whatever he sees to be needful for me.| For the fortitude of philosophers is nothing else than contumacy, or rather a mad enthusiasm, such as fanatics are accustomed to have. |If a man is desirous to be truly strong, let him not refuse to be at the same time weak Let him,| I say, |be weak in himself that he may be strong in the Lord.| (Ephesians 6:10.) Should any one object, that Paul speaks here, not of a failure of strength, but of poverty, and other afflictions, I answer, that all these things are exercises for discovering to us our own weakness; for if God had not exercised Paul with such trials, he would never have perceived so clearly his weakness. Hence, he has in view not merely poverty, and hardships of every kind, but also those effects that arise from them, as, for example, a feeling of our own weakness, self-distrust, and humility.

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