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You will observe here, that we are permitted to intercede with God against the afflictions we suffer. So Abraham did; so Jacob; so Moses ; so our blessed Lord himself. Afflietions could never work their proper effect in us, if we were not allowed to feel them, and pray for their removal; and when answers to our suit appear to be suspended, we are encouraged to persevere in our supplications. We are then to “continue in prayer,” like the Syrophænician mother in the gospel ; to“ ask, to seek, to knock;" and even to use holy “violence;" for we know not when God may see us in a state of mind to receive deliverance ; we know not when the event may be really best for
Prayer itself is a holy exereise, a gift of grace, worth any affliction. And delays in God's replies to us are peculiarly calculated to subdue pride of heart. We never pray as we should, till we are in “the depths," as the Psalmist speaks. A thorough conviction of the necessity of fervent, unremitted prayer is one part of the process we are under when “the thorn” is inserted in our flesh.
3. A third is, the deeply seated perception of our need of grace. St. Paul was to be taught, more than he had even before been, that the grace of God could, and would suffice him in circumstances the most new, painful, and exhausting; and that nothing else would. He was to learn thoroughly his weakness, that he might be prepared to seek for strength out of himself. My grace is sufficient for thee,” was the Savior's reply to his importunate prayers,
for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Here is the lesson. Here is the process carried on by the Divine discipline. Here is the purification of the precious metal which is going on in the furnace. The conviction of the need of more grace, as well as of the necessity of prayer, and the peril of self-exultation, is often a greater blessing to us than the removal of an affliction. Had “the thorn” been ex
tracted at once from the apostle, the sense of the all-sufficiency of grace would not have been so vivid and permanent, as when it continued long in all its irritation, and yet compensating succor was thrown in. It is the over-balance of grace which enables the Christian to go on.
It is because we are more sensible of the grace of God in afflictions than at other seasons, that the greatest sufferers have ever been the most eminent Christians. It is not how much we suffer, but whether grace sufficient for us is vouchsafed, that determines our growth in Christianity, and our honorable faith in God's power under sorrow. Grace made sufficient for us then, is what Christianity glories in. The conviction of this inwrought in the soul, is one end in view when “ the thorn” is sent to us. We thus learn what God is, what Christ is, what grace is, what faith can trust God for, what is our own im. potency, and what his adequate and surpassing power in Christ Jesus. God is self-existent and self-sufficient in himself, and he is all-sufficient and all-quickening to us. When he is pleased under afflictions to “strengthen us with might according to his glorious power," the “ feeble becomes as David ;" the weak says, “ I am strong;” the thorn-worn traveller feels sufficient power to pursue his journey, and the grace of God is magnified as the source of all.
4. But the discipline we are considering was designed also to place the apostle in circumstances to behold the peculiar glory of Christ as the Redeemer of the Church, the great “ Mediator between God and man.” It is the main purpose of Almighty God in the gospel to manifest himself in Christ Jesus, to demonstrate his “ love in giving his only-begotten Son” to live and to die for our salvation. One end of the mission of Satan with the painful thorn, therefore, is to render Christ more than ever the
peculiar object of prayer and confidence. For it was to Christ, and no one else, that the apostle addressed himself in his prayer : “I besought the Lord”—the Lord Christ," thrice that it might depart from me;" “and he”-the Lord Christ," said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee ; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” “ Most gladly, there. fore," proceeds the apostle by way of inference, “will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ,”—the same Lord most unquestionably before addressed, and who indeed, is the only person spoken of, throughout,-"might rest," tabernacle, abide, as the Shekinah of old,
I make this remark in order to point out the evidence which the passage affords for the proper divinity of Christ. Prayer is here addressed solemnly to him, as it was by Thomas, Stephen, and others; and that high religious trust, confidence, and hope is reposed in him, which constitute some of the clearest prerogatives of the Eternal God; and which, when joined with numerous other proofs, demonstrate the divine nature of our Lord. Nor is the language which assumes that grace is his gift, that he can and will be sufficient to his creatures, and that the end of his dispensation is, that his power may rest upon them, an inconsiderable confirmation of the same fundamental truth.
And is not this, then, my afflicted hearer, the sort of process which is going on in your own case ? God doth not answer your first feeble prayers, that you may increase in fervency. God doth not remove your sorrows, that you may feel the greater need of his grace. God doth not allow you to go on in an easy ordinary religion, that you may be in circumstances to see his glory in Christ Jesus. You would wish for the favor of men ; you would wish for tranquillity, health, success ; you would
wish for deliverance from all trouble. You think you are free enough from self-exultation, and are convinced enough of the grace of Christ. But God thinks otherwise. He has other designs upon you. Enter into his purpose ; yield to the merciful project; consider “ the thorn” as the messenger of Christ, and that which is to prepare you for solving practically the Christian paradox, with respect to him.
For you are now ready to proceed with me to the consideration of,
III. The strength flowing from his weakness, as thus felt, acknowledged, acted upon; not from his weakness in itself, but from his weakness as checking self-exultation, leading to fervent prayer, infixing a sense of the need of grace, and placing him in circumstances to behold the peculiar glory of Christ.
Here the paradox begins to open. It is now pregnant with light and truth. We are now arriving at the result of the previous discipline. Hear the apostle's account: Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me—for when I am weak, then am I strong:” words which import that the apostle was now instructed in the design of God; that he acquiesced in his method ; was receiving power from him; and could rejoice in the result of the whole.
1. The apostle had received now instruction as to the designs of God. When the humiliating messenger first arrived, after his exaltation to the third heavens, he prayed absolutely for its removal. But this was under defective information. He knew not all the designs of his divine Master. He thought relief was only to be experienced by “the thorn" being extracted. He conceived that there was no way for him to glorify God whilst he was dejected, impeded, irritated by the “ messenger of Satan.” He thought he could not stand as a conqueror, whilst the “ buffeting" of the spiritual adversary continued. But the answer of Christ teaches him another lesson. He is instructed, and we also by his example, that there are two ways of God's answering prayer; the one, by direct deliverance from troubles, the other, by sufficiency of grace; the one, by removing the thorn itself; the other, by rendering it the means of higher blessings.
2. But St. Paul's acquiescence in God's method is a further step in the result we are now contemplating. Hearken to the apostle's words: “Therefore I take pleasure"-I acquiesce, I resign myself with cheerfulness, I am contented—“ with infirmities, with reproaches, necessities, persecutions, distresses for Christ's sake.” Thus he now yields to his dispensation. He now sees God's method of healing the diseases of our fallen nature. He now enters into the purposes of his grace, and his methods of humbling and purifying man, that he may afterwards exalt him. When the apostle found what God was mercifully aiming at; that sufficient grace for every emergency was to be vouchsafed ; that this world was to be a state of trial and probation ; that dangers to the soul impended from every blessing of the Almighty, and even from spiritual favors and manifestations, as well as from calamities; that a succession of sorrows might be expected, even if any one present trial should be removed ; that the most importunate prayers are not availing against this fixed method of the divine procedure; that additional glory is brought to Christ by a state of things which allows us to behold all his excellency of power and grace-when all this filled the apostle's mind, he acquiesced, he took pleasure in the discovery; he looked upon infirmities, and reproaches,