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the revelation, there was given a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be “exalted 2 Cor. 12. 7. above measure.” What this thorn in the flesh, this messenger of Satan was, we are not concerned to know. I know expositors make a great stir about it, some saying it was one thing, some another; but none can tell certainly what it was; and it is much if they should, seeing the Apostle by the direction of the Holy Ghost, was pleased to conceal it from us, and that doubtless out of great favour and kindness to us, it being much better for us not to know it, than to know it; for if he had specified what it was that troubled him at that time, we should have been apt to apply the answer he afterwards received only to that particular occasion, or to troubles only of that nature, whereas it being said only in general, “ That he had given him a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him;" every one may apply it as he hath occasion, to all sorts of troubles which he meets with, either from the world or the Devil; and this seems to be the reason why the Holy Ghost in this, and many other places of the Scripture, speaks only in general terms, leaving us to make application of what is said, to particular cases as they happen to occur.
Here, be sure, we have an universal remedy prescribed and recorded for all sorts of troubles, that we can labour under; whatsoever thorn is given us in the flesh, what messenger of Satan soever is sent to buffet us, if we do but take the same course as St. Paul did for it, we shall come off conquerors, and grow better by it as he did.
But what course did the Apostle take for it? “For this ver. 8. thing,” saith he, “ I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.” Where we may observe, first, that he addressed himself to God our Saviour, who all along in the New Testament is called the Lord; wheresoever we read of the Lord, it is always to be understood of the Lord Christ, and so the Apostle in this place interprets it; for when he had said, “That he had besought the Lord, and that the Lord had said to him, My grace is sufficient for thee; My strength is made perfect in weakness.” He adds, “Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me;" which plainly
SERM. shews that Christ was the Lord to whom he prayed, and
from whom he received that gracious answer.
We may observe also that St. Paul did not content him
self with praying once and again, but for this thing he Matt.26.44. besought the Lord thrice; as our Lord Himself prayed to
His Father three several times for the same thing, in the same words. So did His Apostle pray to Him, and it is left
upon record that he did so, that we may learn by his examRom. 12.12. ples as well as precept, to “continue instant in prayer," and
never leave off till we have received an answer.
But that which is chiefly to be observed here, is the answer which he received. He had prayed that the messenger of Satan might depart or be removed from him. Our Lord said to him, “ My grace is sufficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness;" which, though it was no direct answer to that particular request which he had made, yet it fully answered the general desire of his soul; and that which he would have requested, if he had known as well as our Lord did, what was best for him: he being sensible of his own weakness, and now finding a great burden laid upon him, which he thought impossible for him to bear without sinking under it; he desired it might be taken off, which he would never have desired if he had thought that he could have borne it to the glory of God, and the furtherance of the Gospel, the great end he aimed at in every thing he did or suffered: but our Lord in effect bids him be of good comfort, and not to trouble himself about his being unable of himself to bear what was laid upon him; for saith He, “ My grace is sufficient for thee;" as if He had said, The favour and kindness which I have for thee, is sufficient to carry thee through this and all other troubles which I shall see good to exercise thee withal; and the better to confirm the Apostle's faith in what He said, He adds, “ For My strength is made perfect in weakness ;” that is, the height and perfection of my power shines forth most gloriously in the weakness and infirmities of My servants : the weaker they are in themselves, the more doth My strength appear in My assisting and enabling them to do and suffer My will and pleasure.
Our Lord therefore granted not only all the Apostle
prayed for, but much more: he had prayed only to be eased of that trouble he now lay under; and so he was, by being told by Christ Himself that he should have strength enough whereby he might easily bear it, and not only that, but all other troubles that he should ever meet with, for though his prayer was particular, the answer is general: “My grace is sufficient for thee; My strength is made perfect in weakness," not only in this, but upon all occasions whatsoever : and so the Apostle plainly understood it, as appears from his drawing this inference from it; “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” He speaks of all his weaknesses or infirmities in general, that he would rather glory in them than sink under them, now that our Lord had given him such a general and gracious answer as this is; and though it was given only to St. Paul, and that too upon a particular occasion, yet it is left upon record among the oracles of God, that all Christians may take notice of it, and make the same use of it upon all occasions as he did.
For what is said in the Scripture to any one of the Saints of God, as such, is designed, for all of that communion, as well as for that particular person to whom it is spoken; and every one else may receive the same benefit and comfort from it which he did ; as when God said to Joshua," I will not fail Josh. 1. 5. thee, nor forsake thee.” Though this was spoken only to him, and likewise upon a particular occasion, even His leading the Children of Israel into the land of Canaan; yet the Apostle applies it to himself, and to all the people of God, and to all occasions too that any of them can have for it, saying, “ Let your conversation be without covetousness ; Heb. 13.5, and be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee: so that we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” So here, the Lord having said to St. Paul, “ My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” We all may boldly say, “ The Lord is our Helper, His grace is sufficient for us, His strength shall be made perfect in our weakness ;” and therefore we also “ most gladly will rather
SERM. glory in our infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest
- upon us.”
They who have no regard for their future state, may hear or read this without any concern; but such as really seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, cannot but be mightily affected with it; in that they are here assured by Christ Himself, that upon their addressing themselves to Him for it, He will supply them continually with grace and strength sufficient to carry them through all the changes and chances of this mortal life, till He hath brought them to Himself in glory: for my own part, I think it is the only support and encouragement we have under the many difficulties that we meet with in our passage to Heaven; and you would all be of the same mind, if ye did but fully understand, and duly consider, what Almighty God our Saviour here saith ; which therefore that ye may, I shall endeavour to give you the true sense and meaning of these words as they lie in order.
First, therefore, our Lord here saith to every one that believes in Him, as well as to St. Paul, “ My grace is sufficient for thee;" where by His grace, He means that special
love and favour which He hath for all His faithful servants John 1. 14. and disciples. He Himself is “ full of grace and truth." ver. 16, 17. “ And it is of His fulness that we all receive, and grace for
grace; for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” All the grace and favour that God is pleased to shew us, comes by Jesus Christ, and properly
the grace of God, as He is our Saviour and Redeemer; and Rom.16.20; therefore it is commonly called, “ The grace of our Lord 2 Cor. 8.9. Jesus Christ.” “ For ye know,” saith the Apostle, “ the
grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.” This was the grace of our Lord
Jesus Christ, that He impoverished Himself to enrich us, [2 Cor. 5. He came down to earth to advance us to Heaven ; “He was 21.]
made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness
of God in Him; He died that we might live, and greater John 15. 13. love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for
his friend." Yet this love had Christ for all mankind, and
still shews it to all that believe in Him, and love Him; for they are His own even while they are in this world; and “ having loved His own that are in the world, He loves John 13. 1. them to the end."
This therefore is that special love and favour which He here calls, as we translate it, His grace, and saith it is sufficient for them. He doth not only promise it shall be, but He positively affirms it is so. “My grace," saith He, “is sufficient,” in the present tense, that we may be confident that it always is so; but to what is it sufficient? To every thing that is any way necessary to our obtaining eternal Salvation; for we believe, as St. Peter saith, “That through Acts 15. 11;
Eph. 2.5,8. the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved.” And if we shall be saved by His grace, His grace must needs be sufficient for whatsoever is required towards our being saved; for if there was any one thing wherein His grace could not help us out, we might be lost for ever, notwithstanding all that He hath done and suffered to prevent it: but there is no fear of that, for He Himself hath said, “ That His grace is sufficient for us ;” and therefore we may be sure it is so, in all and every respect whatsoever.
It is sufficient, first for the rectifying all the disorders and distempers in our depraved nature, whereby we are so much indisposed for the doing good, and inclined to vice and wickedness, according to the several humours that are predominant within us. Several men, we know, are of several complexions ; scarce any two in all things alike, some are of an hot and choleric disposition, and therefore apt to be passionate and angry upon the least occasion, and perhaps upon none at all; others are cold and phlegmatic, and therefore apt to be dull, listless, and unactive, not caring to move or stir upon any account, although the glory of God, and their own eternal welfare depends upon it. In some, melancholy prevails, so as to keep their spirits too low and sad; in others, the animal spirits are so brisk and nimble, as to make them prone to be airy, fantastic, proud, ambitious, and self-conceited. Thus every one hath some corrupt humour or other in him, that is apt to lead him into sin, and put him under its dominion, so that it will “ reign in his mortal (Rom. 6. body,” unless it be subdued by the grace of Christ; but"