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“ And lest (says he) 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 besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me."
It would have been gratifying to our curiosity, (though probably not important to our edification) if scripture or tradition had recorded what the nature of that infliction was, which this faithful and favoured servant of Jesus Christ felt so heavily, and prayed so heartily (but ineffectually) to be relieved from,
To any Christians this might have been an interesting subject of consideration ; but to us, as teachers of the same Gospel, as entrusted with the ministry of the same word, it might have been peculiarly interesting to have known what was the nature of the evil, thus permitted to afflict this great Apostle, for his own good. And especially we should be concerned to know, (if such knowledge were attainable,) whether the annoyance, which this eminent minister of Christ so earnestly desired to be delivered from, were personal, or (if such a term may be applied to such a subject) professional. Whether it were any infirmity (bodily or mental) felt only by himself; or some impediment to his ministry, which obstructed his usefulness towards others. Whether it were (as sometimes has been conjectured) any personal defect, or ailment, which rnight give occasion for some amongst his hearers to say, (as some at Corinth, who were impatient of his authority, did say,) that“ his letters indeed were weighty and powerful ; but his bodily presence weak, and his speech contemptible ;” or whether (as also has been conjectured) some powerful persecution, by Jew or Gentile, from without, or some vexatious opposition by false brethren within the Church, might, for a while, frustrate the Apostle's endeavours to preach the Gospel where it was unknown; or might sow the tares of heresy and schism, amongst the seed which he had already planted.
But although the nature of that annoyance, to which St. Paul has made allusion in the text, must probably for ever defy all conjecture or research; the fact that it did exist, and the lesson to be drawn from its existence, are “ written for our learning ;” and will remain plain and profitable
for the warning and the encouragement of all Christians, in every condition of life; and in all periods and circumstances of the Church of Christ on earth.
To how many Christians, probably, in every condition of life, does it happen, that they find themselves in circumstances similar (at least in one respect) to those in which St. Paul appears to have been situated ! How many faithful servants of the same Lord may have felt and expressed a like earnest desire for the removal of some affliction, and with a like pious and praiseworthy motive ! How many zealous and patient followers of the same Master may have prayed repeatedly (like St. Paul) that it would please God to relieve them from some burden which weighed heavily, or from some thorn which sorely grieved them in the flesh! And have desired such relief, as we may surely suppose the Apostle to have desired it,) not from impatience at the weight of the burden so laid on them, but because it has seemed to hinder their exertions in "
running the race” which is set before them ; not from unwillingness to endure any trial of suffering after the pattern of Christ, or of reproach for the sake of Christ; but tually"
because the peculiar trial to which they feel themselves exposed seems either prejudicial to their usefulness, or dangerous to their faith and stedfastness. How many Christians, probably, desire thus earnestly the removal of some burden, or the abatement of some affliction; not because they shrink from suffering, or feel ashamed of reproach as Christians ; but because they sincerely believe, that by the removal of some impediment, or the relief of some infirmity, they should be better Christians than they are; and could more effec
promote the glory of God,” or securely “work out their own salvation.” It may indeed reasonably be presumed, that in proportion as any Christian might be zealous to promote the glory of God, or anxious to secure his own salvation, the more liable he would be to feel discouraged by any difficulties, or apprehensive of
any dangers, in his path. So much the more useful therefore and needful for him may be the admonition to be drawn from this circumstance in the history of St. Paul; which, though it may be too obscure for the satisfaction of curious enquiry, is sufficiently clear and explicit both for our warning, and our encouragement; for warning, that we
should not depend on our own strength, nor repine at the failure of our own exertions ; for encouragement, to persevere patiently in well-doing, notwithstanding obstacles however great, and disappointments however repeated ; not measuring God's grace by our
weakness ; nor distrusting his assistance, though it may not be manifested in the way most desired or expected by ourselves.
“For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee.” Whatever infirmity may afflict, whatever temptation may beset, whatever difficulties may seem to impede, any Christian in “ glorifying God on earth,” and in
finishing that work which God has given him to do ;” the answer which St. Paul has recorded as given to himself, in (what we may presume to have been) a situation of similar discouragement, may and ought to be considered equally applicable, equally admonitory, to check repining, and to prevent despondency. Whatever may be the apparent evil, of which the abatement or the removal seem desirable ; if, in spite of honest endeavour, and hearty supplication for its removal, it still