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moment of trial. We are now in health; but we know not how it would be with us if we were removed to a climate much warmer, or colder, than our own: and we know less of ourselves morally than physically. There are excellences which we may presume upon our possessing, only because we have never been called to display them. There are provocations with which we have never been tried, the effect of which would render us a wonder to ourselves. Events increase our self-acquaintance, by showing us what there is in the heart: as the waves cast up mire and dirt in the pool that was clear, because calm, before. Hazael's case is a strong one; but it will apply, in various degrees, to ourselves. He was shocked at the prophet's representation of himself when he should become a king-and exclaimed, "Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?" And yet, as an old writer says, the dog did it. God only knows how much of our innocency has been owing to principle, or the absence of temptation; or what we should have been in conditions the reverse of those which have sheltered our weakness.
But, Fourthly. Here is the grand lesson you and I have to learn-That the most confident are the most exposed; and the most humble the most safe. "When I am weak, then am I strong." Why? Because the deep consciousness of my weakness will induce me to shun scenes of temptation; keep me from aspiring after high and responsible stations; and to pray, without ceasing, "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe."
"To keep the lamp alive,
With oil we fill the bowl;
"Beware of Peter's word,
'I never will deny thee, Lord;'
"The Lord's unsparing hand
Supplies the living stream;
"Retreat beneath his wings,
"In JESUS is our store:
Grace issues from his throne;
THE THORN IN THE FLESH.
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 1 should be exalted above measure. 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.-2 Cor. xii.
No: we do not wonder at this strange and sad revolution in Peter. He is proud and self-sufficient. He places himself above his brethren, and considers himself as much less likely to fall than they-" Though all should be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended." He talks away about sacrificing his life without one word like this: "By thy grace helping me for without thee I can do nothing." A Pharisee could hardly have held more vainglorious language.-Is it any marvel, then, that he should be permitted to learn, by bitter experience, that he was nothing, and could do nothing, without that Holy Spirit whose influences he had forgotten to acknowledge? "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." I never saw a pro-ed above measure by the abundance of the fessor of religion full of confidence in himself, revelations." By the abundance of the and speaking censoriously of others, but who revelations," he refers to some extraordinary fell into some gross crime, or into some great discoveries with which God had favoured calamity. "Be not highminded, but fear. him; and particularly a trance, recorded in Blessed is the man that feareth always." Let the preceding verses: "It is not expedient us sing the words of our incomparable Cowper: for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth ;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in
I. HIS DANGER. "Lest I should be exalt
WHERE the subject is himself, it is a delicate and a difficult thing for a man to speak properly. And, whether it be from constitutional reserve, or a fear of hypocrisy, or a sense of unworthiness and imperfections, it is certain, that those who feel most, and do most, in religion, generally talk the least about it. It is the shallow stream that cannot flow; it is the empty vessel that cannot be touched without telling it.
Yet a reference to a person's own history and experience is sometimes not only allowable, but commendable and useful; and a man of talent and real godliness, and whose character is placed above suspicion, is often peculiarly interesting and edifying when he speaks of things concerning himself. Such a man was Paul; and the narrative he here gives us has relieved the minds, and called forth the gratitude of millions. It contains,
I. HIS DANGER. II. HIS PRESERVATION. III. HIS PRAYER. IV. HIS SUCCESS.
the body or out of the body, I cannot tell: God | before them, he exclaimed, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias."-He wished to abide there: but, says the Holy Ghost, he "knew not what he said." For, admitting his wish had been indulged, what would have become of his wife and family? Peter, in his transport, had forgotten these. But these may be forgotten too soon-these must not be forgotten at all. As the Saviour does not pray that his followers, before the appointed hour, should be taken out of the world by death, so neither does he improperly draw them out of it by religion. It is their allotted residence for a season; and many relative and civil claims demand a subordinate share of their attention. He could so indulge his people, that their manifestations and joys would unhinge them from earth, take all interest out of their present connexions, and render them listless to all the duties of their stations and callings. But he is a God of judgment; and fits us for the way, as well as the end.
knoweth ;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." On the nature and circumstances of this transaction I am not called to enlarge. I shall only remark what is necessary to our immediate purpose. It is the modesty and diffidence of the Apostle, who had concealed this privilege for more than fourteen years. How unlike him are those who sound a trumpet before them, to awaken attention to all their religious movements! who are forward to publish to the world accounts of their conversion and deliverances, depressions, and raptures-Not that it is improper to take notice of any of God's dealings with us: "Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord." But while we remark these things for our own profit we need not plague the public, or suppose that every body must feel interested in our concerns. Had many been indulged like Paul, they would not have contained themselves for a single day, but have an- Thirdly. He was in danger of rising too nounced in every company, and probably in high in his own estimation, as a favourite of print, that they had been in the third heaven, Heaven. Christians, while here, are sanctified and heard unspeakable words! But, it is but in part. They are not like the Holy One likely, Paul would never have divulged this of God, or whom it is said, "The prince of distinction unless he had been compelled by this world came, and found nothing in him." his enemies, in vindication of his office; and He met with nothing inflammable in him, when he does mention it he frankly acknow- and therefore he could kindle none of his ledges that it nearly proved too much for him unhallowed fires; there were no evil appe-I was in danger, says he, of being "exalt-tites and passions, for temptation to operate ed above measure." upon. But it is otherwise with us. Owing to the sin that dwelleth in us, we are in danger from every thing around us; and therefore must walk circumspectly, and watch and pray lest we enter into temptation. There are dangers in our dress; and dangers in our table; and dangers in our friends; and dan
That is, First. He was in danger of being raised too high for the usefulness as a minister. A minister is to have compassion on the ignorant; to comfort the feebleminded; to sympathize with the afflicted; and to speak a word in season to him that is weary-He is to enter into all the circum-gers in our children. Things innocent in stances, and melt into all the feelings of his themselves may become injurious; things people. Now there are things which, instead even good in themselves may become evil. of preparing him for this accommodation, Knowledge may puff up: our enlargements may disqualify him. He may be raised above in duty, and even our attainments in religion, it. That which promises the preacher use- may-through our remaining corruptionfulness, by adapting him to the state of his gender, or at least feed, self-sufficiency and hearers, is not something peculiar to himself, highmindedness. but that which he experiences in common with them. Paul was growing too wise; he was in danger, so to speak, of shooting over the people's heads. He had to do with poor mortals upon earth-What was the language of paradise to them; It could only make them stare, or exclaim, "How fine, how wonderful a preacher! Why, no one can understand him!" But when he spake to them of thorns, and afflictions, and prayer, and sustaining grace, he was on their level; and they could apprehend and feel him.
Secondly. He was in danger of being elevated too high for his present condition as a Christian. When Peter saw Moses and Elias in glory, and our Saviour transfigured
Do you wonder at your danger? See Paul himself in hazard, from the influence of vanity and pride. Even he was beginning to rise and swell, from the distinguishing honours that had been shown him. "Why this is a very astonishing privilege-Who was ever caught up into heaven, while on earth? This is really placing me above the prophets; yea, above Moses himself. He spake with God, it is said, face to face; but he was never admitted into the third heaven. The glorious prerogative belongs to me only." No creature, perhaps, discovered in him such a tendency towards self-exaltation; and Paul himself was probably unconscious of his danger. But it was his mercy that he had one
to watch over him who discerned his exposure in time; and employed means,
able to discover any duty that I have know-
II. For HIS PRESERVATION, which we proceed to consider. "There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. This thorn has exceedingly perplexed expositors; and they knew not, after all their conjectures, what to do with it. It would be a waste of your time, to attempt to determine what is among the secrets of the Almighty; and which, if discovered, would be of no importance. We even admire the wisdom that has left it in uncertainty. If you knew what it exclusively was, those of you who are in affliction, but not afflicted in the same thing, would be ready to say, "Ah! Paul never knew my heart's bitterness-He never had my thorn!" But now, none of you can say this; for you are ignorant of what it was. Let then a Baxter, who for thirty years endured the stone, imagine that it was his torment; let a Watts, moving in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling, conclude that it was a nervous malady; let a third infer, that it was a slanderer; a fourth, a try-ed his peace of mind; the other was torn with ing companion; and so of the rest.—If such anguish, and his sin was ever before him. a supposition tends to soothe the mind under The one was crowned with glory and honour, irritation, and leads the sufferer to believe the other, in his reputation, suffered a dreadthat it is sent to "keep man from his pur- ful eclipse. A blot and a dishonour did he pose, and to hide pride from man;" the suppo- get, and his reproach shall not be wiped away. sition can never be improper. Thus the Take Hezekiah and Paul, with regard to Scripture teaches us, by what it conceals, as pride. Hezekiah was lifted up; and when well as by what it discovers; and our igno- he humbled himself he was forgiven: -but rance, as well as our knowledge, is rendered this did not repair the many sad effects of his useful. ambition-for "wrath came upon him and upon all Judah." But Paul was taken earlier; the God of his mercy prevented him— or who can imagine what consequences might have resulted from sin in such a character, both with regard to himself, the church, and the world!
He therefore determined to prevent the evil; and it is commonly said, Prevention is better than cure; and it is truly said, and never so truly-as with regard to sin. Let us take, for instance, Joseph and David, with respect to adultery. Joseph was preserved, and David was restored. But observe the difference. The one was useful, as an example, to excite and encourage; the other hardened and justified the ungodly, turned religion into a jeer, and "caused the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme." The one retain
All we learn is, That this thorn in the flesh was some sharp and piercing affliction; in which the enemy of souls had a peculiar influence: for it was "the messenger of Satan to buffet him." And to buffet him was all his aim. But his intention was overruled; and the curse turned into a blessing. Thus the leech adheres to the flesh, and fills himself with blood, and looks no further: but the hand of the Faculty guides it to the place of contact, and the relief of the patient is the consequence. Thus we have seen men in a boat, looking one way, and rowing another. Thus all creatures are in the Lord's hand, and under his control: he gave Joseph favour in the sight of the jailer; brought Elijah food by ravens; and sent Paul safety by Satan himself!
Ah! said David, when he had been hindered from effecting a purpose of revenge; "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me: and blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand." Who is not under obligation to praise God for the same preventing goodness! One ought to say, "Blessed be God for that event, which took me out of a situation in which 1 now see I should have been corrupted and destroyed." Another ought to say, "Blessed be God, for that breach of friendship; it saved me from a pleasing, but irreligious companion, who would have undermined my
But you will observe, that Paul does not say, "There was given me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, because I was exalted above measure," but "lest I should be." I wish you to remark principles." Another ought to say, "Blessed this, in order to see, that affliction is design-be God for such a brotherly reproof: it seems ed to prevent, as well as to recover. This is severe, and many a tear it cost me; but it a case of great importance in the experience checked me on the very brink of ruin." Anof Christians. You say, perhaps, "After the other ought to say, "Blessed be God, I should most faithful examination of myself, I am not have made flesh my arm, and gold my hope;
but disappointment has turned my eye upward, and now, Lord, what wait I for, my hope is in thee?""
III. How was he employed under this trying dispensation? HE GAVE HIMSELF UNTO PRAYER. "For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from
Prayer is the refuge of the afflicted. It is, therefore, recommended by Infinite Wisdom and Goodness. "Is any afflicted? let him pray." Prayer cannot be offered in vain; for, says the promise, "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee." Yea, the very exercise of prayer, as well as the answer, brings succour. There is some relief even in tears. You have heard of the luxury of weeping. It is soothing, in distress, to pour our tears into the bosom of a friend, who, rejoicing when we rejoiced, will now weep when we weep. But oh! to turn aside, as Job did, and say, "Mine eye poureth out tears unto God!" To tell Him all that distresses us, and all that alarms, with a confidence in his compassion and sympathy and power and wisdom, all of which are infinite! Here is an asylum, from which no enemy can cut us off; here is a sanctuary, that no evil can invade; here the repose of the grave, and of glory, begins-here "the wicked cease from troubling," and here "the weary are at rest." I do not wonder that David should say, "It is good for me to draw nigh to God;" or that Hannah, when she had poured out her soul before God, should go her way and eat and drink, and her countenance be no more sad.
Prayer was the effect of Paul's suffering. Is it the result of yours? How does your affliction operate? Does it make you a suppliant, or a fury? Does it lead you to quarrel with instruments, or to commit your cause unto God? It is by their influence you are to know whether your afflictions are sanctified. If they lead you to the throne of grace; if you can say,
"Trials make the promise sweet:
then the thorns have done something for you; and will do more.
A man under sanctified affliction, will not pray carelessly, but "continue instant in prayer." He will say, with Jacob, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." Thus Paul besought the Lord thrice. Our Saviour, "in his agony, prayed most earnestly; he kneeled down and prayed three times, saying the same words." But I do not understand the expression of our apostle numerically: it imports, that he prayed fervently and frequently. But was this necessary? Is not the God he addressed "a God hearing prayer? Merciful and gracious? A very present help in
trouble?" The case is this: The prayer of faith is always immediately heard, but not always immediately answered. The reason is, not that he is wanting in kindness, but, that he exercises his kindness wisely: he is a God of judgment, and therefore he waits that he may be gracious unto us. He will take away all hope in ourselves and in creatures. He will make us sensible of the value of the blessing; and prepare us to sing aloud of his mercy when it comes. We are like children; we wish to gather the fruit while it is yet unripe; that is, before it has acquired the fine complexion and the rich flavour, and while the use of it is even dangerous. But he pulls back our impatient hand; he is resolved that it shall ripen before it is eaten. Nor will he yield for our crying.
The time of delay is often peculiarly trying. When he seems to shut out our prayer; when we stand at the door and knock, and hear nothing like an opening, especially if the weather be foul too; there is danger of our withdrawing, with the complaint of the unbelieving nobleman, "Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?" But "he that believeth, maketh not haste." He will check his murmuring and his despondency, by reflecting, that God is a sovereign upon whom he has no claims; that his own time of acting must be infinitely the most proper; and, above all, that he cannot seek him in vain. For "the vision is but for an appointed time; in the end it will speak," and its contents will be more than satisfactory. Thus Paul at length obtained,
IV. AN ANSWER. "And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee." Observe two things.
First. The answer does not apparently correspond with the petition. Paul prayed to have the thorn removed: to this, God says nothing; but assures him of something equally good; yea, unspeakably better. Let us not overlook this circumstance. With regard to temporal things we cannot be too general in our prayers, or refer ourselves too much to the pleasure of God. We can hardly with safety say more than this-"O Lord, grant me such a deliverance, or such an indul gence, if it be good for me; but, if not, favour me with a denial. Not my will, but thine be done." For our prayers, like ourselves, are imperfect: nature sometimes speaks, without our being aware of it, in the tone of grace; and we are really pleading only for our pride, or impatience, or unbelief. We know not what to pray for as we ought: but the Lord knows what to give; and he gives, perfectly acquainted with the case, in all its bearings, and in all its consequences; and with a love towards us that passeth knowledge. Hence he sometimes denies a request entirely; at other times he separates the good from the evil, and grants us a part;
while frequently he answers by way of ex-theless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable change. If a child was to ask of a father a fruit of righteousness unto them which are fish, and he should give him a serpent, we exercised thereby." Secondly, it is sufficient should be shocked at the deed. But suppose to render them supportable. What am I the child, by reason of his ignorance, should saying? I have marked the effect too lowask for a serpent instead of a fish: we should It is sufficient to enable you to "glory in then admire the father, if he refused what he tribulation also." Yes," says the Church, asked, and gave him what he did not ask." having nothing, and yet possessing all We applaud not only the judgment, but the things."-" Although the fig tree shall not kindness of the parent, who, in the education blossom neither shall fruit be in the vines; of his son, regulates his conduct, not by his the labour of the olive shall fail, and the wishes, but by his wants. He may wish for fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be holidays, while he wants schooling; he may cut off from the fold, and there shall be no wish for delicacies, while he wants medicine. herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Our heavenly Father always gives according Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." to what we ought to ask;—and according to And what says the experience of some of what we should ask,—if we had the same you, my fellow Christians? Have you not, views with himself, and the same regard for when they arrived, borne with patience, with our welfare-for our welfare governs all his cheerfulness, with peace, with joy-trials dealings with us. which, in the prospect, made you tremble? Spilsbury was a sufferer for conscience' sake. He had been once imprisoned, and released; and when apprehended a second time, he said-as they were conveying him awayhis wife and children weeping around him; "Weep not for me; I am not afraid to go to prison now, for I found God there the first time." Ah! says many a sufferer, awaking from despondency, in a situation where he thought no ray of heaven could enter, "Surely God is in this place, and I knew it not!" The people of the world often wonder that Christians are not only patient, but blessed in those circumstances which make them turbulent and miserable-as Isaiah finely expresses it, "like a wild bull in a net." The reason is this. They can see their losses and sufferings, but not their supports and consolations. Did they see all-did they see how underneath were the everlasting arms; they would not wonder that they do not sink. Did they see how they are fed with the hidden manna, they would not wonder that they do not faint. Did they see how, in the mudwalled cottage, and lying on the half-straw bed of languishing, the kingdom of God was within them; they would not wonder that they can "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory!" But many know nothing of the blessedness of this promise; and even those who are the heirs of it know but very little.
Secondly. The answer is yet blessed and glorious. "My grace is sufficient for thee!" -not thy grace, but mine: not that which thou hast in thy possession, but that which I have in my keeping, and will seasonably communicate, in the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Nothing in thyself, I will be always near; always within call; always within reach. “My grace is sufficient for thee." Sufficient for what? Write all thy wants underneath. Sufficient for what?
Sufficient for thy work; which often discourages thee, and is enough to discourage thee, if it is to be performed in thine own strength. But it is not. "As thy day, so shall thy strength be. My strength shall be made perfect in thy weakness." Sufficient for what? Sufficient for thy warfare; which often alarms thee, and is enough to alarm thee, if thine enemies only are seen. But look at me. "More are they that are for thee, than they that are against thee.""Greater is he that is in thee than he that is in the world." Sufficient for what?
Sufficient for thy affliction; which often depresses thee, and is enough to depress thee, if thou art to struggle with it alone. But thou art not to be alone. "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee."
This was Paul's case. I will not remove the thorn in the flesh, says the Saviour-but while suffering-my grace shall be sufficient for thee. Whatever therefore, Christian, be your affliction, remember, here is your sufficiency; and be persuaded, that this grace is sufficient for two purposes, which you should be more concerned to have accomplished than to have your thorns extracted. It is sufficient, First, to sanctify your afflictions: so that though "no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; never