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That we may not imagine these things to be peculiar to St. Paul, we proceed to shew II. Wherein our experience must resemble his
“ As face answers to face in a glass, so doth the heart of man to man:” and every one who is converted to God will resemble the apostle 1. In an utter abhorrence of all sin
[Sin is really hateful to all who see it in its true colours; it is properly called, “ filthiness of the flesh and spirit;" and all who feel its workings within them, will loathe both it, and themselves on account of it, notwithstanding God is pacified towards them." Ungodly men may indeed hate sin in others; as Judah did, when he sentenced his daughter Tamar to death for the crime in which he himself had borne a share;c and as David did, when he condemned a man to die for an act, which was but a very faint shadow of the enormities whích he himself had committed.d Ungodly men may go so far as to hate sin in themselves, as Judas did when he confessed it with so much bitterness and anguish of spirit; and as a woman may who has brought herself to shame, or a gamester, who has reduced his family to ruin. But it is not sin that they hate, so much as the consequences of their sin. The true Christian is distinguished from all such persons in that he hates sin itself, independent of any shame or loss he may sustain by means of it in this world, or any punishment he may suffer in the world to come. The apostle did not refer to any act that had exposed him to shame before men, or that had destroyed his hopes of acceptance with God, but to the inward corruption of which he could not altogether divest himself; and every one that is upright before God will resemble him in this respect, and hold in abhorrence those remains of depravity which he cannot wholly extirpate.
Nor will the true Christian justify himself from the consideration that he cannot put off his corrupt nature: no; he will grieve from his inmost soul that he is so depraved a creature. When he sees how defective he is in every grace, how weak his faith, how faint his hope, how cold his love, when he sees that the seeds of pride and envy, of anger and resentment, of: worldliness and sensuality yet abide in his heart, he weeps over his wretched state, and “groans in this tabernacle being burthened.” Not that this grief arises from fear of perishing, but simply from the consideration that these corruptions defile his soul, and displease his God, and rob him of that sweet fel
a 2 Cor. vii. 1.
c Gen. xxxviii. 24-26. VOL. V.
- 3 L
b Ezek. xvi. 63.
lowship with the Deity, which, if he were more purified from them, it would be his privilege to enjoy.
Under these impressions he will desire a deliverance from sin as much as from hell itself: not like a merchant, who casts his goods out of his ship merely to keep it from sinking, and wishes for them again as soon as he is safe on shore; but like one racked with pain and agony by reason of an abscess, who not only parts with the corrupt matter with gladness, but beholds it afterwards with horror and disgust, and accounts its separation from him as his truest felicity.
Let every one then examine himself with respect to these things, and ask himself distinctly, “ Am I like Paul in loathing sin of every kind, and of every degree? Does my grief for the secret remains of sin within me swallow up every other grief? And am I using every means in my power, and espeeially calling upon God, to destroy sin root and branch?"] 2. In a thankful reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ
[The hopes of every true Christian arise from Christ alone: if he had no other prospect than what he derived from his own inherent goodness, he would despair as much as those who are beyond a possibility of redemption. But there is in Christ such a fulness of all spiritual blessings treasured up for his people, that the most guilty cannot doubt of pardon, nor can the weakest doubt of victory, provided he rely on that adorable Saviour, and seek his blessings with penitence and contrition. In him the apostle found an abundance to supply his want; and from the same inexhaustible fountain does every saint draw water with joy.
And what must be the feelings of the Christian when he is enabled to say of Christ, “This is my friend, this is my beloved?” Must he not immediately exclaim, “ Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!” Must not the very stones cry out against him, if he withhold his acclamations and hosan-, nas? Yes; “ to every one that believes, Christ is, and must be, precious.” “All that are of the true circumcision will rejoice in him, having no confidence in the flesh.” And the deeper sense any man has of his own extreme vileness, the more fervently will he express his gratitude to God for providing a Saviour so suited to his necessities.] Let us then learn from this subject 1. The nature of vital godliness
[Religion, as it is experienced in the soul, is not, as some imagine, a state of continual sorrow, nor, as others fondly hope, a state of uninterrupted joy. It is rather a mixture of joy and sorrow, or, if we may so speak, it is a joy springing out of sorrow. 'It is a conflict between the fleshly and spiritual
principle,o continually humbling us on account of what is in ourselves, and filling us with joy on account of what is in Christ Jesus. And the being thus emptied of all our own imaginary goodness, and being made thankful to God for the blessing we receive in and through Christ, is that which constitutes the warfare, and the victory, of every true Christian.] 2. How little true religion there is in the world
[We hcar every living man complaining at times of troubles civil, domestic, or personal: and we find every man at times exhilarated on some occasion or other. But we might live years with the generality of men, and never once hear them crying, “O my inward corruptions; what a burthen they are to my distressed soul!” Nor should we see them ever once rejoicing in Christ' as their suitable and all-sufficient Saviour. Yea, if we were only to suggest such a thought to them, they would turn away from us in disgust. Can we need any further proof of the prevalence, the general prevalence, of irreligion? May God make use of this indisputable fact for the bringing home of conviction upon all our souls!)
3. What consolation is provided for them who have ever so small a portion of true religion in their hearts
[Many experience the sorrows of religion without its joys; and they refuse to be comforted because of the ground they have for weeping and lamentation. But if their sins are a just occasion of sorrow, their sorrow on account of sin is a just occasion of joy: and the more they cry, O wretched man that I am, the more reason they have to add, “Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ.” Let this be our alternate effusion now; and ere long it shall be our only, and uninterrupted, song ever.)
e Gal. v. 17.
DLXXXVIII. THE SUCCESS OF FERVENT PRAYER. 2 Cor. xii. 7–9. 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. 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: 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.
THERE is scarcely any thing in the scriptures that more deserves our attention than the remarkable instances of answers to prayer. Throughout the whole Bible, if we see any one betake himself to prayer, we may know beforehand the issue of his conflicts: whatever be his difficulties, if only he go to God, saying, "I have no might in myself, but mine eyes are unto thee," we may be well assured of his success: his petition invariably brings Omnipotence to his support
; and he is made more than conqueror over all his adversaries. St. Paul relates a most encouraging instance respecting himself, wherein he found to his unspeakable comfort the efficacy of prayer.
To illustrate it, we shall consider I. His trial : Highly favoured as the apostle was, he was nevertheless bowed down with a heavy affliction
[None, however honoured and beloved of God, can hope to escape trouble. What was the particular trial, with which the apostle was assaulted, it is impossible to say. The most reasonable conjecture seems to be, that it was something occasioned by his vision, perhaps some distortion of his features
, or impediment in his speech, that rendered both his person and his speech contemptible; and of which the false teachers
, those“ messengers and ministers of Satan,”a took advantage, to undermine his influence in the church of God. This to the apostle, whose heart was wholly bent upon glorifying God
, and saving the souls of men, would be a heavy afiliction, like “a thorn in his flesh,” festering and causing the acutest
a 2 Cor. xi. 14, 15.
• Construe άγγελος Σατάν with να με menu pirms and compare 2 Cor. 5. 10. with Gal. iv. 13, 14.
pain. But, whatever it was, Satan took occasion from it to distress the mind of the apostle with a far keener anguish than his body could have sustained from the severest blows of men. Nor need we regret that we are ignorant of the precise temptation with which St. Paul was harassed; sinct, whatever our trials be, we may consider ourselves as in his situation, and obtain relief in the same way that he did.]
The reason for which that affliction was sent him, it is of great importance to observe
[T'he apostle was not yet perfect: and though he had been caught up into the third heavens, he was yet liable to sin: the seeds of pride were yet in his heart; and they would derive life and vigour even from those very mercies, which, to human appearance, should have had a tendency to destroy them. To counteract this evil of his heart, God sent him a heavy trial. And, if we were more attentive to the ends of God's dispensations towards ourselves, we might always find some good reason for them within our own hearts. Pride is a hateful and accursed evil; and if suffered to reign within us, will bring us “ into the condemnation of the devil:” nor, however severe the remedy may be, should we be averse to endure it, if only it may be instrumental to the extirpating of this deeply-rooted propensity. In this case, though Satan may be the agent that inflicts the stroke, God is the kind friend that “gives” it: and though Satan intends us nothing but evil, God overrules it for our good.]
The conduct of the apostle under his trial will be instructive to us, if we consider II. The means he used to obtain deliverance from it He carried his trouble to a throne of grace
[Paul well knew the efficacy of fervent prayer, and how vain it was to contend with Satan in his own strength. He therefore besought the Lord to extract this thorn, and to relieve him from his distress. The Lord not immediately vouchsafing him an answer, he renewed his petitions with yet greater fervour: and when still no answer came, he became more and more urgent, determining, like Jacob of old, that he would not go without a blessing. This was a certain mean of obtaining deliverance. It was the mean which our Lord himself used under the pressure of that wrath that was due to our sins: He prayed “thrice" that the cup might pass from him. Nor is such urgent prayer at all expressive of a want of resignation to the will of God: it is our privilege and our duty to “ call upon God in the time of trouble;” and troubles are often sent
« This is twice mentioned in ver. 7.