2 Corinthians 1.
There is a very close connection, and yet a striking contrast, between the circumstances in which the apostle is found, in chapters 1 and 12 of this Epistle. In chap. 1, he is, we may say, altogether in human circumstances, surrounded by straits, difficulties, and trials, which came upon him no doubt in his service; he was in circumstances in no way peculiar to him, but which might be ours at any time. But in chap. 12 he was altogether in God's circumstances, taken up into the third heaven, and then sent back into this world to go through it as a crippled man. He gets a thorn in his flesh because God would have Paul entirely in His strength. At some time or other we might be called to go through, in our measure, what we find in chap. 1. Chap. 12 save the expression, "a man in Christ," is entirely an exceptional case; God having a distinct purpose towards His servant in connection with His ministry; still, although we may not be caught up into Paradise as he was, we do get thorns in the flesh.
"Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1:3). What strikes one here is, the apostle begins the opposite way from that in which most would begin. If we had anything to relate as he had, we should have started with our troubles and pressures, and gone on perhaps to tell of the comfort and consolation ministered by God to us; but the apostle begins with the source of all comfort, "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies." Thus he begins at the fountain head, and not at the stream; he comes down to the stream, "that we may be able to comfort;" he did not go up to God from that, but from God Himself he came down, to the comfort he ministered. It makes an immense difference at what end we begin. We find broken hearts in this world, it is the very scene to meet them in; who can bind them up but God Himself? But we must take care not to make our need the measure of His comfort; if you make your troubles, or sorrows, or difficulties, the measure of anything that is in God, you limit to that what is in Him.
There was One who had unmeasured trouble and sorrow here, and only One — the blessed Lord; to us, all is measured out, either God-given, or God-permitted, sorrow. He puts on us only what He sees needful for us. There is no temptation, but that which is common to man. God will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able. He knows exactly what the vessel is able to bear. He puts the right amount on it, and then places His own blessed strength, as it were, under it, and so helps us to carry it. All goes on under His hand, no amount of God-given consolation, in the midst of the troubles we pass through, could ever be the measure of what is in God's heart, so the Apostle breaks out with "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," who is the source of it all. Then we find the relationship, "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," — this defines the relationship we are in to Him, and then adds, "the Father of mercies." He is the spring and source of every mercy — it is all mercy, mercy every step of the way; every trouble is mercy, all His way with us is mercy. Paul begins with God; he starts from the holy glorious person of the blessed God Himself, — all in Him is perfect fulness, divine sufficiency; and then the Apostle comes down to what He does, "who comforteth us," etc. The Apostle is passed through all he speaks of here in order that he might be able to minister it to others. The servant is passed through many an exercise and difficulty, many a pressure and trial, often not so much for himself as for those he would serve under Christ. He produces in the servant that character which it is His object to develop by means of his service. He puts the servant in the stocks, as it were, that he may be able to come forth and say, — "Oh, I have tasted the mercy of God as the God of all comfort.'"
We never can get sympathy from others while they themselves are in the same circumstances; when they have passed through them, they are fitted to help and comfort us. Some say, — "You cannot sympathize with me, because you are not in the same circumstances;" but if it were so, they could not sympathize, because they would be engrossed with their own trouble. How often in trouble, people claim to be shut up to themselves they think none can understand, but after any one has passed through it, he can draw near to those in sorrow, and tell them of the comfort wherewith he has been comforted.
There must be school time in God's family, and everything must be fully tested and proved. If walking with God, are we not conscious of how little we are able to help one another? Painful it is to see how well able we appear to be to find the weak points in one another. To tell a man he is at the bottom of a deep ditch is one thing, but it is quite another to be able through grace to take him out of it. We must know the hand and heart of God, and His sustaining power for ourselves, and then we can meet others in their varied circumstances, and like a skilful physician, we shall know the relative value of each medicine, and be apt to apply them. He must have gone to school in order to learn, and so must we, as it were, walk this great hospital of suffering, that is, this present world, and taste the balm of consolation ourselves, ere we can commend it to others.
God was thinking of the Corinthians, they were in His mind, and therefore He says, as it were, I will take my servant and pass him through the heights and depths, through every variety of circumstance. (2 Cor. 11.) For what purpose? In order that I may display in him the power of Christ, and in order that the same power may go out through him and reach the Corinthians. Paul is afflicted for the sake of the Corinthians; this makes the position of the servant of Christ very solemn — the servant ought to be ready for everything. Some act as if they thought they could carry the world before them; they are applauded, made much of. This is the world's notion — the thought in Scripture of a servant is, one who suffers, not one who reigns, who goes through pressure and difficulty, evil report and good report. (2 Cor. 6.) He ought to be one who has such a hold upon God, and who has God so before him, that he can say, "Here am I, send me," content to be placed in the furnace, that out of a broken heart, he may be able to minister the consolations of God. Was it said to Paul, "I will show him how great things he must do?" No, — but what he must suffer for My name's sake. It is not only a man's gift, or his words, but God takes up a man's person, and puts him into every sort of up and down, that he may stand by the afflicted ones, and say, "This was my comfort in my sorrow." It is a lonely, quiet, unnoticed, and unknown path, but one of most precious blessing. When a person has lost his reputation, his good name, if ever he had one, not only in the world, but even among the saints, when a person is in the shade, in the deeps with Christ, it is an opportunity to see how near He can come to him. "At my first answer, no man stood with me," he was absolutely alone, and he had not a hard thought about one of them. "I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge." "The Lord stood with me." Paul proved what God was. The time to learn the power, and the comforts, and the consolations, of Christ is the time when they are wanted, so "out of the eater comes forth meat," etc.
Ver. 8. There is another thing, God has a reason in it all — a reason on our side for all the difficulties and troubles, and a reason on His own side.
First, on our side. — Take Adam, innocent in the garden of Eden, he did not know what exercise was, — if we had no will against God, we should not have exercise; the stronger our will, the greater the needs be for exercise. If a person says, "I never go through exercise," I should much fear he is led by his own natural will, because we have two natures in us, and "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh." Though you may not be conscious of it, your will may have gained the upper hand; the amount of exercise then is proportionate to the amount of will; Adam, innocent, had no exercise for a time, he does God's will; but we spring from Adam fallen, though now we are in Christ, and our only power is by the Holy Ghost dwelling in us. Thus God puts His servant through death and resurrection, "we had the sentence of death in ourselves." He puts us into death that we may trust Him who is the resurrection, and know Him who is the life; this exercise keeps us on the watch, and subjugates us in many ways. Trouble is intended to subdue and quiet us, otherwise there is ever the danger that our will may be active. God has no cure for it but death; our part is to bear about in our "body the dying of Jesus." God's part is to deliver us to death, and we apply the death of Christ to ourselves. Whatever He died to, is the measure of what we must renounce. God hands us over to death that we should not trust in ourselves: a man drowning needs a saviour and a deliverer, — rescue and help must come from outside. Never is the bright morning of resurrection known in the soul, except as we have passed through the gloomy night of death, then what awaits us is the bright resurrection morn. The disciples met Jesus on the shore; in this case He had gone through death for them, and they found He had everything prepared for them as delivered from death. We must go through the gloomy night, and the darkness of the grave; we must, as it were, be invested with the shroud, and go into the tomb, but only that we may come forth and bloom in resurrection beauty. I should be sorry to make anyone gloomy or depressed. We have nothing to do but to be passive in His hand and not in anywise to be analysing the death we must pass through. May God keep each eye on the resurrection morning. He is the God of the living; resurrection and glory is God's great thought both for our bodies in future, as well as for our spirits now. He does for us morally in our history now what He will do literally in our bodies by and by; hence we go into death, in order that through it we may come out into the bright morning of resurrection. But there is God's side as well as ours; I say it with all reverence, these things are God's opportunity; His heart of love never overlooks the wants and woes of His own; there are no broken hearts, or weeping eyes, in heaven; and if there were no trouble here, we should be debarred the knowledge of how God Himself can draw near to the brokenhearted one, and bind up his wounds. He says as it were, "See how I can comfort you!" as He said of Israel whom He has never given up, "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you." It is evident enough how on our side there is necessity that we should have trials and sorrows, but if we think of the wilderness, its difficulties, exercises and griefs, we can also blessedly understand how they afford Him an occasion of displaying His tenderness amid them all to us while in them, that He may prove to us how equal to every occasion His grace is, and how entirely He can go through every thing with us. "I have surely seen the affliction of My people . . . . . I have heard their cry . . . . I know their sorrows." He is all eye, all ear, and all knowledge, when His people are afflicted, cry, or are sorrowful.
There will be no occasion to display this grace in heaven; there, the absence of sorrow, suffering, and death will mark that scene, just as their presence here marks this poor world. What a sight to faith! God turning the sorrows and afflictions of this poor world to His own account, and displaying in them a tenderness and compassion that overlooks none. He delights to show how He can heal a broken heart, as well as sustain a weak body. The first is not beyond Him, the second is not beneath Him.
You remember how Joseph felt when his brethren doubted him, and gave him no credit for the affection of his heart; his brethren reasoned thus, Now Jacob our father is dead, Joseph will hate us, and requite us all the evil we have done to him;" they thought of him as they would have acted; and he wept. Did he reprove them, or speak harshly to them? He spake kindly, or as in the margin, "he spake to their heart." We read in Hosea 2:14, "I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her, and I will give her her vineyards from thence."
Thus we see how that, literally, death will be Jehovah's way of dealing with Israel in the future, as it is the way of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ with His people, morally, now.
May the Lord graciously incline our hearts by His Spirit to accept His own blessed perfect ways with each one of us, for the Lord Jesus Christ sake!