"And lest I should be exhalted 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 exhalted 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." (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
We ask your attention, especially to these words: "My grace is sufficient for thee." The devil is cunning and an artful adversary. His first effort on humanity is to make us believe that we are strong enough and that we are good enough without any religion, that we are all right, and we needn't give ourselves any trouble; we're as good as anybody, a first-class fellow; but by and by we become possessed with an idea that we are not so strong, and not so good, and not so pure. The fact of the business is that when we reach the conclusion of a sensible and wise man, we say, "I am not good at all - I am not strong at all," and then the devil takes that fact and works on it and says: "You're too mean and too weak to travel and to talk about being good."
How many thousand men who walk the streets of this city have been possessed of one of these ideas to their ruin and to other's ruin! The first thing a man so possessed says, is: "I'm all right - I don't need any help - I don't want any Christ to die for me. I don't ask odds of anybody." And the next thing you see, the poor fellow has jumped clear over on the proposition, and says, "Now, there isn't any use of my trying; I'm the meanest man in the world, the wickedest and of the least account. If I just thought there was a chance for me I wouldn't mind starting. The fact is, I'm so lowdown, and so weak, there's no chance for me at all."
Now, I want to say to you, brother, that of the two cases, I prefer the latter. There is no hope at all for a fellow who believes he is all right, when he isn't. That man is hopelessly lost while in that condition, but I have great hopes for a fellow that has touched bottom on the other side, and who feels, "I am not right, I'm not pure, nor good, and I haven't strength to be so, though I want to be right."
"I sat this morning a half-hour talking to an honest man. I believe he was an honest and a true man. He said, "Mr. Jones, I have indulged in sin and been so depraved that I have lost my will power. I want to be good. I want to be a Christian and to abandon my sins. I want to live right and get to heaven. But, Mr. Jones, my will power is gone." I wish every Christian in this house and all these preachers could say, "I have lost my will power." Their case is mighty hopeful then. They can then say, "All my will is swallowed up in Thy will. Now I will consult the will of God and bid goodbye to my will and accept the will of God and the truth of God." I wish the whole universe would lose its will and have its will swallowed up in the will of God.
Now, here, we have a case before us today. Paul was largely like some of us, in that he once felt, "I am all right now; I am blameless; I never did contrary to right; I live on the straight edge;" but the time came, when in hopeless despair he fell; and when he arose he said: "Though I am a Pharisee of the Pharisees, of the tribe of Benjamin, I count all these as nothing compared to the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord."
Paul seemed to have been in need of this subdued condition of his will. He had been exalted to the third heaven, and had heard the unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter; his ears had been touched with the music of heaven; but at last he came down from these towering heights. Like Paul, the deeper down you go, the more Artesian power will be added to the current of your life. There are many little shallow wells in this country, with a great many wiggle-tails in them. You all don't know exactly what that means. We do in South Georgia. In some places down there, they keep a long-handled gourd - they don't need any bucket or rope for a man can dip his water out of the well - but in one place in South Georgia, there is long-handled gourd and a pine knot at the well. The pine knot is very much worn. The first thing they do when they want to get water out of the well, is to knock against the wooden sides with the pine knot to make the wiggle-tails sink, so that they can dip the water up, free from them. And there are many preachers in this country that have to use the pine knot.
O, brother, we will go into the deepest depth, and go up into the highest heights, but there are depths and heights in piety I know nothing about. There are heights in divine life I never have reached. There are beauties in Christian experience that you and I know nothing about. O, brother, let's go down in humility, in contrition, in honest confession before God.
Now, when you find a fellow away down, remember David said, "I was brought low and the Lord helped me." The Lord fishes on the bottom, and if you want to get to his bait and hook, you've got to get right on the bottom, brother. "I was brought low and the Lord helped me." Now, St. Paul had been high and he had been low. We find him here on a very low plain. "There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me."
What was that thorn, do you know? I am glad I do not know. I am glad no human being knows just what that thorn was. Some of the wise men say the thorn in St. Paul's flesh was the fact that his eyesight was defective. For you know when he fell under the convicting power of God, he was blind three days and nights, and they tell us his eyesight was never entirely restored, and that that was the thorn in his flesh. Perhaps as he walked the streets the people said, "There goes old half-blind Paul, trying to teach people the way to heaven. Just look at him!" This was trying to a sensitive nature such as his. Others have said that the thorn in St. Paul's flesh was a defect in one of his legs, by reason of which he had to limp as he went through the world, carrying the Gospel, and then perhaps they would say as they saw him, "Watch old Paul now, hobbling along, trying to show the people how to get to glory. He is a nice fellow trying to teach people." The fact that he was lame was indeed a sore trial to him, and then to be scoffed at on account of his infirmity was indeed sad. Another wise man tells us that he thinks the thorn in St. Paul's flesh was the continued suppression of the ambition of his nature. Paul was eminently a great man. God never made a greater man, intellectually, morally, or spiritually than St. Paul. I measure his head and his heart, and I don't know which is the bigger. If you will find me a man who has a great deal of brains and no heart, I will find you a stolid, sound, solid, decent, dogmatic doctor of divinity that has not won a soul to Christ in twenty years; but there is one thing he will do, - he will "contend for the faith once delivered." And he is giving a falsehood to his own proposition, "contending for the faith once delivered." It ought to be for the faith delivered ten thousand times.
Brother, I reckon we need these men in the world. I have never been wise enough to know why these men go all to head. There is a woman, they say, in the show who is nearly all gone to feet, but it's a sad sight to see a fellow gone altogether to head. He would wear a number thirty hat, I suppose, and his head would weigh fifty pounds and his body forty. That's out of proportion. Brother, it's the head and the heart together that we are to look at, and this grand man had both.
And now to curb the ambition of his nature, St. Paul - the Saul of Tarsus, with a world stretched out before him, with powers to succeed in any direction, with qualifications equal to the grandest accomplishments in life - is chained in the eyes of the world to the humble and despised Nazarene and his truths.
I do not think it was the defect in his eyesight; I do not think it was his lameness. I do not think it was suppressed ambition or subdued ambition. You ask me what it was - this thorn in his flesh? I say I do not know. Look here. If suppressed ambition were all my trouble, I could get along finely. If it were only lameness, I could hobble along. If it were defect in my eyesight, I could put up with that. But I tell you, brother, every man in this world has some supreme thorn in his flesh, and he can cherish the blessed thought, "Maybe this was the very thing that crushed St. Paul's spirit, and brought him so low to the mercy-seat."
Now, what your thorn is I do not know, but there is not a person here today without a thorn. You know there is something you never talk about, never mention to any human being on the face of the earth. Did you ever notice that? You may talk a great deal, yet there is something you keep to yourself. There are some moments when God alone can take our arm and walk with us, or we would not go right.
Paul did not tell what his thorn was. He might have said, "I am suffering more than angels can bear." What is your case? "I can not tell you about it; I want your sympathy and prayers." Where is the man who has not carried a thorn in his flesh of which he has never spoken? I know that I have gotten a great deal of consolation in my distressed moments in the thought that "Well, after all, may be this thing that pressed so sorely on the life and character of this great man - may be I am to bear that."
Now, brother, St. Paul carried this thorn in his flesh, the messenger of Satan, to buffet him. He carried it until he felt in his heart, "I can carry it no longer." Haven't you been right there? Have you not felt that you must be relieved, or you would die? St. Paul reached that point. What did he do? St. Paul looked at this whole trouble, and then, when the world and his friends had turned their backs upon him, he fell on his knees and prayed, "O, Lord, I beseech thee, let this depart from me; I am overloaded." He got up off his knees and said: "I get no relief in prayer. If angels don't help, humanity won't. My friends turn their backs on me. What must I do?" And he dropped on his knees the second time, and said, "O, Lord, do have mercy upon me." And he prayed earnestly, and got off his knees the second time, and there was the thorn still in his flesh, with all of its unspeakable pain. He looked at the world; his friends turned back from him; and at the angels, and there was a moment, perhaps, when he said, "O, what can I do?" And St. Paul dropped the third time to his knees. And there is a charm in this third prayer, brother; and imagine the third prayer of St. Paul, and the blessed Christ, as he stood at the Father's side and said: "Father, something must be done. I recollect the third time I prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. I remember when I had prayed once and got up, I found my disciples all asleep, and I awoke them, and when I went into the garden a second time, and came back, I found them asleep again, and I went all alone and almost hopeless into the garden, and kneeled down the third time, and the bloody sweat burst from my body, and how I prayed that the cup might pass from me, and that I might be fanned with the wings of thy love. O, Father, I recollect that. Something must now be done." And I imagine the great God stood up in the presence of the angels, and looked over the parapets of heaven, reached down and put his thumb on the thorn in St. Paul's flesh, and drove it up, and said, "My grace is sufficient for thee." And St. Paul stood up, and has never said a word about that thorn from that day to this. Thank God!
"My grace is sufficient for thee." That's it, brother; that's it!
I tell you, my brother, today, whatever your supreme trouble is, whatever may be the thorn you are carrying, go to God with it. If God does not pluck it out, he may drive it to the very head, but he will say, "My grace is sufficient for thee." When we go to God, and he puts his hand on that thorn, and drives it up, and says, "My grace is sufficient for thee," trust him and he will give you strength. When you are weak, you are going to be strengthened under him.
Thank God, I say, that there are weak moments in our lives. Then God shows his power and love. May God help you to trust in him, and help you to see that whatever your thorn is, he will take care of it for you.
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