By the late Rev. Lachlan MacLeod
The substance of a sermon preached at a prayer meeting in Ullapool, Lochbroom, on the evening of Monday, 3rd September, 1973, after a communion season there, and taken from notes by hearers.
Text: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. 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 I should be exalted above measure. 8. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9. 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. 10. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong
Introduction. In the introduction of the sermon reference was made to the fact that the Corinthians were sinful, corrupt and wicked, and although many of them believed the gospel (Acts 18:8), few of the mighty and noble among them were called by grace. Among Christian churches of those days, it was from the Church at Corinth that Paul encountered most opposition with regard to his teaching. Paul therefore refers to his office as an Apostle of Christ and mentions the revelations which he, as an Apostle, received from the Lord. In connection with these revelations there was given to him “a thorn in the flesh”.
WITH regard to the thorn in the flesh, Scripture does not reveal to us what it was. If we were to attempt to say what it was, it would only be guesswork, and we might discourage somebody. Several explanations were before our mind, and we are tempted to make suggestions but we will not do so. Suffice it to say that there was a thorn in the Apostle’s flesh – not a literal thorn, but a messenger of Satan sent to buffet him. A literal thorn in the flesh is a very painful thing – and so was the kind of thorn which Paul had.
What was the reason for the thorn in the flesh? It was sent to him, or permitted by God to be sent, for his good – to keep him down. We are so apt to become proud. We must remember that although Paul was a most eminent man and one of the most godly men ever to be in the world, he was yet a sinner, although a sinner saved by grace. He was in danger of being “exalted above measure”. King Uzziah, as we see in 2 Chronicles, chapter 26, sinned greatly “when he was lifted up” in his pride. King Hezekiah also, who was a beautiful character, an eminently godly man, and one whom the Lord blessed with great riches, sinned in his pride and was brought down.
Paul besought the Lord thrice that the thorn in the flesh would be taken away. Paul was a great man of prayer, but the Lord did not answer his prayer in the way Paul thought He would. But He did answer it. The Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (verse 9). In his affliction Paul learned to acquiesce in the will of God. We may, with all reverence, also refer to the Saviour Himself. In Gethsemane He prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Jacob also was a great man of prayer, and you may remember how afraid he was when he was to meet his brother Esau, and how he wrestled with God at Peniel – with the Angel of the Covenant until the breaking of the day (Genesis 32). Then Jacob “halted upon his thigh”; and ever after that night he was lame. This was to remind him of his weakness and that he was but a man. Every day he would be reminded of Peniel, and of this: “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
Would to God there were those in Lochbroom who would be found wrestling all night in prayer! Are there any such here? Godly Donal’ Beag in Broadford once had a heavy burden upon his heart, and he took it to the Lord in prayer, looking for an answer. Once, twice, three times he took the matter to the Lord but got no answer. Satan came to Donald, tempting him with this temptation: “The Apostle Paul got an answer after taking his prayer three times to the Lord, so you don’t need to think you are going to get an answer, seeing you have now asked three times and got none.” Donald said to Satan that he did not believe a word he said, and that he would take his petition to the Lord a fourth time – which he did. And he got his answer from the Lord. So if you have not been getting an answer to your prayer, take it back to the Lord again and again. Tell it not to man but tell it to the Lord.
The answer given by the Lord to Paul was: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness”(verse 9). The thorn in the flesh was not taken away, but grace was given to bear it. Jacob would be reminded every day, as he halted on his thigh, that by divine grace he had prevailed, and that God was yet saying, as it were, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” How we need God’s grace in order to be kept. We remember reading an obituary of a godly woman written by the late Mr Beaton, Gairloch. We do not remember her name, but this struck us so much at the time: the woman (Mr. Beaton said) would not cross the threshold of her home without going to the throne of grace to ask that she be kept – not even a few yards would she go to visit a neighbour without first praying, so afraid was she of what was in herself! We all should constantly be like that: asking the Lord to keep us. The Psalmist said:
sith it is so that he
Doth ever stand at my right hand,
I shall not moved be” (Psalm 16:8, metrical).
me guide in those thy paths divine,
So that my footsteps may not slide
out of those ways of thine” (Psalm 17:5, metrical).
The Lord is pleased to hear our cries. Thomas Watson resembles the cries of the Lord’s people to the cries of doves. But the dove’s cry, he said, is a plaintive, mournful sort of cry. So are the cries of the Lord’s poor ones; and worldly people make a mock of their mournful groans. But what does the Lord say? “O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely” (Song 2:14). He delights to hear all their cries, and moans, and sighs, and groans; these are heard and received through the great Intercessor, Jesus Christ. We may also refer to Peter whom Satan desired to have. The Lord knew well what was before Peter – and Satan did get Peter into his sieve. But the Lord was with Peter in the sieve, and He was praying for him. The great Intercessor Himself was there.
What was the Apostle’s response to the answer: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness”? It was this: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” And this is what grace will enable the believer to do. The thorn in the flesh was not a chastisement for the Apostle, it was rather to prevent him from being puffed up. We must distinguish between the cross that every Christian has to carry, and the chastisement he or she will receive. We are not going to mention the various crosses the child of God has to bear – they themselves know these best. And they themselves can best carry these burdens to the Lord. See that you yourself will be doing this. See that you will be pleading and pleading with the Lord: and if you get no answer, go again, and again, and again. “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (Genesis 32:26).
In conclusion, I feel that I have to say that I think these words were meant for somebody here tonight, and to you I would say this: Be like the Apostle and take your burden to the Lord, for He says, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
Although these words are for you, they are also for every one of the Lord’s people, and can be applied to them all, for they all have a covenant relationship with the Lord; a relationship that was sealed in the covenant of grace. “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
May the Lord bless His word to us.