Observe here, The great and special sin which St. Paul was in danger of, by the abundance of revelations, namely, the sin of spiritual pride.
Learn hence, That heavenly revelations may be matter and occasion of unmeet and sinful exaltation; The holiest Christians, after their most heavenly acquaintance, are not out of danger of spiritual pride, or being too much exalted. Pride is such a sin as the holiest saint is not fully secured from; no, not when he hath been hearing unutterable words, and seeing the heavenly paradise itself; no, not if he came down from the third heaven, newly from converse with angels, yet bringing an imperfect nature with him, is he not out of danger of this sin, much less is he so when he cometh off his knees from prayer, &c.
Observe, 2. The way and means which the wisdom of God made use of for preventing St. Paul's falling into this dangerous sin of spiritual pride, and that was, the giving him a thorn in the flesh; a bodily pain, say some; a bitter persecution, say others; something that was very afflictive to the flesh, say all.
Learn thence, That spiritual pride is so dangerous a sin, that it is a mercy to be freed from it, even by bodily pain: God seeth our danger when we see not our own, and will hurt the body, to save the soul of his dearest children.
Oh, how much better is it that the body should smart, than that the soul should be overmuch exalted! It is an happy thorn in the flesh, which lets the pestilent and corrupt blood of spiritual pride out of the soul.
Lord! why do we contend and quarrel with thee for every sickness, bodily pain, or afflictive cross? Can sin be prevented or killed at too dear a rate?
Observe, 3. This thorn in the flesh is called the messenger of Satan, from whence St. Chrysostom concluded that it was some evil angel that was permitted and impowered by God to scourge and buffet him. The sufferings of the best and holiest persons in the flesh, may be the buffetings of a messenger of Satan , and yet be from God. Satan certainly intendeth our hurt, but God over-rules him as an instrument to do us good: It is no proof that a man is not a child of God, because Satan has a permission to torment his flesh. The messenger of Satan was sent to buffet me, says St. Paul, lest I should be exalted.