Observe, In this answer that is given to St. Paul's prayer, that the mercy prayed for, is not in kind given unto him, but promised grace and strength, which is better than the mercy he prayed for.
Learn hence, That the frequent and earnest prayers of the most holy and eminent saints, for deliverance from outward troubles, may not be granted in the kind or thing desired. We are not lords, but beggars, and must leave it to God to determine the matter, the manner, the measure, the time of our afflictions.
Note farther, That as in the prayer, so in the answer, St. Paul was conformed to Christ; the one was heard, but not by removing the thorn in the flesh; but both were heard by assurance and supply of divine strength, and sufficient grace to help in time of need; He said unto me, my grace is sufficient for thee.
Learn hence, That the grace of Christ is sufficient for his people in all their afflictions; sufficient for their preservation, to keep them from falling away from God and godliness, by the temptation which always attends affliction; sufficient for their sustentation, to uphold and support them in and under their heaviest pressures and afflictions and sufficient to render their afflictions truly advantageous and serviceable to them, to make them more holy, humble, heavenly, conformed unto Christ, &c.
This is not to be understood as if our weakness added any thing to God's power, or could make his power perfect. But our weakness renders God's power more illustrious, he delights in and under our weakness, to manifest most of his helping power; as the stars never shine so gloriously as in the sharpest frosty night, so the power of God never appears so signally and conspicuously, as in and under our weakness.
Learn hence, That when God, upon our prayer, doth not deliver us from bodily sufferings, he will be sure to come in with sufficient grace, and manifest his strength in how long we could bear and hold out, 'till God made manifest his own strength in our weakness. More of the power of grace is seen in the sufferings of believers, than ever was seen in their prosperity: Beg then, Oh Christian! more importunately for divine strength, than for the departing of the thorn: Grace is better than ease or health; the one is proper to saints, the other is common to wicked men and brutes.
Here our apostle tells the Corinthians, that most gladly he chose rather to glory in his afflictions and tribulations than in his visions and revelations, because by them he had greater experience of the power and presence of Christ with him, and of supporting him under all his pressures.
Learn hence, 1. That the people of God are supported under, and carried through, all their sufferings and afflictions, by the power of Christ; a divine power above their own strength, like everlasting arms, is underneath them in the hour of trial.
Learn, 2. That to glory in afflictions and tribulations is an high pitch of holiness and grace, but attainable.
To glory in tribulation is,
1. To rejoice in it.
2. To express that joy outwardly, upon a fit occasion.
3. To express it with a great degree of exultation and boasting:
many of the martyrs were so far from changing countenance at the stake, that they sung and triumphed in the midst of flames.
Quest. But can any comfort be derived from this text for sinful infirmities?
Ans. From the power of Christ, in this text, there may.
Thus the powerful mediation and intercession of Christ is magnified in procuring the acceptance of our persons and services, notwithstanding the sinful infirmities cleaving to them: also the power of his grace will at death be magnified, in purging and purifying his people from all their dross and dregs.
There is nothing uneasy to a child of God, but there is something in Christ to alleviate it: affliction is uneasy, temptation uneasy, death uneasy, the wrath of God uneasy, the law, as condemning, is uneasy and unpleasing; but Christ has delivered from the curse of the law, satisfied the justice of God, sanctified the cross, sweetened death! Oh, how adorable is the power, how desirable the grace of Christ!