The false apostles and some weak Christians having taken offence at the manifold and great sufferings which St. Paul, with his fellow-apostles, had met with in the course of their ministry: in these verses St. Paul shows the church at Corinth, that there was no reason at all why any should be offended at his sufferings, or any cause why the false apostles should object, that if he had preached the gospel sincerely, Almighty God would never have suffered him to be persecuted and afflicted so severely; namely, because all his afflictions were so graciously moderated, and himself so powerfully upheld by God, that he sunk not under the weight and burden of them. We are troubled, says he, on every side, but not overwhelmed with our troubles; we are often perplexed, but not so as to despair of God's help and succour; we are persecuted by men, but not forsaken of God; cast down indeed, but not killed by the fall. So that there is in our sufferings a resemblance and representation of the death and sufferings of Jesus Christ. We bear in our bodies a memorative conformity to our dying Lord, that it may appear how mightily we are supported by the quickening power of the Spirit of Christ, under all our afflictions.
As if the apostle had said, "Behold and admire in us the almighty power of Christ exerted towards us in upholding these earthen vessels, (our frail bodies,) notwithstanding the many thousand knocks they have met with in carrying about that heavenly treasure, the holy gospel with which God has intrusted us."
Observe next, He rejoices in the cause of his sufferings: We are delivered unto death for Jesus's sake; for our owning, preaching, and practising the doctrine of Jesus.
Blessed be God, we suffer not as evil-doers, but for well-doing; we suffer for the sake of the best person, and in the best cause, that ever the world was acquainted with. He adds, We are delivered unto death, that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh; that is, the infinitely wise God suffers us to be thus afflicted, that in and by the sufferings which our mortal flesh does sustain and undergo, he might make it evidently manifest that Christ is risen from the dead, and, as a living head, conveys the the necessary influences of strength, support, and comfort, as to all members, so more particularly to his ministers; by which we are enabled, without fainting, to suffer the hardest things with patience, courage and constancy.
Observe lastly, He declares to them the great advantages which they reaped by his afflictions: Death worketh in us, but life in you; that is, the preaching of the gospel exposes us to death; but unto you it brings eternal life. Our death is your life, our sufferings are your advantage; we having the same faithful Spirit which was in the saints under the Old Testament, and particularly in holy David, Psa_116:10 who says, I believed, and therefore speak; I was sore afflicted. Now as he believed and trusted in God for deliverance out of his many and great troubles, so in like manner do we believe and trust.
From the whole note, 1. That a perplexed and persecuted, an afflicted and distressed condition was the lot and portion of the members, but especially of the ministers of Christ, in the first and purest ages of the church. Christ espoused his church to himself upon the bed of his cross, his head begirt with a pillow of thorns, his body drenched in a bath of his own blood: and if the head was crowned with thorns, it is unsuitable that the feet should tread on roses.
Note, 2. Though all Christ's followers have drunk of the same cup with himself, yet the dregs of the cup have usually been put into the hand of the ministers of the word: We that live are always delivered unto death. Most of the apostles were, by the rage of tyrants, put to cruel deaths, and offered up a bloody sacrifice. The calling of ministers is honourable, but their outward condition is deplorable: their embassy is glorious, but their usage is often grievous: God sends them forth with renown, the world entertains them with reproach.
Note, 3. God doth not bring his people into a suffering condition, and there leave them; when they suffer for him, they are not forsaken by him. The voice of despair is not heard in the dark night of their calamity; but God has either the castle of providence, or the ark of promise; the all-sufficiency of his power, or the abundance of his grace: these, every of these, and all these, are for his people's retirement in the greatest storms and tempests: We are troubled, yet not distressed; persecuted, but not forsaken.