The second of these outstanding picture stories is that of Paul, Paul's thorn. Whenever one talks rather positively about prayer, or about bodily healing, some one always remembers and asks about Paul's thorn. Well, there certainly is distinct help for us all here.
First a look at the man, then a look at his thorn. The best light on this troublesome thorn is the man. He, his character, and the great bit of work for God he was chosen to do, these throw the best light on that stinging, sticking thorn.
Paul is a great man from any point of view, and a great saint. His Hebrew blood, his aristocratic family and breeding, his inherited and acquired culture,
His university training, his breadth of out look, his inflexible conscientiousness, his passion of devotion to his Master, what a man he was among men! What a saint among saints!
What a giant he was in his will. The unflinching unfaltering insistence on his task, in spite of opposition and difficulties, all those arduous journeys in the thick of hardships of every imaginable sort up to the limit of endurance, these all tell what a giant he was in his will.
But, speak softly, his strong will sometimes held the lines too tight. A man's weak point is pretty apt to be the swing-away of the pendulum on his strong point. Paul had the possible weakness of his strongest qualities. He was a bit set in his way.
Say it very softly, for we are talking about dear old saintly Saint Paul. Say it yet more softly, for where one speaks of one weak spot in him he quickly calls to mind a half-dozen in himself. Yet say it distinctly, to help.
God had a hard time getting Paul to go His way. God found it difficult sometimes to get Paul to fit into His plans. Paul had a plan or two of his own. Perhaps just one or two of us may have heard of such a thing before.
From the time of that never-to-be-forgotten experience on the Damascus road, with the light, and the voice, and the overwhelming sense of power, Paul knew that his errand was to the outer non-Jewish world.
The nations of the earth, the Gentiles, this was to be his field of service. The very magnitude of it must have appealed to the imagination of this giant and saint.
But, from the first, he had an intense desire to go to the Jerusalem Jews. He felt he could get them.
It was a perfectly natural thing, for Paul had been so closely associated with them. And his very sense of strategy in action suggested and emphasized it.
He felt in his bones, "I know them. I trained with that group. I know how to take them. Let me at them. If once we can get them it will mean so much.
"It's the strategic thing. They crucified Jesus. They stoned the Holy Spirit, in effect, in stoning Stephen. But, but, let me at them." This was deep down in his spirit.
Indeed the thing went rather far. Early in his Christian life Christ had given Paul a special vision about this very matter when Paul was praying in the sacred precincts of the temple in Jerusalem (Act_22:17-21).
And the Lord gave him specific directions to get out of Jerusalem, out to the outer non-Jewish world. The Jerusalem leaders were incorrigibly set in their stubborn rejection, he was told.
Then a strange thing happened, passing strange. Paul actually begins to argue with the Lord why he was specially qualified for a Jewish mission!
This was surely taking things to great length, the soldier under orders arguing with the chief of-staff why he should not do as he was bid, but something else he preferred! Did dear saintly Paul's intensity blur his thinking?
Yet it seems to me, yes, I can recall something of that sort in modern times, and among saintly folk, too. And the temple interview closes with a clear positive command—" Depart; for I will send thee far hence (from Jerusalem) to the outer non-Jewish peoples."
And Paul went. With all his splendid powers and devotion he went. But he never lost that early inner passionate longing. He insisted upon it, years after, against distinct intimations of the Holy Spirit in line with that temple interview (Act_21:4, with references).
His insistence changed the whole latter part of his outstanding career. That's a little look-in at this rare saintly giant of God. It explains the thorn that came, and was not taken away.