The Vessel Emptied of Human Strength

2 Corinthians 11‑12  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The history of Paul in 2 Cor. 11, might clothe him with honors and give grounds for him to boast, but chapter 12 gives us a dealing of the Lord which reduced him to "nothing.”
No doubt it was necessary that the leading man in the Christian course should be introduced into things which it was not lawful to reveal. It was necessary, too, to strengthen him in a special way—giving him to realize, above others, what was the portion of all: the possible state for every saint to enjoy, though in the state of things unspeakable also. But to follow this, the discipline came which had the effect of emptying Paul of every vestige of human strength. It reduced him to the condition of a will-less, powerless vessel, so that he might be fitted to be wielded and used by the hand of the Lord who did so.
“It is not," he said, "expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such a one caught up to the third heaven.
The Third Heaven
And I knew such a man... how he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such a one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities [weaknesses].” Here was the realization given him of all that he was, both as a man in Christ, and of the sphere of blessing where his portion lay. The measure of this common portion of all His saints may be realized variously by each one. Each, too, may minister in part of that which he consciously possesses. But if so, the special dealings of God ensue to check the evil of the flesh, which according to the measure of the revelation rises in proportion to its abundance.
This discipline is suited and adapted to each and every soul. This, I am sure, is the reason why all speculations as to what was the nature of Paul's thorn in the flesh end in nothing. God has wisely seen fit to leave it untold. Were it made known, we would have perhaps decided that it was not ours, and then have left it there. To have left it untold, gives us to see that there was a great principle of God's dealings seen in this man's case, but applicable to all.
Natural Tendency
Each would have his suited "thorn": the very thing that would counteract his natural tendency, and so act to strip him of every pretension to power and break any fancied strength of man.
We see this on every hand and we see it better in our own soul's history. Another is not always permitted to know the secret thorn which rankles in the breast. We would often give the world to remove it before we know the "end of the Lord." He presses home the "stake" which pins us to the earth, as it were, in very powerlessness. You see this at times, for instance, in incongruous marriages. The soul is worn away, especially in a sensitive, spiritual mind, and there is no earthly power which can change the sorrow and heavenly deliverance is withheld.
Again, there is a child whose conduct breaks the heart of a parent. Every measure fails to deal with him, and the "thorn" rankles deeply in the wounded heart. It may be that some disgrace is permitted to which the soul feels that death were easier to bear.
It may be that slander has stung the soul with deeper pain. There may be, too, some human weakness which renders the afflicted one an object of pain to those who love him, or of ridicule to others.
To Curb the Energy
Such as these, and the many sorrows of the way are used of God as the "thorn" to curb the energy, to break the strength of "man." Circumstances, friends, relations, health, good name, all are touched by Wisdom in this holy discipline of the soul.
These things in the hand of God are like the riverbanks which on either side guide the stream of water which flows between them. They render the water useful and fruitful, which, if flowing onwards without these guides, would devastate all around instead of bearing a blessing with it. How often have we thought what good Christians we might have been if circumstances were different, in short, if the banks which carry the river were broken down. No, these are the wise dealings of our God to keep us just in the channel and path where we are, to shine and to glorify Him.
Like Paul of old, when the "stake" was driven home, we may cry to God, even three times, as he did: Take away this thorn, this terrible hindrance to the work of Christ, this feebleness of the vessel, this sapping of energy, this hindrance to service, this cruel "stake" from which the soul struggles in vain to be free. But no, there it remains until we find, in the acceptance of its bitterness, the occasion of a strength which is not of man, but the emptying us of fancied human power. We learn our powerlessness; we feel that struggling is in vain. Here the secret of strength is found, but not of man, not our own.
The Secret of Strength
Then the Lord comes in. He finds the vessel bereft of strength, prepared for that power with which He can wield it. He finds that condition which it is His to use. "And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength [power] is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities [weaknesses], that the power of Christ may rest upon me." The excellency of the power is of God, and not from us. F.G. Patterson