Dear Brother Adams:
When you see fit and can will you give your views on the twelfth chapter, third and fourth verses of II Corinthians?
A little sister of small understanding,
Mrs. F. J. Shelton
2125.47 St. , C. P.
Paul began his letter to the Corinthian brethren by saying, “It is not 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 an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” 2nd. Cor. 12:1-4.
It would seem strange to the carnal mind for the apostle to wait fourteen years to relate this portion of his experience which was given to him in vision and revelations. The chosen vessels of God’s mercy are a peculiar people. Peter said, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him, who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:” – 1 Peter 2:9.
One of the peculiar characteristics of those who have an interest in the welfare of their own souls and a love for Christ Jesus and those of like precious faith, is to conceal this love or this interest and hide it from others. They are eager to hear, which is an evidence that they hunger and thirst after righteousness; they are careful not to disclose the secret of their hearts. This is particularly true when the Lord first begins a good work in them. There is a reason for this. They are fearful that they may be deceived, and fearful that they may cause others to be deceived in them. They feel to be so small and so insignificant that they prefer to keep silent and not to be noticed, for this is such a sacred matter to those who are with child of the Holy Ghost. There is a striking similarity between those who are spiritually with child of the Holy Ghost and the young prospective mothers who are in nature, with child naturally. Neither is willing to be a public example or spectacle, both are retiring, modest and shy. When one is spiritually pregnated, this one is made to feel little and insignificant because the Christ-child is imbedded in the heart. Joseph begged the body of Jesus when He was crucified, and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb which he had hewn out in the rock and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre. A new born child of grace, buries Jesus within the sepulchre of his heart; but the resurrection comes when Christ is formed in you the hope of glory and Christ arises, rolls the stone away and is revealed in the very life and conduct of this redeemed sinner. (See John 11:25-26.)
It is a sacred matter when Christ is formed in the subjects of His grace, the hope of glory. They are like Joseph, the husband of Mary, who, when she was found to be with child by the Holy Ghost, was not willing to make her a public example but chose to put her away privily. See Matt. 1:18-19. When the time ripens for you to make mention of your experience, you have no desire to converse with the ungodly, but you are drawn out to those whom you feel love the Lord. This was David’s experience. He said, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God and I will declare what He hath done for my soul.” Psa. 66:16.
Paul in writing to the faithful in Christ Jesus, said: “It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory.” The question naturally arises: Why was it not expedient for him to glory if he gloried in the Lord and it was expedient for Paul to glory if he gloried in the Lord, for he said: “But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” II Cor. 10:17. So it is expedient for all of those who love and fear God to glory, that is, if they glory in the Lord. Paul thought it well to have no more to say on this subject for fear that some (especially his enemies) might interpret his words as being proud, boastful and full of vain glory. But be this as it may, he further said: “I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.” Pride is in every man’s heart, converted persons are not without it; knowledge, gifts and revelations are apt to puff up the recipients with spiritual pride unless counterbalanced by chastisements and rebukes at the hand of God. The great apostle was not out of danger by them, for he was not already perfect, wherefore to prevent an access of pride and vanity in himself on account of them, he says: “There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me.”
Paul did not say that he was the man that had these visions and revelations, and it is apparent that he had two reasons for this. First, he wished to avoid the sneers and jeers of those who would speak in a reproachful way of the precious things that had been revealed to him, and second, he was hesitant to mention these exceedingly great revelations the Lord had so bountifully favored him with, surpassing that of any of his brethren. Therefore he chose to speak of himself in the third person. This he did by saying, “I knew a man in Christ about fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.” II Cor. 12:2-5.
We are told that the man whom the apostle knew to be in Christ was caught up to the third heaven, and that this same man was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which were not lawful for a man to utter. Whether the third heaven and paradise are one and the same, I will leave for the consideration of others. Solomon said: “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Eccl. 3:1. In the seventh verse he said: “A time to keep silent and a time to speak.” For fourteen years or above, it appears that it was a time for the apostle to keep silent and not mention his vision and revelations. But the time had now ripened for him to speak and put on record this wonderful experience.
Even though the apostle spoke in the third person of knowing a man in Christ, yet there is no doubt but that he himself was that man. In the fifth and sixth verses he makes it clearer that he was the person who heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter, by saying, “Of such an one, will I glory; yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities, for though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool, for I will say the truth: but now I forbear lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.” No doubt but that the vision and revelation of which the apostle wrote was a comfort and edifying to some but not the many. Rather than to confuse the minds of some who had not been favored to see those things, which had been shown to him, he preferred to drop the subject and deal more largely with his infirmities. This he did lest any man should think of him above that which “He seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.”
When a servant of God speaks of his infirmities of how vile and sinful he feels to be; poor, wretched and not worthy of the least of all God’s mercies and the least in the kingdom, if one at all; he is reaching out to all who have been led in deep waters and into the lowest hell for it is this class who have also been “Lifted up to the third heaven, into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” Such an one cannot tell this experience – there are no words which can describe the glory and wonder of it – except to the few who are witnesses of same – those who have been lifted above this world and viewed Him with that inward eye which is imbedded in that heart of flesh that has replaced the heart of stone for the’ Lord said: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them.” Ezek. 36:26-27.
This language is felt and experienced by all those who have been taught by the unerring Spirit of God, at least to some extent. It is food for the hungry and drink to the thirsty. It was needful and necessary for the apostle to have the many visions and revelations which God was pleased to reveal to him. They better qualified him to preach some of the hidden mysteries of God.
These visions and revelations better prepared him to cope with the fiery darts of Satan, who lie in wait to deceive. Satan is a monster. He troubled the Apostle Paul, and he is a terror to all of God’s humble poor. Jesus is the mighty one who is able and has conquered Satan. This He did by going into death, “And destroyed the work of him; that is, the devil, and delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
Satan still works in the flesh, but he has no power to destroy the subjects of God’s grace. His influence is demonstrated at times both in the spirit of prosperity and the spirit of adversity. Paul’s experience was put on record for the comfort of the chosen vessels of His mercy. His having been harassed and tormented by Satan strengthens the hope and lends assurance to God’s people that this is the work of God: Paul said, “Lest I should be exalted through the abundance of revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan, to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of revelations.” II Cor. 12:7.
Visions and revelations are a by to our souls, yet they are so often counterbalanced with sufferings and afflictions of the soul, or as Paul said, we have “A messenger of Satan to buffet” us, lest we be exalted above measure. However, Paul apparently was blessed with a greater abundance of visions and revelations than many of His people are of today, however, his need was so much greater in that day of trials and persecution. Affliction and trouble keep the subjects of God’s grace at the feet of Jesus and enables them to keep His word and not go astray. This was David’s experience. He said, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I have kept Thy word.”
In some respects Satan is like ballast: it is a worthless material but serves a great purpose. I have been informed that when men take a cargo of merchandise to foreign ports and have nothing to bring back, they load their vessels with ballast. It has no intrinsic value but it is used to balance and steady the ship in case of storms or heavy seas, which often arise and make sea going difficult.
So Paul says: “There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.” God did not promise Paul that He would remove the thorn from the flesh, but He said unto him, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” That is, the strength of Christ is made to appear, it is illustrated and shines forth in its perfection and glory in supplying, supporting and strengthening His people in all their weakness; and if they were not exposed in some of their weaknesses in themselves, His strength would not be so manifest. James 2:22 says: “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” This man works out what God works in. Paul said: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Phil. 2:13.
The grace of God is sufficient for all of those who are enabled to call upon Jesus, by faith, for help in time of trouble.
(Elder) T.F. Adams