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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

2 Corinthians 12



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Verse 1

1.It is not expedient for me to glory Now, when as it were in the middle of the course, he restrains himself from proceeding farther, and in this way he most appropriately reproves the impudence of his rivals and declares that it is with reluctance, that he engages in this sort of contest with them. For what a shame it was to scrape together from every quarter commendations, or rather to go a-begging for them, that they might be on a level with so distinguished a man! As to the latter, he admonishes them by his own example, that the more numerous and the more excellent the graces by which any one of us is distinguished, so much the less ought he to think of his own excellence. For such a thought is exceedingly dangerous, because, like one entering into a labyrinth, the person is immediately dazzled, so as to be too quick-sighted in discerning his gifts, (877) while in the mean time he is ignorant of himself. Paul is afraid, lest this should befall him. The graces conferred by God are, indeed, to be acknowledged, that we may be aroused, — first, to gratitude for them, and secondly, to the right improvement of them; but to take occasion from them to boast — that is what cannot be done without great danger.

For I will come (878) to visions. “I shall not creep on the ground, but will be constrained to mount aloft. Hence I am afraid, lest the height of my gifts should hurry me on, so as to lead me to forget myself.” And certainly, if Paul had gloried ambitiously, he would have fallen headlong from a lofty eminence; for it is humility alone that can give stability to our greatness in the sight of God.

Between visions and revelations there is this distinction — that a revelation is often made either in a dream, or by an oracle, without any thing being presented to the eye, while avision is scarcely ever afforded without a revelation, or in other words, without the Lord’s discovering what is meant by it. (879)

Visions ” ( ὀπτασίας)symbolical representations of spiritual and celestial things, in which matters of the deepest importance are exhibited to the eve of the mind by a variety of emblems, the nature and properties of which serve to illustrate those spiritual things. — Revelations ( ἀποκαλύψεις)a manifestation of things not before known, and such as God alone can make known, because they are a part of his own inscrutable counsels.” — Dr A. Clarke. Ed.

Verse 2

2.I knew a man in Christ As he was desirous to restrain himself within bounds, he merely singles out one instance, and that, too, he handles in such a way as to show, that it is not from inclination that he brings it forward; for why does he speak in the person of another rather than in his own? It is as though he had said, “I should have preferred to be silent, I should have preferred to keep the whole matter suppressed within my own mind, but those persons (880) will not allow me. I shall mention it, therefore, as it were in a stammering way, that it may be seen that I speak through constraint.” Some think that the clause in Christ is introduced for the purpose of confirming what he says. I view it rather as referring to the disposition, so as to intimate that Paul has not here an eye to himself, but looks to Christ exclusively.

When he confesses, that he does not know whether he was in the body, or out of the body, he expresses thereby the more distinctly the greatness of the revelation. For he means, that God dealt with him in such a way, (881) that he did not himself understand the manner of it. Nor should this appear to us incredible, inasmuch as he sometimes manifests himself to us in such a way, that the manner of his doing so is, nevertheless, hid from our view. (882) At the same time, this does not, in any degree, detract from the assurance of faith, which rests simply on this single point — that we are aware that God speaks to us. Nay more, let us learn from this, that we must seek the knowledge of those things only that are necessary to be known, and leave other things to God. (Deuteronomy 29:29.) He says, then, that he does not know, whether he was wholly taken up — soul and body — into heaven, or whether it was his soul only, that was caught up

Fourteen years ago Some (883) enquire, also, as to the place, but it does not belong to us to satisfy their curiosity. (884) The Lord manifested himself to Paul in the beginning by a vision, when he designed to convert him from Judaism to the faith of the gospel, but he was not then admitted as yet into those secrets, as he needed even to be instructed by Ananias in the first rudiments. (885) (Acts 9:12.) That vision, therefore, was nothing but a preparation, with the view of rendering him teachable. It may be, that, in this instance, he refers to that vision, of which he makes mention also, according to Luke’s narrative. (Acts 22:17.) There is no occasion, however, for our giving ourselves much trouble as to these conjectures, as we see that Paul himself kept silence respecting it for fourteen years, (886) and would not have said one word in reference to it, had not the unreasonableness of malignant persons constrained him.

Even to the third heaven. He does not here distinguish between the different heavens in the manner of the philosophers, so as to assign to each planet its own heaven. On the other hand, the number three is made use of ( κατ ἐζοχὴν) by way of eminence, to denote what is highest and most complete. Nay more, the term heaven, taken by itself, denotes here the blessed and glorious kingdom of God, which is above all the spheres, (887) and the firmament itself, and even the entire frame-work of the world. Paul, however, not contenting himself with the simple term, (888) adds, that he had reached even the greatest height, and the innermost recesses. For our faith scales heaven and enters it, and those that are superior to others in knowledge get higher in degree and elevation, but to reach the third heavens has been granted to very few.

Verse 4

4.In paradise (889) As every region that is peculiarly agreeable and delightful (890) is called in the Scriptures the garden of God, it came from this to be customary among the Greeks to employ the term paradise to denote the heavenly glory, even previously to Christ’s advent, as appears from Ecclesiasticus. (Sirach 40:17.) It is also used in this sense in Luke 23:43, in Christ’s answer to the robber — “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise, ” that is, “Thou shalt enjoy the presence of God, in the condition and life of the blessed.”

Heard unspeakable words By words here I do not understand things, as the term is wont to be made use of after the manner of the Hebrews; (891) for the word heard would not correspond with this. Now if any one inquires, what they were, the answer is easy — that it is not without good reason that they are called unspeakable (892) words, and such as it is unlawful to utter. Some one, however, will reply, that what Paul heard was, consequently, needless and useless, for what purpose did it serve to hear, what was to be buried in perpetual silence? I answer, that this took place for the sake of Paul himself, for one who had such arduous difficulties awaiting him, enough to break a thousand hearts, required to be strengthened by special means, that he might not give way, but might persevere undaunted. (893) Let us consider for a little, how many adversaries his doctrine had, and of what sort they were; and farther, with what a variety of artifices it was assailed, and then we shall wonder no longer, why he heard more than it waslawful for him to utter

From this, too, we may gather a most useful admonition as to setting bounds to knowledge. We are naturally prone to curiosity. Hence, neglecting altogether, or tasting but slightly, and carelessly, doctrine that tends to edification, we are hurried on to frivolous questions. Then there follow upon this — boldness and rashness, so that we do not hesitate to decide on matters unknown, and concealed.

From these two sources has sprung up a great part (894) of scholastic theology, and every thing, which that trifler Dionysius (895) has been so daring as to contrive in reference to the Heavenly Hierarchies, It becomes us so much the more to keep within bounds, (896) so as not to seek to know any thing, but what the Lord has seen it good to reveal to his Church. Let this be the limit of our knowledge.

Verse 5

5.Of such a man It is as though he had said “I have just ground for glorying, but I do not willingly avail myself of it. For it is more in accordance with my design, to glory in my infirmities If, however, those malicious persons harass me any farther, and constrain me to boast more than I am inclined to do, they shall feel that they have to do with a man, whom God has illustriously honored, and raised up on high, with a view to his exposing their follies.

Verse 6

6.For if I should desire. Lest what he had said, as to his having no inclination to glory, should be turned into an occasion of calumny, and malevolent persons should reply — “You are not inclined for it, because it is not in your power, he anticipates such a reply. “I would have it quite in my power,” says he, “on good grounds; nor would I be justly accused of vanity, for I have ground to go upon, but I refrain from it.” He employs the term folly here in a different sense from what he had done previously, for even those that boast on good grounds act a silly and disgusting part, if there appears any thing of boasting or ambition. The folly, however, is more offensive and insufferable, if any one boasts groundlessly, or, in other words, pretends to be what he is not; for in that case there is impudence in addition to silliness. The Apostle here proceeded upon it as a set, tied matter, that his glorying was as humble as it was well founded. Erasmus has rendered it — “I spare you,” (897) but I prefer to understand it as meaning — “I refrain,” or, as I have rendered it, “I forbear.”

Lest any one should think of me He adds the reason — because he is contented to occupy the station, which God has assigned him. “My appearance,” says he, “and speech do not give promise of any thing illustrious in me: I have no objection, therefore, to be lightly esteemed.” Here we perceive what great modesty there was in this man, inasmuch as he was not at all concerned on account of his meanness, which he discovered in his appearance and speech, while he was replenished with such a superiority of gifts. There would, however, be no inconsistency in explaining it in this way, that satisfied with the reality itself, he says nothing respecting himself, that he may thus reprove indirectly the false Apostles, who gloried in themselves as to many things, none of which were to be seen. What I mentioned first, however, is what I rather approve of.

Verse 7

7.And lest through the superiority of revelations. Here we have a second reason — that God, designing to repress in him every approach to insolence, subdued him with a rod. That rod he calls a goad, by a metaphor taken from oxen. The word flesh is, in the Greek, in the dative (898) Hence Erasmus has rendered it “by the flesh.” I prefer, however, to understand him as meaning, that the prickings of this goad were in his flesh.

Now it is asked, what this goad was. Those act a ridiculous part, who think that Paul was tempted to lust. We must therefore repudiate that fancy. (899) Some have supposed, that he was harassed with frequent pains in the head. Chrysostom is rather inclined to think, that the reference is to Hymeneus and Alexander, and the like, because, instigated by the devil, they occasioned Paul very much annoyance. My opinion is, that under this term is comprehended every kind of temptation, with which Paul was exercised. For flesh here, in my opinion, denotes — not the body, but that part of the soul which has not yet been regenerated. “There was given to me a goad that my flesh might be spurred up by it, for I am not yet so spiritual, as not to be exposed to temptations according to the flesh.”

He calls it farther the messenger of Satan on this ground, that as all temptations are sent by Satan, so, whenever they assail us, they warn us that Satan is at hand. Hence, at every apprehension of temptation, it becomes us to arouse ourselves, and arm ourselves with promptitude for repelling Satan’s assaults. It was most profitable for Paul to think of this, because this consideration did not allow him to exult like a man that was off his guard. (900) For the man, who is as yet beset with dangers, and dreads the enemy, is not prepared to celebrate a triumph. “The Lord, says he, has provided me with an admirable remedy, against being unduly elated; for, while I am employed in taking care that Satan may not take advantage of me, I am kept back from pride.”

At the same time, God did not cure him by this means exclusively, but also by humbling him. For he adds,to buffet me; by which expression he elegantly expresses this idea. — that he has been brought under control. (901) For to be buffeted is a severe kind of indignity. Accordingly, if any one has had his face made black and blue, (902) he does not, from a feeling of shame, venture to expose himself openly in the view of men. In like manner, whatever be the infirmity under which we labor, let us bear in mind, that we are, as it were, buffeted by the Lord, with the view of making us ashamed, that we may learn humility. Let this be carefully reflected upon by those, especially, who are otherwise distinguished by illustrious virtues, if they have any mixture of defects, if they are persecuted by any with hatred, if they are assailed by any revilings — that these things are not merely rods of the Heavenly Master, but buffetings, to fill them with shame, and beat down all forwardness. (903) Now let all the pious take notice as to this, that they may see (904) how dangerous a thing the “poison of pride” is, as Augustine speaks in his third sermon “On the words of the Apostle,” inasmuch as it “cannot be cured except by poison.” (905) And unquestionably, as it was the cause of man’s ruin, so it is the last vice with which we have to contend, for other vices have a connection with evil deeds, but this is to be dreaded in connection with the best actions; and farther, it naturally clings to us so obstinately, and is so deeply rooted, that it is extremely difficult to extirpate it.

Let us carefully consider, who it is that here speaks — He had overcome so many dangers, tortures, and other evils — had triumphed over all the enemies of Christ — had driven away the fear of death — had, in fine, renounced the world; and yet he had not altogether subdued pride. Nay more, there awaited him a conflict so doubtful, that he could not overcome without being buffeted. Instructed by his example, let us wage war with other vices in such a way, as to lay out our main efforts for the subduing of this one.

But what does this mean — that Satan, who was a

man-slayer (906) from the beginning, (John 8:44,)

was a physician to Paul, and that too, not merely in the cure of the body, but — what is of greater importance — in the cure of the soul? I answer, that Satan, in accordance with his disposition and custom, had nothing else in view than to kill and to destroy, (John 10:10,) and that the goad, that Paul makes mention of, was dipt in deadly poison; but that it was a special kindness from the Lord, to render medicinal what was in its own nature deadly.

Verse 8

8.For this thing I besought the Lord thrice. Here, also, (907) the number three is employed to denote frequent repetition. (908) He means, however, to intimate, that this annoyance had been felt by him distressing, inasmuch as he had so frequently prayed to be exempted from it. For if it had been slight, or easy to be endured, he would not have been so desirous to be freed from it; and yet he says that he had not obtained this: hence it appears, how much need he had of being humbled. He confirms, therefore, what he had said previously — that he had, by means of this bridle, been held back from being haughty; for if relief from it had been for his advantage, he would never have met with a refusal.

It may seem, however, to follow from this, that Paul had not by any means prayed in faith, if we would not make void all the promises of God. (909) “We read everywhere in Scripture, that we shall obtain whatever we ask in faith: Paul prays, and does not obtain.” I answer, that as there are different ways of asking, so there are different ways of obtaining. We ask in simple terms those things as to which we have an express promise — as, for example, the perfecting of God’s kingdom, and the hallowing of his name, (Matthew 6:9,) the remission of our sins, and every thing that is advantageous to us; but, when we think that the kingdom of God can, nay must be advanced, in this particular manner, or in that, and that this thing, or that, is necessary for the hallowing of his name, we are often mistaken in our opinion. In like manner, we often fall into a serious mistake as to what tends to promote our own welfare. Hence we ask those former things confidently, and without any reservation, while it does not belong to us to prescribe the means. If, however, we specify the means, there is always a condition implied, though not expressed. Now Paul was not so ignorant as not to know this. Hence, as to the object of his prayer, there can be no doubt that he was heard, although he met with a refusal as to the express form. By this we are admonished not to give way to despondency, as if our prayers had been lost labor, when God does not gratify or comply with our wishes, but that we must be satisfied with his grace, that is, in respect of our not being forsaken by him. For the reason, why he sometimes mercifully refuses to his own people, what, in his wrath, he grants to the wicked, is this — that he foresees better what is expedient for us, than our understanding is able to apprehend.

Verse 9

9.He said to me. It is not certain, whether he had this answer by a special revelation, and it is not of great importance. (910) For God answers us, when he strengthens us inwardly by his Spirit, and sustains us by his consolation, so that we do not give up hope and patience. He bids Paul be satisfied with his grace, and, in the mean time, not refuse chastisement. Hence we must bear up under evil of ever so long continuance, because we are admirably well dealt with, when we have the grace of God to be our support. (911) The term grace, here, does not mean here, as it does elsewhere, the favor of God, but by metonymy, the aid of the Holy Spirit, which comes to us from the unmerited favor of God; and it ought to be sufficient for the pious, inasmuch as it is a sure and invincible support against their ever giving way.

For my strength Our weakness may seem, as if it were an obstacle in the way of God’s perfecting his strength in us. Paul does not merely deny this, but maintains, on the other hand, that it is only when our weakness becomes apparent, that God’s strength is duly perfected. To understand this more distinctly, we must distinguish between God’s strength and ours; for the word my is emphatic. “My strength,” says the Lord, (meaning that which helps man’s need — which raises them up when they have fallen down, and refreshes them when they are faint,) “is perfected in the weakness of men;that is, it has occasion to exert itself, when the weakness of men becomes manifest; and not only so, but it is more distinctly recognized as it ought to be. For the word perfected has a reference to the perception and apprehension of mankind, because it is not perfected unless it openly shines forth, so as to receive its due praise. For mankind have no taste of it, unless they are first convinced of the need of it, and they quickly lose sight of its value, if they are not constantly exercised with a feeling of their own weakness.

Most gladly, therefore This latter statement confirms the exposition that I have given. I will glory, says he,in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me (912) Hence, the man that is ashamed of this glorying, shuts the door upon Christ’s grace, and, in a manner, puts it away from him. For then do we make room for Christ’s grace, when in true humility of mind, we feel and confess our own weakness. The valleys are watered with rain to make them fruitful, while in the mean time, the high summits of the lofty mountains remain dry. (913) Let that man, therefore, become a valley, who is desirous to receive the heavenly rain of God’s spiritual grace. (914)

He addsmost gladly, to show that he is influenced by such an eager desire for the grace of Christ, that he refuses nothing for the sake of obtaining it. For we see very many yielding, indeed, submission to God, as being afraid of incurring sacrilege in coveting his glory, but, at the same time, not without reluctance, or at least, less cheerfully than were becoming. (915)

‘Behold how green this valley is! also how beautiful with lilies!’
Song of Solomon 2:1)

I have known many labouring men that have got good estates in this Valley of Humiliation. (1 Peter 5:5.) ‘For God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.’ (James 4:6.) For indeed it is a very fruitful soil, and doth bring forth by handfuls. ” — Bunyan’s Allegorical Works, (Glasgow, 1843,) p. 164. — Ed.

Verse 10

10.I take pleasure in infirmities There can be no doubt, that he employs the term weakness in different senses; for he formerly applied this name to the punctures that he experienced in the flesh. He now employs it to denote those external qualities, which occasion contempt in the view of the world. Having spoken, however, in a general way, of infirmities of every kind, he now returns to that particular description of them, that had given occasion for his turning aside into this general discourse. Let us take notice, then, that infirmity is a general term, and that under it is comprehended the weakness of our nature, as well as all tokens of abasement. Now the point in question was Paul’s outward abasement. He proceeded farther, for the purpose of showing, that the Lord humbled him in every way, that, in his defects, the glory of God might shine forth the more resplendently, which is, in a manner, concealed and buried, when a man is in an elevated position. He now again returns to speak of his excellences, which, at the same time, made him contemptible in public view, instead of procuring for him esteem and commendation.

For when I am weak, that is — “The more deficiency there is in me, so much the more liberally does the Lord, from his strength, supply me with whatever he sees to be needful for me.” For the fortitude of philosophers is nothing else than contumacy, or rather a mad enthusiasm, such as fanatics are accustomed to have. “If a man is desirous to be truly strong, let him not refuse to be at the same time weak Let him,” I say, “be weak in himself that he may be strong in the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:10.) Should any one object, that Paul speaks here, not of a failure of strength, but of poverty, and other afflictions, I answer, that all these things are exercises for discovering to us our own weakness; for if God had not exercised Paul with such trials, he would never have perceived so clearly his weakness. Hence, he has in view not merely poverty, and hardships of every kind, but also those effects that arise from them, as, for example, a feeling of our own weakness, self-distrust, and humility.

Verse 11

11.I have become a fool Hitherto he had, by various apologies, solicited their forgiveness for what was contrary to his own custom and manner of acting, and contrary, also, to propriety, and what was due to his office as an Apostle — the publishing of his own praises. Now, instead of soliciting, he upbraids, throwing the blame upon the Corinthians, who ought to have been beforehand in this. (916) For when the false Apostles calumniated Paul, they should have set themselves vigorously in opposition to them, and should have faithfully borne the testimony that was due to his excellences. He chides them, however, thus early, lest those, who were unfavorably disposed towards them, should put a wrong construction upon the defense which he brought forward, in consequence of his being constrained to it by their ingratitude, (917) or should persist in calumniating him.

For in nothing We are ungrateful to God, if we allow his gifts, of which we are witnesses, to be disparaged, or contemned. He charges the Corinthians with this fault, for they knew him to be equal to thechiefest Apostles, and yet they lent an ear to calumniators, when they slandered him.

By the chiefest Apostles some understand his rivals, who arrogated to themselves the precedence. (918) I understand it, however, as meaning — those that were chief among the twelve. “Let me be compared with any one of the Apostles, (919) I have no fear, that I shall be found inferior.” For, although Paul was on the best of terms with all the Apostles, so that he was prepared to extol them above himself, he, nevertheless, contended against their names when falsely assumed. (920) For the false Apostles abused this pretext, that they had been in the company of the twelve — that they were in possession of all their views (921) — that they were fully acquainted with all their institutions, and the like. Hence Paul, perceiving that they falsely gloried in these masks and counterfeit titles, and were successful, to some extent, among unlearned persons, (922) reckoned it necessary to enter upon a comparison of that nature. (923)

The correction that he adds — though I am nothing, means, that Paul was not disposed to claim any thing as his own, but simply gloried in the Lord, (2 Corinthians 10:17,) unless, perhaps, you prefer to consider this as a concession, in which he makes mention of what is thrown out against him by adversaries and slanderers. (924)

Verse 12

12.The signs of an Apostle By the signs of an Apostle he means — the seals, that tend to confirm the evidence of his Apostleship, or, at least, for the proofs and evidences of it. “God has confirmed my Apostleship among you to such a degree, that it stands in no need of proof being adduced.” The first sign he makes mention of is patience — either because he had remained invincible, (925) by nobly withstanding all the assaults of Satan and his enemies, and on no occasion giving way; or because, regardless of his own distinction, he suffered all injuries patiently, endured in silence countless grievances, (926) and, by patience, overcame indignities. (927) For a virtue so heroic is, as it were, a heavenly seal, by which the Lord marks out his Apostles.

He assigns the second place to miracles, for while he makes mention of signs and wonders and mighty deeds, he makes use of three terms, as he does elsewhere, (2 Thessalonians 2:9,) for expressing one and the same thing. Now he calls them signs, because they are not empty shows, but are appointed for the instruction of mankind wonders, because they ought, by their novelty, to arouse men, and strike them with astonishment — and powers or mighty deeds, because they are more signal tokens of Divine power, (928) than what we behold in the ordinary course of nature. Farther, we know that this was the main design of miracles, when the gospel began to be preached — that its doctrine might have greater authority given to it. Hence, the more that any one was endowed with the power of working miracles, so much the more was his ministry confirmed, as has been stated in the fifteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. (929)

Verse 13

13.What is there in which. Here is an aggravation of their ingratitude — that he had been distinguished, that they might receive benefit — that they had derived advantage from the attestation furnished of his Apostleship, and had, notwithstanding, given their concurrence to the slanders (930) of the false Apostles. He subjoins one exception — that he had not been burdensome to them; and this, by way of irony, for in reality this was over and above so many acts of kindness, which he had conferred upon them — that he had served them gratuitously. To busy themselves after this, as they did, in pouring contempt upon him, what was this but to insult his modesty? Nay, what cruelty there was in it! Hence, it is not without good reason, that he sharply reproves pride so frantic. Forgive me this wrong, says he. For they were doubly ungrateful, inasmuch as they not only contemned the man, by whose acts of kindness they had been brought under obligation, but even turned his kind disposition into an occasion of reproach. Chrysostom is of opinion, that there is no irony implied, and that, instead of this, there is an expression of apology; but, if any one examines the entire context more narrowly, he will easily perceive, that this gloss is quite foreign to Paul’s intention.

Verse 14

14.Behold, this third time He commends his own deed, for which he had received a very poor requital from the Corinthians. For he says, that he refrained from taking their worldly substance for two reasons first, because he sought them, not their wealth; and secondly, because he was desirous to act the part of a father towards them. From this it appears, what commendation was due to his modesty, which occasioned him contempt among the Corinthians.

I seek not yours. It is the part of a genuine and upright pastor, not to seek to derive gain from his sheep, but to endeavor to promote their welfare; though, at the same time, it is to be observed, that men are not to be sought with the view of having (931) every one his own particular followers. It is a bad thing, to be devoted to gain, or to undertake the office of a pastor with the view of making a trade of it; but for a person to draw away disciples after him, (Acts 20:30,) for purposes of ambition, is greatly worse. Paul, however, means, that he is not greedy of hire, but is concerned only for the welfare of souls. There is, however, still more of elegance in what he says, for it is as though he had said: “I am in quest of a larger hire than you think of. I am not contented with your wealth, but I seek to have you wholly, that I may present a sacrifice to the Lord of the fruits of my ministry.” But, what if one is supported by his labors? Will he in that case seek the worldly substance of the people. (932) Unquestionably, if he is a faithful Pastor, he will always seek the welfare of the sheep — nothing else. His pay will, it is true, be an additional thing; but he ought to have no other aim, than what we have mentioned. Woe to those, that have an eye to any thing else!

Parents for their children Was he then no father to the Philippians, who supported him even when absent from them? (Philippians 4:15.) Was there no one of the other Apostles that was a father, inasmuch as the Churches ministered to their support? He did not by any means intend this; for it is no new thing for even parents to be supported by their children in their old age. Hence, those are not necessarily unworthy of the honor due to fathers, who live at the expense of the Church; but Paul simply wished to show from the common law of nature, that what he had done proceeded from fatherly affection. This argument, therefore, ought not to be turned in a contrary direction. For he did this as a father; but, though he had acted otherwise, he would, notwithstanding, have been a father still.

Verse 15

15.And I will most gladly spend This, certainly, was an evidence of a more than fatherly affection — that he was prepared to lay out in their behalf not merely his endeavors, and everything in his power to do, but even life itself. Nay more, while he is regarded by them with coldness, he continues, nevertheless, to cherish this affection. What heart, though even as hard as iron, would such ardor of love not soften or break, especially in connection with such constancy? Paul, however, does not here speak of himself, merely that we may admire him, but that we may, also, imitate him. Let all Pastors, therefore, learn from this, what they owe to their Churches.

Verse 16

16.But be it so. These words intimate, that Paul had been blamed by malevolent persons, as though he had in a clandestine way procured, through means of hired persons, what he had refused to receive with his own hands (934) — not that he had done any such thing, but they “measure others,” as they say, “by their own ell.” (935) For it is customary for the wicked impudently to impute to the servants of God, whatever they would themselves do, if they had it in their power. Hence, Paul is constrained, with the view of clearing himself of a charge impudently fabricated, (936) to defend the integrity of those whom he sent, for if they had committed any error, it would have been reckoned to his account. Now, who would be surprised at his being so cautious as to alms, when he had been harassed by such unfair judgments as to his conduct, after having made use of every precaution? (937) Let his case, however, be a warning to us, not to look upon it as a thing that is new and intolerable, if at any time we find occasion to answer similar calumnies; but, more especially, let this be an admonition to us to use strict caution, not to furnish any handle to revilers. For we see, that it is not enough to give evidence of being ourselves upright, if those, whose assistance we have made use of, are not, also, found to be so. Hence, our choice of them must not be made lightly, or as a matter of mere form, but with the utmost possible care.

Verse 19

19.Do you again think. As those that are conscious to themselves of something wrong are sometimes more anxious than others to clear themselves, it is probable, that this, also, was turned into a ground of calumny — that Paul had in the former Epistle applied himself to a defense of his ministry. Farther, it is a fault in the servants of Christ, to be too much concerned as to their own reputation. With the view, therefore, of repelling those calumnies, he declares in the first place, that he speaks in the presence of God, whom evil consciences always dread. In the second place, he maintains, that he has not so much a view to himself, as to them. He was prepared to go through good report and bad report, (2 Corinthians 6:8,) nay, even to be reduced to nothing; but it was of advantage to the Corinthians, that he should retain the reputation that he deserved, that his ministry might not be brought into contempt.

Verse 20

20.For I fear He declares, in what way it tends to their edification, that his integrity should be vindicated, for, on the ground that he had come into contempt, many grew wanton, as it were, with loosened reins. Now respect for him would have been a means of leading them to repentance, for they would have listened to his admonitions.

I fear, says he. This fear proceeded from love, for, unless he had been concerned as to their welfare, he would very readily have overlooked all this, from which he sought to obtain no personal advantage. For otherwise we are afraid to give occasion of offense, when we foresee that it will be hurtful to ourselves.

And I shall be found by you. Here is a second ground of fear — lest he should be constrained to act with greater severity. Now it is a token not merely of love, but even of indulgence, to shun severity, and have recourse to milder measures. “As to my striving at present to maintain my authority, and endeavoring to bring you back to obedience, I do this, lest I should find occasion to punish your obstinacy more severely, if I come, and find among you nothing of amendment.” He teaches, accordingly, by his example, that mild remedies must always be resorted to by Pastors, for the correction of faults, before they have recourse to extreme severity; and, at the same time, that we must, by admonitions and reproofs, prevent the necessity of having recourse to the utmost rigor.

Lest, by any means, there be contentions. He enumerates the vices, which chiefly prevailed among the Corinthians; almost all of which proceeded from the same source. For had not every one been devoted to self, they would never have contended with each other — they would never have envied one another — there would have been no slandering among them. (938) Thus the sum and substance of the first catalogue (939) is want of love, because ( φιλαυτία) self-love, (940) and ambition prevailed.

Verse 21

21.Lest, when I come, my God should humble me His abasement was reckoned to him as a fault. The blame of it he throws back upon the Corinthians, who, when they should have honored his Apostleship, loaded it, on the contrary, with disgrace; for their proficiency (941) would have been the glory and honor of Paul’s Apostleship. When, therefore, they were, instead of this, overrun with many vices, they heaped disgrace upon him to the utmost of their power. He does not, indeed, charge them all with this crime, but only a few, who had impudently despised all his admonitions. The meaning, then, is this: “They think contemptuously of me, because I appear contemptible. Let them, then, give me no occasion of abasement: nay more, let them, on the contrary, laying aside their forwardness, begin to feel shame; and let them, confounded at their iniquities, prostrate themselves on the ground, instead of looking down upon others with disdain.”

In the mean time, he lets us know the disposition of a true and genuine Pastor, when he says that he will look upon the sins of others with grief. And, undoubtedly, the right way of acting is this — that every Christian shall have his Church inclosed within his heart, and be affected with its maladies, as if they were his own, — sympathize with its sorrows, and bewail its sins. We see, how Jeremiah entreats, that there may be given him a fountain of tears, (Jeremiah 9:1,) that he may bewail the calamity of his people. We see, how pious kings and prophets, to whom the government of the people was committed, were touched with similar feelings. It is, indeed, a thing that is common to all the pious, to be grieved in every case in which God is offended, and to bewail the ruin of brethren, and present themselves before God in their room as in a manner guilty, but it is more particularly requisite on the part of Pastors. (942) Farther, Paul here brings forward a second catalogue of vices, which, however, belong to one general head — unchastity.


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

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