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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: The Lesser Epistles

Chapter 21 - Philippians 4:13; 2 Corinthians 12:9 - The Strength of Weakness Light & Truth: The Lesser Epistles by Bonar, Horatius




The Strength Of Weakness.


"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."

-Philippians 4:13.

"Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."-2 Corinthians 12:9.



     The first of these verses might run more exactly thus: 'I am strong for all things, in Christ who maketh me powerful.' Here is the exchange between Christ and Paul;-Christ takes Paul's weakness, as He took Paul's unrighteousness; Christ gives Paul His strength, as He gave Paul His righteousness. Here weakness and strength are put in their proper places, and traced to their separate sources. It is to them that have no might that God gives the increase of' strength. There is nothing that we can do, if Christ strengthen us not; there is nothing that we cannot do, if He strengthen us. We are responsible for strength, not because we have it, but because He has it for us. Infirmities are ours; strength is His. It is out of weakness that we are made strong. Our weakness is our strength; our strength is our weakness. 'Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.' 'In the Lord have we righteousness and strength.' 'In the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.'

     This passage (in Philippians) is, however, but a general statement, the substance of which is Christ our strength-yes, as truly 'Christ our strength,' as 'Christ our righteousness.' Here is the true theory of creature power; here are the dynamics of a religious life and Christian work.

     But the second passage enters more fully into the exposition of the 'theory' of a believing man's strength. It gives the detailed experience of the greatest of the apostles. It shows us how he lived, how he wrought how he suffered, how he triumphed-all through means of another; how Christ was made unto him not only wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, but also strength. Here Paul speaks freely of his infirmities, his helplessness; he tells us how he dealt with these infirmities; he gives us also his reason for his peculiar way of dealing with them.

     I. Paul's infirmities.-He is not so much referring to sins, as to weaknesses-weaknesses of various kinds; to his bodily circumstances; his poverty; for 'his bodily presence was weak, and his speech contemptible.' Yet there is a sense in which he may be referring to his sins as well; for in dealing with them, as well as with his infirmities, he was drawn into direct connection with his Lord. We are, like Paul, compassed about with 'infirmities;' we are men of like passions with him; iniquities prevail against us; innumerable evils compass us about. Every step we take betrays an infirmity; every hour gives scope to an infirmity; every word is an infirmity; every thought is an infirmity; every prayer is an infirmity. We are made up of infirmities; filled up with infirmities; body, soul, and spirit, we are subject to infirmities. 'Oh wretched men that we are!'

     II.  His way of dealing with them.-'Glorying in them.' He did not so deal with them at first. He wanted to flee from them; to get rid of them all without delay. He went to Christ, asking that they might be taken from him. At first he dealt with them in a way which showed he did not understand God's reason for sending them. He could see no way of dealing with them, but getting quit of them. He was impatient under them. They were perhaps drags, impediments, burdens. They tried his faith, his patience, his strength, and, it may be, his temper. He was restive under them. He wanted to shake them off. He went to his Lord to get Him to take them away. He wanted to dictate to Christ as to the way of dealing with them. But he found that his Lord and he were at variance about them. He said, 'Take them away.' His Lord said, 'Let them remain, and use my strength instead of your own. Give me the opportunity of helping you; of working for you, and in you; and so my strength shall find full scope, and out of weakness you shall become strong.' Here is the controversy between the saint and the Lord; and here is,-

     (1.) The great love of Christ.-It is love that we find in all this singular dealing. It does not look like love, and yet it is so. It is pure and perfect love. 'As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.'

     (2.) The great wisdom of Christ.-It is wise love. There is no folly here; nor weakness. He loves both wisely and well. Infinite wisdom is in this treatment of His suffering and impatient servant.

     (3.) The great power of Christ.-He speaks as one possessed of all power; as one to whom it was no matter how many or how great these infirmities were. He was conscious of power to deal with them all. What are the infirmities of one soul, however many they may be, to Him in whom all fullness dwells?

     (4.) The great patience of Christ.-He has no pleasure in His servants' infirmities; but He has long patience. The Master's patience; and the servant's impatience: these meet, and produce the most blessed results.

     It was, then, the Master that taught the servant how to deal with infirmities. He first bore with them Himself and then He bids the servant bear with them; offering strength in time of need. The way or ways in which Paul learnt to deal with his infirmities may be stated as follows:-

     1. To glory in them.-Not to be ashamed of them. Every man has infirmities, weaknesses, peculiarities, which often trouble him, fret him, annoy him. He is ashamed of them. He looks on them as pure hindrances, stumbling blocks, drags; and he cannot reconcile their continuance with the right doing of his work. Such is not the way to deal with them. He must learn to glory in them.

     2. To take them to Christ.-Our sins, our burdens, our sorrows, and our infirmities, we must take to Him.  We must deal with Him personally, face to face; we must allow Him to undertake for us in these things, and not to attempt the removal or regulation of them ourselves.  'Bring them all to me,' He says; 'and don't prescribe to me the proper way of dealing with them. Let me deal with them as seems best.' He is as willing to undertake dealing with our infirmities as with our sins.

     3.  Make them do their own special work.-They have a work to do in their own way, a way which seems to us very poor and broken; but still they have a work to do, and we must let them do it. We must not take it out of their hands. They are earthen vessels, and we must not wait for their becoming golden urns before putting the treasure into them. It is as earthen vessels, and just as such, that they are to do their proper work. They are like bruised reeds; and we are not to make them strong and vigorous staves or swords before using them. We must use them as they are. The earthen vessel, as such, and the bruised reed, as such, have their proper work to do. It is the stammering tongue that speaks best for God; for by such it is that God speaks. It is the feeble arm that best wields the sword, or the spear, or the buckler; because it is in and by such that God works.

     III. His reason for so dealing with them.-That the power of Christ might rest upon him,-literally, might 'pitch its tent upon him.' That power could only dwell with weakness. It is to weakness that it comes, not to strength. The more of personal infirmity, the more of Christ's power. Infirmity was in itself an annoyance to Paul; but as a bond between him and Christ it was blessed, nay, it was a thing to be gloried in; a thing which he rejoiced to glory in; which he did not glory in reluctantly, but with his whole heart; a thing which he would not part with here on any account. Thus his infirmity-

     (1.) Emptied him of self and self-glory.-He had nothing of his own to look to, or to boast of. His infirmities made him ashamed of himself. Who am I, that I should be saved, or that I should be used by God?

     (2.) Brought him nearer his Lord.-As the child's weakness brings it nearer the parent, so did Paul's. He could not live apart from Christ. His weakness made nearness to Him a necessity.

     (3.) Taught him more of Him than he could have learned otherwise.-It taught him more of Christ's love, and power, and grace, and fullness than he could otherwise have known. It gave opportunities for the divine fullness to empty itself into him. Had it not been for these weaknesses, he could have known but little of his Lord. Blessed infirmities, that teach us Jesus, draw us to Him, fill us with His love, and make His sufficiency as suitable as it is indispensable.