Chapter 5 – Paul’s Testimony Concerning Supernatural Life for the Body

“For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” 2 Cor. 4: 11.

Unlike many false religions, Christianity does not depreciate or degrade the human body. The very paragon of the first creation, God has no less dignified it in the new creation. His own Son did not deem it beneath Him to become incarnate in our mortal frame, and in that body He has been resurrected and glorified as the Head and Pattern of our future life. The provisions of Christ’s redemption include the body as well as the soul and spirit.

While it is only the steed that carries the traveler across the desert journey of life, yet the steed is most necessary to the traveler, and the failure of the one may involve the destruction of the other. Christ and His apostles, therefore, recognized most distinctly the place of our physical life in the scheme of redemption, and both by their teaching and example they leave us in no doubt about God’s provision for our physical healing and the strength that we need in these earthen vessels to uphold us until our work is done.

Man has always been seeking some Fountain of Youth, some Elixir of Life from which he might draw supernatural supplies of strength for his decaying powers. But all these have failed, and from age to age still

“Our hearts, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.”

But Paul must have discovered some new and divine secret of superior strength or he never could have told that story that we have already read in chapter 1: 8, of the deliverance that came to him in Asia when he was “pressed out of measure above strength, insomuch that he despaired even of life.” The story of his life is full of hardship, privation, exposure and suffering sufficient to have worn out a dozen lives.

The man who could give this catalogue, “in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft, five times received I forty stripes save one, thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep,” and yet live to a good old age in the full vigor of unwearied work and still have strength enough to have gone on indefinitely had not his noble life been suddenly closed by martyrdom; such a man must have had unwonted sources of physical strength and endurance and his physical life was as much a miracle as his spiritual victories and missionary achievements.

In this fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians he tells us the secret of his strength. Unlike Samson of old, from whom this secret had to be wrung by treachery, Paul glories in the telling of it, for it is an open secret for every brother of his suffering race.

I. The Principle

“We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us.” He means that the strength imparted to him is not in the form of bone and brawn or any material conditions which could appeal to our outward senses. It is not that his body was exceptionally robust, for, indeed, it remained frail to the end; but rather that a principle of vitality was imparted to it, so that the paradox was literally true, “when I am weak, then am I strong.”

We know that even in the natural world many elements that are extremely common and simple become the channels of tremendous forces. Radium, the latest of these discovered powers, comes from one of the commonest material elements, pitchblende, which might perhaps be called a kind of tar. The loadstone which lifts the heaviest bodies, does not derive its strength from its material weight or form, but from a hidden force that pulsates within the cold clay and lifts the most massive weights as though by celestial fingers. In the arsenal at Woolwich, you can see these magnets lifting vast projectiles and pieces of ordnance as though they were toys.

The electric current which carries our trains and our cars and moves our factories does not need massive iron girders to convey it, but runs along a little wire which a child might bend. The power is not in the material, but in the invisible current behind it. The human body itself does not derive its strength from mere structural form. A giant seven feet high, weighing three hundred pounds, falls like a mass of stone if life becomes extinct and requires several men to carry him; but animated by the principle of life, he cannot only carry his own weight, but as much more besides.

Now, in the spiritual realm there are forces far stronger than electricity, magnetism or the vital force, and what the apostle means is that such a force has been brought into touch with his weak body; and while he still remains weak in himself, he has found back of him and within him a new source of strength which makes him equal to every pressure. It is the “treasure” in “the earthen vessel,” and it proves to the world that the “excellency of the power is of God and not of us.”

II. The Secret of His Physical Life

He tells us in plain terms just what this power is. It is not an electric current, it is not the power of mind or will as Christian Science would teach us, but it is the power of a divine Person, the life of another added to his own, “the life also of Jesus in his mortal flesh.”Truly, this is a mystery, how one life can be added to another, and doubtless none will comprehend it unless they have in some measure experienced it. But a moment’s reflection will show us how reasonable it is. The Lord Jesus Christ is a Living Being in human form. They saw Him rise from earth to heaven with all the organs and members of a literal body, and yet with such supernal power in that body that He could spurn the fetters of earth and the forces of gravitation and rise without an effort into space. Now, He is still living in that glorified humanity somewhere in the center of this universe, and from that exalted place He is still in touch with His people here. The Holy Spirit is the mighty Medium who conveys to us His power and life, the divine Engineer, if we may use the figure without irreverence, who makes and maintains the contact between the mighty Dynamo yonder and our weak natures here on earth.

It is not thought strange in our modern scientific progress when men convey the power of Niagara Falls hundreds of miles along electric wires to run machines in distant places. It is not thought strange that yonder sun, 95,000,000 miles away, can send down its radiating life to quicken the forces of nature and create the verdure, the bloom and the manifold fruitfulness of earth. Why should it be thought strange that Jesus Christ, from the center of the universe, should be able to impart to souls and bodies that are in vital touch with Him, His own overflowing life and make His promise true both in our bodily and spiritual experience, “Because I live, you shall live also”?

If we look at a single scene in the apostle’s life, we shall see the operation of this secret. Yonder at the gates of Lystra a cruel mob has hurled him beneath a heap of stones and left him for dead after they have done their worst on his mutilated body. But we read in the simple narrative of the book of Acts, “Howbeit as the disciples stood around him he rose up and stood upon his feet and came into the city, and the next day departed for Derbe, and there he preached the Gospel.” What was the strange power that raised him up from seeming martyrdom? The answer is the simple, striking expression of our text: “The life also of Jesus.” Paul’s life had been beaten out but there was just enough left, a single spark, to form the point of contact with that other life that could not be beaten out, the life of his indwelling Lord; and as that life thrilled through his paralyzed powers, he rose up in new divine strength and quietly went forward in his work.

George Whitfield has left us a similar testimony of a day when he was supposed to be dying some miles from Newburyport while the congregation there was praying in tearful intercession that God would restore his life. Suddenly, he tells us, a new strange life began to breathe through him and passed through his frame, gradually rising from his extremities until it reached his heart and lungs and brain, imparting a quiet, peaceful glow of conscious strength and rest, dispelling all pain and weakness and prompting him to rise and dress, to call his carriage and drive many miles to Newburyport where the church was waiting to hear each moment of his end.

His coming seemed at first almost like an apparition, but when they saw that God had really raised him up and listened to his testimony, the power of God came down once more and multitudes were saved, and for many years the good evangelist continued in the strength of God to preach the Gospel and to finish his work.

III. The Pressure and the Test That Followed

There is a prevalent idea that the power of God in a human life should lift us above all trials, conflicts and struggles. The fact is the power of God always brings a conflict and a struggle. One would have thought that on his great missionary journey to Rome Paul would have been carried by some mighty providence above the power of storms and tempests and enemies. But, on the contrary, it was one long, hard fight with persecuting Jews, with wild tempests, with venomous vipers and all the powers of earth and hell, and at last he was saved, as it seemed, by the narrowest margin and had to swim ashore at Malta on a piece of wreckage and barely escape a watery grave.

Was that like a God of infinite power? Yes, just like Him. And so Paul tells us that when he took the Lord Jesus Christ, as the life of his body, a severe conflict immediately came; indeed, a conflict that never ended, a pressure that was persistent, but out of which he always emerged victorious through the strength of Jesus Christ.

The language in which he describes this is most graphic. “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed, always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be manifested in our body.”

What a ceaseless, strenuous struggle? It is impossible to express in English the forcible language of the original. There are five pictures in succession. In the first, the idea is crowding enemies pressing in from every side, and yet not crushing him because the police of heaven cleared the way just wide enough for him to get through. The literal translation would be, “We are crowded on every side, but not crushed.”

The second picture is that of one whose way seems utterly closed and yet he has pressed through; there is light enough to show him the next step. The revised version translates it, “perplexed but not unto despair.” Rotherham still more literally renders it, “without a way but not without a byway.”

The third figure is that of an enemy in hot pursuit while the divine Defender still stands by, and he is not left alone. Again we adopt the fine rendering of Rotherham, “Pursued but not abandoned.”

The fourth figure is still more vivid and dramatic. The enemy has overtaken him, has struck him, has knocked him down. But it is not a fatal blow; he is able to rise again. It might be translated, “over-thrown but not overcome.”

Once more the figure advances, and now it seems to be even death itself, “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” But he does not die, for “The life also of Jesus” now comes to his aid and he lives in the life of another until his work is done.