But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead:
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Paul means that there was such a violent upsurge of evil against preachers of the faith that death was staring them in the face. But God does not refuse his protection to people in extreme danger, especially when they belong to him. He rescued them when they were in deep despair. Their affliction was so great that they would not have withstood it if God had not been with them. Commentary on Paul’s Epistles.
Perfect renunciation, therefore, consists in not having an affection for this life and keeping before our minds the “answer of death, that we should not trust in ourselves.” But a beginning is made by detaching oneself from all external goods: property, vainglory, life in society, useless desires, after the example of the Lord’s holy disciples. James and John left their father Zebedee and the very boat upon which their whole livelihood depended. Matthew left his counting house and followed the Lord, not merely leaving behind the profits of his occupation but also paying no attention to the dangers which were sure to befall both himself and his family at the hands of the magistrates because he had left the tax accounts unfinished. To Paul, finally, the whole world was crucified, and he to the world.
"That we should trust not in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead "says the apostle, "who delivered us from so great a death, that our faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. ""For the spiritual man judgeth all things, but he himself is judged of no man."
But we had the sentence of death in ourselves. "But," here, has the meaning of "moreover." Nature and inclination presaged and expected nothing but death; and when I thought of the state of my life, my mind answered that I must die if God did not lend miraculous aid. So Ambrose and Theophylact.
The Greek word here rendered "sentence" means, (1.) answer. (2.) According to Photius, it denotes the crisis of an illness. The meaning, then, would be: We were so afflicted that our life was despaired of by nature and by experienced men, who, looking at our case as doctors might, judged it beyond recovery. (3.) It denotes sentence, as in the text. We seemed to have received our sentence, and to be destined accordingly to inevitable death.
Paul was expecting death, but things had not come to that point. In the natural course of events, he should have died, but God did not allow that to happen in order that Paul would learn not to trust in himself but in God.
What is this, the answer of death? The vote, the judgment, the expectation. For so spoke our affairs; our fortunes gave this answer, We shall surely die.
To be sure, this did not come to the proof, but only as far as to our anticipations, and stopped there: for the nature of our affairs did so declare, yet the power of God allowed not the declaration to take effect, but permitted it to happen only in our thought and in expectation: wherefore he says, We had the answer of death in ourselves, not in fact. And wherefore permitted He peril so great as to take away our hope and cause us to despair? That we should not trust in ourselves, says he, but in God. These words Paul said, not that this was his own temper. Away with such a thought, but as attuning the rest by what he says of himself, and in his great care to speak modestly. Whence also further on he says, There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, (meaning his trials,) lest I should be exalted overmuch. 2 Corinthians 12:7 And yet...