Here is a spiritual suffering for Christ’s sake; and that which Paul speaks of as “the sentence of death”, though beyond our explanation, yet does seem to suggest that he got into a terrible state spiritually because of certain conditions. If I were to try to reshape this situation, I should say Paul had received this terribly bad news about the state of things in the church at Corinth, with more perhaps from other directions as well, and he had gone down under his suffering and said, ‘Is it worth it? Is it not all in vain? Is it not an utterly hopeless situation? Am I not wasting my life in pouring it out for such people?’ When you start like that, there is no end. You can go down and down until waters of despair gradually close over you. You try to pray and you cannot, for a doubting man can never pray. He may cry, but he cannot pray. A man who has let go to that sort of thing cannot pray; heaven is closed. And Paul, so to speak, interrogates himself and says, ‘What is the meaning of this?’ The answer is, ‘It is death; along that line it is death; if you get down there, there is no way through and no way up; that is the end of everything – death!’
My point at the moment is that death here was spiritual, not physical. He was tasting something of the real nature of death. Death is a sense of being excluded from God, of heaven being closed, of there being no way through and no way out, shut up and shut in, at the end of everything; and that registered in or upon your soul. That is more than physical death. Some of us more than once would have been glad to die physically. But this other thing is spiritual death, and it is terrible, it is awful; there is no gladness about that. To taste that is to know something of the sufferings of Christ. Those sufferings may be known along other lines, but we are not attempting here to define in detail the whole range of Christ’s sufferings, but only to stress the fact of them.
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