THE HIGHWAY OF OUR GOD
The GOSPEL TRUTH
PART III: FOLLOWING THE HIGHWAY CODE
The Christian Facing Trial
AFFLICTION occupies a large place in the economy of salvation for, though suffering is the result of sin, God transmutes it into one of the richest blessings to his own people. From whatever secondary causes the afflictions of the righteous may arise, whether from the sins of their forefathers, the cruelty of their enemies, their own mistakes, or the mistakes of their friends, or the malice of Satan, their blessed privilege is to realize that God permits and overrules all, and that in every sorrow He has a gracious end. Happy the Christian who, though he cannot see this 'end' at present, is able to trust in the goodness which chastens, and cleave to the hand that smites.
It may help us, however, to 'endure chastening' if we consider two or three of the gracious ends, or uses, of our trials.
There is a sense in which trial reveals us to God; makes manifest to Him what is in our heart. Perhaps someone may object, and say, 'No, no; we need nothing to make manifest to God what we are. He understands us perfectly. He knows what is in man, and needs not anything to tell Him.' True; yet He said to Abraham, 'Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from Me.' And Moses said to the Israelites, 'And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no.' Now God knew that Abraham feared Him, and He also knew how far Israel would keep His commandments, but He did not know as a matter of actual fact until the fact transpired. Thus Abraham, by his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, made his love manifest to God. In your various afflictions, the Lord is leading you about in the wilderness to prove you, and to see (to make manifest to Himself) what is in your heart, and whether you will keep his commandments or not. Remember also that in nothing is love made so manifest as in willing, cheerful suffering for the sake of its object. It is easy, nay, joyful to labour, but patient, cheerful suffering requires a deeper love, a more perfect self-abandonment. 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' 'We glory in tribulations also.'
Trial also reveals us to ourselves. Although we do not agree with the adage that untried grace is no grace at all, yet unquestionably much fancied grace has proved itself, in the hour of trial, to be but as the early cloud and the morning dew. Many who have received the word with joy and for a while have believed, in time of temptation have fallen away. Many professing Christians, if they could have had predicted to them the effect of adversity upon the heart and life, would have said with Hazael, 'Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this?' Yet, when the true test of character was applied, he fell. When he had eaten and was full then his heart rebelled, or when he was chastened by the Lord he became weary and said, 'Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.' For the Christian, there is no surer test of the state of his heart than the way in which he receives affliction. Often, when all has appeared prosperous and peaceful, and the child of God has been congratulating himself on spiritual growth and increased power over inward corruption, some fiery trial has overtaken him, which, instead of being met with perfect submission and cheerful acquiescence, has produced sudden confusion, dismay, and perhaps rebellion, revealing to him that his heart was far from that state of divine conformity which he had hoped and supposed.
Thus the Christian often suffers more from a consciousness of insubordination under affliction than from the affliction itself. When trials overtake you, are you able to say, 'It is the Lord: let Him do what seemeth Him good,' and 'I know . . . that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me?' Are you able to realize that 'whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth,' and that these light afflictions are working a future increase of glory? If so, happy are you. This is the best of all evidence to yourself that the divine Spirit is working in you to will and to do of your Father's good pleasure. This fruit does not grow on the corrupt soil of unregenerate nature; it springs only from a heart renewed by the Holy Ghost and baptized into fellowship with Christ in His sufferings. But is it otherwise with you? Does your heart chafe, and fret, and rebel? Are you saying, 'All these things are against me?' If so, this is proof that the work of grace is at a low ebb in your soul, that your faith is weak, and your spiritual perceptions dim. It is high time for you to awake out of sleep and cry mightily unto God for a revival of His work in your heart and for a sanctified use of the affliction which has overtaken you. 'If God dries up the water on the lake, it is to lead you to the unfailing fountain. If He blights the ground, it is to drive you to the tree of life. If He sends the cross, it is to brighten the crown. Nothing is so hard as man's heart. And as copper is laid, in acquæ fortis before it is engraved, so the searching, softening discipline of affliction prepares for the Lord's deep, lasting impression upon our hearts.'
The fire our graces shall refine Till, moulded from above, We bear the character divine, The stamp of perfect love.
Trial reveals us to the world. As the greatest manifestation of God to the world was by suffering, so the most influential revelation of His people to the world has been by suffering. They are seen to the best advantage in the furnace. The blood of martyrs has ever been the seed of the Church. The patience, meekness, firmness and happiness of God's people in circumstances of suffering, persecution and death have paved the way for the gospel in almost all lands and all ages. A baptism of blood has prepared the hard sterile soil of humanity for the good seed of the Kingdom, and made it doubly fruitful. The exhibition of the meek and loving spirit of Christianity under suffering has doubtless won thousands of hearts to its divine Author, and tamed and awed many a savage persecutor, besides Saul of Tarsus. When men see their fellow-men enduring with patience and meekness what they know would fill them with hatred, anger and revenge, they naturally conclude that there must be a different spirit in them. When they see Christians suffering the loss of all things, and cheerfully resigning themselves to bonds, imprisonment and death, they cannot help feeling that they have sources of strength and springs of consolation all unknown to themselves.
Patient suffering, cheerful acquiescence in affliction and anguish, mental or physical, is the most convincing proof of the divine in man which it is possible for humanity to give. 'Truly this was the Son of God,' said he who stood by the Cross when he saw how Jesus suffered. And how many who have been thoroughly skeptical as to the professions of their converted kindred, and have most bitterly persecuted them, and withstood every argument and entreaty advanced in health and activity, have yielded almost without a word before the patience and peace with which the billows of suffering and death have been braved, nay, welcomed such evidence as too mighty, such proof too positive to be resisted, even by persecutors and blasphemers.
Abraham might have written a book and preached all his life long, as doubtless he did, but the whole, ten times told, would not have convinced his family, his contemporaries and posterity, of the depth and fervency of his love to God, as did that holy, calm willingness to surrender of his best beloved. Job might have been the upright, benevolent, righteous man he was, but probably we should never have heard of him but for his wonderful submission, patience and faith under suffering. This lifts him up as an example and a teacher to all succeeding generations. It was when sitting on the dunghill, apparently forsaken of God and man, and suffering the direct physical agony which Satan could inflict, that job attained his greatest victory and made that wonderful exhibition of trust in God which has been the comfort and admiration of God's people from that day to this.
It was in the fiery furnace that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego won such glory to the God of Israel, that even a heathen king proclaimed His majesty and dominion, and commended his subjects to worship Him who could deliver after this manner. It was in the furnace of their persecution that Stephen, Peter, James, John and Paul proved the divinity in them, and the genuineness of their faith. Without suffering the world could never have known the strength of their faith, the fervency of their love, or the purity of their lives. Their trials made them 'spectacles unto the world, to the angels and to men,' and won for their Master the ears and hearts of thousands.
When the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews would present to us the mightiest achievements of faith and the most wonderful exhibitions of the power of divine grace (Hebrews 11), he refers not so much to the doings of God's people as to their sufferings.
Are you adding your testimony to that of the cloud of witnesses who are gone before, to the sufficiency of divine grace to sustain and comfort in the hour of sorrow and suffering? Is your patient endurance saying to those who are watching you, 'I can do (and suffer) all things through Christ which strengtheneth me?'
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