The Believer in Affliction

The reader probably has often said, “It is to me a great mystery, why the Lord suffers his children to be afflicted, while the wicked are in prosperity, and have what they like.” The reasons are unquestionably wise, though we may not be able to find them out in this world. You are aware that those who have often tried to turn baser metal into gold have always acted first upon the Latin motto, “Abstractio terrestrietatis a materia” — “The abstraction or drawing away of earthliness from the matter of their metal.” It is thus that God has to begin with our base souls, before they are turned into fine gold; by affliction, if not by the fire of his Spirit, he abstracts our earthliness, etc. You may remember that Hercules could never conquer Antaeus “till he had lifted him up above the earth, his mother.”

The “furnace of affliction” not infrequently accomplishes what other means cannot. That is a pretty idea of a poet:

“As iron cold, and dark, and dead,
Into a furnace cast;
Warms by degrees, grows sparkling red,
And turns mere fire at last, -So
to the furnace of thy love
May my cold heart aspire,
Till, all transmuted from above, -It
glows a heavenly fire!”

The sentiments of an old divine, which just now occur to me may perhaps be more satisfactory. “Why doth a father, when he seeth two boys fighting in the street, correct his son, and not the other. Why doth the schoolmaster take a stricter account of the scholar he best affecteth, than of others, whom he suffereth to play the truant. Why doth the husbandman let the unfruitful and unsavory trees grow out at length, without pruning, but pruneth the fragrant roses, and pricketh the fruitful vines till they bleed? Why, but because the former are designed for firewood, and the latter for fragrance and fruit? Why doth the physician, when he seeth his patient desperate, give order to them that are about him to deny him nothing that he hath a mind to; but if he hath any hope of the recovery of any patient of his, he keepeth him in diet, forbiddeth him such things as he most desireth, and prescribeth for him many meats and potions which go against the stomach? Lastly, Why doth a captain set the best soldiers in the forefront of battle, and appointeth them to enter in at the breach, with apparent hazard of their lives? Why, but that they may get the greatest honor?” “Better,” said a good man, “weep in Christ’s school, than sport at the devil’s games; better to want all things, and to have God’s love, than to have all things else, and want it. If it had not been better, Moses would never have chosen to suffer affliction with the people of God.” Heb. 11:15.

I have read of an ancient nation, the nobles of which considered it a great honor to be corrected by their prince; and though painful, yet they seemed to rejoice in it, thanking him for taking such pains with them as to minister the correction to them himself. Read, at your leisure, Revelation 3:19; Deuteronomy 8:15; Proverbs 3:11, 12; Hebrews 12:9 to the 13th verse, inclusive; also, Genesis 4:13; Job 31:3; Hebrews 10:29; Leviticus 26:18. These passages, though they belong to separate classes of Scripture declarations, and refer to very different characters, resemble so many glasses placed opposite to each other; they reflect a mutual and harmonious light. And surely you cannot deny that the wicked are also afflicted; their afflictions, however, are penalties inflicted by their sovereign Judges but there is a difference between chastening and punishing; the former implies a father, but the latter a judge; in the one we have love, but in the other satisfaction to justice. “God as a Father,” says some writer, “inflicteth with grief and compassion, moderateth with mercy, and directeth by providence all the strokes laid upon his children.” “Is not that elegant speech of St. Austin a riddle,” said an individual, — “God chastens whom he loves, yet loves not to chasten?” “Not at all,” was the reply, “for a surgeon lances the flesh of his dearest friend or brother in love, yet he takes no delight in lancing; nor would he do it, but to prevent the festering of the sore.”

Perhaps your friend is saying, with one of old, “Show me that the countenance of God is not changed towards me, nor his affections estranged from me, and it sufficeth; surely, kisses and embraces, not blows and strokes, are love compliments. How may I be persuaded that God layeth this heavy cross upon me in love?” “Nay,” was the reply to the discouraged saint, “how canst thou not be persuaded, seeing he himself hath said, ‘AS MANY AS I LOVE, I REBUKE AND CHASTEN’?” Rev. 3:19.

Let her consider the case of poor Benjamin. Did not Joseph love him better than all his brethren? and yet he suffered most severely; for the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.

“Afflictions oft but serve to hide
Some good as yet unknown.”

I know not that we are called to have a liking for affliction. Nature, I think, may recoil, where there may be the elements of real submission to God; Matthew 26:39 is worthy of her consideration. “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” would seem to indicate an unwillingness to suffer, — at least, a shrinking from it. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt,” “seems to show,” said a good man, “a resolute will. Here is a consent of will, without a will of consent; a will against a will, or a will and not a will; “non mea, sed tua.” As man, our Lord had a natural fear of death, and a desire of life, yet with a submission to the will of his Father. It was not his will to take that cup for itself, and antecedently, and as he saw wrath in it; yet as he saw the salvation of man in it, and greater glory, it was his will to drink of it consequently, because such was his Father’s good pleasure, to which his will was always subordinate.”

God has said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” Mrs. _____, then, is one of the many. It is her privilege to have it to say in the future, although at present it is not joyous, but grievous:

It was a sanctified distress,
And brought new joys to me.”

Moses doubtless saw many interesting things in the pleasant gardens of Egypt, but he “must needs” go into the wilderness of Sinai to see what he saw in the thorny bush. It was not in pleasant scenes, nor in the gardens of spices, nor in the sunshine of prosperity, the spouse in the Song of Solomon found him whom her soul loved; but in the dark night of adversity, when there were none to help, and many discouragements. Her Heavenly Father is only making good that prediction of our Lord, “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and ye shall be sorrowful.” Let her, however, remember, that the same verse contains a blessed promise: “But your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” Matt. 16:20. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” 2 Cor. 4:17.

Tell her, from me, that it does not seem unfit that those who are to enjoy a high state of honor, a weightier glory, and a brighter crown in heaven, should carry a heavier cross upon earth. It would seem that the Lord, who is all goodness, is desirous of making her a partaker of all the happiness of which she is capable; but still, it requires another world to explain and illustrate all the ways of God towards us in the present.

What you mention has been termed by one “Satan’s masterpiece.” Yet I find it difficult to make those nice distinctions you require. That the devil often attempts to rob those of the true jewels of grace who have them, and to deceive them with counterfeits in their place, I cannot doubt; and that he palms them off upon those who never have had saving grace, I do not question. “He imitates,” says a writer, “a cunning lapidary, who insinuates into the company of a rich merchant, and getting a sight of his cabinet of jewels, cheats him with counterfeit stones.”

I happened upon a distinction, the other day, in an old book which may render you some assistance in the work of self-examination.

“Religion is a true jewel — Superstition is a counterfeit. Humility a jewel — Pusillanimity a counterfeit. Spiritual wisdom a jewel — Worldly Policy a counterfeit. Liberality a jewel -Prodigality a counterfeit. Tenderness of Conscience a jewel — Scrupulosity a counterfeit. Severity a jewel — Cruelty a counterfeit. Clemency a jewel — Indulgence a counterfeit. Zeal a jewel -Indiscreet Fervor a counterfeit. Diligent Search into Divine Mysteries a jewel — Curiosity a counterfeit. Inward Peace a jewel — Carnal Security a counterfeit. Confidence in God a jewel -Presumption a counterfeit. Constancy a jewel — Pertinacity a counterfeit.”

You may inform Mr. _____ that it has never appeared to me there is any difference, or want of reconciliation, between St. Paul and St. James on the subject of “faith and good works.” True, St. Paul speaks of our being justified by faith only, without works; and St. James, of our being justified by our works; but the former refers to works done before justification, and of the impossibility of obtaining pardon of sins by them; but the latter speaks of works done after justification, and that faith without works is dead, being alone, — that we justify our assertion, that we enjoy saving faith, when we prove our faith by our works. I think a divine of the seventeenth century grapples effectually with the dangerous principles of _____. It is the only reply I have time at present to send, whatever may be done in the future: “Let no man adulterate the truth, nor impose upon Christ’s mercy what it will not bear, nor endeavor to sever faith from good works, lest he sever his soul from life. For though faith justify our works before God, yet our works justify our faith before men. Hence, saith St. James, ‘Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.’ James 2:18. All persons who hope for eternal life should desire, with the apostle St. Paul, Phil. 3:9, recognizing at the same time those expressive words of Christ Jesus, Mat. 5:20. Faith and good works must and do ever accompany each other, when faith is genuine and saying; and anything short of that is devilish. James 2:19 And again, in the same chapter: ‘Even so faith if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.’ It is evident unto all, except they be blind, that the eye alone seeth in the body, yet the eye which seeth is not alone in the body, without the other senses; the forefinger alone pointeth, yet that finger is not alone on the hand; the hammer alone striketh the bell, yet the hammer which striketh is not alone in the clock; the heat alone in the fire burneth, and not the light, yet that heat is not alone without light; the helm alone guideth the ship, and not the tackling, and yet the helm is not alone, nor without the tackling; in a compound electuary, rhubarb alone purgeth the choler, yet the rhubarb is not alone without the other ingredients. Thus we are to conceive, that though faith alone doth justify, yet that faith which justifieth is not alone, but joined with charity and good works. Many please themselves with a resemblance of Castor and Pollux, two lights appearing on ships, sometimes severally, sometimes jointly: if either appeareth by itself, it presageth a storm; if both together, a calm; (with their leave be it spoken) this their simile is dissimile. For those lights may be severed, and actually are, often; but justifying faith cannot be severed from good works, nor these from it. Thus far it holdeth, that unless we have a sense and feeling of both in our own souls, we may well fear a storm. St. Bernard’s distinction of ‘via regni, and causa regnandi,’ cleareth this point: ‘Though good works are not the cause why God crowneth us, yet we must take them in our way to heaven, else we shall never come there. It is as impious to deny the necessity, as to maintain the merit, of good works.”

“Easy, indeed, it were to reach
A mansion in the courts above,
If swelling words and fluent speech
Might serve instead of faith and love.
But none shall gain that blissful place,
Or God’s unclouded glory see,
Who talks of free and sovereign grace,
Unless that grace hath made him free.”

With regard to your own experience in the things of God, there is nothing surprising that you find yourself encompassed by unexpected difficulties, while aiming at entire devotedness to God: or that, in digging for the hidden treasure of “perfect love,” you only find a little of it now and again, beneath a heavy cross. We are, indeed, “sanctified by faith;” Acts 26:18; but crosses may lie in the way, and they must be taken up in order to the steady venturing of soul, body, and spirit, upon the veracity of Jesus Christ in his promises. And, even after you have received that great blessing, in order to advance to the ‘perfecting of holiness,” the cross must not be avoided. The cross may indeed, cost you “more trouble and pain than the other part of the toil,” but then you may find a treasure of love underneath every cross. I cannot, therefore, see that you have any cause of complaint, though your crosses are numerous. It is recorded, that Tiberius Constantinus, in the year 577, ordered a golden cross, set in marble, to be dug up that it might not be trodden upon by the unthinking; but when this was done, there was another gold cross beneath it, and a second, and so a third and a fourth; but there is no intimation that Constantinus was sorry to have had so much trouble; the gold of the cross made ample payment for the toil and expense of the digging. The persecuted Rutherford used to say: “Some have one cross, some seven, others ten, and some half a cross; yet all the saints have whole and full joy; and seven crosses have seven joys.”


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