From Grace to Glory
by Octavius Winslow
THE TRIAL OF THE NEW BIRTH
"The Lord tries the righteous."―Psalm 11:5
It is the perfection of God that He does everything for Himself; this, while it is the greatest imperfection of the creature, is the highest perfection of the Creator. The works of creation exhibit the glory of God. Not an insect floats in the sunbeam, not a flower blooms in the valley, not a dewdrop sparkles upon the rose leaf, but has its end in God. It is equally so in the works of providence. All its events―the greatest, the most minute, the mysterious, and the lucid illustrate His wisdom and promote His glory, and terminate in Himself. If in the kingdoms of creation and of providence it is so, how much more in the kingdom of grace! The fall of man from his original righteousness, to his recovery from that condition by electing grace, and his final translation to glory, is that masterpiece of Divine workmanship which will fill heaven with God's glory and replenish eternity with His praise.
We have a striking illustration of this thought in the subject to which the present chapter is devoted―the process of trial through which God permits the renewed nature of the believer to pass. It might seem to a superficial eye, or to the mind of a young convert to Christ, at first sight strange and incongruous that the Lord, who loves the righteous, as He does, should often subject them to trials so severe and so prolonged. That He should impose sufferings so intense, and permit sorrows so many and deep, to come upon those whom He has pronounced the chosen objects of His love, in whom is all His delight, who are His peculiar and costly treasure, tender and precious to Him as the apple of His eye, seems mysterious, if not inequitable.
And yet, all is right! It is proper and befitting that the new nature of God in the souls of His people should evidence its genuineness, develop its power, and unveil its glory. And the mode which the God of love and wisdom has chosen for this is just that one the best adapted to promote and accomplish the great end―"The Lord tries the righteous." Such is the view we are about to present to the reader of this volume. But a brief description in the first place of the "righteous" is necessary, since in a preceding chapter we have dwelt at length upon the character.
Contemplate the ''righteous" in their PRIVILEGE, as righteous in the righteousness of God. It is called "the righteousness of God," not because it is the essential or abstract righteousness of God, for this is incommunicable, and cannot, therefore, describe the righteousness in which the believer is justified. But it is called "the righteousness of God" because it is the righteousness of Christ, who is God. To quote a text more than once referred to in this volume, "He has made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him"―observe, made the righteousness of God in Christ. Thus, we stand by imputation, in the righteousness of Christ―God in our nature, Immanuel, God with us; "The Lord our Righteousness."
What a vital and precious truth is this to the believer! The more the mind revolves round this doctrine, the more glory we see in it, and the more we seem to clasp it, as the drowning mariner the plank. And how some can talk of sin, and confess sin, and yet think of standing before God without this righteousness, is most puzzling! When we study the law of God―its spirituality and strictness; when we think that for one thought, one glance of the mind, it curses and condemns; that, it demands the body, the soul, the time, the talents, yes, our all for God―else it were a most wicked law―that, its terms are blood for blood, life for life―how suitable, how perfect, how glorious does the righteousness of an incarnate God appear which has met every demand, honored every precept, and which is unto all and upon all those who believe!
And when we consider that there bends not a believer over this page, however weak his faith or small the buddings of Divine grace in his soul―he may have been the vilest sinner, and now the weakest believer―yet looking to Jesus, notwithstanding all his imperfections and failures, he stands complete in the righteousness of God, how magnificent and precious does this doctrine appear! O blessed truth! how it abases, and yet how it exalts! To know that while our feelings fluctuate, and our frames vary, and our experience ebbs and flows as the tide, yet our righteousness varies not, changes not, and that we are not justified one moment more really, more freely, more completely than another, is a mercy unspeakably great.
And when we examine our principles and their fruits, our aims and their results―striving to reach the center―the mark of the prize of our high calling―yet ever falling short, had we not this righteousness to stand in before God, how could we dare look up? O you saints of the Most High, you who are traveling on through much failure, through much infirmity, it may be through much trial and tribulation, shout the hallelujahs of heaven! Christ is yours, His righteousness is yours, His work is yours, His glory is yours, for you are complete in Him. Such are the "righteous" in their great privilege.
Let us look at them in their CHARACTER. They are denominated "the righteous." It is here the existence and vitality of the new nature appear so evident and illustrious. All the holiness that vitalizes and adorns the life of the child of God, all the righteousness which renders his path so luminous, his influence so sanctifying, his character so glorifying to God, is the new and Divine nature in his soul exercising its power and putting forth its fruit. Born of God, believers advance in spiritual stature, from the babe in Christ to the young man, from the young man to the father, and from the father to the hoary head found in the way of righteousness. And, as they grow up into Christ, the new nature exhibits more and more of its vitality, unveils more and more of its loveliness, and accomplishes more and more of its achievement.
Growing up into Christ in all things, their religious progress is a gradual development of Christ's nature and image in them, and in the same ratio a gradual putting off the old man with his deceitful lusts and putting on the new. In other words, the believer growing up into Christ grows less like himself and more like Christ, less earthly and more heavenly. Thus does his newness of nature appear in the righteousness of life which he lives―"He that does righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous," (1 John 3:7.)
This will constitute the grand distinctive feature of the human race in the great day of judgment―righteousness. The distinction of races and of languages, of rank and wealth, of churches and creeds, will vanish in that solemn day, and nothing will mark the great separating distinction of man from man but the righteousness of God imputed, and the righteousness of the Holy Spirit imparted, to those who shall be saved. "They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spares his own son that serves him. Then shall you return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked; between him that serves God and him that serves him not," (Mal. 3:17, 18.)
"Jesus, Your blood and righteousness,
Your beauty, are my glorious dress;
'Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
"When from the dust of death I rise,
To take my mansion in the skies,
Even then shall this be all my plea?
Jesus has lived and died for me.
"Bold shall I stand in that great day,
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
While, through Your blood, absolved I am
From sin's tremendous curse and shame."
But, "the Lord TRIES the righteous." To this truth let us now direct our attention. Trial is an essential part of our advance in grace here, and of our fitness for glory hereafter. There never was a saint of God exempt from trial. As has been remarked, God had but one Son exempt from sin, but never one exempt from suffering. Thus it is said of Jesus, "Though he was a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered." Trial, as a part of earth's discipline for heaven's enjoyment, is nowhere a fact disguised or qualified in God's Word. It confronts us upon the very threshold of our conversion, that, if we become the true disciples of Christ, it must be by bearing His cross and following Him through much tribulation to the kingdom. God thus speaks of His Church, the remnant according to the election of grace―"And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried," (Zech. 13:9.)
The testimony of the New Testament is not less clear and emphatic. Thus taught the first apostles of the faith. They went forth preaching the gospel in every city, "Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through MUCH TRIBULATION enter into the kingdom of God."
The very constitution of the renewed nature of the Christian implies its exposure to trial. Its existence in the living soul is where sin's empire is. It is a kingdom of light irradiating amid a kingdom of darkness―an empire of righteousness reigning amid an empire of sin―a spark of fire glowing amid the heaving ocean. What is the daily life of the believer from the moment he raises his head from his pillow in the morning until he replaces it at night, but a battle with inward corruption and with external temptation? Thus our very constitution, as those that are born again, is in direct and incessant antagonism with evil, and, consequently, is one of perpetual comment upon the inspired declaration, "The Lord TRIES the righteous."
The discipline of trial to which the righteous are subjected is essentially different to what the world blindly supposes it to be. In the world's estimate the trial of the saints is a retributive judgment―a penal evil―a divine condemnation. But, as represented by God, what is the trial of the righteous? It is variously denominated. Thus, for example, trial is the believer's testimonial for heaven, (Matt. 5:10;) the gift of God, (Phil. 1:29;) the Spirit of glory resting upon him, (1 Pet. 4:14;) a baptismal consecration, (Mark 10:38, 39;) a filling up of the Lord's sufferings, without which Christ's sufferings in His Church are not complete, (Col. 1:24;) the evangelical perfection of the righteous, (James 1:3, 4) a refining of their faith, (1 Pet. 1:7;) their enhancement of glory, (2 Cor. 4:17;) their conformity to Christ their Head, (2 Tim. 2:11, 12.) Such are a few of the lights in which the Holy Spirit, in the Word, places the process of trial by which the Lord tries the righteous.
It were a truism to remark that the trials of the Lord's people are VARIOUS. No individual can carefully and thoughtfully read and study God's Word, or his own personal history, without arriving at this conclusion. As the Lord's garden is planted with trees of various sizes―as God's family is composed of children of different growth―as Christ's body, the Church, is composed of different members; so the spiritual discipline of God with the righteous varies. Some of the Lord's people are tried in body and some in soul; some in their circumstances, and others in their families; some by the world, and some by the Church. Like a wise and loving parent, like a skillful and attentive physician, like an experienced and judicious husbandman, the Lord adapts and moulds the discipline, the treatment, and the pruning in His trial of the righteous according to the nature and requirements of the case, so that every believer's cross and trial is just what the Lord makes it, and just what his case required.
But whatever the trial to which the Lord in His love and wisdom may see fit to subject the new nature, it will but result in its greater development and maturity. When we remember how much there is within us opposed to its progress, how much to veil its beauty, to weaken its power, to shade its luster, and almost to imperil its very existence, is it any marvel that He whose work, whose nature, and whose image it is―jealous of His own glory, as its Author―should subject the righteous to the discipline of trial, that their righteousness might appear as the light, and their judgment as the noonday?
The apostle Paul, in a passage already quoted, speaks of filling up that which is behind by the afflictions of Christ in his flesh. It was a noble sentiment worthy of his magnanimous spirit. But it expressed more than this. It sets forth a truth most consolatory to the believer? that is, that the afflictions of Christ's people are the afflictions of Christ Himself, so perfect is the oneness of Christ and His Church. Now, if it were an essential part of the Divine economy―if it were necessary as perfecting Him as the mediator of His Church, that Christ, the sinless Son of God, should pass through the process of trial―should be tried from every quarter and in every part, shall we count it a strange thing if God subjects His own work in our soul to the searching process of the crucible?
It is written, "THE LORD tries the righteous." Sweet is this assurance, that it is the Lord Himself who tries them. Jesus is the Refiner. The work of our sanctification shall be His own. He will not allow His saints to fall into the hands of man for the perfecting of that which concerns them. The moment that the afflicted saint recognizes the Lord in the chastening, sees God in the calamity, he passes beyond the region of second causes―with which, alas! the latent infidelity and atheism of our heart deal so much―and the chastened soul rests in the First Great Cause of all events―Jehovah. "I was silent; I opened not my mouth, because You did it," and so he behaves and quiets himself as a child that is weaned of his mother.
Receive this strong consolation, chastened and afflicted one! "God HIMSELF has done it," therefore it is well done. God can do nothing wrong. His work, like Himself, is perfect. And, if perfection traces His work of grace, shall we suspect imperfection in His work of providence? That be far from us! He who gave us His beloved Son, will He compromise our interests, imperil our happiness, rob us of one real blessing in the severest discipline of His hand? Oh no! infinite love prescribes, infinite wisdom shapes, infinite faithfulness and power execute all His purposes, thoughts, and doings concerning His people.
Again, we repeat the truth―He to whom you are more delightsome and precious than myriads of planets like this; who laid all your sins and curse upon His beloved Son; who sustains to you the divine and the tender relation of a Father, has sent this present trial, this discipline of grief which bows your spirit to the dust. Look above the proximate causes of the event, and see the rod, the sword, the cup in your Father's hands, and hear Him say, "I will do you no hurt," (Jer. 25:6.)
But you have in this present trial with which the Lord is trying your grace more than a negative, you have a positive assurance of good. See how the faith of Jacob pleaded it with God―"You said, I will surely do you good." Imitate the patriarch. God is honored when His people remind Him of His word of promise. Our faith has nothing stronger, yes, has nothing else to rest upon than the word of the living God. And faith asks no more. "Your word is TRUTH," is the grateful acknowledgment of its deep, firm conviction. It deals with a God who cannot lie, whom it is impossible that He should deny himself, (Tit. 1:2.)
Change is written upon every being and object but God. All is passing away! The verdant grass withers, the beauteous flower fades, the tall cedar bows, the aged oak falls, and in one hour the light of the home is extinguished, its center and attraction gone! Time passes, and removes the friend around whom the heart's fibers fondly entwined, and, like the vine wrenched from its support, our hearts lie torn and bleeding in the dust. Events, unexpected and startling, transpire, and in one short day the whole scenery of life is changed!
And yet we go on in our creature idolatry, still loving, and clinging, and trusting; carving new idols, hewing out new cisterns, planting new gourds, so loath to hear the voice of love, which says, "Arise and depart, this is not your rest; it is polluted."
But the unchanged and unchangeable, the infinitely blessed and all-satisfying One is―GOD! And He will assert His own supremacy in His people. Everything outside of Him is unsubstantial, unsatisfying, and passing away. Nothing is real, no one true, but God. It is often trial alone, and that the most painful and humiliating, that will school us into the experience of this truth. Emptied from vessel to vessel, earthly hopes crushed, creature blessings torn up by the roots, human resources failing, we then are shut up alone to God, and never knew until then what a Fountain of bliss He was.
Oh, what a true, all-satisfying, all-sanctifying portion is God! An infinite being, He is a boundless, inexhaustible Good. Creating the soul with a capacity to enjoy Him, He
never intended that man should be happy in any other than Himself. And since the creature committed the crime of renouncing Him as its chief and only good―since man forsook Him, the Fountain of living
waters―all His dealings in providence and in grace have been but to win and woo the soul back to Himself, its original, inalienable, and eternal Good. To accomplish this purpose, the Son of God―the same in
divine essence with the Father, co-eternal and co-equal―assumed our nature, that the chain now broken, which once bound us in righteousness, and holiness, and love to God, might re-attach us to His being, that
henceforth and ever He might be the?
"The sea of love,
Where all our pleasures roll;
The circle where our passions move,
The center of our soul."
O Lord, though it were a trial that brings us to You; though to reach You we wade through billowy seas, walk over broken cisterns, tread upon withered flowers of human good, yet will we praise and bless You for all, if it but draw us nearer to Yourself, that we might loose ourselves in Your infinite bliss!
"I thank You for sickness, for sorrow and care,
For the thorns I have gathered, the anguish I bear,
For nights of anxiety, watchings, and tears;
A present of pain, a perspective of fears.
I praise You, I bless You, my King and my God,
For the good and the evil Your hand has bestowed.
The flowers were sweet, but their fragrance is flown,
They yielded no fruits, they are withered and gone;
The thorn it was poignant, but precious to me,
'Twas the message of mercy―it led me to THEE!"
Before we conduct this chapter to a conclusion, it may be profitable to mention some of the spiritual BENEFITS accruing to believers from the trials to which the Lord subjects His own new nature in the soul of the regenerate.
1. The first we quote is, the closer acquaintance into which it brings them with their own hearts. There are corruptions deeply embedded in the heart of the most holy, which the discipline of sanctified trial alone removes. It was not intuitively that the Church in the wilderness came into the experience of this fact. Thus we read, "He led you through the wilderness these forty years, to humble you, and to prove you, TO KNOW WHAT WAS IN YOUR HEART," (Deut. 8:2.) Until the hour of trial, how little know we of this the seat and chamber of all evil! What pride, what selfishness, what infidelity, what carnality, what idolatry, what ingratitude, what murmuring, what rebellion against God are there! Trial is searching in its tendency. It is the furnace alone that reveals the alloy, and separates it from the pure gold, and so brings to view the new nature in its reality, loveliness, and purity.
Speaking of His Church in Jer. 9:6-7, God says, "Through deceit they refuse to hear me. Therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, Behold, I will melt them and try them." As though He had said, "I will cast them into my furnace of love, and then will I discover themselves to themselves, and they shall know what was in their hearts." Thus the Lord by the same process deals with us. And then, in astonishment, we exclaim, "Woe is me! what a heart is mine! Did I suspect the existence of such latent virulence, such deep-seated depravity? How ignorant of myself have I been! Where is my faith in God, my love to Christ, my strength in service, my patience in suffering, my rejoicing in tribulation, my power in prayer? Instead of this, what do I discover but self-love, creature-idolatry, distrust of God, earth-bound affections, rebellion of will, and discontent of spirit against my God, my Father, my Friend!
What sad memories, also, does my trial awaken! Since God has let in a little of His displeasure upon my soul, I am made, as it were, to recollect the sins of my youth, sins of riper years, sins of old age―so easily committed and so soon forgotten―and with the brethren of Joseph exclaim, 'We are certainly guilty concerning our brother.' Thus searching and humbling is trial.
But if, like the surgeon's lance, the Lord's trial of His people is sometimes painfully probing, it is equally salutary and healing in its result. All this sad discovery of our hearts drives us more entirely out of ourselves to the Lord Jesus. We value Him as we learn to undervalue our own selves. Our thoughts of Him rise as thoughts of ourselves sink. In proportion as we learn by experience―and there is no school like God's school of trial―our own emptiness and nothingness, we learn what a full, all-sufficient, all-powerful Christ we have. Trial, deepening our self-acquaintance, deepens our acquaintance with the Lord; and to know more experimentally the Lord is worth all the discipline of chastening and of suffering it involves. Then we seek to straighten what is crooked, to strengthen what is weak, to restore what is lame, that it may not be turned out of the way, but that it may be rather healed.
2. By means of trial we are also brought into closer communion with God. In times of prosperity, there are many things which insinuate themselves between God and the soul. When the heart grows fat and is surfeited with creature-good, we are prone to forget and to forsake God, and even to kick against Him. Our communion with Him is invaded, and sometimes superseded. The compass is disturbed, and the needle of the soul swerves away from God.
But the Lord sends trial, and by it He restores the balance of the affections, attracting them again to their Divine and blessed Center. Responding to its touch, the truant heart flies back to God, under His most gracious restorings. Sensible of its backsliding, tasting the bitterness of its departure, it returns to its rest, and exclaims, "Lord, You have made my heart for Yourself, and it is restless and unquiet until it can rest in You." And, then, He who rebuked and chastened puts forth His hand, and receives back the weather-beaten dove, and the soul folds its weary wing upon the bosom of God.
To be stirred up to prayer is to be roused to our sweetest privilege and highest blessing. Therefore it is that God's tried ones are His most praying ones. The spirit of prayer is within them, but the lance of trial is often needed to draw it forth. "In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer." David's adversaries gave themselves to persecution and wickedness, but he gave himself to prayer. The more they persecuted, the more he prayed. As his troubles multiplied, so did his heaven-sent petitions multiply.
So long as God keeps us in the furnace of trial, so long does He keep us on our knees at the throne of grace. "Is any afflicted? let him pray." Prayer is the true sweetener and solace of affliction. Affliction rouses us to prayer, and prayer in return soothes and hallows the affliction. Not only do our prayers multiply in trial, but they intensify. We pray not only more frequently, but more fervently. Of our blessed Lord it is recorded that, "being in an agony, He prayed MORE EARNESTLY," until He sweat great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
Prayers that satisfied us in prosperity will not meet our state in adversity. Petitions which answered well enough for the day of peace and prosperity will not serve our turn when the hour of temptation comes, and the cloud of sorrow darkens. The remembrance of the cold, dreary, formal devotions which congealed as they rose to our languid lips, covers us with shame and confusion when the Lord tries us. It would seem as though we never knew the reality, the power, and the intensity of real prayer until now. And never did God listen to our voice with so attentive ear. "O my dove, you who are in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs; let me see your countenance, let me hear your voice, for sweet is your voice, and your countenance is lovely," (Song 2:14.) Beautiful in His eye as was His dove, her wings covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold, most sweet as was the cadence of her voice, yet more beautiful is she now, bedewed with tears, trembling with emotion, and peering out from beneath the rock and the stair, that veiled her from His view. Yes, the Lord tries the righteous, that He might behold the loveliness of their countenance, and listen to the sweetness of their voice.
3. Trial, also, imparts to the new nature a more quickened and intense desire for the nutriment and sweetness of God's Word. The Bible is the book of the afflicted. We fly to it in times of correction. Then it is we read it more attentively, counsel with it more closely, understand it more clearly, relish it more sweetly, and receive it as the engrafted Word into the heart more experimentally. But in times of worldly engagement or prosperity, the Word of God is apt to be slighted and unread. As we then pray to God carelessly, so we read God's Word carelessly. Prayer and the study of the Word go hand in hand. But God uses His rod, and by its discipline, like indolent or careless children, we are chastened to a closer and more diligent study.
This was David's testimony―"It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes." Divine chastening and instruction are thus connected. Again―"Princes have persecuted me without a cause; but, my heart stands in awe of your word." While Saul and his princes were meditating his downfall, David was found meditating in God's statutes. While they were consulting with the oracles of hell how they might best sin, he was consulting with the Oracles of God how he might best not sin. While they were coming against him with the sword, the spear, and the shield of human might and prowess, he went forth in the name of the Lord of Hosts, armed only with the sling of God's Word, and the smooth stones of its exceeding great and precious promises.
Oh, how sweet and nourishing do we experience God's Word to be in times of soul-hunger and trial! "The full soul loaths the honeycomb;" but when God intensifies our spiritual hunger, even the bitterness of trial becomes sweet, because it endears Him to us who is the sweetness of the Word. He wisely and mercifully permits a famine, that He might show how He can keep our soul alive in its midst by the pure wheat of His own truth. "I have made," says one, "many a meal's food upon the promises when I have lacked bread." Oh blessed trial, that increases our love to, deepens our experience of, and satisfies our soul with, God's Word!
4. Another hallowed fruit of the Lord's trial of the righteous is, the examination and test of their salvation. It is when His afflictive hand is upon us that we more especially feel the necessity of that sound evidence and assured conviction of our salvation, and of heaven, which, in its support and consolation, more than balances the heaviest trial. Before the hour that brings our religion to the test, with what superficial grounds, with what slight evidence, with what a dubious hope, are many religious professors satisfied! When the candle of the Almighty shines upon their tabernacle, when all is peace within and prosperity without, they can walk as upon high places, and float as upon the placid tide, and speak confidently of the haven of eternal rest. A little religious profession, and still less religion, goes a great way with them, just serving their present turn.
But, when the hour of adversity comes, when the storm breaks over them, when death knocks at the door, oh, then they discover that the 'fig-leaf covering' and the foundation of sand―the Christless, lifeless, prayerless religion―which sufficed for the sunny hour, fails now that the hand of God is heavily upon them. Oh, what a test of real religion, of vital godliness, of the new nature in the soul, is the hour of trial! Shadows and chimeras, dreams and phantoms, flee away then, and one scriptural, real, spiritual evidence of interest in Christ, of the love of God, is worth ten thousand worlds.
My reader, look well to your religion, look well to your hope of the future. Ask yourself, "Will this covering avail me when I appear in the presence of God? Will this faith sustain me when my heart and my flesh are failing? Will this love give me boldness in the day of judgment? Will this evidence answer the solemn purpose, when I lay me down to die?"
But the true believer finds evidence of real grace, of soundness of profession, of a fixed hope, in the time of trial. The crucible tests his religion, the furnace consumes the spurious, the sieve scatters the chaff; and when God has tried him, he comes forth as the fine gold, as the pure wheat, testifying to the sweets of adversity, and chanting the praises of correction, rejoicing that the Lord tries the righteous.
5. Not the least hallowed and happy result of the Lord's trial of the righteous, is, the mellowness which it imparts to the Christian character. There is much, in some believers, which, like iron in its native state, is hard and intractable. It will receive no impress, and yield to no mold. There is the absence of that refinement of feeling, and ripeness of Christian character, so marked and distinguished a characteristic of the believer disciplined by sorrow. But, like to the ore to which we have compared it, let it be subjected to the fiery trial of the furnace, and the grace that is in the believer can be molded to any shape, and will receive any impress God may please. "I will melt and try you," says the Lord. "God makes my heart soft," is the experience of Job.
No believer attains to anything like completeness of Christian grace, who has not been a tried believer. The file has smoothed the roughness, the fire has softened down the sharp angularities of his character, imparting a tone and air so gentle and courteous and winning, as to rank him among those who 'wear soft clothing, and dwell in king's houses.' "Each one resembled the children of a king."
Emerging from beneath the hand of God, the tried believer presents a more beautiful and perfect copy of the mind, spirit, and demeanor of the Lord Jesus―meek, lowly, and loving. Trial, while it has more vividly impressed the seal of genuineness upon his Christianity, has developed more of its intellectual robustness and moral beauty, imparting a new mold to the entire man. Oh, how needful is affliction to perfect us in grace and to fit us for glory! We shall read this truth, before long, in a serener, clearer light, and shall then fully see, what now we perceive so imperfectly, that our present trials were indispensable parts of our spiritual education for earth's service, and of our holy preparation for heaven's enjoyment. Then shall we learn that, with not a solitary trial could we have dispensed; that there was nothing arbitrary, unkind, or unwise in any of the dealings of our God; that, that event wrapped in such dreadful mystery―that calamity so fearfully crushing―that trial which, like a two-edged sword, pierced our hearts through and through, was the message of a Father's wisdom and love, and formed an essential part of our holy training for eternity. Oh, to what lofty music shall we then wake our golden harp in remembrance of all the way the Lord our God led us home to glory, and home to Himself!
6. We have reserved for the last of the hallowed results of trial, its crowning and most precious one, the closer intimacy into which it brings us with the Lord Jesus. Much of our knowledge of Christ, before the Lord tries us, is but theoretical. Experience of Christ and His truth is only derived in the school of self-knowledge, and in the discipline of adversity. The soldier and the mariner are but mere theorists in their respective sciences, until the one stands amid the thunder of the battle-field, and the other amid the fury of the storm. It is thus God trains His Church for heaven. He will have us know His beloved Son not from books, or sermons, or hearsay only, but from a personal and heartfelt experience of what He is.
But it is to the school of trial we more especially refer. When clouds of adversity are gathering―when death is invading, and ties are dissolving, and friends are leaving, and resources are failing, and health is drooping, and the long-drawn shadows of sorrow are falling many and darkly upon the future of life's landscape, we turn to Christ, and the closer transactions into which we then are brought with Him deepens our intimacy and increases our knowledge; and then we more fully experience what a Redeemer, what a Friend, and what a Brother Christ is.
And now we rejoice in tribulation, since it has made us better acquainted with Jesus. We have learned more of Christ in one sanctified trial than from all the books we ever read! Sorrow brought us to Him, and brought Him to us; and so correction has been our teacher. Jesus loves to be where His saints are in trial. Are you in search of Him? Go where adversity in one of its many forms has found a home; go where there is a couch of weakness to strengthen, a pillow of sickness to sustain, a bed of death to cheer, a house of mourning to comfort, a wounded, sad, and lonely heart to heal and solace, and there you will find Jesus. Imitate Christ, and, perhaps, in striving to help, strengthen, and comfort a suffering fellow-disciple, the sorrow concealed within the cloister of your own sad heart may be comforted with the comfort with which you have comforted another.
Here would we pause and inquire? What, my reader, is the hallowed fruit of your affliction? The Lord has, perhaps, brought you through fiery trial, out of much tribulation. You have had sickness, bereavement, loss of property, or, some crushing woe. Sit down, examine and reflect. Turn in upon your heart, and ask, "What spiritual benefit have I derived from my affliction?―what lessons have I learned from the catechism of trial?―what blessings have I received from the discipline of sorrow? Have I in suffering learned that there is no evil in the world like sin, and that there is no sin so great as that of my own heart? Have I found from experience that there is no good so great, no treasure so precious, and no Savior so suitable in the universe, as Christ? Do I come forth from beneath God's chastening hand a converted man―born again? Am I, as a Christian man, more deeply sanctified? Am I more like Christ? the world less in the ascendant in my thoughts? and the creature less the idol of my heart? Has the Word of God become more precious, and communion with God more sweet? Am I, in a word, as was the Captain of my salvation, perfected through suffering? God, my Father, has consecrated suffering to me; has suffering consecrated me to God?"
Such, my reader, be our self-examination. Oh, it is sad to taste the bitter root and not the sweet fruit of sorrow; to experience its curse and not its blessings―its fainting, but not its cordial. "I have smitten you, yet have you not returned unto me, says the Lord," (Amos 4:9.) May our testimony to the hallowed results of divine correction be that of David―"It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. Before I was afflicted I went astray―but now have I kept your word." Then shall we go down to the grave and up to glory, chanting the praises of sanctified correction, and in eternity shall adore God for all the discipline of trial that fitted us for its endless enjoyment, and treasure up within the sacred ark of our memory, the rod of affliction that budded with blessings so many and so great.
Thus have we endeavored to trace in the present chapter, which now must close, the process of trial to which the Lord subjects the new nature of His people. If this nature, as represented by the Son of God, passed through suffering―though He was without sin―shall we marvel that the same nature in us, dwelling as it does amid so much that is unholy, is made to pass through much tribulation to the kingdom? Meekly, submissively, no, cheerfully, let us drink the cup which Christ's own hand has mingled, rejoicing that we are counted as worthy to drink of the cup that he drank of, and to be baptized with the baptism with which He was baptized.
Soon―its coming speeds fast!―we shall require this training and this discipline no longer. We shall arrive unto the stature of perfect men in Christ Jesus, and our education and fitness by grace for glory will be complete. A few more 'winter days of suffering' and we shall be perfected. The last thorn of the crown will pierce us―the last cup of suffering will distress us―the last fiery dart will assail us―the last touch of sin will taint us―and we shall outshine the brightest angel, and sing more sweetly than the sweetest seraph, casting down our diadem of glory at the feet of Him whose atoning blood will have brought us there!
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