Our Lord had no need to undertake the bearing of the cross except to attest and prove his obedience to the Father. But as for us, there are many reasons why we must pass our lives under a continual cross… We readily esteem our virtue above its due measure. And we do not doubt, whatever happens, that against all difficulties it will remain unbroken and unconquered. Hence we are lifted up to stupid and empty confidence in the flesh; and relying on it, we are then insolently proud against God himself, as if our own powers were sufficient without his grace.
He can best restrain this arrogance when he proves to us by experience not only that great incapacity but also the frailty under which we labor. Therefore, he afflicts us either with disgrace or poverty, or bereavement, or disease, or other calamities. Utterly unequal to bearing these, in so far as they touch us, we soon succumb to them. Thus humbled, we learn to call upon His power, which alone makes us stand fast under the weight of afflictions.
-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion-
It wasn’t until my world started spinning out of control that my true constant became crystal clear. I had spent most of my life, including much of my life as a believer, aiming at moving targets. “Happiness is found in this direction” it would say, and then I would get there, and it would redirect, “no, over here, fulfillment is attained by chasing this,” and then as I got close, it would lead me on in another direction.
It is who we are by nature. Our souls seek their fulfillment in the things of earth, and these chains are not easily broken. We lean on money, health, power, sexuality, and intelligence, for in them we think we will find our security. Regarding this, one of the greatest blessings the Lord gives His child is to show them just how empty those things truly are. He allows our world to start to spin, and our imaginary supports crumble. What He is doing is revealing to us the miseries that are tied to these things if we trust in them.
It is easy to talk of this theoretically, but when it happens, our hearts will break. Remember, we naturally love the things of this world, and sometimes the pain can be as deep as losing a loved one. A surgeon who finds his identity in his career gets Parkinson’s and everything he is invested in begins to fail. A business woman lauded by her colleagues for her sharp mind begins to struggle with her memory. A parent who finds their meaning in their children finds them rebelling and estranged. None of these things can happen without severe heartache.
As believers, when our world starts spinning out of control, we cannot help but see the instability of many of our false hopes. It is at that moment that our eyes start looking for the one thing that is unchanging. The one thing in which, though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, we can rest our confidence. At that moment, Christ Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever begins to be seen in His glorious splendor, while the instability of the things of the world are exposed. The spinning of our world is the very thing the Lord uses to reveal our true north.
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. – Psalm 119:71
“I am not fit to be my own chooser; God shall choose for me! I desire nothing but what God sees fit to give me.” – Thomas Jacombe
This quote is a soul-searching statement about contentment. So much of our turmoil of soul stems from believing our situation should be something other than what it is. Our dismay is often the result of thinking that we are facing something that is not beneficial to our souls. However, is God not sovereign, and is he not good?
We are not fit to be our own chooser. If we were to choose our lot in life, in our sinfulness, we would destroy ourselves. We would always choose pleasure and success, and, in the process, ruin our souls. Like the picture of Dorian Grey, our souls would decay in the sugary sweetness of earthly delights, while the world would look on in wonder at our picture perfect life.
At first, our choice for pleasure would be accompanied by our claim that we desire to magnify the goodness of the Lord, but as our souls began to deteriorate, we would lose the ability to choose otherwise. More and more earthly pleasure and success would be required to keep us satisfied.
Praise God, he chooses for us. Whatever hardships we face, the hand of our God ordains it. Whether we encounter sickness, poverty, famine, pestilence, or the weapons of our enemies, he is good in all he does. He is the keeper of our souls, and through it all he is holding the rot at bay.
We are called to fight against all of these hardships when they hit and not wallow in them, but our success or failure in these battles is also his decision, and all his ways are perfect.
If we understand that his choosing is better than ours, as the troubles of our day present themselves, we will not be dismayed or moved to despair. Instead, we will know that what we are facing this day is the best thing we could face for our spiritual well-being. Any other situation would be detrimental to our spiritual health, and God will not allow that to happen.
We will trust the hand of God in all things. We will fight with a strength not our own, and leave the results to Him. For we will desire nothing but what God sees suitable to give us.
“No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11
How happy are tried Christians, afterwards. There is no calm more deep than that which follows a storm. Who has not rejoiced in clear shinings after rain? Victorious banquets are for well-exercised soldiers.
After killing the lion–we eat the honey;
after climbing the Hill Difficulty–we sit down in the arbor to rest;
after traversing the Valley of Humiliation, after fighting with Apollyon, the shining one appears, with the healing branch from the tree of life.
Our sorrows, like the passing keels of the vessels upon the sea, leave a silver line of holy light behind them “afterwards.” It is peace, sweet, deep peace–which follows the horrible turmoil which once reigned in our tormented, guilty souls.
See, then, the happy estate of a Christian! He has his best things last, and he therefore in this world receives his worst things first. But even his worst things are “afterwards” good things–harsh ploughings–yielding joyful harvests. Even now . . .
he grows rich by his losses,
he rises by his falls,
he lives by dying, and
he becomes full by being emptied.
If, then, his grievous afflictions yield him so much peaceable fruit in this life–what shall be the full vintage of joy “afterwards” in Heaven? If his dark nights are as bright as the world’s days–what shall his days be? If even his starlight is more splendid than the sun–what must his sunlight be? If he can sing in a dungeon–how sweetly will he sing in Heaven! If he can praise the Lord in the fires–how will he extol Him before the eternal throne! If evil is good to him now–what will the overflowing goodness of God be to him then?
“God disciplines us for our profit.” -Hebrews 12:10
What profit is in affliction? Afflictions are disciplinary. Afflictions teach us—they are the school of the cross.
Affliction shows us more of our own hearts.
Water in a glass looks clear—but set it on the fire, and the scum boils up. Just so, when God sets us upon the fire—corruption boils up which we did not discern before. Sharp afflictions are to the soul, as a soaking rain to the house; we do not know that there are holes in the roof until the shower comes—but then we see it drop down here and there. Just so, we do not know what unmortified lusts are in the soul, until the storm of affliction comes—then the hidden evils of the heart come dropping down in many places. Affliction is a sacred eye-salve, it clears our eyesight. Thus the rod gives wisdom.
Affliction quickens the spirit of prayer.
Jonah was asleep in the ship—but at prayer in the whale’s belly. Perhaps in a time of health and prosperity we prayed in a cold and formal manner, we put no coals to the incense. Then God sends some affliction or other—to stir us up to take hold of Him. “They poured out a prayer—when Your chastening was upon them.” Isaiah 26:16. In times of trouble we pray feelingly and fervently.
Affliction is a means to purge out our sins.
Affliction cures the pestilence of pride—and the fever of lust. Affliction is God’s file—to scrub off our rust. Affliction is God’s flail—to thresh off our husks. The water of affliction is not to drown us—but to wash off our spots.
Affliction is a means to wean us from the world.
The world often proves, not only a spider’s web—but a cockatrice egg. Corrupting worldly things, are great enchantments. They hinder us in our passage to heaven. Affliction sounds a retreat, to call us off the immoderate pursuit of earthly things. When two things are frozen together—the best way to separate them is by fire; so, when the heart and the world are together—God has no better way to separate them than by the fire of affliction.
Affliction is a means to purify us.
It works us up to further degrees of sanctity. “God disciplines us for our profit—that we may share in His holiness.” Hebrews 12:10. The vessels of mercy are the brighter for scouring. As you pour water on your linen when you would whiten it—so God pours the waters of affliction upon us to whiten our souls. Afflictions are in themselves bitter—but they bring forth the sweet fruits of righteousness. Hebrews 12:11.
“He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”—Mal. 3:3
My soul! your Refiner and Purifier is Jesus. Jesus shapes all your trials; Jesus sends all your afflictions; Jesus mingles all your sorrows; Jesus shapes and balances all the clouds of your pilgrimage; Jesus prepares and heats the furnace that refines you as silver and purifies you as gold. Then, O my soul, tremble not at the knife that wounds you, at the flame that scorches you, at the cloud that shades you, at the billows that surge above you–Jesus is in it all, and you are as safe as though you had reached the blissful climate where the vine needs no pruning, and the ore no purifying, where the sky is never darkened, and upon whose golden sands no storms of adversity ever blow or waves of sorrow ever break.
And, O my soul, what deep need is there for this refining and purifying of your Lord. What inward corruption, what carnality, what worldliness, what self-seeking, what creature idolatry, what God-dishonoring unbelief, imperatively demand the searching, burning, purifying fires of Christ’s furnace! And this is the end of all–to take away your sin, and to make you a partaker of the Divine holiness.
And mark the Refiner’s position. “He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” It would be fatal to his purpose did the smelter and refiner leave his post while the liquid mass was fusing and seething in the furnace. But there he patiently sits, watching and tempering the flame, and removing the refuse and the dross as it floats upon the surface of the molten ore. So Christ sits as a Refiner; and with an eye that never slumbers, and with a patience that never wearies, and with a love that never chills, and with a faithfulness that never falters, watches and controls the process that purifies our hearts, burnishes our graces, sanctifies our nature, and impresses more vividly His own image of loveliness upon our soul. If He places you in the fire, He will bring you through the fire, “that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”
Sweet and soothing is the truth that the believer is not alone in the fire. The Refiner is with us as with the three children passing through the burning furnace kindled by the king. The Lord will have us polished stones; and as some believers are more rusty and some more alloyed than others, they need a rougher file and a hotter furnace. This may account for the great severity of trial through which some of the Lord’s precious jewels are called to pass. Not less dear to His heart are they for this; it is said God had one Son without corruption, but no son without correction; for “though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.” Look up, my soul, your Portion is your Refiner. Be still, humble, submissive. The knife is in a Father’s hand, the flame is under a Savior’s control.
Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards. Hosea 2:14-15
“Therefore” has a strangely beautiful connection in this verse. God’s people had been grievously backsliding. He had been loading them with mercies; they had been guiltily disowning His hand. They had taken the gifts and spurned the Giver. “She did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold.” No, more, she had shamelessly gone after her lovers—she had deliberately preferred the ways of sin to the ways of God. What will His thoughts be towards this treacherous one? Can they be anything else but those of merited retribution—casting her out, and casting her off forever?
We expect when we hear the concluding word, “therefore,” that it is the awful summing up of His controversy—the turning of the Judge to pronounce righteous sentence. We listen, but lo! utterances of love are the exponents of ‘the thoughts of God.’ “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards.”
It is the way He deals with His people still. They often forget Him in the glare and glitter of prosperity. He hushes the din of the world—takes them out into the solitudes of trial—and there—while abased, humbled, chastened—He unburdens in their ear His thoughts of love, forgiveness, and “comfort.” Oh, what infinite tenderness characterizes the dealings of this Heavenly Chastener! How slow to abandon those who have abandoned Him! Every means and instrumentality is employed rather than leave them to the bitter fruits of their own guilty estrangement.
The kindest human thoughts towards an offender are harshness and severity compared with His. What were the thoughts—the deeds—of the watchmen in the Canticles towards the Bride, as she wandered disconsolate in search of her heavenly Bridegroom—and that, too, in consequence of her own unwatchfulness and sloth? They tore off her veil. They smote her—reviled her—loaded her with reproach. But when she found her lost Lord, though she had kept Him standing amid the cold dews of night—He smites her not—He upbraids her not—no angry syllable escapes His lips. He brings her into the wilderness, and speaks comfortably unto her—and the next picture in the inspired allegory, is the restored one coming up from that wilderness “leaning on her Beloved.”
Reader! is God dealing with you by affliction? Has He blighted your earthly hopes—”caused your mirth to cease,”—”destroyed your vines and fig-trees,” and made all around you a desert? Think what it would have been, had He allowed you to go on in your course of guilty estrangement—your truant heart plunging deeper and deeper in its career of sin! Is it not mercy in Him that He has dimmed that false and deceptive glitter of earth? You would not listen to His voice in prosperity. You took the ten thousand precious gifts of His bestowing—but there was no breathing of gratitude to the Infinite Bestower. You sat, it may be—sullen, peevish, proud, ungrateful, at the very moment when His horn of plenty was being emptied in your lap.
He has brought you into “the wilderness.” As Jesus did with His disciples of old when He would nerve them for coming trial, He has taken you to “a high mountain alone,”—”a solitary place”—apart from the world. He has there humbled you and proved you. He may have touched you to the quick—touched you in your tenderest point—severed hallowed companionships—leveled in the dust clay idols—but it was all His doing. “Behold, I will allure”—”I will bring into the wilderness”—”I will comfort.” He leads us into the wilderness, and He leads us up, and He leads us through.
As He gives us our comforts—our “oil and wine,” our “wool and flax,” our “vines and our fig-trees”—so when He sees fit does He take them away. Whatever be the voices He may be now addressing to me, be it mine to recognize in them the thoughts and utterances of unalterable love, and to say—
I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying, for He speaks peace to His people, His faithful ones. Psalm 85:8
Men are so ignorant of their own hearts that they are incapable of determining what is best for them. Even regenerate men are but partially sanctified and enlightened. But God searches the heart. He understands our whole case. He knows what is most for our good. He sees our strong corruptions and sad deficiencies. When, in mercy to His child, He comes to heal his spiritual maladies, He does not take counsel with human reasoning or desires. It is right, it is best that He should act according to the wisdom which is infallible. He employs the requisite remedies. Often they are distasteful to flesh and blood. Sometimes they are frightful to contemplate, and terrible to endure.
Then man, in his ignorance, too often says, “If God loved me—He would not give me so bitter a cup to drink!” But this is man’s folly. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? Shall human weakness control divine power? Shall finite knowledge prescribe to omniscience? It is the height of wickedness for a worm of the dust—to revise the decisions, or pre-judge the justice of the Almighty. We would expect that God would deal with us in an incomprehensible way—if we did but remember how base, sordid, and narrow are our views and plans; and how holy, glorious, and eternal are His purposes and designs.
We are quite prone to magnify both the good and evil things of time—to the disparagement of those of eternity. But when God thwarts, afflicts, and mortifies us—He makes us look at the things which are unseen and eternal. If He racks this body with pain—it is that we may think of our house, not made with hands, eternal, and in the heavens. The shaking of this clay tabernacle forces upon us the recollection that this present world is not our rest—and that we ought to be seeking a heavenly country. If the godliest man on earth had his own way without divine guidance—he would soon be in full march towards destruction!
How kind is God in wisely and mercifully deciding so many things for us! God very mercifully marks out our course for us. God is governor. We are servants. To us belong obedience, submission, acquiescence. It is not ours . . . to guide, to decide what is best, to rule the world, to shape the course of events.
“But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it—Why did you make me like this?” – Romans 9:20
Sovereign Lord, what I most desired you have denied, yet I praise you! On what account, I know not, yet I praise you. You have done it; that silences me. Your will makes it indisputable, and renders it my indispensable duty to your wise determinations. Hitherto I have had no complaint on the conduct of providence; nor shall I complain until all the mazes are explained. Do, then, all your counsel, though all my counsels should come to nothing. Can a person expect favors from God–who will not wait for God’s way and time?
But what does it matter how the affairs of a present world go, if the interests of the next world are secured? The weather-vane is whirled about with every blast, but the iron spire is still at rest, because it cannot be displaced. So, what does it matter though the outward man decays–if the inner man grows? What does it matter though the temporal condition be perplexed–if the conscience is possessed of spiritual peace? I praise you that you interpose your providence, even in disappointing my dearest plans; and do not give me up to the blind desires of my own heart, and to wander at random in counsels of mine own. I can resolve the present case into nothing but your will; yet I rejoice more to resign to your will, and to be submissive to your disposal, than to have my will in every point performed. This is the only way in my private capacity that I can glorify you.
If all things went as I would have them, I could not positively learn the care of God. But when providence, beyond all human probability, twists enterprises out of my hands, and well-resolved designs out of my heart–this clearly shows to me your condescending concern about my lot and life. Thus you take the wise in their own craftiness; for when all my schemes were so well laid, that human policy approved of, and wit itself commended; yet, when you did blow upon them, how did they like rainbows painted on the watery clouds, when thunders break, or boisterous winds attack–scatter into disappointments and pain!
Hence, in the school of providence I am taught some lessons.
Not to look to the appearance of things, but to the power of God, who brings light out of darkness, and calls the things that are not, as though they were.
That from probabilities, impossibilities may spring; while apparent impossibilities dissolve into easy escapes. As for the first, it was very probable that the Egyptians might overtake and put Israel to the sword, yet it became impossible for them to do it. And as for the second it seemed impossible that Israel could escape ruin, when enclosed with insurmountable hills, and swelling seas, and pursued by enraged foes; yet, in what an easy way did they walk to their deliverance!
I am taught to believe, and to give glory to the almighty power of God, when impossibilities throng thick before me.
To see my own finite wisdom to be but folly, that I can neither prevent nor foresee those events which I do not desire.
To hold all my mercies, all my privileges from God, and not from the certainty in which they seem to stand.
Not to think that things are lost, when so they seem to be. When I think I am most sure of some things, they are all on a sudden taken from me; so when lost, they can all of a sudden be restored.
And, lastly, to see the mutable and fickle state of temporal things, and therefore to hold a loose grip on the creature, however dear, however near–and to set my affections on things that are above.