> “Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you – He Himself, although He may use various channels and instruments; it may be Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos; it may be affliction or prosperity; it may be through the voice of Nature or of Providence; it may be through the Word or the example of a Christian; yet it is God Himself. But of all instruments and channels the written Word is of the utmost importance; it stands supreme. It is through Scripture, eminently, that God draws nigh to the soul.”
“I ask’d the Lord that I might grow
in faith and love, and ev’ry grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.
“‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answer’d prayer;
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.
“I hoped that in some favour’d hour
At once He’d answer my request,
And by His Love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
“Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
“Yea, more; with His own hand he seem’d
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Cross’d all the fair designs I schem’d,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
“‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried;
‘Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?’
”Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied,
‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.
“‘These inward trials I employ,
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou mayst seek thy all in Me.'”
The Purpose of Trials
Trials teach us submission to the Lord and deliver us from our own ways. They are God’s way of developing patience in us. About the purpose of trials in our lives, James wrote: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).
If everything went just the way we wanted, we would have nothing to be patient about. Patience requires setting aside our own will. Therefore trials show just how much we are willing to give up our own will to accept God’s will for us.
What God Allows
We must never forget that, whatever our circumstances, God has allowed them for our good. God’s choice for us sometimes seems very hard to bear. But this is because we are not fully surrendered to Him or because we lack confidence in His love and wisdom. God is either choosing the very best for us in what He allows in our lives, or else He deliberately chooses for us what He knows is not in our best interest. Would we dare charge God with the latter? Never!
In His providential dealings with us He either orders or allows all that comes into our lives. He has the almighty power to prevent anything from happening, so if it happens, He has allowed it. Therefore, complaining is the same as saying that we know what is best for us better than God does, or else that God does not care enough to give us what is best. One is pure pride, the other is distrust of His motives.
Who’s in Charge?
We sometimes think, “Doesn’t the devil also have a hand in what happens to us?” That is very true, as we see in Job’s case. But we also see how the devil could not go beyond what God allowed (Job 1:12; Job 2:6); and what He allowed He used for even richer blessing in Job’s life than before.
The devil is powerless to do anything without God allowing it. He is only a creature, as are all his hosts of demons. God is above them, no matter how mighty they may be. So even if we see the devil’s hand in what happens, we must not forget to see God’s hand above the devil’s. God only allows him to go as far as it suits His sovereign purposes, to turn it into blessing for His people.
The Long View
“All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28), and that includes even what the devil is allowed to do. Do not forget that God is working with a view to our eternal good and not simply with regard to this present time.
We so often look at things from a “here and now” perspective while God works with eternal results in view. God may choose a hard road for us, not because He delights in our suffering hardship along the way, but because of the eternal blessing it will bring us.
“Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress” (Ps. 4:1). Distress is not sent from God for the sake of suffering but for the sake of enlargement. In times of distress, God sympathizes with His own. Paul referred to Him as “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). And Paul’s troubles were not light, for he says, “We were burdened beyond measure — so that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 4:8). However, with eternity in view, he refers to them as light afflictions “working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17).
Five Necessary Things
Five things are necessary to have peace and joy in time of trial:
1. Keep your mind on the Lord: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isa. 26:3).
2. Keep in touch with God by prayer: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).
3. Meditate upon the Word: “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
4. Yield your will to God: “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).
5. Know that the Lord will sustain you: Last, but not least, let us not forget that even though our trials or circumstances may continue for a long time, the Lord says, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). He will sustain the soul that submits to Him and leaves all in His hands.
A Cause for Rejoicing
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love” (1 Peter 1:6-8)
“Scripture is a book for life; and as life is full of affliction, so the Word
of God abounds with counsel and comfort for the afflicted. For to view
and bear affliction aright is not easy; it is impossible without God’s
Word and Spirit. We are inclined either to despise the chastening of
the Lord, or to faint under it. We try to bear trials in pride, in our own
strength, without recognizing that they are sent by our Father to
humble us, to lead us to self-examination and repentance, to deepen our
sense of dependence upon our Father, to fix our thoughts and desires
more on heavenly things. The world generally endeavors, in time of
sorrow, or trial, to get over it; that is, to feel it as little as possible.
Our Father does not mean us to get over it, but to feel chastisement,
and in and through it to be drawn nearer to Himself.
The spirit of Stoicism is far removed from the spirit of God’s children.
They are sensitive; they feel the displeasure of their Father; they stand
upon the watchtower and ask, ‘Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me.’
The Christian does not harden his heart against sorrow and bereavement;
he does not look upon suffering as an iron necessity, to be borne with an
iron and and impassive calmness; it is sent of the Father.
There is the other danger of sinking into despondency; we think we
cannot endure it; darkness seems to swallow us up; hard thoughts rise
within us; our hearts fail us; and the voice of thanksgiving and hope
seems hushed forever.
Now knowing from the Word of God and our own experience that such is
the tendency of our hearts, either in undue elation to despise the
Father’s chastening, or in undue depression to faint, let us pray for
ourselves, and for all the afflicted, that we may not lose the benefit of
the precious, though sad, gift of chastisement, that we may humble
ourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt us in due
time. Chastisement is sent by fatherly love. In heaven, no chastisement
is needed; in hell, no chastisement is possible; earth is the scene, and
the children of God the subjects of this blessed child training.
God is our Father, and therefore He chastens us. The Lord Jesus is our
loving and faithful Saviour, and therefore He rebukes us. And the Holy
Spirit, although it is His to comfort and sustain the believer, reveals
unto us first, with piercing conviction, the sins and failing which are
to be judged and given up. Chastisement has reference not merely to
sins, but the Father’s object is to conform us to the image of His Son.
**God has one Son, without sin, but not without sorrow.**
The Father has chosen the saints and appointed the sufferings of the
saints; that they may win Christ; that they may be made like unto Him;
that they may hereafter be glorified together with Him. We see the
gentlest, the most heavenly-minded Christians tried; they themselves are
the first to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God, and to
acknowledge that the Father is trying and refining them, to condemn sin
in the flesh, to honor the Spirit.
And this chastening is severe. He scourgeth every son. Even an apostle
beseeches the Lord three times to remove it. There, where we are most
sensitive, the Father touches us. The thorn in the flesh is something
which we fancy we cannot bear if it were to remain life-long. We have
emerged as it were out of a dark tunnel, and fancy that the rest of our
journey will be amid sunlit fields. We have achieved steep and rugged
ascents, and imagine the period of great and exhausting exertion is
over. But Abraham was above an hundred years old when his faith was
severely tested. The trial, deepest and sorest, seems to leave us for
awhile, yet it returns again.
For the Father’s love remains, and He scourgeth every son whom He
receiveth. If the apostle Paul stood in danger of spiritual pride and
self-trust, and needed his perpetual scourging to cling to the Lord
Jesus’ grace, which is all-sufficient, oh, let us remember that in each of
us there is the same flesh which needs painful crucifixion. Although the
Christian anoints his head and washes his face, he is always fasting; the
will has been broken by the Father, by wounding or bereaving us in our
most tender point; the flesh is being constantly crucified.
God is our Father; this present life is only a school, a period of
childhood and minority; discipline and chastisement are the tokens of the
Father’s unchanging love and constant watchfulness. Childhood is both
solemn and peaceful. We look back on it with reverence and affection.
For in childhood everything has the character of education; it is
spiritual, and for the sake of the real inner man and his future.
Parents and teachers are constantly directing and rebuking; the whole
life is under rule, restraint, and guidance; but the only and constant
object is the child himself, his good, his character, his future; the only
motive is love. There is more reality in a child’s life than in our
subsequent life; the whole day, with its lessons and recreations, is
devoted to the true and real interests of the child. Hence, when we look
back on it, we say, How happy we were! Not that we forget the
constant troubles, sorrows, cares, and fears which children have; but
we feel that then everyone connected with us loved us, and sought our
welfare; that we were the object, not the means to the end, but the end
Now, as childhood is to the rest of our earthly life, so is the whole of
our earthly life to the future heavenly one. Let us cultivate then the
spirit of childhood. Let us think it natural that we are daily rebuked
and chastened, that our thoughts, words, and actions need constant
correction and alteration; let us receive this with the docility and
meekness of children, and with the trustful and sweet assurance that
love breathes in all our chastenings, that we are in the most tender and
fatherly hands. God’s only object is our blessedness, and this is our
blessedness, to be like the Lord Jesus, the only begotten of the Father,
the first-born among many brethren.
Chastisement is one of the instruments by which the Father prunes the
fruit-bearing branches. By affliction and the inward crucifixion we learn
to seek our true life, treasure, strength, and joy; not in earthly
affections, possessions, pursuits, and attainments, however good and
noble, but in Him who is at the right hand of the Father in glory.”