The first part of this series of articles can be found here.
“Who comforts us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (II Corinthians 1:4)
Such, brethren, is not infrequently the result of sanctified affliction. As long as men are prospering in the world, as long as they seem to succeed in all that they set their hands to do, it is very difficult to make them feel lowly-minded. But when disappointment comes, and worldly failure, and a long period of unsuccesses, then the man learns the good, though bitter lesson – his own weakness. Then, for the first time it may be, he begins to be truly humble.
He may have been utterly careless of all spiritual influences; I do not say altogether regardless of external religion; I do not say altogether indifferent about prescribed ordinances – but there was no life joined with the form, no life lightening and blessing the service. But when sorrow came then, for the first time, he was taught the reality of religion. He was not in earnest before – the spiritual world was never brought within his view; but when God had taken away the hope and expectation from earthly concerns, a new sphere opens to him; and there is a reality in his thoughts of it, and an earnestness in his pursuit of it.
And thus is there wrought in him that great principle of faith – “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” A man may speak of it fluently, and with accuracy, before he has been greatly tried by trouble; but it is not until he has proved the truth of God by his own experience, that he is able to bear testimony to the faithfulness of God, or to attain the fullness of that grace – the grace of faith, which shone forth so conspicuously in some of God’s saints.
The season of affliction is also the time when the spiritual life especially makes itself manifest in the out-goings of prayer. I do not mean that cold formal prayer which passes the lips, but with which the heart has nought to do; I mean the communion of the soul with God – the drawing near of the spirit towards Him the fountain of all blessing. When a man is in sorrow, and feels his heart heavy within him; when he looks about in the world, and then into his own heart, and finds no stay, no refuge there, God’s throne of grace is then his refuge, God’s mercy-seat the object to which he looks for consolation. All his deadness and mere form of prayer, is ended, and he can say – with David – “Lord, hear my cry; let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.”
Thus, too, it is that a man first awakened from a worldly and carnal course, to the truth, the reality and the importance of religion, by the sorrows which God sens and sanctifies, makes his after progress. For you will find that they who have stood forth as the great lights of the church in the age in which their lot was cast – they who have left their names to be honored and loved by the church as long as it remains upon the earth; they, in short who “pressed forward towards the prize of their high calling,” and are now among the multitudes around the throne of God and of the Lamb – are those who “came out of great tribulation.” It is God’s appointed ordinance; and though there are exceptions, yet, for the most part, it is by sanctified sorrow, that God prepares His people for “His eternal kingdom and glory.”
And blessed indeed it is, to mark, how, by sanctified affliction, the Christian’s heart becomes gradually detached from this world, and more earnestly set upon those things which are above. His outward circumstances may be very poor, and he may hardly know how, from day to day, to “provide things honest in the sight of all men:” but he has “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust can corrupt, and where thieves cannot break through nor steal.” He may have to bear mourning, pain, and sickness; the body may be wasted, broken, shattered; he may have to endure sharp suffering; and medical aid may bring him no relief, no promise of recovery; but he looks the more earnestly to “that city, where no inhabitant shall ever say, I am sick.” It may be the will of God to take from him earthly friends, so that he finds himself forsaken and desolate; one by one the graves have opened for them, and the circle in which was once his delight, is broken up, and he is left a solitary man.
And where shall he find comfort? Who shall bind up the wounds of such a stricken heart? Oh, it is He, and He, who bade the widow not weep, though her son was dead, He of whom we may say, that He is still “a friend that loveth at all times, a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” And so we may say in general of a Christian’s condition, though his plans may be defeated, and his cherished hopes should be laid low in the dust, there is something to be learned from all his disappointments: God is teaching him to build upon that everlasting foundation, where, “though the rains may descend, and the floods may come, and the winds may blow, the house shall not fail, because it is founded upon a rock.”