God comforts us to make us comforters – by Thomas Smyth (part 1)

II Corinthians 1:4 – “…[God] comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

The qualifications of Paul for his high office as a minister of Christ, were not more remarkable than the ways by which he was prepared for eminent usefulness in the church of God. He was, unquestionably, a man of great natural endowments, of strong intellect, of great mental power, and, at the same time, endured with firm, noble, and generous feeling. He was a man also whose character obtained for him high influence among his countrymen; and was delegated to exercise powers which would have been committed to few, perhaps, besides himself. When he became converted, he was called henceforth to devote his life, and all his powers, to Him who had dealt by him with such wondrous mercy. All his natural endowments, and all the qualifications which he had gotten by careful mental, and moral discipline, were now to be devoted to that Lord, whom lately he had persecuted. But there was one way in particular by which God was preparing to make him useful in his church, and that was, by suffering.

We are told of all the apostles, and of Paul in common with them, that they were “delivered unto death;” that they were “made a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men;” but he who was to stand forth preeminent among them for his labors and his services, his usefulness and his success, was appointed to go deeper than any of them into suffering and the bitterness of human life. “Strifes and imprisonment” were familiar to him; he was “often in shipwrecks,” and other perils; he was well acquainted with “weariness, and painfulness, and watchings, with reproaches and persecutions.” At Philippi, he was “shamefully entreated;” at Ephesus, he “fought with beasts;” at Iconium, at Antioch, at Lystra, he suffered “affliction and persecution.”

But there were heavier trials than these, which he was called to endure. There were divisions among the people, over whom God had set him in charge, so that he almost doubted whether he had not labored among them in vain. And when there were men, like the members of the church at Ephesus, who were growing in faith, and adorning it by a holy practice, and Paul with gladness stayed among them; then the parting was a new source of sorrow – another portion of the burden which he was bound to bear. And how weight was this burden, and how sore was this trial, we may learn from his own expressions when, at Miletus, he sent for the elders of the Ephesian church to bid them farewell. So sorrowful was that parting, it well nigh broke his heart. There are other parts of his condition, especially that which regards his mysterious trial – the “thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him,” whereon we might dwell. But enough has been said to prove that St. Paul was a man of great suffering; and his suffering is so prominently mentioned in his history, that we cannot but connect it with the preparation for his eminent usefulness in the church of God.

But we must specially mark that Paul is our pattern in the use which he made of his afflictions. He used them rightly; that is to say, he took them at God’s hand for the purpose intended, as explained by the very record of our text. Herein Paul may well stand as a pattern for all Christians. Sorrow is no strange thing to them. It is God’s school for spiritual discipline. It is God’s way of bringing his people to heaven, and preparing them for “the glory that is to be revealed.” The condition of the godly is oftentimes a condition of special outward trial. In the Old Testament, indeed, we read of those who served God, and enjoyed great temporal prosperity. And this was, in a great degree, the promise of the Old Testament. But under the new dispensation, God promises us that which experience proves to be a better thing, He promises sanctified affliction. He promises trial and trouble, adversity and sorrow of heart, all working for good and gracious ends, in bringing us into a greater preparedness for His heavenly kingdom. And it is marvelous to see how in this manner, the work of divine grace is sometimes first begun in the heart. There may have been seasons of utter disregard, of carelessness and neglect, when the world was adding link after link to the claims of its bondage; when, though messages were sent in abundance, none seemed to reach the heart, but it seemed as if it were always hard, as if there were to be no tokens of spiritual life. In vain were the faithful words of God’s ministers; the counsels of Christian friends; the prayers and tears of pious parents; in vain seemed all the means of grace; until, in a season of special mercy, God, as it were, used yet one more effort, sent yet one more message, and strove yet once more by His Spirit, with the obdurate sinner. Conscience was at last awakened; the hard soil of the heart, which had been lying fallow from year to year, was broken up; the seed was sown, and there might be perceived, “first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.”

(to be continued…)

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