Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says Yahweh of Hosts. Zechariah 4:6
Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in! Who is this King of Glory?
Yahweh of Hosts: He is the King of Glory. Psalm 24:9-10
"It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
that I may learn your statutes."
If I perceive any difference in myself from the ungodly, if I feel my natural insensibility yielding to the influence of grace, if I am enabled to delight in God's law (which before I had neglected as alien to me), and if this softening transformation has been brought about in the school of affliction, then let me thankfully acknowledge that "It is good for me that I have been afflicted." None indeed but the Lord's scholars can know the benefit of this school and this teaching. The first lessons are usually learned under the power of the word pricking and piercing the heart, yet issuing in joyous good. All special lessons afterward will probably be learned under the cords of affliction. "I never," said Luther, "knew the meaning of God's word until I came into affliction. I have always found it one of my best schoolmasters." This teaching distinguishes the sanctified from the unsanctified cross, explaining many a hard text and sealing many a precious promise. The rod expounds the word, and the Divine Teacher effectually applies both.
Indeed, if it were not for this discipline we should miss much of the meaning and spiritual blessing of the word. For how can we have any experimental acquaintance with the promises of God unless we are under those circumstances for which the promises are made? It is only in the day of trouble that we can understand the full mercy of such a gracious word as, "Call upon me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me" (Ps. 50:15). And how much more profitable is this experimental learning than mere human instruction! Therefore, when we pray for a clearer apprehension and interest in the blessed book and for a deeper experience of its power upon our hearts, we are, in fact, often unconsciously praying for the chastening rod of our Father's love. For it is the man whom the Lord chastens who is taught from his law.
Peter, indeed, when on the mount of transfiguration said, "It is good for us to be here. Let us build here three tabernacles." Or, in other words, "Here let us abide in a state of comfort, indulgence, and sunshine." But it was added by the sacred historian, "not knowing what he said." The judgment of David was far more correct when he pronounced that it was good for him that he had been afflicted. Too often we are oblivious to the voice of the Lord. Too often we are looking back upon forsaken Sodom or lingering in the plain instead of pressing onward. And it is this indulgence of our own liberty that will shortly hurry us along the pathway of destruction. Alas, how often do we feel the spirit of prayer quenched by a heart weighed down with the cares of this life? How often does the spirit cool by the undue value placed on some legitimate comfort, by a temper inconsistent with our Christian profession, or by an undue confidence in the flesh? At such times of backsliding we must count among our choicest mercies the gracious discipline by which the Lord schools us with the cross, in order that we may learn his statutes.
This must be a paradox to the unenlightened man. He can only count it "all grief" when he falls into various temptations. His testimony is, "It is evil for me that I have been afflicted!" Even God's children, sadly, do not consistently count it "all joy" while smarting under the rod. The common picture of happiness is freedom from trouble. But what do the Scriptures teach? "Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects." How true is God's judgment, that the very end of affliction is to remove the source of all trouble and consequently to secure, and not destroy, genuine happiness!
How do we determine the standard of real good? Shall we make it based on how well it agrees with our own fancy or indulgence, or on how much it is in opposition to it? The promise of "every good thing" may be fulfilled by a plentiful cup of affliction. Present evil may be working together for ultimate good. Let God take his own way with us. Let us interpret his providence by his covenant, his means by his end. Then, instead of fainting under the sharpness of his rod we shall earnestly desire the improvement of it.
Are you, tried believer, disposed to regret the lessons you have already learned in this school of affliction? Have you purchased them at too dear a cost? Do you grieve over the bleeding of a contrite heart which has brought you under the care of the healing physician? Yet could you have obtained by any other way so rich a knowledge of his love, or have been trained to such implicit obedience to his will? Let us be like Jesus, who "though he was a Son, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered." So may we rejoice inasmuch as we are partakers of his sufferings. Let us be thankful to learn the same obedience, which will be the evidence and fruit of our conformity to him.
May the Lord save us from the greatest of all afflictions--an affliction lost! "Be instructed, O Jerusalem, lest my soul depart from you; lest I make you desolate, a land not inhabited" (Jer. 6:8). "He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy" (Prov. 29:1).
Is there one among that countless throng surrounding the everlasting throne who has not sung, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted?" "Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from? And I said to him, Sir, you know. So he said to me, These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:13, 14).
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