Now, it is much better for things to be in a state of confusion so we will wake up, for if we were at peace, we would be asleep, we would no longer be aware of anything, anything at all. But if things go badly, we are forced to think about God and put our senses on alert and think about a judgment that is prepared, which is not yet apparent, and that is how our Lord leads us to hunger for the last day and the resurrection which has been promised. But the fact remains that men continue to surround themselves with false and wicked fantasies. For, as I have already said, inasmuch as events do not happen as we would like, we are tempted to suppose that God does not think of us or watch over us any longer, that serving him is a wasted effort and that there is no difference whether we live an upright life or not and that the good gain nothing by walking in fear under him.
John Calvin, Sermon on Job 24:1-9
PREPARATION FOR SUFFERING
AN EVIL DAY:
HOW CHRISTIANS ARE TO BEAR SUFFERINGS,
AND WHAT GRACES ARE REQUISITE THEREUNTO
SUITED FOR ALL CHRISTIANS IN THIS PRESENT TIME
Edward Polhill, 1682.
Polhill ends his treatise on preparing for suffering with a description of the blessing of suffering. This is of two sorts, first how suffering well blesses God. Second, how God blesses the one who suffers.
How Suffering Well Glorifies God.
Pious sufferers do glorify God in a very signal eminent manner. What is said of St. Peter’s death? that “It was a glorifying of God,” (John 21:19). The same may be said of the death of all other martyrs; we glorify God by offering praise; much more by offering our lives for him. We glorify him by giving some of our estates in charity; much more, by giving our blood for his name…..As it was with Christ, his power appeared in miracles; but above all, in that he triumphed over principalities and powers upon the cross: so it is with christians; the divine power appears in other graces, but above all in that patient suffering which overcomes the world. The truth of God is in martyrs practically proved to be exceeding precious. The fathers, in the first general councils, were so earnest for the truth, that they would not exchange a letter or syllable of it.
Second, “Pious sufferers do propagate and multiply the church.”
Pious sufferers do give an evident token to the persecutor, that the wrath of God will come upon him…. “Stand fast,” saith he, “in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel, and in nothing terrified by your adversaries, which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God,” (Phil. 1:27, 28). The persecutor comes with his torments and engines of cruelty, to terrify the martyr; but the martyr, by his Christian patience and courage, gives the persecutor an evident token that the wrath of God will come down upon him at last. If bloody persecutors, who look upon the suffering martyrs, had but their eyes open, they would see cause enough to reflect upon themselves, and say, Surely these men have a patience more than human, and therefore they suffer for God; and, if so, we in persecuting them fight against him, and may expect that his wrath should come down upon us, as it hath upon former persecutors.
How God Blesses Those Who Suffer Well:
First, “Pious sufferers are happy here and hereafter. They are happy here upon a double account.”
They give the highest proof of their sincerity that can be given. …The highest proof of grace is in suffering. That faith must be right that endures the fiery furnace; that love must be pure, that practically lifts up God above all other things; that hope must be lively that lets go a present world for a future one; that obedience must be glorious that continues unto the death.
As they give the highest proof of their sincerity, so they have the gracious presence of God in the most eminent way with them. All his glorious attributes do, as it were, pitch their tents round about them, and put forth their virtues in a gracious manner for their good. His power rests upon them to bear them up, how weak soever, in the fiery trial; his wisdom directs them how to carry themselves under the cross; his mercy melts over them, while they are under man’s cruelty; his love is shed abroad in their heart while they bear the world’s hatred: the presence of God will be to them instead of, nay, infinitely more than all other comforts. They may say, “If God be for us, who can be against us, (Rom. 8:31).
Again: They are happy hereafter, and this stands in two things:
- They are freed from all evils. In heaven they shall have no corruption within, nor oppression without; no noise of passion in the heart, nor rout of turbulent persecutors to disquiet them; the will of the flesh shall have a total circumcision; the infirmities of the body shall have a perfect cure; the serpent cannot hiss in paradise; no temptations or miseries can fasten on a saint in glory. There is day without night, love without fear, joy without sorrow, life without death, all happiness without the least mixture of evil. There the blessed martyrs shall be freed from all their troubles and miseries.
- They are endowed with all good and happiness, The promises made to the overcomer in the Revelation of St. John, shall be made good to them; they shall eat of the tree of life in a blessed immortality; they shall have the white stone in a perfect absolution; they shall be clothed in robes of glory; they shall be pillars in the heavenly temple, standing there as ornaments in an immoveable felicity; they shall sit down with Christ in his throne, and judge their enemies that condemned them; they shall inherit all things; they that lost all for God shall inherit all in him who is goodness itself, and the fountain of it; they shall see him who is the original and crystal ocean of all truth; they shall enjoy Him who is the supreme good and sabbath of souls; they shall be swallowed up in the joy of infinite truth and goodness; and their happiness shall not be for a time, but run parallel with eternity itself; they shall be for ever in the Lord in the blessed region. There, as St. Austin hath it, God who is all in all, Sine fine videbitur, sine fastidio amabitur, sine fatigatione laudnbitur: “Shall be seen without end, loved without disdain, and praised without weariness.” In the next world there will be a vast difference between persecutors and sufferers. The pride and cruelty of the one will be paid for in torments and endless misery in the prison of hell; and the patience and suffering of the other will be returned in joys and eternal felicity in the blessed heaven.
Edward Polhill, The Works of Edward Polhill (London: Thomas Ward and Co., 1844), 356–359.
Romans 5:1–5 (ESV)
5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
This is a seemingly confused passage: why and how does Paul jump from justification to suffering?
Note the argument:
A.Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have
B. peace with God
C. through our Lord Jesus Christ.
C’. Through him we have also obtained
B’. access by faith into this grace in which we stand,
A’ and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God — being justified — is the subjective state of the one justified. Col. 1:27. This hope of glory is a great subjective benefit of the Christian life. Paul next turns to, how does one have more of this hope? The next section which discusses suffering, actually answers the question of “So how then do we obtain more hope, now?”
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings,” — but not because suffering is good (it is not, if it were “good”, it would not be suffering), but because of what suffering does:
suffering produces endurance, 4
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
This, however, is not the sum total of Paul’s argument. Paul makes a similar argument in chapter 8, but this time he develops more of the psychology which produces home. Using language deliberately allusive to Ecclesiastes (all is vanity), Paul explains that present suffering is unavoidable in this world (the creation has been subjected to futility), but this suffering can cause us to long for the age to come (glory):
Romans 8:18–25 (ESV)
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Samuel Rutherford in Sermon 1 of the Trial and Triumph of Faith explains why we often do not understand what God is doing. First, we must understand that God’s Providence is complex: God uses even sin for His own ends:
The Providence of God hath two sides; one black and sad, another white and joyful. Heresy taketh strength, and is green before the sun; God’s clearing of necessary and seasonable truths, is a fair side of that same providence. Adam’s first sin, was the devil and hell digging a hole through the comely and beautiful frame of the creation of God; and that is the dark side of Providence: but the flower of Jesse springing up, to take away sin, and to paint out to men and angels the glory of a heaven, and a new world of free grace—that is a lightsome side of Providence
Second, we look upon only a portion of God’s work; it as of we judged the outcome of a story but stopped in the middle or sneered at house which was not complete;
—It is our fault, that we look upon God’s ways and works by halves and pieces; and so, we see often nothing but the black side, and the dark part of the moon. We mistake all, when we look upon men’s works by parts; a house in the building, lying in an hundred pieces; here timber, here a rafter, there a spar, there a stone; in another place, half a window, in another place, the side of a door: there is no beauty, no face of a house here. Have patience a little, and see them all by art compacted together in order, and you will see a fair building
We are impatient of our ease and want our heaven while we are upon earth.
Advice from John Calvin on comforting others:
Here we have Eliphaz telling Job that God punishes the wicked to show that he is Judge of the world and that they are wasting their effort fortifying themselves because they will not be able to escape his hand, for despite their great numbers and cooperation, God will destroy everything. But if that language is applied to Job, Job would have to believe that God is his enemy because he is wicked and filled with hypocrisy. That is not the case. Job has good reason to say, ‘Well, I know all of that, and if I needed it now, I would use it, but it does not apply to me.’ Job understood that he was not being afflicted because of his sins and that this was not God’s intention. It is not that Job did not feel guilty and deserving of worse if God had wanted to examine him rigorously, but he knows that God is not dealing with him the way he is because of his sins, but that God has another purpose. Knowing that, Job rejects the accusation they charge him with. Why? Because it does not fit his situation. ‘You are,’ he says, ‘a sorry lot of comforters.’ Why? Because they do not offer him appropriate consolations.
That tells us that when we want to comfort our neighbours in their distress and sorrow, we are not to approach them unmindful of their situation, for there are many comforters who, without regard for the person they are addressing, have only one pat thing to say. We must address each person and situation differently. We must speak one way to a person who is stubbornly opposed to God and another way to a pitiful creature who has always walked in simplicity. And depending on what the affliction is, we need to know how to proceed. For example, if men are morally insensitive, we must reproach and reprove their indifference so they will feel God’s hand and humble themselves under it. So we need great wisdom when we want to comfort appropriately those whom God afflicts. That is what we have to remember about this passage when it says that those who were intending to comfort Job were sorry comforters because they offered nothing that could help him. That is the main thing we have to remember.
John Calvin. Sermons on Job, Volume 2: Chapters 15-31 (Kindle Locations 1243-1258). The Banner of Truth Trust.
From The Spiritual Chymist, William Spurstowe, 1666: Upon Mixtures, Meditation XLII
The wise God has so tempered the whole as state of man in this life, as that it consists altogether of mixtures. There is no sweet without sour, nurse our without sweetness. All simples [something simple is something without compound or mixture], in any kind, would prove dangerous and be as uncorrected drugs, which administered onto the patient would not recover him, but destroy him. Constant sorrow without any joy would swallow us up; and simple joy without any grief with puff us up: both extremes would agree alike in our ruin. He being in as dangerous a case who is swollen with pride as he was overwhelmed with sorrow.
This mixture then, though it seem penal and prejudicial to our comfort, is yet medicinal and is by God, as a wise physician, ordered as a diet most suitable to our condition. And if we did but look into the grounds of it, we shall find cause to acknowledge God’s Wise providence, and to frame our hearts to a submission of his will without murmuring at what he does.
For have we not two natures in us, the spirit and flesh, the old and new man? Have we not twins in our womb, our counter-lustings and our counter-willings? Are we not as plants that are seated between the two different soils of heaven and earth?
Is there not then a necessity of a mixed diet, that is made up of two contraries? The physician is not less loyal to his prince if he give to him an unpleasing vomit, and to a poor man a cheering cordial, because his applications are not according to the dignity of the person but to the quality of the disease: neither is God the less unkind when he puts into our hand the bitter cup of affliction to drink out of, then when he makes us to taste of the flagons of his sweetest wine.
Paul his thorn in the flesh, what ever the meaning of it be, was useful to keep down the tumor of pride which the abundance of revelations might have exposed him onto (2 Corinthians 12:7); and so join together they were like the rod and the honey which enlightened Jonathan’s eyes (1 Samuel 14:27): when he had tasted the sweetness of the one, God would have him feel the smart of the other. At the same time also when God bless Jacob, he crippled him (Genesis 32:32), that he might not think above what was meet of his own strengths, or ascribe his prevailing to the vehemency of his wrestlings, rather than to God’s gracious condensation.
Yea, who is it that has not experienced such mixtures to be the constant methods which he uses towards his dearest children? What are the lives of the best Christians but as a rainbow which consist half of them moistures of a cloud and half of the light in beams of the Sun?
Weeping, says David, me endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning (Psalm 30:5). And what other thing does the apostles speak of himself, when he gives the Corinthians and account of his condition? As dying, and behold we live: as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, and yet always rejoicing; as poore, yet making many rich; as having nothing, but yet possessing all things (2 Corinthians 6:10).
Blessed then is he who does without repining yield himself to the dispose of divine providence rather then accuse it, (who) looks not so much too what at present as grateful to the sense, as to what for the future will be profitable to the whole. For in these mixtures, Magna latent beneficial et si non fulgeant, Great advantages do lie hid, though not shine forth.
Hereby we are put upon the exercise of all those graces which are accommodated to our imperfect state here below, whose acts shall not be completed in heaven, but shall all cease, as being not capacitated for fruition: and yet are of great use while we are up on this side of heaven. How greatly does hope temper any presents sour by its expectation of some happy change that may end will follow, and so works joy in the midst of sadness? How even to wonder does faith manifest its power in all distresses, when it apprehends that there are no degrees of extremity unrelievable by the arm of God, or inconsistent with his compassions and friendship?
Again, such mixtures serve to work in us a greater hatred of sin and an earnest longings after glory; in which our life, light, joys are all pure and everlasting. Our life is without any seed of death, our light without any shadow of darkness, and our joys endless hallelujahs, without the interruption of one sigh.
We should the more groan to be clothed upon with our house which is from Heaven (2 Corinthians 5:2). Therefore yet have we the reminders of sin, by which we are unlike God; and the first-fruits only of the Spirit, by which we resemble him; that we might long and wait for the adoption and redemption, wherein whatever is blended and imperfect should be done away. When not to sin, which is here only our duty, shall be the top branch of our reward and blessedness.
Oh holy lord, I complained not of my present lot,
for though it be not free from mixture,
yet it is greatly differing from what others find and feel
whose lines are not falling in so fair a place:
But still I say,
when shall I dwell in that blessed country were sorrows die, and joys cannot?
Into which enemy never entered,
and from which a friend never parted?
When shall I possess that inheritance which is the kingdom for its greatness,
and the city for its beauty,
where there is society without envy,
and rich communications of good without the least diminution?
It is a melancholy reflection upon human nature that we have, as the Apostle expresses it elsewhere, to be “shut up” to all the mercies of God. If we could evade them, notwithstanding their freeness and their worth, we would. How do most of us attain to any faith in Providence? Is it not by proving, through numberless experiments, that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps? Is it not by coming, again and again, to the limit of our resources, and being compelled to feel that unless there is a wisdom and a love at work on our behalf, immeasurably wiser and more benignant than our own, life is a moral chaos? How, above all, do we come to any faith in redemption? to any abiding trust in Jesus Christ as the Saviour of our souls? Is it not by this same way of despair? Is it not by the profound consciousness that in ourselves there is no answer to the question, How shall man be just with God? and that the answer must be sought in Him? Is it not by failure, by defeat, by deep disappointments, by ominous forebodings hardening into the awful certainty that we cannot with our own resources make ourselves good men—is it not by experiences like these that we are led to the Cross? This principle has many other illustrations in human life, and every one of them is something to our discredit. They all mean that only desperation opens our eyes to God’s love. We do not heartily own Him as the author of life and health, unless He has raised us from sickness after the doctor had given us up. We do not acknowledge His paternal guidance of our life, unless in some sudden peril, or some impending disaster, He provides an unexpected deliverance. We do not confess that salvation is of the Lord, till our very soul has been convinced that in it there dwells no good thing. Happy are those who are taught, even by despair, to set their hope in God; and who, when they learn this lesson once, learn it, like St. Paul, once for all…. Faith and hope like those which burn through this Epistle were well worth purchasing, even at such a price; they were blessings so valuable that the love of God did not shrink from reducing Paul to despair that he might be compelled to grasp them. Let us believe when such trials come into our lives—when we are weighed down exceedingly, beyond our strength, and are in darkness without light, in a valley of the shadow of death with no outlet—that God is not dealing with us cruelly or at random, but shutting us up to an experience of His love which we have hitherto declined. “After two days will He revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live before Him.”
Expositor’s Bible, 2 Corinthians, pp. 25-26, “Faith Born of Despair”
Seneca has a saying, Precogitani mali mollie ictus, that the stroke of a forethought evil is more gentle and soft then if it were wholly unexpected; which suits well with St. Peter’s counsel to the scattered believers not to think of their fiery trial as if some strange and new thing happened to them. A wise suffer therefore must do is a wise builder, sit down first and count the cost, lest afterwards he exposed himself to shame and scorn. He must first view a prison in his mind before he enter it with his body, and thoroughly weight what it is he must forgo, and what he must undergo, or else he will soon, like Issachar, crouch under his burden and faint in the day of adversity, his strength and being small.
For the change with your prison makes is the greatest that can befall any, next to the grave, and is but a little short of it, if not equal onto it. Who can set down the several sad evils which attend it in distinct particulars? And who can sum them up into a total, that will not amount onto a death? Is not liberty, which every being naturally affects, turned into bondage? Is not the society of friends, which is the sauce, if not the food of life, changed into solitude? Is not light, whose approaches were anciently saluted with welcome like, industriously shut out to make both bonds in solitude the more irksome? Is not every cent offended with objects that are displeasing on to them? What does the eye behold but the face of the grim jailer? What does the touch feel and less it be hard fetters and cold walls? What is the smell affected with, unless it be a loathsome stench? What does the ear here, but the rattling of chains or the grounds of some for breathing out their last? What is the food that is tasted, unless it be the bread of adversity and the water of affliction?
And is it not then wonderful but such a condition is this, which is the very valley and shadow of death, should be passed through without any distracting fears, without heartbreaking sorrows, yea, with great rejoicing in such tribulations?
It is true, but some there be who, like sullen hawks, Live up on the frets and bear many of these things out of the stoutness of their stomach and their natural courage. But alas! this is not to suffer as a Christian, who does not suffer out of obstinacy, but out of conscience; who is not supported by his own inherent strength, but by the power of God, which puts forth itself and such glorious effects ofttimes as that it makes a greater change in the prison for the better, than ever the vilest prison can make in the prisoner for the worse.
Is it not the presence of the king that makes the court, left the house never be so mean where he resides? He that shall read in the book of the Revelations of the city or place that had no temple in it no sun or moon to shine in it, and then break off, which sooner conjecture that he was beginning the description of some forlorn place under the North Pole, then of the heavenly Jerusalem: but when he shall understand that God and the Lamb are the Temple of it, and the glory of God and the Lamb are the eternal light shining in it, he will then say, as an awakened Jacob, Surely this none other but the house of God and the place where himself dwelleth.
Such like thoughts must that man have other prison who knows no more of it than what it is an appearance, a place of bondage, solitude, darkness, and sore wants. But he who has an this condition wants experienced the presence of God in it, how differently will he speak of it? Have not many saints when shut up in a dungeon dated their letters to their friends from their palace, their delectable orchard, from their delicious Paradise? Have they not in their solitude been ravished by the sweetness of the communion they have had with God, who alone has been better than 1000 friends? Have they not been filled with hidden manna in their souls, when their bodies have been pinched with the sharpness of famine? Have they not in the midst of their conflicts cried out, If it be thus sweet to suffer for Christ, how full of joy unspeakable will be to reign with him?
May I not say to the timorous Christian as God did once to Israel, Fear not to go down into Egypt, for I will go down with thee into Egypt, and I will surely bring thee up again. Fear not to go into a prison in which God will be with you, and out of which he will deliver you with joy and triumph. It matters not what your pressures be if God put under his everlasting arms, or who your enemies be if he be your friend: or what your comfort speak if he be your comforter.
And this I may add that commonly in the greatest straits he shows the greatest love, as waters run strongest and the narrowest passages.
As the sufferings of Christ (saith Paul) abound in us,
so our consolation aboundeth by Christ.
O therefore say as David did,
Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
I will fear none evil;
for thou art with me,
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
The previous post from this book meditations by William Spurstowe, published in 1666 may be found here
But albeit that God doth seem sometimes to forsake his servants, it is not for their confusion, but for their consolation; for by this means they come to be poor in spirit, and wonderfully emptied of themselves. And it is very observable that when such as are thoroughly wounded and afflicted inwardly come to recover strength and peace again, they often prove the most comfortable Christians of all others, walking with more care to avoid offence all their lives after.
Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 5 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1863), 258.
To have compassion on those who are suffering.
To prize your current comforts more, and yet to “dote upon them less”.
Self-denial and willing obedience to the will of God.
To learn Humility and meekness.
To expose unknown corruption in the heart.
To become more acquainted with the Word of God.
To learn necessity of assurance of salvation and heaven as the basis of our happiness.
To see what an evil it is to grieve the Holy Spirit.
To draw us into communion with God.
To increase our grace.
To better know God.
To attend more to our duty than our deliverance.
It is a privilege to be in a suffering condition.
Affliction is the one thing necessary.
To be diligent to redeem our time.
To rightly estimate the sufferings of Jesus.
To prize and long for heaven.
The sinfulness of sin.
The emptiness of earthly things.
God reveals to the soul the fullness of Jesus Christ.
Adapted from Thomas Case, When Christian Suffering
Banner of Truth (great book).