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.
The previous post in this series may be found here
The tenth thing needed to bear “an evil day” is patience. Patience has a peculiar bearing to the evil day:
We are not only to do other commands by obedience, but, when providence calls us to it, we are to do that of taking up the cross by patience. Other graces may help to bear the cross, but patience takes it up upon his back. It is its proper peculiar office ὑπομἐνειν, to make a man abide piously under the cross.
Polhill first considers what patience is to the patient Christian, himself. (It must be noted that the word “patience” as used by Polehill in the 17th Century is similar in many respects to the word “endurance.”)
First, in patience “makes a christian possess his soul, (Luke 21:19)”. The Christian’s trouble is not truly in the outward world — that is in the Lord’s control. The Christian in patience must bear and still himself. “All the powers in earth and hell cannot put him out of the possession of himself, or hinder his graces from coming forth into act—he will be like himself in his suffering.”
Second, in patience the Christian conquers the world. Even death cannot conquer the Christian (Rom. 9:35-37). But the Christian by patience conquers the world, because the world cannot over come the patient Christan whose hope is set upon Christ.
Third, patience takes its contentment from God — therefore, present sufferings cannot take away from the best part. Moreover, in that very patience there is a sweetness from God. James says that such patience leave one “perfect and entire”. James 1:4
Considered Godward, Polehill makes three observations about patienc.
First, patience is submission to the will of God: God is God and therefore, who am I to rebel?
Patience subjects the soul to the will of God; when the cross comes, the patient Christian’s will, with Aaron, hold their peace; or if they speak, they will do it in some such language as that of Eli, “It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good.” Patience will instruct them to lie in the lowest posture of humility, and to argue the matter with themselves in this manner: Is God the rector of the world, and shall we not subject to him? His presence is in all, his power is over all, his wisdom and righteousness orders all. Who can stay his hand, or say to him, what dost thou? or call him to give account of any of his matters? To strive with him is folly; to murmur at any piece of his government is rebellion; to think that things might have been better, is to blaspheme his wise and just providence; and is he the Father of spirits, and shall we not be under him? We give reverence to the fathers of our flesh, and now much rather should we be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?
Second, patience knows that the strength to endure comes from God. Patience is a very faithful activity:
Patience waits upon God for strength to bear the cross, and for a good issue out of it: we have both these promised in that of the apostle,” God will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation make a way to escape,” (1 Cor. 10:13). In the first clause we have a promise of strength proportionable to the temptation; in the last, we have a promise of a good issue out of it. First, patience waits upon God for strength to bear the cross; this is the right method of obtaining strength: “Wait on the Lord, and he shall strengthen thy heard,” (Psa. 27:14). Strength comes in a way of dependance upon God.
And then patience looks to God for the best outcome:
True patience waits upon God for strength; but this is not all, it also waits upon God for a good issue out of the suffering; salvation belongs unto the Lord, and he gives many good issues to his suffering people: if they have an increase of graces and comforts, that is one good issue: if they hold out and persevere to the end, that is another good issue: if by death they pass from the cross to the crown, from a temporal life to an eternal one, that is the best issue of all: for such issues as these do patient souls wait, till the Lord put an end to all their troubles.
Finally, patience for the Christian is not a bear stoicism. Christian patience is one of joy and praise:
“Count it all joy, when ye fall into divers temptations,” (Jam. 1:2); that is, when ye fall into afflictions for the gospel. All joy? how can poor afflicted souls reckon thus? In the trial their graces appear in their pure beauty; strength is made perfect in weakness; consolations abound as much, nay, more than afflictions; the beams of divine love irradiate the heart, and fill it with a sweet serenity; hope enters heaven, and fixes upon the crown of life, and heaven comes down in a spirit of glory upon the heart. Here is joy, all joy indeed; the total sum of it in this life is made up in these things. It was the saying of the martyr, Mr. Philpot, “That to die for Christ is the greatest promotion that God can bring any unto in this vale of misery; yea, so great a honour as the greatest angel in heaven is not permitted to have.” It was the prayer of Mr. Bradford, the martyr: “God forgive me my unthankfulness for this exceeding great mercy, that among so many thousands, he chooseth me to be one in whom he will suffer. It was the observation of one of the ancients, “That it was peculiar to christians to give thanks in adversity.” Jews and Gentiles can praise God for benefits, but the patient christian can thank him for afflictions. O! let us labour after patience, that we may not only suffer for Christ, but do it with joy. Thus our Saviour directs his persecuted ones; “Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven,” (Matt. 5:12). Inward and outward joys are very proper in suffering saints, because then they are arrived at the highest pitch of Christianity, and ready to enter into the blessed heaven, there to enjoy God for ever and ever.
Edward Polhill, The Works of Edward Polhill (London: Thomas Ward and Co., 1844), 354–356.
(The previous post in this series on Edward Polhill’s A Preparation for Suffering in an Evil Day may be found here )
Polhill next explains that obedience to God’s will before we suffer, will prepare us to persevere through suffering when it comes. We are fitted to God’s determination for our life through obedience, that obedience then becomes the basis for submitting to God’s will in suffering.
He proves this point with six consideration:
First, obedience is the work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life: this supernatural work of the Spirit in obedience leads to the same supernatural work of the Spirit to go through suffering:
Again, the Holy Spirit, which makes good men do God’s will, will enable them to suffer it too. St. Paul took pleasure in persecutions, because, when he was weak, then he was strong, (2 Cor. 12:10); that is, the Holy Spirit did strengthen his inward man to bear the cross. The Holy Spirit in the saints is a well of water, springing up to everlasting life, (John 4:14; 1 Peter 4:14).
Second, we must believe, because God has commanded: that it is enough. Having been fitted to obey, we are fit to suffer at God’s determination.)
True obedience makes us to grow up into Christ the head, and to be of near alliance to him. It makes us to grow up into Christ the head, (Eph. 4:15). Obedience, being the exercise of all graces, brings us into a near union with Christ, and makes us more and more like to him: the more we act our love, meekness, mercy, goodness, or any grace, the more we are united to him and incorporated with him; nay, true obedience makes us to be of near alliance to him. (Luke 8:20-21)….St. Paul bore about in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus, (2 Cor. 4:10); and the allies of Christ must be ready, at God’s call, to suffer with him.
Fourth, suffering well will take strength; we can only increase in such strength through obedience:
True obedience produces an increase of grace and spiritual strength. Obedience is a christian’s daily walk; the more he exercises himself to godliness, the more grace he hath in his soul. …Such an obedience as this admirably disposes a man for suffering. The greater his stock of grace is, the better will he hold out in the straits of the world. The more strength he hath in the inner man, the more able he will be to bear the burden of the cross:
Fifth, “True obedience obtains the gracious presence of God to help and comfort good men in the doing his will.”
Sixth, if we are in the way of obedience, we are on the way to God, and thus will endure suffering on that way:
True obedience is the way to heaven: those blessed ones, that do the commands of God, “have right to the tree of life, and enter in through the gates into the city,” (Rev. 22:14). The more obedient a man is to the divine will, the richer entrance he hath into the blessed kingdom. After sowing to the Spirit comes the crop of eternal glory; after walking in holy obedience, comes the blessed end of life and immortality…..When Basil the great was threatened with banishment, and death, he was not at all moved at it: banishment is nothing to him that hath heaven for his country; neither is death any thing to one to whom it is the way to life: He that is in the way to heaven hath great reason to break through all difficulties to get thither.
Edward Polhill, The Works of Edward Polhill (London: Thomas Ward and Co., 1844), 352–354.
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.
I am here at the ACBC Conference in Indianapolis. The opening plenary session was by Heath Lambert. He spoke on 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 and discussed grace and necessity of biblical counseling. He entitled the message “The Sufficiency of God’s Grace for Counseling”.
He began by speaking of the defining element of Biblical Counseling. While sufficiency of Scripture is a fundamental aspect Biblical Counseling, he suggested that the sufficiency of God’s grace was The Fundamental Element of Biblical Counseling.
We do not know the precise nature of the “thorn” Paul suffered. And even though we don’t know the nature of the thorn, we do know the reason, to prevent pride, to keep Paul humble. We indeed will all suffer pain, we will all suffer thorns: “Life is thorny”.
Paul has received this particular thorn (along with a great many other graces”).
Paul prays relief from the pain. God responds by providing Paul grace. God’s grace included leaving Paul in sorrow.
What then is grace? It is unmerited favor, but it is is more.
I. Grace is not the removal of pain.
Three times Paul pled for the removal of the thorn, and three times God refused. Three times I pled, BUT God ….
Sometimes problems remain broken; sometimes problems do not resolve. If we do not understand 2 Corinthians 12 we can wrongly conclude that God is not gracious.
II. Grace is received in the midst of pain.
God gave Paul the power to endure the pain Sometimes we desire pain relief more than grace. But grace is what we experience we feel we cannot take another step.
III. You only know this grace when you are weak AND you admit that you are weak.
We easily and often believe relief is more important than righteousness. Our trouble is that we are beset with self-righteousness. Self-righteousness can only be shattered by afflictions.
We receive the necessary grace only when we both suffer & boast in our weakness, “I will boast of nothing but my weakness.”
IV. None of this is about me; it is all and only about Christ
True grace makes me concern only about Christ.
It is better to be conformed to Christ than to be at ease. My response to affliction depends upon whether I wish to be first.
This leads to a true test of whether I am a Christian: What do I do when faced with suffering? I cannot know whether I am a Christian until I am afflicted. One may love the gift more than the giver: since all good things come ultimately from God, I may love God only because I love what he gives.
Grace takes place when God in his favors leads one into a season of pain then sustains one in it.
God’s grace is sufficient for counseling, because it is sufficient for our pain.
There is a criticism of Biblical Counseling: That we withhold help from people in need. Often this criticism lies that we refuse medical help. That is never true: Biblical Counseling is never contrary to medical help (nor medicine. ACBC only speaks poorly of medicine when the trouble is not medical.)
One problem with this criticism is the implicit belief that grace always equals relief. This is not so.
First, all non-biblical methods must fail. Despite the greatest medical care, one will eventually die. The greatest counsel of any sort (even biblical) may not bring about relief (and all relief will be short term).
But grace is guaranteed. Even when everything fails, grace is sufficient and guaranteed.
How do we receive grace? Paul receive a word. God’s grace is sufficient. Paul didn’t know how to receive this grace until he received this word. The Scripture is sufficient for counseling, because the Scripture permits us access to grace.