Thoughts on Suffering

As I continue reading through the Memoirs and Remains of Robert Murry M’Cheyne, I keep finding treasures of wisdom that I want to pass along.  The following is from a letter M’Cheyne wrote to his congregation when he was separated from them because of his poor health.  There were several in his congregation who were sick as well, and they had written to him about the meaning of suffering.  Here is his reply:

You have here, then, in Job 23:8-9, a child of light walking in darkness, an afflicted soul seeking, and seeking in vain, to know why God is contending with him. Dear friends, this is not an uncommon case; even to some of you God’s providences often appear inexplicable. He has tried you in different ways: some of you by the loss of your property, as He tried Job; some of you by the loss of dear friends; some by loss of health, some by the loss of the esteem of friends. Perhaps more than one trouble has come on you at a time, wave upon wave, thorn upon thorn. Before one wound was healed, another came, before the rain was well away, clouds returned. You cannot explain God’s dealings with you, you cannot get God to explain them; you have drawn the Savior’s blood and righteousness over your souls, and you know that the Father himself loves you; you would like to meet Him to ask, “Why do you contend with me?”

My dear afflicted brethren, this is no strange thing that has happened to you. Almost every believer is at one time or another brought to feel this difficulty: “God makes my heart soft, and the Almighty troubles me.” Is it in anger, or is it in pure love, that He afflicts me? Am I fleeing from the presence of the Lord, as Jonah fled? What change would He have wrought in me? If any of you are thinking thus in your heart, pray over this word in Job. Remember the word in Psalm 46, “Be still, and know that I am God.” God does many things to teach us that He is God, and to make us wait upon Him. And, still further, see in verse 10 what light breaks in upon our darkness: “But He knows the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

Observe, first, “He knows the way that I take.” What sweet comfort there is in these words: He that redeemed me, He that pities me as a father, He who is the only wise God, He whose name is love, “He knows the way that I take!”He that is greater than all the world is looking with the intensest interest upon all your steps.

You do not know your own way. God has called you to suffer, and you go, like Abraham, not knowing whither you go. Like Israel going down into the Red Sea, every step is strange to you. Still, be of good cheer, sufferer with Christ! God marks your every step.

He that loves you with an infinite, unchanging love, is leading you by his Spirit and providence. He knows every stone, every thorn in your path. Jesus knows your way. Jesus is afflicted in all your afflictions. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by my name, you art mine. When you pass through the water, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon you.”

Second, “When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” This also is precious comfort. There will be an end of your affliction. Christians must have “great tribulation;” but they come out of it. We must carry the cross; but only for a moment, then comes the crown.

There is a set time for putting into the furnace, and a set time for taking out of the furnace. There is a time for pruning the branches of the vine, and there is a time when the husbandman lays aside the pruning-hook. Let us wait his time; “he that believeth shall not make haste.” God’s time is the best time.

But shall we come out the same as we went in? Ah! no; “we shall come out like gold.” It is this that sweetens the bitterest cup; this brings a rainbow of promise over the darkest cloud. Affliction will certainly purify a believer. How boldly he says it: “I shall come out like gold!” Ah, how much dross there is in every one of you, dear believers, and in your pastor!

Oh that all the dross may be left behind in the furnace! What imperfection, what sin, mingles with all we have ever done! But are we really fruit-bearing branches of the true vine! Then it is certain that when we are pruned, we shall bear more fruit. We shall come out like gold. We shall shine more purely as “a diadem in the hand of our God.” We shall become purer vessels to hold the sweet-smelling incense of praise and prayer. We shall become holy golden vessels for the Master’s use in time and in eternity.

May the promise that God knows and shares our suffering, and that God is using it to refine His people, strengthen you and give you hope as you face trials and afflictions.

Grace and peace,

SDG

Quoted from: McCheyne, Robert Murray, and Andrew A. Bonar. Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne. Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1894. Logos Digital Edition.

Think Richly Upon Jesus

This morning I came across the video of a question and answer session from the conclusion of a Ligonier Ministries Conference.  Sounds riveting, I know. In fact, it was quite informative, covering a wide variety of questions from the audience with thoughtful and pastoral answers.  One of the final questions to the panel was a powerful one, “What is the greatest threat to the Church today?”  Before reading further, how would you answer the question yourself?

We might be given to answer that it is the cultural conflicts the church is facing today that pose the biggest challenge to the Church.  Or we might answer it is the tendency toward compromise in the basic teachings of the church to become more “relevant” to the world around us. Some might even argue that it is still the “Worship Wars” which threaten the church today, the long argument over the style and content of our worship, particularly the music of worship.

While these are all important challenges that the church faces today, interestingly, that is not where the panelist focused in their answers.

The first response to what the biggest challenge facing the church today was “Not preaching the gospel.”  By this he meant losing a love for and trust in the life changing message of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Becoming tired of the word, looking for worldly means to supplement the preaching of the gospel, this the challenge the church faces.

The second response was “That I lose my love or passion for Jesus.”  The panelist clarified by saying it is not that he would deny his faith, but that he would grow cold and indifferent in his affections toward Christ. This, he said, is the greatest challenge the church faces.

The third panelist said the biggest challenge the church faces is that we would have a “shallow perception of who God is; that we would take God casually.”

Notice the common thread in all of these responses?  They are all internal, not external threats to the church.  The greatest threat to the life of the church today is not the existential, philosophical, or political climate in which the church finds itself today.  It is the threat of losing our love for Jesus.

This is the charge that the Lord brought against the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7. “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”  Losing this love for Christ is disastrous for the church, and threatens her witness and very life. Jesus even said, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent.”

How do we maintain a love for Christ?

I think it begins by thinking richly upon Christ and all that He is.

Think of His glory

Consider the glory of Christ the Lord:

(John 1:1–3) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

(Colossians 1:15–20) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

(Hebrews 1:3–4)He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

That’s just a few of the passages of Scripture that make much of the glory and splendor of Christ.  If there is any deficiency in our love and adoration of Christ, it is not because he lacks any worth, but because we think too little of his worth.  Consider the wonder of who Christ is, and let His glory fuel your affection.

Think of His love

Another way to maintain our love for Christ is to consider Christ’s love

He loved the Father.  In John 14:31 Jesus says, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”  He lived in perfect obedience to the Father, accomplishing the work of salvation for which the Father had sent him.

Not only did Jesus love the Father perfectly, he also loved his people perfectly.  Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14–15).

Considering Christ’s life for us brings us into richer fellowship with hm. Ephesians 3:17–19 prays for us, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Think of His sacrifice/suffering

If we consider his love, we must also consider the depth to which he came to demonstrate or prove that love for us.

(John 3:16)“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

(2 Corinthians 5:21)For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

(Romans 3:23–25)for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

(1 Peter 3:18)For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

In the powerful hymn of Isaac Watts we sing

Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

Think of His coming in power

Thinking richly on the glory of Christ, his love and his sacrifice, are sufficient enough to fan the flames of our love for Christ.  But consider also his coming for the church in power.  He has not left us or abandoned us, but has poured our his Spirit upon the Church.  He has not ceased from his work for the Church, but continues to intercede for the Church at the right hand of God.  One day, he will return for his bride, and bring all the faithful unto himself, that where he is, we shall be also.

(John 14:3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

(Revelation 22:12–13) “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

(1 Thessalonians 4:16–17) For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Think richly upon Christ. Look to him who is the author and finisher of your faith.  Think of Christ in his glory, in his love, in his suffering, and in his soon-coming for the church. May your consideration of Christ renew and keep your love for him!

SDG