Evidences And Results Of Sanctified Affliction
Adapted from a Sermon by John Angell James
“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. Job 5:17
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Psalm 119:67-71- 75
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:5-11
Our subject this morning is peculiarly appropriate to many. Few are the travelers to heaven who do not pass through the land of 'Bochim', the place of weeping– (Judges 2:5), and the valley of tears, in their way. Blessed are they, and more blessed will they be, who, being chastened by the hand of their heavenly Father—are in this way made partakers of his holiness. The afflictions and consolations of ministers are often made subservient to the good of their people. The apostle has beautifully expressed this in his second letter to the Corinthians in chapter 1 verses 3 to 7:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who 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. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” (2 Cor 1:3-7)
Let us consider by example as well as precept—not only the 'active virtues', but the 'passive graces' of our holy religion; and may this be the means of bringing comfort as well as instruction of the sorrowing portion of God's chosen family.
First we will consider the proof of a sanctified affliction as it shows itself while the trouble lasts. And in the second place we will look into those proofs which are produced after the trial is removed.
I. And so to begin, the proof of a sanctified affliction begins to show itself while the trouble lasts.
Though it be very true that it is "afterwards," when it is gone by, that it yields "the peaceable fruits of righteousness" in their maturity; yet as there can be no fruits where there have been no blossoms, so in this case the 'buds of spiritual improvement' must be seen during the season of affliction, or there will be no ripe fruits afterwards.
A right frame of mind rarely appears when the trial is over—if it does not begin while it lasts. The seeds of improvement, like some grain—must be sown while the showers are falling and the ground is wet, or they will not germinate and yield a crop. While the tear is yet in the eye, the earnest desire after sanctification must be in the heart.
Those who are suffering , therefore, must not suppress the desire, and suspend the effort to get good, until God’s work of discipline has passed away. A child who is not brought to reflect on his conduct, and to begin, at least, an appropriate attitude, while under chastisement—is rarely brought to it when the punishment is over, and he is restored to his friends, in all the excitement of boyish play. The reason why trials are so generally spiritually unproductive, is because the sufferer postpones his attempts to benefit from them until happy days return—and then he is too busy and too happy in the enjoyment of his improved circumstances, to remember the past anguish and suffering.
Therefore, a striking proof of sanctified affliction is a deep concern, a serious effort, and much earnest prayer—that it might be blessed for the good of the soul. The only goal of a worldly man and of a 'worldly-minded professor of religion', is to get out of trouble as fast as he can, and in any way he can. But the concern of a consistent, spiritual, and growing Christian—is to get out of it only in God's time, by righteous means, and with holy fruits.
When there is a real inward desire, and not the mere profession of such a wish, that the trial might be sanctified, and that it might not be removed until it is; when there is a willingness to remain in the furnace, however long the time and fierce the fire, until the dross is separated, and the gold refined; when there is a disposition to say, "Lord, afflict me until the folly is beaten out of your wayward child. Do not stop until you have restored me to yourself, since the most awful word you could say to me, would be, 'Why should I discipline you any more?' (Is 1:5) and my chief blessing, not to have it said of me, 'Leave him alone'" (Hos 4:17)—this is sanctification. If the soul is in that state, it has received good, and is getting it still. Here is God's end in afflicting accomplished, which is—that we might be partakers of his holiness.
But just look at a more detailed description of the state of mind of those who are really benefiting by affliction.
They recognize the hand of God in it, whether it comes directly from him—or by secondary means. "It is the Lord!" they exclaim. "It comes from God! Is there evil in the city, and the Lord has not done it? I am silent, and do not open my mouth, because you, O God, have done it!" They do not worry and torment themselves looking for secondary causes—but go at once to the sure and stable ground of the doctrine of providence.
Then, as they recognize the hand that is afflicting them, they are equally prompt to acknowledge His goal in their affliction. "This is for my good, I know, because I am told that all things work together for my good. I do not see how, but that is not my business—all I know is, it will be so, for God has said it. He intends to make me holier by this affliction. He is bent upon my improvement. Could it be that he thinks me worth and worthy of being chastised? Yes, I receive it as a message from God to me, saying, 'See how important holiness is in my people, since I call you to suffer so much in order to promote it.'"
Nor does the Christian's recognition of God stop here, for it goes on to the principle from which the difficult dealings proceeds. "This, yes, even this is love!" says the believer, whose affliction is sanctified. "Even through the cloud I so clearly perceive the smile, not only of peace, but of affectionate, tender love, on the face of that Father who holds the rod—as to be constrained to run into those very arms which chastise me. I resolve all into love. I know that in faithfulness he has afflicted me. Love cannot act unlike itself. I could sooner believe a mother would torment her child, than that God would his."
Notwithstanding these views, still the sufferer has his sins brought to remembrance. "I have endured my punishment; I will no longer act wickedly. Teach me what I cannot see; if I have done wrong, I won't do it again." Job 34:31, 32. This is his language; and in answer to his prayers, God shows him his sins, his defects, his rebellions, his backslidings, and he is deeply abased and humbled before God. Confession, purposes of amendment, plans of improvement follow. This is all a most blessed sign of good, when the sufferer is taken up with a sense of sin; when not only the past life is reviewed with a more searching scrutiny, and more rigid demands, so that sins passed over on former occasions come out more distinctly and impressively to view—but when the very imaginations of the heart are laid open, and the soul grows in accurate and humbling acquaintance with itself. All this is quite compatible with our recognition of God's love. Yes, the more we are assured of God's love—the more clearly do we see our sins.
Connected with all this, and in some measure implied in it, is deep submission to the will of God. A quiet bowing down, and lying still at the feet of God; a giving up of ourselves to his disposal, willing that he should determine for us; a patient endurance in a prolonged affliction; a grateful recollection of what still remains, controlling a mournful calculation of what is lost; a quiet consciousness that God has exacted of us less than our iniquities deserve—in short, such a disposition under the rod, as seems to say, "Anything from your hand; anything with your smile; anything but your frown."
A readiness to dwell upon our mercies, especially our spiritual blessings—is a fine evidence of a holy state of mind. It is delightful to hear the sorrowful believer talking of his mercies, and thus setting one thing over against another.
Such is the proof of a sanctified affliction, which is provided by the conduct of the sufferer while his trouble lasts. If, on the contrary, the mind is wholly absorbed with a sense of sorrow; thinking only how it may be removed, and caring nothing about improvement; if there is no remembrance of sin, no desire after holiness; if God, as the source and sender of the affliction, is forgotten, and the mind dwells exclusively with peevishness and reproachfulness on secondary causes; if there is, though no actual words of complaint, murmuring, and rebellion, and thoughts and feelings that imply something like a sense of unmerited hardship in the painful circumstances—there can, in such a case, be no benefit derived from the affliction. It is merely the bitterness of the medicine without its beneficial effect—the pain of the chastisement, without the compensatory result in the improvement of the conduct.
II. We now go on to consider those proofs of a sanctified affliction which are furnished by the conduct, after the trial is removed.
1. If, when the hand of God is withdrawn, and prosperity again returns, the views, feelings, and purposes remain which the soul entertained in the season of darkness; if, for instance, there is the same earnest desire for spiritual improvement, and, even amidst the glow of health, the tranquility and repose of better circumstances, and the freedom from fears about the future; if there is a still prayerful and anxious desire not to lose the benefit of trouble, but to be made more holy and heavenly—there is every reason to believe that the visitation of God has left a blessing behind.
The passing away of severe trial leaves the soul so buoyant and joyous, so prepared for the feelings of earthly delight, and possessed of such a capacity for the most vivid enjoyment, that if amidst such circumstances, there is a sobriety of mind, a seriousness of spirit, a solemnity of manner, a prayerful concern after increased spirituality—there is a sanctified affliction! Yes, when such devout desires after conformity to God's will and image survive the night of sorrow, and still live, and grow, and thrive, under the sunshine of prosperity—the beneficent end of the chastisement has indeed been accomplished!
2. A second proof is as follows. When one of the first businesses that are attended to after the return of prosperity, is to carry out the vows that were made, the plans laid, and the purposes formed in trial; when defects in duty are immediately attended to; when sinful practices are abandoned; when discovered corruptions are put to death; and when languishing graces are revived—then good is certainly gained by suffering!
It is indeed a blessed sight, and a proof of growth in grace, when the soul, liberated from the prison of its distress, goes straightway and most diligently to the work of increased sanctification. Likely there are few who call themselves Christians who when they are greatly afflicted, do not make some resolution to improve, with convictions of the need of it being felt. How many of them forget their views, abandon the plans of their improvement, and become as lukewarm, worldly, and as careless as ever—when the Lord is pleased to terminate their severe affliction.
Some few, however, there are of the mind of David, who said, "I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will perform my vows to you, that which my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble," Psalm 66:13, 14.
3. As another proof: When besetting sins are mortified by trial, it is a good sign—and it is a sign frequently displayed in God's afflicted people. It is a common ailment to have 'favorite pet sins' for which there is not ordinarily that concern and labor for putting them away, which there should be. They are indulged, instead of being resisted. And so they gain strength by such indulgence, and sadly disfigure our character and disturb our spiritual peace!
Prosperity, like sunshine on weeds, often causes them to grow rapidly! And then God in great faithfulness, love and mercy sends adversity, like frost, to kill them. On a sick bed, and in other severe trials--they are often remembered, understood, and seen in all their sinfulness. They are then lamented, confessed, and put to death.
Nothing can be a darker sign than for a professor's conscience to be so dull and drowsy during a time of trial, as to leave him unmoved respecting these predominant sins. It has been sometimes a blessed fruit of tribulation, that these predominant sins have been weakened, if not eradicated. It is worth any amount of suffering to bring about this result. Happy the Christian who comes out of the furnace, with his dross removed by the fire! No matter what he has lost—he has gained freedom from these inward enemies of his peace and purity.
4. As another proof: Increasing deadness to the world, and growing spirituality of mind, are sure results of sanctified affliction. The love of the world is the great snare of the church in every age, but especially in the current state of outward religious peace. Worldly-mindedness is now the prevailing sin of Christians! We see them everywhere too eager to make themselves happy on earth, and seeking their enjoyments, if not in the sinful amusements of the world, yet in its innocent and home-bred comforts. They do not look at unseen and eternal things, but at seen and temporal things. Theirs is too much a life of 'sense', refined it is true from its gross sinfulness, but still a life of sense, rather than a life of faith. And so there is "a needs be for various trials," (1 Pet 1:6) if not to separate them and keep them separate from specific and gross sins—yet to lift up their affections to things above, and to lead them to seek their happiness from faith, hope, and love; from God, the fountain of life; from Christ, the Redeemer of their souls; and from heaven, the object of their expectations.
When the world has been crucified to us, and we have been crucified to the world; when we have been taught its vanity and emptiness as a satisfying portion for the soul; when we have lost much of our anxiety to obtain its possessions, and of our dread of losing them; when we have been taken off from the folly of hewing out broken cisterns that can hold no water, and been led more to the fountain of living waters; when we have lost our dependence on our comforts and possessions for happiness, and feel and rejoice in a glorious independence from 'created things' for bliss; when there is really and truly a conscious elevation of soul towards God and divine things—there, there is good evidence that we are improved by our trials.
5. Moving on to another proof: In some people we notice a striking and beautiful mellowness of character, as the result of God's chastening hand. The roughness, harshness, arrogance and haughtiness of their conduct, which once made them annoying and offensive, are scraped off—and a sweet gentleness, humility, meekness, and softness of manner, and a tenderness of spirit have come in their place. There is now a gentleness in their speech, a mildness in their look, and a kindliness and cautiousness in their manner—which tell us how the haughty spirit has been broken, and the proud loftiness of their mind has been brought down. An unusual loveliness has been spread over their character, a holy amiableness has been infused into their temper, and a stubborn self-will has yielded to a kind consideration of the wishes and feelings of others, which convince all around them, how much the Spirit of God has done in them, and for them, by the afflictions they have endured; how the plough and the harrow have broken up the hard soil, and pulverized the rough clods of their stubborn nature, and prepared it for the growth of the precious seed of the kingdom.
6. Next, another proof of growth in grace in affliction is a clearer view of the glory of Christ, and a deeper sense of his inestimable preciousness. The design of all God's dealings in his providential dispensations, in the scheme of redemption, and in the work of his Holy Spirit—is to bring us to Christ, to enlighten our minds in the knowledge of him, to lead us to a more simple dependence upon him, and to endear him more and more to our hearts! If, then, amidst the 'decays of health' we have learned to feel his value more, as the Physician of souls; if amidst the 'loss of property', the worth of his unsearchable riches has been more correctly estimated; if at the 'grave of earthly friends', we have been drawn closer to him the Friend of sinners; if amidst the gloom and desolation of earthly scenes, the glory of the cross has shone forth with a new and surpassing luster; if amidst privations and losses, otherwise trying and distressing, we are brought to adopt the language of the apostle, "I have all things, and abound. All things are mine; for I am Christ's!" In this case, also, the affliction has answered its end; for that trial cannot have been in vain, which has revealed to us the glory of the Savior, and made us more Christlike, both in our sentiments, feelings and life. Clearer views of the importance of gospel truths, and a richer blessing from them resting upon the heart, acquired by sorrow—are a convincing proof of benefit from God's chastening hand.
7. Again, less dread of future trials, with a stronger trust in God for support under them—is another evidence of sanctified trial. There is in most of us, until it is removed by God's grace, a timidity, dread, and desponding feeling about afflictions, which make us afraid to encounter them. We turn away from them with dismay, as if there were no power which could support us under them, no wisdom to guide us through them, and no grace to comfort us in the midst of them.
The very shadow of an approaching affliction makes our cowardly hearts tremble, and causes us to cry out in unbelief, "How can I endure it?" In this way we dishonor God by our guilty fears, and show a weakness of faith exceedingly dishonorable to us. To be cured of this weakness by affliction, and to rise out of it strong in faith, and firm in trust; to feel our fears subsiding, and our confidence in God established; to see new chastisements preparing for us, to be endured as soon as the present ones have ceased; to behold storm clouds returning after the rain, and gathering to beat upon us, when those which have lately spent their fury upon us retreat—and yet to be able to say, "I will trust and not be afraid—for with the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength, and he will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed upon him, because he trusts in him"—this is a genuine mark of improvement by means of afflictions.
God's design in chastening us—is to bring us to confide in him. He demands our trust, and is honored by it, and it is really no small part of our sanctification. And he that goes forward from one cross to another, strengthened by the past to meet with greater courage the future; who can trust himself and all he has with greater calmness to the disposal of God, with less fear for the result, has not been visited in vain by the afflictive hand of God.
8. Again, a more entire consecration of the soul to God's service in general, and to some special service in particular, is also a proof of sanctified affliction. How delightful a spectacle is it to God, to angels, and to men—to see a Christian rising from the bed of his own sickness, or returning from the grave of a dear relative, in the spirit of the hundred and sixteenth Psalm—and while the eyes are yet moistened with tears, and the heart soft with sorrow, yielding up himself afresh to the claims, the service, and the glory of God; and instead of being paralyzed with grief, or taken up with enjoyment, setting himself apart by a new dedication to God.
How beautiful is the language of the Psalmist as he reviews his deliverance, "I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!” Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful. The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living. I believed, even when I spoke: “I am greatly afflicted.” “What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.” “O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant … I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!" (Ps 116:1-10, 12-14, 16-19)
This is the language of sanctified affliction. Then when the Christian is seen giving himself afresh to the service of God, in a more devoted use of all the means of grace, private, domestic, and public; when his generosity blossoms, and his zeal becomes more ardent; when he seems concerned, inventive, and hard working to show his gratitude and love by new acts of devotedness, and previous measures of service to the church and his neighbors will not content him—it is a convincing evidence that he has derived benefit from tribulation.
9. Lastly, increased sympathy for others in their affliction, is a proof that our own affliction has done us good. In some cases sorrow has hardened the heart, and made men selfish; it has drawn off all their attention from others, and concentrated it on themselves. This is a dark sign; nothing can be a stronger proof that trials have done us harm, instead of good—than when they have blunted our susceptibilities, hardened our hearts, and put all our tears in reserve for ourselves! Nor, on the contrary, can there be a more convincing evidence that they have benefited us, than an increase of sympathy, and a greater readiness to weep with those who weep. It is a delightful example of a mind softened and sanctified by affliction, to see a person, on recovering from it, still holding to the memory of it—and instead of giving himself to selfish enjoyments, going out with increased sympathy to support and comfort those who are distressed.
Such are the proofs, evidences and results of sanctified affliction.
May they be found in you; and in me. Trials abound in this world—it is a valley of tears. Happy will it be for us, if we emerge from it in the end into that blessed region, where God will wipe away all tears from every eye. "I consider," said the blessed Paul, "that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us!" (Rom 8:18) "This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison!" (2 Cor 4:17) "We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Rom 8:28) With such internal consolations from gospel, and with such a peace which surpasses understanding—what external tribulation may we not endure, and endure not only with all patience, but with joyfulness?
It is beautifully said by one commentator, "All outward distress to a mind thus at peace, is but as the rattling hail upon the tiles, to him who sits within the house at a sumptuous feast." Do not dread affliction—or at least dread far more being left to grow worldly and sinful, for lack of affliction; or being allowed to endure the pain of affliction without reaping the benefit of it. The losses, the pains, the disappointments, of the present state—if blessed for our spiritual good—will all fit us for the state where there will be no more sorrow nor crying! The drops of sanctified grief—are the seeds of immortal joy! There will soon be a last tear—but never a last joy! Fix your heart upon holiness as the preparative for heaven, and be little concerned at what expense of present ease and possessions it be obtained—so long as holiness is obtained.
The first look at Jesus as he is, and the first moment spent in heaven—will make ample amends for the longest and the saddest life on earth! Abound in hope—a lively hope of that inheritance which is incorruptible and undefiled, and unfading, reserved in Heaven for you! Be much in prayer for the presence and help of the Spirit of God as a Comforter. Without his aid the least trial will distress you—and with it the greatest cannot crush you!
And consider that God is able to support and comfort—as well as save—to the uttermost! And none of us can tell what, in either case—the uttermost of God can do!