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I T is a rare leader indeed who says to His disciples: "Follow me and you will have...trouble." Not fame and success but trouble. Hardly an attractive policy, especially in a day and culture like ours which demand instant gratification, even in religion. This, though, is the promise of Christ to His own (John 16:33). It is one which is perhaps only dimly understood at the time of conversion, when the soul first tastes the sweetness of forgiveness and the heart is full of the Saviour's love. From the mountain-top of joy however the believer will sooner or later descend again in his experience into the vale of tears: he must spend much time here, an often bleak and lonely place, before His Lord finally lifts him out of time and into everlasting glory.
Young Christians especially need to grasp this fact: if they do not, they will grow faint in the way and be stumbled in their walk, limping to heaven. They have become new creatures in Christ and old things are passed away: Almighty God is now reconciled to them as a Father, Jesus is their faithful Intercessor and His powerful Spirit indwells their hearts. Blessings indeed. Rejoicing in these new realities trouble seems so far from their horizon; but sooner or later it arrives.
Truly a paradox. What then is the explanation for the afflictions and woes which inevitably come?
With precision Scripture declares that "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble." (Job 14:1). Adam was not born of woman but was "the son of God" (Luke 3:38) – formed of the dust and endued with a soul bearing the image of God – part of that original creation which the Almighty contemplated with holy satisfaction, deeming it to be "very good." Our first parents were not liable to afflictions of any kind while they remained without sin: what a blessed existence they enjoyed – one that we can only faintly imagine.
All Adam's posterity reap with him the consequences of his fall. With the rest of humanity the elect partake of the miseries as well as the joys of this world: they belong to a corrupt race, knowing pain and sickness, ageing and death; they too inhabit a cursed creation with all its sorrows – the labour and toil, famine and flood and countless other disasters. The Lord might have chosen to remove His elect from the world at the time of their conversion, but they are kept here for manifold and good reasons. The state of grace is an imperfect, transitional state, a preparation for heaven; while sin is in their hearts God's children must remain below and in the world they are not spared from afflictions: these things are allotted to them in the wisdom of God and are inescapable for them: even our blessed, sinless, Lord on being made flesh inherited our humanity as it was weakened by the fall and so shared in these common infirmities.
Christ though is intimating something more than that which is the lot of every man. Something that comes as a result of following Him, cleaving to His person and embracing His will. The world and most of the church have no desire to do that, for it is too humbling and offensive to the flesh. It demands the carrying of a personal cross, the denying of self and a single-minded determination to obey the Word of God. Following Christ means fleeing from sin.
Oh, what a plague sin is to the believer, as it was to the apostle Paul (Rom. 7:24)! Why does it have such an influence in my heart? Secret sins, presumptuous sins, besetting sins. When, but when, shall I be delivered from them! Is sin a trouble to you? You cannot be joined to the Holy One and the Just in the bonds of the gospel and it not be. Then be sure that Satan too will be a trouble. Wherever the devil sees the divine image he makes his attack; all his subtle and malignant powers are concentrated upon the saints and in rage he lets fly his darts at them.
Our Lord has declared His church to be "the salt of the earth." Salt has preservative and enriching qualities but will produce pain and irritation if applied to an open sore. The presence of an upright individual in a family or society may act like salt "rubbed into the wounds" – the sores which have been made by sin: a gracious life and conversation is a continual rebuke to the depraved, dissolute world around and often provokes first a hostile reaction. To live godly in Christ Jesus is to invite persecution as a consequence: but rejoice, for our Lord has overcome the world!
Perilous times are promised in these last days (2 Tim. 3:1): Satan must have his "little season" before he finally meets his end (Rev. 20:3, 10). Deception will dominate the religious realm before the return of Christ to Judgment. Do we not sense it already? Rome is reasserting herself, persuading more and more gullible souls that she represents authentic Christianity. A spurious emotional experience is being substituted for the genuine work of the Spirit. The false gospel of free-willism is leading many to damnation. So the Lie is promoted vigorously: do we speak against it? Are we compelled to raise a banner because of the Truth? This will bring trouble.
These various trials are never alone: temptations lurk beneath them. Temptations to be bitter, to murmur against the Most High, to cease from following Christ. How should we respond in each and every time of trouble?
Here is a great challenge for us. Suffering the loss of all things Job prostrates himself and worships the God who is sovereign over all things: "the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21). What clear-sighted faith shines through his sorrow. He is tempted to "curse God, and die" but utters those gracious words of submission: "shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10). Can we do likewise under our own losses and crosses?
We are to make our stand in an evil day and not to leave our ground. Often our burden is this: how long will this trial continue? If only I knew the outcome it would be so much easier to bear! We are like Daniel: "O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things?" (Dan. 12:8). The answer he got was: "Go thy way, Daniel." Give yourself wholly to your work and be patient. We must learn afresh that duties are ours and events are the Lord's: dare we question the wisdom of His providence or the genuineness of His Fatherly love? We are being trained up in grace to fit us for our place in glory.
In our troubles we cry to God with an earnestness, an intensity which we do not know at other times (Psa. 55:1, 2) ; we are enabled to gather up all our spiritual strength as we pour out our hearts before God's throne. Christ, who enjoyed perfect communion with God, nevertheless mixed "strong crying and tears" with His petitions in time of trial. Like Christ we shall not be saved from trouble but delivered out of it by the power of God.
The priceless benefits of spiritual comfort and peace are enjoyed by afflicted saints as the Lord sustains them in His loving-kindness. There may be much tribulation for them but they are entering the kingdom of God. One moment spent in the better country, one glimpse of the King in His glory, will more than compensate for all the troubles they met with on the way.