Affliction, Light and Short!
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment — is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal!" 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Few people will call their present affliction light, and few are disposed to call it short. For while it lasts it seems hard to bear — and a time of suffering generally appears long. Yet the apostle Paul writes thus about his affliction: "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment."
Was it really then only a light affliction for Paul? In other parts of this same epistle, he does not speak of it as light: "As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger." (2 Corinthians 5:4-5). "I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
Paul's afflictions were not, in themselves, light — few men have gone through more hardships and trials than he did. Nor were they, in themselves, short — for wherever he went he found them; they continued, more or less, to the end of his life.
It was only when he compared his present affliction with the glory that was so soon to follow — that it seemed to him light and short. Then he could say, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment." We must always try to look at our afflictions in this way. If we look at them alone — they will be enough to overwhelm us! But if we think also, and even more, of the rest and happiness and glory which lie beyond — then our view of them will be greatly changed.
"True," we shall feel, "true, my sorrows are many; my sickness is sore; my pain is great; long have I lain upon a bed of suffering. Yet before me lies a home of perfect rest, where pain and sickness and sorrow cannot come. My Savior has promised it to me and has gone before to prepare it for me. In a little while, I shall be there!"
With thoughts such as these, the suffering Christian should comfort himself, and thus weigh present affliction against future glory. For what are all things here below, but short? Joys and sorrows, health and sickness, affliction and prosperity — all the things that pain and that please, "the things which are seen" — all these things are but for a time.
Whereas "the things which are not seen are eternal." What we hope for, what Christ has purchased for us and gone before to prepare for us — that is forever! Our pains and sorrows will soon end — but our pleasures will never end! Our affliction is but for a little while — but our inward comforts, our Savior's presence, our Heavenly home, will be ours always!
Feeling thus, amid all his trials the apostle did not faint. His hope did not fail him; his faith did not give way; he was still of good cheer. In the body, his trials were many. Such labors and hardships as he went through must, one would think, have caused his health to suffer, and frequently death itself seemed to threaten him. "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day!" 2 Corinthians 4:16
The Holy Spirit sanctified, strengthened, and comforted his soul. God's grace was sufficient for him. Even his trials were blessed to him. Every day he had fresh experience of the grace and love of God. In the midst of outward trials, his soul prospered. Trials are sent for this very purpose. Paul himself had his "thorn in the flesh," lest he should be exalted above measure and so his soul should suffer. David said, "Before I was afflicted, I went astray — but now have I kept Your Word." "It is good for me that I have been afflicted — that I might learn Your statutes" (Psalm 119:67, 71).
Many have experienced more of spiritual growth in sickness — than they ever did in health. Often a sick-bed is a place of blessing indeed. The sufferer, weak and helpless, feels himself to be in God's hands; his heart is softened and humbled, and he is led to pour out his soul in prayer. It is in this way that the words come true: "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!" (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Our sufferings here will not, in themselves, procure happiness for us hereafter. We shall not go to Heaven, merely to make up for what we have had to bear upon earth. That is not the meaning. There is one only way to happiness and glory. Jesus Christ is the way. He died for us. He is our only hope. Our whole trust must be in Him. But the meaning is, that God sanctifies affliction to us — and thus makes it His instrument for bringing us to Christ and to glory. In every trouble, therefore, we should seek God's sanctifying grace.
Unsanctified affliction is both long and heavy. It is sanctified affliction alone, which can be spoken of thus: "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment."
Our prayer should be: "Lord, may Your Holy Spirit bless this sickness to me. Make this affliction to be for my soul's good. Humble me, teach me, sanctify me.
Increase my faith in my Savior;
cause me to feel You near and to know Your love;
support and comfort me under all that You may send;
let me not faint or be weary in my mind;
though weak in body — yet let me be strong in faith;
and though the outward man is perishing — yet let the inward man be renewed day by day.
Lord, let me not think Your time long, nor Your hand heavy. Fix my thoughts and affections upon eternal things. May all Your dealings with me be the means of drawing my heart nearer to You, and of leading me to Your eternal rest and glory, through Jesus Christ."