Here we have another Antiphon; suggested,
moreover, as we have found in the case of other strains, by the one
The Apostle's new theme is that chief of forces fetched
from a distant future, by which Christianity sustains the soul in its great
fight of present afflictions. (V. 18) "For I reckon that the sufferings
of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which
shall be revealed in us."
We found, in the previous verses, the inspired writer
expatiating on the name and character of believers, as "heirs of God and
joint-heirs with Christ." But as he contemplates this wealth of privilege--a
difficulty--a mystery--presents itself. How can the Fatherhood of God be
reconciled with the existence of present suffering? And, be it observed, the
sufferings and sorrows of which he speaks are not those to which all flesh
is heir; but the afflictions of His own dear children. If the Father
welcomes His prodigals home--calls them "sons"--gifts them with best robe
and ring and sandal--making His halls resonant with music; how can we
account, alongside of this, for the many "songs of a heavy heart"? How can
we account for beds of pain and tearful eyes; for the badges–pictures of
dead ones surmounting the household porticoes of those who cling most
lovingly to the paternal name and relationship? He had just revealed to us
in elevating words the glow of a summer sky. How can it be permitted or
ordained that dark clouds should dim its azure? Why in a valley flushed with
flowers of heavenly beauty and fragrance, allow these chill avalanches to
descend, blighting all loveliness? Why permit these grating 'life-discords'
into the believer's Song of Songs? That Song here moans and sobs itself away
in a dirge.
In our last meditation, we had one answer given--or at
all events had stated one glorious compensation; that, as heirs of the
kingdom, His people are honored and privileged to be fellow sufferers with
their great suffering Head--"If so be that we suffer with Him."
Christians in their deepest experiences of sorrow and trial are identified
with the King of Sorrows--"Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not
only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Phil. 1;29).
Truly, when He is seen rejected, despised, homeless--forsaken of trusted
friends--bowed in anguish; scourged, spit upon--nailed to the cruel Cross;
what are His servants' severest trials?--dust in the balance compared with
His. In one dreadful sense can He exclusively use and appropriate the
words--"I have trodden the wine-press alone." Yet, too, in a very
real manner, are they called and permitted to enter as He did, within the
portals of sorrow, and to listen to His own words--"Tarry here (under the
shadow of these gloomy olive-trees) and watch with Me!"
Yes, tried believer, may it not well disarm suffering
(your suffering) of its sting, to know that the same afflictions
appointed for you, were appointed to Him before you? In your deepest
Gethsemanes of trial there is consecration in the thought "He suffered!"
"Christ also has suffered for us (yes, suffered with us), leaving
us an example that you should follow His steps." Those called, in v. 14,
"sons of God," and led by the Spirit to cry Abba, Father, have, as their
transcendent solace--"the fellowship of His sufferings;" while words,
elsewhere recorded for the special encouragement of God's children, may well
repress all rebellion and hush all murmurs--"Consider Him who endured such
contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you be wearied and faint in
your minds" (Heb. 12;3).
But in the verse now before us the Apostle proceeds to
state another reason for accepting affliction and trial. He makes these the
subject, so to speak, of divine arithmetic--a question of heavenly
proportion. Or, as implied in the other figurative expression of the verse,
he weighs the two opposites in his balance. In the one scale he puts "the
sufferings of the present time." And it is noteworthy that, different
from the other verses of our chapter, he seems to detail here his own
personal, individual experience. It is, if I may so venture to call it, a
Solo in this inspired Song, "I reckon." Few so well qualified to
make the calculation. Few so able to load that scale as he! "What great
things he must suffer for My sake," were the terms of his commission--his
"marching orders" at the outset of his apostolic campaign. How bravely he
accepted them; and how faithfully he discharged them--from the first hour of
midnight flight; through storms of land and sea--the outer types of far
fiercer moral hurricanes that swept over his sensitive yet dauntless
spirit--on to the close of all, when from dreary dungeon he was hurried
outside the Ostian Gate to encounter the executioner's axe and undergo a
martyr's death! Yes, I repeat, few were in a position to put down, as he
could, one portion of the figures in this summation--"the sufferings of
the present time!"
If we may surmise that he had others also of the
family of affliction in his eye, none could well be more conspicuous
than those to whom he now wrote. They knew already, and they were before
long to know in more terrible form, what suffering was. If we are correct in
assigning A.D. 57, or spring of 58, as the date of the writing of this
Epistle, it was the fourth year of the reign of Nero--a name
suggestive of horrors and ferocities in their most revolting shape. Though
the worst of these cruelties associated with his "reign of terror" were not
yet reached (the circus and garden-fires occurring a few years later), he
was already beginning to develop the barbarous instincts of "the lion" in
its savagery (2 Tim. 4;17). The martyr era, at all events, was at hand--so
that by anticipation Paul could call on his Roman converts and their infant
church to prepare for a speedy reckoning of "the sufferings of this
With us the age of martyrdom is over. Bigotry has
meanwhile closed her iron dungeons. But sorrow, trial, in their thousand
forms and phases, still remain as they ever were, to load the Apostle's
scale and give point to his question of proportion. "All that live godly in
Christ Jesus will suffer," if not persecution, at all events affliction.
Suffering has ever been, and ever will be, God's appointed discipline. The
King's highway is paved with trial. "We must, through much tribulation,
enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14;22).
We now turn to the other scale in the balance--"the
glory that is to be revealed in us." Or, reverting to his other figure
as a question of divine calculation; he puts down a unit--that unit
represents present suffering. But he adds countless ciphers, to represent
the contrast. The two are not to be compared. They are incomparable--out of
proportion. This apostolic reckoner had obtained, through "visions and
revelations," a glimpse of the inner glory. Darkness gives place to the
brightness of eternal day.
This, then, is the second explanation of the
otherwise baffling mystery of suffering; that, as he otherwise expresses
it--compared with "the ages of the ages," it is "our light
affliction, which is but for a moment" (2 Cor. 4;17). He sees, close by, a
few Marah-drops of earth's bitter pool. He looks onward, and beholds "a
river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God." It is "a far more
exceeding and eternal weight of glory." "A far more exceeding;"--the
expression in the original Greek is difficult to render with sufficient
intensity--"More and more exceedingly" is the R.V. The Apostle sees glory
rising on glory. The weight of the Cross may be great, but it is nothing to
the weight of the Crown.
Taking this, then, as his deliberate, truthful summation,
"Not worthy to be compared;" let us, aided by Paul's few suggestive
words, farther analyze his "reckoning."
(1) "Reckon" that your sufferings are LIMITED to " this present time;"--"After
you have suffered awhile." They are finite; and as such, cannot be
compared with their corresponding glory, which is infinite. The sorrows of
earth thus restricted in duration, when seen from "the glory revealed,"
will be but as the visions of a troubled dream in the night, which the
morrow's dawn has dispelled. And yet, be it remarked in passing, let us not
from this, and through any unworthy, morbid feeling, diminish the importance
of time and of the present time. In this great question of divine
arithmetic, if it be but a unit, it is the significant unit which gives the
figures which follow all their value. It is standing on the all-momentous
platform of the present, that we can say of the outlook on the Great
Beyond--"The world passes away, and the lust thereof; but he that does the
will of God abides forever" (1 John 2;17).
(2) "Reckon," that your afflictions and sorrows are METED
OUT, appointed, controlled by your Father in heaven. Affliction springs not
from the dust nor trouble from the ground. He does not conceal His hand--"I
bring a cloud over the earth" (Gen. 9;14). It is no capricious dealing of
fate, or accident, or cruel misfortune. They are the words of our "Abba,
Father"--"I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction." "Wearisome
nights" are "appointed." "I will afflict you in measure."
(3) "Reckon," that this divine Chastener--this
Father-God--will not allow His afflictions to go TOO FAR. He would
not permit the Adversary to touch the life of His servant Job (Job 2;6). He
held him as in a chain, saying, "Thus far shall you go, and no farther." He
"stays His rough wind in the day of His east wind;"--"tempering the wind to
the shorn lamb." There is no such thing as superfluous or unnecessary
suffering. In quaint Hebrew symbolism, "He puts my tears into His bottle"
(Ps. 56;8). He metes out drop by drop--tear by tear. "If need be, you
are in heaviness" (1 Pet. 1;6).
(4) "Reckon," that in sufferings here there are always
SOLACES--sweet drops in the bitter cup, lulls in the fiercest
storm--silver linings in the darkest cloud--gracious alleviations and
mitigations. This, too, carrying out the figure of the Apostle, is another
question of proportion--"As you are partakers of the sufferings, so
shall you be also of the consolation" (2 Cor. 1;7). When God allures us into
the wilderness, it is not to abandon us there; but it is to "speak
comfortably unto us," and to "make the valley of Achor a door of hope" (Hos.
2;14, 15). He takes Jacob to the wild uplands of Bethel and gives him a hard
stone for his night-pillow; but He makes the solitary place glad, He peoples
his dreams with a ladder of angels and visions of glory. "I will sing," says
the Psalmist, "of mercy and judgment; and he puts the mercy first.
God's judgments may be "a great deep." But Your mercy, O God, is vaster
still; for it is "in the heavens; and Your faithfulness reaches unto the
clouds" (Ps. 36;5, 6).
(5) "Reckon," yet once more, and, chiefly, that suffering
is the pledge of a Heavenly Father's love. This is the point dominating all,
and to which the previous verses, descriptive of the believer's heritage,
lead up. "Whom the Lord loves He chastens." "What son is he whom the Father
chastens not?" "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten."
O strange, yet true! Suffering--a covenant privilege, a
covenant badge; one of the insignia of sonship--a turn in the believer's
"Song of Songs!" O gracious triumph in this divine reckoning, that we
can fall submissive at the feet of the great Chastener and say--"Even so,
FATHER; for so it seems good in Your sight;" "I know that Your judgments are
right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me." He is ever employing
His angels of affliction "to minister to them that are heirs of
salvation." He will not permit His people to settle on their lees. Rather
does He see fit ever and anon to "empty from vessel to vessel." He puts a
thorn in the nest to drive to the wing. When, at times, a Father's footsteps
fail to be traced and a Father's love fails to be apparent--when the hands
hang down and the knees grow feeble and the weights of sorrow burden and
oppress the spirit, let us try to place in the other scale the wealth of
glory to be revealed in that sinless, sorrowless, tearless world, where
there are no fiery trials, no debasing corruptions or overmastering
temptations--no baffled schemes or thwarted plans, or divided friends or
carking cares, or unsolved mysteries or sceptic doubts.
The two antithetical words of our verse--"suffering"
and "glory"--seem specially to remind us of an element peculiar
to the bliss of the redeemed in heaven--a joy which the unfallen angels
cannot share. It is the glory and the joy of contrast. "What are
these which are arrayed in white robes, and whence came they?" The answer
points to the contrasted earthly condition. The brightness is all the
greater from its background of gloom. "These are they which came out of
great tribulation" (Rev. 7;14). And may there not, here too, have been an
implied word of encouragement and heart-cheer to Paul's Roman converts--the
revelation of the true, in comparison and contrast with the false and
spurious glory? Glory was a word familiar to the Romans--they boasted of
their proud roll of heroes, their imperial triumphs, above all of their
eternal city. But he now reveals "glory" in its best, highest, only real
sense. Not the tinsel of earth--the flash of an hour, the tinted bubble
dancing its little moment on the stream then vanishing forever--but the
glory whose birthright is in the divine counsels and its duration
eternity--the purchased inherited glory of God's own sons! He pointed those
to whom he wrote, away from the Ichabod that was soon to be written
on their fallen military colossus--the ruin of earth's greatest capital, to
"the city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God."
And in order to leave nothing untouched in the verse
forming the theme of our present meditation, note, once more, its brief
remaining words, "the glory which shall be revealed IN US;" not only
"to us," but "in us." It is thus a glory which will be
manifested also to others. In the skies of an endless future it is to be a
reflected radiance. The satellite or satellites are to reflect the
brightness of the great central Sun! "To the intent that now unto the
principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church
the manifold wisdom of God" (Eph. 3;10).
Who can tell how much affliction--"the sufferings of this
present time" like the facet cuttings of the diamond, will have to do with
the superlative glories described in the words--"Then shall the righteous
shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father."
There is a legend of the nightingale that it "sings"
loudest when a thorn pierces its breast. May it not be so with the
glorified, and their great "SONG OF SONGS" in heaven? The memory of
earth's piercing thorns (for it can be no more then), will most sweetly
attune ransomed lips to the Music of Eternity!