THE PRECIOUSNESS OF TRIAL
"The trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes." 1 Pet. 1:7
It is the preciousness of trial in general, including the preciousness of the trial of faith in particular, to which the apostle thus refers. We propose, therefore, to amplify the truth, and to illustrate in the present chapter the preciousness of all those trials of which, more or less, the saints of God are partakers. This view may present the subject of trial in a point of light more soothing and sanctifying than the reader has been used to contemplate it. You have thought of trial, have anticipated trial, have met trial, have shrunk from trial as the patient recoils from the surgeon's lance, forgetting that that very trial was the needed process by which God was about to work out some great good in your personal experience; and that so far from being dreaded, it should be welcomed as among the most precious things of God, the richest blessings of the everlasting covenant. The points we propose to illustrate are trial—the preciousness of trial—and the blessings that spring from trial.
The term is expressive. It refers to a process by which the character or strength of a thing is tested. The engineer tries the base of his arch, the architect tries the foundation of his building, the refiner tries the nature of his ore. The word trial thus acquires a significant import in relation to that disciplinary process by which God proves His people. Trial, then, becomes a necessary element in the schooling and training of the children of God for duty and service upon earth, and for enjoyment and glory in heaven. Exempt the Church of God from trial, and she is excluded from a process the results of which are incalculable in her experience.
It will tend to open this subject more forcibly, if we consider who the Lord tries in the sense in which the term is now employed. There is one passage in God's book which contains—as many brief sentences of inspired truth do—a volume in a word, and it will supply the answer to the question, Who does the Lord try? "The Lord tries the righteous." The furnace in which God places His people—in other words, the process of trial by which He proves them—is not the same by which the ungodly world is tried. "The fire in Zion, and His furnace in Jerusalem," are only for His own elect. He has the crucible for gold, and the crucible for earth—the fire of love, and the fire of wrath; and in nothing will He more distinguish His own people from the ungodly,—the gold from the "reprobate silver,"—than in the mode by which both are thus dealt with. He tries the righteous because they are righteous; He chastens His sons, because they are sons; He reproves, rebukes, afflicts them, because He loves them, having "chosen them in the furnace of affliction." What touching words of Christ are these—who can read them without emotion?—"As many as I love I rebuke and chasten." Again, "Whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives." Thus, it is His own people, His righteous, His holy ones, on whom His afflictive hand is often the most severely and heavily laid. "The Lord tries the RIGHTEOUS."
But what does the Lord try? It is not our fallen nature that He tries, the existence of whose depravity is clear and unmistakable. There needs no proof that we are sinful and corrupt, and that "in our flesh there dwells no good thing." But the Lord tries His own wondrous work of grace in the soul. He tries everything that is divine, and good, and holy in the regenerate. He tries their principles, He tries their motives, He tries their graces, He tries their knowledge, He tries their experience, He tries His own work. Take, for example, a few of the spiritual graces which He more especially brings to the test of trial. He tries the believer's love. "Loves you me more than this?" is often the probing question of Jesus to His disciples. He will test the reality, the sincerity, the strength of our love to Him—whether it can confide in Him when He smites, cling to Him when He retires, obey Him when He commands—whether it will entwine around Him the closer that the storms seek to tear it from its hold. "Can you resign this blessing? will you undertake this service? are you able to drink this cup, or bear this cross for me?" is the significant language of many a trial with which the Lord tries the righteous. Happy if your love sustains the test of its sincerity, and your heart replies, "Yes, Lord; Your love inspiring my love, Your grace helping my infirmity, Your strength perfected in my weakness, I can—I will—I DO."
The Lord tries also the patience of His people. There is, perhaps, no grace of the Spirit, or adornment of the Christian character more overlooked than this, and yet there is not one more precious, God-honoring, and beautifying. To find this divine and rare pearl, we must often pass from the surface of society, and seek it—where, indeed, the piety and taste of few lead them—amid scenes of suffering, of grief, of adversity. In some secluded apartment, on some couch of languor, or bed of sickness, shaded by poverty and loneliness, this divine grace may exist—no eye beholding its sparkling amid the surrounding gloom, but His whose "eyes are over the righteous, and whose ear is open to their cry." There may be seen the patient, quiet spirit of a humble believer in Jesus, enduring without a murmuring word, bearing without a rebellious feeling; suffering without a hard thought of Him who has smitten—with a calm, submissive, dignified surrender to the Divine disposal—the will of God. And yet, who, in whatever path he walks, finds not, in some circumstances of his daily history, the "need of patience?" The trying circumstances of life—the chafings of the hourly cross—the constant contact with dissimilar tastes, uncongenial minds, unsympathizing hearts—the delays in answer to prayer—the ceaseless pain—the restless head—the nervous temperament, to which the buzzing of a fly is agony—above all, the hidings of God, the tarrying of Jesus, the suspension of the Spirit's consolation—all, all demand the exercise of that patience with which the believer possesses his soul. This is the grace the Lord tries! Ah! how little know we of the impatience of our spirit—the petulance and unsubmissiveness which will brook no delay, which frets against the Lord, and rebels against His dealings—until the Lord tries us. But He tries our patience only to increase it. Humbled under the conviction how rebellious and repining is our spirit, we are led to cry mightily to God to give to us this grace, meekly to endure, silently to suffer, and cheerfully to do His will. "The Lord direct your hearts into the patience of Christ." "You have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise." We are exhorted to "let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." "Here is the patience of the saints."
I have spoken of the trial of faith. Without recalling the train of thought already pursued, it may be well briefly to remark, that faith being the queen-grace of the graces—all others constituting her regal attendants—the Lord especially tries this grace of the believer, and by so doing He indirectly tries and so strengthens all the cognate graces of the soul. Thus, we read, "The trial of your faith works patience." And what are the ends to be accomplished in the trial of faith? The Lord tries our faith to test its genuineness, to promote its purity, to invigorate its power—thus to bring us into a more intimate acquaintance with Himself. Never should we try God as we do did He not try us as He does. We should, alas! be content to travel many a stage without Him. No child-like sense of dependence—no holy communings—no seeking His will—no trying of His love, faithfulness, and wisdom. How seldom would the Lord see our uplifted face, or our outstretched hands, or hear the plaint accents of our voice, did He permit this grace to lie sluggish and stagnant in the soul. But it is "living water" which Christ has deposited within the regenerate, and trial is needed to keep it pure, sparkling, and ascending. Be you sure of this, then, beloved, that the Lord thus exercises your faith only to make you a richer possessor of this most enriching of the graces. It is a kind process of Jesus by which He seeks your greatest good. The more your faith is tried, the more it deals with God, and travels to Christ; and it is impossible for you to spend one minute with God, or to catch one glimpse of Christ, and not be sensibly and immeasurably the gainer. The more your faith leads you to the throne of grace, the more precious will prayer become. The more your faith deals with the atonement of Christ, the more will the glory of His work unfold to your mind. The more your faith takes hold of the Divine promises, the more will it be confirmed in the truth of God's word. Thus faith—so supernatural and wondrous a grace is it—transmutes everything it touches into most precious gold, and so confers upon its tried but happy possessor "greater riches than the treasures of Egypt."
But who can travel the circle of all the trials to which the saints of God are subject? How great their variety! how peculiar often their character! Each child of God seems to move in a groove peculiar to himself, to revolve round the great center in an orbit of his own. The Lord deals with us as individuals that we may have individual dealings with Him. Therefore, among the catalogue of the Christian's trials, those of an individual nature may take the precedence of all others. It is a great mercy when we can retire from the crowd and deal with God individually—when we can take the precious promises to ourselves individually—when we can repair to Jesus with individual sins, infirmities, and sorrows, feeling that His eye bends its glance upon us, His ear bows down to us, His hand is outstretched to us, His whole heart absorbed in us, as though not another claimant, suitor, or sufferer unveiled a sorrow or preferred a request—as if, in a word, we were the solitary object of His love. Oh, deal with Christ personally, even as He deals personally with you. His invitation is, "Come unto ME,"—and He would have you come,—and you cannot honor Him more—recognizing His personality, and His personal relation to yourself, and disclosing your personal circumstances, making confession of personal sin, presenting personal wants, and unveiling personal infirmities, backslidings, and sorrows.
But, in addition to personal, there are often relative trials, which many are called to experience. It is impossible for feeling hearts not to make the circumstances of those to whom they are bound by close and tender ties of love and friendship in a measure their own. The religion of Jesus is the religion of sympathy. It teaches us to "weep with those that weep, and to rejoice with those that rejoice"—to "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." And what a touching exemplification of this our religion did its great Author present when bending over the grave of Lazarus; as the evangelist tells us—"JESUS WEPT." He had griefs of His own—oh, how bitter!—but He buried them deeply and silently within His breast, and seemed to feel and to weep only for the griefs of others. "In all their afflictions he was afflicted." And thus, too, it often is with the Christ-like believer. Concealing his personal sorrows, and bearing in lonely and uncomplaining silence his own burden, he is often found, from his unselfishness and sensibility, to be more deeply afflicted and oppressed by the sorrows and burdens of others. "Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?"
But there are spiritual trials peculiar to the children of God. The world, as it cannot sympathize with the joy of the believer, so it cannot participate with his spiritual sorrow. The Lord tries the righteous as righteous. What knows the world of trials springing from the indwelling of sin, from the temptations of Satan, from spiritual darkness, from the conflict of unbelief, from the infirmities of prayer, from leanness of soul, coldness of love, hardness of heart, perpetual tendency to spiritual relapse? Nothing whatever! But such are the soul exercises of many a saint of God, and these constitute his sorest trials.
But it is not so much on the fact of the Christian's trials that we would dwell, as upon a particular aspect of those trials which—especially in the actual process of trial—we are prone to overlook—their preciousness. The apostle clearly intimates this—"The trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold." It is to the preciousness of the trial of faith, not so much to the preciousness of faith itself, to which he refers. Let us briefly pursue this idea, and see in what respects the child of God may contemplate his trials as among he precious things of God.
Trial is precious, because that which it tries is so. The work which God brings to the test of affliction is worthy of all the pains He takes to prove its reality, to promote its purity, and to advance its growth. Nothing is so precious, so costly, so indestructible as the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul. If, beloved, you have a broken heart for sin, if you possess faith less even than a grain of mustard seed, if there glows in your heart a solitary spark of Divine love, or there beats in your soul a throb of spiritual life,—if, in a word, there is the outline of the restored moral image of God, faint and imperfect though it is, no figure can illustrate its beauty, nor words describe its worth. It distances all idea in its intrinsic preciousness. Now this is the work the Lord tries. These are the Divine principles, holy emotions, heavenly feelings He brings to the test. He tries it because it is worth the trial, and so the trial itself becomes a precious thing because it has to do with a precious work.
Trial also derives a value from its being the discipline of a loving Father. The moment faith can see the extraction of any drop of the curse from the cup of sorrow, and trace in its ingredients nothing but the elements of love, wisdom, goodness, faithfulness, righteousness, it realizes the costliness of the discipline. The very rod is loved because it is the rod of Him who is "Love." The chastening is sweet because it is parental. And the true believer exclaims, "My Father designs by this to teach me some salutary lesson, to inculcate some divine truth, to rebuke me for some folly, to correct me for some sin, to recall my truant heart, to restore my wandering soul, to endear Himself, and by detaching my affections and sympathies from earth's attractions, to allure and bind them closer to heaven. Precious trial that is the dictate of a wise and holy discipline, that leaves traces of a Father's hand, that is loving in its origin, loving in its nature, loving in its results!"
Trial is precious because it increases the preciousness of Christ. It is in adversity that human friendship is tested. When the wintry blast sweeps by, when fortune vanishes, and health fails, and position lowers, and popularity wanes, and influence lessens, then the summer birds of earthly friendship expand their wings and seek a warmer climate! The same test that proves the hollowness of the world's affection and constancy confirms the believer in the reality, power, and preciousness of the friendship of Jesus. To know fully what Christ is we must know something of adversity. We must be tried, tempted, and oppressed—we must taste the bitterness of sorrow, feel the pressure of want, tread the path of solitude, and often be brought to the end of our own strength and of human sympathy and counsel. Jesus shines the brightest to faith's eye when all things are dark and dreary. And when others have retired from our presence, their patience wearied, their sympathy exhausted, their counsel baffled, perhaps their affection chilled and their friendship changed, then Christ approaches and takes the vacant place; sits at our side, speaks peace to our troubled heart, soothes our sorrows, guides our judgment, and bids us "Fear not." Beloved reader, when has Christ appeared the nearest and most precious to your soul? Has it not been in seasons when you have the most stood in need of His guiding counsel and of His soothing love? In the region of your heart's sinfulness you have learned the value, completeness, and preciousness of His atoning work, of His finished salvation. But the tender, loving, sympathetic part of His nature, you have been brought into the experience of only in the school of sanctified trial. Oh, how precious has that trial made Him! Into what sacred intimacy and close fellowship and conscious nearness has it brought you. When He has approached with an expression so benignant, with a look so winning, with words so soothing, with an influence so tranquillizing, and told you that He was acquainted with your sorrow, entered into your loss, felt all the keen, delicate touches of your grief; and then spoke words of comfort to your spirit, bound up your broken heart, gently drew you into a sweet, holy, cheerful submission to His will and full justification of His dealings, oh, has He not enthroned Himself upon your soul at that moment more supremely and firmly than ever? You once thought you knew Him, and you did in some degree, but now, in the depth of your hallowed sorrow, a sorrow into which the Man of sorrows and the Brother born for adversity has enshrined His whole self, you exclaim, "I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye sees you." We ask, Is not trial a precious discipline, a precious correction, a precious school, that leads you more fully into the heartfelt experience of the preciousness of the Savior? Shrink not from, nor rebel against, that which makes you more intimately acquainted with your best Friend, your dearest Brother, the tender, sympathizing, Beloved of your soul. You will know more of Jesus in one sanctified trial than in wading through a library of volumes or in listening to a lifetime of sermons.
It is impossible either to contemplate the costly results of trial, and not find an evidence of its preciousness. Trial is a fruitful process; and, though often painful as the incisions of the amputating knife, the results, like those incisions, are salutary and healthful. Sanctified trial opens an outlet for the escape of much soul-distemper. Deep-rooted, hidden, and long pent-up evil, the existence of which has been as a fretting sore, inflaming, irritating, and impairing the whole spiritual constitution of the soul, has by this process been thrown off, and thus a more wholesome state and healthful action has supervened. Oh, what selfishness, what carnality, what rebellion, what worldliness, what secret declension, has God's lancet brought to light, revealing it but to inspire self-abhorrence, sin-loathing, and sin-forsaking—and all this the costly fruit of a deeply sanctified affliction!
Trial, too, stirs us up to lay hold upon God in prayer. Nothing, probably, in all the Lord's means of grace and dispensations of providence so leads us to prayer, incites us to call upon the Lord, as the pressure of affliction. And so high a privilege is access to God, so sweet a spot is the throne of grace, so great and holy the blessings that spring from a waiting of soul upon the Lord, that must be a wholesome discipline that leads to such results. Oh, count it a precious trial, a golden affliction, that brings your heart into a closer communion with Christ! Your Elder Brother's voice may, like Joseph's, sound harshly and alarmingly upon your ear, filling you with fear and foreboding; yet it is the voice of your Brother, the "voice of the Beloved," and it speaks but to rouse you to a more full, confiding opening of your heart in prayer. Oh, precious trial! Oh, heaven-sent affliction! that breaks down the barriers, removes the restraints, thaws the congealings that intercept and interrupt my fellowship with God, and with His dear Son Christ Jesus. Our heavenly Father loves to hear the voice of His children; and when that voice is still, when there is a suspension of heart-communion, and the tones are silent which were used to fall as music upon His ear, He sends a trial, and then we rise and give ourselves to prayer. Perhaps, it is a perplexity, and we go to Him for counsel; or it is a want, and we go to Him for supply; or it is a grief, and we go to Him for soothing; or it is a burden, and we look to Him for upholding; it is an infirmity, and we repair to Him for grace; it is a temptation, and we fly to Him for support; it is a sin, and we repair to Him for pardon; but, be its form what it may, it has a voice—"Rise, and call upon your God!" and to God it brings us.
How much, too, does deeply sanctified trial correct our false judgments. We conceive dark thoughts of God's character, wrong views of His dealings, crude interpretations of His word—our judgments often miscarry in their opinions of persons, of actions, and events; but when under God's hand how much of this is corrected. The passing tempest has swept the clouds away, cleared our intellectual, and purified our moral atmosphere, and a brighter, serener sky has smiled upon us from above, and our path has become easier and pleasanter. We see God's character and our own in a different light—His so glorious, our own so vile. We interpret His dealings differently and more favorably, and begin to learn that there is no individual who has not, perhaps, more in his character to admire and love than to censure and condemn; and that there is no event in Divine Providence that has not a lesson of truth and a message of love.
We are deeply indebted to trial—and it thus fully sustains its character as among the precious things of God—as authenticating the fact of our divine sonship. Erase sanctified trial from the catalogue of the Lord's dealings with you, and you would cancel one of the strongest evidences of your adoption. What earthly father corrects not the waywardness, self-will, and disobedience of his child? and shall not our heavenly Father, in the exercise of a wisdom and love yet greater, employ a holy and wholesome discipline towards His children? Every stroke of His rod is a proof of His love, and every correction of His hand an evidence of our sonship. How tender and touching the admonition, "My son, despise not you the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked of him. For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives." Thus, then, our hallowed afflictions and trials are among the choice, precious things of God, because they are signs and seals of our gracious adoption into His family. Be not cast down, O tried believer! as though some strange and untoward thing had happened to you. Misinterpret not the dealings of God, as though your present sorrows, difficulties, and trials, were marks of His displeasure, and evidences against your true and divine relationship. Many of the Lord's people who appear exempt from those trials by which others are severely afflicted are prone to argue from thence against their being the true children of God. Most true is it that the religion of Jesus is the religion of the cross, and that there never was a true Christian without a cross. And yet the painful misgiving, arising from exemption from the crosses which others bear, may itself be the cross the Lord appoints you. The heart-searching and prayer, the earnestness and anxiety, which this conviction produces, may be just the self-discipline which those peculiar trials—from the absence of which you augur ill against yourself—are designed to effect. God can as richly teach, and as deeply sanctify us by the absence as by the presence of a trial. But ah! are there no crosses other than reverse of circumstances, loss of health, chilled affection, changed friendship, heart-crushing bereavement? Yes, beloved reader; this body of our humiliation, the power of indwelling sin, the assaults of Satan, the seductions of the world, the wounding of the saints, spiritual becloudings and despondencies, is enough, in the absence of all external trial, to discipline the heart, to humble the soul, and keep the believer near to the cross of Jesus. Thus, there is no believer without a trial, and no Christian is without the cross.
"A lady of rank and great piety complained that, whereas in Scripture the cross is everywhere spoken of as useful and necessary for the children of God, yet she, for her part, must acknowledge that hitherto the Lord had never deemed her worthy of one, and that this often raised within her melancholy thoughts and doubts whether she was one of His children or not. Gotthold said to her—I confess that complaints like yours are not common, inasmuch as few Christians have any ground to lament a lack of the cross, while others, whose share of it is exceedingly small, nevertheless imagine that it is quite as large as they are able to bear; and in particular, those who are yet unaccustomed to it, are prone to fancy that their cross is too great and heavy for them. As for your case, however, it seems to me that you are actually bearing a cross without being conscious of it. You are vexed with gloomy thoughts because you have no cross. These gloomy thoughts, however, appear to me to be themselves a considerable cross, and also a very salutary one, for they not only evince, but nourish and augment your desire to resemble the Lord Jesus, and to take up your cross and follow Him. Besides, the words of our Savior, 'Whoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple,' relate not merely to the common hardships of human life, but are also and especially to be understood of the crucifixion of the old man, of his sinful lusts and desires, of self-denial and the subjugation of the will. For the rest, we cannot and ought not to make crosses for ourselves, for this would end in hypocrisy. The Lord holds the cup of affliction in His own hand, and pours out of it when and as much as He will. That He has spared you hitherto, acknowledge with humble gratitude; He is the Searcher of hearts, and perhaps knew that, with the cross, your heart would not have felt towards Him as it has done without it. Recollect, however, that the drama of your life has not yet been played to the end, and that, for ought you know, your gracious God may still have some little cross in reserve for you, to be imposed in due time. The fiercest tempests often come in the evening of the finest summer days, and it is after the pure wine has been run off that the lees are used to follow. It ought to be another ground of gratitude to God, that He has given you time to prepare for all emergencies, and provide yourself with the armor necessary for your defense." (Gotthold's Emblems.)
It is not the least hallowed result of sanctified trial, thus increasing its preciousness, the deeper acquaintance into which it brings us with God's word. In trial we fly to the Scriptures as the unfailing source of guidance and comfort. Whatever may be the nature of our sorrow, or the singularity of our path, we are sure of finding in God's word light, sympathy, and soothing corresponding therewith. God sends us into this school of affliction to learn. Thus He dealt with David—"It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes." God's word at all times should be our study and delight. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom." But there is, through outward distractions and inward conflicts, a tendency to neglect the word, to lose our relish for its sweetness, or to turn from its faithful rebukes. And as a parent or a teacher sometimes employs the rod to stimulate his pupil to learn, so our Heavenly Father, our Divine Teacher, often sends His rod of correction to drive us to the study of the truth; then we testify, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted (corrected, chastened, rebuked), that I might learn your statutes." And oh, with what increased clearness and beauty does the Bible often unfold to us in the time of precious trial! We understand the Scriptures now as we never did before. We may have consulted critics and expositors, and by our own ingenuity and skill have endeavored to penetrate the sacred mysteries of the word, and yet but to little perception of the truth. But the rod of correction has proved our best expositor under the guidance of the Spirit of truth! "Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures." Dark, mysterious, and trying providences—trials which we thought so untoward—have been our best commentaries on the deep things of the word. What a honied sweetness, in our personal experience, has the bitterness of trial imparted to it! We did not know that there was so much sweetness in the word until we found so much bitterness in the world; nor so much fullness in the Scriptures until we found so much emptiness in the creature. We see the Bible now to be full of Jesus—Christ its revelation, its glory and sweetness, its Alpha and Omega, its beginning and end. Satiated with creature comforts, and surfeited with self-satisfaction, we had loathed the manna of the word, and it had no more relish to our spiritual than the most insipid element to our natural taste. But sweet, sanctified, precious trial has led us to the Book of the tried—God's own word—and we have "rejoiced at it as one that finds great spoil." With the Psalmist we have testified, "How sweet are your words to my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth." "This is my comfort in my affliction: for your word has quickened me." Oh welcome, then, cheerfully and submissively the precious trial that renders more precious in your experience the preciousness of God's word.
The time of trial often sets us upon a closer examination of our Christian progress and hope. In the season of worldly sunshine and prosperity, gliding along upon the smooth and calm current, how much do we take for granted as to our true spiritual state. We deem all right within because all is smiling without. The world smiles, friends approve, ministers commend, the heart flatters, and the candle of the Lord shines round about us—alas! alas! with what slight evidences of conversion, with what dubious marks of grace, with what a slender hope of heaven, are we then satisfied! How shallow our self-acquaintance, how imperfect our knowledge of Christ. But the trial comes, bearing the disguise of a foe, yet in reality a friend. And now the first blast of adversity scatters the fig-leaf covering, and destroys the beautiful tresselled wall which our own hands had constructed for our beauty and defense. What we thought was substance proves but a shadow, what we imagined was a reality proves but an appearance. The faith we thought so strong, the love we thought so fervent, the grace we thought so real, the growth we thought so unmistakable, all, all vanish before the dealings, the probings, the siftings of the Searcher of hearts in the day of trial. Trial has brought us to our right place—the feet of Jesus. There, in the spirit of self-examination, of self-loathing, of self-renunciation, we have been led to ask, "Will this evidence serve me when I come to die? will this love give me boldness in the day of judgment? will this faith present me faultless before the throne of God and the Lamb?" Thus relinquishing our vain fancies, our foolish dreams, our dubious evidences, we have been enabled to take a renewed hold of Christ, to fly afresh to the fountain of His blood, and to enfold ourselves more closely within the robe of His righteousness. Thus emptied, humbled at His feet, we praise and adore Him for the discipline that consumed the dross, scattered the chaff, swept from beneath us the sand, and that strengthened our evidences, brightened our hope, unfolded the Spirit, and enthroned the Redeemer, more vividly and supremely within our soul. O precious trial! dark though you are, that yet bear beneath your somber wing blessings of grace so sacred and costly as these!
As a moral discipline it would seem impossible to overrate the preciousness of trial. No believer has been placed in a true position for the formation, development, and completeness of his Christian character who has not passed in some degree through this discipline. Not more essential is it that the vessel of the craftsman should be exposed to the heat of the furnace, in order to impart transparency to the material, consolidation to its form, and brilliance and permanence to the colors his pencil has traced upon it, than it is for a "vessel of mercy whom God has afore prepared unto glory," to be tried though it be as by fire. From this moral discipline there is in the family of God no exception. It is a remark of the seraphic Leighton—true as it is beautiful—that, "God had but one Son without sin, and never one without suffering." How touching and conclusive the argument and appeal of the apostle—himself purified in this crucible and instructed in this school—"You have forgotten the exhortation, which speaks unto you as unto children, My son, despise not you the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons: for what son is he whom the father chastens not? But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons. Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now, no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto those who are exercised thereby." Thus is it clear that chastisement or trial is an evidence and seal of adoption; and that without it we should lack that spiritual discipline, apart from which there is no proper symmetry and completeness of Christian character. Who has not marked the wide and striking difference in the character and deportment of a child trained beneath the wholesome discipline of a parent, and a child who has grown up without that discipline, left to its own self? To what is that difference to be traced but the forming influence of discipline in the one, and its entire absence in the other? There is a development and strength of character, a maturity of mind and mellowed refinement of feeling and address in the child thus schooled, which you in vain look for in the child neglected. "A wise son hears the instruction of his father." In the Hebrew this passage may be literally rendered, "A wise son is the chastisement of his father." On this text, thus rendered, in all probability the Jews founded their proverb, "If you see a wise child, be sure that his father has chastised him." Now, how gracious and tender is our heavenly Father to condescend thus to deal with us! In everything would He sustain the relation He stands to us as a Father. Not only in loving us, thinking of us, providing for us, guiding and keeping us, but also chastising us. He has undertaken a father's office, and He will fully and faithfully discharge it, even though it may compel the frequent and painful, though loving and righteous, use of the rod. Oh to be assured that this stroke is a fresh seal of adoption! Who would not cheerfully exclaim, "The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?"
And yet we think there is a yet higher end accomplished by precious trial, even than this authentication of our adoption. We refer to the Divine holiness to which it assimilates us. "He for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness." Next to his justification, sanctification must be the grand aim of the believer; and whatever is promotive of this must be precious. God would make us happy, but He can only make us happy by making us holy. Happiness and holiness are cognate truths: they are relative terms; they are twin sisters. He must be happy who is holy. Sin is the parent of all misery; holiness the root of all happiness. Now the holiness which God would bring us into sympathy with, and make us partakers of, is His own holiness. There is much that passes in the religious world for holiness which is spurious in its nature, and which is disowned by God. There is no real holiness but that which moulds us into the Divine image—that which makes us God-like. We cannot possess God's essential holiness, but we may partake of His imparted holiness. In the same sense in which we are said to be "partakers of the Divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4), we are "partakers of the Divine holiness." What a portrait is a child of God purified, sanctified, and disciplined by trial! God is the divine original; he is the human copy. Upon that heart softened, upon that spirit subdued, upon that will laid low, the holy Lord God has imprinted, inlaid, His own likeness. And as the polished mirror reflects the likeness of the man who looks into it, and as the glassy lake images the sun that beams down upon it, so does the disciplined child of God,—the grossness of the fleshly eliminated from the spiritual—the dross of the natural separated from the divine—his purified soul reflects, and sparkles, and shines with the holiness of God. Oh, to be like God, who would not welcome the trial, exclaiming with the psalmist, "I know, O Lord, that your judgments are right, and that you in faithfulness has afflicted me." How tenderly, soothingly, lovingly does your Father address you, His tried child—"My son, despise not you the chastening of the Lord." Is there rigor in the discipline?—there is love in the rod. Is there bitterness in the cup?—there is sweetness upon its brim. Is there acuteness in the suffering? there is soothing in the relation—"My son!" Never can He forget in the severest discipline, in the most painful correction, that He is our Father, and we His children. "Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spoke against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my affections are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, says the Lord." Never does God employ a rebuke without a cordial, or the pruning knife without the balm. How frequently the mercy precedes, and thus prepares for, the judgment. It was so in the case of our first parents. Before God pronounces the dreadful sentence, He breathes the gracious promise. Mercy digs the channel of judgment—prepares and paves its way. Thus, God's corrections, rebukes, and chastisements come tempered, softened, and subdued; and like the smitings and reproofs of the righteous, are a "kindness," and "an excellent oil, which shall not break the head." Thus it is that the tried believer can look into the face of his Father and say, "Righteous are you, O Lord, when I plead with you; yet let me talk with you of your judgments" (Jer. 12:1). How sweetly and tenderly did Jesus blend the warning with the consolation, "In the world you shall have tribulation, but in me you shall have peace!" Our Lord wisely and graciously presents the world to us as a scene of sorrow, trial, and tribulation, but the counterpart shall be that in its midst we shall experience His presence, love, and grace as our peace. Thus the remark of a quaint writer holds good, "Affliction's rods are made of many keen twigs, but they are all cut from the tree of life. It is a great mercy to have a bitter put into that draught which Satan has sweetened as a vehicle for his poison." Never is the believer so near to Christ's heart, and the Spirit's comforts, and Heaven's joys, as when the flood of dark and broken waters is surging beneath and around him, lifting him upon their crested billows. The higher the ark which bore the Church of old rose upon the flood, the nearer it mounted toward heaven. As earth receded, heaven approached; and the vessel, floating away upon the bosom of the swelling deep, mounted higher and higher. Is it not so with the believing soul when floods of great waters come into it? As these waters swell and rise, sinful follies, worldly vanities, carnal pursuits, pride, self, and ignorance, disappear, and the soul gets nearer to heaven. Precious trial that buries earth's vanity and corruption, and unveils heaven's joy and glory to the soul! Thus out of the eater comes food. The trial that looked so threatening has brought such mercy. The cloud that seemed charged with electricity empties a fruitful shower. Oh, trying seasons are our most spiritual, most prayerful, most Christ-endearing, Christ-conforming seasons, and so trial becomes precious. Stars shine the brightest in the darkest night; torches are the better for the heating; grapes do not come to the proof until they come to the press; spices smell sweetest when pounded; young trees root the fastest for shaking; vines are better for bleeding; gold looks the brightest for scouring; glow-worms glisten best in the dark; juniper smells the sweetest in the fire; the palm tree proves the better for pressing; cammomile, the more you tread it the more you spread it. Such is the condition of all God's children; they are then most triumphant when most trampled, most glorious when most afflicted; often most in the favor of God when least in man's; as their conflicts, so their conquests; as their tribulations, so their joys; they live best in the furnace of persecution, so that heavy afflictions are the best benefactors to heavenly blessings, and when afflictions hang heaviest corruptions hang loosest, and grace that is hid in nature, as sweet water in rose leaves, is then most fragrant when the fire of affliction is put under to distill it out." (Spencer.) Favored child of God, whose Father's discipline in providence and grace wafts such blessings into the soul! Precious trial that makes Jesus more precious, the throne of grace more precious, the discipline of the covenant more precious, holiness more precious, the saints of God more precious, the word of God more precious, and the prospect of going home to glory more precious! "Happy the believer who, the more afflictions assail him, cleaves the more closely to the Lord. Like the traveler overtaken in a storm, who, when the rain beats upon him, or the snow drifts upon his person, or the mountain wind drives furiously against him, lays firmer hold of his cloak and wraps it closely around him, he, amid the storm of troubles, keeps faster hold of the 'Man who is an hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest.'"
A time of trial is a time of sensibility. God often sends it for this very end. There is nothing in the gospel of Christ that forbids emotion, everything to awaken it; there is nothing in the religion of Jesus to crush sensibility, everything to create it. Christianity is a religion of feeling—deep, hallowed, sanctified feeling. It is the only religion that thoroughly appeals to our emotional nature, that touches the deep, hidden springs of our humanity, and tells us we may—weep. With Christ's tears at Bethany, and with his drops of blood in Gethsemane before us, surely we may express the deepest sympathy with the adversity of others, and may indulge in deep, chastened grief with our own. Weep on, then, beloved mourner! We would not seal up those tears. "Jesus wept," and you too may weep. "No chastening for the present is joyous, but grievous;" therefore, it is no sin to give expression to emotion, to indulge in sensibility, to "water our couch with tears, and to make our bed to swim." Without a measure of grief our affliction would leave no trace of good. When God speaks, we should hear; when He smites, we should feel. Only let your grief be moderate, chastened, and submissive, embodying its sentiment, and expressing its intensity in the language and spirit of the "Man of Sorrows," "Not my will, O my Father, but your be done."
What shall we then say to these things? Shall we not count among the precious things of God, not the least precious, the trial whose discipline removes from us so much evil, and confers upon us so much good? How little should we know experimentally of the Lord Jesus—what depths there were in His love, what soothing in His sympathy, what condescension in His grace, what gentleness and delicacy in His conduct, what exquisite beauty in His tears, what safety beneath His sheltering wing, and what repose upon His loving heart, but for this very adversity. Your ark is tossed amid the broken waters, but you have Christ on board your vessel, and it shall not founder. He may seem, as of old, "when asleep upon a pillow," ignorant of, and indifferent to, the storm that rages wildly around you; yet the eye of His Godhead never slumbers, and He will, and at the best moment, arise in majesty and power, hush the tempest and still the waves, and there shall be peace. And will you not then count that a precious adversity that awakens in your breast the adoring exclamation, "What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?" Yes; Christ treads the limpid pathway of your sorrow. He comes to you walking upon the sea of your trouble. He approaches to quell your fears, to calm your mind, to give you peace. And but for this alienation of property, this sore bereavement, this terrible calamity, this wasting disease, this languor, suffering, and decay, these restless days and wakeful nights, oh, how many a precious visit from the Beloved of your soul would you have lost! Be still then; trial will bring a precious Jesus to you; and the presence, the love, the sympathy, and the grace of Jesus will lighten, soothe, and sweeten your trial. We shall soon be at home, where "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain." The last truth of God will be seen, the last lesson of holiness will be learned, the last taint of sin will be effaced, and there will be no more need of sorrow's discipline, nor the hallowing influence of precious trial; the last ember of the furnace will be extinguished, the last wave of trouble will die upon the shore, and we shall be forever with Jesus. Until then, "commit your way unto the Lord," leave your concerns in His hands, "trust in Him," and come up from the wilderness clinging to His almighty arm, and leaning upon His loving breast, to uphold you in weakness, to soothe you in grief, and to bring you home to Himself, where the days of your mourning shall be ended, and "GOD SHALL WIPE AWAY ALL TEARS FROM THEIR EYES."
"When sore afflictions crush the soul,
And riven is each earthly tie,
The heart must cling to God alone:
He wipes the tear from every eye.
"Through wakeful nights, when racked with pain,
On bed of languishing you lie,
Remember still your God is near
To wipe the tear from every eye.
"A few short years, and all is o'er;
Your sorrows, pains, will soon pass by;
Then lean in faith on God's dear Son,
He'll wipe the tear from every eye.
"Oh, never be your soul cast down,
Nor let your heart desponding sigh,
Assured that God, whose name is Love,
Will wipe the tear from every eye!"