THE MINISTRY OF HOME  or "Brief Expository Lectures on Divine Truth"
by Octavius Winslow

The Gift of Suffering

"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.

"I love my sufferings," remarked one of the most pious and gifted female writers of her day, "for they come from God. I love everything that comes from Him." Doubtless, this eminent saint was familiar with the passage which suggests our present reflection, to the confirmation of which she brought her personal experience "Unto you it is GIVEN ... to SUFFER." There is, probably, no point of light in which suffering is less viewed by believers than this, and yet not one more consolatory. There is always a peculiar charm in a gift. It is the acknowledged token of friendship, the silent expression of love. It may in itself be but a trifle, yet how expressive and precious! You would believe that the individual who presented you with a lock of hair, or a simple flower, or a picture regarded you with interest, and held you in sacred remembrance.
  Now it is just in this point of view we wish you to contemplate the afflictive dealings of God. "Unto you it is GIVEN ... to SUFFER." God has given us many precious gifts; but I believe, that next to the unspeakable gift of His beloved Son, we shall thank and praise Him the loudest in heaven for the gift of suffering.
  Let us in this brief meditation first direct our thoughts to the gift itself- it is SUFFERING. That suffering should universally prevail, is simply to remark that sin universally prevails. Sin and suffering are convertible terms. They bear the same relation to each other as cause and effect. There was no bodily or mental suffering in the primal or sinless state of man. Prior to the fall both the body and mind were total strangers to pain. Perfect holiness was another expression for perfect freedom from all the ills bequeathed to us by our sinning father, of which we are the sad legatees. But we must restrict our thoughts on this subject. Universal as is suffering, is the sentiment equally as universal that suffering is a Divine appointment? Is it regarded and acknowledged as a gift of God? Just the contrary is the feeling of the unregenerate world. They regard it as an unmerited infliction, as an unjust and arbitrary act of God. Viewed in this light, they fly in the face of God, impeach His wisdom, deny His goodness, and dispute the justice and sovereignty of His will.
  To this may be traced the different reception of suffering by the Christian and the worldling. The suffering Christian falls down in lowliness and submission at the feet of God; the suffering worldling flies up in anger and hostility in His face. The rod in the one case is all budding, in the other it is all bare; in the one, affliction is unto life, in the other, it is unto death. The sufferings of the Lord's people are many. The terms which indicate this truth are expressive: "many waters," "in much tribulation," "all Your waves and Your billows," "the sufferings of Christ abound in us." Thus, the recipe of our Heavenly Physician is compounded of many and diverse ingredients, all of which work together for the spiritual and eternal health of the soul!
  From bodily suffering none are entirely exempt. All are more or less its subjects. The seeds of disease, which are but the germs of suffering, are sown in every human constitution, and sooner or later yield their own sad fruit. There are few dwellings in which there is not a sick chamber, few homes in which there is not a loved one the subject of disease in some one of its many forms. But sickness is God's messenger, bent upon a mission of mercy and of love. It may wear a cold repelling aspect, for our visitation of sickness is not for the present joyous, but grievous. The painful convulsion, the maddening delirium, the hectic fever, the waste and decay, the nervous irritability, the incessant anguish, the restless days and the sleepless nights, the lingering, dying languor, is not a discipline the spirit would choose or the flesh would welcome.
  Nevertheless, it must be right, and it will result in good, because our Heavenly Father sends it. In this light view your present sickness, suffering saint! Little would you taste of the inexpressible sweetness of that precious grape-cluster bending down from our Living Vine- "He bore our sicknesses,"- but for your present suffering. The wasting of decay, the pain of disease, the languor of prostration, the trembling, quivering nerve, must in measure be experienced, to experience what the sympathy of Jesus is in sickness.
  Perhaps, a yet more acute form of suffering is the mental. I think this is indisputable. The mind resting in God, confiding, peaceful, hopeful, will enable the body to endure almost any form or degree of suffering. Take, for example, the "noble army of martyrs," as witnesses of this truth. What was it that enabled many of them to kiss the stake, to toy with the leaping flames, and to glory in the consuming conflagration, from which they ascended up, as in a chariot of fire, to heaven, but the love of Christ, and the peace of God keeping their hearts and minds tranquil, even joyful, amid their tortures? "The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?"
  "A wounded  spirit!" ah! it lowers the loftiest, weakens the strongest, humbles the proudest: who can bear it? Mental depression receives its complexion very much from the causes which produce it. The mind is a marvellous and mysterious thing. There is no part of our organism more vital, sensitive, and subtle than it. It is the barometer of the soul, affected by every atmospheric feeling through which we pass. We possess nothing more keenly, acutely sensitive.
  The causes from where mental suffering arises are many. With some of the Lord's people the origin is hereditary, with others it is natural, and with yet more it is religious. But, from whatever it may arise, mental suffering in some form is the discipline appointed by God for many of His people. Think not that your case is singular, or that you are an especial object of your Father's displeasure, because he has so afflicted you.
  I will not pause to inquire the cause of your mental depression; it is enough for my purpose in penning these remarks to know that yours is a mind depressed, needing a gentle, yes, a Divinely healing touch. He who created your mind, who has hitherto proved its Sustainer, knows the cloud that veils it, the tumult that agitates it, the imaginations that play around it like hideous spectres- all is known to God! And do you think that Christ is either ignorant of, or insensible to, the spiritual exercise through which your mind may be now passing? Far from it. If there is any stage of our discipline for heaven with which the Lord Jesus more closely sympathizes than another, it is our spiritually-mental stage. Can He ever forget the mental conflict of the garden, the soul-travail of the cross; the blood-sweat of the one, the soul-sorrow of the other?
  Child of God! walking in mental gloom, passing through deep waters of soul exercise- doubting, fearing, despairing, sinking- look up! There is One who knows your sorrow, and has come down to rescue you. His eye of compassion is upon you, His wing of love is around you, His arms of power are beneath you, His heart is your pavilion, His wounds your refuge, His precious promise the word upon which He invites you to hope!
  Dwell upon the solemn thought that your Lord and Savior trod this identical path before you; that, if there is one cloister of His heart deeper and warmer than another, in that cloister He hides you while passing through this mental eclipse. Fear not that He will abandon you to total darkness or endless despair. Your soul will emerge from its present obscuration, all the brighter for its temporary darkness. Tempest-tossed, you will be all the more firmly rooted and grounded in God's love. The Lord by this process is deepening the work of grace in your heart, consuming the dross with the fire, and scattering the chaff with the flail of His discipline, that had too much, and unsuspected by yourself, mingled with your Divine and heavenly nature.
  Deem yourself not a child of God, because you are the subject of mental disquietude and of spiritual exercise. Were your soul still locked in the sleep of death, it would be Satan's policy to keep you so. But the mental and spiritual exercises through which you are now passing are indices of soul vitality, of an awakening out of sleep, of the possession of that spiritual life, which is linked indissolubly with the life which is to come. Suffering is the royal highway to glory. It is royal, for the King of Saints Himself trod it; it is royal, for the royal children all walk in it; it is royal, for it leads to the kingdom of heaven.
  Our text distinctly speaks of one particular form of suffering- suffering for Jesus' sake. "To suffer for His sake." This, I imagine, is the highest distinction the Lord can put upon His saints this side of heaven. The early Christians "rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His sake." The cross was heavier then than it is now, its offense was greater, its crucifixion keener. To own the Savior then was to be cast out as evil, to suffer the loss of kindred and of substance, and frequently to be immured in a dungeon, chained to a stake, or impaled upon a tree. And yet the early followers of the Savior gloried in sufferings for their Lord.
  But ours is a smoother path, an easier Christianity, a more pleasant cross, a lighter burden than theirs. Certainly, the present is not the age of martyrdom, or of martyrs. This may account, in a great measure, for the false religion, the anemic profession, the sickly Christianity, the specious holiness everywhere so prevalent. And yet "the offence of the cross is not ceased." "For all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." There is still a degree of suffering to be endured from the ungodly world, and even from a portion of what is called the "religious world," by those who would be loyal to Christ's, faithful to His pure truth and spiritual worship.
  We cannot come out of Babylon, separate ourselves from the world, set our faces as a flint against the errors that are so rife, and the religious formalism that is so prevalent, and the Romanistic worship that is so common, and the superstitions that are so popular- all so opposed to the Divine religion and the spiritual Church of Christ- and not be reproached for Christ's sake. But, we have still the example and the precept of Jesus for our encouragement and imitation- "Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Let us go forth, therefore, unto Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach."
  Think of our blessed Lord- the holy, the loving, the gracious Savior- cast out as an accursed being from Jerusalem! Then, think of the privilege, yes, the honor of going unto Him, outside the camp of this ungodly, Christ-rejecting, Babylonish world, bearing His reproach. Precious privilege! distinguished honor! Such may be yours, dear reader. You may now be walking in this identical path; you may be separated from your brethren, as Joseph was; you may be subjected to the loss of earthly goods, experience the chilled affection, the changed friendship, the suspicious glance, the unkind remark, the unjust, ungenerous rebuke of those who should be the first to honor your fidelity to conscience, your adhesion to truth, and your attachment to Christ.
  But be not surprised, as though some strange thing had happened unto you. Such honor have all the saints. Christ will not leave you alone in the hour of trial and suffering for Him. His presence and grace are pledged to you here; and a crown of glory, studded with many a precious jewel, is laid up for you hereafter. "Whoever will save his life shall lose it; but whoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel's, the same shall save it." So spoke the Lord, and His words will be found true!
  Suffering is involved in all we do for Jesus. There never was service for God without sacrifice, or a path of duty without a cross, good done for others apart from self-denial in ourselves. The precious seed we here sow- the token of a golden harvest- must be saturated with tears. We must work, with conscious infirmity and unworthiness in ourselves, against much resistance and opposition from others, and in view of great difficulty and discouragement springing from our work. In all we do and endure for Christ, we must keep in memory the cross upon which He died, and endured for us.
  Forward, then, let us go in the service of our Master. Work while it is day; the night comes. Never be without something in hand for the Lord. When one mission is accomplished, when one work is finished, seek another at His hand. My reader, what are you doing for Christ? Is it the true, earnest prayer of your heart, "Lord, what will You have me to do?" Then He will show you what you shall do, perchance what you shall suffer. O do not be a loiterer in the vineyard, a drone in the hive, hiding your light and burying your talents, for all of which the Master, when He comes, will hold you accountable. "Why do you stand idle all day?" when in a forlorn world there is so much to do for man, and in a redeemed Church so much to do for God?
  But we are to look at suffering in a peculiarly soothing and sanctifying point of light- as the gift of God. "Unto YOU it is GIVEN on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to SUFFER for His sake." Faith in Christ is here represented equally as a gift. We must not forget that, "faith is the GIFT of God," -one of those most costly and precious gifts that comes down from the Father of lights. Seeing, then, that you need faith- for without it nothing is pleasing to God- seeing that faith is the foot that travels to Christ, and the hand that receives Christ, and the eye that looks to  Christ, let us go to God and ask this divine, precious, grace at His hand, since it is His free and gracious gift.
  And where real faith exists there will also be true suffering. Every grace of the Spirit in us must be subjected to trial- for, "the Lord tries the righteous," and no single grace of the Holy Spirit is, perhaps, subjected to more severe trial than faith. "The trial of your faith being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire."
  But in what manner and for what purposes are we to regard suffering as God's gift? And first, Suffering is the gift of love. All God's gifts to us are such; but it is our mercy to regard suffering peculiarly in this light. It is not for the moment pleasant; it settles not upon us with the soft, snowy pinion of the dove, but with the rough, dark wing of the raven. It wears a bleak aspect, assumes a threatening form, is bitter in its taste and harsh in its tone. Like the loving brother Joseph, it speaks to us 'roughly.'
  Nevertheless, it is the gift of a Father who loves us too well to be unkind. "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten." Afflicted saint of God! in this soothing light I bid you view your present suffering. If God did not love you He would not deal with you thus. Sound the depth and estimate the tenderness of His love by the nature and intensity of your suffering. Because He loves you He thus smites.
  Jesus bore all for you! O yes, all! He exhausted the fulness of the curse, sheathed in His own heart the sword of Justice, quenched with His own blood the fire of hell, drained the cup of wrath of its last drop, then filled it with salvation, and breathing the fragrance of His love upon its brim, gave it you freely to drink. Receive, then, this cup of love, disguised as a cup of suffering, and say- "The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?"
  Suffering is equally the gift of God's wisdom. His wisdom, too divine to err, ordained it. In nothing of our history is God's wisdom more conspicuous than in devising and arranging its each act. This fact often rises before us with startling effect; we are compelled to stand still and acknowledge the shaping of God. There has been exhibited such foresight and design, such forethought and harmony as forces from us the acknowledgment, "This is the finger of God!" In this light, beloved, would we teach you to view your present suffering.
  The first pressure of your lips to the brim may raise for a moment the question, "Could Divine wisdom have appointed this cup? There is so much apparent incongruity in the event, the thread of circumstances giving it birth is so entangled, the network is so curiously wrought, the whole so dark and inexplicable, so sudden, unlooked for, and crushing; can it be possible that the mind of God conceived and planned and arranged it all?" O yes, you suffering saint! "This also comes from the Lord of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working."
  Rest assured that God's wisdom was never more displayed than in arranging all the minutiae of this event. He saw the end from the beginning, knew what it would cost you to bear, and was well assured of the result that would ensue; and in the infinite depths of His wisdom conceived and planned and executed the whole. Be still, and charge not God foolishly; but remember that, "wisdom is justified in her children," and that, the "Judge of all the earth must do right."
  Not less are we taught to view God's afflictive dispensations- suffering among them- as the gifts of His faithfulness. "In faithfulness have You afflicted me," is the response of David. In nothing is the Divine faithfulness more exhibited than in the chastenings of our God. Faithfulness to His covenant, faithfulness to His word, and faithfulness to His people demand this at His hands. O yes, there is no breaking of His word of promise, no falsifying of His covenant engagement, no dealing untruthfully, unfaithfully with you, you suffering disciple of Jesus, you afflicted child of God, in the present painful discipline through which you are passing. In this matter, "Righteousness is the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins."
  Accept, then, this trying dispensation, as another evidence among ten thousand, that God will never leave nor forsake you; that, He is faithful who has promised; and let your faith behold, sparkling amid the wreck and gloom of this calamity, the luster of a love that cannot change, of faithfulness that cannot fail. Receive then, beloved, at God's hand this sacred, costly GIFT! "Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning;" and high up in the inventory of these precious gifts place, as the most fruitful and sanctifying of all, the gift of suffering.
  Suffering is our school in which, like our Lord, we are made perfect. Suffering is the school in which alone we learn experimentally the sympathy of Christ. I have already reminded you that, "the road to heaven is the royal road of the cross." Along this thorny, entangled path we trace the "royal priesthood," following the destinies of their glorious Leader, the Captain of their salvation. Fight on, you soldier of Jesus! you follow the banner of a victorious Chief who will lead you from victory to victory, from suffering to joy, from grace to glory, and finally make you more than conqueror, yes, triumphant, through Him who has loved you.
 We may spread our couch with roses,
And sleep through the summer day;
But the soul that in sloth reposes,
Is not in the narrow way.
 If we follow the chart that is given,
We never need be at a loss,
For the only way to heaven
Is the "royal way of the cross."
 To one who is reared in splendor
The cross is a heavy load,
And the feet that are soft and tender
Will shrink from the thorny road.
 But the chains of the soul must be riven,
And wealth must be held as dross,
For the only way to heaven
Is the "royal way of the cross."
 We say we will walk tomorrow
The path we refuse today,
And still with our lukewarm sorrow
We shrink from the narrow way.
 What heeded the chosen 'eleven'
How the fortunes of life might toss,
As they followed their Master
to heaven By the "royal way of the cross "