"It was good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn your decrees." Psalm 119:71
In this catalogue of some fruits, more or less alluded to throughout the volume, Repentance may be first named. Why this chastisement? "Search me, O God, and see what wicked way there is in me;" what duties neglected, sins committed, evil desires encouraged. Is there some Achan in the camp? Was the property lost honestly gained, generously used? What neglect of physical law may have caused this pain of body, of spiritual law this sorrow of soul? Trial acts as a chemical test, precipitating and thus revealing poisonous elements, unsuspected before. Thus the soul is cleansed from what might have killed it. Trial rouses from slumber, as by a trumpet call. It often prevents meditated sin, hedges up with thorns a perilous bye-way, and reveals the vanity of worldliness. In sorrow for the dead some have been born into eternal life, and in sickness found spiritual health. "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept Your word."
Prayer.Many who never prayed before "call upon God in the day of trouble" (Ps. 107). Believers are roused to increased prayerfulness by special need of Divine help. Submission results from such recognition of a Ruler and Father. Trust is more than mere submission to authority. We lean more confidingly on the arm of the guide when the path is difficult, and we feel our weakness. Trust brings Patience; abiding concurrence in His will, rather than a restless desire for our own. Experience follows. A patient sufferer tests the promises and the power of faith, is conscious of the presence of the Comforter, and thus enjoys an internal evidence of the truth stronger than any outward testimony. His conscience approves as blessed the endurance of the trial. Thus Hope is encouraged. Help in the past guarantees the future. This hope springs from the assured experience of the love of God, which is the true life of the soul, a union with the eternal Life, which is the assurance to us of life eternal; for "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living," and is "not ashamed to be called their God," for "He has prepared for them a city." This hope of life in the future, arising from the life of love now, will never shame by disappointing us. Thus, "Tribulation works patience; and patience, probation; and probation, hope—and hope puts not to shame; because the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us" (Rom. 5:1-5). This is a hope which floods with sunshine the darkest valley, and gives "songs in the night" of the innermost prison.
Humility.Pride of strength is shattered by infirmity. Pride of beauty is shattered by disease. Pride of wealth is shattered by losses. Pride of success is shattered by failure. Pride of fame is shattered by slander. If pride is our great foe, the affliction that destroys it is our great friend. Humility promotes teachableness, and this increases Knowledge. Affliction gives leisure and inclination for prayerful study of the word of God. Most of the marks of loving assent in many Bibles have been made in the chamber of trial.
Luther said, "Affliction is the best book in the minister's library," and we respond, Affliction is the best teacher of the best book. "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes." Such learning is practical and secures Obedience. Affliction is a High School of Christian morals, and an Industrial School for practicing them. Even Christ "learned obedience by the things which He suffered."
Brotherhood.Grief makes all men kin. We forget differences of rank and opinion, political and religious, in the community of sorrow. This is a precious fruit of trial, in a world where we are so apt, because of differences, to forget our common brotherhood. Especially will this operate in softening personal resentments, leading us to think more kindly, to forgive more readily, to make greater allowance for the faults of those who have wronged us. Affliction is often the instrument by which the Holy Comforter nourishes the charity which "suffers long, and is kind, which envies not, which is not easily provoked, which endures all things."
There are beauties ofholiness which are specially developed by affliction. The full foliage of an oak conceals the symmetrical architecture and sturdy strength of trunk and branches, which are only displayed when the storms of autumn have torn the screen away. There are beauties in the stream as it flows with unruffled surface through the meadows, reflecting each flower on the bank, each cloudlet in the sky; but there are other beauties caused by rocky obstructions in its course, where the waters foam and flash, and rainbow-glories hover above. It is only when the light of the sun is broken, and the rays are refracted by the rain-drops, with the storm-cloud for setting, that it reveals its varied colors and transcendent beauties.
Usefulness.We are apt to think exclusively of the good to ourselves. But we may benefit others as much in the shade, as the sunshine. Joyful patience in our pain has often been more instructive than our lessons in prosperity. How much easier will trial be borne if we regard it as a special opportunity of bearing witness for God, confirming the faith of His children, and proving that "though there is a great deal of the counterfeit coin of profession, yet some there are who have the reality of it, that there is truth in it, that the very Spirit of God dwells in true believers." (Leighton.)
Paul thus valued affliction, because, by the comfort he received from God, he was better enabled to comfort others. (2 Cor. 1:3-6.) Only by suffering are we qualified for sympathy. Should not the attainment of the faculty reconcile to the method? Brave men have undertaken arduous journeys amid deserts, mountains, dense forests and frozen seas, to open routes for others. Noble women have endured agonies in witnessing them, and dared contagion, in order to learn better to minister to the sick and dying. Should we not thus imitate Him who "for the joy set before Him" in saving the lost and solacing the sad, "endured the cross"? We can repeat, with the force of personal experience, the texts, hymns, and arguments specially helpful in our own sorrow. When the Comforter has spoken to our own hearts, we are better able to speak of Him with tenderness to those whom sorrow has rendered sensitive, and whom words, cold, however clear, and a hand, hard, however ready, might hurt when intended to heal.
Afflicted believer! value trial as helping you to comfort other sufferers. It was not sent for yourself alone. The "God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation," intended that thus "we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, by the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God." If then, "whether we be afflicted, or whether we be comforted," it is for "the consolation and salvation" of others, let us, both during and after our afflictions, say with the apostle, "Blessed be the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort!"