Indeed, he is in trouble — but he is not in Hell!
(Charles Bridges, "Psalm 119". This one is longer, but will be very profitable for those undergoing severe trials of any kind.)
"I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me!" Psalm 119:75
This is the Christian's acknowledgment: he is fully satisfied with God's ordering of his affairs.
The Lord's dealings are called his judgments — not as having judicial curses — but as the acts of His justice in the chastening of sin and in the administration of their measure and application.
In regard to himself, David acknowledges the Lord's particular faithfulness. And this he knew, not from the dictates of the flesh (which give the exact opposite verdict) — but from the testimony of the Word and the witness of his own experience. It could not be doubted, much less denied, "I know, O Lord, that Your rules of proceeding are agreeable to Your perfect justice and wisdom. I am equally satisfied that the afflictions which You have laid upon me from time to time, are only to fulfill Your gracious and faithful promise of making me eternally happy in Yourself."
How blessed is the fruit of affliction, when we can see God in it — that He is of great compassion and of tender mercy; that His thoughts toward us are thoughts of peace, and not of evil! This is a difficult, but most comforting lesson in deciphering the mysteries of God's providence.
Under the severest chastisement, the child of God must acknowledge divine justice. Our gracious reward is always more, and our chastisement always less — than our iniquities deserve. "Why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?" Indeed, he is in trouble — but he is not in Hell! If he complains, then let it be of no one but himself and his own wayward choices. "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right," and who can doubt God's perfect wisdom?
Who would charge the surgeon with cruelty, in cutting out the cancerous flesh that was bringing death upon the man? Who would not acknowledge the right judgment of his piercing work?
So when the Lord's painful work . . .
separates us from our sin,
weans us from the world,
and brings us nearer to Himself —
what remains for us, but thankfully to acknowledge His faithfulness and love?
The assurance of the Lord's perfect justice, wisdom, and intimate knowledge of our respective cases — leads us to yield to His ordering of our affairs in filial silence.
Thus Aaron, under his most grievous domestic calamity, "held his peace."
Job, under a similar painful dispensation, was enabled to say, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!"
Eli's language in the same trial was, "It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to Him."
David hushed his impatient spirit, saying, "I was silent, I did not open my mouth, because You are the one who has done this!" And when Shimei cursed him, he said, "Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord has ordered him."
Hezekiah kissed the rod, while it was smiting him to the dust, "The word of the Lord which you have spoken, is good."
This is the consistent language of the Lord's people under chastisement: "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right!"
The confession of justice may, however, be mere natural conviction. Faith goes further and speaks of divine faithfulness. David not only acknowledges God's right to deal with him as He saw fit, and His wisdom in dealing with him as He actually had done — but he saw also God's faithfulness in afflicting — not faithfulness though He afflicted — but IN afflicting him; not as if it were simply consistent with His love — but that it was the very fruit of His love!
Just so, it is not enough for us to justify God in His providential dealings with us. We have abundant cause to thank and praise Him! It is not enough to cease from murmuring at God's afflictive dealings with us. We must realize that they are a faithful display of His mercy and love to us!
Yes, the trials appointed for us, are nothing less than the faithful performance of God's everlasting promises. And to this cause, we may always trace the reason of much that is painful to the flesh, even though it may not be apparent to our eyes. If we determine to take note of its gracious effects in our restoration — needful instruction, healing of our backslidings, and the continual purging of sins — then we can say, "The faithfulness of God is gloriously displayed!"
The Philistines could not understand Samson's riddle — how meat could come out of the eater, and sweetness come out of the strong. In the same way the world can little comprehend the fruitfulness of God, in the Christian's trials — how his gracious Lord can sweeten the bitter waters, and make the painful affliction — the remedy of sin.
The Christian, then, finds no inclination in having any change made in the Lord's providential appointments, distasteful as they may be to the flesh. He readily acknowledges that God's merciful designs could not have been accomplished in any other way. Under such painful trials, many sweet tokens of divine love are granted — which under circumstances of outward prosperity, could not have been received with the same gratitude and delight.
Affliction is the special token of our heavenly Father's love. It brings us into conformity to the image of Jesus, and prepares us for His service and kingdom. Affliction is the only blessing that the Lord gives without requiring us to ask for it. We receive it, therefore, as promised, not as threatened. When the "peaceable fruits of righteousness," which it brings about in God's time and way, spring up in our hearts — then humbly and gratefully we will acknowledge the righteousness of His judgments and the faithfulness of His corrections.
You who are living at ease in the indulgence of what this poor world can afford — how little does the Christian envy your portion! In some future day, you will surely be taught by experience to envy his! To the Christian, the world's riches are daily becoming poorer, and its pleasures more tasteless. And what will they be, and how will they appear, when eternity is at hand!!
"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:11