"Though now for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness."—1 Peter 1:6
Of all things, the most difficult is to realize truly "the need be" for our own personal trials. We see it readily in the case of another, although our judgment is often very erroneous. We will quickly discover how cold and indifferent he had become—how the world had been gaining the mastery over him—how his time and talents were being spent far too much in caring for things seen and temporal. But when it comes to our own turn—when we are compelled, as it were, to open up some pages in the "book of the heart," and find there many charges against us, we are seldom at a loss to find excuses. "True, we have not been so diligent as we used to be, but then, how many necessary cares have taken hold upon us; true, we have been less fervent in prayer, less frequently in our closet, but we have been regular in attending the house of God, we have not failed in the external duties of religion. And then, our trials are so much heavier than those of others, who are careless, indifferent, avowed worldlings." In short, we inwardly think that our lot is a very hard one—that our cross is the most painful—our suffering the most agonizing—our path the most thorny. And all this arises from the fact that we have not discovered the "need be."
How could we? At the best, our spiritual eyesight is weak and dim. We cannot know the real state of our souls, or see them as He does, whose searching scrutiny detects the slightest symptom of disease. We fancy all is well when we are sick, wounded, ready to die. We imagine that all is right with the heart, when faith is weak, love cold, hope almost obscured. Only gradually, after having been long in the school of trial, do we begin to realize that the Physician must probe the wound within us, and apply severe remedies, and cause pain and anguish, in order to cure the malady which is preying upon us—only after we have passed through the trying ordeal, and feel that the pulse is beating more regularly, and the blood is coursing through the system with a healthier flow—only then can we rightly comprehend our former weakness, and thank God that in tender love He cared for us, not hesitating to inflict pain, not withdrawing His hand, not sparing the rod, that He might do us good in the end.
Christian, just reflect for a little on some of the "needs be" for affliction and trial. Only a few can we here discover—in eternity we may hope they will all be revealed to us, but now "we see through a glass darkly."
"If need be," affliction will be sent for the purpose of bringing us to realize whether our religion be genuine or not. We perhaps thought ourselves Christians, and that we were founded on the Rock; and now an affliction comes, and we shake like aspen leaves. Could this be if we were really standing on the Rock? We thought fondly that God was the chosen portion of our souls, and that though all earthly joys were taken from us, we had enough when we had Him; and yet, when He crosses some desire of our hearts, or removes some of His own gifts, we seem as if we had lost our all, and speedily grow sad and disconsolate; and thus we learn the fact that our comfort did not before, as we supposed, flow from the Eternal Fountain, but had been drawn from perishing cisterns; and therefore, now they are broken, we die of thirst. This is an important discovery to us, and it was to make this discovery to us that God sent the affliction.
"If need be," pain and suffering will be our lot until we both discern and acknowledge God's hand in the visitation. We are very backward to do this. We say, indeed, when it comes, "It is the work of God;" but we do not half believe what we say—we have no deep or lively impression of its truth. We hear, also, people perpetually lamenting, uttering passionate expressions of grief, at visitations which, they say, have come upon them unlooked-for, and stunned them by their suddenness. Friends are removed, riches pass away, health rapidly declines, and they say, "Had we taken this step or that, had we adopted this precaution or that, it would not have been so with us." They "labor to push God out of their concerns," and they must be brought to feel that "affliction comes not forth of the dust, neither does trouble spring out of the ground," but that God is the Author of it, that He owns Himself as such, and would have His children feel that He is chastising them and that He means to do them good thereby.
And, reader, it is when we come to know and realize this, that we begin to reap the benefit of affliction. So long as we attribute it only to second causes, there will be no submission, no gratitude, no praise. It is when the discovery has been made that God is at the root of our sufferings—that He is desolating our comforts, robbing us of our joys with His own hand—when every grief and pang, every sorrow and anxiety, are felt to be His work—when we cannot banish Him from our thoughts, nor disconnect Him with one of our troubles, nor even wish to do either—it is then that the soul begins to bethink itself, and the heart to soften, and our proud, rebellious, stubborn spirit to give way. Then the knee bends, and the prayer goes up, and the blessing comes down. Then for the first time we are quieted and subdued. "I was silent," said David; "I opened not my mouth, because You did it." "It is the Lord," said Eli; and then that tried, afflicted parent could add, "let Him do what seems Him good." And this conviction will carry us yet further. Only let us see that a Father's hand has mingled our cup of bitterness, and we will soon do more than say, "Shall I not drink it?" The Comforter will come, even when our heart is almost broken, and inspire the trembling utterance—"The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away—blessed be the name of the Lord."
"If need be," sickness and trial will be sent again and again, until we learn to sit loose to the world, and have our chief joy in God. How often have we risen from a sick bed and returned to our folly! how often have we had trial, and very soon become as giddy and thoughtless as ever! But if we are God's children, He will not allow it so to be. He will again mingle the cup for us to drink, again withdraw some blessing, and lead our thoughts heavenward, deepen our repentance, bring us to humility at His footstool. Oh, how thankful should we be that God will not allow us to injure ourselves!—that He will send pain, sickness, weariness, distress, languor, agony of mind and body, to rouse us from our lethargy and carelessness—to show us that the life we have been wasting is an priceless thing—that our souls are precious in His sight—and that He desires our eternal well-being and salvation!
There are few to whom God has not spoken by sickness, trial, and affliction; but there are myriads who, when His hand has been lifted from off them, have rushed madly back to the world and the world's pleasures. And oh, surely, sadder far than the sight of any sorrow is it to see persons so infatuated, becoming, after sorrow, more heedless than before!—even as the impassive waters are troubled for a while by the stone that has been cast into their midst, and then become calm and cold as heretofore—sadder far, for it seems like casting aside God's healing hand, and rising up from under it when He is laying low. Oh, let it be our prayer that, when God has laid us low, there we may have grace to lie, humble, according as God has humbled us—to lie low at the foot of His cross, trusting that, by the virtue of that cross, He will raise us up again, and cause us to rejoice in Him.
It is well to be where God wills; and so, whatever it be—sorrow bringing sin to remembrance, or agony for past sin, or dread of judgment—let us seek, not to disregard it or drive it away from us, but to take it calmly home to our bosoms, and treasure it there, jealously watching lest we lose one drop of its wholesome bitterness; not anxious to escape sorrow, but anxious only not to lose its fruits—anxious to have it so impressed on our hearts, that, when God raises us up, we may walk softly before Him all our days, and turn our backs forever on those pleasures which would lead us to forget that we are "strangers and pilgrims" here.
And, finally, (as including many other gracious designs,) "if need be," affliction and trial will be sent to increase our longings after an absent Savior, to intensify our desires for heavenly bliss, and to bring us to cherish the feeling of the apostle, "I have a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better." Willing to remain so long as God needs our service here, we should yet long to join the "general assembly and church of the first-born, who are written in heaven." Patient and submissive under the hand of God, we may, nevertheless, ardently long for the hour when we shall be freed from the body of sin and death.
Now affliction is a school, under the blessing of God, to ripen us for an exceeding and eternal weight of glory. And vain as is the common imagination that those who are tried here are saved from all sorrow hereafter, be they united to Christ or not, it is yet a true doctrine, that, as there are degrees of glory, so the most severely-afflicted ones, who are also believers in Jesus, will shine the brightest in that glory—not so much because of their suffering, as of the grace wrought to purification in their souls, by the Spirit of God, through the agency of suffering.
Take courage, then, sons and daughters of tribulation; if united to Jesus by a living faith, you are training, through your very afflictions, for superior glory! The clouds that now darken your horizon will soon disappear before the brightness of the sun, and your spirit of heaviness shall be exchanged for the garments of joy. Be resting on Jesus for all your strength, hope, and deliverance. Ask of Him in every fresh trial, and under every circumstance of the trial, "Lord, what would You have me to do?" Beg of Him increasing submission and thankfulness of spirit. Pray that He may be pleased to lighten your affliction; but beg Him not to withhold chastisement—"if need be."
Be assured, if you are of Christ's flock, that all shall be well with you. You will enter a land where there is no pain, no suffering; sorrow and sighing shall cease, and God shall wipe away all tears from all eyes. Yet a little more toil, a little more labor, a little more endurance, and your probation state will finish, and that Savior, whom you are now delighting to serve, "will come again, and receive you unto Himself, that where He is, there you may be also."
"What though our bark a dreary course pursue,
Almighty and most merciful Father, our only refuge and strength, who, though unseen by our bodily eyes—is continually about our bed and about our path, and sees all our ways—who is the Author of all the various comforts which we here enjoy, and to whom we look for all future blessing—I desire humbly to bow down before You.
Oh, give me to feel the necessity for trial, distress, and suffering! Let me not repine under them. Help me to realize Your mercy in thus caring for me—in not allowing me to perish utterly—in not casting me off forever from Your fatherly care, as You might justly have done. Oh, fill me with a lively sense of Your goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering!
Pardon, O God, my sinfulness, my hardness of heart, my coldness, my waywardness. Oh, apply by Your Spirit the blood of sprinkling. Unite me more closely to my dear Savior. Be pleased, O Lord, to guide, help, and deliver me. I am very weak, and unable to keep myself. I am prone to murmur, repine, and forget my high calling; but I implore the aid of Your Holy Spirit to uphold, strengthen, and sanctify me. And, O Lord God, if at any time sin prevails against me, bring me back to Jesus, my Advocate with You, that through repentance and faith in Him I may be forgiven and restored. Keep me, O God, by Your mighty power, through faith unto salvation, for the sake of Him who has loved me, and who knows all my infirmities, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.