THE INNER LIFE  by Octavius Winslow

The Influence of Sanctified Trial upon the Inner Life

"Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you will revive me." Psalm 138:7.

Partial and imperfect as the present endeavor to lay before the Christian Church some views of spiritual life must be considered, a more marked deficiency, and one of still greater moment, would exist, were we to allow an occasional allusion only to a period in the believer's history, which, of all others, has frequently proved most favorable to the matured advancement of the indwelling life- the period of sanctified trial. It would not be difficult, were the correctness of the fact disputed, to, summon a cloud of witnesses to testify, that seasons of trouble have invariably proved, in the experience of the spiritual mind, seasons of soul-quickening; that times of Divine chastening have ever been times of heart-recovery; and that, consequently, we may regard the hour of affliction as bearing upon its somber wings, concealed indeed beneath their dark plumage, some of the golden blessings of the Christian life. The raven carrying food to the languid prophet, and the lion yielding honey to the mighty Samson, are symbols of the mode which God sometimes adopts of transmitting nourishment and reviving to the inner life of his people. Truly in their case it may be said- and the enigma admits of easy solution "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness."

We have been studying in the preceding pages several illustrations of spiritual life, gleaned from the experience of David. Deeply instructive as each must have been, we cannot regard them as surpassed in tender, touching, and holy interest, by that one upon which we how propose to fix the attention of the spiritual reader- David in deep trouble, yet assured of Divine reviving; "Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you will revive me." And yet how difficult it often is to win an assent to the truth taught in these words; to bring the sentiment they contain to a practical bearing upon the judgment and feelings of the tried Christian, while yet in the midst of the furnace! How hard, especially under the first stunning effects of his affliction, to reason him into the belief that those very circumstances which are now weaving their web of difficulty around his path, may yet possess a power and a buoyancy so great, as to lift his soul from the region of coldness, despondency, and gloom, into that of life, light, and joy. Nor should this slowness to admit a statement so apparently contradictory surprise us. Affliction wears neither a pleasant nor a promising aspect. Frowning and foreboding, there is at first view something before which the stoutest heart quails, and from which the sternest spirit shrinks- whose tincture of wormwood and gall, the lips would sincerely allow to pass, untasted and untouched. And although that darkening cloud embosoms a heaven-sent message, and although that rod, dotted with buds and blossoms, is prepared to burst into fruit and beauty, and although the "Man of sorrows " left the perfume of his own lips lingering upon the brim of that cup, we would yet willingly forego the experience of the blessing which it conveys, to escape the present pain of the discipline which it enjoins. But let us turn our attention to the deeply instructive and precious truth before us- the relation which sanctified trial has to the reviving of the inner life of the soul.

Contemplate the Psalmist's circumstances "Walking in the midst of trouble." It was no new and untrodden path along which he was pursuing his way to God. The footprint sometimes stained with blood, always moistened with tears-of many a suffering pilgrim might be described in that way, from the time that Abel, the earliest martyr, laid the first bleeding brow that ever reposed upon the bosom of Jesus. And yet how often does trial overtake the believer, as 'though some strange thing had happened to him!' That at the peculiar nature of an affliction a Christian man should be startled and alarmed, would create no surprise; but that he should be startled at the trial itself, as if he alone- the only one of the family- were exempted from the discipline of the covenant, and had no interest in the Savior's declaration, "In the world you shall have tribulation" -might well astonish us.
But David's experience is that of many of the spiritual seed of David. His words seem to imply continuous trial: "I walk in the midst of trouble." With how many travelers to the celestial city it is thus! They seem never to be without trial. They know no cessation, they obtain no repose, they experience no rest. The foam of one mountain billow has scarcely broken and died upon the shore, before another follows in its wake; "Deep calls unto deep." Is it the trial of sickness? -the darkened chamber, scarcely ever illumined with one cheering ray of light- the bed of suffering, seldom offering one moment's real repose- the couch of weariness, rarely left, are vivid pictures of trial, drawn from real life, needing no coloring of the fancy to heighten or exaggerate. Is it domestic trial? -what scenes of incessant chafings, and anxieties, and turmoils, and sources of bitterness, do some families present; trouble seems never to absent itself from the little circle. Yes, it is through a series of trials that many of Christ's followers are called to travel. The loss of earthly substance may be followed by the decay of health, and this succeeded, perhaps, by that which, of all afflictions, the most deeply pierces and lacerates the heart, and for a season covers every scene with the dark pall of woe- the desolation of death. Thus the believer ever journeys along a path paved with sorrow, and hemmed in by trial. Well, be it so! We do not speak of it complainingly. God forbid! We arraign not the wisdom, nor doubt the mercy, nor impeach the truth of Him who has drawn every line of that path, who has paved every step of that way, and who knows its history from the end to the beginning. Why should our heart fret against the Lord? Why should we weary at the way? It is the ordained way- it is the right way- it is the Lord's way; and it is the way to a city of habitation, where the soul and body- the companions of the weary pilgrimage- will together sweetly and eternally rest. Then all trouble ceases- then all conflict terminates. Emerging from the gloom and labyrinth of the wilderness, the released spirit finds itself at home, the inhabitant of a world of which it is said- "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, for the former things are passed away."

But the spiritual troubles which encompass the Christian walk are the deepest and the severest of all his trials. What in comparison are others? Our Lord keenly felt this when he uttered that affecting exclamation: "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Shall I say, Father, save me from this hour? But for this cause came I unto this hour." What to him- galling and agonizing as they were- what to him the smiting, and the scourging, and the spitting, and the excruciating torture, compared with the sword which was now entering his soul- the mental conflict and spiritual sorrow which, in the hour of atonement, amazed, staggered, and overwhelmed him? Listen again to his affecting cry: "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." Then, withdrawing himself from his disciples- for the human sympathy upon which he had relied in anticipation of the hour of suffering failed him now- retiring from man, he flung himself upon the bosom of God, and kneeling down, he prayed, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me!" Such, my soul, was the conflict which your Savior endured for you!

Partakers of Christ's sufferings, all true believers are in a measure acquainted with some of those soul troubles which thus overwhelmed the Son of God. The suspensions of Divine consolation- the hidings of God's countenance- the assaults of Satan- the contact and conflict with sin- are bitter ingredients in that cup of spiritual sorrow of which they are sometimes called deeply to drink. But the subject more immediately before us is, the influence of all sanctified trial upon the life of God in the soul- "Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you will revive me."

That there was a consciousness in David's mind of spiritual relapse is clearly evident. It would appear that in the process of trial through which he was now passing, the discovery of this relapse was made. O what a detector of the secret state of our souls does the season of trial often prove! We are not aware of our impaired strength, of our weak faith, of our powerless grace- how feeble our hold on Christ is; how legal our views of the gospel are; how beclouded our minds may be; how partial our acquaintance with God is- until we are led into the path of trouble. The season of prosperity veils the real state of our souls from our view. No Christian can form an accurate estimate of his spiritual condition who has not been brought into a state of trial. We faint in the day of adversity, because we then find- what, perhaps, was not even suspected in the day of prosperity- that our strength is small.

But seasons of trial are emphatically what the word expresses- they try the work in the souls of the righteous. The inner life derives immense advantage from them. The deeper discovery that is then made of the evil of the heart is not the least important result: "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him." What folly still dwells in the hearts of the wise- bound up and half concealed- who can tell? Who would have suspected such developments in the life of Abraham, of David, of Solomon, of Peter? And so is it with all who yet are the possessors of that wisdom which will guide their souls to eternal glory. Folly is bound up in their hearts; but the sanctified rod of correction reveals it, and the discovery proves one of the costliest blessings in the experience of the disciplined child. Listen to the language of Moses, addressed to the children of Israel- "You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, and to prove you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not." And O, what a discovery that forty years' marching and countermarching in the wilderness was to them of the pride, and impatience, and unbelief, and ingratitude, and distrust, that were bound up in their heart! And yet, though all this evil was deep-seated in their nature, they knew it not, and suspected it not, until trial brought it to the surface. Thus, beloved, is it with us. The latent evil is brought to light. God leaves us to try what is in our heart, and this may be the first step in the reviving of his gracious work in our souls. O let us not, then, shrink from the probing, nor startle at its discovery, if it but lead us nearer to holiness, nearer to Christ, nearer to God, nearer to heaven!

The time of trouble is often, too, a time of remembrance, and so becomes a time of reviving. Past backslidings- unthought of, unsuspected, and unconfessed- are recalled to memory, in the season that God is dealing with us. David had forgotten his transgression, and the brethren of Joseph their sin, until trouble summoned it back to memory. Times of trial are searching times, remembering times. Then it is we turn in upon ourselves, and "bethink ourselves in the land where we are carried captive;" and then with David we exclaim, "I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto your testimonies." And thus it is that the Lord revives us in trouble.

By bringing us into a closer acquaintance with the word, trial stimulates the inner life. We flee to the word for counsel or for comfort, and the word proves a quickening word. Divine correction not only teaches, but it stimulates our relish for the spiritual parts of God's truth. In times of prosperity we are tempted to neglect the word. The world abates the keenness of the soul's appetite. We taste no sweetness in its promises, and cannot receive its admonitions and rebukes. "The full soul loaths a honeycomb, but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet." Replenished with created good, and surfeited with earthly comfort, the soul, in its pride and self-sufficiency, loathes the Divine honey of God's word. But when the Lord removes the creature, and embitters the world- both proving cisterns that can hold no water- then how precious becomes the word of Jesus!- not its doctrines and its consolations only, but even its deepest searchings and its severest rebukes- that which lays us the lowest in the dust of shame and self-abhorrence- are then sweet as the honey and the honeycomb to our renewed taste. Then in truth we exclaim- "How sweet are your words to my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!"

And from where flows our true comfort in the hour of deep heart-sorrow? David, in his trouble, shall answer: "This is my comfort in my affliction, for your word has quickened me." O how many a deeply-tried Christian has set his seal to this truth! What is the comfort sought by the worldling in his affliction? Alas! he seeks to drown his sorrow by plunging yet deeper into that which has created it. He goes to the world for his comfort- that world that has already deceived him, betrayed him, and stung and wounded him more keenly and deeply than the adder. The creature is his idol, money is his god, and pleasure his only resource.

But turn to the man of God. What was the Psalmist's comfort in his sorrow? Was it the lightness of his affliction? was it the love of Jonathan? was it the soothing tenderness and sympathy of the saints? Ah no! -it was none of these. It was the spiritual quickening his soul received through the truth of God! This healed his sorrow-stricken heart; this poured a tide of richer comfort into his deeply afflicted soul than the sweetest human balm, or even the entire removal of his trial, could have done. O favored soul, who, when in deep and dark waters- when passing through the fiery furnace- are led to desire spiritual quickening above all other comforts beside- sweetly testifying, "This is my comfort in my affliction, your word has quickened me." That word, unfolding to us Jesus, leading us to Jesus, and transforming us into the image of Jesus, proves a reviving word in the hour of trial: "I should have perished in my affliction, unless your law had been my delight."

The grace that is brought into exercise in the particular season of affliction, must necessarily tend greatly to promote the revival of the inner life. In a time of prosperity, grace is apt from stagnation, to become feeble and torpid. And yet, were the believer but keenly alive to the perils of his path, he would feel as deeply the necessity of especial grace to hold him up in the smooth as in the rough way. "Hold me up in your paths," was a prayer replete with holy, heavenly wisdom. Thus walking in the very ways of God, the believer requires the sustaining power of God. And yet how sadly does grace often decay, and the inner life go back, in the time when all things smile, and the path is smooth. A spiritual paralysis seems to steal over the whole spiritual man. But blessed is he who, learning this truth, in the midst of his most active and spiritual and holy duties- when laying himself out the most for God, and treading with all uprightness in the Lord's path- is led to distrust his own wisdom, strength and truthfulness, and breathe the prayer, "Hold up my goings in your paths, that my footsteps slip not."

And yet how liable is grace to decay, and the inner life to lose ground, when all things smile upon a path smooth and unruffled! But God sends affliction, and the grace that lay concealed is brought to view, and the grace that remained dormant is summoned to arms; the whole soul is awakened, energized and inspired as with new life. "The trial of faith works patience." Thus one tried grace stirs up another grace, until all the links in the golden chain feel the electric influence and are set in motion. O blessed trouble, that so stirs up the life of God in the soul as to make each grace of the Spirit a "new sharp threshing instrument having teeth;" a weapon re-cast, and newly furbished in the furnace, and so coming forth with keener edge and more polished blade, to "fight the good fight of faith," with mightier power and success.

But the influence of sanctified affliction upon the inner life is, perhaps, the most evident and powerful in the revival of the spirit of prayer. Truly, in reference to this happy result, may the believer exclaim, "Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you will revive me." Nothing more effectually quickens us to communion with God than the trial that flows from his love, and is sanctified by his Spirit. Strange that to this, the highest, holiest, and sweetest privilege prepared for the Christian, he is often the most indifferent, and in its observance his feelings are the most chilled and sluggish. What an evidence- one more melancholy there cannot be- of the spiritual deadness of the soul by nature, that even after it is quickened with a life that brings it into union with the life of God, after the Spirit of God has entered and made his abode there, ever dwelling and reigning and working in it, there should still remain so much deadness to that which is spiritual, especially the most spiritual of all duties and the most precious of all privileges- communion with God!

But in the time of trouble we stir ourselves up to calling upon God; we awake to the conviction- perhaps it is as new and as novel as though it were for the first time felt- we awake to the conviction that we are in possession of a mighty instrument, which when exerted brings all heaven, and the God of heaven, into our soul. We wake as from a dream; and just at the identical moment when all creature assistance droops, and all earthly resources fail, and leave us like a dismantled wreck drifting upon the billows, we discover that we are furnished with a power of relief mightier than the mightiest angel's- a power which, when exerted, (we speak it with reverence,) overcomes, like the wrestling patriarch, Omnipotence itself- the power of PRAYER!

And what is prayer but God's power in the soul of a poor, feeble worm of the dust, over Himself? It was no human might of Abraham which enabled him to wrestle with, and prevail with, the Angel of the covenant: it was the power of the Holy Spirit in his soul; and when the Divine Angel yielded, he yielded but to himself, and so God had all the glory- and shall have, of all that he has wrought for us, and of all that we have wrought by him, through eternity.

It is in the time of trouble, then, that we learn to pray with new power. We become more thoroughly acquainted with the Divine nature and the omnipotent energy of prayer. We learn what our resources, as the true sons of Israel, are. Many are then led to pray, who never prayed before. "Lord, in trouble have they visited you, they poured out a prayer when your chastening was upon them." Then it is the proud spirit yields; the knee that never bent before, bends now, and the terrified soul cries out unto Him whose chastening is upon it.

The slumbering Christian, too, is awakened to call upon God. Then it is he finds at what a distance he had been living from God. Then he discovers his true position- the real state of his soul, touching prayer. Thus aroused, like the slumbering prophet, by a voice, and startled by a rebuke issuing from a quarter he would least have suspected- "What are you doing, O sleeper? arise and call upon your God!" -he awakes, and finds himself in a storm threatening instant destruction. To what does he then betake himself? David shall answer: "I give myself unto prayer." And oh, how eloquent is then the voice of the wrestling believer! Never did the fugitive prophet "pray unto the Lord his God" as when walking in the midst of trouble. "I cried by reason of my affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and you heard my voice. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto you, into your holy temple." In this way the Lord revives the spirit of prayer within us.

And oh, what words can describe the blessedness of prayer in trial! -the preciousness of the privilege of having a God to go to, a Father to flee to in trouble! To bring you more deeply and personally into the experience of this, dear tried Christian, the Lord your God is dealing with you now. Oh, beloved, betake yourself unto prayer! You shall indeed find it the outlet of all sorrow, and the inlet of all joy. Welcome the trouble that thus revives you. Receive with meekness of spirit, yes with gladness of heart, the discipline, however humbling, that throws you upon God- yes, that severs you from all creatures, and that shuts you up to Him alone. That discipline, painful as it is, springs from love. In love that trouble is sent, in love that cross is permitted, in love that cup is given, in love that rod is used- it is to set you upon the work of prayer. What are these frowns of your Father, what these hidings of your Savior, what these withholdings of the Spirit, but to allure you within the holiest, there to find the throne of grace? "I will go," says the Lord, "and return to my place until they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face; in their affliction they will seek me early." Hosea 5:15.

And what, too, the chastening beneath which your tender, sensitive spirit is now smarting, but to bring you into Ephraim's state of revived prayer- "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; You have chastised me, and I was chastised as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; turn me, and I shall be turned; for you are the Lord my God," Jer. 31:18. Then, beloved, "despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked of him," for he only seeks to draw you closer within his bosom. Give your troubled spirit unto prayer. Yield it to the reposing, soothing influence, of communion with God. Withhold not from your bleeding wound this healing balsam, rob not your sick heart of this precious panacea. Give yourself unto prayer. You hold in your hands a power which God cannot resist. Approaching him in the name of Jesus, you may embosom your tried and weary spirit in the very heart of Jehovah. Take the praying saints of old for your example and encouragement, "Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among those who call upon his name; they called upon the Lord, and he answered them. He spoke unto them in the cloudy pillar." The Lord who "makes the clouds his chariots," is prepared to speak to you in love from your 'cloudy pillar.'

"O wondrous power of faithful prayer!
What tongue can tell the Almighty grace?
God's hands or bound or open are,
As Moses or Elijah prays;
Let Moses in the Spirit groan,
And God cries out- Let me alone!
"Let me alone, that all my wrath
May rise the wicked to consume!
While justice hears your praying faith,
It cannot seal the sinner's doom:
My Son is in my servant's prayer,
And Jesus forces me to spare."

Are you, beloved, walking in the midst of trouble? Think not that you are alone. May your eye of faith be "anointed with fresh eye-salve," to see One walking side by side with you, the same who walked with the three children through the fiery furnace: "whose form is like the Son of God." Yes! Jesus is with you in your trial. Christ is with you in your trouble. The path, however difficult, is not so narrow that your Lord cannot tread it with you, side by side. Your way is not so intricate that he cannot enable you to thread your steps through the labyrinth. There is room enough for you and Christ to walk together. He is with you: though like the two disciples journeying, in mournful communion one with the other, to Emmaus, your eyes may be so closed that you see him not, yet is he journeying with you along that sad and mournful, that lone and pensive path. Christ is in your adversity- Christ is in your cross- Christ is in your dilemma- Christ is in your suffering- Christ is in your persecution-Christ is in your sickness- yes, Christ is at your side every step you take, and he will conduct you safely to your Father's house. Though you walk in the midst of trouble, he will revive you.