NO IMPOSSIBLE BURDEN

 

By

 

D. M. PANTON, M. A.

 

"Exceeding great and precious promises," the Apostle Peter says (2 Pet. 1: 4), God has given us in order that, through them, ďwe may become partakers of the divine nature"; and one of the great and most precious is the impossibility of an unbearable burden.  It is a promise world-wide in its application.  It has been put to the test in every age, in every land, in every temperament, in every experience. It extends to every moment of life: it covers every act and deed: it counters and masters every possible emergency.  And it is peculiarly precious to us, and of tremendous importance, because it is given specifically to those "on whom the ends of the ages are come" (1 Cor. 10: 11).

 

The background of the promise is the clearest and fullest Old Testament type of the New Testament Church ever given.  "With most of them" - that is, Israel in the desert - "God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness": "NOW IN THESE THINGS THEY BECAME FIGURES OF US"; and "these things happened unto them by way of example" - as exact types of our peril - "and they were written for our admonition," our warning (1 Cor. 10; 5).  For they had all left Egypt - the world; they had all been baptized; they were all fed daily on the manna - Christ says that He is the bread come down from heaven; they were all God-led, under the Cloud: yet the vast majority failed of the Kingdom; and so far from being a history inapplicable to us - the Holy Spirit says - it is an exact picture of the Church of Christ.  No type of God ever fails: there is never anything but an exact correspondence between type and antitype: it is impossible for the Spirit to stress more strongly, both here and elsewhere, that what happened in the Wilderness is exactly what is happening around us now, and that both type and anti-type are the sole concern of the redeemed.  "Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief.  For who, when they heard, did provoke?  Nay, did not all they that came out of Egypt by Moses?  And with whom was he displeased forty years? Was it not with them that sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?  And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that were disobedient?" (Heb. 3: 12, 16).

 

Now two effects are possible, springing out of this tremendous and dramatic background; and against these two effects the Spirit first sets a sharp warning, and then a golden encouragement.  The warning He puts first:- "Wherefore" - because the picture is not imaginary, but actual - "let him that thinketh he standeth" - either on the ground that the privileges of grace make such a fall impossible, or that his own growth and achievements make him immune from peril - "take heed lest he fall."  He who thinks he has nothing to fear is the man who is most exposed to a peril.  No height of progress we have reached; no natural or spiritual abilities; no wealth of privileges peculiar to ourselves which we have enjoyed through years of blessed experience - nothing can make us immune: the Tempter, routed in ninety-nine contests, may be victorious in the hundredth. "Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, that none [of us] fall after the same example of disobedience" (Heb. 4: 11).

 

But the Spirit now counters the second peril - despair; despair of ever reaching the tremendous standard of Caleb and Joshua.  Our background is so overwhelming in its disillusionment - namely, that the vast majority of Godís people lost the Kingdom - that the Spirit devotes much greater time and care to re-assuring us than to warning us; for the man who has mastered the historic facts is in far greater danger of despair than of presumption.  So the Apostle first lays down a universal fact:- "There hath no temptation" - no trial, no test, no pressure, no seduction - "taken you but such as man can bear" - literally, but such as is human; that is, accommodated to human strength; suited and fitted to man; such as every man may reasonably expect, and has power, to conquer.  That is, "we can avoid falling, inasmuch as we are not exposed to insurperable temptations" (Dean Stanley).  Since the world was, no man has ever been compelled to commit a single sin: all temptations have been such as men could resist, and have resisted.  For in the nature of the case it must be so.  A temptation is an experiment, to perfect us in doing good or resisting evil, and it must be in our power to succeed, or it is no experiment.  For we must bear in mind Godís purpose.  "Temptation and trial are Godís drill and dynamite to blow up the obstructions that choke the channels of our affections and energies until the whole broad stream of Godís life shall course through our own and have its own sweet will" (A. J. F. Behrends, D. D.).

 

The second reassurance which the Apostle introduces is the character of God.  "But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able."  The critical fact is here revealed that all temptation, without exception, is superintended by God; and that every test applied to a soul - either by God Himself, or by the Evil One: "Satan obtained you by asking, that he might sift you as wheat" (Luke 22: 31) - is completely controlled and adjusted by God.  God is the surgeon who is never absent from a dangerous operation.  The fidelity of God therefore dominates the situation: for to allow a soul to be crushed, with no power of escape, would defeat the very purpose for which God allows the temptation - namely, the perfecting of the character through tested development.  There is no such thing as a unique trial, peculiar to the person on whom it falls, and never occurring before or after; but on the holiest of all ages the same faithful God has perfected holiness through trial.

 

So now we get our crowning re-assurance.  "He will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able."  That is, He measures each assault to the exact proportions of the person assaulted: the test is weighed before it is applied: He so adjusts the discipline that it can quicken the heartís action without forcing heart-failure.  Every temptation is so weighed that it is never overweight: God will so adjust us to our surroundings, and our surroundings to us, that we shall always be able to do what is right.  The Alpaca goat in Peru, by an extraordinary instinct, the moment the pack on its back exceeds a certain weight, lies down, and refuses to carry another ounce: the instinct God has planted in that animal is the principle which He exercises towards all mankind.  The safety-valve in a machine makes explosion (so far as the machine is responsible) impossible.  And one consequence of this is our crowning reassurance.  Since God measures the burden to our capacity, the greater the burden, the greater must be Godís estimate of our carrying capacity, and the deeper His trust in our sustaining, enduring, fighting power.  It is the spiritual weakling whom God shields most from testing: as Hudson Taylor puts it, - "God delights to find a child whom He is able to trust with a trial."  It is only deep-sea fish that are subjected to the enormous pressure of 2,000 fathoms below the surface, and who live in it happily. How completely this is established by a concrete case!  A leper writes:-

 

My Lord in me has found a dwelling-place

And I in Him. Oh, glorious boon to gain,

To be His temple! Gladly I would face,

In His great strength, all bitterness and pain.

 

So, under persecution, here is a letter from a Russian prison: - "When I found myself in prison, condemned to hard labour, strange to say, I found myself wrapped up in a feeling of liberty and of the presence of God.  Prison for us is not the same as it is for the Bolsheviks: tragedy and suffering.  We are just as happy and joyful as somewhere else.  We are happy in our prison; we are happy on the way to it; I am still happy here on OÖ  I really see that all He sends is good, and only serves to bring us nearer to each other and unite us more perfectly to Him.  These terrible outward and unbelievable conditions are very useful for our spiritual life; they serve to purify and enlighten the inner man."

 

So, finally, the method God uses is disclosed.  "But WITH the temptation" - it may not be a moment before it, but it is never after it - "will make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it."  Experience shows the probably double meaning of the text. Either we are removed bodily out of the region of danger - as Paul let down the city wall, so escaping murder; or else there is escape from its power - as Paulís thorn was not withdrawn, but neutralized by greater grace: the escape is either from the temptation altogether, or else from its power.  "God knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation" (2 Pet. 2: 9): whatever the deliverance, God is pledged to make it possible for us all, without exception, to be conquerors all along the line.

 

So then we reach the astounding truth that there is not one of us who may not be a Caleb or a Joshua.  If we fail of this marvellous goal, it will not be because God over-tried us,* but because we allowed ourselves to be conquered by circumstances over which God has made us masters.  The highest thrones are waiting.  "For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory, while we look at the things which are not seen" (2 Cor. 4; 17).  To take our eyes off the unseen is to imperil the glory.  "Walk worthily of God, who calleth you [is calling you] into his own kingdom and glory" (1 Thess. 2: 12); for "we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14: 22).

 

[* A pitiful breakdown of faith when faced by an apparently impossible burden (martyrdom) occurred in 1857 in the massacre of Cawnpore.  In a Bible found afterwards one of the victims had underlined in blood the passage from the eighteenth Psalm:- "They cried, but there was none to save; even unto the Lord, but he answered them not."]

 

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WATCHFULNESS

 

The abundant entrance is by Peter attached to the fruitful state: by our Lord to the watchful state: Matt. 24. 25.  Both present the same thing from different points of view.  Peter is an example, both of the fall, and of the entrance.  

 

1. He was one of the three chosen to behold the scene on the Mount of Transfiguration. 

 

2. He fell through unwatchfulness at the hall of CaiaphasHis fall there, and subsequent forgiveness, and future admission to the kingdom, is a powerful antidote against despair for those believers who are conscious of having foully fallen.  It is intended so to be.  Still, the entrance at last is for those "counted worthy" of that age of glory and of the first resurrection: Luke 20: 35; 21: 36; 2 Thess. 1: 5; Rev. 3: 4, 11

 

- R. Govett.