SUFFERING AND GLORY

 

Principal E. J. Price, in his address as President of the Congregational Union, said: "Everywhere there is a solemn conviction that Christianity is confronting a crisis far more deep-searching and epoch-making than any other in its history." It is said that more Christians have been martyred since the Great War than in the first hundred and thirty years of the history of the Church. For the whole Church of God, therefore, no words can be more golden in their inspiring power than Paul's: "I RECKON THAT THE SUFFERINGS OF THIS PRESENT TIME ARE NOT WORTHY TO BE COMPARED WITH THE GLORY THAT SHALL BE REVEALED IN US" (Rom. 8: 18). And not for the Church only, but for the suffering individual believer: with this verse upon his lips, and unable to finish it for the acuteness of his sufferings, John Calvin expired.

 

But before we ponder the comparison, let us remember most carefully that, by the wonderful alchemy of God both in nature and in grace, suffering itself works out a deep-laid plan. Suffering is a consequence, and therefore a warning and preventative, of sin, and so works for the highest. Take but one form of suffering-pain. "Pain," said Dr. Carpenter, "is but the prayer of a nerve for healthy blood;" while the consulting surgeon of the Royal Free Hospital said recently: "Having been actively engaged in the relief of human suffering for a period of more than forty years, during 37 of which I was a hospital surgeon, it has been my lot to witness more of the turmoils and distresses of the body and soul of man than any other sphere of experience in relation to mankind could have offered to contemplation. Pain is the indicator which announces that the body is touched by some destroying finger within or without. The experience of past pain is an education - obviously for the personal preservation of the body. With relation, therefore, to both body and soul, suffering is not a curse but a blessing in disguise."

 

But Paulís point here is a different one: his conclusion is the fruit of a deliberate calculation. He says, not I believe, I imagine; but "I reckon", I calculate, I judge: the word he uses means to reason, or to cast up accounts. The balance between present suffering, even of the worst, and coming glory is so absurdly out of proportion as to be totally incomparable: they "are NOT WORTHY TO BE COMPARED"* Paul, more than most men, was fitted to balance the account. "Five times received I forty stripes save one; thrice was I beaten with rods; once was I stoned" (2 Cor. 11: 24): on the other hand, alone of men he could tell, in the very next chapter, how "he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words" (2 Cor. 12: 4). And Paulís calculation was so certain, so unchallengeable, that he based all his life on the calculation.

 

[* It only modifies the shape of the truth that the date of the glory is determined by the nature of the suffering. Suffering for Christ, and for the truthís sake, is a condition of entrance into the Millennial Kingdom. "If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him" (2 Tim. 2: 12). ďJoint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him" (Rom. 8: 17); again, "that ye may be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer" (2 Thess. 1: 5). But when the epoch of reward is over, the glory is for all [regenerate] believers; for of all whose names are in the Book of Life, it is written,- "THEY SHALL REIGN FOR EVER AND EVER" (Rev. 22: 5).]

 

Now the first element in the comparison is so overwhelming as to make the balance instantly kick the beam. It is one word:- ETERNITY. "It is only the heel of the saint that may be bruised now; but the head of the Enemy shall be bruised for ever" (Govett). In this little life of ours, suffering pushed far enough, ends itself: the body swoons, or even dies, under excessive pain; and so solves the problem. The worst suffering, therefore, is exceedingly sharply limited. But the resurrection body is immortal; suffering, in it, is unknown and its joy is for ever. The two are therefore utterly incomparable. Eighty years, at the most ninety, is all I can suffer: on the other balance, having cast in my lot with Christ, millions of years will not diminish by a moment my perfect bliss. As Robert Hall puts it:- "If our temporary afflictions extended through the whole period of life, and that period were protracted to antediluvian longevity, still they would be lost in less than a moment, in comparison with eternal glories - they would be almost invisible motes in a sunbeam."

 

Another very obvious contrast rules out all comparison between a Christianís present suffering and his coming glory. Our sufferings, at their worst, are never without wonderful alleviations, and special compensating comforts from God; even this life holds, for us, as much joy as pain: but our glory in the eternal ages has no mixture at all; it will be pure and sinless joy, and therefore without the least alloy of sorrow. Erhard Doebler, Vicar of St. Jamesís in Riga, writes from the notorious Central Prison in that city where many ministers were murdered by the Red troops:- "It is in such a place as this, in the midst of such misery, that one grows rich in spirit and joyful. Here we are naturally led to compare our own sufferings with those of our Saviour, and that is a most tranquillizing thought. How little, after all, do we have to bear! My spirits are excellent, my head is always high. I shall hold out, for to-day I know - only to-day - the meaning of that saying, ĎI can do all things through Christ Who strengtheneth meí." Our suffering and our glory, therefore, are once again simply incomparable. One hour in Heaven will outbalance a lifetime of suffering on earth.

 

Moreover, the glory which we balance against our sufferings is not only glory for us, or glory around us, but glory in us:* "then shall ye also be manifested with him IN GLORY" (Col. 3: 4). It is not only the inconceivable wonder of our association with angels, and with apostles, and with great saints of all the ages, and with the great saints we have known; but we shall be like God:- Godís judgment ruling our intellect; Godís love reproduced in our heart; Godís will shaping all our motives: "we shall be LIKE Him, for we shall see him even as he is" (1 John 3: 2). "When all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him" (Exod. 34: 30). The sun is so bright that it blinds; and so "the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their FatherĒ (Matt. 13: 43).

 

[* The R.V. is correct- "to us-ward"; but other Scriptures explicitly state our coming personal glory.]

 

The King there in His beauty,

Without a veil is seen;

It were a well-spent journey

Though seven deaths lay between:

The Lamb with His fair army

Doth on Mount Zion stand,

And glory, glory dwelleth

In Immanuelís land.

 

One overwhelming weight in the balance still remains, expressed in a marvellous utterance of Paul:- "Wherefore we faint not: for our light affliction, which is for the moment, WORKETH FOR US MORE AND MORE EXCEEDINGLY AN ETERNAL WEIGHT OF GLORY, while we look not at the things are seen, but at the things which are not seen" (2 Cor. 4: 16). So far from the affliction out-weighing the glory, it is actually creating the weight of glory! A transitory ounce of suffering manufactures an imperishable ton of glory.

 

So then let us value our sufferings. In the words of Dr. Hugh Black:- "Take care that you do not waste your sorrow: that you do not let the precious gifts of disappointment, loss, loneliness, or similar afflictions that come into your daily life mar you instead of mending you. See that they send you nearer to God and not that they drive you farther from Him. There is no failure of life so terrible as to have the pain without the lesson, the sorrow without the softening." Suffering can mean efficiency. There are railway foundries where each wheel is placed on a steel foundation and a hammer weighing one hundred and forty pounds is lifted twelve feet in air and dropped eight times on the wheel. A manager said recently:- "I have often cringed as this great weight fell upon my wheel, and it gave me great pleasure when, after the eighth time, the wheel rang out clear and stood the test. We could then trust it to go under a passenger train and carry its burden of human life." So also let us remember the word of Spurgeon:- "Look at your prolonged affliction from Godís standpoint, and you will discern secret fingers carving the delicate Ďlily-workí which shall adorn you the upper Sanctuary when you become a Pillar in the Temple of your God."

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