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SORROWFUL, YET ALWAYS REJOICING
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, might be found unto praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
“WHEREIN ye greatly rejoice!” These fountains of spiritual joy shoot into the light at most startling and unexpected places. Their favourite haunt seems to be the heart of the desert. They are commonly associated with a land of drought. In these Scriptural records I so often find the fountain bursting through the sand, the song lifting its pæan out of the night. If the text is a well of cool and delicious water, the context is frequently and waste. “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now . . . ye have been put to grief.” [verse 6] A present rejoicing set in the midst of an environing grief! A profound and refreshing 12satisfaction, even when the surface of the life is possessed by drought! I never expected to find a fountain in so unpromising a waste. “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice!” Who ever expected to find a well in that Sahara? As I trod the hot burning sands of “reviling” and “persecuting” and false accusing, little did I anticipate en countering a fountain of spiritual delight. Let us once again contemplate the strange conjunction. “Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Capernaum!” This on the one hand. And on the other hand, “A certain lawyer stood up, and tempted Him.” And between the two, “Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit.” Again, I say, I am amazed at the setting. If life were a prolonged marriage-feast, one might anticipate hearing the happy bells at every corner of the way; but to hear the joyous peal in the hour of grievous midnight and eclipse arrests the heart in keen and strained surprise. “These things have I said unto you, that My joy may be in you.” “My joy!” And yet Calvary loomed only a hand’s-breadth off, just twenty-four hours away! I thought the joy bells might have been heard away 13back in Nazareth, in the beauty and serenity of a secluded village life, or on some quiet evening, with His friends on the Galilean lake; but I never anticipated hearing them at Calvary’s base, in full view of shame and crucifixion. “My joy!” “One of you shall betray Me.” It is a marvellous conjunction, but one which is almost a commonplace in the Christian Scriptures. “They received the word in much affliction, with joy in the Holy Ghost.” It is a mysterious, yet glorious wedlock. “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now . . . ye have been put to grief.” What is the suggestion of this apparently forced and incongruous union? The suggestion is this, that the spiritual joy of the redeemed life is continuous, and is not conditioned by the changing moods of the transient day. Spiritual delights are not dried up when I pass into the seasons of material drought. When the shadows settle down upon my life, and my experiences darken into night, the night is not to be without its cheery and illuminating presence. The place of the midnight is to be as “the land of the midnight sun.” There shall be light enough to enable me to read the promises, to see my way, and to perceive the gracious presence of my Lord. “He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” 14Therefore the shadow need not annihilate my joy. My temporary grief need not expunge my spiritual delights. The funeral knell of bereavement may be tolling in the outer rooms of the life, while in the most secret places may be heard the joy bells of trustful communion with God. “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now . . . ye have been put to grief.”
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice.” [Verse 6] If our spiritual joy is to be continuous and persuasive, sending its pure vitalising ray even through the season of grief, we shall have to see to it that it is adequately nourished and sustained. Now, the nutriment of joy is to be found in appropriate thought. Happiness is usually the resultant of sensations, the ephemeral product of sensationalisms, having the uncertain life of the things on which it depends. Joy is the product of deep, quiet, steady, appropriate thought. Thought provides the oxygen in which the bright, cheery flame of love is sustained. What kind of thought is required? “Wherein ye rejoice”! In what? The rejoicing emerges from an atmosphere of thought—the thought which is contained in the previous verses, and which formed the basis of our last exposition. It is a contemplation of the 15possibilities and dynamics of the redeemed life. The possibilities stretch away in a most glorious and alluring panorama: “a living hope”; “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away”; “a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” The dynamics are no less wealthy than the prospects: the “great mercy” of the Father; “the resurrection of Jesus from the dead”; “the power” of the Holy Ghost! These constitute the oxygenating thought of the Christian redemption. If the soul be immersed in it, faint sparks will be kindled into fervent flames, and timid desires will be strengthened into confident rejoicing. “As I mused, the fire burnt.” Let mind and heart make their home in the spacious thoughts of God, and there will be born in the life a moral and spiritual glow which will not be chilled by any transient cloud, nor extinguished by the storms of the most tempestuous night. “Wherein ye greatly rejoice.”
“Though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold trials.” [Verse 6] The “manifold trials” “will come. Antagonisms may rush down upon us from north, south, east, and west, and may twist and wrench our lives into strange bewilderments, 16and yet the continuous thread of spiritual rejoicing need never be broken. Our affairs may be tossed into incredible complications, and yet “the joy of the Lord may be our strength.” The pleasing air of music, which in its simplicity a child might hum, may appear to be lost as it passes into the maze of tortuous variations and complications, but an expert ear can detect the continuity of the primal air beneath all the accretions of the voluminous sound. The air of simple spiritual rejoicing, which may be clearly heard when life is plain and serene, may be continued when life becomes complex and burdened, torn and harassed by “manifold trials.” We may still hear the sweet primitive air of Christian rejoicing. I am not surprised to hear the sounds of rejoicing from Paul’s life, when he was holding precious and sanctified intercourse with such beloved friends as Prisca and Aquila. But when the apostle is “put to grief through manifold trials,” and life becomes dark, heavy, and complicated, how will it fare with him then? “The gaoler thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And it came to pass that at the midnight”—that is what I want to know about—“at the midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God.” It is the old air, rising through 17the pains and burden of a harassed and sorely tried life. “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
Now, these “manifold trials” assume many guises and employ varied weapons of painful inquisition. Some of them may be found in the antagonism of men. Loyalty to truth may be confronted with persecution. A beautiful ministry may be given an evil interpretation. Our beneficence may be maligned. Our very leniency may be vituperated and proclaimed as a device of the devil. This may be one of the guises of “the manifold trials.” Or our antagonism may be found in the apparent hostility of our circumstances. Success is denied us. Every way we take seems to bristle with difficulties. Every street we enter proves to be a cul de sac. We never emerge into an airy and spacious prosperity. We pass our days in material straits. Such may be another of the guises of “the manifold trials.” Or it may be that our antagonist dwells in the realm of our own flesh. We suffer incessant pain. We are just a bundle of exquisite nerves. The streets of the city are instruments of torture. The bang of a door shakes the frail house to its base. We are the easy victims of physical depression. Who knows but that this may have been Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”? At any 18rate, it is one of “the manifold trials” by which many of our brethren are put to grief. I will go no further with the enumeration, because I am almost impatient to once again declare the evangel which proclaims that be hind all these apparent antagonisms we may have the unceasing benediction of the joy of our Lord. It is possible—I declare it, not as my personal attainment, but as a glorious possibility which is both yours and mine—it is possible to get so deep into the thought and purpose of God, and to dwell so near His very heart, as to “count it all joy” when we “fall into manifold trials,” because of that mystic spiritual alchemy by which trials are changed into blessings and our antagonists transformed into our slaves.
Can we just now nestle a little more closely into the loving purpose of God? Why are antagonisms allowed to range themselves across our way? Why are there any blind streets which bar our progress? Why does not labour always issue in success? Why are “manifold trials” permitted? We may find a partial response in the words of my text. They are permitted for “the proof” [Verse 7] of our faith. That is the purposed ministry of the sharp antagonism and the cloudy day—“the proof of your faith.” Now, to “prove” the faith means much more 19than to test it. First of all, it means to reveal it. To prove the faith is to prove it to others. God wants to reveal and emphasise your faith, and so He sends the cloud. May we not say that the loveliness of the moonlight is revealed and emphasised by the ministry of the cloud? It is when there are a few clouds about, and the moonlight transfiguring them, that the glory of the moon herself is declared. And it is when the cloud is in the life that the radiance of our faith is proved and proclaimed. How conspicuously the calm, steady faith of our glorified Queen was proved by the clouds which so frequently gathered about her life! The “manifold trials” set out in grand relief that which might have remained a commonplace. Light which fringes the cloud is light which is beautified. Faith which gleams from behind the trial is faith which is glorified. It is the hard circumstance which sets in relief the quality of our devotion. As I listened to a thrush singing in the cold dawn of a winter’s morning, I thought its song seemed sweeter and richer than when heard in the advanced days of spring. The wintry setting emphasised the quality of the strain. Perhaps if we heard the nightingale in the glare of the noontide, the song would not arrest us as when it proceeds from the depths of the night. The shades 20and loneliness add something to the sweetness. “And at midnight Paul and Silas sang.” That is the song which is heard by the fellow-prisoners and startles them into wonder. The trial came and your faith was “proved.” You lost your money, and men discovered your devotion. Your gold, the finest of your gold, the most rare and exquisite among your treasures, was destroyed and perished; but in the hour of your calamity your faith was proved, and men bowed in spiritual wonder before the mystery of the Divine. Your trial was your triumph; the place of apparent defeat became the hallowed shrine of a glorious conquest. “Now are ye in grief through manifold trials,” that in the midst of the cloud the Lord might “prove” and reveal your faith.
But “the manifold trials” do more than reveal the faith. There is another ministry wrapped up in this suggestive word “prove.” The trial that reveals the faith also strengthens and confirms it. [Verse 7] The faith that is “proved” is more richly endowed. The strong wind and rain which try the tree are also the ministers of its invigoration. The round of the varying seasons makes the tree “well seasoned,” and solidifies and enriches its fibre. It is the negative which develops the strength of the affirmative. It is antagonism which cultivates the 21 wrestler. It is the trial which makes the saint. The man who sustains his hold upon God through one trial will find it easier to confront the next trial and exploit it for eternal good. And so these “manifold trials” prove our faith. They reveal and they enrich our resources. They strengthen and refine our spiritual apprehension. They may strip us of our material possessions, “the gold that perisheth” but they endow us with the wealth of that “inheritance” which is “in corruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.”
And, finally, there is one other radiant glimpse of the resplendent issues of a “proved” and invigorated faith: “That the proof of your faith . . . might be found unto praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” [Verse 7]
Our “proved” faith is to come to its crown in a manifestation of praise and glory and honour. When Jesus appears, these things are to appear with Him. The trial of our faith is to issue in “praise.” And what shall be the praise? On that great day of unveiling, when all things are made clear, I shall discover what my trials have accomplished. I shall perceive that they were all the time the instruments of a gracious ministry, strengthening 22me even when I thought I was being impoverished. The wonderful discovery will urge my soul into song, and praise will break upon my lips. “Found unto praise and glory.” And whose shall be the glory? When the Lord appears, many other things will become apparent. What I thought hard will now appear as gracious. What I recoiled from as severe I shall find to be merciful. What I esteemed as forgetfulness will reveal itself as faith fulness. He was nearest when I thought Him farthest away. He was faithful even when I was faithless. At His appearing I shall apprehend and appreciate my Lord. “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” “Found unto praise and glory and honour.” And whence shall flow the honour? I shall find that when the Lord sent a trial, and by the trial revealed my faith, many a fainting heart took courage, and by the beauty of my devotion many a shy soul was secretly wooed into the kingdom of God. I never knew it, but at His appearing this shall also appear. This discovery shall be my coronation. The supreme honours of heaven are reserved for those who have brought others there. “They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever.” And so by the cloud of manifold trials God leads me into 23the spacious sovereignty of glory, praise, and honour.
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
With blessings on your head.
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