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THE SUFFERING WHICH MEANS TRIUMPH
Forasmuch then as Christ suffered in the flesh, arm ye yourselves also with the same mind; for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that ye no longer should live the rest of your time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past may suffice to have wrought the desire of the Gentiles, and to have walked in lasciviousness, lusts, winebibbings, revellings, carousings, and abominable idolatries: wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them into the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you: who shall give account to Him that is ready to fudge the quick and the dead. For unto this end was the gospel preached even to the dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
“Forasmuch then as Christ suffered in the flesh.” [Verse 1] Do not let us so think of the sufferings of Christ as to relegate them to the last few days of His earthly ministry. It is well to confine the great term, “the passion,” to the awful events of Gethsemane and Calvary. In the midnight of the latter days the happenings are unspeakable. On Calvary the sufferings not only culminate; they become unique. 151They detach themselves from the common lot, and pass into the pangs of a lonely and terrible isolation whose supreme bitterness cannot be shared.
We may not know, we cannot tell
What pains He had to bear.
It is well to mark these appalling hours by the distinctive term, “the passion.” But we must not allow “the passion” to eclipse the sufferings of the earlier days. Christ always “suffered in the flesh.” The streak of blood lay like a red track across the years. The marks of sacrifice were everywhere pronounced. What occasioned the common sufferings? Here is the explanation. His life was dominated by a supreme thought; it was controlled by an all-commanding purpose. What was the purpose? What was the prevailing characteristic of His mind? “I do always those things that please Him.” He has translated that purpose of obedience into counsel for His disciples: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” That was the mind of the Master. He made his abode in the unseen. He sought His gratifications in the eternal. He rejected the sovereignty of the flesh. He subordinated the temporal. He uncrowned the body, making it a common subject, and compelling it into obeisance to high commands. In all the 152competing alternatives that presented themselves, priority was given to the spiritual. The allurements of ease, the piquant flavours of pleasurable sensations, the feverish delights of passion, the delicious thrill of popular acclamation, the sweetness of immediate triumph: all these many and varied offspring of the temporal were not permitted to be regnant; they were not allowed to usurp the place of executive and determining forces; they were muzzled and restrained, and kept to the rear of the life. Christ looked “not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.” Such was the mind of the Master.
Now, emphasis of this kind inevitably necessitates suffering. No man can give pre-eminence to the unseen without the shedding of blood. When the immediate contends with the apparently remote, the immediate is so urgently obtrusive that to hold it down entails a crucifixion. When carnality contends with conscience, the healthy settling of the contention necessitates suffering. When ease opposes duty, the putting down of the fascinating enemy necessitates suffering. When mere sharpness comes into conflict with truth, when money seeks to usurp the throne of righteousness, when the glitter of immediate success ranges itself against the fixed and glorious 153constellation of holiness, the controversies will not be settled in bloodless reveries and in unexhausting dreams. To put down the immediate and to prefer the remote, to subject the temporal and to choose the eternal, demands a continual crucifixion. Christ also suffered, being tempted! Alternatives were presented to Him, and the preference occasioned the shedding of blood. Christ suffered, being tempted! The temptations were not bloodless probings of the invulnerable air. They were searching appeals to vital susceptibilities, and resistance was pain. “Christ also suffered in the flesh.” All through the years He had been exercising the higher choice. Before He emerged into the public gaze, in the obscure years at Nazareth, in His early youth in the village, in the social life of the community, in the little affairs of the carpenter’s shop, He had been denying Himself and taking up His cross. He had preferred the eternal to the temporal, and His clear, commanding conscience had dominated the clamours of the flesh. This was the emphasis of the Master’s life; He “suffered in the flesh.” Now such emphasis spells sinlessness. When the eternal rules the temporal, when the remotely glorious is preferred before the immediately bewitching, when suffering is chosen before the violation of the 154moral and spiritual ideal, the soul is already wearing the crown of the sinless life.
“He that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.” [Verse 1] And now the apostle takes up the example of the Master and makes it a motive in the life of the disciple. “Forasmuch then as Christ suffered in the flesh, arm ye yourselves also with the same mind.” What was His mind? The preference and the predominance of the eternal. “Arm yourselves with the same mind.” Let the same governing purpose determine the choices in your life. In every moment of the little day let the eternal rule. “No longer live the rest of your time in the flesh.” [Verse 2] Don’t let the flesh constitute the entire circle of your movement! Don’t let the temporal define the boundaries of your journeyings! Launch out upon larger waters! Live no longer “to the lusts of men.” Don’t follow the feverish will-o’-the-wisps that flit about the swamps! But live “to the will of God.” Follow the eternal star! Let the spiritual control all the events in your life, both great and small, just as the force of gravitation dominates alike the swinging planet and the mote that sports in the sunbeam. Such a sovereign purpose will necessitate suffering, but the purpose will of itself provide the necessary defence. “Arm ye yourselves also 155with the same mind.” [Verse 1] The exalted purpose will be our armour, our assurance against destruction. If we are wounded, in the wounds there shall be no poison. If we suffer, in the sufferings there shall be no disease. In the combat there shall be no fatality. We are “armed” against destructive hurt. “What shall harm us if we be followers of that which is good?” “As dying, yet shall we live.” “Our light affliction . . . worketh for us a weight of glory.” “Forasmuch then as Christ suffered in the flesh, arm ye yourselves also with the same mind.”
From the contemplation of the Master’s “sufferings in the flesh” the apostle now turns the minds of his readers to the contemplation of their own yesterdays, if perchance they may find in the retrospect an added force to constrain them to a life of triumphant suffering. He has sought to allure them to exalted, spiritual living by the example of the Lord; now he will seek to drive them into the same lofty tendency by causing them to dwell upon their own loathsome and appalling past. The repulsion obtained from our yesterdays will give impetus to the inclination to live “to the will of God” to-day. “For the time past may suffice to have wrought the desire of the Gentiles, and to have walked in lasciviousness, 156lusts, winebibbings, revellings, carousings, and abominable idolatries.” [Verse 3] What an appalling list! And how plainly worded! Surely a list like that will add the force of recoil to the newly-born inclination towards God! It is a fruitful exercise to go into our yesterdays, and quietly meditate upon “our times past.” It is a humbling and painful ministry to trace the face of the past, bit by bit, feature by feature, giving to each characteristic its own plain and legitimate name. The Apostle Paul frequently employed this ministry when writing to his converts. He would never allow them to forget their yesterdays, lest they should lose the impetus that comes from the retrospect. “And such were some of you.” There you have a retrospective glance. What had they been? “Fornicators, adulterers, effeminate, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners.” How black the catalogue!” And such were some of you.” I think the reminder would send the converts to their knees in intenser supplication. Hear the apostle again in his letter to the Ephesians: “In time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” I say he will not suffer the past to be eclipsed and forgotten. He lifts the veil, 157and pointedly describes the terrible scene. And here is the Apostle Peter seeking to confirm his readers devotion by the power of a repulsion, and he turns their minds to “the times past.” It is a rare ministry for the creation of sincere and agonising prayer! A man may pray, “Lead, kindly Light,” and in in the utterance there may be “no agony and bloody sweat.” If he turn his face to the past, the burden of his yesterdays may crush out of his heart a prayer which is more a moaning cry than an articulate speech.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
That last prayer is just the cry of an aching and broken heart! The retrospect made him a humble and wrestling suppliant. That is the motive of the apostle in reminding his readers of “the times past” in their lives. He longed to corroborate their new-born spirituality by the rebound acquired from the contemplation of their own past. “I thought over my ways, and turned my feet unto Thy testimonies.”
Now, let us assume that a man has become “armed with the mind” of Christ, that his 158own wasted past gives impetus to his renewed present, that he will pay homage to the eternal even at the cost of immediate suffering what will be the influence of such a life upon the world? Assume that the “unseen and eternal” receives the emphasis, that the temporal is denied at all costs if it conflict with the eternal, how will such a life of mingled restraint and loftiness affect the world? Here is the answer. “They think it strange that ye run not with them into the same excess of riot.” [Verse 4] “They think it strange!” They are arrested in wonder! What is the significance of this? That we shall startle the world by our Puritanism. We “run not with them into the same excess of riot.” They are astounded! Puritanism is arresting. Do not let us be ashamed of the old word. Puritanism is most vigorously denounced where it is least under stood. We need to get back the commanding characteristics of its life. We need to recover its broad principles, but not its particular and detailed application. I speak not now of the counterfeit Puritanism which expressed itself in loud and eccentric externalisms, and in much-flaunted and self-advertised piety and self-denial. There is the Puritan described by Lord Macaulay, who was distinguished from other men by “his gait, his garb, his lank hair, the 159sour solemnity of his face, the upturned white of his eyes, his nasal twang, and his peculiar dialect.” That is a Puritanism for which no sane and healthy man desires a resurrection. But there is the Puritanism which Longfellow portrays in Miles Standish; there is the Puritanism of John Milton, in whose poetry we touch the very heart and spirit of the great awakening. “What, then, is the characteristic ideal of true Puritanism? It is life whose secret springs are governed by the eternal. It is choice of duty before ease, of ideas before sensations, of truth before popularity, of a good conscience before a full purse, of the holy God before dazzling and bewitching Mammon! That is the true Puritanism, and that is the life whose glorious passion arrests the un restrained and riotous world in sharp and inquisitive wonder. “They think it strange that ye run not with them into the same excess of riot.” That sense of wonder may ripen into reverence and may issue in prayer. The contemplation of a fine restraint and an unspotted integrity has often created an uneasiness which has eventually led its victim into the very rest and peace of God. But the world’s wonder does not always mature into reverence. Some times it sours into resentment, and results in a malignity which demands the Puritan’s 160crucifixion. I cannot forget that the men of old wondered at the Master, and then proceeded to His crucifixion. “They think it strange . . . speaking evil of you.” [Verse 4] They will attribute your restraint to evil motives. The hiding of your benevolence will be interpreted as stinginess; its expression will be regarded as self-advertisement. Your self-denial will be explained as a cloak that conceals a deeper covetousness; your entire walk will be denounced as inspired by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. In the face of such resentment and reviling what shall the Puritan do? What says the apostle? Just go on! In the face of it all, just calmly persist. Do not return reviling for reviling. Leave them and yourselves to the arbitrament of God. He knows all! We must all “give account to Him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.” Maintain the emphasis! Proclaim and exalt the Eternal! Live “not to the lusts of the flesh,” but “to the will of God.” The path of suffering is “the way to glory.” And “wisdom shall be justified of her children.”161
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