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THE FIERY TRIAL,
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you, which cometh upon you to prove you, as though a strange thing happened unto you: but insomuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of His glory also ye may rejoice with exceeding joy. If ye are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are ye; because the Spirit of glory and the Spirit of God resteth upon you. For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief , or an evil-doer, or as a meddler in other men’s matters: but if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name. For the time is come for judgement to begin at the house of God: and if it begin first at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous is scarcely saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear? Wherefore let them also that suffer according to the will of God commit their souls in well-doing unto a faithful Creator.
“The fiery trial among you, which cometh upon you to prove you.” [Verse 12] But is it not one of the perquisites of sainthood to be delivered from suffering? One would have anticipated that part of the inheritance of grace would be freedom from the fiery trial. The flames would never reach us. The enemy would be stayed, and we should sit down in happy 174quietness at the King’s feast! But this is not the programme of Christianity. Christianity is almost alarmingly daring in the obtrusive emphasis which it gives to the darker elements in its programme. There is no attempt to hide or obscure them. No effort is made to engage our attention to the “green pastures” and “still waters,” and to distract us from the affrighting valley of shadow and gloom. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” “Perfected through sufferings.” “Let him take up his cross daily and follow me.” “The fiery trial which is to try you.” These are not words which are addressed to “murderers” or “thieves,” or “evil-doers,” or “busybodies”; they are quietly spoken to the saints, to men and women whose lives are pledged to virtue, and who are aspiring after the holiness of the perfected life in Christ.
Then let us just note this: our sufferings do not prove our religion counterfeit. Our many temptations do not throw suspicion on our sonship. Our trials are not the marks of our alienation. Do not let us think that we are strangers because our robes are sometimes stained with our blood. “Think it not strange,” says this much-schooled apostle, “Think it not strange!” Don’t think you have never been naturalised—super-naturalised—that you are 175still a foreigner, an outcast from the home of redemptive grace! These are the happenings of the home-country! They are not the marks of foreign rule. They are the signs of paternal government. You are in your Father’s house! God will convert the apparent antagonism into a minister of heavenly grace. The oppressive harrow, as well as the genial sunshine, is part of the equipment needed for the maturing and perfecting of the fruits of the earth.
“What, then, is the purpose of “the fiery trial”? What is the meaning of this permitted ministry of suffering? Well, in the first place, it tests character. It discharges the purpose of an examination. An examination, rightly regarded, is a vital part of our schooling. It is a minister of revelation. It unfolds our strengths and our weaknesses. And so it is in the larger examination afforded by the discipline of life. Our crises are productive of self-disclosures. They reveal us to ourselves, and I think the revelations are usually creative of grateful surprise. In the midst of the fiery trial we are filled with amazement at the fulness and strength of our resources. When the trial is looming we shrink from it in fear. “We say one to another, “I don’t know how I shall bear it!” And then the crisis comes, and in the midst of the fire we are calm and strong; and when it is past, 176how frequently we are heard to say, “I never thought I could have gone through it!” And so “probation worketh hope”; the heavy discipline is creative of assurance; the terror becomes the nutriment of our confidence.
But the fiery trial not only tests by revealing character, it also strengthens and confirms it. Hard trial makes hard and much-enduring muscle. The water that is too soft makes flabby limbs; it is not creative of bone. And circum stances which are too soft make no bone: they are productive of character without backbone. Luxuriousness is rarely the cradle of giants. It is not unsuggestive that the soft and bountiful tropics are not the home of the strong, indomitable, and progressive peoples. The pioneering and progressive races have dwelt in sterner and harder climes. The lap of luxury does not afford the elementary iron for the upbringing of strong and enduring life. Hardness hardens; antagonism solidifies; trials inure and confirm. How commonly it has happened that men who, in soft circumstances, have been weak and irresolute, were hardened into fruitful decision by the ministry of antagonism and pain. “Thou art Simon”—a hearer, a man of loose hearsays and happenings; “Thou shalt be called Peter”—a rock, a man of hard, compact, and resolute convictions. But “Simon” became “Peter” 177through the ministry of the fiery trial. The man of “soft clothing” is in the luxury of kings houses; the hard man with the camels hair and the leathern girdle is away out in the hardships of the desert. “We must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God.”
But the fiery trial not only reveals and hardens the character, it also develops it by bringing out its hidden beauties. I am using the word develop as the photographer uses it. You know how he brings out the lines of his pictures. The picture is laid in the vessel, and the liquid is moved and moved across it; it passes over the face of the picture, and little by little the hidden graces are disclosed. “All Thy billows are gone over me.” That is the Lord’s developer; it brings out the soft lines in the character. Under its ministry we pass “from strength to strength, “from grace to grace,” “from glory to glory.”
And so the fiery trial tests and confirms and develops the character. I do not wonder that with conceptions such as these, and with such outlooks, the apostle calls upon his Christian readers to lift up their heads, to walk not as children of shame, but as children of rejoicing. And look at the motives he adduces to create the spirit of rejoicing. “Look at your companionship,” he seems to say. “Ye are partakers 178of Christ’s sufferings.” [Verse 13] In the furnace with you is “one like unto the Son of Man.” We have scarcely touched the fringe of life if we have not discovered what that conviction means to men. “Yet I do persuade myself,” says Samuel Rutherford to one of his correspondents, “ye know that the weightiest end of the cross of Christ that is laid upon you lieth upon your strong Saviour; for Isaiah saith, ‘In all your afflictions he is afflicted.’ O blessed Second, who suffereth with you! And glad may your soul be even to walk in the fiery furnace with one like unto the Son of Man, who is also the Son of God. Courage! Up with your heart! When ye do tire He will bear both you and your burden.” And writing to Lady Forrest the same saintly writer gives this comfort: “I hear that Christ hath been so kind as to visit you with sickness. He would have more service of you. He is your loving husband, and would draw you into the bonds of a sweeter love.” Look at your companionship! “Rejoice,” inasmuch as the Lord is with you in unceasing fellowship.
And look at the character of the Operator. “The Spirit of glory resteth upon you.” [Verse 14] In the fiery trial the Operator is the Glory-spirit, the Maker of glory. As though He were controlling the hardships and trials and converting them into 179ministers of beauty and grace. The immeasurable waters of Niagara generate electrical power which a man may use to engrave a name upon a jewel; and the Spirit of Glory can so employ these waters of sorrow as to write our Father’s name upon our foreheads. In some hands the trial would be an agent of indiscriminate destruction. In some hands the implements in a surgery would be implements of mutilation and murder; in the hands of a wise and confident surgeon they are the ministers of sanity and health. “The Spirit of Glory resteth upon you,” and He has control of the implements! He sits by the fire. Look at the character of the Operator, and you will be filled with rejoicing.
And look at the splendid issues of it all. “At the revelation of His glory ye may rejoice with exceeding joy.” [Verse 13] Why this jubilant rejoicing? Because this shall be the ultimate issue: when the Lord is revealed in His glory it will be disclosed that we are sharers of the glory. The Spirit of Glory, which has rested upon us, will have wrought upon us, and brought us into the Master’s likeness. We “shall be manifested with Him in glory.”
Well, now, if this be the ministry of trial, surely the fiery trial is a solemn necessity. Luxurious ease would destroy us. If the winds remained asleep we should remain weak and 180enervated. Life would drowse along in effeminate dreams. The glory of the perfected life would never be ours. And so life must have its crises. Judgments are necessities. Judgment must “begin at the House of God.” Even the consecrated folk need the testing, the strengthening, the confirming discipline of suffering and pain. Even Paul must be thrown into the fiery furnace! Even John must feel the bite of the stinging flame! And if that be so with Paul and Peter and John, how much more for you and me! “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?” What a work is our salvation! These wills, these desires, these yearnings, these bodies!” What work God has with us, to lift us into His own glory!181
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