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VI. "Perfect through sufferings
"It became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings."
THERE is no book which can stand the test of sorrow and suffering as the Bible can. Other books may delight us in sunny hours, when the heart is gay; but in dark and overcast days we fling them aside, and eagerly betake ourselves to our Bibles. And the reason for this is in the fact that this Book was born in the fires. It is soaked with the tears, either of those who wrote or of those addressed.
Take, for instance, this Epistle. It was intended to solace the bitter anguish of these Hebrew Christians, who were exposed to the double fury of the storm. In the first place, there was the inevitable opposition and persecution to be encountered by all followers of the Nazarene; not only from the Gentiles, but specially from their fellow-countrymen, who accounted them apostates.
Next, there was the pain of excommunication from the splendid rites of the Temple, with its daily service, its solemn feasts, its magnificent ceremonial. Only those amongst our-selves who from childhood have been wont to worship in some splendid minster, with its pealing organ, full-voiced choir, and mystery of architecture, arresting and enchaining every sense of beauty, but who have felt constrained to join the worship of an obscure handful in some plain meetinghouse, can realize how painfully those who were addressed in these words missed the religious associations of their early days.
And then this suffering, thorn-crowned, dying Messiah! It seemed almost impossible to realize that he was the Christ of national desire. The objections that baffled the faith of the two travelers to Emmaus arose in almost irresistible force: "The chief priests and our rulers have crucified him; but we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel" (Luke xxiv. 20).
No attempt is made in these words to minimize the sufferings of Christ. That were impossible and superfluous. He is King in the realm of sorrow; peerless in his pain; supreme in his distress. Though earth be full of sufferers, none can vie with our Lord in his. Human nature is limited. The confines of its joys or sorrows are soon touched. The pendulum swings only hither and thither. But who shall estimate the capacity of Christ's nature? And because of it, he could taste the sweets of a joy beyond his fellows, and of sorrow so excessive as to warrant the challenge: "Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger." If it be true, as Carlyle says, that our sorrow is the inverted image of our nobility, how deep must the sorrow have been of the noblest of our race! Well may the Greek liturgy, with infinite pathos, speak of his "unknown sorrows."
Shall the sufferings of Christ cause us to reject Christ? Ah, strange infatuation! As well reject the heaven because of its sun, or night because of the queenly moon; or a diadem because of its regal gem; or home because of mother. The sufferings of Christ are the proudest boast of the Gospel. He himself wears the insignia of them in heaven; as a general, on the day of triumph, chooses his choicest order to wear upon his breast. Yes, and it was the deliberate choice of him, "for whom are all things, and by whom are all things "-and who must, therefore, have had every expedient at his command-that the path of suffering should be his Son's way through our world. Every track through creation is as familiar to Omniscience as the tracks across the hills to the gray-haired, plaided shepherd. Had he wished, the Father might have conducted the Son to glory by another route than the thorny, flint-set path of suffering. But the reasons for this experience were so overwhelming that he could not evade them. Nothing else had been becoming. Those reasons may be stated almost in a sentence.
Our Father has on hand a work greater than his original creation. He is "bringing many sons unto glory." The way may be rugged and tedious; but its end is glory. And it is the way along which our Father is bringing us; for, since we believe on the Son, we have the right to call ourselves sons (John i. 12). And there are many of us. Many sons, though only one Son. We do not go solitarily along the narrow way. We are but part of a multitude which no man can number. The glory of which we have already spoken, and into which Jesus has entered, is not for him alone, but for us also. "Many sons" are to be his joint-heirs; reigning with him on his throne, sharing his unsearchable riches and his everlasting reign.
But all these sons must tread the path of sufering. Since the first sin brought suffering to our first parents, and bloodshed into the first home, there has been but one lot for those who will live Godly. Their road leads to glory; but every inch of it is stained with their blood and watered by their tears. It climbs to Hermon's summit; but it descends immediately into somber and devil-haunted plains. It conducts to the Mount of Olives, with its ascension light; but it first traverses the glades of Gethsemane, the wine-press of Golgotha, the solitude and darkness of the grave.
"The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown."
What true soul has not its wilderness of temptation; its conflicts with Sadducees and Scribes; its hour of weariness and watching; its tears over cities full of rebellious men; its disappointments from friends; its persecutions from foes; rejection, agony, friendlessness, loneliness, denials, trial, treacheries, deaths, and burials? Such is the draught which the noblest and saintliest have drunk from the golden chalice of life.
Foreseeing our needs, our Father has provided for us a Leader. It is a great boon for a company of pilgrims to have a Great-heart; for an army to have a captain; for an exodus to have a Moses. Courageous, sagacious, and strong leaders are God's good gifts to men. And it is only what we might have expected that God has placed such a One as the efficient Leader at the head of the long line of pilgrims, whom he is engaged in bringing to glory. The toils seem lighter and the distance shorter; laggards quicken their pace; wandering ones are recalled from by-paths by the presence and voice of the Leader, who marches, efficient, royal, and divine, in the van. heirs of glory, weary of the long and toilsome march, remember that ye are part of a great host: and that the Prince, at the head of the column, has long since entered the city; though he is back again, passing as an inspiration along the ranks as they are toiling on.
Our Leader is perfect. Of course this does not refer to his moral or spiritual attributes. In these he is possessed of the stature of the perfect Man, and has filled out, in every detail, God's ideal of manhood. But he might have been all this without being perfectly adapted to the work of leading many sons through suffering to glory. He might have been perfect in character, and desirous to help us; but, if he had never tasted death, how could he allay our fears as we tread the verge of Jordan? If he had never been tempted, how could he succor those who are tempted? If he had never wept, how could he stanch our tears? If he had never suffered, hungered, wearied on the hill of difficulty, or threaded his way through the quagmires of grief, how could he have been a merciful and faithful High-Priest, having compassion on the ignorant and wayward? But, thank God, our Leader is a perfect one. He is perfectly adapted to his task. His certificate, countersigned by the voice of inspiration, declares him fully qualified.
But this perfect efficiency, as we have seen, is the result of suffering. In no other conceivable way could he have been so effectively qualified to be our Leader as he has been by the ordeal of suffering. Every pang, every tear, every thrill, all were needed to complete his equipment to help us. And from this we may infer that suffering is sometimes permitted to befall us in order to qualify us to be, in our poor measure, the leaders and comforters of our brethren, who are faltering in the march. When next we suffer, let us believe that it is not the result of chance, or fate, or man's carelessness, or hell's malevolence; but that perhaps God is perfecting our adaptability to comfort and succor others.
Are there not some in your circle to whom you naturally betake yourself in times of trial and sorrow? They always seem to speak the right word, to give the very counsel you are longing for; you do not realize, however, the cost which they had to pay ere they became so skillful in binding up gaping wounds and drying tears. But if you were to investigate their past history you would find that they have suffered more than most. They have watched the slow untwisting of some silver cord on which the lamp of life hung. They have seen the golden bowl of joy dashed to their feet, and its contents spilt. They have stood by ebbing tides, and drooping gourds, and noon sunsets; but all this has been necessary to make them the nurses, the physicians, the priests of men. The boxes that come from foreign climes are clumsy enough; but they contain spices which scent the air with the fragrance of the Orient. So suffering is rough and hard to bear; but it hides beneath it discipline, education, possibilities, which not only leave us nobler, but perfect us to help others. Do not fret, or set your teeth, or wait doggedly for the suffering to pass; but get out of it all you can, both for yourself and for your service to your generation, according to the will of God.
Suffering educates sympathy; it softens the spirit, lightens the touch, hushes the tread; it accustoms the spirit to read from afar the symptoms of an unspoken grief; it teaches the soul to tell the number of the promises, which, like the constellations of the arctic circle, shine most brilliantly through the wintry night; it gives to the spirit a depth, a delicacy, a wealth of which it cannot otherwise possess itself. Through suffering he has become perfected.
His sufferings have purchased our pardon. He tasted death for every man. But his sufferings have done more in enabling him to understand experimentally, and to allay, with the tenderness of one who has suffered, all the griefs and sorrows that are experienced by the weakest and weariest of the great family of God.
So far, then, from rejecting him because of his sorrows, this shall attract us the more quickly to his side. And, amid our glad songs, this note shall predominate: "It behoved Christ to suffer." "In the midst of the throne, a Lamb as it had been slain."
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