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02 December, 2013


by Octavius Winslow, 1859


But, in addition to personal, there are often relative trials, which many are called to experience. It is impossible for feeling hearts not to make the circumstances of those to whom they are bound by close and tender ties of love and friendship in a measure their own. The religion of Jesus is the religion of sympathy. It teaches us to "weep with those that weep, and to rejoice with those that rejoice"—to "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." And what a touching exemplification of this our religion did its great Author present when bending over the grave of Lazarus; as the evangelist tells us—"JESUS WEPT." He had griefs of His own—oh, how bitter!—but He buried them deeply and silently within His breast, and seemed to feel and to weep only for the griefs of others. "In all their afflictions he was afflicted." 

And thus, too, it often is with the Christ-like believer. Concealing his personal sorrows, and bearing in lonely and uncomplaining silence his own burden, he is often found, from his unselfishness and sensibility, to be more deeply afflicted and oppressed by the sorrows and burdens of others. "Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?"

But there are spiritual trials peculiar to the children of God. The world, as it cannot sympathize with the joy of the believer, so it cannot participate with his spiritual sorrow. The Lord tries the righteous as righteous. What knows the world of trials springing from the indwelling of sin, from the temptations of Satan, from spiritual darkness, from the conflict of unbelief, from the infirmities of prayer, from leanness of soul, coldness of love, hardness of heart, perpetual tendency to spiritual relapse? Nothing whatever! But such are the soul exercises of many a saint of God, and these constitute his sorest trials.

But it is not so much on the fact of the Christian's trials that we would dwell, as upon a particular aspect of those trials which—especially in the actual process of trial—we are prone to overlook—their preciousness. The apostle clearly intimates this—"The trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold." It is to the preciousness of the trial of faith, not so much to the preciousness of faith itself, to which he refers. Let us briefly pursue this idea, and see in what respects the child of God may contemplate his trials as among he precious things of God.

Trial is precious, because that which it tries is so. The work which God brings to the test of affliction is worthy of all the pains He takes to prove its reality, to promote its purity, and to advance its growth. Nothing is so precious, so costly, so indestructible as the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul. If, beloved, you have a broken heart for sin, if you possess faith less even than a grain of mustard seed, if there glows in your heart a solitary spark of Divine love, or there beats in your soul a throb of spiritual life,—if, in a word, there is the outline of the restored moral image of God, faint and imperfect though it is, no figure can illustrate its beauty, nor words describe its worth. It distances all idea in its intrinsic preciousness. Now this is the work the Lord tries. These are the Divine principles, holy emotions, heavenly feelings He brings to the test. He tries it because it is worth the trial, and so the trial itself becomes a precious thing because it has to do with a precious work.

Trial also derives a value from its being the discipline of a loving Father. The moment faith can see the extraction of any drop of the curse from the cup of sorrow, and trace in its ingredients nothing but the elements of love, wisdom, goodness, faithfulness, righteousness, it realizes the costliness of the discipline. The very rod is loved because it is the rod of Him who is "Love." The chastening is sweet because it is parental. And the true believer exclaims, "My Father designs by this to teach me some salutary lesson, to inculcate some divine truth, to rebuke me for some folly, to correct me for some sin, to recall my truant heart, to restore my wandering soul, to endear Himself, and by detaching my affections and sympathies from earth's attractions, to allure and bind them closer to heaven. Precious trial that is the dictate of a wise and holy discipline, that leaves traces of a Father's hand, that is loving in its origin, loving in its nature, loving in its results!"

Trial is precious because it increases the preciousness of Christ. It is in adversity that human friendship is tested. When the wintry blast sweeps by, when fortune vanishes, and health fails, and position lowers, and popularity wanes, and influence lessens, then the summer birds of earthly friendship expand their wings and seek a warmer climate! The same test that proves the hollowness of the world's affection and constancy confirms the believer in the reality, power, and preciousness of the friendship of Jesus. To know fully what Christ is we must know something of adversity. We must be tried, tempted, and oppressed—we must taste the bitterness of sorrow, feel the pressure of want, tread the path of solitude, and often be brought to the end of our own strength and of human sympathy and counsel. Jesus shines the brightest to faith's eye when all things are dark and dreary.

And when others have retired from our presence, their patience wearied, their sympathy exhausted, their counsel baffled, perhaps their affection chilled and their friendship changed, then Christ approaches and takes the vacant place; sits at our side, speaks peace to our troubled heart, soothes our sorrows, guides our judgment, and bids us "Fear not." Beloved reader, when has Christ appeared the nearest and most precious to your soul? Has it not been in seasons when you have the most stood in need of His guiding counsel and of His soothing love? In the region of your heart's sinfulness you have learned the value, completeness, and preciousness of His atoning work, of His finished salvation. But the tender, loving, sympathetic part of His nature, you have been brought into the experience of only in the school of sanctified trial. Oh, how precious has that trial made Him! Into what sacred intimacy and close fellowship and conscious nearness has it brought you. 

When He has approached with an expression so benignant, with a look so winning, with words so soothing, with an influence so tranquillizing, and told you that He was acquainted with your sorrow, entered into your loss, felt all the keen, delicate touches of your grief; and then spoke words of comfort to your spirit, bound up your broken heart, gently drew you into a sweet, holy, cheerful submission to His will and full justification of His dealings, oh, has He not enthroned Himself upon your soul at that moment more supremely and firmly than ever? You once thought you knew Him, and you did in some degree, but now, in the depth of your hallowed sorrow, a sorrow into which the Man of sorrows and the Brother born for adversity has enshrined His whole self, you exclaim, "I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye sees you." 

We ask, Is not trial a precious discipline, a precious correction, a precious school, that leads you more fully into the heartfelt experience of the preciousness of the Savior? Shrink not from, nor rebel against, that which makes you more intimately acquainted with your best Friend, your dearest Brother, the tender, sympathizing, Beloved of your soul. You will know more of Jesus in one sanctified trial than in wading through a library of volumes or in listening to a lifetime of sermons.

It is impossible either to contemplate the costly results of trial, and not find an evidence of its preciousness. Trial is a fruitful process; and, though often painful as the incisions of the amputating knife, the results, like those incisions, are salutary and healthful. Sanctified trial opens an outlet for the escape of much soul-distemper. Deep-rooted, hidden, and long pent-up evil, the existence of which has been as a fretting sore, inflaming, irritating, and impairing the whole spiritual constitution of the soul, has by this process been thrown off, and thus a more wholesome state and healthful action has supervened. Oh, what selfishness, what carnality, what rebellion, what worldliness, what secret declension, has God's lancet brought to light, revealing it but to inspire self-abhorrence, sin-loathing, and sin-forsaking—and all this the costly fruit of a deeply sanctified affliction!

Trial, too, stirs us up to lay hold upon God in prayer. Nothing, probably, in all the Lord's means of grace and dispensations of providence so leads us to prayer, incites us to call upon the Lord, as the pressure of affliction. And so high a privilege is access to God, so sweet a spot is the throne of grace, so great and holy the blessings that spring from a waiting of soul upon the Lord, that must be a wholesome discipline that leads to such results. Oh, count it a precious trial, a golden affliction, that brings your heart into a closer communion with Christ! Your Elder Brother's voice may, like Joseph's, sound harshly and alarmingly upon your ear, filling you with fear and foreboding; yet it is the voice of your Brother, the "voice of the Beloved," and it speaks but to rouse you to a more full, confiding opening of your heart in prayer. Oh, precious trial! Oh, heaven-sent affliction! that breaks down the barriers, removes the restraints, thaws the congealings that intercept and interrupt my fellowship with God, and with His dear Son Christ Jesus. 

Our heavenly Father loves to hear the voice of His children; and when that voice is still, when there is a suspension of heart-communion, and the tones are silent which were used to fall as music upon His ear, He sends a trial, and then we rise and give ourselves to prayer. Perhaps, it is a perplexity, and we go to Him for counsel; or it is a want, and we go to Him for supply; or it is a grief, and we go to Him for soothing; or it is a burden, and we look to Him for upholding; it is an infirmity, and we repair to Him for grace; it is a temptation, and we fly to Him for support; it is a sin, and we repair to Him for pardon; but, be its form what it may, it has a voice—"Rise, and call upon your God!" and to God it brings us.

How much, too, does deeply sanctified trial correct our false judgments. We conceive dark thoughts of God's character, wrong views of His dealings, crude interpretations of His word—our judgments often miscarry in their opinions of persons, of actions, and events; but when under God's hand how much of this is corrected. The passing tempest has swept the clouds away, cleared our intellectual, and purified our moral atmosphere, and a brighter, serener sky has smiled upon us from above, and our path has become easier and pleasanter. We see God's character and our own in a different light—His so glorious, our own so vile. We interpret His dealings differently and more favorably, and begin to learn that there is no individual who has not, perhaps, more in his character to admire and love than to censure and condemn; and that there is no event in Divine Providence that has not a lesson of truth and a message of love.

 THE PRECIOUS THINGS OF GOD - by Octavius Winslow, 1859