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04 December, 2013



by Octavius Winslow, 1859


The time of trial often sets us upon a closer examination of our Christian progress and hope. In the season of worldly sunshine and prosperity, gliding along upon the smooth and calm current, how much do we take for granted as to our true spiritual state. We deem all right within because all is smiling without. The world smiles, friends approve, ministers commend, the heart flatters, and the candle of the Lord shines round about us—alas! alaswith what slight evidences of conversion, with what dubious marks of grace, with what a slender hope of heaven, are we then satisfied! How shallow our self-acquaintance, how imperfect our knowledge of Christ. But the trial comes, bearing the disguise of a foe, yet in reality a friend. 

And now the first blast of adversity scatters the fig-leaf covering, and destroys the beautiful tresselled wall which our own hands had constructed for our beauty and defense. What we thought was substance proves but a shadow, what we imagined was a reality proves but an appearance. The faith we thought so strong, the love we thought so fervent, the grace we thought so real, the growth we thought so unmistakable, all, all vanish before the dealings, the probings, the siftings of the Searcher of hearts in the day of trial.

We are deeply indebted to trial—and it thus fully sustains its character as among the precious things of God—as authenticating the fact of our divine sonship. Erase sanctified trial from the catalogue of the Lord's dealings with you, and you would cancel one of the strongest evidences of your adoption. What earthly father corrects not the waywardness, self-will, and disobedience of his child? and shall not our heavenly Father, in the exercise of a wisdom and love yet greater, employ a holy and wholesome discipline towards His children? Every stroke of His rod is a proof of His love, and every correction of His hand an evidence of our sonship. How tender and touching the admonition, "My son, despise not you the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked of him. For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives." 

Thus, then, our hallowed afflictions and trials are among the choice, precious things of God, because they are signs and seals of our gracious adoption into His family. Be not cast down, O tried believer! as though some strange and untoward thing had happened to you. Misinterpret not the dealings of God, as though your present sorrows, difficulties, and trials, were marks of His displeasure, and evidences against your true and divine relationship. Many of the Lord's people who appear exempt from those trials by which others are severely afflicted are prone to argue from thence against their being the true children of God. Most true is it that the religion of Jesus is the religion of the cross, and that there never was a true Christian without a cross. And yet the painful misgiving, arising from exemption from the crosses which others bear, may itself be the cross the Lord appoints you. 

The heart-searching and prayer, the earnestness and anxiety, which this conviction produces, may be just the self-discipline which those peculiar trials—from the absence of which you augur ill against yourself—are designed to effect. God can as richly teach, and as deeply sanctify us by the absence as by the presence of a trial. But ah! are there no crosses other than reverse of circumstances, loss of health, chilled affection, changed friendship, heart-crushing bereavement? Yes, beloved reader; this body of our humiliation, the power of indwelling sin, the assaults of Satan, the seductions of the world, the wounding of the saints, spiritual becloudings and despondencies, is enough, in the absence of all external trial, to discipline the heart, to humble the soul, and keep the believer near to the cross of Jesus. Thus, there is no believer without a trial, and no Christian is without the cross.

"A lady of rank and great piety complained that, whereas in Scripture the cross is everywhere spoken of as useful and necessary for the children of God, yet she, for her part, must acknowledge that hitherto the Lord had never deemed her worthy of one, and that this often raised within her melancholy thoughts and doubts whether she was one of His children or not. Gotthold said to her—I confess that complaints like yours are not common, inasmuch as few Christians have any ground to lament a lack of the cross, while others, whose share of it is exceedingly small, nevertheless imagine that it is quite as large as they are able to bear; and in particular, those who are yet unaccustomed to it, are prone to fancy that their cross is too great and heavy for them. As for your case, however, it seems to me that you are actually bearing a cross without being conscious of it. 

You are vexed with gloomy thoughts because you have no cross. These gloomy thoughts, however, appear to me to be themselves a considerable cross, and also a very salutary one, for they not only evince, but nourish and augment your desire to resemble the Lord Jesus, and to take up your cross and follow Him. Besides, the words of our Savior, 'Whoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple,' relate not merely to the common hardships of human life, but are also and especially to be understood of the crucifixion of the old man, of his sinful lusts and desires, of self-denial and the subjugation of the will. 

For the rest, we cannot and ought not to make crosses for ourselves, for this would end in hypocrisy. The Lord holds the cup of affliction in His own hand, and pours out of it when and as much as He will. That He has spared you hitherto, acknowledge with humble gratitude; He is the Searcher of hearts, and perhaps knew that, with the cross, your heart would not have felt towards Him as it has done without it. Recollect, however, that the drama of your life has not yet been played to the end, and that, for ought you know, your gracious God may still have some little cross in reserve for you, to be imposed in due time. The fiercest tempests often come in the evening of the finest summer days, and it is after the pure wine has been run off that the lees are used to follow. It ought to be another ground of gratitude to God, that He has given you time to prepare for all emergencies, and provide yourself with the armor necessary for your defense." (Gotthold's Emblems.)

It is not the least hallowed result of sanctified trial, thus increasing its preciousness, the deeper acquaintance into which it brings us with God's word. In trial we fly to the Scriptures as the unfailing source of guidance and comfort. Whatever may be the nature of our sorrow, or the singularity of our path, we are sure of finding in God's word light, sympathy, and soothing corresponding therewith. God sends us into this school of affliction to learn. Thus He dealt with David—"It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes." 

God's word at all times should be our study and delight. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom." But there is, through outward distractions and inward conflicts, a tendency to neglect the word, to lose our relish for its sweetness, or to turn from its faithful rebukes. And as a parent or a teacher sometimes employs the rod to stimulate his pupil to learn, so our Heavenly Father, our Divine Teacher, often sends His rod of correction to drive us to the study of the truth; then we testify, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted (corrected, chastened, rebuked), that I might learn your statutes." And oh, with what increased clearness and beauty does the Bible often unfold to us in the time of precious trial! We understand the Scriptures now as we never did before.

We may have consulted critics and expositors, and by our own ingenuity and skill have endeavored to penetrate the sacred mysteries of the word, and yet but to little perception of the truth. But the rod of correction has proved our best expositor under the guidance of the Spirit of truth! "Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures." Dark, mysterious, and trying providences—trials which we thought so untoward—have been our best commentaries on the deep things of the word. What a honied sweetness, in our personal experience, has the bitterness of trial imparted to it! We did not know that there was so much sweetness in the word until we found so much bitterness in the world; nor so much fullness in the Scriptures until we found so much emptiness in the creature. 

We see the Bible now to be full of Jesus—Christ its revelation, its glory and sweetness, its Alpha and Omega, its beginning and end. Satiated with creature comforts, and surfeited with self-satisfaction, we had loathed the manna of the word, and it had no more relish to our spiritual than the most insipid element to our natural taste. But sweet, sanctified, precious trial has led us to the Book of the tried—God's own word—and we have "rejoiced at it as one that finds great spoil." With the Psalmist we have testified, "How sweet are your words to my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth." "This is my comfort in my affliction: for your word has quickened me." Oh welcome, then, cheerfully and submissively the precious trial that renders more precious in your experience the preciousness of God's word.