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08 December, 2013



by Octavius Winslow, 1859


Trial has brought us to our right place—the feet of Jesus. There, in the spirit of self-examination, of self-loathing, of self-renunciation, we have been led to ask, "Will this evidence serve me when I come to die? will this love give me boldness in the day of judgment? will this faith present me faultless before the throne of God and the Lamb?" Thus relinquishing our vain fancies, our foolish dreams, our dubious evidences, we have been enabled to take a renewed hold of Christ, to fly afresh to the fountain of His blood, and to enfold ourselves more closely within the robe of His righteousness. Thus emptied, humbled at His feet, we praise and adore Him for the discipline that consumed the dross, scattered the chaff, swept from beneath us the sand, and that strengthened our evidences, brightened our hope, unfolded the Spirit, and enthroned the Redeemer, more vividly and supremely within our soul. O precious trial! dark though you are, that yet bear beneath your somber wing blessings of grace so sacred and costly as these!

As a moral discipline it would seem impossible to overrate the preciousness of trial. No believer has been placed in a true position for the formation, development, and completeness of his Christian character who has not passed in some degree through this discipline. Not more essential is it that the vessel of the craftsman should be exposed to the heat of the furnace, in order to impart transparency to the material, consolidation to its form, and brilliance and permanence to the colors his pencil has traced upon it, than it is for a "vessel of mercy whom God has afore prepared unto glory," to be tried though it be as by fire. From this moral discipline there is in the family of God no exception. It is a remark of the seraphic Leighton—true as it is beautiful—that, "God had but one Son without sin, and never one without suffering." 

How touching and conclusive the argument and appeal of the apostle—himself purified in this crucible and instructed in this school—"You have forgotten the exhortation, which speaks unto you as unto children, 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. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons: for what son is he whom the father chastens not? But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons. Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now, no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto those who are exercised thereby."

Thus is it clear that chastisement or trial is an evidence and seal of adoption; and that without it we should lack that spiritual discipline, apart from which there is no proper symmetry and completeness of Christian character. Who has not marked the wide and striking difference in the character and deportment of a child trained beneath the wholesome discipline of a parent, and a child who has grown up without that discipline, left to its own self? To what is that difference to be traced but the forming influence of discipline in the one, and its entire absence in the other? There is a development and strength of character, a maturity of mind and mellowed refinement of feeling and address in the child thus schooled, which you in vain look for in the child neglected. "A wise son hears the instruction of his father." 

In the Hebrew this passage may be literally rendered, "A wise son is the chastisement of his father." On this text, thus rendered, in all probability the Jews founded their proverb, "If you see a wise child, be sure that his father has chastised him." Now, how gracious and tender is our heavenly Father to condescend thus to deal with us! In everything would He sustain the relation He stands to us as a Father. Not only in loving us, thinking of us, providing for us, guiding and keeping us, but also chastising us. He has undertaken a father's office, and He will fully and faithfully discharge it, even though it may compel the frequent and painful, though loving and righteous, use of the rod. Oh to be assured that this stroke is a fresh seal of adoption! Who would not cheerfully exclaim, "The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?"

And yet we think there is a yet higher end accomplished by precious trial, even than this authentication of our adoption. We refer to the Divine holiness to which it assimilates us. "He for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness." Next to his justification, sanctification must be the grand aim of the believer; and whatever is promotive of this must be precious. God would make us happy, but He can only make us happy by making us holy. Happiness and holiness are cognate truths: they are relative terms; they are twin sisters. He must be happy who is holy. Sin is the parent of all misery; holiness the root of all happiness. Now the holiness which God would bring us into sympathy with, and make us partakers of, is His own holiness. There is much that passes in the religious world for holiness which is spurious in its nature, and which is disowned by God. 

There is no real holiness but that which moulds us into the Divine image—that which makes us God-like. We cannot possess God's essential holiness, but we may partake of His imparted holiness. In the same sense in which we are said to be "partakers of the Divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4), we are "partakers of the Divine holiness." What a portrait is a child of God purified, sanctified, and disciplined by trial! God is the divine original; he is the human copy. Upon that heart softened, upon that spirit subdued, upon that will laid low, the holy Lord God has imprinted, inlaid, His own likeness. And as the polished mirror reflects the likeness of the man who looks into it, and as the glassy lake images the sun that beams down upon it, so does the disciplined child of God,—the grossness of the fleshly eliminated from the spiritual—the dross of the natural separated from the divine—his purified soul reflects, and sparkles, and shines with the holiness of God. 

Oh, to be like God, who would not welcome the trial, exclaiming with the psalmist, "I know, O Lord, that your judgments are right, and that you in faithfulness has afflicted me." How tenderly, soothingly, lovingly does your Father address you, His tried child—"My son, despise not you the chastening of the Lord." Is there rigor in the discipline?—there is love in the rod. Is there bitterness in the cup?—there is sweetness upon its brim. Is there acuteness in the suffering? there is soothing in the relation—"My son!" Never can He forget in the severest discipline, in the most painful correction, that He is our Father, and we His children. "Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spoke against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my affections are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, says the Lord." Never does God employ a rebuke without a cordial, or the pruning knife without the balm. How frequently the mercy precedes, and thus prepares for, the judgment. It was so in the case of our first parents. 

Before God pronounces the dreadful sentence, He breathes the gracious promise. Mercy digs the channel of judgment—prepares and paves its way. Thus, God's corrections, rebukes, and chastisements come tempered, softened, and subdued; and like the smitings and reproofs of the righteous, are a "kindness," and "an excellent oil, which shall not break the head." Thus it is that the tried believer can look into the face of his Father and say, "Righteous are you, O Lord, when I plead with you; yet let me talk with you of your judgments" (Jer. 12:1). How sweetly and tenderly did Jesus blend the warning with the consolation, "In the world you shall have tribulation, but in me you shall havepeace!" Our Lord wisely and graciously presents the world to us as a scene of sorrow, trial, and tribulation, but the counterpart shall be that in its midst we shall experience His presence, love, and grace as our peace. Thus the remark of a quaint writer holds good, "Affliction's rods are made of many keen twigs, but they are all cut from the tree of life.

 It is a great mercy to have a bitter put into that draught which Satan has sweetened as a vehicle for his poison." Never is the believer so near to Christ's heart, and the Spirit's comforts, and Heaven's joys, as when the flood of dark and broken waters is surging beneath and around him, lifting him upon their crested billows. The higher the ark which bore the Church of old rose upon the flood, the nearer it mounted toward heaven. As earth receded, heaven approached; and the vessel, floating away upon the bosom of the swelling deep, mounted higher and higher. Is it not so with the believing soul when floods of great waters come into it? As these waters swell and rise, sinful follies, worldly vanities, carnal pursuits, pride, self, and ignorance, disappear, and the soul gets nearer to heaven. Precious trial that buries earth's vanity and corruption, and unveils heaven's joy and glory to the soul! Thus out of the eater comes food. The trial that looked so threatening has brought such mercy. 

The cloud that seemed charged with electricity empties a fruitful shower. Oh, trying seasons are our most spiritual, most prayerful, most Christ-endearing, Christ-conforming seasons, and so trial becomes precious. Stars shine the brightest in the darkest night; torches are the better for the heating; grapes do not come to the proof until they come to the press; spices smell sweetest when pounded; young trees root the fastest for shaking; vines are better for bleeding; gold looks the brightest for scouring; glow-worms glisten best in the dark; juniper smells the sweetest in the fire; the palm tree proves the better for pressing; cammomile, the more you tread it the more you spread it. Such is the condition of all God's children; they are then most triumphant when most trampled, most glorious when most afflicted; often most in the favor of God when least in man's; as their conflicts, so their conquests; as their tribulations, so their joys; they live best in the furnace of persecution, so that heavy afflictions are the best benefactors to heavenly blessings, and when afflictions hang heaviest corruptions hang loosest, and grace that is hid in nature, as sweet water in rose leaves, is then most fragrant when the fire of affliction is put under to distill it out." (Spencer.) 

Favored child of God, whose Father's discipline in providence and grace wafts such blessings into the soul! Precious trial that makes Jesus more precious, the throne of grace more precious, the discipline of the covenant more precious, holiness more precious, the saints of God more precious, the word of God more precious, and the prospect of going home to glory more precious! "Happy the believer who, the more afflictions assail him, cleaves the more closely to the Lord. Like the traveler overtaken in a storm, who, when the rain beats upon him, or the snow drifts upon his person, or the mountain wind drives furiously against him, lays firmer hold of his cloak and wraps it closely around him, he, amid the storm of troubles, keeps faster hold of the 'Man who is an hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest.'"

A time of trial is a time of sensibility. God often sends it for this very end. There is nothing in the gospel of Christ that forbids emotion, everything to awaken it; there is nothing in the religion of Jesus to crush sensibility, everything to create it. Christianity is a religion of feeling—deep, hallowed, sanctified feeling. It is the only religion that thoroughly appeals to our emotional nature, that touches the deep, hidden springs of our humanity, and tells us we may—weep. With Christ's tears at Bethany, and with his drops of blood in Gethsemane before us, surely we may express the deepest sympathy with the adversity of others, and may indulge in deep, chastened grief with our own. Weep on, then, beloved mourner! We would not seal up those tears. 

"Jesus wept," and you too may weep. "No chastening for the present is joyous, but grievous;" therefore, it is no sin to give expression to emotion, to indulge in sensibility, to "water our couch with tears, and to make our bed to swim." Without a measure of grief our affliction would leave no trace of good. When God speaks, we should hear; when He smites, we should feel. Only let your grief be moderate, chastened, and submissive, embodying its sentiment, and expressing its intensity in the language and spirit of the "Man of Sorrows," "Not my will, O my Father, but your be done."

What shall we then say to these things? Shall we not count among the precious things of God, not the least precious, the trial whose discipline removes from us so much evil, and confers upon us so much good? How little should we know experimentally of the Lord Jesus—what depths there were in His love, what soothing in His sympathy, what condescension in His grace, what gentleness and delicacy in His conduct, what exquisite beauty in His tears, what safety beneath His sheltering wing, and what repose upon His loving heart, but for this very adversity. Your ark is tossed amid the broken waters, but you have Christ on board your vessel, and it shall not founder. He may seem, as of old, "when asleep upon a pillow," ignorant of, and indifferent to, the storm that rages wildly around you; yet the eye of His Godhead never slumbers, and He will, and at the best moment, arise in majesty and power, hush the tempest and still the waves, and there shall be peace. 

And will you not then count that a precious adversity that awakens in your breast the adoring exclamation, "What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?" Yes; Christ treads the limpid pathway of your sorrow. He comes to you walking upon the sea of your trouble. He approaches to quell your fears, to calm your mind, to give you peace. And but for this alienation of property, this sore bereavement, this terrible calamity, this wasting disease, this languor, suffering, and decay, these restless days and wakeful nights, oh, how many a precious visit from the Beloved of your soul would you have lost! Be still then; trial will bring a precious Jesus to you; and the presence, the love, the sympathy, and the grace of Jesus will lighten, soothe, and sweeten your trial. 

We shall soon be at home, where "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain." The last truth of God will be seen, the last lesson of holiness will be learned, the last taint of sin will be effaced, and there will be no more need of sorrow's discipline, nor the hallowing influence of precious trial; the last ember of the furnace will be extinguished, the last wave of trouble will die upon the shore, and we shall be forever with Jesus. Until then, "commit your way unto the Lord," leave your concerns in His hands, "trust in Him," and come up from the wilderness clinging to His almighty arm, and leaning upon His loving breast, to uphold you in weakness, to soothe you in grief, and to bring you home to Himself, where the days of your mourning shall be ended, and "GOD SHALL WIPE AWAY ALL TEARS FROM THEIR EYES."

"When sore afflictions crush the soul,
And riven is each earthly tie,
The heart must cling to God alone:
He wipes the tear from every eye.
"Through wakeful nights, when racked with pain,
On bed of languishing you lie,
Remember still your God is near
To wipe the tear from every eye.
"A few short years, and all is o'er;
Your sorrows, pains, will soon pass by;
Then lean in faith on God's dear Son,
He'll wipe the tear from every eye.
"Oh, never be your soul cast down,
Nor let your heart desponding sigh,
Assured that God, whose name is Love,
Will wipe the tear from every eye!"
Mrs. Mackinlay