Unbroken Peace, Unclouded Favor, a Hope Never to Be Disappointed, Joyful Tribulations and Joy in God: 7.

Romans 5:1-11
We now come to a very different part in the spiritual life of a child of God, I mean the school of tribulations, so distasteful to the natural heart.
The same wondrous love and grace of God, which has secured for us above an inalienably safe portion, and infinite blessings through and in Jesus Christ, and on the unchangeable foundation of His finished work of eternal redemption—blessings ordained from eternity and secured for eternity, have also to carry on a work within us, and whilst here below, in the school of tribulations, to enable us, during our journey through this barren wilderness, to realize those blessings, and to put away everything around or within us that would prevent our enjoyment of them, and our corresponding faithful witness and godly walk.
Many might be inclined to think, “Perfect peace with God with regard to the past, and unchanging divine favor as to the present, and a secure hope of glory as to the future, for all eternity—what do I want more?” Stop, there is something more. God, in His unsearchable wisdom, grace and love, has something else in store for you and me, Christian reader, not up there, but down here in the wilderness.
“And not only so, but we rejoice also in tribulations.” Certainly, it is something beautiful to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. But to rejoice in tribulations is a very different thing. The Israelites sang a lofty song of praise to Jehovah, when God had led His people dry shod through the Red Sea to the shore of safety and deliverance, after they had seen the returning waves covering Pharaoh and his numberless chariots, horses and horsemen. But what do we find at the end of the same chapter? Scarcely had the last note of that high triumphant song of redemption died away, when close upon its heels followed the murmuring, for “they came to Marah,” and “they could not drink of the waters of Mandl, for they were bitter.” So did Israel, the earthly people of God. And what about us, His heavenly people, dear Christian reader? “These things are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come.” How much nearer, than that of Israel, is our relationship to God! How much higher and more perfect our position, our vocation, our hope; and how incomparably greater are our blessings than those of Israel! The difference is just as wide as that between heaven and earth. And have we, when coming to “Marah,” murmured like Israel? Or have we, perhaps, after having sung a hymn of praise at the Lord's table, on the resurrection-day of our Lord, murmured the next hour, when coming to some bitter water? It is well to sing
Jesus Christ, the Lord, is risen;
He has made the sea dry land;
Our pursuer is drowned, defeated,
All his power in vain was spent.
Free, unfetter'd,
Joyfully gather'd,
We on safety's shore now stand.
Egypt's mighty legions slain!
Even death's become our gain.
Death, whose fear did once enslave us,
Death, the slayer of every one—
Who from his dread power could save us?
He, in whom Life's light here shone.
Watchmen prostrate,
Seal and stone-gate,
Grave's securing bolts withdrawn!
Lo! death's jaws are empty now:
Triumph crowns the Victor's brow.
But there are some other no less happy songs in the wilderness, the singing of which requires some practical training in God's school of tribulations; for instance,
Dost Thou, my God, through deserts lead me?
I follow, leaning on Thy hand.
From clouds the bread comes down to feed me,
And waters from the rock descend.
Thy ways I trust, whilst onward pressing;
I know they end in peace and blessing.
Thou with me art: this is enough!
Thou leadest downward, humblest, bendest
Those whom to honor Thou intendest
Beyond the sun and stars above.
It is a fine thing to rise above the pressure of circumstances in the power of faith; it is quite another thing, to bend in patience under them and learn that Christian endurance, which can only be made our own in the school of God. Flesh and nature do not relish the crucible, and to those who have not peace with God, the tempter often whispers: “God is against you. He deals as Judge with you for your sins, which proves that your sins are unforgiven and that you are none of His children. This is only a foretaste of the eternal judgment awaiting you, if you should die with this disease, or if your heart should break under this crushing blow God has inflicted upon you.”
“Not at all,” says the child of God that enjoys peace with Him. “God is for me, and for this very reason He has sent me these trials, for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth...for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? God is dealing with me as a Father, not as a Judge.”
Take a case from common life, to make this clear. Suppose a judge has had to sentence some one for theft to some years' penal servitude; when coming home he finds that one of his sons has robbed him of a sum of money. How does he meet the sad case? Does he send for a policeman? Or does he put on his judicial gown, ascend the tribunal and sentence him to penal servitude? No, but he takes the rod and punishes the evildoer, for it is his son, and at home in his family he is not a judge, but a father. This makes all the difference.
And in answer to the suggestions of the adversary who always is busy to make us suspect God, or to accuse us before Him, the child of God continues: “Should I resist the rod of His chastening love, which in divine justice fell as the rod of divine wrath upon the Son of His love for me, a “child of wrath,” when “Jehovah laid upon Him the iniquity of us all, and the chastisement of our peace was upon Him?” Should I murmur and complain against God, whose Son, when He was oppressed and afflicted for my sake, “opened not His mouth?” Should I resist the rod of His love, when the Son of man, was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and opened not His mouth, as a sheep before her shearers is dumb? God forbid! No, indeed, I not only yield to His rod, but I kiss it; for my divine Father's hand is as tender as it is mighty, and He knows so to make me feel the sweetness of His love in the bitter rod, that even the bitterness produces the sweet fruits of thanksgiving and of “rejoicing in tribulations,” not to speak of the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.”
But we must not anticipate the order of the Spirit in our chapter, by speaking of experience, instead of commencing at “patience.” The word does not mean here that natural patience, implanted by a merciful Creator in many of His creatures, subject to burdens, that they may better be able to bear them. It is to be feared, there are not a few who try to make a merit out of their natural patience, and bring it with them as a dowry, so to speak, into the school of tribulations, instead of learning it there. Such are inclined to rejoice in their patience, which often ends in impatience and shame, and is a very different thing from “rejoicing in tribulations.” Christian patience and natural patience are quite distinct things. The latter is like a silvered copper coin, which does not stand the test of the refining process of the crucible, where natural patience often becomes red hot, and the silvery tinge disappears.
Christian patience is the opposite of our own will. What is the first spot that appears in every newborn child? Is it not that old inherited sin, our own will, i.e. the spirit of disobedience? To break our natural self-will and the idolatrous heart, both will and heart perverted and corrupted through disobedience, is God's gracious intention in His school of tribulations. His will alone is good and right; ours, bad and perverse. It was God's will that we should not die and perish in our sins; our will was bent on our own sinful way. Should it, therefore, not be our heart's desire to learn in everything, what is God's wise and good and perfect will? Certainly. But our own natural will, being constantly opposed to the divine will, and our natural God-alienated heart preventing us from knowing God's perfect and gracious will and His perfect heart full of divine love to us, He uses the tribulations to bridle the stubborn will and to break the idolatrous heart. Only in the same measure as our will has been broken in His school of discipline, can God reveal His will unto as; and only in the same measure as our rebellious and idolatrous natural heart practically has been broken, can Jesus manifest to us His heart—Himself, in all His love and grace and tender sympathy. First comes the plow, then the seed, then the harrow, to break the hard clods, that would impede the springing up and the growth of the young seed. Such is the order in God's (as man's) husbandry. The tribulations are the harrow.
The world sometimes says of a new convert: “What a sad change has come over him! Formerly he used to be full of life and activity amongst us, taking interest in everything; and when his mind was once set on something, he was sure to carry it out. Now he appears to be dead, apathetic and spoiled for everything useful, and can hardly be said to have a will of his own!” Poor world—! It knows not that God has turned a bondman of Satan into a freedman, i.e. a bondman of Christ, Whose service is true liberty, and Whose yoke is easy and His burden light. In the world it is said: This one or that one “died of a broken heart.” God teaches us to live with a broken heart, and not only to live, but to be very happy with it too!
For Jacob it required a whole life time to learn what the three things mean which we find in Psa. 51 —i.e. 1. broken bones (the bones being the seat of our natural strength); 2. a broken spirit (being the seat of our natural prudence and wisdom); and 3. a broken heart (being the seat of our natural idolatrous propensities). Jacob did not glorify God much in his life, but in his death, when the dying patriarch, leaning upon the top of his staff, worshipped Him and blessed the sons of Joseph. The staff, which he held in his hands, reminded him of all his own ways and strayings, and was at the same time a memorial of that wondrous grace, patience and mercy of the God of his fathers Abraham and Isaac. And leaning upon the top of that staff he worshipped God. What a glorious halo shone around Jacob's deathbed! God makes the bones rejoice, which He has broken (Psa. 51:88Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. (Psalm 51:8)).
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (ver. 17).
The first effect, then, of tribulations is patience or endurance. (The Greek word, ὑπομονή, seems to imply both the patient bearing up under the present evil, and the enduring unto the end.) But patience and endurance work experience or being approved. The word in the original (δοκιμή) appears to indicate both. While being impatient in tribulations we only make human experiences, which, though necessary, are humbling and apt to weigh us down, and ought to be so. But if we learn in God's school to be still and patient under His hand and to listen to His voice, we make divine, that is, elevating experiences, learning what God is. The former kind of experiences, humbling though they be, impart no strength, and often lead to a sort of sham humility, as will often appear in meetings of legal Christians for so-called “edification.” They often seem to have met solely for the purpose of talking of their human experiences instead of speaking of God and His Son, the ground of our “most holy faith” and of all true edification, and of the experiences which they have made of Him. If we cannot say anything good of ourselves, we like to say something bad of ourselves. But it is always self instead of Christ. This is not building up but pulling down one another and often leads to something worse: sham humility, a kind of emulation which of them has made the most experiences of self, and thus one learns to boast in that which ought to be our shame, instead of “rejoicing in tribulations,” that is boasting in God, and “rejoicing in Christ.”
Many of the wise men of this world, from Socrates and Plato down to our times, could boast of a great deal of human experiences, i.e. about self and our own heart, without ever having had to do with God about it. The French sage, in a treatise on vanity, wrote, “vanity is so deeply rooted in the human heart, that I, the writer of this treatise on 'vanity,' am not sure, whether I am not vain and proud to have written on 'vanity.'“
A witty and, in a natural way, honest and true remark about sin! But had the writer ever learned and realized the truth of it in the holy light of God's presence? God knows; but the very style of the writer gives just cause to doubt it.
I have remarked already, that the Greek word for “patience” used by the Spirit, expresses at the same time “endurance,” or “patience to end” (compare James 1:44But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:4)), and further, that the original word for “experience” also implies “being approved.” There appears to be a deep and beautiful meaning in this. Each of these two words thus appears to have a subjective and at the same time an objective, meaning, i.e. an inward and outward. That is to say, the inward patience, wrought within us by means of tribulations, manifests itself outwardly, or before men, by endurance, or patience unto the end. And, further, the inward experience, wrought by both, will manifest itself outwardly by our being approved before God and men (in a similar sense as the works of faith in James 2). Where the inward patience is genuine, Christian patience, the outward patience, or endurance, will not fail to appear. And where the fruit of true patience, or inward experience is of the right kind, the outward experience of us on the part of others (by their taking knowledge of us), that is, our being approved before God and men, will not be wanting. So it was with the apostle of the church. May God in His rich grace grant us such experiences, for His own and His dear Son's glory and honor. Amen.
This kind of experience and approbation then produces in us that subjective (or inward) hope which answers to the objective (or outward) hope of the glory of God in Rom. 5:22By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:2). I need scarcely say, that this is not the same as “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” It corresponds in us, as we have seen, with the heavenly hope of the glory of God, set before us in ver. 2, as the Spirit of Christ in us, “Christ in us, the hope of glory,” corresponds with Jesus Himself, “Who is our hope,” “The bright and Morning Star.”
Also in Israel, His earthly people, now in their exile scattered through the world, God will at the time of “Jacob's trouble,” in the school of the greatest of all tribulations, work that patience and endurance, that experience and approbation, and that hope (though merely as to millennial glory and kingdom), which He, in a higher and more blessed way, is now working in us.
A few remarks as to the ways of God's grace, for working that hope in Israel, as He does in us, must be reserved for the next number, D.V.
(To be continued.)