The Afflictions of the People of God
Pastor C. H. Brunner, Emmaus, Pa.
"By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing- rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." (Heb. 11:24, 25).
Moses was one of the most distinguished men of all history. His name is found about eight hundred and fifty times in thirty-one books of the Bible. His biography in the Pentateuch consists of 4,240 verses while in Hebrews eleven it is condensed to seven.
Moses was a man of special privileges we may say. We must not charge God with partiality. Study the record of his forty long- years of separation from all that had been dear to his heart, a death-blow to all the plans and ambitions of his youth. Perhaps others could share equal privileges if they would be willing to pay the same price.
Notice the following four remarkable statements:
1. "The Lord spake unto Moses face to face." (Ex. 33:11).
2. "Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face." (Dent. 34:10).
3. "With him will I speak mouth to mouth." (Num. 12:18).
4. "And the form of the Lord shall he behold." (Num. 12:8 R. V.).
Moses was the first writer on record. He was the composer of the first song on record, and is also associated with the last songs of the Bible (Ex. 15; Rev. 15).
Moses was probably the only man who received anything tangible from the hands of God (Ex. 31:18)
Moses was probably the only man from whose hands God received anything tangible (Ex. 34:1-4, 28, 29).
Satan tried to kill Moses when he was a baby, hated him while he lived, and claimed his body after he had been dead fifteen hundred years.
They say, Moses made mistakes. Yes, and he recorded them too or perhaps we would not know it. Did you ever notice that the mistakes which Moses and other Old Testament saints made and confessed are not recorded by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament? Today the life story of Moses is found in the largest public libraries of the world and in the homes of kings and rulers, rich and poor all over the globe; while the writings of Robert Ingersoll, the man who is said to have charged $200.00 a night for his lectures on "The Mistakes of Moses," can hardly be found even on the dust-covered shelves of the antiquarian.
Moses can truly be classified as a hero. He is one of the "Who is Who" among the great men of history. His career was an extraordinary one divided into three periods: forty years a scholar in Egypt, forty years a shepherd in Midian and forty years in the wilderness. The hand of God upon Moses is seen in his protection in childhood days, in the many long years of preparation in the lonely shepherd life in Midian, in the strenuous service as prophet, lawgiver and leader of an untrained host in the wilderness, and in the extraordinary closing days of his life.
If God can give an unschooled Joseph, a young Hebrew, wisdom that at thirty he was made lord and ruler of a mighty kingdom with the command "to bind his princes at his pleasure; and teach his senators wisdom" (Ps. 105:21, 22), may not this Moses, also a foreign Jew, who was "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was mighty in words and deeds" (Acts 7:22), at forty have been the greatest teacher in the University of Egypt, and chief counsellor in the Court of Pharaoh?
He made the choice of a life of hardship and affliction at the time when to the natural life everything looked rosy and prosperous, when fame, honor and riches were waiting for him', yes, offered to him, to be had for the taking, apparently without competition. He "refused" what very, very few would refuse and he chose what very few would choose. All these things were great factors in the character and makeup of the man Moses; they indicated the basis and foundation of his greatness. Moses' choice was not the thought of the moment but the careful planning and serious meditation of years.
Moses' choice was the choice of faith, not that of the emotions nor of selfish, natural ambition. Time proved that it was not the choice of a fool but that of a hero. On the day when the "lone eagle" left on his solo flight across the Atlantic he was called a fool. Next day, when he landed in Paris, he was honored a hero. One day a fool, next day a hero! An unwise choice however, and unwise actions may turn a hero into a fool in a day. When Dr. Paul Harrison left for Muscat, Arabia, the hottest city on earth, thirty years ago, his friends were dismayed. Some of them still call him crazy, performing major operations for a dollar or two or for nothing; but not so those poor Arabs to whom he is ministering. Time will tell the wisdom or the folly of a man's choice.
Viewing Moses' choice in the light of the tremendous import, the selection of a reliable instrument necessary for the liberation of possibly three million slaves out of the "house of bondage," from the power of the mightiest political tyrant of the day - and that without the loss of a single person - stands to this day as an unparalleled miracle. God only could do this, and He did it by the hand of the man who made this wise choice for God. All through history we see that when God needed a man for a special purpose He had already started to prepare that man Iong before, and had him ready when He needed him. Who knows what instruments He is preparing now, in our day?
Moses—An Organizer and Leader
To organize this large multitude that for generations had been oppressed, subjugated, unequipped and ill treated; to protect them, their little ones and the aged among them from the fierce, uncivilized' nomadic tribes of the desert—who but a Moses could have done this?
An outstanding characteristic of this man Moses was that whenever serious questions of any kind arose he always called upon God for wisdom, strength and help. Any great leader today would become greater by following Moses in this.
To prepare and formulate a system of laws, civil, ceremonial, sanitary, political, economic and spiritual, only God could do and only through a consecrated, chosen, prepared instrument like Moses. Remember, Moses' choice was not such a leadership for he knew nothing of this. By faith he chose affliction. God permitted him to have affliction and plenty of it, so much that God had to give him special grace so that the fiery Moses who killed an Egyptian in his zeal now became "very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" (Num. 12:3).
To provide food, water and clothing for three million people for forty years in a "great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water" (Deut. 8:16), surely this was more than a man's job. God did all this, but the instrument in His hands was this man Moses. There being no factories or stores in the wilderness God made their clothing and shoes to last forty years (Deut. 29:6).
The Meaning of Affliction
Now as to the word "affliction." Many words, according to Young's concordance, have, or are intended to convey, a great many shades of meaning, some as many as forty or even more. The Greek word translated "affliction" six times is also translated "suffering" eleven times. Evidently their meaning is quite similar and the words are used interchangeably.
Before going further into this matter, reading from the Book of Hebrews, let us "consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession" Jesus Christ, of whom Moses spake in Deut. 18:16. Because of the nature of the case the Scriptures can hardly speak of the life of the Christian without speaking about his Christ who is his life, and' in whom he lives, moves and has his being.
Not a few Christians have been perplexed as to the fact that so many of God's people, some who are showing perhaps more than ordinary concern for the cause of Christ and the work of saving souls, have had to endure much bodily suffering and affliction, apparently more than their share, while others who seem to be rather unconcerned as to the Lord's work are strong and healthy. The child of God can always confidently commit all his problems to Him who is able to do the impossible. Remember He is too wise to err and too good to be unkind.
It has been said that Christianity is founded upon suffering and sacrifice. Jesus' suffering was intense, extremely so. How true are the words of Frances R. Havergal,
“I suffered much for thee, more than thy tongue can tell,
Of bitterest agony, to rescue thee from hell;
I've borne, I've borne it all for thee,
What hast thou borne for Me?"
Jesus said, "I am the Way." All those who will volunteer to follow Him will understand that their Leader was "despised and rejected of men," "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," one who suffered what no man can ever comprehend, what no creature tongue is ever able adequately to declare, what no other person ever could endure.
Yet this is the One who said, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." This is He who said, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head" (Matt. 8:20). Thus the appointed portion of His followers in this life is not ease and honor, not wealth nor fame, but affliction, loss, shame and possibly even death.
"But we behold Him who hath been made for a little while lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He should taste death for every man" (Heb. 2:9).
We are told in Hebrews 2:10 about the Captain of our salvation, being made "perfect through suffering." As to His being, body, soul and spirit, His character and life, His words and His works, He was absolutely perfect. No man could find a fault in His life and when His work was finished He "through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God" (Heb. 9:14) for us. What a sacrifice!
The Afflictions of Christ
First: He suffered from God for sin. There He suffered alone. Isaiah says, "We did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted." Jesus said, "A body hast Thou prepared me." This body we are told "was made for a little while lower than the angels for the suffering of death." This was a body to live in, to toil in, to glorify God in and then to die. This body in which we dwell was never designed for the devil to occupy.
God said through the prophet, "I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found none." Not one in 3400 years of world history? No, not one! Someone heard this and replied, "Lo, I come (in the .volume of the Book it is written of Me) to do Thy will 0 God." Yes, He came and "in all their affliction He was afflicted," yet "He bare them, and carried them all the days of old." He took flesh and blood upon Himself for the suffering of death for us.
Yes, in this He suffered alone. The prophet saw One coming "from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah" who said, "I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the peoples there was no man with me ... I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold." He suffered alone; God made Him sin for us who knew no sin. He laid upon Him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 63:4; Heb. 10:6-7; 2-9; Ezek. 22:30; Isaiah 63:1-6, 9.)
Second: He suffered from man for righteousness' sake. Here we are privileged to share His sufferings. We are told to "consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Him." Are we causing Him any sufferings now, or are we sharing His sufferings? Are we willing to go without the camp and suffer the afflictions of the cross with Him?
Third: He suffered as man from personal identification with us. "We have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." Here He shares our sufferings.
To the people of God it is great comfort to know that "In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them." God said to Moses, I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows: and I am come down to deliver them" (Isa. 63:9; Ex. 3:7, 9).
Hear the words of that greatly beloved P. P. Bliss:
"Man of sorrows," what a name,
For the Son of God who came,
Ruined sinners to reclaim,
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
"Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood,
Sealed my pardon with His blood
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!"
The Hebrew For Affliction
One of the definitions of the Hebrew word for affliction is pressure. This is a form of beating. Isaiah tells us that "Bread corn is bruised."
The candlestick or light bearer of the tabernacle was of pure "beaten gold."
The cherubim and the ark of the covenant were of "beaten gold."
For the light of the tabernacle God told them to use "pure olive oil beaten for the light."
In all this we see our suffering Christ. What a threshing and beating! What a bruising on His back! What a smiting on His face! What a pressure of thorns on His head! What a piercing of His hands, His feet, His side! What afflictions He bore—and all for us!
As to the afflictions of the people of God, let us hear two witnesses, one under the law and one under grace.
The Testimony of David
"Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivereth him out of them all"—a great promise. (Ps. 34:19).
"This is my comfort in my affliction; that Thy Word hath quickened me"—a great consolation (Ps. 119; 60).
"Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Thy Word"—a great lesson (Ps. 119:67).
“It was good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn Thy statutes" — a great confession (Ps. 119:71).
"In faithfulness hast Thou afflicted me"—a great testimony (Ps. 119:76).
Perhaps this world never saw such a mass of humanity, beaten, wounded, bruised, crippled, as we see today. They are broken in body, in spirit, in courage, in mind; broken marital ties, broken home ties, broken pledges, promises, treaties—confidence is lost. A dark picture indeed! Is it overdrawn?
But to such a world God sent His Son—Himself bruised, beaten, smitten, broken — with the specific charge "to bind up the broken-hearted" (Isa. 61:1). But how can we follow up this divine ministry to such a crushed, bleeding world "at such a time as this" unless somehow our own hearts are crushed, bruised, bleeding, broken and afflicted?
Water will neither soften nor harden the cement rock in the quarry. But after the rock is crushed, burned and ground to powder, a little water will permanently harden it, fix it and set it as an object or vessel unto honor or unto dishonor.
David and his son and successor on the throne are a very interesting subject in contrasts. Study the phrase, "David, and all his afflictions" (Psalm 132:1). Do we ever read that of Solomon? Compare with this the expression, "Solomon in all his glory" (Luke 12:27). Do we ever read this of David? Solomon reigned forty years, as did also David.
Solomon's philosophy of life, twelve chapters, viewed from "under the sun" commences with "Vanity of vanities" and ends with judgment and the word "evil."
The first Psalm commences with the word "Blessed" and the last one ends with "Praise ye the Lord," "Hallelujah" in Luther's German translation, "Lobet Jehova" in the Elberfeld version. Dr. Henry Wilson used to say, "The last Psalm of six verses in the original Hebrew, contains thirteen Hallelujahs, two for every weekday, morning and evening, and' one great big one for all day Sunday."
Solomon was the man who said, "I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly." Then he continues and says, "I made … I builded … I planted ... I got ... I gathered ... so I was great ... I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought ... and behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit and finally he exclaims, "I hated life . . . because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool.
What a gloomy aspect of life! How unlike the testimonies of his godly father! What is our choice? "David and all his afflictions" or "Solomon in all his glory?” Moses, refusing the highest honors the world could give him, or Demas who, having loved the present world" forsook his best friend, Paul?
The Testimony of Paul
Paul the great apostle gives us many more encouraging testimonies as to the afflictions of God's people. Listen to him saying, "I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there, save that the Holy Ghost testifieth unto me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions wait for me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself. The Lord told Ananias of Damascus concerning Paul, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for My Name's sake."
One of Paul's great concerns was to encourage and strengthen the believers. He traveled incessantly, "confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must thru much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). From the writings of the great Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit we quote the following:
To the Romans—It is our privilege to be "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ- if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him. Then he continues, "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to usward (Rom. 8:17, 18).
To the Corinthians—"In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions," and in a long list that follows. And again, For our light affliction, which is, but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
To the Colossians—"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His Body’s sake which is the Church." Paul is willing to suffer his "part," even rejoices in it. How about our "part?"
To Timothy—"Thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life . . . persecutions, afflictions which came to me at Antioch at Iconium at Lystra; what persecutions I endured; but out of them all the Lord delivered me." Then he tells him “For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long suffering for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him. Some innocent one must suffer "for a pattern" to other sufferers.
Who could better encourage a young preacher like Timothy, and all of us, today than the apostle Paul who wrote to him from the prison at Rome, saying, Be thou partaker of the afflictions (suffer hardship, R. V.) of the Gospel according to the power of God" and "Watch thou in all things, endure afflictions?"
Study the analogy between Moses' choice of faith, Daniel's purpose of heart and Paul's "mind of Christ." Our hearts and minds must be kept through Christ Jesus. Why? Because of the pleasures of sin, that tremendous attraction, that universal pull downward, earthward. Who has not felt the power of it?
What is the crying desire of our national life? Is it
"Thou 0 Christ art all I need
More than all in Thee I find?"
Religious literature finds it a struggle to exist. The subscription lists of our best and most spiritual periodicals are ridiculously low. Why? Our reading public evidently has not escaped the corruption that is in the world. The newspapers and billboards tell us that. During the last few years many profusely illustrated magazines have sprung up and in leaps and bounds have grown to issues of 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 weekly. What is the difference? Is it their unashamed mental suggestion? Is it the offer of the pleasures of sin with the least possible restriction? Whither are we drifting? Here is a wonderful chance for the choice of a Moses today. Is this necessary in our time or is it the cry of pessimism or the voice of a "calamity howler?" God's servants should know how to comfort His people, but they must also know when to cry aloud and spare not and lift up their voice as a trumpet.
Some afflictions are no doubt intended to be corrective. The mental and physical activities of our being are so closely related to each other that usually both of them rejoice or suffer together.
Study the case of the Corinthian church stated in 1 Corinthians 11: Here Paul found inconsistencies and irregularities leading to a serious lack of self-examination as a preparation for the observance of the Lord's Supper. When a man "eateth and drinketh damnation to himself" the results may naturally be very serious. Paul says, "For this cause many are sickly among you and many sleep." Something is radically wrong and needs immediate attention. He strikes right at the root of the matter and says, "For if we would judge ourselves we should not be judged. But when we are judged we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world."
Sin always demands judgment. However, in the case of the Christian the only alternative is chastisement. All such chastening for the present may be painful but excellent results will follow. The divine exhortation to us is, "If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons . . . But if ye be without chastisement whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons" (Heb. 12:7-11). God chastens His children, and sometimes severely, but executes judgment, punishment and condemnation upon the ungodly. Thus here again we choose with Moses rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to be destroyed with the wicked.
Paul suffered much affliction, perhaps more than any mortal could suffer without divine help. How could he get through? Read carefully that remarkable testimony in 2 Cor. 1:3-7. He gives the glory to the "God of all comfort." In five verses he mentions tribulations, trouble, sufferings, afflictions six times and comfort and consolation ten times. Here we have afflictions covered by comfort. Through this "God of all comfort" only could Paul say later on in this Epistle, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may spread a tabernacle over me. Therefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities in persecutions, in distress for Christ's sake; for when I am weak then am I strong (II Cor. 12:9, 10, R. V., marg.). What a testimony! And the Holy Spirit witnesses to its veracity. But how does our own personal experience compare with it?
In one of the earliest writings that we have, probably dating back to the days of Moses, the patriarch Job says, "Despise not thou the chastening (lit. child-training) of the Almighty." About five hundred years later the wise man Solomon quotes this, saving "My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord." Then still a thousand years later we find the writer to the Hebrews saying, "Have ye forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord." To this last quotation is added the injunction, Nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him" (Job 6:17; Prov. 3:11; Heb. 12.6). This thirty-five hundred year old exhortation still stands and should be observed by us today. Yes, it should also be passed on to our children as of vital importance.
Now as to examples of afflictions we quote again from the Scriptures. James writes, "take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience." What do we find? They were cast into dungeons, thrust into a fiery oven, tortured, thrown to the lions, sawn asunder, stoned to death, etc.
From these many examples it would seem that the furnace of affliction, the crucible of suffering, the hammer of adversity are essential factors used by the great Toolmaker to shape, harden, temper and prepare His choice instruments to do His work and carry out His plans. The toils, privations and in many cases the most horrible sufferings and deaths run like threads of scarlet through the whole range of human history from beginning to the end. But here also run parallel the threads of gold, the most marvelous manifestations of divine love and power toward the children of God, such who choose "the way of the Cross," no matter what the cost may be, rather than the "pleasures of sin," no matter what its allurements may be.
Resignation in Affliction
The child of God can hopefully, confidently sing;
"Help of the helpless, 0 abide with me."
A vision of "the more excellent glory" has helped millions of God's afflicted ones who had made the choice of Moses. Joseph said, "God sent me hither. Read the story of three courageous young Hebrews who stood before a mighty monarch and calmly said, "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us . .and He will deliver us out of thy hand." Daniel spake to king Darius out of the lion's den and said, My God hath sent His angel and hath shut the lions' mouths that they have not hurt me (Gen. 46:6-8; Dan. 3:17; 6:22).
As the lions were approaching that saintly Ignatius in the arena at Rome he said to the crowd of onlookers, "I am the wheat of Christ, I am going, to be ground between the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found pure bread. When Jerome of Prague was tied to the stake at Constance, as the flames crept about him he sang Easter hymns and said to his executioners, "Bring thy torch hither before my face. Had I feared death I might have avoided it."
The bride says, "He brought me into the house of wine" (S. S. 2:4 marg.). Samuel Rutherford says, "Whenever I find myself in the cellar of affliction I always look about me for the wine." One of God's suffering ones said, "When I have most pain in my body, I have most comfort in my soul." What do we say?
These are a few among the millions "of whom the world was not worthy," but of whom the Lord says, "They shall walk with me in white; for they are worthy,” (Heb. 11:38; Rev. 3:4). If Jesus was wounded and spat upon more than once in the house of His friends, should His followers think it strange to be "made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things?" (1 Cor. 4:13, R. V.).
The earth is soaked with the blood of martyrs since the days of Abel, John the Baptist, Stephen, down to our day while many others lived martyrs' lives. Think of the millions killed by Pagan Rome and many more millions at the hands of Papal Rome, St. Bartholomew's Day in 1572, etc. He whose eyes are as a "flame of fire" said that all this blood will some day be required from some one (Lu. 11:47-61). Read the words of W. A. Williams:
"I saw the martyr at the stake,
The flames could not his courage shake
Nor death his soul appall,
I asked' him whence his strength was given,
He looked triumphantly to heaven
And answered, 'Christ is all.'
"I saw the Gospel herald go
To Afric's sand and Greenland's snow
To save from Satan's thrall;
No home nor life he counted dear,
'Midst wants and perils owned no fear,
He felt that 'Christ is all.' "
Suffering, no doubt in a great many cases is hereditary. When God gave Moses the words of the decalog He added the following clause to the second commandment: "I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate ME." As a warning, this statement is repeated frequently in the Scriptures. There is an organic bond between parent and child through which the offspring often reaps the terrible harvest of the sins of parents and even remote ancestors, as well as in other cases they inherit the temporal and eternal blessings of godly, praying ancestors. In the sacrifice of Christ we see that grace has triumphed over this law of sin, so that with Julia H. Johnson we can sing,
"Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt.
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace that is greater than all our sin."
Suffering may be the consequences of retributive justice. "He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption." In the beginning of creation God stated that the law of propagation of life—vegetable and animal—was to be "after its kind." This He states ten times in the first chapter of the Bible. Thus the acts of the person become the seed that he sows and the seed that he sows will determine the harvest. Some seeds germinate, grow and come to fruition quickly, while in others it takes years. The abbot who prevailed upon his neighbor for the lease of a piece of ground for "just one crop" sowed it with acorns thus gaining possession for many years. The descendants of a forgiven sinner may suffer pain, weakness, deformity, shame, humiliation, for generations to come, like the scars of some wound or disease.
As to retributive affliction, let us consider another matter that is before the eye of the whole world today, namely the question, Why must the Jews suffer so terribly and so universally social ostracism, economic injustice and even bodily harm? God recognizes them as His people and has blessed them financially, but they still persist in expressing a bitter hatred against His Son. This is so bitter that as some one stated, "civilization only, saves a believing Jew from the martyr's death. They are accused by their brethren, cast out and counted as dead by their families and friends, and often distrusted by the Christian community. On the day of their choosing Christ they enter upon a lifelong endurance of afflictions."
A young Jew familiar with nine languages, now a Hebrew Christian pastor, after professing faith in Christ, was cast out by his family. They counted him as dead, held a funeral service and sent the bill to the son who promptly paid it and has the receipt.
You may have read the story of Maurice Rubens. He had a good position, lived in a fashionable suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When he turned from Judaism to infidelity and spiritualism he was not molested, but when he confessed Jesus Christ as his Saviour, then the afflictions came. His brother, a prosperous business man, was deeply incensed, considered him insane. His beautiful wife was persuaded to return home to her mother. One week later at midnight, he was arrested without a warrant, forcibly taken to jail without a trial. However, God stood by His child and helped him through his afflictions. He is now a beloved minister of an established Protestant church.
Yes, the mystery of affliction is a hard problem, next to the problem of sin. Shall these sufferers be branded as sinners above all others? Shall any of us venture to judge any one of God's dear suffering ones? "Who art thou that judges! Another man's servant?" Does not the great Potter know what is best for all His vessels?
However, there may also be a corrective affliction. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth" (Heb. 12:6).
Ultimately heaven will be populated largely by a great host of God's suffering ones from earth. They will be heaven's glorified. This planet has long been the scene of open and most terrible revolt against God and His Christ. God warned it by flood, fire, brimstone, pestilence, war and death and very few could be induced to flee from the wrath to come. Then He entreated, loved, blessed, helped, yea even the Dayspring from on high visited the earth; but very few received Him.
We are glad to live in a country where every day thousands read the prayer, "God Bless America" but how many of the millions of Christian professors pray every day "God Save America?" God did bless America from the day of the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers, but where do we hear a sincerely penitent America crying out, "God Save America?" Christ gave up heaven to save a lost world but very few are willing to forsake their sins and give up a little of the pleasures of sin for a season and suffer a little affliction with the people of God.
Now what does Peter say in his first Epistle? "Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust that He might bring us to God." "So Christ also suffered for us leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps." Then He exhorts us to "Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy."
Peter was one of the few who were privileged to be with Jesus in the holy mount at the transfiguration. He tells us that he was "a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed." He no doubt never forgot his denial of his suffering Lord about twenty-seven years before (I Pet. 3:18, 2:19; 4:13).
The late Dr. Joseph Kemp of Scotland, tells of "a dear old lady of Melbourne, Miss Higgins, who for more than sixty years had never been out of her bed where she is propped up day and night. Hers is a prolonged, acute, continuous suffering. A mysterious disease attacked her in 1870 which has baffled the wisest physicians. After five years of ceaseless, agonizing pain, most of her fingernails were extracted.
Then her right hand was amputated. By 1896 she was left without arms and only the left leg, without the foot. Her lot is one of sleeplessness, restlessness and indescribable suffering, yet she named her home 'Gladwish' and her little room 'Thanksgiving Corner.' By a device which she invented she is able to write and from her bed of anguish and suffering she sends messages of cheer to all parts of the world. Here, if anywhere on earth, is the last word' in glorying in tribulation. She writes, "I often try to count my mercies and blessings for one day, but I cannot for they are innumerable." Think of Bella Cook of New York, blind and bedfast for fifty-five years.
It is said that Calvin was a lifelong invalid, that Richard Baxter, while writing "The Saints' Everlasting Rest" was never a day without pain. David Brainerd who preached to the American Indians from the Forks of the Delaware, (now called Easton) up to Wilkes-Barre, was so frail in body that he was completely spent, and died while young. Henry Martyn was almost a walking corpse and Jerry McAuley did most of his work with only one lung.
Think of Paul whose "bodily presence was weak," they said, and Timothy with his "often infirmities" and Epaphroditus and Trophimus, and a host of others, many of them weak in body, suffering afflictions, yet strong in the faith, giants in the army of the Lord. Read all that you can find of Paul's sufferings and then listen to him saying triumphantly, "Our light affliction which is but for a moment" . . . quite a long" "moment" from the time that he was let down in a basket over the wall in Damascus until Nero cut off his head in Rome.
Now then, must God let a few of His faithful trusty ones suffer so exceedingly to show us up and shame us when we complain of our awful trials, our heavy afflictions, privations, misunderstandings, misrepresentations, troubles that we endured? Perhaps many of these were magnified, exploited, published without even a single scar or stigma to show. Yes, we would be willing, perhaps, to choose with Moses the afflictions of the people of God, if we could also have for an alleviative a little of the pleasures of sin for a season.
As to the true child of God, his afflictions are after all short-lived. Job reared a large family, possibly without a funeral, and amassed a fortune. All this he lost at one stroke. He reared another large and more beautiful family and amassed a much larger fortune. And yet he says, "Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble." What, then, is the span of a lifetime of suffering on earth compared with an eternity of glory in heaven?
God permits Satan to a great degree to establish his claims as the "Prince of this world" and the "God of this world," assuming control of the political and also the religious affairs of this earth during the time of his rulership. When he told the Lord Jesus that he would give the thrones of earth to whom he wanted, Jesus did not contradict him. His authority, however, is limited as Paul declares, "there is one that restraineth now until He be taken out of the way."
Concerning the people of God, Paul says, "Our citizenship (commonwealth, R. V. marg., politeuma, Gr.) is in heaven. Then he continues to tell us that "eye hath not seen nor ear heard', neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." I shall close with the following lines from the beautiful hymn by Mary G. Brainard, arranged by P. P. Bliss:
"0 blissful lack of wisdom;
'Tis blessed not to know;
He holds me with His great right hand,
And will not let me go;
And so I rest my troubled soul
In Him who loves me so.
"So on I go not knowing,
I would not if I might;
I'd rather walk in the dark with God
Than go alone in the light;
I'd rather walk by faith with Him
Than go alone by sight."
Published by order of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ
Home Mission of Pennsylvania, 1941. Price, 5 cents.