“Exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
It is most certainly true that the ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness and that “all her paths are peace,” and such is the witness of all who faithfully tread those ways. To say otherwise would be to belie the very life they lead, and their experience of the grace and goodness of their God.
At the same time the entire course of the believer is one of testing; and, undoubtedly, the greater the faith the more severe the test.
We all remember how that “God did tempt Abraham” by the offering up of his only son. The test was great beyond measure; but then, God knew whom He saw fit thus to test, and the result was fully for the glory of God and for the enhanced blessing of Abraham. This case is, of course, exceptional, but it illustrates the fact that where faith exists it will be tried; and so the trial is, in truth, an honour: it shall redound “unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”
Hence, in some way, every true believer may anticipate trial: it is bound to come; indeed, where there is none it may be safely questioned whether faith exists or, at least, whether it is in healthy exercise. This need not cause disturbance, but it should cause exercise of conscience. But do not let it be supposed that trial means discouragement! If that were so we might well shrink from it. Nay, it means our present help and invigoration of soul; for our blessed God ever has our truest welfare at heart. He loves His people; He knows what is for their good; He makes all things work together for that end.
“With mercy and with judgment
My web of time He wove:
And aye the dews of sorrow
Were lustred with His love.”
And as the warp and woof are thus blended together in weaving our fair raiment, each can add:
“I’ll bless the hand that guided,
I’ll bless the heart that planned,
When thronèd where [Christ] dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.”
Then let us face the facts. We must be tested: we should prize the testing. It should be a joy to us to fall into diverse trials, and it would be so if we saw the purpose God has in view.
However, whether seen or not, the testing lies before each child of God, and he will discover, ere long, that it is one of the chief conditions of the road to the heavenly kingdom. In keeping with this it is ever-interesting to remember the faithful exhortation of the Apostle Paul, on his return visit (along with Barnabas) to Lystra and Iconium and Antioch, how that he not only exhorted the young disciples to continue in the faith, but warned them that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
These were plain words and true. That was the prospect which this faithful servant of Christ held out to these disciples. Such should and must be their lot; and mark, “much tribulation” too. It is well to learn that at all times this is the condition of the journey to the everlasting kingdom.
Much tribulation lies before each disciple—each true believer. It is this through which we must all pass; not, however, through the “great tribulation” spoken of, for instance, in Revelation 7:14, because, ere that comes, every saint of this dispensation, whether dead or living—all that are Christ’s—shall have been caught up to be for ever with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:13-18), far removed, therefore, from a judgment which shall be as special as it shall be “great.” But “much tribulation” is continuous. It may assume various forms; it may be Satanic; it may arise from the hatred of the world, or from false brethren in the way of persecution; or it may come from domestic trial, as in the case of Job.
Anyhow there must be the wear and tear (for such is the meaning of the word “tribulation”) of the wilderness; its adversity; its contrariety; its lessons of patience and dependence on the Lord; its necessary education which, after all, is only designed to fit us spiritually for that kingdom of which grace has already made us the happy subjects.
And it may be safely said that when the kingdom is reached, and the glorious result of all God’s wise and patient ways with His people seen, we shall adore for ever the chastening hand, which, while it corrected, yet sustained; while it humbled, yet elevated; and while it tested, yet sanctified.
We shall remember all the way the Lord had led us, and see that the leading, in whatever way, was all us own, and therefore for His glory and our eternal good.