As to why believers, whose sins have all been gone into, judged, and judicially made an end of in the death of Christ, are not exempted from suffering is a cause of great concern in the minds of many who have not the scriptural answer to such a very important question. One can very well understand a rejecter of the gospel, upon whom lies the wrath of an angry God, being greatly afflicted, but to find one who is so loved as Christ is being in evil circumstances is quite another thing altogether.
But is there not another question quite as difficult to solve as this one? Why are not believers who are born of God and have received the Divine Spirit removed to heaven at once? Why are they left here at all? They are as fit for heaven as they ever can be made (John 13; Col. 1:12). All that is needed by them is a change of body, and one would think that for this it were not necessary to keep them waiting until the advent of Christ (Phil. 3:21). Yet from the beginning of the work of God in grace on earth His people have had to suffer from the hands of men, the first saint of God being murdered, and all the others plagued more than other men (Ps. 68); and although their souls often rebelled against it, as in the case of Job, they were made to learn that out of it all they had reaped a wealth of blessing which without it they never had known (Job 42; Ps. 119:67).
But in order to get a right understanding of the whole subject we must have some knowledge of the true nature of the present time in which our lot is cast. And we can find this in the Scriptures, for it is all put on record in the wisdom and grace of our God; for He would not only save the souls of men, but He would also bring them to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).
The two great subjects of prophetic writings in the Old Testament are “The sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1 Peter 1:10-12).
From the moment of the rejection of Christ until the day of His appearing to the world is the time of His sufferings. They shall be terminated by the power of the glory in which He will show Himself to the world. Of course His own personal sufferings ceased when He went to the Father, after having accomplished the work of redemption, but because He is still in rejection, and deprived of His rights on earth, and because His people are afflicted by this world, this present time is still characterized by the sufferings of Christ. He said to Paul, who persecuted the church of God, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?”
Now the greatest favour that God has conferred upon His saints is the privilege of sharing in His sufferings (Phil. 1:29). To be granted faith is surely a wonderful favour from God, but to be allowed to suffer a little for His sake is a still greater manifestation of His favour to us. It is only to a great friend an upright and self-respecting man would grant such a privilege; it is also one way in which God allows us to manifest our love and gratitude to Him. I will endeavour, by the help of God to point out some of the reasons why there is really no other path for us than that of suffering.
As Light in the World
Our Lord says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:3). But in view of His absence His saints are said by Him to be the “light of the world” (Matt. 5:14; Phil. 2:15). Saints are light in the Lord (Eph. 5:8), because they are here to present the moral characteristics of Christ to the gaze of men who are in darkness, and because all the source and power of their light resides in the Lord of heaven, who is hidden from the world, but in faith and in the Spirit manifest to His own. The moon shines during the night because it is in the light of the sun, and saints shine during the absence of Christ because they are in the light of the risen Son of God.
And this light is most objectionable to the men of this world, whose ways are by that light exposed in all their ungodliness. Therefore the desire of men is to quench that light, and to this end are all their energies directed. In the darkness they can do a great many things that they are ashamed to do in the light. People can even deceive themselves in the darkness, but in the light they see that which they gloried in as good and virtuous to be nothing but worthy of the condemnation of God.
In the darkness they mistake honesty for righteousness, for if they are upright in their dealings with their fellows, they consider this is all that is necessary. But the light which radiates from the lives of God’s people gives them to see that they have some one other than man to consider, and the One who should have been first in their thoughts has had no place at all. In the darkness they can talk of living clean lives, for they know that a world that has cast off God is not likely to condemn them for dabbling in its defilement; but in the light they come to see that no man can be clean in the sight of God whose heart is full of lust and pride, and that to be the world’s friend is to be God’s enemy. A worldling is here for the world, and a believer is here for God: and this is an infinite difference.
This world hated the light as it shone in Christ; and the Lord says, “If they have hated Me, they will also hate you.” He says also, “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). The light is hated and persecuted, whether in Christ or in His followers. The fruit of the light is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth (Eph. 5:9, “light,” see R.V.), and these qualities are foreign to the nature of fallen men, and therefore those who walk with God are a constant rebuke to the worldling, and must experience in this world hatred and persecution.
For the Name of Christ
We may rest assured that Christ having been rejected by the men of this world, those who are here in His name will not have an easy time. To be here in His name is to be in charge of His interests, and to maintain as far as in one lies all that concerns that name upon earth. Paul persecuted all that called upon that name, whether they were men or women, for his desire was to blot out the name of Christ from under heaven. But the persecution did not end with the conversion of that ravening Benjamite. The devil can always find those who are ready to engage in his service, for he gives no work to be done that is disagreeable to the natural heart of man.
To suffer shame for that name is held by the believer to be the greatest possible honour (Acts 5:41); and Peter tells us, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye: for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified” (1 Peter 4:14). When our Lord took His place in public testimony for God at the baptism of John the Spirit of glory and of God rested upon Him; and it will be also true of us, if in our confession of Him we are reproached. As sure as we are a special mark of favour from the Father will be given to us.
The writer of the epistle to the Hebrew Christians exhorts them to go outside the camp to Him, bearing His reproach. If we are here in His name we cannot expect better treatment than He got, and He felt the shame He was put to much more keenly than we do. He says, “Reproach has broken my heart” (Ps. 69:20). In our hardness of heart we may care little what men think of us, or what they say about us, but it was not so with the Lord whose heart was tender enough to feel every character of indignity that was heaped upon Him. But what a joy it is to have to suffer a little shame for His name! How good it is of Him to entrust the honour of that name to us! And shall we, because of the shame that is attached to it in this evil world, be found in the least degree in the denial of that which is consistent with its incomparable dignity and excellency.
Suffering Shame with Its Glad Tidings
Perhaps we fail more in the appreciation of the grace conferred upon us in giving us to have fellowship with the proclamation of the gospel, for connected with this fellowship there is always of necessity affliction. On account of the zeal of the Apostle of the Gentiles in the gospel he was bound with a chain, and the Asiatics shrank from association with a man so obnoxious to the authorities of law and order. “All that be in Asia,” he says, “have turned away from me” (2 Tim. 1:15), and he exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, nor of himself who was a prisoner on the Lord’s account; but to suffer evil with the Glad Tidings.
The gospel, which sets forth Christ as Saviour and Lord, cannot be popular in a world guilty of His rejection and murder. It was not only the Sadducees who opposed it when they saw how it destroyed their no-resurrection theory, not was it persecuted by the Pharisees only, who in the light of it saw their own self-righteousness to be no better than filthy rags, but it was the whole world that rose up against it, because it condemned the whole world system, and announced a day of judgment by the Man it had crucified.
Therefore was the whole world up in arms against it, and therefore was it unpopular everywhere, and those who propagated it, and those who supported its propagators must feel the wrath of the powers that be. Christians who desired to stand favourably in the eyes of the world could not go with those who regarded the interests of Christ as of prime importance, and therefore they fell back into the rear, and refused to be identified in a public way with the men who sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. In practice they became enemies of the cross, whatever love may have been at the bottom of their hearts for the Saviour who died upon it.
But what infinite blessing they missed by this! What a glorious opportunity was theirs, and how blind they were to the honour held out to them in the grace of God! From the eternal glory they will look back upon their cowardice and defection, and if there can be regrets in that home of fullness of joy their hearts shall know it. The scars gotten in that holy war shall shine in the world to come brighter than the glorious sun in the heavens.
Suffering with Christ
There is also suffering on account of the possession of the Divine nature. Creation groans all around us. From the highest to the lowest—from the head to the foot—from the man set in responsibility to God down to the worm that has its home in the clod at his feet the effects of the fall are felt; and every living thing is racked with pain. The heart of every one is made bitter on account of sin, and throughout all the earth there is a cry.
Is this nothing to the Saviour, whose untiring labours for the relief of human distress came to light in all His activities in the days of His flesh here below? He who wept at the grave of Lazarus, and who groaned and was troubled at the power of the king of terrors, cannot be indifferent to the deep sorrows of the human race, for whom He gave His life in order that a way of salvation might be opened up for all.
Nor can His people either who have His life and nature be indifferent to human woes. The character of this end—its godlessness, its ignorance, its wilfulness, and its woes—made the Saviour a Man of Sorrows, and out of it His followers can gather no joys. Inwardly their joy may be unspeakable, for this is gathered from the heavenly world, of which Christ is the centre; but with the nature of Christ as partaking of His life, they must know something of sorrows that were His in His life below.
But the Apostle could say, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” This shall much more than compensate us for all the sorrows we have to pass through on our way to heaven. The sorrows of creation must continue till the sons of God are manifested, and then they shall cease for ever. Creation awaits the manifestation of the sons of God for its deliverance from the bondage of corruption; but we await the redemption of the body. Our groaning will cease when our bodies are changed into the likeness of Christ’s, the groans of creation will cease when we come forth with Christ out of heaven. May each of us be able to reckon with the Apostle, that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:1-30).
The Chastening of the Lord
To help us on our way to heaven we are subjected to the chastening of the Lord (Heb. 12). The will of the flesh has to be broken in us all, and the process is both trying and sorrowful. Our great Example having taken the place of a Man humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, and that the death of the cross, and we are to follow in His footsteps. For the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross and despised the shame, and by patient submission to the will of God reached the only place that had any attraction for Him—the presence of God where there is fullness of joy, and His right hand where there are everlasting pleasures.
This is the goal that is before the souls of His followers, and by the glory of it are we attracted thither. But if the glory attracts us the discipline of the Lord delivers us from fleshly entanglements. He chastens us for our good, and that because He loves us. The eagle stirs up her nest, making it uncomfortable for her young, in order that they may leave it for an element which they are as yet afraid to venture upon, for well she knows their capabilities of being at home in the airy firmament. And we have Christ in heaven as the object of our hearts, and we have the discipline of the Father to loosen us from earth. In love He does it. He says, “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him: for whom the Lord loves He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Heb. 12). Wherefore, He says, lift up the hands that hang down and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, for there is nothing to fear. Therefore we may well sing:—
“The Lord is Himself gone before;
He has marked out the path that I tread:
’Tis as sure as the love I adore;
I have nothing to fear not to dread.
“For the path where my Saviour is gone
Has led unto His Father and God,
To the place where He’s now on the throne,
And His strength shall be mine on the road.
“And with Him shall my rest be on high,
When in holiness bright I sit down
In the joy of His love ever nigh,
In the peace that His presence shall crown.”
In that day His hand shall wipe the tears from off our faces. The toils and sorrows of the way shall all be forgotten. Our failures also, thank God, if not forgotten shall bring no sense of distance between our souls and Him who suffered for them amid the gloom of Golgotha. May we know how good it is for us to be under His chastening hand so that thanksgiving may displace murmurs and doubt.