Blessed be God

A man with an experience has something to say, and what he says is worth listening to. Such a man as this was Paul. What a life was his! He tells us about it in his second Epistle to the Church at Corinth. He speaks of his tribulation, of being pressed out of measure, of despairing even of life (chap. 1), of being troubled on every side, distressed, perplexed and persecuted (chap. 4); of patience, afflictions, necessities, stripes, imprisonment, tumults, labours, of dishonour, of evil reports, of sorrows, and poverty (chap. 6); of deaths, shipwrecks, perils, weariness, pains, hunger, thirst, cold and nakedness (chap. 11). Did ever a man suffer more than he? and what volumes he could have written about it all if be had been a self-centred man and anxious to make a name for himself!

Let us hear what he has to say; this man, whose life cannot be measured by years but by what was crowded into it, by his labours and losses, his sufferings, experience and knowledge. When his opportunity comes be says, "BLESSED BE GOD." The benediction breaks out from a full heart; we feel it; it bursts upon us as the relief of pent-up feelings. This man who, unlike others, had neither pleasures nor possessions, whom we should have thought would have cried, "Woe is me," — from whom we should have expected a bitter lament, is full of God and His goodness, and when he speaks he says, Blessed be God. He cannot help it; his words are not studied words, they are spontaneous; and in the power of the Holy Ghost they well up out of his heart for God's glory; and they live for us today.

But why should he bless God? He had served God, no man had ever done it with greater zeal; and yet he had suffered more than any; and God, being God, could have shielded him from it all, but He did not. On this score be has some cause for complaint, surely? No, he has none, when he speaks it is all praise and benediction. He has lost all, but he regrets nothing, suffered all and yet he rejoices, and cries, Blessed be God! We must consider this, and give patient heed to Paul while he unfolds for us this grand secret of his life, for here is something that is not taught in the schools of philosophy, that seems indeed to be superhuman.

The God whom he blesses is "the Father of all consolation and the God of all encouragement" (N.Tr.). And thus Paul knew Him. This was not theology, cold, pulseless theology, correct and orthodox; it was not mental knowledge learned by rote to be repeated again, parrot like. No, Paul had learnt what he knew by experience; he knew God in the very depths of his soul and had proved the greatness of His consolations in his darkest hours. He had got to the Source, to the Originator of every bit of true comfort that ever came to any suffering man or woman on earth, for God is the Father of all compassions. Many and varied are the channels through which His comforts flow, but His heart is the spring of them all, and Paul knew Him, and knew Him as greater than the greatest calamity that could befall a man on earth. God was his resource and his reward and be wanted nothing more.

It was this story of the comfort of God that Paul would tell to the world if it would listen, but most of all to tried and suffering saints. Said he, I was in great tribulation and in it God sustained and comforted me; I was involved in so great a death, and despaired even of life, but God delivered me; I was troubled on every side yet not distressed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken; cast down but not destroyed. No human power could have upheld me in these vicissitudes and brought me through them, but God has done it; the excellency of the power is His. He has led me to this hour. And not me alone, but those also who labour with me for Christ's sake. Blessed be God.

There is authority behind that story, the authority that only experience can give, and this experience was not a thing of the past that required an effort of the memory to recall, it was living, present and continuous; to be his as long as life should last, for he says, "He has delivered, He does deliver, and He will deliver." And then, Paul, when death brings the story to a close, what then? Then I will trust in God which raiseth the dead, even as I do now. How restful and confident, how blessed and triumphant is the man who has the knowledge of God

Now this experience and the way God had revealed Himself to him in it, was not for Paul and his co-sufferers alone, he turns his experience and knowledge into testimony, and the Spirit of God breathes His own power into it. He bears witness to the fact that what God was for him He is for all, and all who are in any tribulation may experience in it the excellency of the power of God and be comforted by His all-sufficient grace.

This knowledge of God, that was Paul's greatest treasure, had shone into his heart from the face of Jesus Christ. He had lived in Stygian darkness until the day that that glorious light shone into him. And every man is in that same darkness into whose heart that light has not shone. Alas, many refuse the light; the god of this world has blinded their minds, and in their pride they imagine that they can find out God apart from Jesus Christ; fatal, soul-destroying delusion! All who refuse that light are lost, but to those into whose heart it shines it is a treasure beyond all computation, it is salvation and the knowledge of God.

Now Paul started his Christian career with this treasure — the knowledge of God in His infinite grace. He learnt, when he turned his wondering eyes to Jesus, enthroned in glory, and owned Him as his Lord, that God's face was not averted from him because of his sinfulness and rebellion, but that Jesus Christ, exalted and glorified, was now the perfect manifestation of the grace of God which reigns through righteousness. And this is where every believer starts. We have this treasure — greater than any and all the prizes that the world can give — in earthen vessels. But Paul put God to the proof, and made use of this knowledge. He did not harbour God-dishonouring doubts, but went forth to let the light that had shone into him shine out again, assured that no matter what opposition he might encounter God was greater than all and would carry him through. And God did not fail him, His grace and comfort and encouragement were poured into the soul, so that he was not a preacher only but a witness, and the knowledge of God was so worked into and blended with his experience and life that he was a sweet savour of Christ to God. He was bound a willing captive in the chains of love to the triumphal ear of Christ victorious; and wherever he was led the reality of the knowledge of God was manifested in him (chap. 2). It was clear to all who would see that a power more excellent than any human power sustained him, that he possessed a portion surpassing in glory the best that the earth could give, and that a peace of heart and mind was his that no vicissitudes could destroy. This made nothing of him, but it made everything of Christ and God, and for this he gives thanks; this conquered captive cries: "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort."

"In the desert God shall teach thee
  What a God that thou hast found.
Patient, gracious, powerful, holy,
  All His grace shall thou abound."

This rough way that Paul travelled was only a way; it was not the end for which God had saved him. He had a goal in view, a glorious destiny, and he never lost sight of it. "We know," he says, "that if this earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens," and in view of this, and of being present with the Lord, he calls his afflictions light. It is good to hear him; his words show us the view of things that a man takes, into whose heart the knowledge of God has shone.

The circumstances do not overwhelm him, they are temporal, light and swiftly passing, while the glory is substantial and eternal. "We look," he says, "not on things temporal but on things eternal." Here was a man who feared no change in his earthly career, for God does not change and God was his present and everlasting portion. And to him the greatest change of all would be the best of all, and this change he earnestly desired. And why should not he desire it? Was it not right that he should desire to reach the One the knowledge of whom was his greatest treasure? Was it not right that he should long to be present with the Lord, whose love meant so much to him? Was it not right that he should thirst for the unfettered capacity and harmonious conditions that are necessary for the full enjoyment of the glory that was his hope?

For this self-same thing God had wrought him, as He has wrought all those into whose hearts His light has shone. The light that has shone from the glory attracts to the glory all into whom it has shone, and no heart that knows its blessedness will ever be satisfied with anything else. This is the work of God; it was demonstrated in its fullest measure in Paul, but it is developing in all His own, to each of whom He has given the earnest of His Spirit.

Thus "tribulation works patience, and patience experience, and experience hope," and soon the hope will be fulfilled, for God will not fail to bring us to that great destiny for which He has wrought us. Then —

"When to Canaan's long-loved dwelling
  Love divine thy foot shall bring;
There with shouts of triumph swelling,
  Zion's songs in rest to sing,
There no stranger God shall meet thee,
  Stranger thou in courts above;
He who to His rest shall greet thee,
  Greets thee with a well-known love."

Then shall we say in the fullness of the knowledge of His wisdom, work and ways — Blessed be God!