Great Substance

"Afterward shall they come out with great substance" (Genesis 15:14).

They were to be greatly afflicted, these children of Abram, to pass through a horror of great darkness, in fact, yet the end of it would be great substance. "THEY SHALL COME OUT." They were not to be annihilated or completely overwhelmed in the furnaces, they were to go through it and come out of it, free and enriched. God had pledged Himself to that, and He would be with them to fulfil His pledge. And this must always be so with the children of God when He is with them in affliction for "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. 10:13). They will certainly come out of their trial — the testing of their faith — at the very moment that it seems good to God. For though many are the afflictions of the righteous, the Lord will deliver him out of them all.

The ways of God seem strange at times, even to those who love Him best. Job's history is the divine classic, the outstanding example of this; what we should have missed if his story had not been written for us by the pen of the Lord! He was a sorely and long-perplexed man, but he came out of his trial at last with great substance and with no regrets, except perhaps that he had been so slow in confiding wholly in God.

I would say to any who love the Lord and yet are afflicted, "Let the thought of the end of the Lord, His intention for you, quieten your spirit and steady your trust in Him." You may be so distressed, your horror of darkness so great, that you can only cry to God for mercy, and plead with Him that you may be delivered at once from your affliction. Well, let God hear your cry,

it will not dishonour Him if it is not one of murmuring against Him. Israel's cry came up before Him because of the affliction of which Genesis 15 speaks, and we read, "Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up to God by reason of the bondage, and God heard their groaning … and God looked upon the children of Israel and God had respect to them." The margin reads "He knew them." It is a moment of great gain to one in affliction when the discovery is made that God is his only hope, and what comfort there is in that thought, He knows them!

We are not stoics; God has given to His children hearts that can feel; they are often, and should always be, more sensitive than men of the world, and if so it is no relief to them to say, "This sort of thing is common to men, we must grit our teeth and bear it." I have no fault to find with natural fortitude, but we who know God have more than that; that in itself could not carry us through. We may have God with us in every trial and the sure prospect of coming out of it with great substance. Thus succour from above and hope for the future give to the heart a buoyancy in the trial that nothing else can give. Even a sleepless night, a small thing to some to whom it is a rare thing, but a great affliction to others with whom it is a common occurrence, may be turned to great account, and a man may have gained spiritual substance while others slept, because He spent the night making some new discovery of the grace and mercy of God. "Tribulation works patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope makes not ashamed because the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost that is given to us" (Rom. 5). All that I want to say is contained in that beautiful statement of Christian confidence, and what philosophy of the schools can rival it?

Suffering and affliction strip us of all pretence; it may take sometime to do it, for pride yields slowly, but at last we are what we are before God, and the confession of this is a great relief. It gives great liberty of soul before God, when we tell all to Him who knows all. We must have some reserve even with those who know us and love us the best, but none with Him, and it is when all is told and they are without guile before Him that He brings His suffering saints to rest only in Himself. It is a great moment when one realizes, not as a doctrine but as a fact, that "the eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms." Then the fact becomes an experience, and that experience is great substance, it is a vein of pure gold. Nothing else can gave character and poise and quietness like this. The one who has it may not say much about it to others, but the little he does say will not be flippant, mere platitudes, there will be an unction about it that will impress has hearers, and the change in him will be felt, and to him will go for help those who are in need, for what is gained in this way is not for a man alone, it is for the common good, he is able to comfort others with the comfort wherewith he has been comforted of God. It is from this point of view that we see so much substance in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. As we read the first, fourth, sixth, and eleventh chapters, we feel that we are reading the autobiography of a mortal man whose sufferings exceeded all others. Yet, he can begin by saying, "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort." And he gives us the secret of his rejoicing; he had heard the Lord Himself saying to him, "My grace is sufficient for thee," and he closes with this benediction, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all." He had experienced for himself this threefold blessedness in the vicissitudes of his extraordinary life. A man's strength and resources are tested by adversity, here are the Christian's strength and resources. The triune God pours His wealth into the soul of a man who will commit his way to Him and go through affliction with Him, and Paul knew it experimentally and so he could minister the truth of it effectively.

But to return to our chapter. Notice that before any word was said to Abram as to the suffering through which his seed should go, God said to him, "Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward." "And Abram believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness." It is here where God would have us all begin. We are to know that He is for us, our Shield, and if He is for us, who and what can be against us? If He is for us, all things must work together for our good, even a horror of great darkness. How often has that word "Fear not" sounded in the souls of afflicted saints, when they appeared to be as weak as a leaf before a hurricane; but it would not have availed them in the hour of their sore need had not there been added to it "I am thy shield."

"If God is round about me,
How can I be dismayed?"

"Is any afflicted, let him pray." Let him draw near to God and stay his soul upon has word, for his recompense and his reward are there, even God Himself. And here we must come back to Paul's second letter to the Corinthians and read afresh of his confidence and hope. "For this cause," he says, "we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." What great and abiding substance is here, but mark the condition on our part, "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."

I knew a Christian man who was active in religious work, he told me that he did not know of any gain that he had got through trouble or affliction. He afterwards made complete shipwreck, and I was not surprised after his strange admission.

And now an incident by way of illustration. The late Dr. W.T.P.Wolston, of Edinburgh, used to tell of a man whom he once visited in that city. He had suffered for a long time from an incurable and exceedingly irritating and painful disease. The doctor pitied him greatly, and feeling that his words were quite inadequate to help the sufferer in his affliction, suggested that he should pray for him. "All right, doctor," came the astonishing reply, "but let it be maistly praise."

Ah, that is it, afflicted Christian. Pray, by all means, pray without ceasing, but let it be mostly praise, for your trial shall afterwards yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness if you are exercised by it. You shall come out of it with great substance.