A Limit to Suffering

All the Prime Minister could offer the nation when he took up his onerous office was “sweat and suffering, tears and blood”; and from that suffering none in the land can claim exemption, the Christian as well as the most godless man must take his share of it as being of the nation in the providence of God. So it is written to Christians, “There has no temptation (trial), taken you but such as is common to men.” But the Christian has a great advantage over others and one that enables him to face suffering with a calm spirit, he knows God, who is over all, is “the preserver of all men, specially of those that believe”. He knows that “God is faithful, who will not suffer him to be tempted (tried) above that he is able, but will with the temptation, also make a way of escape, that he may be able to bear it.” That we learn from 1 Corinthians 10:13. The Christian has a further advantage; whatever his sufferings may be, and from whatever cause, he looks beyond them, and can “reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:19), and again, “For our light affliction which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). While he shares the sufferings of the nation, the Christian’s destiny is not bound up with it, his hopes are not worldly or even national, his citizenship is in heaven and his hopes are heavenly and sure and certain. He is “an heir of God, and joint heir with Christ.” And still further, his Saviour who died for him, rose again from among the dead is even at the right hand of God, making intercession for him (Rom. 8:34) and that mighty and ceaseless intercession will carry him triumphantly through all his suffering to his glorious destiny—which is, to be conformed to the image of God’s Son “that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29).

Suffering comes to us from different quarters and for various reasons, but that which is testing the greatest number now, and causing the most suffering at this time is the war, and many are asking why it should be? Why, if God is good, should there be any war at all? That is a question that calls for an answer. God is good, ten thousand times ten thousand voices bear witness to His goodness, but the world as such has rejected God, and despised the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering not knowing that His goodness would lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4) and has chosen to follow Satan, the adversary instead of God. In Eden Adam listened to the voice of Satan and turned his back upon God and by that act of disobedience sin entered into the world and death by sin (Rom. 5:13) and when sin came in, peace spread its wings and flew away. “There is no peace, says the Lord, unto the wicked” (Isa. 48:22). The world has been Satan’s world since that day and “suffering and sweat and tears and blood” are the result, they are part of sin’s foul brood.

God is the God of all comfort and the God of peace, and it is His desire that men should live in peace, and be free from sorrow and Satan’s thraldom under His beneficent rule, but they would have none of it. Adam’s disobedience has persisted in men through the ages, even in favoured Israel, so that God lamented over them in moving words, “All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Rom. 10:21). But the greatest proof of God’s desire for the blessing and peace of men was the sending of His Son. In the words of the parable this is stated: “Having yet one Son, His well-beloved He sent Him also last of all unto them, saying, They will reverence My Son.” It was a great day for both heaven and earth when the Son of God entered the world. It was man’s opportunity. All heaven was interested, and the angels chanted heaven’s joy in the words. “Glory to God in the highest, peace upon earth, good pleasure in man.” “God had sent unto the children of Israel preaching peace by Jesus Christ, (He is Lord of all)” (Acts 10:36). But at the end of His mission to men, when He entered Jerusalem, according to the prophetic Scriptures “just and having salvation, lowly and riding on an ass and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zech. 9:9), His disciples went before Him, crying, “Peace in Heaven, glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38). Why peace in heaven and not on earth? Because they did not reverence God’s Son; they said, “This is the Heir, come, let us kill Him.” The Lord of glory was crucified by the princes of this world (1 Cor. 2:8); the Prince of peace was cast out of the world; He was returned to His Father with the rejected terms of peace, and peace retired to heaven with Him, and will not come to earth again until He comes to reign in righteousness. Satan is the world’s prince and god and “the whole world lies in the wicked one.” The Word of God tells us this (see John 14:30; 2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 5:19). And the war has come because men have listened to him instead of to God He is no man’s friend. The Lord Jews said of him. “He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth … he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). His fourfold character is given in Revelation 12. He is “the dragon (the destroyer) that old serpent (the deceiver), the devil (the accuser) and Satan (the adversary)” and “he deceives the whole world.” And this description of him is repeated in Revelation 20. There is not a fibre of mercy in his constitution, he is wholly evil, and is out to destroy men because they are God’s creatures and He loves them. But his special spite is directed against God’s children, those who have believed the Word of God. If he could annihilate these he would and failing that he would oppress them with persecution and sorrow, to make them murmur when they ought to give thanks.

Job in the Old Testament and Paul in the New, and the fact that Satan desired to have the disciples, and Peter in particular, that he might sift them as wheat, are the outstanding cases in the Bible that prove his enmity against the children of God. He had long wanted to crush Job, but he had to confess that God had “made a hedge about him … on every side.” He could not get at him until God made a breach in the hedge and gave him permission to go so far. He went as far as he was permitted, and brought almost unspeakable suffering upon Job, but he was limited. “The Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thy hand; but save his life” (Job 2:6). He was not permitted to go to the full length of his malice and God turned his evil to great good for Job; and while we have heard of the malice of Satan, we have also heard of “the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; and that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy” (Jas. 5:11).

This limiting of Satan’s power and malice comes clearly out in the Revelation, where those who have the word of God and the testimony of Jesus are a suffering people. “Ye shall have tribulation ten days” was the word to the suffering church at Smyrna. Before the persecutions began God set a limit to them. It is thought that these ten days refer to the ten great persecutions under the Roman Emperors, whether that is so or not matters little, what does matter is that the time was fixed, the tribulation was to be for ten days not twelve. And when the Beast arises, and it is given to him to make war on the saints, his time is limited, “power was given to him to continue forty and two months” (Rev. 13). And when the devil is cast out of the heavens into the earth, “he knows that be has but a short time” (Rev. 12:12).

Satan buffeted Paul the Apostle, but the Lord turned the buffetings to blessings, and that fact made Paul endure, sustained as he was in his sufferings by the all-sufficient grace of the Lord. And so it shall be even now. Many of God’s dear children are suffering the buffetings of Satan, some are homeless, some injured, some bereaved, some continually anxious about those who are dearer than life, but in these sufferings they are learning what God is in His sustaining grace and in the strength and courage that His presence gives them. All these things are used of God as chastening, and that does not mean punishment but correction, it is really child-training that we might be partakers of His holiness. “But no chastening for the present seems joyous, but grievous. Nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down” (Heb. 12:11-12). The result is assured to us, if we are exercised by the trial, and God will not suffer us to be tried beyond what we are able. Then let faith rear its head in the storm, let it lay hold of God with a strong grip, let it speak out with a confident voice “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

Faith can glory in tribulation: “knowing that tribulation works patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope makes not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost that is given unto us” (Rom. 5:3-5). God will not permit His children to suffer one pang of sorrow or any stroke of tribulation that He cannot turn to their good, “The Father’s hand will never cause His child a needless tear.” The sifting is needed to separate the chaff from the wheat, and in this connection there is a beautiful word in the prophecy of Amos. “For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fail upon the earth” (ch. 9:9). The words have reference to Israel in the first place, but they may be well applied to this present day. The true children of God are the wheat, fair and priceless in His estimation, and it is necessary that they should go into the sieve. Yet in the sifting not a grain shall be lost. God Himself will take care of even “the least.” What comfort there is in that.

God does all things well, and the knowledge of this will keep us in peace, and faith will grow with trouble and courage rise as dangers increase. And the Christian can throw down the challenge, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Rom. 8:35-37). And to that we add our Amen.

J. T. Mawson