Tears & Trials Are Not Long (McCheyne)

In a letter dated March 8, 1843, Robert Murray McCheyne was trying to console someone who was struggling with heart issues. I don’t mean medical issues. Instead, this person had some spiritual heart issues such as sinfulness, struggling under trials, and the fear of man. Speaking of the trials, here’s how McCheyne gave comforting words to encourage the person who was facing a trial:

…Stay your soul on God. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.” A few more trials, a few more tears, a few more days of darkness, and we shall be for ever with the Lord! “In this tabernacle we groan, being burdened.” All dark things shall yet be cleared up, all sufferings healed, all blanks supplied, and we shall find fulness of joy (not one drop lacking) in the smile and presence of our God. It is one of the laws of Christ’s kingdom, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” We must not reckon upon a smooth road to glory, but it will be a short one. How glad I am that you have “received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit!” Cleave closely to Jesus, that you may not have to say in a little while, “Oh that I had affliction back again to quicken me in prayer, and make me lie at his feet!”

Trials make the promise sweet,
Trials give new life to prayer;
Trials bring me to his feet,
Lay me low, and keep me there.

Robert Murray McChyene, “Letter to One Complaining of the Plagues of the Heart” (March 8, 1843).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Hymn on Suffering (Wesley)

It’s been awhile since I posted a song here for “Music Monday” so I thought I’d find another one worth sharing. Today’s hymn is one by Charles Wesley and it’s about suffering as a Christian. Notice how this hymn is a prayer that alludes to Daniel 3, 2 Corinthians 12:9, and 1 Peter 1:7e

Thee, Jesus, full of truth and grace,
Thee, Savior, we adore;
Thee in affliction’s furnace praise,
And magnify thy power.

2 Thy power in human weakness shown
Shall make us all entire;
We now thy guardian presence own,
And walk unburnt in fire.

3 Thee, Son of man, by faith we see,
And glory in our Guide,
Surrounded and upheld by thee,
The fiery test abide.

4 The fire our graces shall refine
Till, moulded from above,
We bear the character divine,
The stamp of perfect love.

 John Wesley and Charles Wesley, John and Charles Wesley: Selected Prayers, Hymns, Journal Notes, Sermons, Letters and Treatises, ed. Richard J. Payne and Frank Whaling, The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1981), 215–216.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Pain and Suffering in the Christian Life (Carson)

How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 2nd ed. Carson, D. A. cover image

Some people do almost anything they can to avoid any kind of pain and suffering. If there’s any risk of pain or suffering some people will not take the risk no matter what. This is what has been called the great untruth of fragility: what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker (Lukianoff/Haidt). If a person believes this “untruth,” that person will believe he or she is fragile.

To be sure, we should not go looking for pain and suffering. If you have a migraine it’s OK to take medicine to help ease the pain. If the roads are super icy, it’s not wrong to stay off the roads. And there are more than a few accounts in the Bible of God’s people fleeing persecution.

However, we also have to understand that in God’s sovereign wisdom, he uses pain and suffering in the lives of his people to grow them in their faith. Here’s how Don Carson explains this reality:

There are at least three ways in which our pain and suffering, rightly received in faith, will contribute to our growth as Christians.

First, in the words of Richard Baxter, “suffering so unbolts the door of the heart, that the Word hath easier entrance.” We can be so busy working, enjoying life, pursuing our careers, even ‘serving the Lord,’ that we no longer really reflect on his Word, or take time to pray, or sort out our priorities before him. The popular song, ‘He washed my eyes with tears, that I might see,” may indulge in too much sentimental doggerel, but it expresses an important truth….

Second, illness, bereavement, and suffering actually shape us; they temper us; they mold us. We may not enjoy the process; but they transform us. …That truth is explicitly taught in Romans 5:1-5. Rightly accepted, pain cleanses us from self-centeredness, gives us insight into the nature of this fallen world, prepares us for death, makes us remember the suffering of Christ and of others.

Third, as a corollary to the previous point, experiences of suffering, illness, and bereavement engender compassion and empathy in us, and therefore make us better able to help others.

For the Christian, then, suffering and pain are not the worst things in the world. They are not to be avoided at all costs. God in his loving sovereignty can use pain and suffering in our lives to shape and form us more into the image of Christ. The world might see pain as pointless. We see it as productive: “Suffering produces perseverance…” (Rom. 5:3 NIV)!

The above quote is found in How Long, O Lord? by D. A. Carson, p. 108.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Afflictions as Medicine, Providence as a Whole (Manton)

Many Christians have memorized the great promise of Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (NIV).”  Although afflictions and trials usually cloud our judgment and cause us to sometimes second guess this promise, it is true despite our feelings. I appreciate how Thomas Manton commented on this verse:

It [the affliction] shall turn to good. This is the comfort of the people of God, that all that befall them is either good or shall turn to good: Rom. 8:28…. If we have even a little faith, we may know it for the present, and be assured of it before we see it; and if we have but a little patience, we shall know it and find it by experience.

All things work together for good; singly and apart they may be against us, but ‘omnia simul adjumento sunt.’ Poisonous ingredients in a medicine, take them singly, and they are destructive; but as they are tempered with other things by the hands of a skilful physician, they prove wholesome and useful. So all things that befall us, are tempered and ordered by God for good. There is no beauty in a building till all the pieces be get together. We view God’s work by halves, and then his providence seems to be against us; but all together it works for our good. How for our good? Sometimes for good temporal, usually for good spiritual, but certainly for good eternal.

Sometimes for our temporal good: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen 50:20 NIV)….

For our spiritual good. All affliction is made up and recompensed to the soul; it afflicts the body, but betters the heart: “It is good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn your decrees” (Ps. 119:71 NIV)….

For our eternal good. Heaven will make complete amends: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Cor. 4:17 NIV)….

The above quotes – edited and summarized – are found in Thomas Manton’s Works, Volume 15, p. 128.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Pity and Presentness of God (Melanchthon)

 We might sometimes forget the many difficulties the Protestant Reformers faced in their efforts to reform the church according to the Word.  It’s not like everyone appreciated what they were doing and flocked to their churches.  Many reformers faced a lot of hardships, hostility, and hatred from all different kinds of people.  I’m sure many of you know the stories.

In light of the difficulties the reformers faced, Phillip Melanchthon (d. 1560) preached a comforting sermon on John 10:28 called “The Safety of the Virtuous.”  In the sermon, Melanchthon said that this verse often raised him “up out of the deepest sorrow” and drew him as it were, “out of hell.”  I recommend reading the whole sermon, but here’s one excellent section of it that I appreciated:

For to this end are we laden with such a crowd of dangers, that in events and occurrences which to human prudence are an inexplicable enigma, we may recognize the infinite goodness and presentness of God, in that He, for His Son’s sake, and through His Son, affords us aid. God will be owned in such deliverance just as in the deliverance of your first parents, who, after the fall, when they were forsaken by all the creatures, were upheld by the help of God alone. So was the family of Noah in the flood, so were the Israelites preserved when in the Red Sea they stood between the towering walls of waters. These glorious examples are held up before us, that we might know, in like manner, the Church, without the help of any created beings, is often preserved.

Many in all times have experienced such divine deliverance and support in their personal dangers, as David saith: “My father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord taketh me up”; and in another place David saith: “He hath delivered the wretched, who hath no helper.” But in order that we may become partakers of these so great blessings, faith and devotion must be kindled within us, as it stands written, “Verily, I say unto you!” So likewise must our faith be exercised, that before deliverance we should pray for help and wait for it, resting in God with a certain cheerfulness of soul; and that we should not cherish continual doubt and melancholy murmuring in our hearts, but constantly set before our eyes the admonition of God: “The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your heart and mind”; which is to say, be so comforted in God, in time of danger, that your hearts, having been strengthened by confidence in the pity and presentness of God, may patiently wait for help and deliverance, and quietly maintain that peaceful serenity which is the beginning of eternal life….

Phillip Melanchthon, “The Safety of the Virtuous” in The World’s Greatest Sermons (vol 1), p. 167.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002