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

The Good In Sorrow (!?!)

I certainly don’t know all the thoughts and feelings of other Christians as they’ve suffered hard through trial and affliction. But I do know that some Christians have remarked that God blessed them greatly during their suffering. Sometimes when we suffer we experience the comforting presence of God in an unexplicable way. Other times God’s people step up and surround us with tender love when we suffer. David said that it was good for him to be afflicted because then he learned God’s rules (Ps. 119:71). When Paul was weak under affliction, he learned more of God’s strength and grace (2 Cor. 12:9-12).

While God has spared me from many trials and hardships, I know what it’s like to plow through a hard, heartbreaking, and somewhat lengthy affliction. I can say for sure that for Christians, there is some sweetness in suffering. I don’t mean suffering itself is sweet. I mean what Paul said when he explained how suffering was productive (Rom. 5:3-5). In God’s mysterious providence, suffering is not a waste. Here’s one helpful angle on this topic written by a Christian man who lost his daughter, wife, and mother in the same car accident:

[Sorrow] enlarges the soul until the soul is capable of mourning and rejoicing simultaneously, or feeling the world’s pain and hoping for the world’s healing at the same time. However painful, sorrow is good for the soul.

Deep sorrow often has the effect of stripping life of pretense, vanity, and waste. It forces us to ask basic questions about what is most important in life. Suffering can lead to a simpler life, less cluttered with nonessentials. It is wonderfully clarifying. That is why many people who suffer sudden and severe loss often become different people. They spend more time with their children or spouses, express more affection and appreciation to their friends, show more concern for other wounded people, give more time to a worthy cause, or enjoy more of the ordinariness of life.”

These words were written by Jerry Sittser in his excellent book, A Grace Disguised. It’s a tough book to read because Sittser’s story contains such deep sorrow. But it also explains in a God-centered way how to press on through sorrow and find the sweetness God often provides in and through sorrow.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Mystery to Ourselves (Boston)

  In 2 Corinthians 12:10, Paul wrote this seemingly paradoxical phrase that many of us know well: “…That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (NLT).  How could Paul take pleasure in suffering?  How could he be weak and strong at the same time?  

Below is the introduction to a sermon Thomas Boston preached on this text.  The whole sermon is worth reading, but the introduction is especially quite profound:

The text is a gospel-paradox, best understood by experience. The Christian is a mystery, a mystery to the world; the saints are hidden ones, yea, in a great measure they are a mystery to themselves; so is the Christian life.

The apostle in the text, tells us one of the great mysteries of the Christian life, and that is meat out of the eater: “I take pleasure,” says he, “in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.”

Christianity teaches not a Stoical apathy, no man is more sensible of the weight of his burden than a Christian; yet he can not only bear a heavy burden patiently, (which I believe is a mystery to many of us), but he even finds a pleasure in a burden he is not able to stand under. After sense has considered a trial, gone out and in through it, and found nothing but bitterness, faith can discover a great deal of sweetness in it. The Christian well exercised, may get some glorious sights in his trials and temptations, that afford a refined pleasure….

Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Sixty-Six Sermons, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 9 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1851), 138.

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

Afflictions, God’s Sovereignty, and Our Foundation (Powlison)

Good and Angry: Letting Go of Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness In chapter 17 of Good & Angry, David Powlison talks about being angry at God. Obviously it’s sinful to be angry at God and blame him of wrongdoing.  Powlison’s discussion of this topic is a good one; it’s worth reading for sure!  I especially appreciated the following paragraphs:

When the Bible portrays and discusses suffering, God always embeds the hardships we experience as a subset of his larger purposes.  These may not be at all obvious in the moment. But in the long run, all tears will be wiped away and we will live in a world with only love, joy, and peace.  Meanwhile, people may seriously let us down. Abusers heinously betray trust, and if hell has gradations, the atrocities they commit merit the deepest pit.  That’s to cite the worst case scenarios.  Many people who are angry at God have suffered more routine hardships: disappointment in love, financial disaster, a life threatening illness, death of a loved one.

Afflictions are hard. Sufferings hurt. People who are angry at God typically suffer the exact same kinds of pain (and enjoy many of the same blessings) as people who love God! Groaning about our sufferings (to God, in faith and hope) is heartily warranted. But God has never promised freedom from tears, mourning, crying, and pain — or from the evils that causes them – until the great day when life and joy triumph forever over death and misery.  

It is curious how people who don’t believe that God sovereignty rules all things become embittered hyper-Calvinists when they face sufferings and say, God could have changed things for me and he didn’t. He had the power, and he didn’t use it. It’s his fault. To actually believe that God rules for his glory and our welfare is to gain an unshakable foundation for trust and hope, in the midst of hellish torments, as well as amid the milder pains and disappointments.  

David Powlison, Good & Angry, p. 226-227.

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