It Is The Lord Who Sends Afflictions (Chrysostom)

 I ran across this great quote from Chrysostom on God’s sovereignty in affliction.  These are his comments on Job 2:10: “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and not receive evil?” (Geneva Bible).  It’s worth reading a few times!

This text means that if we actually experienced only misfortunes, we would still need to bear them. God is Master and Lord. Does he not possess the power to send us anything? Why did God provide us with our goods? He did not do so because we deserved them. God was absolutely free to send us only afflictions. If he has also granted us goods, why do we complain? Notice how [Job] does not speak anywhere about faults or good actions but only says that God has the power to do whatever he wants. Recall your former happiness, and you will have no problem in bearing the present difficulties. It is sufficient, as our consolation, to know that it is the Lord who sends them to us. Let us not speak about justice and injustice.

 Manlio Simonetti and Marco Conti, eds., Job, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 13.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Afflictions as Sermons (Ursinus)

The Commentary of Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism This morning I happend to run across Zacharias Ursinus’ discussion about affliction in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism.  The entire section is helpful and worth reading.  Here’s a small sample, one that I thought was especially edifying.  I’ve edited a bit in light of the context to make it easier to read.

The godly are sometimes afflicted on account of sin, not for the purpose of making satisfaction to the justice of God, but that sin may be acknowledged by them, and removed [dealt with], through the cross. They are paternally chastised, that they may be led to a knowledge of their faults. These chastisements are to them sermons, and call to repentance. “When we are judged we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” “It is good for me that I have been afflicted” (1 Cor. 11:32; Ps. 119:71). …He corrects and improves the character of the godly through the cross. 

The godly are afflicted that we may be exercised and tried, that thus our faith, hope, patience, prayer, and obedience, may be strengthened and confirmed; or that we may have matter and occasion for exercising and proving ourselves, and that our faith, hope, and patience, may be made manifest both to ourselves and others. When all things go well, it is an easy thing for us to glory in regard to our faith; but in adversity, the grace or beauty of virtue becomes apparent. He that has not been tested by affliction, what knoweth he? “Experience works hope.” (Rom. 5:4.)

 Ursinus, Z., & Williard, G. W. (1888). The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 72-3). Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

A Poem for the Ill (Toplady)

 Here are a few verses from a poem Augustus Toplady wrote for those suffering with sickness:

Jesus, since I with thee am one;
Confirm my soul in thee,
And still continue to tread down
The man of sin in me.

Let not the subtle foe prevail
In this my feeble hour
Frustrate all the hopes of hell
Redeem from Satan’s power

Arm me O Lord from head to foot
With righteousness divine;
My soul in Jesus firmly root,
and seal the Savior mine.

Proportioned to my pains below,
O let my joys increase,
And mercy to my spirit flow
In healing streams of peace.

In life and death be thou my God,
And I am more than safe;
Chastised by thy paternal rod,
Support me with thy staff.

Lay on me Savior what thou wilt,
But give me strength to bear;
Thy gracious hand this cross hath dealt,
Which cannot be severe.*

As gold refined may I come out,
In sorrow’s furnace tried;
Preserved from faithlessness and doubt,
And fully purified.

*(“Severe” here means “unnecessarily extreme” or “harsh in an unloving way.”)

There are other verses; these are just a few.  The entire poem can be found in the Works of Augustus Toplady, volume six.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

 

Affliction, Purpose, and Mercy (Bruce)

 I’m enjoying this book of Robert Bruce’s sermons on Isaiah 38 (Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery).  In his first sermon, Bruce explained how the suffering of God’s people is not exactly the same as the suffering of those who are not God’s people.  Here’s what he wrote:

[Hezekiah’s story] teaches us not to measure the favor or displeasure of God by any external event here on earth.  For if we consider some visitation of God upon his child, if we dwell on the nature of the plague or affliction, both its quality and quantity, if we look to the lengthy duration of the plague, in the opinion of onlookers and of the person who is afflicted, after some time he will begin to think he is in a worse case than any of the reprobate.

But however it may be regarded in the heart and judgment of man, it is far otherwise in the judgment and heart of God.  For hidden in the heart of God concerning those who are his children is one purpose, but a very different purpose concerning the reprobate.  I will explain: when the affliction is common to us and to them, the cause for the affliction is by no means the same, neither is God’s purpose the same.  As to the godly, our affliction flows from the favor, love, and mercy of God in Christ Jesus and is directed towards our great profit and advantage, that is, that we being corrected here may not perish in eternity along with the wicked of this world.

On the other hand, the affliction visited on the reprobate flows from the burning wrath and indignation of God, as from the righteous judge; for he is initiating the punishment in this life that will continue for all eternity.

Therefore, as affliction to the ungodly is the harbinger of divine judgment, for those who love him it is a merciful correction.

Robert Bruce, The Way to True Peace and Rest, p.3-4.

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

Good That I Was Afflicted? (Newton)

Sometimes during a hard and heavy trial there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel.  Just when you think the trial may be going away like a storm passing, just when you think the sun might finally be coming out, another dark cloud blows in and the trial is back – sometimes with a vengeance.  That’s when you think, “What’s it all worth?”  That’s when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  That’s when tears come at random during the day.  That’s when you can sort of understand why people might want to just give up and die.

God’s promises speak to this.  Although they don’t take the storm of trial away, they do provide shelter during the storm of trial.  God’s promises don’t always immediately show us the light at the end of the tunnel, but they do give us a firm reminder that there is a Light at the end of it!  God’s promises give us reason to get up and go on with life by his grace and strength.  John Newton talked about this well in a letter he wrote to a Christian friend facing a hard trial.  These words are for all Christians facing affliction:

“Many are the trials and exercises we must expect to meet within our progress; but this one consideration outweighs them all: the Lord is on our side.  And if he be for us, none can be against us to harm us.  In all these things we shall be more than conquerors through him that loved us. Afflictions, though not in themselves joyous, but grievious, yet, when sanctified, are among our choice mercies.  In due time they shall yield the peaceful fruits of righteousness, and even at present they shall surely be attended with seasonable and sufficient supports.”

“One great desire of the believer is to understand the great word of God more and more; and one principal means by which we advance in this knowledge is the improvement we are enabled to make of our daily trials.  The promises are generally made to an afflicted state, and we could not taste their sweetness, nor experience their truth, if we were not sometimes brought into the circumstances to which they relate.  It is said, ‘I will be with them in trouble’; but how could we know what a mercy is contained in these words unless trouble was sometimes our lot?  It is said to be the believer’s privilege to glory in tribulation.  But we never could know that this is possible unless we had tribulation to glory in.”

“However, this is a matter of joy and glory indeed, to find peace and comfort within when things are disagreeable and troublesome without.  Then we are enabled to set our seal that God is true, then we learn how happy it is to have a refuge that cannot be taken from us, a support that is able to bear all the weight we can lay upon it, a spring of joy that cannot be stopped by any outward events.”

“A great part of the little we know of our God – his faithfulness, compassion, his readiness to hear and answer our prayers, his wisdom in delivering and providing when all our contrivances fail, and his goodness in overruling everything to our soul’s good – I say, much of what we know of these things we learned in our trials, and have therefore reason to say, ‘It was good for us to be afflicted’ (Ps. 119:71).”

And, as the Lord has brought us safe through thus far, we have good ground to trust him to the end.  We know not what is before us.  Perhaps we may meet greater difficulties by and by than we have ever yet seen.  But if we keep in mind who has delivered us from the lion and the bear, we may face the Philistine also without terror.  God will be with us, and strengthen us with strength in our souls.  It is our wisdom to keep close to him, that, when the evil day comes, we may have confidence before him in all our troubles.”

John Newton, Works Volume 6, p. 35-6.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

No Reason to Complain (Brooks)

When we face trials and afflictions, sometimes we complain.  We grumble why such and such is happening to us, we complain that other people deserve the trial, or we murmur at the pain and hardship of it all.  Even mature Christians sometimes grumble when trials come.  If the trial is really difficult, it’s hard not to complain!  Thomas Brooks (d. 1680) talked about this in the middle of his book written to those suffering trials and affliction (The Mute Christian under the Smarting Rod):

“[Dear Christian], of all men in the world, you have least cause, yea, no cause to be murmuring and muttering under and dispensation that you meet with in this world.  Is not God your portion?  Chrysostom asks this question, ‘Was Job miserable when he had lost all that God had given him?’ and gives this answer, ‘No, he still had the God that gave him all.’  Is not Christ thy treasure?  Is not heaven your inheritance – and will you murmur?  …Has not God given you a changed heart, a renewed nature, and a sanctified soul, and will you murmur?  Has not God given himself to you to satisfy you?  Has not he given his Son to save you, his Spirit to lead you, his grace to adorn you, his covenant to assure you, his mercy to pardon you, his righteousness to clothe you, and will you murmur?”

“Has not God often turned your water into wine, your brass into silver, your silver into gold?  When you were dead in sin, did he not quicken you?  When you were lost, did he not seek you?  When you were wounded, did he not heal you?  And when you were falling, did he not support you?  And when you were down, did he not raise you up?  And when you were staggering, did he not strengthen you?  And when you were erring, did he not correct you?  When you were tempted, did he not help you?  And when you were in danger, did he not deliver you? And will you murmur?

It may seem a bit harsh to rebuke someone for complaining while they are going through a difficult trial.  But we have to remember that grumbling is a serious sin (Num. 14).  Furthermore, even through trials Christians should want to avoid sin and do what is right in God’s sight.  The rhetorical questions Brooks asked are good ones to go through as we aim to suffer without grumbling.  Trials are miserable and more difficult than some people realize.  But the Christian need not grumble because the promises of Scripture are true: God is with us and loves us, Jesus died to save us, and the Spirit is at work in us (etc. etc.)!

The edited quote above is found in volume 1 of Brooks’ Works, page. 340.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Wasted Pain? Pointless Suffering?

Is God Really in Control?: Trusting God in a World of Terrorism, Tsunamis, and Personal Tragedy Suffering and pain are realities in life.  Despite what Buddhists or New Age cults say about suffering, it is real, it hurts, and it can even shake the Christian’s faith.  Thankfully Scripture gives us a helpful angle on suffering in light of God’s sovereignty.   We see it on the cross and we see it in God’s fatherly love.  In God’s sovereignty, suffering is productive: Christ’s suffering resulted in salvation for sinners, and the Christian’s suffering produces endurance, character, and so on (see Rom. 5:4-5).

Lamentations 3:32-33 says this of God: Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone (NIV).  Jerry Bridges wrote some helpful reflections on this truth.

“God does not willing bring affliction or grief to us.  He does not delight in causing us to experience pain or heartache.  He always has a purpose for the grief He brings or allows to come into our lives.  Most often we do not know what that purpose is, but it is enough to know that His infinite wisdom and perfect love have determined that the particular sorrow is best for us.”

“God never wastes pain.  He always uses it to accomplish His purpose.  And His purpose is for His glory and our good.  Therefore, we can trust Him when our hearts are aching or our bodies are racked with pain.”

“Trusting God in the midst of our pain and heartache means that we accept it from  Him.  There is a vast difference between acceptance and either resignation or submission.  We can resign ourselves to a difficult situation, simply because we see no other alternative.  Many people do that all the time.  Or we can submit to the sovereignty of God in our circumstances with a certain amount of reluctance.  But to truly accept our pain and heartache has the connotation of willingness.  An aptitude of acceptance says that we trust God, that He loves us and knows what is best for us.”

Jerry Bridges, Is God Really in Control? p. 63-4.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI, 54015