The Difficulty of Rejoicing During Trials (Huss)

John Huss Collection (7 vols.)Peter and James both wrote about rejoicing during trials, tribulation, and suffering (1 Peter 1:6; James 1:2).  Yes, God keeps his people even through tribulation.  Yes, he is with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Yes, we know that not even trials can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  Yes, we believe that we’re united to Christ with an unbreakable bond, and we will one day see him in glory.  Yes, these things give us real and deep joy.  But it’s not always easy to rejoice during a fierce trial.  I appreciate John Huss’ comments on this reality – comments he wrote while very ill and in prison unjustly for his preaching and teaching:

Verily, it is a difficult thing to rejoice with tranquillity, and to count it all joy in the midst of divers temptations. It is easy to quote and expound the words, but difficult to carry them out when that most patient and brave Soldier, although He knew He would rise again on the third day and overcome His foes by His death and redeem the elect from damnation, was yet after the last supper troubled in spirit, and said: My soul is sorrowful even unto death.  Of Whom the gospel saith that He began to fear and to be heavy and sad; nay, being in an agony He was strengthened by an angel, and his sweat became as drops of blood trickling down upon the ground.

Huss went on:

Yet He, though thus troubled, said to His faithful ones: Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid; let it not be troubled because of my short absence nor let it be afraid of the cruelty of them that rage; for you will have Me for ever, and will overcome the cruelty of them that rage. Therefore, the soldiers of Christ looking to their leader, the King of glory, fought a great fight. They passed through fire and water, yet were saved alive, and received from the Lord God the crown of life, of which James in the canonical epistle saith: Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been proved he shall receive the crown of life which God hath promised to them that love him. That crown, I verily trust, the Lord will make me to share along with you also, warm-hearted zealots for the truth, and with all who steadfastly love the Lord Jesus, Who suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps.

 Herbert B. Workman and R. Martin Pope, The Letters of John Hus: With Introductions and Explanatory Notes (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1904), 252–253.

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

When Human Means Come to A Stop (Calvin)

The Letters of John Calvin (4 vols.)
Calvin, Letters

In 1555 there was persecution of Protestants in France. Specifically, Renee, Duchess of Ferrara, was facing hardship and trials for following in the footsteps of the Reformers. John Calvin wrote her at least two letters to encourage her to keep follwing Christ and his word. Here are some paragraphs of a letter from Calvin to Renee in June, 1555. Notice how Calvin says that sometimes when impossible trials and obstacles face us in the Christian life, we not only come to an end in ourselves, but God gets us through or past the obstacle/trial in a way we can’t always fathom. (You may have to read it a few times – I did!):

It is truly the office of God to lead us on like poor blind persons, when we are brought to a stop with all our human means, and to devise expedients which we should never have thought of, enabling us to surmount every obstacle though all the while we see not a whit.

It is at the same time our office to pray him to be pleased to open our eyes, that as soon as he, gives us some sign we may immediately follow it. Spare not then to put in practice day by day all the means in your power to advance in the right path. So doing, though you may still be far from the mark, it will not be in vain that you stretch towards it, for our progress is certain, provided we keep following, however faintly; and such an assurance should fortify us to resist all temptations.

Jules Bonnet, Letters of John Calvin, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 188–189.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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

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

Suffering and One Foot In Front of the Other

 For those of you who know what it means to go through a very hard trial, you probably understand sayings like this: “One day at a time,” and “I’m just putting one foot in front of the other.”  Trials and suffering are the mud and muck of life that slow you down, trip you up, and clog up your daily activities.  Everything slows down and you just have to focus on taking one more step ahead.

Maybe you could set a state record for hospital visits in one month; maybe you have a pounding headache from trying to sort out medical bills, or maybe you’re praying that God would keep your husband’s suffering down (if it’s His will).  Perhaps you’re dreading the next IV or worrying that your recent blood test will have bad results.  Sometimes you’re simply praying for a few hours of sleep and relief.  It’s just one day at a time!  I like how Tim Keller speaks of walking with God through trials:

“Walking with God through suffering means treating God as God and as there, as present.  Walking is something non-dramatic, rhythmic – it consists of steady, repeated actions you can keep up in a sustained way for a long time.  God did not tell Abraham in Genesis 17:1 to ‘somersault before me’ or even ‘run before me’ because no one can keep such behavior up day in and day out.  There are many people who think of spiritual growth as something like high diving.  They say, ‘I am going to give my life to the Lord! I am going to change all these terrible habits, and I am really going to transform! Give me another six months, and I am going to be a new man or new woman.’ That is not what a walk is.  A walk is day in and day out obeying, talking to Christian friends, and going to corporate worship, committing yourself to and fully participating in the life of the church.  It is rhythmic, on and on and on.  To walk with God is a metaphor that symbolizes slow and steady progress.

…Walking with God through suffering means that, in general, you will not experience some kind of instant deliverance from your questions, your sorrow, your fears.  There can be, as we shall see, times in which you receive a surprising, in explicable ‘peace that passes understanding.’  There will be days in which some new insight comes to you like a ray of light in a dark room.  There will certainly be progress – that is part of the metaphor of walking – but in general it will be slow and steady progress that comes only if you stick to the regular, daily activities of the walking itself.  ‘The path of the righteous is like the [earliest] morning sun, shining ever brighter till the light of full day’ (Prov. 4:18).

Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p. 236-7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI