Walled Cities: Life's Sorrows and Trials
BEFORE we take up the next stronghold to be attacked, let us review our principle. We have dealt with the sin question and found that sin could not be eradicated. We found also that we could not restrain it by sheer will power. We found that victory over sin did not consist in getting rid of sin, but in coming to understand that it had been dealt with completely in the blood of Christ. Thus we accepted, on pure faith, that "sin shall not have dominion over" us, for "we are not under law, but under grace." Sin will not be our judge or exercise rule over us, for we are dead to sin, and "he that is dead is freed from sin." No more, therefore, shall it ever bring its judgment upon us, and we take that on pure faith in God's Word.
We found that God's concern about our sins now, under grace, is not a matter of paying for sin, for that was done by our Saviour. His purpose now is to keep the man who is alive unto God through Christ washed and free from defilement from the old dead sinner, and thus make him fit for fellowship with God. Hence, God's dealing with our sins now is purely remedial, and has as its purpose purifying and maturing us into godliness in experience. This, like the matter of dealing with the penalty of sin, has already been taken care of in the Cross, and is to be applied to our lives by the Spirit here and the Advocate
there, the Spirit making us hate and confess sins here, and Jesus putting away our sins there. Hence, we must trust the whole problem to Him and not struggle in the energy of the flesh to overcome. It is a fight of faith to the finish. "The just shall live by faith." So, as we trust and confess our sins, God works His cleansing and holiness in us day by day. If we become rebellious and do not confess our sins, He chastens us into obedience, so that He can perform His godliness in us. Thus, under grace, "He dealeth with us as with sons."
We have shown that God has a complete remedy for all phases of sin, and that we can trust Him completely to do what He purposes in us. Only, we must be yielded to Him and, at all costs, permit His work to go on in us. The believer must take this all on absolute faith before he will see any results. That is what we tell the lost sinner he must do before he can feel that he is saved; that is what the believer must do before he can enter this Promised Land.
One important thing: If you yield the matter to God in faith, don't take it back just because you don't see any great results. God may test your faith by waiting. Keep on saying: "Lord, the best I can I have yielded this whole problem to you, and I am counting on you to be doing now what I have trusted you to do for me. I am helpless; you are mighty. You are the Great Physician; I am the patient. I am leaving my case in your hands. Whatever happens now will be your responsibility." If you trust this way, in His own time and way God will work His purposes in your life. Believe it, and go on.
Now, let us come to the next great stronghold which we must attack by faith, namely, our trials and burdens.
How can we overcome life's trials, heartaches, sorrows, doubts, and fears, with all their human complications?
Let us say, first of all, that our burdens and trials are not crosses. I used to hear good brethren, in their testimony meetings, recite their trials and hardships. Often they would conclude humbly, "But I suppose that these are my crosses, and I must bear them." That is wrong. Crosses are not burdens, they are the only God-given means to put an end to burden.
I have studied the cross from its earliest history. So far as I can find, a cross was never used for any purpose other than to die on. It was never a burden to be laid upon the back of any man for punishment or discipline. It has only one idea in view, and that is the death of its victim. And the one use, as far as the believer is concerned, for the Cross of Christ, is the death of self. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23).
Here lies an important truth. Death is God's way out of sin. That is the only way we can ever settle the sin question, that is, to die out of it. That is what we have meant in our treatment of sin: the sinner must repent, consent to death, plead guilty and take the judgment of the court; for that is what repentance is. And John's baptism of repentance - going down into the water - was the symbol of death. It signified both a consent of death to the unregenerate man inside and to the final death of the body. That is why a believer has to die in the body, to get rid of sin. Otherwise, when one is saved, God could take him home that way. So, the Cross is the instrument of death, both of the sinful nature in us, and of the body. Thus, death is our only way out of sin, and the Cross is
that instrument of death. So, we must take our cross daily in experience and die daily, just as we died in faith under the law when we first trust Jesus the Saviour. So we must come at last to the grave where sin in the body is left forever.
Now, if we are to realize this death in our experience here as believers, we must be continually nailing self to the Cross. Only, we ourselves cannot do it, but we can submit ourselves to the Cross and let God do it, as we have been teaching.
The whole problem in bearing our burdens is putting self on the Cross, We must know the truth, and the truth shall make us free. How shall we bring the Cross into our experiences on this point? I shall try to answer fully.
There is no doubt that the world is full of burdens and heartache. We struggle with hunger, with thirst, with all the passions and desires of the flesh. In our weakness we sin and find ourselves the victims of our sins. The world is greedy and selfish, and it is difficult for us to live honestly. Then there is sickness and death and war and strife and lack and need and every conceivable condition to make life unhappy. Then there are personal problems, like family complications, disobedience of children, and, as we facetiously say sometimes, trouble with both out-laws and in-laws. This is not a good world. Paul called it "this present evil world." And he indicated that God had no purpose of fixing it up and reforming it, but that He sent Jesus Christ to "save us out of" this present evil world. So, there isn't much hope that it will be any better.
The reason is obvious: The same people who produced it are now its doctors. The same distorted order of life which man, out of self, has brought about characterizes his remedy
for our ills. How can man who, in selfishness and greed, has set up an intolerably sinful world bring, out of the same heart, a remedy for its ills? It has been judged by Jesus Christ, the only good Man who ever walked in its midst, and the disposition of that world toward goodness was expressed in His crucifixion. Thus, the believer will find that this world has no place for him, and he might as well prepare to get out of it.
Now, if any civic club optimist doubts that this is a bad world, let him make a list of the governments that have absolutely refused Christ - and that is all of them; of the wars that have been fought, and the millions of people who are still sharing their tragedy; of the business in which intelligent men are engaged making war munitions, trying to invent a better killer, and on and on with the endless efforts to bring greater destruction; of the doctors and nurses and hospitals of innumerable types and specialties that are necessary to treat human ills; of the religions that offer a "way of life," among which are so many false remedies; of the penitentiaries and jails, the various asylums and institutes for the handicapped, both mental and physical; of the orphanages, courts of law, law-making bodies, police, patrols, and the corrupt uses of all these institutions of 1aw and order; of the array of drives and campaigns to soothe and heal human ills; and, skipping over a thou- sand other things, take a look at the graveyards, with their scenes of crying and sorrow and parting and death. Then ask who did all this to our world. The answer is, man! How could such a man build a good world?
Well, the conclusion is that if anybody tries to live a life different from what this world offers, he will have a hard time. So said Jesus, and so said the inspired Apostles.
"They have hated me, they will hate you." "They that would live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution." Not only, then, shall we fall a victim to the common sorrow of this world, in which all have a part, but we shall be persecuted by this world if we try to follow Christ. How shall we find the answer to all this? How can the Cross help us here?
In the first place, self will have to face a matter of justice and say, "After all, it is no more than I deserve." If it were not for the grace and mercy of a loving God, we would all not only suffer the common ills of this world but would spend eternity in an endless hell of torment. That is the just deserts of self. That is what is coming to us, if God does not intervene. So, if we suffered all these things, it would be no more than we deserve, and God would be entirely just in leaving us to our own chosen way of life with its sorrow.
With this conclusion we start even and without any complaints against God. We cannot blame anybody but ourselves for the world we have built. God did not do it. We cannot blame our choice of life on anyone but ourselves. God admonished man to choose to obey Him, and man himself chose otherwise. All that we suffer in this life is simply the natural result of our choice. Strange to say, men of all generations, though aware of this world's sorrows and their own contribution to it, will still choose against God. We can blame nobody but ourselves for our world and its sorrows and heartaches. That is sad, but it is true. So, here we stand, with our own hearts laden with our own self-produced burdens, and must accept them as a matter of sheer justice, and nothing more.
This is our first truth which we seek to bring to the believer's mind. It ought to end all complaining, even there, when we see it. And if we accept that as true, without complaint, that is putting self on the the Cross. Self is that one which whimpers and complains at its hard lot in this world. But when we see that self brought it upon us, there is nothing to do except to put self on the Cross and say, "Stop your complaining; you are the one who made this world! You must submit to what you have done and blame no one but yourself." This is dying in self to start with, and using the Cross for its intended purpose in our lives. Consent to the death and find relief.
By way of illustration, let us say someone has hurt your feelings, and because of this you have a burden. It may be that they have imposed and have been very unjust. It may be that they have done you great injury, and, by human standards, ought to make amends. But suppose they do not. How can you ease your burden about this? First, looking at it from God's viewpoint, it is nothing more than you deserve anyway. You helped build this world; it js now merely back-firing on you. That in itself is enough to settle the matter. But, if you are a believer in Christ, the debt has been paid by His blood. He suffered your reproach, so your bill is paid. So, if you send up a bill for hurt pride, it is paid already.
All that can get hurt in anybody is pride. There is nothing else to hurt. It is that little deity - self - which we have put up on a throne, but who, because of its sinfulness, has no right to reign anywhere. When somebody else has a little god competing with yours, and theirs gets the best of the battle, that does not matter, for both of them combine to be that which crucified the Lord of glory.
And since Jesus has paid that bill on the cross, the Lord will not now pay any attention to the complaints of a dead man. Once for all every injustice that will ever be done to us in this world has been paid for in the cross. "Jesus paid it all; all to Him we owe." There is no ground, absolutely none, on which a believer has any right to take offence. We must simply call every reproach square under the blood, and thank God that that is true. This truth will make you free insofar as you will accept it.
Now, granting that this is a bit stoical, it is also quite spiritual. It may require faith and prayer and the Holy Spirit to practice this truth, but this is what we need. However, we come now to a little more hopeful look at our trials. And that is the great prospect of becoming stewards of them.
Whereas, "the way of the transgressor" is justly hard, and we have suffered merely the just recompense for our misdeeds and have nothing to complain of, we find God has provided for us to make a blessing out of our trials. Instead of merely reaping what we sow, we find our Father saying, through the Apostle Paul, "All things work together for our good." Thus God reveals to us a way to make judgment become chastening for our good, stumbling stones to become stepping stones, and one who "labors and is heavy laden" to find "glory in tribulations."
This is wonderful! To be forced merely to admit that we get what is coming to us, when we reap the tragedy and sorrow of the world we have built, is like telling a child who is already made sad by his misdeeds and their sad results, "I told you so!" It is true, but it doesn't help much. But here is the Lord of all trial, "who endured the cross, despised the shame, and is set down at the right
hand of God," telling us that the whole picture of our lives is changed. That which was once our curse now becomes our blessing. "All things" which once were merely the sad results of our sin now become that which "works together for our good;" With the Cross He turned His trial into glory; now He tells us we can do the same.
So, here comes the Deliverer to walk with us every day, to see that we turn defeat into victory, and we find Him to be the same great Saviour who put us to death as sinners under the law and raised us up as children of God under grace. Blessed be His Name!
In dealing with the sin question we were told not to strive in the energy of the flesh against our sins but to submit them in sorrow and confession as our sinful plight before the Lord, and, not only to ask Him to do something about the malignancy but also to believe that He does exactly what we trust Him to do. We were to yield to Him the whole matter and believe that He would take care of it. Now, here are our burdens and trials, and the Deliverer is here to help us. What shall we do with them?
Shall we try to get rid of our burdens and trials? That is the first thing the flesh suggests. It recommends that we begin immediately to solve the problem by getting free from it. If it be, for instance, a problem of home life, the flesh suggests remedies to be obtained in the best world sources - maybe the help of a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or a welfare worker or lawyer. It may be that all of these can be used to advantage at one time or another, but this is not the place to start. Above all things, consult God first. Pray over it and ask Him to show you His will.
Every situation is its own problem, and there can be no way of stating rules about one that will apply to another.
Remember, you are God's child, in a world of sin, and you do not know the way. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and you will need Him in all three entities.
So, the first conclusion about your problem is, don't try to get rid of it until you have looked into it thoroughly. If, after you have submitted it to God, He takes it away, all right. But it may be something He has permitted to come into your life to bless you. Don't handle it rashly. Remember, you have trusted all to Him; now try to practice it. It is His business, and His alone, now, what happens to you. You may be contradicting His plans and thus robbing yourself of the great blessing He has for you.
We cannot over-emphasize this principle. When you cross Jordan you have surrendered all to Him. Now keep dependent on Him, and move only at His direction. When you don't know what to do, wait until the pillar of cloud and fire moves on.
If God is going to work His character in us, He must begin with tribulation. Trials are the common lot of His children, for in them is our spiritual education wrought. The children of Israel had not been long across the Red Sea until they came into a desert place where they were seized with a thirst for water. God permitted this so that they might learn that He could turn their trial into something good. It is easy for us to see how something we call good can be good for us; but how can the adverse things work together for our good? The secret is that that which pleases us merely keeps us like we are; that which is unpleasant to us may serve to change us.
And here comes a great lesson. God is not trying to change His ways to suit us; He is trying to change us to suit His ways. Since we are wrong, and He is right,
anything that simply satisnes our fleshly tastes and desires will not help us because it brings no change in us. The flesh will never love Jesus. Nobody likes to walk the way of Christ while the flesh dictates his likes and dislikes.
When the children of Israel hit this desert place they cried for water. And when they found water they found that water to be bitter. God told Moses to cut a certain tree and cast it in the water. When he did this, the water became sweet. This tree is Christ's Cross symbblized. Its lesson here is the difference between suffering for a purpose and just suffering. The Cross puts meaning into suffering and helps the believer to endure that which is unpleasant to the flesh and makes it become a joy in the Spirit.
Let me illustrate: I step into a hospital ward, and there I see two women, one lying in each bed, both in great suffering. To one I say, "Tell me, what is your trouble?" She replies that she has been burned. I ask her how it happened. She tells me that she was lying in bed, drunk, and smoking a cigarette. The bed caught on fire and before she was rescued she was nearly burned to death. She confesses she was to blame, and for her own sin and carelessness she suffers.
I turn to the other woman, who suffers likewise, and ask her how she was burned. Under great stress of pain she tells me that while she was outside her house it caugh on fire. She rushed upstairs to rescue her little daughter, and though she was able to wrap the little girl in blankets and get her safely out, she herself was badly burned. But, instead of the sad conclusion that it was her sin and carelessness that brought her calamity upon her, she looks across the room and beckons a sweet little girl to her bedside.
"But," she says, "I would endure it all again to save my baby." And as the little girl nestles close to her mother, trying to understand, there is a deep satisfaction in that mother's soul which makes pain worth while.
So, there is a difference between just suffering, and suffering for a purpose. One woman had just suffered; the other had put a cross into her suffering. Now, if we can see that our pains are for a purpose, and, furthermore, if we can find that all we endure in this life is for our spiritual good rather than a misfortune to us, we can, like Paul, arrive at that place where we "take pleasure in tribulations," knowing that God has in them a purpose for our good and His glory. That understanding will shut out the cry of the flesh, and give meaning to our trials.
And so this brings us to an important principle: faith is not to get rid of our trials; it is to help us use them for our good and God's glory.
Why does God leave a believer in this world? If we are eternally saved, why does not God take us home and save us from the struggle in this world of sin? The answer is twofold: (1) This is God's proving ground, where He works His character in us. The self life must be dealt with, and here amidst the trials of life He perfects us through His sanctifying grace. (2) He wants us to be His witnesses so that others may be turned to Him.
Strangely enough, it is through the same trials that He does both. However, in this chapter we are concerned primarily with the former reason.
It is certain that God must do something in us before He can do anything through us. That work which He does in us we call sanctification. It is a process which continues all through our journey here on earth, and it consists in
putting off the old man and putting on the new. In the matter of outward conduct, it tends to reduce sinful habits and sinful acts and produces a conduct of godliness. However, this is the result, and not the cause, of something that has gone on inside, namely, the realization that we have turned from dependence upon the flesh to the help of the Spirit and have thus been enabled to produce a better outward conduct. Desires within have changed, which show outwardly. Association with sin, which once was our pleasure, now becomes a problem which we despise, while association with God, which once seemed dull and dreary to us, now has become our chief joy. The crossing of Jordan is that place in the believer's life where he ceases to yearn for the flesh pots of Egypt and begins to desire the old corn of the land.
How does God produce this character within us? First, by giving us an enlarged concept of the life which is ours, and second, by giving us an enlarged concept of the God which is ours.
We have been born of God for eternal living. But the carnal believer lives still as though he had been born for this life only. His estimate of property value, social standing, earthly ambitions, and all that concerns this life marks him as one who is worldly in his understanding of life. The new life - eternal life - must now be worked into his experience. So God suits the experiences of his life so as to wean him from earth and promote heavenly mindedness.
In order to do this He lets the believer come into numerous and varied problems and trials to teach him that nothing in this world endures, and that he cannot pin his hopes upon anything in this world.
Andrew Fuller in one of his great classic sermons tells a story which has often been used as an illustration of this truth. The great eagle of the western mountains, he says, builds her nest high in the crags of the Rockies. When the young eaglets are large enough to fly, they are very lazy and will not try their wings. The wise old mother eagle fills the nest with rocks and sticks to make it uncomfortable for her young, so they will want to exercise their wings in flight, and thus get ready for their natural altitude in the sky. It was thus, he says, that God filled Israel's nest in Egypt with trials, that His people might want to leave the accursed place and start for home. So were all the trials along the way designed to produce a continual dissatisfaction in them, to urge them on and on to the land of promise. God wants His children to get a larger concept of life; so He takes away our earthly supports, and shows us that nothing here endures. Thus He turns our eyes to a longer view of things and makes us dissatisfied with this present existence. When we find nothing here to satisfy our longing for permanence, He calls upon us to look heavenward and see the things which He has prepared for them that love Him.
When we see that God has planned a longer life for us than just this earthly existence, things that seemed large to us, because they were set in this short span, now become little when set in the eternal span. A mountain may loom large before us when we are standing at its foot. But when we stand on a higher peak and fit that mountain into the chain that fades away into the blue, it will look small and of little importance. Thus it is that God, through trial, gives us the longer view of life. And when we see that we are going to live forever, that trial which seemed
so difficult and complex at the moment becomes, from a higher view, a mere insignificant step on the way to eternity. Other events of far greater importance submerge it in the long chain of experiences by which God leads us on to the things eternal.
Another thing trial does for us: it gives us patience to wait on God. "Tribulation worketh patience." But why do we need patience? Because we are not going to arrive at life's great goal as soon as we first expected. Youth is very eager to get there, and takes all the short cuts possible. But age and experience bring a maturity which lengthens our view of life, and we see that God has more in prospect for us than this short life here. So we are taught by trial to have patience and wait on the Lord. If this life is all God had to offer us, we would be justified in being a bit impatient and setting great store by securing all the favors it has to offer. But God has something beyond all compare with this earth to offer us, so He tempers us with things that bring us low and hold us back so that we can with patience wait for the glories He has prepared for us.
There is much more struggling for expression here, but let us sum it up by saying that God uses all of life's trials to mature us into His view of things, so that we can put away our childish ambitions and look at life through eternal eyes. This lengthens our view of life, enlarges the prospects of its ends, and teaches us the necessary patience to wait until God is ready to reveal its glory.
Well, if we are to live such a long life, and find it to have such glorious prospects, we need a closer view of the God of eternal life. So, the second thing God does in sanctifying us is to give us a greater concept of our God.
Jesus was out on the little sea with His disciples when a great storm suddenly whipped down the valley and across the waters. Jesus was asleep in the stern of the ship. They hastily aroused Him, complaining, "Master, carest thou not that we perish ?"
Here is the flesh with its first concern - self. What if we do perish? It is no more than we deserve. It is the wilderness wanderer that is always crying out for self-comfort and self-satisfaction. When a soldier is sent on a dangerous mission, does he say to his commanding officer, "Carest thou not that I perish?" Who are we to tell Jesus that He must see that we do not perish? That is His business. You hear people excusing themselves from dereliction of duty. They haven't time, they claim; after all, one has to live. Well, who said so? We have to die; that is certain. But who said we had to live? In fact, if we are not living in the purposes of God, and are rebellious toward Him, the world would be better off if we were not living at all. No, to live is not the prime consideration. To do God's will is all that matters.
Despite the fact that these disciples had left all and followed Him, they were concerned with the preservation of self, and complained that the Master was careless. They did not understand that this storm might be the very thing that would introduce them to a deeper understanding of their Master.
He calmed the waves. We might have expected Him to say, "Boys, I am glad you aroused me. That was a terrible storm and might have drowned us all." But His only comment was upon their faith. It was as if He were saying, "Boys, I was going to show you something here, but, in your desire for the preservation of self, you missed the
big show. Yes, I can command the waves, and that astounds you. I have all power. But if you had trusted me, you would have been able to see me sleep through a storm and ride the waves in all serenity; for no storm ever overturns the boat in which the Son of Man rides."
Which brings us to see: It is a great thing to see Jesus calm our storms; but it is a far greater blessing to us to see Him ride them. And, when our problems and trials fall upon us and we go asking God to get rid of them, we may be asking Him to take away that which He has permitted in order to reveal His glory to us. Faith is not to calm the storm; faith is to calm us in the storm. Faith is not the solution to our problems in that it takes them away; faith is the solution to us, in that it enlarges our vision of our Lord and helps us to enter into His purposes. If we find out that nothing can harm us as long as we are in the boat with Jesus; that He has ridden all the storms that ever beset us and is seated the Victor over them all at the Father's right hand; we must surely believe that whatever He permits to come upon us is best, and we are to let it remain until He takes it out of the way at His own good will and pleasure.
So, one reason why we must be good stewards of our trials is that they may be the very door through which we are introduced to a greater God. The disciples had seen Jesus cure diseases, cast out demons, and do many other remedial miracles. They thought of Him as somebody who could take all the unpleasant things out of the way. But had they trusted Him here they would have been introduced to a God who not only could remove problems and trials, but could endure them. It is a much greater Christian who can endure trials than is he who can get
rid of them. Jesus could have escaped the Cross if He had wanted to disobey His Father's will; but He could not have had the joy set before Him where He is now exalted at the right hand of God. You and I may be able to escape our burdens and trials to some extent, if we will shirk duty and stay out of God's will, but we will not get a vision of that greater God if we do. Who would not walk in the fiery furnace, if in so doing they can walk with a God who can nullify the power of fire to burn? Trial is the one great place to get acquainted with our Lord, for "he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." It is there we find Him in His greatest power and glory.
Often in facing life's problems we are inclined to pit the wisdom of the flesh against the miracle of God. If we make God a competitor of the lights of this world, He will always shine more brightly than will they, but we shall never see Him in His full glory until all the lights of this world are shut out. It is only in our helplessness, when nothing else in this world will do, that we get our best vision of God and see Him in His full glory. We must not, therefore, be afraid to enter into the shadows of this life, in trial or pain, for in there, somewhere, we will discover our Lord to be much more glorious than He would be in removing our trials.
We shall never become dissatisfied with our littleness until we see God in His greatness. We shall never want to throw away the works of the flesh until we have seen Him performing works of the Spirit.
If Martha had taken time to sit at the Master's feet long enough to discover the Christ in His heart, she would have been more concerned about setting before Him a feast of worship than a feast of victuals for His body. Her
offering would have been much more appropriate. As it was, not having time to sit before Him; she reduced Him to a household god and worked herself into a frenzy trying to satisfy her own lowly concept of Him. She was alarmed to learn that "but one thing was needful," and that it was not that which had so consumed her in these precious hours. But Mary took time to look into His face and listen to His words, and she saw "Him that is invisible" deep in his heart. Nothing but worship was appropriate for this God. It takes yoke-walking to discover this.
If God is to work His character in us He must draw us away from the ideal of the world and set our vision upon the Ideal of Heaven. Like the boy in the "Great Stone Face" story, we are put where we can look upon Him until His character, revealed to us in our diverse trials, is stamped indelibly upon our hearts, so that we can never be satisfied to be anything short of what He is. This puts to naught the lusts of the flesb and makes us scorn what we are.
It is this concept of God which makes us tire so easily of the handiwork of man in the modern church life. We can understand how the worldling, who has never seen the Lord through eyes that can see the "invisible," has nothing to offer that will reach the heart, and thus, the appeal of so much of our religion today is to the fancy of the natural mind. Though we bring them to a profession of faith in Christ, so often the vision quickly fades away, for it had no depth.
You see, God wants to bind us to Him so that we will never be attracted away by other gods. He wants us to live as if we were citizens of eternity, not time, and to be directed by the wisdom of Heaven, not of earth.
Religion is not a thing we can tack on to our lives as something to resort to in an emergency. Christ must be the God of the whole life, and nothing of either a temporal or eternal nature must be done without consulting His wisdom and being guided by His Spirit. For "Christ must be Lord of all or He is not Lord at all." Thus He must put us where we shall find the failure of the flesh in order to turn us to Him completely. For this reason He must let us down where nobody else but God can help us.
Peter walked upon the water as long as he depended on Christ. But when he looked at the waves and began to reason by the way things looked that there was danger, he began to sink. Was Jesus going to let him drown? Not at all. But He was going to teach Simon Peter that he was walking on Him, not on the water. When Peter got down to the neck and cried, "Lord, save, or I perish," then Christ raised him up. God often lets us sink in our trials up to the neck in order to kill in us any hope that the flesh can save. Thus we are turned to faith in Him alone.
Jonah cast his course in the wisdom of the flesh, but when he was thrown overboard he realized he had come to the end of his resources. He expected to drown, and, if nobody else had had an interest in the affair, his expectations would have been entirely correct. That is why we keep saying that the work of God is supernatural and has to do with the things which are impossible with men. Only in such cases can God demonstrate His great power, when the power of man has reached its extremity. So, when Jonah was thrown overboard, he had come to an end of the wisdom of the flesh. He might have thought now that it were better to go with God to Nineveh than to dive into the ocean by
himself. And he would have been right. It is always better to go with God anywhere He leads than to go anywhere else alone. But God was not ready to destroy his servant; He just had to get Jonah where he could not resort to human wisdom so that He could show Jonah His almighty power.
Down in the big fish Jonah had time to think things over. First, why didn't he die down there? How could a man live without oxygen? Why didn't the big fish digest him? How long could he live down there? I imagine things got pretty literal down there. Three days and nights is a long time to sit there in a floundering fish, with gastric juices flowing all around him, still not dying. From the description of the record, water, seaweed, and all the things of the ocean came upon Jonah, and that fish took quite a trip down into the valleys of the sea. Yes, he was conscious and prayed unto God out of the "belly of hell." Jonah says, "I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord." Sure, he got where only God could help him. Then when he cried, the Lord heard him. "When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord." That is just what it takes to get some of us to remember the Lord.
People get along fine until trouble comes. Many of our professing Christians, maybe they are real, go along and ignore the church. They fall into sin and compromise their stand, carrying a haughty head as if they had no further use for the Christ whom they professed. Pastors plead with them and try every way to induce them to a restoration of fellowship, but to no avail. Pastors are always waiting on some rebellious church members until trouble comes. As soon as it comes, they come for the preacher. The crowd they have been running with can't help them. It takes
more solemn measures now. They don't go to the bridge club, the dance hall, the cocktail lounge, the clubs and societies of the world. They want somebody who more nearly represents the presence of God. The vilest sinners will do this. Only when we get where we have to have God will we turn and call for Him. This is too often true in the lives of the best of us.
God has a bad city over there, Nineveh, which needs preaching to bring them to repentance. So He must bring Jonah into an acquaintance with Him that leaves no doubt in the prophet's mind that "salvation is of the Lord" - of Him alone and of nobody else. Thus Jonah comes up with the knowledge of a God who can go down into the grave and come up from the dead, and he is sure that kind of a God can handle the wicked city of Nineveh.
Now, I don't believe that journey through the mountaips and valleys of the sea proved to be any south sea island vacation trip for Jonah. It was a trial of death and resurrection. But it transformed the prophet's life by giving him a first hand acquaintance with a God he could never have found sailing around in boats on top of the water.
God wants us to know Him. And the, greater are His purposes in us the deeper into the oceans of trouble and despair He will lead us, until we have been assured that God is far greater than we ever dreamed He was. We, have to see God in sorrow and trial, in storm and strife, in adverse winds and turbulent seas, in the underground pathways where the lights of the world go out. to see Him in His majesty and glory. This brings sanctifying effects in us.
And what are these sanctifying effects? They are summed up in this: The gods of self perish and we are made to cry,
"The Lord our God is one God." When we see God in trial, we see Him in a glory that blinds us forever to the gods of pleasure. Thus the flesh and its lusts are defeated. They are blacked out by His blinding glory, like the mid-day sun was eclipsed by the light that shone from Heaven on Saul of Tarsus as he traveled to Damascus. We can't be satisfied to go back to a little god when our eyes "have beheld the King." This brings real progress in the believer's life. God puts us in the dark places so He can stamp His image so indelibly upon our hearts that we cannot turn again to the dim negatives of the sun-streaked gods of this world; This is working His character in us.
That is why we should be good stewards of our trials, and, by yielding to God's way, make them count for all God has intended in them. In my young life I was greatly impressed by one of God's servants to whom came a sudden trial of great bereavement. He prayed a simple prayer in three parts: ( 1) He said, in substance, "Lord, I do not question your providence. Just give me the grace to bear whatever you permit." (2) He said, "Lord, Help me to understand what you are trying to say to me in this trial." ( 3) He said, "Lord, help me to be a good witness in this trial, and let the people see what God can do for a man who trusts in thee."
The last part of that prayer will be our theme for the next chapter.
[Buell H. Kazee, Faith is the Victory, 1951. Used with the permission of Philip R. Kazee. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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