Great Texts of the Bible
Another Good Reckoning
I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward.—Romans 8:18.
1. The Bible never speaks despondingly about the future. If it has a becoming sense of the magnitude of the task of life, that is only the reverence of a great artist, nerving himself to accomplish some far-reaching design. The struggle and the stress are prophecies that the final consummation will be something greater than heart has conceived. Apostles and prophets alike, quickened by the spirit of inspiration, look across the ages to the last result, and never hesitate to declare that that result will amply compensate for all the toil and suffering. “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward.”
2. “I reckon,” says the Apostle, as if he had deliberately weighed the one against the other, and had come to this conclusion, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present conflict are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in and upon us.” In the groans of Nature, the groans of Humanity, the groans of the Spirit of God within us, he detects tones which prove them to be groans of travail, of the birth-pangs which precede and foretell the advent of a new, purer, happier life; and he declares that, when this wondrous birth of time arrives, all groaning and pain shall be forgotten in the joy of the new better man, the new better humanity, that has come into the world. And, finally, rising into a dithyrambic fervour, he sings of the Divine fatherly Love which is ever at work for our redemption, as a Love from which nothing can separate us—neither tribulation, nor distress, nor persecution, neither famine nor nakedness, peril nor sword, in the present age, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor any other and new creation into which we may pass in the ages to come.
The Apostle does not say, “I know,” for this might imply that he had fully experienced or realized both the sufferings and the glory. At the time of which he speaks he had not done this. He had not drained to the bottom the cup of earthly sorrow, and he had but tasted the cup of heavenly joy. But neither does he say, “I think or conjecture that the suffering is not worthy to be weighed with the glory”; for this would imply less than he had realized. Although he knew not the whole, he knew a great deal of the suffering, and not a little of the glory too. If “I know” would have been too strong, “I think” would have been too weak. “I reckon” is the language of faith, which is partly knowledge and partly anticipation; which accepts its present experience: which neither stands still upon the earth, content with the bare facts of life or husk of things, nor stares vaguely into heaven in mere passive expectation; but it is a pilgrimage between earth and heaven. Faith is the journey of the soul between the realized and the unrealized. It is ever leaving the actual behind and reaching forth to the ideal—never satisfied until it finds in the ideal the Eternal Seal.1 [Note: F. Ferguson.]
3. It is a mathematical sum. “I reckon,” he says. And it must be admitted that no man that ever lived was more capable of working out this sum than this Apostle. On the one hand, he has given us, in the eleventh chapter of his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, a sketch of his own sufferings, such as, perhaps, the experience of no other mortal man could match. On the other hand, he had held personal converse with the Lord Jesus Christ; he is able to tell of “the abundance of his revelations”; already he had been “caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” Who, then, was so fit as St. Paul—in the wonderful contrast of his unparalleled life—to put the two together, and to decide the contrast?
In sufferings, who has come up to the Apostle? In revelations of the things which God has prepared for them that love Him, who has been equally honoured? When he wrote of the sufferings of this present time, he was not reclining on the couch of luxury and imagining the lot of the afflicted. He was in and surrounded by those very sufferings. In perils from his own countrymen, and in perils from false brethren, he was working with his own hands for his daily bread in the wealthy and dissolute Corinth. He bore about with him that thorn in the flesh, which, however difficult it may be for us to assign its nature, we know was the messenger of Satan to buffet him: which, with all his zeal, all the wonders and signs of an Apostle wrought by him, rendered his bodily presence weak, and his speech contemptible. Day by day he entered deeper than other men into that inward conflict between the good which he would do but could not, and the evil which he would not do but did. Of a character wonderfully susceptible and habitually introspective, he had, besides, his spiritual faculties penetrated and intensified by the abiding and indwelling Spirit of God, given him for his apostolic work. Mighty was He that wrought in him—weak and frail the earthen vessel by which that energy must be sustained. We hear him speak of bearing about death, of daily dying; we hear him crying out, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Truly, in sufferings, without and within, but One ever surpassed him—that Divine Master whom he followed, and of whom he says in his fervour that he fills up that which is lacking of His sufferings for the sake of the Church which is His body.1 [Note: Henry Alford.]
I think man’s great capacity for pain
Proves his immortal birthright. I am sure
No merely human mind could bear the strain
Of some tremendous sorrows we endure.
Art’s most ingenious breastworks fail at length,
Beat by the mighty billows of the sea;
Only the God-formed shores possess the strength
To stand before their onslaughts, and not flee.
The structure that we build with careful toil,
The tempest lays in ruins in an hour;
While some grand tree that springs forth from the soil
Is bended but not broken by its power.
Unless our souls had root in soil divine
We could not bear earth’s overwhelming strife.
The fiercest pain that racks this heart of mine
Convinces me of everlasting life.
The Sufferings of this Present Time
There is perhaps no argument so frequently used against Christianity at the present day, or with such force, as the argument that the pain and misery of the world are irreconcilable with a God who is both good and powerful. Never was there an age so sensitive to pain as our own, and never an age therefore that found it so hard to reconcile the existence of pain with the love of God. Professor Huxley used to declare that his reason for rejecting the Christian creed was simply that he could not find in Nature the God of infinite love of which the New Testament speaks. The difficulties of miracles and the science of Genesis were nothing in comparison with “the impassable gulf between the anthropomorphism, however refined, of theology and the passionless impersonality of the Unknown and Unknowable which science shows in nature.” If other difficulties have slain the faith of thousands, the fact of pain has slain the faith of tens of thousands.
i. The Fact of Pain
St. Paul admits, he insists on, the pain, the waste, the imperfection, the bondage to vanity and corruption, to be found both in Nature and in Man. He depicts them in even darker colours than the materialist or the sceptic. And yet he aids us to bear the burden which seems intolerable. For he does not charge the evil that is in the world to any defect either in the power or in the goodness of the Maker of the world. He charges it, rather to the self-will, the depravity, of man; as indeed we ourselves do when in our common talk we say, “The world would be a very good world if only men were good enough to live in it.” Like Schopenhauer, he says, “The world is what men have made it,” and hence “the world is itself the judgment of the world.”
Are we offended at the cruelties of society? St. Paul knows them fully. “Filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, whisperers, back-biters, hateful to God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, unmerciful.” Are we perplexed because Christ has added to the world’s pain, and in the name of His Cross blood has been shed in torrents? “If we suffer with him.” Do we suppose that the physical agony of the brute creation is a modern discovery? “We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” As it has been said, “Here we have, as nowhere else in the Bible, perhaps nowhere else in ancient literature, a man who feels the pain of creation.” And this man, one of the world’s greatest intellects, who knew the whole world’s anguish, nevertheless declares throughout the whole Epistle that God is love. It is something at least to know that he knew all the facts.
Overmastering pain—the most deadly and tragical element in life—alas! pain has its own way with all of us; it breaks in, a rude visitant, upon the fairy garden where the child wanders in a dream, no less surely than it rules upon the field of battle, or sends the immortal war-god whimpering to his father; and innocence, no more than philosophy, can protect us from this sting.1 [Note: R. L. Stevenson, Child’s Play.]
1. St. Paul had abundant personal experience of suffering. He was a Jew outside the pale of Jews. He was a pariah among pariahs. The very Jews would not associate with him. He was “hated of all men for Christ’s name’s sake.” And, if in all the ranks of this hated subdivision of a sect there was one man who could be sensible of the scorn which was poured upon him, that man was the writer of these words. Born of the very bluest blood of Judaism—a Jew among Jews—educated as a conservative and a high churchman, with that bitter scorn of dissenters from his faith which then as now was the special mark of orthodox high breeding, he had come to be a dissenter among dissenters; not only a Christian but an advocate of opinions which among Christians themselves were unpopular and proscribed. “I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.… We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.” And there was not only moral but also physical torture. Wherever the ecclesiastical courts of his countrymen had jurisdiction, he received the “stripes” of a heretic. Wherever the civil courts of the Roman government took cognizance of him, he was “beaten” with the lictor’s “rods” as a disturber of the peace. There was death in front; there was ignominy and torture on either hand; there was that terrible mingling of moral humiliation with physical pain which to a sensitive nature like St. Paul’s is a thousand times worse than the agony of dying.1 [Note: Edwin Hatch.]
2. In all times men have been born to sorrow. The history of our race is a history of pain. Nor is it certain that, as history has gone on, the pain has lessened. We hear from time to time of the alleviations of suffering which have marked the advance of civilization. We live in an age in which the effort to alleviate suffering forms a distinct feature in the organization of society. We cannot look at the photograph of contemporary life which is contained in a daily newspaper without seeing that benevolent institutions and social improvements occupy a large place in the thoughts and efforts of civilized mankind. But, for all that, the doubt remains whether the sum total of human misery has not increased. It would almost seem as though the onward march of civilization slays its thousands and maims its ten thousands. It is almost inevitable that it should be so. The whole machinery of society is so constructed as to make the difference between rich and poor wider as civilization increases. Wealth tends to accumulate in fewer hands. There is consequently not only a multiplication of the number of the poor, but a deepening of their poverty. The fact is so serious, and is becoming so prominent, that many of those who contemplate social phenomena from a scientific point of view regard it with undisguised alarm. Nor is its significance lessened by the fact that the newest of all philosophies is a philosophy of pessimism, a philosophy which is based on the conviction that we are going from bad to worse.
3. But we must not exaggerate the amount of suffering in the world. We cannot be blind to its existence; it meets us in every direction, and it seems startling to be told by science that it is inseparably bound up in the existence of the lowest forms of life. Yet this is one of those vivid statements that seem to mean much more than they really do. If it means that some portion of pain is the lot of every living thing, that is quite true. But If it conveys the notion that the pain predominates over pleasure, that is utterly false—that is a libel on God’s creation, whose “tender mercies are over all his works.” The generalization of Herbert Spencer is at once far truer and far more extended, and his conclusion is that the supreme law under which every creature is placed is what amounts to a law of love. Pleasures, he says, attend a creature, an organism, when it does what is good for it, what will promote its growth, develop its organization, increase the sum total of its happiness; and pains attend it when it is moving along hurtful lines, when it is spending its energy too quickly, when it is diminishing the sum of its enjoyment, which pains are only the precursors of greater pains if it will persist in going along that hurtful path. Thus all pains are only like little pricks which push off and deter a creature from harm, whilst all pleasures are like gentle incentives and loving encouragements for it to persevere in the way that will bring it the largest measure of delight.
Ye know not why God hath joined the horse-fly unto the horse,
Nor why the generous steed is yoked with the poisonous fly:
Lest the steed should sink into ease and lose his fervour of nerve
God hath appointed him this: a lustful and venomous bride.
Never supine lie they, the steeds of our folk, to the sting,
Praying for deadness of nerve, their wounds the shame of the sun;
They strive, but they strive for this: the fulness of passionate nerve;
They pant, but they pant for this: the speed that outstrips the pain.
Sons of the dust, ye have stung: there is darkness upon my soul.
Sons of the dust, ye have stung: yea, stung to the roots of my heart.
But I have said in my breast: the birth succeeds to the pang,
And sons of the dust, behold, your malice becomes my Song of Solomon 1 [Note: Padraic Colum, Arab Songs.]
4. The great point to notice is that there are other facts in life which must be taken into account as well as sorrow. Professor Huxley spoke of the “Passionless Impersonality” which was all that he could find in nature. Had he never seen a mother? Is motherhood passionless? Motherhood is as much a part of the universe and a creation of its Creator as pain. That is what we have to recognize—this world is a problem, a mystery, not a simplicity. It is not that life is full of suffering and suffering only, and that this is the worst of all possible worlds. There would be no problem then—that would be simple enough. The mystery is that there is both justice and injustice, both pain and joy, both agony and love. There is the storm that hurries with fire and ruin over sea and land, and the pessimist says, “God is cruel.” But there are flowers by the wayside to contradict him. We have to account for the whole of the facts. How can we reconcile them? What shall we say? Shall we say that God is working out a glory in comparison with which the sorrows of this present are not worthy to be compared? Or shall we say that He is an “Infinite Indifference” who lighted by chance on the sweetness of human friendship and the rich cornfields and the splendours of the day and the night? Surely love is the easier solution, for these things are too great to be the creation of chance.
God loves and cares for the meanest creatures more tenderly, more gently, than the sweetest mother ever cared for her firstborn son. His arrangements for the happiness of everything that He has made are so large, so delicate, so considerate, so thoughtful, in a word so fatherly, that anything we know of earthly care and tenderness is only hard and unfeeling by its side. His love for the lowest zoophyte has led Him to do far more to promote its happiness than we have ever thought of doing for the one we love best.1 [Note: W. D. Ground.]
A pessimistic novel of our day closes with the sentence, “The President of the Immortals had finished his sport with Tess.” But if the creed of the novel be true, we do not know that the sport is finished. If God has tortured us here, in all likelihood He will torture us hereafter. This may be the first of an endless series of torture chambers of increasing agony and woe. And the awful possibilities of disaster that loom before the imagination are horrible beyond description. But, as a matter of fact, we are not afraid. Why? Because we know that the joy of life is greater than the pain. Why not be honest? There is nothing here that makes impossible the faith that God is love—no sorrow that is too bitter for atoning.1 [Note: E. A. French.]
ii. The Reason for Pain
1. There are two great reasons for the presence of suffering in the world and in human lives.
(1) At the root of this mystery of suffering lies the mystery of sacrifice. St. Paul lays down for us its principles: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Notice that word “therefore”—as a consequence of all that has gone before, the deep, and almost abstruse, argument about the relationship of God to man. Here is its result. God’s love, God’s power of sanctification, God’s redemption of man, issues in a living sacrifice of man to God; a giving up, a crucifying, of self and many cherished plans and hopes.
It is our reasonable service, the only tribute that a being with thought and understanding can make to the All-loving and All-merciful Father. Do not let us mistake the meaning of these words. They do not mean merely that we must give up wickedness, however much we love it; we must overcome the temptation to do wrong whenever it assails us. That, of course, is true, for these things are poison to the soul. But a man cannot live by merely avoiding poison. Sacrifice is a deeper thing than that. It penetrates into the inmost being, and demands self. It bids us give up things lawful because they are not always things expedient. Just as the man who is eager about his business life has to forgo ease and comfort, and often amusement, absolutely innocent things in themselves, but dangerous where misplaced, so we have to overcome by taking up our cross and following Him. If the innocent pleasure is misplaced, the cry of nature after it must be stifled, for they who seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness must learn the science of placing all things where God would have them. This effort means sacrifice—how hard the sacrifice is none can know till they begin to learn by experience. It is that plucking out of the offending eye, that cutting off of the offending hand, which our Lord in vivid imagery speaks of as the principle by which the whole body is saved from destruction.
Not merely the St. Peters and St. Pauls whose lives are high and wonderful beyond anything we see in our own, but plain, simple-minded men and women like ourselves, those who have learned, perhaps, to love the world and its plans and gains as well as we have, God has called over and over again to their true, highest self by the voices of disappointment and pain. In one sense it is the recorded opinion of shrewd, observant men. Some years ago one who was a notoriously shrewd judge of character said that in his experience he found men’s characters spoiled by prosperity and unspoiled by reverses. He mentioned one who had risen to high honour as a signal instance, I think he said the only instance he could recall, of a man absolutely unspoiled by success. That was the testimony of one who did not profess to speak of it from the point of view of spiritual discipline, but as an obvious fact of everyday experience. How infinitely more striking when we place side by side with that remark the plain, simple story of a poor woman lying in an East-End Hospital, suffering the agonies of one of the most painful diseases that baffle human skill. In her last moments she said to the clergyman who stood by her bedside: “I am so happy; I never knew what real happiness was until this last fortnight.” The story of the “Man of Sorrows” had illuminated the dark mystery of pain, and revealed its meaning.1 [Note: E. J. Purchase.]
William Archer, reviewing a book by Robert Louis Stevenson, declared that Stevenson’s philosophy would break down with sickness. Yet at the very time Stevenson was a great sufferer and forbidden to speak for days, even for weeks. Afterwards he wrote to his critic, “I see a universe I suppose eternally different from yours—a solemn, a terrible, but a very joyous and noble universe, where suffering is not wantonly inflicted, though it falls with dispassionate impartiality, but where it may be and generally is nobly borne, where, above all, any brave man may make out a life which shall be happy for himself, and, by being so, beneficent to those about him.”
I wait, in His good time to see
That as my mother dealt with me
So with His children dealeth He.
I bow myself beneath His hand:
That pain itself was wisely planned
I feel and partly understand.
The joy that comes in sorrow’s guise,
The sweet pains of self-sacrifice,
I would not have them otherwise.1 [Note: Whittier.]
(2) The second reason for the presence of pain is that there are some things that are better than pleasure, things that enter into a far higher realm; and, in order to bring these nobler matters into existence, in order to provide for them a sphere in which they can grow and develop, it is in accordance with the most tender love to inflict a certain amount of pain. God has a great design, a design as wide as the universe, filling all time, a design to compass which He began to work untold millions of ages ago. Slowly He has laid the ascending courses; every organism has somehow entered into it, been a necessary part of it. This design was to provide a scaffolding on which man could stand, could be trained and educated, until in the “fulness of the time” he should be prepared for the Christ, could then behold His glory, be overcome by His beauty, and be changed into His likeness. And this end God saw to be so Divine that He felt justified, in order to attain it, in asking everything to suffer somewhat, taking care to make each one an abundant compensation. He is like some great contriver of earth, who has a large design needing many workers, and who takes care to be a generous master, paying liberally for every service that is rendered.
And now my grief I see
Was but that ancient shadow part of me,
Not yet attuned to good,
Still blind and senseless in its warring mood,
I turn from it and climb
To the heroic spirit of the prime,
The light that well foreknew
All the dark ways that it must journey through.
Yet seeing still a gain,
A distant glory o’er the hills of pain,
Through all that chaos wild
A breath as gentle as a little child,
Through earth transformed, divine,
The Christ-soul of the universe to shine.2 [Note: “A. E.,” The Divine Vision.]
2. These two reasons—sacrifice and discipline—are summed up in the Apostle’s word “glory.” And we are led to consider what is involved in “the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward.” But before doing so we might notice that the gain of suffering is not all kept for the life that is to come. We can believe that the suffering of men is working out such a glory because even in this earthly life sorrow and pain work out a glory that is worth the price. Take, for example, Dante, the Italian man of sorrows. Denied the woman he loved, driven an exile from his native land, sentenced to be burned alive, left alone, astonished amid the agony of life—yet but for this he had never written his poem. As Carlyle has said, had Dante not suffered, “Florence would have had another prosperous Lord Mayor, and the ten dumb centuries continued voiceless.” Give him the choice of his happiness! He knew not, more than we do, what was really happy, what was really miserable. The song was worth the price.
The world is full of beauty and joy; full, too, of suffering and pain. Suffer we must, each one of us. What shall we gain by it? Shall we suffer so that, when the pain has swept by, it leaves us nothing but the spirit of rebellion, the angry feeling of helpless despair? Or shall we suffer so that even our darkest moments are times of victory, so that out of the pain and anguish come God’s beautiful gifts that can turn sorrow into joy? That is the question we have to ask ourselves. Shall it be triumph or despair? Often enough we shall have to choose suffering, deliberately choose it, as the escape from defeat and despair. When sin has laid its defiling touch upon us, and there lie before us the two ways—the way of easy acquiescence in evil as inevitable, and the nobler, harder way of godly sorrow—we dare not hesitate; and this is but the picture of what God calls us to in the school of brave endurance where we are being trained, where the way of ease is the way of danger, and the pathway of the Cross the road to victory.1 [Note: E. J. Purchase.]
And methought that beauty and terror are only one, not two;
And the world has room for love, and death, and thunder, and dew;
And all the sinews of hell slumber in summer air;
And the face of God is a rock, but the face of the rock is fair.
Beneficent streams of tears flow at the finger of pain;
And out of the cloud that smites, beneficent rivers of rain.2 [Note: R. L. Stevenson, Songs of Travel.]
The Glory that is to be Revealed
“The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward.” Just like the mist that in the early morning hangs dark, damp, and depressing round the earth, but in the evening has been lifted into the blue sky, and is irradiated with a dazzling light, so the present sorrow will be even beautiful when the glory has been revealed. If the glory cannot come without the pain, it is not unloving to inflict the pain. This is, it is true, only a practical solution of the problem. But the Bible meets only our practical needs. It does not tell us why pain is the way to glory—it tells us only that “God is love.” It is not strange that the suffering should now seem very great. For
Is given thee to suffer for God’s sake.
In other worlds we shall more perfectly
Serve Him and love Him, praise Him, work for Him,
Grow nearer and nearer Him with all delight;
But then we shall not any more be called
To suffer, which is our appointment here.
Let us take heed in time
That God may now be glorified in us;
And while we suffer, let us set our souls
To suffer perfectly; since this alone
The suffering which is this world’s special grace
May here be perfected and left behind.
What a wonderful and illuminating thought it is when once we practically apply it! For where is the burden of the mystery of life if we not only hope for an immortality in which all the ravelled skeins of time will be pulled straight, but know that all the enravelment of this life, all its strange blending of evil with good, of sorrow with joy, of loss with gain, is intended to exercise us in discrimination, in manliness, in moral capacity and fervour and breadth; intended, therefore, for a discipline by which we shall be educated and made meet for the glory of a future life in which, redeemed from every bond of imperfection, every taint of corruption, we shall rise into an untrammelled freedom, a growing perfection, an eternal usefulness which shall also be an eternal joy? If this be verily so, if we are at last to learn once for all that our wills are ours that we may make them God’s, and so may ever see our will done both in heaven and on earth, may not we conclude, with the Apostle,” I deliberately reckon, I am fully persuaded, that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in and upon us”?1 [Note: S. Cox.]
i. The Glory
1. We might have expected joy to be placed over against suffering. It is glory, the perfection of our being—the blessedness of God. And what is glory? It is a vague word to many of us. But this passage may serve to clear it up. Glory is the manifestation of excellence. Applied to God, as in the phrase so common in Scripture, “the glory of God,” it means the manifestation of what God is, whether in power, or in wisdom, or in goodness, or in all of these together. Applied to men, to Christian men, in the sense here designed, it means the manifestation hereafter of what they are, not in themselves—for that could only be the exhibition of weakness, faultiness, and sinfulness—but in their relation to God as His children, to Christ as His redeemed, to the Holy Spirit as His dwelling-place and His temple.
2. We cannot in our present state say much about this glory. Our words are apt to darken rather than brighten the simple statement of the text. “Now we see through a glass, darkly,” and “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” But we are not, therefore, forbidden to think and speak of the future. If it is right to set our affection on heavenly things, it cannot be wrong to set our thoughts upon them too.
(1) We think of the glory of saved men as different from that of angels. The one is the brightness of robes never stained with sin; the other the brightness of those who have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. The one is the glory of those who have been born to wealth; the other that of those who from poverty have been made rich. The one is born in a palace; the other is taken from a pit, and, by the grace of God, led up to empire. It is the glory of a complete triumph over sin.
(2) Then there is the glory of the Judgment Day—of standing at the right hand of God, of being acknowledged as His own before heaven and earth and hell, of God Himself being glorified, and His way fully justified in our redemption. Who would compare the slanders of the wicked with such a recognition? Who would speak of the disgrace of the cross in view of such an honour?
(3) Involved in all this, and indeed but the figure or shadow of it, is the glory that literally shall be revealed in us. The glory of perfect conformity to Christ. The unfathomable blessedness of being altogether one with God—partaking of His strength and beauty, His freedom and eternity; enjoying at once the highest liberty and obeying the highest law; being heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.
How sparing the Holy Ghost is in the description of future glory! How chaste, if I may so speak, is He in depicting the future triumphs of the saints! It is well known by accurate observers of human nature that there is no one thing that would sooner wear out the frame and mind of man than exquisite enjoyment; and God, in mercy to our frail nature, has been sparing as to future scenes. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now,” says Jesus to His disciples. So our God has many joys, much glory, much enjoyment for us; but we cannot bear it now; and so He puts it off until we attain to the maturity of manhood, and then the eternal weight of glory shall be revealed in us (or, as in the original, towards us, which, of course, means for our benefit). Sufferings are depressing, but glory hereafter will be exalting. Sufferings are disheartening, but glory will be exhilarating. Sufferings darken and sadden the countenance, but glory hereafter will brighten it. What is that glory, people of God? Do you believe it? Just as certainly as that the Man of Sorrows is now on a throne of joy—as certainly as that He who was crowned with the crown of thorns is now in the glory of His Father—so all the children of God shall, like Him, be crowned. As He has entered into His rest, where death has no more dominion over Him, so shall all the people of God for ever!—for He is the Head, and they are the members. Where the Head is, there shall also His members be.1 [Note: J. Gregg.]
Be comforted, be comforted,
Ye tempest-tossed and worn,
Who wait amid the shadows
For hope’s celestial morn!
The valley hath its burden,
Its vision, and its song,
And strains of joy are wafted
From heaven’s immortal throng.
He makes my windows agates,
That I may dimly see
The glories that await me,
The joys prepared for me.
Oh, were the full effulgence
To break upon my sight,
My spirit were too eager
To take its upward flight!
Through mists of tears the bulwarks
Of Zion’s City rise;
I greet its pearly portals,
Its jasper meets mine eyes;
A mystic glory lightens it,
It shines upon my road,
And through my agate windows
My heart exults in God!
ii. The Greatness of the Glory
1. We have seen how great were the sufferings of this Apostle. Yet the mere mention of the sufferings and the glory together suggests that the former is unworthy of comparison with the latter. The magnanimity of St. Paul prevents him from dragging his afflictions into comparison with the glory of God. It is the mark of a great soul in every sphere of life to suffer quietly in the way of truth, and make no parade or comparison of its sufferings with the glory of the end for which it suffers. The thought that in any degree he had paid for the glory would be an offence. He does not strike a balance with mercenary spirit between what he gives and what he receives. If he makes any comparison at all, it is to show that his sufferings are part of the glory—that his wounds are his brightest ornaments; as the sears on the body of Jesus become shining tokens to all eternity of a love and valour that cast away self, and triumphed over death. The Apostle cares not to compare the prospect before him with the dark and rugged way that leads to it. The memory of past hardships is all but swallowed up in the enthusiasm of hope; and in this he follows his Master, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.”
Do you feel you suffer more than others? Then remember that you can estimate better than others how great the glory will be. For the glory will be greater than the sufferings. Others measure the city of gold with the “measure of a man,” you with the “measure of an angel.” Remember that, whatever you have lost, you have gained a clearer vision of the glory that shall be. And through your sorrows you may also know God better. For sorrow is a revelation of God. Dr. Dale lost a little child, and years after, writing to comfort a friend, he said, “I learnt what God must feel at the loss of His children.” A lady once told me of the experience which led her to Christ. Her husband was very unkind to her and her life was very hard. But she had a little boy whom she dearly loved. One day he had committed some childish fault, and she felt it her duty to punish him for the first time in his life. It was agony to her to do it. And it suddenly flashed into her mind that she who had always thought God hard had misunderstood Him, that it must be infinitely greater pain to God to send her pain than for her to bear it. And, looking up through the sorrows that revealed the heart of God, she gave herself up to the love that dares to wound so deeply because it so truly loves.1 [Note: E. A. French.]
2. How is it that the glory is so manifestly greater than the pain?
(1) Because the sufferings are necessarily physical, or, if mental, they have a physical side. The “glory revealed in us” is character, spiritual excellence, likeness to God. It is easy to see, then, that any amount of pain and loss that may come to us in the few short years of this mortal life cannot for a moment compare with a moral greatness that has been by that means acquired, a moral greatness which will continue for ever.
(2) Because suffering affects only our happiness, but the glory secures our holiness. The work which God undertakes for us is the most sublime that can be conceived. That task is to make men anew after the likeness of God; and if God is the most glorious Being in the universe, then obviously to make a man like Him must be a work the like of which cannot elsewhere be found.
(3) Because the suffering is for a time and the glory is for ever. There is something in goodness that is so intrinsically noble that, even if it continued but for this life, if men were only brightly coloured bubbles on the sea of time, yet to produce one great and good man would be worth any toil, and all true artists would say so; but when those splendours of righteous character are but feeble prophecies of a glory that our little faculties cannot conceive, which glory is to continue for ever, why, then, those toils receive a still nobler recompense.
There is another passage similar to this in its course of reasoning. It is the account of Moses in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The writer is describing Moses making his choice between the world and Christ. Now see how he loads the scales. On the world’s side, pleasures and treasures; on Christ’s side, reproaches and afflictions. Surely the world is best! But now mark how he re-adjusts the balance. With the world’s pleasures and treasures he throws in “for a season”; with the reproaches and afflictions he casts in “with the people of God”; and in a moment the world kicks the beam—“choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.”
I’m wearin’ awa’, John,
Like snaw wreaths in thaw, John,
I’m wearin’ awa’
To the land o’ the leal.
There’s nae sorrow there, John,
There’s neither cauld nor care, John,
The day is aye fair
In the land o’ the leal.
Our bonnie bairn’s there, John,
She was baith gude and fair, John,
And, oh! we grudg’d her sair
To the land o’ the leal.
But sorrow’s sel’ wears past, John,
And joy’s a-comin’ fast, John,
The joy that’s aye to last
In the land o’ the leal.
Sae dear’s that joy was bought, John,
Sae free the battle fought, John,
That sinfu’ man e’er brought
To the land o’ the leal.
Oh! dry your glist’ning e’e, John,
My saul langs to be free, John,
And angels beckon me
To the land o’ the leal.
Oh, haud ye leal and true, John,
Your day it’s wearin’ thro’, John,
And I’ll welcome you
To the land o’ the leal.
Now fare ye weel, my ain John,
This warld’s cares are vain, John,
We’ll meet, and we’ll be fain
In the land o’ the leal.1 [Note: Lady Nairne.]
3. This power of a great hope may become the power of a great temptation. This dream of a glory to be revealed has played a baneful as well as a beneficial part in the history of Christianity. As long as we ourselves do not feel the misery of life, but only contemplate it from outside, there is nothing easier than to sit with folded hands, looking away from the wretchedness at our feet to the sunlit cloudland of the future. It has been the temptation of many men, and even of many good men, in all ages. It is this that underlies the tendency to monasticism, which fills so large a place in Christian history, and which is not wholly absent from us now. There were monks who felt as keenly as any of us could feel the misery and wickedness which surrounded them, and who painted, in more glowing colours than any one before or since has painted, the glory of the Jerusalem that is to come, and yet who made no single effort to lessen the misery or to bring the glory nearer. There are men among us still who, though not monks, but entangled in the network of common life, take the misery that they find there as an inevitable element of it, and wait in unmoving acquiescence, if not in placid self-satisfaction, until God sends some change. But this, so far from being hope, is rather its paralysis; for hope that does nothing is not hope, but an idle dream.
On the other hand, the power of a great hope may become the power of a great motive. There are few among us whose lives have not an element of sadness. For all of us the consolations of the future are still needed. But, if they come to us at all, they should come as a motive power; they should help to shape our character. It was so with St. Paul. His conception of the glory which should be revealed was not, as we have seen, so much a complete change in external circumstances as a change of the spirit and the inner life. It was a change of character and a change of power. It was the final victory of the spirit over the flesh. It involved the obligation to work towards it by new efforts after spiritual life. This is never lost sight of: “We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” Again, after speaking of the earthly and the heavenly tabernacle, and of mortality being swallowed up in life, his inference is, “Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.” And again, St. John, after speaking of the same hope of immortality, adds, “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” That is a lesson which we may all take home. The life after the Spirit, the communion with God, the realization in our own characters of the character of Christ, which are the elements of the glory of the life to come, must have their beginnings in this present life below. In the struggle which this involves we may be content to live, for in the hope which it brings we may be glad to die.
Hope evermore and believe, O man, for e’en as thy thought
So are the things that thou see’st; e’en as thy hope and belief.
Cowardly art thou and timid? they rise to provoke thee against them.
Hast thou courage? enough, see them exulting to yield.
Yea, the rough rock, the dull earth, the wild sea’s furying waters,
(Violent say’st thou and hard, mighty thou think’st to destroy),
All with ineffable longing are waiting their Invader,
All, with one varying voice, call to him, Come and subdue;
Still for their Conqueror call, and but for the joy of being conquered,
(Rapture they will not forego) dare to resist and rebel;
Still, when resisting and raging, in soft undervoice say unto him,
Fear not, retire not, O man; hope evermore and believe.
Go from the east to the west, as the sun and the stars direct thee,
Go with the girdle of man, go and encompass the earth.
Not for the gain of the gold; for the getting, the hoarding, the having,
But for the joy of the deed; but for the Duty to do.
Go with the spiritual life, the higher volition and action,
With the great girdle of God, go and encompass the earth.
Go; say not in thy heart, And what then were it accomplished,
Were the wild impulse allayed, what were the use or the good!
Go, when the instinct is stilled, and when the deed is accomplished,
What thou hast done and shalt do, shall be declared to thee then.
Go with the sun and the stars, and yet evermore in thy spirit
Say to thyself: It is good: yet is there better than it.
This that I see is not all, and this that I do is but little;
Nevertheless it is good, though there is better than it.1 [Note: Clough.]
Another Good Reckoning
Alford (H.), Quebec Chapel Sermons, iii. 374.
Cox (S.), The House and its Builders, 110.
Ferguson (F.), Sermons, 37.
French (E. A.), God’s Message through Modern Doubt, 28.
Gregg (J.), The Life of Faith, 218.
Hatch (E.), Memorials, 123.
Hickey (F. P.), Short Sermons, 2nd Ser., 130.
Maurice (F. D.), Sermons preached in Country Churches, 342.
Perinchief (O.), in American Pulpit of the Day, 3rd Ser., 294.
Price (A. C), Fifty Sermons, vi. 161.
Purchase (E. J.), The Pathway of the Tempted, 93.
Scott (M.), Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, 160.
Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), iii. No. 407.
Vaughan (J. S.), Earth to Heaven, 115.
Wace (H.), in Sermons for the People, v. 130.
Christian World Pulpit, xiii. 316 (Ground); lvi. 369 (Campbell); lxxiv. 346 (Marshall).
Church Pulpit Year Book, iii. (1906), 155.
Churchman’s Pulpit; Fourth Sunday after Trinity, x. 190 (French), 192 (Cutting).
Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd Ser., xiii. 155 (Proctor).
Contemporary Pulpit, 1st Ser., vi. 48 (Maurice).