For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
~ 2 Corinthians 4:17–18
Setting Our Affections Upon Glory, The Acid Test, By Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
In the last two verses of the fourth chapter of the second epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul brings to a kind of grand climax the series of amazing and astonishing things that he has just been saying. This is, undoubtedly, one of the great statements in the Scriptures, one of those nuggets that we find standing out here and there, especially in the writings of the great apostle Paul. There are variations even in the writings of the holy men of God who were guided and controlled as they wrote the Scriptures, and this is undoubtedly one of the most eloquent and moving passages.
I say that in order that I may issue a warning. I always feel, when we read a passage like 2 Corinthians 4, that there is a very real dan- ger that we should be so affected and moved and carried away by the eloquence, the diction, the style, the balance that we pay no attention to the message. This is true, I think, of many psalms. There are people who read the psalms not to get their message but because of the beauty of the language and the diction. Some people, it seems, even use them as a kind of soporific. Carried away by the lilt and the cadence and the beauty of the language, they pay no attention at all to the meaning. So I feel, always, when we handle such a passage that we have to take our- selves in hand, discipline ourselves, and make certain that we do lay hold of the message.
We must remember that this great apostle was not a literary man. We must not think of him as a man in a study surrounded by his books, sitting down to produce a great masterpiece of literature or eloquence. That is not the case at all. This man was a preacher, an evangelist, a pas- tor, a teacher, a founder of churches. So when he produces a great pas- sage like this, it is something almost accidental. What happened was that he was so moved and so carried away that he found himself writ- ing like this almost unconsciously. We must bear that in mind lest we miss the message and be affected by the sound of the language and the beauty of the passage merely from the standpoint of literature.
I emphasize this because actually the apostle here was writing in very difficult conditions. Literary men, such as the poets, generally need to have favorable circumstances before they can produce their best work. I remember a postcard that G. K. Chesterton sent to a friend of mine who had written to him asking, “Why is it that the poets can be so glorious in their poetry but often are so disappointing in their personal lives and in their beliefs and in their prose?” Chesterton’s reply was this: “Poets often sing what they cannot say.” And that, it seems to me, is the exact antithesis of what is true of the man of God, the true Christian. If we cannot say these things as well as sing them, there is very little value in them. So here is the apostle Paul, a man writing out of the midst of great troubles—he even gives us a list of them—and yet surrounded as he is by trials and tribulations, this is what he is able to say: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
Now I want to consider these two verses with you because I believe that a great need in the Christian church today is for a body of people who can speak as Paul does. I think this is also the supreme need of our world as it is at the present time, full of so much uncertainty and toil and trouble. I believe the church and the world are waiting for a body of people who can take their stand by the side of this apostle and join him in making this great declaration. So it would be good for us to examine ourselves in the light of this statement. Is this our attitude toward our modern world? Is this how we are facing the present and the unknown future, which is so full of foreboding?
Let me put it to you like this. I am suggesting that in these two verses we have the acid test of our profession of the Christian faith. When I say acid test, I mean the most delicate, the most sensitive test, the test of tests. Let us imagine that I put the following question to you: What is the acid test of any man or woman’s profession of the Christian faith?
I can imagine someone without any hesitation saying, “That’s per- fectly simple. No problem there. My acid test is the test of orthodoxy. It’s obvious. If a man does not believe certain things, he is clearly not a Christian. He may be a good man, but if he does not believe a cer- tain irreducible minimum, he cannot, in fact, call himself a Christian. Whatever else he may be, a man who doesn’t believe in God, in the being of God, is not a Christian. If he doesn’t believe in the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, his incarnation, his miracles, his atoning death, his physi- cal resurrection, his ascension, the sending of the Holy Spirit and the person of the Spirit, why, if he doesn’t believe these things, he just can- not be a Christian. The test is orthodoxy.”
What do we say to that? I think we must agree at once that the test of orthodoxy is not only a valuable test, it is vitally important. I agree a hundred percent. Unless a man does believe this irreducible minimum, he just cannot be a Christian. And yet while I say that, I am not prepared to accept the test of orthodoxy as the acid test of one’s Christian profes- sion for this reason: as we know from history, perhaps some of us from personal experience, it is quite possible to be perfectly orthodox and yet to be spiritually dead. There is such a thing, after all, as having or giving an intellectual assent to the truth. There have been people in the church who have been thoroughly orthodox—they have accepted bibli- cal teaching, they have believed it all, they have often fought for it—and yet it can be said of them, in the words of Paul, that while “having a form of godliness,” they are “denying the power thereof” (2 Tim. 3:5). Many have denied in their daily lives what they have professed and claimed to believe on Sundays. They have been quite orthodox, but at the same time without life, without power. Because of the terrible danger of a mere intellectual assent, orthodoxy, while it is absolutely essential, is not sufficiently delicate to merit the designation of acid test.
Then I see someone hurriedly saying, “You’re perfectly right. To me the acid test of whether or not people are Christians is not so much what they say as the life they live. That’s the test. Speech is easy. The question is, are they moral? Are they upright? Are they philanthropic? Behavior and morality—this, to me, proclaims what people are.”
What do we say here? Of course, we agree at once that conduct is an absolutely vital test. If people do not live this life, then no matter what they may profess, clearly they are not Christians. The Scriptures make this terribly plain and clear to us in so many passages. The life lived is absolutely vital. Morality is an essential part of this Christian faith of ours. And yet, though I say that, I again must hurry to say that I will not accept this either as our acid test. This point is particularly important at the present time, when the popular and prevailing view is that conduct is the acid test. But we cannot agree to that for this good reason: there are many men and women who live highly moral and ethi- cal lives in this world, people who do much good and are great bene- factors of the human race, yet who cannot be called Christians. Why not? Because they deny God himself and the very elements of this faith. There are many humanists and others against whom you cannot bring any criticism on moral grounds; you cannot point a finger at them. So if you judge merely by behavior, if you put this up as the acid test and say that belief is unnecessary, you are denying the whole of the Christian faith. Morality is essential, but it is not enough. It does not constitute the acid test.
Then I imagine a third person coming forward and saying, “Well, I’m still in agreement with you, and I wouldn’t have suggested either of those tests. No, it’s quite simple. The acid test is the test of experience. That’s the vital thing. What I want to know about people who make a profession is this: Can they say, ‘Whereas I once was blind, now I see’? Has there been some great crisis, some climactic experience in their lives that has turned them around and made new people of them? This is the vital thing, the test of experience.”
Here, again, is a most important test. No one is born a Christian. You have to be born again to become a Christian. Experience is a vital part of our whole position. I am not postulating that you must have some standard experience, that you must be able to point to a particular moment and a particular preacher, a particular text, and so on. But I am postulating that men and women who are Christians are aware that the Spirit of God has been dealing with them and has done something vital to them. They are aware that they have new life within them. Experience is essential. Yet I am not prepared to accept this either as what I am call- ing the acid test of our profession, for this obvious reason—and again it is so important at this present time: if you make the test of experience the acid test, what have you to say to the many cults that are flourish- ing round and about us? After all these cults give people experiences. I am thinking of cults such as Christian Science. One of the most dra- matic changes I have ever seen in a person’s life was in the case of a lady who became a Christian Scientist. She was entirely changed and transformed—a great experience! Obviously the cults emphasize expe- riences. They would not succeed if it were not for this. They obviously have something to give to people, otherwise they would not be flourish- ing. So if we put up experience as the ultimate standard, the acid test, we are left without any reply at all to these various cults. Experience is essential, but it is not enough. It is not delicate and sensitive enough to merit the term acid test.
“Well,” says somebody, “if you’re rejecting all these tests, what’s your test?”
Let me suggest it to you. My test is the test we have in these two verses that we are considering. Why is this the acid test? It is because it includes the other three tests, covers them, and guarantees them. In other words, I am suggesting that the acid test of our profession is our total response to life, to everything that takes place within us and around us. Not partial but total. And this, I emphasize, is a guarantee of these other aspects to which I have been referring.
During the last war, in my ministry in London I often used to say that what determines whether or not you and I are Christians is not what we say on vacation and not what we say when we are in our studies or reading a book somewhere and reading about theology and reading the Scriptures. That is not the ultimate test. The acid test of our profession is this: What do you feel like when you are sitting in an air-raid shelter and you can hear the bombs dropping round and about you, and you know that the next bomb may land on you and may be the end of you? That is the test. How do you feel when you are face-to-face with the ulti- mate, with the end? Or I might put it in terms of young men engaged in action on the field of battle. What is your response as you are facing life and death and all the great ultimate questions? What is your reaction? Or, coming nearer home, let me put it like this: the ultimate test of our profession of the Christian faith is what we feel, what we say, and what our reaction is when a hurricane comes3 or a tornado or some calamity produced by nature or some violent epidemic, a disease that brings us face-to-face with time and eternity, with life and death. The ultimate question is, what is our response then? Because that is exactly what the apostle is saying here.
Paul is surrounded by many troubles and trials and problems. They could not have been worse. Yet he looks at them all and says, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Do we react like that as we look at the worst, as we look at life at its darkest and its starkest? I suggest that this is the acid test because, you see, it covers my orthodoxy. The only people who can speak like this are those who know whom they have believed, those who are certain of their faith. Nobody else can. Other people can turn their backs upon disasters and whistle to keep up their courage in the dark, they can do many things, but they can- not speak like this without being orthodox. This test also guarantees conduct and morality, because the trouble with people who merely have an intellectual belief is that in the moment of crisis their faith does not help them. They feel condemned. Their consciences accuse them. They are in trouble because they know they are frauds. And in the same way this test also guarantees the experiential element, the life, the power, the vigor. People cannot speak like this unless these truths are living realities to them. They are the only ones who are able to look upon calamity and smile at it and refer to it as “our light affliction, which is but for a moment,” which “worketh for us a far more exceeding and eter- nal weight of glory.”
So here is the great test for us. Can we speak like this? Do we speak like this? We may be orthodox. That is not enough. We may be good peo- ple. That is not enough. We may have had some great thrilling experi- ence. That is not enough. How do we stand up to the ultimate questions? We have seen the apostle’s answer, and the question I now want to put to you briefly is this: What was it that made him write in this way and manner? What is the explanation of his ability to face all these things? He has given us a list of his trials. “We are troubled,” he says, “on every side . . . we are perplexed . . . persecuted . . . cast down . . . always bear- ing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus . . . . We which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:8–11). And yet, having given us the list, this is what the apostle says: “our light affliction, which is but for a moment.” What enabled him to say this?
Now, once more, many people at the present time would come to us and say there is no problem there at all. They say, “Surely this is just a matter of temperament.” Someone will say, “I’m a psychologist, and I discovered in my reading of psychology that there are different types of temperament, different types of personality. Some people are born optimists, some are pessimists. Some have a depressive, pessimistic outlook; others are sanguine by temperament. There are people who always see a silver lining in every cloud. It does not matter how dark things may look, such people always smile, and they say, ‘It’s all right. Don’t be depressed. Things will get better. This isn’t the end, you know.’ They are born optimists. They are like corks. It does not matter what happens, they keep on bobbing up to the surface. And no doubt,” says this person, “your apostle Paul was a man who happened to be born with this sanguine, optimistic temperament. That’s why he refused to be discouraged and depressed and kept on being cheerful in spite of everything.”
But anybody who knows anything about the apostle Paul knows that this is entirely wrong as an explanation of his language for, beyond any question, by nature and temperament the apostle Paul was a depres- sive person, a man who could be easily discouraged. These Corinthians had depressed him and discouraged him. They had made insulting remarks about him. They had said, “His bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor. 10:10). They had hurt him grievously, and he tells us in chapter 7 of this very epistle, “When we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears” (v. 5). Paul was about as far removed as is possible from your natural optimist, the person with a sanguine temperament. No, no! This is not psychology. And thank God it is not. If the gospel of Jesus Christ were merely something that enables the natural optimist to speak as Paul does at the end of 2 Corinthians 4, then what would happen to those of us who are natural pessimists? No, the glory of the gospel is this—it can come to men and women of every conceivable type of temperament and outlook and enable them to speak like this. It does not depend upon us as we are by nature. It depends upon what the gospel has done to us. Psychology is not the explanation.
“All right,” says somebody, “if it isn’t temperament, surely it must be that the apostle Paul had espoused a particular philosophical outlook.” The apostle lived in an age when there was a popular philosophy that went under the name of Stoicism. We read in the seventeenth chap- ter of Acts that when the apostle went to Athens, he found there peo- ple called Stoics and Epicureans. These were the two main schools of ancient philosophy. Stoicism was the philosophy of courage, the philos- ophy of grit, the philosophy of “sticking to it.” The Stoic was a very wise and thoughtful man, unlike the Epicurean, whose philosophy, in a gen- eral sense, was, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” the philosophy of pleasure. The Stoic said, “No, no! You must think. You must face the facts of life.” And he had done so. He was a really able and intelligent kind of person. The Stoic had meditated seriously about life and its problems, and he had come to the conclusion that if you want to go through life successfully, if you want to end standing on your feet, if you want to get through undefeated, there is only one way to do it: you must brace your shoulders; you must have a firm upper lip; you must clench your teeth; you must take yourself in hand; you must exercise discipline and have an iron will; you must refuse to be defeated. If you do not, you will go down. And many have thought that the explanation of the apostle’s language here is that he had become a Stoic.
Now this, to me, is most important because, unless I am very greatly mistaken, large numbers of people in the Christian church today are confusing Stoicism with Christianity. We certainly saw a great deal of Stoicism in England, and in London, during World War II. For that rea- son I was constantly preaching on this theme. We had a slogan: “London can take it.” Let the Germans come and bomb us, London can take it. But I want to show you that Stoicism is the exact opposite of Christianity, that it has nothing to do with it. Why is that? Because there is this great difference: the philosophy of Stoicism is the philosophy of resignation. It is the philosophy of putting up with it, taking it, simply standing and refusing to give in. Stoicism is negative, whereas the very essence of Christianity is that it is positive. Christians are not people who are just bearing with things and putting up with them. They are triumphing. They are exulting. They are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37).
Let me make this point plain and clear by quoting to you two pieces of poetry, one of them an expression of the philosophy of Stoicism, the other an expression of the true Christian position. Look at Stoicism first. Here are a few lines from the English poet John Dryden, who I think has given the perfect expression to the philosophy of Stoicism. This is how he puts it:
Since every man who lives is born to die,
And none can boast sincere felicity,
With equal mind, what happens, let us bear,
Nor joy nor grieve too much for things beyond our care. Like pilgrims to th’ appointed place we tend;
The world’s an inn, and death the journey’s end.
That is perfect Stoicism. “Every man who lives is born to die.” That is a profound observation, and the trouble with most people in the world today is that they never realize that. That is why they get so terrified when they hear warnings about hurricanes and tornadoes. They never think of death. They assume they are going to live in this world forever. But the Stoic has thought. He has faced the facts. “Every man who lives is born to die.”
And then Dryden goes on to say, “And none can boast sincere felic- ity,” by which he means that there is no such thing in this world as sin- cere, unmixed felicity or happiness. There is nobody who is perfectly happy. There is always a fly in the ointment, always something lacking. So what do you do about it? And here is the answer: “With equal mind.” It is the philosophy of balance, the philosophy of discipline, of control, the philosophy of maintaining an even keel: “what happens, let us bear, nor joy nor grieve too much for things beyond our care.” If you want to be happy in this world and to go through it triumphantly, says the Stoic, you must control your feelings. Never be too happy because you never know what is coming around the corner. But, on the other hand, he says, never be too unhappy: “Nor joy nor grieve too much for things beyond our care.” Keep yourself under control. This was the philosophy of Thomas Arnold, the headmaster of Rugby School in England, who popularized the nineteenth-century school ethos of “the little gentle- man” who curbs his feelings, holds them in, never shows them.
“Nor joy nor grieve too much for things beyond our care.” Why? Well, says Dryden, it comes to this: “Like pilgrims to th’ appointed place we tend.” What is life? It is a pilgrimage. We are a body of pilgrims, and we are moving on; you cannot go back. And there is the pressure of the crowd behind us. We are being pushed on day by day. What is the world? Dryden says it is a sort of “inn,” a kind of hotel in which you stay over- night and pay your bill in the morning and go on. “The world’s an inn, and death the journey’s end.” That is it. A life of trouble, of toils and problems and difficulties, things battering you and beating upon you. If you exercise great courage and iron will, you will get through it, but at the end there is only death. That is the end, and there is no more. But stand up to it. Do not give in. Do not whimper and cry. Hold yourself in check. That was Stoicism.
I am trying to show you that what the apostle says here is not Stoicism. It is, as I have said, the exact opposite. So I quote now from a second piece of poetry, written by a man named H. G. Spafford, who lived in the city of Chicago in the nineteenth century. Spafford was a successful and wealthy attorney. Moreover, he was a fine Christian man with a wife and four daughters. One year it was decided that Mrs. Spafford and the girls should pay a visit to Europe, to be joined later by Mr. Spafford, who was not able to leave with them. He took them, I think it was to Boston, and saw them board the ship. There he stood, and he bade farewell to them. He stood on the quayside watching the ship going out to sea until at last it disappeared over the horizon, and he went home. Later he received a cable with the news that the ship bearing Mrs. Spafford and the girls had collided with another ship in the mid- Atlantic, and in just a few moments she had sunk. The four girls were drowned. Mrs. Spafford, almost by a miracle, was saved, put on another ship, and eventually landed in Cardiff, Wales. When she arrived, she sent her husband this cable: “Saved alone. What shall I do?”
Poor Mr. Spafford. Here is a Christian man, and he gets this tragic cable. Two years before that shipwreck, something else had happened to him. All his wealth was in real estate, but in 1871 there was a great fire in Chicago, the Great Chicago Fire, which destroyed much of the city. In one afternoon Mr. Spafford became a poor man. He lost every- thing in that fire—his money, home, his positions—and was reduced to poverty. And now he receives a cable telling him that he has lost his four darling daughters. How did he react? Did he say, “Well, I mustn’t give in. I mustn’t cry. I mustn’t whimper. I must be courageous. I must brace myself. I must take it. I’m going to put up with it. I’ll use all my powers to play the man in spite of everything”? Was that it? Dear me, no. This is what that Christian man did. He sat down and he wrote these words:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Do you see the difference? “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way.” That is all right. We can all be happy on vacation. We can all say wonderful things when the sun is shining. But wait a minute. “When sorrows like sea billows roll” and rob me of my four dear daughters and everything, “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.” Stoicism? No, no, a thousand times no! This is exultation. This is victory. He is more than a conqueror over everything that faces him.
This is exactly as we read in 2 Corinthians 4: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” This is Christianity. But what explains this? What made the apostle capable of using such language? It was simply that he was a Christian, not because he was the great apostle Paul. The grand story of the Christian church throughout the centuries is that thousands upon thousands of unknown Christians have been able to speak like this. You have never heard of them, but they were Christians, as Paul was a Christian.
What does that mean? It means that a Christian is a man or woman who has an entirely new view of the whole of life. How is this? It is through believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. There was a time when Paul could not speak like this. The problems and difficulties of life pressed upon him. He could not face them. But in Christ, everything changed. Paul will tell you in the next chapter of this epistle, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Not that they are changed, but Paul has changed, and he sees them in an entirely different manner. Everything is seen in the light of Christ. Henceforth he knows every- body and everything in terms of Christ. What has happened to him? Well, he is now in a new relationship to God. He knows God as his Father. He knows his sins are forgiven. He knows that nothing will be able to separate him from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. He has believed the message concerning Jesus Christ and him crucified. That is the sole explanation. That is why he has an entirely new outlook, an entirely new view of the whole of life. And that is what the apostle expresses here in the two verses we are looking at.
The difficulty with us is that we are all so immersed in the petty problems of life that we do not see life as a whole. And what this Christian faith gives us is the capacity to see life steadily and to see it whole.4 I sometimes like to think of the Christian faith as something that takes people up in an airplane or up to the top of a high mountain and enables them to view the whole landscape, the great panorama. Christians have a complete, a perfect, a whole view of life. “The world is too much with us.”5 That is our trouble. And we are beaten by it and defeated and immersed in it and lost. The Christian faith takes us up out of this world, and we look down upon it and see it from a differ- ent perspective. And here Paul explains just two respects in which this happens.
Notice how the apostle puts it: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment.” Now this is most important. One of the first great things that becoming a Christian does to men and women is to give them a right view of time: “but for a moment.” And then in the next verse Paul says, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Time! Most people today are being defeated by this time element. The problem of time is a great question, a great difficulty facing the modern world. And it immediately gets solved by this Christian faith. Let me show you in a very simple manner how this works.
It is time that defeats people. Take a man and his wife who suddenly lose their only child. All their affection and interest had been settled on this child, and, oh, how happy they were together! Suddenly their son is killed in a war or drowned in the sea. Someone who is dearer to them than life is suddenly taken away, and they are bereft. And this is what they say: “How can we go on? How can we bear it? How can we face it? Six months, oh, how terrible. A year. Ten years. Twenty years. It’s impos- sible. How can we keep going? We’ve lost the thing that made life worth living.” The tyranny of time. Time is so long. But Paul puts it like this: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment.”
Surely, you say, Paul was just a wishful thinker. This is just psy chology, after all. How can he say “but for a moment” when life is long and arduous?
Ah, the answer is quite simple. The apostle, as a Christian, knows what to do with time. There is only one thing to do with time, and that is to take it and put it into the grand context of eternity. When you and I look forward, ten years seems a terribly long time. A hundred years? Impossible. A thousand? A million? We cannot envisage it. But try to think of endless time, millions upon millions upon millions of years. That is eternity. Take time and put it into that context. What is it? It is only a moment. If you look at time merely from the standpoint of your calendars and your almanacs and life as you know it in this world, it is an impossible tyranny. But put it into God’s eternity and it is nothing. “What is your life?” says James. “It is even a vapour,” a breath (James 4:14). You are here today, gone tomorrow. A moment! Christianity solves the problem of time. Christians are already seated “in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). They belong to eternity, and they are free from the tyranny of time.
But notice the second respect in which Christians have a different perspective: “our light affliction.” When you first read Paul, he seems to be a mass of contradictions. He gives us this long list of his troubles, as we have seen: “troubled on every side . . . perplexed . . . persecuted . . . cast down . . . bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:8–10). And then, having given us this terrible list, he looks at it and he says, “our light affliction.” “Light affliction”? It is enough to crush a man. It is an awful weight. It is unbearable. It is enough to finish him. No, Paul says, it is “our light affliction.” Surely, you say again, this is pure psychology, just wishful thinking. He does not face the facts. His whole list condemns him. He cannot possibly call this a light affliction. But wait a minute! Watch what he says. The apostle does not say these things are light in and of themselves. That is not what he says at all. What he says is that they become light when con- trasted with something else. Listen to him: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
The apostle Paul has a picture. Do you see it? Here he is with a table in front of him, and on the table is a balance, a pair of scales. There is a pan on one side and a pan on the other side, and he puts in one pan his toils, troubles, problems, and tribulations. And down goes the pan, with all that unbearable weight. But then he does a most amazing thing. He takes hold of what he calls “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” The learned commentators will tell you that at this point Paul’s language fails him. He piles superlative on top of superla- tive, and still he cannot say it. A “far more,” an “exceeding,” an exceed- ingly abundant “weight of glory.” He puts that on the other side. What happens? Down goes the pan, and that first weight was nothing. He does not say that it was light in and of itself but that when you contrast it with this “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” on the other side it becomes nothing. Put fifty-six pounds on one side—it is a great weight. Put on a ton, and it is a great weight. Yes, but put the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” on the other side and your ton becomes a feather.
What is the apostle Paul talking about? “Weight of glory.” What does he mean? Oh, he has had a glimpse of the glory. He will tell you about it in the twelfth chapter of this epistle. He gives you glimpses of it in other places. What is a Christian? A Christian is a person who has been justified by faith and has peace with God, a person who stands in grace in Christ Jesus and rejoices in hope of the glory of God. The Christian is someone who has been given a glimpse of eternity.
You see, says Paul, I can only speak like this: “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Here is his secret. He sees into the glory by faith. And having seen that, everything else becomes light, almost trivial. Everything the world has to give means nothing to him now. He knows that all this can be lost in a second. If a hurricane comes, everything goes. In any case, death will put an end to it all. He does not live for that. “The things which are seen are temporal.” Your homes, your cars, your wealth, everything can vanish in a flash. There will be nothing left. But as for these other things, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). Or, as Peter puts it, we have “an inheri- tance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven” by God for us (1 Pet. 1:4). Let your hurricanes come one after the other, and all together it will make no difference. Let men set off all their bombs in the whole universe at the same time, this inheritance remains solid, durable, everlasting, and eternal.
That is the secret. Once you have had a glimpse of this glory, noth- ing else can depress you, nothing else can alarm you, nothing else can get you down. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, work- eth for us”—those afflictions make you look at “the things which are not seen.” So they work for you. They drive you to this glory. They force you to consider it afresh. Far from getting me down, says Paul, they make me more sure of the glory of which I have had a glimpse—“a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” My dear friends, this has been the secret of the saints throughout the centuries. It is the secret of the saints today.
What do we know of this glory that awaits us? Listen to Paul putting it to the Colossians: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2). It is the same thing. The glory.
The eternal glories gleam afar,
To nerve my faint endeavor . . .
For I am his, and he is mine,
Forever and forever.
~ James Grindlay Small
My dear friends, orthodoxy is not enough, morality is not enough, experiences are not enough. The one question for each of us is this: Do we know something about this glory? Do we set our affections upon it? Do we live for it? Do we live in the light of it? Do we seek to know more about it? That is the secret of the Christian. It was in the first century, it has been in every century since, and it always will be until we finally arrive in the glory itself, changed perfectly into the image of our blessed Lord and Savior. “We shall see him as he is,” and “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). May God produce in this evil age a body of men and women who can look at this life, which they share with everybody else at the present time, and, when everything goes against them to drive them to despair, can say, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”