For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
~ 2 Corinthians 4:17
For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
~ Psalm 30:5
In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer.
~ Isaiah 54:8
Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.
~ Acts 20:23
Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.
~ Psalm 34:19
The Various Trials of Believers, by Archibald Alexander. The following contains an excerpt from his work, “Thoughts on Religious Experience”.
The reasons why Christ has chosen that His people should be afflicted, and often sorely persecuted, are not difficult to ascertain. We have already shown that the rod is one of God’s means for recovering backsliders from their wanderings; but afflictions are also employed to prevent Christians from backsliding. In prosperity, pride is apt to rise and swell; carnal security blinds their eyes; the love of riches increases; spiritual affections are feeble; and eternal things are viewed as far off, and concealed by a thick mist. These circumstances are, indeed, the common precursors of backsliding; but to prevent this evil, and to stir up the benumbed feelings of piety, the believer is put into the furnace. At first he finds it hard to submit, and is like a wild bull in a net. His pride and his love of carnal ease resist the hand that smites him; but severe pain awakes him from his spiritual sleep. He finds himself in the hands of his heavenly Father, and sees that nothing can be gained by murmuring or rebelling. His sins rise up to view, and he is convinced of the justice of the divine dispensations. His hard heart begins to yield, and he is stirred up to cry mightily to God for helping grace. Although he wishes and prays for deliverance from the pressure of affliction, yet he is more solicitous that it should be rendered effectual to subdue his pride, wean him from the love of the world, and give perfect exercise to patience and resignation, than that it should be removed. He knows that the furnace is the place for purification. He hopes and prays that his dross may be consumed, and that he may come forth as gold which has passed seven times through the refiner’s fire.
Paul attributes a powerful efficacy to afflictions, so as to place them among the most efficacious means of grace. “For,” says he, “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Cor 4:17) “Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12:9-11) When faith is in very lively exercise, believers can rejoice even in tribulation. Not that they cease to feel the pain of the rod—for then it would cease to be an affliction—but while they experience the smart they are convinced that it is operating as a beneficial, though bitter medicine; and they rejoice in the prospect or feeling of returning spiritual health.
But again, God does not pour the rich consolations of His grace into a heart that is not broken. “He sends the rich empty away.” (Luke 1:53) “The whole need not a physician.” (Matt 9:12; Luke 5:31) But when by affliction He has broken the hard heart and emptied it of self-confidence, He delights to pour in the joy of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it often occurs that the believer’s most joyful seasons are his suffering seasons. He has, it is true, more pungent pain than when in prosperity and ease—but he has also richer, deeper draughts of consolation. Though sorrow and joy are opposite, there is a mysterious connection between them. Sorrow, as it were, softens and prepares the heart for the reception of the joy of the Lord.
As the dispensations of God towards His children are exceedingly diverse in different ages; likewise His dealings with individual believers who live at the same time are very different. Why it is so we cannot tell; but we are sure that He has wise reasons for all that He does. In some cases pious people appear to pass through life with scarcely a touch from His rod; while others, who to us do not appear to need more chastisement than those, are held the greater part of their life under the heavy pressure of affliction, with scarcely any intermission. Here is a Christian man who has nearly reached the usual termination of human life, and has hardly known what external affliction is in his own experience. Prosperity has attended him through his whole course. But there is a desolate widow who has been bereaved of her husband and children, and has neither brother nor sister, nephew nor niece, and for eight years has been confined to her bed by wasting and painful disease, and has no hope of relief on this side of the grave.
Such a disparity is striking; but we see only the outside of things. There are sore afflictions of the mind, while the body is in health. That man may have had severer chastisement of the mind—than this afflicted, desolate widow. I have heard an aged Christian declare that though he had experienced much sickness, lost many dear friends, and met with many sore disappointments in life, his sufferings on these accounts were not to be compared with the internal anguish which he often endured, and of which no creature had the least conception. This shows that we are not competent to form an accurate judgment of the sufferings of different people. Besides, when affliction has been long continued, we become in a measure accustomed to it and, as it were, hardened against it; but when we judge of such cases, we transfer our own acute feelings to the condition, which are no correct standard of the sufferings, of the patient under a lingering disease.
The widow to whom I referred was not a fictitious person—but a real person. I once visited her and conversed with her and found her serene and happy, desiring nothing but a speedy departure, that she might be absent from the body, and present with the Lord. But she was not impatient; she was willing to remain and suffer just as long as God pleased. Her heart was truly subdued to the obedience of Christ. There was only one earthly object for which she seemed to feel solicitude, and that was the little forsaken and almost desolate church of which she was a member. For a series of years disaster after disaster had fallen upon this little flock. Their house of worship had been accidentally burned, and was in need of repair; and they had been so long without a pastor that they dwindled down to a few disheartened and scattered members, and only one aged elder remained. Seldom was there a sermon, as they had no convenient house of meeting. Now although this poor widow could not have attended if there had been preaching every Lord’s day, yet that little church lay as a burden on her mind; and I heard a minister who knew the circumstances say, that as once a poor wise man saved a city, so this poor, pious widow by her prayers saved a church from extinction. For before her death, a neat, new church was erected, and a pastor settled, and a number of souls hopefully converted and gathered into the church.
I was once on a visit with a friend who requested me to accompany her to see a sick woman, supposed to be near her end. The house was a mere wreck of a once comfortable dwelling. Every appearance of comfort was absent. The partitions appeared to have been taken down, and the whole house was turned into one large room. There was no glass in the windows. Upon entering this desolate place, I saw the sick woman lying on a miserable bed, unable to raise her head from the pillow, and attended only by an aged mother over eighty years of age, and a little daughter about seven or eight. I was told that her brutal husband generally came home drunk, and never gave her a kind or soothing word. Here, indeed, seemed to be the very picture of wretchedness. Hear the conclusion. I truly thought before I left the house–that this was the happiest woman I ever saw! Her devout and tender eye was sweetly fixed on heaven. Her countenance was serene, and illumined with a heavenly smile. “Let me die the death of the righteous—and may my end be like theirs!” Numbers 23:10