Could we look into the lake of fire!
(John MacDuff, "The Footsteps of Jesus" 1856)
"Why should any living man complain?" Lamentations 3:39
Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards. We are not therefore to think that any strange thing has happened to us — if sorrow, in any of its multifarious forms, befalls us here on earth.
"If you endure chastening," says the apostle, "God deals with you as with sons." But HOW should we endure it?
It should be done in an inquiring spirit. We ought to be anxious to know the cause of the painful visitation. With the patriarch of old, our language should be, "Show me why You contend with me?"
It should be done also in a prayerful spirit — "Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray."
And it should be done especially in a submissive spirit. We should not merely feel the 'chastening rod' — but kiss it! Instead of cherishing any feelings of murmuring and rebellion under the afflictive dispensations of God's providence — we should humble ourselves under His mighty hand, that He may exalt us in due time. And how many considerations are there, which should induce and promote such a submissive spirit towards affliction!
1. If we compare our sufferings — with our deserts — shall we not find abundant reason to banish every complaint, and hush every murmur into silence?
Should we complain of our light and momentary trouble — when we deserve to be tormented in hell forever?
Should we complain of the chastisements of a gracious Father — when we have rendered ourselves obnoxious to the sentence of a holy and angry Judge?
Should we complain that God sits by us as a refiner to purify us — when He might be a consuming fire to destroy us?
Should we complain that we have to pass under the rod of His love — when we might have been set up as a "mark for the arrows of His indignation, and His terrors be arrayed against us?"
Could we look into the lake of fire, and have a sight of the wretched beings who are there writhing in deathless agonies — we would then thank God for the most miserable condition on earth — if it were only sweetened with the hope of escaping that place of eternal torment!
2. Let us think, again, of the many mercies of which we have been, and still continue to be, the subjects. "And shall we receive good at the hand of God — and shall we not receive evil?" Should we not receive our afflictions from the Divine hand with similar feelings? Should we forget our blessings — which are so many; and dwell upon our crosses — which are so few?
3. It would be well also for us to compare our sufferings — with what others have had to endure. The people of God have been, in all ages, a suffering people; and many of them could say with special emphasis, "I am the man who has seen affliction!"
Look at the godly man, Job. In a single day he was cast down from the highest pinnacle of prosperity — to the lowest depths of adversity! In the morning — he was the richest man in all the East — and with patriarchal dignity he looked around upon the joyous circle of seven sons and three daughters. But in the evening — he found himself without flock, or herd, or child!
O what are our troubles — compared with his? And did he murmur? No, he adored the hand that smote him! Prostrate in the dust he exclaimed, "I came naked from my mother's womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had — and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!"
But let us turn from the servant — to the Master, and consider Him. What was His condition during His earthly sojourn? He was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; notwithstanding His infinite dignity and unsullied purity! Our sufferings are only partial — but He suffered in every way. Ours are only occasional — but His sufferings were uninterrupted — they accompanied Him from the manger to the cross! What He endured, especially during the closing scenes of His memorable career, passes all comprehension! Hear His heart-rending cry, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death!" "And being in an agony — He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground."
O shall we compare our sufferings — with His? To do so would be to weigh a mote against a mountain! If we desire to bear our trials with submission — let us think much, then, of what the Savior endured for us!
Would you, Christian, wish to fare better than Him?
Jesus Christ was a man of sorrows — and are you not to even taste the bitter cup?
He was acquainted with grief — and would you be a stranger to it?
Would you have nothing but ease — where He had nothing but trouble?
Would you have nothing but honor — where He had nothing but disgrace?
Would you reign with Him hereafter — and not suffer with Him here?
O say, then, with Him, "The cup which My Father has given Me — shall I not drink it?" And as you drink your cup — O, think of His! Well may we say —
"How bitter that cup, no heart can conceive,
Which He drank quite up, that sinners might live;
His way was much rougher and darker than mine,
Did Jesus thus suffer — and shall I repine?"
"Now let our pains be all forgot,
Our hearts no more repine;
Our sufferings are not worth a thought,
When, Lord, compared with Thine!"
4. Another consideration that should produce a spirit of submission is — that our sorrows are not to last forever. Your deliverance from sorrow is as sure as the purpose, the promise, the covenant, the oath of God can render it! And not merely is it certain — but it is near! A few weeks, or months, or years more — and all will be peace and quietness and bliss forever!
5. And, it must be added Christian, that your end will be unspeakably glorious. "God will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever!" There will be no shattered frame — no emaciated countenance — no furrowed cheek — no faltering voice, in those blessed regions! There every eye shall sparkle with delight — every countenance will beam with ineffable satisfaction — every pulse will beat high with immortality — and every frame will be able to sustain without weariness, an eternal weight of glory!
O child of sorrow — think of these things! Be anxious to feel their hallowing influence, that resignation may have her perfect work, and that no murmuring spirit may be indulged in, even for a moment!