PRACTICAL PIETY by Hannah More, 1811
ON THE SUFFERINGS OF GOOD MEN
Affliction is the school in which great virtues are acquired and in which
great characters are formed. It is like a spiritual gymnasium in which the
disciples of Christ are trained in robust exercise, hardy exertion and
We do not hear of military heroes in peacetime, nor of the most
distinguished saints in the quiet and unmolested periods of church history.
The courage in the warrior and the devotion in the saint continue to
survive, ready to be brought into action when perils beset the country or
trials assail the Church, but it must be admitted that in long periods of
inaction both are susceptible to decay.
The Christian in our comparatively tranquil day is happily exempt from the
trials and terrors which the annals of persecution record. Thanks to the
establishment of the church, and thanks to the of our laws and to the mild
and tolerating spirit of both, one is far from being liable to pains and
penalties for his attachment to his religion.
The Christian is still not exempt from his individual trials. We can include
those cruel mockings which Paul appropriately ranked in the same list with
bonds, imprisonments, exiles and martyrdom itself. We can also add those
misrepresentations and attacks to which the zealous Christian is
particularly liable. The true Christian is not only called to struggle with
trials of large dimensions, but with the daily demands and difficulties of
this earthly life.
The pampered Christian, thus continually gravitating to the earth, would
have his heart solely bent toward the trials of daily life, unmindful of the
crown God gives to His true servants when this mortal life is over.
It is an unspeakable blessing that no events are left to the choice of
beings who in their blindness would constantly choose wrongly. Were
circumstances at our own disposal, we would choose for ourselves nothing but
ease and success, nothing but riches and fame, nothing but perpetual youth,
health and unmitigated happiness. We are placed on earth temporarily, and
our situation in eternity depends on the use we make of this present time.
Therefore nothing would be more dangerous than such a power to choose for
If a surgeon were to put into the hand of a wounded patient the probe or the
scalpel, how tenderly would he treat himself! How skin-deep would be the
examination, how slight the incision! The patient would escape the pain, but
the wound might prove fatal. The surgeon therefore wisely uses his
instruments himself. He goes deep perhaps, but not deeper than the case
demands. The pain may be acute, but the life is preserved. Thus He in whose
hand we are, is too good and loves us too well to trust us with our own
surgery. He knows that we will not contradict our own inclinations, that we
will not impose on ourselves any voluntary pain, however necessary the
infliction, however healthful the effect. God graciously does this for us
Himself because otherwise He knows it would never be done.
A Christian is liable to the same sorrows and sufferings as others. Nowhere
do we have a promise of immunity from the troubles of life, but we do have a
merciful promise of support when we go through them. Therefore we consider
them from another view. We bear them with another spirit, utilize them to
other purposes than those whose view is limited to this world. Whatever may
be the instruments of our suffering, whether sickness, losses, vilification,
persecutions, we know that they all proceed from God. All methods are HIS
instruments. All secondary causes operate by HIS directing hand.
We said that a Christian is liable to the same sufferings as other men.
Might we not repeat what we have said before, that our very Christian
profession is often the cause of our sufferings? They are the badge of our
discipleship, the evidences of our Father's love. They are at once the marks
of God's favor and the preparations for our own future happiness.
What were the arguments held out through the whole New Testament to
encourage the world to embrace the faith it taught? What was the condition
of Paul's introduction to Christianity? It was not, "I will crown him with
honor and prosperity, with dignity and pleasure," but "I will show him how
great things he must suffer for my name's sake."
What were the chief virtues which Christ taught? What were the graces He
most recommended by His example? Were they not self-denial, mortification,
patience, renouncing ease and pleasure? These are the marks which have
always distinguished Christianity from all the other religions of the world,
and therefore prove its divine origin. Ease, splendor, external prosperity,
conquest had no part in its establishment. Other empires have been founded
in the blood of the vanquished. The dominion of Christ was founded in His
own blood. Most of the beatitudes which He pronounced in His infinite
compassion have the sorrows of the earth for their subject but the joys of
heaven for their completion.
To establish this religion in the world the Almighty, as His own Word
assures us, subverted kingdoms and altered the face of nations. "For thus
says the Lord of Hosts," says Haggai, "yet once, it is a little while, and I
will shake the heavens and the earth, and the sea and the dry land; and I
will shake all nations and the Desire of all nations shall come." Could a
religion, the kingdom of which was to be founded by such awful means, be
established and perpetuated without involving the sufferings of its
If the Christian life had been meant to be a path of roses, would the life
of the Author of Christianity have been a path strewn with thorns? "He made
for us," says Jeremy Taylor, "a covenant of sufferings; His very promises
were sufferings, His rewards were sufferings, and His arguments to invite
men to follow Him were only taken from sufferings in this life and the
reward for these sufferings hereafter."
No prince but the Prince of Peace ever set out with a proclamation of the
future nature of his empire. No other king desiring to allay avarice and
check ambition ever invited his subjects by the unattractive declaration
that his "kingdom was not of this world." No other sovereign ever declared
that it was not dignity or honors, valor or talents that made them worthy of
him, but it is their "taking up the cross" that brings them close to Him. If
no other lord ever made the sorrows which would attend his followers a
motive for their allegiance, we must remember that no other ever had the
goodness to promise or the power to make good His promise that He would give
rest to "the heavy laden." Other kings have overcome the world for their own
ambition, but none other ever made the suffering involved in achieving that
conquest a ground for motivating his followers to faithfulness.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul enumerates the honors and
distinctions prepared for his most favored converts, that they should not
only believe in Christ, but that they should also suffer for him. Any other
religion would use such a promise to deter, not to attract potential
converts. That a religion should flourish under such discouraging
invitations, with the threat of degrading circumstances and absolute losses,
is unanswerable evidence that our faith was not of human origin.
It is among the mercies of God that he strengthens servants by hardening
them through adverse circumstances, instead of leaving them to languish
under the shining but withering sun of unclouded prosperity. When they
cannot be attracted to Him by gentler influences, He sends these storms and
tempests which purify while they alarm. Our gracious Father knows how long
the happiness of eternity will be for His children.
The character of Christianity may be seen by how often the Scriptures use
the image of military conflict to illustrate it. Suffering is the initiation
into a Christian's calling. It is our education for heaven. Shall the
scholar rebel at the discipline which is to fit him for his profession, or
the soldier at the exercise which is to qualify him for victory?
But our trials do not all spring from outside ourselves. We would think them
comparatively easy if we had only the opposition of men to struggle against,
or even the severer measures of God to sustain. If we have a conflict with
the world, we have a harder conflict within ourselves. Our bosom foe is our
most unyielding enemy. This is what makes our other trials heavy, which
makes our power for enduring them weak, which renders our conquest over them
slow and inconclusive.
This world is the stage on which worldly men act. The things of the world
and the applause of the world are the rewards which they propose for
themselves. These they often attain, and are thereby satisfied. They aim at
no higher end. But let us not long for the success of those whose motives we
reject, whose practices we dare not adopt, whose end we deplore. If we feel
any inclination to murmur when we see the worldly in great prosperity, let
us ask ourselves if we would tread their path to attain their end, if we
would do their work to obtain their wages. We know that we would not. Let us
then cheerfully leave them to scramble for the prizes and jostle for the
places which the world temptingly holds out, but which we will not purchase
at the world's price.
Good causes are not always conducted by good men. A good cause may be
connected with something that is not good. The right cause is promoted and
effected by some lesser, or even unworthy one. Whereas worldly people may be
suspicious of a cause espoused by Christians, the support of influential
people outside the Church can well erase their suspicions. The character of
the lofty cause may perhaps have to be lowered to suit the general taste,
even to obtain the acceptance of the people for whose benefit it is
We still fall into the error of which the prophet so long ago complained:
"We call the proud happy" (Mal. 3:15) and the wicked fortunate. We may find
ourselves envious of the powerful and influential. We feel this way, even
when we remember that after the person has finished the work, the divine
Employer throws that person aside, cut off and left to perish.
But you ENVY the powerful in the meantime, even though they have sacrificed
every principle of justice, truth and mercy. Is this a man to be envied? Is
this a prosperity to be coveted? Would you incur the penalties of that
But is it happiness to commit sin, to be abhorred by the upright in
character, to offend God, and to ruin one's own soul? Do you really consider
a temporary success compensation enough for deeds which will insure eternal
misery to the doer? Is the successful bad person happy? Of what materials
then is happiness made? Is it composed of a disturbed mind and an unquiet
conscience? Are doubt and difficulty, are terror and apprehension, are
distrust and suspicion, the gratification for which Christians would
renounce their peace, displease their Maker, and would risk their soul?
Think of the hidden vulture that feeds on the hearts of successful
wickedness, and your longings and envy will cease. Your indignation will be
changed into compassion, your denunciations into prayer.
But if such a person feels neither the scourge of conscience nor the sting
of remorse, pity that individual the more. Pity them for the very want of
that addition to their unhappiness, for if they added to their miseries the
anticipation of their punishment, they might be led by repentance to avoid
it. Can you reckon the blinding of their eyes and the hardening of their
heart any part of their happiness? This opinion, however, is being expressed
whenever we grudge the prosperity of the wicked. God, by delaying the
punishment of bad people may have designs of mercy of which we know
nothing—mercy perhaps to them, or if not to them, yet mercy to those who are
suffering because of their actions, whom He intends through these bad
instruments, to punish, and by punishing, eventually to save.
There is a sentiment even more bizarre than envy which prosperous wickedness
excites in certain minds, and that is RESPECT; but this feeling is never
raised unless both the wickedness and the prosperity be on a grand scale.
This sentiment exposes the belief that God does not govern human affairs, or
that our motives do not concern Him, or that prosperity is a certain proof
of His favor.
But though God may be patient with triumphant wickedness, He does not wink
at or connive with it. The difference between being permitted and being
supported, between being employed and approved, is greater than we are ready
to acknowledge. Perhaps "the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." God
has always the means of punishment as well as of pardon in His own hands.
However, for God to punish at the exact moment when we demand it, might
abort His greater plan and diminish the larger consequences. "They have
drunk their hemlock," says a fine writer, "but the poison does not yet
work." Let us not be impatient to administer a sentence which infinite
justice sees right to defer. Let us think more of restraining our own
vindictive tempers than of precipitating their destruction. They may yet
repent of the crimes they are perpetrating. By some scheme, intricate and
unintelligible to us, God may still pardon the sin which we think exceeds
the limits even of His mercy.
We contrive to make revenge itself look like religion. We call down thunder
on many a head under the pretense that those on whom we invoke it are God's
enemies, when perhaps we invoke it because they are ours. Though they should
go on fully prosperous to the end, will it not cure our impatience to know
that their end must come? Will it not satisfy us that they must die, that
they must come to judgment? Which is to be envied, the Christian who dies
ending their brief sorrows, or the one who closes a prosperous life and
enters on a miserable eternity? The first has nothing to fear if the
promises of the Gospel be true, the other has nothing to hope for, if they
are factual. The Word of God must be a lie, heaven a fable, hell an
invention, before the impenitent sinner can be safe. Is that person to be
envied whose security depends on their falsehood? Is the other to be pitied
whose hope is founded on their reality?
In estimating the comparative happiness of good and bad people, we should
ever bear in mind that of all the calamities which can be inflicted or
suffered, sin is the greatest; and of all punishments, insensibility to sin
is the heaviest which the wrath of God inflicts in this world. God lets the
wicked continue their smooth and prosperous course to the awful destiny in
store for them, which will only be revealed when there is no longer any room
We can see this same truth without looking to the hereafter and consulting
only the present suffering. If we put the inward consolation derived from
communion with God, the humble confidence of prayer, the devout trust in
divine protection on the scale opposite to all the unjust power ever
bestowed or guilty wealth ever possessed, we shall have no hesitation in
deciding on which side even present happiness lies.
With a mind thus fixed, with a faith thus firm, one great object so absorbs
the Christian that our peace is not tossed about by the things which confuse
ordinary people. The Christian afflicted in the world may say, "My fortune
is shattered; but since I made not gold my confidence while I possessed it,
in losing it I have not lost myself. I leaned not on power, for I knew its
instability. Had prosperity been my dependence, I would have fallen when it
Many lament the Christian who suffers while innocent. Surely believers
should not try to avoid suffering by sinful conformity to worldly standards!
Think how ease would be destroyed by the price paid for it! How short a time
he would enjoy it, even if it were not bought at the expense of his soul!
Because of the BENEFITS that suffering brings to the Christian's character,
we can say that suffering itself is the reward of virtue. It becomes not
only the instrument of promoting virtue, but the instrument of rewarding it.
Besides, God promises a future reward to his children who suffer. To suppose
that He cannot ultimately compensate His virtuous afflicted children is to
believe Him less powerful than an earthly father—to suppose that He will
not, is to believe Him less merciful.
Great trials are more often proofs of God's favor than of displeasure. An
inferior officer will suffice for inferior expeditions, but the Sovereign
selects the ablest general for the most difficult service. And not only does
the King evidence his favor by the selection, but the soldier proves his
attachment by rejoicing in the preference. One victory gained is no reason
for his being set aside. One conquest only qualifies him for new attacks,
suggests a reason for his being again employed.
The sufferings of good men by no means contradict the promise "that the meek
shall inherit the earth." They "possess" it in such a way that they are
willing to give it up when called to do so.
The belief that trials will facilitate salvation is another source of
consolation. Sufferings also diminish the dread of death by cheapening the
price of life. The affections even of the devout Christian are too much
drawn downwards. Our heart too fondly cleaves to the dust, though we know
that only trouble can spring from it. How would it be if we invariably
possessed present enjoyments, and if a long panorama of delights lay always
open before us? We have a far greater comfort in our own honest
consciousness. Our Christian feelings under trials are a cheering evidence
that our devotion is sincere. The gold has been melted down, and its purity
Among our other advantages, the afflicted Christian can apply to the mercy
of God, but not as a new and uncertain resource. We do not come as an alien
before a strange master, but as a child into the well-known presence of a
tender father. We did not use prayer as a final resort to be used only in
the great water floods. We had long and diligently sought God in the calm;
we had clung to him, before we were driven to Him. We had sought God's favor
while we still enjoyed the favor of the world. We did not defer our
meditations on heavenly things to the disconsolate hour when earth had
nothing for us. We can cheerfully associate our faith with those former days
of felicity, when, with everything before us out of which to choose, we
chose God. We not only feel the support derived from our present prayers,
but the benefit of all those which we offered up in the day of joy and
gladness. We will especially derive comfort from the supplications we had
made for the anticipated though unknown trial of the present hour, and which
in such a world of change it was reasonable to expect.
Let us confess then, that in all the trying circumstances of this changeful
scene there is something infinitely soothing to the feelings of a Christian
and inexpressibly tranquillizing to our mind– to know that we have nothing
to do with events but to submit to them. We have nothing to do with the
revolutions of life but to acquiesce in them as the offerings of eternal
wisdom. We do not need to take the management out of the hands of
Providence, but submissively to follow the divine leading. We do not have to
scheme for tomorrow, but to live in the present with cheerful resignation.
Let us be thankful that as we can not by foreseeing prevent them, we can be
thankful for ignorance where knowledge would only prolong and not prevent
our suffering. We have grace which has promised that our strength shall be
proportioned to our day.
By the goodness of God these trials may be used for the noblest purposes.
The quiet acquiescence of the heart and the submission of the will under
actual trials, great or small, are more acceptable to God and more
indicative of true faith, than the strongest general resolutions of firm
action and deep submission under the most trying of imagined events. In the
latter case it is the imagination which submits: in the former case it is
We are too ready to imagine that there is no other way to serve God but by
active exertions; exertions which only indulge our natural appetite, and
gratify our own inclinations. It is an error to imagine that God who puts us
into different situations, puts it out of our power to glorify him. Every
circumstance may be turned to some good, either for ourselves or for others.
Joseph in his prison under the strongest restrictions, loss of liberty, and
a shattered reputation, made way for both his own high advancement and for
the deliverance of Israel. Daniel in his dungeon, not only the destined
prey, but in the very jaws of furious beasts, converted the king of Babylon
and brought him to the knowledge of the true God. Could prosperity have
achieved the former? Would not prosperity have prevented the latter?
We may often wonder why many of God's servants who are eminently fitted to
instruct and reform the people of the land are disqualified by disease and
thereby set aside from their public duty of which the necessity is so
obvious and the fruits so remarkable. It may also cause us concern that many
others possess uninterrupted health and strength, who are little gifted and
at that, not even motivated to assist the welfare of the world in which they
But God's ways are not as our ways. He is not accountable to His creatures.
The questioner needs to know why it is right. The suffering Christian
believes and feels it to be right, humbly acknowledging the necessity of the
affliction which friends are lamenting. This believer feels the mercy of
what others are seeing as injustice. With deep humility this one is
persuaded that if the affliction is not yet withdrawn, it is because it has
not yet accomplished the purpose for which it was sent. The deprivation is
probably intended both for the individual interests of the sufferer and for
the reproof of those who have neglected to profit by this believer's labors.
Perhaps God especially draws still nearer to Himself the one who had drawn
so many others.
We are too ready to consider suffering as an indication of God's
displeasure, not so much against sin in general as against the individual
sufferer. Were this the case then those saints and martyrs who have pined in
exile and groaned in dungeons and expired on scaffolds would have been the
objects of God's peculiar wrath instead of His favor. But the truth is that
our unbelief enters into almost all our reasoning on these topics. We do not
constantly take into account a future state. We want God, if I may hazard
the expression, to justify Himself as He goes. We cannot give Him even such
long credit as the length of a human life. He must every moment be
vindicating His character against every skeptical critic. He must unravel
His plans to every shallow judge, revealing the knowledge of His design
before its operations are completed. If we may adopt a phrase from a more
common use, we will trust Him no farther than we can see Him. Though He has
said, "Judge nothing before the time," we judge instantly, and therefore
rashly, and in a word falsely. We would have more patience with God if we
kept the brevity of earthly prosperity and suffering, the certainty of God's
justice, and the eternity of future blessedness perpetually in view.
Even in judging fiction we are more just. During the reading of a tragedy,
though we feel for the distresses of those involved, yet we do not form an
ultimate judgment of the propriety or injustice of their sufferings until
the end. We give the poet credit either that they will extricate them from
their distresses, or eventually explain the justice of them. We do not
condemn them at the end of every scene for the trials which the sufferers do
not appear to have deserved, nor for the sufferings which do not always seem
to have arisen from their own misconduct. We behold the trials of the
virtuous with sympathy and the successes of the wicked with indignation, but
we do not pass our final sentence until the poet has passed his. We reserve
our decisive judgment until the last scene closes and until the curtain
drops. Shall we not treat the schemes of infinite Wisdom with as much
respect as the plot of a drama?
If we might borrow an illustration from the legal profession, in a court of
justice the bystanders do not give their sentence in the midst of a trial.
We wait patiently until all the evidence is collected, carefully detailed
and finally summed up. We then commonly applaud the justice of the jury and
the equity of the judge, even though human decisions are imperfect and
fallible. The felon they condemn, we rarely acquit; where they release the
accused, we rarely denounce it. It is only infinite Wisdom on whose purposes
we cannot rely; it is only infinite Mercy whose operations we cannot trust.
It is only "the judge of all the earth" who cannot do right. We reverse the
order of God by summoning Him to our bar, at whose awful bar we shall soon
But to return to our more immediate point: the apparently unfair
distribution of prosperity between good and bad people. While the good
constantly derive their happiness from a sense of God's omniscience, the
other finds it frightful. The eye of God is a pillar of light to the one,
and a cloud of darkness to the other. The awful thought, "You, God, see
all!"is as much a terror to people who dread His justice as it is a joy to
those who derive all their support from it.
The one who may feel sad, is safe, while the other, though confident, is
insecure. He is as far from peace as he is from God. Every day brings
Christians nearer to their crown; sinners are every day working their way
nearer to their ruin. The hour of death, which the one dreads as something
worse than extinction, is to the other the hour of nativity, the birthday of
immortality. At the height of his sufferings the good person knows that he
will soon die. At the zenith of his success the sinner has a similar
assurance, but how different is the result of the same conviction! An
invincible faith sustains the one in the severest straits, while an
unavoidable dread gives the lie to the proudest triumphs of the other.
The only happy person, after all, is not the one whom worldly prosperity
renders apparently happy, but the one who no change of worldly circumstances
can make essentially miserable. The latter's peace does not depend on
external events, but on an internal support; not on that success which is
common to all, but on that hope which is his peculiar privilege. It rests on
that promise which is the sole prerogative of the Christian.