The Course of Faith, or
The Practical Believer Delineated

By John Angell James, 1852



The rich man called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire!'
But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony!' Luke 16:24-25

It is a painful fact that many an ungodly sinner walks in a flowery path to perdition—and goes merrily to his eternal ruin. It is, on the contrary, as certain that many a godly Christian travels by a rough and toilsome road to heaven—and ascends to glory amid many tears. Our Divine Lord has set forth this in the most solemn of his parables—the rich man and Lazarus. If we looked only at the outward and present condition of these two men, we would say one is the type of all that is felicitous; while the other is the type of all that is miserable. But who that looks in upon the heart of the two, and onward to their eternal abode, would not a thousand times rather be Lazarus with his poverty, sores, and beggary, feeding at the rich man's gate upon the crumbs which fell from his table—than the wealthy possessor of the mansion, with his purple and fine linen and daily luxurious living. Look up at the one who has dropped all his poverty, borne by angels to Abraham's bosom! And then look down upon the other, stripped of his splendid garments, deprived of his luxurious living, and from the midst of his torment begging for a drop of water to cool his parched tongue—and there see the end of 'sanctified poverty' and of 'unsanctified wealth'.

Many are the afflictions even of the righteous. Though they are the children of God and the heirs of immortality, even they are not exempted from the common lot of humanity, as described by the patriarch of Uz, where he says– "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards.'' Yes, on the contrary, they are afflicted because they are the children of God. "For if you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons, for what son is he whom the Father chastens not?" Heb. 12:7. The church of God, though,
"A little spot enclosed by grace
 Out of the world's wide wilderness,"
is not, like Paradise, fenced in from sorrow.

There is a tearless world—but it is reached by a valley of tears! As those who are exposed to such a variety and such a constant recurrence of trials, we need some principle to sustain us under them. We must either be petrified by the stone-making process of some 'stoical philosophy', into cold, lifeless statues—or we must find some source of consolation. It is but few who can reach to the apathetic insensibility of the former state; the great bulk must find comfort or oblivion somewhere. We are in danger in times of trouble of resorting to many things that are inimical to our peace and to our holiness. Afflictions are not only evil in themselves but are likely also, if care be not taken, to produce evil. They not only always lead to sorrow—but often to sin.

A wounded spirit has frequently been the occasion of a burdened conscience. The 'wormwood and the gall of sorrow' have fermented into the 'poison of iniquity', by impatience under the hand of God, and by revengeful feelings towards the human instruments of our griefs. How apt are we to sink into heartless inactivity, hopeless despondency, sinful distrust, and overwhelming sorrow. In the dark and gloomy night of tribulation, when the sun of our prosperity has set—when the clouds of adversity have so overspread the heavens that not a star twinkles—and the tempest rages, how much do we need something to cheer us, something to keep down those unbelieving thoughts of God and his Providence which are then so apt to rise, and to relieve that intense wretchedness which then too often takes full possession of the soul.

And where shall we find this comfort? What can do it? Philosophy? Miserable comforter! It may, as I have said, in some few cases, petrify the heart and turn the man into a stone—though it can rarely do this, for nature resents the violence thus offered to it, and even from the rock itself drops will sometimes ooze, even if streams do not flow. Reason may say to the sufferer– "Weeping will do you no good, it will not bring back the comfort you have lost, or remove the affliction under which you suffer." "No," says the sufferer– "and it is for that I weep, because my sorrows are remediless even by my tears."

Will change of scene, or occupation, or business, or pleasure, bring consolation? No! They may divert the mind for a little while from the cause of its sorrows, and produce a temporary oblivion of them; but a lacerated heart carries its wounds with it, and though its pains may be lulled, it receives no cure from this source.

FAITH, faith is the only thing that meets the case and this does meet it. This glorious, wonderful, divine principle, which guards the prosperous man from being injured by his prosperity—sustains the suffering one from being crushed by his adversity. That which is the shade of one from the scorching heat of the sun; is to the other, his refuge from the storm. We shall now show how faith acts in reference to afflictions.

I. How faith acts in the PROSPECT of afflictions. Faith suggests that as we are sinners in a state of probation—as sorrow more or less is the lot of humanity—and especially as God has declared that whom he loves he chastens—the true believer expects trials. He sees no reason why he should be exempted from them. This expectation, as we shall presently show, does not degenerate into gloomy predictions, painful forebodings, and tormenting anticipations—this is not faith, but unbelief. Because a Christian expects trials, faith checks that unfounded confidence which leads others to say, "My mountain stands strong, I shall never be moved!" Faith also delivers him from the fearless and excessive enjoyment of seen and temporal things—which is the essence of worldliness.

Without at all lessening the proper enjoyment of present comforts, and throwing dark shadows upon, or uttering croaking voices in the sunny path of prosperity, faith simply says– "Since God has forewarned you to expect trouble, do not be immoderate in your joy of the gourd—nor trust so surely in it as if you thought it could not wither." Faith thus acts the part not of an envious ill-wisher—but of a faithful monitor.

At the same time faith believes that no evil can come—except God sends it. This is its triumph, to look into the dark unknown of futurity, and to rest assured that no evil can come forth from the impenetrable cloud—but what comes at God's bidding. The doctrine of Providence follows true faith throughout its whole course, which it grasps as the traveler does his staff, upon which he leans equally in sunshine and in storm—which keeps him steady in paths that are slippery, and others that are rocky—and which, whether his way is uphill or downhill—is still his support. This will account for its frequent introduction in these chapters.

The shafts of sorrow fly thick around us—but not one can hit us, except its flight be guided by unerring wisdom. Job said– "Why have you set me as a mark against you, so that I am a burden to myself." Job 7:20. An expression which if it implies some terror as though God were shooting at him; implies also some consolation that no arrow could touch him but what came from God's bow. So that when the Christian sees the trouble coming, he knows from whom it comes—and that it cannot come except God permits it. Oftentimes the storms of Providence, like those of nature, are a long time gathering. We feel the sultry heat, the stagnant atmosphere, and observe the electric clouds, and are prepared for a thunder storm—we stand watching the cumulative clouds in the horizon, with something of awe, and under the apprehension which is awakened, we consider that it may after all disperse and not discharge; and even if it should come, we know that God rides upon the whirlwind and manages the storm; and that it can do no harm but what God permits and appoints it to do. "He makes darkness his secret-place; his pavilion round about him is dark waters, and thick clouds of the skies." Therefore fear not—

"You trembling saint; fresh courage take,
The clouds you so much dread,
Are big with mercy, and shall break,
In blessings on your head."

It is the assurance of faith, that if the affliction should come—it will bring its own support with it. Oftentimes the trial, like mountains, appears larger and higher at a distance than on our nearer approach; and like most that is dreadful—it is less appalling when we are close to it, than when seen from afar. Familiarity, which diminishes our delight in what is pleasurable, does the same with our horror of what is painful.

But let it be all it was feared, still the Christian, when trustful in God, says and ought to say– "If God should not sink the coming trial to my present weak faith, he will raise my weak faith to the magnitude of the coming trial. The affliction may not be all I now fear; but if it should, my God will make his grace sufficient for me to bear it. He will not send the trial—but bring it himself! And I have his promise that he will never leave me. I hear him saying to me at this moment, 'Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.' 'Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!' Isaiah 41:10, 43:1-3. What then ought I to fear? What then can I fear? What then will I fear? I will go forward to meet the coming affliction; for I am going on to meet an all-wise, all-gracious, all-powerful God."

Faith takes off the mind thus from painful anticipations of the future. It complies, to its own happiness, with the merciful admonition of Christ– "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:34. This is a beautiful and most merciful exhortation; but then, no man in prospect or fear of future trouble can very easily obey it, until he believes that as God is caring for the future on his behalf—he need not be anxious himself about it. Reason suggests that he who does not worry about future evil until it comes, suffers it but once; while he who is always worrying about it, suffers it as many times over, as he thus worries upon it. Still nothing can keep down these gloomy forebodings—but the assurance that God is caring for the future—as well as for the present.

The mind thus taken off from a painful and unnecessary worry and anticipation of future evil, is left to the performance of present duty. This is a most desirable course of action. If some people are so much taken up with the present as to forget the future—which is a possible and by no means an uncommon case, for there is usually some provision to be made for the future—on the contrary, there are many who are so much taken up with the future as to forget the present. Their fears of 'possible future evils' rise so high as to unfit them for the discharge of certain obligations which now press upon them.

There is always some duty immediately pressing, from which no probable, possible, or even certain future trial should divert us. It is always an additional aggravation of affliction when it comes, to look back and see something neglected, and thus to go laden with the guilt and enfeebled by the influence of past sins, to encounter future trials. Oh, it is of immense importance to keep a conscience void of offence, not only for present comfort—but for support under coming afflictions. Inconsistencies are sure to find us out in the dark season of affliction, if not before. We need not add to the gloom and sorrow of that dreary hour, by the guilt of past sins, either of omission or commission—but on the contrary, should seek among other consolations, to have "our rejoicing in the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, we have had our conversation in the world." 2 Cor. 1:12. Close walking with God is as incumbent for our comfort, as it is for our duty.

Here, perhaps, a question will arise in some minds, whether it is compatible with faith to pray to God to avert an approaching affliction. Most certainly it is, as much so as it is to pray for deliverance from present trials, and as it is to use all proper means for that purpose. Grace does not produce an insensibility to trials; for if there were no feeling, there could be no patience. Submission is our duty; and that implies something that is felt to be an evil—but to which in obedience to God, the mind bows down. Now it is quite compatible both with faith and submission, to pray for deliverance from both threatened and endured tribulation, provided our prayers are submissive, and we are willing after all to leave the matter to the Divine will, and we stand prepared to acquiesce in the answer God may be pleased to give. The very petition to have the affliction averted or removed is itself an act of faith, since it is an expression of our belief in the providence of God.

We have innumerable instances to prove the lawfulness of prayer for averting or removing afflictions, in the Word of God, alike in the way of promises, precepts, and examples; and especially in the highest of all examples, that of our Divine Lord, who in prospect of the sufferings he was then enduring and expected yet to endure, prayed and said– "O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me—nevertheless not as I will—but as you will." Matt. 26:39.

II. We now consider the exercise and influence of faith UNDER affliction.

The expected trial comes on. God has not seen fit to avert it. The storm bursts upon the head of the sufferer, and what are his views and feelings now as a believer?

Faith first of all, considers sin as the CAUSE of sorrow. The believer traces up all his afflictions to sin—as their original source and cause. He realizes that suffering is not merely the established and original order of nature, it is the disturbance of that order, the disarrangement of that first beautiful scheme and framework—by sin. God did not make man to suffer and weep—and he never did suffer and weep until he sinned. All was order, and beauty, and bliss, at the beginning—but sin with volcanic force has disturbed, broken, and confounded all. This is declared in the Word and received by the Christian; and it is of wonderful potency to bring him to submission and to enable him to justify God in his severest dispensations. He never loses sight of this guilty cause of all his sorrows.

Nor does he satisfy himself with going back to the sin of Adam—that first offence which brought in sin, and death, and all our woe; but he dwells upon his own sin—the ten thousand sins both of omission and commission of which he has been guilty, and with devout humiliation under a deep sense of their desert, he exclaims– "He has not dealt with me after my sins—nor rewarded me according to my iniquities. Why then, should a man complain, a living man for the punishment of his sins. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, for I have sinned against him." This is faith.

Faith also recognizes God as the AUTHOR of his affliction. "I was silent," said the Psalmist– "I opened not my mouth, because you did it." The believer sees God's hand—and realizes God's work in his sufferings. "That no man should be moved by those afflictions," said the apostle, for you know we are appointed thereunto." 1 Thess. 3:3. But faith not only recognizes the hand of God, for many an unconverted man does this—but the hand of God as a Father. It is this which is its peculiar act. It does not merely believe that the God of providence is in the trial—but the God of grace. Its language is not only "God has sent it," but "my Father sent it!" And while the worldling sullenly exclaims– "It is the will of God, and I suppose I must submit," the believer says– "The cup which my Father gives me to drink—shall I not drink it?"

This is its persuasion, for God has said it– "Whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives." Heb. 12:6. But this is a secondary act of belief reflected from a primary one. It is the act of one who has already believed in Christ for the salvation of the soul; of one who has really become by faith a child of God—of one who with an unwavering tongue can say in the spirit of adoption– "Abba, Father!" And it is surprising how many are enabled thus to come to God in affliction—who are filled with doubts and fears at other times. It is of infinite moment for the believer to keep up the sense of this paternal character of God, and his own filial relationship to him. A child will take that from the hand of his father, which none else could persuade him to receive.

In conformity with this, faith considers LOVE as the motive on God's part of all afflictions. They not only come on those whom God loves—but because he loves them. Afflictions are love tokens, as much so as anything else that comes from the hand of love. The father chastens his son in love—gives him medicine in love—denies him some things he asks for—in love. It is the severity of love I admit—but still it is love, and a contrary line of conduct would not be love. But often it requires strong faith to believe this. "What—is this love—to wither my gourd, and scorch my head by the sun, and beat upon me by his hot fierce blast? What—is this love—to shatter my cisterns and spill their water upon the ground? What—is this love—to frustrate my schemes and disappoint my hopes, and deprive me of my comforts and leave me pillaged and stripped? What—is this love—to fill my eyes with tears and my bosom with sighs?" "Yes!" replies God– "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten." "Enough," says the Christian when in his best right spirit– "Enough, I believe it—and my soul is even as a weaned child."

See him when in that frame, he not only "hears the rod," but kisses the hand which uses it. What can we not endure from the hand of love? Let me be assured that a friend tenderly loves me, and that all his conduct is dictated by affection—and I can bear his reproofs, though they may be somewhat severe. I can submit to his requirements, though they may seem to be rigid. I can allow him to take from me some things which I value, though I may not see the necessity of such sacrifices. My entire confidence in his affection leads me to say– "It must be necessary for my welfare, or I am sure his love would not thus put me to pain. It cannot be to sport with my feelings and see me weep, that he acts thus. I am sorrowful but trustful—for he is wise, and he loves me."

Faith is assured that there is a NECESSITY for our trials. There is no Scripture it more readily assents to than that of the apostle Peter– "If needs be, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials." 1 Peter 1:6. Yes, there must be some kind of necessity—or he who loves his children so strongly would not thus afflict them. He himself is the judge of that necessity—and with him it must be left. But we are in all cases to be assured that it exists, though oftentimes it is hidden. Hence, the beautiful reply of Payson, who in his deep affliction was asked if he saw any particular reason for his heavy trials. "No," said he– "but I am as satisfied as if I saw ten thousand reasons. It is the will of God—and there is all reason in that." Our trials come sometimes when there seems, so far as our spiritual condition is concerned, less need than ordinary for them. And then is the time especially for confidence in God's wisdom and love, as to their necessity. When they find us in a backsliding state, and come like messengers to fetch us back from our truant wanderings, we know, rather than believe their necessity. We see and feel it as clearly as if a voice from heaven declared it. But to be overtaken with some severe visitation of Providence, when the soul is comparatively healthful, and its course is even and undeviating, and then to say– "I am sure there is some needs be for this, though I cannot see it. It lies hidden somewhere in the depths of God's wisdom and love, where I cannot find it; but I am sure it is there. My Heavenly Father does not afflict willingly—nor grieve the children of men, much less his own children—and I believe I am one of them."

Faith is also assured that the DESIGN of affliction is good. How beautiful is the language of the apostle– "We have had earthly fathers who corrected us, and we gave them reverence—shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us as seemed good to them; but God chastens us for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness." Heb. 12:9, 10. Yes, such is the imperfection of human love, that even parental affection is sometimes poisoned and misdirected by passion; and the father corrects his child intemperately, and more from caprice than from wisdom, and rather for the indulgence of his own stormy temper, than the child's good. There is nothing like this in God. The Divine Father never corrects his children in an angry passion; but proceeds to his chastisement with the coolness and calmness of a judge, the love of a parent, and the purpose of a physician. "He disciplines us for our profit," never for his own gratification—but always for our good. Certainly not for our ease– "for no affliction for the present is joyous—but grievous."

He always disciplines us for our good. He is not indifferent to our present tranquility and comfort, as is evident from the thousand mercies with which he has surrounded us; but he is chiefly intent upon our good—and when these two are in any measure incompatible with each other, he never hesitates for a moment which he will make to give way to the other. A wise physician is not indifferent to the comfort of his patient; but when the question is ease and death, or pain and life—he takes up his knife and proceeds with as much tenderness as possible—but without delay, to amputation. He consults the life first, and ease only subordinately. So does God. His aim is our profit, that is– "THAT WE MIGHT BE MADE PARTAKERS OF HIS HOLINESS," that we might be made partakers of the Divine nature—sharers of the very holiness of God. How precious a thing must be holiness in itself, and how precious it ought to be to us, when God, who loves his people with so strong an affection, puts them to so much pain to obtain it!

And just glance at the GOOD which afflictions are calculated to effect, and do effect in all cases where they are sanctified. As the bee sucks honey from many a bitter herb—so faith extracts good from bitter sorrows! How sorrows crucify him to the world—and the world to him, and thus make their own cross affect them in the same way as the cross of Christ; sometimes gently drawing him away from the world—at others forcing him out as by a violent wrench. How trials mortify his pride and cure his vanity. How afflictions restore him from his backslidings and bring him again to God from whom he has departed. How they revive his lukewarm religion and quicken him in prayer. How they make him feel that religion is after all his great concern. Yes, there is more learned sometimes in one great affliction, than from a thousand sermons, or a library of books.

Who would dare to present this prayer? "Lord, let me have worldly comforts though they ruin me—and keep away affliction though it would save me." Why then should we act, as we would not pray? Should we quarrel with the man who in pulling us out of the water, where—but for him, we should have been drowned, if he put a leg or an arm out of joint? And shall we murmur when God in saving us from perdition—lessens our comforts? Is it not a blessed exchange to part from temporal comforts for inward holiness? Who would not be willing to have less of the world—if thereby he may have more of God? Who would not be kept poor in wealth—if he may be rich in faith? Who is the loser, if he has like Gaius—a healthy soul in a sickly body? This is the good to be gotten by afflictions, and it is the business of faith to believe the declaration that "all things work together for good to those who love God—who are the called according to his purpose."

While there is in the ‘love of the world’ a dreadful power of turning all good things into evil; there is in the ‘love of God’ as happy a principle to turn all evil things into good. This wonderful transmuting operation is ever going on in the life of a Christian, laying all under tribute—outward calamities, inward conflicts, sickness, losses, dark seasons, and mental perplexities—to promote the good of his soul—his eternal welfare. All these things are working together for good. Infinite Wisdom and Almighty power do not work by separate means and agencies—but by their conjunction and combination. They keep perfect order, which might otherwise appear a vast confusion of things. But for the faith in God’s sovereign control, the believer might look on the chaos and tumult of things, with an utter bewilderment in his plans and hopes. He beholds a thousand different things in action, each doing something, and some things doing what seems to oppose other things. And how can they all, so various, so different, in some respects so contrary—produce a common result? Faith is assured there is in all this a stupendous, invisible machinery, which holds them all working in connection, and reproves the unbelief which says– "This difficulty is absolutely needless," or that obstructs rather than co-operates or conduces to good.

Faith also believes that God does no more than is NECESSARY for his purpose and end. Tender is the language of the prophet– "He stays his rough north wind in the day of the east wind." Isaiah 27:8. Analogous to this is God's language to the Jews– "I will correct you in measure." Jer. 30:11. Hence the pleading of the prophet– "O Lord, correct me— but only with justice—not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing." Jer. 10:24. Wise physicians adapt not only the nature of the medicine to the disease—but its quantity to the strength of the patient. They administer as much as is necessary to produce the desired effect and no more. This is God's method. All the afflictions he sends are by precise weight and measure—as wise in their proportions as they are in their adaptations.

Faith looks for COMFORT during the season of trial. It expects that– "As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds by Christ." 2 Cor. 1:5. It does not shut up the windows of the soul, and retire desponding and disconsolate to sit in darkness, because some little light within has been extinguished; but keeps the windows of the soul open for the glorious light of the sun to shine in and enliven the scene. Faith does not, amid broken cisterns, turn away from the fountain—but goes straight to the living water! Faith does not, like Rachel weeping for her children– "refuse to be comforted," but acts like a child in tears through some loss, or some insult, who runs to his mother for her sympathy and comfort, and confidently expects her sweetest, kindest words then. It says– "Where is he who gives songs in the night?" And then serenely expects his approach with his richest consolations. It is unbelief which says– "He has forgotten to be gracious; he has in anger shut up his affections of compassion, and is clean gone for ever. I shall never see good."

And then the believer looks for SUPPORT as well as consolation. He is confident in God that he will lay no more upon him than he will enable him to bear. He believes that God will sink the burden to his strength—or raise his strength to the burden– "God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able to bear." 1 Cor. 10:13. "I believe that!" says the Christian, "and though the load seems to increase rather than diminish, yet I take hold of God's strength, and hope to be sustained, for

'How can I sink with such a prop
As my eternal God;
Who bears the earth's huge pillars up,
And spreads the heavens abroad!'

I might as soon believe the Alps would sink under the accumulating weight of snow, as to imagine that a believer who leans upon Omnipotence for support, would be crushed by any weight of trouble! So that if I am not delivered, I shall be sustained; and sustentation is a degree and commencement of deliverance."

Direction is as necessary in many cases, as consolation and support. There are afflictions in which nothing can be done, and we seem to be commanded, like the Israelites at the Red Sea, to "stand still and see the salvation of God," cases in which the sufferer is addressed as were the Israelites in reference to their seeking help from Egypt– "Thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; in returning and rest shall you be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength. Your strength is to sit still." Isaiah 30:15. In this case, patience and not action is called for. But there are other cases where something must be done—and direction is needed from God to know what. Difficulties often add great weight to trials. The Christian sees something must be immediately resolved upon—but is most distressingly at a loss to know what course to pursue, and what step next to take. A wrong one may plunge him still deeper into distress, and render his case all but hopeless. He well knows that necessity is a bad oracle to consult—an evil counselor, and what shall he do? Do? Believe the promise– "The meek will he guide in judgment—and the meek will he teach his way." Psalm 25:9. "Yes," says God– "I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go; I will guide you with my eye." Psalm 32:8. This promise the believer turns into prayer; for which no words are so suitable for us to carry to God, as those which God has first spoken to us– "Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of my enemies." Psalm 27:11.

The Christian also looks to the END of afflictions. The end may sometimes come in this world. In reference to this, the utmost that the believer can be sure of is—that they will end in God's time. They may last for his whole life. The sickness which afflicts his body may be unto death! The loss which he has sustained in his property may be irreparable, and poverty may go down with him to the grave. The trial which beclouds and distresses his spirits may be his lot for life. But on the other hand, they may not! God may be bringing him "through fire and through water to bring him out into a wealthy place." But the Christian leaves this in the hand of God, and endeavors to maintain a hope which shall save him from despondency—checked at the same time by a reverence that guards him from unwarranted presumption. It is this waiting posture, this season of suspense, during which the Christian is saying– "Soon as I shall see how it will go with me." That is the testing-time of confidence in God. Can he then keep his mind calm, hopeful, and cheerful? Can he then wait for God's deliverance without resorting to any sinful means of his own? Can he then unite patient endurance with wise and prudent activity?

But if the end of the trial should not come in this world—it will come in the next world—when they will not only forever cease—but leave an eternal blessing behind! Here it is impossible to forget or omit the language of the apostle– "I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us!" Rom. 8:18. "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!" 2 Cor. 4:17. Four things are set forth in these passages.

First, Our afflictions will have a termination! This is sweet. They are to end—they are not to last forever—the last pang, and groan, and tear, are at hand—and how near the Christian never knows!

Secondly. Our afflictions are not to end like those of the brute creation—in the grave merely—but in heaven! The last pang, and groan, and tear, are to usher in that blessed state of which it is so beautifully said– "The Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters—and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes!" Rev. 7:17. Heaven shall terminate the afflictions of the righteous!

Thirdly. Heaven is so glorious, that the first view of its scenes, and the first moment of its enjoyment, shall make amends for the longest life of the most protracted and intense sufferings!

Fourthly. The sufferings of earth will enhance and increase the felicities of heaven. Oh, this wonderful reverse—this divine antithesis—this inconceivable contrast!—glory set over against affliction; weight of glory against light affliction; eternal glory against momentary affliction! In that sentence, not only brilliant with the luster of golden characters—but radiant with the splendor of heavenly characters, the genius of the apostle rose to one of his highest altitudes of inspiration. At that moment, the veil which hides the holy of holies and conceals the enthroned Deity from the gaze of sense and of reason, was half-drawn aside; and in dazzling but still vague glory—the Ineffable appeared to his enraptured gaze! To that glory, the sufferings of the present time will yield their contribution. They will aid, by their previous submissive endurance, to increase the power of contrast; and they will, by the graces they call here into exercise; by the sanctification they promote; by the heavenly temper which they cultivate and cherish; be the means of ripening the spirit, and making it fit for its eternal inheritance!

Every tear that is shed; every groan that is heaved; every loss that is sustained; every moment of suffering that is endured; every disappointment that is experienced, which is borne with patience, with resignation, with unwearied holiness—will not only be followed with millions of ages of ineffable felicity—but will prepare the soul for its enjoyment, and add something to its weight and its luster! To believe this, to live in hope of it, and by this hope to be sustained under present sufferings—is the work of faith.

III. We now consider the exercise and influence of faith, when afflictions are PAST. Faith believes that God has removed them, and is grateful for the deliverance. Means and instruments may have been employed—and they may have been adapted to the end. But who gave them efficacy, and rendered them successful? General laws were obeyed—but who secured the result? A ‘deliverance from affliction’ loses half its sweetness when it loses in the mind of him who has experienced it—all its Divine interposition. How we ought to dwell upon deliverance from affliction may be learned by reading the one hundred and third and one hundred and sixteenth Psalms; and the twelfth chapter of the Hebrews. How most men actually conduct themselves when the affliction passes off, may be learned from the conduct of the lepers whom Christ healed; of whom he said– "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God—except this one foreigner?" Luke 17:17, 18.

But a belief in God's omniscience as having been a witness of all the prayers, penitence, and vows uttered during the season of trial—will lead to solicitude that these blessings should be remembered, and as these vows performed.

Most people who have any sense of religion at all, are apt in seasons of deep trouble, especially of alarming bodily sickness, when death seems near and eternity opening, to make solemn promises and vows of amendment. But alas how few of them are of the mind of David, who makes frequent mention of his determination to perform his vows– "Now I come to your Temple with burnt offerings to fulfill the vows I made to you--yes, the sacred vows you heard me make when I was in deep trouble." Psalm 66:13, 14. To forget these is a species of detestable unbelief, for it is to act as though God did neither hear, nor answer their prayers. Perhaps it is better not to vow at all what we will do—but rather to pray for grace to do it.

But also our prayers are as solemn in themselves nearly, and as binding as our vows. A believer therefore must be very mindful of the state of his heart while he was in trouble, and endeavor to conform to it his conduct afterwards. Jeremiah thus recollected his affliction when he said– "Remembering my affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul has them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me." Lam. 3:19, 20.

We should call past afflictions to remembrance to get the benefit of them. "Afterwards," says the apostle– "they yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness to those who are exercised thereby." There is no doubt that in some cases they are more profitable in their recollection than in their endurance. The mind at the time is too much occupied and agitated by pain or tumultuous thoughts to derive all the benefit they are calculated and intended to afford. How anxiously should the recovered sufferer look out for these ‘after-fruits of righteousness’. "Affliction," says Manton– "is a tree that to the true and watchful believer bears good fruit—and we do not expect the fruit to form and ripen at once. It may be long maturing—but it will be rich and mellow when it is ripe. It frequently requires a long time before all the results of the affliction appear—as it requires months to form and ripen fruit. Like fruit, it may appear at first sour, bitter, and unpalatable; but it will be at last like the rosy peach or the golden apple." An affliction sanctified, is better than an affliction removed! And there is no affliction a Christian should more dread than an unsanctified one. They never leave us as they find us—but more hardened—if not softened. It is fearful then to trifle either with the Word of the Lord—or with the afflictive judgments of the Lord—and it is difficult to say which is the more dangerous!

Faith improves past afflictions by encouraging us to trust God for future ones. This is one of the after-fruits, a serene and tranquil state of mind with regard to the future. He who has passed through one scene of danger and escaped, and through one time of suffering and has been supported, will feel less dread in prospect of it again. Experience is not the foundation of faith—but it is one of its buttresses. David said– "I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High." God's Word untried, is sufficient ground of confidence; but it is an additional means of confidence, to be able to say– "Your Word is a tried Word. I have tried it." It may not be necessary for us to keep a diary in writing—but surely we ought to keep one inscribed upon the memory; that when new scenes of trial are opening before us we may look over the record and learn from the past what to expect for the future– "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever," is the song with which the believer should go forth to meet every fresh affliction. His arm is not shortened that it cannot save—nor his ear closed, that it cannot hear.

As one of the most beautiful testimonies to the blessed results of affliction in regard to the frame of mind it has produced, and the gratitude as well as submission with which a Christian who has been sanctified by it looks back upon the dark scene of woe, and afterwards gathers the peaceable fruits of righteousness, I will here introduce the language of Grandpierre, of Paris, whose house had been desolated by a plague that deprived him of his wife and some of his children. Immediately after his loss he preached a series of sermons on the subject of affliction, which have been printed and translated into English, under the title of– "Sorrow and Consolation; or, the Gospel preached under the Cross. Meditations, dedicated to the Afflicted." For true pathos, and Christian sentiment, and strong consolation, I know nothing like them. Referring to his own experience, he says– "Listen, my brethren; I know a man in Christ (whose history I will not communicate) who, at a certain period of his career, by a series of important events, saw, as it were, one vast shroud extended over every part of his existence, enveloping the present and the future. As in the natural world, under a grey and cloudy winter sky, the weight of snow and ice pressing on it, benumbs, enchains, and seems to have annihilated all vegetation and all sap—so was his heart, his life, all within, and all around him. He thought not only that all earthly joys (by which I mean those which Christianity authorizes and sanctifies) were forever lost to him—but he thought that even his faith, which, though weak, had ever been sincere, could do no more than enable him to bear without murmur the burden of an existence, thenceforth without interest and without enjoyment. I will not enter into more minute details; for those who are not altogether novices in the ‘troubles which belong to the mind,’ enough has been said to enable them to penetrate the depths of this misery. Well, this same man can now say, not that he experiences no more sorrow, not that he has no regrets, not that he weeps no more (you would not, you ought not, to believe him if he did say such things,) but this he will boldly affirm—that God has so swallowed up his griefs, and tears, and torn heart—in the ocean of his boundless love, that he has not only resumed his interest in life—but that in some moments he asks himself if the happiness he possesses in his trial, is not greater than any he has ever experienced, and if God has not blessed him more by that which he has taken away, than by that which he has given him!

"My God! I thank you for having revealed to me the first rudiments of sanctified trials—so dark and difficult to those who have not been enlightened by you. Instead of complaining of the wounds you have inflicted, I will bless you for them. You had accorded me great blessings, Lord, before you chastised me; but I acknowledge, now, that your chastisements are, of all your favors, the least dangerous and the most beneficial! You are not truly known—but in poverty; you are not truly valued—but in the destitution of all things. Your riches, your greatest riches, remain concealed from him who does not know the depths of his own poverty. And who can know it better than he whom you have deprived of all—to place him in the possession of your riches, at the source of your bounties? I will say, then, to the praise of your mercy, that trouble is not only without weariness and without melancholy—but that it possesses sweet enjoyments, inexpressible delights, for the soul you deign to visit, with which you condescend to associate, and to which it pleases you to speak of your love, and to reveal the greatness of your glory.

"I loudly proclaim, to the manifestation of your infinite grace, that the deepest wounds the heart can receive, those which are so deep and penetrating they might be expected to bleed forever—are so soothed by the wine and oil poured upon them by your Divine consolations, that, in the abundance of the blessings with which you fill the soul, one sometimes reproaches oneself for no longer feeling painful regrets. I will declare, with thanksgiving and songs of praise, that the horizon of life can never be so obscured, so discolored—but that the ray of your love can enlighten, animate, and sometimes adorn and beautify it. I will declare, finally, O God of my salvation, God of my deliverance, my rock and my portion forever—that when all other happiness fails us, that of belonging to you, that of loving you, of doing your will, of devoting ourselves to your service, that of finding all our pleasure in you—increases so much, becomes so vast, so completely fills the capacity of the soul—that one is tempted to ask oneself, with uneasiness and culpable reproaches, if that which we possessed before our deep affliction, was happiness, true happiness, perfect happiness. Up to this point, O my God, your place was usurped; you were obliged to make it wholly void, that you might fill it! Glory be to you—from this time forth for ever and ever. Amen!"

Faith keeps up a holy jealousy over itself, lest it should sink again into that state of lukewarmness and worldliness which would render a repetition of the visitation necessary. This is its prayer– "Show me why you contend with me. Surely it is fit to be said unto God, I have borne your chastisement, I will not offend any more—that which I see not, teach me—if I have done iniquity, I will do no more." Job 34:31, 32. The believer realizes the great fact that holiness is the end of all God's dealings with him; that holiness was the design of his great affliction; and therefore now watches, prays, and labors—that he may no more be in such a state as to require such corrective measures! The man who is just recovered from a dangerous illness brought on by his own imprudence, and who has been told very plainly how it was incurred, and what he must do to avoid it in future, is, if he is a wise man—very attentive to the directions of his physician as to his future habits. He remembers all he suffered—all he feared—all he promised; and is concerned never to bring himself into a similar condition!

So the Christian who sees that his affliction was sent in wise, but faithful and severe love—to heal some disorder of the soul. He will remember the wormwood and the gall, and strive to keep the soul in future health, that the bitter medicine of the Divine Physician may be no more necessary. Perhaps we could not have a more convincing evidence of sanctified affliction, or a richer benefit from our troubles—than a permanent recollection of the need of it when it came, and as permanent a solicitude to avoid the sin that made it thus necessary! The man who ten or twenty years after an affliction has passed off, looks back with adoring gratitude upon it and says,

"Father I bless your gentle hand;
How kind was your chastising rod,
That forced my conscience to a stand,
And brought my wandering soul to God.
"Foolish and vain I went astray
Before I had felt your scourges, Lord;
I left my guide and lost my way;
But now I love and keep your word.

"I love you, therefore, O my God—
And breathe towards your dear abode,
Where in your presence fully blessed,
Your chosen saints forever rest,"

I say that he who years after the trial is over and past, looks back upon it with such sentiments as these, exhibits all the proofs, and enjoys all the fruits—of a sanctified affliction!