The Necessity of Afflictions
By John R. MacDuff
"If need be!" 1 Peter 1:6
What a blessed motto and superscription over the dark lintels of sorrow! — "if need be!" Every arrow from the quiver of God is feathered with it! Write it, child of affliction, over every trial your God sees fit to send!
If he calls you down from the sunny mountain-heights to the darksome glades, hear Him saying: "There is a need be!"
If he has dashed the cup of earthly prosperity from your lips, curtailed your creature comforts, diminished your "basket and store" — hear Him saying, "There is a need be!"
If He has ploughed and furrowed your soul with severe bereavement — extinguished light after light in your dwelling — hear Him thus stilling the tumult of your grief, "There is a need be!"
Yes! believe it, there is some profound reason for your trial, which at present may be indiscernible. No furnace will be hotter than He sees to be needed.
Sometimes, indeed, His teachings are mysterious. We can with difficulty spell out the letters, "God is love!" We can see no "bright light" — no luminous rainbow in "our cloud." It is all mystery; not one break is there in the sky! Nay! Hear what God the Lord speaks: "If need be!" He does not long leave His people alone, if He sees their chariot wheels dragging heavily. He will take His own means to sever them from an absorbing love of the world — to flush them out of self, and dislodge usurping clay-idols that may have vaulted on the throne which He alone should occupy!
Before your present trial — He may have seen your love waxing cold — your influence for good lessening. As the sun puts out the fire — the sun of earthly prosperity may have been extinguishing the fires of your soul. You may have been shining less brightly for Christ, effecting some guilty compromise with an insinuating and seductive world. He has appointed the very discipline and dealing needful — nothing else — nothing less could have been effectual!
Be still, and know that He is God! That "need be," remember, is in the hands of Infinite Love, infinite Wisdom, infinite Power! Trust Him in little things — as well as in great things — in trifles as well as in emergencies. Seek to have an unquestioning faith. Though other paths, doubtless, would have been selected by you had the choice been in your hands — be it your to listen to His voice at every turn of the road, saying, "This is the way — walk in it!"
We may not be able to understand it now — but one day we shall come to find that affliction is one of God's most blessed ministers — sent forth to "minister to those who are heirs of salvation." There would be no rainbow in the material heaven — but for the cloud! Lovelier, indeed, to the eye is the azure blue — the fleecy summer vapor — or the gold and vermilion of western sunsets. But what would become of the earth if no dark clouds from time to time hung over it; distilling their treasures — reviving and refreshing its drooping vegetable tribes?
Is it otherwise with the soul? Nay! The cloud of sorrow is needed. Its every raindrop has an inner meaning of love! If, even now, afflicted one, these clouds are gathering, and the tempest sighing — lift up your eye to the divine scroll gleaming in the darkened heavens, and remember that He who has put the rainbow of promise there — saw also a "need be" for the cloud on which it rests!
There is therefore reason for this chastisement, for "Whom the Lord loves — he chastens." Hebrews 12:6. What! God loves me when He is discharging His quiver upon me! — emptying me from vessel to vessel! — causing the sun of my earthly joys to set in clouds? Yes! afflicted, tempest-tossed one! He chastens you — because He loves you! This trial comes from His own tender, loving hand — from His own tender, unchanging heart!
Are you laid on a sick bed — are sorrowful months and wearisome nights appointed unto you? Let this be the pillow on which your aching head reclines — It is because God loves me!
Is it bereavement which has swept your heart and desolated your dwelling? God appointed that chamber of death — He opened that tomb — because He loves you! As it is the suffering child of the family which claims a mother's deepest affections and most tender solicitude — so have you at this moment embarked on your side — the tenderest love and solicitude of a chastening Heavenly Father. He loved you into this sorrow — and He will love you through it. There is nothing capricious in His dealings. Love is the reason of all He does. There is no drop of wrath in that bitter cup you are called upon to drink.
"I do believe," says Lady Powerscourt, "that He has purchased these afflictions for us — as well as everything else. Blessed be His name, it is a part of His covenant to visit us with the rod." What says our adorable Lord himself? The words were spoken, not when He was on earth, a sojourner in a sorrowing world, but when enthroned amid the glories of heaven, "As many as I love — I rebuke and chasten." Rev. 3:19.
Believer! Rejoice in the thought that the rod, the chastening rod — is in the hands of the living, loving Savior who died for you! Tribulation is the King's Highway — and yet that highway is paved with love. As some flowers before shedding their fragrance require to be pressed — so does your God see fit to bruise you. As some birds are said to sing their sweetest notes when the thorn pierces their bosom — so does He appoint affliction to lacerate, that you may be driven to the wing, singing, in your upward soaring, "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed!" "Those," says the heavenly Leighton, "whom He means to make the most resplendent — He has oftenest His tools upon." "Our troubles," says another, "seem in His Word to be ever in His mind. Perhaps half the commands and half the promises He gives us there — are given to us as troubled men."
Be it ours to say, "Lord, I will love You, not only despite of Your rod — but because of Your rod. I will rush into the very arms that are chastising me! When Your voice calls, as to Abraham of old, to prepare for bitter trial — be it mine to respond with bounding heart, "Here am I!" — and to read in the rainbow which spans my darkest cloud, "He chastens, BECAUSE He loves!" And He pities, because He loves. A father bending over the sick bed of his weak or dying child, a mother pressing, in tender solicitude, an infant sufferer to her bosom — these are the earthly pictures of God. "Like as a father pities his child." "As one whom his mother comforts — so will I comfort you!"
When tempted in our season of overwhelming sorrow to say, "Never has there been so dark a cloud, never a heart so stripped and desolate as mine!" Let this thought hush every murmur, "It is your Father's good pleasure!" The love and pity of the tenderest earthly parent is but a dim shadow — compared to the pitying love of God.
If your heavenly Father's smile has for the moment been exchanged for the chastening rod — be assured there is some deep necessity for the altered discipline. If there are unutterable yearnings in the soul of the earthly parent as the lancet is applied to the wound of his child — infinitely more is it so with your covenant God, as He subjects you to these deep woundings of heart! Finite wisdom has no place in His ordinations. An earthly father may err — is ever erring; but, "as for God — His way is perfect!" This is the explanation of His every dealing: "Your heavenly Father knows you have need of all these things!"
Trust His heart — when you cannot trace His hand! Do not try to penetrate the cloud which "He brings over the earth," and to look through it. Keep your eye steadily fixed on the rainbow! The mystery is God's — the promise is yours. Seek that the end of all His dispensations may be to make you more confiding. Without one misgiving — commit your way to Him. He says regarding each child of His covenant family, what He said of Ephraim of old (and never more so than in a season of suffering) "I do earnestly remember him still." While now bending your head like a bulrush; your heart breaking with sorrow — remember His pitying eye is upon you. Be it yours, even through blinding tears, to say, "Even so Father!" For he does not afflict willingly.
In our seasons of trial, when under some inscrutable painful dispensation, how apt is the murmuring thought to rise in our hearts, "All these things are against me! Might not this overwhelming blow have been spared? Might not this dark cloud, which has shadowed my heart and my home with sadness, have been averted? Might not the accompaniments of my trial have been less severe? Surely the Lord has forgotten to be gracious!"
No! These afflictions are errands of mercy in disguise! "He does not afflict willingly." There is nothing capricious or arbitrary about your God's dealings. Unutterable tenderness is the character of all His allotments! The world may wound by unkindness — trusted friends may become treacherous — a brother may speak with unnecessary harshness and severity; but the Lord is "abundant in goodness and in truth." He appoints no needless pang. When he appears, like Joseph, to "speak roughly" — there are gentle undertones of love. The stern accents are only assumed — because He has precious lessons that could not otherwise have been taught!
Ah! be assured that there is some deep necessity in that all He does. In our calendars of sorrow we may put this luminous mark against every trying hour, "It was needed!" Some excess branch in the tree required pruning. Some wheat required to be cast overboard to lighten the ship, and avert further disaster.
Mourning one! He might have dealt far otherwise with you! He might have cut you down as a fruitless, worthless cumberer! He might have abandoned you to drift, disowned and unpiloted on the rocks of destruction — joined to your idols! He might have "left you alone" to settle on your lees, and forfeit your eternal bliss! But he loved you better. It was kindness, infinite kindness — which blighted your fairest blossoms, and hedged up your way with thorns!
"Without this hedge of thorns," says Richard Baxter, "on the right hand and on the left — we would hardly be able to keep the way to heaven!"