HELP HEAVENWARD by Octavius Winslow

Trial, a Help Heavenward

“That we must through much tribulation enter into the
kingdom of God.”—ACTS 14:22.

There are few things in the spiritual history of the child of God
more really helpful heavenward than sanctified trial. He treads no
path in which he finds aids more favorable to advancement in the
divine life, circumstances which more contribute to the develop-ment
and completeness of Christian character,—the teaching, the
quickening, the purifying,—than the path of hallowed sorrow—
sorrow which a covenant God has sent, which grace sanctifies, and
which knits the heart to Christ. The atmosphere is not more puri-fied
by the electric storm, nor the earth more fructified by the
descending rain, than is the regenerate soul advanced in its highest
interests by the afflictive dealings in God’s government of His saints.
“Sweet are the uses of adversity” to an heir of heaven. Its form
may appear “ugly and venomous”—for “no chastening for the present
seemeth joyous but grievous;” but nevertheless it “bears a precious
jewel in its head”—for “afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of
righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Affliction is
to the believer what the wing is to the lark, and what the eye is to
the eagle,—the means by which the soul mounts in praise heaven-ward,
gazing closely and steadily upon the glorious Sun of righ-teousness.
Chastening seals our sonship, sorrow disciplines the heart,
affliction propels the soul onward. We should have a more vivid
conception of the power of affliction as an ingredient of holiness if
we kept more constantly in remembrance the fact that all the af-flictive,
trying dispensations of the believer are covenant dispensa-tions—
that they are not of the same character nor do they pro-duce
the same results as in the ungodly. They are among the “sure
mercies of David.” In the case of the unregenerate, all afflictions
54 Help Heavenward
are a part and parcel of the curse, and work naturally against their
good; but in the case of the regenerate, they are, in virtue of the
covenant of grace, transformed into blessings, and work spiritually
for their good. Just as the mountain stream, coursing its way, meets
some sanative mineral by which it becomes endowed with a heal-ing
property, so afflictions, passing through the covenant, change
their character, derive a sanctifying property, and thus become a
healing medicine to the soul.
Thus we find tribulation the ancient and beaten path of the
Church of God. “A great cloud of witnesses” all testify to sorrow as
the ordained path to heaven. Both Christ and His apostles gently
forewarned the saints that “in the world they should have tribula-tion,”
and that it was “through much tribulation we must enter the
kingdom of God.” Here may be descried the trail of the flock, and,
yet more deeply and visibly imprinted, the footsteps of the Great
Shepherd of the sheep, “leaving us an example that we should fol-low
His steps.” Who, then, with Christ in his heart, the hope of
glory, would wish exemption from what is common to the whole
Church of God? Who would not sail to glory in the same vessel
with Jesus and His disciples, tossed though that vessel be amidst
the surging waves of life’s troubled ocean? All shall arrive in heaven
as last, “some on boards, some on broken pieces of the ship, but all
safe to land.” It is not necessary, beloved reader, that in a chapter
devoted to an exposition of the blessings which flow from sancti-fied
trial, we enumerate all, or even any, of the varied forms which
trial assumes. The truth with which we have now to do is the im-petus
trial gives to the soul heavenward—the friendly hand it out-stretches
to assist the Christian pilgrim to his shrine, the traveller
to his journey’s end, the child to his Father’s house. Our first re-mark,
then, with regard to trial is, that it is a time of spiritual
instruction, and so a help heavenward. It is not blindly but intelli-gently,
that we walk in the ways of the Lord, and are travelling
home to God. Great stress is laid by the Holy Ghost in the writ-ings
of the apostle upon the believer’s advance in spiritual knowl-edge.
In his prayer for the Ephesian saints he asks for them, that
“the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give
unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of
Trial, A Help Heavenward 55
Him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened.” In another
place he exhorted the saints to “grow in grace and in the knowledge
of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In his own personal experience he sets
no limit to his spiritual knowledge: “that I might know Christ,” was
the great aspiration of his soul, and he “counted all things but loss
for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord.” Now,
the school of trial is the school of spiritual knowledge. We grow in
a knowledge of ourselves, learning more of our superficial attain-ments,
shallow experience, and limited grace. We learn, too, more
of our weakness, emptiness, and vileness, the plough-share of trial
penetrating deep into the heart and throwing up its vailed iniquity.
And oh, how does this deeper self-knowledge lay us low, humble
and abase us; and when our self-sufficiency and our self-seeking
and our self-glorying is thus mowed down, then the showers of the
Saviour’s grace descend “as rain upon the mown grass,” and so we
advance in knowledge and holiness heavenward. Trial, too, increases
our acquaintance with Christ. We know more of the Lord Jesus
through one sanctified affliction than by all the treatises the hu-man
pen ever wrote. Christ is only savingly known as He is known
personally and experimentally. Books cannot teach Him, sermons
cannot teach Him, lectures cannot teach Him; they may aid our
information and correct our views, but to know Him as He is, and
as we ought, we must have personal dealings with Him. Our sins
must bring us to His blood, our condemnation must bring us to His
righteousness, our corruptions must bring us to His grace, our wants
must bring us to His fullness, our weakness must bring us to His
strength, our sorrow must bring us to His sympathy, and His own
loveliness and love must attract us to Himself. And oh, in one hour,
in a single transaction, in a lone sorrow, which has brought us to
Jesus, who can estimate how rapidly and to what an extent we
have grown in a knowledge of His person and work, His character
and love? I need not enlarge upon other branches of spiritual knowl-edge
which trial promotes—how it increases our personal intimacy
with God as our loving Father and Friend; and how it opens our
understanding to discern the deep things of God in the Scriptures,
so that the Bible in the hour of affliction appears like a new revela-tion
to us. Oh yes, times of trial are times of growth in experimen-
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tal knowledge. We see God and Jesus and truth from new stand-points,
and in a different light, and we thank the Lord for the storm
which dispelled the mist that hid all this glory, unvailing so lovely a
landscape and so serene a sky to our view. Beloved, is the Lord now
bringing your religion to the touchstone of trial, testing your expe-rience
and knowledge and faith in the crucible? Be calm in the
assurance that He but designs your advance in an experimental
acquaintance with Himself, and His gospel, and that you shall
emerge from it testifying, “I have seen more of my own vileness,
and known more of Jesus, have penetrated deeper into the heart of
God, have a clearer understanding of revealed truth, and have
learned more of the mysteries of the divine life, on this bed of
sickness, in this time of bereaved sorrow, in this dark cloud that
has overshadowed me, than in all my life before.” “Blessed is the
man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy
law.” Oh yes, we learn God’s power to support, His wisdom to
guide, His love to comfort us, in a degree we could not have learned
but in the way of trial!
Trial quickens us in prayer, and so effectually helps us heaven-ward.
The life of God in the soul on earth is a life of communion of
the soul with God in heaven. Prayer is nothing less than the Divine
nature in fellowship with the Divine, the renewed creature in com-munion
with God. And it would be as impossible for a regenerate
soul to live without prayer, as for the natural life to exist without
breathing. And oh, what a sacred and precious privilege is this!—is
there one to be compared with it? When we have closed the door,—
for we speak now of that most solemn and holy habit of prayer,
private communion,—and have shut out the world, and the crea-ture,
and even the saints, and are closeted in personal, solemn, and
confiding audience with God, what words can portray the pre-ciousness
and solemnity of that hour! Then is guilt confessed, and
backslidings deplored, and care, unburdened, and sorrow unvailed,
and pardon sought, and grace implored, and blessings invoked, in
all the filial trustfulness of a child unbosoming itself in the very
depths of a father’s love, pity, and succour. But precious and costly
as is this privilege of prayer, we need rousing to its observance.
Trial is eminently instrumental of this. God often sends affliction
Trial, A Help Heavenward 57
for the accomplishment of this one end—that we might be stirred
up to take hold of Him. “Lord, in trouble have they visited thee,
they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them.” To
whom in sorrow do we turn, to whom in difficulty do we repair, to
whom in want do we fly but to the, Lord? If in prosperity we have
“grown fat and kicked,” if when the sun has shone upon us we have
walked independently and proudly and distantly, now that afflic-tion
has overtaken us we are humbled and prostrate at His feet;
retrace our steps, return to God, and find a new impulse given to,
and a new power and meetness and soothing in, communion with
God. Be assured of this, my reader, there is no help heavenward
like unto PRAYER. There is no ladder the rounds of which will
bring you so near to God, there are no wings the plumage, of which
will waft you so close to heaven as prayer. The moment you have
unpinioned your soul for communion with God,—let your pres-sure,
your sorrow, your sin be what it may,—that moment your
heart has quitted earth and is on its way heavenward. You are soar-ing
above the region of sorrow and battle and sin, and your spirit is
expatiating beneath a purer, happier, sunnier sky. Oh the soothing,
the strengthening, the uplifting found in prayer beneath the cross!
Thus trial helps us heavenward by quickening us to devotion, by
stirring us up to closeness of walk. Child of God! want you speedier
advance, heavenward? Seek it in closer converse with God. Oh,
what mighty power has prayer! It has controlled the elements of
nature, has stopped the sun in its course, has stayed the arm of
God! A man mighty in the prayer of faith is clothed with an invin-cible
panoply, is in possession of a force which Omnipotence can-not
resist, for he has “power with God and prevails.” Oh, turn your
difficulty into prayer, turn your sorrow into prayer, turn your want
into prayer, turn your very sins and backslidings into confession,
supplication, and prayer, and on its wing your soul shall rise to a
region of thought and feeling and fellowship close to the very gates
of heaven. Lord, we thank Thee for the sacred privilege of prayer,—
we thank Thee for the mercy-seat, sprinkled with blood, the place
of prayer,—we thank Thee for Jesus’ precious name, our only plea
in prayer,—we thank Thee for the divine grace of prayer,—and not
less, Lord, do we praise Thee for the trial, the suffering, the sor-
58 Help Heavenward
row which stimulates our languid spirit, and wakes our dormant
heart to the holy, earnest exercise of prayer!
Trials are necessary to wean us from the world. Perhaps nothing
possesses so detaching, divorcing an effect in the experience of the
Christian as affliction. The world is a great snare to the child of
God. Its rank is a snare, its possessions are a snare, its honours are
a snare, its enterprises are a snare, the very duties and engage-ments
of daily life are a snare, to a soul whose citizenship is in
heaven, and whose heart would fain be more frequently and exclu-sively
where Jesus, its treasure, is. Oh, how the things that are
seen vail the things that are not seen!—how do things temporal
banish from our thoughts and affections and desires the things that
are eternal! Why does the sun appear so small an orb, so minute a
speck to our eye? Simply because of its remote distance. Oh, is it
not thus that Christ with His surpassing loveliness, and heaven
with its winning attractions, and eternal things with their profound
solemnity, and communion with God in Christ, so soothing and
precious, are objects so dim and superficial just because we of the
earth earthy, live at so great a distance from God, and allow the
influence, of the world an ascendancy over us so supreme and ab-sorbing?
But God in wisdom and mercy sends us trial to detach us
from earth, to lessen our worldly-mindedness, more deeply to con-vince
us how empty and insufficient is all created good when His
chastening is upon us, to intensify our affection for spiritual things,
and to bring our souls nearer to Himself. “Take away the dross from
the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer,” (Prov.
25:4.) “I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy
dross, and take away all thy sin,” (Isa. 1:25.) Oh, when the heart is
chastened and subdued by sorrow, when the soul is smitten and
humbled by adversity, when death bereaves, or sickness invades,
or resources narrow, or calamity in one of its many crushing forms
lights heavily upon us, how solemn, earnest, and distinct is the
voice of our ascended Redeemer, “If ye be risen with me, seek
those things which are above, where I sit at the, right hand of God.
Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. I
am your Treasure, your Portion, your All. Sharers of my resurrec-tion-
life, you are partakers of its holy, quickening power, and its
Trial, A Help Heavenward 59
heaven-bestowing blessings. Soon to be with me in glory, let your
heart travel thitherward, and in its loosenings from earth, its di-vorcements
from the creature cultivate the mind of my holy apostle,
who desired to depart and be with me.” Oh that to this touching
appeal our hearts may respond, “Lord, whom have I in heaven but
Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee. Thou
hast stricken and wounded and laid me low, but Thou wilt com-fort,
heal, and raise me up again. Righteous art Thou, O Lord, when
I plead with Thee; yet let me talk with Thee of Thy judgments.
Let this trial detach me from the world, wean me from my idols,
transfer my heart to Thee, and speed my soul with a quicker step
heavenward.” Thus the heart, crusted by the continuous influence
of earthly things, is mellowed by sorrow, through the sanctifying
power of the Holy Ghost, and then the Word becomes more fruit-ful,
and the Lord Jesus growing more precious, and conformity to
God more promoted, earth recedes and heaven approaches, and
we exclaim in the words of the Psalmist, “Before I was afflicted I
went astray: but now have I kept thy word. It is good for me that I
have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” Thus, “afflic-tions
are God’s most effectual means to keep us from losing our
way to our heavenly rest. Without this hedge of thorns on the right
hand and on the left, we should hardly keep the way to heaven. If
there be but one gap open, how ready are we to find it and turn out
at it! When we grow wanton, or worldly, or proud, how doth sick-ness
or other afflictions reduce us! Every Christian, as well as Luther,
can call affliction one of his best schoolmasters; and with David
may say, ‘Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept
thy word.’ Many thousand rescued sinners may cry, O healthful
sickness! O comfortable sorrow! O gainful losses! O enriching pov-erty!
O blessed day that ever I was afflicted! Not only the green
pastures and still waters, but the rod and staff, they comfort us.
Though the Word and the Spirit do the main work, yet suffering so
unbolts the door of the, heart, that the Word hath easier entrance.”
The moral purity of heart which chastened trial produces must
have a distinct and prominent place in this enumeration of helps
heavenward. Holiness, as it is an essential element of heaven, be-comes
an essential element in our spiritual meetness for its enjoy-
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ment. The inspired declaration is as solemn as it is emphatic, “Ho-liness,
without which no man shall see the Lord.” The beautiful be-atitude
of our Saviour embodies and enforces the same truth,
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Let us not,
beloved, mistake this character. It is of infinite moment to us that
we properly understand it. It is emphatically “the pure in HEART”—
not the informed in judgment, not the reformed in life, not the
orthodox in creed, not the apostolic in worship; all these things
may exist, as did the outward ritualism of the Pharisees, apart from
inward sanctification. But the “pure in heart”—that is, those whose
hearts are sprinkled with the cleansing blood of Jesus, sanctified
by the indwelling of the Spirit, growing in a hatred to, and in a
disenthralment from, the power of indwelling sin—who feel its
existence, mourn its power, loathe its taint, and pray and strive for
holiness;—such shall see God. They shall see Him now in Christ,
in the gospel, and in the gracious manifestations of His love. And
they shall see Him hereafter without a cloud to shade, or a sin to
mar, or a sorrow to sadden, or a moment to interrupt the blessed
vision. Oh, with a prospect so full of glory, so near and so certain,
who that loves the Saviour would not strive after more of that
purity of heart, clad in which, and through whose medium, we
shall behold God for ever, as revealed and seen in Christ Jesus? To
this end let us welcome God’s purifying agent—sanctified trial.
When He causes us to walk in the midst of trouble, let us be sub-missive,
humble, obedient. Resignation to the Divine will secures
the end God intends to accomplish—our personal and deeper ho-liness.
So long as we cherish an unsubmissive, rebellious spirit, the
medicine will not cure, the, lesson will not instruct, the agent will
not work its mission; in a word, our purity of heart will not be
promoted. In the words of Rutherford, “When God strikes, let us
beware of striking back again; for God will always have the last
blow.” When His uplifted hand lights upon us, let us not fly up into
His face as the chaff, but fall down at His feet as the wheat. Thus,
if we “humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, He will
exalt us in due time;” and in the school of His most trying dispen-sations
we shall learn the sweetest lessons of His love. Such, then,
may be denominated “the pure in heart.” Perfect freedom from
Trial, A Help Heavenward 61
sin, the entire extermination of indwelling evil, root and branch, is
not the idea which our Lord here inculcates. This can only be af-firmed
of Christ Himself, of unfallen angels, and of the spirits of
just men made perfect. Therefore, let no dear child of God, desir-ing
internal holiness, thirsting and struggling for purity of heart, be
cast down or discouraged in the conflict by the daily, the hourly
consciousness and working of existing impurity. There may be real
holiness in the midst of innate unholiness; purity encircled by ind-welling
impurity; an intense thirst, an ardent prayerfulness for sanc-tification,
and some measure of its attainment, in a soul far, very
far, from having arrived at a state of perfect and entire sinlessness.
Does not the earnest desire, for holiness, and the constant struggle
for sanctification, prove the existence and indwelling power of evil
in the saints of God? Most assuredly. And the Lord the Spirit dis-covers
to us more and more of the inbeing and evil of sin, unvails to
us more vividly the chambers of abomination, that we may be the
more intently set upon the great work of sanctification, that we
may deal more closely with the blood, and be more earnest and
importunate in our cry, “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and
renew a right spirit within me.” “As a thing is said to be pure though
it may have some dross cleaving to it, as is pure gold when it is
digged out of the mine, though there be much dross in it; and we
say it is pure air though for a time there be fogs and mists within it;
and it is pure water though there be some mud at the bottom; a
man may be said to have a pure heart though there be a cleaving of
much dross to it. Holy men have a fountain of original corruption
in them, and from this fountain sins arise continuously, as the scum
in the pot; but as in wine, or honey, or water, though the scum
arise, yet still it purifieth itself; contrarily in men of impure hearts
the scum ariseth, but it seethes not. ‘She wearied herself with lies,
and her great scum went not forth out of her,’ (Ezek. 24:12.) Holy
men have their scum arising in their hearts, as well as the wicked;
but here is the difference, wicked men’s scum seethes in and mingles
together, but men of pure heart have a cleansing and purifying dis-position,
that casts out whatever evil comes, though it be constantly
rising ; though it be many times mixed, he still washeth himself
again; he cannot endure it; he doth not, as the sinner, delight in it.
62 Help Heavenward
But notwithstanding this boiling out of evil, he is a man of a pure
heart; yet may sin cleave to a man as dross to the silver, but it
mingles not with the regenerate heart, nor that mingles with it, no
more than oil and water do, which though they touch they do not
mingle together.” There is much truth and deer acquaintance with
the human heart and the mystery of the divine life in these quaint
remarks, quoted from an old divine, which may instruct and com-fort
those of the “pure in heart” who are often cast down by the
working of indwelling sin.
If, then, trial is the believer’s pathway to heaven,—if the afflic-tive
dealings of our heavenly Father are designed to accelerate our
progress in that path,—if, in the words of Leighton, God never had
one son without suffering, and but one without sin,—if in sorrow
the Savior is endeared, and sin is embittered, and the world is loos-ened,
and the soul, chastened and purified, is matured for glory,—
if, in a word, this gloomy portal of tribulation through which I pass
terminates my night of weeping, and ushers me into a world where
I shall bask in the young beams of a morning of joy, sickle the golden
fruit of the seed which often in tears I now sow to the Spirit, lay
my weary, panting soul on the bosom of my Saviour, and weep and
sigh and sin no more forever—then welcome, thrice welcome, sor-row!
Welcome my Saviour’s yoke, His burden, His cross! Welcome
the discipline of the covenant, the seal of my sonship, the dealings
of my God! If this be the path to glory, this the evidence of adop-tion,
this the example my Saviour has left me, and this the help
heavenward which sanctified trial brings—the steps by which I
climb, the wings with which I mounts the door through which I
enter as a sinner pardoned through the blood and justified by the
righteousness of Christ—then, oh then, my Father, THY WILL,
Trial, A Help Heavenward 63
“Jesus, ’tis my aim divine,
Hence to have no will but Thine;
Let me covenant with Thee,
Thine for evermore to be:
This my prayer, and this alone,
Saviour, let Thy will be done!
“Thee to love, to live to Thee,
This my daily portion be;
Nothing to my Lord I give,
But from Him I first receive:
Lord, for me Thy blood was spilt
Lead me, guide me, as Thou wilt.
“All that is opposed to Thee,
Howsoever dear it be,
From my heart the idol tear,
Thou shalt have no rival there;
Only Thou shalt fill the throne:
Saviour, let Thy will be done.
“Wilt Thou, Lord, in me fulfil
All the pleasure of Thy will;
Thine in life, and Thine in death,
Thine in every fleeting breath,
Thou my hope and joy alone:
Saviour, let Thy will be done.”