TRIAL, A Help Heavenward
From Octavius Winslow's book, 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 development 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 purified 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 seems joyous but grievous;" but nevertheless it "bears a precious jewel in its head"—for "afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto those who 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 heavenward, gazing closely and steadily upon the glorious Sun of righteousness.
Chastening is a seal to our sonship,
sorrow disciplines the heart,
affliction propels the soul onward.
We would 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 afflictive, trying dispensations of the believer are covenant dispensations—that they are not of the same character nor do they produce the same results as in the ungodly. Afflictions are among the "sure mercies of David." In the case of the unregenerate, all afflictions 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 healing 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 to be 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 would have tribulation," and that it was "through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God."
Here may be seen 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 follow 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 is, 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 sanctified 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 impetus trial gives to the soul heavenward—the friendly hand it outstretches to assist the Christian pilgrim to his shrine, the traveler to his journey's end, the child to his Father's house.
Our first remark, then, with regard to trial is, that it is a time of spiritual instruction, and so a help heavenward. It is not blindly but intelligently, that we walk in the ways of the Lord, and are traveling home to God. Great stress is laid by the Holy Spirit in the writings of the apostle upon the believer's advance in spiritual knowledge.
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 Him; and 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. In affliction, we grow in a knowledge of ourselves, learning more of our superficial attainments, 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 turning up its veiled 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 Savior'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 human 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 sin-atoning blood,
our condemnation must bring us to His righteousness,
our corruptions must bring us to His grace,
our needs 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 knowledge 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 revelation to us.
Oh yes, times of trial are times of growth in experimental knowledge. We see God and Jesus and truth from new standpoints, and in a different light; and we thank the Lord for the storm which dispelled the mist which hid all this glory, unveiling 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 experience 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,
and have penetrated deeper into the heart of God,
and 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 You chasten, O Lord; and teach out of Your law."
Oh yes, in severe trials we learn more of . . .
God's power to support us,
His wisdom to guide us,
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 heavenward. 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 communion with God. 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 creature, and even the saints; and are closeted in personal, solemn, and confiding audience with God—what words can portray the preciousness and solemnity of that hour! Then is . . .
and backslidings deplored,
and care, unburdened,
and sorrow unveiled,
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 support.
But as 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 for the accomplishment of this one end—that we might be stirred up to take hold of Him. "Lord, in trouble have they visited you, they poured out a prayer when your chastening was upon them."
To whom in sorrow do we turn,
to whom in difficulty do we repair,
to whom in need 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 from God—now that affliction 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 fitness 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 pressure, your sorrow, your sin be what it may—that moment your heart has left earth and is on its way heavenward! You are soaring 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, and by stirring us up to closeness of walk.
Child of God! Do you desire 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 invincible armor, is in possession of a force which Omnipotence cannot resist, for he has "power with God and prevails."
Oh, turn your difficulty into prayer,
turn your sorrow into prayer,
turn your need 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 You for the sacred privilege of prayer;
we thank You for the mercy-seat, sprinkled with Your blood, the place of prayer;
we thank You for Jesus' precious name, our only plea in prayer;
we thank You for the divine grace of prayer;
and not less, Lord, do we praise You for the trial, the suffering, the sorrow—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 such a 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 honors are a snare,
its enterprises are a snare,
the very duties and engagements of daily life are a snare
—to a soul whose citizenship is in Heaven, and whose heart would gladly be more frequently and exclusively where Jesus, its treasure is.
Oh, how the things that are seen, veil the things that are unseen! 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 realities with their profound solemnity,
and communion with God in Christ, so soothing and precious
—are objects so dim and superficial; just because are minds are so earthy, and live at so great a distance from God, and allow the influence of the world such a supreme and absorbing an ascendancy over us?
But God in wisdom and mercy sends us trial . . .
to detach us from earth,
to lessen our worldly-mindedness,
to more deeply to convince us how empty and insufficient is all created good,
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 refiner," (Proverbs 25:4.) "I will turn my hand upon you, and purely purge away your dross, and take away all your sin," (Isaiah 1:25.)
Oh, when the heart is chastened and subdued by sorrow,
when the soul is smitten and humbled by adversity,
when death bereaves,
when sickness invades,
when resources narrow,
when calamity in one of its many crushing forms lights heavily upon us
—then how solemn, earnest, and distinct is the voice of our ascended Redeemer, "If you are 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 resurrection-life, you are partakers of its holy, quickening power, and its heaven-bestowing blessings. Soon to be with Me in glory, let your heart travel thitherward, and in its loosenings from earth, its divorcements from the creature—cultivate the mind of my holy apostle, who desired to depart and be with me."
Oh may our hearts may respond to this touching appeal, "Lord, whom have I in Heaven but You? There is none upon earth that I desire beside You. You have stricken and wounded and laid me low—but You will comfort, heal, and raise me up again. Righteous are You, O Lord, when I plead with You—yet let me talk with You of Your judgments. Let this trial . . .
detach me from the world,
wean me from my idols,
fasten my heart to You, 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 Spirit, and then the Word becomes more fruitful, 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 I keep your word. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn your statutes."
Thus, afflictions 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 would with difficulty remain the path to Heaven. If there is 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 does sickness or other afflictions humble and restrain 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 your word.' Many thousand rescued sinners may cry:
"O healthful sickness!
O comfortable sorrow!
O gainful losses!
O enriching poverty!
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 has easier entrance."
The moral purity of heart which chastened trial producesmust have a distinct and prominent place in this enumeration of helps heavenward. Holiness, as it is an essential element of Heaven, becomes an essential element in our spiritual fitness for its enjoyment. The inspired declaration is as solemn as it is emphatic, "Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." The beautiful beatitude of our Savior 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 importance 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 disenthrallment from, the power of indwelling sin—who feel its existence, mourn its power, loathe its taint, and pray and strive for holiness.
Only 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 Savior would not strive after more of that purity of heart, clad in which, and through whose medium—we shall behold God forever, 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 submissive, humble, and obedient. Resignation to the Divine will secures the end God intends to accomplish—our personal and deeper holiness. 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 dispensations we shall learn the sweetest lessons of His love.
Such, then, may be denominated "the pure in heart." Perfect freedom from sin, the entire extermination of indwelling evil, root and branch—is not the idea which our Lord here inculcates. This can only be affirmed of Christ Himself, of unfallen angels, and of the spirits of just men made perfect. Therefore, let no dear child of God, desiring 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.
There may be true purity, encircled by indwelling impurity.
There may be an intense thirst, an ardent prayerfulness for sanctification, 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 discovers to us more and more of the indwelling and evil of sin, unveils 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 sin-atoning 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!"
"A thing is said to be pure though it may have some dross cleaving to it—as is pure gold when it is dug out of the mine, though there be much dross in it. We say that the air is pure, though for a time there be fogs and mists within it. We say that water is pure, though there is some mud at the bottom. In the same way, a man may be said to have a pure heart, though there is 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 arises—yet still it purifies itself. Contrarily in men of impure hearts, the scum arises, but it seethes not. "She has grown weary with lies, and her great scum has not gone from her." (Ezekiel 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 disposition, which casts out whatever evil comes, though it is constantly rising; though it be many times mixed—he still washes himself again; he cannot endure it; he does not, as the sinner, delight in it. 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 comfort 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 afflictive dealings of our heavenly Father are designed to accelerate our progress in that path,
if "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 loosened in the affections,
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,
ushers me into a world where I shall bask in the beams of eternal joy,
reap the golden fruit of the seed which I now sow often in tears,
lay my weary, panting soul on the bosom of my Savior,
and weep and sigh and sin no more forever
—then welcome, thrice welcome, sorrow!
Welcome my Savior's yoke, His burden, His cross!
Welcome the discipline of the covenant, the seal of my sonship, the afflictive dealings of my God!
If this is the path to glory,
if this is the evidence of adoption,
if this is the example my Savior has left me,
if this is the help heavenward which sanctified trial brings
if afflictions are the 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, may Your will, not mine, be done!
"Jesus, 'tis my aim divine,
Hence to have no will but Thine;
Let me covenant with Thee,
Yours for evermore to be,
This my prayer, and this alone,
Savior, let Your will be done!
"You 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 Your blood was spilt
Lead me, guide me, as You wilt.
"All that is opposed to Thee,
However dear it be,
From my heart the idol tear,
You shall have no rival there;
Only You shall fill the throne,
Savior, let Your will be done!
"Will You, Lord, in me fulfill
All the pleasure of Your will;
Yours in life, and Yours in death,
Yours in every fleeting breath,
You my hope and joy alone,
Savior, let Your will be done."