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Posts Tagged ‘sanctified afflictions’

Suffering, Spiritual Growth, and the Biographies of Saints

November 13, 2020 4 comments

Over the last several years I’ve learned, through experience as well as study, the purpose of suffering in the Christian life, as well as the difference between afflictions sanctified and non-sanctified.  For it is not the affliction itself that causes growth, but the response to it, as a spiritual growth opportunity, a point brought out often in the “Gospel According to Habakkuk” series over the last few months. 

Another aspect of suffering, for Christians, is the relationship we have to our heavenly Father, the one who brings the trials into our lives–it is done with God’s loving care, measured, with a limit, and not to the end of wrath and punishment.  In reading Charles Spurgeon’s Faith’s Checkbook devotional, the reading for October 19 especially speaks to the measured chastisement, with this interesting observation:

As many as God tenderly loves He rebukes and chastens: those for whom He has no esteem He allows to fatten themselves without fear, like bullocks for the slaughter. It is in love that our heavenly Father uses the rod upon His children.

This truth is referenced often in the Psalms and in Hebrews 12:7-8, that we often observe the wicked and the ungodly having great prosperity without great trials or difficulties, while the godly are often regarded “as sheep to the slaughter” with many difficulties in this life.  It’s easy to see this in those who do not show any outward interest in Christianity, yet prosper.  But sometimes this even shows up in the lives of well-known “celebrity” Christians–wealth and success in life and in ministry, an easy going life of  common grace, without great trials or difficulties.  Yet, this may well be an indication that the “successful Christian” may actually be an “illegitimate son” exempt from the discipline that all God’s true children have participated in.  Certainly within a pastor’s ministry, before any hardship and subsequent spiritual growth, such a case shows a person who is unable to relate to and help others in need–and in a pastor, great insensitivity in any type of pastoral /  counseling ministry.  

Here I recall David Murray‘s testimony of early ministry years, when he had not yet had any great trials–and it showed in his lack of sympathy and inability to provide counseling to the members of his congregation.  In time, God did bring a great trial, through which he learned and changed to become far more effective in his ministry.  Charles Spurgeon found a similar positive effect from the great trials he went through during his early years as a pastor in London–the intense trials at first taking him by surprise, leading him to study the topic of suffering and why it was happening, and then later seeing the positive benefit to his ministry.

The negative examples, such as “celebrity” pastors in ministry for many decades without experiencing any great suffering – whether internal (such as mental depression) or significant external events of loss or failure — accordingly, give us pause to consider and discern for ourselves, if such people are really God’s children after all.  Unbroken success and wealth, without any significant suffering, reveals shallow characters that show great arrogance and lack of concern for the well-being of their sheep, the people in their congregation, and so they fit into Spurgeon’s description (above):  those for whom He has no esteem He allows to fatten themselves without fear, like bullocks for the slaughter.

Certainly Christians can be blessed with great wealth and success, yet we can observe the overall balance of their lives and their experiences.  Christian singer / songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman, for example, has been blessed of God with great financial success–yet such success was moderated by an extreme tragedy, that got his attention and brought about spiritual growth — and also proving the other part of Spurgeon’s observation:  As many as God tenderly loves He rebukes and chastens.

So, in our own lives, let us apply this teaching of scripture, this point brought out in many places such as the Spurgeon devotional.  Also, by continuing to draw near to God; and if we haven’t learned the lesson from previous afflictions, to let the current ones (or ones soon to come) tesach us, that these would become sanctified afflictions.

On Secondary Causes (and the First Cause)

October 9, 2018 5 comments

In our modern age at least some people tend to focus on the events that happen (as secondary causes) to the exclusion of the First Cause, the sovereignty of God.  Whereas the ancient pagans recognized that some type of deity lay behind unusual events, and the Puritans and Reformers saw God’s hand in everything, it is all too common in our age for people to look at an event from a naturalistic, “scientific” perspective without any regard to the God behind it all.

As I reflect on some unusual recent events in my own life and that of family, I first consider a great quote from a recently read Charles Spurgeon book —Life in Christ:  Lessons from Our Lord’s Miracles and Parables, volume 1:

When it rained, our good puritanical forefathers said that God had unstopped the bottles of heaven. When it rains today, we think the clouds have become heavy with moisture.  If the Puritans had cut a field of hay, they prayed to the Lord that He would command the sun to shine.  Perhaps we are too wise for our own good.  … These Puritans believed God was in every storm and in every cloud of dust.  They used to speak of a God who was present in everything, but we speak of such things as laws of nature, as if laws were ever anything if there wasn’t someone to carry them out and some secret power to set the whole machinery in motion.

A common response to anyone making a link between a tragic event and any moral issue, is to cite Luke 13:1-5, Jesus’ words, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Often times this is a valid enough point, especially in the face of a catastrophe involving numerous people in a certain geographic location.  Yet we all (believers) experience the chastening and discipline of the Lord, and unbelievers will experience suffering that includes temporal punishments in this life.  In 1 Corinthians 11 the apostle Paul described a situation in which the people at Corinth were experiencing sickness and even death as a result of their attitude regarding the Lord’s table.

The Bible actually supplies quite a few additional historical situations to expand on Paul’s application/example of this truth–and which also show that 1 Corinthians 11 is not an isolated and unique event.  As just a few examples I can think of:

  • Joseph’s brothers’ experience in Egypt (Genesis 42-44); they clearly linked their current misfortunes to their previous actions and guilt, their conscience disturbing them.
  • King Asa (2 Chronicles 16), an outward professed believer who in his last years turned away from the Lord, and was afflicted with diseased feet. As verse 12 notes, “Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians.”
  • Unbelieving wicked men:
    • 1) King Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 21):  an outwardly ungodly and wicked man who killed his brothers.  Verses 18-19 describe his demise, from the secondary cause of an incurable disease in his bowels.
    • 2) King Herod in Acts 12:23.  Because he did not give God the glory, he was eaten by worms and died.
  • The pagan new residents of Samaria in 2 Kings 17, some of whom were killed by lions. They recognized a “first cause” — quite apart from the modernist mindset that would instead setup a campaign to control the lion population — that the people did not “know the law of the god of the land.”

At root, this modernism / naturalism excludes the work of the Creator and the Sovereignty of that Creator God.  Yet, why is it that certain people, in certain times and places, are stricken with what we now describe as bacterial infections – and yet the diseases are apparently not contagious, as only the one person is afflicted with it?  The modernist here will focus only on the secondary cause: where could I have gotten this infection?  It had to come from somewhere, it didn’t just ‘drop out of the sky’.  When one points out the reality of God’s sovereignty and God’s sovereign purposes,  the response is, “that is how ignorant people think,” as though that dismisses any discussion of the First Cause behind something that happens to one person.

But if we would be wise, as the Puritans and godly believers of old, we should learn the proper attitude with respect to the First Cause, to learn what God has to say to us – to make our afflictions truly “sanctified afflictions.”  When an unusual providence occurs — as for instance a particular sin involving what we say with our mouth, followed shortly after by an unusual illness that affects the voice or the mouth — instead of focusing on the secondary cause (where did I get this illness from?), the “sanctified affliction” perspective recognizes what God has to say, and what we should learn from the chastening.  From the above linked article (“Evidences & Results of Sanctified Afflictions,” posted at Grace Gems), those who benefit from the affliction:

  • recognize the hand of God in it
  • acknowledge His DESIGN in their affliction
  • recognize the principle from which this event proceeds.
  • Have their sins brought to remembrance (Job 34:31-32)
  • Humbly submit to the will of God

From the many quotes available from Reformed teachers, regarding First and Second causes, here is an instructive one from Charles Spurgeon (sermon #2830):

Well, if you are a child of God, I invite you, first of all, to trace your burden back to God. “But it comes from the treachery of Ahithophel, or from the rebellion of Absalom!” I grant you that it does, but those are only the second causes, or the agents–trace the matter back to the Great First Cause. If you do that, you will come, by a mystery which I will not attempt to explain, to the hand of Divine Providence and you will say of every burden, “This, also, comes from the Lord.”

You have probably seen a dog, when he has been struck with a stick, turn round and bite the staff that struck him. If he were a wise dog, he would bite the man who held the stick that dealt the blow. When God uses His rod upon one of His children, even a godly man will sometimes snap at the rod. “But, Sir, surely you would not have me turn upon my God?” Oh, no! I know you will not do that, for you are His child. And when you see that God is holding the rod in His hand, you will cease to be rebellious and you will say, with the Psalmist, “‘I was dumb with silence.’ I was going to speak, but I opened not my mouth because I saw that it was in Your hand that the rod of chastisement was held.”