Monday, October 20, 2008

Suffering for the Good of Our Souls

By D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Romans 8:28–31 - And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that they might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

This is surely one of the most magnificent passages that is to be found in St. Paul's writings. As a piece of literature it is superb. As apologetic, as an eloquent and at the same time reasoned and logical statement of a case, it is masterly. And above all, there breathes through it a spirit of devout worship.

Listen to some of the terms that are used. ‘Foreknowledge,’ ‘predestination,’ ‘justification,’ ‘glorification’! The New Testament is primarily interested in the condition of our souls, not our bodies; its concern is with our spiritual welfare rather than with our material condition; and over and above and before it begins to consider our relationship with men and what they may do to us, it stresses the all–importance of a right relationship to God. The result is that it seems to ride very loosely to this present life and to this present world; and, face to face with the worst conditions conceivable, it can boldly say, ‘The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.’

The ways in which this promise works out are almost endless; but the principle which is common to them all is that there is but one ultimate good—the knowledge of God and the salvation of our souls. Holding that in mind, we see that trials and tribulations, difficulties and distresses, work out in the following ways:

(a) They awaken us to the fact of our overdependence on earthly and human things. Quite unconsciously oftentimes, we become affected by our surroundings, and our lives become less and less dependent upon God, and our interests become more and more worldly. The denial of earthly and human comforts and joys often awakens us to the realisation of this in a way that nothing else can do.

(b) They also remind us of the fleeting nature of our life here on earth. How easy it is to ‘settle down’ in life in this world, and to live on the assumption that we are here forever. We all tend to do so to such an extent that we forget ‘the glories which shall be revealed’ and which, as we have shown, should be the frequent theme of our meditation. Anything which disturbs our sloth and reminds us that we are but pilgrims here, therefore, stimulates us to ‘set our affections on things above.’

(c) In the same way, great crises in life show us our weakness, helplessness, and lack of power. St. Paul illustrates that in this very chapter in the matter of prayer. ‘We know not what we should pray for as we ought.’ In a time of peace and of ease we think that we can pray, that we know how to pray. We are assured and confident, and we feel that we are living the religious life as it should be lived. But when trials come, they reveal to us how weak and how helpless we are.

(d) That, in turn, drives us to God and makes us realize more than ever before our utter dependence upon Him. This is the experience of all Christians. In our folly we imagine that we can live in our own strength and by our own power, and our prayers are often formal. But troubles make us fly to God and cause us to wait upon Him. God says of Israel through Hosea, ‘In their affliction they will seek me early.’ How true that is of all of us. To seek God is always good, and afflictions drive us to do so.

(e) But all this is mainly from our side. Looking at it from the other side, we can say that there is no school in which Christians have learned so much of the loving, tender care of God for His own as the school of affliction. While all is well with us, in our self–satisfaction and self–contentment, we shut God out of our lives; we do not allow Him to reveal to us His solicitude for us even in the details of our lives. It is only when we are so troubled that ‘we know not what we should pray for as we ought’ that we begin to realise that ‘the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.’ And it is to those who were in the depths that the sense of the presence of God has been most real and the realisation of His sustaining power most definite.

This is but the re–echo of St. Paul's reaction to the verdict: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness,’ which led him to say, ‘Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong’ (2Corinthians 12:9-10). Is that our experience? If we but ‘love God’ and submit ourselves to Him, it most certainly will be; for I would remind you that ‘all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’

Praise God for the furnace of affliction that He uses in our lives to conform us to the image of His Son! May we ever submit to these afflictions, trials and sufferings and always understand "that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are the CALLED according to his purposes".

Bro Pat