by William Gurnall
"The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us!" Romans 8:18.
Suffering for Christ. "Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him — but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29). All the abilities and common gifts that a man has, will never enable him to drink deep of this bitter cup for Christ; such is the pride of man's heart, he had rather suffer any way than this; rather from himself, and for himself, than from Christ, or for Christ.
You would wonder to see sometimes how much a child will endure at his play, and never cry for it: this fall, and that knock, and no great matter is made of it by him, because got in a way that is pleasing to him; but let his father whip him, though it put him not to half the smart — yet he so roars and carries on, that there is no quieting of him.
Most men are more tender of their skin, than of their conscience; and had rather the gospel had provided armor to defend their bodies from death and danger, than their souls from sin and Satan.
All the pieces of armor are to defend the Christian from sin: none are to secure him from suffering. Here is the true reason why so few come at the beat of Christ's drum to His standard, and so many of those few that have enlisted themselves by an external profession under Him, within a while drop away, and leave His colors — it is suffering work they are sick of.
Sufferings for the gospel are no matter of shame. Paul does not blush to tell, that it is for the gospel he is in bonds. The shame belonged to those who put on the chain — not to him that wore it. "If any man suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed — but let him glorify God on this behalf" (1 Peter 4:16). The apostles rejoiced that "they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41). Shall the wicked glory in their shame — and you be ashamed of your glory?
Heaven is but little worth, if you have not a heart to despise a little shame, and bear a few taunts from profane Ishmaels for your hopes of it. Let them spit on your face — Christ will wipe it off; let them laugh — you will win glory in the end.
Fear not what you can suffer, only be careful for what you suffer. Christ's cross is made of sweet wood; there are comforts peculiar to those who suffer for righteousness. The true cause of Paul's sufferings was his zeal for God and His truth; "For which I am in bonds." That is, for the gospel which I profess and preach: as that martyr, who being asked how he came to prison, showed his Bible, and said, "This brought me hither." Persecutors may pretend what they please — but it is the saint's religion and piety that their spite is at.
Blessing through suffering. Persecution does but mow the church, which afterward comes up the thicker for it; it is unholiness which ruins the church. Persecutors do but plough God's field for Him, while He is sowing it with the blood that they let out. Few are made better by prosperity, whom afflictions make worse. He who will sin, though he goes in pain, will much more if the pain is gone.
Prepared for suffering. The proverb is, He who would learn to pray — let him go to sea; but I think it were better thus, He who would go to sea (this I mean of suffering) let him learn to pray before he comes there.
Christian, suffering may overtake you suddenly; therefore be ready shod. Sometimes orders come to soldiers for a sudden march; they must be gone as soon as the drum beats. And so may you be called out, before you are aware, to suffer for God or from God.
Abraham had little time given him to deal with his heart, and persuade it into a compliance with God, for offering his son Isaac; a great trial and short warning: "Take now your son, your only son Isaac" (Genesis 22:2). Not a year, a month, a week hence — but now! This was in the night, and Abraham is gone early in the morning. How could you, in your perfect strength and health, endure to hear the message of death, if God should, before any lingering sickness has brought you into some acquaintance with death, say no more, but, "Up and die!" as once to Moses? Are you shod for such a journey? Could you say, "Good is the word of the Lord"?
"The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle" (Psalm 78:9). Why? What is the matter? So well armed, and yet so cowardly? This seems strange: read the preceding verse, and you will cease wondering; they are called there, "a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God."
Be sure you give up your lust to the sword of the Spirit — before your life is in danger from the sword of the persecutor. Can you be willing to lay down your life for Christ — and yet keep an enemy in your bosom out of the hand of justice, that seeks to take away the life of Christ? Persecutors tempt — as well as torture. It is possible for one to die in the cause of Christ, and not be His martyr. Your heart must be holy which you suffer with, as well as the cause you suffer for. He alone is Christ's martyr, who suffers for Christ. "If, when you do well, and suffer for it, you take it patiently, this is acceptable with God; for even hereunto were you called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps. Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not" (1 Peter 2:20-23).
This is hard work indeed, in the very fire to keep the spirits cool, and clear of anger and revenge. But it makes him who by grace can do it, a glorious conqueror. Flesh and blood would bid a man call fire from Heaven, rather than mercy to fall upon those who so cruelly handle him. He who can forgive his enemy, is too hard for him, and has the better of him; because his enemy's blows do not bruise his flesh — but the wounds that love gives, pierce the conscience.
Many who never could be beaten from the truth by dint of argument, have been forced from it by fire of persecution. It is not an orthodox judgment which will enable a man to suffer for the truth at the stake.
Fellowship in sufferings. This would speak grace high in its exercise, when a person is himself swimming in the abundance of all enjoyments — and can then lay aside his own joy to weep and mourn for and with any afflicted saints. It is not usual for any but those of great grace to feel the cords of the church's afflictions through a bed of down; it must be a David who can prefer Jerusalem above his chief joy. On the other hand, when in the depths of our own personal troubles, we can yet reserve a large space in our prayers for other saints — bespeaks a great measure of grace. When in our distresses we can entertain the tidings of any other saint's mercies with joy and thankfulness; this requires great grace. The prosperity of others too often breeds envy in those who are poor; if, therefore, you can praise God for mercies granted to others, while the tears stand in your eyes for your own miseries — this is what flesh and blood never taught you.
"Fear not those who kill the body — but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell" (Matthew 10:28). Children are afraid of bugbears which cannot hurt them — but they can play with fire that will burn them. It is no less childish is it to be frightened into a sin at the frown of a man, who has no power to hurt us more than our own fear gives him; and to play with hell-fire into which God is able to cast us forever.
What was John Huss the worse for his fool's cap that his enemies put on his head — so long as under it he had a helmet of salvation, which they could not take off? Or how much the nearer Hell was the same blessed martyr, for their committing his soul to the devil? No nearer than some of their own are to Heaven, for being sainted in the Pope's Calendar.
Sustained in suffering. None find such quick despatch at the throne of grace, as suffering saints. "In the day when I cried," says David, "you answered me, and strengthened me with strength in my soul" (Psalm 138:3). Peter knocked at the door of those who were assembled to seek God for him — almost as soon as their prayer knocked at Heaven's gate in his behalf. There is ever a door more than the Christian sees in his prison, by which Christ can with a turn of His hand open a way for His saint's escape.
Man may, the devil to be sure will, leave all in the lurch that do his work. But if God sets you on, He will bring you off; never fear a "what are you doing?" from His lips, when your faithfulness to Him has brought you into the briers. Only be not troubled if you are cast overboard, like Jonah, before you see the provision which God makes for your safety: it is ever at hand — but sometimes out of sight, like Jonah's whale, sent of God to ferry him ashore under water, and the prophet in his belly, before he knew where he was. That which you think comes to devour you — may be the messenger that God sends to bring you safe to land.
The Egyptians thought they had Israel in a trap, when they saw them by the seaside. When they are out of danger, behold they are in a wilderness, where nothing is to be had for back or belly — and yet here they shall live forty years, without trade or tillage, without begging or robbing of any of the neighbor nations; they shall not be indebted to them for a penny in their way. What cannot almighty power do to provide for His people.
"The Lord is my portion, says my soul; therefore I will hope in Him" (Lam. 3:24). Have you not chosen Him for your portion? Do you not look for a Heaven to enjoy Him in forever? And can any dungeon of outward affliction be so dark, that this hope will not enlighten? He who has laid up a portion in Heaven for you, will lay out surely all the expenses you need in your way there.
Remember how often God has confuted your fears, and proved your unbelief to be a false prophet. Has He not knocked at your door with inward comfort and outward deliverance, when you had put out the candle of hope, given over looking for Him, and been ready to lay yourself down on the bed of despair? Were you never at so sad a pass, the storm of your fears so great that the anchor of hope even came home, and left you to feed with misgiving and despairing thoughts, as if now your everlasting night were come, and no morning supply expected by you? Yet even then, your God proved them all liars, by an unlooked-for surprise of mercy, with which He stole sweetly in upon you.
Suffering and glory. There are few who are greedy hunters after the world's enjoyments, that do drive their worldly trade without running in debt to their consciences. And I am sure he buys gold too dear, who pays the peace of his conscience for the purchase. But Heaven is had cheap, though it be with the loss of all our carnal interests, even life itself.
"Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" (Luke 24:26). And truly the saints' way to salvation lies in the same road (Romans 8:17): "If so be that we suffer with Him — that we may be also glorified together," only with this advantage, that His going before has beaten it plain, so that now it may be forded, which but for Him had been utterly impassable to us.
O comfort one another, Christians, with this: though your life is filled with troubles — yet it is short; a few steps — and you are out of the rain. There is a great difference between a saint, in regard of the evils he meets with, and the wicked; as two travelers riding contrary ways, both taken in the rain and wet — but one rides from the rain, and so is soon out of the shower; but the other rides into the rainy corner, the further he goes the worse he is. The saint meets with trouble as well as the wicked — but he is soon out of the shower; but as for the wicked, the further he goes, the worse: what he meets with here is but a few drops — the great storm of God's wrath is to come!
When the Christian's affairs are most disconsolate, he may soon meet with a happy change. The joy of that blessed day comes "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye . . . we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:52). In one moment sick and sad — in the next well and glad, never to know more what groans and tears mean. Now clad with the rags of mortal flesh, made miserable with a thousand troubles that attend it — in the twinkling of an eye arrayed with the robes of immortality, enriched with a thousand times more glory than the sun itself wears in that garment of light which now dazzles our eyes. Who can wonder to see a saint cheerful in his afflictions — who knows what good news he expects to hear from Heaven, and how soon he knows not?
The saints' hope is laid up in Heaven — and yet it heals all the wounds which they receive on earth. If Christ sends his disciples to sea, He means to be with them when they most need His company. "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you!" (Isaiah 43:2).
From The Christian in Complete Armour by William Gurnall