SECOND LETTER TO THE ELECT OF GOD IN A TIME OF TROUBLE
THE BENEFITS OF TROUBLE
Your names are “written in heaven,” though no man knows them; and they will be revealed in the day of the opening of the book of God’s remembrance, even though you yourselves may have lost them in the forgetfulness of the grave. You are precious to God in life as in death, though to man you may be as the offscouring of all things; and in all your chequered paths, and clouded states, and storm-tossed experiences, the Lord is nigh you (though he seem far distant), with grace, and mercy and peace through him who loved us and laid down his life for us, and who ever liveth to make intercession for us.
DO NOT ALLOW TROUBLE TO OVERWHELM YOU
I have thought to write a second letter to you because of the continued prevalence of trouble. We live in a time of trouble-trouble without, trouble within-trouble in the world at large, trouble at home-trouble in politics, trouble in business-trouble between nations, trouble among the peoples-trouble among those who know not God, and trouble among those who have named the name of Christ in the obedience of the original apostolic gospel recovered in our days from the smothering accumulations of ecclesiastical traditions that had gathered over it.
Be not downcast at the prevalence of trouble. Remember the words of Christ:
“Behold, I have told you before.”
This he said both concerning the troubles that were to mark the close of the Apostolic and Gentile ages: and in general, as concerning the inevitable experience of his friends in the present evil world. And his object in telling it beforehand was that his friends might have consolation in the trouble. He plainly says,
“Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid:”
“In me, ye shall have peace:”
“In your patience possess ye your souls.”
It is true that trouble is trouble however we may take it. At the same time it is robbed of its power to destroy if we recognise that it is inevitable-that it is appointed-and further that it has a purpose to serve. God can give peace or trouble without showing His hand. The ways of His providence exhibited to us in the Scriptures of truth (and nowhere else) show us this plainly. It is God that is in the troubles that are abroad. He troubles the world because they have corrupted His way in all the earth, and have cast Him behind their backs, and own Him not in any way, although the earth is His and all that it contains. The hour of His judgment is at the door, when there shall be a time of trouble such as never was; and it is His pleasure to prepare for the visible advent of that hour by a gradual harassment of human affairs such as we have seen for years past.
THE RIGHT WAY TO VIEW TROUBLE
He troubles His people that they may be helped to take to heart thoroughly what they know concerning the vanity of all present things and the enduring nature alone of the things related to His purpose in Christ. We are so prone to cling to present things: we are so liable to forget the wide-sweeping and eternal reality of His mighty ways that we need a little help. There is nothing helps like trouble. This is the testimony of universal experience. Even the Psalmist says,
“Before I was afflicted, I went astray: but now I have kept thy word.”
Trouble need not, and will not, and can not, cease to be trouble: for then it would miss its effect. But there are different ways of taking it, and it is to suggest the right way of taking it that I, your fellow-sufferer, write these things. It can be taken with no resignation and no comfort. It needs not to be said that this is not the right way. This is a way that leads only to evil. I have seen many walk in this way. They are not sufficiently enlightened to know that trouble can have a mission. You are to them as one that mocks if you suggest that a purpose is in it. They cannot see such a thing and they have no faith in it, and they refuse to be resigned or comforted. They feel only as a creature feels that is whipped. They smart under the pain and whine.
The danger of such a state of mind lies in the steps to which it will incline the person who is the subject of it. Never having in reality accepted the divine teaching that “whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth,” he fails to be reasonably exercised by the chastening when it comes, and in the words of Christ, “is offended,” or stumbles, and driven by it to be discouraged in all divine directions. He loses his interest in the truth: he ceases to find any pleasure in the duties associated with it: he returns to ways he had abandoned, and seeks to soothe the asperities of his sin-stricken state of existence in the exercises, occupations and pursuits of the old man, in pleasure, business or worldly association. Paul had to write of such a one at last-
“Demas hath forsaken me, having loved the present world.”
The right way is known to you all; for my words are to those whom the Lamb shall at last lead to living fountains of waters, and wipe away all tears from their eyes. Those are “obedient children,” who have learnt the spirit’s wisdom at the mouth of the Apostles, when they say-
“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God:”
“Faint not when thou art rebuked of Him:”
“Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you as though some strange thing had happened unto you,” “for hereunto were ye called:”
“Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing.”
The right way is not to kick at trouble, or resent it, or be discouraged by it, but to take it patiently-to look at it, and into it, so as to divine the meaning of it, and mix comfort with it. God is “a very present help in trouble” to all, who like David, “set God always before their face.”
Paul calls Him “the God of all comfort,” and adds-
“He comforteth us in all our tribulations that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble by the comfort wherewith we, ourselves, are comforted of God.”
This comfort we get by the exercise of our minds. God tells us not to be “like the horse or the mule which have no understanding.” Trouble (Paul says) “yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them who are exercised thereby.” Hence, we must reason, or exercise our minds upon, all our troubles, in order to get the comfort. By this, we do get it.
THE INEVITABILITY OF TROUBLE
We say to ourselves, first of all, “it has pleased God to appoint that we must, through much tribulation, enter the kingdom of God.” The form of this tribulation is not uniform. It is not the same in any two contemporary cases, and it has not been the same in any two centuries. But, in one form or other, tribulation has been the lot of all God’s children ever since He began to call men to His kingdom and glory.
In the first century, it was often rough usage at the hands of the people or the authorities: the loss of property, of liberty, sometimes, of life. In our day, it cannot be these, at least, not in the open direct manner of the early centuries. We live in a day when the purpose of God required, and has brought about, liberty of conscience as the law of the public life, and when, consequently, we can profess and serve the truth without molestation, and, in many cases, without disadvantage.
Having lost this mode of partaking of the sufferings of Christ, shall we, therefore, be without tribulation? What does Paul say-that-
(the children) are partakers, then we are bastards, and not sons.”
“If we are without chastisement, whereof all
The absence of persecution will predispose every true believer to expect trouble in some other form-not only to expect it, but, in a sense, to desire it, and, in a sense, to rejoice in it when it comes; for it has a work to work in every true saint. On this ground Paul said,
“And not only (do we rejoice in hope of the glory of God), but we glory in tribulation also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience,
The work to be accomplished by trouble is a delicate mental result, not at all appreciable to the natural thinker, however deep or polished, but of great value to the individual and very precious in the sight of God-“in the sight of God of great price, a meek and quiet spirit.” It is to produce this result that He in love corrects and afflicts His children, “not willingly” so far as their pain is concerned, but quite willingly so far as the effect is concerned.
“He chastens us . . . for our profit, THAT WE MAY BE PARTAKERS OF HIS HOLINESS”
If we consider what this holiness means, and how trouble acts in its development, we will be “comforted in all our tribulations that we endure.”
How natural it is for us to stagnate in spiritual things. How inevitably the mind of man, when let alone, seems to settle into self-consciousness and self-service only, and to become insensible to the existence and purposes and claims of God: how indisposed to self-sacrifice; how liable to live for this life; how unfitted to live as men called to the fellowship of God and of Christ; how incapable of seeing and feeling that we are nothing but shadows fleeting across the surface of the troubled waters, and that God only is the eternal enduring reality, working all things after the counsel of His own will, and requiring of us a constant hearty worship, and a steady unfaltering obedience to all His beautiful commandments.
WHAT TROUBLE IS DESIGNED TO PRODUCE
Now what is it that wakes up the heart from this spiritual lethargy? What makes men in earnest about life, in love with God and Christ, in sympathy with the Father’s glorious plan revealed in the covenants? Is it worldly prosperity? Is it “good company”? Is it honour among men? Is it indulgence in pleasure? Is it the reading of novels? Is it steeping the senses in strong drink or the fumes of the narcotic weed? Is it even Scripture polemics such as some people love to indulge in, or the endless, resultless, investigating word-strife, which men are prone to dignify by high-sounding descriptions, but which are far more accurately defined in Paul’s well-known pithy words, wherein he alleges of certain things that they are “of no profit,” but “subverting” to “the hearers?”-No: there is but one answer to all these questions. Godliness is not found in the state of mind fostered by any or all of these influences. Godliness comes from trouble where the knowledge of God exists for the trouble to act on. There is nothing like trouble for clearing the spiritual eye. There is nothing like trouble for weakening all carnal affinities, and leading the mind to seek God, and to rest on His Word, and to build on His promises. -Nothing like trouble for helping us to see the emptiness of this life at its best, and the enduring reality and glory of that which is to come.
Beloved of God, you must often have experienced the truth of this. Is it not, then, a great comfort, in the midst of the trouble to know that it is for good, and not for evil that trouble is sent. The trouble of the present hour is great. The world’s sky is all overhung with heavy clouds that refuse to disperse; and the ecclesial sky is of a corresponding sombreness. Who shall say the trouble was not needed? The Lord is at the door, and many have taken upon them the profession of His name, and a place among those who wait for him from heaven, without an apostolic appreciation of the position.
WHY THE ECCLESIAS ARE TROUBLED
What has been the state of the community for time past? Has not a film been creeping over the spiritual eye-sight? Has not mere sociability been taking the place of earnest fellowship? Has not a secularising tendency been slowly asserting itself and getting the upper hand of the new man in the ecclesias? Have not some begun to tire of Bible reading? Has there not been a going back to the false tastes and false standards of the merely intellectual world from which we had been emancipated? Has not style been taking the place of truth, and literary taste supplanting the robust spiritual appetite that finds edification in stern facts rather than pleasing fancies? Has there not been more punctiliousness about the modes of doing the work than earnest concern to see that it is done, and thankful joy at its accomplishment by whatever means?
These things cannot be gainsaid where there is any spiritual power to discern the situation. Therefore God has permitted a great trial to come upon us. But, beloved, be of good cheer. It is not for destruction: it is for edification. God would have his people ready to receive His Son. When the cloud and the trouble have passed, every true son and daughter will find themselves more prepared as the result of it, hearts more humble; love more strong; minds more clear; purpose more earnest; spirit more holy; determination more resolute; to count all things as nothing, that we may win Christ by a more devoted service to his name, forgetting the things that are behind and pressing forward to those things that lie ahead.
What great comfort God has given us in the events that are causing the ears of all men to tingle. England had Egypt put upon her hands nearly three years ago. Ever since then she has been striving in vain to release herself from the complication. First one thing, then another, has stopped her backing-out movements. Meanwhile, the European despotisms (commanding among them millions of armed men, and desiring a pretext to divide Turkey among them), have been urging England to accept the Egyptian position, and annex the country. “No,” England persisted in saying: “Give me my Gordon, and I will go and leave Egypt to the Egyptians.” And she was trying to get her Gordon, and had just laid her hand on him, when, lo, God snatches him from her grasp by the hand of a barbarian impostor; and insults her honour in the eyes of the world by repelling her messengers from Khartoum, and compelling them to flee down the Nile ignominiously before a storm of shells and bullets. And now the British nation is roused to a desperateness of resolve that Mr. Gladstone is powerless to restrain. At whatever cost of men or money, Britain determines on a new and supreme effort to break the power of the Mahdi-an effort that all men see commits her to the course desired by the European Powers, and ties her hands in such a way as to liberate them to do their will in the solution of the Eastern Question.
A SOURCE OF COMFORT IN TROUBLE
What is it that leads us to regard as comforting, a situation like this, which fills the world with fear and trembling? You know the answer. God has made known, for the comfort of His servants, during the prevalence of darkness upon the earth, what should come to pass among men, in so far as it bears upon His purpose. He has done this “at sundry times and in divers manners.” The most notable “time” was A.D. 96, or thereabouts, and when, in the most striking “manner,” a symbolic vision was shown to John in Patmos, for communication to the brethren of Christ, “that they might know the things that were shortly to come to pass,” and know the blessedness of “hearing the words of this prophecy” in the discernment it would impart to them of the hand of God in the affairs of the nations of the earth.
By means of this vision, light has been shed on all the dark chaos that has filled up the interval since Christ’s departure from the summit of the Mount of Olives. The light has not been discerned by many. Divine light never has been seen by the multitude. God’s own appointment is that “none of the wicked shall understand,” and the earth is filled with the wicked-as divinely estimated. But it has been discerned, more or less clearly, by a few, in all the intervening ages, since it was given.
In our own age, it has been caused to shine out with even piercing brightness. In Dr. Thomas, God gave us a man by whom the vision has become plain and luminous. By his aid, we have been able to see, with this result that, without his further aid, we can read the Apocalypse with unspeakable comfort and light. That is, the light we have received, is not artificial light. It does not depend upon Dr. Thomas’s dictum, or Dr. Thomas’s ingenuity, as in the case of empirical theories and systems that men have broached. It is light that belongs to the subject itself, and which we can see and apply for ourselves long after he has gone to his grave; and without any further reading of his wonderful Eureka, though that is always a luxury.
By the light of this priceless vision which “God gave unto Jesus Christ . . that his servants might know,” we are able to look back upon the panorama of European history, and identify the various prophetic scenes shown to John in Patmos. We are able to trace the progress down to our own day, and to discern where we ourselves stand in the divine programme in the midst of the turmoils of our own troubled day.
The result has been to enable us to anticipate the occurrence of a number of things that have really happened, and in the order in which they have transpired; and the further result is to give us assurance of the nearness of the coming of the Lord. Nothing plants this assurance so firmly in the heart as a general grasp of the Apocalyptic visions. The assurance so derived is independent of chronological considerations and calculations of the character recently discussed under the enquiry, “Why the delay?” These considerations strengthen it, but they are not vital to it with the Apocalypse in hand. Here the whole matter is pictorially exhibited in panoramic sequence by which we can see where we are without reference to chronological problems. Historically speaking, we have seen the whole picture pass before our eyes up to a certain point, and that point is the present time, and the thing that ought to be happening at the present time is happening.
The Apocalypse itself may be likened to a programme which God has put into our hands; and the European habitable to a stage or platform on which certain things are to be shown having reference to His purpose on earth. The programme has been faithfully carried out for 1,800 years, and we now see what ought to be on the stage at the present moment according to the programme. We see an exhausted Turkish empire at the collapsing point, and militant nations having been brought into their present armed state and temper through the operations of the Franco-frog diplomacy on the three leading centres of the Roman-European system as foreshown in chapter 16:12-14. We see the way preparing for the coming new order of kings whose land has been desolated by the Euphratean Ottoman. This has been the situation for years past, and now we see in Egypt one of those sharp wrenches of Providence that have power to lead a prepared situation into new developments.
A new turning point has, in fact, been reached, at which there is scarcely anything we may not shortly see in the way of the completion of the political programme on which our eyes have been fixed with earnest solicitude for over thirty years past. If the Turkish empire disappear, which is now almost the daily expectation of politicians, the Holy Land will be liberated from the only obstacle that restrains the full development of impending Jewish restoration under English protection; and there is nothing then between us and the precious parenthesis of verse 15, “Behold I come as a thief”-followed by the convulsions of the seventh vial, when “a great voice out of the temple of heaven from the throne,” proclaims “it is done” and lets loose “voices and thunders and lightnings,” and “a great earthquake such as was not since there were men upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake and so great”-commotions which end in the subversion of the existing order of things upon the earth and the setting up of the kingdom of God.
It is not possible to have greater comfort than this prospect affords: and it is not possible to have greater kindness shown to us from God than any outbreak of trouble that has the effect of waking up our dormant minds, and emancipating us from the bondage into which the present in its endless varieties of natural affinity, is so liable to bring us. Such an outbreak is far from agreeable, and in some senses far from profitable; but God, who knows our distemper, knows the remedy, and crowns His wisdom with His kindness in applying it in His own time and in His own way.
Ever praying you may be all supported in all the trials you may be called upon to endure, and may come forth from them all, more than conquerors, in the presence of the glorious Lord Jesus in the hastening day of his appearing, I write myself once more, with the true love that belongs only to the bonds of true fellowship in Christ.
Your companion in tribulation and patience and hope.
10th February 1885 Robert Roberts
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