LETTER TO THE ELECT OF GOD IN THIRD A TIME OF TROUBLE
THE LIMITATIONS OF TROUBLE
Again, greeting in the Lord. You will not always be in trouble: It will last only so long as may be necessary for the accomplishment of God’s purpose in sending it.
“Weeping may endure for a night: but joy cometh in the morning.”
Weeping means sorrow of heart.
but “blessed are ye that weep now-ye shall be comforted.”
“Ye now therefore have sorrow,”
In this, be sustained in the assurance of grace, mercy and peace from God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
THE ELECT DEFINED
When I wrote the first letter, I had no thought of writing a second, and when I wrote the second, still less did I think of writing a third. But the writing of one seemed to leave echoes ringing through the mental chamber that would not cease till they found expression. I have thought you might not unfavourably receive a third, in view of the way some have spoken of the first and second. And it is a relief to my own mind thus to speak in the abstract to those whom, for the moment, I think of only as the spotless elect of God, passing agonisingly through the tribulation which is preparing them for joyful entrance into the kingdom of God.
We live in a state of things so evil upon the earth that the very term “elect” has become a test. The word dies on the lips of most of those who try to pronounce it seriously. It is associated in modern flippancy with Mormon imposture, sour-faced, tippling Scotch Calvinism, and moral imbecilities and hideousnesses of all sorts. It belongs in refined estimation to the cant of hypocrisy, the twaddle of benighted sectarianism, or the shallow conceited evangelical mediocrity, pining and dying of moral diabetes. But it represents a noble reality for all that.
The elect have not ceased out of the universe because their name is no longer pronounced upon earth by the pure lips of the Son of God. They may have become as few as the eight souls among the population that were pitilessly drowned in Noah’s 600th year by the flood; and they may be regarded with a contempt as unfeigned as that with which Noah’s expectations and workmanship on the ark were undoubtedly looked upon by the stalwart men and fair women to whom he was vainly a preacher of righteousness. But the noble family whom the term “the elect” defines, are nevertheless a reality in the history of the past, and a not entirely extinct fact in the present, when there is a providential needs-be for their existence contemporaneously with the sixth vial, under which they are the blessed “watchers” for whom awaits the honour of escape from the common lot of man: (for “we shall not all sleep”).
They are styled the elect because, prospectively, they are the chosen of God: and they are chosen because of their faith and obedience: and are faithful and obedient, because they have become enlightened in the word of revelation: and they have become enlightened in this, because God has sent it forth as His power to save, and endowed them with the capacity to receive it and bring forth fruit unto His glory and their own salvation.
To them, you belong, by the working out of this line of things: and for this cause I write, that we may be comforted, in times of evil, by “the mutual faith, both of you and me.”
CONDITIONS WHICH THE ELECT EXPERIENCE
It is pleasant in every sense to speak in the free and unconstrained way a letter allows-to speak, that is, of those things which are hidden below the current of ordinary life, but which more deeply affect us than those things in which we appear as other men. It is not always possible to unbare the inner man. Yet, the inner man is the real man, and asserts himself in the outer life, sooner or later, with all men, for evil or good.
If the inner man is the new man, he may appear to be dormant a long time, because of the checking effect of surroundings. The deportment of the world in which we live acts on him as the chill breath of winter on a delicate plant or creature that seeks warmth. In its presence, he is liable to go into his shell and remain there. It is pleasant for him to come out and breathe the balmy air that comes with apostolic saintship, whether actual or contemplated. In the present case it is a little of both. I write to you, knowing some of you, whose remembrance is a comfort, and grateful as the incense of the sanctuary. I write to the rest knowing them not in person, but thinking of them only as the elect of God: and, therefore, as men and women, earnestly striving to consecrate themselves in their several spheres of life, to God, through His Son, in the way He has appointed, in the ardent love of His name, and in the joyful hope of His promised goodness, counting all things upon earth as dross, that they may win Christ.
To such, my letter, though necessarily public in its mode of transmission, is a confidential letter of friendship in Christ.
To the carnally-minded, whose natures have never yielded to the transfusing glow of the Spirit (radiant from the page of complete inspiration): and who survey all phenomena with the dull eye of their unspiritual discernment, and estimate all things by the rule of their heavy-footed present-world affinities, my letter will appear an impertinence and a presumption. With the best of good wishes, I must leave them to their unhappy fermentations. Doubtless they have a mission.
“The deceived and the deceiver are His.”
They serve a purpose in the divine working out of things.
The gibes of the unthinking: the ineffable scorn of the proud: the unmixed hate of the evil man are not without a place in the development of the saints of God. The prophets were subject to this kind of experience. Upon the devoted head of Jesus, the utmost force of Satanism was spent. The apostles (filling up the measure of his suffering), had to drink of the same cup, as he said. Therefore, as an element of divine discipline, they are to be patiently endured, without “railing accusation,” which even “the angels, greater in power and might, bring not against them before the Lord.” But while enduring them, it is lawful to get away from them, “letting them alone,” as Jesus said; going apart, even “into the desert to rest a while.”
My letter is to you who live in God: whose faith is a reality: whose affections are set on things above, and not on things on the earth: who are nothing in their own eyes: to whom the circumstances of their daily life are but the form of their probation; the mode of their development; the soil and manure in which they are being grown for divine use.
To you, mortal life is a pilgrimage in reality-not a cant sentiment: a journey in which you are consciously, overtly, and with many deliberate and practical adaptations of means to ends, passing on to a goal which is your objective. Your mortal affairs are but the vesture of your real, inner growing-up-to-God self. It is a luxury to commune with such-a luxury unspeakable.
The majority of men are not such. The majority of men are strangers to God and to wisdom-lovers of pleasure only, as animals are, whose sensations supply the boundary line of their mental action. Intercourse with the majority of men is consequently a painful accommodation of magnanimity.
HOW TROUBLE MOULDS CHARACTER
But I must not take up all my letter in writing about my letter, I must write it.
I thought I would speak to you of your own needs and troubles. Of some of them, I have already spoken. They are real and important to you, though they may seem small in the open bustle of life. You find no one to tell them to-no one to be interested in them for you.
“All seek their own:”
Paul found this to be the case and said it; and things are still as he described them. But though the world is unsympathetic and indifferent, it is not so in the true household of faith. The children of God are interested in one another’s troubles as well joys. By-and-by there will be nothing but the joys to be interested in-and such joys as we have not known yet.
But we are not there yet. We are getting towards there, every day a step; but as yet, it is the trouble that is with us-trouble, the full depth and bitterness of which can only be known to each individual heart. It is all known to God. In this there is consolation, and it is a relief of mind to pour out our complaint before Him. The very act brings succour; but we may rely upon a more active help than this. Though God in His wisdom, does not permit us at this stage of His purpose on earth, to have the open responses to prayer that David and other servants had in the days of old, still there is a response-veiled and indirect, but still a response in the granting of our requests. The teaching of Christ and of the apostles justify us in this belief. Yea, actual experience oftentimes enable us to say concerning the saints even now:
“They cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses;”
But not until the object of the trouble is secured.
Have you ever realised all that is involved in Paul’s saying, that “tribulation worketh patience?” It is a while before we see it all. Probably we shall never quite see it all till we are able to look back upon it and contemplate results from the standpoint of glory gained. But we may get a glimpse that will help endurance.
Here is what strikes reflective observation. Man is a wondrous machine of life which most men are liable to think God could have produced in a state of perfection at the start. It is vain to speculate on what God could have done. It is what He has done that is practical.
What He has done as regards ourselves is this: He has so made us that we cannot be developed into full-working vito-mentality without experience. A well-balanced mentality is the most beautiful thing in creation, but it is not produced on mechanical principles. It depends upon the action of the voluntary will, which is not chemically or mechanically controlled but by the power of idea formed as the result of experience within the subjective area of its action. There are mechanical principles at the bottom of the operation (such as bone, blood, flesh, electricity, etc.) but these only supply the foundation upon which the perfect result is to be built.
This perfect result requires the play of experience (using the word in its most comprehensive sens, as including knowledge of all kinds, whether derived from sensation, perception or information). Without experience, the mind is like a machine composed of many moving parts without unity of action or central control. Its various parts and forces want to go working and whirring on their own individual accounts which brings destruction.
They require to be brought into unity, and a rightly balanced action one with another.
This cannot be done without experience, and it will be found that an indispensable part of this experience is trouble. This may excite surprise at first: but nothing excites surprise that is at last found to be true. And this will be found true. The finest characters have been ripened by trouble.
Looking back, think of Joseph, Moses, David and many others whose acquaintance we make in divinely-recorded history. Looking around among our acquaintances, if there is a man of any value as a friend and counsellor, he has come through trouble. The lap of luxury is notoriously unfavourable to the development of character. The man who has not seen trouble is necessarily more or less green. He lacks the sympathy and mental breadth that come with trouble.
How easy, therefore, in view of these almost self-evident facts, it becomes to submit to the dispensation of trouble through which it pleases God to bring His children in preparation for the exaltation of His kingdom.
“Tribulation worketh patience.”
You can see and say, “it is a fact.” Are you not therefore helped to accept the tribulation? A character without patience is a character without use to God or man. Patience that is not colourless is precious.
This is the patience that comes with impulse subdued and penetration tempered by tribulation.
It is the patience that God is working in you by all the tribulations that you endure. In this sense you can join with Paul when he said,
“We glory in tribulation also.”
You can glory in it as an experience which, though painful for the time being, is working out for you unspeakable sweetness in the day of the perfected work.
HOW TO BEAR WITH TROUBLE
Therefore, beloved, bear up under it. Do not be destroyed by it. It is only for a season, and that a short one. A few years more at worst, and it will all be over, and God’s work in you accomplished for the endless ages. Death is but a moment, however long we may rest under its shadow. We shall seem to emerge instantaneously from the gloom of mortal life to the sunshine of the cloudless morn immortal. It has been thus with all the children of God. They have fallen asleep in their several generations, after their appointed taste of the tribulation, saying with Jacob, “Few and evil have been the days of the years of the life of my pilgrimage”: and they will all seem to enter at once into the consolation that waits them at the appearing of Christ. The arrangement is so beautiful that while they will seem to reach the glory each at the end of his own tribulation, all will find themselves entering that glory “together.” Thus Abraham will appear to himself to have been no longer in the grave than the brother buried the day before Christ’s arrival. He will find himself transferred, as by the wave of a magic wand, from the solitariness of his old age, to the presence of his promised seed, “as the stars of the sky for multitude.”
Allow these things to help you in the dreary course you have meanwhile to sustain. Be assured that your steps are ordered of the Lord, and that it is no accident that has placed you where you are, and subjected you to just the particular grievances that afflict you. You will be liable to think that some other position would be better for you than the one you occupy. Don’t be dismayed at this feeling. It is natural: it is inevitable. You feel the trouble of the position you are in: you cannot feel the trouble of the position you are not in. Consequently, the position you are not in will always seem more desirable than the one you are in. You think of that other position with a feeling of relief, because your blank view of it is a contrast to the actual position you are in.
Use your reason and exercise faith, and you will be resigned.
Reason will tell you that other people will regard your position precisely as you regard theirs, and for the same reason: they do not know your trouble, but only their own, and consequently they feel as if they would be free from trouble if they were only placed as you are. It is an illusion of the mind.
It is like two men on a cold day-one walking on the road, and the other riding on the top of a conveyance. The man on the conveyance is cold and stiff, and thinks how much better off is the man on the road, having exercise; the man on the road is tired, and perhaps over-heated with a long trudge, and thinks how blissful it must be on the top of the vehicle.
There is no exemption from trouble among those who are “the called” according to the purpose of God. The part of wisdom among them all is-not to look enviously upon a neighbour’s position, but sympathetically and helpfully, in the full assurance that our brother has trouble that we know not of, and stands in need of what poor comfort a brother’s sympathy can afford him. And each man, concerning his own position will say “It is the one appointed: it is the one needed: I will resign myself to it: I will grapple with its difficulties, and bear its burdens, and endure its temptations-in all things and at all times, casting my care upon God, invoking His help in all my feeble efforts to faithfully fulfil the part assigned me in this present mortal scheme.”
PROBLEMS OF ISOLATION AND OF ECCLESIAL LIFE
Many of you are lonely: and you think how advantageous and gratifying it would be to be associated with a large ecclesia. If you were within reach of such a body, it would be your duty to associate with them, and take part with them in the work Christ has given to all his servants who have eyes and ears. And doubtless there are advantages in this association. But there is another side from which you may take comfort. In isolation you have an unobstructed vision of the things of the spirit. Your daily readings go home with greater power. Your connection with the truth is more direct and sweet than perhaps it would be if you were in the midst of a large body of professors.
When you are in the midst of such a body, persons and things and questions and agitations of a purely ephemeral character are liable to come between you and the great things of God. It is natural it should be so in the present position of the testimony of God in an evil world.
If an ecclesia were wholly composed of men and women in subjection to the mind of the Spirit, it would be different: connection in that case would be an unmixed good. But the state of an ecclesia never has been such-not even in the days of the Apostles. There is always a large admixture of the mere secular element, who accept the truth as a theory, but with whom it has no prevailing power in the affections and life. Consequently there is a constant liability to the stirring of influences unfavourable to a godly life in Christ: questions and agitations and strifes, having their origin in personal ambitions and petty interests, which distress and hinder the new man in Christ Jesus. From all these you are safe in the isolation in which the truth has found you; and are able in peace to enrich your minds from the inexhaustible storehouse of the Spirit’s teaching.
If God, in His wisdom, change your lot, and end your tranquillity by exposing you to the invigorating discipline of ecclesial life, accept the change with resignation, in the resolve, however occupied, to glorify God in your day and generation; but you need not long for it: you have more comfort and joy as you are.
Some other things occur to me: but my letter is already long enough. I may resume another time. Meanwhile, in the afflictions and comforts of the gospel, I subscribe myself-
Your fellow-suffering brother and partaker of hope,
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