Chapter 20 – Victory through the Holy Spirit over Suffering

Ye shall I receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.’

HAD there been no sin our heavenly Father would have found other means by which to develop in us passive virtues, and train us in the graces of meekness, patience, long-suffering and forbearance, which so beautify and display the Christian character. But since sin is here, with its contradictions and falsehoods, its darkness, its wars, brutalities and injustices, producing awful harvests of pain and sorrow, God, in wonderful wisdom and loving kindness, turns even these into instruments by which to fashion in us beautiful graces. Storm succeeds sunshine, and darkness the light; pain follows hard on the heels of pleasure, while sorrow peers over the shoulder of joy; gladness and grief, rest and toil, peace and war, interminably intermingled, follow each other in ceaseless succession in this world. We cannot escape suffering while in the body. But we can receive it with a faith that robs it of its terror and extracts from it richest blessing; from the flinty rock will gush forth living waters, and the carcase of the lion will furnish the sweetest honey.

This is so even when the suffering is a result of our own folly or sin. It is intended not only in some measure as a punishment, but also as a teacher, a corrective, a remedy, a warning; and it will surely work for good if, instead of repining and vainly regretting the past, we steadily look unto Jesus and learn our lesson in patience and thankfulness.

If all the skies were sunshine, 
our faces would be fain 
To feel once more upon them 
The cooling splash of rain.

If all the world were music, 
Our hearts would often long 
For one sweet strain of silence 
To break the endless song.

If life were always merry, 
Our souls would seek relief 
And rest from weary laughter 
In the quiet arms of grief.

Doubtless all our suffering is a result of sin, but not necessarily the sin of the sufferer. Jesus was the sinless One, but He was also the chief of sufferers. Paul’s great and lifelong sufferings came upon him, not because of his sins, but rather because he had forsaken sin, and was following Jesus in a world of sin and seeking the salvation of his fellows. In this path there is no escape from suffering, though there are hidden and unspeakable consolations. ‘ In the world ye shall have tribulation,’ said Jesus (John xvi. 33) – ‘All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,’ wrote Paul (2 Tim. iii. 12).

Sooner or later, suffering in some form comes to each of us. It may come through broken health, or pain and weariness of body; or through mental anguish, moral distress, spiritual darkness and uncertainty. It may come through the loss of loved ones, through betrayal by trusted friends; or through deferred or ruined hopes, or base ingratitude; or perhaps in unrequited toil and sacrifice and ambitions all unfulfilled. Nothing more clearly distinguishes the man filled with the Spirit from the man who is not than the way each receives suffering.

One with triumphant faith and shining face and strong heart glories in tribulation, and counts it all joy. To this class belong the apostles, who, beaten and threatened, ‘ departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name’ (Acts v. 4 1) The other with doubts and fears, murmurs and complains, adds to his other miseries that of a rebellious heart and discontented mind. One sees the enemy’s armed host, and unmixed distress and danger; the other sees the angel of the Lord, with abundant succour and safety (Ps. xxxiv. 7).

An evangelist of my acquaintance told a story that illustrates this. When a pastor, he went one morning to visit two sisters who were greatly afflicted. They were about the same age, and had long been professing Christians and members of the church. He asked the first one upon whom he called, ‘How is it with you this morning?’ ‘ Oh, I have not slept all night,’ she replied. , I have so much pain. It is so hard to have to lie here. I cannot see why God deals so with me.’ Evidently she was not filled with the Spirit, but was in a controversy with the Lord about her sufferings and would not be comforted.

Leaving her he called immediately upon the other sister, and asked, ‘How are you today? ‘ ‘ Oh, I had such a night of suffering! ‘ she replied. Then there came out upon her worn face a beautiful radiance, and she added, ‘But Jesus was so near and helped me so, that I could suffer this way and more, if my Father thinks best.’ On she went with like words of cheer and triumph that made the sick room a vestibule of glory. No lack of comfort in her heart, for the Comforter Himself, the Holy Spirit, had been invited and had come in. One had the Comforter in fullness, the other had not.

Probably no man ever suffered more than Paul, but with soldier-like fortitude he bore his heavy burdens, faced his constant and exacting labours, endured his sore trials, disappointments and bitter persecutions by fierce and relentless enemies; he stood unmoved amid shipwrecks, stripes and imprisonments, cold, hunger and homelessness without a whimper that might suggest repining or discouragement, or an appeal for pity. Indeed, he went beyond simple uncomplaining fortitude and said, ‘we glory in tribulations’ (Rom. v. 3); ‘I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation ‘ (2 Cor. vii. 4); ‘ I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake ‘ (2 Cor. xii. io). After a terrible scourging upon his bare back, he was thrust into a loathsome inner dungeon, his feet fast in the stocks, with worse things probably awaiting him on the morrow. Nevertheless, we find him and Silas, his companion in suffering, at midnight praying and singing praises unto God (Acts xvi. 2 5) What is his secret? Listen to him: ‘ Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us ‘ (Rom. v. 5). His prayer for his Ephesian brethren had been answered in his own heart: ‘That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith’ (Eph. iii. 16, 17). And this inner strength and consciousness, through faith in an indwelling Christ, enabled him to receive suffering and trial, not stoically as the Red Indian, nor hilariously, in a spirit of bravado, but cheerfully and with a thankful heart.

Arnold of Rugby has written something about his most dear and blessed sister ‘ that illustrates the power flowing from exhaustless fountains of inner joy and strength through the working of the Holy Spirit. He says:

I never saw a more perfect instance of the spirit and power of love and of a sound mind. Her life was a daily martyrdom for twenty years, during which she adhered to her earlyformed resolution of never talking about herself; she was thoughtful about the very pins and ribands of my wife’s dress, about the making of a doll’s cap for a child-but of herself, save only as regarded her ripening in all goodness, wholly thoughtless, enjoying everything lovely, graceful, beautiful, high-minded, whether in God’s works or man’s, with the keenest relish; inheriting the earth to the very fullness of the promise, though never leaving her crib, nor changing her posture; and preserved, through the very valley of the shadow of death, from all fear or impatience, and from every cloud of impaired reason, which might mar the beauty of Christ’s and the Spirit’s work.

It is not by hypnotizing the soul, nor by blessing it into a state of ecstatic insensibility, that the Lord enables the man filled with the Spirit thus to triumph over suffering. Rather it is by giving the soul a sweet, constant and unshaken assurance through faith. First, that it is freely and fully accepted in Christ. Second, that whatever suffering comes, it is measured, weighed, permitted by love infinitely tender and guided by wisdom that cannot err. Third, that however difficult it may be to explain suffering now, it is nevertheless one of the ‘all things ‘ which ‘ work together for good to them that love God ‘ (Rom. viii. 28), and that in a ‘little while’ it will not only be swallowed up in the ineffable blessedness and glory, but that in some way it is actually helping to work out ‘ a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory ‘ (2 Cor. iv. 17). Fourth, that though the furnace has been heated seven times hotter than was wont, yet there is walking with us in the fire One whose’ form . . . is like the Son of God ‘ (Dan. iii. 25); though triumphant enemies have thrust us into the lions’ den, yet the angel of the Lord arrived first and locked the lions’ jaws; though foes may have formed against us sharp weapons, yet they cannot prosper, for His shield and buckler defend us; though all things be lost, yet ‘Thou remainest’; and though ‘my flesh and my heart faileth . . . God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever (Ps. lxxiii. 26).

Not all God’s dear children thus triumph over their difficulties and sufferings, but this is God’s standard, and they may attain unto it if, by faith, they will open their hearts and ‘ be filled with the Spirit ‘.

Here is the testimony of a Salvation Army officer:

Viewed from the outside, my life as a sinner was easy and untroubled, over which most of my friends expressed envy; while these same friends thought my life as a Christian full of care, toil, hardship and immense loss. This, however, was only an outside view, and the real state of the case was exactly the opposite of what they supposed. For in all the pleasureseeking, idleness, and freedom from responsibility of my life apart from God, I carried an immeasurable burden of fear, anxiety and constantly recurring disappointment; trifles weighed upon me, and the thought of death haunted me with vague terrors.

But when I gave myself wholly to God, though my lot became at once one of toil, responsibility, comparative poverty and sacrifice, yet I could not feel pain in any storm that broke over my head, because of the presence of God. It was not so much that I was insensible to trouble, as sensible of His presence and love; and the worst trials were as nothing in my sight, nor have been for over twenty-two years. While as for death, it appears only as a doorway into more abundant life, and I can alter an old German hymn and sing with joy:

0 how my heart with rapture dances 
To think my dying hour advances! 
Then, Lord, with Thee! 
My Lord, with Thee!

This is faith’s triumph over the worst the world can offer through the blessed fullness of the indwelling Comforter. Bless His name!

Joy of the desolate, light of the straying, 
Hope of the penitent, Advocate sure; 
Here speaks the Comforter, tenderly saying, 
Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot cure.