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Beyond Humiliation: The Way of the Cross
The School of Obedience
Are children trained
It is a noteworthy fact that whenever the example of Christ is presented to us in Scripture for our imitation, it is His example in suffering “Let this mind be in you,” says St. Paul, “which was also in Christ Jesus.” All the features of the disposition which He thus sets before us for imitation have to do with self-renunciation. We see suffering carved on every step Jesus took, until He reached the lowest, and “became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross “ (Phil. ii. 5-8). To suffer patiently for well-doing is, St. Peter says, “acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps” (1 Peter ii. 20, 21). “Forasmuch then,” says the same writer, “as Christ hath suffered for us in the ﬂesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind” (1 Peter iv. 1). “Beloved, think it not strange,” he says yet again, “concerning the ﬁery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter iv. 12, 13).
The reason for this noteworthy fact is given in Hebrews v. 8, 9: “Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him.” In other words, we can only become possessed of the mind of Jesus by going into the same school, by putting ourselves into the hands of the same teachers, and by joyfully submitting ourselves to the same discipline.
There is great danger lest the preciousness and indispensableness of the experience of suffering should be not sufﬁciently emphasized. It is pleasant and easy to learn obedience under some teachers, but before we have graduated in this school we must pass into the hands of others whose lessons are not pleasant or easy; we must go out of the sunshine into the darkened room; gladness and joy must give place to anguish and soul-travail, and through an experience of suffering from which, perchance, we start, and shrink, we learn obedience.
What does this learning of obedience mean? The principle of obedience is one thing, and the application of it is another. The disposition of obedience Jesus possessed before He suffered, but the proof that the disposition existed must be shown in deed, and the progress from the disposition to the deed was the practical learning of the virtue of obedience.
The ﬁrst question is, how may the zone of obedience be reached so that not on nine occasions out of ten we shall say “yes” to God, but that we shall never say aught but “yes” to Him? The answer to this question has been given in earlier chapters, and it will sufﬁce here if we say simply that the usurping monarch Self must be completely vanquished and deposed, by inviting and trusting Jesus to take the throne of the heart. It is only when He has come to purify, to possess, and to rule, that we are able to say: “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.”
As Isaac Pennington says: “The holy skill of obeying the truth is hid from all living but such as are begotten and brought up in the mystery of subjection to the Lord. ‘Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power.’ It is the power of God that works the will in the heart, and the same power works to do also (Phil. ii. 13); and none can learn either to will or to do aright, but as they come to be acquainted with that power, joined to that power, and feel that power working in them. In this power holy obedience is as natural as disobedience is to the birth of the ﬂesh. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Obedience, to be perfect, must be submitted to test. You cannot call a child obedient if his obedience has never cost him anything; nor do you know that he will obey when the trial comes unless he has been already put to the test, and so has had an opportunity of applying the principle which existed in his heart. In this progress from the principle to the application, from the disposition to the deed, there is, and must be, suffering.
The Divine nature of Jesus could not be perfected that was perfect already; but human nature is born weak and undeveloped, and it has to grow. One of its essential laws is its capability of improvement, and thus it was that Jesus, by passing through a long curriculum of trial and suffering, learned obedience. He could only learn obedience by becoming incarnate, by stooping to share our discipline, and bearing the Divine will as a yoke, instead of wielding it as a scepter. His obedience was perfected by suffering, and with His obedience His human character. The means produced the end with Him that it might produce the self-same end with us, and from the moment of His perfection Jesus consecrated suffering as a minister of the Divine purpose, so that His followers need no longer shrink from and tremble at it, but rather glory in and welcome it as a conquered foe that has become their friend.
There are different ways, as a great teacher reminds us, both of knowing and of learning. “A large part of our knowledge is either intuitive and ideal, residing in the pure reason; or speculative — that is, gathered by deduction and mental inference. Another kind is learned by what we call life — by experience, personal trial, entanglement with events, struggles in doing and suffering; and what we learn in this way we know with a depth and familiarity far beyond all other knowledge: it is now part of our living energies and powers, and dwells in our very being. Not only is its stamp imprinted on us, but it so passes into us as to blend with our whole inner nature. We are what we have done and suffered.”
To shrink, therefore, from suffering is to shrink from what is a requisite part of our education both for earth and for heaven. We shall be spiritual babes all our lives, spelling out nothing but the alphabet of Divine truth, if we refuse to drink of the cup of which Jesus drank, and to be baptized with the baptism that He was baptized with, for “it became Him for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” He could not have become our Leader and Captain had He not trod the rough road He calls upon us to tread. Exemption from suffering would have meant exemption from Leadership. He could not have lifted us into a share of His glory had He not stooped to the companionship of our griefs; nor can we rightly call ourselves His soldiers unless we are following in His steps; or expect to be lifted into the companionship of his glory unless we are among those who know the “fellowship of His sufferings.”
We have spoken of suffering as the school of obedience, and of this experience as absolutely necessary to the completion of our education both for the earthly and heavenly service. It is necessary for service on earth. It is because Jesus “suffered being tempted” that He is “able to succor them that are tempted.” “If ever I fall into a surgeon’s hands with broken bones,” is a remark which has become almost proverbial, “give me one whose own bones have been broken.” To take our degree in the school of obedience means a qualifying for such a ministry as would be otherwise impossible; and what work is more to be coveted or necessary than that of feeling with, comforting, and sustaining those whom God counts worthy of the honor of suffering.
Of our ministry in the other life we know but little, for “it doth not yet appear what we shall be.” This we do know, however: the lessons we have learned here will not be lost there, and in the service of heaven we shall be eternally thankful for the schooling of earth. Nothing will give us greater comfort than to remember this. We have a clearly deﬁned purpose in expending time, money, and skill upon our children in their earlier years. And no lesson is without its value, either in the disciplining of the mind, the acquisition of knowledge, or the formation of character. We may be certain that God has a clearly deﬁned plan, both for the present and future life, for every one of His children; that no lesson, however seemingly trivial or important, pleasant or painful, is purposeless; and that “all things are for our advantage.”
Only that they may reach some higher class?
Only for some few school-room years that pass
Till growth is gained?
Is it not rather for the years beyond
To which the father looks with hopes so fair and fond.
He traineth so
That we may shine for Him in this dark world,
And bear His standard dauntlessly unfurled:
That we may show
His praise, by lives that mirror back his love,
His witnesses on earth, as He is ours above.
Not only here
The rich result of all our God doth teach
His scholars, slow at best, until we reach
A nobler sphere:
Then, not till then, our training is complete,
And the true life begins for which he made us meet.
Look on to this
Through all perplexities of grief and strife,
To this, thy true maturity of life,
Thy coming bliss;
That such high gifts thy future dower may be,
And for such service high thy God prepareth thee.
— F. R. Havergal