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Gregory Mantle

Beyond Humiliation: The Way of the Cross

Chapter 19
The Tests of Obedience

Sometime, when all life’s lessons have been learned,
And sun and stars for evermore have set,
The things which our weak judgments here have spurned,
The things o’er which we grieved with lashes wet,
Will flash before us out of life’s dark night,
As stars shine most in deeper tints of blue,
And we shall see how all God’s plans are right,
And how what seemed reproof was love most true.

And you shall shortly know that lengthened breath
Is not the sweetest gift God sends His friend;
And that, sometimes, the sable pall of death
Conceals the fairest boon His love can send.
If we could push ajar the gates of life,
And stand within, and all God’s workings see,
We could interpret all this doubt and strife,
And for each mystery could find a key.

But not today. Then be content, poor heart
God’s plans like lilies pure and white, unfold;
We must not tear the close-shut leaves apart,
Time will reveal the calyxes of gold;
And if, through patient toil, we reach the land
Where tired feet, with sandals loosed, may rest,
Where we shall clearly see and understand
I think that we shall say, “God knew the best.”
— May Riley Smith

God always has a number of His children under examination. Some of them pass with honors, but a few are turned back to learn their lessons over again. Many fail in this critical time in their spiritual history because they do not understand the Divine purpose. They cry out with Job: “He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass, He hath set darkness in my paths.” They do not perceive that the position they have taken over and over again is being put to the test.

Madame Guyon puts it thus: “God will give us opportunities to try our consecration, whether it be a true one or not. No man can be wholly the Lord’s unless he is wholly consecrated to the Lord; and no man can know whether he is thus wholly consecrated except by tribulation. That is the test. To rejoice in God’s will, when that will imparts nothing but happiness, is easy even for the natural man. But none but the renovated man, none but the religious man, can rejoice in the Divine will when it crosses his path, disappoints his expectations, and overwhelms him with sorrow. Trial therefore, instead of being shunned, should be welcomed as the test — and the only true test — of a true state. Beloved souls, there are consolations which pass away, but true and abiding consolation ye will not find except in entire abandonment, and in that love which loves the Cross. He who does not welcome the Cross does not welcome God.”

How many have repeatedly and deliberately said to God: “I put myself wholly into Thy hands: put me to what Thou wilt; rank me with whom Thou wilt; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for Thee, or laid aside for Thee; exalted for Thee, or trodden under foot for Thee; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily resign all to Thy pleasure and disposal.”

In due time God takes us at our word. He has had us in His school for months, or it may be for years, and has given us great freedom and joy. He has set our feet in a “large place” of blessing, when suddenly, perhaps, suffering of the severest character takes the place of the delightful experiences through which we have been passing. The vessel which has been sailing under fair and sunny skies is struck by a hurricane, and her staunchness is tested to the uttermost.

Among the many comforting words in such a season, that of the apostle James is most sustaining. He says: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold trials; knowing that the proof of your faith worketh patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing” (James i. 2-4). Note the condition, surrounded by “manifold trials.” Out of surroundings which have been conducive to peace, comfort, and outward prosperity, we suddenly fall into the midst of a marauding band of trials. We seem, as one says, to be “left to the heartlessness of a thousand petty demons, who pervade every little circumstance; who seem, like the fabled Lilliputians, to tie our hands and feet while we sleep; who snap all the threads of our financial looms; who upset our ordinary plans; who turn anticipated joys into ashes. There are times when a current of such things seems to set in; times when everything seems to weave itself into a network of crippling environment, and any effort to extricate ourselves only bruises us.”

We are tempted to be terrified by our adversaries, to despise the chastening of the Lord, to grow weary of His correction, and to faint in the day of adversity. To prevent our yielding to either of these temptations, God has clearly revealed His purpose, and has distinctly told us what our attitude should be. If ever we needed to listen for the voice of Infinite Love it is now. Listen, He speaks: “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour” (Isa. xliii. 13).

In giving a lecture on Flame, a scientist once made a most interesting experiment. He wanted to show that in the center of each flame is a hollow, a place of entire stillness, around which its fire is a mere wall. To prove this he introduced into the midst of the flame a minute and carefully shielded charge of explosive powder. The protection was then carefully removed, and no explosion followed. The charge was again shielded and withdrawn. A second time the experiment was tried, and by a slight agitation of the hand the central security was lost, and an immediate explosion told the result. Our safety, then, is only in stillness of soul. If we are affrighted and exchange the principle of faith for that of fear, or, if we are rebellious and restless we shall be hurt by the flames, and anguish and disappointment will be the result.

Moreover, God will be disappointed in us if we break down. Testing is a proof of His love and confidence, and who can tell what pleasure our steadfastness and stillness give to Him? If He allowed us to go without testing it would be no compliment to our spiritual experience. Much trial and suffering mean, therefore, that God has confidence in us; that He believes we are strong enough to endure; that we shall be true to Him even when He has left us without any outward evidence of His care, and at the seeming mercies of our adversaries. If He increase the trials instead of diminishing them, it is an expression of confidence in us up to the present, and a further proof that He is looking to us to glorify Him in the yet hotter fires through which He is calling us to pass. Let us not be afraid. The subtleties of the self-life will be exposed and the hateful thing destroyed. We shall be delivered from the outward and the transitory, and drawn into far closer fellowship with God Himself.

Think when you use the sharp blade of your penknife that its keenness has only been produced by a terribly severe process. The best steel is subjected to the alternates of extreme heat and extreme cold. That little blade was heated and hammered, then heated again, and then plunged into the coldest water to give it its right shape and temper. It would not be in your hand had it broken down under this tempering process. If, when it was put upon the grindstone, any flaw had appeared, even though previously it had seemed a perfect blade, it would have been rejected as useless, and thrown aside. So God, longing for our equipment for the highest service, tests us in a thousand ways. All things — there is no exception whatever — are working together for the purification, the refining, the testing, and the approval of human character. Now we are cast into the furnace of affliction, heated seven times hotter than it is wont to be heated; now we are plunged into the cold waters of bereavement; and now we are ground between the upper and nether stones of adversity and disaster. How shall we come forth? That depends entirely on the way we endure. If we simply say, “As God will, and in the hottest fire stand still,” He will give us a place of honor among His servants, and crown us with immortal glory.

“He knoweth the way that I take, and when He hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.” The hay and the stubble fear the fire, but the gold challenges the flame to do its worst. Therefore

“Let thy gold be cast in the furnace,
Thy red gold, precious and bright;
Do not fear the angry fire
With its caverns of burning light;
And thy gold shall return more precious,
Free from every spot and stain;
For gold must be tried by the fire,
And the heart must be tried by pain.”

The apostle James tells us what the purpose of the testing is, “That we may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing” (i. 4). A perfect machine fulfills the object for which it is made, and a perfect Christian is one of such a character that he fulfills the object for which he has been made a Christian. “Entire, lacking in nothing,” conveys the idea of being properly adjusted and arranged, so that our avenues of temptation are properly guarded. A builder never thinks of putting a window in the floor, or a door in the ceiling, and God would have our moral nature so adjusted that we may have every thing in its place, and consequently be “entire, lacking in nothing.”

Shall we shrink from an experience, however painful, which accomplishes an end like this? That which makes us mature in Christ Jesus, lacking in nothing that a Christian man should possess and enjoy, is worth any suffering, however severe or protracted. Though, therefore, we have “for a little while been put to grief in manifold trials, that the proof of our faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire,” let us, as James exhorts us, “count it nothing but joy.” God desires not our comprehension in such times, but our confidence. He is disciplining us for eternal companionship with Himself, and because “it doth not yet appear what we shall be,” let us joyfully stand in the midst of the fiery furnace, knowing that we shall lose nothing in the fire but our bonds, and that ever in the midst thereof will be One who really is the Son of God.

We shall cease to wonder at the pains God takes to purify and perfect human character, when we remember that it is the only work of His hands which, so far as we are concerned, will last for ever. Everything else that we possess and pursue is fading and perishing already. Moral character, built up under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, partakes of God’s immortality, because it. is nothing less than the Divine nature incarnate, incorporate and made manifest in man.

So precious is its acquisition to God that He spares no cost to produce it. He puts us just where His purpose can best be accomplished. We sometimes complain as to the nature of our environment, but when God put us where we are He had the choice of t he whole world open to Him, and could His purpose have been better achieved in other surroundings, He would have placed us there. Let us work out our salvation in thankful co-operation with Him. The diamond can offer no resistance to the cutter, nor can the clay offer intelligent response to the potter. We can both resist and respond. Thankfully recognizing what Butler calls “the providential disposition of things,” let us cease from the former and, with our whole heart, give ourselves to the latter.