Perfection Through Suffering

Heb. 2:10.---' 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.'

The perfection through suffering which is here declared to take effect upon our Lord does not mean the addition of anything to, or the purging away of anything from, His moral nature. We are refined by suffering, which purges out the dross if we take it rightly. We are ennobled by suffering, which adds to us, if we submissively accept it, that which without it we could never posses. But Christ's perfecting is not the perfecting of His moral character, but the completion of His equipment for His work as the Captain of our salvation.

This doctrine lies at the very heart of Christianity, and is peculiar to Christianity. It is the doctrine of the Cross, which in all times and places is, as St. Paul says, to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness. It is what the same Apostle elsewhere calls the offence of the Cross, and an offence it must always be to the majority. For what does it mean? Not only that, as Plato had already discovered, "we cannot get rid of sin without pain"; not only that, but to suffer for others is a Divine thing; that it is not only an essential part of the discipline of life for the erring and weak, but even more, part of the royal prerogative of life for those whom God calls to follow most closely in His own footsteps. He who was called preeminently the man of Sorrows was the only begotten Son of God.

if we give this doctrine its full and due weight it must alter completely our attitude towards the sorrow and pain of the world. It may not solve what is called the problem of evil. But it goes a good way towards solving it. There are some evils which are not caused by anyone's sin. Such as bereavements, accidents, sickness, extreme poverty. These are bearable for those who believe in human immortality. They are constantly borne with a patience and resignation which we recognize as morally beautiful. Some of them are being diminished year by year as scientific knowledge grows, and it is God's will that they should be still further diminished. Now, it is perhaps difficult to believe evils of this kind have any redemptive value. We revolt against them because they seem to be useless. They look like random blows of a blind fate, and this is why they are such a trial to our faith. But Christianity teaches plainly that every temporal evil may be transmuted into an instrument of spiritual good. Many of us have learned this by experience. Many of us, to quote a poet, Have seen in the mould the rose unfold, The soul in blood and tears. Yes, even the fierceness of man may be turned to God's praise; all things may work together for good to those who love God.

The evils which are caused by sin are, no doubt, a hard problem. But ought we not to believe that what in God's sight is most terrible is not the suffering caused by sin, but sin itself; and that He allows sin to show its malignant nature by causing all this suffering and misery, just that we may recognize it as a hateful thing, and strive to root it out? It is in this field that the redemptive value of suffering is most manifest. Both the innocent victim of other's sin, and the reformer who stands up manfully against the united forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil, have to suffer grievously and unjustly; but their sufferings, even in this world, are not thrown away. They touch the human conscience; they force men to recognize the ugliness and cruelty of unrighteousness, and the beauty of self-sacrificing love. That love and goodness should suffer is the offence of the Cross. It is the hard-seeming law under which we live here. There is a better world where those who have been faithful unto death receive a crown of life; but we are not there yet.

Can we wonder that suffering humanity has found in the Cross of Christ an emblem of unspeakable comfort? Man is born to sorrow, as the sparks fly upward. We cannot escape it. But Christianity tells us that we ought not to wish to escape it, since by it we may 'fill up on our part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in our flesh for his body's sake.' Our pain, how we know not, or may be, a part in the redemptive work of Christ. It may be that we are called upon to advance the Kingdom of God more by what we bear than what we do. To carry our cross after our Master, to follow Him, at however great a distance, knowing that He is waiting for us at the end of the journey, with that blessed welcome, 'Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord'---is not this enough to sweeten the bitterest cup? Is it not enough to make even a coward brave, and to give patience even to the petulant?

There is a story I would like to relate to you:

"It was a radiant world on which the boy opened his eyes; a world so beautiful that it was impossible to look at it without seeming to see through it a richer and more wonderful loveliness about to rise out of its depths. It was a beauty which made the spirit faint with expectation and the heart ache with a sense of coming joy. In such a world all things were within reach of the eager soul, joyous with the bliss of the morning and eager to share the impulse of life which, like a fathomless tide, crept to the summits of the hills and left health and vigor and fragrance sweeping on behind it. The boy's eye was clear and keen; he saw at a glance the wonder of things in endless variety and exquisite adaptation. The boy's thought was orderly, coherent, vital; he discerned the marvelous relation of parts to the whole and the glorious unity in which all things were held and harmonized. The boy's imagination kindled and glowed; the vision of an invisible loveliness, a higher and diviner beauty, rose before him as sight and thought brought the visible world closer to his spirit. The boy's will stirred with the slowly rising energy of a force at once concentrated and sustained. He stood there like a noble figure in a garden, touched with the glow of the morning, bathed in light, encompassed with the infinite suggestiveness of a universe in which God's thoughts, sown in the furrows of the sea, the broad stretches of land, the measureless spaces of sky, bloomed in indescribable splendor, and on every wind set loose other seeds which should make fragrant the far limits of the universe. This marvelous world was silent, and he had a voice; this sublime mystery waited for interpretation, and he divined its meaning; this measureless force of life needed other wills and minds and hands, and he waited, eager and impatient, for his place and his task. All things were within his reach; all things summoned him.

He put forth his hand, and suddenly a throb of pain shot through it, and it fell by his side; he stepped forward, and a swift anguish smote him so that he paused, stunned and uncomprehending. These things were so strange in that fair scene, so much at variance with all he saw and divined, that he paused until they should pass; for they could be but fleeting touches of something alien and intrusive. But the pain did not pass; it became more intense. The anguish did not abate; it grew more bitter. Then, when he began to understand that these terrible things were part of the world, that world grew black and horrible before his eyes; the light pierced and hurt him; the beauty stung and maddened him. He was like one who slowly dies of thirst while the music of running water is in his ears, who slowly starves while fields of waving grain encircle him. In the bitterness of that merciless denial of the claims of his soul for joy and beauty and work he was ready to curse and die; for his life had turned to pain, and the loveliness he saw seemed a dream of madness.

But he could not die, for he was immortal; not could he shut out the loveliness of the world, for the image and memory of it lay like a vision in his mind. His will, which would have laid hold of noble tools for noble work, grew strong and stern and steadfast; for the boy, become a smitten and solitary man, was shut off not only from tasks but from fellowship with those who worked. In his loneliness and desolation only the inner voices spoke to him; his companionship was with his own spirit. Presently thoughts began to rise out of the depths of his pain as they had once come to him out of the heart of the beautiful world---thoughts so deep and at times of such awful meaning that they made him forget his pain. And this power to rise out of pain with the strength it brought, and became a refuge and comfort to him. And as he suffered, silent and inactive, there came to him slowly the knowledge of that world of sorrow into which he had come; so near the world of beauty and yet seemingly so remote from it and so alien; and in that world he was slowly transformed until he saw with other eyes and heard with other ears.

When he found that something was being wrought within him he became patient and waited; for new hopes were beginning to stir in his heart and new dreams began to take wing in his imagination. Silent and solitary as he was, these changes were unrecorded and left their traces only in the passing away of despair, the slow incoming of a tenderness, a sympathy, a wistful longing to succor and help, which had had no place in the unconsciousness of his radiant youth. And as the years went by, the tenderness in his soul, born of old-time sorrow, became a passionate impulse, and a great craving awoke within him; and one day he opened his eyes and looked once more, and, behold! the world of his memory had vanished like a dream, and before him lay another world vaster and more awful and more divinely fair, not with the beauty which glows and fads but with that which discloses itself through revelation of life, with the pressure on the spirit of the shaping hands of care and sorrow and bitter knowledge. And as he looked he was no longer alone, for the world was full of those who stumbled and fell and were heavily burdened and smitten with great infirmities. And he, knowing the bitterness through which they were passing and seeing the end which was invisible to them, rose from his place and raised one and spoke to another; and for those whom he could not reach he lifted up his voice and sang the great song of love that knows no fear, and the song of consolation which follows it like a beautiful echo. Many looked at him, and, seeing on his face the deep lines of such grief as they bore, were comforted; and many listened, and, hearing in his voice those deep tones which come out of great anguish, heeded and were helped. He, meantime, thought not of these things, but, seeing the unspeakable beauty shining more and more clearly through cloud and storm and ugliness, pushed on eager and joyful, a mighty passion of hope and helpfulness moving with him. And when he paused, he suddenly became aware that he too still suffered; but he had forgotten himself."

In Christ, timothy. Maranatha