Our way to heaven is through much tribulation. This is not accidental––it is God’s appointed way. Christians may experience different degrees of tribulation, and different kinds of tribulation, but all will pass through something designed to deaden the attractiveness of things here, and drive them to the Lord. If the people of God travel part of their pilgrimage in the sunshine, they will also have part of it in mists and clouds. Should the morning be bright, the evening will be stormy. Strange though it may seem, troubles are part of God’s catalogue of mercies. Yet how unwelcome they are to us naturally, and how quickly our hearts sink under them! How foolish we are! We are too prone to look at these things superficially, forgetting the unseen hand that lies behind. Our conflicts and trials teach many a lesson which we cannot (or will not) learn except in the furnace of suffering. There are tens of thousands of witnesses to the truth of this. They will tell you that when they were at ease, lessons were set before them which they could not learn. Only in tribulation did they master them––they came out of the furnace crying “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep thy word” (Ps. 119: 67).
There are two lessons which tribulations teach us. First, the nature of the world through which we travel. When the world smiles we are apt to take it for a friend––troubles show us what it really is. Second, we learn how precious the Lord is when other joys forsake us. We see that the world can do nothing for us, and how great and constant is our need of Christ. God’s children never sing so sweetly as when passing through the dark valley, and souls never praise God so much as when everything but God is gone.
We can look at our trials through two different kinds of glass: nature and faith. The natural man looks through nature’s glass and sinks in despair in the day of tribulation. The Christian has two glasses: nature and faith, but sadly, he too often looks through nature’s glass and the effects are the same as with the natural man. Yet if he use the glass of faith, he surmounts the difficulties, overcomes the world, and has joy in his spirit in the dark vale. Looking through nature’s glass he can only see his loss, his misery and his injury. Looking through faith’s glass, he sees God at work. Nature says, ‘All is against me’. Faith says, “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to purpose” (Rom. 8: 28).
Sometimes God does not send just single trials, but many, and not only many, but trials which last. If a person is on a sick bed, whatever the pain, it is more bearable if it is only for a short period of time––but if it continues for years, it becomes painful by the very length of it. Yet God deals in this way with some of His dearest children. Still, though it may grow darker and darker with them, all is well. Faith sees the divine account and reckoning: “For our momentary [and] light affliction works for us in surpassing measure an eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4: 17). Oh to be looking through the glass of faith! Paul asks “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? tribulation or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Back comes the answer of his own conviction: “In all these things we more than conquer through him that has loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which [is] in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8: 35, 37–39). May we know the reality of these things!