By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
Text: "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." John 16:33.
The original meaning of tribulation is to flail, to thrash; so that it would not change the meaning of the text if I were to read it thus: "In the world, ye shall have flailings, but be of good cheer, I have had mine, and will give you grace to bear yours."
God is trying to get us to heaven as cheaply as possible. "He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men." Some natures require more severity than others in order to wean them from the things of time and sense. Then, again, God permits more tribulation to come to some than to others, not so much because they need it, but because they are able to bear it, and thus He gives to the world, as in the case of Job, an example of patient endurance in the midst of suffering.
The Scripture says, "Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but to suffer for His sake." It is given. It is part of the program, part of the contract to have a certain amount of suffering. We need it; it mellows us; it ripens us; it broadens us. It brings us into a point of fellowship with our Lord.
We read, "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death." Phil. 3:10. And again, "Though He were a son yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered."
Human nature shrinks from suffering -- shrinks from the cross. This is why Christ had to say to Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan," because when speaking of His crucifixion, Peter protested and said, "Be it far from Thee."
In the next verse Jesus said, "If any man will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross [that which crucifies] and follow me."
I do not know why some natures seem to demand more trials than others. Whether it is due to the fact that they have more tenacity and stronger soul fiber than others and hence can bear more; or whether sin has played a greater havoc in wrecking and ruining them, and hence more sufferings and humiliations are necessary in order to get them through to heaven, I cannot say, but such is the case.
In Isaiah 28:27, 28, we read, "For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument; neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod."
"Bread corn is bruised; because he [the plowman] will not ever be threshing it."
Here we have three kinds of grain; one kind is quick to let go its husk or shell and will do so with the stroke of a rod. Another kind holds on more tenaciously and needs to be beaten out with a staff; but bread corn (wheat) has to be flailed out, or run over with a cart wheel.
It is strange that the chaff or husk -- the very thing that at one time was its life and protection, now becomes a hindrance to its use and must be flailed, or beaten off. In like manner God has to wean us and thrash us loose from the comforts and consolations of our early experience.
There are three classes who have to do with this thrashing or flailing business.
I. Those who flail.
II. Those who endure.
III. Those who rejoice.
I. The first class is mentioned in Matthew 13:21. Here Christ was giving the parable of the sower and leaves the impression that only one-fourth of those who receive the pure, unadulterated truth, bring forth fruit to perfection.
Another place we read that He will bring the "third part through the fire" and a remnant shall be saved.
We hope that more than one-fourth of those who hear the gospel will get to heaven, but according to these passages, only about one-fourth who hear the truth preached in the Holy Ghost (not to say anything about the multitude who hear a milk and water gospel preached) will get an experience that will enable them to bring forth, "Some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty."
Christ distinctly says that the shallow ground hearer "received the seed," and anon with joy received it, "Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by, he is offended."
It is a sad fact that the majority of people who hear the clean-cut truth preached, though they assent to it in their minds and many go farther and profess religion, yet there is no depth or stability of character about them. When the pressure comes -- when misunderstandings come -- after the inspiration and enthusiasm of the revival has died down they become slack in their duties, are tempted with others, and because of these things fall out by the way.
They say that they have backslidden, but the fact is, they never slid forward; they were never genuinely converted-they took up with a temporary relief and for the time being rejoiced, perhaps shouted, perhaps submitted to all the rules of the people of God and mingled with them, embracing their tenets and views, but for lack of depth they became unfruitful.
II. The second Class who have to do with tribulation are spoken of in Romans 12:12. "Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation." In this class we find grace has taken a deeper root. We are told that they are "patient" in the midst of flailings and misunderstandings. This is an experience worth having though but few attain to it.
In Galatians 5:22, 23, are mentioned nine graces of the Spirit. Three pertain to our relationship to God, three to our relationship to others, and three to ourselves, but the most sadly lacking one is that of "gentleness." How few people have this characteristic well developed in their lives. How few can bear contradictions and reproaches with patience, without the appearance, at least, of resentment; without giving a sarcastic reply when misrepresented.
Again we read, "He that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city." Yes, he who is able to rule his spirit and hold his tongue in times of pressure is better than he who can preach a big sermon, then get tried over a collection, or a crying baby. Do you know that there are but few people, even among those who make great professions, who can bear to be told their faults and take it patiently? The fact is you dare not speak to them, or you will immediately perceive in their conduct a disposition to retaliate. Unless you retract, or explain it all away the result will be a coolness toward you, or perhaps a loss of friendship. Now all of this is contrary to the Spirit of Jesus and is indicative of a defective experience, not in sanctifying grace, but in saving grace.
I wonder if this is not the reason why comparatively few people get the fiery baptism with the Holy Ghost. Is it not because they do not live clearly justified long enough at one time to be proper candidates for the second work of grace? They give way in spirit, if not in word and conduct, which means the forfeiture of the Divine favor. God bless you! Don't you know that you need not scold around home, get red in the face and make it unpleasant for others in order to incur guilt and condemnation? All you need to do is to give way in spirit and allow your heart to harbor ill-will and prejudice in order to lapse back into a state of ill favor with God.
This is the great weakness of the modern holiness movement. Too little is made of justifying grace. The standard is too low. People are allowed to believe that they can give way to murmuring, complaining, faultfinding and backbiting, and then on top of all this, come forward and in one service seek and obtain the experience of holiness. It is false! They simply get reinstated and restored to their first love.
The difference between justifying and sanctifying grace is that in justification we get complete victory over everything; over every temper and habit that formerly brought us into bondage. We are overcomers. Like the disciples before the day of Pentecost, not only the devils, but our own devilish tendencies are subject unto us because of the nature of Christ within. But in sanctifying grace, we not only have victory over everything, but we get complete deliverance from everything -- from the inward stirrings of the carnal nature, from the unhallowed sensations that stir, though but for a moment, and are then subdued and brought into captivity.
In justification we get something we never had before; we get all the graces of the Spirit, while in entire sanctification we get rid of that which we always had. In justification we get a peace that passeth understanding; in entire sanctification we get a peace that passeth misunderstanding. We pass right by the things that formerly affected and annoyed us.
And now, my dear hearers, how is it with you? Do you have that grace that enables you to be patient in tribulation? Grace that enables you to hold still and answer never a word when insulted and abused. If so, you have great reason to rejoice, for you are a good candidate for a better experience.
III. And this brings us to the third class, viz., those spoken of in Romans 5:3, "Not only so, but we glory in tribulation also." This is the climax of Christian experience. He who has this experience, he who can "rejoice evermore and in everything give thanks," yea, he who, as Wesley says, "sees God in everything and cheerfully embraces it," he is well nigh omnipotent! Such a one is a puzzle and an enigma to the world and the devil.
If you have this experience, you will not necessarily be exempt from sorrow and trouble of various kinds, but you will have the ability, yea, the adaptability to turn it all to your account and the glory of God. It is this that confounds the skeptic and silences the guns of hell.
How remarkable to see an individual who at one time went down under the artillery fire of criticism and misunderstanding, but who now is able, like a beacon light, like an impregnable fortress, not only to patiently endure all that wicked men and devils can inflict and a merciful God permit, but who now is able to glory and rejoice in the midst of the fiery furnace! Yes, who like the three Hebrew children, harness up the flames of hate, affliction and tyranny, compelling them to simply burn off the bands that bound, thus defeating the concerted schemes of earth and hell, and making the devil ashamed that he ever had anything to do with him.
Man might be likened to a bar of steel, worth in the rough, $5.00. But this same bar of steel can be made into horseshoes and bring $10.00. When put through another process and made into knives it is worth $200.00. When toughened, beaten and tempered and made into needles it is worth $6,000.00. Put it through another and severer process and make it into mainsprings, and now it is worth $200,000.00. But it reaches its climax when made into hair-springs and brings $2,000,000.00. Now it is worth sixty times the value of the same weight in gold. Think of it! A rough, old sinner kneels at the penitent form and after giving himself to Christ the wonderful transformation begins and finally he walks off with God, keeping step as accurately as a regulator keeps time to the second. O, brother, do not be content to be rated with horseshoes or knife blades. Insist on being your best for God. He sees wonderful resources and possibilities in you if you will only submit to the Divine process. Will you do so?
"And not only so." This means an addition to what has already been said. And what has already been said? We are told that "we have access by faith unto this grace wherein we stand." Standing grace is nothing more than justifying grace, though superficial teachers teach otherwise. Yea, in addition to this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God, we glory in tribulation also. We outwit the devil. We defeat him at his own game, if you please. We rejoice, not because of ill happenings and provocations, but because all the chaffings and questionings against the Divine Providence are gone.
When a young man I worked in a blacksmith shop. In case I desired to draw out a heavy piece of iron and make it into a useful implement, I took the large tongs and seizing the iron, plunged it into the furnace and after heating it to a white heat brought it out upon the anvil. Then calling to a helper I asked him to take the sledgehammer and strike for me. With one hand I held the iron and with the other used a small hammer. To an onlooker it might appear as though I was simply playing with the small hammer and making the helper do all the work. But no, he does not know where to strike only as the little hammer indicates the spot. The little hammer was also used to indicate when to stop striking, by a gentle tap upon the anvil.
In like manner the Lord deals with us. In the first place we are too crude and crusty for Him to use, hence He is compelled to resort to the beating process. First He plunges us into a furnace of affliction or misunderstanding. Next He calls upon the devil or some opposer to strike for Him. Of course they are always glad to accept for they have been waiting a long time for this opportunity. Our blessed Lord, however, always reserves the right to hold the tongs, and give the gentle tap the moment we have learned our lesson. Were it not that He keeps a steady hold on us we would never survive. Thank God the devil never gets the tongs. He cannot get through the hedge and touch a saint until he goes to headquarters and gets permission.
Again we read, "He will give grace and glory: no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly." There are many saints who have grace sufficient to keep patient under all circumstances, and this is remarkable, but God purposes to give not only grace, but glory, and this is what is so sadly lacking among the generality of professed Christians. It is the glory, the anointing, the holy unction, that makes sinners feel cheap and little. Oh! that you had more of it. If you had, more people would "run unto thee because of the Holy One of Israel. for He hath glorified thee." You would then not only be a rebuke to worldlings and compromisers, but a living and glorious invitation to come to Jesus.
Brother, sister, just in proportion as you lack this glory, you will be a hindrance to the cause you represent. Sinners will not give up their worldly pleasures until they see something in you that far eclipses and surpasses their transient joys.
"Still nigh me, O my Savior, stand,
And guard in fierce temptation's hour;
Hide in the hollow of Thy hand;
Show forth in me Thy saving power;
Still be Thy arms my sure defense,
Nor earth nor hell shall pluck me thence.
"When darkness intercepts the skies,
And sorrow's waves around me roll,
And high the storms of trouble rise,
And half o'erwhelm my sinking soul;
My soul a sudden calm shall feel,
And hear a whisper, 'Peace be still!'
"Though in affliction's furnace tried,
Unhurt on snares and death I'll trade;
Though sin assail, and hell, thrown wide,
Pour all its flames upon my head;
Like Moses' bush I'll mount the higher,
And flourish, unconsumed, in fire."