By J.R. Miller
"I am convinced that neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39
One of the finest passages in Paul's letters--is his triumphant expression of confidence that nothing can separate the Christian from the love of God. We are not surprised that he should mention death, for death carries us out from "our home of time and place," into a mystery which no eye can penetrate. We are grateful therefore for the assurance that death will not separate us from the love of God.
There is a deep significance, however, in the fact that life itself is named among the perils to which we are exposed, and in the assurance that it cannot separate us from God's love.
Living is fraught with far more danger than dying! Think what life is. It is not merely getting through this world in the best way we can. We are not here only to make a living--but to make a life, to grow, to do God's will, to leave at least one spot of the world a little brighter and better. Think of the way we begin life--as babies, with great possibilities--but all to be developed. Think how much depends upon our strength--and yet how weak we are; upon our wisdom--and how ignorant we are. Think of the evil there is in the world--and how easy it is for us to drift away on its dark tides. Think of the temptations we must meet continually--and how unequal we are to the terrific struggle with them. Think of the work we have to do--and the burdens we must carry--and the responsibilities that are ours. Think of the mistakes we may make--and of what disastrous consequences may result from them.
It is not easy to live! Every step of the passage from birth to death--is through perils and antagonisms. Yet we have the assurance that even life, with all it dangers, perils and conflicts, cannot separate us from the love of God; that in all these things we may be more than conquerors through him that loved us.
As serious then as life is, we need not dread to live. No enemy can really harm us. No burden can crush us. No power can wrench us away from the keeping of God. Indeed, divine love changes all the hard things--into blessings. There is a way of living in this world, by which the evil is transmuted into good. Before the Master went away he prayed for the keeping of his disciples in the perils they must meet, committing them to the Father's care. He did not ask that they should be taken out of the world. It might have seemed greater kindness to them, if he had done this. But they had a work to do in the world and there was also a work to be done in them.
When we find life almost harder than we can bear, with struggle, opposition, human enmity, or sore trial--it will help us to remember that our Master wants us just where we are--or he would not leave us there.
But while Jesus did not ask that his disciples should be taken from the world--he did ask that they might be kept from its evil. The true prayer in time of great trial, care or sorrow, is, not that we shall be delivered from the difficult experiences--but that we may pass through them unharmed. It is right for us to pray to be kept from evil--but there is only one evil. It is not sickness, it is not poverty, it is not human wrong and cruelty, it is not earthly loss--the only evil is sin! Nothing else can harm us! One rebellious thought will hurt us more than all the martyrs' fires we could suffer, or the longest and most dreadful agonies of pain we could endure!
There is another word of Paul's which comes in here: "We know that to those who love God--all things work together for good." Instead of being something to dread, therefore, because of its dangers and antagonisms, its burdens and sorrows--life is a school of good. Temptations are meant by the Evil One to destroy us--but when we resist and overcome them, they become helpers of our growth and progress, leaving us stronger and wiser. Sorrows which seem only to wound and scar--purify and enrich our characters. The best lives are those that have suffered the most and struggled the most. The men and women who reach the finest things in character and the largest usefulness, are not those who have had only ease and a comfortable life--but those who have learned in struggle how to be strong--and in suffering how to be sympathetic and gentle.
In the hardest experiences of life--we are always sure of God's love. An Arctic explorer was asked whether during the long months of slow starvation which he and his companions had endured, they suffered greatly from the pangs of hunger. He replied that these pangs were forgotten in the feeling that their friends at home had forgotten them and were not coming to rescue them. There is no suffering so bitter--as the sense of abandonment, the thought that nobody cares. But however painful and hard our condition may be, however men may wrong us and injure us--Christian faith assures us that God loves us, that he has not forgotten us, that he cares.
Life is not a series of merely unplanned, unpurposed, fortuitous happenings. "Every man's life is a plan of God." A divine purpose runs through all the events and circumstances of our days. This purpose is not only that we should do a certain amount of work in the world--but that we ourselves should be built up into strength and beauty of character.
Work is not a curse, as is sometimes thoughtlessly said--it is a means of grace. The reason we have to work is not primarily because the world needs the work--but because we need it!
Men are not in business just to build so many houses a year, to sell so many bales of goods, to cultivate so many acres of land, to do the routine work of their calling successfully--they are set to these duties in order that in them they may grow into men--strong, true, gentle, worthy men.
Women are not appointed to certain tasks in household work, in social life, in teaching or business, merely to become good housekeepers, good business women, or good teachers, nurses, or physicians--the divine purpose in all their toil--is that they may grow into noble womanhood.
Sometimes men fail in their business ventures or in their professions. They give their best strength and their most strenuous efforts to some work, and it does not succeed. The work fails--but the men need not fail. It is a great thing to meet misfortune victoriously, coming out of it with life unhurt, with new strength and courage for another effort.
A distinguished lawyer lost an important case in the courts. He showed no feeling of discouragement, however, and a friend asked him how he could take his disappointment so calmly. "When it is over," said the great lawyer, "I have no more to do with it. If I kept thinking of my defeats, I feel that I would go mad. But I will not brood over them. When one case is done, I drop it, whatever the result may be, and go on to the next."
It is a fine thing to see a boy, when his competitor has won the game, reach out his hand to him in manly congratulation. He has lost the game--but he has won in nobility. The only real defeat, is when a man shows an unmanly spirit and yields to depression after losing in business, or pouts and sulks and acts like a baby when he has failed to get the prize he wanted.
It is one of the wonders of divine love, that God will take even our blemishes and sins, when we truly repent of them and give them into his hands--and make them blessings to us in some way.
A friend once showed Ruskin a costly handkerchief on which a blot of ink had been made. "Nothing can be done with that!" the friend said, thinking the handkerchief worthless and ruined now. Ruskin carried it away with him and after a time sent it back to his friend. In a most skillful and artistic way--he had made a fine design on the handkerchief, using the blot as its basis. Instead of being ruined, the handkerchief was made far more beautiful and valuable.
Just so, God takes the blots and flaws and stains upon our lives, the disfiguring blemishes, when we commit them to him, and by his marvelous grace changes them into marks of beauty!
David's grievous sin, was not only forgiven--but was made a transforming power in his life. Peter's pitiful fall, became a step upward through his Lord's forgiveness and gentle dealing. Peter never would have become the man he afterward became--if he had not denied his Lord, and then repented and been restored.
There ought to be great comfort for us in the truth--that God is transforming us in all our life. It is not easy to make a man or a woman into the beauty God wants to see. Some of us are harder to make, too, than others. Sometimes the cost is terrific. It took a great deal of severe discipline and schooling to make an apostle of Peter--but the price paid was not too much--when the result was such a magnificent man.
Sometimes we think God deals severely with us. We have many defeats and disappointments. We have sorrows and losses. We stumble and fall again and again. 'Why is it?' we ask. Here is the answer: God is making us. He wants us to grow into strength and beauty of character. He wants us to do service among men which shall be a blessing to them. He wants to have us get to heaven at last. It costs a great deal--but is any price of pain, anguish, or loss too great to pay, for such an outcome?
There is one thing always to be remembered. Paul tells us that we become more than conquerors in all life's trials, dangers, struggles, temptations, and sorrows, only "through him that loved us." Without Christ--we can only be defeated. There is only one secret that can turn evil into good, pain into blessing--that is the love of Christ. There is only one Hand that can take the blotted life and transform it into beauty.
But there is a way we can miss all this blessing. God's love changes not; nothing can separate us from it. Yet unbelief can rob us of all the blessing of that love. We can shut it out of our hearts if we will. Then everything in life will harm, instead of help us. The one secret of being in the world and not of the world; of passing through life and not being hurt by life's evil; of having all things work together for good to us--the one and only secret--is to have the love of God in our hearts. No one can be lost, whose heart keeps this blessed love in it always.