is a common idea that the pathway of faith is strewn with flowers and that
when God interposes in the life of His people, He does it on a scale so
grand that He lifts us out from the plane of difficulties. The actual
fact, however, is that the real experience is quite contrary. It
is only when we come to trust God that we meet with trials and difficulties.
The story of the Bible is one of alternate trial and triumph in the case
of everyone of the cloud of witness from Abel down to the latest martyr.
Look at the patriarchal story. Abraham went out, believing God to
meet the promise of a glorious inheritance, but the first thing he found
was famine and desolation in the land of promise, compelling him to go
down to Egypt for his very subsistence. His whole life was a story
of narrow places and painful testing, and every blessing was wrung, as
it were, from the very jaws of difficulty and natural impossibility.
Still more was Isaac's, a suffering life. Petty trials marked the
whole pathway of the patriarch. His very wife was selected for him
by another. His favorite son became disappointment. The very
wells he dug in the desert became a source of jealous contention, and he
was pushed from place to place, until his steppings were marked by the
very names which recall only associations of pain and sorrow.
Jacob's life was one long scene of testing, and looking back even from
the sunlight of his closing and happier days, he could only say in retrospect,
"Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been."
Above all the patriarchal family, Joseph seemed born for trial. The
opening vision of his faith was bright as heaven, but soon it was darkly
clouded by treachery and crime on the part of his very brethren, long years
of exile, ignominy, unjust suspicion and protracted suspense until, at
last, "the iron entered into his soul," and his deliverance, when it came
was like Paul's escape from shipwreck, through the most trifling providential
So Moses passed through the narrow place of difficulty and bitter trial,
and his very choice is described as a lot of "affliction with the people
David, Israel's great king, and Christ's glorious type, even after he was
promised the throne and anointed king, was hunted as a partridge in the
mountains of Judah, and compelled to flee from refuge to refuge in the
caves and deserts, and narrowly saved again and again, as Job expresses
it, "by the skin of his teeth."
But need we go further than the great Example Himself, whose name is the
"Man of Sorrows," whose life was made "perfect through sufferings"; who
in very infancy was compelled to flee from Herod's bloody hand to Egypt
for protection, and who could not be spared by bitter agony of the garden
and the cross in the accomplishing of our redemption?
Like Him, the great Apostle Paul was more than anything else an example
of how much a child of God can suffer without being crushed and broken
in spirit. The apostle seems to have been set forth as a "gazing stock
to angels and to men," of the possibility of human endurance sustained
by the grace of God, and many of his trials were just like this last scene
in the book of Acts, so petty, so slow, so tedious, so commonplace, that
there is nothing of the color of romance about them, but they are more
like a scramble for life.
The very first experience after his conversion was of this character.
On account of his testifying for the Lord Jesus in Damascus, he was hunted
down and obliged to flee for his life. But we behold no heavenly
chariot transporting the holy apostle amid thunderbolts of flame from the
reach of his foes, but "through a window in a basket" was he let down over
the walls of Damascus, and so escaped their hands. In an old clothes
basket, like a bundle of laundry, the servant of Jesus Christ was dropped
from the window and ignominiously fled from the hate of his foes.
So again, we find him left for months in lonely dungeons; we see him walking
on foot along the shores of the Aegean Sea; again we find him telling of
his watchings, his fastings, and his desertion by friends, of his brutal
and shameful beatings before an insulting rabble; and here, even after
God has promised, by a heavenly vision, to deliver him, we see him for
days left to toss upon a stormy sea, obliged to stand guard over the treacherous
seamen, and tell them that their presence is indispensable for the escape
of the passengers. And, at last, when the deliverance comes, their
is no heavenly galley sailing from the skies to take off the noble prisoner;
there is no angel from walking upon the waters and stilling the raging
breakers; there is no supernatural sign of the transcendent miracle that
is being wrought; but one is compelled to seize a spar, and another a floating
plank, and another climb on a fragment of the wreck, and another to strike
out and swim for his life, and so the strange commonplace story reads,
"some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so
it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land."
Beloved, here is God's pattern for our own lives. Here is a gospel
of help for people that have to live in this everyday world with real and
ordinary surroundings, and a thousand practical conditions which have to
be met in a thoroughly practical way. God's promises and God's providences
do not lift us out of the plane of common sense and commonplace trial,
but it is through these very things that faith is perfected, and that God
loves to interweave the golden threads of His love along with the warp
and woof of our everyday experience. It is most helpful to us to
realize that we have a God who thus comes into the most common place things,
and that it is not evidence that He has failed us if He allows ten thousand
difficulties on every side to throng us, and deliver us in answer to prayer
at last, by the very narrowest margin, and through straits so narrow that
we seem to be barely delivered at the very point of disaster and from the
very jaws of destruction.