Part 12: Preparations for Sufferings
Sadly, many Christians have only heard about God's gift of faith as a "name it and claim it" method of attaining more wealth and health. They have been taught that faith is a tool to gain more money, power, influence and status. This sugar-candied faith doctrine services their fleshly lusts, carnal desires, worldly ambitions and personal status.
But biblical faith is much different than this, especially when a believer is undergoing persecution. Faith, according to John Flavel* in his classic work "Preparation for Sufferings," "is the grace that must do the main service" in an hour of trial and suffering and "hath the principal hand in supporting the Christian under every burden. This is the grace that crowns our heads with victory in the day of battle, Ephesians 6:16: 'Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.'"
Flavel reminds us that faith is an act of God's special grace. This faith
- enabled Paul to state: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
- is described by Peter: "...to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:1).
- is admired by Christ when evidenced by the Centurian: "When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel."
- overcomes all difficulties: "Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth" (Mark 9:23).
- is in Christ, without which we can do nothing: "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).
- is "that sword that hath obtained so many victories over the world" in our lives: "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (1 John 5:4).
- is "that trusty shield that hath quenched so many deadly darts of temptation, which have been leveled at the very heart of a Christian in the day of battle." (Eph. 6:16, quoted above)
- is how a Christian lives, when all outward, sensible comforts die: "...but the just shall live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:4b).
- is "the ground upon which the Christian fixes his foot, and never fails under him: "...for by faith ye stand" (1 Cor 1:24).
Flavel tells us that "there are two things that sink a man's spirit when under sufferings" which are 1) the "greatness of the troubles, and 2) the weakness of the soul to bear them." But, he says, faith can make a weak soul strong, and heavy troubles light." How? "By purging out of the soul those enfeebling and weakening distempers," which include both guilt and fear. Flavel's older form of English here is both provocative and intriguing. "Distempers" in our modern vernacular would mean "out of sorts" mentally or physically. In other words, guilt and fear can enfeeble, weaken and debilitate us under trial.
Is our guilt a real guilt, as a result of sin in our lives? God's Word promises us that the "goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance" (Romans 2:4) and that "godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation" (2 Cor. 7:9). Is our guilt a false guilt, an experience of being "tossed with tempest" (Isaiah 54:11)? We must remember that Satan is called "the accuser of our brethren" (Rev. 12:10) and that he seeks to have a heyday with our feelings and emotions by accusing us in time of trial. The antidote to being overwhelmed by fear and guilt is being grounded in Scripture, and believing God's promises to us. Flavel lists several examples:
- "Doth darkness, like the shadow of death overspread the earth, and all the lights of earthly comforts disappear? Then faith supports the heart by looking to the Lord, Micah 7:7-8. And this look of faith exceedingly revives the heart, Psalm 34:4-5."
- "Doth God pluck away all earthly props from under your feet, and leave you nothing visible to rest upon? In that exigence faith puts forth a suitable act,... Resting or staying upon God, Isaiah 26:3."
- "Do temptations strive to put off the soul from Christ, and discourage it from leaning upon the promise? Then [faith] puts forth an act of resolution, Job 13:15."
- Faith can be an "act of waiting, Isaiah 49:23" as opposed to sinful haste, Isaiah 28:16." This is a particularly convicting reminder in our modern era filled with impatience, short fuses, sound bytes and tweets, rushing, competing, running roughshod, and always trying to be the first.
- "Doth God at any time call the soul forth to some difficult service, against which the flesh and carnal reason dispute and plead? Now faith helps the soul by putting forth an act of obedience,... Romans 16:26."
- "Doth a poor believer find himself overmatched by troubles and temptations, and his own inherent strength begin to fail under the burden? Then faith leads him to an omnipotent God, and so secures him from fainting under his trouble, Psalm 61:2."
Flavel remarks that this gracious gift of faith paradoxically "lightens the Christians burdens, as well as strengthens his back to bear." It is encouraging to learn that "this grace of faith doth strangely alter the very nature of sufferings, taking away both the heaviness and horror of them." How can this be?
- "By committing the business to Christ, and leaving the matter with Him; and so quitting the soul of all these anxieties and perturbations, which are the very burden and weight of affliction, Psalm 37." What are those things that trouble us most but our own "unruly, seditious, and clamorous thoughts"!
- "By discovering much present good in our troubles,... Heb. 12:10, Isaiah 27:9."
- By foreseeing the end and final removal of [our troubles], and that near at hand, 2 Cor. 4:17... "yet a little while." This is a phrase that is found eleven times in Scripture, especially the hope in Hebrews 10:37: "For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry."
- "By comparing our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ and "sufferings of others of the saints in former ages," and especially "with the sufferings of the damned. O what is this to everlasting burnings! What is a prison to hell?"
Flavel exhorts the believer to "attend diligently upon the ministration of the Gospel, 1 Peter 2:2: 'As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.' Here he emphasizes the doctrine of faith found in Scripture. He also encourages the believer to frequently act on faith as a "special means of improving it" - "rouse it up out of the dull habit, and live in the daily exercise of it," 1 Thess. 3:10, 2 Thess. 1:11, 1 Peter 1:7.
Flavel even recommends keeping a journal. But this isn't the same as modern journaling which is full of fanciful feelings, or worse. Rather he tells us to keep "catalogues of all your remarkable experiences; treasure them up as food to your faith in time to come" so you can say as Joshua did "Not one thing hath failed," Joshua 23:14, and "as Elizabeth said to Mary, Luke 1:45: 'And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.'" In other words, keep track of the many times that God has blessed you, delivered you, protected you, and given you faith enough for the trials at hand. Flavel observes, "We often find Christ charging the people's unbelief on a bad memory, Matthew 16:8-9.
He warns against focusing or trusting on our feelings. He refers to this as "sense, which is the supplanter of faith...."
If you live upon things earthly, you put your faith out of its office: Things earthly have an enmity to faith.... Oh you that live so much by sight and sense on things visible, what will you do when in David's or Paul's case, Psalm 142:4, 2 Tim. 4:16, when all outward encouragements and stays shall utterly fail?
Reader, I advise and charge thee in the name of the Lord, and as thou hopest to live when visible comforts die, that thou be diligent in the improvement and preparation of this excellent grace of faith: if it fail, though failest with it; and as thy faith is, so art thou. Consult also the cloud of witnesses, and see if thou canst find a man amongst them that did not achieve the victory by his faith.
"And He saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then He arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm." (Matthew 8:26)
1. Works of John Flavel (6 vol set), Banner of Truth Trust (1820, 1968), ISBN 0-85151-060-4. Flavel's dissertation titled "Preparations for Suffering, or The Best Work in the Worst Times" appears in Volume 6, pages 3-83.
2. See obsolete definition of distemper at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/distemper.
3. See definition of enfeeble at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/enfeeble.
4. We included verse 8. These verses are precious promises indeed: "Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me."
5. We included verse 4, which is a wonderful encouragement and worth memorizing: "I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto Him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed."
6. This is the familiar verse that is also worthy of memorization: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee." Note that this verse has nothing in common with the modern perversions of "peace," especially the neoevangelical emphases on affluence and global governance.
7. Job 13:15a is the familiar declaration of Job, in the midst of his troubles, that "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him:...."
8. Isaiah 49:23b promises us: "... and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for Me."
9. Flavel is emphasizing the last section of Isaiah 28:16, which states: "Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste."
10. Romans 16:26 states: "But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith."
11. Psalm 61:2 states: "From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I."
12. Psalm 37:5 states: "Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass."
13. Hebrews 12:10 reminds us of the reason for trials: "For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness." Isaiah 27:9 says: "By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin;..."
14. 2 Cor. 4:17 encourages us with a heavenly worldview: "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
15. See this webpage for other instances of this phrase: http://www.blueletterbible.org/search/translationResults.cfm?Criteria=yet+a+little+while&t=KJV
16. 1 Thess. 3:10 says: "Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?" and 2 Thess 1:11 says: "Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power." 1 Peter 1:7 says: "That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ."
17. Matthew 17:8-9 says: "Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread? Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?"
18. Both verses speak of being alone during trial, except for the presence of the Lord. Psalm 142:4 states: "I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul." 2 Timothy 4:16 says: "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge."
19. A reference to Hebrews 12:1: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
*ED. NOTE: Italics in original, bold added. We have taken minor liberties to reformat some of the published text by altering some of the punctuation, Roman numerals, and other obsolete forms.