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THE DISCIPLINE OF SUFFERING

By REV. BURDETT HART, D. D.

Most religions offer pleasure to their adherents. Sometimes voluptuous delights win sordid men to their suj)port. Christianity alone
wins men at the cost of suffering. It sets before the ungodly and pleasure -loving world sacrifice, self-denial, hardship, as the recompense
of embracing it. It speaks out to a race bent on
personal gratification and assures them that by
self immolation they are to be strengthened
and perfected. It holds forth the Cross as the
symbol of its system and its faith. Its gospel is
a proclamation of self denial and cross bearing.
No wonder that the progress of Christianity
is slow! No wonder that men turn their faces
away from its founder, close their ears to its
preachers and prefer a softer system and an easier faith! No wonder that in a world like this
idolatries abound, infidelities flourish, easy religions gain credence and adhesion! No wonder that Paganism numbers two^thirds of the
human family and that the narrow way has only here and there a traveler! The ruling passion of this world demands indulgence, demands
personal and i)()pular pleasure, demands tribute
from all sources of gratification, from the appetites and lusts of the body, from the imagina-

THE DISCIPLINE OF SUFFERING 173

tions and desires of the soul, from the ambitions


and rivalries which rule and drive men, from the
wealth which can be accumulated, from the
power which can be w^on, from the inventions
and devices which can be stimulated and fostered. This is the world's old, inherited, dominant, satisfactory way. What do the crowd care
for anything else? If they can be indulged and
gratified, that ends the matter.

When, therefore, a religion apj^ears which antagonizes all this, which sets aside the selfish
claim and offers self-abnegation, sacrifice, suffering, as the meed of its accei)tance, it meets
with neglect and scorn and opposition. It is
like goods for which there is no market. It is
like food for which there is no ax^petite. It is
like art for which there is no taste or culture.
It is despised and rejected.
So it was with its founder. He was in this
world as a Sufferer. Though He was a son yet
He learned obedience by the things which
He suffered. Though He was the Son of God,
crowiied King of the universe, holding in His
royal name all dignities and all glories and all
blessedness; yet that He might be the Saviour
of a world in revolt He consented to an experience of suffering unrivaled and unknown in all
other history of endurance. He went from His
divine throne to a place of extreme lowliness.
He wore on His sacred ijerson the wounds and

174 ALWAYS UPWARD

bruises of a sinful cruelty. He carried the


crushing load of human sins and human sorrows.
He went alone into the agony of dark Gethsemane and unto the death of Golgotha. He endured the hiding of His Father's face and the
dreadful silence out of which came no answer to
His i^rayer that if it were possible that cup
might pass away from Him. When out of
wicked Jerusalem He bore His own cross on the
mournful i^ath to Calvary He led all His followers in the experience of suffering. He suffered
for them: they joyfully have suffered for His
name, have taken up the cross for Him, and the
world's noblest heroisms have been the witness
of their unflinching fidelity. Yet He was despised and rejected of men and they saw no
beauty in Him who was a man of sorrows and
acquainted with grief.
So it was with the confessors of Christianity.

From the Apostolic days down to our own time,


the exi)erience of the faithful witnesses has
been in the way of suffering. Our Lord assured
His disciples that in the world they should have
tribulation: He told them that the world would
hate them, that they would have to forsake dearest friends for His sake, that the way on which
they must go to be worthy of Him would be a
way of hard service and self denial. They
found it to be so. Their own martyrdom completed the painful story.

THE DISCIPLINE OF SUFFERING 175


The catalogue of St. PauFs sufferings, as given in the second letter to the Corinthians, beginning, '' in lal)ors more abundantly, in prisons
more abundantly, in stripes above measure, in
deaths oft," is an impressive object'lesson of
what it cost to be true to the Saviour. After
the enumeration that great hero of faith could
say, *' On mine own behalf I will not glory, save
in my weaknesses."
And so, on through the hardships of the
l^lanting of the i:)rimitive churches, through the
succession of bloody persecutions which burst
on them with all that cruel ingenuity and malice
could devise and inflict, it was a long, mournful
narrative of terrible infliction on one side and
almost suijerhuman endurance on the other side.
And still, in some places, and in some relations
of life, it costs much to take the Christian name
and place: it requires a willingness to be in the
line of Christ's faithful martyrs.
But suffering as a disciplinary experience, is
not confined to infliction from our ox:)posers, nor
to temptations from the evil one. It comes of
choice and it comes of necessity through the
frailty of our bodies and the action of our minds.
It is not an easy service that some accept for the
spread of the gospel in the world, in abandoning
home and friends and native land, in dwelling,
for instance, on an island like Ponape, in being
subject to arrest, imprisonment, banishment

176 ALWAYS UPWARD

from work and newly^made converts from heathenism. It is not an easy service, even to keep
up the true standard of Christian living in conditions that are outwardly favorable; to be thoroughly and everywhere consistent, to put religious practice before bodily ease and indulgence,
before social ijleasure and worldly relaxation,
when duty calls to holy worshix3 and i)ious efforts; to maintain through outward changes and
through inward variations of feeling, the real
Christian conduct and character, so that men
will recognize the reliable, unchanging, ever
consistent Christian. If it costs something to
keep up this standard, if it costs determination,
a crucifixion of the flesh, less personal indulgence, resistance of tenii)tati(m, the cost is inconsiderable when it is borne for Christ's sake.
We have this treasure in earthen vessels.
There is the subjective experience of suffering
which comes in the form of sickness and bodily
and mental pain, and which has its part in the
develoi^ment of character and in the preparation
of the soul for its future state. We cannot explain this. For often it seems that those who
need it least are those who receive the heaviest
infliction. They seem to us to be blessed in
their lives, to be meet for the inheritance of the
saints in light. Yet they are called to pass
through trials of the severest kind, while others
who apparently need strict discipline pass

THE DISCIPLINE OF SUFFERING 177

through the world unscathed. We cannot explain it. The reasons are hidden in the divine
wisdom which is not yet revealed to us. We
knovv' some things: we do not know all things.
The differences of human d/sc/j^/me propound a

j)rofound mystery. That suffering has its great


ends we can readily acknowledge. That those
who suffer the most will find the greatest rewards is easy to credit. We can assent to that
wonderful statement of the great apostle, who
spoke out of the depths of experience and conviction and of inspiration also: "For our light
affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for
us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight
of glory.'' We can assent to what another great
apostle says: "The God of all grace who hath
called you unto His eternal glory in Christ, after
that ye have suffered a little while, shall Himself
perfect, establish, strengthen you." We can
welcome- the assurance of the Apocalypse that
those brightest spirits who wear the whitest
robes in the white light of the throne, are those
who came up to their resplendent places out of
the great tribulation which scored and scarred
them in their probation. But this does not account for what we now see. It relieves us in
behalf of the sufferers, so far as to give assurance
that they will have recompenses beyond all that
we can yet conceive. But what of those who do
not suffer? What of those who receive only
11

178 ALWAYS UPWARD

good things? What is the meaning of continual joy, of uninterrupted peace, of a life glad and
always sunny and full of ceaseless song? What
of those whose only guests bring cheer and music
to their homes? Are all the others vicarious
sufferers for these? Such are the questions that
are hard to answer, whose answers indeed are in
a book that no human hand can unclasp.
Sometimes we can see, for ourselves the purifying process of suffering. It lifts up the soul,
though it casts down the body. It brings a
heavenly atmosi^here. It etherializes the mind.
It transfigures the whole person. It anticipates
the holy calm and joy and love of the heaven

that is to be. We look on with w^onder, as one


might look with the chemist into the crucible
from which the dross is cast forth and in which
the gold billows in its brilliant purity, when
some most beloved friend, to wdiom the gift of
life was a perfect treasure, for whom friendshii^
was a continual blessedness, is made to pass
months of weary and wearing exaction from
some hidden and relentless malady, until hope
goes out and the brightness of the coming glory
kindles an unwonted light in the eyes iliat look
peacefully upon us. We wonder also when to
another is allotted a loneliness which no lore of
science and no love of friends can relieve, by an
affliction which spoiled cherished x)lans and
broke the harmony of life and the union of those

THE DISCIPLINE OF SUFFERING 179

who were fitted to journey together on this


path which is appointed for us, and to work together in the service from which life gets its
value.
The round world is full of melancholy histories: suffering is woven into the woof of many
lives: memory recalls the patience of the disappointed and the dying.
" He. the young and strong, who cherished
Noble longings for the strife,
By the roadside fell and perished.
Weary with the march of life!
They, the holy ones and weakly,
Who the cross of suffering bore.
Folded their pale hands so meekly,
Spake with us on earth no more."
And the world needs these lessons. In the
mad rush of its ambitious populations there
would be no pause in the swift descent to perdi-

tion did not suffering stand upon the way, did


not the dying and the dead obstruct the passage.
God knows the strength of human passions and
the folly of human choices, and He in mercy
permits the agency of suffering to arrest the
thoughtless and to warn back the demented.
Pitiful as the world-history is now, it would be
vastly more so if affliction had no mission in its
homes, no warning to its souls.
"How poor were earth if all its martyrdoms
If all its struggling sighs of sacrifice,
Were swept away and all were satiate smooth."

180 ALWAYS UPWARD


Moreover, men, all men, need recalling to
God. Him, the chief object of human thought,
they easily forget. Other objects, inferior, unworthy, occupy them. It is necessary that the
Almighty should be revealed to their sordid and
selfish souls, that His voice should be heard impressively in the din of the world's Babel and
the confusion of its enticing tongues. Men receive from Him: their lives are loaded with His
royal benefits: but they receive and forget: they
must feel His hand. As one who has observed
has said:
* * * ' We may forget God in His gifts;
W^e cannot well forget the Hand that holds,
And pierces us, and will not let us go,
However much we strive from under it."
If affliction does not lead to God, to submission to His will, to trust in His mercy, to devotion to His service, the end for which it is sent
is lost. For God does not afflict willingly: His
thought is for our salvation. The stripes are all
from a Father's hand. Love lays the burden on.
Heaven is in what we endure. The shattered
earthly tabernacle is to make room for the house
eternal, not made with human hands. The light
affliction is prei^aration for the eternal weight of

glory. God deals with us as children: and what


loving and obedient child is there whom the father has not chastened? Suffering is of priceless value in its work on character. Men are

THE DISCIPLINE OF SUFFERING 181

made true and great not so much by what they


enjoy as by what they endure. In the physical
structure, muscular development is promoted by
work, by hard service. The arm that wields the
hammer at daily toil, has strength and toughness. So the soul that has hard discipline, that
feels the pain and trouble of misfortune, that toils
on through trial and under burden and with the
strain of sorrow, is made strong, and if it puts
faith in God it receives the strength that He
supplies. It is fitted for higher duty, to be more
helpful to others and more Christ4ike.
" The vine from every living limb bleeds wine:
Is it the poorer for that spirit shed?
Measure thy life by loss instead of gain:
Not by the wine drunk, but the wine poured forth:
For love's strength standeth in love's sacrifice:
And whoso suffers most hath most to give."
Suffering has its meaning in its discipline for
heaven. Strange that sorrow should open the
door to bliss! that the exactions of toil should
afford prepayments for eternal rest ! But it is
the Scriptural teaching that if we suffer with
Him we shall reign with Him: and conversely,
that if we have all good things in this life we
shall have evil things hereafter.
We may well be suspicious of unarrested prosperity, of a life^time that has no reverses and no
sorrow in it. The Revelation indeed opens to
us a world where there shall be neither mourn-

182 ALWAYS UPWAED

ing, nor pain any more, and where death shall


be no more. But it is not this world. Human
life, which is in preparation for that world has
no such enfranchisement. Sorrows here are the
stepping-stones that lead to it. The worn and
the weary rest in its eternal liberty.

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