by Rev. Paul D. Friederichsen
"Blessed be God . . . the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation,
that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble,
by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God."
[Serving as a missionary in the Philippines under the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, Rev. Friederichsen with his family were prisoners of war after the outbreak of World War II. This message was such a personal comfort that it was delivered as an encouragement to others in the Prison Camp in Manila during the days of starvation before being liberated February 3, 1945. May the Lord be pleased to make it a similar blessing to others undergoing trials. ]
DURING OUR IMPRISONMENT
by the Japanese in Santo Tomas prison camp, we sought and found great comfort from the Word of God. Thus we feel it is our duty, by means of this message to comfort others who may be in any trouble with the comfort wherewith we ourselves have been comforted of God.
In this search of the Scriptures for encouragement in adversity, we have found three main facts: (1) that adversity is inevitable but that (2) adversity is invaluable, and (3) that adversity is not invincible.
ADVERSITY IS INEVITABLE
God conducts a school of adversity in which many of the lessons are spelled out in tears, sweat and blood. God has decreed distresses for His children. The wilderness, is still the road to Canaan. Christ went through Bethany (the house of grief) before entering Jerusalem (the vision of peace). Gethsemane preceded glory.
What was said of Christ may be said of every Christian, "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:26).
The apostle Paul was set forth by the Lord Jesus Christ as the great example of the Church. "Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy. that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering for a pattern to them which, should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting" (1 Timothy 1:16).
In the apostle Paul, the Lord Jesus Christ portrays as a pattern for future believers His longsuffering to the greatest of sinners and all longsuffering in the greatest of saints . "For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake'' (Acts 9:16).
We, too are given this service of suffering. It is often much easier to serve Christ by working than to serve Him by suffering. When going through troubles it is a good thing to read the account of Paul 's testings listed in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. Our hardships are only a pinprick in comparison: "In labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches."
Every work for God is opposed. All Satan's territory that we invade is bitterly contended. Paul and Barnabas instructed the Galatians concerning the oppositions that believers must endure. "They returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God."(Acts 14:21,22 ).
To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Paul thus forearmed the Thessalonians. "That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know" (1Thess. 3:3-4).
To the Philippians Paul wrote, "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake" (Phil. 1:29).
Peter Likewise informs us that adversity is inevitable. "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1 Pet. 2:21).
In Hebrews 12:6, 7 we are told that sonship and suffering go together. "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" David, the man after God's own heart, also experienced that suffering is bound to come to the saint. "Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all" (Psa. 34:19).
Our Lord Himself, perhaps more than any other, graciously prepared us in advance to expect adversity as well as how to meet it. "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16).
Our position as sheep is often precarious and uncomfortable. In John 15:20 our Lord again reminds us, "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also." "Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come" (Luke 17:1). "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (Jn 16:33).
Even though the Scriptures, then, fully inform us that adversity is inevitable, we need not let this discourage us, because. . .
ADVERSITY IS INVALUABLE
The best things of life come out of suffering. Before the flowers can adorn our gardens, the soil must be broken and the weeds pulled. Before the symmetrical statue can he erected, the marble must be quarried, sawn and chiseled. Before the orchestra can send forth its harmony, the instruments must pass through a process of tuning. Before the body can enjoy healing, the bitter medicine must be applied. Before the day of graduation, years of study must be passed.
Adversity is invaluable to our character. "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes" (Psa. 119:71). Trouble drives us to the heart of the Word and the Word into our heart. Adversity not only causes us to learn God's Word, but also to keep it. "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word" (Psa. 119:67). It is one thing to know the Bible and another thing to keep and obey it. Suffering is the school of obedience. "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered" (Heb. 5:8).
Sonship nor any amount of holiness, love or prayer can exempt us from the school of adversity. Yet suffering does not mar sonship; rather it is the greatest teacher. Because it touches our self, and sweeps away all shame, thus molding our character and deepening it in holiness and righteousness. "For they [the fathers of our flesh] verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Heb. 12:10-11).
Often the Lord must permit us to get into trouble in order to draw us back to Himself. "Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me: thou shalt stretch forth thine hand against the wrath of mine enemies, and thy right hand shall save me" (Psa. 138:7). It is in the center of disaster that He revives us, not fails us. Have we a broken and contrite heart which God will not despise?
Peter shows us some of the remarkable results of suffering. "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you" (1 Pet. 5:10). We are made perfect, mature, fully equipped as a soldier for useful duty. Suffering establishes and strengthens us to be firm and powerful to resist attack. It settles us, giving us as a tree a firm rooting and grounding so that we shall not be moved.
A tree transplanted every week would not flourish. Thus adversity is the process used to help us become set in new and permanent and godly habits of life. This advancement in character is also referred to in James 1:3,4. "The trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." Patience is a pearl found only in the deep sea of affliction.
Again the character-building value of trouble is expressed in Romans 5:3, 4. "We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience [endurance]; And patience, experience [approvedness]; and experience, hope." In the natural man, tribulation worketh impatience which sours into hopelessness, while in the new man, however, tribulation worketh patience which soars to the heights of rejoicing " in hope of the glory of God."
Our characters are beautified when we have the closest fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who know Him in the fellowship of His sufferings are those who become conformed to His likeness. "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: "But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers [sharers] of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (1 Pet 4:12-13).
Job, who went through so much anguish of body and mind, gives us a beautiful illustration of the character-transforming power of suffering. "But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold'' (Job 23: 10).
In the town of Baguio (Bog-yo), which is located north of Manila in the mountains of the Philippines, there are a number of gold mines. Once we visited one of these mines. First we saw small cars on tracks loaded from within the mountain with rock, emerging from an opening on the hillside. We watched this rock being crushed, pulverized, and submitted to various chemicals. Minute particles of gold were thus separated from the useless shale and then submitted to fierce fires in the refining furnace. Later, the molten shining gold was poured into bricks which were worth around $25,000 each. We were told that this was not yet pure gold, but it would yet have to endure seven more such refining fires before it emerged as pure gold.
Suppose that those stones in the mountains could think and speak. Perhaps they would reason something like this: Why do I have to be removed from my place in the hills to be pounded, pulverized, by biting chemicals, and finally submitted to seven fiery furnaces? We would reply to the speaking gray rocks, What use are you buried there beneath the tons of useless debris? You have within you that which is exceedingly valuable, useful and beautiful. Through the process of seeming destruction alone can you be separated from the impurities that keep you from the usefulness, beauty and purity that might be yours.
We so often would rather lie dormant and useless as the dull gray stones in the mountain just because it takes suffering to polish and reveal the value that should be ours. Should we not rather praise God that He has blasted us with the gospel, which is the dynamite of God unto salvation, from our lost estate, and has begun the process of purification and refining so that we may come forth as pure gold?
Then, too, adversity is invaluable to our conduct. Suffering is the preparation for the service of sympathy. The training is costly. Job's friends were miserable comforters because they had never experienced adversity such as Job was passing through, and their words were powerless to help. The world is full of comfortless hearts.
Adversity will not only prepare us for a service of sympathy, but it will also make us fruitful in the service of the salvation of sinners. "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth [pruneth] it, that it may bring forth more fruit" (Jn. 15:2). The knife of adversity is often used to cut away superfluous leaves and branches that prevent the life-giving sap from producing precious fruit.
The apostle Paul tells how valuable was his experience of imprisonment. "But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear" (Phil. 1:12-14).
The Philippians looked on Paul's imprisonment as a calamity, but he showed them that it was a means of blessing. Paul finally reached his long prayed-for desire of preaching Christ in Rome, even though he had not anticipated going there as a prisoner.
Adversity is not only invaluable to us in this life for our character and conduct, but also in the life to come for our capacity for glory. "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:17) . If we only realized the work which our daily tribulations perform for us in storing up a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory for future enjoyment, we would not shun and despise them, but rather welcome all that God permits.
Romans 8:17, 18 indicates that there is a definite quantitative and qualitative relation between our sufferings with Christ here and our participation with Christ in glory. "If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
Also compare the value of trials in this life in relation to their reward in the next life-"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. ( l Pet. 1 7).
How often, however, we show a perverted sense of values, for we act as savages bartering away gold for trinkets. Our Lord counsels us to buy of Him gold tried in the fire that we may be rich.
The afflicted Hebrew Christians were commended for the manner in which they suffered the loss of material things in this life because they valued the things of the next life. "For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance" (Heb. 10:34).
ADVERSITY IS NOT INVINCIBLE
The wars and battles of this world may be won, but usually at a great loss to the conqueror. In life's fight against adversities, Christians suffer the loss of no essential thing, and thus we can be said to be more than conquerors. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?....Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Rom. 8:35-37).
As grain loses only the useless chaff by being beaten with the nail, so Christians lose only the hindrances and impurities by the refining processes of adversity. Faith is strengthened, love is expanded, experience is deepened, and knowledge is increased.
We, then, have a secret weapon against adversity, a weapon that is put into our hands by Christ Himself. It is not a death-dealing atomic bomb reigning terror and horror on mankind, but our secret weapon in this unceasing fight against the troubles of life is found in one word that is so often coupled with victory over suffering in the Scriptures . That secret weapon is rejoicing!
"The joy of the LORD is your strength" (Neh. 8:10). But notice that this joy is not mere pumped-up exuberance that the world calls joy. It is the joy of the Lord; a joy from God, because of God and in God! "But rejoice inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (l Pet. 4:l3). "My brethren, count it all joy when we fall into diverse temptations and trials" (Jas. 1:2). Do we know the secret of extracting joy from the jolts of life? Do we experience all joy in all trials? Do we count it all joy, pure joy, the highest joy, when we are tried?
"In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world" (Jn. 16:33). We are always on the winning side with Christ and we cannot lose for "all things work together for good to them that love God" (Rom. 8:28). Thus we are more than conquerors, for we have full assurance of victory all through the battle. "And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name" (Acts 5:41).
We are able to rejoice in suffering for Christ's sake because it is by Christ's appointment and with Christ's support, "...and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods" (see Heb. 10:32-35). "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (Matt. 5:11-12). "We glory in tribulations .." (Rom. 5:3). "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
Note the emphasis on rejoicing by the Old Testament prophet in trial. "Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation" (Hab. 3:17-18).
Paul was warned of the sufferings ahead, but notice his emphasis on rejoicing: "And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." (Acts 20:22-24).
Truly, they were more than conquerors, even though captives. So, likewise, if we simply possess our possessions, we shall find that although adversity is inevitable, it is invaluable, and that it is not invincible because we are, literally,...
"more than conquerors through him that loved us"