Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Comfort For The Afflicted

Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction.
Psalms 119:92

This passage tells us four things:
(a) David’s condition – He was afflicted. It is no sign of spirituality to not have troubles and afflictions. This runs counter to the Health and Wealth/Prosperity gospel doctrine, nevertheless this is the testimony of Scripture.

(b) His sense – I should have perished. It is no sign of spirituality to downplay troubles and act numb. David sensed his trouble and, in this verse expresses despair of life.

(c) His remedy – The Word of God. In every situation of life David’s recourse was to God’s word. Psalm 119 itself is a testimony to this fact. Every single one of its 176 verse makes reference to the word of God. David calls it God’s “law,” “testimonies,” “statutes,” or some other such name.

(d) The way of application – It was his delights. David’s heart delighted in God’s word. He accepted with gratitude the things God gave him, but God’s word alone was his true delight. It was a source of constant and continual delight. In fact, it was his whole delight. He turned to it when he was deprived of all other things.

Hence we learn this important truth: The afflicted man’s true consolation is in the Word of God.

(a) David’s condition

David was a man after God’s own heart. Yet he tells us that he was afflicted. Why would anyone so near and dear to God’s heart suffer, or even need to suffer affliction?

The first reason why is: God has other ways of expressing His love to us than through external things. (Ecc. 9:1; Prov. 3:31, 32; Rom 8:16; 1 Jn 3:2, 4; Gal. 4:6). Here again is a great flaw in the Health and Wealth/Prosperity doctrine. The assumption is made that the more pleased God is with us, the more He will bless us financially and materially. This is patently false. In fact, this is precisely the argument used by Job’s mistaken friends. Calling them mistaken is, of course, understating the case. It seems to me to call into question one’s whole view of heaven to teach that you can get, pardon the pun, your best life now. If heaven is not going to be better than what I’ve got here, what keeps me from being miserly and covetous?

The second reason a saint may undergo afflictions is this: Afflictions are necessary for even the best of us. We all need to be humbled and weaned from the world. (1 Pet. 1:6; Ps. 119:67) The is no one so saintly as to not need to be reminded of his need of growth in grace and that God’s greater blessings await us as our inheritance in heaven.

Thirdly, we need to learn the worth and benefit of God’s word and how it may comfort and support us under whatever trouble. (Rom 15:4) If we don’t instinctively run to word of God when we under troubles and afflictions, then we can count on a lot more of them until we learn this lesson. Again, not to snark on it too much, but the Health and Wealth/Prosperity doctrine will never drive you to God’s word when you undergo troubles. They claim to have the solution: If you are going through troubles, it’s your own fault. You are either timidly letting the devil walk all over you, or you need to send in a large donation.

(b) His sense.
David tells us that he was ready to sink under his affliction. Why would this be so?

A. The grievousness of the affliction (Ps. 60:3). Sometimes our troubles are so difficult that we feel that we cannot go on another day.
B. The weakness of the saints. We are all but “dust and ashes,” as Bernard of Cluny put it. Our human nature certainly has a breaking point. We are all too familiar with stress and exhaustion. Often we are as weak in our spiritual resolve as our physical bodies are. Our weakness may be that:

(1) We look more to the creature than the Creator. The highest and greatest role model is yet a flawed human being. When we look to our fellow creature, we are inviting disappointment.

(2) Worse yet, we look to God but feel that He does not look to us. It is easy in the midst of our troubles to assume we are alone and that God is not aware of our situation, or that He isn’t concerned with it.

(3) We are impatient with the delay. Even the most staunch, stalwart believer in the Sovereignty of God, comes up against situations in his or her own life where the doctrine of God’s sovereignty comes too close for comfort. It is an easy doctrine to pontificate about until it is you who is on the business end of an incurable disease, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, etc. It is easy to question in one’s mind what God’s delay is for. The pendulum of ideas one wrestles with about God’s character swings back and forth. One may question God’s goodness and try to resolve the humanly invented dichotomy between sovereignty and goodness. Them the pendulum swings back the other way, and one bears down and accepts with naked resolve the fact that God is God and as His creature, He is in His rights to dispose of us however He wants. And as sinners, we can’t actually claim that anything is unfair. Then the pendulum swings to a weak-kneed attempt at faith in God’s promises.

(4) We may be becoming hardhearted. A true relationship with God, what the Puritans called “true religion,” softens the heart. A father’s anger is no small thing to a soul that has been the recipient of God’s grace. It should soften us to think that our heavenly Father might be displeased with us.

(c ) His remedy

God’s word is the only true consolation that allays the bitter sense of all our troubles.

• It in we find God, the fountain of all true blessings – the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:13)
• In it we discover the meritorious and procuring cause of our comfort and consolation: Jesus Christ, “Who hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace.” (2 Thes. 2:16)
• In it we receive the work of the Spirit who is called “The Comforter.” (Jn. 14:26)
• The true means whereby we receive comfort is faith (Jn. 14:1). Our faith is built up by communion with God in His word.

(d) His application

A person under affliction can find these comforts available in the word of God:

1. The word of God teaches us not only how to bear our afflictions, but also how to profit by them.
2. The word of God teaches us how to moderate our troubles and be delivered from them.
3. The word of God teaches us that we have a greater experience of God under the cross. Paul was strongest when he was weak.
4. The word of God teaches us God’s governing of all things for the elect’s benefit.

One would have to be insensate to not derive consolation and comfort from these facts.

This passage rebukes us when we take our only consolation is in external things. It reproves us for valuing worldly wisdom as much as Christianity. It corrects us for undervaluing the consolations in the Word. (Gregory tells of a lady who asked that he would seek from her a revelation from God that she would be delivered from some trouble. He replied that this was both difficult and unprofitable: difficult for him and unprofitable for her. He said she already had a surer way in the Scriptures – 2 Pet. 1:19). Furthermore, this passage rebukes us who do not honor the good preaching we hear by being patient under our trials. We may be forgetful or indulgent of a bad attitude (Jer. 31:15), but either way, we may hear these truths and not apply them when the time comes. Theoretical knowledge counts for little if it doesn’t convert into practice when the chips are down.

This passage also instructs us to get these things firmly settled in our hearts. We are taught to prize the Scripture. We should be increasingly more zealous in reading, studying and meditating upon it (Ps. 119:97). We must have an attitude of application under affliction (Rom. 8:31). The truth not applied is no better that not having the truth at all. In fact, it brings us under judgment. Sins of omission are no less sinful that sins of commission. We must take delight in God’s word in all situations. The word of God must be your delight in times of prosperity if it is to be of any comfort during adversity. (2 Pet. 1:4).

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