"The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich,
and he addeth no sorrow with it."—Proverbs 10:22
Christians testify of many blessings received from the Lord. They know the rich joys of a spirit-filled life. They have the closeness of constant prayer communion with a heavenly Father. The partnership and strength of an elder brother is always near. The fellowship of kindred minds is a constant joy. The knowledge of divine overruling of all of life’s affairs brings inestimable peace. Yes, their lives are rich indeed.
Yet, Christian lives are not without sorrows. They are not exempt from the full range of troubles fellow humans receive. They sometimes experience hard chastening from a strict Father. They know the bitterness of loss and the sting of trials. After all, they follow a Master who was "acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3).
How, then, can it be said that their blessings are not touched with sorrow? It cannot be thus said; nor is it that which is implied in our theme text. This scripture does not read, "The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and contains no sorrow." Rather it says that the Lord "addeth" no sorrow. Sorrows are there. They are endemic in certain experiences. But the Lord does not add unnecessary sorrow to the experience.
Christian experiences are tailor-made. Christians are being developed for a specific role in God’s plan and each event in their lives is given with that in mind. "Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of" (Matthew 6:8).
The Apostle Peter likens the Christian to a "lively stone" in a spiritual temple of God (1 Peter 2:5). Of the first temple of Israel we read: "And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building" (1 Kings 6:7).
Rough stones were not even brought to the temple site. So accurate were the architect’s blueprints that each stone could be individually prepared for its specific place while yet in the quarry. So perfectly did they fit that they could be slid into place without even needing to be tamped by a hammer.
The trials of life chisel each member of the body of Christ. Each hardship endured produces a more precise shaping of character. None are by accident; all are planned for developing the spiritual man. As a wise follower of the Master once remarked, "your trials are worth millions, do not waste one of them."
"To us the Scriptures clearly teach that the church is the ‘temple of the living God’—peculiarly ‘his workmanship’; that its construction has been in progress throughout the Gospel age—ever since Christ became the world’s Redeemer and the Chief Corner Stone of this temple, through which, when finished, God’s blessings shall come ‘to all people’ and they find access to him (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; Ephesians 2:20-22; Genesis 28:14; Galatians 3:29).
"That meantime the chiseling, shaping, and polishing of consecrated believers in Christ’s atonement for sin progresses and when the last of these ‘living stones,’ ‘elect and precious,’ shall have been made ready, the Great Master Workman will bring all together in the First Resurrection; and the temple shall be filled with his glory and be the meeting place between God and men throughout the Millennium (1 Peter 2:4-9; Revelation 20:4, 6)."
The Function of Trials
"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17). The phrase "a far more exceeding" is worthy of careful examination. In the Greek text it is kath huperboleén eis huperboleén . The repeated word is the one from which we derive our English word "hyperbole." Literally the four words could be translated "from exceeding excellence to exceeding excellence." It denotes progression. One stage of glory is transformed into another stage of glory.
The apostle uses a similar expression in the last verse of the preceding chapter, "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
This text implies a progression which may take many steps. In a sermon entitled "Love of the Father and the Son Our Pattern," Pastor C. T. Russell said the following: "The apostle says that by looking on Jesus we are changed, we are transformed from glory to glory in the present life. As we thus go from one stage of heart development to another, from one step of glory to another, on this side of the veil, we are making the necessary progress, and we will be ready for the great final step, the final stage, when we shall see him as he is and share his glory" (R5727).
By realizing the function of these trials in the Christian life, one is able to rejoice while enduring them. They carry no additional sorrow other than that necessary for the proper chiseling, shaping, and polishing. They "make rich" in their preparing one for a glory that is not temporal but eternal.
Each trial accomplishes its purpose and strengthens the recipient for the ones that follow. This is much as a weight lifter finds his muscles made stronger for lifting ever heavier weights by working diligently with the lighter ones. Thus the intensity of trials may increase, but they are able to be borne by reason of the easier ones which preceded them.
This constant practice eventually makes even the heaviest of experiences a relatively "light affliction." In view of this, we can appreciate the Master’s words in Matthew 11:29, 30: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
The Purpose of Trials
While the function of trials is to develop and perfect the character, their purpose is to prepare the recipient for a future work. This work is described in the Bible as being one in close association with Jesus himself: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us" (2 Timothy 2:12). "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years" (Revelation 20:6).
If the church is to reign with Christ, there must be subjects over which to reign. These subjects are to be those living on the earth. "And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth" (Revelation 5:10).
Their work is described above as not only that of a king, or lawmaker, but as that of a priest. It is a "royal priesthood," a priesthood "after the order of Melchisedek," who was both a king and a priest (1 Peter 2:9; Hebrews 5:10).
The priest in ancient Israel was an intermediary between God and man. This "royal priesthood" is to be a sympathetic priesthood. Like their Master, they are to be "touched" with a feeling of the infirmities of others (Hebrews 4:15).
It is the plan of God that all men who have ever lived will come back to life on this earth (John 5:28, 29). These will return with the same character and thoughts they took into the grave and they will need to learn righteousness by proceeding up a "highway of holiness" (Isaiah 35:8-10). Guides will be needed along the way to direct their footsteps. This will be the future role of the followers of Christ.
These will need to understand both the demands of a holy God and the needs of man. They will need to have the experience of temptation in order to "succor them that are tempted" (Hebrews 2:18). They must learn the privations of hardship to comprehend others so deprived. To offer true sympathy to a world plagued by disease, they must feel the pangs of sickness This is the blessed lot of the church of Christ.
If viewed from this perspective, all hardships—physical, financial, or emotional—are seen in a rosier light. No longer are they severe trials to weigh one down but they become challenges to be overcome. They become part of the subject matter in the "school of Christ" and are now a portion of the blessed sharing which all the Lord’s followers desire to share with him. Joint heirship with Christ is not merely sharing his glory but also sharing his sufferings (Romans 8:17).
The degree of each experience is carefully controlled by the heavenly Father. "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
In this text there are three assurances of assistance in coping with our trials. The first one we have already examined. All of our trials are common to humanity. Therefore it is to our advantage to have the same experiences as they, so that we can be of assistance to them in their future schooling, learning the lessons therefrom. In order to do this, it is incumbent that we learn the lesson from each of our trying experiences in our present walk
Second, the text gives the explicit assurance that any trial received is no more difficult than we are able to bear. Does your cross seem especially heavy? Take heart, it shows that the Father has evaluated your ability as being sufficient to bear up under it. This assurance is not a prideful self-confidence but faith grasping tight hold on the reality that we "can do all things through Christ" who has promised to strengthen us (Philippians 4:13).
Third, he has promised "a way of escape." This is not a way to avoid the trial, for the apostle says its purpose is "that ye may be able to bear it." The New International Version phrases it thus: "But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." Consider the lowly oyster. Once a grain of sand enters its shell and begins to irritate, the oyster does not exercise its muscles to expel the irritant. Rather it coats it with layer upon layer of fluid, transforming the grain of sand into a beautiful pearl. So with the Christian’s trials, they must be treasured and coated over and over again with the holy spirit until they are transformed into beautiful pearl-like elements of character.
The adage is true that "God’s wisdom will not lead us where his grace cannot keep us." As one commentator has phrased it, "There is no valley so dark but he can find a way through it, no affliction so grievous but he can prevent, or remove, or enable us to support it, and in the end overrule it to our advantage." It reminds us of the familiar words in the shepherd Psalm, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me" (Psalm 23:4).
Job was a man who endured great hardships. These were of the Adversary. Yet they were controlled. When petitioned by the Adversary, "the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand" (Job 1:12). Even when permitted to further try Job, the Lord laid down this restriction, "but save his life" (2:6). "Thus far and no further" is the constant assurance we have. The Lord will not permit greater experiences than needed—"he addeth no sorrow."
But while the trial was measured, so was its removal. Not until the lesson was fully learned did God take away the hardships that afflicted this suffering soul. After hearing God lecture on the lowliness of human reasoning when compared with his own (chapters 38 and 39), Job humbly responds, "Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further" (40:4, 5).
Still the experience was not removed. For two more chapters, God continues to lecture his servant. Only then does Job fully repent, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (42:5, 6). "And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before" (42:10).
Herein lies the lesson for the Christian. Only when the lesson from an experience is fully learned and applied may it be lifted. Often this may last until the end of one’s life, not because of unfaithfulness in learning the intended lesson but to fully qualify the Christian who is enduring such trials to sympathize with those of the world with similar experiences that continue until death.
The conclusion of the matter seems well summarized in James 1:2-4: "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
It is a blessed truth to fully know that whatever trials may come they are enriching blessings, and we can be sure that God will not "add any [superfluous] sorrow with it."