The Great Benefit of Suffering for Christ
Of sufferings and as it related to the life of Joseph, son of Jacob, F.B. Meyer wrote:
“But besides all this, his religious notions added greatly to his distress. He had been taught by Jacob the theory which comes out so prominently in the speeches of Job’s three friends, and which was so generally held by all their teachers and associates in that olden, Eastern, philosophic, deeply-pondering world; that good would come to the good, and evil to the bad; that prosperity was the sign of the Divine favour, and adversity of the Divine anger. And Joseph had tried to be good. Had he not always kept his father’s commandments and acted righteously, though his brethren were men of evil report, and tried to make him as bad as themselves? But what had he gained by his integrity? Simply the murderous jealousy and hatred of his own flesh and blood. Had he not, in the full flush of youthful passion, resisted the blandishments of the beautiful Egyptian, because he would not sin against God? And what had he gained by that? Simply the stigma which threatened to cling to him of having committed the very wickedness it was so hard not to commit; and, in addition, an undeserved punishment. Had he not always been kind and gentle to his fellow-prisoners, listening to their stories, speaking comfort to their hearts? And what had he gained by that? To judge by what he saw, simply nothing; and he might as well have kept his kindness to himself.
Was it of any use, then, being good? Could there be any truth in what his father had taught him of good coming to the good, and evil to the bad? Was there a God who judgeth righteously in the earth? You who have been misunderstood, who have sown seeds of holiness and love to reap nothing but disappointment, loss, suffering, and hate – you know something of what Joseph felt in that wretched dungeon hole.
Then, too, disappointment poured her bitter drops into the bitter cup. What had become of those early dreams, those dreams of coming greatness, which had filled his young brain with splendid phantasmagoria? We these not from God? He had thought so – yes, and his venerable father had thought so too; and he should have known, for he had talked with God many a time. Were these imaginings the delusions of a fevered brain, or mocking lies? Was there no truth, no fidelity, in heaven or earth? Had God forsaken him? Was he to spend all his days in that dungeon, dragging on a weary life, never again enjoying the bliss of freedom: and all because he had dared to do right? Do you wonder at the young heart being weighed almost to breaking?
And yet Joseph’s experience is not alone. You may have never been confined in a dungeon; and yet you may have often sat in darkness, and felt around you the limitation which forbade your doing as you wished. You may have been doing right, and doing right may have brought you into some unforeseen difficulty; and you are disposed to say, “I have been too honest.” Or you may have been doing a noble act to someone, as Joseph did to Potiphar, and it has been taken in quite a wrong light. Who does not know what it is to be misunderstood, misrepresented, accused falsely, and punished wrongfully?
Each begins life so buoyantly and hopefully. Youth, attempting the solution of the strange problem of existence, fears nothing, forbodes no ill. The minstrel, Hope, keys her chords to the loftiest strains of exultation. The sun shines; the blue wavelets break in music around the boat; the sails swell gently; Love and Beauty hold the rudder-bands; and though stories of the wreckage of the treacherous sea are freely told, there is no kind of fear that such experiences should ever overtake that craft. But presently disappointment, sorrow, and disaster overcloud the sky and blot out the sunny prospect; and the young mariner wakes as from a dream, “Can this be I, who imagined that I should never see ill?” Then come several tremendous struggles of the soul to wrench itself free. The muscles are strained as whipcord; the beads of perspiration stand on the brow: but every effort only entangles the limbs more helplessly. And at last, exhausted and helpless, the young life ceases to struggle, and lies still, cowed and beaten, as the wild denizen (citizen) of the plains, when it has lain for hours in the hunter’s snare. Surely there was something of this sort in Joseph’s condition, as he lay in that wretched dungeon.
II. THESE SUFFERINGS WROUGHT VERY BENEFICIALLY. – Taken on the lowest ground, this imprisonment served Joseph’s temporal interests. That prison was the place where state prisoners were bound. Thither court magnates who had fallen under suspicion were sent. Chief butler and chief baker do not seem much to us, but they were titles for very august people. Such men would talk freely with Joseph; and in doing so would give him a great insight into political parties, and a knowledge of men and things generally, which in after-days must have been of great service to him.
But there is more than this. Psalm 105:18, referring to Joseph’s imprisonment, has a striking alternative rendering, “His soul entered into iron.” Turn that about, and render it in our language, and it reads thus, Iron entered into his soul. Is there not a truth in this? It may not be the truth intended in that verse, but it is a very profound truth, that sorrow and privation, the yoke borne in the youth, the soul’s enforced restraint, are all conducive to an iron tenacity and strength of purpose, and endurance, a fortitude, which are the indispensible foundation and framework of a noble character. Do not flinch from suffering. Bear it silently, patiently, resignedly; and be assured that it is God’s way of infusing iron into your spiritual make-up.
As a boy, Joseph’s character tended to softness. He was a little spoilt by his father. He was too proud of his coat. He was rather given to tales. He was too full of his dreams and foreshadowed greatness. None of these great faults; but he lacked strength, grip, power to rule. But what a difference his imprisonment made in him! From that moment he carries himself with wisdom, modesty, courage, and manly resolution, that never fail him. He acts as a born ruler of men. He carries an alien country through the stress of a great famine, without a symptom of revolt. He holds his own with the proudest aristocracy of the time. He promotes the most radical changes. He had learned to hold his peace and wait. Surely the iron had entered his soul!
It is just this that suffering will do for you. The world wants iron dukes, iron battalions, iron sinews, and thews of steel. God wants iron saints; and since there is no way of imparting iron to the moral nature than by letting his people suffer, He lets them suffer. “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.” Are you in prison for doing right? Are the best years of your life slipping away in enforced monotony? Are you beset by opposition, misunderstanding, obloquy (contemptuous speech), and scorn, as the thick undergrowth besets the passage of the woodsman pioneer? Then take heart; the time is not wasted; God is only putting you through regimen. The iron crown of suffering precedes the golden crown of glory. And iron is entering into your soul to make it strong and brave.
Is some aged eyes perusing these words? If so, the question may be asked, Why does God sometimes fill a whole life with discipline, and give few opportunities for showing the iron quality of the soul? Why give iron to the soul, and then keep it from active service? Ah, that is which goes far to prove our glorious destiny. There must be another world somewhere, a world of glorious ministry, for which we are training. “There is service in the sky.” And it may be that God counts a human life of seventy years of suffering not too long an education for a soul which may serve Him through the eternities. It is in the prison that Joseph is fitted for the unknown life of Pharoah’s palace; and if he could have foreseen the future, he wold not have wondered at the severe discipline. If only we could see all that awaits us in the palace of the Great King, we should not be so surprised at certain experiences which befall us in the earth’s darker cells. You are being trained for service I God’s Home, and in the upper spaces of the universe.” F.B. Meyer, Joseph, p. 44-48
In His book Joseph, F.B. Meyer captures and conveys a treasure chest of truth concerning the blessed benefits of suffering.
“JOSEPH’S COMFORT IN THE MIDST OF THESE SOFFERINGS. – “He was there in the prison; but the Lord was with him.” The lord was with him in the palace of Potiphar; but when Joseph went to prison, the Lord went there too. The only thing which severs us from God is sin; so long as we walk with God, God will walk with us; and if our path dips down from the sunny upland lawns into the valley with its clinging mists, He will go at our side. The godly man is much more independent of men and things than others. It is God who makes him blessed. Like the golden city, he has no need of sun or moon, for the Lord God is his everlasting light. If he is in a palace he is glad, not so much because of its delights as because God is there. And if he is in a prison he can sing and give praises, because the God of love bears him company. To the soul which is absorbed with God, all places and experiences are much the same. “If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night (of sorrow and of confinement) shall be light about me; yea, the night shineth as the day.”
Moreover, the Lord showed him mercy. Oh, wondrous revelation! … God our Father has often to turn down the lights of our life because He wants to show us mercy. Whenever you get into a prison of circumstances, be on the watch. Prisons are rare places for seeing things. It was in prison that Bunyan saw his wondrous allegory, and Paul met the LORD, and John looked through heaven’s open door, and Joseph saw God’s mercy. God has no chance to show his mercy to some of us except when we are in some sore sorrow. The night is the time to see the stars.
God can also raise up friends for his servants in most unlikely places, and of most unlikely people. “The Lord gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” He was probably a rough, unkindly man, quite prepared to copy the dislikes of his master, the great Potiphar, and to embitter the daily existence of this Hebrew slave. But there was another Power at work, of which he knew nothing, inclining him towards his ward, and leading him to put him in a position of trust. All hearts are open to our King: at his girdle swing the keys by which the most unlikely door can be unlocked. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.” It is as easy for God to turn a man’s heart, as it is for the husbandman to turn the course of a brook to carry fertility to an arid plot.\
There is always alleviation for our troubles in ministry to others. Joseph found it so. It must have been a welcome relief to the monotony of his grief when he found himself entrusted with the care of the royal prisoners. A new interest came into his life, and he almost forgot the heavy pressure of his own troubles amid the interest of listening to the tales of those who were more unfortunate than himself. It is very interesting to notice what a deep human interest he took in the separate cases of his charges, noticing the expression of their faces, inquiring kindly after their welfare, sitting down to listen to their tale. Joseph is the patron of all prison philanthropists; but he took to this holy work not primarily because he had an enthusiasm for it, but because it gave a welcome opiate to his own griefs.
There is no anodyne (medicine) for heart-sorrow like ministry to others. If your life is woven with the dark shades of sorrow, do not sit down to deplore in solitude your hapless lot, but arise to seek out those who are more miserable than you are, bearing them balm for their wounds and love for their heart-breaks. And if you are unable to give much more practical help, you need not abandon yourself to the gratification of lonely sorrow, for you may largely help the children of bitterness by imitating Joseph in listening to their tales of woe or to their dreams of foreboding. It is a great art to be a good listener. The burdened heart longs to pour out its tale in a sympathetic ear. There is immense relief in the telling out of pain. But it cannot be hurried; it needs plenty of time; it cannot clear itself of its silt and deposits unless it is allowed leisure to stand. and so the sorrowful turn away from men engages in the full rush of active life as too busy, and seek out those who, like themselves, have been “winged,” and are obliged to go softly, as Joseph was, when the servants of Pharoah found him in the Egyptian dungeon. If you can do nothing else, listen well, and comfort others with the comfort wherewith you yourself have been comforted by God.
And as you listen, and comfort, and wipe the falling tears, you will discover that your own load is lighter, and that a branch or twig of the true tree – the tree of the Cross – has fallen into the bitter waters of your own life, making the Marah, Naomi, and the marshes of salt tears will have been healed. Out of such intercourse you will get with what Joseph got – the key which will unlock the heavy doors by which you have been shut in.
And now some closing words to those who are suffering wrongfully. Do not be surprised. You are the followers of One who was misunderstood from the age of twelve to the day of his ascension; who did not sin, and yet was counted as a sinner; concerning whom the unanimous testimony was, “I find in Him no fault at all”; and yet they called Him Beelzebub! If they spoke thus of the Master of the house, how much more concerning the household! “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.”
Do not get weary in well-doing. Joseph might have said, “I give all up; of what profit is my godliness? I may as well live as others do.” How much nobler was his course of patient continuance in well-doing! Do right, because it is right to do right; because God sees you; because it puts gladness into the heart. And then, when you are misunderstood and ill-treated, you will not swerve, or sit down to whine and despair.
Above all, do not avenge yourselves. When Joseph recounted his troubles, he did not recriminate harshly on his brethren, or Potiphar, or Potiphar’s wife. He simply said: “I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the hole.” He might have read the words of the apostle, “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath.” “If when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” We make a great mistake in trying always to clear ourselves; we should be much wiser to go straight on, humbly doing the next thing, and leaving God to vindicate us. “He will bring forth our righteousness as the light, and our judgment as the noonday.” In Psalm 105:19 there follow words which, rightly rendered, read thus: “The word of the Lord cleared him.” What a triumphant clearing did God give His faithful servant.
There will come hours in our lives, when we shall be misconstrued, misunderstood, slandered, falsely accused, wrongfully persecuted. At such times it is very difficult not to act on the policy of the men around us in the world. They at once appeal to law and force and public opinion. But the believer takes his case into a higher court, and lays it before his God. He is prepared to use any means that may appear divinely suggested. But he relies much more on the divine clearing than he does on his own most perfect arrangements. He is content to wait for months and years, till God arise to avenge his cause. It is a very little thing for him to be judged adversely at the bar of man: he cares only for the judgment of God, and awaits the moment when the righteous shall shine forth in the kingdom of their Father, as the sun when it breaks from all obscuring mists. “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” Ah! what a clearing-up of mysteries, what dissipating of misunderstandings, what vindication of character shall be there! Oh, slandered ones, you can afford to await the verdict of eternity; of God, who will bring out your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noon day.
In all the discipline of life it is of the utmost importance to see but one ordaining overruling will. If we view our imprisonments and misfortunes as the result of human malevolence, our live will be filled with fret and unrest. It is hard to suffer wrong at the hands of man, and to think that perhaps it might have never been. But there is a truer and more restful view, to consider all things as being under the law and rule of God; so that though they may originate in and come to us through the spite and malice of our fellows, yet, since before they reach us they have had to pass through the environing atmosphere of the Divine Presence, they have been transformed into his own sweet will for us.
It was Judas who plotted our Saviour’s death, and filled the garden with the capturing bands and flashing lights; and yet the Lord Jesus said that the Father was putting the cup to his lips. And though He was murdered by the chief priests and scribes, yet He so thoroughly acquiesced in the Father’s appointment, that He spoke of laying down his life, as if his death were entirely his own act. There is no evil to them that love God; and the believer loses sight of second causes, so absorbed is he in the contemplation of the unfolding of the mystery of his Father’s will. As the dying Kingsley said, “All is under law.” F.B. Meyer, Joseph, p. 48-53
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