I received the following communication:

Dear Editor of the Standard Bearer,

In recent discussions with the brethren the question has arisen whether the “sufferings of this present time” have any spiritual value in the plan of God and as a means to our salvation and eternal glory?

To clarify the point, allow me to state the following:

  1. Some passages of Scripture speak directly of suffering for Christ’s sake, e.g. I Peter 2:19ff.
  2. Other passages speak of falling into divers’ temptations which serve to the trying of our faith as in James 1:2.
  3. But (here is the point in question) does the Word of God allow us to speak of “the sufferings of this present time”, by which I mean the sufferings in this body, such as physical pain, agony, anguish of heart, weeping, misery, distress, loneliness, grief, etc., as having spiritual value. Do the afflictions which are common to the body as such have value in this life and for the life to come? Although these are truly the consequences of sin which we must bear and are, in the life of the Christian, often closely connected with 1 and 2 above, they are not necessarily the direct result of the sufferings mentioned in 1 and 2 above. Do these also have spiritual value?
  4. If so, what value and how?
  5. May a Christian derive comfort from this suffering knowing that it will be to his eternal welfare and value?
  6. May we speak of these sufferings as blessings and means of God enhancing the blessedness of our eternal salvation and glory?
  7. May we unite these present sufferings of the body with those of soul as having relative value for our redemption in body and soul and, hence, speak of them thus to comfort the sick, afflicted, suffering and dying child of God when we as officebearers call on them to console them with God’s Word?

I have broadened out slightly so as to clarify the point in question. There is a difference of opinion on this score, some maintaining that these sufferings as in 3 above have nothing at all to do with our spiritual welfare and have no spiritual value, but must be borne only as the natural consequence of sin. They maintain that only the suffering as stated in 1 and 2 above have value in God’s plan to affect our welfare and salvation.

Will you please shed some light on this question in the Standard Bearer for which I thank you in advance.

Your brother in Christ,

H. A. Van Pattern

Holland, Mich.

ANSWER:

It is difficult for me to believe that there can be a dispute about the question as formulated above. That there are brethren who take the stand that suffering in general, apart from direct persecution for Christ’s sake, has nothing to do with our spiritual condition, and with our eternal salvation, I can hardly conceive. As I write this answer to Mr. Van Putten’s question, I have a vague notion that there is some element of misunderstanding between the brethren, and that the brethren that oppose him in this dispute can, probably, throw a different light on the matter. If so, I hope that they will clarify the situation by writing about it.

As the matter stands, I can only answer Mr. Van Putten’s question by an unqualified affirmative: Yes, all the sufferings of this present time, both those that are inflicted upon us by the enemies of the cross of Christ, and those that come to us, not in the form of persecutions for Christ’s sake, but directly from the hand of God.

And I suggest the following reasons:

  1. One cannot so separate suffering in general from suffering for Christ’s sake as is, evidently done in the above mentioned debate. They may be distinguished, of course. There are, indeed, afflictions that come to us through the agency of the hostile world, because the world lies in darkness, and we are children of light; because we are confessing believers, and Christ becomes manifest in us; because the anti-Christian world requires that its subjects shall show the mark of the beast, and we refuse to receive it. And there are other sufferings, which we endure in common with the whole world: sickness, pain, sorrow, war, depression, death.

Yet, although they may be distinguished, they cannot be separated. In a higher sense, especially if we look at all things in a supralapsarian light, all the suffering the elect endure in this world is for Christ’s sake, for God’s glory’s sake, and for their own eternal salvation’s sake. If it had not been God’s good pleasure to glorify Himself in the deep way of sin and grace, to make Christ His Son the firstborn of every creature, and that, too, as the first begotten of the dead, and to lead His elect in Christ on to the higher glory of His everlasting, heavenly tabernacle, sin and death would never have been. Now, however, we must be made perfect through suffering and death. There is no other way into the glory of the resurrection. Hence, we may say that all the suffering of this present time is for Christ’s sake, and leads to glory. “Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world; or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all things are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” I Cor. 3:22, 23.

The other reasons must wait fill the next issue, the Lord willing.