“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. “
Difficult it would be, indeed, to find another passage, in Holy Writ containing more contrasts than this one.
Note how the apostle describes the main contrast in the text, between our present affliction and the glory which is to follow. To set this contrast in sharply defined lines, he uses several other opposites: that which is light, and that which is weighty; that which is for the moment and therefore temporal, and that which is eternal; that which is seen, and that which is unseen.
And the purpose of this passage of Scripture is undoubtedly to show by way of contrast the exceeding greatness and glory of the things unseen; while at the same time it brings into focus the oft forgotten relation of the temporal to the eternal.
Would those, who find themselves under the providence of God in the midst of depressing afflictions, find comfort, they will do well to lay hold on the Word of God here in this text.
How blessed are they who can direct their lives in accordance with the true wisdom divinely designed and set forth by way of contrasts in this text and see the proper relation between the seen and the unseen, between the now and the future!
True and solid comfort is not merely to believe that after we have suffered a while, we are going to be delivered from all suffering. When one is writhing in pain upon a bed of affliction, and I tell him he ought to keep his chin up and never lose hope, for the time is coming when all suffering will cease and every tear will be wiped away from our eyes,—that may be a pleasant thought and something to look forward to, but it will not give him the comfort he needs for the moment. When one loses a dear one, and he feels that his whole world has collapsed about him,—it may throw a ray of light into his darkness to speak of the glory of the resurrection in which we shall be united again with our loved ones; but this cannot give him the solid comfort he needs in his present loss.
True comfort consists in that consideration of the sanctified mind and heart whereby one is able to understand that the present trouble he experiences is necessary and that it works unto the attainment of the great good he expects.
This is precisely what the apostle is saying in the passage under consideration. Afflictions work glory!
And when the apostle speaks of affliction, note carefully that he is not speaking of affliction merely in general.
There is; indeed, universal affliction. Unless one is like the proverbial ostrich which hides his head in the sand, there is no one who does not observe this truth, that the world is full of affliction. It is safe to say that the world has never seen so much affliction as is in evidence in our time. In spite of all the modern advancement in the science of medicine, and all the technology to relieve the pain and suffering, our hospitals are the grim evidences that sickness and disease are still bringing the multitudes into pain, suffering, and death. In spite of all the attempts to collar-peace and impose it upon the nations of the world, our daily newspapers along with other news media loudly proclaim wars and rumors of war. In spite of all the modern technology to curb crime and its devastating effects, our government and all the police agencies fail miserably to stem the tide, so that our populace can relax and walk on our streets without fear that danger is lurking in every dark corner. Indeed, from every direction on our globe one hears the heart-rending cries of suffering and affliction. One can find no paradise of tranquility, but all the world is cast into a caldron of affliction, of suffering and death.
But the apostle, although fully aware of this universal affliction, does not have only this in mind.
Rather, he has in mind the affliction which is peculiar to the children of God. In the deep sense he is thinking of the affliction which is for Jesus’ sake. This is evident, it seems to me, from the preceding context, as well as from the rest of the epistle. And he feels deeply that he also shares in this affliction, for he informs us that he is “troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” He was conscious of “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus,”—and he continues, “we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” And in the verse immediately preceding our text, he mentions the “outward man which perishes” as well as “the inward man which is renewed day by day.” In the eleventh chapter of this epistle at great length the apostle mentions the sufferings he had to endure as the apostle of Jesus Christ. He was beaten many times with rods, stoned, and ship-wrecked. He endured the perils of his journeys on land and sea, maltreated by his own countrymen, and false brethren. He suffered pain, hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness. And besides all this, he was weighted down with the care of all the churches.
Yet, though the afflictions are chiefly those related to his connection with Christ, there is no reason, we believe, to limit the afflictions of the children of God. When the apostle speaks of “our affliction,” this undoubtedly includes all the suffering of this present time. Besides the affliction that is imposed on us for Jesus’ sake, there is also the affliction common to all mankind. The children of God are not immune to vicissitudes of life directed to them in the providence of God. They also often lie upon beds of pain. They experience also the ravages of disease. Their loved ones are torn from their side. Their sons also die on the battlefields of the world, or, as we say, by accident are they brought to an early grave here at home. In his letter to the Romans (Rom. 8:18, 28), the apostle writes of the same truth as stated in our text: “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 . . . And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” Also here, it is plain, the sufferings are all the afflictions of this present time, not only those we experience for Jesus’ sake.
But notice now what appraisal the Word of God makes of these afflictions!
They are light, and for the moment!
Is not the apostle beside himself when he speaks thus concerning the affliction of the children of God? Is he not altogether too superficial in his judgment of them? Is it so, perhaps, that the apostle did not know what it means to sit long weary hours in a funeral parlor listening to the many friends and relatives reminding you of your awful loss? Did he not know what it means when the war department sends you a little telegram: “We are sorry to inform you that your son or husband was killed in action”? Didn’t the apostle have any understanding of the heart-rending experience of having a precious husband or wife or child torn from your side? Was he completely oblivious of the gnawing pain of cancer that eats away your flesh, and destroys your brain, so that all that is left is a vegetable, a dwarfed, stack of flesh and bones?
O, make no mistake about it! It is not so that he did not know how to appraise the sufferings of this present time. He knew full well how that the suffering of God’s people is not for a moment, but often for weeks, months, and even years. He knew also of the bitterness and the disappointments of life, and the pains of death; and that these are not light by any stretch of the imagination. The fact that the apostle in his own case could enumerate in detail all the afflictions he endured, proves beyond doubt that he knew they were not light and momentary experiences with him.
But when he compared the affliction with the glory that awaits the children of God, then the affliction loses its weight, becoming exceeding light; and when he compared the eternal weight of glory with the affliction of this present time, then affliction is only momentary. And when he understood how that glory cannot be attained in any other way than through affliction, and that the affliction is absolutely necessary to the attainment of that glory,—then, of course, the affliction as it appears in the scale with glory, becomes exceeding light.
Our affliction, which is light, worketh for us!
It works a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!
Eternal glory! That is, the future, heavenly glory, the glory of the new Jerusalem! The heavenly city which is gloriously perfect. There is no night there. No suffering ,and death! The streets of it are paved with pure gold. Into it nothing shall enter that is of the lie!
But there is much more!
As beautiful as heaven is and shall be, it is empty and meaningless unless in the very center of it is the presence of the great and glorious God!
Glory, in the Scriptures, is always the effulgence, the radiation of perfection! God is the all-glorious God, the radiation of Whose perfections are reflected throughout the heavenly city!
It is the glory which the Lord Jesus merited for Himself and all His own, as reward for having first so deeply humbled Himself in the way of perfect obedience on the cross. Of this glory He was given a foretaste prior to His death, on the mount of transfiguration. Into that glory the resurrected Lord entered when He ascended to the Father’s right hand. And that glory He now prepares for all His saints. So great is this glory that the apostle in another place declared: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.”
Here he speaks of the exceeding and eternal weight of glory!
It is exceeding great!
Unto that glory the affliction works! That means that affliction has an end purpose, all, of course, under the direction and according to the plan or counsel of God.
This is precisely what is so difficult for us, who are in affliction, to comprehend. We often take God into judgment, criticizing His way with us. We ask: Why did this have to happen to me? Rebelliously we often complain that the way of the Lord is not right. I am thinking of that saint of the Old Testament, Asaph by name, who stood in rebellion against God when he saw the wicked prosper, while he experienced suffering every day. When he went into the house of God, he discovered two things: on the one hand, he observed that the prosperity of the wicked was working for their condemnation; while his own affliction was working glory; and all this under the providence and according to the counsel of God. But when he did not understand this, he was terribly rebellious.
What we must discover, if we are to find any comfort in the midst of our afflictions, is that which happened to Christ; that is, His experience must become ours. We all know that Christ Jesus could never have attained to the crown of glory if He had not first gone the way of the cross. And the affliction He endured under the providence and according to the counsel of God were absolutely necessary to the attainment of the glory IIe received. The same is true for every child of God. Though it is true that our affliction is nothing, when it is compared to His affliction endured in our stead, and it must be said that His affliction was unique; there is, nevertheless, a comparison in this sense, that, as His affliction worked for glory, so our affliction works for the glory He now prepares and gives unto all His own.
While we look not on the things which are seen!
But at the things which are not seen!
That is when our affliction works glory!
O, to be sure, from a purely objective point of view, afflictions always work glory, because the counseling purpose of God cannot be frustrated. The rule which God has set cannot be changed.
Yet, from our subjective point of view, that is, from the point of view of our experience, it is also true that you and I can never truly experience the wonder of this truth, if all that we see is the things that are seen. These are the things which are the objects of our physical perception. That means, if all that we see in the midst of our affliction is the suffering, the loss, the anxiety that our loss brings us; then subjectively speaking, we cannot experience the truth that our affliction works glory.
On the other hand, if while we are in the midst of affliction, we look at the unseen, then our affliction works glory.
Looking at the unseen!
The unseen is, of course, the things of God’s heavenly kingdom, the glory of His presence, the house of His covenant, the reserved inheritance of His saints, the new heavens and earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.
To see these unseen things is, of course; possible only through the grace of faith. And to see them means also to set your heart on them, to hope for them with your whole being.
Then, affliction works glory!
How blessed then are they who can look past the seen things that contribute to all your present affliction, and with longing hearts keep your eye of faith on the unseen! They experience the solid comfort they need! In the midst of their tears, they can and will rejoice!
More than conquerors they are!
For even what they often suppose is their enemy is become their servant!
And their affliction is the divinely appointed means to bring them to everlasting glory!