For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
As members of the body of Christ we suffer. As the natural body of Christ suffered in the days of his flesh, so now the mystical body, the Church, suffers in these days of the Spirit. It must have its agony and bloody sweat before the end comes; blows of contempt, scourging, buffeting; and must have its "bones sore vexed," as were those of his body on the cross; sore vexed, but not broken: "A bone of him shall not be broken." As witnesses for the Name of Christ we suffer. While walking and witnessing in the acceptance and power of his resurrection, we must be identified with him as the despised and rejected One. We are in collision with the spirit of the world, and the more firmly we lift our testimony against it the more the sufferings of Christ abound in us. In primitive times men suffered as Christians, for no other offence than the confession of the Saviour's Name. The council of the Jews arrested the apostles Peter and John, and put the deacon Stephen to death, on this charge. The cultivated Pliny, when Proconsul of Bithynia, about forty years after the death of St. Paul, is shown, by his correspondence with the Emperor Trajan, to have regarded the very fact of being a Christian as a crime worthy of instant punishment. Christian faith was in his eyes nothing but an absurd and excessive superstition, and the noble constancy of the Christians under threats and torture "a contumacious and inflexible obstinacy." So the witnesses for our Lord suffered in Bithynia under the illustrious Trajan, as well as in Italy under the infamous Nero, and throughout the empire under the cruel Domitian and Diocletian. But it sustained them to know that they were fulfilling the sufferings of Christ. His grace was sufficient for them. On them rested the Spirit of glory and of God. Such discipline continues, though without actual peril of life. Faithful Christians suffer many things, at many points, and from many quarters. And when they suffer for the Church it is a continuation of our Lord's unselfish suffering. So St. Paul endured all things for the Lord's sake and the sake of the elect. He used the expression, "I fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ" (Colossians 1:24), in reference to his inward anxiety and "agony" for those at Colosse and Laodicea, who had not seen his face in the flesh. His anxiety for their confirmation in the mystery of God was a sort of supplement to the deep struggle of the Saviour in behalf of multitudes, Paul included, who had not seen and could not see his face in the flesh. The apostle had no thought of adding to the sufferings of Christ in respect of their expiatory virtue, but rejoiced that he was permitted to follow his Master in this same path of affliction and solicitude for the Church. All sowers of "the incorruptible seed" have to sow with tears. And hearers of the Word are most profited when they receive it "in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." Three views may be taken of those afflictions which are distinctively Christian.
1. They are for the Lord, incurred and endured for his Name. So were the afflictions of Christ for the Name and glory of the Father. The world hated both him and his Father.
2. They are for the good of the Christian sufferer - tribulations that work patience, chastisements for his profit. So were the afflictions of Christ for his own good. "Though he were a Son, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered."
3. For the sake of his brethren, or for the good of the Church, which is edified through the self-denial and godly patience of individual believers in successive generations. So were the afflictions of Christ for the Church which he redeemed, and in which he now succours them that are tempted. The present time, then, is one of communion with our Lord in suffering. Let four advices be given to those who suffer with a good conscience - for well doing and not for evil doing.
I. HAVE A CARE ONE FOR ANOTHER. Trouble may make men sullen and self engrossed. Correct this tendency by remembering that you are not isolated persons, but parts of the body of Christ, and so members of one another. If you suffer, bear yourselves so that others may be confirmed by your faith and patience. If they suffer, suffer with them, help to bear their burdens, condole in their sorrow, minister to their necessity. "Weep with them that weep."
II. LEARN PATIENCE FROM "THE MAN OF SORROWS." It ought to cure peevishness and wilfulness to read the story of our Lord's passion, and consider the meekness of him "who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself." See how St. Peter sets before suffering saints the example of their Master (1 Peter 2:20-23).
III. LOOK FOR STRENGTH TO THE SYMPATHIZING SAVIOUR. In the present connection between Christ and Christians the Scripture marks a distinction. The saints suffer with Christ; Christ sympathizes with the saints. The word for the former is συμπασχεῖν: the word for the latter is συμπαθεῖν. The Head is raised above suffering, but sympathizes with the distressed and bruised members, and loves to supply consolation and relief. "Our consolation also aboundeth by Christ." He makes us strong, even in the hour when our hearts are jaded and our spirits faint. The crook in the lot, the thorn in the flesh, the buffeting in the world, the disappointment in the Church, - he knows it all, and he can bear us through it all.
IV. REJOICE IN THE HOPE OF HIS COMING. There is a deep wisdom of God in the long drawn affliction of Christ and the Church. Glory comes out of the dark womb of trouble. How long the travail must be God only knows. Jesus Christ suffered till he was perfected, and then God exalted him. The Church must suffer and struggle till she is perfected and God exalts her too. And the glory that awaits her is that of her Beloved. As the Church enters into his sufferings, so is she to enter into his glory. This is the day for faithful service and saintly patience. The coming day is that of honour and reward, "that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." - F.
For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation aboundeth by Christ
I. IT SHOWS GOD TO BE IN EARNEST WITH US. He does not let us alone. He takes great pains with our spiritual education and training. He is no careless Father.
II. IT ASSURES US OF HIS LOVE. "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten."
III. IT DRAWS PRAYER TO US.
IV. IT KNITS US IN SYMPATHY TO THE WHOLE BODY.
V. IT TEACHES US SYMPATHY WITH BRETHREN.
VI. IT BRINGS US INTO A MOOD MORE RECEPTIVE OF BLESSING. IT SOFTENS OUR HEARTS.
VII. IT MAKES US PRIZE THE WORD. The Bible assumes a new aspect to us. All else darkens; but it brightens.
VIII. IT SHUTS OUT THE WORLD. It all at once draws a curtain round us, and the world becomes invisible.
IX. IT BIDS US LOOK UP. Set your affection on things above.
X. IT TURNS OUR HOPE TO THE LORD'S GREAT COMING.
(H. W. Beecher.)I. THE SUFFERINGS TO BE EXPECTED.
1. Before we buckle on the Christian armour we ought to know what that service is which is expected of us. A recruiting sergeant often slips a shilling into the hand of some ignorant youth, and tells him that Her Majesty's service is a fine thing, that he has nothing to do but walk about in his flaming colours, and go straight on to glory. But the Christian sergeant never deceives like that. Christ Himself said, "Count the cost." He wished to have no disciple who was not prepared "to bear hardness as a good soldier."
2. But why must the Christian expect trouble?(1) Look upward. Thinkest thou it will be an easy thing for thy heart to become as pure as God is? Ask those bright spirits clad in white whence their victory came. Some of them will tell you they swam through seas of blood.(2) Turn thine eyes downward. Satan will always be at thee, for thine enemy, "like a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour."(3) Look around thee. Thou art in an enemy's country.(4) Look within thee. There is a little world in here, which is quite enough to give us trouble. Sin is there and self and unbelief.
II. THE DISTINCTION TO BE NOTICED. Our sufferings are said to be the sufferings of Christ. Now, suffering itself is not an evidence of Christianity. There are many people who have troubles who are not children of God. A man is dishonest, and is put in jail for it; a man is a coward, and men hiss at him for it; a man is insincere, and therefore persons avoid him. Yet he says he is persecuted. Not at all; it serves him right. Take heed that your sufferings are the sufferings of Christ. It is only then that we may take comfort. What is meant by this? As Christ, the head, had a certain amount of suffering to endure, so the body must also have a certain weight laid upon it. Ours are the sufferings of Christ if we suffer for Christ's sake. If you are called to endure hardness for the sake of the truth, then those are the sufferings of Christ. And this ennobles us and makes us happy. It must have been some honour to the old soldier who stood by the Iron Duke in his battles to be able to say, "We fight under the good old Duke, who has won so many battles, and when he wins, part of the honour will be ours." I remember a story of a great commander who led his troops into a defile, and when there a large body of the enemy entirely surrounded him. He knew a battle was inevitable on the morning, he therefore went round to hear in what condition his soldiers' minds were. He came to one tent, and as he listened he heard a man say, "Our general is very brave, but he is very unwise this time; he has led us into a place where we are sure to be beaten; there are so many of the enemy and only so many of us." Then the commander drew aside a part of the tent and said, "How many do you count me for?" Now, Christian, how many do you count Christ for? He is all in all.
III. A PROPORTION TO BE EXPERIENCED. As the sufferings of Christ abound in us so the consolations of Christ abound. God always keeps a pair of scales — in this side He puts His people's trials, and in that He puts their consolations. When the scale of trial is nearly empty, you will always find the scale of consolation in nearly the same condition, and vice versa. Because —
1. Trials make more room for consolation. There is nothing makes a man have a big heart like a great trial.
2. Trouble exercises our graces, and the very exercise of our graces tends to make us more comfortable and happy. Where showers fall most, there the grass is greenest.
3. Then we have the closest dealings with God. When the barn is full, man can live without God. But once take your gourds away, you want your God. Some people call troubles weights. Verily they are so. A ship that has large sails and a fair wind needs ballast. A gentleman once asked a friend concerning a beautiful horse of his feeding shout in the pasture with a clog on its foot, "Why do you clog such a noble animal?" "Sir," said he, "I would a great deal sooner clog him than lose him; he is given to leap hedges." That is why God clogs His people.
IV. A PERSON TO BE HONOURED. Christians can rejoice in deep distress, but to whom shall the glory be given? Oh, to Jesus, for the text says it is all by Him. The Christian can rejoice, since Christ will never forsake him.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)1. It would be difficult to exaggerate how much suffering, patiently and heroically borne, contributed to the propagation of the Christian religion. All the apostles were martyrs, except St. John, and he was a martyr in will.
2. This Epistle is one which is marked by intense feeling. We see the different emotions of joy and sorrow, thankfulness and indignation, disappointment and confidence, distress and hope, breaking forth every here and there in this Second Letter to the Corinthians. The apostle is speaking in the text of troubles, afflictions, and persecutions which he himself had endured, to which he refers in verse
3. But he does not repine.
I. "THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST ABOUND IN US."
1. First, notice what a very different view of suffering we find in the New Testament from that which was taken of old. The Jewish estimate was very narrow. We see from the Gospels that the Jew regarded suffering as retributive, but not as remedial or perfective. There are many reasons for interpreting the purposes of pain and affliction in a wider way. The sufferings of Job, "a perfect and an upright man," and the sufferings of the animal world, might have opened the eyes to the inadequacy of their theory.
2. The apostle says, "The sufferings of Christ abound in us." Is not Christ in glory? How canst. Paul speak still of His sufferings? The words have received three interpretations. One, the sufferings of Christ means our sufferings for Him. Another, by the sufferings of Christ is meant sufferings similar to those which He bore; and so the martyrs might all claim a special likeness to Him in their violent deaths. But the third interpretation seems more to the point. The sufferings of Christ mean His sufferings in us. Christ said, when Saul was persecuting His members, "Why persecutest thou Me?" So close is the union between the Head and the members, that Christ, as an old commentator asserts, was in a manner stoned in Stephen, beheaded in Paul, crucified in Peter, and burnt in St. Lawrence.
II. Now, "OUR CONSOLATION."
1. Our sufferings differ from Christ's, in that we have consolation which is apportioned to our trial. Christ suffered without solace. His Passion was endured amid what spiritual writers describe as "dryness of spirit." This, it need not be said, intensifies affliction (John 12:27; Matthew 27:46).
2. But with the Christian, if the sufferings "abound," the consolation "abounds" also. This accounts in part for the different spirit in which the martyrs faced death from that which the King of Martyrs displayed.
3. Christ purchased the consolation which is bestowed upon His members. The text runs, Our consolation aboundeth by Christ," or, Revised Version, "through (διά) Christ." Through His death and passion, through His all-prevailing intercession, through the gift of the Spirit, and the grace of the sacraments — trial and persecution have been endured even with thankfulness and joy (James 1:2; Philippians 3:10).
1. To take a right view of suffering.
2. To realise the consolation as the gift of Christ, and as measured out in proportion to our day of trial.
3. Especially to seek this "consolation" from the Comforter, God the Holy Ghost — like the Churches of old, who walked "in the comfort of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 9:31).
(Canon Hutchings, M. A.)I. AS OUR SUFFERINGS ARE FOR CHRIST, SO BY THE SAME CHRIST ARE OUR COMFORTS. Consider in what respects comforts may be said to abound by Christ.
1. Efficiently. He being the same with God, is therefore a God of all consolation, and as a Mediator He is sensible of our need, and therefore the more ready to comfort. Christ that wanted comfort Himself, and therefore had an angel sent to comfort Him, is thereby the more compassionate and willing to comfort us. Thus you may read Christ and God put together in this very act (2 Thessalonians 2:16, 17). Christ, therefore, not only absolutely as God, but relatively as Mediator, is qualified with all fitness and fulness to communicate consolation; He is the fountain and head, as of grace, so of comfort.
2. Meritoriously. He hath merited at the hands of God our comfort. As by Christ the Spirit of God is given to the Church as a guide into all truth, and as the Sanctifier, so He is also the Comforter, who giveth every drop of consolation that any believer doth enjoy.
3. Objectively — i.e., in Him, and from Him we take our comfort. As Christ is called "our righteousness," because in and through His righteousness we are accepted of in Him, so Christ is our comfort, because in Him we find matter of all joy (Philippians 3:3).
II. HOW MANY WAYS CHRIST MAKES HIS COMFORTS TO ABOUND TO THOSE THAT SUFFER FOR HIM.
1. By persuading them of the goodness of the cause, why they suffer.
2. By forewarning of their sufferings, All who will live godly must suffer tribulation. Christ hath done us no wrong, He hath told us what we must look for, it is no more than we expected. The fiery trial is not a strange thing. Surely this maketh way for much comfort, that we looked for afflictions beforehand; we prepared an ark against the deluge should come.
3. By informing us of His sovereignty and conquest over the world. If our enemies were equal or superior to Christ, then we might justly be left without comfort; but what Christ spake to His disciples belongs to all (John 14:18; John 16:33).
4. By virtue of His prayer put up in that very behalf (John 17:13).
5. By instructing us of the good use and heavenly advantage all these tribulations shall turn unto.(1) Our spiritual and eternal good. This will winnow away our chaff, purge our dross, be a school wherein we shall learn more spiritual and Divine knowledge than ever before. Sufferings have taught more than vast libraries, or the best books can teach.(2) Our eternal glory.
I. THE NATURE OF THE SUFFERING WHICH IS TO BE REGARDED AS A SHARING OF THE SUFFERING OF THE LORD. Among the elements which enter into it are —
1. The spectacle of the misery of mankind. On earth Christ wept as He beheld it, and the Christian is also bound to feel the pressure of its burden.
2. The deadly nature of evil. We cannot cheat ourselves into the belief that it does not much matter, that God is good and will make it all right at last. Sin is to be looked at in the light of Calvary. That teaches how terrible it is to the eye of God, how deadly in the heart of man.
3. The resistance of the will of the flesh to the best efforts and influences; its determination to reject the things that heal and save. It was this that made Christ the Man of Sorrows (Luke 13:34). To see a man perish within reach of rescue is one of the most piteous of spectacles. Imagine, then, what the world must be to Christ as He says, "Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life." This burden the disciple of Christ has ever pressing upon him as he fulfils his ministry in a scornful world.
4. The future eternal destiny. The thought pressed as a constant burden on the heart of Christ. It was this that drove Paul into barbarous lands, if he might save a soul from death. The fellowship of the Redeemer's tears is no unknown experience to the disciple.
II. HOW OUR CONSOLATION ABOUNDETH IN CHRIST. If we are called to share the suffering, we are called also to share the consolation. There was a joy set before Christ for which He endured the Cross, etc. — the joy of a sure redemption of humanity. These are some of the elements of the joy.
1. The God of all power and might has taken up the burden and wills the redemption of the world. God has come forth in Christ to undertake in person the recovery of our race. In working and suffering for man we have the assurance that God is with us. We see Mammon or Moloch on the throne, but it cannot be for ever. With all the vantage strength of His Godhead, Christ is working at the problem of man's salvation. When we feel saddened by the burden of human misery let us rest on the thought, "God is in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself."
2. There is a joy in the fulfilment of a self-sacrificing ministry which is more like heavenly rapture than any other experience which is within our reach. Unselfish work, inspired by the love of Christ, is the soul's gymnastic culture. To sow the seed of the kingdom is the present joy of a lifetime. No man who has known it would part with it to be a crowned king. The certainty of the issue (Isaiah 55:10-13).
(J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
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