Thursday, July 3, 2008

Afflictions Refine the Believer

Anyone who's read my posts in the past knows that I read John Owen devotionally. His book THE HOLY SPIRIT, his gifts and his power is so chock full of spiritual insights that rather than taking the 384 page book on all at once, I read it in snippets. Some of you may be able to relate to this type of reading. Nevertheless, Owen had the gift of elucidation (and I feel, illumination). And on the above topic in the title, I felt his explanation (with my comments) was worthy of a post.

In any event, this is a subsection of a chapter on how the blood of Christ purges all filth from the believer. Observe:

Purification from sin is likewise ascribed to affliction. Hence they are called God's furnace, and his fining-pot, whereby he takes away our dross (Isa. 31:9, 63:10). They are also called fire, that tries the ways and works of men, consuming their hay and stubble, and purifying their gold and silver (1st Cor. 3:13). And this they do by an efficacy communicated to them by the Spirit of God; for by the cross of Christ, they were cut off from the curse of the first covenant, to which all their evils belonged, and implanted into the covenant of grace. The tree of the cross being cast into the waters of affliction, has rendered them wholesome and medicinal. Christ being the head of the covenant, all the afflictions of his members are originally his (Isa 63:9), and they all tend to increase our conformity to him in holiness. And they work together for his blessed end in several ways."

Before I go on to list the elements in which he states I want to comment briefly. How often do we Christians assume that when we are being afflicted in this way or that way that it is actually for our good. Granted, our affliction may not compare with those in other countries who are persecuted for their faith, but affliction still befalls each one of us. I can tell you right now that I'm going through a difficult times financially by trying to unload a rental property in NY and its really difficult for me to look at the situation and say that God must have a reason for it. But I know he does, its just difficult acting on this. And I think many Christians feel the same way. We feel God is ignoring us, or that there is a sin in our lives and as a result we are paying for it with this difficult situation. Truth is, God does have a reason for it. Often its just not what we think. That is why I like what Owen's has to say next.

He then states the ways in which the above quote works together. I'll take a few lines from the 4 ways, cut them down, and comment briefly. Affliction, he states, purifies us:

1) By Revealing God's Hatred of Sin: "They bear some tokens of God's displeasure against sin, by which believers are le to a fresh view of its vileness: for through afflictions are an effect of love, yet it is of love mixed with care to obviate and prevent distempers...Now a view of sin, under suffering, makes men to loathe and abhor themselves, and be ashamed of it. This is the first step toward purification, for it puts us upon seeking after a remedy"

2) By Breaking Attachments to Created Things: "Afflictions take off the beauty and allurement of all created good things, by which the affections are solicited to embrace and cleave to them inordinately. God designs by afflictions to wither all the flowers of this world, by discovering their inefficiencies to give relief."

I like what Owen has to say here. Clearly he is speaking in generalities with respect to what object, mainly because it can apply to many different aspects of human relations. For example, though I enjoy my Audi with all of its features and supreme driving ability, during times of distress it offers me very little consolation for anything. Things are to be enjoyed, but not relied on.

3) By Taking the Edge off Lusts: "Afflictions take the edge off lusts...they curb those vigorous affections which are always ready for the service of lust, and which sometimes carry the soul into the pursuit of sin, like the horse into battle, with madness and fury."

Owen hits the nail on the head again with this one. Affliction will very much alter the way we look at our "normal sins" in which we generally take for granted. It allows us a different motivation and modifies our very outlook on what might normally be taken for granted.

4) By Stiring Up the Graces of the Spirit: "A time of affliction is the special season for the peculiar exercise of all grace; for the soul can no otherwise support or relieve itself. It is taken off from other comforts, every sweet thing being make bitter to it; it must therefore live by, and in some sense upon, faith, love, and delight in God.

As Peter notes, In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7). It is when we face affliction and/or various trials that our faith is tested and made sure. Through tough times we come to know and rely solely on God and His graces which he has bestowed.

Hopefully you were encouraged as much as I was after reading this. Again, some of this may seem elementary and lack the theological meat some of our readers thirst for. But for me, to read the insight of one of the most influential Puritans enriches my soul every time I do.

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