THE WHOLESOME DISCIPLINE OF TRIALS. (Sermon by the REV. C. A. HEURTLEY, D.D., Margaret Professor of Divinity, Oxford, and Rector of Fenny Compton, Warwickshire)
[This sermon was preached at a special Service at Guilsborough, Northamptonshire, on the 1st Oct. 1862, being the second Anniversary of the Farewell Service at Canterbury.]
St. JAMES I, 2, 3, 4.
"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
EVERY one would wish, naturally, to live without trials, or, [101/102] if that may not be, without severe trials. But God gives no sanction to such a wish. On the contrary, He warns us, in the plainest terms, that trials are our portion; that we must make our account for them; that we must not hope to reach heaven, or to glorify God, or do good service to our fellow-men without them. And it is of great consequence that we should steadfastly look this truth in the face; that we should reckon upon trials, and expect them. By so doing, we shall the better prepare ourselves to meet them, when they come. And though the prospect may at first sight seem dark and dreary, yet in truth, it has its lights as well as its shadows, its encouragements as well as its discouragements. The very trials which we have to encounter, if met as God would have us meet them, are means in God's hands of advancing us to a higher stage of Christian progress than we could have reached without them, and so of fitting us, as we could not otherwise have been fitted, for the enjoyment of that rest which remaineth for the people of God, where trials and conflicts are at an end for ever.
It is to this bright and cheering part of the prospect that St. James directs our attention, when he bids us "count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations." It is likely indeed, that the "temptations," which he had more especially in view, were the afflictions to which the early Christians were exposed from persecution. But the word which he uses applies to trials of every description, and there is nothing in the exhortation which he couples with it, to restrict it, to that one kind to the exclusion of others. There are no trials in which the Christian may not, and ought not to rejoice, inasmuch as there are no trials which, rightly met, may not contribute, by exercising and increasing his patience, to his eventual success in the great work, or in any particular department of the great work, in which he is engaged.
Even in things pertaining to the present life, it is an established law that trials rightly met, so far from being hindrances, are helps to those who are exercised by them. They make proof of the material, so to speak, of which a man is composed. [102/103] If, indeed, he is indolent, wavering, irresolute, wanting in courage and perseverance, they crush and overwhelm him. If he is of an opposite character, like a keen atmosphere (which, while it kills the weakly, invigorates the strong), they brace and strengthen him, and draw forth a fund of latent energy, which, but for them, would probably never have been brought to light. Many of those who have risen to eminence, in spite (as we are used to say) of early difficulties and disadvantages, have owed their eminence in reality to those very difficulties and disadvantages. Had their course been smoother at the outset, the world possibly would never have heard of them or of their achievements.
And the same law holds in spiritual matters. Whatever advantages arise to us from trials in the things of this life, the same, and on the same principle, arise to us in the things of the next. All the eminent Saints of Scripture had great and severe trials to encounter, and doubtless, even in the way of natural cause and effect, these trials contributed exceedingly to their eminence. Only we must remember that the Christian character is somewhat more than the effect produced by natural causes working out natural effects in matters spiritual. The servant of God has all the advantages in trials which the man of the world has; but he has others over and above, and in these no stranger intermeddleth with his joy.
Trials first make him sensible of his weakness, and then turn his weakness into strength by sending him to the Source of all strength. They promote his communion with God, assure him of God's love, and draw forth his own affections towards God in return. They endear to him the thought of that adorable Saviour, through Whom he has deliverance from all the trials to which his earthly state is subject. They endear to him the anticipation of that blessed land where trials are unknown; and in so doing, make his desire for it more fervent, and his efforts to attain it more earnest and more persevering. Thus they call forth energies which otherwise would have lain dormant, they brace and strengthen him with a wholesome discipline, and they advance him to a higher pitch, both of holiness and usefulness here, and of happiness hereafter, than he could have reached without them. [103/104] Surely there is reason enough why, in the midst of the pain and sorrow which trials may cause, we should still count it all joy when we fall into them.
Let this suffice for the general application of St. James's words. I will not longer detain your thoughts from their application to those particular trials and those particular consolations which claim our attention to-day. Let us view the subject, then, as it bears upon the present circumstances of the Central African Mission, our common interest in which has brought us together in this House of Prayer.
That Mission, as we all know, is at this moment passing through troubled waters. The goodly vessel which but two short years since left our shores, amid prayers and aspirations and fond hopes, is now tossed with tempest, its pilot swept overboard, its mariners astonied, and only not despairing, because their faith descries One in the midst of them, Whose word can hush the storm to silence and bid the wild waves be still.
And truly, though we could hardly have foreseen the precise kind of trials which have come upon the Mission, or, if we could, were perhaps too sanguine to anticipate them, yet that trials of some kind were in store for it we might have been certain from the first; and we were unwise if we did not make our account for them. And it is not difficult to see how, in various ways, the trials in question may, with God's blessing, contribute to advance the work which, at first sight, they threatened to obstruct, and so doing may be a just occasion of rejoicing.
1. First, they have awakened the sympathy of Churchmen in the Mission, to an extent to which otherwise perhaps it would hardly have been aroused. It is true that when the undertaking was first projected, it was cordially and extensively taken up. Dr. Livingstone's stirring appeal to the Universities, the response of the Universities to that appeal, the cooperation of those great bodies in the work, the idea of a Mission to be carried out on a plan more strictly in accordance with ecclesiastical order than we had been accustomed to, with a Bishop at its head, and a staff of clergy subordinate to him from the first,--these circumstances had all contributed to create a lively and extensive interest in the work. But that [104/105] interest, if I mistake not, had latterly begun to flag. Perhaps it was scarcely to have been expected, considering what human nature is, that it would be fully sustained. Indeed, the anticipation of such a result led some of the earliest supporters of the Mission to desire that provision should, if possible, be made for its being placed eventually in connection. with one of our great societies, such as the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, whose stability and persistence could be more certainly relied upon.
For the present, however, the severe trial which has befallen the mission in the tragical deaths of Bishop Mackenzie and his companion has resuscitated, and more than resuscitated, the interest which was originally felt; and if the good Bishop could speak to us from his grave by the African river's side, we may well imagine him adopting St. Paul's words,--"I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which have happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel." God's servants have not laboured in vain, nor spent their strength for nought, even though their plans have been frustrated, or though they have been removed from their work, before the seed which they have sown has sprung up.
2. Another benefit resulting from the trials which have befallen the Mission in this early stage of its progress, is that they have given occasion for a more careful consideration of the course which has been pursued hitherto in carrying it out, than possibly might have been accorded to it otherwise; and though it is not to be supposed that, in our most imperfect acquaintance with a country and a people so diverse from anything that we have had experience of, we, here in England, are competent judges, yet it is something, that those, who go forth to join the Mission in future should be already familiar with the conclusions which thoughtful and pious men have come to on important points of conduct. One of these, the question how far circumstances may justify the missionaries in any case in taking part in the wars of the native tribes, has been much discussed, and there has been a general agreement on the subject, though perhaps with scarcely a sufficient appreciation in some instances of the difficulties of the position in which the missionaries have been placed. If the trials to which the [105/106] Mission has been subjected, have drawn attention to this and perhaps some other points which they would scarcely have received otherwise even in this respect they will not have been in vain.
3. One other benefit resulting from the trials through which the Mission has had to pass, is that they have served, it is to be hoped, as a wholesome discipline to those connected with the undertaking, teaching them to look for support to the true Source of strength, and exercising those graces of trust in God's Fatherly Love, and devotedness to His service, constancy, patience, and perseverance, which are essential to success. That they had wrought such effects in the missionaries themselves, even before the late severest and most stunning trial fell upon them, their letters and journals testify. "One can almost see the growth of spirituality in his mind," the Bishop of Capetown remarked, of the impression produced upon himself by reading those of the late Bishop, especially his private letters to his own family. "Nothing," lie added," has touched me more in many of his expressions, just as death was approaching (without his being conscious that he was on the eve of death) than the apparent growth of spirituality of mind. The very last account of him, the very last entry in his journal, the passage, ' I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor
things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord,' will come home to every Christian mind."
Such was the effect of that wholesome discipline of trial upon the head of the Mission, and there is good reason to believe that a like benefit has been produced upon those who were associated with him. I could read from a letter of one of the party, whose name many of you doubtless remember, a very touching testimony to the grace bestowed upon some of the members of that little band, if time allowed.*
[Footnote:*"To speak sufficiently of Dickinson is beyond my power. He is beloved by all, and his angelic spirit of love for the poorest object of humanity (we have them with us!) is as valuable to God's cause, as it is personally to ourselves to emulate and to copy. Clark is an [106n/107n] admirable fellow: he gives such a healthy, cheerful, and religions tone to those he works with, we cannot be sufficiently thankful for his coming out. The older stagers are still the good fellows we found them at first." (Mr. Waller's letter of March 25th, 1862). See also the account of the escape of Proctor and Scudamore; and note especially their instinctive recourse to prayer in the moment of their extreme danger,--" In a minute or two they stopped, deliberated, and prayed for guidance, and then set off homewards," --and connected with this, the brethren, ignorant of their fate, "joining together in their temporary church in prayer for them" ('Occasional Paper,' pp. 23, 22). One is reminded of St. Peter's History, Acts xii, 5, &c.]
 Suffice it to say, that having no human arm on which to lean, they seem, one and all, to have leaned with a more simple childlike trust on God. And the result has been a more instinctive recourse to God in prayer, increased love to Christ, more entire devotedness to his service, together with more abundant love towards one another, which has drawn out their affections towards one another in a way, in which nothing can so effectually do as community in suffering. If these, then, and such as these, have been the effects produced by the trials through which the Mission has had to pass, most truly are those trials occasions of rejoicing, however, for a season, those who are called to pass through them may be in heaviness; and we may well acknowledge the applicability of the Apostle's exhortation to this particular case, when lie bids us "count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations."
There are two cautions, however, to be borne in mind, if we would fully enter into that exhortation; and these, as they apply to temptations or trials in general, so do they to those connected with our present circumstances in particular. First, the trials must not be of our own seeking. Secondly, they must be encountered rightly. He who strives in this contest is not crowned except he strive lawfully.
1. As to the former, if men thrust themselves of their own accord upon trials,--if, for example, they place themselves in the way of temptation, or if they rush into situations to which God in his providence has not called them, they will have little reason to rejoice in the troubles which they bring upon themselves. God may indeed of his mercy make a way for them to [107/108] escape, but this is more than they have a right to look for, and if he does, it will in all probability be a way of stern discipline and heavy sorrow.
But it is another matter, where the trials which we have to encounter come upon us in the way of duty, or in the ordinary course of God's providence. In such a case, whatever be the nature of them, we may well enter upon them without anxiety or alarm. God, who has suffered them to come upon us, will without doubt make a way for us to escape, if only we will avail ourselves of that way. Those cheering words, which he spoke to his people of old, are left on record for the consolation and encouragement of his people in every age, "When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not he burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee."
And surely we may take to ourselves the full comfort of these words, as regards the work in which we are interested. That work was not work to which we were not called. Our Lord's command to his Apostles has descended from them to his Church at this clay--"Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature;" and it is plainly the Church's duty to enter in, wherever a door is opened to her. And a door had been opened to her in this instance, through the discoveries of Dr. Livingstone, though some may have thought it scarcely prudent to venture through that door into a country so far removed from the prestige and protection of British or other European influence. But it is to be considered that what was done in this respect was done advisedly, with the express approval of the persons of all others best acquainted with the country and best capable of forming an opinion,--Dr. Livingstone, the Bishop of Capetown, and Sir George Grey. The judgment of such persons at least exempts the Society from the charge of rashness and inconsiderateness in the choice of its field of labour. And certainly the country itself, in the abject misery into which the trade in slaves has plunged it, over and beyond the ordinary evils of heathenism, calls loudly to Christians for help; indeed the more so, because Christian traders (sad that the name of Christian should [108/109] be so profaned), are the instigators of these devilish atrocities.
So much for the description of trials to which the Apostle's exhortation and encouragement apply. Then as to the way in which they are to be met:--
l. There must be an absence of a presumptuous spirit. There must be a humble consciousness of our own weakness and insufficiency, and yet, combined with this, an assured trust in the strength and sufficiency of that God whose work we have in hand. We cannot, indeed, enter into the trials which we may be called to encounter, whether in this or in any other matter, too hopefully; too cheerfully, too confidently, provided only that our hope, and cheerfulness, and confidence, spring from the right Source. We are strong, and we ought to know and feel that we are, when we are "strong in the Lord and in the power of His might."
2. In saying this, I am anticipating a second point to be borne in mind. If we are to avoid a presumptuous spirit on the one hand, we are to avoid a desponding spirit on the other. We owe it to the Mission not to despair of it.
And it is encouraging to know that the missionaries themselves, in the midst of their deep distress, as well as others, who, from their personal knowledge of their circumstances and of the country, are most competent to form a judgment (Dr. Livingstone among them), do not despair of it. There is reason enough indeed apparent, why, so far from being cast down by the trials which have befallen the Mission, we should rejoice in them; and even if there were none apparent, we ought still to believe that there is reason, on the authority of the Apostle in the text; those trials having come upon it when it was in the way of duty, and being encountered in a right spirit. One way or other, we may be sure good will come out of the evil. It may not be in the way that we reckon upon, or at the season that we reckon upon, but it will come. Ours is the sowing time,--a sowing time of tears. It may be, we may not live to reap what we have sown. Others, possibly a generation yet unborn, may enter in and reap; yet even we, ourselves, shall reap in one sense, and reap in joy. Christ will own and accept our work, if only it has been wrought [109/110] with a single eye to His glory, if we have had an unfeigned zeal for His cause, a sincere desire for the salvation of those souls whom He bought with His blood.
3. One other point to be borne in mind, if we would meet the trials which have come upon us in a right spirit, is, we must confront them manfully. There will be small joy to us if we turn back the moment we find ourselves in difficulties. This is not the way that great deeds have been wrought, or great characters formed. In the Christian warfare generally, the crown of life which is held out before us as our reward, is promised to those only who "endure temptation,"--endure to the end, or, as we have the same promise expressed elsewhere, are "faithful unto death." And here truly lies the great difficulty of the work. It is easy comparatively to wind up ourselves for a single effort, but it is another thing to pursue the same unswerving course day after day, in little matters as well as in great, in cases where no eye but God's is witness to our exertions, as well as in others where we are conscious that men are looking on with interest to observe how we acquit ourselves. And if this holds of the Christian life generally, it holds equally of its several departments, It is not enough to have taken in hand this or any other work which has for its object the glory of God and the welfare of our fellow-men. We must persevere in our exertions, and if trials come, and things do not turn out as we had wished and hoped, we must understand that our constancy and steadfastness are being put to the proof. God and men also are taking account of what stuff we are made. If we abandon our design, it is plain that we were not the men for the work. We began, but we were not able to finish. If we hold on, if difficulties and disappointments only call forth fresh energy, and quicken our determination to proceed, we may rest assured that we have in us the elements of success, a success which, in a fitting cause, will crown us with lasting honour.
And what cause can be more worthy of our sustained interest and persevering exertions than one which has for its object the diffusion of Christianity, with its humanizing influence, over the dark places and cruel habitations of a land, which would seem to exceed all others in darkness and cruelty? [110/111] To adopt Dr. Livingstone's appeal, written from the country in which the Mission is labouring, and with the trials and sorrows of our bereaved brethren fresh in his mind, "Is it not as inspiriting to be at the beginning of things, as to be related to a splendid past; to sow that others may reap, as to enter into the labours of those who have sown? Is it not a noble object to endeavour to mould a nation to our religious faith, and plant a power which may influence an important progeny continuously till our Saviour comes again?" (Letter to the Hon. Sec., March 25, 1862.)
One word in conclusion. It is a reflection which must occur to every one, that the little band, of which the Mission consists, has a claim to our liveliest sympathy. Let us not forget them amid the comforts of those English homes, which they have left for Christ and the love of souls, and which to them, doubtless, are now ten times dearer than ever they were, when they possessed them. They too, we may be sure, have met this morning, as we are meeting now, to commemorate their departure from England. Sadly must they have glanced back to their meeting on this day last year, when, with their Bishop at their head, they held their Services, and then proceeded to fix the first post of the chancel of a Church which they hoped to build, but which they have since been obliged to abandon. And how different their circumstances from ours! We journeying to this House of Prayer, through a district where every sight and sound bespeak security and peace; they assembled within view of villages blackened with fire, and fields laid waste, and saturated with the blood of those who tilled them, and within hearing, possibly, of the defiant yells of savage men who are carrying the women and children whom they have spared into the captivity, to procure victims for which they have wrought these horrors. Add to this, their lonely and isolated condition, cut off from all personal intercourse with Christian men, their opportunities of communication, even by letter, with the friends whom they have left, rare and uncertain. Surely never was there a stronger claim upon our sympathy and our prayers. Let us not withhold from them the boon which they so greatly need. Let us remember them now, when we kneel before God at His table. [111/112] Let us remember them in our prayers in private, beseeching God to sustain and strengthen them in their hours of loneliness and weariness, and to cheer them with the abundant consolations of His Spirit, and to increase their faith exceedingly, so that patience may in them have her perfect work, that they may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing, and that having endured temptation, and endured to the end, they may eventually receive the Crown of Life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him.