Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith…
The expression is used in the sense of travelling through: as if they lay about our road. And this is an encouraging similitude. It sets us forth as superior to the tribulations: and sets them forth as our appointed way, not to have the mastery over us, but to be faced and left behind, just as the traveller faces and leaves behind the dangers or rough places of his road. "Tribulation," a term implying "crushing" or "fretting"; that outward galling which narrow and intricate ways, or long borne burdens, produce on the traveller. It is a word joined by St. Paul to another signifying "narrowness of space to move in," and which we render "anguish," as representing the Latin angustiae," narrowness of space." It is then through many of these gallings, these narrow inlets, or pressing burdens, that our way must be made to the land of rest. Let us trace the fact —
I. IN ITS RISE. First of all, strait is the gate itself that leadeth unto life. Through one mental process in the main do men enter into the life of the Spirit. And though that life issues in the best expansion of the whole man, yet this introductory process is eminently a contracting one. When a man for the first time opens his eyes on God's true state, and his own; when he first sees what God demands of him, and what he has to render to God, the sight is one which shrinks up whatever he may before have thought of anything that is his own; it is a tribulation, a passing through a strait, too narrow for any of those encumbrances which lay about and almost constituted his unrenewed and worldly being. This lies at the very head of his course, and cannot be avoided. Many endeavour to avoid it; and no doubt it is easy enough: but in doing so, they miss the way to the kingdom of God. They stand with the strait gate before them, looking up the narrow path. Between it and the broad way are several tracks, not so difficult, and better frequented; decoys which the enemy has constructed — the ways which seem right unto a man, but the end thereof is the way of death.
1. There is the comely track of formalism — spanning the valleys of humiliation with its perfect arches, piercing the toilsome steeps with its readier and smoother approaches. There, is no tribulation; daily, conscience is set to sleep with choicest music; daily, the satisfied eyes gaze on the fair pictures of self-denial and piety.
2. Then there is the wide and smooth path of worldly profession, where all that is rough and unpleasing in religion is avoided and cast aside. Tribulation enough there is indeed in such a course, but not of the right sort for our purpose; forever and anon the rough unmannerly protest of God's inward witness breaks through, and in laughter the heart is sorrowful. And tribulation enough to come: for the hope of such an one shall perish.
II. IN ITS NATURE, it is two fold, essential and incidental; that which every Christian must feel, and that into which he is liable, from varying circumstances, to be thrown.
1. He is guilty; unworthy; grieves God's Holy Spirit; does the evil thing he has resolved against, and the good which he has determined to do falls unwrought from his hands. And from this springs grief and trouble continually. Nor does such necessary trouble come from self-contemplation only. "Rivers of water," said the psalmist, "run down mine eyes, because men keep not Thy law." And then "everyone that will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution." The world will not endure tranquilly one who lives above the world. "If they have hated Me, they will hate you."
2. This last-mentioned tribulation seems, from its varying aspect, to form our transition to those which are incidental: not necessary to every child of God, but sent to some in full measure, to some in less degree, and to others perhaps hardly at all; providential chastenings of our heavenly Father, the sicknesses, dejections, and bereavements of the people of God. These troubles are in fact our highest privileges. To be allowed to enter into the fellowship of Christ's sufferings — do we not ever feel this to be our truest exaltation in life?
III. ITS PROGRESS. "Tribulation worketh patience." Oh blessed advance! from suffering, to "Father, if it be Thy will"; from patience to "approval" — the passing through and coming out of the fire tested and fit for the Master's use. Would you have a counsellor in the things of God? Take a Christian who has known sorrow. Would you have a comforter and a Christian friend? Consort with one who has known sorrow. Wouldst thou thyself become mature in Christ, a ripened and ready Christian, glorifying Him largely, and bearing witness to Him with power? Oh refuse not, pass not by, the cup of tribulation; learn obedience from the things which thou hast suffered; be thou, as He was, made perfect through sufferings. But this is not all. And now in the end, let us look onward and upward. Let us stand with the beloved apostle, and behold that great multitude. "These are they which came out of great tribulation!"
Parallel VersesKJV: Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.