Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
When one considers the amount of affliction which exists in the world, we may well wonder that the simple remedy in the text is as yet an untasted medicine to so many. Can it be that it is too simple? Can it be that, as there are so many who rate the efficacy of drugs by their loathsomeness to the taste, so men would rather seek some painful process or mighty labour than the simple means which God's Word provides? Such, indeed, was the temper of Naaman (2 Kings 5:11, 12). And it is no uncommon temper; for men do not like to be treated like children, and they forget that unless they are so treated they lose the children's blessing, the children's kingdom! He who struggles with affliction without prayer struggles in his own strength alone, and rejects every other. And what is this but struggling against God; wrestling with Him, but not as Jacob did; and, therefore, coming off from the contest crippled indeed, but without the blessing which the patriarch won? Thus, indeed, a heart may be in some measure and in a few cases (for in the great number nature will rebel and revenge herself) hardened, rather than strengthened, under suffering. But a miserable comfort it would be, even though one did achieve a heart of stone! God grant that such an one may yet be smitten of God until the waters of healing gush forth! And in what spirit can affliction be received by persons who must believe, whether they will or no, that it comes from the hand of God? If not in the spirit of prayer, in what spirit besides? Must it not be even in the spirit of cursing? And cursing is a kind of miserable prayer; a prayer for evil, and not for good; a prayer, in fact, to the evil one instead of God. Those who have earnestly and perseveringly tried will not be at a loss to know the advantage of obeying the precept. But it will not be without use and interest even for them to recall the times of their trial — how they prayed, and how they were heard, in those extremities which brought them, as it were, immediately before the footstool and the mercy-seat of the Lord. It may be that they have never so prayed again — so passionately, so faithfully, so importunately! And it may be that this will explain many a failure in faith and duty, many a relapse into sin, which seemed impossible — ay, and was impossible — in the fervour of their devotion then I But there are many besides who have never tried. And these may ask the question, half-wondering, half-scoffing, "What will the afflicted man gain by praying? will he obtain the removal of his affliction?" In some cases he may obtain even this, but for the most part he will not. He must not expect it. Why should he expect it? How can he expect it, when he has once understood that his affliction comes from God? For what purpose but for good does God afflict those who pray to Him? And if for good, then, what good would it be to have the tribulation removed before it has had its perfect work?
1. The first answer to our prayers is patience under the trial. This is but little, indeed, in itself; but it is much when compared with anything that any other comforter can give. It makes a Christian look into his own heart; and it tells him — yea, makes him tell himself — how far less than his sins have deserved are all the chastisements which are laid upon him — how well, how mercifully he is dealt with by the God against whom he has sinned. And he has the conviction borne in upon his soul that he will not be tried above that he is able to bear, but that with every trial there will be given either the grace to withstand or a way to escape,
2. From patience, such patience as the mourner receives in answer to his prayer, there is a short, a scarcely perceptible step to comfort; and yet, short as the step is, this is a new gift, a most precious additional blessing. It dwells and reflects on the visitation which has called it forth; it realises His presence in the cloud; and, behold, the cloud becomes a pillar of fire giving light in the darkness! It sees the particular points in which mercy has tempered His judgments, and it feels; even if it cannot see, His lovingkindness interfused throughout the whole. And those who are thus comforted have a further and most precious privilege — to comfort others as none else can (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4). It is the privilege of those who have been themselves cast into the furnace to give assurance of the Son of God walking with them in the midst of the fire. But comfort is not all we want; and God therefore gives us more.
3. More guidance we need, because our duties become by every trial new and multiplied. More strength we feel that we need, because our affliction has taught us our own weakness. But He has said that "His strength is sufficient for us; for in our weakness is His strength made perfect." He has taught His apostle, and us through him, to say, "I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me"; as surely as Christ Himself taught us that "apart from Him we can do nothing."
4. And thus we are led on to look to the future: and that further blessing is revealed to us which our affliction is to work — the blessing of faith in God. By this we become no more servants, but friends, not only believing, but knowing what God doeth; not only obeying, but working with Him, through Christ, in His work.
5. And this brings hope with it; a hope unlike the earthly hopes which we have seen mocking us and coming to nought; or, if fulfilled, mocking us still more, till we loathed their fulfilment, and despised ourselves for indulging in them; but this, a hope that maketh not ashamed; for its root is in the love of God and the Holy Spirit which He has given us; its blossom is in the multiplying graces with which the Saviour rewards every step in our sanctification; and its fruit is found in the certainty of that heavenly region where hope itself can no longer find a place, but dies into fruition, as the night dies into the morning. And can more still be said? Yes! there is one blessing further vouchsafed even in this world to those who are sanctified and purified by suffering, so much beyond all comfort and all hope, that the Christian who recognises it in the saints who are with Christ trembles and shrinks from appropriating it to himself, lest the very chastisements of God should minister to unchristian presumption. Yet it is written — written for our comfort and our glory — written, too, for our warning, lest we fall from such privilege and grace — that the children whom God chastises are thereby even conformed to the likeness of that only begotten Son who is the brightness of His Father's glory and the express image of His person. And if these are the earthly fruits of God's chastisements when sanctified by prayer, what are the heavenly? If these are even the earthly fruits — as most truly, most assuredly they are — who that has once tasted their power would pray for the withdrawal of his affliction, for the removal of the earthly trial which is working the eternal blessing? As we could not, as no Christian could pray — even though it were possible — to do away with the redeeming sufferings of His Saviour; so we may not, cannot wish deliverance from the sufferings whereby we are made unto Him. But as He prayed more earnestly in His agony, so must we in ours — not that the cup be removed, unless it be God's will, but that all His visitations may have their perfect work in us; that we may be indeed conformed to His likeness here; and that, with those who as joint-heirs with Him have entered into their inheritance, we may have our final consummation and bliss in His glory hereafter.
Parallel VersesKJV: Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.