Consolation in Affliction

John H. Tennant, Edington

Our God, Gen. 21. 12-21. Doctrinal truths are not in mind, but rather the compassion and mercy of God towards Hagar and the child; this may be of help to us. Elohim could not allow the seed of the Egyptian handmaid to inherit, but no one is outside the sphere of God's mercy. We can understand Hagar's feelings of despair and inadequacy as she watched life ebbing from the object of her love, but God knew the circumstances and heard the voice of the young child. As to little ones in general, and little ones who believe, having begun their life of faith, Jesus gives gracious teaching in Matthew 18. "Their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost", vv. 10-11. They need the sacrifice of Christ because of their sinful state as of the human race, but the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world. As to these, Jesus does not say "seek".

Hagar could no longer cope with the situation, but in her extreme helplessness she heard a wonderful message of comfort and hope: "What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make of him a great nation". As Christians who enjoy a nearer relationship with God than communication by angels, we may nevertheless face sorrows as we see a loved one suffering, or are perplexed by circumstances with which we cannot cope. We can bring our problems to our God, asking Him to take them over, and seeking grace to hold firmly to our confidence in the assurance that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose", Rom. 8. 28.

Our Father, 1 Pet. 1. 3-9. Mutual cheer and encouragement are normal features of the Christian family, and all have something to contribute for the comfort of others. It is the Lord Almighty, Jehovah Shaddai, in the O.T. who corresponds with the Father in the N.T., and it is in the enjoyment of our dual relationship with the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that we find strength and encouragement during our own difficulties, and become more disposed and able to help others. What a comfort it is for believers to know that they have an inheritance reserved in heaven for them, and in the meantime are being kept by the power of God.

But God is love, and He has shed abroad His love in our hearts so that we may love what God loves, and show that love one to another. Hence we have tender exhortations from the Holy Spirit to put away from us such features as anger, evil speaking, malice, and to be "kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you", Eph. 4. 32. It is of His own nature that we partake, and this supersedes natural likings and preferences. The cross of Christ as a judgment on man in the flesh ended the trial to which God subjected the natural man, and the Holy Spirit now works within us to form the new man in the features of Christ. The Holy Spirit, therefore, entreats us to "love one another with a pure heart fervently: being born again ... by the word of God", 1 Pet. 1. 22-23. God works from our new birth to our full growth, and "he which hath begun a good work in you will perform (complete) it until the day of Jesus Christ", Phil. 1. 6. Christians are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, Eph. 2. 10. As the objects of His grace, we shall be holy and blameless before Him in love, "that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus", Eph. 2. 7.

A significant proof of the presence of Christ in heaven, and the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the church on earth, was that within thirty years of the crucifixion Peter could write his first Epistle to Christians in a remote part of the Roman Empire. To be called "Christian", or to have one's name linked with the name "Christ" was to be ridiculed, and possibly persecuted. As common suffering became more intense, and comfort was needed in the face of it, both Peter and James sent messages of sympathy and words of encouragement, and it would be particularly consoling to the Christians to be told by the apostle that they were partaking of the sufferings of Christ. Their spirits would be buoyed up at the prospect of deliverance in the last time, even though they were under severe reproach and being badly treated. As with them, so with ourselves; we are encouraged and supported in the knowledge that whatever the Father permits us to bear, it is only if needed, and only for a little while. The Father tests our faith that it may be found unto praise and honour and glory in the day of Jesus Christ.

Our High Priest, Heb. 5-9; Psa. 110. God gives strong consolation to the heirs of promise based on the unchangeableness of both His counsel and His oath. Our eternal redemption and spiritual blessings in the heavenly places were determined in the counsels of God before the world was. In addition, because men understand the principle of an oath as confirming an end to matters of strife or dispute between them, God confirmed His counsel with an oath. Our sure and stedfast hope goes within the veil, because Jesus is there. He is our hope, our Forerunner, and our High Priest who entered heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us.

God said two things to His Son: "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee"; "Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec". The first relates to His personal glory which now shines out in His Manhood, and the second to His official glory as King-Priest, in the power of an endless life. Christ is not a high priest after the order of Aaron, but His contrasting High Priesthood highlights His superiority in moral perfection, the perfection of His work, and the perfection and permanence of His achievements and Priesthood; Aaron was mortal, and the priesthood transmissable. Priests of the Levitical order had to offer sacrifices for their own sins, before offering for the people's; and no priest could offer himself. "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?", Heb. 9. 14. Before Christ came, consciences were not purged; worshippers were not made perfect; the high priest could not remain in the holy place or sit down, and the sacrifices had to be repeated. There is an analogy in the type, but the contrast is evident. Christ put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. After one sacrifice, Christ sat down in perpetuity on the right hand of God. By the offering of the body of Jesus Christ believers are sanctified and perfected for ever. The result of the work of Christ, and His presence in the heavenly sanctuary, give the believer access to God, eternal redemption, and a purged conscience. Marvellous grace!

What joy we have to know that Jesus is in glory! But we have satisfying consolation too in thinking of "the days of his flesh" when He experienced all the sorrows and difficulties of life on earth, sin apart. God made that Man our Great High Priest, "For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted", Heb. 2. 18. As we consider Christ's sufferings, and the glory into which He has now entered, we may be encouraged to say with Paul, "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory", 2 Cor. 4. 17. Let us hold fast the confidence of our hope!