Of all that I possess in my library I find that some of the most powerful books I have (after the Bible) are also the smallest. One such booklet is by John J. Murray who served in pastoral ministry in Oban and Edinburgh. Murray (as described on the back cover of the booklet) “writes out of his years of experience as a Christian minister and counselor, using the wisdom of God’s Word to give guidance and direction. But Behind a Frowning Providence also bears the marks of a precious stone, quarried from the deep and dark places of the author’s own experience of pain and sorrow. It speaks to the mind, giving wise counsel: it also speaks to the heart, and brings a message of encouragement which points to the way of true peace.” Such a summary says it all, and serves as a good preface for the following:
We often see sorrows leading to increased usefulness in the lives of God’s servants. ‘God’, says Spurgeon, ‘gets his best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction’. He was an outstanding example of this himself. He says: ‘I do not know whether my experience is that of all God’s people; but I am afraid that all the grace I have got at any of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours might almost be on a penny. But the good I have received from my sorrows, and pains and griefs is altogether incalculable’. Thomas Boston who had an abundant share of sorrows remarked, ‘It is the usual way of providence with me that blessing comes through several iron gates’. ‘The tools the great Architect intends to use much’, J. C. Ryle wrote in the same vein, ‘are often kept long in the fire to temper them and fit them for the work’. Examples of this truth abound in Scripture and in Church history and are too numerous to mention. We may think of Pau land his painful affliction, ‘a thorn in the flesh’, and the purpose for which it was sent: ‘Most gladly will I glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest on me’ (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). We may think of Rutherford banished to the cold – physical and spiritual – of Aberdeen where
…in my sea-beat prison
My Lord and I held tryst.
From that place of affliction there poured forth the Letters full of the fragrance of Christ that have enriched the Church down the centuries. We may think of John Bunyan cast into prison for refusing to keep silence, his usefulness seemingly curtailed. But God multiplied his usefulness through his pen in the writing of Pilgrim’s Progress. Then we have Thomas Boston suffering from poor health, with his children sick and dying, his wife crippled by mental illness, dealing with difficult parishioners, engaged in ecclesiastical wrangles, labouring in relative obscurity; yet out of it all have come writings that have brought untold blessing to multitudes. No wonder John Flavel wrote: ‘Oh the blessed chemistry of heaven to extract such mercies out of such miseries!’ (pp. 19-20).
I myself desire to see trials more clearly in view of my Father’s tender love and divine purposes. Such lessons seem to come slowly, as they tear through my fleshly fears, but I am thankful that they do come. May the Lord grant me even more grace to behold His loving hand in everything, giving thanks in all things in view of His matchless worth.