July 1

Calvin, Spurgeon, Bonhoeffer & Lessons in Suffering

The day before Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by his Nazi captors in WWII, he had led a worship service among the prisoners.  Almost the moment he finished his final prayer the guards entered, led him out, and the next day he was hanged.  Less than one week later the Allies arrived and liberated the prisoners.  Bonhoeffer missed release from death by just a few days.


The natural question is why did God let that happen?  Surely he could’ve enabled the Allied forces to arrive a few days sooner.  The only reasonable answer from our limited viewpoint is that the impact of Bonhoeffer’s legacy was more important than his longevity.  Had he survived would his impact today as a martyr who stood against the Nazi regime be as great as if he had lived and continued his normal pastoral duties?  Probably not.  It was the quality of his life rather than the length of it that was most important to God.  Clearly Bonhoeffer was okay with that as he had surrendered his life to the sovereign will of God.


In the opening verses of James 1:1-4, the half-brother of Jesus gets right to the issue of trials and the will of God.  Many lessons emerge, three of which are illustrated by great saints of the past similar to Bonhoeffer.  One, trials are in God’s plan – accept them.  John Calvin suffered greatly throughout his life.  He was often so sick he lectured while lying in bed.  He wrote,


No one has rightly denied himself unless he has wholly resigned himself to the Lord and is willing to leave every detail to His good pleasure.  If we put ourselves in such a frame of mind, then, whatever may happen to us, we shall never feel miserable or accuse God falsely because of our lot.  (Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life, p. 44)


Two, trials have God’s purpose – spiritual maturity.  Charles Spurgeon agonized with painful Gout starting at age 35, suffered with Bright’s kidney disease, and was so prone to depression he hoped all in his flock would be spared the depths to which he went in despair.  He wrote,


I am afraid that all the grace that I have got out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny.  But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable….Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house.  It is the best book in a minister’s library.  (God’s People Melted & Tried, sermon)


Three, trials lead to God’s outcome – Is that okay with me?  It was apparently okay with Bonhoeffer as he went calmly to his death confident in the will of God.  It was also okay with Spurgeon who said about the criticism he bore that “the pain it has cost me none can measure.”

But he also wrote,


As long as I trace my pain to accident, my bereavement to mistake, my loss to another’s wrong, my discomfort to an enemy, and so on, I am of the earth, earthy, and shall break my teeth with gravel stones; but when I rise to my God and see his hand at work, I grow calm, I have not a word of repining.  (1873 sermon)


Your friend, in the Master’s schoolhouse, Pastor Brian (:-}).