"Like a father who looks upon his child in a difficult and dangerous business,—knows that he can relieve him when he pleases, but would willingly see him try his strength and cunning,—lets him alone until perhaps the child thinks himself quite lost, and wonders his father doth not help him; but when the condition comes to be such that, without help, he will be lost indeed, instantly the father puts in his hand and saves him. So deals the Lord Jesus with his house,—lets it oftentimes strive and wrestle with great oppositions, to draw out and exercise all the graces thereof; but yet all this while he looketh on, and when danger is nigh indeed, he is not far off." John Owen
I was deeply impressed by these words while reading a John Owen sermon last night. I would like to improve them to us with a comment or two.
Every trial that the Lord Jesus sends our way is by design. I think we all know that trials are intended by God to conform us to the image of his Son, but I wonder if we've thought about this in specifics. The trial is sent to bring forth fruit in us, the fruit of righteousness. In other words, trials are designed to isolate and exercise areas of grace that would otherwise go unworked and unstrengthened.
This casts whatever struggle we face in its right light: it is a divinely designed workout, a heaven-sent sparring partner bearing the divine commission to expose and work our weakness. In this way the Lord is our personal fitness trainer to exercise us in specific godliness. Athletes understand working their weakness into strength; artists do as well. We, beloved, are God's soldiers, his workmanship. Perhaps you are lacking in patience, or kindness, or boldness. He is faithful to bring these graces into spiritual exercise and strength by sending you the very opposition you need. And by and by, through a life of battle, we are grown strong in his power.
The Lord stands by
But we need some leverage, some spiritual brace, in order to really trust ourselves to God's work in us, and that belt of truth to support us in trial is that he is always near to us. If we face real danger and real ruin, he stands by to save us. We are safe in his hand and under his tutelage; in fact there is no safer place to be. Rest assured that no matter the trial, he is with us and will strengthen us through it, and will deliver us from any real spiritual danger. There is no space for concern that he will work us to death; he will only work us into life and life abundant. Our heavenly spotter will not allow the weight of trial to crush us; thus we can safely throw ourselves into the exercise.
Owen applies this to the church, both universal and local. And this is the comfort for God's people: he will send us what whatever trials we need and nothing more. He is our heavenly watchman who will not suffer his cause to go untriumhpant in this world. His people will endure, and his local churches will be upheld by his mighty hand. He is not far off. In this we take great comfort, and in this we press forward into whatever he sends our way.