“For you, O God, have proved us: you have tried us, as silver is tried.” Psalm 66:10
FAITH has its trials, as well as its temptations. Affliction is a trial of faith; sorrow in any of its multitudinous forms is a trial of faith; the delay of mercy is a trial of faith; the promise unfulfilled is a trial of faith; the prayer unanswered is a trial of faith; painful providences, mysterious dispensations, straitened circumstances, difficulties, and embarrassments, all are so many trials of faith, commissioned and designed by God to place the gold in the crucible, and the wheat in the sieve, that both may be purified and tried.
Ah, is it no trial of the believer’s faith, when the foundation upon which it rests is assailed? Is it no trial of faith to have distorted representations of God presented to its eye, dishonoring thoughts of God suggested to the mind, unbelieving apprehensions of Jesus, His love, His grace, and His works, foisted upon the heart? To entertain for one moment the idea that God is unfaithful to His word, or that in His dealings He is arbitrary and unkind? That Jesus is not what He represents Himself to be, an all-sufficient Savior of the lost, the healer of the broken in heart, the tender, gentle Savior, not breaking the bruised reed, but supporting it, not quenching the smoking flax, but fanning it? Oh yes, these to a holy mind are painful trials of faith, from which the tender conscience shrinks, and the sensitive heart recoils.
It is only true grace that is really tried. No man puts mere dross into his furnace, or mere chaff into his sieve. All his toils and pains-taking would go for nothing, for it would come forth in its nature unaltered and unchanged—the dross would still be dross, and the chaff would still be chaff. Now the Lord tries, and Satan tempts, nothing but genuine grace. It is the wheat, and not the tares, that is made to pass through the fiery trial. Thus do afflictions and trying dispensations prove tests of a man’s religion. When there is nothing but tinsel in a profession of Christianity, the fire will consume it; when there is nothing but chaff, the wind will scatter it. The furnace of temptation and the flail of affliction often prove a man’s work of what sort it is, long before the discovery is made in a world where no errors can be corrected, and when it will be too late to rectify mistakes. Thus it is that so many professors, who have not the root of the matter in themselves, but endure for awhile, are offended and fall away when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word.
And why is the “wheat” thus sifted? Why is so Divine and precious a grace subjected to a process so humiliating and severe? Certainly not because of any intrinsic impurity in the grace itself. All the graces of the Spirit, as they proceed from God, and are implanted in the heart, are pure and holy; as essentially free from sin as the nature from where they flow. But in consequence of the impurity of the heart, and the defilement of the nature in which they are deposited—the body of sin and death by which they are incased—they become mixed with particles of earthliness and carnality, the fine gold with dross, and the pure wheat with chaff. To purify and separate the graces of the Holy Spirit from these things, so foreign to their nature, the Lord permits these temptations, and sends these trials of faith.
Not only may the faith of a child of God be severely assailed, but there are times when that faith may greatly waver. Is this surprising? No, the greatest wonder is, that with all these severe shocks, through which it passes, it does not entirely fail. Nothing but the Divinity that dwells within that grace keeps it. Were it not Divine and incorruptible, fail entirely it must. Look at Abraham—on one occasion in the strength of faith offering up his son, and on another occasion in the weakness of faith denying his wife! Look at David—in the strength of faith slaying Goliath, and in the weakness of faith fleeing from Saul! Look at Job—in the strength of faith justifying God in the severest of His dealings, and in the weakness of faith cursing the day that He was born! Look at Peter—in the strength of faith drawing his sword and smiting a servant of the high priest’s, and in the weakness of faith forced by a little maid to deny the Lord whom he had but just defended! Oh! the wonder of wonders is, that there remains a single grain in the sieve, or a particle of metal in the furnace, or a solitary spark in the ocean—that all is not utterly scattered, consumed, and annihilated! Nothing but the power of God and its own incorruptible and imperishable nature, preserve it.