The Believer's Half-Life
If, as Christians, we could read life from the end backwards, we should all be much happier than we are. We can do this with the saints in the Bible, and we count them blessed because they all come to their happy ending. The patriarchs had to go through their lonely wanderings, but in the end they all got to the 'better country' (Hebrews 11:16). The heroes of faith went 'through fire and water', but at length God brought them to a 'wealthy place' (Psalms 66:12). The prophets too, after delivering their heavy burden of prophecy and pronouncing their inspired oracles, all passed over to their place of rest. Like Daniel, they finished their course and stood 'in their lot at the end of the days' (Daniel 12:13). The Old Testament saints got safely home, and so, when we read of their many sufferings, we feel comfort for them because we know the end of their history and we remember that 'their latter end is peace' (Psalms 37:37).
The same is true of the great New Testament heroes. Peter, Paul and the other choice servants of Jesus Christ each drank of Christ's cup of affliction and shared in his baptism of sorrows in the course of their ministries (Matthews 20:23). But the end of their sufferings was triumphant. They had an 'abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ' (2 Peter 1:11). They got to the place where there are no more imprisonments, no more stonings, no more shipwrecks, no more rivalry of false apostles, no more contending with 'unreasonable men who have not faith' (2 Thessalonians 3:2).
The believer's life is a type of parabola in which the curve first goes down, but then goes up again at last. All God's people, more or less, have to go through this parabola experience. It is the life-pattern of God's elect. They first suffer with Christ, and then they reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:12).
The pattern is seen in the life of our blessed Saviour himself. He expresses this fact to his own disciples in this way: 'Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?' (Luke 24:26). Peter's way of stating the same truth concerning Christ is in the words 'the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow' (1 Peter 1:11). James likewise explains this parabola experience in this way:
Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.James 5:10-11
Similarly, Paul declares that 'the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us' (Romans 8:18). Christ and his people have a state of humiliation before they arrive at their state of exaltation.
The problem with us as Christians is that we regularly forget the last chapter of our life because we cannot yet read it. If we could read the last chapter of life and then see our present miseries in the light of it we should 'rejoice in the Lord always' (Philippians 4:4). The secret of present happiness is to see our life as a whole and not merely to see it a page at a time.
Most worldly people read life page by page. They learn very little from the earlier chapters of their life. Even at the personal level it is generally true that 'history teaches that history teaches nothing' to worldly people. Above all, they live almost completely ignorant of the final chapter of life. The way of the world is to snatch life's pleasures while one can, to gather life's honey in youth, and to close one's eyes to morose old age and the cruel grave — unwelcome but inevitable — till they at last inexorably arrive.
On the other hand, when the Christian is unhappy or depressed, it is surely because, unless ill, he has forgotten his happy ending. He is allowing present problems to obscure his assured hope. His bright prospects are presently eclipsed. But they will appear again before too long. And the sooner he remembers that he is to 'live happily ever after', the sooner his sadness will disperse.
The common mistake of us all, as Christians, is to look at only 'half ' of our life, the 'half' we have lived through and not the 'half' we are yet to have. Scientists who study radioactive matter refer to its 'half-life'. Christians too have their 'half-life'. It is that part which they look back over with the passing of the years. But this is only the first 'half'. The best 'half' is still to come.
Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.2 Corinthians 4:17
The painful first 'half' of a believer's life is but a 'moment' in length. His 'last chapter' is to last eternally, and it is to be written in letters of gold. It is to have a 'weight of glory' all over it and all through it. Oh, if only we could keep it squarely in view!
If the Christian is to live above his fears and above his feelings, he must learn the art of seeing his life in the light of its last chapter. Well did a good old Puritan say, 'He who rides to be crowned cares not about the rain.' We are riding to be crowned with Christ. We ride on the King's Highway towards privileges which beggar all our thoughts. If our path is rough and the weather rainy, it cannot spoil our hope of sitting on Christ's throne at last, of 'judging angels' (1 Corinthian 6:3), of 'seeing God' (Matthew 5:8) and of walking with Christ 'in white' (Revelation 7:9).
There are good and wise reasons why the God who predestinates his elect to such mega-blessings as the above should see fit to put them in this life through such varied and harsh trials on the way to them. No comfort is like the comfort that comes after trouble, and no rest is like the rest we have after toil. So will the saint's everlasting rest be to him when he gets to the end of them all and falls asleep in Jesus. 'He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness' (Isaiah 57:2).
Though for a short season Rachel must weep for her children as they pass through the valley of the shadow of death here below, she will at last know why the Lord has said,
Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded ... And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border.Jeremiah 31:16-17
When Job said to his wife, 'Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?' (Job 2:10), he was still ignorant of the good which the Lord planned to do him in this life. He spoke by faith, knowing that God can do us more good by our sufferings and miseries than by our outward blessings. Job's miseries and sufferings had still to intensify before he got his eventual comfort, but his soul retained its grasp of the moral purpose in a believer's afflictions: 'But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold' (Job 23:10).
It is not an accident that spiritual eminence is closely related to sanctified affliction. God sharpens our souls on the grind-stone of pain and disappointment. Joseph's feet were in fetters; the iron went into his soul (Psalms 105:18). These experiences were preparatory to his later eminent service to God and to his generation.
Hannah's early disappointment served the same moral purpose. When God later dried her eyes, she saw a divinely-wise method in God's dealings:
The Lord killeth and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory.1 Samuel 2:6-8
God puts a thorn in the believer's nest to teach him how to fly upwards on the wing of prayer. Those who have little affliction have little prayer. The false and easygoing Christian prays like a parrot. His prayer begins in his throat. But the true Christian's prayer rises out of the depths of his soul. It is hot, volcanic and like lava. His prayers to God are super-heated by his trials. And they move mountains.
It is the method of Christ's preaching and of that of the apostles to remind their believing hearers of their second 'half-life'. We see the Saviour on the eve of his departure and of their world mission assuring them of their place in the everlasting 'mansions' at last (John 14:2).
Similarly, Paul comforts the Thessalonians in their persecutions with this glad prospect: 'It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels' (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7).
In the same way Peter lifts the eyes of the soon-to-be martyred believers of the Roman Empire to survey their unfading 'inheritance', shortly to be conferred upon them at the appearance of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:4).
The wrong way to live the Christian life is to look at the things which we now see, feel and suffer. Those who pity Christians because they have a bitter first 'half-life' do not see the crown of glory which they will shortly wear. The man who has a 'this-life-only' mentality will understandably discard the Christian faith at once as a bad bargain. 'If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable' (1 Corinthians 15:19). But this is a false assumption. There is to be a sounding of the great trumpet of God. There is to be a resurrection to eternal glory. The believer's sufferings and labours for Christ are not 'in vain' (1 Corinthians 15:58).
In God's glorious and good providence there is a correspondence between the first and second half of a believer's life. Moses saw it to be so all those many centuries ago:
Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.Psalm 90:15
The trials and tribulations of the 'first half' of our life are to be proportionately balanced by a comfort and a rest which correspond to them. Billy Bray knew it well when he exclaimed, 'God has given me sorrow with a teaspoon but comfort and joy with a ladle.'