The Suffering Of This Present Time
if so be that we suffer with him that we may also be glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. Rom. 8:17b, 18.
If so be that we suffer!
Occasionally the even flow of the language and argumentation of Romans 8, which is like a mighty stream, increasing in force as it rushes on, carrying us irresistibly forward on its current to the ocean of God's eternal and unchangeable love in Christ Jesus, seems interrupted, checked .
If so be! .
The same warning note was sounded before in the chapter: but ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be! .
And it would seem as if this note of doubt were in conflict with the basic conception of the whole, as if the words introduce a discordant note in this grand song of assurance, of positive hope and certainty of victory. There is no condemnation for them that are in Christ Jesus; the law of the Spirit of life hath made me free from the law of sin and death; God condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit; ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit; and though the body be still dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness, and the Spirit of Him that raised Jesus from the dead shall also quicken our mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in us; blessing upon blessing, glory upon glory if so be! .
And again in this section.
We shall live! For, we are led by the Spirit of God, and they that are so led are children of God, and children of God shall never die; heirs are they of God and joint heirs with Christ and with Him we shall be glorified forever. . . . if so be! .
Yet, this apparently discordant note cannot be missed in this song of salvation and victory, as long as it is sung in the Church on earth.
Assurance is a matter of the individual!
Let every one examine himself!
For, if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His!
And if any man should refuse to suffer with Him, let him not take this song of victory and glorification upon his lips. For, he shall not be glorified with Him!
Here you must needs choose!
If so be!
To suffer with Christ!
Awful way, yet blessed privilege!
Of the suffering of this present time the Word of God speaks here.
And suffering does, indeed, characterize this present time, is inseparably connected with it, so that no man passes through the present time without becoming subject to this suffering.
This is true of all men.
For, this present time is the time of sin and death, of wrath and the curse of God; the wrath of God is revealed from heaven upon all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men, and causes them to suffer. What pain and agony, what sorrow and grief, what torments of death are endured in soul and body by all, men and women, old and young, from the moment they join the unhappy throng of Adam's children, doomed to death, until the moment they sink into the sleep of death! Who shall adequately describe the agonies of sickrooms and deathbeds, in homes, in hospitals and asylums, the sufferings of the dying writhing with pain, gasping for breath, desperately struggling to maintain their hold on life; of bleeding hearts, silently grieving in hopeless bereavement, that cannot be healed and will not be comforted? The shadow of death darkens the way of all that travel through this present time; the fear of death pursues them all their life; the despair of death blasts their every hope; death is actually in every moment of this present time
Suffering is universal; it is the lot of all.
How could one successfully refuse to share in the suffering of this present time? Where, then, is a way of escape? And how, then, can the apostle present this suffering as if it were a matter of our free choice, whether or no we shall take our share and bear our cross and travel the way of suffering and death? How can he say: if so be? .
It is not, indeed, of this universal world-agony that he is speaking.
For, he speaks of suffering with Him, with Christ.
And to suffer with Him implies that we share in the very special and altogether unique agony which He endured! it means that we partake of His suffering, that we suffer even as He did!
Not to be sure, as if we could share in or add to the agonies of soul and body He endured when He became obedient unto death, yea, unto the death of the cross; when He bore the wrath of God instead of and in behalf of His own; when God was in Him reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, causing all our iniquities to be loaded upon His head; when He tasted death as only the Son of God was able to taste it in human flesh; and when He fully atoned for all our sin. That suffering is forever unique. It must remain forever alone. We cannot share it with Him. Neither is it necessary that this suffering of the Lord should be repeated in us or perfected by us. It is finished! And it alone will forever be the ground upon which we shall he glorified with Him!
Yet, to suffer with Him signifies somehow to suffer as He did.
He suffered in the world.
That world hated Him, because it is from below while He is from above; it is in darkness and He is the light; it loves darkness rather than light and He came to radiate the light; it is of its father the devil, while He is the One sent by the Father to do His will; they have their delight in the lust of the flesh and the pride of life, while He found it His meat to do the will of the Father; in short, He came from God to speak of God and to represent His cause in the midst of a world that is motivated by enmity against the most High. Therefore, the world hated Him, despised Him, persecuted Him, left Him no room, performed all their will upon Him, contradicted Him, filled Him with contempt, led Him captive like an evil-doer, spit upon Him, buffeted and scourged Him, preferred a murderer above Him, nailed Him to the accursed tree.
He suffered of evil men, for righteousness' sake.
And to suffer with Him is to suffer in fellowship with Him. For, that wicked world still hates Christ. And if Christ be in us and through His Spirit dwell in us, He must needs become manifest in our walk in the midst of the world, manifest in our confession of His name, manifest, too in all our life and conversation. And the word of Christ will be fulfilled in us, that even as they hated Him so they will hate us for His name's sake The suffering of Christ, which He suffered personally from the world while He was in the world must be filled. Its measure was being filled by the saints of the old dispensation, that died in faith, not having received the promise; it was filled centrally by Himself in the fullness of time it must be filled by the saints of the new dispensation. . . . the suffering of Christ in and through His Church in the world!
It is a suffering like unto His suffering.
For, if we suffer with Him we suffer not as evildoers but for well doing and for righteousness' sake. And also now that suffering assumes the form of reproach of shame. It involves the loss of name and position in the world, of honor of men, of possessions and liberty, yea, of our very life!
Thus the saints of Rome were acquainted with the suffering of this present time.
They were placed before the choice of denying Christ and bending the knee before the gods of Rome and before Rome's Caesar or losing all. And they chose rather to suffer with Christ. They endured the forfeiture of their possessions, they were deprived of their liberty, put into holes and dungeons, they were subjected to cruel tortures, were beheaded, burnt as torches in Nero's garden, thrown before the wild beasts for the entertainment of the world that hated them .
And we? .
The world changed not. Still the word of the Lord is true: they have hated me, they shall also hate you!
Are you willing rather to endure all than to deny Him? .
We shall be glorified together with Him!
If so be!
That is: unavoidable this suffering with Christ is as the only way to glory with Him!
Another way there is not!
For such is, evidently, the implication of the conditional limitation: if so be! .
We are children and heirs of God, joint-heirs with Christ, to be sure. Our inheritance is the incorruptible and undefilable glory that never fadeth away. Joy unspeakable is awaiting us in the day of the revelation of Jesus Christ. Yes, but, remember: if so be that we suffer with Him, in order that we may also be glorified together!
To be sure, this implies irrevocably, that we shall never be glorified with Him, that all this glorious confession of being children of God and His heirs and joint-heirs with Christ is cancelled, if we are not found willing to suffer with Him!
There is but an only way, and do not imagine another, to the glory with Christ: the way of suffering with Him!
No, this does not mean that our suffering with Him may or can ever constitute the ground of our glorification. For it our hope is in Christ. All other ground is sinking sand, indeed. Not your or my works, not our piety or religion, not our confession of the name of Christ, not our suffering can make us worthy of that glory. Though you would. give all your goods to the poor and though you would give your body to be burned, it would avail you literally nothing with respect your part in the glory that shall be revealed in the children of God. Only the death of the Son of God could merit such glory for them that are lost in sin and dead through trespasses. And His perfect obedience is wholly sufficient. We shall be glorified together with Him, as belonging to Him, as being one plant with Him through the grace of God both in His death and in His resurrection ! .
Nay, still more must be said.
For, the matter, quite contrary to the notion that suffering with Christ should have meritorious value with a view to the glory we shall inherit, stands thus, that the suffering is a gift of God's grace to us! It is only because of the grace of Christ that we may suffer with Him, it is solely through the power of that grace that we are able and willing to suffer, and it is a glorious privilege of grace that we do suffer with our Lord. For, notice, that we suffer with Him in order that we may be glorified together!
God's purpose is attained! And His purpose it is to lead us through the suffering with Christ to unspeakable joy of glory!
Yet,, the limitation remains: if so be! .
The way of suffering is unavoidable!
Unavoidable as a way to glory! For, indeed, in another sense you may avoid it. For, this suffering is your voluntary choice. There is a way out, the way of friendship with the world that crucified your Lord!
You may, indeed, avoid the way of suffering with Christ, you may save your name, your honor among men, your possessions and your position in the world, you may save your life .
But only in the way of denying the Lord that bought you!
Only by becoming a friend of the world!
And if you are a friend of the world, you shall be accounted an enemy of God!
If you deny Him, persist in denying Him and thus avoid the suffering of this present time, you are none of His, the Spirit of Christ does not dwell in you, you are no children of God, no heirs of His, no joint-heirs with Christ and never shall you be glorified with Him!
If so be!
Be not dismayed!
And hesitate not to choose the way of suffering with Christ!
For, the suffering of this present time is not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us!
You may reckon!
And your reckoning may comfort you in all your tribulation!
For, the very Word of God gives us the example of such reckoning, reckons for us. The two are compared, carefully weighed in the balance: the glory and the suffering. On the one hand the glory that shall be revealed in us is evaluated. It is a glory that is all prepared. For, God prepared it from before the foundation of the world for them that love Him; and it was made ready in Christ, His resurrection, His exaltation at the right hand of God. It is about to be revealed. For, still it is hid. Hid because of the image of the earthly we still bear; hid, too in all our sin and imperfectness and suffering. But it is to be revealed in the day of Christ. Revealed, not merely as a glory round about us, but in us. For it is God's eternal purpose that we shall be made like unto the image of His Son!
And on the other hand the weight of suffering is estimated. All the agony of Christ and His saints in the world, all the pain suffered, all the blood shed, all the cries raised to heaven. Terrible, indeed, when considered by itself .
Yet, of no account, when compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us!
So unspeakably great is the glory to come!
The suffering is temporal, it is but for a little while; the glory is eternal. The suffering is very limited, the glory is measured by the capacity of our heavenly natures, made like unto the resurrected Lord; the suffering involved but the lost of perishable things, within the scope of your perishable existence; the glory consists of incorruptible treasures.
Not to be compared!
Fear, not, little flock!
More than victors are we!
Rev. Herman Hoeksema in the Standard Bearer, October 15, 1937
Last modified: 12-Nov-2001