“Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.” – Acts xxi, 23.
“We have here a testimony applicable in a measure to the ministry of to-day; a wonderful revelation of the manner in which our God prepares and deals with the men who are sent to this work, and an exhibition of the school wherein both ministers and members are tried as in a fire. The apostle Paul is presented as a spectacle of endurance in suffering, wherein is developed the holy power of faith, an example to the flock who are called to pass through similar scenes to the honor and glory of God. His apostolic life in the past is replete with evidences of the truth of his assertion, and held out before him the same character of pathway to the end.
What a prospect! What a future opens before this faithful man! No hope or expectation of earthly fame or honor, no expectation of literal reward! “Bonds and afflictions abide me.” “In strifes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings;” “By honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report;” “In perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren.” What a school of affliction! Crowned by the base treachery” of those for whom his life labor had been enlisted, “perils among false brethren.”
Yet in this fearful ordeal, in this terrible experience, in this furnace of trial, must be developed the traits of Gospel life and vitality, needful for his work; endurance under trial to make him meet for his Master’s use. “And now,” he says, “behold I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there.” What a manifestation of the Spirit’s power is here presented! the power that carried Ezekiel (viii, 3), and which moves the Gospel minister in His work, against his earthly ease, and which carried the milch kine, “lowing as the went.” – 1 Samuel vi. 12.
“Bonds and afflictions.” Here is a double revelation of temptation and trial, a yoke of severe sorrow laid upon this faithful man of God, to temper all his labor, and prepare him for the great work whereunto the Lord had called him. This is a necessary school wherein he should be developed, and through such divine preparation, should be prepared to speak to all of like precious and blessed experience. He was in bonds as an evil-doer, which plainly manifest the ignorance of the world in regard to the Divine testimony which he bore, and also through his afflictions he was weaned from earth and made to lay hold upon the enduring substance of eternal things. We are not all called to endure the same literal bonds, but all are most surely in bonds, as bound with an earthly chain, which holds us fast to the things of time and vanity.
The great “fight of afflictions” through which we pass, and which we are told is but “for a moment,” is a furnace which burns up our earthly dross, and purifies our faith to the praise and honor of its author. A similar preparation must be experienced by those unto whom these men of God minister. The preparation to labor in the great work of the ministry through “bonds and afflictions,” must find expression in the lives of those who are thus qualified to experience the blessed benefits of Gospel labor.
They are all, both ministers and members, chosen in the self same furnace of affliction, where the dross and all alloy is consumed, and the purity of faith shines forth to the honor and glory of God; where their brightest earthly aspirations are forever blighted, and keen, bitter disappointment marks the failure of their best nurtured earthly plans; where upon the wreck and ruin of all else the eternal Word looms up forever as the on unfailing, and boundless source of all real joy.
As the morning comes after the night, and after clouds the sun shines; as peace comes after the storm, and rest after the toil; yea, as blessed assurance crowns the struggle with innate unbelief, so the tempted, afflicted child rests under the balmy wings of “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,” which we are told “shall keep your (their) hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” – Phil. iv. 7.
And through this wonderful experience shall they hear the word of comfort and consolation preached by the called and qualified ministers of God; and in this peculiar experience all (both members and ministers) shall gather under the shadow of the eternal wings, and there find unending rest; it is a manifestation of the secrecy of God’s wonderful work in leading and sustaining His elect people for “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” – Psalm 91. 1.
William M. Smoot,