As I hope I have made clear on this blog, I love and admire the work of Thomas Watson. His preaching is rich, practical, and always God-centered. This last year, as I was studying to preach with the other pastors of our church through the Ten Commandments, I greatly benefited from reading Watson’s sermons on the Decalogue. As our puritan brother began his own series on this topic, his exposition of Exodus 20:2: “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (KJV) led him to raise this question: “Why does God let his people be in the house of bondage or in an afflicted state?” As I read that line, I wrote “good question!” in the margin, and it is an important question. Have you ever asked this question? Have you ever prayed, “God, why me? God, why now? God, what did I do to deserve this?!” If you haven’t, hold your breath, because an event to make you ask this question might be right around the corner!
As good as Watson’s question is, it is in his answers that we find the real treasure. So, for the next few weeks, my plan is to post our brother’s insight into this question and I hope that our souls will be strengthened by seeing more clearly God’s purpose for our seasons in the “house of bondage.”
Watson’s first answer explains that God purposes suffering in His children’s lives: “for probation or trial. ‘Who led thee through that terrible wilderness, that he might humble thee and prove thee’ Deut 8:15, 16. Affliction is the touch-stone of sincerity. ‘Thou O God, hast proved us; thou hast tried us as silver; thou laidst affliction upon our loins’ Psalm 66:10-11. Hypocrites may embrace the true religion in prosperity, and court this queen while she has a jewel hung at her ear; but he is a good Christian who will keep close to God in a time of suffering. ‘All this is come upon us, yet have we not forgotten thee’ Psalm 44:17 . To love God in heaven, is no wonder; but to love him when he chastises us, discovers sincerity.”
Have you ever wondered what the church in America would look like if God allowed us to undergo serious persecution? Our brother, Thomas Watson, is making the point that it would definitely look like a more sincere church. Those who truly do love God would be the only ones who would walk through the fire for Him; things would be too uncomfortable for the pretenders. So, first, in suffering God’s people find an opportunity to prove the sincerity and genuineness of their commitment.
But here’s the rub- why the need for proving? Doesn’t God already know our hearts? Why would He need to test us and reveal our sincerity? The glorious part of this proven commitment is that it becomes a testimony to God’s grace actively working in our lives! It declares we are His and part of His plan. Our perseverance becomes a testimony for others and for ourselves, as we come to understand that it is only through the sustaining work of God’s power in our lives that we can be kept sincere and loving God as we go through the fire! That is why Peter explains that this proven faith is “more precious than gold” (1 Peter 1:7). What could be more precious than to know God is actively working in your life to keep you and sustain you? What could be more precious than to know you are His and He will not let you go! The trial discovers the sincerity, and the sincerity proves the persevering presence of God. He is the treasure that the fire of affliction discovers!
We’ll come to understand all of this more in the next few weeks as we continue to sit at the feet of our brother, Pastor Watson, and hear more of his insight into God’s purpose in allowing His own to experience a season of suffering.