And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
MATTHEW POOLE (1624-1679): The disciples’ question supposed two things for truth: That all bodily punishments and afflictions come upon men for sin, [and] that as some come upon them for personal sins, so others come upon them for the sins of their parents. The latter is unquestionably true: so is the former, but not universally: as there are afflictions which are punishments of sin, so there are some that are trials.
AUGUSTUS TOPLADY (1713-1778): King Charles II once said to that great man, John Milton, “Do not you think your blindness is a judgment upon you for having written in defence of my father’s murder.” “Sir,” answered the poet, “it is true, I have lost my eyes; but, if all calamitous providences are to be considered as judgments, your majesty should remember that your royal father lost his head.”
MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): Extraordinary afflictions are not always the punishment of extraordinary sins, but sometimes the trial of extraordinary graces…Christ, who perfectly knew the secret springs of the divine counsels, told them two things concerning such uncommon calamities: that they are not always inflicted as punishments of sin [and] that they are sometimes intended purely for the glory of God, and the manifesting of His works.
C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Afflictions are often the black foils in which God doth set the jewels of his children’s graces, to make them shine the better.
JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): In the darkness of our miseries the grace of God shines more brightly.
JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): The Gospel reveals the one thing needful, the pearl of great price; and supposes, that they who possess this are provided for against all events, and have a ground of unshaken hope, and a source of never-failing consolation under every change they can meet with during their pilgrimage state. When His people are enabled to set their seal to this, not only in theory, when all things go smooth, but practically, when called upon to pass through the fire and water; then His grace is glorified in them and by them; then it appears, both to themselves and to others, that they have neither followed cunningly devised fables, nor amused themselves with empty notions; then they know in themselves, and it is evidenced to others, that God is with them of a truth.
RICHARD CECIL (1748-1810): Often is trial great as an honour, to illustrate the strength of the grace given.
THOMAS BROOKS (1608-1680): Stars shine brightest in the darkest night.
C. H. SPURGEON: There are some of thy graces which would never be discovered if it were not for thy trials…It was but a little while ago that on thy knees thou wast saying, “Lord, I fear I have no faith: let me know that I have faith.” Was not this really, though perhaps unconsciously, praying for trials?―for how canst thou know that thou hast faith until thy faith is exercised? Depend upon it, God often sends us trials that our graces may be discovered, and that we may be certified of their existence.
THOMAS BROOKS: Grapes come not to the proof till they come to the press.
JOHN NEWTON: Affliction is a touchstone that discovers what spirit a man is of. The hypocrite may keep up a fair semblance of true piety, while all things go smooth and to his wish; but in sharp troubles the mask will drop off. When faith endures the fire, we know it to be of the right kind; and others, who see we are brought safe out, and lose nothing but the dross, will confess that God is with us of a truth. Surely this thought should reconcile us to suffer, not only with patience but with cheerfulness, if God may be glorified in us. This made the Apostle rejoice in tribulation, that the power of Christ might be noticed, as resting upon him, and working mightily in him.
C. H. SPURGEON: Besides, it is not merely discovery, real growth in grace is the result of sanctified trials.
THOMAS BROOKS: Afflictions ripen the saints’ graces.
SAMUEL RUTHERFORD (1600-1661): Some graces grow best in winter…Faith is the better of the free air, and of the sharp winter storm in its face. Grace withereth without adversity.
DANIEL ROWLAND (1711-1790): The lowly graces of the Spirit thrive best under crosses.
JOHN NEWTON: Many of our graces likewise cannot thrive or shew themselves to advantage without trials; such as resignation, patience, meekness, long-suffering—it is by our own sufferings we learn to pity and sympathize with others in their sufferings: such a compassionate disposition, which excites our feelings for the afflicted, is an eminent branch of the mind which was in Christ. But these feelings would be very faint, if we did not in our experience know what sorrows and temptations mean.
THOMAS BROOKS: Gold looks the brighter for scouring…Afflictions, they are but our Father’s goldsmiths who are working to add pearls to our crowns.
MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): It seems also from the teaching of the Scriptures and the lives of saints, that God sometimes prepares a man for a great trial in this way. I mean that He prepares him for a great trial by giving him some lesser trials.
R. C. CHAPMAN (1803-1902): The Lord’s jewels need grinding, and cutting, and polishing.
JOHN LELAND (1754-1841): Grievous afflictions are not always sent as a scourge for crimes committed, but sometimes as preventatives from crimes. Paul’s thorn prevented his pride.
C. H. SPURGEON: God often takes away our comforts and our privileges in order to make us better Christians. He trains his soldiers, not in tents of ease and luxury, but by turning them out and using them to forced marches and hard service. He makes them ford through streams, and swim through rivers, and climb mountains, and walk many a long mile with heavy knapsacks of sorrow on their backs.
JOHN NEWTON: It is so in the Christian life: activity and strength of grace is not ordinarily acquired by those who sit still and live at ease, but by those who frequently meet with something which requires a full exertion of what power the Lord has given them.
C. H. SPURGEON: However, let us remember that grace is increased, in the exercise of it, not by virtue of the exercise itself, but as Christ by His Spirit flows into the soul and brings us nearer to Himself, the fountain, so instilling such comfort that the heart is further enlarged. The heart of a Christian is Christ’s garden, and his graces are as so many sweet spices and flowers, when His Spirit blows upon them, to send forth a sweet savour.
THOMAS BROOKS: Spices smell sweetest when pounded—and juniper smells sweeter in the fire.
C. H. SPURGEON: Well, Christian, may not this account for the troubles through which thou art passing? Is not the Lord bringing out your graces, and making them grow?