PREVIOUS CHAPTER - NEXT CHAPTER - HELP - FB - TWITTER - GR VIDEOS - GR FORUMS - GR YOUTUBE
“The fellowship of His sufferings”— Philippians 3:10 Let us continue our meditation on “the fellowship of His sufferings.” The phrase is taken from the eager speech of a veteran apostle! One would have felt its fitness and congeniality upon the lips of a young man, some fresh, enthusiastic knight, with his armor just newly belted about him, and setting out from the threshold upon some crusade of valorous enterprise.
In such conditions this strenuous speech would have been congenial, and there would have been nothing startling in its proclamation — “I set out” that I may know Him, and “the fellowship of His sufferings!”
But old men speak naturally of retirement; their fighting days are over; and they leave the stern encounter to the younger men. They often speak of having earned their rest, and the blazing ambitions of their earlier days have become cool. They no longer covet the “hardness” of the battlefield; they steal through the green pastures and by the still waters in the soft light of the setting sun.
But here is an old man with all the impetuous ambitions of his prime. His burning zeal makes even the enthusiasm of young Timothy seem dim, and he contends with the foremost of the youths for the hottest parts of the field.
He is in prison now, but he is like some stabled hunter which hears the cry of the hounds. He is as tense and eager as ever. His ambitions are a young man’s ambitions; his very speech is a young man’s speech; his metaphors and similes are just those which leap most readily to the lips of youth; they are sought, not from sleeping boats in the harbor, or from quiet flocks in the meadows, but from the straining, strenuous worlds of the racecourse, the amphitheatre, and the gymnasium.
And so here he is, in the very van of the Lord’s hosts, in the very fighting line, ambitious to share with his Lord the central hardships of the strife. “That I may know Him . . . and the fellowship of His sufferings.” “The fellowship of His sufferings!” That is a great New Testament word, and especially is it one of the great determining words in the speech of the Apostle Paul. Let us enter into its wealth through this little gate which I find in the Acts of the Apostles. “And they had all things in common .”
The little phrase, “in common,” is closely akin to the word, “Fellowship,” and by the help of the one we may gain a clear interpretation of the other. “They had all things in common”; they had a common room and a common table, and they all shared alike in the abundance or impoverishment of the feast.
And so, too, there is a table at which our Master sits, spread with the things which He and His have to eat and drink. And we, too, may have “all things in common” with Him; nay, it is the high sign and seal of discipleship that we do sit with Him at the common board.
But here is our frequent mistake, that we regard that table as laden only with welcome provisions, and even with delicate and dainty luxuries. On that table there is the provision of peace, and the provision of joy, and the provision of glory! And over all the table, from end to end of it, there is the soft and healing light of grace. That is how we think of the table, and, blessed be God, all these rare provisions are surely to be found at the feast; and we may have all these things “in common” with the Lord.
But there is also another cup on the table, a cup that is very near the Master’s hand, a cup which we very frequently forget or ignore. It is a bitter cup, the cup of the Lord’s sufferings. “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of?” Are we prepared to have “all things in common”? We drink the cup of kindness, the overflowing cup of redeeming grace. “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of?” “I have tasted,” I think I hear him say, “I have tasted and seen how gracious He is. I have drunk the cup of His salvation; but I thirst for a deeper communion still; not only the sweet and palatable cup, but that dark and bitter cup would I taste; that cup whose contents are as blood. I would have ‘all things in common’! ‘I count all things but loss . . . that I may know Him . . . and the fellowship of His sufferings.’” Now our intimacy with the Lord can best be estimated by our knowledge of the contents of that bitter cup. Other things upon the table have their significance, and to taste them argues a certain measure of acquaintance with the King; but the deeper significance gathers about that cup of darker hue. The quality of our fellowship with the Lord is best revealed, not by our capacity for joy, but by our capacity for suffering. We often test our communion with the Lord by the measure of our equanimity. If our life is calm and passive, and the wrinkles are absent from our brow, and we can sing, “Peace, perfect peace!” then we assume that our intimacy with the Lord must be very deep and true.
But equanimity is a virtue very much misunderstood, and its popular representative is often only a well-disguised indifference. “Peace” is often used to label undignified and worldly ease, and as such it denotes no sort of fellowship with the Lord. There is an equanimity which is death. We do not reveal our high spiritual kinship by our ability to remain unruffled, but by our capacity to be stirred. It is when life is upheaved to its depths that we know the Lord; it is when deep calleth unto deep that we have the conditions of vital communion.
And so it is not by our pleasures, but by our pangs that we may discover our likeness to the Lord. “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of?”
And yet how far from this is the common reasoning! We say one to another, “Have you found peace?” — and if an affirmative answer be returned, we give glory to God; and well we may, for to have drunk the cup of spiritual peace is a sure witness that we are found at the table of the Lord.
But how far has our fellowship advanced? How rarely we ask one another, “Have you become a partaker of the sufferings of Christ? Have you lifted that cup to your lips? And if so, when and how and where did you taste the bitter draught?”
I am afraid that if we were subjected to these most searching questions the majority of us would have to confess that we had kept our eyes upon the other parts of the table, and that we had confined ourselves to the sparkling and welcome draughts of spiritual delight. But it is a shallow intimacy which confines itself to the pleasures of the table; the deeper discipleship lays hold of the darker cup, and enters into “the fellowship of His sufferings.”
Now what is there in that much neglected cup? What is the bitterness which we can have in common with the Lord? What darker experiences can we share with Him? Nay, what is it we must share before we are kinsmen worthy of the name?
The prevailing sin hurt Him, it crucified His spirit long before it crucified His flesh. Here is Jerusalem, wicked, wayward and indifferent, wasting its hallowed treasure in decorated debauchery. And the Master gazes upon its unholy pleasures and shames, and He weeps! Have we entered into the fellowship of that suffering? Have we tasted that cup? Or have we been so fascinated by the glittering decoration as to be oblivious to the debauchery?
Let us look at the Master, Jesus Christ, again, as He lifts to His lips the bitter cup. “And Jesus stooped downs, and with His finger wrote on the ground.” Can you feel what is going on there? Have you never listened to a questionable or unclean story, and, even while it was being told, for very shame you have not known where to fix your modest eyes? “And Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground.” He was, at that very moment, drinking the bitter cup, and when we share His burning shame, we enter into “the fellowship of His sufferings.”
But how few there are who share it! We are interested in sin; we can lift our eyes in delighted inquisitiveness; we can follow its unclean track down column after column of reeking print, and we never hurl the record away in weeping and consuming shame. Sin attracts us, it does not blister us; it interests, it does not burn. We can gaze upon it in curious observation, and it does not create an emotional convulsion. We can see it and laugh; we can see it and sleep.
The Master saw it and wept. What a discord is to a refined and disciplined ear, so, in immeasurably deeper degree, should sin be to the intimate companions of Christ. What a coarse daub is to a well-trained and interpreting eye, so should sin be to eyes that have been anointed with the eye salve of grace. The sin of the city should make all true Christians smart. But does it? Do we suffer with our suffering Lord? Or is that a cup whose bitter draught we have not drunk?
Have you ever marked that word in the Book of Ezra, when that sensitive soul had discovered the sin of his people? “I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God: and I said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to Thee!” The suppliant and his Lord were just then drinking out of the same cup.
But how frequently in our life the shame is missing, and the blush is absent, and there is no suffering, no pain! And, therefore, it is that because there is no pain at sin; there is no haste to remove it. We are slow footed because we are slow to burn.
Our feet will become “like hinds’ feet” when there is a burning shame in our souls, and when we taste the unutterable bitterness of all sin. We shall be swift in the ways and ministeries of redemption when we have entered into “the fellowship of His sufferings.”
And that cup again! What else can we share, if our Saviour and we are to have “all things in common”? We cannot be long with the Lord without noting how deeply He suffered with the sufferings of others. Other folk’s sorrows He made His own, and He drank deeply of everybody’s bitter cup. Have we entered into the fellowship of those sufferings? You may possibly reply, “I’ve got enough of my own!”
Yes, and that is perhaps the very reason why you have so many! Personal sorrows, selfishly nursed, become more burdensome by the nursing. Many times have I known a personal grief nursed into an intolerable load. “I’ve got enough of my own!” So we have, and more than enough; but if we made other folk’s sorrows our own as well, the miracle would happen which has been wrought in innumerable lives, the double load would be more tolerable than either of the single loads, and the yoke would become easy and the burden light.
At any rate, when we add the fire of another man’s suffering to our own, there is One in the fire “like unto the Son of man,” and in that strong controlling Presence “the fire shall not kindle upon thee to destroy.” And, at any rate again, when we sorrow with another’s sorrow, we are drinking the cup of the Lord, and we enter into “the fellowship of His sufferings.”
We can drink that cup of sympathetic suffering in silence. It does not inevitably demand the clumsy instrument of speech. I remember a saintly woman telling me some time ago how she had gone to call upon another woman, over whose life there had suddenly fallen the cold shadow of a benumbing grief. “I just held her hand, and said nothing, and we both wept!”
And when our visitor told me the story, I called to mind how, when those premonitory symptoms occurred which periodically threatened mental darkness to Mary Lamb, she and her brother, Charles Lamb, would go in the early morning, or in the late night, speechless and weeping, over the desolate way that led to the asylum. They said nothing to each other; they just walked the gloomy way, hand in hand. I care little just now what his creed was; I say that when Charles Lamb gave his sorely afflicted sister the hand of a silent but bleeding sympathy he was lifting to his lips the bitter goblet from the table of his Lord; he entered into “the fellowship of His sufferings.”
Now I think we are born with an adequate equipment for sharing the sufferings of our fellows. Our very birthright includes a sensitiveness to another’s woes. A little child instinctively discerns the shadow, and its tears fall in ready sympathy. But as we grow older, we trifle with this precious inheritance. We waste our substance. We pervert and prostitute our emotional wealth. We are moved, but we do not move; we have a gracious impulse, but we give it no way; and what happens? The waters of unfulfilled emotion congeal into frost, and the very ministers of intended service become the friends of a severer alienation.
That is the peril of novels; they excite an emotion which frequently reacts in petrifying power. And that is the peril of theatres. And that is the peril of sermons! And that is the peril of grace! “It is a savor of life unto life, or of death unto death.” Aye, in these high places of emotion fire can become frost, and the emotion which does not issue in practical ministry freezes and binds the very life in which it was born. And so we leave our childhood behind, our endowment becomes our bane, we cease to be able to enter into the sufferings of Christ — and the Savior suffers alone.
But “blessed are they that mourn,” who have not lost their capacity of a weeping and helpful sympathy. Aye, thrice blessed are they who in their prime retain the heart of a little child, who can weep with them that weep, who tread the winepress with the Savior and enter into “the fellowship of His sufferings.”
And, last, in this apostolic ambition to have all things in common, we can enter into the fellowship of our Savior’s sufferings by the all-complete surrender of ourselves to the service of our fellowmen. Our Lord served other people to the point of physical weakness and exhaustion, and even unto death. Our service too frequently ends where bloodletting begins. We stop short of the promise of fertility. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Yes, and the blood of the servant fertilizes the field of his service. “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood!”
And it is just at that point of resistance that we begin to win. It is just when our service becomes costly that it begins to pay. Life becomes contagious when it becomes sacrificial. Our work begins to tell when the workman is content to suffer; when he persists even unto blood.
But is it not true that for many of us our service ends just when we reach the bitter cup? “Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink of?” No, we are not able, and when our work and service become bitter, we give it up. “From that day” — Calvary in sight — “many of His disciples turned back, and walked no more with Him.” That teacher in the school— where is he now? Oh, he got tired of it! Which just means that he was not able to go on when to go on drew blood; he could not enter into “the fellowship of the sufferings.”
And that is our pitiable mood. So long as there is no drain, we can persist; when there is a demand for the veins to be opened, we retire. And so we miss the best of the feast. For they who take into their hands the goblet of bitterness, humbly saying, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done,” will find that by that bitter draught they attain into a spiritual kinship and companionship which is infinite compensation, and even in their sorrow and weariness “the joy of the Lord is their strength.”
And so just one word from old Samuel Rutherford, from a letter he wrote to John Kennedy: “ye contracted with Christ, I hope, when first ye began to follow Him, that ye would bear His Cross. Fulfill your part of the contract with patience, and break not to Jesus Christ. . . Be honest, brother, in your bargaining with Him. . . . Forward, brother, and lose not your grips. . . . In the strength of Jesus, dispatch your business!”