At the conclusion of John Bunyan's little autobiography of his spiritual journey are the words:
3. I have wondered much at this one thing, that though God doth visit my soul with never so blessed a discovery of Himself, yet I have found again, that such hours have attended me afterwards, that I have been in my spirit so filled with darkness, that I could not so much as once conceive what that God and that comfort was with which I have been refreshed.
4. I have sometimes seen more in a line of the Bible than I could well tell how to stand under, and yet at another time the whole Bible hath been to me as dry as a stick; or rather, my heart hath been so dead and dry unto it, that I could not conceive the least drachm of refreshment, though I have looked it all over.
5. Of all tears, they are the best that are made by the blood of Christ; and of all joy, that is the sweetest that is mixed with mourning over Christ. Oh! it is a goodly thing to be on our knees, with Christ in our arms, before God. I hope I know something of these things.
6. I find to this day seven abominations in my heart: (1) Inclinings to unbelief. (2) Suddenly to forget the love and mercy that Christ manifesteth. (3) A leaning to the works of the law. (4) Wanderings and coldness in prayer. (5) To forget to watch for that I pray for. (6) Apt to murmur because I have no more, and yet ready to abuse what I have. (7) I can do none of those things which God commands me, but my corruptions will thrust in themselves, 'When I would do good, evil is present with me.'
7. These things I continually see and feel, and am afflicted and oppressed with; yet the wisdom of God doth order them for my good. (1) They make me abhor myself.(2) They keep me from trusting my heart. (3) They convince me of the insufficiency of all inherent righteousness. (4) They show me the necessity of flying to Jesus. (5) They press me to pray unto God. (6) They show me the need I have to watch and be sober. (7) And provoke me to look to God, through Christ, to help me, and carry me through this world. Amen.
This has really been hitting me hard lately. It is common and natural for us to panic in darkness, to begin to frantically try to dig our way out and scratch and beat at the blackened window so that light will come back in, but there is something sweet in our wounds that I have been seing. They are the path of the Christian.
This does not mean we should go out of our way looking for darkness, but we should recognize that there is a very good purpose behind it even when it is hidden to us. The God who sovereignly saved us also sovereignly sanctifies us -conforming us to the image of His Son. When I contemplate the vast gulf that separates my own sin-blackened soul from Christ, I can scarcely imagine what kind of power it will take to bend and hammer and forge my soul into His image. I picture a blacksmith sticking the metal into the fire, taking it back out, and then furiously beating upon it. For a while it may cool as he inspects it and finds any lack of conformity to the desired mold, but then it is off to the fire again to be heated so that it will be malleable. Only when the product is finished does the blacksmith take the finished work, a fine piece of craftsmanship, and plunge it into the cold water so that it will stay.
I long for that day -the day when the hammering will be over, and I will be plunged into the cool waters of refreshment as a fitting end for the whole of the process. I will be like Him. This is a thought that is far too wonderful to grasp, and far to abstract, in some sense, for me to picture. There will be a day when my mind is focused upon God alone, when my heart is filled with love and adoration for Him that expresses itself fully, without restraint and without the dead weight of the flesh, in loving others in His Kingdom. No more darkness, no more enying, no more jealousy, no more pride and arrogance, no more idolatry in the deepest places of my heart. The Law of God, which is expressed in its true nature in Christ Jesus, will be the stand upon which my heart sits, and the song which flows from it will be to Him who is holy.
But for now I see the great place for our afflictions, even our sins, in the grand scheme of things. There is no humility without seeing that we are filth when we should be sparkling gems upon His crown. There is no love without seeing that we are so much like Satan himself when we should be like Christ -who lived to please the Father out of the purest love, and without seeing that we are the most unworthy objects of love in all creation, yet God freely chose to lavish it upon us. There is no faith without seeing that, despite how weak and frail we are to trust Him He always proves Himself faithful, and there is no true faith at all without seeing that the heart in which we trust, our own, is full of poison and death, but the Creator and Savior who gives life to the dead has given us all we need.
It brings new meaning to Romans 8:28 "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." It's not a sentimental statement to give us a temporary sense of warmth in the cold deadness of winter. It is a constant flame that never goes out. He is the pillar of fire that leads us as He did with the Israelites out of Egypt. The Lord who called us holds us in His hand. He leads us through peaks and mountains where the sun shines brightly, and He leads us in through low valleys in the night where light seems all but extinguished. To think that God even uses the thorns in our flesh that He reveals to us (and probably even the ones He doesn't reveal to us) for our good is something that I am just starting to touch with the very tips of my fingers. It is something that is both amazing to me and extremely comforting. All of these things work to break us, to change us, to awaken us, to humble us, to grow up, to conform us into the image of His beloved Son, our Savior.
I have contemplated before whether it was more the Law or more the Gospel that was the primary agent in our sanctification. I see now that while this may be profitable to some extent to uncover, the real answer is that God is the Agent of our sanctification, and it comes through discomfort, brokenness, pain, affliction, trials, darkness, and having numerous things revealed to us that have remained hidden in the dust of our conscience for far too long. Praise God.
Bunyan loved this verse, and now so do I:
"indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead." (2 Cor 1:9)