I am reading J.C. Ryle’s excellent book Holiness. Ryle can be a bit too revivalistic at times, but he is strong where we are weakest: on the need for practical rightousness. In his chapter on growth in grace he ends by noting that without suffering we would rarely grow.
Last, but not least, if we know anything of growth in grace and desire to know more, let us not be surprised if we have to go through much trial and affliction in this world. I firmly believe it is the experience of nearly all the most eminent saints. Like their blessed Master, they have been men of sorrows, acquainted with grief, and perfected through sufferings (Isaiah 53:3; Hebrews 2:10).
It is a striking saying of our Lord, “Every branch in Me that bears fruit [my Father] purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2). It is a melancholy fact, that constant temporal prosperity, as a general rule, is injurious to a believer’s soul. We cannot stand it. Sicknesses and losses and crosses and anxieties and disappointments seem absolutely needful to keep us humble, watchful and spiritual–minded. They are as needful as the pruning knife to the vine and the refiner’s furnace to the gold. They are not pleasant to flesh and blood. We do not like them and often do not see their meaning. “No chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11). We shall find that all worked for our good when we reach Heaven.
Let these thoughts abide in our minds, if we love growth in grace. When days of darkness come upon us, let us not count it a strange thing. Rather let us remember that lessons are learned on such days, which would never have been learned in sunshine. Let us say to ourselves, “This also is for my profit, that I may be a partaker of God’s holiness. It is sent in love. I am in God’s best school. Correction is instruction. This is meant to make me grow.”
When do we grow the most? Is it not often in time of pains, suffering, disappointment, and hardship? When all is well, we are often grateful, but it is hard to grow. Much like an athlete we must have pressure, pain, increasing difficulty if we are to see results. God like any good father gives us hard things to help us mature. I find it odd when men come to Christ expecting ease and comfort. The Scriptures are clear: to follow Jesus is often painful and hard. After all, even our Lord learned obedience through the things he suffered. How much more do we sinful creatures need our Father to send us painful circumstances!