The Trials of Faith
July 28th, 1974 @ 10:50 AM
TRIALS OF THE FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-28-74 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church delivering the message entitled The Trials of the Faith, and it is the second sermon on James’ epistle. Last Sunday, we introduced ourselves to him. He is the brother of the Lord. In his humility, he calls himself a "slave of Jesus, the Christ" [James 1:1]. But he is the brother of the Lord, the eldest. And by far, he towered over all of the Christians of the first century.
When we think of the Bible, we think in terms of the missionary, the apostle Paul; in terms of Simon Peter, the chief of the twelve. But had you lived back there in that first century, the tremendously great personality was the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, and the brother of the Lord. All of the others – Simon Peter, and James the Lord’s brother, and John, and the disciples, and the apostles, and Barnabas, and Paul – they all showed deference, great reverence for James. Now having introduced ourselves to him, and having seen who he is, it is of infinite blessing to read what he writes to the twelve tribes of the Diaspora: his brethren scattered throughout the nations of the Roman Empire. And this is the first two verses that he writes:
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
Let patience, therefore, have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and strong, wanting nothing.
He writes, as you can see, as a pastor would; as someone with a shepherd heart: "My brethren," generically used to include all of the faithful. I might say it like this, "My brothers and sisters in Jesus." You see, we are taught to "bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ" [Galatians 6:2]. We are to comfort each other and strengthen each other, lest one of us fall in despair. The Christian faith is one of comfort and encouragement; to wipe the tears from one another’s eyes. The Christian faith is not a vision, a dream of devils descending into hell, it is a vision and a dream of the angels ascending and descending on a ladder that leans against the shining throne of God [Genesis 28:12-13]. We may sow in tears, but we reap in joy [Psalm 126:5-6].
So he begins, "My brothers and sisters in Jesus." Then he addresses us, "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers" and the word is translated here, "temptations" [James 1:2]. Let us look at that word, peirasmos. In 1 Peter 4:12, listen to the Word:
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial –
there is that word, peirasmos, translated here "fiery trial" –
which is to try you, do not think it is some strange thing that is overwhelmed you –
but be strong –
and rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy.
[1 Peter 4:12-14]
Saying the same thing, "Count it all joy that ye may be glad with exceeding joy" [James 1:2; 1 Peter 4:13]. Now you can see the word peirasmos, translated here "temptations" [James 1:2], which is fine. But to us today, the word "temptation" has a connotation of evil; you are tempted to do wrong, but it does not mean that. It means "trial." And as you can see here in 1 Peter 4:12, "Concerning the fiery trial," peirasmos.
Just once again, to confirm our understanding of that word; in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul describes his three year ministry at Ephesus, when all Asia heard the Word of the Lord [Acts 19:10]. And describing his ministry he says, "Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and trials, which befell me by the lying in wait of the enemies of the gospel" [Acts 20:19].
So let’s take the word and translate it as the pastor used it, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into divers trials, fiery trials" [James 1:2]. You see all of us – some time, somewhere – all of us shall be thrown into that burning crucible, all of us. If we have not already, it will be some other day and some other time. We all shall know of the fiery trials of the faith. This word peirasmos, "trial," is not a sham word, nor is it a spiritualization. It is a real word describing a real and awful experience.
These Christians to whom he has addressed the letter were being ground between the upper and the nether millstones of pagan religion and the persecution of emperor worship. They lived in the day of crucifixion, of the sword, of the fagot, and of the fire. The amphitheaters were consuming thousands of their number; from one side of the Roman Empire to the other, there was the cry of "the Christians to the lions!" It is no poetic word, this peirasmos. It was a real word; a fiery, burning persecution and death. Nor is it a word peculiar to that century and that day.
Just this week there sat in my office here at the church, a man from Munich, Germany, and he heads a group of dedicated men who are trying to get Christian literature beyond the Iron Curtain. And he described for me the suffering, the martyrdom, the confiscation, the family destruction of our Christian brothers who live in communist countries. Today it is no word, unrealistic, it is a harsh and terrible word, peirasmos; the "fiery trial" of those who commit themselves to the faith.
All of us in our day and in our time, under God, will suffer. It is a part of the purpose of God in growing us to maturity, as the pastor here shall write. We may not all have the same kind of trials; ours may not be what they experience in communist countries. Ours may not be what others whom we know do bear, but all of us shall know the burning of the crucible. He uses the word "divers trials" – different trials [James 1:2]. And we all shall experience them.
For Abraham, God tried him and said, "Take your son of promise, Isaac, and offer him on a sacrificial altar. Take the dagger and plunge it into his heart and let the rich, red crimson of life pour out" [Genesis 22:2-10]. Isaac, the son and the child of promise!
God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, tried the rich young ruler and said to him, "Take all of your wealth and give it away. Get rid of it. It stands between you and the kingdom; get rid of it." The young man had a trial, a civil war in his soul as he debated that and went away with great sadness [Luke 18:18-23]. The Lord Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you like wheat, like a threshing machine: and when you are converted, strengthen the brethren" [Luke 22:31-32].
Trial: not every father will have a trial like Abraham; not every affluent man will have a trial like the rich young ruler; and not every disciple of the Lord will be sifted like Simon Peter – who denied that he even knew Him [Matthew 26:69-75] – but we all are placed in that crucible, and all of us shall know the trials of the faith.
They come suddenly, they come unannouncedly. They come unheraldly: "My brothers and sisters in Jesus," the pastor writes, "count it all joy when ye fall into," [James 1:2]. Didn’t plan to, didn’t think to – it was a snare, it was a trap, it was like soldiers being ambushed – we weren’t prepared for it.
I think of the day of Job. The sheep were grazing in the pasture; his sons and daughters were eating and feasting in their elder brother’s house. The camels were in service and suddenly, without announcement, there came a howling wind from the wilderness and all of his children were slain. There came fire down – lightning from heaven – and his flocks, and his herds, and his cattle were burned up. And there came ravenous [Sabeans] out of the desert who carried away in thievery, everything that he possessed. And when one messenger came to tell Job of the disaster of the wind, he had hardly spoken until on his heels, came another messenger came telling the disaster of the fire. And he had hardly spoken until the next messenger followed him with the disaster of the theft [Job 1:13-19]; unprepared, falling into trial.
The pastor writes of the heavenly purpose in it, "Knowing this – realizing this – that the trying of your faith worketh" – now, let us translate that word, hupomonē, literally it means "a bearing up under," hupomonē, "a bearing up under." The purpose of the trial is that it might work in us a bearing up under. Here it is translated "patience." You can translate it "fortitude." You can translate it "enduring commitment." That, in order that, having that – "hupomonē that we might be" – now, let us translate the next word, teleios. Always in the New Testament it is translated "perfect" [James 1:4]; but here again, perfection means to us "without sin, without moral turpitude." The word teleios has no such connotation at all. The word means, "to reach the purpose for which God made the thing."
A man would be a teleios of a boy. He has matured, he’s reached the purpose of his boyhood. A great acorn tree, a great oak tree, would be the teleios of an acorn. As it grew to maturity that was achievement toward which it grew. That is what the word means – always in the Bible – never "sinless perfection."
These fiery trials that come upon us –
the pastor says –
the purpose is to work in us a hupomonē –
an enduring commitment –
that we might be teleios – that we might be mature, grown, and strong in the Lord.
So we shall look at that for the moment: the purpose of God in the trials that we know in life. God has intended that we have strength in our Christian character. And strength comes to us in the trials that we endure. For example, a man’s muscles; he grows strong muscles, great biceps. He grows them by strain, by stress: lift a great weight. Any anatomical student will say it is in stress, in pushing, in straining that our muscles are made. The same thing in our minds: it is in the discipline of study and concentration that a man’s mind becomes sharp, knowledgeable, gifted. So it is in our spiritual life. The trial that we face is a purpose of God that we might be strong – that we might be enduringly committed, that we might be mature – reaching that purpose for which God made us and saved us [Ephesians 2:8-10].
I one time read of a man who was watching a butterfly trying to escape from its cocoon in which it was born and imprisoned. And the little butterfly, striving to break that cocoon; the man thought he’d help it, so he took a very sharp penknife and slit the silk cocoon and the little butterfly was free. And it came out and flapped its wings feebly for a moment, then fell in exhaustion and death to the ground. God intended that the little creature find strength and maturity in striving. And when the striving was taken away, it lived weakly and died sadly. There is intent and there is purpose in what God does when He throws us into the crucible.
In the ark of the covenant there were two typological things – the ark of the covenant, the ark of the Ten Commandments, the covenant between God and Israel – there were two things in that covenant: one, there was a bowl of manna that had fed the people in the wilderness; second, there was the rod that budded. And both of those have profound meaning for us [Hebrews 9:4]. God placed them there as lessons and types; food from heaven, but rule from heaven also. The sustenance of life, but also the disciplines of life; they go together. The God that feeds us, that gives us manna from heaven is the same God who disciplines us, who leads us into trial. You know, our problem in it is many times we can’t see the purpose. It is absolutely hid from our eyes. God can see it, but we can’t. God knows why, but we don’t. And when we’re in the trial, it crushes us and we’re in an agony because we don’t understand.
There was a man who had a little boy born into his home and the little fellow was born with a deformed foot. And as the little lad grew, and that deformed foot was so much a handicap to the little fellow, the loving father took the boy to the doctor, and to the doctor, and to the doctor, and none could help. And he took the little boy with the deformed foot to the surgeon, and to the surgeon, and to the surgeon and none could help. They gave him up, the little boy with the deformed foot. Do you know what the father did? He got books and books and books, and he studied and he studied and he read and he studied and he studied. He learned every bone in the foot, its every articulation; the tendon, the nerve, the muscle. He read and he studied. Then he made a strange-looking box with screws, with felt washers at such strange angles. And then he took his little boy and he put that deformed foot in that strange-looking box. And he tightened those screws. And the little boy cried. And the father tightened the screws, and the little boy was in agony! The father came home from work in the evening and the little boy cried to his father and the father tightened the screws.
Day after day, week after week, month after month, when the father would come home from work, the little boy would cry in agony, and the father would cry and mingle his tears with the boy, and tighten the screws! And the day came when the father unloosed the screws and opened the box and said to his son, "Son, stand up." And the boy stood up for the first time, erect. And as the days passed, the boy gained strength in his foot. And he walked erect, no deformity! That boy grew to be a man, and one day over the grave of his father, he wept tears of gratitude and loving appreciation. Maybe the father, being human, tightened a screw just one turn too much. But our heavenly Father never does, never. He knows exactly how much we can bear. And He fits the cold north wind to the shorn lamb, not too much. He purposes in what He does, He means it good for us.
In these trials, God has a way of purifying our motives. "Ha!" says Satan, "ha, ha, ha, does Job serve God for nought? No wonder he is good! You have hedged him every side about. You let me take away what he has, and he will curse You to Your face!" [Job 1:10-11]. God in His permissive will said to Satan, "Take away everything that he has" [Job 1:12]. And when Job saw all of his great fortune gone, even his children dead, he fell down before God and cried, "The Lord gave it all; the Lord took it away." Naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: blessed be the name of the Lord" [Job 1:21].
And Satan said, "Ha, ha, ha, oh, that Job! You let me touch him, and he will curse You to Your face" [Job 2:5]. And the Lord said, "All right. Just spare his life" [Job 2:6]. And Satan afflicted him from the top of his head to the sole of his foot with boils, running sores, leprosy [Job 2:7]. And Job scraped himself with potsherds, and sat in an ash heap [Job 2:8]. And in his misery cried, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" [Job 13:15].
When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace all consuming shall be thy supply:
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
["How Firm a Foundation"; George Keith]
Purifying our motives: do I serve God for what I get out of it? Do I serve God for payment, and stipend, and recompense, and reward? Or do I serve God because I love Him alone? Do I? The trial purifies the goal of our motive. The trial brings to us the virtues of this life, of commitment, and enduring love. Ah, ah, how often times do I see it when the day comes, and the trial burns, and we are in the crucible, how oft is there a tendency on the part of the sufferer to find fault with God! "What have I done? Why is it God is thus evil to me?" And we war against God and fight against the sovereign, elected purpose of the Almighty.
What a wondrous thing when I come to the place where I just receive it from God’s hands without bitterness, without word of reply, or castigation, or fault-finding, or defiance. If this is God’s will for me, then Lord, let it be, let it be: if I lost my eyes, if it is God’s will; if I lost my hearing, if it is God’s will; if I lost everything I possess, if it is God’s will; if I lost my health, if it is God’s will; if I lost the dearest thing in my soul and heart and life, if it’s God’s will; if I go to the fiery furnace, heated seven times [Daniel 3:19], if it’s God’s will – then Lord teach me the yielded, surrendered obedience that comes to those who bow in acquiescence before the sovereign God.
Oh, wouldn’t it be great to live a life of triumph like that? Nothing from the outside could destroy our inward peace, and security, and rest. If somebody curses us, we could bless in return. Somebody despitefully uses us [Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28], we could love in return – no word of bitterness – just the grace, and mercy, and goodness of God. O Lord, how could we learn to be thankful for the providences that come? O God, instead of being defeated, and in despair, and sometimes bitter, O God, how to be grateful and thankful. Lord, how could I attain to such a grace, such a teleios, such a perfection?
I one time heard of a man who being so desperately ill was in a ward in a charity hospital: big ward. And they had a way in that ward, in that hospital, when a man was going to die they would put a screen all the way around him. So the nurse came into that ward and with helpers put a screen all the way around that man. And when he looked at it, he said, "O my God, O my God, I’m going to die! I’m going to die! O God, I’m a vile, lost sinner-man! O God, I’m lost and I’m going to die! O God, have mercy upon my soul, please, God! For Jesus’ sake, save me! O God, save me!" And the Lord Jesus in His mercy reached down and touched his heart and brought him comfort and forgiveness and peace and rest in Jesus.
And you know what? The nurse came and took the curtain away and said to him, "Oh, sir, I’m so sorry. And I apologize; I put the curtain around the wrong man. I ask you to forgive me." And the man said, "Wrong man? Oh, nurse, it was the right one! It was the right one! And nurse," he said, "don’t ask me to forgive you; you did the best thing that ever happened to me in my life. Nurse, I found the Lord. I’ve been saved!" And the man began to shout and to glorify God.
That’s the way it ought to be. Lord, Lord, for the time being, it may mean death; it looks like death; it looks like terror. It looks like damnation and hell; it looks fiery, Lord. But His purpose is to refine us, to save us maybe, to bring us to Jesus. You know, I often think about that in national life – affluent, with no cares, the nation forgets God – and God has to come down and bring us to our knees. And it’s on our knees that we find the Lord, and strength, and spiritual elevation, and maturity.
I hear it said in our day, our generation – this generation – could not go through a Depression as my generation did, because they don’t have the inward spiritual strength and stamina to bear it! That is what I have heard about America. You know, I have an answer for that. I think if such a time came in the life of our nation, you would see more praying, and more revival, and more getting right with God, and more going to church, and more listening to the Word of the Lord, than you have ever heard in this generation past. That is God! Maybe we need it. If we do, Lord, grant that the prophecy of the pastor is correct, it will just bring us to our knees and bring us close to God.
Sweet people, I have a moment more. Let me say one other thing: the blessing of the trial. When a man sits on a throne, an elevation, a mountain and everything is going his way, he sees a certain thing. But when he sits on a mountain of trial, and sorrow, and tears, and difficulty, and burning, it’s an altogether different thing that he sees. What does he see? What does he see? I will show you.
Moses is the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and heir-apparent to the throne. And he sits beside the greatest monarch of that civilized world. He is next in line to be king, Pharaoh, over the land of Egypt [Exodus 2:5-10]; the greatest land in the world in that time. And what does he see? He sees affluence, and he sees rulership, and he sees all of the appurtenances, and embellishments, and accruements of one who thus looks down upon a vast people. That is what he saw.
Look, I want you to go with me to Mount Nebo – after forty years of fiery trial in the wandering in the wilderness, an old man now – the Lord has prepared his sepulcher in BethPeor. And the Lord brings him to Pisgah’s mountain height, to Mount Nebo. And the Lord says to Moses, "Look! Look! Look!" Moses lifted up his eyes to look and what did he see? He saw the Promised Land [Deuteronomy 34:1-4]. He never saw that in Egypt. He saw that on Mount Nebo.
So it is with us, in all of our vicissitudes of life, of comfort and affluence and success, we see certain things, but in the trial, and in the sorrow, maybe in the age, and in the death, that’s when we see the hills of glory; the beautiful, pearly city, that’s when we see God’s promised land.
So the pastor writes: Count it all joy – thanksgiving – and you fall into trials, for in it, God is leading us to spiritual, godly perfection [James 1:2-4]. Our time is spent and we must sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, in the throng in this balcony round, the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these stairways, walking down one of these aisles, "Pastor, I made up my heart. The decision is done. I’m giving my life to God, and here I am." Or "Pastor, this is my wife and my children. We’re all coming into the fellowship of this dear church." As the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now. And when you stand up in a moment, stand up walking down that stairway, or coming down that aisle. Angels will attend you in the way as you come. Do it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE TRIALS OF FAITH
the pastor, to comfort his brethren:
– true brotherly sympathy. Bear up one
another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. As we would desire to receive sympathy, help in time of need, let
us freely render. Our Christian
privilege to comfort, lest our brethren fall into despair. Saving grace not to make us miserable but to
wipe the tears from our eyes. Our dream
is not of devils descending a dreary staircase to hell, but of angels
ascending, descending upon a ladder to the top of which leads to the shining
throne of God. Many saw in tears but
reap in joy.
Compare: These Christian Jews, greatly, cruelly
persecuted. Crushed between upper and
lower millstones of Judaism and paganism.
Those the days of crucifixion, fire.
Amphitheater drowned Christians by the thousands. The watch word, "The Christians, to the
Compare: Trial today. The article I read, the Christians and the Baptist churches in
Compare: In our lives. The furnace heated 7 times.
The rod in God’s hands, no toy to be played with. Job, his afflictions real, no invention of
expect many and different troubles.
Each man’s distinct from that of every other.
Compare: Abraham – his son, offer.
Compare: Rich young ruler, his wealth, give it away.
Compare: Simon, his boasting, all may deny but not I.
comes, like soldiers ambushed.
Compare: Job, when children eating, drinkingâ€¦
up under, endurance, steadfastness, patient, waiting.
of purpose, maturity, complete in all parts.
of character, strength.
are developed in the body by trial.
developed in the body by trial.
redeemed people are developed in the body by trial.
struggling in cocoon. Slit. Freed.
Fumble flew, died.
tree, tourist attraction in New England.
Little crevice in rock sprouted, grew, roots covered rock into soil
around it. Winds, storms, rain, but
rock it more.
ancient types placed in the ark of the covenant; two things laid together; pot
of manna, and text. Heavenly food and
heavenly rule go together.
utterance, our chastening equally provided for. Christian cannot live without the manna, nor without the
rock. Two go together.
discouraged because we cannot see God’s purpose in our trials, but God can see
them, knows the purpose.
boy, born, feet deformed. Surgeon
finally gave up. But the father
studied..studied. Make a strange
looking box, screws tipped with felt.
Placed his little son’s foot into it.
The screws tightened – the little boy cries. Came home from work – the boy in agony all day – crying – the
father tightens the screws. Again. More.
Mingling tears with those of his son.
Long, weeks, months. One day,
loosened the screws, "Stand up Son."
First time, up. Gained strength,
walked. That son a man – over grave of
that father, tears of gratitude. That
father maybe turned the screws over too much, but the heavenly Father never.
Compare: God and Satan about Job.
creating, the priceless virtues of patient endurance. The scaffolding, tools, long forgotten: the great cathedral spire toward heaven, the marble piled to the
clouds. Vanish in a day, but the great
spire for centuries. II Corinthians
4:17; Romans 8:18.
the trial as from God.
to end our quarrel with God.
to bear ill-treatment, slander, insult, without resentment. That slow burning inside. Blessing in return for cursing.
without under haste.
Compare: Our Lord, never seemed confused, excited,
worried, not strive, nor cry, nor voice heard in streetsâ€¦
Compare: Peter’s fish had the money in its mouth, so
have sanctified trials spiritual rewards for those who endured them in the
are heavily afflicted come to bless God for everything.
a leper, when well a heathen..
lost, one leg, both legs..
piece of bread, water. Thank you for
all the too.
life’s wonderful visions only seen from the mountain of difficulty,
interdiction, sorrow, trials. Moses
from the throne of Egypt in youth.
Moses from the heights of Nero.
Scotsman not live, begged to be carried back to his mother land. "Oh, for glimpses of the hills of
Scotland." On ship, homeward, before
half-way evident not make it to the other shore. One evening at sunset, brought on deck. Went aglow. "Is not
beautiful?" "Yes – but neither see the
hills of Scotland."
Eyes closed – opened – look of unspeakable gladness.
Exclaimed "I see them now in the glow and ax." Then with a inspired look added, "I never
hennaed before it was the hills of Scotland where the prophet saw the horsemen
and the canter of the Lord, but I see them now and we are nearly there." Closes his eyes – in the veil. Not hill of Scotland but hills of glory.