The Presence of God with the Afflicted

by William Nicholson, 1862

"When you pass through the waters I will be with you.
 When you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you.
 When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze!"
Isaiah 43:2

The history of God's people in every age is most interesting and instructive. In that history, we specially see the manifestations of Divine love to them.

His providence has ever guarded and sustained them.

His bounty has ever supplied all their needs.

His grace has ever been sufficient to save them from the effects and power of sin.

His mercy has ever been imparted to forgive their transgressions.

His consolations have ever abounded to comfort them in all tribulation.

However dark and perilous the condition of His people, God has ever been present to supply all their needs, to sustain them, and to deliver them from every danger.

The compassion of God was very conspicuous in His dealings with the Israelites. Their perversity is described in the preceding chapter. This chapter opens with promises of God's immutable love!

I. God's People Are Frequently Subject to Painful Conflicts.

This is indicated by the terms used; waters, rivers, fire. If understood literally, it implies danger and Divine preservation. If understood figuratively, it is very expressive. "Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck!" Psalm 69:1. Hence we read of "fiery trials," and the "fiery darts of the wicked One." Observe,

1. No believer has exemption from affliction. Relationship to God, holiness of life, elevation of the mind above carnality will not exempt the believer from trials because these trials promote and maintain that spirituality.

All believers acknowledge, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous." Psalm 34:19

It is "through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of God." Acts 14:22

"Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows." John 16:33

2. All believers need afflictions. It must be so, for the God of infinite love and wisdom appoints them, and His judgment can never err. "For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." Hebrews 12:6

Saints are the children of God, but they need correction and discipline, etc.

The precious seed requires the use of the winnowing fan to blow away the chaff. So do saints.

The gold requires the furnace to purge away the dross. Saints are the gold which belongs to the King of the Church, and He places His gold in the furnace of affliction to purge away the dross of sin.

The patient requires medicine to restore to health and God chastens His people to restore them to spiritual health. "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your word!" Psalm 119:67. "I know, O LORD, that Your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness You have afflicted me!" Psalm 119:75

Afflictions are needful to wean us from earth and to induce us to aspire after Heaven.

3. Afflictions are Divinely appointed. "So that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know." 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4. "For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. For man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward." Job 5:6-7. And if God appoints our every affliction, then we know that He superintends their operation.

Satan and wicked men have a sinful hand in many of the afflictions of the righteous but God has a superintending, overruling, and gracious hand!

Without His permissive hand, they would never take place.

Without His restraining hand, they would be overwhelming.

Without His supporting hand, they would be intolerable.

Without His sanctifying hand, they would never be blessed.

4. These afflictions are peculiar in their quality. This is indicated by the figures in the text: waters, rivers, fire, and flame denoting their number, severity, and influence.

(1.) Their Number. "Waters," "rivers," are in the plural number. "Many are the afflictions of the righteous." "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward." Even as sparks are numerous and have a tendency to fly upward so man is liable to numerous afflictions, and happy will it be if they bear his soul on high.

Afflictions are numerous. They arise . . .
from bodily disease,
from poverty;
from refractory children;
from the sins of others;
from worldly losses,
from severe bereavements, etc. etc.

Who can enumerate them? Their name is "Legion," they are many.

The righteous have more afflictions than the wicked have. "For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits." Psalm 73:3-7

In addition to the ordinary afflictions inseparable from humanity, the godly have to endure the persecutions arising from their profession of Christ, and the work of Grace in the soul.

(2.) Their Severity. "Deep waters," "rivers," "fire and flame." Like water, or a river, the tendency of affliction is to distress and overwhelm. Like fire the afflictions of the godly are severe, painful, and destructive. At first they may resemble a little cloud in the sky; by and by it overspreads the skies with darkness, gloom, and tempest.

Afflictions which at first were like a little brook, have by and by swelled into an overflowing river, breaking over its banks on the right hand and on the left. The lives of Job, David, and Paul, illustrate this fact.

(3.) Their Beneficial Influence. Water cleanses. Fire purifies. Their natures are different, but their purifying effects are the same. "Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it!" Hebrews 12:10-11

Fire and water have been employed as the instruments of Divine indignation upon the ungodly but their influence upon the godly will be beneficial. As water cleanses the body from defilement so afflictions tend to the cleansing of the soul. As fire separates the dross from the pure metal afflictions separate the corruptions of the flesh from the graces of the Spirit.

Fiery trials make golden Christians!
Sanctified afflictions are spiritual promotions.

Bitter may be the cup of affliction yet it is needful and beneficial. The most deadly poison is often the most sweet and the most healthy herbs the most bitter. As bitter herbs are often the most medicinal to the body so the bitter herbs of affliction are the most medicinal to the soul.

Great is the value of these bitter healing herbs. They have . . .
calmed the restless spirit,
produced submission to the Divine will,
weaned from the world,
elevated the mind to Heaven,
led to prayer, sweet communion, holy diligence, and conformity to Christ.

Afflictions are a rod of correction they are painful in their infliction. But it is like Aaron's rod that budded precious are the fruits it bears, even "a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it!"

"How happy is it for me that . . .
the world often gives me the slip, that I may forsake the world, and look out more for the better country;
often prove false to me, that I may rely only on the God of truth;
beset me on every side, that I by faith may set myself down at the gate of Heaven, and, in the promise and in His fullness, find a rich supply;
now and then cuts off a relative, that I may more remember my own end, the immortal world, and Him who is the resurrection and the life!
Affliction renders the creature tasteless, the world barren, and dispels the intoxicating juice of carnal pleasures and sensual delights!
It breaks the sleep of carnal security, and awakens and rouses up to duties. Even the saints themselves are more frequent and fervent in their devotions under the rod of affliction. Many in trouble visit the throne of grace (dear throne! to which all have access), and pour out a prayer, when His chastening hand is upon them who before were utter strangers both to the place and the employment." James Meikle.

II. God's People Are Divinely Supported in Their Afflictions. "When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!"

He was present . . .
with Israel, going before them in a pillar of cloud by day, etc.
with the three Hebrew children,
with Daniel,
with the Apostles, martyrs, etc.

He still says, "My presence will go with you!" Exodus 33:14.

"Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5

He is always with us . . .
In His gracious presence, enjoyed in communion with Him,
in the operations of His Spirit,
in the promises of His Word.

1. He is present to sympathize with His people. He is "a brother born for adversity;" and "a friend that sticks closer than a brother." His compassion is expressed by the sacred writers, by allusion to the pity of a father and the love of a mother. "As a father pities his children so the LORD pities those who fear Him." Psalm 103:13. "As a mother comforts her child so will I comfort you." Isaiah 66:13.

How cheering is the sympathy of a friend in the hour of sickness but O, the surpassing sympathy of our great High Priest! "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are!" Hebrews 4:15

2. He is present to comfort and support His people. He is called "the Father of compassion, and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

He comforted Jacob when . . .
his bed was the cold ground,
his pillow was a heap of stones,
his covering was the canopy of the skies.
When the patriarch awoke, he exclaimed, "Surely God is in this place!"

Should His people faint in the hour of trial, He will support them by "the right hand of His righteousness." Isaiah 41:10. He will show Himself as the God . . .
of infinite love,
of unerring wisdom,
of infallible power, and
of unfailing grace!

He will make "His grace sufficient" for them.

3. He is present to set limits to the afflictions of His people.
To the waters of affliction,
to the rivers of adversity,
to the fire of persecution, and
to the flames of man's wrath
He will say, "Hitherto shall you come, but no further; and here shall your proud waves be stopped! The infirmities of the sufferer can endure no more my sanctifying process is accomplished   the dross is gone, and the pure gold appears. Therefore retire, O threatening waters and rivers! Be extinguished, O fires and flames!"

"He stays His rough wind in the day of His east wind." If He tempers the wind to the shorn lamb then much more to the lambs of His flock.

4. He is present to maintain and exercise of the graces of His people. "We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope!" Romans 5:3-4. Without these graces, His people would sink in despair, but God maintains them in lively exercise.

5. He is present with His people to preserve them from destruction. "When you go through rivers of difficulty you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you." Diseases shall not end in death until I permit. The wrath of enemies I will restrain. "No weapon formed against you shall prosper."

Instead of being injured by your trials you shall be benefitted. "I will turn the curse into a blessing!" Did He not preserve Israel from the Egyptians, the Red Sea, and the snares of the wilderness? Did He not preserve Daniel in the lion's den and the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace?

III. Lastly, afflictions are transient, and will soon end.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

The end of our mortal life will be the end of all our sorrows. The night of affliction may appear long but a morning of joy will follow it, which will be as long as eternity! How short then that night compared with the day that follows it! It is a short night of sorrow before a day of endless singing.

At death sin dies, and sorrow expires!

Sin is the mother and sorrow is the daughter. The mother and daughter die on one bed, and are buried in one grave!

"When you pass through the waters I will be with you.
 When you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you.
 When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze!"
Isaiah 43:2