Vol. 1, No. 1, Jan. – Feb. 1972
THE HIGH ROAD
SOME THOUGHTS ON ROMANS 5:2-4
“LET us rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (RV). This piece of advice seems relatively easy to accept and to follow. The prospect of glory is an exciting one, something to look forward to with joy. Strangely enough, however, it is not only the attractive prospect of glory in the future that should give us pleasure and an elevation of mood, but there are other things which justify the same sensations. “And not only so, but let us also rejoice in our tribulations” (RV). How can it be suggested that tribulation might produce the same emotional reaction as the prospect of glory? How can we be expected to respond in the same way to these extremes of experience — the one a warming glow on the horizon, the other a dull ache in the heart or an agonizing pain in a fractured limb?
Only knowledge — the knowing that tribulation is a pathway that leads to glory — makes it possible to appreciate tribulation as a positive, meaningful factor in life. The prodigal may find the road home a hard one on his feet, but the thought of home distracts him from the consciousness of aching bones, and makes the journey not only tolerable, but even joyful. The vital factor is “knowing” where the path is leading.
The road to glory as described here has four stages, and these must be traversed consecutively. There is no short-cut, nor can the road be entered except by the first stage, it is really a kind of turnpike for which a toll must be paid. It costs to travel on it, and the traveller must prepare for the charges if he is not to be taken by surprise when they are levied.
TRIBULATION WORKS PATIENCE
The first stage is tribulation, and it leads to the second stage — patience. It may seem obvious when stated, but many travellers forget that for tribulation to produce patience, or endurance (RSV) there must be a time factor. If the “tribulation” section of the road were too short, it would not reach to the “patience” section; it would be a cul-de-sac, leading nowhere. When tribulation of any kind strikes — an illness, or an accident, a vindictive superior at work or an incompatibility with another brother or sister, or even just loneliness — we need time to obtain the fruit from the tree. [15/16]
The words patience and endurance imply the passage of a reasonable period of time, but when tribulation comes we cry to God for help and can’t understand why he doesn’t answer immediately. Why doesn’t He stop it? Why doesn’t He rescue me? Even Paul was caught in this one — he begged the Lord three times to deliver him from his thorn in the flesh. But God needed time, not to find a way to help Paul, but to teach him endurance. That is what the grace was for. We say in times of tribulation, ‘God has not answered my appeal for help’. Of course He has answered — He always does. He answered Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you”. It may not have been the answer he had hoped for — the removal of the pressure — but it was the answer he really needed, and in the same way we shall find that we receive “grace to help in time of need” if we pursue the path of patient endurance.
It is on this first “tribulation” section that the traveller will meet a sympathetic character who will urge him to open one of the gates along the roadside — and escape. The traveller has, in fact, one or two keys which will fit and he may go out by one of these gates as he gives up his work, or breaks off his spiritual relationships, or gives up the struggles in some way. If so he will find that although the immediate relief is wonderful, he has now become vaguely aware that he has missed something, and he has indeed — he has missed an opportunity to gain more patience and experience and hope. (Some have even been persuaded by the tempter that the exit marked “No Return” is the only possible solution to their suffering — with great loss to themselves.)
Should the traveller refuse the cowardly way of desertion, the kindly acquaintance may remind him that God himself has promised that there will be a way of escape provided, for which he should search. He is advised to claim deliverance by faith and is reminded that it is not logical that one whom God loves should so suffer. The suggestion is even made that the only reason he is on this rough road at all is because he does not have the faith to get off it! If the traveller entered by Sickness Gate the new companion may point out the exit marked “Healing” which, if it does not open by itself, may perhaps be forced in some way. (This does not lessen the importance of spiritual healing provided it is part of God’s High Road, but it does remind us that the mere relief of suffering is never God’s end, and that the New Testament tends much more to stress the spiritual values of enduring by faith.)
Actually the apparently understanding companion may be the tempter who always misrepresents the truth. God has undertaken to provide a way of escape “that ye may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). God never suggested that the Christian should leave the path of tribulation before he reached the “patience” sector, but undertook to make a way of escape along the road . The way of escape is never back, or to the left or right, but on and through.
AID FROM THE PARACLETE
As the traveller hesitates for a moment, considering his multiple discomforts, the exits by the roadside, and the road ahead, another Comforter appears from nowhere (and the first hurries away). The Paraclete, as He is known to some, sits down on a rock beside hill and dresses the worst of his blisters; gives him a drink from a flask He carries, and then helps him gently but firmly to his feet. As they walk along together the Paraclete supports him just a little, and talks cheerfully with him, reminding him of the prospect ahead — the Glory.
The effect of this encouragement and help is dramatic. Strength returns, his step becomes firmer, and to his own surprise he breaks into song. Almost imperceptibly Tribulation Road merges into Patience Road, with no toll-gate and no change in the scenery. The traveller suddenly notices that the surface is less rugged. Apart from this the road is much the same, but he is getting his “second wind” and an increasing awareness of a strange peace in his heart — strange because there seems no obvious explanation of it, it passes understanding. So the miles seem to pass more swiftly.
From this point on the Paraclete appears whenever required — to dress a wound, to help out of a ditch or over a stream. But His presence begins to be more and more appreciated, not just for the immediate help He gives, but because of something about Him, indefinable at first, but bringing a profound sense of comfort and companionship. (This Tribulation Road is a lonely one, for although there are lots of people on it, they are almost all sitting by the roadside, complaining to one another and nursing their aching feet. Very few are actually traveling. Some of them wonder how this man can step along so cheerfully, for his feet are obviously in very poor shape too, but being too preoccupied with their own troubles they fail to realise the help he is getting from his Companion.) [16/17]
“AND PATIENCE, EXPERIENCE (A.V.)
The road surface and the scenery are much the same here in the experience section, but it doesn’t seem half so bad. The Paraclete is now his constant companion, and not only actually gives him a hand over the worst of the obstacles on the road, but has taught him so much that he is able to avoid many of the pot-holes into which he would at one time have fallen. No ravine, or snow-covered pass really frightens him now, because although they seem quite impossible to cross he knows that none of these barriers are a problem to his Friend. This does not mean that the going is really any easier — in fact it seems to get worse. Nor does it mean that he never feels uneasy or nervous about the way ahead, for he becomes downright frightened at times. But then, this Companion seems to be there just at the right time, and His presence makes all the difference.
The Christian is experienced now — he can look back along the road and say ‘He helped me there, and there, and again there’. He can now say with some conviction, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able …”. At the same time others on the road seem to notice a growing confidence in this man’s bearing, and suspect that he has an inner secret. He has! The key to everything for him now is a deepening personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
(Other names are given to this stretch of the road. There is “proof” (NEB) and the word is explained by 2 Corinthians 2:9 where Paul says that he has been looking for “proof” in the lives of the believers, meaning experimental evidence of their obedience. This is helpful to us, for it signifies that tribulation endured produces in the life of the believer the “evidence of things not seen” — something tangible, substantial, developing in his life and character, which is the proof that something real is going on. Another word used is “character” (RSV) which serves to remind us that the patient endurance of tribulation is an act and a continuous process of faith, having as its fruit the development of character approved by God.)
“AND EXPERIENCE, HOPE (A.V.)
Again there is no clear boundary between Experience Road and Hope Road, the one leading to the other. But here our man has left behind for ever those crippling doubts as to whether the whole enterprise is a terrible mistake, doubts as to where the road is leading — if anywhere. He now knows with an inner certainty that a little further along the road, perhaps round the next bend, is the glory. In fact he now sees quite distinctly the rainbow which, as the Paraclete has assured him, is not only the sign of God’s unchanging faithfulness, but is actually a ‘shadow’ cast by the glory itself.
These last two stages seem to follow naturally from the first two, for experience and hope come as a result of a walk with God through the dark valleys of pain, frustration, or loneliness, or grief, and will lead to glory. There are, however, a few matters worthy of notice about this last stretch of the road. One of them is the happy relationship our man now has with fellow-travellers who have kept going as he has. It is true that they are less numerous than earlier on, but as they get nearer to the goal of their journey they tend to forget the smaller matters of difference, to close the gaps between one another, and to find closer comradeship, with the Paraclete as the central Figure of their happy group.
Noticeable also is a new tolerance, understanding and sympathy for others on the Tribulation Road, an ability to support and encourage the weary and a growing humility. He presses on, his step quickening in response to the distant music thankful for the grace that has kept him on God’s High Road to Glory.