It is well with my soul…

With so much weather getting in the way of actually teaching, I figured I’d throw a little teaching on you from one of my favorite pastor/scholars, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This sermon is printed in a great little book called “Setting Our Affections Upon Glory”, a compilation of sermons on the Gospel and the church, by Dr. Lloyd-Jones. I’d suggest looking it up. You can get a pdf version to pop up on your computer if you google it.

Here is an excerpt for you from a sermon my Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones called “The Acid Test”. The sermon is an exposition of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 as the measure of what makes a Christian. Dr. Lloyd-Jones gives three options as acid tests and then shows how the option comes up short in displaying true Christianity. Those three options he gives are orthodoxy, moral behavior and experience. Dr. Lloyd-Jones then begins to deal with Paul’s words to the Corinthians in his second correspondence, chapter 4 and verses 17-18.

Read the passage I’ve typed up for you below and the excerpt from the sermon I have provided for you. I have italicized and underlined some key thoughts at the end. Those highlights of the text belong to me and not Dr. Lloyd-Jones.

Since many of us are “home bound” due to weather, perhaps some spiritual stimulation may prove to be a soul-satisfying endeavor.

May the Lord’s grace and peace be abundant to you regardless of circumstance. He has taught us to say, “it is well with my soul.”

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, ESV)

“Now this, to me, is most important because, unless I am very greatly mistaken, large numbers of people in the Christian church today are confusing Stoicism with Christianity. We certainly saw a great deal of Stoicism in England, and in London, during World War II. For that rea- son I was constantly preaching on this theme. We had a slogan: “London can take it.Let the Germans come and bomb us, London can take it. But I want to show you that Stoicism is the exact opposite of Christianity, that it has nothing to do with it. Why is that? Because there is this great difference: the philosophy of Stoicism is the philosophy of resignation. It is the philosophy of putting up with it, taking it, simply standing and refusing to give in. Stoicism is negative, whereas the very essence of Christianity is that it is positive. Christians are not people who are just bearing with things and putting up with them. They are triumphing. They are exulting. They are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37).

Let me make this point plain and clear by quoting to you two pieces of poetry, one of them an expression of the philosophy of Stoicism, the other an expression of the true Christian position. Look at Stoicism first. Here are a few lines from the English poet John Dryden, who I think has given the perfect expression to the philosophy of Stoicism. This is how he puts it:

Since every man who lives is born to die,

And none can boast sincere felicity,

With equal mind, what happens, let us bear,

Nor joy nor grieve too much for things beyond our care. Like pilgrims to th’ appointed place we tend; The world’s an inn, and death the journey’s end.

That is perfect Stoicism. “Every man who lives is born to die.” That is a profound observation, and the trouble with most people in the world today is that they never realize that. That is why they get so terrified when they hear warnings about hurricanes and tornadoes. They never think of death. They assume they are going to live in this world forever. But the Stoic has thought. He has faced the facts. “Every man who lives is born to die.” And then Dryden goes on to say, “And none can boast sincere felicity,” by which he means that there is no such thing in this world as sincere, unmixed felicity or happiness. There is nobody who is perfectly happy. There is always a fly in the ointment, always something lacking. So what do you do about it? And here is the answer: “With equal mind.” It is the philosophy of balance, the philosophy of discipline, of control, the philosophy of maintaining an even keel: “what happens, let us bear, nor joy nor grieve too much for things beyond our care.” If you want to be happy in this world and to go through it triumphantly, says the Stoic, you must control your feelings. Never be too happy because you never know what is coming around the corner. But, on the other hand, he says, never be too unhappy: “Nor joy nor grieve too much for things beyond our care.” Keep yourself under control. This was the philosophy of Thomas Arnold, the headmaster of Rugby School in England, who popularized the nineteenth-century school ethos of “the little gentle- man” who curbs his feelings, holds them in, never shows them.

“Nor joy nor grieve too much for things beyond our care.” Why? Well, says Dryden, it comes to this: “Like pilgrims to th’ appointed place we tend.” What is life? It is a pilgrimage. We are a body of pilgrims, and we are moving on; you cannot go back. And there is the pressure of the crowd behind us. We are being pushed on day by day. What is the world? Dryden says it is a sort of “inn,” a kind of hotel in which you stay over- night and pay your bill in the morning and go on. “The world’s an inn, and death the journey’s end.” That is it. A life of trouble, of toils and problems and difficulties, things battering you and beating upon you. If you exercise great courage and iron will, you will get through it, but at the end there is only death. That is the end, and there is no more. But stand up to it. Do not give in. Do not whimper and cry. Hold yourself in check. That was Stoicism.

I am trying to show you that what the apostle says here is not Stoicism. It is, as I have said, the exact opposite. So I quote now from a second piece of poetry, written by a man named H. G. Spafford, who lived in the city of Chicago in the nineteenth century. Spafford was a successful and wealthy attorney. Moreover, he was a fine Christian man with a wife and four daughters. One year it was decided that Mrs. Spafford and the girls should pay a visit to Europe, to be joined later by Mr. Spafford, who was not able to leave with them. He took them, I think it was to Boston, and saw them board the ship. There he stood, and he bade farewell to them. He stood on the quayside watching the ship going out to sea until at last it disappeared over the horizon, and he went home. Later he received a cable with the news that the ship bearing Mrs. Spafford and the girls had collided with another ship in the mid- Atlantic, and in just a few moments she had sunk. The four girls were drowned. Mrs. Spafford, almost by a miracle, was saved, put on another ship, and eventually landed in Cardiff, Wales. When she arrived, she sent her husband this cable: “Saved alone. What shall I do?”

Poor Mr. Spafford. Here is a Christian man, and he gets this tragic cable. Two years before that shipwreck, something else had happened to him. All his wealth was in real estate, but in 1871 there was a great fire in Chicago, the Great Chicago Fire, which destroyed much of the city. In one afternoon Mr. Spafford became a poor man. He lost every- thing in that fire—his money, home, his positions—and was reduced to poverty. And now he receives a cable telling him that he has lost his four darling daughters. How did he react? Did he say, “Well, I mustn’t give in. I mustn’t cry. I mustn’t whimper. I must be courageous. I must brace myself. I must take it. I’m going to put up with it. I’ll use all my powers to play the man in spite of everything”? Was that it? Dear me, no. This is what that Christian man did. He sat down and he wrote these words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Do you see the difference? “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way.” That is all right. We can all be happy on vacation. We can all say wonderful things when the sun is shining. But wait a minute. “When sorrows like sea billows roll” and rob me of my four dear daughters and everything, “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.” Stoicism? No, no, a thousand times no! This is exultation. This is victory. He is more than a conqueror over everything that faces him. This is exactly as we read in 2 Corinthians 4: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” This is Christianity. But what explains this? What made the apostle capable of using such language? It was simply that he was a Christian, not because he was the great apostle Paul. The grand story of the Christian church throughout the centuries is that thousands upon thousands of unknown Christians have been able to speak like this. You have never heard of them, but they were Christians, as Paul was a Christian.

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