The Reason for Trials
John Welch (c. 1570-1622) was a minister at Ayr, Scotland, until he was imprisoned and sent into exile in 1606, for approving a General Assembly which King James had forbidden. He was subsequently a minister in the Reformed Church of France. He married a daughter of John Knox. These reflections on trial are from a sermon on Eph. 6:10-21 which was preached in 1605.
Question. But ye will ask. What is the cause that so wise, so mighty, and so gracious a Lord, filled with love and compassion, that has power to perfect thy sanctification fully in this life, why will he not renew all thy heart at an instant? And why suffers he so cruel a dog as the devil to pursue thee, who seeks nothing but God's dishonor (which is a higher point to him than thy damnation), because the devil knows that thy justification, sanctification and thy glorification will honor God and therefore aims at these points to overthrow them? Answer. Is this, believe ye, for want of love on God's part? No, no, it is out of love he does it, and that for two causes.
First, for his own honor and name's sake. Secondly, for thy welfare and good, and therefore thou must content thyself to be under this continual warfare all the days of thy life, seeing God is honored thereby, and also seeing it has been, is and shall be the lot of all the children of God, from the beginning to the end of the world. God, if thou be his, has ordained it for thee, ere ever thou wast born.
Question. Now thou wilt ask. How turns this to the glory of God, and to thy welfare? Answer. First, thy trials bring glory to God in two respects. First, God gets great glory when he makes thee - that art sold under sin, and art an impotent body, a silly, weak and feeble creature, a simple soldier - to overcome legions of devils, bring down the prince of the air and the god of this world and makes thee set thy foot upon his neck, and trample him under thy feet. It is true that God might do this himself, yet lie will not do it, but lie will have thee that art a base and weak creature doing it, that his glory may appear the more. For aye, the weaker that thou that the instrument be, the more the power of God is seen in thy infirmity, by giving thee the victory. Therefore as Joshua called for all Israel, and charged them to set their feet on the necks of those princes of Canaan, Josh. 10:4, so does the Lord Jesus, our true Joshua, call upon us, and charges us to set our feet upon principalities and powers, and worldly governors, and princes of the air, and spiritual wickedness, and he commands us to set our feet upon their necks and to tramp on them, that they never rise nor get up any more to do us harm.
Secondly, God will have thee exercised with trials that he may bring forth his high and excellent graces that are in thee. Would ever Job's patience have been known, had it not been that he had been tried with manifold trials, one after another? Would ever David's repentance have been known, were it not for the manifold conflicts lie had? Or would ever Paul's strength, or Peter's zeal, have been known, were it not the manifold conflicts that they had? So God will have the angels, the devil and the world to be very on-lookers on these hid mercies and graces that are in thee, that when the angels see it, they may glorify God for it, and they may say, Now I see there is faith, there is repentance, there is patience, there is hope, there is grace, there is Christ. And by these means, God makes known the riches of his grace in the hearts of his own, that otherwise would be hid, were it not for trials so long as thou livest.
Next, great is the good thou wilt get by trials. First, by trials he will make thee confess the very sins of thy youth, as he did Job, which otherwise thou wouldst never have remembered nor repented of them. Therefore by trials he calls them to thy mind, he makes thee mourn for them, and will never let thee rest till thou gettest remission. Secondly, by trials the Lord lets thee see a world of iniquities in thee, and there is so much sin within thee as were able to condemn a world, much more than thee, that art but a creature. So by trials the Lord brings out the secret monsters that lurk in thy heart, that if they got leave they would soon devour thee.
Third, by trials the Lord lets thee see the bitterness of sin, that provokes the anger of God against thee, and seeing this thou mayest beware to rush thyself in the fire again, and to stab thy heel on a prick, and to cast thyself over in the hands of an angry God that is a consuming fire. Fourth, were it not for trials it were not possible to keep thy heart under, and if thou hadst never so many graces, it would swell and puff thee up with pride, were it not for the manifold trials that God sends purposely, to serve for as many pricks thrust in thy heart, to let out the wind of pride out of it.
Fifth, by trials God will make men acquainted with their own infirmities that seeing their own weakness, they may put their trust in God only, and that they may see when they stand that it is of grace they stand, and when they fall they may see their falling comes of themselves, and hereby they are taught to renounce themselves, and to put their trust and confidence in God only. And they are taught to quit nature, and to take them to grace, and this will make thee to adore and make much of the graces of God, and it will make thee to reverence the Word and sacraments, and this will make thee to watch and pray continually.
Sixth, were it not for trials, we would rot in our sins. We would lay off our armor, and we would fall asleep with the rest of the world. Therefore purposely the Lord sends trials, to hold us waking, and to make us put on and wear our armor and to make us cleanse our hearts daily by faith in the blood of Christ. Seventh, and last of all, God by trials multiplies his graces to thee, and as he says himself, My power is perfected in thy weaknesses and infirmities. And God will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able to bear, for as our battles are renewed, so his grace is renewed to us, and he does it for this end, that we may see that present graces will not do the turn. Therefore we have need of every day's corroborating and strengthening grace, which may make us daily grow in grace, until we come unto a perfection which will not be in this life. Thus much for the causes why the Lord suffers his own to be put through trials as long as they are in this life.