Posted by: rcottrill | May 10, 2017

I Cannot Call Affliction Sweet

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Words: James Montgomery (b. Nov. 4, 1771; d. Apr. 30, 1854)
Music: Heber (or Kingsley) by George Kingsley (b. July 7, 1811; d. Mar. 14, 1884)

Wordwise Hymns (James Montgomery)
The Cyber Hymnal (James Montgomery)

Note: James Montgomery was a newspaper editor and a committed Christian. He gave us many fine hymns, including the carol Angels from the Realms of Glory. The present lesser known song came about in an unusual way as you will see.

Old hymn books commonly use the tune Heber with this hymn, or the tune Siloam, by Isaac Baker Woodbury (1819-1858)

It’s likely safe to say that nobody but a neurotic enjoys pain and suffering. Normally, any positive effect comes later or indirectly. For example, we put up with and endure the short-term pain of surgery because of the expectation of an improvement in our health afterward. The joy in suffering pertains to the future results, not to the pain. Short-term pain for long-term gain.

However, there’s a personality disorder identified by some, a psychiatric condition called masochism. The masochist finds the mistreatment of himself enjoyable, and takes pleasure in inflicting pain on himself. A further complication called sadomasochism also finds pleasure in giving pain to others, and this often leads to moral depravity. A sad and distasteful subject indeed!

But return to the idea that, though we take no pleasure in pain, we are often able to see beyond it to better things. The Lord Jesus did that, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Crucifixion was such a painful and horrific way to die they had to invent a word to describe it. “Excruciating” literally means from the cross. But the Lord looked beyond that terrible ordeal to the many who would gain eternal salvation by His redemptive work. “Christ died for our sins,” the Bible says (I Cor. 15:3). In that He rejoiced.

On another front, the Word of God encourages us to look upon God’s disciplining of us as believers in the same long-range way, because it’s “whom the Lord loves He chastens” (Heb. 12:6). Not to apply corrective measures to a disobedient child is no favour, and no sign of love. “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (vs. 11; cf. Prov. 22:6).

Then there is the issue of persecution. There are those in our world who hate Christians and all they stand for. They seek to suppress the preaching of the gospel, and oppress the servants of God any way they can–in some cases even with imprisonment and death. This isn’t new. Jesus warned His followers of it, long ago (Jn. 15:18-21). But even in the midst of such painful circumstances the sufferer has the realization that his (or her) Saviour was treated the same way, and looks forward, with you to heavenly rewards that await (Acts 5:40-42; I Pet. 4:12-13).

Having said these things, not all the blessings of present suffering are found in the future. The Lord can bring benefits, not only  afterward, but in the midst of the ordeal too. Scottish hymn writer James Montgomery wrote a hymn about that.

On May 24th, 1832, Mr. Montgomery returned home to Sheffield, England, after attending some church meetings in Bristol. On arrival he was handed an album or scrapbook sent from a woman in London. She was a great admirer of Montgomery’s writings, and had collected many of his poems and hymns which she had mounted in the book. Now, she was seriously ill, in fact was on her deathbed, and she wondered if he would be willing to write something personal in her album.

Whether she was thinking simply of a signature, or a personal greeting is not known. But James Montgomery was so touched by her request he sat down and wrote a hymn about suffering and how God uses it for our blessing. In it he also recalls how we sometimes make promises to God at such times, only to forget them and forsake them later.

1) I cannot call affliction sweet,
And yet ‘twas good to bear;
Affliction brought me to Thy feet,
And I found comfort there.

3) Where are the vows which then I vowed?
The joys which then I knew?
Those, vanished like the morning cloud;
These, like the early dew.

4) Lord, grant me grace for every day,
Whate’er my state may be,
Through life, in death, with truth to say,
“My God is all to me.”

1) What are some of the good things the Lord can bring out of suffering?

2) What can we do to keep a positive attitude when we’re going through trials?

Wordwise Hymns (James Montgomery)
The Cyber Hymnal (James Montgomery)


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