The Disciple,—What is the meaning and purpose of the cross, and why do pain and suffering exist in the world?
The Master,—1. The cross is the key to heaven. At the moment when by My baptism I took the cross upon My shoulders for the sake of sinners, heaven was opened, and by means of My thirty-three years bearing of the cross and by death upon it, heaven, which by reason of sin was closed to believers, was for ever opened to them.
Now as soon as believers take up their cross and follow Me they enter heaven through Me (John x.9) and begin the enjoyment of that unbounded bliss which the world cannot understand, for heaven is closed to unbelief. Hope and experience will teach the unbeliever that joy follows pain, but that that joy does not endure. But I give to My children ease in pain, and perfect happiness and peace. Those who joyfully take up My cross are themselves upborne by it, and ever supported by that cross they enter heaven at last.
2. Pain arises out of man’s perverse and rebellious nature, just as tropical heat is irksome and painful to those who live in cold lands, and bitter cold to those who live in tropic climes. Heat and cold depend on the relation of the earth to the sun. So man, by the exercise of his own free will, enters into a state of agreement or disagreement with God, and inasmuch as the laws of God are intended for the spiritual health and happiness of man, opposition to them brings about spiritual pain and suffering. Now God, instead of altogether removing these states of opposition and rebellion to His will, makes use of them to make clear to man that this world was not created to be his home, but is to him a foreign land (2 Cor. v.1,2,6).
This world is but to prepare him for a perfect and eternal home, and the oft-repeated blows of ill-fortune are intended to keep his spirit awake, lest he should become careless, and falling away from the truth share in the ruin of this unstable world. He is meant to come into communion with his Maker and, after being freed from the suffering and misery of this fleeting life, to enter into His heaven of eternal happiness and peace.
3. Pain and suffering are bitter as poison, but it is also well known that sometimes the antidote of a poison is itself a poison. And thus I sometimes employ pain and suffering as bitter medicines in order to promote the spiritual health and vigour of My believers. As soon as their perfect health is secured there will be an end of all suffering. Their pain is no pleasure to Me, for My one object is their eternal well-being (Lam. iii.31,33).
4. Just as after a shock of earthquake springs of sweet water sometimes emerge in desert places, and the arid wastes are irrigated and become fruitful, so in certain cases the shock of suffering opens up within the heart of a man hidden springs of living water, and in place of murmurings and complainings there issue from him streams of gratitude and joy (Ps. cxix.67,71).
5. As soon as a child enters the world it is most necessary that it should begin to cry and scream, so that its breath may have free play and its lungs be brought into full use; and if for some reason it does not cry out it must be slapped till it does so. Just so with perfect love. I sometimes cause My children to cry out by the blows and stings of pain and suffering, that the breath of prayer may have free course through the lungs of their spirit and they may thus gain fresh vigour and abide in endless life.
6. The cross is like a walnut whose outer rind is bitter, but the inner kernel is pleasant and invigorating. So the cross does not offer any charm of outward appearance, but to the cross-bearer its true character is revealed, and he finds in it the choicest sweets of spiritual peace.
7. When I became incarnate, I bore the cruel cross for man’s salvation, not for the six hours of My crucifixion only, or even for the three and a half years of My ministry, but for the whole thirty-three and a half years of My life, in order that man might be delivered from the bitterness of death. Just as it is painful to a cleanly man to stay for even a few minutes in a filthy and unclean place, so those who abide in Me find it most distasteful to have to live among vicious people; and this is the reason why some men of prayer, distressed by the foulness of sin, have abandoned the world and gone to live as hermits in deserts and caves. Consider this, then, when men who have been sinners themselves feel the presence of sin so hard to bear that they cannot endure the company of their own kind, so much that they leave them, and never wish to return to them again, how extremely painful and hard a cross must Mine have been, that I, the Fountain of Holiness, should have had to live for more than thirty-three years constantly among men defiled with sin. To understand this and rightly to appreciate it is beyond the powers of man’s mind, and even the angels desire to look into it (1 Pet. i.12). For before the creation they knew that God is Love, and yet it was to them a most wonderful and amazing thing that the love of God should be such that, in order to save His creatures and to bring to them eternal life, He should become incarnate and bear the cruel cross.
8. In this life even I share the cross of those who abide in Me, and enter into their sufferings (Acts ix.4). Though they are creatures and I am their Creator, yet, just as the body and the spirit, though separate entities, are yet so intermingled that if even the smallest part of the body feels pain the spirit immediately becomes conscious of it; so I am the life and spirit of My children, and they are, as it were, My body and members. I share their every pain and grief, and at the right moment give them relief.
9. As I Myself bore the cross I am able to deliver and keep in perfect safety those who are crossbearers, even while they walk amid fires of persecution. I was with the three young men in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, which with all its raging had no power to hurt them (Dan. iii.23-5; 1 Peter iv.12-13). So those who by the baptism of the Holy Spirit have received the new life will never feel the fires of persecution nor any hurtful thing, for they ever abide in Me in eternal peace and safety.