Thomas Case "Treatise on Affliction"

A Treatise on Affliction
By Thomas Case (1598-1682)
Put into modern English by R.J. Destree

1. God uses affliction in our lives to teach us COMPASSION for those who are suffering. Truly we are very prone to be insensitive to our brother or sister’s sufferings, when we ourselves are at ease: partly because of the sensuality that is in our natures, whereby we allow our hearts to be inordinately preoccupied by creature comforts, which quench the tenderness and sense we ought to have for the miseries and hardships of others. Partly out of the allure of self-love, which makes us unwilling to sour the relish of our own sweet enjoyments with the bitter taste of a stranger’s afflictions. Partly because of laziness, which makes us unwilling to rise up out of the bed of ease and pleasure, and make an effort to look into our brother’s condition, whether they live far away or are close to home; so that (as the apostle says in another case) we purposely ignore their miseries and tragedies, being content to be strangers to their needs.

In one way or another, even Christians are more or less guilty of this sin of insensitivity common to worldly people—who lack affection, mercy, pity and compassion.

This is a major reason why God sent the nation of Israel into Egypt, to labor in the brick ovens there, so that their hardened hearts might be softened and moved to compassion towards strangers and captives in their midst. Therefore, when God brought Israel out of captivity, this was one of the first lessons He impressed upon their minds—”You shall not oppress a stranger” (Exodus 23:9): a command which He expresses negatively, yet according to the way His commandments should be interpreted, also includes our responsibility to show mercy and compassion. And the Lord says further, “for you know the heart of a stranger.” How did they come to know it? “Because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” As if God had said, “I knew that you had a heart of iron, and were cruel and without compassion. Therefore I sent you into Egypt on purpose, and by the cruelty of the Egyptians, I might make your hearts tender; and by experiencing suffering and misery yourselves you might learn to be brokenhearted by the anguish and agonies of strangers and captives; so that when you see a stranger in your midst, you might say, ‘Oh, here is a suffering soul in exile, I will most certainly have mercy on him, and show him kindness, because I was a stranger and slave in Egypt.’”

And in like manner, God continues to allow afflictions and sorrows to come upon His own children; He allows them to suffer through theft of property, by being ostracized, by being thrown in prison and experiencing deprivation, so that they might learn by their own sufferings to become sensitive to those who are hungry, and be merciful to those who are hurting; that they might admit to themselves, “I know the suffering that stabs at the heart of the afflicted, I know what it is to be in need—to be rich one day and the very next day to be stript naked of all comforts and wealth. I know what it is to hear poor, starving children crying out for bread, yet there is no food to give them. I know what it is to be separated from loved ones—like a limb torn from the body—and to lie bleeding. I know what it is to be thrown into prison, to be locked up all alone in the dark, with no other company, other than one’s fears and sorrows. And I know what it is to be sentenced to death. Then shouldn’t I take pity upon, pray for, and pour out my heart to those who are suffering under similar miseries?”

And all this must persuade us that when a Christian compares his lighter burden of affliction with the more grievous affliction of someone else, and concludes: “Imprisonment was difficult, yet God comforted me in many ways that others are not; my jail cell was warm and the bed was soft, yet some of my persecuted Christian brothers, during the Spanish Inquisition and Turkish slavery, were thrown into a dank, dark dungeon; their feet were severely injured in the stocks and hot irons were applied to their bodies; others were left bleeding on the floor, gasping for breath, with open wounds, left naked and hungry in the cold. During my imprisonment, I was sometimes allowed to enjoy the company of Christian friends and to be encouraged by visits from loved ones; while other precious people of God have been thrown into gloomy, rotting prisons, and were not allowed to see another Christian—no, not anyone but their tormenters—for possibly five, ten or twenty years! Every day, I was given good food to eat, meals that were not only healthy but tasted good, while my precious brothers and sisters in Christ did not receive even the barest of diets, and were left to starve during their depressing, solitary confinement. Oh, shouldn’t mercy well up within me and I be moved with compassion for precious saints who are experiencing such abject misery?”

Certainly we frequently see similar miseries experienced by those with painful medical conditions—such as, kidney stones, arthritis, cancer, and other serious illnesses—which move our hearts to tears of sympathy and compassion. While other people who have not experienced such suffering, often develop calloused hearts, and even mock the heart-breaking moans of people in severe pain. Brothers, I plead with you not to be like this, but remember what the writer of Hebrews says of Christ Himself: “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God” (Hebrews 2:17). And again, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are” (Hebrews 4:15).

Someone might ask, “Why did Jesus take on a body of flesh, and experience suffering, since He was God and knows all things?” My brother, it seems that the knowledge Christ had as God was different from that He had as a man; His knowledge of all things as God is intuitive; His knowledge as a man was experiential—a personal experience of misery impresses the heart deeply. Therefore, Christ sought to become compassionate as our Mediator through the things He suffered for us. And if our Lord Jesus—who is Mercy Incarnate—willing submitted Himself to terrible suffering, so that He might have sweet, loving mercy for His brothers and sisters, how much more do we, who by nature are uncharitable and cruel, need to be taught to have mercy in our hearts for others? Certainly we cannot appreciate a fellow believer’s sufferings simply by hearing about them from someone else or even from an angel, or by studying Scripture alone—no, we must willingly enter the school of affliction ourselves, so that by a personal experience of suffering we might be taught by God, as it pleases Him.