At our congregation, we get the great privilege of learning Paul Gerhadt’s hymn Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me during the month of September. Some background on Paul Gerhardt can add more meaning to this text. Gerhardt was a German Lutheran pastor in the 17th century. He survived the horrors of the Thirty Year’s War, four out of his five children did not survive childhood, and his wife died when his surviving child was only 6 years old. As a pastor, he remained steadfast against the pressures of his day and this cost him his position at St. Nicholas’ Church in Berlin. He refused to sign a document agreeing not to teach on subjects where Calvinists and Lutherans disagreed, and he was fired for this.
Out of this great suffering, Gerhardt emerges as one of the great writers of Christian hymnody. His hymns are comforting and personal, yet they remain biblically literate hymns that proclaim solid Scriptural teaching.
Why should cross and trial grieve me?
Christ is near
With His cheer;
Never will He leave me.
Who can rob me of the heaven
That God’s Son
For me won
When His life was given?
What is a cross? Jesus told us to take up our crosses and follow Him, after all. A cross is when we suffer in this life. More precisely, it is when we suffer as a consequence of living out the Christian faith. God allows these sufferings into our lives in order to refine our faith in much the same way as precious metal is refined in the fire. Peter speaks of these things in 1st Peter chapter 1. This is a longer section, but it is worth reading:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
As St. Peter says, we have a living hope because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the inheritance that is in heaven for us. God allows various difficult periods, challenges, and events into our lives that test our faith, prove it to be genuine, and lead us to rejoice with a joy that is inexpressible. Nothing can rob us of this great treasure.
When life’s troubles rise to meet me,
Though their weight
May be great,
They will not defeat me.
God, my loving Savior, sends them;
He who knows
All my woes
Knows how best to end them.
Yes, this stanza does say that God, our Savior, sends our troubles into our life. How can this be? First of all, remember that God is not the ultimate source of evil and trouble; that is the result of sin, death, and the devil. If you look into the book of Job, however, you will see that God does allow Satan to bring various trials into our lives. What are we to do, then? Are we to fear God and ask Him to leave us alone so that these trials will also cease? No! God cares for you! Jesus died for you to reconcile you to Himself! He cares for you as a Father. Rather, bring all your cares and anxieties to Him, because He cares for you, loves you, and will only bring suffering into your life for your own good. Remember, the last line of stanza 2 and know that God will also bring an end to your sufferings.
8And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
9And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11)
29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11)
God gives me my days of gladness,
And I will
Trust Him still
When He sends me sadness.
God is good; His love attends me
Day by day
Come what may,
Guides me and defends me.
With the assurance of the promises of the first two stanzas well in hand, we can boldly join in this proclamation of faith in stanza 3. God is good. When the sadness of life comes, remember that God is good, He loves you, defends you, and guides you. We can rejoice at all times, as James exhorts us to do in James 1:
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
From God’s joy can nothing sever,
For I am
His dear lamb,
He, my Shepherd ever.
I am His because He gave me
His own blood
For my good,
By His death to save me.
The faith and comfort springing from this stanza are absolutely incredible. It gives us a reason why we can trust that God will never fail us. It’s because our Savior, our Shepherd, has saved us and made us His own by His death! Jesus says as much in John 10:
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Paul says much the same in Romans 8:
31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Now in Christ, death cannot slay me,
Though it might,
Day and night,
Trouble and dismay me.
Christ has made my death a portal
From the strife
Of this life
To His joy immortal!
Having battled the sorrows and trials of this life, we now come face to face with death itself. This great enemy can do nothing to hurt us, for Christ has already won the victory. We are now blessed to know that when we die we enter into eternal joy, where there will be no more trials, no more crosses to bear, nor more sin, and no more sorrow.
42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.
56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15)
Yes, thanks be to God!