It’s common to make light of “first world problems”. These are the trivial frustrations that vex only those in wealthy countries: lack of wifi, battery charge or milk in the fridge. A little perspective shows that they are nothing compared to the real human misery experienced across most of the planet. Yet those in the first world also experience the real miseries of this life: affliction, sickness and deep sorrow. But still we know nothing of the disease, war, displacement, oppression and general suffering of many nations. We must add to all this the spiritual misery of sin itself as well as its consequences and the condemnation that sin brings. Is it really possible that there can be a complete and perfect remedy for human misery? Does this claim too much?
There is a full and complete remedy for all human misery. It may not be an immediately entire eradication of misery but it does begin to remove it immediately in a real sense. Ultimately, that full eradication of misery will happen.
1. Human Misery is Comprised of Three Things
Hugh Binning observes that there are three things which coincide to make people miserable: sin, condemnation and affliction. Everyone may observe that “man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward,” that his days here are few and evil. He possesses “months of vanity, and wearisome nights are appointed” for him (Job 5:6-7; 7:3). He “is of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1).
The pagan philosophers meditated a great deal on the misery of human life. In this they outstripped most Christians. We only include certain afflictions and troubles such as poverty, sickness, reproach, banishment, and such like amongst our miseries. The philosophers included even natural necessities amongst our miseries. This included the constant revolution of the circle of eating, drinking, and sleeping. What a burden to an immortal spirit to roll about that wheel perpetually. We make more of the body than of the soul. They counted the body a burden to the soul. They placed posterity, honour, pleasure and such things, on which men pour out their souls amongst our greatest miseries. They saw them as vanity in themselves, and vexation, both in enjoying and losing them. But they did not recognise the fountain of all this misery—sin. Nor did they acknowledge the consummation of this misery—condemnation.
They thought trouble came out of the ground and dust either by natural necessity or by chance. But the Word of God shows us its beginning and end. Its beginning was man’s defection from God and walking according to the flesh. All the calamities and streams of miseries in the world have this as their source. It has even extended to the whole creation and subjected it to vanity (Romans 8:20). Not only would man eat in sorrow but the curse is also on the ground. Man who was immortal will return to that dust which he magnifies more than the soul, (Genesis 3:17).
The beginning had all the evil of sin in it and the end has all the evil of punishment in it. The streams of this life’s misery run into an infinite, boundless and bottomless ocean of eternal wrath. If you live according to the flesh you will die. It is not only death here but eternal death after this. The miseries of this present life are not a proportionate punishment of sin. They are merely a downpayment of that great sum which is to be paid on the day of accounting. This is condemnation, “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
2. The Complete Remedy for Human Misery
As the law reveals the perfect misery of mankind, so the gospel has brought to light a perfect remedy of all this misery. Jesus Christ was manifested to take away sin, His name is Jesus, “for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). This is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Judgment was by one unto condemnation of all. But now there is “no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Thus, these two evils are removed, which indeed have all evil in them. He takes away the curse of the law (being made under it) and then He takes away the sin against the law by His Holy Spirit. He has a twofold power, for He came by blood and water (1 John 5:6-7). By blood, to cleanse away the guilt of sin, and by water to purify us from sin itself.
But in the meantime, there are many of the afflictions and miseries common to mankind on us. Why are these not removed by Christ? The evil of them is taken away, though they themselves remain. Death is not taken away but the sting of death is removed. Death, afflictions and all are overcome by Jesus Christ, and so made His servants to do us good. The evil of them is God’s wrath and sin; these are removed by Jesus Christ. They would be taken away entirely if it was not for our good they remained, for “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28).
Thus, we have a most complete deliverance in extent but not in degree. Sin remains in us but not in dominion and power. Wrath sometimes kindles because of sin but it cannot increase to everlasting burnings. Afflictions and miseries may change their name and be called instructions and trials; good and not evil. But Christ has reserved the full and perfect deliverance until another day. It is therefore called the day of complete redemption (Romans 8:23). All sin, all wrath, all misery will then have an end and be swallowed up of life and immortality” (2 Corinthians 5:4).
This is the summary of the gospel. There is a threefold consolation which corresponds to our threefold evils (sin, affliction and condemnation). There is “no condemnation to them which are in Christ.” Here is a blessed message to condemned lost sinners who have that sentence of condemnation within (Romans 8:1). This was the purpose for Christ’s coming and dying. It was that He might deliver us from sin as well as death and the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us.
He has therefore given the Holy Spirit (and dwells in us by the Spirit) to quicken us who are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). O what consolation this will be to souls that consider the body of death within them to be the greatest misery. They groan with Paul “O wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24).
But because there are many grounds of heaviness and sadness in this world, therefore the gospel opposes unto all these, both our expectation which we have of that blessed hope to come, whereof we are so sure, that nothing can frustrate us of it, and also the help we get in the meantime of the Spirit to hear our infirmities, and to bring all things about for good to us (Romans 8:28).
And from all this the believer in Jesus Christ has reasons for triumph and boasting before the perfect victory—even as Paul does in the name of believers in Romans 8:31 to the end. Not long ago he cried out, “O wretched man, who shall deliver me?” Now he cries out, “who shall condemn me?” The distressed wrestler becomes a victorious triumpher; the beaten soldier becomes more than a conqueror. O that your hearts could be persuaded to listen to this joyful sound—to embrace Jesus Christ for grace and salvation! How quickly would a song of triumph in Him swallow up all your present complaints and lamentations!
All the complaints amongst men may be reduced to one of these three. I hear most people bemoaning things in this way. Alas, for the miseries of this life, this evil world! Alas for poverty, for contempt, for sickness! Oh! miserable man that I am, who will take this disease away? Who will show me any good thing (Psalm 4:6); any temporal good? But if you knew and considered your latter end, you would cry out more. You would refuse to be comforted even though these miseries were taken away.
But I hear some bemoaning still more sadly—they have heard the law and the sentence of condemnation is within them. The law has entered and killed them. Oh! “what shall I do to be saved?” Who will deliver me from the wrath to come? What are all present afflictions and miseries in respect of eternity? Yet there is one moan and lamentation beyond all these, when the soul finds the sentence of absolution in Jesus Christ. Then it gets its eyes opened to see that body of death and sin within, that complete man of sin diffused throughout all the members. Then it bemoans itself with Paul, “O wretched man—who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). I am delivered from the condemnation of the law, but what comfort is it as long as sin is so powerful in me? Indeed, this makes me often suspect my deliverance from wrath and the curse, seeing sin itself is not taken away.
Now, if you could be persuaded to listen to Jesus Christ and embrace this gospel, O what abundant consolation you would have! What a perfect answer to all your complaints! They would be swallowed up in such triumph as Paul has here. This would reveal such a perfect remedy of sin and misery that you would not complain any more. Or at least, not as those without hope. You will never have a remedy for your temporal miseries unless you begin in relation to your eternal miseries, in seeking to prevent them. “Seek first the kingdom of God,” and all other things “shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Seek first to flee from the wrath to come and you will escape it and then afflictions (the evils of this life) will be removed. First remove the greatest complaints of sin and condemnation. How easy then it is to answer all the lamentations of this life, and make you rejoice in the midst of them!