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Pain Is Our Friend


A while ago, during a visit from our grandchildren, I watched with a mixture of exasperation and amusement as our toddling grandson explored my office, testing the limits of his reach, and relocating everything he could possibly get his grabby little hands on. Eventually, he made his way to the edge of a table on which a candle stood, burning. For a while, he just looked at the candle, watching the flame dance and flicker. Of course, he couldn’t just look for long. Soon, his little fingers were reaching upwards.

A first-time parent would have rushed to rescue him from sure death, but being a veteran father of I-forget-how-many, I saw a teachable moment. Sure, I could have said, “No,” and removed the candle, but that measure would have to be repeated endlessly until the inevitable happened anyway, so, saving myself and everyone else involved the trouble, I just watched as he reached out and poked his finger directly into the flame. You can guess what happened next: He stood there with his finger in the flame until it was burned to a smoldering black crisp, screaming the entire time. “That’ll teach him,” I said.

No, of course that’s not how it went. His finger was in the flame less than a second before he yanked it out with a holler of pain. “That’ll teach him,” I said—for real, this time. And it did. I am thoroughly convinced he will never do that again. Why? You know why: because it hurt.

Pain is our friend. Pain spares us from injury. My grandson was just fine, because fire hurts, and he could feel it. A hug and a few Peanut M&Ms, and the healing was complete. But not everyone is so fortunate.

Hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy (HSN) is a congenital condition that affects an estimated one in 25,000. It is characterized by a loss of sensory nerve function. Those who suffer from HSN experience, to varying degrees, a reduced ability to feel pain and sense hot and cold. Consequently, they are prone to injuries that a normal sense of pain would prevent, and may fail to seek treatment of injuries because they may not even realize they have been injured. They may even die of injuries that could have been prevented, if only they could have felt the pain.

While a relative few suffer from HSN, there is a far worse, far more dangerous congenital defect that affects every child ever born: insensitivity to sin. J. C. Ryle writes,

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No heart is in so bad a state as the heart that does not feel sin.

Shall I say what is my first and foremost wish for men’s souls, if they are yet unconverted? I can wish them nothing better than thorough self-knowledge. Ignorance of self and sin is the root of all mischief to the soul. There is hardly a religious error or a false doctrine that may not be traced up to it. Light was the first thing called into being. When God created the world, He said, ‘Let there be light’ (Gen. 1:3). Light is the first thing that the Holy Ghost creates in a man’s heart, when He awakens, converts, and makes him a true Christian (2 Cor. 4:6). For want of seeing sin men do not value salvation. Once let a man get a sight of his own heart, and he will begin to cry, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’

If a man has learned to feel and acknowledge his sinfulness, he has great reason to thank God. It is a real symptom of health in the inward man. It is a mighty token for good. To know our spiritual disease is one step towards a cure. To feel bad and wicked and hell-deserving, is the first beginning of being really good.

What though we feel ashamed and confounded at the sight of our own transgressions! What though we are humbled to the dust, and cry, ‘Lord, I am vile. Lord, I am the very chief of sinners!’ It is better a thousand times to have these feelings and be miserable under them, than to have no feelings at all. Anything is better than a dead conscience, and a cold heart, and a prayerless tongue!

If we have learned to feel and confess sin, we may well thank God and take courage. Whence came those feelings? Who told you that you were a guilty sinner? What moved you to begin acknowledging your transgressions? How was it that you first found sin a burden, and longed to be set free from it?—These feelings do not come from man’s natural heart. The devil does not teach such lessons. The schools of this world have no power to impart them. These feelings came down from above. They are the precious gifts of God the Holy Ghost. It is His special office to convince of sin. The man who has really learned to feel and confess his sins, has learned that which millions never learn, and for want of which millions die in their sins, and are lost to all eternity.

—J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 295–296.



Posted 2017·06·12 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Conviction · J C Ryle · Knots Untied

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