Lamentations Chapter Three
The faithful lament their calamities, and hope in God's mercies.
Commentary on Lamentations 3:1-20
(Read Lamentations 3:1-20)
The prophet relates the more gloomy and discouraging part of his experience, and how he found support and relief. In the time of his trial the Lord had become terrible to him. It was an affliction that was misery itself; for sin makes the cup of affliction a bitter cup. The struggle between unbelief and faith is often very severe. But the weakest believer is wrong, if he thinks that his strength and hope are perished from the Lord.
Commentary on Lamentations 3:21-36
(Read Lamentations 3:21-36)
Having stated his distress and temptation, the prophet shows how he was raised above it. Bad as things are, it is owing to the mercy of God that they are not worse. We should observe what makes for us, as well as what is against us. God's compassions fail not; of this we have fresh instances every morning. Portions on earth are perishing things, but God is a portion for ever. It is our duty, and will be our comfort and satisfaction, to hope and quietly to wait for the salvation of the Lord. Afflictions do and will work very much for good: many have found it good to bear this yoke in their youth; it has made many humble and serious, and has weaned them from the world, who otherwise would have been proud and unruly. If tribulation work patience, that patience will work experience, and that experience a hope that makes not ashamed. Due thoughts of the evil of sin, and of our own sinfulness, will convince us that it is of the Lord's mercies we are not consumed. If we cannot say with unwavering voice, The Lord is my portion; may we not say, I desire to have Him for my portion and salvation, and in his word do I hope? Happy shall we be, if we learn to receive affliction as laid upon us by the hand of God.
Commentary on Lamentations 3:37-41
(Read Lamentations 3:37-41)
While there is life there is hope; and instead of complaining that things are bad, we should encourage ourselves with the hope they will be better. We are sinful men, and what we complain of, is far less than our sins deserve. We should complain to God, and not of him. We are apt, in times of calamity, to reflect on other people's ways, and blame them; but our duty is to search and try our own ways, that we may turn from evil to God. Our hearts must go with our prayers. If inward impressions do not answer to outward expressions, we mock God, and deceive ourselves.
Commentary on Lamentations 3:42-54
(Read Lamentations 3:42-54)
The more the prophet looked on the desolations, the more he was grieved. Here is one word of comfort. While they continued weeping, they continued waiting; and neither did nor would expect relief and succour from any but the Lord.
Commentary on Lamentations 3:55-66
(Read Lamentations 3:55-66)
Faith comes off conqueror, for in these verses the prophet concludes with some comfort. Prayer is the breath of the new man, drawing in the air of mercy in petitions, and returning it in praises; it proves and maintains the spiritual life. He silenced their fears, and quieted their spirits. Thou saidst, Fear not. This was the language of God's grace, by the witness of his Spirit with their spirits. And what are all our sorrows, compared with those of the Redeemer? He will deliver his people from every trouble, and revive his church from every persecution. He will save believers with everlasting salvation, while his enemies perish with everlasting destruction.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Lamentations》
 I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.
I am the man — It seems, this is spoken in the name of the people, who were before set out under the notion of a woman.
 My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones.
Made old — All my beauty is gone, and all my strength.
 He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail.
Builded — He hath built forts and batteries against my walls and houses.
 He hath inclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked.
Enclosed — He has defeated all my methods and counsels for security, by insuperable difficulties like walls of hewn stone.
Crooked — Nay, God not only defeated their counsels, but made them fatal and pernicious to them.
 He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood.
Wormwood — With severe and bitter dispensations.
 He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes.
Ashes — Mourners were wont to throw ashes on their heads.
 Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.
Wormwood — Wormwood and gall, are often made use of to signify great affliction.
 This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.
This — Which follows, concerning the nature of God, and his good providences.
 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
Faithfulness — In fulfilling thy promises to thy people.
 It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
Bear — Quietly and patiently to bear what afflictions God will please to lay upon us. And if God tame us when young, by his word or by his rod, it is an unspeakable advantage.
 He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.
Borne it — That he keep his soul in subjection to God, because God hath humbled him by his rod.
 He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.
In the dust — Both this and the former verses let us know the duty of persons under afflictions.
 For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.
Willingly — Not from his own mere motion without a cause given him from the persons afflicted. Hence judgment is called God's strange work.
 To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not.
To subvert — Here are three things mentioned, which God approveth not.
 Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?
Who — Nothing comes to pass in the world, but by the disposal of divine providence. This seems to be spoken in the name of the people of God, arguing themselves into a quiet submission, to their afflictions, from the consideration of the hand of God in them.
 Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?
Evil — Doth not evil or trouble come out of God's mouth from his direction, and providence, as well as good?
 Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?
Wherefore — The Jews, check themselves in their complaints from the consideration, that nothing had befallen them, but what was the just reward of their sins.
 We have transgressed and have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned.
Thou — Thou hast plagued us according to the just desert of our sins.
 Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission,
Mine eye — The prophet speaks this of himself.
 They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me.
Dungeon — Dungeon seems here to be taken for the lowest condition of misery.
 Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off.
Cut off — I am undone, there is no hope for me.
 Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry.
Heard — In former afflictions.
Hide not — Shew me now the same favour.
 O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life.
O Lord — Thou hast been wont to take my part against my enemies.
 Thou hast seen all their vengeance and all their imaginations against me.
Seen — Thou hast been a witness to all their fury.
 Behold their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their musick.
I am — At feasts, and at their merry meetings, I am all the subject of their discourse.
 Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the LORD.
Persecute — Many passages of this nature which we meet with are prophecies, some of them may be both prophecies and prayers.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Lamentations》
His Compassions Fail Not (Lam. 3:22)
Jesus had compassion—and touched their eyes (Matt. 20:34)
Jesus, moved with compassion—touched the leper—and he was cleansed (Mark 1:41~42)
Jesus said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they have nothing to eat (Matt. 15:32)
He was moved with compassion toward them, and He healed their sick (Matt. 14:14)
When He came out He was moved with compassion towards them, because they were as sheep having no shepherd (Mark 6:34)
He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity (Ps. 78:38; Luke 23:24)
03 Chapter 3
Whether we regard it from a literary, a speculative, or a religious point of view, the third and central elegy cannot fall to strike us as by far the best of the five. Like Tennyson, who is most poetic when he is most artistic, as in his lyrics, and like all the great sonneteers, the author of this exquisite Hebrew melody has not found his ideas to be cramped by the rigorous rules of composition. Possibly the artistic refinement of form stimulates thought and rouses the poet to exert his best powers; or perhaps — and this is more probable he selects the richer robe for the purpose of clothing his choicer conceptions. This elegy differs from its sister poems in another respect. It is composed, for the most part, in the first person singular, the writer either speaking of his own experience or dramatically personating another sufferer. Who is this "Man that hath seen affliction"? There is just the possibility that the poet is not describing himself at all; he may be representing somebody well known to his contemporaries — perhaps even Jeremiah, or just a typical character, in the manner of Browning's Dramatis Personae. While some mystery hangs over the personality of this man of sorrows, the power and pathos of the poem are certainly heightened by the concentration of our attention upon one individual. Few persons are moved by general statements. The study of abstract reports is most important to these who are already interested in the subjects of these dreary documents; but it is useless as a means of exciting interest. Philanthropy must visit the office of the statistician if it would act with enlightened judgment, and not permit itself to become the victim of blind enthusiasm; but it was not born there, and the sympathy which is its parent can only be found among individual instances of distress. In the present case the speaker who recounts his own misfortunes is more than a casual witness, more than a mere specimen picked out at random from the heap of misery accumulated in this age of national ruin. He is not simply a man who has seen affliction, one among many similar sufferers; he is the man, the well-known victim, one preeminent in distress even in the midst of a nation full of misery. Yet he is not isolated on a solitary peak of agony. As the supreme sufferer, he is also the representative sufferer. He is not selfishly absorbed in the morbid occupation of brooding over his private grievances. He has gathered into himself the vast and terrible woes of his people. Thus he foreshadows our Lord in His passion. The idea of representative suffering which here emerges, and which becomes more definite in the picture of the servant of Jehovah in Isaiah 53, only finds its full realisation and perfection in Jesus Christ. It is repeated, however, with more or less distinctness wherever the Christ Spirit is revealed. The portrait of himself drawn by the author of this elegy is the more graphic by reason of the fact that the present is linked to the past. The striking commencement, "I am the man," etc., sets the speaker in imagination before our eyes. The addition "who has seen" (or rather, experienced) "affliction" connects him with his present sufferings. His own personality has slowly acquired a depth, a fulness, a ripeness that remove him far from the raw and superficial character he once was. We are silenced into awe before Job, Jeremiah, and Dante, because these men grew great by suffering. Is it not told even of our Lord Jesus Christ that He was made perfect by the things that He suffered? It is to be observed that here in his self-portraiture — just as elsewhere when describing the calamities that have befallen his people — the elegist attributes the whole series of disastrous events to God. So close is the thought of God to the mind of the writer, he does not even think it necessary to mention the Divine name. Like Brother Lawrence, this man has learnt to "practise the presence of God." In amplifying the accounts of his sufferings, after giving a general description of himself as the man who has experienced affliction, and adding a line in which this experience is connected with its cause — the rod of the wrath of Him who is unnamed, though ever in mind — the stricken patriot proceeds to illustrate and enforce his appeal to sympathy by means of a series of vivid metaphors. Let us first glance at the successive pictures in this rapidly moving panorama of similes, and then at the general import and drift o! the whole. The afflicted man was under the Divine guidance; he was not the victim of blind self-will; it was not when straying from the path of right that he fell into this pit of misery. The strange thing is that God led him straight into it — led him into darkness, not into light, as might have been expected with such a Guide. The first image, then, is that of a traveller misled. God, whom he has trusted implicitly, whom he has followed in the simplicity of ignorance, God proves to be his Opponent! He feels like one duped m the past, and at length undeceived as he makes the amazing discovery that his trusted Guide has been turning His hand against him repeatedly all the day of his woeful wanderings. For the moment he drops his metaphors, and reflects on the dreadful consequences of this fatal antagonism. His flesh and skin, his very body is wasted away; he is so crushed and shattered, it is as though God had broken his bones. Then the scene changes. The victim of Divine wrath is a captive languishing in a dungeon, which is as dark as the abodes of the dead, as the dwellings of those who have been long dead. The horror of this metaphor is intensified by the idea of the antiquity of Hades. There the prisoner is bound by a heavy chain (ver. 7). He cries for help; but he is shut down so low that his prayer cannot reach his captor (ver. 8). Again, we see him still hampered, though in altered circumstances. He appears as a traveller whose way is blocked, and that not by some accidental fall of rock, but of set purpose, for he finds the obstruction to be of carefully prepared masonry, "hewn stones" (ver. 9). Therefore he has to turn aside, so that his paths become crooked. Yet more terrible does the Divine enmity grow. When the pilgrim is thus forced to leave the highroad and make his way through the adjoining thickets, his Adversary avails Himself of the cover to assume a new form, that of a lion or a bear lying in ambush (ver. 10). The consequence is that the hapless man is torn as by the claws and fangs of beasts of prey (ver. 11). But now these wild regions, in which the wretched traveller is wandering at the peril of his life, suggest the idea of the chase. The image of the savage animals is defective in this respect, that man is their superior in intelligence, though not in strength. But in the present ease the victim is in every way inferior to his Pursuer. So God appears as the Huntsman, and the unhappy sufferer as the poor hunted game. The bow is bent, and the arrow directed straight for its mark (ver. 12). Nay, arrow after arrow has already been let fly, and the dreadful Huntsman, too skilful ever to miss His mark, has been shooting "the sons of His quiver" into the very vitals of the object of HIS pursuit (ver. 13). Here the poet breaks away from his imagery for a second time, to tell us that he has become an object of derision to all his people, and the theme of their mocking songs. This is a striking statement. It shows that the afflicted man is not simply one member of the smitten nation of Israel, sharing the common hardships of the race whose "badge is servitude." Returning to imagery, the poet pictures himself as a hardily used guest at a feast. He is fed, crammed, sated; but his food is bitterness, the cup has been forced to his lips, and he has been made drunk — not with pleasant wine, however, but with wormwood (ver. 15). Gravel has been mixed with his bread, or perhaps the thought is that when he has asked for bread stones have been given him. He has been compelled to masticate this unnatural diet, so that his teeth have been broken by it. Even that result he ascribes to God, saying, "He hath broken my teeth." It is difficult to think of the interference with personal liberty being carried farther than this. Here we reach the extremity of crushed misery. Reviewing the whole course of his wretched sufferings from the climax of misery, the man who has seen all this affliction declares that God has cast him off from peace (ver. 17). This most precious gift of heaven to suffering souls is denied to the man who here bewails his dismal fate. So, too, it was denied to Jesus in the garden, and again on the Cross. It is possible that the dark day will come when it will be denied to one or another of His people. In the elegy we are now studying, a burst of praise and glad confidence breaks out almost immediately after the lowest depths of misery have been sounded, showing that, as Keats declares in an exquisite line —There is a budding morrow in midnight.When we come to look at the series of pictures or affliction as a whole, we shall notice that one general idea runs through them. This is that the victim is hindered, hampered, restrained. He is led into darkness, besieged, imprisoned, chained, driven out of his way, seized in ambuscade, hunted, even forced to eat unwelcome food. This must all point to a specific character of personal experience. The troubles of the sufferer have mainly assumed the form of a thwarting of his efforts. If the opposition comes from God, may it not be that the severity of the trouble is just caused by the obstinacy of self-will? Certainly it does not appear to be so here; but then we must remember the writer is stating his own case. Two other characteristics of the whole passage may be mentioned. One is the persistence of the Divine antagonism. This is what makes the case look so hard. The pursuer seems to be ruthless; He will not let his victim alone for a moment. One device follows sharply on another. There is no escape. The second of these characteristics of the passage is a gradual aggravation in the severity of the trials. At first God is only represented as a guide who misleads then He appears as a besieging enemy; later like a destroyer. And correspondingly the troubles of the sufferer grow in severity, till at last he is flung into the ashes, crushed and helpless. All this is peculiarly painful reading to us with our Christian thoughts of God. It seems so utterly contrary to the character of our Father revealed in Jesus Christ. But then it was not a part of the Christian revelation, nor was it uttered by a man who had received the benefits of that highest teaching. That, however, is not a complete explanation. The narrator may be perfectly honest and truthful, but it is not in human nature to be impartial under such circumstances. Even when, as in the present instance, we have reason to believe that the speaker is under the influence of a Divine inspiration, we have no right to conclude that this gift would enable him to take an all-round vision of truth. Finally, it would be quite unfair to the elegist, and it would give us a totally false impression of his ideas, if we were to go no further than this. To understand him at all we must hear him out. The triplet of verses 19 to 21 serves as a transition to the picture of the other side of the Divine action. It begins with prayer. Thus a new note is struck. The sufferer knows that God is not at heart his enemy. So he ventures to beseech the very Being concerning whose treatment of him he has been complaining so bitterly, to remember his affliction and the misery it has brought on him, the wormwood, the gall of his hard lot. Hope now dawns on him out of his own recollections. God, too, has a memory, and will remember His suffering servant.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
I. CONSIDER THE GENERALITY OF AFFLICTION IN THE NATURE THEREOF. We met all generally in the first treason against ourselves in Adam's rebellion; and we met all, too, in the second treason — the treason against Jesus Christ. All our sins were upon His shoulders. All the evils and mischiefs of life come for the most part from this — that we think to enjoy those things which God has given us only to use.
II. CONSIDER AFFLICTION AS BEARING ON MAN. "I am the man that hath seen affliction." Man carries the spawn and seed and eggs of affliction in his own flesh, and his own thoughts make haste to hatch them and bring them up. We make all our worms snakes, all our snakes vipers, all our vipers dragons, by our murmuring.
III. CONSIDER AFFLICTION IN ITS SPECIAL APPLICATION TO ONLY MAN. That man the prophet Jeremiah, one of the best of men. As he was submitted to these extraordinary afflictions, we see that no man is so necessary to God as that God cannot come to His ends without that man. God can lack and leave out any man in His service. The best of our wages is adversity, because that gives us a true fast, and a right value of our prosperity.
IV. CONSIDER THIS WEIGHT AND VEHEMENCE OF AFFLICTIONS.
1. They are aggravated in that they are the Lord's. They are inevitable; they cannot be avoided; they are just, and cannot be pleaded against; nor can we ease ourselves with any imagination of our innocency, as though they were undeserved.
2. They are in HIS rod. Our murmuring makes a rod a staff, and a staff a sword, and that which God presented for physic, poison.
3. They are inflicted by the rod of His wrath. It is the highest extent of affliction that we take God to be angrier than He is.
V. CONSIDER THE COMFORTS WE HAVE IN AFFLICTIONS.
1. That we see our afflictions, we understand, consider them. We see that affliction comes from God, and that it is sent that we may see and taste the goodness of God.
2. That, though afflicted, we still retain our manhood. God may mend thee in marring thee; He may build thee up in dejecting thee; He may infuse another manhood into thee, so that thou canst say, "I am that Christian man; I am the man that cannot despair since Christ is the remedy."
(J. Donne, D. D.)
This chapter would seem to be the property of all sorrowful men. Job's lamentation over the day of his birth, and Jeremiah's lamentation over his personal sufferings, are the heritage of sorrow throughout all time. We never know what sorrow is until we feel its personality. Every man must have his own sorrow, must receive sorrow into his nature, so that the whole plan of life may, so to say, be saturated with tears, and be made to know how much weight God can lay upon human life, as if He were heaping it up in cruelty. What would be sorrow to one man would be no sorrow to another; hence the infinite variety of the Divine visitation of our life. God knows where the stroke would hurt us most, and there He delivers the blow, so that we may know ourselves to be but men. Every man having a sorrow of his own is thereby tempted to make a species of idol of it. Are there not persons., who make a luxury of sorrow? Are they not pleased to be the objects of social interest and sympathy, instead of being humbled by their losses, and taught to seek the true riches which are in heaven? Silent sorrow is the most poignant. If sorrow could sometimes shed tears, it would be relieved of its keenest agony. In many cases it is impossible for the sufferer to give expression to his distress, and therefore he is deprived of all the compensation and holy excitement to be derived from earnest and intelligent human sympathy. If a man has not seen affliction, what has he seen? The deepest students of human life assure us that unless joy has in it somewhat of a tinge of melancholy it is not pure gladness. We must look at both sides of the picture; we must allow the light and the shadow to interplay, and judge not by the one nor by the other, but by the result.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
My flesh and my skin hath He made old
1. God's punishments for sin often appear even in the body of man.(1) Because sin is committed in the body.(2) The body being the more sensitive part, it may affect us the more when we feel God's punishments in it.(3) That others may have the more clear example in beholding our bodies punished.
2. The wasting and withering of the body is to he acknowledged a punishment from God; and the flourishing of the same to be a special blessing.
3. There is no torment so grievous but the godly feel it when God's hand is upon them for their sins.
(1)His anger is most grievous and intolerable.
(2)He would have us thoroughly affected and humbled.
He hath hedged me about that I cannot get out
I. The "hedge" of MORAL SENSE. Conscience shuts the sinner in and prevents him from a full development of all the wicked passions and impulses of his nature.
II. The "hedge" OF SOCIAL LIFE.
1. Social relationship. How many sinners are held in by the influence of father, mother, brother, sister!
2. Social sentiment. In a morally enlightened age like ours, public sentiment is strong against wrong, and most men stand in awe of public sympathy.
III. The hedge of PERSONAL INCAPACITY.
1. The want of physical health. Many men would do far more mischief were they not so physically frail.
2. The want of intellectual ability. Many men would swindle on a large scale, propagate infidelity by their writings and their oratory, had they the ability.
3. The want of secular means. Were there not so much incapacity and poverty, the world would abound with Alexanders, Caesars, and Napoleons. Thank God for these hedges!
Also when I cry and shout, He shutteth out my prayer.
I. Although our prayers were never, in a single instance, directly answered in this world, YET IS PRAYER NOT IN VAIN, FOE TO PRAY IS A COMMANDED DUTY; and to the dependent creature it can never be unprofitable to obey a Divine command. Prayer, in its very nature, tends to mortify sin, to compose our minds into a frame of devout dependence on Almighty power, and to maintain in us sentiments of habitual trust, and rejoicing confidence in God.
II. Though prayer be not immediately answered, IT MAY NEVERTHELESS BE ANSWERED AT SOME AFTER PERIOD, even in the present world. The glory of God, the arrangements of Providence, and our own good, may render delay expedient; but delay is not denial
III. The thing we ask MAY BE INCONSISTENT WITH THE RECTITUDE OF THE DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY, and on that account must necessarily be denied.
IV. IT IS NOT ALWAYS IN WRATH, HOWEVER, THAT OUR PRAYERS FOR OTHERS ARE NOT HEARD, BUT OFTEN IN MERCY TO THEM. In our fond attachment to children or to friends, we would detain them from God and glory, to suffer amid the evils of time. In our ignorance we ask things detrimental for ourselves as well as for others. In labour, poverty, and trouble, we seek ease, and peace, and competency, and freedom from affliction; but it may enter into God's plan for preserving and perfecting us, to withhold from us health and a prosperous state. And, besides, the thing we desired may be refused, in order to give us something better than we sought. Oh, what need there is of the Spirit to help our infirmities! for we know neither what we should pray for, nor as we ought.
V. When we pray to God, it becomes us to REMEMBER THE INFINITE DISTANCE BETWIXT THE CREATURE AND THE GLORIOUS CREATOR; AND THOUGH EARNEST, LET US BEWARE OF BEING WILFUL AND PEREMPTORY.
(J. Sievewright, M. A.)
God wants more than prayer from His creatures, when that prayer is limited to mere asking, or to the expression of a beggar's desires. Prayer may be but a religious form of selfishness. Asking must, of course, enter into prayer: every day brings its need; but what is prayer in its widest and most enduring acceptation? It is communion with God. When we omit this element, we degrade ourselves and our prayers to the level of selfishness, and when our prayer is so degraded it is shut out from heaven. There is no mystery in this. Let us always understand that we are accepted, not because of our formality, but because of our sincerity and earnestness and importunity. Good men in all ages have had experience of this exclusion of prayer from heaven, and sometimes they have misjudged it (Job 30:20; Psalm 22:2). It is well to have such experiences, terrible as they are at the moment of their realisation; they chasten the spirit, they are full of theological teaching, they drive us back to first principles, they constrain us to ask the most serious and penetrating questions. God will not allow such experiences to be unduly prolonged, for he knows that the extension of such trial would end in despair or madness. The Lord can take us very near to the brink, but He will not let us fall over.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
1. Afflictions do make the dullest and most forward of God's children cry for help (Leviticus 26:41; Psalm evil 6, 19, 28).
(1)To try their patience, and exercise their faith.
(2)To move them to continue and to grow in fervency.
Or shutteth His ear to my prayer. This was very grievous to any good heart; more than it could be to fully, a stranger to the true God, who yet bewaileth the matter to his brother in these words: "I would pray to the gods for those things; but that, alas! they have given over to hear my prayers."
I was a derision to all my people.
1. The godly are usually more subject to reproaches than any other people.
(1)Because godliness seemeth mere foolishness to them that are naturally minded.
(2)They show, as they think, their own wisdom in disdainfully contemning the godly.
2. Then are the godly most derided by the wicked, when the hand of God is heaviest upon them to afflict them.
3. All sorts of people (though divers one from another) do deride the godly in their adversity.
4. Those that are nearest unto the godly, and not fearing God, will be crosses unto them in the time of trouble.
5. The wicked do greatly delight themselves in mocking the godly.
(1)Thereby they think to suppress and disgrace the truth forever.
(2)They think their own folly by that means will justify and advance.
6. The wicked are never satisfied, but still continue their hatred against the godly.
(1)Because they do greatly delight therein.
(2)They are afraid that they have never done enough to defame them.
He hath filled me with bitterness.
1. This sorrow did arise especially from the derision they were in by their adversaries, and yet it being ascribed unto the Lord, teaches us that there is no outward trouble more grievous to the godly than to be reproached by their adversaries in the time of their affliction.
2. There is no outward trouble more grievous to the godly than to be reproached by their adversaries in the time of their affliction.(1) Because we are much comforted in the hope that our sufferings shall advance the truth, which professed derision hindereth.(2) Such reproaches are accompanied with much blasphemy and wickedness.(3) Such dealing carrieth many weak professors from the affecting of our cause and sufferings.
3. The godly have often upon them all the greatest griefs that can be desired.
4. It is the Lord above that frameth our hearts to be affected with our afflictions, else they remain stony and astonished.
5. The godly may not be as Stoics, but must be most passionate in their afflictions.(1) Because their sins procure them their troubles, which ought to grieve them most of all, that God is offended with them.(2) God afflicteth us that we should repent, which we cannot do without great remorse.
6. The godly are often so laden with miseries, that they are exceedingly distracted therewith, both in body and mind.
My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord.
1. The godly are often brought to such extremity as they find no way out of it.
2. According to our strength, generally of knowledge, and particularly of feeling, so do we hope. Because hope is grounded upon faith, and faith upon knowledge (Hebrews 11:1).
3. The godly in their afflictions do recount what blessings they have lost.(1) Because of the love and delight that they had therein, which is most remembered when it is lost.(2) That their hearts may be made the more affected with grief for the loss thereof, and with desire to be restored thereunto again.
4. The godly do not always feel the comfort of God's favour in the like measure.(1) Because God will make it the more delightful unto them by intermission.(2) That they may see what they are, if God should leave them unto themselves.(3) That they may be the more careful to use all good means to keep it while they have it.
5. The godly are often so grievously afflicted that they grow to a great measure of desperation.
(1)Because of their great weakness when God, who is strong, trieth them.
(2)They judge according to their present feeling.
(3)Because of the consciousness of their deserts for sin.
(4)The abundance of natural infidelity which, always being in us, doth then appear to have the greatest power.
Remembering mine affliction and my misery
1. The deep weighing of God's punishments for sin felt in times past doth often most effectually move the heart unto great lamentation.
2. Though grief and sorrow be naturally the effects of affliction, yet in the godly it must be, because of the sin committed, and not for the penalty sustained.
3. In recounting any former thing, we must take only so much thereof as may serve our turn.
(1)That it may affect us the more.
(2)That our minds be not employed about any other matter.
My soul hath them still in remembrance
1. There is no meditation that is available to further in godliness, but that which is earnest and effectual.
(1)Else it moveth not the heart.
(2)Nothing else prevaileth with the affections.
2. The heart must be thoroughly touched before we can profit by any action of religion that we take in hand.
(1)Every point of religion concerneth principally the heart.
(2)God accepteth nothing but that which proceedeth from the heart.
3. When we are thoroughly affected with any part of God's Word, or His works, then do we much consider of it, and cannot easily forget it.
(1)Because it hath taken root in the heart, which is the fountain of all serious meditations.
(2)It setteth the affections on work, to digest it, unto the end whereunto the heart desireth to bring it.
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope
1. It is a special stay to the troubled heart, to consider how it hath striven to be at peace.
(1)It calleth to mind the strife betwixt the flesh and the spirit, which argueth that God hath a portion there.
(2)It showeth our desire of well-doing which must needs be the work of grace.
(3)It daunteth Satan our adversary, depriving him of hope to prevail.
(4)It administereth us hope, that we shall stand even in the strongest temptations.
2. The right and thorough meditation of God's punishments upon us for sin, and our striving to profit thereby, hath always hope of the issue.
(1)Because it taketh away all those refuges which naturally we flee unto, as friends, wit, riches, strength, etc., and forceth us to fly unto God.
(2)The Lord respecteth, and is ready to help the broken and contrite hearted (Isaiah 66:2).
3. All our care in peace and in affliction must be how to gather to ourselves a certain hope that God will be merciful unto us.
(1)Because we have more need of it then of all things else.
(2)Satan will labour more to deprive us of it than of anything else.
4. It is our duty to hope for God's favourable hand to rid us out of any trouble that we are in, though it continue and increase upon us, and no means of redress appear.
(1)Because God afflicteth us not to east us off, but to amend us and try us.
(2)He useth so to deliver His servants.
5. The consideration of God's heavy rod upon us in this life giveth us hope to find favour for the life to come.
(1)God chastiseth those whom He receiveth.
(2)It is a token of bastardy to be without correction.
(3)The whole life of the godly hath been continual affliction
The prophet begins to realise the results of discipline wisely and gratefully accepted. At first probably, like all other men, he was obstinate, resentful, and wholly indisposed to look for moral teaching in the midst of physical suffering. Better thoughts came to his aid. After a while he began to survey the situation, and, as he looked upon the plan of God, light came to him, and he saw that God's meaning even in man's humiliation was the elevation and perfecting of the man himself. Let us be rich in remembrance. Who cannot recount the sorrows which have been turned to his advantage! There was a day that was all cloud, a cloud that was all thunder, and we said we should die when that cloud discharged its tempest upon us. The cloud broke, the thunder rolled, and our life was refreshed by the very torrent that we looked forward to with dread. Do not let us forget those days of rain and storm and high wind, but call them to remembrance, and count them as amongst our jewels, for we then saw somewhat of the treasures of the Most High, and saw how even in what appeared to be extremity God could provide a way of deliverance. The prophet derives hope from a sanctified review of providence — "therefore have I hope." The sorrow had not been in vain; it had become a sweet gospel to the soul which it overshadowed, and this it will become to us if we remember that the Lord reigneth, and that discipline as well as benediction is in the hand of the living God.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Memory is very often the servant of despondency. Despairing minds call to remembrance every dark foreboding in the pact, and every gloomy feature in the present. Memory stands like a handmaiden, clothed in sackcloth, presenting to her master a cup of mingled gall and wormwood. Like Mercury, she hastes, with winged heel, to gather fresh thorns with which to fill the uneasy pillow, and to bind fresh rods with which to scourge the already bleeding heart. There is, however, no necessity for this. Wisdom will transform memory into an angel of comfort. That same recollection which may in its left hand bring so many dark and gloomy omens, may be trained to bear in its right hand a wealth of hopeful signs. She need not wear a crown of iron, she may encircle her brow with a fillet of gold, all spangled with stars. When Christian, according to Bunyan, was locked up in Doubting Castle, memory formed the crab tree cudgel with which the famous giant beat his captives so terribly. They remembered how they had left the right road, how they had been warned not to do so, and how in rebellion against their better selves, they wandered into By-path Meadow. They remembered all their past misdeeds, their sins, their evil thoughts and evil words, and all these were so many knots in the cudgel, causing sad bruises and wounds in their poor suffering persons. But one night, according to Bunyan, this same memory which had scourged them, helped to set them free; for she whispered something in Christian's ear, and he cried out as one half-amazed, "What a fool am I to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom, called Promise; that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle." So he put his hand into his bosom, and with much joy he plucked out the key, and thrust it into the lock; and though the lock of the great iron gate, as Bunyan says, "went damnable hard," yet the key did open it, and all the others too; and so, by this blessed act of memory, poor Christian and Hopeful were set free. We lay it down as a general principle, that if we would exercise our memories a little more, we might, in our deepest and darkest distress, strike a match which would instantaneously kindle the lamp of comfort. There is no need for God to create a new thing, in order to restore believers to joy; if they would prayerfully rake the ashes of the past, they would find light for the present; and if they would turn to the book of truth and the throne of grace, their candle would soon shine as aforetime. I shall apply that general principle to the cases of three persons.
I. First of all, to THE BELIEVER WHO IS IN DEEP TROUBLE. If you turn to the chapter which contains our text, you will observe a list of matters which recollection brought before the mind of the prophet Jeremiah, and which yielded him comfort.
1. First stands the fact that, however deep may be our present affliction, it is of the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed. This is a low beginning certainly. The comfort is not very great, but when a very weak man is at the bottom of the pyramid, if he is over to climb it, you must not set him a long step at first; give him but a small stone to step upon the first time, and when he gets more strength then he will be able to take a greater stride. Now, consider, thou son of sorrow, where thou mightest have been. Have you seen those foul dungeons of Venice, which are below the watermark of the canal, where, after winding through narrow, dark, stifling passages, you may creep into little cells in which a man can scarcely stand upright, where no ray of sunlight has ever entered since the foundations of the palace were laid — cold, foul, and black with damp and mildew, the fit nursery of fever, and abode of death? And yet those places it were luxury to inhabit compared with the everlasting burnings of hell. When you are kindling your household fire, before which you hope to sit down with comfort, you do not first expect to kindle the lumps of coal, but you set some lighter fuel in a blaze, and soon the more solid material yields a genial glow; so this thought, which may seem so light to you, may be as the kindling of a heavenly fire of comfort for you who now are shivering in your grief.
2. Something better awaits us, for Jeremiah reminds us that there are some mercies, at any rate, which are still continued. "His compassions fail not, they are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness." Evil your plight may be, but there are others in a still worse condition. You can always, if you open your eyes and choose to do so, see at least this cause for thankfulness that you are not yet plunged into the lowest depth of misery. This again is not a very high step, but still it is a little in advance of the other, and the weakest may readily reach it.
3. The chapter offers us a third source of consolation. "The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him." You have lost much, Christian, but you have not lost your portion. Your God is your. all; therefore, if you have lost all but God, still you have your all left, since God is all.
4. The prophet then reminds us of another channel of comfort, namely, that God is evermore good to all who seek Him. "The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him." Let Him smite never so hard, yet if we can maintain the heavenly posture of prayer, we may rest assured that He will turn from blows to kisses yet. Bunyan tells us that when the City of Mansoul was besieged it was the depth of winter and the roads were very bad, but even then prayer could travel them; and I will venture to affirm that if all earthly roads were so bad that they could not be travelled, and if Mansoul were so surrounded that there was not a gap left through which we could break our way to get to the king, yet the road upwards would always open. No enemy can barricade that; no blockading ships can sail between our souls and the haven of the mercy seat.
5. We are getting into deeper water of joy, let us take another step, and this time we shall win greater consolation still, from the fact that it is good to be afflicted. "It is good that a man should hear the yoke in his youth." Why should I dread to descend the shaft of affliction if it leads me to the gold mine of spiritual experience? Why should I cry out if the sun of my prosperity goes down, if in the darkness of my adversity I shall be the better able to count the starry promises with which my faithful God has been pleased to gem the sky?
6. One step more, and surely we shall then have good ground to rejoice. The chapter reminds us that these troubles do not last forever. When they have produced their proper result they will be removed, for "the Lord will not cast off forever." Who told thee that the night would never end in day? Who told thee that the sea would ebb out till there should be nothing left but a vast track of mud and sand? Who told thee that the winter would proceed from frost to frost, from snow, and ice, and hail, to deeper snow, and yet more heavy tempest? Who told thee this, I say? Knowest thou not that day follows night, that flood comes after ebb, that spring and summer succeed to winter? hope thou then! Hope thou ever! for God fails thee not.
II. We will speak to the DOUBTING CHRISTIAN WHO HAS LOST HIS EVIDENCES OF SALVATION.
1. Let me bid you call to remembrance in the first place matters of the past. Do you remember the place, the spot of ground where Jesus first met with you? Perhaps you do not. Well, do you remember happy seasons when He has brought you to the banqueting house? Cannot you remember gracious deliverances?
2. Possibly, however, that may not be the means of comfort to some of you. Recall, I pray you, the fact that others have found the Lord true to them. They cried to God, and He delivered them.
3. Remember, again, and perhaps this may be consolatory to you, that though you think you are not a child of God at all now, yet if you look within you will see some faint traces of the Holy Spirit's hand. The complete picture of Christ is not there, but cannot you see the crayon sketch — the outline — the charcoal marks? "What," say you, "do you mean?" Do not you want to be a Christian? Have you not desires alter God? Well, now, where God the Holy Ghost has done as much as that, he will do more.
4. But I would remind you that there is a promise in this Book that exactly describes and suits your case. A young man had been left by his father heir of all his property, but an adversary disputed his right. The case was to come on in the court, and this young man, while he felt sure that he had a legal right to the whole, could not prove it. His legal adviser told him that there was more evidence wanted than he could bring. How to get this evidence he did not know. He went to an old chest where his father had been wont to keep his papers, turned all out, and as he turned the writings over, and over, and over, mere was an old parchment. He undid the red tape with great anxiety, and there it was — the very thing he wanted — his father's will — in which the estate was spoken of as being left entirely to himself. He went into court boldly enough with that. Now, when we get into doubts, it is a good thing to turn to this old Book, and read until at last we can say, "That is it — that promise was made for me."
5. If these recollections should not suttee, I have one more. You look at me, and you open your ears to find what new thing I am going to tell you. No, I am going to tell you nothing new, but yet it is the best thing that was ever said out of heaven, "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." You have heard that a thousand times — and it is the best music you have ever heard. If I am not a saint, I am a sinner; and if I may not go to the throne of grace as a child, I will go as a sinner. In a lamentable accident which occurred in the north, in one of the coal pits, when a considerable number of the miners were down below, the top of the pit fell in, and the shaft was completely blocked up. Those who were down below, sat together in the dark, and sang and prayed. They gathered to a spot where the last remains of air below could be breathed. There they sat and sang after the lights had gone out, because the air would not support the flame. They were in total darkness, but one of them said he had heard that there was a connection between that pit and an old pit that had been worked years ago. He said it was a low passage, through which a man might get by crawling all the way, lying flat upon the ground — he would go and see: the passage was very long, but they crept through it, and at last they came out to light at the bottom of the other pit, and their lives were saved. If my present way to Christ as a saint gets blocked up, if I cannot go straight up the shaft and see the Light of my Father up yonder, there is an old working, the old-fashioned way by which sinners go, by which poor thieves go, by which harlots go — come, I will crawl along lowly and humbly, flat upon the ground — I will crawl along till I see my Father, and cry, "Father, I am not worthy to be called Thy son; make we as one of Thy hired servants, so long as I may but dwell in Thy house."
III. A few words with SEEKERS.
1. Some of you are troubled about the doctrine of election. You have got an idea that some persons will be sent to hell, merely and only because it is the will of God that they should be sent there. Throw the idea overboard, because it is a very wicked one, and is not to be found in Scripture. Remember again, that whatever the doctrine of election may be or may not be, there is a free invitation in the Gospel given to needy sinners, "Whosoever will let him take of the water of life freely." Now you may say, "I cannot reconcile the two." There are a great many other things that you cannot do. Leave your difficulties till you have trusted Christ, and then you will be in a capacity to understand them better than you do now. Trust Christ even if thou should perish, and thou shalt never perish if thou trustest in Him.
2. Well, if that difficulty were removed, I can suppose another saying, "Ah! but mine's a case of great sin." Recall this to mind and you will have hope, namely that "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom," Paul says, "I am the chief." The stupendous bridge which Christ has flung across the wrath of God will bear the weight of your sin, for it has borne ten thousand across before, and will bear millions of sinners yet to the shore of their eternal rest. Call that to remembrance, and you may have hope.
3. "Yes," says one, "but I believe I have committed the unpardonable sin." My dear brother, I believe you have not, but I want you to call one thing to remembrance, and that is that the unpardonable sin is a sin which is unto death. Now a sin which is unto death means a sin which brings death on the conscience. The man who commits it never has any conscience afterwards; he is dead there. Now, you have some feeling; you have enough life to wish to be saved from sin; you have enough life to long to be washed in the precious blood of Jesus. You have not committed the unpardonable sin, therefore have hope.
4. "Oh, but," you say, "I have a general unfitness and incapacity for being saved." Then call this to remembrance, that Jesus Christ has a general fitness and a general capacity for saving sinners. I do not know what you want, but I do know Christ has it.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
This "therefore" ought to be to us like a great gate of entrance into a king's house. If the logic fails here, it falls everywhere. We must keep our eye upon the therefores of Divine and human reasoning and providence. We must note the time of things; we must not set up the standard at the wrong place; nor must we judge the evening by the morning nor the morning by the evening. There is a manhood of infancy, and a manhood of youth, and a manhood of old age: each period has its own manhood, its own Bible, its own vision, its own song or groan. This third chapter of Lamentations opens well "I am the man that hath seen affliction." That is the man we want to hear talk; we do not want any foamy babble; we cannot now do with any piled or inflammatory rhetoric. There comes a time in life when affliction must speak to us. "He hath filled me with bitterness, He hath made me drunken with wormwood." And yet I am told I should be cheerful, and pray, and look up, and be happy, and be expectant; how can I pray when the Lord hath broken my teeth with gravel stones and covered me with ashes? Can the grave praise His majesty? And so long has He removed my peace and my joy that I have forgotten prosperity, My soul has been removed from peace; strength and hope I have none. But, remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall, my soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It Is as if insanity suddenly emerged into sobriety, self-control, and a true spiritual realisation of the meaning and purpose of things. The very memory of the gall and the wormwood makes me hope; I have had so much of them that there cannot be any more to have; it has been so terrible that now surely it is going to be summer time and joy. We need those great prophetic voices. Sometimes we need the very biggest soul that ever lived, and we seem to need him every whir — all his brains, all his heart, all his music. He is not too much for us because our grief is so deep and so sensitive, and the whole outlook is a horizon of blackness, and darkness has no history and no measuring points. This is where the religious element enters into life with great copiousness, and where it should be received with unutterable welcomes. I wonder if there are any analogies that may help us in the explanation of the meaning and the application of the purpose of this mysterious "therefore." Seed grows. If it does grow, what then! Everything. As what? As the resurrection; that is answer enough to your mean inquiry. If a little seed can grow, why may not the planted bulb of the body grow? Thou sowest not the body that shall be, and yet a body in some real, strong, clear, and satisfactory sense. But some man will say, How? Oh, universe, halt! call thy suns and moons to stand still, to answer this fool's How? When we come to question asking, we had better fall to praying. Do not mistake impertinence for inquiry; and do not suppose that the whole universe, with all its constellations, will say to itself, Hush! here is some poor dark stumbling soul that wants to understand how. There will be no answer given to him until time, with all its evolution and declaration of answers to enigmas and mysteries, shall work out its purpose, and the man shall be answered by a great vision. "Therefore." I have never seen the stars except in the darkness, therefore the night may have something to show me as well as the day — the night of loneliness and desolation and bitter sorrow. Intellect grows, therefore character may grow. The little may become great, the weak may become strong, that which is far off may be brought nigh, and that which is barren may be fruitful. We know that intellect grows; we have seen it in the little child, we have almost seen the new idea enter the opening brain; it is as if we saw a beautiful little bird fly into a bush in the summer time and reappear, so to say, though not literally, not as a bird, but as a song. Who can tell when the ideas came to fruition in the human brain? Who can fix the date when the little boy became almost a philosopher? Who can say at what hour the meaning of certain words was revealed to any one of us? If this process of mental expansion can go forward with such happy results, so the human soul, when it is known under the name of character, nobleness, self-control, love of God, may grow, and no man can say just when or just where.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed.
I. MAN'S WHOLE LIFE, BODILY, MENTAL, AND SPIRITUAL, IS SUSTAINED BY THE MERCY OF THE LORD.
1. It is of the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed bodily. Consider the waste constantly going on, etc. Set against this the powers of digestion and assimilation, and the constant supply of food.
2. It is of the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed intellectually. Consider the wear and tear of the brain, the continual evolution of thought, the daily anxiety of mind; and against this set the all-renewing energy of the Holy Ghost, who gives strength day by day, repairing the waste of faculty and renewing the resources of power.
3. It is of the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed morally. Consider our sins, our daily provocations, our constant obduracy of heart. Why aces lie withhold the stroke of righteous vengeance? The answer is, in His mercy! Very beautiful is the expression, "They are new every morning" — new just as we want them — standing at the very threshold of the day to help us through all work and trial, all darkness and light.
II. To know what the mercy is, consider WHAT IS MEANT BY CONSUMPTION. Figure a tree that is diseased at the roots; a man who is daffy pining away; a soul wasting! From such consumption there is no protection but in God's mercy. Show the vanity of all human schemes. Call the attention of Christians to the fact that every day is provided for; if the trial comes daily, so does the mercy. Human preservation is not merely a question of science or prudence; underlying all are the "compassions" which are "new every morning."
(J. Parker," D. D.)
I. The application of this to the case of the Jews is very obvious, considering their multiplied provocations, and God's multiplied mercies toward them; but we may well consider it in its application to ourselves, for AS SINNERS WE HAVE ALL DESERVED TO BE CONSUMED. "The wages of sin is death." "Sin is the transgression of the law." Sin therefore is man practically separating himself from God, refusing to love Him, to serve Him, preferring to go with the great enemy of God and godliness, and to be led by him according to his evil will, and to do the vile work which he commands. Thus sin is no trifle. We have all sinned in our different ways. In how many ways, how many times we have abused the faculties which God hath given us, whether of body, soul, or spirit! We have perverted the energies which should have been employed in serving Him, into so many weapons of rebellion wherewith we dared to fight against God. And what have we deserved? Surely to be consumed, to be cut off in our sins, to be separated from God forever. Then how is it that we are here spared as we are? It is not of our merits, but of the Lord's mercies. This explains His wonderful forbearance towards sinners while living in sin, forming habits of Sinning, and acting out those habits in innumerable acts, and deeds, and thoughts of a sinful character, doing, in fact, nothing to please God.
II. HIS MERCIES ARE TO BE TRACED UP TO HIS COMPASSIONS; even "because His compassions fail not." His mercies are the streams of which His compassions are the source. His compassions are in the essential goodness of our God, prompting Him to manifest His mercies in a way consistent with His glorious perfections. Of His compassion to guilty sinners He sent His Son to take man's nature, to become man's substitute, to be his surety, to suffer the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. Thus His compassions prompting, His mercies can flow freely through the mediation of Christ. God can be just, and yet justify the ungodly, believing in Jesus for His sake. Hence, if partakers of His mercies in Christ Jesus, we are quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; we are justified by faith, and so have peace with God, who were guilty before God, under condemnation, deserving hell. We, who were by nature the children of wrath, even as others, are made the children of God by adoption and grace. We are being trained and educated by the Holy Spirit for dwelling with God in heaven; our trials and sufferings are all being sanctified for our souls' profit. Thus how great the compassions of our God! what a never-failing source of mercies ever flowing and overflowing!
III. THESE MERCIES, SO TRACED UP TO THE COMPASSIONS OF OUR GOD, ARE ALL SECURED BY HIS FAITHFULNESS. Every morning brings a new or a renewed need to every man of the mercies and compassions of God. The coming day will bring its duties and its trials, its difficulties, its dangers, its temptations, it may be its sufferings. For all these we need new or renewed grace. The grace that was sufficient yesterday will not serve for today. We need like grace, or more grace today, and this our God in covenant is ready to supply. "As thy day is, so shall thy strength be." It is morning. "Son, go work today in My vineyard," the Lord of the vineyard is saying; then, Lord, I must look to Thee to give working strength, otherwise I faint and fail. But "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might, He increaseth strength." Thus out of weakness we are made strong. Every working Christian, as he goeth forth, to his work and to his labour until the evening, can say or sing of God's mercies and compassions. "They are new every morning." But again, it is morning; a voice from heaven is saying, "My child, today go not out to work; stay at home and suffer according to the will of God; commune with thine own heart upon thy bed, and be still, and know that I am God." Here, then, is harder duty than outdoor work. But here again the mercies and compassions of our God are found "new every morning"; the throne of grace is nearer to us than before; these trials draw the soul nearer to God, and into closer communion with Him; there is more leisure now for retirement and devotion, or if pain and weakness interrupt, there is by the medium of pain a reminder of Christ's own sufferings and their saving object. He can make His strength manifestly perfect in this felt weakness. Thus the day of suffering, though it may seem long and tedious, may ye short and sweet in the experience of His mercies.
(John Hambleton, M. A.)
Spiritual experience must be looked at as a whole. It is not right to fix attention either upon this side or upon that, to the exclusion and the forgetfulness of the other. One side is very dark and full of sadness, sharply inclined towards despair; the other is brighter than the summer morning, tuneful, sunned with all the lustre of saintly hope: so we must take the night with the morning, if we would have the complete day. Where we find the highest mountains we find the deepest valleys. In proportion to the range and spirituality of the world in which a man lives will be the pensiveness and gloom of his occasional hours. If the poet droops when his harp does not respond to his touch, how must the soul faint when God hides Himself? If the timid child moans because his chamber light has gone out, with what bitterness of complaint should we speak if the sun were extinguished? If men say they are never depressed, that they are always in high spirits, it is probably because they never were really in high spirits at all — not knowing the difference between the soul's rapture, mental and spiritual ecstasy, and merely animal excitement. A great deal depends upon the clearness of the atmosphere as to whether we appreciate this object or that in natural scenery. So it is with souls. A great many of us seem to have such long winters, short days, with poor, artificial light, and such murky, gloomy, dispiriting weather, with cruel fogs. Others of us have more sunshine, more summer weather in the soul. But what we want to understand is this — that religion, right relations with God, a true standing before the Almighty, does not depend upon this feeling or upon that; it is not a question of climate, atmosphere, air, spirits: it is a question of fact. The question is not, How do you feel today? but, Where are you standing? are you on the rock? The rock will not change; the climate will. Be right in your foundation, and the season of rejoicing will come round again. Taking Jeremiah's experiences as a whole, what do we find that sanctified sorrow had wrought in him?
1. In the first place, it gave him a true view of Divine government. Jeremiah was brought to understand two things about the government of God. He was brought to understand that God's government is tender. What words do you suppose Jeremiah connected with the government of God? Why these two beautiful words, each a piece of music, "Mercies," "Compassions." A man can only get into that view of government by living the deepest possible life. A God all strength would be a monster. A God throned on ivory, ruling the universe with a sceptre of mere power, could never establish Himself in the confidence and love and trust of His creatures. Man cannot be ruled and governed by mere power, fear, overwhelming, dominating, crushing strength and force. So we find David saying, "Power belongeth unto God: unto Thee also, O Lord, belongeth mercy." Power in the hands of mercy, Omnipotence impregnated by all the tenderness of pity. That is the true exposition of Divine nature which opens up the fatherliness, motherliness, mercifulness, and compassion of God's great heart.
2. This discipline wrought in Jeremiah the conviction that God's government was minute. Speaking of God's mercies, he says, "They are new every morning." Morning mercies — daffy bread. That is it. God shutting us up within a day and training us a moment at a time. The Psalmist said, "Thy mercies have been ever of old." And another singer said, "Thy mercies are new every morning." Is there no contradiction there? Ever of old — every morning! Old as duration, new as morning; old as human existence, new as the coming summer. These are all inconsistencies that mark our life. Jeremiah having given this view of the Divine government, tells us two things about discipline. He tells us, in the first place, the goodness of waiting: it is good for a man to wait. Observe you: wait for God. I am not called upon to wait because somebody has put a great waggon across the road; I might get that out of the way. But if God had set an angel there, I must make distinctions. There is a waiting that is indolence; there is a waiting that is sheer faithlessness; there is a waiting that comes of weakness. This is the true waiting, — wanting to get on, resolute about progress, and yet having a notion that God is just before us teaching patience. Jeremiah tells us this second thing about the Divine government. It is good for a man to bear the yoke. Commend me to the man who has been through deep waters, through very dark places, through treacherous, serpent-haunted roads, and who has yet come out with a cheerful heart, mellow, chastened, subdued, and who speaks tenderly of the mercy of God through it all. And that man I may trust with my heart's life. A right acceptance of God's schooling, God's rod, God's judgment, and God's mercy, mingled together, will cause us to become learned in Divine wisdom, tender in Divine feeling, gentle and charitable in all social judgment; good men whilst we are here, and always waiting, even in the midst of our most diligent service, to be called up into the more fully revealed presence and the still more cloudless light.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
I. A STATE OF DESERVED PUNISHMENT. It is not enough to compare England with other nations — in the glory of her institutions, in the valour of her arms, in the extent and enterprise of her commerce, in the growth of her civilisation, in the freedom of her laws, in the grandeur of her discoveries, and in the nobility and genuine heartedness of her people — and then to boast of her superiority. No. We must look upon our nation in the light of her moral and spiritual character as she stands related to the God of the universe. And what is the nature and character of the spectacle? Have we not reason for humiliation? But regard this part of our subject in an individual point of view. Let us bring the matter home to our own hearts. And do we not find in them reason upon reason why the vengeance of Almighty God should fall upon us? Well then may we exclaim, "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed."
II. A REASON FOR THE DIVINE CONDUCT. "Because His compassions fail not." Thus our hopes are centred in the unchangeableness of God's mercy and love. Other things do change. The sunshine gives place to the blackness of the tempest. The life and bloom of spring and summer pass away into the fading beauties of autumn and the cold sterility of winter. The health of childhood, of youth and manhood, soon yields to the power of sickness, and perishes beneath the blight of death. Prosperity is oftentimes overcast with the gloomy shadows of adversity. The smiles of peace are changed into the frowns of war. Promises and compacts are broken — superseded by the avarice of selfishness, by the grasping aims of ambition, by the caprice of pride, and by the tyranny of despotism. But the "compassions" of God "fail not." They are ever new, and ever abiding.
III. DUTIES SUGGESTED BY THE TEXT.
1. What more consistent and natural than thankfulness and gratitude?
2. Trust in God, and not in man, is another duty founded upon the constancy and immutability of God's compassion. There is something sublime, as well as consolatory, in trust in God: sublime, as respects its object, so infinitely superior to any other in the glory and majesty of its nature, its eternity and perfectibility; consolatory, inasmuch as the human mind is cheered and strengthened with the conviction, founded upon the most certain evidence, that "they who trust in the Lord shall never be confounded." And herein, too, lies the special privilege of the Christian.
3. Another duty presented to us by the text is repentance. And what so calculated to effect this glorious result as the unfailing compassions of the Almighty?
(W. D. Horwood.)
I. THE PRESERVATION. It is ascribed in this passage to three attributes.
1. Mercy. Many "mercies" here referred to, for there are many manifestations of the same mercy — e.g., there is atoning mercy, forgiving mercy, sanctifying mercy, and preserving mercy — all of which are combined in the salvation of the believer.
2. Compassion. This differs from mercy, because it does not, like mercy, necessarily imply sin.(1) It fails not. In it there is neither fickleness nor exhaustion (Hebrews 13:8).(2) It is new every morning. There are fresh mercies every day — daily bread, daily power for work, daily comforts, daily privileges of family prayer, etc.
3. Faithfulness. Faithfulness implies unchanging love. There may be faithfulness to a covenant, faithfulness to a promise, and faithfulness to a person. The latter seen in the faithfulness of a mother or nurse.
II. THE EFFECT OF THIS PRESERVATION ON THE MIND OF THE PROPHET. Seen in his declaration for the present, and determination for the future.
(E. Hoare, M. A.)
As John Bunyan says, all the flowers in God's garden are double; there is no single mercy; nay, they are not only double flowers, but they are manifold flowers. There are many flowers upon one stalk, and many flowers in one flower. You shall think you have but one mercy, but you shall find it to be a whole flock of mercies. Our beloved is unto us a bundle of myrrh, a cluster of camphire. When you lay hold upon one golden link of the chain of grace, you pull, pull, pull, but lo! as long as your hand can draw there are fresh "linked sweetnesses" of love still to come. Manifold mercies! Like the drops of a lustre, which reflect a rainbow of colours when the sun is glittering upon them, and each one, when turned in different ways, from its prismatic form, shows all the varieties of colours, so the mercy of God is one and yet many, the same, yet ever changing, a combination of all the beauties of love blended harmoniously together.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I was going home one winter's evening with my little maiden at my side, when she looked up into the sky and said, "Father, I am going to count the stars." "Very well," I said, "do." And soon I heard her whispering to herself, "Two hundred and twenty-one, two hundred and twenty-two, two hundred and twenty-three," and then she stepped and sighed. "Oh dear! I had no idea" they were so many! Like that little maiden. I have often tried to count my mercies, but right soon have I had to cry, I had no idea they were so many!"
(Mark Guy Pearse.)
His compassions fail not.
Although the elegist has prepared us for brighter scenes by the more hopeful tone of an intermediate triplet, the transition from the gloom and bitterness of the first part of the poem to the glowing rapture of the second is among the most startling effects in literature. How could a man entertain two such conflicting currents of thought in closest juxtaposition? In their very form and structure these touching elegies reflect the mental calibre of their author. A wooden soul could never have invented their movements. They reveal a most sensitive spirit, a spirit that resembles a finely strung instrument of music, quivering in response to impulses from all directions. The author composes the first part in an exceptionally gloomy mood, and leaves the poem unfinished, perhaps for some time. When he returns to it on a subsequent occasion he is in a totally different frame of mind, and this is reflected in the next stage of his work. Still the point of importance is the possibility of the very diverse views here recorded. Nor is this wholly a matter of temperament. Is it not more or less the case with all of us, that since absorption with one class of ideas entirely excludes their opposites, when the latter are allowed to enter the mind they will rush in with the force of a pent-up flood? Then we are astonished that we could ever have forgotten them. Still it may seem to us a strange thing that this most perfect expression of a joyous assurance of the mercy and compassion of God should be found in the Book of Lamentations of all places. It may well give heart to those who have not sounded the depth of sorrow, as the author of these sad poems had done, to learn that even he had been able to recognise the merciful kindness of God in the largest possible measure. A little reflection, however, should teach us that it is not so unnatural a thing for this gem of grateful appreciation to appear where it is. We do not find, as a rule, that the most prosperous people are the foremost to recognise the love of God. The reverse is very frequently the case. The softening influence of sorrow seems to have a more direct effect upon our sense of Divine goodness. Perhaps, too, it is some compensation for melancholy, that persons who are afflicted with it are most responsive to sympathy. The morbid, despondent poet Cowper has written most exquisitely about the love of God. Watts is enthusiastic in his praise of the Divine grace; but a deeper note is sounded in the Olney hymns, as, for example, in that beginning with the line —Hark, my soul, it is the Lord.In his new consciousness of the love of God, the elegist is first struck by its amazing persistence. Probably we should render the twenty-second verse thus —The Lord's mercies, verily they cease not, etc.There are two masons for this emendation. First, the momentary transition to the plural "we" is harsh and improbable. Second — and this is the principal consideration — the balance of the phrases, which is so carefully observed throughout this elegy, is upset by the common rendering, but restored by the emendation. The topic of the triplet in which the disputed passage occurs is the amazing persistence of God's goodness to His suffering children. The proposed alteration is in harmony with this. The thought here presented to us rests on the truth of the eternity and essential changelessness of God. We cannot think of Him as either fickle or failing; to do so would be to cease to think of Him as God. If He is merciful at all He cannot be merciful only spasmodically, erratically, or temporarily. The elegist declares that the reason why God's mercies are not consumed is that His compassions do not fail. Thus he goes behind the kind actions of God to their originating motives. To a man in the condition of the writer of this poem of personal confidences the Divine sympathy is the one fact in the universe of supreme importance. So will it be to every sufferer who can assure himself of the truth of it. But is this only a consolation for the sorrowing? The pathos, the very tragedy of human life on earth, should make the sympathy of God the most precious fact of existence to all mankind. Portia rightly reminds Shylock that "we all do look for mercy"; but if so, the spring of mercy, the Divine compassion, must be the one source of true hope for every soul of man. Further, the elegist declares that the special form taken by these unceasing mercies of God is daily renewal The love of God is constant — one changeless Divine attribute; but the manifestations of that love are necessarily successive and various, according to the successive and various needs of His children. The living God is an active God, who works in the present as effectually as He worked in the past. There is another side to this truth. It is not sufficient to have received the grace of God once for all. If "He giveth more grace," it is because we need more grace. This is a stream that must be ever flowing into the soul, not the storage of a tank filled once for all and left to serve for a lifetime. Therefore the channel must be kept constantly clear, or the grace will fall to reach us, although in itself it never runs dry. There is something cheering in the poet's idea of the morning as the time when these mercies of God are renewed. God's mercies do not fail, are not interrupted. The emphasis is on the thought that no day is without God's new mercies, not even the day of darkest trouble; and further, there is the suggestion that God is never dilatory in coming to our aid. He does not keep us waiting and wearying while He tarries. He is prompt and early with His grace. The idea may be compared with that of the promise to those who seek God "early," literally, "in the morning" (Proverbs 8:17). Or we may think of the night as the time of repose, when we are oblivious of God's goodness, although even through the hours of darkness He who neither slumbers nor sleeps is constantly watching over His unconscious children. Then in the morning there dawns on us a fresh perception of His goodness. To the notion of the morning renewal of the mercies of God the poet appends a recognition of His great faithfulness. This is an additional thought. Faithfulness is more than compassion. There is a strength and a stability about the idea that goes further to insure confidence. The conclusion drawn from these considerations is given in an echo from the Psalms —The Lord is my portion.The words are old and well worn; but they obtain a new meaning when adopted as the expression of a new experience. The lips have often chanted them in the worship of the sanctuary. Now they are the voice of the soul, of the very life.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
I. GOD HAS THE ORDERING OF BOTH WHAT HIS PEOPLE FEEL AND WHAT THEY ARE KEPT FROM FEELING; that they are cast down, and yet not destroyed; afflicted, and yet not consumed. All their times are in His hand (Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6). He orders what affliction shall befall any one of His children, and in what manner; to what degree it shall prevail, how long continue, and what shall be the issue (1 Samuel 2:6; Job 38:11). This is agreeable to His nature, and His relation to them; to His love and promise to His people, and to the design He is carrying on by all His dealings with them, which is to fit them for the kingdom He hath prepared for them (Psalm 103:8, 9, 14; Isaiah 57:16). In judgment He remembers mercy, correcting in measure, and staying the rough wind in the day of His east wind (Isaiah 27:8).
II. THE PEOPLE OF GOD UNDER THEIR HEAVIEST SUFFERINGS, ARE TO LOOK TO THE FAR GREATER MISERY WHICH GOD MAY RIGHTEOUSLY INFLICT UPON THEM FOR THEIR SINS. Think of the misery due to sin, as it includes —
1. The loss or being deprived of the image and Spirit of God, being abandoned by Him, and left to live without Him in the world.
2. It is part of the misery due to sin, to be cast out of the favour of God, and abhorred by Him.
3. A being stript of all external comforts, of whatever might make life easy or desirable; a deprivation of all such things, is our due upon the account of sin.
4. Having the body filled with pain and torment, making its beauty to consume away as a moth-eaten garment, is part of the punishment due to sin.
5. Having the soul filled with horror, belongs to the punishment of sin; which some have felt to that degree, as to extort from them that doleful cry (Psalm 88:15).
6. Being cut off by death, and cast into hell, is the destruction due to sin.
III. Such is the evil of sin, and so much of it is found even in saints themselves, that SHOULD GOD BE STRICT TO MARK INIQUITY, THEY WOULD HAVE NOTHING TO EXPECT BUT TO BE CONSUMED.
1. Such is the evil of sin, that it deserves this. It is the abominable thing that God hates; and well it may, as by it His majesty and justice are affronted, His power and wisdom disowned, His goodness despised; His holiness reproached, His truth contradicted, His promises and threatenings slighted, as if His favours were not valuable, nor His wrath to be feared.
2. So much of this is found in saints themselves, as would expose them to destruction, should God deal with them according to it.
IV. It is TO THE DIVINE MERCY AND COMPASSIONS THAT EVEN THE PEOPLE OF GOD OWE THEIR PRESERVATION FROM BEING CONSUMED.
1. The evidence of this is obvious.(1) As it is not owing to any worth nor power of their own, not to anything they could do for God, or do against Him.(2) Nor is their preservation owing to this, that God is unacquainted with the sins of His people, or makes light of them.(3) Nor is their preservation owing to God's want of power to punish to the height of the desert of sin.(4) He has given dreadful proofs of His power on His implacable enemies; and that His people are otherwise treated, is because His mercies and compassions fail not. It was mercy that spared them in their unregenerate state, though they were by nature children of wrath, even as others (Ephesians 2:3). It was mercy in God that provided us an all-sufficient Saviour, even His own Son (John 3:16). It was mercy that from eternity designed their recovery whom God is pleased to set apart for Himself; and according to it, in the appointed season, He called them into the kingdom of His dear Son.
2. What kind of mercy it is.(1) It is most free and sovereign, This is His own declaration (Exodus 33:19; Romans 9:15).(2) It is rich and full; large and abundant in the fountain, and extending to all His people.(3) It is most wonderful mercy; considering by whom it is exercised, towards whom, against what provocations, in what manner, and to what ends. Considering by whom exercised. How astonishing is it that the High and Holy One, who humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven, will attend to the preservation of any in this lower world! Considering to whom it is exercised, to men, to sinners; recovered indeed, but very imperfect; such whom He fetched out of nothing by His power, and from a state of guilt by His grace. Considering against what provocations, even from those towards whom it is exercised. How often do we offend our God, while preserved by Him? How many, how great are our sins? How grievous to Him, and how plain before Him? How worthy of destruction are we, and yet He spares us! Considering in what manner it is exercised by God, even with delight. Judgment is His strange work. Considering to what end it is exercised, namely, in order to their salvation, for them or in them, preparatory to their being with Him in heaven, the blissful state to which by mercy they are designed.(4) It is most seasonable mercy. How often has my life been in danger, and yet God has appeared for me, when unable to help myself, and the help of fellow creatures was tried in vain, in how remarkable a juncture did He take my case into His own hands; proving thereby that to Him alone belong the issues from death?(5) The mercy of God, to which saints owe their preservation, is distinguishing, such as He did not exercise towards apostate spirits.(6) The mercy of God is never-failing (Psalm 103:17). This makes up the greatest part of His name, and what He esteems His glory (Exodus 34:6).
3. The manner in which this mercy is exercised.(1) Through a Mediator, for His sake, and upon His account.(2) In a covenant way.
Because His compassions are not spent, wasted; but as the oil in the cruse, as the spring ever running, the sun ever shining, etc. This should ever shine in our hearts as the sun doth in the firmament.
Joseph Parker bids us "never go to God for new blessings before we have given Him a receipt for the old ones." We may at least recognise them, and the recognition is sure to render us grateful. But, on the contrary, most lives are one big sponge, one hungry petition, always greedily asking, and never stopping to repay.
(Amos R. Wells.)
Many times Captain Holm had crossed the Atlantic Ocean without losing a spar, but at last disaster overtook him. He says, "On one voyage my ship was struck by lightning in mid-ocean. The bolt came down the mizzenmast through the cabin and passed into the hold, leaving a long black scar on the mast as it went. We were cotton loaded, and we had every reason to fear the horrors of a ship on fire at sea. But the Lord in His mercy spared us, and we came safely to port. When, a little later, men came on board to make some repairs, I went into the cabin one day, just as the painter was raising his brush to paint out the lightning mark on the mast. 'Stop! stop!' I said; 'don't you put a brushful of paint on that mast. So long as I am master of this ship, that scar on the mast shall stand, so that I may never forget how good the Lord was to save us when my cotton-loaded ship was struck by lightning:"
They are new every morning.
It is almost startling to find this tender and inspiriting utterance embedded in the very heart of a book of lamentations. It is not what we expect. The hurricane that has been haunting all hearts with the frenzy of its unceasing roar lulls itself for a moment to listen to the low-ringing, fearless prattle of a child. The wreaths of smoke that rise from sacked and smouldering homes and from crackling cities part as some passing breeze stirs the air, and the calm, lustrous azure of the firmament peeps out again. The shrieks that break from a thousand homes of death, and rend the awful midnight, grow shrill for a while; and in the mysterious pause a nightingale begins to pour out its stream of dainty melody.
I. THE INEXHAUSTIBLE WEALTH OF GOD'S FORGIVENESS. But for the daily renewal of God's mercy to His people, they would have been utterly cut off.
1. Alas! with many of us every day has its acts of shortcoming, if not of conscious transgression, and God's pardoning love must needs go before us in new forms of manifestation. I once visited the ruins of a noble city that had been built on a desert oasis. Mighty columns of roofless temples still stood in unbroken file. Halls in which kings and satraps had feasted two thousand years ago were represented by solitary walls. Gateways of richly careen stone led to a paradise of bats and owls. All was ruin. But past the dismantled city, brooks, which had once flowed through gorgeous flower gardens and at the foot of marble halls, still swept on in undying music and unwasted freshness. The waters were just as sweet as when queens quaffed them two thousand years ago. A few hours before, they had been melted from the snows of the distant mountains. And so God's forgiving love flows in ever-renewed form through the wreck of the past.
2. And when there is no fresh wandering to be forgiven, God's new mercy awaits us at the dawn to refresh our joy and invigorate our strength, and to give to us the power of a new and sinless consecration. Close by one of the great cities of the East, there is a large stretch of grass that is always green. Sometimes the showers are rare and scanty, and the thermometer mounts to an appalling height, and one wonders to see the grass green and lush as though it were growing in some English meadow. It is kept so by a heavy dew that never fails to fall in the nighttime. And so with our life of consecration. There is no dawn without the dew of abounding love and compassion descending to keep it green.
II. THE RESOURCEFULNESS OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE. The mercy that is ever fresh to pardon is ever fresh to guide and shape the circumstances in the midst of which the pardoned life is spent. "Weeping may endure for the night," but God's gracious hand never forgets to make ready its surprise of joy for the morning. The setting sun sees God's people beleaguered by hostile legions, and with hearts sinking beneath the weight of perplexity and despair; but the path of providential leading has turned a sharp corner in the night, and the morrow's sun has risen upon a traversed sea, and the dreaded foe strewn like helpless wreck drift along the shore. And even when there are no special difficulties awaiting the solution of God's providence, and our life is uneventful in its outward complexion, providence is always versatile in its unseen methods and processes. We may sometimes seem to be left at the mercy of unalterable forces; no interposition; old natural laws that shaped the destiny of Adam shaping ours without any break, old events repeating themselves, all mechanism. Yet as bridges built in the time of the Conquest carry over their lines day by day new men with new thoughts to be accomplished in the world, these ever-repeating events are working by the line of an old order to new providential issues. Astronomers at one time puzzled themselves over a problem in solar physics. How was the heat of the sun maintained? It seemed a natural inference that as it was always giving off heat in stupendous volumes, ultimate exhaustion must one day come. Within recent times the suggestion has found wide acceptance, that the sun is constantly drawing meteors and asteroids and comets to itself, and that the heat is maintained by the impact of these bodies, as they fall into the sun. Things come to us from time to time that seem out of all accord with the harmonies around us. Strange difficulties, stumbling blocks, tribulations start up in the path of our daily life. These things are drawn into the circle of God's control and government for their solution, and it is in this way that the very glory of God's providence is maintained.
III. THE UNFAILING TRUTH AND FAITHFULNESS OF GOD in His relation to His people. God's renewed mercies are linked with the morning, because the return of the day is one of the most perfect and intelligible symbols of constancy to be found in the economy of nature. How unlike human love in many of its forms, which, once embittered by disappointment, changes into gall, cynicism, misanthropy! There are not a few hearts from whose affection all elasticity has forever gone. The affection is like a spring that has been rendered limp and useless through overstrain. A shrewd observer of human nature has stud, "For a woman there is no second love. Her nature is too delicate to withstand a second time that most terrible shock and convulsion of soul. Think of Juliet. Could she have sustained a second time that overpowering bliss and horror?" Well, that statement is true, within certain limits of both man and woman alike. The human love that is centred on human objects cannot renew itself forever. It may be so crushed, that no dew or sunshine can lift it up again. Old people do not care to form new friendships. How transcendent the Divine love! It has been grieved and crossed and contemned by our weaknesses, insincerities, rebellions, a thousand times; and yet it renews itself unceasingly with every day dawn.
IV. THE UNFAILING PROMPTNESS OF GOD'S MINISTRATIONS. "His mercies are new every morning"; that is, just as soon as, or even before, we begin to need them. We receive our salvation and guidance and defence, not of our own work, but of His free love. If it were of our own work, we must needs wait for the nightfall before we could receive any recompense. Wages are paid at sunset. But it is all His gift. So the mercy in which we rejoice comes to us with the dawn, before we have done a solitary stroke of work. The regulations of the court at Pekin are so framed as to give to the Chinese Empire an example of promptness and despatch. The emperor always receives his cabinet ministers and councillors at three or four o'clock in the morning, long before day dawn. And so God awaits His servants with new pardons, new counsels, new honours in His kingdom, long before the day dawn. God's mercies are new for you at the outset of every morning. There are some flowers that do not open till noon, and others that pour out the stores of rare spices hidden in their hearts at sunset only. God's mercy begins to shine before the sun, and diffuses its incense about our path through every succeeding hour of the day. An ingenious botanist, by watching the hours at which certain flowers opened, hit upon the pretty conceit of constructing what he called a flower clock. God's matchless mercies, like circles of thickset bloom that break into splendour with a rhythm that never halts, are measuring out the successive hours of our life. No winter comes to blast the flowers, and the clock is never behind time. His opening compassions anticipate the light. "They are new every morning."
V. THE PERPETUAL FRESHNESS OF THE DIVINE NATURE. God's compassions are unceasingly new, because they well, pure and fair, out of the sacred and stainless and infinite depths of His Fatherhood. They have the ever-renewed and living sweetness of His own spring-like nature in them. A smile never grows old, because it is kindness turned into the grace of outward line, and the charm of kindness is undying. Art may pall upon the taste, and music jar to torture over-wrought nerves. But not so the smile of sincere and unaffected human kindness. A smile with the love of a finite nature behind it is always new. How much more is that true of a smile with the infinite kindness behind it! God's daily mercies come to us clothed with the enkindled grace of His own matchless smile, and full of the light of an immortal May time. He cannot give or do without putting the buoyancy of His own untiring and eternal youth into each boon and act. Charles Lamb, in a few wise and beautiful sentences, dedicates one of his books to his afflicted sister Mary, with whom he had been living for years in tender and unselfish affection. He says that "when people are living together day by day, they are too apt to take for granted the affection they bear each other, and to forget those special expressions of affection that are the gauge of its true and constant depth." He would therefore make the publication of his book the occasion for that special expression of love he might have forgotten to render amidst the bustle and routine and commonplace of daily life. God is always with us, but He never suffers us to take His tender affection for granted. Each of His daily mercies comes to us with a new dedication upon it. It is a legible evangel, witnessing to the exceeding love of our Father on high. How sweet and lightsome life would be to us, if we could only enter into the prophet's view of the ever-renewed mercy with which it is filled! Solomon had jaded his nature with false luxury and mock grandeur, and voluptuous habits that would have better suited a pagan, when he moaned out his epitaph upon human life, "There is nothing new under the sun." Some one has said he counted the sun itself "a piece of warmed up pleasantry only." A Frenchman would have put an end to himself when he had reached that point. Solomon was kept from that madness by his reserve of religions principle, and made to warn all the ages against the vanity of a life spent away from God. He would have tuned his harp to a better key than that, if, like his father, he had bathed his spirit day by day in the fountain of God's perpetual goodness. He could not see the goodness and mercy that were ever following him. Is life wearisome and insipid? It is because we are blind to God's ever-renewed mercies. I read the other day of a man who had lest his sense of taste through the shock of a railway collision. And some of us are like that. Our faith has had its shocks, and our hopes its disappointments, and our life plan its abrupt and disastrous interruptions, and we sometimes find it an empty counsel to "taste and see that the Lord is good." We fail to appreciate the newness of His daily mercy. It is fitting that new mercies should be greeted with new songs. The heart alive to the freshness of God's mercy will find new language in which to express itself. Whilst passing in early manhood through a stage of deep dejection, John Stuart Mill found occasional comfort in music. One day he was thrown into a state of profound gloom by the thought that musical combinations were exhaustible. The octave was only composed of five tones and two semi-tones. Not all the combinations of these notes were harmonious, so there must be a limit somewhere to the possibilities of melody. No such possibility can limit the range of "the new song," for it shall be pitched to the key of God's ever-renewed mercies.
(T. G. Selby.)
There is, I am persuaded, no greater evil committed by any of us than a practical forgetfulness of the common mercies of life, mercies which, because of their commonness, cease to be regarded as mercies. The Psalmist, you will remember, calls upon us to "forget not all God's benefits," and he thus indicates our perpetual danger, a danger which he himself felt and against which he had to guard his own soul. There are two great causes which may be said to account for our forgetfulness of the mercies of God which are new every morning.
I. THE HAND OF THE GIVER IS INVISIBLE. He is a Spirit, and He can only manifest Himself to the senses of His creatures by such physical operations as appeal to their senses. To ask that we may see God, and see Him with our eyes, is to ask that He may cease to he what He is, namely, an infinite Spirit; or else it is to ask that we should cease to be what we are. We forget, when we wish to see God who giveth us all things richly to enjoy, that we do not even see each other. My friend may give me presents, but I do not see that in my friend which these presents express and reveal. I can only infer that he loves me because of what he has given me, and of he should send me gifts every day and every moment, I should still only infer the same. And if he were some unknown friend — that is, a person whose face I had never seen at all, but who for some reason or other should supply me with all the necessaries of life every day — the fact that I had never seen him would not impair the value of his gifts, nor would it diminish the gratitude which I should feel towards him. It may be, too, that the gifts of a friend might come to me through a chain of a thousand hands, some of which I might see, and some of which I might not see; but no matter how long the chain of intermediate agents through whom the blessings come, they would still he the gifts of a friend. Nay, if the chain were long, so far from our forgetting the friend, or being ungrateful for his gifts, we should see in every separate link of the chain a fresh proof of his regard, and should say, how much he must love me when he takes so much pains that his gifts shall not miscarry, but provides agents at every step to hand on the gifts until they reach me in safety. This is what God does. He is this friend, except that though unseen He is not unknown. He is our Father in heaven Who loves us and cares for us.
II. Another cause of our forgetfulness of our mercies as gifts of God is THEIR CONSTANCY, OR REGULARITY. This is strange, and sad as well as strange, that the very faithfulness and constancy with which God's blessings come down to us should create forgetfulness, and should lead us to undervalue them. He has made them constant that we may never lack, has remembered us always that we might always remember Him, has given, us perpetual mercies that we might give Him perpetual praise; and we forget Him, forget Him because His mercies are new every morning. What if they were not? What if they were intermittent? Let us look at a few.
1. Take as the first illustration, sleep. I venture to say that there are thousands who never kneel down and thank God for sleep. While it visits us unwooed, unsolicited, even unsought, and sometimes even unwelcomely, it takes its place without any distinct recognition among the regular facts in the order of nature. "We sleep"; of course we sleep; we sleep as we stand, or walk, or eat, or think, so much, is it a matter of course! Happy they who can speak thus; happier still if they Knew the priceless value of this boon, and happier still if, with the breaking day, they have a heart to bless that God from whom sleep cometh. It is a mercy which no money can buy, which no rank can command. I call you, then, today to thank God for the common blessing of sleep, which is new "every night."
2. Look at another of these common mercies which are too often forgotten. I mean our reason. The value of this gift is practically disesteemed from the very fact of its commonness. We need at times to see men and women bereft of their reason, that we may see by comparison with these sad foils how much we need to bless God that our intellects are preserved. To see a man once sound in brain and rich in faculty, with high powers of reasoning and of speech, wild and wandering, the victim of strange and delirious fantasies, turning his heart away from those he has most deeply loved, and sometimes blaspheming the very God whom it has been his joy to worship and to serve; this is a spectacle to fill one with grief and horror. But should it not also awaken in us a perpetual wonder that we have been preserved from such a calamity; and should it not stir us up to daily thanksgiving to Him whose mercies are new to us every morning?
3. Look at another common mercy — the power of motion and action and speech, or, in other words, that general energy of body which constitutes the great part of our daily outward life. Have you ever thought of this? Has not its very commonness hidden its value and meaning from you?
(E. Mellor, D. D.)
I. NATURE PRESENTS A CERTAIN UNIFORMITY, BUT IN THAT UNIFORMITY WE FIND INFINITE VARIETY. It is commonplace to say, "No two blades of grass are alike." The ancients believed that a new sun rose every day — a technical error, but a positive truth. We never look twice at the same sun; we never twice see the same river. The water flows along and next moment is a new river. This is true of the whole universe about us. Landscapes, mountains, forests, oceans, skies, all change while we gaze. So with man. All life is newness.
II. THE ORIGINALITY OF HUMAN LIFE PRESENTS AN UNCEASING DISCOVERY OF DIVINE MERCIFULNESS. "His mercies are new every morning." The text contains two grand ideas: —
1. The inexhaustibility of the Divine mind. In this way we consider His works from the intellectual standpoint.
2. The inexhaustibility of the Divine heart. Not only do God's thoughts fail not, but His compassions fail not. His love is as great as His power.
III. THIS RENEWAL OF MERCIES SHOULD MATERIALLY AFFECT OUR DAILY LIFE.
1. "New every morning." Then how blind we are! There is a huge gloomy crowd to whom life lacks variety, freshness, gladness. The carnally-minded, whose heart is gross, etc., cannot see the glory of life, the grandeur of events, the power and prophecy of all things. It is far otherwise with the man whose spiritual nature has made them full of life. So with the Bible. It is a field of treasure. But how many scan its pages, yet miss its precious thoughts!
2. "New every morning." Then how thankless we often are! Judging from our spirit and speech, it would hardly seem as if we had any mercies at all. As a great rose grower was walking with a lady in his grounds, she expressed the desire to possess one of the most beautiful blossoms. He plucked the coveted flower and gave it to his friend, only to find, shortly after, that in a fit of unconsciousness she was plucking the leaves and dropping them to the ground. Is not this a picture of ourselves? We covet certain things — health, wealth, knowledge, friendship. Yet, having obtained these and other mercies, how coldly and carelessly we receive and use them. The rose grower was so deeply offended that he gave away no more prize flowers This was like man, but not like God. He still gives, although the dying leaves of many wasted mercies are ever lying at our feet. Heaven drops fresh blossoms into our hands, only to be ignored and wasted in their turn.
3. "New every morning." Then how foolish we often are! Every mercy has a mission, and designs the enrichment of our life and character. How much, then, do we lose by our carelessness and ingratitude! There is a fairy tale, in which a boatman in the evening time ferried across a river a strange being, who gave him as a reward what seemed to be only shavings and stones, which he threw over in disgust. But next morning, when the sun arose, he discovered that a few fragments of the gift had escaped destruction, and the light showed him that it consisted, not of shavings and dirt, but of gold and precious atones, and, too late, he cursed his hateful folly. So through life we go casting aside from us our daily benefits as if they were poor and meaningless, and appropriating to ourselves but a fraction of that which is more precious than rubies.
(W. L. Watkinson.)
There are a great many mercies that are "new every morning." One of them is the benefit of yesterday's experience. This life is a training school; each day teaches its needed lessons. Experience is a pretty rough instructor, but, next to the Holy Spirit, none is more valuable. If yesterday led us astray, then we are worse than fools if we take the same track again. The mischief with bad habits is that we thoughtlessly put them on again as we put on our clothes. If they are ever to be broken off, they must be taken by the throat; and the beginning of a new day is a good time to begin. A distinguished minister once said to me, "I found that hard smoking wee killing me, and one morning I stopped square off, and it has saved my life." It is doubtful if he had squelched that enemy as successfully later in the day. How can we ever hope to grow in grace, and make real progress in the Divine life, if we are satisfied to start every day on the same old beaten tracks, and repeat the old blunders; and let the same besetting sins get firmer hold on us?
(T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Mr. Gladstone, speaking at the National Workmen's Exhibition, said he remembered how, in the old coaching days, the dead level of nearly thirty miles on the Slough road killed more horses than any other road, because the same muscles were constantly in action, whereas there would have been a change in going up or down hill. Nature has no dead levels. Ruskin says that, with one or two exceptions, there are no lines nor surfaces of Nature without curvature. God's gifts to us are never "staled by frequence." They are "new every morning." He ordains constant changes in our life and its sceneries, "lest we be wearied, and faint in our minds."
The Lord is my portion, saith my soul, therefore will I hope in Him.
I. GOD IS THE PORTION OF EVERY ONE OF HIS PEOPLE.
1. What may be said of God as the portion of His people? He is —
(1)A most suitable portion to them.
(2)An all-sufficient portion.
(3)An infinite portion.
(4)As the portion of His people, He is most safe and secure to them.
(5)He is an eternal, durable portion.
(6)As the result of all this, He is a satisfying portion: What we can never be weary of, or desire to change.
2. Every one of God's people has a special interest in Him as his. How He comes to be so? There is a mutual claim, and 'tis brought about by something on each side; on God's part and on theirs.(1) On God's part, it is owing to His own love resolving to raise them to the highest happiness. This He has done from all eternity (Psalm 103:17; Ephesians 1:3, 4). To make way for this, His Son is given to die for them. God expressly makes over Himself in the covenant of grace to be theirs, saying, I am God All-Sufficient, and your God: And to every individual believer, I am, and will be Thine: One whom thou hast an interest in, and may'st call thy own.(2) On His people's part, they accept of Him as such; having their minds enlightened by HIS Spirit to discern what a portion God is, how much preferable to all others, and their wills sweetly bowed to choose and close with Him.
II. THE SOUL THAT HAS THE LORD FOR HIS PORTION HAS ABUNDANT ENCOURAGEMENT TO HOPE IN HIM.
1. Under an affecting sense of the Church's sufferings.
2. When low and despised in the world, exercised with pressing necessities and straits, the soul that can say, The Lord is my portion, may take encouragement to hope in Him.
3. When walking in darkness, and seeing no light, the soul that can say, The Lord is my portion, has encouragement still to hope in Him.
4. When buffeted by Satan, the soul that has the Lord for his portion has reason also to hope in Him.
5. The people of God are not exempted from afflictions: But when these are their lot their interest in God is sufficient for their support.
6. The righteous must die as well as others: but, under the apprehensions of this, the interest he hath in God is a solid ground of hope.
III. PRAYER AND PATIENCE ARE TO BE THE COMPANIONS OF HOPE IN THE PEOPLE OF GOD, TO BOTH WHICH THEY HAVE A POWERFUL ARGUMENT IN HIS GOODNESS.
1. The people of God are a generation that seek Him.
2. Everyone that seeks God aright has his soul engaged in the work.
3. They whose souls are engaged in seeking God, will and ought to wait for Him.
4. The goodness of God is a powerful argument to engage His people to seek to Him, and wait for Him.
IV. NO SERVANT OF GOD SHALL BE A LOSER BY HIM; BUT EVERY ONE OF THEM BE LED TO OWN AT LAST THAT IT IS GOOD TO HOPE AND QUIETLY WAIT FOR HIS SALVATION.
1. What is included in the salvation waited for?
(1)A salvation from every kind and degree of evil; sin, temptation, the troubles of this world, and future everlasting miseries (Revelation 21:3, 4).
(2)A being put into a possession of all good.
2. Consider it under its engaging title, the salvation of the Lord.
(1)It is a salvation worthy of him (Hebrews 11:16).
(2)It is designed, prepared, and promised by Him.
(3)It is a salvation that will consist in the enjoyment of God; dwelling in His presence under the light of His countenance, the freest communications of His love and goodness, filling the soul with that fulness of joy, which nothing short of possession can acquaint us with.
3. What is implied in hoping, and patiently waiting for it?
(1)Having the heart fixed by faith on the salvation of God as real, though out of sight.
(2)A firm persuasion, that the salvation of God will come at last, though for a time deferred.
(3)Expecting God's salvation in His time; depending upon His wisdom to choose the fittest season, and His faithfulness to remember us when that season comes.
(4)Serious care to he found ready whenever called to enter upon the salvation of God we have been waiting for.
4. In what respects may it be said to be good, thus to hope and quietly wait for the salvation of God?
(1)As it redounds to God's glory; as it is a testimony to His power and grace, as what bears us up during our stay in this world, and fully provides for our complete blessedness.
(2)As it may encourage others to put in for a share in the salvation of God; by the hope of which we are borne up amidst the difficulties of the present state, and enabled patiently to wait for the salvation of God in a better.
(3)As it will be comfortable to ourselves, disposing us to meet the will of God in a becoming manner.Application —
1. Does every one of God's people say from His soul the Lord is my portion? Hence learn that real religion is an inward thing; and the power of it lies in what passes between Heaven and the heart, in transactions that only God and the soul can be witnesses to.
2. Does every one that comes into the number of the people of God say from his soul, The Lord is my portion? Of what importance is it to inquire what is the language, the sense, of my soul?
3. How great and amiable is the change that grace hath made on every saint, in leading him to take up the language of the text as his own, The Lord is my portion; and thereupon to hope, and quietly wait. for his salvation.
4. If you have chosen God for your portion, living and dying, hope in Him as such.
5. But how may it be known when this is said in truth?(1) Where any say in truth, The Lord is my portion, they have been so far sensible of His worth, and their own need of Him, as to be incapable of being satisfied without Him, or taking up with anything else?(2) The soul that has said, the Lord is his portion, has entered into covenant with Him.(3) Where the soul says, The Lord is my portion, it loves Him, above all, or with a superlative affection.(4) The soul that saith, The Lord is my portion, values communion with Him more than any sensible enjoyment.(5) The soul that saith, The Lord is my portion, cannot but delight and rejoice, so far as apprehended to be so, and is greatly thankful for the direction and grace that inclined and enabled him to make the happy choice which he would not now exchange for all the world.(6) The soul that saith, The Lord is my portion, feels the greatest grief for the apprehended loss of Him, or when in the dark as to an interest in Him.(7) The soul that saith, The Lord is my portion, will, by prayer and supplication, frequently go to Him, and be more earnest for His favour and grace than for any lower good.(8) The soul that saith, the Lord is his portion, will make Him the ground of his trust and triumph, when outward comforts may be withdrawn or denied (Habakkuk 3:17, 18).(9) Where the soul saith, The Lord is my portion, there will he a care to please and serve Him with the inward man, and a fear to offend Him, even in the thoughts, or things that do not come under the eye of the world.(10) The soul that says, The Lord is my portion, is breathing after that world and state where it shall have the full enjoyment of Him; and frequently, with pleasure, taken up in the believing thoughts and hopes of it; as its chief felicity will then begin, when this world is to be forever left, and all lower sensual delights at an end.
(with Deuteronomy 32:9): — The love of God changes us into its own image, so that what the Lord saith concerning us, we also can declare concerning Him. God is love essentially, and when this essential love shines forth freely upon us, we reflect it back upon Him. The Lord loveth His people, and we love Him because He first loved us; He hath chosen His saints, and they also have made Him their chosen heritage.
I. "THE LORD'S PORTION IS HIS PEOPLE."
1. The Church of God is the Lord's own peculiar and special property. The whole world is God's by common right, He is Lord of the manor of the universe; but His Church is HIS garden, His cultivated and fenced field, and if He should give up His rights to all the rest of the wide earth, yet He never could relinquish His rights to HIS separated inheritance. "The Lord's portion is His people." How are they His?(1) By His own sovereign choice. As our text says, Jacob is the lot of his inheritance, or as the Hebrew has it, "the cord" of His inheritance, in allusion to the old custom of measuring out lots by a line of cord; so by line and by lot the Lord has marked off His own chosen people, "and they shall be Mine, saith the Lord, in the day when I make up My jewels."(2) By purchase. He has bought and paid for them to the utmost farthing, hence about His title there can be no dispute.(3) By conquest.(a) Upon your necks, Oh, ye tyrants of the Church, hath the Anointed put His feet; He hath dashed you in pieces with His own right hand!(b) We are Christ's this day by conquest in us. What a battle He had in us before we would be won!
2. The saints are the objects of the Lord's especial care. "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole world," — with what object? — "to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him." The wheels of Providence are full of eyes; but in what direction are they gazing? Why, that all things may "work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." It is sweet to reflect how careful God is of His Church. We are jealous of our eyes, but the Lord keeps His people as the apple of His eye. What a wonderful affection birds have for their young; they will sooner die than let their little ones be destroyed! But like as an eagle fluttereth over her nest, so doth the Lord cover His people, and as birds flying so doth the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem. What love a true husband has for his spouse! How much rather would he suffer than that she should grieve! And just such love hath God towards His Church. Oh, how He careth for her; how He provideth for her as a king should provide for his own queen! How He watcheth all her footsteps; guardeth all her motions; and hath her at all times beneath His eye, and protected by His hand.
3. The Church is the object of the Lord's special joy, for a man's portion is that in which he takes delight. See what terms He uses; He calls them His dwelling place. "In Jewry is God known, His name is great in Israel, in Salem also is tabernacle, and His dwelling place is Zion." "For the Lord hath chosen Zion; He hath desired it for HIS habitation." Where is man most at ease? why, at home. Beloved, the Church is God's home; and as at home a man unbends himself, takes his pleasure, manifests himself to his children as he does not unto strangers, so in the Church the Lord unbendeth Himself, condescendingly manifesting Himself to them as He doth not unto the world. We are expressly told that the Church is the Lord's rest. "This is My rest forever; here will I dwell, for I have desired it." As if all the world beside were His workshop, and His Church His rest. Yet further, there is an unrivalled picture in the Word where the Lord is even represented as singing with joy over His people. who could have conceived of the Eternal One as bursting forth into a song? Once more, remember that the Lord represents Himself as married to His Church. The joy and love of the young honeymoon of married life is but a faint picture of the complacency and delight God always has in His people.
4. God's people are His everlasting possession. There is an allusion here to the division of the portions among the different tribes. There was a law made, that if any man should lose his inheritance by debt, or should be driven to the necessity of selling it, yet at the year of jubilee it always came back again to him; so that you see no Israelite ever lost his portion. Now, God maps out for Himself His people. He says, "These are My portion"; and think you God will lose His portion? They are His, and they shall be His while time lasts; and when time ends, and eternity rolls on, He never can, He never will, cast away His chosen people.
II. "THE LORD IS MY PORTION, SAITH MY SOUL."
1. This implies that true believers have the Lord as their sole portion. It is not, "The Lord is partly my portion," not "The Lord is in my portion"; but He Himself makes up the sum total of my soul's inheritance. When Martin Luther had a large sum of money sent to him, he gave it all away directly to the poor, for he said, "O Lord, Thou shalt never put me off with my portion in this life." Now, when God's children receive anything in the way of gift from Providence, they thank God for it, and endeavour to use it for His honour and glory, but they still insist upon it that this is not their portion. St. was wont very often to pray, "Lord, give me Thyself." A less portion than this would be unsatisfactory. Not God's grace merely, nor His love; all these come into the portion, but "the Lord is my portion, saith my soul."
2. As God is our only portion, so He is our own portion: "The Lord is my portion, saith my soul." Come, brethren, have you got a personal grip of this portion? Are you sure it is yours? We have heard of a great man who once took a poor believer and said, "Do you look over there to those hills." "Yes, sir." "Well, all that is mine; that farm yonder, and that yonder, and beyond that river over there — it is all mine." "Ah," said the other — "look at yonder little cottage, that is where I live, and even that is not mine, for I have to hire it, and yet I am richer than you, for I can point up yonder and say — there lies my inheritance, in heaven's unmeasured space, and let you look as far as ever you can you cannot see the limit of my heritage, nor find out where it ends nor where it begins." Oh, what a blessing it is if you and I can say, "He is my heritage!"
3. The Lord is to His people an inherited portion. "If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ;" but if not children, then not heirs, and the heritage cannot be yours.
4. This heritage is also ours by choice. We have chosen God to be our heritage. Better to have Christ and a fiery faggot, than to lose Him and wear a royal robe. Better Christ and the old Mamertine dungeon of the Apostle Paul, than to be without Christ and live in the palace of Caesar.
5. God is His people's settled portion. Heaven and earth may pass away, but the covenant grace shall not be removed. The covenant of day and night may be broken; the waters may again cover the earth, sooner than the decree of grace be frustrated.
6. The Lord is my all-sufficient portion. God fills Himself; and as Manton says, "If God is all-sufficient in Himself, He must be all-sufficient for us;" and then he uses this figure — "That which fills an ocean will fill a bucket; that which will fill a gallon will fill a pint; those revenues that will defray an emperor's expenses are enough for a beggar or a poor man; so, when the Lord Himself is satisfied with Himself, and it is His happiness to enjoy Himself, there needs no more, there is enough in God to satisfy."
7. I think I may add — and the experience of every believer will bear me out — we have today a portion in which we take intense delight. I tried in a poor way to show that God had a delight in His people. Beloved, do not His people, when they are in a right state of heart, have an intense delight in Him? Here we can bathe our souls: here we riot and revel in inexhaustible luxuriance of delight; here our spirit stretches her wings and mounts like an eagle; here she expands herself, and only wishes she were more capacious, and therefore she cries, "Lord, expand me, enlarge my heart, that I may hold more of Thee." Often have we felt in the spirit with Rutherford, when he cried, "Lord, make me a heart as large as heaven, that I may hold Thee in it! But since the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee, Lord, make my soul as wide as seven heavens, that I may contain Thy fulness."
8. This is to the saints of God an eternal portion. Indeed, it is in the world to come that believers shall have their portion. Here they have none except trials and troubles; "in the world ye shall have tribulation." But as God cannot be seen, and as He is the believer's portion, so their portion cannot be seen. It is a good remark of an excellent commentator upon that passage, "For which cause He is not ashamed to be called their God." He writes to this effect: "If it were only for this world, God would be ashamed to be called His people's God, for HIS adversaries would say, 'Look at those people, how tried they are, what troubles they have, who is their God? and,' saith he, 'the Lord speaks as if He might be ashamed to be called their God, if this life were all'; but the Scripture says, 'Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city:'" Thus may the Lord turn upon His enemies, and say, "I am their God, and although I do chasten them sore, and lead them through the deep waters, yet see what I am preparing for them — see them as they shall be when I shall wipe all tears from their eyes, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters." Hence it is in the prospect of bliss so ecstatic, joy so boundless, glory so eternal, that He is not ashamed to be called their God.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. THE LORD JESUS CHRIST IS A BELIEVER'S PORTION.
1. The word "portion" is sometimes taken for a piece or part of a thing, be it a less part or a bigger part. Now our heavenly Father hath made comfortable provision, set by a competent portion for every child of His, and that portion is Christ. He hath not divided Christ among them, given a part of Him to one, and a part of Him to another. Is Christ divided? No; hut He hath given Him all, all wholly and entirely to each one of them, so that each one may say, all Christ is mine, mine to all intents and purposes.
2. What in Christ is a believer's portion? All that He is, and all that He hath, both as God, and as God-man.(1) As God. All His wisdom, and power, and goodness is theirs. I say theirs, to be employed for their best benefit and advantage.(2) As God-man; as Mediator. His merit and righteousness is theirs for justification; His blood for reconciliation; His sufferings and death to make atonement. His spirit and grace are theirs for sanctification; of His fulness they receive (John 1:16). His comforts are theirs, to revive and refresh them when they are sad and drooping (Isaiah 50:4). His Word is for their guidance and direction in all their doubts and difficulties, like the pillar of cloud and fire. His presence is theirs, for their preservation and protection in all their perils and dangers (Genesis 15:1). His crown, and throne, and kingdom are theirs, eternally to reward them (Revelation 3:21).
3. What kind of portion is Christ?(1) In general, He is a worthy portion — allusion to 1 Samuel 1:5 — that is, a dainty, delicate portion, excelling all other; none like it, worthy of all acceptation, that is, to be readily accepted of, and closed with by each of us as soon as offered.(2) In particular, He is a soul portion — as here, He is my portion, saith my soul. The portion of my heart (Psalm 73:26), of my spirit, my inner man. A sufficient portion. There is enough in Him, enough and enough again to make us all happy. Merit enough, spirit enough, grace enough, glory enough. He is El Shaddai — God, that is enough (Genesis 17:1). A satisfying portion. The soul that hath Him will own and acknowledge it hath enough (Psalm 116:7). A sweet portion — exceedingly pleasant and delightful. It doth not only satisfy the soul that hath it, but fills it with joy unspeakable, and full of glory (Psalm 16:5, 6). A suitable portion. If it were not suitable it would not be sweet; if not proper, not pleasant. A sure portion (Isaiah 55:3). A part in Christ is, therefore, a good part, nay, the best part, because it cannot be taken away from us.
1. Then it follows that Christ is a rich Christ, who hath wherewithal to portion such abundance of people, as in all ages and generations have been portioned by Him. The apostle calls it the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8). He is a bottomless mine of merit and spirit; a boundless ocean of righteousness and strength; a full fountain of grace and comfort.
2. Then all that are true believers are really and truly rich people.
3. Then how much doth it concern us all to make this portion ours. May we do so? We certainly may, each of us. But how? By a sincere, hearty, deliberate choice of it. Choose it, and thou shalt have it. Thus Mary did (Luke 10:42).
4. There are four sorts of persons who should especially hearken to this motion.(1) Those that are young. The days of your youth are the days of your choice, your choosing days. Now choose Christ (Ecclesiastes 12:1).(2) Those that are poor, and low in the world. The less we have on earth the more need there is to make heaven sure; lest we should be doubly poor, poor here, and forever miserable.(3) Those that are convinced, whose eyes are m some measure opened, whose hearts God hath touched.(4) Those that have children (Genesis 17:7).
5. Then if Christ be our portion, and we can make out our title upon good grounds, and that we have thus chosen, then it is our duty to hope in Him; as here. "Therefore will I hope in Him," rely upon Him, trust to Him. If He be thy portion, He may well be thy hope, thy refuge.(1) A refuge — as to the things of this life. Thou art well provided for, thou shalt want no good thing (Psalm 34:10; Psalm 142:5).(2) A refuge — as to our everlasting condition (1 Corinthians 15:19).
6. Then we should carry it as those whose souls can say the Lord Christ is their portion. In all holy obedience before Him (Psalm 119:57), fearing to offend Him, caring to please Him.
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY A PORTION AND WHAT SORT OF A PORTION GOD IS. The word is taken from the distribution of Canaan, by which each of the Israelites had a quantity of ground assigned to him and his heirs. This they called their portion (2 Kings 9:21). According to this explanation, it is not what a man has originally of his own, but something assigned to him, by special gift or course of law. So God is the portion of the saints; not from any original right or property which they have in Him, but by His own particular and gracious appointment. God also is the portion of His people, as they have a peculiar interest in Him, of which they can never be deprived. As a portion also is that which we chiefly depend upon for our maintenance, so is God, in a spiritual respect, to His people. His favour is their life. In answer to the inquiry, what kind of a portion God is, I reply, first, that He is a spiritual portion; and for that reason little valued or sought after by the world. Let the rich man glory in his riches, "my soul shall make her boast in the Lord": let the sensualist talk of his pleasures, "the Lord is my portion, saith my soul." He is a sufficient as well as a spiritual portion: every way complete; and adequate to all the wants and desires of His creatures. The Lord is also a sure portion; and in our fluctuating world, this is a circumstance particularly interesting and encouraging. Earthly possessions and enjoyments are so precarious, that there is no dependence on them for a moment. But our Divine portion is subject to no such accidents; it is secured to us by an unchangeable covenant. The Lord is therefore an eternal portion. "He is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever." After this, I may very well add, that He is a transcendent portion, excellent and glorious beyond all comparison.
II. HOW CAME THE LORD TO BE THE PORTION OF HIS CREATURES?
1. First, by free gift on God's part. We durst not have asked such a thing. Or, if we had, what could we have expected, hut to have our petition rejected, and our presumption and rashness punished with severity? But what we durst not ask, God has freely bestowed.
2. It is, secondly, by free choice on man's part. What God gives, we must receive; not with a cold indifference, as if we did not care whether we had it or not; but with eagerness, gratitude, and joy.
3. I add, thirdly, that it is by the gracious mediation of Christ on both parts. Whenever, therefore, you are rejoicing in the Lord as your portion, and are happy in the pledges of His presence and favour, bless God for Jesus Christ; and ascribe all to "the praise of the glory of His grace, in which He has made us accepted in the beloved."
III. WHAT BELIEVERS MAY HOPE FROM GOD AS THEIR PORTION. They are not to hope for a total exemption from trouble. "No!" Can any that are acquainted with the Word of God, and the nature of His covenant, expect any such exemption? Is it any where promised, or hinted, that God's people shall be so privileged? But if we must not hope for an exemption from present trouble, what may we hope for? I answer, that we may expect present support and subsistence. You may hope that if your sufferings for Christ abound, your consolation by Christ shall much more abound; that if outward comforts drop off, He will grant you better instead of them; and that when He cuts off the stream, He will give you nearer access to the fountain. You may hope that when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He will be with you, and that His rod and staff shall comfort you. In short, you may hope that goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life, and that you shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
1. If God then is the portion of His people, we infer that they are richer and happier than the world supposes them to be.
2. Is God the only satisfying portion, then the men of the world are not so happy as they appear. Not so happy! — Alas! they are in the most miserable condition.
3. Let us seriously inquire whether the Lord be our portion or not.
4. "Walk worthy" of your portion. It would be a shame for a prince to appear like a beggar; for one who is heir to a crown, to herd with the lowest of the people; and it would be equally disgraceful for you, whose treasure is in heaven, to be as vain and trifling, as careful and troubled about many things, as those who have no hope in the favour of God.
I. HOW DOES THE LORD BECOME OUR PORTION?
1. By showing us our poverty. Sin has blotted out its amiable excellencies, and robbed the soul of all its original treasure. Poor is the Christless master of a world. Men think, with talents and honour and power, the soul is rich; but, alas! in it there is a meagre poverty.
2. By enlarging our capacities and improvements.
3. By giving Himself.
II. THE EVIDENCE WE HAVE WITHIN US OF THAT DIVINE PORTION. The expression, "Saith my soul," is fraught with instruction "He that believeth hath the witness in himself." It is not what we hear or read or pray, that can tell us we are Christians; it is some conviction of the soul within us, not founded in presumption, nor arising from pride, but founded in knowledge, and arising from humility.
1. It speaks in meditation: not in noisy pleasure, in sallies of wit, in the hour of feasting, nor in the fascination of indulgence, which things are so dangerous to the Christian, since they confuse his religious feeling, introduce fears and doubts, and even stop for a time communion with God; but in meditation, when the thoughts are turned inwards — then the voice of the soul is heard.
2. It speaks in prayer: not in that fluency and happy way of expression which some have in prayer; not in apparent zeal, nor in aptness in quoting Scripture, — all these are nothing, except the soul is engaged in prayer. A thought, or a sigh, or a devout breathing of spirit will mount to the throne of God sometimes sooner than the wordy and eloquent appeal.
3. It speaks in trouble. Jeremiah was placed in circumstances of no common oppression, and he said, "Remembering mine affliction," etc. (ver. 19). It is in such a moment, when everything seen is found to be but vanity and vexation of spirit; when death stalks by us clad in his own terrific honours, and when our own careworn, sinful, oppressed hearts are ready to sink before the piercing eye of the Judge of the whole earth, — it is in such a moment that the renewed soul is heard uttering the convictions of its safety.
III. THE EFFECT IT PRODUCES ON THE BELIEVING MIND. "Therefore will I hope in Him." "He that hath this hope in Him, purifieth himself, even as Christ is pure." That man awfully deceives himself who fancies he has any claim to a portion in God, and yet lives in sin. Those who have that portion, will earnestly pray after increased sanctification of the spirit, through the belief of the truth.
(G. D. Mudie.)
I. IMPORT OF THE WORDS.
1. A "portion" denotes whatever constitutes the stable and permanent source of our chief enjoyment, as distinguished from an occasional and transient benefit. The prophet rests in God as his portion; places on God his expectation of good; concentrates all his hopes and affections, all the sentiments of confidence and complacence, on Him, and on Him alone.
2. In a "portion" two qualities are requisite: protection from evil, and supply of good; it should be a shield to defend and a sun to bless us: and "the Lord God is a sun and a shield; He will give grace and glory, and no good thing will He withhold."
3. Though God alone is fit to be the portion of any of His creatures, He is not such to any, unless they choose Him. Till He is fixed upon as such, and preferred to all beside, we have no part or lot in His favour and perfections.
II. THOSE QUALITIES IN THE DIVINE BEING WHICH RECOMMEND HIM TO US AS OUR PORTION AND ABUNDANTLY JUSTIFY THE CHOICE WHICH HIS PEOPLE HAVE MADE.
1. That only is fit to be the portion of any rational being, which is congenial with the nature of the mind. That which is not fitted for his thinking powers can never be the portion of a thinking being. And as we are spiritual, nothing that is not such can be our real good. The benefits and gifts of providence are not sufficient; the Divine Being Himself is required to satisfy the desires of His people: they see that, in His nature and character, which alone can fill their souls.
2. The portion which we want must be one that can make us perfectly happy. Give a man all the world, he will not be satisfied; "the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing"; the passions of sensuality, avarice, or ambition, are never satisfied by indulgence. But the Divine Being opens a field of joy in which we may expatiate to all eternity! for He is the original of all good; never can we exhaust the pleasures that arise from His power, directed by His goodness; pleasures which must satisfy every desire.
3. A portion must be, not only valuable in itself, but communicable to us. Many things may be admired, which are not communicable; they may be fit for others, yet not fit for us. But God is infinitely communicable: He has the disposition, and He has the power, to disclose Him. self, to approximate Himself to His creatures.
4. A portion must be something present with us, something that we can bear about with us, and use whenever we desire. And such a portion is God! His presence is always near; "He is not a God afar off, but a God that is nigh!" His ear is always open to hear, His hand always stretched out to save us. As the stars, in consequence of their magnitude and elevation, are seen alike in places the most distant from each other; so God is the same to all His people; His presence is equally enjoyed by them in every scene.
5. That which is worthy to be our portion should be something unchangeable in its nature, not exposed to uncertain fluctuations. An things around us change. Where we expected most, we are often most disappointed. But God is the same now, as in all past generations; and Jesus Christ, in whom He manifests Himself as the Saviour of them that believe, "is the same yesterday, today, and forever."
6. A portion, to be perfect, must be eternal in its duration, capable of surviving every change. Here the difference between God and all beside must be strikingly apparent to all.
7. In choosing God for our portion, we return to our ancient course, we reclaim and re-enjoy our original inheritance. "Return unto thy rest, O my soul!"
(R. Hall, M. A.)
I. MAN'S POSSESSION OF THE HIGHEST GOOD. "The Lord is my portion." What does this mean? How can man finite possess the infinite? To possess a person is to possess the love and friendship of another. The little child possesses his parents, he has their hearts. The father may be a monarch, swaying his sceptre over millions, yet the child has him, and with his lisping tongue he may say, "That monarch is mine, I have his heart." Thus a good man possesses the infinite. This wonderful possession —
1. Answers the profoundest cravings of human nature.
2. Consummates the bliss of human nature.
II. MAN'S ASSURANCE OF THE HIGHEST GOOD. "Saith my soul." Man is a duality. In his nature there is the auditor and speaker. How does the soul give this assurance?
1. By its reasoning. Its logic conducts to the conclusion —
(1)That God gives Himself to souls of a certain character.
(2)That it is in possession of that identical character.
2. By its consciousness. Wherever there is genuine godliness, there is, I believe, an impression apart from all reasoning of God's love and friendship.
III. MAN'S CONFIDENCE IN THE HIGHEST GOOD. "Therefore will I hope in Him." To trust in Him is to trust —
1. In infinite love.
2. In infallible wisdom.
3. In almighty power.
4. In unchanging all-sufficiency.
I. THE AUTHORITY UPON WHICH GOD IS CLAIMED AS THE PORTION OF GOOD MEN. It is high language for worms of the earth — sinners. Not natural relation, for that has been forfeited by sin. Not Church privileges. The Jews were mistaken in claiming the favour of God on account of Abraham, Moses, the law, and the covenant, and the promises.
1. God claims His people by right of purchase. As Christ has purchased believers for God, so He hath purchased God for believers; hence they are called "heirs of God." He is —
(1)Of infinite power to support.
(2)Of infinite wisdom to direct.
(3)Of infinite goodness to supply.
2. He calls His people His portion, because they choose Him; and we call Him our portion, because He chooses us.
II. THE ADVANTAGES OF SUCH AN ATTAINMENT.
1. Abundant and never-failing in its produce.
2. Satisfying in its enjoyments.
3. Eternal in possession.
III. THE DUTIES RESULTING FROM THIS RELATION.
1. Thankful acknowledgment. "The lines are fallen," etc. These thankful acknowledgments are made in private and in public.
2. Dependence upon God for every spiritual supply. As a man upon his portion.
3. To reside in it — dwell in God.
4. Defend your possession.
5. Delight in it.
(J. Walker, D. D.)
I. In considering THE PORTION OF THE UNBELIEVER. God has placed before us things temporal and things eternal, as containing all that He has in store for the sons of men; and the unbeliever ever chooses his portion from some one or other of the things which are temporal But whilst there is but one way to God, there are many ways from Him; whilst we have only one method of pleasing Him, there are innumerable methods of "pleasing the flesh."
1. Pleasure, or at least what is called by that name, is the portion chosen by many; and it consists in self-indulgence in whatever form is most suited to the lusts of each carnal mind. They have chosen an empty, a worthless portion. The things after which they long, the things for which they have forsaken God, cannot support them in the hour of death, or in the day of judgment.
2. But whilst these are choosing a portion of sell indulgence, there are others who choose one of self-denial, which is not the less, on that account, an ungodly and a worldly portion. Their choice is covetousness, their portion is riches. Amongst them you may find those who are called the wise, the prudent, and the industrious, giving their diligence to everything except to make their calling and election sure. Oh! what a poor portion for an immortal being is this! It has required labour and self-denial in the acquisition; it has required care and anxiety and watchfulness in the possession; and death comes, and tears it from the grasp of the poor wretch who has desired nothing better.
3. Others seek for their portion in human applause, and the admiration which one worm bestows upon another. They can despise sensuality, they can hold riches in contempt, but praise and worldly distinction are dear to them. Let such a vainglorious sinner as this be but talked of by his fellow sinners: let him be pointed at, and wondered at; and he has obtained his portion. And for this, which is but the breath of a worm, an immortal being is ready to make the most unremitting exertions, and to face the most appalling dangers.
4. Akin to this is another portion often chosen by the unbeliever — knowledge. The desire for this is not sinful in itself, for knowledge is certainly both useful and desirable; but when it is sought merely for its own sake, and when it is unsanctified by the Holy Spirit, it is only an idol which draws away our hearts from God, and, as such, is an injury, not a blessing, to him who attains to it.
II. THE PORTION OF THE CHRISTIAN. Pleasure, riches, fame, and knowledge, have been aimed at by the unbeliever; and for a time he has acquired, or rather seemed to acquire them: the Christian has been enabled by Divine grace to say, "The Lord is my portion," and he has acquired all these things for eternity. Whilst sensuality ever brings with it disappointment and disgust, the Christian has a comfort from above to cheer him. He has heard that voice which says, "Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee"; and as the sense of unpardoned sin had ever been his heaviest affliction, so his greatest pleasure arises from his being enabled to say, "O Lord, I will praise Thee; though Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away, and Thou comfortest me." Then, as he goes on, by Divine grace, walking in the ways of the Lord, how sweet to feel the Spirit bearing witness with his spirit that he is the child of God; to be taught day by day that God's dealings with him are all in mercy and in love; that his very afflictions are tokens of kindness, and that his "Heavenly Father is making all things to work together for his good"!
(R. W. Kyle, B. A.)
If God is all-sufficient in Himself, He must be all-sufficient for us. That which fills an ocean will fill a bucket; that which will fill a gallon will fill a pint; those revenues that will defray an emperor's expenses are enough for a beggar or a poor man; so, when the Lord Himself is satisfied with Himself, and it is His happiness to enjoy Himself, there needs no more, there is enough in God to satisfy.
( T. Manton.)
To little brooks men have often gone in seasons of drought, and found only a parched bed, cracked open with the heat. But who ever saw the Atlantic low? What ship ever failed to sail for Liverpool through lack of water? When some one urged old John Jacob Astor to subscribe for a certain object, and told him that his own son had subscribed to it already, the old man replied very dryly, "Ah, he has got a rich father." You and I have a rich Father too. You are an heir of the King of kings.
(T. L. Cuyler.)
Therefore will I hope in Him
A man having a soul must worship something as a God; he must look upon something as the source of supply, of protection, of reliance, and trust; and if you do not give him a God in revelation, he will go to work and make one. We want a God whom we can adore. What is the character of the God of the Bible? He comes rolling up to us in infinite grandeur from of old, from everlasting: His date is eternal. Then look at His character — how sublime! He is represented as being universally present. That gives us the idea of infinite spirituality. He fills all space, is everywhere, and has this peculiar characteristic, that He can bring all the perfections of His nature to every point in space. wherever He is, He is there the Almighty, the all-knowing, and the infinitely wise and good God. Well, now, from the universality of His presence and knowledge, He is enabled to be the God of providence. He can interpose where He sees the necessity, and where you call upon Him according to His promise to interpose in your behalf, and superintend your wants. Well, then, we have a God who can do everything, who is everywhere, and who is infinite in mind and in knowledge. Thank God, He knows everything. I think the sublimest commentary upon the knowledge of God is the declaration that He inhabiteth eternity. We have a natural admiration for that which we feel to be infinitely greater than ourselves. The fact is we feel it toward men in a measure; but as our minds expand a little we detect mistakes and see that men are not so great as we thought, and as we go on a little further we find that they do not know so much as we supposed they did; so that these men keep going down as we keep going up. We detect many errors in their policy and in their reasoning; and we find that they are nothing but men. Not so in the study of our God, who has never made a mistake. We have never detected a point of ignorance in the great Jehovah. The further we look into His works, the grander they appear; and the further we look into the Word, how much fuller it is than we perceived at first! As our minds expand they only catch glances of the infinite sweep of His mind, which rolls on to interminable meanings, and culminates in designs worth the infinite resources and plans of the infinite God of the universe. Now, if I want something to adore, give me God. I adore Him in the exercise of His power, in the displays of His wisdom, in the fountain of His goodness, and in the plans that He has projected for my own well-being. I adore Him that He has a remedial system going on over the infirmities and calamities of mankind that will terminate in the resurrection. I adore God as an infinite, spiritual, and intelligent Being, who made the whole universe, and who is full of power and goodness. That is not all I adore Him for. The text says, "Therefore will I hope in Him." I see His resources, His plans, and His purposes, and I will hope in Him. Paul celebrates God as the God of hope. This God has given me capacity to know, has given promises and ground of hope, and has also arranged everything that pertains to hope. He has authorised me to hope for eternal life, for unbounded wealth, for glory, honour, and immortality; to look to the coming period when my head shall be crowned with life, and my hand palmed with victory; when my soul shall be home in glory in the presence of God, where there is fulness of joy, and pleasures for evermore. He authorises me to hope for the triumph over all my enemies, to look for the rest that remains to the people of God, and to anticipate association with the sweetest society in the universe. What sort of hopes has God arranged for? Christians have the highest hopes of any other class of beings that belong to this world. The politician hopes to reach the presidential chair, and he knows there is only one chance out of many millions, and that it is no great thing when he gets it at last, for it is mixed with heavy burdens, terrible responsibilities, and a torrent of perpetual abuse. The Christian hopes for a victory over all things; he hopes to ascend in glory, and to enter into the rest that remaineth for the people of God; he hopes for a kingdom prepared for him from the foundation of the world. Again, our God is not only the God of hope; but He is also the God of all grace. It was to pardon guilty persons, to purify defiled souls, and to provide an inheritance adequate to the wants of His children; it was to help their infirmities, to comfort them in their distress, to enlighten them in their darkness and ignorance, to solace them with the comforts of holiness, and fit them for glory. He is the God of all grace; He has formed this system of salvation, and carries it out until we are saved from sin, trouble, toil, poverty, and ignorance.
A crew of fifteen men once left a burning ship in mid-Pacific. They were thousands of miles from land. They left the ship so hastily that they had no time to take oars, or sail, or any other tackle or gear with which to produce motion. They were only able to snatch at some food and water. They lived for six weeks in that boat, and the last three-and-twenty days they dreamed every night of feasting, and woke every morning to the same starving comrades, vacant waters — for they passed no ships — and desolate sky. Yet these men never lost their courage, because they perceived from the outset that their boat was in the current of an equatorial ocean, a current which those who knew the geography of the sea were aware would slowly but surely carry them at last to land, which it did. Sometimes the patience of hope in the Christian life has to be exercised in that way. No oar and no sail; no strength and no light; for many days neither sun nor moon nor stars appearing, but only the magnet of faith pointing steadily to the Rock of Ages, and the current of eternal nature of Him who is what He is, bearing us on to the promised land.
(John Laidlaw, D. D.)
An able seaman once said to me, "In fierce storms we have but one resource: we keep the ship in a certain position. We cannot act in any way but this. We fix her head to the wind; and in this way we weather the storm." This is a picture of the Christian. He endeavours to put himself in a certain position. "My hope and help are in God." The man who has learnt this piece of heavenly navigation shall weather the storms of time and of eternity. This confidence has supported thousands in perilous situations — where others would have given up all in despair.
The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him.
I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN WAITING FOR GOD.
1. God has work for us, and we should be ready to do it.
2. There are blessings to bestow, and we should be waiting to receive them. The fountain is flowing; let us go out and drink of it. God blesses His people not according to their worth, but according to their wants; and in proportion as you feel your parchedness, and look that it may be allayed, so will be the shower that descends from these clouds which are big with mercies.
3. In waiting for God we should wait His time. For as to certain services which He requires and rewards which He bestows, there is need that we exercise patience. He who is conscious that he deserves nothing, and that he needs much, will feel as if God were not exacting anything unreasonable in making him wait. He who knows how much is promised, and how certainly it will be granted in proper season, will be delighted to wait.
4. Waiting for God implies sire and expectation. We are longing for the blessings, as you see the husbandman looking over the whole sky for the coming shower to refresh his crops, or for the signs of dry weather to enable him to gather in his grain; as you have seen the mother in her eagerness, or the father, saying less, but not less earnest, looking out for a son or daughter who has been for years in a foreign clime, but who has promised to be at home at such a time. How is every object in the dim distance examined! how is every sound listened to! and, "Why is he so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariot?" Ah, if we were longing for spiritual blessings in this spirit, they would come, assuredly come; and our faith would insure them, and our eagerness would hasten them: for "He that shall come will come, and will not tarry."
II. HOW THE LORD ENCOURAGES THEM THAT WAIT FOR HIM.
1. It is a good thing in itself thus to wait when God so requires it. It braces and invigorates the soul, and enables it to use the means to procure the expected benefit!
2. It is good to wait, inasmuch as in waiting we receive many valuable lessons. A pupil or apprentice puts himself under a master, who promises to teach him a certain branch of knowledge. Now, it is possible that, in fulfilment of his engagement, the master may just set the learner to work, and point out service after service for him. Would the scholar be thereby justified in charging his master with a breach of promise, and saying to him, "You promised to give me instruction and skill, and you set me instead to work and toil"? We see at once that if such a spirit were cherished by the pupil, it would indicate not only that he is ignorant of the branch of knowledge he wishes to learn, but that he is labouring under a more deplorable ignorance, — that he is ignorant of his own ignorance; for it is in the very act of waiting on that master, and doing the work which he prescribes, that he is to attain the skill he is seeking. It is the same in the school of Christ.
3. The blessing is larger because we have waited for it. Why is it that man, when he has an arduous work to do, must do it when he can, and hasten to perform it? How is it that when he makes a promise he must be ready to execute it when he can, and not wait till, as he supposes, some more favourable opportunity may present itself? Plainly because his power is limited, because his time on the earth is uncertain, and if he let one opportunity slip, another may never present itself. But no such weakness is laid on the High and Holy One who "inhabiteth eternity," and with whom "one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." He can allow opportunity after opportunity, to pass away, till at last the "fit time," "the set time," "the fulness of times," comes. All is order and beneficence amidst so much complexity and seeming irregularity. Everything is happening at its most appropriate time, amid so much apparent delay and procrastination. While nothing lingers beyond its time, nothing hastens to a premature conclusion. God delays the blessing only that it may be larger when it comes. His counsels ripen slowly, that the ear may be fuller, that the fruit may be richer and mellower. How is it that the river, which rose in so small a fountain among the rugged hills, now sweeps along so magnificently among fertile plains? It is because in its lengthened and circuitous course it has gathered contributions on either side, receiving a new stream from every valley which it passed. Thus it is that the stream of God's bounty is made to turn and wind, only that it may receive contributions from every quarter as it sweeps along, and flow at length more largely into the bosom. Hence it is that the royal munificence of His bounty knows no limits at last. Thus it is that He is good to them that wait for Him.
Throughout the Scriptures the two terms Seeking and Waiting run parallel as describing prayer, earnest and effectual prayer, in all its acts and offices. The command to seek the Lord and the command to wait on the Lord have the same general meaning, and the same general promises are given to each. But in this passage they are for once combined: their combination suggesting a certain difference between them, and the perfection of devotion which results from their union. Each has in it the blessedness of prayer: but each has a character of its own as qualifying the other; and both, in their unity, form the highest devotion.
I. Generally, IN THE COMBINATION OF THESE TERMS EACH EXPRESSES THE PERFECTION OF ALL PRAYER AS IT IS EITHER THE ACTIVE SEEKING OF GOD OR THE PASSIVE WAITING FOR HIM; IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT MAN DOES AND WHAT HE MUST EXPECT GOD TO DO IN THE WHOLE BUSINESS OF DEVOTION. All communion with God requires this. Seeking suggests at once the idea of the soul's activity: making God the Unknown, the Unfound, the Unseen, the Hidden, the Distant, or, better still, the Waiting God, its one great object. The spirit in man goes out, as the Scripture says, after Him, on an infinite quest; and its restless cry m, O that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come even to His seat!" Alas, He is hidden from us in our natural state by a thick veil: not by distance, but by worse than distance, by a cloud of thicker than Egyptian darkness, by a veil which our sins and His justice have woven. But that veil has been rent in Christ. We know where we may find Him, where His seat is: on the mercy seat, which is the Cross. Now, the testimony is: "He is good to the soul that seeketh Him." But that seeking must be a waiting also. God m near at hand as well as afar off. Not only are we brought nigh by the blood of Jesus, but He also is brought nigh: and in a very different sense from that in which He is "nigh to every one of us." The waiting soul lays hold on that great truth, and calmly expects His revelation of Himself. In that posture the wings of the seeking spirit are folded again, its voice is stilled to silence, and it thinks rather than cries: "O when will He come unto me!" No seeking will find until He make Himself present. "The Lord is good to those that wait for Him." There is a set time for His manifestation of Himself. The seeker after God must also, in the very act of seeking, be a waiter upon Him. In the former, man does his part: in the latter, God acts alone. It will be plain, then, that the two terms express one and too same prayer throughout the whole history of devotion; from the moment when the first glimpse of God lights up the desire, through all the acts of special supplication and all the habits of communion with Deity, up to the full possession of God in the beatific vision. All our communion with heaven from beginning to end is the union of our activity with patient dependence on the Divine fidelity to His promise. And this communion is the communion of the Holy Spirit: the New Testament secret, which we must put into an Old Testament text. He, from above, lights up the energy of seeking in our souls; and He, from above, reveals the Eternal God to our souls. But my present point is only this: that the whole business of the religious life, which is, in one word, the finding God, His goodness, and His salvation, is the union of our intense activity and of our most passive expectation. In the seeking of God you have a great work yourselves to do: in the waiting you acknowledge His absolute supremacy in your salvation.
II. AGAIN, THE SEEKING STANDS HERE AND EVERYWHERE FOR THE PLEADING BOLDNESS OF PRAYER, WHICH REQUIRES TO BE QUALIFIED BY ITS WAITING HUMILITY. Nothing is more certain than that the petitioner who brings his request to God is permitted to come with boldness. He is pledged by His immutable word and oath to do for us all that is contained in the covenant. It is wonderful how we are encouraged to plead by God's own name and honour! In every way we are told to remember that our humility must not forget its rights. Every prayer, from beginning to end, has in it the strength of the voice, the irresistible voice, of Jesus. And this idea is in the word "seek" as generally used in Scripture; as may be noted where "calling" is connected with it. So, our Lord makes the seeking an advancement on the process of asking; the knocking of bold importunity or shamelessness, in fact, being its highest character. He always encourages in every petitioner what may be called an undaunted, resolute, and bold spirit of appeal to heaven. Now, it is obvious that this requires to be carefully guarded that boldness must be humble boldness, and must wait before God humbly pondering its own unworthiness. The seeker must learn that, after all that Christ has done to give him right of approach, the fact of his own utter vileness as respects himself remains, and will remain throughout eternity. Now, the waiting spirit is not simply the spirit that is content to tarry, but one that knows why the delay is appointed. Read it here. It is good to bear the yoke. It is good to taste of "the wormwood and the gall" before we think of the "cup of salvation." The lesson of penitence must be thoroughly learnt; the lesson of impotence. Waiting is self-examination. Here is the secret of the Divine delay and the deferred hope. It is not that He delighteth not in mercy, that He forgets to be gracious. But it is the eternal law of the covenant of grace that salvation is given only to those who profoundly feel their need, their unworthiness, and their utter helplessness: I do not say that they be reduced to despair; for that is not the waiting, but the ceasing to wait. Hence, the combination of these is the perfection of acceptable prayer: the Scripture terms it "humble boldness." Boldness is sure that the blessing is there, and is the confidence of faith; humility can hardly be persuaded that the point of personal preparation is fully come. The union is the achievement of the Holy Ghost; groanings that seek, but use an unuttered language. Now you must apply this to your ease as a penitent seeker of salvation: indeed, it is to your case as such that all this specially applies. You have come to know that you have one sole business before you: to acquaint yourself with God being the one thing needful. Before you think of anything else in heaven or earth, that supreme matter must be settled: on that your eternal destiny depends. Now, you have to seek in the prayer of confession, pleading the promises ratified in Christ, and urging your plea day and night continually. But you must wait as knowing that pardon is a deliberate act of God, to be attested by the Holy Ghost, when all the conditions are perfect. When your seeking and waiting are both one in the perfection of entire self-renunciation and simple faith, God will certainly show Himself good; but not till then. Here is the secret of the Divine delay. On the other hand, though you merit not that God should look at you, much less that He should embrace and love you as a child, your seeking must be imperfect if you cannot rejoice in,, His mercy. You need to be aroused. "Be of good courage: rise, He calleth thee. Always be sure of this, that "The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him."
III. Once more, THE TWO TERMS SIGNIFY THE FERVOUR AND EARNESTNESS OF PRAYER JOINED TO PERSISTENCY IN THAT FERVOUR; AND THE RARE COMBINATION OF THESE GIVES THE HIGHEST CHARACTER TO THE TONE OF OUR DEVOTION. In almost every instance in which the seeking is commanded, it is connected with the idea of intense ardour. This is the spirit of devotion generally into which our acceptance introduces us. The man has become a man of God, which is, in other words, a man of prayer. "I — prayer": the whole being is one active desire for the gifts of God and for God Himself; and whether we regard the value of the gifts or the infinitely greater value of the God who gives, it is obvious that the undivided soul must be engaged in the seeking. "Then shall ye find Me when ye seek Me with your whole heart." It is the continuing instant in prayer. It is the concentration of every faculty in its utmost strength on seeking spiritual good as hid treasure. But spiritual good is God Himself. There is literally no limit to the degree in which the desire after God may kindle the human spirit. The waiting habit is as constantly commended to us as the seeking: first, as the test of real earnestness, and, secondly, as its stimulant.
1. It is its test. There is a vehemence which deserves not to be called earnestness: clamorous indeed and excited for a season, but cooling very soon under the withering influence of delay, if, indeed, its own excitement does not consume it. There is nothing which we need to have more deeply impressed on our minds than this, that strong desires, lively feelings, and the rush of superficial ardour are not themselves evidences of the indwelling of the true spirit of prayer. They may coexist with a very slight feeling of humility and with a very inadequate sense of the value of what we ask for. But the sure test is the necessity of waiting: this God knows how to apply. We apply it very often to each other. We wait to see what will come of the vehemence of our fellows; and too often we find that it is only "the crackling of thorns." Continuance is the infallible test. Blessed is that deep fervour of spirit which no time changes; which no delay can dull.
2. But waiting is also the stimulant to seeking. And doubtless that is the secret of the discipline of the Holy Ghost. The perfection of the spirit of prayer is the permanence of strong and deep emotion in all devotional exercises. This is what St. Paul calls "continuing instant in prayer": "instant," that is, ardent and vehement; "continuing" instant, that is, keeping up that blessed glow at all times and under all circumstances. Now, the injunction to wait simply means this. We are to make it our study to keep up this ardour. And how is that done but by feeding our desire in the pondering which studies our own weakness and keeps alive the intense longing by considering our impotence without heavenly grace? There is, indeed, a waiting which itself defeats this end: which indolently acquiesces in the Divine delay; leaves all to the set time of grace; and folds its wings too closely. But the true waiting of the spirit of prayer only feeds desire, and gives it strength and permanence. The soul that meditates much upon the greatness of the blessing sought spends no waiting time in vain. Let us mark the combination as it is enforced and exemplified in Scripture, and apply it to ourselves. There is nothing which our Lord has more constantly and affectingly taught us than this. Almost all His lessons pointed "to this end"; that men must pray always and not faint, though "God bear long with us." But He always impresses the combination as such. The man whom we remember in His parable sought and waited; but his waiting only rendered him desperately importunate and "shameless." See how the Master of prayer applies His own parable with a difference: every one who asks receives, but the reserved mysteries of blessing are for those who wait and knock at the innermost gate of heaven. So in that parable of real life. How did the Lord keep the Syro-Phoenician waiting! And why? She asked and received something, though we see it not; she sought and found something, strength to knock; she knocked at the door of His heart, and it opened to her. The entire history of devotion in Scripture illustrates this combination. We see how the earlier and the later saints showed forth the spirit of prayer which was in them; ardently seeking always and always patiently waiting. From Abraham, and Job, and Jacob, that night-long wrestler with the angel, and Hannah, and Samuel, and David, and Daniel, and our Jeremiah, down to the Great Exemplar and those whom He taught to pray, we see the utmost intensity of seeking desire combined with the tranquil waiting of silent awe and patient expectation. Their intensity is not measured by the multitude of pleading cries; for it rather tends always to few words, again and again repeated, and even towards the limit of perfect speechlessness. With deepening fervour they wait, and their groanings become unutterable; their transports of desire are prolonged, and perfected into the most passive tarrying for God. Be determined, therefore, to cherish at all costs this sacred spirit of prayer. Learn it of our Master's precepts, and learn it of His example. But remember here two things of great importance. First, that the lesson of this union is to be practised in the inner man of the heart. There is the true place of prayer, where all the sacred arts of devotion are to be learnt. There alone can we "pray without ceasing," seek without interruption, and wait without leaving the Divine presence. There we may have ardour without vehemence, waiting without indolence: the combination which belongs rather to the spirit and frame and tone of devotion than to its direct acts. Therefore, preserve your spirit by all means in that posture and condition: whatever it costs you. And, secondly, keep it ever in view that the Holy Ghost is your teacher. He is the Spirit of intercession within us. And if you always let Him guide you, the great lesson shall be learnt. He will prompt you to such earnestness, and stimulate you to such deepening fervours, as you cannot now conceive; and yet keep you in so tranquil a spirit that the groanings shall not be uttered.
IV. WE MAY NOW PROFITABLY APPLY OUR TWO WORDS TO THE CONFIDENCE AND SUBMISSION OF PRAYER AS IT HAS TO DO WITH THE SEEKING AND WAITING FOR SPECIAL BLESSINGS. This is a further stage in our present subject: it is not now the general union of seeking and waiting as belonging to all prayer, to the prayer that seeks salvation, to the spirit of prayer in the regenerate: but as specifically concerned with the individual requests of our religious life. Throughout Scripture we are exhorted to seek everything we need from God. Our wants are endless. For everything God will be inquired of; the permission is as broad as the care of life: "be careful for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known." Here the seeking is the seeking unto the Lord as an oracle; as to a hand forever stretched out: as to an inexhaustible treasury. But we must not misunderstand this. Our confidence is simply the making known our requests with certain faith that they are heard: no more. Then submission comes in. We must blend waiting with our seeking; and leave to God the whether, the when, and the how of His granting. He may not bestow what we ask in some cases; and there is no true prayer which does not leave to His supreme wisdom and Jove the decision as to the propriety of granting its request. Now, the confidence of prayer is only required to wait in this sense when it is asking the innumerable good things which we think to be good, but which are directly connected with our providential allotment. We wait only to know His will. He may have His own methods of granting our requests. This applies to both orders of blessing. And this is the supreme lesson we have to learn. We pray in confidence that our prayer is heard; but the method of Divine answer demands our waiting. Let us now see this gracious combination in its effects. The perfect union of confidence and submission will have a most happy influence on our life of prayer, as it is a life of supplication. It will dispose and enable us to pray for temporal good and earthly deliverances with entire submissiveness to the will of God: confident that we are heard, but leaving the answer to His wisdom. The illustrations of this are endless; but let the context suffice now. The seeking and waiting to which Jeremiah referred was the seeking for deliverance from sore temporal troubles blended with the pure resignation of waiting which accepted the denial of God. We need not ask what the keen trial was which in this chapter pours out its exceeding bitter cry. Jeremiah is a typical man of sorrows: and these lamentations are the lamentations of humanity. He was in his meditation taught the blessedness of simply giving the case up to God. The very waiting is good: "It is good that a man quietly wait." It teaches thankfulness that matters are not worse: "This I recall to my mind. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed." Sometimes the earthly good is granted. But what was true of providential interposition is also true of the delay of granting many most important spiritual requests. We must plead for them, and yet learn in waiting the reason why they are withheld. In other words, they are granted in an indirect manner, and in the discipline of graces more valuable than the gifts themselves. This refers especially to the petitioning for special manifestations of favour which are very often denied, but strangely granted even in the denial no, St. Paul had not the thorn removed; but a glorious manifestation of Divine strength was made perfect in his weakness. By waiting upon God for any great blessing, we discipline the waiting graces: trust, hope, faith, reverence, obedience, humility, submission. These, though we seek them not, are precious results of waiting. There is, however, a combination of seeking and waiting which rises to the pitch of assured hope of immediate bestowment. The seeking and waiting are one in the present faith. This cannot be doubted with the Lord's words in our mind. If this were not added, we should be unjust to the covenant. The Great Teacher of prayer does not make faith always its own reward. There are blessings which He makes unconditionally ours; if we seek and wait in assurance that they are ours. Now, in all these cases, He by His Spirit prompts us to believe that they are given and must be given "Believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." Of what blessings is such a large word spoken? Of such certainly as concern the honour of our Lord in our present salvation. These blessings are not to be waited for so much as demanded.
V. Lastly, THE COMBINATION OF WHICH SO MUCH HAS BEEN SAID FORMS IN ITS HIGHEST PERFECTION THE DEVOTIONAL STATE OF THE SOUL, IN WHICH BOTH THE SEEKING AND THE WAITING GO BEYOND THEIR FORMER MEANINGS AND BLEND INTO THE HABIT RATHER THAN THE ACT OF COMMUNION WITH GOD. Remember that this is not a state which leaves behind the outgoings of seeking and waiting in express supplications; it includes all that has been spoken of; but it superadds something of much importance to the higher spiritual life. In the state of soul I refer to, God Himself is an ever-present internal Reality, neither to be actively sought nor passively waited for: the spirit lives in God; it is purely filled with a desire that needs no words, and is always sensible of His influence without needing to tarry for it. In such devotion the seeking is the silent aspiration that is ever deepening towards infinity; and the petitioner rather waits on the Lord than waits for Him. The soul has returned to its rest. It dwells in God and God in it: and the consequence of that mutual indwelling speaks for itself. That must in the nature of things be the tranquillity of perfect waiting: it must be in the nature of things the ardour of ceaseless longing. But it must be the aspiration of every one of us to reach that perfectness of union with God in which seeking and waiting are one. The Triune God will come and "make His abode with us." Thus shall we live where all seeking and waiting are one in abiding communion with the Supreme Good. It has been said that such habitual silent communion with God does not supersede the acts and habits of formal worship: it graciously pervades them all. We must be on our guard against an exaggeration of this deep truth which reckons it the perfection of the devout estate to be free from every desire, and to keep every feeling and impulse of the heart under such restraint as to be absolutely dead and quiet before God, indifferent about everything that is His or from Him, and intent only upon possessing Himself. Whether this is the perfection of heaven, we know not; it is not the perfection of earth. We must not set such an unauthorised and impracticable standard before us. If we follow this high and tranquil spirit of devotion into the public ordinances, or rather, if we are so happy as to carry it into them, we shall feel how good it is to pray for ourselves and for others, seeking earnestly what the Lord waits to give, But our seeking will be one with the waiting: which ponders the Divine perfections, worshipping Him while we are asking His gifts. The whole service will be an act of seeking and waiting combined: all adoration and praise, while all is seeking and prayer. If we retire with it into secret, what is its effect there but such a combination of active petition and passive meditation as makes the peculiar blessedness of closet devotion? There the laws are very free; no rules are laid down in Scripture; the Spirit bloweth where it listeth. There the seeking and waiting are or may be blended in a most gracious way. Sometimes the soul united to God is drawn out in vehement requests which will not be denied; happy are you when this is the case. But at such times, even when you are praying, "with strong crying and tears," you must be, you will be, waiting to be heard "in that you fear" with humble reverence. Finally, this habitual union of waiting and seeking in the presence of God makes the whole of life one constant preparation for the final fulfilment of the promise of the text. After all, the highest reaches of devotion below are only the seeking of what cannot be fully found on earth, the waiting for what heaven alone can reveal This is the very blessedness of the seeking waiting life, that its object is too good for time. The end is not yet: however perfect may be the destruction of sin and the peace of God in the soul. Make it the great law of your earthly existence that it shall be ruled by this boundless expectation. Expect much in this world, but not too much. Render to earth wilt belongs to earth, and to heaven what belongs to heaven.
(W. B. Pope, D. D.)
1. Illustrate this by the case of sorrow. "The heart knoweth its own bitterness," and none knoweth it beside. Sorrow is not to be painted or described, or quite imagined. When it is heard of, it is known to be serious; when it is felt, it is found to be misery. It is often a choice heart which is thus chosen for sorrows. When the sorrow is godly, borne well by the soul which bends under it, then it brings a true turning from the past: a living faith in the promises is itself a very close communion with Christ. After such a trial we go softly all our days; so softly that we can hear those voices, unheard or unheeded before, which tell us "the Lord is good unto them that wait for Him."
2. Take, again, the case of ill-health. At first, when the health has failed, life seems to have lost its meaning. All occupations have to be changed, new and unknown expedients adopted. The patient groans in weariness, "Surely against me is he turned. He turneth His hand against me all the day." But in silent watchings and long dreary hours gleams of comfort gradually enter the soul, till at last it is found; weakness has been a sort of watchtower, with an outlook heavenward, and after many longings, many sighs and prayers, we have seen and felt on the sick bed that "the Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, unto the soul that seeketh Him."
3. We might take other and frequently recurring cases in the anxiety of business — the feeling that one has a too heavy work to do, that one is bound to a career which is not congenial, has to do what one is not adapted for, or placed where one is not best placed, that one has not the necessary means, openings, or conditions of success, no certainties in the future, no prospect of really advancing, or eventually holding one's own, that one cannot get one's family well out in life, that if we are taken away we know not what will become of them. How many have to watch for bad tidings which are already pluming the wing for a heavy flight, to sit about with a sinking heart where they would long to be near to help! When such trial is upon us, our heart complains with the unreasoning sincerity of suffering, "Thou hast remove a my sore far off from peace; I forget prosperity." We forget prosperity in trial, as we forget the Giver of good gifts in prosperity; we do not regard what we had or what is left to us; we see that, and only that, which is taken away. Then the school hour begins, and the lessons, at first irksome, are settled down to at last. The Christian comes to a more patient docile waiting upon God, a remembrance mat man does not live by bread alone; that the hand which clothes the flower and feeds the bird will not forget us; that our issues are with Him, and that, if our prosperity has grown poor, Jesus was poorer; that our true riches lie hid in His. salvation.
4. Take the case of the besetting sin, known, deplored, wrestled with, yet besetting still; a thorn in the spirit, buffeting and laying low — the contrasting shadow of our better self following us year after year along life's road — a breach in the battlements of the inner life, where the enemy at his will cometh in as a flood. Wait; bear on; by and by your infirmity will heal up, and the Lord will so lift the load that in a day you may be free from it forever.
5. Or, take the trial of religious doubt — the shadow of the intellect projected on the page, discord in the ear, and therefore the music out of tune. Why does not the system which has satisfied the most gifted satisfy us? Why does not the path where the most gracious have walked secure give me some ease? I wish to do service, but there again intrudes upon me the irritating problem. My difficulty is nothing to another; his difficulty is none to me; yet. there we are, both in difficulties alike. "So all these things worketh God oftentimes with man," and His object is still the same: to bring back his soul from the pit to be enlightened with the light of the living.
(T. P. Crosse, D. C. L.)
"I stood one evening last summer watching the pure white flowers on a creeper encircling the veranda I had been told that the buds that hung with closed petals all day, every evening near sunset unfolded and sent out a fragrance. The miracle was more than I had anticipated. A feeling of silent awe possessed me as I saw bud after bud, as if under the touch of invisible hands, slowly fold back its leaves until the creeper was filled with perfect blossoms, most beautiful and sweet. And I said, 'If the finger of God laid upon these, His flowers, can do this in a way beyond the power of human study to explain, cannot the same Divine touch, in ways we know not of, do as much for human hearts?' Shall the flowers teach a lesson of patient waiting and holy trust for the coming messing? There are hearts for whom we have prayed seemingly closed as yet to every influence of the blessed Spirit; but let us be patient; we have sown the good seed; God's rain and sunshine through His own providences are nourishing the plant; the breath of prayer always surrounds it; surely by and by the Divine touch will in a way we can least understand bring forth the perfected flowers of His grace.
When William Marconi, sitting among his instruments on the eastern coast of Newfoundland, with the great skeleton tower of wires rising high into the air, waited confidently for his first message across the broad Atlantic by wireless telegraphy, — waited, and got it, — he furnished to all time a home illustration of faith in an unseen reality. And so, when a message from God comes to the believer's soul, though God is unseen and the message unrecorded, save upon the unseen tables of his heart, none the less — not one particle the less — does the believer perfectly confide in it. Nothing can do more for a person than this reliance on an unseen world. It more than doubles his resources. It adds the other and greater world to this, and makes him master of both.
Oh, impatient one! Did the leaves say nothing to you as they murmured when you came hither today? They were not created this spring, but months ago; and the summer just begun will fashion others for another year. At the bottom of every leaf stem is a cradle, and in it is an infant germ; and the winds will rock it, and the birds will sing to it all summer long; and next season it will unfold. So God is working for you, and carrying forward to the perfect development all the processes of your life.
(H. W. Beecher.)
I saw the proprietor of a garden stand at his fence, and call to his poor neighbour, "Would you like some grapes?" "Yes; and very thankful," was the ready answer. "Then bring your basket." The basket was quickly handed over the fence. The owner took it and disappeared among the vines; and I remarked that he deposited in it rich clusters from the fruitful labyrinth in which he hid himself. The woman stood at the fence quiet and hopeful. At length he reappeared with a well-filled basket, saying, "I have made you wait a good while; but there are all the more grapes." To the soul that seeketh Him. — "How good to those who seek"! — I do not know whether it has ever struck you what a grand man Jeremiah was. It is the prophet Jeremiah, in his Book of Lamentations, who says to you who are seeking the Lord, "The Lord is good to the soul that seeketh Him." You do not need to take any discount off his words of cheer. Depend upon it, what he says is true. If he of the weeping eyes, if he of the sorrowful spirit, yet nevertheless, in all the bitterness of his misery, bears testimony that the Lord is good to the soul that seeketh Him, then, depend upon it, it is so.
I. DESCRIBE A SEEKING SOUL.
1. He is under a sense of need, — a need which he could hardly describe, but which, nevertheless, weighs very heavily upon him. He wants something very great, but he hardly knows what it is. He feels guilty, and He wants pardon. He feels sinful, and he wants renewing. He feels everything that he ought not to be, and he wants to be changed, to be made a new man.
2. This seeker, also, is one who, though he does not know it, has a measure of faith, for he believes, deep down in his heart, that if he could once get to God, all would be well with him.
3. Further, this seeker sometimes seeks very unwisely. When a soul wants God, and wants salvation, it will begin to seek the Lord by its own doings, by its own feelings, by its own strange eccentricities, perhaps. Some of you think that you must have a remarkable dream, others expect an angelic vision, some are waiting to hear a very extraordinary sermon, and to feel very singular emotions. This is the nature of seekers, that they often seek in a very unwise way; but still, they do seek; and it is a mercy that they do seek, for "the Lord is good to the soul that seeketh Him."
4. I will tell you what true seekers do when they act wisely. I notice that they often get alone. When a stag is wounded, it delights to hide in the recesses of the forest, that it may bleed and die alone; and when God has shot His arrow of conviction into a human heart, one of the first signs of the wounding is that the man likes to get alone.
5. I will tell you another thing about the true seeker. You will find that he begins to bring out his Bible, that much-neglected book.
6. And as, perhaps, in his study of the Scriptures he meets with difficulties, you will find that this seeking young man is anxious to go and hear the Word preached; for the Word rightly preached has a warmth about it, and a vividness, which are not always so manifest to the seeker in his reading of the Word.
7. And there is another sign of the true seeker that I always love to see; he 1ikes to get into godly company.
8. There is another mark of a seeker that is better still: "Behold, he prayeth." Possibly, he used to repeat a form of prayer; but he has given that up, and now he talks to God straight out of his heart, and asks for what he really wants; and he not only does that morning and evening, but he is praying during most of the day.
9. I think there will be one more mark that you will see upon a sincere seeker: he will quit all that is evil as much as possible, and he will seek after that which is good, and especially, he will seek after faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You will see him now trying to believe, very much like a little child tries to take his first steps in walking alone. If, poor trembling seeker, your faith should bring you no comfort, because it is so weak, yet keep on trusting to Christ.
II. ASSURE THE SEEKING SOUL THAT THE LORD IS GOOD TO HIM. "The Lord is good to the soul that seeketh Him."
1. It is good of Him to have set you seeking at all. He might have left you in your sins as He has left so many thousands of your fellow men.
2. God is also good to the seeker in giving him some gleams of comfort. Did you say that you had been seeking the Lord for months? Well, how is it that you have kept on seeking! I think it must be because you have sometimes had a few rays of light.
3. I think that He is also good in not letting us rest short of Himself. Often, the surgeon, when he has a bad case, will not let the wound heal. "No, not yet," says he; "if that wound heals too soon, there will be more mischief coming from it." So he lets in his lancet again, and cuts out a bit of proud flesh; and our Lord will not let us close up the wound that sin hath made lest it be but a sorry healing that will end in a worse wound than before.
4. But He is much better to them that seek Him than you have ever imagined, for He has given such rich promises to seekers. Oh, the blessed invitations of Christ!
5. He is also good to seekers because He has made the way of salvation so plain. A man with an intellect not much above that of an idiot may understand this Gospel, and enjoy it, while a man with the greatest mental powers cannot understand it any better; nay, he cannot understand it at all, unless the Spirit of God shall reveal it to him.
6. Then, once more, is it not very good of the Lord in being found of seekers in due time?
III. But, lest I weary any seeker where I want to win him, I shall close by FURTHER CHEERING HIM ON IN HIS SEEKING.
1. Friend, be of good comfort, Christ is seeking you. You are drawing nearer to each other every hour, and it will not be long before your arms are about His neck, and His arms about yours; you will be rejoicing in Him, and He will be rejoicing over you.
2. It may not be long before you find the Saviour; it may, indeed, be so little a while, that, before the clock strikes again, you will have found Him.
3. And mark you this, when the blessing comes, it will be worth waiting for. The joy and peace through believing which come from Christ are a wonderful offset against the tears and sorrows that we have endured while we have been seeking Him.
4. This is my closing thought: thou hast no need to go about seeking Christ any longer. Thou hast no need to wait even five minutes ere thou findest Him, for it is written, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." Dost thou know what it is to believe on Him, to trust Him? Do so now. "It would be a great venture," says one. Then venture on Him. "Would He save me?" Try Him. You have heard, I dare say, of the African who came over to England. Before he came, the missionary told him that sometimes it was so cold in England that the water grew hard, and men could walk on it. Now, the man had heard a great many things that were not true which he had believed; but this, he said, he never would believe. It was "one great big lie; for nobody ever could walk on water." When he woke up, one December morning, and the stream was frozen over, he still said that he would not believe it. Even when his friend went on the ice, and stood there, and said, "Now you can see that what I told you was true; this is water, yet it is hard, and it bears me up," the African would not believe it, till his friend said to him, "Come along," and he gave him a pull, and dragged him on the ice, and then he said, "Yes, it is true, for it bears me up."
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.
Having struck a rich vein, our author proceeds to work it with energy. He sees that he is not alone in enjoying the supreme blessedness of the Divine love. The revelation that has come to him is applicable to other men if they will but fulfil the conditions to which it is attached. In the first place, it is necessary to perceive clearly what those conditions are on which the happy experience of God's unfailing mercies may be enjoyed by any man. The primary requisite is affirmed to be "quiet waiting." The passivity of this attitude is accentuated in a variety of expressions. It is difficult for us of the modern western world to appreciate such teaching. No doubt if it stood by itself it would be so one-sided as to be positively misleading. But this is no more than must be said of any of the best lessons of life. The Church has learnt the duty of working — which is well. She does not appear so capable of attaining the blessedness of waiting. Our age is in no danger of the dreaminess of quietism. But we find it hard to cultivate what Wordsworth calls "wise passiveness." And yet in the heart of us we feel the lack of this spirit of quiet. The waiting here recommended is more than simple passiveness, however, more than a bare negation of action It is the very opposite of lethargy and torpor. Although it is quiet, it is not asleep. It is open-eyed, watchful, expectant. It has a definite object of anticipation, for it is a waiting for God and His salvation; and therefore it is hopeful. Nay, it has a certain activity of its own, for it seeks God. Still, this activity is inward and quiet; its immediate aim is not to get at some visible earthly end, however much this may be desired, nor to attain some inward personal experience, some stage in the soul's culture, such as peace, or purity, or power, although this may be the ultimate object of the present anxiety; primarily it seeks God — all else it leaves in His hands. Thus it is rather a change in the tone and direction of the soul's energies than a state of repose. Quiet waiting, then, is the right and fitting condition for the reception of blessing from God. But the elegist holds more than this. In his estimation the state of mind he here commends is itself good for a man. It is certainly good in contrast with the unhappy alternatives — feeble fussiness, wearing anxiety, indolent negligence, or blank despair. It is good also as a positive condition of mind. He has reached a happy inward attainment who has cultivated the faculty of possessing his soul in patience. His eye is clear for visions of the unseen. To him the deep fountains of life are open. Truth is his, and peace and strength also. To his reflections on the blessedness of quiet waiting the elegist adds a very definite word about another experience, declaring that "it is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth." It is impossible to say what particular yoke the writer is thinking about. The persecutions inflicted on Jeremiah have been cited in illustration of this passage; and although we may not be able to ascribe the poem to the great prophet, his toils and troubles will serve as instances of the truth of the words of the anonymous writer, for undoubtedly his sympathies were quickened while his strength was ripened by what he endured. If we will have a definite meaning, the yoke may stand for one of three things — for instruction, for labour, or for trouble. The sentence is true of either of these forms of yoke. But now the poet has been brought to see that it was for his own advantage that he was made to bear the yoke in his youth. How so! Surely not because it prevented him from taking too rosy views of life, and so saved him from subsequent disappointment. Nothing is more fatal to youth than cynicism. The poet's reflections on the blessedness of quiet waiting are followed by direct exhortations to the behaviour which is its necessary accompaniment — for such seems to be the meaning of the next triplet, verses 28 to 30. The revisers have corrected this from the indicative mood to the imperative, "Let him sit alone," etc., "Let him put his mouth in the dust," etc., "Let him give his cheek to him that smiteth him," etc. Who is the person thus indirectly addressed? The grammar of the sentences would invite our attention to the "man" of the twenty-seventh verse. If it is good for everybody to bear the yoke in his youth, it might be suggested, further, that it would be well for everybody to act in the manner now indicated — that is to say, the advice would be of universal application. We must suppose, however, that the poet is thinking of a sufferer similar to himself. Now the point of the exhortation is to be found in the fact that it goes beyond the placid state just described. It points to solitude, silence, submission, humiliation, non-resistance. It is hard to sit in solitude and silence — a Ugolino in his tower of famine, a Bonnivard in his dungeon; there seems to be nothing heroic in this dreary inactivity. It would be much easier to attempt some deed of daring, especially if that were in the heat of battle. Nothing is so depressing as loneliness — the torture of a prisoner in solitary confinement. And yet now there must be no word of complaint because the trouble comes from the very Being who is to be trusted for deliverance. There is a call for action, however, but only to make the submission more complete and the humiliation more abject. The sufferer is to lay his mouth in the dust like a beaten slave. A yet more bitter cup must be drunk to the dregs. He must actually turn his cheek to the smiter, and quietly submit to reproach. We cannot consider this subject without being reminded of the teaching and example of our Lord. It is hard to receive even from His lips the command to turn the other cheek to one who has smitten us on the right cheek. But when we see Jesus doing this very thing the whole aspect of it is changed. What before looked weak and cowardly is now seen to be the perfection of true courage and the height of moral sublimity. What a Roman would despise as shameful weakness, He has proved to be the triumph of strength. This advice is not so paradoxical as it appears. We are not called upon to accept it merely on the authority of the speaker. He follows it up by assigning good reasons for it. The first is that the suffering is but temporary. God seems to have cast off His afflicted servant. If so, it is but for a season. The second is to be found in God's unwillingness to afflict. He never takes up the rod, as we might say, con amore. Therefore the trial will not be unduly prolonged. Since God Himself grieves to inflict it, the distress can be no more than is absolutely necessary. The third and last reason for this patience of submission is the certainty that God cannot commit an injustice.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
I. WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THE SALVATION HERE SPOKEN OF.
1. A salvation from every kind and degree of evil — sin, temptations, the troubles of this world, and future everlasting miseries (Revelation 21:3, 4).
2. The being put into the possession of all good (2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 1:4, 5). Every desire filled up, every prayer answered, and all changed into the most exalted, everlasting praise and thanksgiving.
II. WHY IS IT CALLED THE SALVATION OF THE LORD?
1. It is a salvation worthy of Him (Hebrews 11:16).
2. It is designed, prepared, and promised by Him (Revelation 2:10).
3. It is a salvation that will consist in the enjoyment of Him.
III. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN HOPING AND PATIENTLY WAITING FOR IT?
1. Having the heart fixed by faith on the salvation of God as real, though out of sight (Hebrews 11:1).
2. A full persuasion that the salvation of God will come at last, though for a time deferred.
3. Expecting the salvation of God in His time; depending upon His wisdom to choose the fittest season, and His faithfulness to remember us when that season comes.
4. Serious care to be found ready, whenever called to enter upon the salvation of God, which we have been waiting for.
IV. IN WHAT RESPECTS IT MAY BE SAID TO BE GOOD, THUS TO HOPE AND QUIETLY WAIT FOR THE SALVATION OF GOD.
1. It is good, as it redounds to God's glory; as it is a testimony of his power and grace.
2. As it may encourage others to look, and wait for this salvation.
3. As it will be comfortable to ourselves, disposing us to meet the will of God in a becoming manner.
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE "SALVATION OF THE LORD." The "salvation of the Lord" here is something else than the first view which a sinful man obtains of pardon and peace, through "the great God our Saviour." It is the salvation which a man needs in any crisis of life, where he suffers under trial or is threatened with it. And, in these trials, hope and quiet waiting do not come at once into their fullest exercise. As long as human means can avail, it is a man's duty, trusting to Divine help, to employ them. To sit and wait, where effort can avail, is to insult God's providence. The "salvation of the Lord" is when all conceivable means have been employed, and have failed. We may struggle on with a blind despair, and, as long as strength remains, we must struggle on; but this power, too, seems to be failing. It is then that the ease rises distinctly into "the salvation of the Lord." Nothing can save us but His marked interposition, and the heart must put itself in the attitude of "hope and quiet waiting" for it. There may be some who are using every endeavour to secure subsistence and an honourable position for themselves and those dependent on them; and yet all their efforts are unsuccessful. If some change does not quickly come, they feel that temporal ruin is on them. It is a time not to relax effort, but to look out more intently for deliverance from God, and to have the heart resting on it. Or there may be some one who has the presence of a constant difficulty in the spiritual life, — perhaps the want of that sense of religious comfort which is felt to be so desirable, or the obtrusion of some painful doubt about doctrine or duty, through which no present light can be seen. No exertion to reach light is to be neglected, but there may be a more implicit confidence in Him who is the Father of lights, — holding steadfastly to what is felt to be true, and waiting for illumination on what is doubtful — "casting out the anchor and wishing for the day." Perhaps there are some who are deeply interested in the spiritual welfare of a soul dear to them as their own. Their prayer has been rising, like that of Abraham for Ishmael, "O that he might live before God!" But all means have appeared to fail. Then this remains to us, — to take all our endeavour, and leave it with God, in whose hand are the hearts of all men, who can follow the wanderer wherever his feet or his thoughts may carry him, and can bring him again to himself, and to his Father's house. Or it may be there is some life which has lost all the relish it once possessed, — where wasting sickness has undermined the strength, — or friends who were the hue and perfume of it have been taken away, — or hopes that hung on its horizon like a coming glory have melted into thin air, — and existence seems to have no more an object, and duty sinks into a dull mechanical round, and the night comes down dark and starless, and the morning rises cold and colourless. It is hard to say what can restore to such a life its vigour and freshness, for the mind comes oftentimes to have a morbid love of the gloom which is its misery, and to reckon it treason to its past hopes to turn its eye from their sepulchre. God only knows the remedy, and it is a special time to call up higher duty to our aid — the duty of turning to Him, and striving to feel that He has it in his power, though we may not see how, to save us over the grave of our most cherished hopes, without causing us to forget them, and to shine in with a reviving light upon the dullest and bleakest of earthly walks.
II. WHAT IS MEANT BY THESE EXERCISES OF THE SOUL TOWARDS GOD'S SALVATION, — "TO HOPE, AND QUIETLY TO WAIT." Every one of us knows, without any laboured definition, what it is to hope. But if we are to set ourselves to practise it in a Christian way, it may be useful to look at some of its elements. The foundation of hope may be said to lie in desire. It differs from desire in this, that desire pursues many things that can never be objects of hope to us. We can only hope for that which is felt to be possible and reasonable. This, then, is the first thing for us to do, if we would strengthen hope, to see that its objects are right and good, — that is, accordant with the Divine will, and beneficial for us. We may learn this by consulting God's Word, and our own thoughtful experience. The next element in Christian hope is faith. Hope differs from faith in this, that we believe in many things in regard to which we do not hope. Hope is faith with desire pointing out the objects. If we have sought to make these desires Christian and reasonable, then we may consistently call in the aid of faith. "The Lord shall give that which is good." When we have sought to purify our desires and to make them the subject of faith, as far as they are right and good, there is still a third element to be added to make our hope strong — that of imagination. It is that power of the soul which gives to hope its wings. Let it but rise from the desire of what is true and good, and be chastened by the faith of what God has promised, and it can lift up the soul above the most terrible trials, and put it already in possession of the unseen and heavenly. Every true Christian has the soul of the poet latent in his nature, and if many are kept depressed and earth-attracted, it is because they do not strive enough to free this power from sinful and worldly encumbrances, and to give it wings to soar to its native home. The next exercise of soul which we are to cherish toward God's interpositions is "quiet waiting." It is the part of hope to seek the future; it is the duty of patience to rest calmly in the present, and not to fret — to be satisfied to be where God appoints, and to suffer what God sends. It is fitly pieced after hope, because it follows it in the natural course of an educated Christian life. Hope belongs to youth; patience is the lesson of maturity. As there are means for stimulating hope, so there are also for strengthening patience, and there is, in some measure, a correspondence in them. One means is common to both — the employment of faith. It will enable us more quietly to wait if we have confidence in the all-wise and all-merciful arrangements of God. He can make all its wastes to be as Eden, and bring out the best spiritual results from what seem to us the most barren spots. In other respects, the means for growing in patience are very different from those that help hope. If hope is nursed by desire of what we have not, patience is maintained by contentment with what we have. Our duty may be, when desire of something lost or longed for is consuming us, to bend our look more intently on the present, and try to discover how many things, and how precious, God has left to us. Again, we must cultivate patience by a calm attention to duties. Quiet waiting is not inaction. We may be waiting for one object, while we are steadily working for another. It is a kind law of our nature, that labour expended on any object gives an interest in it; and it is a still kinder law of the kingdom of God, that the tamest and most insignificant of daily duties may be made noble and Divine, when the thought of God and the will of Christ are carried into them.
III. THE BENEFIT OF UNITING THESE — "It is good both to hope and quietly to wait." Every Christian heart feels how it can be going forward in thought to some blessing God has promised, and yet resting, while it is withheld, in submission to the Divine will, — as John, in Patmos, walked the streets of the heavenly city, and listened to its songs, and yet abode in his solitary exile, and was satisfied to be there as long as God required.
1. The one is needful to save the other from sinking into sin. If hope possessed the Christian heart alone, it would be ready to flutter itself into impatience. On the other hand, if we had quiet waiting without hope, it would be in danger of settling into stagnancy. The object of its waiting would disappear, and trials without any end in view would benumb and paralyse it. The one is needful to raise the other to his full strength. The Saviour still leaves us, as He left His first disciples in the garden, with the words, "Tarry ye here and watch," and promises to come again. If hope can lay hold of this promise, and keep it fast, patience will maintain its post like a sentinel who is sure of relief at the appointed hour, and if the hour seems long, will beguile it with those words, which have passed like a "song in the night" through many a weary heart, — "For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry." Then, as imps strengthens patience, patience in turn will strengthen hope. Patience brooding over its own quiet spirit, which yet it feels is not its own, has the presentiment and augury of an end beyond itself. In the deep well of a tranquil heart, the star of hope is lying, — ever clearer as the calm is deepening, — reflected down into it from God's own heaven. This is God's manner, first, to give the inward peace of soul, and afterwards the final deliverance. He came into the ship and calmed the disciples' fears, and then He spoke and calmed the storm: "I will be with thee in trouble"; and then it follows, "I will deliver thee." And now, if it be possible to unite these two, and if it be so needful, it should be the lesson of our life daily to aim at it, to hope without impatience, and to wait without despondency, — to fold the wing in captivity, like a caged bird, and be ready to use the pinion when He breaks our prison. We shall find increasingly "how good it is." It is good now in the depth of the soul, — in the conscious assurance that it is better to rest in the hardest of God's ways than to wander at will in our own. "Behold, we count them happy who endure." We shall find it good in the growth of all the Christian graces, under the shadow of patience. We shall find how good is in the enhancement of every blessing for which we have to wait. God's plan of providing blessings for us is to educate the capacity which is to receive them. We are straitened in ourselves, and must be kept waiting till our minds and hearts enlarge. "Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise." Of all the motives to hopeful endurance, surely this last is not the smallest, that He who lays the duty upon us has Himself given the example of it. He asks nothing from us that He has not done for us, and done by a harder road, and with a heavier burden.
(John Ker, D. D.)
Whether it was Jeremiah himself after he had taken refuge in a grotto near the Damascus gate of Jerusalem, or as he stood over against the city in an attitude of grief which a great artist has immortalised, or a godly man of the next generation, who poured out this dirge over the miseries of his country, it makes very little difference in regard to the abiding value of the words, and therefore also to their ever-recurring usefulness. They come from a very remote past, stamped with the finger of God; and they contain a bit of wisdom, in favour of which might be quoted probably the whole experience of our race.
I. Apart from the actual contents of such a statement, beneath it and running through it there is clearly implied AN INTENSE CONVICTION THAT GOD RULES THIS WORLD, AND THAT HE RULES IT IN THE INTERESTS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. In verses like the 37th and the 64th, such a conviction finds vigorous expression: And it is still true that, in order to bear mystery and sorrow in peace and without any serious disturbance of thought or spirit, a man cannot do better than cling to these fundamental truths. Nature in some of their moods will have made most men feel, in the certainty of her processes, the inerrancy with which her life unfolds in ever higher forms of fitness and beauty, that, —
The whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.History, too, if it reveals anything, reveals the throne of God above the nations, and methods of government by which in the long run righteousness is always vindicated. And unless conscience is to be regarded as inexplicable, a haunting mystery whose immortal sanctions are simply meaningless, there must be in this world, and over it, a living and active God, the primary source of all pure morals, whose rule in everything makes for righteousness. It is not possible, indeed, always to see that such is the case. For human experience is full of discords.
1. Occasionally all that men can do, in the assaults of doubt to which they are inclined to give no place, is to cry unto God with the prophet, "Verily, Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour," and then the old assurance comes back, solving all difficulties, charming every doubt away: "That the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from Thee: shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Therefore "I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth His face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for Him."
2. It is not difficult to determine the effect upon the feelings and state of heart that ought in reason to follow this conviction and to be produced by it. Here is a God whose rule is righteous, so absolutely righteous that under His rule men always reap the fruit of their own ways. Just as, therefore, disaster must overtake the wicked, salvation must come to the God-fearing man. Again, therefore, he may venture to regard it as certain, and, however unlikely it seems, to hope and quietly to wait for it. What particular form the salvation assumes is of little importance, provided it is one which relates to the real interests of the soul.
3. But this important little word "quietly" must not be overlooked. There are some qualities or possible accompaniments of hope that altogether spoil it, and make it anything rather than a minister to comfort and salvation. Of these undesirable companions, the worst are perhaps impatience and suspense, for indifference, as being almost the negation of hope and fatal to vigour, need not be considered. Impatient hope, weary of slow process and gradual growth, eager to grasp the prize before it has been fairly earned, and to pluck the fruit before the sun and the showers have had time to ripen it — it is met with often enough in the ordinary life. Most Christians will have found themselves disposed now and again to complain that the influences of grace have not more quickly perfected them, that the first brief prayer has not been followed by the flight of every temptation. The Divine rule is, alike for peace and for progress in religion, "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him." God's care for His people, His effective interference for their protection and safety, the completion of the work that is being done by His sanctifying Spirit, — these things, as far as the Operation of His grace is concerned, do not admit of any doubt. "Hope quietly" — that is, without any excitement and with full confidence of success. The salvation of the Lord is certain; and accordingly the prophet bids us treat it as certain, not worry or make a noise about our difficulties, but go steadily on day after day, doing our duty, making the best of our troubles, strangers to fear.
4. That, says the prophet, is "good" for a man — which word, in his usage, which is not unlike the modern ethical usage, denotes the blessed combination of dutifulness and personal satisfaction. In this verse almost every phrase implies the possession of some main element of happiness. He who hopes "quietly for the salvation of the Lord" will be tranquil in spirit, exercising self-control, will have the sense of security and the knowledge that a God is caring for him and is gradually disciplining him into Godlikeness; and it is no wonder the prophet pronounced that to be good for a man.
II. Jeremiah did not feel any necessity to limit and qualify his advice, or to exclude any section of a sincere life from its application. It sets forth therefore THE ATTITUDE WHICH A CHRISTIAN MAN MAY VENTURE TO MAINTAIN UNIFORMLY TOWARDS MATTERS THAT MAY BE A SOURCE OF PERPLEXITY TO ALL, AND ALSO TOWARDS THOSE WHICH ONLY HIS OWN TEMPERAMENT OR HIS OWN TENDENCIES OF THOUGHT MAKE ALARMING. Not least of all does it apply to the controversies concerning Church and faith, scripture and doctrine, which because of their complexity are apt to be invested with needless terrors, and because of their connection with personal religion seem sometimes to threaten and imperil the most sacred convictions.
1. With respect to the unexaggerated difficulties in doctrine or in organisation that do exist, such questions as those of inspiration, of the authorship of various parts of the Old Testament and its bearing upon the authority of the New, of the relationships of the Churches and the methods of worship, this verse prescribes the way in which we should regard them — not shut our eyes to their existence, or be frightened at them but "hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord."
2. With the political and social problems of the day, the cares of enterprise, and of children and home, the perpetual disappointments and troubles that are crowded into every man's life, the same rule holds good, that Christian men should not worry, or despond, or doubt, but remember the throne of God over all, and quietly wait for His salvation. If obedience to that rule is not always easy, it is always reasonable and a blessed ministry of strength and peace. Few troubles continue unendurable, when a man knows that through them the grace of God will be with him, and that after them will come such a blessed and permanent reversal of experience as will more than compensate for all.
(R. Waddy Moss.)
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE SALVATION OF THE LORD. Salvation literally means the act of delivering any one from danger or misfortune; and implies at once some misery or peril from which deliverance is needed, and some power sufficient to work that deliverance out. And the statement that there is salvation with God, is a declaration of the miserable condition in which we are by nature, and an announcement that God has set before us a means whereby we may escape, and that His mighty hand is put forth to render those means effectual.
II. WHEREFORE IT IS GOOD THAT A MAN SHOULD HOPE FOR THIS SALVATION. There are many who cannot be properly said to hope for it; — they appear to be certain that they shall attain to it, although not one of the marks of Christ's flock be visible upon them. Others, again, are manifestly utterly careless about it; they pass through life without showing a single desire for salvation, or a single anxiety respecting the state of their souls. And others yet again appear to despair; — they seem to acknowledge their need of salvation, but to think that it is not possible that they can ever lay aside those sins which separate them from God. Now, none of these can be said to hope; because hope is a mixture of desire to obtain, of fear of coming short, and of belief in the possibility of attaining the "salvation of the Lord"; — and those who have not fixed their minds upon it, in the sense of their own guilt, and of the power and willingness of the Lord to forgive, are as yet utterly destitute of this Christian grace. But the awakened sinner, along with that conviction of his sins which the Holy Spirit has wrought in him, receives the hope that God will be merciful to him, for the sake of a crucified Saviour; and this draws him to that Saviour.
III. WHEREFORE IT IS GOOD THAT A MAN SHOULD QUIETLY WAIT FOR THIS SALVATION. This almost appears to contradict the former part of the text; — because nothing can seem more opposed to hope than quietly waiting. But this contradiction is only in appearance. The reason that there is so much impatience connected with all human wishes and expectations is, that our hopes with respect to this world are ever uncertain. But it is otherwise with respect to "the salvation of the Lord." In it there is nothing doubtful; for He Himself has promised to give it; — in it there is no deceit; for Jesus the Author and the purchaser of our salvation is indeed "a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." In clinging then to Him, and laying hold on His salvation, the poor sinner finds that he receives the fulfilment of all the promises; — and as the sweetest and the best of these hold out to us deliverance not only from the punishment but from the dominion of sin, he looks on the very disposition to wait quietly, so contrary to unconverted human nature, as a part of the salvation for which he hopes. The Christian should therefore "quietly wait"; but he should do so in the diligent use of the means for growth in grace; stirring up the gifts which have already been bestowed on him, of faith, whereby he lays hold on the promises, — of hope, whereby he looks for their fulfilment, of prayer, whereby he expresses that faith and that hope to God, and seeks to have the crowning grace of love shed abroad on his heart. And this he may well do, if taught by the Spirit of God that his heavenly Father deals more wisely with him than he would deal with himself, were the freedom of choice allowed him. It is true that it is not so pleasant to remain in this state as it would be to have at once the fulness of spiritual joy; but it is more profitable to the heir of immortality to be trained to the habitual exercise of patience and submission to the Divine will, as this must be the best preparation for heaven
(R. W. Kyle, B. A.)
Our incapacity of looking into the future has much to do with the production of disquietude and unhappiness. Under the present dispensation we must calculate on probabilities; and our calculations, when made with the best care and forethought, are often proved faulty by the result. And if we could substitute certainty for probability, and thus define, with a thorough accuracy, the workings of any proposed plan, it is evident that we might be saved a vast amount both of anxiety and of disappointment. Yet when we have admitted that want of acquaintance with the future gives rise to much both of anxiety and of disappointment, we are prepared to argue that the possession of this acquaintance would be incalculably more detrimental. If we could know beforehand whatever is to happen, we should, in all probability, be unmanned and enervated; so that an arrest would be put on the businesses of life by previous acquaintance with their several successes. We shall endeavour to prove, by the simplest reasoning, that it is for our advantage as Christians that salvation, in place of being a thing of certainty and present possession, must be hoped and quietly waited for by believers. We can readily suppose an opposite arrangement. We can imagine that, as soon as a man were justified, he might be translated to blessedness, and that thus the gaining the title, and the entering on possession, might be always contemporary. But the possibility of the arrangement, and its goodness, are quite different questions; and whilst we see that it might have been ordered, that the justified man should at once be translated, we can still believe it good that he "both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." Our text speaks chiefly of the goodness to the individual himself; but it will be lawful first to consider the arrangement as fraught with advantage to human society. We must all perceive that, if true believers were withdrawn from earth at the instant of their becoming such, the influences of piety, which now make themselves felt through the mass of a population, would be altogether destroyed, and the world be deprived of that salt which alone preserves it from total decomposition. Whilst the contempt and hatred of the wicked follow incessantly the professors of godliness, and the enemies of Christ, if ability were commensurate with malice, would sweep from the globe all knowledge of the Gospel, we venture to assert that the unrighteous owe the righteous a debt of obligation not to be reckoned up; and that it is mainly because the required ten are still found in the cities of the plain that the fire showers are suspended. And time given for the warding off by repentance the doom. Over and above this, it is undeniable that the presence of a pious man in the neighbourhood will tell greatly on its character; and that, in variety of instances, his withdrawment would be followed by wilder outbreakings of profligacy. It is, however, the goodness of the arrangement to the individual himself which seems chiefly contemplated by the prophet. Now, under this point of view, our text is simpler at first sight than when rigidly examined. We can see at once that there is a spiritual discipline in the hoping and waiting, which can scarcely fail to improve greatly the character of the Christian. We take the case, for example, of a man who, at the age of thirty, is enabled, through the operations of grace, to look in faith to the Mediator. By this looking in faith the man is justified: a justified man cannot perish; and if, therefore, the individual died at thirty, he would "sleep in Jesus." But, after being justified, the man is left thirty years upon earth — years of care. and toil, and striving with sin — and during these years he hopes and waits for salvation. At length he obtains salvation; and thus, at the close of thirty years, takes possession of an inheritance to which his title was clear at the beginning. Now, wherein can lie the advantageousness of this arrangement? We think that no fair explanation can be given of our text, unless you bring into the account the difference in the portions to be assigned hereafter to the righteous. We bring before you, therefore, as a comment on our text, words such as these of the apostle: "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." We consider that when you set the passages in juxtaposition, the working power, ascribed by one to affliction, gives satisfactory account of the goodness attributed by the other to the hoping and waiting. We are here, in every sense, on a stage of probation; so that, having once been brought back from the alienations of nature, we are candidates for a prize, and wrestlers for a diadem. It is not the mere entrance into the kingdom for which we contend: the first instant in which we act faith on Christ as our propitiation, sees this entrance secured to us as justified beings. But, when justified, there is opened before us the widest field for a righteous ambition; and portions deepening in majesty, and heightening in brilliancy, rise on our vision, and animate to unwearied endeavour. We count it one of the glorious things of Christianity, that, in place of repressing, it gives full scope to all the ardour of man's spirit. It is common to reckon ambition amongst vices: and a vice it is, under its ordinary developments, with which Christianity wages interminable warfare. But, nevertheless, it is a staunch, and an adventurous, and an eagle-eyed thing: and it is impossible to gaze on the man of ambition, daunted not by disaster, wearied not by repulse, disheartened not by delay, without feeling that he possesses the elements of a noble constitution; and that, however, to be wept over for the prostitution of his energies, for the pouring out this mightiness of soul on the corrupt and the perishable, he is equipped with an apparatus of powers which need nothing but the being rightly directed, in order to the forming the very finest of characters. Christianity deals with ambition as a passion to be abhorred and denounced, whilst urging the warrior to carve his way to a throne, or the courtier to press on in the path of preferment. But it does not cast out the elements of the passion. Why should it? They are the noblest which enter into the human composition, bearing most vividly the impress of man's original formation. Christianity seizes on these elements. She tells her subjects that the rewards of eternity, though all purchased by Christ, and none merited by man, shall be rigidly proportioned to their works. She tells them that there are places of dignity, and stations of eminence, and crowns with more jewellery, and sceptres with more sway, in that glorious Empire which shall finally be set up by the Mediator. And she bids them strive for the loftier recompense. She would not have them contented with the lesser portion, though infinitely outdoing human imagination as well as human desert. And if ambition be the walking with the staunch step, and the single eye, and the untired zeal, and all in pursuit of some longed for superiority, Christianity saith not to the man of ambition, lay aside thine ambition: Christianity hath need of the staunch step, and the single eye, and the unfired zeal; and she therefore sets before the man pyramid rising above pyramid in glory, throne above throne, palace above palace; and she sends him forth into the moral arena to wrestle for the loftiest though unworthy of the lowest. There would seem nothing wanting to the completeness of this argument, unless it be proof of what has been all along assumed, namely, that the being compelled to hope and to wait is a good moral discipline, so that the exercises prescribed are calculated to promote holiness, and, therefore, to insure happiness. We have perhaps only shown the advantageousness of delay; whereas the text asserts the advantageousness of certain acts of the soul Yet this discrepancy between the thing proved, and the thing to be proved, is too slight to require a lengthened correction. It is the delay which makes salvation a thing of hope, and that which I am obliged to hope for, I am, of course, obliged to wait for; and thus, whatever of beneficial result can be ascribed to the delay may, with equal fitness, be ascribed to the hoping and waiting. Besides, hope and patience — for it is not the mere waiting which is asserted to be good; it is the quietly waiting; and this quiet waiting is but another term for patience — hope and patience are two of the most admirable of Christian graces, and he who cultivates them assiduously, cannot well be neglectful of the rest.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
There are three things named here, and they reach a sort of climax in the third — to hope, to wait, and to wait quietly, or in silence. It is sometimes hard to hope when there are no signs of promise, and no break in the clouds; it is harder to wait. And the heart gets sick with deferred hope, and still the end seems no nearer; but the hardest thing is to wait without a word of anger, reproach, or impatience, though the eyes have got wearied with watching — watching for what never comes. And yet this hardest thing is the best if we can attain to it. "It is good that a man should both hope and wait," and wait in silence.
I. PATIENT WAITING. This is a Divine virtue. It is that quality in man which makes him most like God. It is commended to us in every part of the Bible as the distinguishing quality of the faithful. It is needed in every age, but we especially need it in this particular age, for the times in which we live are characterised by rush, fever, and haste. That is the paramount feature of the time. We want to force the pace, to break the record, and to make God's machinery, as well as human machinery, move faster. It is a fast age; life is in a ferment of activity, the nerves are too highly strung, the brain is in a whirl, and we cannot bear delays. We want to see the dawn breaking while it is still midnight, and to clear away all our obstructions, difficulties, and troubles by one stroke. We want to be rich without any loss of time; to reach to top places without the disagreeable necessities of slow climbing, and oh! that some prophet would fix the day and the hour for us; how handsomely we would pay him if he would fix it early and antedate God's time, for the "mill of God" does grind so slowly, so slowly. But here comes the sweet, tender, chiding answer. "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord."
II. HOPE DEPENDENT ON WAITING. Without hope life has no sky; it is a plant which virtually dies for want of nourishment, light, and air. When hope goes, energy goes, and all earnest hope, and any emotion of joy, and there is nothing left to live for. The pessimist says, "Is life worth living?" and I answer him emphatically, "No, it is not — to one in your mood." Hope always perishes where there is no patient waiting. If you cannot bear to have your hopes delayed, you soon come to the conclusion that every hope is a deception, every promise is a delusion, and every prayer a mockery; and then presently you are found repeating with grim despair that most dismal of all proverbs, "Blessed is the man that expecteth nothing." Pessimists are always men who have lost their hopes and lost their hearts because their hopes have not been speedily fulfilled.
III. WAITING THE TEST OF MANHOOD. It marks the highest type of man, it distinguishes the man from the child, the thinking man from the intellectual weakling, the higher races from the lower races, the civilised man from the savage. The savage is always like a child, impatient; you can hardly persuade him to till the ground, because he would have to wait six months for the harvest; he kills the goose which lays the golden eggs, because he cannot wait for a slow return. And there are hundreds of young men who are as senseless as the savage in that respect: they burn the candle of pleasure at both ends, and in the middle too, heedless of darkness that is coming in future years, if they can only make a big glaring flame at the present moment. But as soon as ever you lift men up in the scale of being, they begin to build and plant and labour, though the results may not be seen for years; and you can always measure the strength and nobility and the very magnitude of a man by this: Does he know how to wait? We are told of the astronomer Kepler that when his great discoveries were announced, but rejected and scorned by all the learned and religious world, he quietly said, "If the Almighty waited six thousand years for one man to see what He had made, I may well wait two hundred years for one man to understand what I have seen." There was a great soul behind that utterance.
IV. The BLUNDERS OF IMPATIENCE. Men become like wild creatures in their hurried haste to be rich; they want to win in a day what honest industry would only win in years, and then craft takes the place of toil; astute cunning and sleight of hand the place of diligence and perseverance; madness engulfs sober reason, greed devours all human feeling, and manhood perishes; and often the only end of it is bankruptcy, ruin, and disgrace. These are the works of impatience; and am I not right in saying that nearly all the follies of political life and the blunders Which great nations commit are the result of impatience? Just think what a wretched coil of trouble was made for us in the Transvaal some years ago by the strong-headed men — nay, the hot-headed boys — who raided and failed: mad haste and long repentance for them and others — that is what comes of it. And now through all this crisis we hear voices urging the same mad haste. Strong and sober and level headed men have been saying throughout, and are saying now, "Be firm, press your just claims, do not draw back, but above all things be patient." It is patience that wins in these difficulties, and especially when justice is on its side.
V. THE REWARD OF WAITING. If you labour on and do not lose heart, and bind yourselves fast to that hard, just master, Duty, you win your proper place in time. If God sees the fitness in you, the world will see it by and by. Nothing can keep a man permanently down if the higher voice is bidding him "Come up higher." It is only a question of time and patience, if you labour and do always the thing that is right. The Christian work that has been so disappointing and unprofitable will at last yield the fruits of righteousness. And your own besetting sins, too, against which you fought and prayed so long, will at last be trampled down by Him who subdues all things unto Himself.
(J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
Yoke bearing is not pleasant, but it is good. It not every pleasant thing that is good, nor every good thing that is pleasant. Sometimes the goodness may be just in proportion to the unpleasantness. Even apart from the grace of God, and apart from religion, it is a great blessing for a man to bear the yoke in his youth! that is to say, first, it is good for us when we are young to learn obedience. It is half the making of a man to be placed under rule, and taught to bear restraint. It is good for young people to bear the yoke, too, in the sense of giving themselves in their early days to acquire knowledge. If we do not learn when we are young, when shall we learn? It is good for young people, too — we are now talking about the natural meaning of the passage — good for them that they should encounter difficulties and troubles when they begin life. The silver spoon in the mouth with which some people are born is very apt to choke them. It is not, however, my business to preach about these matters at any length; I am not a moral lecturer, but a minister of the Gospel. I have fulfilled a duty when I have given the first meaning to the text, and now I shall use it for nobler ends.
I. IT IS GOOD TO BE A CHRISTIAN WHILE YOU ARE YOUNG. It is good for a man to bear Christ's yoke in his youth.
1. For, see, first, the man whose heart is conquered by Divine grace early is made happy soon. That is a blessed prayer in the psalm, "O satisfy us early with Thy mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days"
2. Besides, while early piety brings early happiness, let it never be forgotten that it saves from a thousand snares. Eleventh hour mercies are very sweet. But what a double privilege it is to be set to work in the vineyard while yet the dew is on the leaves, and so to be kept from the idleness and the wickedness of the market place in which others loiter so long.
3. It is good for a man to bear Christ's yoke in his youth, because it saves him from having those shoulders galled with the devil's yoke. Sins long, indulged grow to the shoulders, and to remove them is like tearing away one's flesh.
4. There is this goodness about it, again, that it gives you longer time in which to serve God. Blessed be His name, He will accept eventide service; but still, how much better to be able to serve the Lord from your youth up, to give Him those bright days while the birds are singing in the soul, when the sun is unclouded, and the shadows are not falling; and then to give Him the long evening, when at eventide He makes it light, and causes the infirmities of age to display His power and His fidelity.
5. There is this goodness about it yet further, that it enables one to be well established in Divine things. I bless God that a man who has believed in Jesus only one second is a saved man; but he is not an instructed man, he is not an established man. He is not trained for battle; nor tutored for labour. These things take time.
6. And then, let me say, it gives such confidence in after life to have given your heart to Jesus young.
II. IT IS GOOD FOR YOUNG CHRISTIANS THAT THEY BEAR THE YOKE OF JESUS.
1. It will be for your good as long as ever you live to render to Jesus complete obedience at the very first. Every young Christian when he is converted should take time to consider, and should say to himself, "What am I to do? What is the duty of a Christian?" He should also devoutly say to the Lord Jesus, "Lord, show me what Thou wouldst have me to do," and wait upon the Holy Ghost for guidance.
2. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth, by attaining clear instruction in Divine truth. We ought to go to the Lord Jesus Christ to learn of Him, not merely about ordinances and actions, but about what to think and what to believe.
3. It is good for young converts also to bear the yoke by beginning to serve Jesus Christ early. There is work for every believer to do in Christ's vineyard. "Ah," says one, "I shall begin when I can preach." Will you? You had better begin writing a letter to that young friend with whom you went to school. You had better begin by dropping a tract down an area, or by trying to speak to some young person of your own age.
4. It is also good that when we begin to serve God we should bear the yoke in another sense, namely, by finding difficulties. It is a good thing for a true worker for the devil to labour to put him down, because if God has put him up, he cannot be put down, but the attempt to overthrow him will do him good, develop his spiritual muscle, and bring out the powers of his mind.
5. It is good to meet with persecution in your youth. A Christian is a hardy plant. Many years ago a larch was brought to England. The gentleman who brought it put it in his hothouse, but it did not develop in a healthy manner. It was a spindly thing, and therefore the gardener, feeling that he could not make anything of it, took it up and threw it out upon the dunghill. There it grew into a splendid tree, for it had found a temperature suitable to its nature. The tree was meant to grow near the snow; it loves cold winds and rough weather, and they had been sweating it to death in a hothouse. So it is with true Christianity. It seldom flourishes so well in the midst of ease and luxury as it does in great tribulation.
6. I believe it is good for young Christians to experience much soul trouble. It is much better on the whole that a man should be timid and trembling than that he should early in life become very confident. "Blessed is the man that feareth always" is a scriptural text — not the slavish fear, nor yet a fear that doubts God, but still a fear. These ordeals are of essential service to the newborn believer, and prepare him alike for the joys and the sorrows of his spiritual career.
III. Practically WE ARE ALL OF US IN OUR YOUTH. None of us will come of age till we enter heaven. We are still under tutors and governors, because we are even now as little children.
1. It is good that we who have gone some distance on the road to heaven should still have something to bear, because it enables us to honour Christ still. If we do not suffer with Him, how can we have fellowship with Him? If we have no crosses to carry, how can we commune with our Lord, the chief cross-bearer?
2. It is good for us all to bear the yoke, too, because thus old Adam is kept in check. Sheep do not stray so much when the black dog is after them; his barkings make them run to the shepherd. Affliction is the black dog of the Good Shepherd to fetch us back to Him, otherwise we should wander to our ruin.
3. Besides, it makes you so helpful to others to have known affliction. I do not see how we can sympathise if we are never tried ourselves.
4. Once more, is it not good to bear the yoke while we are here, because it will make heaven all the sweeter? What a change for the martyr standing at the stake burning slowly to death, and then rising to behold the glory of his Lord! What a change for you, dear old friend, with all those aches and pains about you, which make you feel uneasy even while you are sitting here!
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
The figure is taken from farm life. If a ploughing ex is to be well adapted for its labour, and make a good furrow, it must be disciplined while it is quite young. If this be neglected, it is vain to attempt it by and by; the beast will only be fretted and irritated, and any work it is put to will be a failure. A traveller in the East graphically describes, as an eyewitness, the difficulty of getting an untrained ox to perform agricultural work. "I had frequent opportunities," he says, "of witnessing the conduct of oxen, when for the first time put into the yoke. They generally made a strenuous struggle for liberty, repeatedly breaking the yoke, and attempting to make their escape. At other times such bullocks would lie down upon their side or back, and remain so in defiance of the drivers, though they lashed them with ponderous whips. Sometimes, from pity to the animal, I would interfere, and beg them not to be so cruel. 'Cruel!' they would say, 'it is mercy; for if we do not conquer him now, he will require to be so beaten all his life.'"
I. It is good for a man to bear in his youth the yoke of SUBJECTION TO AUTHORITY. The unkindest thing you can do to a child is to throw the reins over his shoulders, and let him do as he likes. If you wish to ruin his prospects, and to develop a mean, selfish, overbearing nature, never contradict him, never oppose him, let his every freak and fancy be gratified. But it is not only for little children that the yoke of subjection to authority is wholesome. It is quite possible that the yoke may be removed Coo soon. Until the character is fairly formed, and the judgment is stronger than the will, and the mind and conscience have ascendancy over the lower nature, the controlling influence of another should be felt.
II. It is good for a man to bear in his youth the yoke of SELF-RESTRAINT. However widely we may differ in appetite and temperament — some, of course, finding the needful self-control much harder than others — there are, with all of us, desires and tendencies which we have sternly to resist, and the denying of which is part of the training by which we are fitted for a noble and useful life. The very lusts, passions, appetites, and tempers of which, more or less, we are all conscious, may be turned to real service in our moral equipment for life; for, in the steadfast resistance of them, and victory over them, we become stronger men than had these been no conflict at all.
III. It is good for a man to bear in his youth the yoke of DIFFICULTY AND TOIL. Nothing like having to "rough it a bit" in early life. It is very far indeed from being an advantage to a man to have been "born with a silver spoon in his mouth." It is good for us all to have to work for our bread. Our Creator intended us for labour, and not for indolence. Many is the prosperous man of business who will tell you that he can never be too thankful for having had to bear in his youth the yoke of genuine hard work. It was this that developed his energies, strengthened his muscle, and, under God, made his life successful and happy.
IV. It is good for a man to bear in his youth the yoke of LIVING GODLINESS. It is to this that our blessed Saviour invites us when He says, "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me." It is good for a man to become a decided Christian in early life. Now it is perfectly true that, as Christ says, "this yoke is easy, and this burden light"; and yet it would not be called a yoke at all if it did not mean something that the flesh does not readily take up — something that is contrary to our fallen nature. It is not natural to us to be Christians. Like the bullock, we have to bend, we have to stoop, that the yoke may be put upon us; and this stooping is what none of us like. Our proud wills must be humbled; our old self must be crucified.
V. It is good for a man to bear in his youth the yoke of a PUBLIC CHRISTIAN PROFESSION. The first thing, of course, is to be a Christian; but the next thing is to avow it. It is good in a thousand ways — good for yourselves now; good for others; good for the cause of Christ; good for the glory of God; good for your own future comfort and joy, that, without delay, you step right over to the ranks of the Lord's people, and openly attach yourselves to the Christian Church.
VI. It is good for a man to bear in his youth the yoke of CHRISTIAN SERVICE. It will help your own faith wonderfully to be engaged in some real labour for the Lord. Drop a solemn word in the ear of some careless companion, and see how the Lord helps you in that. Link your arm with some thoughtless young fellow, and try to bring him with you to the house of God. Write a kind letter to your cousin who is getting tinged with infidelity, and tell him of the nobler and better way.
VII. It is good for a man to bear in his youth the yoke of PERSONAL AFFLICTION. Many an one has thanked God all his days for some heavy cross he had to carry when he was young. In the memoir of Dr. Norman M'Leod it is stated that nothing produced a greater effect upon him during the whole course of his life, than the death of a favourite brother, when they were both quite young men. There are many other forms of trial, as you well know: there is the breaking up of a happy home; the coming away from all the tender associations and hallowed scenes of infancy; the solitude of a great city where all are strangers to you; the loss of a situation, or disappointment in your efforts to obtain one: all these things are trying, and may prove a heavy yoke to bear; but, believe me, it is good to bear them in one's youth. You may be the better all your days for the bitter discipline.
(J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
1. There is, for example, the yoke of home. Woe to that home which lays no yoke upon its inmates! That is the very office of the family towards its young and inexperienced members. To turn the current of the young life into a right channel — to make good habitual by use, and (to that end) to insist upon conformity to a good rule — to require, as the condition of maintenance, as the condition of protection, as the condition of life, that this and not this shall be the conduct and the speech and the temper and (down to very minute particulars) the mode of living — this is the duty of a home, in order that it may bring after it God's assigned and certain blessing. Now all this implies compulsion; for it demands of the young life that which it cannot give, and cannot be, without constraint.
2. But the home must at last send out its sons and its daughters into a rougher school of experience, and the hallway house on this journey is, first, the school, with its discipline, longer or shorter as the case may be, either of elementary or classical learning, and then in some form or other that which comes for most young men afterwards, the more special training for a particular profession or trade. Here too there is a yoke, and a yoke bearing; or else a refusal of the yoke, with many sad consequences of sorrow and shame. A day is coming for you, even in this life, when you will give God thanks for every day's trial, for every day's privation, for every day's hardship, which you have honestly and bravely borne.
3. Many suffer seriously throughout their life by not having borne in their youth the yoke of a Church. It is not well to be entirely at large in these matters. Who is the person looked to for counsel, who is the person privileged to advise, who is the person bound to reprove — and do not all young people need these offices from some one? — if the young Christian is sometimes at church, sometimes at chapel — sometimes at this church or this chapel, sometimes at that — thus evading, by a perpetual shifting of the scene, all the responsibilities and all the accountabilities of each and of all?
4. There is One who uses this very figure concerning His own Divine office, "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me." Certainly of this yoke it must be true that it is good for a man to bear it in his youth. No age is too young for it: He Himself declared that infant children were not too young to put it on: He Himself dealt tenderly and lovingly with the young man who came to Him to be taught the way of life: and there is no doubt that, unless it is put on in youth, it never will sit quite easily, and it never will be without some galling pressure in later years, just because there is always some spiritual wound in the shoulder, or some effeminate softness in the arm of him who has tried other yokes first, of him who has begun by serving self, sin, or the world, and only comes late and in pain to submit himself to the healing and guiding and saving hand of Christ.
1. Men rarely if ever feel prepared to bear the good yoke the moment it is presented to them.
2. The qualification for bearing the yoke is obtained in bearing it. Practical skill comes only by practice.
3. Those who refuse to gain qualification for a place by working in that place, always fall of qualification and of usefulness anywhere. He who will be a tramp in religion must not expect the glory of immortality.
4. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth, because then he will not suffer from having wasted time.
5. In view of all this, how beautiful the Saviour's call, "Take My yoke upon you," for if men take not the yoke of Christ, then they must take the yoke of sin and everlasting despair.
(O. T. Lanphear, D. D.)
There is a threefold yoke which it is good for a man to bear in his youth.
I. The yoke of AFFLICTION.
1. Good for all kinds of men.
3. Preparatory to grace and conversion.
4. Strengthens spiritual convictions.
5. Stirs up the heart to prayer.
6. Teaches the emptiness of the creature.
II. The yoke of CONVICTION OF SIN.
1. The sooner it is borne the easier it is borne.
2. Those who are subjects of early convictions grow rich in grace.
III. The yoke of SUBJECTION AND OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST.
1. He has yoke.
2. It is the concern of every one to take his yoke in youth, because of the call of God, the claims of Christ, the invitation of the Spirit; sin gets advantage by continuance; the earlier the easier; it has the kindest acceptance with God; it is the fittest season for religion; the danger of delay.
I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN BEARING THE YOKE HERE SPOKEN OF. We naturally run wild, like a wild ass's colt upon the mountains; with respect to our understanding, in speculation and error; our will, in stubbornness, dis. obedience, and rebellion; our affections, in irregular and inordinate love, desire, hope, joy, etc. True religion, when put on in reality, and, as it were, buckled close upon us by faith, restrains our disposition to wander from God.
1. The subjection to which it obliges us. Naturally we wear Satan's yoke, and are in subjection to him (Ephesians 2:2); to the world (Galatians 1:4); to the flesh (Romans 7:5, 28); to sin (John 8:34); to death, and the fear of it (Hebrews 2:15). True religion delivers us from these other lords, and brings us into subjection to Christ, whose loyal subjects we become, and He reigns in us by His grace, and over us by His laws (Romans 14:17).
2. The service in which it engages us. We are yoked, not to lie down and sleep, or stand still, but to work, not only in the use of every means of grace, for our own salvation, especially prayer, watchfulness, self-denial, faith, obedience to all known duty, and a "patient continuance in well-doing"; but for the glory of God, in endeavouring to make Him known and feared by all men; and for the good of our neighbour, in all works of justice, mercy, charity.
3. The associates with which it connects us. A bullock is not yoked that it may draw alone. We are united to the people of God, and in conjunction with them, should serve the Lord in the fore-mentioned particulars.
4. The patience and submission to which it obliges us, under our various chastisements (Jeremiah 31:18). Oxen, when brought under the yoke, are untoward, or refractory, or lazy, and, therefore, have need of the goad. We have need of it also for similar reasons. "The words of the wise are as goads"; and so are the various trials and troubles which we meet with.
II. HOW IT APPEARS THAT IT IS GOOD FOR A MAN TO BEAR THE YOKE AND THAT EVEN IN HIS YOUTH.
1. It is reasonable. It becomes us, trod is our duty, that we should come under the restraint before described; that we should be in subjection to and the servants of Christ; that we should be united with God's Church; and be patient and submissive under His chastisement.
2. It is honourable. A yoke of some kind we must wear, and a yoke we do wear; and is it not more honourable to wear that of Christ, than that of Belial? Is it not an honourable thing to be a subject of a very great, powerful, and gracious King? a servant of a rich, noble, and benevolent Master? a friend, a brother, nay, and the spouse of the Prince of the kings of the earth?
3. It is advantageous.(1) As to this life. "Godliness hath the promise of the life that now is." Does the husbandman feed his bullocks, and shall not God provide for those that draw in His yoke? They shall have all things needful (Matthew 6:32, 33); all things useful (Psalm 84:11); evils turned into good (Romans 8:28).(2) As to the life to come, they enjoy the favour of an infinite and eternal Being; they are adopted into His family; restored to His image; hold communion and fellowship with Him; have peace of mind; a lively hope of eternal life; and an earnest thereof in their hearts, "until the redemption of the purchased possession"; but they will reap still greater advantages after death, in the intermediate state, at the day of resurrection and final judgment, and forever.
4. It is easy and pleasant. What; to bear a yoke? Yes; a yoke lined with love. "His commandments are not grievous" to a loving heart, to a new nature.
III. HOW WE MAY BE ENABLED TO DO SO.
1. Come out from among the carnal and wicked, and be separate. For, "a companion of fools shall be destroyed."
2. Associate with the people of God (Proverbs 13:20).
3. Use much retirement, and read, and meditate on the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15).
4. Pray. The wisdom and strength of man is utterly insufficient; but "they that wait on the Lord," etc. (Isaiah 40:31).
5. Be always watchful and circumspect (Ephesians 5:15).
6. Deny yourself, and take up your cross daily (Matthew 16:24).
I. The restraints of which I speak at present, are only THOSE WISE AND NECESSARY RESTRAINTS WHICH SERVE TO GUARD THE INNOCENCE AND TO DIRECT THE ACTIVITY OF THE EARLY MIND. Even a child soon learns to distinguish the restraints that are dictated by a sincere regard to his happiness, from those which have their origin in caprice. To the former, indeed, he may not at all times submit with becoming cheerfulness; but against the latter he will perpetually rebel. One of the worst effects which excessive severity produces on the minds of the young is, that it tempts them to the violation of truth; and hence it sometimes happens that parents are less acquainted, than even the most indifferent persons, with what passes in the minds of their children. Beware of this fatal error. Provoke not your children to wrath; tempt not your children to falsehood. I am aware, however, that this is not the extreme in which parents are most apt to err. Their natural affection for their children will generally be sufficient, without any other motive, to preserve them from too rigorous an exercise of authority. The danger is that this affection may transgress its proper bounds, and betray them into an opposite error, not less fatal to the interests of their children. It is surely necessary that the young be restrained from every species of vice, and directed to such pursuits and studies as may prepare them for being useful in the world. For this purpose they must be early taught that they have serious duties to perform; they must be accustomed to submit to discipline, and limited even in those innocent pleasures which would interfere with their more important concerns. Let the rules, which you prescribe, be such as are proper in themselves; and let them be uniformly and steadily executed. Steadiness and consistency of conduct is the great secret in the management of the young. It begets respect and reverence, and ensures a willing obedience. When the duty of the child is clearly marked out to him, and the performance of it regularly exacted, he is, in no case, at a loss to discover what will please, and what will offend. In proportion as his faculties open, he perceives the propriety of the discipline through which he is maple to pass. He admires the wisdom and consistency of the plan by which his most important interests are promoted. He finds that the authority which, in his youth, he hath been taught to acknowledge, is the mild and regular dominion of reason; and is prepared, as his years advance, to exchange the dominion of reason in the breast of his parent, for the dominion of reason in his own mind.
II. SOME OF THE ADVANTAGES WHICH THIS DISCIPLINE IS FITTED TO YIELD. Even in our maturer years, our industry needs often to be animated by looking forward to the distant advantages which it is fitted to yield. This, however, is a reflection which seldom occurs to the young. They think only of the moments as they pass. They perceive not how much their characters, and their advancement in the world, depend on their present application. But you, who are parents, perceive it. Your observation hath long ago taught you that attention and diligence in youth are the only sure foundation on Which a respectable manhood can be reared. To you, therefore, it belongs, by the judicious exercise of authority, to remedy the inexperience of the young, and to urge them on in the path in which, at present, perhaps, they walk with reluctance, because they see not the end to which it leads. The success of your children in the world is an object which deserves your attention; but it is not the only object that is worthy of a parent's care. Their virtue is their highest interest; and this, also, is most likely to be promoted by discipline. In order that the mind may be formed to virtue, it must be accustomed to submit to restraint; for what else is virtue but the habit of self-government, the power of regulating our affections and passions by the dictates of reason and conscience? To live according to rule is not a task for the young alone; it is a duty incumbent on all; it is that which, in every period of life, distinguishes the virtuous from the vicious. Now, this is the very habit to which the mind of the child is formed by the exercise of parental authority. How many useful lessons doth he learn from the discipline of his father's house! He is prepared, by obedience to his parents, to obey his conscience and his God. He will be meek, for he hath learned to bear contradiction; he will be just, for he hath learned to moderate his desires; he will be temperate, for he hath learned to resist the solicitations of pleasure; he will be generous, for he hath learned, at the call of duty, to forego his own ease and comfort, and he is prepared for every sacrifice which benevolence may require him to make. Happy, surely, is the man who hath thus borne the yoke in his youth!
(W. Moodie, D. D.)
To bear the yoke is to be in subjection: to be compelled to walk in certain lines at the will of another, to be prevented from choosing for ourselves and being our own masters. The compulsion which is most commonly felt in youth is the compulsion of circumstances. Without being in absolute poverty, the majority of young men find that they have no choice, but must at once try to earn a livelihood. And the limitations thus prescribed by circumstances are often very serious, and press very heavily on the mind of the aspiring youth. Still, if there is a spark of real manhood, a leaven of generosity in the spirit, it will be found good to bear this yoke. To throw a boy into the water is a rough-and-ready lesson in the art of swimming, but with a boy of spirit it is likely to be successful. The training which straitened circumstances give is one which no money can purchase. A lad is put upon his mettle, and if there is grit in him at all, it will appear. He is conscious that it depends entirely on himself whether he is to succeed or to fail. He feels himself face to face with the world, and is compelled to use all his faculties and powers to save himself from defeat. The habits of industry, the love of work, the delight in mastering difficulties, the ability to put pressure on himself, and the independence of character which a lad thus acquires, pass into his nature as its permanent and most valuable ingredients. It must also be considered that the privations which press so heavily on some families, and which in some unhappy instances benumb affection, do in the main afford opportunities for self-sacrifice and considerateness and concern for the common good which bind families together, and give a richness and beauty to the family life which you might have sought in vain had circumstances been easy and calling for no sacrifice. But in other senses it is good that a man bear the yoke in his youth. He must put himself under control and discipline if he is to get the full benefit of his youth. All this control and discipline is intended to fit him for liberty afterwards, as all drill and gymnastics are meant to give the body freedom of movement, and to give a man the perfect use of all his powers. To allow passions, cravings, propensities, to rule us and govern and determine our conduct is to become the worst of slaves. Freedom comes through discipline; through absorbing into our own will the laws which govern our life; to be our own master is to exercise self-control, and allow that in us to rule which was intended to be supreme. When we submit ourselves to the rule of conscience and come into harmony with God's laws, approving them in our heart, then only are we free. You yourself are something nobler and better than any of your members or any faculty in you; these are your organs and instruments whereby you work on the world around you, but you yourself are different from these, and are called to rule all these. Thus only is it possible to become your own master. Coming to detail, then, we must exercise self-control in respect of all unworthy pleasures. The youth of a certain kind and brought up in certain companies thinks he is scarcely a man till he has tasted pleasures which he knows to be forbidden. The very fact that they are forbidden makes them objects of desire. The true corrective of this bias towards unworthy pleasures is to be found in filling our life with worthy pursuits. Of course knowledge also helps. When one has seen a little more of life, the pleasures which attract the mass of young men seem so very childish, so false and tawdry, so positively repulsive in many respects, that one wonders where the charm is. In the cloakroom of many a place of entertainment you must with your coat leave your self-respect, and all respect for humanity, and necessarily come out a poorer man, with less fitness for life. But even when the pleasures that attract are recognised to be such as no men of any real stature and dignity could possibly stoop to, our self-control needs some other aid than that of knowledge. It is good to say to ourselves, these scenes I am asked to join are degrading and delusive. Instead of proving my manhood by entering them, I show distinctly that my manhood is poor and weak, easily deceived, easily led, ignorant and undeveloped. It is good to cherish and strengthen our self-control thus, and by reading such healthy writers as Thackeray, whose scorn of all that is base and foolish and filthy and profane communicates itself to the reader and makes that seem contemptible which is contemptible, and that be repulsive to us which in itself is repulsive. But the true safeguard is to fill the heart and life with higher things, to commit ourselves cordially to the Christian life, recognising its attractiveness and finding in it enough and more than enough to interest, to stimulate, to satisfy. It is in Christ's service you find true life and true freedom and true manhood. Another detail in which self-control must be exercised is in the books we read. Happily, English literature is rich enough to make it quite unnecessary for us to open one suspected volume. Form your taste on Scott and Thackeray, Carlyle and Emerson, and you will have no relish for unclean and corrupting literature. Here again, if you feel you are losing something by not reading what others read, exercise self-control, and remember that what you lose is well lost, a tainted mind, a lowered tone, a polluted imagination, while you gain self-respect, manliness, and purity. But again, those who have too much self-respect to find any attraction in such undesirable knowledge, sometimes show a similar craving, but in a higher and purer sphere. It is not uncommon to meet with persons who have a silly ambition to be recognised as having passed through a severe struggle with doubt and spiritual perplexity. Now there are two kinds of doubt which are very different in their origin and character, and which must be treated differently. There is the doubt which is almost invariably begotten in a strong and independent mind when that mind first applies itself to the solution of the mysteries of nature, of life, and of God. There is also the doubt which is assumed, like any other manner or habit which finds favour in society; sometimes there is an affectation of weariness and ennui, sometimes of indifference, and so in some circles there is an affectation of doubt. It is "the thing" to talk disparagingly of traditional belief, and to assume a sceptical attitude towards miracles and other objects of faith. The fictitious or imitative doubter may always be distinguished from the true doubter by his frivolous and ignorant manner of meeting proposed solutions of his doubts. He who merely apes doubt and seems to consider it a desirable mental condition, shrinks from conviction and seeks to perpetuate his uncertainty. To such as fancy that sceptical difficulties are symptoms of enlightenment may be commended the words of the great philosopher who may be said to have consecrated doubt. After describing how he stripped himself one by one of all beliefs, he goes on to say, "For all that, I did not imitate the sceptics who doubt for doubting's sake, and pretend to be always undecided; on the contrary, my whole intention was to arrive at certainty, and to dig away the drift and sand until I arrived at the rock beneath" (Descartes in Huxley, 122). It is not through the understanding so much as through the conscience and the heart that a man becomes a Christian. And so long as any one is loyal to Christ because he is conscious that in Him he is brought into harmony with God, and because he desires to live in fellowship with Christ and to serve Him, it is not essential that he should believe all that he has been taught. There is room in the Church of Christ for questioning spirits as for docile and credulous spirits; and as there is work for the one class, so is there work for the other. What is wanted much more than acceptance of traditional belief is tolerance, based on the clear perception that many articles of our creed are not certain, and that thoughtful men cannot but have different opinions regarding their truth. Until we fight against sin as the allies and subjects of Christ, as well as for our own sake, we seem to fight not in Christ's strength, but in our own. And if we think of our sin as mainly our affair, if we hate it mainly for the shame it brings upon us, then when we are tempted by it and when our own view of it is changed, the advantage and pleasure of it being now clear and the shame of it remote and dimly seen, there is absolutely nothing to restrain us from it. But if we habitually live with Christ and consider His will in all things, and that our sin brings grief to Him, when we are tempted, though our own view of sin is altered, we are conscious that His view of it remains the same, and in sympathy with His judgment we also condemn it. Every evil habit you suffer to find place in you lowers your energy throughout life, weights and burdens you, and holds you back from what you aspire to. The sin you admit into your life is not like a stone in a horse's hoof, that cripples for a few steps but can easily be knocked out and leave no trace: it is a morbid growth, it is in your blood, it taints your whole system, and is a weakness to the end. Turn then from all that is low, and defiling, and secretive, and ungenerous, turn from what is ungodly — be sure you are gladly living under the great law of human life, dependence on Jesus Christ, and with Him there will enter your life, "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honourable,...just,...pure,...lovely,...of good report."
(M. Dods, D. D.)
I. A BROAD ASSERTION WHICH REQUIRES TO BE QUALIFIED. It is not good to bear the yoke of —
1. Civil despotism.
2. Spiritual despotism.
3. Sinful despotism.
II. AN ASSERTION TO BE READILY RECEIVED.
1. The yoke of affliction.
2. The yoke of genuine religious principle.
3. The yoke of Christ.
III. WHY IT IS SO GOOD TO BEAR THIS YOKE IN YOUTH.
1. It is a check to the presumption of youth, which, like a vessel without ballast, would soon be endangered.
2. It is a safeguard against the dangers of youth.
3. It often proves a fitting preparation for eminent usefulness.
4. It is often the precursor of high character and of exalted enjoyment.
IV. HINTS TO THOSE WHO HAVE TO BEAR THE YOKE.
1. Place your mercies over against your trials.
2. Recollect that God has wise and kind designs.
3. Let affliction lead you to God as your proper and changeless portion.
4. Recollect the brevity of the season in which the yoke is to be borne.
I. THERE IS A YOKE WHICH IT IS NOT GOOD FOR A MAN TO BEAR IN HIS YOUTH.
1. The yoke of civil bondage.
2. The yoke of ceremonies and superstitions.
3. The yoke of sin. A bad habit acquired in youth grows with a man's growth, and strengthens with his strength.
II. WHAT YOKE IS IT GOOD FOR A MAN TO BEAR IN HIS YOUTH?
1. The yoke of affliction. There is a natural exuberance in youth which needs to be reduced — a luxuriousness which requires pruning — an impetuosity which needs to be checked. And what will effect this like affliction when sanctified by God?
2. The yoke of subjection to legitimate authority.
3. The yoke of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a yoke which every man must take upon him at some period of his life, or perish everlastingly.
(John Hambleton, M. A.)
(with Matthew 11:29): — The yoke! The very word has a sound of severity in it! Yet Christ spake it — He, whom all ages since His advent have accepted as the ideal of gentleness! He who alone, amid the boasted culture of the nineteenth century, can bestow real liberty. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" — there alone. We gain freedom from false dominions by accepting the kingship of Christ.
I. YOUNG MEN WHO ACCEPT THE YOKE OF CHRIST ARE BEST FITTED FOR AN EARTHLY CITIZENSHIP. England prospers or perishes by character! Selfishness slew Sparta. Cruelty corrupted Athens. Lust laid low the power of Rome. Material wealth does not constitute our prosperity, nor the genius of statesmanship, nor the facilities for commercial intercourse — character makes a nation! and to this hour is I know of no power which can create holy character, purify the heart, cleanse the conscience, and inspire a truly heroic life but the Gospel of Christ — it is the power of God unto salvation, and as such it manifests no over-weening confidence to say "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ." Upon its social side, our earthly citizenship will be beautiful just in the proportion that Christ reigns in our hearts! Your safety is in making harmony with the spirit and purpose of Christ, the ruling law of all
II. YOUNG MEN WHO ACCEPT THE YOKE OF CHRIST ARE FULFILLING THE HIGHEST IDEAL OF LIFE. Each man has some ideal of life. It is natural to suppose that we do not eat, work, and sleep, with no other aim than the day contains; we were unworthy of the majesty of manhood not to have some conceptions of duty and destiny. Christ found men full of the ideals of life. There was the pharisaic ideal, which combined ecclesiastical hauteur and Jewish privilege; there was the publican ideal, that "money makes the man," and that once wealthy, men could invite wit, genius, and learning to their board; there was the Roman ideal, which was prowess in arms, pride of military pomp and glory of military fame; there was the Philosophic ideal, which mingled contempt for ignorance, with superiority in the schools; there was the commercial ideal, which meant illimitable luxury, and a merchant prince's palace on the Tiber banks; there was the gladiator's ideal, which meant earnest eyes looking down upon the fight, and beauty and fashion craving the victor's love. Everywhere around the Christ were ideals of life! and what was His own? "The cup which my Father hath given Me to drink, shall I not drink it," "Father, not as I will, but as Thou wilt." This was Christ's ideal of life I an ideal that had in it the only true happiness. "My meat and my drink is to do the will of Him that sent Me."
III. YOUNG MEN WHO ACCEPT THE YOKE OF CHRIST PRESERVE THEIR MORAL INDEPENDENCE. They are bound by the law of Christ, and the law of Christ alone. They are not compelled to accept all the yokes, either sanctioned by Puritan custom, or by Ecclesiastical tradition; nor will they look to the law of Christ as to a legal statute book. "Thou shalt not's" would fill not only this world, but the whole stellar system with books which they could not contain. The spirit of Christ is our only safeguard, our only life, our only law, and it is enough.
IV. YOUNG MEN WHO ACCEPT THE YOKE OF CHRIST PASS THE GREAT CRISIS OF LIFE. All things are ready! The Atonement has opened wide the door of mercy, the Spirit of the living God has awakened the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come; the soul is close to the Kingdom — almost saved. Oh! moment of appalling interest; here is an act we can delegate to none, the acceptance or rejection of Christ, on that moment hangs for each soul all the immortal sanctities of heaven, or the wailings of infinite grief. If probation come again in some future state, it is revealed in some Bible of which I have no copy and is a Divine secret of which I have no key. Viewed in such a light as this, are you prepared now, yes! now; whilst Christ looks with the wistfulness of Divine love in your face, to obey His voice, "Take My yoke upon you."
V. YOUNG MEN WHO ACCEPT THE YOKE OF CHRIST MAKE A BLESSED USE OF THE FORMATIVE PERIOD OF LIFE. "It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth." He is supple and sinewy in mind and body. Moreover it is not only the age of a rare enthusiasm, but of unenriched experience, the age when we too often obey a quick impulse, rather than a quiet conscience; an age too when we are apt to despise service as service. Let men be proud of work, proudest of it when it takes the form of service. Let us never forget that our Master came not to be ministered unto, but to minister; that the Lord of angels took on Him "the form of a servant." Never let service be considered vulgar! It is good to bear the yoke in youth; good not to begin where our father's left off, good that we should have something better than an ignorant physical athleticism, and be moral athletes, able to cope with difficulty, preferring an escutcheon with a spade on it to a purchased coat of arms. If, however, it is good to bear the yoke early, in earthly duties, it is good to give of our time, strength, and substance in early youth to the cause of the Redeemer. The great day alone can reveal how much depends upon our enlisting the rising manhood of England in the intelligent service of the Church. May God the Holy Ghost inspire the conviction, that loyalty to Christ demands not only the mental admission of His claims, but the moral wearing of His yoke.
VI. YOUNG MEN WHO PUT ON THE YOKE OF CHRIST GIVE PROMISE OF THE OUTCOME OF SALVATION. The age is not wanting in appreciation of Christian life. The Church, however, in some of its most fervent Evangelical teachers, has made justification the only tenet in its creed. Christianity is life in God; it is more than the first paroxysm of penitential grief, more than the most passionate confession of sin, more than the thrill of a first love, more than occasional rhapsodies of glad emotion, more than an exquisite appreciation of the life of Christ: by this alone can the world know we are Christ's disciples, that "we keep His commandments." This is the true outcome of salvation, the test is not emotive in our feelings, nor mental in our intellectual belief alone, but practical, in yoke bearing after Christ.
(W. M. Statham, M. A.)
We adopt the principle of yoke-bearing in youth in the matter of intellectual education: why not in the matter of the higher moral training and chastening? Who puts off the learning of the alphabet until he is well advanced in life? Who at middle life could begin to commit to memory the things which almost seem to grow up in the mind of childhood and to abide there forever? Yet the child must be constrained to undergo the discipline needful to the acquisition of elementary knowledge. His play must be curtailed, his inclinations must be rebuked, his indolence must be overcome; it is for the child's good that his parents should insist upon the acceptance of the yoke, otherwise the child will grow up to be an ignorant man. Is it not also true that in youth passion is most violent, and might hurry the young life into the uttermost excesses were it not curbed or cooled or in some degree restrained? Hence it is important that young life should be filled with work, should be almost exhausted at times by long-continued labour. The profit is not seen in the labour alone; behind all the labour there are moral advantages which can hardly be described in words: passion is subdued, pride is mortified, the energy of the will is turned into the right direction, and labour so treated becomes in the end pleasant, as music is pleasant, and easy as breathing is easy. What may be expected from one who has borne the yoke well in his youth Chastened but not extinguished energy. Paul the apostle must be as energetic as was Saul of Tarsus, but the energy must be expressed along different lines. Mature saints are not expected to be demure, exhausted, feeble, indolent, or lacking in interest in the pursuits and ambitions of youth: they are expected to take a right view of those pursuits and ambitions, to set a proper estimate upon them. No man has borne his own yoke well who has lived without sympathy for those who are still feeling the burden.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
This is as good as a promise. It has been good, it is good, and it will be good for me to bear the yoke.
1. Early in life I had to feel the weight of conviction, and ever since it has proved a soul-enriching burden. Should I have loved the Gospel so well had I not learned by deep experience the need of salvation by grace? Jabez was more honourable than his brethren because his mother bare him with sorrow, and those who suffer much in being born unto God make strong believers in sovereign grace.
2. The yoke of censure is an irksome one, but it prepares a man for future honour. He is not fit to be a leader who has not run the gauntlet of contempt. Praise intoxicates if it be not preceded by abuse. Men who rise to eminence without a struggle usually fall into dishonour.
3. The yoke of affliction, disappointment, and excessive labour is by no means to be sought for; but when the Lord lays it on us in our youth it frequently develops a character which glorifies God and blesses the church.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
The crosses we meet with are not the effects of blind chance, but the results of a wise and unerring providence, which knoweth what is fittest for us, and loveth us better than we can do ourselves. There is no malice or envy lodged in the bosom of that blessed being whose name and nature is love. He taketh no delight in the troubles and miseries of His creatures: He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. Holiness is the highest perfection and greatest happiness we are capable of: it is a real participation of the Divine nature, the image of God drawn on the soul; and all the chastisements we meet with are designed to reduce us to this blessed temper, to make us like unto Himself, and thereby capable to be happy with Him to all eternity.
I. This will more clearly appear if we reflect on THE NATURAL TEMPER OF OUR MINDS AND THE INFLUENCE WHICH PROSPEROUS OR ADVERSE FORTUNE IS WONT TO HAVE UPON THEM.
1. We are naturally proud and self-conceited; we have an high esteem of ourselves, and would have everybody else to value and esteem us. This disease is very deeply rooted in our corrupt nature: it is ordinarily the first sin that betrays itself in the little actions and passions of children; and many times the last which religion enables us to overcome. Pride alone is the source and fountain of almost all the disorders in the world; of all our troubles, and of all our sins: and we shall never be truly happy, or truly good, till we come to think nothing of ourselves, and be content that all the world think nothing of us. Now, there is nothing hath a more natural tendency to foment and heighten this natural corruption, than constant prosperity and success. Sanctified afflictions contribute to abate and mortify the pride of our hearts, to prick the swelling imposthume, to make us sensible of our weakness, and convince us of our sine.
2. Another distemper of our minds is our too great affection to the world and worldly things. We are all too apt to set our hearts wholly upon them; to take up our rest, and seek our happiness and satisfaction in them. But God knows that these may well divert and amuse a while, they can never satisfy or make us happy; that the souls which He made for Himself can never rest till they return unto Him, and therefore He many times findeth it necessary either to remove our comforts or imbitter them unto us; to put aloes and wormwood on the breasts of the world, that thereby we may wean our hearts from it, and carry them to the end of their being, the fountain of their blessedness and felicity.
3. Another bad effect which prosperity is wont to produce in our corrupt natures, is, that it makes us forgetful of God, and unthankful of His mercies: We put very little value on our food and raiment, and the ordinary means of our subsistence, we have been sometimes pinched with want. We consider not how much we are indebted to God for preserving our friends, till some of them be removed from us. How little do we prize out health, if we have never had experience of sickness or pain! Where is the man who doth seriously bless God for his nightly quiet and repose! And yet, if sickness or trouble deprive us of it, we then find it to have been a great and invaluable mercy, and that it is God who giveth His beloved sleep.
4. Prosperity rendereth us insensible of the miseries and calamities of others. But afflictions do soften the heart, and make it more tender and kindly; and we are always most ready to compassionate those griefs which ourselves have sometime endured: the sufferings of others make the deepest impressions upon us, when they put us in mind of our own.
II. TAKE NOTICE OF THE SEASON WHICH IS HERE MENTIONED AS THE FITTEST FOR A MAN TO BEAR AFFLICTION. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. We are all willing to put off the evil day; and, if we must needs bear the yoke, we would choose to have it delayed till we grow old. We think it sad to have our morning overcast with clouds, to meet with a storm before we have well launched forth from the shore. But the Divine wisdom, which knoweth what is fit for us, doth many times make choice of our younger years, as the most proper to accustom us to the bearing of the yoke.
1. It is then most necessary. For youth is the time of our life wherein we are in greatest danger to run into wild and extravagant courses: our blood is hot, and our spirits unstayed and giddy; we have too much pride to be governed by others, and too little wisdom to govern ourselves. The yoke is then especially needful to tame our wildness and reduce us to a due stayedness and composure of mind.
2. Then also it is most supportable. The body is strong and healthful, less apt to be affected with the troubles of the mind; the spirit stout and vigorous, will not so easily break and sink under them. Old age is a burden, and will soon faint under any supervenient load. The smallest trouble is enough to bring down grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. And therefore, since we must meet with afflictions, it is certainly a favourable circumstance to have them at the time of our life wherein we are most able to endure them.
3. And, lastly, the lessons which afflictions teach us, are then most advantageous when we learn them betimes, that we may have the use of them in the conduct of our after lives.
III. THE PARTICULAR ADVANTAGE OF AFFLICTIONS WHICH IS MENTIONED IN THE TEXT: "He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him." The words are capable of a twofold interpretation, and both suit well with the purpose: for we may either understand them properly, of solitude and silence; or metaphorically, of patience and quiet submission; both of which are the good effects of sanctified and well-improved afflictions: and accordingly we shall say something to both.
1. Nature hath made us sociable creatures: but corruption hath carried this inclination unto excess; so that most persons think it an intolerable burden to be any considerable time alone. Though they love themselves out of measure, yet they cannot endure their own conversation; they had rather be hearing and discoursing of the most naughty and trivial things, than be sitting alone and holding their peace. Outward prosperity heightens this humour. When the heart is dilated with joy, it seeketh to vent itself in every company. Crosses, on the other hand, render a man pensive and solitary; they stop the mouth, and bind up the tongue, and incline the person to be much alone.(1) He who considers, on the one hand, the guilt we are wont to contract, and the prejudice which we sustain, by too much conversation with others, and, on the other hand, the excellent improvement we may make of solitude and retirement, will account it a good effect of afflictions, that they incline and dispose us unto it. In considering the evils of frequent conversation, we are not to prosecute the grossest and more scandalous vices of the tongue. We rather choose to mention such evils as are wont to be less noticed, and can he more hardly avoided. And, first, experience may teach us all, that much conversation doth ordinarily beget a remissness and dissolution of spirit; that it slackeneth and relaxeth the bent of our minds, and disposeth us to softness and easy compliances. Another prejudice we receive by society, is, That it fills our minds with noxious images, and fortifies our corrupt notions and opinions of things. When we are alone in a sober temper, and take time to reflect and consider of things, we are sometimes persuaded of the vanity and worthlessness of all those glittering trifles whereunto the generality of mankind are so sadly bewitched: but when we come abroad, and listen to the common talk, and hear people speak of greatness, and fiches, and honour with concern and admiration, we quickly forget our more sober and deliberate thoughts, and suffer ourselves to be carried away with the stream of the common opinion. And though the effects be not so sudden and observable, yet these discourses are still making some secret and insensible impressions upon us. Thus also is our judgment corrupted about the qualities and endowments of the mind. Courage and gallantry, wit and eloquence, and other accomplishments of this nature, are magnified and extolled beyond all measure; whereas humility, and meekness, and devotion, and all those Christian graces which render a soul truly excellent and lovely, are spoken of as mean and contemptible things: for though men have not the impudence formally to make the comparison, and prefer the former; yet their very air, and way of discoursing about these things, sufficiently testifies their opinion. I shall mention but another of those evils wherewith our conversation is commonly attended. The most ordinary subject of our entertainments are the faults and follies of others. Were this one theme of discourse discharged, we would oft-times find but little to say. I scarce know any fault whereof good persons are so frequently guilty, and so little sensible.(2) But solitude and retirement do not only deliver us from these inconveniencies, but also afford very excellent opportunities for bettering our souls. The most profane and irreligious persons will find some serious thoughts rise in their minds if they be much alone. And the more that any person is advanced in piety and goodness, the more will he delight in retirement, and receive the more benefit by it. Then it is that the devout soul takes its highest flight in Divine contemplations and maketh its nearest approaches to God. Little doth the world understand those secret and hidden pleasures which devout souls do feel when, having got out of the noise and hurry of the world, they sit alone and keep silence, contemplating the Divine perfections, which shine so conspicuously in all His works of wonder; admiring His greatness, and wisdom, and love, and revolving His favours towards themselves; opening before Him their griefs and their cares, and disburdening their souls into His bosom; protesting their allegiance and subjection unto Him, and telling Him a thousand times that they love Him; and then listening unto the voice of God within their hearts, that still and quiet voice, which is not wont to be heard in the streets, that they may hear what God the Lord will speak: for He will speak peace unto His people, and to His saints, and visit them with the expressions of His love.(3) But I would not be mistaken, as if I recommended a total and constant retirement, or persuaded men to forsake the world, and betake themselves unto deserts. No, certainly; we must not abandon the stations wherein God hath placed us, nor render ourselves useless to mankind. Solitude hath its temptations, and we may be sometimes very bad company to ourselves. It was not without reason that a wise person warned another, who professed to delight in conversing with himself. Have a care that you be keeping company with a good man. Abused solitude may whet men's passions, and irritate their lusts, and prompt them to things which company would restrain. And this made one say, that he who is much alone, must either be a saint or devil. Melancholy, which inclines men most to retirement, is often too much nourished and fomented by it; and there is a peevish and sullen loneliness, which some people affect under their troubles, whereby they feed on discontented thoughts, and find a kind of perverse pleasure in refusing to be comforted. But all this says no more, but that good things may be abused; and excess or disorder may turn the most wholesome food into poison. And therefore though I would not indifferently recommend much solitude unto all; yet, sure, I may say, it were good for the most part of men that they were less in company, and more alone.
2. Thus much of the first and proper sense of sitting alone and keeping silence. We told you it might also import a quiet and patient submission to the will of God; the laying of our hand on our mouth, that no expression of murmur or discontent may escape us. We cannot now insist in any length on this Christian duty of patience, and submission to the will of God; we shall only say two things of it, which the text importeth.(1) That this lesson is most commonly learned in the school of afflictions.(2) That this advantage of afflictions is very great and desirable; that it is indeed very good for a man to have borne the yoke in his youth, if he hath thereby learned to sit alone and keep silence when the hand of the Lord is upon him. There is nothing more acceptable unto God, no object more lovely and amiable in His eyes, than a soul thus prostrate before Him, thus entirely resigned unto His holy will, thus quietly submitting to His severest dispensations. Nor is it less advantageous unto ourselves; but sweeteneth the bitterest occurrences of our life, and makes us relish an inward and secret pleasure, notwithstanding all the smart of affliction: so that the yoke becomes supportable, the rod itself comforts us; and we find much more delight in suffering the will of God than if He had granted us our own.
(H. Scougal, M. A.)
If a bullock is not broken in when it is young, it will never be worth much for the plough. The work will be galling for itself, and most unsatisfactory for the husbandman. If this be neglected, it is vain to attempt it by and by; the beast will only be fretted and irritated, and any work it is put to will be a failure. A traveller in the East graphically describes, as an eyewitness, the difficulty of getting an untrained ox to perform agricultural work. "I have frequent opportunities," he said, "of witnessing the conduct of oxen when for the first time put into the yoke. They generally made a strenuous struggle for liberty, repeatedly breaking the yoke, and attempting to make their escape. At other times such bullocks would lie down upon their side or back, and remain so in defiance of the drivers, though they lashed them with ponderous whips. Sometimes from pity to the animal I would interfere, and beg them not to be so cruel. 'Cruel,' they would say, 'it is mercy, for if we do not conquer him now, he will require to be so beaten all his life."
(J. Thain Davidson.)
It was the sorrow, of Samuel Rutherford's. later years, as it was of St. 's, that he allowed himself to reach manhood before he yielded his heart to God. "Like a fool as I was," he says, "I suffered my sun to be high in the heaven, and near afternoon." Few things in the "Letters" are more beautiful than the earnestness with which he beseeches the young to consecrate their freshest hours to eternity. "It was a sweet and glorious thing for your daughter Grissel to give herself up to Christ, that tie may write upon her His father's name and His own new name." "I desire Patrick to give Christ the flower of his love; it were good to start soon in the way." He would have none to imitate him, "loitering on the road too long, and trifling at the gate."
Live the bullock, we have to bend, we have to stoop, that the yoke may be put upon us, and this stooping is what none of us like. Our proud wills must be humbled; our old self must be crucified. There are few men who enter into the light and liberty of happy believers without knowing something of this inward conflict. It is well to have it over in early life. I remember an old and godly man who was much tried in the latter years of his life with spiritual depression, saying to me, "Ah, sir, it is not good to have to bear the yoke in one's old age."
(J. Thain Davidson.)
Writing upon "Uppingham School" a recent author says: "Here a boy drops rank, wealth, luxury, and for eight or ten years, and for the greater part of these years, lives among his equals in an atmosphere of steady discipline, which usually compels a simple and hardy life, and in a community where the prizes and applause are about equally divided between mental energy and spiritual vigour. Here respect and obedience become habitual to him; lie learns to regard the rights of others and to defend his own; to stand upon his feet in the most democratic of all societies — a boy republic. Above all, he escapes the mental and moral suffocation from which it is well-nigh impossible to guard boys in rich and luxurious homes."
(H. O. Mackey.)
He sitteth alone, and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him. He putteth his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope.
Thus the prophet describes the conduct of a person in deep anguish of heart. When he does not know what to do, his soul, as if by instinct, humbles itself. He gets into some secret place, he utters no speech, he gives himself over to moaning and to tears, and then he bows himself lower and yet lower before the Divine Majesty, as if he felt that the only hope for him in the extremity of his sorrow was to make complete submission to God, and to lie in the very dust before Him.
I. In the time of great trouble HOLY SOLITUDE is commended to us. "Let him sit alone." I earnestly advise you who are under concern of soul to seek to get alone, and to be quiet and thoughtful in your solitude; not merely to be alone, but to sit by yourself like a person in the posture of thought.
1. I commend solitude to any of you who are seeking salvation, first, that you may study well your case as in the sight of God. If a true shepherd will not neglect his flocks and his herds, should not a wise man care about his thoughts, his feelings, and his actions? I implore you, do not let your ship go at full steam through a fog; but slacken speed a bit, and heave the lead, to see whether you are in deep waters or shallow. Sit alone a while, that you may carefully consider your case.
2. Get alone again, that you may diligently search the Scriptures. Alas, the dust upon many men's Bibles will condemn them! I beseech you, as sensible and reasonable beings, do not let God speak to you, and you refuse to hear.
3. Get alone, further, that you may commune with your God. After we have once learnt the way, we can commune with God anywhere, — amidst the roar and turmoil of the crowded city, or on the top of the mast of a ship; but, to begin with, it is best to be alone with the Lord. Oh, speak with Him at once! Perhaps five minutes' earnest speech with Him may be the turning point of your life.
4. Get alone also, that you may avoid distraction. How often may even godly and gracious people talk upon some theme that may rob their fellow believers of all the good they have received in God's house; and, as for unconverted persons, I am sure that, if they ever feel impressed under the Word, it will be their utmost wisdom to take care of that first impression, and not let it be driven away by foolish or frivolous conversation. Some of us are old enough to recollect the day before there were matches of the kind we now use, and early on a frosty morning some of us have tried to strike a light with flint and steel, and the old-fashioned tinder box. How long we struck, and struck, and watched, and waited, and at last there was a little spark in the tinder, and then we would hold the box up, and blow on it very softly, that we might keep that little spark alight till we had kindled the fire that we wanted. That tenderness over the first spark is what I invite everyone to practise in spiritual matters.
II. The text goes on to say, that we should practise SUBMISSIVE SILENCE. "Let him sit alone and keep silence."
1. If the burden of sin is pressing upon thee, be sure to abstain from all idle talk, for if the idle talk of others, as I have reminded thee, can distract thy thoughts, how much more would thine own!
2. Keep silence also in another respect. Do not attempt to make any excuse for your sin. Oh, how ready sinners are with their excuses! There was a man who used to get drunk and he said that it was his besetting sin; but his brother said, "No, it is your upsetting sin;" and so it was. He that does not want to get wet should not go out into the rain. Instead of your excuse making your case any better, it makes it worse; therefore, keep silence before thy God.
3. Keep silence from all complaining of God. No man is truly saved while he sets himself up as the judge of God; yet this is the practice of many men. Go, thou guilty one, sit thee still, and hold thy tongue, and bring thy rebellious heart to submission. Shall the flax contend with the fire, or the stubble fight with the flame? What canst thou do in warring with thy Maker?
4. Sit thou alone, and keep silence, next, from all claims of merit. There is no way of mercy for any one of us until we shut our mouths, and utter not a single boastful word, but stand guiltily silent before the Lord.
5. I think it is well, too, when a poor sin-burdened soul is silent before God, and unable to make any bold speeches. It would have been well if Peter had been silent when he said to his Lord, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I." I like a man who knows, not only how to speak, but how to sit still; but that latter part is hard work to many. There came a young man to Demosthenes to learn oratory; he talked away at a great rate, and Demosthenes said, "I must charge you double fees." "Why?" he asked. "Why," said the master, "I have first to teach you to hold your tongue, and afterwards to instruct you how to speak." The Lord teaches true penitents how to hold their tongues.
III. Now I shall ask your special and patient attention to the third point, which is, PROFOUND HUMILIATION. What can this expression mean? "Let him put his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope."
1. It means, first, that there must be true, humble, lowly, confession of sin. You say that you have been praying, yet you have not found peace; have you confessed your sins? This is absolutely necessary. Do not cloak or dissemble before the Almighty. Let all your sins appear. Take a lowly place; not simply be a sinner in name, but confess that thou art a sinner in fact and deed.
2. Further than that, when it is said that we are to put our mouths in the dust, it means that we are to give up the habit of putting ourselves above other people, and finding fault with others. I believe a sincere penitent thinks himself to be the worst man there is, and never judges other people, for he says in his heart, "That man may be more openly guilty than I am, but very likely he does not know so much as I do, or the circumstances of his case are an excuse for him."
3. It also means that we realise our own nothingness in the presence of God.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Lord will not cast off forever.
I. A CHEERING ASSURANCE GIVEN.
1. That God's abandonment of His people is only temporary.
2. That the favour with which he will visit them will be signal and abundant.
II. AN IMPORTANT REASON ADDUCED. "For He doth not afflict willingly," etc. This may be inferred from,
1. His character. He is a God of love.
2. The relationship He sustains to His people. He is their Father.
3. Their sufferings are attended with many alleviations. Had He any pleasure in punishing us, so much mercy would not be mingled with judgment.
4. The object He has in view in afflicting His children. It is for their profit, that they might be partakers of His holiness.
5. His readiness to remove His chastening hand when the visitation has answered the end intended.
III. A GRACIOUS LIMITATION SUBJOINED. "To crush under His feet all the prisoners of the earth, to turn aside the right of a man," etc. Whenever He afflicts, it is —
2. Never in violation of the principles of equity. "To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not." He is the righteous Lord, that loveth righteousness, and all He doeth is in accordance therewith.
I. THE RELUCTANCE WITH WHICH THE AFFLICTION PROCEEDS FROM GOD. "He doth not afflict willingly." Suffering is repugnant to His benevolent nature, why then does He allow it to come?
1. Because it is according to the benevolent laws of the universe. Love has linked indissolubly suffering and sin together. The greatest calamity that could happen to the universe would be a dissolution of this connection.
2. Because sufferings have a disciplinary influence. They tend to quicken spiritual thought, loosen interest in the material, and throw the soul back upon itself, the spiritual and the everlasting.
II. THE LOVING KINDNESS WITH WHICH AFFLICTIONS ARE EVER ATTENDED. "Yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies." Divine mercy is always seen in sufferings.
1. In the slightness of the suffering compared both with the deserts and the enjoyments. How much misery does the sinner deserve? Let his own conscience answer. How little are his sufferings, compared with this l How much happiness does he enjoy every day! What are his pains, compared with the bulk of his enjoyments?
2. In the alleviations and sustaining ministries afforded under suffering. How much to alleviate suffering has the greatest sufferer, how many relieving ministries at hand — loving friends, medical science, etc., etc.
He doth not afflict willingly
I. AFFLICTIONS ARE PECULIARLY INSTRUCTIVE. Griefs and pains are very unacceptable. Most men find it difficult to bear them with commendable patience. And as the mind is troubled under them, nothing is more natural than to inquire whence they come and why they are sent. And thus the mind is led away to God, and reminded of the justice of His character. If there had been no suffering here, if all around us was fair, and bright, and happy, every face dressed in smiles, and every heart bounded with joy, men would have asked where is there any proof of God's anger? of His aroused and operative justice? of His great displeasure against sinners? And by such courses of thought the natural atheism of the human heart would have fortified itself against the truth.
II. GOD SENDS AFFLICTIONS UPON MEN FOR THE SAKE OF THEIR INFLUENCE AS THEY BEAR UPON THE PASSIONS AND PURPOSES OF LIFE.
1. Amid the prosperities of life, when pains, disappointments, and distress are strangers, pride is very apt to be strong and influential. The miseries of this life are sent to repress this pride. They rebuke it. They check it. They stand in its way and hinder its influences. Pain and pride do not thrive well together. Far from it. There is little manifest arrogance and haughtiness, or even ambition, on Caesar's bed of sickness. When amid the burnings of his fever he cries: "Give me some drink, Titanius," like a sick girl, he is a very different man and different example from what he was at the head of his legions, his strong hand upon his sword. He cares very little now for his eagles — very little for glory.
2. These afflictions of life also repress worldliness of spirit. What a lecture a fever gives to it! or a funeral! What a lesson the graveyard reads in its ears! What a rebuke when the man bears to the tomb the son for whom he thought he was hoarding his thousands!
3. These miseries, too, have an influence upon disappointed ambition, envy, and such like. They are seen to be impartial.
4. Our miseries, too, affect our purposes. Indeed there are very few of our lost purposes that are formed without them.
5. Our afflictions tend strangely to impress us with a sense of our dependence on God.
III. THE AFFLICTIONS EXPERIENCED BY THE PEOPLE OF GOD FURNISH OPPORTUNITY AND MEANS FOR THE CULTIVATION OF THE HIGHEST AND MOST DIFFICULT VIRTUES. If there were no instances of distress, we should have nothing to excite our pity. If there were no instances of want, there would be nothing to call forth our charity. If nobody injured or offended us, we should have nobody to forgive. Aside from something to distress or annoy us, the virtue of patience would not be called into action and cultivated. Our fortitude, if not much of our faith, could never be exercised at all, if there were no burdens to bear, no distresses to endure, no furnaces of trial to burn upon us.
IV. HOW COULD YOU, THEN, JUDGE WHETHER YOU WERE A CHILD OF GOD OR NOT? The temper we have and the demeanour we exhibit in afflictions, and toward the afflicted, constitute more just criterions of our character than any other. If there were no afflictions here, we should have no "good Samaritan" to copy, and no priest and Levite, whose irreligious example to shun. God may have sent us trials and filled His world with sorrows, not willingly, but to furnish us opportunity to test our faith and find whether we are on the way to heaven.
V. AFFLICTIONS MAKE DEMONSTRATIONS OF MEN, PROOFS, EXHIBITS TO THE WORLD, OF THE POWER AND DIVINITY OF FAITH. The world needs such demonstrations. The wicked are not to be convinced by principles merely. In trial grace brightens — it shines — it demonstrates. For this reason God sends trials.
VI. IT IS JUST IN TIMES AND BY MEANS OF AFFLICTIONS, THAT GOD BESTOWS UPON YOU HIS MOST PRECIOUS GIFTS.
(I. S. Spencer, D. D.)
I. THE SOURCE WHENCE THEY PROCEED. "He causes grief." not the enemy of souls, but the Friend of sinners; not the tyrant of the hour, but the eternal Sovereign of the skies. Not a needless sigh ascends from the human bosom; not one unnecessary tear, which God originates, flows down the face of man. We are sure of this —
1. From the infinite benevolence of His nature, and the mercy that characterises all His dispensations.
2. From the fewness of our afflictions compared with our deserts.
3. From the large aggregate of happiness which we all enjoy.
4. From the fact that many of our sorrows are self-originated.
5. From the direct statements of the written revelation.
II. THE DESIGN FOR WHICH THEY ARE SENT. Their ordinary uses are —
1. To discipline character. "This is all the fruit, to take away sin." While we are under affliction, we are under a process of cure.
2. To prove principle. It does this to ourselves and to others.
3. To increase usefulness. Who visits the sick? Chiefly those who have suffered affliction.
4. To detach from the vanities of earth, and prepare the soul for heaven.
III. THE ALLEVIATIONS BY WHICH THEY ARE ACCOMPANIED.
1. In the appointment of them you are privileged to discern and acknowledge the Divine hand.
2. In the endurance of them you are often favoured with peculiar supports and consolations.
3. In the final review you will assuredly have occasion to bless God for all.
IV. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH THEY SHOULD BE MET.
1. An inquiring spirit. "Show me wherefore thou contendest with me." Inquire into their causes, their tendency, and especially the influence which they exert upon your character.
2. A prayerful spirit. There is no time more favourable for the exercises of devotion, no time in which we are more likely to obtain the richest blessings, than the time of affliction. This is eminently a time in which God may be found.
3. A submissive spirit.
4. A thankful spirit.
5. A spirit of cheerful expectation and hope of better days hereafter.
I. THE EXISTENCE OF MISERY RECONCILED WITH THE BENEVOLENCE OF GOD.
1. You were created happy, by your own faults you became miserable; your Creator, notwithstanding, redeemed you from this state; and the only penance for your guilt is a mixture of misery with happiness, in that short interval which passes between the cradle and the grave.
2. Those sufferings to which we are exposed in this world, are absolutely necessary for the recovery of that perfection in which we were first created, and for the regaining of that dignity and purity which we forfeited by the fall.
II. THE UNREASONABLENESS AND INGRATITUDE OF DISCONTENT AND DESPONDENCY.
1. They were not originally designed for us, but having been introduced by the folly and guilt of our first ancestor, they are necessary and unavoidable; and not only so, but they are in a high degree salutary and medicinal.
2. Though it must be allowed that some portion of misery will fall to the share of all men; that no prudence, virtue, or good fortune can entirely escape it: yet I believe that it may he assumed, and will hold true for the most part, that the hours which we spend in ease and happiness are greatly superior, in number, to those which are passed in misery and pain.
3. Many of the evils which are the subject of our hasty complaints, are brought on us by our own imprudence; disappointments frequently arise from unreasonable expectations; poverty is the general product of idleness; sickness is, in many instances, caused by intemperance; the loss of reputation, by vice or folly: in these cases, shame, one would think, should silence our murmurs, and prevent us from attributing to the constitution of human affairs what is only to be imputed to ourselves.
(G. Haggitt, M. A.)
I. ALL AFFLICTION COMES FROM GOD. Every arrow which wounds the sons of men receives its commission from the skies, and never fails to strike its appointed mark: while infinite wisdom appoints, unerring power executes. and so it is, whether intermediate instrumentality be employed or not. Wicked men and wicked spirits arc continually made the unconscious instruments of furthering the merciful designs of Almighty God, in this world of irregularities. They mean evil; but He overrules their agency for good: and so long as his watchful eye is upon them, and they act under His control and permission, in afflicting the children of men, the Church may say, with her Redeemer, in the depths of His expiatory sufferings' "The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?"
II. AFFLICTION SHOULD BE REGARDED BY CHRISTIANS AS NEEDFUL DISCIPLINE, OR AS SALUTARY CHASTISEMENT. It is true that if God saw fit, He could as effectually carry on the work of grace in the hearts of His people, and as speedily ripen them for the bliss of heaven, without, as with, the instrumentality of affliction: but then, we know that His general plan is to convey the promised influences of His Spirit through the medium of naturally operating causes. He brings persons under the sound of the Gospel, and then He makes the faculty of hearing a means of their becoming wise unto salvation: He softens a man's heart by affliction, and then, as in a prepared soft, He sows that precious seed which springs up in a rich and abundant harvest. And this is all that we mean, when we speak of trials as necessary for the people of God: they are necessary on the principle of that analogy which pervades the various dispensations of the Almighty, both in Providence and in grace. His watchful eye detects some irregular desire beginning to operate in the breast, or some evil passion which, like a flower m the bud, only waits to be acted upon by the influence of temptation, in order to be brought to maturity: and hence, like a wise and affectionate parent, He kindly interposes to prevent the threatening danger.
III. AFFLICTION, WHETHER IT COMES UPON THE BELIEVER IN THE WAY OF DISCIPLINE OR OF CHASTISEMENT, IS REGULATED, FROM FIRST TO LAST, BY INFINITE WISDOM AND UNBOUNDED MERCY. To Him all hearts are open: He is intimately acquainted with the peculiar temperament of individual experience: and He determines, with unerring accuracy, when, and how, and to what extent, the discipline or the chastisements of His grace are necessary, in each separate instance.
(W. Knight, M. A.)
Sorrow, pain, change, and death, affecting ourselves, affecting others, everywhere prevail. This fact we cannot alter. But in the manner in which we view it, our happiness, our improvement, are deeply concerned. That God could terminate such a state of things, is certain. That He does not, is equally certain. And yet, "He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men."
I. THE PROOFS OF THIS DOCTRINE.
1. The first proof that He cannot afflict willingly, or, as it is in the Hebrew, "from His heart," is found in His nature. Love can take no delight in our afflictions, and must ever be ready to mitigate or remove them.
2. We can trace all misery up to causes independent of the will and appointment of God.
3. In all cases we find more of mercy than judgment. You have sickness, but how much more health! pain, but how much more ease! disappointment, but how many gratifications! You sigh for a good which you have not; but how many do you actually enjoy!
4. The success of prayer in removing afflictions.
II. MUCH AFFLICTION WILL BE FOUND TO REMAIN AFTER ALL; AND WE STILL WANT THE REASON OF IT.
1. To keep man in mind that God notices his sins, although He may delay their final punishment, Sin is no trifling evil.
2. To give a spiritual direction to our affections, by showing to us the vanity of the world.
3. To call good principles into exercise, and thus to prepare us for heaven. Faith, patience, sympathy for others, are all strengthened in affliction.
III. THE LIMITATIONS BY WHICH IT IS GRACIOUSLY REGULATED.
1. He does not so afflict and grieve, as to crush under His set the prisoners of the earth. Oh no. Our Lord has purchased liberty for the prisoners of the earth, and the Gospel is the proclamation of it. We are called forth into light and liberty, into joy and hope.
2. He doth not so afflict as "to turn aside the right of a man before the face of the Most High." The face of the Most High; the Shechinah, or visible glory of the Lord; symbolising the throne of grace in heaven; God accepting the oblation and offering of His Son for our sake, and appointing Him our Mediator, and giving us the covenant right of approaching to Him, with all our guilt and misery, that we may obtain the provided deliverance. And never does God turn away the exercise of this gracious right. In darkness, ask His light; in sorrow, inward joy; in temptation, strength and victory; in all pressing circumstances, help in thy time of need; in sickness, patience; in death, life; in all, submission.
I. MANY OF THE EVILS WITH WHICH MEN ARE VISITED, BEING THE INSEPARABLE ATTENDANTS OF VICE AND FOLLY, ARE TO BE ASCRIBED TO THEIR OWN MISCONDUCT. Whence, for example, the disease and wretchedness of the voluptuous? Whence the ignominy that overwhelms the false and the unjust? Whence the fears that disturb the breasts of the guilty, and the heavy punishment that follows atrocious wickedness? Are they not evils into which men wantonly plunge? and do not they form a great proportion in the number of human woes? But while the evils which follow guilt are to be ascribed to the misconduct of the guilty, they serve an important purpose in the moral government of the world; they set bounds to the destructive progress of vice, and often are the source of unspeakable good to the guilty themselves. Often they destroy our relish for sinful enjoyments, and turn the heart into another course. By withdrawing us for a little from the hurry of our guilty pursuits, they give us time to pause and consider, and thus the careless may be led to sober thought, and the criminal stopped in the midst of a career which would have ended in irrecoverable ruin. Even when remorse is awakened, though its pangs be severe, it is often the commencement of a new era in a man's life, and the forerunner of virtue and peace.
II. WITH RESPECT TO THOSE EVILS WHICH DO NOT ARISE FROM GUILT, BUT ARE COMMON TO THE GOOD EQUALLY WITH THE BAD, THEY ARE USEFUL FOR THE IMPROVEMENT OF OUR MINDS, AND FOR THE TRIAL AND CONFIRMATION OF OUR VIRTUE. Were there no hardships in our lot, no dangers to be encountered, no injuries nor calamities to be experienced; our contentment, our fortitude, our forgiveness, our resignation, virtues which so adorn the human character, would be untried and unknown. We may add on this point, that the frequent repetition of evils, sometimes in a milder, and sometimes in a more formidable shape, not only calls forth but confirms the virtue of good men. It is well known that when frequent returning opportunities of sinning are indulged, they produce a general tendency to vice: the heart becomes enslaved to corruption, and the fetters which retain it in bondage become too strong to be broken, without the most vigorous efforts. In like manner with respect to our good qualities, each succeeding act of virtue promotes the general tendency to goodness, and by repeated exercise, virtuous dispositions at length acquire a prevailing influence.
III. THE EVILS OF LIFE ARE OFTEN THE IMMEDIATE SOURCE OF SOME OF OUR MOST REFINED ENJOYMENTS, CALLING FORTH THOSE EXERTIONS OF SYMPATHY WHICH ARE SO GRATEFUL TO THE SUFFERER. Visit the abode where such a man is labouring under the pressure of calamity, and where will you find a more improving spectacle? Are they not the best feelings of the heart, which dictate the prayer of resignation that ascends to God? Are they not the most sacred and endearing exertions, when affection marks the supplicating eye, and hastens to relieve, shares and alleviates the weight of sorrow, watches perhaps the last moments of the departing spirit, and sweetens the slumber of death?
IV. THE EVILS OF LIFE SERVE A FURTHER IMPORTANT USE, BY LESSENING OUR ATTACHMENT TO THE PRESENT WORLD. Were heaven revealed in its full splendour, it would excite a fervour of mind amidst which the world would be utterly forgotten. But it is the will of God that our present duties be fulfilled, and therefore He hath drawn a veil over the glories of immortality. On the other hand, lest we should sink law amidst the pleasures of this life, and rest satisfied with them, we are visited with disappointment and calamity. Thus, without overwhelming us with the view of heavenly felicity, means are provided to make the prospect welcome to us, means peculiarly suited to a state of moral discipline; and think how much the hope of immortality would be banished from men's minds, if nothing occurred to weaken their attachment to the world. You may observe, moreover, the wise accommodation of sufferings to the period of life which we have attained. In youth, some strokes of adversity are sent to touch and awaken our minds. But as we advance in life, cares multiply, the things of this world present themselves in their true light, and we discover that trouble and uncertainty are part of the lot of man. When old age comes, and the period of our departure is at hand, the prospect is more and more clouded. Our earthly hopes fail, and what remains but to look beyond the approaching limits of our pilgrimage, and steadily to fix our wishes on the world to come? Of how much importance it is, that while we continue under our present preparatory discipline, our views should be directed forward to what finally awaits us, must be abundantly obvious. It assists us in opposing the power of temptation; it provides a rich treasure of pure enjoyment, it imparts an elevating and sanctifying influence to our minds, and thus corresponds with the great purposes for which our present state is appointed.
(T. S. Hardie, D. D.)
A more melancholy, dirge-like plaint than that of this heart-broken prophet never fell from human lips. The lofty confidence of this suffering man in the fidelity and compassionate rule of God, his own bitter grief notwithstanding, is not less majestic than his sorrow is plaintive (vers. 22-26). Then comes this grand prophecy of a triumphant faith in the providence of a Divine compassion, under which all suffering is being ministered with a purpose and mixed with a tenderness out of which emerge definite and healing results, as it is given in the text: "For the Lord will not cast off forever: but though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion. For He doth not afflict willingly." This apparent contradiction between the Divine compassion and our human griefs, is today what it has been from the beginning, the standing problem, the bitter tragedy of human life. It has but one solution. Man as he actually is, is under a providential training for what it is possible for him to become. There are not two Gods, as the old Persian theosophy imagined, one good and the other evil, contending for man; but one God, contending with the evil that is in man.
I. HERE, THEN, IS THE FACT THAT GRIEF IS THE HERITAGE OF MAN.
1. "The whole creation," said the apostle, "groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." Things have not altered much in their outer aspect in this matter since the apostle's time. Life is still the natural history of sorrow — man's life the bitterest of all. Man is born into a world where he does not so much find the trouble, as the trouble finds him. He is born into it, as the insect is born into the air. There are troubles which belong to the lot of individual man. And in this form they are the impartial inheritance of the race. All men, in whatever other things they may differ, agree in this, that they are alike born heirs to a patrimony of sorrow. If we escape it in one form, it meets us in another. There are the troubles which afflict the community, which fall upon the mass in its aggregation of families, neighbourhoods, communities, and nations; in which men indiscriminately seem to be the victims of a common affliction, of which no account can be given. The air gets contaminated, and chokes them wholesale with its pestilential fevers. Then there are the troubles which overtake us not unfrequently in the form of sudden calamities, the "terrible things" which, in the shape of accidents, explosions, fires, and shipwrecks, strike dumb a nation's heart. The judgments of God, or some strange license in the physical agencies of the universe, seem embattled against the interests and the safety of man. Suffering, like sin, has no vacation: it keeps no holiday. If in this huge complex of human grief it were true that the guilty only suffered, or that the profane and the incorrigible were chiefly its victims, one might suppose that a natural providence were somehow at work to guard the rights of the virtuous against the wrongs of the sinning. But as we have seen, "there is no discharge in this war." "There is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked."
2. Let us bear in mind that we have been speaking only of facts, not of causes or theories. And, further, let it be remembered that these facts are independent of any belief or disbelief as to their origin or purpose, and as to the relation, if any, which man holds to a moral government. They are not the creations of our Christian philosophy; and they are not the coinage of our Christian faith. They are a difficulty to the Christian philosopher; but they are equally so to the sceptic. They are to both equally facts. They pertain as much to the newest infidelity, as they do to the oldest Christian belief. Nor will atheism itself, the doctrine that chance or fate rules the destinies of men, afford its advocates even a momentary relief from the perplexing enigmas of fact. That doctrine, indeed, deprives us of a personal God, and, consequently, of all intelligent provision in the arrangements of the universe; it cuts us adrift from all relation to a fatherly providence. Instead of "the living God," "our Father in heaven," whose "tender mercies are over all His works," it gives us an unconscious, unintelligent, and eternal nature. In the place of creative law and a final purpose, it sets up a grim and remorseless fate. But it mitigates no evil; alleviates no pang; dries no tear in the sorrowful history of man. You ask: Why, if there be not only goodness but an Almighty justice reigning over the world and men, does it not stretch forth its hand to rescue and save from suffering? But why, if there be an Almighty chance, or fate, does it not do that? If thinking matter, or materialised thought be God, still it is a God under whose creative auspices man is born into a world of trouble. "By one man, sin" entered into the world and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have stoned. Man is a fallen being, a self-ruined intelligence — poised and quivering between two infinities; from the one of which he is banished, for the other of which he is being trained. He is God's child, in exile. He suffers as a discrowned king. That is the one interpretation. Suffering and guilt are correlated facts. They mutually involve and explicate each other.
II. WE HAVE, SECONDLY, THE DIVINE COMPASSION, IN ITS RELATION TO SUFFERING. "He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men."
1. And here, first, it is claimed that all human suffering comes within the fore. knowledge, and is under the control of God. While, as a fact, suffering in its origin and infliction does always hinge on to secondary causes in the fatalities and falsities of man; those secondary causes in their action do always, immediately or remotely, fasten on to the purpose of God. Afflictions are not an accident. "The curse causeless shall not come." The writers of the Old Testament Scriptures are never more emphatic than in their assertion of this double parentage of human sorrow. If they knew but little of the scientific set up and mechanical movements of the laws of nature, they knew a great deal inspirationally of the supreme life, of which those laws were the appointed expression. They never ignore the immediate presence of God in His works; they never unfasten His governing hand from the smallest or the greatest events. They neither substitute the sovereignty of the Divine will for natural law; nor put natural law in the place of the Supreme will. As these writers uniformly teach, the plan of Providence takes in the universe as a whole. The individual is never forgotten in the multitude or the magnitude of the Divine cares. The interests of the man have a place in the complications of his actings in the world. "His eyes behold, his eyelids try the children of men." Even in what are held to be the accidents of life, those strange, unforeseen, and as we are apt to think, purely fortuitous events, which anticipate all our foresight and calculation, and which entail so constantly so large a measure of suffering upon the man and the community, the inspired writers have a place for the anticipation and the activity of a prescient providence. They are contingencies to us, a mere chapter of accidents; but not to the foreplanning and all-seeing mind of God. Surely there can be no absenteeism, no indifference, no incapacity in the all-perfect infinite God. Along the myriad antecedent lines of concatenated human agency at any point of space or time, He, indeed, is alone able to look. But that the first link and the last link and each intermediate link in the chain of human causes leading to that and similar catastrophes fasten on to the foreknowledge and governing will of God, we can accept on the testimony of His Word. We are speaking of foresight, of that prescient outlook of Providence, which takes all human occurrences out of the run of chance surprises, and puts them amongst foreseen and permitted events. There can be no accidents in the scheme of infinite thought; there can be no surprise to the intelligence that infinitely knows We see only results. To God the beginning, with its antecedents all hidden and remote, is a presence.
2. Many of our troubles, probably most of them, have their causes in ourselves. They come within the Divine plan not as visitations which God foreordains, or directly inflicts; but as actualities which He foresees, emergent in the history of man. They would be equally facts if they were not foreseen: that they are foreseen does not necessarily make them facts. This is not to shut out all direct intervention on the part of God from the sufferings of man; it only puts in a protest against the notion that makes all suffering the direct and arbitrary infliction of God. Providence is the action of God through law; and, as a general rule, providential laws work best for him who works the best with them. They work — it may be silently and in secret — but they work surely against the man who works against them. There are laws of health, physical, and mental which, if a man wilfully disregard or habitually transgress them, will work directly against and not for him. A man is intemperate in his habits; he lives in excess. Very well. Subsequent temperance may alleviate, but it cannot wholly exonerate him from the penalty of a long course of riotous living. In how many ways, and with what a perverse tenacity of wilful ignorance, we are violating these laws and are suffering bitterly and hopelessly in consequence, can be known only to God. That we do violate them, that many of our sad experiences are due to such violations, it would be idle to dispute. This suicidal raid on the economies of life, in spite of the warnings and protests of God, is one of our deadly sins. So, too, in what is called the mystery of sudden death. In the case of many a successful man of business, the cup is dashed from his lips just when its fragrant sweetness is being filled to the brim. Of course, everyone is shocked at the mystery of Providence which, in so arbitrary a manner, puts its arrest on the life of such a man. To God, it may be, all the mystery of the case is explained in that man's dogged determination to crowd the work of two lives into one. The engine. work of the brain was driven at high pressure; and so the machinery broke down.
3. But now there are troubles and afflictions — and these not few — which we must consider only as the punishment of sin. "The Lord doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men." But then He does afflict and grieve them, when they offend. "He will not cast" them "off forever. He will have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies." But the compassion is in the use of the rod, not in the withholding of it. We thus suffer because we sin. And, presumably, we all suffer in some form and at some time, because we have all sinned against some law or commandment of God. Do a wrong thing, with a bad intent, — and though you put the breadth of creation between you and it, the penalty will reach you. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished." In the Old Testament Decalogue we have a summary of the moral statues under which man is placed. And as these were intended to determine the actions of men and do determine them, all men keeping or breaking, or alternately breaking and keeping them; so the providence of God, as the guardian of law, deals retributively with men. May we not expect that God will claim the right to be heard, and to vindicate Himself and His works against the insults of men? No: God will not abdicate His throne because of the atheism of men. We may refuse to see any convincing proofs of His busy presence with us. We may openly deny that any such presence exists; or we may distress ourselves with a superficial reading of the many mysteries which are burdening the air with shrieks or breaking human hearts with grief. But that presence, if unseen and unrecognised by men, is immanent and real God works in silence. He works and waits, on lines that stretch into the eternal And now, what, in view of these conclusions, is the first sentiment with which we ought to fill our minds? Is it not that of profound thankfulness for that revelation in which the origin and the purpose of all human suffering are made known? In the meantime, let us always recollect this, — that the dealings of God with men are regulated and are to be interpreted by the fact that we are a race of sinners. And, finally, let us also remember that the issues of this strife between God and man are not all played out in the present world. They do not expire always in the waste of health, in the loss of friends, the wreck of property, the crumbling down of the pride of man. The last settlement will cover all the future; as it will explain all the past. Let us then be patient and submissive. "The Lord is at hand."
Whoever will consider the state of the world and human experience cannot but conclude that God is more concerned to make men holy than happy; for many are able to rest in their sorrows for the sake of their use and end, but no one finds rest in unholy delights. In sinful pleasure God follows man with a scourge; in sorrow, with balm.
God is the greatest of Kings and potentates, but yet has nothing of a tyrant in His nature. It is no pastime to Him to view the miseries of the distressed, to hear the cries of the orphans or sighs of the widow. He seems to share in the suffering while He inflicts it, and to feel the very pain of His own blows while they, fall heavy upon the poor sinner. Judgment is called God's "strange work," a work that He has no proneness to, nor finds complacency in. He never lops and prunes us with His judgments, because He delights to see us bare, but because He would make us fruitful. Common humanity never uses the lance to pain and torture, but to restore the patient. But now the care and tenderness of an earthly parent or physician is but a faint shadow and resemblance of that infinite compassion which God bears to His children, even in the midst of His severest usage of them.
To turn aside the right of a man.
I. MAN HAS RIGHTS.
1. Man has an inalienable right to the enjoyment of that happiness for which he was created. What is necessary to this?(1) Physical health. Where there is a diseased, enfeebled body there cannot be happiness. But what millions in this free country of ours, who have committed no crime, are doomed by the tyrannic force of commercial cupidity, and by the injustice of legislation, to spend their time in filthy garrets and in foetid alleys.(2) Intellectual culture is essential to happiness. We have a mind as well as a body; nay, we are mind. There is no paradise for man where the tree of knowledge does not bloom, knowledge gives a new interest to life, a new meaning to the universe, a new sphere for the full play of our faculties. If, then, knowledge is essential to happiness, what is necessary to knowledge is a right.(3) A good conscience is a necessary element of happiness. He who surrenders his conscience to the dictates of others, degrades his nature; and he who is forced to lend his support to principles contrary to his own convictions is an insulted and an injured man.(4) Social respect is another element in happiness. Whatever tends to degrade a man in the estimation of his contemporaries is an infringement of this right.
2. Man has an inalienable right to those conditions essential to the discharge of his obligations. Duty meets us everywhere, it is ubiquitous, it meets us at home and abroad, in solitude and society, in business and in pleasure. The cardinal duties of our being may be put into three groups, domestic, civil, and religious.(1) The domestic group, The duty of filial reverence and love meets us at the beginning of our history, and is enjoined both by nature and the Bible. "Honour thy father and thy mother," is a mandate that not only rings in the Decalogue, but echoes ever more through natural reason and conscience. It is not incumbent on any child to honour morally ignoble parents, or to love those whose characters arc false, and mean, and corrupt. Nor could they do so. Parental government, therefore, is based upon the right that children have to expect from parents the spiritually noble and pure.(2) The civil group. Outside of the domestic sphere, out lying close to its door, there is the great world of our fellow creatures which we can society. This society has its institutions, its laws, and government. We live in this world, and we cannot live without it. Whoever is the chief administrator of the laws that govern society, whether placed in his supreme position by lineage or suffrage, for his whole life or for a certain period, he is the king, and we are commanded to honour and obey him. But this duty implies that the king is honour-worthy, and that his laws are righteous.(3) The religious group. The great duty that grows out of our relation to our Maker is this, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," etc. But this supreme obligation of humanity implies rights on man's raft. If the Supreme Being requires me to love Him supremely He must furnish me with a revelation of Himself, and with capacities capable of understanding and appreciating that revelation. He must appear as the infinitely lovely One, the altogether beautiful, in order to kindle my highest affections. Now in relation to Him our rights are equal to our obligations. He has given us all that we require to fulfil the duties He demands.
II. MAN HAS WRONGS. His wrongs are the antitheses — or rather, deprivations and violations of his rights.
1. How man's wrongs are inflicted. The despoilers of his rights may be divided into two classes, the external and the internal.(1) The external. Who and what outside of man deprive him of his rights? Unrighteous government. Who can look at some of the laws of England without denouncing them as unrighteous. Take the laws in relation to land. Take the laws in relation to labour. Honest labour is an institution of heaven. And is not that law unrighteous which, to support regal luxuries, and gorgeous pageantries, government pensions, huge naval and military establishments, despoils the honest worker of much of the produce of his labour? Secular monopoly. Vast as are the resources of this earth, they are not boundless. It is the purpose of our Maker that all men should have an adequate, if not an equal participation in them. He, therefore, who appropriates to his own personal use an amount which would be sufficient supply the wants of a number, is a monopolist, and interferes with the rights or the multitude. Social chicanery. It has been said that so rife is the ravenous greed and the unscrupulous dishonesty in society, that one can scarcely have a business transaction with any man without the liability of being cheated. Justice between man and man is generally torpid, and often extinct. The spirit of fraud and falsehood fills the air.(2) The internal. There are elements or forces in the human soul that are perhaps greater despoilers of rights than any that are without: in fact, the external tyrants derive their energy and continuance from them, outward despots would scarcely live were it not for the inward. Indolence. Perhaps in most men naturally the desire for rest is stronger than that for action. The lazy hang on others, they will fawn on and flatter tyrants,, only let them have a little more "folding of the hands in sleep." Servility. This, indeed, is an offspring of the former. It means the loss of all sense of manly independency. Credulity is also the child of indolence; not until men rouse themselves to intellectual study so as to become qualified to form an independent judgment, will they free themselves from those fraudulent forces and impostures that "turn aside the right of a man." Intemperance in either form, eating or drinking, is one of the greatest despoilers of human rights.
2. How man's wrongs arc to be removed.(1) Not by violent declamation against existing authorities. Demagogism has ever done more harm than good.(2) Nor yet can you regain your rights by physical force. The real chains that fetter men are too subtle to be cut by the sword.(3) How then? By the promotion of sound knowledge. Popular ignorance is the cradle of tyrannies. By sound knowledge I mean primarily, a knowledge of the ethics of Christ.
I. PITY SHOULD ALWAYS TEMPER PUNISHMENT.
1. To prevent despondency. Despondency unmans men.
2. Punishment should always be tempered with pity that it may prove a discipline. The good have that comfort in adversity, that the worst that meets them here is intended for their good.
3. Punishment should always be tempered with pity, in consideration of the dignity and great possibilities of man's nature. He was created in God's image; he may be restored to the same image again. God punishes us in pity "for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness."
II. RIGHT SHOULD ALWAYS GUIDE MIGHT.
1. Because the right will be just to a man's physical needs and his moral powers. To trample upon those who are down is brutal conduct. That is to let might crush the right. Those who are down should excite our pity, not incite us to perpetrate cruelty.
2. Because the right will respect man's religious requirements.
3. Because the right will teach men to respect the claims of their fellow men and the truth.
III. JUSTICE SHOULD ALWAYS BE THE AIM OF LAW.
1. Because the Lord is an eyewitness of all we do. Our most secret thoughts before ever they become actions are known to Him.
2. Because the Lord is pleased or pained with all we do. If we really and devoutly considered this how differently would we act frequently.
3. Because God will punish all wrong-doers.
(D. Rhys Jenkins.)
There is a general impression that God does as He pleases without any reference to sanctions or immunities of ours. This, however, is far wide of the truth. God is never arbitrary.
I. One of our rights with respect to God is LIFE. This is a natural right. It is written that when God created man He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life so that he became a living soul. In this particular man was created in the Divine likeness. His life was like a spark thrown off from the infinite life of Deity. It is impossible, therefore, to think of annihilation or of "conditional immortality" in connection with him. Our life is the only created thing in the universe that has not in it the seed and certainty of death. An oak may resist the storms of a thousand years, but it falls at last. Our bodies are never free from disease; it is only a question of time when each shall return to the dust as it was. But the soul has in it no seeds of decay. Its eyes never grow dim, its blood does not stagnate, and whenever the query is propounded, "If a man die, shall he live again?" its answer is instant, "I shall live and not die!"
II. The second of our rights before God is FREEDOM. This again is a natural right. It belongs to us by virtue of the fact that God created us in his own likeness. In this again man is unique among all created things. The sun goes forth out of its chambers in the morning to run its race, and has no alternative. God speaks and it obeys. The sea rolls to and fro as He directs. But to you and me He says, "Thou shalt," and if I please I may make answer, "I will not." If would win me He must reason with me. If He would capture me He must draw me with the cords of a man. If, notwithstanding His goodness, we persist in sin, He can only suffer us to have our way. "Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life."
III. We are entitled to THE FULL BENEFIT OF THE MORAL LAW. This also is a natural right. We are normal beings. As God Himself is the source and centre of law, so we, being made in His likeness, are made under law; and we may claim all the benefits and privileges of it. There is, however, little comfort in claiming these privileges of the moral law. For what is law? "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." And what is justice? Eternal separation from God and goodness. We are sinners, all alike under the penalty of death. To stand upon our rights just here is to court despair.
IV. Fortunately for us we have another right, not natural like the foregoing, but conferred, to wit, the right of APPEAL FROM LAW AND JUSTICE TO THE MERCY OF GOD. No one among us can presume to stand upon his merits. On Sir Henry Lawrence's tomb at Lucknow is this inscription: "Here lies a man who tried to do his duty. May God have mercy on his soul!" If he tried to do his duty why did he not ask for justice? Because, no matter how earnestly he had striven to live well, he had made a measurable failure of it. Mercy, therefore, was Sir Henry's only hope. He is a wise man who in like manner, after doing his best and being mindful of his shortcomings, casts himself with an utter abandon on the mercy of his God.
1. This right of appeal is a conferred right. It is purely of grace. But once conferred it is inalienable. "Him that cometh unto Me" — no matter how scarlet his sins — "I will in no wise cast out."
2. This right is the purchase of the Saviour's blood. But for His atoning work it could not, consistently with justice, have been conferred upon us.
3. This right is conditioned upon the exercise of faith in Jesus Christ. A man may do as he pleases about exercising this faith, but in default of it he lives obviously under the law and must take the consequences.
(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
The cultivation of wisdom, courage, and temperance is necessary to the doing of justice, and the cultivation of justice reacts favourably on the cultivation of these other virtues. But, on the whole, those three first are personal; this is public. In cultivating the first three virtues, a man is looking within; in cultivating this fourth one, he is looking without and around. For justice is to render to everyone his due. It is the virtue of a man, not as he stands alone, but as he stands in society; and as he cultivates this virtue, he has to keep his eye upon all his fellow creatures, his superiors, inferiors, and equals, and on all the circles of society in which he stands, such as the family, the city, the nation, and the Church. As man has relations to other creatures beneath him and to other beings above him, as well as to his fellow creatures, it has sometimes been proposed to include in justice the duties of man to animals, and the duties of man to God. I notice in some of the newer books on ethics, that the subject of cruelty to animals is discussed in connection with justice, and in many of the older books, in the writings of the schoolmen, and especially in the Summa of , the duties of man to God are not only included in justice, but made the principal part of it: all parts of Divine worship, for instance, being discussed under this head. But it seems to me that it is better to limit justice to the duties of human beings to one another. This is a wide enough field. It comprehends the mutual duties of parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbours, clergy and laymen, employers' and employed, rulers and subjects, and others too numerous to mention. It anyone in all these relationships were a model man, then he would be a perfect man, and hence, justice has often been treated as if it were the whole of virtue; and even , in an unusual outburst of enthusiasm, says: "It is more beautiful than the morning or the evening star." When justice is defined as rendering to every one his due, that might seem a very simple affair, but it is not so simple as it looks; and this you immediately begin to realise if you ask what is due to any other person, because the question always slips in, "And what is due to me?" That is what makes it so difficult to keep the balance straight — the bias in favour of self. Note
I.The justice of the law of the land.
II.The justice of public opinion.
III.The justice of conscience.
IV.The justice of Christ.That everyone should get his due is so essential to human welfare, that in every country, in the slightest degree above the level of barbarism, the very best brains have been set to determine what justice is, and the united strength of the community to enforce it. In ancient Rome, for instance, the Twelve Tables were set up in the market place, that everyone might read them, and there, in the plainest words, the citizen was told his duty, and was made acquainted with the penalties of transgression. In our own country and in other civilised countries, picked men are brought together in Parliament, who spend their time year by year, defining what justice is. Law courts are set up; judges and juries sit; lawyers plead, to bring special eases under the general laws which Parliament has enacted; and prison and punishment exist for the purpose of bringing home to the general mind the majesty of justice. These institutions in our midst form a school, to which we are all sent, that we may learn to give to everyone his due. The law of the land has been our schoolmaster, telling us what to do and what not to do, and telling us effectually; and the very unconsciousness of our minds as to our having anything to do with the police and the prison, is just the evidence of how well this schoolmaster has done his work. In all civilised countries the justice of the law of the land is an inheritance from many centuries, during which the best brains of the country have been set apart to determine what justice is. In our own law, extremes of wisdom mingle, derived on the one hand from the classical nations, and on the other hand from our Teutonic ancestors. And yet, in spite of all that has been done, and is being done, from year to year, the law of the land is a very imperfect embodiment of justice, and a man may all his life keep out of the clutches of the police, and yet be an extremely unjust man. If a man steals a pound note from his neighbours, the law will set its whole machinery in operation to deal with him, but the very same person may, by the arts of temptation carried on for many years, make the son of his neighbour a drunkard, and his daughter something still worse, and yet the law of the land may not say a single word. A man may all his life keep wide of the clutches of the law, which may never have one word to say to him; yet society may know him to be guilty of deeds which it intensely despises, and will not allow to be committed with impunity. It does not fine or imprison, but it turns its back on him. Thus, silently but sternly, society punishes the man who is known to be breaking the eighth commandment, and especially the woman who is known to be breaking the seventh commandment. It is often very cruel — at all events, it looks cruel — and yet on the whole it is beneficent, and the world is a far more habitable place because of the school of public opinion into which all have to come. Then there is the school of conscience. There are holes in the net woven by public opinion, just as there are in those woven by the law of the land, far worse than that even. There are many cases in which public opinion commands things it ought to forbid, and in which it forbids the things that it ought to command. But perhaps a custom established in public opinion is more difficult to deal with than a wrong statute. The appeal from it, however, is to the conscience of the individual, and this is the third school into which we all have to pass. If a man is doubtful about what is right and what is wrong, let him simply retire with the question into his own breast, and ask, What ought I to do? and if he is really willing to do what he knows to be right, he will very seldom be without the right answer. This often is a far sterner tribunal than either that of public opinion or the law of the land. The great interest of religion is to strengthen the conscience, so that a man may feel that in its presence he is standing before a more august judge than if he were in any court of law, or than if he were surrounded by a whole theatre of spectators. "Whatever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." That is the soul of justice. As I have just quoted the golden rule, it might be thought we had already got to the justice of Christ. Jesus was a moralist. He was the heir and successor of the prophets. He denounced wrong with a plainness never elsewhere exemplified in the world. He emitted many rules of justice, and the golden rule among them. Yet that was not the principal lift He gave to justice. It is well to understand that. There are things that make it easy to give to any one his due, or even perhaps a little more than his due. There is not a town in the world where the well dressed do not receive more courteous treatment than the ragged. That is human nature. I dare say it is sometimes contemptible, but at all events it is a good thing to take advantage of it for those at the opposite extreme of society. What Jesus did to secure justice for the common man, was to raise the estimation of the common man. If the poor receive scanty consideration because there is nothing about them to attract attention, on the other hand, they will receive respect and attention if they are invested with dignity, and none can take in the teaching of Jesus Christ without recognising that the humblest belong to that humanity which He took into His heart, and for which He sacrificed His life. And if thus we look at our fellow creatures through the eyes of Jesus Christ, if we see God in them, then we have a new and the finest of all reasons for treating them with justice. Let us take for an illustration that which we are all thinking so much about in the present day, the relations of employers and employed. What do these four kinds of justice say about what the employer owes to the employed and what the employed owe to the employer? Take the law of the land; what it says is very brief and to the point; it just says to the employer: "Pay that thou owest," and to the employed, "Thou shalt not steal." There are multitudes both of employers and employed to whom that is perfectly simple, but are there not others to whom these simple statements are the very thunder of God? Then public opinion goes a good deal further, although its voice in this case is divided. There is an opinion of employers which employers, perhaps, listen to too exclusively, and there is a public opinion of the employed to which they, perhaps, listen too exclusively. But there is a wider public opinion that is more impartial, and I think I should say that it frowns upon the employer of labour who is not endeavouring to bring the conditions of labour in his business up to the best that has been attained in the same business; and this wider public opinion frowns upon the employee if he does not do his best. Outside public opinion in such eases is apt to be only partially informed, and its decisions need correction by larger knowledge; but I should say that on the whole they are wholesome; and it is good for both sides that the voice of public opinion is to be heard. There is the appeal, though, for both employer and employed, to conscience. A man can go into his own breast and ask, What is my duty? What would God like me to do? And then there still remains the justice of Christ. What would Christian principle say in this case? It would remind the employer that what are called his "hands" are in reality immortal beings, and therefore ought to be spared as much as possible things such as Sabbath labour and excessive hours, which secularise and brutalise; and bid servants hear the voice of Christ behind them as they labour, "Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord and not unto men." I am not saying that even with the help of all these four kinds of light the problem of justice is always easy. I do not think it is. It seems to me to be specially difficult where, not individuals, but large bodies of men are concerned. But it is only by keeping these four lights streaming down upon life that the relations of men will become more just, and so more sweet, and that the individual will be prepared to appear before that tribunal where all the judgments of this earth will be reconsidered, and where a decision will be given from which there is no appeal.
(J. Stalker, D. D.)
Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?
Here we are called upon to produce instances in which man's word has prevailed against the Word of God. Has any man commanded the sun to go backwards, and the sun has obeyed the instruction? Has any man commanded the seasons to change the order of their procession, and have they changed accordingly? Has any man been able to reverse moral duties, moral actions, and moral consequences, so that evil shall end in joy, and iniquity shall conduct to rest and heaven? The Lord asks for the production of evidence by which people may be able to judge as to moral duty and moral consequence. The interrogation assumes a gracious and initial fact, namely, that the Word of the Lord alone can stand fast, and ultimately and completely prevail in the direction and settlement of human affairs. Has this assumption the justification of history? H so, see what wondrous inferences may be drawn from that justification! Let us at once inquire for the Word of the Lord, and study it, and exclude from our ears all other voices, because in the word of the Lord alone is complete wisdom, and in the testimony of the Lord is an assured protection.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Out of the mouth of the Most High proceedeth not evil and good?
The eternal problem of the relation of God to evil is here treated with the keenest discrimination. That God is the supreme and irresistible Ruler, that no man can succeed with any design in opposition to His will, that whatever happens must be in some way an execution of His decree, and that He, therefore, is to be regarded as the author of evil as well as good — these doctrines are so taken for granted that they are neither proved not directly affirmed, but thrown into the form of questions that can have but one answer, as though to imply that they are known to everybody, and cannot be doubted for a moment by anyone. But the inference drawn from them is strange and startling. It is that not a single living man has any valid excuse for complaining. That, too, is considered to be so undeniable that, live the previous ideas, it is expressed as a self-answering question. But we are not left in this paradoxical position. The evil experienced by the sufferer is treated as the punishment of his sin. What right has he to complain of that? Quite a number of considerations arise out of the curious juxtaposition of ideas in this passage. In the first place, it is very evident that by the word "evil" the writer here means trouble and suffering, not wickedness, because he dearly distinguishes it from the sin the mention of which follows. That sin is a man's own deed, for which he is justly punished. The poet, then, does not attribute the causation of sin to God; he does not speculate at all on the origin of moral evil. Meanwhile a very different problem, the problem of suffering, is answered by attributing this form of evil quite unreservedly and even emphatically to God. Now, is there not something reassuring in the thought that evil and good come to us from one and the same source? There must be a singleness of aim in the whole treatment of us by providence, since providence is one. Thus, if only as an escape from an inconceivably appalling alternative, this doctrine of the common source of good and evil is truly reassuring. We may pursue the thought further. Since good and evil spring from one and the same source, they cannot be so mutually contradictory as we have been accustomed to esteem them. They are two children of a common parent; then they must be brothers. But if they are so closely related a certain family likeness may be traced between them. This does not destroy the actuality of evil. But it robs it of its worst features. If it is so closely related to good, we may not have far to go in order to discover that it is even working for good. Then if evil and good come from the same source it is not just to characterise that source by reference to one only of its effluents. We must not take a rose-colored view of all things, and relapse into idle complacency, as we might do if we confined our observation to the pleasant facts of existence, for the unpleasant facts — loss, disappointment, pain, death — are equally real, and are equally derived from the very highest Authority. Neither are we justified in denying the existence of the good when overwhelmed with a sense of the evil in life. Is it only by accident that the poet says "evil and good," and not, as we usually put the phrase, "good and evil"? Good shall have the last word. Evil exists; but the finality and crown of existence is not evil, but good. The conception of the primary unity of causation which the Hebrew poet reaches through his religion is brought home to us today with a vast accumulation of proof by the discoveries of science. The uniformity of law, the co-relation of forces, the analyses of the most diverse and complex organisms into their common chemical elements, the evidence of the spectroscope to the existence of precisely the same elements among the distant stars, as well as the more minute homologies of nature in the animal and vegetable kingdoms, are all irrefutable confirmations of this great truth. Moreover, science has demonstrated the intimate association of what we cannot but regard as good and evil in the physical universe. Thus, while carbon and oxygen are essential elements for the building up of all living things, the effect of perfectly healthy vital functions working upon them is to combine them into carbonic acid, which is a most deadly poison; but then this noxious gas becomes the food of plants, from which the animal life in turn derives its nourishment. Similarly microbes, which we commonly regard as the agents of corruption and disease, are found to be not only nature's scavengers, but also the indispensable ministers of life, when clustering round the roots of plants in vast crowds they convert the organic matter of the soil, such as manure, into those inorganic nitrates which contain nitrogen in the form suitable for absorption by vegetable organisms. The more clearly we understand the processes of nature the more evident is the fact of her unity, and therefore the more impossible is it for us to think of her objectionable characteristics as foreign to her being — alien immigrants from another sphere. Physical evil itself looks less dreadful when it is seen to take its place as an integral part of the complicated movement of the whole system of the universe. But the chief reason for regarding the prospect with more than satisfaction has yet to be stated. It is derived from the character of Him to whom both the evil and the good are attributed. We can go beyond the assertion that these contrarieties spring from one common origin to the great truth that this origin is to be found in God. All that we know of our Father in heaven comes to our aid in reflecting upon the character of the actions thus attributed to Him. The account of God's goodness that immediately precedes this ascription of the two extreme experiences of life to Him would be in the mind of the writer, and it should be in the mind of the reader also. The poet has just been dwelling very emphatically on the indubitable justice of God. When, therefore, he reminds us that both evil and good come from the Divine Being, it is as though he said that they both originated in justice. The last verse of the triplet startles the reader with an unexpected thought. The considerations already adduced are all meant to check any complaint against the course of providence. Now the poet appends a final argument, which is all the more forcible for not being stated as an argument. At the very end of the passage, when we are only expecting the language to sink into a quiet conclusion, a new idea springs out upon us, like a tiger from its lair. This trouble about which a man is so ready to complain, as though it were some unaccountable piece of injustice, is simply the punishment of his sin! The deserts of the city are only the deserts of her citizens. It will be for everybody to say for himself how far the solution of the mystery of his own troubles is to be looked for in this direction. A humble conscience will not be eager to repudiate the possibility that its owner has not been punished beyond his deserts, whatever may be thought of other people, innocent children in particular. There is one word that may bring out this aspect of the question with more distinctness — the word "living." The poet asks, "Wherefore doth a living man complain?" While the sufferer has his life preserved to him he has no valid ground of complaint.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
Nothing could be more dismal than the opening of this third lament over the ruin which had befallen the Holy City, and the dire calamities which had overtaken her people; but there is some radiant shining at the heart of it. One side of a mountain is often wrapped in clouds, while the other is bathed in noonday brightness. "I never have a chagrin," said Goethe, "but I make a poem of it." Some of the divinest poems we know have been the result of the saddest mortifications of life. The author sings from the heart of a fiery experience of his own, as well as that which he has shared with his nation. He comprehends the depths if not the heights of human experience, and yet he has "kept the faith." He can still declare that the Lord is his portion, and that his mercies are a "multitude," "new every morning." Ah! these are the men to speak to us about the compassion of God: men who have had "to climb the climbing way," and who declare the truth in tones that were born in the darkness and sorrow of the night. It is easy enough for most of us, whose lives have fallen in pleasant places, to talk to the broken-hearted about the love of God, and to persuade ourselves that He is the Father of us all and infinitely good. But if we have taken a light skimming view of life, if we have lived where it is "always afternoon," it becomes us to be silent, or to speak only in the name of those who have faced the sternest realities, and have yet believed. We can listen with patience to these ancient seers. They speak without mocking the world's trouble. They have stood where life wails its saddest notes and have not lost hope. True, this man had been tempted to believe, in one dark moment, that though God was leading him, He was against him; but when we follow him into the light when his night is past and "jocund day stands tip-toe on the mountains," we hear him speak of the compassions which "fail not." Oh, this is faith, is it not, when a man can stand face to face with all the contradictions of life, face to face with his own unbelief, and say, "I will not let Him go; I will have God in the whole of my life, in its tragedies as well as in its bliss, in its broken fortunes as well as in its sunny days? Out of the mouth of the Most High cometh there not evil and good?" "For though He cause grief yet will He have compassion, according to the multitude of His mercies." This is the faith that overcomes all repining. The Hebrew singer is one with the great prophets in this, that he is in no confusion about the source and meaning of Israel's trouble. He does not find the good hand of God in His deliverances alone. There is mercy even in the exile; in the sweeping disasters which have overtaken the nation. He who has been with His people in the calm is with them in the storm. Nay, He creates the storm, and causes the grief, and the "living" man has no ground of complaint though he be punished for his sins, for "the wages of sin is death" and it is "of the Lord's mercies" that he is "not consumed." And here is the key to the man's faith. These are not songs of sorrow alone; they are songs of confession and repentance, and therefore of hope. Here are the Jews in Babylon far away from the city they love. Their hearts are broken and their eyes are dimmed with tears; but they are tears of remorse leading to a searching of heart and a trying of their ways. The author would have them believe that exile is the outcome of their sin. It is not faithfulness that has compassed their downfall. The Lord has afflicted Zion not "willingly," but "for the multitude of her transgressions." He has suffered His people to go into exile that it may work its moral discipline and bring them back to confidence in Him, and to righteousness of life. "Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord." There is some suffering, it does not need to be said, that is not for punishment. The sharpest pang of the singer as he thinks of the miseries of Israel comes from the cry of suffering children. But thinking not of children but of men and women, it is a commonplace to say that some of the noblest and saintliest lives have been shaped in affliction. "It is the accent of self-righteousness that finds in all your suffering the punishment of sin. A man whose heart has never been broken should have little to say to another man of his sins." And yet, surely, no man need ask why he suffers. If you have sinned, your own heart will tell you plainly what is the sin for which you suffer. If you have not sinned, you will have something still to do with your sorrow. There were some devout Jews who were not the cause of Israel's exile, and they too had lessons to learn which have enriched all posterity. But the lesson for all of us is this: that transgression leads to exile; that the broad way narrows; that to the man who persists in sin there must come a day when he will be confronted by fearful threatenings and apprehensions, and when the judgments of the Most High will breathe within him their Divine protest against his sin. He whose compassions "fail not" can yet cause grief. The Most High sends forth evil as well as good. In the heart of the Father dwells a most exacting righteousness, that will "by no means clear the guilty" until they have acknowledged their offence. Oh listen; there is suffering which is for sin. This man is speaking of facts; addressing living men, conscious of grievous wrongdoing, bidding them take all the punishment honestly and humbly, and count it a mercy "new every morning" that a throbbing heart and beating pulse are God's assurance that He will have compassion, if they will return to the Lord. The one hope of our coming to this faith in His compassions is in confession and repentance. The Gospel of forgiveness and peace will never find the man who does not know the bitterness and guilt of sin. The experiences we have with conscience are to produce in us that "godly sorrow" which "worketh repentance unto salvation." This, indeed, is the Gospel for all of us. Whatever be our trouble repentance is our first need. You may not be able to trace your sorrow to any particular sin. It may not be due to any sin of yours at all; but I tell you, the one spirit to which God's reason for causing any grief is never revealed, is the spirit that has not known and will not know repentance. Who are we, the best of us, to say that this or that trial of life has nothing to do with our sin? Nay, it sometimes troubled these holy men of old, lest when they had confessed the sin of which they were conscious, there should be lurking within them latent evil, beyond their finding out, and only to be revealed to them by Him from whom nothing is concealed, who will have "truth in the hidden parts." "Search me, O God," they cried, "and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any way of wickedness in me." It is only to the penitent soul that the secret of the Lord's compassions can be revealed; you cannot believe that "deep love lieth under these pictures of time," if you are among "the wise and prudent"; but if you are among the "babes," of a humble and receptive spirit, the day will come when you can say, in the face of every perplexity, "even so Lord, for so it seemeth good unto Thee." These, I say, are the men to speak to us about the compassion of God. They know the love that passeth knowledge, for they know the sin that love bears. And Divine love cannot further go than that. It was for this He came, who was "a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief"; for this that He stood in dark Gethsemane and died the death of the Cross. And when you and I stand with Him there, and enter into the fellowship of His suffering, then all life is transformed for us. There is something for the heart to rest upon in the deepest distresses. We can go bravely to our encounter with whatever shall come to us, for He is with us who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Has the Most High caused you any grief? Surely He has! There is some pathetic thing concealed in every heart. Then what will you do? Will you complain, will you resent it as a bitter and undeserved wrong? Will you go on to the end remembering nothing but "the wormwood and the gall"? Or will you say, "Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts, send whatsoever ordeal "Thou wilt, so that at the last I may know thy salvation"? Then you are on the way to that attitude of soul which is faith.
(John Holden, M. A.)
Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his Sins
This question suggests two considerations; each of which demonstrates the injustice of the complaint. Why should a living man complain? — a living man! Life is still left thee; and of whatsoever thou hast been stripped, there is such a counterpoise in the continuance of life that complaint must be groundless. "A man for the punish. meat of his sins!" There hath nothing befallen thee saving the just recompense of thy misdoing. How can a complaint against justice be itself just! Thus are these two arguments of the text demonstrative of the unfairness of human complaint when the dealings of the Most High pass under review. And these two arguments we will apply, first, to God's general dealings; and, secondly, to His individual.
I. How easy and how common is to it discourse in A QUERULOUS STRAIN ON THE FACT OF OUR BEING MADE TO SUFFER FOR A FOREFATHER'S TRANSGRESSIONS AND ON THE FACT OF OUR DERIVING A POLLUTED NATURE FROM GUILT IN WHICH PERSONALLY WE TOOK NOT ANY SHARE. And we do not deny that the question of original sin is one of great difficulty; and that there requires a chastened and subjugated intellect ere the doctrine can be received in its full and scriptural extent. Nevertheless the transactions of paradise were not so dark and unintelligible that we can decipher nothing of the fitness and justice of the present dispensation. Let it be remembered that not only was Adam the natural parent of the human race; he was also their federal representative; he stood forth as their head, so that by his obedience they were to stand, and by his disobedience to fail. And no appointment could be presented unto the human population with so great a likelihood of duty and blessing. Had the choice been in our power, we would gladly have given our fate into the keeping of Adam; stimulated as he must have been to obedience by so rich a deposit. For there was an infinitely greater probability that Adam, with the fall of millions committed to his keeping, would have watched diligently against the assaults of temptation, than that any lonely individual of his descendants, left to obey for himself, and disobey for himself, should have maintained his allegiance and preserved his fidelity. Therefore do we say, that in appointing mankind to stand or fail in Adam, God dealt with them by a measure of the widest benevolence. No other arrangement can be conceived which would have been equally likely to have advanced their well-being. But if so, complaint is at once removed by the second consideration which the text suggests. It is for the punishment of our sins that we are born the children of wrath and condemnation; and, if for just punishment of our sins, by what right do we complain? If it be in unison with the attributes of God that we should all be reckoned to have taken share in Adam's transgression, it follows that whatever there be of bitterness in our birthright, it has been imposed only as a punishment of sin; and all complaint at our condition is complaint against justice, and therefore itself must be unjust. And this one part of the question of Jeremiah applies itself to reproof of complaint at God's general dealings with man; namely, the part which represents suffering as the punishment of sin. Will not the other part do the same "Wherefore doth a living man complain?" You learn that the threatening by which Adam was warned in tasting the tree of knowledge was most explicit and decisive, whereas the mode in which the threatening was executed seems hardly to accord with the denunciation, "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die," was the threatening; but Adam died not on the day that he ate, though, we believe, that he then became liable to death. And we may well suppose that the actual infliction of death was suspended through the interposition of the Mediator; and that when Adam sinned, and with him the whole race of which he might be the progenitor, it was only because Christ Jesus had undertaken from all eternity to achieve redemption that the guilty pair were not immediately destroyed. And, therefore, I can never feel within me the boundings of life, nor avail myself of the furniture of mental endowment, nor survey the varied loveliness of-creation, nor mark the springing of flowers, nor hear the warbling of birds without being reminded that I am reaping the fruits of the Mediator's passion; for unless there had been His omnipotent interposition, the original curse might have received literal execution; and the throbbings of life have ceased to beat throughout this creation. If our very life have been given to us only in return for the marvellous humiliation to which Deity was subjected by tabernacling in the flesh, we have all been the subjects of a loving kindness so vast, so transcendent, so overpowering, that it were base effrontery to describe ourselves as having cause of complaint against God. Living men — living only because Christ died — "wherefore should they complain?" Yes, you may argue, if you will, that to a great mass of the human race life is no blessing at all; but we meet you upon this point. We affirm, on the contrary, that life is so invaluable a blessing that all of us have cause to join heartily in the general thanksgiving of our Church, "We bless Thee for our creation." Is not life then a blessing? Does it cease to be a blessing just because I may debase, and prostitute, and desecrate it? Am I not rather warranted in declaring that life is so vast a blessing that it is a counterpoise to all those disadvantages which are consequent upon the fall, so that he who is disposed to arraign God's general dealings with his race, may justly at once be silenced by the interrogation of our text? Yes, it may in the first place most truly be said, that as the children of a disobedient race, whatever suffering we have to undergo, we endure it for the punishment of our sins. But this is not all: we are living creatures; and not merely living a frail and mortal life, but baptised into the faith of Him who is "the resurrection and the life"; so that we may live forever in glory without measure; in happiness without bounds. Let, then, all murmuring be hushed. Who will dare to repine?
II. But having thus applied the considerations suggested by the text to the complaints which are grounded on the ruin and sinful condition of mankind, we proceed to make A LIKE APPLICATION TO THE COMPLAINTS CALLED FORTH BY INDIVIDUAL AFFLICTION. Whosoever thou art, on whom God hath laid heavily the rod of chastisement; and whatever the visitation beneath which thou art bowed, let all murmuring be hushed with the demand, "Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?" When God sends affliction, without doubt He designs that it should be felt as affliction. The cross is a burden which we must carry on our shoulders, and not throw it into the fire. But it is one thing to be sensible of affliction, and another to complain of it. And while we may feel acutely, and yet not transgress; we cannot murmur and be blameless. And it is against a repining and not against a suffering spirit that our text must be considered as directing its censure. And, therefore, it applies to none but those who would question the justice of God's dealings; and not to those who resign themselves meekly, although deeply wounded. But before we can bring the considerations suggested by our text to bear upon this complaint, we must examine in what sense it may be affirmed that affliction is allotted to us in punishment of our sins. There may often be an error here. Wherever and whatever I suffer, I suffer as a sinner; but there is no such nice proportion maintained between what I do as a sinner, and what I feel as a sufferer, that for every grief inflicted, I shall be able to produce an offence committed. Sometimes, indeed, it wilt happen that the judgment bears a distinct and palpable reference to the iniquity, so that the particular cause of God's wrath can hardly be overlooked; but we have no warrant for expecting that sin and sorrow should thus necessarily correspond; or that we should be able to calculate precisely the fault to which God hath apportioned present calamity. And it is in exact accordance with these remarks that our text represents affliction as a punishment, not of this sin, or of that sin, but generally, for the punishment of a man's sins. And this should suffice to show you the injustice of complaint. It is much, as we have already shown you, that every one of us transgressed in Adam; that in virtue of his standing as our federal representative, we have fallen from our first estate. It is much that as the result of the earliest rebellion we are all involved in one vast condemnation, so that when successive generations rise up and possess this earth, there is between each individual and his God such a separation that he has right to expect nothing but unmitigated wrath. But when you add to the contemplation of original sin, all the complicated catalogue of actual sin; when you remember that man is a transgressor, not only by imputation, but by every positive and personal working of evil, surely the marvel must be not that so much of wormwood should drug the cup of human life, but that so much of sweetness should still have been left, and that so much of brilliancy should still sparkle on the waters. Is it justice that man impeaches, or is it mercy, when he utters complaints against the dispensations of God? Justice! which of us is there unto whom, if he were dealt with by strict measure of justice, there would not be assigned so stripped and wasted an inheritance that no solitary flower should bloom on him, no smile of friendship gladden him, no voice of affection cheer him? And as to mercy — shall mercy be impeached by those who do daily a scornful despite to the attributes of God? Invert the calculation. Measure the mercy not by what is denied, but by what is bestowed; not by what is taken away, but by what is left — by what we have rather than by what we have not; and mercy stands forth wonderful in its extent; putting out even on behalf of a vast company, energies which are not to be expressed by all the imagery of the material universe. And this too — far worse than this! — for a being who has thrown himself, by his iniquities, out of the pale of loving kindness, and who if he were left like a blasted tree on the mountain top, leafless and branchless — the sole survivor of a goodly forest, torn by the tempest, and scathed by the lightning, might, nevertheless, be pronounced a monument of mercy. And once more. We are living men. And whatever the woe and bitterness of our portion, wherefore should living men complain? Ye all know that this our mortal estate has been appointed by God as a probation for our immortal. Ye all know that we suffer for a while in these houses of clay; that when they shall have been demolished by the inroads of death, our souls must unite and form anew and hasten to a sphere of new and untried being. And life when regarded as the seed time of eternity — life must appear to be so enormous in value that its sternest and most aggravated sorrows dwindle away into comparative nothingness. Living is never so terrible that man does not shrink from dying, and thus he practically owns that he retains the greater blessing, though he may have been stripped of the lesser. May it not then be said of him, with all the emphasis of an indignant remonstrance, Wherefore, yes, wherefore, dost thou a living man complain? And this gift of life should repress the murmurings of the righteous as well as of the unrighteous, for a disposition to complain shows that patience has not yet done its perfect work, and the prolongation of life gives opportunity for this work to be completed. And, therefore, as the waters of the raging sea soothed themselves into calmness at the mandate of the Redeemer, let every rebellious and unholy passion be hushed before the Lord our Creator. "Be still, and know that I am God."
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
I. THE NATURE OF SINFUL COMPLAINTS.
1. Complaints as to our situation in life. Not satisfied with our lot. Not content with the bounties of providence.
2. Complaints as to providential visitations. Disappointments in business, blighted prospects, loss of friends, seasons of affliction, etc.
3. Complaints as to spiritual sorrows. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, etc.
4. Disappointed prayers and expectations. David, for his child; Paul, for the removal of the thorn.
II. THE EVIL OF SUCH COMPLAINTS.
1. It is a sin against reason. Who so fit to manage for us as God?
2. It is a sin against goodness. Then how ungrateful to complain!
3. It is a sin against Divine faithfulness and truth. God's declarations run thus, that "He will withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly." "My God shall supply all your need," etc. Now to complain is the essence of unbelief, the essence of distrust.
4. It is a sin especially against Divine condescension and abounding mercy.
5. It is a sin fraught with evil consequences to ourselves. It must incur God's righteous displeasure. See the fire of the Lord consuming the Israelites in the camp (Numbers 11:1). And for what? They complained against the Lord. See, also, Jude 1:16. It deprives of all the enjoyment of Divine goodness.
III. THE REMEDY FOR SINFUL COMPLAINTS.
1. Look within yourselves. See your utter unworthiness.
2. Look abroad. You are poor; others are destitute, naked, starving. You are afflicted, but how lightly!
(J. Burns, D. D.)
I. IT COMES FROM GOD. The text points us to the moral Governor of the world, to Him who has made us, and made us men, and who orders things with reference to our condition and character as souls and as sinners. The Bible, of course, traces all suffering to God. It teaches us that He creates evil and good; that He causes light and darkness; that He appoints the rod; that if evil is in the city He hath done it; that is, it ascribes trouble to Him, as it ascribes everything else to Him, of whom, through whom, and to whom all things are, who made all things, for Himself, even the wicked for the day of His wrath. Apart from questions of inspiration, such language is natural. The natural piety and scientific ignorance of men would delight, and be obliged, to use it; piety longing to make as much of God as possible, and ignorance not knowing what else to do. There is, no doubt, a sense in which God does all things. That is, since He has a plan, and accomplishes that plan — in other words, since He is all-wise and all-powerful, He must exercise a universal superintendence and control. God may be said to bring about results, even in the case of the voluntary acts of men, if He has so ordered the existing system that those results shall follow those acts. For our present purpose it is enough that in any true sense what happens to us is referable to His will; that it is His pleasure that it should happen; that He knows of it, and either causes it, or intentionally allows it. Our miseries, of every kind and source, are from Him; that is, from a Being having intelligence and will; not from what we call, with or without meaning, "chance," or "fate"; a personal God, a Father, a moral Ruler, means them. It is "punishment" — shall we "complain"?
II. WE HAVE OURSELVES ONLY TO BLAME FOR OUR TROUBLES. It is quite true, generally, that we suffer because we sin. We should not know trouble if we were not guilty. We are not to vex ourselves, as good people often do, with inquiries as to the individual reasons and designs of our troubles; we are not to ask, in the sense of Job, "Show me wherefrom Thou contendest with me; we are not to institute a particular search into the occasions of our trials, as if each had a special meaning, and indicated a special sin, after the manner of Adonibezek's punishment. It is enough for us that we are sinful, and therefore sorrowful; that we should not be where we are if we were not what we are; that God has placed us in a world of thorns and briers as well as flowers and fruits; in bodies whose organs pain as well as please; in a system of "wicked and unreasonable men"; and many more very weak and thoughtless, intercourse with whom must often vex and distress us, because we were, in His foresight, creatures meriting chastisement, and able to profit by it. But we may go much farther than this in reference to many of our troubles. We cause them by our own acts. They are the direct results of our own conduct, of single deeds, or of courses of conduct. And we may know it, and ought to know it. "Sins" are of many kinds, but they are always violations of rule. "Sin is the transgression of the law." And law always has penalty, sooner or later, milder or more severe. Take the case of physical health. Many of our grievances are bodily. We have "trouble in the flesh." And as Gideon "took thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them taught the men of Succoth," so we learn from material experiences, and they are often painful ones. Indeed, many people can learn no otherwise. "The messenger of Satan," is only in return for some foolish message of our own; and "the thorn in the flesh" is there a pressure we ought to have avoided. The father of a family is struck down by paralysis; all the mystery of the case is in his persisting, in spite of friends and feelings, in putting two days' work and worry into one. A young woman has just died of consumption; the only marvel is that she let herself, and others let her, go out of a heated room into the cold air, or wear a dress that compressed the action of her vital organs. A young man comes home from school or university to die; there is nothing inscrutable about it, except in the unnatural strain of brain or body by work or play. Wherefore should a man "complain for the punishment of his sins"? And the same remarks apply to the lowness and gloom of spirits, and a hundred evils of mind and soul, that flow from a diseased or languid action of the bodily powers. Despondency, and even despair, may come from indigestion. Unstrung nerves may make any one "walk in darkness, and have no light." Many Christians go to the Divine for comfort, when they should go to the doctor for cure. They think God is "hiding His face," when He is really showing Himself, showing His love for them and for all men, in upholding the order of things, in which their welfare and that of all men is concerned. Wherefore should "a man complain for the punishment of his sins"?
III. TROUBLE, AS AND BECAUSE PUNISHMENT, MIGHT HAVE BEEN WORSE, AND MAY BE BETTER. "Wherefore should a living man complain?" Stress is to be laid upon this. The trouble, whatever it is, might have been greater. It has exceptions and alleviations. The darkness does not cover the whole sphere of vision. The ingredients of the cup are not all bitter. We are not afflicted in all kinds, and in all degrees, like Job. We can imagine worse trouble. We can find worse. We deserve worse. We cannot have the worst while "living." There are sorer sorrows after death: the sorest here might be but "the beginning of sorrows," a foretaste and an earnest of the uttermost wrath of God. While living, we are not wholly lost. "To him that is joined unto all the living, there is hope" — hope of living even here, and hope of living in the fulness and infinitude of life hereafter. And this punishment of the living is to prevent their ever dying, in the full import of that awful word. This trouble, while it might have been worse, may be better — may be best of all. In the highest sense we may say, "This sickness is not unto death, but unto life. This loss is not unto ruin, but unto wealth. This sorrow is not unto hopeless misery, but exceeding and eternal joy."
(A. J. Morris.)
We will on this subject meet at once the tenets of the boldest complainants.
1. It is asserted, then, by some, that, under all the circumstances of this life, they. cannot consider creation as a blessing, and cannot offer up thanksgivings for it; that, born into the world without their own consent, they have a right to the good things of it; that, although a distant heaven may be promised, yet, as a distant hell is also threatened, the hopes of the one are more than counterbalanced by the fears of the other; and that it would be better not to have been born, than to live so circumstanced. These are high words against your Maker. They proceed, he assured, either from ignorance of the true state of things, or from a mind perverted by some love of sin. When you complain of being born into the world without your own consent, it should seem that you consider yourself flung into it, by some blind necessity, or senseless chance. But is this the real state of things? You know it is not. From the moment of your birth, you became the care of an almighty, all-seeing, all-merciful God: in your progress through this world to that for which He graciously designs you, there is not a step in your path but you are surrounded by His presence, and upholden by His power!
2. But it is not, perhaps, under a distrust of the general providence of God that you look upon life as no blessing; but under a view of your own individual situation, as born, according to the scriptural representation of you, subject to misery and death. Had that curse upon your first parents, which subjected you to these calamities, left you under them; had the future generations of mankind been, from that awful hour, devoted unto wrath, anti forsaken, some excuse might be urged for pleading, — though even then with the deepest reverence of Omnipotence, — "Why hast Thou made me thus?" But search the Scriptures, and see whether such pleading will bear you out. Earth at one and the same time heard the denunciation of death, and the promise of redemption. Man was to be gradually fitted for that heaven, which, from the first, was designed him. The care of Omnipotence was thenceforth exerted in preparing the world for the coming of Him, in whom the nations of the earth were to be finally blessed.
3. Now, had Adam never fallen, or had it been ordained you to live with him in his early days of innocence and peace; had it been your lot, after a few years thus sojourning in peace in the garden of Eden, to have been removed from the shadows of this world to the realities of a better; will you say that creation would have been no blessing to you? that it would be nothing to have been brought from the dust of the earth into the everlasting fruition of spiritual bliss? I will not degrade your reason by thinking it capable of harbouring a thought so low and so unworthy. Well, then, if a spiritual immortality be deemed a blessing, what is there in the trials and sorrows of this life to check your aspirings after it? Shall the land of your inheritance be given up, because a boisterous Jordan rolls before you, and the sons of Anak must be struggled with? I would require you, with the book of revelation in your hand, to descend into your heart; to mark its pride, its sensuality, its worldly-mindedness, and vanity; and would urge you to say whether anything was ever more weak, more earthy, less fitted to mingle with the saints in light! You will plead that this pride and vainly proceed from a corruption inherent in your nature; and that their existence is no fault of yours. But it is your fault that they are not corrected. The Almighty has promised His everlasting Spirit to them that ask it. You have not asked it as you ought. Why, then, should a living man complain, — man for the punishment of his sins?
4. We may go yet farther, and even ranking you among those whose errors are the most venial, and omissions of duty the fewest, may ask you whether you ever felt real cause for lasting repining at the occasional mixture of evil with your good. Indeed, the nearer you approach to fulness of obedience, and to a perfect love of God, the more thankful you will be for those warnings which tend to estrange you from the things of earth. Consider, therefore, this world m its true nature; consider it as a scene of preparation for another: that no state is so dangerous as undisturbed prosperity; that, during our continuance here, we must be purified to qualify us for perfect happiness in the presence of God: that such purification must be effected by triads and temptations; and that trials and temptations necessarily suppose troubles and afflictions. Let these considerations take place in the mind, and, at the brightness before them, clouds and darkness shall disperse, doubts and difficulties shall vanish away.
(G. Mathew, M. A.)
Observe here —
1. The fault taxed, complaining. It denotes an action that passeth on a man's self, and intimates fretting, whereby one torments himself increasing his own grief and sorrow for his affliction.
2. The unjustifiableness of this before the Lord. Losers think they may have leave to speak; but religion teaches rather to lay our hands on our mouths, and our mouths in the dust before the Lord, who does us no wrong.
3. On what accounts it is unjustifiable, what are these things that may silence all our complaints? We are men that should act more rationally. We are living men that might therefore be in a worse condition. We are Sinful men, whose hardships are the just punishment of our sins. We are men that have another thing to do. Let each man complain for his sin.
I. THERE IS A SINFUL COMPLAINING UNDER CROSSES AND AFFLICTIONS.
1. Let them complain of themselves, as the causes of their own woe. The sinful nature, heart and life, are father, mother, and nurse to all the miseries that come u n us. These are the carcass to which these eagles gather together. Remove that, and they would all quickly fly away. If the clouds return after the rain, let us blame our own misguidance.
2. Let them complain to God and welcome (Psalm 102:1-11).(1) We must not complain of God.(2) We must not complain of our lot, or murmur because better has not fallen to our share.(3) We must not arrest our complaining eye on the unjust instruments of our afflictions, like the dog snarling at the stone, but looking not to the hand that casts it.
II. SINFUL COMPLAINING IS SELF-TORMENTING.
1. To God whose Spirit is grieved with it, and provoked to anger by it.
2. To others, as marring the harmony of society, and often when people give way to that black passion, God in His just judgment inhibits others, that they have no power to help the complainer.
3. To a person's self it is disagreeable and tormenting. It is a breach of the sixth commandment, a sin against one's own life, destructive to the body. The sinful complainer puts a load above his own burden. For if one's will were submitted to the will of God, how easy would it be to bear afflictions; but when the proud heart cannot stoop, the apprehension magnifies the cross, and of a molehill makes a mountain.
III. MAN, SINFUL MAN, IS A COMPLAINING CREATURE.
1. Men do not entertain due thoughts of the sovereignty of God, and His awful majesty (Matthew 20:11-15).
2. Men, often see not the designs of holy providence, and they are apt to suspect the worst, for guilt is a nurse and mother of fears.
3. Pride of heart is the cause of sinful complaining. Men are naturally like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. An unsubdued spirit under a cross makes a heavy burden.
4. Unmortified lust, when crossed with afflictions makes a fearful mutiny. If men were not too much addicted to the creature, too closely wedded to the things of time, they would not raise such complaints on the loss of them. Grasp hard a man's hand that hath a sore finger, he presently cries out; but if his hand was whole, he would take it kindly.
5. Want of a due sense of the evil of sin and of our unworthiness on that account.
6. Overlooking our mercies.
7. Dwelling and poring upon crests and difficulties. This is just taking an unbelieving lift of our own burden, which will certainly increase it.
8. Unbelief is the great cause of all It was the generation that believed not that murmured in the wilderness. Faith brings the soul to rest in God in all conditions. It satisfies the soul with a full Christ in the want of all things (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
IV. BECAUSE WE ARE MEN WE OUGHT NOT TO COMPLAIN.
1. We are men and not brutes. We are endowed with rational faculties, by which we may take up such considerations, from the sovereignty of God and the demerit of our sins, that might silence our complaints.
2. We are men and not gods, creatures and not creators, subjects and not lords, and therefore ought to submit and not to complain.
3. We are men and not angels. We are not inhabitants of the upper regions, where no storms blow, where there is an eternal spring and uninterrupted peace. Can we think that the rocks must be removed for us, that God's unchangeable purpose in the management of the world must be changed for us?
4. We are men and not devils. We, at our worst, in this world, are not in that desperate, hopeless, and helpless state in which they are. But have something to comfort us which they have not.
V. BECAUSE WE ARE LIVING MEN WE OUGHT NOT TO COMPLAIN.
1. Our life is forfeited yet continued, therefore there is no reason to complain.
2. Living, we are not in hell, and therefore should we praise and not complain (Lamentations 3:22).
3. Living, we have the means of grace and hopes of glory. So we have access to better our estate in the other world, if it should never be better in this.
4. Living, it may be worse with us ere we go out of the world than it is, if we do complain.
5. Living, we may live to see our case better. While there is life there is hope. We have to do with a bountiful God.
6. We have no surer hold of our life than of the comforts of life. The latter are uncertain, so is the former. The stroke that takes away a comfort might have taken away our life.
7. When other comforts are lost, and our life is continued, that which is best is preserved to us.
8. The time of life is the time for all men's praising, because they sit all at the common table of mercy, and therefore not for complaining.
VI. WE ARE SINFUL MEN JUSTLY PUNISHED FOR OUR SIN AND THEREFORE OUGHT NOT TO COMPLAIN.
1. Our sins are the procuring causes of all afflictions. God hath joined together the evil of sin, and the evil of punishment, hence drawing the first link of this chain, we draw the other also on ourselves, why then do we complain?
2. When our afflictions are at the highest pitch in this world, yet they are not so great as our sins deserve.
3. We receive much undeserved good, while at the worst we get but our deserved evil.
4. Our afflictions are necessary for us. Our hearts are hard to wean from a frowning world, how would we do if it were smiling on every hand. Nay, there are many mercies in thy lot. there must be a mixture of crosses in it, something crooked, something wanting, to be a corrective. Why then should we be so angry with our blessings?
5. We might get out from under them, if we would speedily answer the design of them (Leviticus 26:41, 42).
6. How often is the sin visibly written on the punishment, that men may clearly see the cause of God's contending, and lay their mouths in the dust.
VII. UNDER OUR AFFLICTIONS WE SHOULD TURN OUR COMPLAINTS ON OUR SINS.
1. Instead of complaining of God, let us complain of ourselves to God, instead of taxing a holy God with severity, let us charge ourselves with folly before Him.
2. Instead of the heart's bleeding for trouble, let our hearts bleed for sin.
3. Instead of tossing our cross in our minds to fret ourselves, let us toss our sin there to humble ourselves.
4. Instead of labouring to get up our lot to our mind, let us labour to get our minds brought down to our lot.
(T. Boston, D. D.)
I. SOME COMPLAINTS ALLOWABLE.
1. It is lawful to express what we feel and suffer in those ways nature prompts us.
2. May complain to friends, relations, and acquaintances.
3. To God as well as to men.
II. COMPLAINTS PROMPTED BY IMPATIENCE WITH GOD'S DEALINGS CONDEMNED.
1. It is long before God takes the rod in hand to correct.
2. He is soon prevailed with to lay it aside.
3. He lays no more on us than our sins deserve.
4. We enjoy many mercies in the meantime by which the bitterness of affliction is allayed.
5. God has a sovereignty of power and dominion to deal with us as He pleaseth.
III. COMPLAINTS MAY BE SILENCED —
1. By keeping alive in your heart a sense of God's love in every dispensation.
2. By labouring to have a fresh remembrance of your sins.
3. By considering the extreme danger of quarrelling with and opposing God.
Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.
I. STATE THE MOST COMMON CAUSES OF COMPLAINT.
1. Our circumstances in the world.
2. The sufferings to which we are doomed.
3. Our condition as moral agents.
II. SHOW THE IMPROPRIETY OF SUCH CONDUCT.
1. It is unreasonable.
3. Impious and profane.
4. Endangers his immortal interests.
III. POINT OUT ITS MOST EFFECTUAL REMEDY.
1. Seek the regeneration of our natures.
2. Consider what pain and punishment we deserve.
3. Think of the sufferings of others.
4. Remember the design of God in afflicting us.
5. Pray that our day of strength may be as our day.
(Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.
Before it is possible to return to God, before the desire to return is even awakened, a much less inviting action must be undertaken. The first and greatest hindrance to reconciliation with our Father is our failure to recognise that any such reconciliation is necessary. If the soul's quarrel with her Lord is ever to be ended it must be discovered. Therefore the first step will be in the direction of self-examination. We are led to look in this direction by the startling thought with which the previous triplet closes. If the calamities bewailed are the chastisements of sin it is necessary for this sin to be sought out. The language of the elegist suggests that we are not aware of the nature of our own conduct, and that it is only by some serious effort that we can make ourselves acquainted with it, for this is what he implies when he represents the distressed people resolving to "search and try" their ways. The externalism in which most of our lives are spent makes the effort to look within a painful contradiction of habit. When it is attempted pride and prejudice face the inquirer, and too often quite hide the true self from view. Even when the effort to acquire self-knowledge is strenuous and persevering, and accompanied by an honest resolution to accept the results, however unwelcome they may be, it often fails for lack of a standard of judgment. We discover our actual characters most effectually when we compare our conduct with the conduct of Jesus Christ. As the light of the world, He leads the world to see itself. He is the great touchstone of character. We may be reminded, on the other hand, that too much introspection is not wholesome, that it begets morbid ways of thought, paralyses the energies, and degenerates into insipid sentimentality. No doubt it is best that the general tendency of the mind should be towards the active duties of life. But to admit this is not to deny that there may be occasions when the most ruthless self-examination becomes a duty of first importance. Then while a certain kind of self-study is always mischievous — the sickly habit of brooding over one's feelings, it is to be observed that the elegist does not recommend this. It is not emotion but action that he is concerned with. The searching is to be into our "ways," the course of our conduct. The word "ways" suggests habit and continuity. These are more characteristic than isolated deeds — short spasms of virtue or sudden falls before temptation. The final judgment will be according to the life, not its exceptional episodes. A man lives his habits. He may be capable of better things, he may be liable to worse; but he is what he does habitually. Our main business in self-examination is to trace the course of the unromantic beaten track, the long road on which we travel from morning to evening through the whole day of life. The result of this search into the character of their ways on the part of the people is that it is found to be necessary to forsake them forth. with; for the next idea is in the form of a resolution to turn out of them, nay, to turn back, retracing the footsteps that have gone astray, in order to come to God again. These ways are discovered, then, to be bad — vicious in themselves, and wrong in their direction. This is a case of ending our old ways, not mending them. No engineering skill will ever transform the path that points straight to perdition into one that conducts us up to the heights of heaven. The only chance of coming to walk in the right way is to forsake the wrong way altogether, and make an entirely new start. Again — a very significant fast — the return is described in positive language. It is a coming back to God, not merely a departure from the old way of sin. The initial impulse towards a better life springs more readily from the attraction of a new hope than from the repulsion of a loathed evil. The hopeful repentance is exhilarating, while that which is only born of the disgust and horror of sin is dismally depressing. Following up his general exhortation to return to God, the elegist adds a particular one, in which the process of the new movement is described. It takes the form of a prayer from the heart. The resolution is to lift up the heart with the hands. Lastly, the poet furnishes the returning penitents with the very language of the hearts prayer, which is primarily confession.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
Suffering only fulfils its mission when it constrains a man to look within himself and search and try his reins and ways that he may know how far he is sincere. Only suffering can get at our hearts with any profound and saving effect. Joy touches the surface, success hovers above us a singing bird: it is when we are in the furnace of affliction that we discover what we really are, and what we really need. The sufferers in this case come to wise decisions. No longer will they murmur against the Lord, as if providence were fickle and arbitrary, as if providence found a wicked pleasure in the torture of human life: the sufferers say, The fault must be in ourselves; we carry the deadly poison within us; our hearts are lacking in the spirit of loyalty and obedience; they are lifted up in the ways of haughtiness, and they submit themselves to the rule of vanity; the time has now come for a different discipline and a different policy; we must lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens: we do not lift up the heart alone, as if we were intending to be religious in one part of our nature, and to reserve the liberty of self-service in another; nor do we lift up our hands alone, as if we were willing to indulge in bodily exercise, in ceremony, in ritual, or as if we were prepared to render in some degree the service of a hireling; but we lift up both our heart and our hands in sign of a complete consecration. Religious exercises cleanse and elevate the worshipper. The very act of lifting up heart and hand unto God in the heavens is an act of purification and ennoblement. All such exercises are valuable as parts of a larger discipline. Herein is the value of public worship: man helps man; voice increases voice; joy and sorrow mingle together, and produce a tender melancholy that is the surest pledge of perfect and enduring delight.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
I. The work of self-examination has this advantage, that it is A REAL, PERSONAL ACT; and in religion what a man does for himself is of much more avail than what others do or can do for him. Other religious actions may be "gone through," as it were, with little thought and attention; but self-examination, if performed at all, is performed with the mind; with a real application of the faculties to the matter in hand.
II. Self-examination is a PRIVATE WORK. The public ordinances of religion have their place and value. But the religious improvement of the heart is entirely dependent on what passes in private; I mean, is measured by that. What a man is in private, that he is; and it is in the personal interviews with our Maker that the critical transactions of our religious history are performed.
III. Self-examination is A REHEARSING OF THE JUDGMENT DAY, for it is a having the soul up before conscience, and conscience is God's voice in the heart. But in the judgment day, we are instructed to believe that there shall be a bringing forth to the light of each man's every action, in its detail and particular, and (which is much to be observed) in its motive and inward cause. Now these are the things which cannot be discerned without much of careful consideration and thought. The case, in short, is this, — in order to repentance we must know what we have to repent of; for it were a mere trifling with our Maker to use the language of contrition when not really thinking of the things which we have done in disobedience to Him and disregard of His holy will. Keep short accounts with thy soul; the dealers of this world can teach thee thus much. A heathen found out thus much. "Let not sleep," said Pythagoras, "fall upon thy soft eyelids, until thou hast first gone over thrice the actions, all and each of them, of the day; asking thus, Where have I transgressed? what good have I done? and what duty have I left undone?"
IV. The practice of this careful and periodical self-examination will most assuredly SOFTEN AND HUMANISE THE CHARACTER IN REGARD OF THE SOCIAL INTERCOURSES OF LIFE; making him who is diligent in such practice, gentle and merciful and forgiving toward his fellow creatures. The slight, the disrespect, the unthankfulness, and forgetfulness of promises, — just the things which are taken so unkindly between man and man, which constitute the sting of injury, and alienate between heart and heart, — are the very same which we find that we have to ask our Heavenly Father, having experienced at our hands, not to resent, but to forgive; for mercy's and for Christ's sake, to forgive. Therefore the self-examiner is a merciful man.
V. And lastly, he is — what each one of us would desire to be, but what the neglecter of self-examination will hardly be — A PROFITABLE ATTENDANT ON THE SERVICES OF THE CHURCH. And he is so for this reason; that having considered his ways, he knows what he has to confess when he comes into his Maker's presence. The visits to God's house are stages in his life, are steps from earth to heaven, to him whose thoughts have been rightly employed during the interval between his visits there; whose one confession speaks to his former confession, and (may be) rebukes it, but with a sweet rebuke, for it is administered at the footstool of a merciful and forgiving God.
(C. P. Eden, M. A.)
Prayer, praise, the public ordinances, consistent walking, are obligations, laid though not with equal depth, yet laid on the consciences of all who are taught of God. But the point of deep and thorough consideration of our ways, is I fear, but little reflected upon, as its deep importance demands.
I. THE EXHORTATION. How awfully affecting the description in Lamentations 2:5-17. Yet with all this, the great mass of the people remained hard and impenitent. Ah, how little is it in the power of any judgment to turn the heart. It is under this conviction that the prophet calls them to deep searchings of heart.
1. The prophet includeth himself, "Let us." So Daniel 9:4, 5. Have we not invariably found the most spiritual are the most ready to take the low place?
2. Remark the expression, "Our ways." It is one of the deepest incentives to self-condemnation, humiliation before God, and holiness d heart, to mark diligently, prayerfully, watchfully, all the way by which we have been brought. Let us note down our mercies, pray to have them continually on our hearts, on our lips; this is no small part of the precept. But it refers principally to "search and try the ways" in which we are walking. Am I in the way? What a question! How important the answer. Walking in Jesus, the way of pardon, the only way of salvation, of holiness, of happiness, the only way to God, and heaven, the abode of God. And how am I walking in this way? By faith? in dally repentance? in real, sincere, and honest obedience? happily? If not, why am I not?
3. The expression implies difficulty in the act of obedience to the precept, "Let us search and try our ways." Much is required to its accomplishment.(1) Sincerity is needed (Jeremiah 17:9). Ah, what heavenly sincerity, honesty, integrity, are required to investigate motives, try principles, decide practice.(2) Quiet is needed. A piece of gold cannot be discerned in the unquiet waters of a turbid stream, so the graces of the Spirit cannot be clearly discerned in the defilements of an unquiet spirit.(3) Time is required. The viper sin that coils, and coils, and coils beneath the verdure of the grass, cannot be seen in a moment's glance.(4) Faith, too, is needed, laying the hand on the head of Jesus, or there is no fair review.(5) Filial repentance is required. Legal repentance only extenuates the sin.(6) Above all. there must be much real, fervent, persevering prayer (Psalm 139:23, 24).
II. THE BLESSED CONSEQUENCES OF SEARCHING OUR WAYS AND TURNING TO THE LORD. A man may, without this, be admired, courted, applauded, followed; as a minister he may draw crowds, as a man, be flattered to the skies; but never can he be a spiritually-minded man, a close walker with God, a happy, holy, and consistent Christian. This inestimable good is bound up in it. It is the certain, the necessary consequence. It is the mode of the Divine operation, the order of the Divine Spirit (James 4:8). It is so in the first approach of the sinner to God (Isaiah 55:7). It is so in every after approach (Jeremiah 3:1). The sinner is called to consider his ways (Haggai 1:5). Real consideration leads to repentance (Ezekiel 18:28). It is the breath of spiritual life, it is the germ of the new creation, the spark of heavenly fire.
(J. H. Evans, M. A.)
I. THE ADVANTAGES THAT BY ARISE FROM IT. There is no possibility, either of viewing a bad action, in a full light, without abhorrence, or of weighing its consequences without terror. Wickedness, therefore, always banishes thought, and piety and virtue encourage it. A good man, far from being driven to hide his inward condition from himself, though he find many things that want still to be amended, yet finds at the same time, so many, which, through the aid of God's Holy Spirit, are already grown, and daily growing better, that he feels no joy equal to that of his heart telling him what he is. Therefore the Psalmist speaks of self-amendment as the immediate fruit of self-inspection (Psalm 119:59, 60). Nor doth it only excite in us good resolutions, but furnishes directions how to put them in practice. Reflection will show us, and nothing else can, by what defect within, or what opportunity without, each of our faults got ground in our breasts: and which is the way to root it out again. Another use of searching frequently into our past ways, is to preserve ourselves from the secret approach of future dangers. All these are general advantages flowing from the practice of self-inspection. But in many cases it hath yet a more especial good influence. A distinct knowledge of ourselves will greatly secure us from the iii effects of flattery, which would persuade us that we are what we feel we are not; and enable us to bear unjust reproach, thinking it a very small thing that we should be judged of man's judgment, when we can reflect with comfort that He who judgeth us is the Lord. Experience of our infirmities will teach us humility, and move us to compassion and forgiveness (Galatians 6:1). Experience where our strength, as well as our weakness lies, will show us how we are best able to serve God and our fellow creatures; what we may attempt, what will be too much for us. And strict observation of our own hearts will qualify us, beyond all things, to give useful cautions to others, and direct their steps in the right way.
II. SOME RULES TO BE OBSERVED FOR CONDUCTING IT PROPERLY. Of these the fundamental one is, that we consider it as a religious duty; perform it as in the presence of God; and earnestly beg Him to show us in a true light to ourselves (Psalm 19:12). Let us therefore neither be too tender, nor too proud, to bear inspecting our hearts and lives: and, that we may bear it well, let us learn to moderate, if we have need, the uneasiness which it may give us. For every passion that we have may be raised so high as to defeat its own end. And though we can dislike nothing so justly as our faults; and very few dislike them near enough; yet if we dislike ourselves for them too much to have patience to think of them, and mend them; that runs into a new fault: and we should check ourselves for it, mildly indeed, but very carefully; considering well both our natural frailty, and our Maker's goodness: but especially the promises of forgiveness and grace, which He hath recorded for our use in His Holy Word; not in order to reconcile us at all to sin, but in a reasonable degree to ourselves. And how mortifying soever a needful examination may still prove, it is surely worth while to support the most painful reflections for the present, when it will secure us a succession of pleasing and happy ones ever after. Nor must we examine only into the weak and suspicious parts of our characters and conduct: but those which procure us the most applause from others and ourselves: for want of which, even vices, a little disguised, may pass upon us for great virtues; and we may be doing, with entire satisfaction, what we should abhor, if we understood it right. Nor are these general grounds of caution the only ones; but every person will find, on inquiry, particular reasons for being watchful and distrustful of himself, in some point or other; arising, perhaps, from unhappy experience of failures, at least from conviction of the dangers, incident to his natural disposition, age, employment, company; and, which is a matter of no small consideration, rank in the world. For they, above all, should be careful m searching their own breasts, whose higher condition subjects them most to flattery, and removes them farthest from hearing censure.
I. ITS USEFULNESS.
1. Teaches us to know ourselves.
2. We discover our sins.
3. Provides good company and comfortable employment.
II. ITS NEGLECT MISCHIEVOUS.
1. Hardens the heart.
2. A daily increase of sin.
3. Renders a man the more unwilling to reckon with himself.
III. DEMANDS DILIGENCE.
1. There is a natural reluctance to attend to the duty.
2. Many sins not easily discovered, unless diligent search is made.
3. A convenient time should be set apart for the work.
4. Affliction a time for heart searching.
5. Let not the difficulty of the work discourage you.
6. A work that must be often repeated.
IV. LEADS TO REPENTANCE. "Turn again to the Lord." Sin is an aversion and turning away from God; repentance is a returning to Him.
1. Repentance must be speedy.
3. Resolute and steadfast.
Set thyself in good earnest to the work; beset thy heart and life around, as men would do a wood where murderers are lodged; hunt back to the several stages of thy life, youth, and riper years, all the capacities and relations thou hast stood in; thy general calling and particular, every place where thou hast lived, and thy behaviour in them. Bid memory bring in its old records, and read over what passages are written there; call conscience in to depose what it knows concerning thee, and encourage it to speak freely without mincing the matter. And take heed thou dost not snib this witness, as some corrupt judges, when they would favour a bad cause or give it secret instructions, as David did Joab, to deal gently with thee. Be willing to have thy conditions opened fully, and all thy coverings turned up.
Many either search not at all (they cannot endure these domestic audits: it is death to them to reflect and recognise what they have done), or as though they desired not to find. They search as men do for their bad money; they know they have it, but they would gladly have it to pass for current among the rest. Heathens will rise up in judgment against such, for they prescribed and practised self-examination. Pythagoras, once a day; Phocylides, thrice a day, if Stobaeus may be believed.
Turn again to the Lord
I. THE NATURE OF REPENTANCE. — that repentance which is "unto salvation, and which needeth not to be repented of."
1. Repentance presupposes a knowledge of our previous condition. Before we can sincerely turn to the Lord, we must be sensible of our alienation from Him. They who have never felt the weariness and wretchedness of their natural state; who have never, in any measure, experienced the misery and guiltiness of their sins, are still destitute of that very knowledge which must precede the exercise of scriptural repentance. Nay more, this sense of sin and sinfulness must be no mere general and theoretic opinion — no mere notion; but a heartfelt conviction of entire and aggravated sinfulness, humbling the sinner in the dust, and depriving him of all fancied righteousness in the judgment of his own conscience. Combined with this, there must be also some measure of acquaintance with the character and perfections of that God with whom the sinner has to do.
2. Godly sorrow has its seat in the affections. It is heartfelt grief, a real and poignant sentiment of anguish on account of sin; and whilst the soul of the repentant sinner does mourn over the bitter consequences of sin, yet his mourning is not confined to the evils resulting from his iniquity. There will be in the heart that truly seeks the Lord a commencement, at all events, of hatred to sin, a sense of its hideousness and deformity.
3. Where the soul hath really sought the Lord as He is to be found, there will be manifested the Spirit's presence in efforts at a holy, a spiritual and heartfelt conformity with the whole will of God.
4. Whilst the child of God experiences all this in turning from sin, he is called further to beware of regarding his repentance as in itself worthy of God's acceptance; our very righteousnesses are even as filthy rags in the presence of Him who sitteth on the throne, and our repentance not only flows from the imparted grace of God, but at best can be acceptable in God's sight only through the mediation of the Beloved.
5. The believer is further called on to feel that repentance is not proper, simply to the first stage of his spiritual existence; that it holds not only an elementary place in practical Christianity, but belongs to the whole currency of his life on earth. Alas! when is the believer free from sin?
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENTS TO REPENTANCE HELD OUT TO US BY GOD. This is a wide field; the Lord has not been sparing in the manifestation of such encouragement. Does not the very existence of the Bible proclaim that God waiteth to be gracious? Instead of selecting a series of striking invitations from the fertile pages of the Divine record, I would rather seek to place before you a few of the great truths which are embodied in the numerous and very varied appeals to man's conscience contained in Scripture.
1. The foremost of these truths is the fact of God's mercy. Not only do all the gifts of His hand bespeak a wondrous forbearance, a marvellous compassion, but we owe our very existence, amid our sins, to the compassion of the Eternal: we are all of us living monuments of His mercy; "because His compassions fail not," therefore are we not consumed. God has not, however, limited the manifestation of His mercy to the mere preservation of our guilty race, and the bestowal of multiplied temporal blessings. "God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son," etc.
2. The justice of God furnishes under the Gospel dispensation the strongest of all encouragements to the exercise of this grace. Nor is there any paradox in the assertion. In Christ, mercy and truth meet together, God's righteousness and the sinner's peace are made to embrace each other.
3. The disquieted and dispirited sinner may be apt to exclaim, of what service are all the encouragements to repentance, when repentance itself involves in its very exercise feelings which I do not possess, and which I know not how to obtain? There have issued from the mercy seat the promises, the full, clear, and reiterated promises of all needful grace. It is in God Himself that our succour lies.
III. THE PRACTICAL BEARINGS OF THESE CONSIDERATIONS ON THE CONDITION AND CONSCIENCES OF MEN.
1. I would address myself, first, to the followers of Christ, those who have known what it is "to turn unto the Lord"; who have been quickened by His Spirit in the inner man, and "having the Son," "have life," life indeed, life eternal. I would call upon them to recognise not merely the duty, but the precious privilege of repentance. Let him that standeth or that "thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall." We are never more in need of grace than just when we think best of ourselves. Self-complacency is the sure token of backsliding from the Lord.
2. With regard to those who have never yet experienced true repentance, who may perhaps regret their sins at times when the evils flowing from sin are felt by them, but whose regrets have been vain and fruitless — the mere sorrow of the world that worketh death — I would beseech them, with all earnestness, to "turn unto the Lord." In resisting the call to repentance, the sinner is not simply putting away from him the only way of peace and happiness, he is resisting, madly resisting, the expressed mind of God — God's holy commands; and whether he be a profligate or a man of decent life; whether an avowed atheist or a professed Christian; whether he defy God or turn away to the things of this world in besotted infatuation, his course, in either case, is in direct opposition to the will of God.
(L. H. Irving.)
A minister narrates the following: "While walking along one of the London streets a Paris pastor came forward and accosted me thus, 'Excuse me, but were you not in Paris some time ago?' I said, 'Yes, I was'; and then he inquired, 'Did you not, in one of your addresses there, say that the latch was on our side of the door?' 'Yes, I believe I did say so,' I replied. 'Well,' he answered, 'I always thought it was on the Lord's side, and I kept knocking, and knocking, and knocking, until I heard your words, and what a joy came over me! I lifted the latch. Since then all has been changed, my church, my congregation, my work, and everything about me!'" Remember that the latch is on your side of the door.
In every building the first stone must be laid and the first blow must be struck. The ark was 120 years in building; yet there was a day when Noah laid his axe at the first tree he cut down to form it. The temple of Solomon was a glorious building; but there was a day when the first huge stone was laid at the foot of Mount Moriah. When does the building of the Spirit really begin to appear in a man's heart? It begins, so far as we can judge, when he first pours out his heart to God in prayer.
(J. C. Ryle.)
Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.
The finest and most sublime sensations of which the soul is susceptible are connected with the principle of devotion.
I. THE SUBLIMEST BOOKS EXISTING ARE THOSE FROM WHICH WE LEARN OUR FAITH. The writings of the inspired penmen abound with passages for which no parallel can be found in the productions of mere genius. Rousseau once exclaimed, "The majesty of the Scriptures fills me with astonishment; the holiness of the Gospel speaks to my very heart. Behold the books of the philosophers, with all their pomp, how little are they in comparison! Is it possible that a book at once so wise and so sublime should have been the production of mere men?"
II. SOME OF THE SITUATIONS OF REAL LIFE PROVE THE INTIMATE CONNECTION BETWEEN DEVOTION AND THE SOURCES OF SUBLIME FEELING.
1. In studying the character of God and the works of nature.
2. In the changing circumstances of life, in adversity or prosperity, the proper operation of religious thought is to call up sublime and fervent feelings.
III. CONSIDER THE SUBJECT OF ADORATION — GOD, WHETHER WORSHIPPED IN PRIVATE OR IN PUBLIC. If it be objected that in such an account of the effects of devout feeling, we place religion too much under the dominion of the imagination, it may be answered that though the abuse of a thing is dangerous, we are not therefore to relinquish its use. It is the soul that truly feels; imagination is the effort of the soul to rise above mortality. Imagination as well as reason is frequently appealed to in Scripture.
We owe an appeal to God on whatever concerns us, to —
I. THE THRONE OF GOD. Those things which you look upon as trivial, have been subjects of eternal thought, and of eternal purpose. Some men lay stress entirely upon the decrees of God with respect to their conversion and their salvation. But the right view of the Divine decrees is, to connect them with everything — not merely with your conversion, and with your salvation, but with the time of your birth, and the day of your death; with the hours of your sickness, and the seasons of health; with the gain of your property, and with the loss of your property; with the lives of those that are dear to you, and with the deaths of those whom you love: even with the falling of sparrows.
II. THE PERSONAL PROVIDENCE OF GOD AND THE ACTUAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD. For the superintendence of our affairs is not committed by God to some deputy. This must be the case with all human rulers, with all creature governors; but while God employs instruments, He personally superintends, not only the instruments, but those for whom those instruments work, He Himself provides, and He Himself rules.
III. THE CHARACTER OF GOD. Think of His complete knowledge. Think of His consummate wisdom. He never fails in anything, He never can fail, He sees the end from the beginning, He counts all the steps between the beginning and the end, and He can adjust every movement, every instrument, every influence. He can make angels and devils, good men and bad men, things material, and things spiritual, earth, hell, and heaven — He can make all work together for some ultimate good.
IV. THE PATERNITY OF GOD. I say paternity; and would include in this idea, not only fatherhood but motherhood: for God is as really mother as He is father. And the Scriptures do not fail to represent this fact to us. While God has all the masculine strength of the father, He has also the tenderness of the mother.
V. GOD'S PROVISION FOR OUR FULL RECONCILIATION TO HIMSELF. For God is by Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. He has provided for us a propitiatory, where we may meet, and where He ever stands waiting to be gracious; and His invitation is, "Come nigh." He is not satisfied with our standing afar off; His invitation ceaselessly is, "Come nigh." In the degree of your discipleship will grow your consciousness of sonship: and just as you say in your heart, "I am a disciple of Christ," so will you say in your heart, "I am a son of God."
VI. THE DIVINE PRECEPTS, INVITATIONS, AND PROMISES. "Call upon Me," said God, "' in the day of trouble, I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me." "Thou hast not called upon Me, O Jacob," said God. "Thou hast been weary of Me, O Israel." Might not God bring this charge against some of you? Might He not say to some of you, "Thou hast been weary of Me. Thou hast not called upon Me"?
VII. OURSELVES. This alone will keep the heart and mind in peace; this is the chief means of deliverance from evil; this renders other means effective; this carries out our principles; and this will keep us from the use of sinful means.
VIII. EACH OTHER. In common affairs, for example, how can we really help each other, unless we pray for each other?
Can God listen to and answer prayer? Will God listen to and answer prayer? Ought God to listen to and answer prayer? Three points, you notice, are involved — ability, disposition, right.
1. Do our petitions, as a matter of fact, reach the throne, or is it more likely that they die away upon the sir, never get beyond wall or roof; or, if spoken out of doors, go no further heavenward than the carrying power of the speaker's voice avails to press them? Doubts of this sort might perplex us, fairly enough, were we tied to the child's notion of a God only to be really found by going up and up and up in space. But this is not the true Christian conception of the mode of the Divine presence. The King of heaven is indeed what one of the prophets has called Him — a God that hideth Himself — but HIS hiding place is close at hand, not far away. Even the heathen, for all their dimness of spiritual vision, seem to have had some perception of this truth. Smoke was their chosen symbol of prayer. Sometimes it went up from the burning sacrifice upon the altar, sometimes from the swinging censer; but whether the savour that it carried was that of the flesh of beasts or of sweet incense, they had the satisfaction of watching it melt away into nothingness. It has gone out of the world visible, they said, this offering of ours, it has gone out of the world visible into the world invisible, and has reached the waiting God for whom we meant it. Modern discovery, instead of dulling our belief that prayer may find a hearing, ought singularly to warm and quicken it. Only consider the wonderful enlargement that has taken place of late in our notions of what is possible in the way of transmitting intelligence from one mind to another mind! It is within the memory of living men that instruments have been invented to do for speech what long ago the telescope and the microscope did for sight, namely, to extend its range. There is little reason to doubt that a time will come, and that before very long, when our present means, of communicating sound — marvellous, nay, almost miraculous as they seem — will be superseded by adjustments and contrivances even more wonderful in their effects. And shall we say of Him who has thus empowered us indefinitely to extend the reach of the faculty of hearing, supplementing His original gift of the sense itself with so generous an endowment, shall we say of Him that of necessity eternal deafness is His portion? He that planted the ear, shall He not hear? Consider what speech is. A word is an embodied thought. When this word has been articulated and made audible, we call it spoken. So then speech is thought going forth upon its travels. But midway between the thought just born and the audible utterance of the lips, comes the as yet unspoken word. It has left the mind, we will suppose. It has not yet reached the lips. Now who can tell upon what other undulations besides those of the material atmosphere that thought just now clothed upon with a word may not be going forth? For man's benefit and that it may accomplish its earthly errand, it is committed to the waves of the air; but how know we that there is no more subtle medium still on which simultaneously it is borne to the auditorium of Almighty God? Human hearing is dependent, at least under the conditions of this life present is dependent, on the bodily organ of hearing, the ear; but Divine hearing may be just as real as ours without any such dependence. There is good and sober reason to believe that some of the brute creatures hear sounds that are wholly inaudible to us, the instrument of hearing having in their case been differently adjusted. But is there no intelligence, think you, anywhere in the universe to which all sound is audible? I cannot easily believe it; but, were I forced to do so, I should still hold fast my faith that to the spoken word of man Divine audience would be lent, and should still keep on praying my prayers to Him unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid. He that planted the ear, shall He not hear?
2. But supposing it conceded that God is able to listen to our prayers, can we think of Him as having also the ability to answer them? As a matter of fact, we see and know that hundreds, thousands, millions of requests that are made to God by the children of men, and made fervently, go ungranted. A mother prays, with all the earnestness of which a mother's heart is capable, for the recovery of a sick child, — the child dies. But the pathetic thing, the convincing thing, is that in spite of it all, great numbers of men, and they by no means the least intelligent of their kind, keep on praying, keep on making known their requests unto God. What inspires this unquenchable determination to continue hoping against hope, this dogged resolve to believe in God's ability not merely to hear, but also, if He will, to accede to the petitions His children bring? It is, I think, the conviction lying deep down in the mind, and fast rooted there, that God is a person, not a mere force, like magnetism or heat or attraction, but a being possessed of what we know among ourselves as reason, and will, and loving kindness, one capable of forming a purpose and working out a plan. We are often told that it argues a downright puerility to suppose that God either can or will answer our requests, because nature is clearly and beyond all question an intricately contrived machine, no more able to alter its motions and change its bearings in compliance with a spoken word of request, than a steam engine or a clock or a loom. This would be an unanswerable argument in favour of fatalism, and against the potency of prayer, were nature a machine of which we could see the whole, but it is not. There is a background of mystery, a region none of our senses can penetrate, and there, wholly out of sight, lie the beginnings of power. It may be that behind the veil which sunders the seen from the unseen, the hand which keeps the wheel work all in motion, is turned this way rather than that, or that way rather than this, because two or three believing souls have agreed on earth touching some blessing they desire to have, some work they would see done.
3. There remains the question, Ought He always and invariably to answer it, in the sense of never refusing to any petitioner any earnest request? To this a sober-minded faith will assuredly answer, No. Fatherhood involves governance, and governance involves the exercise of judgment, discrimination. The life of a well-ordered family is full of what we may call earthly prayer. The children ask the parents questions of many sorts, and bring to them requests of widely variant character; is it any argument against the efficacy of this which I have called earthly prayer, that some of the questions go unanswered, and not a few of the requests ungranted? No, the father remembers what his responsibility with respect to the whole family is, and certain of the favours the children ask he grants not, because he ought not. And yet, who will deny that in the life of that household the right of petition is a real thing, or that the exercise of it produces real results? So with our Father in heaven and His family on earth. Possibly in the clearer light of the heavenly life, should it be granted us to enter there, we shall find ourselves thanking Him with greater fervency for withholding our heart's desire, than we could possibly have thanked Him for conceding it. Moreover, God forbid that we should confine our definition of prayer to the men begging for favours. Prayer is more than petition, it is communion, intercourse, exchange of confidences. The confiding to God the whole story of our troubles, of our disappointments, of our failures, of our well-meant endeavours, and last, not least, of our sins, — is there nothing of value in all this that we should leave it wholly out of view in estimating the efficacy of prayer? Or again, think of how much a grateful heart has to tell. Is it nothing that the soul should have the opportunity given her to pour out before her Maker a glad offering of thanks? Intercourse with a character richer and better than our own is commonly held to be a great privilege. We can all of us recall friends to whom we have, as we say, owed a great deal on the score of helpful influence. But is it supposable that God has permitted personal intercourse between man and man to be such a potent instrument in the building up of character, and yet has made all intercourse with Himself impossible? If the spirit of man can, through the power of influence and sympathy, bless and uplift the spirit of his fellow man, much more, a thousand-fold more, shall God, who, be it remembered, is a Spirit also, aid by intercourse and influence the creature spirit whom He permits to call himself His child. Wherefore, let us pray.
(W. R. Huntington, D. D.)
Instead of wrangling with God (ver. 39) let us wrestle with Him in prayer; this is the only way to get off with comfort. Nazianzen saith, that the best work we can put our hands unto is, to lift them up to God in prayer.
1. True repentance worketh in us most earnest and hearty prayer.(1) Because we see our misery in ourselves, and what need we have to seek to God for help.(2) It assureth us of God's love to us, and readiness to hear us.(3) It encourageth us to call upon the Lord, who in our conversion hath given us experience of His unspeakable mercies.
2. Prayer to God consisteth not in words, but in the fervent and faithful lifting up of the heart.(1) God is a Spirit, and regardeth not the outward action in His worship.(2) Divers have prayed aright, that have uttered no words (Genesis 24:63; Exodus 14:15).
3. We may use all outward means, that have warrant in the Word, to stir up our affections to be more fervent in prayer.(1) Because we are naturally dull in it.(2) Our hearts are often moved with the things that our outward senses do apprehend.
5. The prayer of the faithful must never rest upon anything in this world, but look unto the mighty God, the author of all things.
We have transgressed and have rebelled.
1. The time of affliction requireth a special kind of showing our repentance both more fervent and with longer continuance than ordinary.(1) Because God therefore afflicteth us, that we may be brought to a more thorough repentance.(2) God's anger against us for our sins is manifested unto us by afflictions; which must be turned away by our unfeigned repentance, or we shall be consumed.(3) God hath usually brought His people to such special declaration of repentance, and blessed them therein (1 Samuel 7:5, 6; Nehemiah 1:2; Esther 4:16).
2. It is necessary for God's people to begin their prayers to God with a free confession of their sins (Psalm 32:5; Daniel 9:5; Nehemiah 1:6).(1) Else we obtain no forgiveness.(2) Else we have no assurance that we have repented.(3) Otherwise, we cannot rightly and thoroughly condemn ourselves, and clear the Lord for punishing us.(4) By the confession of our sins we are the more humbled, and prepared the better to prayer.
3. It furthereth to thorough repentance that God's people do in their prayers adjoin to their confession of sins a recital of the judgments that are upon them for the same.
4. Every child of God is justly punished that faileth in any duty whatsoever it be, that God hath commanded him in His Word.
5. It is rebellion against the Lord to despite any of His laws, though all human laws should approve us therein.
6. No excuse or privilege can shield any man from God's plagues for sin.
Thou hast covered Thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.
The demand for response is a thing instinctive in us, native to our feelings. We are so made that when any emotion is stirred in the heart, and breaks out into expression, there must be answer or we suffer. The very mechanism of Nature seems to have been planned with reference to this spiritual fact, and, as it wore, in illustration of it. Motion has its rebound, light its reflection, sound its echo. Nature may be, and, as we have too good reason to know, is, upon the highest topics, dumb to man, but to herself she is vocal. Action and reaction, play and counterplay, are the very groundwork of her being. When now we pass over the invisible line that marks off the confines of external Nature from those of human nature, and open our eyes upon the field of our own inner experience, what do we see? We see everywhere the same need of, the same demand for the response; but we do not everywhere see the need satisfied, or the demand met. On the contrary, appeal upon appeal, cry after cry, go out upon the air, and there comes nothing back. And yet the call for response is as real a thing as anything in us. What can the orator do with the unresponsive audience? lie may be able to struggle through the sentences he has prepared himself to utter, but if it is plain to him as he goes along that what he says is nowhere calling forth assent on the part of the listeners, he is half-paralysed. Liturgical worship, as an institution, may be said to rest upon this same principle. A recognition of the mutual interest that lies between minister and people in the act of worship is what makes The Book of Common Prayer the thing it is. "Lift up your hearts," that is well, but how much better to have the reply come back, full and strong, "We lift them up unto the Lord." These are but detached illustrations of the general principle that there is rooted in human nature a craving for response. "As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man." The question arises, Has man a right to demand, or to expect, from his Maker the responsiveness which he instinctively looks for from his brother man? First, then, is it a reasonable expectation on our part that God should take notice of our sorrows and our griefs, and in some way speak, to us about them? The Bible warrants me in answering, Yes. It is the teaching of the Christian religion that whatever there is in man that is good is also in God, and more besides. This is a general inference from the declaration that man was made in the image of God. The original has many characteristics which the image has not. But still the image has resemblance, even though it have not identity. If it had not resemblance, it would not be the image. Hence when we find in the works of Nature certain laws of number and proportion accurately followed; when we discover by chemical process that the same substances always combine according to the same fixed weights; when botany has shown us that the stalks and leaves of a plant are arranged in a carefully adjusted numerical order, we infer that a mind not unlike our own minds, in its general characteristics, must have planned and calculated such results. Apply this reasoning to the facts of the spiritual universe, and what have we as a result? Take the sentiment of pity, that compassionate feeling which strength may entertain towards weakness. It may not be possible to define it satisfactorily in words, but we all know what it is, and we know also that it is found most fully developed as a characteristic in the noblest natures. But why stop at this point? Why make the noblest man you can imagine the supreme illustration of this grace? God is above man, for God made man, and must of necessity, therefore, be man's superior. And shall we suppose that compassion ceases to be possible after we have soared up above the level of man's being? Nay, ought we not to expect to find in man's Maker a larger, deeper, broader compassion than we found in our very noblest man? There is an immense wealth of argument hidden in that question of the Psalmist. "He that formed the eye, shall He not see?" With equal emphasis we have a right to ask, He that formed man's heart so that it could be pitiful, shall not He pity? We do not hold our peace at the tears of others, when we honestly and sorely grieve for them. Why then should He hold His peace at our tears, if pity us He really does? Is there then any way of satisfactorily accounting for the apparent dumbness of God's pity? Does He really, as it might seem that He does, hold His peace at our tears? Instead of directly answering these questions, I purpose to meet them indirectly by suggesting a few thoughts to be pondered by all whom this inquiry in any degree interests. Here is one such suggestion. A voice, in order to be real, need not necessarily be an articulate voice, need not necessarily employ audible sounds. Of our various teachers there are few indeed that speak to us more effectively than the artists and the composers. They do it through the instrumentality of forms of speech peculiar to themselves. So, then, let us not look to God for a sort of utterance He has never vouchsafed, unless by miracle, and let us be reconciled to the thought that if He is to speak to us, it will be in what must seem to all except ourselves the deepest silence. Unquestionably there does sometimes come to persons in affliction, when they take their sorrows patiently, a certain quietness of soul, a calm tranquillity of which all about them take notice. Why is it not a reasonable inference, at least for a religious mind disposed to think the best rather than the worst things of God, why is it not a reasonable inference that this very stilling of the waves is the direct result of God's having spoken? We charge Him impatiently sometimes with holding His peace, when really the fact is that He has been bestowing His peace, and in doing so has spoken in the very truest and most satisfactory sense of all. Under the shadow of some weighty sorrow a group of friends sit silent in one another's presence. Shall we say of them that because their grief is speechless, therefore they are of no help to one another? Most assuredly, No. Do you tell me that the parallel fails, because in the case of the friends their silent sitting in one another's presence is comforting and helpful wholly because at other times, and in other places, they have spoken often and much? And so, I answer, has God in the past spoken often and much, spoken more than once, and more than twice. Through the lips of holy prophets, since the world began, He has from time to time communicated to the human family messages of reassurance. They tell of a new heavens and a new earth; they foretell the day when God shall wipe away all tears from off all faces; they predict a triumph over the grave, and the swallowing up of death in victory. No one can rob us of our heritage in words like these; they have been spoken; they have never been taken back; they are the common property of all of us; and while they stand we have no valid reason for complaining that God holds His peace at our tears. But I have kept the richest and most helpful suggestion till the last. CHRIST is really God's word of answer to those who turn to Him in trouble, all eagerness for His response. Baffled, disheartened, afflicted, distressed, we look at Him, and faith is born afresh. With what tenderness and graciousness, and at the same time with what a masterful touch does He sketch for us the true likeness of the Divine Majesty. Look at Him as the Good Shepherd leading His flock in green pastures, and beside still, waters! Look at Him as the Man of Sorrows, a homeless pilgrim, a seeker of mountain solitudes, misunderstood, plotted against, spitefully entreated, cursed, mocked, and scourged! See how full of pity He is for all who sorrow and all who suffer!" These three are the great ills of life: sin, disease, and sorrow. We note His attitude towards each of them, and it is plainly that of pardoner, physician, consoler. If any word can be imagined more full of meaning than this Word made flesh, speak it out, and let us know what it is. Failing to do that, no longer think of God as one who will not answer, who holds His peace at tears, but trust Him, trust Him as your everlasting Friend.
(W. R. Huntington, D. D.)
Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission, till the Lord look down and behold from heaven.
I. SHOW WHAT THIS IMPORTS.
1. That a child of God may be under the hidings of God's face, God will have a difference betwixt the upper and lower houses. When the saints are above, all the shadows flee away, but now clouds may intercept the light of His countenance. When the Lord turns His back, conscience turns its face to the soul, and tells that the Lord is displeased. And Oh! how bitter must God's anger be to that soul that knows Him.
2. That the hidings of the Lord's face may continue long with a child of God. God will have His people's faith and patience tried, and therefore makes their clouds return after the rain.
3. A holy dissatisfaction with all things, while Christ hides His face.
4. A wearisome longing after the Lord (Job 7:2, 3; Job 23:3, 4). Duties are hard work, when Christ withdraws. Labour in vain much more causeth weariness. Hope deferred makes. the heart sick. It refresheth the labourer to think that when the sun goes down, he will go to his rest; but the people of God, in this case, see not their signs, nor know the time how long.
5. Some hope that the Lord will yet look down, and behold from heaven (Psalm 43:5). Should they lose all hope, they lose all.
6. A resolute persisting in duty till the Lord return: The soul resolves never to give over, and so holds on, till the Lord look down and behold from heaven.
II. Some REASONS WHY THEY ARE THUS DISPOSED.
1. Felt need of Christ. The gracious soul cannot live without Him. They say with Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." Now, necessity hath no law, and hunger will dig through stone walls. And if it cannot dig through them it will leap over them. The soul still cries, Lord help me.
2. Superlative love to Him (Song of Solomon 8:6, 7).Use —
1. Hence we may see why so many professors fall short of Christ. They are utter strangers to this disposition of the godly.(1) They have not the living spirit of Christ in them, and so they cannot follow the Lord fully (Numbers 14:24; John 4:14).(2) There are difficulties in the way of heaven which their hearts cannot digest.(3) The world and their lusts were never made sapless to them, but still have the chief room in their hearts. Hence, when Christ will not answer, they have another door to go to.
2. You are in earnest for Christ, yet under the hidings of His face, and all things else insipid to you without Him, you see here how you are to behave; you must hold on seeking till the Lord look down from heaven.
(T. Boston, D. D.)
This is the great need of all the members of our churches. If this consuming desire were in the hearts of pastor and people there would be less time and thought for the profitless discussion of technicalities in faith and practice. Dr. Mason said that the secret of Dr. Chalmers' power was his "blood earnestness." The seraphic Summerfield, just before his death, speaking of his recovery, said: "Oh, if I might be raised again, how I would preach! I have taken a look into eternity." Think of Allein, of whom it is said that he was insatiably greedy for the conversion of souls"; of Matthew Henry, who said, "I would think it a greater happiness to gain one soul to Christ than mountains of silver and gold to myself"; of Doddridge, who said, "I long for the conversion of souls more than anything besides. I could not only labour for it, but die for it with pleasure"; of John Knox, who broke the stillness of the night with his thrice-repeated cry, "O Lord, give me Scotland or I die." God gave him Scotland. No wonder that Queen Mary "feared the prayers of John Knox more than an army of ten thousand men." A passion for souls gives a man irresistible power. The Chinese convert was right when he said, "We want men with hot hearts to tell us of the love of Christ." All about us are souls in sin and death; we may hear their death knell sounding. Men and women there are without God and without hope — men and women soon to stand at the judgment seat of Christ. May God help us to cry unto Him day and might for their rescue!
Mine eye affecteth mine heart.
We are not to look upon life with the eye of the statistician or the political economist or the collector of facts so called; our heart is to be in our eye, and our observation is to be conducted in the light of our tenderest sympathy. When the prophet says "affecteth" he means harms, or causes grief, to my heart: it is as if he said, What I see hurts me; does not merely hurt me outwardly, but hurts me within, strikes me at the very heart, gives me pain of soul, distresses the very springs of life. Note then how keenly sensitive was the prophetic heart. Why is it that our hearts are so little affected by the destruction that is wrought in the city? Simply because we are content to look at surfaces, to look with the eye of science or art or social mechanism. Prophets looked with the eye of the heart, and they could not bear the sad and tragic visions of the streets. Were our hearts right with Christ, were we one with the living God in all the tenderness of His love, a walk down the city thoroughfares would crush us, disable us, and drive us into the utterest despair; only then by some other vision — that is to say, by the very vision of the Cross itself — could we be recovered from our dejection, and constrained to renew our efforts at amelioration.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
1. The eye, in seeing the outward miseries that God layeth upon us, is a special mean to make us the more sorrowful in heart for it.(1) The sight is the quickest of the senses.(2) Things seen are most surely and amply known and understood, seeing a report may deceive us, but not the sight.
2. Natural affection of the most passionate woman can bring no such grief of heart as the ministry of the Church of God doth often work in the godly.(1) Those mourn for things temporal, these for spiritual.(2) Those have nothing but natural affection to set them on work; these have God's Spirit also that helpeth them herein, and worketh a greater affection to God's truth than any affection of nature can work in a mother to the child of her womb.
Mine enemies chased me sore.
1. The true Church and faithful people of God do never want enemies whilst they live here, who do most eagerly pursue them, by all means seeking to overthrow them.(1) Many walk in the broad way, who being of contrary quality to the godly do therefore hate them (2 Corinthians 6:14, 15; Psalm 124:6, 7; Psalm 129:1, 3; Psalm 56:1).(2) God's providence hath disposed that it should be so, for the use of just condemnation of the wicked, and the greater good of His servants.
2. The godly of themselves are so simple and weak, that they can neither prevent nor withstand the strength of their adversaries.
3. The wicked are moved by the malice of their own hearts to persecute the godly, not having any cause given to move them thereto.(1) The godly are fewer, weaker, simpler, and withdraw themselves from them.(2) Nothing can be just cause to make one bitter against another but sin, which the wicked hate not.(3) God in His providence hath appointed it to be so, to show His righteousness in delivering His, and overthrowing the other.
They have cut off my life in the dungeon
1. The wicked are often so enflamed with malice against the godly, that nothing will satisfy them but their blood.
2. The wicked do not content themselves with ordinary means to seek the life of the godly, but also practise often more than naturally seemeth needful (Matthew 27:66).
(1)They bear a deadly hate to the truth, and possessors thereof.
(2)The sting of their evil conscience maketh them always fear they shall not prevail (Daniel 6:16, 17).
Waters flowed over mine head
1. Many grievous and inevitable are the troubles and miseries which God's faithful people suffer in this life.
2. The godly oppressed with miseries are often brought both to doubt and despair for the time.(1) They judge according to their present feelings.(2) Man's infirmity is naturally prone to infidelity.(3) God in His wisdom withdraweth the feeling of His grace for a time, to let them see themselves, and to make them seek to Him the more earnestly.(4) To make them more thankful for His grace when they feel it, and more careful to continue in it.
I called...out of the low dungeon.
1. The godly do pray unto the Lord for His grace and favour, even when they are in such great extremity that all hope, in reason, is past. Moses at Red Sea, Jonah in whale's belly, etc.(1) Reasons.(a) Their faith can never be quailed, seeing it is that which overcometh the world (1 John 5:4).(b) They rest upon God's truth that faileth not, and power that ruleth all things.(2) Use: to teach us(a) to strive against that temptation which persuadeth to surcease praying when our case seemeth desperate;(b) that their profession was but temporary when troubles do quail;(c) to call still upon God in the day of our troubles, yea, to increase in fervency, according to the increase of danger and continuance therein.
2. There is no condition so miserable in this life, but the godly may and do fall into it.(1) Examples. Abraham, for uncertain dwelling; David for many enemies; Job for inward and outward miseries of all sorts.(2) Reasons.(a) God will show His anger against sin in this life, even upon His own servants.(b) That by afflictions they may be weaned from the delight in this world, and made in love with heaven.(3) Use: to teach us(a) to reprove them that judge according to the outward estate of any, what favour they are in with the Lord;(b) not to promise ourselves any worldly success, but to look always for the contrary.
I. TO WHAT A STATE GOD'S MOST FAVOURED SAINTS MAY BE REDUCED. In the prophet's experience, however, we see —
II. WHAT REMEDY IS OPEN TO THEM. The answer he received will lead us to contemplate —
III. THE EFFICACY OF THAT REMEDY WHENEVER APPLIED.
(C. Simeon, M. A.)
Thou hast heard my voice: hide not Thine ear.
1. The experience of God's former favour is a notable provocation to cause us still to trust in Him again in our necessities (Psalm 4:1).(1) It argueth that we are engrafted unto Christ, and therefore shall be loved unto the end, seeing God changeth not.(2) God is always ready to show mercy and to forgive; and therefore He will do it one time as well as another.
2. The prayer of the godly ought to come from the heart, and to be with greatest fervency that may be.(1) God will not be dallied with, but looketh to the inward affection.(2) We must groan under the burden of that we would be rid of, and long for that we desire, before God will hear us.
Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon Thee: Thou saidst, Fear not.
How different are our experiences from our fears! This man of God had said, "When I cry and shout He shutteth out my prayer." He had said again, "Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through." He had added even to that, "Surely against me is He turned." But now he corrects his misapprehensions. Neither was prayer shut out, nor had God turned against him; for he joyfully confesses, "Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon Thee: Thou saidst, Fear not." Brethren, if our experiences have so far exceeded our expectations and belied our doubts, let us take care that we record them. Do not let us suffer our lamentations to be written in a book, and our thanksgivings to be spoken to the wind. Write not your complaints in marble and your praises upon the sand. Whatever wonder there was in the heart of Jeremiah that God should draw near to him, you and I must have felt even greater wonder whenever God has drawn near to us. It is to us a standing miracle that the great and glorious and thrice holy God should ever come and reveal Himself in a way of love to us, insignificant, dishonoured, guilty sons of men.
I. Let us set forth some sort of AN EXPLANATION OF THIS WONDER.
1. The first thought I would suggest to you is that men have ever been in the thoughts of God. Of the eternal wisdom we read, "My delights were with the sons of men." Long before man was created it was in the eternal purpose that such a singular and specially favoured being should be formed; and all things concerning covenant purposes and designs were written in that book into which angels may not look. At this moment the whole conformation of humanity on the face of the globe bears a direct relation to the ultimate Church of God. Thrones and crowns must all be subordinate to the main purpose of God concerning his elect; it has been, and it shall be so, even to the end.