Great Texts of the Bible
The Ministry of Surprise
Thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness.—Psalm 21:3.
1. This is a companion Psalm to the one that goes before it. They both deal with the same general situation, the outbreak of national war, but differ in this respect, that while the first is a Psalm of prayer before the people go forth to the battle, the second is a Psalm of thanksgiving after they have returned victorious. In the former we are to conceive them gathered in the Temple, the king at their head, to entreat the aid of their fathers’ God, that in the hour of danger He may send them help out of the sanctuary and strength from His holy hill. But in the latter the danger is past. The king’s arms have been successful. His enemies have been scattered. He has re-entered the city gates with his exultant army, and made his triumphal way through the streets, and now once more, as is most meet, stands before the Lord, who has given him the victory, while priests and people make the sacred courts ring again with their shouts of thanksgiving and joy. “The king shall joy in thy strength, O Lord; and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice! Thou hast given him his heart’s desire, and hast not withholden the request of his lips.… For the king trusteth in the Lord, and through the mercy of the most High he shall not be moved. Be thou exalted, Lord, in thine own strength: so will we sing and praise thy power.”
2. The gist of the text is that God’s wise grace can outstrip the present stage of our experience, can pass on into the future, and be busy on our behalf before we arrive there. He not only attends us with the blessings of His goodness, He “prevents” us with them as well—goes on before and sows the days to come with mercy, so that we find it waiting us when we arrive, and reap—or may reap—nothing but goodness as we go. It is a profound, most comfortable truth for us to rest our minds on.
There is in theology a term, still used, “prevenient grace,” meaning the grace which acts on a sinner before repentance inducing him to repent, the grace by which he attains faith and receives power to will the good. Milton, when describing the repentance of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost, when they confessed their sin and prayed for forgiveness, puts it:
Thus they in lowliest plight repentant stood
Praying, for from the Mercy-seat above
Prevenient Grace descending had remov’d
The stony from their hearts, and made new flesh
Regenerate grow instead.
But we must not limit God’s prevenient grace to the act of repentance, to the steps which lead up to the consciousness of sonship with God.1 [Note: H. Black, Christ’s Service of Love, 210.]
A Prepared World
1. When we come upon the stage of existence we find that the world has been prepared for us. “Thou hast formed the world to be inhabited” is one of the deep sayings of the prophets. For whatever ends the world has been created, it has been fashioned upon the lines of man. It has been decked in beauty for the human eye; covered with sustenance for the human frame; stored with energies that would have slept unused but for the large intelligence of man. Does the newborn child need to be clothed? Sheep have been pasturing upon the hills. Does the newborn child need to be fed? Mysterious changes have been preparing food. And does the newborn child need to be warmed? Why then, unnumbered centuries ago, the leaves were falling with the sunshine in them, that to-day we might have summer on the hearth. Not into an unprepared world is the little infant flung. Nature never calls, “I am not ready, nor can I support this gift of a new life.” Nature has been getting ready for millenniums, since she awoke from the primeval chaos; and in her depths, and on her hills of pasturage, has been preparing for this very hour.
We are rising to the conviction that we are a part of nature, and so a part of God; that the whole creation—the One and the Many and All-One—is travailing together toward some great end; and that now, after ages of development, we have at length become conscious portions of the great scheme, and can co-operate in it with knowledge and with joy. We are no aliens in a stranger universe governed by an outside God; we are parts of a developing whole, all enfolded in an embracing and interpenetrating love, of which we too, each to other, sometimes experience the joy too deep for words.1 [Note: Sir Oliver Lodge.]
There are inhospitable regions, in which the oak cannot flourish, in which the hardy pine cannot live, and in which the mountain heather finds no place, but yet some variety of corn can be made to grow, if man can live there at all. If you were to ascend from the sea-level to the sides of the high mountains, or to proceed from the swamps of China to the prairies of America, or from the burning plains of India to the Arctic regions, you would find at the different levels, or in the different latitudes, entirely different kinds of plants, with one exception; the corn plant you would find everywhere. In the tropical regions you would find rice; in the bleak north, oats and rye; in parts of the western world not congenial to wheat, you would find maize, while similar parts of Europe produce barley. So carefully has God provided for the needs of man.
2. These bounties of God come to us at a great cost. Take a single grain of corn, and remember that it cost the Creator thousands of years of forethought and labour. We know how useless it is to sow wheat on hard clay or solid rock. Soil needs first to be made, so God sets in motion the forces of rain, frost, and rivers. He sets the great glaciers grinding over the granite, sandstone, and limestone. And that took thousands of years. If God had not laboured for ages, not even the tiniest grain of corn could have existed to-day. But, further, the God who made the soil sends thousands of rays of sunshine to ripen the corn. And for every ray that we see, there are ten invisible heat rays. Now before these rays can begin their work, they have a journey to make of more than ninety millions of miles. And God keeps these messengers continually flying through the sky. He spares no labour and counts no cost to provide royally for His children.
A Prepared Home
1. Home is the child’s whole world. Within the family circle lie his earth and heaven, and through the medium of its life and fortunes the larger provision accumulated out of doors is gradually interpreted and conveyed to him. To have first drawn breath, then, in a truly Christian home is to have been born to an inheritance which not all the world’s wealth could buy. To have been received into this world by one whose first feeling was that of trembling thankfulness to God, mingled with fear lest she should be unworthy of the trust of bringing up a child for Him; to have grown up within walls where He from whom every fatherhood in heaven and earth is named, was ever acknowledged supreme and reverently loved and served; to have been led to His footstool early, and to have had His word printed on the mind; to have been taught to rest on the day of rest, and to “love the habitation of God’s house”; to have been trained in early impressionable years, for the most part unconsciously, under the influence of those around, as well as of the men and women that come about a good man’s fireside and the books that lie on a good man’s table,—in all this what splendid provision for all who are fortunate enough to fall heirs to it. Truly God “prevented us with blessings of goodness.” Our lot was stored with them beforehand. We were cradled in spiritual profusion which a Loving Care had been long preparing, as a mother’s choicest appointments will be ready for her babe long before it is put into her hands.
Sometimes there comes a visitor to see us of whose coming we had no anticipation. He has been long abroad, and for years we have not seen him, until one day he is standing at our door. But it is not thus that into Christian homes there come the joy and mystery of childhood. The child is born in a prepared place, and love has been very busy with its welcome. And prayers go heavenward with a new intensity, and some now pray who never prayed before; and fountains of tenderness are opened up, and feelings that were scarce suspected once; and God is nearer and His hand is more wonderful, and all the future has a different music, and that is why home is as a type of heaven; it is a prepared place for a prepared people. Thou goest before us with the blessings of goodness.1 [Note: G. H. Morrison, The Return of the Angels, 146.]
O’er a new joy this day we bend,
Soft power from heaven our souls to lift;
A wondering wonder Thou dost lend
With loan outpassing gift—
A little child. She sees the sun—
Once more incarnates thy old law:
One born of two, two born in one,
Shall into one three draw.
But is there no day creeping on
Which I should tremble to renew?
I thank Thee, Lord, for what is gone—
Thine is the future too!
And are we not at home in Thee,
And all this world a visioned show,
That, knowing what Abroad is, we
What Home is too may know?2 [Note: George MacDonald, Organ Songs.]
Mr. Moody could never speak of those early days of want and adversity without the most tender references to that brave mother whose self-sacrifice and devotion had sacredly guarded the home entrusted to her care. When, at the age of ninety, her life-voyage ended, she entered the Haven of Rest, her children, her children’s children, and an entire community rose up to call her blessed. And well she deserved the praise they gave her, for she had wisely and discreetly discharged the duties God had placed upon her, and, entering the presence of her Master, could render a faithful account of the stewardship of motherhood. To rule a household of seven sturdy boys and two girls, the eldest twelve years old, required no ordinary tact and sound judgment, but so discreet was this loyal mother that to the very end she made “home” the most loved place on earth to her family, and so trained her children as to make them a blessing to society.
“For nearly fifty years I have been coming back to Northfield,” said Mr. Moody, long after that little circle had been broken up, “and I have always been glad to get back. When I get within fifty miles of home I grow restless and walk up and down the car. It seems as if the train will never get to Northfield. When I come back after dark I always look to see the light in mother’s window.”1 [Note: W. R. Moody, Life of Dwight L. Moody, 26.]
The purest-minded of all pagans and all Emperors devotes the whole of the first book of his Meditations to a grateful consideration of all that he owed to others in his youth. Such humble gratitude is the mark of a great soul. He goes over the list of all who helped him by counsel or example. “The example of my grandfather, Verus, gave me a good disposition, not prone to anger. By the recollection of my father’s character, I learned to be both modest and manly. My mother taught me to have regard for religion, to be generous and open-handed. The philosopher Sextus recommended good-humour to me. Alexander the Grammarian taught me not to be finically critical about words. I learned from Catulus not to slight a friend for making a remonstrance.” And so on through a long list of benefits which his sweet humble mind acknowledged, finishing up with: “I have to thank the gods that my grandfathers, parents, sister, preceptors, relations, friends, and domestics were almost all of them persons of probity.”2 [Note: H. Black, Christ’s Service of Love, 213.]
2. We are ushered also into a society that was prepared. A child’s education is a great deal more than a matter of lesson books and a few years’ schooling. The use he is able to make of books and schooling depends on the nature he brings to them and on the surroundings among which he is born; and these again depend largely on what manner of persons those were who went before him. Education is the development of manhood, and this is determined always, on the one hand, by the stock the man springs from, and, on the other, by the intellectual and moral atmosphere he grows up in. So that in literal truth it may be said about each of us that Providence began our education not one but many hundreds of years since. All down the generations the lot we should in due time stand in has been growing more goodly and favourable, until at this particular stage in the history of the race and in our own greatly privileged land, what amelioration of manners, what elevation of morals, what enrichment of social relationships, what increase of knowledge, in a word, what multiplied spiritual wealth, opportunity, and stimulus, do we not inherit! We are the heirs of the ages, and are born rich indeed. We reap where we had not strawed. Why, the very language in which we speak to one another—the medium of communion between man and man—is a legacy of the past to us, and in our earliest broken syllables we unconsciously acknowledge our indebtedness to it.
The holy Andrewes before he comes to give thanks for salvation begins with what is more fundamental still. “I thank Thee,” he writes, “that I was born a living soul, and not senseless matter; a man and not a brute; civilized not savage; free not a slave; liberally educated, and endowed with gifts of nature and worldly good.”1 [Note: A. Martin, Winning the Soul, 204.]
3. It cannot be that God is absent from the most untoward environment. There are children born into the world for whom you would say little preparation had been made by any one. Nobody seems to want them here. It is scanty care they receive from any one. They are left to grow as they may; and live, one hardly knows how; and are reared with squalor before their eyes, and coarseness in their ears, and evil everywhere. Is God beforehand with them with the blessings of goodness? Surely He is; for, after all, the world is His, nor can man’s uttermost labour in evil altogether obliterate or quench His everywhere present and active loving-kindness. One thing is certain; that He has the strangest ways of blending His mercy even with the most untoward environment.
I have seen little children exposed to early influences which you would have thought must inevitably have proved fatal to any seeds of goodness they brought with them into the world; and these things—drunkenness, vileness, murderous brutality, and all the unspeakable horrors that make up the daily round in a drunkard’s home—were only blessed to them. There is no limit to the power of Him who overrules all things, and whose face the angels of little children do always behold, out of evil to bring good. “In him the fatherless find mercy.” Let us admit that He deals with many—or allows them to be dealt with by circumstances—very strangely, very sorely. Nevertheless, these circumstances too are under His Hand. Who shall say that they are ever sufficient to blind any soul born into God’s world outright to its inheritance or quite to put it beyond His reach?2 [Note: lbid. 202.]
In his ballad “The Three Graves” Coleridge puts this story into the mouth of an old sexton. A young farmer, paying his addresses to the daughter of a widow, finds that the widow herself desires to marry him. When he asks in due time that the day of the marriage may be fixed, the mother maliciously depreciates the character of her daughter, and confesses her own passion. Finding herself thrust aside, she kneels down and solemnly prays for a curse upon her daughter and the lover she had accepted. A cloud hangs over the wedding, and bride and bridegroom find themselves strangely chilled and depressed. On Ash-Wednesday the widow goes to church, and takes her place by the side of her daughter’s friend, who has helped forward the marriage, and curses her together with the others. Under the haunting influence of that curse the three people fade away, and, within a few short months, fill graves side by side in the country churchyard. The essence of the ballad story is expressed in the lines:
Beneath the foulest mother’s curse
No child could ever thrive.
That conception fits a pagan condition of society in which, for both temporal and spiritual things, the power of the parent is absolute. But it makes into an almighty fiat the cry of the blood of Abel, and is untrue to the spirit of the gospel. None can curse child or neighbour into hopeless distress in either this or the coming life. He who opens and shuts the gates of blessedness has not surrendered the key into unworthy hands.1 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Divine Craftsman, 90.]
A Prepared Inheritance
1. What have we that we have not received? Behind us lie the labours and sufferings and sacrifices of the noblest, and we have entered into their labours. We have a rich inheritance, which can be described only as the blessings of goodness. The tree of our life has its roots deep in the soil and the subsoil of history. We are not only the heirs of all the ages, but the heirs of God’s grace through all the ages. God’s providence is only another name for God’s grace, and His providence did not begin to us merely at the hour of birth. Every prophet, and every man of faith, has felt in some degree at some time of intense insight that he has been under a foreordaining, a loving purpose before birth, before history, from the very foundation of the world. God’s grace began with him long before he was born, and prepared his place for him, and went before him with the blessings of goodness. Time would fail for any of us to tell all that we owe to the past, all the debt in which we stand to preceding generations, not only for temporal mercies, but even for the very intellectual and spiritual atmosphere into which we have been born, and in which we have been reared. We have a spiritual climate, as well as a geographical; and in it we have had our place prepared for us. The blessings of God’s goodness have gone before us, and can in many lines be clearly seen by every enlightened mind and conscience and heart. The liberty we enjoy politically and religiously has been bought and paid for by others. The knowledge which we hold so cheap was dearly acquired by the race. Every advance in social organization which is to us now as our birthright was attained at great cost.
As a man deepens so his longings deepen, till they reach to the Infinite and the Eternal. And the strange thing is, that as these cravings alter, and rise from the transient to the enduring, so God is ever there before us, with His prepared answer to our quest. We crave for light, and the sun and moon are there, and they have been shining for unnumbered ages. We crave for love, and love is not of yesterday. It is as ancient as the heart-beat of humanity. We come to crave for pardon and for peace and for unbroken fellowship with God; and all that, in Jesus Christ our Lord, has been made ready for us long ago.
2. God’s prevenient goodness is very conspicuous in the privileges of the Gospel. Our spiritual needs are all anticipated by an ample provision. And that is signified by our baptism. God’s goodness came to a point there, so to speak, and was set forth with gracious impressiveness. For baptism is the seal of our lineage and signifies that we come of the elect stock. It is the Christian circumcision, and denotes that we belong to the community of the faithful, whose life is sustained by the living Lord, and have our right and portion among them in all the goodness He has introduced into human life.
To me one of the surest proofs that the Bible is indeed the Word of God is the way in which it goes before us through all the changing experience of life. Other books we leave behind. They were before us once; they are behind us now. We have outgrown them. We have reached an hour when they were powerless to cheer and guide. But always as we battle through the years, and break through the thicket into another glade, a little ahead of us, with eyes of love, we descry the figure of the Word of God. It is before us in the day of triumph. It is before us in the hour of fall. In every new temptation it is there; in every joy, in every bitterness. We move into the shadow and the heartbreak, or into the sunshine with the play of waters, and yet the Bible understands it all, and is there to meet us when we come. We are not above it when we scale the heavens, nor beneath it when we make our bed in hell. It is always a little higher than our highest. It is always a little deeper than our deepest. And that to me is an argument unanswerable that God is in Scripture as in no other book. It is not so much that I find Him there. It is rather that there He finds me.1 [Note: G. H. Morrison, The Return of the Angels, 150.]
Geologists find the presence of tropical species in latitudes now subjected to the rigours of a cold climate, and arctic forms in regions at present belonging to the temperate zone. In endeavouring to explain these anomalies of climate, scientists in past days went in search of vast cosmic changes, such as an alteration in the position of the terrestrial axis, a diminution in the amount of solar heat, or a gradual cooling of the earth’s crust; but modern scientists are satisfied to explain these climatic conditions as the result of a familiar agency close at hand, of which we have daily experience. A genial current of water or air deflected toward our coast is, in their opinion, sufficiently powerful to create the difference of temperature which rescues us from the rigours of Lapland and fills our island with summer’s pageantry and autumn’s pride. So to give the nations of the earth a sweet summer for the long dark winter of their discontent God makes the stream of His grace to flow through our sanctuaries, schools, and homes, silently blessing and enriching human life.2 [Note: W. L. Watkinson, The Fatal Barter, 37.]
A God who is always Beforehand
1. God is before at every stage of this life. Whatever good we have gained to ourselves, there is a better still before us. The best is always in store. We go from strength to strength. And if we have an eye for the working of His Hand at all, we need never fail to find the traces of God’s power marking out before-hand the path in which we go.
(1) God is before us to enrich and to purify our joys.—Indeed those joys are of God’s own making. They arrive we know not whence or how. They come as a surprise. We had not looked for them, or learned perhaps to desire them. And then they befell us, and woke our nature into music, and made all life new. Is it not so for the most part that our great joys have come to us? the choice gifts of Providence? the signal blessings of grace? And what does this mean but just that the Divine loving-kindness had prepared for us such mercy, and then at the fitting moment laid it bare? He who has planned our path is in ambush for us, and oftenest it is at some unexpected turn of the way that His goodness stands disclosed. We stumble upon His bounty ere we know, and find to our surprise how long it had been stored for us. Does not the greatest of all gifts, the Gift Unspeakable, at times arrive upon us in this way, hiding Himself in some unlooked-for experience, then striding into our life suddenly? And of other gifts also, the arrival is, as a rule, as unexpected, and betokens a preparation we had not thought of. Our path has been sown with goodness beforehand, and we reap the harvest of it as we go.
I am filled with shame and confusion when I reflect, on one hand, upon the great favours which God has bestowed and is still unceasingly bestowing upon me; and, on the other, upon the ill use I have made of them, and my small advancement in the way of perfection. Since, by His mercy, He gives us still a little time, let us begin in earnest, let us redeem the time that is lost, let us return with a whole-hearted trust to this Father of Mercies, who is always ready to receive us into His loving arms. Let us renounce, and renounce generously, with single heart, for the love of Him, all that is not His; He deserves infinitely more. Let us think of Him unceasingly; in Him let us put all our confidence. I doubt not but that we shall soon experience the effects of it in receiving the abundance of His grace, with which we can do all things, and without which we can do nought but sin.1 [Note: Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 48.]
Dr. John Brown (“Rab”) had a favourite expression, which he was constantly using—“Unexpectedness.” There is much of that in life. It plays a large part in our training. Kindness comes from unexpected quarters. So does unkindness. “It was thou, a man mine equal, my guide and mine acquaintance.” It is, as we say, the unexpected that happens. The seemingly impossible comes to pass. Often what we plan fails, and what we expect deceives, while what we neither plan nor expect occurs. The forces that work for us and against us do more than we anticipate. If some men disappoint us painfully, others do so agreeably. The timid Nicodemus was one of the foremost at Jesus’ tomb. There are flowers in the desert. The beauty of holiness blooms in unexpected places. What we lean upon breaks, what seems broken stands. Ananias was a failure, Saul became Paul. How often our fears are disappointed, our hopes surpassed, our difficulties removed. The whole of life is a succession of surprises breaking its monotony. It is like a winding road, where every turn discloses something new that beguiles and draws us on. There are many of what Faber sings of—“novelties of love.” You think, sometimes, that everything has been exhausted, and then God surprises you with a fresh gladness.2 [Note: A. Philip, The Father’s Hand, 161.]
A critic of the oratorio “Elijah” has pointed out how, after apparently exhausting every combination of sound, Mendelssohn has given one more proof of his resource, by the weird effect of a single, long-sustained note. But what is a marvel in this consummate artist is only a suggestion of the fertility of God in every life. Amiel has been described as the master of the unexpected. It is God who is its true Master. It is He who is the true Giver of surprises. No two days are alike. Our life is like a series of dissolving views. Its fashion is ever changing. God, in providence, appeals to the strange and the varied. What every child of God feels about His kindnesses is that they are new every morning, and is it not quite as true that they are fresh every evening? Is there a day that we are not constrained to say, “Thou surprisest me with the blessings of goodness”?3 [Note: Ibid. 162.]
As I look back, and recall what is past—struggles which I have not chronicled here; doubts and inward conflicts which may not be written; hours of fierce anguish of spirit; moments in hell too awful and too sacred to be recorded; joys which, though brief, are yet joys for ever; tearful times of sowing which have yielded happy harvests; kindly teachings, both tender and severe, which experience has brought—I see life as education, wonderful and changeful, but full of a Divine purpose; replete with interest, and slowly revealing that Love is its origin and Love its end. Oh, brother man, to whom life seems dark and its purpose undecipherable, hold fast to the Loving Spirit! It will guide you into the heart of things. It will so fashion you after its own likeness that, when you awake to life’s true significance, you will be satisfied.1 [Note: Bishop Boyd Carpenter, Some Pages of My Life, 332.]
(2) God is in front to assuage our sorrow.—There are trials and sorrows which come to all in course of nature, and in regard to which, unless men and women are very rebellious, it is possible perhaps to see no little mercy and goodness assuaging their bitterness all through. But those which come athwart the course of nature, as it were; which no one could have foreseen, and nothing appears to justify; which only darken the world to men, and confound their judgment, and tempt their unbelief—what are we to say of these sorrows? They are, alas! not uncommon, and growing experience of life furnishes always fresh evidence of the forms they may take. Where men and women lie prostrate under them—their hearth perhaps left bare, the light of youthful promise perhaps quenched, perhaps worse sorrows still befalling them—what are you to expect them to feel and say in circumstances like these? Even if they believe, is it to be thought of that they are to look up to God and say, “These things too are good. Thou comest to meet me in them with the blessings of goodness”? Yet I have known one whose worldly all was, in a quite unlooked-for hour, swept away from her, and who, after a single moment’s pause, said: “The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away! Blessed be the name of the Lord!” I have known another whose home was suddenly left desolate, and the cherished hopes of years, and the early blossom of their fulfilment strewed in ruins, and all he said was, “I needed this.” And just the other day I heard of one struck down at the outset of a most promising career and rendered helpless for the remainder of his days, yet who was able, almost at once, to accept his Father’s will and to be content with it. Had not such humble trusting sufferers found the “blessings of goodness” in those dark providences that suddenly darkened round them and seemed to others to wreck their lives?1 [Note: A. Martin, Winning the Soul, 209.]
Do we complain of the sorrows of life, classing them among the insoluble problems of existence? We owe much of life’s purest and happiest experiences to these sorrows. They can reveal unexpected good qualities; they can draw human lives into sympathy with one another; they can bridge over chasms which seemed to decree separation between soul and soul; they can soften, refine, and elevate. Certainly, if I may speak from my own experience, hours of sorrow serve to show what an unsuspected wealth of kindness there is in the world. Here is a box, full of letters! No, I am not going to open it, or drag forth the letters to view. Let them lie where they are, in sacred seclusion; but they are witnesses to the width and depth of human sympathy. They are letters, written to me, by people of all classes, in one supreme, sorrowful hour of my life. Indeed, as I go about my room, and turn from one treasury of old letters to another, I realize that the sweetest and best of them are the offspring of sorrow in some form or another. Dear letters—some written by hands now cold—you still carry your message to my heart! You are the constant witnesses that our capacities of heart could hardly have found scope to work, or space to grow, had not sorrow opened the door of opportunity.2 [Note: Bishop Boyd Carpenter, Some Pages of My Life, 331.]
(3) God is in front to strengthen us in temptation.—Temptation is the constant element in our lives that every now and then gathers itself up into some “sore hour” which tries and shakes our fidelity to the roots. The temptation to unbelief, the temptation to self-indulgence, the temptation to be untrue to some heavy charge of which we would fain be quit—temptations such as these, and others like them, are no doubt dangerous, since we may give way in our weakness and fall ignobly. But with the temptation there is always a strength available for the bearing of it, of which, if we seize and are not overborne by it, nothing but good is the issue. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation. It strengthens the thews of the spirit. It toughens faith. It teaches to pray. Temptation, if met and dealt with fairly, brings blessing into our life,—and nothing else.
I would especially recommend you, as far as possible, to keep your mind fixed on our Blessed Lord’s love, sympathy, and presence with you—not on the temptation. Put the temptation altogether aside. Don’t think of it. Don’t pray about it. Don’t entangle yourself with it. But keep close to God, and feel sure that “He who is in us is greater than he that is in the world,” and ask of our Blessed Lord that He would encompass you with His blessed angels, and so drive far away the evil spirit. Nothing is impossible with Him. Make proof of His power and love, and resolve, though you have failed before, now henceforth to fail no more. Let it encourage you to feel that every temptation overcome makes you stronger than you were before.1 [Note: J. P. F. Davidson, Letters of Spiritual Counsel, 65.]
It was my Time. The old hour struck,
The ancient self without my leave—
The old impatience came to pluck,
How briskly at my sleeve!
And one stood crying within my heart—
(It was not I)—“The strait is sore.
Thy strength is small. So yield. Thy part
Requires of thee no more.”
Then to the god we do not know,
Whose perfect name lies not within
Our speech, all speechless in her woe
My spirit fled, crying—“This is sin.
Against his coming many times
Thou gavest a secret, golden power.”
Then sudden as the lark that climbs,
I sang, and in that dolorous hour
I stood with an immortal strength,
Looked out upon the dangerous way,
And singing trod its bitter length,
Scatheless, as even a mortal may.2 [Note: Mildred McNeal-Sweeney, Men of No Land, 56.]
(4) God is beforehand to soften trouble.—With our cares, anxieties, daily duty—whatever is commonest, whatever is most exceptional—God is before us to make them bearable, and profitable. All our experiences whatsoever bring good to us, if we will have it. Life is a constant discovery of light and help and blessing of every kind, which are waiting us beforehand. It is not by chance that these things come there. They have all the marks of a provision made by One who knows what things we have need of. Let us be sure of it and fear nothing. Faith should recognize a friend even when sense fears a foe. And of everything that comes to meet us our hearts should be greatly able to say: “This also cometh forth from the Lord, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.”
As Washington Irving was passing a print window in Broadway, New York, one day, his eye rested on the beautiful engraving of Christus Consolator. He stopped and looked at it intently for some minutes, evidently much affected by the genuine inspiration of the artist in this remarkable representation of the Saviour as the consoler of sorrow-stricken humanity. His tears fell freely. “Pray get me that print,” said he; “I must have it framed for my sitting-room.” When he examined it more closely and found the artist’s name, “It’s by my old friend Ary Scheffer!” said he, remarking, further, that he had known Scheffer intimately, and knew him to be a true artist, but had not expected from him anything so excellent as this. I afterwards sent him the companion, Christus Remunerator; and the pair remained his daily companions till the day of his death. To me, the picture of Irving, amid the noise and bustle of noon in Broadway, shedding tears as he studied that little print, so feelingly picturing human sorrow and the Source of its alleviation, has always remained associated with the artist and his works. If Irving could enjoy wit and humour, and give that enjoyment to others, no other writer of books had a heart more tenderly sensitive than his to the sufferings and ills to which flesh is heir.1 [Note: George Palmer Putnam, 268.]
2. God may be trusted to prepare our everlasting portion. “I go to prepare a place for you,” said Christ. Whatever hell be, it is not man’s environment. It was prepared for the devil and his angels. Whatever heaven be, it is man’s native place, prepared for him from the foundation of the world. And then within that kingdom, all made ready, there is to be the individual touch—“I go to prepare a place for you.” Of what kind that preparation is, eye hath not seen and ear hath never heard. All we know is that we shall be at home, and shall be welcomed by familiar hands. And if here the preparation is so wonderful that waits for the little child when it is born, how much more wonderful shall it all be when dying we are born into the glory. If love has been busy making ready here, shall love not also be making ready there? It is all our Father’s house of many rooms, and we but pass from one into the other.
Robertson took an active part in the work of the revival movement of 1859, sometimes holding services in the open air, in the neighbouring mining village of Dreghorn, and in the opposite direction, near the Eglinton furnaces. Mr. Andrew James Symington describes one of these outdoor services. “When we arrived at the manse,” he says, “we found that Robertson had gone to address a meeting of miners in the open air at their works, about a mile off. We followed, and got among the crowd of listeners. The sermon was a remarkable one, as simple in its telling illustrations as it was powerful in the enforcement of truth. Rarely have I heard such an earnest flow of impassioned eloquence—one could have heard a pin fall—and the begrimed audience, spellbound, hung on his every word. The theme was ‘mansions prepared,’ and the subject was approached and opened up by an allusion to the coming November ‘term’ time—to those who were going to ‘flit’—and he asked them if they had yet looked out other houses to which they would go. Then, as to our abode on earth, he said, we were all tenants-at-will. But our heavenly Father had prepared, not cabins or houses, but mansions for us. These were freely offered, and why should we anxiously look before us to the habitations of a few short years, and yet think so little of the heavenly mansions, prepared from before the foundation of the world for all who love Him, for Christ’s sake, by Him who made these glorious stars, twinkling overhead in the blue? Then he pressed home the gospel offer, and, as an ambassador for heaven, invited all to come and receive their inheritance.”1 [Note: A. Guthrie, Robertson of Irvine, 156.]
Can the bonds that make us here
Know ourselves immortal,
Drop away, like foliage sear,
At life’s inner portal?
What is holiest below
Must for ever live and grow.
I shall love the angels well,
After I have found them
In the mansions where they dwell,
With the glory round them:
But at first, without surprise,
Let me look in human eyes.
Step by step our feet must go
Up the holy mountain;
Drop by drop within us flow
Life’s unfailing fountain.
Angels sing with crowns that burn:
We shall have our song to learn.
He who on our earthly path
Bids us help each other—
Who His Well-beloved hath
Made our Elder Brother—
Will but clasp the chain of love
Closer, when we meet above.
Therefore dread I not to go
O’er the Silent River.
Death, thy hastening oar I know;
Bear me, Thou Life-giver,
Through the waters, to the shore,
Where mine own have gone before!1 [Note: Lucy Larcom.]
As you ascend the Stelvio Pass from the Italian side, you travel through wild, majestic scenery. One moment you are lost in admiration of the engineering skill that carried the zigzag road along the mountain-side; another, lingering by a waterfall, or caught by the vista of some retreating valley, the ruin of an avalanche, or the dazzling sheen of the encircling snow. But the road is nothing to the top of the pass; it hides the secret that awaits you. It is impossible to forget the thrill of emotion when we touched the summit of the pass, and the glorious secret stood disclosed. It had taken hours to ascend, and then, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, a marvellous panorama of mountain and glacier burst on the eye, and Austria lay in the abyss at our feet.
This present life is like crossing the Stelvio. We are going towards the glorious secret, but meantime the way hides it. The more we think of the land within the veil, the more we must look forward to the top of the pass, when we shall see the secret for ourselves. It is ready, as Peter writes, to be revealed. When we behold it, shall we not adore the loving-kindness of Him who hid that He might reveal, in whose light it is ours now to see light clearly?1 [Note: A. Philip, The Father’s Hand, 91.]
A famous city in the East has triple walls. Within the huge, strong gates of the first wall the trading and mercantile populations dwell; within the gates of the second wall the space is reserved for tribesmen who are akin to the reigning house; and within the gates of the innermost wall nestle palace and park and imperial pleasure-grounds. The first gate to which Christ holds the key looks forth into infinite vistas. The gospel opportunity gives access into a new standing-ground of privilege, and through the new standing-ground passes a highway into the favoured and sacred sphere, where dwell members of a royal and priestly race, and through this sphere approach is at last made to the blessed and glorious realms beyond the angel-guarded gates.2 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Divine Craftsman, 80.]
Black (H.), Christ’s Service of Love, 209.
Martin (A.), Winning the Soul, 199.
Morrison (G. H.), Flood-Tide, 252.
Morrison (G. H.), The Return of the Angels, 143.
Philip (A.), The Father’s Hand, 157.