I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of His wrath.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.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
My flesh and my skin hath He made old1. 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) (2) (J. Udall.)
(2) (J. Udall.)
He hath hedged me about that I cannot get out
Homilist.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.)
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) (2) (J. Udall.)
(2) (J. Udall.)
I was a derision to all my people.1. The godly are usually more subject to reproaches than any other people.
(1) (2) 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) (2) 6. The wicked are never satisfied, but still continue their hatred against the godly. (1) (2) (J. Udall.)
(2) 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) (2) 6. The wicked are never satisfied, but still continue their hatred against the godly. (1) (2) (J. Udall.)
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) (2) 6. The wicked are never satisfied, but still continue their hatred against the godly. (1) (2) (J. Udall.)
6. The wicked are never satisfied, but still continue their hatred against the godly. (2) (J. Udall.)
6. The wicked are never satisfied, but still continue their hatred against the godly.
(2) (J. Udall.)
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) (2) (3) (4) (J. Udall.)
(2) (3) (4) (J. Udall.)
(3) (4) (J. Udall.)
Remembering mine affliction and my misery1. 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) (2) (J. Udall.)
(2) (J. Udall.)
My soul hath them still in remembrance1. There is no meditation that is available to further in godliness, but that which is earnest and effectual.
(1) (2) 2. The heart must be thoroughly touched before we can profit by any action of religion that we take in hand. (1) (2) 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) (2) (J. Udall.)
(2) 2. The heart must be thoroughly touched before we can profit by any action of religion that we take in hand. (1) (2) 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) (2) (J. Udall.)
2. The heart must be thoroughly touched before we can profit by any action of religion that we take in hand.
(1) (2) 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) (2) (J. Udall.)
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope1. It is a special stay to the troubled heart, to consider how it hath striven to be at peace.
(1) (2) (3) (4) 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) (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) (2) 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) (2) 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) (2) (3) (J. Udall.)
(2) (3) (4) 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) (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) (2) 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) (2) 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) (2) (3) (J. Udall.)
(3) (4) 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) (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) (2) 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) (2) 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) (2) (3) (J. Udall.)
(3) (J. Udall.)
(3) (J. Udall.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
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.)
(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.)
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.)
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.)
(Mark Guy Pearse.)
His compassions fail not.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.
(Amos R. Wells.)
Christian Age.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.
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.)
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.)
(T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
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) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) 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) (2) 2. Consider it under its engaging title, the salvation of the Lord. (1) (2) (3) 3. What is implied in hoping, and patiently waiting for it? (1) (2) (3) (4) 4. In what respects may it be said to be good, thus to hope and quietly wait for the salvation of God? (1) (2) (3) 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. (D. Wilcox.)
(2) (3) (4) (5) (6) 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) (2) 2. Consider it under its engaging title, the salvation of the Lord. (1) (2) (3) 3. What is implied in hoping, and patiently waiting for it? (1) (2) (3) (4) 4. In what respects may it be said to be good, thus to hope and quietly wait for the salvation of God? (1) (2) (3) 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. (D. Wilcox.)
(3) (4) (5) (6) 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) (2) 2. Consider it under its engaging title, the salvation of the Lord. (1) (2) (3) 3. What is implied in hoping, and patiently waiting for it? (1) (2) (3) (4) 4. In what respects may it be said to be good, thus to hope and quietly wait for the salvation of God? (1) (2) (3) 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. (D. Wilcox.)
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. 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. 1. What is included in the salvation waited for? 2. Consider it under its engaging title, the salvation of the Lord. 3. What is implied in hoping, and patiently waiting for it? 4. If you have chosen God for your portion, living and dying, hope in Him as such. (D. Wilcox.)
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.
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.
1. What is included in the salvation waited for?
2. Consider it under its engaging title, the salvation of the Lord.
3. What is implied in hoping, and patiently waiting for it?
4. If you have chosen God for your portion, living and dying, hope in Him as such.
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.)
Homilist.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) (2) 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. (Homilist.)
(2) 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. (Homilist.)
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) (2) (3) 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.)
(2) (3) 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.)
(3) 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.)
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.
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.)
( T. Manton.)
(T. L. Cuyler.)
Therefore will I hope in Him
(John Laidlaw, D. D.)
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.
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.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
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.
(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.)
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.)
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
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.
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.)
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.)
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.)
(M. Dods, D. D.)
Homiletic Magazine.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.)
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.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
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.)
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.)
(J. Thain Davidson.)
(J. Thain Davidson.)
(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.
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.
Expository Outlines.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.
Homilist.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 willinglyI. 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.)
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.)
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."
To turn aside the right of a man.
Homilist.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.)
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.)
I. II. III. IV. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
II. III. IV. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
III. IV. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
(J. Stalker, D. D.)
(J. Stalker, D. D.)
Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Out of the mouth of the Most High proceedeth not evil and good?
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
(John Holden, M. A.)
Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his Sins
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.)
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.)
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.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
(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.)
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.
Turn again to the LordI. 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.)
(J. C. Ryle.)
Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.
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.
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?
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.)
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.
(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.)
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.
(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 dungeon1. 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) (2) (J. Udall.)
(2) (J. Udall.)
Waters flowed over mine head1. 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.
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.
2. God hath drawn nearer to us than we have as yet hinted at, in becoming tenderly near in nature. If I were in trouble in a foreign land, it would be pleasant to hear the voice of an Englishman; it would be even more encouraging to spy out a neighbour, a fellow citizen of the same town; but most of all would it be cheering to perceive that a dear friend, a brother, a husband was to the front on our behalf. Such a near and dear friend is Jesus to each one of those the Father hath given Him. His nature is love itself. He will, He must, come to you that are in sorrow, and sorrow with you, and thus cheer your hearts; for not in vain does He wear your nature, not in vain in that nature has He suffered and died for you.
3. Nor is this all. The Lord Jesus was specially near to His people in the days of His life on earth. Jesus was the most manlike of all men. He draws us to Himself, and the nearer we come the more fully we appreciate Him. If Jesus came thus near to men in His life on earth, do you wonder that He draws near to them now?
4. Carefully notice that this was a nearness to sinful men. You and I are sinners too, and our Redeemer's nearness to the sinners of Judea meant nearness to us.
5. Jesus Christ came still nearer to us in His death. "For the transgression of my people was He stricken." "He bare the sin of many"; He was made "sin for us, who know no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." This is coming wonderfully near to us.
6. He is now in heaven; turn your thoughts up to Him there. In heaven He is still perpetually near us. He has carried our nature into heaven. He is member of heaven's high Parliament for the sons of men, and He holds His seat as such. He is head over all things to His church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. What is He doing in heaven? He is not only representing us, but He is preparing a place for us: making a niche in heaven for you, a place in heaven for me; and all the while He is continually offering intercession for His people.
7. Jesus may well come near to His people, for there is a mystical union which ensures it. A Divine doctrine this, of which Paul saith, "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church," and this in relation to the marriage union. He went down to the depths with us, that He might bring us up into the heights with Himself, that there His enthroned bride should be forever with Him, a queen more glorious than eternity had ever seen.
II. THE WONDER ITSELF.
1. By no means is this wonder at all contrary to expectation, when expectation is founded upon an enlightened understanding. It is natural, it is necessary, that Christ should come near to a people whom He loves so well.
2. But, if you have ever enjoyed this communion, let me help you to describe it, that you may wonder at it. What is the manner in which God draws near to His people in their time of trouble? At times He draws near to us by a secret strengthening of us to bear up when we are under pressure. We may have no marked joys, nor special transports; but quiet, calm, subdued joy rules the spirit. Furthermore, the good Lord often vouchsafes to His people in their time of great pain and weakness and weariness a doubly vivid sense of His love. At such times the Lord grants us a sensible assurance of His sympathy with us. We feel that every stroke of the rod comes distinctly from a Father's hand, who doth not afflict willingly. The Lord draws near to His people's souls sometimes by a very speedy and remarkable deliverance out of the trouble under which they groan. Did He not bring up Joseph out of the prison house and set him on the throne of Pharaoh? He can do the like with you if He wills, ere your sun has gone down.
3. There seems to be some surprise concerning the memorable graciousness of God. "Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon Thee." Then, I suppose, there were other days in which he had not called upon God, or at least had not done so so memorably; but in the first day when I called upon Thee thou drewest near to me. Does not that give us a hint, as if he said, "I had neglected my God, I had failed to apply to Him; my faith had been asleep, but as soon as ever I awoke the Lord drew near to me."
4. There seems to me also to be a Nota bene here, a kind of hand in the margin to point out the promptness of God. "Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon Thee," — the very day he called God came; no sooner the prayer than the answer. Oh, the blessed quickness of God.
5. Observe the extreme tenderness of all this. You remember that text, "He giveth liberally, and upbraideth not." Here is an illustration of it. He comes to His poor, suffering, downcast people, and what He says to them is not — "You should not have done so-and-so; this is very wrong of you; I must terribly correct you." No; but He says, "Fear not, I have forgiven thee; and I will deliver thee."
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. THE CONDESCENDING VISITATION OF GOD'S PRESENCE AND GRACE.
1. It supposes all obstacles to His approach removed.
2. It asserts an actual intercourse with God.
3. It asserts that the tokens of His love were enjoyed; and nearness and familiarity of friendly communication. It implies also the influences and consolations of the Holy Spirit: for it is by His Spirit that God is pleased to maintain converse with His people.
II. THE SEASON WHEN THIS APPROACH TO THE MIND WAS ENJOYED. "In the day that I called upon Thee." Observe that this was a day of trouble.
1. This dungeon may be considered as a representation of temporal adversity, or spiritual distress; to both of which the children of God are subject.
2. A day of trouble ought to be a day of prayer. "Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray."
3. God never treats with indifferences the prayers of His children.
4. When God, in answer to the prayers of His people, is pleased to draw near to them, it must have a most reviving influence on the mind.
III. THE ANIMATING EFFECTS OF SUCH VISITATIONS FROM GOD ON THE MIND.
1. The best and most eminent believers may be the subjects of fear. In the animal world, the lion is distinguished by his courage, the hare by its timidity. And thus in human minds there is a vast diversity: some are bold and unacquainted with the passion of fear; others are the contrary, and tremble like an aspen leaf, and are liable to fear even where no fear is.
2. But there in everything is a consciousness of God's presence with us to disarm these terrors. "Thou saidst, Fear not." God says this by His word and spirit, and by His providence, and by the exhortations of Christian friends. And if He be with you, what have you to fear? In concluding this subject, first, admire the condescension and grace of the Divine Being, that He is pleased thus to notice the circumstances in which we are placed, and to afford relief under every painful dispensation.
3. We should be led to inquire whether we know anything of the approach of God to the mind.
4. I infer the misery of those who are far from God, and strangers to spiritual intercourse. "Behold all that are far from Him perish."
1. When the godly do rightly pray unto the Lord, they have most notable experience of His favour towards them.(1) Reasons.(a) God performeth His promise unto them (Psalm 50:15; Matthew 11:28).(b) Their affections are carried into heaven, where is the fulness of joy, from earthly things that are full of vexations.(2) Uses(a) To teach us that we, therefore, are not heard when we pray, because we call not aright.(b) To teach us to labour with ourselves, that we may increase in fervent and frequent prayer.(c) To reprove them that either account fervent prayer needless, or are negligent in it.
2. The Lord doth give most notable encouragements and comforts unto those that rightly worship Him.(1) Reasons.(a) He doth thereby manifest His love unto His servants.(b) He will daunt the enemies by their wonderful patience, constancy, comfort, and courage.(c) Others may be allured by their example to trust in Him.(2) Uses.(a) To reprove them that account the patience of the godly, sottishness; their courage, desperateness; their constancy, obstinacy.(b) To teach us that in walking uprightly, and calling upon God for His assistance, we shall be assured that He will be with us, howsoever He seem for a time to neglect us.
O Lord, Thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; Thou hast redeemed my life.1. The prophet speaks experimentally as of a matter which he had proved for himself in his own case. There is no true understanding of the truths of God except by a personal experience of them.
2. Observe how positively he speaks. "Thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul." Let us, by the aid of the gracious Comforter, shake off those doubts and fears which so much mar our peace and comfort.
3. Observe how gratefully the prophet speaks, ascribing all the glory to God alone. Earth should be a temple filled with the songs of grateful saints, and every day should be a censer smoking with the sweet incense of thanksgiving.
4. How joyful Jeremiah seems to be while he records the Lord's mercy! How triumphantly he lifts up the strain!
I. DIVINE PLEADING.
1. The Lord pleads our cause in the Court of Providence. The Christian may expect that in the course of providence, when he meets with trouble, God will raise up for him at different times, and in unexpected quarters, persons who will take an interest in him, and be the means of working out his deliverance.(1) Sometimes God pleads the cause of His people by silencing their enemies. When your foot has slipped — when you have spoken unadvisedly with your lips, if you have deeply repented of the sin, you may leave the matter before God, for He will either silence every dog's tongue, or turn their barkings to His glory.(2) At other times our God has pleaded the cause of His people, by raising up friends for them. He does not violate the wills of their enemies, but He wisely turns those wills into the channel of friendship.(3) You see thus, that either by silencing enemies, or else by raising up friends, God can, in providence, plead the cause of your soul; or if men should seem to have even less than this to do with it, He knows how, by special providences, to bring you out of the depth of your difficulties. No Christian man, methinks, can look back through many years of his life without observing some strange and singular workings of the Divine hand, by which, in an unexpected manner, God has wrought His deliverance.
2. Our text may be read with great comfort if we think upon the Court of Divine Law. My soul, triumph thou in thy God! This day rejoice thou with all thy might, for Christ hath prevalently pleaded thy cause, and thou art acquitted — nay, thou art brought in as meritorious, and accepted in the sight of God, through the plea of the Beloved.
3. In the third place, Jesus pleads the cause of my soul in the court of conscience, which is a minor imitation of the great Court of Heaven. Foul and vile I am, and yet I am perfect in Christ Jesus: lost, ruined, and undone in the first Adam, but saved and redeemed — made to sit in heavenly places, in the second Adam. Ah! doubts and fears! Where are ye now, when Jesus pleads in my soul?
4. Jesus pleads our cause in the Court of Heaven. A poor man once wished to have a favour of a great one. This great lord had a son — a very kind and condescending one, who spoke to the poor man, and said, "If you will write a petition to my father, he is very gracious, and he will be sure to" grant it; but that you may have no doubts about the success of your petition, give it to me, and I will take it in my own hand up to my father's house for you, and make your case my own. I win say to him, "My father, hear this poor man's petition, not for his own sake, but consider it as mine; do me the personal favour and kindness of hearing this man's prayer, as though it were my prayer; for, indeed, I make it mine:" The poor man wrote out his petition, but when he had finished it, "Alas!" he said to himself, "this will never do to present before the great one; it is so full of errors; I have blotted it with my tears, and where I have tried to scratch out a word which I have spelt wrongly, I have made it worse, and have so badly worded the whole petition, that! am afraid the great one will throw it in the fire, or never notice it." "But," said his friend, "I will write it out in a fair clear hand for you, so that there shall be no blots and no blunders; and when I have done so, I will do as I have said — I will take it in my own hand, put my own name at the bottom of it, with your name, and will offer it as our joint petition; and I will put it upon this footing, 'My father, do it for me; not for him, but for me.'" When the poor man saw his petition thus written out, and knew it was in such hands, he went his way, and made sure that the answer must come; and come it did. This is how Jesus Christ has done for you. He takes our poor unworthy prayers and amends them.
5. Jesus will plead the cause of His people, and our heavenly Father will do so too in the last great day of judgment. If you are a true Christian, and you are called to occupy a prominent post in the service of God, expect to lose your character; expect not to have the good opinion of any but your God, and those faithful ones, who, like you, are willing to bear contempt. But what joy it is for all these holy men to know that at the last God will plead the cause of their souls!
II. IF THE LORD HATH PLEADED THE CAUSES OF OUR SOUL, WE SHOULD PLEAD HIS CAUSE WHILE WE HAVE ANY BREATH TO PRAY, OR A TONGUE WITH WHICH TO BEAR WITNESS FOR HIM. Beloved, there is a way of bearing witness for Christ which you must adopt — that of witnessing by your consistency of conduct. Holiness is, after all, the mightiest weapon which a Christian can wield. Ire ye holy as Christ is holy. Lastly, we can all plead for God in a private way. Oh! there is a great power in pleading for God with individuals. A man went to preach for seven summers on the village green, and good was done. Joseph sometimes listened to the preacher, but only to ridicule him. There were many souls converted, but he remained as hard as ever. A certain John who had felt the power of truth, worked with him in the barn, and one day, between the strokes of the flail, John spoke a word for truth and for God, but Joseph laughed at him, and hinted at hypocrisy and many other things. Now John was very sensitive, and his whole soul was filled with grief at Joseph's banter; so after he had spoken, feeling a flush of emotion, he turned to the corner of the barn and hid his face, while a flood of tears came streaming from his eyes. He wiped them away with the corner of his smock frock, and came back to his flail; but Joseph had noticed the tears though the other tried to hide them; and what argument could not do, and what preaching could not do, those tears through God the Holy Spirit did effectually, for Joseph thought to himself, "What! does John care for my soul, and weep for my soul? then it is time I should care and weep for it too." Beloved, witness thus for Christ!
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. TAKE, TO BEGIN WITH, THOSE CAUSES OF THE SOUL IN WHICH SHE ACKNOWLEDGES HERSELF GUILTY. There are a great many ways of trying to explain away the sense of guiltiness in the human heart. There is a rooted reluctance in every soul to take upon the lips frankly, and in the spirit of genuine contrition, the words, "Father, I have sinned." And yet deeper down even than this reluctance lies the conviction that such confession ought to be made. This is the acknowledgment of the men and women of fullest, strongest, ripest nature. You say, Oh, no! I am acquainted with scores of people who have no such consciousness, make no such acknowledgment. They think too well of God to believe that He will ever punish, if indeed it must be conceded that He exists, which they doubt. Yes, it must be admitted that there are a great many such people, and they are often very agreeable people, accomplished, versatile, cultivated it may be; at any rate, people who are, as we say, exceedingly pleasant to meet. The question is, Do such people adequately represent human nature in its heights and depths? Testimony is of weight in proportion to the familiarity of the witness with the facts about which he testifies. To put the ease strongly, picture to yourself an aged man, who has see, n much of the trials and troubles of this mortal life, whose face is seamed with marks that tell of mental struggle, of conflict with doubt, with difficulty, with pain, whose eye has lost the flash that once belonged to it, but keeps still the glow and penetrative power that tell of active life within, call him a-Kempis, if you will, or St. Augustine, or Keble, or Muhlenberg. Now set opposite him some fresh-cheeked, light-hearted, cheery-voiced young fellow, who knows not very much of life, to be sure, but is quick-witted and intelligent, thoroughly well read, informed as to the very latest phase of contemporary thought, literary, social, political, able to instruct you on a thousand points of scholarship in almost any department you may choose. To which of the two, let me ask, should you the more naturally, or with the more confidence turn, were the question to be discussed, not one about rocks or shells, or pictures, or pottery, or artist's proofs, or first editions, but a question of the powers and possibilities of the human heart? Which of them would be the best authority, say you, on such a point as this one before us now, namely, the soul's attitude toward God its Maker as respects innocence and guilt? But now the question comes up, and it is certainly worth looking at, Why should one whoso cause is a guilty cause care to have it pleaded? Why not confess judgment, and take the consequences? "O Lord, Thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul." Is this a thing to be desired, that the Lord should take up or help forward the cause of the offender? High-minded advocates sometimes refuse to defend a criminal when it is perfectly evident that the offence charged was really committed. Let the law take its course, they say. And ought it not to be so in men's relations to their Maker? If they have really broken His law, ought they not to be willing to meet the penalty, instead of expecting or desiring any one to plead their cause? To all which I merely answer that if it be indeed so, then is the word Gospel emptied of meaning, and the title "our Saviour" robbed of all its power to charm. For what element of good tidings is there in the message, Do wrong, and you shall be punished? And what need have we of a Saviour, if there be nothing evil from which it is possible for us to be saved? That ancient sufferer whose words make the substance of our text was reaching after, and had partly grasped, a truth which Jesus Christ came into the world to make so clear that every one might grasp it, namely this, that with God there is forgiveness, not, indeed, the weak-minded, easy-tempered condoning of sin which it is an insult to forgiveness to call by that name, but a costly forgiveness involving intensest suffering. "O Lord, Thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul." If sympathy and that intimate identifying of one's self with another, which advocates know something of, when seeking with all their might to save the life of a defendant in a capital ease — if these can, as they sometimes do, involve keen suffering, can we wonder at men's putting a similar interpretation on the agony and bloody sweat, the Cross and Passion? The truth is, there is a feeling deep down in the human heart that if we are to be helped at all, the help must come from some source higher than our own level. It is all very well to say complacently that men ought to be willing, and not only willing but glad, to bear the punishment of their sins, and so to expiate them. But is it quite certain that when we allow ourselves to use language of this sort we at all appreciate what the punishment our sins deserve would be, or what it would mean to bear it? That Christ came down into human life, dwelt with us, shared our sorrows, toiled, suffered, and all in order that He might be the more closely identified with us, and so the better be our advocate, the better plead the causes of the human soul, — this is the Gospel, this is the glad news, and how different it all sounds from the bare, Be good and thou shalt be rewarded, be bad and thou shalt be punished.
II. TAKE NOW THE CAUSE WHERE THE ACCUSED HAS BEEN THE VICTIM OF SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES AND REALLY NOT THE GUILTY PERSON HE SEEMS TO BE. No men escape wholly misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Perhaps it would not be putting the matter too strongly to say that there is probably no time when a man is not in a false position as regards some of those about him; no time when, on all sides, and by every observer, he is seen precisely as he really is. The atmosphere through which men look at the actions and the lives of the other men about them is never so absolutely clear that there is no distortion, no undue foreshortening or misplacement in the picture received into the eye. Ordinarily this is tolerable enough; we expect a certain measure of misunderstanding, are prepared for it, and do not mind encountering it. But there are times in the lives of some men when misapprehension and unjust judgment seem to hem them in on every side. Innocent at heart, and sure that they are innocent, they yet bend and waver under the crushing load of suspicion which adverse circumstance has laid upon their shoulders. Then it is that the soul, helpless to free itself from its calamitous entanglement, calls out to God for aid. And how is it that the Lord does plead the cause of such a soul as this environed one we have in mind? He does it by His providence, by His ordering of events. Our help cometh from the Lord. It is not by cultivating an introspective, self-analysing habit of mind that we are likely to find the way to peace. We are living out these lives of ours too much apart from God. We toil on dismally, as if the making or the marring of our destinies rested wholly with ourselves. It is not so. We are not the lonely, orphaned creatures we let ourselves suppose ourselves to be. The earth, rolling on its way through space, does not go unattended. The Maker and Controller of it is with it, and around it, and upon it. We cannot escape Him. Why should we desire to do so? He knows us infinitely more thoroughly than we know ourselves. He loves us better than we have ever dared to believe could be possible. Conscience-stricken, guilty, perplexed, spoken against, misjudged, there is no one we can turn to with such confidence as to Him; no advocate so trustworthy. He pleads the causes of the soul.
(W. R. Huntington, D. D.)
1. Observe how Let us, by the aid of the gracious Comforter, shake off those doubts and fears which so much mar our peace and comfort. Be this our prayer, that we may have done with the harsh croaking voice of surmise and suspicion, and may be able to speak with the clear melodious voice of full assurance.
2. Notice how gratefully the prophet speaks, ascribing all the glory to God alone! You perceive there is not a word concerning himself or his own pleadings. He doth not ascribe his deliverance in any measure to any man, much less to his own merits; but it is "Thou." "O Lord, Thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; Thou hast redeemed my life." A grateful spirit should ever be cultivated by the Christian; and especially after deliverances we should prepare a song for our God. Earth should be a temple filled with the songs of grateful saints, and every day should be a censer smoking with the sweet incense of thanksgiving.
3. How joyful Jeremiah seems to be while he records the Lord's mercy. How triumphantly he lifts up the strain! He has been in the low dungeon, and is even now no other than the weeping prophet; and yet in the very book which is called "Lamentations," clear as the song of Miriam when she dashed her fingers against the tabor, shrill as the note of Deborah when she met Barak with shouts of victory, we hear the voice of Jeremiah going up to heaven, "Thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; Thou hast redeemed my life."
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I am their music.I. THE TRIAL OF RIDICULE. There is hardly a trial that men feel more severely than they do the test of ridicule. Livingstone tells us that "the Africans cannot stand a sneer." They bear with wonderful fortitude the most appalling torments, but they cannot endure ridicule. Poor Africans! How much they resemble civilised men. A French writer speaks thus of his countrymen: "Says Ridicule: 'You are gay,' and the fear of appearing light-minded makes him heavy. 'You are sharp,' and the ambition to be strong makes him uncouth. 'You are delicate,' and he becomes a realist. 'You are honest,' and he becomes a wily politician. 'You are a believer,' and he plays the sceptic and remains credulous — thinks it beneath his reason to believe in God, whom he does not see, and makes and unmakes gods of men whom he does see....And outsiders and foreigners judge us on these noisy demonstrations of the few; for, after all, they are the few." But if a scoff drives the Frenchman to hide his good qualities, and to boast of his vices, it is not less true of the Englishman. We are most sensitive to ridicule; we cannot bear a laugh. And we are sensitive to scorn and humour when they are directed against our religious beliefs and hopes. The prophet felt this when he gave utterance to the text. Jeremiah lived in days of national disaster, and endured the pangs of exile, but amid all the tribulations of the period he seems to have felt nothing more bitterly than the mockings of the heathen. They turned his religious ideas and hopes into merriment. And the hardest thing that thousands have to bear today in consequence of their Christian character and habits is the derision of the ungodly. Sometimes this is encountered in the school. Youth is peculiarly sensitive to ridicule, and many a lad finds the flouts and jeers of his schoolfellows a veritable martyrdom. It is sometimes to be borne in the family. And in the great outside world those who live a truly devout life often excite sarcasm and raillery. The soldier in the barracks, the sailor in the forecastle, the collier in the pit, the labourer on the farm, the assistant in the shop, the clerk in the counting-house are liable to banter.
II. SEVERAL GROUNDS ON WHICH CHRISTIAN MEN ARE SUBJECTED TO RIDICULE AND HOW FALSE THESE GROUNDS ARE.
1. They are derided on the ground that religion is unmanly. We laugh at men who are wanting in manliness, and, perhaps, that is a legitimate use of laughter, but is it a fact that the Christian man is lacking in manliness? Is he wanting in sense, or courage, or force! "Oh!" it is said, "religion is childish." It is child-like, but not childish. "Oh!" it is said again, "religion is womanish." When are we to get rid of the puppyism that prates about religion being "fit only for women," and that taunts us with the assertion that "only women are left in the Church"? Women have sufficiently vindicated their intellectual eminence. It is folly to reproach the godly with unmanliness — no man is more manly. Who in the Old Testament is held forth as the ideal man? "The man of God." He is the manly man. Who is the ideal man of the New Testament? "The Son of Man." He is the manliest of men. The faith of Jesus Christ does not make craven, foolish, effeminate, impotent characters; it inspires wisdom, valour, chivalry, strong purpose, and noble adventure.
2. Christian men are sometimes derided on the ground that religion is irrational. They are supposed to be ignorant, credulous, superstitious, and are laughed at accordingly. The cultured men of the early ages of Christianity regarded it "not as a problem to be investigated, but an extravagance to be laughed at." We are told that no one abreast of the culture of the day will give it credence. Sometimes they scorn the doctrine of inspiration, or miracles, or atonement; they scoff at the morality of revelation, at its great names, at its glorious hope. Every sceptical scoffer is supposed to be a thinker of independent understanding; the believer is treated amusingly as a fossil of the geological age. But you have no need to be ashamed of revelation. The greatest and best men of all generations have been its champions, and the grandest deeds of successive ages have been wrought by its power.
3. Christian people are assailed on the ground that religion is hypocrisy. Many critics of our faith are cynics at heart; they disbelieve in goodness, and so they treat the profession of religion as so much canting hypocrisy. How they love to discover and proclaim a stumbling saint! Hypocrites prove nothing against religion. If you wished to give an enlightened opinion upon Minton's or Doulton's ware you would not stir up their refuse heaps and bring out the rejected shards that had been misshapen on the wheel, or been cracked in the oven, and parade these as specimens of the potter's unskilfulness and untrustworthiness. It is by the splendid vases, rich in material, exquisite in grace, brilliant in colour, which adorn palaces and galleries, and not by the wrecks of dust heaps, that you judge the artist.
III. A FEW WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO THOSE WHO ARE BEING TRIED BY THE FIERY TRIAL.
1. If you are called upon to bear ridicule, you bear it with the noblest of the race.
2. If you are assailed by ridicule for your Master's sake, remember that in these days we are not called upon to suffer much for His sake. How immense were the penalties in which the Christian name involved the primitive saints!
3. If the Philistine does make music of you, have you no music? Do not your faith and love and hope bring you discourse of sweet sounds? When the moments of reflection come is there no music? When the day is over, and you muse on your bed, is there no music? When the morning dawns, is there no music? When you vanquish temptation, is. there no music? The conscience is an austere organ, without painted or gilded pipes, but it yields delectable strains, and are not these yours? The heart is a living lute, a many-stringed lyre, a golden cymbal, and is not its magic melody yours?
4. He laughs best who laughs last, and your mouth shall be fined with laughter and song at the last. The future is yours. Your faith and righteousness flower in immortal blessedness
(W. L. Watkinson.).