God's Light on Dark
Theodore Cuyler, 1882
"A most delightful and experimental little volume. None
of the Christian literature of the day is fresher, healthier, or more
"Words of sympathy, comfort and encouragement for the
Burning the Barley Field
Flowers from the Tomb of Jesus
Trusting God in the Dark
God's School, and its Lessons
Christ Shepherding His Flock
The Everlasting Arms
Words for the Weary
The Lord Reigns
Up to the Hills
The Lord Our Strength
A Constant Salvation
Healthy and Happy
The Angels of the Sepulcher
The Night-Lodging and the Day-dawn
Our Two Homes
God's Light on Dark Clouds
Today as I sit in my lonely room, this passage of God's
Word flies in like a white dove through the window, "And now men see not the
sun which is in the clouds; but the wind passes and clears them." Job
37:21. To my weak vision, dimmed with tears, the cloud is exceeding
dark, but through it stream some rays from the infinite love which fills the
Throne with an exceeding and eternal brightness of glory. By-and-by we may
get above and behind that cloud—into the overwhelming light. We shall not
need comfort then; but we do need it now. And for our present consolation,
God lets through the clouds some clear, strong, distinct rays of love and
One truth which beams in through the vapors is this—God
not only reigns, but He governs His world by a most beautiful law of
compensations. He sets one thing over against another. Faith loves to
study the illustrations of this law, notes them in her diary, and rears her
pillars of praise for every fresh discovery. I have noticed that the deaf
often have an unusual quickness of eyesight; the blind are often gifted with
an increased capacity for hearing; and sometimes when the eye is darkened
and the ear is closed, the sense of touch becomes so exquisite that we are
able to converse with the sufferer through that sense alone.
This law explains why God put so many of His people under
a sharp regimen of hardship and burden-bearing in order that they may be
sinewed into strength; why a Joseph must be shut into a prison in order that
he may be trained for a palace and for the premiership of the kingdom.
Outside of the Damascus Gate I saw the spot where Stephen
was stoned in a cruel death; but that martyr blood was not only the "seed of
the Church," but the first germ of conviction in the heart of Saul of
Tarsus. This law explains the reason why God often sweeps away a Christian's
possessions—in order that he may become rich in faith, and why He dashes
many people off the track of prosperity, where they were running at fifty
miles an hour, in order that their pride might be crushed, and that they
might seek the safer track of humility and holy living.
What a wondrous compensation our bereaved nation is
receiving, for the loss of him who was laid the other day in his tomb by the
lakeside! That cloud is already raining blessings, and richer showers may be
yet to come. God's people are never so exalted as when they are brought low,
never so enriched as when they are emptied, never so advanced as when they
are set back by adversity, never so near the crown as when under the cross.
One of the sweetest enjoyments of heaven, will be to
review our own experiences under this law of compensations, and to see how
often affliction worked out for us the exceeding weight of glory. There is a
great lack in all God's people who have never had the education of sharp
trial. There are so many graces that can only be pricked into us by the
puncture of suffering, and so many lessons that can only be learned through
tears—that when God leaves a Christian without any trials, He really leaves
him to a terrible danger. His heart, unploughed by discipline, will be very
apt to run to the tares of selfishness and worldliness and
In a musical instrument there are some keys that must be
touched in order to evoke its fullest melodies; God is a wonderful organist,
who knows just what heart-chord to strike. In the Black Forest of Germany a
baron built a castle with two lofty towers. From one tower to the other he
stretched several wires, which in calm weather were motionless and silent.
When the wind began to blow, the wires began to play like an aeolian harp.
As the wind rose into a fierce gale, the old baron sat in his castle and
heard his mighty hurricane-harp playing grandly over the battlements. Just
so, while the weather is calm and the skies clear, a great many of the
emotions of a Christian's heart are silent. As soon as the wind of
adversity smites the chords, the heart begins to play; and when God
sends a hurricane of terrible trial—you will hear strains of submission and
faith, and even of sublime confidence and holy exultation, which could never
have been heard in the calm hours of prosperity.
Oh, brethren, let the winds smite us, if they only
make the spices flow! Let us not shrink from the deepest trial, if at
midnight we can only sing praises to God. If we want to know what clouds of
affliction mean and what they are sent for, we must not flee away from them
in fright with closed ears and bandaged eyes. Fleeing from the cloud is
fleeing from the Divine love that is behind the cloud.
In one of the German picture-galleries is a painting
called "Cloudland"; it hangs at the end of a long gallery, and at first
sight it looks like a huge repulsive daub of confused color, without form or
loveliness. As you walk towards it the picture begins to take shape; it
proves to be a mass of exquisite little cherub faces. If you come close to
the picture, you see only an innumerable company of little angels and
cherubim! How often the soul that is frightened by trial sees nothing but a
confused and repulsive mass of broken expectations and crushed hopes! But if
that soul, instead of fleeing away into unbelief and despair, would only
draw up near to God, it would soon discover that the cloud was full of
angels of mercy. In one cherub-face it would see "Those whom I love—I
chasten." Another angel would say, "All things work together for good to
those who love God." In still another sweet face the heavenly words are
coming forth, "Let not your heart be troubled; believe also in Me. In my
Father's house are many mansions. Where I am—there shall you be also." Today
my lonely room is vocal with such heavenly utterances.
God's ways are not my ways—but they are infinitely
better. The cloud is not so dense but love-rays shine through. In time the
revealing "winds shall clear" away the dark and dreadful mystery. Kind words
of sympathy steal into the shadowed room of suffering. If Christ does not
come in visible form to our Bethanys, He sends His faithful servants
and handmaidens with words of warm, tender condolence.
The fourteenth chapter of John never gleams with such a
celestial brightness, as when we read it when under the cloud. No
cloud can be big enough to shut out heaven—if we keep the eye towards the
Throne. And when we reach heaven and see the cloud from God's side—it will
be blazing and beaming with the illumination of His love. The Lamb who is in
the midst of the throne shall be our Shepherd, and shall guide us to
fountains of waters of life, and God shall wipe away every tear from our
Burning the Barley-field
A great many precious spiritual truths lie concealed
under the out-of-the-way passages of God's Word, like Wordsworth's
"violet by a mossy stone,
Half hidden from the eye."
If we turn to a certain verse in 2 Samuel 14, we shall
find such a truth hidden under a historical incident. The incident goes this
way: Absalom, the deceitful aspirant to his father's throne, wishes to have
an interview with Joab, the commander of David's army. He sends for Joab to
come to him, but Joab refuses. Finding that the obstinate old soldier pays
no heed to his urgent request, he practices a stratagem. He says to one of
his servants: "See! Joab's field is next to mine, and he has barley there.
Go and set it on fire!" And Absalom's servant set the field on fire. Then
Joab arose and came to Absalom. Now, just as the shrewd young prince dealt
with Joab in order to bring him unto him—so God employs a regimen of
discipline very often in order to bring wayward hearts to Himself.
Many a reader of this article may have had his
barley-field set on fire; there are some even now whose fields are wrapped
in flames or are covered with the ashes of extinguished hopes. With
backsliders this method is often God's last resort. He sees that the wayward
wanderers care more for their earthly possessions than they do for His honor
or His service. So He touches them in the tenderest spot, and sweeps away
the objects they love too well. They have become idolaters—and he sternly
dashes their idols to atoms.
There was a time when our nation had shamefully
backslidden from the fundamental principles of our Declaration of
Independence. The value of cotton crops outweighed the value of liberty. The
righteous God saw that we cared more for the perpetuity of our prosperity,
than we did for the rights of four million of His children. But when the
first flash of a national conflagration lighted up the Southern sky, then
millions of affrighted voices began to cry out, "Why is our magnificent
Union given to the flames?" We could sleep while God's righteous law was
trampled under foot; but when the national peace and power and pride were
trodden down by the same remorseless heel, we awoke, as a man awakes at the
cry of "fire" under his own roof. God saw what we prized most—and He touched
In like manner, many an individual sinner finds his way
to Christ by the light of a burning barley-field. Sometimes the awakening
comes in the shape of a bodily chastisement. The impenitent heart has never
been moved by sermons and never been brought to repentance by any sense of
gratitude for God's mercies. So the All-wise One sends a sharp attack of
sickness, in order to reach the diseased and hardened heart. The sinner
is laid on his back. He is brought to the very verge of eternity. As a past
life of transgression rises before his conscience, and the terrors of a
wrath to come seize upon him, he cries out, "God be merciful to me a
sinner!" When he recovers his health, and goes back into a world that looks
very different to him now—his grateful song is, "It was good for me to have
been afflicted, for I had gone astray; my feet had well-near slipped!"
I honestly believe that many a sick-bed has delivered the
sufferer from a bed in hell! Pain often drives to prayer. The door which
shuts a man out from the world—shuts him in to reflection, and finally into
the ark of safety. "There it is," said a young man, as he pointed to a
diseased limb, which was eating away his life; "and a precious limb it has
been to me. It took me away from a life of folly. It brought me to myself,
and to this room of trial, where I have found Christ. I think it has brought
me a great way on the road to heaven."
It was the testimony of a Christian who had lost his
eyesight, after a long confinement to a dark room, "I could never see
Jesus—until I became blind!" We sometimes wonder why God takes one of his
ministers out of the pulpit and lays him on a bed of dangerous illness. It
is to give the man a look into eternal realities. He gets clearer views of
life and of eternity. Three weeks on the couch of pain and peril
teach him some things which he never learned in three years at a theological
seminary. Sharp bodily affliction, even if it does not endanger life, is
often a wholesome process. Paul's thorn in the flesh, Robert Hall's
excruciating pains, and Richard Baxter's physical sufferings—were a very
expensive part of their education; but they graduated with higher honor and
a brighter crown! Fiery trials make golden Christians! When the
balsam-trees in God's garden are cut deep with the knife—they emit the
During the last five years a great many barley-fields
have been consumed. One Christian had his fortune swept away in the
commercial conflagration of 1873; but his heavenly hope was locked up in
what was more fire-proof than any iron safe, and his Christian character
came out like pure gold from the flames. One of the most benevolent and
useful Christian merchants in America has recently seen the flames of
ruin go through his field of barley, and the earnings of an
honest life are now ashes! He has an inheritance left which the Rothschilds
could not buy; and the very loss of his stocks and "securities" has led him
to inventory afresh the blessed treasures which he has been laying up in
heaven. So, from being a bankrupt, he finds that his best investments are
untouched; and there has been no depreciation in his real estate, which lies
very near to the everlasting throne! God often sees that a career of
unbroken worldly prosperity is becoming very fatal to the soul. Therefore he
puts the torch to the barley-field.
Not only are the impenitent thus dealt with, to bring
them to consider their ways, but His own children are often put through a
process which is marvelously improving to their graces—for a career of rapid
success is seldom healthful to piety. Very few even of Christ's choice ones
can travel life's railway with perfect safety at forty miles an hour. The
heated axle is very apt to snap, or else the engine flies the track of
conformity to God, and goes off the embankment. Prosperity brings out only a
few of a good man's graces; it often brings out a great many secret lusts,
and no little pride, and selfishness, and forgetfulness of the Master.
When a favorable wind strikes a vessel right—it fills
every inch of the sail. Good reader, if the Lord is so shifting the winds
that they reach your undeveloped graces of humility and faith
and patience and unselfish love—do not be alarmed. He does not
mean to sink you, or crash you on a rock; he only intends to give you a more
abundant entrance into the desired haven. Count up all the wordly losses you
have had, and see if you are not the gainer—if these losses have but sent
you closer to your Savior. You have less money, perhaps—but more enjoyment
of the treasures you found at the cross. You are richer toward God. Our
loving God has a purpose in every trial. If any heart-broken reader of these
lines is crying out like Joab, "Why have you set my field on fire?" I
beseech you not to flee away from God in petulant despair. He is only
burning up your barley to bring you closer to Himself. Let the flames
light you to the mercy-seat. The promises will read the brighter. It is
better to lose the barley—than to lose the blessing.
Weeping and Working
The smallest verse in the Bible, is one of the largest
and deepest in its heavenly pathos. "Jesus wept." What mysterious meanings
may have lain behind those tears—no one need try to fathom! But, for one, I
prefer to see in them the honest expression of grief for a friend who was
dead, and of sympathy for two heart-broken women. Christ's power
displayed at that sepulcher overwhelms me—it was the power of God. But His
pity touches me most tenderly—it was the pity of a man. Those
moistened eyes are my Elder Brother's. The sympathy that walked twenty miles
to Bethany, that drew Him to those desolate women, that started the tears
down His cheeks and choked His voice with emotion—that sympathy links us to
Him as the sharer and the bearer of our own sorrows!
There is something vicarious in those tears, as there is
in the precious blood shed on the cross a few days afterwards. His love
seems to "insert itself vicariously right into our sorrows," and He takes
the burden right into His own heart. But it was a practical sympathy.
Had our Lord come to Bethany and taken the two bereaved sisters into their
guest-chamber and had a "good cry" with them, and then gone away and left
Lazarus in his grave and them in their grief—it would have been all that our
neighbors can do for us when we are in a house of bereavement. But it would
not have been like Jesus. He did not come to Bethany simply to weep. He came
there to work a marvelous miracle of love. He wept as a man—He worked as the
Lord of power and glory. He pitied first—and then helped. The same love that
moistened His eyes—moved His arm to burst open that tomb and
bring the dead Lazarus to his feet! A few days afterwards He wept for
sinners—and then wrought out salvation for sinners by His own agonies on the
Is there no lesson for us in this? What are tears of
sympathy worth—if we refuse to lift a finger to help the suffering or to
relieve distress? And what a mockery it is to weep over the erring—and do
nothing to save them! Only when we "bear one another's burdens" do we
"fulfill the law of Christ."
There is another connection that weeping has with
working. We relieve our own suffering hearts by turning the
flood of grief upon some wheel of practical activity. An eminent minister of
God who was under peculiar bitter trial, once said to me, "If I could not
study and preach and work to the very utmost—I would go crazy!" The
millstones grinding upon themselves soon wear themselves away to powder. But
useful occupation is not only a tonic, it is a sedative to the
troubled spirit. Instead of looking in upon our own griefs until we magnify
them—we should rather look at the sorrows of others, in order to lighten and
Some of the best work ever done for the Master, is
wrought by His servants when the "hammer of affliction" is not only beating
away on the heart—but is breaking down selfishness and unbelief. When sorrow
is allowed to settle in the soul, it often turns the soul into a stagnant
marsh of bitter waters, out of which sprout the foul weeds of self-will
and unbelief and rebellion against God. If that same
sorrow is turned outward into currents of sympathy and beneficence, it
becomes a stream of blessings. A baptism of trial—is often the best baptism
for Christ's service. If tears drive us to toil—then toil will
in turn drive away tears, and give us new and sacred satisfactions.
When our blessed Savior wept, it was on the eve of His
mightiest works—one in raising the dead, and one in redeeming a dying world.
Weeping and working may even blend profitably together; for the chief of
Christ's apostles tells us that during three busy years of his life—he
ceased not to warn perishing sinners, night and day, with tears.
Among the manifold improvements in the Westminster
Revision, we are happy to find that our Lord's discourse against sinful
worrying is given in the right English. Our common version of the
closing portion of the sixth chapter of Matthew has always been very
misleading to the average reader. Christ never commanded us to "take no
thought for the morrow"; such counsel would contradict common sense,
rational prudence, and other explicit commands in the Bible. What our Lord
so emphatically forbade—was sinful anxiety, or the overloading of
today's work with worry—about the day that has not yet come. The revisers
have hit the nail exactly on the head, by introducing the word "anxious"
into a half-dozen verses of that portion of the Sermon on the Mount. "Be not
anxious for your life—as to what you shall eat," etc. "Which of you
by being anxious can add one cubit to the measure of his life?" This
whole remonstrance against borrowing trouble in advance—is summed up in the
happily translated sentence, "So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow
will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today."
We may be sure that our blessed Lord knew what was in
man—when He gave so much space in His sermon to this one tormenting sin, and
repeated six times over, His entreaties to avoid it. Worry is not only a sin
against God—it is a sin against ourselves. It sometimes amounts to a slow
suicide. Thousands have shortened their lives by it, and millions
have made their lives bitter by dropping this gall into their souls
every day. Honest work very seldom hurts us; it is worry which kills.
I have a perfect right to ask God for a strength equal to today—but I
have no right to ask Him for one extra ounce of strength for tomorrow's
burden. When tomorrow comes, grace will come with it, and sufficient for
the tasks, the trials, or the troubles. God never has built a Christian
strong enough to stand the strain of present duties and all the tons of
tomorrow's duties and sufferings, piled upon the top of them. Paul himself
would have broken down!
There is only one practical remedy for this deadly sin of
needless worry—and that is to take short views. Faith is content to
live "from hand to mouth," enjoying each blessing from God as it comes. This
perverse spirit of worry runs off and gathers some anticipated troubles
and throws them into the cup of mercies—and turns them to
vinegar! A bereaved parent sits down by the new-made grave of a beloved
child and sorrowfully says to herself, "Well, I have only one more left, and
one of these days he may go off to live in a home of his own, or he may be
taken away; and if he dies, my house will be desolate and my heart utterly
broken." Now who gave that weeping mother permission to use the word "if"?
Is not her trial sore enough now, without overloading it with an
imaginary trial? And if her strength breaks down, it will be simply
because she is not satisfied with letting God afflict her; she tortures
herself with imagined afflictions of her own! If she would but take a
short view, she would see a living child yet spared to her, to be loved and
enjoyed and lived for. Then, instead of having two sorrows, she would have
one great possession, to set over against a great loss. Her duty to the
living would be not only a relief to her anguish—but the best tribute she
could pay to the departed.
That is a short view which only takes in immediate
duty to be done, the immediate temptation to be met, and the
immediate sorrow to be carried. My friend, if you have money enough
today for your daily needs and something for God's treasury, don't torment
yourself with the idea that you or your family may yet get into a
poor-house. If your children cluster around your table, enjoy them, train
them, trust them to God, without racking yourself with a dread that the
little ones may some time be carried off by the scarlet fever, or the older
ones may yet be ill-married or may fall into disgrace. Faith carries present
loads and meets present assaults and feeds on present
promises—and commits the future to a faithful God. Its song is,
"Lord, keep my feet;
I do not ask to see
The distant scene;
one step's enough for me."
We shall always take that one step more wisely and firmly
and successfully, if we keep our eye on that one step alone. The man who is
climbing the Alps must not look too far ahead, or it will tire him;
he must not look back, or he gets dizzy; he has but to follow his
guide, and set his foot on the right spot before him. This is the way you
and I must let Christ lead, and have Him so close to us—that it will be but
a short view to behold Him. Sometimes young Christians say to me, "I am
afraid to make a public confession of Christ, I may not hold out." They have
nothing to do with holding out; it is simply their duty to hold
on. When future trials and perils come, their Master will give them help
for the hour, if they only make sure that they are His. The short view they
need to take is a close, clear view of their own spiritual needs, and a
distinct view of Jesus as ever at hand to meet those needs.
If the fishermen of Galilee had worried themselves over
the hardships they were to encounter, they might have been frightened out of
their Christian labors, and their eternal crowns. We ministers need to guard
against this malignant devil of worry. It torments one pastor with a
dread lest, if he preaches certain truths boldly, he may offend his rich
pew-holders and drive them away. Let him take care of his conscience—and his
Master will take care of him. Another is worried lest his cruse may run dry,
and his barrel fail. But his cruse has not yet run dry. Oh no, it is his
faith which is running low. Some of us, at the beginning of a year's work,
are tempted to overload ourselves with the anticipation of how much we have
to do; we need not worry if we will only remember that during the whole
year, there will be only one working day, and that is TODAY. Sufficient to
each day, is the labor thereof.
Once more we say—let us take short views. Let us
not climb the high wall until we get to it; or fight the battle until it
begins; or shed tears over sorrows that may never come; or lose the joys and
blessings that we have—by the sinful fear that God will take them away from
us. We need all our strength and all the grace God gives
us—for today's burdens and today's battle. Tomorrow belongs to our Heavenly
Father! I would not know its secrets if I could. It is far better to know
Whom we trust, and that He is able to keep all we commit to Him until
the last great day!
Flowers from the Tomb of Jesus
Our Lord was crucified in the season of early flowers.
During the month of April, the rains and sun made vegetation leap forth into
wondrous beauty. The gardens were brilliant with the crocus and the
hyacinth, and the plains were snowy with the white narcissus. Jesus was
buried in a rich man's garden, and no one can tell how many flowers and
odorous vines had been planted by the gardener round Joseph's family tomb.
The spices within and the flowers without, may have made the
spot in which our dear Master slumbered, exceedingly fragrant. That hallowed
tomb was itself buried up centuries ago, and the very spot cannot be
But there are certain flowers of grace which will
bloom upon the grave of Jesus to the end of time. FAITH grows there
in beautiful profusion. A sad company of ignorant doubters, were those
disciples in regard to their Master's resurrection; even when the three
women came back from the sepulcher and pronounced it empty, and that they
had seen the Savior alive—some of the Apostles treated it as an "idle
tale—and believed it not." Thomas stood out until an actual sight of his
Lord silenced his unbelief. From that day, faith in Christ's victory over
death has been a cardinal feature in every Christian's creed. With it is
linked that other faith—that if Jesus rose again, so would everyone who
"sleeps in Jesus" rise also from the dust! This perennial flower of faith,
which blooms like certain roses, in all seasons, has been set out on
innumerable graves all over our death-cursed world!
HOPE is another fragrant flower which springs from
the burial sod. On one leaf of the plant we read, "I am the Resurrection and
the Life. He who believes in Me, though he dies—yet shall he live." On
another leaf is inscribed, "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant
about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no
hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again—and so we believe that God
will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him."
The expectation of every faithful pastor, that he shall
yet "break open the grave" and ascend with his flock, cheers his soul when
he stands beside the grave in which his faithful ones are being laid—dust to
dust. This hope is an anchor that has held many a poor heart-broken mother
who has moistened her darling's resting place with her tears. To her Jesus
draws near and says, "Weep not—this believing child shall rise again!" And
so she tills that little sacred soil until it is covered over with the
blossoms of hope as thick as white lilies of the valley. The original
seeds of this fair flower came from Christ's tomb in the garden. It grows
best when it is watered by prayer. That is a desolate grave indeed, over
which there does not creep out a single sprig or blade of hope!
Are these all the flowers which thrive in the hallowed
mold in which Christ's successors lie? No! There is one modest lily, called
RESIGNATION. Jesus Himself declared that it was better that He should
have died, for He said that He "ought to have suffered and to enter
into His glory." His road to glory lay through the tomb—and so
must ours! Never did our Lord set this world above the heavenly
world. He only brought three people back to life (that we read of), and
then only for a high and special purpose to be gained. Truly, if some of the
crowned ones in Paradise were driven back to this sin-stained earth—they
might well go about mourning for their own loss. To die is gain! That is the
sweet word which I detect in every bud and leaf on the plant of Resignation.
God has better things in store for us; may His will, not ours, be done.
It may seem a strange place to set out the flower of
THANKFULNESS, but that flower, too, grows and emits its sweetness from
Christ's sepulcher and those of His followers. Paul, standing by that grave
over which Jesus had triumphed, shouts aloud, "Thanks be to God who gives us
the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord!" His triumph over death is our
triumph. Because He rose and lives again—we shall live also. Not only on
Easter Sundays are these flowers to be found on our Lord's emptied
sepulcher—but every day, in every climate, wherever death hollows a grave,
these precious plants of grace may be made to bloom, and to scatter
their delicious perfumes.
Perhaps some sorrowing child of God may read these lines
and inquire, "Where shall I go to find faith and hope, and resignation for
yonder freshly piled mound over my dead beloved one?" We answer, Go to the
tomb where Jesus vanquished death—in the garden!
Trusting God in the Dark
Sometimes we have a sorrowful experience in life, which
seems like walking through a long dark tunnel. The chilling air and
the thick darkness make it hard walking, and the constant wonder is why
we are compelled to tread so gloomy a path, while others are in
the open day of health and happiness. We can only fix our eyes on the bright
light at the end of the tunnel, and we comfort ourselves with the thought
that every step we take, brings us nearer to the joy and the rest which lie
at the end of the way. Extinguish the light of heaven which gleams in the
distance, and this tunnel of trial would become a horrible tomb!
Some of us are passing through just such an experience
now. We can adopt the plaintive language of the Psalmist and cry out: "O
Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. For
your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down upon me. I am ready
to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me!"
One of the most trying features of our trial—is that we
cannot discover the "why" or the "wherefore" of our particular afflictions.
Our Heavenly Father did not consult us before the trial came, and He
does not explain to us why He sent it. His ways are not our ways—nor
His thoughts our thoughts; nay, they are the very opposite! The mystery of
the sorrowful providence perplexes and staggers us! "Why has this happened
to me?" Jeremiah 13:22
For example, I open my daily journal, and read that a
godly pastor, whom I left a few months ago in the prime of vigorous health,
and wide usefulness, is cut off in the midst of his days. All his
preparatory training for his office by eighteen years of missionary life
comes to nothing. This very day I am called for the sixth time in a
few years to bury the dead from a certain Christian household. This time it
is the father who is taken, and the children are left to orphanage.
Beside me now sits a mourning mother, whose aching heart cannot understand
why a beloved child is snatched away when she seemed the most indispensable
to the happiness of the home.
Every week I have to confront these mysteries in the
dealings of a God of love. To the torturing question, "Why does God lead
me into this valley of darkness?" I can only reply, "Even so, Father, for so
it seems good in Your sight!"
We are forced into the dark tunnel, however we
shrink back. There is no retreat; we have nothing left to us but to grasp
the very Hand which brought us there—and push forward. Like Bunyan's
Pilgrim, we can only say, "I see that my road to heaven, lies through
this very dark valley."
Just in such trying hours it is, that the Adversary
assails us most fiercely. He stirs up in our hearts, bitter thoughts
against God. He points us to the actual and realized loss, and tells us that
heaven is utterly unseen, and no one comes back to assure us of its reality.
And so he endeavors, with devilish suggestions, to blow out the
lamps of divine promise which we have, to shatter every staff
which we carry, and to make the pathway of trial more dark and
desperate than before. This is not imagination; it is the actual trial to
which the faith of thousands of God's people is at this moment subjected.
Under these severe experiences, more than one Christian has been sorely
tempted to turn infidel, and to "choose death rather than life."
To my own mind there is only one solution for
these mysteries, and only one support for these days of terrible
affliction. The only relief I can find, is in the certainty that this
life is not the end—but simply the preparatory school for the real and
the endless life which is beyond. The moment that I accept this truth fully
and hold it firmly—I find solid ground for my feet, and light for my
sorrowing soul. Then I discover that the whole journey of the believer is
"portioned out" to him, and that the dark tunnel on the road is just as
surely appointed wisely—as is the most flowery meadow or the happiest walk
over the "Delectable Mountains."
Nay, more, when we reach heaven, we may discover that the
richest and deepest and most profitable experiences we had in this
world—were those which were gained in the very roads from which we shrank
back with dread. The bitter cups which we tried to push away,
contained the medicines which we most needed. The hardest lessons
which we learn—are those which teach us the most, and best fit
us for service here and glory hereafter. It is the easiest thing in the
world—to obey God when He commands us to do what we like, and to
trust Him when the path is all sunshine. The real victory of faith
is to trust God in the dark—and through the dark!
Let us be assured of this—that, if the lesson and
the rod are of His appointing, and that His all-wise love has
engineered the deep dark tunnels of trial on the heavenward road—He
will never desert us during the discipline. The vital thing for us—is not to
deny and desert Him. Let us also keep in mind that the chief object of the
discipline is to develop character and to improve the graces
of His children. Those whom He loves—He chastens, and corrects every
son whom He receives. Every branch which bears not fruit—He prunes
it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
"Why do you cut that pomegranate-bush so cruelly?" said a
gentleman to his gardener. The answer was, "Because it is all running to
useless leaves, and I want to make it bear fruit." Ah! it is a sharp
knife that our Divine Gardener employs, and He often severs the
very heart-strings by His discipline! But "afterward it yields peaceable
fruit unto those who have been exercised thereby, even the fruit of
God has a great many crucibles for His gold, where
He may refine it. There is so much alloy of pride and self-will,
or covetousness, or sinful idolatry in genuine Christians—that
they require the "refining pot" and the furnace! Sometimes
prosperity is tenfold more damaging to us—than sharp adversity! A
fit of sickness may do more for soul-health, than years of
bodily strength and comfort. To all my readers who are wondering why a
loving God has subjected them so often to the furnace, my only answer
is—that God owns you and I, and He has a right to do with us just as He
pleases! If He wants to keep His silver over a hot flame until He can
see His own countenance reflected in the metal—then He has a right to do so.
It is my Savior, it is my loving Teacher, it is my Heavenly Father; let Him
do what seems good to Him. He will not lay on one stroke in cruelty, or a
single one that He cannot give me grace to bear.
Life's school days and nights, will soon be over.
Pruning-time will soon be ended. The crucibles will not be needed in
heaven! So, to all my fellow-sufferers who are threading their way through
the tunnels of trial, I would say: "Strengthen yourself with the
promises, and keep the strong staff of faith well in hand. Trust God
in the dark! We are safer with Him in the dark—than without Him in the
sunshine. He will not allow your foot to stumble. His rod and His staff
Why He brought us here we don't now know—but we
shall know hereafter! At the end of the gloomy tunnel—beams
the heavenly light. Then comes the exceeding and eternal weight of
God's School—and its Lessons
A certain gray-haired pupil in the school of his
Heavenly Father, once said, "O God, You have taught me from my
youth!" His experience in that school had been very remarkable, from his
early beginnings among the sheep-cotes of Bethlehem. Constantly seeking
instruction, he had prayed, "Teach me Your statutes." "Teach me Your way."
"Teach me to do Your will." David had received sharp schooling, in
those days of humiliation, when a traitor-son drove him out of Jerusalem.
Terrible punishment did he bring upon himself once when "lust brought forth
sin—and sin brought forth death," in the crime against Uriah. But had David
not been under the instruction and discipline of the Holy Spirit—we never
would have had many of the richest, profoundest, and most majestic
Psalms—many of their most piercing wails and of their most
That same school in which David was a pupil nearly thirty
centuries ago—is open yet. The time of the schooling—is as long as
life lasts. It has its recreations and its rewards and its medals of
honor—but no vacations. School is never "out" until death comes to
the door and beckons the pupil away! And oh! how happy many a scholar has
been, when the messenger has said to his heart, "Now, my child, you have
learned the hard lessons, and have finished your course. Now you may come
God Himself is the Principal or Superintendent
of this wonderful school. The supreme purpose of it is to form
character and to fit the immortal soul for the after-life of eternity. If
there is no immortality of being, and if "death ends all"—then this world
is an utter failure, and what we call Providence, becomes an
unintelligible jargon! The moment we recognize the fact that this life is
only a training-school to fit us for the eternal world, that the
Bible is its infallible text-book, and the Holy Spirit its
instructor, and the Lord of glory its all-wise and all-loving Head—then
dark things become light, seemingly crooked things
become straight, and mysteries become plain! If I am a
student—I must submit to the rod for my own correction, and remember
Who has appointed it. If I am a student—I must spell out the hard lessons
and submit to the sharp tasks, even though the pages of my diary are often
blotted with tears.
The things which I don't understand now—I "shall know
hereafter," when I have graduated into heaven. My Divine Teacher seems to
have two great methods in this earthly school of His: instruction and
discipline. I am utterly ignorant and terribly wayward, therefore I
need both; and they often blend together. Part of my instruction I
get from His wondrous Word, and it is very inspiring and fascinating. A part
I receive from the Holy Spirit's work, and it is very sanctifying. But no
part of our schooling costs so dearly or yields such gracious fruits as the
process of chastisement.
The most famous teacher in Philadelphia, in his day, once
said to a rich, indulgent father, "You must take your boy out of my
school—if you are not willing to have me chastise him. Both he and the
school will be ruined—if I have no discipline!" Our Heavenly Teacher
conducts His training-school for the very salvation of His scholars, and
thus for His own honor and glory. The very word "disciple" signifies "a
The first essential to discipleship of the Lord Jesus was
the willingness to deny self—and to bear a cross at His bidding. That
principle runs through all the deepest, richest Christian experience, and
will do so to the end of time. Often when the hard lesson starts the
tears, and the aching heart cries out in anguish, the hands of the dear
Master point up to the words: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Be
zealous therefore, and repent." "Whom the Lord loves—He chastens, and
scourges every son whom He receives. No chastening for the present
seems to be joyous—but grievous. Nevertheless, afterward it yields
the peaceable fruit of righteousness." It is the "afterward" which justifies
the rod—and reconciles us to the stroke.
Grand old Richard Baxter exclaimed after a life of hard
toil and constant suffering, "O God, I thank You for a bodily discipline of
fifty-eight years." Paul was indulging in no hypocritical cant, when he
said, "I rejoice in tribulation!" God's ripest and most royal scholars are
made such by an expensive education. His brightest gold comes out of
the hottest furnace.
In this school of grace he employs many tutors.
Sometimes he employs POVERTY, which sinews the strength and develops
force of the soul. More than one Christian who was getting too prosperous
for his spiritual good, has been turned over to this severe tutor—and he has
sent him down to a humbler bench. As the purse was emptied—the soul grew
richer in humility, and began to bear the fruits of the Spirit.
Another of God's tutors is DISAPPOINTMENT, and
some of the best lessons in life are taught us by that stern-visaged
schoolmaster. One of his lessons is—"A man's life does not consist in the
abundance of his possessions." A second lesson is—that our losses are often
the very richest blessings. We had "devised a way" for ourselves, and it
would have led to certain danger. God could not have sent a severer judgment
on us—than to let us have our own way; so He sent disappointment to drive us
back. We cried out bitterly at first—but by-and-by we saw what we had
escaped, and blessed the Hand that had smitten us in the face!
When I reach heaven, I would like to raise a monument
of gratitude to the stern-visaged old tutor—who so often helped me on by
turning me back—and stripped me that I might travel heavenward the lighter
and the freer.
Ah, brethren, this is a marvelous school which Divine
Wisdom has opened, and a Father's love is superintending! He never spares
the rod—when the child is in danger of being spoiled. His pruning-knife
cuts deep—but the clusters of grapes are all the larger and the sweeter.
When Michael Angelo saw a block of marble lying in the dirt, he said, "There
is an angel in that marble—and I will bring it out!" His hammer and chisel
struck hard and deep—until the angel came forth. Just so—God's hammer of
trial, blow on blow, brings out such angels as Faith, and sweet-visaged
Peace, and strong-limbed Patience, and Sympathy, and
the Love which has the likeness of Jesus Christ.
This school of God will soon close for us; the
term-time is shortening every hour. Let us not shirk a lesson, however
hard—or wince under a rod of chastisement, however sore and heavy. The
richer will be the crown—if we endure to the end and graduate into glory.
What a promotion will that be—for hearts which so often ached, and
for eyes which so often wept, and for the faith which so often
bled under the blow—to be lifted into the magnificent inheritance of the
saints in light!
Sitting today in Christ's school—let me say a few
words to my fellow-students. "The meek and the teachable—He will guide in
His way." There is room for us all in that spot where Mary sat—at the
feet of Jesus! And the encouragement to us is: "Call to Me—and I will
answer you and show you great and wondrous things you do not know." This
does not mean everything, even though our hearts may ache to
understand many mysteries. The "secret things belong unto God." Over
certain doors the inscription is affixed: "No admittance here." In heaven we
may know these things—but now they are wisely hidden from our eyes. Yet our
all-wise and loving God is constantly unfolding Himself to His earthly
Every scientific discovery is the passage from the
unknown into the known; every truth discovered is a fresh unfolding of the
Creator. Very slowly, very gradually is this progress effected. Centuries
passed away before Galileo discovered the rotation of the earth, and
Newton the law of gravitation. Yet these laws were in existence in
the days of Noah and Abraham; only they had not yet been unfolded.
I once spent a night on Mount Righi, and there was
nothing visible from my window. But when the morning broke, the icy crowns
began to glitter in the early beams. They had been there all the night,
waiting for the unfoldings of the dawn. Just so, have all God's laws of the
material universe, and all His purposes of redeeming mercy through Jesus
Christ been in existence from the beginning. They only waited for the
dayspring of discovery.
And one of the most delightful occupations of a devout
mind, is to watch the unfoldings of God, and to drink in new truths as He
gradually reveals them. The more closely I study my Bible, the more I detect
a steady progress of divine doctrine, from the first line of Genesis to the
closing grandeur of the Apocalypse. That little altar of turf on which Abel
lays his lamb points onward to Calvary. The whole Jewish dispensation goes
on step by step, until the Messiah comes. Then I find four sections of the
Book which photograph the life of Jesus to me, each one presenting some
particular view of my Savior's face and footsteps, and miracles and
teachings. Calvary and the resurrection only prepare the way for the descent
of the Holy Spirit.
Then comes the visible manifestation of the Gospel, in
the life and organization of the New Testament Church. Peter's tongue, and
Paul's brain, and John's heart, and Dorcas's needle—all get into motion.
These new converts require spiritual instruction, and the whole series of
inspired epistles are produced. The man or the minister who asserts that the
writings of the four evangelists are "Bible enough for him," and that the
epistles of Paul are only surplus, worthy of small attention, simply
writes himself down an ignoramus. There is as veritable an unfolding of
heavenly truth in the eighth chapter to the Romans—as in the Sermon on the
Mount. And when the laws of our spiritual life have been unfolded in the
inspired epistles of Paul, John, Peter, and James—then the magnificent
panorama of the Apocalypse is unrolled, and we get a glimpse of Christ's
final triumphs and the glory of His celestial kingdom!
After John lays down his pen, HISTORY takes up
hers, and carries us on through the martyrdoms of saints, and the councils,
and the conflicts, and the Reformation period, and the inauguration of
modern missions to the nations which sit in darkness. At the foot of every
page she writes, "The earth is the Lord's—and the fullness thereof!"
In no direction do we behold more wonderful unfoldings of
God than in what we call His PROVIDENCE. This is a department of
God's school in which we are learning fresh lessons every day. In
Providence, divine wisdom is married to Divine love. All
things work together for good to those who love God, and trust Him. The
sceptic jeers at this—but the trusting Christian knows it from
actual experience. It is often a dearly-bought experience, for some of
God's truths are beaten into us by hard blows; and some lessons are
spelled out through eyes cleansed with tears.
Our perverse mistake, is that we demand that God shall
explain Himself at every step, instead of waiting for Him to unfold His
intricate purposes at His own time and in His own way. Why one Christian is
elevated—and another Christian (who seems equally deserving) is cast down;
why the only little crib in one Christian home is emptied by death—and the
nursery in another home is full of happy voices; why one good enterprise
prospers—and another one is wrecked—all such perplexing puzzles terribly
shake that faith which is not well grounded on the Rock. To all these
pitiable outcries, the calm answer of our Heavenly Father is: "Be still—and
know that I am God. I lead the blind by a way they know not. What I'm doing
you don't understand now—but afterwards you will know." These
are the voices of love which come to us from behind the cloud. If we
wait patiently, the cloud will break away or part asunder—and our eyes will
behold the Rainbow of Mercy overarching the Throne!
Twenty years ago, on a day of thick fog and storm, I
ascended Mount Washington by the old bridle-path. Over the slippery boulders
we picked our toilsome way, unable to see anything but our surefooted horse
and our guide. A sulky company were we, when we reached the mountain top.
But before long—a strong wind swept away the banks of mist, and revealed the
magnificent landscape, from the mountain's base to the great wide sea. As
the wonderful vision unfolded itself to our delighted eyes, we could mark
the pathway by which we had been led up to that mount of discovery. Tenfold
more delightful was the view, because we had gained it by such hard toil and
it had been so long hidden from our sight. That day's experience was a
sermon to my soul. It taught me afresh, just how a believer must leave God
to order his footsteps, and how he must wait for God to unfold the hidden
purposes of His love.
Faith's stairways are steep and slippery. They can
only be climbed by a sure foot and a steady hold on the Unseen Hand. In the
hard ascent, we are often thrown down on our knees. Cry as loudly as we may
in the driving mist for "more light," we do not receive any other answer
than this: "Don't be afraid! Only trust!" If we unloose our hold on God's
hand for an instant—we go over the precipice. But the more tightly we cling
to His strong arm—the steadier we walk; the more willing we are to be
humbled, the more certain are we to get upward! The more crosses we bear for
Christ, the lighter will be our hearts; and by-and-by we shall reach that
gate of pearl, the opening of which will unfold to us the everlasting
flood of glory!
These are among the thoughts which came into my mind as I
have sat today in Christ's school, while some of the scholars around
me have been singing; but, alas! some others are sobbing and weeping.
Christ Shepherding His Flock
"The Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall be
their Shepherd—and shall guide them unto fountains of living water!" This
carries on into the heavenly world, one of the most tender and profound
relations which Jesus bears to His redeemed followers. To us, in our land
and times, this Oriental figure of a shepherd, loses much of the vividness
that it has to one who visits Palestine and sees a Judean shepherd among his
flock. He is the master of a flock of sheep—as much attached to his
fleecy friends as daily sustenance and nightly watchings and personal
exposures for them, could make him. He searches out fresh pasturage for
them; if a sheep is caught in a thicket, he hastens to rescue it; if a lamb
falls into a swollen torrent, he is at hand to lift it out; if a wild beast
shows himself at night near the sleeping flock, the shepherd seizes club or
crook—and gives him battle. Not only the savage beast—but the Bedouin robber
must sometimes be encountered. Thomson, in his "Land and Book," says that
one faithful shepherd, instead of fleeing, actually fought three Bedouins,
until he was hacked to pieces, and died among the sheep he was defending.
"I am the Good Shepherd. I lay down My life for the
sheep." This is the supreme act of His devotion to His flock. To analyze the
theology of the Atonement is for most believers, as futile as an attempt to
analyze the maternal feeling before a mother who has just given the parting
kiss to a dying daughter. The Christian's heart understands the
Atonement better than the Christian's head. It is a difficult
doctrine for the brain—but a sweet and simple one to the
affections. Jonathan Edwards himself, could not apprehend the Atonement
one whit more clearly or feel it more intensely, than the Dairyman's
Daughter, when she sang to herself—
"How glorious was the grace—
When Christ sustained the stroke!
His life and blood the Shepherd pays,
A ransom for the flock."
True faith simply believes what Jesus said, and
rests implicitly on what Jesus did for us, and will do for us to the
end. This is the core of my practical theology, and so it is with millions
of others. All we like sheep, were going astray—and God has laid on Him, the
Divine Shepherd, the iniquities of us all. This tells the whole story as to
the ground of my hope for salvation. This also establishes such a relation
between my Shepherd and myself, that I am under supreme obligation to follow
Him wherever He leads. If we ever expect to be guided by Him to springs
of living water in heaven—we must learn here to submit to His guidance
Three things our beloved Shepherd assures us. The first
one is, "I know My own sheep." He does not recognize them by any church-mark,
for some people may hide an unbelieving, unrenewed heart—beneath a false
profession. Others, who never have enrolled themselves in any visible church
membership, may belong to the blood-bought flock! Jesus recognized the
penitent sinner through her tears—as distinctly as He saw through
Judas behind his treacherous kiss. However obscure in lot, or however
overlooked or misunderstood by others—it is a precious thought to a true
believer, "My Master knows me! He has me on His heart! He is a brother to my
griefs. He knows what pasture I require; yes, and He understands when I need
the chastising stroke. He detects my sins; therefore let me be watchful
against temptation. He sees all my tears, and all my heartaches; therefore
let me be cheerful under sharp trials!"
The second thing our Shepherd assures us is: "My own
know Me." This knowledge is gained by a sacred instinct. His
own know Him by the witness of the Spirit—who witnesses with their
spirits. How do I know my mother? By somebody else's description of her, by
her picture, by an analysis of her mental qualities? No; I know her by the
instinct of love. I have tested her sweet fidelities. I believe in
her both for what she is to me—and what she has done for me.
The sincere Christian has a heart-knowledge which is gained by being
sought out by the Shepherd, saved by the Shepherd—and by
trusting and following the Shepherd. Of this experimental
knowledge—no scoffer can outwit him—and no enemy can rob him! He has
heard Christ's voice when He "calls His own sheep by name and leads them
No one can counterfeit that voice. Sometimes in
Palestine or Syria a stranger will try to mimic the shepherd's call; but the
flock pay no heed to it. As soon as the genuine voice is heard, every head
is up—and the flock is in motion.
The third thing that Jesus assures us, is that "He goes
before His sheep, and they follow Him." Ah, what pathways of trial He
sometimes appoints to us! Never has He promised us an easy road or a
smooth road—or such a road as our selfishness may select. He never
consents that the flock shall decide as to the field in which they
shall be pastured; or over what steep hills he shall conduct them; or
through what valley of death they shall walk, listening to His voice
through the dark. More than once faith stumbles and falls—but He lifts up
and restores. Sometimes the burden breaks us down; But He says tenderly,
"Cast that burden on Me!" Sometimes we cry out in anguish for some lost
treasure of heart and home; but His firm reply is, "I will take care of your
treasure— FOLLOW ME."
Those whom He loves—He chastens, and in proportion to the
love—is the discipline. The trial which tests graces and purifies
character—must be something more than a pin-scratch. It must cut
deep—and sharply too, or it does not deserve the name of chastening.
It is hard to be poor—while others prosper. It is hard to lie still
and suffer—while godless mirth goes laughing by the door. It is hard
to lose our only wee lamb—while our neighbor's fireside is surrounded by a
group of rosy-cheeked children. It is hard to drink the very cup that we
prayed might pass from us—but the loving Shepherd comes very near at such
times, and puts His arm about us and says: "I know My own sheep—and My own
sheep trust Me. If Mine—then an heir to all I have. Where I am—there you
shall be! Let not your heart be troubled. What is poverty, or failure, or
sickness, or bereavement to you? Follow Me! If your feet are sore—the green
pastures will be all the softer by and by. If your cross is heavy—I have
borne a heavier one. Let Me share this cross with you. Shall the disciple be
above his Master? Shall the sheep fare better than the Shepherd?"
And so, through every step in life the Shepherd offers to
guide us—if we will but hear His voice and follow Him. He never promises us
smooth paths—but He does promise safe ones. When we obey His
voice, we may often be called to severe toils and self-denials, to encounter
opposition and to perform services of love to the unlovable and the
thankless; but we shall never be called to sacrifice virtue—or commit a sin.
Our Shepherd will never lead us to a precipice of error—or into a
quagmire of doubt. He will never lead us into sensual temptations
or up dizzy heights of pride. If we follow Him we may find the
steepest cliff a "path of pleasantness;" and the lowest valley of
humiliation a "highway to peace".
Brethren of the flock, we may have some hard climbing
yet—before we reach heaven. Let us keep close to the Shepherd and take
short views. If we look down—we may get dizzy. If we look too
far ahead—we may get discouraged. With steady grasp on the Great
Shepherd, let our hearts continually pray—
"Lord, keep my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step is enough for me."
The Everlasting Arms
One of the sweetest passages in the Bible is this one:
"Underneath are the everlasting arms." It is not often preached from;
perhaps because it is felt to be so much richer and more touching than
anything we ministers can say about it. But what a vivid idea it gives of
the Divine support! The first idea of infancy is of resting in
arms which maternal love never allows to become weary. Sick-room
experiences confirm the impression, when we have seen a feeble child lifted
from the bed of pain by the stronger ones of the household. In the
case of our Heavenly Father, the arms are felt—but not seen.
The invisible support comes to the soul in its hours of weakness or
trouble; for God knows our feebleness, He remembers that we are but dust.
We often sink very low under the weight of sorrows.
Sudden disappointments can carry us, in an hour, from the heights—down
to the very depths! Props which we leaned upon—are stricken away.
What God means by it very often—is just to bring us down to "the everlasting
arms." We did not feel our need of them before. We were "making flesh
our arm," and relying on human comforts or resources.
When my little boy dashes off to his play, brimful of
glee, he does not stop to think much about his parents; but let him be taken
suddenly sick, or an accident befall him—and his first thought is to run to
his mother! God often lays His hand heavily upon us—to remind us that we
have a FATHER. When my neighbor broke in business, and twenty-four hours
made him a bankrupt, he came home, saying to himself, "Well, my money is
gone—but Jesus is left!" He did not merely come down to reality—he came to
something far more solid—to the everlasting arms!
When another friend laid her godly boy in his coffin,
after the scarlet-fever had done its worst—she laid her own sorrowful heart
upon the everlasting arms. The dear little sleeper was there
already. The Shepherd had His lamb.
There is something about deep sorrow which tends
to wake up the child-feeling in all of us. A man of giant intellect
becomes like a little child—when a great grief smites him, or when a grave
opens by his fireside. I have seen a stout sailor, who laughed at the
tempest, come home when he was sick, and let his old mother care for him—as
if he were a baby. He was willing to lean on the arms which had never failed
him. So a Christian in the time of trouble is brought to this child-feeling.
He needs to lean somewhere, to talk to somebody, to have somebody love him
and hold him up. His extremity becomes God's opportunity. Then
his humbled, broken spirit cries out,
"O Lord, a little helpless child
Comes to You this day for rest;
Take me, fold me in Your arms,
Hold my head upon Your breast."
One great purpose in all affliction—is to bring us down
to the everlasting arms. What new strength and peace it gives us—to feel
them underneath us! We know that, as far as we may have sunk—we cannot sink
any farther. Those mighty arms can not only hold us, they can lift
us up. They can carry us along. Faith, in its essence, is simply
a resting on the everlasting arms. It is trusting them—and not our
own weakness. The sublime act of Jesus as our Redeemer was to descend to the
lowest depths of human depravity and guilt, and to bring up His redeemed
ones from that horrible pit—in His loving arms. Faith is just the
clinging to those arms—and nothing more.
This first lesson in conversion, is to be
practiced and repeated all through the subsequent Christian life. To
endeavor to lift our own souls by our own strength—is as absurd as to
attempt to lift our bodies by grasping hold of our own clothes. The lift
must come from God. Faith cries out, "O my Lord, You have a mighty arm—hold
me up-and I shall be safe!" The response from heaven is, "I have found
you—My arm shall strengthen you—on My arm shall you trust." Here lies the
very core of the doctrine of "Assurance." It simply means that every true
Christian can feel perfectly sure—that the everlasting arms will never
break and never fail us.
I am not so sure that in some moment of waywardness, or
pride, or self-sufficiency, I may not forsake those arms, and trust to my
own wretched weakness. Then the curse which God has pronounced on those who
depart from Him and "make flesh their arm" is certain to come upon me. I
learn from bitter experience what a pitiable object even a Christian
can be—when he has forsaken the Living Fountain, and has nothing left
but his own broken cistern!
God's Word is full of precious encouragement to faith—but
it contains terrible warnings against presumption and
self-confidence. And while Presumption is swinging on its
spider's web over the perilous precipice, Faith calmly says—
"All my trust on You is stayed,
All my help from You I bring."
While Unbelief is staggering through the darkness,
or sinking in the waves of despair, Faith triumphantly sings—
"Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast,
Here, by His love o'ershadowed,
Sweetly my soul does rest."
This is the theology for times of temptation. Such
times are sure to come. They are the testing processes. A recent
violent storm tested every tree in the forest; only the rotten
ones came down. When we read or hear how some professed Christian has
turned back to the world, or lapsed into drunkenness, or
slipped into open disgrace—it simply means that a human arm has
broken. The man had forsaken the everlasting arms. David did it
once—and fell. Daniel did not do it—and he stood. "The Lord knows how to
deliver the godly out of temptation."
This is a precious theology, this theology of trust—for
the sick-room. This week we visited one of Christ's suffering flock. We
talked for a time about the ordinary consolations for such cases as hers.
Presently we said, "There is a sweet text which has been running in our mind
recently— Underneath are the everlasting arms!" The tears came in a
moment; that precious passage went to the right spot; it did good like a
medicine; and our suffering friend lay more comfortable on that bed of
pain from feeling that underneath her were the everlasting arms! Reader,
may they be under your head in the dying hour!
Words for the Weary
Opening one of those rich chapters of Isaiah, which are
as full of nourishment as a wheat-field, our eye lighted upon this passage:
"The Lord God has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how
to speak a word in season to him who is weary." This set us to thinking
about the restfulness of God's Word—and of Christ's supporting
grace. A very different thing is this—from dreamy indolence. God
abhors the idle man as a monster—and laziness as a cardinal
sin. But rest is not only refreshing—but invigorating. The farmer's noonday
rest under the shady tree—refits him for the hot afternoon's toil in the
harvest-field. Nothing fits an army for battle—like a good night's sleep and
a full morning meal. If some constant toilers would oftener halt and
rest—they would live the longer.
All around us are multitudes of weary people. They are
tired out with life's daily battle, with bearing the heat and burden of the
day. Some carry a great load of care as to how they shall make both ends
meet, and how they shall pay the bills for rent, food and clothing. Others
are worn out with anxieties. A burden of spiritual despondency weighs
down "Brother Little-Faith" and "Mrs. Much-Afraid." Another
one has grown tired of waiting for success in his labors, and is tempted to
throw down his seed-bag and sickle in sheer despair. Others still are weary
of waiting for recognized answers to prayer.
For all these tired and burdened hearts—Jesus, the
relief-bringer, has His word in season. To the Christian with a
small purse He says: "Your life does not consists in the abundance of
things you possess. I counsel you to buy from Me gold tried in the fire,
that you may be rich. In My right hand are infinite treasures!" Only think
how rich a man is—who has a clean conscience here and heaven hereafter!
To the doubting and desponding Jesus says:
"Fear not, little flock—for it is my Father's good pleasure to give you the
kingdom!" There is a wonderful restfulness for worried hearts—in this single
assurance, "Surely I am with you always—to the very end of the age!" This
may be called Christ's richest and sweetest promise. The believer who
lives on that promise, can often sing—
"Lonely? No, not lonely,
While Jesus stands by;
His presence always cheers me,
I know that He is nigh.
"Friendless? No, not friendless,
For Jesus is my friend;
I change—but He remains
A Brother to the end.
"Tired? No, not tired,
While leaning on His breast,
My soul has full enjoyment,
Of His eternal rest."
The most common cause of weariness—is the attempt to
carry an overload of care. And this is not a wise forethought for
the future—or a proper storing-up for life's "rainy day." It is sheer
WORRY. The word in season for such overloaded Christians, who toil along
life's highway like jaded pack-horses, is this: "Cast your burden on the
Lord—and He will sustain you." If we will only drop everything that is
sinful and superfluous in the shape of worry—He will enable us to
carry the legitimate load. One more word for the weary is, "Cast all your
anxiety on Him—because He cares for you!" The literal meaning of this tonic
text is: "He has you on His heart." What an inspiring, gladdening thought!
The infinite God from His everlasting throne—has poor little sinful me
on His Divine heart! My big load—is not even a feather to
Him! He knows my frame; He remembers that I am but dust. Like as a father
pities his children, so the Lord pities us poor weaklings. He says to
us, "Give Me your burdens." He who piloted Noah and all the precious freight
in the ark, who supplied the widow's waning cruse of oil, who put Peter to
sleep in the dungeon and calmed Paul in the roaring tempest—He says to me,
"Cast your anxieties over on Me—I have you on My heart!"
What fools we are—when we strap the load more tightly,
and determine that nobody shall carry it but ourselves! Suppose that a
weary, footsore traveler were trudging along an uphill road on a sultry day,
and a wagon overtakes him. The kind driver calls out: "Ho! my friend,
you look tired. Throw that pack into my wagon—I am going your way." But the
silly wayfarer, eying him suspiciously, as if he wished to steal it,
churlishly replies, "Go along—I can carry my own luggage." We laugh at this
obstinate folly, and then repeat the same insane sin against the God
When God says to us, "Give Me your load—and I will help
you," He does not release us from our share of duty. No more does the
atoning Savior when He bears the guilt and penalty of our sins, release us
from repentance of those sins or from obeying His
commandments. God's offer is to lighten our loads by putting His
grace into our hearts, and underneath the load. He then becomes our
strength. His all-sufficient grace is made perfect in our weakness—so that
God really carries the load. It was the Christ in Paul who defied
Nero and conquered the devil.
This Divine doctrine of trust—is a wonderfully
restful one to weary disciples. It takes the weariness out of the heart. As
the infant drops on its mother's bosom into soft repose—so Faith rests its
weary head on Jesus! He gives His beloved sleep, so that they may wake up
refreshed for their appointed work. It is not honest work which really wears
any Christian out. It is the fever of worry which consumes strength,
and furrows the cheek, and brings on decrepitude! That spiritual giant
who drew the Gospel chariot from Jerusalem to Rome, and had the care of
all the churches on his great heart—never complained of being tired.
The secret was that he never chafed his powers with a moment's worry. He was
doing God's work—and he left God to be responsible for results. He knew whom
he believed—and felt perfectly sure that all things work together for good
to those who love the Lord Jesus.
Just a word, in closing, to those who are getting tired
of a life of sin and of serving Satan. Friends, you are
serving a hard master. His wages are damnation! Again and again you
have become disgusted with yourselves, as an immortal being leading a
frivolous, foolish life. All the pleasures you have ever paid so
dearly for, all the accumulations you have earned—do not satisfy you.
There is a hungry, aching spot in your soul. There comes many a moment in
which you wish you had something solider, sweeter, stronger, something to
live for—and to die by. You need Jesus Christ! Why do you spend your labor
for that which does not satisfy? Open your weary ear to that voice of His
love: "Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden—and I will give
you rest." Learn of Him; live for Him; labor for Him. Life will glow with a
new charm; your soul will then mount as with an eagle's wing—you will run,
and never weary; you will walk with Jesus—and never faint!
The Lord Reigns!
What a magnificent outburst of loyalty opens the
ninety-third psalm! "The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is
robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly
established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; You
are from all eternity!" Here we have the empire of love, the royal
robe, the belt of omnipotence, and the immovable throne!
The psalmist would seem to have been thinking of the problems of
life, its dark things and its mysteries. So many things seemed
irreconcilable with the Divine goodness, that he admits that "clouds
and darkness are round about Him." But this truth flashes out through the
clouds—the Lord reigns! That is enough. He does not try to pry into God's
secret council-chamber. He cannot get behind the cloud. But love
reigns there, and justice and righteousness are the
foundations of that throne.
None of us has any trouble in accepting the doctrine of
God's sovereignty--as long as things go to our liking! We are perfectly
satisfied to let God have His way--as long as He does not cross us! We all
believe in His administration, and are ready to "vote God in as our
governor" as long as our business thrives, and our crops are plentiful, and
everyone around our own table is healthy and happy.
As long as His mercies are poured out in wine--we drink
of them gladly. But as soon as the same cup begins to taste of wormwood--we
push it away in disgust, or cry out piteously, "Let this cup pass from me!
Any other cup I would have swallowed--but not this one! If God had only
tried me with the loss of property, and spared my health--I would have borne
it! Or if He had sent the sickness at some other time--I would not murmur
so! Or if His blow had struck me somewhere else but in my most tender
spot--I would not cry out so bitterly!" In short, if God had only consulted
me as to the medicine I should take, and as to which branch His pruning
knife should lop off--I would have been perfectly submissive!
Every pastor encounters this kind of faith in God's
sovereignty wherever he goes. If the Lord governed so as to please
everybody, there would not be a rebel in all His universe. As some of our
readers may just now be smarting under God's strokes of discipline,
or letting their hearts fester into rebellion—let us whisper a few precious
truths into their ears. The first is that our Heavenly Father never afflicts
one of His children—but for a wise purpose. He never strikes at random—or
deals one blow in cruelty.
Sometimes His chastisements are punitive.
Christians deserve punishment as truly as ungodly blasphemers do, when they
violate God's laws. A lazy Christian will come to poverty—as soon as a lazy
profligate. If as holy a man as Edward Payson breaks some of God's sanitary
regulations by overworking his body, and allowing himself no rest—he must
expect shattered nerves and early paralysis. One of the excellences of God's
government, is that He never alters His laws to suit special cases. They are
unchangeable. I have heard of a great many "mysterious providences" which
had in them no mystery at all. They were simply righteous retributions.
There is no mystery when a bad manager, even though he is a Christian, fails
in business, or when a Christian merchant who has robbed himself of
indispensable rest, is stricken with illness. A thousand so-called "dark
providences" might have been prevented by the exercise of a little common
sense. If we break God's commandments—we must pay the penalty.
Sometimes our Sovereign sends afflictions that are
preventive. They save us from something worse. As the headache and the
self-loathing which follow a first drunkenness, are intended to warn us
against touching another bottle—so God often puts a chastisement at the
entrance to a path of danger. There is even a conserving influence in
some severe trials, just as the early snows that are now falling on our
northern hills will conserve the winter wheat. I can recall more than one
chilling providence which came in time to keep me from losing what I could
not afford to spare.
Still other afflictions are sent to purify character.
"I have refined you in the furnace of affliction." Isaiah 48:10. God
sits as a refiner beside His furnace. He heats it until the metal melts—and
the dross surfaces and is taken away. He keeps His silver in the
furnace—until He can see His own face reflected in the clear metal of the
heart, as in a mirror. Then the affliction has done its work. God has made
the vessel "unto His own honor." There is such a wretched amount of
self-will and pride and covetousness and unbelief
even in the best of Christians—that they require the refining-furnace very
often. Many a man and woman has been the worse for lack of this kind of
discipline. It is a wholesome process to be "mowed down" occasionally. The
grass in every lawn requires to be cut down by a mower. The oftener it is
mowed—the richer and the thicker is the growth. The lawn never looks so
beautiful as after the sharp-edged mower has gone over it. I have
observed that some Christians have never appeared so attractive in their
humility and heavenly-mindedness, as when God's mowing-machine has
been passed over them!
The great Apostle's career, showed in almost every
page—the effects of "God's mower". There was prodigious growth from the
roots. Yet no man exalted God's sovereignty more heartily than Paul—he
gloried even in the tribulations which God permitted him to suffer,
knowing that tribulation works patience, and patience experience, and
experience hope. This too he knew, that in all this painful process—the love
of God was shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit given unto him.
We have discussed in this short paper just one aspect of
God's government, namely, His personal rule of our own personal lives
and lot. We are not touching upon His sovereignty on the grander scale of
the natural world, and of His vast spiritual kingdom. It is a
blessed thought that the Lord reigns over little short-lived me—as
truly as over the whole Church or the whole universe! He
numbers the hairs of my head, and orders my steps! Let it be my daily and
most devout aim—to lay the plan of my life on God's plan. If His immovable
laws push me back and hedge me in from sin—then all the better. If His sharp
knife prunes me—then I am only the more sure that He loves me!
Afflictions are like the cactus plant of His
making—very unsightly and full of thorns—but they bear marvelous flowers in
their time. God's sovereignty is the most solid ground of my confidence and
joy. It underlies all my theology, and is the very rock-bed on which I rest
my salvation. While Jehovah reigns—let me rejoice to obey Him. To oppose
Him—is to invite His retributions, and that means—Hell! To submit to Him is
to win His favor, and to secure His love—and that means—Heaven! The nearer
we get to the eternal throne—the more loudly shall we sing,
"Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns!" Revelation 19:6
Up to the Hills
Psalm 121 is one of the most soul-inspiring Psalms in the
whole Psalter. It is named "a song of ascents"; that is, a song of ascents,
leading from the lower up to the higher. Whether this was originally
intended as a musical expression, or as a description of the ascent to the
sacred mount in Jerusalem—we don't know. It accurately describes the
spiritual idea of the Psalm.
The key-note is in the first verse: "I will lift up my
eyes unto the hills [or mountains] from whence comes my help. My help is
from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." The grand idea is—that we must
look higher—if we would live higher. We must have help from
heaven—if we would reach heaven. In material things, and in
spiritual things—not one of us is created to entire independence.
From infancy, when we depend on a mother's milk for nourishment; and
childhood, when we depend on our teachers for instruction; clear
through the activities of manhood, which require the aid of customers
and clients in order to prosper—we cannot ever live a year in and by
ourselves. Still more true is it—that our moral life is one of
personal weakness, and of dependency on God. The important question is:
Where shall we find the supplies for the soul's needs—and the help
for the soul's weakness?
The fatal mistake so often made—is that the soul does not
look high enough to secure substantial help and to insure a complete
victory. For example, we are exposed to perpetual temptations, which
draw us toward sin and thus tend to drag us downward. How are we to meet
them? We may employ worldly arguments and means. But these have no
motives which are not essentially selfish. They do not recognize
anything higher than self-interest, or appeal to any supernatural
power for aid. Here is a young man of ardent temperament, who is strongly
tempted to sensual indulgence. He may say to himself: "This sin will not be
worth my while. I shall injure my health; I shall stain the reputation of
another; I may be discovered and disgraced."
Assuredly the young Hebrew who was put to the
strain of a tremendous temptation in the house of Potiphar, laid hold of
vastly higher motives than these! He lifted his eyes to the hills—and
made his appeal to God. "How can I do this great wickedness," he cries out,
"and sin against God!" That appeal lashed him, as it were, to the
everlasting throne, and Divine grace made him temptation proof. Here
is the only safeguard under the pressure of assaults against conscience, or
of powerful enticements to some sinful selfish gratification!
The young man who is too fond of the champagne-glass
needs something more than the conviction that the bottle is endangering his
health and his pocket—in order to keep him abstinent. He must
recognize sin, as well as sorrow—in the sting which the
"viper in the glass" inflicts, and seek his help from Almighty God.
That is no genuine and trustworthy honesty, which
spurns the enticement to fraud—simply because detection may bring
disgrace; because the man may persuade himself that in his circumstances,
that detection is impossible. He is only safe when he looks up from
these paltry motives—up high enough to see God! In these days, when the
press teems with reports of crime and fraud, it ought to be known that the
only principle which can hold a merchant, or a cashier, or an accountant, is
a Bible-conscience, which draws its strength from the "Everlasting Hills
There are some of us who have known what it is to drink
bitter draughts of affliction, and to have the four corners of our
house smitten by a terrible sorrow. At such times, how hollow and
worthless were many of the stereotyped prescriptions for comfort!
"Time must do its work," was one of them. As if time could bring back the
dead, or cruelly eradicate the beloved image from the memory! "Travel," is
another of these quack recommendations for a wounded spirit. Just as
if God had ever made an Atlantic wide enough to carry us out of the reach of
heart-breaking misery! Wretched comforters are they all. The suffering heart
heeds not the voice of such charmers—charm they ever so wisely!
Never, never have I been able to gain one ray of genuine
consolation—until I lifted my eyes unto the hills from whence comes
Almighty help. As soon as I have begun to taste of God's exceeding
great and precious promises—my strength has begun to revive. As soon as His
everlasting arm got hold around me—the burden grew lighter—yes, it carried
me and the load likewise! Help flowed down to me from the hills—like
the musical streams which flow down from the Alps.
This sublime passage from Psalm 121, throws its
suggestive sidelight on the question why many of my readers have never
obtained a solid and satisfactory Christian hope. You will admit in your
honest hours—that you are not what you ought to be, nor what you yet
intend to be. You admit that you are sinners. You have no expectation
of being lost to all eternity. Certain steps you have taken in past
times—but they all left you as low down as when you started. Both your
motives and your methods were pitched too low! All attempts at
self-salvation were as futile as would be the attempt to lift yourself
by grasping hold of your own shoes! Even your religious services failed to
bring you any substantial change of heart and character, because you did not
get your eye or thought above them. The best sermon ever
preached, is only a cup after all. It may bring the water—but the cup
itself cannot quench thirst. What you need is to lift your eyes above
your sinful, needy self; above your church-goings and other religious
observances; above everyone and everything, to the only mountain whence
comes your help!
That mountain is Calvary! The crucified and now
living Son of God—is the object on which you must fix your eye! As a
living man—you need a living Christ! You do not need a theological system
or doctrine—but a personal Savior! You do not need someone to lay
your hand upon—but one who can return the grasp of that hand. The lift must
come from Him. The new life must come from Him. "His blood cleanses
from all sin" is a mere abstract truth—until you come up to that
atoning blood for yourself. Submit to its cleansing, as Naaman submitted to
be washed in Jordan. "A living trust in Jesus has power unto salvation, only
because it is the means by which the saving power of God may come into your
Faith is not a mere intellectual opinion. It
is a heart transaction—by which you lay hold on Jesus, and Jesus
saves you. His sacrifice for sin avails for you; His strength
becomes yours; His example teaches you how to live your own daily
life; His Spirit comes to dwell within you; His armor protects
you; and His service becomes the inspiration of your whole being.
When you ascend into Christ—you reach a loftier, purer
atmosphere. Security is gained up there—as in a stronghold on a high cliff.
Six times over in this Psalm, the inspired penman tells us how the Lord
is your Keeper—and how He shall preserve your soul to all eternity.
My friend, lift your eyes upward! Let your voice go up in fervent
prayer to the everlasting hills! Put your feet firmly on the path
which leads straight toward God. When you reach Him in this world—you
have reached heaven in the next world!
"The Lord said to me—You have seen correctly."
These were God's words to Jeremiah when he called him to his life-work as a
"seer" or prophet to the people of Israel. God puts to the sincere,
self-distrustful young man—the question, "What do you see, Jeremiah?"
Jeremiah replies, "I see a branch of an almond tree." This is just
what the Lord meant that he should see. The almond was a tree of
rapid growth and early bloom; it typified speedy action. As the young
Jew had shown his capacity for right discernment, the Lord commended his
wise answer, and said to him, "You have seen correctly."
There is a right way and a wrong way of
looking at almost everything. To a man who has no eye for beauty, an
artistic masterpiece of a landscape, is merely so much paint on a linen
canvas. To another, it is a masterpiece of golden sunlight bathing field and
forest with its glory.
To many it was predicted that Christ, the Messiah,
would be as "a root out of dry ground—having no form or loveliness. When
they shall see Him—there is no beauty that they should desire Him. He will
be despised and rejected by men." When He came, therefore, to His own
people, they received Him not. As many as beheld Him rightly— received
Him—to them gave He the privilege of becoming the children of God. He is to
them the chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely one. Christ
never changes. The difference between the thoughtless sinner and the
same person after he is converted, is—that he looks at Jesus with a
new eye, and sees Him to be the very Savior that he needs!
Some people look at God only as a consuming
fire—and are struck with despair. Others go to the opposite extreme, and see
in Him nothing but pity and pardoning mercy; they easily slide off into
Universalism. The man who magnifies God's mercy at the expense of His
justice, and who does not believe that He will punish sin as it
deserves, has not "seen correctly." He will be cured of his delusion
on the Day of Judgment.
Those wise men at Westminster saw the Divine Being, our
Heavenly Father, in the right proportions of His attributes when they
framed that wonderful answer to that question in the Catechism, "What is
In nothing are we all apt to make more terrible blunders,
than in looking at God's providential dealings. Even some Christians
have a heathenish habit of talking about "good luck" and "windfalls"
and "bad fortune," and other expressions which convey the idea that this
life is a mere game of chance! Blind unbelief may be expected to err,
and to scan God's work as either a riddle or a muddle. But a
Christian, who has had his eyes opened, ought to know better!
Yet how often do we all regard God's dealings in a
wrong light—and call them by the wrong name! We frequently speak of certain
things as "afflictions" when they are really "blessings in disguise!" We
congratulate people on gaining what turns out to be a terrible snare,
or worse than a loss! Quite as often we condole with them over a "bad
circumstance" which is about to yield to them mercies more precious than
Old Jacob probably thought that he was a fair subject for
commiseration, on that evening when he sat moaning in his tent-door, "Joseph
is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take
Benjamin! Everything is against me!" Genesis 42:36. But the
caravan was just approaching which brought him Simeon and Benjamin,
and glorious tidings about the long-lost Joseph! He had not "seen
correctly" what sort of a God he was serving!
Let us hesitate before we condole with a brother
who is under the chastisement of our loving Father in Heaven. Be careful how
you condole with a man who has lost all his money—and saved his good name;
or congratulate the man who has made a million—at the expense of his piety.
When a Christian is toppled over from a "dizzy and dangerous height of
prosperity"—and "brought down to poverty," he is brought down to Christ, the
solid rock at the same time. In the valley of humiliation he
has more of the joy of God's countenance, and wears more of the herb called
"heart's-ease" in his bosom, than he ever did in the days of his giddy
SICKNESS has often brought to a man spiritual
recovery. SUFFERING has often wrought out for him an exceeding weight
of glory. Personally, I have lately been led through a very shadowy
pathway of trial; but it has never been so dark—that I could not see to
read some precious promises which glowed like diamonds!
The adversary tries hard to break our lamp, and to
steal our diamonds in those dark passage-ways of trial. We need
good eyesight in such times of trouble, so as not to stumble, or
to lose sight of the Comforter, or of the bright light which shines
at the end of the way.
I have seen people tenderly condole a weeping mother
whose godly child has flown away home to heaven. But they never thought of
condoling another mother over a living child who was a frivolous
slave of fashion, or a dissipated sensualist, or a wayward son, the
"heartbreak of his mother." A hundred times over have I more pitied the
parent of a living sorrow—than the parent of a departed joy.
Spare your tears from the darlings who are safe in the arms of Jesus—and
spend them over the living who are yet dead in sin and obstinate
Let us learn to see things correctly—and call them
by their right names! We too often drape our real blessings with a
shroud—and decorate our dangerous temptations with garlands! The
sharpest trials this nation ever knew—have turned into tender mercies.
Let us all pray fervently for spiritual discernment.
Lord, open our eyes! Then we shall see this world to be a mere
training-school for a better world; we shall see a Father's smile behind the
darkest cloud; we shall see in duty done—our highest delight; and at the end
of the conflict—we shall see the King in His beauty, and know Him
even as we are known!
The Lord Our Strength
The first lesson of childhood—is human weakness.
The earliest cry of the infant displays it. At the other end of life
we often see a pitiable senility, such as I encountered lately in the case
of a man who was once a luminary of the American pulpit—but now cannot
remember the names of his own children!
But the weakest side of humanity is its moral
side. Colossal intellect is often found lodged in the same person
with a conscience of swine! For the sake of morality, I rejoice that an
author has lately been stripping away the glamour which has hung around that
stupendous embodiment of selfishness, Napoleon. They show us that the
intellectual giant was continually swayed by his base lusts. The
chief lesson of such a career as Napoleon's is to demonstrate what a
contemptible creature man is—the moment he cuts loose from God.
One of the chief purposes of our Divine religion—is to
teach man where to find this indispensable element of strength. The Divine
Word, coming from the very Maker of man, who knows us completely, declares
that "he who trusts in his own heart is a fool!" We have no
spiritual strength in ourselves. Just as our bodies derive all their
strength from the food we eat, and every oak draws its strength from the
surrounding earth and air—so our souls obtain all spiritual power from a
source outside of us. The Psalmist David, whose native weaknesses
were deplorably conspicuous, was only strong when in alliance with God. His
declaration is, "The Lord alone is my strength!" This is the only strength
which the Bible recognizes.
Who are the Bible heroes? Men of genius, wits, orators,
philosophers? No! They are the Enochs who walked with God; the
Josephs who conquered sensual temptation because God was with him; the
Elijahs who stood like a granite pillar against the tides of
idolatry; and the Daniels who never quailed at the lion's roar.
Daniel gives us the secret of his strength in his three-times-a-day
interviews with God. The Lord fed his inner soul as the subterranean springs
feed a well and keeps it full during summer droughts.
God's strength is "made perfect in our weakness." This
means that the Divine power is most conspicuous, when our weakness is the
most thoroughly felt. We have got first to be emptied of all self-conceit
and self-confidence. A bucket cannot hold air and
water at the same time. As the water comes in—the air must go out.
The reason of some hard trials—is to get the accursed spirit of SELF
out of our hearts! When we have been emptied of self-trust, we are in the
condition to be filled with might in the inner man, by the power of the Holy
When Isaiah felt that he was but a child, and an
unclean one at that—he received the touch of celestial fire! Peter
had immense confidence in 'Peter'—when he boasted of his own
strength; but after his pride had got its fall, Peter is endued with
power from on high, and then the apostle who was once frightened by a
servant-girl, could courageously face the whole Sanhedrin.
A Christian must not only realize his own utter
feebleness—but he must give up what worldlings rely on, and admit that "vain
is the help of man." That poor woman who had tried all the doctors in
her neighborhood, and had only grown worse in body, and poorer in purse—is a
touching illustration of our invalid souls. She, having despaired of
human help—came crouching to the feet of the Son of God. One touch of
His garments sent a new tide of health through her veins. Just so—contact
with Christ brings currents of the Divine power into our souls—so that
we can do all things through Christ who strengths us.
At the very outset of the spiritual life, this Divine
strength becomes recognized. Many have testified that they have gained
victory over "the bottle" by the influx of a new principle and a new
power into their hearts. The essence of conversion with them, was
that the seven devils of lust for the bottle were cast out—and Christ
came in. This was a supernatural work, the very thing which modern
skepticism hoots at; but a Bible which did not bring a supernatural element
into weak and wicked humanity—would not be worth the paper on which it is
printed! If the Christ of Christianity cannot and does not endow a frail
sinner with supernatural power to resist terrible temptations, then is
Christianity a confessed imposture and delusion! But it does stand this very
Multitudes have given the triumphant testimony that,
under the pressure of great temptation, the Lord stood with them and
strengthened them. Their testimony has always been, "When I am weak—then am
I strong!" That is, when I get emptied of self-trust—then Jesus comes in and
strengthens me. Charles Finney has left us some wonderful experiences of the
prodigious tides of power which poured into his soul and into his
work—when he humbled himself before God, and put his own soul, like an empty
vessel, under the Divine power, until he became filled "unto all the
fullness of God."
This is the real office of faith. It is simply the
linking of our utter weakness—to the omnipotence of Christ! We
furnish the weakness—and He furnishes the strength—and that makes the
partnership. The baby furnishes a hungry little mouth—and the mother
furnishes the nourishing milk. The mother is happy that she can give the
full supply—and the rosy darling is happy as it draws in the sweet
contentment. What a beautiful picture of my poor, weak, hungry
soul—resting on the bosom of the Infinite Love! There is no danger that
the supply will ever give out, for my Lord, my Feeder, my Supporter—is
constantly saying unto me, "My grace is sufficient for you." In this way we
are strengthened with all might according to His glorious power. A better
translation of the verse would be, "enforced with all force." We have
retained the word "reinforce" in the English language, and it is a pity that
we have dropped the older word "inforce," for it describes exactly—the
impartation of the Divine strength to a believer's soul.
Alas, how easily we run dry, and how constantly we need
replenishment! Yesterday's breakfast will not feed me tomorrow.
The Christian who tries to live on the experiences of last year—is as insane
as if he attempted to labor on the strength of the food eaten a month ago!
Lord, evermore give us this bread! Those who wait on the Lord shall
renew their strength—the depletion shall constantly be filled
up, and the new task shall be met with a fresh supply.
One great purpose in all afflictions—is to bring us down
to the everlasting arms. We had become presumptuous, and had
made flesh our arm. We were trying to go alone—and then came a
fall. Trouble, and even bereavement, may be a great blessing—if it
sends us home to Jesus! A boy often forgets that he has a home—until a cut
or a bruise sends him crying to his mother's side, for the bandage or the
medicine. God often strikes away our props—to bring us down upon
His mighty arms! What strength and peace it gives us—to feel the
everlasting arms underneath us! As far as we may sink—we cannot go
farther down than those outstretched arms! There we stop, there we rest!
The everlasting arms not only sustain us—but
carry us along, as on eagles' wings. Faith is just the clinging of my
weak soul—to the Omnipotent Jesus! Its constant cry is: "I am
weak—but You are mighty! Hold me with Your powerful hand!" To that
omnipotent hand—let me cling with all the five fingers of my faith! It
will never let me drop—until it lands me in glory!
A Constant Salvation
A clipper ship crossing the Banks ot Newfoundland
in heavy weather strikes an iceberg. She begins to sink rapidly—and her
captain and crew barely have time to leap into the life-boat!
The question, "What must we do to be saved?" is
pictured by their prompt leap into the life-boat, which is an act of
faith. They trust their lives to it for salvation. From immediate
death they are saved. But, afterwards, the ship has sunk, and the crew are
still out in the deep and dangerous sea.
There is a second process necessary. In order to keep out
of the belly of the sea, and to reach the distant shore—they must stick to
the boat, and pull vigorously at the oars. They must "work out their
salvation" now by hard rowing. But this is a continued process of
salvation, day after day—until they reach the shores of Nova Scotia. Never
for a moment, however, are they independent of the life-boat. That
must keep them afloat—or they go to the bottom of the sea.
At last, after hard rowing, they reach the welcome shore.
This is their third, final, and complete salvation, for they are entirely
beyond any perils of the treacherous sea. Now they are at rest,
for they have reached the desired haven.
This homely parable will illustrate, with sufficient
clearness—the three ways in which the word SALVATION is employed in
God's Word, and in human experience.
The first leap into the lifeboat illustrates that
decisive act of the soul, in leaving all other worthless reliances—and
throwing itself on Christ Jesus in simple, believing trust. This is
conversion. By it the soul is delivered from the guilt and condemnation
of sin. The Holy Spirit is active in this step, cleansing and renewing the
heart. By this act of surrender to Christ—the sinner escapes from death into
life. He may joyfully cry out, "By the grace of God I am saved!" Yet this
converted man is no more independent of Christ as a Savior—than those
sailors were of that life-boat! For until he reaches the haven of Heaven—he
must be clinging to Jesus every day!
It is this daily and hourly salvation that we wish
to emphasize at present. Too many people limit the word "salvation" to the
initial step of converting faith, and falsely conclude that nothing
more is to be done. A certain school of rather mystical Christians so
magnify this act of receiving the "gift of eternal life in Christ" that they
quite forget the fact that a vast deal of head-winds, hard rowing, conflict
with the devil and remaining lusts—must be encountered, before we reach our
There is a very important sense in which every true
servant of Christ is obliged to "work out his salvation" every day of his
life—even if he lives a century! It was not to impenitent sinners or
anxious inquirers that Paul addressed the famous injunction, "Work
out your own salvation with fear and trembling." He was addressing the
blood-bought Church at Philippi. And if he were alive today he might well
ring these solemn words into the ears of every Christian in the land. For if
our original deliverance from the condemnation of sin, and from the
desert of hell, depended on our surrender to Christ—so our constant
salvation from the assaults of sin—depends upon our constant clinging
to the Savior and our constant obedience to His commandments. Faith without
'works' is dead.
Brethren, we may be in the life-boat—but the
life-boat is not heaven! There is many a hard tug at the oar, many a
night of tempest, many a danger from false lights—before we reach the
shining shore! To the last moment on earth—our salvation depends on
complete submission to Jesus. Without Him—nothing; with Him—all things.
Yonder is an acre of weeds which its owner wishes to save
from barrenness—to fruitfulness. So he subjugates it with plough and
harrow and all the processes of cultivation. If the soil would
cry out against the ploughshare and the harrow and the hoe—the farmer's
answer would be, "Only by submission to this discipline can I raise the
golden crop which shall be to your credit—and to my glory." In like manner,
by absolute submission to Christ's will, by constant obedience to His pure
commandments, by the readiness to be used by Him entirely for His own
purposes—can you be saved to life's highest end. The instant that I realize
that I am entirely Christ's—I must also realize that my TIME
must be saved from a wasted life—and all must be consecrated to Him.
All accumulation—is by wise saving. Sin
means waste, and ends in ruin and remorse. The honest,
devoted Christian, is literally "working out his salvation" when he is daily
striving to redeem his time, and employ his utmost capacity, and use his
every opportunity—to make his life a beautiful offering and possession for
his Lord. If we were not worth saving, our Lord would never have tasted the
bitter agonies of Golgotha to redeem us! If every saved follower is by and
by to be presented by Christ "faultless, with exceeding joy"—then is a
Christian life, a jewel worthy of His diadem. O my soul, let Him work in me
to will and to do, according to His good pleasure, if I can be made to yield
this revenue of honor to my beloved Lord!
There is another sense in which Christ furnishes us a
constant salvation. His presence saves me in the hour of strong
temptation. He keeps me from falling in a thousand cases—where I do not
directly recognize His hand. When I wake up in the morning, after a night
ride in a Pullman car, I do not know how many human hands have been busy
in order that I might ride safely through the pitch darkness. Just so—when I
get to heaven, perhaps I may find out how often Jesus interposed to save me
from threatened ruin and from unsuspected dangers. He was
saving me in a hundred ways that I did not dream of! My invisible
deliverances were all due to His watchful care.
Daily grace means a daily salvation. Paul
lived thus in constant dependence, realizing that if Christ withdrew His
arm—that he would sink in an instant! Not for one moment, can I dispense
with the life-boat—until my foot stands where "there is no more
sea." If these things are true, then we ought ever to be praying: "O
Lord, what must I do now to be saved—to be saved from waste of time;
to be saved from dishonoring You; to be saved from secret sin;
and to be saved up to the fullest, richest, holiest service to
Only He can help us to accomplish all this—for His grace
can bring us a full salvation. When we reach heaven, we shall no
longer need to be saved. The voyage will be over—and the dangers
ended. The multitudes who have been saved—will then walk in the light
of the New Jerusalem, and cast their crowns at the feet of Him who purchased
for them—so ineffably glorious and transcendent a salvation!
Healthy and Happy
The clock of time will soon strike for the birth
of another year—when every man will wish his neighbor a "Happy New Year!" To
many, it will no doubt be a day of sadness, for it will remind them of the
loved ones whom the past year has buried out of their sight. But every
genuine disciple of Jesus, every heir of heaven, ought to possess deep and
abiding resources of joy—which lie as far beneath the tempests of trial
as the depths of the Atlantic are beneath the storms that have lately
torn its surface into foaming billows. Every healthy Christian ought
to be a happy Christian—under every stress of circumstances.
A living Christian who is worthy of the name—must possess
more or less of that holiness, without which no man can see the Lord.
There is a misconception and a prejudice in the minds of some good people in
regard to this word—on account of the abuse of it by certain visionaries of
the "perfectionist" school. But holiness signifies health of heart
and life. To be holy—is really to be whole or healed. Sin
is soul-sickness; regeneration by the Divine Spirit, is recovery from that
sickness. There is no condemnation of guilt—to those who are in Christ
Jesus; He is the physician who delivers them from deadly the disease of sin.
If good health means misery—then is a sincere Christian a miserable mope;
but if health means a happy condition, then should Christ's redeemed ones be
the most cheerful, sunny-hearted people in the community!
There are several characteristics of a true child of God.
One of them is that he is forgiven. To be pardoned has made many a
prison door—like a gate of paradise. The sweet sense of forgiven sin—has
been an ecstasy to thousands who had "groaned, being burdened under a sense
of sin," but had found relief at the cross of Christ!
Another evidence of spiritual health is a good
conscience—a conscience enlightened by the Bible, a conscience
kept sweet and wholesome by prayer, a conscience which comforts it
possessor, instead of tormenting him by a certain fearful looking-for of
judgment. What a diseased liver is in the body—is a bad conscience
in the spiritual man; it breeds continual mischief and misery. The
Christian never suffers from spiritual dyspepsia—who keeps a
conscience void of offence towards God and man.
A healthy soul has a strong appetite for Divine truth.
He enjoys the daily manna of the Word, and has no lustings for the
"flesh-pots" of the world. It is not the sugared candy that he is
after—but the strong meat of the gospel as well as the honeycomb. His
soul "delights itself in the fatness" of God's Word. To some people Mr.
Moody's style of talking about the banquet which the Bible affords him,
seems like extravagance. The reason is, that their spiritual taste is
utterly corrupted by feeding on such sugared candy as novels
and newspapers. A combination of Bible-diet and Bible-duties
would soon make them as vigorous as Mr. Moody! If he did not show in his own
conduct and condition, the "nourishment" which he lives on—he would not make
so many converts.
Holiness is constant agreement with God. It is the
agreement of love—even deeper and sweeter than the most unbroken wedlock.
From this harmony of soul with the Divine Will—flows a great, deep,
broad river of peace, which passes all understanding and all
fathoming! This stream grows deeper and wider, until it empties into the
ocean of eternal love! The holy believer—who accepts God's promises more
readily than the best government bonds—who shapes his life in conformity
with Christ—who keeps his soul's windows open towards the sun-rising—who
makes each painful cross, a ladder for a climb into a higher fellowship with
Jesus—who realizes that just before him lies the exceeding and eternal
weight of glory—cannot be made a sour or peevish or melancholy man—by any
The holy-minded Samuel Rutherford of Scotland,
wrote most of his immortal "Letters" within the cell of a martyr's prison.
They read like leaves from the tree of life, floated down on sunbeams!
"Come, O my well-beloved!" he exclaims; "come fast that we may meet at the
banquet!" "I would not exchange one smile of Christ's lovely face—for
kingdoms." "There is no room for crosses in heaven." "Sorrow and the saints
are not married together. Or, if it were so, heaven would divorce
them." The holiness of such a man is not the enthusiasm of a visionary or
the mere outburst of transient emotion; it is the normal condition of the
man, the wholeness of a soul who has been transformed by grace—into the
likeness and the life of Jesus Christ.
Keeping Christ's commandments—keeps the eye clear and the
temper sweet, and the will submissive, and the affections pure—in these
things, lies the rich reward. The highest type of piety is cheerful piety.
The more we study the lives and examples of the healthiest Christians—the
more we find them to be the men and women who walk in the sunshine of
God's face. They are the living illustrations of the truth—that
close contact with God is the most supreme source of happiness. There
is such a thing as "joy in the Holy Spirit." There is food for the
soul to feed on—which this lying, deceitful, and deceived world, knows
nothing of. The measure of our holiness is the true measure of our
happiness; it will be the measure of our final enjoyment of heaven.
The Angels of the Sepulcher
In the most beautiful cemetery in Washington, stands a
marble statue carved by the skill of Palmer's chisel. It represents "The
Angel of the Sepulcher." On every side the dead are sleeping; but beside
them sits this silent sentinel, as if to guard the slumbering dust until the
resurrection trumpet sounds the wake-up signal on the judgment
morn. That angel which Palmer's chisel fashioned, is of solid stone; but the
"angels in white" whom Mary of Magdala saw in the deserted tomb of
Jesus—were pure immaterial spirits. They assumed a visible form; but angels
are never described as material beings of flesh and blood like ourselves.
Excelling in strength, they go forth as God's messengers to do His will, to
watch over God's children, to bear home the departed spirits of God's
people, and to encamp round about His covenant ones who fear Him.
From those angelic appearances at the tomb of our
Redeemer on His resurrection morn—we may gather some cheering lessons.
When the anxious Marys were on their way to that tomb with their
spices, the thought flashed into their minds, "Who will roll away that rock
at the sepulcher for us?" But the difficulty is solved in a way that they
had never dreamed of. An angel from heaven had already been there, and had
opened the rock gate—to let the King of Glory out.
In like manner, God often sends an Angel of Help
to roll away our hindrances. Some of them are real obstacles, some of
them are created by our fears. The awakened sinner often encounters
difficulties in a stubborn will, or in long-formed habits, or
in obdurate appetites. As soon as he submits to Christ, he finds
these difficulties give way. Divine power achieves for him—what his own
unaided weakness could not accomplish.
Many a child of God has been brought under a sore
bereavement, and the first thought has been, "Oh, how can I bear this burden
of grief! How can I surmount all these new hardships and difficulties!" A
widow left with a family of orphans, and with scanty provision to feed
and clothe them—is tempted to give up in despair. But when she reaches one
difficulty after another, look—the stone is rolled away. A friend provides
for this lad; a home is offered to another; a third begins to help himself
and mother too; and she soon finds that she can do a hundred things—which
she thought impossible.
Beside the mourning widow, walked an angel in white,
which strengthened her. God always has an angel of HELP for
those who are willing to do their duty. How often have we been afraid to
undertake some difficult work for Him—but as soon as we laid hold of it—the
rock of hindrance was removed. The tempter told us that if we
attempted to save some hardened soul—that we would encounter an immovable
rock. We had faith enough to try, and prayer brought the power
which turned the heart of stone—to flesh.
The adversary is continuously busy in frightening us from
labors of love for our Master. Yet if our single aim is to reach
Jesus and to honor Jesus—no hindrance is immovable. The world thought Paul a
madman, and Luther a fanatic, and Wilberforce and Duff but pious
visionaries. When the Omnipotent Help came down, opposing rocks were
swept away, and the Devil's guards were put to flight! The very lions
which frightened "Mistrust" and "Timorous"—are discovered to be "chained"
when a persevering Christian comes up to them.
But Help is not the only angel which God sends to His
believing ones. There is another bright spirit, whom we never meet more
surely than at the sepulcher where our treasures sleep. The name of
this angel in white, is HOPE. She sits today by the little mounds
which cover the bodies we loved. When I go out to the grassy hill in
Greenwood, where my darling boy has lain for a dozen summers, I meet that
angel at the tomb. The words she chanted when the casket was sealed up and
hidden beneath the earth—are sounding still: "All those who sleep in
Jesus—will God bring with Him." As Mary Magdalene saw the angel through her
tears—so the believer sees through tears of sorrow—the white-robed angel
of Hope. A clear-eyed angel is she, and one who excels in strength.
She has other ministering spirits with her, to
minister to the heirs of salvation. PATIENCE attends her, and
PRAYER with a casket of promises, and PEACE with her serene
countenance, and LOVE, which is stronger than death.
The tomb in Joseph's garden was filled with "light" where
the two bright spirits sat, "the one at the head and the other at the feet
where the body of Jesus had lain." Even so do the angels of Divine help
and hope turn the midnight of sorrow into noon of
rejoicing. To the eye of unbelief—the grave is a ghostly spot. Faith
peoples the cemetary with angels, and fills the air with prophetic songs of
praise. What a scene will all the cemeteries present—when the angelic
legions shall roll away every stone, and gather Christ's own chosen
ones to meet Him on His throne!
The Night-lodging, and the Day-dawn
When traveling in Palestine last year, we occasionally
came upon a wayside inn. Before one of those crude inns—the traveler halts
at sunset, feeds his animals, stretches himself on the floor, and in the
cool dawn of the next morning saddles his horse or mule and pushes on his
journey. This familiar custom was in the Psalmist's mind when he wrote, "Weeping
may endure for a night—but joy comes in the morning!" This verse
literally translated, would read, "In the night sorrow lodges—and at the
day-dawn comes shouting." Sorrow is represented as only a lodger for a
night—to be followed by joy at the sun-rising.
This is a truthful picture of most frequent experiences
of believers. It is full of comfort to God's people, and it points on to the
glorious dawn of heaven's eternal day, when the night-watch of
life is over. Sorrow is often the precursor of joy; sometimes it is so
needful, that unless we endure the one—we cannot have the other. Some of us
have known what it is to have severe sickness lodge in our bodily tent, when
every nerve became a tormentor; and every muscle a highway
for pain to course over. We lay on our beds, conquered and helpless. But
the longest night has its dawn. At length returning health
began to steal in upon us, like the earliest gleams of morning light through
the window shutters. Never did food taste so delicious—as the first
meal of which we partook at our own table. Never did the sunbeams
fall so sweet and golden—as on that first Sunday when we ventured out to
church—and no discourse ever tasted so like heavenly manna—as the one
our pastor poured into our hungry ears that day. We sang the thirtieth Psalm
with melody in the heart, and no verse more gratefully than this one,
"Sorrow may endure for a night—but joy comes in the morning!"
Many a night of hard toil has been followed by the
longed-for dawn of success. When we were weary with the rowing—the
blessed Master came to us on the waves and cried out, "Be of good cheer—it
is I!" As soon as He entered the boat—the skies lighted up, and in a moment
the boat was in the harbor.
The history of every discovery, of every enterprise of
benevolence, of every Christian reform—is the history of toil and
patience through long discouragements. I love to read the narrative of
Palissy—of his painful struggles with adversity, of his gropings
after the scientific truth he was seeking, and of his final victory. Sorrow
and poverty and toil lodged with that brave spirit for many a weary
month—but at length came singing and shouting. All Galileos and Keplers and
Newtons have had this experience. All the Luthers and Wesleys who have
pioneered great reformations, and all the missionaries of Christ who have
ever invaded the darkness of paganism, have had to endure night-work and
watching—before the hand of God opened to them—the gates of the "dayspring
from on high."
This is the lesson to be learned by us pastors, by the
teachers in mission-schools, by colporteurs, and by every toiler for Christ
and souls. "We have toiled all night—and caught nothing!" exclaimed the
tired and hungry disciples. Then in the early gray of the daybreak, they
espied their Master on the beach; the net is cast on the right side of the
ship, and it swarms with fish enough to break its meshes.
Nearly every revival season I have ever passed through in
my church—has been on this same fashion. Difficulties and
discouragements have sent us to our knees—and then we have been
surprised by the advent of the Master in great power and blessing! God
tests His people—before He blesses them. The night is
mother of the day; trust through the dark—brings triumph in the dawn!
Precisely similar are the deepest and richest experiences
of many a regenerated soul. The sorrows of penitence were the
precursors of the joys of pardon. I have known a convicted sinner to
endure the pangs of contrition when a great tempest lay upon him—and
no sun or stars appeared; his soul was in the horror of a great darkness. To
such distressed hearts, God often sends a flood of relief and joy—as
sudden as the light which poured on Saul of Tarsus. To others, conversion
has been a slower, gentler process. Like the gradual coming of the dawn—as
we have witnessed it from a mountain summit—darkness has slowly given place
to steel-gray, and the steel-gray to silver, the silver has reddened into
brilliant gold—and all has developed so quietly and steadily that we could
not fix the precise birth-moment of the day.
Just so, thousands of true Christians cannot fix the
precise date of their conversion. But the dawn of hope and new life really
begins—when the mercy of Jesus Christ is rightly apprehended, and the soul
begins to see and to follow Him.
Those who suffer the sharpest sorrow for their own
sinfulness and guilt, and are brought into the deepest self-loathing, are
commonly those who are the most thoroughly converted. The height of their
joy is proportioned to the depth of their distress. Christ is all
the more precious to them—for having painfully felt the need of Him. The
dawn of their new hope has been unmistakably from heaven, and their after
pathway has shone brighter and brighter to the perfect day.
One other truth—the most ineffably glorious of all—is
illustrated by this simile of the night-lodging at the inn. The earthly
life of God's children is only a mere encampment for a night. To
many—are appointed sleeplessness and tears. Sometimes through poverty,
sometimes through long sickness, sometimes under darkly mysterious
bereavements, they have "waited patiently on the Lord more than those who
watch for the morning." They knew that the dawn of heaven lay behind the
clouds—and they held out in confident expectation of it. Paul himself
had such sharp experiences, that he once confessed that he had "a desire to
break camp—and to be with Christ, which is far better!"
A most lovely Christian, whose life had been consumed by
a slow cancer, went home to glory a few days ago. While the poor frail tent
of the body was decaying daily—she was feasting on rapturous glimpses of
heaven! Through the long weary night—pain and suffering lodged in
that fluttering tent; but at length
"The dawn of heaven broke—
The summer morn she sighed for,
The fair, sweet morn awoke!"
Our Two Homes
That beautiful passage in the fifth chapter of 2
Corinthians, may be translated as follows: "Being always confident, and
knowing that while we are in our home in the body we are away from
our home in the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by appearance. We are
still confident, and well content rather to go from our home in the body—and
to come to our home in the Lord."
The contrast is a sharp and distinct one, between our
two homes. In the first verse of this chapter Paul speaks of our present
home as a mere "tent"; the other home is "a mansion of God, eternal in the
heavens." In other words, my "soul" which is really "myself" has two
homes—one of them is in this frail and flimsy tent which I call a body,
and the other is in that enduring and glorious habitation called heaven.
A tent is the most transient of all
lodging-places. It is pitched today; tomorrow its pins are pulled up and the
canvas is carried away to some other spot, leaving only the ashes of a
camp-fire. What a vivid picture is this of the frail body in which my
immortal soul encamps for a few swift-flying years! Half of all the human
tents do not last more than thirty years; and if by much mending and
patching they are made to last for forty years—yet they easily yield to the
blast of death and fly away! Paul's tent had seen some rough usage;
it was so migratory and so drenched with storms, and so mauled by
persecutions and scarred with the lash—that the old hero who lived in it
longed "to depart and to be with Christ—which was far better!" He was
constantly getting homesick for his Father's house. A happy day it
was for him—when the executioner's axe clove his poor old leaky tent in
twain—and allowed his heaven-bound spirit to fly away and be at rest!
A thousand speculative and poetical things, have been
written in regard to the Christian's future home. The Bible
says just enough to rouse our curiosity and to stimulate speculation—but not
enough to spoil the sublime mystery which overhangs it like a cloud of
glory. A few things seem to my own mind at least, to be well established.
Heaven is a place. It is not a mere state
or condition of blissful holiness. A distinctly bounded place of
abode it must be, or else John's view of it from Patmos was an idle
illusion. God's Word speaks of it as a "city," and as filled with "many
mansions." The light of it proceeds from a central throne; for the Lamb in
the midst of the throne, is the light thereof. Its crystalline pavements are
like unto fine gold. The music of its praises fell upon the old apostle's
ear with such a sublime roar of melodies, that he likened them to the
Mediterranean's surf dashing upon the rocks of Patmos. He calls them "the
roar of mighty ocean waves." Surrounding this vast scene of splendor he saw
something which he describes as walls of precious gems, and "the twelve
gates were made of pearls—each gate from a single pearl!"
There is something beautifully suggestive in this
many-sidedness of heaven, with gates of entrance from every point of the
compass. It emphasizes the universality of God's house, into which all
the redeemed shall enter, from all parts of the globe, and with their
varying theological and denominational opinions. All shall come in through
Christ Jesus—and yet through many gateways. Thank God, no bigot shall
be able to bar one soul out—who has been washed in the blood of the Lamb!
The variety of "fruits" on the tree of life points to the
idea of satisfying every possible taste and aspiration of God's vast
household of many kindreds and tongues and nations. Why surrender the view
of a literal home of the redeemed, such as John has described to us? Why
burn it all away into the thin vapor of metaphor? If John did not see what
he described, then he saw nothing at all; and if he saw nothing real, then
the closing visions of the Apocalypse are a splendid fantasy! For
one, I prefer to hold to the actual words which Revelation gives me, and if,
when I get there, I find something utterly different, then it will be time
enough to make the discovery.
That our heavenly home will satisfy our fullest
social longings, we cannot doubt. No one need complain of lack of "good
company" there. Old Dr. Emmons is not the only Christian who has fed his
hopes of "a good talk with the Apostle Paul." Dr. Guthrie is not the only
parent who has felt assured that "his little Johnnie would meet him
inside the gate." Many a pastor expects to find the converted portion of his
flock as a "crown of rejoicing to him in that day." There cannot possibly be
a question of doubt of the recognition of friends. No barriers of caste can
separate those who are children of the one Father and dwelling in the
When Cineas, the ambassador of Pyrrhus, came back from
his visit to Rome in the days of her glory, he reported to his prince that
he had seen a "commonwealth of kings!" So will it be in heaven, where every
heir of redeeming grace will be as a king and priest unto God, and a divine
adoption shall make everyone a member of the royal family. What a comforting
thought it is—that we shall never be compelled to pull up our tent-poles any
longer in quest of a pleasanter home! Heaven will have no "moving-day." No
longer shall we dread to be pulled away from associations which we love, and
sent off into strange and uncongenial places.
There is a delightful permanence in that word, "Forever
with the Lord." The steps to that home are few and short. Happy is that
child of Jesus who is always listening for the footfall this side of the
golden gate, and for the voice of invitation to hurry home. A godly
life is just a tarrying in the tent for Christ—until we go into the
mansion with Christ!
"I hope your Master has gone to heaven!" said someone to
a slave when his master had died. "I'm afraid he has not gone there,"
replied Ben, "for I never heard him speak of heaven. Whenever he goes on a
trip—he always prepares for many weeks. I never saw him getting ready for
going to heaven!" The simple slave's words are a test and an admonition for
each one of us. For let us be assured that not one of us will ever see that
glorious Home—unless we are made ready for it by Christ Jesus!