"And they were exceedingly sorrowful." Matthew 17:23
It is a common impression that happiness arises from circumstances—but it is false. We are more affected by thoughts than by things; and happiness depends on the state of the heart, not on any outward circumstances. Many have thought that if they had lived in the days of our Lord; if they had been called by his voice; if they had followed in his train; if they had witnessed his miracles, and heard the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth, they would have been happy. But it is of such that the record is made, "And they were exceedingly sorrowful."
This was occasioned by the information he had just given them that he would be betrayed, murdered, and then rise again. They found that to increase in knowledge—was to increase in sorrow. They could not endure the thought that their Master should be treated thus. It made them very unhappy. They were deeply grieved, and sorrow filled their hearts. This arose very much from their ignorance; they did not understand the design of his death, and the necessity there was for it. Had they seen that he was their substitute, that he was come to satisfy divine justice for their sins and to save them for his own glory—it would have moderated their sorrow, if it had not prevented it. But love was the cause of their suffering. They loved Jesus sincerely: they loved his person, his company, his doctrine, and his cause. They could not bear the idea of being separated from him or of his being treated so cruelly, so wickedly. Love heard his communication, love looked in his benignant countenance, love thought of his being betrayed and killed—and it stirred up deep and heart-felt sorrow. "And they were exceedingly sorrowful."
It was quite natural for them to feel thus, and there can be no doubt but it was natural sorrow. There was also some degree of selfishness in it. Fallen man at the best is a selfish being. They thought of the loss that they would sustain. They felt the disappointment of their hopes. They questioned what they would do when these things came to pass. They might have feared that they also would have to suffer with him. We are ever ready to look forward to find causes for sorrow. As though human nature loved to distress itself, it will plunge into futurity to find reasons to be unhappy.
Doubtless their sorrow was evanescent. It soon exhausted itself, and they returned to their former easy and comfortable state. Great sorrow seldom lasts long. We cannot bear much grief, and God in his mercy will not allow more to be laid on us than we are able to hear. Hope comes in to our rescue. It fixes its eye on the rainbow in the cloud. It pictures brighter scenes before the eye. It softly sings of happier, better times. Faith will lay fresh hold on the promise, press it to the heart, and produce inward satisfaction from the assurance of its certain fulfillment.
No, it is not all sorrow. We are not always sad. The time will soon come when there shall be no more sorrow—but God, even our own God, will wipe away all tears from our eyes. Blessed time! May the Lord hasten it.
Only three things should ever cause us sorrow now.
The first and principal thing is sin. Yes, sin demands sorrow. And except sorrow produces gloom, or leads to despondency and despair, we cannot be too sorry for sin. We daily sin; and, therefore, for sin we should daily mourn. Not that our tears will ever atone for our sins, or wash out one stain of sin from our souls; but they prove that we are affected by it, that our hearts are set against it, and that we are really sorry for it.
The second is, the sufferings of Jesus. We should look on him whom we have pierced—and mourn for him. Let us often visit Gethsemane, and there hold fellowship with our agonizing Lord, until our hearts are properly affected, and our deep sorrow is stirred. Let us go to Calvary, and there by faith see the awful tragedy of his death acted over again; and let us sympathize with him, until we find it easy and pleasant to weep. The tears shed over our suffering and broken—hearted Lord, are sweet tears. The hours spent in the garden and cross—are holy hours. They are among the most profitable seasons in our religious experience. O to have much fellowship with Jesus in his sufferings! O to mourn for him as one mourns for his only son, and to be in bitterness as one that is in bitterness for his first born.
There is, thirdly, the lack of usefulness. To live, and not be useful, is enough to make us weep, on account of this we may well be "exceeding sorry." Yet there are many who appear unconcerned about it. This is lamentable!
To have the will to work for Jesus—is a mercy.
To have the will and talent—is a greater mercy still.
To have will, talent, and opportunity—still greater mercy.
But to have the will, the talent, the opportunity, and to have our poor labors crowned with success—is the greatest mercy of all.
It is enough to make any one "exceeding sorry," to have done so little for one who has done so much for us, and to leave behind us so little fruit, when we go hence to be no more seen. May I be exceeding sorry for every sin, over the sufferings of my injured Lord, and that I have been of so little use in a world where there is so much to do!