A Word to the Weary!
William S. Plumer, 1874
Sin and sorrow are twin sisters. They were born the same day. They have grown up together. It is as idle to say that there is no misery — as to assert that there is no wickedness in the world.
Some men seem to be uniformly prosperous. They appear to have but few trials. They have more than heart can wish. They are receiving their good things in this life. They are the abhorred of the Lord. Their eternity will be rueful. Yet even they have their seasons of weariness. And the mass of men have many and palpable sorrows. This is always true of the godly in this life: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous." "Whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives." The tears of God's people often flow, day and night. Waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. Oh, the weariness of good men! It has many causes. Sometimes it comes from:
No less than others, God's people are liable to pain and sickness. More pitiable objects as to bodily suffering have seldom, if ever, been seen than were Job and Lazarus. Many a time God's people "have no rest in their bones" they have "wearisome nights appointed unto them"; they are made to "cry in the morning, 'Oh, that it were evening!' and in the evening, 'Oh, that it were morning!'"
It was proof of the kindness of John's heart when he wrote to Gaius, "Beloved, I wish, above all things, that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers." Nor are those forms of bodily suffering which are most unpleasant to look upon, always the most distressing.
One sometimes says of another, "There is not much the matter with him — he is only nervous." Such speech is foolish. Nervous distress may be, and often is, the severest of all suffering. The theory of death by the cross was that it took life by torturing the nervous system.
It is sad, indeed, when one is forced to say, "There is no soundness in my flesh, because of Your anger; neither is there any rest in my bones." There are "sore sicknesses, and of long continuance." To the godly, there is no promise of exemption from distressing bodily infirmity. Even Elisha fell sick of a sickness whereof he died. How sadly Hezekiah felt all the power of the bodily distress that bore him down, we learn from his own words: Isaiah 38:9-20.
Let one take the daily rounds of the faithful pastor and evangelist, and he will see in garrets and cellars, as well as in stately mansions, scenes of bodily suffering well suited to appall. If one is thus tried, let him cast his care upon the Lord, and cease to glory in his strength, or to put confidence in an arm of flesh. Let him have faith in God, and sing —
When languor and disease invade
This trembling house of clay,
'Tis sweet to look beyond my pains,
And long to fly away!
Sweet to look inward, and attend
The whispers of His love;
Sweet to look upward, to the place
Where Jesus pleads above.
Sweet to reflect how grace divine
My sins on Jesus laid;
Sweet to remember that His blood
My debt of suffering paid.
Sweet in His righteousness to stand,
Which saves from endless death;
Sweet to experience, day by day.
His Spirit's quickening breath.
Sweet on His faithfulness to rest,
Whose love can never end;
Sweet on his covenant of grace
For all things to depend.
If such the sweetness of the streams,
What must the fountain be;
Where saints and angels draw their bliss
Immediately from Thee.
— Augustus M. Toplady
God's people also know much of poverty and financial distress. God has marvelously chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom that cannot be moved. With few exceptions, those who shall be kings and priests unto God forever, know on earth what poverty is. In this point most Christians are conformed, at least in a measure, to the sufferings of Christ. Those who have not felt this form of trial can hardly conceive of the pangs of godly men when they see poverty, like an armed man, marching into their abodes and stripping them of their comforts, and sometimes of the necessities of life.
It is a blessed thing that, if we are poor, it is because such is the will of God, for the Lord makes poor and He makes rich. The Lord is especially the friend of the poor and will avenge their wrongs and punish their oppressors and maintain the right of the poor. "Has not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith?"
O, let me make the Lord my trust,
And practice all that's good;
So shall I dwell among the just,
And He'll provide me food.
I to my God my ways commit,
And cheerful wait His will;
Your hand, which guides my doubtful feet,
Shall my desires fulfill.
The meek at last the earth possess
And are the heirs of Heaven;
True riches, with abundant peace.
To humble souls are given.
The heavenly heritage is theirs.
Their portion and their home;
He feeds them now, and makes them heirs
Of blessings long to come.
Eternal life can never be sold.
The ransom is too high;
Justice will never be bribed with gold.
That man may never die.
Rest in the Lord and keep His way.
Nor let your anger rise,
Though Providence shall long delay
To punish haughty vice.
— Isaac Watts
THE DEFECTION OF FRIENDS
Sorrows seldom come single. Like vultures, they often come in flocks. A major part of one's friends are commonly such only when he is prosperous. Most trees are left naked soon after heavy frosts begin to fall upon them. Very few men are friends in need. One or two acts of enlarged kindness frequently exhaust human sympathies. It pierces the heart of a godly man to see the heel of his familiar friend lifted up against him. Sometimes those to whom we have done the best services become cold and even cruel. Most friends will not abide in the day of your trouble.
One has said, "A faithful friend is a strong defense; and he who has found such a friend has found a treasure. A faithful friend is the medicine of life." To find out the deceitfulness of men by the loss or treachery of a professed friend, is a very sad lesson. It is a great attraction of Heaven, that there all apparent friendships are real and beyond suspicion.
When such desertions of friends occur — we should cleave the closer to Christ. He is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. His words are very kind: "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you!" John 15:15. Having loved His own, He loved them to the end. His mercy knows no bounds. His friendship is lasting as eternity. Flee to Him!
Oh, could I speak the matchless worth,
Oh, could I sound the glories forth.
Which in my Savior shine!
I'd soar and touch the heavenly strings,
And vie with Gabriel while he sings,
In notes almost divine!
I'd sing the precious blood He spilt.
My ransom from the dreadful guilt
Of sin, and wrath divine;
I'd sing His glorious righteousness,
In which all-perfect, heavenly dress
My soul shall ever shine.
I'd sing the characters He bears,
And all the forms of love He wears,
Exalted on His throne;
In loftiest songs of sweetest praise,
I would to everlasting days
Make all His glories known.
Soon the delightful day will come.
When my dear Lord will call me home.
And I shall see His face;
Then with my Savior, Brother, Friend,
A blessed eternity I'll spend,
Triumphant in His grace.
— Samuel Medley
This is a world of change. Nothing is certain but change. Friendships are often sundered by death. Father, mother, husband, wife, brother, sister, child — any loved one may be taken as in a moment. Or if they agonize until we are willing to see them go so that they may be out of misery, that is perhaps more distressing than to have them taken in a way that greatly surprises us.
THE DEATH OF LOVED ONES
Men are born to die. Dust we are — and to dust we must all return. Our dearest friends are lent to us but for a short time. Of this we have full notice in God's Word and in His providence also. In many of our churches, half the worshipers hang out the signals of distress in their very attire. And those who wear no mourning apparel, are perhaps as sorely bereaved as those who are most mourningly attired.
Of those who die . . .
some were our care,
some were our hope,
some were our pattern,
some were our guide,
some were our stay.
If a loved one is taken without giving signs of true repentance, the distress is exceedingly terrible. It is like that of David over Absalom: "The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you — O Absalom, my son, my son!" 2 Samuel 18:33
Sometimes our loved ones are taken away in circumstances where hope and fear respecting their eternal happiness alternate. In this way, multitudes are sadly grieved.
But even where there is a quiet and fixed persuasion that our departed friends were at peace with God, we still sorely miss them. How does the mother's heart ache for the little one that nestled in her bosom! How does conjugal affection bleed, when it is rifled of its darling object! How sad is the cry when the brother says to the sister on their return from the cemetery, "Well, dear Mary, we have no longer any earthly parent. We are fatherless and motherless. We are orphans!" Many a father has said, like Jacob, "If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved!"
In such sad hours what can we do, unless we have access to the mercy seat? God is our refuge and strength — the sole refuge and strength of our souls in the day of sorrow and bereavement. Blessed is the man who finds all needed resources in the Lord.
Friend after friend departs;
Who has not lost a friend?
There is no union here of hearts,
That finds not here an end.
Were this frail world our final rest,
Living or dying, none were blessed.
Beyond the flight of time,
Beyond the reign of death.
There surely is some blessed clime
Where life is not a breath,
Nor life's affections, transient fire.
Whose sparks fly upward and expire.
There is a world above,
Where parting is unknown;
A long eternity of love,
Formed for the good alone;
And faith beholds the dying here.
Translated to that glorious sphere.
Thus star by star declines.
Until all are passed away,
As morning high and higher shines
To pure and perfect day;
Nor sink those stars in empty night.
But hide themselves in Heaven's own light.
This is a wicked world, and the tongue is a principal instrument of the wickedness, that makes earth so much like the pit of woe. The tongue is a world of iniquity! Laws and bars and bolts and racks cannot check its mischief. Unjust reproaches, uncharitable surmises and censorious rumors — often fill God's people with grief. David bewails the fact that he was "the song of the drunkard." Job bemoans himself because "the children of those whom he would not have set among the dogs of his flock," and even his own servants treated him scornfully.
True religion does not create insensibility to the value of a quiet life, or of a good reputation. It refines and strengthens our lawful regards to the good opinions of others. One of the bitter ingredients in the Master's cup of sorrow, was calumny and misrepresentation. He says, "Reproach has broken my heart," Psalm 69:26.
Sometimes the sins of slander and backbiting, reproach and detraction come over society like desolating waves. Then the godly man says, "My soul dwells among lions!" "Every day they wrest my words." "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away and be at rest." "You love all devouring words, O you deceitful tongue." The anguish thus caused is dreadful. Let those who have felt it testify.
One says: "There is a persecution sharper than the axe. There is an iron that goes into the heart deeper than the knife. Cruel sneers and sarcasms and pitiless judgments and cold-hearted calumnies — these are persecutions." But of old, one said: "The words of a tale-bearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly," Proverbs 26:22. "Death and life are in the power of the tongue!" Proverbs 18:21.
Among my enemies, my name
A proverb vile has grown,
While to my neighbors I become
Forgotten and unknown.
Hard lot of mine! my days are cast
Among the sons of strife,
Whose never-ceasing quarrels waste
My golden hours of life.
Peace is the blessing that I seek.
How lovely are its charms!
I am for peace; but when I speak,
They all declare for arms.
Slander and fear, on every side,
Seized and beset me round:
I to Your throne of grace applied,
And speedy rescue found.
Within Your sacred presence, Lord,
Let me forever dwell;
No fenced city, walled and barred,
Secures a saint so well.
Fear Him, you saints; and you will then
Have nothing else to fear;
Come, make His service your delight;
He'll make your cause His care.
— Isaac Watts
We have the highest authority for saying that all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. Although in most lands the lion is chained — yet everywhere the seed of the bondwoman hates the seed of the freewoman. It has always been so; so it will continue to the end of the reign of wickedness.
There are many ways of persecution, even in free countries. Social banishment, vexatious lawsuits, a general disposition to disoblige, the withholding of what is just and equal, and in countless ways harassing with malignity — are very common. There is often persecution in one's tone and temper towards another, in his words, and in countless little actions, as well as in tormenting with the penalties of laws made to afflict godly men.
In some parts of the world the whole system of taxation, both in assessing and collecting it, is in the very spirit of persecution. It is amazing how far men sometimes go, not only in conniving at outrages committed on others, but in fanning the flame of fury.
The number of men who are valiant for the truth and the right, is small. A large number of at least a good sort of men will say it is no good thing that the malicious are doing; but they will risk nothing and do nothing to arrest the course of malice and wrong-doing. Even in the present century, blood has been poured out like water in the cause of truth and righteousness.
In the early ages of Christianity, as well as since, "Persecution walked the earth, from age to age, and drank the blood of saints, with horrid relish drank the blood of God's redeemed children."
One good effect of persecution in every form, is its tendency to purify the Church of God. A false professor can seldom stand such a test. Milner says, "Persecution often does in this life, what the last day will do completely — separate the wheat from the tares." Blessed be God, there is a land where persecution never reaches.
And will the God of grace
Perpetual silence keep?
The God of Justice hold His peace.
And let His vengeance sleep?
Behold what cruel snares
The men of mischief spread;
The men that hate Your saints and You,
Lift up their threatening head.
Against Your hidden ones
Their counsels they employ;
And malice, with her watchful eye
Pursues them to destroy!
"Come, let us join," (they cry)
"To root them from the ground,
Until not the name of saints remain,
Nor memory shall be found."
Awake, Almighty God,
And call Your power to mind;
Make them to bow before Your will,
And let them pardon find.
Convince their madness, Lord,
And make them seek Your name;
Or else their impious rage confound
And turn their pride to shame!
— Isaac Watts
DEATH AND THE GRAVE
God's people know that they must die. As naturally as others, they shrink from pain and the grave. The love of life was probably as strong in man before his fall, as it is now in most men. The temporal penalty attached to eating the forbidden fruit, derived its force from a desire to live. Some godly people are constitutionally timid — and some of them are much inclined to look on the dark side of things. In fact, some habitually expect the worst. Unless we are sustained by high Christian hopes and principles, sober reflection on death and its consequences must beget uneasiness in the firmest. Nor can anything wholly and permanently remove the fear of death, but divine grace.
Death is both the king of terrors, and the terror of kings. Men have, without apparent alarm, stormed a deadly breach. But when, in the quiet of a chamber, they have been told that their time of death was near, fear has blanched their cheek.
It is no marvel that the mass of men should dwell on the subject with real discomfort. It greatly humbles the righteous to remember that they deserve death — and even worse than any temporal suffering can possibly be. Sometimes their sense of unworthiness is accompanied with low spirits. Then it looks as if they may expect sorrow upon sorrow, until they are swallowed up with grief.
For fifty-five years I have been considerably familiar with beds of sickness and of death. I have seen many die — but I have not in that time seen one comfortable death where the good hope through grace in Christ was lacking. Nor have I ever seen the righteous forsaken in his last moments.
I once knew an eminent child of God who was subject to seasons of insanity, accompanied by awful depression of spirits. She had such a spell not long before death, but as she approached near her end, her mind became clear, and she left the world not only tranquilly, but joyfully. One thing is very cheering; it is that the young, the nervous, and even those who had long been in bondage through the fear of death, but were able to put their whole reliance on Christ — were in the last days of life among the very bravest and brightest of dying saints.
Oh! to be ready when death shall come!
Oh! to be ready to hasten home!
No earthward clinging, no lingering gaze,
No strife at parting, no sore amaze,
No chains to sever what earth has twined,
No spell to loosen what love would bind.
No flitting shadows to dim the light
Of the angel-pinions winged for flight,
No cloud-like phantoms to fling a gloom
'Twixt Heaven's bright portals and earth's dark tomb;
But sweetly, gently, to pass away
From the world's dim twilight into day.
To list the music of angel lyres,
To catch the rapture of seraph tires,
To lean in trust on the risen One,
Until borne away to a fadeless throne.
Oh! to be ready when death shall come!
Oh! to be ready to hasten home!
— Author unknown
This often makes the righteous sad. In all nations the wicked have a fearful power — commonly a large majority; and they wield their power against the truth. Every government on earth is more or less anti-Christian in its laws and customs.
THE STATE OF THE CHURCH ON EARTH
The love of many, from whom good things had been expected, has waxed cold; many turn aside to fables and to jangling; some embrace and disseminate troublesome notions; others hold and propagate damnable heresies. Even Charity itself, because it rejoices in the truth, dares not hope that the mass of nominal Christians and teachers in the visible Church are the real friends of God.
Worldliness, vanity, formality, sloth, backsliding, lack of tenderness of conscience, and lack of zeal, are fearfully prevalent. Among the pious is often heard the cry, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" Barren ordinances and an unfruitful ministry, fill the pious with grief. No famine is so dreadful — as a famine of the Word of God; no drought is so much to be deprecated — as a dearth of spiritual influences. When the heavens become brass and glow like a furnace, and the earth becomes iron — man and beast are often in great straits. But, if the whole Church of God at that very time were thrifty and abundant in every good work — then joy might still abound.
It is sad indeed when few of the sons of the Church offer themselves to be her ministers; and when pillars in the temple are fallen, and others rise not up to take their place. That was a doleful cry of the prophet, "Help, O LORD, for the godly are fast disappearing! The faithful have vanished from the earth!" Psalm 12:1.
One sight is inconceivably sad — it is that of a rich harvest perishing for the lack of reapers to gather it in.
Savior, visit Your plantation;
Grant us, Lord, a gracious rain:
All will come to desolation,
Unless You return again:
Lord, revive us;
All our help must come from Thee.
Keep no longer at a distance,
Shine upon us from on high;
Lest for lack of Your assistance,
Every plant should droop and die;
Lord, revive us;
All our help must come from Thee.
Let our mutual love be fervent,
Make us prevalent in prayers;
Let each one esteemed Your servant
Shun the world's bewitching snares.
Lord, revive us;
All our help must come from Thee.
Break the tempter's fatal power;
Turn the stony heart to flesh;
And begin from this good hour,
To revive Your work afresh.
Lord, revive us;
All our help must come from Thee.
— John Newton
Heavy as are the other trials of the Christian life, their power of producing distress is not comparable to spiritual distress. The greatest warfare is the conflict with sin and temptation. To be tempted of the devil is, in a sense, to be tormented of the devil; and when the heart at all yields to the seductions of the wicked one and the conscience is defiled by sin — the anguish is sometimes intolerable. Read and study the 32nd, 51st, and 130th Psalms, if you would know how sin has of old seduced and afflicted.
THE SPIRITUAL WARFARE
"The spirit of a man sustains his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?" In their own spiritual state, the pious often find cause of discomfort and weariness hardly capable of expression.
Long after David knew and loved God, he compares his distresses to broken bones; he is so covered with shame that he cannot look up; he forgets to take bread, and piteously cries out, "Iniquities prevail against me!"
Look at Peter going out and weeping bitterly.
Hear Paul saying, "O, what a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"
By Isaiah, the whole Church says, "Our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away!" Isaiah 64:6.
Sometimes these spiritual conflicts are rendered more distressing by the hiding of God's countenance. When close and comfortable communion with God is much interrupted, one feels that his Helper and Friend is gone. At such times prayer is almost a task, praise almost a burden — and Satan seems to be let loose, and even blasphemies are thrust into the mind. Then despairing thoughts are almost overpowering. Sin becomes bold. Resistance seems unavailing. The soul cries for help, but there is none — it is afar off. The terrors of the Law are let loose. Conscience thunders. God Himself seems to have forgotten to be gracious.
Then, with Jeremiah, the soul cries out, "Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable, which refuses to be healed?" Jeremiah 15:18. Perhaps the words of the Psalmist still better express the feeling of the soul: "Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? Is His mercy clean gone forever? Does His promise fail forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He, in anger, shut up His tender mercies?" Psalm 77:7-9. The old cry, "O Lord, how long?" is often heard in the assemblies of the saints.
Sometimes very strange temptations overtake the people of God. Time would fail to state the half of them. Here is one. In a letter, John Newton says: "I was for a while troubled with a very singular thought. . . I seemed not so much afraid of wrath and punishment as of being lost and overlooked amidst the myriads that are continually entering the unseen world. 'What is my soul,' thought I, 'among such an innumerable multitude of beings?' And this troubled me greatly. Perhaps the Lord would take no notice of me. I was thus greatly perplexed."
However strange such thoughts may seem to those who never had them, yet there is laid for them a broad foundation in the ignorance, guilt, and fears of the fleshly nature. Even where grace has imparted some knowledge of God and His mercy to sinners, such fears may spring up. A consciousness of one's unworthiness, and inability to be profitable to God; a strong sense of ill desert, accompanied with weak faith in the divine mercy and perfections may much depress a pious mind. Feeling unworthy of any notice from God, he fears God may doom him to everlasting neglect and eternal desolation.
When God seems to be pursuing it in displeasure, the soul says, as David said to Saul, "After whom is the King of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? after a dead dog, after a flea?" Samuel 24:14. To the same effect Job speaks in his distress: "Will you break a leaf driven to and fro? And will you pursue the dry stubble?" Job 13:25. And because one feels as if he were beneath the dignity of God's wrath — he also fears that he may be beneath the regards of His mercy.
Sometimes the wicked one besets good men with doubts concerning the omniscience or omnipresence of God. It seems to them that God is not noticing what takes place. Their faith is weak, and they sink into despondent thoughts. One goes " "Behold, I go forward but He is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive Him. When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him. When He turns on the right, I cannot see Him." Job 23:8-9.
In its trouble, the soul, not seeing God, thinks God does not see it. The "eyes fail, from looking upward." No God appears — no helper comes. Then the tempter urges that God does not see, or does not regard. In such a state men are ready to say, "Master, don't You care that we are perishing?" Mark 4:38. The absence of a firm faith in God's watchful care, will destroy one's comfort.
THE WORLD DISTRESSES GOD'S SAINTSIt often distresses the pious, that men of the world do not admit their claims to sonship with God. It is a remarkable fact that when the Pharisees were in the last stages of corruption, they were in the greatest favor with the uncircumcised in heart. It is no less true that the more pure and holy any body of men have been — the more malignant have been their enemies. Even the claims of Jesus to a spotless purity were so far from being admitted, that He was said to be in league with the prince of the devils. In like manner the world hates the followers of Christ, and denies their claims to saintship.
Sometimes this uncharitable spirit extends to even some of the professed followers of Christ. In almost every age there have been some who cried, with a loud voice, "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we!" We are the Church — salvation is secured only in our communion — you are all in your sins. Such conduct not only displays consummate vanity in these boasters, but it often deeply wounds the tender spirit of the true Christian. Although he may not complain of it, it is not without its effect on his heart. It sinks his spirits. He is sad either because he fears that he may be wrong — or because it grieves him to find any professed friend of Christ so carried away by uncharitableness.
In almost every ship are some passengers who make themselves disagreeable by their unamiable or disobliging tempers. Some are vastly self-conceited. They claim to know everything. They find fault with the navigation of the ship. They see how it might be much better done. They are querulous, and never in a good mood. At such times and in such circumstances, our wisdom is to cease from man and go to God, our exceeding joy. He is a very present help in trouble.
It is sad when the chief song of the believer is over his own leanness. If a vine-tree brings forth no good grapes, it is good for nothing but to be burned. If God has done everything proper to be done to His vineyard, it ought to bring forth good grapes. "Now are you My friends, if you do whatsoever I command you." "Herein is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit." It is dreadful so to live as to incur the blighting curse sent on the barren fig tree. God is never glorified by a heartless, fruitless profession.
LEANNESS AND BARRENNESS LAMENTED
A godly man deplores the lack of zeal and usefulness in his brethren, but most of all in himself. Blessed Paul was very intent that he himself should not run in vain, neither labor in vain (Philippians 2:16). No preaching is more useful to Christians, than that which makes them humble for past neglect, and zealous for good works. Those writings which abase pride and beget liveliness in the work of God, should be much studied. The following hymn has long been a favorite in the devotions of the closet. It is entitled "Unfruitfulness Lamented."
Long have I sat beneath the sound
Of Your salvation, Lord;
But still how weak my faith is found,
And knowledge of Your word.
Oft I frequent Your holy place,
And hear almost in vain;
How small a portion of Your grace
Can my false heart retain!
How cold and feeble is my love!
How negligent my fear!
How low my hope of joys above!
How few affections there!
Great God, your sovereign power impart.
To give Your word success;
Write Your salvation on my heart.
And make me learn Your grace.
— Isaac Watts
A holy life, fruitful in good works, is essential to the making of our calling and election sure. But alas! Men will wrangle for religion; write for it; fight for it; die for it — anything but live for it.
We never do our duty until we stir ourselves up to take hold upon God. All really good works have their root and beginning in sincere faith in Christ (John 6:28-29; Hebrews 11:6). And all true evangelical faith leads to holiness, because it is itself the very germ of holiness in a sinner's heart.
God's people sometimes fall into a great error respecting their duty. The layman wishes he could preach. The preacher wishes he could turn philanthropist. The philanthropist thinks the patient sufferer far excels him in glorifying God. The patient sufferer wishes he could lead a life of active usefulness.
The best way is for every one to stand in his lot, and do his duty there. Let Mordecai be porter, until God calls him to guide the State. Let Daniel go to the lions' den. The path of his duty lies right through that cage of ferocious animals. Let Aquila and Priscilla make tents when they have nothing better to do. Let Peter feed the sheep and lambs.
Hark! the voice of Jesus crying,
"Who will go and work today?
Fields are white, and harvests waiting:
Who will bear the sheaves away?"
Loud and long the Master calleth;
Rich reward He offers free;
Who will answer, gladly saying,
"Here am I; send me, send me"?
If you cannot cross the ocean.
And the heathen lands explore.
You can find the heathen nearer,
You can help them at your door.
If you cannot give your thousands,
You can give the widow's mite;
And the least you give for Jesus
Will be precious in His sight.
If you cannot speak like angels.
If you cannot preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
You can say He died for all.
If you cannot rouse the wicked
With the judgment's dread alarms,
You can lead the little children
To the Savior's waiting arms.
Let none hear you idly saying,
"There is nothing I can do,"
While the souls of men are dying,
And the Master calls for you.
Take the task He gives you gladly;
Let your work your pleasure be;
Answer quickly when He calls,
"Here am I: send me, send me."
— Daniel March
When one looks at these things,
THE SUM OF THE WHOLE
perceives the great deceitfulness of his own heart,
sees the working of the mystery of iniquity in the world,
beholds the abounding of error on all religious subjects — both doctrinal and practical,
witnesses many sad and shameful apostasies and gross self-deceptions
— then his soul is cast down within him.
His faith is so weak that he fails confidently to claim sonship with God. His title to Heaven is not so clear as he could wish. In many ways he is at a disadvantage. For all such I have a word in season:
I. A Word of Instruction.
II. A Word of Encouragement.
III. A Word of Caution.
1. Whatever is the case of anyone, the basis which God has laid for the faith, support, encouragement, victory and final salvation of His people is ample and covers the whole case: "Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, 'The Lord knows those who are His,' and, 'Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.'" 2 Timothy 2:19
I. A WORD OF INSTRUCTION
Every heir of life is known by God — and God is known by him. His record is on high; and he hates sin and loves holiness. These are the main pillars on which rests the fabric of Christian hopes, joys, safety and consolation.
God has full intelligence of all that takes place — or that can take place. His omniscience covers everything. He can see a grain of wheat in a bushel of chaff. He never regards a sheep as a goat — nor the wheat as tares. He has a distinct vision of all matters relating to the best interests of all His people. He infallibly distinguishes the weak saint from all vain pretenders around him. Though Noah lived in a world wholly given up to sin and folly — yet God knew him from all his generation. Though righteous Lot was the only godly man among the thousands, and perhaps millions in the plain of Sodom — yet God discerned between His servant and his ungodly neighbors. In peace and in war, by sea or on land, on mountains or in cities, in dens or in deserts, in prisons or in palaces — God has never failed to recognize believers as His friends, however obscure or distrustful of themselves.
There is a still higher sense in which God knows His people: He approves them and regards them with favor. See Psalm 1:6; Amos 3:2. The fountain of this kind regard, is in God's infinite and everlasting love and mercy. God looks upon His people in the face of Christ Jesus; and He loves the image of Christ which they bear in their hearts. All the saints are "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father," 1 Peter 1:2. "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." Romans 8:29-30; compare Ephesians 1:3-6.
God knows all the affairs of His people as they now stand, or as they shall hereafter stand. He loves His own people. He loves them infinitely. He has loved them with an everlasting love. Men may hate and deride them — but God pities and cherishes them. Their judgment is with their God. Their names are in the book of life. Their Savior reigns. If we cannot do all the good we wish — then let us do all the good we can. Let all remember that God knows and approves their unfulfilled desires and unaccomplished plans of usefulness.
So do I gather strength and hope anew;
For well I know Your patient love perceives
Not what I did, but what I strove to do —
And though the full ripe ears be sadly few,
You will accept my sheaves.
Though the Lord did not permit David to build the temple, yet He took it well of him to plan so pious a work, and gather much of the treasure necessary to accomplish it. Every epistle to the seven churches of Asia has in it these words: "I know your works." He knows all about them. And He knows all about His people — their joys and sorrows, their pains and pleasures, their poverty and purposes. If we are distressed about food and clothing — He knows that we have need of these things. The Lord will provide. Not a sparrow is forgotten before Him. And are you not of more value than many sparrows? The Good Shepherd calls the sheep by name. He knows them well (John 10:3, 14).
My God, whose gracious pity I may claim,
Calling You Father — sweet endearing name —
The sufferings of this weak and weary frame —
All, all are known to You.
Each secret conflict with indwelling sin,
Each sickening fear I never the prize shall win,
Each pang from irritation, turmoil, sin —
All, all is known to You.
Nay, all by You is ordered, chosen, planned,
Each drop that fills my daily cup Your hand
Prescribes, for ills none else can understand —
All, all is known to You.
And welcome, precious worthy Spirit, make
My little drop of suffering for His sake;
Father, the cup I drink, the path I take —
All, all is known to you.
On the seal of God, may also be found this inscription: "Let him who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity." "If a man therefore purges himself from these [sinful lusts], he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified and fit for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work," 2 Timothy 2:21. God never intended that His people should have consolation — except in the way of holiness. If men believe that the moral law is not binding as a rule of life — they will wallow in the mire of sin. It is not safe for any man to bless himself in his iniquity. Say to the wicked, "It shall be ill with him." He who approves and allows sin, is in the bonds of iniquity. Scougal says: "I had rather see the real impressions of a God-like nature upon my own soul — than have a vision from Heaven, or an angel sent to tell me, that my name was enrolled in the book of life."
Men may boast of free grace and rejoice in justification by faith and talk fluently of other Scripture doctrines — but all will be in vain if they remain filthy and unholy. No man can prove himself a Christian — if he does not hate sin. Among the ancients the entrance to the temple of honor — was through the temple of virtue. He who would ascend to glory — must be first pure. Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord. But he who hates sin and strives after holiness, may know that he is of God. "To be amended by a little cross, afraid of a little sin, and affected with a little mercy — is a good evidence of grace in the soul."
No unrenewed man can truly say, "I hate every false way!" "With my mind I serve the law." It is folly not to believe that he who does righteousness is righteous, or that he who commits sin is of the devil (I John 3:7-8). Personal holiness is the only satisfactory evidence of our acceptance with God. Man's destiny is determined in this life. His character is formed here — and it may be known here.
LONGING FOR HOLINESS
Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways
To keep His statutes still!
Oh, that my God would grant me grace
To know and do His will!
Oh, send Your Spirit down to write
Your law upon my heart!
Nor let my tongue indulge deceit,
Nor act the liar's part.
From vanity turn off my eyes;
Let no corrupt design,
Nor covetous desires, arise
Within this soul of mine.
Order my footsteps by Your word.
And make my heart sincere;
Let sin have no dominion, Lord,
But keep my conscience clear.
My soul has gone too far astray,
My feet too often slip;
Yet, since I've not forgot Your way.
Restore Your wandering sheep.
Make me to walk in Your commands,
'Tis a delightful road;
Nor let my head, nor heart, nor hands
Offend against my God.
— Isaac Watts
2. In the being, perfections, and government of God is laid a sure foundation for the solace of God's people. The darkest gulf into which the mind of man can look, is that of atheism. Nor can any scheme of thought present the world otherwise than as a helpless orphan, unless we admit that God is, and that He has an infinitely excellent nature, and that He governs all things. God lacks no attribute, the existence of which could cheer a good man, nor is His government weak or foolish or partial or precarious. "The Lord reigns — let the earth rejoice!" Psalm 97:1. No words are better suited to quiet any pious heart than these: "It is the Lord."
The Lord Jehovah reigns,
His throne is built on high;
The garments He assumes
Are light and majesty.
His glories shine with beams so bright,
No mortal eye can bear the sight.
The thunders of His hand
Keep the wide world in awe;
His wrath and justice stand
To guard His holy law;
And where His love resolves to bless,
His truth confirms and seals the grace.
Through all His ancient works.
Surprising wisdom shines;
Confounds the powers of Hell,
And breaks their cursed designs.
Strong is His arm, and shall fulfill
His great decrees, His sovereign will.
And can this mighty King
Of glory condescend,
And will He write His name,
My Father and my Friend?
I love His name, I love His word;
Join all my powers and praise the Lord.
— Isaac Watts
3. Nor has the history of God's dealings with His people left any room for doubt that He will be with His own, and help them to the end. Tell me, O vexed soul, when did God ever forsake the righteous, and leave him to perish? Now, all God has done He will do again when the necessities of His people demand it. Salvation wrought for David or Daniel is as good ground of support to a believer of this day, as if it were part of his own experience.
Nor is this all. God has good cause for all He does. He knows that He is acting wisely. If we could understand what He is doing, we would heartily approve it. The darkest event that ever happened in the Church of God was the death and burial of His holy child, Jesus. Yet, from that came life and salvation to the whole Church. His counsels are of old faithfulness and truth. No plans, no methods, no counsels are as good as His. He manages all perfectly. Give Him time to explain Himself.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning Providence,
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour:
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
— William Cowper
4. Moreover, grace and strength are pledged to carry all believers through the worst trials — through all the trials that may come upon them. The trials may be immense — but divine grace can make the worm Jacob to thresh the mountains. Hear God's promises: "As your days — so shall your strength be." "Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine! When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!" Isaiah 43:1-3. "I will not leave you comfortless; I will come unto you." "My grace is sufficient for you." So that we could desire no more, and no better promises than are already given in God's precious Word.
Our God, how firm His promise stands!
E'en when He hides His face,
He trusts in our Redeemer's hands,
His glory and His grace.
Then why, my soul, these sad complaints
Since Christ and we are one?
Your God is faithful to His saints,
Is faithful to His Son.
Beneath His smiles my heart has lived
And part of Heaven possessed;
I praise His name for grace received
And trust Him for the rest.
— Isaac Watts
5. Nor does God ever afflict capriciously. He does nothing, but for good cause. "He does not afflict willingly — nor grieve the children of men." If He chastens us, it is "for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness" (Lamentations 3:33; Hebrews 12:10).
The great sources of triumph to the suffering saint are to be sought in the future. The light which God has kindled beyond the tomb is bright enough to dispel the darkness of midnight — the darkness of the grave.
I proceed now to give,
II. A WORD OF COMFORT AND ENCOURAGEMENT.
Here the chief difficulty is to tell where to begin, and where to leave off. The Bible is full of divine cordials for the weary. Time would fail to recount them all. Here are some of them:
1. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." 2 Corinthians 1:3-6. This is a mere sample. Other Scriptures are particular, and specify all the woes and the ills of life.
If one has lost a child, wife, husband, father, brother, sister — God's Word meets the case in all its essential troubles and points to suitable resources. Besides, the comforts of God are very seasonable. The great excellency of the prophet's visit to the widow of Zarephath, and of the angel's interposition to save Isaac from death, consisted in their peculiar fitness to the existing state of things.
2. Nor are the comforts of God few and slight. On the contrary, they are ample, various, and abundant. They are also mighty. How could it be otherwise? They are the "consolations of God." Their Author secures their efficiency. The Scriptures speak of "strong consolation" (Hebrews 6:18). They are also accessible to all who will embrace them. And they are clearly and often spoken of in Scripture: "For whatever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope," Romans15:4. "This is my comfort in my affliction — for Your word has quickened me." "It is good for me that I have been afflicted — that I might learn Your statutes," Psalm 119:50, 71. To be yet more specific:
3. There is a "needs be" for all the trials endured by the people of God. We may not now know why He contends with us — but the Lord knows, and that is enough.
He is the Physician. The efficacy of a good remedy does not depend upon the sick man knowing what his ailment is, nor the nature of the remedy given him, nor the manner of its operation. The best men seldom know the extent and power of their spiritual maladies, until the Great Physician works a cure. He who has promised the complete sanctification of His people, is alone fit to decide when and how they must be tried. Who are we, that we should attempt to take things out of His divine hand?
One of the most afflicted men I ever saw, said this was for a joy unto him: "He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men," Lamentations 3:33. Every godly man ought to say that he both deserves and requires chastisement. God sees in us evil sufficient to account for all our trials. If God loves us, He will chasten us, that He may wean us from our idols. "Why should a living man complain — a man for the punishment of his sins?" "Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord — and shall we not receive evil also?"
Such discipline strengthens our hatred of sin — and our love of holiness. He who has undertaken to deliver us, will bring forth judgment unto truth, complete the work of faith with power, and present us without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, before God. No godly and wise man would dare to ask to be set free from all trials.
4. Another ground of comfort is that no trial befalls us, but such as is common to men. This solace is not based upon mere community in suffering. But when we are joint partakers in sorrow with other godly men, we comfort ourselves thus: These sufferers give evidence of love to God. If they are God's friends and yet are afflicted — then surely I may regard my sufferings as also sent in token of unchanging divine love. If they find it good to be tried — then it may be well for me to endure the same. If Divine grace makes them conquerors — then it can give me the victory also. This reasoning is fair and unanswerable. Take out of the lives of Moses, David, Paul, Newton, Bunyan, and Brainerd all which they learned by means of sanctified affliction — and they would be comparatively destitute of interest.
5. Trials, properly used, greatly strengthen Christian graces. Severities, which do not impair — give vigor to the human body. The same is true of the human intellect. Studies which most heavily tax our mental powers, do, when mastered, become the means of the greatest enlargement. Who ever had much patience — until he was severely tried? Who ever loved much — unless he was called to forsake all for Christ? Who ever had strong faith — unless he had walked in darkness, and had no light?
6. The Word of God abounds with the most consoling truths: "I will be your God!" "I will never leave you nor forsake you!" "He will not allow us to be tempted above that we are able to bear." These are mere samples of the exceeding great and precious promises of God. It adds to their value that they are freely given, are unchangeable, cannot be frustrated, and are the common inheritance of all the heirs of glory.
Neither Paul nor David had a warrant, beyond the weakest saint, to appropriate these promises to themselves. What believer has ever been in the school of adversity and not learned many valuable lessons? Pointing to his trophies, he says, "These are the spoils which I have won in battle, and I dedicate them to maintain the house of the Lord." Like the old warrior, he may have been wounded in battle — but his scars being healed, are his glory.
7. Earth is not our home — though some silly people would love to have it such. But God has prepared for the saints a better portion — heavenly mansions! Though God's people entertain the hope of finally wearing the crown of life — who would long for it and pant after it, if he had no trials? God knows us better than we know ourselves. We are in danger of loving our present abode — so He sends us trial after trial to remind us that this world is not our rest. Perfection of character and the highest bliss cannot be attained in this world. How many look upon a removal from earth as a "melancholy exile"!
Anything is good for us, which makes us pant after Heaven. He who is well trained in the school of affliction often has little to do when death comes — but to gather up his feet in his bed, and bid a glad farewell to earth and a joyful welcome to Heaven.
8. Another thing that should reconcile us to suffering, is that thereby God is glorified. This is the most important of all considerations. Christ would not have had a name above others, had not His high praises been sung in prisons, in lions' dens, on racks, and from the midst of fiery flames! These tributes of grateful homage have been abundant and without a parallel. On the supposition that the Bible is a fable, no man can account for them. No other system has ever produced such results.
Christ is glorified, first, by our active service — and secondly, by suffering for Him. It would detract no more from Christ's honor that all His ministers and people to the end of the world should keep silence, than that they should cease to teach the world by example how men can suffer for His name. So that, if God denies to one all participation in active efforts to spread the truth — yet, if by cheerful submission to adversity he can show forth the power of God's grace, let him glorify God on this behalf.
To praise God in the midst of success and prosperity, may be done by the truest worldling or hypocrite; but to extol His name when in a sea of trouble can be done by none, except those with whom is the secret of the Lord.
I come now to give,
III. A WORD OF CAUTION
1. Do not refuse to acknowledge the hand of God upon you. Do not ascribe to second causes — that which belongs God Himself.
2. Beware of a murmuring spirit. We may complain to God, but we must not complain of God. We should resign all to His hand. We must not only submit — we must gladly acquiesce. Meekness is far better than disturbance. Quietness excels perturbation. Silence is often a duty, and a very reasonable duty it is. The Psalmist was a happy man when he could say, "Surely I have behaved and quieted myself as a child that is weaned of his mother — my soul is even as a weaned child," Psalm 131:2. We do not know all the causes which have led the Most High to treat us thus and so.
3. Let us particularly guard against all atheistic and unworthy thoughts. That was a terrible rebuke: "Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel — My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God?" Isaiah 40:27. The Most High does see and regard.
4. Let us never forget that rebellion is sin, and that it does no good, even for a time. The wild bull caught in the net may bellow and toss and struggle — but he hurts himself only. His struggles do no good.
5. Nor let us forget our past experience. Almost everyone can see how good has come to him out of evils which have already befallen him. We are warranted in hoping that it will be so in days to come.
6. Let us inquire whether our trials humble us. They are intended to remind us of our errors. A little candor and self-examination will soon convince us that we deserve all that has come upon us.
7. Let us not forsake God, the fountain of living waters — nor hew us out cisterns which can hold no water. Let us not look to the creature — but to the Creator. It was a grand error of the Israelites, when they got into trouble, to send down to Egypt or over to Assyria for help or for horsemen. Let us not be alike foolish. Jehovah is God.
8. Let us not sing dirges, but unite with primitive Christians in the faithful saying: "If we died with him — we will also live with him; if we endure — we will also reign with him. If we disown him — he will also disown us; if we are faithless — he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself." 2 Timothy 2:11-13.
9. Take heed, lest in your sorrow for the dead, you forget your duties to the living. A release from one duty, is often a call to increased vigor in other duties.
10. Forget not the many circumstances of mercy and favor attending your trials. "Our problem is that we write our mercies on the sand — and engrave our afflictions upon a rock."
11. Be not unmindful that you are the follower of a suffering Savior. If you fare as well as your Master — then why should you complain? His cup was more bitter than any ever put into your hand. Let your thoughts dwell on His sorrows — until you are ready to forget your own.
12. Remember that sorrow and suffering are among the badges of discipleship.
"The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Leads to the land where sorrows are unknown."
13. Beware of slight views of sin. Labor clearly to see its heinousness. The least sin is a greater evil — than all our earthly sufferings. No man's case can be very bad — if he hates sin and is freed from its reigning and condemning power. When sin lies light upon us — then a small affliction will be heavy; but when sin lies heavy upon us — then all afflictions will be light.
14. Never charge God foolishly. Never speak rashly nor lightly of affliction. Beware of bringing any reproach on Christ or His cause. Our enemies always watch for our halting, but never more than in the day of our sore trials.
15. Beware of indolence and carnal security. As yet your afflictions may be very light — but remember the days of darkness are not all past until we reach the portals of Paradise. No man has any more grace, than he is found to possess upon a severe trial. If God loves you — then He will prove you. Be assured you will need all the grace you can possibly secure. Be not high-minded, but fear. Put on the whole armor of God.
16. Do not shun the society of the most afflicted of God's people. Accustom yourself to scenes of trial and sorrow. "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure." Ecclesiastes 7:2-4
Shake hands with sorrow in its most haggard forms. Then, when it presents itself to you, you can say, "I have seen the likes of you before!" The sight of Goliath did not agitate David — because he had fought with a lion and a bear.
17. Beware of a censorious or bitter spirit towards your afflicted brethren, and endeavor to comfort them. Turn not a deaf ear to any tale of sorrow. No mortal can tell on whom the next heavy stroke shall fall. Let us gird up the loins of our minds; let us watch and be sober; let us bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ; let us weep with those who weep; let us live near to God; let us go forth without the camp, willingly bearing the reproach of Christ; and when the chief Shepherd shall appear, we shall also appear with Him in glory!
18. Heaven consists of those who have fought their way to the kingdom. When John saw the great multitude, which no man could number, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb, and clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands, and singing such a song as belongs to the temple above — one of the elders said, "These in white robes — who are they, and where did they come from?" I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes!" Revelation 7:13-17
Thus have I endeavored "to speak a word in season to him who is weary," Isaiah 1:4. Oh! that it may help and cheer on each pilgrim in the difficulty of his way. "The Lord shall reign forever, even your God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise the Lord."