The Bitter Cup
James Smith, 1860
Yesterday I received from my kind neighbor, a circular, which read as follows: "The bitter cup and goblet — a Tonic of great efficacy," etc.
My neighbor perhaps did not know that I already had a "bitter cup" in my house, and had had one for years. But it is nevertheless true. Indeed I do not know a Christian who has not this Tonic. It is not always on the table, nor always in the hand — but it is somewhere in the house, or the family. It may be in the old-fashioned corner cupboard, or in the new-fashioned cheffoniere — but it is easily found, for it is often in use.
There is my friend, Sarah Toms, she has a "bitter cup" — for her husband has a harsh, irritable, and uneven temper, and does not seem to realize that it is his duty to curb it, control it, and bring it into subjection. He is often angry — when he ought to be pleased; and sullen — when he ought to be sociable. He is a sore trial to his wife, who wishes to live in peace, walk with God, and grow in grace. But, Sarah often finds it to be a Tonic, and it sharpens her appetite for the bread of life, and renders the throne of grace very precious. It is a great question if Sarah's spiritual health would be nearly so good — if it was not for this "bitter cup;" or if she would, prize and enjoy the ordinances of God's house as she does, if all was pleasant at home.
Then there is Alfred Haines, he has a "bitter cup" — for his wife does not understand him, and therefore often taunts, threatens, and torments him. Often when Alfred has his whole heart set upon pleasing God, and is trying in every way he can to help forward God's cause, and make all about him happy — his wife mistakes him, charges him with neglecting her, and with being cruel to her. Often does she annoy, irritate, and hinder him — until he is bewildered and confused. He is sure that she takes the place of the judge on the bench, when she ought to take the place of the criminal at the bar. Poor Alfred has a "bitter cup," but no doubt it is of use to him, for it often drives him to the Lord, and makes him long for home. It is a Tonic, and strengthens his digestive organs, and enables him to feed on doctrines as well as promises, on meat as well as milk.
I sometimes visit a dear family, where both husband and wife are believers, and appear to be very well matched. Their house is their own, and their business is good. When you enter, all is neat, clean, and orderly, and you feel as if you could enjoy yourself there. You look around you and think there can be little to cause grief here. But my friends have a "bitter cup," for they have a son that causes them shame and grief. How they trained him in infancy, I know not — but he is unmanageable now. His mother cannot influence him, nor can his father control him. Sometimes he comes home intoxicated, and sometimes is out the whole night. Many a sleepless hour has that father spent, full of anxious thoughts about that prodigal son; and many an hour has that mother wept and prayed that her Absalom may be brought to God. But painful as it is, even that "bitter cup" may be the means of spiritual health, and prevent the soul from sinking into ease and worldliness.
My friends, the Smiths, appeared to have their lot cast in a pleasant place, and to possess a goodly heritage. Happy in each other, happy in the church — but happier still in God, all seemed to go well with them. I could see no "bitter cup" in their dwelling. But they had a lovely, intelligent child, of which perhaps they thought too much, and perhaps loved too ardently. They watched over it with the greatest care, and sought by all means to train it up for God and glory. It was a sunbeam in the house, a sunbeam in the eye, and a sunbeam in the heart. But it took a slight cold, it gradually grew thin and pale, it became weak and feeble. Fear was excited, every means was tried to restore health — but it drooped and died! This was a "bitter cup." What tears were shed. What prayers were offered. What distress was felt. But all was in vain. The darling's doom was sealed — an early grave received the body. Yet this proved a blessing too, for Jesus occupied the dear one's place, and became the object of their undivided affections.
Joseph Andrews is a holy man, and one who wishes to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world. He has a godly wife, and a comfortable home. He stands well in the church, and enjoys the means of grace. He has good health, and earns good wages. His motto is, "If it is possible as much as lies in you — live peaceably with all men." But he is one of a number of men employed in the same business, and some of his fellow-workmen are infidels, some profane swearers, some mockers and persecutors of the godly, so that, like Lot, his righteous soul is daily vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked. This is his "bitter cup." If you saw him at home, you would say, "What a happy man he must be!" If you saw him only in the house of prayer, you would say "Who can have greater cause to be grateful?" And this he feels. But his Sunday is often disturbed with thoughts of the coming week, and his devotions are spoiled by what he has heard at shop, harassing him in the sanctuary. But home is endeared, and the sweet peace of the Sanctuary is rendered doubly precious by what he suffers when at his employment; and so his "bitter cup" proves a Tonic for his soul.
Mary Arthur is a good spiritually-minded Christian. The Bible is her daily delight, and the company of the saints is greatly prized by her. Her hope of Heaven is firm and steady, and her fellowship with Christ is sweet and pleasant. Her heart is set upon honoring Jesus, and serving her generation by the will of God. Her daily wish and prayer is, that she may be made useful to souls, and take some with her to her Father's house. But she is an invalid, confined to the house, and very often to her room. Her sufferings are great, and her bodily pains severe. She is the Lord's prisoner — this is her "bitter cup." Like a caged bird, she seems to have wings — but cannot use them. Others are strong — but she is weak. Others have health — she is always sick. Others enjoy ease — she has almost constant pain. Poor Mary, the bitter in your cup is very pungent — but if your body suffers, your soul enjoys ease; and if you cannot do the will of God, you are suffering it. If you had not the "bitter cup" in this form, you would have it in some other, and no doubt but this is the best form in which you could have it, or your Heavenly Father, who loves you so well, would not have appointed it!
George Grimes has good health, a good business, a comfortable home, and fills an honorable place in the church. His gifts are considerable, his usefulness is great, and he is generally respected. Some are inclined to envy him, and there is a spice of jealousy in some minds respecting him. No one can see that he has a "bitter cup." But he is fearfully harassed with temptations, tormented with doubts and fears, and the lusts and corruptions of his nature work so horribly, that he is at times almost beside himself! No one knows what he suffers, nor can he open his mind to any. In prayer especially, he is often assailed with the most dreadful suggestions; and when hearing God's Word, he seems to himself as if he was set as a mark for Satan's arrows. Oh, the fiery darts which are cast into his soul! Oh, the horrid corruptions that work in, and seem to roll over his spirit! Oh, the vile thoughts that agitate his breast! His is a "bitter cup" indeed, and so much the more bitter — because only known to God and himself. Friend George, it is a mercy for you that you have a sympathetic high priest — one who was tempted in all points like as you are. As he suffered, being tempted, he is able also to support those who are tempted.
But I must stop my pen, for "bitter cups" are very common things, and fresh cases keep rising up before my mind.
One man's "bitter cup" is the alienation of friends;
another's "bitter cup" is failure in business;
another's "bitter cup" is heavy losses;
another's "bitter cup" is church troubles;
another's "bitter cup" is unkindness of professors;
another's "bitter cup" is the lack of success in the Lord's work.
Where should I end?
The trees, from the wood of which these bitter cups are made — grow very fast and very plentifully. There are forests of them, against which the woodman's axe has never come yet. The root of these trees is sin, and the roots of sin spread over the entire surface of the world. The bitter is exceedingly bitter — for it reaches unto the soul.
The bitter cups are said to retain their bitterness for years, and some of the cups I have mentioned retain their bitterness all through life, and would, if a man was to live to the age of Methusaleh! It is necessary to some, to take the bitters from these cups twice a day — but some of us take our bitters a dozen times a day. Indeed the taste is seldom out of the mouth, or the heart.
Kind neighbor, I shall not want one of your "bitter cups." I need not spend two shillings to procure one — for I have one already, yes, more than one, and have had for years. I thank you for your circular — but just now I shall not be a customer.
But there is a bitterer cup than any I have alluded to, and that is the cup of wrath. Jesus drank it up for us, and, oh, the agony and bloody sweat, the pain and fear, the torture and distress, it produced! Blessed be God, that cup will never be put into a believer's hand.
But the lost sinner — the unbeliever — he must drink of that cup, and drink of it forever! He must drain it to the very dregs, and therefore it will be kept to his lips eternally. Satan trembles at the very thought of it, and prayed to the Son of God, "I beseech you not to torment me!" O lost sinner, what, what will you do? If you perish under the sound of the gospel — your cup will be the most bitter of all. For it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, for Nineveh and Babylon, for Sodom and Gomorrah — than for you. Yours will be the Hell of Hells! Yours will be the epitome of torment and agony!
O how bitter the cup, which has been put to the lips of some awakened souls, to drive them from sin, self, and the world, to seek salvation in Jesus! O how bitter the cup that has been tasted by some infidels on a dying bed, when they have seen Hell opening before them, and the door of mercy forever closed upon them! O how bitter the cup that has been drank by some lost ones, before the lamp of life went out! How they have writhed, and groaned, and sweat, and screamed! But the worst, the worst, the worst is to come!
Reader, are you a Christian? Are you sure of it? If not, I beseech you to fly to Jesus at once, immediately fly to Jesus, before the "bitter cup" of eternal wrath is put into your hand!