There are few lives that really fulfill their hopes and plans in this world. Now and then there is a man who in early youth marks out a course for himself and moves straight on in it to its goal; but most people live very differently from their own early dreaming. Many find at the close of their career, that in scarcely one particular have they realized their own intentions. God has at every point simply set aside their plans and substituted his own.
There are lives whose plans are so completely thwarted that their stories are most pathetic; and yet we have but to wait a little while to see how what seemed failure, becomes rich success.
The brightest of all examples is that of Christ's earthly career. His was a broken life. He was cut off in the midst of his days. There never was such a failure as his life seemed at the close of the day he died. Yet we all know what came of that failure.
The pathetic story at Harriet Newell is an illustration of a broken life. Listening to the cries of the perishing and the call of duty, she sailed away as a missionary, but was never permitted to do any work for Christ among the heathen her heart so yearned to help. Driven from hostile shores and drifting long at sea, first her baby died and then she soon sank into death's silence. Truly her life seemed a broken one, defeated, a failure. Not one of the glorious hopes of her consecration was realized. She told no heathen of the love of Christ. She taught no little child the way of salvation.
Yet that little grain of wheat, let fall into the ground and dying, has yielded wonderful fruitage. The story of her life has kindled the missionary spirit in thousands of other women's souls. Harriet Newell, dying with all her heart's holy hopes unrealized, has done far more for missions than she could ever have wrought in the longest life of the best service in the field.
The story of David Brainerd is scarcely less pathetic. At Northampton, Massachusetts, his grave is seen beside that of the fair young girl whom he loved, but did not live to wed. His death seemed most untimely. There were in that noble life, as men saw it, wondrous possibilities of usefulness. He seemed fitted to do a great work. But all these hopes and expectations were buried in the grave of the young missionary, and there was nothing left but a precious memory and a few Indian Christians whom he had led to Christ.
But a skillful hand gathered up the memorials of that consecrated life and put them in a little biography. The book flew over the sea and Henry Martyn, busy with his studies, read it. The result was that that brilliant young student, with all his fine gifts, devoted himself to God for India. And here again was a broken life. All his splendid abilities were emptied out in a few months in India with what seemed almost no gain to the cause of Christ. Then, broken down and sick, he dragged himself homeward from the Black Sea, dying on the way—dying alone and among unbelieving strangers, with none to soothe or comfort his last moments.
Both of these young missionary lives seemed utter failures, wasted lives; but from the grave of David Brainerd in the churchyard at Northampton, and from the desolate grave of Henry Martyn—has come much of the inspiration of modern missions. God broke their lives, that the fragrance might flow out to fill all the world.
There is another class of broken who, disappointed in their own early hopes, yet live to realize far nobler things than they had hoped in their enthusiastic devotion.
John Kitto, when a lad, met with a misfortune which seemed to unfit him for usefulness. By a terrible fall, he received severe bodily injuries, and was rendered totally and permanently deaf. The result was the turning of his life into new channels, in which he achieved a marvelous success, becoming one of the most voluminous and most instructive of all writers of books to help in the illumination and better understanding of the Bible.
God allowed the breaking and complete shattering of all the boy's hopes and prospects—that the man might do a far grander work in other directions. But for the misfortune that seemed to unfit him for any useful pursuit, and to leave him a hopeless and pitiable object of charity—he would probably never have been more than an obscure mechanic. But now his books are in hundreds of thousands of libraries, and his name is a familiar household word in nearly every intelligent Christian home in the English speaking world.
This is but one of the countless examples of lives which in earlier years appear utterly to fail, the people being in some way unfitted for their chosen calling and turned entirely away from it, but that in the end prove themselves far greater successes and far more efficient instrumentalities for good in the new way into which God's resistless providence forced them.
In the enthusiasm of his youthful zeal, a young man consecrated himself to the work of foreign missions. Full of glowing earnestness he sailed away to India, after completing his preparation for the ministry, hoping to spend his life in that land telling the story of the love of Christ. After a brief experience, he was compelled to abandon his missionary work and with great grief and reluctance return to his native country. Not only was he unable to labor in India, but he had "lost his voice" in the experiment and was thus altogether disqualified for any work of preaching anywhere. It must have been a sad hour to the young minister when this truth became apparent to his mind. His was a broken life, indeed. All his hopes and expectations lay like dead flowers at his feet.
So it seemed at that pathetic moment. But when he died, it did not seem that there had been any real misfortune when the young missionary's hopes were so broken. Yes, he lost his voice in India—but God gave him other work to do. In thirty years of editorial work, he has wrought a ministry far greater than he could ever have wrought had he continued to labor to the close of his days in foreign fields.
These are mere illustrations of what God does with earth's broken lives that are consecrated to him. He even seems to break them, sometimes, that they may become truly useful. At least he can use broken lives in his service just as well as whole ones. Indeed, it often appears as if men never can do much for God until they are "broken vessels." He chooses the weak things of this world, that no man may boast.
We ought, therefore, never to be afraid of God's providences, when they seem to break up our lives and crush our hopes, and even to turn us away from our chosen paths of usefulness and service. God knows what he wants to do with us, how he can best use us and where and in what ministry he would have us serve. When he shuts one door, it is because he has another door standing open for us. When he breaks our lives to pieces—it is because they will do more for his glory and the world's good, broken and shattered, than whole.