James Smith, 1865

"What shall I say?"
Isaiah 38:15

Such an exclamation escaped from the lips of Joshua, and it was the language of bitter disappointment, "O Lord, what shall I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies?" Joshua 7:8. The same words were uttered by our adorable Lord when His soul was overwhelmed with grief, in the prospect of His agonies and bloody sweat, His cross and sacrificial death: "Now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say?" John 12:27. Here it is the language of one who was filled with perplexity by the dispensations of Divine Providence. His soul was oppressed, his spirit mourned, and he compared his prayers to the chattering of a crane or a swallow.

Beloved, such is the case with us sometimes; our circumstances are so painful, so different from what we anticipated, that in bewilderment we exclaim, "What shall I say?"

First, we must say that God's dealings are very mysterious. "For My thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways, My ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth — so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts!" Isaiah 55:8-9. His way is in the sea, and His path in the mighty waters, and His footsteps are not known. We looked for light — but behold darkness. We expected success — but we meet with failure. We anticipated prosperity — but we are plunged in adversity. Our purposes are broken off. Our plans are frustrated. Our skies are clothed with clouds. We are forced to say, "Truly, You are a God who hides Yourself!"

"What shall I say?"

Secondly, we must say that the words of Jesus are still true: "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows." He foresaw it. He appointed it. He foretold it. But we were very hesitant to believe it. However it may be with others — we did hope that it would be different with us. Or, we hope that past trials would suffice, and that we should be exempted in future. But, no, almost every day brings some new trial, some fresh trouble, some unexpected cross! O Savior, Your words are indeed true! It is "through much tribulation that we must enter into the kingdom of God."

"What shall I say?"

Thirdly, we must say that some of God's promises require strong faith to believe them. He has assured us that He will rejoice over us to do us good; that He will hear our prayers, and listen to our cries; that all things shall work together for our good. But where are the answers to our prayers now? How can these losses, crosses, difficulties, dangers, and disappointments — do us good? Where is His love, His zeal for my welfare, His tender mercy now? Is He still the same? Is He yet in one mind? Must I believe that this is the very best thing that could happen to me? Yes, His promises and His covenant relations require it. But, oh, how difficult! What strong faith it requires; and mine, oh, how weak!

"What shall I say?"

Fourthly, we must say that God will do just as He pleases with His own children. He has the right, and He will exercise it. He will cross our wills, hedge up our paths, cut off our expectations, and give us wormwood and gall to drink.

And why? Because He loves to cause us pain — or takes pleasure in our sighs and sorrows? No! Oh, no! But because He consults our welfare. Because He is wiser than we are. Why am I poor — and my brother rich? Why am I sick — and my sister healthy? Why are my efforts crossed — and my neighbor's crowned with success? Our Father refuses to answer such questions! He asks, "May I not do as I will with My own?" He kindly quiets us by the assurance, "You don't understand now what I am doing — but someday you will." Well did the patriarch exclaim, "He gives no account of any of His matters."

Our Father wisely appoints the circumstances and lot of every one of His children. He has mapped out the path in which they are to travel. He has appointed their bounds, which they cannot pass. Then with Job we say, "He is in one mind, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases. He will certainly accomplish what He has decreed for me, and He has many more things like these in mind." This is often deeply trying; but "what shall I say?"

"What shall I say?"

Fifthly, we must say that the trial of faith is often very severe, exceedingly painful. Gold is the finest of metals, and is tried more than any other; but the trial of our faith is much more severe, thorough, and precious than gold. Never did the Holy Spirit work faith in a sinner's heart — but the providence of God tried it. And when it is passing through the fire to be separated from all carnal, sensual dross — how exceedingly small it sometimes appears! Yes, sometimes when we seek it, it cannot be found. The fire causes the dross to rise to the top, and all we can see is fear, doubt, unbelief, self-pity, complaining, perplexity, envy, fretfulness, vexation, and pride!

We look for our faith, which before the trial appeared so healthy and so strong — but where is it? Untried faith is uncertain faith at best. Providence prepares the furnace, lights the fire, lays on the fuel — and our poor faith must pass through the ordeal. How difficult to say sometimes, "Though He slays me, yet will I trust in Him!" How difficult to believe that this rough road is the right road, which leads to the celestial city. But tried faith will be found unto honor, and glory, and praise at the appearing of Jesus Christ. Still, while the smoke of the furnace obscures our prospects, and the flames curl around our souls, we are often led to cry out, "What shall I say?"

"What shall I say?"

Sixthly, we must say that patience and perseverance are required under our trials. We must not murmur, we must not complain — but patiently follow wherever the Lord leads, and quietly bear whatever the Lord lays on us. He will not lay on us more than we are able to bear; but with every temptation He will make a way for our escape, that we may be able to bear it. Patience must calm the spirit, quiet the heart, and close the mouth. Then shall we say with the Psalmist, "I was silent, I opened not my mouth, because You are the One who has done this!" Had it been man — it might have been wrong. Had it been chance — it might have been injurious. But it was You — and, therefore, it must be wise, holy, and kind.

We are required quietly to persevere, to go on, though the way is rugged, though the thorns pierce our feet, though we cannot see one step before us. We must walk by faith, not by sight, believing that we are safe — in the midst of danger; that we are right — though everything is perplexing; and that all will end well — for "We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose!" Romans 8:28. Still, though we try to exercise patience, and slowly press forward in the trying path, we shall be prompted at times to exclaim, "What shall I say?"

"What shall I say?"

Seventhly, we must say that when Satan hinders us, none but God can effectually help us; therefore, we must look to Him. Satan is our sworn foe, our fierce and watchful enemy. If he cannot drive us back, he will try to hinder us, and make our work and our way bitter to our souls. His opposition is no child's play. He is no feeble foe, or inexperienced opponent. He hindered Paul — and he has hindered us. He will always try to hinder us, either by lulling us asleep, attracting us from the right road, or blocking up our path with difficulties and temptations. With such a foe — so crafty, so cruel, so diligent, so determined — what can we do?

Do? Say with poor, tried and troubled Micah, "As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me!"

O Satan, you are a cursed and cruel foe; but your day is coming, and soon shall I place my foot on your accursed head; and in the faith of this I can now say, "Do not gloat over me, my enemies! For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light." Still, Satanic influence, and Satanic hindrances, do often make us sigh out, "What shall I say?"

"What shall I say?"

Finally, we must say that however rough the road — the end will more than make up for its toils and trials, for the end shall be glorious. Yes, my soul, "there is an end, and your expectation shall not be cut off." "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart." I may now be in darkness — I may now be misrepresented — I may now foolishly question even God's faithfulness; but "I will commit my way unto the Lord; I will trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass; for He shall bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold His righteousness."

I will say then, that God is faithful, that His Word is true, that His promises are sure, that His ways are right, and that His perfections shall be glorified, by-and-bye — by His dealings with me now. I will say, I have an Advocate above, Jesus Christ the righteous One — I have a staff on which I can lean, a hope that will not make me ashamed, a faith that will not fail, and a prospect, notwithstanding all, of a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for me, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay!

I will say, that I believe that I shall overcome, and be more than a conqueror over every foe — through Him which has loved me, and given Himself for me! Blessed be His holy name, for wisdom to guide, and grace to help me in all the past; I will now endeavor to confide in Him, and trust Him for all that is to come.