Words of Comfort for those in Bereavement,
Sickness, Sorrow and the Varied Trials of Life
Edited by J. Sanderson, 1888
"The brightest rainbow is seen upon the darkest cloud." Havergal
"Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal." Moore
The aim of this book is to console suffering, and to comfort bereaved ones. It seeks to do this, by directing them to look on their cloud of sorrows as spanned and beautified by the rainbow of God's promises; to consider the importance of having a hold upon eternal realities; to study the character and works of God who "knows our frame and remembers we are dust"; to commit their way to Him who was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief"; and by becoming a valuable assistant to any, who, by sending it to others, may, in this way, extend sympathy and consolation to the afflicted and thus,
Tell to sinners round,
What a dear Savior they have found!
For, it must not be forgotten, that God would say to many a suffering one now, as He said to His ancient people, "I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction!" The records of Christian biography testify that many of the purest souls have emerged from beneath the heaviest burdens, that many of the godliest characters have been seamed with scars, and that many have first seen the gates of Heaven through their tears.
So long as the language of Solomon holds true: "Man is born unto trouble as the sparks to fly upward" so long will there be weeping eyes and aching hearts and therefore demands upon our sympathies to alleviate their sorrows!
There is no anguish like that of the broken heart mourning for those who have died and no sorrow like the memory of happier days with the beloved of earth.
The destroying angel knows no rest and takes captives from our homes, one after another. The bleeding hearts of relatives, neighbors and friends have often touched the sympathetic cords of our nature and our inmost soul responds would that we could go to them and tell them how deeply we feel for them and how gladly would we share, if possible, the grief they have been called to bear.
In such an hour of sore bereavement, it is not in human power to describe the full import of even a few stammering "words of comfort," a few lines of condolence, or a few sympathizing tears.
There are times when "silence is golden," and on such occasions we hesitatingly refrain from intruding upon the sacredness of the home, scarcely knowing how to approach its mourning inhabitants, what to write, what to say, or how to say it.
Under these circumstances this volume comes to our aid, not only in its personal ministrations of consolation, but may be addressed with "affectionate regards" to the afflicted one, or bereaved family, as expressive of one's sympathy and love.
Its pages are laden with the best thoughts of the most eminent ministers, who, by soul-cheering and loving words, and rich experiences of the deep things of God have done much to "bind up the broken-hearted," by pointing to the source of all comfort, in the belief that "earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal."
I like exceedingly the idea of your volume "The Rainbow in the Cloud," and so far as a careful examination enables me to judge I think you have very successfully carried it out.
Amid the manifold afflictions of life, the great solace is, and ever must be, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ; and the extracts which you have gathered together from so many quarters, serve to show how its principles and promises have been brought to bear by different writers, upon their own trials. The book is pre-eminently a collection of individual testimonies to the efficacy of the consolation furnished by the Word of God to those who are in trouble. The writers have tried and proved it for themselves, and can therefore confidently commend it to others. Indeed the very rehearsal of their own experience is itself a comfort to those who are similarly afflicted, and so the book will be an appropriate gift to all who are in any trial. While at the same time it will be helpful to the Christian pastor in his visits to the house of mourning as suggesting to him words in season to those who are weary. By its publication you will become a true Barnabas, or son of consolation to many, and I trust it will have, as it deserves, a wide circulation.
I am glad that you have drawn so largely from my friend William Logan's "Words of Comfort for Parents bereaved of little Children." For more than twenty years I have been in the habit of putting that book into the hands of bereaved parents, and it has always been gratefully appreciated by them. But the loss of children is only one form of trial, and you have done well to widen your range so as to include most of the afflictions which go to swell "the still sad music of humanity."
Believe me, yours faithfully,
William M. Taylor
"I know their sorrows!" Exodus 3:7
These are God's own words! Man cannot say so. There are many sensitive fibers in the soul, which the best and tenderest human sympathy cannot touch. But the Prince of Sufferers, He who led the way in the path of sorrow, "knows our frame."
When crushing bereavement lies like ice on the heart when the dearest earthly friend cannot enter into the peculiarities of our grief Jesus can! Jesus does! He who once bore my sins also carried my sorrows. That eye, now on the throne was once dim with weeping!
Israel had long groaned under bondage. God appeared not to know it or, if He did know it not to care. He seemed, like Baal, to be "asleep". Yet at that very moment His pitying eye was wistfully beholding His enslaved people. It was then that He said, "I know their sorrows!"
Just so, He may seem at times thus to forget and forsake us leaving us to utter the plaintive cry, "Has God forgotten to be gracious?" When all the while, He is bending over us in tenderest love. He often allows our needs to reach their extremity that He may stretch forth His supporting hand, and reveal the plenitude of His grace! "You can see how the Lord was kind to Job at the end for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy!" James 5:11
And God fully "knowing" our sorrows is a blessed guarantee that none will be sent, but those which He sees to be needful. "I will not," says He, "make a full end of you but I will correct you in measure." Jeremiah 30:11
All the trials which He sends are precisely meted out and wisely apportioned. There is nothing accidental or random or unnecessary no excess thorn no superfluous pang!
"You keep track of all my sorrows! You have collected all my tears in Your bottle! You have recorded each one in Your book!" Psalm 56:8. Each one is counted and recorded drop by drop tear by tear! Tears are sacred things among the treasures of God!
Suffering believer, the iron may have entered deeply into your soul; yet rejoice! Jesus, a sorrowing, sympathizing Jesus "knows" your aching pangs and burning tears, and He will "come down to deliver you!"
And of this divine sympathy, we are also assured in the New Testament, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tested in every way, just as we are!" Hebrews 4:15. What an elevating truth! We have the Sympathy of the God-Man-Mediator in our sorrows! What a source of exalted joy, to the stripped and desolate heart! What a green pasture to lie down upon, amid the windy storm and tempest, or in the dark and cloudy day!
The sympathy of man is cheering and comforting; but "thus far shall you go, and no farther." Man's sympathy is finite limited and often selfish! There are nameless and numberless sorrows on earth, which are far beyond the reach of all human alleviation!
The sympathy of Jesus alone, is . . .
removed from all taint of selfishness!
Jesus has Himself passed through every experience of woe. There are no depths of sorrow or anguish into which I can be plunged but His everlasting arms are lower still! He has been called "The great sympathetic nerve of His Church, over which the afflictions and oppressions, and sufferings of His people continually pass!"
Child of Sorrow! A human heart beats on Heaven's Throne and He has your name written on that heart! He cares for you as if no other claimed His regard as if you were the only object of His care!
He "has been tested in every way, just as we are!" Blessed assurance! I never can know a sorrow into which the "Man of Sorrow" cannot enter. Ah rather, in the midst of earth's most lacerating trials let me listen to the unanswerable challenge from the lips of a suffering Savior, "Was there ever any sorrow, like unto My sorrow!" Yet He willingly drank the cup of wrath! He did not shrink back from the appointed cross! And even when He hung upon the bitter tree He refused the sour wine which would have assuaged the rage of thirst and mitigated physical suffering.
Are we tempted at times to murmur under God's afflicting hand? "Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart!" Shall we hesitate to bear any cross which our Lord and Master sees fit to lay upon us when we think of the infinitely weightier Cross He so meekly and willingly carried for us?
Jesus has some wise and gracious purpose in every mysterious chastisement. His language is, "Hear the rod and Him who has appointed it!" Micah 6:9. He has too kind and loving a heart to cause us one needless or superfluous pang!
Comfort for the POOR
by James Smith
"Hearken, my beloved brethren, has not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love Him?" James 2:5
Poverty is not spirituality but sanctified poverty is a great friend to it!
Poverty is no sin but it is sometimes a preventive to sin.
Poverty has its temptations but it has also its consolations.
The poor ought not to repine at poverty because God in his infinite wisdom has appointed it, and is able to render it the greatest blessing. God's chosen are generally found among the poor. Not that He chose them because they were poor; but choosing them in Christ He appointed poverty as the best thing for them!
God's enemies have their full portion in this life here, they have their good things. Not so with God's children! Here on earth, they have their evil things and the best things are yet to come!
The poor Christian has . . .
a rich Father in whom to trust;
the fullness of Jesus to supply him;
the precious promises on which to depend;
the Holy Spirit to be his Comforter; and a
glorious inheritance to anticipate and forever dwell in!
All Christians are "heirs of the kingdom"
the kingdom of grace here and of glory hereafter;
the kingdom in which Jesus will reign;
the kingdom where they will be princes yes, kings and priests;
the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world!
My poor brother my poor sister! Look up! Look forward!
Your cottage will soon be exchanged for a mansion!
Your sickness will soon be exchanged for health!
Your poverty will soon be exchanged for wealth!
Your sin will soon be exchanged for perfect holiness!
Your earth will soon be exchanged for Heaven!
You will not always be poor! You will not be poor for long! Jesus will soon come and then you will reign with Him!
For you an inheritance is reserved in Heaven!
For you a mansion is being prepared!
For you glory, honor, immortality, even eternal life, are in reserve!
Blessed Father, help me not to desire the riches of earth. Help me rather to lay up treasures in Heaven with You.
Too Die is Gain!
"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain!" Philippians 1:21
What a superlatively grand and consoling idea is that of DEATH! Without this wondrous hope of death life would, to my view, darken into midnight melancholy! Oh! the expectation of living always on this sin-cursed earth would be indeed a prospect of overwhelming despair! But thanks to that fatal decree which dooms us to die! Thanks to that gospel which opens up the vista of a glorious and endless life! And thanks, above all, to that Savior-Friend who has promised to conduct all the godly through the sacred trance of death into scenes of Paradise and everlasting delight!
"You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand!" Psalm 16:11
Mysteries Made Plain Hereafter
The eye is a more wonderful instrument than the glasses which men have invented to help it in its work. The ease with which a landscape, or a star, or a friend's face is pictured in it, so that we see distinctly is proof of wider and greater skill than that of man; yet the powers of the eye are limited. There are things within its range too bright for its study it was not made to look at the sun except through a medium or veil of protection. The direct light of the sun would destroy it.
The mind is more wonderful than the eye. Its range is not limited by distance or time. It discerns not only color and shape and beauty but reasons and truth. It knows cause and effect, as well as right and wrong. It knows present and past, and searches the earth and the Heavens. It makes discoveries, and prides itself on its powers; yet its powers have a limit. There are things which it can no more compass than the unaided eye can study the sun!
The being and character of God are too great for its powers. "No man has seen God at any time." No man with mortal eyes can see Him. The faintest manifestations of His glory have proved too much for eyes of flesh. Paul, on the way to Damascus, fell to the earth. Peter and James and John, when on the Mount of Transfiguration, were bewildered and knew not what they did. A faint pledge of the glory of Heaven overcame them!
It is only through a medium that we can know the Infinite, "the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father He has revealed Him." Not in the full majesty of His glory but only in so far as men are able to bear it.
The mysteries of the gospel are a study too great for the mind. We look upon infinite eternal things as one studies the sun through a glass which has been deeply tinted.
The mind is finite, and God's works and providences, though plain to superior intelligences are a mystery to it. God manifest in the flesh, was seen of angels but men recognized Him only by His works and by the testimony from Heaven things which they could see and understand. The incarnation, the world's astonishing fact, with the whole plan of salvation is understood in Heaven the angels who sang at the Savior's birth, who sustained Him and ministered to Him, understand better than we "the great mystery of godliness."
The work of God's Spirit may be understood by the angels but it is to us as mysterious as the power which causes the seed to open and the trees to grow. It is not within the range of human intellect. We may feel the influence of the Spirit, and be guided and sanctified by Him but the exact method of His working is a mystery. "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
The same is true of the future life. Heaven is the Christian's hope; yet how little he knows of its glory. The Bible promises him a better country but he cannot survey it nor picture its scenery. He is assured of a heavenly mansion but knows not its architecture. Descriptions are given but they are veiled in human language. The tree and river of life; the gates of precious stones; the light without the sun; continual day; freedom from pain, from sin and death; the throne and the rainbow, and the King in His beauty though they all tell something about Heaven are but feeble expressions of its real glory. They are illustrations suited to our limited capacity. A perfect picture of Heaven could not be painted in human language, and would not be intelligible to human minds!
What we do not understand now we shall know hereafter. Our minds and souls are in their childhood. They will one day understand things which are now hidden. The veil will be removed and only then, shall we know even as we are known. When we were children we talked and understood as children. We now see that many of our childish thoughts were foolish. Things are now plain which then greatly puzzled us. Mysteries have vanished. We have outgrown our childish joys, sorrows, hopes and fears. We have put away childish things.
Just so, in eternity, the soul will put away the things of its childhood. It will understand things then which are now hidden. The being of God, the work of the Spirit, and the joy of Heaven will no longer be veiled and darkened. "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known!" Then we shall know the full enjoyment of God and of Heaven. "What I do (said the Savior), you do not understand now but you shall know hereafter."
This is the Christian's hope. It is his comfort in time of trial. It strengthens him against temptation.
The world may be dark but he looks beyond.
His life may be a battle with evil but he sees victory and its reward.
His way may be rough and hedged with thorns but he journeys to a sure place, to a glorious land of which the Lord has promised to give him! Our Savior, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame. So His followers, in the hope of Heaven bear their burdens, counting it a joy that they are allowed to suffer with Him!
Unbelievers may doubt the value of this comfort and strength. They may ask us to demonstrate it and prove its value by figures, as men prove earthly things. We could just as easily ask a child to prove its father's love, or demonstrate the nature of its trust in him.
We have no just conception of Heaven. No more has a little child a true idea of its country or of liberty. We can only say: "We know in whom we believe. We know that God is true. We know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands!"
Comfort for the AGED
by James Smith
"Now that I am old and gray do not abandon me, O God!" Psalm 71:18
Old age and its infirmities will creep in on us; and with old age come weakness, pains, and fears. But an aged Christian should be a happy person; for he has proved the Lord to be faithful so many years, he has had answers to prayer so many times, and the God of his youth stands pledged never to leave nor forsake him. Will the Lord forsake an old servant? Never! Will the Father of mercies forsake one of His children when compassed with the infirmities of old age! Impossible! No, no! The Lord, who has borne with us so long will bear with us to the end. The Lord, who has glorified Himself in our life will get glory to Himself in our death.
As the God of all comfort, He will comfort us on the bed of languishing, and will make all our bed in our sickness; and when heart and flesh are failing He will be the strength of our heart, and our portion forever!
Aged believer doubt not, fear not! God has given you His Word trust it. He has confirmed His Word by the death of His Son therefore exercise confidence in Him. He has been a Friend and a Father to you for many years; and He will be your Friend and Father to the very last!
Be much with Him in prayer. With all the simplicity of a little child let your requests be made known unto Him. He has grace for old age as He had for youth; and He has grace for a dying bed as He had grace for all the conflicts of life. Believe His word, rest in His love, expect His blessing to the end and you shall be more than a conqueror through Him who loved you. God never loved you more than He does now in your weakness, pains, and old age; and sweet thought! He will never love you less! His love is infinite, everlasting. Having loved you He loves you to the end!
Father in Heaven, I thank You for the mercies of my life. Help me to trust You through to the end of my life in spite of my weakness and human frailty.
"Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you!" Isaiah 46:4
Our trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician prescribes because we need them! He proportions the frequency and the weight of them to what the case requires. Let us trust in his skill, and thank him for his prescriptions!
The Burden of Sorrow
By John Philip
The 'brotherhood of sorrow' is a guild that comprehends all the race. Who has not wept? What human heart is there but has sometimes been torn with sorrow? What bodily frame but has sometimes quivered with pain? No doubt some have a far larger share of sorrow than others. Even God's own children may be corrected when others are let alone. He loves them too well not to correct them. "Whom the Lord loves, He corrects and scourges every son whom He receives." Sonship is not incompatible with scourging but may rather be attested and approved thereby. Yet sometimes it is not easy to spell L-O-V-E out of trials. It may be true of God's children, as aforetime, "Now for a season, if need be you have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials."
The multiplicity of our relations in life makes us a broader mark for the shafts of sorrow. The more tender our sensibilities, the warmer our affections, and the more nearly and closely we touch one another the oftener and more deeply may our hearts be made to bleed!
And how often when trouble comes does it seem to double itself! Our bodily and mental troubles, our personal afflictions and relative bereavements, our private and public misfortunes especially when they come together, like two seas meeting, sometimes make the burden of sorrow, a very heavy one! We may feel at such times, as if it were heavier than we could bear.
Especially so, when it seems as if we must bear the weight all alone. Human sympathy, when sincere, is very sweet 'tis like an oasis in the desert. Yet it is often very powerless to relieve. It may soothe and yet not be able to sustain. It may bend over us with yearning pity and yet be utterly unable to lift off our load! There are times when we are made to feel how far removed we are beyond the power of human sympathy and when we realize a terrible isolation and solitariness in our sorrow. Perhaps in our anguish we are ready to cry, "I look for someone to come and help me but no one gives me a passing thought! No one will help me; no one cares a bit what happens to me!" Nevertheless, at such times we may be able to add; "I cried unto You, Lord. You are my refuge and my portion in the land of the living."
Blessed be God, there is a great Sorrow-bearer as well as a sin- bearer. He who bore our sins also carried our infirmities. Jesus Christ was indeed "a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," and His sinlessness does not impair but perfects His sympathy; for sin blunts sensibility and deadens feeling! His sympathy is indeed exquisitely tender, as it is thoroughly human; and yet it is all-powerful, for it is Divine! We see the tenderness of His human sympathy, on His way to the grave of Lazarus, for "Jesus wept!" And we see also the divinity of His power when He cried, "Lazarus, come forth!"
If it is a great relief to a sorrow-burdened heart, to vent its sorrow in the presence of one who is possessed of a large, loving, and sympathizing heart, even when he can do little or nothing to help then how much more should it be to spread out our sorrow before Him whose pity is equaled by His power, who is both infinitely able and willing to do exceeding abundantly for us above what we ask or think! If Jesus does not see fit to remove the burden yet He can render our strength equal to bear it. If the thorn is not taken away yet the promise may be made good, "My grace is sufficient for you; for My strength is made perfect in weakness!"
How often has it been proved that the sorrow that has broken the heart has but cleft a way for the entrance of that Word that gives light. The farther down the ploughshare of sorrow has gone, and the deeper the furrows made in the heart the more deeply embedded has been the precious seed, and the more abundant the future harvest. "Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy."
by James Smith
"The days of your mourning shall be ended!" Isaiah 60:20
Sighing and sorrow are confined to earth. They are limited by time, and a blessing is pronounced upon them: "Blessed are those who mourn; for they shall be comforted." Every believer is a mourner. We mourn over . . .
our imperfect duties,
our feeble graces,
our neglected privileges, and
our many shortcomings.
We mourn because our hearts are unholy, and our lives are sinful! We mourn because our children and friends are unconverted. We mourn because we suffer but more because we sin. How much there is in the world, in the church, in the family, and in the heart to make us mourn? We groan, being burdened!
But soon, very soon, the mourning days of God's people will be ended. All sin and all sorrow will be left on earth, when we ascend to Heaven. Then all our tears will be wiped away; every cause of sorrow will be removed; and joy, peace, and pleasures will be our portion forever!
Then we shall be made perfect in love;
then we shall be filled with holiness;
then we shall enjoy full satisfaction;
then we shall reap in joy who have sown in tears!
Let us, then, look upward and look forward; remembering, when our cup is bitterest, our burden is heaviest, and our sorrow is greatest that in a very little time the days of our mourning will be ended! The night of sadness will soon be past and the morning of joy, everlasting joy, will break upon us! Then there shall be no more pain, neither sorrow nor crying. Then, perfect in knowledge, perfect in holiness, and perfect in happiness we shall be forever with the Lord.
Then we shall . . .
be with Jesus, and
be like Jesus
and that forever!
Help me to look upward and forward, Lord. And help me to remember, when my cup is bitterest, my burden heaviest, and my sorrow greatest that in a very little time the days of my mourning will be ended, and the night of sadness past.
Everlasting joy, follows the sorrows of a day! "Everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away!" Isaiah 51:11
Beneficent Design of Affliction
By Robert Trench
In the world in which we dwell, trouble and death are no strangers. Few, indeed are the families into which these unwelcome visitors have not found an entrance. However long the beneficent Creator may give them health and prosperity they are none the less exposed to the calamities which others around them have endured.
Unexpectedly, the clear and cloudless sky, which gave promise of a beautiful day may soon be overcast, and a storm suddenly burst forth, leaving destruction everywhere in its track! Without any warning, the untimely frost may nip the young bud and the tender blossom and our expectations of a fruitful autumn may soon be blasted.
Exemption in the past from affliction is no argument that we shall always be exempted in the future. The child who romped about the household whose presence shone like a sunbeam through the dwelling, whose rosy cheek and increasing vigor inspired the hope of a long life may be quickly snatched away by the crude hand of death! The light of our eyes may be extinguished by some sudden darkness, and the children may soon miss the tenderness and soothing love of one whom they can never expect to see again on earth. The anxious father may soon require to commit to the "Husband of the widow, and the Father of the fatherless," those from whom, in this life, he is about to be separated forever.
By the majority of families, such events do not need to be anticipated. In some form or other, they have already happened. Since, therefore, there is nothing we may more surely expect than "a day of trouble" it is well for us not to disregard the trials of others, that we may not be impatient under our own afflictions, or discontent murmurers when death removes from us the objects of our warmest love!
Trouble and death seize upon us by God's appointment! These are the penalties attached to sin. In His infinite mercy, God seeks to turn them into channels through which spiritual blessings may flow. To His children, they are not inflicted in anger but in love, and are designed to refine, purify, and prepare His people for the fellowship of the redeemed in Heaven.
In whatever form trials may come, the end the great loving Father has in view is to lead his erring offspring to thoughtfulness, repentance, and reformation. "I smote you with blasting, with mildew, and with hail, in all the labor of your hands; yet you turned not to me, says the Lord," Tender yet solemn, are words like these! "Turn! turn!" is His earnest entreaty, and when treaty fails He lifts the rod and strikes!
Reader, has your life been spent in sin? Have you been careless in regard to your best interest? Have you been selfish and self-indulgent caring nothing for the God of love? Have you been living without Christ a stranger to His brotherly sympathy, and a despiser of His mercy?
Do not wonder, then that God has lifted His rod and smitten you. Do not imagine that He hates you because He has sent trouble and death into your domestic circle. You are mourning perhaps you are murmuring perhaps you are saying, "Such things must happen; we must yield; we cannot help ourselves." See the mercy of God in your trials! He is seeking to turn you from neglect of your eternal interests, and from indifference to His honor and glory. He seeks your highest well-being. He is watching with intense interest the effect produced upon your mind and heart by these severe and crushing blows, and upon your first motion towards Him to express regret for the past He will run to meet you; clasp you in the arms of His love; clothe you with the best robe; put a ring on your hand, and shoes on your feet, and make you a partaker of all the honors and privileges which the members of His family enjoy!
Here, then, is your consolation your trials have been sent in mercy. See that they do not harden your heart and drive you further from God. Return to the great loving-hearted Father and you shall never cease to rejoice that you have been brought back, even though it has been through a fiery furnace. "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."
As to His own people, God deals with them not merely in mercy but with the greatest parental love. They are His children, and accordingly He addresses them: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked by Him! For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives." Purification, refinement, elevation of the spiritual faculties are the ends He seeks, when He sends trouble and death upon them.
Reader, have you met with worldly losses? Have your children been swept away by the pestilence? Or have they drooped, and withered, and died? Have you had severe domestic trials in which "living griefs" were worse to bear, than even the ravages of death? Do not think that God has forsaken you, because of these things. You may have been severely afflicted. The billows may have passed over your soul. The very flames of the fire may have kindled upon you.
What then? Perhaps you were becoming too worldly and needed all you have endured to enable you to set your affections on things above. You may rest assured that whatever may have been your trials, however severe and difficult to bear the one grand end your Father has in view is to draw you nearer to himself; to make you wiser and happier, and better qualified for the purity of the Heavenly home!
You may not soon or easily perceive either the goodness or wisdom of His procedure, in these troubles and bereavements; but for the present you must "walk by faith not by sight." Patiently wait and you shall see the glory of God. Call upon Him in your "day of trouble," and He will disclose to you in due time His great purposes, both in regard to yourself and your loved ones.
Remember, that infinite wisdom is at work on your behalf. Can you then murmur or question God's plan of operation? Remember, also, that infinite goodness is at work on your behalf. Can you then imagine that God hates you, and is plotting your ruin? Remember, still further, that infinite power is at work on your behalf. How, then, can any real harm befall you?
When you reflect that all these divine attributes are exerted on your behalf how can you doubt that your highest good will be secured?
Listen to His voice while He speaks to you through these afflictions; and drink at this well of consolation, "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
Victory over Temptations
William S. Plumer
It almost startles one to hear the apostle James saying, "My brethren, count it all joy [regard it as matter of very great joy] when you fall into divers temptations. . . . Blessed is the man that endures [patiently endures, with constancy bears up under] temptation." But when we search God's Word, we find the doctrine abundantly supported and illustrated.
Take the case of our Blessed Lord. He was long and sorely tempted of the deviltempted as no man ever was. Yet see the happy consequences immediately following: "Behold, angels came and ministered unto Him." While His temptation lasted, they stood at a distance to let it appear that Christ could conquer by His own power and holiness. But when the battle was fought and the victory won, they rejoiced in such a Lord; they brought Him food; they comforted Him, as they often strengthen and comfort His tempted people. If Satan was allowed to assail Him, angels were sent to adore Him, and serve Him. Thus, He was prepared and encouraged to go boldly on in His great work of destroying the works of the devil and in setting up the kingdom of God.
A like result is reached when the saints endure temptation. The trying of their faith works patience, constancy, heavenly heroism; and patience works experience; and experience hope; and hope makes not ashamed: because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given unto us. So uniformly and so wonderfully does the Lord bless temptation to the edification of His people, that the great and good Luther said: "One Christian well tempted is worth a thousand." Another of his sayings was: "Three things make a good theologianmeditation, temptation, and prayer."
Like testimonies have been borne by others. Fenelon said: "Temptations, as a file, rub off much of the rust of our self-confidence." Dr. Samuel Clarke says: "Bearing up against temptations and prevailing over them is the very thing wherein the whole life of piety consists. It is the trial which God puts upon us in this world, by which we are to make evidence of our love and obedience to Him, and of our fitness to be made members of His kingdom."
How ill-prepared would David have been for the conflicts of his riper years had he not fought with the lion and the bear and the giant of Gath when young! Oh, it is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. It makes a man of him. "Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dustthere may yet be hope." Lamentations 3:28-29. All great characters are formed more or less in the school of trialeven sharp trial.
The difference between Daniel going into Babylonand Daniel beholding the fall of the Chaldean monarchywas as great as could well be imagined. Hardly any two pious men were less alike than were the young Israelitewho later became the old prophet pronouncing sentence of death on Lucifer (the son of the morning) when he was about to be cast down to hell.
Compare the young Saul of Tarsus, crying, "Lord, what will You have me to do?" with such an one as Paul the aged. How great the contrast! What made the difference? Chiefly his experience in trials and afflictions and temptations.
The little child Moses in the rushesand the old man Moses, with his eye undimmed and his natural force unabated at the age of one hundred and twenty years, were not so unlike in appearance of body as they were in strength and excellence of character.
Everlasting bliss will bear a proportion to what men have endured for Christ and His cause on earth. Mordecai once wore a crown of gold; and our Savior once wore a crown of thorns; but in the world to come, the saints shall wear different crowns. "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has prepared for those who love Him." So spoke James. Paul says: "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness." Peter says: "When the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a crown of glory that fades not away." Oh, what a crowning that will be: life, righteousness, glory all in one dayall for nothingall by graceand all for eternity!
No More Pain!
by James Smith
"God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain!" Revelation 21:4
How much pain many of the Lord's people are called to suffer and how severe that pain often is! It spoils or prevents the enjoyment of everything earthly.
But, blessed child of God, spiritual things may be enjoyed even while much pain is being endured. The light of God's countenance, the application of some precious promise, or the sweet communion we are privileged to enjoy with Jesus almost raises us above the sense of pain! The sufferer who rejoices with God feeds like a hungry man on the rich promises of grace, and triumphs in Christ Jesus as his Savior and Friend.
But there are times when pain is hard to bear when our spirits are exhausted and we are sorely tempted to doubt the pity and tender love of our Heavenly Father. Then it is sweet to look forward to the place, and anticipate the time when God will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain!
Suffering Christian! Your pain will soon end and your sufferings will soon be over! Jesus will come and fetch you from . . .
your bed of pain,
your chamber of affliction,
and your house of mourning!
Absent from the body you will be present with the Lord. Seek grace from the Lord to suffer patiently. There is an end of every pain, and soon you will bless the Lord for the very pains which now cause you to sigh and groan! The songs of Heaven will be sweetened by the groans of earth; and the pleasures of eternity will be heightened by the pains of time!
Every pain endured leaves one less pain to suffer. And every hour that passes brings us one hour nearer to the time when the ransomed of the Lord shall leave behind this land of darkness and death, and go home to their Father's house with everlasting joy, while sorrow and sighing shall forever flee away!
Lord Jesus, You too suffered pain on earth, and I know that You understand what I am suffering now. Give me grace to suffer graciously, as You did so that this experience might do its part in preparing me to be with You in eternity!
"You will weep no more!" Isaiah 30:19
THE COMMON GRIEF
by David Russell
Man is born to troubles, and Christians are not m exempted from them. Of all forms of trial to which they are liable, that of the loss of children by death may be regarded as one of the very greatest. In most cases it is not known what trial means until Death enters the dwelling, and carries off to his cold and dark dominions the child who has been the joy, the hope, the idol of its parents. Job bore with apparent composure the tidings of disaster upon disaster, until at last, the announcement was made of the sudden death of his children; then he "arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshiped, and said: Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised!"
How many mourners, royal and not royal, have experienced sorrow as great as David's, when he mourned for Absalom; and have grieved as bitterly as Rachel when she "wept for her children, and refused to be comforted, because they were not."
Christian parents, then, should remember that it their trial has been a great one, it is by no means a rare one; and the commonness of the affliction should in some degree temper their sorrow when bereaved of their children. They should regard the words of Peter as applying to them, "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you!" True, the commonness of the grief is but a poor consolation to the desolate heart of a parent; perhaps it may sometimes aggravate, rather than assuage the bitterness of his sorrow! Yet the commonness of the grief should not be altogether overlooked by mourners in Zion.
Parents are too apt to suppose that no loss is so great as theirs; that no child was so dear, so clever, so good as theirs; and that, therefore, no sorrow can be like unto theirs until they look abroad and try to weigh the distresses of others against their own.
Then, there is this result arising from the commonness of sorrow that abundance of precious sympathy is at hand for the bereaved in the day of their calamity. One who has lost a child in infancy, for example, may learn how to bear his sorrow from considering the case of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue. If it is a heavy trial to part with a child who is a mere infant, how much sorer the trial when, the dangers of infancy over that child is at the interesting age of twelve years, and day by day is unfolding new beauties of mind, and heart, and body, and daily entwining itself more firmly around the parents' heart.
If there were other children in the family of Jairus, it would have been a bitter trial to have had one of them taken from him; and had God asked him to choose which he would most readily surrender, we can imagine the perplexity of his heart, and how readily he would refer the matter back to God, to do as seemed good to him. But an only daughter! She would be the very last that he could think of giving up, and he would entreat most earnestly that God would, in mercy, spare her! She was, perhaps, not merely an only daughter, but an only child, in which case the anguish of his heart would be intensified in an inconceivable degree; for of all griefs that for an only child is, by universal consent, regarded as the most poignant!
"But one, poor one, one poor and lovely child
But one thing to rejoice and solace in
And cruel death has snatched it from my sight!"
Bereaved parent! has your loss been as great, as was that of Jairus? Even if it has, can you think of none who have been tried beyond what you have been? Then go where Jairus went for sympathy and sympathy. Be not afraid of "troubling the Master." What troubles Him is the lack of faith and lack of prayer. (partial article)
Compare Your Afflictions with Those of Others
by John Flavel
Say not, "There is no sorrow like my sorrow!" You have lost one child; but Aaron lost two, and Job lost all; and lost them by an immediate, instantaneous stroke of God! The children of some pious parents have died as victims to public justice. Others have lived to sin so grievously, that their broken-hearted parents were ready to wish they had died from the womb! A third class have experienced such protracted and intolerable sufferings on a sick bed that even a fond mother has wished and prayed for the closing moment. Think of these things, and acknowledge that your lot has been comparatively merciful.
How to Sympathize with Mourners
by Charles J. Vaughan
Sorrow is a great test of truth. Nothing which has the slightest tinge of unreality, whether in the form of exaggeration or of affectation has a chance of acceptance with people in deep trouble. There must be, as a first condition, the recognition of the existence in the sufferer's case of that which is hard to bear. And there must be, as a second condition, the presentation of that which is perfectly supporting, because absolutely true, to meet it if a man would minister with any effect to one on whom pain or loss, anxiety or desolation, has laid a heavy hand.
Too often there is an attempt to ignore the sorrow; to treat it as if it were made too much of; almost to reprove it as if it were imaginary or voluntary. It is difficult for . . .
health and sickness,
ease and distress,
a whole heart and a wounded heart
to meet and sympathize.
Grief is suspicious of gladness, and is slow to be persuaded that he who comes to the house of mourning from the dwelling of cheerfulness can bring with him a just appreciation of the calamity which he seeks to soothe. To be able to weep with those who weep, is a necessary prerequisite in one who would be, in the divine sense, a son of consolation.
It is the first object of a comforter, if we recognize in it any object at all that it be felt. If there is a remedial purpose in it, or if there is even a chastising and a humbling purpose in it this can only be answered by the entrance of the pain itself into the soul's very soul. This is what an inexperienced comforter will not let it do. He acts, with his spiritual comfort, just as he thinks it wrong and shocking for another to act with his worldly comfort. He counts it a great sin to drown sorrow by letting in the din of the world upon it; but does he not himself seek to overbear sorrow in an opposite manner, by haste and precipitation in administering the remedies of the Gospel? Truths which will be valuable and efficacious a month hence, may themselves be inoperative and inaudible today. And the wise physician, like Him whose hand is working with him from above, will abide and watch his time. He will be satisfied, in the first instance, that the soul should lay itself low and let the afflictive wave pass over it. Its foot must touch the bottom of the deep waters before it can safely rise again to their surface. All that we can desire to hear from the torn heart, in the first hours of anguish, is the simple confession, "It is the Lord let him do as seems good to him!"
Friends Not Lost
By Robert Hall
You have lost your Christian friend say, rather, you have parted with him. That is properly lost which is past all recovery, which we have no hope to see any more. It is not so with this friend you mourn for he is but gone home a little before you; you are following him; you two shall meet in your Father's house, and enjoy each other more happily than you could have done here below.
Uses of Chastisement
By James W. Alexander
It is only in the Word of God, that we learn to consider affliction as a blessing. The utmost which the most refined philosophy can effect, is to remove our sorrows, by that which is imaginary to divert the attention from the cause of distress or to produce a sullen and stoic resignation, more like despair than hope.
The religion of the gospel grapples with the evil itself, overcomes it, and transforms it into a blessing! It is by no means included in the promises made to true Christians that they shall be exempt from suffering. On the contrary, chastisement forms a necessary part of that paternal discipline by which our Heavenly Father fits his children for their eternal rest and glory. The Psalmist asserts the blessedness of the man who is chastened by the Lord, with this qualification as necessary to constitute it a blessing that he is also instructed in divine truth. "Happy are those you discipline, Lord those you teach with your instructions." Psalm 94:12. By this, we understand that the influence of chastisement is not physical; that mere suffering has no inherent efficacy; but that the afflictions of this life are, in the hand of God, instrumental in impressing divine truth upon the heart, awakening the attention of the believer to the consideration of his own character and situation, the promise of the gospel, and the rewards of Heaven.
The child of God is assured that all things work together for his good; in this is plainly included the pledge, that chastisements and afflictions shall eventually prove a blessing; and this is verified by the experience of the whole church.
Times of affliction afford some natural facilities for cultivating repentance. Occasions of sin are then removed; the world is excluded. The man confined to the silence of the sick-room, or the house of mourning, cannot, by idle pursuits, divert his mind. He is forced to think; and to think of his sins. He considers his ways, bewails his transgressions, and renews his covenant. He learns to confess, "Surely it is fit to be said unto God: I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more. Teach me what I cannot see; if I have done wrong, I will not do so again." Job 34:31-32.
Now, in these experiences of the afflicted, there is a real consolation. Such tears are sweet, and it will probably be the unanimous testimony of all true penitents, that they have enjoyed a tender and refined delight in those moments of grief in which they came to God as a forgiving God, and heard Him say to their souls, in accents at once of gentle rebuke and comfort: "See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction!" "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will take you back. In a burst of anger I turned my face away for a little while. But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you says the Lord, your Redeemer!"
The apostle Peter, in comforting the dispersed saints, explains to them this end of their chastisement, "If need be, you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."
There is no expression in the Word of God better suited to reconcile the Christian to trials, than that of the Apostle: "God chastens us for our profit that we may be partakers of His holiness!" What words are these! This is the very summit of your desires. This you have been toiling for, and longing after. This you have earnestly implored and are you now ready to shrink from the very means by which your Father in Heaven is about to promote your sanctification? Will you be led to relinquish this appointment of God for your good. No, it is by these very trials that your graces are to be invigorated.
The most valuable truths of the Christian are, "the exceeding great and precious promises." He does not feel the need of these promises while he is indulging in that self-pleasing which usually accompanies prosperity. In penning these lines, it is said advisedly that no man can fully value health, who has not been sick; nor appreciate the services of the kind and skillful physician, until he has been healed by him. And thus also, no man can fully prize or fully understand the promises of the Scriptures until they are made necessary to his support in adversity.
Many of the most precious portions of revelation are altogether a dead letter to such, as have never been exercised by the trials to which they relate. The believer who is in sufferings or straits of any kind, comes to God by prayer; and in attempting to pray, seeks some promise suitable to his precise needs. Blessed be God! he needs not to search long so rich are the treasures of the Word. These promises he takes are the very truth of God, He pleads them at the throne of grace; he believes them, relies on them, rejoices in them. If you taste of the sweetness of his promises then each of you shall say with David: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted!"
It is common to hear those who are ignorant of the Scriptures caviling at the representation of Job as a man of eminent patience. We see Job suffering in one day the total loss of immense wealth, and of ten beloved children, and still saying, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord."
It was, no doubt, a visitation as sudden and alarming as a stroke of lightning, when Aaron beheld his sons consumed by fire from the Lord. It was an awful sanction to that rule, "Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored." Yet on seeing and hearing these things, the bereaved father, "held his peace," Lev. 10:3. It is a bitter medicine, but the soul which is convinced of God's justice and goodness, lays down every thought of rebellion and discontent.
This is the temper which sanctified affliction always begets, so that the prostrate soul dares no longer to impose terms on Jehovah, but yields itself to his sovereign discretion. There is peace in such a surrender, a peace which is altogether independent of any expected mitigation of the stroke. Wave after wave often goes over the child of God, before he is brought to this state of self-renunciation. Murmuring may for a time prevail, yet the Great Physician, who applies the painful remedy, cannot be baffled, and triumphs to his own glory, and the unspeakable benefit of the believer's soul.
Chastisement is useful, because it leads the believer to look for complete happiness in Heaven only. He is the happy man who dwells most on the thoughts of Heaven. Like Enoch he walks with God. Like Job, he can say, "I know that my Redeemer lives," etc. Like David, he glories, "You will show me your salvation!" Like Paul, he triumphs, "For I am now ready to be offered," etc.
In every case of suffering, it is the prime wisdom of the Christian to fix his eyes upon the Heavenly crown. In every other hope you may be disappointed, in this you cannot. Try as you may all other fountains for your solace, there is a time coming when you must be driven to this. Become familiar with meditation on Heavenly glory! Daily contemplate that joyful deliverance from evil, that indissoluble and ecstatic union with the Lord Jesus Christ! Then, when death lays upon you his cold hand, you can say, "I am prepared for this hour. I have longed for this deliverance to meet my Lord in His house. I have lived in communion with the blessed Lord of Heaven." "Lo, this is my God, I have waited for Him, and He will save me; this is the Lord, I have waited for Him; I will rejoice and be glad in His salvation."
The Necessity of Afflictions
By John R. Macduff
"If need be!" 1 Peter 1:6
What a blessed motto and superscription over the dark lintels of sorrow! "if need be!" Every arrow from the quiver of God is feathered with it! Write it, child of affliction, over every trial your God sees fit to send!
If he calls you down from the sunny mountain-heights to the darksome glades, hear Him saying: "There is a need be!"
If he has dashed the cup of earthly prosperity from your lips, curtailed your creature comforts, diminished your "basket and store" ear Him saying, "There is a need be!"
If He has ploughed and furrowed your soul with severe bereavement extinguished light after light in your dwelling hear Him thus stilling the tumult of your grief, "There is a need be!"
Yes! believe it, there is some profound reason for your trial, which at present may be indiscernible. No furnace will be hotter than He sees to be needed.
Sometimes, indeed, His teachings are mysterious. We can with difficulty spell out the letters, "God is love!" We can see no "bright light" no luminous rainbow in "our cloud." It is all mystery; not one break is there in the sky! Nay! Hear what God the Lord speaks: "If need be!" He does not long leave His people alone, if He sees their chariot wheels dragging heavily. He will take His own means to sever them from an absorbing love of the world to flush them out of self, and dislodge usurping clay-idols that may have vaulted on the throne which He alone should occupy!
Before your present trial He may have seen your love waxing cold your influence for good lessening. As the sun puts out the fire the sun of earthly prosperity may have been extinguishing the fires of your soul. You may have been shining less brightly for Christ, effecting some guilty compromise with an insinuating and seductive world. He has appointed the very discipline and dealing needful nothing else nothing less could have been effectual!
Be still, and know that He is God! That "need be," remember, is in the hands of Infinite Love, infinite Wisdom, infinite Power! Trust Him in little things as well as in great things in trifles as well as in emergencies. Seek to have an unquestioning faith. Though other paths, doubtless, would have been selected by you had the choice been in your hands be it your to listen to His voice at every turn of the road, saying, "This is the way walk in it!"
We may not be able to understand it now but one day we shall come to find that affliction is one of God's most blessed ministers sent forth to "minister to those who are heirs of salvation." There would be no rainbow in the material Heaven but for the cloud! Lovelier, indeed, to the eye is the azure blue the fleecy summer vapor or the gold and vermilion of western sunsets. But what would become of the earth if no dark clouds from time to time hung over it; distilling their treasures reviving and refreshing its drooping vegetable tribes?
Is it otherwise with the soul? Nay! The cloud of sorrow is needed. Its every raindrop has an inner meaning of love! If, even now, afflicted one, these clouds are gathering, and the tempest sighing lift up your eye to the divine scroll gleaming in the darkened Heavens, and remember that He who has put the rainbow of promise there saw also a "need be" for the cloud on which it rests!
There is therefore reason for this chastisement, for "Whom the Lord loves he chastens." Hebrews 12:6. What! God loves me when He is discharging His quiver upon me! emptying me from vessel to vessel! causing the sun of my earthly joys to set in clouds? Yes! afflicted, tempest-tossed one! He chastens you because He loves you! This trial comes from His own tender, loving hand from His own tender, unchanging heart!
Are you laid on a sick bed are sorrowful months and wearisome nights appointed unto you? Let this be the pillow on which your aching head reclines It is because God loves me!
Is it bereavement which has swept your heart and desolated your dwelling? God appointed that chamber of death He opened that tomb because He loves you! As it is the suffering child of the family which claims a mother's deepest affections and most tender solicitude so have you at this moment embarked on your side the tenderest love and solicitude of a chastening Heavenly Father. He loved you into this sorrow and He will love you through it. There is nothing capricious in His dealings. Love is the reason of all He does. There is no drop of wrath in that bitter cup you are called upon to drink.
"I do believe," says Lady Powerscourt, "that He has purchased these afflictions for us as well as everything else. Blessed be His name, it is a part of His covenant to visit us with the rod." What says our adorable Lord himself? The words were spoken, not when He was on earth, a sojourner in a sorrowing world, but when enthroned amid the glories of Heaven, "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten." Rev. 3:19.
Believer! Rejoice in the thought that the rod, the chastening rod is in the hands of the living, loving Savior who died for you! Tribulation is the King's Highway and yet that highway is paved with love. As some flowers before shedding their fragrance require to be pressed so does your God see fit to bruise you. As some birds are said to sing their sweetest notes when the thorn pierces their bosom so does He appoint affliction to lacerate, that you may be driven to the wing, singing, in your upward soaring, "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed!" "Those," says the Heavenly Leighton, "whom He means to make the most resplendent He has oftenest His tools upon." "Our troubles," says another, "seem in His Word to be ever in His mind. Perhaps half the commands and half the promises He gives us there are given to us as troubled men."
Be it ours to say, "Lord, I will love You, not only despite of Your rod but because of Your rod. I will rush into the very arms that are chastising me! When Your voice calls, as to Abraham of old, to prepare for bitter trial be it mine to respond with bounding heart, "Here am I!" and to read in the rainbow which spans my darkest cloud, "He chastens, BECAUSE He loves!" And He pities, because He loves. A father bending over the sick bed of his weak or dying child, a mother pressing, in tender solicitude, an infant sufferer to her bosom these are the earthly pictures of God. "Like as a father pities his child." "As one whom his mother comforts so will I comfort you!"
When tempted in our season of overwhelming sorrow to say, "Never has there been so dark a cloud, never a heart so stripped and desolate as mine!" Let this thought hush every murmur, "It is your Father's good pleasure!" The love and pity of the tenderest earthly parent is but a dim shadow compared to the pitying love of God.
If your Heavenly Father's smile has for the moment been exchanged for the chastening rod be assured there is some deep necessity for the altered discipline. If there are unutterable yearnings in the soul of the earthly parent as the lancet is applied to the wound of his child infinitely more is it so with your covenant God, as He subjects you to these deep woundings of heart! Finite wisdom has no place in His ordinations. An earthly father may err is ever erring; but, "as for God His way is perfect!" This is the explanation of His every dealing: "Your Heavenly Father knows you have need of all these things!"
Trust His heart when you cannot trace His hand! Do not try to penetrate the cloud which "He brings over the earth," and to look through it. Keep your eye steadily fixed on the rainbow! The mystery is God's the promise is yours. Seek that the end of all His dispensations may be to make you more confiding. Without one misgiving commit your way to Him. He says regarding each child of His covenant family, what He said of Ephraim of old (and never more so than in a season of suffering) "I do earnestly remember him still." While now bending your head like a bulrush; your heart breaking with sorrow remember His pitying eye is upon you. Be it yours, even through blinding tears, to say, "Even so Father!" For he does not afflict willingly.
In our seasons of trial, when under some inscrutable painful dispensation, how apt is the murmuring thought to rise in our hearts, "All these things are against me! Might not this overwhelming blow have been spared? Might not this dark cloud, which has shadowed my heart and my home with sadness, have been averted? Might not the accompaniments of my trial have been less severe? Surely the Lord has forgotten to be gracious!"
No! These afflictions are errands of mercy in disguise! "He does not afflict willingly." There is nothing capricious or arbitrary about your God's dealings. Unutterable tenderness is the character of all His allotments! The world may wound by unkindness trusted friends may become treacherous a brother may speak with unnecessary harshness and severity; but the Lord is "abundant in goodness and in truth." He appoints no needless pang. When he appears, like Joseph, to "speak roughly" there are gentle undertones of love. The stern accents are only assumed because He has precious lessons that could not otherwise have been taught!
Ah! be assured that there is some deep necessity in that all He does. In our calendars of sorrow we may put this luminous mark against every trying hour, "It was needed!" Some excess branch in the tree required pruning. Some wheat required to be cast overboard to lighten the ship, and avert further disaster.
Mourning one! He might have dealt far otherwise with you! He might have cut you down as a fruitless, worthless cumberer! He might have abandoned you to drift, disowned and unpiloted on the rocks of destruction joined to your idols! He might have "left you alone" to settle on your lees, and forfeit your eternal bliss! But he loved you better. It was kindness, infinite kindness which blighted your fairest blossoms, and hedged up your way with thorns!
"Without this hedge of thorns," says Richard Baxter, "on the right hand and on the left we would hardly be able to keep the way to Heaven!"
Calamity Resulting in Victory
By Theodore L. Cuyler
I honestly believe that many a sick bed has delivered the sufferer from a bed in perdition. Pain often drives to prayer. The door that shuts a man out from the world shuts him into reflection, and, finally, into the ark of safety. "There it is," said a young man, as he pointed to a diseased limb which was eating away his life; "and a precious limb it has been to me. It took me away from a career of folly. It brought me to myself, and to this place of trial, where I have found Christ. I think it has brought me a great way on the road to Heaven." It was the testimony of a Christian who had lost his eyesight, after a long confinement to a dark room, "I could never see Jesus until I became blind!"
God's Power to Comfort
When a man has trouble the world comes in and says: "Now get your mind off this! Go out and breathe the fresh air! Plunge deeper into business!" What poor advice!
Get your mind off of it! when everything is upturned with the bereavement, and everything reminds you of what you have lost! Get your mind off of it! They might as well advise you to stop thinking! And you cannot stop thinking in that direction.
Take a walk in the fresh air! Why, along that very street, or that very road, she once accompanied you. Out of that grass-plot she plucked flowers, or into that store window she looked, fascinated, saying, "Come, see the pictures."
Go deeper into business! Why, she was associated with all your business ambition, and since she has gone you have no ambition left.
Oh, this is a clumsy world when it tries to comfort a broken heart! I can paint a Raphael's "Madonna," I can play a Beethoven's "Symphony" as easily as this world can comfort a broken heart!
And yet you have been comforted. How was it done? Did Christ come to you and say, "Now get your mind off this! Go out and breathe the fresh air! Plunge deeper into business!" No! There was a minute when He came to you perhaps in the watches of the night, perhaps in your place of business, perhaps along the street and He breathed something into your soul that gave peace, rest, infinite quiet so that you could take out the photograph of the departed one, and look into the eyes and the face of the dear one, and say: "It is all right; she is better off; I would not call her back. Lord, I thank You that You have comforted my poor heart!"
There are Christian parents here who are willing to testify to the power of this Gospel to comfort.
Your son had just graduated from school or college and was going into business and the Lord took him.
Or your daughter had just graduated from the young ladies course and you thought she was going to be a useful woman, and of long life but the Lord took her, and you were tempted to say, "All this culture of twenty years for nothing!"
Or the little child came home from school with the hot fever that did not stop for the agonized prayer or for the skillful physician and the little child was taken.
Or the babe was lifted out of your arms by some sudden illness, and you stood wondering why God ever gave you that child at all if so soon He was to take it away. And yet you are not repining, you are not fretful, you are not fighting against God.
What enabled you to stand all the trial? "Oh," you say, "I took the medicine that God gave my sick soul. In my distress I threw myself at the feet of a sympathizing God; and when I was too weak to pray, or to look up He breathed into me a peace that I think must be the foretaste of that Heaven where there is neither a tear nor a farewell nor a grave!"
Come, all you who have been out to the grave to weep there come, all you comforted souls, get up off your knees. Is there no power in this Gospel to soothe the heart? Is there no power in this religion to quiet the worst paroxysm of grief? There comes up an answer from comforted widowhood, and orphanage, and childlessness, saying, "Ay, ay, we are witnesses!"
Prayer for Sanctification of Sorrow
It is but a poor consolation, to tell you that I have a deep sense of your calamity. It is, nevertheless, all that human weakness can do, and to do anything more we must have recourse to God. It is to Him, then, that I address myself to that Comforter of the afflicted and Protector of the weak. I beg of Him not to deliver you from your trouble but that He may make it profitable to you, that He would give you strength to bear it. The sovereign remedy against the great evils of our nature is sharp affliction! It is in the midst of sorrows, that we accomplish the great mystery of Christianity, that is the inward crucifixion of the old man. It is here the virtue of grace unfolds itself, and operates most intimately, which is to teach us to have no dependence on ourselves.
We must come out of ourselves to be able to resign ourselves to God. Thus, our heart wounded in the most tender part troubled in its sweetest, most just, and innocent attachments perceives it can no longer keep possession of itself, and is drawn from itself, that it may advance towards God. This is the great remedy against the evils which sin has oppressed us with; the remedy is severe but the evil also is very deep.
God often inflicts upon two friends endeared to each other a stroke which proves an unspeakable good to each: He takes one to Heaven, and renders this afflictive stroke beneficial to the other, who remains on earth. This is what God has done for you. May He, by His Holy Spirit, awaken your faith, so that your heart may be penetrated with these truths!
When we are under any affliction we are generally troubled with a malicious kind of melancholy; we only dwell and pore upon the sad and dark occurrences of Providence; but never take notice of the more gracious and bright ones.
Afflictions show us the darkness of the world and the brightness of Heaven! They stimulate to perseverance to death, in order to receive the radiant crown of everlasting life! They are designed to brighten the graces of God's people to strengthen their faith and patience!
Benefits of Afflictions
by Richard Baxter
Afflictions are God's most effectual means to keep us from losing our way to our Heavenly rest. Without this hedge of thorns on the right hand and on the left we would scarcely keep in the way to Heaven. If there is but one gap open how ready are we to find it, and turn out of the narrow way! When we grow wanton, or worldly, or proud how does sickness, or other affliction, humble us! Every Christian may call affliction one of his best schoolmasters; and with David may say, "Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now have I kept your word." Many thousand recovered sinners may cry, "O healthful sickness! comfortable sorrows! O gainful losses! O enriching poverty! Blessed day that ever I was afflicted!" Not only the green pastures and still waters but the rod and staff, they comfort us also. Though the Word and Spirit do the main work yet suffering so unbolts the door of the heart that the Word has easier entrance!
Sanctified afflictions are an evidence of our adoption; we do not prune dead trees to make them fruitful, nor those which are planted in a desert; but such only as belong to the garden, and possess life.
God often removes our children
by Theodore Cuyler
God often removes our children. This is the bitter cup he gives us to drink. He knows our soul's disease. He is the wisest and best of physicians never selects the "wrong bottle," and never gives one drop too much of the correct medicine. He does all things well. His children must trust their Father. He chastens for our profit that we may be partakers of his holiness.
God sees that someone in the family has need of his spiritual skill from indulged sin, from weakening of the graces and he gives a cup of bitter disappointment the gourd that was so grateful and refreshing, withers. Patient submission, humble acquiescence, and unfaltering trust and hope are the lessons God would teach and what the soul's disease requires. If the cup had not been drunk the blessings would have been lost. If the child had not died the idol would have been enthroned.
God's cups may be bitter, and you may be long in draining them but at the bottom lies a precious blessing. Rich graces lie there. For this reason, the trial of faith is precious. So Abraham, and Job, and all God's children have found it.
Be not surprised when God mixes such a bitter cup for you as the death of your child. You need that medicine. The best tonic medicines are bitter. They have a merciful purpose. It is your Father's cup. Drink it, unhesitatingly, uncomplainingly, and with the spirit of that Beloved Son, who said, "Not my will but Yours be done!"
The Ministry of Trouble
It is easy enough to explain a smile, or a success, or a congratulation; but, come now, and bring all your dictionaries and all your philosophies and all your religions and help me to explain a tear. A chemist will tell you that it is made up of salt and lime, and other component parts but he misses the chief ingredients
the acid of a soured life,
the viperan sting of a bitter memory,
the fragments of a broken heart.
I will tell you what a tear is it is agony in a drop of fluid.
If it were not for trouble, this world would be a good enough Heaven for me. You and I would be willing to take a lease of this life for a hundred million years, if there were no trouble.
The earth cushioned and upholstered and pillared and chandeliered with such expense no story of other worlds could enchant us. We would say: "Let well enough alone. If you want to die and have your body disintegrated in the dust, and your soul go out on a celestial adventure then you can go; but this world is good enough for me!" You might as well go to a man who has just entered the Louvre at Paris, and tell him to hasten off to the picture galleries of Venice or Florence. "Why," he would say, "what is the use of my going there? There are Rembrandts and Raphaels here that I haven't looked at yet." No man wants to go out of this world, or out of any house until he has a better house.
After a man has had a good deal of trouble, he says, "Well, I am ready to go. If there is a house somewhere whose roof doesn't leak, I would like to live there. If there is an atmosphere somewhere that does not distress the lungs, I would like to breathe it. If there is a society somewhere where there is no tittle-tattle, I would like to live there. If there is a home circle somewhere where I can find my lost friends, I would like to go there."
He used to read the first part of the Bible chiefly now he reads the last part of the Bible chiefly. Why has he changed Genesis for Revelation? Ah! he used to be anxious chiefly to know how this world was made, and all about its geological construction. Now he is chiefly anxious to know how the next world was made, and how it looks, and who live there, and how they dress. He reads Revelation ten times now, where he reads Genesis once. The old story, "In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth," does not thrill him half as much as the other story, "I saw a new Heaven and a new earth!"
The old man's hand trembles as he turns over this apocalyptic leaf, and he has to take out his handkerchief to wipe his spectacles. That book of Revelation is a prospectus now of the country into which he is to soon immigrate; the country in which he has lots already laid out, and avenues opened, and trees planted, and mansions built.
The thought of that blessed place comes over me mightily, and I declare that if this meeting-house were a great ship, and you all were passengers on board it, and one hand could launch that ship into the glories of Heaven I would be tempted to take the responsibility, and launch you all into glory with one stroke, holding on to the side of the boat until I could get in myself!
And yet there are people to whom this world is brighter than Heaven. Well, dear souls, I do not blame you. It is natural. But, after a while you will be ready to go. It was not until Job had been worn out with bereavements and carbuncles and a pest of a wife that he wanted to see God. It was not until the prodigal got tired of living among the hogs that he wanted to go to his father's house. It is the ministry of trouble to make this world worth less and Heaven worth more.
Use of Afflictions
by John MacDuff
"Extraordinary afflictions are not always the punishment of extraordinary sins but sometimes the trial of extraordinary graces."
Job's friends, such as they were, insisted that his extraordinary afflictions were a just punishment of sins. But God vindicated Job against this charge, and demonstrated to all the world, that the "trial of our faith works patience," and all the other Christian graces. Someone has said, "Afflictions are God's polishing brushes, which brighten us for this world, and the world to come!"
Let us ever remember, that when the founder has cast his bell, he does not at once place it in the steeple but, before doing so, he tries it with his hammer, beating it on every side, to see if there is any flaw in it.
Afflictions drive us more closely under the wing of our Divine protector!
The weeping Savior!
by John Eadie
"Jesus wept!" John 11:35
Marvelous spectacle! Jesus wept, as the mourners about Him wept! The sight of such sorrow overpowered Him, and He could not refrain. That was a true manhood, which felt this touch of nature, and burst into tears! There was no Stoicism in His constitution. There was no attempt to drown His sympathies, and force Himself into a hard and inhuman indifference. Neither was He ashamed of His possession of our ordinary sensibilities. He felt it no weakness to weep in public.
So sinful did sin appear in its penalty of death so saddening was the desolation which death had brought into that happy home so humbling was the picture of Lazarus, alive and active but a few days before but now laid in the narrow vault that the Savior bowed to the stroke, and, under the impulse of genuine sympathy, "Jesus wept!"
And though He had but to take a few steps more, and the greatest of His miracles would be achieved, and he who was dead should be raised so powerful and tender were His mingled sensations, that "Jesus wept."
Shall we use the common term, and say that He was "unmanned?" No! Such an epithet originates in a grievous misinterpretation of our nature. Is man to be denied the relief of tears and woman only to be so privileged? Is it beneath his masculine robustness, to show a moistened eye? Is he to be a traitor to deepest and purest emotion, and to attempt to cauterize the fountain of tears? No!
Christ, the model of manhood, the mirror of all that was noble and dignified did not deny Himself the relief; and shall men be looked upon as effeminate, as falling from the dignity of their gender, if, with emotions like Christ's they shed tears like Him? No! Perish that dignity which would aspire to a stoic apathy that man was not made for, and which Jesus despised!
The tear is as genuine as the smile. He who would do such violence to his nature, insults his Creator, and would foolishly set himself above the example of the Redeemer! Instead of raising himself above humanity he sinks to the level of a brute! The brow that never wore a smile is not more unnatural than the eye that never glistened with a tear.
Therefore do we vindicate for the afflicted mourner the privilege of tears. You are not giving way to sin when you are giving way to tears. Man is not disgracing his manhood, nor woman showing herself to be but a woman when they weep under bereavement. Do not attempt to be above the Savior. It is not sin to mourn but the sin is to murmur to fall into fretful repining, as if God had wronged you, and it needed an effort on your part to forgive Him. We are sure that Jesus harbored no grudge of this nature against His Father in Heaven and yet He wept. To forbid tears is to impose a cruel penance! It is to deny a luxury to the mourner, in which his Lord indulged.
O you of bruised heart! When you go to the sepulcher where the beloved dust is garnered, weep but not in dejection; weep but repine not. Do not disturb the unbidden tear. The dust you sorrow over, cannot indeed respond; but the time is coming when your tears shall be wiped away by the very hand that inflicted the stroke!
Whichever form of bereavement oppresses you, oh, be comforted by the thought that "Jesus wept!" He who so wept is still unchanged in nature; that His heart which was so troubled is as susceptible now as then, and beats in unison and sympathy with you under such trials and sorrows! What a comforter is the Elder Brother, who knows what it is to be bereaved, and will, out of such experience soothe and solace His people!
Nay, more! For eighteen years the Man Jesus has been employed in binding up bleeding hearts and healing all their wounds. Every variety of grief He has dealt with and with every element and form of it He is perfectly familiar. If there is power in human sympathy to lighten the load of woe how much more in the sympathy of Him who "bore our griefs and carried our sorrows" whose words of comfort reach the heart who gives Himself to be loved, in the place of the object taken away and gathers the departed into a blessed company before the throne, with the prospect of a happy and unclouded reunion!
Let the mourner never forget the image of the weeping Savior! How it will comfort him, and fill him with unspeakable consolation!
Would you call them back to earth again?
By G. Whyte
"They are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His sanctuary. The One seated on the throne will shelter them! They will no longer hunger; they will no longer thirst! For the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them; He will guide them to springs of living waters, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes!" Revelation 7:15-17
Would you call them back to earth again?
Would you wish them back back from the presence of the Lamb?
Back from the sweets of glory to the bitterness of time?
Back from those rivers of pure pleasure which flow at God's right hand to the muddied streams in this valley of sorrow?
After they have reached the haven of rest would you recall them to struggle again with the storms of life?
Could you be so selfish and so cruel?
We must All Appear!
by Gardiner Spring
"Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable and we will be changed!" 1 Corinthians 15:51-52
Whether . . .
buried in the earth,
or floating in the sea,
or consumed by the flames,
or enriching the battle-field,
or devoured by beasts
all, from Adam to the last-born shall wend their way to the great arena of the judgment! Every perished bone and every secret particle of dust shall obey the summons and come forth! If one could then look upon the earth, he would see it as one mighty excavated globe, and wonder how such countless generations could have found a dwelling beneath its surface!
"For we must ALL appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad!" 2 Corinthians 5:10
What makes Heaven attractive for us?
By D. L. Moody
It won't be the pearly gates! It won't be the streets paved with transparent gold! These would not satisfy us! If these were all we would not want to stay in Heaven forever.
I heard the other day, of a little girl whose mother was very sick. While she was sick, one of the neighbors took the child away to stay with her, until the mother would be well again. But instead of getting better the mother died! They thought it best, that they should not tell the child, nor take her home until the funeral was all over.
So a while afterward, they brought the little girl home. First she went into the sitting-room to find her mother; then she went into the parlor; and then she went from one end of the house to the other and could not find her mother. At last she said, "Where is my mamma?" And when they told her that her mamma had died, the little girl wanted to go back to the neighbor's house again. Home had lost its attractions to her since her mother was not there any longer!
Just so it is not the streets of gold and the pearly gates that are going to make Heaven attractive. It is the being with Jesus, our beloved Redeemer!
"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am!" John 14:3
"I desire to depart and be with Christ which is better by far!" Philippians 1:23
"And so we will be with the Lord forever!" 1 Thessalonians 4:17
"Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men." Lamentations 3:32-33
Bereavement is a dispensation of God; what He gives in His goodness He has a right to take away in His wisdom.
H. F. Burder
The Sympathy of Christ
Professor John Cairns
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are yet without sin!" Hebrews 4:15
We have Christ's sympathy in these pregnant words, exhibited in two points of view as an effect and as a cause. As an effect, it is due to training and experience; and as a cause, it influences the whole exercise of His priestly office. Christ's sympathy is presented as the effect of training and experience in the latter half of this sentence, which comes first in the order of nature and history. He "has been tested in every way as we are yet without sin." Hence His sympathy.
Sympathy as a state of mind involves three exercises:
There is, first, the entering into the case of another, so as to take it up, to conceive distinctly all the painful feelings by which another is agitated, and to read his very heart when torn and darkened by grief. This, however, is not yet the distinctive working of sympathy, for a great poet may be able thus to enter into and describe the workings of distress, without feeling them as a friend. Nay, a tyrant may enter into and gloat over the sufferings of his victim. Still, this is a help to sympathy; and wherever the latter is, this has gone before.
The next element in sympathy, and the most vital, is the feeling of pain in our heart when we realize another's woe. It is not only the conceiving of what he suffers but a suffering along with him, such a suffering as amounts to a positive unhappiness, and as is due entirely to his grief being by sympathy made our own.
And the third element in sympathy is the desire or impulse to relieve the sufferer, which is not merely, or at all, the selfish wish to get rid of our own reflected pain (for this we might do in other ways) but to remove the burden from him who bears it, for his own sake, or at least to soothe and assuage, by any means, his trouble.
When we ascribe sympathy, then, to our blessed Savior, we ascribe to Him these three things:
His entering into our case;
His feeling our woe;
and His impulse and desire to relieve.
It might seem, indeed, as if the second of these experiences, a feeling of our woe, could not belong to the Redeemer in His state of exaltation, because it would involve Him in all our misery, and that in proportion to His own tenderness. There is no doubt a mystery here which we cannot fathom. But the language of Scripture is so express that we dare not deny to our exalted Savior this element of sympathy. We must bring in another great law by which the capacity of sympathy is governed; and that law we may call the law of experience.
It is the fact that those who have suffered any form of evil have more sympathy with sufferers from the same evil, than those whose experience has spared them this trial. One who has endured the keen pangs of hunger has more sympathy with the poor in their need of daily food than those who have fared sumptuously every day. A shipwrecked mariner has most sympathy with the shipwrecked; a widow with widows; a heart-broken father with another exclaiming over some ill-fated youth, "O Absalom, my son, my son!" The nearer our experience of danger, suffering, sorrow, or evil of any kind, comes to that of those whom we see or hear of as undergoing the same calamities the more entire is our sympathy with them, and that in all the three elements which I have already spoken of; for we take up more easily their case for its resemblance to our own; we feel more keenly afflicted in their woe; and, as a consequence, we have a stronger impulse to help and support them.
Jesus can sympathize with the poor, for his whole life was one of poverty, of labor, of dependence, and, even in His public ministry, of homelessness! And few of the poor can repeat His words, "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head!" The poorest pauper can think of Him who was anointed against the day of His burial, and laid in a borrowed grave.
He was also a hungry and thirsty, and wearied with work and travel so that all who suffer without necessary food and water, and exhaustion may think of Him who fasted in the wilderness, who sat tired by Jacob's well, and who was overpowered by sleep even amidst the storm.
The innumerable host of the victims of pain may turn to Him who bled in Gethsemane and agonized on Calvary!
And "the noble army of martyrs" may dwell on His tortures by the scourge, the thorny crown, and the cross, as the precursors of their own.
He suffered every kind of opposition, beginning life amidst persecution and exile, and ending it amidst the rejection and cruelty of a violent death.
He suffered every kind of reproach, being charged with ignorance, with pride, with falsehood, with drunkenness, with insanity, with sedition, with blasphemy, with alliance with Satan!
He suffered every form of ingratitude, being despised as well as rejected by those whom he stooped to save; being betrayed, denied and forsaken by His own disciples; and being nailed to the cross by the very sinners whom He came to ransom from death! All these wounds had in them the bitter sting of sin, as well as of unkindness!
And where he was not suffering from the sins of others He was suffering from their sorrows, as when He touched the casket of the widow's son, or wept at the grave of Lazarus.
Every affection was in turn wounded
His social, when He sighed over the people fainting as sheep without a shepherd
His domestic, when from the cross He looked down on His mother with her pierced heart
His patriotic, when He mourned over Jerusalem's approaching end.
Aside from our Savior's sympathy as an effect due to His experience, we must consider His INTERCESSION.
First, Christ's intercession procures our pardon. No sinner is pardoned simply because Christ died. There must be a personal application, and a personal introduction of each applicant for the Divine clemency, on the footing of the Savior's death. And it is the office of Jesus to introduce each penitent and conscience-stricken applicant, and in that awful hour to plead on his behalf for mercy.
Is it possible then, that, when the Savior sees the transgressor at His feet, like Saul of Tarsus, trembling and astonished, wrung at once with fear and with remorse, and lifting the new-born cry for pardon and safety that His heart should not yearn over the sinner who thus becomes a suppliant, and that recalling His own agony and bloody sweat, and all that He has endured for the ransom of the guilty. He should not second his prayer with a deeper tenderness in His own breast, and a more melting earnestness in His own utterance before the eternal throne?
Hence it is, that every sinner may draw near with fullest confidence, encouraged by those representations which set forth the Savior in Heaven as a Lamb that had been slain, and as clothed with a vesture dipped in blood; for this is but the assurance that the sympathies of Calvary are transferred to Paradise and that He still remembers the penitent for whom He suffered, when He has come into His kingdom.
Nor is it only when the sinner first appeals to the loving heart of this well-tried Advocate that He is succored; but after every fall and backsliding the Savior yearns over him, and remembering all that He suffered in seeking and saving the lost pleads for him still, and secures for him pardon and recovery through His own blood.
Secondly, Christ's intercession procures our HELP in TROUBLE. He looks down on all our afflictions, with a tried and experienced eye. Every form of trouble that gathers around us touches some chord in His heart. We cannot in our hours of deepest and darkest sadness, go beyond the circle of His experience. In truth, we are only in the shallows where He was in the depths; and His sympathy as much outreaches our case as His gracious power. We may well believe, then, that this fathomless spring gives movement and impulse to all the streams of intercession that flow from it, and that to the very uttermost He is able to help and save. In the beautiful words of a much -tried friend, now for years removed from earthly trouble, "If the head of the Republic of Science, Letters, and Arts, should be the greatest professor of these, who should be the Head of the sympathies, the affections, the deep-seated yearnings of the heart but the one only sinless, perfect Man, the sympathizing High Priest, the mighty Intercessor, and the all-prevailing Redeemer? Without Him all earthly love is precarious and transitory; with Him the dreariest heart knows a peaceful sunshine."
Thirdly, Christ's intercession procures our support in DEATH. The heathen anticipated death with deep gloom of spirit, or with a kind of mournful resignation almost more affecting. It was a night that had to fall an impenetrable shadow into which they had to go. Those who are strangers to Christian hope are still in the same "horror of great darkness." But, what a light has arisen through the advent of Him who is the Resurrection and the Life! One has died, and has returned, not with a message of terror but of peace! He returns as the Victor, the Deliverer, the Head of a conquering host gathering in His train, and marching on to immortality. To Him the battle is past but to them it is yet future. Hopeful as they are, they are not without misgiving; and many a wistful look is directed to the last scene of conflict.
What a solace, then to think that their Guide knows the way, and remembers the path that leads through strife and pain to certain victory! And what an inspiration to catch from His now triumphant voice the signal, "Fear not; I am He who lives, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore. Amen; and have the keys of Hell and of death!" Let us hear the call thus descending from the exalted seat of His interceding love and care; and let us, inwardly strong and glad, respond, "Lead on, incarnate, dying, risen Lord; through darkness and through death we follow You! Thanks be unto God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Let those who mourn, rehearse these lessons of immortal consolation beside the grave! Our dead in Christ have not perished. To believe it were to falsify every article of Christianity and to resign all its dearest hopes. It were to re-instate the fallen King of Terrors, and to revive the dead and buried paganism over which Christ has set up his throne. Let us not be guilty of such disloyalty to our reigning Lord, who ever lives to comfort His redeemed.
By the memory of all that is mightiest in His death, and tenderest in His intercession by the efficacy of His blood, and the sacredness of His sympathy let every Christian mourner, lamenting the dead who sleep in Jesus, refrain his eyes from tears; and in so far as they are the tears of an unbelieving and unpermitted sorrow, seek to have them wiped away!
And may the sympathy of Him who forbids oppressive grief, grant also the grace to rise above it to His own glory and to hasten on the day when, in a Heaven of re-union and recognition, the eyes that, like His own have wept their last tears shall be made exceeding glad with the light of his countenance!
The Day of Death Better than the Day of Birth!
"A good name," it is written, "is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth!"
The day of a Christian's death is better than that of his birth, because, rightly viewed, his death-day is but a better birth-day! It is the day of his entrance with a nobler nature into a grander world!
The eye of faith and hope discerns in the Christian's death, that, seen from one side of death, is the setting, from the other is but the rising of the soul on a world more glorious far than this.
Compare, then, the two days spoken of, and say which is the "better." The day when a Christian man dies is like the day of his birth, that on which he enters on a new existence. But the first birth was in feebleness and unconsciousness and ignorance; the second is in the noble maturity of powers ripened by the discipline of years. The first was the birth of a nature possessed at best of the relative innocence of infancy; the second is that of a nature purified by a trial, strong with the strength of conquest, attired in clothing that has been "washed and made white in the blood of the lamb."
The former birthday beheld a weeping child clinging in blind instinct to the mother's breast the latter witnesses a redeemed and glorified spirit, enfolded, in the ineffable consciousness of love and life, in the everlasting arms. An earthly home and a little circle of earthly friends welcomed at the first the new entrant on life; the glorious society of Heaven, angels and spirits of the just made perfect, hail the coming of another brother born to immortality. The first birth was into a world whose beauty had been marred by sins and strife and care and crime; the second ushers the soul into the home of eternal purity a world on which the faintest shadow of evil can never rest the new Heavens and earth wherein dwells righteousness.
Who, then, if this all is so, can doubt that "the day of a man's death" may be "better than the day of his birth?"
The Savior's Sympathy with the Afflicted
By John Eadie
It is in the period of suffering and bereavement, that the soul is brought into nearer contact with God, and knows Him, not from what it believes but from what it enjoys; not from what it has been taught but from what it has experienced. We are all aware that our Lord is named the "Man of Sorrows," and we are taught that He is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities;" but we do not adequately comprehend the truth, until, under the pressure of infirmity, we enjoy His sympathy; and then we can say: now we know it for we have felt it.
There is truly a sublime meaning in the words which He spoke to Martha, "I am the Resurrection and the Life;" but only those circumstanced as she was the grave having closed over her brother can really enter into their nobility and triumph. He who has never felt the pang or desolation of bereavement whose heart has never been pierced by the barbed and mortal shaft who has never gazed on the corpse of parent, brother, or child who has never made one of the group of weeping mourners that stand, (inexpressible solemnity!) by the grave, and feel a sad sinking of heart as they leave behind them, in dust and darkness, that form which they shall not see again until Christ descends and the trumpet sounds such a scatheless and untried believer cannot, though he would, unfold to himself the sweetness and comfort of the saying, "I am the Resurrection and the Life."
There is no Christian heart that does not hold by the pledge, "My grace is sufficient for you;" but it is only when "weakness" overpowers it, that it can really find that His "strength is made perfect." Without affliction the purest and closest knowledge of God could never be acquired; a veil would still seem to be upon Him. The glory that surrounds Him might dazzle us; but we would still be comparative strangers to the tenderness and love of His heart.
Still at a distance from Him, we would indeed trust Him; but when He lays His hand upon us and brings us nearer Him then do we acquaint ourselves with His loving-kindness, no longer by report but by tasting it. You may have seen the solar beam thrown back in yellow splendor from the crystal rocks, as they glistened with gold but now you have found and gathered the precious ore! It is one thing to admire the beauty of His pavilion and another thing to be in it; one thing to know Him from what He has said and another to know Him in what He has done. Surely experimental intimacy far excels theoretic information; and it is gained only in the school of affliction.
Did, therefore, the friendship of Christ secure us against suffering it would shade from our view these prime and happy lessons. But Christ is anxious that we learn them, and therefore, though he loves us He permits us to suffer, that we may yearn for a fuller sense of His presence and penetrating into His heart know, because we feel, the love and power of our Beloved and Friend!
Sorrow for the Dead
"Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus!" 1 Thessalonians 4:14
The New Testament teaches us to think of our dead ones as "asleep." They are gone from us but they rest in the Lord. And when they awake, they will be still with Him. Why, then, should we weep for those who are now calmly resting in Christ?
As sleep is to waking so is death to the resurrection. It is the dawn of a Resurrection morning which gives its full force to the image. In death there is rest from care and sorrow, and an the ills which make life painful; and so far it is like to sleep, when we lie down and put from us, in unconscious slumber the cares of the day, the sorrows that may have vexed us, or other ills that may have pained or wearied us. But it requires the assurance of an awakening to complete the analogy. It were little to say to men, as Socrates said long ago, that death is a "great gain," even if we only think of it as a "deep sleep in which one has had no dream." Insensibility is better than pain or toil. But to the Christian, the sleep of death is only the prelude to a joyful day! The sleeper awakes refreshed and strengthened to a "mightier power of life." The believer sinks to rest in the grave only that he may rise again on the Resurrection morning in new and more glorious being. "Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus."
It was this view of death, of which the heathen knew nothing. They might think of their dead ones as resting in the dust. Their Philosophers might discourse of a dreamless sleep; and their Poets sing of a long night of perpetual slumber towards which they were hastening; but they knew nothing of the Morning that was to break on their long sleep of the Resurrection to which it was destined. Even the ancient Hebrews saw this but dimly, and therefore they cried, "For the dead cannot praise you; they cannot raise their voices in praise. Those who go down to the grave can no longer hope in your faithfulness.
19 Only the living can praise you as I do today."(Isaiah 38:18, 19.) "In death there is no remembrance of You: in the grave who shall give You thanks?" (Psalm 6:5.) "The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down in silence." (Psalm 115:17.)
Prophet and Psalmist had at the best, but a feeble hold of the doctrine of Resurrection to Eternal Life. They saw before them the darkness; they felt, with something of horror, the silence of the tomb but the eye of faith did not pierce steadily beyond the voiceless gloom.
Life and immortality have only been brought clearly to light in the Gospel in Him who has Himself risen "the first-fruits of those who sleep." And hence, the Christian alone looks with cheerful hopefulness in death. Others may face it with steadfastness or calm but he alone lies down to sleep in hope. Not only without fear but in joy he enters the dark valley, and friends lay him in the narrow prison-house, "dust to dust in the hope of a joyful Resurrection.
"For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (1 Corinthians 15:53-57.)
It is this fact of Resurrection, which leads the apostle to say that we who remain alive should not sorrow for our dead ones, "even as others who have no hope." (1 Thessalonians 4:13.) Why, indeed, should we thus sorrow, who believe that as "We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him" (1 Thessalonians 4:14.) Those who had no such faith, might well weep as they buried their dead out of sight and knew not whether they should evermore see the light of life. But why should we hopelessly weep for those who are resting with the Lord who have gone to be forever with Him? Why, indeed but for the faintness of our hearts and the weakness of our faith? Let us sorrow rather for ourselves, that our sight is so dim and our faith so dull that we are so little able to look beyond things which are "seen and temporal" to those which are "unseen and eternal!
The living, rather than the dead may have a claim upon our sorrowful regard. For the dead have gone beyond our trouble. They have entered into their rest. They are asleep in Jesus while the living, who are around us, and with us, may be wandering far away from Him, may be suffering greatly.
It is as if we were to weep for the child resting in its father's bosom, sheltered in a happy home rather than for the child who has gone astray in darkness, and cannot find its homeward way. It is as if we were to sorrow for the mariner who has found a safe harbor, and rests in peace rather than for the storm-tossed sailor in the open sea, around whom the billows may be heaving high, and over whom the sky may be darkening to his doom.
No, brethren, let us not sorrow for those who are with God, safe in a Father's house, sheltered in the haven of eternal rest. But let us be anxious and careful for the living, that we may help them, and guide them by God's blessing in a right way; and for ourselves, that we may "know the things which belong unto our peace before they are hid from our eyes."
How Are the Dead Raised?
"But someone may ask: How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?" 1 Corinthians 15:35
The question will still recur, not on the suggestion only of a wistful curiosity but under the pressure of these doubts which the physical difficulties of the case now, as in the Apostle's days, awaken. How shall it be possible even for Omnipotence itself to gather together again from the sepulchers of all the ages the dust of each of His saints, so long since dissolved, dispersed, blown about the world, mixed up with other organisms, taken up in the very blood and flesh of other animals and other men in the long succession of ages? How shall each reclaim his own substance, when the same substance, the same identical particles have belonged successively to many? Can Omnipotence itself overcome the natural impossibility of the same atom being in two places and forming a part of two distinct material organisms at once? Surely if the immortal spirits of men are again to be invested with a material form, it cannot be the same identical body which they laid aside at death, and which they left behind them in the grave.
The objection is sophisticated but not solid. It is founded altogether, not on the difficulties of the doctrine itself but on an erroneous and superficial understanding of the doctrine. The identity of animal organisms is an identity, not of particles but of form and structure and continuous sentient life.
Even during our present state of existence, while the organic identity of our bodies remains, their material substance is incessantly changing; so that in the course of a very few years every single atom of their present framework shall have passed away and given place to others. Thus, in this sense, the body of the child is different from the body of the boy; and the body of the boy from that of the man; and the substance of which we are composed at our birth is not the same but wholly different than that which we shall lay in the tomb.
It is not in the particles, then, that our true identity consists, seeing that amid all the incessant change that in this respect takes place our identity remains all the while unaffected. There is no individuality in atoms; each one, so far as we know, is like another, and can contribute nothing therefore to the distinctive peculiarity of the bodies which they compose. I am what I am, not because I am composed of such and such particles but because out of such particles I have been molded by the plastic hand of God, into that distinctive form and type of organic substance which belongs to me, as an individual, and which is mine and not another's.
Even if, by a miracle, every atom of my bodily substance were in an instant eliminated and substituted by others, I would still remain, as to everything which constitutes my true identity alike in body as in soul, totally unchanged. In this sense, then that is to say, in the sense, not of an atomic but of an organic and vital identity the body of our resurrection shall be the same with the body of our burial.
As the body of our birth is the same with the body of our death; so shall be the body of our death with the body of our immortality. It will be changed and yet the same; changed in its conditions, properties, powers; the same in individual form of type, in its characteristic style and physiognomy, in the proportion of its parts, and its special adaptation to the uses of that one particular soul to which it inalienably belongs; so truly the same, that both we ourselves shall be sure of it, and all who knew us before in the flesh shall recognize and know us again. It will be the same, though raised now to the full predestined perfection of its nature, conformed to its true ideal, even as its type was cast in the eternal thought of God from the first bright, beautiful, glorious, each according to its own individual style and fashion of brightness, beauty, glory, as every true work of God is and must be.
It was thus that the Apostle, in his own grand way, solved the difficulty: "But someone may ask: How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?" The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory!" 1 Corinthians 15
Many other questions, of deepest interest to the thoughtful mind, we might ask but cannot answer.
What precisely shall be the new conditions, capacities, abilities of our immortal body?
In what respect shall it be the same and in what respect unlike, our present earthly state?
What new avenues of knowledge shall we possess?
What new organs of perception?
What new spheres of activity?
What new springs of enjoyment?
Shall there be music, poetry, art, science, deepening research, and advancing knowledge of the works and ways of God in Heaven even as here on earth?
Where shall the final dwelling-place of the redeemed be? Shall they be confined, as now, to one exclusive spot to one single orb in the immensity of God's universe? Or shall they rather roam at large through all its wide domains and tread freely and unrestrained, through all the streets of the fathomless city of God?
Shall we still, then as now only scan from afar, the course of the distant planetary orbs? Or shall we be permitted to visit them, and know all about them, and be at home in them as in so many chambers of the Father's one majestic house?
In what form or stage of their development shall the bodies of the blessed arise as in youth, or in manhood, or in ripe old age?
Shall the Christian child of this world be still a child in Heaven; or shall the child expand all at once in that wondrous transfiguration moment, into the fullness of its stature and perfection of its powers? Shall the Christian old man be still an old man forever; or shall he be brought back to the freshness and strength of his manly prime? Shall we, in short, appear then just as we were when death took us and not rather as we were or might have been, at our best?
Shall the great Architect of Heaven, create the true and perfect ideal of the life of His saints or the restoration only, though in a glorified state, of their actual form here below?
We cannot tell the answer to any of these inquiries. "Now we are children of God; and what we will be, has not yet been made known!" 1 John 3:2.
It is enough, that God knows and that He plans and does all things well.
It is enough, that however high our conceptions of the unseen world, and however sublime our aspirations in regard to it it will still be something far higher and grander than we could ever dream! "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him!" 1 Corinthians 2:9
It is enough, that there shall be a new Heaven, and a new earth, and that we shall be made perfectly fit to possess and to enjoy it!
And above all, it is enough that Christ Himself shall be there, and that we shall be with Him, and "that we will be like Him for we will see Him as He really is!"
"So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.
The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable;
it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory;
it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;
it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body!"
1 Corinthians 15:42-44
Here, then, we must pause. With this glimpse of the glory to be revealed grand, but incomplete we must rest satisfied!
We train our children; but it is no less true that our children train us. They are meant by God as a means and occasion of much discipline for Heaven. How they call out our purest and most unselfish affections! What new tenderness they pour into our hearts! How they humanize and soften the roughest nature! And when taken from us, are they not like magnets to draw our hearts to the things that are above? There are fathers and mothers who seem to see, when they look up into the deep blue of Heaven, a dimpled hand that beckons to them, and to hear a silver voice that whispers from the skies, "Come up higher!"
By John R. Macduff
The Believer's Confidence
Notwithstanding the dissolution that awaited him, "in my flesh," exclaimed the patriarch Job, "I shall see God!" And it is now plain that he recognized and delighted in the mystery of the resurrection of the body to which we have already adverted that grand truth, on which Christianity has shed the light of its full disclosure. Here was, moreover, an anticipation, not only of a resurrection but of that glorious resurrection that "resurrection unto life" which is to be the exclusive portion and privilege of the redeemed people of God. It is the subject of emphatic promise, that at the sounding of the trumpet which shall announce the second coming of Jesus, "the dead in Christ shall rise," beautiful and lovely from their graves, and assume a perfected nature before the throne.
As to the mode, and many of the circumstances, of that blessed restoration, there is an impenetrable mystery; yet we know that wonderful will be the change. With what ecstatic delight must our bosoms glow, when we meditate on the record that proclaims it! Listen, believer, and rejoice!
"So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.
The body that is sown is perishable it is raised imperishable;
it is sown in dishonor it is raised in glory;
it is sown in weakness it is raised in power;
it is sown a natural body it is raised a spiritual body!"
As we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the Heavenly."
"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body!"
And is it not indeed animating to the soul, when it can look forward to the arrival of the day to be signalized, for the saints of the Lord, by an exaltation like this? Multitudes have already gone from the abodes of the living; the worm has preyed upon, them, and their bones have moldered. Generation after generation yet shall pass away. Some may sleep in the graves of their fathers, and in an assemblage of holy dust; some may have their tombs dug by foreign hands, in foreign climates, where is no friend to mourn; some may have their ashes scattered to the winds of Heaven; or perhaps the unfathomed ocean may be made their funeral bed, and there they may lie beneath the heaving billow, "uncoffined and unknown."
But what does it matter where the Christian's remains lie and what does it matter how he may be tenanted in the regions of death? That vast variety of disposal, shall terminate at the shout of Him who is the "Resurrection and the Life." Not one then shall be left in the desolate slumber. All, from every climate and period, shall be clothed afresh, and arise, and gather, bright and splendid in Heavenly radiance, into one vast assembly, the inheritors of everlasting joy. What inspiration is in the prospect! Who feels not already a triumph over death? and whose spirit, eager and panting for the destined majesty, does not unite in the cry of the ransomed church, "We wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies!"
Consolation Derived from the Hope of Immortality
If the Scripture doctrine of immortality is entitled to influence in the regulation of life its influence is not less sovereign in dispelling the terrors of death, and consoling us under the loss of our dearest friends and relatives. "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words." 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
And who can fail being penetrated with the divine consolation they afford? If ever Christianity appears in its power, it is when it erects its trophies on the tomb; when it takes up its votaries where the world leaves them, and fills the breast with immortal hopes in dying moments.
Nor are the words I have quoted adapted to support the mind of a Christian in the view of his own dissolution only; they administer the firmest support amidst the breaches which death is continually making in the church of Christ. A degree of sorrow on such occasions, nature compels us to feel, and religion does not condemn. At the decease of Lazarus, while his sisters were lamenting his loss, "Jesus wept." But the sorrow which a Christian feels in such situations is mingled with hope. By the light of faith, he traces his deceased friends into an eternal world. Instead of considering them as lost or extinct, he beholds them under the eye of Divine Providence. The period of their trial is closed; they have entered into rest, where, sheltered from the storms of life and the dangers of temptation their happiness is forever fixed and unalterable. Their separation is neither final nor complete. The pious living and the pious dead are still one family, under one head; and when He "who is their life shall appear, they shall appear together with Him in glory."
The Hope of a Resurrection
Let those mourn without measure who mourn without hope. The gardener does not mourn, when he casts his seed into the ground. He expects to receive it again, and more. The same hope have we, respecting our friends who have died in faith. "I would not have you ignorant," says Paul, "concerning those who are asleep, that you sorrow not as others who have no hope; for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so those also who sleep in Jesus, will God bring with him." He seems to say, "Look not on the dead as lost. They are not annihilated. Indeed, they are not dead. They only sleep; and they sleep to awake again."
You do not lament over your children or friends, while slumbering on their beds. Consider death as a longer sleep, from which they shall certainly awake. Even a heathen philosopher could say, that he enjoyed his friends, expecting to part with them; and parted with them, expecting to see them again. And shall a heathen excel a Christian in bearing affliction with cheerfulness? If you have a well-grounded hope that your deceased friend was saved by Christ, ponder, I entreat you, the precious supports afforded by the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Just.
Home in Our Father's House
By Newman Hall
Afflicted believers, your sorrows are only for a little season; your weeping is for a brief night; joy comes in the morning the morning of an everlasting day. A Christian's trials are but the discomforts of a journey, each stage of which, however rough the road and wild the weather brings him nearer the home of his heart. The darkness is only that of the tunnel through which we are hurrying at express speed. The speck of light at the end is nearing and brightening as we speed onward to the sunshine of eternal day.
Our Lord allayed the heart trouble of His disciples by assuring them that in His Father's house were many mansions, and that the parting which caused them sorrow, was for their good: that though He was going from them, it was to prepare a place for them, and that He would surely return to receive them to Himself that they might abide with Him forever.
Our Lord speaks of Heaven as home, "My Father's house." What a contrast to the gorgeous imagery employed by servants, is this sublimely simple familiarity of the child. It is as if a poor cottager, after visiting a royal palace, tried to describe the unimagined splendors of a place which members of the royal family simply knew as home. How in harmony with the high claims of Deity asserted by and for Him! The disciples were not to be troubled on His account. Although betrayed, condemned, crucified He was going home. "Let not your heart be troubled." And because of their intimate union, they were not to be troubled for themselves.
If Heaven is Christ's home then it is ours also. He is our Elder Brother. "He is not ashamed to call us brethren." He said, "I ascend to my Father and your Father." We are "joint heirs with Jesus Christ." His Father's home is ours also. What hallowed associations are suggested by the word! Most people of all conditions, whatever scenes of grandeur they may visit, feel, "There's no place like home!" Love makes home.
Home promises REST. There the wearied limbs or wearied brain repose after the day's toil. So, amid the multiplied cares and labors of the present life, we look forward to "the rest that remains for the children of God." There will be occupation but no painful toil. "Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord; they rest from their labors. "
Home suggests FIDELITY. There is no true home without it. We may suspect deceit and treachery outside, but we can cast off all reserve, all distrust, at home.
Home suggests SYMPATHY. There may be coldness outside, no interest in what deeply concerns us, no response to our warmest feelings but at home we are always sure of a listening ear, a sympathetic eye, a responsive hand-shake, a heart-expressive kiss. There may be curiosity outside, openly avowed or suspiciously concealed: and even friends may sometimes prove forgetful, selfish, and unkind. But home, true home, is the palace of love, "Where hearts are of each other sure."
But the purest and brightest of earthly homes are but faint types of the home above. There every heart is wholly true to every other, being wholly true to God. No suspicion lurks there, no envy at other's gifts, no cherished ill-will, no antipathy, no mere calculating kindness but true, hearty, genuine, expressive, warmly-manifested love. Whatever in this world hinders true fellowship among Christians, will have been left behind. "We shall all be changed" in this respect, and the unloveliness which more or less clings to believers and interferes with fellowship here, will disappear when the bride of Christ will be "without spot or wrinkle or any such thing."
It is a PERMANENT home. There are mansions yonder, abiding places, not movable tents but a fixed, enduring habitation. We know that when this earthly tabernacle is dissolved, we have a building of God. How unlike the uncertainty and perishableness of earthly things! The lake, so calm, reflecting from its unruffled surface the sky and stars, may, in one short hour be wild with storms. The stream which often refreshed us suddenly becomes dry. The fairest flowers droop and die even as we gaze on them. The loveliest and most loving homes are quickly broken up. No locks and bolts can shut out sickness, sorrow, and death! But as the home above is everlasting so its pleasures are for evermore. The sunshine will never be overcast by one fleeting thought of change or death.
And there is ABUNDANCE of supply. There are many mansions. The Jewish temple was a place not merely for worship but for residence, and had around its courts a variety of chambers for priests of various degree. So the Heavenly Jerusalem has habitations for all whom Jesus consecrates as "kings and priests unto God;" and these consist of all who are washed from their sins by his blood.
The Father's house is large enough for all his children. The preparation is vast as the heart of God. Holy angels are there, and saints of all ages, "a great multitude whom no man can number, out of all kindreds and tribes and peoples." But still there is room! The Father is bringing not a few but "many sons unto glory." There are multitudes unknown to men but known to God, who have not bowed their knees unto Baal. Heathen nations are pressing into the kingdom, and the day is not far distant when all shall know the Savior from the least to the greatest. There is room for them all. There is room for us. There is room for every mourner; "Let not your heart be troubled."
Number implies VARIETY. The mansions are not of uniform size and arrangement, though all are perfect in beauty. They are fitted and prepared for dwellers of varied capacity and degree. Mansions for children and for young men, for the weak and the strong, for babes in Christ and for those of full age. None need fear that because they are inferior to others there will be no place for them above. There will be no seclusion of classes, no barriers of separation but there will be variety of degrees of glory, suited to the fitness for the inheritance, and thus the very lowest in attainment, if a sincere believer in Christ, may be sure of a home among the many mansions. Let not your heart be troubled. Those gates shall open for you! You shall drink of the river, clear as crystal, and you shall eat of the Tree of Life, and find a home in the many mansions of our Father's house!
The Rainbow of Promises as Seen Through Tears
William Bacon Stevens
As a token of God's gracious assurance, the rainbow in the cloud is peculiarly suggestive. It never appears but at the time when the rain is falling, and hence, viewed in itself is rather a ground of apprehension than of peace. But God has chosen that to be a pledge of our security, which is, in itself, an intimation of our danger, that our trust might be, not in any change of terrestrial arrangements but in the simple word of God, a pledge repeated to us by each new-born rainbow as it carries our thoughts back to the days of Noah, and the covenant token then first pointed out. Look then upon the rainbow, whenever it appears in its multi-colored glory, and praise Him who set it in the clouds as the perpetual token of His covenant of love.
The rainbow is made up of seven colors, caused by the different angles at which the light is refracted and reflected from the falling drops of rain. The conditions under which it can be seen are, that there must be rain falling at the time; that there must be sunlight at the time. Let us look, then, if we can see on the dark and showery cloud of sorrow the rays of the Sun of Righteousness so refracted as to form the rainbow of mercy, at once inspiring hope and exciting thanksgiving.
We turn to Isaiah, the evangelical prophet, and find the first of these prismatic promises in the comforting words, "But now, this is what the Lord says he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: 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
How much and how beautiful the light refracted from this glowing passage! As if God had said. Fear not, for He who created you out of nothing. He who formed you in the shape and fashion of humanity. He who redeemed you from the dominion of death. He who so knows you as to call you by name, and to engrave you on the palms of His hands, and to make you unto him a chosen peculiar people will not forsake you in any emergency or trial; but "when you pass through the waters of affliction, I, the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior, will not suffer you to drown but will protect you from the fiery trial." What wide promises, what divine assurance! How full of hope and comfort to the sorrowful and the persecuted!
A few pages on, and we find another promise for our covenant rainbow; one, too, that has specific relations to the rainbow of the deluge, for that token was evidently present to the mind of God when the words were uttered: "For a brief moment," says Jehovah, speaking to His ancient people, "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will take you back. In a burst of anger I turned my face away for a little while. But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer. Just as I swore in the time of Noah that I would never again let a flood cover the earth so now I swear that I will never again be angry and punish you. For the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then my faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken, says the Lord, who has mercy on you."
Sitting with our Savior upon the grassy mount, and listening to the sermon he delivered there, we find another tinted promise of a dye so Heavenly, that it at once finds its place as one of the lovely colors in this rainbow of hope. The words are few but condensed, the promise is brief but of intensive force, of infinite expansibility it is the verse "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted." But how comforted? Not with earthly sympathy, for that gives but little solace; not with worldly succor, for the world has no balm for a broken heart; but comforted with the choice blessings of the Divine Comforter, by which strength is imparted to the weak, light to the darkened, joy to the saddened, peace to the troubled, and hope to the sinking spirit.
But our Savior furnishes another prismatic color for our covenant arch in the invitation, "Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." There is here no restriction as to the people invited, none as to the rest promised.
Whether then you labor under the cares, trials, and perplexities of life; whether you are burdened by the crushing weight of poverty, sorrow and sickness; whether you labor under the sharp convictions of sin from which you struggle to free yourself; or whether you are burdened by a sense of weighty guilt and a conscious deserving of eternal woe in each case you are invited to Jesus with the promise of Heavenly rest.
In the last interview of our Savior with the apostles before His crucifixion, He gave them many and peculiar consolations in view of His near removal from them. Among the many thrilling sentences uttered on that memorable night there is one so terse, so full of thought, so rich in comfort, that we may well claim for it a place in Mercy's triumphal arch.
It is the passage, "I will not leave you comfortless, I will come unto you," I will come to you come to you in the cheering influences of my love; come to you in the precious outpourings of my spirit; come to you in the imparted strength and comfort of the Holy Spirit; come to you in sickness, in suffering, in sorrow; come to you with the oil and wine of gospel truth; come to you in the light of my own countenance, making your dark soul radiant with joy, and painting upon the lowering vapor whose showers have but just discharged themselves upon your head, the overarching rainbow of covenant peace and hope.
The sixth color of this "bow in the cloud" is added by the pencil of Paul. His words are, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal but the things which are not seen are eternal."
The AFFLICTION, light as to its character; "but for a moment" as to its duration; while the GLORY has "weight" as being heavy with blessing; is "eternal" as to its permanence; is "exceeding," as passing human conception; is "far more exceeding" as expressive of its unspeakable excellence. So intense was the feeling of the Apostle here, that the usual superlatives could not embody forth his thought, and he was forced to make a new word to give utterance to his emotion, it is glory, it is a weight of glory, it is an eternal weight of glory, it is a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
What a climax! like the rainbow, its foot indeed rests on earth but it arches upward to Heaven, spanning the dark cloud of affliction with a bond of beauty.
The last color in this prismatic arch is furnished by "the Beloved Disciple," and is drawn from a revelation to him of some of these very "things which are unseen and eternal." The Apostle, in his vision at Patmos, had "beheld, and, lo, a great multitude which no man could number, of an nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands." While he listened to their ascriptions of praise, one of the celestial host approached and asked him, by way of calling his attention to the scene, "Who are these which are arrayed in white robes? and where did they come from?" The surprised Apostle answered, "Sir, you know." In reply to this the Heavenly visitant said unto him, "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 7:14-17
And now we have laid side by side seven rich and precious promises as the seven colors of the rainbow; each lovely in itself but combined, forming that arch of covenant glory which God has equally "set in the cloud" of sorrow on earth, and "around the throne" in Heaven. Behold it in its varied but exquisite hues! Is it not beautiful as it springs upward as it swells Heavenward as it bends downward, curving over our sorrow-drenched hearts, with assurance of present sunshine and of future bliss?
Many are the passages in the Bible which represent Christ as the light of the world, and Malachi especially designates him as the "Sun of Righteousness. "He shines out from the zenith of the spiritual firmament, and there is no going down of His light no evening to shroud his departed rays. Once shining forever shining without a shadow without an eclipse without a sunset. Such is the Sun whose refracted rays paint the rainbow of hope on the cloud of sorrow. But when through the sovereign grace of God we receive this "adoption of sons," then is it our peculiar privilege to see God's love in every dispensation of His hand, and to see His rainbow of covenant promise in every cloud of sorrow!
Sorrow Followed by Joy
By Theodore L. Cuyler
Sorrow is represented by the Psalmist, as only a lodger for a night, to be followed by joy at the sun-rising. This is a truthful picture of most frequent experiences; it is full of comfort to God's people, and it points on to the glorious dawn of Heaven's eternal day, when the night-watch of life is over. Sorrow is often the precursor of joy; sometimes it is so needful, that unless we endure the one we cannot have the other. Some of us have known what it is to have severe sickness lodge in our bodies, when every nerve became a tormentor and every muscle a highway for pain to course over. We lay on our beds conquered and helpless. But the longest night has its dawn. At length returning health began to steal in upon us, like the earliest gleams of morning light through the window shutters. Never did food taste so delicious as the first meal of which we partook at our own table. Never did the sunbeams fall so sweet and golden as on the first Sunday, when we ventured out to church; and no discourse ever tasted so like Heavenly manna as the one our pastor poured into our hungry ears that day. We sang the thirtieth psalm with melody in the heart, and no verse more gratefully than this one, "Sorrow may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning!"
The history of every discovery, of every enterprise of benevolence, of every Christian reform is the history of toil and watching through long discouragements. I love to read the narrative of Palissy, of his painful struggles with adversity, of his gropings after the scientific truth he was seeking, and of his final victory. Sorrow and poverty and trial lodged with that brave spirit for many a weary month but at length came singing and shouting. All Galileos and Keplers and Newtons have had this experience. All the Luthers and Wesleys who have pioneered great reformations, and all the missionaries of Christ who have ever invaded the darkness of paganism, have had to endure nightwork and watching before the hand of God opened to them the gates of the "dayspring from on high." God tests His people before He blesses them. The night is mother of the day; trust through the dark brings triumph in the dawn.
Christ a Man of Sorrows
It has been supposed by many, that the sufferings of our Lord were rather apparent, than real; or at least that His abundant consolations, and His knowledge of the happy consequences which would result from His death rendered His sorrows comparatively light, and almost converted them to joys; but never was supposition more erroneous. Jesus Christ was as truly a man as any of us; and, as man, He was really susceptible to grief, as keenly alive to pain and reproach, and as much averse from shame and suffering as any of the descendants of Adam. As to divine consolations and supports, they were at all times bestowed on Him in a very sparing manner, and in the season of His greatest extremity, they were entirely withheld; and though a knowledge of the happy consequences which would result from His sufferings rendered Him willing to endure them, it did not, in the smallest degree, take off their edge, or render Him insensible to pain.
No, His sufferings, instead of being less, were incomparably greater than they appeared to be. No finite mind can conceive of their extent; nor was any of the human race ever so well entitled to the appellation of the Man of Sorrows as the man Christ Jesus. His sufferings began with His birth and ended but with His life. It must have been extremely painful to such a person as Christ, to live in a sinful world like this. He was perfectly holy, harmless and undefiled. Of course, He could not look on sin but with the deepest abhorrence. It is that abominable thing which His soul hates. Yet during the whole period of His residence on earth, He was continually surrounded by it, and His feelings were every moment tortured with the hateful sight of human depravity. How much sorrow the sight occasioned Him, we may in some measure learn from the bitter complaints which similar causes extorted from David, Jeremiah, and other ancient saints. But the sufferings of Christ from this cause were incomparably greater than theirs.
Another circumstance which contributed to render our Savior a man of sorrows, and His life a life of grief was the reception He met with from those whom He came to save. Had they received Him with that gratitude and respect which He deserved, and desired Him to rescue them from their miseries it would have been some alleviation of His sorrows. To see Himself despised, slandered, and persecuted with implacable malice by the very beings whom He was laboring to save; to see all His endeavors to save them frustrated by their own incorrigible folly and wickedness; to see them by rejecting Him filling up to the brim their cup of criminality and wrath, and sinking into eternal perdition within reach of His vainly offered hand to see this, must have been distressing indeed! Yet this, Christ saw.
Another circumstance that threw a shade of gloom and melancholy over our Savior's life, was His clear view and constant anticipation of the dreadful agonies in which it was to terminate. He was not ignorant, as we happily are of the miseries which were before Him. He could not hope, as we do, when wretched today, to be happier tomorrow. Every night, when He lay down to rest the scourge, the crown of thorns, and the cross, were present to His mind! And on these dreadful objects, He every morning opened His eyes, and every morning saw them nearer than before. Every day was to Him like the day of His death, of such a death too as no one ever suffered before or since. How deeply the prospect affected Him is evident from His own language, "I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished!"
What was our Savior's conduct under the pressure of these sorrows? "He was oppressed and afflicted yet He opened not His mouth. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth."
Was Christ a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief? Then we need not be surprised or offended if we are often called to drink of the cup of sorrows; if we find the world to be a valley of tears. This is one of the ways in which we must be conformed to our glorious Head.
Indeed, His example has sanctified grief, and almost made it pleasant to mourn. One would think that Christians could scarcely wish to go rejoicing through a world which their Master passed through mourning. The path in which we follow Him is bedewed with His tears and stained with His blood. It is true, that from the ground thus watered and fertilized many rich flowers and fruits of paradise spring up to refresh us, in which we may and ought to rejoice. But still our joy should be softened and sanctified by godly sorrow.
When we are partaking of the banquet which His love has spread for us, we should never forget how dearly it was purchased.
"There's not a gift His hand bestows but cost His heart a groan!"
The joy, the honor, the glory through eternity shall be ours; but the sorrows, the sufferings, the agonies which purchased them were all His own.
Was Christ wounded for our transgressions; were the iniquities of all His people laid upon Him; then, surely, our iniquities shall never be laid upon us. He has borne and carried them away. He was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. Away then with all guilty unbelieving fears.
Whatever your sorrows or trials may be He knows by experience how to sympathize with you. Has your Heavenly Father forsaken you, so that you walk in darkness and see no light? He well remembers what He felt, when He cried, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" Has Satan wounded you with His fiery darts? He remembers how sorely His own heart was bruised when He wrestled with principalities and powers, and crushed the head of the prince of darkness. Are you pressed down with many sorrows, so as to despair even of life? The soul of Christ was once exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. Are you mourning for the danger of unbelieving friends? Christ's own brethren did not believe in Him. Does the world persecute and despise you, or are your enemies those of your own household? Christ was despised and rejected of men, and His own relations stigmatized Him as a madman. Are you suffering under slanderous and unjust accusations? Christ was called a man gluttonous, and a drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners. Are you struggling with the evils of poverty? Jesus had not where to lay His head. Do Christian friends forsake or treat you unkindly? Christ was denied and forsaken by His own disciples. Are you distressed with fears of death? Christ has entered the dark valley, that He might destroy death. O, then, banish all your fears. Look at your merciful High Priest who is passed unto the Heavens, and triumphantly exclaim with the apostle, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ!"
"If I am asked what is the remedy for the deeper sorrows of the human heart what a man should chiefly look to in his progress through life as the power to sustain him under trials and enable him manfully to confront his afflictions I must point to something which in a well-known hymn is called, 'The old, old story,' told in an old, old book, and taught with an old, old teaching which is the greatest and best gift ever given to mankind."
William Ewart Gladstone
"When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory,
Looking o'er life's finished story,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not until then, how much I owe."
Robert Murray McCheyne
It is by affliction chiefly that the heart of man is purified, and that the thoughts are fixed on a better state!
Comfort for the Widow
"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling." Psalm 68:5
The widow often feels destitute and desolate; and when she most needs sympathy from others she often experiences it least. The God of Israel is the widow's God. He offers to be her husband to fill the husband's place, and perform the father's part. He says, "Let your widows trust in Me." It is as if He had said, "I am able . . .
to supply all the widow's needs,
to crush all the widow's foes,
to sanctify all the widow's sorrows, and
to fill the widow's heart with comfort and peace!
Let her ask Me to do so; let her trust Me to do so; let her expect Me to do so!"
My widowed sister! carry an that pains your heart or depresses your spirit to Jesus! Look to Jesus through your tears, and for the supply of all your needs. And if enemies arise, if man would oppress you go to Jesus as the judge: He will listen to you, take your case in hand, carry your cause for you, and even turn man's curse into a blessing. Take your poor fatherless children to Him put them into His hands, ask Him to adopt them for His own, to manage them for you, and make them holy, honorable, and useful a comfort to you, and a blessing to others.
You cannot ask too much of Jesus nor expect too much from Jesus! He will love to hear you; He will kindly listen to you; He will value your confidence; He will crown and reward your faith. Fret not, fear not but put Jesus in your husband's place, and expect Him to do a husband's part. Believe these precious words: "Your Maker is your husband; the Lord Almighty is His name: and your Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth." Jesus loves . . .
to hear the widow's voice,
to sympathize with the widow's sorrows,
and to answer the widow's prayers.
"You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all unto Me I will surely hear their cry!" Exodus 22:32, 23
A Parent's Death
The death of a parent has been useful. His expiring charge has never been forgotten. The thought of separation forever from one so loved and valued, has awakened in the son a beneficial fear. Returning from a father's grave, he has met with God, saying, "Will you not from this time cry unto me: My Father! you are the guide of my youth!" And the death of the parent has proved the life of the child.
May Your Will Be Done!
By Henry Alford
"May Your will be done" Matthew 6:10
We suppose, when we daily pray, "May Your will be done," that we mean, "Here I am, dispose of me as You will." And doubtless such a general feeling is a good and beneficial one, an excellent introduction to our daily duties and trials. It may be well, however, to put it sometimes more to the test, and question it somewhat more closely than Christians usually do.
Have we reflected, when we thus say, that our Heavenly Father's will evidently is, that we should become perfect, as our Savior did, through suffering? Have we made our account, that health and strength, fortune and friends, are all in His hand, suspended in the balance with our eternal welfare? that our Father's care over us is such, that if one of them is seen by Him to outweigh and interfere with our soul's health that He will surely interpose and take it from us? Have we borne in mind that the very day in whose opening hour we kneel in our closets and say, "May Your will be done," may see our whole life's bitterest and dreariest passage may behold us stricken down by our Father's judgment may make the strong man a miserable wreck, the rich man a poor bankrupt, the social man a solitary man in the world's wilderness?
Do those whose souls are knit in one by love's closest tie of God's own sanctioning, reflect, when they say these words together in the morning that one may be taken before the evening, and the other left to try how deep the resignation to God's will really was? Does it ever cross the mother's mind, as she teaches the blessed prayer to her babe, fresh risen and bright in the morning that, before night, His will may indeed be done in the death of her babe?
Far be it from me to dash or embitter the heart's joys, pure and holy like these. But, brethren, such thoughts as these will not dash nor embitter joy. Then it is embittered, when the soul has made her nest and her home here below, has gazed on her beloved object insatiably, and never thought of God has used the world as if she possessed it and some hour when all is fair and serene, in the midst of much treasure laid up for many years comes the fatal stroke, unlooked for, unaccountable, irremediable!
One such record I have seen engraved on the tomb of a beloved child: "The miserable parents ventured their all on this frail bark, and the wreck was total." This is bitterness indeed but to see all our comforts coming day by day from God's hand to live in the continual consciousness that He who today tries our gratitude by giving them may tomorrow try our faith by withdrawing them this is not to poison joy but to enhance it tenfold it is not to blight the fair plant but to give it strength and endurance, so that it shall flourish not only in the sunshine but in the storm; not only in the morn and promise of life but amidst disappointment and decay and death.
"May Your will be done!" And what if that will is not only afflictive but dark and mysterious also? What if God is pleased to wound just where we believed we needed nourishing? What if to the weak and shortsighted eye of sense He even seem as a tyrant, delighting in doing us harm, striking us when we are down, yes, forgetting His own promises and breaking His everlasting covenant?
Brethren, I know how hard it is in such cases to feel from the heart this prayer how the words seem almost to choke us in utterance, and the petition to be more than we ever can really attain to. But let us not, for all that, relinquish our trust in our Father's love and care of us. What He does we often do not understand now; but we shall know hereafter.
Rest in the Lord, and He shall make it plain. It is good to wait; it lifts men above the world and out of themselves, and they grow in the knowledge of their Father and God, and in ripeness for the day when He shall be revealed. "May Your will be done!"
To a Father Bereft of a Son
I cannot, I dare not say, "weep not." Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, and surely, he allows you to weep; surely, there is a "needs be" that you feel a heaviness under such a trial. But O, let hope and joy mitigate your heaviness. I know not how this shall work for your good but it is enough that God knows. He who said, "All things shall work together for good to those who love God," excepts not from this promise the sorest trial. You devoted your son to God; you cannot doubt that he accepted the surrender. If he has been hid in the chamber of the grave from the evil of sin, and from the evil of suffering, let not your eye be evil, when God is good. What you chiefly wished for him, and prayed on his behalf, was spiritual and Heavenly blessings. If the greatest thing you wished for is accomplished, at the season and in the manner Infinite Wisdom saw best, refuse not to be comforted; you know not what work and joy have been waiting for him in that world, where God's "servants shall serve him." Should you sorrow immoderately when you have such ground of hope that he, and his other parent, are rejoicing in what you lament? I know that nature will feel; and I believe suppressing its emotions in such cases is not profitable, either to soul or body; but I trust, though you mourn, God will keep you from murmuring, and that you shall have to glory in your tribulation and infirmity, while the power of Christ is manifested thereby.
The Departed Wife
Yes, she is gone she who was to me the light and music of my happy home! It was her smile that made this house so mirthful, her voice that made it eloquent with joy. Her very tread had life and gladness in it. But 'tis gone, and silence fills her place, and solitude spreads like a shadow over the very walls. Not a place, chair, or book, is what it was when she was here. Alas! how fondly do we concentrate our happiness in one beloved form! a human form so perishably frail! On that one form, we staked our earthly joy. In that one life, we lived. It was our world; that gone, our sun is darkened, and the scene, of late so full of beauty, is rife with desolation. From the dark ruins of our withered love, methinks there comes a voice in unison with yours, eternal Father! "Set your affections upon things above, lay up your treasure there!" and not beneath; earth is too treacherous for so vast a trust!
The Lord blows off the blossoms of our hopes in this life, and lops the branches of our worldly joys to the very root on purpose that they should not thrive. Lord, spoil my fool's heaven for this life that I may be saved forever.
"Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up." Psalm 71:20
The Bible and Prayer in Affliction
The Bible opens a spring of comfort for the afflicted, by giving them free access to the throne of grace, and inviting them to enjoy the privilege of prayer.
This is, indeed, the Christian's privilege at all seasons; and never will he feel himself to be in a right or comfortable state, whatever may be his outward prosperity if he allows himself to neglect that blessed ordinance, by which fellowship is maintained between Heaven and earth, and fellowship enjoyed by the creature with the Creator. And he who, whether in prosperity or adversity, makes it his daily practice to go to the throne of grace, and in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, makes his request known unto God will, from his own experience, bear testimony to the truth of the promise, that "the peace of God which passes all understanding, shall keep his heart and mind through Christ Jesus."
In the day of prosperity, when every need and appetite of our nature is supplied, we may not be conscious of any very strong desire, and are too apt to forget the fact of our dependence, in respect to the supply of our temporal needs; and even in regard to our spiritual necessities, we are prone, when surfeited with worldly prosperity, to become cold and lukewarm in our desires after the communication of divine grace, by which alone they can be supplied.
Is there one Christian who has not experienced the deadening effect of uninterrupted prosperity on the spiritual desires and holiest affections? And if even Christians are too often lulled asleep by its influence, how much more may those be cradled into profound forgetfulness of God, who have never known the necessity, nor made the deliberate choice, of a better and more enduring portion? But when their prosperous course is broken by severe affliction, the minds of both classes are brought into a new state; the Christian is then thrown back on the inward resources of his religion, and will then feel their necessity and value.
The most ungodly and careless, when they are suddenly brought into imminent danger, will then tremble and think of God, who cared nothing for religion before. Have we not seen a family, enjoying a long course of prosperity, and as unmindful of God and religion as if they were ignorant that they had a God to worship, and soul to be saved; but when one of their number was suddenly seized by the hand of death, the whole of that mirthful household were also seized with religious fear, and none more anxious than they to procure the aid of a minister's consolations and a minister's prayers! Have we not known a rude and thoughtless sailor, spending every hour of fair weather and prosperous winds in jovial mirth night after night retiring to his cot without thinking of the God above, or of the Hell beneath him and even, when the first gale arose that was to founder his ship, reckless of the coming storm; but when the crash was heard, and when, from the force of habit, the first word upon his lip was an oath, that oath died away into a prayer, when the foaming waters burst across the deck, and lashed him into the mighty deep!
In the 107th Psalm we find the tendency of affliction to produce prayer, illustrated by many beautiful examples as in the case of the Jews wandering in the wilderness, in a solitary way, hungry and thirsty, and their souls fainting within them; or in the case of those who, by reason of personal distress, "sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron, because they rebelled against the words of God;" or in the case of those who go down to the seas in ships, whole soul is melted because of trouble. In each case, it is added, "they cried unto the Lord in their trouble and he delivered them out of their distresses."
In the case of backsliders, too, who have fallen from their first love, and have become conformed to the world affliction is often sent as the most suitable means of reclaiming them from declension, and restoring them to spiritual health. This it does, by leading them to pray. Oh! how many Christians have had reason to acknowledge the blessed effect of affliction, in renewing their communion with God, and reviving their decayed devotion! Are there not many who can testify, from their own experience, that while they were prosperous, the spirit of devotion became imperceptibly more languid in their bosoms; that instead of frequently enjoying prayer as a delightful privilege, they were gradually losing their relish for it, and that when they did observe it, it was observed in a cold and formal manner; and that they were not sensible of the length to which they had proceeded in spiritual declension, until, by some severe stroke of affliction, they were thrown on the resources of a piety too decayed to afford them either support or consolation; and were thus, for the first time, apprised of a danger until then unperceived?
Can they not remember what deep humiliation, what earnest desires and what fervent supplications were produced by that affliction, and the discoveries which it enabled them to make? and are they not sensible that it was in prayer that they found their consolation when, with their eyes opened to the reality of their condition, they besought the Lord with tears?
Indeed, one of the greatest benefits of severe affliction, in the case of God's people, is, that it awakens them to greater ardor and diligence in prayer; and such is the blessedness of communion with God, and such the elevating and sanctifying effect of earnest prayer, that were affliction productive of no other benefit, this alone might well compensate for all the loss which is sustained, and all the pain which is inflicted, even by the severest dispensation of providence.
The impressions that are made during a season of affliction may be the result, in a great measure, of mere natural feeling; but they may, nevertheless, be the means which the Holy Spirit has chosen for the commencement of a saving change; and if they lead the sufferer to pray, they bring him under a new influence, whereby the sentient feelings which at first prompted him, may gradually and imperceptibly rise into gracious and devout affections.
The history of the people of Israel affords many interesting examples of the effect of prayer in delivering from outward trouble, as well as of the tendency of affliction to impress the most careless with the necessity and value of prayer. These examples are thus beautifully referred to in the 107th Psalm: "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say this those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south. Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things!" Psalm 107:1-9
God's Law of Compensation
By Theodore L. Cuyler
God not only reigns but He governs His world with a most beautiful law of compensations. He sets one thing over against another. Faith loves to study the illustrations of this law, notes them in her diary, and rears her pillars of praise for every fresh discovery. I have noticed that the deaf often have an unusual quickness of eyesight; the blind are often gifted with an increased capacity for hearing; and sometimes when the eye is darkened and the ear is closed, the sense of touch becomes so exquisite that we are able to converse with the sufferer through that sense alone.
God puts many of His people under a sharp regimen of hardship and burden-bearing, in order that they may be sinewed into strength. This law explains the reason why God often sweeps away a Christian's possessions in order that he may become rich in faith; and why He dashes many people off the track of prosperity, where they were running at fifty miles the hour in order that their pride might be crushed, and that they might seek the safer track of humility and holy living.
God's people are . . .
never so exalted as when they are brought low,
never so enriched as when they are emptied,
never so advanced as when they are set back by adversity,
never so near the crown as when under the cross.
One of the sweetest enjoyments of Heaven will be to review our own experiences under this law of compensations, and to see how often affliction worked out for us the exceeding weight of glory.
There is a great lack in all God's people who have never had the education of sharp trial. There are so many graces that can only be pricked into us by the puncture of suffering; and so many lessons that can only be learned through tears; that when God leaves a Christian without any trial, He really leaves him to a terrible danger. His heart, unploughed by discipline, will be very apt to run to the tares of selfishness, and worldliness, and pride.
In no direction do we behold more wonderful unfoldings of God, than in what we call His Providence. This is a department of God's school in which we are learning fresh lessons every day. In Providence, divine wisdom is married to divine love. All things work together for good to those who love God and trust him. The skeptic jeers at this but the trusting Christian knows it from actual experience, for some of God's truths are knocked into us by hard blows, and some lessons are spelled out through eyes cleansed with tears! Our perverse mistake is that we demand that God shall explain Himself at every step, instead of waiting for Him to unfold His intricate purposes at His own time and in His own way.
Why the only little crib in one Christian home is emptied by death and the nursery in another home is full of happy voices; why one good enterprise prospers and another one is wrecked all such perplexing puzzles shake terribly the faith that is not well-grounded on the Rock. To all these pitiable outcries, the calm answer of our Heavenly Father is: "Be still and know that I am God. I lead the blind by a way they know not. What I am doing, you don't understand now but you shall know hereafter." These are the voices of love which come to us from behind the cloud. If we wait patiently, the cloud will break away or part asunder, and our eyes will behold the Rainbow of Mercy over-arching the Throne.
God's ways are not our ways but they are infinitely better. The cloud is not so dense, but love-rays shine through. In time the revealing "winds shall clear" away the dark and dreadful mystery. Kind words of sympathy steal into the shadowed room of suffering. If Christ does not come in visible form to our Bethanys, He sends His faithful servants and handmaidens with words of warm, tender condolence. The fourteenth chapter of John never gleams with such a celestial brightness as when we read it under the cloud. No cloud can be big enough to shut out Heaven if we keep the eye towards the Throne. And when we reach Heaven and see the cloud from God's side it will be blazing and beaming with the illuminations of His love!
The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown;
No traveler ever reached that blessed abode,
Who found not thorns and briars in his road.
The Pillar of Clouds
Edward Paxton Hood
Be cheerful beneath the cloud. And if the cloud should come in the daytime, still be cheerful. I recollect once kneeling with familiar friendliness and love around the family altar of a dear friend whom I loved as I believe I loved no other on earth, and he prayed for me that I might know what it was to have the pillar of cloud when the day was too bright and the pillar of fire when the night was too dark. We need that always, do we not? The pillar of cloud and pillar of fire are needed as much for us as for the Israelites of old.
I will mention what I thought as I saw that picture of the German painter some time ago. I could not make out what he meant by it. It was called "Cloud-land," and it seemed nothing but cloud on cloud. But what do you think? As I looked, I saw that every cloud turned into an angel or an angel's wing, and the whole picture, that seemed at first only a mass of gloom, looked out upon me with hundreds of angels' eyes and hundreds of angels' wings! So with all clouds; if God comes near to us by them, look at them and they turn into angels. They are not desirable in themselves, they are not pleasant; no chastisement, no affliction, no cloud is at present joyous but grievous. We foolish men would walk always in the day-brightness; we do not want clouds; but God knows their value or he would never send them.
Grace Proportionate to the Trial
By F. Whitfield
You may have yet to pass through many trials but He will draw close as the night grows darker. He will not let one unneeded thunder-cloud burst over your head, and you shall find the promise true, "He gives power to the faint, and to those who have no might He increases strength." When outward things look darkest the peace of God is often fullest in the soul. The Lord gives His people "songs in the night." They rejoice in the midst of sorrow. When the thorn is piercing their heart their song is sweetest, their joy is fullest.
So, reader, let it be with you. If trials press sorely, try to praise Him. If the cloud no bigger than a man's hand grows larger and darker, still continue to praise Him. If needs press sorely on every side, carry them to your Heavenly Father and yet mingle your prayers with praises. The Lord will command His loving-kindness in the day time, and in the night His song shall be with you.
Light on Dark Providences
By Robert F. Sample
The dispensations of Providence are often mysterious. It is true that the relations of sin and suffering may be apparent. As in the cases of Gehazi, Ananias, and Simon Magus the punishment may tread on the heels of the offense, and although we may be unwilling to admit it to others, we know at what sin, the rod points.
But in many instances the footsteps of God, as they relate to ourselves, are not known. The people of God are often led by ways that are dark, and the interpretation must be referred to that Sovereignty which embraces the long reach of ages. There are trials that seem to contravene the divine will. They arrest some work to which God had evidently called His servants, where the need was great, and the door widely opened. They involve defeat, suffering, persecution, death. We had not anticipated this. It is not at all as we would have ordered. Unbelief suggests that God is occupied with other interests and has forgotten ours. We limit the Holy One as to His presence and power.
The apostolic Church encountered the opposition of ungodly men, and the fires of persecution girdled them as they pressed their way westward. In the first three centuries, three million Christians suffered martyrdom; were stoned, sawn asunder, burnt at the stake, torn in pieces by devouring dogs, drowned in the seas, and burned like torches in the night!
Then, coming down to a later period, we are reminded of the massacres in the reign of Charles XII, when in the space of a few days seventy thousand Protestants were slain. And we recall the still greater and more protracted cruelties inflicted by Louis XIV, and the slaughter of the saints in Holland, England, Scotland and Ireland. Truly the Church has passed through fires and deep waters. Why was it thus?
Then we raise another question concerning the progress of the truth. Why have its conquests not been more successful? Why has darkness followed in the wake of its advance? Why are great empires still enveloped in moral night? Why is error so prevalent, and opposition so strong, and wickedness so defiant in this age when, for anything we know, the end is drawing near? Why does God permit men to mutilate His Gospel, proliferate unrighteousness, open floodgates of iniquity the Heavens meanwhile serene, as if vindictiveness slept and God had ceased to restrain the powers of evil? An answer is sent from His changeless throne, "What I am doing you don't understand now." "Be still and know that I am God."
The providences of God are often obscure as they relate to individual believers. You may think a certain line of action is in accordance with the divine will, and you enter prayerfully upon it. But suddenly some great barrier is thrown across your path, and your conscientious effort ends in humiliating defeat. You devote yourself to some form of Christian service, prompted by sense of duty and love to the Master, and on the threshold of a work full of promise you lie down to die! You form relationships in life which promise to be helpful, and your confidence is abused, your expectations disappointed, and your faith in men disappears like a dissolving cloud. Or you have prayerfully labored to bring your children to Christ and fit them for usefulness and honorable life. But they reject your instructions, resist your authority, disregard each appeal of parental love, persist in sin and go down under a cloud of shame! Or bereavements occur at what seems the most inopportune time; they come when you need a strong arm on which to lean; when by reason of other trials a beloved presence seemed essential to your life; when the son or daughter of your hope promised happiness and the sepulcher is closed with a stone.
There occur to us many illustrations of providences that are uninterpreted as yet, or were once unknown. Abel, the first of our race to depart out of life, entering the mysterious beyond along an untraveled passage, was one who feared God and walked trustfully with Him. And yet he fell by the hand of a murderer, and that murderer his own brother! So soon was the throne of empire enveloped in clouds and darkness. And that early martyr had many successors all along the generations, until Stephen was stoned on the margin of a new dispensation. Still later James and Paul were beheaded, and Peter was crucified. Polycarp suffered martyrdom after a long and exceptionally demoted life, and sleeps today under a lone cypress tree. These are representatives of a noble army of martyrs.
Take another class of providences. Luther was confined in the Wartburg, and Latimer in the old London Tower. Harriet Newell departed for the heathen world with the benedictions of weeping parents on her head, and died, before her voyage was completed, on the Isle of France. Sarah Mateer suddenly fell in the furrow when with joy fullness, she anticipated an abundant harvest of souls. Walter Lowrie consecrated the ardor of youth to like service, and was slain, by pirates, went to an uneasy grave full many a fathom deep.
There are other experiences darker and sadder than these. The sons of pious Eli defiled themselves, and the news of their sudden deaths proved the father's death. David mourned the filial impiety and wickedness of his son, whose possibilities of honor were great, and in his death, without hope, quite forgot the grave of his own and Bathsheba's child.
Why all these forms of suffering? Why do the people of God, especially beloved, God's in covenant, objects of that gentleness that knows our feeble frame meet these sore trials on their way home? We may find it difficult at times, to reconcile all this with our conceptions of the divine character, especially with that love which is its outstanding feature. Desolate homes, buried hopes, broken hearts, the past wrapped in sadness, the future darkened with clouds what does all this mean? Is God on our side or is He against us? If He is our Father then why this long controversy with us? "Joseph is not and Simeon is not, and you will take Benjamin away; all these things are against us!"
Ah, let the believer look up and he shall see the outstretched hand of vigilant love beyond the rim of the cloud, and he shall hear a kind voice saying, "What I am doing you don't understand now." "Be still and know that I am God."
Observe, first: Our view of divine providence is necessarily limited. We are finite; God is infinite. We see the little segment of time through which we are passing; God's view embraces eternity. Our thought is engaged with a present event and we do not see its relations to the future. A given experience seems to terminate on itself, as a completed circle, and to stand motionless while in fact, it is a significant and onward step in history's imperial march.
The whole universe is moving on, and will never call a halt, and each revolution of our earth is necessary to the measured step and harmony of the whole. So it is in the moral government of God. How little of this we comprehend. We cannot see afar off. And since we do not discern how this painful experience of ours is to influence another, and to give shape to all the future we are unable to pass intelligent judgment upon it.
We are much like those creations of God, which live but a single day. How little they know about the world in which they spend a joyous existence while the sun is up, and then die with its setting. If they were endowed with intelligence, they would conclude as the night gathered that there would never be another day. They would know nothing about the great stretch of earth. They would not know how the chilly rains of April were related to the future harvests and the autumn fruits. They would not understand that by exchange of products, the cold North enjoys the wealth of the Southland, and the people along the equatorial line realize the benefits of rigorous climates.
Just as true is it that man, although God has given him understanding, cannot measure infinity, or traverse existences out of sight. "What I am doing you don't understand now." "Be still and know that I am God."
Second: We do not know what is real and spiritual good. We often crave what it would be an injury to us to possess. We are troubled by its denial. We long to secure wealth and perhaps we pledge ourselves to a faithful stewardship. But instead of riches we are remanded to poverty. We pray for physical strength and propose to consecrate it to the Master's service. But instead of health we live on in protracted invalidism. Unable to do what we so strongly desire we simply endure. Yet God has something better in store for us. The thorn in the flesh will yet prove our crown.
Imprisonment in the Bedford jail was to John Bunyan a blessing in disguise. It gave to the world, the "Pilgrim's Progress," and to the Bedford tinker, a name that shall never die. When Luther was hastened across the moat and the iron door of the old castle closed behind him, it seemed that his lifework was done. But on that secluded height he found time to translate the Bible into the language of a great empire, and the banner of the cross still floats above the somber pines. Thus our defeats are our triumphs; and our evils are our blessings!
The Future Will Clear up Many Mysteries
By Theodore L. Cuyler
The future will clear up many a mystery. A few months ago I went into the house of one of our leading merchants, whose beloved daughter had been brought home dead from being run down in the public street. His first word was, "Tell me now why God took away my girl!" Said I, "My brother, I have not come here to interpret God's mysteries. I have come here to lead you closer to God's heart. Be still, and know that He who gave takes away. She already knows why she is yonder; wait until God clears away the cloud, and you will find that even this was right and well."
Do you remember how the prophet of old once had his eyes opened at Dothan, and he beheld the mountains round about him filled with chariots and horsemen? When you and I work in some great cause of reform, and we have met with defiance and discouragement why, if God were to open the eyes of our faith, and we could see the battlefield as He does we would find all round about us a great army of God's promises, assuring us of inevitable victory nothing to do with chariots and horsemen but simply to stand our ground and fight out the battle, and trust that He will finally clear away the cloud, and the light of His glory shall shine on the banners of truth borne over the field; for by and by shall come the last great day of revelation, when nothing that is right shall be found to have been vanquished, and nothing that is wrong shall be found to have triumphed.
We Shall Know Hereafter
By Robert F. Sample
What is now mysterious in providence, will eventually be made plain. "What I am doing you don't understand now." "Be still and know that I am God."
The interpretation may be given in the present world. The generation following may receive it, or it may be granted to ourselves or it may be reserved to the world to come. There was much in old Hebrew history that was not understood until the substance displaced the shadow. Typical men were an enigma until the Christ whom they adumbrated came. The offering of Isaac was a mystery until God's only Son hung on the tree. The hiding of the child in the wicker basket by the water's edge was a mystery but the anxious parents understood it better when Moses entered Pharaoh's palace, or led Israel through the Red Sea.
The same is true of later history. John Newton could not conjecture why, when a wicked sailor boy, he was transferred him to another vessel; but when years had passed by he understood it all as he saw Jesus coming across the troubled waters. If men who study the Heavens need years of observation to enable them to compute so much as the curve of a planet's orbit we need not wonder if our intelligence fails to forecast the results of a present joy or sorrow. We do not know the real trend of things. Time will declare it.
Old age may interpret the unknown experiences of youth. The old man may see how his early years of permitted sin have magnified the grace of God and made him at last a mighty helper to the outcast and enslaved. Or how some domestic sorrow that darkened the morning of life, fitted him to sympathize with other sufferers, and pushed far out the boundary line of useful service. Thus the memory of the sins of youth, casts its shadow over an the ministry of the converted Paul but it made him a more effective preacher of righteousness than he would otherwise have been, and he led the chief of sinners to Christ, who, in their low estate had a feeling of spiritual kinship with Saul of Tarsus. And when he was afterwards persecuted for Christ's sake, defamed, stoned and imprisoned; when he raised psalms of praise with his feet in the stocks, and repeated the sweet evangel when in Rome a chain bound him and the axe gleamed above him, he wrote to Christians in old Corinth, and did it joyfully: "Whether we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation."
When Jacob saw Joseph's wagons, sent to carry him down to Egypt, and learned of the honor which crowned the son he thought was dead, he understood for the first time the dreamings and sufferings of his favorite boy, and unraveled the tangled skein of providence which had confounded the long, sad years. By that early sorrow many souls were saved alive, and the sunset of the patriarch's life was without a cloud.
Like illustrations might be gathered from all the years. We have found them in our own day. The blood of martyrs has been the seed of the Church. When Harriet Newell died; when Walter Lowrie was drowned; when the Sepoy insurrection startled the world a multitude arose to fill the vacancies and increase the ranks of the sacramental host. Thus God makes the wrath of man to praise Him, and our eyes may see it before we depart.
In like manner, our personal experiences of sorrow may be interpreted before we go to the better life. Some severe affliction may almost immediately bear the peaceable fruits of righteousness. It may bring increased fitness for the Master's service, an enlargement of our spiritual vision, or sweeter communion with Christ than ever before enjoyed. We are like some plants which the more they are trodden upon the more they grow. In the deep valley we see stars by day. So we may obtain new and precious views of Jesus from the low places of human suffering. Well did the holy Rutherford know this, and he was accustomed to say, "Welcome, welcome, Jesus! in whatever way You come, if we can but get a glimpse of You."
So, too, conversions may quickly follow some form of suffering. Oftentimes the rough knock of God's hammer, has opened the gate of Mercy, and the natural death of one member of the home has brought spiritual life to another. "Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I have kept Your word." The hereafter often lies on this side eternity. But if not, then the world to come will reveal what is now hidden.
There our range of vision will be greatly enlarged. From the summits of the Heavenly estate we shall survey the earthly life, as from a mountaintop, the traveler traces all the windings of the way there. Much that was inexplicable here will be made plain there. The wisdom and goodness of God will appear written on every passage that was painful, and shall shine in every experience that was dark. We shall see how the varied and oft-recurring trials of life, were necessary to keep us humble, to mellow our character, to increase our knowledge of ourselves and of Christ, to enlarge our usefulness, to deliver us from threatening evil, and shut us up to the narrow way. Then our misunderstanding of many events, shall be corrected. What we called a bass note, which seemed to sob itself out through the cadences of earth shall only prove our ears defective, and those very notes prolonged above shall complete the song of the redeemed. Then the wheels of providence that seemed to oppose each other will be viewed in their far-reaching relations, and the perfect harmony of the parts shall awaken grateful praise.
Then it shall appear that the trembling descent into the trough of the sea, was necessary to the ascent to the crest of the wave, whence we caught our helpful view of the world to come; and that the tacking to the right and to the left, our progress never directly onward was the only possible means of reaching our desired port. We shall learn how the mystery of providence was necessary to the cultivation of faith, and each experience of trial was fitting us for a higher place in Heaven than we could have attained without it. Then, too, our fears shall, for the first time, be declared wholly groundless.
Let us note briefly some of the LESSONS this subject suggests.
1st. A lesson of trust. We are slow to understand that God intends that this life shall be a life of faith. We cannot walk by sight. Much that we would like to know is for our good concealed. Only thus can we be shut up to God. And only when we hide ourselves in Him, can we put on His beauty, and be prepared for Heavenly visions. Faith, and that alone, bridges over the gulf that separates worlds.
Hence that discipline which teaches us to trust; that turns our weakness into strength by constraining us to take hold on omnipotence itself; that puts our hands in the hand that is infinitely wise and knows the way to the kingdom is a discipline we should welcome.
This was the lesson the Psalmist learned, though his poor memory sometimes dropped it along the way. "When I am afraid I will trust in You." The pious Cowper, tossed with tempest the equilibrium of his cultured mind often lost yet sang himself back to faith when troubles came, and patiently waited for the interpretation which only God could give. In the same spirit, Toplady wrote that sweet stanza we should often raise in this house of our pilgrimage:
"When we in darkness walk,
Nor feel the Heavenly flame,
Then is the time to trust our Lord,
And rest upon His name."
The Highlander traveling by railroad for the first time, when he approached a long, forbidding tunnel, did not leap from the train but exercised trust in the vehicle that had brought him hither, then calmly plunged into the darkness. David's hand would not have been bold to contend with the Philistine if he had not trusted God when he fought with the lion and the bear, and slew them. Beloved, let us accept the discipline by which God would cultivate the grace that opens Heaven, and turns earth's discords into undying harmonies on high!
2d. The second is a lesson of patience. This is a grace which honors God. It rests upon His word. It trusts His power. It believes that all things are working for good and that Heaven will more than requite him for all the trials along the way. The connection of the Apostle is suggestive when he couples "rejoicing in hope" with "patience in tribulation." Hope anticipates the sorrowless life, the ever-abounding joy. And Patience says, "I will quietly wait the breaking of the eternal day." So far from seeking to break open its prison doors, Patience watches at the window for the Christ to pass by, assured that He will give release at the appointed time, and wing the soul for its Heavenward flight.
Surely with such an outcome from of all our troubles we should bear them patiently through the "little while" that they stay, then exchange the "light affliction which is but for a moment" for the "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!" May God help each of us to patiently wait!
3d. Finally, a lesson of thankfulness. There never comes an hour to the believer, though every earthly light goes out that he has not reason for thanksgiving. He should sing songs in prison and join his hallelujahs, with the wailings of the storm. He should be thankful . . .
that tribulation works patience, and patience experience, and experience hope;
that the chisel which is often upon him is fitting him to be a pillar in God's temple;
that the weariness by the way is preparing him for a richer enjoyment of the rest that remains;
that the path of suffering is the path the Savior trod, and that, with the sweet privilege of putting his feet where Christ's have been, he is going to the Heaven where the King has established His throne, and waits for his coming.
Dearly beloved, let us trust the Heavenly Friend, and with our hands in the Father's hand, whatever the mystery of life, and the painfulness of the road may we patiently wait the revelations of the life to come; the life just beyond the western hills assured that Christ will keep His royal word: "What I am doing you don't understand now. You shall know hereafter."
"God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain!"
Blessings in Disguise
Misfortunes often prove to be blessings in disguise. It is said that the great European physiologist and natural philosopher, Helmholtz, dates his start in science from an attack of typhoid fever. Strangely enough, this illness put him in possession of a microscope, which he was enabled to purchase, as he tells us himself, "by having spent my autumn vacation in 1841 in the hospital, prostrated by typhoid fever. Being a pupil, I was treated without charge, and on my recovery I found myself in possession of the savings of my small resources." This fever proved a fortunate illness for Helmholtz and the world, and is a striking instance of a blessing in disguise.
John Bunyan was thrown into a dungeon for preaching the gospel; but while there he wrote "The Pilgrim's Progress" and other books that have blessed the world and immortalized his name. The persecutions which were cruel and severe, proved to be real blessings in disguises, for by them he was led into paths of usefulness which he could otherwise never have known. The seeming misfortunes of John Bunyan, made him the hero of Bedford jail.
So with John Kitto, the eminent writer on biblical subjects, and thousands of others, have been led into paths of distinguished usefulness through some seeming accidental, though no doubt providential occurrence.
Many of our most common ills are really blessings in disguise. We shall so see them "when the mists are cleared away." It is well, therefore, to trust God in all things and say, "May Your will be done."
It is not hard to die. It is harder a thousand times to live. To live is to see God imperfectly, as in a cloudy mirror. To die is to see Him face to face. To live is to be still in the ore. To die is to be smelted and come out pure gold. To live is to be in winter's ice. To die is to be in mid-summer where there is perfect harmony and perfect beauty.
Henry Ward Beecher
Life, death, eternity how vast, how deep, how solemn are these three words, so familiar to us all! Who can measure, who can fathom their meaning? In the midst of life we are surrounded by death, and confronted by eternity, with its boundless prospects of weal and woe. Life on earth ends, in death and death is but the dark door to another life which has no end! Astronomy cannot tell whether this visible universe has boundaries or not, and what lies beyond. Philosophy cannot determine the locality of that invisible universe from which no traveler returns, nor the direction and length of that lonely passage which carries the disembodied spirit from its present, to its future abode.
But this we do know and it is enough for our comfort that in our Father's house are many mansions, and that our Savior is preparing a place for all His disciples. There is an abundance of room for Heaven, even within the limits of this universe; and for anything we know, the spirit world may be very near and round about us. Life is a mystery, a glorious mystery with a Heaven beyond but a terrible mystery with annihilation or endless punishment in prospect.
The immortality of the soul is a universal instinct and desire of the human race. Like the idea of God, it is implanted in our intellectual and moral constitution. We cannot think backward without reaching an ultimate cause which has no beginning. We cannot think forward without arriving at a result which has no ending. God and eternity precede time, and follow time and time itself is filled with both. We cannot conceive that a wise Creator should make man in His own image and endow him with the highest faculties without ordaining him for endless existence. He cannot intend the head of His creatures, the masterpiece of His hand, to perish like the brute!
He cannot allow virtue to suffer, and iniquity to flourish without some future adjustment which will give to every one his due, and restore the harmony of character and condition. It seems impossible that a rational being filled with infinite longings, and capable of endless progress should be suddenly cut off in the beginning of its career. It seems impossible that the mind, which proves its independence of the body and matures in strength while the body declines should be dissolved with its material tent. No husband can close the eyes of a beloved wife, no parent can commit a child to the cold grave, no friend can bid farewell to a bosom friend without the ardent wish of the recovery of the loss and a meeting again in a better world, where tears of parting are unknown.
Every consideration of God's goodness, love, and justice; of man's capacities, desires and hopes; and of surrounding nature, with its perennial renovations of seasons and transformations of death itself into new forms of life forces upon us, the belief in the immortality of the human soul.
But after all, philosophy and science can lead us only to the probability of immortality and there is a vast step from probability to certainty! The starry Heavens above and the moral law within may well have filled the great philosophers with ever-growing reverence and awe; but beyond the starry Heavens and behind the moral law lie the sublimer regions of faith, which fill us with deeper reverence, and which alone can give us solid comfort in life and in death.
Another profound and keen thinker of the nineteenth century, who had mastered all the systems from Plato to Kant, when he stood at the open grave of his only child, could find no comfort in any philosophical argument but only in the all-powerful prayer of Christ, "Father, I will that those also whom You have given me be with me where I am" (John 17:26). And in the assurance of His beloved disciple, "It does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He really is" (1 John 3:2). Supported by these firm assurances, he said, and trusting therein my child's immortal life, I repeat from my heart the words of Holy Writ, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!" (Job 1:21)
Faith in Christ who can never die, who is the conqueror of death and the prince of life gives us the only sure security for our immortality. In union with Christ the future life is an immortality of bliss; out of Christ it is an immortality of woe.
Let us glance, first, at the notions which prevailed among the heathen and Jews on this subject, before the advent of our Lord that we may see the difference.
1. The HEATHEN ideas of the future life were vague and confused.The Hindus, Babylonians, and Egyptians had a lively sense of immortality but mixed with the notion of endless migrations and transformations, through various forms of vegetable and animal life.
The Buddhists make it the chief end of man to escape such migrations, and by various mortifications, to prepare for annihilation or absorption in the unconscious dream-life of Nirvana.
The popular belief among the ancient Greeks and Romans was that man passes after death into the Underworld, the Greek Hades, the Roman Orcus. According to Homer, Hades is a dark abode in the interior of the earth, with an entrance at the western extremity of the ocean, where the rays of the sun do not penetrate. Charon carries the dead over the stream; Acheron and the three-headed dog Cerberus watch the entrance and allow none to pass back out. There the spirits exist in a disembodied state, and lead a shadowy dream-life. A vague distinction was made between two regions in Hades: an Elysium (also "the Islands of the Blessed ") for the good, and Tartarus for the bad.
Socrates, Plato, Cicero, Seneca, and Plutarch rose highest among the ancient philosophers in their views of the future life but they reached only to belief in its probability, not in its certainty. Socrates, after he was condemned to death, said to his judges: "Death is either an eternal sleep or a transition to a new Life; but in neither case is it an evil;" and he drank the fatal hemlock with playful irony. Plato, viewing the human soul as a portion of the eternal, infinite, all-pervading Deity believed in its pre-existence before this present life, and thus had a strong ground of hope for its continuance after death. All the souls pass into the spirit world:
the righteous into the abodes of bliss, where they live forever in a disembodied state;
the wicked into Tartarus for punishment and purification; and
the incorrigibly bad for eternal punishment.
Plutarch, the purest and noblest among the Platonists, thought that immortality was inseparably connected with belief in an all-ruling Providence, and looked to the life beyond as promising a higher knowledge of and closer conformity to God but only for those few who are here purified by virtue and piety. In such rare cases departure might be called: an ascent to the stars, to Heaven, to the gods rather than a descent to Hades. At the death of his daughter, he comforted his wife with the hope in the blissful state of infants who die in infancy.
Cicero reflects in classical language, on "the ignorance, the errors, and the uncertainty of the ancient philosophers with regard to the immortality of the soul." Though strongly leaning to a positive view, he yet found it a momentous task to quiet the fear of death in case the soul should perish with the body.
The Stoics believed only in a limited immortality, or denied it altogether, and justified suicide when life became unendurable.
The great men of Greece and Rome were not influenced by the idea of a future world as a motive of action. During the debate on the punishment of Catiline and his fellow conspirators, Julius Caesar openly declared in the Roman Senate, that death dissolves all the ills of mortality, and is the boundary of existence beyond which there is no more care nor joy, no more punishment for sin, nor any reward for virtue.
Seneca once dreamed of immortality, and almost approached the Christian hope of the birthday of eternity, if we are to trust his rhetoric but afterwards he awoke from the beautiful dream and committed suicide!
Marcus Aurelius, in sad resignation, bids nature, "Give what you will and take back what you will."
Yet the scepticism of the educated and half-educated could not extinguish the popular belief in immortality. The number of cheerless and hopeless materialistic epitaphs is very small as compared with the many thousands which express belief in some kind of existence beyond the grave.
Of a resurrection of the body, the Greeks and Romans had no conception, except in the form of shadows and spectral outlines, which were supposed to surround the disembodied spirits, and to make them to some degree recognizable. Heathen philosophers like Celsus ridiculed the resurrection of the body as useless, absurd and impossible.
2. The JEWISH doctrineis far in advance of heathen notions and conjectures but presents different phrases of development.
The Mosaic writings are remarkably silent about the future life; and emphasize the present rather than future consequences of the observance or non-observance of the law (because it has a civil or political, as well as spiritual import). And hence the Sadducees denied the resurrection (perhaps also the immortality of the soul).
The Pentateuch contains, however, some remote and significant hints of immortality, as in the tree of life with its symbolic import; in the mysterious translation of Enoch as a reward for his piety; in the prohibition of necromancy; in the patriarchal phrase for dying, "to be gathered to his fathers," or "to his people;" and in the self-designation of Jehovah as "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob," which implies their immortality, since "God is not a God of the dead but of the living." What has an eternal meaning for God, must itself be eternal.
In the latter writings of the Old Testament, especially during and after the exile, the doctrine of immortality and resurrection comes out plainly. Daniel's vision reaches out even to the final resurrection of the dead, "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt." And prophesies that "Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever!"
But before Christ, who first revealed true life the Hebrew Sheol, the general receptacle of departing souls, remained, like the Greek Hades a dark and dreary abode, and is so described in the Old Testament. Cases like Enoch's translation and Elijah's ascent, are altogether unique and exceptional, and imply the meaning that death is not necessarily the transition to another life.
3. The CHRISTIAN doctrine of the future lifediffers from the heathen, and to a less extent also from the Jewish, in the following important points:
First, it gives to the belief in a future state the absolute certainty of divine revelation, sealed by the fact of Christ's resurrection; and thereby imparts to the present life, an immeasurable importance, involving endless issues.
In the next place, it connects the resurrection of the body with the immortality of the soul, and thus saves the whole man from destruction.
Moreover, Christianity views death as the punishment of sin, and therefore as something terrible, from which nature shrinks. But its terror has been broken, and its sting extracted by Christ.
And finally, Christianity qualifies the idea of a future-state by the doctrine of sin and redemption, and thus makes it:
to the believer a state of absolute holiness and happiness;
to the impenitent sinner a state of absolute misery.
Death and immortality are a blessing to the one but a terror to the other; the former can hail them with joy; the latter has reason to tremble!
The Bible inseparably connects the future life with the general judgment, which determines the ultimate fate of all men according to their works done in this earthly life.
To the Christian, this present life is simply a pilgrimage to a better country a heavenly one; and to a city whose builder and maker is God. Every day he moves his tent nearer his true home. His citizenship is in Heaven, his thoughts, his hopes, his aspirations, are Heavenly. This unworldliness or Heavenly-mindedness, far from disqualifying him for the duties of earth, makes him more faithful and conscientious in his calling; for he remembers that he must render an account for every word and deed at a bar of God's judgment. Yes, in proportion as he is Heavenly-minded and follows the example of his Lord and Savior he brings Heaven down to earth and lifts earth up to Heaven; and infuses the purity and happiness of Heaven into his heart and home.
Faith unites us to Christ, who is life itself in its truest, fullest conception; life in God, life eternal. United with Christ, we live indeed, shedding around about us the rays of His purity, goodness, love and peace.
Death has lost its terror; it is but a short slumber from which we shall awake in His likeness and enjoy what eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor ever entered the imagination of man. "Because I live you shall live also." John 14:19
The Light in the Clouds
By Theodore L. Cuyler
Thank God that never does He permit a cloud so dark but behind it is the light; and through the cloud streams the mercies; and from the cloud, descend plentiful and abounding blessings.
Have you not had it, business man, in your experience? When you were growing too rich for your soul's good did not God send to you that depletion? Did not He puncture you to let the pride and vain-glory run out? When you were running at fifty miles an hour along the track of prosperity did not He, perhaps, dash you into temporary calamity in order that He might lower your pride and put you on the better track of godliness, humanity and holy living?
I am confident that national humiliation, Church trials, and personal adversities are all God's measures for the purification of those with whom He deals, and for the advancement of His own sovereign glory.
Suffering has many compensations, not only in its influence upon the sufferer one in . . .
bringing him into a sense of dependence,
inspiring in him a spirit of prayer,
quickening his faith and
working out the principles of righteousness
but suffering has its happy influence on others. Did you ever climb into an attic or tread some back slum with a loaf of bread or medicine or God's Book, and bring cheer to that dark home and heart and not go home the better man melted, thankful for your own home, and altar yourself the better for the process through which the suffering of that suffering one had led you? So it is today, that philanthropy is one of the blessings that come out of sin and sorrow and suffering. Continually I love to think how
"Behind the cloud the starlight shines.
And through the showers the sunbeams fall,
For God, who loves all His own,
Does send His love on all."
The most transcendent illustration of that, was furnished on Golgotha when fiendish men were permitted to put to death the Lord of Glory. The most stupendous crime that ever darkened God's Heaven, was committed between the sixth and ninth hour on Calvary; yet that cloud that darkened the sky, hid the sun, under whose terrible gloom the earth quaked and the dead came forth is an illustration of the glorious truth that in Him we have redemption of our sins, and life everlasting.
And as long as you and I have Christ can we not bear all things and endure all things if we have hope of that redemption, and that Christ in our hearts, and the life everlasting beyond the grave?
In practical application, the first thing I would have you remember, is that God is often inscrutable but never wrong! Write that with a pen of diamond on a rock: God is always right! Friend, if on the day of judgment, you go away condemned into Hell for the rejection of the blood of Christ, even there you will stand up and confess, "God is right and I was wrong!"
The second thought is that on this side of the cloud, you and I have nothing to do but to receive the truth that comes through and walk by it. I know very often the revealed dispensations, the actual dispensations are very trying. But never get frightened at God's clouds:
"Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His works in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain."
Did you not sing "Behind a frowning Providence He hides a smiling-face!"
And so it will always be, that God is continually making clouds of trials which at first shock and frighten us but which are to be to us sources of infinite blessing.
One other thought. Clouds of trial often rain down lessons which can be gathered from no other source. Clouds of trial often rain down lessons as the dark cloud in the Heavens rains down showers on the thirsty field and lawn. God usually orders it that through penitence come praise and forgiveness; through trial comes triumph; yes, the cloud itself sends down mercy!
I counsel you to gain the utmost benefit of every hard lot, and learn the richest and deepest lesson that God can write on any cloud of trial.
There is a great lack in all God's people who have never suffered; there is a great defect in the education of every Christian who has never had a sharp trial. The richest graces grow out of those ploughed fields where God puts the ploughshare of affliction deep into the very subsoil.
And now, last of all you and I should never be frightened by adversity as if we were in the path of wrong, when it comes upon us; as the Israelites were frightened at the Red Sea, though it lay in their pathway from Egypt; or any more than the disciples were wrong when they crossed the sea at the Master's command, and when a storm came; we never should regard adversity as intended of God to harm us, to hinder us, or testify to us that we are in the wrong path. We should learn how to plunge into His sea and it shall part; and to go out with Him into the storm and He shall bring us calm.
When God afflicts the saints it is to try their precious faith. Afflictions are his spade, by which He digs into His people's hearts to find out the gold of faith!
Trials and Troubles, the Lot of Mankind
John R. Macduff
How varied are our trials, and days of trouble!
Sickness with its hours of restlessness and languor!
Bereavement with its rifled treasures and aching hearts.
Loss of substance the curtailment or forfeiture of worldly possessions riches taking to themselves wings and fleeing away!
Or, severer than all . . .
the woundings of friends,
hopes scattered like the leaves of autumn!
But "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble." Tried one! He does not leave your defenseless head unsheltered in the storm. "Call upon Me!" He invites you into the pavilion of His presence! Better the bitter Marah waters with His healing, than the purest fountain of the world and no God! Better the hottest furnace flames with one "like the Son of God" than that the dross should be allowed to accumulate, and the soul left to cleave to the dust!
The day of trouble led His saints in all ages to glorify Him. David never could have written his touching Psalms, nor Paul his precious Epistles had not God cast them both into the crucible. To be the teachers of the Church of the future, they had to graduate in the school of affliction. If He is appointing us similar discipline then let it be our endeavor to glorify Him by active obedience, as well as by passive resignation; not abandoning ourselves to selfish, moody, sentimental grief; but rather going forth on our great mission our work and warfare with a vaster estimate of the value of time, and the grandeur value of existence.
Remember that the promise respecting these days of trouble is that, they shall soon be ended. "The days of your mourning shall be ended." Isaiah 9:20.
The believer has "mourning days." The place of his sojourn is a valley of tears. Adam went weeping from his paradise and we go weeping on the way to ours. But, pilgrim of grief your tears are numbered! A few more aching sighs a few more gloomy clouds and then the eternal sun shall burst on you, whose radiance shall never more be obscured! Life may be to you, one long "Valley of Baca" a protracted scene of "weeping" but soon shall you hear the sweet chimes wafted from the towers of the new Jerusalem, "Enter into the joy of your Lord!" "God will wipe every tear from their eyes! There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain!"
"The days of your mourning!" It is a consoling thought that all these days are appointed meted out numbered. "Unto you it is given," says the apostle, "to suffer!" Yes! and if you are true Christian, your mourning days are days of special privilege, intended to be fraught with blessing.
To the unbeliever they are pledges of everlasting woe; to the believer they are preludes and precursors of eternal glory! Affliction to the one is the cloud without the rainbow to the other, it is the cloud radiant and lustrous with gospel promise and gospel hope!
Reader! are you now one of the many members of the family of sorrow? Be comforted! Soon the long night-watch will be over pain, sickness, weakness, weariness will be forever ended! Soon the windows of the soul will be no more darkened. Soon you shall have nothing to be delivered from your present losses and crosses will turn into eternal gains the dews of the night of weeping (nature's teardrops) will come to sparkle like beauteous gems in the morning of immortality! Soon the Master's footsteps will be heard, saying, "The days of your mourning are ended," and you shall take off your sackcloth, and be girded with gladness!
Up to that moment, your life may have been one long "day of mourning!" But once past the golden portals and the eye can be dim no more the very fountain of weeping will be dried! Then, then will be eternal joy!
"Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness!" Isaiah 35:10
Believer! leave your rainbow in the cloud behind you; and with your eye on the "Rainbow round about the throne" (Rev. 4:3), think of the gladsome return of God's ransomed ones to Zion every tear-drop dried, every pang forgotten!
As some seeds require to be steeped in water before they germinate so is immortal seed ofttimes here steeped in tears. But "those who sow in tears shall reap in joy."
Though "weeping" may endure for the night, "joy comes in the morning!"
"You are," says Rutherford, "upon the entry of Heaven's harvest; the losses that I write of, are but summer showers and the Sun of the new Jerusalem shall quickly dry them up!" The "song of the night "shall then blend with the song of the skies, and inner glorious meanings will be disclosed to sight, which are now hidden from the eye of faith!
"Sorrow and sighing shall forever flee away!"
"No sickness, no sorrow, no pain!" said an aged saint now entered on these glorious realities!
Positively, Heaven will be song upon song, joy upon joy, gladness upon gladness! These songs of Heaven will be "songs of degrees." The ransomed will be ever graduating in bliss, mounting "from glory to glory" each song suggesting the keynote of a louder and loftier one!
Reader! are you mourning the loss of those godly acquaintances who "are not;" the music of whose voices is hushed for you forever of time, and who have left you to travel the wilderness journey companionless and alone? A few more tears, a few more tears and you shall meet them in the daybreak of glory! Nay, more; they have but gone before you to obtain an earlier crown. If they have left you behind for a little season to continue your night-song, think with bounding heart of that eternal day, when, looking back on the clouds floating in the far distance in the nether Valley, you shall be able to join in the anthem said to be sung by the twenty-four elders as they gaze on the throne encircled by the "Rainbow of emerald;" for "they rest not day and night, saying Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!" (Rev. 4:3, 8).
The Sorrows of Care
By John Philip
The burden of care is the common lot of all. Every one has to carry his knapsack of care. We see many a care-worn countenance; and many an anxious heart beats within the bosom even when the face may wear a smile. As there are insects that prey upon trees and shrubs, and eat out the pith and scoop out the heart while the rind or bark is left so there are heart-eating cares that dry up the happiness, and suck out the sweetness of life, while yet the outward appearance remains much the same. And so swarming cares can penetrate deeper into the heart, and lacerate it worse than heavier crosses.
More perhaps than the sterner calamities of life, and especially in this fast-driving age are the daily fretting, carking, and corroding cares. The little vexations and worries of household management and business affairs are apt to prey upon the mind, and chafe the temper, and sour the spirit, and wear out the patience. Singly or by themselves their influence would be trifling; but recurring so often and multiplying so fast they form a considerable part of the burdens of life.
And as a tree which has been scooped out in the stem, is thereby rendered less able to stand the fury of the gale so by these heart-pecking cares (if no antidote is found for them) our strength is weakened, and we are less able to bear the strain, or sustain the heavier burdens of life.
It is only by habitual prayer that we get inward strength to balance outward and all other troubles. If we suspend the exercise of prayer, or of that faith which is the very soul of prayer, and thereby cut off our supplies from above we shall be ready to sink under our burdens, and be submerged in the depths!
But how slow we are to trust! We are too often like one learning to swim, who would gladly keep touching the ground with his feet, and fears to trust himself on the buoyant waters lest he should sink at once. So we would like to feel some good bottom underneath, to have some tangible or sensible ground of comfort and are reluctant to throw ourselves upon God's bare promise. But we can never know the effectual support He gives unless and until we let go our hold of everything else, and venture our souls solely and wholly upon His sure word of promise. We must break down the bridge of self-will and fall back on Him alone. So long as we quarrel with His will, and wrangle to get our own way we must remain strangers to peace.
The strength renewed is best displayed in the quiet walk and steady progress of the Christian life. And even the very cares that burden and beset us may prove a blessing in the way of making us more wary and watchful in choosing our steps, and in rendering our foothold firmer, as there is far less risk of sliding on a rough road, than on a smooth one.
"Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God!" Psalm 71:18
"I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation." Psalm 91:16
A comfortable old age is the reward of a well-spent youth; therefore, instead of introducing dismal and melancholy prospects of decay, it should give us hope of eternal youth in a better world.
The Burdens of Old Age
How gradually yet certain these burdens gather about us! The young think they will never grow old. Yet, year by year, the buoyancy of youth passes into the vigor of manhood, and then green manhood, imperceptibly shades off into the sere and yellow leaf.
The eye loses its luster,
the ear loses its power of distinguishing and appreciating the voice of singing,
the palate loses its relish for dainty food;
while the limbs grow rigid,
and the hands forget their skill,
and the steps shorten,
and the back is bowed down under the weight of years.
There is often a deep feeling of loneliness and weariness and sadness in old age with all the companions of youth gone, and a busy, bustling world around, intent only on its own interests and aims, and showing so little sympathy, and sometimes so little patience with the aged, as if they had almost outlived their time and were a hindrance, rather than a help to progress.
And indeed, even long before life reaches this stage, there is often a weight felt pressing on the spirit, rising out of . . .
the remembrance of departed joys, and
a deepening sense of this hollowness of all earthly things,
the eagle-flight of time, and
the fast gathering shadows of eternity!
Life is felt to grow more solemn, as it steadily nears the goal and the great apocalypse. Life, too, seems to glide more swiftly as we advance, like the flowing river passing into the rapids before it plunges into the boiling cauldron beneath. No doubt there are multitudes that have got into the rapids and yet don't realize their critical position, because they glide along with such arrowy swiftness, and in such a smooth and noiseless current. But those who do, cannot but feel deeply solemnized at the prospect.
Having the great question of our everlasting future and our final home settled and set at rest our other cares may well sit less heavily upon us. The infirmities of years, may then be viewed as the natural and needful process to ripen the soul for Heaven, and to prepare it for being safely gathered into the everlasting garner, like a shock of corn fully ripe.
It is a pleasing sight to see, sometimes, a youthful and almost playful spirit, even in old age. Above all, it is beautiful to see the germ of the everlasting youth shooting up in verdure and in vigor, amid the decays of nature and the infirmities of years. "Although the outward man perish yet the inward man is renewed day by day!"
At times it looks as if the silvery locks were reflecting the sunlight of the celestial city, and as if the withered face were lit up and aglow with the irradiations of the inner glory. As the westering sun, when he descends and nears the horizon, although shorn of his meridian splendor, often looks more full-orbed and ruddy, and bathes with his golden sheen, the attendant clouds that hover around and pavilion him at his exit so the aged Christian often looks more rounded and ripe, more fruitful and mellow, more fair and beautiful as he goes down into the valley of the shadow, and leaves a trail of glory, a lingering radiance behind. "The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness." And thus diademed with glory and with beauty the weary saint is welcomed with the Master's "Well done!" and enters into the Master's joy!
The complaints of the aged should meet with tenderness rather than censure; the burden under which they labor ought to be viewed with sympathy by those who must bear it in their turn, and who, perhaps, hereafter, may complain of it as bitterly. At the same time, the old should consider that all the seasons of life have their several trials allotted to them; and that to bear the infirmities of old age with befitting patience is as much their duty as it is that of the young to resist the temptations of youthful pleasure.
Venerable Old Age its Trials and Consolations
William F. Morgan
Always, and through all generations, the hoary head has been counted a crown of glory to the righteous. Longevity, which in the case of the wicked only aggravates sin, and its attending consequences affords to the godly and faithful child of God . . .
a longer term of useful service and holy example,
increased proficiency in Christian graces,
and a more glorious recompense on high.
But more than this: Old age is not to be associated, as a matter of course, with decrepitude or the decays of nature. It has its own appropriate beauty, as well as youth. There is a wonderful attractiveness in its full and golden ripeness, and in the gradual decline of the ancient patriarchs there is a grand dignity and a chastened solemnity which separate them from other men, and compel the utmost homage; and he must be lacking in all proper sentiments, destitute of veneration, and even of common feeling, who can listen to the dialogue between Barzillai the ancient, and David the king without being irresistibly drawn toward the old man, as he declares his age, and the limitations which fourscore years must necessarily impose upon his movements and the aspirations of an unusually active life.
My brethren, I envy not the man, I have little faith in the goodness of his heart, or the elevation of his principles, who can find himself in the presence of the aged whether it be the honored father trembling on the verge of time, or the infirm and bending mother tarrying meekly for her Master's call without being stirred by some profound impulse to render honor where it is due, and give expression in some way to holy, dutiful, reverential regard.
It is written, "You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear your God." This is a law of divinest sanction, to which even unsanctified nature should bow as by instinct, and which religion should publish throughout the realm of her influence and authority, as a law not to be broken. But it is broken. It is lamentably and, at times, brutally violated in these advanced days of Christian civilization and refinement. But the law, nevertheless, abides, and he who sets it at naught in cruel hardness and disdain, may expect to be followed by the malediction of Almighty God, and possibly at some coming day to have the chalice of his own abominable selfishness and inconsideration commended to his lips.
Undeniably the aged are entitled to our liveliest sympathies and our most sedulous attentions. They have borne the burden and heat of the day. They have reached the border land. They stand hovering between two worlds, and must shortly vanish and be no more seen. Such reflections should quicken, and also make us patient in the discharge of our duties to them. They are going from us, and we in our turn may require the kindness and attention which we bestow.
The TRIALS of old age.There are trials incident to old age, and which no power of human sympathy can avert, or permanently relieve.
Infirmity of body is one. The vigors of life are failing. The fibre of a constitution which withstood all the assaults of three score years, and promised well for a longer continuance suddenly gives way. There is a collapse of energies and abilities. The functions of the body and the faculties of mind and soul are slowed in their independent life activities, and helplessness is creeping on. Infancy is helpless, but its needs are comparatively few, and if these needs multiply with advancing months and years there comes the needful and corresponding ability to redress them. But with old age, it is altogether the reverse. Past habits, feelings, pursuits, and enjoyments, have created necessities unknown to infancy but which are inseparable from old age while the ability to satisfy them is constantly diminishing. And not only so but this sense of growing helplessness is to the aged a painful, almost an irreconcilable one, in its contrast with the freedom and affluence of physical power which had so long been enjoyed. It is a noble sorrow, it is a heroic cry, deprecating the surrender of a prerogative which has given meaning and power and victory to life. But the struggle is altogether in vain.
I have been deeply moved in the course of my ministry at the lofty spirit with which the aged have sought to hold the ground of earlier and more vigorous days. Many an instance occurs to me when literally "the doors have been shut in the streets" in order that altered aspects might be concealed, and the last terrible ills "which flesh is heir to" might be sequestered from observation.
The dread of being burdensome and of wearing out the sympathy of human hearts is also an oppressive apprehension to the aged. Happily, however, many needs and strong desires perish with the increase of years. The exuberance of life recedes; its activities abate; the glory of the outward world declines.
In this state of dependence and comparative isolation, moreover, change creeps in upon everything. The times seem out of joint; the culture is degenerate; the former days were better than these. The very elements have undergone a change; the breath of spring, the heat of summer, and winter frosts are not as in the past, and thus to some, life becomes an irritating contrast, and to others an intolerable burden. Nature bends and is breaking beneath the accumulation of years, and seems to beg imploringly for the undisturbed quiet and silence of the grave.
Another trial of the aged is the altered aspect of society, the absence of contemporaries and companions, and the deepening loneliness of life. To outlive their generation, even by a little, is to walk a solitary path. The young know little of this, and give it no thought as they hurry on with the multitude of their competitors, and their troops of friends but old age is the era of recollection, and is evermore dwelling upon scenes, events, people, associates "long since gone and passed away." At length they stand almost alone, looking back.
The past, as a review, a remembrance, a picture, chiefly survives, and is chiefly the center of thought and conversation. Occasionally we meet one, far advanced in years, who retains that fresh and living spirit which holds him warmly and gracefully to the present, long after he has been detached from those with whom he was familiar, and who walked with him to the House of God, at an earlier period, as friends.
But as a rule, the aged retrace their journey and linger upon the place of their birth, and haunt the scenes of their earlier intellectual impressions, their first hopes and most exhilarating joys. The past is with them, covered, it may be, with the memory of their exploded schemes; the wrecks of plans heavy laden with costly ventures, which never came to shore; the past, colored with the hues of disappointment, and the faded tints of long vanished blessings, filled with historic incidents and recollections; the gleam and dying glory of a world whose inhabitants have already joined the company of those who lived before the flood.
Their own generation has disappeared; a few may still cling as leaves to the outermost branches of the tree but the vast concourse have been swept away by the remorseless blasts of mortality, and but very few of all who had known and loved them in the bright morning of their days, can wait upon their funeral solemnities, or follow them to their long home. New voices, faces, plans; new methods of business, new forms and expressions of thought, crowd upon the aged. They are witnesses of changes which astound and bewilder them, and in the busy whirl of things they are more and more alone. The passing age with its rushing tide of invention and splendid development, is more and more a mystery and a blank.
And, doubtless, the solitary condition of the aged, in many instances, is aggravated by the disinclination of the young to seek their company. Boys soon spring into manhood; men soon grow old; and the old are soon forgotten! The stripling, with his gold ring and goodly apparel, crowds aside his parents and neglects the hoary head. It cannot be denied that carrying to extravagance our notion of equality and self-assertion, the young too often exhibit an unfeeling and selfish spirit in their fellowship with those whose age has made them extremely sensitive to neglect. The deference, the helpfulness, the courtesy which youth should extend to old age, and which partake not only of duty but of chivalry are dying out in this era, and we may well deprecate their decay, and count it as a token of social hardness and declining manhood.
I will mention but one other trial the tendency to depression and the decay of natural spirits. There are those who escape this trial, and preserve to the end of their days a beautiful serenity and cheerfulness. But many an worn out traveler is constrained to say, "I have no pleasure in them!" The shadows of a long experience and a varied sorrow have fallen thick around them. They muse and sit alone. They shun the crowd and the mirthful circle. Shut out from their old haunts of business, and away from general society, they are inclined to brood over their lot and indulge in whining censure upon current follies. Their day is over. The sun of a weary and lengthened life is ready to set.
The solemnities of an eternal state, moreover, are distinctly rising into view and this consideration, when allowed its weight, is sufficient to touch the soul, if not with gloom, at least with thoughtfulness unknown before. Death is at hand. The judge stands at the door. The world of spirits with its mysteries, and the world of retribution with its adjustments and everlasting decisions with its boundlessness of glory or of shame, of joy or woe, of life or death these are not far off! And although we too often find triflers at an advanced point in life, and men who utterly ignore all tokens of their exit, and who even in their dress and conversation affect a period far remote from their own, and simulate the indifference of youth to the concerns of religion yet there are multitudes, as we have reason to know, who, trembling on life's verge, are serious as they look forth upon the future, and serious as they look back upon the past, and whisper to their souls "How long have I to live?" They hear the murmurs of the shoreless sea, and are conscious that the time of their departure is at hand.
At such a crisis, it is sad to be unsupported by the hand of God sad to be without a Savior. Human sympathy avails but little. Earthly interests are dead. The tabernacle is falling to pieces. Nothing is left to be desired but the peace which is not of this world, and the sustaining help of the everlasting arms; and if these are lacking, if these have been accounted of no importance, then old age has but little to lighten its darkness, or lift from around it the mists of despondency, irritability and despair.
The Consolations of old age.I will endeavor to draw your thoughts away from the trials, toward the consolations which attend and comfort the aged believer. The followers of the Redeemer are, doubtless, subject to laws of a physical life, which may hinder and obstruct the spiritual life, and reduce them in old age to a very imperfect enjoyment of Christian hopes and promises. As a rule, however, and as a blessedness often attained the last days of the Christian are his best days, and the end better than the beginning. That portion of his existence which is to be reckoned as probation, and which is to determine the complexion of his eternal state is about to end forever. There is but little space left. God alone knows its measure. A few more conflicts perhaps a few more vicissitudes, tears, disappointments, pains, agonies then will come the end, and all will be over!
Rest and recompense will follow. The beauty and glory of a dawn such as never empurpled our eastern horizon, will break upon the emancipated soul the dawn of peace to the pilgrim who has traveled far through storms and deafening agitations; the dawn of refreshment to the wayfarer whose feet are bleeding and whose strength is spent. Beloved friends, even to the common sentiment of mankind, no one appears so near the threshold of celestial blessedness as the aged saint.
In the course of a long service and experience among all classes and conditions of men, I have learned the full meaning of words which are idly uttered and leave but a faint impression in their ordinary use. Among these, the word REST has gathered great strength and significance. I have seen men breathless and still toiling still pressing on panting almost despairing and suddenly, by the visitation of God stopped, and laid for the grave. The lines of care were smoothed away, slumber hung upon the eyelids, and the whole countenance regained in death what toil and anxiety and eager aspiration had torn from it in life. But the transfiguration wrought upon the face of old age, has been even more marked and beautiful, and like the clearing away of mist from the landscape so have the traces of anxiety and weariness and sickness given place to an aspect of Heavenly repose in death, and we have felt the profound meaning of the blessed declaration, "There remains a rest for the people of God." And this is the undoubted truth which gilds the closing days of the aged saint. REST is at hand, and "peace which passes all understanding."
The aged saint finds comfort in looking hack, and holding in review the way over which he has passed. It may have been long and rough and crooked but it is covered with the disclosures of paternal and protecting love. The retrospection of seventy or eighty years presents God continually in forms and ministries of providential care which are only estimated fully at the end.
Then the experience of life is complete, and its range of observation large, and the divine hand is seen molding the character under the discipline of events and changes, which, regarded singly, seemed strange and out of place but which in their bearings and relations were in the direction of religious symmetry and elevation. The uses of sorrow are best realized at the last, and the chastening power of those thwartings and special tribulations, with which God often tries His dearest children, as in a furnace, heated seven times. So that while the shadows are gathering around him the aged disciple may stand and gaze at the way-marks of divine love, divine guidance, divine warning, divine support all along his pilgrimage, and exclaim with accents of trembling exultation, "How patiently has God watched over me, against how many temptations has He fortified me; from how many perils has He rescued me; in how many critical and gloomy hours has He lightened my darkness, and in passing through the water and through the fire how has He held my hand and strengthened my heart." Surely, beloved friends, none can so speak of Heavenly and redeeming love, patience, faithfulness, tenderness, compassion as the aged children of the Father.
Finally, the past revelation of God's mercy and goodness is the best pledge of eternal glory. Herein is abounding consolation, and girded by it, the veteran soldier and servant waits cheerfully until his change comes. He has his infirmities and temptations, those which especially beset this advanced period but his Christian principle restrains him from yielding overmuch to the disquietudes and irritations of life. Among younger Christians he sits as a patriarch who has learned sober lessons from a varied allotment, and discovered the emptiness of the world, and is ready to be translated to the city which has foundations whose Maker and Builder is God.
He is not sour or morose. Indeed, there is often a mellowness and childlikeness which are wonderfully beautiful, and a benignancy of aspect and expression which is irresistible; but he is weaned in great measure from the world, and is hearkening for the footsteps of his Beloved Master, as one who has reached a point of transition and must stand ready for the change. Not termination, not annihilation but a marvelous transformation awaits him; a putting off of defilement a putting on of light and celestial beauty; an assumption of his true life, an ascension to his true destiny. This is the day-spring about to visit him. This is the dawn about to break.
Dying saint, the time of your departure is at hand. You have known suffering; you shall know it no more forever. You have tasted the waters of Marah; they were bitter but you shall taste them no more! You have wrestled with temptation, and contended with the powers of darkness but the adversary shall come near you no more. Passing within the veil, you shall also pass from weakness to strength, from humiliation to glory, from faith to sight, from the arms of mortality to the bosom of God. Behold, I come quickly. Hold that fast which you have, that no man take your crown. Him that overcomes will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out, and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the City of my God, which is New Jerusalem.
There is not a more repulsive spectacle than the old man who will not forsake the world which has already forsaken him!
Religion sweetens and sanctifies all the relations of life. It doubly enhances all the ties of nature and kindred, by intertwining them with the more lasting ties of grace. It diffuses a spirit of forbearance and gentleness and brotherly-kindness and charity. It makes home the sanctuary of peace and purity, of love and joy a model Heaven upon earth. It lays the foundation of social order and civil jurisprudence, by inculcating the principles of truth and justice and honor.
Grace teaches us, in the midst of life's greatest comforts to be willing to die; and in the midst of its greatest crosses to be willing to live.
Desiring to Depart
By Abbott E. Kittredge
"I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far!" Philippians 1:23
While death in itself is terrible, Christian faith lifts a man above the thoughts of its terrors; it flashes into the valley the radiance of exultant hope, and then when the feet actually come to the Jordan, the waves always roll back on either side, pain and fear are swallowed up in a river of peace, and the close of life, is the grandest of sunsets.
But Paul in the utterance of our text was not thinking of death; the fact of physical dissolution was only a trifling circumstance to him; for his ecstatic soul had caught a glimpse of the country on the other side, to which Death was only the gateway, like one who from a valley looks in eager longing to the mountain summit, and sees not the toilsome steps intervening, takes no note of rocks and precipices so Paul was gazing on the Heavenly Mt. Zion, above the clouds and storms of earth, and his desire for the things which God had prepared for those who love Him bridged over Death, so that he did not see it, and in the contemplation of the liberty and rapture of his sanctified soul he entirely forgot to think about his temporary and crumbling tabernacle.
It is not strange, therefore, that he longed to depart, not longed to die but longed to reach his Home, like one who has been journeying in foreign lands and between whom and the childhood's home thousands of miles of ocean roll. Yet he longed for the voyage, however perilous, however unpleasant with sickness! for all this is forgotten in the thoughts of "Home again," and he desires to depart, and with joyous anticipation steps upon the deck of the vessel whose prow is turned toward his native land.
Now the first essential feature to this condition of mind which is expressed by Paul, is a strong faith in the divine revelation concerning the eternal life. The lack of this faith is the secret of very much of our shrinking from death, the passage over for there is an uncertainty clouding the harbor on the other side.
To many Christians, Heaven is a dream land; there is no reality to their vision in the paintings of the New Jerusalem. They are skeptical regarding what it is and where it is, what its employments are, concerning the condition of its citizens and hence naturally they cling to this life, to the things which are seen, and to the riches within their grasp. It would be strange if they did not, for who desires and longs to step from certainty into uncertainty? Said a noted Atheist, not long ago, as he poured out his blasphemy for the amusement of his audience, "We know what this life is we know nothing at all of the Hereafter and so we prefer to stay here." From such lips, these words awaken no surprise but from the lips of a Christian, are they not surprising? and yet they find an echo in many a Christian's heart, who, though he sings with the congregation, "Jerusalem, my happy home, Name ever dear to me," has not only no desire for the New Jerusalem but dreads with a positive fear the hour when he shall come in sight of the harbor, for it is unreal and mystical to him.
I know intimately a gentleman who has never crossed the ocean and yet has made so thorough a study of the city of London, its buildings and its streets, that it is said he knows the city more perfectly than most of those who live there.
Well, so the Christian may know concerning the city of his eternal residence by a careful study of the description which the King whose throne is there has given to us, so that if Heaven is unreal to you, and only this life real it is either because you have not read your Bible, or because you do not believe that your Bible states the truth. Why, tell me, how our Father could have added anything more to increase our knowledge of that land?
As to its locality, it is where Jesus our risen Lord is. Is not this enough? As to its character, it is a city with twelve gates and every gate a pearl, with walls of burnished gold, with pavement of jasper, sardonyx, and onyx, and the river of life flows through its streets. It is a temple filled with divine glory; it is a palace where the King is arrayed in His beauty of holy love it is paradise without the serpent and with immortal fruits and fadeless flowers it is an inheritance incorruptible and of inconceivable wealth it is a banquet where we shall feed on celestial provisions and be forever satisfied; it is a home sweeter in its joys and affections than our childhood's home, where no one hungers, or thirsts, or sickens, or weeps, or dies a home without vacant seats, and with the Elder Brother for its richest light and joy. Are more figures needed to make it a reality?
As to its inhabitants, they are the whole family of God from all ages and all lands.
As to their appearance, they are clothed in celestial bodies, all the imperfections of earth are transfigured into a glorious beauty, and yet they are the same people in traits and character and in their desires, as when here in this life.
As to their employments, they praise Him who has redeemed them with His precious blood, and they serve Him with unfettered steps and pure hearts.
What more can we want to give a reality to Heaven, what more to calm every troubled thought concerning those who have fallen asleep? What more to banish every fear and to quicken our desires to go and taste Heavenly joys?
Said a gentleman to me not long ago, whose only daughter and child had passed through the gates, "Could you name to me some book that I could read regarding Heaven, for (and his eyes filled with tears) I am studying about it just now." Ah! in the rush of our business cares and the absorbing pleasures of our daily lives we too often forget that we are pilgrims, and we do not read carefully of the country toward whose confines we are so rapidly journeying. Hence it grows unreal and uninviting. But when God transplants a flower from our own home garden to the richer soil of eternal life then our hearts follow in a yearning love, and a thousand questions force themselves into our minds, questions concerning that eternal life, and then we read as never before, of the crown, and the harp, and the white robe, and the rest, and the songs, and the tearless service and the fellowship with Christ; and thus Heaven grows real as real as our own homes to you and I!
The Sequel of Life
By John Philip
Life is like a dissolving cloud in the skies; as you gaze on it it seems to melt away, until before long it vanishes entirely out of sight. Just so, when once the spirit is fled no voice of fond affection, no frantic cry of the bereft and riven heart, no sighs, no sobs, no tears can call forth the smallest response. You may kiss the marble brow or lift the palsied arm but there is no recognition, no sign of even the faintest spark of life. When the dead body is laid in the grave, the lightnings may flash and the thunders may roll but they never awaken nor disturb the sleeper.
If the man of business is suddenly struck down by the hand of death, that moment he must ungrasp his hold of all his possessions here, and cease to have the smallest interest in stocks or shares of any kind. The wheels of business move on as before, the exchange is crowded as ever, and men are speculating as busily on the rise and fall of markets -but he has no share in all that is done under the sun.
Every Life that is lived on earth leaves, and must leave deep and lasting influences behind it. There is a sequel to every life, and that not only in the world to come but in this present world. There is, so to speak, another life that men live after death, and that in the sphere where they lived before. They call their children, and often their lands, after their own names, or have them emblazoned in heraldic arms, or marble tablet, or granite monument. Or they bequeath some rich legacy for some benevolent purpose, which is thus linked with their memory, and hands down their fame to generations yet unborn.
Indeed there is no one, however humble who would like to be forgotten. All would naturally wish to live in the memories and hearts of others.
But whether we shall thus live, whether our names shall be banished to oblivion, must largely depend on the life lived in this world.
Let those winged words of Dr. Chalmers be duly pondered and put in practice: "O man immortal, live for something! Do good, and leave behind you a monument of virtue that the storms of time can never destroy! Write your name by kindness, love and mercy, on the hearts of thousands you come in contact with year by year and you will never be forgotten. No, your name, your deeds will be legible on the hearts you leave behind you, as the stars on the brow of the morning. Good deeds will shine as brightly on the earth as the stars of Heaven."
The Sunset of Life
William Bacon Stevens
There is something at once grand and solemn in a setting sun. It is the sinking to rest of the great king of day; the withdrawing from the busy world, and the covering up with the veil of darkness the scenes that glistened with the radiance of noon.
There is, however, in the setting of the sun of life that which is equally grand, still more solemn, and surpassingly sublime.
The sun when it sets has run a whole day's circuit; his pathway has apparently traversed an entire arc of the Heavens, and slowly, patiently but surely, it has done its allotted work. And so the aged Christian, when he dies, is described as having "run his race," as having "finished his course." He has perhaps traversed the allotted distance of human life. He has passed each of the three score and-ten milestones, and now stands at the verge of the horizon, waiting to sink to rest in the everlasting arms. He has toiled a whole day of life, and has come to his grave in a "good old age," having "finished the work which was given him to do;" and though all his labors have been imperfectly done, though he himself feels more deeply than he can express his unprofitableness before God yet he looks for acceptance, not to any merits or deservings of his own but only for Christ Jesus sake, who by faith is made unto him, "wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption."
The setting of the sun is not always like the day which it closes. The morning may have been bright, and the evening hour dark with tempests; or the rising may have been obscured by clouds and mists, which gradually faded away and left a clear sky at sunset. So the sunset hour of Christian life does not always correspond to his previous day. We have seen the last hours of the believer shrouded in impenetrable gloom, and we have seen them gilded with hope and radiant with the forecast glories of the upper world.
The way in which a Christian dies is not always an index of his spiritual condition. He is to be judged by his life, not by his death. The great virtues which make up Christian character are neither developed nor called into action, on a dying bed; and it is not in the emotions and feelings manifested there, that we are chiefly to look for evidences of a gracious state.
These varieties of Christian experiences are literally innumerable; but whatever their nature, we must not judge of the validity of one's hope, or the genuineness of one's conversion, by his dying hour.
Yet, when that dying hour accords with a long life of piety, or a true profession maintained in health and strength; when it is but a concentrating within itself of the glories which have been more or less visible in the whole track of his experience then is it eloquent in its revelations of the riches and peace and joy, which God generally gives to those who are faithful unto death. And though we cannot order when or how our lives shall close upon earth yet it should be our aim so to live as to secure, if God pleases, a serene, if not a triumphant exit; that our setting sun may, like the sun in the firmament, grow large and more resplendent as it declines, until passing away it shall leave behind it a trail of glory spread all over the place of our departure.
Another interesting thought is, that the sun is not lost or extinguished when it sets. This may seem a very trite remark concerning the natural sun but it is not so trite when we speak of the soul set in death.
Our friends have gone from us; the horizon of death shuts them out of view; their light of love, of hope, of piety, shines no more upon us, and we shall never again behold them in the flesh; but they are no more lost than the sun is lost when his red disc rolls down behind the western hills; they are no more extinguished than the burning orb of day is quenched when he sinks beneath the waves of the ocean; for, as the sun, leaving us in darkness, still lights up other lands, so our departed ones shine in another sphere of existence still not lost, not extinguished but, if the friends of Christ, made to glow with a brighter light and a more enduring glory.
When we see the sun set, we know that it will rise again; and so when we see the body of our friends borne to the voiceless dwelling of the tomb, we know that they also shall rise again. Every night of death is followed by a resurrection morning. How precious is the thought as connected with God's people that they shall rise from the dead!
HOW rise? With glorified bodies, upon which the second death has no power. Rise by what power? By the mighty power of God. Rise WHEN? When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with all his mighty angels, then shall they be caught up to meet him in the air. Rise to WHAT? To glory, honor, and immortality in the presence-chamber of God. How these thoughts light up with brightness, every sepulcher of the righteous! How the doctrine of the resurrection throws a halo over every Christian's head-stone, and makes each open grave a little gate leading into glory!
Reader, have you lost a father, mother, brother, sister, wife, husband, child, or lover and were they Christ's children before they died? Then lift up your heads, wipe away your tears, cheer up your hearts for they shall come forth again before your face. Their sunset, though it left you in gloom and midnight sorrow will soon be followed by the dawn of Resurrection day; and when the archangel's trumpet shall sound out over land and sea, awaking the myriads who slumber in earth's bosom then shall your beloved ones, who sunk to rest in Jesus, rise again, and go forth to meet and glorify their adorable Redeemer. When that morning of the resurrection dawns, it will usher in a day that has no clouds, a day that has no sunset, and a day that is followed by no night of sorrow or of death!
The Home Beyond the Grave
R. S. Foster
To my own mind, when I look in the direction of the future, one picture always rises a picture of ravishing beauty. Its essence, I believe to be true. Its events will be more glorious than any that my imagination puts into it. It is that of a soul forever growing in knowledge, in love, in holy endeavor; that of a vast community of spirits, moving along a pathway of light, of ever-expanding excellence and glory; brightening as they ascend; becoming more and more like the unpicturable pattern of infinite perfection; loving with an ever-deepening love; glowing with an ever-increasing fervor; rejoicing in ever-advancing knowledge; growing in glory and power. They are all immortal. There are no failures or reverses to any of them.
Ages fly away; they soar on with tireless wing, aeons and cycles advance toward them and retire behind them; still they soar, and shout, and unfold! I am one of that immortal host. Death cannot destroy me, I shall live when stars dim with age. The advancing and retreating aeons shall not fade my immortal youth.
Beyond the grave! As the vision rises, how this side dwindles into nothing a speck a moment and its glory and pomp shrink up into the trinkets and baubles that amuse an infant for a day. Only those things, in the glory of this light, which lay hold of immortality seem to have any value. The treasures that consume away or burn up with this perishing world are not treasure. Those only which we carry beyond are worth the saving.
Review of Life
O You who judge according to every man's work have mercy upon me, and blot out the manifold transgressions of my life. It befits me, Lord, to take a review of the course in which I have walked; but oh, what a review! Its many talents unimproved, and duties left undone, and sins committed!
I stand before You inexcusable self-condemned; but, blessed be Your name! not without hope, for there is mercy and forgiveness with You. You have provided a sacrifice for sin, a Savior; to Him would I fly for refuge, and plead that mercy and not judgment, may be mine; and that the remainder of my life may be considered a grant of mercy, in order that I may bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. Give me grace, Lord, not only to repent of past sins and omissions but to make it much the business of my remaining days to supply the deficiencies of my former ones.
May Your gracious presence direct and support me. Be, Lord, my light and my strength. Enable me to cast all my cares on You. Bless to me both my enjoyments and my sufferings; and whether my remaining days be peaceful or stormy, bright or dark make me to increase in faith, in holiness, in humility, in patience and charity that I may be rich towards God and finallygain an abundant entrance into the saint's glorious inheritance.