Dark Dispensations

“Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disquieted within me? Hope you in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” Psalm 42:11

In all His dispensations—the severest and the darkest—have faith in God. This is, perhaps, one of the greatest achievements of faith. To believe in God when He smiles, to trust in Him when conscious of His nearness, to have faith in Him when the path is flowery and pleasant, were an easy task. But to have faith in Him when “He holds back the face of His throne, and spreads His cloud upon it; to love Him when He frowns; to follow Him when He withdraws; to cleave to Him when He would seem to shake us off; to trust in Him when His arm is raised to slay—this were faith indeed. And yet all this the faith of God’s elect can achieve. If not, of what value is it? Of what possible use to the mariner would be the compass which would only work in the day, and not in the night? which only served to steer the vessel in light winds, and not in rough gales? Faith is the believing soul’s compass, guiding it as truly and as certainly to the heavenly port through the wildest tempest as through the serenest calm. To change the figure, faith is that celestial telescope which can pierce the thickest haze or the darkest cloud, descrying suns and stars glowing and sparkling in the far distance. It can discern God’s smile under a frown; it can read His name to be “love” beneath the dark dispensation; it can behold the Sun of Righteousness beaming through the interstices of gloomy clouds; and now and then it can catch a glimpse of the harbor itself, with the towering turrets and golden spires of the “new Jerusalem” glittering in the distance. Oh, it is a wonderful grace, the precious faith of God’s elect!

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May 29: Why Are You Downcast?

“Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disquieted within me? Hope you in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” Psalm 42:11

In all His dispensations—the severest and the darkest—have faith in God. This is, perhaps, one of the greatest achievements of faith. To believe in God when He smiles, to trust in Him when conscious of His nearness, to have faith in Him when the path is flowery and pleasant, were an easy task. But to have faith in Him when “He holds back the face of His throne, and spreads His cloud upon it; to love Him when He frowns; to follow Him when He withdraws; to cleave to Him when He would seem to shake us off; to trust in Him when His arm is raised to slay—this were faith indeed. And yet all this the faith of God’s elect can achieve.

If not, of what value is it? Of what possible use to the mariner would be the compass which would only work in the day, and not in the night? which only served to steer the vessel in light winds, and not in rough gales? Faith is the believing soul’s compass, guiding it as truly and as certainly to the heavenly port through the wildest tempest as through the serenest calm. To change the figure, faith is that celestial telescope which can pierce the thickest haze or the darkest cloud, descrying suns and stars glowing and sparkling in the far distance. It can discern God’s smile under a frown; it can read His name to be “love” beneath the dark dispensation; it can behold the Sun of Righteousness beaming through the interstices of gloomy clouds; and now and then it can catch a glimpse of the harbor itself, with the towering turrets and golden spires of the “new Jerusalem” glittering in the distance. Oh, it is a wonderful grace, the precious faith of God’s elect!

Is God dealing with you now in a way of deep trial, of dark providence, mysterious to your mind, and painful to your heart? Is He even chastening you for your backslidings, correcting you for your sins? Still “have faith in God.” Sensible appearances, second causes, cannot in the least degree affect the ground of your faith which is God Himself—His immutable nature, His unchangeable love, His eternal purpose, His everlasting covenant, His own Divine and glorious perfections. Believe that you are in His heart, and that your interests are in His hands. Have faith in His wisdom to guide, in His love to direct, in His power to sustain, in His faithfulness to fulfill every promise that now relates to your best welfare and happiness. Only believe in God—that all things in His disposal of you, in His transactions with you, are working together for our present and eternal good. All that He expects and requires of you now is to have faith in Him. The cloud may be dark, the sea tempestuous, but God is in the cloud, and “the Lord sits upon the flood.” Even now it is the privilege of your faith to exclaim, “My soul, hope you in God. He is my God; I will trust, and not be
afraid.”

Oh, what inspiring words are these—”hope you in God!” I hesitate not to say, my reader, you may hope in God. Though your case may seem desperate, to your eye cheerless and hopeless, not merely too intricate for man, but too unworthy for God—yet you may hope in God. Take your case to Him, hoping against hope, and believing in unbelief. Will He close His heart against you? Never! Will He repel you when you fly to Him? Never! It is not in the heart of God, no, nor is it in His power, to do so.

Take hold of His strength—I speak it humbly, reverentially—and you have overcome God. You disarm Him of the instrument and of the power to punish you; you have laid your hand of faith upon the strength of His love, and have made peace with Him. You cannot cherish a hope too sanguine, nor exercise a faith too implicit in God, hopeless, cheerless, and extreme as your case may be. Impossible! God never appears so like Himself, as in the season of the believer’s darkness and suffering. At the very moment in which he sees the least of God, God appears the most what He is. The tenderest unfoldings of His heart are in sorrow, the brightest exhibitions of His character are in darkness, and the most glorious displays of His wisdom, power, and grace are seen gleaming through the mist.

God Sifts His Wheat

But observe, God sifts His people like wheat. We need scarcely remark upon the necessity of this process, it seems so palpable and self-evident. Take the holiest man of God for illustration. There is such a mixture of contradiction in him, that he needs to be winnowed. It has been remarked, “The best of saints are exposed to the worst of sins.” Look at Job. Study his character, and then his sifting. “And the Lord said unto Satan, Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that fears God, and shuns evil.” What a precious grain of wheat was here! yet, see how God put that grain of wheat into the sieve!

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April 21: Those Who Are Sick

And Jesus answering said unto them, Those who are whole need not a physician; but those who are sick. Luke 5:31

THAT Physician is He who spoke these words. The power of the Son of God over the moral and physical diseases of men, prove Him to be just the Physician which our circumstances require. Want skill? He possesses it. Sympathy? He has it. Patience, tenderness, perseverance? all belong to Jesus. Wonderful Physician! No disease can baffle You, for You are Divine. No suffering can fail to move You, for You are human.

Are your deep anxieties awakened, my reader, on behalf of some loved object, now pining in sickness, perhaps, to all appearance, in circumstances of extreme danger? In simple faith call in the aid of this Physician. Let the prayer of Moses for Miriam be yours, presented with the faith and urged with the importunity of the Syrophenician mother, “Heal her now, O Lord, I beseech You.” “I will come and heal her,” will be His reply. Deem not the case beyond His skill. Thus reasoned the sister of Lazarus: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother had not died. But I know that even now, whatever You will ask of God, God will give it You.” Go in prayer and faith, and lay your sick one at His feet.

Jesus is with you. One word from Him, and the disease shall vanish; one touch of His hand, and health shall be restored. He who raised Lazarus from the grave, can bring back from its brink the dear one around whose fast-waning life the veins of your heart are entwined. Ask believingly, ask submissively, ask importunately, and then leave the result with Him.

When human power has come to its end—when skill and affection can do no more—when man retires, and hope is extinguished, and the loved one is despairingly abandoned to death—then to see the Lord step forward and take the case in His hands, arresting the disease, rebuking the distemper, bringing back the glow of health to the cheek, vigor to the frame, elasticity to the limb, and brilliance to the eye, raising as from the very grave itself—oh how glorious does He appear in that chamber of sickness! Who bowed down His ear to the whisper that faintly cried for help and support? Who heard the fervent agonizing prayer that that precious life might be spared, which in another room broke from the lips of some anxious, holy wrestler—a parent, a brother, a sister, a friend, it may be? It was the Son of God! and oh how is He glorified in the recovery!

Or, if that sickness terminates in death’s slumber, is He less glorified? Ask the spirit just emerged from its shattered tenement, and soaring away to its home on high—ask it as it enters the portals of heaven, the blaze of eternal glory bursting upon its view—ask it as it finds itself before the throne of God, once an earthly, polluted creature, now whiter and brighter than an unfallen angel—ask it as it rests in the bosom of its redeeming Savior, blissfully conscious of its final and eternal safety, and reposing in expectation of its complete glorification, when its reunion with the spiritual body shall take place on the morning of the first resurrection—ask, and it will testify how great was the glory brought to the Son of God, by the termination of a sickness which, while it left kindred and friends weeping around the death-bed below, demonstrated His life, and power, and love, “who has abolished death, and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

April 17: Comfort For The Downcast

God, that comforts those that are cast down. 2 Cor. 7:6

IF there is much to cast down the child of God, there is more to lift him up. If in his path to glory there are many causes of soul-despondency, of heart-sorrow, and mental disquietude, yet in that single truth—God comforts the disconsolate—he has an infinite counterbalance of consolation, joy, and hope. That “God comforts those that are cast down,” His own truth declares. It is in His heart to comfort them, and it is in His power to comfort them. He blends the desire, deep and yearning, with the ability, infinite and boundless. Not so with the fondest, tenderest creature. The sorrow is often too deep and too sacred for human sympathy to reach. But what is fathomless to man is a shallow to God.

I have said, that it is in the heart of God to comfort His people. Everything that He has done to promote their comfort proves it. He has commanded His ministers to “speak comfortably” to them. He has sent forth His word to comfort them. He has laid up all comfort and consolation for them, in the Son of His love. And in addition to all this, He has given them His own Spirit, to lead them to the Divine sources of “all consolation” which He has provided. Who could comfort the disconsolate but God? Who could effectually undertake their case but Himself? He only knows their sorrow, and He only could meet it.

There is not a moment in which God is not bent upon the comfort of “those that are cast clown.” All His dealings with them tend to this—even those that appear adverse and contrary. Does He wound?—it is to heal. Does He cause deep sorrow?—it is to turn that sorrow into a deeper joy. Does He empty?—it is to fill. Does He cast down?—it is to lift up again. Such is the love that moves Him, such is the wisdom that guides Him, and such too is the end that is secured in the Lord’s disciplinary conduct with His people. Dear reader, it is in God’s loving heart to speak comfortably to your sorrowful heart. Let but the Holy Spirit enable you to receive this truth in simple faith, and your grief, be its cause and its degree what they may, is more than half assuaged.

Not a word may yet be spoken by the “God of all comfort,” not a cloud may be dispersed, nor a difficulty be removed; yet to be assured by the Divine Comforter that the heart of God yearns over you, and that consolation is sparkling up from its infinite depths, waiting only the command to pour its tide of joyousness into your sorrow-stricken bosom, and it is enough. Yes, I repeat it—for every reiteration of so precious a truth must still be but a faint expression of its magnitude—it is in the loving heart of God to lift up your disconsolate soul from the dust. Listen to His words—there is melody in them such as David’s harp spoke not when its soft and mellow strains soothed the perturbed spirit of Saul—”I, even I, am He that comforts you.” Mark with what earnestness He makes this declaration. How solicitous does he appear to impress this truth upon the heart—that to comfort His own tried saints is His sole prerogative, and His infinite delight. “I, even I, am He that comforts you.”

April 16: Our Present Wilderness Labyrinths

For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart fails me. Psalm 40:12

IN the more advanced stages of the Christian life, we find much into the experience of which the believer is brought, tending to cast down the people of God. Without minutely describing the many causes of soul-disquietude which exist, we may group together in one view those, the most fruitful, which conspire to this abasement of the spirit. We may mention, as among the most powerful, the clinging body of sin, to which his renewed spirit is enchained, from which it sighs to be delivered, but from which death only frees it; consequently, there is the daily battle with a heart of unbelief, incessantly departing from God.

Then there are the labyrinths of the desert, the straitness of the narrow way, the fears within, and the fightings without, the trials of faith, the chastisements of love, the offence of the cross, the intricacies of truth, the woundings of the world, the unkindnesses of the saints, and the varied difficulties and afflictions of the wilderness—all these create oftentimes great disquietude and despondency of soul. When to these are added the yet more painful and humbling remembrance of his sins since conversion, his stumblings and falls, his unkind requitals of God’s love, the base returns which he has made, and the deep ingratitude which he has felt for all the Divine goodness, with the consequent hidings of God’s face, and the withdrawments of Christ’s presence, he exclaims in the bitterness of his spirit, “My soul is cast down within me;” “my heart fails me.”

Ah! there is no humiliation like that which a sight and sense of sin produces, the heart laid open and the soul laid low before God. The world’s bitter scorn, the creature’s cold neglect, are nothing in comparison. In the one case, the heart is only mortified; in the other, it is truly humbled. The one is a feeling that has to do with man only—the other is an emotion that has to do with God. And when once the believer is solemnly conscious of acting beneath the eye of God, the gaze of other eyes affects him but slightly.

Oh how little do some professors deport themselves as though they had to do only with God! How imperfectly do they look upon sin as God looks upon it! But did they live more as setting the Lord always before them, how superior would they rise to the poor opinion of their fellow-sinners! To them it would then appear a very little matter to be judged of man’s judgment.

March 17: A Savior For A Tried People

In all their action he was afflicted. Isaiah 63:9

HERE is open the true and blessed source of comfort, in the hour and the circumstance of sorrow. The Lord’s people are a tried people—Jesus was a tried Savior. The Lord’s people are an afflicted people—Jesus drank deep of its bitter cup. The Lord’s people are a sorrowing family—Jesus was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” He brought Himself down to a level with the circumstances of His people. He completely identified Himself with them.

We are not however to suppose that in every peculiarity of trial there is an identity with our dear Lord. There are trials growing out of peculiar circumstances and relations in life, to which He was a stranger. But Jesus took upon Him pure humanity in its suffering form, was deeply acquainted with sorrow as sorrow; and from these two circumstances, became fitted in all points to support, to sustain, and to sympathize with His afflicted, sorrowing people, whatever the cause of that affliction or sorrow was. It is enough for us that He was “bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh.” It is enough for us that His heart was composed of all the tenderness, sympathy, and gentleness of our nature, and that, too, freed from everything growing out of the infirmity of sin, that could weaken, and impair, and blunt His sensibilities. It is enough for us that sorrow was no stranger to His heart, that affliction had deeply furrowed His soul, and that grief had left its traces upon every line of His countenance.

What more do we require? What more can we ask? Our nature?—He took it. Our sicknesses?—He bore them. Our sorrows?—He felt them. Our crosses?—He carried them. Our sins?—He pardoned them. He went before His suffering people; trod out the path; left His foot-print; and now invites them to walk in no way, to sustain no sorrow, to bear no burden, and to drink no cup, in which He has not Himself gone before. It is enough for Him that you are a child of grief, that sorrow is the bitter cup you are drinking. He asks no more. A chord is in a moment touched in His heart, which vibrates to that touched in yours, whether its note be a pleasing or mournful one. For let it be ever remembered that Jesus has sympathy for the joys, as for the sorrows, of His people. He rejoices with those that rejoice, and He weeps with those that weep.

But how does Jesus sympathize? Not in the sense in which some may suppose—that when we weep He actually weeps, and that when we suffer He actually suffers. This may at one time have been so, but we no more know Christ in the flesh, as He was once known. Ah! there was a period when “Jesus wept”! There was a period when His heart was wrung with anguish, and when His body agonized in pain. That period is no more. There yet is a sense, and an important one, in which Jesus feels sympathy. When the believer suffers, the tenderness of Jesus is drawn forth. His sustaining strength, His sanctifying grace, His comforting love, are all unfolded in the experience of His child, while passing through the furnace. The Son of God is with him in the flames. Jesus of Nazareth is walking with him on the billows. He has the heart of Christ. And this is sympathy—this is fellowship—this is to be one with Christ Jesus.

February 17: In The Day Of Trouble

Give ear, O Lord, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications. In the day of my trouble I will call upon you: for you will answer me. Psalm 86:6-7

THE grace that is brought into exercise in the season of affliction must necessarily tend greatly to promote the revival of the life of God in the soul of the believer. How liable is grace to decay, when all things smile upon a path smooth and unruffled! But God sends affliction, and the grace that lay concealed is brought to view, and the grace that remained dormant is summoned to arms; the whole soul is awakened, and inspired as with new life. “The trial of faith works, patience.” Thus one tried grace stirs up another grace, until all the links in the golden chain feel the electric influence, and are set in motion. Oh blessed trouble, that so stirs up the life of God in the soul as to make each grace of the Spirit a “new sharp threshing instrument having teeth;” a weapon re-cast, and newly furbished in the furnace, and so coming forth with keener edge and more polished blade, to “fight the fight of faith” with mightier power and success.

But the influence of sanctified affliction upon the inner life is, perhaps, the most evident and powerful in the revival of the spirit of prayer. Strange, that to this, the highest, holiest, and sweetest privilege prepared for the Christian, he is often the most indifferent, and in its observance his feelings are the most chilled and sluggish. What an evidence—one more melancholy there cannot be—of the moral deadness of the soul by nature, that even after it is quickened with a life that brings it into union with the life of God, after the Spirit of God has entered and made it His abode there, ever dwelling and reigning and working in it, there should still remain so much deadness to that which is spiritual, especially the most spiritual of all duties, and the most precious of all privileges—communion with God.

But in the time of trouble we awake to the conviction that we are in possession of a mighty instrument, which when exerted brings all heaven and the God of heaven into our soul. We start as from a dream; and just at the identical moment when all creature assistance droops, and all earthly resources fail, we discover that we are furnished with a power of relief mightier than the mightiest angels—a power which, when exerted (we speak it with reverence), overcomes, like the wrestling patriarch, Omnipotence itself—the power of prayer! And what is prayer but God’s power in the soul of a poor, feeble worm of the dust over himself? It was no human might of Jacob which enabled him to wrestle with, and prevail with, the Angel of the Covenant; it was the power of the Holy Spirit in his soul; and when the Divine Angel yielded, He yielded but to himself; and so God had all the glory—and shall have, of all that He has wrought for us, and of all that we have wrought by Him, through eternity. Oh costly and precious privilege, that of prayer! “You people, pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”

February 13: For Those Suffering

Why let those who suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator. 1 Peter 4:19

THE God who is now dealing with you is love, all love—a God in Christ—your covenant God—your reconciled Father. All His thoughts towards you, peace; all His feelings, love; and all His dealings, mercy.

Soon will you be in His heavenly presence, and behold His unveiled glory as it beams forth from the eternal throne. Soon will you be with Jesus, shall see Him, be like Him, and dwell with Him forever. Darkness, and conflict, and sickness, and death shall cease, because sin shall cease. Then, in your blessed experience, will be realized the beatific vision—”And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.”

Let this prospect reconcile you patiently to wait all the days of your appointed time, until your change come. God is faithful. Christ, in whom you believe, is able to keep that which you have committed unto Him against that glorious day. He will perfect that which concerns you. Nothing shall be consumed in your present fiery trial, but the tin and dross. The precious and imperishable gold shall be “found unto praise, and honor, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”

Not more safe were Noah and his family, when they sailed in the ark through the storm, than is that soul who is shut up in Christ. If you have come out of yourself, have left all, and have fled to Jesus, this is your encouragement—not a soul ever perished whom the Father gave in covenant to his Son—whom the Son redeemed—whom the Spirit has regenerated, and in whom He dwells. A threefold cord keeps that precious saint—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. “Kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation.”

Oh, precious declaration! Press it with a stronger faith to your heart; for if God be for you, who can be against you? In your present state of suffering you find it difficult to think or to pray. But He, who formed you, knows your frame, “He remembers that we are dust.” There is One who thinks and prays for you. It is Jesus, your Elder Brother; the “brother born for adversity;” the great High Priest, wearing your nature, who has passed within the veil, “now to appear in the presence of God for us.” Jesus intercedes for you moment by moment.

Your faith shall not fail, your grace shall not decline, your hope shall not make ashamed; for He who came down to earth, and was wounded for your transgression, and was bruised for your iniquities, rose again from the dead, and ascended on high, now to appear in the presence of God for you. Christ prays for you, and that, when by reason of confusion of mind and weakness of body you cannot pray for yourself. Precious Jesus! You are that gentle Shepherd, who over-drives not Your little ones. When they cannot run, You do permit them to walk; and when, through feebleness, they cannot walk, You do carry them. You are He of whom it is said, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom.”

February 11: Comfort In Affliction

This is my comfort in my affliction: for your word has quickened me. Psalm 119:50.

OH, how many a deeply-tried Christian has set his seal to this truth! What is the comfort sought by the worldling in his affliction? Alas! he seeks to drown his sorrow by plunging yet deeper into that which has created it. He goes to the world for his comfort; that world that has already belied him, betrayed him, and stung and wounded him more keenly and deeply than the adder.

But turn to the man of God. What was the Psalmist’s comfort in his sorrow? Was it the lightness of his affliction? Was it the soothing tenderness and sympathy of the saints? Ah, no! it was none of these. It was the spiritual quickening his soul received through the truth of God! This healed his sorrow-stricken heart; this poured a tide of richer comfort into his deeply afflicted soul than the sweetest human balm, or even the entire removal of his trial, could have done. Oh, favored soul, who, when in deep and dark waters—when passing through the fiery furnace—are led to desire spiritual quickening above all other comforts beside—sweetly testifying, “This is my comfort in my affliction, Your word has quickened me.” That word, unfolding to us Jesus, leading us to Jesus, and transforming us into the image of Jesus, proves a reviving word in the hour of trial.

By bringing us into a closer acquaintance with the word, trial stimulates the inner life. We flee to the word for counsel or for comfort, and the word proves a quickening word. Divine correction not only teaches, but it stimulates our relish for the spiritual parts of God’s truth. In times of prosperity we are tempted to neglect the word. The world abates the keenness of the soul’s appetite. We taste no sweetness in its promises, and cannot receive its admonitions and rebukes. “The full soul loaths a honeycomb, but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.”

Replenished with created good, and surfeited with earthly comfort, the soul, in its pride and self-sufficiency, loathes the divine honey of God’s word. But when the Lord removes the creature, and embitters the world—both proving cisterns that can hold no water—then how precious becomes the word of Jesus! Not its doctrines and its consolations only, but even its deepest searching and its severest rebukes—that which lays us the lowest in the dust of shame and self-abhorrence—are then sweet as the honey and the honeycomb to our renewed taste. Then in truth we exclaim—”How sweet are Your words to my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”