May 26: Comfort Me On Every Side

“O God, you have taught me, from my youth: and hitherto have I declared your wondrous works. You, which have showed me great and sore troubles, shall quicken me again, and shall bring me up again from the depths of the earth. You shall increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.” Psalm 71:17, 20, 21.

A careful reader of David’s history cannot but be impressed with the early discipline into which this eminent servant of God was brought. He had scarcely slain Israel’s vaunting foe, while yet the flush of victory was upon his youthful brow, and the songs of applause were resounding on his ear, when he found himself placed in a position of the keenest trial and most imminent peril. The jealousy of Saul at the unbounded popularity of the youthful warrior, in whom he at once beheld a rival in his people’s affection, if not a successor to the throne, instantly dictated a policy the most oppressive and murderous. From that moment the king sought his life. And thus from being the deliverer of the nation, whom he had saved with his arm—an idol of the people, whom he had entranced with his exploit, David became a fugitive and an exile. Thus suddenly and darkly did the storm-cloud rise upon his bright and flattering prospects.

Two deeply spiritual and impressive lessons we may gather from this period of his history. How rapidly, in the experience of the child of God, may a season of prosperity and adulation be followed by one of trial and humiliation! It is, perhaps, just the curb and the correction God sends to check and to save us. We can ill sustain too sudden and too great an elevation. Few can wear their honors meekly, and none apart from especial and great grace. And when God gives great grace, we may always expect that He will follow it with great trial. He will test the grace He gives. There is but a step from the “third heaven” to the “thorn in the flesh.” Oh, the wisdom and love of God that shine in this! Who that sees in the discipline a loving and judicious Father, would cherish one unkind rebellious thought?

Another lesson taught us is, that our severest and bitterest trials may be engrafted upon our dearest and sweetest blessings. It was David’s popularity that evoked the storm now beating upon him. The grateful affection of the people inspired the envy and hatred of the king. How often is it thus with us! God bestows upon us blessings, and we abuse them. We idolize the creature He has given, and cling too fondly to the friend He has bestowed—settle down too securely in the nest He has made—inhale too eagerly the incense offered to our rank, talents, and achievements—and God often adopts those very things as the voice of His rebuke, and as the instruments of our correction.

Thus may our severest trials spring from our sweetest mercies. What a source of sorrow to Abraham was his loved Isaac; and to Isaac was his favored Jacob; and to Jacob was his precious Joseph; and to Jonah was his pleasant gourd! And what deep spiritual truth would the Holy Spirit teach us by all this?—to seek to glorify God in all our blessings when He gives them; and to enjoy all our blessings in God, when He takes then away.

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 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 26: The Trials And Temptations

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings. 1 Peter 4:12, 13.

IF, dear reader, you are in possession of real faith, even in the smallest degree, expect its conflict and its trial. It is truly remarked by the holy Leighton, that God never had but one Son without sin, and never one without suffering. The existence of faith seems necessarily to imply the endurance of suffering—not because of any intrinsic defect in faith, but in consequence of the impurity of the heart in which that faith is lodged; its perpetual admixture with the alloy of a mind but partially renewed, its constant contact with the objects and scenes of sense and of earth, render trial as essential to the purification of faith, as the flail to the pure wheat, and as the crucible to the precious metal.

The trials and temptations, therefore, with which God visits His people, are designed as tests of faith. Without them we should lack some of the strongest evidences of experimental Christianity. Who would wish the stubble and the chaff to render doubtful the existence of the true grain, or the tin and the dross to obscure the luster of the fine gold? Welcome, then, every trial and test of your faith. Welcome whatever stamps its reality, increases its strength, and heightens its luster. Nor be surprised that this, above all the graces of the Holy Spirit, should be a mark for the great enemy of God. As faith is the grace which most glorifies God, which brings the greatest degree of joy and peace into the soul, and which constitutes its mightiest shield in the conflict, it becomes an especial object of Satan’s malignant attack.

The most Christ-exalting, God-honoring, and sanctifying of all the Spirit’s graces must not expect to escape his fearful assaults. If this “gold ” was “tried in the fire” in the sinless person of Jesus, is there not a greater necessity that in our fallen and corrupt nature it should be subjected to a second process of trial? It was tried in the Head, to show that it was real gold; it is tried in the members, to separate it from the alloy with which t becomes mixed in its contact with our hearts. In the one case, the trial was to stamp its divine nature; in the other case, the trial is to purify it from the human nature. Thus are we honored to suffer, in some small degree, as our Lord and Master suffered. Therefore, beloved, “rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy.”

March 25: Sing Of His Mercy

I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto you, O Lord, will I sing. Psalm 101:1

How shall we enumerate all the blessings which result from the chastening of love? We might tell how prayer is quickened, how pride is abased, how weanedness is attained, how charity is increased, how character is formed, how meditation and solitude are sweetened, how Christ is endeared, and how God is glorified. It will be recollected, that in the ark of the covenant there was “Aaron’s rod that budded.” Our glorious covenant of grace has, too, its rod—its budding, its blossoming rod—and precious is the nature and rich the variety of the fruit which it bears. But in that ancient ark there was also the “pot of manna.” “Mercy and judgment,” bitter and sweet, light and shade, are blended in the covenant dealings of God with His people. The rod and the pot of manna go together. If the one is bitter, the other is sweet. God will never send the rod unaccompanied with the manna. Jesus, exhibited in the word, and unfolded by the Spirit, in the sweet sympathy of His nature, in the tenderness of His heart, as the “Brother born for adversity,” is the manna—sustaining and strengthening the believer, passing under the covenant-rod of God. Thus, if afflictions be grievous, the fruit they bear is gracious.

In the history of the Jewish Church there is yet another type, beautifully illustrative of God’s dealings with the chastened Christian. I allude to the pillar, which guided the pilgrimage of the Church in the wilderness. By night it was a pillar of fire, and by day it was a pillar of cloud. The darkest night of weeping that can possibly enshroud the child of God has its bright light—its alleviation, its promise, its guiding. And in the most prosperous period in the Christian’s experience, it is ordered by unerring wisdom and infinite love that there should be some counter-dispensation of trial, to preserve the just balance of the soul. It has been well remarked, that “Things never go so well with God’s children, but they have still something to groan under; nor so ill, but they have still some comfort to be thankful for.”

I would have you, then, my reader, not overlook the truth, that the covenant of grace has made provision for everything in the life of a child of God, especially for the life of suffering. It strews the richest blessings and the most profusely upon the chequered path—the path inlaid with stones of various colors, and yet each one most needful and most precious. “Oh you afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold I will lay your stones with fair colors, and lay your foundations with sapphires.” It is true that the covenant has anticipated as much the perilous season of prosperity, as the dark hour of adversity; but it always supposes the way to glory to be one of trial and of danger.

A heavenly-minded man will learn to look upon the earthly distinction and wealth which the world, so lavish sometimes of its favors, may confer upon him, as a trial and a snare, to one desirous of bearing the cross daily after his crucified Lord; and yet for this specific form of danger the covenant of grace amply provides. Be satisfied, my reader, with any station your God may assign you; believing that for every station in which He places His child, there is the grace peculiar to its exigencies treasured up for him in the everlasting covenant.

March 23: Finishing The Course

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. 2 Tim 4:7

WE are here invited to contemplate the Christian in the character of a conqueror. The battle consists of a moral conflict with inward and outward enemies, all leagued in terrible force against the soul. To this is added—what, indeed, was most peculiar to the early Church—a war of external suffering, in which penury, persecution, and martyrdom constituted the dark and essential elements.

Now it will be instructive to observe in what way Christ provides for the holy warrior’s passage through this fiery contest. It will be perceived that it is not by flight, but by battle; not by retreat, but by advance; not by shunning, but by facing the foe. The Captain of their salvation might have withdrawn His people from the field, and conducted them to heaven, without the hazard of a conflict. But not so. He will lead them to glory, but it shall be by the path of glory. They shall carve their way to the crown by the achievements of the sword. They shall have privations, and distress, and suffering, of every kind; yet while beneath the pressure, and in the very heat of the battle, victory shall crown their arms, and a glorious triumph shall heighten the splendor of their victory. And what spiritual eye does not clearly see, that in conducting His people across the battle-field, the Lord wins to Himself more renown than though He had led them to their eternal rest with entire exemption from conflict and distress?

But in what sense are we conquerors? Just in that sense in which the Holy Spirit obtains the victory. It is not the believer himself who conquers; it is the Divine Spirit within the believer. No movement is seen, no tactics are observed, no war-cry is heard, and yet there is passing within the soul a more important warfare, and there is secured a more brilliant victory, than ever the pen of the historian recorded. In the first place, there is the conquest of faith.

Where do the annals of war present such a succession of victories so brilliant, achieved by a weapon so single and simple, as is recorded in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews? And what was the grace that won those spiritual and glorious victories? It was the grace of faith! “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even your faith.” Faith in the truth of God’s word faith in the veracity of God’s character—faith in the might, and skill, and wisdom of our Commander and Leader—faith, eyeing the prize, gives the victory to the Christian combatant, and secures the glory to the Captain of his salvation.

Then there is the triumph of patience. “That you do not be slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” “And so, after he had patiently endured, He obtained the promise.” Oh, is it no real victory of the Holy Spirit in the believer, when beneath the pressure of great affliction, passing through a discipline the most painful and humiliating, the suffering Christian is enabled to cry, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in him”? “The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it”? “Not my will, but your, be done”? Suffering child of God, “let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”

And then there is the conquest of joy. “Having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.” “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into diverse temptations,” or trials. Why is trial an occasion of joy? Because it is the triumph of the Holy Spirit in the soul. And does not Christ say, “You shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy”? Who but Jesus can turn our sorrow into joy?—not only assuaging our griefs, alleviating our sufferings, and tempering the furnace-flame, but actually making our deepest, darkest sorrows the occasion of the deepest gladness, praise, and thanksgiving.

Oh, yes! it is a glorious victory of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, in the soul, when it can enable the believer to adopt the words of the suffering apostle, “I am filled with comfort, I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.” Suffering reader! Jesus knows how to turn your sorrow into joy. Confide your grief to Him, and He will cause it sweetly to sing.

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 18: The Lesson Of Submission

I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because you did it. Psalm 39:9.

THERE are few lessons taught in God’s school more difficult to learn, and yet, when really learned, more blessed and holy, than the lesson of filial submission to God’s will. There are some beautiful examples of this in God’s word. “And Aaron held his peace.” Since God was ” sanctified and gloried,” terrible as was the judgment, the holy priest mourned not at the way, nor complained of its severity, patient and resigned to the will of God. Thus, too, was it with Eli, when passing under the heavy hand of God: “It is the Lord, let Him do what seems Him good.” He bowed in deep submission to the will of his God. Job could exclaim, as the last sad tidings brimmed his cup of woe, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” And David was “dumb and opened not his mouth, because God did it.” But how do all these instances of filial and holy submission to the Divine will—beautiful and touching as they are—fade before the illustrious example of our adorable and blessed Lord: “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, your will be done.” Oh, how did Jesus, in the deepest depth of His unutterable sorrow, “behave and quiet himself as a child that is weaned of his mother: his soul was even as a weaned child.” Such, beloved, be the posture of your soul at this moment. “Be still!” Rest in your Father’s hands, calm and tranquil, quiet and submissive, weaned from all but Himself. Oh, the blessedness of so reposing!

“Sweet to lie passive in His hands,
And know no will but His.”

“God’s love!” It is written upon your dark cloud—it breathes from the lips of your bleeding wound—it is reflected in every fragment of your ruined treasure—it is penciled upon every withered leaf of your blighted flower—”God is love.” Adversity may have impoverished you—bereavement may have saddened you—calamity may have crushed you—sickness may have laid you low—but “God is love.” Gently falls the rod in its heaviest stroke—tenderly pierces the sword in its deepest thrust—smilingly bends the cloud in its darkest hues—for “God is love.”

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.”