My heart is smitten down, and withered like grass. I am even as a sparrow that sitteth alone on the housetop--Ps. cii. 4, 6.
My lovers and friends hast Thou put away from me, and hid mine acquaintance out of my sight--Ps. lxxviii. 18.
I looked on my right hand, and saw there was no man that would know me. I had no place to flee unto, and no man cared for my soul. I cried unto Thee, O Lord, and said, Thou art my Hope. When my spirit was in heaviness, then Thou knewest my path.--Ps. cxlii. 4, 5.
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous, yea, our God is merciful. I was in misery, and He helped me.--Ps. cxvi. 5, 6.
It is sorrow--sorrow and failure--which forces men to believe that there is One who heareth prayer, forces them to lift up their eyes to One from whom cometh their help. Before the terrible realities of danger, death, disappointment, shame, ruin--and most of all before deserved shame, deserved ruin--all arguments melt away; and the man or woman, who was but too ready a day before to say, "Tush, God will never see and will never hear," begins to hope passionately that God does see, that God does hear. In the hour of darkness, when there is no comfort nor help in man, when he has no place to flee unto, and no man careth for his soul, then the most awful, if most blessed of all questions is, But is there no One higher than man to whom I can flee? No One higher than man who cares for my soul, and for the souls of those who are dearer to me than my own soul? No friend? No helper? No deliverer? No counsellor? Even no judge? No punisher? No God, even though He be a consuming fire? Am I in my misery alone in the universe? Is my misery without any meaning and without hope? If there be no God, then all that is left for me is despair and death. But if there be, then I can hope that there is a meaning in my misery; that it comes to me not without cause, even though that cause be my own fault. Then I can plead with God, even though in wild words like Job; and ask, What is the meaning of this sorrow? What have I done? What should I do? I will say unto God, "Do not condemn me; show me wherefore Thou contendest with me. Surely I would speak unto the Almighty; I desire to reason with God." Oh, my friends, a man, I believe, can gain courage and wisdom to say that only by the inspiration of the Spirit of God. But when once he has said that from his heart, he begins to be justified by faith; for he has had faith in God. He has trusted God--and more--he has justified God. He has confessed that God is not a mere force or law of Nature; nor a mere tyrant and tormentor; but a Reasonable Being who will hear reason, and a Just Being who will do justice by the creatures He has made.
The deeper, the bitterer your loneliness, the more you are like Him who cried upon the cross, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" He knows what that grief, too, is like. He feels for thee at least. Though all forsake thee, He is with thee still, and if He be with thee, what matter who has left thee for a while? Ay, blessed are those that weep now, for whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth; and because He loves the poor, He brings them low. All things are blessed now but sin; for all things excepting sin are redeemed by the life and death of the Son of God. Blessed are wisdom and courage, joy and health, and beauty and love and marriage, childhood and manhood, corn and wine, fruits and flowers; for Christ redeemed them by His life. And blessed, too, are tears and shame, blessed are weakness and ugliness, blessed are agony and sickness, blessed the sad remembrance of our sins, and a broken heart and a repentant spirit. Blessed is death, and blest the unknown realms, where souls await the resurrection day, for Christ redeemed them by His death. Blessed are all things, weak as well as strong. Blessed are all days, dark as well as bright, for all are His, and He is ours; and all are ours, and we are His for ever.
Therefore sigh on, ye sad ones, and rejoice in your own sadness; ache on, ye suffering ones, and rejoice in your own sorrows. Rejoice that you are made free of the holy brotherhood of mourners; rejoice that you are counted worthy of a fellowship in the sufferings of the Son of God. Rejoice and trust on, for after sorrow shall come joy. Trust on; for in man's weakness God's strength shall be made perfect. Trust on; for death is the gate of life. Endure on to the end, and possess your souls in patience for a little while, and that, perhaps, a very little while. Death comes swiftly, and more swiftly still perhaps, the day of the Lord. The deeper the sorrow, the nearer the salvation:--
The night is darkest before the dawn; When the pain is sorest, the child is born; And the day of the Lord at hand.
Thou who art weary and heavy laden; thou who fanciest at moments that the Lord's arm is shortened that it cannot save, and art ready to cry, God hath forgotten me, take comfort, and look upon Christ. Thou wilt never be sure of the love of God, unless thou rememberest that it is the same as the love of Christ; and by looking at Christ, learnest to know thy Father and His Father, whose likeness and image He is, and see that the Spirit which proceeds alike from both of them is the Spirit of humanity and love, which cannot help going forth to seek and to save thee, simply because thou art lost. Look, I say, unto Christ; and be sure that what the good Samaritan did to the wounded traveller, that same will He do to thee, because He is the Son of Man, human and humane.
Art thou robbed, wounded, deserted, left to die, worsted in the battle of life, and fallen in its rugged road, with no counsel, no strength, no hope, no purpose left? Then remember that there is One walking to and fro in this world unseen, but ever present, whose form is as the form of the Son of Man. And He has time, as He has will, to turn aside and minister to such as thee! No human being so mean, no human sorrow so petty, but that He has the time and the will and the power to have mercy on it, because He is the Son of Man. Therefore He will turn aside even to thee, whoever thou art, who art weary and heavy laden, and can find no rest for thy soul, at the very moment, and in the very manner which is best for thee. When thou hast suffered long enough, He will stablish, strengthen, settle thee. He will bind up thy wounds, and pour in the oil and the wine of His Spirit--the Holy Ghost, the Comforter--and will carry thee to His own inn, whereof it is written, "He will hide thee secretly in His own presence from the provoking of men; He will keep thee in His tabernacle from the strife of tongues. He will give His angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways;" and He will give thee rest at last in the bosom of the Father, from which thou, like all human souls, camest forth at first, and to which thou shalt at last return, with all human souls who have in them the Spirit of God and of Christ, and of eternal life.
Discipline and other Sermons.
We all like comfort. But what kind of comfort do we not merely like, but need? Merely to be comfortable? To be free from fear, anxiety, sorrow? The comfort which poor human beings want in such a world as this is not the comfort of ease, but the comfort of strength. The comforter whom we need is not one who will merely say kind things, but give help--help to the weary, lonely, heavy-laden heart which has no time to rest. We need not the sunny and smiling face, but the strong helping arm. For we may be in that state that smiles are shocking to us, and mere kindness--though we may be grateful for it--of no more comfort to us than sweet music to a drowning man. We may be miserable, and unable to help being miserable, and unwilling to help it too. We do not wish to flee from our sorrow: we do not wish to forget it. We dare not. It is so awful, so heart-rending, so plain-spoken, that God, the master and tutor of our hearts, must wish us to face it and endure it. Our Father has given us the cup--shall we not drink it? Oh! for a comforter who will help us to drink the bitter cup--who will give us faith to say, with Job, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him"--who will give us the firm reason to look steadily at our grief, and learn the lesson it is meant to teach--who will give us the temperate will to keep sober and calm amid the shocks and changes of mortal life! If we had such a comforter as that, we should not care if he seemed at times stern, as well as kind; we could endure rebuke from him if we could only get from him wisdom to understand the rebuke, and courage to bear the chastisement. Where is that comforter? God answers: That Comforter am I, the God of Heaven and Earth. There are comforters on earth who can help thee with wise words and noble counsels, can be strong as man and tender as woman. But God can be more strong than man, more tender than woman likewise; and when the strong arm of man supports thee no longer, yet under thee are the Everlasting Arms.
All Saints-Day Sermons.
. . . You are disappointed. Do remember if you lose heart about your work, that none of it is lost. That the good of every good deed remains, and breeds, and works on for ever; and that all that fails and is lost is the outside shell of the thing, which perhaps might have been better done, but better or worse has nothing to do with the real spiritual good which you have done to men's hearts, for which God will surely repay you in His own way and time.
Letters and Memories.
Don't be downhearted if outward humiliation, disappointment, failure, come at first. If God be indeed our Father in any real sense, then whom He loveth He chasteneth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. And "till thou art emptied of thyself, God cannot fill thee," though it be a law of the old Mystics, is true and practical common sense. Go thy way, though the way to true light is a long ladder.
Letters and Memories.
As for any schemes of mine, it is a slight matter whether they have failed or not. But the failure of a hundred schemes would not alter my conviction that they are attempts in a right direction; and I will die in hope, not having received the promises, but beholding them afar off, and confessing myself a stranger and a pilgrim.
So I am content to have failed. I have learnt in the experiment priceless truths concerning myself, my fellow-men, and the City of God, which is eternal in the heavens, for ever coming down among men, and actualizing itself more and more in every succeeding age.
Letters and Memories.
We have hope in Christ for the next life as well as for this--hope that in the next life He will give us power to succeed where we failed here; that He will enable us to be good and to do good, and, if not to make others good (for there we trust all will be good together), to enjoy the fulness of that pleasure for which we have been longing on earth--the pleasure of seeing others good, as Christ is good and perfect, as their Father in Heaven is perfect.
All Saints-Day Sermons.
There are many who have in them, by grace of God, the divine thirst for the higher life; who are discontented with themselves, ashamed of themselves; who are tormented by longings which they cannot satisfy, instincts which they cannot analyse, powers which they cannot employ, duties which they cannot perform, doctrinal confusions which they cannot unravel; who would welcome any change, even the most tremendous, which would make them nobler, purer, juster, more loving, more useful, more clear-hearted and sound-minded; and, when they think of death, say with the poet--
'Tis life, not death, for which I pant, 'Tis life whereof my nerves are scant, More life, and fuller, that I want.
To them we can say, for God has said it long ago--Be of good cheer. The calling and gifts of God are without repentance. If you have the divine thirst, it will be surely satisfied. If you long to be better men and women, you will surely be so. Only be true to those higher instincts; only do not learn to despise and quench that divine thirst; only struggle on, in spite of mistakes, of failures, even of sins, for every one of which last your Heavenly Father will chastise you, even while He forgives; in spite of all disappointment struggle on. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for you shall be filled. To you, and not in vain, "The Spirit and the Bride say, Come. And let him that is athirst, Come. And whosoever will, let him drink of the water of life freely."
Water of Life--Sermons.
The heart and soul of man wants more than "a religion," as it is written, "My soul is athirst for God, even the Living God." They want a living God, who cares for men, forgives men, saves men from their sins; and Him I have found in the Bible, and nowhere else, save in the facts of life, which the Bible alone interprets.
Letters and Memories.
What was Christ's life? Not one of deep speculation, quiet thoughts, and bright visions; but a life of fighting against evil; earnest, awful prayers and struggles within, continual labour of body and mind without; insult and danger and confusion and violent exertion and bitter sorrow. This was Christ's life--this is the life of almost every good and great man I ever heard of. This was Christ's cup, which His disciples were to drink of as well as He; this was the baptism of fire with which they were to be baptised of as well as He; this was to be their fight of faith; this was the tribulation through which they, and all other great saints, were to enter into the kingdom of heaven. For it is certain that the harder a man fights against evil the harder evil will fight against him in return; but it is certain too that the harder a man fights against evil, the more is he like his Saviour Christ, and the more glorious will be his reward in heaven.
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