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Sermons from the Psalms, 6 - The Transiency of Tears

By Clovis G. Chappell


      "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Psalm 30:5

      Clovis G. Chappell: WHAT a gem of a text! Of course there are many who do not believe it, who feel that it is beautiful poetry and nothing more. There may be those who have found life especially hard, who will fling away from it indignantly, declaring that it simply is not true, that their tragic experiences have demonstrated its utter falsity. But, its truth or falsity aside for the moment, surely it is a faith that is well worth possessing. To those who flatly declare that they cannot believe it I think our poet would say what the artist, Turner, said to a woman who could see no fidelity in his picture of the sunset. "Why, Mr. Turner," she said, "I never saw a sunset like that." "Aye, Madam," was the answer, "but don't you wish you could?" "O, poet of the sunny face," you may cry wistfully or petulantly, "I cannot share your optimistic faith" "Aye," he answers, "but don't you wish you could?"

      What is the faith of this psalmist? He is daring to tell us that in this world of change and decay, in this world where our hearts are so often broken and our faces so often wet with tears, that joy may be a more abiding guest than sorrow. He does not promise exemption from sorrow. He makes no claim to the discovery of an ideal world. But what he does say is that while weeping may come in as a wayfarer and spend the night, that the unwelcome guest need not abide, that he need not establish himself upon our shoulders like an old-man-of-the-sea. He may remain for the night, but he cannot abide the dawning of the day. Tears may come, but they will be transient. With the rising of the sun they will vanish like the dew or be kissed into jewels by its splendor. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."

      What a beautiful reading of things, and how refreshingly unique! It is just the opposite of the commonly accepted view. Are we not constantly reminding ourselves of the transiency of our joys? How often, for instance, we look upon the innocent and care-free play of children with a mingling of envy and pity. How joyful they are, and how soon they must leave it all behind, pass out of their Eden of morning gladness into a harsh and rugged world where the stones will bruise their feet and where the thorns will pierce not their bodies only, but their hearts as well. How fleeting is the springtime of life! And the springtime of the heart is often more fleeting still. Byron found it so:

      "'Tis not on youth's smooth cheek alone
      The blush that fades so fast,
      But the tender bloom of heart is gone
      Ere youth itself is past.

      O, could I feel as once I felt
      And be what I have been
      And weep as I could once have wept
      O'er many a vanished scene.

      As springs in deserts found seem sweet
      All brackish though they be,
      So midst the withered waste of life
      Those tears would flow to me."

      Then there is the joy of courtship between a man and a maiden, the thrill of a growing love, the romance of marriage, the gladsome glamor of the honeymoon, the sweet climax of the making of a home. But we are told that these joys are also fleeting. Too often the romance does not outlast the honeymoon. The radiance soon dies and wedded life sinks down into the dull, drab commonplace.

      The other day we were to have a wedding at the church of which I am pastor. As I was going in to perform the ceremony I noticed the car in which the bride and groom were to go to the station to begin their honeymoon. Somebody had decorated it with a flaring placard which pictured a man and a woman glaring angrily and disgustedly at each other. Under the picture were these words: "When you get what you want, you don't want it." Of course it was only a joke, but it is too often the tragic truth to be amusing. And even where love lives and our dreams come true, sorrow soon calls. How lovely was the home of your childhood, but to-day that home is only a memory. There is no road that leads to it, for it is a part of a buried yesterday.

      This note of the transiency of our joys is one that sobs its way through much of our literature. Every one knows that -

      "Pleasures are like poppies spread,
      You seize the flower, the bloom is shed;
      Or, like the snowfall in the river,
      A moment white, then melts forever." (Robert Burns, ca. 1780)
      Again we say urgently

      "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
      Old Time is still a-flying,
      And this same flower that smiles today
      To-morrow will be dying." (Robert Herrick, 1648)
      Or we sing plaintively

      "Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
      The bridal of the earth and sky;
      The dew shall weep thy fall to-night;
      For thou must die." (George Herbert, ca. 1630)

      And old Omar with his mug of wine at his lips, seizes us almost rudely by the shoulders and shakes us frantically, urging us to drink and enjoy our fleeting moment of laughter while we may.

      "A momentary taste of happiness amid the waste,
      Then the nothing we set out from, O make haste."

      Shakespeare also speaks to the same purpose, showing us a man on the point of arriving only to be quickly overtaken by disaster.

      "And when he thinks, good easy man, full sure his honors are a-ripening, then comes a frost, a killing frost." (Henry VIII)
      And so they go on endlessly with their songs of the transiency of joy. But here is a glad voice raised to tell us that it is weeping that is soon gone. It may tarry for a night, but joy will surely come with the morning.

      II

      How did our poet come by this conviction?

      It is heartening to realize that his faith is not born of a stubborn refusal to face the ugly facts of life. He does not believe that weeping will abide only for a night because he has shut his eyes to the grim tragedies that are the fountain source of our tears. How fruitful in tears, for instance, is the horrid fact of sin. But this poet does not deny the reality of sin. No more does he deny the reality of pain. Nor does he deny that final calamity called death. He faces all the terrifying foes that encompass us and still clings to his buoyant faith.

      Then we may be further heartened by the fact that this bracing text is not the easy optimism of one who has lived on the sunny side of the street and has had everything come to him right side up. There is something positively provoking in the cocksure preaching of one who has never put the efficacy of his gospel to the test. This was what made old battle-scarred Carlyle rage at times against the complacent optimism of Emerson. He felt that this man whose voyage had been so largely over smooth seas had no right to speak with such assurance to those who had encountered little else than seas that had been whipped into rage by fierce tempests.

      But this poet is speaking out of his own experience. That is the glory of these psalms. They were lived before they were written. When, therefore, this singer tells us that, though weeping may tarry for a night, joy will come with the morning, he is telling us a truth to which he has come by the painful path of experience. He is bringing us a conviction that, at great cost, he has hammered out upon the anvil of his own soul.

      He even traces for us the road along which he traveled to his sunny faith. For years life dealt most kindly and gently with him. Sickness and sorrow came to others, but not to him. The hearse drew up in front of other homes, but not in front of his. He knew that suffering and tears were a part of the human lot, but he did not realize it. Reports of the tragedies that were taking place day by day in the lives of men and women all about him seemed somehow strangely remote. He tried after a fashion to enter into sympathy, but could not. The stories of their sorrows seemed to come to him from a distant world.

      So long did his prosperity continue that it intoxicated him. He began to look upon himself as made of superior clay to those about him. As last he said complacently: "I shall never be moved." Then, like a bolt from the blue, the blow fell. Before he could realize what was happening, the light had gone out of his sky, and life for him had toppled into ruins.

      What had happened? Well, he who had gone for years without an ache or a pain suddenly found himself the prey of some disease. He went for the first time to consult a physician. The doctor looked him over, and his face went grave. "What's wrong?" the patient asked anxiously. But the doctor only shook his head. "But I demand to know," he persisted. Then the doctor told him. He passed death sentence upon him, telling him frankly that he must suffer and that there was no remedy but death. Then followed dreary days and nights of hopeless suffering during which he tried to be brave. But his efforts became more and more futile.

      At last, in his bewilderment at God's perplexing ordering of things, he lost his faith. With physical and spiritual health gone a strange guest came into his home. That guest was weeping. He was not welcome, but he tarried none the less. He sat with him at every meal and by so doing, stole the taste from the most palatable of dishes. He even insisted upon sharing his bed with him. Therefore his nights were long and full of agony. And what made his situation utterly desperate was the dismal conviction that his unbidden guest must stay with him always.

      But when all earthly hope was gone, he decided to make one last effort. Maybe the God who seemed to have forsaken him would help him even yet. Certainly, he felt, there ought to be one in a world like ours who could help when all human help had failed. So this sorely troubled man, this man whose physical tortures were almost forgotten in the presence of his tortures of soul, gave himself to prayer. He threw himself in his weakness into the Everlasting Arms (Deut. 33:27), and God did not fail him.

      "He has turned for me my mourning into dancing," he sings proudly. "He came," he declares, "like a wise and tender nurse and removed my galling garment of sackcloth and decked me in a garment of gladness." And when he looked round for that unwelcome guest that he thought would never leave, lo, he found that he had gone, and that a new guest, songful joy, had come in his place. "And what God has done for me," he declares with assurance, "he will do for you. Weeping may tarry for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."

      III

      What is the good of this faith?

      1. It keeps alive our hope. Keeping alive our hope, it also enables us to carry on with patient courage. It is hard to see things through with honor if hope is gone. Some manage it, but it is very difficult. But while some can carry on when hope is dead, many cannot.

      Sometime ago I looked into the face of one who had committed suicide. It was a pathetic face. Why did he fling out of life? He lost hope. To-day was full of trouble and perplexity. Out ahead he saw a troop of to-morrows coming that looked as hopeless as to-day. Therefore he lost heart and gave over the fight. The night of weeping may be long and lonely, but we shall not turn coward and give up the battle if we are sure that joy is coming in the morning.

      2. Not only will this faith give us hope and thereby minister to our courage and patient endurance, but it will be light to us during the night of our weeping. Such a faith will pluck sorrow's bitterest sting. What is it that makes our sorrow so bitter? It is our conviction of its finality, its irremediableness. If we could only feel that there is a cure, it would not be so hard. But the persistent refrain of sorrow is so often that of Poe's Raven, "Nevermore." The blow falls, and we look upon the ruins and sob, "The tender grace of a day that's dead will never come back to me." But how different it would be if we only believed that weeping is but temporary, that joy cometh in the morning.

      Here, for instance, is a mother whose only laddie is gone from home. How still the house is and how desperately lonely! Then there is a knock at the door, a little slip of yellow paper is put into her hand. "Will be home to-morrow," it reads, and the name signed to it is that of her boy. A moment later the house is just as still and empty as it was before the message came. But in spite of that, the loneliness is gone from the mother's heart and a great joy has come in its place.

      And to you who are passing through a long night of weeping, I bring you a message. Hear it, and your heart will sing. A guest is coming to you. He is on his way. Soon he will turn the knob of your door and enter. Joy is coming in the morning. Nobody can be utterly cast down who believes that.

      IV

      But is such a faith possible for us who live in these perplexing days? This psalmist had been suffering from some deadly disease. He had been so close upon the gates of death that he was almost reckoned among the dead. In his desperate plight he had cried to God, and God had heard and healed.

      Can we, too, then believe that God will always heal the sick and suffering that cry to him? We cannot. There are those who pray just as earnestly as this poet, who, in spite of all their prayers, in spite of the prayers of those who love them, go quickly down to death. Then there are others who go on suffering for long, torturing years. Paul was such a one. He pleaded earnestly and insistently for the removal of his thorn, but his request was not granted.

      But while God does not always see fit to give physical healing in answer to our prayers, he does something that is vastly better. He gives to him who really prays an inner strength, a calm courage that enables him to bear whatever load is laid upon him. He gives in answer to prayer a quiet heart, an abiding peace, a fullness of life that makes mere physical healing seem small and trifling. For it is possible to have the most vigorous of bodies and yet be a very weak and sickly soul. But our very bodily weakness that drives us to Christ becomes a source of spiritual strength. We learn with Paul that his grace is sufficient, and we shout with him "Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Cor. 12:9)

      Then this text may have a richness of meaning for us to which even this psalmist himself was a stranger. Since his distant day Christ has come, bringing life and immortality to light through the gospel. We have heard him say: "Ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy." We believe that this is true in the here and now. We believe that it is going to be true in a finer and fuller sense in the dawning of that eternal morning to which he has encouraged us to look forward. "Let not your heart be troubled ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you." (John 14:1)

      These are the words of our candid Christ. Since they are true we are safe in cherishing the wildest dreams for the future. In the presence of pain and change, in the presence of death itself we sing with calm confidence: "Joy cometh. It is coming now. It will come in its fullness, in the morning."

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