By Henry Law
Each woman's son is born an heir--not to a palace or a crown, not to broad lands or mines of gold, not to ancestral lineage of fame, not to high rank among the rich and great, not to a soft seat on luxury's lap, but to the inheritance of a common portion--TROUBLE. Few are called to be honored and caressed, to be idols of admiring crowds, to outstrip others in the worldly race, to enjoy sound health and sinewy strength, to overabundance of sublunary goods; but many are called to suffering. Our usual walk is in a valley of tears. The billows of affliction swell around us, and storms of distress, with little intermission, buffet us. Where is the eye which rarely weeps? Where is the breast which seldom sighs? Bereavements go forth to their daily work. Pains and diseases do not slumber. The lament is not uncommon, "In the morning, would God it were evening! In the evening, would God it were morning!" Deut. 28:67. Wails belong not to a scanty class. We know that the white-robed multitude came out of great tribulations.
Man is indeed endowed with wondrous gifts of intellect; and mental resources, neither few nor weak, labor to exclude the entrance of trouble. But they can erect no fortress which sorrow fails to scale. They can construct no intercepting bars. Trouble has a key for every lock, and takes its seat by every chair. It is the rich man's shadow, and lies on poverty's low pallet. It marches with every camp, and sails in every fleet. It is the native of each climate, and has its root in every soil. Flight to lonely deserts will not secure escape; and crowds give no concealment. To be a human being is to be linked to trouble.
This truth cannot be controverted, for every heart confirms it. We read it in the annals of our race. It is the stamp on history's brow. In diversity--large as diversity can be--there is the oneness of distress. In Eden's garden, clear sunshine was a brief delight; obscuring clouds soon cast a dismal gloom. Sin came. All troubles thronged its rear. The woman hears--"I will greatly multiply your sorrow in your conception." The man hears--"In sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life." "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward." Job 5:7. It is our common course--our beaten path--the well-known stream, on which we float. Earth is a wide 'Bochim'. "So they called the place 'Weeping.'" Judges 2:5
Doubtless, some mitigating periods intervene. In stormy days the wind is sometimes lulled; and the sun sometimes breaks the densest clouds. In sandy deserts some green spots are found. So, in a troublous life, there are some intervals of rest. But they are not sufficient to nullify the rule that trouble is largely written on life's page.
But there is great diversity in man's inward state. Some are new-born of God--the children of eternal love--the heirs of never-ending life--the sheep of Christ's pasture--His appointed spouse--the purchase of His blood--the called of His Spirit--His joy, His portion, His delight. On them the eye of God beams lovingly; His power protects; His wisdom guides; His angels encamp around them. Will not their course be constant sunshine? Will they not soar where trouble cannot come?
Such a conclusion would be a fallacy. Their precious privileges bring not such immunity. It is forever true--"Many are the afflictions of the righteous." "We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." Acts 14:22.
But yet, there is a grand, happy, glorious distinction. They are sorrowful, yet aways rejoicing. In their lowest depths they sing. In all their trials they rejoice. In all afflictions they give thanks. Troubles thicken, but consolations more than abound. Their heart of sorrow is a heart of joy.
Many considerations bring to them support. The time of trouble is the time of thought. They suffer, and they ponder. Their eyes look inward and above. They ask, 'Whence comes this trial?' The reply is obvious. It is not the working of blind chance. God's will designs; His hand inflicts it. It is ordered in the courts of heaven. It is pre-arranged in the covenant of grace. Who will repine when he endures according to a Father's will? It is a precious word--"As many as I love I rebuke and chasten." Rev. 3:19. This is a plank which upholds the sinking heart. This is an anchor which keeps it steady in the roughest waves. The spirit cannot faint which tastes this cordial. That trouble does not dismay, which is fringed with shining evidence of heavenly mission. Then welcome trials. They subserve spiritual welfare, or they would not be sent.
But this view is general and vague. It may bewilder rather than instruct. In wide expanse particular objects are too faintly seen. Let the horizon now be narrowed; let separate cases be in turn surveyed; and troubled ones be helped to understand their own distress.
1. SICKNESS. Many are sick. Disease and languor touch most frames. The outward tenement decays, and the afflicted inhabitant groans. This case is not more sad than common. Where is the home long free from this invasion? The marvel is, that these frail bodies know long respite. Think of the marvelously constructed framework. The component parts are almost countless, and most delicate and peculiar. Each part may be the door of malady. Each nerve may be the inlet of distress. Contagion, also, floats in the surrounding air, and walks beside us in all the ways of daily life. Hence ailment is our frequent lot. Bethesda pictures our earth. In it there lies a great company of impotent folk, the prey of suffering in every form.
In sickness, then, there is no aggravating fear that it is peculiar hardship. Through all the families of earth, what multitudes are drinking the cup of sickness! Who then can expect exemption? Who will repine, because as man he has the fellow-suffering of man? To all in the flesh the liabilities of flesh are due. Such reasoning checks all murmuring complaint.
But, when this commonness is clearly seen, there may be the fear that sickness is an indication of divine displeasure. It may be asked, "If love is smiling, why does not love avert this suffering?" At Bethany the reply is sweetly given. It is stated of a family in that little town--"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." John 11:5. But Lazarus, thus loved, is sick; so sorely sick that life expires. The love of Jesus, then, is consistent with disease. Sickness is no evidence of His displeasure; suffering hours are no messengers of His wrath.
Rather may not the hope be cherished that these visitations are mercifully sent? The 'hand of love' may pluck the twigs that constitute this rod. This 'page of chastening', then, when read correctly by the 'eye of faith', may truly tell of gracious dealings. Surely this thought extracts the bitterness of the cup, and makes the Marah sweet. Welcome all pains which heavenly love inflicts!
Our Lord's conduct during His abode on earth should be a constant study. By this key we enter the secret chambers of His heart. This is the portrait of His character. In this survey special compassion for the sick is conspicuous. He sought Jerusalem at a stated feast. Apparently His feet first turned to the 'crowded home of malady'. Out of the multitude He selected a sufferer of thirty and eight years. He spoke, and health returned. May not he who has counted long years of ailment embrace the happy thought--the eyes which rested so tenderly on the infirm man of Bethesda, may now be resting tenderly on me?
In every town the sick were brought to Him. In every place they clustered round Him. Did any frown repel them? Did any denial disappoint them? As many as touched Him were made perfectly whole. What teaching is there in the scene--"When the sun was setting, all those who had any sick with diverse diseases brought them unto Him, and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them?" Luke 4:40.
Sometimes His pity yearned where no request was made. We read--"and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, 'Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.' Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God." Luke 13:11-13.
Thus, sickness was Christ's chosen sphere of mercy when on earth; and "He is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever." Heb. 13:8.
A multitude of precious words are property of the sick alone. No music charms the deaf; no prospect captivates the blind. Without appropriating sense there can be no enjoyment. Thus, without malady, how many promises become a blank! But sickness gives interest in many sweet sayings. Thus to the healthful the word is pointless--"I am the Lord that heals you." Exod. 15:26. But it is a staff to the crippled limb; a pillow to the aching head; a cordial to the fainting nerves. It tells of Jehovah's presence, omnipotent to heal. It brings to the lips the wrestling plea, "Do as you have said."
The soul of religion is experience. Happy they who have tasted and have found! The restored can say, "Now know we that the Lord is faithful; not by the hearing of the ear, not by the assurance of another's lips, but by personal experience." In the high tide of bodily strength, the word seems like a foreign tale--belonging to some other race--"The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing. You will make all his bed in his sickness." Ps. 41:3. But, when the hour of languishing has come, and underneath the everlasting arms have given support, and weakness has felt the power of heavenly help, how precious is the realization, 'No word of God has failed, nor ever can fail!'
If sickness is unknown, then recovery must be unknown also. And then, how many songs must be unsung! The inexperienced spread no thanksgiving-wings. They joy not in the promise fulfilled--"Behold, I will bring health and cure; and I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth." Jer. 33:6. But, it is rapture to exclaim, "The health is come, the cure is given; the peace, the truth in rich abundance will now surely follow."
Paul had gained much by his distress, when he testified--"We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead--who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver--in whom we trust, that He will yet deliver us." 2 Cor. 1:9, 10. The past rescue, the present calm, gave pledge of a blissful future. Sickness comes with no terror to the man who has feasted on the word, "Who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases." Ps. 103:3.
It may not be denied that active service for the Lord is happiness in full bloom. The work of each day well done, is cheerful exercise. But 'daily employments' consume time, and chain the mind to passing matters. The busy man often knows the sigh, 'Mine own vineyard is not kept. I desire the sincere milk of the word that I may grow thereby, but I have no leisure to suck large supplies.' Thus flowers unwatered droop their heads, and weeds spring up in the neglected soil. The polish becomes dim when the instrument is not well rubbed.
But if sickness comes, it severs from the all-occupying toil. Seclusion from bustle is now enforced. The intruder's step is now forbidden. Tranquil hours are now a necessity. This is a season to yield rich fruits. Meditation may now have full scope. The PAST days may be calmly reviewed. Alas, what sins, what negligences, what failures will appear! These will awaken contrite shame, and impel us to bury each transgression in the deep grave of the Redeemer's wounds. Here is the opportunity to tell our miseries to His all-gracious ears, and to sue out His perfect pardon. Self-examination now may find ample space. The weak parts of the soul's fortress may be discerned. The dangers of the way may become more visible. The need of foresight and of help may be felt more vividly. All this is gain!
Now, also, is the time to study CHRIST more quietly. Oh, the blessedness of such tranquil exercise. All His goodness may now leisurely pass before the wondering eye-it is a long train-eternity is too short to comprehend it. But sick hours give space to read the volumes of His love, His grace, His goodness, His unfailing care, His patient pitifulness, His unfailing truth, His work accomplished, His coming reign, His everlasting glory. Happy the sickness rich in such meditations!
When health is in its prime, many matters press SCRIPTURE SEARCH into brief space. But now no jostling claimants take the Bible's place. It sits a companion without rival. Now the heart may joyfully exclaim, "Oh, how love I your law--it is my meditation all the day." Ps. 119:97. "Your words were found, and I did eat them--they are the very joy and the rejoicing of my heart." Jer. 15:16. To tell the varied charms of Scripture is a boundless theme. But its grand glory is the revelation of God's love in Christ. Now is the time to feast on this delight, to bathe in this refreshing stream, to roam in this gallery of joy, and to obey the Savior's voice exhorting, "Eat, O friends; drink, yes, drink abundantly, O beloved." Song 5:1.
It may be that languor has no strength for long perusal. Doubtless, there is much grandeur in extensive prospects. The eye is charmed with a vast expanse. But when such vision is denied, is it not joy to scrutinize the tiniest flower, and mark the skill in its minutest parts? Thus a brief sentence of the Word may be meal for many languid hours; a few monosyllables from heaven may spread a table of richest dainties for the week.
There are seasons when the FLESH is found a burden and a pain. Anguish clogs the spirit's upward flight. It is happy then to think that the period of escape draws near. When death puts forth its hand, the body bids farewell to suffering. Power now invests the word, "There shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying--neither shall there be any more pain--for the former things are passed away." Rev. 21:4. In this distress how precious is the thought, "Yet a little while, and He that shall come, will come, and will not tarry," Heb. 10:37; and "He shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself." Phil. 3:21.
These pains proclaim that dissolution will not linger forever. But unless the earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, how can we have the building of God--the house not made with hands--eternal in the heavens? 2 Cor. 5:1. Thus sickness comes with many cordials. It is not unalloyed adversity. It brings many a reviving song. True is the repeated testimony, that in our hospitals the sweetest peace and truest joys are often found.
2. POVERTY. Diversity of 'economic resources' rules all society. Heavenly wisdom thus orders for general good, and opens a door through which many blessings pass. But it is common for the poor and lowly to mark with envy those of exalted rank. They think abundance shuts out many cares, and that ease dwells with wealth. It is needless to expose this obvious error. It is better to remind that Scripture gives especial cordials to the poor. Lowliness is not an unfavored lot. "Hearken, my beloved brethren, has not God chosen the poor of this world, to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He has promised to those who love Him." James 2:5. If poverty excluded grace, the poor might well bewail.
But let them sing, when they peruse, "You see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called," "but lowly things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen." 1 Cor. 1:26, 28. Let the 'son of toil' exult in reading "He raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash-heap, that He may set him with princes, even with the princes of His people."--Ps. 113:7, 8.
Remember, also, the lowly path is sanctified by Jesus' step. Though He was sovereign of all, no palace was His home. In early days the workshop was His constant employment; and when He entered on His public course, He had no where to lay His head. Both by water and by land He borrows what His need requires. Poor women shared with Him their scanty fare; and when His body rested for three days in the grave, His tomb was not His own. Let not the poor then scorn a lot so sanctified.
But poverty has many shades. Its darkest hue is abject poverty. Cases occur, which no forethought could avert, when loss of strength, deficiency of work, domestic trials, or other trouble in some pinching form, reduce to emptiness the means of living. Heavy indeed is this burden, and strong faith only can sustain. But this is the time for grace to triumph over nature's fears. Hope will pierce the intervening clouds, and see God on His all-arranging throne--reigning, loving, blessing. The promise brightens, "God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Phil. 4:19. Streams of support may seem all dry, but His fullness is forever full. The heart is now attuned to sing, "Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains." Habakkuk 3:17-19
This, also, is the time when wrestling prayer refuses to let God go; and is such prayer without success? The annals of God's saints teem with records of the largest answers. Unexpected channels most unexpectedly are opened. Hands most unlikely bring unlooked-for aid. The truth is realized, "There is nothing too hard for the Lord to do." It is forever true, "When the poor and needy seek water and there is none, and their tongue fails for thirst; I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them." Isa. 41:17.
3. DISAPPOINTED HOPES. The desire to prosper consists with heavenly grace. It is not real humility to shun the seat of eminence. Success may bring extended influence, and thus do work for God. Let no one then condemn the straining efforts in the race of life. But failure is a common condition. Instead of honor there is neglect. Instead of prominence there is obscurity. Elevation eludes the grasp. Depression then is prone to sadden. The doubt may trouble--'Where are the promises?'--"Whatever he does shall prosper." Ps. 1:3. "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." Matt. 6:33.
But pause--let no distrust of God arise. He still holds His righteous scepter. He knows the temperament of each inner man. One can walk steadily, where another would be giddy and soon fall. All shoulders cannot bear like weights. Success might ruin some, and therefore is most graciously denied. It is wisdom to prevent what painful discipline could scarcely remedy. Hence disappointment is no miscarriage of God's truth. Such crosses may be blessings in disguise. Lest Paul should be exalted above measure, there came a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to buffet him. Let the baffled rest in hope, that snares are thus escaped, and safety's path preserved. Greatness may not make truly great. Fame among men may not be honor from above.
4. REPROACH. Believers must expect the hatred of the world. The warning is most clear, "If you were of the world, the world would love his own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."--John 15:19. Hatred then will incessantly assault. Its armory is full of deadly weapons; but chief among them is the tongue, which is "set on fire by hell." It is still true of the ungodly, "their throat is an open sepulcher; the poison of asps is under their lips."
Sometimes malicious exaggeration distorts; and truth is told so as to insinuate a lie. Sometimes a venomous hint is dropped, which proves a seed whence evil crops spring up. Thus wounds are craftily given, and the fair name maligned. Sometimes falsehood stalks forth, and boldly scatters its vile calumnies. In this suffering the foremost was our blessed Lord. "The world hated Me before it hated you." John 15:18. If sinless perfection could escape, surely against Him no evil tongue would have moved. But His blamelessness envenomed man's reproach. "They laid to My charge things that I knew not." He is reviled as worse than the worst of men. "He has a devil." But as a lamb before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth, except in extenuating prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Let the reviled, then, glory in the thought-"Some lineaments of the Holy Master awaken such attacks; these are the trials of the narrow way; the godly people have this 'heritage of hate' upon them."
But when the storm beats pitilessly, heavenly shelter often intercepts all hurt. True is the word, "You shall hide them in the secret of Your presence from the pride of man--You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues." Ps. 31:20.
It may not be ignored, that the cause of the reviled is especially espoused by God; and, "if God is for us, who can be against us?" Is it not written, "God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled." 2 Thes. 1:6-7. And again, "Listen to me, you who know right from wrong and cherish my law in your hearts. Do not be afraid of people's scorn or their slanderous talk. For the moth will destroy them as it destroys clothing. The worm will eat away at them as it eats wool. But my righteousness will last forever. My salvation will continue from generation to generation." Isaiah 51:7-8.
Think, also, the reviled have claim to especial blessings. The lips of man reproach. The lips of Jesus thus solace. Which scale preponderates? "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Matthew 5:11-12. Happy they who inherit Moses' spirit. He "thought it was better to suffer for the sake of the Messiah than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the great reward that God would give him." Hebrews 11:26. The faithful word draws near with a refreshing cordial--"If you are reproached because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. "1 Peter 4:14. Welcome reproach which thus brings glory to the Lord!
5. INJURIES. But sometimes hatred rests not in inward feeling or mere speech. Injustice may deal wrongly. Oppression may do ruinous work. Malevolence may defraud. This is the time for faith to realize that its substance is far above the skies. The true riches are not here. They are where rust and moth cannot corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal. No thieving hand can reach them. For God has reserved a priceless inheritance for His children. It is kept in heaven, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. It is laid up in heaven for those who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.
The elders of the household of faith took joyfully the "the confiscation of their property, because they knew that they had better and lasting possessions." Christian annals are dark with tales of persecuting rage. But in this darkness there is light. The testimony is ever sure, "All things are yours--things present, and things to come." 1 Cor. 3:21. "The meek shall inherit the earth." He is upraised above all injury, who can say, "All things are mine in God."
6. DESERTION. Sweet is the tenderness of sympathy. Trials are bereft of bitterness, when a loving friend is near to share the sorrow, and to whisper a sustaining word. A kindly smile makes heavy burdens light. But this support is not always found. The summer brook is often dry. The weary traveler seeks its stream in vain. Thus sufferers may meet suffering alone--without an earthly arm on which to lean. But now faith reminds--this loneliness was known by Jesus. He has preceded in this solitary way. In His most extreme need, they all forsook Him and fled. Hear the plaintive sigh of Paul--"This you know, that all those who are in Asia be turned away from me." 2 Tim. 1:15. And again--"At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me. I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge."
But had he no help? Was there no support near? Did he realize unmitigated desertion? Hear his experience--"Notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me and strengthened me." 2 Tim. 4:16, 17. He felt, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." We miss no friend when we can see His smile. We need no human prop when we can lean on Him. Happy they who can clasp to the heart the assurance of Christ's fellow-sympathy. "We have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." Heb. 4:15. When friends desert, listen to His word--"Fear not; for I am with you--be not dismayed; for I am your God--I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness." Isa. 41:10.
Details in long train might still be added, and the extent of trouble not be traversed. Most hearts have some particular bitterness. An enlarged catalog would not contain each form of woe. But these are general cordials, which may be adapted to most cases. The troubled may always find comfort in words general as these--"He shall deliver you in six troubles; yes, in seven there shall no evil touch you." Job 5:19. " You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall compass me about with songs of deliverance." Ps. 32:7. "You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but You will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth." Ps. 71:20.
Some SIMPLE RULES are now adjoined to promote right use of these cordials.
1. Labor with earnest diligence for an increase of faith. This grace in exercise prevents sinking amid billows. It grasps the Savior's hand, and is kept up. It sees His smile, and darkness disappears. It is a tender and a teaching word--"Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me." John 14:1. Thus, faith is the barrier which trouble cannot pass. Who will not pray, "Lord, increase our faith?"
2. Frequent with unremitting constancy the throne of grace. Here help is ready for every time of need. There are no limits in the precept, "In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God; and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Phil. 4:6, 7. Let distress call to prayer and praise; then peace, flowing like a river, shall submerge the trouble.
3. Maintain a holy walk. Godliness has the "promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." 1 Tim. 4:8. "The Lord God is a sun and shield--the Lord will give grace and glory. No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly." Ps. 84:11. Trouble of conscience terribly augments other troubles. Relief can only come from God; and none can claim God's help, whose wills are not conformed to His.
4. Use your appointed Burden-bearer. Christ is all things to His people. Not only is His work their uttermost salvation; not only does He purchase for them deliverance from wrath and give eternal life, but He presents Himself their shelter from each storm--their refuge in each need--their present help in every trouble. They are exhorted to bring every care and cast it upon Him, knowing that He cares for them. 1 Pet. 5:7. Strength in ourselves is utter weakness; but why should our shoulders bear what He stands ready to remove?
5. Consider how short is trouble's day. "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." 2 Cor. 4:17. However sharp and keen the present anguish may be, the believer knows that yet a little while and he shall be raised far above its reach. Let trouble do its worst, its worst cannot last long.
6. Let self-examination be sincere and deep. The rod is God's appointed messenger. It is not mute. It calls to the inquiry-"Is there not purpose in this painful visitation?" Let the prayer go forth, "Search me, O God, and know my heart--try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Ps. 139:23-24. Happy the trouble which detects some lurking evil, rescues from some secret snare, shows an unsuspected leak in the frail bark, expels some lingering lust, and establishes the undivided rule of "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit."
The final counsel shall be the Lord's precept, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you; and you shall glorify Me." Ps. 50:15. The testimony will follow--"This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles."--Ps. 34:6.
"Holy Comforter, fulfill your office, and give some cordial through these words!"