By John MacDuff
"The joy of our heart is ceased."--Lamentations 5:15
The retrospect of the past, in its power to excite joy or grief, depends very much on our present condition. So long as we are prosperous, we can look back with feelings of delight--so long as we are healthy, we can think of the years that have gone by with pleasure--so long as there are no missing children in the family circle, we can recall the days of childhood with joyful emotion. And it is the same with our spiritual nature--so long as we have the inward consciousness that the light of God's countenance is shining upon us, we are glad and joyous--so long as we have peace, calmness, rest of soul, we can think of other days without a tear.
But let events change, and how changed are we! When prosperity departs, what pain do we often experience in recalling scenes which can no more return! When disease lays us prostrate, how sadly do we think of the time of health! And when inward soul-trouble comes upon us, when we are sick at heart, how do we cry with the patriarch, "Oh that it were with me as in months past!"
Reader, has not some such feeling been experienced by you in the time of sickness and trial? Perhaps it has been your lot to be summoned to the endurance of trial when your sky seemed brightest, when hope filled your bosom, and the pathway of life was fair and pleasant. Suddenly the sky became overcast--health declined, the rose-color faded from the cheek, the canker-worm gnawed at the vitals, and weakness and weariness took the place of strength and vigor! No longer able to mingle in the crowd, destitute even of strength to discharge accustomed duty--oh, have not past joys, the recollection of days of health, of innocent enjoyment with friends you dearly loved, of scenes in which without one sigh of weariness you were accustomed to be a part--have not these things come upon you with painful intensity during days and nights of languor, suffering, and wakefulness?
We have all felt this--all of us, at least, who know what is meant by failing strength, by increasing debility, by helpless prostration, by long-continued sickness. At such times we must pray more earnestly for grace--grace to keep us from repining--grace to enable us to see that God still designs kindly--grace to realize what might have been lost to us by unbroken health, but gained by us in the time of sickness--grace to be grateful that we ever had joys in the past while we only merited sorrows--grace to extract all the good which is treasured up for us by our heavenly Father, in that which to a careless eye seems only evil.
For let us remember that what we count joy is not really so; and the blessed lot is not to live on in the world unchastened and unchecked--undisturbed by sorrow or suffering, having our good things in this life, left to our own ways--it is to lie low (well is it for us if it be of our own accord, yet anyhow to lie low!) under the Savior's cross. Though for a time the cross lies heavy upon us, it is not so heavy as sin; though it wounds us, they are "the wounds of a Friend;" though it opens the floodgates of grief, it is that we may be partakers of heavenly joy; though it seems to rob us of some things which we counted precious, it is that we may obtain others infinitely more valuable--enduring as eternity itself.
And if sickness become the means of drawing us more closely to Christ--if the discipline we are now undergoing (albeit it separates us from what we counted our joys) is intended to work for good, to clear our hearts from dross, to enable us to see Him as once we saw Him not, amid the shadows of this busy life of trifles, and to admit us to the high and holy privilege of hearing His voice sounding closer to us than it ever did before--oh, shall we murmur or complain that these "past joys" are no longer ours? Shall we not cease from repining or impatience when we think of His present gracious purpose regarding us, and say, "Lord, do with me as You desire. Carry on Your own work, and make me submissive to Your will."
Be this your prayer, suffering Christian, and sickness will be the means of awakening within your heart songs of "joy" which will gladden every remaining step of your pilgrimage here, and sound throughout the ages of a blessed eternity. "Past joys" will then seem small in comparison with "present." Gradually you will see the unfolding of the plan of Providence, and be amazed to find that "all things,"--joy and sorrow, ease and pain, health and sickness, were working together for your good, that the great end which your Father had chiefly in view, in all your afflictions--was the glory of His name, in your spiritual health and recovery, in your being brought to the knowledge of Himself, in your being made a chosen vessel full of His power and of the riches of His grace.
Had your day continued all sunshine, your earthly joys ever increasing, and your health, ease, and worldly comfort suffering no break--you would soon have forgotten God--soon have wandered far from the Savior--soon have become unmindful of your character and destiny.
"It needs our hearts be weaned from earth,
It needs that we be driven
By loss of every earthly stay
To seek our joys in heaven.
Yes, we must follow in the path
Our Lord and Savior run,
We must not find a resting-place
Where He we love had none."
Oh! then, was it not in mercy that the dark shadow crossed your path--that the painful visitation came from God--that the hand of love arrested you--and that you were called to become the tenant of the sick-room and the sick-bed, with their weariness and their pain--their days of languor, and their nights of restlessness?
You are brought there by Him "who does not afflict willingly;" into His own school, there to learn to read His own handwriting; to learn Heaven's holy alphabet--to see that 'earthly sorrow' is the heavenly name for joy, and bodily pain for spiritual improvement, and the present wounding of the heart for its healing and eternal cure. You are brought there that, by the power of His Holy Spirit, He may mold your heart as He will, may purify, and enlighten, and soften, and strengthen, and deepen it by His presence in the cloud and mystery of sorrow.
Oh, then, do not think so much of "past joys" as of securing, in this hour of sickness, the peace, the comfort, the joy of a "present Savior." With Him by your side, you will be able to "rejoice in tribulation;" you will bid it welcome; you will cherish it as a heavenly visitant--a messenger sent from above with healing to your soul. You will find "the rainbow in the cloud"--the Savior's light arising out of darkness, His form upon the troubled waters; and if He hushes them not, He will say to your soul, "Fear not; for I am with you." He will make it more joyful for you to lie down in trouble and anguish, while He is with you, than ever any of the joys of this world were while He was less present with you, or wherein you forgot, and turned aside from Him.
Suffering, in itself, were it a punishment for sin--would be oppressive, hopeless--but through God's mercy in Christ, it is His healing medicine, to burn out our wounds, and purify us for His presence. Every throb of pain, every pang of soul-agony, is a messenger from Him, testifying, if we will regard it, His fatherly care--tempering our cup with pain and sorrow, as He sees needful for us, loosening our hold of this life--leading up there, where there shall be no pain--humbling us, as being creatures who require it, and deserve far more--teaching us to look into ourselves, to see for what disease in us this medicine has been sent.
Yes, every sorrow we meet with, is a billow on this world's tumultuous sea, which we must cross, to bring us nearer to our home. Every robbed earthly enjoyment is a weight removed from off us, which was crushing down our spirits when they should have been soaring upwards heavenwards--homewards--Godwards.
So walking on earth, you may be in heaven--you may be a partaker of that "joy with which a stranger cannot intermeddle," of that "peace which passes all understanding;" you may live beside the throne of grace, drawing closer the ties which no privation, nor suffering, nor vicissitude can dissolve; you may connect "a time of need" with the best and brightest manifestations of mercy and grace to your soul.
The remembrance of "past joys" will not then be dangerous or painful to you. Your "present joy" will be better far--the joy of near and sweet communion with your God and Savior--the joy of so hearkening to His voice of love, that pain and sorrow are utterly forgotten--the joy of being so "alone with God," that every murmuring is hushed, every disquietude removed--the joy of having such a manifestation of the Redeemer's glory to your soul as will shed a calm and blissful radiance around every prospect, and proves the pledge of that better heritage where "there is fullness of joy for evermore."
Oh, then, look earnestly to Him--try to realize His presence--hearken for His voice of love; and instead of murmuring because past joys cannot be recalled, pray that "present joy" may be imparted--that the Savior may hold communion with you, and pour into your heart that "joy which no man takes from you"--that the language of your soul may be--
"Lord, as You will! nor this, nor that I will--
Lord, as You will, so only let it be!
Lord, I am Yours! Your pleasure, Lord, fulfill!
I, as a child, will lift mine eyes to Thee."
Gracious and merciful Father! who does not willingly afflict the children of men; but do rebuke and chasten those whom You loves--look down upon me, Your unworthy servant, and have mercy upon me for Christ's sake! I acknowledge the justice and the mercy of Your dealings with me. Oh, keep me from murmuring because past joys are no longer mine. Give me to feel that You know the discipline I need, and that earthly joy cannot impart heavenly peace. Although You have visited me with sickness, and laid Your hand upon me, oh grant that I may still have inward joy and comfort. May I have grace to surrender all things into Your hands, referring the disposal of them to You--and that heartily and fully. Even in the darkest night of sorrow may I cast anchor in You, and repose on You when I see no light, remembering that this world is not my hope, nor the place of my rest, but the place of my trial and conflict; and that my home is above. Good Lord and Father, of Your infinite mercy You have called me to eternal glory--save me, then, I pray You, from ever being so ungrateful as to repine against You, and so to drown precious heavenly blessings in any little trouble that befalls me; give me more deep thoughts of the joys of the world to come; lift my eyes to that state where Your saints now rejoice before You; direct my steps to it, and lead me towards it, cheerful and unwearied, by an assured hope that the joyful day will at length come, when, as Christ's disciple, I too shall be admitted into the fullest light. Oh, give me grace to cast myself wholly on Your mercy, and neither to despise Your chastenings, nor faint under them; but, with resignation to Your blessed will, and acknowledgment of Your paternal love, to speak good of Your name, now and ever, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.