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.

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February 11: Comfort In Affliction

This is my comfort in my affliction: for your word has quickened me. Psalm 119:50.

OH, how many a deeply-tried Christian has set his seal to this truth! What is the comfort sought by the worldling in his affliction? Alas! he seeks to drown his sorrow by plunging yet deeper into that which has created it. He goes to the world for his comfort; that world that has already belied him, betrayed him, and stung and wounded him more keenly and deeply than the adder.

But turn to the man of God. What was the Psalmist’s comfort in his sorrow? Was it the lightness of his affliction? Was it the soothing tenderness and sympathy of the saints? Ah, no! it was none of these. It was the spiritual quickening his soul received through the truth of God! This healed his sorrow-stricken heart; this poured a tide of richer comfort into his deeply afflicted soul than the sweetest human balm, or even the entire removal of his trial, could have done. Oh, favored soul, who, when in deep and dark waters—when passing through the fiery furnace—are led to desire spiritual quickening above all other comforts beside—sweetly testifying, “This is my comfort in my affliction, Your word has quickened me.” That word, unfolding to us Jesus, leading us to Jesus, and transforming us into the image of Jesus, proves a reviving word in the hour of trial.

By bringing us into a closer acquaintance with the word, trial stimulates the inner life. We flee to the word for counsel or for comfort, and the word proves a quickening word. Divine correction not only teaches, but it stimulates our relish for the spiritual parts of God’s truth. In times of prosperity we are tempted to neglect the word. The world abates the keenness of the soul’s appetite. We taste no sweetness in its promises, and cannot receive its admonitions and rebukes. “The full soul loaths a honeycomb, but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.”

Replenished with created good, and surfeited with earthly comfort, the soul, in its pride and self-sufficiency, loathes the divine honey of God’s word. But when the Lord removes the creature, and embitters the world—both proving cisterns that can hold no water—then how precious becomes the word of Jesus! Not its doctrines and its consolations only, but even its deepest searching and its severest rebukes—that which lays us the lowest in the dust of shame and self-abhorrence—are then sweet as the honey and the honeycomb to our renewed taste. Then in truth we exclaim—”How sweet are Your words to my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

January 3: Pressing Onward

Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 1 Co2. 2:2.

FAITH, picturing to its view the cross, the Holy Spirit engraving it on the heart in spiritual regeneration, the whole soul receiving Him whom it lifts up, as its “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,” gently and effectually transforms the spirit, that was chafed and restless, into the “meekness and gentleness of Christ.” Oh what calmness steals over his ruffled soul! oh what peace flows into his troubled heart! oh what sunshine bathes in its bright beams his dark spirit, who, from the scenes of his conflict and his sorrow, flees beneath the shadow and the shelter of the cross!

The storm ceases—the deluge of his grief subsides—the Spirit, dove-like, brings the message of hope and love—the soul, tempest-tossed, rests on the green mount, and one unbounded spring clothes and encircles the landscape with its verdure and its beauty. Child, chastened by the Father’s love, look to the cross of your crucified Savior; and as you fix upon it your believing, ardent, adoring gaze, exclaim—
“Wearily for me you sought,
On the cross my soul you bought;
Lose not all for which you wrought.”

What is your sorrow compared with Christ’s? What is your grief gauged by your Lord’s? Your Master has passed before you, flinging the curse and the sin from your path, paving it with promises, carpeting it with love, and fencing it around with the hedge of His divine perfections. Press onward, then, resisting your foe resolutely, bearing your cross patiently, drinking your cup submissively, and learning, while sitting at the Savior’s feet, or leaning upon His bosom, to be like Him, “meek and lowly in heart.”

September 25: Lose Your Life To Find It

“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever will save his life shall lose it: but whoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” Luke 9:23, 24

The life of our adorable Lord was a life of continuous trial. From the moment He entered our world He became leagued with suffering; He identified Himself with it in its almost endless forms. He seemed to have been born with a tear in His eye, with a shade of sadness on His brow. He was prophesied as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

And, from the moment He touched the horizon of our earth, from that moment His sufferings commenced. Not a smile lighted up His benign countenance from the time of His advent to His departure. He came not to indulge in a life of tranquility and repose; He came not to quaff the cup of earthly or of Divine sweets—for even this last was denied Him in the hour of His lingering agony on the cross. He came to suffer—He came to bear the curse—He came to drain the deep cup of wrath, to weep, to bleed, to die. Our Savior was a cross-bearing Savior: our Lord was a suffering Lord.

And was it to be expected that they who had linked their destinies with His, who had avowed themselves His disciples and followers, should walk in a path diverse from their Lord’s? He Himself speaks of the incongruity of such a division of interests: “The disciple is not above his Master, nor the servant above his Lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master, and the servant as his Lord.” There can be no true following of Christ as our example, if we lose sight of Him as a suffering Christ—a cross-bearing Savior.

There must be fellowship with Him in His sufferings. In order to enter fully and sympathetically into the afflictions of His people, He stooped to a body of suffering: in like manner, in order to have sympathy with Christ in His sorrows, we must, in some degree tread the path He trod. Here is one reason why He ordained, that along this rugged path His saints should all journey. They must be like their Lord; they are one with Him: and this oneness can only exist where there is mutual sympathy.

The church must be a cross-bearing church; it must be an afflicted church. Its great and glorious Head sought not, and found not, repose here: this was not His rest. He turned His back upon the pleasures, the riches, the luxuries, and even the common comforts of this world, preferring a life of obscurity, penury, and suffering. His very submission seemed to impart dignity to suffering, elevation to poverty, and to invest with an air of holy sanctity a life of obscurity, need, and trial.

We have seen, then, that our blessed Lord sanctified, by His own submission, a life of suffering; and that all His followers, if they would resemble Him, must have fellowship with Him in His sufferings. The apostle Paul seems to regard this in the light of a privilege. “For unto you,” he says, “it is given in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” It seems, too, to be regarded as a part of their calling. “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.”

Happy will be that afflicted child of God, who is led to view his Father’s discipline in the light of a privilege. To drink of the cup that Christ drank of—to bear any part of the cross that He bore—to tread in any measure the path that He trod, is a privilege indeed.

This is a distinction which angels have never attained. They know not the honor of suffering with Christ, of being made conformable to His death. It is peculiar to the believer in Jesus—it is his privilege, his calling.

July 26: The Chastened Ones

“Blessed is the man whom you chasten, O Lord, and teach him out of your law.” Psalm 94:12

That there is a present partial understanding of God’s will and ways concerning us we readily concede. We may, now and then, see a needs-be for His conduct. The veil is just sufficiently lifted to reveal a portion of the “end of the Lord.” He will make us acquainted with the evil which He corrects, with the backsliding which He chastens, with the temptation which He checks, and with the dangerous path around which He throws his hedge; so that we cannot escape.

We see it, and we bless the hand outstretched to save. He will also cause us to be fruitful. We have mourned our leanness, have confessed our barrenness, and lamented the distance of our walk, and the little glory we bring to His dear name–and lo! the dresser of the vineyard has appeared to prune His sickly branch, “that it may bring forth more fruit.” “By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin.” The deeper teaching, too–the result of the Divine chastenings–has revealed to some extent the “end of the Lord” in His mysterious conduct. Oh, there is no school like God’s school; for “who teaches like Him?” And God’s highest school is the school of trial.

All his true scholars have graduated from this: “Who are these which are arrayed in white robes? and where came they? These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Ask each spiritually, deeply taught Christian where he attained his knowledge, and he will point you to God’s great university–the school of trial.

July 21: Help In Time Of Need

“Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities.” Romans 8:26

The word here rendered “helps” properly means to take part with. It implies, not merely sympathy with, but a personal participation in our infirmity. The Spirit helps our infirmities by sharing them with us. Now take the general infirmities of the believer–infirmities which, unaided by another and a superior power, must crush and overwhelm–and trace the help thus afforded by the Spirit. We are taught to adore the love of the Father, from where each rill of mercy has its rise. We delight to dwell upon the love of the Son, through whose channel all redemption-blessing flows. And shall we overlook the love of the Holy Spirit? Shall we forget His comforts, His grace, His succourings? Forbid it, oh eternal and blessed Spirit! Your essential Deity–Your personal subsistence–Your tender love–Your Divine power–Your efficacious grace–Your sovereign mercy–Your infinite patience–Your exquisite sympathy–all demand our deepest love, and awake our loftiest praise.

But how is this sympathy of the Spirit expressed? Seeing the soul bound with an infirmity, all His compassion is awakened. Approaching, He takes hold of the burden. Constrained by a love which no thought can conceive, moved by a tenderness no tongue can describe, He advances, and places the power of His Godhead beneath the pressure–and thus He helps our infirmity. Do you doubt this? We summon you as a witness to its truth.

Why are you not a ruin and a wreck? Why has not your infirmity long since dethroned reason, and annihilated faith, and extinguished hope, and clad all the future with the pall of despair? Why have you ridden serene and secure upon the crest of the billow, smiling calmly upon the dark and yawning surges dashing and foaming around you? Why have you, when your heart has been overwhelmed, found relief in a sigh, in a tear, in an uplifted glance, in one thought of God?

Oh, it has been because the Spirit, all silent and invisible, was near to you, sympathizing, helping, bearing your infirmities. Because around you the power of His Deity was placed. And when you have staggered and turned pale, and have well near given up all for lost, resigning yourself to the broodings of despair, that Spirit has approached, all-loving and powerful, and helped, by sharing your infirmity. Some appropriate and precious promise has been sealed upon your heart–some clear and soothing view of Christ has been presented to your eye–some gentle whisper of love has breathed upon your ear–and you have been helped.

The pressure has been lightened, the grief has been assuaged, the weakness has been strengthened, and you have risen superior to the infirmity that bowed you to the dust. Oh, it was the Spirit who helped you. Grieved, and wounded, and slighted a thousand times over though He has been, receiving at your hands the unkindest requital for the tenderest love, yet when your infirmity bowed you to the earth, and the sword entered your soul, He drew near, forgetting all your base ingratitude, and administered wine to your dejected spirit, and oil to your bleeding wound, and placed beneath you the encircling arms of His everlasting love.

July 8: Sojourners & Strangers

“For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” Hebrews 13:14

The true believer in Jesus is a traveler. He is journeying to a city of habitation, to the mount of God–and, blessed be God, he will soon be there!

The apostle Peter dedicates his pastoral letter to the “strangers scattered” abroad–the people of God dispersed over the face of the earth. Such is the Church of Christ. It is sometimes incorrectly called “the visible Church.” The idea is unscriptural. Visible churches there may be, but a visible Church there is none. The saints of God are “strangers and pilgrims” scattered abroad. Here on earth they have no permanent abode, no certain resting-place.

The Church is in the wilderness, journeying through it. The present is called the “time of our sojourning.” We are but wayfarers at an inn, abiding only for a night. “Here we have no continuing city.” We are strangers and sojourners, as all our fathers were. But this, beloved, is the reconciling, animating thought–we are journeying to the dwelling of God. We are on our way to the good land which the Lord our God has promised us; to the kingdom and the mansion which Jesus has gone to take possession of and to prepare for us.

In a word–and this image is the climax of the blissful prospect–we are hastening to our “Father’s house,” the home of the whole family in heaven and in earth, the residence of Christ, the dwelling-place of God.

To this each believer in Jesus is journeying. The road is difficult, the desert is tedious–sometimes perilous from its smoothness, or painful from it roughness; its difficultness now wearying, its intricacy now embarrassing. But who will complain of the path that conducts him to his home? Who would yield to the sensation of fatigue, who is journeying to an eternal rest?

Much of the disquietude and repining of spirit peculiar to the pilgrimage of the saints arises from the faint conceptions which the mind forms of the coming glory. We think too faintly and too seldom of heaven. The eye is bent downwards, and seldom do we “lift up our heads” in prospect of the “redemption that draws near.”

And yet how much there is in the thought of glory, in the anticipation of heaven–its nature and associations–calculated to stimulate, to cheer, and to allure us onwards! It is the place where we shall be sinless; it is the residence where we shall see God; it is the mansion where we shall be housed with Christ; it is the home where we shall dwell with all the saints; it is the point at which are collecting all the holy of earth, some of whom have already left our embrace for its holier and happier regions, and whom we shall meet again.

Why, then, should we be cast down because of the difficulty of the way, or for one moment lose sight of the glory that awaits us, or cease to strive for the fitness essential to its enjoyment? In a little while–oh, how short the journey!–and we shall be there. Then we shall realize, to their fullest extent, the beauty and the sweetness of the description so often read and pondered with tears of hope– “You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to thousands of angels in joyful assembly. You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven.

You have come to God himself, who is the judge of all people. And you have come to the spirits of the redeemed in heaven who have now been made perfect. You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which graciously forgives instead of crying out for vengeance as the blood of Abel did.” O my soul! will you not stretch every nerve, endure every privation, and relinquish every weight, thus to reach this glorious city of God?

May 14: Our Sanctuary

“And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves.” Mark 9:8

It is possible, my dear reader, that this page may be read by you at a period of painful and entire separation from all public engagements, ordinances, and privileges. The way which it has pleased God to take thus to set you aside may be painful and humbling.

The inmate of a sick chamber, or curtained within the house of mourning, or removed far remote from the sanctuary of God and the fellowship of the saints, you are, perhaps, led to inquire, “Lord, why this?” He replies, “Come apart, and rest awhile.” Oh the thoughtfulness, the discrimination, the tenderness of Jesus towards His people! He has set you apart from public, for private duties, from communion with others for communion with Himself. Ministers, friends, privileges are withdrawn, and you are- oh enviable state!- alone with Jesus. And now expect the richest and holiest blessing of your life!

Is it sickness? Jesus will make all your bed in your sickness, and your experience shall be, “His left hand is under my head, and His right hand embraces me.” Is it bereavement? Jesus will soothe your sorrow and sweeten your loneliness; for He loves to visit the house of mourning, and to accompany us to the grave, to weep with us there. Is it exile from the house of God, from the ordinances of the Church, from a pastor’s care, from Christian fellowship? Still it is Jesus who speaks, “There will I be unto you as a little sanctuary.”

The very circumstances, new and peculiar as they are, in which you are placed, God can convert into new and peculiar mercies, yes, into the richest means of grace with which your soul was ever fed. The very void you feel, the very need you deplore, may be God’s way of satiating you with His goodness.

Ah! does not God see your grace in your very desire for grace? Does He not mark your sanctification in your very thirsting for holiness? And can He not turn that desire, and convert that thirst, into the very blessing itself? Truly He can, and often does. As one has remarked, God knows how to give the comfort of an ordinance in the desire of an ordinance. And He can now more than supply the absence of others by the presence of Himself.

Oh, who can compute the blessings which now may flow into your soul from this season of exile and of solitude? Solitude! no, it is not solitude. Never were you less alone than now. You are alone with God, and He is infinitely better than health, wealth, friends, ministers, or sanctuary, for He is the substance and the sweetness of all. You have perhaps been laboring and watching for the souls of others; the Lord is now showing His tender care for your soul.

And oh, if while thus alone with Jesus you are led more deeply to search out the plague of your own heart, and the love of His- to gather up the trailing garment- to burnish the rusted armor- to trim the glimmering lamp- and to cultivate a closer fellowship with your Father, how much soever you may mourn the necessity and the cause, you yet will not regret that the Lord has set you apart from others, that you might rest awhile in His blest embrace- alone with Jesus.

May 7: Our Utter Insufficiency

“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing.” Romans 7:18

The Lord will cause His people to know their total weakness and insufficiency to keep themselves, and that, too, not notionally, not theoretically, nor from what they hear, or from what they read, but from their own deep personal experience of the truth: yes, He is perpetually causing them to learn it. I do not allude merely to that blessed period when the Holy Spirit first lays His axe at the fabric of their self-righteousness- truly they first learn it then- but it is a truth they become growingly acquainted with; it is a lesson they are made daily to learn; and he becomes the most perfectly schooled in it, who watches most narrowly his own heart, is most observant of his own way, and deals most constantly and simply with the cross of Jesus.

With regard to the way which the Lord adopts to bring them into the knowledge of it, it is various. Sometimes it is by bringing them into great straits and difficulties, hedging up their path with thorns, or paving it with flints. Sometimes it is in deep adversity after great prosperity, as in the case of Job, stripped of all, and laid in dust and ashes, in order to be brought to the conviction and the confession of deep and utter vileness. Sometimes it is in circumstances of absolute prosperity, when He gives the heart its desire, but sends leanness into the soul. Oh, how does this teach a godly man his own utter nothingness! Sometimes it is by permitting the messenger of Satan to buffet- sending and perpetuating some heavy, lingering, lacerating cross. Sometimes by the removal of some beloved prop, on which we too fondly and securely leaned- putting a worm at the root of our pleasant out-spreading gourd, drying up our refreshing spring, or leading us down deep into the valley of self-abasement and humiliation.

But the great school in which we learn this painful yet needed and wholesome lesson, is in the body of sin which we daily bear about with us. It was here Paul learned his lesson, as the seventh chapter of his letter to the Church at Rome shows, and for which Epistle the saints of God will ever have reason to praise and adore the blessed and eternal Spirit. In this school and in this way did the great apostle of the Gentiles learn that the most holy, deeply taught, useful, privileged, and even inspired saint of God was in himself nothing but the most perfect weakness and sin.

Do not be cast down, dear reader, if the Lord the Spirit is teaching you the same lesson in the same way; if He is now ploughing up the hidden evil, breaking up the fallow ground, discovering to you more of the evil principle of your heart, the iniquity of your fallen nature, and that, too, it may be, at a time of deep trial, of heavy, heart-breaking affliction. Ah! you are ready to exclaim, “All these things are against me. Am I a child of God ? Can I be a subject of grace, and at the same time be the subject of so much hidden evil, and of such deep, overwhelming trial? Is this the way He deals with His people?”

Yes, dear believer, you are not solitary nor alone; for along this path all the covenant people of God are traveling to their better and brighter home. Here they become acquainted with their own weakness, their perpetual liability to fall; here they renounce their former thoughts of self-power and of self-keeping; and here, too, they learn more of Jesus as their strength, their all-sufficient keeper, more of Him as their “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” Cheer up, then, for the Lord your God is leading you on by a safe and a right way to bring you to a city of rest.

March 29: The Rod Of Love

“I know, O Lord, that your judgments are right, and that you in faithfulness have afflicted me.” Psalm 119:75.

The mark of a vigorous love to God is when the soul justifies God in all His wise and gracious dealings with it; rebels not, murmurs not, repines not, but meekly and silently acquiesces in the dispensation, be it ever so trying. Divine love in the heart, deepening and expanding towards that God from where it springs, will, in the hour of trial, exclaim, “My God has smitten me, but He is my God still, faithful and loving. My Father has chastened me sorely, but He is my Father still, tender and kind.

This trying dispensation originated in love, it speaks with the voice of love, it bears with it the message of love, and is sent to draw my heart closer and yet closer to the God of love, from whom it came.” Dear reader, are you one of the Lord’s afflicted ones? Happy are you if this is the holy and blessed result of His dealings with you. Happy if you hear the voice of love in the rod, winning your lonely and sorrowful heart to the God from whom it came.

But when love to God has declined, the reverse of this is the state of a tried and afflicted believer; and hard thoughts of God in His dispensations may be regarded as an undeniable symptom of such declension.