Thus is the Christian’s acknowledgement – fully satisfied with the dispensation of God. This is his confidence-so invigorating to his own soul-so cheering to the church. The Lord’s dealing are called his judgments-not a having judicial curses, but as the acts of his justice in the chastening of sin. (1 Pet. iv. 17.) Perhaps also-as the administration of his wise judgments in their measure and application. (Jer. x. 24. Comp. Isa. xxvvii.8.) But here is not only the confession of the Lord’s general judgment, but of his special faithfulness to himself. And this he knew-not from the dictates of the flesh 9which would have given a contrary verdict), but from the testimony of the word (Deut. xxxii. 4), and the witness of his own experience. (Verse 137; cxlv. 17.) It could not be doubted-much less denied-‘I know, O Lord, that thy rules of proceeding are agreeable to thy perfect justice and wisdom; and I am equally satisfied, that the afflictions that thou has laid upon me from time to time, are only to fulfil thy gracious and faithful promise of making me eternally happy in thyself.’ Blessed fruit of affliction! When we can thus “see the end of the Lord, that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy”-that his “thoughts towards us are thoughts of peace, and not of evil!”(Jam. v. 11. Jer. xxix. 11.) “The patience and faith of the saints” teach this difficult but most consoling lesson, in deciphering the mysterious lines in God’s providence.
The child of God under the severest chastisement must acknowledge justice. Our gracious reward is always more –our “punishment always less, than our iniquities deserve.” (Ezra, ix. 13. Comp. Job xi. 6.) “Wherefore should a living man complain?” (Lam. iii. 39.) In trouble he is indeed-but not in hell. If he complain, let it be of none but himself, and his own wayward choice. I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right-and who can doubt the wisdom? Who could charge the operator with cruelty, in cutting out the proud flesh, that was bringing death upon the man? Who would not acknowledge the right judgment of his piercing work? Thus, when the Lord’s painful work separates us from our sins, weans us from the world, and brings us nearer to himself, what remains for us, but thankfully to acknowledge his righteousness and truth? Unbelief is put to rebuke; and we, if we have indulged suspicion “that God hath forgotten to be gracious,” must confess, “This is our infirmity.” (Ps. lxxvii. 7-10.)
This assurance of the Lord’s perfect justice, wisdom and intimate knowledge of our respective cases, leads us to yield to his appointments in dutiful silence. Thus Aaron, under his most afflictive domestic calamity, “held his peace.” (Lev. x. 1-3.) Job under a similar dispensation was enabled to say-“The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job, i. 21. Comp. ii. 10.) Eli’s language in the same trial was, “It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good.” (1 Sam. iii. 18.) David hushed his impatient spirit-“I was dumb; I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it.” And when Shimei cursed him, he said, “Let him alone; let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him.” (Ps. xxxix. 9. 2 Sam. xvi. 11, 12.) The Shunamite, in the meek resignation of faith, acknowledged –“It is well.” (2 Kings, iv. 26.) Hezekiah kissed the rod, while it was smiting him to the dust-“Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken.” (Isa. xxxix. 8.) Thus uniform is the language of the Lord’s people under chastisement-I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right.
But the confession of justice may be mere natural conviction. (Exod. ix. 27. Judges, i. 7. 2 Chron. xii. 6.) Faith goes further, and speaks of faithfulness. David not only acknowledges God’s right to deal with him as he saw fit, and even his wisdom in dealing with him as he actually had done, but his faithfulness in afflicting-not his faithfulness though he afflicted-but in afflicting him; not as if it were consistent with his love, but as the very fruit of his love. It is not enough to justify God. What abundant cause is there to praise him! It is not enough to forbear to murmur. How exciting is the display of his faithfulness and love! Yes-the trials appointed for us are none else than the faithful performance of his everlasting engagements. And this cause we may always trace (and it is our privilege to believe it, where we cannot visibly trace it) the reason of much that is painful to the flesh. (Ps. lxxxix. 30-32. Deut. vii. 16. Comp. Ps. cvii. 43.) Let us only mark its gracious effects in our restoration- instruction (Verse 71, and texts),-healing of our backslidings (Hos. ii. 6, 7, 14), and the continual purging of sins (Isa. xxvii. 9; xlviii. 10. Zech. xii. 9. John xv. 2)-and then say -‘Is not the faithfulness of God gloriously displayed?’ The Philistines could not understand Samson’s riddle-how “Meat could come out of the eater, and sweetness out of the strong.” (Judg. xvi. 14.) As little can the world comprehend the faithfulness of the Christian’s trials; how his gracious Lord sweetness to him the bitter waters of Marah (see Exod. xv. 23-25), and makes the cross not so much the punishments as the remedy of sin. He finds therefore no inclination, and he feels that he has no interest in having any change made in the Lord’s appointments, revolting as they may be to the flesh. He readily acknowledges that his merciful designs could not have been accomplished in any other way; while under trials many sweet tokens of love are vouchsafed, which, under circumstances of outward prosperity, could not have been received with the same gratitude and delight. You that are living at ease in the indulgence of what this poor world can afford, how little does the Christ envy your portion! How surely in some future day will you be taught by experience to envy his! The world’s riches are daily becoming poorer, and its pleasures more tasteless; and what will they be, and how will they appear, when eternity is at hand! Whereas affliction is the special token of our Father’s love (Heb. xii. 6 Rev. iii. 19), conformity to the image of Jesus, and preparation for his service and kingdom. It is the only blessing that the Lord gives, without requiring us to ask for it. We receive it therefore, as promised, not as threatened; and when the “peaceable fruits of righteousness,” which it worketh in God’s time and way, spring up in our hearts, humbly and gratefully will we acknowledge the righteousness of his judgments, and the faithfulness of his correction
“They that fear thee, will be glad when they see me: because I have hope in thy word.” (Verse 74, Psalm 119)
How cheering is the sight of a man of God! How refreshing his converse! How satisfactory and enlivening is the exhibition of his faith! The goodness of God to one becomes thus the joy and comfort of all. What an excitement is this to close communion with our God that the light which we thus receive will shine on those around us! What a comfort will it be even in our own hour of temptation, that the hope, which we may then be enabled to maintain in the word of God, shall prove the stay, not only of our own souls, but of the Lord’s people! Many a desponding Christian, oppressed with such fears as this- “I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul” (1 Sam. xxvii.1)-when he hears of one and another exercised in the same trials, and who have hoped in God’s word, and have not been disappointed, will be glad when he sees them. Thus David recorded his conflicts, that we may not despair of our own; and his triumphs, that “in the name of our God we might set up our banners.” (Psalm xx. 5.) “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” (Ps. xxvii. 13, 14.) Thus also, under affliction, he was comforted with the thought of comforting others with the history of his own experience-“My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. O praise the Lord with me, and let us magnify his name together. He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God. Many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord. Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name; the righteous shall compass me about, for thou shalt deal bountifully with me.” (Ps. xxxiv. 2, 3, P. T.; cxlii. 7. Comp. also lxix. 30-32.)
In this view, the believer, who has been “sifted in the sieve” of temptation, without the least “grain” of faith or hope “falling upon the earth” (Amos ix. 9), stands forth as a monument of the Lord’s faithfulness, to “strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees, and to say to them that are fearful heart, Be strong, fear not.” (Isa. xxxv. 3, 4.) Those that are “fearful, and of little faith,” are glad when they see him. They “thank God” for him, and “take courage” (Acts, xxviii. 15) for themselves. What a motive is this to keep us from despondency; that, instead of destroying by our unbelief, those who are already “cast down,” we may enjoy the privilege of upholding their confidence, and ministering to their comfort! And how should the weak and distressed seek for and prize the society of those, who have been instructed by the discipline of the Lord’s school!
Believer! What have you to tell to your discouraged brethren of the faithfulness of your God? Cannot you put courage into their hearts, by declaring that you have never been “ashamed of your hope?” Cannot you tell them from your own experience, that Jesus “is for a foundation-stone, a tried stone, a sure foundation?” (Isa. xxviii. 16.) Cannot you show them, that, because he has borne the burden of their sins, he is able to “bear their griefs, and to carry their sorrows” (Isa. liii. 4)? That you have tried him, and that you have found him so? Oh! Be animated to know more of Christ yourself; let your hope in him be strengthened, that you may cause gladness in the hearts of those that, see you; so that, “whether you be afflicted, or whether you be comforted, it may be for their consolation and salvation.” (2 Cor. i. 6.)
But, O my God! How much cause have I for shame, that I impart so little of thy glorious light to those around me! Perhaps some poor trembling sinner has been glad when he saw me, hoping to hear something of the Saviour from my lips, and has found me straitened, and cold, and dumb. Oh! That I may be so “filled with the Spirit,” so experienced in thy heavenly ways, that I may invite “all that fear thee to come to me,” that I may “declare what thou hast done for my soul” (Ps. lxvi. 16); so that, “when men are cast down, they may say, There is lifting up.” (Job, xxii. 29.)
“Remove from me reproach and contempt; for I have kept thy testimonies.”
The proud under the rebuke of God are usually distinguished by their enmity to his people. They delight to pour upon them “reproach and contempt,” with no other provocation given, than that their keeping the testimonies of God condemns their own neglect. (Heb. xi. 7.) This must, however, be counted as the cost a decided, separate, and consistent profession. Yet it is such a portion as Moses valued above all the treasures of the world (Heb. xi. 24-26); yet it is that reproach, which our Master himself “despised,” as “reckoning it not worthy to be compared with” “the joy that was set before him.” (Heb. xii. 2.) For did he bear his cross only on the way to Calvary? It was laid for every step in his path; it met him in every form of suffering, of “reproach and contempt.” Look then at him, as taking up his daily cross in breathing the atmosphere of a world of sin, and “enduring the contradiction of sinners against himself.” (Heb. xii. 3.) Mark him consummating his course of “reproach and contempt,” by suffering “without the gate;” and can we hesitate to “go forth unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach?” (Heb. xiii. 12, 13.) …….
But let us beware of that “way of escape” in returning to the world, which the insincere are ever ready to purse. They dare not act according to the full conviction of their consciences: they dare not confront their friends with the avowal of their full determination to form their conduct by the principles of the word of God. This is hard – this is impossible. They know not the “victory that overcometh the world” (see 1 John, v. 4, 5), and, therefore, cannot bear the mark upon their foreheads – “These are they, which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.” (Rev. xiv. 4.) Far better, however, will be the heaviest weight of “reproach and contempt,” than any such endeavour to remove it from ourselves. The desire to escape the cross convicts the heart of unfaithfulness, and makes way for tenfold difficulties in our path. Every worldly compliance against the voice of God is a step into the by-path, which deviates wider and wider from the strait and narrow way, brings discredit upon our professions, proves a stumbling block in the way of the weak, and will cause us, if not actually to come short, at least to “seem to come short, of the promised rest.” (Heb. iv. 1.)
But is the weight of the cross really “above that we are able to bear?” He that bore it for us will surely enable us to endure it for him, and upheld by him, we cannot sink. It is a sweet exchange, by which the burden of sin is removed and bound to his cross; and what remains to us is the lighter cross of “reproach and contempt,” – the badge of our discipleship. (Matt. xvi. 24.) If, than, we have the testimony of our consciences, that in the midst of the persecuting world we “keep his testimonies” (Verses 61, 69, 87, 95, 110), here is our evidence of adoption, of our Father’s special love, of the indwelling, comforting, supporting Spirit. (John, xiv. 15-18. 21-23.) Here, then, is our warrant of hope, that the overwhelming weight will be removed from us; and that we shall be able to testify to our Master’s praise in the Churches of God, that “his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.” (Matt. xi. 30.)