Songs in the Night!
Archibald G. Brown, June 26th, 1870, Stepney Green Tabernacle
"God my Maker, who gives songs in the night?" Job 35:10
It is impossible to doubt that this world is a world of sorrow. Go where you will and wander ever so far — you still find yourself unable to get beyond the region of grief. Like the atmosphere, sorrow bounds everything; and it is a hopeless task to endeavor to get outside its circle. You will find sorrow giving a saddened tone to conversation; leaving its mark and impress on the face of man; and driving its deep furrow across his brow. Sorrow finds its way into the heart — and also steals within the home; for there is not a homestead in England or the wide world over, that does not sometimes have the shadow of grief cast across its threshold. The noise of a great city does not frighten sorrow away — nor does the calm and quiet of a country village afford any protection from its entrance.
Although we here this morning differ in many respects, in one thing we all agree: "Every heart knows its own bitterness." We do not care how old or how young the heart may be — there is not one that is a stranger to grief, or unacquainted with sorrow. Trouble is the portion of all; and while we stay here on earth we are sure to have our appointed share. "Man is born for trouble as surely as sparks fly upward!" Job 5:7. "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows." John 16:33
But if it is a sad truth that sorrow abounds everywhere, I think it is a far sadder truth that even though many are afflicted — few get any good from their affliction. Although all have sorrow, how few are the better for their sorrows. We are not, beloved, among those who believe there is any haphazard or chance in the afflictions that fall to our lot. We believe that God rules, and that he "who makes the clouds his chariot, and who walks upon the wings of the wind" has a purpose in all the troubles that beset our path and grieve our heart.
But take mankind at large, and how few are benefitted by their afflictions, or improved by their sorrows. Take the great mass of the ungodly: they have their sorrows — and yet you may go into a thousand homes where grief seems to reign triumphantly, and you will find that the deeper their sorrows — the deeper their sins. God may strike down one comfort after another, and blast a hundred hopes in succession — and the only sad result is that the heart becomes the harder. If trouble would convert the world, it would have been converted long before this. If affliction had power to break the hard sinful heart of the natural man, broken hearts would not be so scarce as they are.
But it is a Scriptural truth that, just as God's favors — apart from the influence of the Holy Spirit — fail to draw men to God; so trials unblessed by God, equally fail to drive men to Him. I think there are some here this morning who have been struck by God over and over again — and yet like the brutish ox, you have only kicked at the goads that pricked you, and you are as far off from God as if He had not chastened you at all.
And is it not a sad thing too, that what is true of the mass of the ungodly — is also true of a large number of God's true children? We do not learn the lessons which God would teach us by our chastisements. The tear never rolls down the cheek of the saint — unless God meant that tear to teach us something.
God never chastens His children without a purpose. Can you imagine an earthly parent who loves his child fondly, inflicting pain upon him wantonly, without rhyme or reason? Impossible! And will our Father who is in Heaven and who has within his heart a boundless ocean of love — will He lay upon His redeemed children even the lightest stroke without some purpose? Never!
And yet like Israel of old, how often we are chastened by God and never ask the reason why — or kiss the divine hand that holds the rod.
I think those solemn words in the fourth chapter of Amos, where God says, " "I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town — yet you have not returned to Me, declares the LORD."
Turn to the chapter and read the eighth verse. "People staggered from town to town for water but did not get enough to drink — yet you have not returned to Me, declares the LORD."
The same sad truth is proclaimed in the ninth verse, "Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards, I struck them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees — yet you have not returned to me, declares the LORD."
Listen to the sad echo of the tenth verse, "I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps — yet you have not returned to Me, declares the LORD."
Listen again to the eleventh verse, "I overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire, yet you have not returned to Me, declares the LORD."
Here you find God chastening his people over and over again with all kinds of chastisement — and yet He had this sad charge as often to bring against them, "Yet you have not returned to Me!" All these verses will apply to many of us as well.
Oh, believer! The reason why some of us are troubled so long, is because we are such dull scholars. The reason why the trial is so often on our threshold, is because we have not returned to the Lord. As the verse of our text expresses, we have been oppressed and afflicted — and yet none of us have said, "Where is God my maker, who gives songs in the night;" so that you will see the charge which is brought against us is this — that when we have been stricken by God, instead of turning to him with lamentation and inquiry — we have in our troubles, shunned him.
It is not our purpose this morning to dwell on the subject of unsanctified affliction — but to take the latter clause of the verse, "God who gives Songs in the Night." And our subject is one well calculated to give joy to the heart, if the Holy Spirit will but carry it there.
Our subject is this — that there is sufficient in our God to give to every saint a song, even during his darkest night of sorrow. Or in other words, however lonely and gloomy the night through which we may be called to pass — there is sufficient in our God to give us cause for rejoicing.
If this is true, I think we have alighted upon a deep well of refreshing water this morning. If it is a blessed fact that whatever my troubles are, I have a repository of joy to sustain me, even in the darkest moment — then if I do not rise up as upon eagles' wings, it is beyond strange.
Child of God, up to this morning you have been like Hagar in the wilderness, trying to get water from the bottle; you have gone from one earthly source to the other seeking joy — and as you sit here now, like her, you are full of despair. Where is your water-bottle? It is dry and cracked and useless; and you are saying with an almost broken heart, "Where am I to get water from?" Here it is before you in this book! Look at the text, "God who gives songs in the night." Turn away from your dusty bottle — and see if there does not spring up at your very side a well of sparkling water.
Our error has been that we have tried to get our joy from the things of this present life — we have tried to draw our happiness from earthly sources; whereas there is sufficient in our God to make us joyful even during the darkest night.
Let me try to explain and point out how this is so. I think it is because:
I. Our sufficiency in God is in no way affected by our outward circumstances.Let me put this as clearly as I can. It does not matter what your outward circumstances may be, or how changed they may become — they in no way alter that sufficiency which, as a saint, you have in God. So that if in times of prosperity you ever found anything in your God which gave you cause to rejoice — you have that same cause undiminished now, however adverse your circumstances may be. Let me mention a few things that have been a cause of joy to your heart in days that are past.
Have you never rejoiced in the purposes of your God? Can you not remember seasons when it has been a wondrous source of strengthening to your heart to remember that whatever happened — God's sovereign will and purpose still moved on, and that nothing could thwart His decrees? And have you not reveled in the thought that your God walked upon the waves, and ruled the tempest, and turned the clouds into His chariot? Your heart has exulted as you said, "He is the Lord, and who can hinder Him? Who shall say to Him: What are You doing?"
Now, my brethren, because your circumstances in life are changed, does that alter His purposes? If you rejoiced in their certain fulfillment last year, may you not equally rejoice in them now?
"Our lives through various scenes are drawn,
And vexed with trifling cares,
While your eternal thought moves on,
Your undisturbed affairs."
Another well of comfort to your soul was found in the love of God. Well, has God's love altered? Because you do not have the comforts you once possessed — does that prove that God's love to you has varied? No! His love remains like himself: the same yesterday, today, and forever. Therefore if my soul ever sang a song at the remembrance of it, it is sheer treason for me to be silent now. If it pleased Him in His love to cause a shadow to overcast me, should I on that account think less of his love?
Have not the promises of God also been like manna to your souls over and over again? "Yes," you answer; then I reply, "Have they altered?" Can you put your finger on one promise now and say, "That promise, though precious to me once, has now become null and void?" Can you say of one of God's promises, "It does not have the power it once possessed?" No! His promises are like the stars that shine in the brightest night; and remain unmoved whatever may be the convulsions of earth. If then you ever rejoiced in God's promises, there is no reason why you should not rejoice in them this morning, for they abide the same.
Have you not in seasons past found the thought of God having pardoned you, a fountain of joy? Can you not remember some days when the word pardon sent a throb of joy to your inmost heart? You say, "Yes, many a time!" Well, dear friend, is your pardon affected by the night in which you are now dwelling? Have the clouds of sorrow blotted out that word 'forgiven,' once so legibly written in characters of blood? You dare not think it. Then the only conclusion you can possibly come to, is that there is the same matter for joy now in your dark days, as you ever possessed in your brightest days.
Yet once again. Have you not often rejoiced in the anticipation of Heaven? Have you not known what it is to turn to that chapter in Peter, and read of "An inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away," and while doing so, have an echo in your heart repeating, "Reserved in Heaven for me!" And the thought has made your heart so light that you have scarcely felt the earth beneath your feet. Have you any reason to doubt that Heaven is yours — because troubles are yours as well? Have the waters of affliction washed out the writing of your title deeds to eternal glory? Is Heaven peopled with those who on earth escaped tribulation — or with those who came out of it? Blessed be God! All we have in Christ, remains untouched and uninfluenced by earthly circumstances.
WHAT IS YOUR NIGHT?
Suppose it is one of changed prospects. There is as great a change in your affairs now, as there is between night and day. There was a time when temporal affairs did not trouble you much; for years you never knew what it was to have a care about anything. Now it is just the reverse. You work ten times harder than you did — and yet you seem to get but a tenth of what you did before! Your night, my brother, is a dark one — but does it alter what God is to you and what God has for you? Can you show me anything in the Word to prove that you have lost your God through your poverty? Is he less full of love for you, because you are in straightened circumstances?
If you turn to the third chapter of Habakkuk, the seventeenth verse, you will find it is possible to lose everything — and yet at the same time rejoice in God. "Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; 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!"
My friend, although your prospects are so changed, although every fig tree you have is blasted, and on your vines this morning there are no grapes — yet there is something that remains the same — Your God. Find your all in God as once you found your God in all — and you will no longer be destitute of song.
But perhaps with another it may not be changed prospects — but changed health. There was a time when you never knew what sickness meant, and when pain was a perfect stranger. How changed is it now! You no longer feel that buoyancy of health you once possessed — but on the contrary, every action is now accompanied with pain, and therefore you have lost your joy.
I must ask you a question, the same as I asked the other one. Does change of health change your relationship to God? Do you anywhere in Scripture find that sickness is a barrier between the Savior and his saved one? What have you lost in God, by your sickness? What cause for rejoicing in Him is removed? None most certainly; there is not a promise that was fulfilled in health, that will not be fulfilled in sickness; nor love enjoyed in health, that will be withdrawn in illness.
Have you ever heard of a father losing his love for his darling child because the child was weak? Never; his love would rather increase than decrease under such circumstances. Just so, shall our Heavenly Father show less compassion than His earthly types?
But there are some here I know, to whom this next point will come home; those who are saying, my night is a night of bereavement. Some of their loved ones have been cut down and removed by the scythe of death. The only son of his mother, and she a widow perhaps, has been laid low. Or in another case, the beloved mother has been torn from her children. Grant it — but at the same time — is your God dead? Have you lost Him? Has the icy hand of death cut the thousand cords that bound you to Him? Is not God still living?
There once was a mother who lost her youngest child, and weeping bitterly, refused all consolation, until the little sister said "Mamma, why do you cry so? Is God dead?" My friend, however you may have been bereaved — your God remains the same. Therefore, look away from changing scenes and dying friends — to Him; and even in the darkest night of bereavement, you will find sufficient in your God to give you sweetest song.
And now, lastly on this point, I can imagine one of you saying, "My night is darker than any of those you mentioned." Mine is a night of spiritual depression. It is not a lack in the home — but a lack in the heart that I feel. It is not bereavement of father or mother, or sister or brother — but the bereavement of the spiritual joy which I once had.
I grant you, dear friend, your night is an exceedingly dark one — but where do you find in God's Word that being full of spiritual depression renders null and void the blessed saying, "Accepted in the Beloved!" or "Complete in Him!" If our acceptance in Christ was in any way influenced by our earthly circumstances, I would not have a word of consolation to give to my own soul or yours this morning. But if you believe that you are as much in Christ when depressed as when you are elated, although your soul this morning may seem like lead, and you find yourself unable to enter into the joy of worship — there yet remains the foundation for a song: you are still safe in Christ. God's covenant of grace with you remains the same — you are still accepted in the person of Jesus. You may be trembling on the rock — but its firm base does not shake beneath your feet. Yes! God is our rock — the tide may ebb and the tide may flow — but the rock remains forever. So it is with our temporal circumstances.
My brother, your temporal circumstances may be running on the ebb like a sluice; comforts may be lessening every moment. But your God stands, and you stand on Him. And as in the low ebb tide, you see more of the rock than at the full flood — so perhaps your very trials here on earth will enable you to see more of your God than you ever beheld in what you now term your prosperous days. What a blessed thing it is just to rest upon our God, and feel that although from this Sunday morning to the day of my death I may have nothing but bereavement, cares, and toils — yet these things do not influence my sufficiency in him.
Now, secondly, and very briefly, I want to mention,
II. Some of the SONGS God gives His saints during the night — what songs do His nightingales sing?
I think, first, he gives the song of FAITH. And no sweeter song can be given. There is more music in this song than in any other. I know of nothing more lovely than to be in the company of some child of God, who though chastened sore, can yet sing in the language of believing confidence, "I know that God is working all things together for my good." This thrilling song has been heard above the tempest's roar. The heavenly mariner has often stood upon the deck with the blinding spray of every wave encircling him, and as one thing after another has been swept from his side, a God-given song has arisen upon the gale, "I know I can never be shipwrecked, because I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded, that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day."
Sweet song, this song of faith; to know all its music you should have heard it sung by the martyr as he stood surrounded by the flames. Time after time, in old Smithfield, has it been heard above the crackling of the burning stake, "when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you." Isaiah 43.2. This song of faith has echoed through many and many a dungeon cell. Paul and Silas were put in the prison, and their feet made fast in the stock; but at midnight the prisoners sang, and their companions heard them — and thus has many a dungeon in later days been made to ring with melody. Have you ever heard the song on the death-bed? I think it sounds sweetest there. When you see one weak in body — but strong in God, singing,
"Sweet to rejoice in lively hope,
That, when my change shall come,
Angels shall hover round my bed,
And waft my spirit home."
There is another song almost as sweet as that of faith. It is called the song of HOPE. Patience works experience, and experience hope. And what is this song? "I know that God can help — even at the very last. I remember that Abraham had his knife uplifted to slay his son, before the mercy came that stopped the blow. Though God seems to tarry — I will wait for Him still." In the most pitiless storm that can fall upon a child of God, there is always the ray of hope lighting up the gloom. On the bosom of every thunder cloud, there always rests this rainbow. Take away from a man all hope, and you leave but incarnate despair and a walking Hell.
Whatever song you may not be able to sing this morning, you can surely utter this one of hope, and say With David, "Why are you cast down, O, my soul? And why are you disquieted in me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise him who is the help of my countenance, and my God!" Psalm 42.5
Another song for the night is that of tranquility. This is a much softer song than the others I have mentioned. You cannot always hear it so clearly — but I think there is a more melting melody about it. You have perhaps heard the song of faith as clear as a clarion, and the song of hope in notes that thrilled the heart; but have you ever had your soul more stirred to the depths, than by the quiet strains of tranquility? "May Your will be done" is the oft-recurring refrain. The man has lost his worldly possessions, and is now steeped to the lips in poverty; but he sings,
"If you should call me to resign,
What most I prize — it never was mine;
I only yield You what was Thine;
May Your will be done!"
There is another friend who once rejoiced in bodily strength — but is now wasted and emaciated, and in an agony of pain upon a bed of sickness. Do listen!! — for he sings:
"Should pining sickness waste away
My life in premature decay,
My Father, still I strive to say,
May Your will be done!"
Thus does the child of God, by heavenly strength, bear his trials not only without a murmur — but with a song.
My time is so nearly gone, that I must only mention the two remaining songs.
The first one is entitled "The song of sympathy with Jesus." It runs something after this sort: "Tis true O Lord, that I am tried and sorrows press me sore — but I rejoice in this; for am I not by my very grief, brought into likeness with You, O blessed Savior dear. The thorns that prick my flesh do but bring me into closer sympathy with You, who for my sake had your brow encircled with them. If I had a heart that was free from care, and eyes that knew no tears — how could I be a follower of Yours, O man of sorrows, who could throw out the challenge, 'Behold and see if there is any sorrow like My sorrow!' If I had no bitter cups to drink, I would be unlike You, my Lord, who shuddered at the dreadful draught your Father held to You, when praying in Gethsemane. Sweet sorrow — happy grief, that makes me one with You."
It is an honor for the disciple to be as his Lord, and the servant as his Master — and this thought sheds a glory round the darkest trial and leads the soul to song.
There is still another song, it is "The song of heavenly anticipation." It is a sweet song to Christ's children; and it can be sung best in the darkest night. The chorus is this: "My sorrows will only make Heaven more sweet at the close." The saint is racked in pain, and knows he cannot last long; he takes up the book and reads, "There shall be no pain there — no sickness, no sorrow." "Ah!" he says, "this pain will only make Heaven more sweet at the close!" He loses a beloved relative or friend, and he turns to the book and reads, "There shall be no death there!" And so he makes his present troubles as a dark background, to show off Heaven's glories.
If you are mourning over troubles here, and cannot sing about earth, then sing about Heaven, for the darker your nights below, "they will only make Heaven more sweet at the close."
There is one night coming to us all, a night through which all here this morning will have to pass; and for those of us who are God's children, a song is provided — it is the night of death.
Am I speaking to any who are in perpetual bondage through fear of death? My dear friends, wait until you "come to the night" before you trouble yourself whether a song will be given to you or not. When death comes, dying grace will come with it. Although it may now stand before your trembling spirit as a dark grim specter of the night, it shall yet be changed into a glorious angel holding in his right hand a golden key to open before you the everlasting doors of Heaven!
When the moment comes that alone we must pass through the river, we shall do so with no countenance convulsed with terror. Far from it; for just when earthly props are falling on every hand, our God and Maker will give us some sweet song to cheer the advancing night, and that song shall no sooner die upon our death-stricken lips, than it shall break forth again in louder, sweeter strains before the throne where life is one perpetual song, and where our Savior has declared there is no night.
But the dark thought oppresses me that there are many here who, if they were called to die tonight, would have a songless death. I will just mention a circumstance that has deeply impressed me, and I pray to God that it may strike home to some hearts. It was just last Friday that I went, at the request of some dear relatives, to see an aged man who was evidently near the eternal shore. On my asking him if he thought he was ready for the great change, his only answer was, "Don't worry me now about these things." I said to him, "Will you but allow me to pray with you?" He replied, "You may if you like." But before I had uttered two or three words, he stopped me again, saying he did not want to be worried; but if I liked, I might come and see him on the morrow. Alas, at half-past seven that morning he was a corpse! There was no song in that night.
May the Lord save you all, and bring you all as sinners to a simple trust in Jesus crucified. And when we pass through that last night on earth, and as we are passing through the varied nights I have feebly attempted to describe — may we all find, to our heart's rejoicing, Him who gives songs in the night. May the Lord add His blessing for Jesus' sake. Amen.