Alone with God — Helps to Thought and Prayer, for the Use of the Sick
By Francis Bourdillon
The aim of this little book is somewhat different from that of "Bedside Readings." Both are designed for the benefit of the sick — but while "Bedside Readings" are meant to be made use of by those who visit the sick — the present volume is more especially intended to be read by the sick themselves.
In sickness and suffering the heart often finds it good to hold communion at the same time both with itself and with God. Serious thoughts occupy the mind, deep and solemn feelings are experienced — and, by a kind of spiritual instinct, these thoughts and feelings frame themselves into prayer; not stated and deliberate prayer, such as is made at other times, but spontaneous prayer, the momentary uplifting of the heart to God, the addressing to Him of the soul's communion with itself.
But in sickness the mind often partakes of the weakness of the body, and a difficulty is found in bringing the thoughts to bear with clearness upon spiritual things, and in framing even the simplest address to God. It is as a help in such cases, that this book is sent forth; not by any means to fetter those whose thoughts and prayers need no such help, and who can far better rise to God in their own words — but rather to lead the feeble, to encourage the faint, to suggest thoughts to such as are suffering from the languor and confusedness of disease.
The best and surest guide to thought and prayer, is the Word of God. Every meditation therefore in this volume is based on some passage of Scripture. Out of a considerable variety of subjects, it is hoped that some of those on whom it has pleased God to lay His chastening hand may find from time to time something that will suit their case, and be a help to lead their thoughts to Him.
Good to Draw near to God
"But it is good for me to draw near to God." Psalm 73:28
I am left alone for a little while. I am not sorry. For, as much as I prize the loving attention of those around me — yet I feel it good to be sometimes quite alone with God. I can now speak to Him unreservedly. I need not be afraid of being heard, if I would pray aloud, or if the feelings of my heart would break forth in sighs or tears. Even if not — yet my heart feels more free to draw near to God.
"To draw near to God" — how wonderful this is! Here am I, a poor creature, weak in body and quite unworthy, a sinner. Here am I alone in this room, and I may draw near to God, approach Him, go to Him, enter into His presence. In thought and heart, I may draw near to God, as really as I go to any fellow creature and speak to him. The thought of a moment, just the uplifting of my heart — brings me to Him. How wonderful that I may draw near to Him, that He allows me, invites me, enables me!
Lord, I draw near to You now. I lift up my heart to You by Jesus Christ. I open all my thoughts to You. I place myself before You. Look upon me! For my Savior's sake — lift up the light of Your countenance upon me, Your reconciled countenance, and give me peace, and grant to me the happy thought of Your presence. I remember the words, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you." Graciously fulfill them now to me. Draw near to me — cause me to feel You near.
"It is good for me to draw near to God." It is good, because it is safe. No evil can come to me while I am near to Him. His presence will keep evil thoughts away. The enemy cannot reach me there. I can fear nothing when I am near to God.
And it is good, because it is so happy. Have I ever in all my life been so happy as in some moments, such as this, when I have drawn near to God?
I look back and think of times when, in outward things, I was much better off than now. I was not ill; I had no pain; I went about cheerful and well.
And sometimes then, I had great pleasure. A bit of unexpected prosperity befell me, or I heard some unlooked-for good news. That made me happy — but not so happy as I am now at those moments when I can hold secret communion with God. No, this is best. And I think this is what You, O my Savior, meant when You said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him."
Lord, I love You — yet I wish to love You more. I wish to keep Your words, to treasure them in my heart, to follow and obey them. Help me by Your Holy Spirit!
But I must seek to draw near to God at all times — not only now, when there is everything to help me: the silence of a sick-room, the absence of worldly excitement, the tenderness of spirit which one feels at such a time as this.
If it pleases You, O my God, to raise me up again — then grant that when I go out once more into the world, strong and well, I may still find it good to draw near to You, and continually to live near to You in heart. Many things will then again be around me to draw me away from You. Again I shall mix with men; again I shall have outward duties to do; again worldly interests will occupy my mind. Gracious God, be then still first in my heart! Still grant me grace to find my chief happiness in You. And, though mixing with men and busy about many things — help me still by Your Holy Spirit to draw near in heart to You, and in You to find peace, comfort, guidance, and strength.
"And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not." Deuteronomy 8:2
I have time for remembering now. Generally, when one is busy every day, one thing drives another out of the head, especially with those who lead an active life. One is too much occupied with the present, to think much of the past; the present has taken the past's place. It ought not to be so, but it is so.
But now the words seem to come to me with great force, "You shall remember." I am like a traveler along a road, obliged to sit down and rest a while — and looking back on the way he has come. While he was walking, he thought only of getting on — now he can look back. So can I. And God bids me employ the time so, "You shall remember."
I am to remember all the way God has led me these past years. For it is God who has led me — just as it was God who had led the Israelites. I am to look back on my past life, to think of God's dealings with me and of my behavior under them.
God had led Israel through the wilderness, a place of many hardships and of some want — and yet He had given them all that was really needful and had shown them many mercies. As for me, He has always supplied my needs; and many a time has He delivered me from perplexity and difficulty. Yet I have had my troubles too — those very times of perplexity and difficulty were troubles, and they were part of God's dealings with me. Now that I lie and think — one thing after another comes back to my mind, quite fresh, as if they had happened only yesterday.
Why were they sent — these troubles and anxieties? To humble me and prove or try me. This is what this text teaches me.
To humble me. I was so proud that, if everything had always gone well, I would have been lifted up and have quite forgotten God. Besides, if all had been smooth, I would have loved this world too much, and wished to stay here always, and never have given a thought to my soul and to the world to come.
Lord, I thank You for humbling me! I thank You for preventing me from quite forgetting You. You used what means You saw to be good. I did not like them at the time, but I bless You for them now. As it is, I have forgotten You far too much and been too fond of the world. My soul has not been important to me; I have not sought my Savior with all my heart; I have not loved or served Him aright. But if You had not kept me in mind of Him by humbling me — alas! How might it have been then? I might have given all my heart to the world — I might have been cut off so.
And now, O Lord, I thank You for humbling me by this illness, and for giving me this time for thought and recollection. This is part of my journey — of the way You lead me. Oh, lead me still! Lead me by the right way; lead me to Christ, to You, to holiness, to heaven. And let me have the comfort of believing, at every step of my journey, that it is indeed Your hand that is guiding me.
But the past dealings of God were to prove or try me, as well as to humble me — to know what was in my heart; to put me to the test, whether I would keep His commandments or not.
O my God, what have You found in me? What have You seen in my heart? What have You seen in my life? I cannot stand in the judgment with You. When I think — ten thousand sins rise up and condemn me. I have not kept Your commandments. If I have not led what men call a criminal life — yet conscience tells me that I have not given my whole heart to You. I have not loved You first. I have often had wrong thoughts, often spoken unchristian words. I have done many wrong things I have failed and come short continually. And if conscience tells me this — then how can I appear before You, who know all things?
One thing I can do — one only thing. I cast myself on Your mercy in Christ Jesus. I plead His precious blood. I put away all trust in my own doings — I look only to Him. "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" For Jesus Christ's sake, forgive me all. Blot out my past sins in His blood. Receive me, a poor sinner, for His sake. Renew my heart by Your Spirit. Put a new spirit within me. Make me yet more deeply to feel my unworthiness, and yet more earnestly and truly to look to Jesus. Give me, O my God, give me Your Holy Spirit, for His sake.
"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Isaiah 53:6
I never could hear this chapter without being struck by it. It is so clear a prophecy of our Savior, seven hundred years before His coming. And it describes Him so affectingly as "a man of sorrows," as "wounded for our transgressions," and "bruised for our iniquities." But I used to hear it without any deep feeling of my own sin. I listened to it merely as to an affecting tale; I did not hear my own history in it; I did not realize that Jesus had done this for me.
Now I feel differently. Now, when I read this verse, I read a description of myself and of my past life. Now I see here what the Lord has done for my soul. O my God, I humbly trust that You have brought me to this, that this is Your Spirit's work. I bless Your Holy name. Still fill me with Your Holy Spirit; still work within me by Your grace, for Christ's sake!
I am one of those who have gone astray, wandering like sheep who have strayed from the fold. "All we," myself included. This "all we" shows how great, how general has been this wandering. Let me take care not to shelter myself behind this "all we," not to take refuge in numbers! I feel now that though "all we" have gone astray — yet my own straying has been the worst and the farthest. At least, I know my own wanderings so much better, that they seem to me worse than those of others. "Of whom I am chief!" the apostle Paul said.
Yes, O my God, I went astray from You! I did not walk in Your paths; I did not keep within the fold. I look back on my life. I see so many things that were wrong, and I knew they were wrong! I see such worldliness of mind, such forgetfulness of You, such pride, vanity, self-indulgence, hardness of heart! I knew Your way, but I did not walk in it. I had a secret dislike of those who did, for I knew all the while that they were right and I was wrong. And yet You bore with me all those years!
I turned to my own way in those days. I did not ask what You would have me to do. I did not take Your holy Word for my guide. I did not seek to do Your will. No, I was bent on pleasing myself, on enjoying life, on getting on in the world. My own way! Ah, that was not God's way. Often, often, did following my own way lead me far from You. One thing after another rises now to my mind. How self-willed I was! How rebellious!
Now, when I look back on all this, and when I bear in mind too that God saw all my life, and that He remembers it all — yes, remembers a thousand things which I have forgotten — where shall I find comfort?
Not in that "all we." I will not try to shelter myself behind numbers. That would be "a refuge of lies." Not in merely being sorry, or in meaning to do better. That would be another "refuge of lies." For not to sin again — cannot undo sins that are past.
Here is my comfort — my only comfort: "The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." The iniquity of us all — that vast load, the whole guilt of every redeemed sinner — this has been laid upon the blessed Son of God, and He has borne it. What was foretold by the prophet, has now long ago been done. The Father spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all. The Son did not draw back from the work; He came to seek and to save that which was lost; He saved them by dying for them on the Cross.
"The iniquity of us all." This is my comfort. My iniquity, the guilt of all my wanderings, of all my sins — was laid upon my Savior, and He bore it all.
O my Savior, what shall I render to You? You were wounded for my transgressions; You were bruised for my iniquities; the chastisement of my peace was upon You, and with Your stripes I am healed. May I believe this? Am I indeed healed? Do You invite me to believe, bid me believe — that I am healed, forgiven, for Your sake, because of Your stripes, Your death? What can I render to You? I have nothing. I can only give You my heart. Lord Jesus, I give myself to You — a poor sinful creature, redeemed by Your blood. Oh, make me wholly Yours, now and forever.
"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28
Lord Jesus, these are Your words. You Yourself spoke them — and some heard You. Do You speak thus to me? Do You bid me come to You?
Truly I labor, and am heavy laden. I am weary, and almost worn out. Sorrow has been heavy on me, and still is; anxious thoughts about others disturb my mind; I am wasted with pain and sickness. Gladly would I flee away and be at rest. Yet when I feel this, another thought comes to me: am I ready? Am I at peace with God?
I think this, after all, is my heaviest burden. If I were sure that all was right with my soul, then I could bear the rest. For then I could cast all upon God; then I could apply to myself that beautiful text and act upon it, "Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you." But, alas, I cannot feel that all is right; I cannot look up to God with confidence; I cannot believe that He has forgiven me, that He loves me and cares for me. I feel a weight upon me. I have not peace. And this is my chief burden. I labor and am heavy laden because of sin.
But were there none such among those to whom the blessed Jesus spoke? Were they all good and holy people — only in trouble? Surely not. Surely the burden of sin was one of those things which Jesus had in mind when He called the heavy laden.
If so, may I not think that He speaks to me, calls me, bids me come to Him? If I had been there and had heard Him speak, then I would have thought He spoke to me, and nothing would have kept me from Him. If I had seen Him looking at me, if His voice had reached my ear, then I feel that I would have risen at once and gone to Him and told Him all, that He might give me rest.
Lord, You know all things! You know my case, my heart, just as well as You knew that of those to whom You spoke. Nay, is not this text that I read and ponder in my mind — is it not Your word still? You speak to me. You look at me — You see me here — You know all. I am heavy laden, and You know it. I labor in my mind; I labor under my load of sorrow and anxiety and suffering, and You know it. And You say to me, "Come unto Me, and I will give You rest."
O my Savior — merciful, loving, compassionate — I desire to come to You. Just as I would then have risen and gone to You, and nothing could have kept me back — so I wish now to come to You with my heart, to come to You in prayer, in faith. Oh, help me by Your Spirit to come to You! I think of those words, "Draw me — we will run after You!" Yes, gracious Lord, draw me by Your grace; draw my heart to You, that You may give me rest.
Rest is what I want. Rest from a burdened conscience, rest from the sense of guilt, rest from the power of sin and rest from the assaults of Satan. This is the rest I want first. Then would come rest from all else that troubles me. It is the blood of Jesus alone which can take my sins away and make my conscience clear. The blood of Jesus, the precious blood. This is what I want most — this is what I must seek.
O my Savior, I come to You at Your word. Just as I am, I come to You. Wash me in Your precious blood. Take away my sins. Speak peace to my soul. Give me rest of spirit; give me peace of mind — that peace which You promised — Your peace.
All besides which troubles me — You know. Nothing of all that presses on my mind is hidden from You. I bring it to You, at Your word. I lay it before You. Help me; relieve me; give me rest!
I do believe Your gracious word, "I will give you rest ... you shall find rest unto your souls." You will do as You have said. Henceforth let me be Yours. No longer heavy laden with guilt and anxiety but forgiven — cleansed, set free; bearing no yoke and carrying no burden but Yours — Your gentle yoke, Your light burden.
After an Accident
"Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction." Psalm 103:1-4
My mind fixes on these last words, for this is what God has now done for me. He has redeemed my life from destruction.
I did not foresee the accident; I could not guard against it; it happened in a moment. All wonder that I was not killed. It was a mercy, they tell me, that I was not killed in a moment. Yes, it was a mercy, indeed — a special mercy of God to me. His care was over me then; — is hand was put forth to save my life.
Did God see that I was not ready, and therefore did He spare me? How gracious! How merciful! How long-suffering! Well may I say, "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His Holy name!"
Lord, I bless You for not cutting me off, for not taking me away unprepared. Oh, what would it have been to meet You with my sins upon me! I bless You that You stretched forth Your hand to save my life. I bless You for this time that You have given me, this space for repentance. Oh, grant me now Your grace, Your Holy Spirit; that this time may not have been given me in vain.
God spared my life; but yet it pleased Him that I would not escape without hurt — a broken limb, and sores and bruises all over me. He spared my life in mercy — are not these hurts sent in mercy too? God does not do a thing half in mercy, and half not. He who saved me from death — could have saved me from being hurt at all, if it had been His will. Surely He had a gracious purpose in letting me be injured in body, while He saved my life.
Lord, what was Your purpose? For what gracious end did You so appoint it — that I would be hurt as I am and would lie here helpless, and have to lie here so long? Teach me to know Your will; teach me to learn every lesson; grant that Your wise and loving purpose may be accomplished!
These serious thoughts, these prayers, I can see at once, come from my accident. But for that, I would not have had them. Is not that a reason? Can I not see a gracious purpose there?
And when — as they tell me I shall — I get well again — yet still I shall not be quite as I was before. I shall always feel the effects of the accident, more or less. Well, may I not see a purpose in that, a wise and loving purpose? I shall be continually reminded of my life being spared, of this present time, of God and His dealings. Is not this for my good? Did not God order it for my good?
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits!" Forget them not now; forget them not hereafter; never forget them. Forget not the benefits — and forget not the lessons. Let me keep in mind the solemn and earnest thoughts God gives me now, and let me never lose the sense of the kindness He shows me: the comforts, the alleviations, the many soothing circumstances which He sends me. Everyone is kind to me — kind and sympathizing; and that is His gift.
But there are more mercies mentioned here. "Who forgives all your iniquities — who heals all Your diseases." The Psalmist speaks of God actually doing both for him. Lord, may I humbly hope that You do them for me? I bless You for already making me better. I humbly trust that You will heal all my diseases and restore me again. But oh! Forgive my iniquities. Indeed pardon my sins. Since I was laid upon this bed, I have sought forgiveness as I never sought it before. I have sought it very earnestly, through the blood of Jesus. I have pleaded His great atonement, His merits, His name. O my Father, may I hope, may I believe, that His precious blood has indeed taken my sins away, and that You forgive me for His sake?
Oh, then, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits; Who forgives all your iniquities!" All! Every one! And all of His free grace and mercy in Christ Jesus. "Bless the Lord, O my soul!"
"And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me." John 16:32
The Lord Jesus said this when He knew that all His disciples were going to forsake Him. They would leave Him alone, and yet He would not be alone, because the Father would still be with Him.
The Lord Jesus said this, but may I say it? When I am alone, as I must often be now, may I really say, "And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me"? Is He with me?
I think He is. I think I may say this. For I have such happy thoughts of God and feel Him to be so near. I hardly lack any proof that the Father is with me; my heart seems to tell me so. No, "I am not alone." I feel the presence of God with me, my Father, my reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. I could not speak to Him so freely, if He were not near. I would not have such comfort in prayer and praise, if He were far off. The happy thoughts which I have when I am alone, the thoughts of trust and peace and love, must come from Him, from His presence. It is no presumption to say, "The Father is with me!" My heart tells me it is true. It is the witness of the Spirit. I do not deceive myself in this, for God promises His presence, and that which I feel is but the fulfillment of His promises.
"Draw near to God," the apostle James says, "and He will draw near to you." What is this, but His presence? Lord, I draw near to You. I humbly seek You through Jesus Christ. I approach Your throne of grace by Him; owning myself unworthy and sinful, but coming to You by Him alone. Fulfill Your gracious words; draw near to me. Make me to feel Your presence. And, by Your presence, comfort, cheer, and bless me.
But our Savior Himself gave a yet more definite promise: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word — and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him."
Ah, but do I love Him? And do I keep His words? Alas, not as I would desire. But, "Lord, You know all things — You know that I love You!" True, my love is poor and cold. It is no worthy return for Your love to me. And often I have gone astray from You, as if I had no love to You at all. Yet, though feebly and imperfectly and with manifold inconsistency — yet I do love You. That hope in You which You have given me — not all the world would tempt me to give up, and I do from my heart, desire to do Your will and to keep Your words.
"We will come unto him, and make Our home with him." We: the Father and the Son, by the Spirit. How wonderful! Come to me! Abide with me! Dwelling in my heart. Can this indeed be true? Is it not too great, too good? No, for these are the words of Jesus, and He is "the way, the truth, and the life." This is His promise.
O my Father, the thought does not make me proud. Rather, it humbles me under a sense of my unworthiness of such a favor. So poor and lowly a dwelling, so great and holy an indweller! O grant me Your presence continually — not for comfort only, but for guidance, grace, and strength. I need You continually. I need You to keep me humble, to preserve me from murmuring, impatience, and fretfulness, to uphold my faith, to quicken my sluggish affections.
Father, be ever near me. When others are around me, then be near me. And when I am alone, still let me be not alone, because You are with me. May Your presence cheer every lonely hour, and the light of Your countenance brighten all my darkness, for Jesus Christ, my Savior's, sake!
Comfort in the Wilderness
"Therefore, behold, I will allure her — I will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her." Hosea 2:14
I have long known these words well, but I never felt the meaning of them as I do now. It seems to me that God is now dealing thus with me.
The wilderness must mean a place, or circumstances, in which some comforts are lacking, comforts which one has had perhaps hitherto. The wilderness too, is a solitary place, removed from men. Now I have been brought into the wilderness in being laid aside by sickness. I am taken apart from men; I am much alone, and some of my usual comforts are denied to me. This sick-room is my wilderness.
I did not come here of my own will. God brought me here. Why? This verse about Israel seems to tell me, and it is very comforting. God did not drive me into the wilderness in anger or displeasure. He allured me and brought me into the wilderness. He dealt gently with me, drew me, led me here. This gives me the feeling of His kindness to me and makes me believe that it is for my good that I am here.
But does not the wilderness, or rather this alluring and bringing into the wilderness, refer not merely to outward circumstances, but also to the state of my heart? I think it does. I think it means that God has gently called me off from my former thoughts to new thoughts; that He has drawn me away from placing my trust and seeking my happiness in the world or in self, and shown me the vanity of all such dependence — thus depriving me indeed of something I used to have and putting me in a kind of wilderness, a bare and desert place, but only that I may find something far better in Him.
Lord, I adore Your wisdom and goodness in dealing thus with me. I stood in great need of being brought into the wilderness. I was too fond of the world, too much engrossed by it. I was too prone to seek my happiness and to place my trust elsewhere, than in You. I thank You for withdrawing me, taking me aside, and turning my thoughts to You. Oh, do for me and do in me, by Your grace, all that You brought me here for.
Already I have found these other words made good to me: "Speak comfort to her." In His great goodness, God has spoken comfort to me. He has brought home to my heart the promises of His word; He has given me happy and trustful thoughts of my Savior; He has spoken to me inwardly by the Spirit, the Comforter. He has given me many happy moments since I have been brought into the wilderness.
Lord, open my heart to receive all Your words of comfort! Humble me, soften me, and make me teachable by Your Spirit. When You speak, cause me to hear. Take away all unbelief, all hardness of heart, all deadness and coldness. And may the full comfort of Your pardoning mercy, the blessed peace that comes from being washed from guilt in the precious blood of Christ, be mine. "Your sins are forgiven!" Oh, may I hear that voice! Oh, thus speak comfortably to me!
The next verse has these words, "I will give her . . . the valley of Achor as a door of hope." Achor means trouble. I am passing through the valley of trouble now. But if God makes it to me a door of hope, then it is a good and happy place. A door of hope — an opening by which hope comes into my heart: hope of forgiveness for the past, of grace and blessing for the future; a way of escape from past temptations, snares, difficulties and dangers; a channel of blessing, a means of grace.
Lord, make this valley of trouble to be all this to me! Overrule for good, all that befalls me; turn all seeming evil into blessing. Brighten my hope, increase my trust, quicken me by Your Spirit. Enable me to look through all mists and clouds and to see the clear shining of the Sun of righteousness. You are "the God of hope"; fill me "with all joy and peace in believing," that I "may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit."
Faith's Estimate of the Seen and the Unseen
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing — yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
I too can say that my outward man perishes — that it is perishing, decaying. I grow weaker in body every day. I know what the end must be. Can I say also, that with me "the inward man is renewed day by day"?
I trust I can; I think I can, praise be to God. He supports me by His grace; He comforts me by His Spirit. My thoughts are different from what they used to be; I can realize eternal things more; I am more happy when I think of them, for it is brought home to me more that Jesus died for me and has made atonement for all my sins, and that God does indeed pardon and accept me for His sake. Is not this the work of the Spirit?
Lord, still renew me day by day. I look to You. Every day cheer me by Your Spirit. Every day speak peace to me. Weak though I am in body, and growing weaker continually — yet let me feel the power of Your grace within, and that more and more.
"Our light affliction." Can I say that? Not when I look at the affliction only. And I can hardly call it short — sometimes it seems very long. Yet when I compare it with what is to come — then how light it seems! And how short, "but for a moment"! When I look back upon it hereafter-how light and short will it seem! Lord, help me to realize this by faith even now.
God does not keep me here on earth, merely to suffer. He is doing me good; He is blessing me, all the while. He is making this affliction, this weakness and pain — work for my happiness and glory. These are the instruments He is using.
I cannot see that glory yet. I cannot fully understand it. But I do believe that it is just what is here described, "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory," something which will make me hereafter think nothing of this time of suffering; nay, rather bless God for it. I shall owe it all to my Savior, all — not to my sufferings. His blood has paid my debt; He and He alone will bring me to that glory. But I am being taken to it by this pathway of pain, and my Father is using this means for preparing me for it.
I shall soon be done with present things, "the things which are seen." They are only temporal, only for a little while. They are passing away from me — and I from them. We shall soon part. But "the things which are not seen" are eternal; they will never pass away.
Already God gives me some share in them. His grace; the comfort of His Spirit; the sense of His presence, of His love, of His forgiveness; the humble, happy belief of my acceptance in Christ Jesus my Lord — these are real things, real and true; and God gives them to me — yet I cannot see them. No, but they are eternal — no one can rob me of them; they will not fade away; they will not pass from me; and if I pass from them, it will only be to something yet better, to a fuller enjoyment of them, to glory, to Heaven.
I cannot yet see that happy home. At present it is among "the things which are not seen." But I think of it and look forward to it, and I know it is eternal. No change will ever come there. No pain, no decay, no death. "Forever with the Lord!"
It is when I thus look at "the things which are not seen," that my affliction seems so light and short. Weighed in these balances, how light! Viewed in comparison with eternity, how short!
Gracious God, fix my heart on You; raise my affections to things above; help me continually to look at "the things which are not seen." Keep me from fainting in spirit, from being downcast or depressed by pain or weakness or weariness. I need Your help. My own thoughts are not enough. I need the constant help of Your Holy Spirit. Now and ever, give me Your Holy Spirit for Christ's sake!
Our Sympathizing High Priest
"For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are — yet without sin." Hebrews 4:15
We never feel the comfort of sympathy more than in times of sickness or sorrow. It is pleasant to have those around us who take part in our joy, but it is more valuable to meet with a sincere sympathy in our troubles. Some sick people have to bear their sickness all alone; no one comes near them except now and then, or none but strangers. But it is not so with most. In general the sick have some near who care for them, and sickness calls out even more kindness than usual. It is doubly sad to lie and suffer all alone, as some have to do. And yet even they have a Friend near.
Jesus sympathizes with them. He is our High Priest above. But though He is above, and though He is so great and holy — yet He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, takes notice of them, cares for them, and sympathizes with us in them. He can feel for us, and He does. If we know the comfort of kind friends and relations feeling for us — then how great a comfort is it that He feels for us! And even if we have none besides, we have Him.
He knows everything, because He is God. Therefore He knows all about every poor sick creature, every sufferer, everyone who is sad at heart in all the world. And so He knows all about me.
But this is not the way in which the sympathy of Christ is set before us here. In this verse we are reminded that He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, as man, because He became man, and in our nature was tried and tempted as we are. He went through what we go through; He suffered what we suffer — therefore He can feel for us.
Does "tempted" here mean tempted to sin, or does it mean tried, that is, tried by affliction? Why not both? Jesus was tried in both ways, and so are we. And the word weaknesses, "our weaknesses," likewise seems to suit both; for we have no strength of our own against temptation, and what poor weak creatures we are when sickness comes!
Yes, our Lord feels for us in our weakness when we are tempted, for He was tempted. He feels for us in sickness and sorrow, for He was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."
But there is one point in which He was never like us; He was "without sin." As for us, sin is mixed in all we do. If we are tempted, it is the sin in us that makes the temptation so dangerous. If we are tried, there too there is danger for us from sin — danger lest we would murmur and rebel, danger of various sorts. But Jesus was "without sin." Though Satan dared to tempt Him, he could not prevail against Him.
This is our comfort therefore: We have a Friend, a High Priest above — the Son of God. He has a fellow-feeling for us in all our trials and temptations; for He, in our nature and on this very earth, was tried and tempted too; tried and tempted even as we are — "yet without sin." This kind and loving Friend is our Savior. He cared for us and loved us so much, that He gave Himself up to die for us. He died for us, and so atoned for our sins and made our peace.
Then He rose again, and then He ascended into Heaven, and there He is now. But He does not forget us there. He loves us as much as ever. In His heavenly glory, He is as kind and pitying and sympathizing as He was on earth. Did He not pity the afflicted, and heal the sick, and comfort mourners then? Even so now He is near every sick-bed, feels with every sorrowing heart, and is ready to help every tempted soul. He has power to help too, for He is "a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God." Now, if He both feels for us and has power to help us — what follows? Just what the next verse leads us to, "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
Lord Jesus, thus I come to You now. You know my infirmities; You know my sufferings; You know my temptations, for You Yourself suffered trial and temptation here below. You know; You care; You can help and deliver. I come to You. I come, according to Your word, boldly, with humble freedom speaking out all that is in my mind, and seeking of You mercy and grace. Lord, Your mercy is infinite — have mercy on me! Your grace is boundless — give me grace for every need; give me grace now, to help me in my present need, to cheer me in this my trouble. All that You see me to need — do for me, O gracious and loving Savior, for Your mercy's sake. Amen.
Why Cast Down?
"Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God." Psalm 42:11
Why this gloomy depression? Why this weight upon my spirit? Why is my mind so ill at ease? Why do all things look so dark to me? "Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?"
Are you again seeking happiness from self, or from worldly things? Have you forgotten all that God has taught you? Has all that you have learned of the vanity of the world, of the insufficiency of outward things, of the grace and love of the Father, of the preciousness of Christ, of the power of the Spirit — has it all faded from Your mind? Where is your faith, your trust, your love? What has become of the feelings you have had in times past, the impressions so often made on your heart by the Word of God? Were they not true impressions and right feelings? Were they not the work of the Holy Spirit?
"Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?" Though you are changed — God is not changed; "Hope in God." Turn from these desponding thoughts; rise above these gloomy feelings; rise by faith to God. Though the body may be weak and suffering and though outward causes of anxiety may surround you — yet the comfort and peace which you have enjoyed in past hours were not founded on bodily health or on outward prosperity; let not comfort and peace therefore fly away when these are withdrawn. "Hope in God." Hope in Him who was the only real source of happiness to you in your most prosperous times, and who is just the same now as He was then — unchanged and unchangeable.
A gleam of hope seems to appear. Through all present darkness, I seem able, just able — to see brightness beyond. This cloud is but transient; it will pass away; even now the Sun is above, "the Sun of righteousness." I shall not always feel thus; I shall be brought through these troubles; I shall feel comfort and peace again. "I shall yet praise Him."
Alas! Is not this depression an ungrateful feeling? Could I be so gloomy, if I had thankfulness in my heart? Why do not I praise Him now? "I shall yet praise Him," and then shall I not be ashamed of my unbelief and ingratitude? Shall I not wonder that I could not look through the cloud?
He is "the help of my countenance and my God," He and He alone. He is the only source of my soul's health, comfort, and peace — and He is my God. He graciously allows me to call Him so — and not only so, but also my Father, my reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. Unworthy as I am, weak, sinful, faithless — yet through Jesus Christ my Savior, I may call Him my God, my Father! He is so now. Then let me rejoice in Him and praise Him even now. "I shall yet praise Him" — I would begin to praise Him now.
O my Father, how much have I to praise You for! Unbelieving and faint-hearted as I am — You still continue to bless me. You do not withdraw Your kind protection, Your watchful care, Your fatherly regard to my wants. You bear with me; You give me the free use of Your Word; You are ever ready to hear my prayer; You do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Pardon me for my unbelief, for my thankless doubts of Your love, for my weak giving way to the assaults of the enemy. Pardon me for Christ's sake, and renew me by Your Spirit. Cause me to know You even now as "the help of my countenance and my God." Cheer me with the light of Your countenance; speak peace to my soul; arm me with "the whole armor of God" against the attacks of Satan and help me to praise You.
Suffering Past and Gone
"You will surely forget your trouble — recalling it only as waters gone by." Job 11:16
I will not complain. I will not be so wrong and so ungrateful. Lord, help me to be patient and submissive! Yet my misery is great. You, O Lord, know that it is. "My groaning is not hidden from You." Besides the pain which I suffer, I have many discomforts. I am never quite free from them. Every morning I wake up to them afresh, and my nights are broken and restless.
Will it ever be otherwise? Shall I ever know bodily comfort again? Shall I ever be as I used to be? They tell me so. But how long the time seems! Day after day the same, and still weeks and weeks before I can hope to be much better. Will the time ever pass?
Tears fill my eyes as these words come to my mind, "You will surely forget your trouble — recalling it only as waters gone by." They seem to tell me that the day will come when I shall look back upon this present time of suffering, as a time quite past and gone. It seems so unlikely that I can hardly think it possible. Yet the very words bring me comfort. O Lord my God, they are written in Your book; graciously fulfill them to me and help me now to believe them!
Not that I ever can forget this time. I do not wish to forget it, for then I would lose the precious lessons which God is teaching me. Rather let me never forget the thoughts and impressions of this time. But I may hope to lose the painful feeling of misery as of a present thing. I may hope to look back upon it as a thing that God has brought me through. I may hope to live to thank Him for delivering me and to love Him more than ever for it. How sweet is this thought! It gives me hope; it revives my heart. Lord, I would take this very comfort as coming from You. It is Your kindness that sends it to me now.
How beautiful and expressive are the other words in the same verse! "Recalling it only as waters gone by." This seems to explain what goes before. I shall not forget my misery; I can never do that, but I shall remember it only thus — as passed away like flowing waters. I imagine myself standing by the side of a river; the water flows swiftly by; the leaf or stick that went past me just now is already far down the stream and almost out of sight, and still the current flows on and carries fresh objects past me.
In the same way, shall I some day see my present misery in the distance — down the stream of life. I shall think of it, but no longer with distress. I shall indeed remember this pain, these discomforts, this weariness; but I shall only remember them, not feel them. They will be quite gone.
Lord, let them not go without leaving a blessing behind them! Sanctify to me by Your Spirit — this present time, this misery, this discomfort, this humbling and trying part of life. Humbling it is indeed. I cannot be proud now. I have no strength or power. Others must do the commonest things for me. Let me never be proud again. Teach me true humility. Make me humble for my sins, for my past life, for my unprofitableness and unworthiness. Make me humble before the cross of Christ my Savior, humble and yet hopeful in Him.
Help me to receive comfort from Your word. This is Your word. I remember that it was one of Job's friends who said this to him. They did not always speak that which was right, but surely this was right and according to Your will. You fulfilled this word to Job. You delivered him from all his misery and blessed him even more than before. Oh, be gracious to me also! Let the pain and misery pass away — and only the blessing remain. Grant this for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen!
The Vanity of the World
"Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun." Ecclesiastes 2:11
Was this all he could say, after all that he had done and possessed and enjoyed? When he came to look back on it, or perhaps when he paused and took a view of it all, could he say nothing better of it than this: "All is vanity and vexation of spirit"?
He said so, not once only, but many times. He said it with a wearied and bitter feeling of disappointment. "Therefore I hated life," he said, "because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind. Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun." It gave him no pleasure to think of it — it had never really satisfied his mind; and now when he must soon leave all — who would come after him, and what would become of all he had done and of all he had got? It was but vanity.
He said this, not only of vain pleasures and sensual indulgences, but also of many things of a better kind. His great riches and power were but vanity. His houses and vineyards, his gardens and orchards and pools were vanity. Even his wisdom and knowledge, he called by no better name. "Vanity of vanities," says the preacher, "Vanity of vanities — all is vanity!" This is the title he wrote on all.
How are we to understand this? In all that time Solomon, wise as he was, was looking for happiness and satisfaction of mind where they cannot be found. Many of the things which he called vanity were good in themselves, and might have yielded him comfort and enjoyment if his heart had then been fixed on God. But it was not so. He sought happiness in the world — and the world disappointed him. He added one outward source of happiness to another — and yet could not find what he sought. The more he tried, and tried in vain — the deeper was his disappointment. A very excess of the outward means of happiness, wearied and oppressed his spirit.
I too have reached a point where I can take a view of my past life. From this bed of sickness, I can turn and look on all the works that I have wrought. What do I see?
I see much labor — many objects cared for and sought with deep and engrossing interest — many things pursued with great eagerness and perseverance. I see years spent laboriously and anxiously. I see success in some things, failure in others. But I see full contentment in none. Even at the time, if anyone had stopped me and said to me, "Are you quite happy?" I must have answered, "No." Now I would say so yet more strongly. Now, when I look back on the past, I feel disposed to take up these words and say, "All is vanity and vexation of spirit!"
I see how it has been with me. I see it in a measure — Lord, teach me to see it fully! I did not quite neglect religion. I daresay people called me a religious person. But my heart was not given to God. No, the world had my heart. I did not say so; perhaps I did not think so — yet it was the case. I was seeking my portion in this world and trying to be made happy by outward things, by my possessions and pursuits, by success, by men's approbation. I was not seeking God first. I was not seeking my portion and my happiness in Him. My treasure was not above, but below. And a poor treasure it was — nothing but dross and vanity.
Lord, You know all things — You know this. A veil seems lifted from before my eyes. I see the truth now. This is Your gracious work. You have taught me this. I humbly thank You for it! O Deepen in me the impression of the vanity of the world — and fix my faith, my hope, my affection on You, the only source of happiness, the only real Good. Let this be my mind, not only in the sick-room, but always and everywhere. Henceforth may You be my portion.
Oh, what have You given to me in giving me Christ as my Savior! Never again let me put the world before Him! Never more let me turn away from Him to vanity! Henceforth I will seek the pearl of great price — henceforth my heart shall be set upon treasure in Heaven. Henceforth I will count all things but loss, that I may win Christ and be found in Him. Lord, help me by Your grace!
The Light of Life
"Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, 'I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.'" John 8:12
These words of my Savior speak of that very thing which I need most — Light. For I am walking in darkness. Not now as not seeing my way before me, or as being in doubt as to what I ought to do — but because a cloud seems to rest upon me, a thick, dark cloud, so that I find no comfort, and the light of God's countenance seems taken away.
Yet Jesus says, "I am the Light of the world." That must mean light in every sense: light to show the way, light to guide in difficulty, and light also to comfort and cheer. If He is the Light of the world — will He not be my light? Can He not, and will He not — comfort and cheer me?
But these next words seem to discourage me: "He who follows Me." For I have not followed Him. Or, if I have tried to follow Him at all, it has been so feebly, so coldly, so inconsistently. It is the sense of this indeed which chiefly depresses me. I feel my unworthiness so deeply. When I look back on my past life, I cannot say that I have followed Christ truly. And even now my heart is so cold and dead, and my affections are so little spiritual, that I cannot take the comfort of this promise. Ah, if this Light of life is only for the true followers of Jesus — then what hope is there for me?
And yet, again, I think I ought to take comfort; the more I dwell on the words — the more it seems as if they were meant by my gracious Lord to cheer poor sinners such as I am. O Lord Jesus, if You have indeed comfort for me here — then help me to see it and to receive it. Open my eyes! Teach me by Your Spirit to understand Your words!
"He who follows Me." Must that mean only one who has followed Jesus faithfully in time past? May it not mean one who now, from this time forth, desires to follow Him? For Jesus invited all to follow Him. "Come unto Me," He said to all the weary and heavy laden. And if they did come to Him, if they obeyed His call, went to Him, followed Him — then He would give them rest. May I not understand these words in the same way? If I do now obey His call and in my heart rise and follow Him — then will He not take away my darkness and give me light?
The very thought is like a ray of light. For I do desire to obey my Savior's gracious call; I do desire, though even that coldly and feebly, not as I ought to desire it — yet I do desire to follow my Savior as one of His sheep, to hear His voice always, to be saved by Him and kept by Him. Lord, may I indeed believe that You speak to me, that You promise me that I shall not walk in darkness, but have the Light of Life?
How beautiful is the figure! How beautiful, and how expressive! If I were out on a dark night and had lost my way and was walking in darkness, and a man were to come to my help with a lantern and would walk before me holding the light, and I following him — then I would no longer walk in darkness; even that little glimmering light would show me my way and give me comfort.
But how far short does this fall of what the Lord Jesus says of Himself! He does not come to me in my darkness, carrying a light only; He is the light — the Light of Life. He is all light: "In Him is no darkness at all." His light is sufficient for all; He "enlightens every man who comes into the world." If I follow Him then, I cannot walk in darkness; His light will shine upon me, and I shall have the Light of Life.
O blessed Lord Jesus, I thank You for Your words of comfort. Help me to believe in You, to trust in You, to follow You. Be to me, the Light of Life. Shine upon my soul through all the clouds of unbelief. Scatter them by Your light. Be my light always, to show me the way, to guide me when in doubt, and now especially to cheer and comfort my heart.
I rest my claim on no worthiness of mine. I have none. But I come to You because You said, "Come unto Me!" I come to You just as I am. Cleanse me by Your blood; enlighten me with Your light. Wherever You lead me, give me grace to follow; and at every step may a light from You shine upon my path, and shine into my heart!
No More Pain!
"There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain." Revelation 21:4
My mind fixes on these words, "There shall be no more pain." That seems so encouraging — and yet almost impossible. No more pain! Never to suffer pain again! Can that time ever come?
I am so used to pain now. I have suffered so long, that I have come to think of pain as a thing that must be. My illness is incurable, and yet I may linger long. It will always give me pain. The only change I can hope for, is from more to less. That relief I do get sometimes — thank God for it. But to be quite without pain — that I can hardly expect — not here on earth.
But how gracious is God; how pitying to our infirmities, how compassionate of our sufferings, that He would tell us in His word of a time to come when there will be no more pain! This is His word. It is perfectly true. The time will surely come, and come to me — when there will be no more pain. That same happy time, when there shall be no more death, no more sorrow or crying.
It will not be in this present state. It will not be until death has done its worst. But death is to be passed through only once. After that, there will be no more death. And then, in that new life beyond the grave, there will be no more pain. This is God's gracious word.
Now, even when I am feeling a little relief — yet the thought of the pain that will follow distresses me. I know it will come at its regular time, and I am so weak in spirit as well as in body that I dread it greatly. I find this apprehension of pain almost as distressing as the pain itself.
But to know that pain will not come, cannot come! To be freed from all fear of it! To be where there is no pain, and never will be forever! Oh, what happiness!
No apprehension then, no dread of the usual well-known hour, no trembling at the thought of the violence of the pain coming on again. No, nothing of this then. "There shall be no more pain." I will not now perplex myself with thinking how this is to he fulfilled. I used to indulge such thoughts. I cannot now. Now my mind fixes simply on the promise that there shall be no more pain: God's promise — His promise, I humbly hope, to me.
With all my heart I flee to Him for help and comfort. I have left off seeking them elsewhere. God is my help; He alone can cheer, support, and comfort me — God, my Father in Christ Jesus.
O my God, I flee unto You afresh from fear and apprehension, from all thoughts of trouble. I flee unto You as my refuge. I believe Your gracious promises; I rest upon Your word; I cast myself upon Your grace and mercy in Christ Jesus, for soul and for body. Jesus suffered for me, died for me, and now lives for me. He is my Savior, my Mediator, my Advocate. He was a Man of Sorrows for me. He does not forget me, even now.
Lord, keep me from repining when I am in pain. Help me to bear all that You lay on me. For all is in Your hand. You will not let my pain become too great. You will keep it still in Your ordering. You, who, in Your tender compassion, bids me look forward to the time when there shall be no more pain — You, even You, are dealing with me now.
Not a pang can come to me without Your permission. Lord, in humble faith, I trust myself to You. You will do all things well for me. I will remember Your word. I will look forward to Your promised rest. In moments of pain and of fear — I will try to draw closer to You. You will not let my sufferings last one moment too long. You will support me through all, and at length You will give me Your rest. And all for His sake, who loved me and gave Himself for me!
The Fruit of Suffering
"Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind; for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God." 1 Peter 4:1-2
"He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin." That is the proper effect of suffering — that is what God sends it for. Perhaps the apostle Peter meant more especially such sufferings as the early Christians were exposed to: persecution and reproach; but certainly what he says may be applied to all suffering which God sends, or allows to come. Has my suffering had this effect on me? Does it lessen the power of sin in me? Does it lead me to cease from sin?
"Christ has suffered for us in the flesh"; or, as we have it more fully in the chapter before, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" (3:18).
God calls us to suffer too, and thus to follow our Lord. But we are to follow Him, not only in the suffering, but also in the mind with which we suffer: "Arm yourselves also with the same mind." And this seems to mean something more than that we should bear suffering patiently, as our Master did, though this we are to do. It seems to have this further meaning: that, as Christ suffered to bring us to God by taking away our sins (1 John 3:5), so we ourselves should be led to God by means of suffering; and, having suffered in the flesh, would cease from sin and henceforth live to the will of God.
But can suffering alone have this effect? Is it enough to lie on a bed of pain? Will right thoughts certainly come to me now? And when, please God, I get better — shall I go forth to lead a new life, merely because of this suffering?
No, I want more than this. The suffering must be blessed to me — blessed and sanctified by God's Holy Spirit. Pain and suffering lead some only to murmur — and some they lead even to blaspheme God. In themselves, they are but outward means and instruments. It is only when God the Spirit works by them in the heart, that a change is wrought.
But oh, how sad it is when one who has suffered much, and even been near to death — rises from a sick-bed and goes forth to forget God, to live again in sin, to give his heart to the world as much as ever!
Lord, keep me from this! Keep me by Your grace! Give me now the precious gift of Your Holy Spirit. Carry on Your work within me. Make these sufferings Your blessed instrument for lasting good to my soul. The time past of my life — lost and wasted as it has been — may well suffice to be spent so. Alas, I cannot recall it now.
Oh, let me no longer live the rest of my time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to Your will! I know not how much longer You will give me here below; but, be it longer or shorter, let it be spent in Your service. I would be for the remainder of my life a real Christian — not half-hearted and undecided, but a true disciple of the Lord Jesus. Oh, make me such. Confirm and strengthen in me every right desire; bring every thought into subjection to Christ; enable me to make a full surrender of myself to You, and by Your continual grace keep me faithful to it.
Let me be no longer a cumberer of the ground. Teach me, when I rise from this bed, what You would have me to do. Be graciously pleased to employ me in Your service, to open some door of usefulness to me, and to give me the happiness of doing good to some for Christ's sake — who has done so much for me. Lord, hear my prayer for His sake. Amen.
The Light of God's Countenance
"There are many who say, 'Who will show us any good?' Lord, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us." Psalm 4:6
Lord, I also would turn to You from all desponding thoughts, and seek hope and comfort in the lifting up of the light of Your countenance upon me.
There is indeed much to cast me down — and much to perplex me. "All these things are against me!" These words come to my mind now, for all things seem to be against me too. Yet they only seem. Things were not really against Jacob, though he thought they were; God was working good for him at that very time. Things are not really against me — for all is ordered by God, and He will hear my prayer and make all things to work together for my good.
Yet when I look only at things, and not to God, unbelief still makes me ready to say that all things are against me, and to cry, almost in despair, "Who will show us any good?"
But this is not right. I ought not to give way to such thoughts; I ought never to look only at circumstances; and, God helping me, I will not. For this is to forget God, or, at least, to think of Him as if He did not order everything that happens, or as if He had never done anything for me, never promised me anything, never given me any invitations. This is to forget all that He tells me of Himself and of His dealings throughout the Bible.
That question, "Who will show us any good?" is the voice of unbelief. The words that follow, "Lord, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us," are faith's answer to the question. God will show us good — He will show us good by lifting up the light of His countenance upon us; that is good.
But how remarkable that this answer should be put into the form of a prayer! The Psalmist addresses his answer to God Himself, thus appealing to Him for the truth of it and begging Him at the very moment to make the words come true by showing to him the light of His countenance.
It is in this way that we should think and speak of all God's gracious dealings, and of all that God has said He will be to us. We should look at all this, not as a mere doctrine to be believed, however true. We should treat it as real, and real for us. We too should turn our thoughts into a prayer, and should seek that we may actually receive the promised grace, and that God will cause His face to shine on us, and thus make us to know by experience — that in Him, there is good for us.
Good! Yes, good indeed. No earthly good, no prosperity, no health even (as precious as health is) is so great a good as the light of God's countenance shining upon us, the sense of His favor and love, the humble belief that for Christ's sake — He forgives and accepts us.
Lord, give me this good! Give it to me in larger measure — lift up the light of Your countenance upon me! Even now, when many things seem against me and friends are pitying me — cause me to find peace in You, and help me to show to others by a cheerful trust, that there is good for those who seek it in Your favor.
"Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still." These words come in the same Psalm. Even so would I do.
Lord, I will try to be quiet under Your hand. I will not fret or repine. I will check anxious and unbelieving thoughts, and keep down vain wishes and be still. I have much time now for communing with my own heart; and I feel the need of it, for in the bustle of life I have neglected it too much. Help me by Your Spirit to commune aright. Show me myself — and show me more of Your grace and love in Christ Jesus. And while I thus draw near to You in secret, oh, let the light of Your countenance shine upon me, and let me know that You are indeed my Father, my gracious and loving Father in Christ Jesus.
The Sinner's Advocate with the Father
"My little children, I write these things to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world." 1 John 2:1-2
How tenderly the apostle writes! "My little children." Not so much because he was older than they, as because they were his children in the faith, and he loved them as such. His great desire was that they should not sin. It was with that object, that he wrote to them in the chapter before about walking in the light, and about the blood of Jesus Christ cleansing from sin.
Lord, make this to be my great desire too, not to sin. Teach me the evil of sin more deeply — make me to hunger and thirst after righteousness!
But they were weak and prone to fall. Alas, we all are. When one who earnestly desires not to sin has nevertheless fallen — then Satan will try to drive him to despair, or at least to lead him into a desponding state of mind. Such a person fears sometimes that he has sinned beyond forgiveness — Satan tries to make him think so. The apostle John has a word here for such. "And if anyone sins — we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
Let him not despair. True, he has broken his resolutions and gone astray from the path he said he would walk in — let him be deeply humbled; let him lament his fall, even with tears, but let him not despair. For he has One to plead for him, "Jesus Christ the righteous." Let him turn afresh to God by Him; let him acknowledge all, and this gracious Advocate will take his cause in hand, and Him the Father hears always.
But even this is not all. Jesus is more than our Advocate; He is also "the atoning sacrifice for our sins." He who now intercedes for us once shed His blood for us. And it is that atoning blood that He now pleads on our behalf. We may plead it for ourselves; it is our only plea, and He Himself also pleads it for us. He is the atoning sacrifice — the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Lord, teach me by Your Spirit to know Your blessed Son as my Savior and my Advocate. I am a poor sinful creature. Some desire You have given me not to sin. But I fail continually.
Lying here on a sick-bed, it might be thought that I was removed from all temptation to sin. Alas, I do not find it so. I am not removed from my own weak and sinful heart; my own nature still cleaves to me, and even the little fellowship I now have with others is yet enough to give occasion of falling. In word, in temper, in disposition of mind — I am still liable to go astray. Still do I need the blood of sprinkling continually — still do I need my great Advocate to plead for me.
How comforting that the Word of God tells me here that I have this Advocate and this Atoning sacrifice! "If anyone sins." Then sin does not deprive me of Him. No, it is my sin that makes me need Him so much. "If anyone sins" — not continually, willfully and determinedly — meaning to sin, choosing to sin; no, not so, for that would be to forsake Christ and all hope in Him; but "if anyone sins" by a fall or slip, through some temptation — nay, even by his own unwatchfulness — then "we have an Advocate with the Father." He will plead for His poor fallen one; He will plead His own precious blood that was shed for him. It is his sin that makes his need, and in that very need Jesus will be his friend and intercessor.
Lord Jesus, I have sinned — plead for me! Father, I have sinned — let my Savior's blood wash away my guilt! For His sake forgive me all, and renew me and quicken me by Your Spirit!
The School of God
"Teach me what I do not see." Job 34:32
I am now especially in the school of God. He has taken me aside to teach me. The whole world is a training place, and all God's dealings with His children are to teach and discipline them. But God is giving me more than general teaching now. He has taken me aside from the great school of the world, to speak to me alone. Doubtless because I needed this special teaching.
It is my earnest desire to learn of God. It is my great wish that this time of severe illness may not be sent me in vain. Lord, fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Give me a humble and teachable heart. Let no pride or hardness or carelessness of mine — come between me and Your teaching, nor hinder me from receiving the impressions of Your grace.
"What I do not see." There is much that I do not see. There is much in the Word of God that has, I am sure, a deeper and more spiritual meaning than I have yet attained to seeing. I am not fully acquainted with my own heart. I have but a faint and shallow knowledge of the riches of God's grace in Christ Jesus. I do not fully see His precise purpose in sending me this present illness. I know that it comes to me for good, and that He takes me aside to teach me — but I would know His gracious will more clearly and distinctly, so that I may learn the very lessons He is teaching me and receive the very blessing He designs for me.
"Teach me what I do not see!" Lord, I turn to You as my teacher. I am blind and ignorant — but You know all. All that it would be for my soul's good to see and know — graciously teach me. Open my heart to understand the Scriptures — may Your Spirit unfold Your Word to me.
Teach me to know myself — let me see myself, not in the light of self-esteem, or in that of the world's opinion, but as I am in Your sight.
Reveal Christ to me more fully. Let me know more of His unsearchable riches. Cause my heart to be more deeply affected with His dying love, and teach me to see clearly the infinite value of His great atonement.
Whatever special fault You mean to correct by this chastisement — enlighten my conscience to see it.
Whatever in my way of life You would have me to change, as contrary to Your will — oh, show it to me now for Your mercy's sake.
"Teach me." I might read books, or I might ask man's advice. I do not disregard either. But now, O my God, that You have taken me thus aside — now I turn to You as my teacher. Who teaches like You? Oh, teach me now, in this inner chamber; teach me by Your Spirit — teach me Yourself.
Teach me, as You alone can teach, in my heart. Let me not only understand Your holy will, but feel it and follow it. Let me not only have an insight into Your truth and Your dealings — but let me receive a deep and lasting impression of Your grace, and may every thought be brought into subjection to You.
Teach me by whatever means You may see good to use. I do not ask so much that this time of trial may be shortened, and that Your chastening hand may be removed — as that I may receive all the blessings of such a time, and profit fully by Your chastening.
Lord, I would not choose — choose for me. Order all for me. Keep all in Your own gracious hand. Deal with me after Your own wisdom and love. Only "Teach me what I do not see" — yes, all that I ought to see and know for my soul's health. By Your dealings, by Your word, by Your Spirit — graciously teach me.
God is Love
"God is love." 1 John 4:16
These well-known words come to me now with a new and sweeter meaning. What wonderful words they are! Did ever words so few in number, mean so much? They are always true — as true to me now in my sickness, as in my happiest times.
I did not quite forget God then. I used to thank Him for the daily mercies which I received, and I had some sense of the greatest mercy of all — the gift of His Son. In some measure I saw love in all God's gifts to me, but most of all in that.
But now I see that "God is love" when He takes away — as well as when He gives. He has taken away my health; instead of blessing me with outward comforts as He used to do — He now sends me pain and weakness. And yet I never before felt the truth of these words so much: "God is love."
Not only is His love in redemption brought home to my heart more strongly than ever — that wonderful love which is spoken of in this chapter, in those well remembered words, "In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him." Not only do I feel this as I never felt it before, but I feel also God's present love to me — His kindness, His nearness.
I am very happy, though I often suffer. And this is what makes me happy: God's love to me — the thought, the belief, that, unworthy as I am, He loves me, and loves me every moment, for Christ's sake. It is more than a thought — it is an experience. He causes me, by His Spirit, to feel and know His love. And I do love Him in return — a little, feebly and imperfectly. And what is this but just what the apostle John says: "We love Him — because He first loved us"?
How little do they know of the love of God, who can see it only in times of prosperity and outward blessing! How miserable it must be to have hard thoughts of God in times of affliction! "God is love" always — but He never shows it more than at the very time when He is afflicting us. I daresay I used to believe this formerly, and to say it, in that kind of way in which people believe and say things which they have never experienced. But how different is it to know a thing by actually finding it to be true! As different as to know a path by actually traveling it, is from knowing it only by description.
The very words are enough to show that God always loves His redeemed children — whatever His dealings may be. God Himself is unchanging. However He may alter His dealings — He Himself changes not. He was love when He manifested His love in sending His Son to save me; He was love in all the blessings He gave me in my health and prosperity; He is love still, unchanged and unchangeable. And it is because He is love, and love to me — that He sends me this sickness.
Lord, I believe this. I thank You. I love You for all — I thank You that in Your love to me, You did not leave me without needful chastisement, such chastening as children receive. I thank You (for this is Your gift) that by Your Spirit You have given me some little sense of Your love. But oh, increase it a thousandfold. Teach me to know Your love in redemption far more deeply. Open my eyes to see clearly, the love that has blessed me all my days. Shed abroad Your love in my heart now, causing me to realize yet more fully Your Fatherly love to me every moment — and to love You more warmly in return.
Whatever You may be pleased to send, help me to receive it thankfully and lovingly, as from You. And whatever outward appearance Your dealings may wear, still enable me to see love in all, and still from my heart to echo the words, "God is love!"
"Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far the Lord has helped us.'" 1 Samuel 7:12
Ebenezer — the stone of help. This name has been a word of comfort for ages, but it is doubly so when we think of the circumstances under which it was given.
The Philistines, those powerful enemies of the children of Israel, went up against them at Mizpah. When the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid and entreated Samuel to pray without ceasing to God, to save them. Samuel accordingly offered a burnt offering and cried to the Lord, and the Lord heard him. At the very time when Samuel was offering the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle. But God fought for Israel. "The Lord thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day, and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel." The confusion was complete — the men of Israel had but to pursue the flying enemy. God had wrought a great deliverance for them. Then it was that Samuel set up the stone and gave it this name: Ebenezer — the stone of help, adding these words: "Thus far the has Lord helped us."
Thus far — up to this time, through all the dangers and difficulties we have met with up to the present moment. But surely there is a yet further meaning in the words. They are the language of faith, as well as of thankfulness. "Thus far the Lord has helped us" — and He will help us still. He has heard our prayer and delivered us now — He will never fail to do so.
When we read Samuel's words thus, we see the stone of help too in another light. It was not only a memorial of past help — it was also a sign and assurance of help for the future. In all future dangers, let the children of Israel look at that stone, the stone of help, and take courage.
God has helped me too, or I would not be here today to praise Him. I do praise You, O my God. It is of Your mercy that I have been brought so far through sickness and suffering. Thus far has the Lord helped me. Through much pain, through weakness and weariness, through danger to life — up to this very moment, the Lord has helped me. Means have been used — medicine, care, attention — but the blessing upon the means has been of God. He has helped me.
I have often feared, and others have feared for me — it has been an anxious time. But prayer has been made, and God has graciously heard it. Lord, I thank You. I do now set up in my heart an Ebenezer — a memorial of Your goodness; nay more, I desire that all should know it. The stone of help was a public acknowledgment. I too would have all know how gracious God has been to me.
Thus far has the Lord helped me. I know not what may be before me. It is enough for me, that God has brought me in safety to the present moment, and that it is His hand that will deal with me still. Thus far He has helped Me — and He will not now cease to help me. Up to this moment He has heard prayer; He will not from this time turn a deaf ear to it. If ever bodily weakness or pain should get the better of me, and faith should fail and anxious thoughts for the future should harass me — then I will turn and look at this Ebenezer, this stone of help. I will remember God's deliverance and learn thus to trust Him still.
O You who hear prayer and never fail to help and support those who trust in You — keep in my mind the memory of Your past goodness, and help me to praise You, love You, seek You, and trust in You. Deliverance from bodily danger is but a part of what You have done for me. You have delivered my soul — You have given me a Savior — You have assured me of pardon and acceptance in Him. You have promised me Your Spirit's help, and up to this point You have led me on in safety. Thus far has the Lord helped me. Lord, help me still, in soul and body, through every temptation and trial, against every enemy, for Christ my Savior's sake.
"All Your works shall praise You, O Lord — and Your saints shall bless You." Psalm 145:10
These sweet flowers which they have brought me, bring these words to my mind, and other words too, our Lord's own words: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow — they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
No, indeed — no human hand ever made anything so beautiful. These violets, with their sweet perfume; this rose-bud, as sweet in its way; this snow-white jasmine, and even the green leaves — how beautiful they all are! Doubly beautiful to me now, brought to me, as they are, on my sick-bed. I love them because they are God's work. "My Father made them all!" I can trace an Almighty hand here. More than that, I see here the hand of Love — else why all this beauty?
God by His mighty power made these flowers to grow. We call that power nature — but it is God's power; all that comes by nature is His work. These delicate colors, these exquisite shapes, these sweet smells, this wonderful variety even in one bouquet — all is of His doing. And He made all so lovely, simply to please man, because He is Love.
Not only the great works of God, the sun and moon and stars, praise Him — but His lesser works too. These flowers speak His praise. Even lowlier flowers than these do so; a daisy speaks His praise; or even something lower than a flower — a leaf, or a blade of grass. "All Your works shall praise You, O Lord!" The small as well as the great.
"And Your saints shall bless You." O Father Almighty, shall the flowers speak Your praise — and shall man be silent? Shall I look at these Your beautiful works, every one of which declares Your power and love — and shall I have no heart or voice to praise You? My God, I do praise You. I give You thanks for Your wonderful works; for Your power, wisdom, and love, which shine forth in them all.
Yet more I praise You for Your goodness to me. I thank You for Your precious dealings with me; I thank You for that precious hope which You have given me in Christ my Savior. I thank You for sending me Your Holy Spirit, the Comforter. The work of grace is Your work, as well as the works of nature. I bless You for all.
Yet more, God's works in nature remind me of what God can do for me yet further in grace. How perfect is His handiwork in these flowers! There is not a fault or flaw. All is exact and beautiful. All is just as God intended it to be.
Even so, O my God, carry on Your work of grace in me! Let no fault or frailty of mine be allowed to hinder Your gracious design. The little flowers grew by Your appointment to all this beauty and perfectness. Cause me also to grow. Put forth in me the secret influences of Your grace. Let Your Spirit work within me. Let those words be fulfilled, "The Lord will perfect that which concerns me. Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the works of Your hands."
Lord, help me to praise You — not with my lips only, but in my life. Help me to live to Your praise now — by patience, meekness, trust, and thankfulness. Help me to live to Your praise — if I should rise to go about again among men.
Then, when I look again upon Your works and once more see all around me proofs of Your power and love — help me to learn a lesson of praise and duty from them all. Each one of Your outward works fills its appointed place, and does its allotted duty. Even so let me, who am also the work of Your hands, but to whom You have given more than to them — a mind and a soul; even so let me fill my appointed place and do my allotted work and live continually to Your glory. O fill me with Your Holy Spirit and work in me by Your grace, for Jesus Christ's sake.
Comfort amid Perplexing Thoughts
"In the multitude of my anxious thoughts within me — Your comforts delight my soul." Psalm 94:19
Often in illness the brain seems more active and lively than at other times. Thoughts follow one another quickly — as one seems to be constantly thinking. This is partly owing to the state of the brain itself, and partly because one is withdrawn from one's common employments. When the hands are idle — then the mind is the more busy. I find it so now. A multitude of thoughts pass through my mind — thoughts of various kinds and on many different subjects.
I think of the past. Old scenes rise up to my memory. I live my life over again.
I think of the present. I dwell upon my state now, and upon what brought me into it. I sometimes find my thoughts fixing themselves on the merest trifles, and that very earnestly.
I think of the future. And then I am often anxious and apprehensive. I imagine to myself, this thing and that thing. My mind is disturbed and restless.
My thoughts are not all about myself. They sometimes take a wide range. I think about those dear to me. I go over them and their circumstances in my mind, one by one. I think of friends and acquaintances, and of those with whom I have lately had to do.
Often I find myself thinking about such things as the evil and misery that are in the world — and looking forward and wondering and speculating.
"The multitude of my anxious thoughts within me" exactly expresses what I feel. They are so many, so various, so confused. They come so quickly. I do not know where they come from — or why I think of such things as often come into my head. In a very short space of time, a multitude of thoughts about a vast variety of things has occupied me. I am sometimes quite tired of thinking, and harassed and troubled by my own thoughts.
How comforting is it at such times to turn my mind away from my own thoughts — and fix it upon God! I think over some Scripture text, I say over a hymn, or I rise upward in secret prayer — and then all is changed. I am no longer harassed and weary. I seem at rest. My mind reposes in God.
O my God, how great is Your goodness to me in giving me these comforts! They come from You. You have taught me to know You — You have given me Your Word and led me to You as my Father. It is You who gives me happy thoughts of my Savior, and sends to me the Comforter, Your Holy Spirit.
Your comforts soothe me, refresh me, and even delight my soul. How different are the thoughts which You give me, from those into which my mind is so apt to wander! They are so confusing, vexing, wearying, some of them so vain and trifling, others so distressing — but Your comforts are calm and peaceful, noble, holy, and happy. They do not confuse my mind, as the others do; for now my mind and heart are fixed on one object — on You alone, on Your love, Your grace, Your kindness, Your faithfulness.
When I look up to You — then even those other anxious thoughts seem changed. They take another form, when they come to me with thoughts of You. A calm is shed over them, like oil poured upon the troubled waters. Even when the thoughts are present there still, they no longer disturb me. You keep them from doing so, You give me peace. "In the multitude of my thoughts within me — Your comforts delight my soul."
Lord, help me to feel this even more — help me by Your Spirit, the Comforter! Preserve me from wandering too far in thought. Make it to be the habit of my mind, to turn to You — from all vain and troublous thoughts — as the refuge of my soul. Give me Your comforts in yet larger measure. Take away every hindrance. Give me a clearer view of my Savior, a deeper sense of His redeeming love, a closer hold upon Him by faith. And, "in the multitude of my thoughts within me," may these thoughts ever be present with me above all others, to comfort me and to bring me peace.
The Fainting Spirit
"Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel: 'My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God'?
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:27-31
Well do I know what it is to feel that which is expressed in the first of these verses. I do not indeed say those words. In my times of deepest despondency, if I were to say that God had forgotten me — I believe that my own words would shock me and tell me that my thoughts were untrue. But so desponding am I at times, that the tone of my feeling is as if God had forgotten me. How wrong this is! How ungrateful and unbelieving! Well may I say, "This is my infirmity!"
I would speak to my own heart as the prophet here speaks to his people. I would remonstrate with myself on my own unbelief.
God is not like me. I often faint, am often weary — and that both in mind and body. But God "neither faints nor is weary." He is "the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth. His understanding is unsearchable." There is no change with Him, no growing weary of caring even for the lowest of His redeemed people — no forgetting, no overlooking.
"Have you not known? Have you not heard?" O my soul, be ashamed of Your mistrust. Where is all your past knowledge of God? Where all your experience of His grace and love? Have you learned so many things in vain? Shall all that God has taught you by His Word and Spirit be forgotten, because it pleases Him now to try you with affliction? Shall the first breath of trouble, scatter all your impressions of His grace and goodness?
Not only is He unchanging Himself, never fainting or weary — but He also gives out of His fullness to those who are in need. Let me but believe, and all my need is met by His grace.
I am faint — "He gives power to the weak." I have no might — "to those who have no might, He increases strength."
Even now, when my fainting spirit is ready to think God has forgotten me, even now, in my weakness and weariness, this is what God is both able and willing to do for me — to give me power, to increase my strength.
O my God, I am ashamed of my unbelief, my ungrateful doubts, my hard thoughts of You! Pardon me, I beseech You, for Jesus Christ's sake. Revive hope and trust within me by Your Holy Spirit. Even in weakness of body, let my faith be strong. And though I change from hour to hour — yet teach me to know that You never change.
How encouraging are the words that follow! Youth, with all its vigor, may faint and be weary; the young, strong and active as they are, may utterly fail — but not those who wait on the Lord. Even though weak and ill, pressed down by many troubles and with the burden of old age resting upon them — yet "those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength." He will hear their prayer; He will answer their faith; He will bless their patient waiting; He will renew their strength.
Their bodily strength? Yes, if so it pleases Him — for with Him all things are possible. But if not, He can give something better than bodily strength — strength of mind and heart, firmness of trust, a sure hope, an unshaken confidence in the Lord Jesus — and thus, peace, the peace of God.
He whom God blesses thus, does even now mount, as on eagles' wings — soaring upward in heart, beyond the reach of care and pain — and finding access to the throne of grace by Jesus Christ. Lord, help me thus to rise to You!
But this promise extends beyond this world. Here on earth, there must still be sickness, weakness, and weariness — though cheered by much heart comfort, the gift of God. But in the better land, these things will have no place; there youth will be renewed, and every power restored to full activity. Nay, much more than that — such powers will be given as we never had below, and all will be used readily, gladly, happily, without weariness, and without the least mixture of sin or infirmity, in the service of God forever!
Lord, bring me, through Christ my Savior — to what You have prepared for those who love You. In the meantime, may that bright hope, cheer and comfort me continually.
The Blessedness of Chastening
"Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Lord — and teach out of Your law." Psalm 94:12
I remember another text which says, "No chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous"; and then it goes on, "Nevertheless afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." The blessedness therefore spoken of in the Psalm, must be chiefly afterwards.
"Blessed is the man whom You chasten" — because of the good that the chastisement will do to him, the fruit, "the peaceable fruit of righteousness," which it will yield.
Lord, You have laid Your chastening hand on me — You are chastening me. What I suffer could not have come upon me by chance or accident — You Yourself have sent it. Let it not have come in vain. As it comes from You — it comes in wisdom and kindness. Oh, may Your gracious purposes be fulfilled. Grant me a greater filling of Your Holy Spirit, that all may be sanctified to me.
Many of Your past dealings have passed by, I fear, unimproved. Let it not be so with this. I humbly trust that You have sent this sickness for my good. I believe that, through Your grace, blessed fruit will follow. Lord, grant it, even more than I can think, for Christ's sake!
Even now I am conscious of blessing. Though sometimes my pains are hard to bear (I could not bear them without God's help) — yet I feel that God is near. The pain in itself is grievous, to be sure; but with it, even at the time, comes much inward comfort — so that I see nothing strange in these words,
"Blessed is the man whom You chasten."
Once I would have thought them very strange. If I could have seen myself beforehand, lying here faint and suffering, cut off from my work, in almost constant pain, and as weak as a child — I would have thought it grievous indeed. But I do not think so now. God makes it otherwise. He is so kind, so merciful, so good to me — He gives me such comforting thoughts. He seems to draw my heart to Him.
So I do say, "Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Lord." Lord, I thank You for the blessing You give me even now, and I pray that a better blessing still may follow. I wish . . .
to care less for the world,
to love my Savior more,
to have more of that peace which He promised,
to grow in grace,
to walk closely with You.
Work this in me by Your Spirit. Make this illness which You have sent — make it Your instrument for good to my soul. Then I shall be blessed indeed!
But chastening does not stand alone here; it is said also "and teaches him out of Your law." Does it mean that these two things go on together — that God at once both chastens and teaches out of His law? It seems so. Then God teaches in two ways at one time — by affliction, and by His Word.
And the two methods work together. The Word helps a man to understand the affliction, tells him whom it comes from, and what it means. The affliction, the chastening, humbles his heart, makes him willing to hear God's Word, and causes it to touch his conscience. Thus there is a double blessing.
I feel it so. I never before saw such a deep meaning in Scripture. Old, well-known texts come home to me as they never did in past days. God seems to speak to me in them. Is not this the Spirit applying the Word, God teaching me out of His Word?
Lord, I thank You for this blessing as well. Teach me more — help me to learn — give me a humble and teachable spirit. "Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law" — wonders of grace, goodness, holiness, and truth; the wonders of redeeming love in Christ Jesus. Teach them to me in my heart. Teach me to know and feel them really and deeply.
The Good Shepherd
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want." Psalm 23:1
May I say this? May I, without presumption and without deceiving myself — take David's words, and say them of myself? I find them written in the Bible. They come to me, not merely as the words of David — but as words inspired by God. God Himself seems to give them to me, to teach them to me. I need not be afraid to say this — I will not be afraid. O my God, I thank You that You have given me these words, that I may say that You are my Shepherd, and that I may trust in Your love and care.
The words remind me of other words, the words of Jesus: "I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep!" And of those other words too, "For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls." Yes, I was one of those sheep — I used to go astray.
O gracious Savior, I desire to come to You, with all my heart. If I have never come to You yet — I do now. I am a poor wandering sheep, and You gave Your blood to save me! Oh, receive me now — wash me from my sins, and make me Yours.
"The Lord is my Shepherd." What now? Now, as I lie on this bed of affliction — does He care for me and watch over me? Does that gracious eye see me? Does the Lord Himself notice me, and not only notice me, but notice me as a shepherd observes his sheep — with care and interest and love? Yes, "the Lord is my Shepherd" — now, today, at this very moment!
Lord, I place myself under Your care; I cast myself on Your grace and love. You care for me; You have said so; that is enough. I cannot be unhappy while the Lord is my Shepherd. I must be safe under His care.
"I shall not want." That is, because the Lord is my Shepherd — then whatever is for my good, He will give me. I do want many things. I want help and strength and ease for my body; I want comfort in my mind; I want patience; I want never to be irritable or unkind; I want to be thankful; I want to be the better for this illness. But all this my Shepherd can give me — all this He can make me to be. For He is the Lord, and He is my Shepherd.
How wonderful! The Lord Himself, the Lord of life and glory, the God of all grace, the God of love, the Eternal, the Almighty — He is my Shepherd!
I need not fear. Alas, I do fear sometimes. But I will not fear. "The Lord is my Shepherd — I shall not want."
O gracious Lord, my Father, my Shepherd — I thank You for all Your goodness to me. Increase my faith. Draw my heart nearer to You. Make me to know more of my Savior. Make me fully to know and experience all that He did for me when He gave His life for the sheep. Still, still, I am prone to go astray. Even here on this bed, though removed from the world and its temptations — yet in heart and thought I go astray.
Keep me, O Lord, by Your grace. Guard me from evil thoughts, from the darts of the wicked one, from unbelief, from carelessness, from fretfulness, from fear.
"The Lord is my Shepherd!" Oh, write those words on my heart and help me to believe that I shall not want — because You will give me all I need.
"All the days of my hard service [appointed time] will I wait — until my change comes." Job 14:14
Sometimes it seems as if the change would never come. The time is so long — the days and nights are so wearisome. Yet they tell me that I shall get over this illness, and be about again after a while. They may be right — but that time looks a long way off, and sometimes I am out of heart and fear it will never come.
But Job was worse off than I am, and yet he could say this — let me try to say it too. "All the days of my appointed time I will I wait — until my change comes."
My time is appointed — I am sure of that. It is appointed by God. He knows how long I am to lie on this bed — He has fixed it all. Does not He judge best? Should I like to have it otherwise? Should I like to have it all settled in my way, instead of His? No, no — I am sure His way and His time are best. So be it. My time is appointed by God.
O God, my Father, help me always to remember this. "My time is in Your hand." You know all things. You know that, as weak and foolish though I am — yet I would not have it otherwise. Do still appoint all things for me — my time, my lot, my circumstances, my all.
"All the days of my appointed time will I wait." All the days. They come one by one. This long time of sickness does not come upon me all at once. If it did, it would be far harder to bear. Day comes after day, only one day at a time.
"All the days." Lord, let me never for one day be impatient. Every day give me grace to bear Your will. The days may yet be more than I think. I may not be able to get up on the day they think I shall. If not, still You know best. Help me still to endure. "All the days of my appointed time," however many they may be — keep me from murmuring. Help me to the end.
"I will wait," I know I must wait — for I am in God's hand, and I can do nothing against Him. But I will wait patiently. This is what Job seems to mean, and this is what I will try to do. But I cannot, in my own strength. Lord, help me to wait — to wait patiently and submissively. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit in my heart, to keep down every impatient thought and every wrong feeling. It is easy to say, "I will wait" — Lord, do help me to do it.
"Until my change comes." They tell me that I shall get better. I know, O my God, that You can make me better, and even make me quite well — if it is Your pleasure; and I trust You will.
But another change — the great change, must come at some time, if not now. Lord, make me ready for it! This is what You have laid me here for — that I may think more of my soul than ever, and seek my Savior. Blot out all my sins from Your book! Blot them out even now by His precious blood, so that not one remains. Give me now, as I lie here, a deep sense of eternal things, and of the great change which lies before me. Oh, prepare me for it by Your grace; and grant that, if I rise from this bed and go about again among men, I may never forget this time, and never more forget You — but may be Yours now and forever.
The Sure Refuge
"The eternal God is your refuge — and underneath are the everlasting arms." Deuteronomy 33:17
God is my refuge. I may flee to Him for shelter and for help. Even now, just as I am, lying here so helpless, weak, and suffering, with so many distressing thoughts and feelings — I may flee in heart to God as my refuge! He is my refuge — He tells me so. My heart may sink within me; my faith may fail; I may find it difficult even to pray — yet all the while He is my refuge. He is near for me to flee to — He is ready to receive me — He is able to shelter and to help me.
"The eternal God!" What can hurt me — if I take refuge with Him? What trouble can reach me there? What enemy can touch me; what temptation can overcome me; what evil thought can possess me — if I flee to the eternal God as my refuge, and rest in Him?
Lord, help me to flee to You! Bring these Your words home to me — make me to believe and to feel them — teach me to receive them as Your message to me.
Are You indeed my refuge? Will You receive one so unworthy? May I come to You and cast my cares upon You, and so escape from all that vexes and depresses me? How gracious and how comforting is this assurance! I will believe it. I will seek help nowhere else. I will flee unto You.
"You are my hiding-place." You will receive me for Christ's sake. You will not shut the door against me. Lord, I come to You now. I turn away from all fears and from all assaults, from every troubled thought, and from every nervous apprehension — and I flee unto You as my refuge.
Yet how weak I am! Weak in body, weak and sinking — weak and low in mind too. My strength is gone — no power seems left me. Sometimes everything seems to be failing me, and I feel myself sinking, I know not where.
Now what blessed words are these: "Underneath are the everlasting arms!" Holding me up, keeping me from sinking, making me safe. While I think of the words, I almost seem to feel the everlasting arms beneath me! They will hold me up still — I shall not sink; I shall find support.
"The everlasting arms!" They will never grow tired — they will never let me go. They are the arms of faithfulness, truth, power, and love.
Lord, I thank You for this assurance. Help me by Your Spirit to keep it in mind. Help me to rest in You, all weak and helpless — and yet strong in Your supporting power. Whatever may come to me, whatever weakness or pain — even if greater than now — still may I feel Your everlasting arms beneath me; still may I realize Your loving support.
In my secret thoughts, when no one is near, teach me to feel that You are near — more than near — with me, with me always, holding me, bearing me up, taking care of me in body and in soul. Oh, fulfill Your gracious words to me — be indeed my refuge, and let the everlasting arms be underneath me, for Jesus Christ my Savior's sake.
The Midnight Prayer
"Now it came to pass in those days, that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God." Luke 6:12
I cannot sleep tonight. All is silent. My thoughts turn upward. I think of Him who once passed a sleepless night — not on a comfortable bed, but alone on a mountain.
What a scene! He by whom the worlds were made, is there alone. The silence of the night is around Him — silence and darkness. The world sleeps at His feet; the stars are overhead; the cool wind blows on Him; no human eye sees Him there. He prays — He has gone there for that purpose. Escaping from the world, going apart even from His disciples — He has betaken Himself to the mountain to hold communion with the Father, and there He continues all night in prayer to God.
My Savior, my thoughts dwell on You now — my heart goes up to You. You are not now alone on the mountain-top. You have finished Your work — You have ascended up on high — You are in Your heavenly glory. Yet You look down to earth. Still You care for the world sleeping below, and for Your redeemed children who cannot sleep — the restless, the suffering, the sad. You are not changed; You are still the same. Still You love; still You care; still You have compassion, as much in Your present glory as in Your time of humiliation.
You prayed on the mountain; You prayed all night. I dare not venture too far in my thoughts. Your Word has not told us what Your prayer was. But was it not for sinners? Was it not on behalf of those for whom You had come? If You prayed for Yourself — yet it was for Yourself as man, as having taken our nature and come to save us. You were our Savior, even in Your prayers.
Lord, teach me also to pray. You, who prayed to the Father — help me to go to the Father by You; help me by the Spirit.
You Yourself do still plead for men. You are on high to intercede, to send down gifts, to bless. You are our High Priest above. Oh, may this gift come down to me — the gift of prayer, the spirit of grace and of supplications! You did not grow weary of prayer — help me also to persevere. Keep me from being soon tired of praying; keep me from wandering in thought; make me to find more comfort and delight in prayer. Now, by night, when the world is asleep — help me to hold communion with the Father through the Spirit.
O Father, who were so near to my Savior that night, and heard and accepted Him in every word and every thought — be for His sake, near to me also. Look down upon me; have mercy upon me; bless me.
He had no sins to confess, but I have many — pardon me for His precious blood's sake. Not only had he no past sins to confess, but He had no proneness to sin within Him; yet He prayed all night. Oh, teach me the greatness of my need as a poor, frail, sinful creature. Show me how much I need. Raise my thoughts; enlarge my desires; call forth my prayers; quicken my faith; help me to believe yet more fully on Christ my Savior, and to feel and know that in Him is all I need, and that for His sake You forgive me and receive me.
The Lame Cured
"So he, leaping up stood and walked and entered the temple with them — walking, leaping, and praising God." Acts 3:8
This cure was wrought in the name of Jesus, by the mighty power of God. "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth," said the apostle Peter, "rise up and walk." And then the man, though lame from his mother's womb, was made well immediately. The apostle Peter "took him by the right hand, and lifted him up; and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength."
And this was how he used his strength, a strength which he had never before had — he went with the apostle Peter and the apostle John into the temple, praising God as he went.
Time was, when I was as active as any — but I know now what it is to have no strength to move. It is really but a few days ago — yet how long it seems since I went about like other people! But now I am laid low. A broken leg keeps me bound here. And though they tell me that all is going on as well as can be — yet feeling my leg all loose and helpless and full of pain at the least motion — I find it hard to believe that I shall ever walk on it again.
But God can bring it to pass. He made a man walk who had never walked from his birth. He can make me walk again, if it is His will. I must put my trust in Him. I will trust in Him.
O my God, if it pleases You to raise me up again, to go about as before — then how thankful shall I be! I fear I was never grateful enough for the use of my limbs. I never thought of it before. I used to take it as a thing of course. Other people walked about, and so did I. I never thought Who gave me the power. But now I know what a blessing I had for so many years. I know the value of it — by having lost it. It was but a moment — a slip, a fall — and it was gone!
Lord, if ever I get to walk about again, I will never forget You and Your goodness. I will praise You for giving me back my strength — I will try to go about giving You thanks. Forgive me for having forgotten You before. Help me to remember You now, and never to forget You any more.
There is another thing that strikes me here. This man went into the temple with them, as soon as ever he could walk. When I could walk, I often neglected the house of God. I used to go when I felt inclined, but over and over again I heard the church-bell, and sat at home; and many a time have I taken God's day for pleasuring. How I wish I could go to church now! But that I cannot do. Here I lie — I cannot move. And I suppose that most people are still going on just as I used to. Hundreds and thousands who can walk — do not turn their steps towards God's House on His holy day. Oh, if they did but see things as I see them now!
Lord, help me never to neglect Your house any more. I feel as if I never could. But I am weak and sinful. I may forget what I feel now — I may become careless again, when my strength returns. Heavenly Father, keep me by Your grace from being so ungrateful. These thoughts and wishes come from You — fix them in my heart; keep them there by Your Holy Spirit. When You give me strength to walk again — make it my great delight to go to Your house.
How happy this man was, "walking, and leaping, and praising God!" How happy I would be — to be able to walk and leap! Ah, but let me not forget the other part. That is the danger — to get well, to walk and leap — and then to forget God again. Lord, keep me from this. Make me to love You, praise You, serve You, all my life! May this be my happiness in the days to come — not merely to go about strong and well, but to go about full of thankfulness — to go about serving You, doing Your will, following in the steps of Jesus Christ my Savior.
Health of Body and Health of Soul
"Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health — just as your soul prospers." 3 John 2
As we are made of two parts, soul and body, so there are two kinds of health — the health of the body and the health of the soul. There are also two kinds of prosperity — outward and inward.
Perhaps the apostle John had heard that Gaius was ill, or had been ill. At all events, when he is writing to him as a dear friend, and breathing out good wishes for him, he can find no better wish than this — that his body may be in as good health as his soul — that he may get on as well in temporal things, as he hears that he does in spiritual things.
How remarkable a wish! How beautiful a picture does it give us of the spiritual state, the religious character, of Gaius! The apostle had heard good news about him, news that rejoiced him greatly. Christian brethren had come and told him that Gaius was walking in the truth, and that he was showing the fruit of his faith — in love and kindness to the disciples of Christ. Whether or not the brethren told him also that Gaius was ill or in trouble, for that does not appear — this was his wish for this good man — that he might prosper outwardly as much as he prospered inwardly.
Alas, the case is exactly the opposite with many. Many a man is strong and hearty in body — while his soul languishes; many are rich and prosperous in their worldly concerns — while the concerns of their souls are quite neglected. Those who are true friends of such, must reverse the apostle's wish and prayer, and desire that, by God's grace, these healthy and prosperous ones — may be equally healthy and prosperous in their souls.
But let me think of myself. How is it with me? I am not in good health now. I am weak and ill. Now suppose I had a friend who knew my life and character thoroughly; not only my outward life, but my heart, my thoughts, my inner life, my spiritual state. Suppose I had such a friend, and suppose he were to write me a letter expressing his wishes for me; would it be a good and true wish, would it be the best wish he could frame for me, that my body might be as well as my soul — that I might gain as much of health and strength in my body, as I have of grace and peace and love in my soul?
Alas, such a wish would never suit my case. If I had such a friend, and he were to write so to me — I must beg him to frame his wishes and prayers for me in a very different way. "Think no such thing about me," I would say; "I am sick in body, but I am yet worse in soul! I would be thankful to receive health, but much more do I need grace! Join your prayers to mine, that God will forgive me and receive me for Christ's sake, and renew and quicken my heart by His Spirit, and give me His peace." Such would be my answer to my friend.
But I have no such friend. There is only One Who knows my heart. He knows all. To Him I turn. Lord, You know what my chief need is — not health for the body, but grace for my soul. Both are from You. O look upon me now, for Christ's sake, and give to me out of the riches of Your bounty. Make this very sickness, to be for the health of my soul. Work by it for my eternal good. Make me more humble, more serious, more in earnest. Make me truly sorry for sin — give me a contrite heart; enable me to look to Jesus in faith. Give me the renewing and sanctifying grace of Your Holy Spirit.
Bless me in soul — and bless me in body. Cause my soul now to prosper under Your gracious hand. And, by Your mercy, raise me up again to health — that I may live to You, and walk in the truth, and bear fruit to Your glory.
The Sick Laid before Jesus
"Wherever He entered into villages, cities, or in the country — they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well." Mark 6:56
This gives us the idea that there were a great many sick people in that country. Wherever He went, our Lord found some. Villages, cities, or country — no place was without its sick.
It is so in every country. It is so always. In great towns there are always many sick people, and no village or hamlet is so small, but that it has some sick people. How many sick there must be in the whole country! How many in the world! At any one time, at this time, for instance, what vast numbers must there be lying ill, or but just able to crawl about. The sick form a great body, a large part of the people living in the world. At this moment there are thousands, nay millions of them!
I am one of them now. So it has pleased God. How differently one feels about anything, when it touches one's self! Everything about the sick has double interest for me now. This verse — I never was so much struck by it, never felt it so much as now. Wherever He went, they laid the sick in the streets and asked Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment, and all who did so were made whole!
No wonder they laid their sick before Him. One such cure made known through the country, would have been enough to bring all the sick to Him from every place. If anyone were to go about now healing the sick by a touch or a word — nay, if the Lord Jesus Himself were here, how the sick would flock to Him! My friends would not be long in taking me to Him.
But does not the Lord Jesus know about the sick and care for them — though He is not on earth now? Does He not know about me, and care for me? Yes, I believe that He does. There is not one sick Christian in all the world whose case Jesus does not know, and whose sufferings He does not pity. He knows and pities the sick just as much now — as He did when they took them and laid them before Him in the streets.
He could heal the sick now, if it pleased Him. He can do all now, that He could do then. It rests with Him to put forth His healing power or not. If such were His gracious will, He could make me well in a moment. And doubtless — though not by a miracle — He does often cure sick people now. He did it then in answer to prayer; they laid the sick before Him and begged Him; we too would pray to Him when we are ill, or when those we love are ill. He will hear prayer — and will do what is best for us.
I cannot see Him now — yet I can draw near to Him. Weak as I am, I can lay myself before Him in heart and beseech Him. He is always at hand. He is near me now.
Lord Jesus, I humbly approach You. I cast myself before You. Look upon me, I beseech You, for Your mercy's sake. Grant me to be like those who did but touch the hem of Your garment, and were made whole. Let me too find access to You by faith; let me approach and touch You in heart, and may I be made whole. You know what is best for me. If it is Your gracious will — then take away my sickness, and make me well. Put forth Your healing power as of old, and bless the means used for my recovery, and give me grace to ascribe all to You.
But let Your gracious will be done. I lay myself before You. I desire that You would deal with me according to Your infinite wisdom and love. Only visit my soul with Your salvation; — et my sins be washed away in Your precious blood — grant me Your peace which passes understanding.
I am so unworthy that I ask, as it were, but to touch the hem of Your garment; but You do not turn away from the unworthy, for You are the Savior of sinners. Gracious Savior, look upon me; heal me; cleanse me; comfort me; let me experience Your saving power.
Weariness, Pain, and Sleeplessness
"In weariness and toil [painfulness], in sleeplessness [watchings] often." 2 Corinthians 11:27
Paul probably did not mean exactly what I am suffering now — the weariness and painfulness of a sick-bed, the sleeplessness arising from illness. Most likely he meant the weariness and painfulness caused by toilsome journeys and hard labor and occasional need; and his watchings were probably when he was laboring and traveling by night, instead of resting on a bed.
But though my circumstances are different from his — yet the words of the apostle exactly describe my state. I too am "in weariness and painfulness"; I too often watch through the greater part of the night, tossing restlessly on my bed, unable to sleep.
Sometimes I think that anything would be better than this. I long to be up and about. I would not mind being tired with work. I would think little of the painfulness of an active life, even though mixed sometimes with over-fatigue. It is the weariness and painfulness of lying so long on my bed — weak, helpless, inactive, and full of bodily discomfort; it is this which is so trying. And even journeys and labors by night, I think I could bear far more easily than the restless nights I pass.
Sometimes these thoughts cross my mind. But they are not right; I know they are not right. They are self-willed, discontented, impatient thoughts. When I indulge them, what am I really thinking? That I could order my lot better than my Heavenly Father — that the burden He has laid on some other of His servants would have suited me better than that which He has been pleased to lay upon me? I do not acknowledge it to myself; I am hardly aware of it — yet at such moments I am repining against God.
Lord, forgive me. Have compassion on my infirmity. For Jesus Christ's sake, pardon every rebellious thought, all murmuring against Your holy will, all pride, impatience, and self-will. And work in me by Your Spirit a meek and humble frame of mind. Give me grace to bear weariness and painfulness, even that very weariness and painfulness which You send — with a trustful and loving submission to Your will. Help me to learn every lesson which You would teach me now, and out of seeming evil bring good to my soul.
Can I not turn these sleepless nights to better account? Instead of fretting restlessly at the lack of sleep — let me direct my thoughts upward. Let me think upon God. Let me meditate upon Him in the night-watches. Let me dwell upon His Word, His goodness, His grace and love. Let me draw near to Him afresh by Jesus Christ and realize in those silent hours all that He has given me in giving me a Savior. Lord, help me to use these watchings thus! Bless and sanctify them to my soul!
I may learn a lesson from the apostle. In this long list of trials and sufferings, how much there is that was painful to flesh and blood! Naturally he no more loved hardship and discomfort, than I do. Yet, far from complaining, he even gloried in the things which concerned his infirmities, in the privations and sufferings which so dear and gracious a Master called him to endure for His sake; and willingly went forward still in the same course.
O gracious Savior, give me the same mind. Help me to bring honor to You by meekness and patience. Teach me to count it all joy when I fall into tribulation for Your sake. For is it not for Your sake, when You send it and bid me bear it patiently, and give me thus an opportunity of glorifying and serving You? Oh, what is all that I suffer — compared with what You so willingly endured for me?
Thoughts of Peace
"'For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,' says the Lord, 'thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope [an expected end].'" Jeremiah 29:11
Perhaps, while I am downcast, dispirited, desponding — perhaps even now, such are the thoughts which God has toward me. While I am ready to say, "All these things are against me!" — then perhaps the Lord, who orders all, is thinking thoughts of peace toward me, and making all things work together for my good, so as to give me "an expected end" — nay, an end beyond all expectation or hope.
The very words seem to show that the Lord does indeed think such thoughts toward those who do not know or believe that He does so.
"I know the thoughts that I think" — as much as to say, "You do not know them; you think that My thoughts toward you are thoughts of evil, and that I mean to lay fresh afflictions upon you, to crush you, to bring you to nothing; such are your feelings about Me. But you are blind and ignorant; you mistake My dealings and purposes. I know the thoughts that I think toward you . . . thoughts of peace, and not of evil."
Have I any ground for taking this comfort to myself? The words were addressed to the captive Jews — may I believe that God does in fact speak them to me also? I humbly think I may. For, besides the numberless assurances of mercy and grace scattered throughout the Bible, I find the following words immediately after this verse: "Then you will call upon Me, and I will listen to you." This seems to mean that even already, before they called upon Him, God had thoughts of peace toward the captive Jews; that He would in consequence bring them to repentance and lead them to seek Him, giving them the spirit of prayer; and that He would then give them "an expected end," a wished-for and longed-for end, in delivering them from captivity and restoring them to their land.
Now God has already given me a desire to call upon Him. I do most earnestly call upon Him; from my heart do I pray to Him; I wish above all things for pardon, peace, grace, salvation, through Jesus Christ. Surely God Himself has given me these desires. Is not that a proof that He has thoughts of peace toward me — and not of evil? Would He have inclined me to seek Him, if He had meant to turn away His face from me? May I not take to myself the promise, "I will listen to you"? May I not believe that this gracious assurance is meant for me, "And you shall seek Me and find Me — when you shall search for Me with all your heart"?
Lord, I do believe in Your grace and love toward me in Christ Jesus. I believe that, for His sake, You think thoughts of peace toward me, and not of evil. I believe that You will bring me through all that now troubles me, and give me such an end of my sufferings as shall seem best to You.
To You I desire to leave all. I know not what that end may be. I know not what to expect. I need not wish to know. It will be the end that is best — for it will be the end that is appointed by You. You are leading me toward it now. You are leading me gently, kindly, wisely.
You do not turn away from my prayers. You look on me with Your pardoning mercy, seeking You, as I do, through Jesus Christ and His atoning blood. You think thoughts of peace toward me, O my Father — not thoughts of evil. I thank You for all Your grace and goodness. I thank You for this Your word of comfort to me. Give to me also "thoughts of peace." Give me more of that peace "which passes all understanding," and may it keep my heart and mind continually through Christ Jesus.
The Believer's Strength and Portion
"My flesh and my heart fail — but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever!" Psalm 73:26
How true is this of me! "My flesh and my heart fail." Yes, I do not deceive myself; I do not shut my eyes to the truth of my case; I know I am sinking. Kind friends may take a flattering view. "While there is life, there is hope," they say. But I feel that my body grows weaker and weaker — my flesh fails.
And my heart fails sometimes. Not only do the powers of life become more feeble, but my spirit also fails within me. I must leave those I love. I must say "goodbye" to all worldly interests and pursuits — that is one thing that weighs on me at times.
But oftener still, I shrink from the great change that is before me. It is so sober to pass away from life — to die. When I think of that, as what I must go through, what I cannot escape; and when I think too of my unworthiness, my sinfulness, of what I am, of how I have lived, of the use I have made of talents and opportunities — then my heart often sinks within me, and I am afraid.
But surely this is wrong. I cannot help my flesh failing, but my heart — ought that to fail? Have I not fled for refuge to Jesus Christ? Have I not cast myself upon His merits? Is He not my Savior? Why then would I fear? Why would my heart sink within me? This is my infirmity. This is unbelief. "Lord, I believe — help my unbelief!"
How cheering are these other words: "But God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever!" This is the language of faith. Lord, help me to feel this — to feel it more, so that my spirit may no longer be overwhelmed and my heart may not fail!
"God is the strength of my heart" — the rock of my heart. That means now. Even while the Psalmist spoke, it was so; God was his rock, the rock of his heart, then.
Lord, I too turn to You. I turn away from thoughts of weakness and fear, and I look to You. You are my rock — You are the strength of my heart. You can support me — You can carry me through all. I have sought You — You will never reject me. I have sought You by Jesus Christ, Your Son, my Savior, in whom You are always well-pleased. You will accept me; You accept me in Him. You are my strength, the strength of my heart. You will save me from all danger. You will deliver me from all fear.
Are they not words of inspiration; are they not therefore Your own words, "You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea!" Who can condemn me — if You forgive me? Who can hurt me — if You are my defender? My heart shall fail me no more. "God is the strength of my heart." Oh, be indeed my strength every moment, and let me feel You so! Strengthen me by Your Spirit against every depressing thought and every anxious fear and every unbelieving apprehension.
But the Psalmist says more: "God is ... my portion forever." My portion: that is, not now only, but hereafter — my portion forever. This failing of flesh and heart, is but for a little while. These sinkings of spirit will soon be past; this weak and weary body will soon be at rest.
O my Father, may I indeed hope and believe that You will then be my portion? Will my spirit be with You, when loosed from the body? Shall I rise in the great Resurrection Day and be with You forever? What a hope, what a prospect is this! This is what God gives me in Christ, my Savior — what He assures me of in His Word.
When I can think thus — then how small and vain do all earthly things seem! I am almost done with them. I do not wish now to keep them. "Whom have I in Heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You."
At the best, earthly things could never satisfy. But now, thanks be to God, I have the prospect — the near prospect — of a portion that will satisfy every desire, and that will fill my soul. Already a glimpse, a foretaste, of this satisfying portion is given me. But if even now I can lift up my heart in humble faith, and say, "God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever," and so find peace and joy, what will it be to have this portion fully, perfectly, and forever!
The Spirit Commended to God
"Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth." Psalm 31:5
Life and death are in the hand of God. I know not what His will may be — whether this sickness is unto death or not. This I know, that strength is failing me and that life seems ebbing away. Yet He can raise me up, if so it seems good to Him.
Father, I humbly desire to leave all to You. "Into Your hand I commit my spirit." Whatever Your gracious will may be, "May Your will be done!" I know that I am in Your hand. I desire nothing else. I love to think that it is so. Order all things for me day by day, hour by hour — deal with me in Your wisdom and goodness.
"Into Your hand I commit my spirit" — my life. You gave me life. You are the Lord of life; to You it belongs to cut short this mortal life when it seems good to You. I commit my life to You.
"Into Your hand I commit" all whom I love, and all my worldly concerns. If it pleases You to take me away — then watch over those whom I must leave. Be the Husband of the widow, and the Father of the fatherless. In Your great kindness and love, order all things for them; provide for them; take care of them; lead them in the right way; bring them safely home at last.
"Into Your hand I commit my spirit" — my soul. Yes, O my Father, I venture to cast my soul on You, for "You have redeemed me!" This is my only plea with You, my only ground of hope. I have no goodness or merit of my own. I am a poor sinful creature, but "You have redeemed me" by the sacrifice of Your dear Son. You gave Him to be the Savior of sinners, and He came and suffered and died, and You bid me believe on Him and be saved, and I do believe. And so, O gracious Father, I commit my soul unto You, because You have redeemed me, because Jesus died for me, because His blood cleanses me from all sin.
My Savior Himself used these very words: "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." They were His last words. "Having said thus — He breathed His last." I venture to follow my blessed Savior in this. The words that He spoke on the cross, just when He was giving up His life for my sake — those words I dare, through faith in Him, to take on my lips. "Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit."
Father, my Father in Christ Jesus, You who received Your blessed Son back to You when He had finished the great work of redemption — oh, receive me also for His sake. Let not the enemy prevail against me. Let not my sins condemn me — cleansed in the precious blood of Christ, justified through Him, accepted in Him — even so receive me.
"O Lord God of truth," because You are the God of truth, You will not refuse to receive me. You have promised to receive all who come to You by Jesus Christ. The poorest, the vilest, the most unworthy, coming to You by Him — You will graciously pardon, save, and welcome. Thus do I come to You, even I. Thus do I commend my spirit into Your hands, O God of truth.
I cannot doubt — for You have promised. I cannot fear — for You have said, "Fear not!" If I looked to myself, then indeed not fear only but even despair would seize me; but I do not look to myself, except to see my deep need. I look away from myself to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith; and because by Him You have redeemed me, and because You are the God of truth — therefore, O my Father, "Into Your hands I commit my spirit."
The Christian's Part in the Work of God
"Now therefore, thus says the Lord Almighty: Consider your ways!" Haggai 1:5
And let me also consider my ways. Does not the Lord Himself bid me do so? Is it not for this that I am withdrawn from the world — and placed here on a sick-bed? Let me consider my present ways, not my past ways only. Let me consider my manner of life now, my habits, the use I am making of time, influence, opportunities. Is there anything in my way of life, which I shall wish some day to have been different? Is there anything which I ought to be doing for God, but which I neglect to do?
It was on this point especially, that the Jews were exhorted to consider their ways. They were caring more for their own comfort than for God's work. They had built houses for themselves, but the house of the Lord, the Temple, was still in ruins. The Lord remonstrated with them by Haggai: "Is it time for you to dwell in your paneled houses — and this temple to lie in ruins?"
I fear I have laid myself open to the same charge. I have cared too much for my own ease, enjoyment, and advancement — and too little for the work of God. I see things now in a new light. I feel more strongly my deep responsibility. My time and talents, my health and strength, my worldly means — are all the gift of God; and they were given, not to be used for self only, but first and chiefly for Him.
O Lord my God, when I consider my ways, I see that I have greatly failed, and that even up to this very time I have too much neglected Your work — the work which You gave me to do. Pardon me, for Christ's sake. Forgive me for all my covetousness, selfishness, and love of ease and pleasure — and put into my heart by Your Spirit a true zeal for You, a conscientious regard to Your holy will, and a steady and consistent aim to do good.
How many things call for my help! How many poor there are! How many sick and afflicted! How many who are ignorant and wicked — destitute of the means of grace, or careless about them! Can I do nothing to help the poor, the sick, the ignorant, the ungodly? If I have not quite neglected them, may I not henceforth do a great deal more for them? Lord, as You at length stirred up the spirit of the Jews and their rulers to do Your work — so do You graciously stir up my spirit. Good resolutions are not enough. I might lose these thoughts and impressions with returning health. Oh, do, by Your Holy Spirit, make them real and deep and lasting.
And have I not been too cold about the spread of the gospel in those distant lands where it is not known at all? Has not a missionary spirit been sadly lacking in me? Have I not too little, far too little — regarded the heathen? Yet how vast are their numbers — how great is their misery — how deep is their need! The Lord Jesus Christ left it as His command, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature," and to gather in believers, is to build the house of the Lord, His spiritual temple. Oh, that I may henceforth be more zealous in the work of missions! I feel it to be the cause of God; I know that His blessing rests upon it; how wrong, how ungrateful, how selfish, how hard-hearted — to care so little for it!
O You giver of all good, teach me to feel the power of my Savior's love. May that love constrain me. Teach me to feel far more than ever — all that I owe to You; and incline me to devote myself and all that I have to Your service. Let Your work be far more to me — and my own selfish ends less. Make me henceforth a more faithful steward. And grant me to find in serving You, a truer happiness than ever I have found in self-seeking. Grant this for Jesus Christ's sake.
I Will Be with You
"Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." Isaiah 43:1-3
They may rise very high, these waters of affliction, these rivers of trouble — but this promise assures me that they shall not overwhelm me. God Himself assures me of this — let that be enough.
In very great pain, in sore discomfort, in deep depression of spirit — I sometimes feel almost overwhelmed, and as if I could not bear any more. Then more will not come — for all is in the hand of God. Not a pang can come — but by His permission. Discomfort and suffering cannot last one moment longer than He pleases! And He Himself tells me that the rivers shall not overflow me, that my sorrows and sufferings shall not become too great. If I could not bear more — then more will not come.
Lord, help me to believe Your Word. Help me to believe it now, at the very time when pain and discomfort and depression are my portion, when they seem even to increase, when I cannot see my way out of them. At this very time, help me by Your Spirit to believe that the waters shall not overwhelm me. Strengthen my weak and wavering faith. Help me to believe Your love and to trust in You.
The other figure seems even more strong and expressive. One may be in danger of fire, and yet escape it; but once in the fire, can one be safe then? Yes, this gracious promise reaches even to that. "When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you." Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego found this promise exactly fulfilled to them. God preserved them from the flame so completely that, when they came out, even the smell of fire had not passed on them. Perhaps they knew this very promise and trusted in it.
At all events, the word is sure — as sure for me as it was for them. No cruel tyrant has cast me into this "furnace of affliction." My Father has placed me in it! He has chosen me in it, I humbly trust — not in fury, but in love; not for my destruction, but for my chastening and for my good. He will surely fulfill His word to me. He will cause this fire to be not a consuming fire — but a refining fire. He will not let it hurt me. Rather, He will make it His instrument of blessing.
And this, by His own presence. There was One with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace, and His form was "like the Son of God." The flame could not hurt them while He was with them. So it is God's presence that will preserve and sustain me also. He promises His presence, "When you go through deep waters — I will be with you."
O Lord my God, You know all my ways, all that happens to me; You know at what particular time I am passing through the waters — You know how deep they are. Your eye is upon me always. You see me now. You know what I suffer, what I think, what I fear. May I take Your words to myself now? May I hear You saying to me, "I am with You"?
I venture, O my Father — humbly to draw near to You as my refuge in this time of trouble. I hear Your gracious words — I think You speak them to me, "I will be with You." For I come to You by my Savior, Jesus Christ, in whom is all my trust, and in whom You are always well-pleased. Oh, for His sake, fulfill Your promise to me abundantly.
Be with me — be with me now. Cause me to feel that You are near, my God, my Father. Then nothing shall terrify me — and nothing shall cast me down. "Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."
All Flesh Is Grass
"The voice said, 'Cry out!' And he said, 'What shall I cry?' 'All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades — but the word of our God stands forever.'" Isaiah 40:6
God is teaching me now that "all flesh is grass." A sick-bed, failing strength, pain, and helplessness — by these means He is teaching me this lesson.
How striking is this figure of the grass and the flowers! "The grass withers" — in the spring it shoots and grows, and all through the summer it grows still; but in the autumn it begins to wither, and in the winter its growth is completely stopped, and it becomes quite withered.
"The flower fades" — the flower is even more short-lived than the grass; most flowers last but a few days; one day they are in full beauty — and the next day they have begun to fade and droop, and the day after their beauty is quite gone, and perhaps they have fallen to the ground.
"All flesh is grass." All temporal things are passing away, as the grass passes away in its season; human life itself is short and transient, like the grass. "And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field." Youth, beauty, strength, prosperity, all the show and glory of life — what are they? They are but as the flower of the field. Their season may be a little longer; but still it is only a season, and a short season. There is nothing lasting about this loveliness — it quickly fades, and is soon gone.
This is God's appointment. "Because the breath of the Lord blows upon it." The Psalmist says the same: "As for man, his days are like grass. As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more" (Psalm 103:15-16).
What can man do against God? Nothing. It needs but the breath of the Lord to blow upon man, upon his life, his strength, his projects, his fairest schemes, his most cherished desires — and all come to naught, just as the grass bends beneath the storm, or the flower is broken by the wind.
"But the Word of our God stands forever." What a contrast! How happy and cheering a contrast! On the one hand, all is fading, passing away, and perishing. On the other hand, something that will abide forever. Why is this contrast set forth — but that we would turn from that which is frail and passing away — to that which is enduring?
"The word of our God" — all that God has ever said — that which is written in His Book. This chapter is part of His Book; and what do I find here? Comfort and pardon; the coming of the forerunner, and then of the Redeemer Himself; good tidings to Zion, the greatness and majesty of God, the Good Shepherd, power promised to the faint, and strength to the weak. All this is true and sure. Every word of promise in God's Book may be fully depended on.
Long ago the forerunner came; long ago Jesus appeared and lived and died and did the great work of salvation. And now, even now, He is the Good Shepherd and cares for His sheep and calls all wanderers to come to Him. And all that has not yet been fulfilled, will be fulfilled in its season.
"The Word of our God shall stand forever." It has stood; it does stand; it will stand. Nothing can shake it or alter it; all else may pass away, even Heaven and earth, but never the Word of God.
Lord, in Your Word have I hoped — and in Your word I trust. My strength is small — my life is uncertain — my hold upon earthly things is very slight — but all the more do I desire to rest on Your Word. You have given it to me. How great and precious a gift! You have revealed to me therein a Savior; You have made Yourself known to me as my reconciled Father in Christ Jesus; You have promised me there Your Holy Spirit, to be my Comforter and Teacher; You have given me there "exceeding great and precious promises," and opened to me the blessed prospect of eternal life.
O my Father, I do believe Your Word. I turn from all earthly things — and in humble faith I commit my soul to my Savior. Keep me near to You. Feed me daily with the food of Your Word. Speak Your Word to my soul by Your Spirit. Never let my faith fail. In all despondency and fear, let this assurance still uphold me: "The word of our God shall stand forever!"
"The living, the living — he shall praise You, as I do this day." Isaiah 38:19
How gracious God has been to me! I was in great danger; there was much anxious fear for me — but prayer was made to God, and He was graciously pleased to hear and answer it. The danger is now past, I am daily gaining strength, and my fears are turned into thankful joy.
Lord, I praise You for this returning health. It is Your gift, Yours alone. It rested with You, whether I would recover or not — and You have in mercy so ordered it. I turn my thoughts from all second causes, from all outward means and instruments, and lift my heart to You who have worked by them and caused them to succeed. I thank You, O my God. I thank You for danger escaped, for pain relieved, for strength renewed, for comfort, for hope, for cheerful thoughts. I thank You that You have cheered the hearts of those I love, and have spared them from a bitter grief. You have kept me still in the land of the living, and gratefully do I make use of the life which You have preserved in praising You for Your goodness.
"The living, the living, he shall praise You, as I do this day." Oh, let me never forget Your mercy to me. Oh, let me praise You not now only — but all my life long.
But I owe more than praise. I owe my life, my all — to Him who has preserved me. Henceforth I desire to live to God, to serve Him, and glorify Him, and do His will. I desire most earnestly, that this recovery may be a dividing point between my past and future life — that there may be a marked difference between what I was, and what I shall be.
O Heavenly Father, who knows all my desires — give me now and evermore the help of Your Holy Spirit. Renew my heart. Let me never again be so lukewarm, so half-hearted, so self-seeking — as I used to be. Shed abroad Your love in my heart by the Holy Spirit. Make me to live hereafter as one who has been brought back from the brink of the grave to do Your will.
Hezekiah speaks of another blessing: "You have cast all my sins behind Your back." And I too would live henceforth as one not only spared from death, but redeemed from everlasting punishment by the blood of Jesus, and pardoned and accepted in Him. What would life itself be to me, without Christ? What would it be to me to have my years on earth prolonged, unless I could live at peace with God through Jesus Christ, reconciled to Him, and assured of His favor and love?
O Heavenly Father, with this renewed life, give me more of spiritual life too, and a more simple and assured hope in my Savior. Let the light of Your countenance shine upon me continually. Henceforth let it be true of me, "The life which I now live in the flesh — I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me!"
This recovery imposes new duties on me. Hezekiah felt this: "The father shall make known Your truth to the children." He would cause his children not only to know what God had done for him — but also to know God for themselves as their God, the one true God, the God of mercy and truth. I too have some dependent on me, some with whom I have influence. Henceforth let me try to do good in my family, among my friends, and to all with whom I am connected.
Lord, give me grace to be one of Your true and faithful servants. Cause it to be henceforth my constant aim to lead others to You — to teach them to know You — to comfort, guide, and help them. Let not Your mercy to me, be without fruit to Your glory. Let not my life have been preserved in vain.
The Vow Performed
"I will go into Your house with burnt offerings; I will pay You my vows, which my lips have uttered and my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble." Psalm 66:13-14
Burnt offerings are past and gone, and so perhaps are such vows as the Psalmist speaks of — yet in their spirit, these words apply to me. When the Psalmist wrote this, he had been in some great trouble, out of which God had brought him. In his trouble he had prayed: "I cried unto Him with my mouth"; and God heard him, "But certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer." He now praises God for this: "Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me."
Lord, I bless You too. I also have been in trouble; I have been very ill; I have suffered greatly. In my trouble, I have prayed to You. With my whole heart, I cried to You and besought You to have mercy on me, to help me and restore me. And now I am much better. My illness seems subdued; it is chiefly weakness that I suffer from now, and every day I get stronger.
Lord, this is Your doing. I thank You that You have heard my prayer and been gracious to me. "Certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer."
But now I foresee a danger. I fear lest, when I get well, I would forget You. In my trouble I did more than pray. I made resolutions. I mixed these resolutions with my prayers to God. I promised Him that I would give myself to Him as I had never done before, and that all my life long I would try to serve Him truly. I was quite sincere; I was very much in earnest; I remember well what I felt then.
But now I fear that, when I get well and go about again, I shall forget my own prayers and resolutions. Already I do not feel quite as I felt then. The pressure of my trouble being gone — I fear I am less heartily in earnest than I was.
But, O my God, I desire to keep those vows and promises and resolutions. I desire not to be so ungrateful as to forget Your goodness and love to me. There is not a thing which I promised in my trouble — that I do not still heartily desire to perform, even though I feel less warm and zealous.
Why this change in me? Did I make those resolutions in my own strength? Did I promise — as if I could do anything? Lord, You know. If so, forgive me. Blot out of Your book of remembrance, anything of sin that there was even in my vows; let my Savior's precious blood take it away.
And now what shall I say unto God? Shall I take up these words, and say, "I will pay You my vows, which my lips have uttered, and my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble"? That is my wish and my resolution — but I am so weak. I am afraid of promising — and not keeping my promise. But if I promise in God's strength, if I promise humbly and prayerfully, if I seek the Spirit's help — then surely this prayer will be heard too, and God will strengthen my weakness.
O Lord, You who knows all things, who knows me in all my failings, in my weakness, in my proneness to go back — graciously hear me and help me to pay You my vows and to be faithful to my promises. I do from my heart desire to show my gratitude to You, for life preserved and health restored. I desire henceforth to feel the power of my Savior's love far more than ever, in its constraining power. I desire to give myself to You wholly, to love You, to serve You, to glorify You, to flee from every sin, to do Your Holy will.
Help me; strengthen me; sanctify me! Keep alive in my heart by Your grace, every earnest desire that You have raised in me — confirm and deepen every serious impression. Preserve me from ever being ashamed of Christ. And when I go forth again into the world and have to do with business and with worldly pursuits — still dwell within my heart. Be first there, and keep me ever mindful of my thoughts and prayers, my vows and resolutions, and of Your goodness to me when I was in trouble.