Comfort for the Sick
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
The title-page explains the nature and principal object of this work. It is intended to supply in some small measure a want, which has often been felt, of something to read beside the sick-bed, beyond the sacred text itself. An ordinary Commentary is too general, and often too critical; a Sermon or Tract is seldom thoroughly suitable; and it is not every visitor that has the power of explaining or enforcing Scripture in his or her own words.
Such passages have been chosen, as are adapted, more or less directly, to the case of the sick; and the desire has been to make the exposition close, simple, and practical.
The readings are purposely not all of equal length; and variety both of subject and of treatment has been aimed at besides, in order to give scope for selection by the reader. But all will, it is hoped, to be intelligible to the poor and unlearned; and none will occupy a longer time than from five to ten minutes.
Almost all the chapters will be found suitable, not only for use beside the individual sick-bed, but also for a more general reading in the ward of the hospital or workhouse; and many of them may fitly be used for the ordinary cottage lecture, and for private and family reading.
The Prayer of the Poor and Needy
"Hasten, O God, to save me; O LORD, come quickly to help me. May those who seek my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace. May those who say to me, 'Aha! Aha!' turn back because of their shame. But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, 'Let God be exalted!' Yet I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!"
God invites us to go to Him freely in all our troubles. He is not angry with us for telling Him just what we feel. Indeed, we may speak to Him in such a way as we would hardly dare to speak to a fellow-creature. I do not mean that we are to speak to God without the deepest reverence. Freely as we may approach Him through Jesus Christ — we must yet always bear in mind the greatness and holiness of God, and our own weakness and sinfulness.
There is no lack of reverence in this Psalm. With all his earnestness, David never forgets to whom he is speaking. He uses no familiar, irreverent words, but calls upon God by His great Name, "O God," "O Lord." But he dares to tell God just what he is feeling and fearing and wishing. He had many and bitter enemies, and it seems that they were at that time very much set against him. Perhaps this Psalm was written at the time when Saul was pursuing him, in order to put him to death. At all events — he had then enemies, wicked men, who wanted to do him harm.
Under these circumstances, what does David do? He tells all to God in prayer and seeks His help. He does not, as some do when they are in fear — give way to fretting and complaining. He does indeed complain, but it is to God, in supplication and prayer, that he makes his complaint; not murmuring and repining — but humbly putting his case into God's hands, and asking His help and protection. This is what God invites us to do, and this is what we ought to do in all our troubles.
If we are sick — then we may pray about our sickness. If we are anxious for any whom we love — then we may pray on their behalf. If we are poor — then we may pray that our needs may be supplied. If we know not what to do — then we may pray for guidance. There is no trouble about which we may not pray. David prayed in all his troubles — and so may we, and so we ought to do.
God is so gracious that He lets us pray to Him with all possible earnestness, begging and entreating Him to help us. See how David prays: "Hasten, O God, to save me. O LORD, come quickly to help me. Come quickly to me, O God. O LORD, do not delay!" Is not David too bold here? We would hardly venture to speak so, even to a fellow-creature of whom we were asking a favor: "Hasten to do it for me. Hasten to give it to me." Yet David spoke so to God, and he was not rebuked. It was his feeling of need, and his earnest desire, and his knowing that none but God could help him — that made him pray so. We see this in the last verse: "Yet I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!" And so God was not angry with him.
Yet we must not be impatient in prayer. We may be sure that David was not impatient, though he said, "Hasten to help me." Sometimes people are impatient when they pray; and then, if they do not seem to get what they ask for directly — they leave off praying, as if it were of no use. We must not pray so. When we are in sore and grievous trouble, when our pain is so sharp that we can hardly bear it, or when some great danger seems close at hand — then we are not wrong in praying with all the pressing earnestness of David, "Hasten to help me, O God!"
But even then there must be no impatience in our prayer. All depends on the feeling of the heart. If it is only great earnestness which leads us to pray so — then we are right; if it is impatience — then we are wrong. For God knows better than we do, what is the best time to help us, and often it is for our good that we should be kept waiting awhile. Yet even then, He hears all our prayers, and we must still pray on in faith and patience.
David calls himself "poor and needy." We are always poor and needy in ourselves, for we depend upon God for everything — and have nothing but what He gives us. But sometimes we are brought into circumstances when we feel our need more than usual — and then it is that we pray most earnestly. Is not this the very reason for which God brings us into such difficult circumstances? Is it not to lead us to pray?
David also speaks of salvation: "Those who love Your salvation." What does he mean? Most likely, only being saved from temporal trouble and danger. But there is a greater salvation — the salvation of the soul. This is what we should desire most, and this is what we should chiefly pray about. No outward deliverance, no relief from trouble, danger or pain — will fully supply our need. If we would be really safe and happy, we must seek a share in Christ's salvation. David says further, "Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; and let those who love Your salvation say continually: Let God be magnified!" How encouraging is this! It seems to assure us that all who seek God aright, shall find in Him joy and gladness and salvation. And we may seek Him; we may all seek Him, however unworthy in ourselves; and He Himself has taught us how to seek Him aright. Jesus said, "Ask, and it shall be given you. Seek, and you shall find. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Matthew 7:7).
He Himself is the way. No man comes unto the Father, but by Him (John 14:6). He is our Mediator and Advocate. Once He died for our sins, and now He is at God's right hand to plead for us. God will always hear us, when we pray to Him through Jesus Christ. He will help us and comfort us in all our troubles. But above all, He will forgive us our sins and save our souls. Then we shall indeed love His salvation, when we have sought and found a share in it ourselves. And then in all our troubles, we shall praise Him as well as pray to Him. No trouble can rob us of our Savior. No sickness can take away our God from us. And so, while we pray to Him earnestly in every trouble as it comes — we shall give Him our grateful thanks too, and say continually, "Let God be magnified!"
The Promised Home
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."
Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you really knew Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him."
Jesus Christ said this — therefore it must be true. For He knew everything and could do everything, and He never deceived anyone. If He could not have done what He said — then He would not have said it. He spoke these words to His disciples, John and James and Peter and Thomas and the others, who always used to be with Him. He was going away from them now, and they were very sad. What could they do when He would be gone? It was He to whom they came when they were in any trouble; it was He who helped them and taught them and comforted them. They looked to Him for everything. No wonder they were sad, to think He was going away — sad and anxious too. He knew they were, so He would comfort them. "Let not your heart be troubled," He began. What happy words, coming from His lips! Their hearts were troubled, and He knew it; but He said, "Let not your heart be troubled." He would not have them be sad and anxious; He would have them put away their fears.
Ah! It is easy to speak like this to people in trouble, but it is not so easy to take their trouble away. Do we not all feel that, when we want to give comfort? Yet even a kind word often does give comfort. But sometimes when a person is very full of sorrow or anxiety such as he feels that nobody can relieve, it makes him almost angry to be told not to fret. "What is the use of telling me not to fret?" he says; "I must fret while things are as they are."
But how different it was when Jesus Christ was the speaker! His words were not the words of one who wished to help, but could not. He not only spoke comfort, but could give comfort. What was the comfort that He gave at this time to the disciples?
First, He said, "You believe in God — believe also in Me"; bidding them believe in Him, just as they believed in God the Father; and well they might, for He was the Son of God. If they did not believe in Him, they would not believe what He was going to say; and then, of course, His words could give them no comfort.
Then He went on to tell them that, though He was going away — yet He was not going away forever. He was going to a far better place than any place in this world, and some day they would go there too. There was plenty of room for them in that happy place. "In My Father's house are many mansions." He was going there first, to prepare a place for them; if He did not go, they would never get there. But He was going; He was going quite soon; and, after a while, He would come back and fetch them, and then they would be with Him forever in that happy place and never part again. Did they understand what He said? Some of them did, for He said, "And where I go you know — and the way you know."
But there was one at least who did not. Thomas, who was always slow in faith, said, "Lord, we do not know where You are going — how can we know the way?" He was very sad and desponding. All looked dark to him. He could not at that moment turn his mind to what Jesus had taught him before about the happy place; and as for the way to get there, he could not see that at all. He could see nothing then, but fear and gloom. Was Thomas right? No, he ought not to have been so fearful and desponding — he ought to have had more faith.
But Jesus answered him kindly; not rebuking him, but telling him the way quite plainly, and bidding him fix his hopes on Him: "I am the way, the truth, and the life." Oh, what happy words! So plain, so sure, so full of meaning! Happy words for Thomas, happy for us. For He who was the way for Thomas — is the way for us also: the way, the truth, and the life; so that, if we seek to go by Him, we shall certainly reach the Father's house; and if we trust and follow Him, we shall never find ourselves mistaken; and if we are joined to Him by faith, we shall live for-evermore.
But He said more: "No man comes unto the Father, but by Me." Jesus Christ is not only the way — but the only way. There was no other way for Thomas; there is no other way for anybody. He is the only way. It is of no use trying to get to Heaven by any other way. But Christ is so true and sure a way, that he who goes by Him cannot fail to reach the Father. He will not only reach Him at last and get to Heaven when he dies and be taken to live in one of the "many mansions" — but he will be able to reach the Father even now, in his heart.
"If you really knew Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him." All who know Christ by faith — know the Father also. They know Him as a reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. They can draw near to Him without fear, through Jesus their Mediator and Advocate. The wall which sin had made between them and God is broken down, now that their sins are washed away in their Savior's blood. They never knew God before — as they know Him now. They used to know something about Him. They knew that He was just and holy and great and true. But now they know that He is love. They used to have a fear of Him — but now they have learned to love Him. They used to dislike to think that He always saw them, but now they delight in the thought. It is because they know Jesus — that they know the Father thus. They have come to the Father by Him, and have found it to be as He said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life."
Here is comfort indeed — comfort in all troubles, poverty, sorrow, sickness, and pain; and even at the time when death itself is near. This was the comfort that Jesus gave to His disciples — and this is what He will give to us. This is how we may live — trusting in Jesus, washed in His blood, with all our sins forgiven, praying to God continually and knowing that He hears us, and looking forward with joyful hope to finding a place prepared for us in the Father's house and to being with Jesus forever where He is.
What are troubles to one who has such a hope? What are sickness and pain to him? The pain may be sharp — but it is short. The sickness may be wearisome — but the end is in view. Already there is much comfort, even in the midst of trouble — the Savior's presence, the Father's love, the Spirit's help, and the blessed hope — and the end will be Heaven! Oh, what an end! How happy, how glorious, how near! And this is what Jesus promises to every humble believer: "I am going to prepare a place for you."
"The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, 'Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.' So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place."
The apostles were leading a busy life. Much of their time was spent in public, with great numbers of people around them; and now they had just returned from going about the country, together two by two, preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and casting out devils. Our Lord saw that they needed rest, rest for body and rest for mind — so He took them apart for a while.
Those who are working hard for God and leading an active life in doing good to others, stand in need of rest from time to time. Not merely for the body, but for the mind and spirit too. Sometimes they go away from home for the sake of getting rest, and change of scene is often found useful. But sometimes God Himself interposes, and lays the busy worker upon a sick bed and bids him rest there awhile. This is, as it were, taking him "apart into a quiet place." For he is removed from his usual employments and separated from those with whom he commonly has to do.
The sick-bed is like "a quiet place" to him — quiet and lonely and destitute of the comforts of health. But it is a wholesome place for the soul. There the Christian can search his heart and life. There he may have many an hour alone with God. There, removed from the bustle of constant interaction with others, he has full leisure for praise and prayer, for serious thought, for self-humiliation, for a fresh devotion of himself to God. There he can bring his motives into judgment and examine whether those works which have won him perhaps a high place in men's esteem, have really been done in faith and love. It is good for him to be there. He will go forth again to his work, if so it pleases God — with renewed grace and strength and zeal — more humble, perhaps, but more truly and simply the servant of God.
But if it is good for such a man to be laid aside occasionally — then how much more needful is it for others! The person I have mentioned, as busy as his life is, has his thoughts continually drawn to spiritual things, even in his very work. But a man of business or a hard-working laborer or the striving mother of a large family — has much in daily life to draw off the mind from the soul's concerns.
We are not acquainted with God's purposes, any further than He has been pleased to reveal them; yet we may be sure that, in numberless cases, the reason why one thus leading a busy life is laid on a bed of sickness — is that he may have leisure to turn his thoughts to his soul.
The man of business toils hard in his calling from one week's end to another. Important concerns depend upon him, things that need close attention and earnest thought; and he is apt to become too much engrossed with them. God graciously calls him apart from them, brings him into the stillness of a sick-room, and bids him there rest awhile from the world and think and pray. In that quiet room, far removed from the bustle of worldly concerns, God often visits the soul with His grace. All worldly things seem different when seen from a sick-bed, and many such a person has looked back afterwards and gratefully owned how good it was for him to be led into that "quiet place."
A laboring man's life is somewhat different. He has less of anxious thought — but more of bodily work. His days are much like one another. He rises early and works hard and sometimes scarcely thinks of anything beyond the day. What a change to such a man, to be laid on a sick-bed! His strength is gone — he cannot work, and he must lie still.
Who put him there? Was it not God? He has taken him apart, to rest awhile and to think of other things. That room is like "a quiet place" to him, so different from anything he is used to. Now let him think and pray. Now let him consider his ways and humble himself before God and seek his Savior.
The mother of a poor family — oh, how she is missed when she is laid aside! Who shall care for the little ones now? Who shall see to the house? Who shall get ready the husband's food and welcome him in the evening and make his home cheerful? Ah! Husband and children must do as well as they can without her — for there she lies, weak and ill, and all she asks is quiet. But she is laid there for good.
God took her apart and placed her there. Perhaps she was, like Martha, "anxious and troubled about many things" — but forgetting the one thing needful. Perhaps she used to say, when spoken to about her soul, "I am too busy now; my family is so large; some day I shall have more time." It was not right to say so — we ought never to be too busy to attend to our souls; but God is very gracious, and He has given her more time now, sooner than she expected, by laying her there. He would have her rest awhile. He gives her leisure time. He takes her aside to a quiet place. Now let her turn her heart to Him and think of her soul. She has a soul — she must not forget it. Perhaps she has forgotten it too much. God lays her on a sick-bed, in order that she may bring it to mind and seriously and earnestly think of eternity, and seek salvation through Christ Jesus.
How kind and gracious was Jesus to His apostles, thus caring for their needs and giving them rest! How kind and gracious is our Heavenly Father to us still! We cannot always see mercy in sickness. "How can I be spared from business?" says one. "How will things get on, with me confined to a sick bed?" cries another. "How unlucky, to be laid up just now!" says a third.
Not so! All is ordered wisely and well. This sickness would not have come to you — if it had not been needed. God knows better than you. Do not fret or murmur, or all the blessing of such a time may be lost. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God; open your heart to Him; confess your sins; tell Him all things that you have done — and seek His mercy, grace, and blessing.
Many a sick bed has thus become, not "a quiet place," which seems to imply bareness and discomfort — but a happy place, because the Savior was there. Just as the disciples, though called aside into "a quiet place," must have found it a safe and happy place to them, because Jesus was there with them. Every place is happy where He is with us.
The Lord Our Shepherd
"The LORD is my shepherd — I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever."
What cheerful, happy words are these! "The Lord is my Shepherd — I shall not be in want." Because the Lord is my Shepherd — therefore I shall not want. They are plainly the words of one who knew what he said to be true, because he experienced the truth of it continually. It was David who wrote this Psalm. In his youth he had been a shepherd himself, and perhaps this Psalm was written in his youth, while he was still a shepherd; for there is no doubt that he early learned to love God.
At all events, he was well acquainted with a shepherd's work. He knew the watchful care which he takes of his sheep, especially in an open country like that in which David lived. He knew how he leads them to the best pastures and the clearest streams; how he keeps them from straying, or brings them back when they do stray; how he watches over them by day and by night; how kind and gentle he is towards them, especially when they are tired or weak or sick. Knowing this so well, it must have made David happy to say, "The Lord is my Shepherd." He was sure that he would not be in want. His Shepherd would supply all his needs, and defend him from every danger. He felt quite safe under his Shepherd's care.
Jesus Christ also speaks of Himself as a Shepherd, "the good Shepherd" (John 10:11) — and all His true disciples are His sheep. If we are true disciples of Jesus Christ, then we are His sheep, and we may feel as safe and happy as David felt when he said, "The Lord is my Shepherd — I shall not be in want." We shall not be in want — or be without anything that is good for us, if Jesus Christ is our Shepherd. He knows what is best — and He will give us what is best. He does so now. He acts the part of "the good Shepherd" to us continually.
"He makes me lie down in green pastures." He supplies the needs of our souls. He . . .
gives us the food of the Word of God,
strengthens us with His grace, and
makes us to find our rest in Him.
"He leads me beside the still waters." He . . .
refreshes us when we are weary,
revives our hearts by His promises,
cheers us by His presence,
gives us His Holy Spirit, and
enables us to rejoice in His salvation.
Amidst all our trials and troubles — He comforts us and gives us fresh hope.
Some may say, "Why should I have trouble at all? Why does the good Shepherd send me anything besides comfort and pleasure? Why am I poor or sad or sick?"
The sheep do not choose their own pasture — the shepherd chooses for them. In the same way, the disciple does not choose his own lot in life — it is appointed for him. His Lord knows best what is good for him. The best is not always what is the most pleasant at the moment — but what is most profitable in the end.
Our Shepherd sometimes leads us through what seem to us dry and stony places — but they lead to the Heavenly pastures. And even along the way, He feeds us and comforts us with all a shepherd's care. Never is our Shepherd nearer to us, than when we are in want or danger.
"He restores my soul." This seems to refer to a sheep that has gone astray. As a shepherd goes after such a one and brings it back to the fold — so does our Lord seek and restore those who wander from Him. This was what He came to do. "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). And He does so still.
By His Word,
by His ministers,
by His grace,
by providential dealings,
by the work of the Spirit,
He is ever seeking wanderers from the fold — both those who never knew Him — and those who once knew Him but have gone astray. He does not leave the backslider without seeking to win him to Himself again. "Return, O backsliding Israel, says the Lord" (Jeremiah 3:12). "I will heal their backsliding; I will love them freely — for My anger is turned away from him" (Hosea 14:4).
"He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His Name's sake." But for His leading — we should go astray continually. It is only His grace that keeps us in the right way. And when we have strayed and He has sought us and brought us back — we still need the same leading.
Past experience of the misery and ruin of the ways of sin, is not enough to keep us from going back to them. We need the Shepherd's leading at every step.
"For His Name's sake," He gives us this leading. Well might He leave us to ourselves; well might He give us up to follow our own desires and to walk in our own way — as we do not deserve His guidance. But "for His Name's sake," in His undeserved mercy, grace, and love — He not only restores us, but leads us in the paths of righteousness.
The simple, unthinking sheep follow the shepherd's guidance, and feel safe under his protection. But they cannot look forward, and therefore they are not troubled by the thought of coming evil.
Not so with us. Half of our troubles, are the troubles that we fear in the future. Though our present needs are supplied and no evil presses on us now — yet we are apt to look forward with anxiety to what may come. But we ought not to do so. The sheep of "the good Shepherd" need have no fear, either for the present or the future. David expresses a happy confidence with regard to both.
"Even 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." Our Shepherd does not change. He will never leave us nor forsake us. We know not what lies before us — but He knows, and He will provide accordingly. He is with us — let that be enough. He is with us and will be with us — whatever may arise. Nothing can come without His providential ordering; nothing can come in which His grace will not be found sufficient. Come what may — loss, poverty, sickness, sorrow upon sorrow, or even death itself — yet the Christian may say, "I will fear no evil." He has gone to the fountain of Christ's blood, and has committed his soul to his Savior; let him trust and not be afraid.
"You are with me." Happy words! "You are with me; Your rod and Your staff — they comfort me." The Savior's presence with us now, and the comfort and support it brings should assure our hearts in looking forward: "I will fear no evil." We need fear no evil, indeed, if we keep close to Him. Evil may threaten on every side, and enemies may be all around; yet, if He is with us — we need fear nothing.
Even in the midst of enemies, David could say, "You prepare a table before me" — that is, You supply all my needs. He added, "You anoint my head with oil, my cup runs over." He was full of thankfulness and joy. God gave him abundance — even all that he wanted. His cup of blessing was full — and more than full.
"Surely goodness and mercy," he goes on, "shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." He had no fear that God's goodness and mercy would ever be withdrawn. He could trust God for all his life, and even far beyond that. While he was upon earth, he would still delight in the house of God; and after this life, he had the blessed prospect of being with Him forever in the "house not made with hands." In that house, every true disciple will surely dwell.
We can speak of even more grace and love in our Shepherd, than David could. For long after David's time, "the Good Shepherd" gave His life for the sheep. Jesus died to save us; and then, when He had risen from the grave, He went to prepare a place for us. In His own good time, He will take us to be with Him there. And there He will be our Shepherd still — our Shepherd forever! There we shall know Him better and love Him more than we do here on earth. No fear, no danger, there — no rough places, no sickness, sorrow, or want. "For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes!" Revelation 7:17
Affliction, Light and Short!
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
"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!"
Few people will call their present affliction light, and few are disposed to call it short. For while it lasts it seems hard to bear — and a time of suffering generally appears long. Yet the apostle Paul writes thus about his affliction: "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment."
Was it really then only a light affliction for Paul? In other parts of this same epistle, he does not speak of it as light: "As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger." (2 Corinthians 5:4-5). "I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
Paul's afflictions were not, in themselves, light — few men have gone through more hardships and trials than he did. Nor were they, in themselves, short — for wherever he went he found them; they continued, more or less, to the end of his life.
It was only when he compared his present affliction with the glory that was so soon to follow — that it seemed to him light and short. Then he could say, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment." We must always try to look at our afflictions in this way. If we look at them alone — they will be enough to overwhelm us! But if we think also, and even more, of the rest and happiness and glory which lie beyond — then our view of them will be greatly changed.
"True," we shall feel, "true, my sorrows are many; my sickness is sore; my pain is great; long have I lain upon a bed of suffering. Yet before me lies a home of perfect rest, where pain and sickness and sorrow cannot come. My Savior has promised it to me and has gone before to prepare it for me. In a little while, I shall be there!"
With thoughts such as these, the suffering Christian should comfort himself, and thus weigh present affliction against future glory. For what are all things here below, but short? Joys and sorrows, health and sickness, affliction and prosperity — all the things that pain and that please, "the things which are seen" — all these things are but for a time.
Whereas "the things which are not seen are eternal." What we hope for, what Christ has purchased for us and gone before to prepare for us — that is forever! Our pains and sorrows will soon end — but our pleasures will never end! Our affliction is but for a little while — but our inward comforts, our Savior's presence, our Heavenly home, will be ours always!
Feeling thus, amid all his trials the apostle did not faint. His hope did not fail him; his faith did not give way; he was still of good cheer. In the body, his trials were many. Such labors and hardships as he went through must, one would think, have caused his health to suffer, and frequently death itself seemed to threaten him. "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day!" 2 Corinthians 4:16
The Holy Spirit sanctified, strengthened, and comforted his soul. God's grace was sufficient for him. Even his trials were blessed to him. Every day he had fresh experience of the grace and love of God. In the midst of outward trials, his soul prospered. Trials are sent for this very purpose. Paul himself had his "thorn in the flesh," lest he should be exalted above measure and so his soul should suffer. David said, "Before I was afflicted, I went astray — but now have I kept Your Word." "It is good for me that I have been afflicted — that I might learn Your statutes" (Psalm 119:67, 71).
Many have experienced more of spiritual growth in sickness — than they ever did in health. Often a sick-bed is a place of blessing indeed. The sufferer, weak and helpless, feels himself to be in God's hands; his heart is softened and humbled, and he is led to pour out his soul in prayer. It is in this way that the words come true: "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!" (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Our sufferings here will not, in themselves, procure happiness for us hereafter. We shall not go to Heaven, merely to make up for what we have had to bear upon earth. That is not the meaning. There is one only way to happiness and glory. Jesus Christ is the way. He died for us. He is our only hope. Our whole trust must be in Him. But the meaning is, that God sanctifies affliction to us — and thus makes it His instrument for bringing us to Christ and to glory. In every trouble, therefore, we should seek God's sanctifying grace.
Unsanctified affliction is both long and heavy. It is sanctified affliction alone, which can be spoken of thus: "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment."
Our prayer should be: "Lord, may Your Holy Spirit bless this sickness to me. Make this affliction to be for my soul's good. Humble me, teach me, sanctify me.
Increase my faith in my Savior;
cause me to feel You near and to know Your love;
support and comfort me under all that You may send;
let me not faint or be weary in my mind;
though weak in body — yet let me be strong in faith;
and though the outward man is perishing — yet let the inward man be renewed day by day.
Lord, let me not think Your time long, nor Your hand heavy. Fix my thoughts and affections upon eternal things. May all Your dealings with me be the means of drawing my heart nearer to You, and of leading me to Your eternal rest and glory, through Jesus Christ."
"But now thus says the Lord who created you, O Jacob, and He that formed you, O Israel: Fear not — for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name, you are Mine! When you pass through the waters — I will be with you; and through the rivers — they shall not overflow you; when you walk through the fire — you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!"
God says this to every humble Christian. He said it first to Israel; but it applies now to the Church of Christ — that is, to the whole body of believers; and every individual believer may therefore take it to himself. If we have come to God through Jesus Christ — then these blessed words belong to us. It is God Himself who speaks: "Thus says the Lord." So there is no doubt or uncertainty here. God never deceives with vain hopes. All that He promises, He both can and will perform. There is comfort therefore even in these opening words: "But now thus says the Lord."
But there is more comfort as we go on. God speaks here, not merely in a general way as "the Lord," but as the Lord God of Israel, "the Lord who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel." In comforting Israel, He speaks not merely as God — but as Israel's God. So the words come to us, as the words not merely of God, but of OUR God — of Him who created us, formed us as we are, saves us, preserves us and blesses us continually.
What does He say to us? "Fear not!" What encouraging words! Spoken to us by God — by our God; spoken to us in the midst of things that might well make us fear. This is the very spirit in which God speaks to those who love Him all through the Bible; and often in these very words, "Fear not."
We find them spoken to Abraham, to Jacob, to Moses, to Daniel, to the shepherds of Bethlehem, to the disciples, to Paul, and to many others. If only we are in God's way — then He says to us, "Fear not." He would not have us to be always anxious, forecasting evil, looking forward with fear. He would have us to trust Him. How happy to be told, and told by God — not to fear! How happy for us, that He has made it our duty not to fear. He who made us, the Creator and Ruler of all things, without whom not a sparrow falls to the ground, and who takes such care of us that the very hairs of our head are all numbered — He Himself bids us not to fear. Whom have we to fear, what have we to fear — if He says, "Fear not!"
But He gives us a reason for not fearing, "Fear not — for I have redeemed you." Now, whatever may have been the meaning of this word "redeemed" and of the word "Savior" further on, with regard to Israel — to us they can have but one meaning. God has redeemed us by the death of His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. None who feel that they are sinners can be without fear, until they believe in Christ's redemption. They might believe in God's power and holiness — but that would only make them the more afraid. It is only when they are enabled to believe in redeeming love, that fear is taken away, because then guilt is taken away. For it is sin which makes the awakened conscience fear; and when sin is atoned for and forgiven — then, and only then, the cause of fear is gone, and such words as "fear not" bring true comfort.
Yet still we might fear in looking forward; not from any mistrust of redeeming grace — but from a sense of our own weakness. "Shall I not go astray? Shall I not fall into sin? Shall I not come short at last?" Such fears many true believers have. But God seems to meet and answer them here. "Fear not — for I have redeemed you! I have called you by your name — you are Mine!"
If we had nothing to trust to but our own steadfastness — then we might well fear. But God will not leave us to ourselves. He has called us to be His. Through grace, we have obeyed the call. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will strengthen us in our weakness. He will help our infirmities. He will give us His Holy Spirit. He will guide us and keep us and enable us to persevere to the end.
He is our reconciled Father in Christ — and we are His children by adoption and grace. He will treat us as His children. Each believer shall be dealt with as His dear child. As a tender parent distinguishes child from child, thinks of each by name, cares for each individually, and loves each with an individual love — so does our Heavenly Father with regard to each child in His family of grace.
"I have called you by your name — you are Mine!" Oh, happy words! Who would not rather have them true of himself, than possess the wealth of worlds!
"You are Mine!" Now and forever — His! His in all the trials and temptations of this life — to be led and guarded and kept by Him through all. His still, though all besides may seem against us. His in life, His in death, His forever in that kingdom of glory, where all will rejoice in Him, and where none but His shall be.
Why then should we fear? We may pass through deep waters of affliction — yet He will be with us still. Rivers of trouble and temptation may seem ready to overwhelm us — but He will be with us to stay them. The fiercest trials and persecutions may lie in our way — yet His promise is that the fire shall not burn us, the flame shall not kindle upon us.
He was with Shadrach and his companions in the fiery furnace — and they came out unhurt. He will be with us, in all that He may be pleased to expose us to. It shall not hurt us. It shall not prevail against us. "For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel — your Savior!"
"I am with you!" There is our safety, our comfort, our happiness. Let us ask no more, than to know this by the witness of the Spirit, and to know it always.
"At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, 'Tabitha, arise!' And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord."
Here was a death-bed. A death-bed must be sad to those who stand by it, whatever it may be to the dead themselves. And so there was weeping around this death-bed. But oh! What a difference there is in the feelings of those who stand round a death-bed, according to what the life of the departed has been! How peaceful and bright are some death-beds — and how gloomy are others! What comfort do surviving friends feel in some cases — and what deep pain of heart in others!
What kind of person had this been, who was now lying dead in the upper chamber at Joppa?
She had been "a disciple" — that is, a disciple of the Lord Jesus; a true disciple, a real Christian, one who loved her Savior. But she had been especially remarkable for her kindness to the poor. Whether she was rich or not, we do not know — probably not, but certainly she had done a great deal of good. She "was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did." She used to make clothes for the poor widows of the place. It is plain that she was a true friend to the poor — kind, charitable, active, and self-denying; not merely doing a kind action now and then — but spending her life in helping others.
But was it this, that gave her peace while she lay on her death-bed? Did she rest her hopes on her "good works"? We may be sure she did not — for she was "a disciple"; and no true disciple of the Lord Jesus does that. Tabitha, or Dorcas, had a better hope. Jesus was her hope. Her faith was built upon Him — and her good works were the fruits of her faith. They proved her faith to be real — but they were not what she trusted in. Jesus, and Jesus alone — was her Savior. Ah! There is no other. Our own works are poor comfort for a dying-bed. None but Jesus can bear up the soul then!
The poor widows felt what a friend they had lost, so they stood around the corpse, "weeping, and showing the garments which Dorcas made while she was with them." The aged poor had nothing to look to, but the help of friends and the charity of the kind-hearted, though the Christian Church seems always to have provided for its own poor; so that such a friend as Dorcas must have been missed indeed.
In the same way, we ought to live in such a way as to be missed when we die. It is sad when any lead so useless a life, that no loss is felt when death calls them away. Every Christian, rich or poor, ought to be a worker for God — and if he is, then his loss must be felt. A selfish, useless life — is not a happy life. How sad it must be for a dying person to look back upon his life and to be able to think of no good done to any, of no mourner comforted, of no poor relieved, of none helped onward in their spiritual course.
There can be no doubt that Dorcas had helped the poor, out of love to her Savior. Those who love Him find different things to do, according to their different means and opportunities. Yet it is the same motive which influences them, "the love of Christ constrains" them. And whatever is done from that motive, is accepted, as done to Christ Himself.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine — you did for me.'" Matthew 25:34-40
Will not Dorcas appear among those blessed ones? She clothed the naked while she lived — and the King will own it as done to Him.
Of all the things we can do in our Master's service, none are so clearly shown in Scripture to be accepted and approved by Him — as what we do for the poor. And this is what all may do in a measure — the poor as well as the rich. Nay, that which one poor person can do for another, often brings more real help and comfort than what a rich neighbor can do, though that poor person may not have a penny to give.
Dorcas' life had been useful — and her death was happy. But is there no hope or comfort for the dying when their life has not been useful? Yes, for God is "rich in mercy." "He is rich unto all who call upon Him" (Romans 10:12). Jesus said, "Him who comes to Me — I will never cast out" (John 7:37). And what did He say to one who, after a life of sin, was just about to die, with no opportunity left him of serving God, but who had been led at the last to repent and seek mercy? "Truly I say unto you: Today shall you be with Me in Paradise!" (Luke 23:43).
Yes, there is mercy even to the last for all who will seek it in Christ Jesus. The poor conscience-stricken sinner, earnestly seeking Christ from a bed of death, brought at length to a true sorrow for sin, bewailing with tears a misspent life, pleading for pardon through the precious blood of Jesus — can it be that that poor sinner will plead in vain? Never! God will see those tears and hear that cry — and the sheep that has long wandered lost, shall even then be saved and brought home by the Good Shepherd.
The case of Dorcas was quite peculiar. It pleased God, in answer to prayer, to restore her to life. She, whom all had thought quite gone from among them — lived again, to continue awhile her care of the poor, still to clothe the naked and relieve the widow, and still to love and serve her God and Savior — until it would seem good to Him to take her to Himself forever.
Often, when the servant of God lies on a bed of sickness and prayer is made to God on his behalf, the prayer of faith is heard, and the sick person is restored to love and serve God still upon earth. But it is not always so. God hears all our prayers — yet answers them in His own way. He does not always see fit to restore the sick in answer to prayer. He knows the best time to call His servants to their rest — and to Him we must humbly submit. Whether they live or die, they are the Lord's. And when once they fall asleep in Jesus — then they are gone from among us.
It does not please God now, to do such works as He did by Peter in the case of Dorcas. Believers die — and we see them alive no more. But they will rise again! There will be a joyful meeting of friends long parted, when the Lord Jesus Christ shall come; for "those who sleep in Jesus — God will bring with Him" (1 Thessalonians 4:14). And then all who shall have died in the Lord and all who shall be alive at His coming — will be happy together forever with Him.
There will be Dorcas, the friend of the poor — and there the "saints" who stood by her bed; there will be all who have loved and served their Savior; there the pardoned thief; there all who have sought and found mercy in Christ Jesus. No more need then, no more weeping, no more pain, no more death. No more naked to be clothed or hungry to be fed or sick to be visited. All will be happy — every need will be supplied, and every tear wiped away.
Dorcas, though raised from her bed of death by the prayer of Peter — doubtless met death again at no distant time, and then perhaps the widows once more stood by weeping, and this time she was not restored to them. But in the great resurrection, the dead in Christ will rise and die no more! No more parting again after that meeting — no more death after that rising. "So shall we be forever with the Lord!" (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
"A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."
He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all.
This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"
There are few who move our pity, more than those who are deprived of the use of their limbs. All feel it sad to see the poor cripple, in the prime of life perhaps — and yet so helpless, unable to do anything for himself, with scarcely power to move hand or foot.
Such a one was brought to Jesus. He was paralyzed, and so severely that he could not walk a step. But he had found friends; poor, afflicted people generally do find friends, and so four kind men carried him on his bed to the house where Jesus was.
But when they got there, they found an unexpected difficulty. Jesus was preaching, and there was such a crowd of people in the house and around the door, that they could not get near Him. What should they do? Should they go back and wait for another time? No, they would not disappoint the poor sick man — they would try at all events.
A house in that country was, and still is, very different from our houses. The roof was flat, with steps outside by which to get up to it; and the house was built around a small courtyard or room, open to the sky; and sometimes there was a canvas covering which could be drawn over this in wet weather, or when the sun was hot. Most likely it was in this open part of the house that our Savior was preaching to the people. So the four men carried the bed up to the housetop; and then, after uncovering as much of the roof as was necessary, they let it down into the midst before Him.
What was the palsied man thinking all the while? What was in his mind while he was being carried to Jesus? Certainly he had an earnest desire to be made well; that was one thing. And he had a hope that Jesus could make him well; for we read that "Jesus saw their faith," meaning the faith of them all, the sick man and his four bearers. But was this all? Was he thinking only about his palsy? If we may judge from what Jesus said to him, it seems likely that he was thinking of and wishing for something else even more than to be made well. "Son, your sins are forgiven"; or, according to Matthew, "Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven." Son, be of good cheer, take courage! Why? Not — for I am going to cure your palsy, I am about to restore to you the use of your limbs; but, "Your sins are forgiven." If it was this which was to make him happy — had not this been his chief trouble before? Is it not likely, from what Jesus said to him, that his chief thoughts and desires had been not for his palsied body, but for his sin-burdened soul? We do not know whether it was so or not. But even if not, Jesus knew that the forgiveness of his sins was the man's greatest need; so this was what He gave to him first: "Son, your sins are forgiven!"
God often blesses us, not according to what we desire — but according to what He knows us to need most. But Jesus did not disregard the poor cripple's desire to be cured of the palsy. He who felt compassion for the soul laden with guilt — pitied the helpless body too. This sufferer was to receive a double blessing.
The scribes murmured at the words of Jesus. "Who," they said within themselves, "who can forgive sins but God alone?" — not believing that Jesus was God. Jesus knew their thoughts and answered them thus: "Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home."
Even while He spoke, He put forth His almighty power; and no sooner were the words said, than the sick man "arose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all." Thus, by one act, our Lord bestowed an unspeakable blessing on the cripple, and gave to the scribes such a proof of who He was, as no honest mind could refuse to admit. He who could cure the sick by a word — could also forgive sins; and He who could forgive sins — must, even according to the scribes themselves, be possessed of the power of God Himself.
How great a change to the sick man! How different his return from his coming! He came a helpless cripple, carried on his bed, hoping, fearing, believing, trembling; perhaps oppressed besides with a sense of sin; an object of pity to all. He returned strong, well, and happy. No need of help now. He could walk as well as any. He took up the bed on which he himself had just before been carried and returned to his house. His palsy was gone; his sins were forgiven; his heart was light; he was happier than he had never been before.
1.Now mark that all this was obtained by going to Jesus. If he had not gone to Jesus — then not one of these blessings would have been his.
In the same way, we may go to Jesus. The way is always open to us. No crowd can hinder us — and no time is unseasonable. Prayer can bring us into His presence at all times. We may take to Him every need, every fear, every trouble, every sin. We may take to Him all that grieves, burdens, vexes or terrifies us. See what this man got by going to Jesus. Jesus is not changed.
2.We may take our friends to Jesus too; we may pray for them, as well as for ourselves. Jesus saw "their faith" — the faith of those who brought the man, as well as that of the man himself. He does not disregard the prayer of those who pray for others; the prayer of a mother, for instance, for a sick child or for an ungodly son.
The friends of this man could do nothing themselves to cure his palsy, but they could carry him to Jesus. And often we can do nothing for another, but pray for him. But that is much to do, for thus we lay his case before One who can do ALL. We can pray for those who are far away. We can pray for those who will not listen to our words. We can pray for the sick to whom no medicine seems to do good.
Nay, even the sick themselves can pray for others. Many a prayer for others goes up from a sick-bed; many a person who seems quite laid aside by illness and unable to do good to any, is thus doing unknown good by laying the case of others before God in prayer.
But let that prayer be the prayer of faith. "Jesus, seeing their faith" — not, Jesus, hearing their words — for, as far as we are told, they had asked Him nothing; yet He saw their faith. This is what He notices; this is what He will bless.
True, for the greatest of all blessings, the pardon of sin, there must be a personal faith; the mother's faith will not save an ungodly and unbelieving son. But how often, in answer to a mother's prayer, is faith given, and the son's heart changed by grace and brought to God!
3."When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic: Son, your sins are forgiven!" Mark 2:5
Yes, the pardon of sin is the greatest of all blessings, and our chief need. There could not be a stronger proof of this than the case before us. Look at the poor cripple brought on his bed. See, he lies helpless; he cannot move; what he wants, he must ask of others; all comfort in life, as to outward things, is gone.
What does that man chiefly need? Surely, to be made well, to have the use of his limbs, to be like other men. No, not so! He has a greater need still. He is a sinner, and his chief need is the forgiveness of his sins. If that man had gone from the presence of Christ, strong and well, but not forgiven — then he would not have been truly happy. He would have received a great blessing — but not the greatest; a great need would have been supplied — but not his greatest need of all.
So it is with us all. Our greatest need, and therefore our greatest blessing, is pardon of sins. Some know this well, and know it in the happiest way. They have sought and found pardon and are living continually in the sense of it.
Others there are who are persuaded that forgiveness of sin is what they chiefly need, but who have not yet sought and found it. Conscience tells them that this is what they need for safety and for happiness — yet they have not gone to Him who alone can give it.
There are others still, alas, many others, who do not feel this need. They do not really feel themselves to be sinners. Conscience is not aroused; no burden is felt, no sorrow for sin; they are careless and unconcerned. Yet it is true of them also, that pardon is their chief need. Unpardoned sin will be their ruin.
All that the world can give — cannot make up for the lack of pardon. A man may be rich and prosperous, strong and healthy; the world may go well with him, and he may seem to lack nothing; yet, if he is without the pardon of his sins — he lacks that which is better than all that he has got.
On the other hand, one may be sick and poor and friendless, and yet happy, if this blessing be his; and such are to be found.
4.Lastly, Jesus Christ both can and will forgive sin. He CAN. His precious blood has been shed for sinners, and so their debt has been paid and a full atonement made for all their guilt. Our Lord, when upon earth, claimed this power: "But that you may know that the Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins." That power is His still. At this very time, He has power on earth to forgive sins. None can condemn, where He forgives. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
He can forgive, and He WILL forgive. No poor sinner will He turn away. He said so Himself: "Him that comes to Me, I will never cast out" (John 6:37). This forgiveness is a present forgiveness. What did our Lord say to the sick of the palsy? "Your sins are forgiven," not shall be, but are. So that he went away, a pardoned man.
In the same way are all forgiven, who go to Christ in true penitence and faith. His blood is applied to wash their sins away, and they go free. How gracious were His words, "Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven." He seems to speak here as "the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). In that character He seems to say, "Take courage, My child, fear not; your sins are forgiven!"
And thus He does in fact speak, in His Word and by His Spirit, to every humble and contrite heart that looks to Him: "Take courage, My child — your sins are forgiven! My blood has been shed for you. My grace is sufficient for you. Go in peace." Happy are all such! Happier far than the world, with all its gifts, could make them.
Never surely can the palsied man have forgotten the sweet sound of those words, "Son, be of good cheer — your sins are forgiven!" They were not heard once for all, and then lost; they must have lived in his memory and cheered his spirit all his life afterwards. Not so great a comfort was it to him to go about like other men, to walk, to work, to enjoy life, to do things for others, in return for what they had done for him in his need, as to live in the knowledge that his sins were forgiven.
This is how our Lord would have us live; this is the happiness that He would have us enjoy — believing that His blood has washed us clean, loving Him above all, serving Him with a free spirit, and, amidst all other sources of joy, rejoicing most in this, that our sins are forgiven us for His Name's sake, and that "He has made us accepted in the beloved" (Ephesians 1:6).
A Psalm of Blessing
"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!"
The Psalmist begins and ends with the same words: "Bless the Lord, O my soul." His heart is full. He pours out his gratitude in words of praise, and can hardly find words to express all that he feels. Oh for a warmth of gratitude like his! Oh for a spirit of praise! Oh for a deeper sense of what God has done for us, and a more lively thankfulness!
It seems likely, from some of his words, that he had just been restored from sickness. "Who heals all your diseases." The first thing he does is to give thanks. Alas! Sometimes, though prayer has been made in sickness, no thanks are given when health is restored. It was not so with David. Doubtless he had prayed in his time of need, and now He calls on his soul to praise God, "Bless the Lord, O my soul!" Whatever means he had used, whatever medicines he had taken — it was God who had heard his prayer and healed his disease; and His should be the praise. He was now in health again.
Often, all the serious thoughts of the sick-bed fly away with returning health. But David's did not. He had been brought face to face with death and had been deeply impressed with the shortness and frailty of life. His mind now went back to those sick-bed views and thoughts. "As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more."
Now that he was strong and well again, he would not forget what he had felt in his weakness and sickness. His life still hung by a thread; he was still but dust, and his flourishing was but like that of the flowers and the grass. It is well when the lessons learned on the sick-bed do thus remain in the mind afterwards, and make us for the rest of life more deeply thoughtful and serious. Surely it is for this that God sends sickness — to teach us, not only then but always, so "to number our days — that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).
David calls upon his soul not to forget God's benefits — as if there were a danger of forgetting them. Alas, so there is — and even from their being so many and so constant. We should often remind ourselves therefore of God's blessings to us.
There is not a thing we enjoy — but comes from Him. He restores us from sickness; He continues our life; He feeds and clothes us.
Every comfort in our daily lot,
every deliverance from danger,
every day that is added to our life,
every moment's health and peace
— is God's gracious gift to us.
Yet how often are these things enjoyed with no thought of God! Let us say with David, "Bless the Lord, O my soul — and do not forget all His benefits."
But there is another benefit, for which David calls upon his soul to bless God. He says more about it than about all the rest, as if it were the greatest and best. Grateful as he felt for all — he passes over in few words such blessings as life preserved and health restored. Not so with the blessing of sin forgiven. It is the first blessing he mentions, "The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us."
Oh! What would all outward comforts be to us, if God were angry with us still? His mercy and favor sweeten all His gifts. The thought that He has forgiven us, makes all bright. This is a blessing that doubles every other blessing and blunts the edge of the sharpest affliction.
"He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities." No, blessed be God! When we look back on our past life and think of what we have done and of what we have left undone; when conscience is faithful and shows us to ourselves as we really are — then how plainly do we see and how thankfully do we acknowledge that "He has not dealt with us after our sins!"
Where would our comforts and blessings be, where would we ourselves be, if He had dealt with us after our sins! When once we see what sin is, how evil and bitter a thing in itself, how hateful in the sight of God — then we are amazed at the way in which God has dealt with us. He has preserved us, when we might justly have expected to be cut off. He has supplied our needs — when we might have looked to be left destitute of all. He has blessed us — instead of punishing us. He has forgiven us — instead of condemning.
But has He indeed forgiven us? We must all own that He has not dealt with us as we have deserved — but has He forgiven us? If not, it is only because we have not sought forgiveness in His appointed way. For He is willing to forgive us. The blood of Jesus has been shed on our behalf, and through that precious blood there is mercy and pardon for all who seek it. Free mercy and full pardon!
"As the Heaven is high above the earth — so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us!" His is not a half-forgiveness. His mercy is boundless. He pardons fully and forever. The blood of Jesus cleanses the conscience from every stain of guilt — and he who believes with the heart, is justified freely from all his offences.
Great is God's compassion. "Like as a father pities his children — so the Lord pities those who fear Him." Doubtless, even when far off from Him, like the prodigal in a far country — God looks with pity on the poor sinner; but when, through grace, he comes to himself and begins to seek God — then how graciously is he received, and how freely forgiven!
"For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more." Psalm 103:14-16
The shortness and uncertainty of our lives — our weakness, frailty, and sinfulness — God knows them all. Tenderly and graciously does He deal with us. In His great mercy and compassion, He . . .
bears with us;
raises us when we fall;
strengthens us when we are weak; and
helps, guides, sustains, and comforts us.
He has . . .
a perfect knowledge of our needs,
an unspeakable compassion for them,
and full power to supply them all.
His mercy is everlasting. It will never wear out — never come to an end.
As for us, we are frail and short-lived. Let but a few years pass, and the strongest will have fallen, the longest-lived will have passed away, and our course here below will have come to a close, "As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more."
Not so is the mercy of the Lord, and the things which He has prepared for those who love Him. They are from everlasting to everlasting. His promises will never fail. Jesus is . . .
an all-sufficient Savior,
an unfailing Advocate,
an everlasting portion!
Well may every believer join with the Psalmist in rejoicing and praising God.
"The Lord has prepared His throne in the Heavens, and His kingdom rules over all." Safe under His protection, we need fear no evil. The powers of darkness cannot prevail against us — if He is on our side. Sin and the world can never work our ruin — if only we cleave to our God and Savior. Already "His kingdom rules over all" — already there is not a thing that can happen except by His permission.
But hereafter He will reign yet more visibly and gloriously. All the powers of darkness will be subdued; sin and death will be no more; "the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever!" (Revelation 11:15). All who love Him shall be with Him in His glory — every humble believer shall have his portion there. Happy portion! Happy kingdom! Happy prospect! "Bless the Lord, O my soul!" For all His benefits, for life and health, for food and clothing, for comfort in trouble, for pardoning mercy, for the gift of a Savior, for the promise of the Spirit, for all present blessings, and for so happy a prospect beyond, "Bless the Lord, O my soul!"
The Walk upon the Waters
And immediately Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a ship, and to go before Him unto the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray; and when the evening was come, He was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves, for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, "It is a ghost!" — and they cried out for fear.
But immediately Jesus spoke unto them, saying, "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid."
And Peter answered Him and said, "Lord, if it is You, bid me come unto You on the water."
And He said, "Come."
And when Peter had come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, "Lord, save me!"
And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him, and said unto him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"
And when they went into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshiped Him, saying, "Truly You are the Son of God."
This was just after Jesus had fed the multitude with the five loaves and the two fish. Before they went away, and probably while they were still sitting on the grass, He made His disciples get into a ship (most likely a fishing-boat) and cross over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Then He sent the people away, and He Himself went up into a mountain to pray; and there He was alone when night came on.
Doubtless He was many hours in prayer. Meanwhile how did it fare with the disciples in the boat? They had no easy work. The wind blew strong against them, the waves were rough, and, though they rowed hard, they made but little way. Did their Master forget them? No! Mark tells us that "He saw them toiling in rowing" (Mark 6:48). His eye was upon them, even when He was far away. And though engaged in prayer, His thoughts were with them still — perhaps He was praying in part for them. Even from where He was on the mountaintop, He saw them on the rough sea. Their difficulty and trouble were not unknown to Him — not unknown, and not uncared for.
Sometimes when we are in trouble, we are ready to think that we are forgotten by God. We do not see Him; there is nothing to show us that He is near; our feeling is that we are helpless and alone. But it is not really so! The believer is never helpless and alone. In himself, he is helpless indeed; but his Savior is a sure helper and an ever-present friend. While he is "toiling" with difficulties, and buffeted by the rough waves of trouble, and while all things seem contrary to him — Jesus sees him and cares for him. From that high and glorious place where He is, the Master's eye is upon him — perhaps He is even then pleading for him there.
We like to read that Jesus saw the disciples "toiling in rowing," and that when they thought they had gone quite away from Him, His eye was upon them still — let us believe the same about ourselves when we are in trouble.
Jesus had sent them away — yet still He kept them in view. Sometimes He sends us away too — away from friends, away from home, away from comforts, away from spiritual privileges — and thus seems, as it were, to send us away from Himself. But He does not do so really; for He Himself tells us to abide in Him. He would have us seek that His presence may be always in our hearts by the Spirit.
Even if He does send us among rough waves and contrary winds, into sickness and trouble and difficulty — yet He does not send us away from Himself. He is always near. He always cares for us.
This went on for hours — Jesus on the mountain and the disciples toiling on the sea. In the same way, our troubles often do go on for long — but that is no proof that we are forgotten. At length, "in the fourth watch of the night," that is, when night was almost over, Jesus went to them.
But how? "Walking on the sea." He could do even that, for He could do everything. His feet did not sink when He stepped upon the water — for the water, like all other things, was subject to Him, and it was His will that it should bear Him up. So He "went unto them, walking on the sea."
Were they not glad? Not at first. Seeing Him in the dim light coming toward them on the water, they thought He was a ghost, and cried out for fear. They ought to have thought of the five thousand people which He fed with five loaves, and to have believed that He who could do that, could do anything. But they did not. Fear seems to have been their only feeling.
Knowing, as we do, who it was, and that He went to them for the very purpose of helping and comforting them — we are surprised at their being afraid of Him. But have we never been afraid of Him when He came in a different way from what we expected? The very troubles we have had, the very things that have made us think ourselves forsaken — were perhaps in reality God's messengers, sent to us in mercy to do us good, and sent in answer to our prayers. Thus these very things were, in fact, Jesus coming to us — but, because it was in a strange way, we did not know Him; we only feared. Ought not all that He has done for us, and all that He has been to us — make us know Him even when He comes to us, as it were, in darkness?
But their fear did not last long. The voice of Jesus reassured them. As soon as Jesus said, "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid," Peter knew Him and wished to go to Him. "Lord, if it is You, bid me come unto You on the water."
"If it is You" — was there a lingering doubt then still? Perhaps there was. But, at all events, his belief prevailed and even led him to ask that he might walk on the water too, to meet the Lord. It was a bold request — yet it was granted. Jesus bade him come, and Peter stepped on the water. But then his faith could hold out no longer. The rough wind made him afraid; and the moment he feared, he began to sink, for it was only by faith that he had been upheld. But in the very act of sinking, feeling the water giving way beneath him, he cried to Jesus again, "Lord, save me!" — a cry of weak faith, but still a cry of faith.
It was heard. Jesus rebuked him for doubting, but not until He had made him safe. First He "stretched forth His hand, and caught him," and then said, "O you of little faith — why did you doubt?"
How much we may learn about faith from this! Here was one enabled even to walk on the water while he had faith — but sinking the moment faith failed — and then again saved when faith put up a feeble prayer. Here we see strong faith encouraged; and weak faith rebuked — and yet helped. Yet there is nothing here to encourage a fanciful or visionary faith. Faith without a Scriptural warrant is not faith, but presumption. But Peter's faith had a warrant. Jesus said, "Come!" That was the warrant. Upon that word he might have gone boldly on. If Jesus had not said, "Come!" his stepping on the water would have been a presumptuous tempting of God. That one word made it an act of faith.
In the same way, it is with us. If we have a Scripture to go upon — then we may trust and not be afraid. We are told in the book of God that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28); let us believe that, however dark things may look.
We read in the same blessed book, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1); that "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7); "therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). Here is a warrant for our faith. Let us trust our souls to Christ; let us believe that in Him we are cleansed and justified. Let not faith fail. That one word of Jesus — "Come!" would have held Peter up, if he had trusted still.
Oh! How many words of Jesus have we to trust in! Yes, and more than words — His precious blood that was shed for us, and His mediation and intercession are for us even now.
As soon as Jesus was in the boat with them, the wind ceased. No more "toiling in rowing," no more rough waves and boisterous wind then — the presence of Jesus brought peace. It always does. Trouble may be all around — but in that heart where Jesus dwells, there is peace. Nothing else can give it.
All our circumstances may be smooth and prosperous — yet, without Him, there is no true peace. We must seek our peace in Him. He Himself said, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you" (John 14:27). How does He give peace? By giving us Himself. When we have Christ — then we have peace. Never until then.
When the disciples saw that the wind ceased at the presence of Jesus — then they worshiped Him. "Truly," they said, "You are the Son of God." Every deliverance from trouble, every fresh help, and all the peace that we find — comes from Jesus, the Son of God!
God's Promise to the Poor
"When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue fails for thirst — then I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water."
Even in our country we know what it is, in a dry season, to suffer from the lack of water; but in some parts of the middle East that lack is both more commonly and more severely felt. The climate is hotter, and the air more dry; if rain does not fall as usual — then the streams of water fail, the grass withers, and the cattle die, and the people are brought to great distress.
Besides this, there are large tracts of sandy desert where no water at all is to be found, and where travelers have to carry with them water enough to last from one well or stream to the next. If the water should not hold out or if they should find any well or stream dry — then they would suffer greatly.
Water being so necessary a thing to life and comfort everywhere, and especially in the middle East — we find it often used in the Bible as a figure. The lack of water is put for lack in general, and a supply of water often means the supply of help and comfort of various kinds. We may take this passage in this sense.
Water means here, whatever we greatly stand in need of at any time, whether of a temporal or a spiritual kind, but especially spiritual. By the poor and needy, we may understand those who are in any kind of need or distress, but chiefly with regard to their souls. Taken thus, how encouraging are these words! God promises to hear us and not forsake us, to supply our wants, to help us at our greatest need.
A man may be in great distress through poverty. Bad times have come; he has been thrown out of work; he has had sickness in his family. As hard as he strives — he yet finds himself behind in his payments. And things seem to get worse instead of better. No work is available. Food is dearer and dearer. How are the little ones to be fed? How is he to keep his home? He is like the poor and needy seeking water — and there is none. He is quite destitute. He can see no means by which his needs are to be supplied.
Another man is struck down by sickness. His strength is gone; his pain is great; the disorder worsens upon him, and all the medicine that the doctors give him, seems to have no power to stop it. He can get no rest, and day by day he feels himself sinking. Who can help him? Who can do him good?
A third is in trouble about his soul. He has been brought to sore distress on account of his sins; he is weighed down by a sense of guilt and harassed by fears. It may be that sickness also is upon him at the same time. He lies on his bed of pain, uneasy in his mind, anxious and fearful. He looks back with sadness on his past life — thinks mournfully of his present state — and trembles to look forward. Oh! If he might but be forgiven! This is all his thought and all his desire.
To all such, God speaks comfort in this passage. All the poor and needy who seek Him, He will help. Let the poor man seek God in his distress. God knows his poverty and need already; yet let him lay it before Him in prayer, the prayer of faith.
"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14). Are not all things subject to His ordering? And will He not help those who seek Him? Words cannot be plainer: "I the Lord will hear them — I the God of Israel will not forsake them."
Let the sick man raise his thoughts to God. In weakness, helplessness, and pain — let him lift up his heart and pray. Human means fail; medicines seem to do no good — but nothing is beyond the power of God. Only let him lay his case before God again and again, in humble faith. "I the Lord will hear them — I the God of Israel will not forsake them." God will hear him; God will not forsake him. The cry for help when sharp pain is upon him, the prayer for ease, for sleep, for patience, for recovery — all will be heard; not one request, not one word, will be lost. God will hear and help.
In many cases, the very thing that was asked for is given. The pain is abated; the sufferer sinks into a quiet sleep and wakes refreshed. In others, the blessing asked for does not seem to come. Yet the asking has not been in vain. The prayer has been heard, and it will be answered in God's way. Health may not be restored; strength may decline; life itself may be cut off — yet those sick-bed prayers have not been unheeded. The promise cannot fail. In the world to come, it will be known how full and gracious has been the answer to many a prayer that seemed to go without a blessing.
And, above all, let him who feels the lack of spiritual comfort look upward in faith. Christ is the only refuge from the stings of conscience, the only source of comfort to the burdened soul. His blood has been shed to wash away our sins, to make our peace, and to reconcile us to God — and that blood is all-prevailing. The great atonement has been made. "It is finished!"
Let everyone who is weary and heavy laden, seek the Savior at His bidding, and find in Him rest to his soul. The promise is to those who seek; the very words, "I the Lord will hear them," imply prayer. There must be prayer — humble, earnest, persevering prayer; the prayer of faith; prayer through Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Advocate; prayer that seeks and expects a blessing only for His sake.
And the promise is expressly made to those who are without all other help. "When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue fails for thirst." They are in deep distress, "their tongue fails for thirst"; the need is a real, and not an imagined need; they "seek water, and there is none." Then it is, that God will help.
In spiritual things especially we must cast aside all other hope; we must feel that we are nothing and have nothing, that the need of our souls is such as none but God can supply, and that Christ is our all in all: "Nothing in my hand I bring — Simply to Your cross I cling." There is no merit in those to whom this promise is made; no merit, nothing but need. The only description of them is that they are "poor and needy," that they "seek water and there is none," and that "their tongue fails them for thirst." God asks not for merit in us when we seek Him. Alas! If He did, who could hope to receive? Our only plea in drawing near to the throne of grace must be the Name of Jesus.
The need is ours — and the merit is all His. How effectually and how plentifully does God bless! "I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys! I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water." Rivers in the most unlikely places! Pools in the wilderness! The dry land itself becoming springs of water! No difficulty stops almighty grace and power. Nor does He help by halves. His supplies are full and bountiful. He sends to the thirsty, not drops merely — but rivers and fountains and pools and springs.
Thus bountifully will He give us, in answer to our prayers, all that is really for our good. In the face of all unlikelihood and all hindrances — He will abundantly provide for us. The poor man who seeks Him, will often find unlooked-for help. The sick will experience such ease and comfort as he hardly dared to look for. To the contrite heart "the peace of God, which passes all understanding" will be given; and that blessing which is expressly spoken of under the figure of water will certainly not be withheld; God will "give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him" (Luke 11:13).
The Sick-bed Friend
"Blessed is he who considers the poor — the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth; and You will not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him on his bed of illness — You will sustain him on his sickbed. I said: Lord, be merciful unto me — heal my soul; for I have sinned against You."
Most likely David is here speaking of himself. From a bed of sickness, he looks back upon the time when he was in health and prosperity, and remembers with comfort that he did not then neglect the poor; and he trusts that God will not now neglect or forsake him. Even when sick and surrounded by enemies, he feels a happy confidence in God. It is written, "He who has pity upon the poor lends unto the Lord, and that which he has given, He will pay him again" (Proverbs 19:17). Our Savior said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7). And again, "When you make a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind — and you shall be blessed, for they cannot recompense you; for you shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:13-14).
The poor can do little to repay kindness — they have nothing to give but love and gratitude and prayer. But the God of the poor will take all kindness done to them, from a right motive, as done to Himself. All that true Christian charity leads any to give or to do — will be more than repaid.
Who knows how soon the time of need or sickness may come to himself? How sad at such a time to have to think thus: "I never cared for the sick poor around me — and now sickness has come to me. I did nothing to relieve pain or to comfort sorrow — and now it is my turn to feel them!"
How different the thoughts which David had in sickness! Humble, grateful, trustful thoughts — not vain or boastful. If he does indeed mean himself, it is remarkable that he writes as if alluding to another: "Blessed is he . . . the Lord will deliver him." No, David was not boastful or self-righteous. He humbly hoped that, as he had in time past cared for the poor — so God would now care for him. But he did not claim anything as deserved by him, nor did he put his trust in any doings of his own. On the contrary, from his bed of sickness he owned himself a sinner, and as such sought mercy: "Lord, be merciful unto me — heal my soul; for I have sinned against You."
"Heal my soul!" That was his chief need — that is the chief need of every sick person. First, healing of the soul and forgiveness of sin — then, bodily comforts and temporal blessings. All who seek God, whether sick or well, must seek Him as sinners — and all stand in need of pardoning mercy. We must approach God in a humble and contrite spirit — confessing our sins and pleading the merits of Christ our Savior. Until we do so, and thus become reconciled to God through the death of His Son — we can never know true peace. What comfort could the thought of past kindness to the poor bring to one lying on a bed of sickness — with no knowledge of God as a God of love, no sense of forgiveness, no looking to Christ? Nothing of our own can bring us peace at such a time. Christ alone, and all that He has done for us, and all that He is to us — is the source of peace to the soul.
How comforting are these words, "The Lord will strengthen him on his bed of illness. You will sustain him on his sickbed." We may take them as a promise. God will certainly do so to every believer, to all who seek Him. In health and strength, man is apt to think that he can do without God; but when he is laid upon a bed of sickness, then he feels his helplessness and need. The Lord will not disregard him then. He will hear his cry and will help him. Even if he has greatly forgotten God in health — yet if in sickness he turns to Him — then God will receive him.
Surely then, he who has loved and served God in health will not be overlooked. No — God knows all his pain, his weakness, his weariness. He will help him and comfort him. The pain shall not be too great. God will give strength and patience; and such inward comfort will He bestow, that the thoughts of the sick will be much drawn off from his sufferings, and he will have peace within — even though pain and sickness is still his portion.
In the words following, the Psalmist addresses God Himself: "You will sustain him on his sickbed." What a striking expression! How forcibly it shows us God's close and tender care! No faithful nurse, no gentle and loving friend, not even a wife or a mother — can do for the sick what God can do. Their efforts may fail, or they may grow weary of long watching — but God's loving-kindness is never tired, and His wisdom and power are both infinite.
It is pleasant to the sick to be well nursed and kindly visited, but there is no friend for the sick-bed like God Himself. Without Him the softest bed is uneasy — with Him the hardest is a bed of rest. In sickness and in health, none can comfort or help as He does. He is always ready, always at hand. In the sharpest pain, a cry or even a thought sent up to Him — will bring down help and comfort. Blessed is every place in which God is sought and found! Blessed is even the bed of sickness which is soothed and cheered by His presence!
The Sympathy of Christ
"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
This is taken from the epistle to the Hebrews — that is, to those of that nation who had become Christians. Of course the Jews knew all about the high priest, for he was the chief minister in their religion — any allusion to him, therefore, they would easily understand. The high priest of the Jews used to offer sacrifices to God on their behalf — and on one day in the year especially, the great day of atonement, he used to go inside the veil of the tabernacle or temple (where no one else ever went, and he only went on that day), and there make an offering of atonement for the sins of himself and of the people.
But when Christ had died and risen again, the Jewish high priests came to an end — for they were but forerunners of Christ, and He is now the one and only High Priest. He offered Himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sins; and then He "passed into the Heavens," to be our High Priest there, like as the Jewish high priest used to go once a year into the holy of holies.
But our High Priest remains in the Heavens still. His sacrifice was once for all, and His passing into the Heavens was once for all. No further atonement will ever be needed. The great work is finished. And now He is at the right hand of the Father, to plead our cause, to present our prayers, and to procure for us acceptance by virtue of His precious blood. Though exalted so high — He does not forget us. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses."
He does sympathize with us. In all our infirmities and troubles of every kind, in pain and sickness, in poverty and need, in anxiety and grief — He has a sympathetic heart for us. Is not this comforting? Does it not cheer us in a time of suffering, when some kind friend comes in and sits down beside us and shows most plainly that though unable to help, he does heartily feel for us? How much more cheering is it to know that Jesus in Heaven sympathizes with us in all our troubles here below! Does not this thought, this blessed truth — take the edge off the sharpest suffering and lift us for the time above our sorrows?
But is it true? Does He care for me? Does He feel for me? Yes, it is true — for the Word of God says so, and that is all true. But more than this, as if on purpose to encourage us and to take away all our doubts and fears, something is told us to show us how it is that our blessed Lord can sympathize with us poor creatures. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses; but was in all points tempted as we are — yet without sin."
Jesus Christ Himself when He was on earth was tempted as we are, and therefore He can feel for us. This is true, whether we take the word "tempted" to mean tempted to sin — or tried by affliction, or both. Though He could not be led into sin because there was no sinful nature in Him as there is in us — yet He was tempted to sin. We read of His being tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and there is no reason to think that was the only time. He can feel for us therefore when we are tempted, because He was tempted Himself.
He was also afflicted. He is called "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). No sorrows were ever equal to His. We do not know that He was ever ill — but we do know that He was tired and hungry and sad. He was besides, the poorest of the poor; He had nowhere to lay His head; He led what would be called a hard life. Our greatest sufferings are light compared with His; and He had some afflictions (the greatest of all) which we cannot fully understand, as when He prayed in the garden, "If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me"(Matthew 26:39), and as when He cried upon the cross, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me!" (Matthew 27:46).
He can sympathize with the poor therefore, because He was poor Himself. He can sympathize with the sad, because He was a man of sorrows. He can sympathize with all who suffer, because His own sufferings were so many and great. He was tempted; He was tried; He was afflicted; He went through before us what we have to go through, and much more; in this very world in which we live now — He lived and suffered; and therefore He can and does sympathize with us.
Did He not sympathize with the poor and needy when He was on earth? Was any sufferer ever brought to Him whom He would not help? Did He not cure the sick? Did He not give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, strength to the lame? Did He not restore dead children alive to their sorrowing parents? Was He not kind to all? Did He not say to one, "Weep not!" (Luke 7:13), to another, "Be of good cheer!" (Matthew 9:2), and to many at once, "Let not your heart be troubled" (John 14:1)? And would He have done and said all this — if He had not cared for them and sympathized with them? He does not change. He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
In Heaven above, He sympathizes with sufferers just as much as He did on earth. He is as kind and compassionate as ever.
"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace." "Boldly" — that is, freely and gladly, feeling confidence in our Savior, and speaking all our mind to Him.
Let us come, "that we may obtain mercy," for we need mercy. We are poor unworthy sinners. We have nothing to plead but God's mercy in Christ Jesus. We want our sins to be forgiven through His precious blood. Nothing but this can bring us peace.
Let us come, that we may "find grace to help in time of need." There is no need of ours which God cannot supply, no pain that He cannot help us to bear, no trouble in which He cannot give us comfort. In every time of need let us pray, really pray; not merely saying over a few words, but praying from the heart, drawing near to God through Jesus Christ, laying all before Him, asking Him to help us, and believing that He will. Jesus Christ is there. And He thinks of us and cares for us and sympathizes with us. He is our friend, our Savior, our Mediator and Advocate. He will speak for us. Only let us pray and pray again — and wait and hope and trust.
"I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen."
The Christians of Philippi had sent several times to supply the apostle's needs when he was in other places, and he thanks them for it. They had wished to do so earlier, but no opportunity had offered. He thanks them not only for what they had done, but also for what they had wished to do. But he was glad of their gifts, not so much because his own needs were thus supplied, as because their kindness to him showed that they loved God. What he desired was not to receive a gift for himself, but to see fruit in them; and this he did see when he found them so willing to help him in his need for Christ's sake. This proved their faith to be real.
As for himself, Paul could cheerfully bear poverty — if such were the will of God. He had learned to be content in every state. Whether he were made much of — or despised and persecuted; whether he had plenty — or suffered want; he knew how to conduct himself as a Christian. He does not mention sickness, but doubtless he could have said just the same about that. Whether he were well or ill, he would still take all as coming from the hand of God and resign himself contentedly to His gracious will.
How happy he must have been! Health and strength, plenty and prosperity, could not have made him so happy as a contented and thankful mind made him. And with all the trials which he had to suffer, how miserable he would have been if he had had besides, a discontented spirit! Some people would have been very unhappy with such a lot as Paul's; but in fact, a discontented mind must make one unhappy in any lot.
He says that he had learned to be content. Naturally he was like other men. But for the grace of God, he would doubtless have fretted under want and affliction — and been too much lifted up in prosperity. God had taught him to bear both aright. By His Word and Spirit, by His providential dealings, by long experience — God had taught him this lesson. And now he could say, not boastfully, but calmly and truly, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."
Yet, though he had thus been taught and trained in the school of Christ, it was not by any power of his own that he was able to be so contented. He adds, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." He was a branch of the true Vine, united to Christ by a living faith, and it was from Christ that he drew strength continually. He could have done nothing without Christ; he could do all things through Christ.
It is just the same with us. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5); for we have no strength, no spiritual life even, of our own. "Our sufficiency is of God" (2 Corinthians 3:5). Christ is our life (Colossians 3:4). But He enables us to bear what God is pleased to lay upon us, and to bear it with a contented mind. Every day He strengthens us afresh, and for every new trial — He gives us new grace. His grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Perhaps there is nothing which it is harder to bear contentedly, and nothing therefore in which strength from Christ is more needed — than long continued ill-health. A severe illness, sharp but short, is not so great a trial as constant sickliness. Our Lord knows how hard this is to bear and is ready to help us. He will come to us in our trouble, in answer to our cry. Nay, He will do more than come — He will abide with us. Thus He will make us patient and enable us to say, "I have learned in whatever state I am, therewith to be content."
But, like other learning, this lesson is not learned in a moment. Impatience is not got the better of at once — and our will is slow to submit itself to the will of God in times of affliction. Yet he who is under God's teaching and seeks his Savior's presence and grace continually — does make progress. Gradually he loses that fretfulness which he had when first his sickness fell upon him. God deals very graciously with him, tenderly and kindly, like a loving Father — and under such dealing, the sufferer becomes more humble, more gentle, more calm, contented, and thankful.
The sick Christian has many happy moments on his bed of affliction; when he feels that God is near and that His love is over him and that His hand is dealing with him. At such times he is quite willing that all should be as God pleases — and is able to resign every wish to His will. Those are his happiest times.
He is not always so. Thoughts of another kind do come: the thought of others in health, the remembrance of the time when he was so himself, and a restless longing for health. Sometimes he yields to these feelings — he is not happy then. Sometimes he strives and prays against them — and then he is helped and strengthened, and peace returns.
Perhaps even Paul may still have been tried at times by feelings such as these — though when he wrote he had such perfect contentment. We do not know how that was. But certainly, with most, there is still a struggle, a difficulty, something to overcome, something to learn. We should seek most earnestly this spirit of contentment. It is for our good, and it is for our happiness. It is what God would have us possess; it is the object of many of His dealings with us; it is what He will work in us by His grace. Happy is he who from a bed of lingering sickness, can look up and say, "Even so, Father — for so it seemed good in Your sight" (Matthew 11:26).
But are not sickness and want, evils? Yes, in themselves; and we may seek relief from them and ought to do so. Paul did not refuse to receive what the Philippians sent him — nay, he thanked them for it. But while we use every means in our power, and even make the supply of our needs and the return of health the subject of our prayers — we may yet keep a contented mind while these blessings are withheld.
It is one thing to pray for a blessing — it is another to be discontented as long as it is not bestowed. Prayer is right — discontent can never be right. Prayer makes us happy — discontent makes us miserable. In fact, a discontented prayer can hardly be prayer at all; for all true prayer, for temporal blessings at least, must be in this spirit: "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will!" (Matthew 26:39). He who spoke as never man spoke, taught us that — He who is our teacher, our example, our strength. May it be our happiness to learn of Him and to follow Him; and may we be able to say with His servant Paul, under all difficulties and trials, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!"
The Penitent Thief
"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: 'Are you not you the Christ? Save yourself and us!'
But the other criminal rebuked him. 'Don't you fear God,' he said, 'since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.'
Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'
Jesus answered him, 'I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise!'"
What a promise! What a change! "Today shall you be with Me in Paradise!" There he hangs, the poor dying thief; his body is racked with pain; his strength is failing; he is ending a life of crime by a death of shame. A few hours more — and all will be over. How sad a sight! Surely those even who have known his evil deeds must pity him now. They might well pity him until Jesus spoke; but they need not pity him now. For now all is changed. "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise!"
That very day, as soon as the breath leaves the body — his soul would be in the place of eternal felicity. Soon, very soon, every pain would be past forever; soon he would be where sin and grief and shame and suffering cannot come; soon, before another sun would rise, that very day. How wonderful is the grace that led this man to repentance, and accepted a repentance so late! In the very act of dying for sinners — Jesus saves this soul. When every hope seems gone — this sure and blessed hope is given.
What measure of light did this dying man have? What did he feel about himself? What did he believe about Christ? We know no more than this — he felt himself guilty; he believed that Jesus had done no wrong and that He was a king and that He could help and save him even in his last extremity. "We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!" Thus, with his expiring breath, he sought mercy of Jesus — sought it in penitence and faith — sought it and found it. No time was left for learning more, no opportunity given for serving God. He must come just as he was — he must come without a moment's delay; and he did come, and he was not refused, and the words of Jesus were made good, "Him that comes to Me — I will never cast out" (John 6:37).
Why should any trembling sinner doubt now that Jesus will receive him? Why should any fear that he has sinned too long to be forgiven, and neglected too many offers of grace to be now received? All we are told of this man is that he was a thief, a criminal — we know no more of him; and this no doubt he had been to the last, for he was now suffering death for his sins.
Yet no sooner does he cry to Jesus — than he is graciously heard. One true prayer after a life of sin — and what an answer does it receive! "Today shall you be with Me in Paradise!" Not merely, you shall be saved from the eternal punishment which your sins have deserved; you shall not go to the place of despair; but, "Truly I say unto you: Today shall you be with Me in Paradise!"
"Truly I say unto you" — it was quite certain. "Today" — it should be at once, without delay. "You shall be with Me" — the Son of God would take the poor thief to Himself, to be where He Himself was going to be. And that was "in Paradise" — the Paradise of God, the place of perfect rest and happiness. Let no heart that is smitten with a sense of sin, fear to go to the same Savior. The words still hold good, "Him that comes to Me, I will never cast out." But it has been well said that there is one such instance recorded — that none should despair; and only one — that none should presume.
There is no encouragement here to put off repentance to a dying hour. This was a signal instance of saving grace — but it is not God's usual way of dealing. Some seem to think that a death-bed must of itself make a total change in all a man's feelings, and that then the sinner will certainly repent. There is a double mistake here. A death-bed and time to prepare for eternity — are not always given; and when it is given, even a death-bed without the grace of God will not lead to repentance. One thief repented — but the other blasphemed. Yet that wretched man was in exactly the same case as the first thief, but the near prospect of death wrought no change of heart in him; with his dying breath he railed upon Christ, and died as he had lived. Oh, let none abuse the grace of God, or trust to a death-bed repentance.
There is another thing which we should bear in mind. Though the penitent thief had sinned against what light he had and therefore was guilty — yet doubtless his light was small compared with that which is enjoyed in a Christian land. We have no reason to think that he had ever seen Jesus or heard His words, until the time when he saw Him hanging beside him on the cross. How many are there now who are hearing of Christ continually, or might hear if they would go where His gospel is preached — and yet do not seek Him or repent of their sins! Will there be no difference made, in the great final account — between those who have heard of a Savior but once, and those who have been within hearing of the gospel all their life long?
We find here therefore, both warning and encouragement.
The warning is, not to put off the great concern to a dying hour, but to seek Christ at once.
The encouragement is, that at all times, even in a dying hour, while yet there is space for calling upon Him — He is willing to be found by those who seek Him.
There is no contradiction between these two. We may trace the warning as well as the encouragement in that gracious invitation of God by the prophet Isaiah: "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon!" (Isaiah 55:6-7).
The Cry of the Sorrowful
"O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long? Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave? I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. Away from me, all you who do evil, for the LORD has heard my weeping. The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace."
We know no more of David's circumstances when he wrote this Psalm, than what we find in the Psalm itself; but it seems plain that he was in great trouble, arising from two causes: he was very ill, and he had bitter enemies.
He was very ill. "I am faint," he says: "my bones are in agony," that is, with pain. His nights were sleepless; nights of weeping and of groaning. Life itself was in danger, for he speaks of death as that in which his illness might end.
But this was not all. There were those about him who hated him. He had bitter enemies, ungodly men who desired his ruin. This troubled him greatly. "My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes." Thus he was weak and ill and low — sick in body and sad and anxious in mind.
What did he do? Just what all the sad and suffering should do. He prayed. He drew near to God and told Him all:
all that tried his body,
all that troubled his soul,
his wearisome nights,
his tears and groans,
his anxious thoughts.
Ah! What could he have done — if he could not have prayed? And what can any believer do in trouble, without prayer? If we were to be told some day that there must be no more prayer — it would be the saddest news that ever we heard. What could the poor, the sick, the sorrowful, the sinful — do then? What could they do, if they could not pray? Where would they find help, if they might no longer seek it of God?
Thank God, we never can hear such news. God does hear prayer and will hear prayer. The time will never come when they who have been used to pray, will find that they may pray no more. "O You who hear prayer!" (Psalm 65:2). Thus the Psalmist addressed God; and thus we shall always be able to address Him.
David lays his sickness before God, and prays to be healed. All sicknesses are subject to God. They cannot come without God's permission — and they cannot stay when He bids them go. It is right for us to take medicine and to go by the doctor's advice — but it rests with God whether the sick shall get well or not. He works by means — but unless He blesses the means, they are all in vain. We may pray to God to make us well, for life and health are blessings given to us by Him and to be used to His glory. Thus David cried to God: "For in death there is no remembrance of You: in the grave who shall give You thanks?" Yet it does not always please God that the sick should recover. Death must come at some time. God knows best when and how it shall be. In all such prayers, therefore, we should give ourselves up to God and desire that His holy will may be done. We may pray for pain to be eased and life to be prolonged. But we should add, "Nevertheless, not my will but may Your will be done!" Our prayer will certainly be heard, and it will be answered in the very best way. Even the prayer itself will bring comfort.
David prayed also for help against his enemies — wicked men who hated and opposed him and who were plotting against him perhaps more than ever, now that sickness was upon him. The thought of them disturbed and harassed him, and therefore he laid it before God.
It is to be hoped that we have no such enemies. May God forgive them and turn them, if we have.
But have we no spiritual enemy? There is one who is always plotting against our souls, and besides him we have our own evil hearts and the temptations of the world. These are real enemies, never ceasing to work against us and to hinder our salvation. Wherever we are — still we find them; even in a sick room they are not far off.
Sometimes they trouble us greatly. Evil thoughts arise in the heart, wrong inclinations seem strong within us, and the grievous power of sin is felt. To one who loves God, this is more distressing than even bodily pain. We should pray earnestly at such times. In God's Name, we should bid these enemies of our soul to depart. No evil thought must be indulged for a moment. The tempter must be resisted in the strength of God. "Resist the devil — and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).
We have every encouragement. God will hear our prayer. In pain of body, in long sickness, in sleepless nights and wearisome days, in the assaults of Satan, in the struggle with evil thoughts — He will hear us and help us.
No sooner had David prayed, than he was heard. In the very same Psalm in which he cries to the Lord, he is able to say, "The Lord has heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer."
Faith should realize this at all times. Whenever we pray, humbly and heartily, in the Name of Jesus, then we should believe that God certainly hears us, that our prayer has even now found acceptance. Oh, the comfort of believing that prayer is heard!
"The Lord has heard my supplication." Then, even if pain and sickness still continue, and temptation and trial do not cease at once — yet all will be well, for the Lord has heard me. He will not let me be overwhelmed. He will try me no longer than is for my good. He will send me what is best. I will trust, and not be afraid.
Yet David, it is plain, felt that he had deserved his afflictions. "O Lord, rebuke me not in Your anger, neither chasten me in Your hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord . . . Oh save me for Your mercies' sake."
In the same way, who can say, whatever his sufferings may be, "This is more than I have deserved"? Alas! If God were to deal with us as we have deserved — where would we be? But "the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy" (Psalm 103:8). Though we have sinned — yet He will forgive. Though we have deserved nothing but His displeasure — yet He will show us His favor. For Jesus has died for us. His precious blood has been shed to make atonement for our sins. He is our peace. And for His sake — sinners are forgiven, accepted, and blessed. We have no other plea to use, but this will prevail. In His Name we may humbly — yet confidently, draw near to God, and say, "Return, O Lord, deliver my soul! Oh, save me for Your mercy's sake!"
Suffering for Christ
1 Peter 4:12-19
"Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved — then what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator." 1 Peter 4:12-19
The Christians to whom Peter wrote were in trouble on account of their religion, and the apostle wished to cheer them. He tells them not to be surprised at "the fiery trial — as though some strange thing happened unto them," something which they had no reason to expect, something different from what happened to other Christians. It was not so. Christians must be prepared to suffer for their Master's sake. Most Christians are called to suffer for Him, more or less.
He bids them rather rejoice because, in suffering, they were but partakers with their Master Himself; and if they suffered with Him, they might hope to be glorified with Him too. Let shame and reproach therefore come upon them for His sake — still they were happy, and so he would have them think themselves. If they suffered reproach — then it was in the best cause, the cause of Christ. The Holy Spirit was with them and would be with them through all. Their enemies were also the enemies of Christ; those who reproached them, also blasphemed Him. While they, on the contrary, had the opportunity of bringing glory to Him by following Him closely and by bearing persecution with meekness and courage.
But let them take care to do nothing inconsistent with that holy Name by which they were called. Let no follower of Christ expose himself to any just accusation. Let none by any crime bring disgrace on his Master's cause, or give occasion to the enemies of the cross to speak against the religion of Christ. Let all guard against this.
Then, if any should still suffer as a Christian, in the good cause, not for doing wrong but for doing right, "let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this behalf." There was no shame in such suffering — but rather honor. "For the time is come," he says, "that judgment must begin at the house of God." That is to say, it pleases God, who orders all things and all seasons — that this should be a time of judgment, of trial, of affliction; and that the house of God, that is, His spiritual house, the Church of Christ, should be the first to suffer.
Yet let not Christians despond. It pleased God that they should suffer, but what were their sufferings — compared with what would fall upon the enemies of the cross? "If it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?"
At present it might seem that the followers of Christ were the worst off — they suffered, and their persecutors prospered. But this was only for a time. The end would come — a happy end for the suffering Christians, and a dreadful end for their persecutors. How was it possible that these should escape? It pleased God to make His servants partakers of the sufferings of Christ, to chasten them for their good, and to lead them to glory by the pathway of trial. But how much greater sufferings must be in store for those who would not obey the gospel! Not chastisements, as in the case of the Christians — but the just outpouring of God's wrath for sin.
He follows this up with another question, "If the righteous one is scarcely saved — then where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?" This word "scarcely" does not mean that there is any doubt about the righteous being saved. There is none. The soul of the believer is safe in Christ. "He is able to save to the uttermost — all who come unto God by Him" (Hebrews 7:25). "They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand" (John 10:28). But the difficulties of the Christian course are so great; its hindrances, temptations, and trials so many; that the apostle speaks "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved"; surely — yet hard; like the shipwrecked sailor, who has struggled to land through the rough waves that drove him hack again and again, and now rests safe on the rock beyond their reach; he too is saved, completely saved, but "scarcely saved."
Now, "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved — then what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" If the dangers and difficulties in the way of salvation are so many and great, even to one who presses toward the mark and seeks salvation as the one thing needful — then what must become of the careless sinner, who neglects his soul and slights his Savior, and does not seek his soul's salvation?
What will become of the ungodly and the sinner in the great day of the final judgment? What a solemn question! A question without an answer. It needs no answer. Conscience itself gives the answer — the conscience of the ungodly — an answer which he fears to think of and drives from his mind — and yet knows to be true.
But this question need cause no fear to the humble servant of Christ who believes in Him, follows Him, and perhaps suffers for His sake. Let not such a one fear. The apostle bids such to "commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator." Let them fear nothing but sin. In well doing, in a prayerful and watchful course, in a constant and earnest endeavor through grace to maintain a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men — let them commit their souls to God in the confidence of faith.
He is their Creator — He made them. He rules and governs all things — He can preserve them and save them. And He will do so, for He is their faithful Creator. He has promised to save all who come to Him by Christ Jesus. He has both provided and accepted the great atonement. He has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He will be faithful to His covenant. He will not again require the penalty that has already been paid in the precious blood of Christ. Not one word of promise shall fail — He will save His people with an everlasting salvation!
The humble believer who lies on a bed of pain and sickness, and for the love of Jesus strives to bear all with patience and submission, though he may be free from persecution and may even be surrounded by those who like himself love the Savior — is yet no doubt accepted as a sufferer for Christ's sake — a sufferer according to the will of God. Let such a one take to himself the comfort of this passage. It is not for the persecuted alone — but for all Christ's sufferers. Let him commit his soul again and again to his God and Savior. Let him not doubt or fear. God will be with him through all — even to the end. And at length He will take him to his everlasting rest, where all suffering will be past forever!
God Reasoning with Lost Sinners
"Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
"Come now, and let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword." For the mouth of the LORD has spoken it."
Because "the mouth of the Lord has spoken it" — it must be true. Every threat will be made good — every promise will be fulfilled; every warning and exhortation is of the most solemn importance. It is not man who speaks, not even the prophet — but the Lord Almighty Himself. He is speaking to sinners. What does He say?
"Come now, and let us reason together." How kind and gracious! He does not yet say, "Come, stand before the judgment-seat. Come, and receive the punishment due for your sins" but, "Come now, and let us reason together." God, whom he has offended, invites the sinner to speak with Him, to hear what He will say, to listen to His offer.
And what an offer! Nay, more than an offer — a promise, plain and sure. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." God does not shut His eyes to what the sinner has done; his sins are all before Him, many and great, deep-colored, red like crimson or scarlet. Nor must the sinner himself shut his eyes to them. He must not deny them or refuse to look at them. God calls him to look at them and shows them to him as they are, with no veil or excuse — red like crimson. Then God says that they shall be as white as snow; and, as if to make it more certain, He says it again in other words, "they shall be as wool." He will forgive them all. He will fully forgive them. So fully, that not a stain shall be left. What is whiter than wool — or purer than snow? So white and pure — will God make the sinner in His sight.
How is this? We know now, under the gospel, how it is. The blood of Jesus Christ, God's dearly beloved Son, was shed on the cross. It is that precious blood that washes our sins away and makes us clean. It is for His sake that sinners are forgiven. "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).
We must believe in Him. We must be "willing and obedient"; obedient to the gospel call, willing to give up all for Christ — all sin, all self-righteousness, all hope and trust but in Him. We must draw near to God with broken and contrite hearts, seeking mercy for Jesus' sake. This is what God invites us to do when He says, "Come now, and let us reason together."
We are not to argue the matter with our Maker and Judge, to make excuses, to put our case in the best light. We are to confess all, to humble ourselves before Him, and simply to plead that Jesus died for us. Then God will be gracious to us. He will surely pardon us. The blood of Jesus will wash away our guilt. Our sins will become as white as snow. "For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it."
But let none think to find forgiveness — and yet to continue in willful sin. This would be to "refuse and rebel," not to "be willing and obedient." This would be to "turn the grace of God into a license for sin" (Jude 4). Where there is a true coming to Christ for pardon — there will be also a change of heart; and where there is a change of heart — there will be a hatred of sin. A living faith will certainly lead us to strive continually, that we may "cease to do evil" and "learn to do good."
The pardoned sinner cannot but love his Savior; and Christ and sin cannot be loved together. There can be no real work of grace in the heart, no true faith in Christ, and no pardon of sin — unless there is the fruit of love to Him who redeemed us by His blood; and love will certainly be shown by striving to keep His commandments. Jesus said of one penitent sinner, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little" (Luke 7:47). He said to all, "If you love Me — you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15).
The Thorn in the Flesh
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
"And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations — a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."
Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
We are told to pray in all our troubles, and God promises to hear us. But He does not promise to give us always just what we ask for. Often it is better for us not to have it — or to have something else instead. It is answering our prayers in the best way, when God gives us that which is most for our good, though it may not be what we asked for. He knows far better than we do.
Paul had some affliction which he calls "a thorn in the flesh." We do not know what it was; but most likely it was some bodily ailment which interfered with his comfort, and, as he thought, hindered him in his work. Some think it was bad eye-sight, but nobody knows. He calls it "a thorn in the flesh" because it was a constant pain and trouble to him. He thought that it would be much for his happiness to be freed from this affliction, so he prayed God to remove it; and when he found that it was not removed, he prayed again, and still again. He says, "I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me." But it did not depart — the "thorn in the flesh" still remained — the affliction was not removed.
Had Paul prayed in vain then? Had God turned a deaf ear to his prayers? No! His prayers were answered — though not as he had expected: "And He said unto me: My grace is sufficient for you; for My strength is made perfect in weakness." The apostle received this inward reply from God, spoken to his heart by the Holy Spirit — and then he was satisfied. He prayed no more that the "thorn in the flesh" should be taken away — for now he knew that it was God's will that it should remain.
But he was not disappointed or cast down. On the contrary, he was full of thankfulness, feeling that he had received a blessing, though not the blessing he had desired. "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." He saw that it was better for him to have the "thorn in the flesh" — because with it would come special grace and strength. He now felt sure that the work of God would not suffer through his infirmity — but would rather be furthered by a special putting forth of the power of Christ. As for his own comfort, the presence of his Savior in his heart was more to him than all bodily ease. So he was content, and more than content — he was thankful and happy.
"Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." Anything that brought Christ nearer — made Paul happy. Anything by which he received more strength from above — he considered a blessing. So when he saw that infirmities and distresses had this effect, he even took pleasure in them.
We are not wrong in praying God to remove our afflictions — we may even pray again and again. Our Lord Himself taught us "that men ought always to pray, and not to faint" (Luke 18:1).
A SICK person is not wrong in asking God to make him well. Health is a blessing; and sickness, in itself, is an evil. A sick man's illness is his "thorn in the flesh" — and he may beg the Lord, and that again and again, to remove it. The sick-bed ought to be a place of much prayer, both for soul and body. But health is not always restored in answer to prayer. Often, though earnest prayer is made — the sick get worse instead of better, and perhaps the sickness ends in death.
What then? Have those prayers been unheard? No. The prayer of faith is never unheard. But God has better blessings to give than even health! Pardon and peace, the grace of God, the witness of the Spirit, the Savior's presence, an increase of faith, clearer views, a brighter hope, more love to God, and a more perfect contentment with His will — these are all blessings, and better blessings than health itself. God often gives them in answer to the prayers of the sick; many a prayer that goes up from a bed of suffering, is answered thus. The sufferer is so ill perhaps that he can scarcely frame a petition, but the desire of his heart is toward God; he tries to cast himself upon His grace and mercy in Christ; in his distress he seeks help of Him alone. And that inward peace which he feels, that calm resignation to God's will, that happy sense of his Savior's presence — are the gracious answer to his prayers.
Let us not be disappointed if the very thing we ask for, however desirable it may seem to us, does not come. Let nothing lead us to doubt that God hears us. Rather let us think thus: "It was better for me, then, not to have this thing. There is some reason, known to God, though unknown to me, which makes it good for me that my 'thorn in the flesh' should remain."
The reason why Paul's thorn was not removed, was that he might not be made proud by his wonderful spiritual gifts. In the same way, there is always some wise and gracious reason why any blessing that we seek is withheld. God does not take pleasure in withholding what we ask Him for — but, as an all-wise, all-loving Father, He gives us what He knows to be the very best for us. How much better to have what He knows to be best — than what we think to be so!
Let us pray, and pray without ceasing — but let us pray in a spirit of perfect resignation to the will of God. Happy is it for us, better than all bodily comfort; better than health itself, when the power of Christ rests upon us; when in weakness we are made strong; when we feel the grace of God sufficient, and are able to rejoice in our Savior!
"Whenever God slew them — then they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again. They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer. But then they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues; their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant. Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return. How often they rebelled against him in the desert and grieved him in the wasteland! Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember his power — the day he redeemed them from the oppressor."
This Psalm is about the people of Israel. It sets forth God's dealings with them and the return which they made; it declares, on the one hand, the wonderful things which He did for them: His kindness and long-suffering, His chastisements and His forgiveness; and, on the other hand, their many backslidings, their repeated ingratitude and rebellion. In this particular part of the Psalm we see how the people turned to God when He laid His hand upon them in affliction, but forgot Him again when His hand was removed. This happened again and again. Many a time did they seem to repent, and yet they again returned to their sins. Many a time did God forgive their backslidings.
How often may this be seen still! "When He slew them — then would seek Him." When a man feels the hand of God upon him in sickness or trouble, then he seeks God. His pride is brought down, he is careless no longer; for his strength is gone from him, and outward comforts are fled, and perhaps death itself seems near. Now he seems in earnest. He shows much zeal in inquiring after God, and pays attention to reading and prayer. His thoughts go back to the past. He remembers God's dealings with him — he thinks over his life, counts up the mercies he has received, considers how he has been borne with in his carelessness, and how the means of grace have not been withheld from him, though he has made so poor an use of them. He sees now the vanity of the world. He remembers that God is his Rock, and the most high God is his Redeemer. He will be a different man for the future. He will never again live as he has lived. If it pleases God to raise him up, he will never more forget Him, but will strive to serve Him truly all his days.
These are his thoughts and purposes. Suppose it please God to restore that man to health and prosperity — does he still remain in the same mind? Does he really lead a new life and care for his soul and serve God? Alas, not in every case. Often the sick-bed vow is broken — and the sick-bed thoughts are forgotten. With returning health, old thoughts come back, and old ways are followed. There is little change.
The words come true, " But then they would flatter Him with their mouths, lying to Him with their tongues." Not that they did not mean what they said. The people of Israel were sincere perhaps at the moment; but "their heart was not right with Him, neither were they steadfast in His covenant." There was no depth in their repentance, no steadfastness in their purposes — and so, as soon as God's afflicting hand was removed, they provoked Him afresh.
In like manner, the man who forgets his sick-bed vows was no hypocrite perhaps when he made them. He did not say one thing — and mean another. He meant to keep to what he said, and thought that he would. But he did not know his own heart, his weakness, his proneness to forget God, his need of grace. He did not know that the Holy Spirit alone could work a real change in him and make his heart right with God and lead him to be steadfast in His covenant. Had he but known this, and sought the Spirit accordingly — how different would his after-life have been!
Affliction, pain, and sickness — do not in themselves work a change of heart. They are often used as instruments by God, but they are only instruments — the power is His. It is only sanctified affliction which leaves a blessing behind it. We should pray therefore, when we are sick or in trouble, that the Holy Spirit may be given to us, and that our affliction may be sanctified and turned to the good of our souls.
Prayer is the way by which afflictions may be turned into blessings. Prayer will give us cause to say with David, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted!" (Psalm 119:71). God is full of compassion and mercy.
Though Israel so often sinned again — yet God repeatedly forgave them. He is still the same — the same to us, as He was to them. He looks in mercy upon our shortcomings and backslidings, our broken vows and forgotten resolutions. He remembers that we are but flesh — poor, weak, sinful creatures. The precious blood of Christ has been shed for us, and "He ever lives to make intercession for us" (Hebrews 7:15).
For His sake, God is still ready to receive us; and, notwithstanding all that is past, He will forgive and save all who seek Him through Jesus Christ. Thus He is indeed their Rock and their Redeemer. Happy are all who seek Him and know Him thus!
But let none presume on God's compassion and mercy and think that because He bears long and forgives often — they may go on in their sins and yet escape. It cannot be. There is every encouragement to turn to God in Christ now. No one shall now be refused; no one shall now find the door of mercy shut.
But the time will come when that door will be closed forever, and when those who have slighted God's warnings and turned a deaf ear to His invitations — will find too late that they have let the day of salvation slip by. Now is the time to profit by God's chastisements, to turn to Him and to seek Him. Even while His hand is upon us and we hear His gracious voice calling us in His Word — let us turn unto Him who smites us; let us seek the Lord Almighty! (Isaiah 9:13).
Praise for Redeeming Love!
"Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever! Amen."
He loved us — Jesus loved us! We could not have believed it — had it not been written in the Word of God. For why should He have loved us? There was nothing good in us, nothing worthy of His love. We hated Him — yet He loved us! The Bible says so. It is true therefore; astonishing — yet true. Sinners as we were, sinners as we are — yet Jesus loved us. And if now, through grace, we love Him — it is "because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). He loved us so much, that He forgave and washed us from all our sins. It was the one thing without which we could never have known happiness — nay, without it we must have been lost forever. He might have done a thousand other things for us, but if He had left this thing undone, all the rest would have been in vain. But He did not leave it undone. Because He loved us — He "washed us from our sins in His own blood."
Yes, in His own blood! There was nothing else that could wash away so deep a stain — nothing else that could pay our debt and save our souls. Silver and gold could not redeem us (1 Peter 1:18); the blood of goats and calves could not atone for our sins (Hebrews 9:12). It must be His own blood — the precious blood of Christ.
It was a fathomless and painful sacrifice, so painful that He cried to His Father, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me." But He added, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 16:39). He would not draw back. He would not even withhold His life. "Greater love has no man than this — that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!" (Romans 5:6-8)
This love He showed toward us. He laid down His life for us. He loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood!
Blessed Savior! How can we love You enough — for Your great love to us? You gave Your blood for us — what can we give to You? You endured for us — the agony in the garden, the shame, the mocking, the cross — what would You have us to bear for You? You withheld nothing from us — oh, help us to withhold nothing from You! May we give You our whole hearts and love You above all, and bear with patience all that You call us to suffer.
When He had redeemed us by His blood, then He raised us to wonderful happiness and glory. He "has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father!" This is mentioned again in the song of the elders, in the fifth chapter, "You were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth!"
Already, part of this happiness is ours. Whatever his outward state may be — in his soul the believer is even now raised and blessed in Christ Jesus. He is set free from guilt, adopted into the family of God, made an heir of God, and a joint heir with Christ (Romans 8:17). By the work of the Spirit, he is growing continually in likeness to his Lord and in fitness for the Heavenly inheritance.
But there are better things to come. "It does not yet appear what we shall be — but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is!" (1 John 3:2). When sin and sorrow are done away, and "the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ" (Revelation 11:15), then the redeemed shall reign with Him in His glory. They shall "sit on thrones," and shall wear crowns, and shall be spotless in holiness, and the Savior's prayer shall be fulfilled: "Father, I will that those whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which You have given Me" (John 17:24).
To Him be all the praise! "To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever!" The elders "cast their crowns before the throne" (Revelation 4:10), and all the angelic hosts of Heaven give glory to the Lamb; let us give Him glory too. Let us adore His love; let us magnify His grace; let us ascribe all our salvation to Him.
Even now, let praise for redeeming love rise from our hearts. And oh, may our voices join hereafter in saying, "Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever!" (Revelation 5:13).
Lord, visit us now with Your grace and Your salvation — and grant us at last a place in Your kingdom of glory!
If the Lord Wills
"Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills — we shall live and do this or that." But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil."
A sick-bed teaches many lessons. Among others, it teaches this: "You do not know what will happen tomorrow!" For a sick-bed cuts short many a work and brings to nothing many a plan and makes a total change in many a life. It is not only the aged and infirm who have to do with the sick-bed. Many a man in his prime is laid there — many an active, busy person, full of life and strength, is suddenly smitten with illness and taken away from all his earthly concerns. All the work he had planned for this time must be left undone. All that he thought he would be so busy in — he can have nothing to do with. If it is done at all — others must do it. For the present, at least, a complete stop is put to all his doings. There on the sick-bed he lies — and there he must lie.
How few think of this beforehand! How few of those who form plans in their health and strength, seem to think it possible that sickness may come and put a stop to them all! Yet we have warnings all around us. If we ourselves are in health — there is no time when we have not some sick among our neighbors or friends. Sometimes they rise from the sick-bed and go about among us again. Sometimes they never again appear — the sick-bed proves to be a death-bed. We "do not know what will happen tomorrow!" — what changes may befall us, what loss may come, what sickness may seize us, or how that sickness may end. The present we know, and the past we know — but the future we know not. Even tomorrow is hidden from us.
Life itself is but "a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away!" Like the mist on the mountains, which the rising sun quickly disperses; or like the curling smoke, caught and scattered by the breeze as it issues from the chimney top. At the longest — life is but "for a little while," but often it is cut short in its prime. Men ought to bear this in mind. Plans ought not to be formed with no thought of God. All rests with Him. We ought to say, "If the Lord wills — we shall live and do this or that." For that is the simple truth. Whether we consider it or not — all will be just as our sovereign God pleases.
This need not make us unhappy or interfere with the business of life. If we are God's loving children — then we shall rejoice to think that all our concerns are ordered by Him. If we are walking in the way in which God would have us to walk — then we have but to go straight on, fearing nothing. And then, uncertain as we may be whether we shall do such and such a thing or not, whether health or sickness will be our portion, and even whether we shall live or die — we shall still be able to feel that "it shall be well with those who fear God!" (Ecclesiastes 8:12).
Whatever may befall us, we shall be in our merciful Father's hands — our reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. He will order all for us — and He always orders what is best. Happy are those who pass their days in the constant recollection of God — trusting in Him, loving Him, following His guidance, contented with His will. They have committed their souls to their Redeemer in humble faith — and all their lesser concerns they now cheerfully leave to God. They desire to have no wish, but that His will should be done — whatever it might be. They know that His will is best. They believe that He loves them. They are sure that what He does, will be perfectly right and wise and good. What more can any desire for peace, contentment, or happiness?
The Prayer of the Backslider
"Though our iniquities testify against us — act, O LORD, for your name's sake; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against you. O you hope of Israel, its Savior in time of trouble — why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night? Why should you be like a man confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot save? Yet you, O LORD, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name — do not leave us." Jeremiah 14:7-9
O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do it for Your Name's sake: for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against You. O the hope of Israel, the Savior thereof in time of trouble, why should You be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turns aside to tarry for a night? Why should You be as a man astonished, as a mighty man that cannot save? Yet You, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by Your Name; leave us not.
The prophet Jeremiah speaks here in the name of his people. He himself had not gone astray like them. Amid all the wickedness of Israel, he was the faithful servant of God. But he here pleads with God on their behalf, putting himself in their place, and making himself one of them. He begins with confession of sin: "Though our iniquities testify against us."
We must never try to hide our sins when we pray. We must approach God as sinners, with words of humble confession; owning all, seeking to keep nothing back. In drawing near to God, we must take our right place before Him. "Our iniquities testify against us." They do testify or bear witness against us continually. They are written in God's book of remembrance. There they stand against us in the sight of God, as so many witnesses that we are sinners. Whether we remember them or not, whether we are concerned for them or not — there they are. We ourselves cannot blot them out.
When a man is convinced of sin, then his iniquities testify against him also in his own heart. He never used to feel them — but now he feels them deeply. They come back to his mind, one by one. Old sins, long forgotten — he now remembers. Things that he did years ago — seem fresh in his memory. He sees how wrong, how ungrateful, he has been. He wonders that he has been spared. His sins are like a great burden — too heavy for him to bear.
Oh, the comfort of prayer to such a one! While David kept silence and made no confession of his sin — he was miserable. It was only when he acknowledged his sin unto God, that he found comfort (Psalm 32:3-5). How happy for us, that, notwithstanding our sins — we may yet seek mercy! "Though our iniquities testify against us — act, O LORD, for your name's sake." We may go to God in the depth of our distress. With all the weight of our sins upon us, we may seek relief from Him. "Sinner as I am — Lord have mercy upon me! As often as I have transgressed — yet forgive me Lord!" Do all that my case requires. Grant me pardon and peace. Take away my heavy sin burden. Forgive my sins. Comfort me, help me, and strengthen me.
"For Your Name's sake." This is our only plea. We cannot say, "Do it for my sake" — for we deserve nothing. We cannot even say, "Do it because I am miserable — do it because I am in great need of it — do it because I am lost without it." That may be all true — yet it forms no reason in itself why God should hear us.
But when we can say, "Act for Your Name's sake" — then we have a ground of hope; for then we rest our hope not upon ourselves or upon our misery and need — but upon God Himself.
The prayer of Jeremiah was before gospel days. We to whom the gospel has come, are encouraged to draw near to God in the Name of His dear Son Jesus Christ. He is our Mediator and Advocate. In His Name, all our prayers are to be made. It is not as a mere form that we are accustomed to end our prayers with the Name of Jesus, "through Jesus Christ our Lord," or "for Jesus Christ's sake." We are really to pray through Him — to rest our case upon His merits and mediation.
"For His sake" is to be the feeling of our hearts when we pray. We are to feel that in those words is contained the only reason why we may pray at all — and the only plea that gives us a hope of being heard!
Jesus Himself said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life — no man comes unto the Father but by Me." Happy for us that He said also, "If you shall ask anything in My Name — I will do it" (John 14:6, 14).
But the prophet in his prayer mentions backslidings as well as iniquities. Now there is something in backslidings that makes them seem to us even more hard to be forgiven than common sins. A backslider is one who once walked with God, but has now forsaken Him, or at least has grown cold and careless toward Him. A backslider is one who formerly sinned, repented, and was forgiven — but has now sinned again, and that worse perhaps than before.
It may be that this has happened repeatedly. It was so in Israel's case, for the prophet says, "Our backslidings are many." Will God forgive the backslider? Hear His own words: "Return, O backsliding Israel,' says the Lord; 'and I will not cause My anger to fall upon you — for I am merciful,' says the Lord, 'and I will not keep anger forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the Lord your God" (Jeremiah 3:12-13).
And again: "I will heal their backsliding; I will love them freely — for My anger is turned away from him" (Hosea 14:4).
Even the backslider then may draw near to God in the Name of Jesus Christ. His backslidings are a fresh reason for pleading that Name alone. He cannot plead that he will now serve God better and never fall away again — his past backslidings forbid it. He has nothing of his own to plead. He can but place his whole hope in his Savior's merits. "Act for Your Name's sake — for our backslidings are many — we have sinned against You."
How full of comfort are the names by which the prophet calls upon God! "O the hope of Israel, the Savior thereof in time of trouble!" God is our only hope — and Jesus is our only Savior. We may go astray from God and seek happiness from other sources; but if ever we would find true happiness and safety — then we must come back to God.
Trouble often brings the heart back to God and leads us again to cry to Him as our only hope and our only Savior. Often, in the day of adversity — we are led to see how vain are all other hopes — how little the world can do for us — and how poor is the comfort which the thought of our own doings can bring. Thus we are brought to our God and Savior, as our only refuge. He never fails those who trust in Him. He never turns away from those who earnestly seek Him. Even the backslider, taught by sad experience the evil of his backsliding — is not rejected when he again seeks God. Again he is allowed to call upon Him as his only hope. When all other help and comfort has failed — again he may seek help and comfort in Him.
Yet the prophet seems to address God as if He had become estranged from His people: "Why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night? Why should you be like a man confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot save?" Truly our sins and backslidings do make a distance and a strangeness between us and God. One who has left off walking with God feels this. He cannot pray as he used to pray. He no longer feels God near. He has no comforting sense of His grace and help. He knows that God is almighty — yet has no happy belief that God's power is put forth on his behalf. And even when he turns and seeks God again — he does not at once get back those happy feelings toward Him which once he had. Some comfort he finds, some sense of the mercy and love of his Savior — but not yet a settled peace. He has but a visit, a glimpse, a momentary comfort — "like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night"; he has not yet Christ abiding with him by the Spirit.
But we, like the prophet, may seek this abiding presence. We may plead with God that, as unworthy as we are — He will yet give us again the comfort of His help continually. He has promised to dwell with the contrite of heart. We may be sure that when, after all our backslidings, we draw near to Him in the Name of Jesus, with a penitent and contrite heart — He will hear us and bless us with His presence.
The prophet ventures to plead with God, the very name by which Israel was called, as the people of God; and even the tokens of His presence among them, though shown in displeasure. "Yet you, O LORD, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name — do not leave us!"
The worst, the saddest thing that could happen to any would be that God should leave them — that He should cease to call them, leave off rebuking and chastising them, and give them up to follow their own way.
O God, our God, do not leave us! Rather than this, humble us, chastise us, afflict us — yet let us see some token of Your love; let us see that You have not given us up — do not leave us, neither forsake us, O God of our salvation. We have deserved to be left, for we have left You — yet do not leave us! We have not walked in a manner worthy of that holy Name by which we are called; yet it has pleased You in Your great goodness that we should be called Christians — by that sacred Name, and for His sake whose Name it is, because of His precious blood that was shed for us, and for His gracious intercession on our behalf — hear us and forgive us! Blot out our sins from Your book of remembrance — receive us, save us, and bless us. Amen.
Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water; whoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatever disease he had.
A certain man was there, who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, He said unto him, "Do you want to be made well?"
The impotent man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool; but while I am coming, another steps down before me."
Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed, and walk." And immediately the man was made well, and took up his bed, and walked."
How long a time had this poor man been afflicted! Thirty-eight years! One would have thought that he must long ago have lost all hope of getting better. But hope is strong in us; and it seems that there was some hope yet remaining in this man, for he still went down to the pool with the rest, thinking that his opportunity might come at length. We know no more about that pool than we read here, but they show the place still at Jerusalem. The porches are gone, and but little remains to show where they were; and there is no water now — but there seems to be no doubt that it is the very place.
It was an astonishing thing that the water, when it had been moved by the angel, should have power to cure the sick. It must surely have been a miracle. God did work miracles in those times, and its being mentioned as done by an angel, seems to show that this was one. Whether the angel was seen or not, we do not know; nor how often he came, nor whether people knew exactly when to expect him. Certain it is, that whoever stepped into the water first after it had been troubled by the angel, was made well — and it seems to have been known about what time he would come.
But the poor cripple, while he was slowly dragging himself to the water — another got in before him, and so the opportunity was lost. There were great numbers there, and not one perhaps so helpless as he, and so he was pushed aside and left behind. Doubtless this had happened many a time. If he had had any to help him, it might have been otherwise — but it seems that he was a poor, friendless creature.
The more helpless and friendless we are — the more does our blessed Savior pity us. Of all the sufferers there — His eye singled out this one, doubtless the longest afflicted of them all. No one had told Jesus his story — but Jesus knew all things, and so, without being told, He knew all about this man. He "knew that he had been now a long time in that case," and He knew too how often he had crawled to that place of healing and been disappointed.
Jesus knew and pitied. How kind were His words, "Do you want to be made well?" The poor man felt the power of kindness (and never was kindness like that of Jesus) and was encouraged to tell Him al. "Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool. But while I am coming, another steps down before me." His whole hope was fixed on the coming of the angel — he had no thought of being cured by any other means — he did not know that one greater than an angel was there.
At once the blessing came, the answer and the blessing together. "Jesus said to him, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk.' And immediately the man was made well, and took up his bed, and walked."
The friendless had found a friend at last! The cripple of thirty-eight years was made well in a moment! No angel need come, for the Son of God Himself was there. The angel could do but little — Jesus could do all.
The angel used to be sent by God that one might be cured; Jesus came to help and bless all who would seek Him — nay more, to seek them, to give more than would be asked, to do far beyond all expectation. It may be that a hope arose in this man's mind that the stranger who spoke so kindly might be willing to help him when the angel came — but that He Himself should cure him by a word — of this he had no thought. Yet so it was. Jesus is better to us . . .
than all our fears,
than all our hopes,
than all our prayers,
than all our thoughts.
It is very comforting to read that Jesus knew how long this man had been afflicted. For what He knew in one case — He knows in all cases. There is not a sufferer in the world whose case Jesus does not know.
How long the sickness has lasted,
how many months or years,
how great the pain has been,
what thoughts have been in the heart,
what hopes, fears, disappointments,
Jesus knows it all — knows it and cares for it and feels compassion accordingly. Ah, what comfort — to be known and cared for and pitied by Him!
Can He help now — as He did then? And is He still as kind as He was then? Yes! His power and His love are the same as ever. He did for this man — what He saw to be best for him. He will do for each sufferer, in answer to prayer — just what is best.
He has more blessings than one to give. Health is one — but not the only one. He will give what is best for each case. Let us pray to Him in all our trouble. Let us be encouraged by His kindness to tell Him our case — our needs of the body, and our needs of the soul. He knows them all — yet He loves for us to tell Him of them. He knows them, and He can supply them. All power is His, all wisdom, all love.
He is always at hand to hear and help — not "at a certain season" only, like the angel — but at every season, and in every place. And He will help, not the first comer only, but all who come — for He says, "Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!" (Matthew 11:28).
Come unto Me
"At that time Jesus answered and said, "I thank You, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent — and have revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father — for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things are delivered unto Me by My Father; and no man knows the Son, but the Father; neither knows any man the Father, but the Son, and he to whom the Son wills reveal Him. Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."
Jesus invites all who labor and are heavy laden, to come unto Him. Not sufferers of one kind only — but all sufferers. Not those alone who feel the weight of this particular burden or that — but all the heavy laden.
The poor and needy,
the weak and sickly,
the toiling father,
the anxious mother,
he who feels the weight of his sins,
he whose conscience testifies against him,
he who finds no comfort in this world and yet fears that he is not prepared for the next
— all are invited to come to Jesus!
Their cases are widely different — the burdens that press upon them are by no means alike — yet all are invited to one Helper and Comforter, "Come unto Me!" He does not bid one sufferer go for comfort to this source — and another to that. He invites all to Himself — as the one unfailing source of help and comfort!
"Come unto Me!" We do not deserve to be thus invited. Many are suffering the consequences of their own sins, and all of us are sinners. If we met with only what we deserve — He might justly say to us, "Go away from Me!" Instead of this, Jesus bids us come to Him. Whatever we may have been — however thoughtless, however ungrateful, however wicked — yet if we are now in need or trouble, that is enough. He bids us come to Him.
We are not to stop and think about our own unworthiness. He says nothing here about that. He only says, "Come unto Me." That is what He invites us to do — that is what we are to do, and we are to do it at once.
But how can we come to Him? Those who heard Him say the words could go to Him and speak to Him and tell Him all and follow Him about from place to place. But He is not here now — how then can we come to Him?
He is not far off. By the Spirit, He is with us still. We must go to Him by the Spirit — we must draw near to Him with our hearts. Even when He was on earth — the coming to Him with the heart was the coming that brought peace. In the same way, we may come — as well as those who saw and heard Him. Without stirring a step, without leaving the room in which we are sitting or the bed on which we are lying — we may come to Jesus with the sincere heart. This is what He bids us do: "Come unto Me. Come unto Me in your minds — come with your hearts — come by prayer. Come unto Me — and I will give you rest."
This is just what those who labor and are heavy laden want. The poor and afflicted, the heavy-laden, the anxious, the conscience-stricken, the sin-burdened — all want rest. They want their load to be lightened; they want relief and ease and quiet and peace. Jesus promises to give this rest to those who will come to Him. "Come unto Me — and I will give you rest."
But He means more than rest to the body. He says afterwards, "And you shall find rest unto your souls." Rest to the body would be little — if the mind were still troubled and burdened. The rest that Jesus gives is real rest, full rest, all that we need to make us peaceful and happy.
Yet He speaks of a yoke, as if there were to be labor still. "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me." We are not to be mere idlers. We are to be servants and learners — but servants of so kind a Master and learners of so gracious a Teacher that His service and teaching are true rest to the soul.
"I am meek and lowly in heart," He says. He is no hard Master like sin or Satan or the world. He is kind, gentle, and loving. His service is perfect freedom. He makes His servants happy even in their serving. He bids us take His yoke upon us and learn of Him — yet at the very same time He says, "You shall find rest unto your souls." "For," He continues, "My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."
He does not mean that it is an easy thing to be a Christian or that there is nothing to do in His service — but that His yoke is not a hard or galling yoke, and that He will lay no burden on His servants which He will not strengthen them to bear.
"Learn of Me." What does He teach those who go to Him? He not merely shows them what they ought to do — but He tells them of His precious promises and His glad tidings. He makes Himself known to them as their Savior, and teaches them that He came "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).
There is no rest to the soul, but in Christ. The only thing that can give peace to the troubled conscience and lift the heart above the pains and sorrows, the worries and anxieties of life — is to know Him as our Savior who has "washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Revelation 1:5), and thus to know God as our reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. The soul that has learned this knowledge finds rest.
Earthly troubles may still remain; sickness and poverty may still be the appointed lot — but there is peace within: "the peace of God which surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).
Happy we, to whom the glad tidings have come! Happy we, who have heard the Savior's words, "Come unto Me!"
Human wisdom could never have found out this knowledge. "The wise and prudent," unless taught from above, must always have remained in ignorance of Christ and of peace. God, in His mercy, has revealed these things unto babes — to the poor and humble, to the unlearned and uncared for.
"Even so, Father — for so it seemed good in Your sight." We thank You for the knowledge of a Savior. We thank You for Your Word. We thank You for Your Spirit. We thank You for the blessed call, "Come unto Me." Oh, teach us, help us, to come — and grant that we may find in Christ rest unto our souls!
The Song of Simeon
"And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon — and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel — and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.
And he came by the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him after the custom of the law — then he took Him up in his arms and blessed God: Lord, now let You Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all people — a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel."
Like all the pious among the Jews of old, Simeon waited "for the consolation of Israel" — that is, for the coming of the promised Messiah, the great deliverer. That hope in general was built upon the Scriptures, especially the types and prophecies of the Old Testament. But Simeon had a further ground of hope; he was not only "just and devout," a righteous and holy man — but he was also blessed with the special gift of the Holy Spirit: "the Holy Spirit was upon him, and it was revealed unto him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ."
Living in this joyful expectation, believing that as old as he was — he would yet live to see the Savior appear and doubtless hoping each day that the promise might be fulfilled, "he came by the Spirit into the temple."
It was the very day on which the parents of the infant Jesus brought Him there to present Him to the Lord as the first-born of His mother, and to offer the sacrifice commanded by the law. No sooner did the aged Simeon set eyes upon the child, than he knew (taught doubtless at the moment by the Holy Spirit) that this very child was "the desire of all nations" — the expected Messiah.
"Then he took Him up in his arms, and blessed God" — in those words of thankful praise which we know as "the Song of Simeon," beginning, "Lord, now let You Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation."
At length the promise was fulfilled — the happy moment had come — the Savior was born! It was for this he had waited in faith and hope — and now that the desire of his heart was satisfied, he had no more to live for. His eyes had seen the Messiah! Happy, thankful, and rejoicing — now he was ready to depart. But he saw by faith blessings without number that would come by the birth of Christ. He would be a light to both Jew and Gentile. Millions yet unborn would find salvation in Him. God had prepared this great salvation — and now in the fullness of time it had appeared.
This is the Savior in whom Christians now rejoice — this is the salvation which is offered in the gospel. Eighteen hundred years have passed since Simeon spoke. Myriads have lived and died in the faith of Christ. This light has enlightened many a heart. Millions have found a part in this salvation. And still the light shines, and still the glad tidings are proclaimed — and still, to Jew and to Gentile — Jesus is the one and only Savior.
Well do these words of Simeon express the feeling of many a Christian now: "Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace according to Your word — for my eyes have seen Your salvation!"
The aged pilgrim feels this. He has lived long and has seen much trouble. In early life he had keen desires after worldly pleasure and advancement — and thought perhaps that the world could make him happy. But he sees things differently now. He is done with the world. He has found a better portion. Christ is his portion. He longs to be with Him. Where his treasure is — there his heart is already. Much peace and happiness are his even now, but "to depart and to be with Christ is far better." To him, "to live is Christ — and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).
Many a suffering Christian feels with Simeon. It has pleased God to lay him on a bed of sickness. It is a sickness unto death. They tell him that he can never recover. But He who laid him there, has given him a blessed hope. The sick man has sought and found his Savior. He is at peace with God through Christ. He has no fear now. "Perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). And God has given him this love. Happy sufferer! Happy even now, though pain and sickness are his daily portion. Happy, because Christ is his!
But he will be happier still, when he is released from the worn and wasted body — happier, far happier, when he is "present with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). So this is his desire, to "depart in peace." If he had not seen God's salvation, if Jesus were not known and loved — then indeed he would fear to die and would cling even to a life of pain and anguish, rather than face the awful change. But he knows in whom he has believed; and he looks upon death as only a falling asleep in Jesus — the crossing of Jordan that will take him to the Heavenly Canaan.
Glad will he be to go, when it shall please God to take him to Himself. Yet there is no impatience in the true and humble disciple. There was none in Simeon. "Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace." He believed that God would now soon call him to rest. But he was willing to leave it all to God; ""Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace."
Even so should the old, the sick, the suffering Christian feel; desirous to go — yet desiring above all that God's will should be done. He is content to go — and content to stay. He is sure that He who orders all things — will order all aright. He desires to have no will but His.
Sometimes it pleases God to keep the dying Christian in life, long beyond what seemed to be likely. Day after day he lingers on, while those around think that each day must surely be his last. Loving friends, grieved to see him suffer, are surprised that he is not released from this body of pain. They cannot understand why he is kept on earth. Ah, let them not wonder — let them only wait. God knows best. He will do all things well. He will do all things in the best way, and at the best moment.
They know not what work of grace may yet remain to be done in his heart, or what lessons of patience and faith they themselves may yet learn from him. A love greater than theirs is over him — a wisdom beyond all their wisdom is dealing with him. All will be well. When He sees best (and that will be best) — then God will let His servant depart in peace, according to His word.
The Centurion and His Servant
"Now when He had ended all His sayings in the audience of the people, He entered into Capernaum. And a certain centurion's servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die. And when he heard of Jesus, he sent to Him the elders of the Jews, pleading with Him that He would come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that he was worthy for whom He should do this: "For he loves our nation, and he has built us a synagogue."
Then Jesus went with them. And when He was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying unto Him, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself — for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come unto You — but only say a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."
When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him and turned Him around and said unto the people that followed Him, "I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well that had been sick."
This man was an officer in the Roman army, what we would call a captain. Doubtless he had been born a heathen man. But it so happened that he was sent to the land of the Jews, just as our soldiers are sent to India or to Canada; and it seems that at the time of his servant's illness he had been a long while stationed in that country. It was a happy thing for him, for there he learned to know the one true God. If he had remained at Rome, he might perhaps never have heard of Him.
Many men in our army have reason to bless God that ever they were sent abroad. Many a young officer and soldier who never thought of religion at home, has been brought to a better mind in a foreign land. Many have come back quite changed — and many have died abroad happy in Christ. Some sermon, some reading, some conversation, some event — has been blessed by God to the soul, and the careless and sinful have turned to Him.
It is God who appoints our lot. It is He who causes this means or that means to work good to our souls.
It looks well for both, that the officer was so anxious about his servant. He "was dear unto him," and now that he was ill and ready to die, this kind master was full of sorrow; he could hardly have cared more for his own son. How wise it was of him to seek help of Jesus! Perhaps his knowledge was but small. He did not fully understand who and what Jesus was. But he had heard of many wonderful things done by Him, and he believed that He was both good and great. So he sent to ask His help.
The wisest and kindest thing we can do for those whom we love, when they are sick — is to seek God's help for them. All that can be done by medicine we must do — for this is the means which God has given us to use; but all should be done in a spirit of prayer.
True prayer is never lost. None can tell how often it may be "the prayer of faith" that has saved the sick and raised him again to health and strength (James 5:15). And even if health is not restored — still the prayer was heard, and the answer is given perhaps in blessings more precious still — in inward light and peace, in the presence of the Spirit, in an increase of faith in Christ, in the drawing of the heart upward to God and to Heaven.
But though he sought the help of Jesus — yet the centurion was too humble to go to Him himself, and thought himself unworthy that Jesus should even enter his house. He, a poor ignorant man, brought up in heathen darkness, guilty doubtless of many sins in his past life, and only lately brought to some knowledge of God — how should he presume to venture into the Savior's presence? He sent friends therefore, to beseech Jesus for him.
We cannot but admire his humility. Yet he might have gone himself. Jesus would have received him kindly. How happy are we that we may approach Jesus continually in prayer! We need no fellow-creature to be our Mediator with Him. He Himself is our Mediator with the Father. In all our distress and anxiety, for ourselves or for others, we may go straight to our Savior, our best and greatest friend — and tell Him all and seek His help. Like the centurion, we should feel our deep unworthiness; yet we may thankfully believe that, unworthy as we are — our Savior will hear and bless us.
If we admire his humility — we are yet more struck with his faith. Even our Lord Himself "marveled at him." Accustomed as He was to meet with no faith at all in most people, and with but weak faith even in His disciples — He marveled at the clear, strong faith which this Roman captain showed. "Only say a word," said he, "and my servant shall be healed."
So he believed. Not a doubt was in his mind. Let Jesus but speak — and without the use of means, without His even seeing the servant or entering the house where he was — the centurion felt sure that his servant would be made well. Then he went on to explain the faith that he felt, by a simple and beautiful fact: "I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."
He himself, though an officer, was subject to his superior officers, and was accustomed to obey their orders. His soldiers did the same toward him. He had but to give directions, and they were instantly obeyed. His word was enough. So, he believed, was his servant's disease completely subject to Christ.
"Only say a word, and my servant shall be healed." At His word, the powers of nature would be obedient — disease would flee, and the sick would be made well. The centurion had no more doubt of this, than that his own soldiers would do what he should order them to do. His faith was as great as his humility.
True faith and true humility are generally found together. It is when we lay aside all dependence on ourselves, and humble ourselves before God, and confess our utter unworthiness — it is then that there is room for the exercise of faith in the merits of Jesus. Then we can take comfort in what Jesus Christ has done for us; then we are led to place our whole trust in our Savior.
It is not humility, but a self-righteous pride — which keeps so many from a full belief in the promises of God in Christ. They are still looking for some worthiness in themselves; and they will not believe that they may cast themselves, all undeserving as they are, upon the merits of Christ.
The centurion did not seek Jesus in vain. Matthew gives us our Lord's answer to him: "Go your way; and as you have believed, so be it done unto you" (Matthew 8:13).
And so it was done. "His servant was healed in the same hour." "Those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well that had been sick." Just as the centurion believed, by a word, and almost with out a word — Jesus had wrought this mighty work. According to his faith — it was done unto him.
How much we lose by not going to Jesus in times of trouble! How much, by weakness of faith! "As you have believed" — that was the measure of our Lord's blessing. If this man had believed less — would he not have received less? If our faith were stronger — would not our prayers bring down a richer blessing?
We cannot seek Jesus too humbly — for we deserve nothing. We cannot place too full a trust in Him — for He is the helper of the helpless, the Savior of the lost, and will never cast out those who come to Him. For body and for soul, for ourselves and for our friends, in every need and trouble — it is our wisdom and our happiness to seek our Savior in humble and undoubting faith.
The Time of Departure at Hand
2 Timothy 4:6-8
"For I am now ready to be offered — and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day — and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing."
These are the words of the apostle Paul, written to Timothy. The apostle was now an aged man, but he did not expect to die of old age; he was a prisoner for Christ's sake, and everything seemed to show that he would soon be called to suffer a violent death for Him. Perhaps it pleased God to give him some inward warning that it would be so. At all events, he felt sure that death was near — and these were his feelings in the prospect of it: "I am now ready to be offered," or, I am now being offered — I am on the point of giving up my life, as a willing sacrifice in my Master's cause!
So near did he think himself to death, that he spoke of himself as soon dying, "The time of my departure is at hand." I am like a ship just going to set sail, or like a traveler on the point of starting on a journey. The time is close at hand.
Was he sorry? Was he afraid? There is no sign of fear or of sorrow in these words. He believed that death was near. Perhaps, even before Timothy received the letter, the writer would be no more.
Yet he writes quite calmly. He was not afraid to die — he was not sorry to depart. What follows shows that he felt even joy in the prospect. "I have fought a good fight," he continues, "I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." He was not boasting when he wrote thus. Paul was no boaster. Elsewhere he wrote, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14); and in his other letter to Timothy he even called himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).
But he had long been a soldier of Jesus Christ, fighting under the Captain of his salvation — and now his Captain was going to release him from service. Long had he been engaged in running the Christian race — and now he had come to the end of his course. Through grace he had believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; by the same grace he had kept that faith even to the end and never forsaken his Lord — and now he was going to that place where faith is lost in sight. So he said, looking back with humble confidence to his own past life and writing to one who had still to wage the Christian warfare and still to run the Christian race, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."
What was to follow? What did he look for beyond the grave? Where did he hope to be, when the persecutor would have done his worst and when the Lord whom he served would take His servant home? He thought that the time of his death was close at hand — what did he expect to have then? "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day." He looked for a crown — not an earthly crown, but "a crown of righteousness," an incorruptible crown (1 Corinthians 9:25), "the crown of life" (James 1:12), "a crown of glory, which never fades away" (1 Peter 5:4). He believed that such a crown was laid up for him and was awaiting him.
Not because he deserved it. That was not the ground of his hope, for he had long ago laid aside all trust in his own righteousness. "Not having my own righteousness," he said, "which is of the law — but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Philippians 3:9). Christ was the ground of his trust — and Christ alone. He had not earned this crown for himself, but "the Lord, the righteous Judge," would give it to him. It would be of grace — not of debt. His Savior's blood had procured his pardon. His Savior's righteousness was his righteousness. It was the grace of God that had enabled him to keep the faith and to finish his course with joy.
The Lord would give him a crown — not merely because He was gracious, but because He was righteous — "the righteous Judge." For Paul had believed with the heart on his Savior, and so had received the forgiveness of his sins and become reconciled to God. His guilt was gone — his peace was made — justice, as well as mercy, was now on his side — according to his own words to the Romans, "that He might be just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus" (Romans3:26).
Not even the thought of the great day of judgment therefore could make Paul afraid. Deep indeed was the awe with which he wrote of that day: "I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom" (2 Timothy 4:1) — yet even this thought could not shake his faith. The Lord Jesus, who would then sit in judgment, was his Savior. That very day was the day in which the crown would be given to him. As solemn as it was — that day had no terrors for him.
It would place him with his Savior forever!
It would bring him his crown!
It would be the beginning of eternal glory and felicity!
And not to him only. There is a crown laid up for every true believer — for all who love the appearing of Christ. For this is a mark of the true believer. He does not dread the coming of the Lord. He does not, like many, shrink from the thought and put it away as an unwelcome thing. He loves the Lord Jesus — and therefore loves His coming. Even now, his happiest moments are those in which there is most of the presence of Christ in his heart.
How happy, then, to be with the Lord forever! The words are sweet to his ear, "I will come again, and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:3). This is his hope, his comfort, and his joy. Happy is the day that will see Him come in glory! Happy is the day that will put an end to all sin and sorrow! Happy is the day on which the Lord Jesus will take His servants home to be with Him forever!
Lord! Increase our faith — take away our fears, and make us to love Your appearing! Help us to fight the good fight, to finish our course, to keep the faith. Be with us along the way — and be with us in the end. Grant us now to know You, trust in You, love You, and follow You! And when You come, oh grant us to appear before You with joy, and give us a crown of righteousness!
The Last Change
1 Corinthians 15:50-58
"Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I show you a mystery — we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed! In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed! For this corruptible must put on incorruption — and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality — then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory!' O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord — knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
Our bodies are poor weak things — subject to aches and pains, to sickness and death. Even the strongest become weak in time, and those who have enjoyed almost continual good health — feel at length, the coming on of old age. Up to a certain point in life we generally get stronger and stronger; but after we have passed that point — we begin to go downhill, as they say. The change may be slow, and we may still have but little illness or weakness to complain of — yet a change there is — year after year we are growing older and weaker.
In fact, our bodies wear out. They are not made, in their present state, to last forever. They are made to die — and they do die.. Doubtless our aches and pains, our declining strength and activity, and our increasing infirmities as we grow older — are meant to remind us that we shall not live always, and that we are to die. If men always continued in full health and strength until their last moment — how few would think of death!
True, some are cut off in their prime, with no sickness or decay — but that is not the common course. "Flesh and blood," therefore — that is, our present bodies, "cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption."
The kingdom of God is forever — but we could not live forever as we are now in these corruptible bodies. There is no corruption or decay there — but we are subject to both at present.
Yet we are to live forever. Every true believer is to inherit the kingdom of God and to be where his Savior is. Not only our souls are to be with Christ, but our bodies also. At the great day of resurrection — soul and body, which were parted by death, will be joined together again and will live forever in Heaven.
How can this be? We are to be changed. Whether we die or not — we are to be changed. But are not all to die? No, for some will be alive when Christ comes — and they will never die. "We shall not all sleep." But they will be living with bodies like ours, subject to sickness, death, and decay — and so they must be changed. "We shall not all sleep — but we shall all be changed."
All will be changed, those who shall have died and those who shall be alive at His second coming — the living and the dead alike. This change will not be a gradual change like other changes in the body; but, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet." The mighty power of God will work it, without the use of means, in a moment of time! He once said, "Let there be light — and there was light" (Genesis 1:3). Then He shall but will that we shall be changed — and we shall be changed.
"The dead shall be raised incorruptible." They will be raised first. Though all will take place in a moment — yet we read elsewhere that "the dead in Christ shall rise first" (1 Thessalonians 4:16). All the dead in Christ, all who shall ever have died in the Lord — all will rise then. Those who shall have passed away ages and ages ago and whose very names shall have perished from the earth; and those who shall have breathed their last but just before the coming of the Lord and whose bodies shall yet perhaps be unburied; those who died on a peaceful death-bed surrounded by weeping friends; the Christian soldier who fell in battle; the believing sailor who found a grave in the great deep and whose sorrowing friends at home never knew where or when he died; and the martyr who died the noblest death of all, freely giving up his life for the sake of Him who died upon the cross — in one moment they, and all the rest of the dead in Christ, will rise from the dead!
But not as they died. They will rise incorruptible. They did not die so. The body perhaps, was sore wasted by disease. Long sickness and grievous pain had worn it down. Every morning they said, "He cannot last through the day" — and every evening they thought, "He cannot see another sunrise." They looked on the poor wasted form — they saw the signs of suffering in the face — they heard the labored breathing, and they said it would be happy when God would release him from his poor suffering body.
And God did release him. He died and was buried. The grave closed over him, and the body went to corruption. And now he rises again — Oh, how different now from then! The wasted frame is young again. All trace of suffering is gone. He will never more suffer. Sickness and death have passed away. He has now an incorruptible body. He is to live forever — without pain or sickness. He will never grow old — his strength will never decline. He is to be with Jesus where He is — in the Father's house, with full power to enjoy His presence, to serve Him without weariness, to live and praise and rejoice forever!
The living will be changed in like manner — those who shall be alive when Christ comes. In a moment, the change will pass over them — and they too will have incorruptible bodies! No longer will they subject to weakness, sickness, or death! They are made fit to be forever in Heaven. Thus it will but make little difference whether we die before the coming of Christ — or whether He comes in our lifetime — if only we are in Him by faith.
For all such will be brought together when He comes, and all will live together in that happy and holy place which He has gone to prepare for them — and all alike will have renewed incorruptible bodies. Some will have passed through death and some not — but all will be happy and holy with Christ forever! When once He comes — there will be no more sorrow, nor suffering, nor death.
Well may we say, "Thanks be to God!" — for all of this is His free gift.
"Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ." We never could have won it for ourselves. Jesus Christ won it for us. He died for us and rose again. He triumphed over death and the grave. We owe all to Him. We have no more need we fear death — if only we are His.
"The sting of death is sin — and the strength of sin is the law." But He has made atonement for our sins, and has fulfilled the law for us, and so the sting of death is gone. We call it death — but death without a sting is not death — but rather a sleep, a falling asleep in Jesus, to awake to a joyful resurrection!
"We shall not all sleep," he says. But we must cleave to Christ — we must be "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord". We are not to be idle, because it is all a free gift. We are not to be slothful, because the great work of salvation has been done for us. We are to be watching, praying, striving and serving. All our safety and all our happiness, is to keep close to our Savior in heart and life, with an unshaken trust in Him, and with a loving and earnest desire to do His will.
We may not be able to do Him much active service. We may be humble in station, poor in circumstances, weak in health. We may even be shut up within the walls of a sick-room or laid on a bed of suffering — yet even there, we may love and serve our Lord. And nothing that we do for Him, in sickness or in health — no striving, watching, or praying; no giving up of our own will to His; no work of faith and labor of love will be in vain. He will bless us in it. He will be with us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will keep us to the end.
"In due time we shall reap — if we faint not!" Galatians 6:9
At Home with God
"And he said to me: These are those who came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple — and He who sits on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun strike them, nor any heat. For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes!"
Happy, happy place! Happy, happy people! All happy — perfectly happy, happy forever! They are "before the throne of God" — they see Him — but they are not afraid, for He loves them — and they love Him.
They have no sin now to make them afraid — nor even the fear that they may sin — for they cannot sin now. All sin is gone forever! There is no such thing in that place — none in their hearts, none in any around them.
Are they afraid? No! They rejoice to be before the throne of God. To be with God is their happiness. Heaven itself would be no place of happiness to them, without God. To be with Him, to see Him face to face, to love Him perfectly, and to rejoice in His love to them — this is their eternal bliss! "Perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). They knew that in a measure before — but now they know it fully.
They are not idle there. They serve God. But that service is not like service on earth, in which there is usually difficulty and fatigue. Whatever God gives them to do — that they do. They love to do it — and they can do it; for He gives them both the will and the power. They are never unwilling, never tired, never weak. All that they have to do — they do with joy and gladness. Adoring and praising and singing and serving — it is all happiness.
"They serve Him day and night." They need no sleep. No one sleeps there. Indeed, there is no night, such as we have on earth; and probably "day and night" only means always, without leaving off, as we now leave off our work when night comes and we need sleep.
"In His temple." Not that we are to think there is any temple or church there, such as we have here below. Heaven will be all one great temple of God — and the saints will never leave it! But serving God "in His temple" seems to show what kind of service it is — nothing worldly, like work upon earth, but all holy and spiritual.
"And He who sits on the throne shall dwell among them." He will always be with them — and they will always be with Him. That is now their eternal home. They have arrived at the Father's house, of which Jesus spoke: "In My Father's house are many mansions. I am going to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2). They have reached their Father's house now. They used often to think of it and perhaps to long for it — and now they have reached it, and they find it better than all their hopes!
Many of them were poor in this world — but they are not poor now. They used to suffer from hunger, perhaps — but now "they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more." They went through many hardships of different kinds — but all their hardships and troubles are over now! "Neither shall the sun strike them, nor any heat."
They have one who will take care of them and supply all their needs. "For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters." The Lamb — the Lamb of God — the Lord Jesus Christ, He will take care of them! He was slain for them, like a lamb — as an atoning sacrifice!
He will take care of them, like a shepherd. Nothing shall ever hurt them. "The good Shepherd" is with them. He will feed them — that is, He will give them all they need or desire. He will "lead them unto living fountains of waters" — that is, He will refresh them and cheer them and make them eternally happy.
They are safe in the fold now — the Heavenly fold. They had sorrows upon earth, perhaps many and great sorrows — but they will never sorrow more. They used often to weep — but they will never weep again, for "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." Not a tear will they ever shed — not a sorrow will ever distress their hearts — not one painful thought of past trouble will come to interfere with their perfect happiness. God Himself will comfort them. God Himself will dry their tears. God Himself will make them happy.
How did they get to that blessed place? Not by their own goodness, their own holiness, their own sufferings, their own patience. Not by anything whatever of their own. They "washed their robes — and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God!" Not one of them got there in any other way. Christ was their Savior. He redeemed them by His blood — and they through grace, believed and were saved. There is no other way to Heaven. He said Himself, "I am the way, the truth, and the life — no man comes unto the Father, but by Me" (John 14:6).
He is the way for us all — the only way. If ever we would join those blessed ones above — if ever we would stand before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes and palms in our hands — then we too must wash our robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb! We must cast away all self-righteous hopes and go to Jesus as our Savior — mourning for our sins, feeling our lost estate, and placing our whole hope and trust in Him who died upon the cross. He Himself has said, "Him that comes to Me — I will never cast out!" John 6:37
"My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish — ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand!" John 10:27-28
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!" Romans 8:35-39