Silent Suffering

Philip Doddridge
 

"I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for You are the one who has done this!" Psalm 39:9

I believe that there are many of us who have frequently heard this Psalm read upon funeral occasions; and we must, no doubt, approve the propriety of the choice, as it contains some very weighty reflections on the mortality of human nature, expressed with great solemnity, and intermingled with proper devotional addresses to that great and solemn Being who has in righteous judgment passed that sentence on sinful man, by which we and our friends are brought down to the dust. For it is he, as the Psalmist well expresses it (verse 5), who has made our days as a mere hands-breadth, and our age as nothing before him; so that every man, in his best state, is altogether vanity!

When the mind is agitated with strong affections, it is difficult to restrain the tongue from some undue liberty of speech at least, there may be an inward language, audible to the ear of God, which may be displeasing to him if there is not a care to impose silence upon every repining thought, as well as to keep the mouth as with a bridle. But it is the design of the providence of God, in conjunction with his ordinances, to teach us, whatever our trials may be, however dear the enjoyments which we may lose, and however heavy the burden which we may bear to be dumb with silence, after the example of the pious Psalmist, and not to open our mouths because whatever it is that has fallen upon us, has come from the hand of God!

1. Let the Christian reflect that God can do no wrong to him, or to any of his creatures.

Let him not only consider the sovereignty of the Almighty's dominion, which is such that no creature can pretend to contend with him but also the essential rectitude of his nature, which is such that none can have any right to censure, or to complain of what he does. My soul! he has done it, who holds the reins of universal empire He, who does what he pleases in the armies of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of earth! He has done it who spoke the creating word, and it was done! He who is the potter and every creature, on earth and in Heaven but as clay in his hand, to be molded according to his own will. And shall the thing formed say to him that formed it: Why have you made me thus? Well may it be said in that connection, "Nay, O man! Who are you that replies against God? Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth; but woe unto him who strives with his Maker!"

This is a silencing thought nor does it impose merely such a silence as proceeds from the dread of superior power, or the despair of being able to make anything out by resisting it; but with the conviction of such sovereign authority and dominion, is necessarily connected that also of infinite perfection. Nothing can tempt Omnipotence in any instance to do evil. The infinite understanding of God must ever see what is right; his all-perfect mind, seeing it, must approve it; and, approving it, must do it, being infinitely above all temptation to deviate from it. Good is the word of the Lord that he has spoken, for this very reason because it is his word; because it is spoken by him.

O my perverse heart! what would you say? Would you dare to fly in the face of God himself? Would you dare to charge him with tyrannical administration? Would you dare to say: "Lord, you are now beginning to act unworthy of yourself you govern other beings wisely and well; but you neglect me, and avail yourself of your irresistible power to overbear my rights, and to oppress me in judgment!" God forbid! who would not rather say: "Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, before I utter such a word; yes, let my mind lose all its rational faculties, rather than harbor such a thought!"

2. Let the Christian further recollect what God has done for him, as a reason why he should be silent under what God now does to him.

Were he only to consider himself as the creature of God, without attending to what is peculiar to him as being a Christian, he might see enough to silence his complaints. "Has not the blessed God given to me my being? Such a being with such noble powers and endowments as I possess! Has he not set me here at the head of this visible creation in this spacious and magnificent palace, which he has raised for the human family, and furnished and adorned in this commodious, grand, and beautiful manner? Has he not been the guardian of my infancy, and my childhood and in riper years, my guide and my benefactor in numberless instances? Has he not given to me all that I have every comfort in life, personal or relative? When I look around about me upon all that I can call my treasure, my possession does not everything bear his name, as it were, inscribed upon it as the donor: "The gift of God!" May I not be reminded of his bounty by all that I possess; yes, by all that I lose, and all that I suffer? This member, which is the seat of pain or disease did he not form it? And has he not given to me the easy and comfortable use of it during these many years, though he now lays his hand upon it? This friend, who is now laid in the grave was she not a creature of his, whom he formed and gave to me; and in whom, perhaps, he blessed me for many years? And is such a friend and benefactor to be quarreled with, because he sometimes takes back, a little of what he has given?"

But this is not all. I am speaking to you now as Christians: and then consider how the account rises. "Has not God blessed me with the knowledge of his gospel, and of his Son? Has he not sent to me the tidings of grace and salvation by him? And has he not by his Holy Spirit made him dear and precious to my heart; and given to me some cheerful and comfortable hope of a saving interest in him as my Redeemer and my Savior? And can there be matter of complaint against him, when I consider this? Has not his arm brought salvation to my view? A salvation which he himself wrought out in so wonderful a manner? And ought not that consideration to reconcile me to everything else which comes from so good a hand?"

3. Let the Christian recollect what God might have done with him, and to him, as a further reason for being silent under the afflicting of the Divine hand.

"The hand of God has now touched me and pained me. True! but it has not destroyed me. He has not, as Job expresses it, let loose his hand against me, and cut me off. And might he not have done that? He has taken away this and that comfort. True! but might he not have taken away all; and have stripped me quite naked and bare? Yes, might he not have taken away my soul and destroyed my very existence? Or, what would have been ten thousand times worse, have supported it only to make it miserable? God has chastised me with rods but what are those scorpions with which he might have scourged me, and have been righteous in doing it! Have you not, my soul, by numberless provocations, most righteously exposed yourself to his everlasting vengeance? What if you had, even now, been in the abodes of the damned, surrounded with eternal darkness and despair! Would he have been unjust in speaking, and unrighteous in judging thus? Be silent then, my heart, before him! And let not God hear the lightest murmur but rather let me fall down upon my knees, and adore his sovereign goodness that he has yet spared me; and, much more, that he gives me any hope that he will save me."

4. Let the Christian consider what God is now doing in a wider extent of the prospect, than can arise merely from the view of any present affliction.

"You, O Lord, have done this! You have afflicted my body; you have disappointed my prospects; you have blasted my hopes; you have slain my friends. But this is not all that you are now doing! You still continue your goodness to me; you cause your sun to arise, and your rain to descend upon me; you feed and cloth me daily. You spare to me many dear and valuable friends, whom it were base and barbarous ingratitude to slight, because some are taken away. You are still continuing to me the liberty of access to the throne of grace; encouraging and inviting me, if I have not this or that remaining comfort in the creature to come to You; to tell you my sorrows and my complaints; to seek in You what I have lost elsewhere, and more than I have lost. Yes, you are continuing to me the liberty of your house, and the privileges of your ordinances. I am not banished from the solemn assembly by the violence of my enemies, who would gladly long before this, have introduced universal confusion and desolation, and have burnt up all Your churches in the land. I am not his prisoner at home, as many of my Christian brethren are, in this land of liberty. Blessed be his name! I can come up to his house, as it is this day. Yes, he spreads his own table for me. As if all these blessings of mine were not, as indeed they are not, sufficient he sets before me the body and blood of his own Son; gives him to me as the bread of life that comes down from Heaven. And is this a day and hour in which to be complaining of him? As if it were not enough that I am here, unless it were with such and such a fellow creature; possessed of so much silver and gold; arrayed in such or such apparel; with such and such degrees of health and strength and spirits! Oh! surely it may be enough that I am here as a member of Christ, as a child of God! Especially when with that is connected this further thought, as an heir of glory!"

Which leads me to add,

5. Let the Christian further consider what God will further and hereafter do for him and it must surely silence him under whatever God has now done.

And if you ask, what? Let the Jewish Psalmist answer in these emphatic words, "You shall guide me with your counsel and afterwards receive me to glory!"

Has God forsaken me, that I should murmur and complain? Is he now doing the last office of kindness and love that he ever intends? No; he will never leave me nor forsake me. This is still his language, "Fear not, for I am with you: be not dismayed, for I am your God!" He will choose my inheritance for me. He will watch over me for good, and cause all things to work together for my truest advantage. He will subdue my iniquity; he will strengthen my graces; and, having begun the good work in me, he will carry it on until the day of the Lord. In a little while, perhaps, a very little he will do what to an eye of sense indeed looks like a dreadful work but to faith, wears a most cheerful aspect. He will, by his Providence, say to me, as to Moses, Go up and die. But that act of his, which consigns this mortal sinful body to the dust and worms will be the most gracious act that he ever exerted since he regenerated my soul by the power of his Spirit. Then farewell to all my pains and my fears, my disappointments and my sorrows at once! Farewell, for a little while, to all my surviving friends; and welcome more perfect and glorious friends. Welcome the dear deceased Christians, over whom I have so often wept. Welcome, above all, the bosom of my Savior, in which I also shall rest with them. O abyss of joy and delight!

And yet not all that I hope. The resurrection of the body shall complete the plan of my perfect happiness, with all the chosen in the everlasting enjoyment of God, of Christ, of one another, in forms of devotion and glory; of glory and felicity which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man.

And shall not all be taken well from a hand which will do all this? A hand which, even while it afflicts has this great end of all in view, that the light afflictions, which are hut for a moment, may work out a far more exceeding and an eternal weight of glory!

Whatever it may please God to work, there is something not only quieting but elevating in these considerations something which may not only silence a Christian's complaint but engage him to break out into a song of praise

 

"The Weaned Child"

Quiet, Lord, my froward heart,
Make me teachable and mild,
Upright, simple, free from art;
Make me as a weaned child.
From distrust and envy free,
Pleased with all that pleases Thee.

What you shall today provide,
Let me as a child receive;
What tomorrow may betide.
Calmly to Your wisdom leave.
'Tis enough that You will care,
Why should I the burden bear?

As a little child relies
On a care beyond its own;
Knows he's neither strong nor wise
Fears to stir a step alone
Let me thus with You abide.
As my Father, Guard, and Guide.

Thus preserved from Satan's wiles.
Safe from dangers, free from fears,
May I live upon your smiles
Until the promised hour appears;
When the sons of God shall prove
All their Father's boundless love!