Songs in the Night Season
William Bacon Stevens, 1856
"Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night?" Job 35:10
The night is proverbially a time of festivity and song. The cares and business of the day are then over; the taxed mind and the wearied muscles seek relaxation; the stillness of the evening invites to those pleasures which cannot be enjoyed amidst the bustle and din of business; and the darkness calling off the mind from the outdoor duties and gaieties — turns it to those domestic or social or festive gatherings, where the gladness of the heart testifies its existence by singing and the voice of melody.
But the vast majority of these songs are earth-born, and designed only for earthly ends. The bacchanalian chorus, the moonlight serenade, the orchestral concert, the parlor melody, the love-lorn ditty, and the trumpet-rousing strains of martial music — are each of terrestrial birth; and though they may deeply affect the heart, rousing it to wildest joy or sinking it to pensive sadness — yet are they evanescent, and soon are among the things of a forgotten past.
No such songs, though sung with unrivaled art, though swelling with delicious melody, though rich in tones of "linked sweetness long drawn out," satisfy the soul. Who that has listened to the most rapturous songs, to those which in our imagination come nearest to angelic harmony — has not, as its last cadence fell on the ear, and its last echo died away, felt a pang of sorrow that such tones must die as fast as they are uttered? that, with a soul fitted to enjoy such vocal richness, we can obtain it so seldom and so briefly? And to all this, has there not often been joined the wish: Oh! that there were songs that would never cease to thrill! Oh! that there were voices that would never lose their tone and melody by age! Oh! that there were places where we might ever abide, and listen at will to the treasured melodies of tongue and harp in their loftiest manifestation!
There are such places — there are such voices — there are such songs. Yet when I tell you of them, the very hearts that profess most to desire them will turn away with scornful looks, and perhaps deride them as the outbursts of hot-brained enthusiasm or of canting hypocrisy. But sneer as you may — curl your lip until it becomes rigid with scorn — mock until you have exhausted the vocabulary of calumny, and defame until you are startled by your own blasphemy — I tell you in a freedom that invites investigation, and with a boldness that challenges denial — that the religion of Jesus Christ furnishes such songs, tunes such voices, and opens such places of perpetual and sublimest melody; for the mansions of glory forever resound with saintly voices singing the songs of Moses and the Lamb.
But you may say that this is all true — but what I want is a present gladness of heart — a present song of joy — amidst the daily cares, trials, perplexities, and bereavements of this mortal life; and where can I find such? My answer still is — in the gospel of the Son of God, and there alone!
The time when these songs are mostly needed and desired, is in the night season; not the period of physical darkness — but . . .
the night season of the soul;
the night season of humiliation;
the night season of adversity;
the night season of sorrow;
the night season of sickness;
the night season of death.
It is just in these times, that the true Christian rejoices in God his Maker, who gives him songs in the night.
In the life of every individual there are periods of humiliation which take down his pride and bend his spirit to the dust. It may be that the person has occupied some post of honor or profit from which he has been removed — it may be that some unexpected blot has marred and stained his family name — it may be that failure in business has injuriously affected his character, and required him to take a lowly social position; and that in consequence, the mirthful and the fashionable, who flutter only around the candle of the prosperous, turn their heads at his approach, renounce his society, and cast themselves loose from his family circle — it may be that he is visited by some sore and noisome disease, or by some unexpected deformity that clings to him like a thorn in the flesh, and ever humbles him by a consciousness of its presence — it may be that false reports have tarnished his fair name, and caused him to be marked and avoided — indeed, there are so many causes of humility actively at work, that it would be in vain to attempt to enumerate them. Some one of these, however, occasionally affects each person, and makes him bow his head in humiliation.
Does the Bible furnish us any songs for such a night season, when the darkness of adversity, of desertion, of reproach, and of deep self-loathing — stretches over us a black and starless sky? Yes, it does! It is furnished in the beautiful words of the prophet Habakkuk, who, as if himself suffering under just such trials — dictates to the chief singer upon his stringed instrument the following exquisite ode: "Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty — yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!" Habakkuk 3:17-18.
What a precious song is this, for the night season of humiliation and adversity! It teaches that no earthly changes should ever shake our confidence in God; that His favor is not dispensed to us according to our worldly advantages and position; that His ways of dealing are disciplinary, and will, if rightly improved — work out for us an exceeding weight of glory.
What though the honors you once wore are taken from you? If you are Christ's, there is reserved for you "a crown of life!" What though your earthly reputation is unjustly stained? There is laid up for you in Heaven a robe of spotless white, with which to array your ransomed spirit! What though you have, through circumstances beyond your control, failed in your business and shattered your fortune? You have in store for you above, treasures that never fail — the treasures of Divine redeeming grace! What though you know not whence shall come the next supply of daily bread, or where at night you shall find a place of rest; or how, when one change of clothing is worn, you shall obtain another? Your Savior passed through just such trials. He was often hungry; he had not what the foxes and the birds had — a place where to lay his head — and his clothing was the gift of poor but loving friends. You cannot in any condition of adversity, go into lower depths than Jesus went; and no Christian should be unwilling to follow his steps, though they pass through the lowly and rugged places of life.
Only take his hand in the strong clasp of faith, and never relax your hold, and Jesus will make the valley of humiliation radiant with the light of his own countenance — will put into your mouth songs of praise, and guide you into final and unending joy!
Most forcibly was this illustrated in the case of Paul and Silas. They had been arrested in Philippi, a Roman colony, for boldly preaching in the name of the Lord Jesus; and having by the orders of the magistrates been severely scourged, were thrust into the inner cells of the prison, and, lest they should by any means escape, their feet were made fast in the stocks.
This was to them a deep humiliation. Paul was a Roman citizen, and so was Silas; and yet, they had been beaten with many stripes, they had been hooted and reviled by the rabble of the town — they had been traduced and vilified by lying and malicious tongues — they had been imprisoned in the lowest, darkest, filthiest cell of the Philippi jail, and they had received the still further indignity of having their feet cruelly fastened in the stocks. What deep affliction! you say; what barbarous treatment! — how it must have chafed and humbled their spirits! — how it must have suggested in them plans of deep and far-reaching revenge! Could there be joy for them? Behold them — their clothes have been so torn by the multitude that they hang in tatters about them. Their backs have been cruelly torn to the quick, by the lictor's thongs, and the open unwashed wounds still smart with pain. Their feet are confined in such a manner as to give them no possibility of rest; and the cold, damp, inner dungeon wraps around their half naked, bleeding, exhausted bodies its chilling and unhealthy air. Can there be joy for them?
The city of Philippi is asleep — the excited populace are at rest — the thronged streets are empty, and the two strangers who had so engrossed the public mind are now forgotten in the deep slumbers of darkness. But Paul and Silas sleep not. Their pains and their constrained position will not allow them to close their eyes. And how are they employed in these wakeful hours? Hark! It is midnight! but its stillness is broken by the voice of singing. Listen! It is no song to Bacchus — no hymn to Diana — no ode to Venus — nor yet do these sounds proceed from the halls of revelry or the abodes of wealth. They issue from the prison walls — it is the voice of strange melody struggling upwards from the inner cell — it is Paul and Silas, the beaten, imprisoned, bleeding servants of God, praying and singing praises unto God. They had found and were then rejoicing in "God their Maker," who had given them "songs in the night."
The season of bereavement is emphatically a night season to the human heart. The joys that once gave it delight are withdrawn; the scenes in which it once reveled with pleasure are vanished; a beloved one has been removed from the chambers of life to the chambers of death; and the eye, the voice, the hand, the form that ministered so much to its joy and comfort, is closed and hushed, and palsied, and cold, in the silent grave. You sit in darkness in your darkened dwellings — you feel that one of the great lights that ruled the day of your life has been put out, and there are deep shadows resting upon your spirit, which time and grace can alone remove.
To some, these night seasons recur with distressing frequency. The bright days of prosperity are short — and the dark hours of sorrow are as long and dreary as the nights of an Arctic winter. To others, there is a long and sunny period of gladness, and years pass without a sorrow to cloud the sky; when suddenly, perhaps, there steals in between your heart and the sun — the black form of death; and lo, for a time the darkness of a total eclipse shrouds your soul; or, in the more expressive language of the Bible, "your sun has gone down while it was yet day."
And when these night seasons of sorrow come over the soul; when, tossed upon the billows of affliction, you can say with imperilled and shipwrecked Paul, that "neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and the storm continued raging!" what can give you relief? What can give light in your darkness? What can draw aside the curtains of your night season, and let in the bright and congenial light of day? Friends cannot do it, though their sympathy is indeed grateful to the mind. Society cannot do it, for you shun it as something discordant to your soul. Worldly pleasures cannot do it, for you see them in their vanity as you never before saw them, and loathe them as nauseous to your taste.
At such times, nothing can support and comfort you but a living faith in Jesus Christ, and an abiding trust and confidence in the promises of Almighty God. And when your soul looks away for its comfort from everything of an earthly character, and turns its wistful eye of faith to God — then it is, that He "gives songs in the night."
What a night of bereavement was that which afflicted Job, when all his children, ten in number, were suddenly cut off at a blow; and when in addition to this he was as suddenly stripped of his riches and his honors, broken up in his family, robbed of his flocks and herds, and blasted in all his possessions! And yet, what a song in the night did God his maker put in his mouth when, instead of sinning and charging God foolishly — he caused him to say in the confidence of a lofty and unwavering faith, "the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!"
What darkness brooded over David in his manifold afflictions and bereavements! Yet though he says "the waters are come in unto my soul," though he was "weary with crying" — his "throat was dried" — his "eyes failed," and he was "altogether poor and sorrowful," yet he says in the same Psalm which records this deep distress, "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving."
And this is the language of all the true children of God, because they know that "affliction comes not forth of the dust, neither does trouble spring out of the ground;" that it is their heavenly Father who takes away their relatives and friends, and that in thus chastening them, he is showing his love and interest in them, and so shaping his dealings as to develop their graces, bring out the highest polish of Christian character in them, and prepare them in the most perfect manner for the rewards of grace in Heaven.
If we could so rise above our momentary feelings and our narrow relations to the persons and things around us, as to take in, in one broad view, the whole compass of our lives, and the future as well as present bearings of these afflictive dispensations — could we, in fact, survey them from the point of view which God occupies, or even from that one which we shall stand at in the eternal world — then, instead of murmuring and repining, instead of charging God with harshness, and stigmatizing his dealings as unkind — we would the rather rejoice at the occurrence of afflictions. We would see how indispensable they were to the perfecting of the work of the Holy Spirit; how without them we would perhaps lose our souls; how with them and by them as a necessary instrumentality — we are fitted for higher and holier joys in glory.
Such considerations would put songs into our mouths, and cause us in every hour of sorrow's night season — to sing aloud with gladness, and to rejoice in spirit, even while the iron was gashing its painful way into the deepest recesses of our affections.
Stricken and mourning Christian, remember that there is no season of sorrow so dark, that God cannot find his way to your soul; and no night so black with grief, that he cannot and will not light it up with "the pillar of his presence," to guide your feet, and to fill you with comfort.
Sicknessis emphatically, in the estimation of the world, a night season. Suffering, restlessness, anxiety, seclusion, days of weariness and nights of anguish — are the sad and sin-engendered accompaniments of the lot of nearly every child of Adam. Few have reached adult age, over whose life sickness has not passed; whose clayey tabernacle has not been shaken by the earthquake commotions of disease, and rent by the shakings of frequent sickness. We have been made to feel . . .
the frailty of flesh and blood,
the folly of earthly joys,
the uncertainty of human schemes.
We have been borne, as it were, upon the sick litter, to the very brink of the grave; been made, perhaps, to look down into its narrow depths, and then returned again to friends and health — to teach us . . .
the slenderness of our hold on life,
the nearness of the tomb,
the daily advances of an opening eternity.
Yet, distressing as the period of illness is — the Bible furnishes for it songs set to heavenly music, melodious with angelic harmony. It assures the sick that "the Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing;" that "he will make all his bed in his sickness;" that "he will be merciful unto him, and heal his soul." Illness points the sufferer to Jesus the Great Physician, who has balm for every pain, and healing medicines for every sickness.
What a song in the night season of disease, did Hezekiah find, when, having turned his face to the wall and prayed — God granted him length of years instead of cutting off his days in his strength. And what a joyful prayer does David put into the mouths of the sore distressed, when he teaches us to say, "O Lord my God, I cried unto you, and you have healed me. Lord, you have brought up my soul from the grave: you have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. Sing unto the Lord, you saints of his, and give thanks for a remembrance of his holiness. For his anger endures but a moment; in his favor is life. Weeping may endure (or, as the original more forcibly declares, may lodge) for a night — but joy comes in the morning." As if sorrow was only a wayfarer who turned in for a night's lodging, to arise up and depart when the sun of the morning shone in at the casement.
There are no solaces for hours of sickness, like those found in the Bible; there is no comforter in disease, like the presence of Jesus Christ; there is no light that can shine into and dissipate the darkness of the chamber of afflictive illness, like the light of divine truth; and nothing can furnish the heart with gladness, or fill the mouth with a song — but the sweet words and inbreathings of the Holy Spirit.
And now we come to the last night season that visits us on earth — the night season of death. There may be those who have never known the darkness of adversity, of sorrow, of affliction, of disease — but all will know the night time of death. Though your sun of life from its rising hour has rolled through an unclouded sky — yet, however bright its morning, however dazzling its meridian — the hour of its setting must come — the evening of life, the night time of death is at hand. Friends as dear as your own life, must be parted from — scenes as precious with a hundred fond associations, must be abandoned — objects of interest in which the mind has long been absorbed, must be given up — the cherished hopes of years must be thrown away, and everything that fastened down your hearts to earthly scenes and objects, must be sundered, and forever.
Will God our Maker, the same God who takes away our breath — will he give songs in the night season of death? Yes, for he has promised, "Behold at evening-time it shall be light," and that "the redeemed of the Lord shall return and come to him with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads." Death is to be dreaded only by those who have not made their peace with God; by those who do not receive and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as the Prophet, Priest, and King of their souls.
To those who have truly repented of their sins, who have made an unreserved surrender of their souls to Jesus Christ, and who are leading a new life, following the commandments of God and walking daily in his holy ways — death has no terrors. They feel that they deserve eternal punishment — but they know that Christ has borne the curse for them, and that therefore it will not fall upon their heads. They feel that they are utterly unworthy of salvation, and that it is not of themselves — but the free and sovereign gift of God — yet they know also that Christ has wrought it out for them, and will freely bestow it upon their souls. They know that they do not deserve Heaven, that after doing all that they have done for Christ, they are but unprofitable servants — yet they know that they shall be received up into glory for Jesus' sake — through Jesus' merits — by virtue of Jesus' intercession.
"Father I will that those also whom you have given me — be with me where I am, that they may behold," yes! and that they may share too, "my glory!" Hence having loved the Savior, having lived for the Savior, having committed the soul into his eternal keeping — the Christian is not afraid of death. His sun as it goes down, sinks not to its rest in sorrow. His night of death as it draws on, sends no foreshadowing gloom into the soul. On the contrary, full of the peace of God, rejoicing in hope, strengthened by faith in Christ — he finds himself joyful while all around are sad and weeping. And as the shadows deepen over his mortal life, there rises from his lips the hymn of praise to the abounding grace of God, and there is put into his mouth the song of triumph, "Oh death, where is your sting! Oh grave, where is your victory! The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law — but thanks be unto God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
These are some of the "songs in the night" given us by "God our Maker." Who does not desire to learn these songs? Who does not wish to sing them? They can be learned only as we sit at the feet of Jesus and learn of him. They can be sung only as our souls are filled by the Holy Spirit. But all are invited to come to Jesus and learn them; for his language is, "Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden — and I will give you rest!" And all are promised the renewing of the Holy Spirit — if they will but seek in faith the blessed Savior, through whom alone they can have peace and acceptance with "God our Maker, who gives songs in the night!"
"I rise at midnight to thank You for Your righteous judgments!" Psalm 119:62
In the mild silence of the voiceless night,
When, chased by airy dreams, the slumbers flee;
Whom, in the darkness, does my spirit seek,
O God — but Thee?
And, if there be a weight upon my breast,
Some vague impression of the day foregone,
Scarce knowing what it is, I fly to Thee,
And lay it down.
Or, if it be the heaviness, that comes
In token of anticipated ill —
My bosom takes no heed of what it is,
Since 'tis your will.
For, O, in spite of past or present care,
Or anything beside — how joyfully
Passes that silent, solitary hour.
My God, with Thee!
More tranquil than the stillness of the night,
More peaceful than the silence of that hour,
More blessed than anything, my bosom lies
Beneath Thy power.
For, what is there on earth, that I desire.
Of all that it can give, or take from me?
Or whom, in Heaven, does my spirit seek,
God — but Thee?