George Everard, 1878
Family life resembles in some respects our English climate. It has many changes and variations. One day the wind is bleak and cold and the sky cloudy — while on the following day the sun shines brightly, and all nature rejoices in his warm beams. And then perhaps shortly afterwards the tempest lowers and the rain descends and floods the earth. Just so, family life has its days . . .
of cloud and sunshine,
of storm and quiet,
of sadness and of joy.
Sometimes the brightest days are followed by the darkest. You have been enjoying the happiness of a quiet peaceful home — and a message, or a letter, or a telegram arrives which scatters in a moment every pleasant thought, and fills your heart with sorest distress.
It has so happened often from the very beginning. We go back to one of the earliest narratives in Scripture, the story of the Patriarch Job, and we find him brought down in one day from the greatest height of prosperity and comfort — to the abyss of misery and desolation. In the morning the sun shone upon him and his tabernacle was in peace — before nightfall a black cloud had arisen and burst in fury over his head, and all was dark and desolate.
Let us watch for a few moments, the terrible hailstorm of sorrow and trouble descending upon this faithful man. What a day of trouble it was — and yet a day begun in prayer! He rose early in the morning, and pleaded with God for his children, and offered a burnt offering on behalf of each of them. One by one he brought them all before God, and sought help and mercy for them at the throne of grace.
What a blessed example for parents! We know not any day what may befall our children — what temptations may assault them — what perils may be near them. Let us at least have the consolation that we have done for them our very best — that we have put them into the hands of One who is almighty to protect and save.
But on this day of sorrow, wave follows quick upon wave, and blow upon blow. Fresh messengers arrive hour after hour with evil tidings, and with no quiet interval between for Job to gather up fresh courage, or to strengthen faith in God.
First comes a messenger who tells of the spoil taken by the Sabeans. They have fallen upon the servants and have driven away the oxen and the donkeys — and but a solitary servant remains to tell the tale.
Then comes a second messenger, who tells of the lightning — how it has fallen from Heaven and destroyed the sheep and the servants that kept them — and but one remains to bring the news.
Then come a third and a fourth. They tell of the Chaldeans making an attack in three bands and carrying off the camels and destroying the servants.
Worst of all, they tell of the death of his children. The great wind has smitten the house where they are feasting, and the house has fallen, and his sons and daughters are buried in its ruins!
Ah! and well we might have imagined that the father's heart would be buried there too, and that from such a calamity he would never be able to rise. Who can comprehend so great a sorrow? All family sorrow in one! Not the loss of some property, but all! Not the loss of one child, but all! Reduced in a moment from a height of prosperity — almost to the depths of poverty! Deprived in a moment of all the children for whom he had lived and toiled and prayed! "Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls. All Your waves and billows are gone over me."
Then shone forth the reality of the grace which dwelt within his heart. Then were manifested his deep submission, his faith and love. Human nature would have rebelled and murmured: "Why has God dealt thus bitterly with me? Am I a sinner above all sinners? Why should He thus pursue me even unto death?" Ah, Satan looked for Job thus to repine; yes, and to curse God to His face. But what do we find? Even from this furnace of affliction, thus heated seven times, there comes forth the voice of trust and praise and joyful adoration: Though I am stripped of all I possess; though the hand of God has taken back the gifts which first He gave; though my children lie buried beneath the ruins of the fallen house; though I return to the earth as poor as I was born — yet why shall I complain? Nay, rather, I will bless and praise and magnify His Name. "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away — blessed be the Name of the Lord."
How like was the spirit of Job to that of the prophet Habakkuk! "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls — yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights." Habakkuk 3:17-19
Let us mark well what a vantage ground the child of God possesses in these times of family sorrow. These days come to all — but dark and gloomy indeed is the home where God is absent, where there is . . .
no sense of His fatherly love,
no experience of His fatherly discipline,
no firm grip of His faithful promises.
Look at the home of Jeroboam. A beloved child lies ill. Jeroboam desires to know the outcome. So his wife disguises herself and goes to the prophet. But there is no word of comfort for her in her sore distress. Heavy tidings — the death of her son — fresh miseries upon the household — and, worse than all, God's righteous anger! Such is the response she finds when the day of trouble is at hand.
Dear reader, be assured that your home one day will be filled with sorrow. It may come gradually, or it may come suddenly when you look not for it; but, believe me, those dark days will be far, far darker — if now in your bright days God is unsought and uncared for.
"We have great trouble come upon us in our home," said a woman to me once; "and worst of all, I have no God to go to!"
She had lived without God in prosperous days — and now in the day of sorrow she knew not how to seek Him.
But how blessed it is, on the other hand, to have Christ by your side at such times; to be able at once to turn to the well-known Refuge and Hiding-place, and to leave there all your weariness and sorrow! This is light in darkness, and sweet comfort even in the bitterest distress.
"Jesus, my Lord, 'tis sweet to rest
Upon Your tender, loving breast;
Where deep compassions ever roll
Toward my weary, helpless soul.
Your love, my Savior, dries my tears,
Expels my griefs, and calms my fears;
Bids every anxious thought depart,
Sheds light and sunshine o'er my heart."
It very much lightens the heaviest family sorrows, when we can trace distinctly the hand of God.
Job discerned it at once: "The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away." "Shall we receive good at the hand of God — and shall we not receive evil?"
Nothing is more lamentable, than for us to imagine that God takes no concern in the daily life of His children. Some seem to think that God is so great and high, that He has left the world to the guidance of certain mechanical laws — and now sits apart, having nothing to do with the little every-day matters of our present existence, or with the sorrows that come to us from time to time. And so, we are taught, the great wheel of life goes around, crushing some, raising some — but the Almighty Creator cares not for it.
But the Scripture view is far otherwise: Not a sparrow is forgotten, or falls to the ground, without our Father. "The very hairs of your head are all numbered" — and not one can perish without His knowledge. He "knows our sorrows" and apportions them in infinite wisdom, as each of His children has need. "Whom the Lord loves, He corrects; even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights." We are to consider affliction . . .
as the gardener breaking up the hard soil by the sharp ploughshare,
or as the vine-dresser pruning the choice branches,
or as the sculptor hewing the marble statue, that it may be fitted for its intended position in the king's palace.
Thus does our Father send us sorrows and afflictions. He would break up the hardness and stubbornness of our worldly hearts. He would make us more fruitful in His Church. He would renew us in His own likeness, and take away all that is of self and evil — that we may at length be made fit for His glorious temple.
Strangely diverse are these family trials, which are appointed to train and mold us for our better heavenly home. In one case it is the long continued trial of weak health, which puts everything in the home out of gear.
Or it is one member of the household who brings sad disgrace upon the rest, perhaps through the fearful curse of intemperance, or immorality.
Or it is diminishing financial means, with increasing necessities.
Or some particular deprivation, as when Abraham and Sarah had so long to wait for Isaac.
Or the contentions of two brothers or sisters.
Or the loss of a dear child.
Or the failure of some long-cherished scheme.
Or a secret sorrow that burdens the heart — yet may never be uttered except in the ear of the merciful and faithful High Priest.
Sometimes our sorrows come direct from the hand of God, and we say, "It is the Lord — let Him do what seems Him good!" Sometimes they come through the fault of others, and we are sorely tempted only to see the second cause, rather than the permitting hand of Divine Providence. It was, for example, a sore trial to David when the Amalekites took away all he had at Ziklag as their spoil; and again when Absalom was permitted to break up his household at Jerusalem. But in each case, David could see the finger of God.
Sometimes our sorrows come through our own sin and grievous fault — and this makes them still harder to bear. But even in this case, God does not forsake His child, but makes his sin the scourge to chasten and to humble him and to do him good at his latter end.
But, whatever the sorrow, or whatever the cause for it, there is but one wise course to take. It is folly to aggravate our trial . . .
by mutual reproaches, casting the blame on another,
or by useless murmurings and repinings,
or by sitting down in despair and folding our hands, as if there were no help for us in Heaven or in earth. While God lives, and the Bible is still full of blessed promises, no child of God has ever reason to give up hope. The Lord knows how to turn darkness into light, and to bind up the wounds which His hand has made.
What then, is to be our resource in the hour of family sorrow?
First of all, humble yourself before God, and acknowledge the uttermost of your sin and unworthiness. Sin must be discovered, confessed, and repented of, before we can have any solid ground for consolation. Our Jonah must be cast out, before the storm will cease. But if we are willing to see God's hand in our trouble, and take a low place because of our sin — we may then confidently cast upon Him every anxiety and trouble and fear.
There is one passage of Scripture that has been to me an anchor of hope and strength in many a dark and sorrowful day, and I would that it might be cherished in the memory of each reader, and its guidance followed when trouble comes. It is found in the first Epistle of Peter, the fifth chapter: "All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you." 1 Peter 5:5-7
Go then to the mercy-seat in the Savior's name, and bring the whole care and sorrow, and leave it at your Father's footstool.
Consider His Fatherly HEART. "He cares for you." As a father pities his children, yes "as one whom his mother comforts" — so tenderly does the Lord deal with those who fear Him and trust in Him.
Consider His Fatherly HAND. It is the hand of love that smites. It is the hand that has bestowed every mercy, which holds the cup of sorrow. It is the same hand that in due season will remove our trials, and lift us up from our depths of distress, and set us again on the rock of safety and peace.
Consider His Fatherly EYE. It is ever upon us for good, and not for evil. He knows our sorrow, and beholds every affliction and calamity that befalls us. "Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear Him, upon those who hope in His mercy."
Consider His Fatherly EAR. He hears every sigh, every moaning, every cry. He bows down and inclines His ear to every petition. "His ear is open to our prayer."
Consider His Fatherly PURPOSE. Read the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, and see how He wills only our good. He would make us "partakers of His holiness." He would purify us from the dross of our corruptions, and make us fit for His presence.
Consider His Fatherly PROMISE. He has promised that He will "never leave us nor forsake us." He has promised that He will make "all things work together for good to those who love Him." "He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?"
Ah, Christian, trust yourself wholly to your Father's care, and He will not disappoint your confidence!
"Tried one, wait not in your woe,
But at once to Jesus go,
Clouds of darkness He can make
Hues of rainbow-brightness take.
Cast on Him your smallest care,
Utter but one word of prayer;
Tell Him your most hidden grief,
Sure He'll run to your relief.
He has said it, therefore trust,
He will lift you from the dust,
Carry you on His soft wing,
Troubled heart, look up and sing."