I Was Taken by Surprise!
James Smith, 1859
Expostulating with a friend in reference to a fault into which he had fallen, by way of excuse he said, "I was taken by surprise!" This implied that he was off his guard, that he was neglecting the loving admonition of his gracious Lord, "Watch and pray—lest you enter into temptation." Though in one sense we are always safe—we should never feel secure, for security generally ends in a fall. We are in an enemies' country, and our enemies are crafty, cruel, and watchful. We are in a wilderness, and may meet with surprising dangers where we least expect them. We are under the guidance and direction of a special providence, and may hope for many changes, and different treatment at different times. We should live believing God's word, watching God's hand, and waiting upon God in his ways; if we do not—we shall be taken by surprise.
We may now be surrounded by kind, judicious, and sympathizing friends. They may seem to be the light of our eyes, the stay of our hearts, and the joy of our souls. Let us enjoy them while we have them—but let us not place any dependence upon them; for if we do, they may soon become alienated from us, be removed to a distance, or even be turned against us!
Man is changeable. He walks in a vain show. At his best state, he is altogether vanity. Trust him—and he will deceive you. Put him in God's place—and he will wound you, and pierce you to the heart! "Trust not in a friend, put no confidence in a guide." "Cursed is the man who trusts in man, and who makes flesh his arm."
Let your God be your friend. Remember there is One friend who loves at all times. You may trust him, confide in him, and open your whole heart to him. Bat if you do so without reserve to any other—you may be betrayed, deceived, or forsaken; and then in the bitterness of your soul, to account for the painful acuteness of your feelings, you may be heard to exclaim, "I was taken by surprise!"
Death is our enemy. He has no regard to our feelings, wants, or wishes. The finest, most fruitful, and most valuable trees—he marks to be cut down. The husband, the father; the mother, the wife—are often taken away with a stroke. We ought to enjoy our relations, and we ought to love them; but we must remember they are only lent to us—we cannot claim them; nor when sent for—can we detain them. If we look upon any relation as essential to our support or comfort, or usefulness on earth—it is very likely that we shall be deprived of that relative. God often shows his people that no one is essential to them—but himself; that they can live, be comfortable, and do good—in the absence of any earthly relative. Let us not then idolize any relative, however near, dear, or important to us; for if we do, ten to one but we shall be bereaved of it, and then with deep distress of soul, we may find ourselves saying "I was taken by surprise!"
If the Lord has given us a fine home, or a good income, or a profitable situation—let us take heed that we do not look upon such things as guaranteed property, for we have no title deeds to show for them. We may be deprived of them suddenly, and soon. Temporal wealth, is spoken of in God's word as if it were nothing. "Will you set your heart upon that which is not? Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle!"
Sometimes, by one stroke—providence sweeps away all our property. In one moment we lose the income, which we believed to be ours for life. By one turn—our situation which we considered permanent is gone. Now if we have been depending upon our income, instead of God; or if we have been making gold our trust, and fine gold our confidence; or if we have been secure in our situation instead of trusting in the Lord alone—then it is no wonder if the Lord tears up our nest, cuts down our hopes as a tree, and gives us occasion to say with Job, "The Lord has taken away!"
Then perhaps the suddenness or the severity of the stroke will fill us with commotion, alarm, and distress. Then unbelief will work in our hearts, and sadness will shroud our spirits, and all we shall be able to say in accounting for our sorrow, will be "I was taken by surprise!"
Man is born to trouble, nor was religion ever intended to exempt us from it. Our blessed Lord assures all his disciples that "in this world—you will have trouble!" Days of trouble will be sure to be found in our lot.
But we are not to be always anticipating trouble, or to allow the thought of future trouble to spoil or rob us of present enjoyment. But we are always to be prepared to meet trouble. By faith in God, by confidence in Jesus, by relying on the promises, and by praying always, and giving thanks for every comfort—we are to be ready to meet whatever trouble comes.
Nor are we to feel sure in reference to any quarter, that trouble will not come from thence; for it very often comes from the quarter that we least expected! Trouble sometimes springs up in the family, sometimes it springs up in our business, and sometimes it meets us in the church. If there is any quarter from which we never anticipated any trouble—from that quarter it is very likely to come. Now if we are off our guard, if we imagine that our sun will never go down, neither will our moon withdraw itself; if we say our mountain stands strong, we shall never be moved; then when the Lord darkens the sun in the clear day, when the moon is hidden behind the dense dark clouds, when our mountain is removed and cast into the sea; sad, sorrowful, and cast down, we shall most likely be heard to say, "I was taken by surprise!"
Brethren, in days like these, and in a world like this—it befits us to be prepared for anything, for everything. Nothing should dispirit us, or cause us to fret. All things are under a divine arrangement and superintendence. Our God works all things after the counsel of his own will. As he loves us with an infinite love, and consults our welfare in all he does, and in all he permits—we ought never to be dejected—occur what will. Nothing should "take us by surprise," for we are forewarned, that we may be forearmed.
Our God has told us of troubles, trials, temptations, losses, crosses, and bereavements—before they come to pass, that when they do come to pass—we may be ready to meet them, be ready to battle with them, and overcome them.
Nothing can sever us from his love!
Nothing can deprive us of his care!
Nothing can pluck us out of his hand!
Let us then confide in him, walk closely with him, and in everything look to him. He is our Father—and we may pour all our sorrows into his bosom. He is our Savior—and we may trust all our affairs in his hands. He is our Comforter—and we may look to him to comfort us in all our troubles.
Yes, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort—is our Father!
The Son of God, the Almighty, ever present, and immutable Savior—is our Savior.
The Holy Spirit, the dove-like, gentle, and patient Comforter—is our Comforter.
And with such a Father, such a Savior, and such a Comforter—what shall we fear? Of whom shall we be afraid? Fear! Afraid! Rather let us sing "The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?" Nor let us ever be so inattentive to our Lord's loving instructions, or so neglect his gracious warnings, or so forget his holy cautions—as for any trouble, trial, loss, or cross, to cause us to exclaim, "I was taken by surprise!"