Bitter and Sweet!
Real religion is a personal thing. Every man's religion must be his own — produced in his own heart by the Spirit of God, and nourished by the word and prayer. In every man's religion, there is something distinguishing, and something only known to himself. To every believer the proverb may be applied, "Each heart knows its own bitterness — and no one else can fully share its joy." Proverbs 14:10.
Every Christian has some HIDDEN SORROW. "Each heart knows its own bitterness" — his secret bitterness. It may vary at different times, and under different circumstances — but still there it is.
At one time it may be sorrow for sin, some besetting sin, or the sins of the past life, brought and placed in review before the mind, by the Holy Spirit. Sin is a root of bitterness, and is sure to bear bitter fruit.
At another time it may be reflection on the past life, so many mercies abused, so many duties neglected, so many opportunities for usefulness lost — such reflections awaken bitter sorrow.
Or it may be secret and terrible thoughts, which agitate and torment the soul. They are at times the most filthy, base, degrading, and abominable! They spring up, work within, and torment us when on our knees in prayer, when reading God's word, and when attending upon the ordinances of the gospel. The more sacred and solemn the employment — the more powerful and horrible they are. We dare not utter them, or speak of them to anyone, for we imagine that ours is a singular case, and that they indicate desperate wickedness.
Then there are violent temptations, secret and powerful solicitations to evil. Sometimes to curse God. Sometimes to blaspheme Christ. Sometimes to speak against the Holy Spirit. Sometimes to indulge the lusts of the flesh. O the violent, terrible, and frightful temptations, from which the Lord's people often suffer! They cause bitterness of heart with a witness.
Then at times the Lord hides his face, we have no enjoyment of his presence in the closet, in his worship, or in any of our means of grace. There is no liberty in prayer, nor answers to prayer. At times no heart to pray, for the soul is so discouraged that it thinks that it is of no use for it to pray. There is a painful sense of need, a searching after the Lord, a sighing and sorrowing for the presence of the Lord; but he hides his face, and we are troubled.
Then there is indwelling sin — the deep and powerful corruption of our nature, which works and mixes itself with all that we do, and spoils all that we attempt to perform. This evil is present with us — always and everywhere present! It strives with everything good, and opposes everything gracious — so that we cannot do the things that we would. It mixes with our prayers and praises, and works when we endeavor to meditate on God's word, or hear the gospel to profit! It often makes us cry out, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of sin and death!"
Sometimes a bitter word spoken, either by ourselves or others, will cause much heart sorrow. It fixes in the memory, revolves in the mind, and proves a mental rack on which the soul is tortured.
Besides all these sinful things — almost every believer has some secret source of bitterness in the family — it may be a wife, whose temper, whose tongue, or whose conduct, wounds him to the very soul, and pierces him through with many sorrows. Or a carnal husband, an undutiful child, or an unnatural parent. O how many Christians have sources of bitterness in their families, of which they dare not speak to others; but in consequence of which, they bleed inwardly, sighing and sorrowing before God!
Others have secret causes of sorrow in business, in the church of God, or in their social relations; but every heart has emphatically — its own bitterness. The cup from which it drinks, and drinks often — contain draughts of wormwood and gall.
What bitter thoughts are generated, what bitter
feelings are produced, and what bitter regrets are felt — by many
of Zion's pilgrims in the secrets of the soul.
But it is not all bitter, there are also HIDDEN JOYS. "No one else can fully share its joy." No stranger can understand it, share it, or at times even disturb it.
There is the joy of salvation — when after conviction, depression, seeking, sighing, and sorrowing — the Lord appears and says unto the soul, "I am your salvation!"
There is the joy of faith — when we are enabled to claim, appropriate, and plead the promises. Then we see their suitability, taste their sweetness, and feel their power. We draw water with joy out of these wells of salvation.
Then there is the joy produced by a believing view of
Jesus — when the Holy Spirit reveals his glory and beauty to us —
filling our minds with the sweetest thoughts, and our hearts with the
O how glorious is his person,
how excellent is his love,
how perfect is his work,
how precious is his blood,
how sweet is his voice, and
how ravishing is the thought of being with him forever!
Our souls are now full of Christ. We can think of nothing else, speak of nothing else, enjoy nothing else. Jesus is all fair, all lovely, all glorious — and we rejoice in him with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
And at times in communion with God — we have
exquisite joy. Now a holy stillness, a sweet composure, a calm deep
happiness — while we converse with God, as a man does with his friend. Then
a devout ecstasy, when the thoughts, the affections, and the
whole soul, seem too happy to be still. We want all to be as happy. We want
all to unite in praising and blessing the Lord. We are then . . .
ravished with his love,
delighted with his grace, and
overwhelmed with a sense of his wondrous condescension!
Occasionally we have foretastes of glory, we almost seem to see the pearly gates, we could almost imagine we were walking under the shade of the jasper walls, and could hear the distant sounds of the songs of the glorified. The soul fills with love to God, overflows with gratitude, and tastes of the pleasures which are at God's right hand. Now we know there is a Heaven, for we are impressed with a sense of its glory, we taste some of its fruits, and are almost like Paul, who said, "Whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell — God knows."
If believers know more or less of what the Lord's love visits mean, when Jesus comes to manifest himself unto us as He does not unto the world — when be comes, that He may sup with us, and we with him. Then we can say with the Spouse, "My beloved is mine — and I am his!"
Yes, we can go farther than this, and say, "I am my
beloved's — and his desire is towards me." We cannot, we dare not
doubt his love, or our saving interest in him. We are wholly taken up with
him, and to . . .
see his face,
taste his love,
and enjoy his presence —
is all the Heaven we desire!
These are joys which sanctify and satisfy the soul. They are generally enjoyed in secret — no stranger can intrude or understand them. For the loving Lord, and his beloved child — enjoy themselves alone, and appear to win, and to fill each other's hearts.
There are then secret SORROWS in religion. Yes,
heart sorrows — sorrows which no one is privy to or suspects — but those
who endure them. They sigh and cry before God. They mourn alone. They suffer
martyrdom within. Between . . .
Satan, the world, and their own hearts;
the mysterious dealings of God in his providence and grace;
the trials of business coming in contact with a tender and honest conscience;
the troubles of of the domestic circle, (and how bitter they are at times, God only knows!)
and the sin which does so easily beset them —
the Lord's people find much bitterness, and bitterness which their own hearts alone know.
There are secret JOYS in religion too. Pleasure unknown to all — but believers themselves. Joy that is solid, substantial, and durable. Joy often, in the midst of sorrow, for when all without is dark and dreary — then the candle of the Lord often shines brightest within. Joy, that is more than enough to counter-balance all the sorrows we endure.
The joy of hope — looking forward into the future; and the joy of possession — when the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us.
Our sorrows and our joys are alike peculiar unto ourselves; but our sorrows all end at death — while our joys will last forever!
Reader, do you know anything of this experience in your own soul? All of the Lord's people do, more or less. All are not alike deeply taught, nor deeply tried — but all know what sorrow for sin is, and what the joy of salvation is. All have some peculiar cause of bitterness — and all hidden sources of joy.
If you are quite a stranger to them — can you be a Christian? What a question is this? Not a Christian! Why if you are not, you are an unbeliever, and Jesus has said, "He who believes not — shall be damned!" If you are not a Christian, you do not believe on the Son of God, and He said, "He who does not believe — is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."
But do not write bitter things against yourself, because you have not passed through all that I have written — but rather bless God that you have escaped the bitter, and look forward to the enjoyment of the sweet — for there is unspeakable joy and endless glory before you!
Boast not, O sons of earth,
Nor look with scornful eyes,
Above your highest mirth,
Our saddest hours we prize.
For though our cup seems filled with gall,
There's something secret, sweetens all.