"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God." - Isaiah xl. 1.
The frequent applications of comfort to the people of God are most appropriately suited to their relief when that comfort is necessary, amid the multiplied trials, conflicts and tribulations to which they are incident while engaged in the incessant warfare to which they are exposed while journeying through this waste, howling wilderness. We say multiplied, because they are many, and are also various and perplexing, and call loudly for comfort.
"The world, the flesh and Satan, too,
Unite and strive what they can do;
On thee, O Lord, we humbly call,
Uphold us, or we soon must fall."
When we first realize the power, glory and joy-inspiring presence of our great Deliverer, we promise ourselves too much - more than he in his wisdom has allotted us, in our present belligerent state; hence we soon meet disappointments, and are consequently discouraged and cast down. Our troubles begin, and one follows another in such rapid succession that we are soon convinced that none but our infinitely wise and bountiful Benefactor can provide for our defense or supply our wants. But, blessed be his name, he is amply sufficient for every emergency. Then "let Israel hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities." - Ps. cxxx. 7, 8. Appalling calamities now depress the spirits of the children of God, and fearful forebodings sadden their visages. Their social intercourse with each other is hindered to a great extent - their communications and correspondence as a body much interrupted, and should not all in their respective localities - all who have a word of comfort for the dejected sons and daughters of Zion in this afflictive dispensation of God's providence speak comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins; and therefore, that,
"Her warfare finished, stands,
From that illustrious day,
When Jesus hushed the law's demands,
And bore her sins away;"
and that now, "The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble; he sitteth between the cherubim; let the earth be moved. The Lord is great in Zion, and he is high above all the people."
O what a spectacle would this wicked world soon present did not the Lord God omnipotent reign. His dominion bounds the universe. He reigns in heaven above; he rules all over the earth beneath. Raging tempests, roaring billows, reigning monarchs, ruling magistrates and reckless men; with booming artillery and fierce flashing rifles, with all the other engines of death and carnage, can do no more than execute his immutable decrees; for he "worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."
"Chained to his throne a volume lies,
With all the fates of men,
With every angel's form and size,
Drawn by the eternal pen.
His providence unfolds the book,
And makes his counsels shine;
Each opening leaf, and every stroke,
Fulfills some deep design."
The monstrous orbs that glide through the pathway of the heavens, the fierce blazing lightning that cleaves the sky, the bellowing thunder that causes the universe to tremble; with all the birds that float through the air, all the beasts that roam over the desert, all the fish that cleave the waters; with all things both great and small that be, or exist, in air, earth or sea, are directly, immediately and forever under his sovereign control and guidance; and one has truly said, "If providence should be taken by surprise by the casual impinging of an accident, one fortuitous grain might dislocate the banded universe. The smallest seeming trifle is ordered as the morning light, and he that rideth on the hurricane is pilot to the bubble on the breaker. O, my Father's children, when we can by the eye of faith look beyond the dark drama, the gloomy picture that is drawn around us, to the majestic throne of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ, our only but all-sufficient hope in time of trouble, anchored securely and forever within the veil where Jesus hath entered for us, assured at the same time by his unfailing word that he works all things together for our good, should not the exhilarating sight calm our disquietude, settle and soothe our laboring spirits, and give us "the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness?"
"In every condition, in sickness and health,
In poverty's vale or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As the days may demand, shall my strength ever be."
In the light of revelation we scrutinize our poor, weak, sinful and insignificant selves, and, so far as our own worthiness or merit is concerned, might readily conclude that we were overlooked, neglected, forgotten, or spurned from the presence of the majesty of the heavens. But, instead of that, what amazing condescension, matchless grace, unbounded love and heart-soothing mercy! Has he deigned to teach us by his Spirit and in his word that we are the purchase of his blood, the objects of his love and the subjects of his grace? Then may we rest assured that he that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, will with him freely give us all things necessary for our support, defense, and comfort. Instead, therefore, of overlooking or neglecting us, he numbers the very hairs of our heads and keeps us as the apple of his eye.
With a constant and unceasing vigilance he watches over us by day and night.
"Within his circling power we stand,
On every side we find his hand,
Awake, asleep, at home, abroad,
We are surrounded still with God."
What would be our sad destiny should he withdraw his loving kindness and tender mercy from us for a moment? What a wonderful contrast between the watchful and unceasing care of our kind Shepherd and our own negligence of ourselves and our heedless inconstancy! Changing as the fleeting cloud, evanescent as the morning dew, how soon should we pass away and be no more were he to leave us! While his eye is over us and his ear open to our cries, with a ceaseless vigilance he watches all things around us, and though fears may alarm and dangers on every side seem to threaten us,
"Not a single shaft can hit,
Till the God of love sees fit."
"Judah shall be saved and Israel shall dwell safely," therefore,
"While he affords his aid,
I cannot yield to fear,
Though I should walk through death's dark shade,
My Shepherd's with me there."
Dear brethren, let us not be discouraged while the sacred record glows with so many assurances of his divine power to protect, his exhaustless fullness to supply us with every needful blessing either for time or eternity. It is not the will of our heavenly Father that one of his little ones should perish, but it is his will that every one of them should have everlasting life; and most assuredly his will must be done; "his counsel shall stand and he will do all his pleasure." Let us not complain of our momentary trials, but esteem it a signal honor to know "the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death," and "rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy;" for "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him." With what composure should we sit and wonder, and then adore, extol and reverence his holy name, while we see him seated on his throne of eternal dominion and glory, with
"Divine compassion in his eyes,
And pardon in his hands,"
while all, over us, under us and around us are so completely subjected to his sovereign control that even "the wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder of wrath he will restrain." And to think, that while thus enthroned in regal dignity he has made his throne of grace accessible to us poor sinners! O, my friends, let us in all our tribulations repair to that merciful throne, the only place where we can "obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need;" and let each one in humble supplication exclaim, "O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise." Can we be silent when it is said by the psalmist, "All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord, and thy saints shall bless thee. They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom and talk of thy power."
What signifies the light, transient or momentary afflictions that we have to encounter here? Should we not rather glory in tribulations; "knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." Then, brethren, let patience have her perfect work; "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us." And again, "But though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;" but it is "while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." The things that are seen by our mortal eyes are time things, and time is a destroyer. The impress of his withering touch is stamped upon all his works. Death is his constant companion, and death is a leveler. From our cradle to our grave the blighting signs of time are visible upon us, while the seeds of death, certain to mature, are implanted within us. We grow up like the grass, and seem for a moment to flourish like the green herb. Soon we are shaken by the tempests, battered by storms and scorched beneath the bleaching and withering sunbeams of time, the destroyer. Presently, "The keepers of the house shall tremble and the strong men bow themselves, and the grinders cease, because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened, and the doors shall be shut in the streets when the sound of the grinding is low; and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird; and all the daughters of music shall be brought low; and when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail; because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets; or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the wheel broken at the cistern; then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity."- Eccl. xii. 3-8.
Thus onward moves the leveler, with steady but resistless tread; his chilling hand touches the feeble tenement, we vanish away and are numbered with the past. How true the words of the poet:
"In vain the wealthy mortals toil,
And heap their shining dust in vain,
Look down and scorn the humble poor,
And boast their lofty hills of gain.
Thence they are huddled to the grave,
Where kings and slaves have equal thrones,
Their bones without distinction lie,
Among the heap of meaner bones."
Perhaps it is meet, my brethren and sisters, that we gaze for a while on the dark portrait that is drawn upon this gloomy valley. It is a humiliating picture, and humility becomes us. But dwell not too long upon the sad scene. "Then look up, for your redemption draweth nigh." Remember that time, though a destroyer, can destroy nothing that is really and intrinsically good. Its devastation is confined to what is evil or wrong.
"All of the past is living still,
All that is good and true;
The rest is perished, and it did,
Deserve to perish, too."
And death, though a leveler, is but a borrower, or menial of our Lord and Master, and can hold our frail bodies in his cold embrace but a little while, and then must deliver them up. Time and death are but the servants of our great Deliverer. He appointed the times and determined the bounds of their habitation.
"Sovereign Ruler of the skies,
Ever gracious, ever wise,
All my times are in thy hand,
All events at thy command."
A substantial comfort to us is the fact that all with which we have to do is to all intents and purposes under the reigning power and righteous rule of our God and Savior; and that in the rich fullness of his grace he holds an antidote for every poison, a reviving cordial for every malady with which sin or Satan can afflict us, although the monster has set up a counterplot or opposite to all the blessings we receive. The enemy lurks in the flesh (fleshly mind,) and therefore it lusts against the spirit (spiritual mind,) and this causes us many and sore conflicts. This dear Deliverer and that subtle enemy are belligerent parties, complete antipodes, and never can come to a peaceable compromise. This infuses love and goodwill wherever it operates; that hatred and ill will. This joy and gladness; that sorrow and grief. This peace and quietude; that war and strife. In short, it is an incessant struggle between right and wrong, and thus the war goes on throughout our mortal pilgrimage, subjecting us to much tribulation, causing us to,
"See every day new straits attend,
And wonder where the scene will end,"
until the mighty angel shall set one foot upon the sea and the other upon the land, and swear by him that lives forever and ever that there shall be time no longer; when death and hell shall deliver up their dead, Satan and sin be visibly and forever vanquished.
O, what amazing scenes of rapture and hallowed admiration will we then and there behold! Each one may confidently anticipate a glorious resurrection of this mortal body that is sown in corruption, dishonor, weakness and natural; but will be raised in incorruption, glory, power and spiritual; fully prepared to dwell with Christ forever.
"Now redemption, long expected,
See in solemn pomp appear;
All his people, once rejected,
Now shall meet him in the air."
But, brethren, for that we must patiently wait, and the struggle will soon be over. Here a dark veil interposes that hides from us the bright glories of that celestial day; here only now and then a celestial ray penetrates the gloomy prison; but there no sable veil or dimming cloud shall ever mar the lustre of that eternal day. No counterplot shall enter there to cool the ardor of love, diminish the fullness of joy, or disturb the work of peace and quietude forever.
"O, what amazing joys they feel,
While to their golden harps they sing,
And sit on every heavenly hill,
And spread the triumphs of their King."
Brother Beebe, I fear I am of late taxing your columns too heavily; if so, throw this aside.
Your brother, in hope of a brighter day.
J. F. JOHNSON.