LAID ASIDE. WHY?
A FRAGMENT BY C. H. SPURGEON.
MYSTERIOUS are the visitations of sickness. When the Lord is using a man for his glory it is singular that he should all of a sudden smite him down, and suspend his usefulness. it must be right, but the reason for it does not lie near the surface. The sinner whose every act pollutes the society in which he moves is frequently permitted year after year to spend an unabating vigor in infecting all who approach him. No sickness removes him even for an hour from his deadly ministry; he is always at his post, energetic in his mission of destruction. How is it that a heart eager for the welfare of men and the glory of God should find itself hampered by a sickly frame, and checked in its utmost usefulness by attacks of painful disease?
We may ask the question if we do so without murmuring, but who shall answer it for us? When the advance of a body of soldiers is stopped by a galling fire which scatters painful wounds on all sides, we understand that this is but one of the natural incidents of war; but if a commander should check his troops in mid-battle, and proceed with his own hand to render some of his most zealous warriors incapable of service, should we not be at a loss to conceive his motives? Happily for us our happiness does not depend upon our understanding the providence of God: we are able to believe where we are not able to explain, and we are content to leave a thousand mysteries unsolved rather than tolerate a single doubt as to the wisdom and goodness of our heavenly Father. The painful malady which puts the Christian minister hers de combat when he is most needed in the conflict is a kind messenger from the God of love, and is to be entertained as such: this we know, but how it can be so we cannot precisely tell. Let us consider awhile. Is it not good for us to be nonplussed, and puzzled, and so forced to exercise faith? Would it be well for us to have all things so ordered that we ourselves could see the reason for every dispensation?
Could the scheme of divine love be indeed supremely, infinitely, wise if we could measure it with our short line of reason? Should we not ourselves remain as foolish and conceited as spoiled and petted children, if all things were arranged according to our judgment of what would be fit and proper?
Ah, it is well to be cast out of our depth, and made to swim in the sweet waters of mighty love! We know that it is supremely blessed to be compelled to cease from self, to surrender both wish and judgment, and to lie passive in the hands of God.
It is of the utmost importance to us to be kept humble. Consciousness of self-importance is a hateful delusion, but one into which we fall as naturally as weeds grow on a dunghill. We cannot be used of the Lord but what we also dream of personal greatness, we think ourselves almost indispensable to the church, pillars of the cause, and foundations of the temple of God.
We are nothings and nobodies, but that we do not think so is very evident, for as soon as we are put on the shelf we begin anxiously to enquire, “How will the work go on without me?” As well might the fly on the coach wheel inquire, “How will the mails be carried without me?” Far better men have been laid in the grave without having brought the Lord’s work to a standstill, and shall we fume and fret because for a little season we must lie upon the bed of languishing? If we were only put on one side when apparently we could be easily spared, there would be no rebuke to our pride, but to weaken our strength in the way at the precise juncture when our presence seems most needed, is the surest way to teach us that we are not necessary to God’s work, and that when we ate most useful he can easily do without us. If this be the practical lesson, the rough schooling may be easily endured, for assuredly it is beyond all things desirable that self should be kept low and the Lord aloe magnified.
May not our gracious Lord design a double honor when he sends a double set of trials? “Abundant in labors” is a high degree, but “patient in suffering” is not less so. Some believers have excelled in active service, but have scarcely been tried in the other and equally honorable field of submissive endurance; though veterans in work, they have been little better than raw recruits as to patience, and on this account they have been in some respects but half developed in their Christian manhood. May not the Lord have choice designs for some of his servants and intend to perfect them in both forms of Christly imitation? There seems to be no natural reason why both a man’s hands should not be equally useful, but few men actually become ambidextrous, because the left hand is not adequately exercised. The left-breaded men of the Scriptures were really men who had two right hands, being able to use both members with equal dexterity.
Patience is the left hand of faith, and if the Lord requires an Ehud to smite Eglon, or a Benjamite to sling stones at a hair’s breadth, and not miss, it may be he will take turns with him, and exercise his patience as well as his industry. Should this be so, who would wish to avoid the divine favor? Far wiser would it be to remember that such double warfare will require double grace, and involve corresponding responsibility.
A change in the mode of our spiritual exercises may also be highly beneficial, and avert unknown but serious evils. The cumbering engendered by much service, like a growth upon the bark of a fruit tree, might become injurious, and therefore our Father, who is the husbandman, with the rough instruments of pain scrapes away the obnoxious parasite. Great walkers have assured us that they tire soonest upon level ground, but that in scaling the mountains and descending the valleys fresh muscles are brought into play, and the variety of the exertion and change of scene enable them to hold on with less fatigue: pilgrims to heaven can probably confirm this witness. The continuous exercise of a single virtue, called forth by peculiar circumstances, is exceedingly commendable; but if other graces are allowed to lie dormant, the soul may become warped, and the good may be exaggerated till it is tinged with evil. Holy activities are the means of blessing to a large part of our nature, but there are other equally precious portions of our new-born manhood which are unvisited by their influence.
The early and the latter rain may suffice for the wheat, and the barley, and the flax, but the trees which yield the fragrant gums of Araby must first weep with the night dews. The traveler on terra firma beholds the hand of God on all sides, and is filled with holy admiration, but he has not completed his education till he has tried the other element; for “they that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep;” nor is the advantage confined to what they see, for the breath of the ocean inspires them with health, and its waters cleanse them from the defilements of the shore. It is good for a man to bear the yoke of service, and he is no loser when it is exchanged for the yoke of suffering.
May not severe discipline fall to the lot of some to qualify them for their office of under-shepherds, We cannot speak with consoling authority to an experience which we have never known. The suffering know those who have themselves suffered, and their smell is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed. The “word to the weary” is not learned except by an ear which has bled while the awl has fastened it to the door-post. “The complete pastor’s” life will be an epitome of the lives of his people, and they will turn to his preaching as men do to David’s Psalms, to see themselves and their sorrows, as in a mirror. Their needs will be the reason for his griefs. As to the Lord himself, perfect equipment for his work came only through suffering, so must it be to those who are called to follow him in binding up the broken-hearted, and loosing the prisoners. Souls still remain in our churches to whose deep and dark experience we shall never be able to minister till we also have been plunged in the abyss where all Jehovah’s waves roll over our heads, If this be the fact-and we are sure it is — then may we heartily welcome anything which will make us fitter channels of blessing. For the elect’s sake it shall be joy to endure all things; to beard part of “that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church” shall be bliss to us. Alas, there may be far more humiliating causes for our bodily afflictions! The Lord may see in us that which grieves him and pro-yokes him to use the rod. “Show me wherefore thou contendeth with me” should be the prompt petition of the jealous heart. “Is there not a cause?” It can never be superfluous to humble ourselves and institute self-examination, for even if we walk in our integrity and can lift up our face without shame in this matter, as to actual sin, yet our shortcomings and omissions must cause us to blush. How much holier we ought to have been, and might have been I How much more prevalently we might have prayed! With how much more of unction we might have preached! Here is endless room for tender confession before the Lord. Yet it is not good to attribute each sickness and trial to some actual fault, as though we were under the law, or could be punished again for those sins which Jesus bore in his own body on the tree. It would be ungenerous to others if we looked upon the greatest sufferer as necessarily the greatest sinner; everybody knows that it would be unjust and unchristian so to judge concerning our fellow-Christians, and therefore we shall be very unwise if we apply so erroneous a rule to ourselves, and morbidly condemn ourselves when God condemns not. Just now, when anguish fills the heart, and the spirits are bruised with sore pain and travail, it is not the best season for forming a candid judgment of our own condition, or of anything else; let the judging faculty lie by, and let us with tears of loving confession throw ourselves upon our Father’s bosom, and looking up into his face believe that he loves us with all his infinite heart. “Though he slay me yet will I trust in him,” — be this the one unvarying resolve, and may the eternal Spirit work in us a perfect acquiescence in the whole will of God, be that will what it may.
GIVE THYSELF WHOLLY TO THEM PASSING through the chambers of the factory at Sevres, we observed an artist drawing a picture upon a vase: We watched him for several minutes, but he appeared to be quite unconscious of our observation. Parties of visitors passed through the room, glanced at his work more or less hurriedly, and made remarks, but he as a deaf man heard not, and as a dead man regarded not. Why should he? Had he not royal work on hand? What mattered to him the approbation or the criticism of passers by? They did not get between him and the light, ‘and therefore they were no hindrance, though they certainly were no help. “Well,” thought we, “after this fashion should we devote our heart and soul to the ministry which we have received. This one thing I do.” Bowing over our work, scanning earnestly our copy, and laying on each line and tint with careful, prayerful hand, we would finish the work which the Lord has given us to do without regard to friend or foe. The Sevres vase retained no impress of the onlooker’s gaze; the result of the worker’s skill would have been the same if he had been altogether unseen: human criticism can help us but little, and human approbation may damage our work most seriously. Let us forget that we are judged of men, and henceforth live only as in the (treat Master’s eye, absorbed in doing his will.
NOTES THE twelfth annual conference of the ministers educated at the Pastors’ College was held during the week commencing Monday, April 3rd. The first public gathering was held at the great East London Tabernacle, pastor A. G. Brown. There was great delight, loudly expressed, as comrades hailed each other, and exchanged the hearty grip of fellowship. The good people of Stepney provided a good tea, and it was a love-feast indeed.
Two hundred or more earnest brethren, knit together as one man, who have been at their several spheres for twelve months, meet again with a zest and enthusiasm quite unknown to more formal gatherings. The meeting upstairs was all alive. Mr. Brayers’ singing was to the great assembly like martial music to an army, and stirred all hearts to their inmost deeps. The speaking was admirable, bold, clear, and to the point, and upon the sympathetic it produced manifest effect. We separated with the full conviction that a period of great blessing was prepared for us, and the expectation has not been disappointed.
Commencing on Tuesday with earnest prayers, which at times seemed to carry us all away, we enjoyed the presence of the great Head of the Church, and the power of his Spirit every day of the week, even to the closing communion service of Friday, when we all linked hands, and sung the psalm in which we implore prosperity to Zion. To have had loving speech with some three hundred brave young soldiers of the cross, and to have seen how the Lord has been largely blessing almost every one of them is a joy well nigh too great. We intended to have written a full and particular account, which we feel sure would have made our generous helpers partakers of our joy; but we are quite laid aside with pain of body, the natural result of great mental labor.
Mr. Phillips gave us his annual supper during the Conference, and the amounts spontaneously given to the College closely verge upon £2,000.
We are glad of this, for we have had but few donations of late, and half suspect that our old friends are growing forgetful. However, when need comes we have no doubt our Master will wake them up. Some of our funds are low, and we shall hail it as a token for good if the “fresh springs” break forth anew.
Our brain refuses to dictate the Notes for this month, and therefore they must go. If our friends would earnestly ask for us more health, and more grace, we should be deeply grateful.
Baptisms at Metropolitan Tabernacle, by Mr. J. A. Spurgeon: — March 23rd. seven; March 30th, twenty-five.