SWEET FRUIT FROM A THORNY TREE WHEN our heavenly Father “puts his hand into the bitter box” and weighs out to us a portion of wormwood and gall in the form of bodily pain, we very naturally ask the reason why. Nature suggests the question at times in petulance and gets no answer; faith only asks it with bated breath and gains a gracious reply. Our Lord has a right to do as he wills with us, and his dispensations are not to be challenged as though he were bound to give an account of his doings at the bar of our bewildered reason. Still, with the full persuasion that the Lord ever acts in love and wisdom, we may inquire into his design, and so far as experience can help us we may see what comes of the suffering which he inflicts. What are the “comfortable fruits of righteousness” which are produced by watering the soul from the bitter lakes? What are the jewels of silver and gold with which we are adorned when we come up from the Egyptian bondage of pain and weariness? I, who have of late been a prisoner of the Lord in the sick chamber, would witness my confession as he enables me. Pain leaches us our nothingness. Health permits us to swell in self-esteem, and gather much which is unreal; sickness makes our feebleness conspicuous, and at the same time breaks up many of our shams. We need solid grace when we are thrown into the furnace of affliction: gilt and tinsel shrivel up in the fire. The patience in which we somewhat prided ourselves, where is it when sharp pangs succeed each other like poisoned arrows setting the blood on flame? The joyful faith which could do all things, and bear all sufferings, is it always at hand when the time of trial has arrived?
The peace which stood aloft on the mountain’s summit and serenely smiled on storms beneath, does it hold its ground quite so easily as we thought it would when at our ease we prophesied our behavior in the day of battle?
How have I felt dwarfed and diminished by pain and depression! The preacher to thousands could creep into a nutshell, and feel himself smaller than the worm which bored the tiny round hole by which he entered. I have admired and envied the least of my Lord’s servants, and desired their prayers for me, though I felt unworthy of the kind thoughts of the weakest of them. We are most of us by far too great. A soap bubble has a scant measure of material in it for its size, and most of us are after the same order; it is greatly for our good to be reduced to our true dimensions. It is comfortable to be small, one has more room and needs less, and is better able to hide away. When storms are out a low bush or narrow caves may shelter a sparrow, while a larger bird must bear the beat of the rain and the wind. To be nothing, and to feel less than nothing, is most sweet, for then we cower down under the great wings of God as the little chick beneath the brooding hen, and in utter helplessness we find our strength and solace.
Nothing goes but that which ought to go; the flower falls, but the seed ripens; the froth is blown away, but the wines on the lees are perfected.
When nought remains but the clinging of a weeping child who grasps his Father’s hand, nought but the smiting on the breast of the publican who cries “God be merciful to me a sinner,” nought but the last resolve, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” no real loss has been sustained, say rather, a great gain has come to the humbled heart. Heavy sickness and crushing pain shut out from us a thousand minor cares. We cannot now be cumbered with much serving, for others must take our place, and play the Martha in our stead; and it is well if then we are enabled to take Mary’s place as nearly as possible and lie at Jesus’ feet if we cannot sit there. With me it has been so. That beloved congregation and church, I could do nothing for them, I must perforce leave them with the great Shepherd and those dear associates whom he has called to share my burden. Those orphans, how could I watch over them? Those students, how could I instruct them? Those colporteurs, how could I provide for them? What if funds run low? They must do so; I could not increase the flow of the brook Cherith, nor even find out a widow of Zarephath, whose barrel of meal and cruse of oil should never waste. The Lord must do all or it must remain undone. The weary head could only exaggerate the need; the sinking spirits could not suggest a supply. All must be left; yes, must be left. The reins drop from the driver’s hands, the ploughman forgets the furrow, the seed-basket hangs no longer on the sower’s arm. Thus is the soul shut in with God as within a wall of fire, and all her thought must be of him, and of his promise and his help; grateful if but such thoughts will come, and forced if they come not just to lie as one dead at the feet of the great Lord and look up and hope. This cutting loose from earthly shores, this rehearsal of what must soon be done once for all in the hour of departure, is a salutary exercise, tending to cut away the hampering besetments of this mortal life, and make us freer for the heavenly race. It is well to have the windows shut which look towards earth and its cares, that we may be driven to that fairer prospect which lies on the other side of Jordan. This is not the natural effect of pain, but when the Spirit of God works by it the help that way is wonderful. Sickness has caused many workers to become more intense when they have again been favored to return to their place. We lie and bemoan our shortcomings, perceiving fault where it had in healthier hours escaped observation, resolving, in God’s strength, to throw our energies more fully into the weightlest matters and spend less of force on secondary things.
How much of lasting good may come of this! The time, apparently wasted, may turn out to be a real economy of life if the worker for years to come shall be more earnest, more careful, more prayerful, more dependent upon God, more passionately set upon doing his Lord’s business thoroughly. O that we could all thus improve our forced retirements! Then should we come forth like the sun from the chambers of the east, all the brighter for the night’s chill darkness, while about us would be the dew of the Spirit, and the freshness of a new dawning. Sickness would be as a going into the desert to rest awhile, or as a bath from which a man arises with shining face. O that it might be so with me! My Lord, vouchsafe it for the sake of the many to whom these hands must yet break the bread of life. They say that pearls are bred in the oyster by disease; may our graces be such pearls.
Falling leaves enrich the soil about the forest tree, would God that our weeping autumns would yield as fairer springs, and larger growths. May the divine Spirit cause it so to be! If but one or two of his people shall profit by my keen pains I will thank him heartily. Pain, if sanctified, creates tenderness towards others. Alone it may harden and shut up the man within himself, a student of his own nerves and ailments, a hater of all who would pretend to rival him in suffering; but, mixed with grace, our aches and pains are an ointment suppling the heart, and causing the milk of human kindness to fill the breast. The poor are tender to the poor, and the sick feel for the sick when their afflictions have wrought after a healthful fashion. One could have wished to give the gruff, unsympathetic boor a twist or two of rheumatism, were it not that our experience would make us for pity’s sake spare even him. Surely they who first founded hospitals were not always well themselves. Grief has been full oft the mother of mercy, and the pangs of sickness have been the birththroes of compassion. If our hearts learn sympathy they have been in a good school, though the master may have used the rod most heavily, and taught us by many a smart. To those who are teachers of others this is of the first importance, for none can bear with the infirmities of others if they have not been made compassionate, and filled with a fellow-feeling for the faint and the trembling. The keys of men’s hearts hang up in the narrow chamber of suffering, and he who has not been there can scarcely know the art of opening the recesses of the soul. Instinctively the believing sufferer turns to the Lord Jesus, because he has been tempted in all points like as we are; and in a lesser degree he naturally looks most hopefully to those of his brethren who have been most compassed with infirmity, and most familiarized with anguish. Happy is the man who has been afflicted if the Holy Spirit shall thereby make him a son of consolation to the mourners in Zion.
I find my scarcely-recovered mind cannot continue this meditation much longer, and therefore, omitting a score of thoughts which would naturally suggest themselves to any devout person, I will only add that pain has a tendency to make us grateful when health returns. We value the powers of locomotion after tossing long upon a bed from which we cannot rise, the open air is sweet after the confinement of the chamber, food is relished when appetite returns, and in all respects the time of recovery is one of marked enjoyment. As birds sing most after their winter’s silence, when the warm spring has newly returned, so should we be most praiseful when our gloomy hours are changed for cheerful restoration. Blessed be the Lord, who healeth all our diseases.JEHOVAH ROPHI is a name much treasured by those who know the Lord that healeth them. Gratitude is a choice spice for heaven’s altar. It burns well in the censer, and sends up a fragrant cloud, acceptable to the great High Priest. Perhaps God would have lost much praise if his servant had not much suffered. Sickness thus yields large tribute to the King’s revenue, and if it be so we may cheerfully endure it.
Bow down frail body and faint heart, if in the bowing ye can yield what ye had never produced if ye had stood erect in manly vigor. Bruise, Lord, the spice, which else had kept its sweetness slumbering and useless.
This is not a hymn, but yet it has heaven’s poetry within it, even this agonizing cry, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt”; and it is a delicious result of trial if in this hearty utterance we learn to imitate our Lord, and to have fellowship with his sufferings. Here a great ocean opens up before us: pain may aid us in communion with our much suffering Lord.
Anything is a boon by which we are made more fully to be partakers with him. But we cannot pursue the theme. As when the mariner in northern seas forces his way through an ice-blocked strait, and sees opening up before him a boundless sea, even so do we perceive great truths to which our subject leads the way; but our vessel has so late been tempest-tossed that we can enter on no venturous voyage, but must cast anchor under the shelter of Gape Fellowship, and leave our readers to push onward into the blessed depths. May the good Spirit fill their sails, and bear them into the expanse of holy fellowship. “THERE’S SUNLIGHT AT THE CROSS.”
WE toiled up a cold ascent, shivering in the shade, and we were cheered in doing so, for on the summit stood a cross gleaming in the sun. No sooner had we reached that cross than we were in the full warmth of an Italian day. Courage, poor sinner; press forward to the cross of Jesus; sunlight is there, and all the genial summer of God’s love shall smile around you.
Believe and live. — From “The Spurgeon Birthday Book and Autograpic Register.”
NOTES WE spoke in great physical weakness and pain at the meeting of the Baptist Union, and we do not wonder that certain of our remarks were not thoroughly understood. Our desire for the union of all Christians is intense.
We have no sympathy with isolation, bigotry, and division; on the contrary it is our joy to have, on every occasion in our power, joined in many united movements for the advance of the Redeemer’s kingdom. No one has been laid under greater obligations to charity than we have been, for the generous courtesies of many denominations have been most heartily accorded us. This was not the point which we were driving at. The unity of Christendom is one thing, but the breaking up of the various religious bodies is quite another. Under the notion of creating union we are urged to be undenominational: that is to say, to complete the walls of Zion we are advised to pull down those lengths of the wall which are already completed. Certain “brethren,” who are of all men the least united and the most sectarian, cry out against “system,” “sects,” “parties,” etc., as if they were not themselves the fiercest of partisans. They do not practice or promote Christian union one hundredth part so much as these whom they stigmatize as denominational. It is a hollow cry intended to subserve the purpose of the sheep-stealers, who can prey best on scattered flocks. Unity is the pretense, but the breaking up of useful organizations is the object aimed at.
Some of our own brethren, who are far from being one with the Plymouths, are, nevertheless, fascinated by them, so far as to unite in their cry, — in their own instance a genuine though a mistaken one. But the idea, come whence it may, is preposterous. We are to become one by being broken into fragments! It seems to us that for believers to unite with each other for practical purposes cannot be an evil thing. If they find that by reason of divergent opinions they cannot work with one body of Christians it must be a wise thing for them to join with those who are of the same mind. Thus various regiments are formed in the one army, and we all pray that Christian love and the teaching of the Holy Spirit may so abound that these regiments will be more and more united and mingled, till even apparent division shall cease. To break up the ranks in order to unite the army would be a foolish procedure. It is true that there are too many denominations, and that it will be a glorious time when all divisions cease.
To promote this end let every denomination disband itself when it perceives that it is not faithful to Christ and his commands; but let those who are united in Christ, and in his doctrine and ordinances, never dream of giving up their union with each other, or their defense of every word of their great Leader.
Let each Christian cultivate abounding love to all the saints, even to those whom he judges to be in error upon certain points. Let him work with all believers as far as he can, but let him obey the ordinances of the Lord’s house, and maintain the faith once delivered to the saints. To do this he will find it needful to join to the fullest degree with those like-minded, for he may not for unity’s sake pollute his conscience and be a partaker in superstition or error. Let him pray that the church to which he belongs may be taught the whole truth, and that all other churches may be instructed in the same manner, for this is the way in which all the churches will become openly one. We will do anything for love and peace except sacrifice truth, and disregard the will of the divine Lord.
The day on which the stones of the Reading and Liverpool Houses of the Stockwell Orphanage were laid turned out to be one of the wettest order.
No one could attend the ceremony without an umbrella, and even under that protection there was great danger of getting soaked by the drippings of your neighbor’s umbrella, which would persist in running down your back. Mr. Palmer, M.P., and Mr. Hugh Stowell Brown were not to be hindered in their good work by the steady downpour, and we owe them both a great debt of gratitude for the whole-hearted way in which they entered into the matter. Reading has done gloriously, and Liverpool is not behind, for Mr. Brown, for himself and friends, presented a cheque for two hundred and fifty guineas. Unable to be present in the pouring rain, we were delighted to hear of the brave way in which our fellow-helpers stuck to their posts, though some of them wet to the skin; and we were greatly gladdened by the warm manner in which the Orphanage was spoken of by our saturated and satisfied visitors. A brighter day would have seemed better, but no doubt it was best that it should be otherwise. If it pleased the great Patron of orphans it ought to please us: surely the Father of the fatherless would do no hurt to those under his own peculiar care. We think it highly probable that the ministers and delegates will remember the Orphanage all the better, and will take care that the institution is never left high and dry for want of funds.
On the night of Sunday, October 17, thieves entered our study and plundered it. If, therefore, any letters received late on Saturday contained money they may have been stolen. We do not think that there were any such, but as our visitors threw all our papers and documents into indescribable confusion we cannot be certain. Any omission which may occur in our accounts for November or December may possibly be caused by this painful event. Our gratitude to God is great that no violence was permitted, and that no large sum of money was taken.
On Wednesday evening, Sept. 29, about 300 friends gathered in the College Lecture Hall, by invitation of the Tabernacle Sun-day-school Young Christians’ Association, to listen to “Illustrations of Old-fashioned Singing,” by a select choir. Mr. S. Wigney, who had arranged for the evening’s program, made a few explanatory remarks to the young Christians present, referring to the characteristics of the old tunes, and calling attention to the beauty of their harmonies. He expressed his attachment to them, and the hope that a revival of their use both in the home and in the congregation might take place. The illustrations given by the choir consisted of a Lonsdale, Tranquility, Hampshire, Calcutta, Queenborough, Westbury Leigh, Bradley Church, Twyford, Refuge, Bermondsey, Leach, Gabriel, and Poland. The audience seemed much delighted in listening to the tunes of bygone days. For our own part, we like best a mixture of new and old, but certainly the old-fashioned times suited a fervor of devotion which is scarce in these days. Ridicule has been poured upon them, but it is principally by persons with more music than grace.
On Monday evening, Oct. 18, the annual meeting of the METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE MATERNAL SOCIETY, was held in the Lecture-hall. The Pastor presided, and Messrs. W. Olney, Carl and Moung Edwin, a Karen brother, spoke on behalf of the society. During the year 235 poor women living around the Tabernacle have been supplied with a box of linen, visited, and relieved. What a sphere of service lies open to Christian ladies in connection with their poor sisters! Happy are they who take delight in compassion. Those who for Christ’s sake sow in charity shall reap in mercy.
On Tuesday evening, Oct. 19, the annual meeting of the METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE LOAN TRACT SOCIETY WAS HELD IN THE LECTURE-HALL, UNDER THE ABLE CHAIRMANSHIP OF OUR GOOD deacon, Mr. W. Olney.
The number present at the tea was much larger than usual, and the meeting altogether was very successful. Mr. Woods, the energetic secretary, reported that 100 districts are now worked by 98 distributors, who visit 3,640 families every week, and carry to them the pastor’s sermons. He also mentioned many encouraging cases of conversion which had resulted from the efforts of the visitors, and stated that a sick fund amounting to about £12 had. been commenced during the year for the relief of special cases of distress. Mr. Harrald, the treasurer for the past year, presented the balancesheet, which showed that the total receipts had been £55 12s. 4d., and the expenditure £50 16s., leaving a balance of £4, 16s. 4d. in hand. At the last annual meeting, the society was considerably in debt. Addresses were delivered by the chairman, Messrs. Dunn, Tomkine, and Bowker, and some of the distributors. It is no small joy to know that thousands of our neighbors are by this society brought into contact with one or other of the friends of Jesus every week, and have left in their houses an appeal to their hearts. Best of all is the fact that the sermons are read and that men’s minds are, through divine grace, impressed by them.
— During the past month Mr. L. R. Foskett has settled at Shepton Mallet, and Mr. J. L. Bennett at Wood-green. Mr. A. A. Saville has left us to continue the work commenced by Mr. Osborne at Carlisle.
Mr. E. J. Parker has completed his college course, and now intends devoting himself to the work of an evangelist. He has a powerful and melodious voice, and sings the gospel most effectively.
Thanks to a generous friend, we have been able to send £50 each to our brethren in Jamaica, and smaller amounts are coming in. It must need a great deal to rebuild the chapels and houses destroyed, but every little helps. Still, another large sum, or several such, would help very much more.
To our intense regret our brother, Mr. Stubbe, is obliged to leave Allahabad. He is suffering from extreme debility, and must come home. We were rejoicing that so many of our students were prospering in India. and this is a dash of bitter in the cup. When Mr. Stubbs has returned and recovered, any home church will find in him a valuable pastor.
Our brethren in Spain report progress in Vigo, Corunna, Morgadanes, Arteigo, Pontevedra, and Villagarcia, and ask for our prayers.
Mr. Cook, Kingston, Ontaria, sends us good news of his work, and mentions that over 100 of our sermons are being circulated by the young people of his church every week.
Mr. Harry Wood writes that the Lord has greatly blessed his labors at Saddle-worth, S. Australia. The membership has been trebled, and the chapel debt paid off during his first year’s stay, and he is now collecting money for necessary alterations.
By last intelligence our son Thomas was making a tour in Victoria and Queensland, preaching the gospel to large assemblies.
Evangelists. — The Scotch papers which have been sent to us, give good reports of Messrs. Smith and Fullerton’s services in the north. Even the silver cornet seems to have been welcomed. One writer says: “On hearing it the prejudices of a lifetime melted away, and men, and women too, who before the evangelists came would with deep and cherished convictions have resented the introduction of instrumental music, were soon swelling with hearty chorus the grand volume of praise.” The services at Galashiels are described as the most successful evangelistic meetings yet held in that town. At Dunoon large congregations gathered in the Burgh Hall and United Presbyterian churches, and much good was done. While making up the notes, our brethren write from Paisley that they are having splendid meetings in St. George’s parish church every night. They are this month paying a long-promised visit to Leamington.
Mr. Burnham has been resting during the month, and trying to regain his spirits after his recent sorrowful bereavement. He hopes soon to be in full work again, but he is not strong.
POOR MINISTERS’CLOTHING SOCIETY — Mrs. Evans asks us to mention that she is very grateful for two parcels of old clothing received from “Readers of The Sword and the Trowel.” They could not be acknowledged by letter, as there was no address sent with them. Suitable material for dresses, and under-clothing, and garments of all kinds, are very gratefully received by poor ministers’ families.
PERSONAL NOTES. — A lady who is engaged in Zenana Mission work in India writes to us: — “One of my outdoor pupils is a Mahometan lady. On my first visit to her house I had a long talk about religion with her husband, who confessed that he was favorably impressed towards Christianity, but not converted. I lent him a volume of your sermons, and on my next visit he said to me, ‘I have read half the book you lent me, and I like it very much. I think it will be the means of my conversion,’ and then he exclaimed, ‘If this preacher would only come to India, everyone would believe and be converted, and I do wish the whole world was converted to Christ.’“ Alas! India needs far mere than any human preaching. May God bless those who are laboring there, and give them abundant fruit.
At the close of a recent service in the Tabernacle two Russian ladies came into our vestry and presented us with one of our sermons in their own language. On the back of it was a list of nine other sermons issued by the same publishers. Thank God for opportunities to preach by the press in Russia.
The Editor of the French monthly, L’Echo de la Verite, writes that the translations of our sermons recently published in France have been much valued. As an instance he mentions that a poor woman having read the sermon on “Lot’s Wife,” (No. 1,491), which had been lent to her, and thinking it was impossible to get another copy, actually copied it with her own hand from beginning to end, in order to be able to read it again and to lend it to friends. M. Andru says that he will print the translation of our sermon on “Salvation by Works, a Criminal Doctrine,” as soon as he has the money. The excellent friends who manage this work have everything requisite except cash to buy paper and pay for press work.
One of our students writes as follows:-”You will be glad to know that one sister here, who is to be baptized shortly, found peace while reading your sermon on ‘Peace: a Fact and a Feeling’ (No. 1,456).”
One of the members of our congregation writes that she was converted under our ministry, and at once commenced to send the sermons to her friends. She sends us the following letter from her cousin: — “My dearest cousin, — I will now answer your very kind letter. You will have some gems in your crown for all the comforting words you have spoken to me.
We do not know how deep a word sinks into a heart, therefore we ought always to speak for Jesus, wherever we are. I have written to you to-day on purpose to thank you for your earnest pleadings to God on my behalf, and to tell you he has answered them. Last Sunday evening it was very wet. I wanted to go to chapel; but my parents thought it unwise for me to go, so I stayed at home. Looking into a drawer I saw a lot of Spurgeon’s sermons. I commenced reading one, entitled, ‘Peace: a Fact and a Feeling’ (No. 1,456). As soon as I had finished, the light began to dawn on my soul.
I see it all now. Instead of taking God at his word, I was trying in my own strength to become better. After I had read the sermon I went to my room, and poured out my complaint: Jesus listened, and renewed my heart.”
Baptisms at Metropolitan Tabernacle, Sept. 30th, seventeen.
PASTORS’ COLLEGE, METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE.
STATEMENT OF RECEIPTS FROM SEPTEMBER 15TH TO OCTOBER 14TH, 1880.
Giver £ s. d Mr. John Nuttall 1 0 G.M.R 1 0 Miss Goff 0 10 Miss Traill 5 0 Pastor B. Smith 0 10 J.B 0 10 Mr. G. E. Ardill, New South Wales ... 5 0 Mr. and Miss Bloom, New South Wales 3 0 Rev. G. H. Rouse 1 1MAN. 1 10 Mr. J. Hassall 1 0 Mr. W. Seth Smith 5 0 Banknotes from Lurgan 5 0 Collection at Kingsgate-street Chapel, Holborn, per Pastor R. F. Jeffrey ... 4 14 A member of the Church of England... 0 8 Mr. J. Tritton 10 0 Mrs. Robins 2 0 Mrs. Raybould 1 0 0 “Emma” 0 10 Mr. Alfred Chamberlain 1 1 Mr. Spriggs 0 5 Collection at Shooter’s-hill Chapel, per Rev. H. Rylands Brown 0 12 Mrs. Alfred Walker, per Rev. G. Duncan 1 0 Mr.A.H. Scard 0 2 Mrs. M. J. Horwood 1 4 Mr. J. Seivwright 1 0 A sermon reader, Cookstown 1 0 A Christian lady, “for good works” 50 0 Mr. J. N. Crossland 1 0 Mrs.Meary 5 0 Mr. W. H. Balne 0 14 Mr. W. Rooksby 1 0 Mrs. F. M. Freeman 0 5 Annual Subscriptions:— Mrs. Gardiner 2 0 Mr. J. Pentelow 1 0 Weekly Offerings at Met. Tab.:— September 34 9 September 26 11 12 October 3 29 4 October 10 27 7 — 102 13 7 STOCKWELLORPHANAGE.STATEMENT OF RECEIPTS FROM SEPTEMBER 15TH TO OCTOBER 14TH, 1880.
Giver £ s. d Mr. John Nuttall 1 0 Mrs. Traill 5 0 A lover of Mr. Spurgeon’s sermons 0 10 W.S.M. 0 2 G.M.R 1 0 Mr. J. Leeson 3 0 Mr. John Sarjeant 1 1 Mr.G. Milligan 1 0 Mr. John Rennison 1 0 Miss Ann Aldred 1 0 A 1over of Jesus 0 5 R. Joyce and A. W. Bridges 0 2 Friends at Bradninch, per Pastor T. G. Strong 0 5 R.E.M 0 7 Mr. R. Thomson 2 2 Mr. J. Alexander 0 5 Mr. A. Pearson 0 1 Collected by Master W. F. Hinsche 0 16 Mr. and Mrs. Rawlings 50 0 0