WE sometimes speak and think very lightly of doubts and fears; but such is not God’s estimate of them. Our heavenly Father considers them to be great evils, extremely mischievous to us, and exceedingly dishonorable to Himself, for He very frequently forbids our fears, and as often affords us the most potent remedies for them. “Fear not” is a frequent utterance of the divine mouth. “I am with thee” is the fervent, soul-cheering argument to support it. Unless the Lord had judged our fears to be a great evil, He would not so often have forbidden them, or have provided such a heavenly quietus for them. Martin Luther used to say, that to comfort a desponding spirit is as difficult as to raise the dead; but, then, we have a God who both raises the dead from their graves and His people from their despair. “Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.” “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
Saul was subject to fits of deep despondency; but when David, the skillful harper, laid his hand among the obedient strings, the evil spirit departed, overcome by the subduing power of melody. Our text is such a harp, and if the Holy Spirit will but touch its strings, its sweet discourse shall charm away the demon of despair. “I am with thee” — it is a harp of ten strings, containing the full chords of consolation. Its notes quiver to the height of ecstasy or descend to the hollow bass of the deepest grief.
More or less, all believers need consolation at all times, because their life is a very peculiar one. The walk of faith is one protracted miracle. The life, the conflict, the support, and the triumph of faith, are all far above the vision of the eye of sense. The inner life is a world of mysteries. We see nothing beneath or before us, and yet we stand upon a rock, and go from strength to strength. We march onwards unto what seems destruction, and find safety blooming beneath our feet. During our whole Christian career, the promises of God must be applied to the heart, or else, such is the weakness of flesh and blood, we are ready to go back to the flesh pots of the Egypt of carnal sense, and leave the delights which faith alone can yield us.
There are certain special occasions when the Comforter’s work is needed, and one of these certainly is when we are racked with much physical pain.
Many bodily pains can be borne without affecting the mind; but there are certain others whose sharp fangs insinuate themselves into the marrow of our nature, boring their way most horribly through the brain and the spirit for these much grace is wanted. When the head is throbbing, and the heart is palpitating, and the whole system is disarranged, it is so natural to say with Jacob, “All these things are against me;” to complain of providence, and to think that we are the men above all others who have seen affliction.
Then is the time for the promise to be applied with power. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee.” “I will make all thy bed in thy sickness.” When bodily pain gives every sign of increasing, or we expect the surgeon with his dreaded knife, then to be sustained under sufferings at the thought of which the flesh shudders, we want the upholding gentleness of God. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee;” like the song of the nightingale, is most sweet when heard in the night season.
When the trouble comes in our relative sorrows, borne personally by those dear to us; when we see them fading gradually by consumption, like lilies snapped at the stalk; or when suddenly they are swept away as fall the flowers beneath the mower’s scythe; when we have to visit the grave again and again, and each time leave a part of ourselves behind us; when our garments are the ensigns of our woe, and we would fain sit down in the dust and sprinkle ashes upon our heads, because the desire of our eyes is taken from us — then we require the heavenly Comforter; then, indeed, the skillful harper is in great request, and sweet to the heart are notes like these, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee be not dismayed; for I am thy God.” When all the currents of providence run counter to us; when, after taking arms against a sea of trouble, we find ourselves unable to stem the boisterous torrent, and are being swept down the stream, loss succeeding loss, riches taking to themselves wings and flying away, till we see nothing before us but absolute want, and perhaps are brought actually to know what want is — then we require abundant grace to sustain our spirits. Ah! it is not so easy to come down, with perfect resignation from wealth to penury, from abundance to scant; that is a philosophy to be learned only where Paul was taught it, when he said, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Some would find it hard to be content in yon widow’s position, with seven children, and nothing to maintain them upon but the shameful pittance which is wrung out to her for her labors with her needle, at which she sits, stitch, stitch, stitch, far into the dead of the night, stitching her very soul away. You might not find it quite so easy to bear poverty if you were shunned by men who courted you in prosperity, and who now do not know you if they meet you in the street.
There are bitternesses about the poor man’s lot which are not easily rinsed from his cup, and then it is that the gracious soul needs the promise, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee.” “Thy Maker is thine husband.” A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widow is God in His holy habitation. If you are brought into this condition, may my Lord and Master say to you, “It is I, be not afraid.”
Dear reader, did you ever stand, as a servant of God, alone in the midst of opposition? Were you ever called to attack some deadly popular error, and, with rough bold hand, like an iconoclast, to dash down the graven images of the age? Have you heard the clamor of many, some saying this thing, and some the other — some saying, “He is a good man,” but others saying, “Nay, but he deceiveth the people?” Did you ever see the rancor of the priests of Baal flashing from their faces and foaming from their mouths? Did you ever read their hard expressions, see their misrepresentations of your speech, and of your motives? and did you never feel the delight of saying, “The best of all is that God is with us; and, in the name of God, instead, of folding up the standard, we will set up our banners. If this be vile, we purpose to be viler still; and throw down the gauntlet once more in the name of the God of truth, against the error of the times?” If you have ever passed through the ordeal, then have you needed the words, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed: for I am thy God.” “Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass?” “I will make thee unto this people a fenced brazen wall and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee.” “Fear not for thou shalt not be ashamed.”
But, my dear reader, we shall want this word of comfort most of all when we go down the shelving banks of the black river, when we hear the boomings of its waves, and feel the chill influence of its dark flood, but cannot see to the other side; when the mists of depression of spirit hide from us “Jerusalem the Golden,” and our eye catches no glimpse of the “land that floweth with milk and honey;” for the soul is occupied with present pain and wrapped in darkness which may be felt. In such a condition — “We linger shivering on the brink, And fear to launch away. ” We talk of death too lightly. It is solemn work to the best of men. It would be no child’s play to an apostle to die. Yet if we can hear the whisper, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee,” then the mists will sweep away from the river, and that stream, aforetime turbid, will become clear as crystal, and we shall see the “Rock of Ages” at the bottom of the flood. Then shall we descend with confidence, and hear the plash of the death stream, and think it music. Ay, and it shall be music as it melts into the songs of the seraphs, who shall accompany us through its depths. It will be delightful when those mists have rolled away, to see the shining ones coming to meet us, to go with us up the celestial hills to the pearly gate, to accompany us to the throne of God, where we shall rest for ever. Happy they who shall hear their Lord say to them, “I am with thee, be not afraid.”
After death, we read in this word of great events, what shall happen to us; but we feebly comprehend the revelation. After death, solemnities shall follow which may well strike a man with awe as he thinks upon them.
There is a judgment and a resurrection; there is a trump which shall summon the sons of men to hear from heaven’s doomsday-book their future destiny. The world shall be on fire, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; there will be a pompous appearing of the great Judge at the dread assize; there will be the winding-up of the Dispensation, and the gathering together of all things in one that are in Christ; and there will be a casting down into hell of the tares bound up in bundles to burn and the fire that never shall be quenched will send up its smoke for ever and ever.
What about that future? Why, faith can look forward to it without a single tremor; she fears not, for she hears the voice of the everlasting God saying to her, “‘I am with thee.’ I will be with thee when thy dust shall rise thy first transporting vision shall be the King in His beauty. Thou shalt be satisfied when thou shalt wake up in His likeness. I will be with thee when the heavens are on a blaze, thy preserver, thy comforter, thy heaven, thine all in all,” Therefore, fear thou not, but look forward with unmoved delight to all the mystery and the glory of the age unborn.