FOURTH LETTER TO THE ELECT OF GOD IN A TIME OF TROUBLE
THE CONSOLATIONS OF TROUBLE
For the last time at present, I greet you in the name of the Lord, wishing you all the comfort and fortitude and joy which Christ intended his disciples to receive from his loving and sympathising words at the table before he left them; and which they would always impart to us, if our minds were capable of continuous and lively remembrance.
THE REALITY OF DIVINE LOVE
KNOWN AND LOVED OF GOD, AND DEARLY BELOVED BY CHRIST,
It is one of the many evils of our present situation that the endearments of the truth seem empty phrases. As it is with the name of God’s family-the elect-so it is with the love that belongs to them; it is talked of only to seem a mockery or a thing that strong men are ashamed of. But it is none the less a precious reality. It may seem as absent and dead as the flowers of summer in the depth of winter, but it exists as actually as the roots and seeds under the snow, and will come forth in beauty and fragrance in due season.
Paul speaks of “the comfort of love.” Love is comforting. We all feel the comfort of it, whether we are the subject or the object of it. It is the most beneficent mental activity in the universe. It blesses giver and receiver alike. It is the highest phase of the Eternal Power, from which all things have sprung: God is love. He is truly many things besides: but love inspires and directs them all.
You do not experience much of love upon earth at present. You are, in fact, languishing for want of it. A mother’s love sweetened the early years of your life: the love of companions and friends continued the sweetness for a time: but as life rolled on and experience of human weakness increased in yourselves and others, the sweetness had gradually disappeared with the inrush of the bitter waters of a more accurate knowledge of all human things.
And now you find yourselves in a desert in the midst of many people, you are alone, and where love is mainly a thing of memory or of painful desire. And you groan within yourselves and pine for love, both to receive and bestow.
Now, there is an antidote to the unutterable sadness of this position, if we can but open the mind to its application. It lies in the fact that the elect, in the midst of their afflictions, are “known and loved of God and dearly beloved by Christ.” You have only to believe the fact to feel the comfort of it. You cannot feel it by looking into your own heart. The fact does not lie in your feelings, but quite outside of them, just as any friend’s love is a fact outside of your own feelings. To feel the comfort of your friend’s love, you look at its indications-his acts, his words, his looks. These inspire you with the confidence of his love, and the confidence brings comfort. If you trusted to your own sensations apart from the tokens of love, you could not feel either the confidence or the comfort.
It is much more so with the love of God. If you trust to your feelings, you will never know it, for there is no point of contact between human feeling and divine thoughts. God’s thoughts are outside of us, and as much higher than our thoughts as heaven is higher than the earth, as God says (Isa. 55:12).
What you must do is to look at its tokens. These are of a somewhat different order from the tokens of human love, yet it will be found upon reflection that they are not less tangible or convincing. There are words and acts (historically reflected) there are looks. The difference is that they are not personal to ourselves. Doubtless, this is a great difference as regards our ability to appropriate the comfort; still it does not affect the essence of the thing: the tokens have only to be looked at steadily to bring the conviction that will produce the comfort.
TOKENS OF DIVINE LOVE
What are the tokens? (Tokens, that is, of the feeling existing in God’s mind, irrespective of our ability to be conscious of it)-I might speak of creation as it is-its beauty, its wisdom, its manifest beneficence: but you might feel as if this did not come close enough. Creation you might feel to be too vast and indiscriminating to give an assurance upon which you could individually rest. This would be a natural feeling-to some extent, a reasonable feeling. Still, it may be carried too far: you must allow it is something to see divine wisdom and love manifest in creation, as we see it with our eyes.
It is something to see the Father’s impress in the physical universe, marred and obscured though it may be by the particular disturbance prevailing at present in the affairs of men. Doubtless, it is more to the purpose to note the fact of His having spoken and acted. This fact comes to us with Israel’s history, and the history of Europe as affected by the apostolic work. Moses and the prophets come before us in the other. The Bible is the irremovable and inexpugnable monument of both. In the reading of it, we are in the warm presence of living reality. We hear God’s voice: we see His wonderful acts: we almost note His looks in Christ: and out of all comes the conviction of the Father’s love-not as a fantasy, not as a sentiment, but as a deduction, as scientifically accurate in its process and result as any modern demonstration.
What more explicit assurance could we have than we have received?
First Moses tells us:
“The Lord thy God is a merciful God . . . The Lord is long suffering and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression.”
Then from David we have the teeming declarations with which the Psalms abound,
“The Lord is gracious and full of compassion: slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works. The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him: in those that hope in his mercy.”
Then the prophets, one and all, as occasion serves, unite in telling us what Isaiah declares:
“God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid: for the Lord Yahweh is my strength and song: he also is become my salvation . . thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee.”
In the apostolic writings (including in them the apostolic record of Christ’s sayings) God’s love may be said to glow with a warming brightness that we cannot escape. First, Jesus tells us in general that God has “loved the world,” and sent him for the reason that a way might be opened for His love to operate conformably with His righteousness. Then particularly, he used such comforting words to the disciples as these:
“The Father himself loveth you.”
“He careth for you.”
“How much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him.”
The apostolic letters, which are the breathings of the Spirit of God, are full of the same comfort.
Here, then, are the tokens and the pledges of the love that exists in the Father for His children. Not only in the Father, but in Christ, especially, if there is any difference: for the love of Christ for his brethren is compared to the highest love known to man, the love of a bridegroom for his bride (Eph. 5:25-30).
“If God be for us, who can be against us.”
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress, or persecution or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:31-39).
“God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, and made us sit together in heavenly places, that in the ages to come, he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7).
“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins . . . We have seen and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 John 4:9-14).
What should hinder our joy in this love? It has not been intimated to us personally: but it has been assured to “whomsoever” and to “all,” who come into a certain way of things. You have come into this way, and you walk in it. You believe the great and precious promises: you are daily striving to obey the beautiful commandments. Wherein you fail, you may have mercy and forgiveness, through the mediation of the “great high priest over the house of God,” who ever liveth to make intercession for us: for,
“If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ; and if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all iniquity.”
Remember, also, for your comfort, that this love that is in God, the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ, is supreme in the heart of every member of the house to which you belong. You may not see much of it now. You may know more of being “in heaviness, through manifold temptation.” You are far scattered and lonely, just now; but nothing can change the purpose of God to “gather together in one” the family of His love, that they may rejoice in His love, and in the love that will pass in unchecked and flowing stream from heart to heart in their glorified assembly.
SUSTAINING LOVE FOR ALL OCCASIONS
Is there not, in these things, power to sustain the heart in the midst of all the “sufferings of this present time?” What could be more consoling than the confidence that the love of God protects and guides us now in the darkness and the silence: that the love of Christ is engaged solicitously on our behalf, though we cannot see or know it by mere sensation? And that, after a brief conflict with the toils, weaknesses and disappointments of our mortal years, we shall enter into a realm of being and an order of society in which love will be our atmosphere, joy our light, praise our life, and peace and glory our everlasting habitation?
There is no situation in life in which these convictions are unable to impart courage, and nobleness and purity.
Are you a servant? Care not for it. It is but for a time; you are Christ’s free man or woman, to be manifest in no merely sentimental manner at his coming. Have you to work for unlovely employers, on whom your service seems thrown away, and for whom all natural heart-motive would fail? Redeem your part by acting it, as Paul recommends,
“In singleness of heart as unto Christ, not with eye service, as men pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart: with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord and not unto men.”
Are you engaged in uncongenial employment? As a conscientious servant of Christ, with heart a-lit with hope, you can attend to it in the spirit of the divine command, which says,
“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might:” and in the confidence expressed in the Psalm which says,
“Thy needy shall not always be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.”
Are you dissatisfied with the smallness of your sphere and the limited nature of the service you can render? Be comforted by the thought that small things are often very important; that large ways might not be so useful in your particular case; and that it is possible for you in a small sphere to do what is, after all, the utmost a man can do in any sphere, and that is, to faithfully make the very best use of the opportunity God gives, knowing that the small will be accepted equally with the great at the hands of Him with whom-
“It is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.”
It will be helpful, too, to remember that it is the faithful filling of a small place that is always exhibited to us in the Lord’s teaching as the ground of exaltation to great things at his coming.
Have you to mix with ungodly company and to endure the opposition of the scornful? The memory of the Lord’s own experience of this line of things, and the recollection that it is in temptation and difficulty that righteousness is brought forth for honour and comfort in the day of the Lord, will reconcile you to your lot, and enable you to turn that which is evil into good.
Have you no comfort, no love, no consolation? Build your heart in God. God loves and guides now, and has unspeakable goodness in store. Remember that it was not as a beautiful form of words that Christ said,
“Blessed be ye poor . . blessed are ye that hunger now . . . blessed are ye that weep now . . blessed are ye when men shall hate you.”
He said these things because they are true, and that they might be realised by those to whom they refer while yet in their tribulation. Such shall laugh: shall be filled: shall be comforted: shall inherit the kingdom-in faith of which they can endure in the face of all the storms that may howl through the wintry land of their probation.
Are none of these things your experience? Are you on the contrary, well off? Master of your own actions? Blessed with leisure, means, honour and friends? There is no need to be distressed, as I have known some distressed, with a fear that in such circumstances, it is impossible for our lives to be in harmony with God. God has use for a variety of servants in His house. You have to estimate your case scripturally, measure it, and handle it according to what is written, and all will be well.
Do not get away from the Scriptures, either by neglect, or by unscriptural doctrines of things. Accept God’s guidance for such cases:
“To whom much is given, of them much shall be required.”
“Charge them that are rich . . that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate.”
“Mind not high things: condescend to men of low estate:”
While the brother of low degree is to rejoice that he is exalted by the truth, “the rich” is to rejoice “in that he is made low” (James 1:10), that is, he is not to be ashamed of the humbling associations of the truth, or to stand apart as if he were of higher consequence in the body of Christ, but rather to take joyfully the only opportunity he has of partaking of the sufferings of Christ and the afflictions of the gospel.
But it is mostly the poor and the afflicted that are called to the Kingdom; such is God’s appointment and no man can change it. It is mostly among their ranks that the elect will be found. It is mostly these that need the consolation afforded by the truth in a time of trouble; and to these chiefly I have made bold to address these wandering remarks.
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