The Saint’s Trials And The Divine Deliverances
“ I cried unto God…You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”
THIS Psalm describes the condition of a child of God under deep depression of spirit. He is much tried and bowed, and yet, at the same time, the saint at last gets the victory and, before the Psalm is over, the clouds are all removed from the sky and the heart rejoices in the sunlight of Divine Love. It is known to every Believer that the experience of a Christian is very variable. We are like our own strange weather in this land. South winds blow and all is warm and balmy, but in a few hours the north wind comes, or the cutting east wind–and soon the ground is covered with snow or hard white frost–and yet, perhaps, in another day or two there will be a storm! Some Believers have all spiritual weathers in a week. Being somewhat excitable, perhaps naturally, they readily take to themselves wings and mount aloft, but then as a high soar is often followed by a great fall, these very Believers are soon sighing and crying out of the very depths and half doubt whether they are the people of God at all! Nor must I say that is common to merely excitable people. Some of the very noblest heroes in the Christian army have had a very dark experience to go through. If you read the life of Martin Luther, of whom we may well say that never braver soldier fought beneath the banner of the Cross, you will find him the subject of the most terrible exercises. He was strong in his God, but he was very weak in himself–subject to ferocious temptations–temptations the like of which probably few of us have ever known because we are not men of his gigantic mold, and God does not allow trials to come upon us which were only suitable for him. He oftentimes seemed to lie at Hell’s gates, but then, again, the man seemed as if he had looked Heaven in the face and lived in perpetual communion with his God! John Bunyan’s description of the progress of the pilgrim to Heaven would lead us to expect that there would bechanges, for at one time we find the pilgrim safely housed in the Palace Beautiful–all around him is redolent with the odor of flowers and the song of birds–next day he descends to the Valley of Humiliation. Even there he has a conflict or two, but a little farther on he comes to the Valley of Death Shades and there he has to fight for every step, while darkness surrounds him and the adversary of souls comes forth to meet him! We are uphill and downhill all the way to Heaven! Like the children of Israel, our path to Canaan lies through a wilderness, and though, blessed be God, the Grace of Heaven has made the wilderness to rejoice and blossom as a rose, yet are there fiery serpents in it and it is a wilderness, after all. Notwithstanding all that God does for us while in it, this state in this present world is a state of bondage. “We that are in this body do groan, being burdened”–longing for the time of the home-bringing, when we shall come to our own country and be at rest forever and forever!
Now at this time I shall not attempt to describe all the spiritual conflict with error. If I am not able to describe that–(and who is?)–I can at least speak with a measure of assurance of the spiritual experience of some of God’s servants, for I will go no deeper than I have gone, myself, and if I do that, I shall be able to speak with some measure of assurance.
First, then, let us make the remark that the child of God may undergo great spiritual trials. But, secondly, we shallask you to consider the conduct of the child of God when in the condition–very different from that of the worldly man.And, thirdly, we shall notice those springs of comfort which relieve saints in that spirit, and will relieve us also. First,then–
No superficial trials, such as are common to men, but really overwhelming trials seem to come to those who are favorites of Heaven, who lean their heads on Jesus' bosom, and are among the most gracious of the Lord’s chosen. Asaph’s trial was no light one–it was a great grief that came upon him. From some words in the Psalm, one would think it was a personal disease under which he was suffering. But from other words it would seem to be a deep affliction that had come upon his family and those he loved. This had caused him to be depressed in spirit and heavy in soul to a very solemn degree, for he declared that his sore ran in the night, and ceased not. He complained that his spirit was overwhelmed. Don’t, therefore, conclude that you are no child of God because the joys you once had are gone! I am delighted when I have been with young Christians full of their first joy–and I earnestly pray that it will be very long before those joys are dampened, but at the same time, it may be prudent to let them know that should those joys depart, it will be no evidence whatever that God’s love is departed, too! We must always beware of living by feeling. It is pleasant in summer, but it is an ill way of living in the winter of the soul. We walk by faith, not by sight, nor yet by feeling, for we remember that our feelings are often of a very mixed character–and what we think to be holy joy may be, some of it, animal excitement–may not be altogether that joy of the Lord which is our strength. Don’t, don’t, I beseech you, base your evidence of the possession of salvation upon your joy, because if you do, you will be in sad trouble when your joy varies or flies. Build your hope on something better than unsubstantial delights, namely, on the finished work of faith, such as the poor publican had, still crying, even in your best frames, “God be merciful to me a sinner! God be merciful to me a sinner,” for between here and the gates of Heaven you will have to go by a weeping cross, perhaps many times–and if the Lord loves you more than others, you will have more trials than others–strange trials shall come to you! Therefore, regard it not as though some strange thing had happened to you. Some of the best of God’s people may pass through the deepest trouble.
And remark, next, that this may not only be very deep, but very frequent. It appears to have been so with Asaph. Hedescribes himself as being by day and by night vexed with his trouble. It was not a transient cloud–it was a heavy storm that brooded over his spirit. For 40 days and nights the heavens seemed to pour down their torrents and his soul felt no rest. Do not wonder if you sometimes shall come into that condition. I pray you may not, but if you do, I say be upon your guard not to condemn yourself! You remember how holy Job’s friends, when they saw him upon a dunghill scraping himself with a potsherd, began to tell him that he must be a hypocrite, or he would not be there? How could he be what he professed to be, and yet be there? Now that is exactly what the devil will tell you! If you are in deep trials and are on a dunghill, too, he will say that–and perhaps some of your Christian friends will say the same. It will be very ungenerous and not like Christ if they do. Worst of all, perhaps you, yourself, will think the same. But let the warning of this evening help to keep you from such a temptation. It is no evidence whatever that God has no love to you if He chastens you, for remember who it was–that it was none other than a great servant of God who said, “All the daylong have I been plagued and chastened every morning.” And He who was still greater, even your blessed Lord and Master, was the “Man of Sorrows” and the acquaintance of grief. Do not, then, for your own soul’s sake, permit an insinuation as to God’s love being shown in your happiness, or His hatred being manifest in your depression of spirit! Do not allow it to cross your mind! Some of the best of God’s servants have, moreover, not only been in the deeps, and been there long, but when in such a condition they have refused to be comforted. Read the second verse–“My soul refused to be comforted”–as if hehad put away everything that could cheer him! A man of God, and a poet, too–a man Inspired and who could cheer others, as he has done by the sweet lays which he has left us in the Book of Psalms–yet when these sweet things were brought before him, he said, “Put them away!”
And have you never known, O you advanced Christians–(I know you have)–what it is to say of a promise, “No. It is very precious, but I am afraid I should deceive myself if I were to think, ‘That is mine.’”? You have found the word come very preciously home to your soul when you have heard a sermon–and then at night, when you have tossed upon your bed, you have said–“I am afraid it would be nothing better than presumption if I were to suck in all the consolation out of that.” All the while the comfort was yours, and you might have had it–the sweets were meant on purpose for you–and yet you could not take them! Now there is something good about that. A holy anxiety is a thing that is desirable, and I would never preach up the full assurance of faith so as for a moment to speak a word against that holy anxiety! My soul has often said, “I will not be comforted till Jesus comforts me”–put away the peace that many have spoken and said, “No! No peace shall ever come to my soul except the peace, the Master’s peace–peace from His own lips by His own Spirit. And I believe that is right, but sometimes that anxiety may be carried to an unbelieving extent and state! We set up tests for ourselves that are not warrantable and condemn ourselves when God does not condemn us! And though we are the precious children of God, comparable to fine gold, we reckon ourselves to be as the earthen vessels, the work of the hands of the potter. It is very easy to write bitter things against yourself when the clouds of darkness are hanging over your soul. This good man did so–he refused to be comforted.
When this occurs, it is not at all remarkable if the grief of soul that is caused in the man should break his sleep. Observe how he puts it, “You hold my eyes waking.” The eyelids–those guards of the eyes were made to keep their station. The eyes would still be open. There was no rest for the man. And who can rest when he does not know that he is a saved soul? Let me doubt whether I am God’s child, and dare I rest? I am often astounded at the ease with which some men talk of their doubts and fears. Do not know whether you are saved or not, and yet go to sleep? Perhaps you may wake in death! An enemy to God, or afraid that you may be, and yet find rest? My dear Brothers and Sisters, I will not condemn your doubts, but I must condemn
you if you can be in ease at all while you are under them, for surely this is a matter of
the first importance–“Am I His, or am I not?”
Am I really regenerate, or is it all pretence? Am I made to seem to live, while I am dead? Or am I truly one of these whom God has made to be a new creation in Christ Jesus? Now when a man gets really disturbed about that, and that is the question, and he is afraid lest God’s mercy and God’s promise should not be to him, that he is left to himself to perish–when a man is in that state, he cannot rest–he must then feel that until this quarrel is over and this problem is decided, he can find no rest for the soles of his feet.
Moreover, in such circumstances, it may sometimes occur that the good man cannot tell his story to anybody else. Soit is here–“I am so troubled that I cannot speak”–dare not tell it to anybody else–too great a grief to be unburdened. He could whisper it low at the Redeemer’s feet, “My Lord, have pity on Your servant,” but he cannot come and tell others because he does not know that any other has been through the same. He is afraid that his course is singular and so remarkable that if he were to mention it, his Brothers and Sisters would shun him! Besides, perhaps he has begun to mention it to some and they, not understanding him, have given him such a harsh reply that he shrank altogether from them. There are many fat cattle that push and push with horn and shoulder the lean ones of God’s flock, and ‘tis ill, 'tis ill when we do this.“ He that is troubled in spirit and cast down is often as a lamb despised by those who are at ease. He may be the best man of the whole company and yet, if he were to tell his experience, they would think him to be the worst. He may be the best in the whole Church and yet such may be the turmoil of his soul, sometimes, that were he to narrate his experience, many who are not to be compared with him for a moment would fight shy of him altogether! He has a grief within him which he cannot tell.
And now comes one other point, and this, perhaps, is the worst phase of the depression through which this man of God may go, namely, that even that which ought to comfort him, will minister to his yet greater grief. He says, “I remembered God, and was troubled.” Why, Brothers and Sisters, our thoughts of God are refreshing to us, they always should be! Just as good meat ought to nourish the body (only when the body is sick, that good meat turns to mischief), so thoughts of God ought always to delight our soul–and I rejoice that they do for the most part. In our pilgrimage there is nothing yields us such a delightful song as the thought of our God, the Father, the Savior, and the blessed indwelling Spirit! But when the soul is sick, and a gracious soul may get sick in that way, the very thoughts of God become a trouble. See how it is. You will think, “He is very just–how can I stand in His sight?” But He is very gracious. Yes, and how gracious He has been to me, and how unworthily have I made any return for that Grace! He is loving, ah, and very loving. How can I expect that I should taste of that love after the poor return I have made? And shall every attribute of God’s will at such times seem to be black against you. His very faithfulness you will feel. “Ah, if He is faithful to His promise, what part and lot shall I have in that promise? It must be, after all, a mere delusion of mine that my name is written in His Book! How can it be that I shall have a share among His chosen?” Whereas, when the soul is right, every attribute of God is cheering, when once it gets in darkness, and gets away from the foot of the Cross–gets away from looking with a poor sinner’s tearful eyes to the sinner’s Savior, simply and alone, shall every attribute of God’s seem to roll with thunder and flash with lightning on his spirit! I do know what this means. I have stood and seen the storm fly over my head, cloud on cloud, blacker and yet blacker, and my spirit crushed and utterly broken, until not a hope was left! Then have I seen one rift in the midst of the cloud, and a lone star shining there, the Star of Bethlehem and, looking up, all seemed calm beneath my soul, even on that sea! Just then the storm stopped at sight of that star and there I seemed to see the love of God to the very guiltiest of men, to the off-scouring of sinners and the refuse–and resting as a little child, humbly, simply, and alone, upon what the Master did for sinners on the Cross–joy and peace have come back! But many and many, and many a child of God has known what it is to see every hope blasted, all experience gone and all Grace withered–that is, apparently so, for it was not really so–because after all, perhaps we are never richer than when we think we are the poorest of all, never so well clad as when we know we are naked in ourselves, never so near to God as when we feel we are near to Hell if the Grace of God does not interpose!
Thus I have given you but a very brief outline of the mental and spiritual trials through which an heir of Heaven may sometimes pass. Now, secondly–
II. WHAT IS THE STATE OF THE CHILD OF GOD WHEN HE GETS INTO THIS DEPRESSION OF SPIRIT?
Well, I will tell you what a man does when he is not a child of God. He cries, with Pliable, “The first time I get out of this, if I get out on the side nearest my house, you may have the brave country to yourself, for I am not going floundering through this bog of mud.” Anybody’s dog will follow me if I feed it, but only my own dog will follow me if I beat it. And any man will be a Christian, or profess to be one, while it is all joy, and silver slippers, and gravel walks–but only the man who really loves God, who says, “All the daylong have I been plagued and chastened every morning”–it is only the man of God who can say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him–if He takes away my comfort, and I have no joy but in Himself, still will I cling to Him.”
Now Asaph did not go off, as many men would, to worldly pleasures to make up his loss. He did not say, “Well, well, I am not as happy as I used to be in my religious profession–I shall go to a theater, or find joyful companions, or stick to business to drown my thoughts.” No, no. He, just as the child which has been chastened by its parent (if it is what it should be) can only find comfort by clinging to the very parent that chastened it, and ask for a loving, forgiving kiss! And even so it is with the chastened child of God–he clings to God the more, the more he is made to smart. So the first thing Asaph did was he prayed. “I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice.” Oh, sweet consolation of prayer! Would not some hearts be utterly broken if they could not pray? This is the sweet vent that we get for our fermented griefs. Our spirits are soon at rest when we can but pray. Let us pray! “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe God; believe also in Me.” You see how Asaph puts it twice, “I cried unto God with my voice even unto God with my voice.” He betook himself to prayer!
The next thing he did was, he betook himself to meditation. “I remembered God.” (Fifth verse). “I have consideredthe days of old, the years of ancient times.” (Sixth verse). “I call to remembrance my song in the night. I commune with my own heart, and my spirit made diligent search.” He began to meditate more, to meditate on his God–to meditate on what God had done for other saints–to meditate upon his own former joys and helps in times of trouble, and to meditate upon the sweet songs which he had then uttered when he, himself, had been in trial before. Now this was a sweet way of gaining consolation. Does the Lord smite me? Well, then, I will think of the day when He caressed me! Am I in trouble, and has He put me in it? Then I will think of the times when I was in troubles, before, and He brought me out of them! He has been with me in six troubles–will He leave me in the seventh? I have gone through the waters. He was there with me–will He leave me now that He has brought me so far? Can it be that with so long a time of love, He will now desert His child? This gathers force. Aged Christian, you are 60 or seventy. You expect to live another ten years, and God has preserved you for seventy–cannot you trust Him for the other ten? After so much kindness in the past, will He cease now? Oh, it is good to go over these things and then to recollect when, in years gone by, you were in as bad a condition as you are now, and you sang all the while! Ah, dear Friend, you lost one you dearly loved, but you were supported. What? Are you going to sink now? Why, the time was when you could play the man for Christ! Why, you ran the risk of losing all that you had for His name’s sake–and are you going to throw down your weapons now? You are like the old navigator who had been round the world and when he got into the Thames coming home, the wind blew. “Oh,” he said, “Have I been round the world, and am I going to drown in a ditch? Not I!” And so I say to you–have you passed through all these troubles and difficulties and are you going to be lost, after all? Remember your song in the night, and begin to sing again! Let the new song be in your mouth. One who long loved music said, “Glory be to You for all the Grace I have not tasted yet!” If you cannot sing of what you are tasting, think of what you are to taste in the Glory Land that is before you, when you get there! Be of good comfort–meditation shall console you!
Then this man of prayer, after using prayer and meditation, betook himself to these employments. If you notice, hespent his time in self-examination–“In communion with my own heart and my spirit, I made diligent search.” Show me why You contend with me. Lord if I am chastened, tell me why. If I have lost the light of Your Countenance, why do You hide Yourself from me? For what sin is it that You are rebuking me? What Grace is it that You would strengthen in me? What idol is it that You would take away from me? What duty have I neglected, of which You would remind me? I commune with my own heart, and look within to see if there is the cause of the distress–and look up to God, my Father, and say, “Why do You leave me? Why have You forsaken me?” And then I repeat to myself, “Why are you cast down O my Soul? Why are you disquieted within me?” “Oh,” says one, “I don’t care much about self-examination. Mark you, I do not think much of your religion.” There are a great many people in the world in trade that do not like looking at their books and when a man does not want to know the position of his trade, I think we can, most of us, make a pretty shrewd guess at where he is! And when a man is afraid of self-examination, when he is afraid of a heart-searching discourse or heart-searching Providence, he may be pretty sure there is something rotten within. God deliver us from being unwilling to know the very worst of our position! May we be always anxious to know the worst, than for a moment to be flattered! Let us, then, if we would get comfort, get to self-examination!
And then, once again, in time of trouble this man of God took to holy arguments and devout reasoning. Here is thequestion, Will the Lord cast off forever? He may put His child aside for a moment, but can He quite forget? Can He quite leave? Can He ever cast off those that are His own beloved? Will He be favorable no more? He has said, “For a small moment have I forsaken you,” but will He make that small moment into forever? I know He turns a deaf ear to His peoplefor a moment–but will He never hear prayer again? Has He not said that He is a God that hears prayer? Is His mercy clean gone forever? Oh, it is a grand thing when a man says–“Can it be that God has left off being merciful? Is not His very name, ‘Love’?” That is His very Nature. He delights in mercy–can it be true that God has left off His mercy? It cannot be! Is His mercy clean gone forever? Does His promise fail forevermore? Another question–Can it be that God won’t keep His Word? Will His promise be broken? I know it may tarry awhile, but can it be that it shall fail, and fail forevermore? And then He puts it again, “Has God forgotten to be gracious–got out of the habit of being gracious? He used to be always gracious to those who sought His face–has He forgotten it? Is it possible? Has He, in anger, shut up His tender mercy? Can it be? Can it be?” Oh, Beloved, if we were sometimes thus to school ourselves and cross-question our own unbelief, the Holy Spirit would give us comfort. “Can the woman forget her sucking child that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, she may forget, yet will not I forget you. I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” They that trust in the Lord shall not want any good thing. “Fear not, I am with you. Be not dismayed, I am your God. I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness.” Is all this nothing? Are these promises, and ten thousand more, only so many words and so much chaff? O you wicked unbelief! The virgin daughter of Zion has shaken her head at you, and laughed, because you have not a foot to stand upon–no argument to defend yourself. Away with you, you lie, you child of Hell! Away with you! I must believe in my God. I will fall back into His arms. I will confide, again, in His eternal faithfulness. Is He a God, and can His love grow weary of saving? He is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do it? Yes, He will do it, and to the last jot and tittle shall His Word be fulfilled and His promises shall be kept for they are yes and amen in Christ Jesus to the Glory of God by us. God grant us Grace thus to battle with unbelief! And now, in the third place, as we have seen the man in his condition and what he does, let us now consider–
III. SOME OF THOSE COMFORTABLE THINGS WHICH MAY HELP US OUT OF THAT POSITION, or help us not to fall into it! First, observe that the great source of comfort, to the tried Believer–any Believer–is to be foundof God. All those questions were about his God. “I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the works of the Lord. I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate also on all Your work, and talk of Your doings.” If you get to meditating on your own works, you won’t get much comfort out of them! And if you get to talking of your own doings, you are brewing for yourself bitter drinks. But when the soul looks at God, at God’s Mercy, God’s Grace, and Christ the Incarnate God, and the finished work of Christ–at His merits–then it is that the soul is comforted! All that there is in us that may be seen in a time of depression is of man. We must look right away to Him in whom our hope lies. I will not lift up my eyes to anything else. From where comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, who has made Heaven and Earth! Child of God, store your mind with His knowledge and His Glory. Seek to know the Lord Jesus! Ask to be instructed in the knowledge of Him, for then in the times of difficulty you will have a store ready to your hand–great reasons for consolation which will be comfortable to your spirit!
But do you notice how he dwells upon the works of God and the power of God? “You are the God that does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the people. Lord, You can help me. My case is difficult, but You are strong enough. You are able to help me.” Oh, this is the way to get comfort–to know the power of God, which is past finding out. One thing especially the Psalmist dwelt upon, and that is Redemption–“You have with Your arm redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.” When there is no light anywhere else, there is at Calvary! Look there to the Paschal Lamb, and to the going out of Egypt by blood, and to the ransoming of His people. Do you think that Christ bought you with His blood and that you should lie in Hell and perish? Do you believe in redemption of that kind which does not redeem? Have you a Savior who came to save those whom He never will save? Do you believe in such a Savior? Then I marvel not at your doubts and fears! But if you have reliance upon the mighty God, in whose hands the pleasure of the Lord must prosper, and who shall see His Seed and rejoice in the travail of His soul, then, leaning on Him whose hands were stretched to the nail for you, you have good ground for joy, confidence and peace! Study the Atonement, study the Redemption, study the Cross and you will be readily comforted!
At the close of the Psalm, Asaph, after his usual habit, takes himself away to the Red Sea and suggests as a ground for comfort what God did there. There were His people–slaves, and in bondage–and He brought them out. He will bring you out! Pharaoh was very strong and he said, “I fear not the Lord, neither will I let the people go.” But God was stronger than Pharaoh and He will be stronger than the devil and all your enemies! Then they came out and there was the Red Sea before them, and how could they get through the sea? “The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You, they were afraid.” You have many troubles and many sins–they will fly before the Presence of God! Then they came into the wilderness–how could they ever traverse that? Then the Lord was pleased to send them their bread each morning, and to continually give them their water. Whereas their clothes could not be very speedily replenished, their garments grew not old, so to speak. They had no guide, no one with them that could well conduct them through the wilderness, but the fiery, cloudy pillar went before them! They never went a step awry, for that fiery, cloudy pillar led them all the way. Now your condition is the same as theirs–and you shall have the same supplies. Be not cast down! Rejoice in the Lord and go forward. “He led His people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron”–so the Psalm closes–and He will lead you, and lead you safely! They set out to go to the land of Canaan, and to the land of Canaan they came. And if you are resting upon the blood of Christ, and depending upon His eternal merit, He shall surely bring you in and you shall stand in your lot in the end of the days! Therefore comfort one another with these words and be of good cheer!
But as for those who have no Savior, I know of no comfort for them in the time of trouble. Unbeliever, you shall live without consolation. You shall die without consolation, and live forever after–without consolation! May you turn. “Turn you, turn you! Why will you die?” May the Lord bring you to see that in Christ, alone, is your help found. Get Him to be your comfort from this day forth, and forever! Amen, amen.