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I. God adds Years to Many Men's Lives. For example:
a. In recovery from sickness. The sickness seems unto death. Hope is gone, or wellnigh gone. But a 'favourable turn,' as we say, is taken, and another course of years is added unto the man's days.
b. In the gradual strengthening of the constitution. A new and deeper spring seems to be found in the blood, which has 'earnest in it of far springs to be'. The delicate youth becomes a strong man.
c. In escape from peril. The ship was foundering, and you were saved. A mere step or tuft of grass saved you from a fatal fall, etc. In one way or another, at one time or another, God has said to us, as to Hezekiah, 'I will add unto thy days fifteen years'.
II. How we should Look Upon those Added Years.
a. With gratitude, as a special gift from God. Hezekiah sang a hymn of gratitude on his recovery. Do we remember to thank God for our added years; for 'healing our diseases, and redeeming our lives from destruction'?
b. With awe and resolution, as peculiarly our charge from God. What to do with those fifteen years: how shall we make them fruitful for the glory of God and the good of our fellow-men? They are God's, by special and solemn trust; may we discharge that trust as under His eye, and as with the day of account hastening on.
c. With constant mindfulness that soon they must be given back to God. They are only a small added portion; the last act in the drama of our life; the last stage in our earthly journey. Let your loins be girt, and your lamps burning, and be as those who are watching for 'the coming of the Bridegroom '.
References. XXXVIII. 11. J. M. Neale, Sermons for Some Feast Days in the Christian Year, p. 1.
The Blessing of Persecution
It will be good for us if life is imbued with the feeling that all they who live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution, that suffering is as much our way of bearing testimony and winning victory as labour can ever be, and that by these things, by humiliations, by anxieties, by impoverishment, men live, and in these is the life of their spirits.
I. Let me recall Christ's own anticipation of persecution and suffering, an anticipation fulfilled in Himself, in His Apostles, and in His Church. We hardly realize the wonder of His first prophecy. At the very dawn and outset of His career He knew what the course and the end would be. He had none of an enthusiast's dreams, none of the bright and daring hopes so often quenched in blood. The morning of His life was red, and all the weather of the day was foul, and His sun set as He knew it would, in a tempest of agony and woe. All through the history of His Church there have been the painful following, the hard battle, the heroic death. Until the spiritual earth and heaven are completed we shall have them again.
It was persecution that ended by degrees the earthly life of all the Apostles. One by one they filled up His sacrifice of weariness, crowning life by death. The words of one are enough: 'Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep ' This is among the first pages of the noble and unfinished catalogue of Christian labours and Christian suffering. So much did the Church suffer at the beginning, that one of the early Christian poets represents the cities of the earth, each offering the Lord when He came to judge the world the relics of the martyrs who reposed in them. Not one city in all the habitable world failed of her gift So it has been all through. Some have gone home by a short, rough road; others have toiled on with bleeding feet for years ere they reached their last cross. In Japan, Christianity was literally killed out by the killing of every Christian. One form of torture there was to feed the mothers delicately, and to starve the children. The cries of their famished little ones would, it was hoped, shake the constancy of the mothers, and lead them to trample on the Cross. The martyrs have been tortured on the rack till every bone has been dragged from its place, and every nerve of the body has thrilled with agony. They have been flung into the dungeon to recover strength, and then been taken through the street loaded with chains to the place where they were burned to death. More dreadful even than the public martyrdoms have been the cases where the saints have been put to death in secret. In the Low Countries the Baptists used to be drowned alone and in the darkness, in huge vats of water, hearing nothing but the jests of the murderers who had 'given the dipper his last dip'. We must have patience, not for a short time only, not for a long time only, but to the end. The opposition to truth and freedom takes ever new forms. Such a difficulty rises up, such a trial stands in the way, such a temptation opposes, so we shall have it till the voice comes, 'Ye have compassed this desert long enough,' till the eternal day breaks, the one day known to the Lord when at eventime it shall be light.
II. The effect of persecution and of accepted suffering is life. When a great trial befell his Church, it was said of the leader by many who little knew, 'This will kill him'. By these things men live. It might kill weaklings, but if we are bound up with Christ, filled with His Spirit, the trial of faith is the minister and stimulant of life. We know how it is in the daily experience. We know how any great initiation into sorrow sobers, deepens, strengthens every nature that has in it the germs of good. There are regions of thought and feeling which may not be profitably discussed by those who have not traversed them. Many and many a time, even natures that seem poor and meagre are strangely enriched and ennobled by a baptism of fire. For the Christian, the trial brings the inner peace and power, and so we have the succession maintained in the world of men and women who out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the army of the aliens. The soul that seemed rootless and fruitless has, again and again, disclosed itself under trial as a branch of the True Vine that rejoiceth God and man. Persecution has killed Churches, but hardly ever, I think, save in cases where the members have actually been exterminated. It will destroy a feigned profession, but by these things the true, the brave, the faithful live as they never live when the sun went on shining, and the winds were soft, and the world wore a fair face.
III. The lessons are very simple, but they go very deep. Trials borne for Christ bring us to the heart of Christ The nearer we are to Him, the more calmly we shall look on the sunshine and the shadow too. It is His sunshine, and it is His shadow. Joined to Him we shall arm ourselves with the same mind, and pray for those who have wronged us or are wronging us. If they refuse to own us or receive us, let us hope for the time when the clouds will pass, and for the day of Christ, when all the flock will be gathered in the fold upon the everlasting hills.
W. Robertson Nicoll, The Lamp of Sacrifice, p. 226.
References. XXXVIII. 16. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Prophets, vol. i. p. 151. XXXVIII. 17. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 316; vol. xix. No. 1110; vol. xxiii. No. 1337.
The Value of Life
These words form part of the writing of Hezekiah, King of Judah, when he had been sick and was recovered of his sickness.
I. Notice the lessons there are for us in the conduct of King Hezekiah:
1. To have recourse to God, in all time of our sickness, 'to turn our face (as Hezekiah did) to the wall, and pray'.
2. 'To give God thanks on our recovery,' to think of Him as our Deliverer, our Healer. The God of our life, in Whom we live and move and have our being, Who has added to our life a longer share of days. To think why He has added them: why He 'has prolonged our days on earth, even for this end, that we may serve Him more faithfully, walk before Him with a more perfect, less divided heart.
3. The value of life the value as giving us the greater opportunity for serving God.
II. Death was to Hezekiah a far darker, far drearier state than it is to us who are Christians, us to whom Jesus Christ hath brought immortality of life. If he had any hope of a life beyond the grave, it does not appear in his words.
But it is this very view of death, as the end all and be all of man's brief existence, which enhances to Hezekiah the value of life. Because life offered, as he thought, the single field for serving God, he grudged to have it shortened.
We who possess the Gospel need not, and ought not, to think thus gloomily of death. The question put so touchingly, so doubtingly, by the Psalmist, 'Dost Thou show wonders among the dead?' has been answered for us by the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
III. In that darker view of death which Hezekiah held, there is a lesson for our learning. Though death be not now the end of life, it is the end of this life, the end of our day of grace, the end of the period which God gives us in which to see if we will serve Him or not.
And remember, every life is wasted, every life is a misspent life which is not led to the glory and praise; of God.
R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 3rd Series, p. 22.
References. XXXVIII. 18, 19. R. Scott, Oxford University Sermons, p. 232. XXXIX. 3, 4. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Prophets, vol. i. p. 160. XL. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2733; vol. xlix. No. 2812. XL.-LXVI. Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. 1899, p. 124.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Isaiah 38". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany