Tuesday, June 6th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Parker's The People's Bible Parker's The People's Bible
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Jeremiah 33". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ jpb/ jeremiah-33.html. 1885-95.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Jeremiah 33". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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The Method of Divine Procedure
Where was the prophet when the word of the Lord came unto him? He was in a good hearing place. He was "shut up in the court of the prison." He was shut up unjustly, and therefore it was no prison to him, but a sanctuary, with God's altar visibly in it, and God himself irradiating the altar with a light above the brightness of the sun. How hardly shall they that have riches hear the gospel! Their ears are already filled; their attention is already occupied; their hearts are fat to grossness. What keen ears poverty has! What eyes the blind man has! inner eyes, eyes of expectation. How the man with those inner eyes looks for the Healer, the Son of David! His poor blind bodily eyes are rolling without seeing the sun, or any of the sun's creations of beauty, but his inward eyes are keeping steadfast watch, for he says within himself, At any moment the Opener of the eyes of the blind may draw nigh. We should have had no world worth living in but for the prison, the darkness, the trouble, the blindness, the sorrow, which have constituted such precious elements in our lot. There would have been no poetry written if there had been no sorrow. The poetry of what we call joy is flippant, frivolous, a jingle of words, without soul, without agony, without that shadow of melancholy which makes even joy itself a higher gladness. No man who comes into God's house with a sense of prosperity and comfort and self-sufficiency can hear any gospel. It was not made for him; he is a blind man going to a place that is constituted into a sanctuary of colour and beauty. The wonder is why he went to the place; some motive must have operated within him that was unworthy of the occasion. God never spread a feast for the rich; whenever a rich man came near him he frowned at him; he said he could not enter with his bags of gold in his hands, he must lay them down and then come in. Jeremiah heard more in the prison than he ever heard in the palace. God knows where his children are.
There are a thousand prisons in life. We must riot narrow words into their lowest meanings, but enlarge them into their broadest significance. He is in prison who is in trouble, who is in fear, who is in conscious penitence without having received the complete assurance of pardon; he is in prison who has sold his liberty, is lying under condemnation, secret or open; and he is in prison who has lost his first love, his early enthusiasm that was loaded with dew like a flower in the morning. Whatever our prison is, God knows it, can find us, can send a word of his own directly to us, and can make us forget outward circumstances in inward content and peace and joy. Jeremiah was in prison a second time. Fools never learn wisdom; for the people who had shut up Jeremiah before had found that you cannot really imprison a good man. His influence increases by the opposition which is hurled against him; goodness turns hostility into nutrition. Who can put a prophet of the Lord into such a prison as Jeremiah was thought to be occupying? You can put his body there, but his soul is swinging around the horizon, and his heart is already among the singing angels, and the all-blessing, all-condescending God. Why live in the body? Why subject ourselves to any possibility of slavery? Why lay such clutching hands upon anything that it would be a sorrow to part with it? A great man, having lost all that he had in the world, said: "The money is gone, but the treasure abides." Jeremiah might say: "The liberty of the body is gone for a moment, but I can pierce my way through all doors and bars and walls, though they be as rocks, and I can be enjoying communion with God on the top of the mountains." You cannot imprison the soul. But a man may lose the liberty of his spirit; he may sell himself to the enemy; when he gives up the keys of his soul he is already in perdition. Let no man say that he cannot hear God's word because he is in prison, in darkness, in trouble, because he is in great fear. The word of the Lord to you is, Fear God, and have no other fear; look up, and hope steadfastly in God. The gaoler thinks he has laid you under his lock and key: poor fool! his lock and key are straw, and smoke, and spider's web. If that soul be with God, no matter where the body is.
Who is it that permits his servants to go to prison? By what name does he call himself? What is the descriptive clause in this great trust-deed of the Church?
"Thus saith the Lord the Maker thereof, the Lord that formed it, to establish it; The Lord is his name" ( Jer 33:2 ).
How often do we say, Why does God permit this and that to occur, when it is so painful, humiliating, and distressful altogether? We had better not ask the question, for we could not understand the answer. Life is not a measurable quantity. No man can tell when life began; none can calculate when life will end; and all through it is a mystery of pulsation, of joy and agony, of trouble that falls towards despair, and gladness that aspires towards the celestial rest. It is all for our good; we do not know it, and we cannot see it, and we are not yet prepared to believe it; all history, however, is on one side, and that is on the side of the vindication of divine providence. Man after man rises from the boiling flood, saying: It was good for me that I was afflicted; I never understood human life until I was plunged into this sorrow; I lived a poor, little, narrow, selfish life, because I lived within the area of my own pharisaic respectability, and never knew what it was to be almost scorched to death at the very mouth of the pit of hell. Commend me to a man who has made mistakes, fallen seven times a day, and hurt himself in every muscle and in every pulsation, and who, out of it all, has come a chastened and sanctified man: how soft his speech, how kind his look, how like a touch of almightiness the out-putting of his hand! We need such men in society. We can do without the Pharisee: we cannot do without the publican's prayer.
Who distresses us? God. Who comes in the night-time and takes away from us everything we have in the house? God. Who turns our purposes upside down, and blows them away like smoke in a high wind? God. It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth good in his sight. But "take not thy Holy Spirit from us." That is the only withdrawment that can make a man for ever poor. If we imagine that this world is a complete little place in itself, having four corners of its own, and that within those four corners the game or trick of life begins, continues, and ends, then it will be impossible for us to be other than downcast, moping, melancholy; but if we believe that this little earth is part of a great household of worlds, that there are filaments connecting all the spaces with one centre, ligaments of light and most sensitive, though invisible life, binding into one unity the whole scheme and purpose of God, then we shall have a sky over our earth, a sky with a sovereign sun all day, and stars struggling to tell us their secret music by night. What is the kind of world we live in? Is it a world of God's forming or a world of our own imagining? Are the stars held by a hand equal to the occasion, or may they at any moment fall down and crush the under worlds? Let us live in a universe that is centralised by the throne of the living God, and then whatever happens will be to our profit, not immediately and visibly always, but in the end invariably and constantly. Let all history start up from its grave and declare this with thunder voice, if it fall back again into its sleep. Such a testimony will awaken the world and cheer the Church. Let it be known then, now and evermore, that it is the Lord that allows his prophets to go to prison, that sits and looks at gaolers locking them up, and that comes down at the right moment to liberate them and give their word boundless enlargement.
On what conditions does the Lord grant fuller revelations of himself? The answer is in the third verse:
"Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not." ( Jer 33:3 )
He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. The condition is, "Call unto me": recognise my existence, rely upon me, lift up thy voice in prayer, pray without ceasing; do not pray to thyself, for thou art an empty fountain, but pray to me, for it is in answer to prayer that I enlarge and brighten my revelations to mankind. What is this calling unto God? Is it a verbal exercise? Is it a mere act of exclamation? Nothing can be further from the meaning. It is a call that issues from the heart; it is the call of need, it is the cry of pain, it is the agony of desire, it is enclosure with God in profound and loving communion. If we have received no answers, it is because we have offered no prayers. "Ye have not because ye ask not, or because ye ask amiss," you have been praying obliquely instead of directly; you have been vexing yourselves with circumlocution when your words ought to have been direct appeals, sharp, short, urgent appeals to Heaven: to such appeals God sends down richness of dew, wealth of blessing, morning brighter than noonday. God will show his people "great and mighty things." For "mighty" the margin reads "hidden": the change is not for the better. "Great and mighty things": when does God show his children little and impotent visions? The words great and mighty, noble and glorious, belong to the administration of God. There is nothing little. The bird in the heavens upon its trembling wing is only little to us, it is not little to God. He counts the drops of dew, he puts our tears into his bottle, he numbers our sighs, and as for our groans, he distinguishes one from the other; these are not little things to him, they are only little to our ignorance, and folly, and superficiality. We have betaken ourselves to the foolish exercise of measuring things, and setting them down in inches and in feet, in furlongs and in acres, in leagues and in miles; but God looks at souls, faces, lives, destinies, and the least child in the world he rocks to sleep, and wakes in the morning, as if he had not else to do; it is the stoop of Fatherhood, it is the mystery of the Cross. As to these continual revelations, they ought to be possible. God is infinite and eternal, man is finite and transient in all his earthly relationships; it would be strange if God had told man everything he has to tell him, it would be the miracle of miracles that God had exhausted himself in one effort, it would be incredible that the eternal God had crushed into the moment which we call time every thought that makes him God. Greater things than these shall ye do; when he, the Paraclete, is come, he will guide you into all truth; grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; add to your faith, until you scaffold yourselves up into brotherly love and charity, for from that pinnacle the next step is right into heaven.
There is a sense in which revelation is final, and there is also a sense in which revelation is progressive. The root is final, viewed from one point, and yet it is ever increasing, viewed from another. What flowers there are by intermixture and inter-blending; what colours yet lie to be discovered by the eyes of art; what mysteries there are even in occasions and instances which we think are exhausted. There is an originality of combination, as well as an originality of creation. He who can readapt is, in a sense, a creator. That is what is left for human genius under divine direction to do not to write a new Bible, not to build a new Golgotha, but to search into hidden meanings and seize the vaster aspects and larger implications of facts, that they may become helpers to a truer conception of the majesty and love of God. Enlarging revelation, in this sense, is essential to the continued vitality and power of the Church. When the Church becomes a mechanical repeater of its own dogmas it ceases to have power. There is a genius of absorption, there is an inspiration which belongs to the appropriation of commonplaces, and a turning of these commonplaces into the very bread and water of life. Herein the Bible stands apart from all other books. It can be read many times, and at the close of the last perusal it asks the guests to come again, for the feast has but begun. There are men to whom no revelation can be granted; there are rooms in our dwelling-places the sun cannot get at. The sun is larger than any house we can build, yet the smallest building we can put up may shut out the sun. An eyelid can exclude the noontide. The question is, Are we in need of further revelation? Do we call for it? We may call for it speculatively, and no answer will be given; we may ask for it for the sake of mere intellectual delectation, and the heavens will be dumb and frowning: but if we try to outgrow God, then we shall know what God is in reality; he challenges the sacred rivalry, he appeals to our emulation to follow him and study him, and try to comprehend him; and then how like a horizon he is, for we think we can touch him in yonder top, but having climbed the steep the horizon is still beyond. To cleverness God has nothing to say; to vanity he is scornfully inhospitable; but to the broken heart, to the contrite spirit and the willing mind, to filial, tender, devout obedience, he will give himself in infinite and continual donation: "To this man will I look, for I see my own image in him, my own purpose is vitalised in his experience the man who is of a humble and contrite heart, and who trembleth at my word, not in servility, but in rapture and wonder at its grandeur and tenderness."
Why does God hide his face? Will he tell us the explanation of the cloud in which his countenance is enveloped? Even this condescension shall not be larger than the love of God. In this very paragraph God tells the reason why he hides his face. It is the unchangeable reason. This moral action that proceeds through the Bible never changes. Men can wrestle with the history of the Bible, and prove their futile cleverness in the rearrangement of things which need not be re-arranged; but they find everywhere that the knife of criticism comes upon the nerve of immoral purpose; and there, if criticism be reverent, it begins to pray. What is the Lord's account of his having retired from his people, and from the city of his choice?
"For all whose wickedness I have hid my face from this city" ( Jer 33:5 ).
Nothing but wickedness can drive him away. He never left any man's house, saying, This place is too poor for me; he never gave up any blind man, saying, I only enjoy the companionship of those who can behold and admire the wonders of nature; he never dropped a little child because it was too heavy a burden for him to carry; he never abandoned the sick-chamber because he loved sunnier places, where flowers bloomed and birds sang. He would never partake of the meal of wickedness, he would never sup with the devil. Here comes the greatest cloud of mystery that ever settled upon human life. Here it would be easy to be indignant, reproachful, and disastrously critical upon one another; but let the strongest man forbear, let the mightiest brother amongst us prove his brotherhood by his forbearance; let those who are little and mean use their critical hatchets presently, blessed be God, they will lop off their own hands. Every man must enter into this cloud, and find his own confession-chamber within its darkness. Have I been wicked? After what manner has my wickedness run? Have I been unjust, oppressive, untrue, selfish? Have I turned away from God secretly whilst yet spreading still more broadly to the public gaze the banner of a nominal profession? Have I kept back the wages from the hireling? Am I carrying money to which I have no right in honesty? Have I been indolent, unfaithful, dishonourable? Have I kept the word of promise to the ear, and broken it to the heart? Why this darkness? Why this cloud that will not lift? Why these eyes that cannot see? Why this hell-pool that bubbles at my feet? God be merciful to me a sinner!
Do not let us reproach one another. You can see where I might have been wise: perhaps, in some moment of more or less unconscious vanity, I may imagine I can see where you might have been wise. We need no such criticism. It is the play of bad men; it is the trick of wicked spirits. Every man knows his own heart, and is carrying a burden of sin, and has to put up with a spectre that looks at him through the darkness of night. Let him that is without sin cast the first stone; let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. We have seen many such fall, and no man has pitied the critic when he fell. But will God be overthrown by wickedness? Never! "Where sin aboundeth, grace doth much more abound." Grammar cannot explain that text; you cannot parse it into its true significance; the heart must feel it by a sudden inspiration. God's "much more" is a line that angels cannot measure. We must forecast the future as God sees it. There are prophecies in the New Testament as well as in the Old, and all these prophecies set Christ upon the uppermost seat. The outlook of the New Testament is an outlook of brightness for the nations. They shall come from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God; all nations shall call the Redeemer blessed; he shall reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet; the last enemy that shall be destroyed is Death. None rose in the old dispensation to struggle with that monster; he was accepted as a necessity, his action had been reduced to a law of nature: but the Lion of the tribe of Judah will wrestle with Death and overthrow him. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is Death; he shall be dashed to pieces like a potter's vessel. So wickedness shall not overbear and destroy the goodness of God. The Lord Jesus Christ has undertaken to deal with sin. He fights sin with a Cross, he fights death with death, but with death that involves resurrection. Viewed in one aspect, the history of the world is the history of a tragedy; the catastrophe of it is a pit and a second death: but viewed from the Cross of Christ, life leads to life, and the higher life to life higher still, and the highest life dies into immortality. Take great views of God's government; do not be puzzled and persecuted by changing details, but get such a grasp of life as will enable you to command details into life, each occupying its own point in an infinite series; and through that process you will find rest, dawning heaven, assured immortality.
Will God undertake to pass from wickedness to goodness? Can he work any miracles here? Why, it is within the darkness of wickedness that God works his greatest miracles.
"Behold, I will bring it health and cure, and I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth" ( Jer 33:6 ).
There are no greater words in all human language than "health," "cure," "peace," "truth." There is nothing here about gem and gold and stones hiding the shadows of night within the glories of midday; but here is health, here is cure, here is peace, here is truth, and these are the gifts of God. "I will bring it." He is as a man who has gone to bring something for the comfort of his household. There is no figure suggestive of humility that God does not adopt to represent the action of his omniscience, the condescension of his pity. This is a sovereign act, this is the mystery of grace, this is the kingdom of God, that the King himself should serve, should go on an errand to bring health, and cure, and peace, and truth. This is the voice of the Son of God: I go to prepare a place for you; I go to prepare, to make ready against the time of your coming: and, see, if there be aught wrong in the house, the blame will be mine; if there be aught wanting in the palace, blame me: I go to prepare a place for you; if the roof be not tempest-proof, blame me for the destroying flood; if there be not light enough in the palace, blame me for not making sufficient arrangements for the flooding of the house with glory; if the pillow of your rest has a thorn in it, charge the existence of that thorn upon my cruelty: I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go away I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there may ye be also. God will "bring," Christ will "prepare," the Holy Spirit will "lead," and thus the whole Trinity may be said to be engaged in the service of man.
A grand evangelical declaration succeeds and closes this preliminary statement:
"And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned, and whereby they have transgressed against me" ( Jer 33:8 ).
Joy After Desolation
We are called upon to realise the fullest meaning of desolation "desolate, without man, and without inhabitant, and without beast." We must realise the circumstances before we approach the miracle. We lose much by slipping over whole spaces of history, without attending to the pregnant and instructive detail. Think of a forsaken city, think of being afraid of the sound of your own footfall! Even in that desolation there comes an overpowering sense of society, as if the air were full of sprites, spectres, ghostly presences. What a singular sense there is too of trespass, encroachment, of being where you have no right to be as if you were intruding upon the sanctuary of the dead as if you were cutting to the life some spiritual ministry, conducting itself mysteriously but not without some beneficent purpose. You have broken in upon those invisible ones who are watching their dead; you want to escape from the solitude in one sense it is too sacred for you, wholly too solemn; you would seek the society of your kind, for other society is uncongenial, unknown, and is felt to be a criticism intolerable, a judgment overwhelming. Yet if you do not fasten your attention upon the possibilities of desolation, darkness, forsakenness, loneliness, how can you appreciate what is to follow? May we not then hasten to inquire what is to follow? Is there not a voice which first says, What can follow? Can any mystery of love be wrought upon a field so lost, so desolate a field that is but a gigantic sepulchre? Can God work miracles here? It is just here that he works his grandest miracles; it is when all light dies out that he comes forth in his glory; it is when we say, There is no more road, the rock shuts us out, our progress is stayed, it is then that a path suddenly opens in rocky places, and footprints disclose themselves for the comfort and inspiration of the lone traveller.
Notice how exactly God's miracles fit human circumstances. They overflow them, but they first fill all their cavities and all the opportunities which they create and present. What is it then that is to follow upon this blackness, desolation, and oppressive silence? If a poet has made the promise, he has made it well; the words fit the necessity. See if this be not so. The picture of desolation having been painted, and the reader having been made to feel the terribleness and coldness of that desolation, he is told that there in that place shall be heard
"The voice of joy, and the voice of gladness; the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride; the voice of them that shall say, Praise the Lord of hosts: for the Lord is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: and of them that shall bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord" ( Jer 33:11 ).
Thus God displaces darkness by light; thus God does not drive away the silence with noise but with music: it is no battering of rude violence that brings back human intercourse into plains that have been swept with human desolation; it is a festival, a banquet, a wedding scene, and already the forsaken valley vibrates as if under the clash of wedding bells. It is thus that God works. The miracle is not something alongside the necessity; it is something clearly within it, filling it, overflowing it, and causing it to be lost in a redundance of power and grace. When the multitude was an hungred, Christ gave them bread: thus the miracle and the necessity were one; the bread matched the occasion, was the only thing that could be equal to the necessity of the case. So every miracle vindicates itself, not by something metaphysical, highly argumentative, and only to be comprehended by subtle or virile intellects; but the miracle condescends to experience, to common observation, so that it is not an intrusion upon society, but a natural revelation of God's presence and care. The healed men had no need that the miracle should be explained to them, for they themselves embodied the miracle; the rejoicing mother who received her son back again needed not to ask metaphysical questions about the action of law, and the suspension of continuity, and the upbreaking of regularity: there was the living, glowing, rejoicing son of her womb; let her be glad with the result of the miracle, and not vex herself by cross-examination of the incomprehensible details. When you want to understand a miracle, understand the circumstances under which it was wrought, and the circumstances will be the best exposition.
What was the quality of the joy that was wrought? It was profoundly religious. The voices that were uplifted were to say, "Praise the Lord of hosts: for the Lord is good; for his mercy endureth for ever." That was the joy: it was religious, not sensuous; it was experimental, not speculative; it was the testimony of men who had handled the word of life, who had received release from captivity, and who had seen the city streets lost and desolate revived, refilled; and under the pressure gracious and loving of that revelation of divine power there were exercises profoundly religious. There are times when men must praise the Lord. Sometimes the atheist has been at the very door of the sanctuary, and if some friendly hand had thrown it open the atheist might have gone in and left his atheism outside. There are times when men only need a word of encouragement, a gentle hint, and all the dark past will go away, and in its place will be found festival, sanctuary, altar, and long, sweet song. The heart settles many difficulties. The heart leads the judgment; the uppermost feeling, elevated and sanctified, tells the whole man what to do, uses the understanding as one might use some inferior creature to help him in carrying out the purposes of life. What is this highest faculty, what is this mysterious power, that takes to itself understanding, imagination, conscience, will, and all elements of energy? It is religious emotion; not sentimentalised and frittered away into mere vapour, but high, intelligent, noble feeling, glowing, passionate enthusiasm, a consecration without break or flaw or self-questioning, a wholeness of consent and devotion to the supreme purpose of life. We cannot understand God's providence when we are cold-hearted. We can only see some distances by rising to great heights; then the mountains become stairways up which we travel, and when we reach the top we see the land beyond, and rejoice in the illuminated and glorious landscape. So it is religiously: we see nothing from the little hillock of criticism; we cannot feel much whilst we are merely analysing words and sentences: all this may be needful, it may be part of a process, but not until we have climbed the Nebo of real feeling, highest sentiment, divinest, tenderest emotion, can we see what lies beyond, of hill and dale, and shaggy forest, and blooming garden, and pouring, fluent, redundant river. Never consult a cold-hearted man about anything, especially about anything that is religious. We cannot work without fire. God himself, be it reverently spoken, finds it necessary to work through the medium of fire. They who have various ways of tracing the genesis of the universe have never omitted the element of fire. At the first it was a fire-cloud, a tuft of fire-mist; there was, however, fire, and without that we can make no progress in the understanding of profoundest truths and divinest mysteries.
When this desolation is banished, when this wedding feast is held, by what picture is the safety of the people represented? By a very tender one:
"In the cities of the mountains, in the cities of the vale, and in the cities of the south, and in the land of Benjamin, and in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, shall the flocks pass again under the hands of him that telleth them, saith the Lord" ( Jer 33:13 ).
Sometimes this passage has been mistakenly interpreted as pointing to discipline and punishment: shall pass under the hands of him that telleth them: shall be chastised, or rebuked, or chastened, or punished, or otherwise attended to with a view to ultimate perfectness. That is not the meaning of the passage. We had in England shepherds who long ago spoke of taking care of their flocks under the idiom of "telling their tale" counting the flock one by one. There shall be no hurrying, crowding into the fold, but one shall follow another, and each shall be looked at in its singularity; there shall be nothing tumultuous, indiscriminate, promiscuous; every process of providence is conducted critically, individually, minutely: so there is no hope for a man getting into the fold without the Shepherd seeing him; every sheep of the flock has to pass under the hand of him that telleth his tale. We spend our days as a tale that is told, not as a story, an anecdote, a narrative, but as a number that is counted; the tale is counted one by one, and so the days are ticked off and off, until the last day falls, and all eternity begins. Let no man imagine that God conducts his processes promiscuously, under some general policy that allows a margin to indifference and criminality. Strive to enter in at the strait gate; strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life everlasting; we go in one by one. It is thus the world dies; it is thus the world lives; in units, in singular acts, in special personal dispensations. Until we realise the personality of the divine supervision we shall flounder in darkness and our prayers will be mere evaporations, bringing back no answer, no blessing, no pledge from Heaven. This is the picture presented by the prophet. Not one tittle of this providential order has been changed; the whole mystery of human life is to be found within its few lines.
Consider what desolation good men have been called upon to realise. Never let us shut our eyes to the suffering aspect of human life. On the contrary, let us dwell upon it with attentive solicitude, that we may wonder, and learn to pray and trust. It is the mystery of the ages that good men should not always be strong, successful, triumphant. This mystery has bewildered the saints of all time. They have seen what they did not expect to behold, the wicked prospering on every hand, and they have said, Surely the Lord hath forgotten his own, and the saints are no longer of any account with Heaven, for they have no bread, they are in great darkness and stress and fear; whilst evil men are opening the door and entering in, the poor abandoned saints are but appealing for admission, and no voice from within answers their lost appeal. There are good men in the sick-chamber who will never leave it until they go to heaven; there are saintly men who have lost every possession they had in the world, and have sat down, as it were, in ashes, being themselves clothed in sackcloth. Looking at them narrowly and exclusively, who could believe that "Our Father which art in heaven" is not a mocking prayer, a lie which men tell to themselves, when they are in deepest sorrow? There are good men and women who have lost their last child, and who listen for voices they will never, never hear again on all the earth. Yet they are good men, men of prayer, spirits that trust the Cross, and say they have no other plea than the blood that was shed for the remission of sins. Realise this, and when the infidel mocks you with it acknowledge it; within given limits it is so; do not attempt to apologise for it or explain it away; accept the stern history, the naked, chilling, desperate fact. But in the darkness grope for the temple. God's church is open at night as well as at day. Say nought to the mocker, for he is not worth heeding, but say to the poor suffering heart itself, Wait: joy cometh in the morning: it is very sore now; the wind is very high, the darkness is very dense; our best plan, poor heart! is to sit down and simply wait for God: he will come we cannot tell when, in the early part of the night, or not until the crowing of the cock, but come he will; it hath pleased him to keep the times and seasons wholly to himself, without revelation to narrow human intellects; let us then wait, and there is a way of waiting that amounts to prayer: poor heart! we have no words, we could not pray in terms, because we should be mocked by the echo of our own voice, but there is a way of sitting still that by its heroic patience wins the battle.
Consider what changes have been wrought in human experience. You thought you could never sing again when that last tremendous blow was dealt upon your life, yet you are singing more cheerfully now than you ever sung in any day of your history; you thought when you lost commercial position that you never really could look up again, for your heart was overpowered, and behold, whilst you were talking such folly, a light struck upon your path, and a voice called you to still more strenuous endeavour, and today you who saw nothing before you but the asylum of poverty are adding field to field and house to house. Job cursed the day of his birth: we must not close the Book of Job after reading the chapter of malediction; we must read on, for at the end of the book there is wedding and birth and feast, and a song of those who gather harvests with both hands, the shouting of triumph, the music of victory. Hold on; be steadfast; hope constantly unto the end; what time you are afraid, pray more; what time the enemy mocks you and says, Where is now thy God? answer him without defiance, with the calmness which is better than violence. If then you can say "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him," you may win more by your patience than ever you could win by your excitement; you can do more by suffering well borne than ever was done by speech well spoken. You have been raised again from the very dead, you have forgotten your desolation, and you are now sitting like guests invited by heaven's own King at heaven's great banqueting table. Hold on; the end will judge all things. Yet be patient and tender-hearted to men who are but men, who are where you once were. It is not a sign of strength to mock a man who is down,
What is the joy that is depicted in this text? It is religious joy. The joy created by religion is intelligent. It is not a bubble on the stream, it has reason behind it; it is strengthened and uplifted, supported and dignified, by logic, fact, reality. Religious joy is healthy. It is not spurious gladness, it is the natural expression of the highest emotions. Religious joy is permanent. It does not come for a moment, and vanish away as if it were afraid of life and afraid of living in this cold earth-clime; it abides with men. It does not always assume forms such as commend themselves to the vulgar and the uncritical: there is a silence that is ecstatic, there is an appearance of gloom upon the face that but veils the wedding feast that is proceeding in the soul. The vulgar would have us in one continual grin, in one never-broken smile of folly; they know not what it is to keep house in the heart, to have banqueting within; they cannot tell what it is to see at once the mystery of sorrow which shrouds the face, and the mystery of joy which gladdens the heart. We must not take our judgment from them. We consult them on nothing else it would be superlative madness to consult them regarding religious education and progress.
Let us know by way of application that there is only one real deliverance from desolateness. That is a divine deliverance. We cannot release ourselves from captivity; we are inside the prison-door, and the key is outside. It is in vain to patter against God's granite; we do but hurt our poor fingers in trying to break down God's masonry. There is no deliverance to the soul of man but by processes known only to him who made that soul the mystery that it is. Let us flee then to the living God; lot us be forced to prayer. God has to take in men under every variety of condition and feeling; some reluctantly go, but if they go they are received; they have not gone along the line of argument, but they have been driven along the valleys of desolation. Some men would never have prayed if they had had banquets at home; they learned to pray by the altar of their own empty table. Some would never have gone to Christ if they could have kept a fire in their own grate at home, but when the cold struck them, chilled them, when the cold lay upon them like a burden of ice, then they began to wonder if there was no way upward, if surely there was none on the right hand or on the left. Remember that there is only one fountain of real joy. The fool can have no gladness; his life is an empty attempt to make himself glad. There is nothing in folly that can satisfy the soul, and the soul can never really eat and drink to its own nutrition and satisfaction except at the table of the Lord. We have taken our pitcher to many wells, and we have drawn from their depths nothing but crystal poison. We have accepted many an invitation to the feast spread by reason and by natural hospitality and by cunning invention, and the more we have eaten the less satisfied we have become.
It is in vain to seek joy except in one direction. There is a fool's laugh that can be had cheaply enough, there are jests that will writhe the faces of ignorance into smiles that have in them no gladness; but if you would be really restored, if you would really be delivered from desolation and sadness, behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. Once this was a speech eloquent, pointed, but only a speech: now it is a fact; men millions strong crowd around the witness to testify that they themselves have seen God's Son and are satisfied with an ineffable contentment. Not to have seen Christ is to have seen only darkness.