Page images
PDF
EPUB

in disappointment. There are few who have not in their time indulged in vain expectations. In their season of hope, life lay before them like a rich landscape blooming with fair flowers of promise, and often they surveyed their prospects, and inwardly rejoiced over their harvest in the years to come. At that stage of our existence, when youth and health transfer their own brightness to the world around, we cannot understand, for we do not know any reason why, our present happiness should not go on to its perfect increase. But soon we are undeceived, and one by one the illusions fade away. Is it that, in our innocent and fresh imaginations, we had figured the world as only an enlargement of some virtuous and affectionate family circle ? We discover it to be self-seeking, treacherous, and frequently unmindful, save for conventional ends, of the distinction between vice and virtue. Or is it that we caressed a romantic dream, and ministered to our secret ambitions by clothing worldly success in a glitter of ideal happiness? What boots it to have cultivated such desires, noble and lofty though they often be, when the success is never attained, or, when attained, is dashed by its hard, dull, prosaic character? Or is it that we only aim at such ends as may be fairly within our reach, and cherish such hopes as may reasonably be fulfilled—that we ask no more than a comfortable home, faithful friends, and the legitimate rewards of an honest occupation? Often, alas! the heart reaps only bitterness, a bitterness which none can estimate but itself,—when even the spot of earth we call our own, and even those who name themselves our friends, deceive our trust; when our home becomes the abode of sorrow, when our friends refuse their aid in trouble, and the labours of our lot are converted into a very stone of Sisyphus, a renewal of toil from day to day, unmarked by progress and uncheered by reward.

Sometimes, again, the heart's bitterness is the result of wounded affections as well as blighted hopes. It is hard for a father who has seen his son grow up in his own likeness, and who, for all his sober and silent mien, loves the youth as the very light of his eyes,-it is hard, I say, unspeakably bitter, when the son proves an ingrate and a prodigal, unmindful of the fond desires centred upon him. It is hard, too, for a man who has chosen a comrade, to learn that the link of love binding them together has been broken, and that he can no longer count on the other's sympathy and affection. Hard is it, also, for the gentle and confiding heart of woman to know that she has been deceived and betrayed. But

hardest of all is it to submit to the spoliation of our dearest treasures by the hand of death, and to wake up, after the first agnoy of grief, to the stern solitude of a world which no longer holds in life the being whom we love. Ah! then truly does the heart know its own bitterness, when nothing interferes between us and the naked reality of our loss, when only in fugitive dreams of the night we see and hear again the vanished objects of our desire, and when morning light, to others so pleasant, brings back to us a deepened darkness. Why need we wonder that, as the years increase, they render us ever moodier and more sombre, furrowing the forehead, silvering the hair, and roughening the voice, since, in successive assaults of our affections, they have deprived us of one and then another of our associates, until at last we remain alone, like the last fragment of a wreck left on the shore ? Why does the old man say but little of his losses to the busy world around him, and take pleasure in the prattle of children? Because none but himself knows all he has endured, the cords which have been snapped, the memories of the dead that cling to him, the spectres which haunt his past, the solitude in which life itself has left him. He desires none to pry, with idle curiosity, into a condition of mind they cannot fully understand, or touch with rash hands the sacred griefs enshrined in his heart. He knows its bitterness, and he knows too, that nothing this earth can now give will allay it.

But I need not, dear brethren, endeavour to extend the long catalogue of the unhappy, who may be said to realise the first half of the text. Cares and burdens belong to every one, which they must bear alone; and even those to whom we are most closely and intimately attached, still reserve a corner of their hearts concealed from us, where they hide a bitterness with which they only are acquainted. God has stamped on every man and woman an individual character, exposing them to personal and individual sorrows. He has placed each of us in a position peculiar to ourselves, and that position entails responsibilities and losses of its own kind. There are certain parasitic plants and animals which prey on a single species and on no other. The bushes and flowers in your gardens, the wheat and grass in the fields, and the trees of the forest have each their enemy, in the shape of fly, or rust, or mildew, attaching itself only to the kind of herb or plant to which it is adapted, and all the science of man has proved useless to extirpate some of their most mischievous forms. So, too,-if we may illustrate by this

what really requires no illustration, it is so obvious and wellknown,—we are all subject to attack from the special enemies of our peace; and in the impossibility of evading their assaults, we must each carry our own cross, and leave our hearts to know their own bitterness. Of all forms of unhappiness which this condition entails, by far the worst is that of secret, besetting sin. To be oppressed with a care of which none can relieve us, to feel the canker-worm of disappointment gnawing at the vital energies of the soul, to be pursued by the dark shadow of an irresistible sorrow,—all this is sore, and hard to endure. But, oh! to sit for ever in company with a secret sin, and to dread the while the vindications of the outraged law of God, is the very bitterness of despair. And all sins are in a sense secret, for they concern our relations with God, not with man. Blessed be His name, it is our own fault if they remain with us, if their gall and bitterness continue to torment us. As between man and, man many griefs exist of which no confession is possible, and which, even when confessed, continue still unrelieved; but as between us and the Author of our being, we know that no sin is so great as to deter us from acknowledging it, and in our very acknowledgment obtaining consolation. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So pouring out our hearts before God, the bitter waters of life become sweet, and the shadow of death is turned into morning

Let us now look for a short time at the second half of the verse. “A stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.” If there are sorrows so deep and inexpressible that their knowledge lies only with the heart that feels them, and with the God who looketh on the heart, we have also joys so great and absorbing that no stranger can understand or disturb them. It is quite true, that they do not often occur. Gladness of a kind and degree that it cannot be expressed or shared, is a rare and exceptional accident in this vale of tears; but it is well that, even if seldom, yet still, as a matter of fact, moments of such unspeakable happiness do visit us. For they show to us with what capabilities of enjoyment we are endowed; and they reveal to us the prospect, unless the capacity has been given in vain, of exercising it in a more suitable sphere of operation than in a world of sense and time. The gleams of light which flit ever and anon athwart our sky indicate the near advent of dawn and perfect day. “Like trailing clouds of glory do they come, from God who is our home.” No man will be a pessimist, and regard life as the embodiment of pain and evil, who adds to his confession of the heart's bitterness, the consideration of joys that brook not intermeddlers. And I ask you, dear friends, if it is not the case, in spite of the woes on woes which afflict humanity, that good and perfect gifts are bestowed on us, crowning our lot with joy and gladness at times inexpressible? I speak not of those common pleasures we taste from day to day, refreshing and reviving us in our onward pilgrimage. I do not allude to the flowers and sunshine which beautify and gladden the dusty and well-trodden highway of human life. Such ordinary joys indeed are proof of God's Providential care, which enables us to make merry and be glad even in the face of pressing anxieties. But I speak of higher and holier delights than they. I refer to moments when the happy spirit, full of divine transport, and exulting in the undeserved blessedness of reconcilement and fellowship with God, experiences a joy from which every foreign element of sin or sorrow seems to be excluded. No servant of God but may hope to realise this condition of ecstasy, even in the present life, and none will fail to enter upon it in the life to

come.

It was such a foretaste of everlasting bliss that Paul received when he was caught up into the third heaven, and into a similar state of gladness were the disciples thrown when their Lord stood in their midst and said, “ Peace be unto you.” We, too, sometimes, if we have received the true spirit of our adoption, may anticipate the glory of heaven, and then no stranger can intermeddle with our joy. A wicked world cannot interfere between the saints of God and their inward holy delight, for its power over them fails when it touches the soul. The ungodly cannot interrupt, as they do not understand, a course of purely spiritual pleasure. Nor are the godly themselves given to babble about their state. They know too well that, even if they could describe it, their words would be foolishness to the wisdom of this world; but they are convinced of the impossibility as well as the uselessness of so describing it. Theirs is a joy which passeth knowledge. Let any man try to lay before you the story of his life, in order to elicit your interest in it,—let him recount its various incidents, and describe all the persons and places with which he has been connected,-let him detail his many movements since he started on his career, and ask you to sympathise with him, as he touches on the numerous ups and downs of his history, and I venture to say that before his task is half done, confused and wearied with a multiplicity of facts which have no bearing whatever on your own interests, you will cease to listen. Do we not often meet men who pour into our ears a complicated narration of their doings, not one of which is of the least importance to anybody else, and only to them because they were the actors ? Apply the same principle to the experience, the history of God's people, and you will see at once the reason why they do not and cannot communicate their joy. They would weary a world which has no interest in the things of God. They would be casting pearls before swine, if they were to relate the story of their religious joys and sorrows to sinners. Nor do they feel any desire to parade before strangers the secret of that passionate love of Divine things which leads them into their hours of spiritual rapture. Even earthly love is shy of unfolding its blossoms, and genuine affection is keenly sensitive to the rude touch of an intermeddler, much more the pure and heavenly bond of a believer's attachment to his Lord. His spirit rejoices and is glad in God his Saviour, but he cares not to vulgarise his gladness. Enough for him, and for the chosen ones who love like him, that their lives are hid with Christ in God; and as no stranger can share their deep contentment, so none can interfere with or injure it.

In what does such gladness consist? It is hardly susceptible of analysis, but I shall not go beyond the instructions of the word of God, when I say that there are at least two elements in it, which sufficiently explain why no stranger intermeddleth with this joy.

1st. It implies personal appropriation of Christ.

When our Lord was on earth, He had personal relations of a distinct and individual kind with each of His disciples. The sons of Zebedee were called in a different way, and pursued a different path of apostolic training, from the sons of Jona, Simon and Andrew. The doubting Thomas regarded Jesus and was treated by Him after another fashion than the energetic Philip; while that one who hid a wolf's nature under the clothing of the flock stood apart, in his every aspect and relation, from the rest. For each one, Jesus had a special advice-chiding the impatience of some, encouraging the timidity of others, and exposing the avarice and treachery of the apostate. So, too, did His great apostle, Paul, take special charge of his converts individually, and send salutations to Priscilla, and Aquila, and Rufus, and all the others he could conveniently mention in his letters. John also was commanded to write to the church in Sardis—“Thou hast a few names which have not defiled their garments,” as if to show, in the

« PreviousContinue »