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this ? “Be strong and of a good courage.” What inspiriting promises like this? “He that overcometh shall sit down with Me, even as I am set down with My Father on His throne.” Is not cross-bearing, in a spirit of bold suffering, the test of discipleship? And in what condition do you find believers, individually or collectively, in this world, even in the most prosperous and happy times? Is it not that of conflict ? Did not the great Example, Christ Jesus, wear the “purple robe,” and the thorn crown; and are not His humblest followers to be, in a sense, “partakers” of His sufferings ?
THE CONTRAST IN THE TEXT.-(a) One man able to bear his infirmities; and (6) another man completely beaten and baffled in the battle of life, secular or spiritual.
(a) The man whose spirit can sustain him. It is presumed that this man is under the pressure of severe and varied afflictions. He is “sowing in tears.” “Billow after billow is rolling over him.” Suppose him, not only a strong-minded man, bravely contending with worldly adversity, but a religious man-all things apparently against him; "a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him again and again into spiritual captivity." Yet this man is here represented as unvanquished. He can even “glory in his infirmities,” for he has a spirit within him which sustains him under them-and, in sustaining them, the triumph is his. Outwardly, this man may seem baffled, and may pass away, even, “despised and rejected of men;" but, inwardly and really, his is the conquering power. Such is the one picture.
(6) The other man is one completely beaten and baffled in life. He has no spirit of successful endurance ; and hence, whatever his circumstances, favourable or unfavourable, he moves on through life, and from the beginning of his responsible career to its miserable close, he never can write “vici” on his shield. What a spectacle is here presented! This is an immortal being! Think of what depends on the issue of the criterion—"Bear or not bear!” Include in the picture, man,—mental, moral, or religious. How pitiable the spectacle of defeat, arising from the weakness of the “spirit” of a man! Grant his glorious and unique powers—his whole history of conquering dominion over nature, and trace all his metaphysical philosophies (which are supposed to be the “proper study” of man himself), yet here, in this contrast, is the mighty fallen! Here is the grandest being in the lower world, unable to sustain himself.
In short, this is the case of a mind wounded. What problems rise ? Is this the case of a broken heart? Is it that of secret sorrow of which the world can know nothing, and which eats as a canker into the very pith and power of the will itself? Is it that of guilt? or that of religious doubt and darkness ? This is the question we consider. Whatever we may hypothetically imagine, this is the case of a soul which, instead of sustaining itself and conquering adverse circumstances, is itself vanquished !
I. Wounds that are bearable.
(a) There is physical suffering. The burden is sometimes heavy, in the form of ill-health or great bodily distress. This may be long-continued. Life may have to be spent on the lonely couch. Pining sickness may strip all the gifts of Providence of their value, so that the sufferer feels as though darkness and the shadow of death ever encompassed him. There is poverty, with the heavy cares and manifold depressions arising from it. Relative affliction is sometimes of almost overwhelming magnitude. Home is made desolate. Loved ones, in rapid succession, have to be laid in the grave. And changes, great as human vicissitude includes, may have to be met and borne in loneliness. And yet here the “spirit” of a good man can sustain him—I say good, for the question is not as to animal self-reliance and in the case of a bad man, he constantly finds himself baffled. But faith in God, confidence in His wisdom and love, hope drawn from His faithfulness, can even do something to deaden physical agony-can take the tear from the eye, though our dead increase; can awaken praise in the dungeon, when irons are on the limbs ; and it can nerve to witness-bearing, though the penalty be a fiery furnace, heated seven-fold !
(6) There are the wounds of the spirit, or mental trials. It is impossible to describe their number, variety, poignancy, and penetrating power. There are cares, often forming a heavy daily load; disappointed hopes; there is the loss of joys which are never more to return; the faithlessness of “ your own familiar friend ;” desertion in the hour of your utmost need; living sorrows, when those who are “bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh,” might have been a shield and prop. To these we may add misrepresentation; the despite and rejection of men; sense of wrong done, when means of vindication are beyond our reach.
“The whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
But again, let heaviest mental trials be met with right principles and in a right manner, and the "spirit” of a man may sustain him. Given a consciousness of rectitude—what may that not bear? If we seek to "stay our mind on God," then, the good man becomes doubly armed, and shares in the strength of Omnipotence. There is not a foe that he need dread. He can resist the devil. There is not a grief for which there is not a provided balm. He can bear up even under the stab of ingratitude, and go on his way rejoicing; the light within him is not put out, though the night be dark, and the tempest is in hurricane strength. He can be calm under “nakedness, peril, or sword.” If all is right withinthen, the heaviest burden can be carried, and “neither height nor depth, nor any other creature can separate that soul from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Mark the condition ! This is strength from heaven.
(c) There is spiritual depression. Even when there is no disease, this is an experience under which believers have often to sustain themselves. Their souls are cast down within them. Seasons of bright, happy, and unclouded enjoyment are displaced by times in which “ the candle of the Lord” shines not on them. Now, whatever is the cause of this—whether sin, or special temptation, or deprivation of religious ordinances, as in the case of the psalmist, when “his soul thirsted for God as the heart panteth after the water-brooks”—days of spiritual darkness are a fact. If the natural sun is often hid behind mist and storm, the Sun of Righteousness may also disappear from the horizon of the good. His presence, when seen and felt, gives purest joy and unfailing strength. But the truest, the bravest, and the best have their “days of darkness” in which, like the Saviour Himself, their souls are troubled and sorrowful as unto death. This spiritual depression is seen in the grandest characters, in Elijah, Job, David, Isaiah, John the Baptist, and in Paul. These are representatives of the “whole household of God on earth.” Clouds descend. “The wells of salvation" seem to become dry. Instead of nearness to God, there is felt distance,—dreary, and even awful. The great source of strength, life, and joy, is gone. Prayer is felt as though unanswered, memory of past blessed communion with Heaven deepens
the gloom. Are not the following exclamations expressive of a common experience? Do you know anything of this form of trial? “O my God, I cry in the day-time, and Thou hearest not, and in the night-season I am not silent.” One cries, “O that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come even to His seat!” Another cries, “My soul is cast down within me!”
Now, there are certain facts to be remembered here in connection with temporary religious eclipse. There are certain things which the spirit of a good man can do, and will prompt him to do. “I will seek unto God, and unto God will I commit
He can pray, and will, in the darkness. He knows that the sun is in his sphere—that he is travelling as usual in the greatness of his strength—though transient vapours veil his glory from the eye. His faith can enable him to trust, though he seems about to be slain. Hence, the good man, even in spiritual depression, is found remonstrating with himself—“Why art thou disquieted within me, O my soul! Hope in God, for thou shalt yet praise Him." And so, as a great fact of Christian experience, he emerges out of the gloom, like the benighted traveller, more grateful for the light of day, just because of the evanescent night-shadows
“Though dark my path, and sad my lot,
Thy will be done." To these varied forms of human ill we need add nothing. Illustrating that“ man born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble,” they also confirm the Bible explanation, that “the wages of sin is death.” Not even all the glory of Christ's redemptive interposition in behalf of a world in guilt has relieved man from sorrow, temptation, and trial. Most specific are these words“Ye shall have tribulation, but you must overcome! You must endure to the end !” Hence all the rewards, the glory, and the joy of heaven is connected with VICTORY WON.
In all these forms of physical or moral infirmities, there is evidence, not only undoubted, but glorious, that the “spirit” of a man may sustain him. All we have sketched and suggested are bearable wounds. But, my brethren, let us understand the essence of the question. Is this bearing of all our infirmities to be in our own strength, or Heaven's ? In what form are we to anticipate and adjudicate upon the victory, or reach it? Patriarchs triumphed, “having no continuing city, but in seeking one to come;" prophets have sustained themselves in uttering their discredited testimonies. Before kings and princes of the earth, to apostles and martyrs bonds and imprisonments were light, as compared with the invincible spirit which animated them. Never, not even in a single case, do you find defeat. All is victory, in every conceivable degree and form. “I am ready to depart." Life is cheap. : “I know in whom I have believed.” Experience is the highest proof of spiritual life. Uplift the veil which Revelation has partially drawn aside. What do you see in heaven? Are not human sufferers the most conspicuous objects around the throne? We need not look to hell, for there is the evidence of all wreck,-ruin, baffled spirits, and “incurable” wounds.
II. The unbearable wound
(a) A "wounded” spirit is a spirit that is bleeding to death, and therefore has no internal support. It is pining! It is losing strength! It is dying! As seen, there are certain sources from which the mind can draw that conquering strength which we have been describing. God, the consciousness of nearness to Him, faith in His great consolation, His Spirit shed abroad upon our spirit,
—these enable the Christian warrior to "fight the good fight of faith," with any amount of “hardness." But in the case of those who deify their own powers,—who attempt the enterprise of braving everything, or dreaming that they have all available support in their own wisdom, or will, to endure and overcome,—there never was a form of delusion more inexcusable. For does not the will itself require guidance and communicated power? A prop is something to sustain you, when all other props are lying prostrate around, “great” being the fall of them. Imagine a man“ without God and without hope !” If you have no belief, then it is not faith that can sustain you; if you have no Christian hope, then you are really hopeless; for all other hopes are flatterers, and deceptive as a siren phantom. If it should happen that the law of the universe is against you, as well as its outraged Maker, then where is your resource for waging this battle? And should it further happen that not only God is against you, and the whole creation (which always sides with its Maker) against you, but suppose you are against yourself! How worthless all petty artificial expedients to support a building, for example, if its foundation is insecure, its walls separating, its timbers falling, and its very cope-stone off the balance ! Poles or heavy