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By Rev. James Vaughan
" And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you." — ^JOEL ii. 25.
T^HERE is a difficulty, which every teacher finds, with the sublimities of the Bible. Shall he take them out of the ranges of their high poetry, and reduce them to the ordinary level of human thought ? Then must they lose something of their first grand impression. But shall he leave them in their clouds of mystery ? Then may the mind miss the intelligent conception, and the heart be deprived of some appointed comfort or advice. O that we were able to combine the two ! — to take out the honey of a definite sense, and yet not mar the bloom of inspiration's loveliness. There is an attribute of God, than which few can be more comforting, — "The Restorer of Years." Blessed faculty of Omnipotence ! For who has not to lament over things that are gone ? — gone, it seemed, never to return, — never, never to return! because they were worse than gone,— trifled with, wsisted, abused I Shall I catalogue a few of them ? There have been moments, — moments from earliest infancy, swelling to hours, — hours to weeks, — weeks to years, — gone, squandered, lost, " like water spilt upon the
The Restorer of Years^ 143 ground, that cannot be gathered up again ;" what shall ever bring them back ? And in those years, what opportunities of receiving
good, and doing good. Who has not them behind his back, — a dark train, — lost opportunities, — following after him to the day of judgment? And with the opportunities were energies, — natural endowments, talents which God had implanted, — what have they done? to what good account have they ever turned ? who is the better for those powers, now, many of them, — the spring of youth, the flow of freshness, — fading fast away ? And then there were fellowships, sweet fellowships, in which the truth of a deep affection echoed itself in each other's heart, — ^joys now of the distant past, shall they ever live again? And there were many voices that used then to speak with their solemn loving whispers in the soul, — and inward presences of the pure and the lofty which made themselves felt; — and such a peace there was at times, and such happy, gushing tears, and such drawn out power of spiritual aff"ections, and such a restful sense of the love of God, and such visions of the unseen world I But now, up and down in the same chambers of the inner life, we wander, and we seek for them everywhere ; but lo ! they are gone, " like the green bay tree," and their place can nowhere be found. And how is it ? Why are so many things, — and those the best things, — why are they no more ? And are they really gone for ever ? Can God, — will God ever bring them back again ? Where are they, — those many things which were, and while they were, were so very good, and so very pleasant, but now are not ?
144 'The Restorer of Years. Hear God's answer. "The locust hath eaten them, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among- you."* And why did God send " that great army ? " Because " your heart was not right " with Him, and you did not profit by them, nor give God His own glory in His own gift, and therefore )rou £ire brought into wretchedness, and therefore the blossom went off, as it is wont, the fruits of life withered, and the harvest was lost.
But what does it mean, — "the great cirmy?" What have been the devastating processes which have made such a wilderness, of fields of being once so fruitful ? First, I observe, it is not one thing, but many, — and each one of those many, in itself a very little thing, and no one, taken alone, to be much thought of. But little things make God's " great army," when He sets them to do His works. Who has not learnt it, — that it is the little things of life which have been his ruin? He has read God wrongly who expects the Grreat One to use great forces. It is the magnificence of God to bring out His large results by means which almost baffle man's microscope. But then, what mean those vast, puny desolaters, — " the locust, the cankerworm, the caterpillar, and the palmerworm ?" I do not know that I can accurately define them, or give to each image its own proper, special signification. The preceding chapter places them in a particular order. "That which the palmerworm hath left, hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left, hath the cankerworm eaten ; ' and that which the cankerworm hath left, hath the caterpillar eaten." What shall we say then ? Is there a sign in the order ?
The Restorer of Years. 145 Shall I put it thus ? Shall I say that first there came in youth " the palmerworm " of the world, with all its lowering influences, — pleasures that ate into our spirituality, — and tastes and habits that did away with the teaching of our childhood, till they nipped the buds of early promise ? When they had done their work, and passed away, then came " the locusts,'' — a thick and swarming band of the evil passions of manhood, and idle words, and foolish imaginings, and misspent money, and hot controversy, and pride^ and thousands of prejudices, and ten thousands of selfishnesses. They covered everything, and laid bare what was meant to be as the very garden of the Lord. And so in order, not without just retribution, Ccune " the
cankerworm " of the cares, and the ambition, and the anxieties of life, — vain remorse, and impotent regrets corroding the very strength of the man, and gnawing into his finest happinesses. And a little way further, and the man, being yet unchanged, only the external aspect shifting, there followed the creeping "caterpillar" of insidious unbelief, and the sceptic's universal questioning ; till, on and on, the decay of the mind's best powers, and the inability to discriminate between moral good and moral evil, and the dismal wilderness of a creed almost all negation. In any measure, brethren, is it so with any one who is listening to me ? Have you felt the inroads, the gnawing of those wide, devastating hosts ? Does life lie behind you, this day, a thing which always was to be, and yet never was, — a ruin of broken promises, a waste of consumed desire ? Then listen ; listen to the wonderful fact that I am going to record, — it can be all "restored," — the buried can live
146 The Restorer of Years. again, — the ruined can be built up, — and the whole evil be as thoug-h it had never been, — better still. But you say. Can "the years" which are past, travel back to me again? Shall opportunities, disregarded and forfeited, return ? Will energies, and feelings, and desires that had died out, be resuscitated ? Shall buried affections rise, and broken bonds of buried love be re-united ? Can my soul be ever again what once it was — a temple where God walked? But shall the peace, and the tenderness, and the quiet, and the holy imaginings, and the rays from the horizon of glory, make a little heaven again in this heart of mine ? "I will restore tb you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you." It is not for me to unfold, in any detail, how God will do His own great work as " a Restorer of Years." But I can suggest to you one or two very practical thoughts.
If, brethren, the recollection of the time which has been thrown away leads you, by God's grace, to put now a double intensity into the time which yet remains, — if that sin of negligence be so over-ruled in you that it make you now a two-fold Christian, to what you would have been — humanly speaking — but for that bitter memory, — then, the time which was once put away is actually redeemed ; and as God sees life, and measures time, — calculating by the love, the obedience, thoughts, words, feelings, works which are in that life^ you will have lived really unto God, just as long as if those unprofitable years had never been cut out. And as you double desires to serve and glorify God, He will double opportunities. Have not we all seen it, — the man who began last, is not he the man who has done
The Restorer of Years. 147 most? And rising- and returning thus from a ruined state, there will — God working in you — be an increased determination, and consequently an augmentation of power, both of mind and of heart, beyond what there would have been, if that wasted past had not come to stimulate and quicken all your moral forces ! And what, meanwhile, if some have passed away of whom your bitterest thought is, — ** I never valued, I never held them as I ought; and now they are gone, and I cannot undo it ; I cannot let them see now how I loved them, — I can never repair the words I said, the things I did not do, and the things I did ;" — but you can, you can ; now that you are trying to please God, God may see fit to let them know, in their quiet resting-places, and they may have cognizance of all you now feel about God and about them. But if not yet, they will presently. Are they in heaven ? So will you ; and you will have an eternity to make up for what so sadly fell through in this lower life. And still higher and better things than these will all come back. If the evil spirit returns seven-fold to the empty hotjse, will not the good Spirit come back sevenfold, — aye, seventy-fold to a man in whose heart Christ is ? The spring-tide of life is not gone never to come back. And believe me, the calm will be the stiller for the very storm that is hushed ; and the secret voices will sound the
better for the deserts of your self-emptiness; and your heart will be the tenderer because it has been the more smitten one, and the happier because it has been the humbler, and the humbler because it has been the guiltier ; and the very retrospect which makes the by-gone life so dark, will light up the on-going future with a distincter reality, and a more attractive beauty.
148 The Restorer of Years. The truth with which I am dealing is one of the deepest mysteries of God's grace. For I do not say only, to every penitent man, the past may be all forgiven; but I say much more, I say you may recover the past, — you may actually fill in and bring back again that which has dropt, — and double harvests of everything may compensate for the seasons that are blank ; and the sun may go back upon the dial of your heart. You must approach this doctrine with exceeding reverence. If any man, at the suggestion of his own wicked heart, should say, " Then I may go on to waste what I can so easily and so well recover," I tremble for the mind that can so " turn the grace of God into lasciviousness." But if some one in this church, — looking on the dreary past, — should resolve this with himself, — "I will so live the remainder of my life, — I will so work, so serve, so pray, so love, that, notwithstanding the lost time, my whole life, estimated and weighed in God's scaler by the piety which was in it, shall be £ls long as the life of that Christian man, who, without any interruption, gave all his day to God from his cradle to his grave," — then I say of that man that he is working within the promise, and that his high thought is in accordance with the whole mind and the word of God, — " I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you." ever forget, brethren, to see this in the atonement; for it is a purchased thing. And be careful to inscribe upon the cross of Jesus, as one of the highest of its titles, — " A Restorer of Years."
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