THE SECRET OF COMFORT. BY Rev. WILLIAM ANDERSON, LL.
'*I Had fainted, unless I had believed to See the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living," — Psalm xxvii. 13.
You will observe in your Bibles that the words, " I had fainted," are printed in Italics, indicating that there is nothing corresponding to them in the Hebrew original Read the verse, therefore, without the supplement, and you will see what emotion there is in the expression as it proceeded at first from the heart of the Fsahnist: "Unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living !" We are left to supply the statement of the affliction which would have been the consequence of his unbelief in whatever way we choose. Our translators have supplied, perhaps, rather weakly. In another Psalm David says: "Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction." In both cases, however, David was evidently in a state of extraordinary distress ; and the strength of expression suitable to his case, though suitable to the cases, perhaps, of a few deeply distressed persons present, might be regarded extravagant if represented as being a fit expression for us all, so that the supplement of our translators, if understood in this sense, " My heart would have failed within
me for weariness and hopelessness/' may be regarded as striking a proper medium for the expression of unusual Christian experience.
" My heart would fail within me for weariness and hopelessness, unless I believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." Is this, I ask, a suitable expression of the state of feeling of each of us ? Observe, I ask not if it was the expression of the feelings of some of us, months or years ago, when they were suffering under the infliction of some peculiarly distressing calamity. If I referred to such a time, I would make the expression much stronger ; and it is of each of us as we are here at this present moment, that I ask if even now his heart would sink within him but for his belief that he will yet see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living — understanding by the land of the living the heavenly kingdom. There are possibly some present who are depressed in spirit, whose case I shall afterwards consider ; but in the first instance, I ask of those who feel comfortably, what is the secret of their comfort ? Unless it be the hope of that land of life which preserves you from being a melancholy man — if you are comfortable and cheerful without that hope, I denounce you as being a person of very ignominious mini Let not my soul be
like yours, if anything in this world can satisfy it, or keep it from complaining that its lot is a most miserable one. It is the land of the dead ; and who shall presume to attempt to satisfy his soul with such an inheritance ? There are many more evils in it than death : there is hunger, and nakedness, and toil, and disease, and slander, and shame, and disobedient children, and treacherous friends, and an accusing conscience, and the fear of eternity.
But my argument is so strong that it can afford to
dispense with pleadings founded on such mattera as these. I speak of death alone, and proclaim thee an ignominious man if thou feelest comfortable in a land over which the " king of terrors " reigns, unless thy heart be sustained by the hope of an inheritance of that other land where life and immortality shine. I might well proclaim thee a profane and wicked man for it, as trying to be comfortable in defiance of God, who designs that thou shouldest feel uncomfortable but for the hope of his promised kingdom* Even with this, however, I at present dispense, and keep to the exposure of thy ignominy. How vulgar, how mean, how degraded that soul must be which feels comfortable with no inheritance, either in possession or prospect, but a land of death !
I. Yoimg man ! as first in order, I address myself to you. What is it that makes you so cheerful ? Perhaps the invitation is in your pocket to a meeting of friends ; and oh, what feasting and singing and dancing and merriment you are thinking you will have of it ! Is it this which excites you so much, and makes your countenance so radiant ? Shameful boy ! to be of a spirit so mean and so little ambitious, when it is only such prospects as these which sustain thy spirit, and keep thee from pronouncing on human life a sentence of condemnation for its darkness and melancholy. Mistake me not, young man. I find no fault with the merry song ; and even the dance I can afibrd this day to tolerate. Oh, it is a dreadful argument, the argument of death, for the allowances which it can make and nevertheless be strong ! Are you sure you will enjoy that meeting ? Does death grant you the small boon of this assurance ? Has he made a covenant with you that he will let you alone till then ? Has he indorsed that invitation card, and given you liberty to reply that
you will attend ? Is it certain that he will spare him who has invited you, that he may receive you and give you the entertainment ? And, much as your heart is set on pleasure, you surely would not join in the revelry were your father or mother to die, or your brother or sister ? How "many chances there are that death will balk you
of your expected sport ! You will take your chance, you say. There is your ignominy — to have a spirit so mean as to be satisfied with such peradventures !
Well, suppose you have run the chance and been fortunate, and tried and tried again and been fortunate for the thousandth time, how little it will signify since the catastrophe must come; and oh, in this gambling work which you are making of existence, swindling yourself out of happiness, when the fatal throw is at last made, and the die turns up death, what a shriek it will be of despair ! Wretched youth ! it is difficult to determine whether you are more to be pitied or scorned. Some other time I will speak of the pity ; at present I speat of the merited scorn — that you should have a soul so dastard, so easily satisfied, so rude, that you can be cheerful and merry when yet you have no portion but in this land of death. Having no trust that you will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, were you possessed of any honourable sensibility of spirit, your heart would sink within you, complaining that humanity was all a lie and that man had been made in vain.
II. Men of middle age I I now address you. I wonder still more at you, if any of you can at any time be of a mirthful and joyous mind so long as you are destitute of
the faith of our text. In the calculation of chances, death will turn up sooner for you than for the young. Yet a few throws and you must die; and you have more
experience in the bereavement of friends that this is a land of death. As a son who has lost his parents, as a brother who has lost brother or sister, as a husband who has lost the wife of his youth, as a parent who has buried a child, who shall dare Ray that he is satisfied with the world ? Yet many virtually say so ; for they will laugh and joke, and sing merry songs, and dance so sprightly, when yet of another land they have no expectation. Ignoble men! Are they not easy to please, Christian brethren 1 Ignominiously easy ! Pleased with a land
where death has devoured their parents, their brethren, their wives, and their children, and is preparing to devour themselves! Low-minded infidel, to be pleased with a burial-ground for your inheritance, and dancing among the graves, down one of which you must soon be precipitated ! Is this that joyous emancipation from superstition of which you boast when you affect to pity the slaves of Christian faith? We can well bear your mockery, gentlemen philosophers, as being the hopeful heirs of a land of life.
III. K the young and middle-aged who are mirthful when yet they are without hopes for eternity be so deeply censurable for ignominiousness of spirit, what shall we say of a pleasant, contented old man in a state of unbelief? AQ his friends and relatives have died, and scarcely one chance remains for him of another day of life ; and yet he is cheerful, and the ignorant and irreligious will speak of him as being one who is much to be admired and envied. He is the deepest disgrace of our nature. He is the most striking evidence of the possibility of man being perfectly brutalized. Though there were no hope of his conversion, it would be a duty to ourselves, in the way of vindicating the dignity of our common humanity, to use means for
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quickening the spirit of the aged sinner, for making him alive to his wretchedness, and rendering him querulous and discontented ; for contentment with a land of death is degrading to the spirit of man. How far fallen must such a one be from iliat condition in which the Creator originally made man, inspiring him with royalty of heart, and setting him forth, as the vicegerent of his Oodhead, to have dominion over the works of his hands ! Think of such a one. being reduced so low as to be satisfied with an inheritance in a land of death.
Ever since death entered into the world through the apostasy of man, has it been such a scene of misery that to be cheerful in the midst of it, unless inspired with the hope of Gk>d's land of life, indicated an ignominious state
of mind. But, brethren, we are on our trial that we do not convict ourselves of being more ignominious than the men of any age that has passed. Never did the aspect of society threaten so ominously for evil; never did the world make such niggard promise of happiness to its votaries. When you reflect on the principles of commotion which are at work on the one hand, and the want of principle and wisdom on the part of men in authority to control them, even irrespectively of the prophetic burden of woe contained in the divine testimony, try and hope if you can for a world even of the conmion degree of worldly happiness for the next generation. But whatever may be the result, none of us can be chargeable with too much haste in making himself sure of the kingdom of Qod ; none of us can be chargeable with too much timorousness about this world in securing for himself a large inheritance of the world to come.
This length, brethren, I have illustrated that no one can be wisely or dignified ly a comfortable or happy man who
has only this world as an inheritance with which his heart is occupied; that in this case fretfulness, discontentment, and vexation is a fit state of mind for him ; and when some in their ignorance might accuse this of being Bn immoral lesson, I, on the contrary, maintain that that man who is contented with this world insults the Lord, for at present it lies under his curse, and to be pleased and delighted with it is a defiance of his judgments. Contentment is a principal virtue; but not such contentment as some ignominious and abject spirits evince. The acceptable contentment is that which springs from believing to see the goodness of God in the living land. But observe, brethren, that the saint, having once gained this joyous belief, becomes a man who may with propriety delight himself in such pleasures of the world as fall in his way. His inheritance is a heavenly one, and any comforts which are bestowed on him in this world are something to the advantage — something over and above — in which he may rejoice the more in so far as they are
unexpected, or do not necessarily enter into his calculations. Infidel youth ! I did not say that it is wrong to sing a merry song ; I only mocked at the idea of you singing it — ^you who have nothing but an inheritance of death. Go and weep rather, and leave the singing to Christian men. If the song is a joyful one, they alone are entitled to its mirth.
This introduces us to the consideration of another class. We have seen a party whose comfortableness is their sin and shame — for whom it would be more fitting, on their own principles, to be of a fretful, melancholy, and dejected mind. But their principles are bad ; and we may not say of any one that it is lawful for him to have a gloomy heart. We must proclaim it to be the duty of all
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to rejoice evermore. If it is ignominious to be satisfied with this land of death, not less is it sinful to refuse to be comforted with the prospect which God unfolds of his kingdom of Jife. When it may be your nervous system which is physically diseased, then is your troubled state of mind your infirmity rather than your sin ; but, with this exception, a comfortless heart is a sinful heart, for it must be an unbelieving one : it must doubt if there be any such land as that living one where the goodness of God may be seen, and suspect that it is all the delusion and fancy of a fable. Ah me ! I fear that the secret of the greatest part of the fretfulness and sorrowfulness and discontentment which prevail among professors lies in this rudest kind of unbelief — ^a doubtfulness whether there be any kingdom of God at all — ^a questioning of the veracity of this Book, if not a questioning of more — a questioning if there be any providential care and government of the universe. And without hope in God, how at any time, but especially in these troublous times, can men have quieted and composed hearts ?
Should you reject, however, the imputation of an unbelief so dark as this, and plead that it is your sinfulness — ^not only your want of merit, but your positive iU-
desert — which makes it a kind of absurdity to imagine that God will ever bestow the kingdom on one so vile as you, is not this unbelief again, and that, too, of a very dark character? Is it not calculating without Christ, taking no account of his cross, and indicating a desire to establish a righteousness of your own? You will, perhaps, reply that I quite misunderstand you — ^that it is precisely because you fear that you do not believe in Him; because you are suspicious that all your past professions of Him may have been self-delusion, that you
question your interest in his atonement and purchase; that if you were sure that you believed in Him, then would you be sure of the kingdom ; but that, wanting
certainty on the first point, you are in a state of painful dubiety on the second. Brethren, be warned and admonished. There is nothing so profitless as these perplexing inquiries, on which many expend their time, wondering if they have been believers in the time that is past. If it do not appear plain after a little reflection, stop the investigation and say, " Whatever I may have been in times past, I will be a believer now," and fall down on your knees and confess the Son of Qod. Cry to Him, " My atoning Friend and Master, to Thee I commit myself; " and then rise from your knees, assured that He has heard you, and will secure for you an inheritance in bis Father's kingdom.
Christian brethren, "The land of the living, and the goodness of God seen and enjoyed there" — ^let no prospect less than this satisfy us; the land where we ourselves shall live again after we have died ; the land in which a living God will show us his goodness in more distinct manifestation ; where his smile shall make it impossible for us any more to doubt our acceptance with Him; where He shall anew commit us over to the guidance and love of that living Saviour, whom we shall see face to face in his glory ; where He shall give us back our deceased children and Christian friends, all living (and so beautiful !), without the fear of death ever to separate us again. Let
nothing less than this, I say, satisfy us as the object after which we aspire. It is not wrong, it is our duty, to seek for comforts in this world, if they can be secured consistently with the pursuit of the inheritance of the world to come. But oh I let us seek first that kingdom of God —
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first in order of time as a subject of thought, first in order of importance as a subject of exertion, first in respect that its demands are first to be answered, at the expense of whatever neglect of all things else — ^yea, first in respect of all other things being pursued only as they have a tendency, more immediate or more remote, to secure this grand object. Let it be the master-passion, which subdues all things to subserve its own ends.
It is only thus that we can be dutiful to God ; only thus that we can be wise for ourselves ; only thus that we can attain to any dignity of character. Otherwise all is sinful, foolish, and degrading — sinful at once for its disobedience to Qod's commandment and despite of his presence ; foolish for its preference of a land of death to a land of life ; and degrading for the paltriness of the objects on which we expend our hopes and exertions, in neglect of those which are so great and glorious. Let us try ourselves, then, of our hopes. Are tiiey such that we can tell what they are to our friends, saying, " This is the great desire of our hearts " ? Is that great desire the desire of a great object ? Is it such that our friends will not condemn or scorn or pity us on account of its meanness, but admire and commend us on account of its dignity ? Yea, let us tell ourselves of our hope in the retirement of our chambers, or when abroad in the fields where no witness is ; let us be honest with ourselves, and speak aloud and tell ourselves what we design for our* selves, and see if our own selves are satisfied with the proposed provision ; yea, rather let us tell God what we especially expect of his mercy ; and if we tell Him that we expect but trifies, if it be less than his promised kingdom, shall we not fear lest He consume us in the midst of our very prayers for the insult offered his bounty ?
In this deadly time, brethreD, there are especially two deaths which have led me to select this at present as the subject of discourse. That which makes one of them, as being the death of a relative,* particularly interesting to myself, is just that which makes it improper for me to speak of it at length. All I shall say is, that if there were more who were personally as pure in their lives, as faithful and as affectionate at home, as just in their mercantile transactions, as true to their word, as forbearing as masters and landlords, as equitable in the administration of justice, as faithful in the discharge of all public trusts, as fearless of man where either folly or corruption was to be resisted, as reverently afraid of
offending God, as submissive to his will under affliction of no ordinary severity, and as reliant on the mediation of Christ — then would this world be less a scene of sorrow, and the kingdom of heaven be more amply replenished.
I feel more at liberty to speak of Dr. Chalmera How great reason I have for felicitating myself, that though the circumstances were sometimes tempting, in the course of the controversy which raged on the subject of Church and State alliance, I never uttered a sentiment of disrespect against his honoured name which I have this day cause to regret ! And you are my witnesses, brethren, that, next to that of Matthew Henry, the name of Chalmers has been that which this pulpit has most delighted to honour. Little do mauy of our religious youth know how much, under God, they are indebted to him. When he first made his appearance in Glasgow, it was as if an angel had visited it. Some of us recollect
* John Binnie, Dr. Anderson's f ftther-in-law, ftt one time ft member of Glasgow Town Council, and magistrate of the city.
what was the general state of preaching before that time — solid and Scriptural and argumentative enough, but cold and dry and formal, with little application to the
eveiy-day life and feelings of men, and still less accomodation to the advanced literature and science of the age. All this was rectified by his sanctified genius; the mocking of infidelity was quashed, and Christianity lifted up its head in triumph, and with heart greatly enlarged for her evangelical enterprise. The students of theology were of all others those who profited most. What a liberalizing and evangelizing of our views we underwent ! I speak not theologically. I trust many of us were converted to God before that time ; but, professionally, it was a signal regeneration. In this sense, I for one became as changed a person as if I had been created anew. I neither say nor think that I am possessed of any great excellence, but whatever good is in me is mainly ascribable to the awakening of my powers in these memorable days. Hundreds of us were so awakened, and the influence has been transmitted to many hundreds more, till all Scotland has participated in the benefit.
In his death there is no mystery of Providence ; the mystery lies in those being cut down who have done but a little of their work. He had wrought long and wrought well, and finished his work, and it was time that the Lord should give his servant rest. For these two things I rejoice — that he was not left to impair our veneration for him by any of the weaknesses or the foolish sayings and
doings of senility and dotage, and that he died suddenly. A sudden death to a well-prepared saint is one of the greatest of mercies. And his was like the translation of Enoch or Elias.
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