Skip to content

Dealing with Bible Difficulties: First Issue

Perhaps the greatest blessing of Atheist and Non-believing critique of the Holy Scriptures is that it stirs the Protestant Evangelical to go to the scriptures and to make a very powerful defence of God’s Word. The Roman Catholic need not run to the scriptures to answer atheist critique as he may rest on the authority of the Pope.

Christians though can find a great deal of blessing from dealing with “Bible Difficulties”, the Bible is to be read by individuals, families and congregations and it is a wonderful blessing to have it in our own language. I reccomend the use of the King James Version of the Bible for the beautiful prose and accuracy of language.

In the next series of Blog Posts I hope to deal with these Bible Difficulties that I have looked at and share the blessing that has come to me from studying them. Remember that God cannot lie and he has preserved his word. If we mock it or misunderstand it, further study will show us up – it will not show the Great God up. May the Lord Jesus have the Glory.

However, I will only “skim” the surface, I will not go into detail because the reader should be Blessed by looking into God’s word thesmelves. As a result I will pass over information and will offer only a partial analysis of certain problems.

We may therefore come and expect that God will honour his word.

God Unable to Overcome Iron Chariots?

In the Book of Judges and the very first chapter and the verse 19 we read

“And the Lord was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.”

The Difficulty: This verse would seem to indicate that the Chariots of Iron are a defence against God. Therefore, God either lacks the power to overcome man made technology or the Bible contains contradictions.

The Solution: The verse is not a critique of God. The chapter explains the failures of God’s people in their battles. All of their successes are because of God, as with the victory in the mountains, but the defeats and failures and misplaced confidence of the tribes of Israel are critcised.

The Benefits: 1) Thought of how Christ was able to overcome the cross, but was taunted as being unable to do so, just as God can drive out a chariot – so Christ did not have to be subject to a few metal nails pierced through his hands, but he was for his people’s sake.

2) The LORD (the God who keeps covenant) is mentioned here alongside his people and assosciated with them. God with us even when we stumble, not ashamed to be OUR God. Though we would provoke him to anger, yet he is longsuffering. Slow to wrath and in mercy plentious.

3) Teaches the need to read in context. Verses are best understood by the use of other verses.

Thomas Boston: On Fasting

Here is the picture I can find of the Reverend Thomas Boston, a great Pastor-Preacher-Scholar of the Presbyterian Church. Note that his face is not of a sad-countenance; nor disfigured – yet he is a man who knew something of the religious exercise of fasting.
“Fasting is not a natural abstinence, arising from sickness, nor medicinal, used to prevent or remove the same, nor civil, as in case of dearth or siege, nor yet moral, for the preservation of chastity, but religious, that is referred to religious ends, for the furtherance of the special practice of repentance, and the enforcing of our prayers.” – Archbishop Ussher
Having read very little of Thomas Boston, only briefly picking up his Fourfold state in order to answer a question that a young lady in my Church had about his book, it was important that I finally read a full piece of his work. He is a competent writer and one who I would like to become very familiar.
Of course his works would fill more than one shelf on my study and so it made sense to take up the works of the great Post-Glorious Revolution preacher with a tiny 104 (A6) pages book “A Memorial Concerning Personal and Family Fasting and Humiliation” this edition printed in 1841 (two years before the disruption.)
So what does this early 18th century (that’s 17XXs, not 18XXs) book have to teach us?
Some things!
1. It establishes the Biblical warrant for personal and family fasting.
Boston first looks at fasting as a general principle, but is quick to bring it to us personally. Not to leave it as a hypothetical situation in which congregations and nations are sometimes prone.
He grants the reader an appreciation for the serious nature of national sin and how times of public fasting are warranted. Next, he turns to church and congregational life – and finally to family and personal life.
2. He gives practical direction on how to prepare and conduct a fast.
That is, rather than leaving it for the novice to rush in and make up rules as he goes along this Pastor’s care for the souls of his flock shines through as he explains how to carry this out. His charity is evident from page to page. He frequently offers additional assistance. We are, he says, to pray – and if we are distracted – we are to speak our prayers out loud.
3. The Gospel is Offered!
Yes, here in this little booklet, about Christian piety and devotion. About obedience to God and wrestling with God. About the blessings of God to his obedient people – a work that is stirring us up to obedience and devotion – Boston presents the Gospel of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
4. Psalms are Shown to Be Useful for Practical Religion
Exclusive Psalmody is often criticised for producing to narrow a range of songs for the different circumstances of Worship. However, for the acts of religious duty described in Boston’s work the Psalter is more than sufficient. He suggests particular Psalms fit for the purpose.

I cannot sing, never-mind Precent, but I attempted to belt out a few of these Psalms myself as I read.
Psalms 80; Psalm 39:6 or Psalm 51. I could not think of any materials from my Church of Scotland days that I would gladly substitute.
Conclusion of the Whole Matter
Sadly 1841 prints of Boston are hard to come by, though you may find them in little highland charity bookshops. I believe my own copy was taken from a library clear-out of one of the Ministers of the Gospel within my sphere.
Thankfully, a little bit of research has led me to discover that the work is available in Volume 11 of the Complete Works of Thomas Boston. You may find it online.

Some Books

Some time ago I began to wind down from the blog and to concentrate on another writing project that I had going on but today I wish to update you on the reading which has been taking place.
Many books that are worth considering are discussed below and I gave them my hearty recommendation. I have provided links to kindle for the benefit of the modern 21st century, where this is not available I have provided a link to the place I would recommend you purchase the material.
Firstly, in a world where militant Islamic ideology exists alongside the tame version held by secular muslims in the United Kingdom it is profitable and useful for Christians to get a firm understanding of the Islamic holy book. After all, one man does great evil and defends it from the pages of the Qu’ran. An able work is provided by Dr James White, director of Alpha & Omega ministries, the leading reformed Christian apologist in the world.

Dr White makes no apologies that this a Christian book. Written for Christians to teach them how the Holy Scriptures compare with the Qu’ran and how the Christian is best to understand Qu’ranic messages particularly as they relate to Christianity.

It is available on Kindle for the price of £5.22 at the moment.

Secondly, we read an old Puritan classic. “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment”, we are not content enough! We are those who would gladly blame the LORD for every little matter. If we learn to be content we will find that we have learned something more than how to be happy.

This series of sermons by Jeremiah Burroughs show a level of competence and capability which belongs to the Puritan preachers of the 17th of century. There was a lot of happy thoughts. Of particular value is his teaching on “How Christ teaches contentment”. We do not want to focus on our learning but his teaching. The Saviour is the finest teacher and instructor. We would do well to meditate and to learn how he teaches contentment.

With my memory exercised there are a few points of particular note. One particular illustration is that a servant may be sent by his master to do a less honourable duty – but it serves him better. SO our Master may make us leave a great estate; or a mighty family or a fine occupation – to take up some other role but it is more needful and beneficial to our glorious Saviour, and that thought produces contentment! This strikes a note when I consider the great men.

We may be filled with admiration for the “contentment” of our Ministers who remained with the Continuing Free Church in 2000 and the Ministers of the Gospel who were our fathers at the Disruption of 1843. Both groups gave up a great deal of a more honourable position – but have done so for a better service to the Master.

Another point, if you are in a strange place, you do not mind that you lack the comforts of home. Home is not to be found on this earth! This is but a place of sojourning for the born again Christian.

The Banner of Truth, who are yet to cut out the AV from the Puritan reprints, is the best place to purchase this book here.

Thirdly, the biography of Frederick Douglas available for free on kindle is an interesting read and one I am thankful to have read. Despite his criticisms of the Free Church of Scotland, I warmed to Douglas as an African-American Christian and not merely a former slave. It is available for free on kindle.

Sleeping is a Christian Duty

Mr Hardworking vs Mr Sleep

Recently the Court of Divine Providence issued a judgement in favour of Mr Sleep against Mr Hardworking, Mr Sleep (pursuing) claimed that Mr Hardworking had on various occasions undertaken to pay Mr Sleep the sum of 6-8 hours and had been unable to do so, Mr Sleep further brought before the court evidence of his patience with Mr Hardworking and particularly that he often allowed debts to be accumulated until Friday and Saturday night before receiving payments with interest.

However, due to his younger years being past him and due to increasing church and work commitments Mr Hardworking had been unable to continue repayments. Mr Sleep had no choice but to demand an immediate reduction in Mr Hardworking’s work, prayer and social life to repay his debt. He cited statute Psalm 127:2 “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late”. The court noticed that the Lord Jesus Christ had himself commanded rest to be taken and set an excellent personal example of resting from diligent and hard labours (Luke 8:23).

The defendant pleaded that he required to reduce his sleep in order to continue in his prayer and Bible study, but no such claim could be permitted on the following grounds: 1) That he was fearfully and wonderfully made and his very nature demanded rest 2) That it denied the previous ruling of the Divine Law that there is a “A time to weep, and a time to laugh” &c. On further examination, Mr Reality testifying for the pursuer indicated that only very little of the additional time (owed to Mr Sleep) was actually devoted to the cause of prayer or study.

Mr Conscience and Mr Experience both testified against the defendant while those who appeared in his defence were barred from the courtroom, for the unclean could not enter having no mediator. Mr Hardworking himself had to confess that the evidence that Satan and his angels could offer would be in contempt of court.
Judgement therefore has been issued in favour of the claims of Mr Sleep, who must either be paid in full or Mr Hardworking will suffer a loss of productivity, prayer, study, worship, love, zeal, joy and recreation. Potential further penalties will include: increased stress, mental and physical health problems, loss of earnings, loss of employment and breakdown of family life. It was further noted that any such attempt to blame Scripture, conscience or Providence itself would result in the defendant being found guilty of contempt of court and liable to chastisement.

Mr Hardworking, receiving the judgment through his Righteous Advocate, departed from the court singing:
“I will both lay me down in peace,
and quiet sleep will take;
because thou only me to dwell
in safety, Lord, dost make” – Psalm 4:8

Christian Nurture

Having looked already at the joy that comes into the world with children and then examining the affections of a parent when children are about them – Raleigh’s next sermon addresses the much neglected subject of Christian nurture. I was very heartened to read one of the blogs I follow here an example of Christian nurture in the form of a testimony about the reading of Scripture; the Singing of Psalms and the encouraging of scriptural mediation.

Those of us without a Christian upbringing would do well to heed Raleigh’s words. Those of us with a Christian upbringing already have the good pleasure of knowing the benefits of Christian nurture.

3

Christian Nurture.[1]

“The children whom the Lord hath given me.” – Isaiah 8:18

We speak of our children as especially “ours.” We hold them as a dear possession, and if we are Christian parents, our affection reinforces our religious convictions, and fires those gracious impulses which lead us to seek for them the best spiritual blessings. There are some things which I desire at least to name, and which, if we can give them place and power in our own lives, will have great influence in enabling us to carry on and through our work as parents to a blessed issue of success.

These words may be resolves into four: – Be faithful – Be tender – Pray, and Hope.

Faithfulness.- The meaning of this word is explained by the resolve of the Psalmist when he says:- “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way; I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.”[2] Always when we try to do good to others we are thrown back upon ourselves; we are reminded that high work must have fit instruments, and that our influence is likely to be as our character is. As the man is so will be his strength. This is peculiarly the case as between us and our children. They know us much better than others, are much nearer to us, see us more clearly. We cannot make them believe anything about our tempter and spirit, our purpose and desire concerning them, that is not true. They will know inevitably whether we mean all we say, desire all we pray for, and are all we profess. We who are fathers and mothers must have deepest consciousness, “the love of Christ shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us;”[3] and our whole life must be ruled and quickened by the principles and powers of the Gospel. We ought to seek not only, or not so much, that our children shall be brought, in some intense experience, out of one kingdom into another – despairing and repenting, believing and rejoicing, all in a few days; as that they shall drink into our own spirit day by day, and feel as life goes on that we have given them Christianity in its essence – the sweetness, the quietness, and the power of it, and the breadth of its eternal love. As we train our children, and talk with them, and pray with them, and go in and out among them, until some of them find peace and joy in believing, let us remember that we are not only instrumentally forming Christ in their hears, the hope of glory, but that we are reproducing ourselves in them – our own Christian character, our own life-hope, our own deepest, dearest loves and joys. What we think of Christ in our closet will colour and give tone to what they think of Him too. It is an awful, yet a blessed law. It allures us to the higher goodness for reasons beyond the personal ones. For our children’s sakes we are bound to be the best we may. Nothing that we can say or do will have half the force of that invisible and almost irresistible power which comes right from our souls, and goes at once and straight into theirs. This power, issuing from the depths of our own being, is an involuntary thing on our part. We cannot make it this or that by an act of will. We affect others, and especially our children, by what we are. And they know what we are. O they know it! They feel it, if it be for good, thrilling them, helping them, warning them, winning them – shading their way sometimes like a very presence of God. And they feel it not less if it be for evil, or not fully good – chilling them, hindering them, coming with dark shadows between them and God. We must love Christ dearly ourselves if we are to show His loveliness to them. We must say to them by our life, not “go, seek the great and distant God, if haply you may find Him,”- but “come with us into His loving presence, for He is here.”

This sincerity on our part ought to take as one of its forms a firm, steady family rule – an exercise of wise parental authority. Much is said in Scripture about this. And just now – in an age of theological relenting and softness[4], when much less is said in pulpits and books about the terrors of the Lord than used to be spoken in former times – when nearly all law is resolved into love, it is well to have the Scriptural ideal of authority in the family brought clearly into view. “I know him (Abraham) that he will command his children after him.”[5] “Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do.”[6]

There are some who exercise authority in the family, not the Christian authority, which is a calm, just, beautiful thing, but mere human self-will. They are always commanding, requiring, checking, restraining. Such a habit does not engender in the child any spirit of true obedience to God and truth, and to the parent, as representing these; it rather irritates and evokes a spirit of opposition, or what is even worse, it depresses and discourages, and spreads a kind of hopelessness over the young life, which it is a very sad thing to see. In such an atmosphere of fault-finding, I am afraid some children do give up in a kind of despair: and there is found in the little bosom no longer the glow of a noble purpose – the hope of pleasing God! That is put away among the far possibilities of future years; and the young life, which might be pure and happy from the beginning, like the life of Samuel, somewhat even like the life of Christ, is cast down, becomes a loose unregulated thing, moulded by circumstances, driven hither and thither by accident or chance.

On the other hand, and perhaps at present this is the more common mistake, parents mar their own influence, hinder their prayers, and injure their children,, although they are very far from meaning it, by overindulgence. They never command – never rule calmly and firmly – all is softness, liberty, or even license. Such parents tell us in defence of their system: “It is not for us to command; our best influence is, as has been said, that of personal character; if that be not right, commands from us will of little use; if it be, they are not needed. Influence will win them to goodness while mere authority will fail.” On the same principle it might be said that God does not need to command; that He only needs to reveal to His creatures what He is, and they will love and serve Him. He has revealed himself to us. He has opened the heart of infinite love. What has He not given! His dear Son – His Holy Spirit – His everlasting Heaven – His own fullness, and all without money and without price! And yet this same God, this Father of mercies, commands, legislates, and duly brings penalty upon those who do not obey. Law and love, these make the whole revelation of God. Not the law without the love; that would fill the world with despair. Not the love without the law; that would fill it with selfishness and misrule; both in union will yet fill it with God’s obedient children. Be followers of God in this. Be rulers in your own house – not by checks and shocks, by pull and strain, by collision of wills, and trial of strengths – but gently, as the moon draws the tides up the shores; or as the sun lifts the ocean exhalations into the rain-clouds of the sky. Butt lest there should be any mistake; let us take the next word.

Tenderness. – Here is ground where one almost fears to tread. A mother’s tenderness! It is one of the continual wonders of the world. It is really a greater thing than a father’s constancy, a soldier’s courage, or a patriot’s love. It is a marvellous thing; and yet the world is full of it. “Can a woman forget… that she should not have compassion?”[7] Yet, just because it is so strong, there is some danger of mistaking the natural feeling which glows in every unsophisticated heart, for that gracious and spiritual affection which is baptized in thoughtfulness, and animated with faith. There are living and growing things which are present to the mind of a Christian mother, and which awaken a tenderness more delicate and sensitive than ever touched the heart of one who did not love the Saviour. Think of the great interests at stake; of the principles now being formed; of the habits that will result from them; of the characters you are moulding; of the gladness of the grief, the light or the dark, that will be in future homes as the result of what you are doing now in yours; and of the issues to be revealed in the eternal world, and walk tenderly, as you would among flowers in early Spring; as you would move in a room filled with articles of rarest value; or as, on some day of solemn sweet memorial, you would go into the temple of God.

Such feelings will lead to Prayer.

Prayer is the instinctive action, the natural inevitable flow of a gracious soul. “This is one of my deepest convictions, I will go and tell it to God.” “I am yearning over a son, a daughter: I cannot tell my thoughts, and fears, and hopes to them. I will go and tell them all to Him.” “He, my Father, has had far more loving care, solicitude, and trouble with me than I with them. He will understand it all, and I shall understand the case better when I have told Him. I cannot but tell Him. I have no secrets from God. It would be a violation of the covenant between us if I kept anything back – my soul, with all its secrets and sorrows, thirsteth after God! These strong affections which He gave me, He will not deny and crush them when they lead me to Him. This prayers – which gathers in my soul when I stay away from Him, like water that finds no outlet – He will hear it, and honour it, and answer it.” So the heart will drink in divine tranquillity and reassure itself in faith.

Again, in prayer for our children we are putting ourselves in the line of God’s laws. We work as He works. So the farmer acts, in harmony with law when he tills his land and sows his seed in right season. So the builder does when he lays a sure foundation, brings sound material, and builds by line and plummet. We are in the fields of grace, watching for the springing of the good seed and waiting for the early rain. We are trying to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord[8] It is not our nurture, it is His, and in prayer we cast it over on Him. He is never weary of His nurture; He never ceases from His admonition; He makes registry of the birth; He is present at the baptism; He teaches the child to go, taking it by its arms; He soothes its sorrows, lifting it up into His own. Our nurture of our children is soon over. A few years, and they are gone. His nurture never ends. They are children in His hands all their days, and we do well to cast them on their Father’s care, on the tenderness of His nurture, and the wisdom of His admonition.

Are some of your children far away? To bear their names in your heart to a throne of grace, will it not in a true sense be really going to them, giving them your best and purest presence, and your most effectual help? Every morning you may greet your daughter away in the far West. Every night you may lay your hand on the head of your sailor boy as he swings himself into his hammock, and touch and purify his hear with thoughts of home; and light will arise in the darkness as you name the prodigal’s name, and commend him too to the great Father. This is the true electric line which goes first to heaven and then round all the earth. Nothing but an entire surrender, a full and unreserved communication of the whole case to God, will fill your heart with peace. You will feel that the mysteries of your lot lie clear on the plan of His wisdom, and that your prayers have gone up to Him in memorial, and have been or will yet be returned in showers of blessing on you and on your children.

We are naturally led to the last word – Hopefulness. We ought to cherish a feeling of cheerful confidence in God as the result of our endeavours for our children’s good. Discouragement, and despondency even, will come to us soon enough, and darkly enough, if we will permit them; and perhaps in some such ways as these.

A certain ideal is formed in the mind as to the manner in which the grace of Christ is to operate, as to “the way of the spirit,” and such an ideal is seldom fully realised. A child is expected to develop into graciousness this way, and he develops that way. This is to be the time of decision, and it does not come; this is the occasion of serious thought, and there is nothing but airy frankness. Moods of seriousness come, and then mysteriously they go, leaving parents to think of “the morning cloud and the early dew.” Then perhaps we see other children drawn into the better life, whose training has been apparently not different from that of our own home. Their day of decision has come, while our children stand doubting still.

Now we have no right as Christian parents to give encouragement to these moods. We have the one thing to seek – that our children shall be new creatures in Christ Jesus; but we have no right to require or expect the attainment of this in any particular way. We must not dictate to the Spirit of God, or infringe His rights and royalties. Let Him come as He will, as breeze or whirlwind, as fire or dew, He will be welcome. Without choosing, without presuming to regulate the matter by the measuring-line of our thought, we must go on hopefully day after day, doing the best we can, always sowing the seed and always cheerfully expecting the harvest. Christian parents, you continue in this work amid the very sanctities and breathings of Divine Love. Surely you will not despond? Surely you will not weary? You are working a quiet work, but a work which, if well done, will be the fullest and noblest upon earth. There is no work greater than the consecration to God of immortal beings from their birth. The great Christian field offers much harder work, enterprises connected with greater difficulty and more danger. In one sense it may be said to be a nobler thing to go and tame a save, or throw down the altars of idolatry and set up the throne of God; to go and preach Christ in the regions beyond the reach of civilisation; to go where Satan’s seat is. All this has, of course, in it much more of the chivalry of the Christian service than is found in training the youth of a family, and in the silent and gentle cares of the home-walks of life. But after all, in some aspects this work is higher than that. It comes at a more advanced stage of human progress. After Paganism is abolished, what then? After the idols are thrown to the moles and to the bats, what then? Then there must still be the Christian nurture, the raising up of families in the fear of the Lord – i.e. the keeping of the ground that has been won, and the covering of it all over with the beauty and the affluence of a Christian vegetation. This is a calmer, but in some respects it is a higher work. Indeed, unless this work is done with increasing thoroughness and effect, one fails to see very clearly how this world is ever to be won and held for God. If the struggle is to be perpetually renewed – if no territory is to be won and kept by Christ – how is the world to be His at last? If the children are not to be born in His kingdom, and reared in His nurture, how is the race to rise to serve Him? Surely if there is a field in all the world where we may look with confidence to the springing of the seed sown in faith, that field is the Christian family. If promises are fulfilled anywhere they will be fulfilled there. When God is weary of His own Fatherhood He will forget ours. When He forgets to give His consolations, and His tender mercies, and His pity – He will forget the mother’s cares and tears and prayers. When He looks no more on His own dear Son with joy and love, He will cease to care that you follow yours with hopes and benedictions and prayers.

To despond in the midst of such divine influences; with such promises; with the spirit of adoption in your heart; with the brotherhood of Christ revealed; and with the Fatherhood of God over you; it would be almost like feeling despondency in Heaven! No! I will not be cast down.  I will trust my children where I trust myself. I bring the little boy, the little girl, the youth, the maiden, to Jesus, “that He may teach them.”[9] I must have them in the house; I cannot leave them out in the cold! I must see their faces in the light. I cannot let them stay in the darkness! I must believe that they are loved by the Lord, and that He will bring them into His house and lead them up through its many mansions, until they feel that they are for ever at home. Amen.

[1] This sermon is addressed particularly “To Parents”

[2] Psalm 101:2

[3] Romans 5:5

[4] Raleigh was preaching in the time in which the higher criticism was underway. The spirit of his day is not entirely different from the spirit of preaching today, where we hear and read even less. The reader is cautioned against dangerous theologies of Antinomianism and Liberalism

[5] Genesis 18:19

[6] Deuteronomy 32:46

[7] Isaiah 49:15

[8] Ephesians 6:4

[9] Various texts are supportive of the Lord’s instruction of children, from Deuteronomy 4:10 to when children were specifically brought to Jesus in Matthew 19. The main idea here is the nurture and admonition of the Lord as noted earlier in Ephesians 6:4

When Our Children Are About Us

Having first addressed the comfort that comes into the world with children, this sermon looks to how the Christian parent is to behave while their children are yet children – and how elements are to remain with Christian parents long after the children have grown up.

The Reverend Alexander Raleigh was a father himself. He shall speak of schooling in the sermon below and it is interesting to note that his own son, very gifted in all matters academic, was sent north to Edinburgh to pursue greater studies prior to University – but that as he did this, he remained with family (an uncle). With the rise of homeschooling it may be interesting to note this 19th century criticism of public boarding schools – then a matter of daily life among the middle class.

2

When Our Children are about us.

“Come to me, O ye children!

For I hear you at your play,

And the questions that perplexed me

Have vanished quite away.

 

“What are all our contriving,

And the wisdom of our books,

When compared with your caresses,

And the gladness of your looks?

 

“Ye are better than all the ballads

That ever were sung or said;

For ye are the living poems,

And all the rest are dead”

LONG ago in the dawn of the world’s history, in a distant country, there lived a man who had once been prosperous, happy, respected, in a very high degree; but who, all at once, fell into great poverty and trouble. He lost all his property, all his children, and well-nigh his own life. He stood one day, or sat on the ground, bemoaning himself among his friends, recalling with a fond sadness vanished scenes and bygone years. He talked much and long- as men are apt to talk, in hours of confidence, with listening friends about them – of what he had been and done in other days. It is a melancholy tale of departed glory – a dirge such as, happily, very few men can sing over their own life. We listen the more eagerly to his wailing, because the sorrow is so vast and so exceptional. He mourns like a king discrowned and exiled. He lights up for us, in melancholy reminiscence, palaces of pleasure that had been darkened, and the high walks of honour and usefulness he has now ceased to tread. He speaks of a “secret” once with him, now lost; of a “candle” which once shone in his tabernacle, but which now burns no more; of a Divine “presence” sheltering, sufficing, which then “preserved” him, but from which which he seems now cast out. Then ran the oil our of the rock for his anointing; then butter washed his steps. When he went, in those days, to the gate of the city, there was reverence; when he took his seat in the street there were the tokens of a universal regard – young men standing aside, aged men rising up, princes keeping silence. As he moved about from place to place the air became vocal with benedictions, – the poor, the fatherless, and the widow joining in sweet chorus to his praise- and so on through the multiform aspects of a prosperity now withered and dead like autumn leaves. Who can but listen when so great a mourner speaks? Who can fail to sympathise with him in reverses so entire and desolating?

“But probably he has some chief comforts remaining. His children will be about him, to soothe his griefs and beguile the sense of his losses. They-young and fresh-will stay their father in his great need, and ere long they will make life green about him again.” Ah, no! This touches the tenderest point in all his sorrow. He takes up their names also into his lament. He tells us that they are all gone; and he secures, as he could in no other way, the freshest and homeliest sympathy of every true father and mother in the world, just by one short, thrilling note in his long sad dirge of grief- “When my children were about me![1] Is not that the tenderest touch of all? Does it not take us in a moment to our own homes, and back along the line of past years, and away to churchyards far and near, and up to heaven? Let us linger for a little on an expression so full of suggestiveness, and – not forgetting the patriarch who gives us the seed for our thought- let us apply his words in different ways to ourselves.

When our children are children we should really have them “about us”.

Job’s children (for by this time we all know that he is the mourner) were “about him” in the days of his prosperity. I do not know that we should be justified in supposing that he had his children in much closer personal association with him that was usual with godly parents of the time. It is certainly worthy of notice that they are named particularly at the opening and the ending of the book. We are told the number of his sons and the names of his daughters. He tells us, too, how “fair” they were, and we seem to see the sheen of their Arabian beauty. He tells us of “sons,” and of “sons’ sons” even to “four generations.” He saw them all. We feel that he took delight in seeing them “about him” when he was a young father and when he was an old patriarch.

The highest and godliest nurture still is that which keeps the children beside the parents through the earlier years of life, in the fresh formative time, when there are beginning of things that will never end. When the little birds are in the nest the parent birds are seldom far or long away. The human instinct prompting to love, and care, and nourishment, ought to be as strong. It usually is so for a while. But in many cases only for a little while. Many things arise to interrupt the continuity and impair the energy of parental presence, and the influence of that presence on the children. Many things –some of them without our will, some of them directly the fruit of our will or state.

The occupations of life with capable men and women are numerous, engrossing, and very exhausting. So that even a loving father, who is toiling for his children all day long, coming home spent at night, is not sorry to find that his children are two stories nearer heaven than he, and that is not likely to see any more of them for the day. In the morning he must “take time by the forelock,” and business by its opportunities, and men as he can find them; he has no leisure for the children. So comes and goes many a precious day in which little hearts are forming themselves, and little lives are taking shape in character, thoughts growing into principles, feelings becoming settles emotions – all without so much as there might be of that calm and great thing – a parent’s presence. Such a man has his children in his house, but he has not got them “about him.” Nobody in the world would think of them as neglected children. All the neighbourhood knows them to be as clean as the morning and as fresh as the rose. The only pity is that father, and perhaps mother too, do not see so much as they should do of the beauty of the growing; do not catch the morning and evening and noonday fragrance of their own children, and do not shed on them more of that sweet and priceless element in a child’s educations – a parent’s present care and love, so that the beauty may not fade, so that the fragrance may not die.

The child’s education in many cases, surely in too many, brings on an early separation from home and parental presence. It is found not to be convenient, or judged not desirable, to have home and school together – going to school in the morning, coming home at night. But it seems to me that, where this is at all possible, it is by much the best arrangement for at least the earlier years of youth. Undoubtedly absence from home has its own advantages to the young. The power of such absence is sometimes wonderful, in developing, increasing self-reliance, vivifying early memories, endearing the home from which absence is something of a daily banishment. But if that absence comes too soon, the probability will be so much less that the young scholar has in him the germs of right character to be developed; the youthful memories will be the fewer; the resistance to temptation will be the less; and the moral result of the whole more doubtful. It is God’s way that the children, while young, should be “about.” the parents. That was the way in the olden time. Happily it has been the way down through all time. It has ripened the richest fruits of goodness in human character. It has made the noblest men and women. IT will be found still in all but exceptional cases, that home – be it tent of the desert or house of the city – and daily presence of father and mother – be they of high or low degree- are more for the child than any other persons or things that can be substituted. They are great days after meaning, and far-off power and influence, the days when “our children are about us.”

When our children are about us we should consider with Job that we are prosperous.

We have at least this element of prosperity, although the rest may be wanting, or may not be in such fullness as the patriarch possessed them. The rivers of oil do not flow for you perhaps. The city streets do not give reverence. No one refrains from talking because you are present. You are very unlike Job in some of these outward respects. But you are like him at least in this, that “your children are about you.” And because they are yours, they are as much to you as his ever were to him. Perhaps you have one as bright as his Jemima (although Jemima was not born when he spoke thus, and the children mentioned here were all dead and gone), – as bright as Jemima (the day); one as fragrant as Kezia (cassia), shedding perfume through the house; or one as plentiful in goodness as Kerenhappuch. You know what your children are; strangers do not. Nothing is more common in society than pleasantries about the partialities of parents; but perhaps few pleasantries have in general less foundation. That there are parents who can see no faults in their children, although these faults are parent to every one else, and who therefore allow them to grow up self-willed, rude, a nuisance to all about them, is unfortunately true. Such parents generally have, soon or late, in these very children, full punishment of their own blindness. But we are persuaded that the case in general is rather this, – that what strangers or unobservant neighbours would hastily call a parent’s partiality, is really only a feeling produced, or a course of conduct drawn out, by a parent’s better knowledge. Only those who are in close relations with children can tell what they are. How they are tempted! How they struggle! How they overcome! How they do their noble acts, and also sink into their own little meannesses occasionally among the toys – in the playground- with their lessons! How shall a stranger or a friend presume to conclude that your boy is rude because he is salient? As well call the clematis rude that will climb over the wall; or the little burn that will have its leaps before it is quenched in the silent river. How shall he say that your girl is forward because she is frank- or stupid because she is shy? He had better be careful, and not quite so sure. Children are great mysteries. Friends do not understand them. Teachers do not understand them. Theorists do not understand them. Foot-rule experience will never measure them. Nor can the parental experiences of bygone times serve much for living parents and children. Each child is a new problem to be solved. Each child is “a new thing under the sun” – the only new thing there is. All else is old. Matter is as old as creation; spirits are as new as the moment of time, or the creative inspiration of God from which they were born. Each child comes into the world charged with manifold life, gifted and dowered with faculties, forces, laws, affections, sublime possibilities. A child is a great mystery, as yet unrevealed to any; but the nearest approach to an understanding of the mystery is just that thing which is called slightingly “a parent’s partiality.” No doubt there is the instinctive feeling which account for much. But there is also the better knowledge.

The children are about us thus, as a part of our prosperity. So regard them. So enjoy them. Take heed that the affection which we justify is not merely human, but divine. Put them where this now childless man puts his, in the vivid but mournful picture he draws of his vanished joys, in divine presence in the house – “the Almighty with you, your children about you!” “Lo, the children are an heritage from the Lord and the fruit of the womb is his reward”[2]. The blessing of the Lord is making your rich- rich, indeed, if you have “the secret,” if you have “the children.”

Children are not only a blessing, they are also a trouble and a care, and many parents dwell mostly on that side of the children. They see them through the shadows of the cares they bring. They are vexed with their thoughtlessness. They are wearied many a time, as they well may be, with all the toilsome and ceaseless attentions they require. They are discouraged by their little naughty ways. “Let us pass over to the other side”[3] and see them in the light of the land from which they came, and to which, by God’s help, we may lead them back. Look at the glory on their faces. See the sweet blossoming of better things, which may indeed be nipped, but which may also ripen, and all the more surely if you will think so, to richest fruit. Looking thus upon them from the side where “their angels” see them, “who do always behold the face of our Father in heaven,”[4]  you will forget the toil, and the worry, and the care; you will not remember against them former transgressions; you will forgive them all their sins; you will bring them up with you as into the old patriarch’s tent, as into Jacob’s Bethel; you will present them all, “the infants of days” included, before the Lord. And as a prosperous man or woman, as one whom the Lord hath blessed, you will say over the old words: “When the Almighty is with me! When my children are about me!”

When our children are about us we should tend them very carefully, and train them up in the way they should go, that when they are old they may not depart from it.

Everything else that constitutes any considerable part of a man’s prosperity requires to be kept and nourished- his house, his pictures, his garden, his fields, his money, his friendships, his position in life, his character- all need watching and nourishing continually. Let him play the sluggard with any of them and they are so far lost. For they are parts of a world that “never continueth in one stay.” It is eminently so with the children. We lose them every day, even when we have them, if we do not keep them as a man keeps his treasure. They can only be kept by training, growth, development. They are houses- little “banqueting-houses” – where our loves and hopes have sweetest entertainment. But if they are not kept, you will soon see the weather-stain, the gaping rent, the incipient decay. If the house is to wear and retain “the similitude of a palace,”[5] it must be “polished” day by day. They are little pictures, fairer than human hand ever painted, in which the gazing eye will find far depths, rich colourings, the endless play of light and shadow, the mantling of the individual expression, and a living beauty through the whole that cannot be described. But as the most valuable pictures grow vile with blots when hung within touch of the rude and careless, or hideous with cobwebs and dust when left in a deserted room, so those sweet living pictures soon catch the stains of rude commerce and careless society when too much expose to them; soon darken and degenerate, if they are but neglected. They are gardens, fairer and more fragrant than Solomon’s in which he “planted trees of all kinds of fruit”[6] But you will soon see the weed, the wildness, the overgrowth, if you do not dig, and cut, and bend, and train, and water. It is instructive that the best flowers and plants of the garden are mostly the ultimate forms and products of far simpler and wilder things. The beauty and the fruitfulness, the deeper colouring, the double blossoming, the affluent size, the luscious flavour – these are all refinements and elaborations of skill and taste. Well, a family is just a garden of God, where are those living immortal plants called children (who all have something of the wildness of nature in them), and by gracious help we are to nurture and raise them up into the finer and nobler forms of grace. We are to labour until we have them so, that we can ask our best “Beloved” to “come into his garden to eat his pleasant fruits.”[7] If a garden be too fine an emblem for all conditions of human life, take the plainer emblem of the field. How beautiful and how bountiful is a harvest-field when the corn is yellow-ripe, and the glad farmer walks behind the long row of reapers and watches the busy sickle and the falling swath! But what ploughing was in that field long ago, when the day was short and the snow was falling! What harrowing of the clods amid the chill spring showers! What plentiful showing during speedtime! What anxious watching days when the weather was fitful! Now, “when the children are about us,” is the time for the ploughing, and the harrowing, and the sowing, and the watching. By-and-by “cometh harvest” bringing over-payment of all toil, presaging the richer garnerage of heaven.

All Christian training is summed up in this “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”[8] This general exhortation has so many parts in it that we cannot even name them. But these are some.

Look to the health of the body, for that is the basis in this world of other things. No studies or accomplishments should be allowed to injure that; for that, when injured, will affect injuriously all the higher things.

Consider, as far as may be, the temperament and peculiarity of each. There is a divine individualism of each soul, before which, when we find it, we should bow down as in the presence of a pure work of God and to which we should yield, as we do to His great steady laws.

Give the mind knowledge of proper kinds, in due measures, at seasonable times.

Develop the affections, truly and tenderly, under the leadings and breathings of the royal law of love.

Try to put habits into the life of industry, carefulness and benevolence, from the very first, that the powers may work by these more easily.

Provide for times of recoil and relaxation. Never be afraid to play – of what even might seem idleness to another – if you are sure that it is wholesome rest. When are children to learn to think, how are they to get the love of prayer, if they have not their little spaces of quietness allowed them like others? Some of them, I fancy, have no great affection for “the little busy bee” that is always brought humming about their heads as a teacher. They will be apt to like the owl quite as well, which does nothing but look as he sits up on the tree, hooting at the silent night. But the bee herself is as idle and luxurious as any creature can be for more than half the year. Let the bee be a winter teacher as well as a summon one, and join relaxation to activity.

Above all, try to secure the whole heart for God. Everything must bend to that. The whole manifold culture should grow up into that. Throw around them, as you may instrumentally, so much of the Fatherhood of God, that they shall not be able without a tremendous and distressing struggle to leave it, and when at last away from it shall not be able to live without it. Let them know, without mistake, from your own lips in face-to-face communication, that the good Shepherd loves them, is watching them with kindly care, is calling them by name, and waiting for their following. When they follow Him, you may sing in gladness and thankfulness of heart. You may consider that God has given you plentiful harvest.

“When our children are about us” we should be careful, not only to teach, but to learn the lessons which they can teach us.

Children teach lessons which are taught in no other school than the one they keep; or at any rate in no other so well. They are professors in Christ’s College. He gives to each a chair; and although their audience sometimes is but scant, and their prelections little heeded, they go on teaching still. Since the day when that little child – unknown by name to the world – in fame immortal, stood up in the centre of the eager group at the Saviour’s bidding, and by his ingenuousness and simplicity gave his lecture to Disciples, Apostles, Pharisees, Fathers and Mothers, and all listeners, the children have been teaching in the kingdom; and they will teach until the last returning sinner enters “as a little child” in the kingdom of heaven.

They teach faith. What believers they are! They hardly ever doubt. How they trust your word, your wisdom, your strength, your love, as soon as you give them the least occasion! Your little boy or girl would cling to you in utter simple trust, and lie in your arms a little believer, if you stepped from the Table Rock at Niagra, or from a vessel’s side into the sea.

They teach contentment. For they are pleased with little pleasures. They are happy when the sun shines; and if the day is dark, they can find happiness under the clouds. They have not “learned”, as yet, “in whatsoever state they are, therewith to be content,”[9]But they are content, if the outward conditions of life are tolerably pleasant. They have no remembrance of the sorrows of yesterday, no apprehension of the tears of to-morrow.

They teach humility. For they do not “exercise themselves in great matters, or in things too high for them.”[10] Their plans are short and small. If they misgive – well, never mind, they can build again. There is plenty of sand on the shore.

Ah, how well were it if we could learn from them in these respects! There is a whole group of virtues which our children, while yet they are about us, are teaching us, whether we are learning them or not. It is beautiful, and yet sad, to see the children teaching when the parents and others are not learning. The parents perhaps have their plans of social ambition, and are striving hard to rise. The children are content if the sun is bright, if grass is green, if flowers are pretty, if bread is sweet and water cool, if the floor is firm enough to walk upon, and the bed is soft enough to sleep. The parents have their cares and their fears lest they should to go downward in the social scale. Because they are a little poorer than once, they are going to lose some of their friends. (What worthy friends they must be! And oh, what a sorrowful pity to lose them!) Or, they are going into a small house, because, perhaps, they do not any longer need the larger or because it is now a little above their circumstances. They will go away sometimes into another neighbourhood, just that they may go down that little incline unseen. “The children” all this time would take any friends that were pleasant- cottagers’ children, workmen’s children, would do quite well. A few hours would suffice to begin a real friendship. They would go to any house that sheltered them, and be pleased with the little rooms as a nice change from the larger. Nay, they would go with you if you had not got a house to go to at all. They would wander with you, cheerily enough, along country lanes, and beside hedgegrows and old walls. They would sleep with you by hayricks and in harvest-fields, or under the shelter of the trees, soothes and rocked to rest, unless the weather were too chill, by the music of the pines, and pleased by the new lamplight of the stars.

If it be said that a good deal of such contentment is the result of sheer ignorance, and therefore cannot be seriously proposed to reasonable persons for their instruction or imitation, a good answer is, that the cares and anxieties of grown-up people are largely the fruit of mere imagination and mistake. They conjure up difficulties which have no real existence; they fear evils that never come; they are poor often in imaginary poverty; sick with pains they never feel; dark when the sun is shining; dying and dead a hundred times before the real dying and the one only death “appointed” come. Surely, therefore, it were well if the care-furrowed faces of father and mother could in any way catch at least a little of the smoothness and openness and “sufficient-unto-the-day” look of the “children when they are about them.”

When our children are about us we should anticipate the time when, as in the case of the patriarch, they will all be away.

“How the children leave us, and no traces

Linger of that smiling angel-band-

Gone! For ever gone, and in their places

Weary men and anxious women stand.”[11]

Watch, and within the brief circuit of a year, sometimes even in the course of a few month, you will see a change in the little faces. Take photographs of them, and if you happen to lay them by for a few years, and then open the book, you will have a surprise. You will have something like the feeling- “Why, I have lost these children. Surely they have gone from me. Has God taken them?” No. They are “about” you still. They are beside you now, looking at the picture, much amused that they should be pictures of themselves. They can see no resemblance to the image they see every day in the glass. So they vanish from us, even when they live, and we see them no more. The infant is the infant but for a little. The little girl with the ringlets is a wayfarer who is tarrying with you only for a night. She will go on again in the morning towards womanhood. And the sunny boy will keep her company on the way to his manhood. Very soon now you will see touches of the manhood and the womanhood on their faces. Then will come their loves, their marriages, their cares, their children – and you will be grandfather and grandmother before you know. Many are taking these honours continually while yet they are not old. Their children conspire to crown them without their leave, although, generally, much to their delight. Then a few years more, and your children’s children will leave you as they shoot up into men and women. You will have to reach across two generations then to find the children.

Nor can we forget that there are always some who far outstrip the rest- who do not glide away on feet along the earthly ways, but who have wings woven in silence, on which they fly up to the fields of heaven. We have spoken of the facial change as children grow to be men and women; but there is another change which sometimes comes on a young face, which betokens a growth quite out of this world, and a putting on of the beauty and glory of another. A change this, sad at first to see, sorrowful exceedingly to our earthly affections. Yet a change growing more and more fair to look on, a rebuke to our sorrow, a life-long memory to our love.

“Have we not caught that smiling

On some beloved face,

As if some heavenly sound were willing,

The soul from our earthly place?

The distant sound and sweet,

Of the Master’s coming feet.

 

“We may clasp the loved one faster,

And plead for a little while;

But who can resist the Master?

And we read, by that brightening smile,

That the tread we do not hear

Is drawing surely near.

“Then gently enters the Master;

Through the room His garments sweep,

And our trembling hearts beat faster,

And our eyes forget to weep:

For now we can hear Him say,

‘Thou shalt be there to-day.’”[12]

And so we lose them. And many a Job stands amid the relics of the past, looking back, and plaintively or thankfully recalling the days when the children were about him. Well, look forward. Antedate the time. Anticipate the inevitable severance, and work for the formation of the deeper, the immortal union. If you have wealth – heart property – in these children, as children, know it now; for the riches will “make to themselves wings and flee away.”[13] If you have nurture to give them suitable to their tenderness, preparation for their strength, give it now; in a little while they will be too hard and strong in nature’s growth to take it. If there are lessons which the Master would have you learn of them while they are yet young, and which they cannot teach, nor you learn of them, when they are older, learn the lesson now, for soon the little faces will be seen no more at your table, the patter of the light feet heard no more in your rooms.

 ____

[1] Job 29:5, upon which this sermon is based.

[2] Psalm 127:3

[3] Mark 4:35

[4] Matthew 18:10

[5] Psalm 144:12

[6] Ecclesiastes 2:5

[7] Song of Solomon 4:16

[8] Ephesians 6:4

[9] Philippians 4:11

[10] Psalm 131:1

[11] From the Poem “Our Dead” by A. A. Procter

[12] The editor has been unable to trace this work, and would be grateful for any information to be sent to mandersonalastair@gmail.com

[13] Proverbs 23:5

The Comfort That Comes into the World With Children

While in Stornoway I had the pleasure of sitting under the Ministry of the Free Church Continuing and greatly enjoyed the Minister’s preaching. I regularly now download his sermons, but before moving to Stornoway I don’t know that I had ever downloaded his sermons at all. Frequently resources, including ministers, can be neglected and underused. You may wish to look at your own ministers and the stack of Christian books on your shelf and you will realise the truth of what I say!

Another thing that happened in Stornoway was that I spent £0.01 buying an 1883 edition of the sermons of the Reverend Alexander Raleigh. I have recently begun the project of transcribing these sermons again with the possibility of placing them on kindle. However, as our object is not to make money I will make them available for free here on the blog.

Some notes regarding the text below, it does not necessarily mean that I endorse all or any of the views of Reverend Raleigh – and the text I have produced includes only a minor brushing up of the original text that I had before me. Words like “to day” are not updated to “today” but made to retain what would seem to be the “spoken” feel of the sermons.

__________________________________________________

1

The Comfort that comes into the World with Children

“And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed.” – Genesis 5:29

“Noah” means rest or comfort; and his parents, we see, gave him this name, expecting by his means, in some way, or probably in more ways than one, the fulfilment to them of the happy meaning of the name he bore. We cannot say, in the absence of any information in the Book, how definite their expectation was regarding their son. Perhaps they themselves hardly knew exactly what they were expecting. They were sure, however, and not by parental instinct merely, but evidently as the result of some divine intimation given them concerning this child, that he would be a comforting helper. He would help them in their labours on the stubborn soil; he would help them in their resistance to the rapidly-increasing violence of society around them; it is possible that they might have had some hope that he might even prove to be the Messiah. Following the history of this child, we find that he was actually noted for improvements in husbandry; that he was the discoverer or inventor of wine; that he was a preacher of righteousness in a very unrighteous and lawless times; that he was a true prophet, although unheeded, as most true prophets are; that he was a shipbuilder on a gigantic scale; that he thus became the preserver of his family, and in them of the whole of the human race; and that he was manifestly, in some of these respects, a forerunner and a type of Christ, the true Noah, the giver of rest and consolation to troubled and weary souls.

Now this passage although in itself no more than a mere glimpse into an old, old world – no more, indeed, than a scene from the family life of that old world- yet, either expressly or by implication, tells and teaches us a good deal, if only we are wise enough to learn it.

The Hardness and Difficulty of Life

This our human life is full of hardship. Put in familiar phrase the world is a hard place to live in. It was so then; it is so now. I am not asking your opinion, young people; you cherish your bright hopes, which I would not darken, and your unconquerable impulses towards exertion and enterprise, which I would not suppress or daunt. But you have not got the materials for a full and intelligent judgment. Observe, these words are the words of parents. Father and mother speak them – not son and daughter, not young man or maiden. They are the words of Lamech, and they are remarkable as coming from a man bearing that name; for Lamech means “powerful.” He seems to have been a strong, robust man – like the evil Lamech in this (for there were two of the same name), but unlike him, happily, in temper and disposition. That Lamech sang to his wives of his own crimes and excesses. This Lamech also is a poetic singer, and mournful enough is the strain when he speaks of hard toil, of sterile ground, and of divine curse. But the strain of comfort, also divine, gives the tone to the little poem. It is strange, or at least worthy of note, that such a man should have to sing such a song, and should sing it in the prime of his life. He has hardly reached his prime; but the hundred and eighty and two years of his life have at least brought him unexpected difficulties, as well as dangers and hardships quite unknown to him in youth. Not that we can regard him as a vanquished man, but evidently he has, in some things, been disappointed. He is weary now at times; strong man as he is, the truth begins to come home to him that we cannot fight this battle of life single-handed; that even strong men cannot. At any rate, for himself, he is not ashamed to confess that he needs “comfort;” and when this child comes to him he accepts him as a divine gift, as a commissioned and competent, as he is thrice-welcome, messenger of comfort from God. He seems to say to his wife and to his friends: “We have been feeling greatly of late the strain of life. Our testimony to God and truth has not been of much account among evil and violent men. We have not been getting much from the ground. Our eyes have been sometimes dark, and our hearts heavy; but now – ‘this same shall comfort us.’”

Is it not so still? This world is a place in which somehow the strongest men grow weary; in which men of the happiest temperament come to be in need of relief, and ease, and of all that is implied in the word “comfort.” The soil of this world is, so to say, yet stubborn and hard; the weeds in it are many, and they have their roots far down. The seasons are uncertain, the harvest is sometimes scant. To put the thing without a figure: to live well in this world among men, and continuously well; speaking, acting, enduring; in success, in misfortune, through days and times bright and dark; in some measure of calmness and constancy – all this is, to use a familiar phrase, “hard work.” It is noble and hopeful work beyond all other, but it is hard; and the strongest Lamech anywhere to be found in the world, whether toiling in its fields, or trading in its cities, or travelling on its highways, speaking in its assemblies, or living quietly but strenuously in any of its families, need not be ashamed to acknowledge that now and again “comfort,” as it is not unneeded, not be unwelcome.

The comfort that comes into the world with children.

Days are dark, and limbs are weary, and hearts are heavy, and the family lamp seems almost going out, for hope has not been there of late to trim it; when the wailing voice of a little stranger is heard, who comes, at least to outward appearance, not with relief and largess, but in sheer helplessness, and with demand for constant service, and who yet is hailed as a very deliverer, and welcomed as a comforter. “This same shall comfort us.” In thousands of homes all over the world, every day, fathers and mothers are saying this in substance. They are feeling it in their hearts, and that is saying it. Strange enough it seems that some fathers and mothers should feel so. Even when they are poor, or in precarious circumstances, or have hard work and many children already, the little one is still accepted with thankfulness and greeted with a hopeful inscription in the horoscope which parents, everywhere and always, see over the cradle of the latest born. In the monarch’s palace, while guns boom welcome; in the merchant’s city home, where careful feet walk over thickly-carpeted floors; in the workman’s street, groups of faces in neighbouring doors showing true, if homely sympathy; in the country cottage, from which the doctor drives away in his gig with a cheerful face; in the gipsy’s wayside tent, the swarthy kindred scattered about the neighbourhood, or lying under clumps of trees on the warm earth- “This shame shall comfort us” flames out in golden light; and for the time “sorrow and sighing flee away,”[1] while joy and gladness take possession of the house.

Thus we see the weakest and most helpless creature in the world, which certainly a new-born child is, become almost the mightiest. “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings God ordains strength.”[2] Giant Lamech – toil-worn, disappointed, weary with living – bows down at the crib of a sleeping infant, who, although asleep and helpless, takes up the significance of his father’s name, just when his father seems losing it – and the best meaning and purposes of his father’s life – and becomes a Lamech in moral influence and helpfulness. We sometimes hear the wish expressed that children who are being nourished and brought up by their parents with great pains, and through many difficulties, may live to repay them when the parents are old and helpless in their turn. And it is a beautiful sight to see the second childhood nourished and soothed by those who express in this way their thankfulness for the care that was once lavished on them. But this is a payment which is far from certain. A great deal will happen before the settling-day. The parents may not live to receive the reward; or the children may not live to give it; or a hundred things may arise to complicate the issues. It will be wise, therefore, to secure the surer recompense, if there be one; and there is, to all who are open-hearted and unselfish.

Payment for toil, and care, and never-ending watchfulness! It is here-in the house-in the hand. The living, growing children are themselves the payment for the care and trouble they bring. Strength, comfort, hope, come with them. The very solicitude we cannot help feeling, sometimes to painfulness, is part of the payment; for it likens us to God, and it aids us in being ourselves children in His larger family. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pittieth them that fear Him;”[3] or, looked at from the other side, and in its deeper aspect, we may render the text, “Like as the Lord pitieth them that fear Him, so a father pitieth his children,” and cannot but hope bright things concerning them, cannot but drink in comfort in beholding them.

For myself, I cannot help finding almost a system of theology, at any rate a clear, bright prophecy of God concerning the future, in this invincible hopefulness of the parental heart. But stay: here is a statistician, and he has something to say. He says it pitilessly in a hard, scientific way, yet not untruly from his own point of view. He says: “All this is a matter of calculation. Your prophecies and auspices may be pleasant enough, but they can have little or no influence on the events. A certain number of those who, when they are infants, excite those hopes in parental and other breasts do not verify them. They are not in any deep sense a comfort to almost anyone; they bring discomfort and distress to many. Some few come to the saddest ends. Many, stopping short of that, yet fail in life; and very few are helpers and comforters of their kind by great and good living. It is for you to estimate these probabilities for yourselves, and then say whether you are justified in keeping that fanciful inscription over your child’s cot, ‘This same shall comfort us.’ You cannot certainly know that the very opposite of that may turn out to be the truth. It would be as appropriate, therefore, to write in imagination, ‘This same shall grieve us,’ ‘This shame shall disappoint us,’ or ‘This same shall ruin us,’ or worse than all, ‘This same shall shame us, and draw burning tears from our eyes, and heavy sighs from our lips.’”

Something like this might be said, and said honestly enough, from the hard, scientific ground. The doctrine of mathematical probability settles the proportions almost exactly for the whole, and there is room for contingency only in regard to individuals. One even hears a strain like this in the pulpit at times, religiously put and accompanied with appropriate warning and instruction. Nor can it be said that teaching like this has not truth in it, if we are to be honest and upright all round. True? It is as true as winter, as true as night, as true as the law of gravitation! But what is the whole result in the parental heart of mankind? All this is known by fathers and mothers everywhere. Few of them, perhaps, trouble themselves with any philosophic views or calculations about the facts; but the facts themselves are as clear as human history and as open to view as human life. Surely it is an interesting and even a scientific question; what is the practical effect of this knowledge of moral averages upon parents as they welcome their children into the world, or see them growing up under their hand and care? Would this darker view, set strongly before any father or mother, at all sensibly affect the feeling of uncalculating hopefulness and invincible love, with which they bend over the bed of their sleeping infant, saying in their hearts, “Some way or other this same shall comfort us.” Not in the very least. There is an unfathomable fountain of hopefulness in the human breast, and the springing of it cannot be repressed. It is not a partial or chance impulse. It is universal and continuous, and is therefore something to be estimated and appraised in any view of human nature which professes to be scientific. The really scientific view must embrace all the known facts; and this is one of them, that parents will hope good regarding their children as they come to them, and never will be persuaded that they ought not to welcome them with song and thankfulness. If other impulses and affections are divine, this too must have its meaning and use in the education of humanity and in the economy of the world. Can we be wrong in thinking that part at least of its meaning must be this – they by-and-by the great stream of human life is destined to run clearer; that in an increasing number of instances this prophecy of the parental heart will be fulfilled; Lamechs will bend over every cradle, Noahs will be born in every house; and at length the world, like a way-ward, wandering child, shall return and find comfort, after all its weary “work” and the long “toil of its hands,” in the fatherhood and motherhood of God?

What is thus true of parent and child may be transferred to a far wider scene, and applied to the successive generations of men. “One generation passeth away and another cometh.”[4] This is the unchanging order of God for the whole terrestrial life of man. The generations which are farthest on have much to say to the generations which are growing about them and following closely. The utterances are not all of one kind; they are diverse, they are even discordant. Distrust, displeasure, impatience, even denunciation, may be heard spoken by the lips of the retiring generation to and concerning that which follows in immediate succession.

But I seem to hear this old tone which welcomes Noah into the world clearer and louder than any other. We see the generation that has now almost gone – that is visible to us in only a few remaining representatives – standing as in shadow, and speaking to us by symbol and not by voice; by bent forms, by withered cheeks, by gray hairs. They say: “We are weary now with travail and hard work; but you, our strong songs and daughters, who are filling the field of life we are leaving, you comfort us, you console our disappointments, you soothe the sorrow of our going away.” While we, in our turn, the sons and daughters of those that are now nearly all gone, conscious of our own disappointments, feeling our own wounds and griefs and failures, look for comfort to the fresh spring world that is growing about us, and to the younger world yet that is being born.

And so the tale runs on through the generations and through the families, “because of the ground the Lord hath cursed” because of the hard conditions of this human life. Observe it well, however, there is no curse on the labour of the tillers of the ground. There is no curse, but all blessing, on the endeavours we make to master the circumstances of our own lives and turn them to the best uses. Yet, on the other hand, it cannot be denied that everywhere in life there is “thorn and thistle,” consuming heats by day, cutting frosts by night; seed rotting in the ground, sheaves carried off by floods; hard stubborn soils, needing much overwork for the growing of the best things – the loamy softness of Eden all gone from them, and the nourishing warmth and the dewy fragrance- or rather, we may say, such never came to them, for Eden was better than the outlying world; “the gold of that land was good.”[5] The rough world beyond was for educations, the discipline, the victory of those who were driven out from the privileged condition of the garden. Trust and toil and obedience will bring men back to a better Eden. But meantime there is no evading the “curse” which is here said to be in “the ground.” It is something which can never be measured or weighed. It may be largely negative – simply not “blessing.” We need not aim at being more definite than God Himself is. It is enough that we feel it. We feel it without and within. It is in the earth; it is in the air. Still more is it in the disloyal conscience, in the mean disposition, in the selfish breast. And the thing we have to do is not to talk about it very much, discussing it, and defining it, and deepening it by our quarrels over it, but to match ourselves against it with all our strength, renewing them from the fountain of the strength this is “everlasting.”

Toil-worn and sorrow-laden brother, be sure of this, that whatever the curse be, heaven has an alchemy which evermore changes curse into blessing, and desert into the garden of the Lord. The golden age shall yet come back. The breezes of Eden shall fan and freshen the cheeks of weary toilers on land or sea. One generation shall speak to another with still lessening apprehension as the ages pass, and with still rising hope and confidence, saying, “This same shall comfort us” until the voice from heaven shall say, “It is done. Behold I make all things new.”[6]

The security we have for all this in the great fact of our redemption.

The foregoing train of thous is not only pleasant and welcome to the benevolent affections and hopeful tendances of human nature, but it has in it an argument which grounds itself ultimately on the wisdom and veracity of God. God is true- true in all His works and words and ways; true, therefore, in human nature, the chief product in this world of His power and Spirit. The organic powers, affections and instincts of the human race are from Him. And when we see the same hope and instinctive faith reproduced and continued from age to age and in every country in the world’s parental heart, the conclusion we reach is, that all this fatherly and motherly hoping and believing, there must be a corresponding realisation yet to come.

Yet I freely confess that the argument would be inconclusive and uncertain without some clearer and firmer support. It would, in fact, be little more than a religious philosophy; and a religious philosophy, although engaged about the highest themes and interest, must yet take its chance with other philosophies, and is apt, at particular points, to come to grief. We can imagine a thought person to say: “I am not disinclined to accept what you are now advancing; indeed I could believe it if you were able to confirm it by any living instances – if you would even bring one, if it should be only one, really complete instance of the fulfilment of your theory. I could believe it if, amid the myriad births in human homes, there had ever been born one perfect ‘Noah’ – one rest-giver to all the weary about him, one comfort-bringer to all the sad and sorrowing, one strong soil-subduer to cheer the faithful worker, one calm master of all the confused elements and aspects of this tumultuous and ever-changing life- then we might hope that this parental prophecy, which never dies out of human hearts, is really to be fulfilled in the end.”

This is exactly what we can do. We do need the substantiation of fact, and we have it. Our Noah has been born: true Rest-giver, strong Burden-bearer, grandest Worker, gentlest Comforter, surest Helper, most faithful Friend, all-pitying and all-sufficing Saviour! The last word implies all the rest. If he were not Jesus – Saviour – from first to last – He could be none of those other things. Noah was a preacher of righteousness, instilling it into every believing heart. Noah was a preserver of the world in his own family from a temporary flood; Jesus Christ makes this world itself the ark which He commands, steering it through this “great and wide sea” of space and time in safety. Noah was a succeful cultivator of the soil and improver of husbandry; Jesus Christ feeds His disciples with bread from heaven; is Himself the Bread of Life; Himself the Vine which holds all strength and sweetness, and all divine purity and consolation. It is he who says “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.”[7] Is it wonderful there should be always groups and gatherings of the weary around Him, and a laying down of the burdens of toil and care at His feet? Will it not be strange and sad if our burden, whatever they may be, are not cast down among the others, if our weary souls are not refreshed with the Saviour’s rest? That rest will be ours, according to His own sure promise, if only we seek it in the right way – by coming to Him- not passive helplessness merely to be healed and soothed, and almost sent to sleep – but with all our active powers to be enlisted and engaged in His service. This is the ultimate comfort, the full abiding rest; not only that we come by grace into a state of safety, and into the enjoyment of God’s forgiving love, but that we find full scope for our best powers, and that we have them continually refreshed and strengthened in the service of God and man. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, so shall ye find rest unto your souls”[8]

 

[1] Isaiah 35:10

[2] Psalm 8:2

[3] Psalm 103:13

[4] Ecclesiastes 1:4

[5] Genesis 2:12

[6] Revelations 21:6 with Revelation 21:5

[7] Matthew 11:28

[8] Matthew 11:29

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 81 other followers