We Must Not Despair Even If We Fall Many Times

joseph_the_hesychastAre you tempted at this point in the Lenten pilgrimage to judge and measure the worthiness of your Lenten performance? Listen to and heed some words of comfort and exhortation. Wisdom. Let us be attentive…

——————

I received your letter, my child, and I saw your anxiety. But don’t be sad, my child. Don’t worry so much. Even though you have fallen again, get up again. You have been called to a heavenly road. It is not surprising for someone running to stumble. It just takes patience and repentance at every moment.

Therefore, always do a metanoia when you are wrong and don’t lose time, because the longer you wait to seek forgiveness, the more you allow the evil one to spread his roots within you. Don’t let him make roots to your detriment.

Therefore, don’t despair when you fall, but get up eagerly and do a metanoia saying, “Forgive me, my dear Christ. I am human and weak.” The Lord has not abandoned you. But since you still have a great deal of worldly pride, a great deal of vainglory, our Christ lets you make mistakes and fall, so that you perceive and come to know your weakness every day, so that you become patient with others who make mistakes, and so that you do not judge the brethren when they make mistakes, but rather put up with them.

So every time you fall, get up again and at once seek forgiveness. Don’t hide sorrow in your heart, because sorrow and despondency are the joy of the evil one. They fill one’s soul with bitterness and give birth to many evils. Whereas the frame of mind of someone who repents says, “I have sinned! Forgive me Father!” and he expels the sorrow. He says, “Am I not a weak human? So what do I expect?” Truly, my child this is how it is. So take courage.

Only when the grace of God comes does a person stand on his feet. Otherwise, without grace, he always changes and always falls. So be a man and don’t be afraid at all.

Do you see how that brother you wrote about endured the temptation? You, too, should do likewise. Acquire a brave spirit against the temptations that come. In any case, they will come. Forget about what your despondency and indolence tell you. Don’t be afraid of them. Just as the previous temptations passed by the grace of God, these, too, will pass once they do their job.

Temptations are medicines and healing herbs that heal our visible passions and our invisible wounds. So have patience in order to profit every day, to store up wages, rest, and joy in the heavenly kingdom. For the night of death is coming when no one will be able to work anymore. Therefore, hurry. Time is short.

You should know this too: a victorious life lasting only one day with trophies and crowns is better than a negligent life lasting many years. Because one man’s struggle, with knowledge and spiritual perception that lasts one day, has the same value as another man’s struggle, who struggles negligently without knowledge for fifty years.

Without a struggle and shedding your blood, don’t expect freedom from the passions. Our earth produces thorns and thistles after the Fall. We have been ordered to clean it, but only with much pain, bloody hands, and many sighs are the thorns and thistles uprooted. So weep, shed streams of tears, and soften the earth of your heart. Once the ground is wet, you can easily uproot the thorns.

– Elder Joseph the Hesychast

Advertisements

Disappointment and Beauty

I have continued to reflect on disappointment and how the Holy Tradition addresses it — redeems it. In so doing, I decided to step back and look at it from a distance, so to speak. As I did so, I was struck by the elegance of it. In trinity rosefact, the intricate beauty of it. That, in turn, reminded me that one of the facets of the Holy Tradition’s transformative power is beauty.

The Christian faith in its operation — both conceptually and practically — is beautiful both physically and spiritually. The physical beauty of the Holy Tradition is not extra. It is essential. It is not just what we do, or why we do, but how we do that is important.

But the Holy Tradition is not just a beautiful thing to behold or investigate. IT IS beautiful. IT IS beauty itself. It is Christ, who is beautiful. Beauty is essential to life. Without beauty we die. Beauty is restorative.  Beauty heals the brokenness of the universe and the human situation by embracing it and incorporating it into the narrative of salvation in all its perfect beauty. How we respond to disappointment can be ugly or beautiful. The ugly response deepens the disappointment. The beautiful response — the Christ response — turns the agenda of disappointment into an chapter in a larger victory.

So, one of the ways in which the Holy Tradition addresses disappointment, I must always remember, is to embrace it with beauty. Not sentimentalism I must hasten to add. Real beauty. The distinction is crucial. One is cheap and patronizing. The other is strong and overcomes. It is, to use an analogy, the difference between happiness and joy. One is small and temporary — happiness. Joy, in contrast, is expansive and lasting. Beauty envelopes us and breaths the breath of the life of God into us.

Before the beautiful—no, not really before but within the beautiful—the whole person quivers. He not only “finds” the beautiful moving; rather, he experiences himself as being moved and possessed by it. The more complete this experience is, the less does a person seek and enjoy only the delight that comes through the senses or even through any act of his own; the less also does he reflect on his own acts and states. Such a person has been taken up wholesale into the reality of the beautiful and is now fully subordinate to it, determined by it, animated by it. (The Glory of the Lord, Volume 1, Hans Urs von Balthasar)

Bigger than disappointment, or better yet, deeper, is the hunger/yearning for beauty. That is why disappointment is disappointment. It itself, is penultimate by its own confession. The fact that we can call it that admits to something deeper and more that we desire to prevail. We stretch out with our souls and our bodies for this fulfillment to set our disappointment in perspective (not to somehow say it is OK as if disappointment belongs), embrace it and make it part of something victorious by transforming it. C.S. Lewis speaks of the yearning in his essay, The Weight of Glory, that has been the subject of this blog on other occasions.

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves–that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that “beauty born of murmuring sound” will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch. For you must not think that I am putting forward any heathen fancy of being absorbed into Nature. Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites me to use. We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendour which she fitfully reflects.

Fr. Thomas

Disappointment – P.S.

Yesterday was very busy. I did not get to drink deeply from all the various wells of living water I visit each day. So, I must conclude, I allowed yesterday to be too busy or I just needed to get up earlier (Lord, have mercy.) !  So, this morning I did some catching up — I got up earlier and emptied some of the time of other occupations. In doing so, I was blessed by the two reflections that can be found here and here. I was blessed. Perhaps they will provide additional depth to yesterday’s post on the subject of disappointment.

Fr. Thomas

Disappointment

Life is salted with disappointments (pun on “salt of the earth” intended). Things become dark and stormy. Some of these times are fairly “manageable” and some so profound that getting to the other side of it seems impossible. We disappoint and are disappointed. Institutions and processes disappoint us and we disappoint them. What we do with disappointment is of utmost importance. Unattended to in the proper way, it becomes results in condemnation and disenfranchisement. Does God, through the Holy Tradition, have anything to say to us about disappointment – the dark times – and how to address it in creative and life-giving ways? The Scriptures assigned for today speak directly to this issue.

John 6.16-21
[16] When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,
[17] got into a boat, and started across the sea to Caper’na-um. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.
[18] The sea rose because a strong wind was blowing.
[19] When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat. They were frightened,
[20] but he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”
[21] Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.

Don Schwager, offers this reflection on the passage:

Does the Lord Jesus ever seem distant to you? When John recounted the scene of the apostles being alone at sea in a storm he described the situation as “dark” (John 6:17). It was dark not only physically but spiritually as well. Although they were experienced fishermen, they were fearful for their lives. The Lord’s sudden presence – and his supernatural ability to walk towards them on top of the rough waves of the sea – only made them more fearful! John says they were frightened. And Jesus had to calm them with a reassuring command: “Do not be afraid because I am here with you!”

Aren’t we like the apostles when we experience moments of darkness, fear, and trials? While the Lord may at times seem absent or very distant to us, he, nonetheless, is always present and close-by. The scriptures remind us that the Lord is “a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Whatever storms may beset us, he promises to “bring us to our desired haven” and place of calm rest and safety (Psalm 107:29-30). The Lord keeps watch over us at all times, and especially in our moments of temptation and difficulty. Do you rely on the Lord for his strength and help? Jesus assures us that we have no need of fear if we put our trust in him and in his great love and care for us. When calamities or trials threaten to overwhelm you, how do you respond? With faith and hope in God’s love, personal care, and presence with you?

“Lord Jesus, may I never doubt your saving help and your watchful presence in my life, especially in times of trouble. Fortify my faith with courage and give me enduring hope that I may never waver in my trust in you.” (www.dailyscripture.net, Copyright © 2013 Don Schwager)

The tumultuous character of disappointment is not cured simply by changing our attitude or correcting our faulty thinking. It is not good enough to say, “Snap out of it!” Of course, we need to take charge of our thought life. That is the bedrock of transformation in Christ. But, the struggle to address our thought life takes place in a concrete environment that confirms and strengthens that work. The environment is not extra. It is normative and essential. The environment includes not only fellowship, prayer, sacraments, disciplines that address our bodily appetites, keeping the commandments, and Holy Scripture but a particular understanding and participation of these facets. If we take a look at Acts 2.42-47; 4.32-37 ; 5.12-16; 6.7 which are so often used in conversations about the “golden days” of “the Church that we have so sadly lost and its spirit we need to desperately recapture and replicate,” it is instructive to also read the passages BETWEEN them. They are stories of provision in the midst of disappointment and darkness. Very instructive little study.

Jesus was provided an environment for His disciples during His pre-passion relationship with them that was designed to show them how He addressed disappointment. It is this ongoing provision that Jesus speaks of in His discourse prior to His arrest in John’s gospel account. God the Father, He says, will continue to provide this environment in and through the gift of the Holy Spirit and His ministry. And, He attempts to explain, this environment will be (Mysteriously) Him – His very life in and through the Holy Tradition.

When we take a look at the Church in Acts after Pentecost, we see a community of believers who exhibit a characteristic response to disappointment. Many think of the Apostolic Church as an example of the ideal church. The one we should imitate and replicate. Well, that sentiment is a good one but sometimes misinformed. It is often fueled by a faulty view of the Apostolic community. The faulty view is that the Apostolic community was “problem free.” An ideal community without blemish that catapulted from one astounding success to another. It was, to be sure, a time of astounding fruitfulness and miraculous events. But, an honest look at the church of Acts of the Apostles shows a community continually addressing disappointment both internal and external. The community sought to learn and live the spirit-filled and guided Way, Truth, and Life. (Parenthetically, I want to make it abundantly clear that I do not believe the Apostolic Church was, during this time, creating the Church or developing traditions on its own. It was in a receptive mode. It was receiving the Holy Tradition as the Holy Spirit was revealing and offering it. The Church believed in the Holy Spirit’s provision and was dedicated to a faithful process of reception and integration. And, I would say, it has been doing so ever since. THAT in and of itself is another example of divine provision in the midst of disappointment!!)

The Apostolic Church was no stranger to disappointment and dark times that surround them. Opposition, arrest, beatings, martyrdom, disagreements over how to live a shared life, instances of partiality, deceit in sharing, disagreement over who is “in” and who is “out,” differing views regarding missional strategy, etc.

If we are to look to the Apostolic Church of Acts as a model to imitate, then we should imitate its way of addressing disappointment – times of trial that are a temptation to abandon the Way, Truth, and Life – and do likewise. We are living out the 29th chapter of Acts as the saying goes. The way of addressing disappointment and trial is, however, all too often overlooked as being the main reason it was so fruitful.

So, if we want to immolate the Apostolic Church and facilitate its “astounding successfulness” then we need to get ready to address disappointments and dark times. They go together in the economy of God’s saving work in the context of this world. Dietrich Bonhoeffer , makes this crucial point in his classic, Life Together. He says,

Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.

The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community, the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more that the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

Here is an example from the early experience of the Apostolic Church:

Acts 6.1-7
[1] Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.
[2] And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.
[3] Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty.
[4] But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
[5] And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Proch’orus, and Nica’nor, and Ti’mon, and Par’menas, and Nicola’us, a proselyte of Antioch.
[6] These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them.
[7] And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

Let me direct you to a fruitful reflection on this passage that can be found here:

What I took away from the reflection by Dennis Hamm, S.J. was the approach of the Apostles to a very real disappointment. They did not avoid, deny, or manage it. They sought to delve deeper into what it meant to be the Body of Christ and how to live out that identity. They followed what I have come to call the “contemplative-incarnational-missional pattern.” They sought, in essence, to apply in practical terms the Trinitarian life of God. And, they were, as a result “astoundingly successful” and fruitful.

I am reminded in all of this of Psalm 42 (43):

Psalm 42 (43)
[1] Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people;
from deceitful and unjust men
deliver me!
[2] For thou art the God in whom I take refuge;
why hast thou cast me off?
Why go I mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?
[3] Oh send out thy light and thy truth;
let them lead me,
let them bring me to thy holy hill
and to thy dwelling!
[4] Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy;
and I will praise thee with the lyre,
O God, my God.
[5] Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Notice the attitudinal struggle. As I indicated earlier, it is all too easy to reduce Christianity and our discipleship to an exercise in getting your thinking straight or getting your attitude right or praising yourself into a right attitude. I am not discounting the need for ALL of this. Remember, it is the bedrock of the Apostolic faith. But, it needs to be remembered, this inner ascesis exists as a facet of a larger transformative context. Lets remember who the Psalmist is and where that person’s struggle is taking place – the temple with all of its form, regularity, order, consistency, fellowship, prayer, scriptural encounter, bodily discipline, keeping the commandments, and sacramental opportunity. The Psalmist has an environment in which to address disappointment so it can result in fruitfulness — both personal and communal.

Once again, it is the lack of the environment or the negligence of that environment in which to address disappointment that results in it becoming the catalyst of avoidance, despair, alienation, and division. Without the environment we are left to our own sense of what is right. We repeat the mistake of the Israelites: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21.25) That is not just a individual behavior but one a whole community can embrace. We can adopt a posture of rationalization and avoidance — “What disappointment?!” or “Oh, its okay.” Or, we judge and compartmentalize.  We place ourselves too easily in the judgment seat regarding others and vice versa. Institutions cease to become responsive to their original mandate to be life-giving environments. People are relegated to the waste bin of humanity or relegate society to the waste bin as hopelessly dysfunctional. Trust? Compassion? Recovery? What do those terms mean when disappointment is the trump card?! No longer is disappointment an attitude we have regarding behaviors. People become disappointments. And, after a while, they and we begin to believe it. The environment is crucial. The Holy Tradition as an environment of transformation mediates against our passions of judgmentalism, condemnation, and avoidance regarding our “disappointing” behaviors or those of others. This is a matrix of life-creating and life-sustaining faith, hope, and love.

When we have found ourselves in the dire straits of disappointment and our boat was filling with water and we were asking ourselves, “How can we continue?,” we knew (because of the Holy Tradition) to how to look for the Lord and were equipped to do so. In the context of fellowship, prayer, Scripture, bodily discipline, sacraments, and keeping the commandments, we encountered and dwelt on Him. We were nourished and corrected and encouraged. (We may not have called it that or identified the facets of it but I contend they were present.) It was THEN that He turned our sadness into joy. Our disappointment and that of others was not the whole story even though it was a real part of the story. We struggled honestly in the sanctuary of our Lord toward a new day. “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30.5) Indescribable joy, rose as a seedling, out of the soil of the fertile soil of our disappointment that was farmed by the Holy Spirit. An indescribable joy and yet a joy we had to find words to express. We shouted from the mountain tops because we were so blessed. I felt and tasted what it meant to be filled with the goodness of God. Our cup overflowed and spread out into the world.

If it was true then, it is still true. Those were not the “good old days.” Today is that “good day” in which we can know the saving goodness of the Lord. Our Lord is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow – forever. The Apostolic Church has always believed it and experienced it. You and I as members of that community have believed it and experienced it too. So, today, “Yet I will praise Him!” and it will be that “…immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.”

Fr. Thomas

Jeremiah: A Reflection on Disappointment and Resignation

John Henry Newman was one of the truly great “divines” of the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches during the 19th Century. An insightful pastoral theologian, Newman, in his writing and preaching sought to take the lofty tenets of the faith and offer his readers and listeners the opportunity to “make the application” if they seriously desired to do so.

During my 32 years as a fulltime parish priest, I would bring forth quotes (some short and some long) as part of a Bible Study or discipleship course. Quite often, there were moans and groans accompanied with statements like, “He is too hard to read.” or “This is just a bunch of lofty theology. Let’s study something practical!”

Well, I wrestled with those comments for years. I am ashamed to say that I even apologized for people like Newman and others. Yes, I gave in, at times, to the spirit of the times within the boundaries of the Church – the spirit of settling for pre-digested nourishment rather than the challenge of taking on the “primary texts” with gusto and hope. Sometimes, I would try to translate people like Newman into the “vernacular” and sometimes I would just “skip it” and move on to something “easily digestible.”

But, there were always those three or four folks who would say, “We need to be challenged by the great voices of the faith. We need to strive to meet them where they are rather than require them to meet us where we are all the time.” Those were the men and women that ended up experiencing some amazing transformation in their lives. They were the ones who had a teachable spirit. They were the ones who pressed me to help them make sense of all those “difficult” men and women like Newman and Chrysostom.

Okay, so enough rehashing the past. Onward…

Here is something “meaty” (not predigested) for your diet. John Henry Newman’s great sermon on “disappointment” and Godly “resignation.”

Bon appetit!

Fr. Thomas

“Jeremiah, a Lesson for the Disappointed”

By John Henry Newman – (while still an Anglican)

“Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord.” Jeremiah i. 8.

{124} THE Prophets were ever ungratefully treated by the Israelites; they were resisted, their warnings neglected, their good services forgotten. But there was this difference between the earlier and the later Prophets; the earlier lived and died in honour among their people,—in outward honour; though hated and thwarted by the wicked, they were exalted to high places, and ruled in the congregation. Moses, for instance, was in trouble from his people all his life long, but to the end he was their lawgiver and judge. Samuel, too, even though rejected, was still held in reverence; and when he died, “all the Israelites were gathered together and lamented him, and buried him in his house at Ramah.” [1 Sam. xxv. 1.] David died on a royal throne. But in the latter times, the prophets were {125} not only feared and hated by the enemies of God, but cast out of the vineyard. As the time approached for the coming of the true Prophet of the Church, the Son of God, they resembled Him in their earthly fortunes more and more; and as He was to suffer, so did they. Moses was a ruler, Jeremiah was an outcast: Samuel was buried in peace, John the Baptist was beheaded. In St. Paul’s words, they “had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned; they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy; they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” [Heb. xi. 36-38.]

Of these, Elijah, who lived in the wilderness, and the hundred prophets whom Obadiah fed by fifty in a cave, are examples of the wanderers. And Micaiah, who was appointed the bread of affliction and the water of affliction by an idolatrous king, is the specimen of those who “had trial of bonds and imprisonment.” Of those who were sawn asunder and slain with the sword, Isaiah is the chief, who, as tradition goes, was by order of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, sawn asunder with a wooden saw. And of those who were stoned, none is more famous than Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, “who was slain between the temple and the altar.” [Matt. xxiii. 35.] But of {126} all the persecuted prophets Jeremiah is the most eminent; i.e. we know more of his history, of his imprisonments, his wanderings, and his afflictions. He may be taken as a representative of the Prophets; and hence it is that he is an especial type of our Lord and Saviour. All the Prophets were types of the Great Prophet whose way they were preparing; they tended towards and spoke of Christ. In their sufferings they foreshadowed His priesthood, and in their teaching His prophetical office, and in their miracles His royal power. The history of Jeremiah, then, as being drawn out in Scripture more circumstantially than that of the other Prophets, is the most exact type of Christ among them; that is, next to David, who, of course, was the nearest resemblance to Him of all, as a sufferer, an inspired teacher, and a king. Jeremiah comes next to David; I do not say in dignity and privilege, for it was Elijah who was taken up to heaven, and appeared at the Transfiguration; nor in inspiration, for to Isaiah one should assign the higher evangelical gifts; but in typifying Him who came and wept over Jerusalem, and then was tortured and put to death by those He wept over. And hence, when our Lord came, while some thought Him Elijah, and others John the Baptist, risen from the dead, there were others who thought Him Jeremiah. Of Jeremiah, then, I will now speak, as a specimen of all those Prophets whom St. Paul sets before us as examples of faith, and St. James as examples of patience. {127}

Jeremiah’s ministry may be summed up in three words, good hope, labour, disappointment.

It was his privilege to be called to his sacred office from his earliest years. Like Samuel, the first prophet, he was of the tribe of Levi, dedicated from his birth to religious services, and favoured with the constant presence and grace of God. “Before I formed thee … I knew thee;” [Jer. i. 5.] says the word of the Lord to him when He gave him his commission, “and before thou camest out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” This commission was given the year after Josiah began his reformation. Jeremiah returned for answer, “Ah! Lord God! behold, I cannot speak; for I am a child.” He felt the arduousness of a prophet’s office; the firmness and intrepidity which were required to speak the words of God. “But the Lord said unto him, Say not I am a child; for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces, for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and said unto me, Behold I have put My words in thy mouth.”

No prophet commenced his labours with greater encouragement than Jeremiah. A king had succeeded to the throne who was bringing back the times of the man after God’s own heart. There had not been a son {128} of David so zealous as Josiah since David himself. The king, too, was young, at most twenty years of age, in the beginning of his reformation. What might not be effected in a course of years, however corrupt and degraded was the existing state of his people? So Jeremiah might think. It must be recollected, too, that religious obedience was under the Jewish covenant awarded with temporal prosperity. There seemed, then, every reason for Jeremiah at first to suppose that bright fortunes were in store for the Church. Josiah was the very king whose birth was foretold by name above three hundred years before, when Jeroboam established idolatry; who was the promised avenger of God’s covenant, “the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.” [Isa. lviii. 12.] Israel (the ten tribes) having gone into captivity, schism had come to its end; the kings of the house of David again ruled over the whole extent of the promised land; idolatry was destroyed by Josiah in all the cities. Such were the present blessings which the Jewish remnant enjoyed. At first sight, then, it seemed reasonable to anticipate further and permanent improvement. Every one begins with being sanguine; doubtless then, as now, many labourers in God’s husbandry entered on their office with more lively hopes than their after fortunes warranted. Whether or not, however, such hope of success encouraged Jeremiah’s first exertions, very soon, in his case, this cheerful prospect was {129} overcast, and he was left to labour in the dark. Huldah’s message to the king, on his finding the Book of the Law in the temple, fixed the coming fortunes of Judah. Huldah foretold a woe,—an early removal of the good Josiah to his rest as a mercy to him, and to the nation, who were unworthy of him, a fierce destruction. This prophecy was delivered five years after Jeremiah entered upon his office; he ministered in all forty years before the captivity; so early in his course were his hopes cut away.

But even though Huldah’s message be supposed not to reach him, still he was doubtless soon undeceived as to any hopes he might entertain, whether, by the express Word of God informing him, or by the actual hardened state of sin in which the nation lay. Soon, surely, were his hopes destroyed, and his mind sobered into a more blessed and noble temper,—resignation.

I call resignation a more blessed frame of mind than sanguine hope of present success, because it is the truer, and the more consistent with our fallen state of being, and the more improving to our hearts; and because it is that for which the most eminent servants of God have been conspicuous. To expect great effects from our exertions for religious objects is natural indeed, and innocent, but it arises from inexperience of the kind of work we have to do,—to change the heart and will of man. It is a far nobler frame of mind, to labour, not with the hope of seeing the fruit of our labour, but for {130} conscience’ sake, as a matter of duty; and again, in faith, trusting good will be done, though we see it not. Look through the Bible, and you will find God’s servants, even though they began with success, end with disappointment; not that God’s purposes or His instruments fail, but that the time for reaping what we have sown is hereafter, not here; that here there is no great visible fruit in any one man’s lifetime. Moses, for instance, began with leading the Israelites out of Egypt in triumph; he ended at the age of an hundred and twenty years, before his journey was finished and Canaan gained, one among the offending multitudes who were overthrown in the wilderness [1 Cor. x. 5.]. Samuel’s reformations ended in the people’s wilfully choosing a king like the nations around them. Elijah, after his successes, fled from Jezebel into the wilderness to mourn over his disappointments. Isaiah, after Hezekiah’s religious reign, and the miraculous destruction of Sennacherib’s army, fell upon the evil days of his son Manasseh. Even in the successes of the first Christian teachers, the Apostles, the same rule is observed. After all the great works God enabled them to accomplish, they confessed before their death that what they experienced, and what they saw before them, was reverse and calamity, and that the fruit of their labour would not be seen, till Christ came to open the books and collect His saints from the four corners of the earth. “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse {131} and worse, deceiving and being deceived,” [2 Tim. iii. 13.] is the testimony of St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John, and St. Jude.

Now, in the instance of Jeremiah, we have on record that variety and vicissitude of feelings, which this transition from hope to disappointment produces, at least in a sensitive mind. His trials were very great, even in Josiah’s reign; but when that pious king’s countenance was withdrawn on his early death, he was exposed to persecution from every class of men. At one time we read of the people conspiring against him [note 1]; at another, of the men of his own city, Anathoth, “seeking his life,” [Jer. xi. 21.] on account of his prophesying in the Lord’s name. At another time he was seized by the priests and the prophets in order to be put to death, from which he was only saved by certain of the princes and elders who were still faithful to the memory of Josiah [note 2]. Then, again, Pashur, the chief governor of the temple, smote him and tortured him [note 3]. At another time, the king, Zedekiah, put him in prison [note 4]. Afterwards, when the army of the Chaldeans had besieged Jerusalem, the Jews accused him of falling away to the enemy [note 5], and smote him, and imprisoned him; then they cast him into a dungeon, where he “sunk in the mire,” and almost perished from hunger [Jer. xxxviii. 6, 9.]. When Jerusalem had been taken by the enemy, Jeremiah was forcibly carried {132} down to Egypt by men who at first pretended to reverence and consult him [note 6], and there he came to his end—it is believed, a violent end. Nebuchadnezzar, the heathen king of Babylon and conqueror of Jerusalem, was one of the few persons who showed him kindness. This great king, who afterwards honoured Daniel, and was at length brought to acknowledge the God of heaven by a severe chastisement, on the taking of the city delivered Jeremiah from prison [note 7], and gave charge to the captain of his guard concerning him, to “look well to him, and to do him no harm; but to do unto him even as he should say … ” An Ethiopian, another heathen, is also mentioned as delivering him from the dungeon.

Such were his trials: his affliction, fear, despondency, and sometimes even restlessness under them are variously expressed; that succession and tide of feelings which most persons undergo before their minds settle into the calm of resignation. At one time he speaks as astonished at his failure: “O Lord, art not Thine eyes upon the truth? Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; Thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction.” [Jer. v. 3.] Again, “A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and My people love to have it so.” [Jer. v. 30, 31.] At another time, he expresses his perplexity at the {133} disorder of the world, and the successes of the wicked: “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, when I plead with Thee; yet let me talk with Thee of Thy judgments: wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously? … but Thou, O Lord, knowest me; Thou hast seen me, and tried mine heart towards Thee.” [Jer. xii. 1-3.] Then, in turn, his mind frets at the thought of its own anxious labours and perplexities: “Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me … Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable? … wilt Thou be altogether unto me as a deceiver, and as waters that fail?” [Jer. xv. 10-18.] These are the sorrows of a gentle and peaceable mind, forced against its will into the troubles of life, and incurring the hatred of those whom it opposes against its nature. This he elsewhere expresses thus: “As for me, I have not … desired the woeful day” (which he foretold); “Thou knowest: that which came out of my lips was right before Thee. Be not a terror unto me: Thou art my hope in the day of evil.” [Jer. xvii. 16, 17.] When Pashur put him to torture he was still more agitated, and said, “O Lord, Thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived. Thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed. I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me … Cursed be the day {134} wherein I was born” (here certainly is the language even of impatience), “let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed.” [Jer. xx. 7-14.]

However, of such changes of feelings what was the end?—resignation. He elsewhere uses language which expresses that chastened spirit and weaned heart, which is the termination of all agitation and anxiety in the case of religious minds. He, who at one time could not comfort himself, at another was sent to comfort a brother; and, in comforting Baruch, he speaks in that nobler temper of resignation which takes the place of sanguine hope and harassing fear, and betokens calm and clear-sighted faith and inward peace. “Thus saith the Lord the God of Israel unto thee, O Baruch. Thou didst say, Woe is me now, for the Lord hath added grief to my sorrow; I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest … Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and that which I have planted I will pluck up, even this whole land. And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh; … but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest;” that is, seek not success, be not impatient, fret not thyself—be content, if, after all thy labours, thou dost but save thyself, without seeing other fruit of them.

And now, my brethren, does what I have been saying {135} apply to all of us, or only to Prophets? It applies to all of us. For all of us live in a world which promises well, but does not fulfil; and all of us (taking our lives altogether apart from religious prospects) begin with hope, and end with disappointment. Doubtless, there is much difference in our respective trials here, arising from difference of tempers and fortunes. Still it is in our nature to begin life thoughtlessly and joyously; to seek great things in one way or other; to have vague notions of good to come; to love the world, and to believe its promises, and seek satisfaction and happiness from it. And, as it is our nature to hope, so it is our lot, as life proceeds, to encounter disappointment. I know that there are multitudes, in the retired ranks of society, who pass their days without any great varieties of fortune; though, even in such cases, thinking persons will have much more to say of themselves than at first sight might appear. Still, that disappointment in some shape or other is the lot of man (that is, looking at our prospects apart from the next world) is plain, from the mere fact, if nothing else could be said, that we begin life with health and end it with sickness; or in other words, that it comes to an end, for an end is a failure. And even in the quietest walks of life, do not the old feel regret, more or less vividly, that they are not young? Do not they lament the days gone by, and even with the pleasure of remembrance feel the pain? And why, except that they think that they have lost something {136} which they once had, whereas in the beginning of life, they thought of gaining something they had not? A double disappointment.

Now is it religion that suggests this sad view of things? No, it is experience; it is the world’s doing; it is fact, from which we cannot escape, though the Bible said not a word about the perishing nature of all earthly pleasures.

Here then it is, that God Himself offers us His aid by His Word, and in His Church. Left to ourselves, we seek good from the world, but cannot find it; in youth we look forward, and in age we look back. It is well we should be persuaded of these things betimes, to gain wisdom and to provide for the evil day. Seek we great things? We must seek them where they really are to be found, and in the way in which they are to be found; we must seek them as He has set them before us, who came into the world to enable us to gain them. We must be willing to give up present hope for future enjoyment, this world for the unseen. The truth is (though it is so difficult for us to admit it heartily), our nature is not at first in a state to enjoy happiness, even if we had it offered to us. We seek for it, and we feel we need it; but (strange though it is to say, still so it is) we are not fitted to be happy. If then at once we rush forward to seek enjoyment, it will be like a child’s attempting to walk before his strength is come. If we would gain true bliss, we must cease to seek it as an {137} end; we must postpone the prospect of enjoying it. For we are by nature in an unnatural state; we must be changed from what we are when born, before we can receive our greatest good. And as in sickness sharp remedies are often used, or irksome treatment, so it is with our souls; we must go through pain, we must practise self-denial, we must curb our wills, and purify our hearts, before we are capable of any lasting solid peace. To attempt to gain happiness, except in this apparently tedious and circuitous way, is a labour lost; it is building on the sand; the foundation will soon give way, though the house looks fair for a time. To be gay and thoughtless, to be self-indulgent and self-willed, is quite out of character with our real state. We must learn to know ourselves, and to have thoughts and feelings becoming ourselves. Impetuous hope and undisciplined mirth ill-suit a sinner. Should he shrink from low notions of himself, and sharp pain, and mortification of natural wishes, whose guilt called down the Son of God from heaven to die upon the cross for him? May he live in pleasure here, and call this world his home, while he reads in the Gospel of his Saviour’s life-long affliction and disappointment?

It cannot be; let us prepare for suffering and disappointment, which befit us as sinners, and which are necessary for us as saints. Let us not turn away from trial when God brings it on us, or play the coward in the fight of faith. “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, {138} quit you like men, be strong;” [1 Cor. xvi. 13.] such is St. Paul’s exhortation. When affliction overtakes you, remember to accept it as a means of improving your hearts, and pray God for His grace that it may do so. Look disappointment in the face. “Take … the Prophets … for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy who endure.” Give not over your attempts to serve God, though you see nothing come of them. Watch and pray, and obey your conscience, though you cannot perceive your own progress in holiness. Go on, and you cannot but go forward; believe it, though you do not see it. Do the duties of your calling, though they are distasteful to you. Educate your children carefully in the good way, though you cannot tell how far God’s grace has touched their hearts. Let your light shine before men, and praise God by a consistent life, even though others do not seem to glorify their Father on account of it, or to be benefited by your example. “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you shall find it after many days … In the morning sow your seed, in the evening withhold not your hand; for you know not whether shall prosper, either this or that; or whether they both shall be alike good.” [Eccl. xi. 1, 6.] Persevere in the narrow way. The Prophets went through sufferings to which ours are mere trifles; violence and craft combined to turn them aside, but they kept right on, and are at rest. {139}

Now, I know full well, that this whole subject is distasteful to many men, who say we ought to be cheerful. “We are bid rejoice, why then do you bid us mourn?” I bid you mourn in order that you may rejoice more perfectly. “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” [Matt. v. 4.] “They that sow in tears, shall reap in joy.” I bid you take up the cross of Christ, that you may wear His crown. Give your hearts to Him, and you will for yourselves solve the difficulty, how Christians can be sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing [2 Cor. vi. 10.]. You will find that lightness of heart and cheerfulness are quite consistent with that new and heavenly character which He gives us, though to gain it in any good measure, we must for a time be sorrowful, and ever after thoughtful. But I give you fair warning, you must at first take His word on trust; and if you do not, there is no help for it. He says, “Come unto Me, … and I will give you rest.” You must begin on faith: you cannot see at first whither He is leading you, and how light will rise out of the darkness. You must begin by denying yourselves your natural wishes,—a painful work; by refraining from sin, by rousing from sloth, by preserving your tongue from insincere words, and your hands from deceitful dealings, and your eyes from beholding vanity; by watching against the first rising of anger, pride, impurity, obstinacy, jealousy; by learning to endure the laugh of {140} irreligious men for Christ’s sake; by forcing your minds to follow seriously the words of prayer, though it be difficult to you, and by keeping before you the thought of God all through the day. These things you will be able to do if you do but seek the mighty help of God the Holy Spirit which is given you; and while you follow after them, then, in the Prophet’s language, “your light shall rise in obscurity, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. And the Lord shall guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought: and you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” [Isa. lviii. 10, 11.]

Notes

1. Jer. xviii. 18

2. Jer. xxvi. 16, &c

3. Jer. xx. 2

4. Jer. xxxii. 3

5. Jer. xxxvii. 14

6. Jer. xlii., xliii

7. Jer. xxxix. 14

http://www.newmanreader.org/works/parochial/volume8/sermon9.html