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Now, here again is another portion of the Lord's own word point blank against you. Instead of fulfilling this in your experience, he is cutting off your family upon the right hand and on the left, and leaving you as a sparrow alone upon the house-top. It proves that yours is a special case, a peculiar instance of the Lord's displeasure against hypocrisy and a false profession of religion. See-behold ! how others are beginning to stand aloof from you ; they think that the judgments of God have overtaken you, and they very properly withdraw themselves lest they also should share in your condemnation. Why, your very name and the remembrance of you will be accursed by those that have had dealings with you." Unbelief coincides, it says, “'Tis true-'tis true.” So that between the two, the poor captive soul is pressed almost beyond measure.
Are these the waters—the deep, the tempestuous waters, through which some of our dear readers are passing? Is this the captivity beneath which they cry, “ Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south ?” Our impression is that it is so. Happily, we believe the number of such as are called to wade in such depths is very limited; but, presuming that at least one into whose hands our poor labours may fall, may be in such trying circumstances, we leave the majority of our readers to follow him, to encourage him by the assurance that he is not alone—that his experience is not so singular as Satan would have him believe.
Poor tried believer ! for such thou art still, and ever shall be, until thy faith is lost in sight, and thou art got beyond the attacks of a worrying devil—thy God is with thee even in this captivity. It is true that it is very trying ; thy feet seem to stick fast in the mire, and thou art afraid lest the next step shall ingulph thee; it seems that thou must inevitably sink, be lost, swallowed up out of sight! Ah! no, it cannot be." Suppose the fig-tree does not blossom, nor any fruit be on the vine ; the labour of the olive fails, and the fields yield no meat ; the flocks are cut off from the fold, and there are no herd in the stall. Suppose Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and that one more dear than even Benjamin must be taken away also ; suppose 'that thy purposes are broken off, thy plans defeated, and that nothing but sorrow, disappointment, and vexation, attend thee; yet—yet is there not a God in Israel, one who has said that “He will never leave thee nor forsake thee?” Hath he forgotten his word ? Hath he not ability to fulfil his covenant engagements? Has he altered his mind ? “Is he a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent ?" Oh, no, no, no ! “He is of one mind, and none can turn him. Heaven and earth may pass away, but not one jot or tittle of his word can pass away.” Mark his promise, and the Lord enable thee to set it over against thine unbelief, and the wily insinuations of thy lying adversary, “They shall not overflow thee.” The Lord moreover pour out upon thee a spirit of grace and supplication ; or if thou art too much burdened to speak, may he grant thee to realize at this time the language of the apostle, “ For the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”- Lord, let the sighing of the prisoner come up be
fore thee. Is he not thy prisoner ? Though a prisoner in heavy bonds, bound down by Satan and unbelief; yet is he not an object of thy love ? Didst thou not once proclaim liberty to his captive soul, and the opening of the prison doors to him that was bound? Is there anything too hard for thee? Gloomy and complicated as is his path, canst thou not make the crooked straight and the rough places plain? “Shall not the prey be taken from the mighty, and the lawful captive delivered ?" Hast thou not said, “When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flames kindle upon thee ?” Lord, here is thy poor servant in the very midst of the waters, fearing every moment he shall be drowned; "all thy waves and thy billows are going over him," and he fears they will presently overwhelm him. Lord, he is in the furnace of temptation, and trembles lest he should be consumed. Oh, remember thy word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused him to hope ! Hast thou not said, “ Put me in remembrance ?” And hast thou promised, and wilt thou not perform ? Hast thou ever been worse than thy word ? What would become of thy great name, if thou wert to forfeit thy word ? Hast thou not sworn by thyself, because thou couldst swear by no greater ? Would not devils triumph and men blaspheme, if thou wert to fail in the accomplishment of thine own promise ? Lord, remember him in the midst of his affliction ; stand by, strengthen him, leave him not neither forsake him, but fulfil in him the good pleasure of thy will. Put words in his mouth to answer the devil and every accuser, and let it be seen by men and angels that he has not deceived others, nor is himself deceived.
“Turn again our captivity, O Lord.” And when the Lord does turn thy captivity, poor soul, he will explain all :
“God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.” Thy present path, it is true, is dark, mysterious, and complicated. No human scrutiny can decipher it. Reason, the spring of delusion, may make its estimate ; and, with prudential artifice, occupy the position which Satan and unbelief point out-namely, to withdraw at a respectful distance, as the natives of the island upon which Paul was cast when the viper fastened on his hand (see Acts, xxviii. 3–6). But, meantime, the Lord help thee to sigh and groan at his dear feet. Hast thou sinned ? remember his own language, “Only acknowledge thine iniquity.” We ask thee not if thou hast fallen into open sin; but has there been any indulgence of it in thy heart? Have the inward workings of thy nature been to thee such a "captivity” as thou couldst desire ? Hast thou not been somewhat more at home in it than thou couldst wish ? and does the language, “If I regard iniquity, in my heart the Lord will not hear me,” seem to apply to thy condition ? The Lord enable thee, poor soul, to confess it before him. Go, say to him, “ Take away all iniquity. It must exist I know, Lord, till this vile body is dropped in the grave ; but if this Canaanite must still be in
the land, suffer me not to parley with it, to make overtures unto it; let us be sworn enemies. Keep me upon my watch-tower, Lord ; watchful against this ever-vigilant foe. Let me never lay down the weapons of my warfare ; let me never say, a confederacy. Stand by me, Lord, in the power of thy blessed Spirit ; arm me for the battle against self, sin, and Satan. Leave me not, neither forsake me ; make thy mighty power known in me and by me, that thy strength may appear in my weakness; yea, give power to the faint, and to thy poor servant that hath no might, increase strength.”
“ Turn again our captivity, O Lord.” The prayer of faith may be regarded as a promise to faith. All real prayer comes from God, and returns to God, though it be but in sighs and groans. “ The desire of the righteous shall be granted unto him.” The very commencement of a returning from “ captivity,” or deliverance from trouble, is a wrestling spirit; the one is as much from the Lord as the other : and one single petition put up in faith, will do more than ten thousand struggles upon our part. In trouble we are, like the lion in the fable, entangled in a net; we tug, and twist, and turn, but all to no purpose ; we only entwine the net about us the tighter, until at length we fall down, and find that there is none to help ;-begin, perhaps, to despair, and think we shall be overtaken by our enemies, and perish in our “ captivity.” But at this particular juncture deliverance comes, though perhaps in a most insignificant way. Who would have thought a mouse could have delivered a lion ? and who would have supposed that the feeble cry of a sinful, helpless worm, “Lord, help me!'* “Lord, save, or I perish !" “Lord, make a way for me !” should so enter into the ears of the Lord God of Sabaoth, as to give him no rest until he “came down for his help ?” His promise cannot fail. No; and the more trying the path, the more mysterious to human reason, the more afflictive the dispensation, and the more disastrous its apparent consequences ; the more watchful is the eye of the Lord upon us, and by and by the more glorious the deliverance—the turning again the captivity. The lower thou sinkest, poor soul, the higher shalt thou rise; many things may contradict this assertion, but it is no less true. Thy God shall work wondrously, and thou shalt have nothing to do but to stand by and admire ; thy praise then shall far exceed thy grief and sorrow now. It will be a glorious, a mighty deliverance indeed ; Satan will make the best of his way to his own place ; thine accusers will be silenced ; and those that now sit in doubt of thy character, and at times are ready to think thou art a hypocrite, and that the judgments of God are surely falling upon thee, will find confidence restored, and be among thy chief friends. And we may add another word for thine encouragement, poor doubting soul; the more faithful thy testimony for God and his truth in seasons that are past, the more gracious and the more conspicuous his deliverance for thee now. Hast thou spoken aloud his praise ? hast thou, before men and devils, declared his power ? so shall men and devils, ere long, behold his delivering acts on thy behalf. “ Thine enemies shall be still as a stone ;” they will stand with wonder and amazement, and be compelled to exclaim, “ Surely, the Lord is on his side.” All the
arguments that Satan has pleaded against thee—and partly for this reason have we made mention of them, that thou mayst the more clearly behold it-shall then most conspicuously turn in thy favour ; so that thine enemy shall be caught in his own net, and be plunged into the pit which he himself has digged. It shall be so, poor soul, as surely as God is true, and as surely as that thou art now unable to discover the least avenue of deliverance out of thy present bondage.
But, a little cheered by the deliverance which we have foretold, art thou asking us what thou shalt do? Is thy poor legal heart still for working? Ay, to be sure it is; and will be all thy pilgrimage through. Free grace, free gifts, free love, free mercy, and a legal heart, never can nor never will harmonize. What art thou to do? Why, nothing at all, but to sigh and cry for deliverance. What could the poor leper at the pool of Bethesda do ? What could the man who had fallen among thieves, and was left wounded by the wayside, do? What could Brother Job, with a body full of sores, and clothed in sackcloth and ashes, do? What could Jonah in the belly of hell do? What could David, and Peter, and Mary Magdalene, with guilty consciences, do ? All they could do was, to cry to the Lord, “ Turn-turn—turn again our captivity.” “ But,” thou sayest, “my case is most distressing; my comforts are dried up.” Are they ? “My spirit is bowed down within me ;" so was David's. “My trade, too, seems gone ! ” Indeed. “My energies fail !” Blessed be God! Well, then, if thy comforts should return, thy spirit revive, and thy worldly pursuits wear a more cheering aspect, as thy strength hath failed thee, thou wilt be ready to acknowledge that the credit is not due to thee. Ah ! well, then, thine is a right position, dark and gloomy as it may now appear ; “ The barrel of meal shall not waste, nor shall the cruise of oil fail, until the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.” Wait-stand still-watch-cry, yea, cry mightily again, and again, and again :
“Cry if thou canst, or canst not speak.” It is the Lord must turn thy captivity ; thou canst not do it thyself. In thyself thou art in a helpless and a hopeless condition ; but in the Lord is all help and all power, and this he will sweetly exercise on thy behalf. Cry as the prophet did, and let thy little faith run to the top of the mountain, and look towards the sea even a sixth and a seventh time. By and by the cloud shall be seen, though it be but the size of à man's hand ; apparently, hardly worth notice. It shall increase, become larger, till by and by clouds of blessings shall gather over thee, and descend upon thy head in most copious and refreshing showers. Oh ! how will they cheer and animate thy soul, and how wilt thou sing of the goodness and mercy, the grace and faithfulness of thy covenant God-Father, Son, and Holy Ghost :
“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread,
In blessings on your head.”
“Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south." Our readers are familiar with the metaphor used by the psalmist to show . the extent of his captivity. It implies that everything went one way, that all had been going wrong-that there was little, if anything, wore an encouraging aspect; the church, on whose account he here entreats divine favour and interference, was in thraldom-in bondage-in captivity indeed ; probably in an enemy's land; deprived of the privileges of home ; jeered by her oppressors, in reply to whose solicitations she adopts the mournful expression, “How shall we sing one of the Lord's songs in a strange land ?” Israel's experience then is just that of every real Israelite now, when he is brought into difficulty and trial. The song of praise dies away; trouble and anguish press down his spirit; fear takes possession of his breast; and he is brought down into the very depths of trouble--with apparently every hope cut off-all resources dried up-each channel closed and he is in a similar position to Job, left barren and destitute, to mope and mourn over his misery. A soul in this deplorable condition has but little inclination for singing one of the songs of Zion. But as surely as he is one of THE LORD's prisoners, so surely shall he come forth. He shall not die in the pit. The Lord will loose him and let him go; for his honour, his glory, his great name, are at stake!
“ As the streams in the south.” The psalmist doubtless alludes to some particular locality ; but if the reader takes his stand by a river contiguous to the sea, and subject to the ebbing and flowing of the tides, he will perceive that it is only firmness of foundation, or by dint of moorings and firm anchorage, that any vessel can withstand the current. At some of our sea-ports the tide runs so strong, that ships of war, of immense tonnage, when merely moored from the bows or forepart of the ship, almost immediately swing round with the tide, and, but for their anchorage, would be carried away by it, and driven ashore. We knew an instance of a 120-gun ship breaking from her moorings in this way. But in the river Thames the representation is still more striking. There heavily-laden barges, and smaller vessels of various kinds, wait the turning of the tide ; and every day and almost every hour of the day, the reader may behold the river literally best rewed with them, all carried to their destination by the force of the stream. Let the reader apply the psalmist's meaning. The stream which had been running against him, he beseeches the Lord to turn in his favour : this, in his own time and way, and by his own means, the Lord most graciously does ; so that the soul is overpowered by the sight of the wisdom and the love displayed. All that seemed against him is now in his favour ; he is covered with blessings; he receives the oil of joy for mourning, and the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness. The fig-tree blossoms, the vine yields its fruit; the field its meat; the flocks are in the fold ; and the herd are again found in the stall. Yea, now the Lord has turned again his captivity, he is like one that dreams ; his mouth is filled with laughter, and his tongue with singing; and he exclaims, “ The Lord hath done great things for me, whereof I am glad."