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Comfort in Tribulation
Rabbi ben Ezra invites the aged to grow old along with him, "the best is yet to be." And we love to think that "to grow old in heaven is to grow young." But the later years of life are more full of sorrow than our earlier years. In youth troubles are superficial and short-lived. In old age they are deep and long. "If by reason of strength they be fourscore years (twice forty, that significant number), yet is their strength labor and sorrow."
We are now gaining a nearer view of the Lord’s life on earth in fulfilling "the law and the prophets." Since childhood we have heard, read, sung, and talked about it, but the Lord Himself was far removed from us, more like a memory, than as a personal friend constantly awaiting entrance into our home, to establish a closer relationship with our inner life than anyone else. When we open the door, and He enters in, we feel that we can unburden our souls without any fear of being misunderstood. Then our ears are open to his Word, and the old story comes with a new measure of His love. That encourages us, at times at least, to "greet the unseen with a cheer." But love is an eye-opener. We see life, our own in particular, in a stronger light, a light that passes through the surface to the depths beneath, and lays bare the cause of all our troubles, a froward heart, that resents correction or change. The more the love of God in Jesus Christ enters our hearts the more accentuated is the protest of self-will. This antagonism within continually disturbs our peace of mind, and takes away our happiness in life. Immediately we cease work or pleasure, our troubles return. Self-will and God’s will are at variance, and we seem to be helpless to alter it. We are as captives in Babylon. We know it from the Word, and cry out for relief. It is here that the Lamentations of Jeremiah teach us how to bear our cross patiently, and help us to understand the Man of sorrows, who "was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities." Every word in this book is reminiscent of his sufferings in giving up his will to do the will of the Father, and redeem and save his children—those who take up their cross, and follow in his steps.
Chapter 1. Lamentation over the disintegration of the Church. "How doth the city sit solitary, she that was full of people! She is become a widow, she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces; she is become tributary! Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger." Forlorn Zion! The spirit of the dirge takes hold of us if we suffer on account of the lifelessness of the church, and the lifelessness of religion in ourselves. We love the teachings of the church, and the services in it, but they make little or no difference in our ways of living. It cannot be said of us as of the primitive Christian Church, "Behold these Christians, how they love one another!" When we sing "We are not divided, all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity," we can mean it only in aspiration, for it does not exist in reality. The failure of Christianity today has greater significance for us when we bemoan our own shortcomings, and realize how hard it is to be a Christian. We need not blame the organization: it is our organization, to make it more nearly as we pray from day to day.
2. Lamentation on account of God’s anger with his people. "How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger! . . . He hath increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation." He has destroyed the tabernacle and the temple. He has given them over to the enemy. The law is no more. The prophets have no vision. "They have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity. . . . All that pass by clap their hands at thee. . . . In the day of the Lord’s anger none escaped nor remained: those that I have swaddled and brought up hath mine enemy consumed." Think of the children brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord in their later years dropping into the heedless ways of the world, none the better for their early training! The wrath of God is simply the love of God converted into the wrath of man, as the noxious plant turns the sunshine and the rain from above into poison that is destructive of life. We hold the Lord responsible for all the sorrows of the world so long as we complain and refuse to assume any responsibility. A verbal concession that God’s wrath is only apparent, and not real, means nothing, until we have felt the weight of the cross in surrendering our wills to do his will.
3. Lamentation, but not without hope. "I am the man that have seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. . . . Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall, my soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. . . . It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. . . . Out of the mouth of the most high proceedeth not evil and good. Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens. We have transgressed and have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned." Our plea for deliverance from our persecutors is deep and sincere.
4. Lamentation by contrasting the past and the present. "How is the gold become dim! How is the most fine gold changed! The stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street. The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter! . . . The punishment of the iniquity of the daughters of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her." Who would have believed that the enemy would ever enter the gates of Jerusalem and destroy it? The world seemed to be a better world in our childhood than the world today. The good old times are gone. And the church that was so united in the beginning is rent by controversy and dissension. Even war today is more terrible than it was yesterday. The more light the more serious are the consequences of its abuse. Our hearts will never fully turn in penance to the Lord until we feel the sorrows of the world as our own, and lose ourselves in the effort to change all for the better.
5. Lamentation in prayer for deliverance. "Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us; consider, and behold our reproach. Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens. We are orphans and fatherless. . . . Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities. . . . Wherefore dost thou forget us forever, and forsake us so long time? Turn us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old. But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us." These closing words of the Book sound hopeless. They ring true, however, when taken in their context between the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The deep humiliation is a preparation for the reception of the words of the prophet to the captives in Babylon, closing with the thrilling vision of the restoration of the temple, the city, and the land.
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