Christian! expect not unmixed sorrow or uninterrupted joy as your present portion. Heaven will be joy without sorrow. Hell will be sorrow without joy. Earth presents to you every joy mingled with grief—every grief tempered with joy. To be accounted small and despised does not comprise the whole of your trials. Like the great apostle, you must expect not only trouble without, but anguish within. Others may not have it. But your Savior engages, "You shall." To all His people He has not meted out the same measure. Some have rebuke. Some have a scourge. But all have the cross, and this a daily cross—not a single or an occasional trial—but a life of trial—constant contradiction to the will—constant mortification of the flesh. And this takes hold of us. We cannot escape from it. Should we wish to escape it? This discipline, as Luther observes in his own way (and who was a better calculator in this school?), 'is more necessary for us, than all the riches and dignities of the whole world.' And the exercise of faith and patience in the endurance will bring more honor to God and profit to ourselves than a life of ease and indulgence. The instruction of the rod delivers us from its curse, and brings a substantial and enriching blessing.
But how precious is the sympathy of Jesus, "in all things made like unto His brethren"—enduring trouble and anguish inconceivable to human apprehension, "that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest to support His tempted people!" How does it lift up our head amid the billows, when in communion with our Lord we can call to mind, that His sorrow was for the sake of His dear purchased people; that they might drink their lighter cup bereft of its bitter ingredients!
The Psalmist did not find that the Lord afflicted him to leave him in misery, but rather to increase his happiness. The precepts which he had not forgotten, were now his delights. The scriptural records of the trials of the Lord's people bear similar abundant testimony to the inexhaustible resources of support in the Book of God: and they are written for our learning, "that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." The child of God, whose thoughts are habitually occupied in the word, will always find it to be his food and light, his joy and strength; witnessing within, the presence and power of God, even where its sensible comfort may not be enjoyed.
But specially is affliction the time, that unfolds the delights of the word, such as more than counterbalances the painful trouble and anguish of the flesh. Such cheering prospects of hope and deliverance does it set forth! Such mighty supports in the endurance of trial does it realize! Truly the experimental power of the word in keeping the soul alive—much more than this—cheerful—sustained—established—is there any blessing like this—the fruit of the cross? Can we mourn over that cross, that brings so gainful a harvest? The bitterness of the cross then best realizes the delights of the commandments. But never does the believer more "rejoice in tribulation," than when the trouble and anguish which take hold of him, is for the love he bears to the name of his dear Lord. Persecution for His sake, far from appalling him, only endears His service to his heart. It is in his eyes, "not a penalty endured, but a privilege conferred," "to suffer for His name's sake."
But contrast the condition of the child of God and the follower of the world, in the hour of affliction. The one in the midst of his troubles drinks of the fountain of all-sufficiency; and such is his peace and security, that, "in the floods of great waters they shall not come near unto him." The other, "in the fullness of his sufficiency, is in straits." David could look upward, and find the way of escape in the midst of his trouble: but for Saul, when trouble and anguish took hold of him, no source of comfort opened to his view. "God was departed from him, and was become his enemy." It was therefore trouble without support, anguish without relief—trouble and anguish; such as will at length take hold of them that forget God, when nothing will be left, but the unavailing "cry to the mountains and the hills to fall upon them, and cover them." Thanks be to God for deliverance from this fearful prospect! Thanks for the hope of unfading delights, when earthly pleasures shall have passed away! The first sheaf of the heavenly harvest will blot out the painful remembrance of the weeping seed-time which preceded it. The first moment of heaven will compensate for all the troubles and anguish of earth; and these moments will last throughout eternity. "Say to the righteous, it shall be well with him"—eternally well.
"Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me." This affliction may have arisen from his circumstances, or from the cruelty of his enemies, or from his own internal conflicts; but certain it is that he was the subject of much distress, a distress which apprehended him, and carried him away a captive to its power. His griefs, like fierce dogs, had taken hold upon him; he felt their teeth. He had double trouble: trouble without and anguish within: as the apostle Paul put it, "without were fightings, within were fears."
"Yet your commandments are my delights." Thus he became a riddle: troubled, and yet delighted; in anguish, and yet in pleasure. The child of God can understand this enigma, for well he knows that while he is cast down on account of what he sees within himself, he is all the more lifted up by what he sees in the word. He is delighted with the commandments, although he is troubled with his imperfections. He finds abundant light in the commandments, and by the influence of that light he discovers and mourns over his own darkness. Only the man who is acquainted with the struggles of the spiritual life will understand the expression before us. Let the reader herein find a balance in which to weigh himself. Does he find, even when he is begirt with sorrow, that it is a delightful thing to do the will of the Lord? Does he find more joy in being sanctified than sorrow in being chastised? Then the spot of God's children is upon him.