Woe And Weal
“I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my cause, and executes judgment for me, He will bring me forth to the light and I shall behold His righteousness.”
Those who expect to find the road to Heaven smooth and unobstructed will discover little in the experience of the ancient saints to support the expectation. The Lord’s people have, in all ages, been tried people. Cowper well says–
“The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown.”
Though, perhaps, to the youthful mind this may sound rather harsh, yet there is a large amount of comfort in it to the more advanced saint, for he says to himself, “Then my difficulties, my distresses, my tribulations, are no new thing. I am in the footsteps of the flock. I can see that I am travelling in the good old way that leads to God–
‘The way the holy Prophets went,
The road that leads from banishment.’
Did I meet with no chastisement, I might fear that I was not a child of God, but inasmuch as I am made to smart under the rod, I may hopefully infer from it, if I feel the Spirit of Adoption within, that my Father has not forgotten me."
All sorts of trials have beset the saints of God. Rough winds have blown upon them from all points of the compass and they have had bad weather in all seasons of the year. They have been plagued from within and assailed from without. The arrows of temptation have come upwards from the Pit and often the blows of the rod have came downward from the Throne. There is no form of sorrow, I suppose, which has not been experienced by the chosen of the Lord, though, blessed be His name, the Lord has delivered them out of it all!
Micah appears to have been troubled by a combination of difficulties and afflictions. He was grieved at the low estate of the Church–a combination which ought to affect some of us a great deal more than it does. Alas, there are some who will always be contented enough if their own house shall flourish, though God’s House should be utterly ruined! Micah loved the Church of God–and the low estate of it cut him to the quick. Moreover, the generation among whom he lived added to his grief. “The best of them,” he said, “is as a briar: the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge."Doubtless he sympathized with the cry of David when he said, "Woe is me, that I sojourn Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!” Ill company vexed his soul as the Sodomites vexed the soul of the righteous Lot. And it appears, from reading the Chapter though, that he also had a personal difficulty–probably in the matter of slander. He speaks of “her that is my enemy.” You may notice how he dwells upon it–upon himself being persecuted and maligned–but he implies his belief that God would arise and plead his righteous cause. Slander is no uncommon injury for the children of God to bear. That which false tongues glibly utter, ungenerous minds easily credit–and a pure conscience is exquisitely sensitive. The birds will pluck at the ripe fruits, whatever they may do with the sour ones. The longest trees cast the longest shadows and those who stand the highest are often said by men of the world to be the most base. God was slandered in Paradise–why should we expect to escape being slandered in the midst of this world of sinners?
It seems that in the midst of all this affliction which had befallen Micah–affliction far heavier than any words of mine can describe–the Prophet was led into meditation! And in this meditation he penned the words of our text, in which we may discern, first, what the Prophet felt. He Says, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I havesinned against Him.” Secondly,
what he believed–“until He pleads my cause, and executes judgment for me.” And,
thirdly, what he expected–“He will bring me forth to the light and I shall behold His righteousness.”
- While tracing out WHAT THE PROPHET FELT, if we happen to be feeling the same, it may comfort us to hear the voice of a fellow pilgrim passing through the Valley of Death-Shade.
Doubtless he felt the smart of the rod. The tone of his utterance shows this. He speaks like a man who could not becallous, for his had been touched in his inmost soul. I think God intends that His people should feel the rod. If we had manifold temptations, but were never depressed in spirit by them, I question whether they would answer any good design. The “necessity” is not only for the trial, but for the “heaviness” which results from the trial, for you remember that the Apostle says, “If necessary, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations.” There is a “necessity” that the rod should make the child smart. To play the Stoic under trouble is a very different thing from playing the Christian. In fact, it is the very opposite of it! Our great Savior did not stand at the grave of Lazarus and say coldly, “It is well,” without any show of emotion–but “Jesus wept.” So we are permitted, no, expected, to weep when God chastens us. Do not ask,dear Friends, that your nerves may became steel and you have sinews of iron. This would be no excellence–it is rather an excellence to be sensitive under the hand of God! I see not how, excepting by the blueness of the wound, the hurt can be made better. It is when the trouble really stings that it blesses–when the flail falls heavily upon the wheat that it separates the chaff from the pure grain! Expect not to play the bravado with God! Expect, rather, to have to humble yourself before Him and out of the depths to cry out, as others have done, unto the Most High! It is clear, from the language he uses, that the Prophet felt the smart of the rod.
It is equally clear that he readily perceived that the rod was held in the hand of God. Not all Christians can see this,especially in the case of slander. We generally exhaust our thoughts upon the second cause and vent our indignation upon the framer of mischief. We are angry with the person who has caused us our loss, or put us to shame, instead of knowing that God uses even the wicked to chastise His people! Beat a small dog and it will try to bite the stick–if it were a reasoning creature, it would try to bite you! Sometimes you and I are doggish and we snap at the instrument that makes us smart. We are irritated with the missile which has smitten us to our grief. Oh, that we would but look up and see that there is a hand–an unseen hand that wields the agencies of Providence–and realize that not a stroke comes upon the Christian but is given by his heavenly Father’s will! Would to God we were not so accustomed to generally stop at second causes! I am afraid that this is a part of the philosophy of the age. When the world was very ignorant, men used to pray for rain and thank God for it when it came–they believed that thunder was the voice of God and lightning was the glittering of His spear! Now we have grown so wise that we attribute all startling visitations to natural causes. We will scarcely pray to have cholera or plague removed, or ask for anything desirable as the bountiful gift of Heaven. The philosophy that puts God farther off from us than He used to be, would be better unlearned and a truer philosophy known.
At any rate, as far as personal sorrows are concerned, it would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me–that the bitter cup was never filled by His hands, that my trials were never measured out by Him, nor sent to me by His arrangement of their weight and quantity. Oh, that were bitterness indeed! But, on the contrary, the Prophet sees the hand of God in all his trials! And I pray that you and I may do the same. May we see that our heavenly Father fills the cup with loving tenderness and holds it out, and says, “Drink, My child. Bitter as it is, it is a love-potion which is meant to do you permanent good.” The discerning of the hand of God is a sweet lesson in the school of experience.
As he felt the smart and traced that smart to the hand of God, the Prophet discerned that he had sinned. “Because Ihave sinned,” he said. We do not always see that quite as clearly in health as we do in sickness. A night or two of weary tossing upon our bed will do more for us as to heart work and as to the depravity of our nature than a hundred sermons! To be despised and misrepresented, to have to creep into a corner away from one’s best friends because they are alienated from you, or to have to go to the grave with one after another of the dearest objects of one’s affection–these are sermons under which we cannot sleep and sermons, the responsibility of which we cannot shift to another. God’s children, if they are as they should be, are greatly profited and benefited in the discovery of sin by the affliction which God sends them. I had never known the loathsomeness there was in my heart if the spade of tribulation had not turned over the green sods of my profession and made me see therein holes and places where loathsome things did creep and crawl within. Do not shun the furnace, dear Friends! You certainly need not pray for it–you will have enough of it without praying for it–but if God sends it, do not be afraid of it. There is no more enriching place in the world to go to than to the Egypt of bondage, for you shall come up out of it with Jewels of silver and of gold. I am of Rutherford’s mind when he said that “Of all the wine in God’s cellar, birch wine may be the most bitter, but it is the best.” And so it is. You shall never see the stars shine with such splendor as at the North Pole where the sharp frosts and the long winter have taken away the light of the natural day. All the Arctic voyagers tell us that there seems to be an excessive sparkle about the stars there–as it is in the winter of trouble! We then see the sparkling of the Grace of God as a contrast to the evil which we discover in our own hearts.
Another thing the Prophet felt was the trouble he then experienced from God dealing with his sin. We must alwaysdiscriminate between things that differ. God never punishes His people for sin in the sense of a loyal and vindictive infliction. That would be unjust, for Christ, their Substitute, was once and for all punished in their place. They owe no debts to Divine Justice, for all their debts were paid by Christ to the utmost farthing. But now they are placed under a different government. They are not summoned before a judge, but they are put under parental care–and like as a father chastensevery child who he loves, so our heavenly Father chastens us. Again, I say not with a legislative punishment for sin, butwith a father’s chastisement for our offenses.
Antinomians have gone the length of saying that there is no such thing as chastisement for sin. Very likely not, as far as they are concerned. I do not suppose that they were ever worth chastening, or that God ever took the trouble to chastise them. But He does chastise His own children and I think they who know their adoption will not be long before they get a very clear realization of it in the tingling of their flesh under the rod of the Covenant. Why, of all the blessings of the Covenant, the sharpest, but one of the best, is the rod. “Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now have I kept Your Word,” said David–and that testimony of David’s is the testimony of all the saints! They will all tell you that they have to bless the hand of a chastening God quite as much as they have to bless the lips of a caressing God when He kisses them with the kisses of His mouth. No, the children of God cannot sin without smarting for it, even as God said to the children of Israel, “You, only, have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” If some boys were breaking windows in the street, tonight, and you went by, you might let them all alone save and except your own boy if you saw him there! And most likely you would make him smart for it. And when God goes through the world, as this is not the Day of Judgment, He winks at the sins of many sinners, but if He sees His people transgressing, He will not wink at them! I have often felt very glad when I have seen some of God’s people come down in the world to poverty. I have not rejoiced at their misfortunes, but I have been glad of the gracious discipline it indicated. I have sometimes said of such-and-such a man, “If that man prospers, acting as he does in business, I shall know that he is not a child of God. If he is a child of God, he cannot do as other men do without making a terrible misadventure of it before long.” If you only want gain in this world do not be a Christian, nor pretend to be one! You cannot expect God and mammon to agree together. If you are a Christian, God will watch you more narrowly than others. If you are a king’s counsel, a little thing will be treason in you which would not have been treason in an ordinary subject. God expects great things where He gives great things–and if He honors us so much as to tell us the secret of His Covenant, He expects us to walk with the greatest possible circumspection. So, Christian, whenever you are in trouble, though it may not be distinctly the result of sin, yet you may well enquire whether it is so or not. Say with Job, “Show me why You contend with me.” At the bottom of our sorrow there is generally a sin–at the roots of our grief we shall find our guilt.
Observe one more point. The Prophet felt that since he could connect his suffering with his sins, he could bear it. “Iwill bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him.” ‘Twas a grand point in Aaron when he “held his peace.” In that case, “silence” was golden,“ indeed! And when we distinctly see our trouble coming upon us and springing out of our wrong-doing, what can we say, what can we do but put our hand upon our mouth and humbly bow before God? I am persuaded, dear Friends, that we often make more trouble for ourselves by holding an argument with God about our trouble. When your child is stubborn, as long as he holds out and fights it out with you, you will not put away the rod. But when, with broken heart and weeping eyes, he confesses that you have done right and that he has been wrong, then your heart moves towards him and yearns with compassion! It is so with our God, so let us cast ourselves into His hands. It is a sweet thing to be able to say, "Well, Lord, do as You will with me.” It is not easy to say it when the pain is acute, or when the inward grief is very heavy–but it is a sweet relief to let the knife, as it were, into the gathering–it gives us ease to say, “Not as I will, but as You will.” You are not far from liberty when you are content to sit there in the dungeon till He wills to let you out! When you can say in your spirit, “Strike, Lord, if You will–only sanctify the rod to me! But go on striking if You so will–I will not say a single word against all that You do. 'I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him.’” Have you ever read Brooks' Mute Christian Under aSmarting Rod? If you have not, you might do so with great profit, if you can get a copy of it. But better than reading that will be to go out, yourselves, and be “mute Christians under a smarting rod.”
If some of you do not know anything about this infliction, now, you will one day. You need not wish that the day may be very soon. But when it comes, remember what has been said to you, tonight, and “bear the indignation of the Lord” as the Prophet Micah did.
II. Let us enquire, briefly, in the second place, WHAT DID THE PROPHET BELIEVE?
He believed that he had an Advocate above. Though he would not plead for himself, yet he says, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord…until He pleads my cause, and executes judgment for me.” Every Believer has at least two Advocates in Heaven. His Father, Himself, is his Advocate. “Like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities them that fear Him.” Have you never felt your own heart plead for your child when you have said to him, “Now you are under my displeasure–go away, I do not want to see you again–go to your bedroom and stay there”? And if you have heard him moaning there, and sighing and crying, oh, your heart has ached to be with him! You have said to yourself, “Have I been too severe?” And though you may have come to the conclusion that you were not, but that it was necessary for his good, still your child does not need to plead for himself, for your heart pleads for him! “Like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities them that fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” Oh, the tenderness of God’s heart, even when you feel the roughness of God’s hand! Oh to believe, Christian, that God is, as it were, doing despite to Himself when He smites you–that although His wisdom and His highest love appoint it–this tenderness of love would gladly let you go unchastened unless the knowledge and prudence of recognized love dictate that it was for your welfare that you should feel the smart! You have an Advocate in your Father, Himself, and then you have another Advocate whose office it is to plead for you–your blessed Lord Jesus! Could you want a better? In all your afflictions He is afflicted. He can sympathize with every pang that torments you, with every doubt that oppresses you–
“He takes you through no darker rooms
Than He went through before.”
And at the Everlasting Throne, when you are being sifted like wheat, He is praying that your faith fail not, and so the rod passes away. And full often, what is worse than the rod, the axe, too, because the Intercessor pleads for us! Yes, we have an Advocate above to plead our cause!
And do you notice that the Prophet puts with the pleading above, activity on earth? He looks at his present trouble,which seems in his case to have been slander, and he says that the Lord, Himself, would execute judgment for him. When David took his sword in his hand and declared that not a single man of the house of Nabal would be alive by morning light, how furious was the son of Jesse as he marched at the head of his clan! And what a blessing it was when Abigail, the wise woman, knelt before him and stopped him, and said, “My lord fights the battles of the Lord.” David stopped and thought to himself that when he became a king, it would be no small consideration to be able to feel that he had not shed blood in haste–so he put up his sword and went his way. There was no need for David to slay Nabal, for ten days afterwards the Lord struck him and he died. Why, oh why, should we be in such a great hurry to fight our own battles?
Brothers and Sisters, if anybody should speak hard words of us, we are up in arms at once. “Oh,” says one, “I will have this wrong righted! My character is too precious to be lost in that way.” “Yes,” says another, “I will see the thing through! I will have the law after such-and-such people.” Well, now, be still, or go and fight the Lord’s battles, or let God fight for you! What is your name or your character, after all? Who will be any the better for your caring about such an insignificant creature as you are? Why, when you are dead and gone, the world will not miss you! It is amazing what great beings we are in our own esteem–and yet what little beings we really are, after all! When Mr. Whitelock was much troubled about the peril of England, his servant said to him, “Mr. Whitelock, did England get on pretty well before you were born?” “Oh, yes, John! Very well indeed.” “And do you think it will get on all right when you are dead?” “Yes, I think it will, John.” “Very well, then. If I were you, Sir, I’d leave it to God without troubling yourself about it.” The fact is, the longer I live, the more I feel that the very things which I fret about are the things that go wrong! But the other matters that I can just put on the shelf and leave with God always go right! A line in one of our hymns says–
“‘Tis mine to obey; 'tis His to provide.”
While we are trying to provide, we neglect to obey–and so the obeying and the providing both go awry! If it is a battle of your own, leave it alone! In everything else, if you want a thing done, do it yourself! But in the matter of your own character, if you need it defended, leave it alone! God will take care of it and the less you stir in that matter, the better will it be for you–and the more for God’s Glory!
What a sweet thing it is, then, to believe that you have One to plead for you above–and that the same Lord will vindicate your cause below! How blessed it is for you to live with the consciousness that you have left everything in His hands, casting your burden upon the Lord–and making it your only burden to pray to Him and serve Him all the daysof your life!
III. Now, lastly, WHAT WAS IT THAT THE PROPHET EXPECTED?
He said, “He will bring me forth to the light and I shall behold His righteousness.” Believer, will you also expect this–that God will bring you forth to the light? “Be of good courage and He shall strengthen your heart.” But if youare not of good courage, your heart will be weak. If Satan can persuade you that the night will never give place to the morning, then he can make an easy prey of you. But if you can say with Micah, “He will bring me forth to the light.” If you can still feel persuaded that God never did cast one of His chosen ones down without intending to lift him up again, that He never kills without making alive and never wounds without intending to heal. Why, then, your worst and multiplied afflictions can be borne with holy cheerfulness and confidence! “He will bring me forth to the light.” Oh, what a mercy it is to come forth to the light after you have been in the dark! How sweet the light is then! I have heard people, who have been very sick, say that after they have recovered, life has been a perfect joy to them. I know one who very seldom has a day free from pain–and when she does have such a day, it is a day, indeed! You can see by the very sparkling of her eyes how good a thing it is to live! It is almost worthwhile to suffer pain to have the joy of being delivered from it! And so, when a child of God has been tried, tempted, afflicted–and he once gets out of it–what joy and peace he has! If you are baptized in trouble, when you lift your head, again, you shall come out all the fairer and the brighter for the washing–and thank each billow that breaks over you for the good it has brought you as you come forth to the light. Then you shall be able to sing–
“‘For yet I know I shall Him praise
Who graciously to me,
The health is of my countenance,
Yes, my own God is He.’
“He has succored me, before, so I can say to Him, ‘Because You have been my help, therefore in the shadow of Your wings will I rejoice.’ If I cannot get the light of Your face, the very shadow of Your wings shall make me glad, for I shall feel that I am safe even under their shadow! O God, you will bring forth Your people to the light and they shall triumph in Your exalted right arm, O my delivering God!”
Then the Prophet added, “ and I shall behold His righteousness.” One might have half-forgiven him if he had said,after being slandered, “I shall behold my own righteousness–men shall see it, too, and they shall honor me the more because they treated me so unjustly for a time.” Oh, no, it is not so written! But, “I shall behold His righteousness.” Tosee the righteousness of God in having tried us. To clearly discern His wisdom, His goodness, His truth, His faithfulness in having afflicted us–and more and more to see how suited to our case is the fullness of righteousness which is treasured up in Christ Jesus–this is the Divine result from all our troubles! So may it be with us till the last wave of trouble breaks over us and we enter into everlasting rest!
Dear Friends, I commend the text to you. May you live in the spirit of it, and may the Lord help you to glorify Him even as the Prophet Micah did!
Alas I know that there are some here who have their troubles and they have no God to go to. How I pity you! The snow that falls tonight makes it very cheerless for you who have to be out in it–and the thaw makes the snow press through your boots till your very bones and marrow seem chilled. Thank God we can get the curtains drawn and sit around the fire–and even if the blast blows outside, it is all warm within. But what must it be to have no home to go to? What must it be to be a houseless wanderer on such a night as this? What must it be to pass by houses all alight and cheerful, and to say, “There is no ‘home, sweet home’ for me–I am an outcast and must tread these snowy streets all night”? I hope there is no such creature in London who will have to do so. One could pity such a poor wretch indeed! But think, my dear Friends, what it must be for your soul to have no home at the last–when the storm of wrath shall fall, to have nothing to comfort you–to be driven from God’s Presence! To have no Father in Heaven. To find no warmth of love in the Divine heart. To see the happiness of angels and the joy of glorified spirits–perhaps to see your own children in Heaven and to be, yourselves, shut out! Dear ones whom you loved on earth, divided from you by a great gulf forever! Happily, the Day of Grace is not yet over! The Day of Mercy is not yet past! The long eternal night has not yet set in! Hurry, Sinner! There is a home for you if you have Grace to knock at this door! The door is Mercy! To knock is Prayer! To step across the threshold is Faith! Trust the Lord Jesus and you need not fear, though all your life you should be tried. You need not fear the accumulated terrors of the latter days, whatever they may be, nor fear the dread trumpet of Judgment, nor the last tremendous day! Fly to Jesus! Fly to Jesus! Fly to Jesus now! May His Spirit draw you this night! Amen.