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SHADOWS OF GOOD THINGS TO COME.-N0. I.
THE HEALING BRANCH. The outward condition of the people of God in the present state is a very peculiar one. Like their spiritual condition, it is of a mixed character. They are subjected to trials—many trials-bitter trials. But then their trials are so sanctified, that they in a manner cease to be evils, and become blessings. They have sorrows, and sufferings, and death ; but they find in their experience the bitterness taken out of sorrow, the poison out of suffering, and the sting out of death. The history, indeed, of the outward condition of the people of God, cannot be better given than in that of the condition of the children of Israel at Marah, as given by Moses in the following words :
" And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter, therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And the Lord showed him a tree, which, when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet." Exodus xv. 23, 24, 25.
Following the track which these words naturally suggest, we shall first and very briefly direct our attention to the trials which the people of God meet with in their journey through the world; and then, secondly, to the infallible and divine antidote to them which God has furnished.
The people of God do meet with trials. Marah lies in the way to Canaan, and sooner or later they must come to it. They can no more avoid drinking the bitter waters of Marah, than they can avoid passing the swelling floods of Jordan. “It is appointed that through much tribulation they must enter the kingdom.” These trials are of various kinds,-personal, relative, public ; and they are of various degrees,--small and great, temporary and continued. There are, however, three things which we may state in regard to them all, naturally suggested by the passage under consideration. The first is, that they are painful in their nature. The waters of Marah are bitter waters. “No chastening is for the present joyous, but grievous.” There are good reasons for this being the case-natural reasons arising out of the very constitution of our bodily and mental frames moral reasons arising out of the law and justice of God-gracious reasons arising out of the disciplinary character of the christian dispensation. Wonder not, then, especially murmur not, when you taste the waters that they are bitter. It is their very nature to be so. Trials would not be trials if they were not disagreeable to flesh and blood. The second remark is, that trials have their origin in the sinfulness of the present state. The wilderness in which the children of Israel journeyed was a salt land, and hence the brackishness of its springs. The waters naturally partook of the qualities of the soil. The present state is a sinful state, and hence the trials of that state--sin invariably producing suffering. If we were, so to speak, to analyse the bitter waters of trial, we would always find that the salt—the embittering element with which they are impregnated, is sin. There are no trials in heaven. The fountains there are all “ living fountains of water.” And why? Just because there is no sin there to taint the springs of enjoyment. All is pure there, and therefore all is fresh and sweet to the taste. When, therefore, called to suffer trials—trials at which nature revolts, let us lay the blame, not upon God, but upon sin. To murmur against him, and especially for a sinner to murmur against him, when he is called to suffer, is most irrational and most impious. “Wherefore should a living man complain for the punishment of his sins.” We would remark in one word, that trials, as regards their matter, are merely comforts taken away or rendered bitter. Had the waters of Marah not been impregnated with salt, they would have been as sweet as the waters of Elim. They were, in fact, just sweet waters embittered by the saline infusion. Look at your trials, Christians, whether personal, relative, or public, and what are they but simply comforts turned into crosses ? Disease is just the loss of health ; reproach the loss of character ; poverty the loss of substance; bereavement the loss of friends and relatives. And hence it frequently happens that our bitterest trials proceed from those sources from which we looked for our sweetest comforts. Like the children of Israel, when approaching with excited expectation and hope the well which so disappointed them, we are ready to say of this and the other thing, “ this same shall comfort us," and we call it in prospect-Noah. But when like them we come to drink, when we make the actual experiment, we are obliged to change the name, and call it, not Noah, but Marah, for it is bitter. The expected good has become a real evil—the promised blessing has been transformed into an apparent curse.
Such are the trials which the people of God meet with in their journey through the wilderness. Their condition here is a suffering condition. But they are not left without a remedy. There are not only comforts to balance trials--twelve sweet wells at Eliin to balance the one bitter fountain of Marah, but they are furnished with an effectual antidote to their trials. God has provided for them “a tree," by casting in which into the bitter waters, they may be healed and sweetened. It has been observed that in nature there is no poison without its appropriate antidote, nor any bitter without a corresponding sweet. And what holds in nature holds in providence and grace. In the very soil in which the bane of our nature exists, the antidote flourishes. In the same wilderness in which the bitter waters of Marah spring, the tree of life and of healing grows. That tree is Christ. He is the branch of righteousness—the plant of renown, who grew indeed as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground, having no form nor comeliness in him, and no beauty why he should be desired, but who has shed his leaves and dropped his fruit for the healing of the nations. This “ tree” God has 66 showed” to us. We could not have discovered the Saviour ourselves. We are indebted entirely to Divine revelation for the knowledge of that wonderful remedy by which not only sin may be pardoned, but suffering counteracted and sweetened. But while God “shows” us the healing branch, we must cast it into the bitter waters, or else we will derive no advantage from it. Christ, as revealed in the gospel, must by each individual be improved for himself, in order to the sanctification of his trials, as well as to the pardun of his sins
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of the cup of woe. This is that which inflames and swells and cankers the wound. Had the sufferer no consciousness of sin, he would indeed still feel pain, but he would suffer no remorse in regard to the past, no apprehension in regard to the future. Now, by bringing the oross directly to bear upon suffering and trial, this portion of their bit, terness will be counteracted. They will be felt to be no longer penal, but medicinal-no longer expressions of God's anger, but manifestations of his love. We may say, indeed, that the blood of Christ sprinkled upon our trials, extracts the sinful quality out of them, and sanctifies what were instruments of punishment, into gracious means of moral purification. “ Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows."
But, lastly, we remark, that Christ, considered as a king, is a tree, which, cast into the bitter waters of trial, will heal them. Christ's cross is all powerful in sweetening the bitterest cup of affliction, but most powerful also for this purpose, is Christ's sceptre. Next, indeed, to the great doctrine of the atonement, the doctrine of providence is to the afflicted saint the most consolatory doctrine in the whole system of Divine truth. O how it tends, as every believer has felt and can testify, to take off the keen edge of affliction, and even change its most acrid bitterness to the sweetness of honey and the honeycomb, to reflect that all is appointed, and directed, and overruled by Christ for the best interests, present and eternal of the individual. When we think that Jehovah-Jesus reigns—when we think not only that there is a sceptre of government, and that nothing takes place by chance and accident, but that that sceptre is wielded by the same hands which were stretched out upon the cross, we cannot but rejoice. Where this doctrine indeed is fully and cordially realized, the apostle's language can hardly fail to be used," Most gladly, therefore, will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. I will glory in tribulation also.” Whenever, therefore, in passing through the wilderness, you come to any fountain or stream of bitterness, O cast into it this healing branch--mingle believing realizing thoughts of providence with the suffering consider that aïl is ordered by Christ, and that therefore all must not only be ordered wisely and well, but ordered so as will best gain the ends of infinite love and mercy in your salvation. ·
Sinners must come to bitter waters in the course of their journey through the world as well as saints, and they must drink them too. But they have no healin branch to cast into them to sweeten them. They must suffer the evil, but they want the correcting antidote. But why should they want it? There is no cherubim and flaming sword to keep the way to this tree of life; only men must come to Christ as a Saviour from sin before they can come to him as a Saviour from suffering. Sinners want it, only because they will not have it. O that men would open their eyes to see that there is no safety, no happiness, no life, without Christ, but that in him they have all things.
THE VOICE OF THE ROD. No. III. “Set your affcction on things above, not on things on the earth.”—Col. iii. 2. This is another scriptural lesson which the rod is intended to teach, and well fitted to enforce,—a lesson, too, which is much needed, though, every day, events are occurring to impress it on our hearts. “ Things on the earth” are uncertain, and unsatisfactory ; they have been so from the beginning, and in the experience of those who have been most successful in their acquisition. Solomon, to take a marked case, was scarcely less famed for “ riches and honour," than for “ wisdom and knowledge;" yet with every thing that “the earth” could afford, and with a supernaturally “ wise and understanding heart,” to direct him in the use of it, what was his experience ? and what is the testimony which he has left for our information and warning? “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun, and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” Should any wish to learn his views of earthly things at greater length, and the experiments by which he was led to the conclusion just quoted, let them read at their leisure, his work entitled Ecclesiastes or the Preacher, where they will find the same conclusion stated again, and again, and again, in the same and in still stronger terms.
Yet, men are to this day, engaged in the same fruitless and vexatious labour, in the hope that it will be more productive in their case than it was in his. “Their inward thought is”—he failed, and many others have failed, but we shall succeed, or if we do not, it will not be for want of a fair trial. Hence, earthly things are as high in favour as they ever were, as much in request, and efforts as strenuous and persevering, are made to acquire them. For them the body is toiled, and the mind harassed; by them, in multitudes of cases, the heart is engrossed, and the life monopolized. The lesson inscribed above, is one which men will not learn from the experience of others, else it would not be ne: cessary now to inculcate it; yet, it is one of such importance and urgency, that God often employs their own experience to arrest attention to, and enforce the practice of it. For these purposes, he sends them to the school of affliction, and makes liberal use of the rod of discipline.
At one time, He appoints to them her pecuniary losses, strikes them, in a moment it may be, poor, perhaps pennyless,—to teach them practically, what they have all along acknowledged theoretically, that “ riches certainly make themselves wings; that they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.” At another time, bereavement is appointed to them : one “ loved as their own soul,” is cut down, and they like Jacob, “ refuse to be comforted,” feeling, as he said, when the fictitious evidences of Joseph's pretended murder were produced, “ I will go down into the grave, unto my son, mourning”-to teach them practically, that friends are as little to be trusted as other " things on earth," that even on them, their « affections” should not be unduly " set," and that when there is a danger of this, God in mercy to them, as well as in justice to himself, removes the idol. - Thou shalt have no other gods