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hymns which cheer the heart of the Christian church now, and which have become almost sacred as the expression of Christian confidence and hope in the midst of sorrow, have been wrung out of the poet's heart by severest trial, "pressed out," as one Of the German hymn-writers says of his, "by the dear cross," in time of suffering or deep anxiety.
But it is only through the gospel that sorrow can thus be turned into song. It is only faith in Christ which can transform and beautify grief. Only through the hopes which he bids us cherish, can our afflictions "yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness." Apart from the grace of God, the influence of sorrow is depressing and degrading. Burden a man with heavy trials, strip him of his earthly possessions, subject him to the grinding evils of poverty, or inflict upon him personal suffering, and his energies wiJl droop, he will lose his self-respect, he will grow selfish and exacting. The pressure of poverty has often changed the generous and trusting into suspicious misers. The irritation of perpetual pain has made life a weariness, not only to the sufferer, but to all who came within his reach. But let Christ's love touch the heart, let a man recognise, through faith in him, his own part in his purposes of grace, and all is changed. The fiery trial becomes a fire of purification as well as a test of genuineness. Poverty is borne with a dignity which wins respect. Suffering but serves to bring out into bolder and yet more graceful relief the half-concealed virtues of his Christian character. Sorrowhas thus a refining influence. Even the face of the man who has "suffered and been strong," not in the stoicism of human pride, but in the grace of Christy bears witness of this result. His look, at once subdued and elevated, softtened and strengthened, tells of His wise discipline whose purpose in trying us "as silver is tried " is to be "a refiner and purifier-"
The history of the patriarch Job shows us how character gains in breadth and dignity, as well as in true holiness, by sanctified affliction. What noble expressions of confidence in God break through and relieve the darkness, even in the time of his saddest complaints. The light of God's countenance in which he was wont to live seems changed into angry darkness—the darkness of a fierce tempest of wrath: the hand which he had been accustomed to see stretched out for his protection and guidance seems uplifted to destroy; yet he can say, even while his sorrow tempts him to think he is in the hands of a pitiless fate, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him."* What a noble utterance of confidence, too, is that in the nineteenth chapter! He had reached there the very climax of his affliction: it was scarcely possible even for his friends to wound him more deeply than they had done. He is constrained, in the bitterness of his anguish, to cry to ,them for pity. But the deepest sorrow was that God seemed to be his foe. "Know now," he says, " that God hath overthrown me, and hath compassed me with his net. Behold, I cry out of wrong, but I am not heard; I cry aloud, but there is no judgment. He hath fenced my way that I cannot pass, and he hath set darkness in my paths. He hath stripped me of my glory, and taken the crown from my head. He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone; and mine hope hath he removed like a tree. He hath also kindled his wrath against me, and he counteth me unto him as one of his enemies, "f Yet it was even here that he gives utterance to one of the most triumphant expressions of confidence in God which ever broke through the night of affliction, and which, in its deep and farreaching meaning, has become for us the expression of a confidence which Job himself could not in all its fulness feel—" I know that my Kedeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God."
What a glorious song for the night was that with which the Almighty himself "answers Job out of the whirlwind," J and brings him to confess himself vile, and to abhor himself, ere he crowns him again with lovingkindness and with tender mercies! The dramatic force of the whole book is remarkable. We are admitted, as it were, into the secrets of the Divine arrangements, and see that he does not afflict willingly. Opportunity is given, for wise and gracious purposes, to the powers of darkness. We see the gathering forces of the storm. We hear the moaning of the wind, the distant muttering of the thunder. The storm begins, and each flash, as it bursts forth from the dark tempest-cloud, smites some joy, levels with the dust some hope. Every refuge is destroyed, and, helpless and outcast, he "bides the pelting of the pitiless storm." His * Job xiii. 15. t Job xix. 6—11. J Job xxxviii. 1.
spirit chafes in its distress, and he cries out against his hard fate. The opened heavens reply with yet more terrible manifestations of the Divine power. At last God himself speaks. Then, and then only, the sufferer bows in deep submission, and says, " I know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not: things too wonderful for me, which 1 knew not. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore 1 abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."* The storm passes. His confidence in his deliverer, whose visitation had preserved his spirit in the darkest hour of sorrow, is fully justified, and "thanksgiving and the voice
of melody" fitly close the scene.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable instances of song in the night of sorrow is that furnished by the life of the poet Cowper. The facts of his history are so well known, that only a brief recapitulation of them is necessary. Left an orphan at a very early age, with a mind extremely sensitive to impressions of sadness, his spirit almost broke down under the treatment which he received at school from one of the elder boys. Such was his fear of him that he never dared look higher than his sboe-buckles. in the most cheerful hours of his advanced life, he could never advert to this season without shuddering at the recollection of its wretchedness. His nervousness increased with his years; and when his office rendered it necessary for him to appear at the bar of the House of Lords, his terror became so great that his mind gave way. He attempted more than once to commit suicide, and ultimately became insane. By God's blessing he recovered for a time, but the tendency to insanity remained.
A happy change, the great change, at this time took place in him. Under the care of Dr. Cotton, he not only recovered from his mental depression, but was relieved from the religious despondency under which he laboured. This juster and happier view of evangelical truth is said to have arisen in his mind while he was reading the third chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the jRomans. The words that riveted his attention were the following: "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his * Job xlii. 2-6.
blood to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God."* It was to this passage, which contains so lucid an exposition of the method of salvation that, under the Divine blessing, the poet owed the recovery of a previously disordered intellect, and the removal of a load from a deeply-oppressed conscience: he saw by a new and powerful perception how sin could be pardoned, and the sinner be saved; that the way appointed of God was through the great propitiation and sacrifice upon the cross; that faith lays hold of the promise, and thus becomes the instrument of conveying pardon and peace to the soul.f
Unable to endure excitement, he lived, from this time, a life of comparative seclusion, employing himself in literary pursuits, but with little thought of the place his name would take in English literature, and with as little apprehension, perhaps, of the return of that fearful malady with which his fame as a poet was to be thenceforth associated. Yet this was the Divine appointment, and his sweetest songs were sung in that night of mental darkness, in the gloom of which he lingered at intervals to the end of his life.
What a night that was, what a gloom of thick darkness his own letters written during the time show us. His insanity took the form of what is called religious melancholy. He was possessed with the idea that he was an abandoned reprobate, shut out from the mercy of God in this world, and from all hope of salvation in the next. In a letter to Mr. Newton, he describes the state of mind in which poetry became a solace, and, subsequently, a necessary employment. For twelve years, he says, his mind had been occupied in the contemplation of the most distressing subjects. "Despair," he adds, "made amusement necessary, and I found poetry the most agreeable amusement. .... God gave me grace, also, to wish that I might not write in vain. Accordingly, I have mingled much truth with much trifle, and such-truths as deserved at least to be clad as well and as handsomely as I could clothe them." Again, writing to the same valued friend on the receipt of his sermons on the Messiah, he says—
"I shall be happy (and when I say that I mean to be understood in the fullest and most emphatical sense of the word) if my frame of mind shall be such as may permit ', * Horn, iii. 25. t Grimshaw's Life of Cowper.
me to study them. But Adam's approach to the tree of life, after he had sinned, was not more effectually prohibited by the flaming sword that turned every way, than mine to its great antitype has been now these thirteen years, a short interval of three or four days alone excepted. For what reason it is that I am thus long excluded, if I am
ever again to be admitted, is known to God only
If the ladder of Christian experience reaches, as I suppose it does, to the very presence of God, it has nevertheless its foot in the abyss. And if Paul stood, as no doubt he did, in that experience of his to which I have just alluded (2 Cor. xii. 1—4), on the topmost round of it, I have been standing, and still stand, on the lowest, in this thirteenth year that has passed since I descended. In such a situation of mind, encompassed by the midnight of absolute despair, and a thousand times filled with unspeakable horror, I first commenced an author."
Yet it was during these thirteen years he wrote the Olney Hymns, and, indeed, all his most valuable works, including " The Task." Dark and drear beyond all conception was his night, the black and dark night which surrounded him, which was within him; yet, as if that darkness had been the very "shadow of the Almighty" (Psa. xci. 1), he poured forth his lays, now deep and solemn like the peal of a cathedral organ, now tender as the melody of a harp. And in his own words, written probably in some happier moment, be aptly describes his songs in the night—
"The calm retreat, the silent shade,
There, if Thy Spirit touch the soul,
And grace her mean abode,
She communes with her God.
There, like the nightingale, she pours
Her solitary lays,
Nor thirsts for human praise."
Others of a similar character tell, too, of gleams of light, however brief, which broke through this midnight of his soul; such, for example, as the beautiful one, so full of the spirit of praise, beginning, "I will praise Thee every day;"