There is an obvious antithesis in the first part of the text, between “his anger” and “his favour.” Probably there is a similar antithesis between “a moment” and “life.” For although the word rendered “life” does not usually mean a lifetime, it may have that signification, and the evident intention of contrast seems to require it here. So, then, the meaning of the first part of the text is, “the anger lasts for a moment; the favour lasts for a lifetime.” The perpetuity of the one and the brevity of the other are the Psalmist’s thought. Then, if we pass to the second part of the text, we observe that there is a double antithesis there also. “Weeping” is set over against “joy”; the “night” against the “morning.” And the first of these two contrasts is the more striking if we observe that the word “joy” means, literally, “a joyful shout,” so that the voice which was lifted in weeping is conceived of as now being heard in exultant praise. Then, still further, the expression “may endure” literally means “come to lodge.” So that Weeping and Joy are personified. Two guests come—one, dark-robed and approaching at the fitting season for such—“the night”; the other bright, coming with all things fresh and sunny, in the dewy morn. The guest of the night is Weeping; the guest that takes its place in the morning is Gladness.
Thus the two clauses of the text suggest substantially the same thought, and that is the persistence of joy and the transitoriness of sorrow. The one speaks of the succession of emotions in the man; the other, of the successive aspects of the Divine dealings which occasion these. The whole is a leaf out of the Psalmist’s own experience. The psalm commemorates his deliverance from some affliction, probably a sickness. That is long gone past; and the tears that it caused have long since dried up. But this shout of joy of his has lasted all these centuries, and is like to be immortal.
It was Paget himself who had taught us, years before, through his best-known volume, The Spirit of Discipline, to consider carefully the meanings and contrasts of accidie, and of tristitia, and of “the sorrow of the world.” I asked him once—it was on a walk over the Col de Chécouri at Courmayeur—to expand for me afresh his understanding of the phrase he used to quote from Spinoza: Tristitia est hominis transitio a majore ad minorem perfectionem. He answered gravely and almost in a whisper, “I can never understand Spinoza, but I am quite certain he was right there.”1 [Note: Archbishop Davidson, in Francis Paget, Bishop of Oxford, xviii.]
Seasons of Sorrow
1. Sorrow comes in the night. It comes in the night of worldly reverses. These may not be the worst misfortunes in life, but only those who experience them know their poignancy. It is no small thing to have the savings of a lifetime swept away. Perhaps the storm came, the flood fell, the fire burned, a friend proved false, the crash of plans arrived, a blunder in judgment happened—and the accumulation of years has gone. It represented our toil and tears and thought and love. But it perished in an hour. It promised us happiness and independence in old age. But the promise failed. Tears do not turn dust to diamonds. Riches on wings fly faster from us than to us. To cry over fortune lost is no wiser than for the miller to weep over water that has flowed past.
2. Sorrow becomes our guest in the night of broken health. The powers once were vigorous. We ran to our task. Caution was scorned. Life seemed made to combat. We had the strength of Hercules. But something broke. We came against a stone wall. We reached a limit. Our wings were clipped. Suddenly we discovered that the race must be won by swifter feet than ours. Possibly we complain as a recent prisoner of pain who said, “I cannot see why people should be born into a world like this to suffer. Could I have seen my life from the beginning, and had I been consulted as to whether I should live to suffer, I certainly would have chosen never to have been.” Possibly we have money; but pain hurts the rich and poor alike. Possibly we are religious; but pain hurts both the infidel and the Christian. Possibly we deny pain or endure it as heroically as Epictetus, the Phrygian philosopher-slave, in the Roman court, who said, when his master with some instrument of torture cruelly twisted his servant’s leg, “If you go on you will break it”; and who also said calmly, without expressing any of the anguish he felt when his brutal master did go on, “I told you that you would break it.” Possibly you despise the old suffering house in which you live as did this same ancient thinker, and define yourself as “an ethereal existence staggering under the burden of a corpse.” But whatever attitude we sustain towards pain, it wrings the stifled cry from our heart, and our face often feels the burning touch of a tear.
Heine, suffering great physical agony, living in his mattress grave, has given us verse upon verse of sweet sadness—sometimes bitter in harsh complaining against God and man; while James Thomson, in his great poem on London, “The City of Dreadful Night,” even says that, could he not have made a less miserable world, he would not be God for all His glory—a horrible utterance, but yet the answer of a man who has been made heartsick by the poverty and misery of East London, the sight of innumerable children who never know childhood, so soon does life curse them.1 [Note: F. Lynch.]
3. Sorrow comes to tarry with us in the night of bereavement. It may be only for an infant whose beauty was never caught by a camera, and whose innocent feet were too fair to walk other than streets of the city of God. It may be for a friend or a lover who, in the sweet old days, went out of our life and left us for an imperishable treasure only the sacred memories of hours that can never return. After these many years, were a cross-section made of our soul, we feel that the image of that blessed being would be found mirrored thereon. It may be for a mother, whose voice will never again this side the stars call her child; or for a father, whose big, brave life will no more bid us follow the path of virtue. We know that to-day in the little city of the dead, hard by the city of the living, sleeps the dust of our sacred dead, or under other skies they who are dead to us walk forgetful of old ties and obligations. So onward we all go, each bearing his burden of sorrow.
In some instances the Indian mothers literally cry their eyes out; and if you ask a blind woman how she lost her vision, she may answer that it was by weeping too hard for her lost relatives, and dimness of sight is attributed to the same cause. The wailings of an Indian over his lost relative, and especially of a mother over her lost children, are piercing and heart-rending; but it is pleasant to see the contrast in this respect between those who are still ignorant of the Gospel and such as have received it. The Christian converts have now learned to accept their bereavements as from God’s hand in silence and submission, and their mute grief is more impressive than the loud lamentation of the heathen.1 [Note: Bishop W. C. Bompas, Northern Lights on the Bible, 55.]
Scarlet fever in its most virulent form appeared in Carlisle (where Dr. Tait was then Dean), and, of the six little daughters whose presence had brought radiance to the Deanery, the heartbroken parents were called, within the space of a few weeks, to part with all except the infant who had just been born. One by one, between the 10th of March and the 10th of April, they were laid in the single grave in Stanwix Churchyard. The last entry which has been quoted from the diary was dated March 2. The entry which immediately succeeds it is as follows:—
“Thursday, 8th May 1856.—I have not had the heart to make any entry in my journal now for above nine weeks. When last I wrote I had six daughters on earth; now I have one, an infant. O God, Thou hast dealt very mysteriously with us. We have been passing through deep waters: our feet are well-nigh gone. But though Thou slay us, yet will we trust in Thee.… They are gone from us, all but my beloved Craufurd and the babe. Thou hast re-claimed the lent jewels. Yet, O Lord, shall I not thank Thee now? I will thank Thee not only for the children Thou hast left to us, but for those Thou hast re-claimed. I thank Thee for the blessing of the last ten years, and for all the sweet memories of their little lives—memories how fragrant with every blissful, happy thought. I thank Thee for the full assurance that each has gone to the arms of the Good Shepherd, whom each loved according to the capacity of her years. I thank Thee for the bright hopes of a happy re-union, when we shall meet to part no more. O Lord, for Jesus Christ’s sake, comfort our desolate hearts. May we be a united family still in heart through the communion of saints—through Jesus Christ our Lord.”1 [Note: Life of Archbishop Tait, i. 189.]
4. Sorrow comes in the night of the consciousness of sin. In the dim glimmer of the fire on the hearth the angel of penitence brings to our notice stains on our garment which, she assures us, would look a thousand times worse if we saw them in the proper light—saw them as others see them, and, above all, as God sees them. She tells us that such marks can never be removed; that there are also upon our countenance ugly scars which will always disfigure it; that it is a hopeless thing when a man has lost his good name; that when that is lost there is nothing worth keeping. She tells us, too, that even those stains which others may not detect God sees; that sin is sin, whether it be secret or open; and that, the wide world over and in every age, “the wages of sin is death.”
Yearly I till the vale and sow the seed,
But in the furrow rots the golden grain;
My labour is accursed, and all in vain,—
The very earth revolteth at my deed.
God saith no man shall slay me, though I plead
Daily for death. He placed this scarlet stain
Here on my brow, and agonizing pain
Gnaws me beneath it—yet He gives no heed.
Enoch reproacheth me—the guileless lad—
With eyes too like that other’s, long since dead;
Remorse engulfs me in her sanguine flood;
I build this City, else I should go mad;
But, as I work, the frowning walls turn red
And all the towers drip crimson with his blood.2 [Note: Lloyd Mifflin.]
The Sojourn of Sorrow
1. Sorrow always comes with a mission. It has a message from God to human life. You may get two diametrically opposite motions out of the same machine. The same power will send one wheel revolving from right to left, and another from left to right, but they are co-operant to grind out at the far end the one product. It is the same revolution of the earth that brings blessed lengthening days and growing summer, and that cuts short the sun’s course and brings declining days and increasing cold. It is the same motion that hurls a comet close to the burning sun and sends it wandering away out into the fields of astronomical space, beyond the ken of telescope, and almost beyond the reach of thought. And so one uniform Divine purpose fills the life, and there are no interruptions, however brief, to the steady, continuous flow of God’s outpoured blessings. All is love and favour. Anger is masked love, and sorrow has the same source and mission as joy. It takes all sorts of weather to make a year, and all tend to the same issue of ripened harvests and full barns.
I grudged not our noble, lovely child, but rather do delight that such a seed should blossom and bear in the kindly and kindred paradise of my God. And why should not I speak of thee, my Edward! seeing it was in the season of thy sickness and death the Lord did reveal in me the knowledge and hope and desire of His Son from heaven? Glorious exchange! He took my son to His own more fatherly bosom, and revealed in my bosom the sure expectation and faith of His own eternal Son! Dear season of my life, ever to be remembered, when I knew the sweetness and fruitfulness of such joy and sorrow!1 [Note: Edward Irving, in Life by Mrs. Olipliant, i. 247.]
“We will not complain of Dante’s miseries,” said Carlyle; “had all gone well with him as he wished it, Florence would have had another prosperous Lord Mayor, but the world would have lost the Divina Commedia.”
There came to Glasgow, not so long ago, a pianist of an excellent reputation. I read the Herald’s criticism on him, and there was one thing in it that I noted specially. The Herald said that he had always been brilliant—always been wonderful as an executant—but now there was a depth of feeling in him that had never been present in his work before. A day or two afterwards, preaching in a suburb, I met a relative of the pianist. And we fell to talk of him, and of the Herald, and of the Herald’s criticism on him. And he said to me, “Did you notice that? And do you know what was the secret of the change? It was the death of his mother eighteen months ago.” He was an only son, unmarried, and he had been simply devoted to his mother. And then she died, and he was left alone, and all the deeps were broken up in him. And now he played as only he can play who knows what life and death are, and what sorrow is.1 [Note: G. H. Morrison, The Afterglow of God, 92.]
The dark brown mould’s upturned
By the sharp-pointed plow,
And I’ve a lesson learned.
My life is but a field
Stretched out beneath God’s sky,
Some harvest rich to yield.
Where grows the golden grain,
Where faith,—where sympathy?
In a furrow cut by pain.2 [Note: M. D. Babcock, Thoughts for Every-Day Living, 167.]
2. Sorrow tarries only for the night. It takes its departure whenever its mission is fulfilled. A thunder-storm is very short when measured against the long summer day in which it crashes; and very few days have thunder-storms. It must be a bad climate where half the days are rainy. If we were to take a chart and prick out upon it the line of our voyage, we should find that the spaces in which the weather was tempestuous were brief and few indeed as compared with those in which it was sunny and calm.
Referring to the discipline which God’s love makes Him use, David says, “For his anger is but for a moment: his favour is for a lifetime. Weeping may come in to lodge at even, but joy cometh in the morning.” There may be weeping. There shall be joy. Weeping won’t stay long. There is a morning coming, always a morning coming, with the sunshine and the chorus of the birds. Love’s discipling touch that seems at the moment like anger is only for a moment. (The printer wanted to change that word “discipling” to “disciplining”; but God’s tenderness comes to us anew when we realize that disciplining with its sharp edge means the same as discipling, with its softer, warmer touch.) The loving favour is for always, a lifetime of eternal life.3 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Service, 210.]
A tourist writes of stopping at Giesbach to look at the wonders of its waterfalls. The party had to pass over one of the falls on a slender bridge through the drenching water, with the wild torrents dashing beneath. It was a trying experience. But once through, a glorious picture burst upon them. There were rainbows above, beneath, and circling on all sides. So the spray of sorrow falls now, and we may have to walk through floods and pitiless torrents, and all may seem a strange, inexplicable mystery. But there will come a time when we shall have passed through these showers of grief, and when we shall stand amid the splendour of rainbows on the shores of glory. Then we shall understand, and see love in every pang and tear.1 [Note: J. E. Miller, Week-Day Religion, 81.]
From the sunshine of Thy dwelling
Thou hast sent me this new day,
Laden with Thy love excelling,
Tidings of Thy glory telling
To refresh my way.
Good and perfect gifts are lying
Wrapt within its folds of light,
Pledges of a faith undying,
That earth’s sorrow and its sighing
Will but last a night.2 [Note: G. Matheson, Sacred Songs, 57.]
3. There is a balance of good in the world, using the word “good” in the lowest sense, that is, looking merely on man’s animal life, and regarding him only as a denizen, for a little, of this material world. Men are busy, men are happy; far more happy, at least, than miserable. Some few are miserable utterly; all are more or less unhappy at times, and for a little. Yes! that is just it, just what the text says—“for a little”; the dark time is “for a moment.” The brighter times stretch on, and flow into each other, and go far to fill up the life.
The proportion of solid matter needed to colour the Irwell is very little in comparison with the whole of the stream. But the current carries it, and a trace of dye-stuff will stain miles of the turbid stream. Memory and anticipation beat the metal thin, and make it cover an enormous space. And the misery is that, somehow, we have better memories for sad hours than for joyful ones, and it is easier to get accustomed to “blessings,” as we call them, and to lose the poignancy of their sweetness because they become familiar, than it is to apply the same process to our sorrows, and thus to take the edge off them. The rose’s prickles are felt in the flesh longer than its fragrance lives in the nostrils, or its hue in the eye. Men have long memories for their pains as compared with their remembrance of their sorrows.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, 243.]
To her friend Miss Nicholson, whose sympathy brought her much strength and peace, Florence Nightingale wrote in 1846: “My imagination is so filled with the misery of this world that the only thing in which to labour brings any return, seems to me helping and sympathizing there; and all that poets sing of the glories of this world appears to me untrue: all the people I see are eaten up with care or poverty or disease. I know that it was God who created the good, and man the evil, which was not the will of God, but the necessary consequence of His leaving freewill to man. I know that misery is the alphabet of fire, in which history, with its warning hand, writes in flaming letters the consequences of Evil (the Kingdom of Man), and that, without its glaring light, we should never see the path into the Kingdom of God, or heed the directing guide-posts.”2 [Note: Sir Edward Cook, The Life of Florence Nightingale, i. 53.]
The Supplanter of Sorrow
1. “Joy cometh in the morning.” There are two figures presented before us, the dark-robed and the bright-garmented. The one is the guest of the night, the other is the guest of the morning. The verb which occurs in the first clause of the second half of the text is not repeated in the second, and so the words may be taken in two ways. They may either express how Joy, the morning guest, comes, and turns out the evening visitant, or they may suggest how we took Sorrow in when the night fell, to sit by the fireside, but when morning dawned—who is this sitting in her place, smiling as we look at her? It is Sorrow transfigured, and her name is changed into Joy. Either the substitution or the transformation may be supposed to be in the Psalmist’s mind. Both are true.
Does not the whole teaching of the Cross say that sorrow and pain alone wake us up to reality, and that trial is a truer refiner of character than pleasure? Of course, this is not our first impression; it needs a revelation to tell it, or at all events to interpret our own experience. You have a proof of that in a child’s wonder at the expression, “Blessed are they that mourn”; for how should a happy, careless child divine such a mystery? Life alone can apply the meaning of these words of Christ, or explain how true they are; for, indeed, they are only subjectively true, deriving their truth not from sorrow and pain in themselves, but from the tempers on which they fall; so that they are not true always—to some never true. Yet how deep they are, and how such convictions alone can make this life intelligible or tolerable! That is a blessed faith which feels that there cannot be clouds and gloom for ever—which, ever resting in conviction of what God is, hopes and knows that “joy cometh in the morning.”1 [Note: Life and Letters of the Rev. F. W. Robertson, 281.]
Say not that darkness is the doom of light,
That every sun must sink in night’s abyss,
While every golden day declines to this,
To die and pass at evening out of sight.
Say rather that the morning ends the night,
That death must die beneath the dayspring’s kiss—
Whilst dawn the powers of darkness shall dismiss,
And put their dusky armaments to flight.
Man measures life in this wise; first the morn,
And secondly the noontide’s perfect prime,
And lastly night, when all things fade away:
But God, ere yet the sons of men were born,
Showed forth a better way of marking time—
“The evening and the morning were the day.”2 [Note: Ellen Thornejcroft Fowler, Verses, Wise or Otherwise, 200.]
2. We can anticipate the morning even in our night of sorrow. Even in the midst of the snow and cold and darkness of Arctic regions, the explorers build houses for themselves of the very blocks of ice, and within are warmth and light and comfort and vitality, while around is a dreary waste. There may be two currents in the great ocean; a cold one may set from the Pole and threaten to chill and freeze all life out, but from the Equator there will be a warm one which will more than counterbalance the inrush of the cold. And so it is possible for us, even when things about us are dark and gloomy, and flesh and natural sensibilities all proclaim to us the necessity of sadness—it is possible for us to be aware of a central blessedness, not boisterous, but so grave and calm that the world cannot discriminate between it and sadness, which yet its possessors know to be blessedness unmingled. Left alone, we may have a companion; in our ignorance we may be enlightened; and in the murkiest night of our sorrow we may have, burning cheerily within our hearts, a light unquenchable.
A traveller entered Milan Cathedral at the dawn of day. The sunbeams fell on the eastern windows. Every pane of glass revealed its beauty. The images of apostle, prophet, angel, and Christ were seen in all their glory. The sun swept on to his zenith and then drove his chariot behind the western Alps. As he did so he flung his beams upon the western windows of the great shrine. Then the glories they contained appeared. Not a figure remained without its light. All the richness of colour and symbolism appeared. So the passing of time and the shining of the consolations of faith into a life transform sorrow into joy and gloom into glory.1 [Note: F. Smith, in Homiletic Review, xlix. 224.]
Oh, deem not they are blest alone
Whose lives a peaceful tenor keep;
The Power who pities man, hath shown
A blessing for the eyes that weep.
The light of smiles shall fill again
The lids that overflow with tears;
And weary hours of woe and pain
Are promises of happier years.
There is a day of sunny rest
For every dark and troubled night:
And grief may hide an evening guest,
But joy shall come with early light.2 [Note: W. C. Bryant, Poems, 39.]
Crosthwait, E. G. S., Heavenward Steps, 78.
Davies (D.), Talks with Men, Women and Children, i. 17.
Hutton (R. E.), The Grown of Christ, i. 547.
Ingram (A. F. W.), The Secrets of Strength, 199.
Maclaren (A.), The Wearied Christ, 241.
Raleigh (A.), The Way to the City, 79.
Rawnsley (R. D. B.), Sermons Preached in Country Churches, i. 118; iii. 120.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Morning by Morning, 134.
Wilkinson (J. B.), Mission Sermons, ii. 255.
Winterbotham (R.), Sermons, 214.
Christian World Pulpit, xxxiii. 233 (H. P. Liddon); xxxv. 314 (R. B. Brindley).