A Word to the Weary
The power of speaking to the weary is nothing less than a divine gift. As we see the divinity in our gifts shall we be careful of them, thankful for them: every gift seems to enshrine the giver, God. But how extraordinary that this power of speaking to the weary should not be taught in the schools. It is not within the ability of man to teach other men how to speak to the weary-hearted, the wounded in spirit, the sore in the innermost feelings of the being. But can we lay down directions about this and offer suggestions? Probably Song of Solomon, but we do not touch the core of the matter. There is an infinite difference between the scholar and the genius. The scholar is made, the genius is inspired. Information can be imparted, but the true sense, the sense that feels and sees God, is a gift direct from heaven.
It is a common notion that anybody can sing. Why can you sing? Why, because I have been taught That is your mistake. You can sing mechanically, exactly, properly, with right time, right tune, but really and truly you cannot sing. Here is a man with his music and with the words; he sings every note, pronounces every word, goes through his lesson, finishes his task, and nobody wants to hear him any more. Another man takes up the same music, the same words, and the same hearers exclaim, "Oh that he would go on for ever!" How is that?—the words exactly the same, the notes identical—how? Soul, fire, ever-burning, never consuming, making a bush like a planet. The great difficulty in all such cases, is the difficulty of transferring to paper a proper or adequate conception of the power of the men who thus sway the human heart. There are some men whose biographies simply belie them, and yet every sentence in the biography is true in the letter; but the biography is little else than a travesty and a caricature, because the power was personal, it was in the face, in the voice, in the presence, in the gait, in the touch—an incommunicable power; the hem of the garment trembled under it, but no biographer could catch it in his scholarly ink.
Very few ministers can enter a sick chamber with any probability of doing real and lasting good. They can read the Bible, and they can pray, and yet, when they have gone, the room seems as if they had never been there. There is no sense of emptiness or desolation. Other men, probably not so much gifted in some other directions will enter the sick room, and there will be a light upon the wall, summer will gleam upon the window-pane, and angels will rustle gently in the air, and it will be a scene of gladness and a vision of triumph. How is that? The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned that I might know how—how to speak a word in season to him that is weary. The Lord God hath not only given me a word to say, but he hath given me learning to teach me how to speak it. Place the emphasis upon the how, and then you develop all the mystery, all the tender music, all the infinite capacity of manner.
We may say the right word in the wrong tone; we may preach the gospel as if it were a curse. The common notion is that anybody can go into the Sunday-school and teach the young. We sometimes think that it would be well if a great many persons left the Sunday-school all over the world. Teach the young—would God I had that great gift, to break the bread for the children, and to be able to lure and captivate opening minds, and to enter into the spirit of the words—
"Delightful task! to rear the tender thought, To teach the young idea how to shoot."
It requires to be father and mother and sister and nurse and genius to speak to the young. They may hear you and not care for you: they may understand your words, and be repelled by your spirit. You require the tongue of the learned to know how to speak, and that tongue of the learned is not to be had at school, college, university—it is not included in any curriculum of learning—it is a gift divine, breathing an afflatus, an inspiration—the direct and distinct creation of God, as is the star, the sun. The speaker, then, is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the representative of the Father, the incarnate Deity—he it is who is charged with the subtle learning; he it is whose lips tremble with the pathos of this ineffable music.
Though the gift itself is divine, we must remember that it is to be exercised seasonably. The text Isaiah, "that I should know how to speak a word in season." There is a time for everything. It is not enough to speak the right word, it must be spoken at the right moment. Who can know when that is? We cannot be taught. We must feel it, see it hours beyond: nay, must know when to be silent for the whole twenty-four hours and to say, "Tomorrow, at such and such a time, we will drop that sentence upon the listening ear." "The day after tomorrow, he will probably be in circumstances to admit of this communication being delivered with sympathy and effect." How few persons know the right time—the right time in conversation. Some people are never heard in conversation though they are talking all the time. They talk so unseasonably, they talk when other people are talking; they cannot wait; they do not know how to come in along the fine line of silence: they do not understand the German expression "Now an angel has passed," and they do not quickly enough follow in his wake. Consequently, though chattering much they are saying nothing—though their words be multitudinous, the impression they make is a blank.
I have a ripe seed in my hand. As an agriculturist I am going to sow it Any labourer in the field can tell me that I should be acting foolishly in sowing it just now. Why? "It is out of season," the man says. "There is a time for the doing of that action: I will tell you when the time returns—do it then, and you may expect a profitable result of your labour."
Then I will change the character and be a nurse, and I will attend to my patient (perhaps I will over attend to him—some patients are killed by over nursing), and I will give the patient this medicine—it is the right medicine. So it Isaiah, but you are going to give it at the wrong time, and if you give the medicine at the wrong time, though itself be right, the hour being wrong you will bring suffering upon the patient, and you yourself will be involved in pains and penalties. Thus we touch that very subtle and sensitive line in human life, the line of refined discrimination. You may say "I am sure I told him." You are right—you did tell him and he did not hear you. You may reply, "I am perfectly confident I delivered the message,—I preached the exact words of the Gospel." So you did, but you never got the hearing heart, your manner was so unsympathetic, so ungentle, so cruel (not meant to be unconsciously so), that the man never understood it to be a gospel. You spoiled the music in the delivery, in the giving of the message. The Lord God giveth the tongue of the learned, that he to whom it is given may know how to speak—how to speak the right word—how to speak the right word at the right point of time. You want divine teaching in all things, in speech not least.
This is a curious word to find in the Bible. Does the Bible care about weary people? We have next to no sympathy with them. If a man be weary, we give him notice to quit: if he ask us to what place he can retire, we tell him that is his business not ours. Now the tenderness of this Book is one of the most telling, convincing arguments on behalf of its inspiration, and its divine authority. This Book means to help us, wants to help us, it says "I will try to help you, never hinder you: I will wait for you, I will soften the wind into a whisper, I will order the thunder to be silent, I will quiet the raging sea; I will wait upon you at home, in solitude, at midnight, anywhere—fix the place, the time, yourself, and when your heart most needs me I will be most to your heart." Any book found in den, in gutter, that wants to do this, should be received with respect. The purpose is good: if it fail, it fails in a noble object.
Everywhere in this Book of God we find a supreme wish to help men. When we most need help the words are sweeter than the honeycomb. When other books are dumb, this Book speaks most sweetly. It is like a star, it shines in the darkness, it waits the going down of the superficial sun of our transient prosperity, and then it breaks upon us as the shadows thicken. This is the real greatness of God: he will not break the bruised reed. Because the reed is bruised, therefore the rude man says he may break it. His argument in brief in this: "If the reed were strong, I should not touch it, but seeing that it is bruised what harm can there be in completing the wound under which it is already suffering? I will even snap it and throw the sundered parts away." That is the reasoning of the rude man—that is the vulgar view of the case. The idea of healing is the idea of a creator. He who creates also heals. Herein we see God"s estimate of human nature: if he cared only for the great the splendid, the magnificent, the robust, and the everlasting, then he would indeed be too like ourselves. The greatness of God and the estimate which he places upon human nature are most seen in all these ministrations in reference to the weak and the weary and the young and the feeble and the sad. Made originally in the image of God, man is dear to his Maker, though ever so broken. O poor prodigal soul with the divinity nearly broken out of thee, smashed, bleeding, crushed, all but in hell—while there is a shadow of thee outside perdition, he would heal thee and save thee. Thou art a ruin, but a grand one—the majestic ruin of a majestic edifice, for knowest thou not that thou wast the temple of God?
When we are weary, even in weariness, God sees the possibility of greatness that may yet take place and be developed and supervene in immortality. How do we talk? Thus: "The survival of the fittest." It is amazing with what patience and magnanimity and majestic disregard of circumstances we allow people to die off. When we hear that thousands have perished, we write this epitaph on their white slate tombstones: "The survival of the fittest required the decay of the weakest and the poorest." We pick off the fruit which we think will not come to perfection. The gardener lays his finger and thumb upon the tree, and he says, "This will not come to much"—he wrenches the poor unpromising piece of fruit off the twig and throws it down as useless. In our march we leave the sick and wounded behind. That is the great little, the majestic insignificant, the human contradiction. We go in for things that are fittest, strongest, most promising, healthy, self-complete, and therein we think we are wise. God says, "Not a lamb must be left out—bring it up: not a sick man must be omitted: not a poor publican sobbing his "God be merciful to me a sinner" must be omitted from the great host. Bring them all in, sick, weary, wounded, feeble, young, illiterate, poor, insignificant, without name, fame, station, force—all in: gather up the fragments that nothing be lost." Let us go to that Shepherd—he will spare us and love us. When our poor strength gives out, he will not set his cruel heel upon us and kill us, he will gather us in his arms and make the whole flock stand still till he has saved his weakest one.
Did we but know the name for our pain we should call it Sin. What do we need, then, but Christ the Son of God, the Heart of God, the Love of God, he will in very deed give us rest. He will not add to the great weight which bows down our poor strength. He will give us grace, and in his power all our faintness shall be thought of no more. Some of us know how dark it is when the full shadow of our sin falls upon our life, and how all the help of earth and time and man does but mock the pain it cannot reach. Let no man say that Christ will not go so low down as to find one so base and vile as he. Christ is calling for thee; I heard his sweet voice lift itself up in the wild wind and ask whither thou hadst fled, that he might save thee from death and bring thee home. There is no wrath in his face or voice, no sword is swung by his hand as if in cruel joy, saying, "Now at last I have my chance with you." His eyes gleam with love: his voice melts in pity: his words are gospels, every one. Let him but see thee sad for sin, full of grief because of the wrong thou hast done, and he will raise thee out of the deep pit and set thy feet upon the rock.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 50". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent