committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

Solitude Sweetened

Octavius Winslow

"I am not alone, because the Father is with me" —John 16:32.

It was not one of the least mournful features in the Savior’s humiliation that the path he trod was in a measure solitary, and that the sorrow he endured was in its character a lonely one. He had created and had peopled the world—he had given to man a social constitution, had inspired the pulsation of love, and had imparted to his creatures a secret and strong affinity of mind to mind; and yet he was in the world as one to whom it afforded no home, and proffered no friendship. And was this no felt-trial to the Son of God? Did it enter nothing into the curse which he came to endure? Did it add no gall-bitter to his cup, no keenness to the sadness of his heart, no deepening to the shade upon his brow? Did the absence of a perfectly congenial mind, assimilating spirit, fond, confiding, sympathizing heart, on whose pillow he could lay to rest the corroding cares and mental disquietudes which agitated his own, create no aching void in the Redeemer’s bosom? Surely it must. Our Lord was human—though divine—and as man he must have felt, at times, an intensity of yearning for human companionship proportioned to his capacity to enjoy, and his power to enrich it. The human sympathies and affections that belonged to him, pure and elevated as they were, could only awaken a responsive chord in a human breast. And for this he must have sighed. He was formed for the enjoyment of life, was endowed with a sensibility to the objects around him. He had affections—and he delighted to indulge them: he had a heart—and he longed to bestow it.

There were times, too, when he seemed to contract an attachment to inanimate objects: the tree beneath whose shade he had occasionally sat, the fields over whose verdure he had roamed, the sequestered spots where he had often strayed, the sea whose shores he had frequently trod, the mountain-slopes where he had been wont to stand, associated as they were with communion with God and converse with his disciples, had become sacred and endeared haunts to the holy and sensitive heart of Jesus.

It might indeed be said that the Savior loved and coveted solitude, occasionally stealing away to some favorite place for meditation and prayer. But there were other and more frequent occasions, especially in the deep, lonely sorrow of Gethsemane, when he seemed to feel the need and to ask the soothing of human sympathy. With what melting tones must these words have fallen on the ears of his little band of followers: “Tarry here, and watch with me.”

Yes, our Lord’s was a solitary life. He mingled indeed with man—he labored for man—he associated with man—he loved man—but he “trod the wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with him.” And yet he was not all alone. Creatures, one by one, had indeed deserted his side, and left him homeless, friendless, solitary—but there was One, the consciousness of whose ever-clinging, ever-brightening, ever-cheering presence infinitely more than supplied the lack. “Behold, the hour comes, yes, is now come, that you shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.”

But from the history of Jesus let us turn to a parallel page in the history of his saints. The disciples of Christ, like their Lord and Master, often feel themselves alone. The season of sickness—the hour of bereavement—the period of trial, is often the occasion of increased depression from the painful consciousness of the solitude and loneliness in which it is borne. The heavenly way we travel is more or less a lonely way. We have, at most, but few companions. It is a “little flock,” and only here and there we meet a traveler, who, like ourselves, is journeying towards the Zion of God. As the way is narrow, trying and humiliating to flesh, but few, under the drawings of the Spirit, find it.

If, indeed, true religion consisted in mere profession, then there were many for Christ. If the marks of discipleship were merely an orthodox creed—excited feeling—denominational zeal—flaming partisanship, then there are many that “find the way.” But if the true travelers are men of broken heart—poor in spirit—who mourn for sin—who know the music of the Shepherd’s voice—who follow the Lamb—who delight in the throne of grace—and who love the place of the cross, then there are but ‘few’ with whom the true saints journey to heaven in fellowship and communion.
But the path is even narrower than this—the circle is smaller still. How few real companions do we meet even among the saints of God! Loving them as we do, and yearning for a wider fellowship, yet how few there are with whom we can walk side by side! Doctrine divides us from some. If we speak of God’s eternal love, and free choice, and discriminating mercy, we offend. “When our Lord preached the doctrine of sovereign grace, we read that “from that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” O it is a solemn and affecting thought, that even the very doctrines of Christ’s gospel build a wall of partition between his true disciples.

Church government and ordinances sunder others. The blemishes and imperfections still clinging to the saints, such indeed as separated Paul and Barnabas, often interrupt the full harmony of Christian communion.

The difference of spirituality, too, which we find in the Lord’s people, tends to abate much of that communion which ought to distinguish the one family of God. We meet, perhaps, with but few who have been taught precisely in our school, who see truth as we see it, and who observe ordinances as we observe them, or who can understand the intricacies of Christian experience through which, with toil and difficulty, we are threading our way. Few keep the same pace in the Christian race with us. Some linger behind, while others outrun us. There is one always so lost in a sense of his unworthiness as never to enter into our joy; and there is another towering, as on the eagle’s wing, and soaring into a region whose very purity awes, and whose effulgence dazzles us. Thus are we learning the solitariness of the way, even in the very church and family of God within which we are embosomed.

But not from these causes alone springs the sense of loneliness which the saints often feel. There is the separation of loving hearts, and of kindred minds, and of intimate relationships, by the providential ordering and dealings of God. The changes of this changing world—the alteration of circumstances—the removals to new and distant positions—the wastings of disease and the ravages of death, often sicken the heart with a sense of friendlessness and loneliness which finds its best expression in the words of the Psalmist: “I watch, and am as a sparrow alone on the house-top.” But if God “places the solitary in families,” as he occasionally does, he more frequently sets the godly apart from others; and this has often been found to be one of his wisest and holiest appointments. “Come away and rest awhile;” “I will allure her into the wilderness,” are divine expressions which would seem to indicate this instructive truth.

Shall we enter the chamber of sickness? Ah! what solitude reigns here. The gentle movement, the subdued voice, the soft tread, the smouldering embers, the shaded light, all signify that the scenes and the society and the excitement of the world without, intrude not upon the stillness of that world within. Weeks and months and years roll on, and still God keeps his child a “prisoner of hope.” But since he has done it, it must be well done, for “his way is perfect.”

To be arrested in the midst of activity, enterprise, and usefulness,—to be snatched from the pinnacle of honorable distinction, from the scene of pleasant labor, from the soothing society of friends, from the bosom of the domestic circle, within all of which we were so warmly nestled, and to find ourselves the sickly occupant of a lone and gloomy chamber, from which books and friends and family are excluded, is to some a trial of faith and patience demanding grace of no ordinary degree. The pastor torn from his flock, feels it,—the minister banished from his pulpit, feels it,—the Christian laborer laid aside from his loved employ, feels it,—the mother separated from her little ones, feels it; all feel it to be a school of which, though the teaching is most blessed, yet the discipline is most severe.

Shall we enter the house of mourning? Here is solitude indeed—the heart-aching solitude such as death only can create. What an awful stillness reigns here! The dread silence of all sounds has entered; even the living seem to hold their breath while the king of terrors passes by. The blinded windows—the light foot-fall—the wrapped thoughtfulness—the suppressed conversation—the air of desolateness resting on each countenance—and speaking from each eye, betokens how sad and deep and lonely is the grief with which each heart is breaking. Ah, yes! what a solitude does death often create in the life of the Christian.

The old companion, and the confiding friend removed—the “strong staff broken, and the beautiful rod,”—what a blank does the universe appear? But should we murmur at the solitary way along which our God is conducting us? Is it not his way, and therefore the best way? In love he gave us friends—in love he has removed them. In goodness he blessed us with health—in goodness he has taken it away. In faithfulness he vouchsafed to us affluence—in faithfulness he has recalled it.

And yet this is the way along which he is conducting us to glory. And shall we rebel? Heaven is the home of the saints; “here we have no continuing city.” And shall we repine that we are in the right road to heaven? What, if in weariness and sorrow, you were journeying to the metropolis, where your heart’s fondest treasure was embosomed; and you were to come to a way on whose finger-post was inscribed,—“The road to London,” or, “The road to Paris,” would you, because that road was lone and dreary and irksome, indulge in repining feelings, or waste your moments and your energies in useless regrets? Would you divert into another and an opposite, because a more pleasant and inviting path?

No! The image of your home with its sweet attractions—reposing like a fairy island in the sunny distance—would give wings to your feet, and carpet every step of that rough way with a soft mantle of green. Christ, your heart’s treasure, is there! And will you murmur that the way that leads you to it and to him is sometimes enshrouded with dark and mournful solitude? O the distinguished privilege of treading the path that Jesus walked in!

But the solitude of the Christian has its sweetness. The Savior tasted it when he said, “I am not alone, because the Father is with me;” and all the lonely way that he traveled he leaned upon God. Formed for human friendship, and even knowing something of its enjoyment—for there reposed upon his breast the disciple whom he loved—he yet drew the love that sweetened his solitude from a higher than a human source. His disciples were scattered, and he was left to plod his weary way alone: but his Father with him—O this was enough!

The companionship of God is the highest, purest, sweetest mercy a saint of God can have on earth. Yes, it is the highest, purest, sweetest bliss the saints of God can have in heaven. What is the enjoyment of heaven? Not merely exemption from trial, and freedom from sorrow, and rest from toil, and release from conflict: O no! it is the presence—the full, unclouded presence of our Father there. To be with Christ—to behold his glory—to gaze upon his face—to hear his voice—to feel the throbbings of his bosom—to bask in the effulgence of God’s presence—O this is heaven, the heaven of heaven!

The twilight of this glory we have here on earth. “I am not alone,” can each sorrowful and banished soul exclaim, “because the Father is with me.” Yes, beloved, your own Father. “You shall call me, my Father.” In Jesus he is your Father—your reconciled, pacified Father—all whose thoughts that he thinks of you, are peace; and all whose ways that he takes with you, are love. The presence, the voice, the smile of a parent, how precious and soothing! especially when that presence is realized, and that voice is heard, and that smile is seen in the dark desolate hour of adversity.

God is our heavenly parent. His presence, his care, his smiles are ever with his children. And if there be a solitary child of the one family that shares the richer in the blessing of the Father’s presence than another, it is the sick, the suffering, the lone, the chastened child. Yes, your Father is with you always. He is with you to cheer your loneliness—to sweeten your solitude—to sanctify your sorrow—to strengthen your weakness—to shield your person—to pardon your sins, and to heal all your diseases.

Hearken in your deep solitude to his own touching words: “Fear you not; for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.” Enough, my Father! if thus you are with me, I am not, I cannot be alone—and if such the bliss with which you do sweeten, and such the glory with which you do irradiate the solitude of your hidden ones, Lord, let me ever be a hidden one—shut out from all others, shut in alone with you!

“You are near,—yes, Lord, I feel it,
You are near wherever I move;
And though sense would sincerely conceal it,
Faith often whispers it in love.
“You are near,—O what a blessing
To the souls your love has blest!
Souls, your daily care confessing,
Daily by their God confessed.
“Why should I despond or tremble
When Jehovah stoops to cheer?
But O far rather, why dissemble
When Omniscience is near!
“Am I weak? your arm will lead me
Safe through every danger, Lord:
Am I hungry? you will feed me
With the manna of your Word.
“Am I thirsting? you will guide me
Where refreshing waters flow;
Faint or feeble, you will provide me
Grace for every need I know.
“Am I fearful? you will take me
Underneath your wings, my God!
Am I faithless? you will make me
Bow beneath your chastening rod.
“Am I drooping? you are near me,
Near to hear me on my way:
Am I pleading? You will hear me,
Hear and answer when I pray.
“Then, O my soul, since God does love you,
Faint not, droop not, do not fear;
For though his heaven is high above you,
He himself is ever near!
“Near to watch your wayward spirit,
Sometimes cold and careless grown;
But likewise near with grace and merit,
All your Savior’s, His, His own.” [J.S. Monsell]

There are many thoughts calculated to sweeten the season of Christian solitude which we need but simply suggest to the reflective mind. You cannot be in reality alone when you remember that Christ and you are one—that by his Spirit he dwells in the heart, and that therefore he is always near to participate in each circumstance in which you may be placed. Your very solitude he shares: with your sense of loneliness he sympathizes. You cannot be friendless—since Christ is your friend. You cannot be relationless—since Christ is your brother. You cannot be unprotected—since Christ is your shield.

Do you need an arm to lean upon?—his is outstretched. Do you need a heart to repose in?—his invites you to its affection and its confidence. Do you need a companion to converse with?—he welcomes you to his fellowship. O sweet solitude, sweetened by such a Savior as this!—always present to comfort, to counsel, and to protect in times of trial, perplexity, and danger.

There is so much soothing in the reflection that it is a Father’s presence that sweetens the solitude of his child, that I know not how to express it. “MY FATHER IS WITH ME!” O what words are these! Who can harm you now? What can befall you? When and where can you be alone, if your heavenly Father is with you? He is with you on the ocean, he is with you on the land. He is with you in your exile, he is with you at home. Friends may forsake, and kindred may die, and circumstances may change—but “my Father is with me!” may still be your solace and your boast.

And O to realize the presence of that Father—to walk with God in the absorbing consciousness of his loving eye never removed, of his solemn presence never withdrawn, of his encircling arm never untwined—welcome the solitude, welcome the loneliness, welcome the sorrow, cheered and sweetened and sanctified by such a realization as this! “I am not alone, because my Father is with me.”

Let the season of temporary solitude be a time of earnest prayer—of deep searching of heart—of much honest, close, filial transaction with yourself and with God. He may have allured you into the wilderness, he may thus have set you apart from all others for this very end. You have been communing much with books, and with men, he would now have you commune with your own heart and with himself!

And this, too, may be the school in which he is about to train you for greater responsibility, for more extended usefulness, and for higher honors in his church. Moses was withdrawn from Pharaoh’s court and banished to the solitude of the wilderness forty years, in order to train him to be the great legislator and leader of God’s people. Who can tell what numerous blessings are about to be realized by you, and through you, by the church of God, from the present season of silence and repose through which you are passing?

O to feel a perfect satisfaction, yes, an ecstatic delight, with all that our heavenly Father does! Submission is sweet, resignation is sweeter, but joyous satisfaction with the whole of God’s conduct is sweeter still. “My Father, not my will but yours be done.” Be this, then, your solace—this your boast—this your midnight harmony—“I AM NOT ALONE, BECAUSE MY FATHER IS WITH ME.”

“How heavily the path of life
Is trod by him who walks alone,
Who hears not, on his dreary way,
Affection’s sweet and cheering tone;
Alone, although his heart should bound
With love to all things great and fair,
They love not him,—there is not one
His sorrow or his joy to share.
“Alone,—though in the busy town,
Where hundreds hurry to and fro—
If there is none who for his sake
A selfish pleasure would forego;
And O how lonely among those
Who have not skill to read his heart,
When first he learns how summer friends
At sight of wintry storms depart.
“My Savior! and did you too feel
How sad it is to be alone,
Deserted in the adverse hour
By those who must your love have known?
The gloomy path, though distant, still
Was ever present to your view;
O how could you foreseeing it,
For us that painful course pursue?
“Forsaken of your nearest friends,
Surrounded by malicious foes—
No kindly voice encouraged you,
When the loud shout of scorn uprose.
Yet there was calm within your soul,
No stoic pride that calmness kept,
Nor Godhead unapproached by woe—
Like man you had both loved and wept.
“You were not then alone, for God
Sustained you by his mighty power;
His arm most felt, his care most seen,
When needed most in saddest hour.
None else could comfort, none else knew
How dreadful was the curse of sin;
He who controlled the storm without,
Could gently whisper peace within.
“Who is alone if God be near?
Who shall repine at loss of friends,
While he has One of boundless power,
Whose constant kindness never ends
Whose presence felt, enhances joy,
Whose love can stop each flowing tear,
And cause upon the darkest cloud
The bow of mercy to appear.”

 
 
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