The Compensating Experience
With certain Christian people the expression, I have “a satisfying portion,” seems to excite wonder and disapproval. To some it savors of boasting, to others it sounds unscriptural, and to still others it betrays ignorance of the laws of growth and that constant advancement in divine things which should mark the course of the child of God. The idea of the objectors is that such a statement in its application to religious experience precludes all possibility of development and improvement, and means virtually a standstill, and so spiritual stagnation and death.
These objections are made in the face of clear statements of the Word of God to the contrary, and in strange failure to distinguish between the spiritual progress of the soul which goes on forever, and a divine grace and blessing nestling eternally in that same soul which is developing forever. If a constant growth and improvement in the spiritual life prohibit an abiding satisfaction and joy on earth, then that same advancement in eternity would prevent a glad, satisfying experience in heaven.
But the Bible is clear about fulness of joy in both worlds; and while saying that in the skies we hunger no more neither thirst any more, being led to fountains of living waters by the hand of Christ, it also says that even in this life a well of water can be placed in the soul, springing up into everlasting life, and having that, we “never thirst.” If this is not a satisfying portion what can it be called?
In closer study of the Scripture we find that it holds up just such a blessing, and that when men receive it, from that moment they seem to possess something which comforts them in every sorrow, supports them in every trial, cheers them in every peril, consoles them in all suffering and loss, and, in a word, proves the compensating blessing of life.
Given to the disciples in the Upper Room, and to others later, all who read the Book of Acts and the Epistles will see that the followers of Christ obtained an experience which prepared them not only for living but for serving, preaching, suffering and dying. No matter what was said about them, or done to them; no matter whether slandered, scourged, imprisoned or slain–yet through the trial and to the end there was such faith, holy triumph, and rapturous joy that all could see that beyond the tormented body were spiritual regions where the earthly tortures could not come. That back there and up there was a something which consoled and comforted and compensated the suffering followers of Jesus beyond all words to describe, and thought to understand.
As an experience it affected and does still affect God’s people like wine. The multitude honestly supposed for a time at Pentecost that the one hundred and twenty were drunk. The “new wine” explanation of that day is not held to now, but the spiritual intoxication, as exhibited in gleaming eyes, shining face, shouts, laughter, weeping and physical demonstrativeness, is supposed to be the result of cerebral excitement, mental frenzy and wrought up physical conditions. Men seem to be as slow to understand God’s works today as they were in the beginning of the first century.
Nevertheless the experience is with us still, a great, glad, upwelling, perfectly satisfying joy, whether people understand it and us or not. Who in such a weary, heartbreaking world as this would not have it? Who on hearing of such a grace could ever rest content until its obtainment?
There are certain occasions when this satisfying portion, this compensating blessing is especially precious to us. Blessed at all times, yet there are hours and occasions when it is thrice blessed.
One is a time of persecution.
It is noticeable in the gospel narrative that whenever the disciples are called upon to endure great suffering for Christ’s sake, that a mighty spiritual uplift would be granted them, and they would burst forth into songs of praise and shouts of victory where usually groans and lamentations would be expected. Beaten with stripes they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ; and unjustly condemned and cruelly handled they sang praises at midnight in a dungeon. It seemed that they possessed something in their souls God-given and constantly replenished, which extracted the sting from human maltreatment, and richly repaid them for all pain and shame suffered for the Son of God.
When we thus describe the experience of the early Christians we are simply drawing a picture of what is going on in hearts and lives today. It is the same gospel, and the same Holy Ghost. To live godly is still to suffer persecution, but with the detraction, misrepresentation, ostracism and all the many and varied trials which befall the devoted man or woman, there comes instantly the gracious sustaining power and reward in the breast, and the filling of the soul with an experience so sweet, tender and satisfying that the man is beyond all question far happier than his persecutors, and seems to be caught up in a third heaven of holy calm and victory.
When a boy we remember that our mother was accustomed to make in addition to her pickles and preserves a certain amount of blackberry cordial. She placed the rich, sweet, fragrant fluid in bottles and stationed them in a row on a shelf in the closet. To this day I can recall their soldier-like appearance with white paper labels on their black sides, containing the words “Blackberry cordial,” written in my mothers beautiful handwriting
The cordial was a kind of panacea for children’s maladies and troubles. More than once, on account of failing appetite, or some bruise or cut received by a topple from the fence or a fall from a tree, a sip of the cordial would be given the weeping youngster, and his lips smacked with enjoyment, and a pleased smile would overspread his face while the tears still rested in heavy drops on the eyelashes.
So God has a cordial which is a compensation for the blows, cuts and bruises received at the hands of men. It is quickly placed to the lips when cruel words have been spoken, or heartless blows have been struck, and at once the pangs are forgotten, the soul is warmed and fired, the mouth is filled with laughter, and we walk unburned in the furnace, and in rapturous communion with the “form of a fourth” which is that of the Son of God. Who of us have not felt these things, and can testify that our happiest days have been when men were saying and doing all manner of evil against us!
Another time that the compensating experience is realized is in the hour of earthly loss.
The day is certain to come when reputation will be struck at, influence in certain quarters be seen to wane and fail altogether, and friends grow cold and fall away. These losses may take place not from wrongdoing, but for faithfulness in the Christian life. The Saviour Himself perceived that he had no reputation with the rulers of the church, felt that He was cast out, and saw great numbers of His followers leave Him. We cannot expect to fare better than He did, and, indeed, if true to Him, will enter upon similar sufferings.
That experience certainly must be blessed which sustains one in such hours; and not only keeps us undismayed as friends grow cold and fall away, but even rejoicing; while we say with Christ, “Will ye also go away yet am I not alone, for the Father is with me.”
We once read of a little girl who was an orphan, and raised in a large household where she was continually domineered over by every member of the family. Her wishes were never consulted, her rights were ignored, while her few playthings were constantly snatched from her by the hands of the older and stronger children. She had become so accustomed to yielding and giving up everything that when she had anything in her hand she held it with a loose grasp, as if she did not expect to keep it long.
This is the spiritual attitude of the true follower of Christ. What he holds in his hands he does with a light grasp. He is ready for God to take any material mercy from him when He will, and not only that, but even when men strip him of rights, privileges, enjoyments, comforts and other blessings of life, he will have that left in his soul in the way of grace and glory to amply compensate him for the loss of all.
A third time that the great satisfying joy is felt is in the time of sorrow.
We knew an elderly preacher in a Southern State who was sanctified. When he was eighty the greatest trouble of his life befell him. One morning he learned that his son, a promising young lawyer, had been murdered by a Negro man for the sake of a few dollars. The peculiarly agonizing feature about the crime was that the young man had been shot and left for dead in the woods, but had lived four days stretched on the ground alone in the forest. A hunter discovered him a little while before he died, and received from his dying lips the name of the murderer and the manner of the crime. When the news reached the aged father he sank upon his knees on the floor in prayer; and in a few moments gasped out, “The Book! the Book!”
The Bible was handed him, and, opening with trembling fingers the pages, he began reading aloud with shaking voice, in the midst of the sighing, sobbing household, from the fourteenth of John: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God: believe also in me. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again”–and lo! while reading these last four words the glory of God filled him, shouts burst from his lips, and a dozen awestruck souls saw how God can so comfort a tortured, agonized spirit that its burden is carried like a feather weight, grief is flung to the winds, while heaven itself seems to have descended, filled and fairly transfigured the man.
Another time the compensating blessing is observed as well as realized is in old age.
There is something exceedingly pathetic in the sight of one who has outlived most of his generation, and is now dwelling in the midst of a new one. Friends, companions, playmates, schoolmates and oftentimes the family itself have preceded him into the graveyard and the other world, and he is left with scarcely a single soul with whom he started out in life.
It is a situation of unenviable loneliness, a life of peculiar trial. The old find themselves forgotten, overlooked, thrust aside, and often feel sadly in the way. Among the peculiar features of that time of life is the habit of waking up a good while before day. One can imagine the heaviness and sadness of those early wakeful hours, unless heaven has a grace to sustain and cheer.
Thank God there is such a blessing for the old which gives them songs in the night, a holy joy though overlooked, and prevents them not only from souring and becoming bitter, but causes their protracted stay on earth to be a blessing to the family, and the very thought of their departure one of unspeakable pain.
We recall in our early ministry a lovely old patriarch of Methodism who was nearing his ninetieth year. He had a way of waking at three o’clock in the morning, and from that hour until day he spent praising God softly in the night, rubbing his hands in the great joy which filled his soul, and alternately laughing and crying with the rapture which flooded him. He had the compensating blessing.
A final time when this peculiar grace becomes evident is at the hour of death.
The Scripture says let wine be given to him who is ready to die, alluding to a custom that was thought then to be humane. In a deeper and better sense God has a wine experience for His dying children. It is a blessing to be obtained in life, so that the man can carry around in him the preparation for death, and so sudden dissolution will be instant glory. The people who enjoy this grace are ready to go at a moment’s warning, and always “die well.”
It is no ordinary death. The cup is at the lip, the draught is deep, and the blazing inward joy flashes in the eye, and gleams in the face in a way unmistakable.
In fact, it is not death, but a departure, not defeat, but victory, not dissolution so much as translation, not a man going down before the last enemy, but a human spirit disentangling itself from the ruins of the falling body, and with rapturous smile and lifted head and hand saying, “I know that my Redeemer liveth; and though, after my skin worms destroy this body yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom mine eyes shall behold and not another.”
No Christian need fear death who obtains this blessing. With its marvellous living and yet dying grace, he is ready for the yoke, or the altar; ready for the battlefield of conflict and also prepared for the gaping wound, the litter and open grave. There is something about the grace which robs the sepulchre of its terror, takes the sting out of death, and causes its possessor to go down into the grave not only with calmness and assurance, but with smiles and shouts of joy, so that the scene looks like a beginning instead of the end of life. The tomb itself seems a doorway through which, as the triumphant spirit passes, the light of the glory world streams and, falling upon the dying face, lights it up and tells, in its silent but all impressive way, of the certainty and blessedness of the world which has just been entered.