Hedged In

“Reckon it nothing but joy…whenever you find yourself hedged in by the various trials, be assured that the testing of your faith leads to power of endurance” (James 1:2-3) Weymouth

God hedges in His own that He may preserve them, but oftentimes they only see the wrong side of the hedge, and so misunderstand His dealings.  It was so with Job (Job 3:23). Ah, but Satan knew the value of that hedge! See his testimony in chapter 1:10.  Through the leaves of every trial there are chinks of    light to shine through.  Thorns do not prick you unless you lean against them, and not one touches without His knowledge.  The words that hurt you, the letter which gave you pain, the cruel wound of your dearest friend, shortness of money–are all known to Him, who sympathizes as none else can and watches to see, if, through all, you will dare to trust Him wholly.

“The hawthorn hedge that keeps us from intruding,
Looks very fierce and bare
When stripped by winter, every branch protruding
Its thorns that would wound and tear.

“But spring-time comes; and like the rod that budded,
Each twig breaks out in green;
And cushions soft of tender leaves are studded,
Where spines alone were seen,

“The sorrows, that to us seem so perplexing,
Are mercies kindly sent
To guard our wayward souls from sadder vexing,
And greater ills prevent.

“To save us from the pit, no screen of roses
Would serve for our defense,
The hindrance that completely interposes
Stings back like thorny fence.

“At first when smarting from the shock, complaining
Of wounds that freely bleed,
God’s hedges of severity us paining,
May seem severe indeed.

“But afterwards, God’s blessed spring-time cometh,
And bitter murmurs cease;
The sharp severity that pierced us bloometh,
And yields the fruits of peace.

“Then let us sing, our guarded way thus wending
Life’s hidden snares among,
Of mercy and of judgment sweetly blending;
Earth’s sad, but lovely song.”

(From Charles E Cowman Devotionals – Streams in the Desert)

The Captive

“As I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God . . . and the hand of the Lord was there upon me” (Ezek. 1:1,3).

There is no commentator of the Scriptures half so valuable as a captivity. The old Psalms have quavered for us with a new pathos as we sat by our “Babel’s stream,” and have sounded for us with new joy as we found our captivity turned as the streams in the South.

The man who has seen much affliction will not readily part with his copy of the Word of God. Another book may seem to others to be identical with his own; but it is not the same to him, for over his old and tear-stained Bible he has written, in characters which are visible to no eyes but his own, the record of his experiences, and ever and anon he comes on Bethel pillars or Elim palms, which are to him the memorials of some critical chapter in his history.

If we are to receive benefit from our captivity we must accept the situation and turn it to the best possible account. Fretting over that from which we have been removed or which has been taken away from us, will not make things better, but it will prevent us from improving those which remain. The bond is only tightened by our stretching it to the uttermost.

The impatient horse which will not quietly endure his halter only strangles himself in his stall. The high-mettled animal that is restive in the yoke only galls his shoulders; and every one will understand the difference between the restless starling of which Sterne has written, breaking its wings against the bars of the cage, and crying, “I can’t get out, I can’t get out,” and the docile canary that sits upon its perch and sings as if it would outrival the lark soaring to heaven’s gate.

No calamity can be to us an unmixed evil if we carry it in direct and fervent prayer to God, for even as one in taking shelter from the rain beneath a tree may find on its branches fruit which he looked not for, so we in fleeing for refuge beneath the shadow of God’s wing, will always find more in God than we had seen or known before.

It is thus through our trials and afflictions that God gives us fresh revelations of Himself; and the Jabbok ford leads to Peniel, where, as the result of our wrestling, we “see God face to face,” and our lives are preserved. Take this to thyself, O captive, and He will give thee “songs in the night,” and turn for thee “the shadow of death into the morning.” –William Taylor

“Submission to the divine will is the softest pillow on which to recline.”
“It filled the room, and it filled my life,
With a glory of source unseen;
It made me calm in the midst of strife,
And in winter my heart was green.
And the birds of promise sang on the tree
When the storm was breaking on land and sea.”

(From Charles E Cowman Devotionals – Streams in the Desert) 

The Old Refiner

“He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver” (Mal. 3:3).

Our Father, who seeks to perfect His saints in holiness, knows the value of the refiner’s fire. It is with the most precious metals that the assayer takes the most pains, and subjects them to the hot fire, because such fires melt the metal, and only the molten mass releases its alloy or takes perfectly its new form in the mould. The old refiner never leaves his crucible, but sits down by it, lest there should be one excessive degree of heat to mar the metal. But as soon as he skims from the surface the last of the dross, and sees his own face reflected, he puts out the fire. –Arthur T. Pierson

“He sat by a fire of seven-fold heat,
As He watched by the precious ore,
And closer He bent with a searching gaze
As He heated it more and more.
He knew He had ore that could stand the test,
And He wanted the finest gold
To mould as a crown for the King to wear,
Set with gems with a price untold.
So He laid our gold in the burning fire,
Tho’ we fain would have said Him ‘Nay,’
And He watched the dross that we had not seen,
And it melted and passed away.
And the gold grew brighter and yet more bright,
But our eyes were so dim with tears,
We saw but the fire–not the Master’s hand,
And questioned with anxious fears.
Yet our gold shone out with a richer glow,
As it mirrored a Form above,
That bent o’er the fire, tho’ unseen by us,
With a look of ineffable love.
Can we think that it pleases His loving heart
To cause us a moment’s pain?
Ah, no! but He saw through the present cross
The bliss of eternal gain.
So He waited there with a watchful eye,
With a love that is strong and sure,
And His gold did not suffer a bit more heat,
Than was needed to make it pure.”

(From Charles E Cowman Devotionals – Streams in the Desert) 

Through the Fire

“So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12).

Through his griefs Job came to his heritage. He was tried that his godliness might be confirmed. Are not my troubles intended to deepen my character and to robe me in graces I had little of before? I come to my glory through eclipses, tears, death. My ripest fruit grows against the roughest wall. Job’s afflictions left him with higher conceptions of God and lowlier thoughts of himself. “Now,” he cried, “mine eye seeth thee.

And if, through pain and loss, I feel God so near in His majesty that I bend low before Him and pray, “Thy will be done,” I gain very much. God gave Job glimpses of the future glory. In those wearisome days and nights, he penetrated within the veil, and could say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Surely the latter end of Job was more blessed than the beginning.–In the Hour of Silence

“Trouble never comes to a man unless she brings a nugget of gold in her hand.”

Apparent adversity will finally turn out to be the advantage of the right if we are only willing to keep on working and to wait patiently. How steadfastly the great victor souls have kept at their work, dauntless and unafraid! There are blessings which we cannot obtain if we cannot accept and endure suffering. There are joys that can come to us only through sorrow. There are revealings of Divine truth which we can get only when earth’s lights have gone out. There are harvests which can grow only after the plowshare has done its work.–Selected

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seamed with scars; martyrs have put on their coronation robes glittering with fire, and through their tears have the sorrowful first seen the gates of Heaven. –Chapin

I shall know by the gleam and glitter
Of the golden chain you wear,
By your heart’s calm strength in loving,
Of the fire you have had to bear.
Beat on, true heart, forever;
Shine bright, strong golden chain;
And bless the cleansing fire
And the furnace of living pain!
–Adelaide Proctor

(From Charles E Cowman Devotionals – Streams in the Desert)

The Brightest Colors

“It is good for me that I have been afflicted” (Ps. 119:71).

It is a remarkable circumstance that the most brilliant colors of plants are to be seen on the highest mountains, in spots that are most exposed to the wildest weather. The brightest lichens and mosses, the loveliest gems of wild flowers, abound far up on the bleak, storm-scalped peak.

One of the richest displays of organic coloring I ever beheld was near the summit of Mount Chenebettaz, a hill about 10,000 feet high, immediately above the great St. Bernard Hospice. The whole face of an extensive rock was covered with a most vivid yellow lichen which shone in the sunshine like the golden battlement of an enchanted castle.

There, in that lofty region, amid the most frowning desolation, exposed to the fiercest tempest of the sky, this lichen exhibited a glory of color such as it never showed in the sheltered valley. I have two specimens of the same lichen before me while I write these lines, one from the great St. Bernard, and the other from the wall of a Scottish castle, deeply embossed among sycamore trees; and the difference in point of form and coloring between them is most striking.

The specimen nurtured amid the wild storms of the mountain peak is of a lovely primrose hue, and is smooth in texture and complete in outline, while the specimen nurtured amid the soft airs and the delicate showers of the lowland valley is of a dim rusty hue, and is scurfy in texture, and broken in outline.

And is it not so with the Christian who is afflicted, tempest-tossed, and not comforted? Till the storms and vicissitudes of God’s providence beat upon him again and again, his character appears marred and clouded; but trials clear away the obscurity, perfect the outlines of his disposition, and give brightness and blessing to his life.

Amidst my list of blessings infinite
Stands this the foremost, that my heart has bled;
For all I bless Thee, most for the severe.

–Hugh Macmillan

(From Charles E Cowman Devotionals – Streams in the Desert) 

Trouble is a Messenger

“My Father is the husbandman” (John 15:1).

It is comforting to think of trouble, in whatever form it may come to, us, as a heavenly messenger, bringing us something from God. In its earthly aspect it may seem hurtful, even destructive; but in its spiritual out-working it yields blessing. Many of the richest blessings which have come down to us from the past are the fruit of sorrow or pain. We should never forget that redemption, the world’s greatest blessing, is the fruit of the world’s greatest sorrow. In every time of sharp pruning, when the knife is deep and the pain is sore, it is an unspeakable comfort to read, “My Father is the husbandman.”
 
Doctor Vincent tells of being in a great hothouse where luscious clusters of grapes were hanging on every side. The owner said, “When my new gardener came, he said he would have nothing to do with these vines unless he could cut them clean down to the stalk; and he did, and we had no grapes for two years, but this is the result.”

There is rich suggestiveness in this interpretation of the pruning process, as we apply it to the Christian life. Pruning seems to be destroying the vine, the gardener appears to be cutting it all away; but he looks on into the future and knows that the final outcome will be the enrichment of its life and greater abundance of fruit.

There are blessings we can never have unless we are ready to pay the price of pain. There is no way to reach them save through suffering. –Dr. Miller.

“I walked a mile with Pleasure,
She chattered all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

“I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh, the things I learned from her
When sorrow walked with me.”

(From Charles E Cowman Devotionals – Streams in the Desert)
 

Trouble Teaches

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).

The question often comes, “Why didn’t He help me sooner?”  It is not His order.  He must first adjust you to the trouble and cause you to learn your lesson from it.  His promise is, “I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him.”  He must be with you in the trouble first all day and all night.  Then He will take you out of it.  This will not come till you have stopped being restless and fretful about it and become calm and quiet.  Then He will say, “It is enough.”

God uses trouble to teach His children precious lessons.  They are intended to educate us.  When their good work is done, a glorious recompense will come to us through them.  There is a sweet joy and a real value in them.  He does not regard them as difficulties but as opportunities. –Selected.

Not always OUT of our troublous times,
And the struggles fierce and grim,
But IN–deeper IN–to our one sure rest,
The place of our peace, in Him.
–Annie Johnson Flint

We once heard a simple old colored man say something that we have never forgotten: “When God tests you, it is a good time for you to test Him by putting His promises to the proof, and claiming from Him just as much as your trials have rendered necessary.”

There are two ways of getting out of a trial.  One is to simply try to get rid of the trial, and be thankful when it is over.  The other is to recognize the trial as a challenge from God to claim a larger blessing than we have ever had, and to hail it with delight as an opportunity of obtaining a larger measure of Divine grace.  Thus even the adversary becomes an auxiliary, and the things that seem to be against us turn out to be for the furtherance of our way.  Surely, this is to be more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
–A. B. Simpson

(From Charles E Cowman Devotionals – Streams in the Desert) 

Fashioned In The Fire

“Unto you it is given . . .to suffer” (Phil. 1:29).

God keeps a costly school.  Many of its lessons are spelled out through tears.  Richard Baxter said, “O God, I thank Thee for a bodily discipline of eight and fifty years”; and he is not the only man who has turned a trouble into triumph.

This school of our Heavenly Father will soon close for us; the term time is shortening every day.  Let us not shrink from a hard lesson or wince under any rod of chastisement.  The richer will be the crown, and the sweeter will be Heaven, if we endure cheerfully to the end and graduate in glory.–Theodore L. Cuyler

The finest china in the world is burned at least three times, some of it more than three times.  Dresden china is always burned three times.  Why does it go through that intense fire?  Once ought to be enough; twice ought to be enough.  No, three times are necessary to burn that china so that the gold and the crimson are brought out more beautiful and then fastened there to stay.
 
We are fashioned after the same principle in human life.  Our trials are burned into us once, twice, thrice; and by God’s grace these beautiful colors are there and they are there to stay forever.–Cortland Myers

Earth’s fairest flowers grow not on sunny plain,
But where some vast upheaval rent in twain
The smiling land . . . .
After the whirlwinds devastating blast,
After the molten fire and ashen pall,
God’s still small voice breathes healing over all.

From riven rocks and fern-clad chasms deep,
Flow living waters as from hearts that weep,
There in the afterglow soft dews distill
And angels tend God’s plants when night falls still,
And the Beloved passing by that way
Will gather lilies at the break of day.–J.H.D.

(From Charles E Cowman Devotionals – Streams in the Desert)

Being Proven

“There he proved them” (Exod. 15:25).

I stood once in the test room of a great steel mill.  All around me were little partitions and compartments.   teel had been tested to the limit, and marked with figures that showed its breaking point.  Some pieces had been twisted until they broke, and the strength of torsion was marked on them.  Some had been stretched to the breaking point and their tensile strength indicated.  Some had been compressed to the crushing point, and also marked.  The master of the steel mill knew just what these pieces of steel would stand under strain.  He knew just what they would bear if placed in the great ship, building, or bridge.  He knew this because his testing room revealed it.

It is often so with God’s children.  God does not want us to be like vases of glass or porcelain.  He would have us like these toughened pieces of steel, able to bear twisting and crushing to the uttermost without collapse.

He wants us to be, not hothouse plants, but storm-beaten oaks; not sand dunes driven with every gust of wind, but granite rocks withstanding the fiercest storms.  To make us such He must needs bring us into His testing room of suffering.

Many of us need no other argument than our own experiences to prove that suffering is indeed God’s testing room of faith.–J. H. McC

It is very easy for us to speak and theorize about faith, but God often casts us into crucibles to try our gold, and to separate it from the dross and alloy.  Oh, happy are we if the hurricanes that ripple life’s unquiet sea have the effect of making Jesus more precious.  Better the storm with Christ than smooth waters without Him.–Macduff

What if God could not manage to ripen your life without suffering?

(From Charles E Cowman Devotionals – Streams in the Desert)

In The Clouds

“If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth” (Eccles. 11:3).

Why, then, do we dread the clouds which now darken our sky?  True, for a while they hide the sun, but the sun is not quenched; he will be out again before long.  Meanwhile those black clouds are filled with rain; and the blacker they are, the more likely they will yield plentiful showers.

How can we have rain without clouds?  Our troubles have always brought us blessings, and they always will.  They are the dark chariots of bright grace.  These clouds will empty themselves before long, and every tender herb will be gladder for the shower.  Our God may drench us with grief, but He will refresh us with mercy. Our Lord’s love-letters often come to us in black-edged envelopes.  His wagons rumble, but they are loaded with benefits.  His rod blossoms with sweet flowers and nourishing fruits.  Let us not worry about the clouds, but sing because May flowers are brought to us through the April clouds and showers.

O Lord, the clouds are the dust of Thy feet! How near Thou art in the cloudy and dark day! Love beholds Thee, and is glad. Faith sees the clouds emptying themselves and making the little hills rejoice on every side.–C H. Spurgeon

“What seems so dark to thy dim sight
May be a shadow, seen aright
Making some brightness doubly bright.

“The flash that struck thy tree–no more
To shelter thee–lets heaven’s blue floor
Shine where it never shone before.

“The cry wrung from thy spirit’s pain
May echo on some far-off plain,
And guide a wanderer home again.”

“The blue of heaven is larger than the clouds.”