There may be times when your heart aches with sorrow in particular circumstances. A new turn of events now makes it to throb with grief. It may come through mourning for loss or dealing with affliction and trials. Perhaps other perplexing and painful events in providence leave you in numb speechlessness. One wave follows another. Sometimes the future outlook looks bleaker still for Church and nation. Such experiences are well known to God and the Scriptures contain the strengthening words we need.
Jeremiah 45 contains a message from God directly to Baruch who was seeking to serve Him faithfully. He knew Baruch’s thoughts and pain; Baruch was saying to himself that the Lord had “added grief to” his “sorrow”. He was saying: “I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest”. Besides all the present sorrows and afflictions with the prophet Jeremiah in prison and Baruch in hiding more judgment was coming with more sorrow.
This chapter is expounded by the Covenanter minister Michael Bruce (1635 – 1693). Bruce well knew what affliction was. After only a few years as pastor of Killinchy in Northern Ireland he was, along with hundreds of other ministers, ejected from the Church by the government. He continued to preach in barns and woods, usually at night, and then to larger crowds in the fields. He was forced to flee to Scotland to avoid capture where he continued to preach in the fields. He was wounded when captured in 1668 and then sentenced to be exiled to Tangier, Morocco. While imprisoned in London he continued to preach. His sentence was changed to a place of exile that he preferred and he chose Killinchy. He was able to preach here but also travelled to Scotland to preach in the fields. He was “of extraordinary zeal for the glory of God and the good of souls; much given to meditation and secret prayer: a thundering, broken-hearted, and most affecting preacher”.
1. When Grief is Added to Your Sorrow
It is as if the Lord had said to Baruch, “I know your condition well enough, you are a poor man, lying under many burdens. New ones are now added to your former burdens. You were lying under former sorrows, and now new sorrow is come to you. You are full of heaviness and grief. I know your situation you are likely to faint under trouble. I know you are a poor, weary one who finds no rest. Therefore go Jeremiah, and tell Baruch that this is his situation.
This shows us that the people of God may meet with griefs and many old griefs, yet their circumstances may mean they meet with many new griefs on the back of the old ones. They have new sorrows on the back of old sorrows. If this is your experience do not resent it because this has been the lot of God’s people in former times. This great and godly man Baruch had new griefs added to his former sorrows. Do not take umbrage, though the Lord deals so with you, either in your own particular situation or concerning the work and people of God in general. The Church of God had enough sorrow before, yet God has added new griefs to our former sorrows and is daily adding them. Still I say, we may not resent this. What if God should do to us as to Baruch and God’s people at that time, what could we do but submit to His will?
Those people had enough sorrows from their rulers etc. Jeremiah and Baruch had enough sorrows: Baruch was in hiding and Jeremiah in prison, expecting death. There was enough outward sorrow whatever inward, spiritual comfort and approval from God they had in being faithful to Him, yet the Lord adds new sorrow to their sorrow. A terrible toll would be taken on their nation and Church. If God would do so for our iniquities, we most justly deserve it at His hand. Our iniquities have separated between Him and us. When we add iniquity to iniquity then He must add grief to our sorrows. Therefore, if it should please the Lord to do so, whether in your particular situation or the land or Church’s condition, you must not resent it. God is just and He has righteous reasons why He should do so to us and more also.
2. Grief Added to Your Sorrow by God
Sorrow and grief do not come from chance and fortune but are all from God. The Church acknowledges this in Lamentations 3:32 make it the basis of her hope in God. “Though he cause grief yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his tender mercies”. She saw that He had caused all her grief and sorrow and therefore she promises to herself a blessed release from her present trouble and affliction. It is a great benefit to see that the Lord is the cause of all our griefs (Amos 3:6).
I will tell you why folk should see that the Lord is the cause of all cases of misery. He brings it about, none of these things could come about without Him: not even the vilest persecutor. It is the Lord that causes all grief and sorrow, and if you saw God in all that troubles you, it would quiet you. When you see God as the cause of all your grief, it will cause you to cease from murmuring at the agents of your grief. When folk do not see God as the cause of their grief, they fret at evildoers. But to fret at them is altogether unlawful (Psalm 37:1). When folk see God as the cause of their grief, it makes them search into the reason why He contends with them. But when folk do not see God as the cause of all their sorrow and grief, they only recognise enemies not themselves. If they see the Lord’s hand in all their sorrows and grief, it would make them sit down quietly under all their griefs and sorrows. They would say with Eli, “lt is the Lord, let him do what seems good in his sight” and with Hezekiah, “Good is the word of the Lord”.
A sight of God in all your sorrow and grief raises your soul to hope for a release, as the Church in Lamentations 3:32. The Church says (in effect), “I know that God is the cause of my grief and sorrow, I am sure of help and relief, and if I am sure that He causes my grief, then I am sure that He will have compassion. If I am sure that it is He then I am sure that I am in the hands of a tender-hearted corrector, for I know that the Lord will have compassion, for He has multitudes of mercies. He will have compassion not according to my condition but according to the multitude of His mercies”. Now, some of you may be complaining that he has added grief to your sorrow in your public, private and family concerns. But do you know who has done it?
3. How to Respond When Grief is Added to Your Sorrow
Baruch says, “I fainted in my sighing, and find no rest”. There is nothing that troubles the people of God, or makes their condition to be sad but He knows and notices it. Why? Because He has done it. O how sweet, when the Christian can say, my God knows it and He notices it. He knows what I am doing and what my situation is. He knows how I am and how I conduct myself under it.
Is it not great comfort to the child when it knows that the tenderhearted mother knows its condition? It is great comfort to an afflicted friend to have their sympathising friend know their condition. It is great comfort to the afflicted when anybody notices their condition. Would it not be a great encouragement to us in all our griefs added to our sorrows that our God knows them and notices them? Let that bear up your hearts, O believers, both for your own particular sorrows and those of the Church. He knows all your fainting, sighing and wearying; He notices it all. The Lord says to Moses “I have seen the affliction of my people Israel, and I am come down to deliver them”.
God knows all of the behaviour of His people in all their various circumstances. He knows how they conduct themselves, whether mournfully or otherwise. He knows what they are saying, whether they are speaking submissive or complaining language. Since God therefore knows, take heed how you conduct yourselves, for sometimes extreme sorrows will make folk lose sight of God. When they lose sight of Him, they think He does not see them and so they will rave in expressions and not know what they say. But God knows how every one of you conducts yourself under your griefs and sorrows; He knows what every one of you says. Take good heed to your conduct while under the cross therefore, lest you provoke the Lord to lengthen out your affliction longer than He intended to.
Bruce’s exposition of Scripture gives a different perspective on our situation and sorrow. It takes seriously the reality and depth of the grief. Yet, he shows that rather than leading us to despair, grief upon sorrow should reassure us that God is working in our experience for a purpose. This offers true and lasting hope to the downcast which superficial self-help slogans never can. The One who has brought the sorrow will give the strength to endure it and be transformed by it, as was Paul’s experience (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). As John Flavel put it, writing about the mystery of providence:
it is the duty of believers to observe all the performances of God’s providence for them, especially when they are in difficulties.