Reprinted from When Thou Sittest In Thine House, by Abraham Kuyper, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1929. Used by permission of Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“Troubled” is such a fearsome word.
Not when one is troubled from lack of courage of faith, but when one feels “oppressed.”
Even in a material and physical sense this is true.
When in a room where you sit at work fresh air is exhausted, or becomes overheated, so that it becomes difficult to breathe, the lack of air can give you such a feeling of oppression that the blood rushes to the head. Or when something internal presses upon your lungs, or the throat is swollen, or asthma bothers you, or a cough leaves you no rest, these bodily ailments can make you feel so anxious and oppressed that it seems that you must choke.
And yet, such vitiated air and tightness of the chest are not the worst. Sometimes even a person forsaken of God has purposely sought asphyxiation, to escape another, a far more dreadful, oppression.
No, the most fearsome troubles do not affect the body and not the lungs, but the soul, the spirit that is in you. For while these altogether different troubles may affect you even so deeply that they communicate themselves to your lungs, by pressure on the heart, so that with open mouth you gasp for breath, even then this physical oppression is merely accidental, and the real trouble oppresses heart and soul.
Of course, most dreadful this inner oppression of soul shall be in the place of the outer darkness, when the fire that consumes you shall never be quenched, and the worm that restlessly gnaws at the fibers of your heart shall never never die; but now there is no suchhellish oppression yet.
Something of such hellish anxiety is sometimes suffered in the struggle of conversion, when for the first time the troubled soul discovers itself in the full light of God’s holiness. But when such is truly the case, Christ at once draws near, with the holy breath of His love to refresh you.
No, what Holy Scripture generally means when it speaks of troubles is those afflictions of soul that can come upon us in our home life, in our business affairs, in our intercourse with people, by reason of our children, by scorn and slander, by financial straits, by wrong done that may be found out, by adversity and constant disappointment, by want of appreciation and by the molestation of people.
Troubles in life, which may be aggravated by all sorts of anxieties of unbelief, but that mostly have an outward cause.
That is why David outlines them as he does in that striking, but always external figure, when he mourns and moans: “O, my God, all thy waves and all thy billows go over me.”
Into such troubles in turn comes every child of man, but yet, they come upon us in unequal measure. With Solomon you hear almost nothing of them, but how dreadful these troubles were for a Job, and how a man like David labored under them.
Also it makes a great difference who so walks in trouble. For one is so much better able to bear it than the other. One is overwhelmed by it in a moment, while the other sometimes makes the best of it all too lightly. One is, as people say, sensitive, i.e., he makes burdens of things, while the other is wrapped as in an impervious garment that permits no rain to pass through.
Temperament here makes so much difference. He who is pessimistic and somber by nature suffers so much more. Or when in anxious moments dreadful headache comes upon you that renders everything dark before you, paints things black to you, and doubles your afflictions.
One, the moment he falls asleep has all his troubles taken from him, while the other, even in his dreams, is pursued by them, till he rises almost yet more troubled than when he retired.
To one man trouble is as a humming insect that attacks him for a moment, but which he brushes aside, while the other cannot get his thought away from it, and literally walks in the midst of it (Ps. 138:7).
Also one will complain, and make his troubles known to others, and thereby obtain partial relief, while the other will keep it to himself, is silent in the presence of others, and practices self-control. But for this very reason, when presently returned to the privacy of his own room, in the anxieties and fears that overwhelm his soul, will cry the more bitterly.
Also your environment has much to do with it. When a loved one is near who watches over you, who sees your suffering and sympathizes with you, trouble becomes so much easier to bear than when there is no eye that pities you, and sometimes hardness and reproach is heaped upon you, so as to make the cup already full to overflow.
Of course, God the Lord has knowledge of it all, and when no human eye had pity on us, our God has known our path, has watched over us, and, though we did not know it, He has imparted grace to us and comfort.
Who shall measure the mercies of our sympathizing High Priest, who was tempted in all things like as we?
Who shall say how near God’s angels, sent by Him to us, stand by us, to banish in such moments despair from our heart, to avert desperation from our soul?
Never, never, are we alone. And the dreadful result, when in such pains of death the unbelieving heart was no more able to hold out, and then laid violent hands on self, has always been a misappreciation of the commiserations of our God.
Also in His Word the commiserations of our God with the afflictions of the soul are so surprisingly great. He who has ever taken the trouble to read consecutively what in that Word the Holy Spirit has to say to the afflicted, and of the afflicted, and about the afflictions of our soul, would not have believed beforehand that God the Lord would have kept Himself so constantly engaged and in so importunate a manner with the desolate in their afflictions.
It goes deepest indeed when it says: “In all their afflictions he was afflicted.” Especially when there is added: “By the Angel of his presence has he saved them in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old” (Is. 63:9).
And that this is true is the experience and still the certain knowledge of him who in such moments of torment, when the water reached the lips, looked away from self and from every creature, to turn himself solely to his God.
He who did this experienced still, as Isaiah of old, that in such moments the importunate comforting of the Holy Ghost can be so tender and abundant that it seems as though in our own soul’s perception we live through with our God the affliction that He suffers for our sakes.
It is so unspeakably tender that in all our afflictions He is afflicted for our sakes. For then the Holy Ghost prays in us, because we can no more pray ourselves. And He who searches the heart understands the meaning of the Spirit, and comforts us and pours balsam in the wound of our heart.
You then do not see the Angel of His presence, but that Angel is there. He is close by. He supports us in all our sorrows.
Until that love and pity go out to redeem us. To make the brass gates against which we would have broken our head open of themselves before us. To make a way of escape where there was no more chance. And in the valley of the shadow of death, with His rod and staff to comfort us.
Yea, when at length the Lord our God did with us what a mother does when she finds her child in tears, and our soul realized and blessedly enjoyed that in such moments of tense suffering our God took us up in His arms and carried us as in days of old. In such afflictions there is something that kills us. They utterly undo us. They make us unfit for our work. They darken our outlook. They shut us up with our anguish in ourselves. And that there truly is a deadening power in this you see in those who die under it, or in the frenzy of unbelief lay violent hands on themselves.
And therefore, with those who seek Him, God the Lord goes in against this destroying power, and from the jubilant urge of soul makes the psalmist sing: “When I walk in the midst of trouble, thou makest me alive.”
We then are going under. Wave-beat after wave-beat rolls over our head. And however much we struggle against the stream, we can at length no longer keep our head above water. No sooner has one wave-beat been faced, than a greater one comes along. Then we give up, and worn out we let our arms grow limp, and the waters would have swallowed us.
That is the death that hides in the afflictions, and from them casts itself upon us, takes us by the throat, and aims to stifle in us all desire of life.
Then what you need is that you are made alive again. And this, says David, is just what in such moments the Lord does to you.
Even though you have already gone under, His love still draws you back as a drowning man to the shore. And though your life-spirits already seem quenched, He brings you back to yourself. Your God makes you alive again.
In the end you realize that you sank by your own fault. That your imagination had deceived you. That the trouble was not so great as you thought it was. But this makes no difference. Such and not otherwise was the state of your soul. So darkly did the shadow bend over you. And that now you are revived, lift up your head, and are yourself again, you owe solely and alone to the grace, to the love, and to the comforting of your God.
He saw you sink away, and He went down to you in the depth of your afflictions. And from those very deep waters He drew you up again.
O, the world is so cruel. Not of itself, but because it allows itself to be inspired of Satan. And while this stream of troubles goes on day and night to spread its alarms, now in this home and then under the roof of the next, it takes that glorious Bible out of people’s hands. It draws a curtain before the infinite mercies of our own High Priest. And when everything around grows all dark, as night without a single star to give light, then comes that cruel world and points to a revolver wherewith to shoot oneself dead, or to a cord by which to drown oneself.
This Satan does, though he uses the world for it.
And when the individual oppressed to the point of being stifled stands between these two, between that touching, saving, all else exceeding compassion of his God, and that murderous cry of Satan in his heart, why, why, are there those who yet grieve the Holy Spirit, despise His love, and make choice of Satan?
Alas, why else than that in the day of prosperity they have closed their ear to the commiserations of their God?
Then the God of all mercies still calls, but not they are they who can hear it.
When in the day of their prosperity they forget their God, they prepared for themselves the day of evil, in which, resistless and strengthless, they would fall into the hands of Satan.