Adapted from Horatius Bonar’s Night of Weeping:
When God’s Children Suffer

There are no beings about whom we make so many mistakes as our own selves.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know
it?” (Jer. 17:9)

The search to know the extent of sin principle which still dwells in us may be a painful
and alarming process. Thus, we would rather postpone it. We are slow to learn, or even
to inquire into, the evil that cleaves to us still.

Moreover we are not at all persuaded that there is so very much evil in us. We do not
know ourselves. Our convictions of sin have been but shallow, and we are beginning to
imagine that the conflict between the flesh and the spirit is not so very fierce and deadly
as we conceived it to be. We think we have rid ourselves of many of our sins entirely,
and are in a fair way speedily getting rid of all the rest. The depths of sin in us we have
never sounded; the number of our abominations we have never thought of marking. We
have been sailing smoothly to the kingdom, and perhaps at times were wondering how
our lot should be so different from the saints of old. We thought, too, that we had
overcome many of our corruptions. Our lusts had abated. Our tempers had improved.
Our souls were calm and equable. Our mountain stood strong, and we were saying, “We
shall never be moved.” The victory over self and sin seemed, in some measure, won.
How profoundly ignorant we are, concerning our hearts.

Well, the trial came. It swept over us like a cloud of the night, or rather through us like
an icy blast, piercing and chilling us to the vitals. Unbelief arose. Rebelliousness raged
in every region of our soul. Unsubdued passions resumed their strength. Alas, we know
not the strength of sin nor the evil of our hearts till God thus allowed them to break

It was thus He dealt with Israel; and for this end He led them into the desert. “And thou
shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the
wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether
thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.” (Deut. 8:2) Their desert trials put them
to the proof. And when thus proved, what iniquity was found in them. What sin came
out which had lain hidden and unknown before! Rebellion, unbelief, fretfulness,
atheism, idolatry, self-will, self-confidence, self-pleasing – all burst out when the blast
of the desert met them in the face and called Egypt to remembrance with its luxurious
plenty. Thus they were proved.

Even so it is with the saints still. God chastens them that He may draw forth the
evil that is lying concealed and unsuspected within. The rod smites us on the
tenderest part, and we start up in a moment as if in arms against God.

It is not till the sea is “troubled,” that “its waters cast up mire and dirt.” When all was
calm, there seemed naught but purity pervading it, and ripple folded over ripple in the
still brightness of its transparent green. But the winds break loose, the tempest stirs its
lowest depths, and then all is changed. Thus, we see it in the saints. When calamity
breaks over them like a tempest, sins scarcely known before display themselves. The
heart pours out its wickedness. Hard thoughts of God arise. Questionings both of His
wisdom and of His love are muttered. We ask, “If God be so loving and wise, why is it
thus?” We could not have expected such treatment at His hands. Distrust and unbelief
assume the mastery, and we refuse to acquiesce to His will. It seems hard to be smitten
so severely and laid so low.

For a while it seems as if the heart was determined to think evil thoughts of God and
never to think well of Him again. And, though a calm ensues, and we become both
ashamed and terrified of our rebelliousness, still the heart has given forth its pollution.
We are led, on the one hand, into deeper views of our own amazing and incredible
vileness; and on the other, into fuller discoveries of the abounding grace of God. We
learn to prize more the open fountain, and we betake ourselves anew for covering to
the righteousness of the Righteous One.

It is remarkable that when the saints of old were tried and proved, there was found in
them not only evil but the very evil we should least of all have anticipated. We should
have said of Noah, for instance, that he was one whose sobriety and self-restraint
would be carried with him to his grave. He stood alone amid a luxurious, sensual,
intoxicated world, condemning their lasciviousness and revelry. Yet no sooner is he
placed in circumstances of temptation than he falls. Noah becomes drunken.

Again, Abraham stands out eminently for faith and courage; yet when he goes to Egypt
and Gerar, his faith gives way, and he utters lies through fear. Moses, the meekest of
all men, displayed his anger and “spake unadvisedly with his lips.” (Ps. 106:33) Peter’s
attachment to his Lord was one of his peculiar characteristics, yet it was Peter who
denied Him. John was the disciple who seemed to have most like His Master in
gentleness and love, yet it was John who wanted to call down fire from Heaven upon
the Samaritan village. (Luke 9:51-56)

Of all the evils which are thus drawn forth the heart of the saint, the worst, and yet the
commonest, are hard thoughts of God. Yet who would have expected this? Once,
indeed, in our unbelieving days our souls were full of these. Our thoughts of God were
all evil together. When the Holy Spirit wrought in our hearts the mighty change, the
special thing which He accomplished was teaching us to think well of God, showing us
how little He had deserved these hard thoughts from us, how much He had deserved
the opposite. The wondrous tale of manifold love, which the Gospel brought to us, won
our hearts and made us ashamed of our distrust. We say then, “Surely we shall never
think ill of God again.” We thought that affliction would only make us cleave to Him
the more. Yet scarcely does He begin to smite us than our former thoughts return. We
wonder why He should treat us thus. We suspect His love and faithfulness. Our hold of
His grace seems to loosen, as if at times it would wholly give way.

We are like Jonah with his withered gourd. We think we do well to be
angry even unto death. God does not seem the same loving God as when
first we believed and tasted forgiveness from His gracious hands. Alas, the
treachery of our hearts has been at length discovered. We find that we are
not serving God for naught. May He not remonstrate with us and ask us,
“Doest thou well to be angry?” (c.f. Jon. 4:4, 9) Doest thou well to be
angry or desponding, when God hath forgiven all thine iniquities and
removed them from thee, as far as from the East is from the West? Doest
thou well to be angry when thou art delivered from the wrath to come, as
well as from a present evil world, and safely lodged within the clefts of the
rock with Jesus as thy companion there?

Pastor’s note: May our confession be like the children of Israel in the day
of Nehemiah, “Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for
thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly” (Neh. 9:33). The Lord is
always right.