The Gospel—precious word! It is the power of Him who says, " The Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness ; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified." And glorified he is in them. The fruit which they bear is indeed clad in the hue of affliction, for his poor Church is militant against many foes, and exceedingly pressed above measure, seeming to have the sentence of death in themselves; but he gives them a spirit of patient endurance, inexplicable in some cases but by the great mystery of faith, whereby, adhering to the Rock that cannot be moved, they derive strength according to their day. They stand, a miracle of supporting grace, " as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing all things".
Many years ago, I planted an Ivy, and watched its growth with childish interest. Having fixed its root firmly in the soil, it speedily put forth shoots ; and as these grew, the short stout fibres appeared, grasping the rough particles of an ancient wall, plunging into every little crevice, and securing themselves by a process that excited my wonder beyond any thing that I can remember, at that period of my life. I have pulled away the young branches, endeavouring to refix them in a different position, but in vain : the work of adhesion was one that human skill could not accomplish, nor human power compel. The utmost that I could do was to afford an artificial support to the detached branch, until, having continued its growth, it put out new fingers, as I called them, to take a stronger hold on its bulwark. This might be very aptly illustrated by the past history of a Church, where faith might have become dead, as regarded a race of individuals; but where, by that aid from without which may God in his mercy ever dispose the State to extend in the Church ! better days were provided for ; and the visible branch restored to its pristine beauty and strength, through faith newly infused into the members, enabling them to cleave wholly to Christ. But my present business is with the Ivy in its mature state, upheld by the might of its immoveable supporter—with the persecuted men of whom it is a lively type ; who, in the midst of all that renders the present agonizing, and the future terrific, can adapt the language of inspired Paul, " None of these things move me ; neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." Herein lies the mystery of that patient endurance, the deep and general silence of which made the very exis tence of their distress questionable among us. "To testify the gospel of the grace of God," was the object and end of all their labours ; and their willing task it was, after Paul's example, to learn, in whatsoever state they were, therewith to be content—they would know both how to be abased, and know how to abound; everywhere, and in all things, they were instructed, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to surfer need. Yea, they can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth them. It is by close communion with Him that his afflicted servants are enabled thus to glorify God in the day of visitation—to glorify him in the fires. He has taught them that he careth for them : and they, unreservedly, cast every care upon him ; yet like Paul, to the beloved Philippians, they will say unto us, " Notwithstanding, ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction." Oh that we could rightly appreciate the value of such an example at our very doors, of suffering according to the will of God! But all cannot realize the scenes now enacting in poor Ireland ; and few there are whom I could invite to weep with me beneath the storm-beaten Ivy.
But what a spectacle does it present in the sight of that great cloud of witnessess who encompass it! They, who through faith and patience, have already inherited the promises, how must they rejoice over their militant brethren, marching onward, through much tribulation, to swell the army of that church triumphant ? Bodily anguish, cold, hunger, and the yet more grievous pain of beholding those dependent on them sharing in their privations—mental inquietude, as to the future lot in life of their destitute little ones, will force itself on their anxious thought—abandonment on the one hand, on the other, barbarous exultation; the muttered curse of the vindictive, deluded peasant, the heartless scoff, and ribald jest of the far more degraded, though flattered and pensioned poet—these are the lot of men of whom the world is not worthy; and cruel they are to poor shrinking humanity. But they endure as seeing Him who is invisible, and though now they prophesy in sackcloth, and by and by they may be slain, still Christ has prepared for them a kingdom, which, after a little while they shall receive, becoming kings and priests unto God.
It is of those who, like the Ivy, cling by living faith unto the Rock of salvation, that I thus speak, I speak not of the Church, nor of her ministry, as though an outward profession, or formal ordination, could knit the soul to Christ. There is dross in the furnace no less than gold. Many suffer com-pulsorily, who would not endure an hour's affliction for Christ and his gospel. But the patient servants of God are known unto Him: and they are so many as now to characterize the whole Church. Some straggling shoots disfigure my Ivy, which hang upon it but to be lopped off; yet the plant clings to its supporter, and those unsightly exceptions alter it not. It looks green ; and its polished leaves, dark in themselves, reflect the brightness of day. I know that the appointed season of winter must endure for a while : but I also know that the spring-tide shall not fail. A time of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord, to bid his suffering saints rejoice, "Then the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy, upon their heads: they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away".