Published Thursday, January 9th, 1913
To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:3)
The Mourners Condition: He is covered with ashes as the emblem of his sad estate. Let us now, like Cinderella, sit down among the cinders for a while in order that we may come forth from the ashes with something better than glass slippers, adorned with a beauty which shall befit the king’s courts! The fairy fable which has often made our childhood smile shall now be actually realized in our own souls—yes, we shall see how far the truth of God outshines romance! How much grander are the facts of God than the fictions of men!
It seems, from the text, that the righteous are sometimes covered with grief. Orientals were always excessive in the use of symbols and, therefore, if they were in sorrow, they endeavored to make their outward appearance describe their inward misery. They took off all their soft garments and put on sackcloth—and this they rent and tore into rags! And then upon their heads, instead of perfumed oil which they were so fond of using, they threw ashes— and so disfigured themselves and made themselves objects of pity.
Ashes were of old, signs of mourning, and they continued to be so down to Popish times of which we have a trace in the day called, Ash Wednesday, which was the commencement of the time of fasting known as Lent. It was supposed that those who commenced to fast sat in ashes to begin with. Such symbols we leave to those who believe in the bodily exercises and outward rites of will-worship.
However, God’s servants have their spiritual fasts and their heads are metaphorically covered with ashes. I will not stop to read you the list of the occasions in which the princes of the royal blood of heaven are found sitting in the place of humiliation and distress. Suffice it to say that they began their new life among the ashes. Like Jabez who was more honorable than his brethren, they were born in sorrow. Some of us will never forget our grief for sin—it was a bitterness with which no stranger could intermeddle. We shall never forget the anguish of our soul and our deep humiliation which no ashes could sufficiently symbolize. Like the patriarch of old, we cried, “I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Beloved friends, we have also covered our heads with ashes on account of the sins of others. Parents have been compelled to sorrow very grievously for their sons and daughters. The wail of David is no unusual sound. “O Absalom, my son, my son! Would God I had died for you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Many a woman sits in ashes half her life because of her ungodly husband who makes her life bitter to her. Many a loving sister pines inwardly because of a profligate brother who persists in ruining himself.
The crimes of the world are the burdens of the saints. We cannot make the ungodly mourn for their guilt, but we can and do deeply mourn over their insensibility. How can we bear to see our fellow men choosing everlasting destruction, rejecting their own mercies and plunging themselves into eternal misery? If Hagar said, “Let me not see the death of the child,” and if the prophet’s eyes ran with ceaseless tears over the slain of his people, shall not we mourn in dust and ashes the willful soul-suicide of our neighbors who perish before our very eyes with mercy at their doors?
Moreover, we pity the Christian who does not frequently mourn over the depravity of the times in which he lives. Infidelity has in these last days stolen the garb of religion so that now we frequently meet with volumes in which the fundamentals of the faith are denied, written by ministers of churches whose professed creed is orthodox. Our grandfathers would have shuddered at reading from a disciple of Tom Paine sentiments which pretended ministers of the gospel have given forth to the world!
Things have reached a painful pass when those who are called to office on purpose to proclaim the gospel are allowed to use their position to sow doubts about it and sap and undermine all belief in it. Such conduct is meanness, itself, and it is amazing that the churches tolerate it! Only Satan, himself, could have put it into a man’s heart to become a salaried preacher of the gospel in order to deny its fundamental truths! He who does this is Judas Redivivus (living again) Iscariot the second!
God save us from all complicity with such practical falsehood and fraud! But when the child of God sees this and sees besides this, ritualism and latitudinarianism spreading on all sides, he feels a sympathy with Mordecai of whom we read that “when he perceived all that was done, he rent his clothes and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city and cried with a loud and bitter cry.” It would be a happy omen if there were more of this—and especially if many could be found to imitate Daniel, who said, “I set my face unto the Lord God to seek by prayer and supplication, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” We should soon behold the dawn of better days if such ashes were commonly found upon saintly heads!