Goodly Trees, Palm Branches, Thick-Leaved Trees, and Willows of the Brook

We will begin the year with a consideration of God's words to us and His ways with us. Here we shall find cause for thanksgiving for the past, and great encouragement as we face the future. Retrospection and anticipation, memory and hope shall yield from their treasures what should surely produce within us grateful and trustful hearts. We are recalling an ancient command given to the sons of Jacob. God told them that when they had taken possession of the promised land they were to keep, year after year, the Feast of Tabernacles. It was to be a joyous feast. They had to go forth and gather the branches of goodly trees and palm trees and thick-leaved trees and willows of the brook, and weave them together into booths and dwell in them for seven days, and remembering all God's goodness to them, they had to rejoice before Him (Lev. 23). We are well aware that many people do not believe that these instructions given long ago to a people who no longer possess that land have any present value, but we take our stand upon the Word, and we say without fear, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works." These things were written for our learning, yes for ours in this year 1933, and we look to God that He will teach us His mind in them.

The picture is as vivid as it is clear. The palm branches speak of victory and joy, the willows of the brook of trial and sorrow, and these had to he woven together upon the strong frame of goodly trees and thick-leaved trees, which shall speak to us of the infallible Word of the God that cannot lie. We must not leave these goodly trees and thick leaved trees out as we build our booths of the palm and the willow, for no experience can yield us lasting profit if the Word of God has not its place in it.

There are some who seem ever able to wave the palm branches; they walk with a light step upon their high places. But with the majority it is different; they have their days of triumph, but some times, aye often, they are in heaviness through manifold temptations; their harps sometimes hang upon the willow trees and they have no song, for no chastening for the present seems joyous but grievous. Then there are some who tread with leaden foot the deep valley where the willows hang their mournful boughs and where day is turned to gloom and the heart trembles at the desolation until assured of the company of the Lord. We want even these to gather palm branches and be more than conquerors through Him that loves them. I stood near to an aged Christian at the open grave of his beloved wife the other day, and I said to him, "How are you?" He replied, "I have a wonderful Saviour." He had gathered his palm branch in his sorrow and was a triumphant man.

It is only as we have confidence in God and His love and the wisdom of His ways that we can raise a palm branch in a time of sorrow, and we only gain this confidence from the Word of God as it is unfolded to us by His Spirit. From His sure Word we learn that He is good and does good. But many view God in a different way; they imagine that He does not wish them to be too happy, that He finds pleasure in taking from them things they love and in darkening their lives with trials. They do not know Him. He may, and often does, send trials and sorrow, but His end is blessing, and the willow boughs are as necessary as the palm branches in His wise plan. In one of the greatest poems in our language, the poet asks

  "Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?"

What food for thought lies in that question, sorrowing and doubting heart! has a cloud come between you and some bright sun, in the rays of which you basked? What if it be the hand of God stretched forth to draw you near to His heart! The brightest earthly light will set in darkness, but if you know God, your night will be enlightened by a never fading light. In the heavenly city, to which every one whose name is written in the Lamb's book of life is going, they will have no need of the sun or the moon to chine in it for the glory of God will lighten it, and the Lamb is the lamp thereof. And as it will be then so it may be now; the glory of God — His great love — may fill your heart, and how you will thank Him then, for the shadow of His hand.

But is it possible to thank Him for sorrow and trial? Hear these words, "My God, I have never thanked Thee for my thorn. I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross; but I have never thought of my cross as a present glory. Teach me the glory of my cross, teach me the value of my thorn. Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbow." Those words came from the mouth of a blind poet, who had been refused by the woman he loved because he had lost his sight. How well he wove his palm branch and willow bough together when he sang,

"O Love, that will not let me go
  I rest my weary soul on Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
  May richer, fuller be.

"O Light, that I followest all my way,
  I yield my flickering torch to Thee,
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in Thy sunshine's blaze its day
  May brighter, fairer be."

Need I quote those better and more triumphant words of the great apostle? They are well known, but so full of encouragement. "There was given to me," he says, "a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said to me [mark the grace of that], My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. MOST GLADLY THEREFORE WILL I RATHER GLORY IN MY INFIRMITIES, THAT THE POWER OF CHRIST MAY REST UPON ME."

Even Paul needed the willows of the brook. Devoted servant of Christ though he was, he would have been exalted above measure if he had only had the palm branches in his hands: he would have waved those branches over his own head and laid them down for his own feet, but the thorn helped him, the tribulation and the infirmity blessed him, and his palm branches shall be laid where he will cast his crown, at the nail-pierced feet of his Saviour and Lord.

Look back, dear reader. Remember the way the Lord has led you. Look up, dear reader, and hear Him saying to you, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Take any of the great promises that shine on the sacred page, take those you know best, for they will yield you the greatest blessing, and say on this opening of a new year, has one good word that God has spoken failed you? I would take up the words of Joshua, uttered in his farewell speech to Israel, "Ye know in all your heart, and in all your soul, that not one thing has failed of all the good words that the Lord your God has spoken concerning you. all are come to pass to you — not one thing has failed."

Take then the pleasant things and the painful, the "downs" as well as the "ups" in your life, and give thanks for both. God is weaving them together for your good and glory, for is it not written, "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose," and if we know that, then may we indeed weave "all things" together in confidence and gratitude, and rejoice before our Lord.

But have we not to feel things? Yes it is no sign of spirituality to be unmoved by sorrow; when the boughs of the willows of the brook are put into our hands we cannot be indifferent to them. If we are, we miss the sympathy of the One who is touched with the feeling of our infirmity.

"He tells me that His loving heart
Can feel my deepest woe
And in each sorrow bears a part,
As none can bear below.

"Touched with a sympathy above
He knows our feeble frame,
He knows what sorest trials mean,
For He has felt the same."

But no sorrow can separate us from His love, and as we realize this our hearts begin to sing and we can say, "Thanks be to God, that gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." And thus upon the strong frame of the Word of God we weave together our joys and sorrows, and see His love in all and bless His holy Name.