Advance by Disappointment
- Do not say,
“What is the cause the former days were better than these?”
for you do not enquire wisely concerning this.
- —Ecclesiastes 7:10—
- He takes away the first
that He may establish the second.
- —Hebrews 9:19—
- The path of the just is as a shining light
which shines more and more unto the perfect day.
- —Proverbs 4:18—
- Of the increase of His government and peace
there shall be no end.
- —Isaiah 9:7—
- The things which happened to me have fallen out rather
to the furtherance of the gospel.
- —Philippians 1:12—
- Forgetting the things that are behind,
and reaching forth to those things which are before.
- —Philippians 3:13—
The wild, bone-chilling January winter howls outside the window pane and drives its powdered snow through the key hole in the door and through the smallest opening about the window sash. It is the dead of midwinter. The glow of the furnace below keeps me in June atmosphere within, however, and I am thinking of the past, of the long years that are gone into the deep irrevocable past—the past that is not wanted back, when my heart was fully set on a very different line of life than that which I have followed. My mind ran after and my hands took after the workers in wood. I longed for the shop, and to learn how to work with wood; and I pictured to myself how I would some day do and how I would enjoy doing it. I talked to my father about it, and finally one winter it was arranged with a good faithful man that I should commence with him as soon as spring work opened up, and “learn the trade.” Calculations 2 were all made accordingly, and we waited for the spring to open. During the waiting, I took the measles, and my oldest brother, William, took them from me; and there was with him a severe complication with other tendencies which came near taking his life, and which made work for him impossible for nearly a whole year. My plans were spoiled. The farm must be my place of labor, where I must take my brother’s place. When the frosts came again and the summer work was over, I went away to the academy for the winter.3 When spring came back, the hope of being able to obtain an education so possessed me4 that I did not seek to renew the arrangement to go and learn the trade. The plan of my life changed then. Had brother not been sick, I would not likely have been what I am.
It was at the first a real disappointment when my plans failed. What is it now? Was it my disappointment or God’s appointment? It must have been both. Is God, then, in our disappointments? It must be. In disasters, in storms, and in the unexpected, and often in the undesired. Permissively or judicially, He is in our falls, mistakes, errors and failures.
It is one thing to learn how to succeed, and another to learn how to fail, or rather to learn the lessons of failure. The way we seem to have learned it, we usually think God is always on the side of the things to which we accord success. Like Job’s friends, we fall to thinking that all calamity is proof of badness. So when disappointments have come on, we have concluded that God was surely against us, which was just what the devil wanted us to conclude. What right have we to argue God out of our misfortunes, as we call the things that seem to be against us? Was not God in the flood? Shall calamity come to the land and the Lord not know it? Read the Old Testament. What of Job? What of Abraham in the trial of his life? What of the disappointment of the disciples as they saw their Beloved die on the cross and carried the cold body to the tomb? Moses dies, but only then could Joshua lead Israel over Jordan. Stephen receives a martyr’s crown, but that makes place for Paul. The persecution comes at Jerusalem, but that sends the whole Jerusalem brigade abroad over the land preaching the Gospel. God was in all these things.
Have you not had all these things in a measure in the field of your circumstances? I sorrowed once that I could not have woodworker’s tools and the shop. God gave me, in place, a higher calling, with the study for an office, and pulpit and press to tell the world of the good things of the kingdom. Was it after all a disappointment or an appointment? We accept it now as the latter.
You have had things that you knew did just break your heart, and they went on and on, and would not stop in spite of prayers and tears and do what you would. They all lie now in the cemetery of past hopes. You would not have them back. You do not desire such a resurrection. The appointments have been better than the disappointments. You have seen your dear ones laid low, and stood by the new-made grave that treasured your own and best loved. When years had dried away the tears and you looked through the better sight that the future cast upon the past, you have been glad that your darling was caught away from the evil to come.5
You may have been torn away from a parent’s fond embrace, like Jacob, but it was that you might find a crown and throne after you had been tried and proven in the field of adversity. It was not the disaster you had at first expected.
The greatest blessing that came to that man who tried so hard to get to Congress was that he failed. Many men saw what God saw, namely, that he escaped that which would have ruined him.6
What then must I do with my failures and disappointments?
- Wait till the smoke of their present confusion clears up before you pronounce judgment. It may take some time to see all this. The new Chicago could not be till the old burned.7 The new could not be built in a day. Chicago had to begin away back to get ready for the Columbian Exposition.8 The baptism of fire was necessary. I am by no means in favor of giving the whole thing over to the devil. God had purposes to further in the exhibition, that reaches the race. He will accomplish them in spite of men and devils. Both the things that come to us judicially and the things that come by way of permission, under the providential clevis9 of divine control may work for us “the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,”10 though at the time we may count them all against us. God is never in a hurry. Give Him time to explain. Wait a little till His purposes ripen. The mists will clear away some day:
Lo, beyond the orient meadows
Floats the golden fringe of day;
Heart to heart we bide the shadows
Till the mists have cleared away.11
- Trust your failure to God. Inquire of Him about it. When Joshua failed at Ai, he went and told the Lord about it.12 When Moses saw how the people did, he went and told the Lord about it.13 When the disciples saw that John was beheaded, they took up his body and buried it and then “went and told Jesus.”14 You see that the apprehending and fellowship of God’s will is eternal success. When once it is found, and we are willing to go, there is no failure. Jesus makes no mistakes. Our trouble is to find that will. We are so filled with our way that we cannot see His, and He must needs have us sleep on the rocks at Bethel before we can see that He was there, or that the angels had a ladder from our stony pillow all the way up to heaven.15 “He takes away the first that he may establish the second.”16
- Don’t cry over spilled milk. We can’t live over the past. Let it go. Don’t worry to-day on account of yesterday. After you have found out the causes of failure, learn how to turn Satan’s artillery against himself, and organize at once for a campaign that shall leave all such possibilities out of the plan. You will find a richness hitherto unknown coming into your life when you can say, “In my disappointments I see God’s appointments.”
- Always remember we are in the trend of the agencies that make up the world’s history, and not at the end of them. Abraham did not see Christ’s day except by the eye of faith,17 and the world is not yet done with Abraham. Moses did not see the new dispensation, and yet what would we have done without him? Even Jesus did not fulfill the purpose of His life on earth till “He saw the travail of His soul.”18 God’s purposes are only in their June days, it may be. How can you sit in judgment on the strawberry blooms of springtime, or the fields of growing grain? Learn to wait till harvest. If you have faith, God has a place for it. If you have love, God will not forget to use it. If you have desire for God’s glory, mistakes will not deprive you of your reward. Heaven has no law against these things. God never loses His gold. The fires cannot burn it. Floods cannot carry it away. Thieves cannot steal it. In nowise can these lose their reward. Be God’s gold and fear not. Stay in God’s order and wait content, till the unfolding shall come. “Be still and know that I am God.”19 Listen no longer to the surface croaking that sees things getting worse all the time. Bad men may be getting worse, sin may be more heaven-daring in those who sin than ever, and at the same time God may have more souls that are really His than at any other time. He must have, for He himself has declared that “of the increase of his government…there shall be no end.”20 The increase, mark you, not the government itself. God’s word is true. The past of olden times, both New and Old Testaments, are ours. The past life and conquests of the church come down into the present as blessings which we now enjoy. To deny that “the former days are better than these”21 is to belie all history. Don’t fall into that way of looking at things or your own past will soon take on the blackness and darkness which shuts out all encouraging hope for the future. Remember you have something to do in making your own sunshine for tomorrow.
Glorious it is to wear the crown
Of a deserved and pure success.
He who knows how to fail has won
A crown whose luster is not less.22
We will find much honey out of the rock of our “stony griefs”23 when we have lived through these words of the poet:
This thing on which thy heart was set, this thing that cannot be,
This weary, disappointing day that dawns, my friend, for thee—
Be comforted, God knoweth best, the God whose name is Love,
Whose tender care is evermore our passing, lives above.
He sends the disappointments; well, then, take them from His hand!
Shall God’s appointments seem less good than what thyself had planned?
’Twas in my mind to go abroad. He bids thee stay at home!
O happy home, thrice happy if to it thy guest He come.
’Twas in thy mind thy friend to see. The Lord says, “Nay, not yet.”
Be confident; the meeting time thy Lord will not forget.
’Twas in thy mind to work for Him. His will is, “Child, sit still.”
And surely ’tis thy blessedness to mind thy Master’s will.
Accept thy disappointments, friend, thy gifts from God’s own hand.
Shall God’s appointments seem less good than what thyself had planned?
So, day by day, and step by step, sustain thy failing strength;
Indeed; go on, from strength to strength, through all the journey’s length.
God bids thee tarry now and then—forbear the weak complaint;
God’s leisure brings the weary rest—and cordial gives the faint.
God bids thee labor, and the place is thick with thorns and brier;
But He will share the hardest task, until He calls thee higher.
So, take each disappointment, friend; ’tis at thy Lord’s command;
Shall God’s appointments seem less good than what thyself had planned?24
- The text itself is public domain. The original book, How They Grow, was transcribed by Jim Kerwin, biographer of Isaiah Reid, and co-edited and emended with Denise Kerwin. Annotations and emendations are copyright © 2008, 2011 by Jim Kerwin along with his other contributions to the online, print, and e-book versions of Isaiah Reid's How They Grow. ↩
- Calculations? This might refer to how long Isaiah’s apprenticeship would last (being paid, other than room and board, nothing or a pittance), and/or his journeymanship, or, possibly, how much compensation of whatever sort Isaiah’s father Thomas was willing to commit to the venture. ↩
- The academy: Reid refers to Jefferson Academy, a private Presbyterian school in Kossuth, Iowa. Actually, though the winter term to which Reid refers was 1854-55, the school had changed its name two years earlier from Jefferson Academy to Yellow Springs Collegiate Institute. However, the school had been founded in 1845, and locals still called it “the academy.” ↩
- Through the inspiration, coaxing, and coaching of Dr. Erastus J. Gillett, the new president of Yellow Springs College (yes, the same school, but with another new name which went into effect in September 1855) during a providential encounter in May 1855, Reid determined to finish high school and earn a four-year college degree at “the academy.” He graduated in June 1861. See Reid’s story about this in “God’s Way or My Way?”, chapter 3 of his book Soul-Help Papers. ↩
- The allusion is to Isaiah 57:1, though Bro. Reid develops this theme further in chapter 10 of Soul-Help Papers, entitled “Out of the Good Into the Better.” ↩
- Reid gives us no further hints whose story he has in mind. ↩
- The reference is to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which devastated that city. ↩
- This Exposition, perhaps better known as the Chicago World’s Fair, was held for six months in 1893. ↩
- A clevis is a U-shaped component, usually metal, which is found at the end of a chair, shackle, or rod. Between the two pieces of the clevis, a drawbar, hook, or other implement can be attached by means of a pin or a bolt. ↩
- 2 Corinthians 4:17 ↩
- From Annie Herbert’s hymn, When the Mists Have Rolled in Splendor ↩
- Joshua 7:6-9 ↩
- Exodus 32:31-32 ↩
- Matthew 14:12 ↩
- Genesis 28:10-22 ↩
- Hebrews 10:9 ↩
- John 8:56 ↩
- Isaiah 53:11 ↩
- Psalm 46:10 ↩
- Isaiah 9:7 ↩
- Ecclesiastes 7:10 ↩
- From Adelaide Anne Procter’s poem Maximus ↩
- These two words allude to Sarah F. Adams’s hymn, very popular in Reid’s day, Nearer, My God, to Thee, her poetic exposition of Genesis 28. The fourth stanza says,
Then, with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise;
So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee.
- This is Margaret E. Sangster’s poem, God’s Appointments (from the Friends’ Intelligencer and Journal, March 14, 1891, p. 1). ↩