.
James Smetham
Letters

Thoughts on Trials and Difficulties


Key Thought: "How could I be anything but quite happy if I believed always that all the past is forgiven and all the present furnished with power, and all the future bright with hope, because of the same abiding facts, which don't change with my mood, do not crumble, because I totter and stagger at the promise through unbelief, but stand firm and clear with their peaks of pearl cleaving the air of Eternity, and the bases of their hills rooted unfathomably in the Rock of God!"

One cure for difficulty is to have more of it. “ A soul inured to pain, to hardship, grief, and loss,” is a fortunate soul.  p. 373
 
Truth is often inverted more than people believe. They believe that riches, luxury, ease, are blessings, whereas they are nothing of the sort in most cases. p. 373
 
We have often to pay a high price for our best blessings; and how little it matters what the momentary mood or aspect of affairs may be, if out of it comes the true blessing—knowledge of God’s will in higher degrees, and obedience to it, and rest in Him! What son is he whom the Father chastens not? If our own wisdom and wit and energy had to shape things to a good end, we should in most cases be quite at our wit’s end; but it is not so. A God of infinite perfections has the whole of our lot in His hands, sees the end from the beginning, knows how to adjust the strain of trouble to our powers of endurance, sends appropriate little mitigations of one kind or another, like temporary cordials; and by a long and wonderful series of interventions, succours, and secret workings, Jacob, who at one time said, “All these things are against me,” finds himself housed in Goshen, in the land of light. In the training and discipline, particularly of the families of God’s people, as we read of it in biographies, hear of it in Church fellowship, talk it over in private, how large and important a part does trouble play! p. 174
 
To His Wife. Dunoon, 26th July 1863 (Sunday morning, 3 A.m.) The exercise and novelty of yesterday (a review on the Clyde) were too much for me, although I felt in good spirits all day, so that I cannot sleep, and I get this little book and write rather than lie, revolving vague thought. But for the want of freshness next day an occasional wakeful night is a thing to be enjoyed, and that it comes to most people now and then is indicated by the verse: “If in the night I sleepless lie, My soul with heavenly thoughts supply.” There is a verse, too, that I often wonder what is its meaning: “Thou holdest mine eyes waking.” There is another: “Who giveth songs in the night.” I have found many pleasant and thankful trains of thought filling my mind in the darkness, calm and equable impressions of truth and a steady peaceful frame of feeling, a sense of God and of salvation, a resting by faith on His Word and Will, a thousand pleasant memories of His grace, a persuasion of being where He would have me be, and on the whole of doing what He would have me do—a life going in the right track, enclosed within the bounds of the Church and seeking its good and the good of the world. And this without any supposition of merit, but with a clear acceptance of mercy and strength in Christ. So I thought I might as well record these feelings instead of letting them pass. They are my habit and experience under similar circumstances, and it is pleasant to share them with you. It is this bond of perfectness which has made our lives so happy, and which will continue to do so while God spares if we walk by the same rule and mind the same things. p. 138
 
 
Irreverent and empty twaddle about the nations and their histories and fate, prognostications on small data constantly overturned by events, partisanship raging—all seem very vain and idle, and always make me think of the good old man who would never read a paper, but said,  "It shall be well with the righteous.”
 
I've been poking about Zion for near thirty years, a poor limping tramp, let in and tolerated as yet, and I can't but cannot see anything but strength and beauty in Zion; green pastures, still waters, strong towers, vines and olives and shady fig-trees, quiet resting-places, springs that bubble more and more brightly and spring up like Jacob's well. I am “deluded," am I? But I know as sensible men in Zion, as I know out of it, and we compare notes, and must speak as we find. We "can no other." p. 368
 
 I shall never forget one hour in the Highlands. We dismounted from our "ponies" and climbed to the summit of "Dark Lochnagar." We went across a desolate field of huge stones smoothed by the rains and weather of age and age. The guides took us to the brink. We saw only mist. After waiting for half an hour the mist swirled up, as if boiling—disparted in drifts—and we saw wild jagged teeth of ancient rocks, and a terrific precipice and a dim lake far below, and glimpses of immense distance. But in a minute all was a wall of mist again. In this fashion, through rendings of a misty veil, I now and then catch glimpses of the absolute good of trial—I see a success better than success, in every respect. p. 369
 
14ft November 1876. I Have been all the happier lately from a heightened perception of two reasonable truths. (1) That there is a sort of greediness and unfairness in expecting to gain, not only the transcendent inward joys of painting and general study and the ravishing delight in Nature which they evolve, but also the same money rewards or rewards of fame which men obtain who find no interest in their daily work, except for what it brings. (2) "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers tribulations "— a strange proposition to any principle but that of faith, and an impossible one, but one of the most blessed and most simplifying principles if it can be received. It is allied with the beatitude which turns reviling, persecution, and all manner of evil to gold and pearls, yet its blessedness is partly to be reasoned out. For example, you are poor. But poverty arrests your pride, your sloth, your sensuality. It makes men ride over your head; they drive you here and there, but they drive you to forbearance, meekness, submission, tenderness. If they drive you over the edge of life, then after that they have no more that they can do; they have let slip the leash and can hold you no longer, and you are with God. But short of that, they can only benefit you by their oppression, etc. The simplicity of such truths, when really seen into and realized, is that they cut away all entanglements at once.   p. 371
 
You have hold of the golden chain of life which is "content," and is "great gain." How great none can tell, and making compound interest every hour. What is content? The true answer to that is a world of bliss and rest. It is not helpless submission to necessity. It is not the fulfillment of our roving desires. It is a sublime condition, the product of knowledge and faith and hope and love. One of its conditions is the perception of our proper place in the universe, and the belief that we have strictly a vocation. Another is that cheerful humility of spirit which honour upholds, and which makes no extravagant demands on the Universe or on Providence. Another is the alchymic eye to see much in little— the spirit which made the old woman say to Bishop Burnett, as she held up her crust, "All this and Christ." p. 265
 
I am quite sure that the central mistake of all lives that are mistaken is the not taking this simple unchangeable fact for granted: “not seeing that it is so,” and cannot but be so, and will remain so "though we believe not." A man in prison, with a signed and sealed permission to leave it and walk at liberty lying on the table beside him, untouched, unopened, yet bemoaning himself and unhappy in his cell, is just the image of us unbelievers who have even a fragment of unhappiness about us. I think I can trace every scrap of sorrow in my own life to this simple unbelief. How could I be anything but quite happy if I believed always that all the past is forgiven and all the present furnished with power, and all the future bright with hope, because of the same abiding facts, which don't change with my mood, do not crumble, because I totter and stagger at the promise through unbelief, but stand firm and clear with their peaks of pearl cleaving the air of Eternity, and the bases of their hills rooted unfathomably in the Rock of God! Mont Blanc does not become a phantom or a mist because a climber grows dizzy on its sides, and yet we make mistakes just as great as if we fancied, being climbers, that it did. pp. 104,105
 
James Smetham, Letters of James Smetham, (London: Macmillan, 1892)