And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.…
Let us consider this sigh of David, which is the sigh of many men — sighs natural indeed and excusable indeed, and like the sigh of Jesus, so far as they are innocently human; but which have in them, alas! but too often, little of the Divine. Turn to your Bibles, and reflect upon the varying moods of so many minds, and you will find there the record of a multitude of these sighs of weariness, of discouragement, of self-disgust, of pain. Most ignoble are they when they are prompted by restlessness and peevishness like that of Jonah, wishing himself dead because God had spared Nineveh, and because God's mercy had triumphed over his paltry personal opinion; or by a pessimism like that of the conceited Solomon, which sees nothing in life except a universal emptiness; or by a black, suicidal despair, like that of Judas Iscariot, walking under the intolerable glare of illumination flung upon conscience by accomplished crime. But even the nobler spirits sometimes succumb for a moment to this merely selfish weakness, and have sighed, not only with the pure pity of Jesus, but with the impatience and short-sightedness of simple men. Moses had as great and mighty a heart as ever beat in any human breast, yet he exclaims (Numbers 11:11-15). What a sigh is there! There never breathed a more dauntless prophet than Elijah, yet he sat under a juniper tree in the wilderness and requested that he might die (1 Kings 19:4). What a deep sigh is there! And Job was very patient, yet under the pitiless storm of sin and suffering even Sob broke down and cursed the day of his birth. And Jeremiah, although he had a natural diffidence of character, yet when Pashur smote him and put him in the stocks, he burst into a wild cry (Jeremiah 20:18). And do not we seem to hear the sigh of the mighty Baptist (Matthew 11:3). Nay, even Paul, though nothing could wring such sighs from his indomitable heart, yet knows that "to depart and be with Christ is far better." Here, then, you have the weariness and discouragement of the noblest of mankind. It is not generally because of some personal injury, but it is either because the world is very evil (Psalm 119:136); or else because life is very full of trials (Genesis 47:9); or, again, because the work is very dreary (Exodus 5:23). Yes; all good men have had to fight with almost impenetrable stupidity, with hard pharisaism, and with religious and irreligious self-conceit; and the Bible is full of sighs. Now, one of the elements in Scripture that makes it so inestimably valuable is that it is so essentially human, so profoundly true to nature, so inartificial, so simple, so passionate, as all true history and all true poetry ought to be. These kings and heroes and prophets were just such men as ourselves, their hearts beating like our hearts, their joys and sorrows, their hopes and fears, even such as ours; the same fights of weariness and discouragement to fight that we find in secular history. We find it in literature; we find it in our own hearts — it is a part of our life. We get tired of the daily sameness of life. The rivers flow to the sea, yet the sea is not full. We are tired of the unrelenting past, tired of the dreary present, tired of the uncertain future. We are tired of the weary struggle in our own heart; the to-and-fro conflicting witnesses of impulse and repression; broad, rejoicing, sunlit tides of spiritual emotion, leaving behind them the flat, cozy shores of ebbing enthusiasm. The old historian said thai no man had ever lived yet with. out coming to the day in his life when he cared nothing if he were to see no to-morrow. Again and again we feel inclined to cry at the end of another year, "Eternal, be Thou my refuge!" Bad men feel it. Says one, "I have dragged on to thirty-three. What have all those years left to me? Nothing except three and thirty." A godless experience curdles at once into acrid pessimism. The condition of such is so utterly wretched that total annihilation would be preferable, and they hold that the creation and the existence of the world is a fundamental misfortune. But if this life were everything, many would say the same! We find this hopelessness and dissatisfaction in every rank of life. Now it is Diocletian, deciding that planting cabbages at Salons is better than ruling the world at Byzantium; now it is Severus, saying he has been everything in life, from a common position to that of an emperor, and nothing is of any good; now it is St. , saying that man's earthly happiness is by the streams of Babylon — let him sit down by them and weep; now it is good Richard Hooker, saying he had lived so long in the world, and found it such, that he had long been preparing to leave it; now it is Luther, crying, "I am weary of life: if this can be called life, there is nothing much worse: I am utterly weary: I pray Thee, O Lord, come forth and carry me hence"; now it is Whitefield, crying, "O Lord! I am not weary of Thy work, but in Thy work; let me speak for Thee once more, then seal Thy truth and let me die." When Montesquieu was on his death-bed a forward, uninvited clergyman thrust himself to his bedside when another clergyman had left him, and said to him in a conversant sort of way, "Sir, are you truly conscious of the greatness of God? Yes," said the dying philosopher, "and of the littleness of man;" and so he died; and what a sigh was there! It always seems to me worth while to recognize facts, to bring them out into the full light of consciousness, and then to face them. And this being the fact respecting human life, where is the remedy? The great resource in every perplexity is to look to Christ. If we look to our great Example, we shall see what to do. He, too, though sinless, was forced to sigh for the sad world of sin and death; but notice, the sigh had been scarcely uttered when once more He was engaged in works of mercy and thoughtful care. To sigh is sometimes natural, but to waste time in sighing, to suffer ourselves to be absorbed in the dark side of life, to exclude ourselves from its many and estimable gladnesses, is unthoughtful and useless. However hard the struggle against ignorance, and against pharisaism, and against stupidity, and against malice, and against robbery, and against wrong, and against oppression, and against sill, no good and great life will ever suffer itself to be crippled by conquerable melancholy. If we sigh for our own weakness and sins, we cannot, indeed, fly to ourselves, but we can fly to the grace of God and amend ourselves. If we sigh for our surroundings, no wings of a dove, indeed, can bear us away from the dwellings of Meshach and the tents of Kedar; but, by God's grace, we may help to make them better and happier places. The lessons of Scripture, the lessons of the life of Christ, the lessons of human experience alike teach us "to labour and to wait." They combine to tell us, to every one of us alike, for sorrow and disaster, for weariness and discouragement, God has given four great and perfect remedies, on which I would say a very few last words. One remedy is action: God taught it to Moses. "Why criest thou unto Me? Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward." While there is anything to be done, the time spent in sorrow is worse than waste. "The wings of a dove!" No, let us rather look for wings that we may fly in the path of God's commandment. Let us, with the ancient rabbi, pray that we may be bold as the leopard, bounding as the stag, brave as the lion, to do the will of our Father in heaven, that we may work on. Said Mendelssohn, "For me, too, the hour of rest will come: do the next thing." Oh! a grand motto was that. And that was a good motto, "Work here, rest elsewhere, wipe thy tears, cease thy sighing, do thy work, the day is short, the work is abundant, the labourers are few, the reward is great." Another remedy is patience. God is patient. He has borne with man's falsehood and littleness and disobedience, for no one knows how many thousand years. Cannot we, too, wait, if we do well and suffer for it? Cannot we take it patiently? Patient continuance in well-doing — there is a grand remedy for idle tears! (Psalm 37:7). The third remedy is faith. Jesus, as He sighed, looked up to heaven. Two things alone can finally cure the malady of occasional depression, and those two things are God and death; and faith looks forward fearlessly to death. Is our sigh for our own work? "Oh, cast thy burden on the Lord," etc. Is our sigh for the world? We did not make the world, and He who made it will guide. One day, when St. Francis was laying before God his troubles and disquietudes, the answer came to him, "Poor little man, why dost thou trouble thyself? I, who made thee the shepherd of My order, knowest thou not that I am its Protector? If those I have called upon go, I will put others in their place, and if none existed, I would cause them to be born." "I cannot mend the world," said Luther. "If I thought I could, I would be the veriest ass living. Thou canst mend it, O my God!" I have mentioned action, patience, faith, and the last remedy is hope. It is a good thing that a man should both hope and patiently wait for the salvation of the Lord. Things are rarely as bad as they look to us. Elijah cries, "I, even I, only am left," and God tells him that he has "seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal." A young man is terror-stricken in a besieged city, and Elijah shows him bow all round are the protecting chariots of horses and fire. He who cares for His little birds and pastures, His cattle and waters and His flowers, shall He not care for the souls of men? Man's grief is but his grandeur in disguise, and discontent his immortality. To us has been born a Saviour, Christ the Lord.
Parallel VersesKJV: And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.