The Transiency of Tears

by Clovis G. Chappell

I. What Is the Faith of This Psalmist?

He is daring to tell us that in this world of change and decay, in this world where our hearts are so often broken and our faces so often wet with tears, that joy may be a more abiding guest than sorrow. He does not promise exemption from sorrow. But what he does say is that while weeping may come in as a wayfarer and spend the night, that the unwelcome guest need not abide. He may remain for the night, but he cannot abide the dawning of the day. Tears may come, but they will be transient. With the rising of the sun they will vanish like the dew or be kissed into jewels by its splendor. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."

What a beautiful reading of things! It is just the opposite of the commonly accepted view. Are we not constantly reminding ourselves of how transient are our joys? How often, for instance, we look upon the innocent and carefree play of children with a mingling of envy and pity. How joyful they are, and how soon they must leave it all behind, pass out of their Eden of morning gladness into a harsh and rugged world where the stones will bruise their feet and where the thorns will pierce not their bodies only, but their hearts as well. How fleeting is the springtime of life! And the springtime of the heart is often more fleeting still.

Think of the joy of courtship between a man and a maiden, the thrill of a growing love, the romance of marriage, the gladsome glamour of the honeymoon, the sweet climax of the making of a home. But we are told that these joys are also fleeting. Too often the romance does not outlast the honeymoon. The radiance soon dies and wedded life sinks down into the dull, drab commonplace. Even where love lives and our dreams come true, sorrow soon calls. How lovely was the home of your childhood, but today that home is only a memory. There is no road that leads to it, for it is a part of a buried yesterday.

This note of the transiency of our joys is one that sobs its way through much of our literature. Every one knows that:

"Pleasures are like poppies spread,

You seize the flower, the bloom is shed;

Or, like the snowfall in the river,

A moment white, then melts forever."

Robert Burns

Again we say urgently:

"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying,

And this same flower that smiles today

To-morrow will be dying."

Robert Herrick

Shakespeare also speaks to the same purpose, showing us a man on the point of arriving only to be quickly overtaken by disaster: "And when he thinks, good easy man, full sure his honors are a-ripening, then comes a frost, a killing frost" (Henry VIII).

And so they go on endlessly with their songs of the transiency of joy. But here is a glad voice raised to tell us that it is weeping that is soon gone. It may tarry for a night, but joy will surely come with the morning.

II. How Did the Psalmist Come by This Conviction?

It is heartening to realize that his faith is not born of a stubborn refusal to face the ugly facts of life. He does not believe that weeping will abide only for a night because he has shut his eyes to the grim tragedies that are the fountain source of our tears. But this poet does not deny the horrid fact and the reality of sin. No more does he deny the reality of pain. Nor does he deny that final calamity called death. He faces all the terrifying foes that encompass us and still clings to his buoyant faith.

Nor is this bracing text the easy optimism of one who has lived on the sunny side of the street and has had everything come to him right side up. This poet is speaking out of his own experience. He is bringing us a conviction that, at great cost, he has hammered out upon the anvil of his own soul.

He even traces for us the road along which he traveled to his sunny faith. For years life dealt most kindly and gently with him. Sickness and sorrow came to others, but not to him. So long did his prosperity continue that it intoxicated him. He began to look upon himself as made of superior clay to those about him. As last he said complacently: "I shall never be moved." Then, like a bolt from the blue, the blow fell. Before he could realize what was happening, the light had gone out of his sky, and life for him had toppled into ruins.

What had happened? Well, he who had gone for years without an ache or a pain suddenly found himself the prey of some disease. The doctor passed death sentence upon him, telling him frankly that he must suffer and that there was no remedy but death. Then followed dreary days and nights of hopeless suffering during which he tried to be brave. But his efforts became more and more futile.

At last, in his bewilderment at God's perplexing ordering of things, he lost his faith. A strange guest came into his home. That guest was Weeping. He sat with him at every meal and even insisted upon sharing his bed with him. Therefore his nights were long and full of agony. And what made his situation utterly desperate was the dismal conviction that his unbidden guest must stay with him always.

But when all earthly hope was gone, he threw himself in his weakness into the Everlasting Arms (Deut. 33:27), and God did not fail him. And when he looked round for that unwelcome guest that he thought would never leave, he found that he had gone, and that a new guest, Songful Joy, had come in his place. "And what God has done for me," he declares with assurance, "he will do for you. Weeping may tarry for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."

III. What Is the Good of This Faith?

1. It keeps alive our hope and it also enables us to carry on with patient courage. It is hard to see things through with honor if hope is gone. While some can carry on when hope is dead, many cannot.

Sometime ago I looked into the face of one who had committed suicide. It was a pathetic face. Why did he fling out of life? He lost hope. Today was full of trouble and perplexity. Out ahead he saw a troop of tomorrows coming that looked as hopeless as today. Therefore he lost heart and gave over the fight. The night of weeping may be long and lonely, but we shall not turn coward and give up the battle if we are sure that joy is coming in the morning.

2. Not only will this faith give us hope and thereby minister to our courage and patient endurance, but it will pluck sorrow's bitterest sting. What is it that makes our sorrow so bitter? It is our conviction of its finality. If we could only feel that there is a cure, it would not be so hard. But the persistent refrain of sorrow is so often that of Poe's raven, "Nevermore." But how different it would be if we only believed that weeping is but temporary, that joy cometh in the morning.

Here, for instance, is a mother whose only son is gone from home. How still the house is and how desperately lonely! Then there is a knock at the door; a telegram is put into her hand. "Will be home tomorrow," it reads, and the name signed to it is that of her boy. A moment later the house is just as still and empty as it was before the message came. But in spite of that, the loneliness is gone from the mother's heart and a great joy has come in its place.

And to you who are passing through a long night of weeping, I bring you a message. Hear it, and your heart will sing. A guest is coming to you. He is on his way. Soon he will turn the knob of your door and enter. Joy is coming in the morning. Nobody can be utterly cast down who believes that.

IV. But Is Such a Faith Possible for Us Who Live in These Perplexing Days?

Can we believe that God will always heal the sick and suffering that cry to him? We cannot. There are those who pray just as earnestly as the psalmist, who, in spite of all their prayers, in spite of the prayers of those who love them, go quickly down to death. Then there are others who go on suffering for long, torturing years. Paul was such a one. He pleaded earnestly and insistently for the removal of his thorn, but his request was not granted.

But while God does not always see fit to give physical healing in answer to our prayers, he does something that is vastly better. He gives to him who really prays an inner strength, a calm courage that enables him to bear whatever load is laid upon him. He gives in answer to prayer a quiet heart, an abiding peace, a fullness of life that makes mere physical healing seem small and trifling. For it is possible to have the most vigorous of bodies and yet be a very weak and sickly soul. But our very bodily weakness that drives us to Christ becomes a source of spiritual strength. We learn with Paul that His grace is sufficient, and we shout with him "Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Cor. 12:9).

Then this text may have a richness of meaning for us to which even this psalmist was a stranger. Since his distant day Christ has come, bringing life and immortality to light through the gospel. We have heard Him say: "Ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy." We believe that this is true in the here and now. We believe that it is going to be true in a finer and fuller sense in the dawning of that eternal morning to which He has encouraged us to look forward. "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you" (John 14:1).

These are the words of our Lord. Since they are true, we are safe in cherishing the wildest dreams for the future. In the presence of pain and change, in the presence of death itself we sing with calm confidence: "Joy cometh. It is coming now. It will come in its fullness, in the morning."

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