LIKE JOHN IN THE EMPTY SEPULCHRE, I SAW, AND BELIEVED
IN a never-to-be-forgotten Sabbath morning the Laird of
Brea was holding family worship in his Highland home in the Black Isle. He gave
out and his assembled household sang his favourite Sabbath morning psalm :-
Thou hast, 0 Lord, most glorious, Ascended up on high. And then he
asked his son, who was at home from college, to read aloud his fathers
favourite Sabbath morning chapter. But when the reader came to the eighth verse
of that great chapter his father heard no more that morning, for these words of
that verse: That other disciple also went into the sepulchre, and he saw,
and believed - these words, somehow, took such a sudden and such a
complete hold of Frasers heart that morning that all that day, in the
house, and by the way, and in the church, and till he fell asleep late that
night, he thought of nothing else but He saw, and believed.
Fraser had read the Resurrection chapter a thousand times; but, somehow, his eyes were opened that morning to the eighth verse of that chapter as never before. Till in The Book of the Intricacies of his Heart, and in some hitherto unpublished papers of his, Fraser has left many memoranda, written from that Sabbath morning, some of which I will now reproduce to you for your learning. Fraser often wondered at his own stupidity in having up to that morning so completely overlooked that so remorseful, so significant, and so suggestive verse. Not that he had been wholly blind to the glorious conteit. For it had been his devout wont to take his household through that great Resurrection chapter; himself seeing, and then doing his best to make them all see, the whole adorable scene. He had often pictured to them with what a holy joy our Lord would receive His returning life back again from His Fathers hands that first Lords Day morning. Just, Fraser would say, as our Lord was wont to receive His returning life from His Fathers hands every new morning for the past three and thirty years, when He again awoke from last nights sleep. With His last breath, three days before, our Lord had said : - Father, into Thy hands I cornmend my spirit. And now He received back His spirit for ever from those hands into which He had delivered it up on the Cross.
And though it is not written by any of the four evangelists in so many words, Fraser had been wont to say to his listening household that for his part he believed that all the time our newly awakened Lord was putting off the linen clothes, and the napkin that was wrapped about His head, and was folding them all neatly up as His mother had taught Him to do from a child; and all the time the shining One was rolling back the stone from the door of the Sepulchre, our Risen Lord was singing to Himself Davids Sabbath morning psalm, as His wont had been every Sabbath morning in Nazareth where He was brought up. I will praise Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvellous are Thy works o my God, in me, and that my soul knoweth right well. How precious, also, are Thy thoughts unto me, 0 my God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand; when I awake I am still with Thee.
And, then, as soon as the stone was rolled away, the Resurrection and the Life stepped out into the light of the Lords Day, with His glorious body clothed from head to foot with garments of immortality. James Frasers anointed eyes had seen all that, and he had told his rejoicing household all that, on a thousand Sabbath mornings. But these overlooked words, that disciple saw, and believed, these striking words had, somehow or other, never before taken hold of his mind and his heart as they did that memorable morning, as you will see immediately, if I am successful in setting this remarkable man before you this evening.
As the devout and thoughtful laird of Brea came home from church that Sabbath evening and as he walked about alone in his beautiful grounds as the sun was setting, personal application after personal application of that mornings text took complete possession of his mind and his heart, till he stopped in his walk time after time, and took out his tablets and made entry after entry of those personal applications on the sacred spot. Some of those personal applications, so far as I know, have never been recovered from that day to this, till to-night. Now, this is the first pencil-entry for that Sabbath night. I give it, as I have been able to decipher it from an unpublished and an almost illegible manuscript. Even the beloved disciple did not believe till he saw, writes Frasers pencil. Even the disciple who leaned on Jesus bosom at Supper did not, up to that resurrection morning, know the Scriptures that his Master must rise again from the dead. And, adds Fraser, I have been but too like that disciple in my long unbelief. Then follow some instances of Frasers long unbelief, till, like John, he was compelled to believe by what he saw displayed before his eyes. And the first entry of what Fraser did not believe till he lived to see it and to write it, was the great blessing for Frasers soul that was bound up in his daily cross. He never puts its name on his daily cross in any of his most confidential writings that I possess. But I can see on every page how that daily cross, whatever it was, ate and ate into his heart continually till he sometimes all but bled to death under it.
The author of The Book of the Intricacies of his own Heart did not always agree with the author of The Saints Rest in some of the deep and obscure doctrines of that day. But God soon made those two eminent saints of His to agree completely about His wisdom and His love toward them in their daily crosses. And He led them both to fall back on his much-experienced servant Martin Luther in this same matter. Both Fraser and Baxter were far happier at home than Luther was. You will have read the exquisitely beautiful letter that the reformer wrote to his little son about the paradise that is prepared for all good boys and girls. And your hearts must have bled as you went on to read what a daily cross that boy lived to be to Luther to the end of his days on earth. My daily cross at home is my best schoolmaster, says Luther all his ilays. And, says Richard Baxter, writing to us out of the same experimental school, when a mans daily cross once comes home to him from Gods hand it speaks to him far more powerfully and far more prevailingly than the best preacher can ever speak. What hot hearts we all have for the things of this life till our daily cross cools them ! exclaims Baxter. God comes and makes some great cross to crash in upon our children, or upon our health, or upon some of our possessions, till we are taught to set our affections on things above. And Fraser agrees with Baxter in that; till I find them exclaiming together; I take their words verbatim from their own paradoxical lips: 0 healthful sickness! 0 comfortful sorrow ! 0 gainful loss! O enriching poverty! Yes! 0 blessedest day in my whole earthly life, when my all-sanctifying cross was bound by Gods own hands on my bleeding back, and never to be taken off my bleeding back till all its God-appointed work was wrought in me!
Yes, the only wise God knew quite well what He was doing when He took the best tree in all the Black Isle and manufactured it into the Laird of Breas lifelong cross. There are more applications than one that Fraser makes of this new text of his. But before I leave this first application of his must I copy out this additional entry; this penitential prayer, Shut and seal Thine ears, 0 my God, against all my rebellious complaints and prayers, he says. Never mind what I cry in my agony when I forget myself and when I again kick out against Thy holy will with me. Whatever I spend the night watches importuning Thee for, turn Thy deafest ear toward my cry. Never, never yield to me in my madness. Never, never remove that sufficiently sore cross of mine; no, not for an hour, tilt I have learned to say under it, Thy will be done! No, no, take not my cross away, on any plea of mine, till it has completely, and for ever, worked out my salvation in me, as that sanctified cross of mine only can. I came to see God, not man, in my daily cross, writes Fraser, I never understood the Scriptures about my daily cross till an exegesis and a commentary of those deep Scriptures was written out, by myself, in my own tears, and in my own blood.
That, then, was Frasers first personal application that he had to see fulfilled in himself before he would believe it. He had to see how his salvation was bound up in his daily cross before he would believe that. And then from that sight of his daily cross Fraser at last came to see the same divine wisdom and the same divine love in absolutely all things that came to him. He had been wont to pass over that great passage in Paul with a smile - that great passage where that great experimentalist says that all things work together for good to Gods true people.
Fraser had been wont to smile at that passage and to say to himself, Would God it were so with me! But as God would have it Brea became at last as bold a preacher of that high doctrine as the apostle was himself. Take this passage from the intricacies of Frasers heart. I was wont, he writes, to dwell, and with no little bitterness, on some of my domestic and financial difficulties. But as time went on, and as I more and more learned to take all these things immediately from Gods hand to me, I came to see and to confess to God and to myself, that both my father and my mother, and my brothers, and my sisters, and my brothers-in-law, and my wife, and my children, and, indeed, all my relationships and all my circumstances were the very best possible for me, and for Gods purposes with me. And if any of my people in any of their tempers or in any of their habits or in any parts of their behaviour were not wholly and in everything to my mind I at last learned of God to adapt and modify myself to them in all things as I saw they had to adapt and modify themselves to me. And when under any temptation I again fell from my equanimity and made my complaint and my accusation to Christ, He would take me to the Gospels and would ask me if I thought that His father, and His mother, and His brethren, and His sisters, and His brothers-in-law always believed in Him, and always gave Him His own way in the life of His family. Also He pointed out to me that as often as His home cross was too heavy for Him to bear, that night He stole out of the city and went up into a mountain apart, and came back to Nazareth next morning and took up His cross and went about His days work as if He had never seen a cross. And, that night, adds our autobiographer, I again saw, and believed that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. Yes, off and on about that time, I so saw as ever after to believe that God was giving His whole mind to my case and was guiding and administering my case for me as if He had not another sinner in all the world to sanctify and to save but me. And till, I remember, I said in those days seven times every day: No! no! not my rebellious will in any of those things be done, but Thy holy will alone! I could keep you here all night over Frasers illustrations of the text that he had to see before he would believe. Concerning some of his lifelong accumulations of unanswered prayer and that for some clearly promised things, he writes thus: I came at last to see and to acquiesce that as to the when and the how of the answer is for Gods discretion and not for my dictation. I came to see that my only business is to continue to be believing and importunate in my prayer. And at last I got a quiet heart by insisting with myself that God will, no doubt, attend to His business if I attend to mine. I came to see that my business is to pray on, and not to faint. I learned to pray importunately, and yet all the time not to intrude on things far too high for me. Nay, not only all that, but this astonishing man so learned to love pure prayer that he continued to pray for things even after he had long seen that the answer was never to come in this life; and, indeed, till he was quite satisfied to live contentedly and to die quietly without the answer. I saw the blessedness of pure and defecated prayer, he says; I saw that in my own case till I could not but believe it. You would not believe me if I told you how old this man of God was before he gave himself up wholly to the Word of God. I can scarcely believe my own eyes when I read that he had been wont to give up the last hour of every night to late suppers at Brea, and to healthing, and to playing at cards, and to other time-killing games. But God so handled him as to teach him that there was a better way than that for a man like him. I spent my last hour last night on the fourteenth of John, he writes to Thomas Ross of Tam. I have known that chapter from a child; but it never took such a hold of my heart as it did last night. Till when my clock struck twelve, I remembered how David spent his night watches, till he wrote and said: Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And when I was on my knees about all that at my bedside this of Paul to Timothy also came into my mind: From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation. And, about the same time, writing to Thomas Ross, he says: I do not know how it is with you nowadays, but I go to bed now with a quiet heart and with a good conscience. And I sleep much sounder than I was wont to do after a nights healthing. And I awake next morning with a better taste in my mouth. Our autobiographer came to see all that till he believed it and acted upon it to a rich and ripe old age. But the thing that Fraser was slowest and longest in seeing and believing, if ever he came to see it and to believe it aright, was to see and believe Gods wisdom and His love in permitting such a slow and such a stagnant and such an often backsliding sanctification in His best people. Why does the God Who so loves holiness, and Who loves nothing else, why does He not go on to perfect what He has so certainly begun? Year after year to his sin- wearied-out old age the holy law of God plunged deeper and deeper into Frasers depraved heart till he was wellnigh driven to absolute despair. He saw the unspeakable evil of sin; its malignity, its depth, and its absolute unsearchableness, the curse of it, and the living hell of it. But along with that he came to see Christ, as, but for his awful sinfulness, he would never have seen Him. He came to see Christs sin-atoning blood and His justifying righteousness as he would never have seen that blood and that righteousness but for his long life of such slow and stagnant and backsliding sanctification. And all that more and more weaned his holiness-loving heart from the sweetest and best things of this life, and drew up his heart more and more to that land and that life where no sin shall ever enter, and where God shall wipe off all tears from His peoples sanctified and glorified eyes. And this went on till he died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off. Wherefore, for all these things, God is not ashamed to be known in Scotland as the God of James Fraser of Brea.
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