Of all the “old dead wise guys” from whom I glean scriptural insight and encouragement, Horatius Bonar’s voice is definitely the one to which I resort the most often. Horatius, the elder brother of Andrew Bonar, was a prominent Scottish churchman throughout the 19th century who advocated for the formation of the Free Church of Scotland after the Disruption of 1843. His devotional rhetoric indelibly speaks to the Christian’s experience of faithlessness and restlessness, reminding sinner and sufferer alike of the sympathetic grace of the Man of Sorrows. His writing continually pointed to the hope of the gospel that’s found in and because of Christ alone — and there is, perhaps, no better example of this than in his book, The Night of Weeping; or, Words for the Suffering Family of God, in which Bonar meditates on the Christian’s experience of sorrow, grief, and suffering.
There are a slew of books on Christian bookshelves that articulate the faith to which those in the church can cling when enduring particularly heartbreaking seasons. To recommend another might seem entirely ineffectual. However, Bonar’s approach to the subject is neither glib nor dry, despite some of his antiquarian language. I pray that these few excerpts whet your appetite enough for you to read the entire thing.1 Enjoy! (I’ll add a comment or two as I see fit.)
1: No pen is like that of sorrow, for writing indelibly upon the soul. (192)
This is a fitting quote to begin this introduction, perhaps, to Bonar’s tome on suffering. We don’t like to ponder it, but it is precisely in sorrow that our heart is conformed to the image of Christ, the One who suffers with us and for us. If there’s a concise statement that sums up Bonar’s efforts, it’s this one.
2: Oh what wonders has God often done by bruised reeds! Yea, it is the bruised reed that is oftenest the instrument in his hand for working his mighty signs and wonders. (214)
Those who suffer are affectionately called “bruised reeds,” through whom God does wonders great and mighty — and whom he promises not to break (Isa. 42:3). There is a precious weakness in that designation, reminding us both how fragile we are and how gentle our Heavenly Father is (Isa. 40:10–12). He doesn’t crack the back of those who are burdened. He comes to their aid.
3: There is nothing that so makes us acquainted with Christ himself as sorrow; and hence, there is nothing so efficacious in eradicating self. It is God’s cure for selfishness. It is his way of making us seek not our own, but the things that are Jesus Christ’s. It is his way of carrying us beyond truth, even to “Him that is true.” (181)
Suffering is, assuredly, the divine means by which we are brought to the ends of ourselves in order that our weight might be more fully laid on him. Such is the essence of faith. We are made to see the fragility of all other resources of hope, peace, and comfort that we might find the hope, peace, and comfort we crave in precious blood of our Savior and King. I wish it didn’t take sorrow and loss to bring us to that point, but we are an incredibly stubborn bunch. But for however long it takes (Phil. 1:6), our Lord presses us, brings us nearer to him, and whittles down our tertiary affections that he might be our sole affection.
4: In the midst of the ever-wakeful storms through which we are passing to the Kingdom, there is peace — deep peace — too deep for any storm of earth to reach. (46)
This is the peace “which passeth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). It is deep and vast and abiding and inexhaustibly suitable to whatever hardship we suffer. It is the “peace of God” which keeps our “hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” That’s our stay when in the storms (Heb. 6:19).
5: He who raises and stills the mighty deep with all the multitude of its waves, the God of the tempest and of the earthquake, “the framer of light and dark,” the wielder of the lightning and the builder of the everlasting hills, is the God who is now laying his rod so heavily upon me. Thus each new proof or aspect of Jehovah’s power, becomes a new source of consolation in the day of chastisement and sorrow. (59)
That is to say, King Jesus is both “Lord over” and “Deliverer from” the storm.
6: In affliction we may be quite sure of learning something more of God than we were acquainted with before: for it is just in order to furnish an opportunity for bringing out this, and showing it to us, that he sends the trial. How little should we know of him were it not for sorrow! What fulness of blessing comes out to us, what riches of love are spread out before us in the dark and cloudy day! (209)
The “school of suffering,” if you will, is the best tutor, introducing us to caverns of grace we never knew existed. This isn’t a pithy platitude meant to inspire — it’s the gritty truth of the Christian life.
7: His is a special, personal, peculiar love, just as if he loved no other, but had his whole heart to spare for us. His is a minute and watchful care, bending over each, day and night, as if he had no other to care for. How sweet tot hunk that each of us is the special object of such personal attachment, the peculiar object of such unwearied vigilance! (17–18)
8: His is sympathy, deep, real, and true. It is no fiction, no fancy. We do not see his tears falling upon us; neither do we clasp his hand nor feel he beating of his heart against ours. But still his communion with us in suffering is a reality. We may not understand how it can be. But He understands it; and he can make us feel it, whether we can comprehend it or not. (205)
The incomprehensible love of Christ is made especially evident when in the eye of life’s storm. His abiding presence when all else fails and gives way demonstrates most clearly the love “which passeth knowledge” (Eph. 3:17–19). What greater truth of the gospel can we revel and rejoice in than the good news that in the ashes of broken lives and fractured dreams, we have a companion who sits with us.
9: Out of all evil comes good to the saints; out of all darkness comes light; out of all sorrow comes joy. (207–8)
10: Out of all evil there comes the good; out of sin comes holiness; out of darkness, light; out of death, life eternal; out of weakness, strength; out of the fading, the blooming; out of a quenched planet, a sun for the universe; out of rottenness and ruin, comeliness and majesty; out of the curse, the blessing; and resurrection shall prove the wondrous truth, that it is the grave, — the place of bones and dust, — that is the womb of the incorruptible, the immortal, the glorious, the undefined. (228–29)
God’s enduring promise is that his goodness and glory always prevail over evil. Sin’s sway isn’t more powerful than God’s arm. His providence works all things — even deplorable, dark things — together for good (Rom. 8:28). That’s hard to believe and hard to see. But despite how impossible it seems, God’s words are true. Always and ever. The “Yes and Amen” has never articulated an untrue syllable (2 Cor. 1:20; Rev. 3:14). He has promised to be with us, regardless, and that is never more true than in the night of weeping. It is there that he weeps with us. It is there that he consoles us and lifts up our heads. How amazing is this grace that meets us in our time of sorrow and suffering and grief.
Grace and peace.
You definitely should, seeing how accessible it is to read this book online. There are multiple editions that are free to read on Google and there are several copies available on eBay, too. Just FYI. Speaking of which, all of the following quotes are excerpted from Horatius Bonar, The Night of Weeping; or, Words for the Suffering Family of God (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1846).