Burning the Barley-field
A great many precious spiritual truths lie concealed under the out-of-the-way passages of God’s Word, like Wordsworth’s
“violet by a mossy stone,
Half hidden from the eye.”
If we turn to a certain verse in 2 Samuel 14, we shall find such a truth hidden under a historical incident. The incident goes this way: Absalom, the deceitful aspirant to his father’s throne, wishes to have an interview with Joab, the commander of David’s army. He sends for Joab to come to him, but Joab refuses.
Finding that the obstinate old soldier pays no heed to his urgent request, he practices a stratagem. He says to one of his servants: “See! Joab’s field is next to mine, and he has barley there. Go and set it on fire!” And Absalom’s servant set the field on fire. Then Joab arose and came to Absalom. Now, just as the shrewd young prince dealt with Joab in order to bring him unto him—so God employs a regimen of discipline very often in order to bring wayward hearts to Himself.
Many a reader of this article may have had his barley-field set on fire; there are some even now whose fields are wrapped in flames or are covered with the ashes of extinguished hopes. With backsliders this method is often God’s last resort. He sees that the wayward wanderers care more for their earthly possessions than they do for His honor or His service. So He touches them in the tenderest spot, and sweeps away the objects they love too well. They have become idolaters—and he sternly dashes their idols to atoms.
There was a time when our nation had shamefully backslidden from the fundamental principles of our Declaration of Independence. The value of cotton crops outweighed the value of liberty. The righteous God saw that we cared more for the perpetuity of our prosperity, than we did for the rights of four million of His children. But when the first flash of a national conflagration lighted up the Southern sky, then millions of affrighted voices began to cry out, “Why is our magnificent Union given to the flames?” We could sleep while God’s righteous law was trampled under foot; but when the national peace and power and pride were trodden down by the same remorseless heel, we awoke, as a man awakes at the cry of “fire” under his own roof. God saw what we prized most—and He touched that.
In like manner, many an individual sinner finds his way to Christ by the light of a burning barley-field. Sometimes the awakening comes in the shape of a bodily chastisement. The impenitent heart has never been moved by sermons and never been brought to repentance by any sense of gratitude for God’s mercies. So the All-wise One sends a sharp attack of sickness, in order to reach the diseased and hardened heart. The sinner is laid on his back. He is brought to the very verge of eternity. As a past life of transgression rises before his conscience, and the terrors of a wrath to come seize upon him, he cries out, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” When he recovers his health, and goes back into a world that looks very different to him now—his grateful song is, “It was good for me to have been afflicted, for I had gone astray; my feet had well-near slipped!”
I honestly believe that many a sick-bed has delivered the sufferer from a bed in hell! Pain often drives to prayer. The door which shuts a man out from the world—shuts him in to reflection, and finally into the ark of safety. “There it is,” said a young man, as he pointed to a diseased limb, which was eating away his life; “and a precious limb it has been to me. It took me away from a life of folly. It brought me to myself, and to this room of trial, where I have found Christ. I think it has brought me a great way on the road to heaven.”
It was the testimony of a Christian who had lost his eyesight, after a long confinement to a dark room, “I could never see Jesus—until I became blind!” We sometimes wonder why God takes one of his ministers out of the pulpit and lays him on a bed of dangerous illness. It is to give the man a look into eternal realities. He gets clearer views of life and of eternity. Three weeks on the couch of pain and peril teach him some things which he never learned in three years at a theological seminary. Sharp bodily affliction, even if it does not endanger life, is often a wholesome process. Paul’s thorn in the flesh, Robert Hall’s excruciating pains, and Richard Baxter’s physical sufferings—were a very expensive part of their education; but they graduated with higher honor and a brighter crown! Fiery trials make golden Christians! When the balsam-trees in God’s garden are cut deep with the knife—they emit the sweetest gums.
During the last five years a great many barley-fields have been consumed. One Christian had his fortune swept away in the commercial conflagration of 1873; but his heavenly hope was locked up in what was more fire-proof than any iron safe, and his Christian character came out like pure gold from the flames. One of the most benevolent and useful Christian merchants in America has recently seen the flames of ruin go through his field of barley, and the earnings of an honest life are now ashes! He has an inheritance left which the Rothschilds could not buy; and the very loss of his stocks and “securities” has led him to inventory afresh the blessed treasures which he has been laying up in heaven. So, from being a bankrupt, he finds that his best investments are untouched; and there has been no depreciation in his real estate, which lies very near to the everlasting throne! God often sees that a career of unbroken worldly prosperity is becoming very fatal to the soul. Therefore he puts the torch to the barley-field.
Not only are the impenitent thus dealt with, to bring them to consider their ways, but His own children are often put through a process which is marvelously improving to their graces—for a career of rapid success is seldom healthful to piety. Very few even of Christ’s choice ones can travel life’s railway with perfect safety at forty miles an hour. The heated axle is very apt to snap, or else the engine flies the track of conformity to God, and goes off the embankment. Prosperity brings out only a few of a good man’s graces; it often brings out a great many secret lusts, and no little pride, and selfishness, and forgetfulness of the Master.
When a favorable wind strikes a vessel right—it fills every inch of the sail. Good reader, if the Lord is so shifting the winds that they reach your undeveloped graces of humility and faith and patience and unselfish love—do not be alarmed. He does not mean to sink you, or crash you on a rock; he only intends to give you a more abundant entrance into the desired haven. Count up all the wordly losses you have had, and see if you are not the gainer—if these losses have but sent you closer to your Savior. You have less money, perhaps—but more enjoyment of the treasures you found at the cross. You are richer toward God. Our loving God has a purpose in every trial. If any heart-broken reader of these lines is crying out like Joab, “Why have you set my field on fire?” I beseech you not to flee away from God in petulant despair. He is only burning up your barley to bring you closer to Himself. Let the flames light you to the mercy-seat. The promises will read the brighter. It is better to lose the barley—than to lose the blessing.