The Wailing of Risca

Suddenly are my tents spoiled and my curtains in a moment.” (Jeremiah 4:20)

THE sorrow of the weeping Prophet was exceedingly heavy when he uttered these words of bitter lamentation. A great and present burden from the Lord is weighing so heavily upon our hearts this morning that we cannot spare so much as a moment for sympathy with the griefs of past ages. God has visited our land and His strokes have been exceedingly hard. We are constrained to take up a wailing and cry aloud, “Suddenly are my tents spoiled and my curtains in a moment.”

There is a spot in South Wales which has frequently yielded me a quiet and delightful retreat. Beautiful for situation, surrounded by lofty mountains, pierced by romantic valleys–the breathing of its air refreshes the body and the sight of the eyes makes glad the heart. I have climbed its hills, I have seen the ever-widening landscape, the mountains of Wales, the plains of England and the seas sparkling afar. I have descended the hills and marked the mist creeping up the side of the hills and covering the woods in clouds. I have mingled with its godly men and women and worshipped God in their assemblies.

These lips have ministered the Word in that once happy valley. I have been fired with the glorious enthusiasm of the people when they have listened to the Word. Well does my soul remember one night which I shall never forget in time or in eternity, when, crowded together in the place of worship, hearty Welsh miners responded to every word of Christ’s minister with their “gogoniants” encouraging me to preach the Gospel and crying “Glory to God” while the message was proclaimed.

I remember how they constrained me and kept me well nigh to midnight, preaching three sermons one after another, almost without rest–for they loved to listen to the Gospel. God was present with us and many a time has the baptismal pool been stirred since then by the fruit of that night’s labor. Nor shall I ever forget when standing in the open air beneath God’s blue sky I addressed a mighty gathering within a short distance of that spot. The Spirit of God was poured upon us and men and women were swayed to and fro under the heavenly message as the corn is moved in waves by the summer winds. Great was our joy that day when the people met together in thousands and with songs and praises separated to their homes, talking of what they had heard.

But now our visitation of that neighborhood must ever be mingled with sorrow. How has God been pleased to smite down strong men and to take away the young men upon a sudden! “How suddenly are my tents spoiled and my curtains in a moment.” Oh, valley of Risca, I take up a lamentation for you–the Lord has dealt sorely with you. Behold and see if there is sorrow in any valley like unto your sorrow which is done unto you. The angel of death has emptied out his quiver upon you. The awful reaper has gathered to himself full sheaves from your beautiful valley.

You all know the story–it scarcely needs that I should tell it to you. Last Saturday week some two hundred or more miners descended in health and strength to their usual work in the bowels of the earth. They had not been working long–their wives and their children had risen and their little ones had gone to their schools when suddenly there was heard a noise at the mouth of the pit–it was an explosion–all knew what it meant. Men’s hearts failed them, for well they prophesied the horror which would soon reveal itself.

They wait awhile–the foul gas must first be scattered–brave men with their lives in their hands descend into the pit and when they are able to see with the dim miner’s lamp, the light falls upon corpse after corpse. A few, a handful are brought up alive and scarcely alive, but yet, thank God, with enough of the vital spark remaining to be again kindled to a flame. But the great mass of those strong men have felt the grip of death.

Some of them were brought up to the top with their faces burned and scarred, with their bodies disfigured by the fire. But many are discovered whose faces looked as if they sweetly slept, so that it was scarcely possible to believe that they really could be dead, so quietly had the spirit quitted the habitation of clay. Can you picture to yourselves the scene? The great fires lit around the pit flaming both night and day? The thick mist? The pouring rain drenching the whole of the valley?

Do you see the women as they come clustering round the pit shrieking for their sons and their husbands and their fathers? Do you hear that shrill scream as yonder woman has just discovered the partner of her soul? And there do you mark another bending over the form of her two stalwart sons, now, alas, taken from her forever? Do you mark the misery that sits upon the face of some who have not found their sons, or their fathers, or their husbands, or their brothers and who know not where they are and feel a thousand deaths themselves because they feel convinced that their precious ones have fallen, though their corpses cannot be found? The misery in that valley is past description–those who have witnessed it fail to be able to picture it.

As the cry of Egypt in the night when the destroying angel went through all the land and smote the firstborn. As the wail of Rachel when she could not be comforted for her children because they were not–such has been the howling, the weeping, the lamentation of that fair but desolate valley.

My Friends, this judgment has a voice to us and the scarce buried bodies of those men which lie around us in vision have each a sorrowful lesson. The cry of the widow and of the childless mother shall come up into our ears today and, O Lord God of Sabbath, may it so arouse us that we may hear and fear and tremble and turn unto You–that this dread calamity may be to us the means of our salvation, or if saved, the means of stirring us up more earnestly to seek the salvation of our fellow men.

There are three points upon which I shall try to address you this morning, though I feel inadequate to such a task. First, I shall say somewhat upon sudden bereavements. Then I shall dwell awhile upon the fact of sudden death. And afterwards we will say but a little, for we know but little of the sudden exchange which sudden death shall bring both to saints and sinners.

Alas! Alas! How soon may we be childless! How soon may we be widowed of the dearest objects of our affections! O Lord, You have shown to us this day how soon You can blast our gourds and wither all the fruits of our vineyard. The dearest ones, the partners of our blood–how soon can death proclaim a divorce between us–our children the offspring of our loins, how soon can You lay them beneath the sod. We have not a single relative who may not become to us within the next moment a fountain of grief. All that are dear and precious to us are only here by God’s good pleasure. What should we be today if it were not for those whom we love and who love us?
What were our house without its little prattlers? What were our habitation without the wife of our bosom? What were our daily business without our associates and friends to cheer us in our trials? Ah, this were a sad world indeed if the ties of kindred, of affection and of friendship all were snapped. And yet it is such a world that they must be sundered and may be divided at any moment.

From the fact that sudden bereavements are possible–not only to miners and to women whose husbands are upon the sea, but to us also–I would that we would learn profitable lessons. And first let us learn to set loose by our dearest friends that we have on earth. Let us love them–love them we may, love them we should–but let us always learn to love them as dying things. Oh, build not your nest on any of these trees for they are all marked for the axe. “Set not your affections on things on earth,” for the things of earth must leave you and then what will you do when your joy is emptied and the golden bowl which held your mirth shall be dashed to pieces?

Love first and foremost Christ. . .

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