At Ezion-geber, on the Red Sea, the two kings built their ships. At length all was ready. The kings, no doubt, were present to see the fleet sail. With a sound of trumpets, a flourish of banners, and the benediction of royalty, the anchors were hoisted, the sails set; and with a favoring wind the armada sailed out of Ezion-geber down the Red Sea, bound for far-off Ophir. But the ships went not. The storm arose and drove them en the treacherous rocks of the Red Sea. When the next morning dawned, the proud armada lay scattered on the rocks, a tangled mass of tinder and cordage; and those who had sailed on the ships were buried in the deep. That was the end of Jehoshaphat's expedition for gold. "They went not; for the ships were broken at Ezion-geber." (I Kings 22:48.)
That saying is the epitaph for many a hope and dream and ambition. It is the final sentence in many a story of the soul's adventure. The keels were laid, the ships were built, the seas were charted, the anchors hoisted, the sails set. But the ships went not. Expeditions of the head and of the heart, some for gold and gain, some for fame and power, and some for knowledge, some for the good of man, and some for love; but they never reached their goal. The ships went not.
When the Confederate army under Hood was confronting Thomas at Nashville, Grant sent repeated orders to Thomas to go out and give battle. Thomas was willing to fight, but not until his army was ready. The administration became alarmed and Grant dispatched Logan to relieve Thomas, and finally started himself. But before either he or Logan could reach Nashville, Thomas and his army had won the most complete and crushing victory of the Civil War. Sherman, writing of the incident, says of Thomas, and the tragedy that almost befell him—to end his great military career by being cashiered—"He acted in time, gained a magnificent victory, and thus escaped so terrible a fate." That was the fate of Moses—to be removed just at the gates of victory.
Lord Kitchener for two years silently bore the burden of preparing Britain's armies, but just when those armies were about to launch their great offensive and strike mortal blows to the foe, ere the nation could thank him, the man who raised the hosts went down to his death off the lone Orkneys.
When Blake was coming home from victory on the seas, he prayed that he might live until he reached England; but just before the ship reached Plymouth harbor he expired.
Charles Sumner, great senator from Massachusetts and eloquent pleader for the slaves and for the Union, drank a bitter cup of sorrow and disappointment in his domestic life. When he was struck with death, there lay on his table a volume of Shakespeare, this passage in King Henry VI, probably the last lines upon which his eyes ever gazed, marked with his own hand:
Would I were dead! if God's good will were so;
For what is in this world but grief and woe?
In a churchyard at Brighton, England, there is a garden plot which the workingmen of Brighton keep free of weeds and fresh with flowers. In the center of the plot is a monument to Frederick Robertson. His father served in the British army during the American war. His boyhood days were spent playing about the forts at Leith. By temperament and heredity he desired to be an officer in the British army. His name was on the commander in chief's list, but for some reason he was not granted a commission. He then matriculated at Oxford, and at length was ordained to the ministry. The boy's hopes were disappointed; but the whole Christian world rejoices today that the door into the army was closed, and that he became instead a good soldier of Jesus Christ and the great preacher who spoke to all classes, from professors to workingmen. Today the common people, who heard him gladly, make it always summertime about his grave.
God disappoints us and baffles us sometimes in order to make us succeed. If Phillips Brooks had succeeded as a schoolmaster, he would never have stood in the pulpit to move men with his mighty ministry. If Frederick Robertson had got his commission in the British army, he would never have written the sermons which still throb with his great and yearning spirit. If Hawthorne had been retained at the custom house, he never would have written those wonderful studies in the deep places of human sorrow and love and sin.
No author ever wrote of the family joys and sorrows and affections in such a tender manner, ever struck the lyre of domestic affections with such winning touch, as did Charles Dickens. Perhaps the fact that his own home was a desert had something to do with that magnificent expression of family hopes and joys and sorrows.
There may be gold for others in our own disappointments.
Here is Paul on his second missionary journey. With his ever-burning zeal and immense energy, he is on his way first of all to Ephesus, the great city in that part of the world. What a place Paul thought to preach the gospel in—under the very shadow of the temple of Diana to proclaim the glories of the temple not made with hands! But the Holy Spirit forbade him to preach there. Then he turned northward to go into Bithynia, where along the Black Sea were great and populous cities. No doubt Paul was greatly discouraged and perplexed at the barriers which were flung up in front of him, and wondered at the detour which took him down through Mysia to Troas. But there he learned the reason, for it was there the man from Macedonia appeared and besought him to cross over to Europe and help them. Had he gone to Ephesus alone, or had he been permitted to go into the remote North along the Black Sea, Athens, Corinth, and Rome might not have heard the accents of the gospel from his prognostic lips.
When James Buchanan, afterward president of the United States, was a student at Dickinson College, he suffered keen disappointment as to some college honor or prize. At that time his father wrote him a letter, in which was this fine passage: "Often when people have the greatest prospects of temporal honor and aggrandizement they are all blasted in a moment by a fatality connected with men and things, and no doubt the designs of providence may be seen very conspicuously in our disappointments in order to teach us our dependency on Him who knows all events, and they ought to humble our pride and self-sufficiency."
One has well said: "Disappointment is like a sieve. Through its coarse meshes small ambitions and hopes and endeavors of the soul are sifted out relentlessly. But the things that are big enough not to fall through are not in the least affected by it. It is only a test, not a finality." The big things—faith, hope, love, courage in our own troubles, kindness in the troubles of others—disappointment cannot hurt; on the contrary, it discovers new charm and beauty and power in them.
Jean Francois Millet, whose canvases present the almost perfect story of French peasant life, depicted in "The Reapers," "The Angelus," "Shepherds and Flock," and "Man with the Hoe," made his first appearance in the world of art with his "Oedipus Unbound." Before that he had presented at the salon "St. Jerome" in 1845. This picture was rejected. Millet was so poor he could not afford to buy more canvas for a new picture, and thus it was over the rejected canvas of "St. Jerome" that he painted his first successful picture, "Oedipus Unbound." Disappointment and failure served only to spur him to greater things.