Oppression is the exercise of strength against weakness, the triumph of power over helplessness; so that poverty literally opens the door for oppression. It was so with Hezekiah. When Hezekiah was laid on his bed of sickness, death stared him in the face, and he expected he should be cut off, and cast into perdition. This opened the door for oppression; says he, “Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me.” The cold damps of death stood upon his forehead, and despair pressed upon his soul. All his fleshly religion vanished in a moment; and he had but just faith and strength enough to cry out under the gripe of the oppressor’s hand at his throat, “Undertake for me” (Isaiah 38:14).
Oppression then is a weight and a burden superadded to poverty. It is not the same thing as poverty, but it is an additional infliction to poverty. A man may be poor without being oppressed; but when he is poor and oppressed too, it makes the poverty tenfold greater than before. Thus the Lord, in his dealings with his people in order to bring them down, first strips them and makes them poor; and when he has made them poor, and brought them into the depths of soul-destitution, then he causes burdens to lie on them as heavy loads, as though they would sink them into a never-ending hell.
But here is the mark of life; the groaning, panting, sighing, and crying of the soul under the burden. The dead in sin feel nothing; the hypocrites in Zion feel nothing; and those that are at ease in a fleshly religion feel nothing. They may have powerful temptations; they may have alarming fears of going to hell; but as to any heavings up of a quickened conscience under the weight of oppression, as to any pouring out of the heart before God, or any giving vent to the distresses of the soul in sighs and cries unto the Lord to have mercy, to speak peace, and bring in a sweet manifestation of pardon and love, and to keep at this day after day, and night after night until the Lord appears; these are exercises unknown to the dead, and peculiar to the living family.
A man may “cry for sorrow of heart, and howl for vexation of spirit” (Isaiah 65:14), but as the prophet speaks, “they do not cry unto God with their heart, when they howl upon their beds” (Hosea 7:14). But to breathe and pant after the Lord, to groan and sigh because of oppression, to wrestle with the Savior and give him no rest until he appears in the soul—this inward work is known only to the elect, and is out of the reach of all who have a name to live while they are dead. It is the fruit of the pouring out of the spirit of grace and supplications into their soul; it is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, helping its infirmities, and making intercession in it with groanings which cannot be uttered.