JESUS BIDING HIMSELF.
Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.” — Psalm 30:7. “Why dost thou shade thy lovely face? oh, Why Doth that eclipsing hand so long deny The sunshine of thy soul-enlivening eye? “ Without that light, what light remains in me?
Thou art my life, my way, my light in thee I live, I move, and by thy beams I see. “Thou art my life; if thou but turn away, My life’s a thousand deaths thou art my way; Without thee, Lord, I travel not, But stray. “My light thou art; without thy glorious sight, Mine eyes are darken’d with perpetual night.
My God, thou art my way, my life, my light.” Quarles.
THE Lord Jesus will never remove his love from any one of the objects of his choice. The names of his redeemed are written on his hands and graven on his side; they are designed for eternal felicity, and to that blessed consummation his hand and his heart are unitedly resolved to bring them.
The meanest lamb of the blood-bought flock shall be preserved securely by the “strength of Israel” unto the day of his appearing, and shall, through every season of tribulation and distress, continue to be beloved of the Lord. Yet this does not prevent the great Shepherd from hiding himself for a season, when his people are rebellious. Though the Redeemer’s grace shall never be utterly removed, yet there shall be partial withdrawals of his presence, whereby our joys shall be dimmed, and our evidences darkened.
He will sometimes say, “I will go and return unto my place, until they acknowledge their offenses which they have committed against me;” and at other seasons, for a trial of their faith, he will “for a small moment” hide himself from them.
In proportion as the Master’s presence is delightful, his absence is mournful. Dark is the night which is caused by the setting of such a sun.
No blow of Providence eau ever wound so sorely as this. A blasted crop is as nothing compared with an absent Redeemer; yea, sickness and the approach of death are preferable to the departure of Emmanuel. Skin for skin, yes, all that a man-hath will he give for his life; and more than that would the sincere disciple be prepared to surrender for a renewal of his Lord’s presence. “Oh, that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me; when his candle shined upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness! ” Such will be the sorrowful complaint of the spirit when groping its way through the darkness of desertion. “God’s hiding himself, though but for trial’s sake, will so trouble a Christian that he will quickly be a burden to himself, and fear round about, as it is said of Pashur. It will make him weary of the night, and weary of the day; weary of his own house, and weary of God’s house; weary of mirth, and account it madness; weary of riches and honors; yea, if it continue long, it will make him weary of life itself, and wish for death.” f81a The effect is always deplorable during the time of its duration, but the cause of it is not always the same. There are divers reasons for apparent desertions; we will enter upon that interesting subject in the next chapter, and in the present meditation we shall chiefly consider the ill effects of the absence of Christ.
We would carefully distinguish between those withdrawals which are evidences of an offense given to our Lord, and those which are designed to be trials of our faith. Our experience under different varieties of forsakings will vary, and the following remarks, although in the main applicable to all desertions, are only intended in their detail to refer to those which are brought about by our transgressions; and even then it is not to be imagined that each case will exhibit every point which we shall now observe. Here we specially refer to those hidings of God’s countenance which are brought upon us as a fatherly chastisement. And we do not here dwell upon the ultimate and blessed effects of the temporary forsakings of God, but ere only to be understood to refer to the ills which, during the time, beset the soul.
Holy men may be left to walk in darkness. “Sometimes Christians are guilty of acting a part which offensive to their dear Savior, and therefore he withdraws from them. Darkness spreads itself over them, thick clouds interpose between him and their souls, and they see not his smiling face.
This was the case with the Church when she was inclined unto carnal ease, rather than to rise and give her Beloved entrance. He quickened her desires after the enjoyment of his company, by an effectual touch upon her heart; but he withdrew, departed, and left her to bewail her folly in her sinful neglect. Upon this her bowels were troubled: she arose and sought him; but she found him not. It is just with him to hide himself from us, if we are indifferent about the enjoyments of his delightful presence, and give us occasion .to confess our ingratitude ‘to him, by the loss we sustain in consequence of it. His love in itself passes under no vicissitude; ‘it is always the same; that is our security; but the manifestation of it to our souls, from which our peace, comfort, and joy spring, may be interrupted through our negligence, sloth, and sin. A sense of it, when it is so, may well break our hearts; for there is no ingratitude in the world like it.” We would not be understood to teach that God punishes his people for sin in a legal sense; this would be a slur upon his justice; for, seeing that he has folly punished their sin in Christ, to inflict any penalty upon them would be demanding a double punishment for one offense, which were unjust. Let the chastisements be understood in a paternal sense as correctives, and the truth is gained. Sin will be chastened in the elect. “You only have I known out of all the nations of the earth, therefore, I will punish you for your iniquities.” If we walk contrary to him, he will walk contrary to us. The promise of communion is only appended to obedience. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” Now if we walk scandalously, and indulge in known sin, no wonder though the Lord withdraw himself from us. The joy of his salvation must not rest with his erring ones, though the salvation itself is ever theirs. Alas for us, that our corruption should so frequently mar our communion!
Many times between conversion and the rest of eternity the Christian, through sin, will have to walk through a salt land, not inhabited, and find the songs of the Canticles hushed by the wail of the Lamentations. Yet we would fain believe that there are some who have but little cause to write their history in Mack letters, for their life has been one continued calm communion, with only here and there a hurried interruption. We are far from believing that the despondency’, coldness, and misery produced by a loss of the visible love of Christ ought to make up any considerable part of the biography of a Christian. That they do so in many cases, we readily admit, but that it should be so we never can allow. Those men who glory in what they proudly call a deep experience, — by which they mean great wanderings from the path which Enoch trod when he walked with God, — are very prone to exalt *.he infirmities of the Lord’s people into infallible and admirable proofs of grace. To them an absent Christ is fine stock in trade for a sermon upon their own superlative wisdom; and a heart which mourns abundantly, but loves most scantily, is to them what perfection is to the Arminian. As if the weeds of the field-were precious plants because they will grow in good soil; as if the freckles on the face of beauty were to be imitated by all who desire to attain to loveliness; or as if the rocks in the sea were the very cause of its fullness. The deepest experience in the world is that which deals only with the lord Jesus Christ, and is so sick of man, and of all within him, and so confident in the Lord Jesus, that it casts the whole weight of the sin and sinfulness of the soul entirely upon the Redeemer, and so rejoicing in his all-sufficiency, looks above the wants and woes of its own evil and ruined nature, to the completion of the new man in Christ Jesus. That eminent preacher, the late Howland Hill, has well said, “I do not like Christians to live always complaining; but! do not mind how much they complain if they carry their corruptions to Jesus.” This is forgotten by many; but those who are careful to practice it will have many causes for gladness.
Blessed be God, the green pastures and the still waters, the shepherd’s crook and, pleasant company, are objects which are quite as familiar to the believer’s mind as the howling wilderness and the brandished rod — “The men of grace have found Glory begun below; Celestial fruits on earthly ground, From faith and hope do grow.” Yet, to the believer’s grief, seasons of absence do occur, and those, alas, too frequently. It is our business, as the Holy Spirit shall enable us, very briefly to consider the subject of apparent desertion on account of sin, and may He make it useful to us.
We shall now proceed to review the mischiefs which attend upon suspended communion. The effects of the withdrawal of the face of Jesus are the outward signs shadowing forth the secret sickness of the heart, Which such a condition necessarily engenders. Although it be not fatal, yet is it exceedingly hurtful to miss the company of the Lord. As plants thrive not when the light is kept from them, but become blanched and unhealthy, so souls deprived of the light of God’s countenance are unable to maintain the verdure of their piety or the strength of their graces. What a loss is a lost Christ!
During this doleful season the believer ’s evidences are eclipsed; he is in grievous doubt concerning his own condition before God; his faith is become weak, his hope well-nigh buried, and his love cold and languid.
The graces which, like planetary stars, once shone upon him with light and radiance, are now dark and cheerless, for the sun has departed, the source of their light is concealed in clouds. Evidences without Christ are like unlit candles, which afford no light; like fig-trees with leaves only, devoid of fruit; like purses without gold, and like barns without wheat: they have great capabilities of comfort, but without Jesus they are emptiness itself.
Evidences are like conduit-pipes — -they are sometimes the Channels of living water, but if the supply from the fountain-head be cut off from them, their waters utterly fail. That man will die of thirst who has no better spring to look to than an empty pitcher of evidences. Ishmael would have perished in the wilderness if his only hope had been in the bottle which his mother brought out with her from the tent of Abraham; and assuredly without direct sup, plies from the gracious hands of the Lord Jesus, the saints would soon be in an ill plight. Unless the God of our graces be ever at the root of them, they will prove like Jonah’s gourd, which withered away when he was most in need of it. In this condition we shall find ourselves, if we lose the presence of the Lord Jesus; we shall be racked with fears, and tormented with doubts, without possessing that sovereign cordial with which in better days our sorrows have been allayed. We shall find all the usual sources of our consolation dried up, and it will he in vain for us to expect a single drop from them. Allah sent Obadiah upon an idle errand, when in the time of great drought he said, “Go into the land unto all fountains of water, and unto all brooks: peradventure we may find grass to, save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts;” for it was the presence and prayer of Elijah which alone could procure the rain to supply their wants; and if we., when we have lost our Master’s society, seek to obtain comfort in past experiences and time-were evidences, we shall have to weep with bitter tears because of a disappointed hope. We must regain the society of Christ, if we would restore the luster of our assurance. An absent Savior and joyous confidence are seldom to be spoken of together.
We know, however, that some professors can maintain a confident carriage when the presence of the Lord is withholden; they are as content without him as with him, and as happy under his frown as when in the sunshine of his smile. Between the outward appearances of strong faith and strong delusion there is frequently so little difference that the presumptuous boaster is often as highly esteemed as the assured believer: nevertheless in their inner nature there is an essential distinction. Faith believes on Jesus when his comfortable promise is not vouchsafed; but it does not render the soul indifferent to the sweetness of his society.
Faith says, “I believe Him when I do not feel his love manifest towards me, but my very persuasion of his faithfulness makes me pant for the light of his countenance;” but vain presumption exclaims, “Away with evidences and manifestations, I am a vessel of mercy, and therefore I am secure; why should I trouble myself about grace or graces? I have made up my mind that all is right, and I will not break my slumbers whoever may seek to alarm me.” Happy is the man whose faith can see in the thick darkness, and whose soul can live in the year of drought; but that man is not far from a curse who slights the fellowship of the Lord, and esteems his smile to be a vain thing. It is an ill sign if any of us are in a contented state when we are forsaken of the Lord; it is not faith, but wicked indifference, which makes us careless concerning communion with Him. And yet how often have we had cause to lament our want of concern; how frequently have we groaned because we could not weep as we ought for the return of our husband who had hidden himself from us!
When enveloped in the mists of desertion, we lose all those pleasant visions of the future widen once were the jewels in the crown of out life.
We have no climbings to the top of Pisgah; no prospects of the better land; no earnests of pure delight; no foretastes of the riches of glory, and no assurance of our title to the goodly land Beyond Jordan. It is as much as we can do to preserve ourselves from despair; we cannot aspire to any confidence of future glory. It is a contested point with us whether we are not ripening for hell. We fear that we never knew a Savior’s love, But have been all along deceivers and deceived; the pit of hell yawns before us, and we are in great straits to maintain so much as a bare hope of escape from it. We had once despised others for what we thought to be foolish doubts, but now that we ourselves are ready to slip with our feet, we think far more of the lamps which we despised When we were at ease, and would be willing to change places with them if we. might have as good an opinion of our own sincerity as we have of theirs. We would give anything for half a of hope, and would be well content to Be the meanest of the sheep, if we might but have a glimpse of the Shepherd. The native buoyancy of spirit which distinguishes the heir of heaven is in a great measure removed by the departure of the Lord. The be never is spiritually a man who can float in the deepest waters, and mount above the highest billows; he is able, when, in a right condition, to keep his head above all the water-floods which may invade his peace: but see his Lord depart, and he sinks in deep mire, where there is no standing — all the waves and the Billows have gone over him. Troubles which were light as a feather to him, are now like mountains of lead; he is afraid of every dog that snarls at him, and trembles at every :shadow. He who in his better days could cut down an acre of foemen at a stroke, is affrighted at the approach of a single adversary. He whose heart was fixed so that he was not afraid of evil tidings, is now alarmed at every report. Once he could hurl defiance to earth and hell united, and could laugh at persecution, slander, and reproach, but he is now as timid as a deer, and trembles at every phantom that threatens him. His daily cares, which once he loved to east upon the Lord, and counted but as the small dust of-the balance are now borne upon the shoulders of his own anxiety, and are a load intolerably oppressive. He was once clothed in armor of proof, and was not afraid of sword or spear; but now that he hath lost his Master’s presence, such is his nakedness that every thorn pierces him, and every briar fetches blood from him; yea, his spirit is pierced through and through with anxious thoughts which once would have been his scorn. How are the mighty fallen; how are the princes taken in a net, and the nobles cast as the mire of the street! He who could do all things can now do nothing; and he who could rejoice in deep distress is now mourning in the midst of blessings. He is like a chariot without wheels or horses, a harp without strings, a river without water, and a sail without wind. No songs and music now; his harp is hanging upon the willows. It is vain to ask of him a song, for “the chief musician upon his stringed instruments” has ceased to lead the choir. Can the spouse be happy when she has grieved her bridegroom and lost his company? No; she will go weeping through every street of the city, until she can again embrace him; her joy shall cease until again she shall behold his countenance.
It is frequently an effect of divine withdrawal that the mind becomes groveling and earthly. Covetousness and love of riches attain a sad preponderance. The Lord will hide himself if we love the world; and, on the other hand, his absence, which is intended for far other purposes, will sometimes, through the infirmity of our nature, increase the evil which it is intended to cure. When the Lord Jesus is present in the soul, and is beheld by it, ambition, covetousness, and worldliness flee apace; for such is his apparent glory that earthly objects fade away like the stars in noonday; but when He is gone, they will show their false glitter, as the stars, however small, will shine at midnight. Find a Christian whose soul cleaveth to the dust, and who careth for the things of this life, and you have found one who has had but little manifest fellowship with Jesus. As sure as ever we undervalue the Savior’s company, we shall set too high an estimate upon the things of this life, and then bitterness and disappointment are at the door.
At this juncture, moreover, the great enemy of souls is peculiarly busy ; our extremity is his opportunity, and he is not backward in availing himself of it. Now that Zion’s Captain has removed his royal presence, the evil one concludes that he may deal with the soul after the devices of his own malicious heart. Accordingly, with many a roar and hideous yell, he seeks to affright the saint; and if this suffices not, he lifts his arm of terror and hurls his fiery dart. As lions prowl by night, so doth he seek his prey in the darkness. The saint is now more than usually beneath his power; every wound from the envenomed dart festers and gangrenes more easily than at other times; while to the ear of the troubled one the howlings of Satan seem to be a thousand times louder than he had ever heard before. Doubts of our calling, our election, and adoption, fly ‘into our souls like the flies into Pharaoh’s palace, and all the while the grim/lend covers us with a darkness that may be felt. Had he attacked us in our hours of communion, we would soon have made him feel the metal of our swords; but our arm is palsied, and our strokes are like blows from the hand of a child, rather exciting his laughter than his fear. Oh for the days when we put to flight the armies of the aliens! would to God we could again put on strength, and by the arm of the Lord o’erthrow the hosts of hell! Like Samson we sigh for the hah’ in which our great strength lieth; and when the abouts of the vaunting Philistines are in our ears, we cry for the strength which once laid our enemies “heaps upon heaps” by thousands. We must again enjoy the manifest presence of the Lord, or we shall have hard work to lift up a standard against the enemy.
It is not an unusual circumstance to find ,in return upon the conscience at this critical season. “Now the heart, disclos’d, betrays All its hid disorders; Enmity to God’s right ways, Blasphemies and murders.
Malice, envy, lust, and pride, Thoughts obscene and filthy Sores corrupt and putrified, No part sound or healthy. “ All things to promote our fall, Show a mighty fitness; Satan will accuse withal, And the conscience witness; Foes within, and foes without, Wrath, and law, and terrors; Rash presumption, timid doubt, Coldness, deadness, errors.” f85 When Israel had the sea before them, and the mountains on either hand, their old masters thought it a fit time to pursue them; and now that the believer is in great straits, his former sins rise up to afflict him and cause him renewed sorrow then, moreover, our sins become more formidable to us than they were at our first repentance; when we were in Egypt we saw not the Egyptians upon horses and in chariots — they only appeared as our taskmasters with their whips; but now we see them clad in armor, as mighty ones, full of wrath, bearing the instruments of death. The pangs of sin, when the Lord forsakes us, are frequently as vehement as at first conversion, and in some eases far more so; for a conviction of having grieved e, Savior whose love we have once known, and whose faithfulness we have proved, will cause grief of a far more poignant character than any other order of conviction. Men who have been in a room full of light, think the darkness more dense than it is considered to be by those who have long walked in it; so pardoned men think more of the evil of sin than those who never saw the light. The deserted soul has little or no liberty in prayer: he pursues the habit from a sense of duty, but it yields him no delight. In prayer the spirit is dull and languid, and after it the soul feels no more refreshment than is afforded to the weary by a sleep disturbed with dreams and broken with terrors. He is unable to enter into the spirit of worship; it is rather an attempt at devotion than the attainment of it.
As when the bird with broken wing strives to mount, and rises a little distance, but speedily falls to the ground, where it painfully limps and flaps its useless pinion — so does the believer strive to pray, but fails to reach the height of his desires, and sorrowfully gropes his way with anguishing attempts to soar on high. A pious man once said, — “ Often when in prayer I feel as if I held between my palms .the fatherly heart of God and the bloody hand of the Lord Jesus; for I remind the one of his divine love and inconceivable mercies, and I grasp the other by his promise, and strive to hold him fast and say,’ I will not let thee go except thou bless me.’” f86 But when left by the Lord such blessed nearness of access is impossible; there is no answer of peace, no token for good, no message of love. The ladder is there, but no angels are ascending and descending upon it; the key of prayer is in the hand, but it turns uselessly within the lock. Prayer without the Lord’s presence is like a bow without a string, or an arrow without a head.
The Bible, too, that great granary of the finest wheat, becomes a place of emptiness, where hunger looks in vain for food: in reading it, the distressed soul will think it to be all threatenings and no promises; he will see the terrors written in .capitals, and the consolations printed in a type so small as to be almost illegible. Read the Word he must, for it has become as necessary as his food; but enjoy it he cannot, for its savor has departed. As well might we try to read in the dark as to get joy from Holy Scripture unless Christ shall pour his gracious light upon the page. As the richest field yields no harvest without rain, so the book of Revelation brings forth no comfort without the dew of the Spirit. Our intercourse with Christian f riends, once so enriching, is rendered profitless, or at best its only usefulness, is to reveal our Poverty by enabling us to compare our own condition!
With that of other saints. We cannot minister unto their edification, nor do we feel that their company is affording us its usual enjoyment; and it may be we turn away from them, longing to see Him face whose absence we’ deplore. This barrenness overspreads all the ordinances of the Lord’s house, and renders them all unprofitable. When Christ is with the Christian, the means of grace are like flowers in the sunshine, smelling fragrantly and smiling beauteously; but without Christ they are like flowers by night, their fountains of fragrance -.re sealed by the darkness. The songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, and her solemn feasts as mournful as her days of fasting. The sacred supper which, when Christ is at the table, is a feast of fat things, without Him is as an empty vine. The holy convocation without him is as the gatherings of the market, and the preaching of his Word as the shoutings of the streets. We hear, but the outward ear is the only part affected; we sing, but Hosannahs languish on our tongues; And our devotion dies.” We even attempt to :preach (if this be our calling), but we speak in heavy chains, full of grievous bondage. We pant for God’s house, and then, after we have entered it, we are but the worse. We have thirsted for the well, and having reached it we find it empty.
Very probably we shall grow censorious, and blame the ministry and the church when the blame lies only with ourselves. We shall begin to cavil, censure, criticize, and blame. Would to God that any who are now doing so would pause and inquire the reason of their unhappy disposition. Hear the reproof administered by one of the giants of puritanic times: “You come ofttimes to Wisdom’s home, and though she prepare you all spiritual dainties, yet you can relish nothing but some by-things, that lie about the dish rather for ornament than for food. And would you know the reason of this? It is because Christ is not with your spirits. If Christ were with you, you would feed on every dish at Wisdom’s table, on promises, yea, and on threatenings too. ‘To the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet,’ saith Solomon. All that is good and wholesome goes down well where Christ is with the spirit.” Oh, for the Master’s smile to impart a relish to his dainties! Weakness is the unavoidable result of the Lord’s displeasure. “The joy of the Lord is our strength,” and if this be wanting we necessarily become faint. “His presence is life, ” and the removal of it shakes us to our very foundation. Duty is toilsome labor, unless Christ make it a delight. “Without me ye can do nothing,” said the Redeemer; and truly we have found it so. The boldness of lion-like courage, the firmness of rooted decision, the confidence of unflinching faith, the seal of quenchless love, the vigor of undying devotion, the sweetness of sanctified fellowship — all hang for support upon the one pillar of the Savior’s presence, and this removed they fail. There are many and precious clusters, but they all grow on one bough, and if that be broken they fall with it. Though we be flourishing like the green bay-tree, yet the sharpness of such a winter will leave us leafless and bare. Then “the fig-tree Shall not blossom, neither shall there be fruit in the vine; the labor of the olive shall fad, and the field shall yield no meat.” “Instead of sweet smell there shall be a stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.” It is then that we shall cry with Saul, “I am sore distressed, for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets nor by dreams.” F89 Good it is for us that He is not clean gone for ever, but will turn again lest we perish.
Not to weary ourselves upon this mournful topic, we may sum up all the manifest effects of a loss of the manifest favor of Christ in one sad catalogue — misery of spirit, faintness in hope, coldness in worship, slackness in duty, dullness in prayer, barrenness in meditation, worldliness of mind, strife of conscience, attacks from Satan, and weakness in resisting the enemy. Such ruin doth a withdrawing of Divine presence work in man.
From all grieving of thy Spirit, from all offending of the Savior, from all withdrawing of thy visible favor, and loss of thy presence, good Lord, deliver us. And if at any time we have erred, and have lost the light of thy countenance, 0 Lord, help us still to believe thy grace and trust in the merits of thy Son, through whom we address thee. Amen.
TO THE UNCONVERTED READER.
SINNER, if the consequences of the temporary, departure of God be so terrible, what must it be to be shut out from him for ever? If the passing cloud of his. seeming anger scattereth Such grievous rain upon the beloved sons of God, how direful will be the continual shower of God’s unchanging wrath which will fall on the head of rebellious sinners for ever and ever *.
Ah, and we need not look so far as the future I How pitiable is your condition NOW! How great is the danger to which you are every day exposed! How can you eat or drink, or sleep or work, while the eternal God is your enemy? He whose wrath makes the devils roar in agony is not a God to be trifled with Beware I his frown is ,death; ‘tis more — ‘tis hell, If you knew the misery of the saint when his Lord deserts him but for a small moment, it would be enough to amaze you. Then what must it be to endure it throughout eternity? Sinner, thou art hasting to hell, mind what thou art at! Do not damn thyself, there are cheaper ways of playing feel than that. Go and array thyself in motley, and become the aping fool, at whom men laugh, but do not make laughter for fiends for ever. Carry coals’ on thy head, or dash thine head against the wall, to prove that thou art mad, but do not “kick against the pricks;” do not commit suicide upon thine own soul for the mere sake of indulging thy thoughtlessness. Be wise, lest being often reproved, having hardened thy neck, thou shouldest be suddenly destroyed, and that without remedy.