THIS harp sounds most sweetly. All through life, I may picture the saints as marching to its music, even as the children of Israel set forward to the notes of the silver trumpets. Israel came to the Red Sea; they might well be afraid, for the Egyptians were behind them — the crack of their whips might be heard; the rolling sea was before them, but Israel marched confidently through its depths, because the word was given, “Fear not; Jehovah is with His people.” See the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, how safely do they follow its direction, even through the heart of the sea! They tread the sand on the other side: it is an arid waste — how shall they support themselves or their flocks? “Fear thou not; for I am with thee!” Lo! the manna drops from heaven, and the waters ripple from the rock. But see! they come to Jordan! it is their last difficulty, and then they shall reach the land of their inheritance. Jordan divides — what aileth thee, O Jordan, that thou wast driven back? God was with His people — they feared not, but entered into their rest: this is the heritage of all the saints.
As I thought of the life of faith, I saw before mine eyes, as in a vision, a lofty staircase of light, and, led by an invisible hand, I mounted step by step; when I had ascended long and far, it turned and turned again and again, I could see no supports to this elevated staircase, no pillars of iron, no props of stone — it seemed to hang in air. As I climbed, I looked up to see whither the staircase went, but I saw no further than the step whereon I stood; save that now and then the clouds of light above me parted asunder, and I thought I saw the throne of the Eternal and the heaven of His glory.
My next step seemed to be upon the air, and yet when I boldly put down my foot I found it firm as adamant beneath me. I looked back on the steps which I had trodden, and was amazed, but I dared not tarry, for “forward ” was the voice which urged me on, and I knew, for faith had told me, that that winding stair would end at last, beyond the sun and moon and stars, in the excellent glory. As now and then I gazed down into the depths out of which the stair had lifted me, I shuddered at my fate should I slip from my standing, or should the next step plunge me into the abyss! Over the edge of that whereon I stood, I gazed with awe, for I saw nothing but a gaping void of black darkness, and into this I must plunge my foot in the faith of finding another step beneath it. I should have been unable to advance, and would have sat down in utter despair had I not heard the word from above of one in whom I trusted, saying, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee.” I knew that my mysterious guide could not err. I felt that infinite faithfulness; would not bid me take a step if it were not safe; and therefore mounting still, I stand at this hour happy and rejoicing, though my faith be all above my own comprehension, and my work above my own ability.
We believe in the providence of God, but we do not believe half enough in it. Remember that Omnipotence has servants everywhere, set in their places at every point of the road. In the old days of the post horses, there were always relays of swift horses ready to carry onward the king’s mails.
It is wonderful how God has His relays of providential agents; how when He has done with one, there is always another just ready to take his place.
Sometimes you have found one friend fail you — he is just dead and buried; “Ah!” say you, “what shall I do?” Well, well, God knows how to carry on the purposes of His providence; He will raise up another. How strikingly punctual providence is! You and I make appointments, and miss them by half-an-hour; but God never missed an appointment yet. God never is before His time, though we often wish He were; but He never is behind, no, not by one tick of the clock. When the children of Israel were to go down out of Egypt, all the Pharaohs in the pyramids, if they had risen to life again, could not have kept them in bondage another half-minute. “Thus saith the Lord, Let my people go!” it was time, and go they must.
All the kings of the earth, and all the princes thereof, are in subjection to the kingdom of God’s providence, and He can move them just as He pleases; and as the showman pulls his string and moves his puppets, so can God move all that are on earth, and the angels in heaven, according to His will and pleasure. And now, trembler, wherefore are you afraid? “Fear thou not; for I am with thee.” All the mysterious arrangements of providence work for our good. Touch that string again, you who are in trouble, and see if there my harp be not a rare instrument.
God well knows how, if He do not interpose openly to deliver us in trouble, to infuse strength into our sinking hearts. “There appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him,” it is said of our Lord; and I do not doubt but what invisible spirits are often sent by God from heaven to invigorate our spirits when they are ready to sink. Have you never felt it? You sat down an hour ago and wept as if your heart would break, and then you bowed your knee in solemn prayer and spread the case before the Lord, and afterwards when you came down from the chamber, you felt as if you could joyfully encounter the trouble; you were humbled and bowed down lander it, as a child under a chastening rod, but you gave yourself up to it. You knew it was your Father that smote, and so you did not rebel any longer, but you went into the world determined to meet the difficulty which you thought would crush you, feeling that you were quite able to sustain it.
I have read of those who bathe in those baths of Germany which are much impregnated with iron, that they have felt, after bathing, as if they were made of iron, and were able in the heat of the sun to cast off the heat as though they were dressed in steel. Happy indeed are they who bathe in the bath of such a promise as this, “I am with thee!” Put your whole soul into that consoling element; plunge into it, and you will feel your strength suddenly renewed, so that you can bear troubles which before would have overburdened you.
And, there is a way by which the Lord can be with His people, which is best of all, namely, by sensible manifestations of His presence, imparting joy and peace which surpass all understanding. I shall not venture to explain the exhilaration, the rapture, which is caused in a child of God by the consciousness that God is near him. In one sense, He is always near us; but there is an opening of our eye, and an unsealing of our ear, a putting away of the external senses; and an opening of the inner spiritual sense, by which the inner life of the Christian becomes wondrously conscious of the pervading presence of the Most High. Describe it, I cannot; it is not a thing for words; it is like what heaven must be; it is a stray gleam of the sunlight of paradise, fallen upon this sinful world. You are as sure that God is with you, as you are sure that you are in the body. Though the walls do not glow, and though the humble floor does not blaze with light, and though no rustle of angels’ wings be heard, yet you are like Moses when he put off his shoes from off his feet, for the place whereon you stand has become holy ground to you. Bowed down, I have felt it, until it seemed as if the spirit must be crushed; yet at the same time, lifted up till the exceeding weight of glory became too great a joy, too overwhelming for flesh and blood.
Here is a person who has lost all his goods, and is very poor. He is met tomorrow morning by a generous friend who says to him, “Fear not, you shall go share and share with me. You know that I am a person of considerable property; fear not, I know your losses, but I am with you.”
Now, I feel sure that any person so accosted, would go home and say to himself, “Well, now, I have no need of any trouble, I am rich, since one half of what my friend has is more than I had before.” Ay, but may not the same losses which fell upon you fall upon your friend? May not the same reverses in commerce which have made you poor, make him poor? and in that case you are as ill off as ever. Besides, your friend may change his mind; he may find you much too expensive a client, and he may one of these days shut his door against you. But, now, God says to you, “I am with thee.” Now, the Lord has much more than your friend; He is much more faithful; He will never grow weary of you; He cannot change His mind. Surely it is better for you to feel that God is with you than to rely upon an arm of flesh.
Is it not so? Believer, you will never prefer man to God, will you? Will you prefer to rest in a poor, changeable man’s promise, rather than to rest upon the immutable covenant of God? You would not dare to say that, though I dare say you have acted as if you would. I am afraid, such is our unbelief, that sometimes we should really prefer the poor arm of flesh to the Almighty arm of God — what a disgrace to us! But in our sober senses, we must confess that God’s “I am with thee,” is better than the kindest assurance of the best of friends. One may be engaged in Christian service, and have been working hard; would not you feel very happy if God were to raise up a dozen young spirits who would rally round and help? “Oh!” say you, “yes, I could go then to my grave saying, ‘Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,’ since there are so many others enlisted in the good cause.” Well, but is it so? Might they not also grow as weary as yourself? and what are they compared with the world’s needs? and may they not soon be taken away, or prove unfaithful? If God saith, “I am with thee,” is not that better than twenty thousand of the brightest spirits; ay, and thousands and thousands of the most industrious missionaries? For what would they all be, without God? So that the only comfort they can bring you, they have to borrow first of all from Him.
Take the naked promise of God, for it is enough, and more than enough, though all earth’s springs were dry.