John Macduff Collection: MacDuff, John - The Pillar In The Night: 02 Divine Sovereignty

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John Macduff Collection: MacDuff, John - The Pillar In The Night: 02 Divine Sovereignty

TOPIC: MacDuff, John - The Pillar In The Night (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 02 Divine Sovereignty

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"The Lord went before them by night in a pillar of fire."

"At the Lord's command they encamped, and at the Lord's command they set out. They obeyed the Lord's order, in accordance with his command through Moses."—Numbers 9:23

In the season of desolating bereavement no thought is more needed to comfort and sustain than that of the Divine Sovereignty.

Does affliction spring from the dust, and trouble from the ground? Are life and death regulated by nothing better than accident and chance? Are we at the mercy of second causes? Could suffering couches, sick-beds, and death-beds, have been averted by human foresight? Does God reign? or is this world abandoned to self-rule? At best, if Deity be acknowledged, is He only some abstract, arbitrary Impersonal Force, withdrawn to the sublime solitudes of space; as little conversant and sympathetic, as the fabled gods of Olympus were, with the needs and trials of His people? Or what is worse, "the God of thunderbolts"; inexorable, stern, and vengeful, as were the idols of the old Etruscans, or Kali and Vishnu of the Hindoos?

Though dismissing the last with its repellent terrorism, it is indeed not easy, at times, to rise, even in the case of those who own the Divine Fatherhood, above the tyranny of secondary agencies. The Sovereignty of the Supreme Controller is often confronted with human culpability. "If such and such only had been done. An oar, a floating spar, a grip of the hand, would in time have saved my child!" Timely precaution—a yard farther apart, would have averted the lightning stroke, or escaped the precipice. An improvised rope, where the fire-escape was absent, would have prevented the most dreadful of catastrophes—"The Lord does not see, neither does the God of Israel regard." "Surely my way is hidden from the Lord, and my judgment has passed over from my God!" If not, why these unanswered prayers? Why, to these impassioned pleadings, is the earth as brass and the heaven as iron? Does Jehovah, or the twin scepters of Destiny and Fate, rule the Universe? "Why has the Lord our God done all this to us?" (Jer. 5:19)

Hush this covert or avowed atheism. "The Lord reigns; let the earth be glad" (Psalm 97:1). "Who knows not, in all these things, that the hand of the Lord has wrought this?" (Job 12:9). Never was the pillar of the desert a truer symbolic pledge than here. God goes before His people of every age "all the night with a light of fire." This world may, indeed, appropriately be called, as was the broad field at Shechem in a future age where Abimelech was crowned King—"the plain of the Pillar" (Judges 9:6). There flashes far and wide, farthest and widest in the deep midnight of trial, the gleam of the Divine Sovereignty. This is the legend for every human soul: it forms the history of Pilgrim-Israel now as of old—"And the Ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them to seek out a resting place for them" (Numb. 10:33). That Ark moved at the bidding neither of earthly leader nor priest. Its every movement was determined by the Divine Shepherd of Israel Himself—"the Angel of His Presence." In the words of our motto-verse, "At the commandment of the Lord they rested in the tents, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed" (Numb. 9:23).

God's providences, to take a long-subsequent incident from one of our own centuries, are like the land-birds which hovered over the vessel of Columbus when he was all uncertain as to his track. "Let us follow them in their course," said his seamen. The explorer hearkened to the wise counsel. Before long the shore was hailed and the anchorage of a new world secured. There is no halfway truth—we must own and follow the guiding Pillar; and recognize, step by step, encampment after encampment, the presence of the All-seeing God has beset me behind and before, and has laid His hand upon me" (Psalm 139:5). The old Patriarch, in that same Arabian desert, grasped and antedated a true Christian philosophy, when he turned away from all devil-born suggestions of second causes: sandstorm, whirlwind and lightning, flash of Sabaean sword and spear. Gazing devoutly out of his darkness, he owned alone the dealings and decrees of a Personal God. His cries have been the stay as well as the rebuke of many a sufferer under a brighter dispensation—"The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken" (Job 1:21). "Behold He takes away, who can hinder Him? Who will say unto Him, What do You?" (Job 9:12). "He knows the way that I take" (Job 23:10).

Yes, stricken one! be assured this is the rudimentary truth in theology, the foundation-article in the creed of the afflicted—"God Himself has done it" (Isaiah 38:15). "Jehovah Shammai!" (The Lord is there). Make it your endeavor—your prayer, to listen first, and before all else, to the Voice from the Column which says—"I have appointed that trial, these hours of agonizing suspense, that pining sickness, that wasted body, that impaired mind, that early grave. Think of Me also in your minutest sorrows and their accompaniments. Think of Me, not as a powerful agency occupied only with great things and momentous events; condescending alone to guide the solemn march of stars or the revolution of kingdoms: think of Me, rather, as fixing the dew-drop on the stem, penciling the unseen flower of the desert, sculpturing the snow-wreath, controlling the undulation of the waves—watching the drop of every leaf in the forest."

Things have a relative proportion and magnitude in the eye of man. They are called large and small. There are no such terms in the Divine vocabulary. "His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion endures to all generations. (Yet) the Lord upholds all who fall, and raises up all those who are bowed down" (Psalm 145:14). He feeds the young ravens when they cry. "He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay His hand" (Dan. 4:35). "Cast your burden He has given you (R.V.) on the Lord" (Psalm 55:22).

Believe, as very essential to your present comfort, that there can be no minimizing of this Divine power and control. Seek to say with the Minstrel King in His hour of great sorrow, "I will be silent, I will open not my mouth, because YOU did it." Seek that the too merited reproach against the old Hebrew multitude in the desert may not be yours—"Yet in this thing you did not believe the Lord your God, who went before you in the way, to seek you out a place to pitch your tents in, in fire by night, to show you by what way you should go" (Deut. 1:33).

The voice from the Pillar may at times be MYSTERIOUS. It may be heard in thunder-tones; but it is God's voice notwithstanding. Yes, and be assured, there is a Divine necessity for it. It may be in the shadow of His hand that He hides us (Isaiah 49:2). But He knows us better, He loves us better, than to leave us unchastened and unchallenged. He sees it would not be well if our path lay all through the sunlight of Beulah. We can confide in His wisdom and power, His grace and love—that He will keep us no longer in the furnace than is absolutely needful. He who lighted it, is seated by, tempering the fury of the flames.

The main lesson of this meditation ought to be that of the former—child-like, unwavering trust in the Great Supreme. Beware of misinterpreting His dealings; even when teaching by stern lessons. Much is now in a foreign tongue. All will be translated in heaven. Present experiences of "sorrow " will be rendered into "memories of His great goodness."

"God can read it; we must wait;

Wait til He teach the mystery;

Then the wisdom-woven history

Faith shall read and love translate."

"He disciplines us for our profit" will then at least be the unhesitating avowal. "He that has wrought us for the selfsame thing is God" (2 Cor. 5:5). The King's daughter, all glorious within, will, through the endless ages, be adorned in "her clothing of wrought gold" (Psalm 45:13). Even now we can exult in the assurance that these same angels of affliction spoken of in our last, marshaled and commissioned by the Lord of Hosts, are, on the loom of sorrow, "working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!"

Reader, you may thus well proceed under the solemn gleam and guidance of your Pillar, rejoicing that every turn in the desert is known to God, that in night watches of profoundest gloom you are under the sleepless eye of Israel's unslumbering Shepherd. May your experience be, "By His light I walked in darkness." Let patience, and devout recognition of His sovereign hand, be known and read of all men. See that the broken alabaster vase may fill the whole home of your influence with its fragrance. So that of others who, in the endurance of similar trials, have failed fully to own the Divine appointment, it may be said, "They have heard that You, Lord, are in the midst of this people; for You, Lord, are seen face to face; and Your cloud stands over them. "The Lord guided them by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. That way they could travel whether it was day or night." Exodus 13:21