John Macduff Collection: MacDuff, John - The Pillar In The Night: 06 Mysterious Dealings

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John Macduff Collection: MacDuff, John - The Pillar In The Night: 06 Mysterious Dealings

TOPIC: MacDuff, John - The Pillar In The Night (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 06 Mysterious Dealings

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

"What I do you know not now; but you shall know hereafter."—John 13:7.

Not "now." The Pillar may as yet be unlighted; no stars may as yet be in the sky. The one thought and experience may be—"this great and terrible wilderness." "Where is now my God?"

Alas! it is easy with the lip to speak of the duty of lying silent under the rod—the nobleness of submission. This exhortation, glibly spoken, comes too often from those who have never themselves entered the inner depths of trial; who, however kindly meant, venture to address the smitten heart with conventional phrases of solace. They, unwittingly but unskillfully, probe the wound; in ignorance of how their words of intended condolence only lacerate. Resignation, aided with the soothing influences of time, does generally, and in due course, manifest itself. In the deepest night-watches of sorrow, the lullabies, not of man but of God, come in to soothe to rest, and to still the surges of the soul.

The assurance which heads our meditation, varying in its phraseology, is often that which Christ employs. On the present occasion, when His own disciples, all unconscious of their impending bereavement and orphan-hood, were at His side—when He Himself was on the borderland of superhuman suffering—too truly the Pillar without the gracious radiance—when in His hour of gloom and desertion He uttered the "climax cry,"—His balm-word is, 'Do not make rash assertions; do not form hasty conclusions; do not misinterpret mysterious dealings, looking more at the clouds in the horizon, than at the golden waves rippling at your feet. The Pillar now, and in moments of impending terror, may be but a darksome column to you; dark as it was to the Egyptians of old. You look in vain for illumination, guidance, comfort. But leave your "hereafter"; leave alike the dreary present and the desolate future with Me. I would deepen the lesson in this the hour when I Myself most need it—"Be still, and know that I am God."'

Objects and processes in nature and common life may aid illustration.

Go visit in thought one of the luxuriant valleys of the Holy Land, with which He who spoke our motto-verse was so familiar in His daily journeyings. Amid the abundant vegetation, there is one tree peculiar to the country, alike in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee—the mulberry or sycamore-fig, whose cluster-fruit, much resembling the fig in appearance, is brought to perfection in high summer. But how is this ripening obtained? The process is strange, abnormal. To all appearance it involves the mutilation both of branch and fruit. I shall leave one to describe who is familiar beyond most with the flora of the Holy Land, as well as the happiest of spiritual interpreters. "In order to produce fruit, the part of the tree where it buds requires to have a cut or wound made in it; for, unless this is done, the tree will be barren. From the wound or opening made in this way, a bud springs up which grows and forms the fruit. Then, further, when the fruit is about to be ripe, it requires to be punctured with a sharp instrument in order to make it eatable. …The sycamore tree originates in a wound and is ripened by a wound."

Take a kindred illustration familiar alike at home and in Palestine. Watch the pruning of these vines. Most of us may have seen the process. What an apparently merciless spoilage! These graceful offshoots running along the trellis—these exquisite leaves of tender green—the beauty alike of the terraced hills of Syria and of the home conservatory—a delight and refreshment in form and color—the last thing the uninitiated would dream of sacrificing, now strew the ground or the cold flagstones at your feet. "To what purpose is this waste?" The purpose to the ordinary inexperienced eye, indiscernible, as in the case of the sycamore, has in due season its revealing. The mellowed purple autumn clusters will vindicate the needs-be and wisdom of the seemingly ruthless use of the pruning-knife. The lopping of what is unnecessary, is in order to give fresh strength to the branches: to allow the vital sap and vital forces to permeate the leaders, swell the fruit, and ensure glory and abundance to the fruitage.

Watch that block of exquisite marble! It has looked from its heights since the birth of Time over the blue waters, or been gazed down upon by galaxies of stars in the depths of an Italian night-sky. Why disturb this sleep of ages? Why subject this fragment of a noble cliff to the tool of workmen, defrauding earth and heaven of the grandest of monoliths: wrenching it from its "throne of rocks" to lie prone, scarred, discrowned, amid dust and debris? Follow it to the sculptor's studio. There is a slumbering angel in that insensate mass. The chisel of Michael Angelo transforms the outcast thing into all but breathing life, and transmits a legacy of power and beauty to unborn generations.

Watch, yet again, behind the tapestries! Note the blurred colors and tangled web in their bewildering confusion. To the inexpert eye all is disharmony and ugliness. Pass from the row of skillful workers to the other side of the framework, and see the picture in process of manufacture. It is a piece of finished loveliness—every tint and color blended in perfection—a triumph of textile art.

God is that Fig-pruner, Vinedresser, Sculptor, Artist. He works unseen. His ways are past finding out. Present dealings ofttimes appear crude, harsh, unkind. That loving heart pulseless; that kindling eye of genius closed; that tender frame, shattered with the scar-marks of suffering; that home, so long resonant with joy and song, silent and voiceless.

Wait the disclosures of Eternity. Then shall we see what we were unconscious of at the time, that all was needed. That vine and sycamore have not been pruned in vain; the marble has not been wrenched from its rock-socket and chiseled in vain; the "pleasant pictures" have not been wrought in the web of life in vain. Doubts and questionings and impeachments will be at an end then: "In that day, you shall ask Me nothing" (John 16:23). A friend of Principal Shairp tells, that, on the morning he died, looking out with his old love of nature on a Highland loch, he said, "It is very misty now, but it will soon be perfectly clear." Yes, there will be no trace or memory in the halls and walls of heaven of broken thread and inharmonious pattern. The completed tapestry will then at least, when the Divine shuttle has done its work, be seen to glow with perfect and perpetual beauty in the Palace of the King.

Meanwhile listen to the following words of some gifted minstrels. They seem to form an appropriate triplet of Hope and Trust for all downcast Pilgrims—

"I hear it singing, singing sweetly,

Softly in an undertone,

Singing as if God had taught it,

'It is better further on!'

"Night and day it sings the sonnet;

Sings it while I sit alone;

Sings it so my heart will hear it,

'It is better further on!'

"Sits upon the grave and sings it;

Sings it when the heart would groan;

Sings it when the shadows darken,

'It is better further on!'

"Further on! but how much further,

Count the milestones one by one?

No—no counting, only trusting—

'It is better further on!'"

In different imagery, here is the panacea of the greatest of our living poets, as thus he describes the Personation of the same heavenly Faith and Trust—

"She reels not in the storm of warring words;

She sees the best that glimmers through the worst;

She feels the sun is hid but for a night;

She spies the summer through the winter bud;

She tastes the fruit before the blossom falls;

She hears the lark within the songless egg;

She finds the fountain where they wailed 'Mirage!'"

While a still later singer adds his sweet tribute—as if the desert and the night Pillar were in view—with the great Light of glory terminating all—

"Not yet you know how I bid

Each passing hour entwine

Its grief or joy, its hope or fear,

In one great love-design:

Nor how I lead you through the night

By many a various way,

Still upward to unclouded Light

And onward to the Day!"

"Why are you cast down, o my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God! for I shall yet praise him who is the health of my countenance."