"The Lord went before them by night in a pillar of fire."
"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow."—Matt. 6:34.
"Commit your way unto the Lord."—Psalm 37:5.
Here is a double voice from the Pillar-cloud, in the midst of your night of sorrow.
Like most trials, I shall suppose that the present one has suddenly overtaken you. An unexpected bolt has descended; some silver chord has suddenly been loosed; some golden bowl irreparably broken. You can say of your grief as a true sufferer has simply described it: "It lies down with us at night. It rises with us in the morning." You feel at once out on the stormy billows, away from the harbor where all so lately was peace. You ask, in your first hour of bewilderment, can it really be so; that the fond vision of years has departed like a scroll; the favorite life-chord snapped? "Suddenly are my tents spoiled and my curtains in a moment," (Jer. 4:20)—those gone in the twinkling of an eye for "the forever of time," who, using the words of a distinguished scholar, "in old days it was strength to be with, and for the future it will be strength to remember" (Westcott). But it is, alas! this very future which is now, all unexpectedly, the perplexing and pathetic anticipation. Must the light of the Pillar-cloud here be sought for in vain? With these dense impalpable shadows projected without warning on your path, is your only outlook, voiceless solitude—the gloom of the desert by night or its mocking mirage by day; beguiling you into false confidences and disappointing hopes?
"Leave," says Christ, "that tomorrow with Me." "Take no needless, over-anxious thought, as the word means, about it. That tomorrow, under My hand, will reveal itself. Instead of trying vainly in this "hurricane eclipse" to forecast the dusty, travel-stained roads of life—"Commit your way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass. And He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noonday. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him" (Psalm 37:5, 6, 7).
Reader, do not suppose that nervous, anxious apprehensions about the future, or wonderment at the mysterious dealings of God are in your case exceptional. You remember, how, in a different form, they were experienced and avowed by the typical "Pilgrims of the Night,"—the Hebrew host at the very commencement of their Exodus. Not only was it with them mystery and enigma, but the almost certainty of disaster, appalling in its suddenness, "They are entangled in the land, the wilderness has shut them in!" "Surely You did set them in slippery places: You cast them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors" (Psalm 73:18, 19). Even their faithful commander was terror-struck. The column of flame was deflected from what appeared the right way—leading to panic and peril—the barrier mountains behind, and the raging sea in front. There was nothing but misgiving for the present, and tremulousness for the future. Falling prone to the ground, Moses wails out his plaint and remonstrance.
But the God of the covenant host knew better. Accordingly, He answers only in words of righteous rebuke, "Why do you lie on your face? Tell the children of Israel to go forward." "Commit," as if He said, "that unknown road and unrevealed tomorrow to Me; I the Lord will go before you; I the God of Israel will be your reward." "Forward," was the word of command, as the no longer sceptic leader anew grasped his rod and rose in the might of Jehovah. If not then, the day would come in long after years, when the memorial song would be sung, "He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men" (Psalm 107:7, 8).
Confide in that same assurance. The tomorrow may doubtless to you, also, be all perplexity. Like a group of desert travelers of a future age—like the Magi, you may seem suddenly to have lost your guiding star. But, Jehovah-Jireh! (the Lord will provide.) Seek to rise above these unworthy morbid forebodings. It is the nature of faith—the triumph of faith—to overcome difficulties, to feel assured that in due time the gloomiest cloud will be braided with silver linings.
The disciples at the scene of Transfiguration at first "feared to enter the cloud." Before long when they passed through its enfoldings, the gloom and mystery were dispelled. "They looked unto Him and were lightened," for "His face shone as the Sun." His feet, as they were in an after day seen in Patmos by one of those privileged spectators, would seem "like pillars of fire." That glimpse of transfigured glory prepared them for the great impending suffering in Gethsemane and Calvary. They were braced under the shadow of the cloud for the fiery trials that were so soon to try them.
Enter on your veiled future in a similar spirit–
"Stoop not forever over sorrow's loom
On webs of drear unprofitable gloom,
Behold the text, writ with the Sun's last hand
In crimson cipher on the golden sky,
Proclaiming joyous tomorrow to the land:
Then let the soul take comfort."—After-Glow.
God gives you in our older type of the Pillar, a similar pledge of safety and rest. He can bring good out of evil, and light out of darkness, and order out of confusion. He can transform the wilderness into an oasis fringed with palms and musical with fountains—thus fulfilling in a better than its literal sense His own promise, "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose."
One of the sweetest of our religious poets would almost seem to have had that "Light of fire" in view, as the lines were written—
"For one thing only, Lord, dear Lord, I plead,
Lead me aright.
Though strength should falter,
and though heart should bleed,
Through peace to light.
I do not ask my cross to understand,
My way to see—
Better in darkness just to feel Your hand,
And follow Thee."
How blessed, we may well add, that the future, so well known to Him, is unknown to us! What a pall would be cast on many a joyous life, had the power been given (so mercifully witholden) of foreknowing it! We are thus spared years of anticipated misery. Never was there a more gracious appointment and provision than that spoken of by James, "You don't know what shall happen tomorrow."
"Accept the present with a thankful heart,
Nor listen to the tramp of troublous years
Remembered joy shall soothe, when sorrow's smart
Turns your sweet past to tears."
The best and highest thought of all is, that our "destinies,"—our present—and above all, our future and its unborn hours are "God-appointed." When from His lips the question is propounded, "Is it well with you?" (that question to which the faithless heart is ever tempted to give an evasive answer)—be it yours, confident in the combined wisdom and love of your Leader, to respond, "It is well!"—glorifying Him by meek submission and faithful following. "Shall we presumptuously cross His path? or shall we, like well disciplined soldiers, keep our post and watch for the signals?" (Newman). With the change of a word, let us strive to say—
"I do not ask to see
The unveiling of Your purpose, or the shining
Of future light on mysteries untwining,
Your promise-roll is all my own,
Your Pillar enough for me."
Chequered though your way may be, He will be at every turning point—soothing adversity—tempering prosperity. And when that tomorrow shall itself come to an end, death will be but as a short summer's night pearled with clouds, a momentary overcasting of the heavens—no more. Life's retrospect will evoke the Angel-Song of Bethlehem, "Glory to God!" Then the light, not of wilderness pillar, but of unsetting suns, "the light that never was on land or sea," will illuminate an endless tomorrow.
With this glorious prospect, mourner, you may now sing, even it may be amid present blinding grief, one of the inspired "restful rhythms"—"Yet I am always with You. You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory!" Psalm 73:23-24