When The Path Is Darkest

The causes from where mental suffering arises are many. With some of the Lord’s people the origin is hereditary, with others it is natural, and with yet more it is religious. But, from whatever it may arise, mental suffering in some form is the discipline appointed by God for many of His people. Think not that your case is singular, or that you are an especial object of your Father’s displeasure, because he has so afflicted you.

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Dark Dispensations

“Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disquieted within me? Hope you in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” Psalm 42:11

In all His dispensations—the severest and the darkest—have faith in God. This is, perhaps, one of the greatest achievements of faith. To believe in God when He smiles, to trust in Him when conscious of His nearness, to have faith in Him when the path is flowery and pleasant, were an easy task. But to have faith in Him when “He holds back the face of His throne, and spreads His cloud upon it; to love Him when He frowns; to follow Him when He withdraws; to cleave to Him when He would seem to shake us off; to trust in Him when His arm is raised to slay—this were faith indeed. And yet all this the faith of God’s elect can achieve. If not, of what value is it? Of what possible use to the mariner would be the compass which would only work in the day, and not in the night? which only served to steer the vessel in light winds, and not in rough gales? Faith is the believing soul’s compass, guiding it as truly and as certainly to the heavenly port through the wildest tempest as through the serenest calm. To change the figure, faith is that celestial telescope which can pierce the thickest haze or the darkest cloud, descrying suns and stars glowing and sparkling in the far distance. It can discern God’s smile under a frown; it can read His name to be “love” beneath the dark dispensation; it can behold the Sun of Righteousness beaming through the interstices of gloomy clouds; and now and then it can catch a glimpse of the harbor itself, with the towering turrets and golden spires of the “new Jerusalem” glittering in the distance. Oh, it is a wonderful grace, the precious faith of God’s elect!

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May 29: Why Are You Downcast?

“Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disquieted within me? Hope you in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” Psalm 42:11

In all His dispensations—the severest and the darkest—have faith in God. This is, perhaps, one of the greatest achievements of faith. To believe in God when He smiles, to trust in Him when conscious of His nearness, to have faith in Him when the path is flowery and pleasant, were an easy task. But to have faith in Him when “He holds back the face of His throne, and spreads His cloud upon it; to love Him when He frowns; to follow Him when He withdraws; to cleave to Him when He would seem to shake us off; to trust in Him when His arm is raised to slay—this were faith indeed. And yet all this the faith of God’s elect can achieve.

If not, of what value is it? Of what possible use to the mariner would be the compass which would only work in the day, and not in the night? which only served to steer the vessel in light winds, and not in rough gales? Faith is the believing soul’s compass, guiding it as truly and as certainly to the heavenly port through the wildest tempest as through the serenest calm. To change the figure, faith is that celestial telescope which can pierce the thickest haze or the darkest cloud, descrying suns and stars glowing and sparkling in the far distance. It can discern God’s smile under a frown; it can read His name to be “love” beneath the dark dispensation; it can behold the Sun of Righteousness beaming through the interstices of gloomy clouds; and now and then it can catch a glimpse of the harbor itself, with the towering turrets and golden spires of the “new Jerusalem” glittering in the distance. Oh, it is a wonderful grace, the precious faith of God’s elect!

Is God dealing with you now in a way of deep trial, of dark providence, mysterious to your mind, and painful to your heart? Is He even chastening you for your backslidings, correcting you for your sins? Still “have faith in God.” Sensible appearances, second causes, cannot in the least degree affect the ground of your faith which is God Himself—His immutable nature, His unchangeable love, His eternal purpose, His everlasting covenant, His own Divine and glorious perfections. Believe that you are in His heart, and that your interests are in His hands. Have faith in His wisdom to guide, in His love to direct, in His power to sustain, in His faithfulness to fulfill every promise that now relates to your best welfare and happiness. Only believe in God—that all things in His disposal of you, in His transactions with you, are working together for our present and eternal good. All that He expects and requires of you now is to have faith in Him. The cloud may be dark, the sea tempestuous, but God is in the cloud, and “the Lord sits upon the flood.” Even now it is the privilege of your faith to exclaim, “My soul, hope you in God. He is my God; I will trust, and not be
afraid.”

Oh, what inspiring words are these—”hope you in God!” I hesitate not to say, my reader, you may hope in God. Though your case may seem desperate, to your eye cheerless and hopeless, not merely too intricate for man, but too unworthy for God—yet you may hope in God. Take your case to Him, hoping against hope, and believing in unbelief. Will He close His heart against you? Never! Will He repel you when you fly to Him? Never! It is not in the heart of God, no, nor is it in His power, to do so.

Take hold of His strength—I speak it humbly, reverentially—and you have overcome God. You disarm Him of the instrument and of the power to punish you; you have laid your hand of faith upon the strength of His love, and have made peace with Him. You cannot cherish a hope too sanguine, nor exercise a faith too implicit in God, hopeless, cheerless, and extreme as your case may be. Impossible! God never appears so like Himself, as in the season of the believer’s darkness and suffering. At the very moment in which he sees the least of God, God appears the most what He is. The tenderest unfoldings of His heart are in sorrow, the brightest exhibitions of His character are in darkness, and the most glorious displays of His wisdom, power, and grace are seen gleaming through the mist.

September 23: Mercy Unending

“In a little wrath I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on you, says the Lord your Redeemer.” Isaiah 54:8

Many are the seasons of spiritual darkness, and sensible withdrawments of God’s presence, through which the believer is often called to pass. Seasons, during which his hope seems to have perished; and God, as he believes, has forgotten to be gracious; seasons, during which he cannot look up as a pardoned sinner, as a justified soul, as an adopted child, and say, “Abba, Father!” All is midnight gloom to his soul.

And while God seems to have withdrawn, Satan instantly appears. Taking advantage of the momentary absence of the Lord, for let it be remembered, it is not an actual and eternal withdrawment—he levels his fiery darts—suggests hard thoughts of God—tempts the soul to believe the past has been but a deception, and that the future will develop nothing but darkness and despair.

Satan, that constant and subtle foe, frequently seizes, too, upon periods of the believer’s history, when the providences of God are dark and mysterious—when the path, along which the weary pilgrim is pressing, is rough and intricate, or, it may be, when he sees not a spot before him, the way is obstructed, and he is ready to exclaim with Job, “He has fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and he has set darkness in my paths.” Or with Jeremiah, “He has hedged me about that I cannot get out.” Let it not then be forgotten by the soul that walks in darkness and has no light, that the providential dealings of a covenant God and Father, which now are depressing the spirits, stirring up unbelief, and casting a shade over every prospect, may be seized upon by its great enemy, and be appropriated to an occasion of deep and sore temptation.

It was thus he dealt with our blessed Lord, who was in all points tempted as His people, yet without sin. And if the Head thus was tempted, so will be, the member—if the Lord, so the disciple. And for this very end was our blessed Lord thus tempted, that He might enter sympathetically into all the circumstances of His tried and suffering people—”For in that He Himself has suffered being tempted, He is able to support those who are tempted.”

But a momentary sense of God’s withdrawment from the believer affects not his actual security in the atoning blood; this nothing can disturb. The safety of a child of God hinges not upon a frame or a feeling, the ever-varying and fitful pulses of a believing soul. Oh no! the covenant rests upon a surer basis than this; the child of the covenant is sealed with a better hope and promise.

He may change, but his covenant God never; his feelings may vary, but his Father’s love never veers: He loved him from all eternity, and that love extends to all eternity. As God never loved His child for anything He saw, or should see, in that child; so His love never changes for all the fickleness, sinfulness, and unworthiness, He daily and hourly discovers.

Oh where would the soul fly but for this truth? When it takes into account the sins, the follies, the departures, the flaws of but one week—yes, when it reviews the history of but one day, and sees enough sin in a single thought to sink it to eternal and just perdition—but for an unchangeable God, to what consolation would it resort?

September 21: Zion’s Mourners

“And you said, I will surely do you good.” Genesis 32:12

God, in the administration of His all-wise, all-righteous, all-beneficent government, has night seasons as well as day—seasons of darkness as well as seasons of light—and in both He must be contemplated, studied, and known.

As the night reveals glories in the firmament, which the day concealed, so dark dispensations of Divine Providence bring to the believer’s eye, as viewed through the telescope of faith, glories in the character and wonders in the government of Jehovah, which the milder and brighter displays of Himself had veiled from the eye.

Oh, beloved, how scanty were our experience of God—how limited our knowledge of His love, wisdom, and power—how little should we know of Jesus, our best Friend, the Beloved of our souls, did we know Him only in mercy, and not also in judgment—were there no lowering skies, no night of weeping, no shady paths, no rough places, no cloud-tracings, no seasons of lonely sorrow, of pressing need, and of fierce temptation. “In the way of Your judgments, O Lord, have we waited for You; the desire of our soul is to Your name, and to the remembrance of You.”

Nor should we overlook the full play and exercise of faith which occurrences, to us dark, discrepant, and mysterious, call into operation. Faith in God is the most precious, wondrous, and fruitful grace of the Holy Spirit in the renewed soul. Its worth is beyond all price. Its possession is cheap at any cost. One saving view of Jesus—one dim vision of the cross—one believing touch of the Savior—a single grain of this priceless gold—millions of rubies were as nothing to it. Then were its exercise and trial good. And but for its trial how uncertain would it be!

Were there no circumstances alarming in the aspect they assume—somber in the form they wear—rude in the voice they utter—events which threaten our happiness and well-being—which seem to dry our springs, wither our flowers, blight our fruits, and drape life’s landscape in gloom—how limited would be the sphere of faith! It is the province of this mighty grace to pierce thick clouds, to scale high walls, to walk in the dark, to pass unhurt through fire, to smile at improbabilities, and to master impossibilities.

As the mariner’s compass guides the ship, coursing its way over the ocean, as truly and as safely in the starless night as in the meridian day, so faith—the needle of the soul—directs us safely, and points the believer in his right course homewards as truly, in the gloomiest as in the brightest hour. Oh, how little are we aware of the real blessings that flow to us through believing! God asks of us nothing but faith; for where there is faith in the Lord Jesus there is love—and where there is, love there is obedience—and where there is obedience there is happiness—and where there is happiness, the soul can even rejoice in tribulation, and sit and sing sweetly and merrily in adversity, like a bird amid the boughs whose green foliage the frost has nipped, and the autumnal blast has scattered.

It is God’s sole prerogative to reduce good from seeming evil—to order and overrule all events of an untoward nature, and of a threatening aspect, for the accomplishment of the most beneficent ends. This He is perpetually doing with reference to His saints. The Spirit of love broods over the chaotic waters, and life’s dark landscape appears like a new-born existence. The curse is turned into a blessing—the discordant notes breathe the sweetest music.

You marvel how this can be. What is impossible with man is more than possible with God. Often in your silent musings over some untoward event in your life, sad in its nature, and threatening in its look, have you asked, “What possible good can result from this? It seems utterly opposed to my interests, and hostile to my happiness. It appears an unmixed, unmitigated evil.”

Be still! Let not your heart fret against the Lord and against His dealings—all things in your history are for your good—and this calamity, this affliction, this loss, is among the “all things.” The extraction of the curse from everything appertaining to the child of God converts everything into a blessing. Christ has so completely annihilated the curse by obedience, and has so entirely put away sin by suffering, nothing is left of real, positive evil, in the dealings of God with His church.

Jesus, because His love was so great, did all, endured all, finished all; and it is not only in the heart of God, but it is in the power of God—a power exerted in alliance with every perfection of His being—to cause all events to conspire to promote our present and eternal happiness. I cannot see how God will work it, or when He will accomplish it, but assured that I am His pardoned, adopted child, I can calmly leave the issue of all things in my life with Him; confident that, however complicated may be the web of His providence, however hostile the attitude or discouraging the aspect of events, all, all under the government and overruling will of my Heavenly Father are working together for my good. The result, then, of this matter, my God, I leave with You.

“Your ways, O Lord, with wise design,
Are framed upon Your throne above,
And every dark and bending line
Meets in the center of Your love.”

What is there of good we need, or of evil we dread, which God’s heart will withhold, or His power cannot avert? Oh, it is in the heart of our covenant God to lavish every good upon us—to “withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly.”

Lord, lead us into Your love—Your love infinite, Your love unfathomable, Your love hidden and changeless as Your nature!