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.

April 17: Comfort For The Downcast

God, that comforts those that are cast down. 2 Cor. 7:6

IF there is much to cast down the child of God, there is more to lift him up. If in his path to glory there are many causes of soul-despondency, of heart-sorrow, and mental disquietude, yet in that single truth—God comforts the disconsolate—he has an infinite counterbalance of consolation, joy, and hope. That “God comforts those that are cast down,” His own truth declares. It is in His heart to comfort them, and it is in His power to comfort them. He blends the desire, deep and yearning, with the ability, infinite and boundless. Not so with the fondest, tenderest creature. The sorrow is often too deep and too sacred for human sympathy to reach. But what is fathomless to man is a shallow to God.

I have said, that it is in the heart of God to comfort His people. Everything that He has done to promote their comfort proves it. He has commanded His ministers to “speak comfortably” to them. He has sent forth His word to comfort them. He has laid up all comfort and consolation for them, in the Son of His love. And in addition to all this, He has given them His own Spirit, to lead them to the Divine sources of “all consolation” which He has provided. Who could comfort the disconsolate but God? Who could effectually undertake their case but Himself? He only knows their sorrow, and He only could meet it.

There is not a moment in which God is not bent upon the comfort of “those that are cast clown.” All His dealings with them tend to this—even those that appear adverse and contrary. Does He wound?—it is to heal. Does He cause deep sorrow?—it is to turn that sorrow into a deeper joy. Does He empty?—it is to fill. Does He cast down?—it is to lift up again. Such is the love that moves Him, such is the wisdom that guides Him, and such too is the end that is secured in the Lord’s disciplinary conduct with His people. Dear reader, it is in God’s loving heart to speak comfortably to your sorrowful heart. Let but the Holy Spirit enable you to receive this truth in simple faith, and your grief, be its cause and its degree what they may, is more than half assuaged.

Not a word may yet be spoken by the “God of all comfort,” not a cloud may be dispersed, nor a difficulty be removed; yet to be assured by the Divine Comforter that the heart of God yearns over you, and that consolation is sparkling up from its infinite depths, waiting only the command to pour its tide of joyousness into your sorrow-stricken bosom, and it is enough. Yes, I repeat it—for every reiteration of so precious a truth must still be but a faint expression of its magnitude—it is in the loving heart of God to lift up your disconsolate soul from the dust. Listen to His words—there is melody in them such as David’s harp spoke not when its soft and mellow strains soothed the perturbed spirit of Saul—”I, even I, am He that comforts you.” Mark with what earnestness He makes this declaration. How solicitous does he appear to impress this truth upon the heart—that to comfort His own tried saints is His sole prerogative, and His infinite delight. “I, even I, am He that comforts you.”

January 28: Our God Of All Comfort

The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation. 2 Cor. 1:3- 4.

GOD’S family is a sorrowing family, “I have chosen you,” He says, “in the furnace of affliction.” “I will leave in the midst of you a poor and an afflicted people.” The history of the Church finds its fittest emblem in the burning yet unconsumed bush which Moses saw. Man is “born to sorrows;” but the believer is “appointed thereunto.” It would seem to be a condition inseparable from his high calling. If he is a “chosen vessel,” it is, as we have just seen, “in the furnace of affliction.”

If he is an adopted child, “chastening” is the mark. If he is journeying to the heavenly kingdom, his path lies through “much tribulation.” If he is a follower of Jesus, it is to “go unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach.” But, if his sufferings abound, much more so do his consolations. To be comforted by God may well reconcile us to any sorrow with which it may please our heavenly Father to invest us.

God comforts His sorrowful ones with the characteristic love of a mother. See the tenderness with which that mother alleviates the suffering and soothes the sorrow of her mourning one. So does God comfort His mourners. Oh, there is a tenderness and a delicacy of feeling in God’s comforts which distances all expression. There is no harsh reproof—no unkind upbraiding—no unveiling of the circumstances of our calamity to the curious and unfeeling eye—no artless exposure of our case to an ungodly and censorious world; but with all the tender feeling of a mother, God, even our Father, comforts the sorrowful ones of His people. He comforts in all the varied and solitary griefs of their hearts.

God meets our case in every sorrow. To Him, in prayer, we may uncover our entire hearts; to His confidence we may entrust our profoundest secrets; upon His love repose our most delicate sorrows; to His ear confess our deepest departures; before His eye spread out our greatest sins. Go, then, and breathe your sorrows into God’s heart, and He will comfort you. Blessed sorrow! if in the time of your bereavement, your grief, and your solitude, you are led to Jesus, making Him your Savior, your Friend, your Counselor, and your Shield.

Blessed loss! if it be compensated by a knowledge of God, if you find in Him a Father now, to whom you will transfer your ardent affections—upon whom you will repose your bleeding heart. But let your heart be true with Him. Love Him, obey Him, confide in Him, serve Him, live for Him; and in all the unknown, untrodden, unveiled future of your history, a voice shall gently whisper in your ear—”As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you.”

October 10: Many Backslidings

“Our backslidings are many; we have sinned against you.” Jeremiah 14:7

All spiritual declension in the true believer necessarily implies the actual possession of grace. We must not lose sight of this truth. Never, in the lowest condition of the believer, does Christ deny His own work in the soul. “You have a little strength,” are His heart-melting words to the backsliding church in Sardis. Oh, what a gracious, patience Savior is ours! But let us briefly trace this melancholy state to some of its causes, that we may be better able to point out its appropriate remedy.

The first cause undoubtedly is, the unguarded state of the soul. A Christian living in the daily neglect of self-examination must not marvel if, at a certain period of his religious course, he finds himself trembling upon the brink of gloomy despondency, his evidences gone, his hope obscured, and all the past of his Christian profession appearing to his view as a fearful delusion. But here let me suggest the cure.

Examine before God the real state of your soul. Ascertain where you have lost ground. Retrace your way. Look honestly and fairly at your condition. Discouraging and repelling as it may appear, look it fully in the face, and lay it open before God exactly as it is, in the spirit and language of the Psalmist: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

The grieving of the Spirit of God is a most fruitful cause of spiritual relapse. We have yet much to learn of our entire dependence upon the Holy Spirit, and of our eternal obligation to Him for all the blessings of which He is the author and the conveyancer. What themes for grateful contemplation to the spiritual mind are the love of the Spirit—the faithfulness of the Spirit—the tenderness of the Spirit—the patience of the Spirit!

And yet in the long catalogue of the believer’s backslidings, not the least is his grieving this Holy Spirit of God. But there is a remedy. Seek that Spirit whom you have driven from your presence; implore His return: beseech Him for Jesus’ sake to revisit you, to breathe His reviving influence as of old upon your soul. Then will return the happy days of former years, the sweet seasons of your early history, and you shall “sing as in the days of your youth, and as in the day when you came up out of the land of Egypt.”

“Return, O holy Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest;
I hate the sins that made You mourn,
And drove You from my breast.”

Distance from the cross contributes greatly to a state of spiritual declension. Retiring from beneath its shelter and its shade, you have left the region of safety, light, and peace, and, wandering over the mountains of sin, worldliness, and unbelief, have lost yourself amid their darkness, solitude, and gloom. Turning away from the cross of Jesus, you have lost the view you once had of a sin-pardoning, reconciled Father; and judging of Him now by His providences and not by His promises, and contemplating Him through the gloomy medium of a fconscience unsprinkled with the blood of Christ, you are disposed to impeach the wisdom, the faithfulness, and the love of all His conduct towards you.

But listen to the remedy. Yield yourself afresh to the attractions of the cross. Return, return to it again. No burning cherubim nor flaming sword guards its avenue. The atoning blood there shed has opened the way of the sinner’s approach, and the interceding High Priest in heaven keeps it open for every repentant prodigal. Return to the true cross. Come and sit down beneath its grateful shade.

Poor, weary wanderer! there is life and power, peace and repose, for you still in the cross of Christ. Mercy speaks from it, God smiles in it, Jesus stands by it, and the Holy Spirit, hovering above it, is prepared to reveal it to you afresh, in all its healing, restoring power.

Walking In Soul Darkness

Are you walking in soul-darkness, beloved? Is God hiding His face? Has Jesus suspended His sensible presence? and is this shadow, deep and dark, resting upon your spirit? Cheer up! It is not the darkness of unregeneracy, but the passing shadow of Christian life, and before long it will dissolve and vanish. Listen to the language of your covenant God and Father: “For a small moment have I forsaken you; but with great mercies will I gather you. 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.” The ‘small moment’ will before long pass, and the shadow will disappear- and the joyous language of your soul will be, “O God! You were angry with me; but Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me.”

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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!

Why Are You Cast Down?

“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.