The Houseless Wanderer - Part 2
VI.- "And he delivered them out of their distresses." What deliverance can there be except there is some distress to be delivered from? If there were a general gaol-delivery proclaimed through this kingdom, would that interest you and me? It would interest the poor debtor, the chained felon, and the groaning captive in his dark cell: but it would not interest you or me, who can walk abroad in the light of day. So what deliverance can we receive except we be in some trouble, some perplexity, some exercise, something that bows down the heart, or distresses and burdens the mind? Manifestations, testimonies, revelations, and gracious discoveries -these are all nothing to a man except he be in circumstances to need them. What is Christ, with all his glorious offices, what is his blood, what his righteousness, what his love, what his sympathy, to a man settled upon his lees, and at ease in Zion? There is in him no felt necessity for these heavenly realities. There is no groan and cry after them. There is therefore no precious communication of them. It is but a delusion, a deceit of Satan, to think that we can have deliverance except we are in troubles and trials out of which God alone can set us free.
Now, when the soul cries to God in his troubles, he is sure to deliver it out of its distress. But we must not always expect very bright and conspicuous deliverances. I know that such alone can fully satisfy a troubled soul; but we must not think there is no deliverance when it falls short of a powerful manifestation. The Lord does not confine himself to one way; and perhaps the very way to which we are looking for deliverance, is the very way by which it will not come. It is a deliverance when the Lord supports the soul under trouble. It may not come with great peace and joy; but when there is a solid support that the soul can rest upon, and it feels a measure of dependence and leaning on the everlasting arms- that is a deliverance. What is deliverance? It is a bringing out of captivity. If, then, we are in distress, and any measure of relief is given in that distress, that is a deliverance. If we are in a state of felt weakness, and must sink without support, if there be a measure of support given, that is a deliverance. If we are in a state of rebellion, and a measure of meekness and submission is given, that is a deliverance, because it is a deliverance out of our carnal, worldly state. If in trouble the Lord secretly assures the soul that these trials are working together for its good; gives it faith to believe the word of promise, though sense, nature, and reason fight against it: and enables it to rest upon divine faithfullness, in the very teeth and in the very face of nature, sense, and reason- that is a deliverance, because it is a deliverance from leaning on our own strength, and trusting to our own wisdom.
When the Lord gives us a testimony that we are his, by raising up love in our heart, brightening our evidences, calling to our mind his past dealings with us, secretly assuring us that we are his children, and enabling us to lean upon him as upon a kind Parent- that is a deliverance, though it may not be accompanied with overflowing joy or superabounding consolation. To be delivered from our own spirit, our own temper, our own righteousness, our own violence, our own justification, from leaning upon self in any shape or form, is a deliverance. If there be a going out of self to the Lord, a putting away of fleshly weapons and a taking up of the spiritual weapons of faith and prayer, a leaning wholly and solely upon the bosom of a kind Jesus- that is a deliverance.
I do not say that these minor deliverances are to be compared with precious revelations, sweet manifestations, sheddings abroad of heavenly love, and the comforting testimonies of the Spirit of adoption. But do not consider that there is no deliverance, no reception of strength, support, or consolation, till the soul feels these overflowing manifestations. I mention this, because some of the Lord s people are so looking after great things, that they put away little; and often forget what the Lord is putting the trial upon them for. His object in bringing them into trial may be not to raise, but to lower; not to given them sweet testimonies of his love, but to discover to them more and more of the depth of their corruptions; not to clothe them with salvation, but to clothe them with humility; not to reveal in them the blessed manifestations of love and blood, but to stamp upon them more of the mind and image of Jesus. The object of trouble, in the eyes of the Lord, is, to meeken the soul, to purge the vessel from pride and presumption, and prepare it for the reception of a broken-hearted Immanuel. The Lord s testimonies and manifestations are not to exalt us; but they would exalt us if they were poured into a heart that had not been purged and emptied. The Lord s manifestations are to humble, melt, and soften down; to bring about union and communion with a broken-hearted Jesus. We need, then, perpetual trials, troubles, and exercises to purge the vessel of its baneful ingredients, and prepare it to receive the consolations that the Lord gives to those that call upon his name.
VII. -"And he led them forth by the right way that they might go to a city of habitation." Did not we read that "they wandered:" and that their wanderings were in a "wilderness," where there were no tracked paths? And did we not read that it was "a solitary way"? How, then, could it be "a fight way," where there was no way at all; where there was but a succession of ups and downs; and where the path of each traveller was so peculiar, that he scarce ever saw the footstep of a pilgrim before him? Yet the Spirit of God says, that it was "right way." Reason, sense, and nature, hold your peace. Nature never can understand how a way of trouble, of temptation, of exercise, of sorrow, of perplexity can be the right way. But God never meant nature, sense, and reason to understand it.
The Lord gives faith to his dear people, that his dealings may be believed in, not reasoned upon; and he raises up this precious gift of the Spirit in their soul, not that they may confer with nature, sense, and reason, but that they may believe His own testimony in their heart and conscience. For this reason God leads his people by such paths as are directly contrary to nature, sense, and reason, in order to baffle them; for these loquacious talkers in a man s bosom are ever ready to thrust forward their arguments; and our foolish hearts are continually lending their ears to their subtle discourses. The wise God, therefore, leads his children in such paths that nature, sense, and reason are baffled, and obliged to hold their peace. If I may use the expression, they are outrun by God s dealings. They may come in, panting and out of breath, to understand them; but God will not explain his ways to such flippant rebels. There is one of his own blessed graces in the soul, one of his own heavenly gifts, -faith, that prudent handmaid, who has eyes to see, ears to hear, and feet to walk step by step with the Spirit s teaching.
By faith, then, only can we understand how it is "a right way." And when faith is in exercise, then it is known to be "a right way." Your losses, your crosses, your trials in providence, your afflictions of body, your perplexities of mind, your sorrows of heart, -all are then to you "a right way." Once, say you, they were a labyrinth: I could not find my way through them: they were an enigma, which I could not unravel. But now I see that those things, which so puzzled, perplexed, and tried me, led to my greatest blessings. I could not, say you, see the hand of the Lord at that time: but how plainly do I see it now? In that sickness, that painful dispensation, that agony of soul, that trouble of mind, that distressing path, how plainly do I see now that the Lord s hand was leading me! Well, will it not be so for the future? Does God intend you should see it now? What saith the scripture? "We walk by faith, not by sight." But if you or I could see the issue of our troubles and trials: if we could believe that every temptation we were passing through was intended by God for our special good, it would take off half the burden. But that would take off half its object. When God sends troubles and trials, he means them to be burdens. But if we could see the Lord s hand laying them on, half the burden would be taken off; and we should need fresh burdens to be added in order to complete the tale, and create that effect which the Lord means to produce.
When the Lord sends a rod, he intends that rod to cut deep into our flesh; when he lays on a burden, he means it to weigh us down; and when he lays on a trial, he means it to pain us to the quick. Trials not severe, temptations not harassing, exercises not perplexing -why, they are feathers, not troubles. It is like a person tying two straws together, and calling it a cross; or laying a pillow upon his shoulders, and saying, What a burden I am carrying! It is because they are heavy, cutting, and perplexing that they are profitable. The weight is the stamp that gives them value; take away that stamp, and they are useless.
Yet, after all, it is "a right way." Does not scripture most emphatically declare, that "we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom"? If we walk then through much tribulation, it is "a right way." If you did not know your way to a place, and a person were to direct you, and say, It is a very rough path, my friend; there are high mountains and deep valleys, huge crags and deep precipices: the road is almost impassable; but it is the only road to the place which you have started for. Then, if you were to see a broad road, almost as easy as a turnpike-road, would you not start back, and say, Surely I must have made a mistake: this is not the road pointed out? So spiritually. If our path is one of ease: if we are never burdened or distressed, must we not have gone out of the way?
It was a strait and narrow path, a road of tribulation, that the Son of God trod to the land of glory: but if ours be a smooth and easy path, must not this be the conclusion of every heart honest in God s fear, Surely we must be out of the road altogether?
Strange creatures! that when out of the path we want to be in it: and when in the path we want to be out of it!
Uneasy when I feel my load,
Uneasy when I feel it not!
Shrinking from burdens, yet condemned for not having them; trembling at trials, yet fearing because they do not come; wanting to walk in a smooth path, and yet when it comes, exercised because it is so smooth! And yet all "the right way."
"He led them forth." Forth out of the world -forth out of sin -forth out of a profession -forth out a name to live -forth out of everything hateful in his holy and pure eyes.
"To go to a city of habitation." They had no city to dwell in here below; but they were journeying to a city of habitation above, whose walls and bulwarks are salvation, and whose gates are praise; where there are eternal realities to be enjoyed by the soul; where there is something stable and eternal; something to satisfy all the wants of a capacious and immortal spirit, and give it that rest which it never could find while wandering here below. If we have a city here, we want no city above; and if we have a city above, we want no city here.
This then must be our state and case; either to be pilgrims, journeying onwards, through troubles, to things above, or taking up our abode below; seeking heaven here, or heaven hereafter; resting upon the world, or resting upon the Lord; panting after the things of time, or panting after the things of eternity: satisfied in self, or satisfied only in Christ. One of the two must be our state and case. The Lord decide it clearly in the hearts of his people that they are on his side: and give us to know and feel that our very restlessness and inability to find food and shelter in the things of time and sense, are leading us more earnestly and believingly to seek after the things that have reality in them: that finding no city to dwell in here below, we may press forward to be manifestly enjoying testimonies of being citizens of that city which is above. "which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God!"