John MacDuff

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

Is. 42:16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.

“What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”—John 13:7.

A twin voice speaking from the Glory-Cloud. That Cloud, as of old, often conducts, as we have again and again noted, not by the short and easy way to the true Canaan, but through formidable leagues of desert. The cry of the fainting Hebrew host is repeated still: “We are entangled; the wilderness has shut us in.” So great also, now and then, is the gloom, that with misgiving hearts we ask—Can the testimony in our case, be indeed true—”He led them ALL the night with a light of fire”? “O rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.” The luminous token, temporarily obscured, will in due time appear. He will subject you to no unnecessary peril, no needless circuitous road. Trust this promise; trust it in the dark; trust it when you fail to trace—”I will lead the blind down a new path, guiding them along an unfamiliar way. I will make the darkness bright before them and smooth out the road ahead of them. Yes, I will indeed do these things; I will not forsake them.”

What a wondrous succession of wilderness watch-words! all crowned by the gracious assurance that HE “appoints all”; and that though the light of the Pillar-cloud may seem to us fitful and wavering, He does not, and will not, abandon His covenant Israel.

It was but the other day I saw a picture of a blind man. The name—the impressive title—given to it by the artist, was “Lighten our darkness, O Lord!” The subject of the picture was reading from the raised letters of a Bible. A lamp was throwing its brightness on the reader’s countenance, and on the hieroglyphics of the sacred page. God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, was then and there shining into his heart with the light of the knowledge of His own glory. The principal figure seemed from the reflected glow on the face to say, “And HE took the blind man by the hand and led him” (Mark 8:23). Here surely are suggestively portrayed what the Lord does with our rayless souls in the gloom of blinding trial—”If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me” (Psalm 139:11).

I love the thought—God the Leader of the blind; and in their very blindness interpreting His ways!

Turn we now to the added motto-verse. We have spoken of it specifically in a previous page. But we may recur to it here as a New Testament parallel with the Old. “What I do you know not now.” The Divine Brother in our nature, about to expiate the sins of the world by laying down His own life, uttered the saying. The time He uttered it was that, when surely, beyond all others, an electric chord of sympathy was linking Him with universal suffering humanity. He could then and there, with a deeper intensity and pathos, use the declaration He made of old in the night of the Exodus—”I know your sorrows.” The same balm-word was whispered in this the most solemn crisis of all time. It came from the lips of dying love. ‘I am about,’ He seems to say, ‘to encounter the hour and power of darkness for you. Will you not accept My own self-surrender and sacrifice, My tears and groans and agony, as the pledge that I can enter, from personal experience, into your uttermost griefs? I can send no unnecessary trial. Trust My “hereafter promise.” And, meanwhile, let the reverential saying be your own—the saying I am about to utter in the garden-shade, in the name of all sufferers—”This cup which My heavenly Father gives Me to drink, shall I not drink it?”‘

Yes, “hereafter.” “I will make” (not “I have made”) “crooked things straight.” “Hereafter”—Reader, let that word ring its solitary chime in your darkness. We cannot too often recall, how emphatically the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews loves to echo the same—”Nevertheless AFTERWARD” (Heb. 12:11). It is the Divine order and sequence. Present ignorance, future unfoldings. Present darkness, future illumination. Present blindness, the full vision of God; His “light of fire” transforming the arid wastes and sands of the wilderness into a pathway of safety and peace. Even in this world, when, as just noted, the atmosphere is dulled with haze and mist and cloud, we have flashing gleams from the Pillar—revelations, partial and incomplete it may be, of the ways of the Almighty, strange minglings of light and shadow. In the unblighted home above, there will be a finished retrospect of wisdom and faithfulness, the light of fire without the murky cloud—the pathetic appeal of the patriarch sufferer heard no more—”When shall I arise and the night be gone?” (Job 7:4).

Recognize, then, sorrowing one, God’s hand and presence in this, and all the solemn passages of your life; the day-cloud given to temper the heat of prosperity, the fire-cloud to counteract the noxious exhalations of adversity. “When I am weary and disappointed,” says a sympathetic writer, “when the skies lower into the somber night, when there is no song of bird, and the perfume of flowers is but their dying breath; when all is unsetting and autumn; then I yearn for Him who sits with the summer of love in His soul, and feel that earthly affection is but a glow-worm light, compared to that which blazes with such effulgence in the heart of God.” Other lights maybe obscured or missing; yours may possibly even now be either the mourner’s watch, with its hushed vigils, or you may be sundered by death from dearly loved ones, yearning for “the touch of the vanished hand.” You cannot be away from the touch of God. “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Grow not weary of His correction. He loves you through your anguish, and will yet assuredly vindicate the rectitude of all His procedure.

The lines seem so appropriate, in closing this meditation, that their familiarity will not deter transcribing them. They form the prayer and solace of all “Pilgrims of the night,” as they look upwards to their Guiding Pillar—

“Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,

Lead me on!

The night is dark, and I am far from home,

Lead me on!

O keep my feet: I do not ask to see

The distant scene—one step enough for me.

“So long Your power has blest me, sure it still

Will lead me on

Over moor and marsh, over crag and torrent, until

The night is gone.

And with the morn those angel faces smile

Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.”

Ceasing unavailing tears, look forward to the time when the promise of earth will be perpetuated without symbol in the heavenly city: and when a new meaning will be given to the old words of the Wilderness Leader—”But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.”

Cruel bondage!

(from Octavius Winslow’s, “The Spirit of Adoption”)

The world holds all its devotees in cruel bondage!

It enslaves….

the intellect by its opinions,

the heart by its pleasures,

the imagination by its promises,

the soul by its religion.

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