It is a long journey. It takes up all the time that was consumed by the children of Israel, from the day Abram left the land of his nativity, going he knew not whither, to a country that God would show him, up to the present. Beyond that we never get, although continually we are going into the future. When we go on and on, as we reach new experiences, with fresh hopes, or often hope deferred, we find it still the present. The conscious sinner starts out upon this unnatural journey in a most unnatural way. Each and every one who begins this lone pilgrimage comes from the same place, and travel in the same direction. The city out of which they come is a place of darkness. There is no light there. It is a place of death. There is no life there. Destruction and misery is about them on every hand. The valleys are filled with dead men’s bones, and the hills resound with the voice of the beasts of the forest hunting their prey. In the streets of the city every man’s hand is raised against that of his neighbor, and the houses are they of the foolish woman. Confusion is one of the names given to the city. Darkness implies confusion. “In the beginning (it is declared) God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” This was the condition before “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters,” and this is the condition of man in the world until through his death the life of the incorruptible seed is made manifest, and until that set time to favor Zion, as spoken of in the gospel by Matthew, “The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up.” The members of the body of Christ are alone the subjects of christian travel. It is a way that no man knoweth. It is an unnatural journey, because the natural man comprehendeth it not, neither can he walk therein. It is in the world, but it does not belong to the world. The start upon the journey is the first step out of darkness. The natural world contains everything to whet and to satisfy the desires of the natural mind; but because of the reign of death and confusion, satisfaction is never reached. Like the will-o-the-wisp, we run after the things that we think would make us happy, but never attain unto it. Abram was apparently satisfied with his native country, his people and his idols, which he worshiped until the commandment came; then he hesitated not, but immediately left all, not knowing whither he went, but walked by faith as God directed him. The light of truth and of judgment shines not out of darkness; for “the whole world lieth in wickedness,” and all things in the earth are under the curse. But the word of life, which was from the beginning, cometh down from God out of heaven, which life, being the light of men, shineth in the darkness. And now out of death, life is revealed and clearly made manifest by thought and action. Light makes manifest the hidden things of darkness. All light emanates from God; for “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” By the power of his word light came into the world. By the same word of power the sinner is turned about, by reason of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in his heart. The lifegiving power of abounding grace works a miracle in them who are exercised thereby. They were in darkness. Now light comes. They affirm, “Whereas once I was blind, now I see.” The word of life is the light of men; and by that light uncosciously they begin the christian travel. From that time it is a ceaseless wandering, a constant warfare, a weary journey; oftimes hoping-against hope, yet pressing forward, seeking a city that is not of this world. The darkness does not comprehend the light that maketh manifest the evils of a corrupt and depraved nature; but the light which obtains its power from the life (which is Jesus), displaying as its vital principles, truth, righteousness, love, faith, and every attribute of grace, works out the salvation which God has wrought in the heart of his loved ones. As the burdened pilgrim starts on his long journey, the day dawn has spread its mantle of light over hill and valley; and he sees but dimly the objects about him, and still more dimly the obstacles which he must needs overcome. Like the child all unused to the thorns in the world’s pathway, seeing and inhaling only the roses, his hopes are high and bright; his zeal is great, but his knowledge is scant. He runs hither and thither, plucking the enticing looking things that grow up in a night, as evil weeds by the wayside, which bring sorrow and affliction, teaching daily lessons. But as the morning of the journey grows, and the Sun of righteousness arises beyond the horizon, the clear light of which makes objects more and more distinct, we now see with greater clearness the dreadful charnal-house where once we wen; so contented, and apparently satisfied. For we now see the corruptions of the flesh, and the deceitfulness of the natural heart, and the sinfulness of sin, by the same light that shows us the beauty of holiness and the perfection of righteousness in the only Son of God, who is able to redeem from all sin and all uncleanness. In the morning of this new life of faith we sip the milk and honey of gospel truth, and are nourished thereby, desiring nothing more. It is a delightful time, a gladsome season, the first estate of spiritual delight. But we cannot remain thus. There is a growth in grace, as there is a growth in nature. The Sun of righteousness has risen to the meridian. It is the noontime in our travel. By the brightness of the light of truth we see not now “men as trees walking,” but all things are presented clearly to our view. We know the joyful sound of the glad tidings which bringeth peace and good will in the earth. We cannot now subsist on the milk which sustained and nurtured in the childhood days. We need stronger food, meat in its due season, even the doctrine of Christ. Our life has put on a more serious aspect. We do not realize that we are men and women, and we wonder why we do not have the same keen enjoyment in spiritual things that we once had, and with one of old we say, “O that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me, when his candle sinned upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness. As I was in the days of my youth, when the secret of God was upon my tabernacle.” In our manhood (as in nature’s manhood) we think we know many things, and we try to search out the unsearchable things of God. So we have to be brought down very low in order to realize that all the truth of God that we know, is revealed truth. We awake to the fact that the halcyon, golden days of childhood are passed, and while our life is still by the faith of the Son of God, we cannot accept things in the simple childish faith of the bygone days. Anon the strength of middle age slowly but surely goes into the decline of ripened years. The shoulder stoops, the hairs upon the head whiten, the eye loses its luster and vigor, all of which are signs of decline and decay. And as we near the end of our journey we realize a greater need of Jesus’ guiding hand, a richer sweetness in his love, a nearness to him that we never felt before. We walk softly before the Lord. We wrestle not with doctrines of men, but put all our trust in the Lord, the hope of our salvation. The younger travelers observe the beauty of holiness more clearly manifest in the older ones, and are ready to say one to another, “He seems to be continually with the Master,” and so it is. His companions of childhood and many of middle age have preceded him beyond the shores of time. The natural ties that bound him to the earth have been severed, and now with mellowed countenance he looks about him. All the allurements of time have disappeared, and he sees nothing, “save Jesus only,” the companion of all his life of faith, the Friend above all others that never leaves nor forsakes, the High Priest of his profession, the King of glory, the embodiment of all love. The declining Sun tells him that his long, fitful journey is Hearing its end, when he is assured his hope will be swallowed up in fruition, and death in victory.
Now let us take a retrospective glance along Israel’s pathway, the type of our experience, and perchance we can find in our own travel a counterpart of all that journey experienced by Israel’s natural children from the time Abram left his native land, pitching his tent in Canaan, until that most dreadful time in the world’s history, when our Savior King was hanged upon the Roman cross. A fitful, feverish journey indeed, but one we would not forego to gain all the world beside.
B. F. COULTER.
Philadelphia, Pa., Feb. 13, 1897.
Signs Of The Times
Volume 65., No. 5
MARCH 1, 1897.