“My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” – Exodus xxxiii, 14.
What a precious and assuring promise is this! And how full of deep interest and unspeakable comfort the connections in which it stand !
The apparently insurmountable difficulties in his pathway, loomed up before the sorely tried Moses, the man of Divine appointment, and in the work to which the God of Israel had most surely sent him. The consciousness of his own weakness pressed heavily upon him; and the idolatry, murmuring, bickering, unthankfulness, perverseness and wickedness of the Israel which he was to lead through the terrible wilderness filled him with alarm.
He had already evidence of their unbelief and idolatry, their murmurings against him, and the difficulties which thronged the pathway over which he was to go. He could not rely upon them, for some of the worst enemies to confront him was to rise up out of their midst. He must look alone to the God who had sent him, to give him ability to withstand the enemies within and without the camp, and his own evil spirit as well.
Truly was there need to look no where else, for a fullness of wisdom, strength, and every needed grace was there. No power short of Divine could prepare him for his work, as no power short of this can qualify the ministry of today; “our sufficiency is of God.”
He was conscious of his own inability to successfully encounter the trials of the way, and hence he must bring his case to Him who had most surely called him to this great and exalted work. “And Moses said unto the Lord, . . . . Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found grace in Thy sight, shew me now Thy way, that I may know Thee, that I may find grace in Thy sight.” – Verse 13.
What a wonderful prayer! How distrustful of self! How needful of that supporting grace that could alone lead and keep him in the long, laborious way over which he was now to pass. No power but that of God could sustain him, no wisdom but of God could direct him.
To the cloudy pillar by day he must look, the flaming fire by night, as his Guide and Protector. He must look away from all human help, for he had been taught its utter vanity, and look to God alone. Hence he could well say, “If Thy Presence go not with me, carry us not up hence,” verse 15. True indeed did he know that he and these with him were doomed to fall by the way without the Divine Protection. Hence in fervent prayer he calls to God, and Oh! What an assuring answer! “My Presence shall go with thee.” What boundless comfort this precious assurance! No doubts or contingencies are in the promise. “My presence shall.” Already he must see by faith the flowing fields of Canaan, the goal of the long pilgrimage, the Divine victory in every conflict, and triumph over every obstacle. And what, dear saints, of this to us? As ministers of Gospel grace we have similar assuring testimony: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” – Matthew xxviii, 20. What blessed power in this assurance as it comes direct from the heavenly throne, as it is spoken in our hearts, as we feel its magic and divine Presence, for “the chariots of God are twenty-thousand, even thousands of angels” The Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place.” – Psalm lxvii, 17.
When worn and weary, hard pressed by foes without and within, when sore trials press upon us, and the billows roll in upon our soul, then do we find Him “a very present Help in trouble.” – Psalm xlvi, 1.
“While the raging billows roll,
While the tempest still is night.”
And when we are fast reaching the end of our mortal pilgrimage, and the waves of death tower high about us shutting out every earthly object from our sight then does this blessed Presence dispel the awful gloom of death, and open before us the pearly gates of our immortal home, for the text continues, “I will give thee rest.”
It is probable that more especial reference is here made to the rest given Moses in the toil and trial through which he was to pass, but this could not be the full meaning of the promise, and the connection in which it stands indicates a far more glorious sequel. ‘Tis a blessed thing to rest here in our labor and toil as children of grace, to experience the truth of the testimony, “I will give you rest. . . . For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” – Matthew xi, 28-30. To rest in the arms of God, to bask in His smiles; dreary, desolate beyond expression would the world be without such “heavenly places;” for
“Beneath His smiles my heart has lived,
And part of heaven possessed.”
It has been perhaps near thirty years now since our attention was first directed to these words. It was on the threshold of a long and laboring journey of near a thousand miles, beset with difficulties from which our flesh shrank. Again we desired once more to ask the Lord for His divine guidance and protection, the cry had been in our heart for days in anticipation of the journey, but the morning for the start had now arrived, and deepening in our heart arose the cry, similar we trust to that of Moses: “If Thy Presence go not with me, carry us (me) not up hence.” Our mind turns back over the waste of years, and as vivid as on that eventful morning we hear again the wondrous words, and our heart feels anew the thrilling power of that blessed assurance; “My Presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” We went out from the chamber of prayer to face the dreaded journey. It was a bright and beautiful day. The sun shone high in the heavens; the earth was full of His praise, while our whole being was filled with an unspeakable calmness, a quiet resting in the arms of our God.
Yea, and all through the long and tedious travel the power of this assurance filled our heart making it a most delightful journey. Here indeed was rest we trust, in the Presence of God. But there is a fullness of rest beyond all these changing scenes of time, and of which this is a delightful foretaste. “I will give thee rest.” It is not then dependent upon earthly obligations, it comes as the gift of God.
It comes from His boundless mercy despite our rebellious, vile, carnal complainings and murmurings, our wanderings and perverseness, our sins and iniquities, “if we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself.” – 2 Timothy ii, 13. In the same school where Moses learned the lesson of patient waiting upon God and the enduring and supporting nature of His Presence, so do the ministers of Christ learn to look unto Him who has promised to be with them “always, even unto the end of the world.” In this severe school they are tried “as by fire.” It was said of Joseph, “the archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him. But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.” – Genesis xlix, 23,24.
The subjects of their ministration are prepared through similar scenes to receive the word of truth, to appreciate and rejoice in the Gospel, and the ministration thereof. “Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee; in whose heart are the ways of them, . . . They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.” – Psalm lxxxiv, 5,7. It is the Divine Presence alone that sustains the children of Gospel grace in their pathway through time.
It is the promise of rest unending that dispels the gloom of the grave, that overtakes its dark portals in rays of light eternal. “I will give thee rest.” Surely such a rest in its fullness can never be found upon mortal shores. Well indeed may it be said with reference to all this, as was declared to Israel in days of old; “Arise ye, and depart’ for this is not your rest: because it is polluted, it shall destroy you, even with a sore destruction.” There is no rest to children of grace in houses and lands, in wealth or in fame, in mortal relationship, or in any thing that bears the impress of time or mortality. Away from all these we look by faith to climes unclouded by mortal woe, undimmed by earthly night, untainted by mortal pollution, and forever free from sin and death.
“Oh sacred rest for thee we groan,
And bid the wheels of time roll on,
To bring that hour, when we shall rise
To join the chorus of the skies.”
It was said of Israel “In all their afflictions He was afflicted, and the angel of His Presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them, and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” – Isaiah lxiii, 9. It is this blessed Presence of God that upholds, protects, defends, and sustains the children of grace here, and until faith stretches her pinions for the immortal flight; “For this God is our God forever and ever: He will be our Guide even unto death.” – Psalm xlviii, 14. “Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden my by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.”
Then of what we have written this is the sum that the guiding, sustaining Presence of God shall be made manifest in all the pilgrimage of saints here, and open before them the portals of endless rest hereafter:
“For grace shall guide and glory crown,
The happy objects of His care.”
“My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” – Psalm lxxiii, 26. “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordain strength because of Thine enemies, that Thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.” – Psalm viii, 2. “As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness.” – Psalm xvii, 15.
Elder William M. Smoot,