Jesus Veiling His Dealings
"Jesus replied: You do not realize now what I am doing — but later you will understand." John 13:7
Our Lord, when he spoke these words, had just risen from the lowliest act of his most lowly life. Around that act there was thrown a veil of mystery which partially concealed its significance and its end, from the view of his wondering disciple. There was much in this simple but expressive incident of the Savior's life, which filled Peter's mind with perplexing thought. His first feeling was that of resistance, to be followed by one of astonishment, still deeper. He had marked each step in the strange proceeding — the loosened sandal, the bathing of the feet, the replacing of the robe; but the deep significance of the whole was to his view wrapped in impenetrable mystery. And how did the Savior meet his perplexity? Not by denying its mysteriousness, but by a promise of clearer light later on. "You do not realize now what I am doing — but later you will understand." And this explanation and assurance satisfied the mind of the amazed disciple. Simon Peter exclaimed, "Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!" John 13:9
Each individual believer has a personal interest in this subject, especially those to whom these pages are inscribed — the Father's chastened ones. These words imply a concealment of much of the Lord's procedure with his people. In the preceding chapter we contemplated, under the similitude of the night-season, the present pilgrimage of the saints; a night, however, not entirely rayless, nor songless; not without some harbingers of the joyous morning, nor some key-notes of the entrancing melody with which that morning of joy will be ushered in.
It is our wisdom to know that no pure, unmixed sorrow, ever befalls the Christian sufferer. Our Lord Jesus flung the curse and the sin to such an infinite distance from the church, that could his faith but discern it — the believer would see nothing but love painting the darkest cloud that ever threw its shadow upon his spirit. Akin to the preceding subject, is the one upon which we now propose briefly to address the suffering reader. It speaks of a veiling of Christ's dealings, with the promise of an unveiling in a day far sunnier and happier than this. "You do not realize now what I am doing — but later you will understand."
With regard to our heavenly Father — there can be nothing mysterious, nothing inscrutable to him. A profound and solemn mystery himself — yet to his infinite mind there can be no darkness, no mystery at all. His whole plan — if plan it may be called — is before him. Our phraseology, when speaking of the divine procedure, would sometimes imply the opposite of this. We talk of God's fore-knowledge, of his foresight, of his acquaintance with events yet unborn; but there is in truth, no such thing. There are no tenses with God — no past — nor present — nor to come.
The idea of God's Eternity, if perfectly grasped, would annihilate in our minds all such humanizing of the Divine Being. He is one ETERNAL NOW. All events to the remotest period of time, were as vivid and as present to the divine mind from eternity, as when at the moment they assumed a real existence and a palpable form.
But all the mystery is with us, poor finite creatures of a day. And why, even to us, is any portion of the divine conduct thus a mystery? Not because it is in itself so — but mainly and simply because we cannot see the whole as God sees it. Could it pass before our eye, as from eternity it has before his — a perfect and a complete whole; we would then cease to wonder, to cavil and repine. The infinite wisdom, purity, and goodness — which originated and gave a character, a form, and a coloring, to all that God does — would appear as luminous to our view as to his, and ceaseless adoration and praise would be the grateful tribute of our loving hearts.
Throw back a glance upon the past, and see how little you have ever understood of all the way God has led you. What a mystery — perhaps, now better explained — has enveloped his whole proceedings!
When Joseph, for example, was torn from the homestead of his father, sold, and borne a slave into Egypt, not a syllable of that eventful page of his history could he understand. All was to his mind, as strange and unreadable as the hieroglyphics of the race, whose symbolical literature and religion now for the first time met his eye. And yet God's way with this his servant was perfect. And could Joseph have seen at the moment that he descended into the pit, where he was cast by his envious brethren — all the future of his history as vividly and as palpably as he beheld it in after years, while there would have been the conviction that all was well — we doubt not that faith would have lost much of its vigor, and God much of his glory.
And so with good old Jacob. The famine — the parting with Benjamin — the menacing conduct of Pharaoh's prime minister, wrung the mournful expression from his lips, "All these things are against me!" All was veiled in deep and mournful mystery.
Thus was it with Job, to whom God spoke from the whirlwind that swept every vestige of affluence and domestic comfort from his dwelling.
And thus, too, with Naomi, when she exclaimed, "Call me not Naomi — call me Mara! For the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty." How easy were it to multiply these examples of God's veiled and yet all-wise dispensations.
And is this the way of the Lord with you, my reader? Are you bewildered at the mazes through which you are threading your steps; at the intricate circumstances of your present history; the incidents which seem so entwined and interlaced one with the other, as to present to your view, an inextricable labyrinth? Deem yourself not alone in this. No mystery has lighted upon your path, but what is common to the one family of God: "This honor have all his saints."
The Shepherd is leading you, as all the flock are led, with a skillful hand and in a right way! It is yours to stand if he bids you, or to follow if he leads. "He gives no account of any of his matters," assuming that his children have such confidence in his wisdom, and love, and uprightness, as, in all the wonder-working of his dealings with them, to 'be still and know that he is God.'
That it is to the honor of God to conceal, should in our view, justify all his painful and humiliating procedure with us. "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing," as it will be for his endless glory by and bye fully to reveal it all. But there is one thing, Christian sufferer, which he cannot conceal. He cannot conceal the love that forms the spring and foundation of all his conduct with his saints. Do what he will, conceal as he may; be his chariot the thick clouds, and his way in the deep sea — still his love betrays itself, disguised though it may be in dark and impenetrable providence. There are undertones, gentle and tender, in the roughest accents of our Joseph's voice. And he who has an ear ever hearkening to the Lord, and delicately attuned to the gentlest whisper, shall often exclaim — "Speak, Lord, how and when and where you may — it is the voice of my Beloved!"
But we have arrived at an interesting and cheering truth — the full unveiling of all the Lord's dealings in a holier and a brighter world. "You do not realize now what I am doing — but later you will understand." That there is a present partial understanding of God's will and ways concerning us, we readily concede. We may, now and then, see a needs be for his conduct. The veil is just sufficiently lifted to reveal a portion of the 'end of the Lord.' He will make us acquainted . . .
with the evil which he corrects,
with the backsliding which he chastens,
with the temptation which he checks, and
with the dangerous path around which he throws his hedge
— so that we cannot escape. We see it, and we bless the hand outstretched to save us!
He will also cause us to be fruitful. We . . .
have mourned our leanness,
have confessed our barrenness, and
lamented the distance of our walk, and
the little glory we bring to his dear name —
and lo! the dresser of the vineyard has appeared to prune his sickly branch, "that it may bring forth more fruit!" "By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin." The deeper teaching, too — the result of the divine chastenings — has revealed to some extent the 'end of the Lord' in his mysterious conduct.
O there is no school like God's school; for "who teaches like Him?" And God's highest school is the school of trial. All his true scholars have graduated from this school. "Who are these who are clothed in white? Where do they come from? These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white." Rev. 7:13-14. "Blessed is the man, O Lord, whom you chasten and teach out of your law." Ask each spiritually, deeply-taught Christian, where he attained his knowledge — and he will point you to God's great university — the school of trial.
But there is a time coming, a blessed time of "good things to come," when the darkness will all have passed away, the mystery of God will be finished, and the present conduct of our Savior will be fully cleared up. "You do not realize now what I am doing — but later you will understand." O that "later," what a solemn word to the ungodly! Is there, then, a later? Jesus says there is; and I believe it, because he says it. That later will be terrible to the man that dies in his sins. It will be a later, whose history will be "written in mourning, lamentation and woe." It had been better for you, reader, living and dying, impenitent and unbelieving — had you never been born, or, had there been no later. But there is a later of woe to the sinner — as of bliss to the saint. "These shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal." (Matthew 25:46.)
The position which the Christian shall occupy hereafter, will be most favorable to a full and clear comprehension of all the mysteries of the way. The "clouds and darkness" — emblems in our history of obscurity and distress — which now envelop God's throne, and enshroud his government of the saints, will have passed away; the mist and fog will have vanished; and breathing a purer atmosphere, and canopied by a brighter sky, the glorified saint will see every object, circumstance, incident and step — with an eye unobscured by a vapor, and unmoistened by a tear. "Now we know in part — then shall we know even as we are known." And what shall we know? All the mysteries of Providence. Things which had made us greatly grieve — will now be seen to have been causes of the greatest joy. Clouds of threatening, which appeared to us charged with the agent of destruction — will then unveil, and reveal the love which they embosomed and concealed. All the mysteries of faith too will be known. "Now we see through a glass, darkly; (in a riddle) but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."
The great "mystery of Godliness" will develop and unfold its wonders. His everlasting love to his church — his choice of a people for himself — his sovereign grace in calling them — all, all, will shine forth with unclouded luster to the eternal praise of his great and holy name. O what a perfect, harmonious, and glorious whole will all his doings in providence and grace appear, from first to last, to the undimmed eye, the ravished gaze of his white-robed, palm-bearing church.
Many and holy are the lessons we may gather from this subject. The first is — the lesson of deep humility. There are three steps in the Christian's life. The first is — humility; the second is — humility; the third is — humility. "You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, and to prove you, to know what was in your heart." In veiling his dealings, Jesus would "hide pride" from us. How loftily and self-sufficiently would we walk — did we see all our present and future history plain before us.
We would ascribe to our own wisdom and skill, prudence and forethought — the honor which belongs to Christ alone. Let us, then, lie low before the Lord, and humble ourselves under his mysterious hand. "The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies." Thus writing the sentence of death upon our wisdom, our sagacity, and our strength — Jesus, the lowly one — seeks to keep us from the loftiness of our intellect, and from the pride of our heart, prostrating us low in the dust at his feet. Holy posture! blessed place! There, Lord, would I lie; my trickling tears of penitence and love, falling upon those dear feet that have never misled, but have always gone before, leading me by a right way, the best way, to a city of rest.
"To cure you of your pride — that deepest-seated ill,
God humbled his own self — will you your pride keep still?"
We should learn from this subject, to live by faith amid the enshrouding dealings of our God. Therefore are those dealings often so dark. Could we ever see all the road — faith would have no play; this precious, this Christ-honoring, this God-glorifying grace would lie dormant in the soul. But, in "leading the blind by a way that they know not," he teaches them to confide in the knowledge, truth, and goodness of their Divine escort — and that confidence is the calm unquestioning repose of faith.
"My spirit on your care,
Blest Savior, I recline;
You will not leave me to despair,
For you are love divine.
"In you I place my trust,
On you I calmly rest;
I know you good, I know you just,
And count your choice the best.
"Whatever events betide,
Your will they all perform;
Safe in your breast my head I hide,
Nor fear the coming storm.
"Let good or ill befall,
It must be good for me;
Secure of having you in all,
Of having all in thee."
Oh, sweet, consoling words of Jesus! — "What I am doing." Not what men do — not what angels do — not what you do — but, "What I am doing."
Is the loved one wrenched from your heart? — "I have done it!" says Jesus.
Is the desire of your eyes smitten down with a stroke? — "I have done it!" says Jesus.
Is it the loss of property, of health, of position, of friends, that overwhelms you with grief? — "I have done it!" says Jesus.
"You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." How many a mother has this promise soothed, while with an anguish such as a mother only knows, she has gazed upon the withered flower on her bosom! How many a father, standing by the couch of death, grasping the cold clammy hand of the love of his heart, has felt the power of these words, more sweet and more soothing than an angel's music — "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Wait, then, suffering child, the coming glory — yielding yourself to the guidance of your Savior, and submitting yourself wholly to your Father's will.
"Peace in Affliction"
O Lord! how happy would we be,
If we could cast our care on thee,
If we from self could rest;
And feel at heart that One above,
In perfect wisdom, perfect love,
Is working for the best.
How far from this our daily life!
Ever disturbed by anxious strife,
By sudden wild alarms;
O could we but relinquish all
Our earthly props, and simply fall
On your Almighty arms!
Could we but kneel, and cast our load,
E'en while we pray, upon our God;
Then rise with lightened cheer,
Sure that the Father who is near
To still the famished raven's cry
Will hear, in that we fear.
We cannot trust him as we should,
So chafes fallen nature's restless mood
To cast its peace away;
Yet birds and flowerets round us preach,
All, all the present evil teach
Sufficient for the day.
Lord, make these faithless hearts of ours,
Such lessons learn from birds and flowers,
Make them from self to cease;
Leave all things to a Father's will,
And taste, before him lying still,
E'en in affliction, peace.
Jesus replied: "You do not realize now what I am doing — but later you will understand." John 13:7