The Wilderness Wanderer
by John East
"Some wandered in wilderness, finding no way to a city where they could settle. They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. And He led them forth by the right way — that they might go to a city of habitation." Psalm 107:4-7
This present world through which we are passing, may justly be called a wilderness; it is a solitary, and a barren way. It is a lonely and a dreary way we are traveling in; the path is strait and narrow, and few there are who walk therein. This world is no more our friend — than it is our home. The true Christian, therefore, who is born from above, whose home is in Heaven, and who is daily traveling thitherward — is the object of its malice, or else the subject of its ridicule.
The soil of this present evil world is barren and unfruitful; it presents before our eyes many objects which are a hindrance to us in our way; but it is entirely desert and barren, with respect to any help it affords us in our spiritual progress. It produces little else but briers and thorns, which have a tendency only to entangle and wound the feet of those who pass through it.
The many afflictions with which the people of God are exercised in the present life, are as a constant clog to the wheels of their souls, which makes them drag on heavily. And were they not sometimes favored with a view of the rest which remains for them — they would be almost ready to despair of getting safely out of this valley of tears, which they have, therefore, too great occasion to call a waste howling wilderness — a solitary and a barren land.
This present world through which we are passing, is also properly compared to a wilderness — as it is likewise a dangerous way. A wilderness is a place not only barren and unfrequented — but is generally full of pits and wild beasts, which render it exceeding dangerous. For this reason, it is styled in Scripture a "vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions!" Deuteronomy 8:15.
We are called to pass through an enemy's country — this world is under the influence of our greatest and most inveterate enemy. The Devil is styled the prince of the power of the air, and the generality of this world's inhabitants are his willing slaves and vassals. While therefore we are passing through his territories — he will be sure to gain all the advantages he can against us.
No sooner do we enlist ourselves under the banner of Christ Jesus — but Satan and the world immediately join in a league against us; as though they were resolved to rob the Redeemer of his spoil, and pluck those who are the purchase of his blood, out of his hands. There is a deep-rooted enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Satan has an inveteracy against every one who bears the image of Jesus; and "as a roaring lion walks about seeking whom he may devour," 1 Peter 5:8. And, like an old serpent, he conceals his wiles that he may get the better advantage over us. You are, in this life, never free from his temptations — he is always contriving some temptation against us, or presenting it to us. And that we do not oftener fall into the snares which he lays to entrap us, is only owing to the care and vigilance of our Great Leader, and the grace which he is pleased to communicate to us out of his fullness.
As for the world — "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" — how prevailing have these been to draw aside the believer from the God and guide of his youth! These Philistines are often upon us before we are aware of them — and there is an unbelieving heart always within, which is as constant fuel to the fire of temptations from without! So that, were not God pleased at particular times to open our eyes, and let us see that "those who are for us are more than those who are against us" — we would be ready to give up all in despair!
On these accounts, the present state is compared to a wilderness. We wander here in the wilderness, in a solitary way, "we can find no city to dwell in, hungry and thirsty, our souls faint within us." But herein God leads his people by the right way, to the city of habitation. Every believer is as dear to him as the apple of his eye — and as near to him as his right hand. His love was fixed from everlasting upon them, and therefore his care and loving-kindness are ever exercised towards them. He may bring his people into the wilderness — but he cannot, in consistency with the perfections of his nature, or the promise of his grace — ever leave them there. They may, and often do seem to lose their hold of him; but he never does, he never can lose his hold of them. "For the LORD's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance. In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling wilderness. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye!" Deuteronomy 32:9-10.
There is no getting to Immanuel's land — but by the way of the wilderness; which though it is not our rest itself — yet it leads us to our rest; it fits and prepares us for it. The afflictions which we meet with therein, serve also to make the heavenly blessedness the more desirable now, and delightful hereafter! God may therefore often lead us in a rough and unpleasant way — but he always leads us in the right way. Let us only take a view of these particular seasons, wherein we are most apt to question the loving-kindness of our God, and we may determine the happy outcome of all the rest.
Let us begin with the melancholy state and condition of those from whom God hides the light of his countenance. These are often ready to object against themselves, that they shall never "see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." Methinks I hear them complaining with the church of old, "My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God!" Isaiah 40:27. And they condemn themselves for hypocrites, and mere professors — because of the uncertainty of their frames, and the unfruitfulness of their lives. They are for the present bewildered, as those that have lost the way. They have no sensible communion with Christ — no present discovery of the love of God, to take comfort in. But notwithstanding their fears, "this is the right way, wherein God leads us to the city of habitation."
Were the reconciled countenance of a covenant God and Father always to be lifted up on us, we would be apt to prize the comforts we receive immediately from him, as more than the glorious person who was the purchaser and bestower of them! Were he never to hide his face, we would live upon the streams, rather than the fountains. We would be too ready to say with the three disciples, "Lord, it is good for us to be here!" We would be ready to make a stop at the banks of Jordan; or at least, we would pass that river with reluctance, indifferent towards what remains to be received by us in the heavenly world.
In a word, God is pleased to give us at some times, a glimpse of our future glory — that he may excite our desires after the farther enjoyments thereof; and at other times is pleased wisely to withhold his hand in this respect — that we may be willing when he calls us, "to depart, and be with Christ." This, then, though it be a way less pleasant for us to walk in, is nevertheless the right way to the place where our hearts and treasure are both lodged; by this means, we are made to long after, and then are led to the city of habitation.
The same may be said, concerning the various outward afflictions with which the believer is exercised. They are, all of them, let them arise from whatever quarter — both useful to us, and necessary for us. God never sends an affliction to us — but when he sees it needful for us. And he never removes it from us — before it has answered the end for which he at first sent it. Outward afflictions are not accidental things, they come not by chance — but are sent to us by a wise and merciful Father, who causes them to answer the end for which he sends them. By them we are purged from our dross and tin. Grace is tried and refined in the furnace of affliction, and those who have tasted that the Lord is gracious, are hereby conformed to his heavenly image — made partakers of his holiness, (Hebrews 12:10) and more prepared for his heavenly kingdom.
Afflictions are a furtherance to us in our heavenward way — not a hindrance to us; though when we are exercised therewith we often conclude ourselves to be in a wilderness and desolate land. We must be first of all prepared for glory, before we can, in consistency with the perfections of our God — be received into it — and this is the end, and proves the blessed outcome of our present afflictions, "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all!" 2 Corinthians 4:17. Hereby, then, it further appears, that God leads his people by the right way, though it may be a rough way, to the city of habitation.
Every one of the temptations of Satan answer the same general end. He is, indeed, styled, with an emphasis, "our adversary," 1 Peter 5:8. But he oftentimes proves, contrary to his own design and our expectation — our great friend! The powers of darkness are allowed to dwell among us, for the same reason that some of the Canaanites were left among the people of Israel; that is, to try us, and show us how weak we are without Christ; and how strong we are when we depend upon that grace which is treasured up in him. By all the advantages temptations gain against us — they only render us the more distrustful of ourselves. And the grace which we have already received, makes us the more in love with Christ Jesus, our glorious head, in whose strength we overcome them! Our temptations also make us more desirous of that city of habitation, which God has prepared for his people; where we shall join the heavenly host, in saying with a loud voice, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God have come, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down!" Revelation 12:10
Thus we see how God leads his people by the right way, that they may go to a city of habitation. If then God has prepared for his people a city of habitation; how great is that grace, how free and sovereign is that love — to which this was originally owing! All that we have in time, and all that we expect to enjoy to eternity — proceed alone from this spring of sovereign grace — this is the original fountain from which they all flow. The vessels of mercy were chosen from all eternity for glory, though they are prepared for it only in time. And to what can this unspeakable privilege be owing, or into what can it be resolved — short of the sovereign and distinguishing grace of God? This alone is what makes us differ from others!
Considered in ourselves, we were equally the objects of the anger and wrath of a holy God, with those "who are reserved in chains of darkness, to the judgment of the great day;" and had not the free grace of God found out an expedient for our salvation, we must equally with them, have suffered the vengeance of eternal fire. "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus!" Ephesians 2:4-7
Grace acts like itself, it gives all things freely. God deals with us as the "God of all grace;" for he gives us both grace here, and glory hereafter — and "no good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly." He first of all makes us his sons, takes us into the number of his family, and gives us a right and title to the privileges of his house in our justification! And in our sanctification, he gradually prepares us for the more immediate enjoyment of himself in the heavenly world; and then he calls us home to the glorious inheritance itself, "the city of habitation," which he had settled upon us before all worlds!
And who of us can take but a slight view of these things, without crying out with the apostle, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" 1 John 3:1. Our eternal predestination to glory, and our actual preparation for it — are both of them owing wholly, and alone — to his free and sovereign grace. And to this shall we everlastingly ascribe it, when we come "to the general assembly, and church of the first-born, and to the spirits of just men made perfect."
Are we to pass through the wilderness to this city of habitation? How much need have we of a guide to show us the way, and how thankful should we be to Him who has undertaken to perform this kind office for us. Were we left in this wilderness-world without a guide — our condition would be deplorable, and our ruin inevitable! We would then fall into the pits and snares which our enemies have made for the entanglement of our feet, and the destruction of our souls! Those who are more mighty than we, would assuredly prevail against us! We would be led captive by Satan at his will — there would be no withstanding his temptations — no escaping his malice and fury, or resisting those whom he employs against us in this desolate and dangerous way.
But through grace — we have an unfailing Guide! Christ Jesus is styled the "captain of our salvation," and he faithfully discharges his office, which he has engaged to perform as such. He not only undertook to purchase salvation by his death — but to apply it likewise by his life. He goes before continually as our guide and leader — and marks out the path which we are to take. He communicates to us suitable help and refreshment, while we are in our way. He restores our souls when we have gone out of the way, and preserves us from the fury and violence, as well as the craft and subtlety of our many enemies. He is "a pillar of cloud to us for our covering by day — and a pillar of fire for our guidance by night." He is always at our right hand, so that we should not be greatly moved. Here lies our safety, and the strong ground of our hope — that we shall not fall short of our rest, or lose the prize we are so earnestly contending for. Christ himself is our life, and has graciously promised that he will never fail us, nor forsake us.
May we, therefore, begin the work of Heaven before we come there, daily offering the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving unto him, even the fruit of our lips. Using the same language here, as we hope to use forever hereafter. "Unto him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father — to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen." Revelation 1:5-6
Is the way of the wilderness the right way to a city of habitation? How easy should this make us under all the temptations, trials, and afflictions with which we are now exercised. "All this is for your benefit — so that the abundant grace might, through the thanksgiving of many, redound to the glory of God," 2 Corinthians 4:15. This should make us willingly submit to the various trials we meet with on our wilderness passage. There is a crown of glory reserved in Heaven for all those who shall continue faithful unto death — a city of habitation where the weary pilgrim shall rest — rivers of pleasure, where we shall be refreshed and delighted. There he will have ample amends for all the difficulties he has been exposed to in the present life. The view of this recompense of reward will make death itself pleasant, and hang out a lamp sufficient to enlighten even that dark valley.
Can none get admission into this city of habitation but the "redeemed of the Lord?" Let this lead us to Jesus Christ, the only person "Who is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption," 1 Corinthians 1:30. "God has exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior, that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins!" Acts 5:31. No one can save us from our sins — but He whom God has set forth to be an atoning sacrifice for our sin, through faith in his blood. Hither, then, must the convinced sinner fly, as his city of refuge! On his righteousness, must we all depend for a right and title to eternal life; and his Spirit alone can fit and prepare us for it.
If we have not Christ's perfect righteousness on us — then we are not his people. None but those who are arrayed with this fine linen, clean and white, shall be worthy to enter into this city of habitation. Let us, therefore, be importunate with God to lead us unto Christ, and enable us to believe in him to the saving of the soul. Such he has purchased glory for, and he lives to prepare them for it! There, as their forerunner — he has already entered for them; and there, as the captain of their salvation — he will at last bring them, and present them faultless before the throne of his Father's glory, with exceeding joy!
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away!" Revelation 21:3-4
No sickness there —
No weary wasting of the frame away,
No fearful shrinking from the midnight air,
No dread of summer's bright and fervid ray.
No hidden grief —
No wild and cheerless vision of despair,
No vain petition for a swift relief.
No tearful eyes, no broken hearts are there.
Care has no home —
Within the realm of ceaseless prayer and song;
Its billows break and melt away in foam.
Far from the mansions of the heavenly throng.
The storm's black wing —
Is never spread athwart celestial skies;
Its wailings blend not with the voice of spring,
As some too tender floweret fades and dies.
No night distills —
Its chilling dews upon the tender frame.
No moon is needed there. The light which fills
That land of glory, from its Maker came.
No parted friends —
O'er mournful recollections have to weep;
No bed of death enduring love attends,
To watch the coming of a pulseless sleep.
No blasted flower —
Or withered bud, celestial gardens know;
No scorching blast, or fierce-descending shower
Scatters destruction like a ruthless foe.
No battle word —
Startles the sacred host with fear and dread;
The song of peace, creation's morning heard,
Is sung wherever angel minstrels tread.
Let us depart —
If home like this awaits the weary soul.
Look up, you stricken one! Your wounded heart
Shall bleed no more at sorrow's stern control.
With faith our guide —
White-robed and innocent, to lead the way,
Why fear to plunge in Jordan's rolling tide,
And find the ocean of eternal day!