George Everard, 1868
"He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation." Psalm 107:7
A General ordered a division of his army to a certain spot. Without giving his reasons, he advised them as to the route they should take. The direct route was much shorter than the circuitous one pointed out, and the captain of the division ventured to take it, contrary to the advice given him. After a while he discovered his mistake. The General had been wiser than himself. When last they had passed by that way, the little stream in the way had been easily forded, but now the mountain torrents had so swollen its waters that it had become impassable, and the soldiers had consequently to retrace their steps and take the road originally pointed out to them.
Too often the Christian has something of the same experience. He has preferred to take his own course, rather than that pointed out to him by the Great Leader whom he professes to follow — and then disappointment follows, and at length he discovers how far wiser he would have been had he more implicitly relied upon the counsel which Christ by His Word had given.
We have an example, and a very forcible one, of the danger of neglecting to seek guidance from above, in the case of Joshua and the Gibeonites. When the latter sought peace with Israel, professing to come from afar, the men hearkened to them, and asked not counsel of the Lord. Hence they were deceived. And in the reign of David, a famine came upon Israel for three years, in consequence of this league with Gibeon, and Saul's treatment of them; nor did the famine cease until seven of the sons of Saul were slain. Had but Joshua inquired of the Lord, all this evil, and much beside, would have been prevented.
And how many mistakes does the Christian make, and what a harvest of sorrow does he often reap — because he neglects to bring a matter before the Lord before he enter upon it. Perhaps he yields himself to a growing attachment for one who is not of the same mind with him in the highest matters. Or he enters upon a new position without considering first its responsibilities. Or he answers an important letter without spreading it, like Hezekiah, before the Lord. And then he finds that he cannot recede from the false step once taken, but must take the consequences as they come. Thus does the Christian often choose his own path, and finds, as an old writer has expressed it, that "children who carve for themselves are sure to cut their fingers."
But there is another way, and a yet more sinful one, of doing the same thing. If it is wrong to act without seeking direction from above — it is still worse to despise or ignore the counsel that has been graciously given.
The remnant of Israel in the days of Jeremiah besought him to make supplication to the Lord his God, that He would show them the way wherein they should walk, and the thing that they should do. They promise likewise that whatever the command is, whether it is good or whether it is difficult — that they will obey the voice of the Lord their God. After ten days Jeremiah brings back to them a message, that they shall abide in the land, and then the Lord will be with them, and save them from the hand of the King of Babylon. The guidance given was not according to the will of those who sought it; hence they refuse to believe the message, and determine to go down into Egypt. So the anger of the Lord is kindled against them, and He declares that those who go down thither shall die by the sword, the famine, and the pestilence. (See Jeremiah 42 and 43.)
And is there not a parallel to this spirit, in the conduct of many professed followers of Christ? They express a desire to be guided by the will of God. They ask that their way may be made plain before them, and in the reading of God's Word they find rules of conduct which they may apply to their own case. But then comes the difficulty. An enlightened conscience points in one direction — and self-interest or self-pleasing points in another.
In the choice of a new home, in sending children to school or into the world, in visiting friends or receiving visitors, in drawing the line as to the recreation which we judge right — in all this there is room for the exercise of Christian principle; and it is to be feared that too often it is sacrificed to mere expediency, or to that which is most in accordance with our natural tastes.
But in denying self and walking in the path marked out in God's Word, you may be assured that He who knows the end from the beginning will guide you aright, giving you a quiet peace that far outweighs any present advantage that might be found in a different course, and at length making all that is painful work together for good.
Your way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be!
Lead me by Your own hand,
Choose out the path for me.
Smooth let it be, or rough,
It will be still the best;
Winding or straight, it matters not,
It leads me to Your rest.
I dare not choose my lot;
I would not, if I might:
O choose for me, my God,
So shall I walk aright.
The kingdom that I seek
Is Yours, so let the way
That leads to it be Yours,
Else surely I shall stray.
In the 107th Psalm we have a picture of such as are exposed to the utmost peril and distress. They are in an enemy's country. They are wandering hither and thither without guide or compass. They are lonely and desolate. They are fainting for lack of food and water. They are homeless, shelterless, having no city to dwell in. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble. He hears their cry and delivers them from their distress. He finds for them a path through the wilderness. He satisfies their hunger and thirst. He leads them step by step in His own way, and that the very best way. He brings them at last to a city where they may find a rest and a dwelling place. "He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation."
Take this assurance, dear reader, as a prevailing argument with you to commit your way into the Lord's hand. You may at times be in the utmost distress and perplexity. Your way may seem hedged up on every side. Your difficulties may increase instead of becoming less, and your future may appear likely to be even darker than the present. Yet give not way to gloomy and despairing thoughts.
Jesus rejects none who in faith cast themselves upon His mercy and love; and if you truly come to Him, then, from that very moment, He undertakes to order your footsteps and direct your path. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths."
Possibly the difficulties of your position may have arisen through your own mistake, or thoughtlessness, or even sin. Yet when this is confessed, it does not the very least prevent our gracious God overruling it all for good, and bringing you safely through it. The solitary path that Jacob had to take when he left his father's tent, arose from his own grievous sin of lying and deception; and yet along that path God met him and assured him of His presence and care.
And when along your path you meet with trials little anticipated; when a turn in the road brings you away from the pleasant shade — to the hot scorching plain, where you are exposed to the vehement heat of the sun; when sudden calamity comes upon you — yet doubt not that it is the right way. It is not the way you would have chosen for yourself — but it is the way God has chosen for you, and the Lord gently whispers in your hearing, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand." John 13:7
A civilian with his young wife and three little children had just moved to a station in India far away from all other Europeans. The husband and wife had of late begun together to seek the Lord, when a sudden illness attacked the wife and in a few hours she breathed her last. Thus the sorrowing husband was left with the care of three young children, and none near to comfort or assist him in the charge of them. His faith was shaken, and his footsteps well-near slipped. Can this be the doing of a God of love? was the agonizing thought of his bereaved heart.
But for the deepest wound, the Spirit can discover in the Word some healing balm. It was so in this case. The mourner turned to the book of Job. He found the passage where the patriarch spoke of his bitter complaint and his heavy stroke and then added, "Will He plead against me with His great power? No, but He would put strength in me." (23:6.)
It was enough. The message reached his heart. "God will not slay me," he thought; "He will not crush His afflicted servant, but He will console and support me by His mighty power." He looked for grace and help, and he was not disappointed.
And along your path, however rough it is — consider the end to which it leads. Far better the most rugged path, if only it leads to the Heavenly City — than the easiest path that leads downward to eternal darkness and endless despair. "We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God." Yes, and there is rest, after weariness — the companionship of the glorified, after days of solitariness — the unveiled presence of Christ, after hours when perhaps it seemed to us as if we were well-near forsaken.
Be then content with the Lord's own leading. Follow where He guides, and fear not. "I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them." Isaiah 42:16
"Is this the way, my Father?" "Tis, my child;
You must pass through this tangled, dreary wild,
If you would reach the city undefiled —
Your peaceful home above."
"But enemies are around!" "Yes, child, I know
That where you least expect, you will find a foe;
But victor you shall prove o'er all below —
Only seek strength above."
"My father, it is dark!" "Child, take my hand:
Cling close to me: I'll lead you through the land.
Trust My all-seeing care — so shall you stand
'Midst glory bright above."
"My footsteps seem to slide!" "Child, only raise
Your eye to Me; then in those slippery ways
I will uphold your goings — you shall praise
Me for each step above."
"O Father, I am weary!" "Child, lean your head
Upon My breast — it was My love that spread
Your rugged path; hope on, until I have said
'Rest! Rest for you above.'"