"This is the resting place, let the weary rest; and this
is the place of repose"—
"He led them by a straight way to a city where they could
settle." Psalm 107:7
This is a stray note from one of the grandest Psalms,
whether of the Exodus or the Captivity. Its refrain, four times repeated, is
the Lord's 'goodness' and His 'wonderful works'—and that, too, despite of
all the 'solitariness' and 'hunger' and 'thirst,' the 'distress and labor,'
the 'darkness and shadow of death,' which checkered the experience of the
pilgrim tribes. The psalm ends, as does many a life-psalm still, with the
declaration, "Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the
great love of the Lord" (v. 43).
Observe, however, it was a retrospective song. In
its primary application to the march through the Sinai wilderness it could
have been sung but falteringly, when the God of the pillar-cloud often
seemed to fail "satisfying the longing soul, and filling the hungry soul
with goodness" (v. 9). Is it not often so with us? The pillar, alike of
cloud and of fire, is there; but we cannot discern, or we hesitate to follow
it. We are prone to harbor guilty conjectures as to the uprightness and
wisdom and faithfulness of the divine procedure and plan. Confronted
with baffling providences, the reason of which perplexes our best
ingenuity, we are tempted at times to ask, 'Why these unanswered—no,
defeated prayers?—the urgent plea not only left unheard, but responded to in
the way we most dreaded and deprecated—the circuitous route "by the way of
the wilderness," instead of the short and apparently safe one direct to
To take an illustration suitable to the words of our
motto-verse, many a mother pleads in earnest supplication that God may
overrule events and arrangements so as to prevent her son going to some
place—some "city of habitation" that might too surely prove a position of
peril or temptation. How is her prayer at times answered? Her child is sent
to the distant, dreaded city, instead of being continued under the fostering
influences and salutary restraints of home. In silence and seclusion, and
under the bitter consciousness of frustrated wishes, she is driven to give
way to the plaintive soliloquy, "Surely my way is hidden from the Lord, and
my cause is disregarded by my God." So thought and reasoned an illustrious
name in the roll of Christian parents—Monica, the devout mother of
Augustine. He tells us in his "Confessions" that she had besought
earnestly—pleaded night and day—that the God she served would not permit her
son to fulfill his own wish and intention of leaving his home and going to
Italy. She too truly feared the vices and contaminations of the Roman
capital. Yet her prayers were not heard. To Italy he went, and in
Rome he sojourned; and the yearning heart he had left behind could only
picture, in her hours of lone agony, the moral shipwreck of all that was
dearest to her. But the journey, and the resort so dreaded, became to
Augustine his spiritual birthplace. That city of moral darkness was made to
him a Bethel for the visions of God, where he erected his life altar, and
vowed his eternal vow.
There is surely marvelous blessedness in the thought that
the bounds of our habitation are divinely appointed! Our lots in
life—our occupations, our positions, our dwellings—what the fatalist calls
our destinies—what heathen mythology attributed to the Fates—all this is
marked out by Him who "sees the end from the beginning." "The lot is cast
into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord." It is He who takes
us to the distant dwelling—it may be the distant land. It is He who takes us
from solitude—from grove and woodland and murmuring brook—from the green
fields of childhood and youth, and brings us among the swirlings and
currents of some busy market. It is He who takes us to our sweet shelters of
prosperity—our Elim-groves with their sparkling springs of joy. It is He
who, when He sees fit, conducts us into the land of drought and among the
tents of Kedar. He gives the gourd—He sends the worm.
Oh, it is our comfort to know, in this mysterious,
complicated, varied, changeful life of ours, that there is One above and
over all, evolving good out of evil and order out of
confusion. He sent Onesimus, the runaway slave, to Rome—and Lydia,
the seller of purple, to Philippi—and Zaccheus, the tax-gatherer, to
Jericho—and Paul, the bigot Pharisee, to Damascus. But these, and
other notable examples, were brought there for their souls' everlasting
welfare; and the new song was put into their lips—"Praise be to the Lord,
for He showed His wonderful love to us when we were in a besieged city."
How many still can tell the same? Their choice of
residence seemed to them something purely arbitrary and capricious. A mere
trifle seemed, as they thought, to have determined or altered their
whole future. But the finger of God had, unknown, been pointing. The
inarticulate voice of God had been calling them forth "by the right way,
that they might go to the city of habitation." Human,—it may be
base and unworthy purposes—are often thwarted and counteracted by
the higher purposes of the Supreme Disposer. How many can say, in the
words of one (Joseph,) who, more than most, could, through a strange series
of baffling providences, vindicate the ways of the Almighty to men—"So
then," said Egypt's princely ruler, as he confronted the fratricides who
stood embarrassed in his presence—"so then, it was not you that
brought me here, but God!"
His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways.
"A man devises his (own) ways; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord,
that shall stand." O that we could believe that at times the denial of our
prayers may be the best, the kindest, the fatherly answer to them; that when
crossed and defeated in our ambitions after what we think is for our good,
we are tempted to pronounce with the patriarch the hasty verdict, "All these
things are against me!" we could trust the ALL-LOVING FATHER to guide
our steps, not according to our finite and inaccurate wisdom, but according
to the counsel of His sovereign but gracious will.
Many of His own children have had to confront what was
bitter and painful—leaving the quiet nooks and valleys of life for
the storm-clouds of the tempestuous mountain. Let them trust their
sure, unfaltering Guide, that He will bring light out of darkness, and show
that, often in an apparently adverse lot, there are undreamt-of blessings in
reversals either for themselves or for others. "To think," says Lady
Powerscourt, "that led by Him we are safe from everything. No evil shall
ever touch us—evil at the end, or evil on the way—all is paved
with love." There ought, indeed, to be no such thing as 'misfortune' or
'accident' in the vocabulary of the children of God. Theirs may not be the
bright way, the pleasant way, the way of their own
choosing. It may be the very reverse. It may be thorny and
sunless and rugged. But it is His appointing, and therefore must
be "the right way."
Meanwhile be it ours to sit in calmness and confidence
under the shadow of our wilderness palm, feeling assured that the day is
coming when, with ingathered Israel, we shall be able—no longer in the
desert encampment, but within 'the gates of the city'—to take up the noble
strain of which our motto-verse forms a part—
"O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good,
For His mercy endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy.
And gathered them out of the lands,
From the east, and from the west,
from the north, and from the south.
They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way;
They found no city to dwell in.
Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them.
Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble,
And He delivered them out of their distresses.
And He led them forth by the right way,
That they might go to a city of habitation.
O that men would praise the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!"
"My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."