"As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep."--Pilgrim's Progress.

"Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep." Genesis 28:10-11

We must now follow Jacob on his lonely way, as after successive days of journeying, under the blaze of an eastern sun, the shadows of eventide were gathering round him. As the flaming orb was descending, and the hills of Benjamin were rearing their rounded crests in front, he would naturally assign a preference for his next halt to the place familiar to him by name as his grandfather's first camping ground and sanctuary. The gates of Luz had already probably been shut, like those of eastern towns, at the close of day. But it would be no strange or unusual occurrence for the exile to spend the night on a grassy couch under the canopy of heaven. He must have been familiarized to such an experience in his pastoral life at Beersheba.

In the hush of that somber twilight, the spot where he was directing his steps could not surely be approached without emotion. Every relic of the tent whose image had been stored in child-memory was doubtless gone; but while the movable canvas shelter left no trace behind, the altar-stones would still be there to memorialize the devotion of him who reared them, and to revive and suggest sacred lessons to his chartered heir. These 'stones of Bethel' would be invested with an interest somewhat akin, only far deeper and intenser, to that which is associated with the Register in the Family Bible of modern times--the genealogical record of ancestral piety and worth, often the one heirloom of the Christian dwelling. While the ruins of Bethel's Sanctuary spoke of his fathers, may they not also, after the exciting and agitating events of the preceding days, have formed the first mute remembrances of his fathers' God. They may thus have rendered his mind more susceptible to those devotional feelings we shall find evoked by the vision so soon to follow.

In the great pilgrim journey, of which Jacob's was the type, we are in one sense the creatures of circumstance. The Patriarch, when he left his resting place that morning, must have had a dim premonition where, as a wayfaring man, he would turn aside to tarry for the night. It is not so with us. Often, at least, the turns and windings of the earthly way are very different from those we dreamt of at life's early start. Our own anticipations how often thwarted; our sagest forecastings how often singularly reversed! Those who commenced with firm step and buoyant hope, have been arrested before noontide with the unforeseen 'Hill Difficulty,' or made to leave the sunny path to thread the gloomy ravine--while those who began faltering and in darkness, have reached, almost without impediment, the goal of their desires and aspirations.

Each, also, has to tread his own separate and peculiar road with few features of resemblance to that of others. The two youths who may leave their village homes the self-same day to enter on the stern realities of life, may be sundered ever after in their pursuits and avocations, their sympathies and fellowships. Or, to vary the figure, they embark from the same haven, their sails are filled by the same gale; but either they part for different shores; different charts severing them on the great ocean highway; or else, for the one, there is the favoring propitious breeze, while for the other, there is buffeting storm and fatal disaster.

But while all this is true, there is another experience of a different character, as comforting as it is real, which the words at the head of this chapter without any violent strain in their meaning suggest– that is, that there is a Higher Hand and, a Higher Will than our own, that directs this "reaching a certain place;" that no events in our history are fortuitous, but all form part of a divine plan. The Jews had a belief that a guardian angel waited at every birth to attend the spirit through life, its protector, defender, and guide. What may be regarded in their case as only a beautiful figment of imagination, is at least a sublime reality regarding God. He compasses our path and our lying down, and is acquainted with all our ways. In quaint oriental simile, He is said to "put our tears into His bottle," and to "keep us as the apple of His eye." There is, there ought to be, no such thing in the Christian creed as chance in the appointments of existence. Every turn in the road has a divine signboard and warning, if we would only see it, and read it, and hear it--"This is the way, walk in it." The saddest of all things is to crush ourselves on the rock of fatalism. The dreariest of all beliefs is that of an impersonal God, who has relegated His sovereignty to whim and accident; left man to a capricious destiny, to be driven by the wanton winds here and there like the leaves of the forest. The Pilgrim, day by day, follows "the certain road," and eventide by eventide reaches "the certain place."

In the case of Jacob, this Almighty Guide authenticated and verified, in the after vision, His directing hand and ever-present guardianship. Each future returning night, the sentiment at least of an inspired though yet unwritten legend must have sounded in the dreamer's ears--"I will lie down in peace and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe." (Psalm 4:8).

In one sense we err when we speak of God's 'Providential dealings;' for in doing so, we seem to limit or restrict them to some specific and exceptional experiences--some crisis-hours in life; while the simple but sublime verity is, that there is no moment when we are exempt from His paternal supervision. In the words just quoted, "He is ACQUAINTED with ALL our ways." Of course it follows that if He interests Himself in the minute and the trivial, much more may we trace His hand and own His guidance in great emergencies.

Take some other analogous Scriptural examples, illustrating what is thus called the doctrine of particular Providence. The woman of Samaria 'arrived at a certain place,' at the very noontide hour when the weary Traveler (but in truth the Son of God who had redeemed her with His blood) was passing from Judea to Galilee. Lydia, the seller of purple, 'arrived at a certain place,' when she found herself at a riverside prayer-meeting, near the European city of Philippi, some hundred miles from her own Asiatic Thyatira, just at the time when the Great Apostle was present to cheer her heart with the full revelation of God's grace and mercy. The Ethiopian chamberlain 'arrived at a certain place,' when, returning from Jerusalem through the Gaza desert, a Pilgrim Missionary confronted his chariot, and, expounding to him truths he had sought for in vain amid the rites and splendors of an abrogated ritual, sent him on his way rejoicing.

Nor need we confine ourselves to Bible instances. Many a youth among ourselves has 'arrived at a certain place' immediately after leaving, like Jacob, for the first time the parental roof. The call to a secular profession or trade, the hope of promotion and advancement, directed his steps to the distant city; but it was the means of taking him to some hallowed dreamland--some Bethel sanctuary, where he had unfolded to him the plenitude of redeeming love. The words of everlasting life came home with saving energy to his soul, altering from that hour the whole current of his mental and moral history.

In these and similar cases there was apparently nothing but accidental occurrences, curious coincidences; but the true key to all, "the reading and interpretation of the writing," is to be found in the saying of Jacob's illustrious son--"So then it was not you that brought me here, but God." "The certain place" ("THE place," as it is in the original), was of His appointed choosing; "He knows the way that I take" (Job 23:10).

Reader! be it yours obediently, lovingly, joyfully to conform to the arrangement of your outward circumstances as the decree of Heaven. If conscience within, can countersign the leadings and indications of Providence without, then accept the career, be what it may, which has been opened to you and assigned you. Cast yourself without reserve or hesitation on 'the certain place.' It may be unpromising--not what you yourself would have selected or desired. Bleak and unattractive in its mere outward aspect would that moorland, doubtless, be to Jacob. Tufts of rough and rugged heather, scorched with the remorseless rays of noonday, take the place of verdant meadows with beds of anemone and fragrant thyme.

But, undeterred by the cheerless and unloving surroundings, he sets about preparing his couch. So it may be in your case as regards the surroundings of your daily life. There may be little else than what corresponds in the experience of the Bethel-dreamer to the ledge of rock and the deepening shadow, the drenching dew and the sigh of the night wind; no tent for the traveler, no hospice for the pilgrim. Like the patriarch on an after occasion, you may be tempted even to say in your moments of despondency, "All these things are against me." But, "be still, and know that I am God!" The shuttles may dart ever so capriciously to us, but the weaving of the life-web--is in the hands of the Great Craftsman.

If 'the certain place' He selects be not amid the blooming gardens of Gerar, or by the wells of Beersheba, but in the dreary uplands of Benjamin, He has some wise reason for it, and He will yet, in His own time and way, vindicate the wisdom and rectitude of His procedure. If He sees it to be well, sunlit heights may yet disclose themselves in the wilderness. The rough stones of the desert may yet, as in the case of the sleeper at Bethel, be transmuted into steps for angels.

That was a dreary place in olden-time for the future minstrel of Israel, amid the rocky wilderness of southern Judah, when he was chased like a panting gazelle on the mountains, uttering ever and anon the plaintive soliloquy, "I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul;" but after generations would have been defrauded of the most touching portion of his Psalter, had he known no experience but that of "the green pastures and still waters."

That was a dreary place for Paul of Tarsus, when he was flung a shipwrecked castaway on the rocks of Melita. But there was work to do even on such an inhospitable shore. So, without a murmur on his lips, he gathered his "bundle of sticks," and kindled the fire, and left the morrow, with the unfolding of its yet unknown calls and duties, to that God--whose he was, and whom he served.

That was a dreary--a still drearier place for him, when immured in a Roman dungeon, the itinerant Apostle felt the chain of captivity dangling at his side--his life-work apparently arrested. How would the chafed imprisoned eagle beat his wings against the enclosing bars, and long for freedom to speed as aforetime from city to city! It may have been so at the time, but he could write afterwards on the retrospect--"everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News."

That was a dreary and cheerless exile, when a later but not less illustrious dreamer than Jacob, was confined within Bedford jail--his lips muffled, his message silenced. The Church could ill spare her humble but stalwart champion. Yes, honest Bunyan, it was hard for rough, stirring, enlightened eloquence like yours, to be thus gagged within those silent walls. But be still! The God who sent you to that 'certain place' has work for you to do there. Dream your dream, weave your similitudes--the hundreds of Bedford miss you; but the world's millions will yet bless God, and you in Him, for that cell and that chain!

That was a spot of dreary solitude, the sick-chamber of Richard Baxter, with its experience of racking, excruciating pain. It was hard, amid the cherished activities of a consecrated life, to drag about from day to day that weary body, the gates of death ever ajar, added to other heavy sorrows. But that nook in the dark valley, that gloomy niche in the Temple, was assigned and appointed for reasons unknown to the meek sufferer. These forty years of prolonged weakness and pain enabled him to dream a kindred dream for behalf of the suffering children of God in all future ages--not of the Pilgrim's Journey, but of the Pilgrim's Home. The "Saint's Rest" could never have been written but by one who, with trembling hand and tear-dimmed eye, waited in habitual anticipation of the welcome summons within the Gate into the City.

Perhaps by none are these lessons of 'the certain place' more needed, than by those who are in the thick of the great battle of life--sore pressed in the unequal fight; looking, it may be, with envious eye on fortunate comrades who have already attained victory and promotion, while they are still lagging behind--the base-born spirits of dissatisfaction and discontent, hardest of all to grapple with among a demon horde of like assailants. Even those who have little reason to complain of harassing conflicts, are often too apt to make their allotments the cause of heart-burning. They long for some better, imaginary destiny--something other, at all events, than that which they have. It is the child-allegory of the firefly that was ever moping and fretting because it was not a star; of the marigold and daisy that drooped their heads and refused the light, because they were not the rose and the lily; the spikes of grass and coils of lichen that spurned the rain, and dew, and sunshine, because they were not exalted to the rank of oak and cedar.

It is enough to say that He who 'appoints the bounds of our habitation,' knows what is best for us. The Pilgrimage is shaped not by us but for us. "The lot may be cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord" (Prov. 16:33). Do nothing that will tend to thwart the Divine plan, and by seeking some softer pillow and more curtained couch to defraud yourselves of 'the visions of God.' Believe it, it is not outward fullness and prosperity which secure the softest, balmiest rest. There is a striking verse in Ezekiel where God thus speaks of the peace enjoyed by His own chosen people, even when called to a life of outward hardship and endurance--"They shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods" (34:25). If conscience be pure and unsullied, then His lullaby can hush to quiet repose amid the dews of the wilderness, or under the boughs of the forest, as well (often better) than on the couch of down. He can convert the bed of rock into the Gate of Heaven. Yes, and when the end of all is reached, and the Bethel road is retrospectively traversed, the testimony of many a Pilgrim will be joyfully re-echoed as you stand by the gate of the many mansions--"He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation!"

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