"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

None but those who have been in Palestine, can understand or appreciate the beauty and grandeur of an eastern sunset. The tamest of its landscapes is ennobled and transfigured with the magical light of 'Eventide.'

While many such scenes may occur to the recollection, there is pre-eminently one which, owing to its being seen from so many different points, leaves on the mental vision an ineffaceable impression. I refer to the varied tints on the mountain wall of Moab, when its dull rocks are transmuted by 'the last fires of day' into a delicate mass of purple, amethyst, and gold. These remarkable mountains of the Land of Promise would in all likelihood now meet the eye of Jacob. From the upland territory, along which he hastened, this great trans-Jordanic "bastion" is specially conspicuous. He would watch the melting hues until, one by one, they had died away, and left nothing but the cold grey mass behind. Not an inapt picture of his own inner experience at the moment; when what had given to life its best morning brightness had faded from his sight. "The sun had set!"

And if a Palestine sunset is gorgeous, equally so, also, we may add, is its nightly sky. No wonder the Israelites loved to travel to their great annual celebration when the luster of moon and stars irradiated their path (Isa. 30:29), the pensive hour of thought doubtless adding intensity to their pious enthusiasm. Possibly these brilliant galaxies spoke to Jacob as they could speak to none other. Fugitive as he was, he could not be unconscious of the fact that he had been served heir to the covenant promise. Could he fail to think of those evenings of his boyhood, at Kirjath-Arba, when his aged grandfather had led him forth by the hand, and pointing him upwards to the myriad lights gemming the skies, told him how the God he served had made them the silent prophets and evangelists of the future. "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if you be able to number them. And he said unto him, So shall your seed be" (Gen. 15:5).

Nor is what we have now said regarding those hours of night, when "echo slumbers," to be relegated to the domain of mere sentiment. It is the season which brings God and spiritual things specially near the soul. The garish light of day is shut out. The din of the world's traffic and busy industry is hushed. Night is a great temple, in whose courts the Omniscient Presence is specially felt and realized.

"It is a season for the quiet thought,
And the still reckoning with yourself.
The night gives back the spirits of the dead,
And the heart, calling its affections up,

Counts its wasted ingots. Life stands still,
And settles like a fountain; and the eye
Sees clearly through its depths, and notes all
That stirred its troubled waters."

It was "by night" Eliphaz was startled from his couch with the Divine appearance and the Divine voice. Night was the season when the King of Judah rose to his highest inspiration. "I meditate on You in the night watches," has been the utterance of many a devout spirit, since the Great Minstrel sang "The heavens are telling." When Jacob, twenty years later, wrestled with the covenant angel at Jabbok, it was at night. The wrestling continued until morning dawn, when it ceased as if the special season for Divine communication was then over--"Let me go," said the mysterious Personage, "for the day breaks."

May it not have been so with the patriarch now. The natural darkness was preparing his soul the better for the disclosure of inner light. It was the outer portico which conducted him into 'the Most Holy Place,' the haunt of ministering Seraphim. Under the gleam of these celestial altar lights, the sense of the Divine nearness and presence comes over him, and before he left that spot he would be able to add his joyful experience, "I remembered Your name, O Lord, in the night" (Ps. 119:55).

All this, however, has a higher and truer spiritual acceptation. No pilgrim is without his night season. There are moments in every life when, in a figurative sense of the words, "The sun has set."

Such a 'setting' is that, when suddenly summoned to a bed of pain and sickness, when "wearisome nights are appointed." The world, that was so lately clothed with light as with a garment, puts on its sackcloth attire, and the sufferer is made familiar only with the dim lamp, the restrained footfall, the whisper with bated breath.

Such a sunset is that, when some treasured orb in the domestic skies is quenched; when, through the long, dreary night-watches, sleep is banished, and the pulses throb like the heaving of the ocean which cannot rest. Nothing seems to fall on the ear but the dirge over buried love, and a later cry of the patriarch of Bethel is wrung from the broken heart, "I AM bereaved!"

But with many, how often are these, and such like seasons, made the foretastes of the heavenly dream; the introduction to Divine realities before unthought of. It is affliction, in some one of its diversified forms, which has dictated or repeated the utterance of the Beloved disciple in his island prison--"I saw a door opened in heaven, and I heard a voice saying unto me, Come up here!" (Rev. 4:1). The discipline and strengthening of the moral nature cannot be effected amid the distractions and fascinations of broad day; but when the sun of earthly prosperity goes down, in the realized loneliness and desolation which steals over the soul, out come the clustering stars of Divine promise. These require to have the blaze of light withdrawn, in order that they may be revealed to the spiritual eye. The saying becomes true, "God, our Maker, gives songs in the night." The sorrowing come forth comforted, the weak strengthened, the doubting confirmed--yes, and often the gloomy and the selfish are transfigured into the noble, and manly, and sympathetic. "By the sadness of the countenance, the heart is made better."

With some who read these pages it may be more than the shades which follow sunset--the gloom of one solitary watch. It may be, as with Jacob, a "tarrying all night." The infinity of darkness may seem gathering and deepening around you, every star swept from your stormy skies. Night-watch succeeds night-watch, but no response of the warder is heard with tidings of the dawn.

TRUST GOD IN THE DARK. This is the highest effort and triumph of faith. Whether it be the darkness engendered by bodily affliction or by inward trouble--physical, intellectual, or spiritual; your "tarrying time," as much as "the certain place," of which we have spoken, is of His appointing. Jesus tarried in distant Perea two days after getting the urgent message from the disconsolate sisters at Bethany. How they marveled (perhaps murmured) at the apparently strange, unusual indifference with which the tidings sent by them were received; instead of hastening, as they expected, up the Jericho valley to emancipate them at once from their anguish. When He did come, His 'tarrying' elicited the reproachful remonstrance--"If You had been here, our brother had not died!" How did that Lord of life and love, however, subsequently vindicate the wisdom and righteousness of His mysterious delay? But for that 'tarrying,' what lessons would have been lost to the family of Bethany--to His own disciples at the approach of the great crisis-hour; to believers in the Apostolic age--to the Church until the end of time. His gentle rebuke to the outspoken child of sorrow is what He whispers in the ear of many still, who are ready in His tarrying seasons to accuse the love and rectitude of His dealings--"Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" (John 11--40).

To not a few, who for the present are thus dwelling on the night-watches of Bethel, instead of the sunny memories of Hebron and Beersheba, the 'needs be' may yet be made apparent even here. At all events, be assured, these gloomy experiences during the exile of earth, are designed only to lead you the more to center your desires and thoughts on "The Better Country"--to endear to you the more the home and harbor of the skies. "Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. He will make your innocence as clear as the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun." Psalm 37:5-6.

"The way is dark, my Father! Cloud on cloud
Is gathering thickly over my head, and loud
The thunders roar above me. See, I stand
Like one bewildered! Father, take my hand.

"The day goes fast, my Father! and the night
Is drawing darkly down. My faithless sight
Sees ghostly visions; fears, a spectral band,
Encompass me. O Father! take my hand.

"The way is long, my Father! and my soul
Longs for the rest and quiet of the home,
While yet I journey through this weary land,
Keep me from wandering. Father, take my hand."

There is a gracious answer--
"The way is dark, my child! but leads to light,
I would not always have you walk by sight;
My dealings now you can not understand,
I meant it so, but I will take your hand.

"The way is long, my child! but it shall be
Not one step longer than is best for thee;
And you shall know, at last, when you shall stand
Safe at the goal, how I did take your hand."

Youth has often its own exceptional experiences of sunset and night. Not to speak of others, one phase of that darkness, often too among the noblest and most ingenuous minds, is that to which I have already incidentally alluded--the darkness and convulsion of intellectual doubt, an experience so well described by the poet, with Bethel for the foreground and imagery--

"I falter where I firmly trod;
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the world's great altar stairs
That slope through darkness up to God:

"I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope."--"In Memorium."

Religion hitherto has been accepted on trust. But the young explorer, waking up to the consciousness of fresh intellectual convictions and responsibilities, begins to test for himself the strength of the old foundations. Not infrequently, also, we must add, in the traffic with baser minds, disquieting misgivings are at times unhappily insinuated; the stable is made to seem insecure, the strong links of the golden chain seem to pulverize into dust, the vessel of faith is adrift from its moorings. Perhaps worse than all, in the sudden revulsion of family influences, the crushing secret of these devil-born doubts has to be borne alone and unshared, the hand of home sympathy and loving authority and counsel has relaxed its grasp. The future is blank--there is truly a "tarrying all night, for the sun is set!"

What is the panacea (one panacea at least), in ministering to a mind diseased like this? It is prayer to God to enlighten the eyes of your understanding. "Enlighten my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death" (Ps. 13:3). I repeat, that very agony of doubt is not infrequently part of a tribulation through which many of God's best and truest children have to pass--"walking in darkness and seeing no light." Their cry of despondency is "Watchman, how much longer until morning? When will the night be over?" The watchman replies, "Morning is coming, but night will soon follow." (Isa. 21:11, 12).

Be assured the utterance of simple faith--"Lord, I believe, help my unbelief;" "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law," will not be uttered in vain. "Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness." Who is among you that fears the Lord, that obeys the voice of His servant, that walks in darkness and has no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God" (Ps. 112:4; Is. 50:10). "There is, indeed," says Bishop Ellicott, an able scholar and divine, "a quick and living truth in every sentence of the blessed Gospel, and they who read with a loving and reverential spirit shall find it in its fullest measures. Oh! pray fervently against the first motions of a spirit of doubt and questioning. By those prayers which you learned at a mother's knee, by that holy history which perchance you first heard from a mother's lips, give not up the first childlike faith of earlier, and it may be purer days--that simple heroic faith which such men as Niebuhr and Neander knew how to appreciate and to glorify, even while they felt its fullest measures could never be their own. Remember that when faith grows cold, love soon passes away, and hope soon follows it. And oh! believe me, that the world cannot exhibit a spectacle more utterly mournful, more full of deepest melancholy, than a young yet doubting, a fresh yet unloving, an eager yet hopeless and forsaken heart."

Go then, pray on, trust on, believe on, hope on, and "the still, small voice" will in due time come--after the thunder, and the earthquake, and the hurricane have spent themselves. The sun is only below the horizon. "O my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember your kindness— from Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan, from the land of Mount Mizar. I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me. Through each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life." Psalm 42:6-8

And then, in the midst of these night-watches and night experiences, whether in the case of youth, or manhood, or old age; when we think of Jacob--when we think of ourselves--can we fail to make the application which some of the early writers give to this passage, as suggestive of One, who Himself, (and that for no sin of His own) left His Father's house "a Pilgrim," and all solitary and alone traversed the desert of earth! How often did He, also, in a literal sense, stretch His weary frame under the open canopy of heaven, with no other covering but His cloak, to protect Him from the dews of night. How often had He the stone of Palestine, or the coil of rope, on which to rest His head; and at last a harder pillow even than these! In our nights of darkness and sorrow, well may we recall the Divine experience of this Prince of sufferers; the sun set, but no sanctity of stars to relieve the gloom--"My God! My God! why have You forsaken Me? I have trodden the winepress alone." Prayer was His resort in the very climax of His woe--"Father!" "O My Father!" "Being in an agony, He prayed the more earnestly." It turned His night season into a time of invigoration and strength. So also will it be in the experience of His waiting people. "The Lord is near unto all who call upon Him"--"A very present help in trouble." In every Gethsemane of life, an angel will be sent from heaven to strengthen. It is in "the fourth watch," when the darkness is often deepest, that He Himself, mightier than any angel, still comes "walking on the sea." It is when "the sun has set" on the mountains of Bethel, that, as we shall presently find--

"The sky is as a temple arch;
The blue and wavy air
Is glorious with the spirit-march
Of messengers of prayer."

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