"The Pilgrim laid down in a large upper chamber, whose
window opened toward the sun-rising--the name of the chamber was Peace.
There he slept until break of day, and then he awoke and sang."--Pilgrim's
Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, "My way
is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God"? Isaiah 40:27
"When I awake, I am still with You." Psalm 139:18.
Then Jacob woke up and said, "Surely the Lord is in this
place, and I wasn't even aware of it." He was afraid and said, "What an
awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God—the gateway to
heaven!" Genesis 28:16-17
This is an interesting transition and turning-point in
our sacred chronicle. Among the group of Biblical illustrations in the
Memorial chapel at Windsor, which magnificently enshrines and illustrates
the virtues of England's departed Prince, is included that of the Patriarch
and his dreamland. The point of time, however, selected, differs from the
usual treatment. It is not, as generally, when the wayfarer lies fast asleep
on his pillow of stone, with angels over his head. The artist has chosen
rather the moment which we have now reached– that is, when, waking from his
sleep, he looks wistfully and hopefully upon the clear heaven, as if in the
act of uttering the exclamation which precedes this chapter.
We can picture and realize the scene--the tender light of
a Palestine morning when the sun was just purpling the sky above the somber
wall of Moab--the dew lying thickly on the grass around him--the last of the
night-stars just vanishing from the sky, and the last of the night-breezes
fanning his brow.
"The dawn--the dawn has died away,
And east and west, without a breath,
Mixed their dim lights, like life and death,
To broaden into boundless day."
He rises from his pillow; and with no eye or thought for
the unfamiliar landscape around, the one fresh memory, or rather the present
vivid and overpowering impression, inspires the first words which break upon
the solitude--"Surely the Lord is in this place! I laid me down last
night, lonely and joyless, sad and fearful. I saw no friendly form, I heard
no friendly voice. Bleak wasteland and desert-stones appeared to be my sole
silent companions. But I am conscious now that I had Divine watchers. I
thought the God of my fathers had only His special consecrated haunts and
His saintly favorites; that, though condescending to reveal Himself by the
tent and the altar, He never would have deigned to own common-ground like
this, on which I sought repose for my weary body. But, surely the Lord is in
this place, and I knew it not. This place! I supposed it only the
rough couch of a wayfarer--lo! I find it a habitat of Angels, as if Eden
were spread out around me, and the God of early Paradise talked with me.
This is none other but the House of God, and this is the Gate of Heaven!"
Thus was the evening dirge of the exile turned into a
morning of praise.
And yet, how natural, also, were the feelings of the
moment, and the farther utterance they prompted! It seems, from his waking
words, as if he could hardly realize all he had seen and heard. Though it be
only momentarily, he is in a state of strange bewilderment, no of positive
fear. "He was afraid." We are reminded of other Bible instances descriptive
of similar emotions, under similar circumstances. Gideon, on first waking up
to the consciousness of having seen a heavenly visitant, exclaimed, "Alas, O
Lord God! I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face" (Judges 6:22). The
Greatest of the Prophets had suddenly revealed to him, in the Temple-courts
underneath the winged seraphim, "the Lord sitting upon a throne high and
lifted up." Overpowered with the splendor of the vision, he breaks forth
with the utterance, "Woe is me! for I am undone–my eyes have seen the
King--the Lord of hosts!" (Isa. 6:1-5.) Another favored Israelite of a more
distant day, as he beheld an angelic form standing by the altar of incense,
"was troubled, and fear fell upon him" (Luke 1:12). The beloved Disciple,
when in the opening vision of the apocalypse he gazed, in His
ascension-glories, upon the Christ on whose bosom he had leaned on earth,
"fell at His feet as dead" (Rev. 1:17).
But in the case of the Patriarch, as of his descendants,
the first moments of fear were speedily displaced and superseded by very
different feelings. As he starts up from his couch, the words of the no
longer trembling Zacharias scarcely seem inappropriate in his lips--"Through
the tender mercy of our God, whereby the Dayspring from on high has visited
us!" (Luke 1:78.) No more sense now of loneliness and friendlessness--no
more cause, for the present at least, to cherish emotions of dread. No need
of the oblivion-power of sleep to cancel sadder memories--no more
anticipation of feverish visions of revenge and blood, which might well
banish slumber from a softer pillow. After the shock of amazement and wonder
is past, all such agitations rock themselves to rest. Better still, as the
assured child of the covenant whose inalienable blessings have been ratified
to him, there is an end to further plottings and counter-plottings--to
questionable human devisings and subterfuges. He has ONE with him,
above him, around him, with resources mightier than if all the
tents of Kedar had mustered sword and bow on his side--"The Lord of hosts"
is with him, "the God of JACOB" is his "refuge."
The Patriarch's experience has its parallel and
counterpart in that of many still, who can tell of their times and
crisis-hours of "revival"--an intensified religious fervor--when, as with
him, there is a quickening of spiritual apprehensions; a waking up to a more
vivid consciousness of the realities of life; and more especially of the
Great Unseen Presence in whom we live, and move, and have our being. The
emotions of such could not be better delineated than by the picture of a
dreamer rising from his pillow and exclaiming, "surely, the Lord is in this
place, and I knew it not!"
These solemn memorable wakings come in various forms and
with various accompaniments. At times they are the result of DELIVERANCE
FROM GREAT TEMPTATION--owing to some sudden but successfully resisted
invasion of a spiritual foe. The soldier, made alive to the vigilance of the
enemy and the imminence of danger, rises from his perilous camp-slumber,
exclaiming, "It is high time to awake out of sleep"--"Let us put off the
unfruitful works of darkness, and be clothed with the armor of light."
Take, without figure, the season specially dwelt upon in
these pages--YOUTH'S OUTSET IN LIFE--the commencement of the Pilgrim
path--when some of those legion foes, under the garb of pleasure, have
presented themselves--done their worst to assault and enfeeble the soul, and
then to crush and ruin it. The antagonist forces of right and wrong, good
and evil, vice and virtue, confront one another. They have joined in the
clang of battle--the hot and deadly strife. But virtue has come off
triumphant. Trembling on the verge of the precipice, the imperilled one has
been graciously rescued--the keel of the vessel was just grazing the rocks
when, by a timely turn of the helm, it was saved. Then comes the grateful
realization of deliverance. From that hour the charter of duty, "the solemn
league and covenant" of obedience to God, loyalty to conscience and honor,
is anew signed and sealed. "One will say, 'I belong to the Lord'; another
will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his
hand, 'The Lord's,' and will take the name Israel." (Isa. 44:5).
That crisis-hour puts into the lips a votive hymn of
praise and new obedience. "He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out
of the miry clay, and set my foot upon a rock, and established my goings.
And He has put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God" (Ps. 40:2,
3) "Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yes, our God is merciful. The Lord
preserves the simple--I was brought low, and He helped me. Return unto your
rest, O my soul; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. For you have
delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living" (Ps. 116:5-9).
But most frequently such soul awakenings are produced by
means and instrumentalities already more than once referred to--those
SORROWS and AFFLICTIONS which, in every stage of life, occur in the course
of God's all-wise but often mysterious Providence. How many a child of trial
can bear testimony! Existence, and its solemn responsibilities, had
previously been feebly and imperfectly realized. Immortal truths had lain
dormant. As barren creeds--dead dogmas, into which true vitality had never
been breathed, they exercised no influence on the character. In the case of
some they met only with the incredulous smile, or sceptic sneer.
But by reason of sickness, worldly disappointment,
personal or family disaster, there has been a new and before undreamt-of
apprehension of the sanctities of life and the grandeur of its
destinies--along with this, a kindling up of faith, and hope, and spiritual
aspiration. The awakened dreamer looks with a new eye on all around. What
before were absorbing earthly interests, now dwindle into nothing compared
with the interests of the Soul and Eternity. Emancipated from the tyranny
of the present, he is undisturbed by trifles which formerly were used to
vex and annoy. He has no ear for the little waves furrowing the sands and
murmuring at his feet--his eye is on the wide horizon and the gleaming
distance which the mist had hitherto obscured. A new atmosphere enwraps his
being. He has "seen God." Long content to be outside divine influences, or
to hover in the dim twilight, he is now, like the Apocalyptic Angel,
"standing in the Sun." The instincts of immortality have been roused within
him. To that immortality he now belongs as he never did before. Enlisted in
the army of great souls, "all old things have passed away; behold, all
things have become new."
Take the most common and startling of these messengers of
God sent to rouse the spiritual sleeper--BEREAVEMENT. Hitherto the world was
paramount--its vanities, its ambitions, its hopes. His vision was bounded by
its haunts of pleasure, and marts of gain; his life-motto was, "This is my
rest forever." But, "he awoke, and behold it was a dream!" Like the man
opening his eyes in the dull grey morning-dawn on the festal-hall, recently
brilliant with gay lights and floral devices, now silent, deserted; its
floor strewn with withered bouquets--"the fashion of this world passes
away!" He has been touched to the quick; but these incisions he feels to be
the living, loving probings of his Heavenly Father. He has learned by that
sore discipline the secret of true existence. "My flesh and my heart
fails--but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever" (Ps.
73:26). Yes, and bereavement too may have appealed to his human, yet
immortal instincts, in still another form. His spiritual waking-time may
have been, when he saw those he loved vanishing from sight within the gates
at the radiant summit! The severing of dear earthly ties may have been the
means of opening up the first vista-views of a glorious future--an
infinitude of being and of bliss undreamt of before. One of the angels on
the ladder has pointed on high to those once mourned as 'loved and lost,'
but now thought of only as loved and glorified; or lost from sight only to
be found again.
"Oh what were life, if life were all? Your eyes
Are blinded by their tears; or you would see
Your treasures wait you in the far-off skies,
And Death, your friend, will give them back to thee."
The mourner's citizenship is transferred to heaven. He is
like the imprisoned flower in the dark cellar, turning its blanched leaves
towards the crevice in the roof above. Where the treasure is, there will his
heart be also.
Reader! If God has roused you from your perilous dream,
even though it may have been by "terrible things in righteousness," be
grateful for it. You have reason only for joy, whatever be the means
employed, if you have woke up with the great "Eureka! I have found
Him whom my soul loves!" If you can say with the Psalmist, be the cost
what it may at which such an awakening was secured, "I awake with Your
likeness."--"When I awake, I am still with You," then your pillow may
be the rock; your food may be weeping--the cherished ones in the Beersheba
tent may be far removed; some of them--the Abrahams, and Isaacs, and
Rebekahs of your early love and reverence--may have vanished for the forever
of time. It may not be Beersheba, but Machpelah, where thoughts and memories
now most fondly center. It matters not. That angel of sorrow has led you to
the vision and fruition of God; and though on a couch of tears on earth, you
are truly at "the Gate of Heaven".
But an important practical question, similar to that of
last chapter, here suggests itself. How do we know when we can, with some
good measure of lowly confidence, appropriate the words of Jacob and breathe
his waking exclamation--"Surely the Lord is in this place"?
There might be many answers. A first and prominent one
which may be given is this--We may conclude that we are in the enjoyment of
God's presence and nearness, when we are conscious of an aspiration after
the holiness and purity He loves, and a corresponding aversion to the
sin which He dislikes. "Walk in light;" "Be the children of light."
"Walk before me and be you perfect," was the patriarchal direction to insure
being thus habitually encircled in the felt presence of the Holy One. That
"God is with you of a truth" you will discover by your higher, better lives;
by the increasing agreement of your wills with His. "You are the temple of
God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you. If any man defiles the temple of
God, him shall God destroy--for the temple of God is holy, which temple you
are" (1 Cor. 3:16-17). The "God-frequented temple" will be known by the
subjugation of self, mastery of passion, purity of thought, nobility of
purpose, unswerving loyalty to truth; love of love, and hate of hate; the
humble walk, the mellowed temper, the tender conscience; in one word--by
the holy life--making the beatitude of the Great Teacher your constant
aim and aspiration--"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
With these upright aspirations--fusing the secular and
the spiritual; protesting against the divorce of what God has joined
together, when He wedded the duties and demands of earth to the sanctities
of Heaven, you will be visited with the Dreamland Voice and Presence, go
wherever you will. Not within consecrated walls alone; but in the every-day
place of business; the realm of duty, wherever it is--the field, the office,
the counter, the lonely lodging. What a preventive against temptation--what
a stimulus to the performance of whatever is true and honest, and just, and
lovely, and of good report, is the Psalmist's directory for daily walk--"I
have set the Lord always before me--because He is at my right hand, I
shall not be moved" (Ps. 16:8). The heart, the thoughts--even in the midst
of the world's activities--gravitating ever towards Him as the central Sun
of being and blessing.
Oh! noble souls, young or old, whether in a higher or a
humbler lot, faithfully battling with evil, and having earnest strivings
after what is righteous--keeping your hearts as an inviolate shrine--rejoice
in the assurance that the God you love is very near you--not dwelling only
in the habitats of nature--aloft on the everlasting hills, or in sublime
solitudes beyond the stars--but anywhere--everywhere. "You compass my path"
(in the day-time), "and my lying down" (in the hours of darkness and its
The duties of earth thus blended and united with heaven,
it will be no mystic or dreamlike stair that connects you with the upper
sanctuary. You will see that Gate of glory standing open before you, in all
you do, and wherever you go. Common places will be transfigured into
Bethels. And whether you close your eyes on your nightly pillow, or open
them in the morning light, you will be able, not in figure of speech or with
the thought of exile, to say, "Surely the Lord is in this place."
Young Pilgrim (if I may again, in passing, address to you
a special word), there is but one spot, one occasion when you need to
exclaim "How dreadful is this place!" It is when by evil influences; when,
yielding to the momentary feebleness or indecision of the will, you are
decoyed into the border-land of temptation; stifling conscience--perverting
your capacities for goodness--when, allowing yourself to cancel better
memories and resolves, you drift from the old, safe, and happy anchorage.
This part of Jacob's waking exclamation may well be taken as the handwriting
on the wall, which, unless timely heeded, is prophetic of doom and disaster.
Remember how many vessels, once freighted with promise,
are now lying with splintered spars and gaping sides on the sands or rocks,
hopelessly sundered from the retreating wave that might still have borne
them buoyantly to sunny shores! Believe me, (to return to the symbol of the
Dreamland,) if you thus abandon yourself to spiritual slumber--if you
surrender the intellect and conscience and will to be drugged and stupefied
with moral narcotics, the time will come when you will have no eye for the
ladder and its angels, no ear for the heavenly voice! Lying on the edge of a
volcano--"How dreadful is this place!"
Time, the prelude to an undying existence, is rushing on
like an arrowy river. In some cases (possibly in your case) that river may
be nearing the Eternal ocean, the boom of whose billows may already be
falling on your ear; and with the thought of these great waves ever nearing,
and no shelter yet sought or found for the frail bark--"How dreadful is this
place!" And when death overtakes the irrevocable hour, and you feel that the
world you had made your home and rest and portion is being wrenched from
your grasp--"How dreadful is this place!"
Awake! arise! chase away these dreams of indifference,
presumption, and procrastination. An old writer well says
"indecision is a dreadful place"--living in a border-land, half-way
between the regions of light and darkness. If bygone memories be those of
sin, departed goodness, defiant unbelief, ungodly companionship, or unholy
haunts--"Come out from among them, and be separate." Above all, do not for a
moment allow yourself to lapse into a state of hopelessness. Never allow
that word from the abyss "Too late" to grapple with efforts to rid
yourself of an unhallowed past, and an unhappy present. Exorcize the
devil-born thought of abandonment to fatalism and despair. There are
bars of gold in yonder eastern sky which tell you, as they did Jacob, of a
coming dayspring. If yours be the fear and dread of a first awakening, hear
the voice of Him who never discourages, but ever stirs the pulses of the
languishing soul by bracing to nobler deeds--"Be watchful and strengthen the
things that remain which are ready to die."
Accept unhesitatingly and without delay the gracious
overtures of ONE who loves to meet the outcast, the exile, the fugitive.
Your trooping images of terror will gradually vanish before faith's
steadfast musing on the stair of heaven, the footsteps of Angels, and the
voice of God. With these, you will rebuild the collapsed purpose, the
half-surrendered fortress; and out of weakness may yet be strong, "wax
valiant in fight and turn to flight the armies of the aliens."
There is one other blessed and hallowed means here
suggested of recruiting spiritual strength, and consolidating your
resolutions of new obedience. The words of Jacob would seem to recall and
enforce the Apostolic injunction--"Not forsaking the assembling of
yourselves together, as the manner of some is." "The House of God"--the
earthly Temple--is made, in the experience of many, as 'the Gate of Heaven.'
And as the forfeiture and abandonment of the means of grace is not
uncommonly the first step in the decay of the spiritual life, (neglected
weeds allowed to grow up and choke the unfrequented footpath to the
Sanctuary)--so is the return to the Place of Prayer and its stated services,
often the first symptom and token of revival. The response once more to the
Sabbath bell and its thousand memories is frequently the first means of
re-awakening--stirring the decaying embers of the soul and fanning them into
a flame. These Angels of the Patriarch's ladder, beckoning the dreamer
upward, may be regarded as no unfit emblems of God-appointed
instrumentalities to help us on our heavenly way. "The Lord loves the gates
of Zion, more than all the dwellings of Jacob." It is on "the mountains of
Zion" the dew of His grace and blessing specially descends--"There I will
meet with you." "There He commands the blessing, even life for evermore."
The name of every Temple-court, where there is a gathering of holy hearts,
is "Jehovah-Shammah--The Lord is there."
Who among us have not hallowed remembrances of these
'Hills of blessing'? Drawn there, not for any poor conventional reason; but
leaving, dusty and travel-stained, the hot and sultry highway for the
bracing mountain air, to plead common needs, to bewail common infirmities,
to obtain strength for daily duty and the endurance of daily trial. As we
listen to the deeds of 'the Great ones of the olden time,' to realize what
the sanctity of life is; to think of our departed--those who have dreamt
their dream, and scaled their ladder, and who, endowed with immortality, are
bending over those still left behind amid the desert stones and the
wilderness path, to battle with windy storm and tempest. Above all, to
ponder the mighty truths gathering around our own everlasting futures--that
great Eternity for whose shores, following the wake of others, we must
sooner or later set sail--"the land that is very far off," but which Psalm
and Prayer and Litany bring to the eye of faith very near!
Fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of
God! Members of a brotherhood extending to all countries, and embracing all
time, bear witness! Is not this oftentimes your experience and testimony? "A
day in Your courts is better than a thousand"--"My soul longs for You in a
dry and thirsty land where no water is, to see Your power and Your glory
so--as I have seen You in the Sanctuary"? Yes, and if the Gate of
Heaven be thus blissful and glorious, what will Heaven itself be? If
these angel-visits of earth be thus hallowed, what will be that
Temple of which the earthly courts are the feeble emblem and
reflection?--the House not made with hands--the Sanctuary of holy hearts in
a celestial world, where there is no recruiting of exhausted energy, no flaw
or discord in the seraphic music! May it be ours to attain these glorious
heights of the symbolic ladder.