"Arduous is the conflict, but abundant the strength--hard
the toil, but glorious the reward. O forsake not me, Your child, when
walking through the great tumultuous crowd, who know not Your Name. Wide is
the sea through which I have to steer my course, and high its swelling
waves; but grace is the breeze that fills the sails; my compass is faith,
and my pilot, Christ."--Tholuck's "Hours of Devotion."
"Let me set forth anew, O Lord, as a pilgrim on the
earth, with my rod and staff, and so set my heart on You, that in all places
You may be my dwelling-place and home, until I return here to my last
resting-place."--Memorials of a Quiet Life.
"Then Jacob went on his journey."--Genesis 29:1.
We cannot do better than begin this chapter in the words
of Christian in the "Pilgrim's Progress"--"Who can tell how joyful this man
was when he had gotten his roll again! For this roll was the assurance of
his life, and acceptance at the desired haven. Therefore, he laid it up in
his bosom, gave thanks to God for directing his eye to the place where it
lay, and with joy and tears betook himself to his journey."
So it was with the Pilgrim Dreamer of Bethel. "He went on
his journey," or, as these words literally mean, "he lifted up his feet."
They are rendered in the Jewish Commentary--"His heart lifted up his feet."
The waking dread and terror had given way to reassured peace and joy. Vows
of covenant love having been interchanged between him and his God, like a
desert wayfarer of Apostolic times after a similar Gospel revelation--"he
went on his way rejoicing" (Acts 8:39). The spirit and sentiment of the
unwritten 121st Psalm might well, from first to last, be his. Indeed, there
is strong ground for surmising that when that "traveler's Psalm" was
composed, the inspired Singer of a future age must have had "the Keeper of
ISRAEL," "the Shepherd of the stony pillow," before his mental vision. The
night scene, the name of the Divine speaker, the very words of the Divine
promise, have their echo and reflection in the glowing strain--
I lift up my eyes to the hills--
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip--
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you--
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm--
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
"Jacob went on his journey."--These words, in
connection with the Patriarch, may suggest to us, in an emblematic form,
some further practical thoughts regarding the life-journey which each of
us is pursuing.
I. It is in the active prosecution of the journey--in
other words, the earnest spirit in which we discharge our various duties and
obligations to God and man--that we go either with "lifted up" or with
lagging feet and heart. Life is, or ought to be, at least, no dreamland. It
is the idle, purposeless existence which breeds morbid thoughts, and moping
feelings, and peevish reflections on the Divine dealings. "Go," said God to
another Wayfarer, whose case has already suggested more than one parallel
with that of Jacob--"Go on your way; Return to duty. Leave juniper-trees and
deserts behind you. Go anoint Hazael; Go anoint Jehu; Go anoint Elisha; and
in the resumption of assigned life-work, languor and misgivings will take to
flight" (1 Kings 19:15, 16).
The cobwebs of unbelief and incredulity, discontent and
melancholy, are swept away by opening the windows of the soul to let in the
breath of heaven. And this is as much a spiritual as it is a natural law of
our being. It was in proportion as Paul "pressed toward the mark for the
prize" that he "forgot the things that were behind," the brooding memories
of sins and shortcomings--vain, remorseful regrets over a vanished forfeited
past. He braced himself for present duties. He had no time to waste,
counting his lost paces and feeble pulse-beats and fatal stumblings, when
the goal was still to be reached. He does better than weep over irreparable
bygone days, by redeeming the moments of a yet available future--the
pettinesses and shortcomings of his former aims and aspirations are lost in
the truthfulness and earnestness of present purposes. Laying aside every
weight, he runs with patience the heavenly race.
In starting on your journey, or rather, to carry out the
parallel of Jacob, recommencing a journey already begun, resuming it with
new and nobler resolves of duty and obedience, get yourself thoroughly
indoctrinated with the same truth we sought to enforce in last chapter, that
whatever your future be, whatever your lot and sphere in life, it will have
its opportunities, however lowly and inconspicuous, of doing good to your
fellows, and of glorifying Him in whose name you have vowed your vow.
We repeat, the humblest duties may be exalted, elevated,
transfigured. Motive dignifies action. "Whatever you do, do it heartily as
to the Lord and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord you shall receive the
reward of the inheritance, for you serve the Lord Christ." Above all,
whether much or little, strive to perform it worthily; to give the talent if
you can; the mite if you have not the talent; and the willing heart and pure
purpose if even the mite be not possessed. God has room in His kingdom for
the "feeble folk" as well as for giant souls; for the infant learning to
walk as well as for the swift-footed Asahel. "When Israel was a child, I
loved him as a son, and I called my son out of Egypt. It was I who taught
Israel how to walk, leading him along by the hand." (Hosea 11:1-3).
"Thus I with faltering footsteps journey on,
Watching the stars that roll the hours away;
Until the faint light that guides me now is gone,
And, like another life, the glorious day
Shall open over me from the empyreal height,
With warmth and certainty and boundless light."
With none of us, that journey should be a lounge, a
summer day's walk. Life is an tremendous talent; and duty, as connected with
life, is measureless. It has a center, but it knows no circumference. Its
center is in God; its emanations reach into infinitude. Cease to imagine
that you are an isolated planet, lost in the great system--a star dwelling
alone. Rather feel that hour after hour you are circling round a glorious
center, which not only gives you light, but expects you to reflect back
light in return. Depend upon it, in the recognition of obligations, perhaps
before renounced, now discharged with faith and courageous trust, you will
acquire not only nobler views of duty, but of real happiness. The proverbial
'leisure with dignity' has a ring of reality in it, but it has a
deeper dirge of falsehood. Among other discoveries the day of fresh
spiritual awakening makes to receptive minds is, that the true dignity of
life is not ease and luxurious rest--the poor artificial existence which
consists in quaffing from hour to hour and from day to day the bowl of
pleasure--but in that angel-work of traveling up and down the ladder, doing
the will and fulfilling the purposes of the Father who loves you and the
Savior who died for you. How many there are who spend their early days in
irreverent and defiant independence of God and the soul--a poor Epicurean
life; the 'absorbing present' all in all; and then, when the evening shadows
begin to lengthen, there is an effort to assume the Pilgrim garb and begin
the Pilgrim journey. In other words, they give the best of their strength,
and the best of their time, and the best of their hearts to sin and self and
the world; and then presume to offer to God the crumbs and the sweepings of
an existence from which the zest is gone.
How can there be "the lifted-up feet," how can there be
joyous harvests or vintage, when the soul has thus scorned its
spring-time--when the young furrow has closed its pores against "the early
rain" and reviving sun; the seed scattered either in the drought of the
ended summer, or amid the chill blasts of the waning year? Be it yours to
make another Pilgrim-prayer of the Psalmist your own on each returning day
or at each fresh milestone of the road--"Cause me to hear Your
loving-kindness in the morning; for in You do I trust--cause me to know the
way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto You. Deliver me, O
Lord, from my enemies; I flee unto You to hide me. Teach me to do Your will;
for You are my God--Your Spirit is good; lead me into the land of
uprightness" (Ps. 143:8-10). Thus, with the feet 'uplifted' in God's
strength, will trials be made easy and burdens light. "It is God that girds
me with strength, and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like hinds'
feet" (Ps. 18:32-33). "Though he fall, yet shall he not be utterly cast
down--for the Lord upholds him with His hand" (Ps. 37:24).
Nor, in speaking of helps for "the prosperous journey by
the will of God" (Rom. 1:10), can we forget the promise so specially brought
before us in the ladder-vision.--"For He shall give His angels charge over
you, to keep you in all your ways. They shall bear you up in their hands,
lest you dash your foot against a stone" (Ps. 91:11-12). Who are the leaders
in that viewless band? May we not think of each angel, excelling in his own
peculiar strength, specially delegated on his allotted mission to the
several Pilgrims to Zion? The Angel Faith, with gleaming eye; the
Angel Courage, with fiery wing and burnished shield and flaming
sword; the Angel Ardor, with fleet foot urging the wayfarer upwards
and onwards; the Angel Patience, with gentle visage and white
vestment and folded arms, sent to whisper resignation in the hour of sorrow;
the Angel of Victory, high above all, holding in one hand a palm, and
in the other a crown. Shall we add a beautiful conception of an old
Florentine painter--two gleaming Angel-warders at the gates of Paradise,
putting garlands on the heads of the saints as they enter the Celestial
Another and very different lesson and reflection may be
gathered from Jacob's resumed journey. It is suggested by connecting his
present with his future experience. The dreamland and its time of blessing
was in strange contrast with the dreary, servile years of drudgery and
discipline (must we add of spiritual retrogression), in Mesopotamia.
As with him, so with us. Our seasons of Divine elation
and ecstasy, Bethel-visions, are not to always last. The booths are not
allowed to be permanently pitched on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter and
his brother-Apostles had to descend the hill at dawn of morning for stern
duty and trial; alas! too, as it proved, for the manifestation of faltering
and unwatchfulness, and the surrender of holy trust! Even Paul had to return
from his heavenly "revelations" to "the thorn in the flesh," to the arduous
race--the fierce battle-field.
And there are occasions which come to all of us, when
with pain and sorrow we have to subscribe to the truth and reality of his
recorded experience--"There is a law in my members warring against the law
of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my
members" (Rom. 7:23). God does not change towards us, but we may be too
conscious of a change towards Him. There may be fluctuations, no, sensible
reductions, in our peace and joy in believing, and that, also, by reason of
our own unfaithfulness and shortcomings. Like the sunlight dying from the
mountains–the everlasting hills are the same; but the glow upon them for a
time has faded; the roseate hues have paled into the cold grey. "Bunyan's
Pilgrim," says Dr. Cheever, "in going up his Hill Difficulty set out almost
with running, so full was he of zeal and hope, of animation and impulse; but
he soon got to walking, and thence fell to climbing on his hands and knees,
and that with such weariness that it seemed as if he could not go on."
Not infrequently, also, as in Jacob's case, it is after
times of great spiritual enlargement that there is special danger of
reaction and slumber. There is often but a brief way between the clear
visions of the mountain and the mists hovering in the valleys. That very day
of the Patriarch's renewed journey was itself emblematic of the spiritual
history of his own future years. He must have had many a sigh for rest, as
with blistered feet and beaded brow he sat on the lonely rocks by the
wayside, or, after quenching his lips by scanty pools, he pursued his way
over the stretches of burning sand. At night he had to descend the gorges of
the Jordan and grope with his pilgrim-staff through its bristling bushes and
rushing waters. Such also is the experience of every spiritual pilgrim. As
an old writer has it, his way lies "uphill, downhill, to the city which has
foundations." Not only has he, at times, great trials to encounter--heavy
shackles to impede the "lifted-up feet"--but his faith is daunted; his peace
and joy are impaired and rudely shaken by mere trifles--little things (what
might be called life's undignified worries)--which in the retrospect he is
ashamed he so allowed to fetter him, but which have nevertheless proved
hindrances and stumbling-blocks--the infirmity of temper; the fretful word;
the hasty speech; the peevish murmur; the uncharitable reflection; some old
habit reasserting its vicious claim, whether that be allied to sloth or
covetousness, to frivolity, or selfishness, or passion.
It is melancholy to think how this renewed and
re-awakened Patriarch (whom we have found at eventide at Heaven's gate, then
at break of day 'lifting up his feet'--bounding along with elastic step, as
if the physical frame participated in the joy that filled his inner
nature)--was so soon drawn within the old coils of the Beersheba
tent--giving way (the last thing he ought to have done) to distrust in the
fidelity of a promising God. Alas! we see too plainly the lack of that lofty
element in his grandfather's steadfast simple faith, "accounting that God
was able" (Heb. 11:19). In sinful forgetfulness of this ability, we find him
tempted to resort occasionally to former human and unworthy expedients,
revealing the "ruling infirmities" of his earlier life--or what may
apologetically be called his "constitutional bias." While manifesting,
indeed, high-principled submission under aggravated provocation, we discover
at the same time the familiar scheming, bargain-loving nephew, trying to
outwit the bargain-loving uncle, "a trial of wits," as Ewald expresses it;
"wherein subtlety is fitly matched against subtlety."
A further course of discipline, extending over twenty
years, was needed, before the 'Supplanter' is finally driven out of him, and
he comes forth the fully-armored "Prince of God." The first stage, at least,
of that discipline seems completed at Jabbok. Until then, he refused to
altogether let go of his old, crooked, distrustful policy. But on that
occasion he thus proclaims the unconditional surrender--"I will not let YOU
go." He has no boon now to ask, but one--that an undefined spiritual
blessing may be given to him by the God of the heavenly ladder. In the
spirit of a later wrestler on the same territory he seems to say, "My soul
longs for YOU in a dry and thirsty land where no water' is!"--'Lord! O
Shepherd of the stone of Israel! show me a token that You are my
Shepherd and I shall not lack. Reveal Yourself to me as my portion,
and I shall need no other!'
Thus was he brought to see and to own that the Jehovah of
Bethel to whom he had erected the pillar and vowed his vow, was the only
Being and Friend who could truly prosper his way and bring him in peace to
his Father's house. We know, indeed, that the Divine discipline did not end
even with Jabbok. God saw that there was still much needed, before the
education could be complete. Accordingly He dealt with him as He speaks of
doing with the figurative Jacob of the Prophet. Though "redeemed" and
"called by his name," he was to pass through varied and diversified trials,
under the expressive figure of waters, rivers, floods, fire, flames (Is.
43:1, 2). In another sense the Bethel words were true, "I will not leave you
until I have done that which I have spoken to you of!"
And so it is in His probation dealings with all His
spiritual Israel. The rod is required in some, more than in others, to
subdue the defiant and obdurate will, to put an end to all schemings and
compromise, and gain the heart to an unconditional surrender. "If Jacob,"
says Bishop Hall, "were willingly consumed with heat in the day and with
frost in the night to become the son-in-law to Laban; what should we refuse
to be made the sons of God?" "He has his tools," Rutherford says, "on the
stones He wishes best polished for His Temple." To carry out the latter
emblem, the Divine Sculptor, with each successive stroke of the chisel, has
the great end in view of bringing out His own image in the soul, deepening
in it the love of goodness, truth, purity, kindness. And while not one
stroke of that chisel is an unnecessary one, He will not cease nor intermit
His work until the spiritual marble has been fashioned so as to reach
perfectly and forever His own ideal--
"No sign that the marble was white,
'Twas only a block at best,
But the artist with inward sight
Looked further than all the rest;
And saw in the hard, rough stone
The loveliest statue the sun shone on.
"So he set to work with care,
And chiseled a form of grace,
A figure divinely fair,
With a tender, beautiful face;
But the blows were hard and fast
That brought from the marble that work at last.
"So I think that human lives
Must bear God's chisel keen,
If the spirit yearns and strives
For the better life unseen;
For men are only blocks at best,
Until the chiseling brings out all the rest!"
Go then, spiritual Pilgrim! on your journey--cheered with
the memories of your night-vision, and with the given and promised strength
of your God. Seek to make life henceforth (and all the better if from its
earliest morning hours) a consecrated thing--that so, when the sunset is
nearing, with its murky vapors and lowering skies, the very clouds of sorrow
may be fringed with golden light. Then will you feel in the conscious
possession of God's presence and blessing, that you are in fellowship, not
with a stranger--but with a familiar gracious Friend; whose bounteous hand
has given you the daily bread of temporal mercy, and the better bread which
endures to Eternity. Thus will the song in the house of your pilgrimage be
ever in truest harmony. It will be composed of no jarring discordant
notes--but with all its varied tones will form one sustained, life-long
melody--dropped for a moment in death only to be resumed with the angels,
and blended with the everlasting cadences of your Father's house.
"Traveler! faint not on the road,
Droop not in the parching sun;
Onward, onward with your load,
Until the rest be won.
"Swerve not, though your weary feet
The pilgrim path would leave;
From the burden and the heat
You shall rest at eve.
"From the petty cares that teem
Turn from with prophetic eye,
To the glory of that Dream
Which shall never die!
"Hark! it is the Father's voice;
Welcome, Pilgrim, to your rest,
Now within the gate rejoice,
Sealed and bought and blest!"