The Clouds of the Christian and the Chariot of God
"Who makes the clouds His chariot."--Psalm 104:3
If God were perfectly comprehensible in His being and government to a finite mind, then either He must forego His claim to divinity, or we must cease to be human. And yet in nothing, scarcely, is the Christian more at fault than in attempting to fathom those dispensations of His government in which He conceals His purposes and enshrouds Himself; and failing, questions the wisdom and rectitude of His procedure! But how gently does the result rebuke and confound our misapprehension and distrust. When from the secret place of thunder He utters His voice--when, in His dealings darkness is under His feet--when he makes darkness His secret place, His pavilion round about Him dark waters and thick clouds of the skies, even then He is but making a way for His love to us, which shall appear all the more real and precious by the very cloud-chariot in which it travels. The believer in Christ has nothing slavishly to dread, but everything filially to hope from God. So fully is he pardoned, so completely is he justified, so perfectly is he reconciled to God, the darkest dispensations in which He hides Himself shall presently unveil the brightest views of His character and love; and thus the lowering cloud that deepened in its darkness and grew larger as it approached, shall dissolve and vanish, leaving no object visible to the eye but Him whose essence and name is Love. Oh, it is because we have such shallow views of Godís love that we have such defective views of Godís dealings. We blindly interpret the symbols of His providence, because we so imperfectly read the engraving of His heart. Faith finds it difficult to spell the word "Love," as written in the shaded characters of its discipline; to believe that the cloud which looks so somber and threatening is the love-chariot of Him who for our ransom gave Himself unto the death, because He so loved us!
The subject on which this chapter engages our thoughts presents another path heavenward of the Christian. And as this path is frequently, and by many, trodden, we desire to present it in such an aspect as shall help onward those who are walking in darkness having no light, or around whose way the dense dark clouds of Divine dispensations are gathering, filling the soul with fear and trembling. "He makes the clouds His chariot;" and soothed with this assurance, the beclouded, benighted traveler may "be still, and know that He is God." Let us view some of those clouds of the Christian pilgrimage which Christ makes His chariot.
The heavens are draped with many clouds of varied forms and hues. Such are, figuratively, the dealings of God with His people. Our Lord has many chariots. It is recorded of Solomon that his "chariots were fourteen hundred;" but "the chariots of God are twenty thousand:" and every cloud in the history of the Church and in the experience of the saints is a Divine chariot, and every chariot is, like the King of Israelís, "paved in the midst with love." We may illustrate this by a reference to Christís state-chariot, or, in other words, the Lordís appearance to His people in the cloud of His essential and divine glory. It was in this cloud He entered and filled the tabernacle, "so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord," (1 Kings 8:11.) In this same cloud, too, He descended upon the Mount Sinai: "And a cloud covered the mount. And the glory of the Lord abode on Sinai," (Exod. 24:15, 16.) The same glorious chariot was seen descending and lighting upon the Mount Tabor, in that sublime and expressive scene of our Lordís transfiguration, when "He received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The same chariot of state waited His ascension and bore Him back to heaven, reinvested with the glory which He had with the Father before the world was; for as He went up, and His lessening form disappeared from the gaze of His disciples, "a cloud received Him out of their sight." In like manner, descending in the state-chariot of His own glory and the glory of His Father, shall He come again. "Behold, he comes with clouds, and every eye shall see him." Solemn scene! Sublime advent! Blessed hope of those who love and look and long for His appearing! Saints of God! it speeds on. The day of your full redemption draws near. The state-chariot of our Immanuel is preparing for its descent to the world, conveying Him to His Church, His loving, longing Bride. Lord! why tarry the wheels of your chariot? Come, quickly come, and terminate the reign of sin and sorrow and death in the dominion of holiness and happiness and endless life, and take Your wearying Church to Yourself.
May we not pause at this part of our subject and ask the reader-- Have you seen the King riding in His chariot of state? To drop the figure--Have you seen His glory, as the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth? Oh, it is a grand spectacle, the glory that is in Christ Jesus, the glory of His person, His atoning work, His redeemed Church! Blessed are the eyes enlightened to behold it! Deem not your Christianity as true, nor your religion as sound, nor your hope as valid, unless you have seen by faithís spiritual, far-discerning eye Jesus in His divinity--the King riding, in majesty and beauty, in this cloud-chariot of His essential dignity and glory. It is only in the beaming effulgence of this glory that all our demerit and deformity is absorbed and annihilated. So divine, blinding, and overpowering is the essential glory of our redeeming God, that a believing sinner, enveloped by its beams, is changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. All his unrighteousness, his sins, and hell-deservings are consumed and destroyed by the Divine Sun of righteousness: Jesus makes this cloud His chariot, and waits to bless us with its vision.
There are, too, Divine truths--the mysteries of the gospel, for example--which may be regarded as the cloud-chariots of God. It is a favorite maxim--plausible yet sophistical--with the objector to Christianity, that where mystery begins faith terminates. And yet never did the genius of error forge a weapon more weak and powerless with which to attack our divine and holy faith! If the Bible be a revelation of God, mysteries must necessarily form an essential part, if not its very substance. It would indeed be marvelous if God should not know more than man; or that if, in condescending to reveal to man His being, His will, and His heart, there should not be problems in Divine truth man cannot solve, depths he cannot sound, mysteries he cannot unravel, and revelations he may not reconcile. Such, for example, are the revealed doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, Election, Sovereignty, the New Birth, and the Resurrection. We own to the mystery which envelops much connected with these great verities of our faith; that there are depths too profound for reasonís line to touch, modes of existence which forbid the rash doubts of the skeptic and the vain speculation of the philosopher, while they demand the unquestioning faith and profound homage of the believing mind.
And yet are we then to reject them? We may, we do, believe a thousand things in nature which the mind cannot fully comprehend. Our very existence is a mystery--every movement of the body, every action of mind, every volition of will, every emotion and affection of the heart, encompasses us with mystery. Yet on that account do we doubt our own existence? My being confounds, but does it transcend my reason? And are we not at every step confronting mysteries in nature and in providence which we accept as credible, but which else we must reject as incomprehensible? If, then, my reader, your mind is perplexed, agitated, and distressed respecting these clouds which veil much connected with the revealed truths of the gospel, learn you this lesson--that Christ makes these very clouds His chariot. In each and all of these profound yet glorious verities of our faith, these great and precious doctrines of the gospel, Christ is revealed, Christ is embodied, Christ travels. The gospel is the vehicle in which Christ makes his constant advent to our souls; and if our reason may not be able perfectly to comprehend all the parts of the vehicle, let it content our faith that Jesus, the revelation, the substance, and glory of all Divine truth, occupies it; and that before long the cloud of mystery, into which we entered with trembling will, as in the transfiguration, dissolve into light and splendor--pure and soothing-- and we shall see Jesus only.
Regard it as one of your chief mercies that your salvation depends not upon reason but upon faith: that you are not called upon fully to comprehend, but unquestioningly to believe and love: that you are not the less saved because your faith deals with obscurity, nor is your faith less real, precious, or saving, because it abjures the wisdom of the sage for the docile spirit of the child, and the learning of the philosopher for the humility of the disciple. Let your great study be the mystery of Christís love to sinners--the mystery of Christís love to you. The apostle was content to leave all mysteries to the day of perfect knowledge, might he but attain unto love. "Though I know all mysteries, and have not love, I am nothing." Study that grand truth, "God is love," as embodied in the cross of Christ, and you can well afford to refer all that is obscure and hard to understand in revealed truth to the day when we shall know all, as we also are known. Cease to dispute, cavil, and speculate on the subject of religion and revealed truth, and receive the gospel and enter into the kingdom of Christ as a little child.
In the momentous matter of your future destiny, you have but to deal with two specific and distinct facts--your sinnership, and Christís Saviorship. What if you solve all the problems of science, and fathom all the deeps of learning, and unravel all the mysteries of truth, and yet are lost! What will your speculations, and researches, and discoveries avail, if at last they be found ineffectual to distill one drop of the water of life upon the tongue, now caviling and profane, then fevered and tormented in the quenchless flame? Are you not, by your present persistent course of unbelief, pride, and rejection of truth, in danger of finding yourself there? Oh, it is of infinite moment to you that you come as sinful to the blood, as condemned to the righteousness, as ignorant and unlearned to the feet of Christ. The great problem you have to work out is, your own salvation. The grand mystery you have to unravel is, the mystery of your union with Jesus. The momentous questions you have to decide are, the place, the society, and the employments of your endless future! Where, with whom, and how, you will spend your long eternity? Compared with these grave considerations, all your doctrinal hair-splitting and your religious speculations, your vain disputes and your dreamy hopes, are as the follies of drivelling idiocy, or the aberrations of a mind insane.
Shakespear portrays his "Lear" as gathering straws with the hand that had wielded a scepter, and devoting to the puerilities of imbecility a mind which once gave laws to a kingdom. With a yet more powerful hand the sacred historian describes the monarch of Babylon leaving the occupation and abodes of men, and betaking himself to the pursuits and companionship of irrational animals. But what are these sad pictures of a mind diseased, wrecked, and ruined, compared with the moral madness of the man who disbelieves the gospel, cavils at truth, and perils the eternal interests of his soul--who employs the rational powers with which God has endowed him in attempting to subvert the foundations of Christianity, to extinguish the beacon light erected on the headlands and the shores of time to guide the spiritual voyager safe to eternity, involving in the destruction of others, his own personal salvation?
Not less are the clouds of His providential government the chariot of God. "Clouds and darkness are round about Him," and in these dispensations of His government He moves among men, and especially His saints. It is by a "cloudy pillar"--sometimes turning towards us gleams of light, at others casting deep and dark shadows on our way--that God is conducting us heavenward. Oh, how many, and how varied in form and in hue, are the trying, afflictive, and disciplinary dealings of our heavenly Father! How soon the bright blue sky, smiling down upon us, may be wreathed with the drapery of clouds, each one dark and portentous. God blows upon wealth and it vanishes, touches health and it droops, smites the creature and it dies, and we exclaim in the words of David, "I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with tears." But the night of cloud and gloom is to the kingdom of grace what the darkness of night is to the kingdom of nature. Darkness possesses the twofold property of concealing and revealing; and it would, perhaps, be impossible to say in which it most excelled--whether it does not reveal as much, if not more, beauty and wonder as it veils. Those clouds of providential dispensations, which turn our day into night, bring out to view such constellations of Divine promises, discover such perfections of the Divine character, and present such discoveries of Divine love, as to make even night more wonderful and resplendent than day. Ah, beloved! we should know but little what Christís chariot of love was, but for the clouds in which He comes to us. Are cloudy dispensations gathering around you? Are Godís ways such as fill you with fear and foreboding agitation and alarm? Does sickness threaten, resources fail, friendships chill, changes in the relations or social position of life approach? Is separation feared, death anticipated, followed in its gloomy wake by weakened dependencies, closed channels, sundered ties, the sad farewell to a parentís society, the home of childhood, and the dearest, sweetest ties of earth? Oh, these gathering clouds are but the Lordís chariot, in which He rides to you in all the wisdom of His dealings, the faithfulness of His covenant, the tenderness of His love, and the righteousness of His procedure.
"You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
"Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face."
But consider who it is that rides in this chariot. It is the Lord your God. Many of Godís people are so absorbed in their contemplation of the chariot as to overlook HIM who sits in it. Their emotions vary according to the appearance which it presents. If the cloud is bright and promising, their feelings and hopes are correspondingly so; but should it wear a somber, threatening appearance, faith sinks and fears rise. But faith has nothing to do with the chariot, whatever may be its magnitude, shape, or hue, but with Christ in the chariot, with God in the cloud. For example, with regard to Divine truth, it is not with the vehicle of truth itself, but with Christ as revealed in the truth, that our faith must deal. I may not be able to comprehend and understand all the parts of the chariot--its complexity may baffle, its gorgeousness may blind me--but I may be able to see and understand who is enthroned upon its seat.
If the mystery of the doctrine of the Trinity, and of the Incarnation, and of the Atonement, and of Election, is so profound that I cannot explain or comprehend it, I still may discern in them one glorious object, and discerning that object, it were enough for my salvation. I can see JESUS in the Trinity, JESUS in the Incarnation, JESUS in the Atonement, JESUS in Election--and this will suffice until the night of Divine mysteries gives place to the meridian sunshine of a perfect and eternal day of knowledge and glory; and then I shall as fully understand the mysterious construction and comprehend all the different parts of the chariot as my mind will be capable of knowing, and my heart of loving Him, the Wonderful, who rode in it to my salvation. Then "shall we know even as also we are known." Oh, how fully and blessedly shall we know Jesus then! How gloriously will this great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh, unveil to our enlarged and sanctified intellect. We shall no more see the King in His beauty as through a glass darkly, nor the good land very far off. With souls perfected in holiness, how clear will be the vision, how transparent the medium, how glorious the Object! There shall be no more night of mystery, no more night of obscurity, no more night of sin, no more night of weeping. No disease shall shade the intellect, no prejudice shall warp, no shock shall unhinge it. No adversity shall touch the heart, no bereavement shall sadden, no changed and chilled affection shall collapse it.
That there will be gradations of knowledge, and degrees of glory, I think is probable. There are so in the Church of God on earth; I see nothing to exclude the same from the Church of God in heaven. But this will not in the slightest degree affect the happiness or glory of the saints. Is there less beauty in a tulip-bed, or in a conservatory of flowers, because there is so rich an assemblage of varied colors? Or, is there less splendor in the heavenly bodies because there is so great a variety of magnitude, effulgence, and orbit? And will there be less enjoyment, or less beauty, or less song amid the countless numbers who throng the temple above, because "one star differs from another star in glory?" Oh, no! The glory and the happiness of each will be full and perfect. Every spirit will possess a happiness and reflect a glory equal to its capacity. As two luminous bodies in the celestial system may shine in perfection, though in widely different orbits, and with different degrees of splendor--and as two streams, the rivulet and the river, may course their way through a landscape, the one gliding in simple, pensive beauty, the other rolling in majestic waves, and yet each filling its channel, both equally charming the eye, and declaring the glory of God; so the "spirits of just men made perfect" shall each one be a differing, yet a full, vessel of happiness, the image of God shining with full-orbed splendor in both, though with different intensity, and by each one shall Christ perfect to Himself endless praise.
Oh, beloved, if we but reach that world of purity and of bliss, we shall be so satisfied with the orbit we roll in, the glory we emit, and the happiness we feel, as never to question the goodness or the righteousness of God in the sphere assigned us. Christ will then be all in all to us, and we shall be satisfied with all that Christ has done. I think that our bliss will be so complete, our joy so full, and our glory so resplendent, we shall scarcely be conscious that there is another saint fuller, happier, or more glorious than ourselves. Blessed world of glory! we long to be within your walls! Open, you everlasting doors, and admit us, that we may eat of the tree of life, and recline upon the sunlight banks of the crystal river that makes glad the city of our God.
The Lord, too, is equally in all the providential clouds which unfold His government and trace our pilgrimage heavenward. It is our wisdom and our happiness to know that there is not an event or circumstance, a cloud or a sunbeam, in our personal history and experience, that is not a vehicle of Christ. He makes the clouds His chariot; and His providential dispensations, whatever their form or their hue, are His means of approaching and visiting us. "The Lord has his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet." Fear not, O Christian traveler, that dark, lowering cloud rising above you. It grows large, and it looks threatening, and you think it will overtake and consume you before you have crossed the plain and reached the shelter. Tremble not! it will roll no thunder, it will flash no lightning. The cross of Christ is the great moral conductor of the Church of God. Around that cross, law and justice met in dreadful array. The thunderbolt struck and the lightning scathed the Son of God, and upon Him they spent their force. And now beneath the shelter of that cross, the penitent sinner may safely stand, and the darkest cloud, and the loudest thunder, and the most vivid lightning that gathers and verberates and illumines above shall pass him by untouched, for there is now "no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus."
Why, then, fear the dealings, and the leadings, and the chastenings of God in providence? That somber chariot that appears at your door, enters your abode, mounts into your chamber, is the chariot of love, the chariot of Jesus. Christ is in that adversity, Christ is in that loss, Christ is in that bereavement, Christ is in that sickness; in a word, that cloud, be its nature, its form, and its darkness what it may, is one of the twenty thousand chariots of God in which He rides to your help, in His excellency, on the sky. Oh, learn to see Christ and to deal closely with God in all His dispensations and dealings with you. No enemy bent on destruction, no foe armed with vengeance, sits in the cloud-chariot that approaches you--it is your Father, your covenant God, your Redeemer. It is He to whose heart you are more precious than the universe, in whose eye you are more beauteous than angels, and on whose ear the accents of your voice fall with a melody infinitely surpassing the sweetest cherub before the throne.
Look not, I beseech you, at the somber hue of the chariot, but rather at the love and loveliness and graciousness of Him who sits within it. It is your beloved Lord! His person is white and ruddy--human and divine. His countenance is brighter than the sun shining in its strength. His voice is gentle, tender, and winning, uttering the speech and the accent and the words of love. Then be not afraid. Christ will never send an empty chariot to His people. When His chariot lights at our door, we may be assured that He is in it. No angel, no ransomed spirit shall occupy the seat, but He Himself. Welcome, then, the visit of your gracious King. He comes laden with the "sure mercies of David," freighted with covenant blessings, and bearing the sweet grapes and the fragrant flowers gleaned from the vineyards and the paradise of heaven. He comes in this cloud to talk with and to manifest Himself to you, and to make you more intimately and personally acquainted with Himself, with His truth, and His love. Welcome Him to your dwelling, receive Him into your heart, and bid Him abide with you there, never to leave you more. Be not satisfied unless you observe the King in the chariot. This only will dispel your fears and reconcile you to the dispensation, however dark and painful it may be. The moment you realize, "You are near, O Lord," that moment your heaving, panting bosom will be at rest. The disciples feared as they entered into the cloud upon the mount of transfiguration, but discovering the Lord in it, their trembling was changed into confidence, their apprehension into joy, and they gladly would build their tabernacle on its summit, and no more descend to the toil and the strife below.
Beloved, are you entering some overshadowing cloud trembling and apprehensive? Fear not! Your Lord is in it, and a Fatherís voice of love shall speak to you from out its veiling shadows, saying, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." Glorious cloud that enshrines the form of my redeeming God! Welcome, you coming chariot, that brings Jesus near to my soul. Your vesture is dark, your form gigantic, your appearance threatening, but my heart shall not fear, nor my faith falter, for in this will I be confident, that He makes the clouds His chariot, and in this chariot comes my Savior to shelter, to soothe, and to bless me. Truly, "there is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rides upon the heaven in your help, and in his excellency in the sky. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms."
Before long another chariot will appear at your door--the chariot sent to bear you home to God, to Christ, to heaven. We know not what form this messenger will assume--whether it will be Christís state-chariot, which shall convey Him in person to us, or whether it shall be Christís chariot of death, which will convey us to Him; but this we believe, and are assured of, that in a very little while and we shall see the Lord, and be with Him forever. The chariot is preparing for us, let us be preparing for the chariot. Let us so live detached from, and above, the world, and creatures, and earthly delights; let us so live in fellowship with God, and in communion with Divine and eternal things, that when the Lordís chariot gently knocks at our door, we may have nothing to do but to step into it and away to heaven! Aged saint! are you looking through the window and the lattice of your frail tabernacle, exclaiming, "Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariot?"
Be patient and trustful; the Lordís time is best, and before long you shall exclaim, "It is the voice of my Beloved that knocks! the Master is come and calls for me. Earth, farewell! friends, farewell! parents, kindred, wife, children, home, farewell! Sorrow, suffering, trial, sin, farewell! I go to be with Jesus forever!" And then a cloud of glory shall receive you out of their sight, and so shall you forever be with the Lord.