GRACE AND TRUTH by Octavius Winslow

"Nourishment for the Journey"

The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you." So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 1 Kings 19:7-8

We remarked in a previous chapter of this work, that in planning the varied histories of His saints, God had in view, not the instruction and blessing of one individual only, but also of many. He would embrace the 'whole family on earth' in the teaching, the warning, and the comfort found in the experience of a single member of that family. There is much in this thought calculated to soothe the mind of the tried and disciplined believer, and to reconcile him to the dispensations of his heavenly Father. In the light of this truth we cannot look upon the Christian sufferer but with a feeling of the intensest interest. There is a magnanimity, a loftiness of character, a moral heroism about the man, the conception of which we may but imperfectly convey to other minds, while it forms one of the most vivid and pleasing images of our own. How prompt should we be to offer to such an one the spirit's kindest sympathy, and to breathe on his behalf the heart's most fervent prayer! From his lips may well breathe the language of the self-denying apostle, "Whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation."

An incident in the life of the prophet Elijah presents an appropriate illustration of this truth. It is brief, but interesting and instructive. Fleeing from the murderous designs of Jezebel, the prophet was overtaken in the wilderness by weariness and exhaustion, and sitting down beneath the shade of a tree, in the fretfulness of his spirit, and the gloomy despondency of his mind, he requested of God that he might die. "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers." At this critical moment, one of those ministering spirits, sent from the court of heaven to minister to the heirs of salvation, appeared at his side, gently touched him, and bade him arise and eat. And, lo! "there was a cake baked on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink., and laid down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you." So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

How simple and affecting yet instructive is this episode in the life of the prophet! What an unfolding of human imperfection, and of Divine forbearance! What a picture of the thoughtfulness, carefulness, and tenderness of God towards His people, contrasted with their unbelief, repining, and fretfulness towards Him! Oh, what a God is our God! At the moment that Elijah resigned himself to the feeling of loneliness and desolation, God was near to him. And when, faint from hunger, and exhausted from fatigue, he wished for death rather than life, behold, a table was spread for him in the wilderness by Him who in a subsequent and more complete development of His incarnation, supplied the needs of three thousand with five barley loaves and two fish. Strengthened and refreshed, he arose and addressed himself to the journey. It was an interesting though a long and toil some one.

"The desert over which Elijah traveled forty days and nights, was the same through which the tribes of Israel traveled during forty years, under the convoy of the cloudy and fiery pillar. Surely this, if any, was holy ground. It had been traversed by the feet of the mighty, it was rich with the most stupendous associations of thought, and with the most interesting recollections. Here the whole miraculous history of the ancient fathers would revive before him in the liveliest colors. Fresh images and scenes from that age of wonders would recur to his mind at every step, and the very profound silence around him would assist in the consideration of the sublime things of which these spots had been once the theater. As often as he descended into a green and palmy vale, he alighted in spirit upon some resting-place of his fathers. As often as the shade of an overhanging rock received him, it was as if the incense of the sanctuary breathed around him; for the prayers of the pilgrims of God had hallowed these shades. Here or there, he would think, perhaps Moses had rested and taken counsel in the sacred circle of his elders; and the leader of Israel would still seem kneeling before the Lord, and speaking to Him, 'as a man talks with his friend.' Thus one heart-elating thought would follow another. The history of the forty years' journey would attain a form and a vitality beyond what he had hitherto realized. At one time he would seem to be gathering the manna with the ancient fathers; at another to be standing with the wounded before the brazen image of the serpent, and feeling with them the return of health. Presently he would be in spirit at the altar which Moses built, and called it 'Jehovah-nissi,' -the Lord my Banner; and then again he would hear the desert resound with loud thanksgivings and solemn hymns of praise for the faithfulness and truth of Jehovah. Every new scene on which he entered would bring before him some new event and feature of those journeyings which were irradiated with the glory of God; and whatever consolation and encouragement is comprised in these histories, would rush upon him with sublime and overwhelming wonder, or exhilarate him with a spring of hope and joy, that seemed to give wings to his feet, and banish the last remains of fear and care from his spirit. Assured that he was pursuing his way under the shadow of the same Almighty hand which once covered the whole host of Israel, he would cheerfully pursue his journey, not doubting that he was led by the right hand of Him, who, under the juniper tree, had given him the direction to depart, and had endued his feeble frame with a strength which no fatigue of the journey was able to diminish; and that as soon as the end was attained, he should be bidden to rest, and lay down his traveling-staff in peace and safety." (Krummacher)

But there is a spiritual view of this narrative still more interesting and instructive. It suggests to the devout contemplation of the believing mind the following distinctive features of Christian experience- the believer in Jesus is journeying to the mount of God. Because of the greatness of the way the Lord has provided ample nourishment. And in the strength of that nourishment, thus timed to his necessities, he is enabled greatly to advance. "And he arose, and ate and drink, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights, unto Horeb the mount of God."

With regard to the first point we may remark, what a poor and imperfect idea the ungodly world, in its blindness, forms of the Christian's happiness. It sees us break from its thraldom, and trample its fancied joys beneath our feet, and link ourselves to a life of perpetual conflict and of much tribulation, esteeming reproach for Christ greater gain than its best treasures, the ignominy of the cross higher honor than its noblest distinctions- and it marvels at the strangeness of our choice. "What!" it exclaims, "is this your happiness- these pleasures denied, these joys refused, these honors disdained, these distinctions relinquished, for a journey whose history is but the record of difficulty and peril, of weariness and need?" Yes! we reply; Christ and all this constitutes our happiness. Christ and His rugged cross, Christ and His bitter humiliation, Christ and His deep poverty, Christ and His despised burden, we prefer, and choose and glory in, rather than wear again the chains, and return again to the dominion of the world, and drink again of its delusive joys.

Who would desire to return to Egypt, who, in his wilderness journeyings, has caught a distant view of Canaan, and has tasted of its grapes? Who would wish to eject God's love from his heart, however faint its glow, when once that love is felt? Who would lose his hold of faith upon Christ, however feeble its grasp, when once that hold is gained? Or who would willingly resign his hope of glory, however dim its luster, when once that hope has dawned upon the soul? But the world knows us not. The life which we live upon Christ is with Christ, hidden from its view. And although it expects from our Christian profession- and it has a right so to expect- that we should return love for its hatred, and blessing for its curse, and labor for its persecution; and receive without reviling, and with meekness, its bitter scorn and its false imputations, while still toiling for its good- it is yet ignorant of the divine principle from where this grace of meekness, and patience, and forbearance, and love proceeds.

But let us learn to take the world as it is, nor expect more from it than it can give. Who would be hurt at the taunts of an idiot, or think of resenting the blows of a maniac? The world, with all its wisdom, knows not God. Folly and madness are in the heart, and it cannot therefore comprehend the mystery or perceive the beauty of the Christian life. "If the world hates you," says Jesus, "know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love his own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."

But the true believer in Jesus is a traveler. He is journeying to a city of habitation, to the mount of God- and, blessed be God, He will soon be there! The apostle Peter dedicates his pastoral letter to the 'strangers scattered' abroad- the people of God dispersed over the face of the earth. Such is the Church of Christ. It is sometimes incorrectly called " the visible Church." The idea is unscriptural. Visible churches there may be, but a visible Church there is none. The saints of God are 'strangers and pilgrims' scattered abroad. They have no permanent abode, no certain resting-place. The Church is in the wilderness, journeying through it. The present is called the " time of our sojourning." We are but wayfarers at an inn, abiding only for a night. "Here we have no continuing city;" strangers and sojourners, as all our fathers were. But this, beloved, is the reconciling, animating thought- we are journeying to the mount of God. We are on our way to the good land, which the Lord our God has promised us; to the kingdom and the mansion which Jesus has gone to take possession of, and to prepare, for us. In a word- and this image is the climax of the blissful prospect- we are hastening to our 'Father's house,' the home of the whole family in heaven and in earth, the residence of Christ, the dwelling-place of God. To this each believer in Jesus is journeying.

The road is difficult, the desert is tedious- sometimes perilous from its smoothness, or painful from its roughness; its straitness now wearying, its intricacy now embarrassing. But who will complain of the path that conducts him to his home? Who would yield to the sensation of fatigue who is journeying to an eternal rest? Much of the disquietude and repining of spirit peculiar to the pilgrimage of the saints, arises from the faint conceptions which the mind forms of the coming glory. We think too faintly and too seldom of heaven. The eye is bent downwards, and seldom do we 'lift up our heads' in prospect of the 'redemption that draws near.' And yet how much there is in the thought of glory, in the anticipation of heaven- its nature and associations calculated to stimulate, to cheer, and to allure us onwards! It is the place where we shall be sinless; it is the residence where we shall see God; it is the mansion where we shall be housed with Christ; it is the home where we shall dwell with all the saints; it is the home at which are collecting all the holy of earth, some of whom have left our embrace for its holier and happier regions, and whom we shall meet again.

Why, then, should we be cast down because of the way, or for one moment lose sight of the glory that awaits us, or cease to strive for the fitness essential to its enjoyment? In a little while- oh, how short the journey!- and we shall be there! Then we shall realize, to their fullest extent, the beauty and the sweetness of the description so often read and pondered with tears of hope before- "You have come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, who are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaks better things than that of Abel." O my soul! will you not stretch every nerve, endure every privation, and relinquish every weight, thus to reach this glorious mount of God?

But for all the exigencies of the Christian journey, God has amply provided. The Lord Jesus being the believer's 'way,' all nourishment for the pilgrimage of the saints is laid up in Him. All supply of wisdom for the perplexing way, of strength for the wearisome way, of grace for the perilous way, of sympathy for the trying way, is in Jesus. In Him has the Father laid up the provision for the wilderness journey. And what storehouses of nourishment- both testifying of Jesus- are the word of God, and the covenant of grace! How full, how rich and ample the supply! All the soul-establishing doctrines, all the sanctifying precepts, and all the precious, comforting promises, go to make up the nourishment for the wilderness journey.

Sometimes the Lord brings us into the very heart of the wilderness, just to prove to us how easily and how readily He can provide a table for us even there. And when all other resources are exhausted, and all supply is cut off, and every spring of water is dried, lo! He opens the eye of our faith to see what His heart of love has prepared. Are you, dear reader, sitting down to weep like Hagar, or to die like Elijah in the wilderness- desolate, weary, and exhausted? O see what appropriate and ample nourishment your God and Father has provided for you. The Angel of the covenant touches you with the right hand of his love, and bids you arise and eat and drink, yes, to 'drink abundantly.' In the glorious Gospel are 'all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old,' which the Lord has laid up for His people. "Go your way, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart," for all this storehouse of nourishment, this table of provision, is for you. All the love that is in God's heart, all the grace that is in the Savior's nature, all the comfort that is in the Spirit's tenderness, all the sanctifying truths, and free invitations, and precious promises which cluster in the Gospel of Christ, all are yours- the sacred nourishment provided for your journey to the mount of God. Listen to the voice of Jesus, saying to you, as of old, "Come and dine."

We may now observe, that in the strength of this nourishment the believer is enabled to make great progress in the Divine life: "So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God." Thus it is with the spiritual traveler. The life of faith, which is both our high calling and precious privilege, is the theme necessarily suggested to us by this part of our narrative. It was in this school God placed, and was now teaching, His servant Elijah. This was the Divine mystery he was called to explore, and this the path he was invited to tread: "Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights."

We have here an illustration of one of the greatest principles in the Divine life- one of the most wonderful, precious, and influential- the principle of faith: "The just shall live by faith." It is in this way the Lord prepares His people for what He has prepared for them in the future of their history. That history is to them wisely and graciously concealed. The path of the future is to them all unknown, a veil of impenetrable mystery enshrouding it from view. In all this we trace the love of our heavenly Father. There may be, for anything that we know, a long season of poverty before us; many a weary stage is yet untraveled, many a new path is yet untrodden, many a battle is yet unfought, and many a temptation and trial are yet unmet. But faith, living upon the nourishment received, in the strength and sustaining power of some view of God which the Spirit has presented, of some especial grace which Christ has apportioned out, of some higher attainment in truth and experience and holiness, of some profounder lesson learned, of some especial mercy experienced, of some bright realizing view of glory caught, the believer may travel many a long and toilsome stage of his journey to the "rest that remains for the people of God."

Ah, how often has the Lord by His present dealings anticipated the future events of your life! For what circumstances of danger, of trial, and of need, has Jesus provided! He well knew- for He had appointed every step and every incident of your journey- the deep and dark waters through which you here to wade, the sands you were to cross, the mountains you were to climb, and the valleys into which you were to descend. That cup of sorrow was not mixed, nor that fiery dart winged, nor that heavy cross sent; before all the necessities it would create, and all the supplies it would demand, had been thought of and provided for by Him who knew the end from the beginning. And when the voice of love gently awoke you as from the stupor of your grief, you marveled at the table spread, and wondered at the supply sent; and you could not define the reason why so much love took possession of your heart, and so much grace flowed into your soul, and so much nerve clothed your spirit, and so much hope and joy bathed you in their heavenly sunlight, and shed their radiance upon your onward way- little thinking that this was the Lord's mode of providing nourishment for the journey. And when the period and event of your life, thus anticipated, arrived, then the recollection of God's preparatory dealings rushed upon your memory, and in an instant you saw how for the 'forty days and the forty nights" solitary travel, your God and Savior had been graciously and amply providing. But all this mystery the life of faith, by which the justified live, fully explains.

"O faith, faith! you blessed companion of the children of God! your wondrous power deprives the wilderness of its horrors, and the deepest solitude ceases to be solitary under your guidance! All that earth and heaven possess of beauty is yours, and with the treasures of heights and of depths you enrich your possessors! That which is distant is brought near by you; you develop hidden things, and awaken past events to new life. You merge the gloom of the present into the bliss of the future, and paint the sky of many a departing sun with the dawning radiance of a better world. In the midst of sublunary changes, you anticipate a peaceful paradise. You people our bereaved family circles with holy and heavenly company; you associate both worlds in close connection, and unite things past, present, and to come. In your light the sacred narratives seem acted over again, and our own personal history becomes a sacred record of providence. You have the power of realizing the dead as if they were alive; the patriarchs are our contemporaries, although their ashes repose in the sepulcher of near six thousand years. By your voice they still converse with us, although to human ears they speak no more; by your realizing aid they visit us in our darkness with kindness and consolation; by your light we see a cloud of them as witnesses encamped around us; and every grace they experienced is through these appropriated to ourselves. You nourish us with the promise made to Abraham; sustain us with the strong consolation of the oath divinely sworn unto Isaac; you give us the staff of Jacob to support our steps; you enable us with Moses's rod to divide the sea, and with David to leap over the wall and rampart! O faith, faith! you door-keeper of every sanctuary, you master over all the treasures of God! may He who is your Author draw near unto us, and He who is your Finisher bend down Himself towards us."

A circumstance in the life of our blessed Lord will suggest itself to the Christian reader, as affording an eminent and impressive illustration of this mode of God's dealings with His people, the study of which will be found replete with encouragement to those who are especially called to "walk by faith, and not by sight." The incident to which I allude, is Christ's temptation in the wilderness. For a period of 'forty days and forty nights' He fasted; at the end of which He was subjected to the most powerful and malignant attack of the great foe of God and man. It was one of those events in our Lord's history upon which hung results the most momentous- nothing less than the salvation of the Church and the eternal interests of the divine government. It was, so to speak, the great moral battle of the universe, the result of which would decide the right of government, and the salvation of countless myriads. It would be incongruous with all our ideas of the Savior's character, to suppose that He would anticipate such a conflict with indifference, or enter upon it unprepared; or that the Father, whose honor was so deeply concerned in the result, would withhold from His Son the resources demanded by an occasion of such interest and magnitude. Happily we are not left to doubt or conjecture.

In view of this great event, behold how God prepared Him for the trial- in other words, nourished Him for the forty days' travail in the wilderness. We read, that "Jesus, being full of the Holy Spirit, returned from Jordan," where He had been to offer an act of personal obedience to His Father, thus fulfilling in His baptism 'all righteousness.' And then follows the account of the temptation: "And was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being forty days tempted by the devil." Who does not see that our Lord's preparation for the conflict was His being 'filled with the Holy Spirit'? His human nature, replenished to its utmost with all the grace and strength and consolation of the Divine Spirit, was prepared for the terrific shock through which it was to pass. And thus nourished and strengthened, He passed through those forty days and forty nights, battling and vanquishing His mighty foe.

And can you not look back, dear reader, upon all the way the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these many years, and tell how He has gone before you, not only preparing the trial for you, but in adjusting your spirit to the trial? Can you not testify, to the praise of the glory of His grace, how He has trained you for the race, disciplined you for the conflict, and strengthened your back for the burden? Once and again the Angel of the covenant has surprised you; weak, exhausted, and ready to die, in some lonely path of your journey, and He has stooped and gently touched you, and bade you rise and partake of a new supply of grace and truth; and upheld by that grace, and in the strength of that truth, you have started afresh towards the mount of God. Oh what a loving, faithful God, and what a kind, tender Savior, are ours!

We may gather from the subject of this chapter some NEEDED AND HOLY LESSONS. We learn that the life most blessed to us, and most honoring to Christ, is a life of believing and perpetual dependence upon God. For forty days and nights the prophet traveled with no resources in hand, but having all in God. It was the travel of faith. Such is ours. "Who is this that comes up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?" It is the Church of God, emerging from the world, and in her life of faith upon the Son of God, traveling towards the celestial mount. We cannot too frequently nor too deeply study the profound meaning of those words, "The just shall live BY FAITH." God will have His child perpetually looking to, leaning upon, and receiving from Him. At present we are but in a state of spiritual childhood. We are not therefore in a condition to be trusted with grace for the future. Improvident and careless, we should soon squander and exhaust our resources; and when the emergency came, we should find ourselves unprepared to meet it. The Lord, in wisdom and love, keeps all our grace in His own hands, and deals it out just as our circumstances demand.

O, who that knows his own heart, and the heart of Christ, would not desire that all his supply should be in God, and not in himself! Who, so to speak, would wish to be his own spiritual treasurer? Who that knows the blessedness of the life of faith, the sweetness of going to God in everything, and for everything, would wish to transfer his mercies from Christ's keeping to his own, or wish to hold in the present the supply of the future? Be satisfied, dear reader, to walk by faith, and not by sight. You have a full Christ to draw from, and a faithful God to look to. You have a 'covenant ordered in all things and sure,' and the precious promise, "As your days, so shall your strength be," to lean confidently upon all your journey through. Be content, then, to be poor and dependent. Be willing to travel on empty-handed, seeing God's heart opened, and Christ's hand outstretched to supply your 'daily bread.'

Oh, it is sweet to be a dependent creature upon God- to hang upon a loving Father- to live as a poor, needy sinner day by day, moment by moment, upon Jesus- to trace God in ten thousand ways, to mark His wisdom here, His condescension there; now His love, and then His faithfulness, all combining and exerted for our good- truly it is the most holy and blessed life upon earth. Heaven itself has nothing to be compared with it.

Yet another lesson. The Lord imparts extraordinary strength to meet an extraordinary occasion. Why should we, then, shrink from any trial, or flee from any duty, or turn aside from any cross, since for that trial, and for that duty, and for that cross, Jesus has provided its required and appropriate grace? You are perhaps exclaiming, "Trouble is near!" Well, be it so. So also divine grace is near- and strength is near- and counsel is near- and deliverance is near- and Jesus is near- and God is near- and a throne of grace is near. Therefore why need you fear, though trouble is near? "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." There is a table in the wilderness. There is a supply in the desert. "I sat under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet unto my taste." Our Joseph lives. And in anticipation of the seven years of famine, He has amply provided for His brethren; and He will send them on their journey with full sacks, and with their money in their sacks' mouth, that free grace might have all the glory.

And forget not, O believer, that you are journeying to the mount of God, and will soon be there. Behold it in the distance! What wonders encircle it! What glory bathes it! The exile of Patmos, lifting a corner of the veil, has presented it to our view: "And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the Mount Zion, and with him a hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written on their foreheads." O what a spectacle of magnificence is this! There is Jesus, the Lamb as it had been slain. To Him every face is turned, on Him every eye is fixed, before Him every knee bends, and every tongue chants His praise, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain." Around Him are gathering each moment the one Church of God, redeemed from among men. In the light and splendor of the scene all distinctions are absorbed, all minds assimilate, all hearts blend, all voices harmonize, and the grand, visible manifestation of the unity Of the Church is perfected.

To this consummation you are hastening- keep it fully in view. Do not turn aside, yielding to the enchanting scenes through which you pass; but forgetting the things that are behind, press forward to the mark of the prize of your high calling of God in Christ Jesus. To Mount Zion you will certainly arrive at last. Your feet shall stand upon its summit. Your voice shall blend with its music. Your heart shall thrill with its gladness. Your soul shall bathe in its glory. Oh! does not your spirit kindle with ardor, and is not your heart winged with love, while the mount of God unveils its splendor to your view?

Speak, Elijah! for you have reached that mount, and tell us what it is to be there! No! you cannot tell. You have heard its deep songs of joy- but their strains are unutterable. You have seen its ineffable glory- but that glory is unspeakable. Let your mantle fall upon us, and a double portion of your spirit be ours; and at our departure let your chariot of fire convey us to the skies, and we will be content to wait and gaze for awhile upon the distant vision- like some early traveler pausing upon the mountain's side to admire the ascending sun, until his features and his vestments borrow the crimson glow- until changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord, we reach it at last, and lose ourselves forever amid its transcendent beams- ceasing from our conflict, and reposing from our toil, in the beatific presence of God!

"And then shall cease the life of sin,
The conflict and the woe;
And then have thrown the destined dart,
My last, my conquered foe."
"And then shall come the morning light,
The golden noon of grace,
The gates of pearl, the sea of glass,
The Lamb's unveiled face."
"And then shall come the days of strength,
The awful form and wing;
When as a crowned prince I sit
With you, my Lord, my King."
"And then shall come the time of joy,
The golden harp and song;
The heart with love that overflows
Amid the ransomed throng."
"Thus patient wait, my tranquil soul,
And trust your Father's love
Though earth may bring the cloud and storm,
Bright sunshine reigns above."