by Octavius Winslow

Christ's Sensitiveness to Desertion

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Matthew 27:46.

How really and perfectly did every shade of our life's picture meet and blend in the life of Jesus! Conducted along no avenue of our existence shall we be by the invisible yet ever-guiding hand of our God, in which faith shall not observe some trace of Him who, "when He puts forth His own sheep, goes before them, and the sheep follow Him." Take the touching illustration of this fact presented in the subject of the present chapter. Our Lord loved solitude, yet was sensitive to desertion. For the one He longed, from the other He shrank. His sad and pensive spirit led Him frequently to the mountain's solitude to spend long hours amid its calm stillness in devout meditation and prayer. These hours of separation and solitude must have been as essential to His mission as it was in harmony with His nature. There could not but have been the consciousness of the necessity of privacy and prayer in order to the bracing of His spirit for the countless demands made upon His compassion, sympathy, and power. Always giving out- for He was man as well as God- His weary, jaded, saddened spirit needed the reviving and recruiting found only in periods of entire separation from man and close communion with God. Our Lord, therefore, often coveted and sought
"The calm retreat, the silent shade," that He might replenish His resources, invigorate His spirit, refresh and gird His mind for the work and the battle of His life.
But the feeling of which He now so mournfully complains differed essentially from the solitude which He loved and courted. It was not solitude nor loneliness, it was desertion which wrung from His sad spirit this dolorous cry- "My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?" There was more than a sense of loneliness, more than the sadness of solitude- there was the keen, painful feeling of abandonment- of abandonment, too, at a moment and under circumstances which must have imparted a peculiar pang and unlocked an additional source of suffering, to the sensitive spirit of our Lord. Ah! is there a sword that penetrates the heart more surely, more deeply than this- deserted by those we trusted in- forsaken by those we loved? Such was now the Savior's position. Thus is our Lord brought into personal sympathy with one of the most delicate forms of human grief, with one of the most lonely sorrows of the heart- the sorrow of the forsaken. Before we proceed to claim His sympathy, let us follow Him a few steps in this gloomy path, and study His character amid the deep shadows now darkling around Him.
That our Lord should ever have been subjected to such a discipline, that He should have known the sorrow of one forsaken and abandoned by those in whom He trusted, and to whom He clung with more than a woman's confiding love, seems a wonder and a marvel. He had now reached the darkest hour of His sorrow- it was the total eclipse of the Sun of righteousness; the concentration, in their focal power, of all the physical, mental, and soul sufferings to which He was subjected. He was now exhausting that cup we have just seen could not pass His lips. He was wringing out the dregs of that chalice of woe, the bitterest draught of which was reserved for the hour of His impalement upon the tree. He was now treading the wine-press of Divine wrath alone- forsaken of man, abandoned by God. "About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"--which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" That hour was about three o'clock in the afternoon, at which time the daily sacrifice was being offered in the temple; and just at the moment that that sacrifice was typifying Him, He, its great Antitype, was laying upon the altar of Justice a more Divine, glorious, and efficacious sacrifice for sins- "giving himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
In considering our Lord's abandonment by the Father on the cross, there are two or three preliminary views we must keep before the mind, or we may be beguiled, unconsciously, into perplexity and error. In the first place, let it be premised that in this hour of darkness and desertion through which our Lord was passing, there was no separation, not the slightest loosening of the tie that
bound them, of Christ's Divinity from His humanity. The fulness of the Godhead still dwelt in Jesus bodily; He was not the less Divine now that, in His extreme anguish and suffering, He appeared all the more human. As it was from His Divinity that the atoning sacrifice of Christ derived its virtue, it was not probable, nor was it possible, that, at the awful crisis of His atoning death, there should be the slightest separation between the complex natures of our Lord. His Deity was in union with the humanity at the moment He uttered the cry of desertion, now the subject of our study. To the fact of the existence of a Divine Sufferer, all nature, in her marvellous prodigies, now bore testimony. The earth trembled on its axis- the sun veiled its light- the rock was rent in twain- hades gave back its population- the grave yielded up its dead- all nature was robed in mourning because He who formed the earth created that sun, piled those rocks, and wore in His belt the keys of hades and the grave, was, as man, and for man, expiring upon the tree. It was nature's testimony to the Godhead of its Maker.
To a like conclusion we may come, beloved, in all our reasoning in seasons of soul-darkness and distress. Through whatever mental or spiritual exercises the children of God may pass, there is not the slightest change in their divine and heavenly nature. The child of God is born again of incorruptible seed; He is a partaker of the Divine nature; and no deeper discovery of the principle of corruption in his heart, no veiling of the light of God's countenance, touches the spiritual principle, or affects the divine nature. The soul may pass through various eclipses, sometimes partial, at other times total, nevertheless, like our blessed Lord, the profoundest gloom which enshrouds it but shades, not extinguishes, the divine sun within. Rejoice, then, O believer, in the immortality of your divine relationship to God, in the indestructible nature of your spiritual life- once His adopted child, remember that you are His child forever.
Nor are we to imagine, as included in this desertion of Christ on the cross, any, the slightest, variation in the love of the Father to His Son. This hiding of God from Jesus was a suspended manifestation, a veiled light, a concealed presence. If ever the Father loved His Son with an intense, approving, unchanged affection, it was at that moment that the "darling" of His soul was enduring all this anguish, desertion, and horror to uphold the honor and win back the glory of the Divine government. In like manner may the saints of God argue respecting God's love to them in their darkest desertions and deepest sorrows. There is not the slightest veering in God's love to us in the discipline of the covenant. He may seem to frown, darkness may conceal the light of His countenance, and in His profoundly mysterious dispensations we may be led to exclaim, "Verily, you are a God that hides yourself," nevertheless, He loves us still- loves us with a love changeless as His being- from everlasting to everlasting. Oh, argue no change or chill in the love your heavenly Father cherishes towards you from the severity of His dealings; but rather from the very severity of the chastening and the rebuke by which He seeks to make you a partaker of His holiness, infer the reality and tenderness of His love.
With this explanation, we proceed to consider THE NATURE OF THE TRIAL THROUGH WHICH OUR LORD WAS NOW PASSING. In one word, it was- DESERTION. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This forsaking of Christ was the withdrawment of the sensible presence of God from the human soul of Jesus. And why this withdrawment, this hiding, this abandonment by the Father? The suffering Son of God himself asks the question- "Why have you forsaken me?" Why this darkness? Why this forsaking? It was an act so new, so strange, so appalling, that, in the depth of His soul-agony, Jesus uplifts His eyes to heaven and asks the cause- why, for what, have You withdrawn Yourself from me? Beloved, there is but one answer to this question, but one solution to this mystery. Jesus, our Surety, was now bearing all the sins of His whole Church by imputation; and it was from that tremendous load, it was in view of those accumulated transgressions that the Holy One, "who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity," turned away- the sun of His glorious presence fading into the deepest, profoundest gloom. There was darkness on the whole earth from the sixth hour until the ninth; but what was that darkness in comparison with the darkness in which the holy soul of Jesus was enshrouded? But do not think, however, that, in this abandonment of Christ by the Father to loneliness, darkness, and horror, there was any, the slightest, withdrawment of His love to, or of His interest in, His Son. Nor let it be imagined that in this forsaking there was the least suspension of His upholding, sustaining power. Far from this. It was but the sensible, not the actual, withdrawment of God in this the darkest, direst hour of the Savior's passion. But Jesus was now the antitypical Scapegoat on whose head Israel's sins were placed- Jesus was now the true sin-bearer, on whom the Father had laid the iniquities of His people; and it was proper that, in the eyes of all holy and unholy intelligences, God should, in that hour of accumulated, concentrated sin, demonstrate to the universe that He was a God of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity. Studied in the light of this truth, who can deny and reject the expiatory nature of Christ's death with reason or impunity?
But let it not be supposed- as some modern theologians have most erroneously affirmed- that this was the first and only period in our Lord's life in which He officiated as the sin-bearer of His people. No statement could be more unscriptural. His relation to the Church as her Sin-bearer commenced with the first pressure of His foot upon our sin-tainted earth- the moment He touched its horizon, that moment commenced the bearing of sin and the work of its removal. The manger of Bethlehem was the starting-point, the cross of Calvary was the goal, in His career of working out the salvation, accomplishing the redemption of His people. He had known nothing of the curse when He came under the broken law of God- the first drop of which moistened His infant lips- had not sin by imputation been laid upon Him. If I reject the fact of the sin-bearing commencing with His life, I must necessarily reject the fact of His obedience to the law commencing with His life, which obedience becomes the "righteousness of God unto all and upon all those that believe." But it is written- written by the pen of the Holy Spirit- "Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree,"- in the original- TO the tree. To the tree, as the final stage, to the tree, as the end of sin, He bore, step by step, the tremendous load. That, in the great truth of His Suretyship He was a learner- learning something more and more of sin, and of the consequences of sin, and of the penalty of sin- who can doubt? The pressure increased upon Him by decrees, the load augmented in weight as He advanced, the storm thickened in darkness and deepened in intensity as He pressed forward to the goal. "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered." "The Captain of our salvation was made perfect through suffering." And the great lesson He learned in this school of suffering was- obedience. And how could He learn obedience but under the growing burden of His people's accumulated, concentrated sin and curse? Each step deepened His knowledge of what sin was- and this only could be as the sin was imputed. It was by suffering He was perfected in obedience, and His suffering commenced with the commencement of His life. It was not physical suffering alone by which our Lord was thus instructed. He suffered mentally, He suffered spiritually; and this school of suffering began from the moment that Herod sought His infant life, and virtually slew Him when He "slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under," and terminated when He breathed these wondrous words- "It is finished!" Then it was our Lord began to learn what sin was, and what the suffering for sin. The more He came to learn the nature, the evil, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the more must He have learned, not only the necessity of an expiation, but that He was the Expiator. And as He grew in stature, He grew in acquaintance with sin. Its monster form dilated before Him in gigantic proportions- the tornado of the curse grew thicker and darker- the wrath-cup became fuller and fuller as He advanced to meet the central horrors of the last, the latest hour of His passion. And how could this be but as, from His cradle to His cross, our adorable Emmanuel was our Divine, glorious sin-bearer? But let us not, in this refutation of an error, lose sight of the truth we are unfolding- the darkness of Christ's soul upon the cross. Now indeed was the hour of darkness! Now was the Sun of righteousness in total eclipse- an eclipse which extinguished every ray of light, dried up every spring of joy, silenced every expression of sympathy and every word of comfort. Hear Him again exclaim, in the prophetic language of His prototype, "My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant? Why do you ignore my cries for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief. Yet you are holy." Psalm 22:1-3. Oh, love of Christ! unsurpassed, unparalleled! My soul, all this darkness, all this desertion, all this love was for you!
Contrast this, your Lord and Master's condition, with the light of God's reconciled countenance by which you walk in darkness. Such was the testimony of Job- "By His light I walked in darkness." Ah, beloved reader, in your gloomiest hour you experience no such darkness as the soul of Jesus now did. Your spiritual eclipse is never total. And even when, though a child of the light, God leads you by a way that is dark, a path that is lone and dreary, there is no punitive justice, no Divine wrath, no darkness of hell in the cloud that shades your soul. Nor are you forsaken. Christ is with you- unknown, unseen, unfelt it may be, still not the less really is He treading that lone and gloom some way side by side with you. "When I pass through the valley of the shadow of death, (which the path of sorrow is sometimes termed,) I will Fear no evil, for You are with me."
"My God, the spring of all my joys,
The life of my delights,
The glory of my brightest days,
The comfort of my nights.
"In darkest shades if He appear,
My dawning is begun;
He is my soul's sweet morning Star,
And He my rising Sun.
The opening heavens around me shine,
With beams of sacred bliss,
While Jesus shows His heart is mine,
And whispers, I am His."
Our Lord was also forsaken by man. As man, He felt this sword to enter deeply into His soul. For as man, He clung to man- to the companionship, the solace, and the sympathy of man- as we shall more fully show in a subsequent part of this work. But He, like many of His followers, was destined to learn how vain was human help, how fickle was human love, how changeful was human friendship. He was forsaken by man, by the very men whom He had constituted His College of Apostles, whom He had admitted to His confidence, who had shared His love, and who had sworn eternal fealty to Him their Lord and Master. But now, in His deepest sorrow, " they all forsook Him and fled." But in this His prophecy was fulfilled which said, "I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me." There was a fitness, a propriety in this that our Lord should accomplish the work of our salvation unaided by creature power, unsweetened by human sympathy. Oh, how different it is with us! There are few of God's people who taste the cup of human sorrow unsweetened by the element of Christian compassion and sympathy. The Lord gives us, what He denied Himself, the clinging, soothing, cheering presence and affection of Christian friends and fellow-disciples. He was utterly forsaken; we are not so. Few believers there are who tread the shaded valley, confront the sweeping tempest, unaccompanied, uncheered by one loving heart, one sympathizing spirit, one 'second self'. Jesus, insulated from heaven and earth, was alone!
And, as if to complete the picture, nature seemed to conspire against Him. The sun forsook Him on the cross, withdrawing its cheering light, and leaving Him to the deep, sepulchral gloom of a total and protracted eclipse. Who has not, in deep sorrow, felt his heart ascend in thanksgiving to God for the pleasant sunshine? "Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." "Draw the curtain, raise the blind, let me see the sweet sun," is the languid request of many a sick and fading one. And what a glow have those golden beams imparted to the pallor of sickness! what solace to suffering! what cheering to the gloomy and lonely chamber! But all this was denied our blessed Lord in the hour of His dissolution. The sun veiled its splendor, the light paled into darkness- the darkness without only surpassed by the deeper darkness within His holy soul. Thus was our adorable Savior forsaken by God- by man- by nature.
The remainder of this chapter will be devoted to the tracing of some analogy between this experience of Christ and that of many of His saints. It enters deeply into the moral discipline of the child of God that loneliness should occupy a large portion of his experience. It may be one of the most painful, yet is it one of the most wholesome and prolific causes of spiritual growth. Let us trace this feeling of desertion and loneliness to a few of its causes.
It is sometimes produced by a deeper self-acquaintance. The more thoroughly we come to know our own selves- the inner world, the life within life, the heart with its deep-rooted and deep- veiled sinfulness, the mind with its perplexities of thought, the will with its unusual counter-workings- the more deeply we seem drawn into the profoundest isolation and solitude. The very discovery we have made of ourselves, seems to isolate us from all others, and to shut us up to ourselves. With such conscious impurity and defect we shrink from the society and fellowship of the holy, as though others read our heart as we read it, and knew our unworthiness as we know it. And, as the leper, shrinking from the haunts of men, retired to his separation and loneliness, a like moral instinct often would force us to wander in solitary places, bemoaning our sinfulness, and holding communion only with Him from whose gracious presence no unworthiness shall exclude, and from whose loving eye no sorrow shall shade, nor solitude shall hide us. Still, we must guard against an extreme of feeling here. No intimacy with ourselves, no consciousness of infirmity, failure, and dereliction should be allowed such influence and mastery as to force us, by self-isolation, from the society of our fellow-Christians, or drive us from the scene of influence, service, and battle, into slothful inaction and ignoble solitude.
Our religious profession, too, may separate us from others. In addition to what we have already advanced on this head, we may remark that religious principles, character, and profession necessarily involve separation. The Church of God and the world are two distinct, opposite, and antagonistic corporate bodies. We cannot in our Christian character belong in part to the one and in part to the other. There can be no compromise, no truce, no uniting the two in a Christ-witnessing profession of love to the Savior. There, then, is separation. But, added to this, we shall often find that even the bosom of the family circle is to us a lonely desert. There shall be chilled affection, alienated interest, suspended sympathy, shunned communion, on the part of near and dear ones from whose principles and spirit, from whose worldliness, and even from whose religion, we feel compelled, by all that is dear, and sacred in the name, the religion, and profession of Christ, decidedly and entirely to separate ourselves. Oh, what a desert may a parent's home be- what isolation and solitude, among life's nearest and dearest! But Jesus trod this path before us- penetrated these solitudes far more deeply than we. He was all alone;
we never can be. The echoes of the mountains and the valleys, to which He resorted, were the only responses to His sighs, groans, and prayers- ours are in unison with voices of kindness, affection and sympathy uttered by a thousand Christ-loving and saint-loving hearts. Still, the desertion is bitter, the solitude irksome, and the discipline, though needful and wholesome, is unspeakably humiliating and painful.
The saints, too, will often experience the truth of God to be a separating element. There are many who desert our communion because of the doctrines of grace. It is a narrow path, the path of Christ's truth, and there are but few who walk in it. Doctrines separate- differences of judgment separate- varieties of interpretation separate- and thus those who really love the same Lord, and are traveling to the same inheritance, are divided in fellowship and sympathy the one from the other on this very ground. There are but few who love, delight in, and preach the distinguishing doctrines of grace, or who have much sympathy and fellowship with those who do. And because this path is so narrow, few walk in it together. When our Lord, the great Teacher from heaven, propounded the doctrine of Divine sovereignty, we are told that "many went back, and walked no more with Him."
Worship is often another separating element in the Church of God. The question which divided the opinions and sundered the fellowship of the two great sections of the Jews- "where ought men to worship?"- still exists. Where shall we worship- in this sanctuary or in that? How shall we worship- with a liturgy or without? are questions which still separate multitudes of God's people- some of whom are united by the closest ties of nature, and dwell beneath the same roof- the one from the other. Alas! that it should be so! Nor would it thus be, at least to so great and so bitter an extent, did we more deeply enter into our Lord's definition of true worship. "The hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth for the Father seeks such to worship Him." "God is a spirit; and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." Realizing this idea of true worship, it will be to us of but trivial moment where we worship our heavenly Father- whether in mount Gerizim or in Jerusalem- or how we worship Him- whether with or without a ritual- so that we worship Him in spirit and in truth. It is the heart at which He looks, with which He has to do- the sincere, lowly, loving heart; and if that be true, I see not why differences of judgment as to a liturgical or a non-liturgical service should separate the saints of God in worship, create in them suspicion and distrust, still more alienation and bitterness. The more deeply we imbibe the true spirit of worship, the less formal and cold shall we be in the use of a prescribed form; and the more orderly, reverential, and devout shall we be without it. God has His eye and His heart upon all such true and humble worshipers. Listen to His gracious words of recognition- "Who is this that engaged his heart to approach unto me? says the Lord." Truly may we respond, "Blessed is the man whom you chose, and cause to approach unto you, that He may dwell in your courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, even of your holy temple."
The ways of Divine providence, too, often brings us into this feeling of desertion and loneliness. As in grace, so in providence, the dealings of our God with us individually are frequently such as to lead us into paths diverse and separate from all others- paths sequestered, solitary, and lonely; awakening no observation, constraining no sympathy, inviting no communion, unsoothed, unnoticed, and unknown. And by how sudden, unlooked for, and painful a process are we often led into this shaded way of the Lord! A removal by death- a reverse of fortune- the change of place or relation in life- the breaking up of a center of affection and union, has plunged us into the depths of solitude, and henceforth life's lonesome journey brings us into closer assimilation and sympathy with a solitary, homeless Redeemer. Dearest Lord! anything, everything You do appoint, if it but link me closer with Your life, and moulds me more perfectly to Your image.
And, then, there are seasons of spiritual desertion and gloom through which many believers are called to pass. Apart from this peculiar stage of the divine life, we should lose a great portion of Christ's sympathy. Spiritual darkness is a portion of the discipline, more or less, of every child of the light. It is a distressing, dreary stage; nevertheless, there is light enough in it for faith to observe the footprint of the Shepherd and the flock, and this alone were sufficient to invest the gloomiest path with sunshine, and to awaken ten thousand echoes of love in the loneliest. But let no child of God, who may be in spiritual darkness and desertion of soul, cast away his confidence, or cease to hold fast firmly the profession of his faith. Our blessed Lord did not renounce His Sonship or loosen His hold of faith when in the hour of His deepest gloom He exclaimed, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Imitate your Lord and Master. Is your soul in a spiritual eclipse- the light of God's countenance hidden, the visible presence of your Savior withdrawn, the strong consolations of the Spirit suspended, prayer distilling no dew, the promises speaking no comfort? - be it so. Yet, what is the message of your God to you? "Who is among you that fears the Lord, that obeys the voice of his servant, that walks in darkness, and has no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God." Here is the true, the sublime attitude of faith in spiritual darkness- the soul staying itself upon God the strong One, the unchangeable One, the reconciled One. The mental depression, the spiritual darkness, the soul desertion through which you are now passing, does not touch your union with the Lord Jesus, does not affect your adoption into God's family. You are still one who fears the Lord- who obeys the voice of His servant- a child of light, though in darkness, beloved of God, and dear to Christ. "Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disquieted within me? Hope you in God, for I shall yet praise Him who is the health of my countenance and any God."
Seasons of loneliness and solitude often prove among the most hallowed and precious in the experience of the believer. In the first place, the spiritual discipline is healthful and wholesome. The solitary are never really in solitude. They are never more with God, or God with them, than at that period. He not only "sets the solitary in families," as He often kindly does, but He makes it to be in reality no solitude to the soul, by virtue of His own manifested presence, converse, and glory. Thus that which else might prove the most severe, indescribable source of anguish, becomes one of the highest, holiest, and sweetest enjoyments of which our renewed nature is susceptible. It is then that,
"Contemplation prunes her ruffled wings,
And the free soul looks down to pity kings."
This close communion with God, which sacred solitude produces, must then stamp this otherwise painful discipline as a golden period of our Christian career. It is then, if ever, the soul is alone with God. And the believer, having once experienced this sacred luxury, ever after pants for it as the deer pants for the water-brooks. In how many a spiritual mind, thus sighing for the Divine presence in secret, will these poetical thoughts awaken sacred echoes, tender and plaintive as Aeolian breathings–
Prostrate, O Lord, before Your cross,
I come to own my shame and loss,
My nakedness and poverty,
Because I'm never alone with Thee.
"The fretting trifles of the day,
Like droppings, wear my soul away
No lively frames- no spirit free
Because I'm never alone with Thee.
"Your daily mercies often forgot,
My conscience stained with many a spot;
A broken reed behold in me,
Because I'm never alone with Thee.
A day will come when I must be
Alone, my Lord and God, with Thee;
With shame I then shall bow my head,
My only plea- Your blood was shed.
But it is not all lamentation with the child of God. His harp has chords which might arrest an angel's ear. How often has solitude witnessed to the richest experience, the sweetest songs, the brightest revelations of the Church of God! David in his cave, Jeremiah in his dungeon, Paul in his jail, John in Patmos, form a part of a great cloud of witnesses to this page of Christian experience. In all these places of banishment and desertion, of loneliness and solitude, God, in Christ, was their suit and their shield. And it is to these periods, sequestered from earth, separated from man, and shut in with God, that the Christian Church is indebted for some of the richest truths, the most mellowed experiences, sweetest strains, and most sublime visions which the pen of inspiration has recorded. It is then, truly and emphatically, the soul is- alone with God
"Alone with Thee! alone with Thee!
It is there, dear Lord, I often would be
Where can my throbbing heart find test
But on my God and Savior's breast?
"Alone with You would I be found,
where none can misconceive or wound,
Before Your eye my soul to bare,
And roll on You each burdening care.
"Alone with You when You do bless,
Alone, in sorrow and distress
Alone with You, by day by night,
I cannot live, save in Your sight.
"Yes, even amid the seraph choir,
While praising You with golden lyre,
My jealous heart shall crave to prove
Your personal, unchanging love."
Is this the way God is now leading you, my reader? Is your path shaded with grief, solitary with desertion? Have friends and kindred forsaken you? You are not all alone! Your mind needed the teaching of solitude, your heart the discipline of separation; and so Christ, who is preparing both for the place He has prepared for you, allured you into this wilderness that He might instruct, sanctify, and comfort you. It is in the calmer quietude of separation, alone with God, that Divine truth is often the best studied and understood. We read of Christ that, "when they were alone, He expounded all things to His disciples." The Word of God, ever precious and instructive, is never so much so as when the circumstances that exile it from man shut us up exclusively and entirely to its study with God. How instructive, consolatory, and precious, then, grows this Divine Book! The mysteries of providence have helped to explain the mysteries of revelation; the bitterness of sorrow has drawn forth the sweetness of the Divine promises; the crushed hopes of earth have brought the soul into a closer realization of the assured hope of heaven; and the wintry chill and gloom of adversity has made us acquainted with the Brother born for it. Oh, who can describe the preciousness, the soothing, the sustaining power of God's Word in the direst, the extremest circumstances of calamity, exile, and woe? Among the countless ancient and costly treasures contained in the great national treasury of this land, the most ancient, rare, and precious is a copy of God's Word found among the relics of the Franklin Expedition. To whom it belonged is not known, nor, perhaps, ever will be; enough that, amid the awful solitude of the Arctic seas- surrounded by interminable fields of ice, robed with the dreariness and gloom of eternal winter- pining in loneliness and starvation- thoughts of home crowding the memory- an awful death fast congealing the life-current- the contents of this copy of God's Word, all thumbed and marked, cheered, comforted, and sustained its possessor as He laid himself down to die amid the polar snows, with none to soothe the last hour of agony save Christ and His Word. Enough! less will not suffice- more we cannot have, in that trying, that solemn hour. No! you will never be all alone with this blessed volume of your Father's love, and the Savior's presence sharing and soothing your solitude.
How beautifully adapted, then, is the sympathy of Christ to seasons of desertion and solitude. Did Christ know what it was to be alone- to be unbefriended and deserted? Was He abandoned, forsaken in sorrow, all Divine and human consolation for the moment suspended? Then Christ is with me in my present position! I have Jesus side by side with me in the shaded path I tread. He is with me- the companion of my solitude, the sharer of my grief, softening, sweetening, sanctifying it; deepening and maturing His work of grace in my soul, and, by putting far from me lover and friend, drawing me all the closer to Himself. "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up."
Fear not the hour when you will descend into the valley of death's shadow. Not all solitary and alone will you be then. Believer in Christ! Jesus will be personally, visibly with you at that moment. His arm will encircle you, His bosom will pillow you, His voice will cheer you, His words will strengthen you, His rod and His staff will comfort you, and you shall fear no evil. In all the past states of your pilgrimage never will you have been so conscious of the encircling, clinging presence of your Lord, never will you so fully leave realized His sustaining grace and soothing love as at the moment that severs you from all that is human, and shuts you up to all that is Divine. A Divine Redeemer, when heart and flesh are failing, will be the strength of your heart and your portion forever.
"Rise, my soul, your God directs you;
Stranger hands no more impede;
Pass you on; His hand protects you,
Strength that has the captive freed.
"Is the wilderness before you,
Desert lands where drought abides?
Heavenly springs shall there restore you,
Fresh from God's exhaustless tides.
"Light divine surrounds your going,
God Himself shall mark your way;
Secret blessings richly flowing,
Lead to everlasting day.
"God, your everlasting portion,
Feeds you with the mighty's meat,
Saved from Egypt's hard extortion,
Egypt's food no more to eat.
"Are you weaned from Egypt's pleasures?
God in secret you shall keep,
There unfold His hidden treasures,
There His love's exhaustless deep.
"In the desert God will teach you
What the God that you have found-
Patient, gracious, powerful, holy,
All His grace shall there abound.
"On to Canaan's rest still wending,
Even your needs and woes shall bring
Suited grace from high descending
You shall taste of mercy's spring.
"Though your way be long and dreary,
Eagle-strength He'll still renew
Garments fresh, and feet unweary,
Tell how God has brought you through,
"When to Canaan's long-loved dwelling
Love divine your foot shall bring,
There with shouts of triumph swelling
Zion's songs in rest to sing.
"There, no stranger, God shall meet you
Stranger you in courts above
He who to His rest shall greet you,
Greets you with a well-known love."