« НазадПродовжити »
Bitterness in the fountain to which we run for refreshment constitutes another form of the trials of faith on our pilgrimage. This perhaps is worse than the first. It would be hard to choose, but bitter, poisonous water is certainly worse than none at all. You come to a water-course, and find it a deceitful brook, gone to nothing, perished. The troops of Tema looked, the companies of Sheba waited for them. They were confounded because they had hoped ; they came thither and were ashamed. Such wero: Job's friends, and such was Job's disappointment. So the reeds on which we lean often break and pierce us. The fair apples we desire to taste prove ashes. The distant waters we thought we beheld, while travelling in the desert, are only a delusive mirage, a reflection of the sky in the sands at the horizon. It is a great trial when this is the case, even with friends and earthly blessings merely. Confidence in an unfaithful no in time of trouble is like a broken tooth and a foot out of joint. But it is a far greater anguish to the soul, when expected spiritual refreshments turn out to be naught, when you come to a spiritual fountain, and find nothing but bitterness. Sometimes there is such a disappointment to the soul · at the very table of the Lord, sometimes in the exercise of prayer, sometimes in the Word of God, sometimes in the service of God's sanctuary. Instead of going from strength to strength, the soul seems passing from weak
ness to weakness. Mine eyes fail for thy Word, saying, When wilt thou comfort me? All the wells that are digged, the Philistines fill them with earth, and when the soul thinks it has found another well of springing water by digging, there is such a strife for it or about it, and such uncertainty in the possession, that its name becomes Esek and Sitnah, contention and hatred. This assuredly is a great trial of faith.
But all such forms of trial are necessary. They are a part of our discipline at the hand of God, and however severe they may seem, they are a merciful discipline. In the course of every great enterprise for God there must be difficulties. God himself will interpose with them, if man does not; for without difficulties, great enterprises would be without permanence and depth. Difficulties are as the ballast to keep the ship in trim. They are the cold days that set the vegetation, when uninterrupted sunshine and heat would bring it preternaturally forward. The work of setting out for heaven, and of finding God, is a great enterprise. The work of building a church for God is both temporally and spiritually a great enterprise. The work of establishing and sustaining a Christian mission is a great enterprise. In all such undertakings, personally and unitedly, we must expect difficulties ; and if they do not come at one stage, they will at another. Sometimes they come at the very outset. There is a Red Sea to be crossed ; and if God helped us over that sea, so that, although it was very terrible to look at and anticipate, yet it proved nothing in the crossing, then come immediately afterwards three days in the wilderness, and no water. Here is perhaps the first severe lesson of faith.
We expected the wilderness, for we saw that it lay right in the way of our duty. But we expected water also. We thought of course God would secure to us that provision. We were ready to press on in the journey, though it were a wilderness, a desert; but we never dreamed that God would refuse us water, that he would leave us without that. We expected encouragement and refreshment by the way. Instead of that, we are perhaps plunged at once into suffering. We expected sight, and God begins at once to teach us the great lesson of faith. It is very easy, even for the carnal mind, to live half by faith and half by sight. It is easy to go on for God, when God goes on before us and for us, opening the Red Sea by a miracle as fast as we come up to it, and making water-springs to gush out whenever and wherever we feel thirsty; but when God withdraws his visible support, and seems to leave us to ourselves, when he is pleased, indeed, really to leave us to ourselves, to find out our own weakness, then we begin to discover that it is not so easy living by faith as by sight; we begin to discover how little true faith we possess; we are even inclined to stop in our journey, and not go a step by faith, till we have sight for faith to walk by. The ability to walk in simple reliance on God alone, and his promise, is a great ability ; it is not the earliest thing by any means, but contrariwise, a very advanced and tried grace in Christian experience.
Yet we talk much of walking by faith, not sight; we propose it as the very simplest thing in the Christian life, we put it forth as a spiritual truism. There are different kinds of sight, and we may be just walking by one kind, when we think we are walking by faith ; because another kind, the kind to which we have been accustomed, is not with us. There is a spiritual sight, as well as a spiritual faith, a sight and experience of God's comforts, as well as a faith in God's promises. Now it is easy to walk when God's comforts surround the soul, when the soul mounts up as on eagles' wings, when God, as it were, takes the soul by the hand, and hurries it forward, as the angels took Lot, and hurried him out of Sodom to Zoar. When “ the candle of the Lord” shines bright upon us, when he fills our hearts with his love, and shows us the glory, certainty, and blissfulness of his covenant, this is sight rather than faith, this is experience and enjoyment; it is the “ earnest of the Spirit.” It is easy to believe God, when we thus see and feel the presence of God, when he sends forth the Spirit of his dear Son into our hearts, and makes us cry,
withheld or withdrawn, then to rely upon God's promises, and go forward in duty just as if we experienced them, that is true faith, great faith, unmingled faith.
And that is the faith taught by trial. Blessings will teach gratitude, but not this kind of faith. Blessings, indeed, are so apt to accustom the soul to sight, that except by the very peculiar care and discipline of God's grace, a long uninterrupted continuance of them unfits the soul for faith ; so that when the accustomed tide of blessings begins to fail, and a discipline of want or darkness intervenes, the soul begins to imagine itself deserted of God, begins to faint, forgetful of the exhortation which speaketh as unto children concerning the rebukes of God; perhaps stops short in the course of duty, just as if God's comforts and not God, were its guide, its support, its index, and its impulse.
But that is faith in sight, not faith in God. Faith in God must be taught, as well as rejoicing and gratitude in God's comforts. The soul must be taught to toil on in the wilderness, without repining, water or no water, confident in God. For this purpose, to teach this habit of faith, the three days in the wilderness without water may be needed at the very outset; and it may cessary for God to repeat them, cutting off the soul from every earthly and sensible stay, and even from every sensible spiritual stay, and throwing it entirely and only upon God and his promises. This is the
ith, of which the example is so beautiful in Ha.