Consider helping today!
Entangled in the Land
September 21st, 1890 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in." Exodus 14:3 .
Israel was clean escaped from Egypt. Not a hoof of their cattle was left behind; nor foot of child or aged man remained in the house of bondage. But though they were gone, they were not forgotten by the tyrant who had enslaved them. They had been a very useful body of workers; for they had built treasure cities and storehouses for Pharaoh. Compelled to work without wages, they cost the tyrant nothing but the expenditure of the lash. His exactions of forced labor had grown intolerable to the people; but the buildings erected had been a joy to the lord of Egypt. When they were quite gone, Pharaoh woke up to a sense of his loss; and his attendants felt the same; so that they cried, "Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?" Then they resolved to drive them back again, and they thought it easy to do so; for they said "They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in." They knew that the Israelites had no spirit for war, and they felt sure that they had only to overtake them, and hurry them back, like a drove of cattle. They had found them such submissive servants that they expected to fit on them their fetters again, and rivet them for ever. Perhaps their God had shot his last arrow, and Egypt might capture his people again without fear of plagues. Thus men thought; but the Lord thought otherwise. Do not I speak to some at this hour who, during the last few months, have, by the power of the Lord's gracious hand, escaped out of the bondage of sin? You have got clean away from your old master. With a high hand and an outstretched arm has God brought you forth into liberty. You remember the sprinkling of the blood and the eating of the Paschal Lamb, and you are now on your way to Canaan. But your former master and his friends have not forgotten you. You were once a valuable servant to Satan, and he will not willingly lose you. Some of you whom God has saved by grace could drink for Satan, and lie for him, and swear for him, and lead others into evil ways, and you could do cheerfully other things which I need not mention, which he always desires to have done in his kingdom. You were a trained servant, and knew your master's way so as to answer his purpose better than most. Servants of Satan usually serve him greedily, and you were very eager. Nothing is too hot or too heavy for men who are thoroughly enthusiastic for evil. Sins that should be thought degrading are followed by men under the notion of pleasure and gaiety. "A short life and a merry one," is too often the cry of persons who are preferring death to life. The devil has the knack of making his bondsmen boast of their freedom; and they follow with eagerness that which is to their own loss and ruin. Poor slaves! their slavery has blinded their minds. Thanks be unto God, certain of you have lately fled from your former bondage; but the point I am to speak of is this the great tyrant has not forgotten you, and he designs in his heart your capture and re-enslavement. He and his are continually looking for opportunities by which they may bring you again into the thraldom of evil, fasten the manacles of habit upon your hands, and fit the fetters of despair upon your foes. By the grace of God I hope that the Prince of evil, and his helpers, will be disappointed; but they will leave no stone unturned to effect their purposes. One of their hopes of driving you back is the belief that you are entangled by your circumstances and surroundings. They conceive that you have got into serious difficulty through your conversion, and that you cannot find your way out of your perplexity. No, the enemy says, "I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil." The Pharaoh of the infernal regions thinks to drive the fugitives back again like a flock of sheep; and, notwithstanding all that God has done for them, he hopes again to bring them under his yoke. If Jehovah has brought you out, his work will never be undone; but the enemy's hope lies in his belief that you are hopelessly entangled by your present environment. I speak just now mainly to new converts, and I trust I may encourage them. Satan has less hope of getting back those who have escaped from his tyranny for many years. If he can trip them up or worry them, even now, he will take a delight in doing it, but he begins to see that the older pilgrims are really the Lord's, and cannot fall into his hands. Of those who have only lately escaped from his power he has greater hope, for they have not yet proved by the test of experience that the work within them is divine. He hopes that possibly theirs is only temporary reformation; and if so, he can soon make them slip back into the mire of sin, from which he hopes they have only half escaped. I am going to speak to the raw recruits, "from Egypt lately come"; hoping that, by the blessing of the Holy Spirit, they may be cheered in pressing forward, and may feel that they can never go back to their old sins. The early period of Christian faith, like the infancy of life, is crowded with dangers. Literally, new-born life is so precarious that it is a wonder that any infant survives; and infant spiritual life is so full of weaknesses and diseases that none would survive were it not for Almighty grace. Hence the need of the special precept: "Feed my lambs." It is our bounden duty to look well after beginners in the ways of God. The moral mortality in our churches is mainly among the new converts. If they survive the first years of temptation, they continue with us as a rule. Our church-roll shows that the leakage is through the unseasoned timbers.
When they have conquered early fears, And vanquished youthful wrong, Grace will preserve their following years, And make their virtues strong.
If we leave them without help and comfort in their beginnings, we cannot tell how much they will sin and suffer. With the view of helping them, I shall speak, first, upon one of our early dangers; and, secondly, upon our security against that danger. I. ONE OF OUR EARLY DANGERS is this: we may become entangled in the land; the wilderness may shut us in. That entanglement takes a great many shapes. I will only hint at a few of them. Dealing with old friends is a frequent one. The man is a new creature in Christ Jesus, and since his friends find that he is so, they trouble him. His foes are they of his own household. How is the youth to make an open confession of Christ before his infidel father? Possibly the convert is a wife. How is she to be a Christian if she is married to an ungodly husband? Our earthly loves have great power over us, and it is right that they should; but herein comes a hindrance to spiritual life. Satan says to himself, "Ah! he cannot break away from my kingdom, for his brother, his wife, or his betrothed will keep him in my service." It may not only be one member of the family, but several may combine to draw back the half escaped one. It may be, parents, brothers, sisters, friends of all sorts, will unite in their efforts to jeer the young Christian out of his faith, and lead him off from the road of uprightness. We hear much of the Salvation Army, but, alas! there is an Army of Damnation too. Very zealous and crafty are these followers of the evil one. Cruel mockings, accusations of hypocrisy, slanders, and unkindnesses are not spared to turn the young Christian from the right way. Because of household opposition Satan says, "He is entangled in the land." The adversary thinks that you have not the courage to stand up against your relatives, and will not dare to confess your Lord before your wife, or your father. We shall see now whether the Lord has brought you out, or whether you are running off on a mere whim of your own: the devil will not be slow to apply the test. In some cases the entanglement is not so much that of the family as of society. I have personally known one or two friends moving in high circles who have said to me, "As soon as I am known to be a Christian, my friends will cut my acquaintance. I do not know what I shall do when I have to visit at certain houses; assuredly I shall have to run the gauntlet." It has been a quiet pleasure to me when I have found that they have been banished from such "society" altogether, for it could never have been of any spiritual advantage to them, and it might have proved a snare. Their loss was a real gain. But, oh! how many are afraid of Sir John and of Lady Mary, or of some wealthy neighbor! These fine folks may be nothing very great after all; but, still, weak hearts are all too apt to dread the loss of their patronage, and are ready enough to make a great cross of being frowned out of their society. In other circles the same difficulties occur. The workshop has its trials as well as the drawing-room. "Ah!" says Satan, "the man came out, and confessed himself a Christian the other night, but I know where he works, and there is not a man in the place who will sympathize with him. He will be entangled in the land." It happens that one begins in the morning with a joke, a second comes on with an oath, a third follows suit with a sharp and bitter observation. All day long they give the new convert such handfuls of mud as they can find, and the hope of the evil one is that thus he will be forced back on his old ways. The same thing happens on the farm, or on board ship, or in the barrack-room: old companions want to have our society, and are not pleased with the silent rebuke which is implied in our separating from them. You know more about this than I do; but I wonder not at Satan saying, "They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in." Why, some of you can scarcely descend the steps of this Tabernacle, convinced of sin and aroused to seek eternal salvation, before an old friend meets you, and, by his careless salutation, he makes you forget the emotion which just before was so manifest! Or if you get over the first attack, you are so warmly assailed indoors that you are greatly inclined to give in. Alas for the many who are speedily entangled in the nets of human associates, and never gain the liberty of Christ! The demands of business, of position, of self-interest, of custom these all hold men as birds are caught with bird-lime, or as the needle is held by a powerful magnet, and so they are prepared to hearken to evil entreaties, and return to the country from which they came out. To some, the entanglements come from having to deal with new matters. All things have become new, and among the rest even their ordinary business wears a different aspect. It used to be conducted in such and such a way; but now, on examination, the man says, "I am a Christian. I cannot do as I have done; and yet, how can I alter it?" It is a very simple matter to fall into those ways of trade which are questionable; but it is not quite so easy to quit them, and yet to gain a livelihood. When you alter one custom of trade, another matter hangs upon it, and needs a change; and it is not easy to bring partners, and clerks, and workpeople, out of old ways into new. They are very apt to be sticklers for former methods. Moreover, there are people in the trade who think you more nice than wise, and will even refuse to do business with you if you are so particular. It is no small thing for the convert to set himself right with the world in his changed mode of dealing; yet this has got to be done, and done with decision, too, or there is no escaping from evil. At such a time the struggler feels I am entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut me in; and the enemy of souls is of the same opinion. Now is his opportunity; but if you escape him now he will never again have such an advantage over you. At the same time, our young brother may be alarmed about the other side of his new associations namely, joining the church. It seems an ordeal to young beginners to come to see the pastor about uniting with the Lord's people. I am sure they need not be at all terrified at me, for no one will more heartily welcome any sincere seeker after Jesus. All that I shall ask is a simple confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and if that be given, even with fear and trembling, I shall be well content. Yet, to the timid beginner, it seems very solemn to be spoken to by the elders of the church. Mr. Bunyan puts lions in front of the Palace Beautiful, by which palace he means the church. I have been told by a facetious person that Mr. Bunyan meant by these lions the deacons and elders. Well, I can only say that I find them brave as lions; but even if they were terrible as those monarchs of the wood, there is no just cause for fearing them; for Mr. Bunyan adds, "The lions are chained." If any of you are afraid of our deacons and elders, you are so without reason; for the lions are chained by the intense love they bear both to their Lord and to all pilgrims to Zion. A guard is set before the door of the church for a necessary purpose, for we would have none enter who are self-deceived; but none of the brethren in office among us will harm anyone who desires to serve the Lord, and dwell with his people. If you have been troubled about your admission to the church, I hope that fear will come to an end by your pushing forward, and being enrolled in our ranks. Get right in your position both towards the world and the church, and let not the evil one say with regard to either of these matters, "They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in." We have known others bewildered with doctrinal difficulties. When a man's soul is renewed he begins to think, and he desires to understand many things which aforetime were indifferent to him. He meets with that most plain and precious truth, that "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners," and he is well satisfied with that declaration. Still, as he grows, he seeks more knowledge, and longs to understand the deep things of God. Possibly, as a young beginner he goes beyond his depth. He perceives the doctrine of election in the Bible, and he asks, "What is this?" It may be he is greatly gravelled with this doctrine; for though it is rich with comfort for those who, by reason of years, have had their senses exercised, yet it is a hard nut for babes in grace. It is simple enough when seen from one side of it, but from another it is a bottomless mystery. We have seen minds quite bewildered, where to us all things have seemed plain. I have known people stumble over hard texts. "What means this text? What means that passage? What means the other Scripture?" You would be astonished if you knew how many people are disturbed in mind, lie awake at nights, and are likely to lose their faith in Christ, over Scriptures which are as cheering as can be when once they are understood. These people need that some man should guide them; for, like the Ethiopian nobleman, they will not otherwise understand what they read. In former periods, many lost themselves in meditations upon free will, predestination, irresistible grace, and so forth. It was a pity that they dwelt so much upon the decrees of the Father, and so little upon the work of the Lord Jesus. They got their heads muddled by things too high for them. People are more frivolous now, as a rule, and this evil is rare. Still, there are to be found, here and there, thoughtful persons, not yet fully instructed in the faith, who are puzzled and confounded as the infinite glory of revealed truth opens up before their astonished gaze. They will know hereafter; but for the present they are sorely troubled and perplexed, and their cruel enemy rejoices that "They are entangled in the land." Nothing contributes more to this than the divisions in the Christian church. One preacher cries up one thing, and another quite the contrary, till young converts cry, "Which are we to believe?" and they stand as if they had come to cross-roads, and did not know which way to take. I am sorry it should be so; but there is a promise to the family of faith, "All thy children shall be taught of the Lord." You shall not lose your way if you will accept the Word of God as a little child. Be of good courage; for it is written "He shall guide thee continually." Far worse is the case of those who are entangled through strange discoveries. They came in among professed believers, and they supposed that all Christians were perfect (which, by the way, is a mere supposition), and now they have met with a certain loud professor who has acted very dishonorably and unkindly towards them, and they cry out with astonishment, "How is this?" We who know by experience and observation that Judas may be looked for among common disciples, since he appeared among the chosen twelve, are not so staggered when we see a hypocrite. We now expect to see black sheep, even in the choicest flock; but the new convert is sorely grieved and stumbled when he finds out the melancholy fact that all men are not what they seem. Great mischief is wrought among young Christians by hypocritical or inconsistent professors. God grant that none of us may be of that kind, for the blood of souls will lie at the door of such persons! It may be that, in his earliest days, the young convert finds out with surprise that his own heart is brimming over with sin. He thought that he was so changed that no sin remained in him, and no temptation from without could move him. He hoped that he was so sure of the truth of God that he should never doubt, and now he has to cry, "Lord, help mine unbelief," for he can hardly decide whether he believes or not. He has discovered another law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity. He finds that when he would do good evil is present with him; and this inward conflict between the flesh and the spirit comes upon him as a terrible surprise. "Why am I thus?" cries he. "Can I be a child of God and have such dreadful thoughts? Could I feel so wretched if I were indeed a possessor of grace?" When young beginners get into this rough road, they are taken by surprise, and know not what to do. Then is it that the adversary of their souls hopes that "They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in. Akin to this are their amazements at painful experiences. It may be the Lord withholds the light of his countenance from them, and then they walk in darkness, and see no light. If they were always to enjoy calm and comfort, they would with self-complacency boast, "My mountain standeth firm; I shall never be moved," and the Lord hides himself from them to slay their pride. If they were always at ease they would fall into living by feeling, instead of walking by faith. Therefore the Lord tries them, leads them by a desert path, clouds their sky, and burdens their backs. Then they enquire, "How is this?" Some of us know that when God shuts us up in the dark, he loves us as dearly as when he pours sunlight upon us, but beginners in divine life do not know this, and they are terribly put to it, since they judge God's heart by his hand. "Can I be a child of God, and yet be so afflicted? and why is my light so dim?" These frames and feelings, which come of our being frail, foolish, and feeble-minded, are a great perplexity; and when we cannot make them out, the adversary cries, "They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in." What if, at the back of all this, we should be assailed with special trials? Suppose it should be true that, ever since you have been a Christian, you have not prospered in worldly concerns as you did before. It will seem strange. When you were a man of the world, and were an enemy of God, you had plenty of money, and a host of friends; but now that you have become a Christian, your means and your friends are gradually melting away. It may be the case: I have known such an instance. Yet it is not hard to explain this in several ways. The Lord would not have us follow him for the sake of what we get from him. He would have us men, against whom even Satan could not say, "Hast thou not set a hedge about him, and all that he has?" Our Lord desires followers who will cling to him at all risks, for no other reason but their value of himself and his truth. He would have servants who, having counted the cost, would lose estate and repute, yea, and life itself, sooner than turn aside from the way of their Lord. Perhaps you are being educated to this point of faithfulness. Do not, therefore, doubt, because of your exercises and tribulations; but take these things joyfully. The path to heaven lies by the dens of the leopards, and the haunts of the young lions. Dream not that God has forsaken you. Leave it to the devil to say, "They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in." Possibly, once more, some may be much beset on the road to heaven by mental difficulties. I do not often say much about these things; because there are plenty of preachers who, by mentioning difficulties, are really spreading them. Certain clever gentlemen of the cloth may think it their duty to sow doubts among their hearers; but I have no such ambition. They may imagine that they are answering the questions which they suggest, but it seems to me that they are merely advertising them to many of those who were previously unaware of them. This is an age when men assail the inspiration of the Bible, the atoning sacrifice, and the election of grace. I need not enlarge. Everything is now attacked. There is no part of the Bible which some critic would not take away from us. It may be, young friend, that you cannot answer all the objections which you hear. Do not wonder if you cannot. You would be wiser than Solomon if you could reply to all objections that cavillers may invent. A friend came to me with a great difficulty, supposing that I could answer it off-hand; but I replied, "He who fashioned this piece of criticism took time in the making of it, and you must allow me the same time to demolish it. I will do my best with it; but remember, if you find a thousand difficulties which I cannot meet, that fact will not prove that they cannot be met; for I do not profess to be omniscient, nor do I assert that faith is a grace which has no difficulties to surmount." If there were a thousand more objections which could not at this present be answered, they might confuse our feeble minds, but they would not shake the eternal truth itself. God's Word is sure, be the difficulties what they may. Know what you do know, and believe what you do believe, and get a firm grip of undoubted verities; and though, when you are worried with the doubts and hypotheses of philosophers and the like, Satan will say, "They are entangled in the land," let him see that your worry is soon ended by a childlike faith in the living God. Real faith will find a way out of perplexity, or will make one. True faith will sooner set aside the conclusions of human reason than the declarations of God: in fact, faith teaches reason to be reasonable by setting before it the highest of all reasons, namely, the testimony of God. God send us such a childlike faith, and then we shall not be "entangled in the land"! II. I have thus shown you what our danger is. Now, secondly, let us think of OUR SECURITY UNDER THIS TRIAL. My text is, "Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in." Upon this I make the first observation, that this is not true. It is only what Pharaoh said. And so when Satan says, "They are entangled in the land," it is not true; it is only one of the sayings of the father of lies. "They say" says one. Well, what do they say? Let them say it: their saying will not make it true. A troubled one comes to me, and complains of a certain charge which has been made, and he adds, as the sharp edge of it all, "Sir, it is not true." Well, then, do not fret about it. One cries out, "They are taking away my character, and I feel it keenly because what they say is cruelly false." Friend, do not feel it at all. You ought to feel it if what they say is true. Now, what Pharaoh said was not true; and his speech did not cause the children of Israel to be really entangled in the land. Pharaoh's tongue speaks his wish; but his wish will not be realized. Our adversaries say that our cause is defeated. Is it? "Ah!" say they, we have shut him up. The man cannot answer us; we have crushed his faith, and argued his confidence to death." Have you? By the grace of God we stand fast in the once-delivered faith, after all your sophistries and boasts. You say that we are entangled; but we are not. "Show us," say they, "the way in which you will get out of the wilderness." No, that we cannot do; but, if you will wait a while, the Lord will show you that, by leading us graciously through the divided sea, and it may be also by drowning you therein, as he did the Egyptians when the waters overwhelmed them. Israel could not guess her way, but Israel could wait till God revealed it. Newly-emancipated one, thou art shut in with doubts and difficulties suggested by carnal reason; but, I pray thee, believe thy God. By the blood of the cross, I entreat thee, believe the Lord Jesus. By the eternal judgment and the great white throne, believe thy God. "Let God be true but every man a liar." Wait thou till he shall clear thy way, through the very heart of the sea if need be: a way which will conduct thee in safety to the other shore, where, with timbrel and with song, thou shalt proclaim his victory. My next observation is this: that though Pharaoh said, "They are entangled in the land; the wilderness hath shut them in," yet they had a guide. Look at the surroundings of my text, and you will see that they were guided by a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night, so that they had no need to be in any perplexity as to their road. We, too, have a Guide. In providence we are not left without a Leader, and in spiritual things we are not left without the Spirit of God, who shall lead us into all truth. Young traveler, you are not turned out alone into a wild wilderness to find a path: the Good Shepherd goes before you; follow him as the sheep follow their shepherd. He never led his flock in the wrong direction yet. Do what he bids you, and you are safe. Do as he did when he was here below: his example is your safe direction. Believe him and obey him. Keep to the narrow path. Hold fast your integrity, and never let go your faith. You have a heavenly Guide. You are not left alone, and therefore you cannot be entangled in the land; the wilderness has not shut you in. Remember, next, that the Lord had appointed a way for these people. There was not only a guide, but a way. But where was that way? Mountains blocked them on either side. They could not turn back, for Pharaoh shut up that route. Where should they go? The reedy Red Sea rolled across their front. Hearken! Their way is across the bottom of that sea, and up from its depths to the other shore. A strange path! "It is no way at all," cries unbelief. Have you never read concerning God, "Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known." Tried believer, the Lord will make a way for you where no foot has been before. That which, like a sea, threatens to drown you, shall be a highway for your escape. I had once a friend, an upright gracious man, a gentleman whom God had prospered. He had, when engaged in a bank, acted uprightly in a matter in which his superiors judged him to be foolishly scrupulous, and therefore dismissed him. He could not do wrong; and so he was left with a wife and family, without a situation, and as everybody told him, irretrievably ruined, because of his "foolish conscientiousness." He was for years the head of that very bank. In a singular way, the Lord made his discharge the means of his advancement, so that he rose, step by step, to be the master where he had been the rejected servant; and this, humanly speaking, would not have come about had it not been for the incident mentioned. Have faith that God can turn the evil into good, and that which threatens to annihilate you will be the means of your enlargement. Look you well to your integrity, and the Lord will look to your prosperity. The way of faith is not a common turnpike road, which every careless traveler may traverse without care or study. It is a mysterious way, which no fowl knoweth, and the lion's whelp hath not trodden. Those who inherit the special glories of heaven must encounter the special perils of the deep and of the desert, and in their wonderful journey they shall behold the glorious arm of the Lord working wonders for them. Note well that the Lord would not only find them a way, but, at the same time, overthrow their enemies. You have come up out of Egypt, O young believer, but the taskmasters are at your heels! There may come a decisive moment, after which they shall never pursue you again. These who seek your soul are to be destroyed, so that there shall not be one of them left. I believe that many a young convert hates sin, and hates all evil habits, but these evils keep dogging his footsteps, and seem as if they would master him; and then there comes a time of great struggle and tremendous battling without and within: on that one desperate field he fights the matter out. His adversaries are drowned in that Red Sea: his old sins and his old habits love for ever their former power. The Red Sea rolled between Israel and Egypt; and whatever else might trouble the pilgrim host, they were never, throughout the whole forty years, molested by Pharaoh, or any of the Egyptians. It is a grand thing when a man gets clean away from the world and is reckoned as dead to it. He has burnt his boats, and has landed on the shore, from which he never can go back again, but must fight out the battle against sin even to the end. When a man is sworn into the army of Christ for eternity, and the world has cast him out, there is nothing for him but to go right ahead. Everything that he has is now staked on the cross of Christ. Happy man to have come to such a pass to be once for all crucified to the world, and the world crucified to him! The Egyptians of sin which had so fiercely pursued him are drowned, and the rest of the Egyptians of evil have given him up; and he may go on his way to the promised land in peace, so far as his old taskmasters are concerned. Remember, also, dear friends, that when these people were thought to be hopelessly entangled, they were about to see the Lord perform for them a work which would be most helpful to their ultimate conquest of Canaan; for when Pharaoh and his chariots were drowned in the sea, Palestine heard of it, and all the natives thereof began to tremble. Thus sang Moses in his famous song, "Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone. The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestine." That day in which a convert has to fight out the battle once for all with himself shall give him strength for all future conflict, and smooth his pathway into the land that flows with milk and honey. You must not think, young Christian, because you are saved from guilt, that everything is done, and the warfare ended! There is a life-long conflict for you before you obtain possession of your inheritance; and, it may be that, if now, when you are in special trouble, you are found faithful, all the rest of the road will be cleared from similar troubles. Now shall the Egyptians be drowned in the sea. Some of us can recollect the time when we had to stand still and seriously ask, "Can I now be true to the Lord and his law? I am advised the other way by a very prudent friend. Can I reject this advice? I can see the worldly advantage that I should gain through acting in a crooked course. Can I forego that advantage I can see that I shall have to suffer if I am conscientious. Can I take up my cross?" When, after hours of anguish and prayer, you have come out of every entanglement pure and free, from that time forth the Lord may lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and your victory over all other adversaries will be easy. Will not this comfort some of you who have just come to the Red Sea? The place of test and trial shall be the place of the ending of the foe. Why had the Lord led the people so far if he would not help them still? Do I hear some one say, "I fear that I shall never get out of my difficulties"? Yet you believe that the Lord has brought you out from the dominion of Satan? Tell me, has God brought you so far to let you perish? He has broken off the yoke of sin; he has given you a hope in Christ, and you are a changed man. Do you think that he would do all this for you, and then leave you? Come, my brother, has the Lord brought you out of Egypt, by the precious blood of the Lamb, that you should die in the wilderness? Do you believe that Jesus has redeemed you to let you be lost after all? I would speak personally to any elderly Christians here who begin to think that they shall one day fall by the hand of the enemy. How old are you? Sixty." Sixty? How long do you expect to live? Answer: ten years. Then if God has taken care of you for sixty years, can you not trust him for the odd ten? "Well," says one, "I am eighty." Eighty? How long do you reckon to remain on earth Are you going to doubt for the few years that are yet to come? Have you trusted your God for eighty long years? Do not doubt him now, I pray you. Do not please the devil by distrusting your faithful God. As surely as Jehovah begins he will finish. It shall never be said of any work of God, "He began to build, and was not able to finish." If he has set you on the way to the eternal inheritance, he will surely bring you into it. God is never defeated or turned aside. "He shall not fail nor be discouraged." Comfort one another, therefore, with such words as these. Lastly, the Lord must bring Israel out of all entanglement, for how else could he be glorified? Suppose that the Israelites had been left to perish when Pharaoh said they were shut in, what then? What would the Lord have done for his great name? Would not the Egyptians have exulted over Israel's God? A Scotch minister tells the story of an aged saint who, on her dying bed, said that her Savior would never leave her to perish. "But suppose that he did not keep his promise, and you were to be lost?" She answered, "He would be a greater loser than I." When asked what she meant, she answered, "It is true that I would lose my soul; but God would lose his honor and his glory if he were not true." Brethren, if we have trusted in God, and have come out of the Egypt of the world through his grace, and have left all its sins behind us, if we were left to die in the wilderness, the Lord Jesus Christ would lose his glory as a Savior, the divine Father would lose his name for immutable faithfulness, and the Holy Ghost would lose his honor for perseverance in completing every work which he undertakes. The Lord God of Israel will never stain his glory, wherefore be ye confident that he who brought you out of Egypt will bring you into Canaan. How I delight in that verse which we sang just now
"My name from the palms of his hands eternity will not erase; Impress'd on his heart it remains in marks of indelible grace: Yes, I to the end shall endure, as sure as the earnest is given; More happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heaven."
"Ah" murmurs one, "I don't believe that!" Then I am sorry for you; for "according to your faith be it unto you." "I believe," says one, "that men fall away and perish." It will be an evil thing for you if it should be to you according to your faith. If you have grace enough to grasp the whole range of blessing which the covenant of God offers you, then the whole shall be yours by a covenant of salt. He that thinks he can be off and on with God saved today and lost to-morrow, and then saved again has a comfortless creed to defend, and a world of absurdities to meet. You are born again. Suppose that you could lose the new life which comes by the new birth, what then? I have heard of people being born again, but could they be born again, and again, and again? According to the notion of some, certain persons are born again, and again, and again, and again, and again; I do not know how many times. There is nothing in Scripture to warrant such a strange idea. If you, my friend, will come and cast yourself on Christ, and take him to be your Savior once for all, he will save you now with an everlasting salvation. He saith, "The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." Jesus himself has said it, "I give unto my sheep eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." Believe for this with heroic faith. Believe for eternal salvation in Jesus Christ, who is able to work in you a livelong escape from sin. According to your faith, so shall it be. Oh, no! The devil may say that we are entangled in the land, the wilderness has shut us in; but we shall get out of the labyrinth right enough. Is it not written: "Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." We shall yet sing unto the Lord who hath triumphed gloriously. Our sins and our fears hath he thrown into the sea. So be it. Hallelujah! Amen.
The Glory in the Rear
August 3rd, 1884 by C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892)
"And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them, and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: and it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel, and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night." Exodus 14:19-20 . "The glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward." Isaiah 57:8 . "For the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward." Isaiah 52:12 .
When the Israelites left the place of their bondage and came to the edge of the wilderness, a visible token of the Lord's presence and leadership was granted to them. They saw high in the air a pillar, which by day might be compared to rising smoke, but at night became a flame of fire. Such displays on a small scale were usual in the march of armies, but this was of supernatural origin. Where it moved the people were to follow; it was to be their companion, that they might not be alone, their conductor, that they might not go astray. We have become familiar, by accounts of our own soldiery in Egypt, with the extreme danger of the oriental sun when men are marching over the fiery sand: this cloud would act as a vast umbrella tent, covering the whole of the great congregation, so that they could march without being faint with the heat. By night their canvas city was lighted up by this grand illumination. They could march as well by night as by day, for we are told at the close of the previous chapter that by night the Lord went before them "in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night." Might they not have said, "The Lord God is a sun and shield"? Did they not realize the fulfillment of the promise not yet spoken in words, "The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night"? This sacred symbol of the divine presence must have been a very great solace to them in those early days, when their pilgrim life was novel to them, and their newly-found liberty was darkened by a terrible fear of recapture. The particular sign which the Lord vouchsafed them was very practical; it was not only glorious, but useful; it served them both for shade and light, and was both their guide and guard. It was exceedingly conspicuous, so that they could all see it. Any man of the millions who came out of Egypt could stand at his tent door and see this flaming signal high in heaven, floating over all as the banner and oriflamme of the Great King. It appears to have been continual; an abiding token, and not an intermittent brightness. Even thus has Moses written: "He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people." Beloved friends, God is always with those who are with him. If we trust him, he hath said, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." There is a special and familiar presence of God with those who walk uprightly, both in the night of their sorrow, and in the day of their joy. Yet we do not always in the same way perceive that presence so as to enjoy it. God never leaves us, but we sometimes think he has done so. The sun shines on, but we do not always bask in his beams; we sometimes mourn an absent God it is the bitterest of all our mourning. As he is the sum total of our joy, so his departure is the essence of our misery. If God do not smile upon us, who can cheer us? If he be not with us, then the strong helpers fail, and the mighty men are put to rout. It is concerning the presence of God that I am going to speak this morning. You and I know how joyous it is. May we never be made to know its infinite value experimentally by the loss of it. If we see no cloud or flame, yet may we know that God is with us, and his power is around us. In that sense we will pray,
"Cover us with thy cloudy shrine, And in thy fiery column shine."
Or in more familiar words we will sing,
"Let the fiery cloudy pillar Lead me all my journey through."
I. In considering the subject of the Lord's abiding with his people, I shall first call attention to THE DIVINE PRESENCE MYSTERIOUSLY REMOVED. According to our text, "The angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed." The chosen of the Lord may lose the manifested presence of God; and, indeed, often they may miss it in the particular form in which they have been accustomed to enjoy it. The symbol of God's presence removed from where it had usually been. From the day when they entered upon the desert, they had seen the fiery, cloudy pillar well to the front; but now suddenly it wheeled about, and left the van comparatively dim, because the glory had departed. Those who looked forward saw it no more. So has it been with us at times: we have walked day after day in the light of God's countenance, we have enjoyed sweet fellowship with Jesus Christ our Lord, and on a sudden we have missed his glorious manifestation. Like the spouse, we cried, "I sought him, but I found him not." Aforetime everything had seemed bright, and we expected to go from strength to strength, from victory to victory, till we came unto the mount of God, to dwell for ever in his rest; but now before us on a sudden things look dark; we do not feel so sure of heaven as we were, nor so certain of perpetual growth and progress. The prospect is darkened, the clouds return after the rain, and our soul out of the darkness cries, "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" Moreover, they missed the light from where they hoped it would always be. They had been given to understand, I do not doubt, that the Lord would be always with them; and yet now, as they looked forward, the bright light was gone from its place of leadership. They looked for it as their guide, and, behold, that guidance was gone! The pillar might be behind them, but it was not before them; they could see nothing ahead to lead them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which the Lord had promised them. Sometimes you also may imagine that God's promise is failing you; even the word of God which you had laid hold upon may appear to you to be contradicted by your circumstances. Then your heart sinks to the depths, for "if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" If ever the word of God becomes a subject of doubt, where can any certainty remain? Where any hope for the insure? We have said, "This God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death": but what if he refuse to guide us? Then are we in an evil case. Can it be so? "Is his mercy clean gone for ever? Doth his promise fail for evermore?" The pillar of fire also removed from where it seemed more than ever to be needed. Now they were in a cleft stick; how could they possibly escape? Pharaoh was behind them, with all the horsemen of Egypt. They could hear the noise of the chariots, and the neighing of the horses, and the shouts of the armies, eager for the prey. Before them rolled the Red Sea in its might. How could there be a way in the mighty waters? Now, if ever in their lives, they must have looked anxiously for the symbol of the Divine presence. What could they do if Jehovah did not lead their van? Yet the token of his presence was not there. Even thus is it with you, dear friend, who once walked in the light of God's countenance: you perhaps have fallen into temporal trouble, and at the same moment the heavenly light has departed from your soul. Now, it is bad to be in the dark on the king's highway; but it is worse to be in the dark when you are out on the open common, and do not know your road. It is well to have a guide when the road is easy; but you must have one when you are coming upon precipitous and dangerous places. Is it so with any child of God here, that he sees no light to shine before him, no star to guide him on his road? On the contrary, does his future become more and more clouded? Is the track quite gone? Does the sea seem shut in with an ironbound coast without a harbor? Does he
"See every day new straits attend, And wonder where the scene will end"?
Then let him trust; but he will need all the faith of which he can be master. Oh, my Lord, if ever thou dost leave me, forsake me not in the day of trouble. Yet what have I said? It is a day of trouble when thou art gone, whatever my condition may be. Yet, brethren, our Lord said, "Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter." Pray that if you must for a while bewail the Lord's absence from you, it may not be in a time of dire and dark necessity. Thus it did seem a mysterious thing that the Covenant Angel should no longer direct the marchings of the host of God, and I dare say that some of them began to account for it by a reason which their fears would suggest. Naturally, there was only one way of accounting for this removal of the guide, and that way was a wrong one, but one to which the Lord's people often refer their trials. I should not wonder that, if they had been asked why the blazing pillar was no longer in the van, they would have replied, "Because of our murmurings against the Lord and his servant Moses. God will not go before us because of our sins." Now, it is true, and does happen, that the Lord often hides his face behind the clouds of dust that his own children make by their sins; but this is not always the case. When the consolations of God are small with you, you may generally conclude that there is some secret sin with you: and then it is your duty to cry, "Show me wherefore thou contendest with me." But in this case God was not punishing them for their sins, as he did on after occasions. He seems to have been very patient with their early murmurings, because they were such feeble folk, so unused to pilgrimage, and so unfit for anything heroic. Every trial was severe to the raw, undisciplined spirits of the tribes, and therefore the Lord winked at their follies. There was not a touch of the rod about this withdrawing of his presence from the van, not even a trace of anger; it was all done in loving-kindness and tender mercy, and no sort of chastisement was intended by it. So, dear child of God, you must not always conclude that trouble is sent because of wrath, and that the loss of conscious joy is necessarily a punishment for sin. Such thoughts will be a case of knives cutting your heart in pieces. Do not make for yourself a needless pain. All trouble is not chastisement; it may be a way of love for your enriching and ennobling. Upon the black horse of trouble the Lord sends his messengers of love. It is a good thing for us to be afflicted; for thus we learn patience, and attain to assurance. Shall the champion who is bidden to go to the front of the battle think that he is punished thereby? No, verily, my brethren: whom the Lord loveth he sets in the heat of the conflict, that they may earn the rarest honors. Great suffering and heavy labor are often rewards of faithfulness. Know ye not how the poet puts it,
"If I find him, if I follow, What his guerdon here? 'Many a labor, many a sorrow, Many a tear'"?
Darkness of soul is not always the fruit of divine anger, though it is often so. Sometimes there is no trace of wrath in it: it is sent for a test of faith, for the excitement of desire, and for the increase of our sympathy with others who walk in darkness. When the cloud of the divine glory is no longer seen in front it has gone behind, because it is more wanted there, and it is no loss after all, as we shall have to show. When the Lord hides his face for a moment, it is to make us value his face the more, to quicken our diligence in following after him, to try our faith, and to test our graces. There are a thousand precious uses in this adversity. Yet it is a mysterious thing when the light of the future fades, and we seem to be without a guide. II. Now, secondly, all this while THE DIVINE PRESENCE WAS GRACIOUSLY NEAR.
The angel of the Lord had removed, but it is added, he "removed and went behind them," and he was just as close to them when he was in the rear, as when he led the van. He might not seem to be their guide, but he had all the more evidently become their guard. He might not for the moment be their Sun before, but then he had become their Shield behind. "The glory of the Lord was their reward." The Lord may be very close to thee, dear child, when thou canst not see him, perhaps closer than ever he was when thou couldst see him. The presence of God is not to be measured by thy realization of it. When thou canst not tell that he is with thee at all, and thou art singing and crying after him, those very sighs and cries after him are the holy fruit of his secret presence. It may be, the day shall come when thou shalt think that he was more near thee when thine eyes were filled with weeping after him, than when thou didst take thine ease, and speak confidently. Much of the creature, much of human excitement will mix with our most spiritual joy, our groanings and our sorrows, when we are pining after the Lord, are often more purely spiritual than our own delights, and therefore they are all the surer proofs of the work of the Lord in our souls. Oh, soul, the Lord may be very near thee, and yet he may be behind thee, so that thine outlook for the future may not be filled with the vision of his glory. Note in the text that it is said the pillar went, and "stood behind them." I like that, for it is a settled, permanent matter. The Lord had removed, but he was not removing still. He would stay as long as was needful where he then was. That glorious angel, shrouded in the clouds, stood with his drawn sword in the rear of Israel, saying to Pharaoh, "Thou darest not come further, thou canst not break in upon my chosen." He lifted up his vast shield of darkness, and held it up before the tyrant king, so that he could not strike, nay, could not see. All that night his horses champed their bits, but could not pursue the flying host. "They were as still as a stone till thy people passed over, O Lord, till thy people passed over whom thou hadst purchased." It is glorious to think that the Lord stood there, and the furious enemy was compelled to halt. Even thus the Lord remaineth with the dear child of God. Thou canst not see anything before thee to make thee glad, but the living God stands behind thee to ward off the adversary. He cannot forsake thee. He saith to thee out of the pillar of cloud, "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee." He standeth fast as thy rock, steadfast as thy safeguard, sleepless as thy watcher, valiant as thy champion.
"God is near thee, therefore cheer thee, Sad mind! He'll defend thee, all around thee, And behind."
What is more, these people had God so near that they could see him if they did but look back. Earnestly I desire you to think of this. If you cannot see the Lord bright before you, and you are very dull and heavy, then, I pray you, look back and see how the Lord has helped you hitherto. Sit not down with your eyes shut! but look back! Steadily observe the past! What see you there? Loving-kindness and tender mercy, and nothing else. As I look back upon my own past life and I think I am not one by myself I cannot discover, even with the quick eye of selfishness, anything of which I can complain of my God. "Truly God is good to Israel." "His mercy endureth for ever." Not one good thing hath failed; he has never left me, nor forsaken me. I have received blessings through my joys, and even greater blessings through my sorrows. The Lord's way has been all goodness, undiluted goodness, all the while. I look back, and see the light of his presence shining like the sun at noon; it is as a morning without clouds, I am overwhelmed with the boundless bounty of my God. I am unable to conceive of anything more kind than the heart of God towards his unworthy child. Well, then, God is not far away, if we look backward he is there. He has been mindful of us, he will bless us. He gave us mercies yesterday; and he is the same today and for ever. The blessings of last night we have not forgotten; the blessings of this morning, are they not still with us? The fountain will not fail: it has flowed too long for us to raise the question. If there be no light breaking in the east, behold, it is lighting up the western sky. The Lord is evidently still behind us, and it is enough; for we can sing, "The Lord liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted." "He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him." A thoughtful person would conclude the Lord to be all the more evidently near because of the change of his position. When a symbol of mercy comes to be usual and fixed, we may be tempted to think that it remains as a matter of routine. If the rainbow were always visible it might not be so assuring a token of the covenant. Hence the Lord often changes his hand, and blesses his people in another way, to let them see that he is thinking of them. If he always did the same by us, every day and every night, we should get to attribute his dealings to some fixed law operating apart from God, just as our modern philosophers dethrone the Lord to set up the calves of nature. But now, when our God is sometimes before us, and sometimes behind us, and makes those apparent changes because of deep and urgent reasons, we are compelled to feel that we are the objects of his constant solicitude. "I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me." He deals with us in all wisdom and prudence. His modes change, but the changes are all from the same motive, and with the same reason, all to make us sick of self and fond of him. Blessed be his name, the change of his operations makes us feel the unchangeableness of his design; and the different ways in which he visits us only makes us value each visit, the more. III. Thirdly, let us see THE DIVINE PRESENCE WISELY REVEALED.
That the symbol of God's presence should be withdrawn from the front and become visible behind, was a wise thing. Observe, there was no fiery pillar of cloud before them, and that was wise; for the going down into the Red Sea was intended to be an act of lofty faith. The more of the visible the less is faith visible. The more you have of conscious enjoyment the less room there is for simple trust. Faith performs her greatest feats in the darkest places. These Israelites were to do what after all was a grandly glorious thing for them to do, to march right down into the heart of the sea. What people ever did this before? Modern haters of miracle may say that they passed over the sands at an unusual tide, and that an extraordinarily strong wind drove back the water and left a passage, but that is not the notion of the Holy Spirit. He says by his servant Moses, "The floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea." It is also written, "But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left." The tribes went down into the dread valley which remained when the waters dried up, and they crossed over between two frowning walls of water. You and I would have needed great faith to have gone down into such an abyss as that, but they descended without fear. Moses lifting up his rod and the waters rolling apart to make them a passage-way, with no fiery cloudy pillar in front of them, they calmly marched into the heart of the sea. That was a grand act of faith. This would not have been so clearly of faith had the way been made easier by miracle and token. I know some of you who are Christian people want to be always coddled and cuddled, like weakly babies. You pine for love-visits and delights, and promises sealed home to your heart. You would live on sweetmeats and be wheeled in a spiritual perambulator all the way to heaven, but your heavenly Father is not going to do anything of the sort. He will be with you, but he will try your manhood, and so develop it. I have seen children cosseted into the grave by their fond mother; and I suppose that a great many more will follow in the same way; but God never spoils his children. He educates them for nobler ends. He takes visible guides away from them that they may exercise faith in him. Why, Job would have been nobody if he had not lost everything. Who would have heard of the patriarch of Uz? What glory would he have brought to God with his camels and his oxen and his children? These were all taken away, and then Job became famous. See how he sits on the dunghill and is much more noteworthy there than Solomon in all his glory. Where the word of king Solomon was there was power, but nothing to equal the power of Job's word when he blessed the God who taketh away. Solomon spake many proverbs, and wrote many songs; but none of them attained unto the glory of that saying, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." Here was a triumph of faith! Beloved, you and I lose the enjoyments of religion and the comforts of hope in order that we may walk by faith and not by sight, and may the more greatly glorify God. Moreover, let us mark that the cloudy pillar was taken away from the front because the Lord meant them simply to accept his word as their best guidance. The Lord said to Moses, "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward." That word was sufficient guide. Suppose they had said, "Lord, we will go forward if the fiery pillar leads us forward, but not else." What then? Why, they would have been rebels. We are to obey God's word as God's word. I heard a brother say some time ago that he should be baptized when it was laid home to him. I thought of what a father would say to his boy if he said, "Father, I shall obey you if it is laid home to me." In all probability the child would have it laid home to him more feelingly than he desired. There are some disobedient children in the Lord's family who, if they do not mind, will have scriptures laid home to them in a way they do not quite reckon upon. What have you and I to guide us but the word of the Lord? "Well," says one, "I guide myself by outward providences." Do you? You will get into a terrible maze one of these days. Jonah wanted to flee from the presence of the Lord, and therefore he went down to the seaside, and lo, he found a ship going to Tarshish. Might he not have said, "I must be in the way of duty in going to Tarshish, for no sooner did I go down to the wharf than I found a ship starting immediately, and a cabin vacant for a passenger. I paid my fare, and walked on board at once. I had not to go off to the shipping-agent's, and wait for the next liner, but all was prepared for me. Was not that a providence!" Yes, but if you get following providence, and turning aside from the word, you may soon find yourself in the sea, and no whale prepared for you. Our way is clearly set before us in the word of God, and that most sure word of testimony should be followed. I have known a brother wanting to go abroad to preach the gospel to the heathen, but a great many difficulties have been thrown in his way, and therefore he has said, "I can see that I am not called to go." Why not? Is no man called unless his way is easy? I should think myself all the more called to a service if I found obstacles in my way. The course of true service never did run smooth. I should say, "The devil is trying to hinder me, but I will do it in spite of all the devils in hell." Will you always be wanting to have your bread buttered for you on both sides? Must your road be gravelled, and smoothed with a garden roller? Are you a carpet knight, for whom there is to be no fighting? You are not worthy to be a soldier of Jesus Christ at all if you look for ease. Go home! I dare say, after all, it is the best thing you can do. True believers expect difficulties. It is ours to do what we are bidden to do, not to act according to fancied indications of providence. When the Lord said "Forward!" forward Israel must go, without a fiery cloudy pillar to cheer the way. Has not the Lord spoken? Who shall ask for plainer guidance? Moreover, God was teaching them another lesson, namely, that he may be near his people when he does not give them the usual tokens of his presence. Who shall say that God was not in the van of Israel when they went down into the sea? They could not see the ensign of his presence, but he could see their obedience to his bidding. How else did the sea in fright draw back? Was it not because the Lord rebuked the sea? The strong east wind did not of itself divide the sea; for a wind naturally strong enough for that would have blown all the people into the air. The wind was used of God to move the waters, but its chief object was to dry up the damp from the floor of the sea, and to make marching the more easy for the vast host of Israel. Truly the Lord was there, triumphing gloriously. No cloudy pillar was seen across the waters as Israel looked forward to the shore; but yet the Lord was there majestically; and you may have but little comfort of the Lord's presence at this time, and yet God may be with you wondrously. Do not so much set your heart upon comfort, but rejoice in the fact which gladdened Hagar in the wilderness: "Thou God seest me." It does not matter to the fire whether the logs are cast upon it from the front, or the oil poured upon it secretly from behind the wall, so long as it finds its fuel. To you the daily supply of grace is more important than the supply of comfort, and this shall never fail you so long as you live. Let me whisper to you one word more. After all, the host of Israel did not require any guide in front when they came to the sea. "How is that?" say you. Why, beloved, there were no two ways to choose from: they could not miss the way, for they must needs march through the sea. No room for wandering remained: their road was walled up and they could not miss it. So when men come into deep trouble, and cannot get out of it, they scarcely need a guide, for their own plain path is submission and patience. Tried child of God, you have to bear your trouble, and when that is quite clear your way is no longer doubtful. Cast all your care on him who careth for you, and in patience possess your soul. "Oh, but I thought I was going to find a way of escape made for me. "Listen!" God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." You have to bear it, you see. Your great want for this present is faith in God, who has said "I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea." Thus, you see, the light for guidance was not needed just then. What they did want was the pillar of cloud behind them, and that is where they had it. What was that cloud behind them for? Well, it was there for several reasons: the first was to shut out the sight of their enemies from them. We read that Israel lifted up their eyes and saw the Egyptians, and then they began to tremble, and cry out: and so God drew the blinds down that his poor children could not see their frightful taskmasters. It is a great mercy when God does not let us see everything. What the eye does not see, perhaps the heart will not rue. May I ask you just to try and use your eyes a little now? There are your sins; will you look back on them for a minute? Look steadily. They are quite as dreadful as the Egyptian horsemen and chariots. I have looked intently, and I cannot see a sin remaining. "What, have you lived such a life that you have never sinned?" Ah, no, beloved, I have to mourn over many offenses, but I cannot see one of them now, for my sin is covered. I believe this text, "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." If I am cleansed, why should I see spots, or speak as if I did? The Lord stands between his people and their sins. Jesus, who veiled his glory in the cloud of our humanity, interposes between us and our transgressions. Is it not written, "The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found; for I will pardon them whom I reserve"? If God declares that our sins cannot be found, then I am sure we need not look for them; and if he says that Christ has made an end of sin, then there is an end of it. The Egyptians shall not come near us all the night of this life; and when the morning breaketh, we shall see them dead upon the shore. Then shall we sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously, and our transgressions and iniquities hath he cast into the depths of the sea. "Ah," saith one, "I know that my sins are forgiven, but I am troubled about my circumstances." Will you now look back with all your eyes? How about the circumstances you have passed through? Do you see anything wrong about them now? Oh, no, say you, they were all right. As you look back you can only see the glory of God: the Lord hath led you by a right way. Very well: learn to look at your circumstances through the light God hath set between Israel and the Egyptians. Who is he that can harm us? What is there to distress us? See your circumstances through the medium of the love of Jesus, and you perceive all things working for your good. Hitherto the Lord hath been our shield and our exceeding great reward. We see now no evil occurrent; he hath turned for us the curse into a blessing. The Lord has caused us to be far from fear, and has put terror far away. The cloudy pillar went behind for another reason, namely, that the Egyptians might not see them. Their enemies were made to stumble, and were compelled to come to a dead stand. "The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my lust shall be satisfied upon them." Why does he halt? Why does the lion pause when about to spring? He is blindfolded. He shivers in the dense blackness, bethinking him of that former day when all the land of Mizraim quailed beneath a darkness that might be felt. Be calm, O child of God; for the Covenant Angel is dealing with your adversaries, and his time is generally the night. You will hear by-and-by of what he has done. Meanwhile, remember what he did to Pharaoh and Sennacherib. The Lord may not be before you, shedding delight upon your face, but he is behind you, holding back the foe. He looks forth from the cloud and discomforts your foes. "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn." Wherefore, stand still, and see the salvation of God! IV. Now, beloved, I must draw towards a conclusion by observing, that THE DIVINE PRESENCE WILL ONE DAY BE MORE GLORIOUSLY REVEALED.
I have been speaking about the Lord being the rereward of his people, and so explaining my second text: but I must now refer you to my last text, in the fifty-second of Isaiah "The Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rereward." This is the condition into which the Lord brings his people when they depart from Babylon, and are no more conformed to this present evil world. I trust he has brought many of us into this all-surrounding light at this good hour. The Lord is behind us, we know: our sins and iniquities are covered, our past mistakes are all erased, we are accepted in the Beloved. But we have not to look forward and say, "The angel of God has removed." Oh, no. We can see the bright light before us still. Our ways are ordered of the Lord, and none of our steps shall slide. We glory in tribulations also, believing that we shall glorify God in them. We look forward to the time of old age, believing that to hoar hairs he is the same, and that in our days of decline he will carry us. We look forward to the advent of our Lord with delight; or, if that may not be in our day, we look to falling asleep upon the bosom of our Savior. Before us we see the resurrection morning and all its splendor: we anticipate the risen body, that glorified fabric in which our pure and perfect spirits shall dwell for ever: we hear the voice of harpers harping with their harps, saluting the reign of Christ and the glorification of his people with him. Below there is nothing before us now but that which is inexpressibly delightful: the day has long dawned with us, whose morning clouds have passed away; a day which grows warmer and brighter, and is nearing to the perfect day. A few more months, a few more years, and we shall be in the land of the unclouded sky. What will it be to be there! What will it be to be there for ever!
"Far from a world of grief and sin, With God eternally shut in."
How willingly would I fly away and be at rest. I feel my wings; they are not strong enough, as yet, to bear my soul away; but they will be. God is making his children ready to depart, and he will only have to beckon them, and they will cry, "Here am I," and then they shall be with him for ever. Yes, the glory of the Lord is above us and beneath us, on the right hand and on the left, without us and within us. We depart not from it, though it is behind us: we are going ever into the glorious light, for it is before us, too. The Lord shall be a wall of fire around about us, and the glory in the midst. If you have come there, dear brother, stop there. If you have entered there, dear sister, never quit that charmed circle, but abide in full communion with the Lord your God. V. But now I have a sorrowful word to say, and with that I have done. THIS DIVINE PRESENCE HAS A TWOFOLD ASPECT:
That same glory which lit up the canvas city, and made it bright as the day, darkened all the camps of Egypt. They could see nothing, for the dark side of God was turned to them. I am afraid it is so with some of you. Oh, dear friends, is it not a dreadful thing that to some men the most terrible thing in the world would be God? If you could get away from God, how happy, how merry, how jolly you would be! You want to depart from him; you are departing from him. One of these days Jesus will tell you to depart. "Keep on as you were," says he, "you were always departing from God; keep on departing. Depart from me, ye cursed!" That will be the consummation of your life. To some of us the thought of God is joy, but to the ungodly nothing would be such good news as to hear that there was no God, indeed, they find a dreadful comfort in endeavoring to be skeptical and unbelieving. God has a dark side to sinners; his justice and his righteousness, which are the comfort of his people, are the despair of the wicked. The word of God has a dark side to sinners. I will tell you what they say: they say, "We do not understand this Book, it is so full of mystery. We find it full of dark sayings, and hard things, and things difficult to be believed. It is all knots and snarls." Just so; you are an Egyptian, it is dark to you. Let me call up the smallest babe in grace, and say, "Dear child, is that what the Bible is to you?" "Oh, no," he says, "it is my joy and my delight. I may not understand it all, but I love it all, and I feed on it all." Oh, it is a good thing when you cannot understand a revealed truth to feed on it, and when you find it to be good for your soul, you will not complain of its mystery. The Bible is dark to the Egyptians, but it is light to Israel. Now look at the gospel itself. Why, there are many that sit and hear the gospel, and they say, "I do not understand this believing, this atonement, and so on." No, I know you do not; you are an Egyptian, it is dark to you. It is a savor of death unto death to you. I am afraid you will go on quarrelling with it until God ends the quarrel in your destruction. But if you are one of his, you will quarrel no longer, you will say, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. The blessed way of salvation by atoning blood I do accept with avidity, and rejoice in it." That will prove you to be an Israelite; it will be a savor of life unto life to you. Why, even the blessed Lord Jesus Christ has a dark side for sinners. If he were to come here this morning, oh, how gladly would I stand back to let him come forward and show his surpassing beauty. Why, some of you would think it heaven if you could but see him here and look into his pierced hands and side, and mark that blessed, marred, unutterably lovely visage. Yes, but it could not bring any joy to you who do not love him. You do not trust him; and if the news were given out, "Christ has come," why, you would swoon with fear in your pews, for you would say, "He has come to judgment, and I am unprepared. He that is not my Savior will be my judge, and sentence me to everlasting woe." There is a dark side in the Mediator to the Egyptians while there is a bright side to Israel. Oh that ye would believe in Jesus Christ! Oh that ye would "kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little," for "Blessed are all they that put their trust in him." You can come and be numbered with Israel, for the door into Israel is Christ himself. If you come to Christ you have come to his people, you have come to safety, and henceforth "the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward." Amen.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Exodus 14". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter