THE HIDDEN GOD.
FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "Oh, that I knew where I might find Him! that I might come even to His seat! I would order my cause before Him, and fill my mouth with arguments.... Behold, I go forward, but He is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive Him: on the left hand, where He doth work, but I cannot behold him: He hideth Himself on the right hand, that I cannot see Him." -- Job 23:3-9.
"OH, that I knew where I might find Him!" This despairing cry was uttered fifteen centuries before Christ; and one can perhaps understand that in those dark days there might have seemed to be some cause for its utterance. But that it should ever be uttered now, by any soul that possesses the Bible, and has even the slightest faith in Christ, would seem impossible, did we not know, alas! that it is only too often the cry of even Christian hearts. In fact, it is almost one of the greatest difficulties in the lives of many Christians, that God seems so to hide Himself from their longing gaze, and that this hiding seems so often to be in anger or in neglect. This is especially the case in our every-day lives. On Sundays, in church services, or in prayer-meetings, we may be helped by our environment to feel the presence of God more consciously; but in the ordinary business and bustle of every-day life, we are apt to lose this consciousness; and then, because we do not feel His presence, we think He cannot be there.
"Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever. Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust: our belly cleaveth unto the earth" (Ps. 44:23-25).
"Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will He be favourable no more? Is His mercy clean gone for ever? doth His promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath He in anger shut up his tender mercies" (Ps. 77:7-9).
The natural heart is continually asking such questions as these. Because we cannot see the hand of God in our affairs, we rush to the conclusion that He has lost sight of them and of us. We look at the "seemings" of things instead of at the underlying facts, and declare that, because God is unseen, He must necessarily be absent. And especially is this the case if we are conscious of having ourselves wandered away from Him and forgotten Him. We judge Him by ourselves, and think that He must have also forgotten and forsaken us. We measure His truth by our falseness, and find it hard to believe He can be faithful when we know ourselves to be so unfaithful. But there is neither common-sense in this, nor Divine revelation. As regards common-sense, how utterly foolish it is, I might even say idiotic, to make our feelings the test of God's actions; as if He came and went in response to the continual changes in our emotions! Such ideas would turn the Omnipotent, ever-present God, into a mere helpless puppet, pulled by the strings of our varying feelings! But this, of course, is inconceivable; and, as regards Divine revelation, is also equally impossible; for the God revealed to us in the Bible is a God who never, under any conceivable circumstances, leaves us, or forgets us, or neglects our interests. He is shown to us there as a tender Shepherd, who performs with the utmost fidelity all a shepherd's duties; who does not forsake His sheep in the cloudy and dark day, nor desert them when the wolf cometh; but who always draws nearer in every time of need, and goes after each sheep that wanders until He finds it. The hireling fleeth when danger appears, because he is an hireling, but the good Shepherd only sticks closer than ever. It is impossible to imagine a good shepherd forgetting or forsaking his sheep. In fact, it is his duty to stick by them under all circumstances, and to watch over them and care for them every moment. And the God who is thus revealed to us as a "good Shepherd" must necessarily be as faithful to His responsibilities as an earthly shepherd is required to be to his. His care of us may be a hidden care, but it is none the less real, and all things in the daily events of our lives are made to work subservient to His gracious purposes toward us. He may seem to have forgotten us, or neglected us, but it can never be anything but a seeming, for it would be impossible for the God who is revealed to us in the face of Jesus Christ to do such a thing.
"But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. 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. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me" (Isa. 49:14-16).
What an overwhelming answer to the cry of any heart that thinks God has forsaken and forgotten it! "Can a woman forget her sucking child?" Impossible, we say. And yet a woman might even do this incredible thing, but the Lord never. And to prove to us how impossible it would be, He tells us that He has graven us on the "palms of His hands;" a place where, even should He try, He could not help continually seeing us.
And yet in spite of the many emphatic assertions such as this with which the Bible is filled, even Christians sometimes allow themselves to think that God has forgotten or neglected them!
I knew a Christian once who had been plunged into the depths of darkness and despair by the temptation to believe that God had forsaken and forgotten him. A trouble had come upon him in a distant land, through no agency of his own, in a matter which he had especially committed to the care of God, and he did not see how it could have happened unless the Lord had forsaken him. He poured out his anguish and his doubts to a friend, and asked in his despair if there was any help. This friend was one who knew God, and who was therefore as sure of His presence and loving care in the times when He seemed to be hidden from sight as in the times when He made Himself more manifest, and he said to his despairing friend, "Do you believe the Bible, my brother?" "Believe the Bible," replied the sufferer, "why, of course I do, but what has that to do with it?" "Everything," replied his friend, "for the Bible says the Lord never leaves us nor forsakes us, and that He is always present everywhere. Now, do you believe He was present in Australia when this event took place?" "He must have been, I suppose," said the poor sufferer rather reluctantly, as though unwilling to admit the fact. "You say," continued the friend, "that you committed this matter to Him, and you are obliged to admit that He was present in Australia at the time. Now, I ask you, did the Lord attend to the matter you had committed to Him, or did He neglect it?" To this there was no reply. After a solemn pause the friend spoke again, "You say God was present in Australia, and you say you had committed this matter to Him. Now I ask you again, as in His presence, did He attend to it or did He neglect it?" "Oh!" answered the sufferer, with a sudden illumination of faith, "I see it all. God was present there, and He did attend to it, of course, and it must be all right, though I cannot see how. The will of God be done! I can trust Him even about this, and can believe that in spite of all seemings to the contrary, He will make it all work together for good."
"By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27).
This is the vital point, to see "Him who is invisible." Everything hinges on this; and the difference between a triumphant Christian and a despondent one generally arises from the fact that the former has his eyes opened to discern in all things the hidden God, while the latter is full of doubts as to His presence. But since He has Himself said, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee," surely every one of us is bound to believe Him, and to assert "boldly," in spite of every seeming to the contrary, our unwavering confidence in the fact of His abiding presence and His unfailing care.
"But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel; Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee" (Isa. 43:1-3).
We may be perfectly sure of this, that the time of our need is the time of His closest and tenderest watchfulness. What would we think of a mother who should run away from her children the moment they got into trouble? And yet this hateful thing, which we would resent in any human mother, some of God's own children do not hesitate to ascribe to Him!
"And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them" (Isa. 42:16).
Even in our blindness and our ignorance of His presence He is watching over us.
A story I heard once from a friend, who was cognisant of all the circumstances, concerning the watchful and overruling care of a hidden caretaker, will illustrate what I mean. A very feeble old lady was obliged to take a long and difficult journey alone. She was burdened with a large amount of troublesome luggage, and was supplied with but little money to make travelling easy. She was too reserved to permit any one to speak to her about the needs and dangers of the journey, which, however, her friends could not but foresee, and too proud to make it possible for any one to offer help. Her friends were at an utter loss to know what to do, when a noble young man, almost a stranger to her, who had heard the circumstances, solved the difficulty by announcing that matters of business required him to take that identical journey at that identical time. He said nothing to the old lady of the plan he had formed to wait on and care for her, as he knew if he did, her pride would take fright. He simply in secret arranged all his plans to fit in with hers. When it was time to start on the journey he had a cart at the door for his own luggage, and a carriage to convey himself to the train, and then said to the old lady in an off-hand sort of way, "Oh, by-the-bye, as we are going by the same train, perhaps you might as well let your luggage go with mine, and you yourself might as well take a seat in my carriage." It all looked so accidental that the old lady never dreamed of any pre-arrangement, and accepted his offer as naturally as he had made it, and was thus saved a weary walk to the train. He found her a seat near himself in the railway car, and kept on the alert all the time to give her comfort and save her fatigue. When he thought she needed refreshment he had some brought in for himself, and asked her as a kindness to pity his loneliness and share it with him. When changes in trains had to be made, he always said, as if casually, "I might as well see to your luggage when I see to my own." When they stopped at a station overnight he took her to the hotel in the carriage ordered for himself. In short, he cared for her throughout as a tender son would have done, and never left her until he saw her safe at her destination; and yet, never once did she suspect that anything he did was more than accidental, or was not even quite natural in a young man, who was travelling the same way, and, feeling lonely, had taken rather a fancy for her company. In fact, so entirely did he make it all seem like a favour done to himself, that she scarcely thanked him, and not for a moment did she realise that all the comfort and ease of her journey, of which she rather boasted afterward, were entirely owing to his care and attentions.
"Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb: and even to your old age I am He: and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you" (Isa. 46:3, 4).
"O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me" (Ps. 139:1-5).
All our lives long God has been caring for us, but how little we have appreciated His care! If the old lady in our story had ever found out what she owed to her young friend, would she not, think you, have been sorely grieved that she had not better appreciated his services, and had failed to thank him as he deserved? And shall not we one day have to feel the same grief toward our hidden God?
"Yet thou, in thy manifold mercies, forsookest them not in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day, to lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to shew them light, and the way wherein they should go" (Neh. 9:19).
"For Israel hath not been forsaken, nor Judah of his God, of the Lord of hosts; though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel" (Jer. 51:5).
Even though their land was "filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel," still He did not forsake them. Through all the time of Israel's backsliding, although often unable because of the hardness of their hearts to manifest Himself, yet still He was with them, their hidden Caretaker and Protector. The Book of Esther is a striking exemplification of this. The name Esther means secret or hidden, and the whole Book is a story of the hidden presence of God in the midst of His people, at a time when their backsliding had so blinded their eyes, that they could not see Him. Not once in the whole Book is the name of God mentioned, and yet His overruling care and guidance were never more manifest than in the events here recorded. The children of Israel seemed, as far as appears, to have forgotten God, and to have left Him out of all their thoughts; and to them, no doubt, it must have seemed as if He had likewise forgotten them. But behind all their neglect of Him, and His seeming forgetfulness of them, He held the reins of His providence, and by a series of apparently natural events, and by most unlikely means, using a drunken king, a deceiving woman, a sleepless night, an upstart servant, and a malicious enemy as links in the chain, He brought to pass His will concerning them, and saved them in the time of their need. And just so He does continually now for His people, watching over them the most tenderly at the very moments when He seems the most hidden. And this is the case even when the hiding has been caused by our own unfaithfulness or backsliding. We may forsake Him, but He never forsakes us, no matter how much it may seem as if He had.
It seems to me that it is the greatest infidelity to say of God, when He is hidden from our sight, that He has forsaken us. The simple truth is that He could no more forsake us than a loving mother could forsake her child. I remember once a theologian was arguing the matter out with me, and undertook to assert that there were sins for which even a mother would forsake her child; and I can feel to this day the tempest of mother love and indignation that tore my heart, as I burst into tears, and with difficulty restrained myself from ordering him out of my presence at once! And if I, a poor failing human mother, could feel so, how much more must the Heavenly Father feel, who made the mother-heart in me, and who has declared Himself to be a "God of love!"
"And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen" (Matt. 28:18-20).
"Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest" (Josh. 1:9).
Statements such as these might be multiplied indefinitely, for the Bible is simply full of them. And I do not myself see how any child of God can dare, in the face of them, even so much as to suggest that God has forsaken him. It is simply an impossibility; and the only thing to do is to recognise that it is impossible, and never to admit the idea again.
The story of Joseph gives us a very striking illustration of the hidden workings of God. Nothing could seem more like having been forsaken of God than the long series of misfortunes that befell Joseph, beginning with the cruelty of his brethren, and ending with being forgotten in prison. There was no sign or token in it all of anything but the wickedness and malice of men. And yet, when Joseph was trying in after years to comfort the hearts of his brethren, upon whom remorse had seized, he could say, "Now, therefore, be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve life." And again, "But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive." The Psalmist also, in recapitulating many years afterward the story of Israel, said concerning these events, "He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant." It certainly looked to the eye of sense, as if the selling of Joseph into Egypt was man's wickedness only. But the hidden God was at work behind all the wickedness and malice of men, using, as He so often does, the wrath of man to accomplish His purposes. Wicked men were, it is true, the actual agents, but God was the real sender. Moreover, in the very places where Joseph seemed to be the most forsaken, in the house of slavery, and the prison of disgrace, right there, we are told, God was with him and blessed him. (See Genesis 39.)
If ever any human being would seem to have been justified in thinking God had forsaken him, surely Joseph would. But from all that appears his faith throughout was steadfast, and no doubting thought seems ever to have entered his heart.
Not so with Jacob. In his times of darkness it is evident that his heart was filled with doubts.
"Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of His understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength" (Isa. 40:27-29).
When we say with Jacob, "My way is hid from the Lord," it is because we do not know God. He is hidden from us, and we think He is therefore absent; we do not see Him, and we think He does not see us. Like a child in delirium, that cannot see its mother, although she is holding it tenderly in her arms, and that calls out in despair, "O mother, mother, come!" so we in the delirium of our unbelief call out, "How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? For ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?" while all the time His arms are underneath us, and His love environs us on every side.
"If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee" (Ps. 139:11, 12).
God may be hidden from us, but we can never be hidden from Him. There is a scene in the life of Elisha that illustrates this. The King of Syria was warring against Israel, but his designs were continually frustrated by Elisha. At last he determined to take Elisha captive, and sent an army to surround the prophet's own city. I will let the Bible tell the rest of the story.
"And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (2 Kings 6:15-17).
Were our eyes but opened, as were the eyes of this young man, we too should see, in every time of trial or danger, the mountains round about us full of the horses and chariots of God!
"And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus Himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know Him" (Luke 24:13-16).
Now as then it often happens that the Lord is walking with His people, as He did with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, and like them, we do not know Him. We need to have our eyes opened that we may see Him. These disciples saw with their bodily eyes, but we are to see with our spiritual eyes. Our seeing is to be by believing. Faith is the soul's eyesight. The word "see" is used not only of the sense of vision by which we perceive external objects, but also of that inward perception which gives us a certain knowledge of spiritual things. We say, for instance, of a mathematical problem, "I see it," meaning, not that our outward eyes see it worked out on a blackboard, but that our inward perception grasps it as an ascertained fact. It is in this sense that we shall come to see Him who is invisible, not with our outward eyes, but with the inward eye of our deepest perceptions. In other words, if we would discover the hidden God, we must simply believe, in spite of every "seeming" to the contrary, that He is with us and is watching over us and caring for us every minute of the time. Though we see Him not, we must believe He is there, and, so believing, we shall surely "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory!"
"Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls" (1 Peter 1:8, 9).
"My child went forth into my garden-fair,
Having no wish nor will to stay by me;
But that I patiently had followed him out there
He could not see.
He passed on from the garden to the wild,
Where cruel and fierce-roaring monsters lie;
I drove them back, but nothing told the child
That it was I.
He saw his brothers toiling on the road,
'I will give life and strength for them,' cried he;
But that I made him strong to lift their load
He did not see.
Soul-thrilling words of love bade him rejoice,
And filled with music all that desert place;
And yet he never knew it was my voice,
Nor saw my face.
And when the night came and his eyes grew dim,
And dark and chill the mists about him lay,
He did not know my hand was guiding him,
Till it was day."
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