The ninety-first Psalm is a painstaking description of the blessings and benefits bestowed upon the man that "dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High." Without doubt the entire chapter should be taken as a photograph of the sanctified man. Among other things, this fortunate and favored person is told that he is to have angelic guards and ministers who will protect him and keep him "in all his ways."
The sanctified are in a peculiar sense God's own, and all the resources of heaven are pledged to their protection. All the fire companies of the firmament will turn out to extinguish a fire if it kindle on God's saints. If need be, Jehovah will empty His balm jars but the wounds of warriors shall be healed. Angels are detailed for our protection: heavenly visitants hover near us lest the fires of affliction destroy us.
The moment the soul is sanctified, it begins to understand Christ in a new and delightful sense. It is given unto it to not only sit at His feet in the temple, but to groan with Him in Grethsemane. It understands Him, and, in suffering, is "as He is in this world."
A DARK HOUR.
It was a dark, dark hour for the Master. He had been praying a long while, perhaps for several hours. The place was one familiar to Him. Many a night after a long, wearisome day of teaching in the temple, He had labored painfully up the slope of the Mount of Olives in search of the quiet of "the Garden." Here the Savior had His oratory. Sometimes the disciples were with Him; at other times He was alone.
A NIGHT OF CRISIS.
But this night was a night of crisis. The old olive trees, in all their centuries of life, had never witnessed so intense a struggle as that which took place on the night of His passion. Alive to all the pathos of the hour, awake to all the gravity of the situation, sensitive to the slightest breath, He prays to "the Father" with that desperation in which the flight of time and the doings of the world are all forgotten.
There was much about the hour which made it a painful one. There was, first of all, an uncertainty concerning the will of "the Father." With a great cry the lonely Christ fell to the ground: "If it be thy will let this cup pass, nevertheless" let thy will, whatsoever it is, "be done." Evidently He was not at that time really sure what the plan of "the Father" was in regard to Him.
A BITTER CUP.
Uncertainty is a fearful test, when it comes to the soul of a man of great and energetic purpose. So long as there is no doubt about the course to be taken, so long as the plan is plainly revealed, it is easy for a courageous man to advance. But to such a one uncertainty is like a shock to the body, palsying the form and changing a strong arm into a nerveless, useless stick of bone and tissue. A cup may be very bitter, salt with the brine of tears and hot with the fire of vitriol, and yet, if all the ingredients in that cup are known to him who drinks it, grief has not reached its superlative. Socrates' duty was plain to him. Hemlock was in the cup, and he knew it. But the liquor with which God fills the tumblers of His people is brewed from a thousand elements.
To trust in the dark, to believe in a rayless midnight, to cling to a thread well-nigh invisible, to say "Amen" to God when one has no idea of the greatness of the meaning of "His will," that is the supremest test of loyalty.
THE NIGHT PICKET.
The night picket stationed far out from the camp has need of much greater courage than the soldier in battle ranks rushing on toward the enemy. The man at the lonely picket post, cloaked in darkness, is guarding against uncertainty. He can not tell at once whether a dark object is a dangerous spy or a browsing Brindle. Sounds must be noted and sorted lest the enemy steal up to the slumbering army and destroy it. The snapping of twigs, the low whistle of a bird, the groan of the wind, the murmur of a waterfall must all be listened to with care.
It is suspense and a nameless dread and fear that sap many a mind and heart. Moments of breathless expectancy of evil tidings are like years in the life, bringing ashes to the hair, lines to the cheek and listlessness to the eye.
THE PALLED FACE.
"Be sure you are right, then go ahead," said Tennesseean Crockett; but supposing that one can not "be sure" of anything except the love of God, supposing that one looks out through the tangled limbs of the olive trees of a Gethsemane to a sky studded with pitiless stars, supposing that the future is obscure and the present black as Styx, supposing that even the face of the Father Himself is palled and curtained -- then must one be content to trust and only trust.
There was another cause for pain in "the Garden." The three disciples, whom He had chosen to accompany Him in His dark and lonely vigil, slept as He prayed. We can bring ourselves to overlook the negligence and apathy of Nicodemus and Lazarus and Simon the leper and Zaccheus and the crowds who had merely heard Him preach. We are willing perhaps to excuse eight of the twelve for their drowsiness -- perchance they did not apprehend the full meaning of the hour to the Master. But there were three disciples to whom Christ had ever laid bare His heart. With Him they stood in the death chamber in the house of Jairus. To them it was given to behold "the vision splendid" on the mount of transfiguration, and these alone Jesus chose to enter into the fellowship of his Garden sufferings.
These men did not nod and sleep ignorant of Christ's need of them. With that tender confidence with which a truly great and colossal man sometimes honors his friends, He had said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." He had warned them with the words, "Watch and pray lest ye enter into temptation," and yet they slept!
"OUR OWN AFFAIRS."
It must have been a keen disappointment to Jesus to find His most trusted friends so indifferent to His needs. Is there anything in life sadder than the discovery that our own affairs are really only our own affairs? We had thought that they were our friends', as well as our own. We had supposed that our griefs were theirs also, but when Grethsemane comes into our lives, and we writhe and twist among the gnarled and knotted roots, when we turn with blanched, tear-sprinkled faces to our chosen James and trusted Peter and beloved John to gasp in their ears the story of our agony, we hear only the heavy breathing of sound sleepers.
COLD, HARSH FACT.
If there is a sharper pang than this, man's heart has not found it. We are by nature social beings. We crave fellowship and love and sympathy, and it is so hard for us to realize that our choicest friends are really "asleep" to our heart cries and heart interests. The cold, harsh fact can be believed but slowly. Even the Lord seemed to find it hard to convince His own heart that the John who had leaned at supper upon His breast, was resting while his Master was sweating blood. He prayed awhile and then, as if to see whether it was indeed true that no one watched to help Him, "He came and found them sleeping." Sad, cruel disappointment, and yet is it so rare that any one of us has not felt its sadness and cruelty?
But while men forgot the Nazarene and His troubles, Grod did not forget. The Father was not negligent nor careless. "There appeared an angel unto him from heaven strengthening him." The night was not too dark for the angel to find Jesus, and the night of our troubles is never too thick and black for the angels to find us. The paths of "the Garden" may be grown up in weeds, the rough, scabeous limbs of the trees may hang close to the ground, the driving clouds may hide the moon and stars, but some celestial messenger will search us out and find us.
IN MANY FORMS.
God has many angels, and they come in many forms. Sometimes the solitary sufferer sees only a tiny flower, but love is in the flower, and he knows he is not utterly forgotten. It may be only an hand clasp, but warmth and sympathy are in it, and behold it is straightway "an angel strengthening him." Perchance it is a letter with a foreign postmark, but in it is nectar and ambrosia for a drooping spirit. Or the angel may come enveloped in a text of Scripture or flying on the wings of the music of some old hymn, such as:
"Fear not! I am with thee.
In whatever role the angel may come, God sent him, and his mission is one of blessing and encouragement.
We can well afford to suffer in the darkness, alone and uncomforted, if angels will but visit us. John Bunyan can well be content in Bedford gaol, if God but puts a dream in his head and heart that will last in the memories and characters of men, when the sun is a burned-out cinder and the stars are dying ash heaps. We can well be satisfied to have sorrows unutterable and griefs inexpressible, if heavenly visitants will but come to us.