Streams in the Desert

January 3

“I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure.” (Gen. 33:14)

WHAT a beautiful picture of Jacob’s thoughtfulness for the cattle and the children! He would not allow them to be overdriven even for one day. He would not lead on according to what a strong man like Esau could do and expected them to do, but only according to what they were able to endure. He knew exactly how far they could go in a day; and he made that his only consideration in arranging the marches. He had gone the same wilderness journey years before, and knew all about its roughness and heat and length, by personal experience. And so he said, “I will lead on softly.” “For ye have not passed this way heretofore.” (Josh. 3:4.)
We have not passed this way heretofore, but the Lord Jesus has. It is all untrodden and unknown ground to us, but He knows it all by personal experience. The steep bits that take away our breath, the stony bits that make our feet ache so, the hot shadeless stretches that make us feel so exhausted, the rushing rivers that we have to pass through—Jesus has gone through it all before us. “He was wearied with his journey.” Not some, but all the many waters went over Him, and yet did not quench His love. He was made a perfect Leader by the things which He suffered. “He knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” Think of that when you are tempted to question the gentleness of His leading. He is remembering all the time; and not one step will He make you take beyond what your foot is able to endure. Never mind if you think it will not be able for the step that seems to come next; either He will so strengthen it that it shall be able, or He will call a sudden halt, and you shall not have to take it at all.—Frances Ridley Havergal.

In “pastures green”? Not always; sometimes He
Who knowest best, in kindness leadeth me
In weary ways, where heavy shadows be.
So, whether on the hill-tops high and fair
I dwell, or in the sunless valleys, where
The shadows lie, what matter? He is there.

—Barry.

Streams in the Desert

January 2

“And there was an enlarging, and a winding about still upward to the side chambers: for the winding about of the house went still upward round about the house: therefore the breath of the house was still upward and so increased from the lowest chamber to the highest by the midst.” (Ezek. 41:7.)

“Still upward be thine onward course:
  For this I pray today;
Still upward as the years go by.
  And seasons pass away.

“Still upward in this coming year,
  Thy path is all untried;
Still upward may’st thou journey on,
  Close by thy Savior’s side.

“Still upward e’en though sorrow come,
  And trials crush thine heart;
Still upward may they draw thy soul,
  With Christ to walk apart.

“Still upward till the day shall break,
  And shadows all have flown;
Still upward till in Heaven you wake,
  And stand before the throne.”

We ought not to rest content in the mists of the valley when the summit of Tabor awaits us. How pure are the dews of the hills, how fresh is the mountain air, how rich the fare of the dwellers aloft, whose windows look into the New Jerusalem! Many saints are content to live like men in coal mines, who see not the sun. Tears mar their faces when they might anoint them with celestial oil. Satisfied I am that many a believer pines in a dungeon when he might walk on the palace roof, and view the goodly land and Lebanon. Rouse thee, O believer, from thy low condition! Cast away thy sloth, thy lethargy, thy coldness, or whatever interferes with thy chaste and pure love to Christ. Make Him the source, the center, and the circumference of all thy soul’s range of delight. Rest no longer satisfied with thy dwarfish attainments. Aspire to a higher, a nobler, a fuller life. Upward to heaven! Nearer to God!—Spurgeon.

“I want to scale the utmost height,
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray, till heaven I’ve found,
Lord, lead me on to higher ground!”

Not many of us are living at our best. We linger in the lowlands because we are afraid to climb the mountains. The steepness and ruggedness dismay us, and so we stay in the misty valleys and do not learn the mystery of the hills. We do not know what we lose in our self-indulgence, what glory awaits us if only we had courage for the mountain climb, what blessing we should find if only we would move to the uplands of God.
—J. R. M.
“Too low they build who build beneath the stars.”

365 days with Newton

5 JANUARY (BEGUN SUNDAY EVENING 8 JANUARY 1769)

Anointed eyes

‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’ Genesis 1:1
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING: Psalm 19:1–14

It would make plain people more sensible of the advantage of the Word of God if they knew the uncertainty and perplexity of the wisest men, who were not favoured with this light, with respect to the most obvious truths. The world with all their wisdom knew not God. A child that has read the Bible knows more than all the philosophers of old put together. Some thought the world was eternal, others that it made itself. But the Scripture gives a clear and satisfactory, though brief, account. There is more in this first verse of the Bible than in 10,000 volumes of men’s invention.

The book of creation

The book of nature open lies,
The knowledge of the saints excels
With much instruction stored;
The wisdom of the schools;
But till the LORD anoints our eyes
To them his secrets GOD reveals,
We cannot read a word.
Though men account them fools.

Philosophers have pored in vain,
To them the sun and stars on high,
And guessed, from age to age;
The flowers that paint the field,
For reason’s eye could ne’er attain
And all the artless birds that fly,
To understand a page.
Divine instruction yield.

Though to each star they give a name,
The creatures on their senses press,
Its size and motions teach;
As witnesses to prove
The truths which all the stars proclaim,
Their Saviour’s power, and faithfulness,
Their wisdom cannot reach.
His providence and love.

With skill to measure earth and sea,
Thus may we study nature’s book
And weigh the subtle air;
To make us wise indeed!
They cannot, LORD, discover thee
And pity those who only look
Though present everywhere.
At what they cannot read.

FOR MEDITATION: ‘But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding’ (Jeremiah 10:12, NIV).

SERMON SERIES: GENESIS, NO. 1 [1/4], GENESIS 1:1

365 days with Newton

Homeward bound

‘And yet this was a small thing in thine eyes, O God; for thou hast also spoken of thy servant’s house for a great while to come, and hast regarded me according to the estate of a man of high degree, O LORD God.’ 1 Chronicles 17:17
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING: 1 Chronicles 17:18–27

You have spoken about the future. Are these small things? Yes, compared to what follows—he has spoken for a great while to come, even to eternity. Present mercies are but earnests of his love, present comforts but foretastes of the joy to which we are hastening. O that crown, that kingdom, that eternal weight of glory! We are travelling home to God. We shall soon see Jesus, and never complain of sin, sorrow, temptation or desertion any more. He has dealt with us according to the estate of a man of high degree. He found us upon the dunghill and has made us companions of princes—in a wilderness and has led us to the city of God.
This calls for patience—yet a little while and we shall be at home, for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed (Romans 13:11). We are spared thus far. But some, I fear, are strangers to the promises. You are entered upon a New Year. It may be your last. You are at present barren trees in the vineyard. O fear lest the sentence should go forth—Cut it down [Luke 13:7].
FOR MEDITATION:
The LORD has promised good to me,
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
His word my hope secures;
And mortal life shall cease;
He will my shield and portion be,
I shall possess, within the veil,
As long as life endures.
A life of joy and peace.

     The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
     The sun forbear to shine;
     But GOD, who called me here below,
     Will be forever mine.

[Note these are the original last verses to Amazing Grace, by Newton.]

SERMON: 1 CHRONICLES 17:16–17 [4/4]

365 days with Newton

3 JANUARY (PREACHED NEW YEAR’S MORNING 1773 [& 1783])

Safe thus far

‘And David the king came and sat before the LORD, and said, Who am I, O LORD God, and what is mine house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?’ 1 Chronicles 17:16
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING: Exodus 18:1–12

That thou hast brought me hitherto. Here let us look back:
(i) Before conversion: his providential care preserving us from a thousand seen, millions of unseen, dangers, when we knew him not; his secret guidance, leading us by a way which we knew not, till his time of love came.
(ii) At conversion: the means by which he wrought upon us supports in the time of conviction, and the never to be forgotten hour when he enabled us to hope in his mercy.
(iii) Since we first were enabled to give up our names to him: mercy and goodness have followed us. In temporals, he has led and fed us. Many have fallen when we have been preserved, or, if afflicted, we have found him a present help in trouble. Some may say, with my staff I passed over this Jordan [Genesis 32:10]. In spirituals, preserving us from wasting sins, from gross errors, or restoring and healing, maintaining his hold in our hearts, notwithstanding so much opposition, so many temptations and provocations. The comforts we have had in secret and public worship, the seasonable and undoubted answers to prayer. Grace to any dear to us, peace in our families, his blessing with us a church and a people.
This calls for trust and confidence. We have good reason to cast our cares upon him, and to be satisfied with his appointments. Hitherto he has done all things well (Mark 7:37).
FOR MEDITATION:
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
And grace those fears relieved;
I have already come;
How precious did that grace appear,
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
The hour I first believed!
And grace will lead me home.

SERMON: 1 CHRONICLES 17:16–17 [3/4]

4 JANUARY (PREACHED NEW YEAR’S MORNING 1773 [& 1783])

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