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Lord, “In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee, and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; that thou mayest say to the prisoners, go forth ; to them that are in darkness behold the light." Isaiah xlix. 8, 9.
Priests ! leave the house of bondage ; enter freely and willingly into possession of the liberty, which Jesus Christ has purchased for you with his blood. Like the twelve apostles let us go forth amongst the people, without any other support than the holy word of Him, who moved by his great love for us was willing to be born in a manger and die upon
the cross ; and this holy word will again dwell upon our lips in all its primitive force.
Priests! leave the house of bondage. But they will persecute you— assuredly they will persecute you. I know it, because Jesus Christ predicts it, and his predictions must be accomplished. But, “be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do; but fear Him who, after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell ; yea, I say unto you, fear Him.” Luke xii. 4, 5.
They will persecute you. Yes, certainly they will persecute you. Your enemies shall be even those of your own house. Matt. x. 36. I know it by my own experience. But after the example of St. Paul, who gloried in the stripes that the priests of the synagogue gave him, and the chains with which they loaded him, so do I also glory in the injuries, the follies, and the oppressions, which the priests of Rome have heaped upon me. “But blessed are ye,” says the Saviour of the world, “when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven : for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” Matt. v. 11, 12.
Priests! come out of Babylon, (the Church of Rome,) that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. Rev. xviii. 4.
Come out! wait not till the last day ; for then all the iniquities of Rome will be discovered. Woe to the priests ! who in that day are found in the train of the Whore; for they shall not cease to curse the womb that bare them, and the paps that they sucked!
“ And they feared while they entered into the cloud."-LUKE Ix. 34.
Some traveller of distinction,—Sir William Jones, I think,-remarks that there is something melancholy to his feeling, in the unbroken sunshine of an Italian sky. In our clime, at least
, every lover of nature knows how much the beauty of the scenery depends upon the clouds: the coming, going, ever-changing shadows, with all their effective tints, and lights and shades. Then how we love to watch those clouds themselves, more beautiful even than the beauty they impart : dissolving views, more exquisite than land or sea. Who that has looked upon the ominous sunset, the fleecy vermillion, the concentrated gold, the sea-green streaks, and jet-black line across it-or watched the moon on a tempestuous night, swift as the courser, driving through the clouds whose anger turns to beauty at her touch-has ever thought the
pure clear sky as beautiful ? It is well to borrow from God's works the lessons of his grace : He does it continually himself : Scripture imagery,—and there is no writing so figurative as the Holy Scriptures, -is principally taken from natural objects and appearances : the things unseen best known by the things seen: the immaterial best illustrated by the material : being as they are, the product of the same Almighty mind and hand : and fraught with analogies impossible to be overlooked by even the commonest minds : while only habit perhaps has made us insensible how almost wholly figurative our spiritual language is, and probably must be, while bound down by the present limitation of our
“ Cloud” is the emblematic word for sorrow—for gloom-for sadness—threatened evil, or departed good. It embosoms the lightningit portends the storm—it darkens the sun-light, and hides the directing stars. Notwithstanding what we have said about their beauty, we let the emblem stand so, while we try to draw gracious lessons from the use made of the clouds in the sacred narrative.
Already our thoughts have run before our words to fix upon that most mysterious cloud, the presence once of Deity itself: “I come unto thee in a thick cloud”—the very dwelling place of the Most High—his only temple then upon the earth. Was it an emblem of sorrow ?—Perhaps it was: but if it was, Oh! who would ask to have it taken away ? « Before I was afflicted, I went astray,” says the Psalmist: and how many more may say, that but for the darker providences that shut in their path, and went before them, and followed hard after them, they would have turned to the right or to the left,——“ turned again to folly ;” rushed into temptation : been overtaken by sin : mistaken their way and gone many miles about : perhaps have never reached the hill of Zion. For that the cloud was the abode of God himself, I am not sure that that disproves the emblem: for does He not
say of the broken and contrite heart, that it is the place of his abode, his dwelling, his delight? Has not the suffering believer often seen God draw near just at the time that sorrow was at hand, as if his presence came in it? Have we not met him, as Moses, in the very bosom of the cloud, to hold closer conference, unbroken and unwitnessed by the world? The hour of suffering, of destitution or contrition, often affords the most perfect realization of the divine presence that can be attained by a believer in the flesh. Thither he is taken to learn the deepest truths : to receive the highest, holiest revelations of the Spirit : especially, if like Moses, he be the chosen teacher of God's people, called to convey his word and will to others. No one, I believe, can be a very efficient administrator to the souls of others, till he has passed through much tribulation for himself. And certainly it is in the time of external depression and persecution, that the church of Christ has ever shone the brightest, and enjoyed and exhibited the more glorious light of the Gospel of salvation : even as with them of old :
" Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle."
But that mysterious pillar was light when light was wanted, and shade when shade was necessary. Nay more—it was both at once ; " 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." “One event (says Solomon,) happeneth to the just and to the unjusť”—but if it does, it is only to separate them more effectually from each other—to decide and discriminate between the righteous and the wicked. The one calamity that overwhelms the many: the similar troubles to which the godly and ungodly are exposed : nay, the transaction even, that leaves the wronged on the one side, and the wrongdoer on the other, the trembling fugitive and the proud pursuer :
:-Oh! they are each and altogether like that cloud : they are not the same on both sides : on the one there is access to a Father in Heaven: appeal to omniscient, omnipresent power : there is grace, protection, promise, submission, confidence-on the other side, confusion, rebellion, shame, fear and horror : “ a fearful looking-for of judgment"-" The sorrow of the world that worketh death”—the triumph of unrighteousness, that worketh surer death—“ The Lord looked through the cloud and troubled the Egyptians.” Be sure there is more contrast than similitude in the double fronts of these dark and often mysterious interventions. Let those who have seen both sides—for there are many- y—who have tried affliction with God and without Him-have stood in conflict on the right side and on the wrong—let them say, for they know, if the aspect of the pillar was the same. And now, as heretofore, the dividing darkness proves very often also a defence. The obscurity, or poverty, or sickness, that takes the believer out of sight, takes him out of danger very often : beyond the reach of avarice, pride, and earthliness; the temptations of the world and of the flesh; the chariots and horsemen of the evil one; They came not near the other all the night.” Oh! who that so reads the purposes of God, would choose perpetual sunshine for himself. It would be easy to our Father to give it us : but his varying providences are intended for our guidance-to stop, when they stop us : to go on, when they invite us,
Thy cloud standeth over them: thou goest before them :" brighter, or darker, taken up or resting, the purpose is still the same,
“ To show you by what way ye shall go,” says the sacred historian—" To show them light and the way wherein they should go," repeats the prophet Nehemiah : And the Psalmist, “ He led them with a cloud.”
We turn to the contemplation of another cloud, the one that fixed our thoughts upon this subject : a very different one, it seems at first sight, and scarcely an emblem of sadness in any manner.
One gospel says it was a
bright” cloud : and assuredly all that was seen in it was glorious; and all that was heard was glad, had they whom it overshadowed understood it. But it is written—" They were sore afraid” —they feared when they entered into it: even in their exclamation of wonder and delight it is said, “ He wist not what to say : for they were sore afraid." Who has not entered such bright shadows as this: and been afraid as they were ; before they knew the meaning of it all ? It so very often happens that we contemplate with dread the thing that proves ultimately to be fraught with good, that we shrink, timidly and mistrustful, from the very step that leads us to our greatest happiness, most particularly when we know not, as they knew not when Christ led them to the mount, whither they were going, and what they were to see.
It is true, they had no need to be afraid : Jesus was with them, and the glorified saints about them-heaven itself open, and the voice of the Father heard : but it is often so with us, and we may learn a lesson. We are taken somewhere,-something over-hangs us, something is about to happen, we do not indeed understand the purpose of God in it: but we do know, we might know, that Jesus will be with
“ When thou goest through the fire I will be with thee :” through the water, through the cloud, be it a bright one, or a dark : the Son of God is in it: the saints in glory have passed through it before us, and are our witnesses" A cloud of witnesses” to whatever
may in it: above all we hear, we shall hear if we listen, the voice of the Father acknowledging his Son, and owning us in him, in whom he is well pleased. All this we know, even while the event may wear a fearful aspect, and seem to us full of dread and fraught with real danger. But how often do things prove the very opposite to our fears : the utmost possible occasion of rejoicing and re-assurance.
Our own memory will point us to many such events, recalled with shame and wonder at our apprehensions; and containing like this a lesson of holy confidence for the future. Peter and James and John, would often afterwards, in moments of surprise and apprehended danger, recal to themselves their master's touch and voice, as they lay astounded on their faces : “ Arise, be not afraid.” Let us think of it whenever we feel afraid to enter where Jesus by his providence may bring us.
But there was another cloud : it was and must have been indeed a dark one: it received and bore away their risen Lord, so recently recovered from the tomb. The disciples beheld their Master disappear, their expectation of the kingdom was postponed; what was to become of themselves they did not know, and it is well they did not : they could not then have realized the power in which they were to be his witnesses unto death ; they would have realized the bonds, imprisonments, and deaths that were preparing for them in the world. Perhaps, as they stood gazing on the cloud, they thought that they should follow; but it closed against them. He was gone, and they were left.“ Whither I
go, ye cannot come.” Of all their joys, their hopes, and consolations, nothing remained to them but a promise,—nothing but to wait in prayer and supplication, for the coming of the Comforter, whom as yet they knew not: and to look through, happily for them, the unknown distance, for the re-appearance of the Son of man.
There are many clouds like that cloud, that hide all and take all, except the promises of God. Jesus will come again,--the Spirit will be given,—the prayer and supplication of the assembled mourners will be heard, and bring the promised one down. The disciples understood not, but they believed: they foresaw not, but they watched : they were confounded, but they obeyed. There are times of overwhelming sadness, when we see indeed our loss, our difficulties, and dangers : but cannot foresee, and cannot foreknow, the power that will be given us to sustain them,--the heavenly companionship that will be ours throughout them; their glorious, blessed, not always distant termination. “Wait for the promise of the Father, which ye have heard of me:” “ Not many days hence :” “ I will not leave you comfortless, I will come unto you.'
“ Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven!”—Can that too be an emblem of gloom and sadness ? —but the glory will be upon it then, the darkness, gloom, and sadness all behind. It will be the most terrific cloud that ever veiled the skies : the sun shall be darkened, and the moon withdraw her shining, the earth beneath it shall shake, and the solid rocks be rent, terror and horror beyond conception shall be in it, and desolation and destruction wherever its shadow passes. “ All kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” But then!-0 then it will not take our Jesus out of sight,—will not close up its pillowy folds against us! They that remain, and they that are asleep, the living and the dead in Christ, shall be caught up together in the clouds, to meet the Lord. Oh! what is in the darkness of that cloud that we should fear it?-what is the terror of that day that we should dread it ? Rather let every
timid, trembling saint,--every humble, penitent, believing sinner, repeat the apostle John's consenting words, “ Even so, Amen.”
We have viewed the cloud as the imagery of sorrow, we have seen it so recognized in Holy Writ. We perceived its emblematic ends and uses, reviewed its brighter and its darker aspects, as exhibiting the gracious purposes of God, in the trials and affictions of his people ; how near he
may be in them, how bright his presence makes them; how fearless in their threatening, how welcome even in their blackness. Remark but one thing more, it is a scripture figure still :—had there never been a cloud, there had never been a rainbow : in paradise there was nonein man's innocence there was no need of any. Had there been no sin, there would never have been any sorrow, any gloom: but one clear bright day of pure unbroken sunshine. But then we never could have seen the Father-have beheld him in all his wisdom, power, and love, exhibited to us now in the face of Jesus Christ, nor ever have attained that eternal height of glory prepared for us by union with the Son of God. Without the tremendous darkness of the fall, the rainbow-crown had never circled the Redeemer's head.
So now, without clouds, we cannot behold the rainbow, and the darker they are, the brighter it appears.
Through much tribulation ye must enter the kingdom of heaven.” Where could we have seen, what could we have known of our Father's mercy and our Saviour's love, the comforts of his Spirit, and the power of his grace, without those intervals of gloom and sadness, that put them to the proof, and bring forth their strongest colouring. Can we find it in our hearts to