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“ And the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.”Numbers xxi. 4.
THERE is no part of the inspired volume possessing more interest to the historical Christian student, than the journeyings of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, the land of their captivity, to the land of promise, the Canaan which God had so long before covenanted with Abraham to give to his posterity. (Gen. xv. 18.)
They had been an oppressed and humbled people, under the dominion of Pharoah, but when the time was fully come, God raised up his servant Moses, and by his hand he freed them from the yoke of the Egyptian tyrant. He opened for them a passage through the Red Sea, and so commenced their journey to the land that they already considered as their own; the distance to it was comparatively trifling, and the time in which they might have reached it, according to the estimate of modern travellers, short indeed contrasted with the long period of their sojourn on their road there; but all this time was necessary for the display of those purposes of love and mercy which God had in view; it was requisite for their own proving, that they should long be dwellers in tents, and sojourners in the wilderness. Though their spirit had been so apparently crushed, and their heart so much · subdued under their iron bondage, yet when this was removed, and they began to experience God's delivering mercies, the innate pride, stubbornness, and ingrati. tude of their nature began to revive, and displayed itself in their murmuring against the instrument he had raised to effect their release, so that they provoked the anger of the Most High God, and caused him to send his judgments among them, that they might again return to their allegiance, and acknowledge his goodness to them. As the most effectual means of bringing this about, he caused their lengthened residence in the wilderness. For the space of forty years they dwelt there, a constant and daily miracle of God's power; for by no natural means, could so vast a multitude have been so long fed, clothed, and sustained for so long a time, so far from the marts of enterprise.
It was when they were leaving Mount Hor, to encompass the land of Edom, that we read of their “ souls being much discouraged because of the way.” They thought at once to reach the land for which they were bound; they had not anticipated meeting with so many trials of their strength, nor of so many exercises of their faith and patience; their spirit rebelled, and their heart sunk within them, when they surveyed their difficulties, and instead of looking upward to God for aid to endure them, instead of implicitly trusting his word of promise, they looked no higher than their own natural strength, and so suffered their soul to be “much discouraged because of the way.""
We should have imagined that as each fresh trial rose before them they would have renewed their prostration of spirit before the Lord ; that they would calmly and gladly have lain still at his footstool, until he chose to manifest that he was God alone. After the wonders he had wrought for them, how, we are ready to say, how could they ever again doubt his power and goodness.
Is not the conduct of these Israelites but too true a type of the Christian warfare, for any one at all acquainted with it to avoid seeing at once? I appeal to Christians of every age, but more especially to the young disciples, to the lambs of the fold, and I enquire if there be not with all of them, times of discouragement, seasons of depression, when their soul seems sinking within them? They are almost losing their firm hold on the outstretched arm of Jehovah.
The why and the wherefore of this with the remedies and antidotes to it, shall be what we shall now consider, and this more especially with a view to the encouragement of the young and timid disciple, while we endeavor, if possible, to help him on his heavenly way, and remove, it may be, some stumblingblock out of his path.
Many, and some of the deepest, causes of distress to the renewed soul, arise from the remains of indwelling corruption : his tastes and desires point heavenward, and lead him to the enjoyment of those things which aid him in consistently walking before his God; but he finds another law in his members warring against this ; another impetus, as it were, dragging him away from that which he knows and feels to be right. There is a constant struggle going on, and he is led by practical experience to understand the feelings of the apostle when he exclaimed, “Oh! wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this sin and death.” It may be his spirit is well nigh overwhelmed within him, and he is ready to cry out, “When, oh! when will this conflict cease!" “ Better never to have known the way of righteousness, never to have professed to love the Saviour, than to be thus constantly obeying the former lusts. of the flesh, to be repeatedly by my works disowning him." His soul, like the type before us, is a much discouraged because of the way."
But I have a word for you, fellow-sinner and fellow-pilgrim. Cheer up your drooping spirit, and say to your soul in the words of the psalmist,“ Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me, hope in God, for I shall yet praise him." You must understand distinctly the doctrines of the Bible. Justification is not sanctification, and though the latter immediately follows the former and is consequent upon it, yet be not deceived, nor think it the work of a moment, of a day, or of a year. No, it is the continued operation of the Spirit that carries it on through whole years through every year of your life. Your constant prayer must be that it may be speedily progressing, and to that point your own efforts must tend; but at the same time do not imagine that they will be uninterrupted efforts: you will find the remains of the old nature too strong to be at once subdued; many a trial will it make to regain the supremacy, then again to reign with unrivalled sway. Therefore, though this may be a cause for your deeply humbling yourself before God, and confessing how futile are your own efforts, still let me say that it should not be a cause of discouragement. Let it lead you to lean more and more on the arm of Omnipotence, on Him alone who is mighty to save: let it make you value the word of truth more than ever, and induce you to search it for promises that assure you, that having “begun a good work in you," God will “ carry it on unto perfection." Having found, take home such precious words-live, feed, and you will find that you grow upon them, and be abundantly strengthened.
Another source of trial to the Christian is the hold that the world retains upon his heart, his desires, and affections: he is struggling, but struggling vainly to be free from them. To be
in the world, but not of the world; to mix with it in body, but not in spirit; to be engaged in it by the duties of life; to have the soul's aims always tending upward :-it is when contemplating these things that his language is, “ Who is sufficient for these things?” Fear not, Christian, the word in record declares, “ My grace is sufficient for thee,” and “when thou passest through the waters I will be with thee.” Such is the language of our Saviour, our interceding Saviour. Think of Christ in that light, view him as an omniscient God, and our interceding Saviour. This is a delightful contemplation, and one well calculated to afford comfort in moments of sadness and darkness. He knows our temptations, our every want and requirement, and with such before him, he appears at the merey-seat; there shewing his bleeding hands and side, he pleads for us ; he prays not that we may be taken out of the world but that we may be kept from the evil of it. Can such petitions ascend in vain? No, poor pilgrim, take courage, “Him the Father heareth always.” Commit your cause into his hands, watch and pray, and you may yet go on your way rejoicing, feeling that though for a time you are in the world, you are yet living above it.
There is yet another enemy, an enemy more subtle than all beside that the Christian has to deal with. He prevailed over our first parent, and unless we be under the shield of Omnipotence, he will prevail too over us, but under such a shield we are safe, safe for time and safe for eternity. When we reflect on what we know through revelation of the nature of this adversary, it is not to be wondered that when he finds that a soul has taken its stand under the banner of Christ, and has thus escaped from himself, all his terrible power and malignity should be stirred up against it. No artifice will he leave untried to regain his control over it, and when all hope of so doing is totally extinguished, we naturally suppose that his aim and purpose will be as much as possible to torment and discourage that soul. Therefore I would say to the young Christian, entreat from God grace to meet these his fiery darts: let them not come upon you unawares, but be sure you are clad in the gospel armour, and then these shafts will glance harmlessly by you ;--undismayed and unhurt you shall pursue
your heavenly way, strong in the strength of the Lord, and through Him mighty and valiant in purpose.
“ To be fore-warned, is to be fore-armed," is an ancient truism, and none find it more truly so than the Christian. He should set out, not only expecting difficulties and trials, but also knowing something of their nature ; he should be ever on his watchtower looking out for them, and then he will not be found unguarded or be easily surprised. To know the points of the combat (so to speak) and to know and to be prepared with the antidote, is the secret of the Christian warfare. There is no Christian but has his seasons of depression; but some are much more frequently than others, mourning “ because of the way."
And what is it-what is the cause of so much despondency and sorrow of heart? Why is there so much of the voice of lamentation, and so little of the voice of joy heard in our tents ? May not, nay, is not the cause, a neglect of looking upward to the Rock of our Salvotion-- A Eno wa wuľu, too, upon the way in which the Lord our God has led us. Meditation upon past mercies is the way to strengthen faith for the future, Had Israel but thought on their single deliverance through the Red Sea, (to say nothing of their daily supplies of manna, and the quails brought for their subsistence,) had they but considered this single instance of God's goodness to them, it would surely have checked their repinings, and would have cheered their drooping spirits. And would not such retrospective glances be of frequent service to us, did we but practise them more frequently ? Surely faith would brighten, and hope would receive fresh inspiration. Let such, then, be the lesson we receive from these Hebrews, to be prepared for difficulties and trials; to expect and to watch for them; to strengthen ourselves in the Lord to meet them, that when they do come there may be no despondency, no faintheartedness, but a closer and a closer cleaving to the Cross, a more secure hiding beneath the shodow of His wing, and a greater longing to dwell in his courts for ever.