Jesus Hiding Himself
Charles H. Spurgeon
This updated and revised manuscript is copyrighted ã 1999 by Tony Capoccia. All rights reserved.
‘You hid Your face, and I was troubled.’—Ps. 30:7
‘Why dost thou shade thy lovely face? oh, why
Doth that eclipsing hand so long deny
The sunshine of thy soul‑enlivening eye?
‘Without that light, what light remains in me?
Thou art my life, my way, my light; in thee
I live, I move, and by thy beams I see.
‘Thou art my life; if thou but turn away,
My life's a thousand deaths: thou art my way;
Without thee, Lord, I travel not, but stray.
‘My light thou art; without thy glorious sight,
Mine eyes are darkened with perpetual night.
My God thou art my way, my life, my light.’
The Lord Jesus will never remove his love from any one of the objects of his choice. The names of his redeemed are written on his hands and graven on his side; they are designed for eternal bliss, and his hand and his heart are jointly resolved to bring them to that blessed consummation. The lowliest lamb of the blood‑bought flock shall be preserved securely by the ‘strength of Israel’ unto the day of his appearing, and shall, through every season of tribulation and distress, continue to be beloved of the Lord. Yet this does not prevent the great Shepherd from hiding himself for a season, when his people are rebellious. Though the Redeemer's grace shall never be utterly removed, yet there shall be partial withdrawals of his presence, whereby our joys shall be dimmed, and our evidences darkened. He will sometimes say, ‘I will return again to my place till they acknowledge their offenses,’ which they have committed against me; (Hosea 5:15) and at other seasons, for a trial of their faith, he will ‘for a mere moment’ hide himself from them.
In proportion as the Master's presence is delightful, his absence is mournful. Dark is the night which is caused by the setting of such a sun. No blow of Providence can ever wound so sorely as this. A destroyed crop is nothing compared with an absent Redeemer; yes, sickness and the approach of death are preferable to the departure of Emmanuel. Skin for skin, yes, all that a man has he will give for his life; and more than that would the sincere disciple be prepared to surrender for a renewal of his Lord's presence. ‘Oh, that I were as in months past, as in the days when God watched over me; when His lamp shone upon my head, and when by His light I walked through darkness!’ (Job 29:2, 3) Such will be the sorrowful complaint of the spirit when groping its way through the darkness of desertion.
‘God's hiding himself, though but for trial's sake, will so trouble a Christian that he will quickly be a burden to himself, and fear round about, as it is said of Pashhur. (Jer. 20:3). It will make him weary of the night, and weary of the day; weary of his own house, and weary of God's house; weary of mirth, and account it madness; weary of riches and honours; yea, if it continue long, it will make him weary of life itself, and wish for death.’ [Lockyer on Christ’s Communion]
The effect is always deplorable during the time of its duration, but the cause of it is not always the same. There are various reasons for apparent desertions; we will enter upon that interesting subject in the next chapter, and in the present meditation we shall chiefly consider the ill effects of the absence of Christ
We would carefully distinguish between those withdrawals which are evidences of an offence given to our Lord, and those which are designed to be trials of our faith. Our experience under different varieties of forsakings will vary, and the following remarks, although primarily applicable to all desertions, are only intended in their detail to refer to those which are brought about by our transgressions; and even then it is not to be imagined that each case will exhibit every point which we shall now observe. Here we especially refer to those hidings of God's countenance which are brought upon us as a fatherly chastisement. And we do not here dwell upon the ultimate and blessed effects of the temporary forsakings of God, but are only to be understood to refer to the ills which, during the time, beset the soul.
Holy men may be left to walk in darkness.
‘Sometimes Christians are guilty of acting a part which is offensive to their dear Saviour, and therefore he withdraws from them. Darkness spreads itself over them, thick clouds interpose between him and their souls, and they see not his smiling face. This was the case with the Church when she was inclined unto carnal ease, rather than to rise and give her Beloved entrance. He quickened her desires after the enjoyment of his company, by an effectual touch upon her heart; but he withdrew, departed, and left her to bewail her folly in her sinful neglect. Upon this her bowels were troubled: she arose and sought him; but she found him not. It is just with him to hide himself from us, if we are indifferent about the enjoyments of his delightful presence, and give us occasion to confess our ingratitude
to him, by the loss we sustain in consequence of it. His love in itself passes under no vicissitude; it is always the same; that is our security; but the manifestation of it to our
souls, from which our peace, comfort and joy spring, may be interrupted through our negligence, sloth, and sin. A sense of it, when it is so, may well break our hearts; for there is no ingratitude in the world like it.’ [Brine].
We would not be understood to teach that God punishes his people for sin in a legal sense; this would
be a slur upon his justice; for, seeing that he has fully punished their sin in Christ, to inflict any penalty upon them would be demanding a double punishment for one offence, which would be unjust. Let the chastisements be understood in a paternal sense as correctives, and the truth is gained. Sin will be chastened in the elect. ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities’ (Amos 3:2). If we walk contrary to him, he will walk contrary to us. The promise of communion is only attached to obedience. ‘He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him’ (John 14:21). Now if we walk scandalously, and indulge in known sin, no wonder the Lord withdraws himself from us. The joy of his salvation must not rest with his erring ones, though the salvation itself is always theirs. Alas for us, that our corruption should so frequently mar our communion!
Many times between conversion and the rest of eternity, the Christian, through sin, will have to walk through a salt land, not inhabited, and find the Songs of Solomon hushed by the wail of the Lamentations. Yet we would gladly believe that there are some who have but little cause to write their history in black letters, for their life has been one continued calm communion, with only here and there a hurried interruption. We are far from believing that the despondency, coldness, and misery produced by a loss of the visible love of Christ ought to make up any considerable part of the biography of a Christian. That they do so in many cases, we readily admit, but that it should be so, we can never allow. Those men who glory in what they proudly call a deep experience—by which they mean great wanderings from the path which Enoch trod when he walked with God, are very prone to exalt the infirmities of the Lord’s people into infallible and admirable proofs of grace. To them an absent Christ is fine stock in trade for a sermon on their own superlative wisdom; and a heart which mourns abundantly, but loves most scantily, is to them what perfection is to the Arminian. As if the weeds of the field were precious plants because they will grow in good soil; as if the freckles on the face of beauty were to be imitated by all who desire to attain to loveliness; or as if the rocks in the sea were the very cause of its fullness. The deepest experience in the world is that which deals only with the Lord Jesus Christ, and is so sick of man, and of all within him, and so confident in the Lord Jesus, that it casts the whole weight of the sin and sinfulness of the soul entirely upon the Redeemer, and so rejoicing in his all‑sufficiency, looks above the needs and woes of its own evil and ruined nature, to the completion of the new man in Christ Jesus. That eminent preacher, the late Rowland Hill, has well said, ‘I do not like Christians to live always complaining; but I do not mind how much they complain if they carry their corruptions to Jesus.’ This is forgotten by many; but those who are careful to practise it will have many reasons for gladness.
Blessed be God, the green pastures and the still waters, the shepherd's staff and pleasant company, are objects which are quite as familiar to the believer's mind as the howling wilderness and the brandished rod—
‘The men of grace have found
Glory began below;
Celestial fruits on earthly ground,
From faith and hope do grow.’
Yet, to the believer's grief, seasons of absence do occur, and those, alas, too frequently. It is our business, as the Holy Spirit shall enable us, very briefly to consider the subject of apparent desertion on account of sin, and may he make it useful to us.
We shall now proceed to review the troubles which attend the suspended communion. The effects of the withdrawal of the face of Jesus are the outward signs shadowing forth the secret sickness of the heart, which such a condition necessarily engenders. Although it is not fatal, yet is it exceedingly hurtful to miss the company of the Lord. As plants do not thrive when the light is kept from them, but become blanched and unhealthy, so souls deprived of the light of God's countenance are unable to maintain the verdure of their piety or the strength of their graces, What a loss is a lost Christ!
During this unhappy season the believer's evidences are eclipsed; he is in grievous doubt concerning his own condition before God; his faith has become weak, his hope nearly buried, and his love cold and lethargic. The graces which, like planetary stars, once shone on him with light and radiance, are now dark and cheerless, for the sun has departed, the source of their light is concealed in clouds. Evidences without Christ are like unlit candles, which give no light; like fig trees with only leaves, devoid of fruit; like purses without gold, and like barns without wheat: they have great capabilities of comfort, but without Jesus they are emptiness itself. Evidences are like conduit pipes—they are sometimes the channels of living water, but if the supply from the fountainhead is cut off from them, their waters utterly fail. That man will die of thirst who has no better spring to look to than an empty pitcher of evidences. Ishmael would have perished in the wilderness if his only hope had been in the bottle which his mother brought out with her from the tent of Abraham; and assuredly without direct supplies from the gracious hands of the Lord Jesus, the saints would soon be in an ill plight. Unless the God of our graces is ever at the root of them, they will prove like Jonah’s gourd, which withered away when he was most in need of it. In this condition we shall find ourselves, if we lose the presence of the Lord Jesus; we shall be racked with fears, and tormented with doubts, without possessing that sovereign tonic with which in better days our sorrows have been allayed. We shall find all the usual sources of our consolation dried up, and it will be in vain for us to expect a single drop from them. Ahab sent Obadiah on an idle errand, when in the time of great drought he said, ‘Go into the land to all the springs of water and to all the brooks; perhaps we may find grass to keep the horses and mules alive, so that we will not have to kill any livestock;’ (1 Kings 18:5) for it was the presence and prayer of Elijah which alone could procure the rain to supply their needs; and if we, when we have lost our Master's closeness, seek to obtain comfort in past experiences and timeworn evidences, we shall have to weep with bitter tears because of a disappointed hope. We must regain the closeness of Christ, if we want to restore the lustre of our assurance. An absent Saviour and joyous confidence are seldom to be spoken of together.
We know, however, that some professors can maintain a confident bearing when the presence of the Lord is withheld; they are as content without him as with him, and as happy under his frown as when in the sunshine of his smile. Between the outward appearances of strong faith and strong delusion there is frequently so little difference that the presumptuous boaster is often as highly esteemed as the assured believer: nevertheless in their inner nature there is an essential distinction. Faith believes on Jesus when his comfortable promise is not granted; but it does not render the soul indifferent to the sweetness of his company. Faith says, ‘I believe Him when I do not feel his love manifested towards me, but my very persuasion of his faithfulness makes me pant for the light of his countenance;’ but vain presumption exclaims, ‘Away with evidences and manifestations, I am a vessel of mercy, and therefore I am secure; why should I trouble myself about grace or graces? I have made up my mind that all is right, and I will not break my slumbers despite whoever may seek to alarm me.’ Happy is the man whose faith can see in the thick darkness, and whose soul can live in the year of drought; but that man is not far from a curse who slights the fellowship of the Lord, and esteems his smile to be a vain thing. It is an ill sign if any of us are in a contented state when we are forsaken of the Lord; it is not faith, but wicked indifference, which makes us careless concerning communion with Him. And yet how often have we had cause to lament our lack of concern; how frequently have we groaned because we could not weep as we ought for the return of our husband who had hidden himself from us!
When enveloped in the mists of desertion, we lose all those pleasant visions of the future which once were the jewels in the crown of our life. We have no climbings to the top of Pisgah; no prospects of the better land; no pledge of pure delight; no foretastes of the riches of glory, and no assurance of our title to the goodly land beyond Jordan. It is as much as we can do to preserve ourselves from despair; we cannot aspire to any confidence of future glory. It is a contested point with us whether we are not ripening for hell. We fear that we never knew a Saviour's love, but have been all along deceivers and deceived; the pit of hell yawns before us, and we are in great straits to maintain so much as a bare hope of escape from it. We had once despised others for what we thought to be foolish doubts, but now that we ourselves are ready to slip with our feet, we think far more of the lamps which we despised (Job 12:5) when we were at ease, and would be willing to change places with them if we might have as good an opinion of our own sincerity as we have of theirs. We would give anything for half a grain of hope, and would be well content to be the lowliest of the sheep, if we might only have a glimpse of the Shepherd.
The native buoyancy of spirit which distinguishes the heir of heaven is in a great measure removed by the departure of the Lord. The believer is spiritually a man who can float in the deepest waters, and mount above the highest billows; he is able, when in a right condition, to keep his head above all the floodwaters which may invade his peace: but see his Lord depart, and he sinks in deep mire, where there is no standing—all the waves and the billows have covered him. Troubles which were light as a feather to him, are now like mountains of lead; he is afraid of every dog that snarls at him, and trembles at every shadow. He who in his better days could cut down an acre of enemies with a single stroke, is afraid at the approach of a single adversary. He whose heart was fixed so that he was not afraid of evil tidings, is now alarmed at every report. Once he could hurl defiance to earth and hell with it, and could laugh at persecution, slander, and reproach, but he is now as timid as a deer, and trembles at every phantom that threatens him. His daily cares, which once he loved to cast upon the Lord, and counted only as the small dust of the balance are now borne upon the shoulders of his own anxiety, and are an intolerably oppressive load. He was once clothed in impervious armour, and was not afraid of sword or spear; but now that he has lost his Master's presence, such is his nakedness that every thorn pierces him, and every briar fetches blood from him; yes, his spirit is pierced through and through with anxious thoughts which once would have been his scorn. How the mighty are fallen; how the princes are taken in a net, and the nobles cast down as the mire of the street! He who could do all things can now do nothing; and he who could rejoice in deep distress is now mourning in the midst of blessings. He is like a chariot without wheels or horses, a harp without strings, a river without water, and a sail without wind. No songs and music now; his harp is hanging on the willows. It is vain to ask of him for a song, for ‘the chief musician with his stringed instruments’ has ceased to lead the choir. Can the spouse be happy when she has grieved her bridegroom and lost his company? No; she will go weeping through every street of the city, until she can again embrace him; her joy shall cease until again she shall behold his countenance.
It is frequently an effect of divine withdrawal that the mind becomes grovelling, and earthly. Covetousness and love of riches attain a sad preponderance. The Lord will hide himself if we love the world; and, on the other hand, his absence, which is intended for far other purposes, will sometimes, through the infirmity of our nature, increase the evil which it is intended to cure. When the Lord Jesus is present in the soul, and is beheld by it, ambition, covetousness, and worldliness flee quickly; for his apparent glory is such that earthly objects fade away like the stars in noonday; but when he is gone, they will show their false glitter, as the stars, however small, will shine at midnight. Find a Christian whose soul cleaves to the dust, and who cares for the things of this life, and you have found one who has had but little manifest fellowship with Jesus. As sure as we continually undervalue the Saviour's company, we shall set too high an estimate upon the things of this life, and then bitterness and disappointment are at the door.
At this juncture, moreover, the great enemy of souls is particularly busy; our distress is his opportunity, and he is not backward in availing himself of it. Now that Zion's Captain has removed his royal presence, the evil one concludes that he may deal with the soul using the strategies of his own malicious heart. Accordingly, with many a roar and hideous yell, he seeks to frighten the saint; and if this is not sufficient, he lifts his arm of terror and hurls his fiery dart. As lions prowl by night, so does he seek his prey in the darkness. The saint is now more than usually beneath his power; every wound from the venom filled dart festers and gangrenes more easily than at other times; while to the ear of the troubled one the howlings of Satan seem to be a thousand times louder than he had ever heard before. Doubts of our calling, our election, and adoption, fly into our souls like the flies that flew into Pharaoh’s palace, and all the while the grim fiend covers us with a darkness that may be felt. Had he attacked us in our hours of communion, we would soon have made him feel the metal of our swords; but our arm is trembling, and our strokes are like blows from the hand of a child, exciting his laughter rather than his fear. Oh for the days when we put to flight the armies of the aliens! would to God we could again put on strength, and by the arm of the Lord overthrow the hosts of hell! Like Samson we sigh for the hair in which our great strength lies; and when the shouts of the vaunting Philistines are in our ears, we cry for the strength which once laid our enemies into ‘heaps upon heaps’ by the thousands. We must again enjoy the manifest presence of the Lord, or we shall have hard work to lift up a flag against the enemy.
It is not an unusual circumstance to find sin return to the conscience at this critical season.
‘Now the heart, disclosed, betrays
All its hid disorders;
Enmity to God's right ways,
Blasphemies and murders,
Malice, envy, lust, and pride,
Thoughts obscene and filthy;
Sores corrupt and putrefied,
No part sound or healthy.
All things to promote our fall,
Show a mighty fitness;
Satan will accuse withal,
And the conscience witness;
Foes within, and foes without,
Wrath, and law, and terrors;
Rash presumption, timid doubt,
Coldness, deadness, errors.’
When Israel had the sea before them, and the mountains on either hand, their old masters thought it a fit time to pursue them; and now that the believer is in great straits, his former sins rise up to afflict him and cause him renewed sorrow: then our sins become more formidable to us than they were at our first repentance; when we were in Egypt we did not see the Egyptians on horses and in chariots—they only appeared as our taskmasters with their whips; but now we see them clad in armour, as mighty ones, full of wrath, bearing the instruments of death. The pangs of sin, when the Lord forsakes us, are frequently as vehement as at first conversion, and in some cases far more so; for a conviction of having grieved a Saviour whose love we have once known, and whose faithfulness we have proved, will cause grief of a far more poignant character than any other sort of conviction. Men who have been in a room full of light, think that the darkness is more dense than it is considered to be by those who have long walked in it; so pardoned men think more of the evil of sin than those who never saw the light.
The deserted soul has little or no liberty in prayer: he pursues the habit from a sense of duty, but it yields him no delight. In prayer the spirit is dull and lethargic, and after it the soul feels no more refreshment than is afforded to the weary by a sleep disturbed with dreams and broken with terrors. He is unable to enter into the spirit of worship; it is rather an attempt at devotion than the attainment of it. As when the bird with a broken wing strives to fly, and rises a little distance, but speedily falls to the ground, where it painfully limps and flaps its useless wing—so does the believer strive to pray, but fails to reach the height of his desires, and sorrowfully gropes his way with anguishing attempts to soar on high. A pious man once said, ‘Often when in prayer I feel as if I held between my palms the fatherly heart of God and the bloody hand of the Lord Jesus; for I remind the one of his divine love and inconceivable mercies, and I grasp the other by his promise, and strive to hold him fast and say, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.”’ [Gen. 32:26]. But when left by the Lord such blessed nearness of access is impossible; there is no answer of peace, no token for good, no message of love. The ladder is there, but no angels are ascending and descending upon it; the key of prayer is in the hand, but it turns uselessly within the lock. Prayer without the Lord's presence is like a bow without a string, or an arrow without a head.
The Bible, too, that great granary of the finest wheat, becomes a place of emptiness, where hunger looks in vain for food: in reading it, the distressed soul will think it to be all threatenings and no promises; he will see the terrors written in capitals, and the consolations printed in a type so small as to be almost illegible. Read the Word he must, for it has become as necessary as his food; but enjoy it he cannot, for its savour has departed. As well as we might try to read in the dark, there will be no joy from the Holy Scripture, unless Christ shall pour his gracious light upon the page. As the richest field yields no harvest without rain, so the book of revelation brings forth no comfort without the dew of the Spirit.
Our interaction with Christian friends, once so enriching, is rendered profitless, or at best its only usefulness is to reveal our poverty by enabling us to compare our own condition with that of other saints. We cannot minister to their edification, nor do we feel that their company is affording us its usual enjoyment; and it may be that we will turn away from them, longing to see His face whose absence we deplore. This barrenness spreads over all the ordinances of the Lord's house, and renders them all unprofitable. When Christ is with the Christian, the means of grace are like flowers in the sunshine, smelling fragrantly and smiling beautifully; but without Christ they are like flowers by night, their fountains of fragrance are sealed by the darkness. The songs of the temple shall be howlings in that day, and her solemn feasts as mournful as her days of fasting. The sacred supper which, when Christ is at the table, is a feast of fat things, without Him is as an empty vine. The holy convocation without him is as the gatherings in the marketplace, and the preaching of his Word as the shoutings in the streets. We hear, but the outer ear is the only part affected; we sing, but
‘Hosannas languish on our tongues,
And our devotion dies.’
We even attempt to preach (if this is our calling), but we speak in heavy chains, full of grievous bondage. We pant for God’s house, and then, after we have entered it, we are only the worse for it. We have thirsted for the well, and having reached it we find it empty.
Very probably we will grow highly critical, and blame the ministry and the church when the blame lies only within ourselves. We shall begin to complain, censure, criticise, and blame. I would to God that any who are now doing so would pause and inquire the reason of their unhappy disposition. Hear the reproof administered by one of the giants of puritanical times:
‘You come ofttimes to Wisdom's home, and though she prepare you all spiritual dainties, yet you can relish nothing but some by‑things, that lie about the dish rather for ornament than for food. And would you know the reason of this? It is because Christ is not with your spirits. If Christ were with you, you would feed on every dish at Wisdom's table, on promises, yea, and on threatenings too. “To the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet,” saith Solomon. All that is good and wholesome goes down well where Christ is with the spirit.’ [Lockyer]
Oh, for the Master's smile to impart a relish to his delicacies!
Weakness is the unavoidable result of the Lord's displeasure. ‘The joy of the Lord is our strength,’ and if this is lacking then we necessarily become faint. ‘His presence is life,’ and the removal of it shakes us to our very foundation. Duty is toilsome labour, unless Christ make it a delight. ‘Without me you can do nothing,’ said the Redeemer; and truly we have found it so. The boldness of lion‑like courage, the firmness of rooted decision, the confidence of unflinching faith, the seal of quenchless love, the vigour of undying devotion, the sweetness of sanctified fellowship—all hang for support upon the one pillar of the Saviour's presence, and if this is removed then they fail. There are many precious clusters, but they all grow on one bough, and if that is broken they fall with it. Though we are flourishing like the green bay tree, yet the sharpness of such a winter will leave us leafless and bare. Then ‘the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food.’ ‘Instead of a sweet smell there will be a stench; instead of a sash, a rope; instead of well-set hair, baldness; instead of a rich robe, a girding of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty’ (Isa. 3:24) It is then that we shall cry with Saul, ‘I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore, neither by prophets nor by dreams’ (1 Sam. 28:15). It is good for us that he is not completely gone forever, but will turn again lest we perish.
Not to weary ourselves upon this mournful topic, we may sum up the manifest effects of a loss of the manifest favour of Christ in one sad list—misery of spirit, faintness in hope, coldness in worship, slackness in duty, dullness in prayer, barrenness in meditation, worldliness of mind, strife of conscience, attacks from Satan, and weakness in resisting the enemy. The withdrawing of Divine presence work in man does him much ruin. Good Lord, deliver us from all grieving of your Spirit, from all offending of the Saviour, from all withdrawing of your visible favour, and loss of your presence. And if at any time we have erred, and have lost the light of your countenance, O Lord, help us still to believe your grace and trust in the merits of your Son, through whom we address you. Amen.
TO THE UNCONVERTED READER
SINNER, if the consequences of the temporary departure of God is so terrible, what must it be to be shut out from him forever? If the passing cloud of his seeming anger scatters such grievous rain upon the beloved sons of God, how terrible will be the continual shower of God's unchanging wrath which will fall on the head of rebellious sinners forever and ever! Ah, and we do not need to look as far as the future! How pitiable is your condition NOW! How great is the danger which you are exposed to every day! How can you eat or drink, or sleep or work, while the eternal God is your enemy? He whose wrath makes the devils roar in agony is not a God to be trifled with! Beware! his frown is death; it is more than that—it is hell. If you knew the misery of the saint when his Lord deserts him only for a small moment, it would be enough to amaze you. Then what must it be to endure it throughout eternity? Sinner, you are hurrying to hell, pay attention where you are at! Do not damn yourself, there are cheaper ways of playing the fool than that. Go and dress yourself in motley clothes, and become the mimicking fool, at whom men laugh, but do not make laughter for fiends forever. Carry coals on your head, or dash your head against the wall, to prove that you are mad, but do not ‘kick against the goads;’ do not commit suicide upon your own soul for the mere sake of indulging your thoughtlessness. Be wise, lest being often reproved, having hardened your neck, you should suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.
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