“A little while, and ye behold me no more; and again a little while, and ye shall see me.” (John 16:16).
No one can know the ways of the Lord completely. There is something new to be learned every day. However, among all that is changing in Christian experience there are two basic moods that are permanent; these are the two opposites of light and darkness, sunshine and shadow, day and night.
There are times when you are courageous and glad; at other times you are despondent and discouraged. One day you feel strong, full of faith and hope; the next you are weak and brittle as a straw, lacking both faith and vision. Your heaven is clear at one moment, and the sun of grace shines upon your life; the next an iron curtain shuts heaven from your view.
“A little while, and ye behold me no more; and again, a little while, and ye shall see me.”
Thus it was for the first disciples, and thus it shall be until the last Christian has been taken from this earth. There are times when even the best Christians find themselves in spiritual darkness. Jesus seems to disappear. Such periods are normal in a true Christian life. The most faithful servants of God are often the ones who must fight the greatest battles on this score.
“He hath walled me about, that I cannot go forth; he hath made my chain heavy. Yea, when I cry, and call for help, he shutteth out my prayer.” (Lam. 3:7-9).
Thus laments the great prophet Jeremiah.
“It is enough; now, 0 Jehovah, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.”
This is from the hero of Mount Carmel.
“My heart is sore pained within me; and the terrors of death are fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! Then would I fly away, and be at rest.” It is the shepherd boy, he who became Israel’s king and greatest warrior — he who without cowardice drew the sword against his enemies throughout his life — who speaks like this.
Of the disciples it is written that while they struggled throughout the night watches against contrary winds, Jesus was not in the boat at all. On another occasion He was asleep in their boat while the billows poured in over the sides.
“In a little while —.“
Thus Jesus deals with those who are His.
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Why does He do so?
Why may not a Christian have only that which is easy and pleasant in fellowship with God? It is easy to ask this question but difficult to answer. So often it must suffice for a Christian to be assured that God knows more than we do. We are to be satisfied to believe that He “doeth all things well,” and we are to understand it all hereafter. However, it strengthens us while we are in darkness to remember that much of what we did not understand in the past is clear to us now; that which at one time seemed to be the worst that could befall us has turned out to be a blessing. Where Jesus seemed to be altogether absent a while ago He is most clearly seen today.
We must remember, though, that much of the darkness that comes upon us is the result of our carelessness as Christians. If we become so worldly that our inner life deteriorates, we are certain to enter spiritual darkness. Our thoughts, inclinations, and sinful nature combine to lead us from the light and into darkness. Sin, when it is permitted to rule in a Christian’s life, has the awful power of removing Jesus from us.
Fortunately, it is not always carelessness and worldliness that is the cause of spiritual darkness. Our life is a period of training. We attend school with our Savior as teacher; we are to learn His will and ways, and to understand a little more of the mystery of His grace.
One of Christ’s methods in teaching us is to hide from us. At such times we have occasion to show by deeds what we hitherto have professed to believe. We remember so clearly that in more fortunate days it was easy to boast, “I will never desert Thee, my Lord and my God. I will never betray Thee, cost what it may.” Words like these were frequently on our lips in the days when we saw the Lord so clearly and when our hearts were full of joy.
If we will try to recall the state of our minds at such times, we shall discover that these boastful words contained a good deal of I will and I will not — based upon our own power.
We were not aware of it at the time. Our boasting sufficed as long as everything went smoothly. But there was no firmness or strength in it, because it was built on ourselves rather than on God. At such times we were like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration; he spoke, “not knowing what he said.”
Then Jesus retires from us for a while; in His divine wisdom He says, “I will now give you opportunity to demonstrate in deeds what you until now have professed. You have said that you will follow me everywhere; for a little while now I shall leave you in darkness and difficulty. Prove that you will stay by me.”
At such times we begin to understand that we did not realize what we said. We are at the point of giving up when the first difficulty presents itself. It is hard to believe we are Christians; we begin to doubt we have ever belonged to God. As the disciples after the death of Christ, we walk about as in a stupor; all roads seem to be closed, and the Savior is not there.
The first lesson we learn, after recovering from such experiences, is to know ourselves a bit better. We realize that we are not so strong as we thought we were; we had not realized that we were as weak as all that.
This beginning of wisdom is worth a great deal for us. Saints of the past generation said this was the first step in wisdom. Every Christian who has been in the Master’s school knows that it is true. Fortunate is the Christian who discovers this truth; but it is learned most effectively when the Savior hides.
Christians! It is good for us that the Savior occasionally withdraws from our sight. We do not realize how helpless we are without Him as long as we see Him clearly. We learn to appreciate a friend and helper when we no longer have him. If we are so fortunate as to have him restored to us, we prize him more highly than ever.
We must also remember that if we never had any opposition, our life would be concerned with “me” instead of “Him.”
Another danger that lurks along the road of uninterrupted good fortune is that we are so easily tempted to rest upon that which we in our hearts have received of God rather than upon the Savior Himself. If we fall for this temptation we become self-righteous. Many have fallen on this point, and bask in a piety of their own making. Their songs of praise spring from a self-righteous mind. They think they are better than others. They build on their own foundations without even realizing it. A self-sufficient Christian has a Christianity that is insufficient. He is a stumbling block to himself and others.
Christ does not want us to fall for this temptation; so He permits the darkness of His absence to come upon us. Under such conditions, when our piety disappears and when Christ vanishes, and we have left only a poor sinful life that desires to be saved, then we no longer depend upon ourselves. At such times we do not esteem ourselves better than others. In our own eyes we lack faith, love, light, peace, and power; in short, we lack everything. Only then do we learn to pray, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
It is when we are at this point that Jesus directs us to His grace again, and we learn to appreciate it more than ever before. Light begins to dawn upon us, and we see Christ anew.
When God, my Savior, hideth, Then darkness gathers round; With me great grief abideth, My heart with fear is bound.
But when the light thus fails me, And darkness me surrounds; No help of man avails me, But then His help abounds.
Jesus also tells us in this passage that a Christian cannot live a carefree life in this world. A worldly person may, but not a Christian. “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice.”
God’s people have always been acquainted with grief; from ancient days we hear of their weeping. Even the strong and courageous heroes sank into grief.
“I am weary with my groaning; every night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.” (Ps. 6:6).
“My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?” (Ps. 42:3).
“For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping.” (Ps. 102:9).
“Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jer. 9:1).
Thus a man of God may weep over his godless people.
Paul says: “I served the Lord with many tears.” — “I wrote unto you with my tears.” — “I have told you often, and now tell you even with weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ.” — “As I remember your tears, I long night and day to see you.”
Paul was not easily moved to tears. He was a strong man with a great will-power; but as a Christian and a servant of Christ also he had to weep.
There are many reasons why Christians weep also today. They weep over themselves, and those of their own who live apart from Christ; they weep over a godless people; they weep because they do not see Christ, and because they note so little progress in Christian living.
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Weeping Christians, it is better to enter heaven with tears than hell with laughter. Listen to the words of Jesus: “In a little while” everything will be changed. Today you weep; tomorrow you may enter eternal blessedness. Yes, even before the sun sinks in the west today your heavenly Father may have wiped the last tear from your eyes. If your Savior were to come in the clouds today to receive you, would you be sorry that you had been weeping for a little while? Would you exchange with him who now laughs?
But even if he should come neither today nor tomorrow, we can be certain that it is only a little while until He comes. Measured against eternity our time on earth is but as a sigh.
Soon we are home and shall stand before Him; What matter then, though we have suffered here. Then He shall crown us, while we adore Him; So death and all our pains will disappear.
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But you people who seems to rejoice apart from God! Bear in mind that in a little while you will never be happy again. When the time of grace is over, and you depart from God forever, then you will enter the place of eternal lament. Not a ray of hope for better days will enter that place. The sun has descended upon your life for the last time. There will never be another invitation for you to come to God. The dark shadows of death are everywhere, and you spend eternity’s night in weeping.
I would counsel you to find your place near to the heart of your Savior, there to weep over your sins today. Everyone who weeps over his sins now has hopes of better days. For him the road leads away from sorrow and to eternal blessedness.
What blessedness were yours today, If you began right now to walk upon that way.
Finally, a word to you who are a Christian!
In a little while your day of labor will be over. No one will ask you again to speak to others about the Savior. You shall have no further opportunity to comfort a discouraged soul, to strengthen a doubting friend, or to give another gift to missions.
“In a little while —“
Make use of your precious days. Serve the Lord, and help your neighbor to find Him. Do not complain because you have too much to do for God; rather rejoice that He has given you the privilege of being His servant. In a little while you will rest from your labor, and your works shall follow you. All which is from God returns to Him.
“And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away.” (Rev. 21:4).
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