As we launch out into another year there is little visible prospect of a smooth and pleasant voyage. To the natural eye the clouds are dark and fierce storms seem imminent. The very uncertainty of what the morrow may bring forth fills many with uneasiness and trepidation. But how different should be the state of God's children: an all-sufficient Object is presented to the eyes of their faith from which unbelief derives no comfort. If the poor worldling is concerned with what lies before him, it is the blessed privilege of the believer to be occupied with Who goes before him—the One who is his Captain, his Guide, his Forerunner. “The Lord! HE it is that doth go before thee" (Deut. 31:8). What a difference that makes! O that writer and reader may be enabled to lay hold of this grand Truth as we enter another period of time and keep it steadily in mind throughout the coming days!
1. The Lord has gone before you in the grand decree of His predestination. Last year was one of suspense and sorrow, of trial and trouble and perhaps you tremble at what this one has in store. Well, here is solid comfort. Your future has all been marked out for you. You shall not tread a step which is not mapped on the grand chart of God's foreordination. All your circumstances have been Divinely ordered for you. Ah, Christian reader, what an immense difference this makes that you are not a child of chance, that your lot is not decided by the caprice of fickle fortune. Infinite wisdom and infinite love have arranged everything. You will go nowhere during 1943 but where God has decreed, His “goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" (Micah 5:2), planning your path, your life. A predestinating God has appointed “the bounds of your habitation" (Acts 17:26). You may be thrust into the furnace of affliction, yet you will not be deserted. You may be brought low, yet it will be for your future blessing. You may be chastened, yet the rod is in the hand of your Father.
“Your times of trial and of grief, Your times of joy and sweet relief, All shall come and last and end As shall please your heavenly Friend."
2. The Lord has gone before you in the preparations of His Providence. “My god shall supply all your need" (Phil. 4:19): full provision has already been made for it. Jehovah does not have to improvise. No unexpected emergency can overtake Him: “known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18). Therefore is it written, “And it shall come to pass that before they call I will answer" (Isa. 65:24). Before we reach a place, God has provided for us wherever the road leads, all has been made ready. “Who went in the way before you, to search you out a place to pitch your tents in" (Deut. 1:33); and He will not do less for His people today. Canaan was fully prepared for Israel long before they arrived there: “when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which He sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thoubuildest not, and houses full of good things which thou filledst not, and wells digged which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees which thou plantedst not" (Deut. 6:10, 11). Here is comfort for the preacher too: “The LORD, He it is that doth go before thee," to prepare hearts for the message, for the reception of the Truth.
3. The Lord has gone before you inPerson. The path which He calls you to tread has first been traversed by Himself. None other than the Lord of Glory became incarnate, entered this world of ours and tabernacled here for thirty-three years in the flesh, that He might be the Captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10). “When He putteth forth His own sheep, He goeth before them" (John 10:4). Are they required to tread the way of obedience? Well, their Shepherd has Himself preceded them therein. Are they required to deny themselves and take up their cross? Well, He Himself did nothing less. Are they called upon to be buffeted, not for their faults but when they do well, to be persecuted for righteousness' sake? Well, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow His steps" (1 Peter 2:21). What comfort is there here: that the trials we endure for the Truth's sake, that the unkind treatment we meet with from professing brethren because we dare not compromise are an essential part of the process of our being conformed to the image of God's Son! Shall we be called upon to pass through the valley of the shadow of death? Well, the Christian has nothing to fear, for Christ has gone before Him and extracted the sting of death.
4. The Lord has gone before you in the directions of His Precepts. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Psa. 119:105), revealing the way of peace and blessing through this dark world. Especially is that true of its preceptive portions, for they make known the paths of righteousness which we are to tread. Ignorance of God's will concerning the way we should go is inexcusable, for He has already clearly and definitely made known His will. The highway of holiness does not have to be made by us: it is there plainly enough before us in the Word and it is ours to walk in it. “Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel and afterward receive me to glory" (Psa. 73:24). A “guide" is one who goes before us, directing our course and the “counsel" of our Divine Guide is contained in His prohibitions and commandments and according as we heed them shall we escape the dangers around us and be kept in the narrow way which leadeth unto Life.
5. The Lord has gone before you in the provisions of His promises. What are the Divine promises but so many anticipations of our varied needs and guarantees that God stands pledged to supply them? They are so many proofs of His omniscience which foresaw what would meet our requirements. They are so many tokens of His lovingkindness to manifest His tender concerns for us long before we had any historical existence. They are so many evidences of His faithfulness that He will withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly. Whatever tomorrow may hold, the Divine promises assure the Christian that the Lord has gone before and made every provision for him. No dire situation, no pressing emergency, no desperate peril can possibly arise but what there is one of the “exceeding great and precious promises" (2 Peter 1:4) exactly suited to our case. Their value lies in the fact that they are the word of His who cannot lie and “this God is our God forever and ever: He will be our Guide even unto death" (Psa. 48:14).
6. The Lord has gone before you into Paradise. Did He not expressly announce ere He left this scene, “In My Father's House are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you: I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2)? Not for Himself but for His redeemed: nor would He entrust this task unto the angels. How it tells of the love of the Bridegroom for His Bride! Christ has entered Heaven on our behalf, taking possession thereof in our name: “whither the Forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus" (Heb. 6:20). His entry ensures ours. “Father," He says, “I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which Thou hast given Me" (John 17:24).
“He and I in one bright glory Endless bliss shall share: Mine, to be forever with Him, His, that I am there."
Here, then, is real substantial comfort, and what shall be my response thereto? “The LORD, He it is that doth go before thee" (Deut. 31:8). Then, first, my eye should be constantly fixed upon Him: “looking unto Jesus" (Heb. 12:2)—looking away from all else, trusting none other. Second, then it is my business to follow Him—for what other purpose is a Guide?—“When He putteth forth His own sheep, He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him" (John 10:4). And as they do, so they find that He makes them to lie down in green pastures, that He leads them beside the still waters. Ah, who would not follow such a Shepherd! O that the Lord may say of us as He did of Caleb, “he hath followed Me fully" (Num. 14:24).
Third, then fear should be entirely banished from my heart. And will it not be so if faith really lays hold of this: “The LORD, HE it is that doth go before thee, He will be with thee, He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee; fear not, neither be dismayed" (Deut. 31:8).
7. The Lord has gone before the preacher. This little message would hardly be complete if we failed to include a special word for the minister of the Gospel. Nor has God overlooked him at this very point. “Behold HE goeth before you" (Matt. 28:7), is addressed immediately unto the servants of Christ and it is for their faith to appropriate the same. According as they do so will their hearts and hands be strengthened. If you are really the servant of Christ, your Master has not called you to draw a bow at a venture but has appointed your specific place in His vineyard and has ordered everything in connection therewith. That does not mean all will be smooth sailing. It did not mean that for the Apostles, as the book of Acts shows. But it did mean that they were not left without a Pilot. HE not only went before them but gave assurance, “Lo, I am with you, alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:20). That is the grand consolation of this writer. May it be yours, too.—A.W.P.