Crooked things straight
‘And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them and not forsake them.’
Isaiah Chapter 42 Verse 16
These words refer to the bringing of the gentiles to Christ The Gentiles comprised all nations outwith the commonwealth of Israel. Israel was the custodian of the Church’s Title Deeds – the divine revelation of God’s will and purpose. ‘He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgements unto Israel’ (Psalm 147:19). While the revelation of God’s purpose to save men was thus confined to this nation the Church prayed for the day when the knowledge of the Lord should fill the earth ‘as the waters cover the sea.’ The import of their prayer was:
That the earth thy way, and nations all
May know thy saving grace,
the way of salvation by the Gospel. The answer to that prayer was realised in the Saviour’s commission to His disciples, ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature’ Mark 16:15). Although the words refer to the gathering in of the Gentiles they no less set before us God’s bringing of His people to glory. We shall thus consider:
1. Who leads them?
2. The nature of the way.
3. The character of those who are led.
1 Who leads them?
He of whom it was prophesied of old, ‘Behold, I have given Him a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people’ Isaiah 55:4). In all history only One answers to this description, the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
When about to leave His disciples He comforts them with the assurance, ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’ The text describes the path by which He is bringing them there. And what more can be required to encourage His people than to know that He who redeemed them is their guide, going before them as ‘the captain of their salvation,’ preserving and keeping them as ‘the apple of the eye,’ ‘putting their tears into his bottle,’ and never leaving them till He presents them before God, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing.
And their first experience of His leading is His proving of them with His word and providence as to the sincerity of their intentions; whether they seek Him as their only and sufficient portion, or if anything short of this will satisfy them; whether they seek Him for what he is in Himself or for what he gives them.
When they are assured that He is their portion, henceforth they are filled with a consuming desire to devote themselves to His Person and cause in the world. And although His cause is despised and His followers few they join themselves with the few against the mighty, as David’s followers in the day of his distress declared their loyalty, ‘Thine are we, David, and on thy side, thou son of Jesse.’ Wholly taken up with what they hope to achieve for Christ, they depict to themselves a way they hope to pursue but a way in which there is none of the difficulties of the Christian life. The way by which God does conduct them is entirely different.
2 The nature of the way
It is a way they knew not. And well for them that it is so, that they know nothing beforehand of what they are to experience. Everything connected with the way is completely new to them, all which adds to its difficulties. It makes little difference that they heard much about it from others. What they heard and what they now experience are two different things.
A blind man might be taught to discuss the marvels of the universe but how different would things be were he to receive his sight. So with those who acquire an acquaintance with spiritual things by the hearing of the ear but who are yet unacquainted with the realities of the spiritual life.
Some of you have been in this condition. From infancy you were taught the rudiments of religion yet this knowledge never influenced your life and conduct. Like the Jews of old you ‘held the truth in unrighteousness.’ But what a transformation when the truth of eternal realities was brought home to you. Like the blind man on receiving his sight you feel, ‘one thing I know, whereas I was blind now I see.’
All things have become new. And you never anticipated such experiences as now come your way daily. Seldom anything happens as you expected. Being acquainted with God’s Word you naturally expect trials. But such trials as confront you on your way are of such a nature as makes it difficult to reconcile them with God’s dealings with His own people.
How can they be among the things that work together for good? How are you to find strength to bear them? What course are they to take and what is God’s end in sending them?
These are questions that occupy your mind continually. Yet despite this there are moments when you see God’s wisdom in sanctifying them to you, in weakening your attachment to the world, in subduing your pride and quickening your pace in the spiritual race.
‘By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged: and this is all the fruit to take away sin’ (Isaiah 27:9). Or ‘the fruit of all this,’ of all trials, ‘is to take away his sin.’ There are certain dealings, however, which we can never fathom such as Job writhed under when he prayed, ‘Show me why thou contendest with me.’ When we seek an explanation of these He holds back the face of His throne, and spreads His cloud upon it.
3 The character of those who are led
The blind: ‘I will bring the blind by a way they knew not.’ But are these not they who ‘were once darkness’ but ‘now are they light in the Lord?’ All that is true, but the blindness here ascribed to them consists in their ignorance of the way by which God is leading them.
How different is this from this way from that which they set themselves at the outset. Ask them how much they have learned. They will tell you they fell incapable of learning anything. Every day teaches them that ‘the way of man is not in himself,’ that were they left to themselves they could no more take another step in the way than they were at the outset capable of finding it.
At times they are led to seek guidance and are often startled by the guidance they receive. They pray for strength to enable them to perform the duties devolving upon them in connection with His cause, and God answers by making them conscious of their great weakness as never before. And yet that may be the very time they find they have the most to do, as if God required more of them when weakest than ever He did when strongest.
Yet this is quite consistent with God’s way of dealing with His people. It was Paul’s experience, ‘When I am weak then I am strong.’ And often when about to attempt great things in His name, He may dispense with their service and assign to others the duties they were so anxious to perform, thus clearly signifying that ‘their strength is to sit still’ Isaiah 30:7. In this way they are taught God’s sovereignty, ‘He gives not account of any of His matters’ Job 33:13.
Their desires, tastes, and inclinations differ far from what they once were. Their feelings undergo so many changes. Their understanding has been enlightened to discern and approve spiritual things. Their views of Providence have undergone a complete transformation. At one time their course appears clear, and, as the mariner at sea takes his bearings, they feel that now they know their position spiritually, and the relation in which they stand to God and His cause.
But soon the face of Providence assumes a frowning aspect. Their sun goes down as if never to rise again. They feel as if their course led away from instead of towards heaven. Not only do they meet with things which are new to them but with a great deal that is perplexing. They cannot fathom His dealings, what He is doing or intends to do.
They pray, but ‘clouds and darkness are around about him.’ They often feel as if on the brink of a dark and mysterious deep. And as a child, led by his father’s hand into the waves as they approach the shore, feels confident and confiding as long as he feels the bottom, but when carried beyond his depth is afraid although he is still safe in the same strong grasp, so they feel when they cannot discern the way by which He is leading them.
And this more or less is the case with those who make their feelings the basis of their progress in the life of grace. Their idea of the man who has made the greatest advance in the Christian life is that of one who has by sheer self denial and complete submission to the will of God attained to such a comfortable frame of mind that nothing can disturb him, at the same time associating with their own theory of the perfect Christian such passages as ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee.’
Whereas those enjoying this peace are those to whom every source of comfort apart from Christ has been denied. The sources of their comforts have all been emptied or made bitter so that they are forced to come to the well that never dries. The result of this dependence on frames and feelings is that those given to it never feel as they think it would be well for them to feel. Rutherford’s advice to one of his correspondents should be heeded by such. ‘It is not your rock that moves but your sea.’
Israel passed through a wilderness, ‘a dry, parched land’, on the way to Canaan ‘and the soul of the people was discouraged because of the way.’ There were no roads in the wilderness. They were led by ‘the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.’ So with those whom God is leading. It is by a ‘way they knew not.’ They are to live by faith, not by feeling. And ‘their soul is often discouraged because of the way.’ We read that God led them forth by a right way. It was the only right one.
They had ways of their own and so have we. But they were never consulted, neither are we. He led them and He leads us. At the outset God’s people are being prepared for hardships in the way of God. But what they meet with perplexes and discourages them. There is a mystery everywhere. ‘His way is in the deep and his paths are not known.’
Yet they should regard all they meet with as proofs that they are in the right way. Much of what they meet with is unavoidable arising from the nature of true religion and their own fallen nature. But with every trial relief is afforded and with every temptation ‘a way of escape’ is provided. This is the promise, ‘I will make the darkness light before them.’
Sore trials are often removed just when we have concluded we shall never be relieved of them; or if not removed, grace is given to bear them. Light gradually pervades the mind ands we realise why they are sent, how much good they have done and will yet do, and we realise how suitable they are to subdue the evil in our nature.
Under God, our own experiences form the key to many parts of God’s Word. In trial, faith is on the throne and passages which before seemed opposed to reason are now cleared up and henceforth ‘His statutes become their songs in the house of their pilgrimage.’ And He says, ‘I will not forsake them.’ How often they feel as if their sins had provoked Him to forsake them. How often do they complain, ‘My way is hid from the Lord.’
Here we would remind those who are careless as well as those who regard themselves as in the way to glory and are still in the broad way of sin and death that before they reach heaven there is ‘a strait gate’ they must enter and ‘a narrow way’ they must pursue right to the end.
And it is he that endureth to the end who shall be saved. Yet not by his own exertions but by ‘the right hand’ of Him who says. ‘I will bring the blind by a way they knew not, I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them and not forsake them.’