Clouds

Our steamer was expected to reach a small sea coast town on a West Indian island about daybreak, for the disembarking of mails and passengers, and we knew that we ought then to see one of the most beautiful views on earth. A high range of mountains, shading away from a vivid green at their base to a deep purple at their summit, rearing their heads against the glorious blue of a tropical sky, while waving along the shore were feathered palms, as of some fabled land, and all the picturesque surroundings of a harbour, the waters of which were as blue as the heavens above: this was what we had anticipated and talked about. We were early astir, waiting for the morning to break over the eastern sea, but when it did at last appear, we saw not the landscape that we had expected, for heavy clouds hid those mountains with their gorgeous colours from our view and we could only see the foothills that skirted the coast. Those who had not seen the mountains could scarcely believe that they were there, and if they had not been indelibly photographed on our minds, we too should have questioned their existence, so that, even to us they were but a memory.

Our disappointment that morning became a parable to me, and it spoke so loud that I was compelled to listen and consider it. How often in my own life have clouds arisen, obscuring my outlook, and hiding from me "the things that are not seen," the eternal things; and I know that it is so in the lives of my brethren also. What a disappointing thing the Christian life is when clouds have gathered about the soul, and when the eyes that God has created and set in the heart cannot "see Jesus, crowned with glory and honour."

"When mists hang dank in front and flank,
And straining eyes can naught discover."

Things nearer at hand may remain in view — perhaps formal fellowship with Christians, or some service undertaken in brighter days, but the joy, the rapture, the spiritual experience of faith's undimmed outlook: these have vanished, and become a thing of memory, a memory that only increases the unhappiness and forces sighs from the lips that ought to be full of song.

Clouds are of various sorts and are caused by various conditions, but the chief causes are, either the mixing of two currents of different temperatures, or the cooling of the air by diminishing pressure. The cooling of the affections towards the Lord is bound to produce clouds over the soul, and how easily this may be brought about by the currents that prevail in the world; indeed even apart from these, it is the tendency of the soul to decline. An old Christian was asked as to the spiritual condition of the company of Christians, with which he associated. His answer was, "It's all chilled down." "But what is the cause of its being chilled down?" "There ain't no cause," he said, "It's just naturally chilled down." And that, I believe, hits off the situation in ten thousand cases. And so the clouds arise, not from any deliberate backsliding, but through the soul getting lethargic and going to sleep, and becoming wrapt in mists so that the Christ no longer shines effectually upon it. If any are conscious of this "chilled down" condition, and of clouds upon the soul, there is need for an arousal, or spiritual health will decline more and more, and the soul become an easy prey to the world, the flesh and the devil. "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from among the dead, and the Christ shall shine upon thee" (Eph. 5:14, N.Tr.).

There was one great thing that was impressed upon me that morning in the West Indies, and it may be that it will bring consolation to some who are realizing that clouds have arisen between their soul and God; it was this, As the sun climbed the heavens in his strength, it came home to me with great force, what of course I well knew, The clouds were temporary, but the mountains were permanent, the clouds passed and the mountains remained. How I thanked God for that thought, and I thank Him again for it as I write. Even if the world has come in, and as a black cloud covers the whole of your sky, my friend, for whom I write earnestly and prayerfully, turning the summer of your happiness into a veritable winter of discontent, yet we read, "The world passeth away and the lust thereof." It shall pass for you and your eyes shall see Him, whom having not seen, except by faith, you do love, though now, alas, to your misery and His grief, you have left your first love. Yes, God remains in all the blessedness of the revelation that Christ has made of Him, and Christ remains, the same yesterday and today and for ever. The clouds pass; they do not cover His face but your heart; they have not changed His love, it is your love that has "chilled down"; yet the clouds are not permanent; God and Christ, and the things that God hath prepared for those that love Him, these are permanent, these are eternal.

What a wonderful thing true restoration of the soul is; how blessed it is to feel the chilling mists lifted and dispelled by the strong shining of the Saviour's love, and to feel the light and the warmth of it reaching the soul afresh. It is a never-to-be-forgotten experience. J.N.Darby has expressed it beautifully and for our help in one of his remarkable hymns.

"And yet Thy love's unchanging,
  And doth recall my heart
To joy in all the brightness,
  The peace its beams impart.
"Still sweet 'tis to discover,
  If clouds have dimmed my sight,
When passed, Eternal Lover,
  Towards me, as e'er, Thou'rt bright."

But this experience can only be known by those who sincerely, and with deep heart-searchings, seek the Lord's presence, and are subjected to His searching. "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

But what a hope is ours! a joyful and blessed hope! "We have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."

"There shall all clouds depart,
  The wilderness shall cease,
And gladly shall each raptured heart
  Enjoy eternal peace."

But now the Lord would have us clear of the clouds, that beholding His glory, we might be changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18).