"Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent." Luke 24:29.
There is something peculiarly solemnizing and expressive in the fall of the night, wrapping the earth in its deepening shades until all is lost in darkness. Light is pleasant to the eyes. By it we are naturally gladdened. It casts its radiance on all around, and causes earth in its beauty to minister its joys to us. We seem to be the centre of all its fragrance and sweetness, as though all things were made for our enjoyment. But the sun declines, and shadows of night fall, blotting out gradually all that has gladdened us, until at the last all is gone, and we are left in the solitude of darkness. Not that all days are sunny. Days have their clouds, which are sometimes dark; yet in the darkest day there is not the intense solitude of the night.
The day of man's four thousand years' history was far from being bright. Thick clouds hung over it from first to last, only occasionally relieved by temporary gleams of brightness. Yet the gleams, transient as they were, sustained hope. Who could tell but that the clouds might pass away, and even yet there might be bright shining?
Luke's gospel opens with the account of a band of men and women who had doubtless long ago lost all hope connected with reformers and doctors of the law. But they looked for redemption at the coming of the Lord's Christ. How were their hearts gladdened at His birth! They trusted that it was He who should redeem Israel. Through the tender mercy of their God, the dayspring from on high had visited them. Now should pass away the dark clouds of man's sin and folly, and there should be the bright shining which should fill their hearts with peace and joy.
Who can tell the deep anguish of the souls of those men and women as the dark shadow of His rejection and cross fell over them! Though a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, yet the chief priests and their rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. Their last hope was gone. On the third day after His crucifixion, as the day wore away, two disciples set out from Jerusalem to go to their own home. Darkness had fallen upon their spirits by the ending of their fondest hope, and then they turned to the shelter of their own home. It is true that certain women of their company had astonished them by news of His being alive; but they were slow to believe, for they could not understand it.
While they walked in their sadness and talked another joined them whom they knew not. Though He seemed to them a stranger, yet they could so confide in Him that they told Him all their heart, speaking of expectations formed and sadly blighted and done away. He talked with them, and opened to them the Scriptures, making their heart burn within them. It was not that He revived the day. He turned not back the shadow upon the sun-dial, no, not so much as by one degree. He commanded not the sun to stand still. The day still declined, but they had found One who could comfort them amidst the shadows, so that when they reached the point where their ways seemed to divide (for He made as if He would go further) they could not part with Him, they must retain Him as their solace in the darkness of the night. They constrained Him, saying, "Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent." He graciously yielded to their constraint. He sat at their table, the unknown comfort in their sorrow, the One to whom their hearts clung when all else was gone. He took their bread into His hands, He blessed, He brake, and gave to them. In that significant action He was made known to them. It was His own inimitable style; it was HIMSELF. No wonder now that He gained their confidence, relieving their heart, and making it to burn by His own communications. They had regained Him in whom had centred all their hopes which had been broken. But not for earth, not for their own circumstances; He vanished out of their sight.
The gloom of night still rested upon the earth, but the light of another day had dawned upon their souls, a "morning without clouds." They could not have explained it, for as yet they understood it not, but they caught the impression of it. There was One, and He the object of their hearts, alive out of death, the beginning of a new order of things. What glorious unfoldings remained to be made of that new order, that new day connected with His resurrection! They had but caught its very faintest impression in their souls, yet such was its power that out again they went amid the dark shadows of this world to the spot where the resurrection of Jesus was known. They found the disciples gathered together, saying, "The Lord is risen indeed."
How many in spirit have trodden a similar path to that which led from Jerusalem to Emmaus! Their hopes have been connected with the earth and with flesh, and they have seen them broken one after another, until they felt they could only retreat into the little domain which they called their own, there to nurse their grief. But in retreating there has drawn near to them One who so asserted His place in their hearts that they could not spare Him; so that, as all darkened, their yearning language has been, "Abide with us; for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent."
"Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
"Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou, who changest not, abide with me."
But how great has been the change when eyes have been opened to know Him in His own proper place and glory, and there has thus burst upon the ravished vision the light of another day! Not all at once has it been understood; but when He is known as the One alive out of death, He leads the soul that is attached to Him into the light and glory of the place to which He has gone, into the unfading brightness of another world. Then through the darkness which overspreads this world, unrelieved by the faintest gleam, the soul awaits His appearing and glory.
It was the light of that glory which shone on Saul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus. It was not that things here were to him lost in darkness; for, whatever the secret misgivings of his heart, the sun of man's glory was at its noonday height, when, in a moment, the shining of the surpassing light plunged him into midnight darkness. During the three following days of intense solitude he learned the end of everything connected with the flesh and the world. But then opened to him all the brightness of that spot from whence had come the light which had turned his brightest day into darkest night. Not for himself alone were the unfoldings of that surpassing glory; he was the chosen vessel for their communication to us. Through those communications the Spirit leads us to Christ in glory; and we find, not merely a solace in the darkness of the night, but the establishment of every purpose of God, and the abundant satisfaction of the longing of the heart that is devoted to Him. All is set up in Him in unfailing security and in unfading brightness.
Here on earth the darkness of night still remains. But our apostle says, "The night is far spent, the day is at hand." (Rom. 13:12.) The darkness for the earth will soon be past, for the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in His wings. The creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption and brought into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. Blessed day of undimmed light and perfect liberty! Yet we can add -
"But, oh, for us, blest Saviour,
How brighter far the lot,
To be with Thee for ever,
Where evil enters not;
To see Thee who'st so loved us,
Then face to face above,
Whose grace at first had moved us
To taste and know Thy love!
May the Lord grant us to know more of the brightness of that day upon which faith lays hold, in connection with His own blessed person, that we may walk in peace, power, and joy through the darkness of the far-spent night. J. R.