A bitter cup.
Uncertainty is a fearful test, when it comes to the soul of a man of great and energetic purpose. So long as there is no doubt about the course to be taken, so long as the plan is plainly revealed, it is easy for a courageous man to advance. But to such a one uncertainty is like a shock to the body, palsying the form and changing a strong arm into a nerveless, useless stick of bone and tissue. A cup may be very bitter, salt with the brine of tears and hot with the fire of vitriol, and yet, if all the ingredients in that cup are known to him who drinks it, grief has not reached its superlative. Socrates’ duty was plain to him. Hemlock was in the cup, and he knew it. But the liquor with which God fills the tumblers of His people is brewed from a thousand elements.
To trust in the dark, to believe in a rayless midnight, to cling to a thread well-nigh invisible, to say “Amen” to God when one has no idea of the greatness of the meaning of “His will,” that is the supremest test of loyalty.
The night picket.
The night picket stationed far out from the camp has need of much greater courage than the soldier in battle ranks rushing on toward the enemy. The man at the lonely picket post, cloaked in darkness, is guarding against uncertainty. He can not tell at once whether a dark object is a dangerous spy or a browsing Brindle. Sounds must be noted and sorted lest the enemy steal up to the slumbering army and destroy it. The snapping of twigs, the low whistle of a bird, the groan of the wind, the murmur of a waterfall must all be listened to with care.
It is suspense and a nameless dread and fear that sap many a mind and heart. Moments of breathless expectancy of evil tidings are like years in the life, bringing ashes to the hair, lines to the cheek and listlessness to the eye.
The palled face.
“Be sure you are right, then go ahead,” said Tennesseean Crockett; but supposing that one can not “be sure” of anything except the love of God, supposing that one looks out through the tangled limbs of the olive trees of a Gethsemane to a sky studded with pitiless stars, supposing that the future is obscure and the present black as Styx, supposing that even the face of the Father Himself is palled and curtained—then must one be content to trust and only trust.
There was another cause for pain in “the Garden.” The three disciples, whom He had chosen to accompany Him in His dark and lonely vigil, slept as He prayed. We can bring ourselves to overlook the negligence and apathy of Nicodemus and Lazarus and Simon the leper and Zaccheus and the crowds who had merely heard Him preach. We are willing perhaps to excuse eight of the twelve for their drowsiness—perchance they did not apprehend the full meaning of the hour to the Master. But there were three disciples to whom Christ had ever laid bare His heart. With Him they stood in the death chamber in the house of Jairus. To them it was given to behold “the vision splendid” on the mount of transfiguration, and these alone Jesus chose to enter into the fellowship of his Garden sufferings.