God’s Hidden Ones
“Thy hidden ones.” — Psalm lxxxiii. 3.
IT was the desire of Asaph to obtain for his nation help from God. Israel was exposed to great danger; ten confederate nations had conspired, with desperate hate, to assail the chosen people. They were determined to root out the very name of Israel from among the nations, they joined together in a wicked league for this purpose, and they came from all quarters, north, south, east, and west, in order utterly to devour the little insignificant people whom God had called his own. It was the psalmist’s desire to bring God into this quarrel, to stir him up to take the part of Israel, and he therefore cried, “Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God. For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head. They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.”
Nothing stirs a man more than when his children are assailed; the most quiet and inoffensive individual grows angry if his little one is touched, the blood flies to his cheek, and all his manhood is aroused to defend his child. So the psalmist pleads with God that this nation was his own, and that therefore he must protect it, and he describes the people by this singular but instructive title, “Thy hidden ones.” I am going to enquire what may be meant by this term, “Thy hidden ones”, in the desire that some of God’s hidden ones may be found out, and that the Lord’s blessing may rest upon them; and, first, I shall ask, Why are they called God's hidden ones? Secondly, What is their special honour? They are God’s hidden ones, they belong to him; and, thirdly, What then?
I. First, then, Why are they called God's hidden ones?
I think, in the connection in which these words occur, the phrase means that they were hidden by God with a view to safety. The ten heathen nations conspired against Israel, but they could not really harm the chosen people, for God himself had hidden them as a hen hides her chickens under her wings when the kite hovers overhead, or as one who has found a treasure hides it away from the hands of the thief. As the most precious things are put into caskets, and kept concealed for safety, so does God hide away his people, and preserve them. God puts his saints where the enemy cannot find them, or, if he finds them so as to see where they are, God places them where the enemy cannot reach them. Sometimes he puts them in the secret of his pavilion; yea, in the secret of his tabernacle does he hide them. As well might the devil think to destroy an angel as to destroy a child of God. That same power that protects the perfect ones before the throne protects believing ones who are on the way thither. “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations,” and such a dwelling-place that we have been hidden away in thee so that no evil has been able to reach us! You remember that, when Athaliah sought to kill all the seed royal, Jehoiada the priest took Joash, who was then a child, and hid him for six years in the house of the Lord, and there he was safe. Thus does God take each one of his children, and make a Joash of him, and preserves him from the assault of the enemy so that he cannot be destroyed. God said to Noah, “Come thou and all thy house into the ark,” and he and his household went into the ark, and the Lord shut them in. They were hidden in that ark of safety from the floods which rose from beneath, and the rain which fell from above, and thus they outlived the Deluge. So, if thou believest in Jesus, God will hide thee away from all the rage of earth and hell. He will preserve thee, thou shalt be one of his hidden ones, of whom Christ said, “They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” They are God’s hidden ones. As the king takes care of his royal diadem and crown jewels, so does God watch over those who have made a covenant with him by sacrifice. “They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels.” What a privilege is yours and mine, dear hearers, if, indeed, we have so believed in Christ that we are hidden away in him! “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” Rightly do we sing,—
“How blest are they who still abide
Close shelter’d in thy bleeding side!
Who life and strength from thence derive,
And by thee move, and in thee live.”
I think this is the first reason why the Israelites were called God’s hidden ones, because he had put them out of the reach of their adversaries, and concealed them in a place of safety.
But, next, I think there is another meaning which some of us have at times realized. They are God’s hidden ones because he gives them quiet and peace, even in the midst of turmoil and sorrow. The psalmist seems to say, “Thine enemies make a tumult, but thy hidden ones are quiet.” Do you not know what this experience means? Have you never felt it? That trouble you dreaded so much, of which you said, “I am sure it will crush me,” would have crushed you if you had been left to yourself; but when it came, you were strangely upheld, and kept so calm and placid that you did not know yourself. When you saw your husband die, and those little children were all around you, and you knew that you were a widow, how was it that then you were still so trustful? Or you, dear husband, when you saw your wife at last expire, and the light of your home was quenched, how was it that you still said and meant it, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”? Why, it was because the Lord had made you one of his hidden ones! He said, “Come home, dear child, come and rest with me;” and he shut you away from all the trial, and enabled you to find peace in him.
Do you remember that wonderful poem by Miss Havergal, in which she speaks of the peculiar calm which prevails at the very centre of a cyclone? The gifted poetess writes:—
“They say there is a hollow, safe and still,
A point of coolness and repose
Within the centre of a flame, where life might dwell
Unharmed and unconsumed, as in a luminous shell,
Which the bright walls of fire enclose
In breachless splendour, barrier that no foes
Could pass at will.
There is a point of rest
At the great centre of the cyclone’s force,
A silence at its secret source;—
A little child might slumber undistressed,
Without the ruffle of one fairy curl,
In that strange central calm amid the mighty whirl.”
Well now, some of us have at times known the experience which is typified in those lines. Troubles of every sort and size come upon us, we are vexed with every form of calamity; and yet all the time we are serenely quiet, and perfectly happy. I should think that an eagle, aloft there, when he sees the sportsman coming with his gun, however far the bullet may carry, if he knows himself to be quite out of range, would poise himself upon the wing, and look down upon the sportsman with a merry heart. Let him send his bullet up into the air as far as it can rise, but the eagle is high above it all; and God gives his children, at times, such mounting faith that they rise up as upon the wings of eagles, and the bullets of trouble cannot reach halfway to them. There, in the clear blue heaven of fellowship with God, they look down on the tops of the clouds, and defy all the assaults of man. Happy are they who have thus become God’s hidden ones.
There are green meadows, there are still waters; but I believe they are mostly to be found in the places where trials most abound; there, consolations are most plentiful. I hardly think that a man knows the deeps of the serenity of God unless he has been greatly tried. There are wonderful sights that none shall see but those who are hidden away by the Lord in the time of storm and trouble. Oh, the strife of tongues, the endless babbling of slander! What a blessing not to hear it, or to hear it as a deaf man that heareth not. Oh, the noise of misrepresentation! Oh, the wave upon wave of actual trouble that may come to you in business or in the domestic circle! What joy it is to be just kept out of it all, as I said before, like Noah in the ark, all the world drowned, but you shut up in safety! And remember that, the deeper the floods became, the higher Noah rose toward heaven; so shall it be with you. The more of trial you have to endure, the more of communion you shall have to enjoy. This is the happy, happy case of a tried child of God.
There are two meanings, then, of this expression, hidden away for safety, and hidden away for quiet.
But, next, God’s people may be hidden away because they are not understood. The true Christian is a marvel to other men. He is a stranger and a foreigner amongst them. He is a plant that never would have grown on earthly mould unless God had planted it there. The Christian is a man wondered at. If you are understood, you are in the wrong. If you are a genuine Christian, and are right, you will be misunderstood by the world; it has not the faculty of understanding the saints. He who has been made to live unto God lives a life that is quite incomprehensible to ordinary men. Nay, let me put it very plainly, the spiritual life, which God gives to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, is altogether beyond the discernment of the carnal mind. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” and cannot rise to an understanding of that which is born of the Spirit, which alone is spirit. Your life is a secret between God and yourself.
So, too, the motive of your life will not be understood by other men. They feel sure that there is something at the back of it. If you were to tell them that you lived only for God’s glory, they would laugh at you. God’s glory— what is that to them? They think that no doubt you make a good thing out of your religion, and herein they prove themselves to have learned their lesson in the school of the devil, for he said, “Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side?” The desire to live so as to please God belongs to every man who walks with God; but it will not be understood by other men. God’s people are in this sense his hidden ones.
Hence, the comfort that reigns in a Christian’s heart is a thing which he cannot impart to others. If others were to hear the reason of the believer’s happiness, they would say, “Well, that would not make me happy; there is nothing in it that would sustain me.” Nor is there; that food on which angels live is not such as common flesh and blood could feed upon, and the inward comforts of the child of God are such as the world cannot give, because it cannot even understand them.
So your hopes, the lamps that light up your life, the world knows nothing about these. Perhaps some of your own brothers and sisters do not understand your hopes; and when you talk about death with pleasure, and about the eternal state with delight, they think that you are half insane. It is because they are altogether insane that they think so. But if you are one of God’s hidden ones, in all these points you will be a stranger to your own mother’s children, you will be one who cannot be understood. Do not expect to be understood; settle this in your mind, and it will save you a great deal of heartburning and disappointment.
There is a third sense, then, in which God’s children may be called hidden ones, because they are not understood.
But there are some of them who are hidden in another sense; they are very obscure. Some of God’s best children have not anything that can bring them to the light here on earth. Perhaps they may be living among rich people, and as they are very poor nobody notices them. There is a directory containing the names and addresses of the great people who live in the town, but they have not put poor Mary’s name in that book; and as to John, well, the highest degree he ever had was that he was a cobbler, and his name is not down, of course. The Lord has many of those hidden ones who are not known among the great because they are so little in Israel.
Some of God’s hidden ones are not known because they are ill. It is now several months that poor Mary has been lying on a bed; it is years since William has gone out of the house at all, and very few ever come to see these hidden ones; but I bear my witness that some of the best things I have ever learned from mortal lips I have learned from bedridden saints. There are some who wickedly teach that bodily afflictions are caused by sin. It is a cruel— I was going to say, an infernal— supposition, for some of the holiest people I have known have been bedridden for ten, twelve, or fifteen years; and if I were to say that I thought they were sinners above others, I should belie my convictions, for in sitting down to talk with some of them I have found them to be saints above others. I shall never forget going some miles, years ago, to see a woman who had been bedridden for, I think, twenty or twenty-five years. I went up a ladder to the room where she was. She was rendered comfortable by the kindness of those who came to see her. She sat up in bed as best she could, and, oh, I wish that I could preach such sermons as she preached to me when she spoke about the goodness of the Lord to her, and told me how that poor chamber was made to glow in the middle of the night with the delightful presence of her Lord! She was one of God’s hidden ones; and he has many such. Now, just think of that a minute, and pray God to bless his dear hidden sick ones at this moment, and ask him to cheer and comfort their hearts.
Perhaps there are some hidden ones who come into our places of worship, and have no one to speak to them. I do not think that many such persons come to the Tabernacle; I hope there never will be. There is a brother, who was a member here, and who will be a member here again; he has gone to live in the suburbs, and he attends a very respectable place of worship. They are very good people; but, you know, our friends in the suburbs are so much more respectable than we are, and they know it, too; and there, in the outer ring of London, it is perfectly wonderful what great people they are, you would not believe it. When they come into the City to business, they are not Ling very particular; but as soon as they get out to the suburbs, they are wonderful people. This brother says, “I have been in and out of the chapel for months, and nobody ever speaks to me.” The fact is, I expect, that he keeps a grocer’s shop, and some of these people deal with him, so they do not know him on a Sunday, of course, because he is only a grocer! I hope that you will never get such abominable notions into your heads. This wretched caste, that divides us up into little sets, reminds me of the Hindoos. Keep it up in the world, if you are foolish enough to do so; but do not bring the evil into the Church of Christ. Here, at any rate, we are brethren; let us feel that we are one in Christ, and put aside from us all that stiffness which would make us keep our petty nobodies to ourselves. If there is a man who is a really great man, I always notice that he is the most condescending and gentle man that there is; but it is your nobody who always makes himself appear somebody. Now, dear friend, if you have come in and out of this place, and you have not been noticed by anybody, I pray you to begin to notice somebody yourself; and if you have come in and out of any place of worship, and nobody has spoken to you, remember that the Lord has his hidden ones, and you may be one of them. It may be that quite from inadvertence, not from unkindness, you have not been spoken to; so begin to break the ice yourself by speaking to someone else, and may God bless you, so that you may in that sense be no more a hidden one!
Now I ask you to think for a minute of another way in which some of God’s people are hidden ones. I mean this: do you suppose that God has none of his people in churches and communities that are steeped in error? If you think so, I do not. It is always a comfort to my heart to believe that in the great Romish Church there are hundreds of thousands who have found the Saviour, and are resting in his atoning sacrifice; they are God’s hidden ones. I have here and there stumbled upon some of these myself; and when we have come to speak about the Cross and the wounds of Christ, and his precious blood, all that rubbish about the Virgin and the saints has been forgotten, and I have found myself much nearer akin to those hidden ones than I had thought I might have been. And there are many books that have been written by persons who are members of that Church which, nevertheless, are full of such a savour of grace and holy fellowship with God that we cannot but believe that the authors of them are God’s hidden ones. Yes, and it is a very curious thing that you will find that just the very persons you would have least thought would possess the light, have, nevertheless, received it. Have I not been, sometimes, in a place where I thought the gospel of Christ had never come, and yet I have found clear proofs that it was there? Not long ago, it was so with me. As I passed a certain spot, I noticed a kind of glitter in the eye of a person who looked at me; it was a servant in a place where I could not have thought I should find a friend; and when I came back that way, my greeting was, “God bless you, sir! You don’t know me; but I take in the sermons every week, and I have found the Saviour.” Where least I expected it, I stumbled on a friend and a disciple, who was fed on the Word of God that I have preached. Does it not do your heart good, sometimes, after you have thought, “Well, I shall never find anybody here with whom I can sympathize,” to meet with just one of the very persons with whom you have had the best of fellowship for many a day and many a year to come?
God has his hidden ones also in the midst of ungodly families. Do not you, who have to visit those who are joining the church, sometimes find yourselves in houses where everything betokens drunkenness and all that is bad, and yet there is a dear child who has been converted, or perhaps it is the wife whom God in sovereign grace has looked upon and saved? There are many such hidden ones in London. There are some of them who cannot get out to worship; they are not permitted to come, and yet they are God’s own dear ones, hidden away in ungodly homes. Breathe a prayer for them now. Say, “Lord, help thy hidden ones in such cases as these!” God has a people— I was going to say, up to the very verge of hell-gate. He has an elect people, chosen by his grace, who know him, and trust him, and love him, although they are not known to the rest of their brethren.
Once more, however, all God’s people are his hidden ones because all the saints are at present unrevealed. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear,” that is, the hidden and veiled Christ, when he shall be manifested, “we shall be like him,” we shall be manifested, too. There is a great future for you, my brother; there is a grand future for you, my sister. Hardly can you hold your own to-day against the contentions of the adversary; but be firm, be true, cry to God for help, and you shall not always be hidden as you now are, in the midst of the dust, and strife, and conflict; but you shall come out, as when the sun shineth in his strength. Wherefore, be of good cheer; ye who are hidden ones to-day shall in due time shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of your Father.
II. I must not say more upon the first point, but must turn to the second question. WHAT IS THEIR SPECIAL HONOUR? They are God's hidden ones. Their peculiar honour is that they are the Lord’s.
Will each one of you do himself the favour to put to himself the question, “Am I the Lord’s?” Never mind about the friend sitting next to you, but let each of you say, “Am I the Lord’s?” If so, the Lord knows you, for “the Lord knoweth them that are his.” He knows whom he chose and redeemed; he knows whom he has called; he knows whom he has justified. He has not done any of those things in the dark. He has a familiar acquaintance with all that his grace has done for you.
Remember also that, though you are hidden, you are not hidden from the Lord. You are hidden by him, but you are not hidden from him. He can read your thoughts; he sees that hot tear that is beginning to lift the eyelid; he knows the troubles that are yet to come as well as those that have come; he reads you as I read the pages of this Bible.
Then, again, some of God' s hidden ones are among the very choicest of his children. I think there are some who are so very dear to God that he keeps them to himself. I have known some saints whom God has loved so much that he has taken away from them all that they loved, that he might have all their hearts. He loved their love so much that he would have it all himself. “Oh!” say you, “perhaps that is the reason why I have been so tried, and why I have so many graves in the cemetery.” Well, it may be so; and that you are one of the Lord’s hidden ones, whom he has hidden away in his own bosom from every other love, that you may be altogether his own.
Remember, too, that hidden as you are he has engaged to keep you. His very hiding of you shows that he means to keep you in safety. You shall never perish, for “He keepeth the feet of his saints.” You shall not be overcome of the enemy, for you are the Lord’s. If you belonged to somebody else, you might be deserted; but as you are the Lord’s, you never shall be forsaken. Human masters sometimes leave their old servants to perish; but God never deserts his old servants. Even to hoar hairs, and to the end of life, he will be with you, and he will bear you until he brings you home to the glory land above, to be with him for ever and ever.
III. I have spoken very briefly on the second point; but our time is nearly gone, so I must close with this third question. If the Lord has the hidden ones of whom we have spoken, WHAT THEN?
Well, the first thought that comes to my mind is this: let us rejoice that the Lord has more people than we know. He has his hidden ones. I know the tendency to say, as Elijah did, “I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” It is not so; the Lord still has many thousands of knees that have not bowed to Baal. One of the wonders of heaven will be to find so many people there that we never thought would get there. We shall say to ourselves, “We did not think that those people knew the Lord, yet they did know him.” The grace of God can live where you and I could not. I know some people that I should not like to live with on earth, for they are “cut on the cross”, and are very queer; yet I hope that they are God’s people. Well, we shall live with them very well in heaven, they will be changed before they get there; they will have had their hearts washed, and their whole natures renewed, and they will be right enough then. The Lord has some very queer people among his chosen ones. If you had to deal with some of God’s people that I know, you would give me credit for a little patience, at any rate, in dealing with them. You have need of patience with your own children, and God’s children are in some respects very much like our children. If you draw a parallel between them, you will find childish faults and infirmities in the children of God which have to be borne with, even as we have to bear with the faults and infirmities of our own children at home.
My next remark is, let us look out for these hidden ones wherever we are. If you and I have to go and live where we do not wish to go, right away from our dear acquaintances here, let us believe, when we get to that distant place, wherever it is, that God has some hidden ones there. You are going to Canada, are you? Or you are about to start for Australia; or, in the providence of God, you are to live in some village far away from the means of grace. You say to yourself, “Whatever shall I do?” Do? Why, find out the Lord’s hidden ones, and you shall have company yet. Though you may say, “Surely, there is no child of God there,” you shall find that there is someone living there whom you are sent to help, while he is placed there that he may help you. Wherever you go, do not say to yourself, “This place is wholly abandoned,” but believe that there is a child of God living there. I remember reading of a godly man who went into a village, some fifty years ago, and asked, “Is there a Christian person living in this place?” He enquired if there was anyone in the village who made a profession of religion. They shook their heads, and said that they did not know of anybody. “Is there anyone here who fears God?” Then they laughed. However, after making a good many enquiries, one mans said that there was a hypocritical canting Methodist woman, who lived down a certain lane. He said, “That is the person I want to find out, depend upon it.” He knew at once what they meant; there was one who was different from the rest, and therefore she had undeservedly earned those titles, and he went and found that she was a Christian woman walking in meekness and sorrow because she had no one at all to speak to. When our missionary, Mr. Thomas, went to Calcutta, at the end of the last century, it is said that he advertised for a Christian, and could not find one. Advertise for a Christian? Well, thank God, we shall not have to do that! Even if you live in a place where there are very few Christians, believe still that there are some, and look out for God’s hidden ones.
In the next place, since God has hidden ones, let us take care never to act or speak so as to grieve them. Sometimes, when Christian men get conceited and proud, and think themselves very great, they speak in a hard, domineering way that grieves God’s people. “No,” say you, “I would not use such language if I knew that one of them was about.” Well then, do not use it at all, because you do not know when they may not be about, for God has his hidden ones in places where it is least suspected. Speak as you would wish the very least of God’s people to hear you, and do not use vain and haughty language. If you get to be like the prophet’s bullocks, that pushed with horn and shoulder, and drove away the weak ones, God may deal roughly with you, and make you to be as hateful in his sight as they were. Let the remembrance that God has his hidden ones be a check upon your tongue, and upon your whole conduct.
And, lastly, although God has his hidden ones, let not one of us hide himself more than is needful. I speak to some of you who love the Lord, but who have never come out on his side. God has his hidden ones, but they ought to come forward, and confess Christ. Remember that the gospel message is, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” To the secret faith of the heart there ought to be joined the public profession of the lip. Why should you be ashamed of Jesus? Why should you be afraid to own that you belong to him? Some whom I know, who do love their Lord, but have never confessed him, are like the mice behind the wainscot. They come out of a night, when the cat is not there, to get some of the crumbs, and then they run back and hide in their holes. I shall not set a trap for you; at the same time, I should like to stop up all the holes where you hide, so that you who are Christians would be obliged to come out and own it. I leave the matter to your conscience, but I pray the Lord himself to fetch you out if you are his hidden ones, for his dear name’s sake. Amen.