I will begin by sharing with you a vision that Ellen White had, which is recorded in Testimonies, vol. 2, 594–597.
“While at Battle Creek in August, 1868, I dreamed of being with a large body of people. A portion of this assembly started out prepared to journey. We had heavily loaded wagons. As we journeyed, the road seemed to ascend. On one side of this road was a deep precipice; on the other was a high, smooth, white wall, like the hard finish upon plastered rooms.
“As we journeyed on, the road grew narrower and steeper. In some places it seemed so very narrow that we concluded that we could no longer travel with the loaded wagons. We then loosed them from the horses, took a portion of the luggage from the wagons and placed it upon the horses, and journeyed on horseback.
“As we progressed, the path still continued to grow narrow. We were obliged to press close to the wall, to save ourselves from falling off the narrow road down the steep precipice. As we did this, the luggage on the horses pressed against the wall and caused us to sway toward the precipice. We feared that we should fall and be dashed in pieces on the rocks. We then cut the luggage from the horses, and it fell over the precipice. We continued on horseback, greatly fearing, as we came to the narrower places in the road, that we should lose our balance and fall. At such times a hand seemed to take the bridle and guide us over the perilous way.
“As the path grew more narrow, we decided that we could no longer go with safety on horseback, and we left the horses and went on foot, in single file, one following in the footsteps of another. At this point, small cords were let down from the top of the pure white wall; these we eagerly grasped, to aid us in keeping our balance upon the path. As we traveled, the cord moved along with us. The path finally became so narrow that we concluded that we could travel more safely without our shoes, so we slipped them from out feet and went on some distance without them. Soon it was decided that we could travel more safely without our stockings; these were removed, and we journeyed on with bare feet.
“We then thought of those who had not accustomed themselves to privations and hardships. Where were such now? They were not in the company. At every change some were left behind, and those only remained who had accustomed themselves to endure hardships. The privations of the way only make these more eager to press on to the end.”
I want you to notice something. At every change some were left behind, and those only remained who had accustomed themselves to endure hardships. Where were those who had not accustomed themselves to hardship? They were not in the company. That is such an all-inclusive statement. No one is going to be in the company who has not accustomed themselves to hardship. Are you accustomed to hardship?
Paul gives two qualifying characteristics for brethren. “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity [love] of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; so that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer.” II Thessalonians 1:3–5.
Notice that the believers of Thessalonica had faith and love, but they had these character traits because they had patiently endured persecutions and tribulations. You see, there is a purpose for what happens to us in life. “Our heavenly Father does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men. He has His purpose in the whirlwind and the storm, in the fire and in the flood. The Lord permits calamities to come to His people to save them from greater danger. . . . He works through natural causes to lead His people to remember that He has not forgotten them, but that He desires them to forsake the way which, if they were permitted to follow unchecked and unreproved, would lead them into great peril.
“Trials come to us all to lead us to investigate our hearts, to see if they are purified from all that defiles. Constantly the Lord is working for our present and eternal good. . . . If His Word is not followed in all humility and meekness, He brings to them experiences which, if rightly received, will help to prepare them for the work to be done in His name. God desires to reveal His power in a marked manner through the lives of His people.” The Upward Look, 65.
When the travelers left the horses, what happened to some who were on the path? They stayed right there. They said, “This is enough. We are not going any further.” This was not the first time that some had stayed behind. When they left the wagons, some stayed. Yet, some of those who withstood the first test turned back when they cut the luggage off. Even some of those who continued on when they got off of the horses stayed behind when the path became too narrow to continue with their shoes on. You see, there is more than one test in the Christian walk.
Why did the Lord not tell them at the beginning of the journey, “Do not worry with the horses and the wagons? You will not be able to take the luggage; and, in fact, you will not be able to wear your shoes and socks on the journey”? Why did He not do that? He knows the frailty of human nature, and He is merciful. He takes us with all of our baggage, if we have a heart to follow Him, and helps us to grow in our experience.
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair.” II Corinthians 4:6–8. Commenting on this verse, Ellen White says, “Christ commissions us to shine as lights in the world, by reflecting the light of God as seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
“Who among us is doing this? Are our lives all aglow with this wondrous light? God expects every one of us to reflect His image to the world. We have been led on step by step to make advancement. We have walked and worked by faith, and we need to discipline ourselves to endure hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.” This Day With God, 65.
Even though we are perplexed, friends, we are not even distressed or in despair, because we have a heavenly Father who has caused light to shine out of the darkness onto our pathway. As His light shines upon us, it fills our hearts with thankfulness for what He has done for us; and we are willing to do anything for Him. No matter how narrow the pathway is, we would not want to be anywhere else.
Did you notice that even among those who had begun the trip, there were some who at each narrowing of the path did not go on? Sometimes, friends, we are going to have to endure some trials; but we must continue to press up the path. “But this doing the duty of a soldier means work. It is not always just such work as we would choose. Outward inconveniences, difficulties, and trials have to be borne by the soldier of Jesus. There is a constant warfare to be maintained against the evils and inclinations of our own natural hearts.” Youth’s Instructor, December 22, 1886.
Are there things in your life that you have allowed to go on for years? Things that you know you should be changing? Friends, the Christian experience does not just happen accidentally. It takes work. Everything must be laid on the altar.
“We must not pick and choose the work most agreeable to us; for we are Christ’s soldiers, under His discipline, and we are not to study our own pleasure. We might fight the battles of the Lord manfully. We have enemies to conquer that would gain the control of all our powers. Self-will in us must die; Christ’s will alone must be obeyed. The soldier in Christ’s army must learn to endure hardness, deny self, take up the cross, and follow where his Captain leads the way.” Ibid.
Our heavenly Father wants to do something with us. He wants to make a spectacle of us to the whole world. He knows how entangled we are with this world, so instead of revealing everything to us at once, in His great love, He leads us step by step. Are you willing to stay on the path no matter what the Lord asks you to do, even if it is to sacrifice life itself? He has something so mighty, so great, that He wants to accomplish in each of us, that as we look back on the path of this life, we would have it no other way than the way that He directed.
“Our danger of falling from the pathway increased. We pressed close to the white wall, yet could not place our feet fully upon the path, for it was too narrow. We then suspended nearly our whole weight upon the cords, exclaiming: ‘We have hold from above! We have hold from above!’ The same words were uttered by all the company in the narrow pathway. As we heard the sounds of mirth and revelry that seemed to come from the abyss below, we shuddered. We heard the profane oath, the vulgar jest, and low, vile songs.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 595.
The time is coming when there are going to be some steep places in the path that require work. In preparation for that time, I want to accustom myself to hardship.
“I noticed that the beautiful white wall was stained with blood. It caused a feeling of regret to see the wall thus stained. This feeling, however, lasted but for a moment, as I soon thought that it was all as it should be. Those who are following after will know that others have passed the narrow, difficult way before them, and will conclude that if others were able to pursue their onward course, they can do the same.” Ibid., 596.
There are those who have gone before, and we are to walk as they have walked. There is nothing that we are called upon to endure that has not been endured by those before us. “As the shepherd goes before his sheep, himself first encountering the perils of the way, so does Jesus with His people. ‘When He putteth forth His own sheep, He goeth before them.’ The way to heaven is consecrated by the Saviour’s footprints. The path may be steep and rugged, but Jesus has traveled that way; His feet have pressed down the cruel thorns, to make the pathway easier for us. Every burden that we are called to bear He Himself has borne.
“Though now He has ascended to the presence of God, and shares the throne of the universe, Jesus has lost none of His compassionate nature. Today the same tender, sympathizing heart is open to all the woes of humanity. Today the hand that was pierced is reached forth to bless more abundantly His people that are in the world.” The Desire of Ages, 480.
And so, while our feet are aching and sore and bruised, His feet have gone before ours, smoothing the way and pressing down the cruel thorns, so the pathway is not as difficult for us. Is not that encouraging?
“At length we came to a large chasm, at which our path ended. There was nothing now to guide the feet, nothing upon which to rest them. Our whole reliance must be upon the cords, which had increased in size until they were as large as our bodies. Here we were for a time thrown into perplexity and distress. We inquired in fearful whispers: ‘To what is the cord attached?’ My husband was just before me. Large drops of sweat were falling from his brow, the veins in his neck and temples were increased to double their usual size, and suppressed, agonizing groans came from his lips. The sweat was dropping from my face, and I felt such anguish as I had never felt before. A fearful struggle was before us. Should we fail here, all the difficulties of our journey had been experienced for nought.
“Before us, on the other side of the chasm, was a beautiful field of green grass, about six inches high. I could not see the sun; but bright, soft beams of light, resembling fine gold and silver, were resting upon this field. Nothing I had seen upon earth could compare in beauty and glory with this field. But could we succeed in reaching it? was the anxious inquiry. Should the cord break, we must perish. Again, in whispered anguish, the words were breathed: ‘What holds the cord?’ For a moment we hesitated to venture. Then we exclaimed: ‘Our only hope is to trust wholly to the cord. It has been our dependence all the difficult way. It will not fail us now.’ Still we were hesitating and distressed. The words were then spoken: ‘God holds the cord. We need not fear.’ These words were then repeated by those behind us, accompanied with: ‘He will not fail us now. He has brought us thus far in safety.’
“My husband then swung himself over the fearful abyss into the beautiful field beyond. I immediately followed. And, oh, what a sense of relief and gratitude to God we felt! I heard voices raised in triumphant praise to God. I was happy, perfectly happy.” Ibid., 596, 597.
I am so glad that the prophet of the Lord does not leave us with the picture of them falling off of the path. In God’s Word we are assured, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” Matthew 24:13.
“The heirs of God have come from garrets, from hovels, from dungeons, from scaffolds, from mountains, from deserts, from caves of the earth, from the caverns of the sea. On earth they were ‘destitute, afflicted, tormented.’ Millions went down to the grave loaded with infamy because they steadfastly refused to yield to the deceptive claims of Satan. By human tribunals they were adjudged the vilest of criminals. But now “God is judge Himself.’ Psalm 50:6. Now the decisions of earth are reversed. ‘The rebuke of His people shall He take away.’ Isaiah 25:8. ‘They shall call them, The Holy people, The redeemed of the Lord.’ He hath appointed ‘to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.’ Isaiah 62:12; 61:3. They are no longer feeble, afflicted, scattered, and oppressed. Henceforth they are to ever be with the Lord. They stand before the throne clad in richer robes than the most honored of the earth have ever worn. They are crowned with diadems more glorious than were ever placed upon the brow of earthly monarchs. The days of pain and weeping are forever ended. The King of Glory has wiped the tears from all faces; every cause of grief has been removed. Amid the waving of palm branches they pour forth a song of praise, clear, sweet, and harmonious; every voice takes up the strain, until the anthem swells through the vaults of heaven: ‘Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.’” The Great Controversy, 650.