Later You Will Understand
"You do not know now what I am doing — but later you will understand." John 13:7
Peter could not understand why Jesus should so condescend as to wash his feet. It perplexed and puzzled him, and he shrank from submitting to it. Jesus said, "You do not know now what I am doing — but later you will understand." And so it proved. There came days afterwards when he understood it all, when he knew why his Master had done it — and when he truly saw beauty, wisdom, love, richest instruction, and divine necessity in it.
And the same principle applies all through life. There are many things in the providence of God which at the time are dark and obscure — but which the future makes clear and plain. The Lord lays us aside in the midst of our usefulness, he desolates our homes, he breaks our harp-strings, he pours bitterness into our cups of sweetness. Our lives are full of strange, perplexing things — and we do not know what they mean. Our dim eyes cannot read the dark pages. Our dull ears cannot hear the voice of love that speaks out to us from every circumstance. Our heavy hearts cannot perceive the love which throbs with full pulse in every event.
But there will come a day when every dark page in our life's history shall be explained — when all the tangle and confusion shall be unraveled, and the web shall lie before us woven through unto the end, warp and woof, with threads of gold and silver. This word of Christ is the key to all the dark and strange providences in the life of every believer: "You do not know now what I am doing — but later you will understand."
One reason for the present obscurity — is our ignorance, or present limited knowledge. We know now, only in part. We see now, only through a glass darkly.
The boy enters the college, and the teacher puts into his hand a page of Greek, and asks him to read it. But he cannot understand a sentence of it. He cannot spell out a single word. He cannot tell what one letter is. It is a page of hieroglyphics to him. It is full of mysteries. But the years roll on. He applies himself to the study of the language. He masters the alphabet; he learns to spell out the words, and then to translate. By-and -by commencement day comes, and the professor hands him again the same page that so puzzled and perplexed him on the day of his entrance. It is all plain now. He reads it off with perfect ease — he understands every word. There is beauty for him now in every line. Every sentence contains some golden truth. It is a page of the New Testament in the very words first written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit — and words of love, of heavenly wisdom, of divine instruction lie upon the page. As he reads they thrill his whole soul, and fill all his heart with the warmth and tender joy of Heaven. Every word is bright with the hidden fires of God's love. Riper knowledge has unlocked to him, all the mysteries of the page!
We are all scholars in God's school. The lessons set for us seem at first like the pages of an unknown language. We cannot pronounce the words. We cannot understand their meaning. They confuse and perplex us. We see no wisdom, no beauty, no love in them. But the passing years bring riper wisdom and fuller knowledge.
Every day, the past becomes plainer; and when we stand at the end of our school-days the old confusing pages will be clear and simple to us. We shall be able to read them off with ease. Then we shall see that every line held a golden lesson for our hearts — that every dark providence in our lives was one of God's precious love-thoughts written out for us — and the whole page will glow with divine beauty.
Only fuller knowledge is needed to explain to us much of the mystery of our lives. In the cloudless light and perfect revelation of Heaven — every shadow of mystery will vanish, and the strangest providences will seem as plain and easy as childhood's first lessons are to ripened and cultured manhood.
Another reason why many of the Lord's ways seem so strange to us, is because we see them only in their incompleteness. We must wait until they are finished, before we can fully understand what God is doing.
In the artist's studio, you may see pictures that are only faint outlines. There are the branches of a tree and no trunk; or there is the trunk and no branches. There is a head, only, finished — or the outline picture of a man with only one arm or one hand filled out. No one would judge of the artist's work in this unfinished state. He would wait until all his pictures were completed.
In the same way, as our lives appear to ourselves — we see them when God is in the very midst of his work upon them. The work of sanctification is the process of bringing out the features of spiritual and divine beauty in human souls. And in this process, the Divine Artist oftentimes employs trials as his instruments. He first seems to destroy — but tribulation works patience. Many a man learns submission — when the Father's hand rests so heavily upon him that he cannot rise. Many a feature of beauty in the soul — is brought out in the darkness of affliction. The process seems to be destructive — but afterwards it yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness. Not at the time, but afterwards. When God finishes his work, it is beautiful and very good.
There was a time when the heart of Jacob was well-near crushed by an accumulation of adversities. Twenty years before, Joseph had been torn out of his arms and slain, as he supposed. Now Simeon was lying in a dark dungeon in Egypt, under the hand of a despotic master. And now Benjamin, too, was to be carried away. In the bitterness of his soul he cried out, "All these things are against me!" But these things were not against him — God had not yet finished his work. The final result had not yet been wrought out. All things seemed against him — but he lived to praise the Lord for all the strange providences which appeared so cruel at that hour. These were but the crude blocks out of which God was building up a beautiful home for his old age, and with which he was laying the foundation of future greatness and glory for his family. They were links in a golden chain of blessing.
So it ever is, "You do not know now what I am doing — but later you will understand." Wait until God has completed his work — and then all shall be well. You may see it even on the earth. Before you close your eyes in death — you may see the good brought out of the seeming evil of your life. But if not, if you die with the mystery still unsolved — then one moment in Heaven will explain all. Then you shall see all things completed. You shall see the web out of the loom — all its beautiful figures perfect, not one thread dropped or tangled. You shall see the temple finished — every block in its place, and the whole adorned with glory. You shall see the picture when the artist has put the last touches to it — and when it appears no more marred and spoiled, as you thought it would be by so much trial — but perfect and beautiful, bearing in every feature the likeness of Christ.
Then you shall see all the dark providences of your life carried out to their final result. You shall see both the discipline — and its blessing; both the affliction — and its rich fruits; both the furnace-fires — and the brilliant gold.
When the night comes on, when the mists and fogs darken the sky and hide the stars, and the vessel cannot be guided — the sailor drops his anchor and waits for the morning. In the same way, faith does in the hour of darkness and perplexity. It cannot see the good or the wisdom of the providences of life — but it knows that the hand of love is shaping them all, and that the end shall be blessing and glory! It knows that the morning will come, that the mists will clear away, and it may drop the anchor and wait for the day.