THE MINISTRY OF HOME  or "Brief Expository Lectures on Divine Truth"
by Octavius Winslow

Gracious Surprisals

"Before I was aware, my soul became like the chariots of Amminadab."  Song of Solomon 6:12

It is not one of the least conclusive evidences of the truth of the Bible, that a Book written centuries ago should accurately delineate all the delicate lights and shadows of Christian experience, mental and spiritual, through which God's people pass in all future times. So that in reading the recorded experience of the Church when David, and Solomon, and Job, and Nehemiah flourished, we read, as it were, our own at the present moment. The only logical deduction we can draw from it is- that, the same Divine Spirit has been the Teacher of the saints in every age, and that the hand that recorded their spiritual history upon the sacred page, was guided by an Intelligence higher and Diviner than its own.
  The passage under consideration, presents a confirmation of this truth. It illustrates a singular but precious chapter of experimental religion- the surprisals of grace, or, those sovereign, manifestations and dealings of the Lord, which so often take His saints by a sudden and unexpected surprise. "Before I was aware, my soul became like the chariots of Amminadab." Many of the Lord's people can set their seals to the truth of this gracious experience.
  The first thing which arrests our attention, is, the surprise- "Before I was aware." Our whole life may in truth be said to be a surprise. To God alone it is known from the end to the beginning. To Him who has predestinated all events; mapped and arranged our entire history; who in the well ordered covenant of grace has anticipated the minutest incident of our life, it is no surprise. Great truth! Mighty thought! "The council of the Lord that shall stand, and His thoughts to all generations." Amid the mysteries and perplexities, the dark and bewildering events of His providence in your personal experience, my reader, let this assurance be as fragrant oil upon the gloomy, broken waters of your pathway- that, all is known to our God, for all is wisely, lovingly, and righteously ordained and overruled by Him.
  But to us, all is surprise. What individual can forecast the coming events of his history? Who can predict with foresight and accuracy, what may hang upon the next breath he draws, or follow upon the next step he takes? God has wisely and benevolently veiled all our future, that we might learn that we are not masters of our position, but are dependent each moment upon Him. Happy life is this to the child of God, because it is a life of reliance upon a Father who loves him. He is not afraid of evil tidings, for his heart trusts in the Lord.
  Thus, in, a sense, our whole life is a surprise. Events transpire in our history, revolutions occur in our thoughts and feelings, of which no foreshadowings cross our path, and we are "very amazed," and are made to "drink the cup of astonishment." O how should this fact teach us to walk humbly, watchfully, and prayerfully! How should it check in us all worldly aspirings, all curious peering into our future, and keep us living by the day, by the hour, yes, by the moment, upon out covenant God, accepting in cheerful acquiescence and meek submission, every lesson of His love.
  But it is less of the surprisals of providence than of grace, that we at present would speak. Conversion is often a gracious surprise. In how many cases is it scarcely less so than it was with Saul of Tarsus. With him it may have been a more instantaneous, but not a more sudden and unexpected event. The Lord is found by those that sought Him not. When we were the least anticipating so great a change; when, perhaps, we were at the time apparently at the farthest remove from converting grace- surrounded by circumstances, and in a state of mind the most unlikely to lead to a result so blessed, the Lord in the sovereignty of His grace, and as if to demonstrate the truth that conversion is not of man but of God, has surprised us with the effectual call of the Spirit, and we responded- "Lord, what will You have me to do?"
  O sweet surprise! O blissful moment! O never to be forgotten hour, when we heard the call of Jesus, before we were aware found ourselves weeping in penitence at His feet- all our rebellion gone, all our hatred annihilated, our weapons of hostility against God and Christ and the Gospel grounded before the all conquering power of the cross- grace, free and sovereign grace, triumphant! What a precious surprise, when Jesus drew near, and in all the sweet benignity of His favor, and in all the winning power of His love, spoke words of pardon and of peace to our sin distressed soul. When He revealed Himself to us as willing to receive and able to save us just as we were, and assured us that He was ours, and that we were His. What a gracious surprise was this!
  Was it not so to Zaccheus, when he climbed the sycamore tree? And to Matthew, as he sat at the receipt of custom? And to Nathaniel, as he prayed beneath the fig tree? And to the malefactor, hanging upon the cross? O yes grace, Divine and sovereign grace, delights to surprise its objects, and to call them "before they are aware," with that effectual call that triumphs over all opposition, overcomes all impediment, leads them captive at its sovereign will, and demonstrates the truth that salvation is of the Lord.
 "That was a time of wondrous love,
When Christ my Lord was passing by;
He felt His tender pity move,
And brought His great salvation near.
 "Guilty and self-condemned, I stood,
Nor thought His mercy was so near;
When He my stubborn heart subdued,
And planted all His graces there.
 "When on the verge of endless pain,
He gently whispered- 'I am thine;'
I lost my fears and dropped my chain,
And felt a transport all Divine."
  Those, too, are gracious surprisals, when the Lord draws near, and "before we are aware " sweetly manifests Himself to our soul. It is like an unexpected visit from a loved and absent friend. The very surprise lends to it a peculiar sweetness and charm; and we exclaim, with the wondering astonishment of the disciples of old- "Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself unto us?" Are we sensible, beloved, of these gracious visits? Do they form a large proportion of our Christian experience? Let us not settle down upon our lees satisfied without these gracious, sensible discoveries of Jesus to our souls.
  Many religious professors are content to experience them very seldom; while yet others are content to be without them altogether. He has promised that, in union with His Father, He will come and manifest Himself to His people. Do we honestly expect Him to fulfil this promise, and to fulfil it in our personal experience? Do we seek it in earnest prayer, as evidencing the experimental nature of our religion? Do we know what it is to have the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit?
  How often, too, are our emancipations from trouble, and our deliverances out of soul-distress and mental depressions, a secret and gracious surprise of Jesus. "Before we are aware," some divine and precious promise is brought home with the power of the Spirit to our hearts; or, a word fitly spoken by a minister of the Gospel, or by a saint of God, has, in a moment, dissolved the dark cloud into sunshine, unclasped the heavy burden from the mind, and the bound and fettered spirit is free. The Lord will ordain deliverances for Jacob, and He knows when to time their coming.
  It is a sweet thought for the righteous when in their trials, that God is acquainted with their existence- is thoughtfully cognizant of their emergency; and when they can bear no more- when the last feather is about to break the back, and the last drop overflows the cup- when the barrel of meal and the cruise of oil are just come to the end- that His providence appears, and surprises them with a timely and effectual aid. Watch God in every thing, my reader. Overlook Him not in the small occurrences of life. See His love, wisdom, and control in the minor as in the major events of your daily history. Who then can harm you? If God is for you, who can be against you? Stand still and see His salvation from all your enemies. "My heart is fixed, O God, my- heart is fixed."
  What additional worth will attach to the Divine interposition, how much sweeter will be the promise, how much more glorious will be the Divine faithfulness, how increasingly precious the loving kindness of the Lord, when the devout and believing mind is enabled to say- "This is the finger of God! This is a surprise of my Father's love! Before I was aware, from a source and in a way which I could never have conceived, my God has come to my relief!"
 "Ill tidings never can surprise
His heart, that fixed on God relies,
Though waves and tempests roar around;
Safe on the Rock he sits, and sees
The shipwreck of his enemies,
And all their hope and glory drowned."
  And now what are those "chariots" which seem to form an essential part of these gracious surprisals, these opportune deliverances, of which the saints are often the favored subjects? "Before I was aware, my soul became like the chariots of Amminadab." These " chariots " constitute a remarkable symbol in the Christian's experience. They are figurative of the means by which the soul is brought near to God, and God near to the soul.
  For example, PRAYER is one of the most essential and costly "chariots" of the believer. It advances the soul in grace; it elevates, and brings us near to God. When has the Christian not use for this Divine chariot? The Apostle speaks of our coming to the mercy seat "in every time of need." When, in our experience, is it not a time of need? Allow me, then, to remind you how close and accessible is the chariot of prayer. There are moments when your mind is perplexed with anxious thought- when your spirit is bowed with deep-seated grief- when your heart is filled with forebodings of coming trouble, domestic care, professional anxiety, commercial embarrassment- or, the more spiritual exercises of the soul seem to prostrate you in the dust.
  Behold, the chariot of prayer at your side! It waits to bring you near to God. Arise, and give yourself to prayer, so shall you soar above all external circumstance, into a region whose brightness shall be unshaded, and whose serenity shall be unruffled by a single vapor, earth-born sorrow, anxiety, or trouble. Hesitate not to get into this "chariot." Deem not your trouble too great, or you yourself too unworthy. Nothing is too hard for God; with Him all things are possible. Giving yourself to prayer in the name of Jesus- pleading, not your righteousness, but His- not your merits and deservings, but the Savior's worth and worthiness- you may, with a firm and bold foot, step into this divine chariot, and in a moment it will lift you into the presence of God.
  FAITH is a marvellous "chariot" of the soul, by which it mounts heavenward. The blessings flowing from simple faith in God are many and precious. "If you believe, you shall eat of the fruit of the land." "I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." Faith has a wondrous power to uplift the soul, "couching down," like Issachar, "between two burdens"- the burden of dark providence, and the burden of sinful unbelief. "Have faith in God." Use this "chariot" provided by Christ Himself, for all our burdens.
  Here is the grand secret of being delivered from the pressure of a heavy heart "They looked unto Him, and were lightened." Cruel unbelief that dishonors God, and robs us! Wicked doubt that makes God a liar, and us atheists! But "precious faith," under sin's conviction, looks to Jesus and is saved: trusts God's veracity, power, and love, and so brings comfort to the soul, and glory to God. "Abraham was strong in faith, giving glory to God."
  O be often in this "chariot." "Before you are aware," it will raise you above the loftiest mountain of difficulty and the darkest cloud of woe. It will anchor the soul; tempest-tossed as from billow to billow of doubt and fear-upon God's faithfulness, and the changeless love of Jesus--keeping it in perfect peace, stayed upon God.
  LOVE is one of the choicest chariots of the Christian. "The love of Christ constrains us;" that is, impels us, presses us on, bears us forward and upward, by its irresistible and all-commanding influence. Love to Christ is the great exciting motive in the obedience, labor, and suffering of the believer. When love is in the ascendant, the wheels of obedience will run freely, the Cross will be sweet, and self-denial pleasant. It will sweetly soothe the soul in suffering- not by the removal of all sense of pain, but by overcovering it with a sense of love. It will so robe the dankest providences, that you shall see nothing but itself nothing but love.
  How kind, then, and condescending of our Lord, to send this lovely chariot, when we need so much the Divine power of a heavenly affection to overcome our slothfulness, expel our selfishness, raise us to loftiness of thought, and to incite us to noble deeds for man, for God, and for Christ. Celestial are the flights that the believing soul takes in the chariot of love. Heaven and earth seem to embrace each other.
  Heaven is love- the source and home of love. And when the love of God makes its advent to the soul, it assimilates it to heaven by assimilating it with love. Thus when the Holy Spirit brings down this Divine affection, and makes a place for it in our sin-loving, creature-idolizing, earth-clinging hearts, we are conscious of the rapture of love, and before we are aware, our soul becomes like the chariot of Amminadab.
  MEDITATION is a powerful promoter of this gracious and heavenly experience of the believing soul. "While I was musing the fire burned." Thus, while I was retracing all the way the Lord had led me- while I was meditating upon the fulness and preciousness of His Word- and while I was musing upon the great love with which He had loved me, the fire in my soul was enkindled; my lips were unsealed, and I spoke with my tongue. There are few more powerful aids to growth in grace, to progress in sanctification of heart, and humbleness of mind, than devout meditation. Once in this chariot, and before we are aware, we are caught up as to the third heaven, and lose ourselves in God. "Isaac went out to meditate in the field at evening." "I meditate on You in the night-watches." Cultivate, my reader, this holy and useful habit. In a world of incessant action, and in an age of restless excitement, we have great need to imitate these holy examples, and to retire to the "calm retreat, the silent shade," and there abandon ourselves to devout meditation upon Divine, heavenly, and eternal things.
  But we wait the solemn approach of the last chariot, and the final surprise- our departure out of this life to go unto the Father. The Lord will, before long, send for us the chariot of death, and it may be in a place and at a time that will fill the soul with solemn and sweet surprise. This chariot, like Solomon's royal equipage, is "paved with love." There is nothing but love in the departure of the Lord's people. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." In love He takes them from us: in love He translates them to Himself: and in love to them He translates them to the eternal home of love, into which He most lovingly welcomes them- taken from the evil that now is, and from the evil that is to come.
  Often does this heaven descending chariot appear at a time when the saints are not looking for it, and at an hour when they are not aware. It, perhaps, finds him with harness and armor on, with active brain, and willing hands, and loving heart, all engaged in the Master's work: when lo! Before he is aware, his soul is made like the chariot of Amminadab.
  O, the wondering surprise! O, the overpowering amazement! O, the unspeakable joy of the soul when it finds itself in heaven! It saw not death, suffered no pang, felt no fear, experienced no dread, was not conscious even of dying; but, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, was in glory- mingling with the "glorious company of the Apostles," with the "noble army of martyrs," with an innumerable company of angels, and with "the spirits of just men made perfect." "Before I was aware, my soul became as the chariot of Amminadab."
 My dear unconverted reader, see that the chariot of death does not overtake you unawares, in other words, unprepared. I was on one occasion summoned to the dying bed of a gentleman whose early life had been absorbed in the accumulation of wealth, and his later life in its selfish and worldly enjoyment. The attack was sudden, and the illness fatal. No skill could arrest the disease, no wealth could bribe the stern messenger. "Sir," said he, as he fastened upon me his dying gaze, "I am taken by surprise!" Alas, he had lived in the neglect of the great salvation: he had sought to gain the world, and when summoned to leave it forever, found to his overwhelming astonishment and alarm, that in so doing he had lost his own soul! O, see that death does not surprise you, in finding you unprepared to obey its stern, inexorable summons. Your only preparation is, as a penitent, believing sinner, in receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. Place your soul in the hands of Jesus, and it is safe. Make its salvation, its safety for eternity, the first and chief object- all else is as unsubstantial and fleeting as a dream.