“He led them about.” This was true literally. What a circuitous, tangled, backward and forward route was that of the children of Israel in the wilderness! Yet every step was under God’s direction; they never moved until the cloudy pillar led the way.
But how does the Lord lead about in grace? By leading his Israel into a path of which they do not see the end. One turn of the road hides the next. I have read that you may make a road with a curve at every quarter of a mile, and yet in a hundred miles the distance will not be so much as a mile more than a perfectly straight line. So in grace. The length of the road swallows up the turnings.
But these turnings make the road seem more round about than it really is. All before us is hidden. For instance, when the Lord begins a work of grace, he brings convictions of sin, opens up the spirituality of the law, makes the soul feel guilty, guilty, guilty in every thought, word, and deed. But does a man in that condition know what the Lord is doing? Can he clearly trace out the work of God upon his soul? Is he able to say, “This, this is the work of God upon my heart?” For the most part, he knows not what is the matter with him; why he is so distressed; why he can take no rest; why the things of eternity keep rolling in upon his soul; why he stands in continual dread of the wrath to come; why his mind is so exercised with thoughts upon God; why he feels condemnation, bondage, and misery.
Nor even when the Lord is pleased to raise him up to some hope, to apply some sweet promise to his soul, to encourage him in various ways under the ministry of the word, can he often take the full comfort of it. He may for a time, but it is soon gone, and he can scarcely believe it to be real. Unbelief suggests that it did not come exactly in the right way, or did not last long enough, or did not go deep enough, or was not just such as he has heard others speak of; and so he is filled with doubts, fears, and anxieties whether it was really from the Lord. But when God leads him on a step further; opens up the gospel, reveals Christ, drops into his heart some sweet testimony, gives him some blessed discovery of his saving interest in the Lord Jesus, and seals it with a divine witness in his heart, this banishes all his doubts and fears, and fills his soul with joy and peace. Yet even after this, when the sweet feeling is gone, he may sink again very low, and may question the reality of the revelation he has enjoyed. All this is “leading about;” for one turn of the road hides the other.