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THE LEISURELINESS OF GOD.
Mockers shall come with mockery, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His presence? . . . One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
“Where is the promise of His presence?” [Verse 4] Where are the signs of the King’s presence and ministry? Where are the prints of His goings? Show us the proofs of His interposition, the evidences of His revolutionary and transforming work! Reveal to us the witness of His handiwork, or at any rate let us see and touch the hem of His garment!” Where is the promise of His presence? “It is the uproarious cry of the mockers, “walking after their own lusts.” [Verse 3] They are proclaiming the heedlessness of the Almighty; “The Lord God is not moving, with attentive ministry, along the ways of men! He is far away, in the boundless hunting-ground of space, engaged with larger prey!”308
“Where is the promise of His presence?” It is not only the shout of the scoffer, it is the low, poignant cry of the devout. The voices in this Book are many and manifold. You can hear the loud, laughing jeer of the mocker, rising in the very midst of prophecy and psalm: and you can hear the wail of the perplexed, like a low, long moan of pain. “How long wilt Thou forget me, Lord?” “Lord, how long wilt Thou look on?” “How long, Lord, how long?” The defiant and reckless scorn, and the agonising doubt, concern themselves with one thing—the apparent heedlessness of God.
What, then, is the problem? It is this. Men are confronted with an apparently undiscriminating and uncompassionating juggernaut. No hand seems to be busy in human affairs engaged in just and discerning judgment. There is no selection determined by moral worth. The vast movement is blind and capricious. The gigantic machine staggers along, like some untended traction engine, and its huge, grinding wheels bruise and break all things into a common mass, stones and little children, the wasteful and the useful, the sinner and the saint.
Let me read to you a short passage from one of the most delicate and sensitive of our present-day writers, who thus expresses a part of this sharp and burdensome problem: “Last summer, 309as I walked in my garden, I heard a fledgeling sparrow chirruping merrily under a bush. Possibly he had by accident dropped out of his nest, and, by making parachutes of his wings, had so broken his fall as to reach ground without taking hurt, and was now in a flutter, between pride and fear, at his own daring. For a few minutes I watched him ruffling it as roguishly as a robin, now cocking his glossy head at a sprawling worm, now stropping his tiny beak, razor-wise, upon a twig, and twittering lustily meanwhile for very joy of his freedom and of his merry youth and of the summer morning. . . . I insinuated myself into my hammock, and with my ringers between the pages of a book, lay a-swing in the sunshine as in the centre of a golden globe. For a time I forgot both book and bird. Then suddenly my golden globe shattered into darkness at a sound—a mere thimbleful of sound—a scream of terror and agony, so tiny and yet so haunting and so horrible, that I seem to hear it even now. A tame rook that has the run of my garden had pinned the sparrow, breast upward, under his talons, and, as I looked, was stabbing the life out of him with iron beak. For that wee bird no happy warbling among the leaves: no happier rearing of his young. . . . The sight of that helpless nestling, done to death in the June 310sunshine, and by one of his feathered kin, turned me sick and faint with horror.” “Where is the promise of His presence?”
I had just written these words when an urgent letter was placed upon my desk. I paused in my work to open and read it, and this sentence gave its crimson hue to deepen the colour of my page: “We have had another physician to see her, and he pronounces the disease to be cancer.” The victim is an incarnate angel, who has moved along the hard roads of life with all the sweetening and reviving ministry of a perfume. Her life has been a daily death; she has acquired only that she might give again, she has spent herself in order that by the energy of sacrificial blood others might be made alive. And now, cancer! “We have had another physician to see her, and he pronounces the disease to be cancer.” That cancer should have come to her! “Where is the promise of His presence?”
The same morning I had read these words in my daily paper: “The 6th Company of the 23rd Siberian Regiment reached the summit, and rushed in the Japanese defences. They were, however, received with fixed bayonets, the captain being lifted into the air by several Japanese on the points of their weapons. The rest of the company all perished before the companies following could get up. This is the 311tenth day such a butchery has been going on. The Turkish War was a joke to this! Over all this vast field of action, an area of thirty miles, the ground is strewn with the dead, and tens of thousands of human wrecks are being carried south and north from this unexampled battlefield.” Let that gory record add its quota to the already deeply dyed and troubled page. “Where is the promise of His presence?”
And that is not all. The difficulty is accentuated when one turns from the victims to some of those who apparently escape. Notoriously bad men are housed in comfort, and useless women are clothed in silks and satins, and walk the sunny side of the way. Dishonesty sweeps by in the carriage, while integrity creeps foot sore by the kerb. “Fools ride on horseback, while princes walk by their side.” The sleep of the beast is untroubled, while the saint moans through the night in pain. The contrasts are apparently appalling, and fortune does not favour the brave! “Where is the promise of His presence?”
What shall we say to these things? Let us say, first of all, that we are very ignorant, that our eyes are only endowed with short range, and that our knowledge has severe and almost immediate limitations. Do not let us regard our uncertain guessings as final judgments. 312Let us admit the mystery, and cease our bitter dogmatisms until the mist has rolled away. How little we know! That little fledgling, done to death by the rook, how little we know about him! The dropping from the nest, his little chirp, his material equipment, the scream and . . . we know no more! “If God saw fit,” says our literary friend, “to set that little creature singing in the green groves of Paradise (and who dare say that God has no place in His universe for the sparrow, that God Himself has told us is evermore within His care!), if God saw fit, at the cost of a moment’s pain, to take His bird—where danger shall menace never more, what is that to you?” Our range of vision is ineffective, and we haven’t the evidence to justify a harsh and bitter verdict.
My cancer-stricken friend, how little I know about her! And sometimes in my thinking I do not include all the little I know. I called her “victim”; the strange thing is that she would never use the word about herself, and her thoughts about herself are part of the case. I refuse to allow any verdict upon her which takes no account of her peace, and resignation, and deep and unsmitten faith. I can hold no parley with judges who keep their eyes glued upon the corroding disease, and pay no regard to her long and radiant vista of immortal hope. I say that 313the “victim’s” assurance is part of the problem, and must not be ignored in the verdict.
The fact of the matter is, our thoughts are moving upon an altogether inadequate scale. That is the teaching of this chapter to troubled and doubt-stricken men. “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” [Verse 8] We are not thinking on a sufficiently adequate scale: our thoughts cannot wrap themselves about the entirety of the place. We know what ministry an enlarged scale accomplishes even for some of the smaller things which lie in the term of human years. A thing looked at in the scale of one day is quite a different matter when set in the scale of seventy years. The scale of one day obscures purpose and tendency, and veils “the far-off interest of tears.” I lately read some extracts from a printed diary, and I would like to read you a part of them. The first is from the diary of a boy, and I will give it just as it appears.11Blake’s A Reasonable View of Life. “I cannot pretend to like this school, however much I try. The head is a beast, and not one of the under masters is a decent chap. I hate being kept in after hours when the other fellows are going out to games, yet, whenever I haven t done a lesson right they make me do it until I know 314it thoroughly. This is constantly the case with my Latin. Also I do loathe the food they give us; we have to eat fat and lean together, and fat is beastly. Also, however cold it is, we have to take long runs when it would be much nicer to sit by the fire and be comfortable. Also I can’t understand my father and mother, who say they love me and all that, sending me to such a place.”
Just fifty years later the same hand wrote these words, when the writer’s name was known throughout the world. “Of my many advantages in early life, I place easily first my parents, whose particular method of training me was beyond all praise. . . . In looking back upon my first school, I can think of it only with affection, for the manner in which the masters treated |my inert tendency of character was entirely admirable. To their insistence at that period I owe one of the keenest delights of my maturer years, a love for the Latin authors. . . . In the matter of physical soundness, also, I am certainly much indebted to the school runs, which were compulsory, and to the wholesome and sensible diet on which we were fed, without which I should not possess to-day the virility which has kept me free from disease to a quite unusual extent.” Need I point the moral of the contrasts? The boy’s 315entry enshrines a verdict fashioned upon the scale of a day: the man’s entry declares a judgment fashioned to the scale of fifty years. It is all a matter of scale!” One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” In things of the day He has in view the thousand years; the thousand years being the full maturing of the designs that moulded the little day. “Where is the promise of His presence?” Think upon the scale of a thousand years.
But in the chapter before us the mocker’s scorn primarily concerns the heedlessness of God in the face of human sin. They are happy and untroubled in their lust! The jeer is this, that God is heedless of sin or virtue, and that there are no signs of discriminating judgment between the open sinner and the professed saint. Is God heedless about sin? “Where is the promise of His presence?” Are there any signs of His whereabouts? Let us ask ourselves this searching question—how do things trend? Is God heedless concerning sin? To what tribunal can we make our appeal? We can appeal to the testimony of the purest instincts. We can appeal to the witness of personal experience. We can appeal to the proclamation of the Christian Scriptures. And what is their united teaching? It is this that 316there is nothing more sure than “the everlasting burnings.” I do not refer to some remote and unseen hell, the appointed destiny of an impenitent race. I refer to a present conflagration, the everlasting burning, in which the sinner is even now being inevitably consumed. I say that instinct and experience agree in this, that sin has to encounter an unavoidable Nemesis, and that wrong moves on to certain destruction. Our proverbial lore, the findings and expressions of the common life, gives emphatic utterance to the same truth. “A man’s chickens come home to roost.” “The whirligig of time brings round its revenges.” “Sin doesn’t pay in the long run.” What the proverb declares, our experiences confirm. There is not a single sinner in this town to-day who is not, even now, in “the devouring fire,” “the everlasting burnings.” You say that some of them seem very happy in the fire! Yes, they do, but don’t you see that their happiness is not a disproof, but the very proof of the conflagration. Degradation is penalty. Loss of fine perception is penalty. The destruction of the coronal powers is penalty. Is it no sign of horrible judgment that a man is satisfied with the pleasures of the kitchen, when the oratory of his life is ablaze? This is the plane of true and cogent 317reasoning; manhood maimed is manhood penalised. That men are contented to be as pigs in the mire is the clearest evidence that their crowns and dignities have been burnt away. In the early stages of their sin men are conscious of their loss, and they busy themselves in fashioning counterfeits. They employ divers kinds of religious cosmetics. They strive and strive to “keep up appearances” even when the internal treasure is destroyed! My God! no judgment in the world? No Nemesis? No fire? Is not this a most awful judgment, more awful than any other, that when the very virtues of a man are consumed away, he should move about in self-satisfaction, wearing a hollow and painted pretence? You want to see visible lightning appear and strike him! Our God uses the ministry of a more secret consumption. “Our God is a consuming fire.”
As it is with individuals so it is with peoples. Judgment haunts the footsteps of the sinful state. We can trace the decline and fall of Rome. We can track it step by step through increased idleness, through demoralising employment, through heated sensuality, through the decline of agricultural pursuits, through the lapse of military virtue, on through all to Imperial perdition. There are grave and sober-minded 318men who are beginning to think that Nemesis is revealing a visible hand in the Russia of to-day. As for Britain, let her remember that, whatever adhesion may be found in material and commercial communion, it is not in these things that she will find the cement of an enduring and indestructible empire. “Righteousness alone exalteth a nation.” In men and in peoples we may be sure that our sin will find us out. All sin works towards decline, insipidity, impotence, and night. Of all sad spectacles, the saddest is the spectacle of the candle smouldering out in an ill-spent life! “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, ere the evil days come,” the insipid, burnt-out days, “when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.”
And yet, after all, God does appear leisurely. Why does He not hasten His goings? Why are not sin and perdition more closely joined? Why does He move at such a leisurely pace? Why is He so slack? Listen. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” [Verse 9] “Not slack, as some count slackness,” not impotent, not indifferent, not unwilling to perform. What then? “But is longsuffering toward you.” It 319is the leisureliness, not of heedlessness, but of mercy. Our God is “slow to wrath”; it is a slow fire, slow in order that we may have opportunity to repent. God’s judgment on sin could have been appallingly swift and final. He might have ordained that one revolt should incur the paralysis of the will and the ruin of the life. And what would have been the effect? That we should have moved in a trembling terror, and though we might have been virtuous we should never have been free. The lowest motive would have operated in the soul, and the lowest motive can never produce the highest life. Some graces would never have ripened; we might have been pure, we could never have been genial and sweet. And so our Lord is apparently “slack”; He is “slow to wrath”; and by the very slowness He gives to us a gracious opportunity for reflection, a chance for the awaking of the affections, and room for the ministry of repentance. The far-off psalmist had discerned the secret of the Lord when he said: “Therefore will the Lord wait that He may be gracious unto you.” “The Lord is not slack . . . as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Let us give thanks at the remembrance of God’s leisureliness!320
How have I Thy Spirit grieved
Since first with me He strove,
And trampled on Thy love!
I have sinned against the light;
I have broke from Thy embrace,
No, I would not, when I might
Be freely saved by grace.
After all that I have done
To drive Thee from my heart!
Still Thou wilt not leave Thine own,
Thou wilt not yet depart.
Wilt not give the sinner o’er;
Ready art Thou now to save,
Bidst me come, as heretofore,
That I Thy life may have.
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