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IX. HABAKKUK-ON HIS WATCH-TOWER
HABAKKUK’S tower was not built of stone and lime. Hiram’s Tyrian workmen, with all their skill in hewn stone, and in timber, and in iron, and in brass, had no hand in building Habakkuk’s tower. “The Name of the Lord” was Habakkuk’s high tower. The truth and the faithfulness and the power of God—these things were the deep and broad foundations of Habakkuk’s high tower, into which he continually escaped, and from the high top of which he was wont to look out upon the land, and up to his God. God’s grace and mercy and long-suffering were the doors and stairs, were the walls and battlements, of Habakkuk’s high tower; and God’s sure salvation was the golden and the far-shining roof of it. “Art Thou not from everlasting,”—prayed this prophet as often as he again stood upon his watch and set himself upon his tower,—“O Lord, my God, mine Holy One? We shall not die.”104
The Chaldeans had, by this time, overrun the whole land. Judah and Jerusalem had for long been full of all but unpardonable sin. God’s chosen and covenant people had despised and forsaken God. The law of God was “slacked,” till the land was full of all unrighteousness. And thus it was that this judgment of God had already gone forth against Judah and Jerusalem: “Lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling-places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful. . . . Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: . . . they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat. They shall come all for violence: . . . and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.” And it was so. It was very much as if the Turks of our day had been let loose on England, and Scotland, and Edinburgh. It was amid the indescribable cruelties and horrors of the invasion and possession of Judah and Jerusalem by the Chaldeans that Habakkuk took up his burden. And Habakkuk the prophet was alone: he was alone, and had no fellow in the midst of all those desolate years. Alone!—and with his faith very hard pressed between God, in His righteous anger on the one hand, and guilty Judah, under her great agony and oppression, on the other hand. And we have this great and noble-hearted prophet in all the 105 heat and burden of his work,—in his faith, and in his prayer, and in his songs,—all set before us with extraordinary beauty and impressiveness in this wonderful little book: a book little in size, indeed, but a book rich and great in divine substance, and in intellectual and spiritual power of every kind. “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto Thee of violence, and Thou wilt not save! Why dost Thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? For spoiling and violence are before me: . . . and the wicked doth compass about the righteous . . . but I will stand upon my watch, and I will set me upon the tower, and I will watch to see what He will say to me. . . . And the Lord answered me and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.” And, at that, the prophet immediately came down from his tower; and had great tablets made by the workman; and he wrote this text upon the tables,—this text, “The just shall live by his faith.” And he had the tables hung up on the temple walls, and on the gates and on the market-places of the city; till he who ran from the oppression of the enemy, as well as he who ran to take up arms against the oppressor, might read the legend,—this legend,—that “The just shall live by his faith.” The Chaldeans understood not the tables, but the oppressed people of God understood them; till it abides a proverb, and an encouragement, 106 and a doctrine, and a sure hope to this day,—that “The just shall live by faith.”
1. In a profound and far-reaching passage,—in two profound and far-reaching passages indeed,—Pascal impresses on us, out of such Scripture as this, that our own passions are our only enemies. Our real enemies, with all their cruelty and all their opression, come up upon us,—not out of Chaldea, but out of our own heart. Chaldea, with all her cruel and aggrandising ambition, would never have been allowed to cross the Jordan and let loose in Judah, but for Judah’s sin. And it was Judah’s continuing transgression and persisting impenitence that kept the Chaldeans in possession of Judah and Jerusalem. All which is written in the prophet, with Pascal’s profound and spiritual interpretation of the prophet, for our learning, and for our very closest and most practical application to ourselves. Let this, then, be laid to heart by all God’s people, that their sinful hearts, and sinful lives, while they are in this present life, are always, more or less, like the land of Judah under the cruel occupation of the Chaldeans. Our sins, my brethren, have brought the bitterest of all our chastisements upon us, that is, upon our souls. Not every child of God among us has yet spirituality of mind enough, or personal experience enough, to see and to admit that. Judah did not easily and willingly see and admit that. But Habakkuk in his 107 day, and Pascal in our day, saw it: they both saw it; and wrote powerfully and convincingly and with splendid comfort concerning it. And many of God’s people among yourselves, by much experience, by much prayer, by a sinful heart and a holy life taken together, are themselves prophets,—prophets and philosophers: wise men, that is, in the deepest things, both of God, and of the soul of man. And one of those deepest things is just this—that God chastises sin by means of sin. He employs the remaining sinfulness of the sanctified heart as His last and His best instrument for reaching down into the depths of the heart in order to its complete discovery, complete correction, and complete purification. There is no tyranny so terrible, there is no invasion and captivity of the soul one-thousandth part so horrible, and so hated of all God’s saints, as is their captivity to their own sins. Those whose true torments and tortures come, never from without, but always from within: those whose abidingly bad hearts are being made God’s cruellest scourge,—both for their past sins, and for their present sinfulness,—they will consent and subscribe to all that this great prophet says in the terrible account that he gives of the Chaldeans. “That bitter and hasty nation: which march through the breadth of the land, to possess dwelling-places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful.” “They are proud: they enlarge their 108 desire like hell: they are as death itself: they cannot be satisfied. . . . Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee? And awake that shall vex thee? And thou shalt be for a booty to them, O Jerusalem!” All of which is but a cruel parable to some of us concerning our own sins. So truly does our God also, in His grace and truth, still make His own so sovereign, and so spiritual, use of our remaining and deep-rooted sinfulness. In His wisdom, and in His love, at one stroke, He does these two divinest of things:—securing the greatest depth, the greatest inwardness and the greatest spirituality for our sanctification; and, at the same time, securing, more and more every day, our fear and hatred and horror at our own hearts, as at nothing else on earth or in hell. Is that your mind, my brethren? Is that your experience? “The spiritual understood Chaldea of their passions,” says Pascal. “The unspiritual, and the still carnal-minded, understood it of Chaldea only. The term ‘enemy,’” he adds, “and Chaldea is obscure and ambiguous only to the unspiritual in mind and in heart.” Let all students of Holy Scripture, and of the heart of man, study Pascal.
2. Look, now, at that man of God, who is like Habakkuk in our own days. Look at that prophet upon his tower in our own city. He has climbed up far above us, his fellows, into a calm and clear air: and he has so climbed by means of much 109 prayer, and by means of much meditation, and by means of much secret self-denial of many kinds. He has a time and a place of retreat, and of purification, and of exaltation of mind, that we know nothing of. He may be a minister; most likely he is: or he may be a busy business man, as sometimes he is. He may be well known to us to be a man like Habakkuk: or, he may be hidden even from himself. Sometimes he is old: and, not seldom, he is young. In any case, he is our Habakkuk. Habakkuk, with his own burden, and sometimes with ours. “O Lord,” he cries on his watch, “how long shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear!” “But I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what He will say unto me.” There are men among us who do not neglect prayer, who yet sadly neglect to watch and wait for God’s promised answer to their prayers. Prayer, when we think of it, and perform it aright,—prayer is a magnificent thing—and a venturesome,—for any man to do. For prayer builds, and fits out, and mans, and launches a frail vessel of faith on the deep and wide sea of God’s sovereignty: and sets her sails for a harbour nothing short of heaven. And, then, the wise merchantman gives God, and his ship, time to be on her way back again: and then, like Habakkuk, he sets himself on his high tower. All his interests are now up there. As Paul has it—all his conversation is in heaven: 110 all his treasures and all his affections are launched on that sea-adventure he is now so intensely watching up there. I am convinced, my brethren, that we lose many answers to our prayers,—not so much because we do not pray, as because we do not go up to our tower to watch for and to welcome God’s answers to our prayers. “Why should I answer?”—our God may well say to His waiting and ministering angels. “Why should I answer him? He pays no attention to my answer to his prayer. He is never on his watch, when I send My answer. And, even when I do send My answers to his house and to his heart, he takes them and holds them as common and everyday things. He never wonders at My grace to him. He never performs his vow for My goodness to him. He holds a thousand,—he and his—of My benefits: but he does not seem to know it.” My brethren, I am as sure as I am standing here, that we would all get far more, and far more wonderful answers to prayer, if only we were far more on the outlook for them. Habakkuk never made a holier or a more fruitful resolve than when he said, “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what He will say unto me.”
3. There were many shapes and sizes of towers in the land of Judah, and they were put, of the people of Judah and Jerusalem, to many and various uses. Their city walls would rise up, all round their 111 cities, into strong towers, both for defence and for beauty. Immense towers were built also by the military engineers of those days on frontiers, and on passes, and on peaks, and on exposed situations. To protect a great well also, a strong stone tower would be built, so as to secure safety to the flocks of cattle and sheep that came to the well and to its waters to drink. No vineyard worth anything to its owner was ever left without its tower,—both to lodge the keeper of the vineyard, and to be the home of the grape-gatherers at the grape-gathering season. Till, all over the land, and all round the city, all kinds of towers stood up to give life, and strength, and beauty to the whole landscape.
And so it is in the Church of Christ. Till He who sees His own holy land as no eye but His sees it: He who sees every soldier and watchman, and vinedresser, and keeper of sheep, in it: He who has His sleepless eye on every praying and expecting soul,—He sees His Holy Land, and His Holy City, encompassed, and ramparted, and ornamented with ten thousand such towers: and He never long leaves any such tower without its proper and appointed vision. For, as often as any watching soul says, “I will stand upon my watch, and will set me upon my tower,” the Lord who spake to Habakkuk says to us the same thing: “Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” And, there is nothing that our 112 Lord says so often as just this,—He says it every morning, indeed, and every night to all who wait for Him,—”The just,” He says without ceasing, ”shall live by his faith.” Till one tower answers that vision, that password and watchword, to another; till all the land rings with it, and echoes with it. The Lord speaks it first to Habakkuk, and Habakkuk to Paul, and Paul to Rome and Galatia, and Rome and Galatia to us; and still the same counsel and comfort keeps on counselling all the dwellers in their lonely towers, “The just shall live by faith.” What Habakkuk wrote six hundred years before Christ on the gates, and walls, and pillars of Jerusalem—that very same word of God the Holy Spirit of God is writing on the tables that are in the believing hearts of all God’s people still: “Being justified by faith we have peace with God”: “By grace ye are saved through faith”: “The just shall live by his faith.” He shall live,—not so much by the fulfilment of all God’s promises; nor by God’s full answers to his prayers and expectations; nor by the full deliverance of his soul from his bitter enemies; nor by the full and final expulsion of the Chaldeans: but he shall live, amid all these troubles, and till they come to an end for ever,—he shall live by his firm faith in God, and in the future which is all in God’s hand. And thus it is that, whatever our oppression and persecution may be, whatever our prayer and wherever and 113 whatever our waiting tower, still this old and ever new vision and answer comes: Faith: Faith: and Faith only. Rest and trust in God. Commit thy way to God. Be thine enemy from beyond the Euphrates, or be he out of the evil of thine own heart,—keep on in prayer. Keep on watching. Keep thyself on thy Tower. Keep saying, keep singing:
For thou art God that dost
To me salvation send,
And I upon Thee all the day
Expecting do attend.
Go up every new day into Habakkuk’s high tower. And take up his prayer and his hope. Art Thou not from everlasting, O Lord, my God, mine Holy One? I shall not die. Say you also, “I shall not die.” That is faith. That is the very faith by which the just have been enabled to live in all ages of the Church of God. No man ever died under the hand of his enemy who so believed in God, and in the power and grace of God. You may sometimes be afraid that you are to be left to die in your sin and sorrow. So was Habakkuk sometimes. “O Lord, I heard Thy speech, and was afraid.” Habakkuk was afraid to face the whole long, unbroken, unrelieved life of faith, and of faith only. Habakkuk would be up on his tower again to see if there were no signs of the Chaldeans leaving the land. At another time he would stand upon his tower, and look if none of Judah’s old alliances 114 were coming to her help. But still the full vision of his salvation tarried, till he came to seek his salvation, not in any outward thing whatsoever; not even in complete deliverance from the Chaldeans, but in GOD,—whether the Chaldeans were in possession of Judah, and Jerusalem, or driven out of it. Till, taught of God, as he dwelt more and more with God in his high tower, Habakkuk was able to rise and attain to this,—to this which is one of the highest attainments of faith, and hope, and love in all the Old Testament,—“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places.”
4. The Chaldeans with all their overwhelming invasions, and with all their cruel oppressions, have, then, been made Habakkuk’s salvation. “They took possession of dwelling-places that were not theirs”: till Habakkuk was compelled to seek a dwelling-place that even they, with all their horses like leopards, and all their horsemen like evening wolves, could not invade. They had hunted Habakkuk all his life, up into his high tower, till he is now far more of his time in his high tower than he is on the street, or even in the temple of Jerusalem. And till, at last, Habakkuk has come to this, that he asks for no more in this world but to be let walk on his “high place” into which he has been 115 wont so often to climb. In Paul’s seraphic words, Habakkuk’s whole conversation is now in heaven. He has gone up upon his high tower so often, and has set himself for such long seasons on his watch, that he is now far more in heaven than on earth. Habakkuk will not only, all his remaining days, “watch” and “wait” on his high tower, but Habakkuk will walk there. He will dwell there. His true home and his sure dwelling-place will be up there. Till, when the “beatific vision” comes,—which will soon come to Habakkuk, and will not tarry,—it will find him walking, and waiting for it on his high places. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth . . . When Christ, who is our Life; shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.”116
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