The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying,The Fate of Tyre
These chapters are superb reading. There is nothing to equal them out of Isaiah and the Apocalypse. Read them verse by verse privately; they grow as they are read. Was ever such a picture of a city drawn as is here drawn of the now all-but-forgotten Tyre and the adjacent city, Phoenician Sidon? How could Sidon escape when the great wind of God fell upon Tyre? It is dangerous to live near some cities, some people, some institutions. The twenty-seventh chapter more particularly describes in detailed specification the grandeur, the royalty of Tyrus. Everything about the city was beautiful. Where are all the beautiful cities of antiquity? God must needs pull down every city after a certain point. Cities forget themselves. They are apt to think they are the centre of power, the origin of sovereignty, the limit of deity. What is that wondrous ghostly power that has pulled all the cities down? We need not be theologians to entertain a question like this; we may be mere historians or geographers or inquirers. What has become of the pride, the pomp, the majesty of antiquity? Men have to dig for chiselled marble; they have to explore in order to get at the old streets that once were full of fashion and grandeur and pomp and ostentation. How is this? The earth can only stand a certain measure of sunshine; she must let the rest run off into any other worlds that are about. Churches, too, have been hewn to pieces in the same way. Where are the Seven Churches of Asia? Gone. Was it not a pity to take down the Seven Churches of Asia? No; it was educational, disciplinary. It takes, it may be, millions of years to scatter a pinch of dust upon the surface of the earth: it takes ages to humble man, to chasten him; to rebuke churches, and dogmatisms, and prejudices, and sectarianisms. The Lord hath weary work! He has been toiling some fifty years with you, and you are not perceptibly better today than you were when he began. Yet you are better if you have been in earnest all the time. Astronomers tell us that the earth is getting larger—there is a kind of fine powdered dust that comes from some place high away—and that the surface of the earth is being increased. Have you seen the accretion? No man has seen it in its process. It is so that God is working, little by little, one prejudice more killed, another ray of light admitted, another folly struck down at the root; and thus in ages hence the world may be a trifle better than it is today. Great cities must be cut down in the meantime, like great forests, to let the light in, and to let God walk abroad upon the face of his own earth. We have been building him out; the question now is quite a serious one whether civilisation has not been a failure. All our plans, ambitions, and stupendous schemes must be withered every seven years more or less, that we may be taught something. Some lessons are only to be learned at the grave's mouth. They cannot be read in any other light; they can be read best in shadow. How comes it that a city gets up to a certain point, and we say, Now nothing can hinder that city building right into the stars,—and lo! in the dawn of tomorrow the city is gone, yea, I sought it, but it could not be found, saith the man of wisdom and of honest and large research. What is it that checks everything at a given point? What is it that prevents one man more coming into the Church? What is it that says to you in your business, No further: here shalt thy proud waves be stayed? If this were not a fact we should not regard it religiously or care to inquire into it metaphysically or economically, but there it is. We are permitted to build on and up, and actually to call for the capital to be raised, and while the capital that was to crown the pillar is in mid-air the pillar itself is struck off in the middle, the whole scaffolding comes down, and the builders along with it. It is thus that God trains the world, trains the individual. If we could accept this providence we should know that the bounds of our habitation are fixed, that every faculty is measured out to us, that there is a man, an angel-man, going up and down the earth with a measuring rod in his hand, measuring off all things, and returning in decades or in centuries to ask how the inheritances have been treated, to turn out evil husbandmen and replace them, and to carry on the economy of providence. Thus rebuked, humbled, trodden in the dust, men may either be destroyed or they may there learn to pray, and learning to pray they shall stand up again princes elect and crowned of God.
Why was Tyrus rebuked and stripped and humbled? Because it came to pass in the case of Tyrus, as it comes to pass in our case, that too much prosperity begets a spirit of sneering. And God will not have any sneering in his school. Argumentative opposition as much as you please; such intellectual friction is educational, healthy, and helpful: but no sneering. When you sneer you are going down; when you sneer God is raising up a wind against you from the east, and it will blow you away. How did Tyrus sneer? She sneered religiously, which is the worst kind of sneering. Keep sneering to the tavern, to the racecourse, to the place where evil men do congregate; but sneering has no right, title, or status in God's Church. Why was Tyrus rebuked? Why was all the ivory taken away? Why were the crowns taken up and dashed together, and thrown away, and broken like a potter's vessel? For this reason: "Because that Tyrus hath said against Jerusalem, Aha." That "Aha" cost Tyrus her life. No mockery, no taunting of man against man on religious or solemn subjects! Controversy if you will; sneering none. We were not made to sneer. Sneer at no man's prayers. They may be very imperfect as compared with ours, but they are not to be sneered at. Do not sneer at the idolater in the jungle. He is worshipping a fetich, some poor stone or branch of wood; or mayhap he is a little higher, and is worshipping the dawn and paying homage to the evening star. Do not laugh at him; any man who can fall down on his knees worshipfully before any object is not far from the kingdom of God. Your business is not to sneer at him, but to show him a more excellent way, and to show that way by walking it.
Is the Lord then interested in religious citizenship, and fellowship, and brotherhood? It would so appear from all history:—"Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, O Tyrus." He who sneers at Jerusalem challenges God; he who mocks the humble poor defies high Heaven. Tyrus versus Jerusalem,—the case so limited, Jerusalem might go down; but so long as Jerusalem stands for godliness, the true worship, the right conception of things, he who offends Jerusalem has to fight Omnipotence. Are we good?—not really and absolutely, no man is good in that sense, but good and honest in purpose, in thought? Do we keep a clean and lovely conscience? Are our aspirations all lofty, unselfish, noble? Do we want to be good? Then they that be for us are more than all them that be against us. Momentary defeat foreruns abiding victory. It is not we who are being opposed, it is God, in the degree in which we ourselves are godly. Do not fight your own battles, spitefully, resentfully. Do not say, I must draw my sword, and settle this by the arbitrament of steel. Give God some room in your life. When you need him most he will be most present. Your prayers that have lain all these years without God's Amen shall all be answered in a moment The prayers shall be so many replies to the enemy. Oh rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him, and though Tyrus be thine opponent she shall be stripped, driven away by the east wind into the inhospitable desert.
Can Tyrus fail? When Tyrus fails all the islands of the sea know of it: "Then all the princes of the sea shall come down from their thrones, and lay away their robes, and put off their broidered garments." Behold them all!—princes of Polynesia coming down from their thrones, stripping themselves, themselves folding up the garments and putting them away, and then replacing the garments embroidered and golden with garments of trembling. Why? Because famed Tyrus has fallen. Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen. We should learn thus from history. Can the greatest banks of the city come to nothing? Are there not some financial institutions that cannot be touched? Not one. The smallest bank in a country town may be as solvent as the Bank of England; but the Bank of England could be ruined tomorrow. There is no security out of heaven. He builds too low who builds beneath the skies. All other security is partial, relative, good as far as it goes; but so long as old Tyre lies in ruins, a rock on which fishermen dry their nets, let us believe that the proudest gold store may be a barren place and the very city of poverty and chagrin in the working out of the evolution of providence. We should learn from ruins. O vain man, poor boaster, you shall beg tomorrow! You that steep your arms to the elbows in gold shall write a begging letter ere the year closes. Riches make to themselves wings and fly away, and the great Babylon which you have builded is but a bubble in the air. Lay not up for yourselves riches where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: have riches in heaven; have riches in the word of God. Then you can never be poor; yea, though there be not one penny-piece in all your fortune, you may be richer than you ever were. There is a poverty that is unconscious of need; there is a poverty that can pray and hope.
See the uselessness of what is called environment. Tyrus had environment enough: her shipboards, trees of cedar; her masts made of the cedars of Lebanon; her oars of the oaks of Bashan; fine linen with broidered work from Egypt, blue and purple from the isles of Elishah; treasure upon treasure. So much for environment! We think if we had more pictures on the walls we should pray more; if we had a larger garden behind the house we should be more spiritually minded. It is not so. A man's heaven is in his heart; a man's hell is within. Moreover, what is environment? What you think a beautiful and educational environment another man may regard with horror. I know of a house whose dilapidation no words can describe; hardly such a place can be imagined for darkness and filth and vermin and everything that is hideous. The poor man who was dying there was entreated to permit himself to be carried to an asylum, a hospital, a place of comfort; "Nay," said he, "let me die comfortably in my own bed." What different views are taken by different men! We staggered out of the room—we thought that corruption itself could go no further; yet the poor man's only desire was to die in comfort in his own environment I know of another case in which a man was besought to give himself over to friendly hands that something might be done for his recovery and for his renewal of strength, and when it was proposed that he should be taken to the hospital, he said, "No." Why not? "Because they will wash me to death in that place." We talk about environment We are told on the best authority that the bath is as great a terror to some people as is the prison itself, nay, in some instances it has been found to suggest a deadlier terror. Who are we that we should define environment and say, Under such and such circumstances such and such moral issues would take place? Never I unless there be something more. Only the Spirit can make man right, and only Christ, according to the faith, to the Christianity which I solemnly accept, can get at the spirit with renewing and sanctifying energy. All other teachers are reformers: Christ is a Saviour. What is the difference between Saviour and reformer? The difference is the distance between the east and the west. Has any line been laid upon that measure? It is the unmeasured immensity. When Christ gets into a man's heart, all the rest follows—all the cleanliness comes the same day, and on the morrow comes music, and on the third day comes the dawn of heaven.
Almighty God, thou searchest the heart and triest the reins of the children of men: all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do: thou God seest us. We have heard that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; and now we are here at the altar of grace to testify that this witness is true. We know not the depth of our own heart, we cannot tell all that is within us; we suppose that the enemy is dead when he is only asleep; we say, Surely now he has gone and will return no more, for we are new creatures in Christ Jesus, when suddenly he returns and reasserts his mastery, and we feel that we are still his bondmen. The Lord grant unto us such self-searching of heart as shall lead to the expulsion of every evil thing. Search us and try us, and see if there be any wicked way in us, and lead us in the way everlasting. Come not with the candle of judgment with which to search us, or we shall be consumed, but show us unto ourselves, until we are humble and conscious of helplessness, and are made to cry out for the living God, even our Saviour Jesus Christ, the only hope of the soul. Save us from self-delusion, from self-deceit; may we understand ourselves thoroughly, knowing what strength we have, and by what weakness we are enfeebled, clearly apprehending how inflammable we are, and understanding also how near thou art to extinguish the baleful fire. If our hands be clean, what if our heart be unclean? Can cleanness of hands save a man? Is there not a voice which comes down from heaven and from eternity, saying, Ye must be born again? Enable us to realise the necessity of the second birth, and if there is aught in us which thy Spirit can move into prayer may our cry day and night be, Oh that we might be born again! We bless thee for the prospect of a new beginning, a new birth, a new starting-point in life. Thou art always giving us new opportunities, beginnings of years and weeks and months, times of renewal, times which have upon them the sacredness of opportunities: may we understand these beginnings, and see how possible it is by the might of the Holy Ghost to begin again, to be new men in Christ Jesus. Save us from making a fair show in the flesh; save us from the dominion of all ceremony and form and calculated piety; bring us into penitence, contrition, broken-heartedness, self-abhorrence; then lead us to the fountain filled with blood, to the Cross of Christ; and to thy name, thou Three-One, shall be the praise.
Now unto him that is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.