The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of the LORD by the prophet Haggai, saying,The Glorious Future
Haggai 2 "Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?" (
"Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?" (Haggai 2:3).
The glorious past is never disdained. There ought not to be any past, in the sense of exhaustion or annihilation. The past should be the most vivid and graphic influence in the present. Because we have seen greatness we shall see glory, should be the tone of every man who undertakes to teach the mysteries of the divine kingdom, and lead the enterprises of the elect and consecrated Church. The house indeed had gone down, in that sense it was nothing in comparison with the house in its first glory. There is a past that humbles the present, that makes the present insignificant and worthless; but the Lord never regards that past as the end of his own opportunity; it is rather the occasion of the beginning of new revelations of his omnipotence. The Lord never stops his kingdom in its darkest hour and says, This is all. The Lord never interrupts a prayer at the point of confession; he listens until the prayer glows with thankfulness, until it becomes violent in sacred ambition, until it would seize the treasures of the kingdom and appropriate them all with a grateful heart; then he says, This is the prayer you meant to pray, and to this prayer I return a grand Amen. It is thus God leads us and educates us. He takes us at our best points, not at our worst. What he sees in us, not what we see in ourselves, is the explanation alike of his discipline and his inspiration. The Lord promised that the house should assume a glory to which the first glory was as nothing. Here is a principle in the divine economy; it is a principle of development, of progress, of gradual and assured consummation. That is a revelation of the providence of God. Men are to become stronger and stronger, the Church is to become purer and purer, the path of the just is to be as a shining light, shining more and more unto the perfect day. What a rebuke is this to our unfaith! We say, What will the world do when certain men are taken away from it? Surely then the world would die if the world were self-created; but, if it were divinely governed, what will God do when he removes the immediate life? Will he say, I can do no more, it does not lie within the range of Almightness to find another man, thinker, statesman, captain, leader, that can take the place of the one who is about to be removed? Then it would be God who failed, and failure is a term that must never be associated with the name of God.
What will the Church do when this beautiful house is broken up, and the winds howl through the aisles of the sanctuary? That would be an appropriate question if the sanctuary were a building made by hands; if man conceived, erected, and assured security to the temple, then the days of the temple would be but few, and its end would be a certain catastrophe: but the temple is God's, the Church belongs to heaven. Earth itself is part of the Mother city, colonised afar, and separated from some of its holiest influences by acts of self-apostasy and sin hardly to be conceived or forgiven: yet still the earth is not an islet unrelated to the heavens, it has connections with the mainland, and God will see that the very least of his provinces is cared for. It is not Christianity that speaks of the future with despair; the future is always spoken of by Christian apostles as being more glorious than anything we have yet seen. No man can imagine the light. We say, looking upon a landscape on a cold grey morning, We can imagine what this will be when the sun shines. It is a mistake. No man can imagine the sun. It belongs to light to be an eternal surprise, a daily wonder, a monotony infinitely varied: thus a contradiction in terms, but a fact well known to consciousness and observation. The flowers are surprised by the light as if they had never seen it; they look so gay, they look almost thankful; they seem to say in their beauty, Many a morning have we seen, but never one like this: yesterday was beautiful, but not so beautiful, not so tenderly beautiful as the morning that is now embracing us with its generous welcome. So it is in the development of truth and in the progress of the Church; all the great preaching is yet to come, all the great enterprises are yet to be originated, all the great realisations of God are yet to be experienced. The Son of man in the time of his humiliation saw heaven open, and that is what Christianity is always seeing; wherever there is a closed heaven there is a closed eye. Heaven is always open, and the Son of man is always on the throne, and the angels are always coming and going. Lord, open our eyes that we may see the marvellous economy!
Is there to be no response on the human side? Are men simply in a negative condition? Is our attitude one of supine-ness? The Lord gives the answer in the fourth verse: "Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel... be strong, O Joshua... be strong, all ye people of the land." There is a strength of weakness. The apostle said, "When I am weak then am I strong." Some prayers do more by their feebleness than other prayers can do by their strength or their sacred audacity. We cannot tell what some hymn-singing costs; it is a struggle between the heart and the tongue; the heart is trying to strengthen itself, but the tongue feels that it is called to the task of expressing a strength which is not really felt. Sometimes our psalm-singing is a bitter self-conscious irony; we do not want to sing, we would rather run away into solitude, and cry our hearts out in rivers of tears; yet there comes down upon the soul the appealing voice, "Be strong... be strong... be strong": now is the opportunity, if you fail now you will never rise again; and when the soul in response to that appeal only flutters, that fluttering is accepted as the flight of strength, as the sacrifice of the accepted amidst the very glory of God. Into these mysteries no soul can enter that has not been long in the school of bitter yet not hopeless experience.
Why have we to be so strong? Is not this mocking what little strength we have? Is not this omnipotence crushing our feebleness? The answer is in the last clause of the fourth verse: "For I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts." That is an answer full of encouragement; that is a rock upon which the Church is built. Any strength that is dissociated from that assurance is not strength at all. It is mere spasmodic weakness; it is an effort that kills itself in the very making of it. We cannot disconnect ourselves from the fountain of eternal strength and long remain mighty men. We do not always account for the momentum which has not yet expended itself, and whilst that momentum continues we are apt to delude ourselves with the impression that because we are in motion the motion is self-originated and self-sustained. You have seen the wheels moving rapidly along the line, and there has been no engine connected with the carriage, but that carriage was connected with the engine, it received its impetus from the engine which is now detached; but that impetus is a dying force, and presently the chariot will stand still. It is even so with men; we have been brought up in religious families, we have received Christian training, we have been surrounded by Christian influences, and although we may have given up certain Christian persuasions and convictions, we are still able to move, and we boast of that movement as if to say, Behold what we can do without the Cross which we have abandoned. The momentum was received from the Cross; without the Cross the momentum will die. They are on the line of destruction who have severed themselves from the fountains of eternity. What is our assurance that the latter house will eclipse the glory of the former? Is it in our eloquence, our learning, our industry, our munificence? Then indeed our boasting shall come to emptiness, and our protestations shall prove to be falsehoods. What is the secret of our hope? What is the light of the glory which throws its radiance upon our countenances as we gaze upon time unborn? The answer is in this same declaration, "For I am with you." When missions fail, God fails; when Christianity says, I can go no further, this darkness is too great for me to penetrate,—the Cross fails, Calvary proves itself to be a fatal mistake.
"According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not" (Haggai 2:5).
Then no new covenant was written; it was the old promise. We have no revelations dissociated from the past that have come to us on this very moment Every promise that speaks to us this day has travelled all the way from eternity to deliver its sweet gospel. The astronomer tells us that the light which we saw but yesterday has been thousands of years on the way; the beam was shot from the planet five thousand years ago, and only arrived this morning. This is spiritual astronomy. In the Old Testament there are words lying which shot their glorious gospels thousands of years ago, and they did but strike some opening brain this very day, and from that brain they will glance off upon the whole area of the Church, and the Church will say, Behold a new revelation of God! There is no such novelty; the novelty is only apparent, it is only in accident or in transient form: truth can never be older and never be younger; truth and God are of the same age. The mischief is that we are looking for a new writing, a new covenant, a new bond. We have more than a covenant; we have a Spirit, and the covenant without the Spirit would be a dead-letter. Because men have tried to read the Bible without the Spirit, therefore the Bible has been to them a book that has bewildered and confused the intellect that has vainly endeavoured to comprehend its meaning. We do not trust ourselves to the Spirit, the living Holy Ghost; therefore we have lock and bolt under which we keep our orthodoxy; we lock up our deeds in a strong-room, and go to read them to see what it really is we believe—as if a man could keep his faith under lock and key! It has been said by some that guideposts on the mountains are of greatest use to the traveller who never crossed these heights before; so they are. But what is of more use? The living guide, he who walks step for step with the mountaineer and never looks at your painted sign-posts; he has associated with a living soul, a man who knows every inch of the road. Yet there are some persons who cannot keep their misbelieving eyes off the mere whitewashed pole that is called a guidepost Why will we not believe that the old posts are of no use any more, because the God of the mountains is with us, the Holy Ghost that fashioned the hills has undertaken to conduct us over all the acclivities, and bring us safe to the vale of summer, the city of peace? Every lock that is in the house is a condemnation of society. Why this door-locking and window-fastening? What is going to happen during the darkness of the night? You believe that your privacy may be invaded and your property may be stolen? Then you suspect the very society in which you live, and you are justified in your suspicion. But the Church should be fearless, the Church should not live upon its pennyworth of foolscap; the Church should be identified with the ministry of the Holy Ghost, and if men arise who talk a strange tongue, and who utter themselves in sentences that are at first either obscure or vexatious, we may be sure that in proportion as they have sought the aid of the Holy Ghost, and are willing to submit themselves absolutely to his inspiration, all this momentary eccentricity shall be ruled into the softness and the fluency of a perfect astronomic motion. You cannot keep men right by theological constabulary; the Church is not to be protected by men in uniform; the Church purchased with the blood of the Son of God is promised to be pure, mighty, and glorious, and the God of the promise must consummate his own covenant and declaration. Have we the Holy Ghost? Do we seek him daily? Do we live upon him?
Now we come again to the divine action; Zerubbabel is to be "strong;" Joshua is to be "strong"; all the people of the land are to be "strong": now the Lord says:—
Here we interrupt the divine action, and say in a pitiful tone of unfaith, See on what troublous times we have fallen; God hath forsaken his people, and the inheritance is given over to the devastations of the wild boar! What foolish talk, what blank atheism! "I," saith the Lord of hosts, "will shake"; the shaking is as clearly a divine action as the birth of peace or the in-bringing of the quiet glory of noontide. Do we suppose that men can shake the heavens and the earth? All they can do is to shake themselves in trying to shake a tree. We behold the tumults of the earth, wars and rumours of wars, and ascribe the great commotion to some action of statecraft. Nothing of the kind; no man can shake a nation; only God can handle the great quantities. We can shake a leaf; we can make a feather feel our tremendous violence, but only God can shake all nations, the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land, and all nations. See God in the controversies of the world; see a divine thought, like a holy sword, rending and smiting and slaying with tremendous and pitiless vengeance.
What is the meaning of it all? "And the desire of all nations shall come" (Haggai 2:7). It would be profitable to collate the Scriptures in which the expression "all nations" occurs: "All nations shall serve him." "All nations shall call him blessed." "Go, teach all nations"—one of the last words of the withdrawing Christ as he lifted up his hands of power and gave the Church his final blessing. There are those who love to find secondary meanings, and fasten attention upon those meanings as if they were all. Thus we refer the seventy-second Psalm to Solomon, and we refer other Psalms or prophecies to David, or to some mighty king and leader of men; and here "the desire of all nations" may be some figure in history: but we cannot fill to their utmost capacity these profound passages until we put Christ into them. Often the interpretation comes after the vision; we do not know what the prophecy means at the time, but two centuries after, two thousand centuries after, the real meaning comes; then we remember the word of the prophet, how he said, "The desire of all nations shall come." The desire on our part is sometimes unconscious; we do not know what we are seeking for. There are some unbelievers who do not want to be unbelievers, but who are really struggling after a real, true, saving faith. Sometimes the desire is unexpressed; yet it touches the whole agony of life, and throws a colour upon the whole experience of progress. We say, What is it that troubles us? And the answer is, We cannot tell. Why are you not content with time and space and immediate action? We cannot tell. Why not find in the summer all the heaven you want? We do not find all the heaven we want even in the fullest summer; we accept the summer itself as a letter in the literature we are reading, as a tone in the music we can almost overhear. What is this longing of the soul, what is the meaning of this palpitating force that will not rest, but always says, More, more! Why this ineffable discontent? It is because we are made in the image and likeness of God, and until we find God, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, the God of providence, the God of salvation, and the God of inspiration and edification, we cannot rest. The light is a mockery to us because we want that other light that pales the sun and constitutes the very glory of heaven.
What will be the end of all this shaking, convulsion, revolution, and the like? The end is indicated in clear words: "I will fill this house with glory" (Haggai 2:7); "In this place will I give peace" (Haggai 2:9). God always gives with both hands: "I will give glory"; see him making the sun that is to put out all other suns: "I will give peace"; see him creating the tranquillity beside which all other calmness is foam and tumult. He may give these gifts concurrently, or he may give them separately; but we are to be assured of the fulfilment of the promise by these gifts only. If we are sitting in the night time, then we have not entered into the mystery of this prophecy; we are in fear, tumult, and continual agitation; then we have not realized the presence of God. There are those who can never be quieted or at all contented unless they be helping God to keep his truth right. So long as they can be busily engaged wearing themselves out in doing nothing, they suppose that God is safe, and the door of eternity is locked top and bottom, and well guarded by blacksmith's bolts. What poor aid is ours! We say unless we live and write and teach and preach, things will all go wrong. Oh, ye apprentices to the Deity, ye who try to do work for which you seek the admiration of heaven, know ye that God is the builder of his own city, the keeper of his own house, and that not one stone can be touched by fire or by storm, because it is the Lord's building, and he will bring on the topstone with shouting of "Grace, grace unto it!" and he will fill the whole house with glory, as with the very morning of heaven. Whatever we do let us do it quietly, lovingly, simply; and let us know that we do it by permission, and not by any right arising out of our own capacity or brilliance of gift. It is not in man to buttress the sanctuary of God; it is not in man to do any mischief to the sanctuary that shall be of a permanent kind. "The Lord of hosts"; "The Lord of Hosts"; "THE LORD OF HOSTS": by this name doth the King ride forth in this chapter. It is a name of significance; it means not only strength and majesty, it means resource. God's bank has in it gold and silver; God's arm has in it omnipotence. "Oh, rest in the Lord, wait patiently for him, and he shall give thee thine heart's desire." Not because of our fighting and controversy and anger and tumult, but because of the divine oath, will the whole earth be filled with the glory of God.