The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
The word of the LORD came also unto me, saying,Larger Providences
Thus epochs are made; thus new dates are introduced into human history; thus the less is merged in the greater; the little judgment is lost in the great judgment, and the mercy that once appeared to be so great seems to be quite small compared with the greater mercy that has healed and blessed our life. This is the music and this is the meaning of the passage. Once the great thought was the Egyptian deliverance: how marvellous, how unexpected, how mighty was the arm of the Lord! how Pharaoh trembled under the stroke of the unseen sword! For a long time that thought held dominion over the minds of the people; but there came a period when it was scarcely to be named by reason of the mightier deliverance, the more surprising and startling liberation, the return of the people from exile, harder in its oppressions and endurances than ever had been known in the reckoned history of mankind. The passage may be read in either of two ways: either as referring to one judgment greater than another, or to one mercy greater than another: both readings would be right; it is better not to separate them, but to combine them, and out of their united strength to draw this lesson, that God is always making new and larger epochs, always developing his providences on new and larger scales, always surprising the universe with new manifestations of his power and glory. The case in Egypt was bad enough; the Israelites had enough to suffer there; they thought it impossible that anything severer could ever befall their poor lives; they supposed themselves to be in extremity of distress: yet Egyptian experience was forgotten. What is experience worth? It is worth exactly what we make of it; it will not follow us and insist upon being looked at and estimated and applied; it is, so to say, either a negative or a positive possession; we can make it either, according to the exercise of our will and inclination. Some men have a gift of forgetting all their holy, sacred, instructive past; they have no yesterday, even in the sense of having a grave in which they have buried many a tormenting memory; yesterday is not a grave, it is a simple land of forgetfulness, a section so to say of oblivion; it does not grow fruits and flowers of today's nourishment and suggestion and stimulus, it is a forgotten nightmare. Other men live on their experience; they fall back upon it and say, What wonders were wrought for me years ago! They bring up all their yesterdays and turn them into a phalanx of helpers, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped me, and he hath not helped me for a hundred days that he may desert me on the hundred-and-first; every help he has given lies on the road to final triumph. Set the helps in order, in historical and moral sequence, they all go in one line, and the line terminates only in victory—that is to say, in heaven. How often we vow not to forget our experience; yet it is stolen from us in the nighttime, and we awake in the morning empty-handed, empty-minded, beggared to the uttermost point of destitution. We write our vows in water: who can make any impression on the ocean? whole fleets have passed over the sea, not a track is left behind where the waves were sundered; they roll together again, as if with emulous energy they seek to obliterate the transient mark of the intrusive ships. It is so with ourselves. We have forgotten even our friends; whilst we are waiting for their next benefaction we have forgotten their last. Let no man think he has sounded the whole depth of God's providence in this matter of punishment or of benediction and blessing. History has recorded nothing yet; history is getting its pen ready for the real registration of divine ministry in human affairs. No judgment has yet befallen the world worth naming compared with the judgment that may at any moment be revealed. They say that the earth was once drenched and drowned: it was but a sprinkling of water compared with the infinite cataract that God could pour down. We have seen streamlets, little silver rills of water trickling down the green hillsides: we have not seen the hidden floods. Do not tempt them: there they are, locked up amid the rocks of eternity. What God could do if he pleased, if his anger were excited! "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Do not say we have had the rain, and there is no more to fall. There is a flood which no ark could ride. They say that once the clouds were shaken by invisible hands, and there came out of them fire and brimstone exceeding hot, exceeding much, and the whole cities were burnt up and left in hot ashes, as if God had initialled them in sign of disapproval. We know nothing about God's fire, we cannot understand the full judgment of the Most High: what we have seen is a spark, a little spluttering spark, one little hot cinder or speck of white ash: the great fire burns in the volcanoes unseen; at any moment those volcanoes may be let loose, and lava may fall upon a condemned universe. Do not mock God; do not defy him or tempt him: what you have had is but the sting of a whip; he could smite you with a thong of scorpions. Rather say, God pity us, God spare us; remember that we are but dust; a wind that cometh for a little time and then passeth away smite us not in thine hot anger, O loving One; in wrath remember mercy. We do not know what plagues God could send upon the earth. He could change our language, so that we should not know the speech of father, mother, child, the familiar tongue that filled home with music; as for our skin, how he could scorch it, and blotch it, and fill it with uncleanness, and make us afraid of one another as men might stand aghast in the presence of the risen but unspeaking dead. Again the lesson comes upon us: Be not presumptuous against the divine government; do not say, God cannot do this, or send down that judgment; if he forbare, it is because his mercy restrains, not because his judgment is impotent.
Yet God can seldom, perhaps never, speak of judgment alone. He has no interest in that grim theme; he does not want to speak about it; judgment is his strange work, mercy is his peculiar delight. Yet judgment must have some place in human history; the ministry of fear cannot be dismissed. It would be idle sentiment that desired always to see nothing but morning dew, or noontide light, and feel nothing but summer zephyrs, benedictions with wings, coming lightly, silently from above to bless the world. Such a desire would spring from ignorance, and not from a philosophical or wise conception of the relation and purpose of things. We must have the whip; we must have the prison. Society has found that out in its own civilisation, which it claims to be a piece of its own philosophy. Society has elaborated a civilisation. What have we in that civilisation? A heaven and a hell. You cannot get rid of the Biblical lines and distributions of things. You have reward and punishment; you have a benediction pronounced by paternal or pastoral voice, holy, sweet, noble in dignity; and you have denunciation, sentencing to darkness, solitude, or sharp penalty of other kinds. Even in society you have reward and punishment; so in the great society which God is building up for himself, and therefore for itself in the largest sense of the term, we have judgment as well as mercy—indeed, we could have no mercy were there no judgment. Mercy is a night-child; mercy wanders out most eagerly at midnight; when it is darkest mercy is busiest; when our moments are fewest mercy invests herself with her chief eloquence and her noblest persuasiveness, and begs us to surrender and return. So in this connection the exile is to end. In the twenty-third chapter of this prophecy and the seventh verse we have almost identical words, but they take a specific term, for one is promised by name (Jeremiah 23:5): "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth." Not only is there a promise, there is a predicted Saviour, a Man, the Son of God, who is able and willing to work out this mighty deliverance, and able to cause the Israelites to return from the north and be liberated from the hand of tyranny, a hand so mighty that the pressure of the hand of Pharaoh seemed gentleness itself. History has always been waiting for this man. The Old Testament is a book of discontent; it never falls into peaceful rhythm until the prophets have said that One was coming who should rule all things in righteousness and mercy. "Unto us a child is barn, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." Continue the cataract of nomenclature until you have brought into it every word significant of majesty, dignity, tenderness, outvying and outstripping the tenderness of shepherd and nurse and mother.
By a natural accommodation of the passage, we may be led into quite another line of thinking and illustration: "Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said... but"; and between these words we may put in our own experience and our own commentaries upon life and destiny. Thus: Behold, the days come that it shall no more be said that we have a Creator, but we have a Redeemer. Men shall not talk about creation. There are some men who are content to talk about one infinitesimal speck of creation; they have not learned the higher philosophy, the fuller wisdom, the riper, vaster law. They are gathering what they can with their hands; they are first the admirers, secondly the devotees, and thirdly the victims of the microscope. They have made an idol of that piece of glazed brass; they who mock the heathen for worshipping ivory and stone and tree and sun may perhaps be creating a little idol of their own. Behold, the days come when men shall no longer talk about the body, but about the soul. It is time we had done with physiology. If we have not mastered the body, what poor scholars we have been! And yet how far men are from having mastered it in the sense of being able to heal it! If men knew as much about the healing of the body as they do about what ails the body, how extremely able and useful they would be! But the doctor is the first man to say, We can tell you what the matter is, but—we will see you again tomorrow. God keeps the true healing with himself. He has shown us a plant or two whose juices we can cause to exude for our momentary healing, but he has not shown us where grows the plant that holds in it the juice of physical immortality. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when men shall no more talk about human deliverance, or deliverance from human extremity, but they shall talk about liberation from diabolic captivity; they shall say they have been loosed from their sins, they have been disimprisoned and set at liberty as to the dominion of their passions and desires and appetences; they shall speak about the higher emancipation, and everywhere men shall be eloquent about the Deliverer who drew the soul from Egyptian and Chaldean tyranny, and gave it liberty and joy in the Holy Ghost. The whole subject of human speech shall be changed; men shall not talk about Egypt, but about Canaan; they shall not talk about the law, but about the higher law; they shall not talk about the outward, but about the inward. Thus dates are introduced into human history. You do not believe in Jesus Christ? Then why do you date your letters by his birth? Why not be an infidel out and out, and make a date of your own—say from the day when you began to illumine the world. That would make a striking date at the top of a letter: why not be a thorough infidel, a downright disbeliever, a thorough-paced anti-Christian? Why do you borrow a date? Why do you dip your pen, and write part of the Bible at the head of every letter? It is thus that new epochs are made; it is thus that reluctant homage is paid by men who would gladly rub out with one hand what they write with the other. The time will come when we shall not talk about Saturday, but about Sunday. For thousands of years men spoke of Saturday and called that the Sabbath; they had a creation-Sabbath, they looked around them and said, All these things we are told were finished, and God rested on the seventh day, and the seventh day we keep in thankful memorial of the completion of these things we see overhead and underfoot. It was a poor Sabbath; it was all the world could do at that time. Now men forget creation in redemption, and they say when speaking with Christian hearts and expressive piety, Christ the Lord is risen today.
What is the sun? nothing; even the scientific men have found that out: it is only like everything else we see, a development of a tuft of fire-cloud; nobody knowing where it came from, or where it is going to. Philosophy has made a doormat of the universe, and has wiped its feet upon that mat, and then sat down upon nothing. It is a poor issue, it is a miserable catastrophe: but the Christian, say of him what you may, comes with a noble poem, if not with a noble revelation; he says to the nations, To-day we were redeemed; today for the first time the word Liberty was spoken to us with its fullest emphasis and its divinest meaning; today a charter was handed to us which we can so use as to make the whole world green with celestial verdure, beautiful with supernal summer. The man who speaks that message ought to speak truly; the words have music enough in them to be divine; the declaration so touches the spirit as to constrain the spirit to say, Well, would God it were true! Some men have accepted it in its full truthfulness, and today they say, It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we have a great promise hidden in our hearts; one day we shall see him who did this, and we shall be like him because the sight of his beauty shall transfigure us into a kindred loveliness. The time will come when men will not speak about being born, but about being "born again." Your birthday was your deathday,—or only the other aspect of it. Date your born-again day from the beginning, the morning of your immortality. Drop the lower theme, seize the higher; dismiss the noise, and entreat the music to take full possession of your nature. Behold, the day is come, saith the Lord, when men shall no longer talk about prayer, but about praise. The old prayer days will be over; they were needful as part of our experience and education, but the time will come when prayer will be lost in praise; the time will come when work will be so easy as to have in it the throb and joy of music; the time will come when it will be easy to live, for life will carry no burden and know the strain of no care; the days of anxiety will be ended, solicitude will be a forgotten word, and the companionship of God and his angels shall constitute our heaven. We must now praise, we must now suffer, we must now work; but all these things, rightly done, lie on the road towards a fruition in which they shall be forgotten, not forgotten in any sense suggesting unthankfulness, but forgotten as men forget March in June, as men forget the grain of corn in the golden head of wheat; forgotten as men might forget the little helpless infant when he has grown into a giant, a hero, a man of might Thus the law is not abrogated, but fulfilled.