When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, will you at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?…
I. MAN'S IGNORANCE OF THE FUTURE. One department of knowledge God has in part spread before us, and is leading us continually further into His deeper counsels. The laws of nature, when we have once gathered them from the examination of the past. become our almost certain guides for the future. But even here all things are not naked and open. The phenomena of the atmosphere cannot be predicted with unerring accuracy, and the earth still contains many secrets which may never be reached. There is, however, another department, where knowledge cannot be reduced to simple laws, and where the future is hidden. This is the department in which the agencies of God and man meet, where the plan of the great Ruler and the plans of countless finite beings run across one another. So many agents and interactions create a confusion and complication which none but infinite skill can disentangle, the results of which only God can foresee. In illustration of this, note —
1. That we find in our own experience, that the times and seasons of human life God has put in His own power. All of us can testily that an unexpected future has been unrolling itself. We make new acquaintances, and they affect our condition and prospects. Our plans are ever interrupted by events wholly unforeseen. Disease, misfortune, prosperity, and joy are as much hid from us as if the lot determined them.
2. The strange mistakes of the most practised men, as they stand on the threshold of great events. There are vast revolutions which alter the course of the world, and must have had deep foundations in the past; yet the statesmen and philosophers of the time are slumbering without anxiety on the sides of the volcano. Nay, if some one, confident in the sway of general law, assured that the Divine government will have its way, ventures to predict in vague terms a coming disaster, the men of his time laugh at him. But the storm has come, and has left desolations which the predicter himself did not anticipate. Thus how little did the Senatorial party augur, when they required Caesar to resign his command, that they were urging on measures which would destroy the power of the aristocracy, change Rome into an empire, and bring on a revolution in society, law, and government! How little did Caiaphas or Pilate dream of the power that would go forth from that submissive man who lay under their hand! How little did Leo X. and the leading Italians imagine that Martin Luther would make an era, and start a movement that would never stop! Who thought a little before the French revolution, unless some dreamer regarded as wild, that all the thrones of Europe would be shaken, or that a man of Corsica would hold half the continent under his foot? "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps."
3. The prophets and apostles were kept to a great degree in ignorance of the future, §o that the times and seasons were not brought within their view. Some persons imagine that a prophet acquired a telescopic sight which penetrated all the details of the future. But Paul says, "We prophesy in part," i.e., imperfectly.
II. THE MORAL USES WHICH THIS ARRANGEMENT IS INTENDED TO SERVE.
1. In the province of individual effort uncertainty as to the future, united with probability of success, taxes the energies of man and develops his character in a desirable way.
(1) The man who is certain of future good feels no impulse to secure it by his own exertions. The man who is uncertain has every motive to prevent ill-success, and will avail himself of all helps and guard against those faults which can obstruct his way. Thus are we hardened, made wary and careful; and the virtues of prudence, forethought, diligence, vigilance, courage, etc., are cherished in our souls.
(2) But how does this law act in respect to our spiritual and eternal interests? It is plain that entire inability to estimate the course of our future life would cut off motive, and entire certainty might plunge us into despair if the foreseen end were evil, and into carelessness if it were good. But now we have the highest motives to exertion — a probability of success, if our efforts are commensurate to the greatness of the issue, and a certainty of failure if we let earthly things take the control of our lives.
(3) As for the interests of the kingdom of God — as long as the law is that nothing is brought to pass but by the co-operation of God and man, that nothing but ultimate success and no immediate, sudden triumph is held out; it is plain that all this is most favourable to strenuous exertion.
2. It is well that we cannot foresee the mass of difficulties which may discourage us, and that all our trials do not press on us at once. Suppose that ignorance were exchanged for certainty; is it not evident that the mass of them would seem too great for human strength to move? Ignorance, the,,, is a great blessing, and without it we should not have courage to undertake anything good and great. We now encounter our toils and anxieties one by one; we conquer them in detail, and sweet hope lives through all the efforts.
(1) If a successful inventor could have taken one clear, full look of his long, dreary conflict with difficulties, would he not have fled from such a career? and thus is not the world indebted for much of its progress, for many improvements in science and art, to man's ignorance of the future?
(2) Before a victorious war, if we had foreseen its length, its costliness in money and life; if the soldiers could have foreseen their hardships, wounds, defeats, is it not more titan probable that the majority would have shrunk from the contest, although certain of ultimate success? Of how many public and private efforts the same thing can be said.
(3) So also, when a man has devoted himself to the work of preaching Christ's gospel, it is best for him to live in ignorance of the future. The apostles saw trials, etc., before them, but it was a mercy that they did not see the slow rate at which Christian truth has moved, the days of Mohammed, of papal darkness, of a divided, distracted Church.
(4) Who of us is not painfully conscious of fruitless struggles against sins, of a slow and fitful progress, of frequent declensions, etc. Now if all this had been foreseen, who could have collected courage enough to endure so much for the attainment of so little?
3. Man's ignorance of the future aids the spirit of piety.
(1) It helps us to realise that God has a plan for us and for the world.
(2) It suggests to us our dependence and awakens our faith.Conclusion:
1. According to analogy, prophecy will never shed more than a dim, uncertain light upon the future before its fulfilment. Christ gave no satisfaction here, and when Peter asked what should befall John, he received but an ambiguous answer — "If I will that he tarry," etc. And so Paul went to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that should befall him there, etc. And the history of interpretation shows that thus far the Church has made little progress in applying prophecies to particular events.
2. He who gains character out of the uncertainties of life is a great gainer. He has learned in the dark not only those qualities of character which make him a good actor in these earthly scenes and which generally insure success; but he has learned also how to depend on God, to trust in His providence, and to secure His co-operation. He is thus fitted for eternal life, for its employment, for its revelations.
(T. D. Woolsey, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?