When faith murmurs, and
unbelief revolts, and men challenge the Supreme to break that silence and declare
Himself, how little do they realize what the challenge means! It means the withdrawal
of the amnesty; it means the end of the reign of grace; it means the closing
of the day of mercy and the dawning of the day of wrath.
Among the statements which
distressed the orthodox in the late Professor Tyndall's famous Birmingham address
on "Science and Man" was his reference to the herald angels' song. "Look to
the East at the present moment," he exclaimed, "as a comment on the promise
of peace on earth and good will towards men. The promise is a dream ruined by
the experience of eighteen centuries, and in that ruin is involved the claim
of the 'heavenly host' to prophetic vision."
But the angels' song was
not a promise; still less was it a prophecy. That anthem of praise was a divine
proclamation. The time was not yet when God could enforce peace between man
and man; but grace "came by Jesus Christ," and, with that advent, peace and
good will became the attitude of God to men. And this "on earth," even in the
midst of their sorrows and their sins. "He came and preached good tidings of
peace" (Eph. 2:17, RV). "He that has ears to hear" can catch the echo of that
voice as it still vibrates in our air.
If God is silent now, it
is because heaven has come down to earth and the climax of divine revelation
has been reached. He has spoken His last word of love and grace, and when next
He breaks the silence it will be to let loose the judgments which shall yet
engulf a world that has rejected Christ. For "our God shall come and shall not
keep silence" (Ps. 50:3).
A silent heaven is a part
of the mystery of God; but Holy Writ declares that a day is fixed in the divine
chronology when "the mystery of God shall be finished" (Rev. 10:7). When that
day breaks, the heavenly host shall again be heard, proclaiming that "the sovereignty
of the world is become our Lord's and His Christ's, and He shall reign for ever
and ever" (Rev. 11:15, RV). Then at last He will assume the power that now is
His by right, openly rewarding the good and putting down the evil. In a word,
He will do then what men think He ought to do now.
If He delays this, it is
not that He is "slack concerning His promise." God's own "apology" for His inaction
is that He is "longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish"
(2 Pet. 3:9).
Through the ages until Christ
came, the course of human history was an unanswered indictment by which every
attribute of God was seemingly discredited. Divine power and wisdom and righteousness
and love were all brought into question. But the advent of Christ was God's
full and final revelation of Himself to man. There are mysteries, no doubt,
which still remain unsolved, but they are mysteries which lie beyond the horizon
of our world.
Of all the questions which
immediately concern us there is not one which the Cross of Christ has left unanswered.
Men point to the sad incidents of human life on earth, and they ask, "Where
is the love of God?" God points to that Cross as the unreserved manifestation
of love so inconceivably infinite as to answer every challenge and silence all
doubt. But, ignoring the stupendous fact that He "spared not His own Son," the
test men give Him is whether He complies with some specific appeal urged in
the petulance of present need.
To believe in Christ is
to acknowledge His Lordship now. Hence the promise, "If thou shalt confess with
thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised Him
from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Rom. 10:9, RV). The sinner who thus believes
in Christ anticipates now the realization of the supreme purpose of God, and
is absolutely and forever saved.
It was in the power of these
truths that the martyrs lived and died. Here was the secret of their triumph--not
"the general sense of Scripture corrected in the light of reason and conscience";
not the insolent pretensions of priestcraft, degrading to everyone who tolerates
them. With hearts awed by the fear of God, garrisoned by the peace of God, and
exulting in the love of God, they stood for the truth against priests and princes
combined. Daring to be called heretics, they were faithful to their Lord in
life and death.
Heaven was as silent then
as it is now. No sights were seen, no voices heard, to make their persecutors
pause. But with their vision focussed on Christ, the unseen realities of heaven
filled their hearts, as they passed from a world that was not worthy of them
to the home that God has prepared for them.
With us, the degenerate
sons of a degenerate age, faith falters beneath the strain of the petty trials
of our life. While He is saying, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,"
our murmurs drown His voice. Professing to be "followers of them who through
faith and patience inherit the promises," our petulance and unbelief push from
us the infinite compassions of God. "They endured as seeing Him who is invisible":
we can see nothing but our troubles, blinding our eyes to the glories of eternity.
The dispensation of law
and covenant and promise--the distinctive privileges of the favored people--was
marked by the public display of divine power on earth. But ours is the higher
privilege, the greater blessedness of those "who have not seen and yet have
believed" (Jn. 20:29). Walking by faith is the antithesis of walking by sight.
If "signs and wonders" were given to us as at Pentecost, faith would sink to
a lower level, and the whole character of the discipline of Christian life would
The sufferings of Paul denote
a higher faith than "the mighty deeds" of his earlier ministry. Not until miracles
had ceased, and he had entered on the path of faith as we now tread it, was
it revealed to him that his life was to be "a pattern to them that should afterwards
believe" (1 Tim. 1:16).
What a life it was! The
amazing record is given in 2 Corinthians 11. And all this not only without a
murmur, but with a heart exulting in God. Instead of grumbling at his infirmities,
he boasted in them. Instead of repining, he learned to take pleasure in them
"for Christ's sake." He describes them as "light affliction."
Thus, filled with glad thoughts
of the home beyond and of the glory to which He is calling them, saints can
rejoice in Him, even though in heaviness from manifold trials (1 Pet. 1:6-7).
Men appreciate the asceticisms
of religion, penances and ordinances which are "after the precepts and doctrines
of men" (Col. 2:22, RV). But these have nothing in common with the life of faith.
They are paths by which men delude themselves in vain efforts to reach the Cross.
But it is at the Cross itself that the life of faith begins. And the spiritual
miracles of that life are more wonderful than any which merely controlled or
suspended the operation of natural laws.
Greatest of all is the miracle
of the new birth. And carrying the truth to others, we find it produces the
same results which we ourselves have proved. And this not merely in isolated
cases or in favoring circumstances. Christian missionaries have carried it to
some of the most degraded races of the heathen world, with results that surpass
all previous records, giving overwhelming proof of its divine character.
Thus there is a sense in
which heaven is not silent. Those who escape from the influence of earth hear
the sights and sounds of another world; and with united voice they testify that
God is with His people and that His Word is true. And when our race shall have
been run, we too shall pass from the arena to join the mighty throng, until
at last, their ranks complete, the ever-swelling host shall stand, a countless
multitude, before the throne of God.