The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance:The Longsuffering of God
We wanted some one to say this. It does seem that the Lord is very slow. It is like us to attach small meanings to things. Water cannot rise above its own level: how can the mind get above its own imagination? We needed, therefore, some one to come down as it were with the key to correct us, to take away the little word and put in its place the greater word, saying to us, You ought not to say Slow, you ought to say Longsuffering, patient, forbearing, kind; anything but slow. Apostles who bring us words like these prove their own inspiration. They never take away great words and put little shallow words in their places; then should they disprove their own pretences in the matter of the Apostleship. Whenever the Apostles would take a candle away from us it is that we may open our eyes upon a sun. The gifts of God are descending, expanding, multiplying; they are not dwindling and dwarfing and diminishing, and falling away into an invisible, because infinitesimal, point. Here is a whole heavenful of light. We are liberated from false interpretations, from narrow and ever self-impoverishing constructions, and are made to see that what we thought was slow was beneficent, calculated; that slowness is longsuffering, patience, restraint, hopefulness, the multiplication of chances to men that seem intent upon ruining their lives. We might as well stop here, for we have reaped the whole acreage of Divine love. We may now pull down our barns and build greater, and say to our souls, Fret no more, chafe no more: we thought the Lord was slow, laggardly, tardy, indifferent; and behold, all the while he was patient, forbearing, hopeful, generous, infinite in love: we cannot build storehouses enough to hold such a harvest.
Again and again, as we have seen, the inspired writers come in with the larger meanings. We have seen an instance of this in the words, "It is Christ that died"; scarcely had the Apostle said so when, as if in self-correction, he added, "yea, rather, that is risen again." Examine the Scriptures in the light of this suggestion, and you will find them ablaze with morning light; look upon your own lives in the light of this suggestion, and the whole outlook is changed as a landscape is changed when the sun burns upon it. No doubt, if we look simply at the surface, things do move slowly: but what do we mean by slowness? Slowness is a term of time; terms of time are unknown in the thought of God. He has given us time as we give a child a watch; he has allowed us to break up the profound flow of his eternity into dates and periods and terms. We have thus been led into false religious reasoning by the tick of our own clock; we have made a pendulum for convenience, for to that use God limited it, and behold we have turned the pendulum itself into an argument in support of atheism. We cannot be trusted with anything. We turn every gift of God into an edged instrument and cut our own fingers with it. The clock is ruining some men. In the hush of eternity there is no tick of time. Whatever else you forget, remember this, that one day, so called by men, is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years is with the Lord as one day. We must take the Lord's standard before we can judge the Lord's providence. We cannot understand eternity through the medium of time. We must stand at God's right hand, and there the devil and his smoking perdition fall into the right perspective. Here is a key; with the use of this key we should be no longer sad; having this key and permission to use it, we should have in our spirits the bound and the joy, the sacred exultancy of eternal youth. The atheist writes his commentary upon the Bible, upon time, upon life, and upon what is called the providential plan. All atheistic comments are little, narrow, shallow; obvious, because superficial; important, because near: with one little speck of dust you could shut out the sun. The atheist refers us to what he calls facts, but his facts are lies; he has nothing to go by but a clock, a watch of his own making, and judging by that he says, How slowly all things go on! If the Lord God be omnipotent why does he not hasten things? Whereas, the true interpretation is, because he is omnipotent he need not be precipitant.
"Not slow... but longsuffering." He wants men to be saved. He says, Mayhap in another five years they may turn to me and live. Alway there is a priestly voice in the universe saying, Let it alone this year also, and I will try again, and exhaust all my skill upon it, and if I can save this life, well,—but give it twelvemonths more, and if at the end of that time it be no better, then thou shalt cut it down. Yet at the end of the twelvemonths that same voice says, Let it alone this year also. Is such reasoning to be debased by the suggestion that the agent is slow? The axe is in his hand, he stands in a threatening attitude, the axe is lifted up on high, but one moment more and the tree is down, and because the priestly voice says, Give it another chance! the atheist says, The Lord is slack concerning his promises and threatenings: if he is going to save the world, he is a long time about it; if he is going to crush the world, he seems to be hesitating a long time. Thus the atheist chatters his frivolity in the very presence of the redeeming beneficence of God. In all things get the right word.
Thus we might say in looking upon the preservation of sinful lives and construing the providence of God in the light of this suggestion, The Lord is not morally indifferent, but longsuffering. The Lord does not look upon the earth saying, Let them do what they please, it is of no consequence to me; my ineffable peace can never be disturbed, riot as they may, slay one another and break the commandments as they may; all the waves of their tumult cannot dash even against the foot of my throne. No such speech does divine love make. The Lord spares the sinner because he wants to save him. "Longsuffering," simple as it may appear to be, means suffering long: he will suffer another day, if thereby he may save the soul; he will suffer another century, if thereby he can move the earth but one inch nearer heaven. Where do we ever give one another credit for great motives? what wonder then that we should withhold the ascription of great motives to God? If one amongst ourselves does anything great we instantly ascribe a little motive to him: we say, He is ostentatious, he is giving that he may be seen to give, he is praying that he may be heard to pray; he is his own trumpeter; depend upon it his purpose in doing this deed is—and then comes some foul suggestion, marked by the selfishness of its own originator. What wonder then that men who thus ascribe poor, shallow, vicious motives to one another, even in the matter of prayer, should treat the court of heaven with contempt, and tell God to his face that he is slow? Whereas the true meaning is, not that he is slow in the sense of moral indifference, but that he is longsuffering in the sense of fatherly patience. Ignorance is hasteful; incompleteness is precipitant. All incompleteness is wanting in repose.
Change the point and view and say, The Lord spares the sinner, not for want of resources, but through longsuffering. He could crush him and throw the refuse away: but this is not the way of God. The Lord is very pitiful and kind, plenteous in mercy and in patience, yea, his mercy endureth for ever, and he continually says, I have no pleasure in the death of the sinner: I would that the wicked might turn from his way. The Living One has pleasure in life: in death he finds no pleasure. We think that sin should be met by instantaneous punishment. That is our little cleverness. The Lord says, I will meet it with longsuffering. The Lord says, I will delay the stroke in the hope that the offender may begin to pray. His very mercy is turned against him; his love is charged with false motives. Yet this is not wonderful let us repeat, because we are always charging one another in the same way, never saying, How noble!—always adding the little thought, the mean desire. Truly God is not without resources. The Apostle tells us that he has overflowed the world with water, and he is reserving it for fire, and that all visible things shall be dissolved, shall melt away like wax: but the Lord is keeping up the heavens and the earth that he may save the lost sinner. He keeps the firmament in its place, and all the stars in their courses for another century, that the last obstinate heart may be touched, may surrender its arms, and may turn its rebellion into praise.
This gives us the higher meaning of providence. Providence is not a question of letters and grammatical interpretations: we can only understand God's Bible, God's nature, and God's providence by the larger terms, the fuller, deeper, tenderer suggestions. Let us take this text home with us, and our houses will be furnished from heaven; all things will become new; we shall get rid of the old words, and put new Words, which are yet older, in their places. Thus: the sick man shall say when he is told that he has had many afflictions to bear, No, not afflicted, but chastened. The sick man shall thus become the reprover of his consoler. The consoler thinks he helps the sick man by telling him how deeply he has been afflicted, but the afflicted man who has seen the way of God says, We must drop that word afflicted, we must get rid of it, it is a narrow, superficial word, and in its place we must put the music,—chastened, refined, mellowed, ripened. Hand the word afflicted over to the atheists, let them wear that black drapery: the white garment of chastening, sanctification, ripening, belongs to the saints of God. Thus the man who has been pitied as limited and dwarfed, "cribbed, cabined, and confined," will say, You must take all these words away now; I have outlived them; I am not limited in the sense of being humbled and snubbed, I am adapted; now I see the fitness of things; I have had my ambitions, they have befooled me, they have led me into many excesses and irrational extravagances, and I have always thought that I was about to seize the reins and drive my own chariot: I do not call God's way towards me a way of limitation, but a way of adaptation; he has told me that I am not fit for the things I once thought myself highly qualified to undertake; he has told me just what he meant when he made me; his purpose has been so revealed to my soul that I see it, and now I can be larger than I ever dreamed of being, but I have to seize that idea of largeness in God's meaning and use it in God's way, and now I can do all things through the Christ strengthening idea, through the divine revelation that if I act according to God's appointment I shall never tire: I tired in an hour when I walked my own way, I came home and complained of weariness; I said, I am growing old, I cannot do what I used to do; whereas all the while I was walking along the wrong road; but the moment I got into the right path I heard a voice from heaven saying, Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fail, but they that wait upon the Lord, they that swing in the rhythm of heaven, shall walk and run and leap and fly like eagles, and no sense of weariness shall ever oppress their consciousness. Blessed be God that we soon get tired on the wrong road. A man soon gets tired of opposing gravitation; we soon want to take down the arm that is lifted against the sun. So we shall go into the sick-chamber at home and have a new view; the window will no longer look northward, but southward, with a point of west in it. When our friends are dying, and we say to them, You are quickly disappearing, you are being crushed by the great wheel, the friend will look up and say, Not killed, we must get rid of that word, but liberated: not slow, but longsuffering: not morally indifferent,—longsuffering: not without resources, but longsuffering: not afflicted,—chastened: not limited,—adapted: not killed,—released, released!