First, "Distress of nations." How well these words describe the well-nigh universal groaning and anguish of mankind! "Distress" is now no longer confined to any one people but is international and earth-wide in its reach. The "distress" and suffering caused by the exorbitant cost of living when it is becoming more and more difficult to secure even the bare necessaries of life. The "distress" occasioned by increasing taxation and the accumulation of national debts which must prove intolerable burdens for future generations to bear. The "distress" caused by shortage of fuel and food-stuffs so that one half of the world is living upon short rations. The "distress" of bereavement which is now in millions of homes which mourn the loss of loved ones slain in battle.
Second, "with perplexity." Statesmen unable to discover any way out of present difficulties. Men of Solomonic astuteness at their wits' end, fearful of what they see approaching and powerless to hinder and prevent it. Problems between capital and labor becoming more acute and insoluble. Situations arising which the wisest of our statesmen, despite all our boasted enlightenment and progress, are unable to cope with successfully. "Perplexity" by reason of political corruption, economic agitations, and revolutionary troubles.
Third, "the sea and the waves roaring." In Scripture, the sea is used to figure the peoples of the earth which, away from God, know no rest. Like the sea, the masses today are in a seething turmoil. Everywhere there is fermentation and dissatisfaction. When were human politics so confused, so contradictory, so threatening as they are now? When was law so utterly impotent to restrain the violent passions of men? Every day brings new indications of disquietude and convulsion. Every government on earth is being shaken to its very foundations. Mark the political changes which almost weekly take place in the great world powers. The time for listless indifference is gone. No longer may we quietly fold our hands and take our ease. There is among the nations a spirit of restlessness, insubordination, anarchy; a consuming desire to overthrow every established system which has made for law and order; a spirit and desire which is too deeply rooted, too furious, too general, to be long withstood. It is something more than a passing tumult or the frenzy of an hour. Every day it is gathering strength and ere long it will burst every bound that legislation can devise. The waves of human passion are rising higher, and higher and threaten to swamp the landmarks of the ancients and take possession of the whole earth.
Fourth, "Men's hearts failing them with fear, and for looking for those things which are coming on the earth." We live in a day of unprecedented agitation and unparalleled tribulation. Conditions on earth have now reached such a pass that no human skill an steer clear of the mighty maelstrom which is rapidly drawing all nations within its awful whirl. Human society is becoming panic-stricken. Heart failure both physically and morally is seizing thousands of victims. Little wonder that suicides are increasing at such an alarming rate. Men's hearts are "failing them." And well they may. Confidence between man and man has disappeared. Friendships have become barren formalities, little more than selfish conveniences. Human compassion is no more. Conscience is dead, and men are giving up in hopeless despair as they discern still worse evils presaged by present-day conditions. Feverish eyes are moving to and fro in dread expectation of the approaching total collapse of civilization.
Fifth, "the powers of heaven shall be shaken." In Scripture the powers of nature are frequently used symbolically. "Mountains" figure "Kingdoms" (Dan.2:35; Jer.51:25); "waters" represent "peoples" (Rev 17:11); and the sun, moon, and stars, typify human governments (Rev.12:1). In the Great Tribulation the physical "powers of heaven will be literally"shaken," but we take it that the present-day application of our text is to be regarded symbolically, having reference to human governments. And when were the political heavens so "shaken" as they are today? Note the development of the "Young Turk" Party in Turkey. Mark the growing popularity of a revolutionary Socialism. Witness the revolution in Portugal, and the yet more recent revolutions in Mexico, China and Russia. Ancient dynasties are being overthrown; thrones are tottering; kingdoms are being broken up. The very cement by which human society has been welded together is corroded so that Civilization is now like walls without mortar -- ready to fall to pieces.
What is the message voiced by these universal conditions? What do they say to the children of God? The answer to these questions is found in the same passage where these things are described -- "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh"(Luke 21:28). Let us next consider --