Two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.
What our Lord here somewhat obscurely applies to the time of the coming judgment is clearly seen in all ages and in every family where death is plying his erratic craft.
I. THE DISTINCTION. There are the greatest possible variations in providence. God does not follow any regimental orders. The ages do not march with the measured tramp of drilled battalions. Families are broken up. Aged men are left, while young men are snatched away. Bad people flourish to a green old age, and some" whom the gods love die early." The useless remain to cumber the ground, and the useful are cut down in the midst of their work.
1. Similarity of external conditions is no guarantee of similarity of fate. The two men are at the same field work, the two women are both alike grinding corn. Yet how different are their fates! We cannot judge of a man's future by his worldly position.
2. Association in life does not secure association in death. The family is grievously broken; old friends are parted; life partnerships come to an end. Two friends may be very near in life, yet death may make an awful separation, if one is called to the world of light and the other banished to the realm of darkness.
II. THE TWOFOLD FATE.
1. The one taken. Whither? There is an eerie vagueness in our Lord's language. The summons comes, and the most reluctant must obey without a shadow of resistance. But whither does it call? We vainly strive to follow the flight of the passing soul, and the utmost effort of imagination cannot trace it one step beyond the old familiar earthly scenes. A cloud receives the traveller out of sight the moment he takes his departure. Yet we know that there are tremendous possibilities in the unseen, and we know that the blessedness or woe of the future life depends on the conduct of this life. He who is taken has gone "to his own place."
2. The one left.
(1) To what is he left? To grief, desolation, and loneliness - but also to God who never leaves, to Christ who is never taken from us.
(2) Why is he left? Perhaps for further work, perhaps for finer chastening, perhaps to give one more opportunity for repentance. But let him consider that his time also must come. Before long all are taken. The distinction is temporal, not final; it is a matter of the postponement of the dreaded end, not of its avoidance.
III. THE UNCERTAINTY. Our Lord evidently desires to lay stress on this. We do not know when the final judgment will be. We do not even know when our own last day will come. This, too, may be swift and sudden as the lightning-flash, unexpected as the thief in the night. We never know which will be taken and which left. How often the feeble invalid outlives the strong man who is smitten down by some accident or fatal disease in the midst of his busy life! Such thoughts should not induce a morbid melancholy, or a listless indifference to life. They warn us to be always ready for the summons that shall call us hence. But then he is fit to die who is most truly equipped for the duties of life, and to him the sudden message will be no awful terror, but the trumpet of victory, or, better than that, the Father's voice calling his child home to himself. - W.F.A.
Two women shall be grinding at the mill.
The text speaks of an experience which comes to all of us in our turn, as life gradually builds us round. At first, in our childhood, it is otherwise. This earth seems, then, to have no fixed hardness; the spot on which we stand melts off indefinitely into a dreamlike distance, which is hazy and vague, and peopled with we know not what possibilities, holding within its rays strange fairy worlds which rumours may fill as they will, and everything seems possible, and anything might happen, and no relentless law of undeviating existence has imprisoned our expectations and experience, and the world of our hopes mingles with the world of our senses, and earth and heaven are not afraid of each other; their lines cross without a shock. But, as we grow up, we know how solid and how hard the whole thing becomes. The earth takes its stiff limits and its exact rules; it is seen, and known, and measured — a round ball, rolling in space, compact, and massive, and blind, and entire — a round, rolling ball, and we roll round with it. We are things in it, embedded in it; we belong to it; we have a fixed spot and lot on its surface. To it we are tied; we are bound to definite purposes which we never dream of disputing. So we travel with the moving earth; and our days are settled for us; occupations and holidays repeat themselves, year after year, with stolid regularity, against which gradually we give up protesting; we make up our minds to live out our own parts; and all the emotions that beat against this even tenour of uneventful days — dreams, impulses, alarms, hopes, aspirations — cease to be more than empty visions. The common day closes in upon us, settled and familiar; the common world is about us, with interests that ever increase, with work and play, with rule and habit; and the steady block of endless business fills in all our allotted space of action, fills it in down to every cranny, thick and solid and unyielding.
How powerless and immaterial are circumstances for those two! Every single circumstance of life is identical; together they rise at the same hour; right through the day they grind together; at the same hour they go to the evening meal, and at the same hour they sleep. Everything, year after year, repeats itself. They dress alike; they were paid alike; life passed for both on the same level of low, unchanging poverty. To any one looking on they would be wholly alike — two poor women, of the same class, occupation, education, wage, interest, dress. Nothing from end to end of these earthly circumstances could be found to distinguish the one from the other. At the same mill they had turned and turned, to both the earth had been equally harsh and unkind, and no lights shone in upon them, and no changes ever surprised them. On and on together, hand in hand, and face to face, they had ground at the same mill up to the last; and lo! one is for heaven, and one for hell. Within they are as different as black from white, as good from evil; so dominant, so imperial is human character, so free it is from the control of circumstances. Oh, what wide comfort! What can it matter what our conditions may be? Two grinding at the mill; one taken, and the other left. Is there any one who sinks under the sodden monotony of daily routine, who withers under the pressure of everyday sameness; who finds himself chained into that mean, petty, narrow block of circumstances which he knows to be killing out all spiritual emotions in those about him, and yet he cannot break from it, and he dreads to feel creeping over his soul the same melancholy dryness he sees in others? That which kills another may be life to him, if he will use it. He alone is the master And yet, on the other hand, how powerful is circumstance! It is at the mill, at the grinding — there and nowhere else — that the thing has got to be done, the difference is to be created. There, as they ground and ground together, these two poor women built up bit by bit the wall of their separation. It was out of the doing of the same things that one grew readier for the Lord, and the other darkened down to the slothful servant. At the mill, still grinding, the Lord finds them. No one, then, need leave his mill. In the field where men work, there our drama works itself out. Circumstances are nothing, but they are also everything; and we shall discover our weakness if we attempt to ignore them .... Strength of character lies not in demanding special circumstances, but in mastering and using any that may be given. Our work and daily contact with our fellows form our scene of action, and God blesses with a peculiar blessing the efforts to put to profit, not some self-selected occasion, but the actual conditions in which we find ourselves.
Philip Henry one day calling upon a tanner, found him so busy tanning a hide that he was not aware of his approach until he tapped him on the back. Starting in confusion, the man exclaimed, "Sir, I am ashamed you should find me thus." Philip Henry replied with solemn emphasis, "May the Lord Jesus, when he comes, find me discharging with the same faithfulness and zeal the duties of my calling!"
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