God's Voice to His People Through the War [WW I].
Revised Memory Notes of an Address delivered at a War Prayer Meeting
at Devonshire House, London, on the 16th October, 1914.
GOD'S voice to His people through the war differs from God's voice to the nation. Manifestly, some connection is traceable between national righteousness and national prosperity. Speaking generally, however, this dispensation is not marked by clearly defined messages of God to individual nations. ''He made of one, every nation of men . . . that they should seek God." They failed to do so, and now "He commandeth men, that they should all everywhere repent" (Acts xvii. 30) of this failure to seek Him. There is an abundance of religiousness evident now, as in the days when Paul observed the altar to an ignored God. Formerly, God overlooked the times of ignoring Him, but now holds men responsible for seeking Him through His Son. Both religious and irreligious classes of the present day are often ready to acknowledge a supreme Power, which, however, is rather a thing than a person, and they reject altogether the Divine claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. Moreover, an attempt to deduce from the War,
A Special Message from God
to the nation might fail, partly because in the absence of any unbiassed narrative of facts, we have not sufficient ground upon which to build a judgment, and partly because we are not yet empowered to judge the nations. The date is still future concerning which it is written that ''The saints shall judge the world" (1 Cor. vi. 2).
Turning, however, to the voice of God addressed to His people, we are upon safer ground, as we seek to interpret what He is saying. War, or threatening war, contains a voice from God to His people. An instance of this is found in the prophet Amos. After describing a war in the closing verses of his second chapter, he says: "Hear this word that the Lord hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up out of the land of Egypt, saying, You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities" (Amos iii. 1, 2). He goes on to show that the war is by no means a mere accident.
When two businessmen meet for an important purpose, it is generally by previous appointment; the two walk together because they have previously agreed to meet. Similarly, the roaring of a lion may generally indicate that after a long and well-planned watching for his prey, he has now pounced upon it. So, when the roar of war approaches near enough to be heard in the city, it must be assumed that "the Lord GOD hath spoken, and that He intends His own children to listen and understand.
Of course, the world at large may hear the roar of thunder, but after Sinai's thunder, there is "the voice of words'' (Heb. xii. 19) addressed to God's own people singled out for this unique privilege. In that same Horeb, some centuries later, there was a great and strong wind, and after the wind, an earthquake, and after the earthquake, a fire, all of which might have been perceived by ordinary desert-rangers, but Elijah detected a still small voice, and the words which it uttered. In Daniel's day, the men that were with him felt a great quaking, but "Daniel alone saw the vision" (Dan. x. 7). Saul's travelling companions could all hear a voice or noise, but although the words were spoken in their own Hebrew language, Saul was the only one to discern the precise message of the ascended Nazarene. In the days of His humiliation, bystanders once said that it had thundered. He answered: ''This voice hath not come for My sake, but for your sakes'' (John xii. 30). So, it is possible for practically the whole world to hear the thunder tones of war, whereas God's own children have a special responsibility to discover what He is saying to them.
The Key for Interpreting God's Voice
may be found in the verses of Amos already referred to. We read: "Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets'' (Amos iii. 7). Their prophecies have now been recorded for us in the Bible. This, therefore, is the Book from which light must be sought when we are investigating the real meaning of striking acts of providence. It is not, however, sufficient to let the Words of God strike our outward ear. On the contrary, we have the special warning, "To-day, if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Heb. iii. 15). Later on in Hebrews, we read: "See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh."
It may, of course, happen that the calamity itself is not primarily or exclusively attributable to particular sins committed by God's people. In this respect, our position is somewhat akin to that of the second generation born in Babylonian captivity. They were not to blame for sharing the punishment of their ancestors' sins. Nevertheless, they are specially warned against settling down to a careless fatalism, neglecting to discover and obey God's voice for themselves. God asks: "What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge?'' (Ezek. xviii. 2). If, however, a son made this parental culpability an excuse for sinning, God reminds him that, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father'' (Ezek. xviii. 20). In other words, the individual must heed God's voice to his nation, or else must expect chastisement by physical death or otherwise. There is no occasion, however, to incur chastisement, for God goes on to say: "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, . . . wherefore, turn yourselves and live" (Ezek. xviii. 32).
This brings us then to the question: What is the precise voice that God would make His people hear through the War? Surely it may be found in the Epistle of James, words nearly repeated by Peter, namely, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall exalt you." Is it not humbling when we test our conduct even by the standard of the ten commandments?
There are those first three dealing respectively with the three Blessed Persons of the Holy Trinity.
1. When another god has solicited our worship, have we always given the prompt all-sufficient reply; "Thou shalt have none other gods before Me?" The Saviour's conclusive answer was: "Him only shalt thou serve." Have we schemed how to share our loyalty? Not rejecting God altogether, never dreaming of that, we imagined it possible to have, side by side with God, a something with which to divide our affections.
2. Or, heedless of the spiritual teaching of the second commandment, have we,
Tampered with a Ritualism
which borders on idolatry? Without taking an active part in it ourselves, have we sanctioned our children, or those over whom we have some influence, going where men make images and fall down before them, whereas God has reserved to Himself the sole right of producing for our worship the very Image of His substance that blessed Second Person of the Trinity?
3. Look at the third commandment. Have not some of us gone about saying: "God sent me. God told me to do this or that. God sent this message through me?" Yet we were really, though perhaps unintentionally, taking the Name of the Lord our God in vain. It was not He who sent us. We were not speaking in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our Master could not have said to us: "It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you" (Matt. x. 20).
4. Then in the matter of setting apart a certain time for the Lord openly, have we done that? Have we jealously reserved for God the opportunity of sanctifying the first day of the week? Israel was to observe the seventh day, and the keeping of it was to be like frontlets between their eyes, right in the centre of their brow; or like the signet-ring on their hand, so that every one coming near them could easily see the mark on their forehead or on their hand. Even now, when the seventh day arrives, a Jew withdraws from secular pursuits. Would it be equally easy to distinguish us from the world because we give a certain portion of our time very definitely to the Lord, and are not ashamed to own it?
5. The fifth commandment, "Honour thy father and thy mother," cuts at the root of our favourite lawlessness.
6. The next four prohibit taking what belongs to somebody else, his life, his wife, his property, his good reputation.
7. Last of all, on the forbidden list comes that insidious covetousness. How often we harbour it. The young ruler asserted that "he had kept the other commandments of the Second Table, but when the Lord Jesus enforced this last commandment, and required him to part with his possessions, did not his unwillingness reveal covetousness?
Let us go a little further. Have we always let our yieldingness be known unto all men, content that the Lord is at hand and will put things right? Or have we sometimes asserted our own rights? Have we not cause to humble ourselves about this? Just let us put it in a way that brings right home,
"The Voice of God Through the War."
Are we honestly ready to walk in the steps of our Lord Jesus, and, not by force but willingly, give up what He gave up, life and liberty? Where was the standing up for His rights? He permitted Himself to be divested, until Messiah was cut off, and had nothing. They took His apparel and divided it. His precious body was given; His blood was shed; last of all, He cried: "Into Thy hands I commend My Spirit." How opposed is such yieldingness to that which is natural. Of course, if we begin to teach such doctrines to ordinary men, they might admire such an altruistic system of ethics, but they would surely say that it is outside the range of practical politics. For such conduct is beyond flesh and blood. Men have not got the power. But we have got the energizing power. God's voice to His people is accompanied by the power. Are we then willing to take such a low place, that, rather than take advantage of anybody else, we are willing to surrender our all in order that we may walk in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ, who thus humbled Himself? The voice out of the cloud said: "Hear ye Him." We listen, and He tells us: "Learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly'' (Matt. xi. 29).
"The Witness" 1914