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The Reservations of God
Who can be so perplexing as God? "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing." We think we have got an answer when we have only got a reply. There is a great sound of thunder in the air, but what it all means not even Daniel can tell. Yet the thunder is very useful; the thunder is the minister of God. There are mountains that have never been climbed; if they had been climbed they had been vulgarised, The pinnacles of the church were not made to be stood upon. Daniel asked a question and received all these words in reply, and no man knows what they mean. There they are, and they are useful every one of them. Who would be without the mystery? Who would have an earth without a sky? It would not be worth having. Yet the earth is under foot and comparatively manageable; we can dig it, plough it, put stones into it with a view of putting up a house, which the earth will always try to cast out, for the earth does not like masonry: the earth does not like to be violated. But the sky no man has touched. The sky is the best part of us. We get all our vegetables out of the sky, though we think we do not. All the flowers are out of the sun, though we think we planted them. So easily may we be misled by half-truths and by mere aspects of facts! Yet we cannot do without astronomy. We may have it as a science, it is not every mouth that can pronounce long words, but we must have it as a sovereign and gracious effect.
Daniel was bewildered. He said, "And I heard, but I understood not." That is exactly our position today. Not one inch has the world advanced since that time in the matter of understanding, though it has published many books. Who ever knew a second edition of a book that was not amended? Why did not the man publish the second edition first by waiting until he had amended his own manuscript? It is thus, however, that God trains us and educates us. We are all trained up through our mistakes. Blessed is the man who knows the number of his mistakes, and who uses them for educational purposes. To-day is a second edition of yesterday, with emendation, if we be wise. We can publish today, just as we published yesterday, without amending a line, but therein we shall do nothing but establish our own folly. It is not necessary to understand in order to profit. Many persons will insist that unless they understand a matter they cannot be edified by it. I question, then, whether they are ever edified at all. We want both sides: the simple and the complex, the earth that can be ploughed and the heaven that can only be reverently looked at through a telescope. Herein we do great injustice to persons who have not much letter-learning. There is a learning of the soul; there is a spiritual sensitiveness that amounts to genius. There are children who understand more of the sanctuary than grey-haired fathers do. Children often see things first. They do not see them mechanically and artificially, and they do not publish a plan or map of them; but you relate your originalities to the child, and if they are real the child saw them quite one week before you ever dreamed of them, saw them in another way, its own dear, sweet, beautiful, and useful way. Persons think that if they understand religion they have got it. But no man can understand religion. Religion was never meant to be understood; it was meant to be felt, a secret, subtle, infinite fire, a climate, not an overcoat. When your life laughs with new joy, springs up to do heroic service, goes out to seek opportunities of doing good, then know that God is at work in your souls, and never mind what you understand. You know perfectly well you never had an understanding about anything that you have not modified or obliterated. What you want is Pentecostal fire, divine emotion; not silly, shallow sentiment, but deep, grand emotion that will express itself in discipline and in service.
What a noble counsellor this prophet will make! He tells us with great frankness and brotherly-kindness that what he is talking about he does not understand. That is the teacher we have been seeking all our lives. We want the learned professor who will sometimes denude himself of his spectacles and come before us and say, "Children, you know as much as I do about this, and that is nothing at all." I could trust that man. The religion of the Bible is not some masonry that can only be understood by scribes who are eighty years of age, and who have passed through regulation courses. The religion of the Bible is an inspiration, something that is insubstantial, but that somehow gets hold of the life, and leads it out into the fresh air and the sunshine, and sends it back into the market-place and the field to buy and sell honestly and to toil faithfully for harvest. A pulpit that understands is a pulpit to be dreaded. Religion in some of its forms has been well-nigh wrecked by creed-makers and catechism-mongers, who have actually parcelled out the whole universe into paragraphs and called one of them "one," another "two," and another "three," and on to fifty. How much better these men had been employed in a day's good ploughing, in six months with hard labour! Parcel out your little earth if you like, and sell it in lots and leases and freeholds and copyholds, "with the said messuages"; but let the sky alone.
Many persons have arisen in the evolution of the ages who could have told Daniel what he did not understand. The man himself who wrote the book said he knew nothing about it, but persons who were born eighteen hundred years afterwards could now raise up Daniel and tell him what a fool he was not to have seen it at the time. All these days have been calculated; nearly every great man has been discovered by name in these emblematic numbers. All the Napoleons and Caesars and Leos of creation have been imaged by these mystical numerals. One might have believed in the interpretation if they had referred to one man only, and if every age had succeeded every other age in confirming the discovery; but when numerals can be so twisted as to. bring in even you and me, as well as Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, the Pope, and the last Prime Minister, it seems to me that numbers which are so infinitely accommodating ruin themselves by their generality. Let us take our stand by Daniel and hear without understanding.
What was the direction given to Daniel? It was a divine direction "Go thy way, Daniel"; in other words, Be at rest. The man was not ordered off like a trespassing dog; he was quieted like a troubled heart: Sit down, be at rest, be quiet, wait, expect. That is God's answer to us all in our eagerness and our impatience. Daniel wanted to know "the end." That is precisely what we may not know. We have nothing to do with the end; what we have to do with is the beginning and the middle, and every intermediate point in the series of points. The end hath God reserved unto himself. All that he has told us about it is that it shall be well. Will he bring all the crooked lines quite straight? He says he will. But will he get such hold of the devil as to make him part of the furniture of the universe in some way or other? Yes. And hell? He will work it up into jewellery. And night? He will drive it away like a bird of evil omen, and no other world will receive the unwelcome visitor; it shall be a wanderer for ever. When? It is not for us to know. How? Wait; be patient; be calm; be useful. The Lord has never yet discovered the end to his servants. What end can there be in God that is not another beginning? Yet what we would call the end because of our own finiteness shall burn like a midday sun, and no cloud shall violate that sanctuary of light. God is always keeping us back, reining us in, telling us that quietness is our strength and silence is our confidence. We think we could go ten miles an hour faster, but God knows we should drive ourselves into destruction: therefore he says to us, Stand; be quiet; rest. How wise it is! When we have taken the advice and really rest, into what a noble temper we come! Then no man may hear our words of self-chastisement: we blister ourselves with reproach; we say we will never do so again, but always be patient and waiting and watchful; then in one little hour we catch ourselves just as eager and impatient as ever, wanting to knock upon doors upon which there is printed in letters bright as stars, "Private." Why can we not let these doors alone?
Yet God will give some little light after all. There shall be cross-beams that shall vex the eyes and yet shall throw a lurid elucidation upon the mad processes of earth's tumult: "Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand." God will get something out of this battle; he will get the "many." How shall we know that we are God's? When we are "purified, and made white, and tried." But why shall the wise understand not understand in the intellectual sense, but understand in that large moral sense which can say with frank definiteness and grateful love, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him"? I cannot explain it, but I feel it; I do not know God in my head, but I know God in my heart; I understand the purpose, not the end. "The wicked shall do wickedly"; that is to say, the wicked shall become worse and worse. The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day; and the path of the wicked is as the growing night, deepening in darkness until the darkness can be felt. It is one of two things with us: we are either growing up or growing down. We cannot remain at the same point. We say we are no worse than we were ten years ago; but if we are not better we are worse. We cannot grow better by mere abstinence, negation, by endeavouring not to do anything. The man could not increase his one talent by hiding it in the earth; nor can we stand still in character. The wicked man becomes worse and worse, until hell is too good for him. There is nothing outside a man, even though it be called perdition, that can be half so bad as the man himself. Oh the heart! bottomless pit! Oh the heart! an opening heaven Which is it in our case?
Has the devil no season of triumph? Has he no jubilee? He has delusions and illusions which he tries to make into a kind of jubilee: "And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up." There is therefore a temporary triumph. It shall come to pass that somehow, by door or window, the enemy shall get into the sanctuary and put out the altar fire; and there shall be nothing on the altar but white ashes. Somehow an evil power shall get hold of legislatures and nations and families, "and the abomination that maketh desolate" a grim, horrible, ghastly figure "shall be set up" as if for worship. How is it that God sometimes stands quite aside that the devil may have one hour's triumph? "I heard, but I understood not" The devil has his day; there are times when everything is loosened, when the very foundations are out of course, and when there is no building anything with any hope of duration. What then? Blessed is he that waiteth. The "days," whatever may be their mystic significance, are a number. Is the number a thousand two hundred and ninety? So be it; a child could write that set of figures. The figures may be four or five, yet they amount merely to a breath, a flash of the eye, a wave of the hand, and the five-and-thirtieth day drops into nothingness and is forgotten. Be not afraid of anything that measures itself by days. The Christians were to be handed over, according to the apocalyptic statement, for ten days. Be not afraid of anything that was made in days. In six days the Lord finished the heavens and the earth, and they are set up for burning; they are nothing; they are a framework; we shall hear them go off in a crackling fire, countless red lurid sparks; what we call the heavens and the earth have gone back to their primordial mist. The heavens shall pass away with a great noise. They were made in days. What then is our security, and what is our rest? Eternity, that which hath no beginning and no end, only continuance. Blessed is he who is resting in the pavilion of eternity.
What is to become of the inquiring Daniels? They are to go their way "till the end." Daniel, thou shalt have something; thou hast listened to all this strange weird music, and canst make nothing of it; it was not intended that thou shouldst make much meaning out of all this tumult of words and figures, and yet thou art a better man for having heard it all; thou hast a roomier nature, a keener fancy, a hotter imagination, and a larger life. We are the better for having stood upon the unpolluted mountain, for having breathed the higher air; we are the better for every great sight we have lovingly looked upon. Every man is the richer if he has looked upon colour with an enlightened eye. There is no man so bad as he was since he saw the primrose and kissed it. There was so much in it banished winter, melted ice, released forces, resurrection, liberty, possible heaven. When he kissed that little harbinger of the summer he parted with some of the pollution that was upon his lips. "Thou shalt... stand in thy lot" a term taken from the division of the lots in old Israel. Every tribe had its lot; every prophet shall have his lot; every good soul shall have its little garden. There is land enough in God's paradise. Here we have had but enough to lay our dead bones in, but at the end each of us shall have a little strip of garden and right of entrance into the whole paradise of God. I lay more stress upon that right of entrance than merely upon my own little slip; I like to have the little cut of greensward and the few coloured daisies growing around its hedge, but to have right of entrance into God's paradise, God's palace-park, all the land that is the portion of them that trust.
What then have we to do? We have to do three things. First, we have to attend to the practical. Many men have been trying to make out the meaning of the twelve hundred and ninety days who have never kept one of the commandments. There are empirics and adventurers now who are publishing placards calling upon the unwary public to come and hear the meaning of the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days who never loved an enemy and never helped a friend. If we are to understand the Apocalypse we must first keep the commandments. If we would enter heaven we must keep the commandments first. Do the little which you do know. "What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" O thou foolish soul, trying to make out the meaning of the twelve hundred and ninety days, and forgetting to pay the wages of the hireling, forgetting to cool the brow of fever! Then, secondly, we are not to deny the mysterious. The Bible will always be the most mysterious of books. Why shall it be always the most mysterious of writings? Because it contains God. No man can find out the Almighty unto perfection. He cannot be searched or comprehended or weighed in a balance or set forth in words and figures. So long as the Bible tabernacles God it will be an awful sanctuary. Then, in the third place, we have to learn patience. Personally, I am waiting for God's comment upon God's words. There are many persons who have handled the Bible indiscreetly. They have been keen in finding discrepancies and contradictions; they have busied themselves about signatures; they have asked whether Moses signed this, and David signed that, and Daniel signed the other; and they have got up a post hoc case in favour of the Bible. On the whole they have come to think that possibly bits of it may be inspired. I have not reached any such conclusion. All I know of it in the matter of conduct, and elevation of soul, and prospect of salvation, is inspired enough for me; and as for the parts I do not understand, I am waiting, and perhaps when God comes to read it to me I shall find that not God, but the critics have been wrong.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Daniel 12". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent