by Robert Murray M'Cheyne
"O the hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldest Thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night? Why shouldest Thou be as a man astonished, as a mighty man that cannot save? Yet Thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by Thy name; leave us not" (Jer. 14:8-9).
In many parts of Scotland there is good reason to think that God is not a stranger; but that the Lord Jesus has been making Himself known, and that the Holy Spirit has been quickening whom He will. Still in most parts of our land, it is to be feared that God is a stranger, and like a wayfaring man who turns aside to tarry for a night.
1. How few conversions there are in our midst! When God is present with power in any land, there are always many awakened to a sense of sin, who flock to Christ. One godly minister, speaking of such a time, said: "There were tokens of God's presence in almost every house. It was a time of joy in families, because salvation was brought to them. Parents were rejoicing over their children as new-born, husbands over their wives, and wives over their husbands. The town seemed to be full of the presence of God. It never was so full of love nor of joy, and yet never so full of distress, as it was then." Alas! What a dismal contrast do most of our families present today—how many families where there is not one living soul!
2. How much deadness there is among true Christians! In times of reviving, not only are unconverted persons awakened and made to flee to Christ, but those who were in Christ before, receive new measures of the Spirit. A dear Christian in such a time, says, "My wickedness has long appeared to me as beyond description—like an infinite deluge, or mountains over my head." How little of this feeling is there among us! How few seem to feel sin as an infinite evil! How plain that God is a stranger in the land!
3. How great is the boldness of sinners in their sin! As in Jeremiah's day, so in ours; many seem as if "their neck were an iron sinew, and their brow brass." When God is present with power, then open sinners, though they may remain unconverted, are often much restrained. There is an awe of God upon their spirits. Alas! It is not so amongst us. The floodgates of sin are opened. "They declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not."
Should we not solemnly ask, What are the reasons why God is such a stranger in this land?
1. It is to be feared there is much unfaithful preaching to the unconverted. Jeremiah complained of this in his day, "They have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, peace, peace, when there is no peace." The great part of our congregations are out of Christ, and lie night and day under the wrath of the Lord God Almighty. All the words of men and angels cannot describe the dreadfulness of being without Christ; yet I fear we do not speak to those who are without Christ with anything like sufficient plainness, frequency, and urgency. Alas! How few ministers are like the angels at Sodom, mercifully bold to lay hands on lingering sinners. How few obey that word of Jude: "save with fear, pulling them out of the fire."
Furthermore, many of those who do preach faithfully do so with more of the bitterness of man than with the tenderness of God. We do not yearn over men with the heart of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote of "the enemies of the cross of Christ" with tears in his eyes! There is little of this weeping among ministers now. "Knowing the terrors of the Lord," Paul persuaded men. There is little of this persuading spirit among ministers now. How can we wonder that the dry bones are very, very dry—that God is a stranger in the land?
2. It is also to be feared that there is much unfaithfulness in setting forth Christ as a refuge for sinners. When a sinner is newly converted, he would like to persuade every one to come to Christ. The way is so plain, so easy, so precious. David said, "I believed, therefore have I spoken." But how few ministers make it the goal of their ministry to testify of Jesus as the hiding-place for sinners. Many are like the Scribes and Pharisees: they hold the door in their hand, but they do not enter in themselves, and they hinder those that are entering in. Oh, who can wonder that God is such a stranger in the land?
1. There seems little thirst for hearing the Word of God among Christians now. As a delicate stomach makes a man eat sparingly, so most Christians seem sparing in their diet in our day. Many Christians seem to mingle pride with the hearing of the Word. Few behave themselves as weaned children. They come rather as judges than as children Most seem to prefer the seat of Moses to the seat of Mary at the feet of Christ. Many come to hear the word of a man that shall die, and not the Word of the living God.
2. In regard to prayer, there is much plowing and sowing, but very little harrowing in of the seed by prayer. God and your conscience are witness of how little you pray. You know you would be men of power if you were men of prayer, and yet you will not pray. Unstable as water, you do not excel. Luther set apart his three best hours for prayer. How few Luthers we have now! John Welsh spent seven hours a day in prayer. How few Welshes we have now!
It also appears there is little intercession among Christians now. The high priest carried the names of the Children of Israel upon his shoulders and breast when he drew near to God—a picture of what Christ now does, and what all Christians should do. God and your conscience are witnesses of how little you intercede for your children, your servants, your neighbors, the church of your fathers, and the wicked on every side of you. How little you pray for ministers, for the gift of the Spirit, for the conversion of the world. How selfish you are, even in your prayers.
It is also to be feared there is little union in prayer. Christians seem ashamed to meet together to pray. Christ has promised, "If two of you shall agree on earth, touching something that ye shall ask, it shall be done for you of my Father." Many Christians neglect this promise. In Acts, we find that when the apostles and disciples were praying together, "the place was shaken where they were assembled together, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the Word of God with boldness." Oh, how often and how long have we despised this way of obtaining the outpouring of the Spirit! Here is one reason why God commands the clouds that they rain no rain on us. He waits till we seek Him together, and then He will open the windows of heaven and pour down a blessing.
While there is much to blame in ministers and in the people of God, most of all to blame are unconverted souls.
1. Sinners in our day seem unaware of their lost condition. Many know that they never believed on the Son of God, and yet they are smiling and happy. Many know that they were never born again, and that the Bible says they cannot see the Kingdom of God; yet their step is as light, and their laugh as loud, as if they were heirs of the Kingdom instead of heirs of hell! It is this that keeps God away, and makes Him a stranger in the land.
2. Sinners in our day seem unaware of their need of Jesus Christ. The Bible declares Him to be the friend of sinners; yet how many are content to live without knowing Him? Christ is the "chiefest among ten thousand [and] altogether lovely," yet most see no beauty that they should desire Him. They reject a freely-offered Savior! Oh, you deaf adders that will not hear the voice of the charmers, it is you that make God a stranger in the land, and like a wayfaring man that turns aside to tarry for a night!
3. There has been much resisting of the Spirit in our day. Many have been pricked to the heart, and yet have smothered their convictions. Some have been brought to intense anxiety about their souls, but have looked back, like Lot's wife, and become pillars of salt! Oh, it is this which keeps God away!
It is not our part here to tell of coming judgments, of fire from heaven or fire from hell; but we can plainly see that unless the Spirit of God comes down on our parishes like rain on the mown grass, many souls that are now in the land of peace shall soon be in the world of tossing and anguish! Hell may not be rained down from heaven, as upon Sodom; and the earth may not yawn to receive her prey, as in the camp of Israel; but Sabbath-breakers, liars, swearers, drunkards, unclean persons, formalists, worldlings, and hypocrites, yes, all Christless souls, will quietly slip away, one by one, into an undone eternity!
Come then: let every believer, and above all, every minister, stir up his heart to lay hold on God and cry, "O the hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldest Thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night?"