By F.B. Meyer
"This word, 'Yet once more', signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain." (HEBREWS 12.27).
WHAT majesty there is in these words! They bear the mint mark of Deity. No man could presume to utter them, but they become the august Speaker. Their original setting is even more magnificent, as we find them in the Book of Haggai: "Thus says the Lord of hosts. Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land, and I will shake all nations, and the Desire of all nations shall come."
These words were first spoken to encourage the Jewish exiles on their return from Babylon to their ruined Temple and city. The elder men wept as they thought of the departed glories of earlier days, and God comforted them, as He delights to comfort those who are cast down.
"Be comforted," said He in effect, "there is a crisis coming, which will test and overthrow all material structures, and in that convulsion the outer form will pass away, however fair and costly it may be, whilst the inner hidden glory will become more apparent than ever. No, amid all the sounds of wreck and change, there will come the Desire of all nations, the substance of which these material objects are but the fading and incomplete anticipation."
These Hebrew Christians were living in the midst of a great shaking. It was a time of almost universal trial. God was shaking not earth only, but also heaven. The Jewish tenure of Palestine was being shaken by the Romans, who claimed it as their conquest. The interpretation given to the Word of God by the Rabbis was being shaken by the fresh light introduced through the words and life and death of Jesus. The supremacy of the Temple and its ritual was being shaken by those who taught that the true Temple was the Christian Church, and that all the Levitical sacrifices had been realised in Christ. The observance of the Sabbath was being shaken by those who wished to substitute for it the first day of the week.
The first symptoms of this shaking began when Jesus commenced to teach and preach in the crowded cities of Palestine, and all people flocked about him.
The successive throes became more obvious when the Jewish leaders sought to silence the Apostles and stay the onward progress of the Church. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles, are full of evidence of the intensity of that revolution which must have made many godly people tremble for the Ark of God.
And the climax of all came in the fearful siege of Jerusalem, when, once and forever, the Jewish system was shattered, the Temple burned, the remaining vessels sunk in the Tiber, and the Jews were driven from the city which was absolutely essential for the performance of their religious rites.
The whole New Testament is witness to the throes of one of the mightiest spiritual revolutions that ever happened, as great in the spiritual sphere as the French Revolution was in the temporal.
It was amidst these fires that this Epistle was written. "Take heart," says the inspired writer; "these shakings come from the hand of God." Listen to His own words, 'I shake'. And they shall not last forever, 'yet this once'. Nor will they injure anything of eternal worth and truth. He shakes all things, that the material, the sensuous, and the temporal may pass away; leaving the essential and eternal to stand out in more than former beauty. But not a grain of pure metal shall be lost in the fires, not a fragment of heaven's masonry shall crumble beneath the shock.
In such a time we are living now. Everything is being shaken and tested. But there is a divine purpose in it all, that His eternal truth may stand out more clearly and unmistakably, when all human traditions and accretions have fallen away, unable to resist the energy of the shock. And who will bewail this too bitterly? Who will weep because the winds strip the trees of their old dead leaves, if only the new spring verdure may be able to show itself? Who will lament that the heavy blow shatters the mould, if only the perfect image shall stand out in complete symmetry? Who shall mourn over the passing away of the heaven and the earth, if, as they break up, they reveal beneath them the imperishable beauty of the new heavens and the new earth in which dwells Righteousness?
THEOLOGICAL SYSTEMS ARE BEING SHAKEN. There was a time when men received their theological beliefs from their teachers, their parents, or their Church without a word of question or controversy. There was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or chirped.
It is not so now. The air is filled with questionings. Men are putting into the crucible every doctrine which our forefathers held dear. There is no veneration shown for time honoured creeds or theological distinctions or doctrinal formularies. The highest themes, such as the Nature of the Atonement, the Necessity of Regeneration, the Duration of Future Punishment, are being criticised in the public press.
Many children of God are very distressed about this, and fear for the truth of the Gospel. They speak as if there were no other agents in the conflict but those of mortal birth. They lose sight of the eternal issues at stake, and the unseen forces which are implicated in the conflict.
Is it likely that God will allow His precious Gospel to be overshadowed or robbed of all essential elements? Has He maintained it in its integrity for these ages, and is He now suddenly become a mighty man who cannot save?
When it seemed as if evangelical doctrine had died out of the world in the sixteenth century, because it lingered only amid some obscure and humble saints, He raised up one man, who rolled back the tides of error, and reared once more the standard of Gospel truth, and can He not do it again?
In these terrible shakings, not one jot or tittle of God's Word shall perish, not one grain of truth shall fall to the ground, not one stone in the fortress shall be dislodged. But they are permitted to come, partly to test the chaff and wheat as a winnowing-fan, but chiefly that all which is temporal and transient may pass away, whilst the simple truth of God becomes more apparent, and shines forth unhidden by the scaffolding and rubbish with which the builders have obscured its symmetry and beauty. "The things which cannot be shaken shall remain".
ECCLESIASTICAL SYSTEMS ARE BEING SHAKEN. It is not enough that any religious system should exist; it is asked somewhat rudely to show cause why it should continue to exist. The spirit of the age is utilitarian, and is reluctant to consider any plea for mercy which is not based on a clear evidence of service rendered to its pressing necessities.
The signs of this are abundantly evident. Now it is the Disestablishment of the Church which is proposed, a proposal which fills with horror those who regard it as necessary for the maintenance of Christianity in our midst. Teachers of religion are challenged to show reason for assuming their office, or of claiming special prerogatives. Methods of work are being weighed in the balances, missionary plans trenchantly criticised, religious services metamorphosed.
Change is threatening the most time-honoured customs, and all this is very distressing to those who have confused the essence with the form, the jewel with the casket, the spirit with the temple in which it dwells.
But let us not fear. All this is being permitted for the wisest ends. There is a great deal of wood, hay, and stubble in all our structures which needs to be burned up, but not an ounce of gold or silver will ever be destroyed. The waves may wash off the weed which has attached itself to the harbour wall, but they will fail to start one constituent stone.
The simplicity of early Church life has been undoubtedly covered over with many accretions which hinder the progress of the Church and impede her work, and we may hail any visitation, however drastic, which shall set her free. But the Church herself is founded on a rock, and the gates of Hell shall never prevail against her.
Well was it for the Church of Christ when the days of persecution lay sorely on her. Never was she so pure, so spiritually powerful, as then. And if such days should ever be allowed to return, and God were to shake her fabric with the fierce whirlwinds of martyrdom, there would be no need for anxiety. The time-servers, the mere professors, the creatures of fashion would stand revealed; but those who had experienced the work of God in their souls would endure to the end, and their true character would be manifested. "The things that cannot be shaken will remain."
OUR CHARACTERS AND LIVES ARE CONSTANTLY BEING SHAKEN. What a shake that sermon gave us which showed that all our righteousnesses, on which we counted so fondly, were but withered leaves! What a shake was that commercial disaster which swept away in one blow the savings and credit of years, that were engrossing the heart, and left us only what we had of spiritual worth! What a shake was that temptation which showed that our fancied sinlessness was an empty dream, and that we were as sensitive to temptation as those over whom we had been vaunting ourselves.
What has been the net result of all these shakings? Has a hair of our heads perished? The old man has perished, but the inward man has been daily renewed. The more the marble has wasted, the more the statue has grown. As the wooden centres have been knocked down, the solid masonry has stood out with growing completeness. "The things which could not be shaken have remained."
"Go on, great Spirit of God, shake with Your earthquakes even more violently these characters of ours, that all which is not of You, but of us, and therefore false and selfish, may be revealed and overthrown, so that we may learn our true possessions. And as we see them saved to us from the general wreck, we shall know that, having been given us by Yourself, they must partake of Your own permanence and eternity. Let us learn the worst of ourselves, that we may learn to prize Your best." At the most these shakings are temporary. "Only this once," child of God! Then, nevermore!
THERE ARE A FEW THINGS WHICH CANNOT BE SHAKEN. God's Word. Heaven and earth may pass away, but God's Word never! All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man, his opinions, his pretensions, his pomp and pride, as the flower of grass, beautiful, but evanescent, but the Word of the Lord will stand forever, and this is the Word which by the Gospel is being preached.
Let us not fear modern criticism, it cannot rob us of one jot or tittle of God's truth. Scripture will shake it off, as the Apostle did the viper which fastened on his hand, and felt no hurt.
God's Love. Our friends' love may be shaken by a rumour, a moment's neglect, a change in our estate, but God's love is like Himself, immutable. No storm can reach high enough to touch the empyrean of His love. He never began to love us for anything in ourselves, nor will He cease to love us because of what He discovers us to be. The love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord, is unassailable by change or shock.
God's Eternal Kingdom. "We receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken." Amid all our revolutions and political changes that Kingdom is coming. It is assuming body and shape and power. It is now in mystery, but it shall soon be revealed. And it cannot be touched by any sudden attack or revolt of human passion. "The God of heaven will set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed."
Let us count up our inalienable and imperishable treasures, and though around us there is the terror of the darkness or the pestilence of the noontide, we shall be kept in perfect peace, as when some petty sovereign eyes with equanimity the mob arising to sack his palace, because long ago he sent all his treasures to be kept in the strong cellars of the Bank of England.
This world of change and earthquake is not our rest or home. These await us where God lives, in the city which has foundations, and in the land where the storm rages not, but the sea of glass lies peacefully at the foot of the throne of God. We may well brace ourselves to fortitude and patience, to reverence and Godly fear, since we have that in ourselves and yonder which partakes of the nature of God, and neither thieving time can steal it, nor moth corrupt, nor change affect.
It is out of a spirit like this that we are able to offer service that pleases God. Too often there is a self-assumption, a vainglory, an energy of the flesh, that must be in the deepest degree objectionable to His holy, loving eye. It partakes so much of the unrest and chafe of the world around. But when once we breathe the Spirit of the Eternal and Infinite, our hand becomes steadier, our heart quieter, and we learn to receive His grace. We do not agonise for it. We claim and use it, and we serve God with acceptance, through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.