By Horatius Bonar
"Man's extremity," says the good proverb, "is God's opportunity"; but we may coin another proverb, and say, "Man's extremity is the devil's opportunity.'' It was so in the case of Saul at Endor, and of Jehoram at Ekron, when, in the hour of despair they threw themselves into the arms of the devil. It will be so, as long as there is a devil to waylay and ensnare us. He is ready with his temptations always, but specially in the day of human darkness and depression. He has special work to do at such a time, and he knows how to do it. God and Satan stand with arms outstretched to receive the poor overwhelmed and sorrowful one; but how often does he prefer the embrace and the counsel of hell to those of heaven! He preferred it even in Paradise!
The picture here drawn is that of Israel,--Israel specially in the last days, when their unbelief and darkness increase, when calamities the most appalling are overflowing them and their land. Then it is that when God's Spirit leaves them utterly, when judgments are showering clown, when despair takes possession of them, that Satan suggests, Try my wisdom, my wizards, my familiar spirits. They try these, but it only makes the evil worse. Hardly bestead and hungry, they fret and curse both king and God. They look above, but all is darkness; they look beneath, but all is trouble and "dimness of anguish"; all round them is darkness that may be felt. They are passing through great tribulation, their last sorrow; it is the time of Jacob's trouble. Let us learn God's lessons here.
I. There are critical seasons in the history of a soul. It has been tossed fearfully; fightings without, and fears within. Unbelief, scepticism, atheism, uncertainty of every kind, these, like the four winds of heaven, rush at once over and through the soul. It feels itself drifting on the rocks; it turns round, and in desperation tries to face the storm. Like the stag at bay, it wheels round upon its merciless pursuers. Shall it battle them, or give itself up to be torn in pieces without a struggle? These are fearful moments for the soul. It is an unearthly struggle. It seems hurrying the sinner to despair. In such a condition, how profound should be our pity! Shall we be angry? Shall we rage at these troubled ones? Shall we call them hard names? No, let us compassionate them. They are just upon the rocks; the breakers are whitening over them. If ever there was a case for Christian love, it is here. "Let those rage against you," says Augustine, "who know not with what labour truth is found; with what groans and sighs we get to understand the very least of God."
II. Of these critical seasons Satan avails himself. He comes proffering help; holding out his hand; offering his own wisdom and strength, or man's wisdom and strength; endeavouring in every way to prevent the soul betaking itself to God, to his Spirit, to the Bible. Anything rather than the cross, or the blood, or the righteousness! All doubts and difficulties in reference to these are started. It is whispered that the Bible is not true, not wholly inspired; that there is no hell, or that none shall go there; "ye shall not surely die;" that science is more noble than revelation, that reason is a higher thing than faith; that the creeds of other days are obsolete: that there must be progress and development. All these suggestions are grateful to the pride of man, and eagerly seized upon. In how many such cases and junctures has he triumphed. Man's extremity has been his opportunity. He has stepped in with his lies and flatteries, and he has prevailed. The soul has turned away from God and Christ, and the Bible, to "familiar spirits," to "doctrines of devils," to "strong delusions."
III. These appliances of Satan only make matters worse. They remove no doubts; they only increase them; deepening the darkness; leading on from depth to depth; from error to error; from unbelief to unbelief, from blasphemy to blasphemy. No man ever gained by yielding to Satan, or lost by yielding to God. Dark as the soul may be, it only becomes darker by believing Satan's falsehoods. It becomes more wretched and more hopeless, the more that it deserts the divine teaching and listens either to that of earth or hell, however plausible it may be.
At such seasons God comes specially near to proffer his aid. He never deserts a man on this side of hell. He follows him into the thick darkness, proffering light; into the lowest depth offering help. He is at hand in the day of evil, even to the most evil of the sons of men. No man can say, God has abandoned me to the devil, or to myself, or to error, or to sin. Christ's tears over Jerusalem are the proof of this.
At such seasons Christians ought specially to pity and to help. These distractions and doubts that we see around us are the signals of distress, unconsciously held up by a wretched world. These errors and disbeliefs are the rockets sent up from wrecked barques. This is a day of fearful disbelief and change; men rushing from one opinion to another to soothe their restlessness. Surely it is a day for pity, not for anger; a day for prayer more than for argument. Now the world is in extremity, let the church's pity and prayers go forth day and night. Now is the time for tears and intercessions. To thy knees, O Church of God!