By J.R. Miller
"God, who is enthroned forever, will hear them and afflict them. Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God."
Some changes are grateful, adding to life's pleasure. In travel, the ever-changing scene, with surprises at every turn, new vistas from every hilltop, give unspeakable delight. What a dreary world this would be--if it were only an interminable plain, with no variety of hill and valley, mountain and meadow, forest and field, river and lake! The change rests us. So with life itself. No two days are alike. Each brings its newness, its untried experiences, its hopes, its visions of promise. Change is the charm of life. Monotony is wearisome. Routine irks us. There is health in variety. Still water stagnates; the moving stream keeps sweet and wholesome.
But there are changes which we dread. They break into our plans and hopes. The things we cling to today, slip out of our hands and leave them empty tomorrow. Nothing human or earthly is enduring. Circumstances are fickle. We abide not in one happy state.
There are some homes and some lives which appear for a long time to have scarcely a break. They have uninterrupted prosperity. They are not disturbed by sickness. They have no bereavements to break the circle of love. They seem exempt from the law of change. But this is rare. Usually sorrow and joy alternate. There are breaks in the prosperity. Life is not all gladness--sometimes tears choke the music. How pathetic are some homes, with their vacant chairs, their memorials of sorrows, their emptiness and loneliness, where once a happy household lived, joyed, sang, and prayed together!
We dread changes. We like to stay in one place. We shrink from dislodgements and unsettlements. We adjust ourselves to conditions, and it hurts us to be disturbed. We are like trees--we take root in the soil and when we are torn out, a thousand tendrils of our hearts are left bleeding. We get used to the friends with whose lives our life has become knit--and separation rends away part of our very being. We would like to keep things always as they are. We learn so to depend on the people and the things that make up our accustomed environment, that it seems to us life will be scarcely worth while if this happy environment is broken up. So it comes, that we learn to rate life largely by its changes--or no changes.
But this Psalm-verse reads it all differently. It does not say that changes are marks of misfortune. Rather, it intimates that there is peril in no changes. "Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God."
"No changes" means unbroken prosperity--no troubles, no losses or sorrows, no adversities; year after year with no break in the happiness. You would not naturally consider such an experience one of calamity. The circumstances of the family have grown more and more easy. They have added to their comforts until they live luxuriously. There have been no long illnesses, causing pain and anxiety, and draining the resources of the household. There have been no deaths, breaking the happy home circle.
No one thinks of pitying such a family. We do not make special prayers for it. If a man has been in some affliction, or has met with some great loss--it is fitting to ask prayers of the church for him. But for a man growing rich, in great prosperity, why should we ask prayers? Yet this is the man who really needs most to be prayed for. "Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God."
There are several ways in which the absence of changes may work hurt to the spiritual life. Unbroken prosperity is apt to hinder our growth in spiritual experience. No doubt there are truths which cannot be learned so well--at least in light, as in darkness.
We would never see the stars--if there were no night to blot out for the time the glare of day. If there were no changes of seasons--if it were summer all the year, think what we should lose of the beauty of autumn, the splendor of winter, the glory of bursting life in springtime. If there were no clouds and storms, we would never see the rainbow, and the fields and gardens would miss the blessing of the rain. Thus even in nature there are revealings which could never be made if there were "no changes."
The same is true in spiritual life. We do not learn the most precious truths of the Bible, in the bright glare of unbroken prosperity and human joy. Many of the divine promises are like stars which remain invisible in the noonday of gladness, hiding away in the light, and reveal themselves to us only when it grows dark round us. Older Christians will testify that the sweeter meanings of many portions of the Scriptures, have come to them amid the changes of life. We do not really understand God's comfort--until some sorrow comes. To miss the sorrow--is to miss also the beatitude of comfort.
The same is true of growth. There are developments of spiritual life which can come only through trial. The photographer takes his sensitized plate with your picture on it into a darkened room, away from the sunlight, to develop it. He could not bring out the features, in the brightness. There are many of us in whom God could not bring out His own image--if it were always light about us.
You know how certain song birds learn to sing new songs. They are shut away for a time in a dark room and the new melody is sung or played over and over where they can hear it. At length they catch it and when they come out, they sing it in the light. Many of the songs of peace and joy and hope, which we hear in Christian homes were learned in the darkness. Much of the spiritual beauty which illumines some radiant faces--is the work of pain and sorrow.
The artist was trying to improve on a dead mother's picture. He wanted to take out the lines in the mother's face. But the son said, "No, no! Don't take out the lines; just leave every one. It wouldn't be my mother--if all the lines were gone." Then he went on to speak of the burdens the sainted mother had borne, and the sorrows which had plowed deep furrows in her life. She had nursed babies and had buried them. She had watched over her children in sickness. Once when diphtheria was in her home and no neighbor would venture near, she cared for her sick ones night and day, until they were well. Her life all its years, had been one of toil and care and sacrifice. The son did not want a picture with the story of all this taken out of the face. Its very beauty was in the lines and furrows and other marks, which told of what her brave heart had suffered and her strong hands had done for love's sake. No woman of easy and luxurious life, with "no changes," could have had that holy beauty.
Paul speaks of bearing in his body, the marks of Jesus. He referred to the scars of the wounds of his scourgings and stonings, and the other traces left by his manifold sufferings for Christ. They were marks of honor and beauty in heaven's sight, like the soldier's wounds got in the battles of his country. An easy, self-indulgent life--gets no such marks of glory. It is the life of lowly service, of self-denial, of sacrifice, that wins the lofty heights of spiritual experience. To have no change, is to miss all this.
Again, a life with "no changes" is in danger of becoming ungrateful. When there is no break in the stream of goodness for a long while, we are likely to lose out of our heart, the thought of God as the author of all. Luther somewhere says, "If in His gifts and benefits God were more sparing and close-handed, we would learn to be more grateful." The same is true in our common human relations. Children who live in a home of luxury and never have a wish denied them--are in danger of losing gratitude toward the parents who are the almoners of God's Providence for them. Perhaps children who receive less, because their parents are unable to give them more, who ofttimes must do without things they need, and who see what it costs their parents to provide for them--are usually more grateful than those who have everything they wish.
Breaks in the flow of divine favor, recall us to gratitude. We never appreciate the blessing of health at its full value--until, for a time, we are sick, and are called aside from active duty. It is only thus that we learn to be truly and worthily grateful for the blessing of health. We are apt to fail to recognize the rich blessings of our home--until there comes a break in the circle of loved ones. Those with whom we walk every day in close, familiar relations, and upon whom we depend for much of our happiness, are apt to grow commonplace to our thought. They are plain and old-fashioned to us. We see them at such close view, that much of their beauty of soul is lost in the little faults and imperfections which our eyes do not fail to see. We have always been so used to their love and its ministries and kindnesses, that we do not realize its richness, its tenderness, its thoughtfulness, its self-denials.
Ofttimes we are ungrateful for our home, even complain about its lack, and fret over our little trials--not appreciating what we have in our home, until a sad change comes. One of the plain, commonplace loved ones, who has been so much to us, although we knew it not, quietly departs. Then in the loss, we first learn the value of the life that is gone. The vacant place--is the first true revealer of the worth which never before was understood or appreciated. The most grateful households, are not always the unbroken ones. The praise that rises to God for home and its blessings, is often sweeter and richer at the family worship where the voices tremble in the hymns, and where tears sometimes choke the prayers--than where no memories of loss or sorrow mingle in the praise.
When we have "no changes" we are in danger of forgetting our dependence upon God. When year after year the rains come in their season, the fields yield rich harvests, the barns are full, and the tables are well covered with provisions; men are apt to forget that they are dependent upon God for fruitful seasons and golden harvests and daily bread. When business prosperity is unbroken through long periods, when there are no reverses, no failure of plans, no misfortunes; when everything they touch turns to gold, and when they have no losses, then men are apt to forget that God has anything to do with their success, and cease to look to Him for it. When for a long time we have had no break in our prosperity--we are in danger of settling down into a feeling of security, which is by no means a good spiritual state.
It is needful for most of us, at least, to be baffled ofttimes, defeated, just to keep us dependent on God. "Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God," Whatever helps us to grow into complete subjection to the divine will, and entire dependence upon God--is a blessing, however great its cost may be. It is a sore misfortune to any of us, if we are left without changes until we grow proud, self-conceited, and self-willed, and ask no more to know what God's will for us is. It is a sore misfortune if one has had his own way so long--that he has come to regard himself secure in his prosperity, intrenched in his place, impregnable in his power, and to think that he never can be moved, never can have any adversity or failure, that his position is sure and safe forever.
There is in Deuteronomy, a picture of the eagle and the young eaglets in the nest. The nest is cosy and warm, and the young birds do not care to leave it, to try their wings. Then the mother eagle stirs up the nest, making it rough--so that her young will not love it so much. Thus she compels them to try to fly away. For eagles are not made to live in soft nests--but to soar skyward. Thus God, too, when our place has grown too soft and satisfying, stirs up our nest with life's changes, that He may train us to fly heavenward. We think it very strange when Christ enters our sweet, happy home in a way that seems stern and ungentle for a Christ of love, breaking its joy. But afterwards we care more for heaven, and our heart, disenchanted with earth, reaches up and lays hold anew upon God. We are made, not for any soft nest of earthly contentment--but for glory and for God. Blessed are the changes that make heaven mean more to us!
Let us learn the changefulness and the transitoriness of earth, and all earthly things. Nothing here is abiding. Only God is changeless. Only Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes, and forever. The sweetest home--will be broken up. The strongest, truest love--will unclasp. The richest earthly joy--will end. Only God is eternal.