Why is God a Stranger in the Land?
by Robert Murray McCheyne
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 turneth aside to tarry for a night.
(1) How few conversions are there in the midst of us! When God is present with power in any land, then there are always many awakened to a sense of sin, and flocking to Christ. One godly minister, speaking of such a time, says, "There were tokens of God's presence in almost every house. It was a time of joy in families, on account of salvation being brought unto 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." We have nothing of the kind amongst us. Alas! what a dismal contrast do most of our families present! How many families where there is not one living soul!
(2) How much deadness there is among true Christians! In times of reviving, when God is present with power in any land, 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; they undergo, as it were, a second new birth; they are brought into the palace of the King, and say, "Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth, for Thy love is better than wine." A dear Christian in such a time says, "My wickedness, as I am in myself, has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable-like an infinite deluge, or mountains over my head. I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be, than by heaping infinite upon infinite, and multiplying infinite by infinite. Very often these expressions are in my mind, and in my mouth-infinite upon infinite, infinite upon infinite." How little of this feeling is there amongst 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 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 flood-gates of sin are opened. "They declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not." Is it not, then, a time to cry, "0 the hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof," etc.?
Should we not solemnly ask this question, What are the reasons why God is such a stranger in this land?
I. In ministers - Let us begin with those who bear the vessels of the sanctuary.
(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." Is there no reason for the same complaint in our own day? The great part of all our congregations are out of Christ, and lying night and day under the wrath of the Lord God Almighty; and yet it is to be feared that the most of the minister's anxiety and painstaking is not taken up about them, that his sermons are not chiefly occupied with their case. All the words of men and angels cannot describe the dreadfulness of being Christless; and yet, it is to be feared, we do not speak to those who are so with anything like sufficient plainness, frequency, and urgency. Alas! how few ministers are like the angels of 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!"
Many of those who deal faithfully, yet do not deal tenderly. We have more of the bitterness of man than of the tenderness of God. We do not yearn over men in the bowels of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote of "the enemies of the cross of Christ" with tears in his eyes! There is little of his 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 to be feared there is much unfaithfulness in setting forth Christ as a refuge for sinners. When a sinner is newly converted he would fain persuade every one to come to Christ,-the way is so plain, so easy, so precious. He thinks, Oh, if I were but a minister, how I would persuade men! This is a true feeling and a right feeling. But oh, how little is there of this among ministers! David said, "I believed, therefore have I spoken." Few are like David in this. Paul said he was "determined to know nothing among men but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." Few are like Paul in this. Many do not make it the end of their ministry to testify of Jesus as the hidingplace for sinners. It is to be feared that many are like the scribes and Pharisees, they hold the door in their hand; they enter not in themselves, and them that are entering in they hinder. Some set forth Christ plainly and faithfully, but where is Paul's beseeching men to be reconciled? We do not invite sinners tenderly; we do not gently woo them to Christ; we do not authoritatively bid them to the marriage; we do not compel them to come in; we do not travail in birth till Christ be formed in them the hope of glory. Oh, who can wonder that God is such a stranger in the land?
II. In Christian people.
(1) In regard to the word of God. 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. They come rather as judges than as children. Few behave themselves as a weaned child. 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. Oh, should not Christians be taught this prayer: "0 the hope of Israel," etc.?
(2) In regard to prayer. There is much ploughing and much sowing, but very little harrowing in of the seed by prayer. God and your conscience are witnesses how little you pray. You know you would be men of power if you were men of prayer, and yet ye 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 is to be feared 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 all Christians should do. God and your conscience are witnesses 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 to be feared there is little union in prayer. Christians are 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 the 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! Do not some persons speak slightingly of united prayer? 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. Oh that all Christians would lift up the cry, "0 the hope of Israel!"
III. In unconverted souls.-There is much to blame in ministers, and much in the people of God, but most of all to blame in unconverted souls.
(1) Sinners in our day have great insensibility as to 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; and yet their step is as light, and their laugh as loud, as if they were heirs of the kingdom of God, 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 have great insensibility as to their need of Jesus Christ. The Bible declares Him to be the Friend of sinners! yet how many read this who are contented to live without knowing Him! Though Christians are always speaking of the excellency of Christ-that He is the chiefest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely; yet most see no form nor comeliness in Christ, no beauty that they should desire Him. They are willing to hear of heaven or hell rather than of Christ. Ah! this is the crowning sin of Scotland, contempt of Christ, rejection of a freely-offered Saviour! Oh, ye 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 turneth aside to tarry for a night!
(3) There has been much resisting of the Spirit in our day. In some parts of Scotland this is eminently true. 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 that keeps God away!
Dear unconverted sinners, ye little know how much you are interested in that this should be a time of reviving from the presence of the Lord. It is our part to tell of coming judgements, of fire from heaven or fire from hell; but this we can plainly see, that unless the Spirit of God shall come 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! There may be no sudden judgments; hell may not be rained down from heaven, as upon Sodom; 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, yea, all Christless souls, will quietly slip away, one by one, into an undone eternity! Come, then, and let every believer, and, above all, every minister, stir up his heart to lay hold on God and cry, "0 the hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldst Thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night?"
It has been the practice of many ministers in England and Scotland to hold a concert for prayer every Saturday morning, from seven to eight o'clock. Several ministers of our own church have been in use to meet at the throne of grace on Saturday evening, at seven o'clock. Many congregations in different parts of Scotland have agreed to a concert for prayer in secret, and in the family, from eight to nine on Sabbath mornings.
Might not the Christian ministers and people of Scotland, while separated in body, in this manner maintain union in prayer, and so the cloud of blessing, that is now like a man's hand, might spread over the whole sky, and bring times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord?
Robert M. McCheyne