The Divine Response
2 Chronicles 7
"Now when Solomon had made an end of praying" ( 2 Chronicles 7:1).
IN praying there is no end. Pray without ceasing. It is the only thing we can do endlessly, unless it be things that are vitally related to itself, as request of knowledge, love of truth, and love of God. But we end for the time being. We cannot always morally and audibly continue to pray; the poor flesh could not stand it, the brain would rebel, and call for rest. Blessed be God, there is a praying that is not praying in words. That is the great praying. The soul delights in it; it is without the fatigue and the temptation of bodily exercise; it Isaiah, so to say, an exhalation of the soul, a continual rising of the whole nature Godward, starting at the cross, resting at the throne. Solomon"s prayer itself is a prayer without an end. Never until a greater than Solomon came, was such a prayer offered upon the earth: how pathetic, how tender, how comprehensive! How like a king, how like a friend! How august, how simple, is the man when he prays! He was never afraid of the Gentiles. We have seen that he sent to Tyre for a man to help him. In his prayer he says, "Moreover, concerning the stranger." What a gospel enters there! How the heavens seem to palpitate with the fulfilment of evangelical prediction and promise! Concerning the man who was not of the house of Israel,—if Hebrews, poor soul, should come to this house and pray, let the tears of thy pity fall upon him: he is only a stranger to us, he is not a stranger to thee. Peter was long in learning that lesson; Solomon seemed to grow it in the garden of his heart; it was planted there by the Lord, who has trees of his right hand planting everywhere. The prayer is majestic in thought, noble in expression, comprehensive in solicitude, but how seldom it drops into pathos deeper than "concerning the stranger." Strangers want help, attention, civility, hospitality; it is bad enough to be a stranger, but to be made to feel our strangeness is a heavy calamity. There are hospitable walls that receive us in a way that makes us forget that we are strangers, that give us a touch of the inner masonry, that bring heart to heart in loving consolidation. The Christian Church is nothing if it forget the stranger. Your church is not a church, but a pit of rottenness, if you exclude anybody from it. Write your nefarious creed; scratch with a villain"s finger your putrid dogmas; for they are such if they are not associated with a sympathy broad as Christ"s, a solicitude about the far-away and the prodigal tender as the spirit of the cross. Never be great in excommunication: never be superbly grand in telling people to go away from the church: make the prodigal feel that if there is any place on earth where he might hope for rest, it would be in Christ"s Church-home, in Christ"s wondrous, immeasurable, hospitable sanctuary.
Do you think you have exhausted prayer? Then you have never prayed. There is a temptation at a certain point of life to give up prayer. There are persons who suppose themselves to have outgrown the necessity of intercession. There are persons who suppose themselves to have outgrown everything; the wonder is that such marvellous outgrowth should not receive more honour and homage. There are persons who have outgrown their first principles, their early enthusiasms, their beginnings of Christian consecration; there are those who have outgrown the old house Bible, there are some who have outgrown the sanctuary. They look in now and then: what condescension! What sublime humility! Grow in the right direction; grow upward, and see how high it is.
Here we have prayer consciously answered—
"And the Lord appeared to Solomon by night [this is implied, though not directly stated, in Kings, where we hear that "the Lord appeared to Solomon... as he had appeared unto him at Gibeon" ( 1 Kings 9:2), which was "in a dream by night" (ib. 1 Kings 3:5)], and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice [a phrase occurring nowhere else in the Old Testament]" ( 2 Chronicles 7:12).
Thus stands the case. The Old Testament is full of this familiarity with the divine coming and going. Have we changed our expression, or have we changed the reality of the case? For we are now ashamed to say we have had a visitation from God. Were a man to say now that he saw God last night he would be laughed at; hands would be significantly held up, and men would exchange the masonry of signs, to indicate that the person must be pitied and tenderly considered. Where is the change? Is it in phraseology or in substance? Are we ashamed to say that we prayed and got an answer? If we are ashamed then we neither prayed nor received a reply. Men who have been with God are never ashamed to say so. One sight of him nerves the seer with courage that cannot be abashed. When a poor child comes from a little country village where everything is upon a small scale, and where pence are treasured like silver, the child is astonished when it comes to larger places, to towns and cities, and beholds a broader civilisation: the child then opens its mouth in wonder, and its eyes in mute amazement; everything looks so large, so grand: but when a man has once seen the stars, not with the look of an ox, but with the look of an astronomer, you cannot show him anything astonishing on earth; the earth itself is a little fleck of mud, which might be brushed off the coat of the universe, and never be missed. It is thus with our communings of a intellectual and spiritual kind. All things are wonderful to ignorance. Wonder indeed is the sign of ignorance. Where there is no ignorance there is no wonder. Knowledge looks on with calm apprehension, with the familiarity of old acquaintanceship. When we hold communion with God we fear no man. The preacher who has not brought his sermon from heaven fears the critic, the little fool that knows nothing but words, the prickly little pedant who can hardly sit down without hurting himself: but when a man has come from God, he feels that he has a message tender, gracious, mighty, all-comprehending, a gospel of love which he must deliver with emphasis and zeal.
We now approach some awful words: who dare read them? The Lord speaks of Israel, and says what he will do to Israel under certain circumstances—
"But if ye turn away, and forsake [and keep not] my statutes and my commandments, which I have set before you, and shall go and serve other gods, and worship them; then will I pluck them up by the roots [i.e, your children (comp. Deuteronomy 29:27)] out of my land which I have given them; and this house, which I have sanctified for my name, will I cast out of my sight, and will make it to be a proverb and a byword among all nations" ( 2 Chronicles 7:19-20).
This is not like God: judgment is his strange work; mercy is his delight. But when he begins he will make an end. He will pluck Israel up by the roots. There would be men who are twice dead, plucked up by the roots, and the roots are fit only for burning. We do not know what God"s burning means. Let us take care how we exclude the penal element from our theology and from our contemplation of the future. If there is no hell, there is no heaven. Do not imagine that we can grow independently of God. The plants cannot grow independently of the dew, the rain, the light, the warmth; if they try, they will surely perish. We can only live as we live in God, as we live in Christ, as we are branches in the vine. The vine will never be plucked up by the roots. Our Christ is an eternal Saviour. But if any branch that is in him bear not fruit after pruning, who shall say what will follow? It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God; not that he is arbitrary in judgment, but that his universe is constructed upon principles, and is animated and ruled by laws that sting when they are violated. They are wondrous laws—sabbatic, evangelic, loving, redeeming, when obeyed, understood, followed, honoured. But let any man try to cross God"s law, and he will never return from that fool"s journey. It is one of two things: either we have to fall upon the stone, Christ, and be broken; or the stone will fall upon us, and grind us to powder. We hear the crash of that grinding—may we never know it!
Help us to spend our life according to thy will, thou Creator of man. Thou knowest how many temptations assail our life, and how prone we are to go downwards: thy grace alone can sustain us, and perfect thy will within our spirit. Thus we come to thee every day, as men come for bread; we cannot live without thee; thou art not our occasional joy, thou art our everlasting necessity. In God we live and move and have our being. Thus God is known to us through Jesus Christ, Son of Prayer of Manasseh, Son of God, by his teaching, his example, his cross, his death, resurrection, and intercession. We cannot see thee, and live, but we can see Jesus Christ thy Song of Solomon, and listen to his words, and receive his testimony, and walk by his doctrine, and trust ourselves to the mystery of his cross. Thou didst lay upon him the iniquity of us all. He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: we cannot understand this, but we feel in moments of agonised need that this Gospel alone can touch our deepest life and bring our souls into the light of hope; because the doctrine has thus released us from the dominion of fear and the prison of darkness, we know it to be in very deed our God. Thou hast taught us that by their fruits shall we know trees and men: by their fruits do we know thy doctrines, for they help us and bless us, with richest comfort they make us wise and strong; and we know still further that the doctrine is of God, because it compels us towards discipline and service and sacrifice on behalf of others. For such a revelation we bless thee; every day it vindicates its divinity by its action in life; we profess the cross, we assume the sacred name,—may we vindicate our title to its use by the simplicity of our motive and the nobleness of our service. As for broken hearts, thou alone canst heal them; as for men who are sitting down amid the ruins of their fortunes, and beholding their ambitions wrecked at their feet, thou only canst give wisdom and strength in the hour of weariness and unutterable sorrow. Help every man to find the right way, and to walk in it steadfastly; disappoint every man who has set a trap for others, or who has digged a pit for the feet of his fellow pilgrims; if any man"s mind be set on mischief, the Lord send a blight upon his memory, that he may not recollect his own purposes of iniquity. May every house be dear to thee, in proportion to the sickness or weakness or old age or infancy which it encloses; visit every room of the house, make the feast divine, turn the burial into a resurrection, but specially lean over the bed where old age lies, or where infancy begins to wonder at the mystery of life, and let thy blessing abide there, a light, not a fire, a blessing that can be understood by the thrilling of the heart with new and sudden joy. O Lord Jesus, come, take up thine abode in all the house, so that we cannot open a door without finding a welcome from thyself. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 7". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34