A Mistaken Inference
1 Kings 20:28-30
And there came a man of God, and spoke to the king of Israel, and said, Thus said the LORD, Because the Syrians have said…

I. THE WORDS MAY BE USED IN A CYNICAL SENSE. I refer to the spirit of those who imagine that religion has no real hold, and will win no real victories, apart from certain favouring facts, certain propitious agencies, helpful as the hills were to Israel. They think it is the creature of environment, the product of place. Detach it from that environment, transplant it from that place, and its power and reality will vanish. You find a sneer of the kind on the lips of two classes — those who wish to break down religion as a faith, and those who wish to break it down as a practice. Or, to put it otherwise, you find it in those who would have you careless of belief, and those who would have you careless of conduct. Let; us descend from the highlands of prejudice, and take our stand on the lowlands of reason, the arena of impartial logic, the fields of honest and unfettered debate, and see what the issue will be. Your conception of God is a phantom of the mountains; bring it to the clear air and the dry light of the plains, test it by the rules of a sound philosophy, look at it with the eyes of an enlightened intelligence, and phantomlike, it will vanish away. What is this but a reproduction of the words of the Syrians, expounded and applied as modern cynicism knows how: "The Lord is a God of the hills, and not a God of the valleys"? So, too, with the other class I spoke of, those who endeavour to rob you of character. Sad that there should be such. And wherever they do exist, they speak and act with the same idea, that the religion they assail is a matter of circumstance. It is to be explained, they tell us, by the oversight of watchful eyes, the rule of firm hands, the influences of the fear of punishment and the hope of reward, the discipline and attachments of home. Yet, but let the life be cut loose from all this, away from a father's authority, away from a mother's solicitude, away from a minister's advice, away from the whole set of circumstances that make purity and probity, temperance and truthfulness, matters of everyday counsel and everyday practice, and see what its principles are worth. The man may retain his character so long as he lives on the heights, but once let him join us on the plains, on the platform of a wider existence, amidst the elbow-room of a freer sphere, he will yield, take his swing, and comport himself just like the rest of us. Such is the assertion of the cynic, thinking religion the outcome of locality, and Providence the genius of place.

II. AGAIN, THE WORDS MAY BE USED IN A SUPERSTITIOUS SENSE. We are to speak of its falseness now when applied to religious worship, associated as that worship often is with certain fixed and unbending conditions that are hurtful to the health and hostile to the spontaneity of the "life indeed." Of course, the tendency that I speak of finds its crowning type in the ritualist. As much as any one, the ritualist attempts to limit God, tying the operations of His grace to given and definite places, given and definite agencies, given and definite channels. And yet the superstitious spirit may exist, the spirit that attaches undue importance to places, associations, and forms. Not, of course, that places and associations are without their value in worship. They have their own impressiveness, their own significance, their own power to stimulate and help. But when all has been said, we are not to set limits to God. He who is the God of the hills, with their majesty, their variety, and their poetic associations, is also the God of the valleys, with their tameness, monotone, and commonplace features, And when He keeps you down in the valleys, be sure He can meet you there, in the homeliest religious services, in the humblest religious fellowship; and not only there, but amidst the dullest and most prosaic routines of everyday worldly life, till the fireside, the shop, the counting-room, the mart, become for those who wait and who watch for Him a very Bethel, a house of God, the gate of heaven.

III. There words may be taken as descriptive of a worldly spirit — a spirit of worldly compliance and worldly compromise. Passing at this point from the subject of God's help and worship to the subject of God's claims, we find a tendency that is just the opposite of the one we have now been speaking of. In that case the error was that of over-separation in religious matters; in this case the error is that of over-concession — concession to the time-spirit, concession to the place-spirit. "Your God is a God of the hills; He vanishes when the hills are left, and the valleys take their place." How often does the cynic's taunt find colour and excuse in the professing Christian's conduct! Some people do speak and act as if the authority of God were a matter of locality, and as if the leaving of the locality meant the leaving, or at any rate, the lowering, of the authority. I take the case of professing Christians in their seasons of recreation — let us say during foreign travel. Do not some put off their home religion with the same regularity with which they put off their home broadcloth, and put on tourist religion with the same sense of release with which they put on their tourist tweeds? The thought might be carried further. Is not this at the root of a good deal of the unrest that is otherwise puzzling to see? Children discontented in happy homes, apprentices discontented with kind employers, servants discontented in comfortable places, young men and young women discontented with evangelical ministries and a watchful and attentive Church fellowship, all on the outlook for change, where to the outward observation there does not seem much reason for change: how shall we explain it? Sometimes, I fear, in this very way. The atmosphere of restriction does not suit such. They want to be surrounded with a slacker personal oversight, a lower local tone. They want to break free from religions restraints; and in breaking free from religious restraints they imagine they get quit of religious obligations. You do not get quit of them. Right is right, and wrong is wrong, whatsoever be the circumstances, whatsoever the customs, whatsoever the observation.

IV. THESE WORDS, TOO, MAY BE TAKEN AS DESCRIPTIVE OF A RATIONALISING SPIRIT. Here we pass from God's help, worship, and claims to the subject of His truth. And what is the error to be noticed here? Just the error we have been endeavouring to trace all along, the error of those who set bounds to God. We believe, do we not? that the Gospel is universal. We believe that as it is universal in intention, it is universal in fitness. We believe that both in precept and in promise it is the power of God to every one that believeth. But there are those who deny this. They deny it on the grounds of capacity, deny it on the grounds of race. And it is interesting to notice that this rationalising spirit we speak of, in limiting the adaptability of the Christian religion, limits it from two different standpoints, for two different reasons. Some object to the Christian faith as being too elementary, characterised by elementary conditions, suitable to an elementary stage. The God of the Christians, they say, may serve for the simple, the inexperienced, the emotional — women with their capacity of belief, children with their childish dreams. But He will not serve for others — the scientist with his love of truth, the artist with his love of beauty, the artisan with his love of independence. Others, again, speak of the Christian faith as a something that is too advanced, at any rate for certain circumstances and certain classes. The God of the Christians, they say, may serve for the cultivated and progressive, those whose minds have been opened, and whose consciences have been trained. But He is altogether too exalted in His standard, too strict in His principles, and too exacting in His demands, for the common and unenlightened, the barbarous and embruted. What is the notion of both classes but the notion of a limited God — a God, as some say, for the hills, a God, as others say, for the valleys, yet in each case a God that is less than universal, a God who is bounded in His presence, bounded in His power, and bounded in His claims? We hold by a higher idea. We cling to a nobler and more inspiring faith. We believe that the God of the Bible is the God of the hills and the valleys alike, wheresoever His religion has had full play.

(W. A. Gray.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And there came a man of God, and spake unto the king of Israel, and said, Thus saith the LORD, Because the Syrians have said, The LORD is God of the hills, but he is not God of the valleys, therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thine hand, and ye shall know that I am the LORD.

WEB: A man of God came near and spoke to the king of Israel, and said, "Thus says Yahweh, 'Because the Syrians have said, "Yahweh is a god of the hills, but he is not a god of the valleys;" therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am Yahweh.'"

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