1 Kings 11:31-33
And he said to Jeroboam, Take you ten pieces: for thus said the LORD, the God of Israel, Behold…
"Nothing," we are told, "succeeds like success." It is the sign of a man of transcendent genius and power that he is able to carry through all his projects, and bring his schemes to a successful issue. And yet God seems to fail. What could be a greater failure than this world, if it was made by a beneficent God, says the average observer? Why are evil, misfortune, pain, and failure so obvious in its history, and so marked upon its operations? So with Christianity itself; it is the commonplace of missionary meetings that only a small fraction of the world has as yet become Christian, after centuries of preaching and earnest effort. Even where the Church has spread, and fixed her seat, how many schisms and controversies rend her unity, how imperfect is the faith of professing Christians, how unworthy their lives, how poor the realisation of those promises to which they cling. Before we can criticise anything we must know the facts. Before we can give a worthy judgment we must be in a position to judge, and in pronouncing on the great work of God in the universe, we may well ask ourselves, are we in a position during our short visit, which we call life, when we know so imperfectly what came before, when we know absolutely nothing of what comes after — are we in a position to judge? There we stand with the vast ocean before us. Here the wave has receded and left a bare patch of sand, there it is thundering with overwhelming catastrophe against some crumbling barrier. Is the tide coming in, or is it receding? Is there a progress or a steady shrinking back? Before we can decide we have to move away. Has God failed? Is this world in any sense a mistake? Are the Chronicles of Israel and Judah an uninteresting record of a monotonous disaster, unedifying to the soul, and powerless to amuse any attention, or fire our enthusiasm? Is Christianity to alter its name to Civilisation T and to substitute the worship of the beautiful for the service of the sanctuary, the book of science for the Book of God? Is the Church to be carted away in its crumbling masses to the lumber room, where lie now covered with the dust of ages the mouldering forms of Utopias, Republics, and "Cities of God," in the model room, where repose the unattainable visions of unpractical men?
I. THE PLAN OF GOD, REGARDED FROM THE SIDE OF HIS WISE OMNIPOTENCE. Is this world a failure? Does it whirl unchecked and uncontrolled along an aimless path, where luck and fortune and chance are the apparent and only guide to its caprice? Is life a game of chess with an unknown adversary, whom we neither see nor hear — where a mistake on our part is followed by a blow, and that a blow without a word? Have vice and violence and cunning, on the whole, the upper hand in the control of the world? Have all the improvements, the luxuries, the refinements of life, only crushed off in their path a wider and a more sordid fringe of poverty, a moraine of misery, and secured the greatest happiness of the few at the expense of the happiness of the greater number? No! Just remember that God is dealing with a fallen world, a world not as He made it, but as man marred it. A child no doubt, as he lies on his bed, powerless, faint, and ill, crippled by an accident, thinks the doctor cruel as he handles his aching limb, and probes the dangerous wound, and prescribes the bitter medicine; he wishes to be free, to be active, to be playing with his fellows, to feel life in his limbs and health in his frame, to eat what is pleasant, to taste what is sweet, and to fill his life with joy. But the father or the mother, and those who have at heart his welfare, marvel the rather at the skill, the nerve, the resource of the careful physician who is bringing health out of sickness, and a wholesome life out of deformity and mishap. An orchard of trees pruned and cut back is a sorry sight to one, who does not understand the secrets of fruit-bearing, and will not be there to see the golden clusters in the rich autumn. God is dealing with a fallen world, where the measures must be largely remedial, and tending towards a future, rather than self-sufficient in the present. The world is better than it was, it has advanced, and is advancing. Although here and there men sigh over the barren sand, as the wave sighs off with a gasp and a groan, and a sound of falling and disaster. Look out over the world and you will see progress — you cannot deny it — a tending towards a renewal of that time, when in the beginning God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good; while by the side of progress we see the unerring punishment which overtakes sin and evil; retribution we call it; a sign that God has given us a law, which cannot be broken.
II. EQUALLY SHALLOW IS THE CRITICISM WHICH WOULD BELIEVE THE PURPOSE OF GOD TO HAVE FAILED IN HIS CHURCH. The Church is God's Kingdom set up for the better management of the world. And most emphatically the Church has not been a failure. We have the strange spectacle of lands, once covered with its beneficent richness, now barren and dry, and in the hands of the infidel. We see large fields of the Church, once covered with ripe grain, and rippled with the breath of Heaven, now lying fallow, untilled, apparently uncared for, and yet all waiting on the good purpose of God. If we refuse to despair of the world, much more do we refuse to despair of the Church. The purpose of God in spite of drawbacks is being worked out here. Who can deny it?
III. BUT THERE IS ANOTHER REGION WHERE WE ARE APT TO CHARGE GOD WITH FAILURE. I MEAN THE REGION OF OUR OWN SOUL. God has called us through the Red Sea, and, we say, would God we had stayed in Egypt. God has led us into the promised land, and we say it is no land of milk and honey. Men turn round on the old Bible and say it has failed; on the simple life of prayer and devotion; and say that it has proved powerless to effect its purpose. It is a bitter thing, dear brethren, to look back on life and say that it has fared. To look back on a pure home and careful training only to deride it, and get away from it. To have that bitter severance in life, which owes no piety to the past, which has lost all sense of vocation, or duty, or mission, and simply lives on from day to day a life which would be bearable were it not for its pleasures, and hopeful were it not for its ambitions. It is a terrible verdict which the world records of a man when it says, "He has thrown himself away." It is a terrible sense of failure, when a man owns to himself, "I am not what I used to be." It is sad for the returning prodigal to think of a large portion of his life, of which the most hopeful wish would be, that it might remain a blank. It is a more awful thing for a man to feel that his early hopes and aspirations have failed, and that a brilliant morning is likely to be obliterated in a stormy sunset. What can be more sad than the complete breakdown of the moral sense in the heart once alive unto God? Wise Solomon sunk in sensuality; David, whose heart was responsive to every ripple of the Divine breath, dull and insensate; the altar of God spurned, Sunday desecrated; evil eagerly followed; the shame of vice causing no blush, the meanness of it no compunction? And yet God's purpose survives in another way. Magdalen stands before the world to cheer it with the sight of penitent love, more deep, more utter, because like a precious flower, it has been snatched out of the abyss of sin. An stands before the world, stored with an experience written in letters of blood, and burned in with horror into his soul, invites those who have made shipwreck of youth, to hope to revive and seek Him ten times the more. Ah! my brethren, believe in the inherent vitality of all God's good gifts to you. If ever you have been religious, when you now are cold and dead, cherish that seed of life. God means yet again to revive it if you will let Him. If ever your heart was open and responsive before sin blinded your eyes, and the ways of the world made you hard, put yourself back before the first wilful sin, and know and believe that God wishes to revive in you the promise of a better past.
(W. C. E. Newbolt, M. A.).
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said to Jeroboam, Take thee ten pieces: for thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to thee: