Matthew 11:6; John 16:1 (continued)
The same is true also in regard to the progress of the Kingdom whose interests we are called to serve. How often we find in the slowness with which spiritual results are achieved a cause of offence in Christ. We begin by expecting that when we lift up Christ we shall immediately see crowds flocking to Him. We imagine that we have but to work faithfully in the service of God and man, and results are certain to be apparent. But how different is the realization! How hardly souls are wooed and won! How true it is that tares grow up with the wheat! How certain that he who goes forth bearing precious seeds must weep as he goes!
And the difficulty of believing that God is on the field when He is most invisible is too much for many who commence to work for Him with high hopes and valiant beliefs which seem all unjustified. Like the disciples, they think that "the Kingdom of God should immediately appear"; and in the discipline of their enthusiasm, and the conversion of their consecration into continuance, they are apt to be "offended." Now it would not be difficult to bring instance upon instance to prove that, in spiritual work, when results are least visible they are often most real. The worker who will go on without the stimulus of outward success, who will continue His witness even when he is met with cold indifference, who will carry out Christ's work in the unfailing inspiration of knowing that it is His work, is the one who gets the blessedness of the unoffended. And part of it is in the certain harvest of all his sowing, and the sure reward of all his service.
But perhaps over and above these suggested causes of offence in Christ is the unreasonableness of His silences. I have every sympathy with John the Baptist in his perplexity: "If this is really the Christ, why does He not act as Christ? Why does He do nothing to deliver His captive herald, or to bring peace to his troubled heart?" One visit from Christ would have changed his prison to a palace. One hand-clasp from His would have transmuted his gloom into glory. But He did not give it. Jut so was it also at Bethany, when He left Martha and Mary to their sorrow for two long and weary days. I sympathize with them in their utter inability to understand His delay in the light of His love; and in the implied protest of the word with which they at length greeted Him: "If Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." His silences seemed so entirely unreasonable. And still does it seem unreasonable when He apparently pays no heed to our prayers, and we cry as to a silent heaven. Who does not know this bitter experience and the subtle temptation lurking there? You have prayed for the conversion of loved ones, but they are apparently today as unyielding and impenitent as ever. You have prayed for temporal things which seemed entirely necessary, and no answer has come. You have sought relief from some pressing burden, but no lightening of the load has been given; and today it is heavier than ever. And the thought that Christ's silence is unreasonable is never very far away. Loyalty to Him is strained sorely, almost to breaking point. It is almost excusable to be "offended" in Him. But as with John in prison, and the sisters at Bethany, and hosts of others in all ages, He is not unmindful, however His silence may seem to point to it. He is training them, and us, to undaunted faith, to live in the realm of the unseen and eternal; to walk in His own steps. Sometimes what we call unanswered prayer proves beyond question a greater blessing than the desired answer could possibly have been. When Christ responds to our requests in the negative, we may be certain that the positive would have been for our undoing. He withholds secondary mercies to teach us the importance and value of the primary. His denials are our enrichments, not our impoverishments. For His purposes are vastly bigger than our prayers; and while His speech may be as silver, His silence is as gold. "Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me."
"These things have I spoken unto you; that, despite the severity of My requirements, the mystery of My contradictions, the slowness of My methods, the unreasonableness of My silences, ye should not be offended." What things are these? What will secure His people against the peril of defection? What are the permanent securities of our faith? In a word, the sureness of His way before us - "I came from the Father", "I go unto the Father", "I am the way." Then the certainty of His love towards us - "The Father Himself loveth you." And the constancy of His union with us - "Ye in Me and I in you.' These are the germ-truths of all His forewarnings. And their expansion is in the lives of His people. Blessed is he who, resting upon these facts of God, makes them the factors of his own life; and goes on unoffending and unoffended, always radiant with "the peace that passeth all understanding", and increasingly becoming part of the world's illumination as he reflects his Lord.
But let us beware of putting any undue value upon our mere perception of this truth. Let us beware of over-estimating the strength of our own resolves and resources. Let us beware of saying anything like: "Though all men should be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended." Rather, in a sensitive, humble dependence on Christ, which always expresses itself in iron devotion and loyalty to His Word, let us seek to live as men of manifested faith. For this is the condition which governs all the blessedness of the unoffended.