BIDDING GOOD-BYE TO GOD

BY JOHN EDGAR M'FADYEN

"Go thy way for this time" What would you think of a man who had plainlyheard the voice of God ù heard it so plainly that it made him tremble ù and who yet had the awful courage to reply, " Go away for the present. When I have a convenient season, I will send for thee " ? We hold our breath at the very thought of such stupid, lordly defiance of Almighty God; and then we breathe more freely again as we bethink ourselves that such a thing could not be. It could not be? Nay, but it has been. There was a man who rolled those very words off his thoughtless tongue, and there are other men ù have we not ourselves been among them ? ù who have cherished such thoughts in our hearts, and sighed for God to go away, though the blasphemous words may never actually have crossed our lips. Felix was the man ù the cruel, the powerful, the gorgeous Felix. Beside him is a prisoner speaking to him with deadly earnestness of a judgment to come. The voice is Paul's, but the words are God's, and they smite with terror into his seared 221

222 THE CITY WITH FOUNDATIONS Roman conscience. Paul is right, God is right, and Felix can stand it no longer. "Go away," he says, in a sudden access of terror. "Go away for the present. When I have a convenient season, I will send for thee." It is to Paul that he is speaking, but what are those awful words but a tragic farewell to God, ù the God who was pleading with him through the mighty presence of Paul ? What a prayer! "O God! go away." It is a fearful thing to bid good-bye to God, but oh ! the presumption, the pathetic, the unspeakable presumption, of expecting that the God to whom we have haughtily said good-bye will come back at our summons, and alter His plans to suit our convenient season ! We do not indeed suppose that we ourselves

could ever be so haughtily disobedient to the heavenly voice. If only we could be sure that a voice was God's, we would obey it swiftly and gladly ; but the pain of life is that its silences are so long, and so seldom broken by a voice which we can with confidence welcome as divine. But is that voice so very rare ? or is it not rather that we have not schooled ourselves to understand the language in which it speaks ? For it sometimes speaks as a rising terror in the heart. So it was with Felix. His conscience was alarmed by the vision of a judgment to come, and in that terror God was speaking to him. That is one of God's

BIDDING GOOD-BYE TO GOD 223 ways of speaking to men. When the still small voice would be lost upon us, He will sometimes let us hear the distant roll of His judgment thunder. Then let us not pray in our terror, "O God! go Thy way for the present." Rather, let us make our peace with the God of the storm, lest His lightnings consume us. But His voice is not always terrible; it can be gentle too. Sometimes it is borne to us upon the breath of holy impulses or simple affections. But whether that voice thrills us with terror or with sacred resolve, it is for us unhesitatingly to obey its promptings. God is with us in such a moment, laying His kindly hand upon our stubborn life. How do we know that He will ever be with us again ? Procrastination is the secret of failure. A noble thought, a holy resolution, visits us. It stands knocking at the door. But it will disturb our comfort if we suffer it to enter and possess our life, and that will not do. So we give it a courteous dismissal. "Go thy way for the present. When I have a convenient season, I will send for thee." And before that season comes, we may have reached some place where there is no repentance, though we seek it carefully with tears. Warnings enough there come to every man. Every time we are appalled, like Felix, at the thought of the judgment to come; every terror

224 THE CITY WITH FOUNDATIONS that shakes our conscience; every funeral procession that passes up the busy streets, with its silent mockery of their crowded haste; every experience

that awes and humbles us, ù is another voice of the God who loves us too dearly to leave us alone. The man who says to such a voice, "Go thy way for the present," is either a coward or a fool, ù a coward if he cannot bear to look at those stern facts with which he will one day have to make his bed, and a fool if he supposes that the God whom he is deliberately rejecting will come in mercy when he summons Him. "When I have a more convenient season I will send for Thee." Yes, but will He come? He will come indeed, be sure of that; but, when He comes, He will demand the uttermost farthing.

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