It is not difficult to understand the mood of those whom the apostle is addressing. He is addressing men who were perplexed by the seeming inactivity of God. When they first entered on their Christian calling, they had been thrilled by certain glorious promises. Christ was to come again, and to come quickly, and they were to share in the triumph of His coming. But now the months had lengthened into years, and life went on unbroken and unchanged, and they looked heavenward and looked in vain for the epiphany of Jesus and His saints. It was to such men that Peter wrote—to men who were disheartened and discouraged. They were ready to cry as Jeremiah cried, “O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived.” And the task of Peter was to comfort them and to show them the meaning of that apparent slackness and to teach them that there was a purpose big with mercy in that perplexing slowness of the Lord. It was Augustine who said this of God: God is patient because He is eternal. He takes His time because all time is His. There are a thousand years within His day. And that is a lesson we will dwell on now.
Think of the sphere of revelation. Does not that mark of slowness meet us there? The one thing God has never done, is to be in a hurry to reveal Himself. Suppose you were to ask a child this question, How do you think that God will speak to men? Would not the answer be of sudden voices pealing from the silence of the sky? Well as a matter of fact God has spoken to men, for that is just what we mean by revelation, but His speaking has been as different from that as a strain of music from the din of thunder. Not suddenly, in one stupendous moment, has God declared the riches of His grace. That would have been cruelty and not kindness, for men would have been blinded by the glare. It has been here a little, there a little; one syllable today and one tomorrow, until at last these broken syllables blended in the Incarnate Word. By everything they tried and all they suffered, men were taught a little more of God; by the voice of conscience which they could not stifle, by the vision of ideals they could not crush; by all the whisperings of the world without, by all the yearnings of the heart within; by the song of psalmist, the oracle of prophet, the blood of the sacrifice upon the altar. I think of that first promise made in Eden that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head. How long, O Lord! Why tarry the wheels of thy chariot? When shall this promised deliverer appear? And we know what ages had to pass away and what eager faces had to be lifted heavenward ere in the fullness of the time there came the Savior. When He came, a day was as a thousand years—in that one day was blessing for millenniums. But till He came it was the opposite, a thousand years with God were as a day. And men arose and played their part and died, and generation succeeded generation, and all the time, slowly yet unceasingly, God was making ready for Christ Jesus.
The Lore of Jesus
And note that this mark of God is very conspicuous in the life of Jesus. With such a mighty task to do and only three short years to do it in, I do not think that we could have been surprised had we caught the accent of haste in Jesus’ life. But the one thing you never come upon there is haste. There is always urgency, but there is never hurry. You get the impression as you follow Christ that with Him a thousand years are as one day. Think of the third temptation in the desert when the devil took Him up into the mountain. “All these kingdoms will I give thee,” he said, “if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” But the way of the devil was the immediate way, reckless of means so that the end was gained; and the way of Jesus was the long, long way, which He is mystically treading still. All the kingdoms will I give thee now—the devil is always conjuring with now. For one brief moment Jesus Christ was tempted to get at His triumph by the shortest road. But He put it from Him and chose the long slow way that led Him through the garden to the cross, and has led Him through the ages to His victories in a thousand earnest and consecrated servants. There is more than the touch of the hero about that. There is the touch of the divine. God is patient because He is eternal and that is the patience of Jesus. His love was mighty, yet His approach was slow. One day was as a thousand years with Christ, and yet a thousand years were as a day.
The slowness of God, again, is often manifest in regard to the great matter of our duty. Not all in a moment, but rather step by step, does God reveal the pathway of our duty. Think, for example, of the case of Paul when he was on his missionary journey. First he wished to go southward to Galatia, and the Spirit of God forbade him to go there. Then his heart turned northward to Bithynia: would it not be a joy to preach the Gospel there? But once again his will was crossed, and the Spirit of God suffered him not. We understand now why that was so: he was being led to the great hour at Troas. He was traveling to the man of Macedonia and to the summons from the shore of Europe. But the point to note is that Paul did not know that; nor could he tell why doors were being shut: he could only leave it in the hand of God who seeth the end from the beginning. How easy it would have been for God to let Paul know why he was being baffled. But it was not thus that heaven dealt with Paul, and it is not so that heaven deals with us. God leads us forward one step at a time, giving us light and strength for that one step, and only as we take it and are strong does He reveal the pathway of our duty.
The Sphere of Judgement Upon Sin
Sometimes God is very swift in penalty; at other times, inexorably slow. There are sins which instantly condemn a man and make him a social outcast in a day. They cannot be hidden, and, being spread abroad, they shatter the character and blight the home. But if there are sins that go before to judgement, I think there are far more that follow after, and such sins may track a man for years before at long last they track him down. I have never heard that this word has been cancelled: “Be sure your sin will find you out.” You think that because five years are gone, or ten, it is all right; your sin is dead and buried. But with God a thousand years are as a day. He tarries, but he has not forgotten. Seek ye the Lord while He may be found; call ye upon Him while he is near.
I turn now for a moment or two to some of the spiritual bearings of this slowness, and in the first place, I detect in it what I would call an element of knowledge. It is impossible for one to learn the nature of something that flashes by and then is gone. A man is dazzled by it, and he wonders about it, but of its real nature he is still in ignorance. And so should we be ignorant of God, save as a being of tremendous power, if He flashed upon us and vanished from our sight. You cannot hurry if you are teaching children, especially if they are a little stupid. You must linger and spell the word again and again and be at infinite pains to make things clear. And what are we but little, stupid children spelling our way across God’s lesson book, and needing to have it syllable by syllable if we are ever to make it into sense. Why, think of the children of Israel in the desert. It took them forty years to get to Canaan. And could not God by one almighty act have carried them there in a single hour? Of course He could, for He is God Almighty—He could have brought them there in a moment; but all, what a vast deal they would have lost, but for the slowness of their leadership. It was that which taught them how merciful God was. It was that which taught them that He cared for them. It was that which gave them the manna in their need. It was that which brought the water from the rock. They learned all that just because God was slow and led them by a way that was circuitous and brought them home, not by a hasty march, but by the discipline of forty years. It may be just the same with you, my friend. The long way may be the kindest way. It would be very sweet to get at once all that you crave for in your heart of hearts. But then if you got it you would miss the best—all that God is and wants to be to you—and I think a fuller earth is bought too dear, when it is purchased by an emptier heaven.
Also in the slowness of God I can detect an element of testing. It does not only show us what God is, it helps to show us what we are ourselves. It is true that sudden trial may do that. A single moment may reveal the deeps. There are men who have never known all that was in them till they were suddenly faced by swift temptation. But perhaps the truest test is not the sudden—a man may be worse or better than himself then—the truest test of what we really are lies not in the sudden but the slow. Judge Simon Peter by his one denial, and you place him far down the line of saints. Many a man might have been loyal then who had not a tenth part of Peter’s faith. I want a longer estimate than that; one that takes measurement of usual years, one that has watched the character unfold under the slower discipline of God. A fiery trial may be a bitter thing; a long-continued trial may be a bitterer. To see no end to it, no gleam of blue, that is a harder thing than any paroxysm. There is no sorrow that is so hard to bear as the sorrow that is gnawing every morning. There is no work that is so hard to do as the work that never blossoms into fruit. “Thou shalt remember all the way the Lord hath led thee, to prove thee, and know what was in thy heart.” Not only to know God was Israel led so; God led them that they might know themselves. So you and I are led by devious roads where we are often alone and often weary until at last, thank God, we know ourselves and know our utter need of Jesus Christ.
And then in closing, in God’s slowness is there not often an element of tenderness? “I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now.” You would never dream of telling a little child the story of the disappointments of the world. That would be cruel; it would blight those hopes that set the heart to music in the morning. So God is slow to break upon our vision, and He covers up tomorrow in a cloud and withholds an answer to our prayers, because He knows that we could never bear it. We think He loves us when He speaks to us. He loves us just as much when He is silent. The love of God is never slow to bless but, it is often very slow to speak. So we go forward rescued from despair just because God refuses to be hasty, saved by His slowness from tomorrow’s trial until tomorrow’s sun is in the east.