"He staggered not... through unbelief." Rom. 4:20.
The divine promise had been given. There could be no doubt about that. But there were no external helps to make the soul certain of its fulfilment. The promise had no friends in the outer circumstances. The face of everything frowned upon it. Common experience was against it. Common sense was against it. And yet Abraham "staggered not"! He steadied himself on the promise. His soul nested in the divine purpose. He dwelt in the secret place of the Most High. By faith he companioned with friendly realities when every hard and glaring event appeared to be his foe. For faith is a finer sense even than common sense. Common sense, when it is despoiled of faith, is a very local and deceitful sight. But seeing is believing! Nothing of the kind. Believing is the only true seeing! "Said I not unto thee that if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see...?" "He endured as seeing Him who is invisible."
And we, too, have to trudge over roads where circumstances just shriek against our creeds. We have heard the divine word, but the "not likely" stares upon us on every side. And common sense is very aggressive, and it rears itself against the promise of our God. And the gathered wisdom of the world obtrudes itself against the hidden wisdom of the Lord. Our material setting is unfriendly. Carnal forces are ironical in their easy triumph. And we begin to look foolish in our simple faith. And, God help us! sometimes we begin to feel foolish, and we are tempted to make obeisance to the kingdom of the apparent, and to bow down and worship it.
Never was there greater need of deep-living men and women who will confront the proud and massed "unlikelies" with the spoken promise of our God. Never was the need more urgent that we should confirm ourselves in the promise amid the uncomfortable irony of circumstances, and the loud and blatant taunt of our foes. We must wear the word of the Lord like an athlete's belt! "Having your loins girt about with truth!" These are the men and women who remain victors on the field at the end of the long and bloody day. At the beginning of day theirs is the faith which gives substance to things hoped for; at the end of the day the things hoped for have become their eternal possession.
"Making request that... I might come unto you." Rom. 1:10.
The Apostle Paul had a great longing to visit Rome. He coveted the privilege of preaching the Gospel in the metropolis of the world. From Rome the story of grace might be radiated along the great highways to the ends of the earth. "After that I must visit Rome." "I am ready to preach the Gospel to you that are in Rome also!" And so he prayed that his burning desire might be granted. And his prayer was answered, but in such a startlingly unexpected way. "When we came to Rome the centurion delivered the prisoners," and Paul was among them! He hoped to enter the Imperial city an ambassador in glorious freedom; he entered it in bonds.
And so the prayer was answered, but it was answered in a very surprising way. The Apostle arrived in Rome, but such an arrival had never entered into his dreams. He was a prisoner in bonds, but the word of God was not bound; and I suppose that if Paul had never been taken to Rome we should never have had the epistles of the captivity. The Epistle to the Philippians, with all its mellow maturity of spiritual fruits, was born in bondage. And Colossians, with its glorious proclamation of the sole headship and mediatorship of Jesus Christ, was born in the same gloomy servitude. And what rare treasures there are in these and other letters, which we might never have known had the inspired writer always been free! "In my distress Thou hast enlarged me." The experience of the Psalmist was surely the experience of the Apostle, and we enjoy the splendid fruit of his enlargement. Paul entered Rome in bonds, but in his bondage he sent forth letters which have enriched the world with infinite blessedness.
So that God may answer our prayers, but the answer may come in a quite extraordinary way. We get where we desire to be, but by God's own path. It might seem as though it would have been better for every- body if Paul had been in Koine and also been perfectly free. Yes, but I am not so sure that we should have had those immortal letters. What a life Paul would have lived had he been free to do whatever he pleased, and to go wherever he liked! It is notorious that when a man is made a bishop his days become so crowded that it is a rare thing for him to produce his greatest books! And who knows but that if this great Apostle had had more temporary freedom we might have had less permanent fruit. Sometimes the Lord permits our seclusion in order that we may do a larger work. His merciful sight has long range, and that is why our immediate circumstances are often so contradictory to our aspiration and prayer. The Lord looks beyond the temporary bondage to the ultimate freedom.
"The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower."