Every human enterprise is now beset with labour, sweat and tears. We are not to be surprised by that. Our Maker foretold us that it would be so when he informed Adam that from the first hour of man’s Fall all his labour would henceforth be with ‘the sweat of his face’ (Gen. 3:19). The testimony of history is that God’s words have most assuredly come to pass. Look where we may on earth ‘all things are full of labour; man cannot utter it’ (Eccles. 1:8). There is a crook in every lot, a twist in every path, a thorn under every rose.
It would appear that one of the many ways in which God punishes the sins of men and nations is to give them over at times to widespread perplexity and confusion. Life in a perfect world would be ideally simple. We should all instinctively seek first the glory of God and he would unfailingly supply our every need. Supply would always providentially balance demand. Men would never know want. As they delighted themselves in God as their highest and only good, so he would manage their private and social affairs for them, anticipating their requirements and tailoring all circumstances to their comfort, convenience and capacities. As a wise and kind parent foresees the needs of his children in their nursery and arranges everything for their safe and profitable enjoyment, so God would dispose all events (if we were still in our first paradise) so that nothing would terrify or confuse us. That the world we live in is not so now, is a reflection, not on the power, wisdom or goodness of God, but on our deeply sinful state.
Sin made all things complicated upon earth. Every human enterprise is now beset with labour, sweat and tears. We are not to be surprised by that. Our Maker foretold us that it would be so when he informed Adam that from the first hour of man’s Fall all his labour would henceforth be with ‘the sweat of his face’ (Gen. 3:19). The testimony of history is that God’s words have most assuredly come to pass. Look where we may on earth ‘all things are full of labour; man cannot utter it’ (Eccles. 1:8). There is a crook in every lot, a twist in every path, a thorn under every rose. Foolish man calls it the cursed spite of Fate. The Apostle calls it by the name of Vanity, that frustration appointed by God for the whole world in its present state under the discipline of God’s judgement upon sin (Rom. 8:20).
But God’s judgements intensify when sinners grow worse. Men are perversely blind when they refuse to pause in the course of their frenzied lives to observe the perfection of God’s judgements in this world. The judgements of providence are not as complete as they are going to be on the Last Day. But they are not entirely mysterious or inscrutable either. They are proportioned, more or less, to the conduct of men in this life. The more sinful society becomes, the heavier God’s judgements become. This at any rate is the general tendency of God’s dealing with us in society. The many exceptions to the rule are to remind us all that an ultimate judgement on men’s sins awaits them at another time and in another place.
It should not surprise us to hear that God proportions his blessings and curses to men and nations according to their conduct (generally speaking), even in this life. The more wicked a society becomes, the more it provokes God and fetches down his wrath upon itself. For the Almighty is not an idle spectator of mankind’s behaviour but is daily on the watch, taking constant notice of the way public policies and private attitudes are altering for the worse, or for the better. We should not suppose therefore that he has reserved all his punishment for the last great judgement. Even in the course of mankind’s history, he takes out his weapons to punish men’s sins. Sometimes he removes from his quiver a sheaf of arrows with which to wound men and nations, and at other times he lays aside his bow and gives a respite to sinners when they relent and plead for mercy.
If perplexity and confusion are, as we think, judgements of God on sinful nations, we need to confess that God’s hand is manifestly ‘stretched out’ (Isa. 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4) upon us at this hour. For confusion and perplexity are everywhere to be seen — from the throne to the poor-house and from the prince to the prelate. In just about every sphere of life there is a widespread uncertainty and agony of distress. Our jobs and our currencies are about as unsteady as our morals. Those who lead us appear frequently to be without any sense of vision. Too often they are found wanting in their private lives. Our modern world has become sophisticated and clever. But the problem is that God is cleverer still and he frustrates us at every stroke by turning our unblessed efforts to vanity and futility. Concerning very few of our modern societies would it be true to say: ‘Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the Lord is his treasure’ (Isa. 33:6). God has set his face against us and thrown over us the mantle of confusion.