We will believe this. And instead of inquiring why the former days were better than these, we will trust that the coming days shall be better than these, and those which are coming after them better still again, because God is our Father, Christ our Saviour, the Holy Ghost our Comforter and Guide. We will toil onward: because we know we are toiling upward. We will live in hope, not in regret; because hope is the only state of mind fit for a race for whom God has condescended to stoop, and suffer, and die, and rise again. We will believe that we, and all we love, whether in earth or heaven, are destined—if we be only true to God’s Spirit—to rise, improve, progress for ever: and so we will claim our share, and keep our place, in that vast ascending and improving scale of being, which, as some dream—and surely not in vain—goes onward and upward for ever throughout the universe of Him who wills that none should perish.
Habakkuk ii. 4.
The just shall live by his faith.
We shall always find it most safe, as well as most reverent, to inquire first the literal and exact meaning of a text; to see under what circumstances it was written; what meaning it must have conveyed to those who heard it; and so to judge what it must have meant in the mind of him who spoke it. If we do so, we shall find that the simplest interpretation of Scripture is generally the deepest; and the most literal interpretation is also the most spiritual.
Let us examine the circumstances under which the prophet spake these words.
It was on the eve of a Chaldean invasion. The heathen were coming into Judea, as we see them still in the Assyrian sculptures— civilizing, after their barbarous fashion, the nations round them— conquering, massacring, transporting whole populations, building cities and temples by their forced labour; and resistance or escape was impossible.
The prophet’s faith fails him a moment. What is this but a triumph of evil? Is there a Divine Providence? Is there a just Ruler of the world? And he breaks out into pathetic expostulation with God Himself: ’Wherefore lookest Thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest Thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, which have no ruler over them? They take up all of them with the line, they gather them with the net. Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense to their line; for by it their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous. Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare to slay continually the nations?’
Then the Lord answers his doubts: ’Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.’