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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Habakkuk 3

 

 

Verse 2

A PRAYER FOR REVIVAL

‘O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.’

Habakkuk 3:2

I. God has His great and solemn epochs in history.—They come at long intervals, and they change the face of the world. Such, in the ancient days, were the Flood, the call of Abraham, the Exodus from Egypt, and that event to which Habakkuk looked forward with fear: the captivity in Babylon with the subsequent vengeance upon the capturing power. Such, in our own history, have been the Norman Conquest, the signing of the great Charter, the great events of the Reformation, the deposition of the Stuarts. It is a soul-stirring, if sometimes a heartrending thing, to live in such periods as those, when the very foundations of the earth seem to be broken up, and God makes all things new. To see the great crisis coming nearer, even while it is yet afar off, is so terrible a sight that no thoughtful man could bear it, unless, like Habakkuk, he was convinced by faith that the hand of God was in it. Only a saint, like our Edward, could smile, as, according to the legend, he did, when he saw in a prophetic trance that turning of the Seven Sleepers which betokened, as he knew, convulsion and disaster to the world.

II. Those who live in the interspaces of history may often feel inclined, like Habakkuk, to cry to God for some manifestation, less signal, but not less sure, of His interest, and His activity.—‘O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known.’ They can hardly venture to ask for the great and revolutionary interpositions of His hand; but for some reassuring proof that He is on the watch, that He cares, that He is helping. They see their country divided and despised. Its best elements are unable to make themselves felt. Yet God seems to take no heed. The world goes on quietly, as if there were nothing amiss. It seems long to wait for the Day of Judgment. We crave for some intermediate exhibition of that power which has judged in the past, and will judge hereafter. ‘In the midst of the years make known.’

III. We are bound, as Christians, to ask what all this national, this imperial, movement is leading to.—Noble and God-given in itself, it yet stands in need of discipline and guidance, or it will go wrong. When Lord Beaconsfield’s policy was stigmatised as ‘selfish,’ he replied that it was ‘as selfish as patriotism.’ Whether Lord Beaconsfield considered the answer a final one or not, I do not know; but clearly there is a patriotism—a pseudo-patriotism—which is culpably selfish, just as there is a family affection, a devotion to the interests of a family, which is culpably selfish. God save us from being drawn into it. The Chaldæans, whose triumph Habakkuk foresaw, were raised up by God for the chastisement of Israel, and doubtless of other nations. But their triumphs led them to an impious deification of their own might. ‘He shall pass over and offend,’ we read, ‘imputing this his power unto his god’—his false god; but the true and better rendering is, ‘This his power becoming his god.’ Naturally prone as the Chaldæans were to a proud self-reliance, which warped all their views of life, so that Habakkuk says of them, ‘He is a proud man’; ‘behold, his soul is lifted up, it is not upright in him,’ they fell into an idolatry of their successful methods. The perfection of their organisation, the splendour of their equipments, turned their vain heads. ‘They sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag,’ says the prophet; ‘because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.’ Is there no fear, my brethren, lest England should err as the Chaldæans did? It is not only the voices of us poor unheeded clergymen that warn. Men discount all our utterances, because they think that we are committed beforehand to certain ways of looking at matters. But the freest and most modern and most masculine of English writers tell you the same. I do not hold with all that Mr. Kipling has written. I fear that much of what he has said goes to confirm people in thinking that some forms of immorality are inevitable and even right. But it is Mr. Kipling who has taken up the position of the Hebrew prophet, and bidden you not to put your trust in what he is pleased to call ‘reeking tube and bursting shard,’ and calls for God’s mercy upon us, ‘lest we forget.’

IV. If God has thus revived His work for England, the time has come for us, by His grace, to revive ours.—What if not only the self-idolatry of the Chaldæans is found in us, but the other vices which Habakkuk saw in them—the lust of dominion, the commercial greed, the callous indifference towards the miseries of the poor by whom their prosperity was built up, the coarse and degrading drunkenness, the unreasoning materialism?

—Canon Mason.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

There it is in a nutshell—our trouble and our prayer. Look round at the Church and its character and position in modern England, that Church, ‘set on a hill which cannot be hid’; seen and criticised by the world of our generation. There is not a thoughtful earnest Churchman among us who can fail to hear the roar of the Chaldæan flood at the gates of our Jerusalem. What is our position? We are pressed and ringed in with dangers. To name only three: (1) We are attacked by unbelief—organised and aggressive in its assaults upon the faith which is the foundation upon which we stand. (2) Our position is either ruthlessly assailed or contemptuously ignored by the vast godless masses of the people, utterly indifferent to religion, who are clamouring for an upheaval which shall shake society to its very bottom. (3) The organised jealousy of the religious societies which have gone out from us and are labouring year by year with growing bitterness to despoil us of our great national inheritance, and to reduce us to the level of an insignificant sect in the eyes of the world. These are but some of the perils which hem us in.

A MESSAGE FOR THE CHURCH OF TO-DAY

I. This prayer which the prophet lifts to God out of the depths of his perplexities seems to me alive with a living message for the Church of to-day.—God’s Church in danger as it seemed of fatal hurt at the hands of the blind forces of evil, and spiritually in need of revival, and God’s servant crying out for the bared arm and the ancient deliverances of the living God. ‘Revive Thy work, O Lord, in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known.’ ‘O, that Thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might flow down at Thy presence.’ ‘Bring to birth again the work which carried all before it. Make faith in Thee a reality and not a name. Let it be once more as it has been. In the midst of these turmoiled years, when hearts are failing, and love waxes cold, and catastrophes threaten, and the noise of evil and unbelief grows louder and even louder in our ears—break up the impenetrable frost of indifference. Send down the fire from Heaven, and make Thyself felt and known in the midst of us to-day.’

There it is in a nutshell—our trouble and our prayer. Look round at the Church and its character and position in modern England, that Church, ‘set on a hill which cannot be hid’; seen and criticised by the world of our generation. There is not a thoughtful earnest Churchman among us who can fail to hear the roar of the Chaldæan flood at the gates of our Jerusalem. What is our position? We are pressed and ringed in with dangers. To name only three: (1) We are attacked by unbelief—organised and aggressive in its assaults upon the faith which is the foundation upon which we stand. (2) Our position is either ruthlessly assailed or contemptuously ignored by the vast godless masses of the people, utterly indifferent to religion, who are clamouring for an upheaval which shall shake society to its very bottom. (3) The organised jealousy of the religious societies which have gone out from us and are labouring year by year with growing bitterness to despoil us of our great national inheritance, and to reduce us to the level of an insignificant sect in the eyes of the world. These are but some of the perils which hem us in.

And what of the Church herself? Is she ready to stand the battle? Is she utterly true to herself and her great mission in the world? Which of us can dare to say so? Is she sure of herself as she ought to be, and of the faith which has been delivered to her trust? Is he only a querulous cynic who feels a faltering in her testimony to the absolute truth of her message to mankind? Is it merely pessimism which sees the cancer of worldliness eating the heart out of her vital energies?

In the midst of our turmoiled years we cry: ‘O! for another Pentecost with its rushing mighty wind, and its fiery tongues, and its thousands swept into the Church!’

So we pray; so we plead on bended knee; so we turn our faces heavenward and ask God to give us back the life we need, and have been forfeiting by our coldness and unbelief.

I do not think there can be room for doubt that to-day the Church stands face to face with a great crisis in her life in England. And never has she needed more what Bishop Creighton used to call ‘the tonic of history’ to arouse her to a sense both of her need and of her opportunity.

II. Every Churchman has in his most clearly seeing moments a vision of the Church as she might be, as she may be, aye, and as she ought to be.—The Church in which the brotherhood of men, of all classes and of all kinds and calling, is fully realised in the common life of a universal society bound together by common love, by common faith, and by common devotion to the one Lord Jesus Christ. Why do we not know more of that life, and translate the ideal into fact? Ah! there is something wrong. There is something in our life which wants putting right. What is the matter with us? What and where is the cure?

(1) We need, first, a revival of faith throughout the whole Church. ‘Our age,’ grimly says an American writer, ‘stands in doubt. Its coat-of-arms is an interrogation point rampant above three bishops dormant, and its motto is query.’ Only a faith which has the strong hold upon revealed realities which comes from listening to the voice of its Master speaking down the ages in those sublime words: ‘Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe in Me,’ can combat blank atheism.

(2) We need not less than this revival of faith far and wide amongst us, a revival of the sense of sin. Not long ago the voice of the Bishop of Birmingham, to which all schools in the Church are attentive to listen, solemnly told us this: ‘We feel the need of a revival of religion which marked the rise of the Methodist Society.… But I am persuaded of this, that the prelude and accompaniment of any such revival of religion must be a reawakening of the consciousness of sin and of the eternal doom upon it.’ Have we been losing our sense of the guilt of sin through the influence of scientific theories of heredity which practically make man an automaton, and almost rob him of personal responsibility altogether? The sense of sin was a keynote alike of the Evangelical revival of the eighteenth and the Oxford Movement of the nineteenth centuries. A well-known modern scientist has lately been telling us, with considerable unction, that the best men of to-day are thinking less and less about their sins!—as if they were, after all, a thing unimportant and not to be made a burden. Brethren, Christianity as a Gospel depends for its very existence on the fact of sin.

(3) Lastly, we need a new devotion to the Person of Christ. Is there not one thing which all saints share in common—deeper than their differences, stronger than all things which serve them? It is the glorious unity of personal devotion to Jesus Christ. ‘Blessed is he,’ says holy Thomas à Kempis, ‘who knows what it is to love Jesus.’ That is what more and more we all need to know here and now in the English Church. That is the way to the solution of our bitter controversies. This will give the deathblow to our miserable party-spirit.

So let us pray with hearts aglow with hope and chastened by penitence: ‘O Lord, even so revive Thy work in the midst of the years. Give us that renewed faith, that deepened sense of sin, that quickened devotion to the crucified and living Christ.’

Rev. F. B. Macnutt.

Illustrations

(1) ‘This psalm was evidently composed for public use, as the musical terms scattered through its course indicate. Perhaps it was intended to be sung by the captives, during the captivity, which was so near. In the earlier verses the prophet tells God how afraid he has become, since he has received the news of the advent of the Chaldæan hosts; and pleads that in the midst of wrath He would remember mercy.’

(2) ‘O, that Thy steps among the stars would quicken!

O, that Thine ears would hear when we are dumb!

Many the hearts from which the hope shall sicken,

Many shall faint before Thy Kingdom come.…

Is there not wrong too bitter for atoning?

What are these desperate and hideous years?

Hast Thou not heard Thy whole creation’s groaning,

Sighs of the bondman and a woman’s tears?’


Verse 17-18

REJOICING IN GOD

(A Harvest Sermon)

‘Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.’

Habakkuk 3:17-18

We are rejoicing to-day in the bounty of God. We are thanking Him, as it is meet we should, because He has once more opened His hand and filled all things living with plenteousness.

But other thoughts may well fill our minds in connection with this service. What if God had not dealt thus bountifully with us? What if He had withheld His customary blessings? What if our harvest had failed? The regularity of God’s gifts often causes us to forget their gratuitousness. They come to us anew each morning so uniformly, they are renewed so unfailing each evening, they fall upon us so steadily even during the unconscious hours of slumber, they reach us day by day and year by year with such unvarying regularity, that we come in time to altogether mistake their nature. We look on them more as our lawful rights than as God’s unmerited bounty.

How different was the language of Habakkuk! He had found a higher source of exultation than even we have found, who are rejoicing in the bounty of God to-day. It is good for us to rejoice in His gifts—it is better for us to rejoice like the prophet in God Himself.

I. This is the highest form of exultation of which we are capable here on earth; the song of exultation which will fill the courts of heaven when the ransomed at last are gathered home to God.

II. This is the only permanent form of exultation.—Our earthly circumstances may fail at any moment. But the joy that is centred in God can never fail, for God Himself is changeless and enduring. On Mohammedan graves, I am told, the words are everywhere written, He remains. With this truth the bereaved are comforted. May not the Mohammedan cemetery teach a needed lesson to the Christian worshipper to-day? The joy that rests in God is alone permanent and enduring, for God Himself alone is changeless.

III. When we learn to rejoice in the Lord we have found the only satisfying form of exultation.—The permanence of that joy is one of the secrets of its power to satisfy. We never can feel thoroughly at rest in mind as long as we are conscious of risk and uncertainty. Anxiety is incompatible with perfect satisfaction. But the heart that is resting upon God is set free from anxiety: nothing can rob it of its treasure.

—Rev. G. A. Sowter.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Habakkuk 3:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/habakkuk-3.html. 1876.

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