Psalm 40, verse 2.—"He set my feet upon a rock and
established my goings."
TRANQUILITY AMIDST TURMOIL
(Preached in St. Andrews on 29th May, 1932. Lessons
read by His Grace the Duke of Atholl. Service attended by H.B.M.
Ambassador Sir Ronald Macleay and Lady Macleay; the American Ambassador,
the Hon. R. Woods Bliss and Mrs. Bliss, and officials of the British
Amongst those of us here to-day who may make a modest
claim to have reached years of discretion, there is probably not one soul
who has not, at one time or another, wondered if life after all was worth
living. As the years multiply upon our heads we become poignantly
conscious of the limitations of life. We remember how strongly we have
oft-times striven, how greatly we have oft times hoped, and over against
this we realise how little we have accomplished. If we are healthy minded,
we put these moods away from us quickly by an effort of the will, yet
nevertheless we admit we have all had them.
How do you explain it? It
would be absurd to say that life is not full of beauty and of joy and of
nobility. The person who denies these facts of experience is merely
frivolous. There is far more happiness than sorrow in life, far more
achievement than failure; if there were not, then suicide would be the
rational thing for rational beings. What then makes us doubt life’s value
Probably the deep
all-covering answer that we give to ourselves, when we sit alone with our
thoughts, would be this — that
every man of us is conscious, in the secret of his heart, of great
possibilities within himself, and at the same time feels that life has
never afforded him a chance to prove and to try out these possibilities.
Life has never given him an opportunity to show of what stuff he is made.
A man finds himself in a job which has not much glamour in it, yet which
absorbs nearly all his attention and controls nearly all his activities,
and makes little claim on his
In brief, it is the life that we
cannot live, because of the life that we must live, that is so often the
ground of our discontent and quarrel with life. It is the unused surplus
of life — the talents which must
remain latent — that fret and chafe us.
Now it is not only weak
people who feel like this; strong people feel it also: not only people who
have (speaking comparatively) failed in their life’s endeavour, but also
those who have been, and are, quite successful, who are overcome at times
by this mood. We all know the man who is forever bewailing his
circumstances, and assuring us that had "things" been different, he, too,
would have been different. We also know the man who is reaping what he
sowed yesterday, and who is blaming the harvest for his failure to sow
better seed to-day. But remember, strong and successful people feel like
that too. The mood is universal — "what I would like to do" —"what I could
do if I got the chance". The old story of General Wolfe exemplifies this.
Sailing down the St. Lawrence to fight his greatest battle — the battle of
Quebec, which gave half a continent to his country, he heard some one
reciting Gray’s "Elegy in Country Churchyard" — full as it is of an
undercurrent of this wistful longing— "The curfew tolls the knell of
And the General said :—"I would
rather be the man who wrote those lines, than take Quebec."
You perhaps would rather play golf
like Bobby Jones than carry to success that good scheme you have in hand.
I would rather have Paradewski’s powers on the piano, or have composed
some of Chopin’s Nocturnes than be able to preach the most convincing
sermons of the century. Well, when we feel like this, we are all in
reasonably good and universal company. Gladstone wondered, late in life,
whether he had chosen the right career when he entered politics. Douglas
Haig once doubted his choice of soldiering.
Let us be assured of this
— it is not failure only that makes us
feel like that. For more often it is success — a consciousness that part
of our personality has to be supressed and never has had a chance. When a
man is lifted to the very
pinnacle of fame and great destinies are depending on him, it is he
more than any other who has to apply the pruning fork to himself, and cut
out of his life much that he longs for. He has got the "one thing" he must
do, and that means discarding 9 things he would like to do.
For life is not stationary. We all
may long for a good job, and if we got it we think we would sit tight on
it, and be happy ever after. We long for assurances
— for security — for stability of material
recompense. "Set my feet upon a rock" we pray in the Psalmist’s words —
"put me finally at rest about everything". Yet what was it that same
Psalmist said of the God in whom he trusted? "He set my feet upon a rock"
— He gave me security. And then he added immediately: "And established my
goings". "My goings". So I’m not to sit down and rejoice in feeling
secure! I’m to get going, and keep on going! And my real life will emerge
and my destiny be clarified just as and while "I press
toward the mark". Oh! If we could only convince ourselves thoroughly of
this, what comfort and new light it would shed on our sometimes
overwhelming journey when the going is heavy —
when the night is dark and we feel far from home.
We are to get going and to keep on going, knowing well
that there will be times when all the waves and billows of life seem to be
in league to overwhelm us. Yet even then, nay, just then, we are given a
view of the lighthouse and hear a long distance call —
"My peace I give unto you".
For the Christian life is a paradox. It is peace AND
it is conflict. It is rest AND it is work. It is security
AND it is insecurity.
First. The Christian life is peace. The Christian is a
soul at peace — one, right down in the depths of
whose being certain things are irrevocably and everlastingly settled for
ever and ever, one for whom, in this sense, "The fight is o’er, the battle
The victory o. life is won."
One of our powerful Scots religious writers has just
pointed out finely that when Christianity ceases to give men this final
and inward peace which the world cannot give and which the world
cannot rob, it will have become thin and nerveless; that all the great
hymns, the great confessions, the apologjas of men who, trusting in God,
and having plumbed the depths of human agony and despair and sorrow, have
yet waxed valiant in the fight, stopped the mouths of lions, subdued
kingdoms, wrought righteousness, and out of weakness have been made
strong—these all testify beyond the shadow of a peradventure that there is
a Rock of Ages whereon the waves and billows cannot swamp them, even while
the nearer waters roll— while the tempest still is high.
Through the storm they know and knew that the promise
is true — "My peace I give unto you".
Yet, on another and previous day, the Master of Souls
who spoke these words, also said this — "I came
not to send peace, but a sword". This is the paradox of the Christian
(1) "Peace I leave with you" —
i.e., you will, right down in your heart, have peace in following
(2) "I came not to send peace but a sword"
— i.e., while in your heart there will be peace
— there will oft-times be a sword to handle in
the good fight of Faith.
The Son of God goes forth to war —and
they who follow in His train follow a banner that is red because there is
blood on it.
So the paradox of our Faith is —
that we are offered Peace and War,
Rest and Unrest, Turmoil and Tranquility.
It is oh so human, so honest, even sometimes so proudly
honourable to confess that your back is bending beneath the strain of life
and duty as it lies on your shoulders today. From such exhaustion, natural
and temporary, we, if we be sound at heart, will recover
— as we have recovered before.
But there are other occasions (and to-day in Buenos
Aires is one) when we may be tempted to grow petulant and sarcastic about
the times in which God has decreed that we shall live and prove our metal.
When that temptation assails you, as assuredly it will, then take one
deep, swift, piercing look into your own soul, and discover whether this
longing for ease, for quieter days, for a spot whereon to lay yourself out
in the sun and do nothing, may not, if you have health and strength, be
merely a pandering to love of ease and to the less noble part of yourself.
Say this to yourself "If God respects me and holds me in honour, He is not
going to do so by giving me a soft job and an easy time." The rest which
Christ promised to men was His own rest — "my
peace" —and that led Him, we know, past
Gethsemane and on to Calvary where He refused to come down from His Cross.
Tumultuous days we live in. And it is a great thing to
be alive to-day for that very reason, provided we stand fast in the faith,
and in the deep inward knowledge of those things which make us sure of
God, through Jesus Christ.