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Scots in Argentina
Tranquility amidst Turmoil

Psalm 40, verse 2.—"He set my feet upon a rock and established my goings."


(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 Community.)

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 so often?

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 untried possibilities.

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 parting day".

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 done

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 Faith.

(1) "Peace I leave with you" i.e., you will, right down in your heart, have peace in following Me."

(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.

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