The Perils of Unsettlement
None of these things move me — Act_20:24
These Words Paul Spoke on His Way to Jerusalem
Paul was journeying to Jerusalem when he spoke the words of our text. They were addressed to the elders of Ephesus whom he had summoned to meet him at Miletus. It was a journey attended by much hazard, and Paul was aware how hazardous it was. The spirit of prophecy, in every city, had testified to the hardships that awaited him. Yet though bonds and imprisonment were in his prospect, and perhaps a shadow darker than imprisonment, the apostle was able to say in all sincerity that none of these things moved him. With an unwavering and undaunted heart he held to the route that he had planned. Like his master, in a still darker hour, he set his face stedfastly towards Jerusalem. In other words, this great apostle had overcome the perils of unsettlement, and it is on the perils of unsettlement that I should like to speak for a little while this evening
The Prospect of Christ’s Return Provided the Spirit of Unsettlement
Now no one can read the New Testament without observing that this was one of the deadliest perils of the apostolic church. However fiercely other evils tried them, this one seems to have had peculiar power. The early Christians, like the Elizabethan mariners, had broken into an untravelled sea. They were beyond the experience of the ages. They lived in the daily hope that Christ was coming And all this wrought such a ferment in their hearts, and seemed to release them so from common obligations, that with all its victories and all its virtues the early church was a-quiver with unsettlement. Men threw their tools down and refused to work. They studied everything save their own business. Why should they take provident care against tomorrow when at sunrise tomorrow Christ might come again? So did there spread through apostolic days a spirit of unquiet and unrest, and men, through the very wonder of it all, were prone to be unbalanced for a little.
We Too Are Beset by an Age of Unsettlement
But though circumstances are very different now, this peculiar danger has not vanished. Today, not less than in the days of Pentecost, we are beset by the perils of unsettlement. I am not speaking of the characteristics of the age, though it is the fashion to call this an unsettled age. I take it that every age which has had life in it has been an unsettled and unsettling age. I speak rather of these large experiences which befall each of us upon our journey when I say that we are still exposed to the swift and subtle perils of unsettlement. Sometimes they reach us through a staggering sorrow which lays the palace in ruins at our feet. Sometimes through the thrilling of good news, or the excitement or variety of travel. Sometimes through the calling of the summertime, with its mystery of light and beauty, touching our hearts and strangely stirring them with cravings which we cannot well interpret. In such ways, and in other ways as evident, are we all in danger of unsettlement. We lose our grip on what we used to cling to. We begin to drag our anchors unexpectedly. We are restless and know not what we want, and we lack the unity that makes for power, and so do we learn out of our own experience the perils which the apostle mastered.
Unsettlement Caused by the Monotony of Life
Indeed, the very concentration of today leads to the intensifying of this danger. When life is narrowed into a dull routine, unsettlement is very easily wrought. In the old days, when life was larger, men were less ready to be thrown off their balance. Familiar with a wider range of circumstance, they were not so lightly moved away by novelty. But now when that large liberty is gone, and men have to concentrate unceasingly, they have lost the power of responding quietly to what is new or strange or unexpected. They are more easily cast out of their reckoning than men who traveled across a larger field. When life is monotonous, even a little incident has the power of disturbing greatly. And so the very monotony of labor, which is so characteristic of today, makes it an easier thing to be unsettled.
Unsettlement Is the Pain and Privilege of Youth
Let me say in passing that this is a peril from which no man can hope to be exempted. No quiet sheltering of home or task will ward off the inroad of unsettlement. It is true that as life advances it grows less. With the passing of years comes the passing of unrest. In the fulness of its disturbing strength, unsettlement is the pain and privilege of youth. Yet God has so ordered this strange life of ours that into every lot, however sheltered, sooner or later there break out of the infinite those things which are mighty to unsettle. There are perils which we can shun in prudence. We can shape our course so as to avoid them. But this is a peril which we cannot shun, though we had all the wisdom of Athene. Suddenly a great sorrow is upon us, or the thrilling of unexpected joy, or we waken to hear, with hearts that burn within us, the calling of another summertime. From such disturbance there is no escape. We cannot expel the angels when they visit us. We must open the door to them and bid them welcome, and say, “Come in, thou blessed of the Lord.” Only thus can we hope to use for good that recurring disturbance of the heart which falls upon us all, in diverse ways, amid the joys and sorrows of humanity.
Unsettlement Makes our Work Harder to Perform
Well now, let us consider one or two of the evils of unsettlement, and the first and most evident perhaps is this, that it makes our work harder to perform. For most men work is hard enough, even when they give to it an undivided mind. It takes every power and faculty which they possess to be honest toilers in the sight of heaven. But work becomes doubly hard for all of us, and to certain natures grows well-nigh impossible when these powers are inwardly distracted and will not answer the summons of the hour. It is not easy to do the common duty under the shadow of overwhelming sorrow. It is not easy to ply the daily task under the new glow of a great joy. It is not easy to take the burden up and to go quietly to our familiar place when the glad and open world is calling us. That is the commonest peril of unsettlement, and I take it there is no one here but knows it. Labor grows irksome; duty becomes irritating; drudgery is well-nigh intolerable. And yet this drudgery, for every one of us, from the dullard to the loftiest genius, is the one road that leads, o’er moor and fen, to the sunrise and the welcome and the crown.
Unsettlement Relaxes the Hold of Our Good Habits
Another peril of unsettlement is this, that it relaxes the hold of our good habits. We come to find, in our unsettled hours, that they do not hold us so firmly as we thought. Most of us are the creatures of habit in a far larger measure than we think. If it is to them that we owe many a weakness, it is to them also that we owe many a virtue. There are few men who can look back upon their lives, with gratitude to God that they have done a little, without recognizing what a debt they owe to one or two habits which were early formed. Such habits may be very simple, yet they have a wonderfully redeeming power. They redeem every day from being wasted and every energy from being ineffectual. If a bad habit is the worst of curses and leads by the road of bondage to the dark, a good habit, through the grace of God, is one of our surest and most priceless blessings. Now it is always one peril of unsettlement that it relaxes the hold of our good habits. It lifts us out of the embrace of good ones and throws us into the embrace of evil ones. For always, when we lose our self-control, sin, as the Scripture says, coucheth at the door waiting to call us to what we practiced once but have long through the grace of God forsworn. All men have a hunger for the good, but all men have a bias to the evil. It is that bias which the devil uses in the season of a man’s unsettlement. Torn from his center by unexpected incidence, caught into new and strange environment, a man is in peril because his grip is weakened on the steadying and simple habits of his past.
Unsettlement Is the Enemy of Prayer Regularity
And especially, will you let me say in passing; is this true of the sweet habits of the interior life. Unsettlement is the peculiar enemy of regularity in private prayer. I take it that most men pray in secret. I trust I am not mistaken in so thinking It may be only a few words— it may be very formal— yet is it better than no prayer at all. But who does not know how this interior grace, which we may have learned beside a mother’s knee, is apt to be shed off like an old garment when the hour of unsettlement arrives. I grant you that in a great catastrophe there is an instinct in the heart to pray. It is often then, when all the deeps are broken, that the pride which never prayed is broken too. But in all the lesser unsettlements of life when there is disturbance only, not catastrophe, there is the constant peril of forgetting the sweet and secret exercise of prayer. I have known men who prayed through years of drudgery, and who ceased it when great good fortune came. I have known men who prayed right through the winter, yet somehow in summer they forgot to pray. I have known men— yes, and women too— who would never have dreamed of omitting prayer at home, who yet omitted it, not once only, amid the excitement and the stir of foreign travel. That is a grave peril of unsettlement. There is not one of us but is exposed to it. It is appalling how lightly we are held by the secret habits of the interior life. A glimpse of liberty, a day of sunshine, a stroke of luck, a touch of one we love, and it may be— God only knows— that we shall throw ourselves upon a prayerless bed tonight.
Resolute Continuance Is a Mark of a Great Character
Now it is always one mark of a great character not to be easily or lightly moved. A certain quiet and fine stability is generally one of the hallmarks of the noble. When Saul was chosen to be king of Israel and when the people shouted “God save the king,” we could scarce have wondered if that swift elevation had unsettled him and turned his head a little. And it has always been held as a proof of Saul’s nobility that he passed with a quiet heart through that great hour, and with the cry of the people in his ears went back to guide his father’s plough again. Of course there are natures more prone than others to yield to the pressure of unsettlement. There are dogged natures and responsive natures, and there always shall be till the trumpet sounds. Still speaking broadly and generally, we may say that to be unsettled lightly is a bad sign, and that one mark of nobility of character is a quiet and resolute continuance. The question is then how we, not being great, can hope to attain to that continuance. How can we organize into victory the common perils of unsettlement?
Aloofness Is Not the Answer to Unsettlement
Let me say first, and in a negative way, that it is but a sorry victory to stand aloof. It is not thus, as I understand my Bible, that God would have his children live. There are men who never take a holiday, they are so filled with dread of its disturbances. Knowing how certainly it will unsettle them, they prefer to forego it altogether. And while in the aged or the infirm of body such a reluctance is easily understood, with others it is a road to peace that is perilously near to cowardice. We were never meant to live our lives so. We were never meant to bar the gates like that. To shut the summer out, and to shut love out, is not victory, it is defeat. In many of the choicest gifts of God there is a terrible power of unsettlement, and a Christian was never meant to reject the gift because of the unsettlement it brings. There was once a philosophy which wrought along these lines. It was called the Stoical philosophy. It sought to achieve serenity of life by steeling the soul against the passions. And do you know what happened as a fact of history? Well, I shall tell you what actually happened— one of two results was found in life. Sometimes men won the serenity they craved, but they won it at a tremendous cost. For love was banished and the charm of things and the touch of sympathy that makes us brothers. And sometimes in the very hour of victory, nature, trampled on, rose to her rights again and in her passionate and overmastering way swept down the defenses they had built. It is no use fighting against nature. It is worse than useless fighting against God. We are not here to stand aloof from things and to steel our hearts against disturbances. We are here to welcome whatever God may send, whether it be sunshine or be sorrow, and somehow out of all unsettlement to wrest the music of our triumph-song
Unsettlement Is Helped by Seeing Things in Their Proper Proportions
Well now, one great help to that is learning to see things in their true proportions. Without a certain feeling for perspective, we can never be quiet in the thick of life. You remember what Dr. Johnson said to a friend who was worrying about a trifle? “Think, sir,” he said in his wise way, “think how little that will seem twelvemonth hence.” And if we only practiced that fine art of thinking how little many a thing will seem twelvemonth hence, we should be freed from much unsettlement today. It is good to know a big thing when we see it. It is not less good to know a little thing. There are people to whom the tiniest burn is as swift and dangerous as the Spey. And always when you have people of that nature who have never taken the measurements of life, you have people who live on the margin of unsettlement. Next to the grace of God for through bearing, there is nothing more kindly than a little humor. To see things in a smiling kind of way is often to see them in the wisest way. For as there are things, and always shall be things, that strike to the very heart of human destiny, so are there things, and always shall be things, that are so trifling as to be ridiculous. It is amazing how many worthy people seem never to have learned that simple lesson. You would think they had never heard the words of Jesus about swallowing the camel and straining at the gnat. And so are they always in peril of unsettlement, not because their experience is exceptional, but because they have never learned in life to see things in their true proportions.
See the Hand of God in Everything
But the greatest help of all is this, it is to see the hand of God in everything When a man has come to see the hand of God in everything, he touches the secret of the weaned heart. I have noticed among domestic servants one very common reason of unsettlement. It is that they do not know who is the mistress and have to take orders from half a dozen people. And all of us are servants in God’s house and always in our service we shall be irritable unless there be one voice we must obey and one will which gives us all our orders. That was the meaning of the peace of Job. He saw God always, and he saw Him everywhere. “The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken away,” said Job, “blessed be the name of the Lord.” It was not God today and fate tomorrow. It was not heaven in the morning and blind chance at night. Through light and shadow it was God to Job, and that was one secret of his rest. So is it with us all. To have many masters is always to be restless. “I have set the Lord always before me,” said the Psalmist, “therefore I shall not be moved.” To see His hand in the least and in the greatest, in the burden no less than in the blessing, is the sure way, amid all life’s unsettlement, to have the heart at leisure from itself.