George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Best Wine Last
Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now--Joh. 2:10
With God, the Best Is at the End
Into the story of this memorable marriage I do not propose to go. Rather, I wish to base what I may have to say on this remark of the ruler of the feast. Why, do you think, did this saying so impress John that it lingered ineffaceable in his memory? Was it merely because of the pleasure it evoked to hear his Master's handiwork so praised? I think there was a deeper reason. John was by nature an idealist, loving to find the abstract in the concrete. In the particular instance of the moment, he was quick to see the universal law. And it flashed on John, hearing this chairman speak, that he was speaking more wisely than he knew and uttering a truth that had far wider range than the miracle at that wedding of Cana. Was it not true of many an earthly pageant that the best wine was given at the beginning? Was it not true wherever Christ was active that the best wine was kept until the end? In other words, take man apart from God and always it is the worse which follows; but take God in any of His thousand energies, and always the best is kept until the end.
Without God the Last Is the Worse
It is on these two truths I wish to speak. And first on the sadder and more somber of them. Think, then, for a moment of life itself, unsustained by the hope we have in God. Now I am not a pessimist as you all know; nor am I given to painting dark or depressing pictures; yet the fact is too plain to be gainsaid--afterward that which is worse. First comes childhood with its joy and wonder and with its world compact of mystery and charm. Then follows youth with its ideal and vision; then opening manhood with its glowing hopes. And the world is still a very noble place, and the gates of the prison house have not yet closed, and the body, whether for toil or joy, is still a subtle and a powerful instrument. Then come the heat and battle of middle age, and the weakness and the weariness of age, and the years when men say, "I have no pleasure in them," and when all the daughters of music are brought low; and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail, and they who were strong men once shall bow themselves. Is this the gallant youth of long ago, this bent and tottering and palsied form? Are these the eyes that once were bright with love? Is that the brain that was so clear and keen?
Last scene of all
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Afterward That Which Is Worse
Or think again of life's relationships on which the blessing of God is never sought. When character is unchastened and unpurified, how often do the years bring disappointment! Think of the tie of fatherhood and sonship. To the little child the father is a hero. No pictured saint wears such a golden halo as does the father in his children's eyes. His character is flawless and complete above all question and all criticism; it is the image in the childish mirror of the dim and shadowy character of God. Happy the child who, when its eyes are opened, still finds a character that it can reverence! But if the father is living without God, who is swifter to see it than the growing boy? And all that revelation of unworthiness, with occasional glimpses of what is darker still, makes the cup bitter which was once so sweet. And then the words were spoken at a marriage. Are they never true of that most sacred tie? Are there no wives or husbands who are whispering, "Afterwards that which is worse"? They remember a day when life was full of courtesy and of little attentions that were better than gold and of a charity that suffered long and of a kindness that was the breath of heaven. Where has it fled to, that kindness of the morning? Who set by the hearth these irritable, tempers? Is that cold voice the voice that was so tender in the gentle and sweet days of long ago? Unguarded by the consciousness of God, unchastened by the discipline of watchfulness, unwatered by the kindly dew of prayer, unhelped by the strength made perfect in our weakness; how many homes there are that know too well--afterward that which is worse.
Sin Gives the Best in the Beginning
Once more you will think how true this is of sin. It is indeed the masterpiece of evil. It is the token and the triumph of all sin that it always gives the best wine at the start. That is why men of open and generous natures are often those most bitterly assailed. They do not calculate nor look ahead nor reckon seriously with the morrow. And sin is so fair and pleasant at the outset and hides its afterward with such consummate mastery that the reckless heart becomes an easy prey. Do you not think, now, if all the miseries of drunkenness were to meet a man upon the verge of drinking--do you not think he would cry out for help and turn from his accursed vice and flee? But drunkenness does not begin like that. It begins in the social hour and happy comradeship, and only afterwards there are the blighted prospects and the shattered body and the ruined home. Let any young man see what I as a minister have seen of the worse-than-death that follows social sin, and he will fall on his knees in prayer to God for strength to keep himself unspotted from the world. But sin is cunning and conceals all that; it sets on the table a delicious vintage; and only afterwards--but always afterwards--that which is worse.
Sin Conceals the Worse
And I cannot leave this darker side of things without asking, must all that stop at death? I wish most passionately I could believe it did; but I see no reasonable ground for that assurance. You tell me that you don't believe in hell. If you take hell to be a red devil with a fork, I don't believe in it either. But I believe in law; I believe in immortality; I believe in the momentum of a life. And if the momentum of a life be downward, and be unchecked by the strong arm of God, how can we hope that it will be arrested by the frail and yielding harrier of the grave? I hesitate to dwell upon that thought. All I wish to say to you is this. If sin conceals the worse behind tomorrow, may it not conceal the worse behind the grave? Sum up the issues of sin that you have known; the bitterness, the tears, the vain regret; think of its darkened homes, its blighted lives, its wreckage everywhere of broken hearts; then go, and as you gaze into a lost eternity, say, "Afterwards, that which is worse."
The Progress of God's Creation
But now I turn, and I do so very gladly, to the energies and activities of God. Wherever God in Christ is working, the best wine is kept until the end.
Think first for a moment of creation. There was a time, not so long ago, when religion trembled at the assault of science. It seemed as if science, flushed with her many victories and pressing forward to universal conquest, might drive from the field, in ignominious rout, many of the truths of revelation. One hears a great deal less of that today. The combatants have been laying down their arms. They have been learning that the field of battle was divinely meant to be a field of brotherhood. And nowhere have they better learned that lesson than in regard to the method of creation, for Scripture and science are agreed in this, that the best wine was kept until the end. First there was chaos and the formless deep; then light, and the ingathering of the waters. Then the first dawn of life in lowliest form, followed by bird and beast. And always the path was upward, from dull and shapeless horror, to what was better, richer, and more beautiful. And then at last, not at the first, came man, capable of communion with his Maker; greater, by that spark of God within him, than sun and moon and all the host of heaven. And it is in man, so noble though so fallen, so touched with heaven although so soiled with hell, that we discover it is the way of God to keep the best wine until the end.
God's Revelation Is Progressive
The same is true in the sphere of revelation, the revelation of the divine to man. Not all at once, in sudden burst of glory, did God reveal Himself to human hearts. We speak of revelation as progressive. That is a truth which we insist on now. Only as men are able to receive it will God reveal the riches of His grace. And so from age to age men were led on from the first flush and crimson of the dawn to the perfect radiance of Him who said, "I am the light of the world." Have you ever wondered why God delayed His coming, why the wheels of His chariot tarried for so long? Compared with all the ages of mankind, it is but a little while since Christ was here. But this is the meaning of that long delay, that the God of creation and of grace is one, and that in both activities alike, He keeps the best wine until the last. You remember how the writer to the Hebrews puts it, "God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son" (Heb. 1:1-2). Precious are the promises of the Old Testament. Precious are the teachings of the prophets. Precious is every gleam that was vouchsafed to the waiting heart of patriarch and psalmist. But it is when we turn to Christ, the Son of God, the way, the truth, the life, the resurrection, that we cry with the ruler of the feast at Cana, "Thou hast kept the best wine until now."
Calvary Was the Best at the Last
I think, too, we may apply this thought to the life of the incarnate Lord Himself. It was all blessed, yet it was most blessed, not in its beginning but its end. I turn to the manger-cradle by the inn when I wish to fathom His humiliation. I turn to His words and to His perfect life when I wish to know the Fatherhood of God. But when I realize I am a sinner and that my deepest need is pardon and release, then it is "Rock of ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee." Not on the teaching of Christ is the church built, although that teaching shall never pass away. Not on the example of Christ is the church built, though that example be its spur and goal. The church of God is built upon redemption, on pardon and peace that have been won through death; and that is why Christendom has looked to Calvary and said, "Thou hast kept the best wine until now." If the Sermon on the Mount were the whole Gospel, I confess that I could hardly understand it. It is so unlike all that we know of God to give all that is best at the beginning. But if the Sermon on the Mount be but a step in the ladder that leads upward to the cross, then, in the life and death of Jesus, I am in touch with the ways of the divine. It is that fact--the fact of a redemption--that fills and floods the apostolic page. It is that fact that has made the cross the universal symbol of the Gospel. "And he took the cup .... and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Mat. 26:27-28). Ah yes, Thou hast kept the best wine until now.
The Path of the Just Shines More and More
Lastly, and in a word or two, is not this true also of our Christian calling? The path of the just is as the shining light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. Not all at once does Christ reveal Himself when we go forward determined to be His. And the old life still struggles for the mastery, and we are in heaviness through manifold temptations. But the difference between Christ and the devil is just this, that the devil's tomorrow is worse than his today; but the morrow of Christ, for every man who trusts Him, is always brighter and better than His yesterday. Every act of obedience that we do gives us a new vision of His love. Sorrow and trial reveal His might of sympathy as the darkness of the night reveals the stars. And when at last the wrestling is over, and like tired children we lie down to sleep, and when we waken and behold His face in the land where there is no more weariness, I think we shall look back upon it all and find new meaning in every hour of it; but I think also we shall cry adoringly, "Thou hast kept the best wine until now."
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