George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Baffling of the Spirit
They assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not--Act 16:7
The Circumstances of the Hindrance Were Not Clear but the Message Was.
Paul was on his second missionary journey when he was hindered thus by the Spirit of his Lord. He had made up his mind to go northward to Bithynia when somehow he was divinely checked. How the door was thus shut on him we are not told: it is one of the wise reticence of Scripture. Perhaps he was warned by some prophetic voice or visited by irresistible conviction. On the other hand, if one prefer it so, we may think of the pressure of circumstance or health, for Paul would never have hesitated to find in these the checking power of the Holy Ghost. Whatever form the prohibition took, you may be sure it was very dark to the apostle. Paul was not at all the kind of man who took a delight in being contradicted. When he had set his heart on going northward, not selfishly, but in the service of his Lord, it was a bitter experience to be so checked and to have the door shut in his face.
Paul Was Honored by Being Hindered
But the point to note is that though it was dark for Paul, it is bright as the sunshine of a summer morn for us. He was never more wisely or divinely guided than in the hour when he thought that he was baffled. What would have happened to him had the door been opened, and he suffered to go into Bithynia? He would have turned away home again through lonely glens with his back to the mighty empires of the West. He would never have landed on the shore of Europe, never have lifted up his voice in Athens, never have preached the riches of his Savior beside the Roman palace of the Caesars. Paul was a true Jew in this respect: he had no ear for the calling of the sea. He would a thousand times rather have lived in inland places than by the surge and thunder of the ocean. And it was only when every other path was barred that he was pushed unwillingly to Troas where for him and for Europe everything was changed by the vision of the man from Macedonia. He was checkmated, and yet he won the game. He was thwarted, and it led him to his crown. Eager to advance with his good news, there rose before him the divine "No Thoroughfare." And yet that hour when he was hindered so was the hour when God was honoring him wonderfully and leading him to such a mighty service as at his highest he had never dreamed.
We Are Sometimes Baffled That We May Not Be Beaten
Now I think there is something in that thought on which it would do us good to dwell a little, for all of us, like the apostle Paul, are sometimes baffled that we may not be beaten. It is very pleasant to have an open road and to accomplish what our hearts are set upon. We can all be grateful when our toil is crowned, and the dreams we have cherished for years are realized. But when our plans are thwarted and our wishes crushed and all we have assayed is proved impossible, it is not so easy then to hear the music or to cherish the spirit of the little child. I think there are few things sadder on this earth than what we call a disappointed man. He is so cheerless and apt to be so bitter;, there is such lack of luster in his life. And the pity is, it is not his disappointments that have made him a disappointed man, it is the way in which he has brooded on them and let them sink into his heart and soul. There are people whom no baffling can tame, people whom no thwarting can embitter. They believe in a love divine that disappoints and may be exquisitely kind in disappointing. And so when they are barred from their Bithynia and led to the cold shore where the waves break, they can be happy and expectant like a lover, as trusting that their service lies that way.
The Baffling of Our Childish Dreams
Now I shall try to illustrate that truth by thinking of some of the spheres in which God baffles us. And in the first place, let us dwell a moment upon the baffling of our childish dreams. Do you remember what you were going to be when you were a happy child in your old home? It was to be nothing commonplace, I warrant you, like the commonplace occupation of your father. There were seas in it and desperate adventure and distant lands and daring and excitement. There is not a ragged child in any street but has his childish vision of Bithynia. Ah well, the years have come and gone since then, and somehow or other that door has been shut. You are not a sailor, not a wild adventurer: you are a respectable and quiet-living citizen. And the point is that with the passing years you were never suffered to realize your dream, just that you might be led, almost unwillingly, to the very place where you could be of use. 'Twould be a poor world without the dreams of children. 'Twould be a poorer, if they were fulfilled. For everything splendid there would be a thousand candidates. For everything ordinary, not a single one. So we assay to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit suffers us not; and thus are we carried to those common tasks which build up character and help the world.
When God Blocks Your Maturer Hopes by Ill Health
Or think again of our maturer hopes, born when childish things are put away. It is easy to be glad when they are reached; it is less easy when the way is barred. Sometimes it is a matter of the health. It is the body that becomes the barrier. I have known an artist whose arm was paralyzed when he was on the verge of his career. I have known those who would have given anything to go and preach the Gospel to the heathen; but when they assayed to go into Bithynia, the Maker of their frame would not allow them. Sometimes it is a matter of plain duty. A man must yield his hopes for those he loves. All he has hoped for and striven for and longed for must go by the board at once for others' sakes. A father has died, or there have been reverses, and the preparatory years are now impossible, and a man has to turn himself to other work which is far away from the calling of his dreams. There is always something noble in the man who takes these hours quietly and well. His very life was in those cherished plans, and he is laying down his life when he discards them And yet remember that if God be God, ordering and opening and shutting, it is along the pathway of such baffling that you shall come to your place and to your power. You do not know yourself--God knows you thoroughly. He knoweth your frame and remembereth that you are dust. There are some characters that need the heightening of success. There are others that need the deepening of denial. So you assayed to go into Bithynia, and God--not fate, not chance--suffered you not; and for you as for Paul, life has been far richer since the bridle-road across the hills was blocked.
When We Are Baffled by the Inadequacy of Self-Expression
Again I like to apply our text to the baffling of our attempts at self-expression. How much there is that we desire to utter, yet in every effort to utter it, are thwarted. It may be some thought that swiftly flashed on us, thrilling us with a truth unfelt before. It may be some comfort we are fain to give to those who are sorrowful and weary-hearted. Or it may be some deep experience of God when He meets us in the secret of the soul and in His lovingkindness speaks to us in another voice than He uses to the world. How powerless we have all felt in times like these to give expression the thoughts within us. We cannot grasp them or clothe them in fit speech or body them forth that others may be helped. And what I want to impress on you is this: that in such baffling of our desire for utterance there may be more than the stammering of the tongue; there may be the wisdom and the love of heaven. If a man could tell abroad all that he felt, before long he would cease to feel. It would be very perilous if we had the power to voice all that is deepest in the soul. For God has His secrets with every human heart, and in the silence of that heart they must be cherished, nor will He ever suffer us to utter them lest they should be tarnished in the telling. Never be discouraged if you can find no words to tell all that is deepest in your being, When you are baffled in your attempt to reach it, it may be God who keeps you from Bithynia. For in the deepest life there must be silence--the silence as of the mountain and the glen--and the awaiting of that perfect fellowship which shall be ours in the gladness of eternity.
The Baffling of the Cravings of the Heart
Once again, may we not trace our text in the baffling of the cravings of the heart? There are people whose whole life is little else than a hunger and a thirst for love. They do not want to be rich--they do not envy the kind of life they see among the rich. They do not want to be famous--they have never felt "that last infirmity of noble mind." They are not troubled with intellectual questioning; for them the one thing real is the heart, and all they ask of God and life is this--someone on whom to lavish all their love. The strange thing is how often they are baffled in that divinest of divine desires. And the years go by, and they have many friends; but the one friend of their dreaming never comes. And that is always a very bitter thing no matter how it be fought against in secret, for while an unsatisfied intellect is sore, a heart unsatisfied is sorer still. They have assayed to go into Bithynia, but somehow the pathway has been barred for them. Others have reached the sunshine on the hill; for them there has been no highway thitherward. And yet how often, for all its hidden loneliness, that ordering is found to be of God who trains His nobler children very sternly that they may come at last to rest in Him. Paul never would have heard that cry from Europe had he been suffered to go where he desired. It was when he was thwarted in his longings that "Come over and help us" rang upon his ear. And there are many of God's servants still who never would have had their call to serve had the Spirit not darkly barred to them the way which led to the Bithynia of the heart.
The Baffling of Our Desires for Rest
In closing, may we not take our text of the baffling of our desires for rest? For as life advances rest becomes more sweet, and the comfort and the peace of life more dear. We ask for less and less as the years pass. That is always one sign of growing older. The land that we long for now is not a mountain-land; it is a land of quiet peacefulness and comfort. So we assay to go into Bithynia where we shall be comfortable and contented, and then comes God and bars the journey thither and says to us, "This is not your rest." He does it sometimes by the hand of sickness falling on the children whom we love. He does it sometimes by the hand of death, shattering the contentment of our days. He does it by conscience keeping us uneasy; by fear of tomorrow in our most sure estate; by the shame which visits us when we see other lives so strenuous and so gallant to the end. God uses all that to drive us from Bithynia and to send us onward to the shore at Troas. He blocks our way when we would settle here and urges us mightily to the beyond until at last a man lifts up his heart to things that are eternal and unshaken, and finds his rest where there is no more death and where Christ is at the right hand above.
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