Chapter 21 of Soul-Help Papers
then the life atrophies
and perhaps even fossilizes.”2
Noah, David, and Solomon are fair samples of a dangerous period of the latter half our earthly years—postmeridian3 life. Each of these men seemed to have a fair record from the early part of his life. There was not an early period of “sowing wild oats,” and then a break as a consequence. Yet breaks came. As to both David and Solomon, we have early records of Divinely-attested character. In early life they were men “after God’s own heart.”4 It was in later life when the falls came which marred character. The only break that came in Moses’ life was not in youth, nor in his forty years of schooling in Egypt, or his term in God’s Wilderness University, but in the heat of the battle in the last section of his remarkable years.
We have usually looked upon youth as the great danger period in a human life. It doubtless is in the shaping of character, but it cannot be in the testing of character. Innocence can hardly be said to be character, for in youthful innocence there has not yet been much chance to test out how much strength of character it has. Weight on the beam proves how much it will bear and establishes its value. Youth has many bids for going this way or that, but some of the greater tests belong to the postmeridian years of life. Moses withstood much in Egypt, but surrendered to impatience later,5 after many wonderful experiences. Noah remained a preacher of righteousness6 for one hundred and twenty years, and then failed with the juice of his own vineyard.7 David withstood envy, deprivation of place, expatriation, desertion by his wife, and the testings that belong to the throne; yet he failed through the attractions of a woman.8 Solomon, whose early career was marked with special wisdom and moral enthusiasm and heroism, like his father, lost the higher ideal through his love for the fair sex.9
We need not rehearse the incidents of our own day in nearly all avocations, professions, countries, and civilizations. The burden of proof does not invalidate the fact of salvation, but does show that there are dangerous elements in the life of youth and middle manhood which still remain, awaiting the test of life’s postmeridian days. A little time spent considering these matters may prove very profitable.
All life this side of the grave is a life of probation. Salvation from committed sin, or from being under the power of sin, or from inherited or indwelling sin, and even the resultant filling with the Holy Spirit—all these do not of themselves reach finality in the evolution of the human spirit. God is not done with us when these things are experienced. These end what may be called our spiritual “primary school days.” As in ordinary life, when we go out from high school or college to practical life, so also we enter upon practical spiritual life only after we are fully saved. We are thereafter to prove what we are able for on the field of battle. We may be fully saved, but we are yet to settle the matter of reward. Whether or not our works are to be destroyed,10 and we saved as if rescued from the fires of destruction, remains an open question. Like Moses, many are forbidden an entrance into open Canaans by some break in life. Because of these breaks, we may never be, either here or in heaven, what we might have been in the way of degree or possession of crowns.
Human nature God Himself made, and human it will always be either in heaven or in hell. God decreed this of the human spirit at its creation. A human nature is always, if normal, a nature which in this life is in harmony with itself and its conditions. It is an embryo candidate for a wonderful “royal diadem.” Salvation in no way destroys its normal conditions or possibilities. It is not so cleansed from sin in sanctification that it is not susceptible to temptation. It is not so fortified by the indwelling Holy Spirit that it has no choice of its own. It is not so enlightened that it knows all things. It must find out for itself, and at diverging pathways always stand responsible for its choice and results.
Whether it be David looking from his palace window, or Moses smiting the rock, each affirms what we are saying. All through life, each faculty, each appetite, and each native passion of the person remain as facts and potencies, even after being fully saved. Any one of these may be made a point of attack by sin and Satan. Having these is no sin, since God made them and they therefore constitute a certain part of every human being. Responsibility attaches to their employment, however, and the directions in which they are gratified. In Eve, Satan attacked through the native, God-created appetite for food. In Noah, he effected entrance at the door of thirst. In David, he came by the way of natural passion. In such ways he will always reach out to tempt men.
But as the years of a man’s life pass, Satan becomes restricted more and more in his possible targets. Then he masses his forces at only a few strongholds. The hardest battles come last. The iron un-dug from the native hills of our inner nature is worthless on the battlefield till it has passed through the fire. Until all of our human nature has passed through the tests that try it, the possibility of failure will remain. Human nature is only human nature. “Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation”11 applies equally to all stages of life; postmeridian life is not exempt.
The continual indulgence of any appetite or passion always gives it increased power, and this law applies whether the indulgence be good or bad. Therefore the postmeridian life has something to contend with that youth knows not, and that all previous life knows not. When once these long-empowered indulgences are brought into favorable conditions and the passion becomes dominant in its sphere, every soul reaches the borderland and the precipice of the danger point. Those who have never as yet met the rock to be smitten, or the palace window of special temptation, often judge harshly those who have gone farther, met their Delilah and are now grinding in the prison, blind and neglected.12 Such forget that their boasted immunity may after all be only a lack of opportunity.
David with his harp in the palace of Saul charming away Saul’s evil and moody spirit,13 or slinging the death stone into the forehead of Goliath,14 is no stronger than the David at the palace window. A man is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain of his character. The special dangers of postmeridian life are like the window in David’s life; from the point of view of such windows of the spirit, youth has not yet looked out to see the world. Because we cannot cross these bridges till we come to them, we need to watch and pray.
Another special danger of the postmeridian life is reaching or nearing the neuter period following life’s climacteric.15 Twice we come to the neuter life, once in infancy and once in later years. As that latter period approaches, meridian life knows not how to deal with this disturbance of relations when passion life dies, or fails at its sources. This line differs as to age in the different sexes. The unexpected and unexplainable comes. In the one interest dies, while perhaps the other spouse wishes to pursue the pathway of all former years. This is the great period of separations and divorces and carnival of crime in the saved world. It reaches the saint with peculiar tests and temptations. History is strewn with wrecks, which in meridian life were never dreamed of. We have but to look about us for verifications. In certain directions, perhaps, there is no greater factor for the failures in life’s later years than this very feature.
Another consideration is that all temptation is subjective before it is objective. That is, lines of illicit mental thinking may take years to reach culmination in activities, finally coming to fruition in postmeridian life. An indulged imagination sooner or later must have outlet in action of some inappropriate kind. Many sins are the result of long thinking in that direction for years before the outbreak came.
We have already pointed out that a passion grows stronger with its exercise; in the same way it is possible that temptation to let the mind run that way may grow stronger, and unless greater effort is put forth to check the growing tendency, sin will be the ultimate result. This is a fertile field of study. Eternal vigilance is the only safeguard, and this at the very foot of the mercy seat.
Another trouble lies in the failure of strength, hope, and visionary enterprises of youth or middle life. It is hard to retain youth’s ideals in the midst of the experience years have furnished. In fact, if they be retained, there is often neither life force to carry on their enterprises, nor physical ability to push their conquest. As a result there is difficulty to maintain life’s earlier zeal and aggressiveness. If the soul relaxes, and advance ceases, then the life atrophies and perhaps even fossilizes.
- A very deep danger lies in the possibility of not maintaining a sensitive conscience. A callousness to the evil of sin is a hazardous experience. Without a tender conscience, it is possible to become more afraid of the punishment of sin than sin itself. This subtlety fosters the deceptive thought, in the depths of the soul, that unexposed sin is not dangerous. So men come to fear discovery more than they fear to do the sin itself. This is dangerous theology and illogical ethics.
“What I say unto you, I say unto all: Watch!”16
- The text itself is public domain. The original book, Soul-Help Papers, was transcribed by Jim Kerwin, biographer of Isaiah Reid, and co-edited and emended with Denise Kerwin. Annotations and emendations are copyright © 2008 by Jim Kerwin along with his other contributions to the online, print, and e-book versions of Isaiah Reid's Soul-Help Papers. ↩
- Title image created using an image by Eberhard Grossgasteiger on https://unsplash.com/@eberhardgross. ↩
- post-meridian: It helps to know that meridian is an older synonym for noon or midday. What Bro. Reid would characterize as meridian life, we would call mid-life (as in “mid-life crisis”). It follows, then, that post-meridian life means “post-middle age” and even the so-called “golden years.” ↩
- 1 Samuel 13:14 speaks prophetically of David, for instance. ↩
- Numbers 20:8-12 ↩
- 2 Peter 2:5 ↩
- Genesis 9:20-23 ↩
- 2 Samuel 11 ↩
- 1 Kings 11:1-13 ↩
- 1 Corinthians 3:14-15 ↩
- Matthew 26:41 ↩
- The allusion is to Samson’s fate, as recorded in Judges 16:15-21. ↩
- 1 Samuel 16:14-23 ↩
- 1 Samuel 17 ↩
- climacteric: physiologically, the time of life which sees a decrease of reproductive capacity in men and women, culminating in menopause for women, and in reduced libido in men. That this is Reid's primary use of the term can be seen in the phrase “the neuter life” in the next sentence. However, there may also be an undertone of an older definition of the word, to wit, a “senior year” in which one's health and fortunes begin to change. ↩
- Mark 13:37 ↩