The Sweetness and Bitterness of the Divine Word


WHEN we cannot see our path clearly across the world…

…when the heart is near breaking, when we faint under the consciousness of our miseries and our wounds, when we feel that it is very grievous to have left behind us the living treasures of the past, nothing will content us short of making the Divine Word part of our being, not to waste with disease or to perish with the earthly existence. We do not then criticise it, question it, stand outside of it. We so lay hold of it and incorporate it, that it is henceforth inseparable from our central personality. We can say when we eat the Divine Word that its verity is no more doubtful: It has been sealed by experience. We have lived through every throb of its strange and tragic story.

Sweeter than honey is the Word of God in the mouth.

What is comparable to the taste of a Divine communication? To know that God is, that is much. One converted soul tells how he “danced with delight” when he realised that there was a God. To know past all doubting that God has spoken, that is far more. To see the darkness which we had thought impenetrable impaled and stabbed through by a living light, is there any ecstasy comparable with that? To those who have exhausted themselves in question and conjecture, how sweetly comes the Voice that speaks with authority and from behind the veil! We can endure the world’s despair if it is possible to break through the mists that hide the Divine kingdom; if it is possible to see deeper into the future than the passing hour; if the “effort of the soul, ever springing up into the eternal light, is not foiled; if the speculations of reason are distanced and rebuked by an authentic voice of God. The very thought warms the heart like sunshine. It is sweeter than honey and the honeycomb.

But the word which is sweet in the mouth is bitter in the belly.

The Word of God comes forth judging and making war. As has been pointed out by one of the most suggestive commentators on the Apocalypse, the little book which the seer finds sweet and bitter is the scroll of judgment. It is full of what is tragic and violent, of what spoils and gives pain. Take it as you will, the story is hard and sickening. It tells us of dark clouds over the destinies of God’s creatures; it tells us of agony endured vainly, of anguish which scorches the finer sensibilities and burns up the last remnants of tenderness and humanity. We do not hear, as we hoped, that the forces which make for evil are at once reduced to impotence. On the contrary, we are told of their power and triumph. Much that is dear and sacred is to vanish in flame.

The candlesticks that Christ has lighted in the world are often to flicker unsteadily and sometimes to go out. Nay, the redemption of the world is not to be achieved as we imagine. The Hands that hold the sceptre must first be outspread, in anguish and deaths and over the head of the Crucified King there must break the storm of the Passion. The Son of Man comes not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. The King, the rightful Ruler of mankind, is seen upon His cross, disfigured with wounds and robed in shame; and the homage which He claims from all of us is, after two thousand years, largely denied Him.

But in the end the Word of God is sweet.

True, we see not yet all things put under Christ. His reign is not yet felt in all the order of life. There is no end within sight to the rude experiences of rejection and denial, of bitterness and violence.

He who once refused to be made a King by force, still rejects the impatient expedients by which we seek to hasten His triumph.

But we see Jesus. To endure the visible we must learn to look at the invisible. If we know that Christ is reigning through the disorder and tumult and darkness, it is enough for us. We can then bear life’s burdens cheerful; knowing that the bitterness of the Divine Word will turn to the sweetness of its first taste, that the way is appointed, that the end is sure, and that the issue will be more glorious than our desire.

Written by Dr. Robertson Nicoll,
Published in 1904