Fruitless wanderers and the famine of the Word.
G. Campbell Morgan on the restlessness of our age.
I very often find the words of G. Campbell Morgan to be among the most prescient, even for our own day. His astute observations on the necessary truth of the Word of God challenge and convict. I think, though, that he is at his most trenchant in the following excerpt, in which he expounds upon a few verses from the oracle of Amos to diagnose, at length, the symptoms of mankind’s “famine of the Word of God.” Amos’s words are: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: and they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:11–12). It is, indeed, a stinging indictment. And, according to Morgan, it is the enduring referendum of our own age. He writes:
I believe that the restlessness of our own age is due to the fact that our age is in the midst of the famine of the Word of God, a famine following upon its idolatry, national, social, and individual.
But is there such restlessness? Think with me for a moment. I maintain there is an ignorant restlessness. By that I mean a restlessness that does not understand itself in any measure, and I believe that that ignorant restlessness which is unconscious of the meaning of its own fruitless search is that of nothing less than a search for the Word of God. Men do not know it. They would not so name it; but every attempt to satisfy the life without God is in the last analysis an attempt to find the Word of God . . . all the restlessness of this ignorant age is the panting of the human heart after the Word of God. There are men and women running from north to south — from north to east, to be true to the figure of my text — from sea to sea, from land to land, in ceaseless, roving restlessness. What do they want? Ask them and they will tell you, some new sensation, some new thing, some new thrill. What do they really want? They want the Word of God, they want God Himself, communicating to them through the Word that they may find the sustenance of their spiritual life . . .
But then there is a semi-conscious restlessness in this age, and you will find it in all the attempts to substitute something that is seemingly religious for God, and the Word of God. We are hearing a great deal about the new thought in religion. The whole movement, including Theosophy and Christian Science, what is it? It is a fruitless search after something to put into the place of God. It is the cry of the soul after God. It is semiconscious; but do you want to know wherein lies the radical famine of all these new things? I will tell you in two sentences. God without government. Sin without guilt. God, oh yes, we believe in God, but not in the God of the throne, and the God of the white light, and the God of holiness, and the God of government, and the God Who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and the God Who can by no means look upon sin, and the God Who claims the whole strength and mind and passion of a man. Not that God, but some sickly, sentimental ideal which is the God of these new movements; and the supreme revelation of their idea of God comes in that second sentence of mine, sin without guilt. Sin, oh, yes, it is the under side of good! It is the necessary shadow cast by light! It is a process in the evolution of the race! It is an infirmity, and the man who is a sinner is more to be pitted than anything else. Sin, oh, yes, but no guilt. The man is not to blame. There is to be no terror in his heart as he thinks of God. There is to be no shame in his face as he thinks of sin. And all these things are the fall substitutes of a semi-ignorance, and they leave the heart hot and restless, wandering int he deserts, seeking for the Word of God. But I want to say to you tonight that a doctrine of God that leaves out government never gives the heart rest, and a doctrine of sin that does not admit guilt never heals the open sore of humanity’s wound. There is no rest. It is a fruitless search. (2.210–12)
Those are words which, I think, perfectly encapsulate our day. We are restless, fruitless wanderers. We traverse here, there, and yon, chasing after this, that, and the other, all in the quest for something fulfilling, something transcendent. We are spiritual nomads. And so long as we stiff-arm the Word of God given to us, we will never receive what it is that we most deeply desire. Instead, we’ll be fumbling about with rickety substitutes and farcical shams. We’ll be left with nothing but the God of our own sentiment and ideal, possessing no power to transform or redeem, only to moderately, temporarily console. But even the consolation which derives from these mawkish “God replacements” cannot last. It is as cheap as it is contrived.
There is only one Word, and one God of that Word, whose filling capacity extends infinitely above and beyond our comprehension. The unspeakable gift of God’s nourishing, all-sufficient Word is that upon which we were made to live and move and have our being (2 Cor. 9:15; Acts 17:28). And the astoundingly good news is that the fulfillment and longing after which we strive among innumerable surrogates is given to us in the body and blood of the crucified Lord. We, then, don’t have to search fruitlessly, endlessly for it — he extends transcendence to you and to me as he offers himself upon the cross. The message of grace isn’t, “Go and find”; it’s, “Take and have.” It is, “Come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isa. 55:1).
Grace and peace.
G. Campbell Morgan, The Westminster Pulpit: The Preaching of G. Campbell Morgan, Vols. 1–10 (Fincastle, VA: Scripture Truth Book Co., 1954).