In 1971 Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminisced on Welsh radio: ‘I shall never forget myself travelling in a train back from Plymouth to London once. We arrived at Newton Abbot and a woman with two small girls came into the compartment where I was sitting. It was obvious that the children were returning to a boarding school after the holidays. After placing the children in their seats the mother got out and stood on the platform until the train started. As the carriage began to move slowly away the smaller of the two little girls kept on looking after her mother longingly with tears filling her eyes. And then the elder sister told her sharply – and she was as near to tears herself – “Don’t look at her you fool!” I am not ashamed to say that I lifted the book which I was reading to hide my face and I cried with the little girls. I was back in my lodgings at Tregaron once again, and it took me a great deal of time to recompose myself. I believe that I shall never totally recover from this until I reach the country where we shall meet never to part anymore.’ Such soft sympathy – from a man who refused to be interrupted when a German doodle bug landed near Westminster chapel on 18 June 1944, and so continued in public prayer!
The little incident that Martyn Lloyd-Jones recalled is just another indication that this is a world that is fallen and disappointing. We seek happiness, but can never grasp it for long. We cannot bottle it and then sip from it when we feel the need. We always live knowing that eventually all that we have in this world will be taken from us. We came into this world with nothing and we will leave it with nothing (1 Tim.6:7). It is an Ecclesiastes kind of world – it has ‘vanity’ or ‘meaninglessness’ written all over it. The ultimate satisfaction is always elusive; here we only ever catch glimmers of it.
Most of the population thinks in evolutionary terms – millions of years ago we emerged out of some primeval sludge, and it has been onwards and upwards ever since. Such an outlook makes for misery. It ignores the reality of the Fall, as recorded in Genesis 3. The entry of sin into the world means that we now do not experience unsullied delight in God and His world. Before the Fall, all was very good; now it is a mixture of good and evil. As William Blake put it:
Man was made for Joy and Woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro’ the World we safely go,
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Actually, we were not made for joy and woe, but that is what we now experience.
In sin, we knew shame for the first time. Adam and Eve became aware that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. We all experience an alienation within us. The world is not right because we are not right. Adam was also alienated from Eve. He blamed her for his sad predicament: ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate’ (Gen.3:13). Where before there was only love and joy, now there was mutual recrimination and selfishness. And the world was now a difficult place. Adam would labour in work – there would be thorns and thistles and sweat in all he did (Gen.3:17-19). Eve would labour in child-bearing – she would have to submit to a sinful husband and bear children in pain (Gen.3:16). All of this comes from being alienated from God – Adam and Eve hid from His presence (Gen.3:8). It is God who has to cry out to Adam: ‘Where are you?’ (Gen.3:9) Man – alienated from himself, from his fellow human beings, from the world, and from God – is lost, and is so unaware of his true condition that his natural inclination is to prefer being lost, away from God.
Such is this world. At best we are strangers in a strange land. In every flash of light, there is a shaft of darkness; and in every shaft of darkness, there is a flash of light. Plato compared human beings to jars that leak and are never filled. It is the gospel that transforms everything. Sin, misery, alienation, and death are all overcome in Christ. Here we see through the glass darkly, but in heaven believers will see with undimmed eyes. Augustine concluded his magisterial work, The City of God, by referring to the beatific vision: ‘He will be the goal of all our longings; and we shall see him for ever; we shall love him without satiety; we shall praise him without wearying. This will be the duty, the delight, the activity of all, shared by all who share the life of eternity … For what is our end but to reach that kingdom which has no end?’
With warmest regards in Christ,