I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied, “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.”
May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.
It was 1939, at the outbreak of World War Two, when King George V1 broadcast perhaps the most famous speech he ever made. To listen to it now, on the BBC archives, is to hear the quiet dignity of a man who had a stammer that he fought all his life to control, a battle recently featuring in the award-winning film, THE KING’S SPEECH. It is also to hear the quiet faith of the head of a nation, an empire and a commonwealth, passing on to his subjects hope for the dark times that he feared lay ahead.
In that famous speech, the king quoted lines from a poem written by a Minnie Haskins, which had been published in 1908 in a collection of her verse entitled GOD KNOWS. Some have thought she was an American, but she was actually brought up near Bristol. It is said that the image of the man standing at the gate of the year came to her as she stood at an upstairs balcony window one night, looking down the lit driveway to the gate of her house in Warmley, and seeing the darkness beyond it. She herself said she did not know the king was going to quote it in his Christmas broadcast in 1939, nor did she hear the speech, but heard a summary of it and thought she recognized the words. The poem had been given to the king by his wife, Queen Elizabeth, known to most of us since as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. It stayed with the Queen Mother all her life, and was recited at her funeral in Westminster Abbey over sixty years later.
The lines of the poem quoted by the king sum up a great hunger in the heart of most men and women to know what the future holds. Countless thousands of people show that need to know by going to fortune-tellers, clairvoyants, and others who claim to be able to tell us the future. And wouldn’t we all like to know what the future holds! There are so many uncertainties around us. Will I keep my job, will I ever find a job, will I be able to pay my mortgage, will I lose my house, will I survive this illness?
Benjamin Franklin is reputed to have said, ‘in the world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes’. The Bible says nothing about taxes (apart from the fact that we all need to pay them!) but it does tell us ‘it is appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgement’. So God adds the judgement day to the certainties that lie ahead of us. He is a holy and a righteous God, who will not and cannot overlook our sin. He reminds us that all, with the sole exception of his son the Lord Jesus, have sinned, falling short of his standard of purity, and that the wages of sin is death.
Can we avoid death and judgement? Are they inevitable, after all? Yes, we can avoid the judgement day. God, in love and mercy to sinners, sent his son, known as Jesus of Nazareth, to die on a cross. Men put him to a vicious death because they hated him without a cause, refusing to believe what he taught. Yet God Himself was deeply involved in the death of his son, viewing him as the willing substitute for sinners, bearing our sin and shame, and so judging his son on that cross for sin he had never done. The Lord Jesus suffered, the just in the place of the unjust, to bring us to God. So God will now forgive the sin of all who turn away from their sinful ways, believing that Christ died for sinners upon the cross, and claiming him as their substitute, the one who died in their place. In this way, a holy God can forgive sin, and spare sinners His judgement, seeing their sin as having already been judged when his son died on the cross. And for those who believe and trust in Christ, taking him as their Lord and Saviour, there will be no judgement day. The judgement day for those of us who believe in him does not lie in the future, beyond the grave. For us, the judgement day has already taken place at Calvary, though it was not we who were judged then. Our sins were judged, and our punishment for them borne, by our substitute, Jesus Christ.
Uncertain of the future? Put your hand in the hand of God. That will be better to you than light, and safer than a known way. Trust in his son, and you will know that he has already faced and dealt with death and judgement for you. Go forward, then, knowing that although you do not know the future you know the one who holds the future, and you, in his hand.
The problem of taxes, however, is another matter!