The Christian and the High Cost of Living
The writer remembers how in the autumn of 1896 good potatoes were sold at the starch factories in Minnesota for ten cents per bushel; and about the same time corn in the cob was being burned in Nebraska as the cheapest form of fuel. Flour was almost correspondingly cheap.
What changed since then! The world was not thankful, God was forgotten, and today we stand confronted with conditions, economical and political, such as no one, three years ago, would have believed possible.
And in view of “the present distress,” and worse to follow, doubtless, what is the Christian to do? What is to be his attitude in the midst of all this change for the worse, especially as these changes bear directly, to many, on the barest means of subsistence?
Of course we know the believer's hope and hourly expectation is the coming of the Lord. It is his joyful prospect of hearing at any moment the shout of the Lord, the archangel's voice and the peace of the trump of God. “Nothing this hope can dim,” nor can its blessedness be exceeded; no blessing possessed or in prospect can possibly surpass it. We would not for a moment turn the Christian's attention, or the “eyes of his heart,” from the sky, whence shall come his happy deliverance from the condition of groaning in which many now find themselves in an unusually intensified form.
But since He may tarry for yet a little while longer, and men at the helm of the world's affairs warn us this war may not be brought to a successful close as early as it had been hoped, it is necessary to look the possible future full in the face; and again we say, What is to be done?
There is special comfort to be found along these very lines just now in that part of Scripture where we might least expect it—the book of Revelation. In chapter 6 “the seals are opened one by one.” We see come forth at the call of the living creatures horsemen, the first on a white horse; he goes forth conquering and to conquer—another Napoleon, carrying everything before him. At the call of the second living creature another rider appears; by him peace is taken from the earth (how perilously near we are to that already) that men should kill one another. Famine follows, “And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, Come. And I beheld, and lo, a black horse, and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.”
Here we have the “high cost of living” advanced to the limit. A “measure” (chænix) was about a quart and was considered a day's ration sufficient for one person; and a “penny,” as we know from the parable of the labourers (Matt. 20), was a day's wage, the equivalent, say, of two dollars in one day. This brings us to the appalling conclusion that in these coming days of unprecedented scarcity it will require the day's earnings of a working man to purchase sufficient to feed himself, or another beside himself, if he is willing to eat the coarser kind of food (barley); but what is to become of his family—his children or others dependent on him?
Mr. F.W.Grant in his notes on this passage in Numerical Bible, says it is the price of their staples increased eightfold, while Mr. Wm. Kelly in his smaller and latest exposition of the Revelation makes it to be sixteen times above the ordinary prices prevailing in John's day. If we divide the difference between these equally competent authorities we have the unprecedented increase of twelvefold in the cost of one of life's prime necessities.
This is for the time of tribulation yet to come, and we, the church, thank God, will be at that time in the glory with Christ, having been previously caught up with Him at His coming, in the air. But whether it be ourselves, Christians now, or the remnant by and by, what is the comfort for us in the passage quoted? Just this: Whatever the scarcity, however high the prices of life's chief necessities may soar, God has fixed a limit to those prices. He, the “faithful Creator,” and loving Father of His children, watchful guardian and provider of His own (see 1 Tim. 4:10), has determined all beforehand and can say of rising prices as He says of the wild raging waves of the sea, “Hitherto shalt Thou come and no further!” It is not, after all, boards of trade, stock manipulators, speculators, or even duly appointed federal food commissions that fix prices of that which is required for the sustenance of His saints. No, the “Lord Almighty—He who loves me—God” determines this matter; and this is our confidence and rest. Famine and want cannot proceed beyond the bounds set for them by the decrees of the Almighty. This will be the consolation of saints in tribulation days, as they will learn from Revelation 6:6, and it is ours for today.
Take courage, then, tried children of God. And see that ye murmur not, nor be tempted to speak evil of dignities, whether it be Prussian Kaisers and war lords abroad, or those set in authority at home. God is above the highest and ruleth not only in the heavens above but also in the kingdoms of men below. He is allowing all this trial; and whether it be “the beginning of sorrows,” to continue and increase until it culminates in the frightfulness of “the great tribulation,” or is merely a prelude to subside at length and be followed by a lengthening of the nation's tranquillity, it is just the same to you. See that ye be not troubled. The very hairs of your head are numbered and ye are dear to God. He fed a nation of six hundred thousand footmen (to say nothing of women and children) for forty years in the deserts of Arabia, and though for their sins their carcases fell in the wilderness, we do not read of a single one of them starving to death. No, nor will you or your little ones be forsaken in this day of distress and ever-increasing calamity. We look to Calvary and there learn the extent of the love of God to us; and then when we look round about us and see all that is so rapidly and alarmingly coming to pass, we can say in the triumph and confidence of faith, “He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”
Yes, how shall He not? And though we punctuate with the question mark, we might consistently conclude the glorious challenge with an exultant exclamation!
This does not mean that we shall be exempt from trial, for we are assured by even a “son of consolation” (Barnabas, Acts 14:22) that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” But we have the sure promises of God that we shall not want, that we verily shall be fed, and that we have but to seek first God's kingdom and righteousness and all these things (life's necessities) shall be added unto us.