Forget Nostalgia!

Following the election on Tuesday night many are still reeling with surprise from the results. Some are in shock, some are incensed, some are delighted, and still others have taken this opportunity to decry the result as a sign of declining public virtue. The tendency in moments like this is to look to the past and wish that we could be decent people again ruled by decent men. There is a temptation for us to indulge in nostalgia for elections past and for a brighter age when morality was held in higher esteem than it seems to be in our own day.

Charles Bridges, in his commentary on Ecclesiastes, has an extended discussion of Ecclesiastes 7:10, which reads: "Say not, 'Why were the former days better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask this." As I was reading Bridges's remarks on this verse, I sensed that what he had to say there speaks to our own national moment. He wrote:

National changes may bring national declension. Increasing wealth and luxury may relax the tone of public morals. But - it may be asked - 'Is it not the ordinary habit of the old men of the generation to give undue worth and weight to the records of bygone days?' Has not each succeeding generation left a protest against the degeneracy of its predecessor? Yet in a general view 'God has always been good, and men have always been bad,' and "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecc. 1:9; 3:15).

The case therefore involves a 'doubtful problem and a foolish question.' For thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this. The picture of a golden age, and the loveliness and purity of the primitive era, are now confessedly only the day-dreams of imagination. Take then the broad features of the present day. After due allowance has been made for the fearful discoveries of ignorance and depravity - yet mark the spread of true religion - the large provision for the temporal comfort of the poor - the widely diffused blessings of Scriptural education - the influence of civil and religious liberty - and, above all, the extended circulation and preaching of the glorious Gospel throughout the world - Would it not be hard to produce former days better than these? "Blessed are the eyes that see the things that ye see!" (Luke 10:23-24).

After all - 'it is folly to cry out of the badness of the times, when there is so much more reason to complain of the badness of our hearts (if men's hearts were better, the times would be mended); and when there is such reason to be thankful that they are not worse; but that even in the worst times we enjoy many mercies; that help to make them, not only tolerable, but comfortable.' 

The question has been well asked - 'If the times are bad, what are we doing to mend them?' Have not we helped to make them bad? And do not murmuring complaints make them worse? Could we change clouds for sunshine, would it be for our real good? Is not the arrangement of the infinitely wise and gracious Father more of our true advantage than the dictates of our poor human folly? It was not our lot to be born in former, and - as is supposed - better days. But surely it is our duty to gather all good out of the seeming evil, and cheerfully to submit to what we cannot change. "Murmerers and complainers" belong to every age. Leave God's work to him, and let us attend to our own work, which is - not so much to change the world, but to change ourselves - to "serve our own generation by the will of God," and to 'let the badness of the age in which we live make us more wise, more circumspect, more humble.'

Brighter days are before us - each day brightened with the hope of a near-coming salvation. O Christian! "Salvation nearer." What a quickening glow! (Rom. 13:11). Faith, hope, diligence, perseverance, watchfulness - all stir up the bottom springs of the heart (1 Peter 1:13). The earnest is "joy unspeakable." What will the consummation be?

Rather than dwelling in the past, or fearing the future, Bridges suggested that it is our responsibility to act in the day and time in which we have been born and to use the time that we have been given with wisdom.