Deliverance and the Valley of Decision

Joel 3:14.---'Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.'

This is a striking picture which the prophet draws. he sees the nations of the world gathering in the valley of decision, mustering their forces for the great, final battle against God. They have long been oppressing Israel, but now the tide has turned. God Himself is about to fight for His people. It is the day of the Lord, that day of judgment and decision, so often mentioned in the prophets, the day when God's cause will be vindicated and the supremacy of righteousness established. The oppressors of Israel will be destroyed. Once again the land will grow fertile when the invaders have been expelled. The vine will clothe the mountain-side, the dried up brooks will be musical with running water. God will be a refuge for His people, and will make His dwelling-place in Zion.

Let us take the prophet's picture and apply it to ourselves. Every day we are in the valley of decision; we are part of that great multitude which God saw in the valley. Every day we make choices, and choices go to form character. We are perpetually being called on to decide between alternatives. Let us then think about decision as an all-important factor in human life.

Is there any need to prove that we possess the power of choice, that God has given us a measure of freedom, and that we can select between good and evil? The final argument for the reality of human freedom is that we know that we are free. It may be difficult to refute logically the argument of the determinist, but, when we do wrong, we can never really satisfy our conscience by pleading circumstances, or training, or inherited disposition were the cause of our sinning. There is something within us which tells us that we need not have done what we did, that our own free will we chose the worse course. Our remorse is due just to this fact that we are aware that we possess this power of decision, and chose wrongly. When we are discussing the fact as to whether we have the power to choose or not we get back to this, "I know I could have done differently." Mortality becomes meaningless if its imperious "I ought" is not matched by an "I can" and I will."

It is true that this power of free choice, which belongs to us all, is not equally developed in every one. It is, in fact, something which is not so much a ready-made and realized possession as a capacity which we have to expand by exercise and training. We have to struggle to win our true freedom. Take the case of the young child. It clearly has some freedom. It is not a machine, but its life is largely governed by impulse, and it is very impressionable and easily ruled by the suggestions of others. It is also extraordinarily imitative, and copies its elders. We cannot feel that its freedom is anything very formed or mature. Its will-power is in the making; there are as yet no settled choices in its life. Or take the case of the child born and bred in a city slum, coming of a criminal stock, and surrounded by an atmosphere of vice and squalor. The scales are heavily weighted against that child. The power of choosing the good is there, but the inducements to evil are so strong that we feel that the child is handicapped from the start in the race of life. In this matter of freedom, then, we do not all enter upon existence at the same level, and in none of us is the will fully formed at the beginning. Hence, only God who sees all and knows all, all the struggles and temptations, all the handicaps due to heredity and circumstances---only God can pass a completely fair judgment on a human character.

This thought of freedom as something which we have to struggle to win, and of the will as in the making, is of special importance today, when compared to psychology, when we hear so much about the power of suggestion. Much psychological teaching today places the emphasis on the power of inherited tendencies and impulses, on the part played by the sub-conscious, and tends to make man the plaything of forces over which he has no real control. But the will is the citadel of personality; and, if there is any moral purpose at all in the universe, that purpose is to be found in the training of ourselves to make open-eyed decisions in life, to form noble characters, to be whole instead of a patchwork of fragments. To decide, and to decide strongly in that to which God calls us all.

How solemn is this thought of the valley of decision! Each of us is responsible to God for the choices which he makes. None can avoid the responsibility. And all our life long we are in the valley, choosing daily, hourly. And imperceptibly, but surely, the choices add themselves together and form the settled habit of temper. Every day on the loom of our life the pattern of character is being woven. We must not allow circumstances to mould us nor take our tone from the society round us, As we call our will into play and learn to decide, our manhood will have a chance to develop as god means it to develop. So much is at stake. Everything which is really worth having is at stake---manhood, character, truth, eternity. The call comes to us today to range ourselves on the side of the eternal things, to be men and women of decision.

But someone may say, "You tell us to decide, and to strengthen our wills; but how can I fight alone and unaided, all my temptations?" We have not to fight alone. Let us remember the secret of the prophet's confidence. He knew which way the fight in the valley was going, because he knew that God was on the side of His people. His strength was their strength. All the resources of His power were at their disposal. Has God changed? Does He leave us alone today and unaided? Why, the very heart of the message of Christianity is that Christ can give us power. Christianity is a religion of life and power. And so, as we seek to train our wills, let us not forget that the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of the Living Christ, is waiting to reinforce any efforts we may make. Think what suggestion does. You open your minds to receive this truth as a new influences. New thoughts, new ideals are suggested to you; and gradually, as you yield yourself to them, you are transformed.

If human agency can do that, are we going to say that the creative, life giving Spirit of God cannot do infinitely more? Let him, then, who would strengthen his will, who would pass through the valley of decision master of himself and of the fight, seek the aid of the Spirit of God.

In Christ, timothy. Maranatha