Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE REASONS IN MAN'S NATURE AND CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH SHOULD LEAD HIM TO SEEK THE LORD.
1. Man is so constituted that he cannot find a full satisfaction in any earthly and created good. He returns from every such endeavour with the complaint, "All is vanity." "Our heart," said St. Augustine - "our heart is restless till it rests in thee."
2. Especially do all human religions prove their insufficiency. Israel was learning this by bitter experience. "Seek not Bethel," etc., was the admonition of the prophet to those who had been in the habit of resorting to idol shrines. The gods of the heathen were known to the Jews as "vanities."
II. THE REASONS TO BE FOUND IN GOD WHY HE SHOULD ENGAGE THE SEEKING POWERS OF MAN.
1. His own proper excellence is such that the soul that gains even a glimpse of it may well devote to the pursuit of Divine knowledge and favour all powers and all opportunities.
2. God alone is able to succour and to save those who set their affection and desire upon him.
3. God condescends to invite the children of men to seek him. By the mouth of the prophet he gives an express command and invitation. We may be assured that this language is sincere and trustworthy.
4. There is an express promise of incomparable preciousness addressed to such as are ready to respond to the heavenly call. "Ye shall live," is the authoritative assurance. By this we may understand that seekers after God shall be delivered from destruction, that they shall be made partakers of the Divine life, in all its spiritual energy and happiness.
III. THE METHODS IN WHICH GOD MAY BE SOUGHT AND FOUND.
1. Observe where he is to be found: i.e. in his holy Word; in his blessed Son, by whom in this Christian dispensation he has revealed himself unto us, and who has said, "No man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
2. Consider how he is to be found: i.e. by penitence, in humility, through faith, with prayer; in a word, by the exercises special to the spiritual nature.
3. Notice when he is to be found: i.e. now. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near." - T.
Isaiah 22:4) says, "Look away from me; I will weep bitterly, labour not to comfort me, because of the spoiling of the daughter of my people," etc. Samuel, too, after Saul the king had proved himself so headstrong and wilful that nothing could save him, although he went down to his own house and, in accordance with Divine command, saw him no more, nevertheless mourned for Saul to the day of his death. And, loftiest of all, Christ Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives, and as he beheld the city which had rejected him, he wept over it, saying, "O Jerusalem," etc.! It was in this spirit that Amos wrote the passage before us, and thrice repeated the message in our text. Meditation on this subject gives us some thoughts:
1. On the loss of God.
2. On the search for God.
3. On life in God.
I. THE LOSS OF GOD. The exhortation to "seek" him implies that he has been lost sight of by his creatures. This is brought about by various influences.
1. By intellectual temptations. These vary in different ages. In the time of Amos the study of God's works led to superstition, while in these days it leads many to scepticism. Then the stars were believed to affect human destiny (ver. 8); each season had its own deity; every element obeyed some unseen being. The polytheist would have joined heartily with the Jew in saying, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." In our day, on the contrary, folly is supposed to lie in the other direction, namely, in the heart of him who believes in that which is beyond sensuous perception and purely intellectual research. Science, which has driven fairies from the woods, elves from the mountains, and nymphs from the sea, is now supposed to be almost prepared to drive God from his universe. Articles in our magazines, addresses in our halls, speak with such ill-disguised contempt of religious men that their language is, "The fool bath said in his heart, There is a God." But the world never wanted God more. Men are not satisfied with knowing, and some who see no evidence for a future heaven are bitterly asking - Is life worth living? Amidst the miseries of civilized society, and the wrangling of sects, many a one secretly says, "My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God!" In an age when men believed in gods who had no personal love or righteousness, they wanted to know the heavenly Father; and in this age, when scepticism has swept the world bare of some of its old creeds, we do well to hearken to the message of God, "Seek ye me, and ye shall live."
2. By prevailing idolatries. Show how places of sacred memory had become sources of idolatry and pollution (ver. 5). Bethel, where Jacob saw the heavenly ladder, and vowed that he and his would be the Lord's; Gilgal, where the people reconsecrated themselves on entering Canaan; Beersheba, where Abraham called on the Lord, and Isaac built his altar, and Israel offered sacrifice when going with his sons into Egypt; - were all transformed into idolatrous resorts. From this, point out how easily creeds, forms of worship, holy places and relics, nominal profession of Christianity, etc., may hide God, instead of bearing witness to him. Suggest also certain modern idolatries.
3. By practical unrighteousness. Amos addressed his hearers as "Ye who turn judgement to wormwood [that is, who, instead of rendering justice, commit bitter wrong], and leave off righteousness in the earth [or, rather, 'dethrone it from rule']." Trace these sins in some trades and professions, and in some social customs and ecclesiastical movements, of our own day. Yet, in spite of such sins, which will incur the penalties here foretold, the message comes to every sinner from him who is not willing that any should perish, "Seek ye me, and ye shall live."
II. THE SEARCH FOR GOD. Let us rightly estimate the privilege offered to us. God is great beyond our conceptions. "He maketh the seven stars and Orion," etc., yet says, "To that man will I look... who is of a humble and contrite heart."
1. There is necessity for seeking him. He will not force himself on our notice, nor blazen his name in the sky. Any man, if he chooses, is free to live as if God were not. It is "he who seeketh findeth."
2. There are advantages in seeking him. These are additional to the advantages of finding him. The most precious things (jewels, corn, knowledge, etc.) are not the most easily obtained. The self-discipline, the steadfast effort, the trials of faith and hope, etc., cultivate character. So, in seeking God, we find that the pains and difficulties resulting from doubts, indolence, sins, etc., are part of our Heaven-appointed discipline. If God were visible as the sun is visible, there would be no moral advantage in "seeking" him; but as he is visible only through faith and prayer, we rise heavenward in our very seeking after him.
3. There is a right way of seeking him. Hence ver. 5, "Seek not Bethel," etc. Some hoped to get help in other directions rather than in the path of penitential prayer. Multitudes now, instead of turning to him who is the Light of the world, pursue false lights, which, like the will-o'-the-wisp, will lead to destruction. Hear the words of Jesus Christ: "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;" "I and the Father are one."
III. THE LIFE IN GOD. "And ye shall live. This does not allude to national life. That was irrevocably doomed. But in the doomed nation any sinner turning to God would live. Nor is the allusion to natural life, but to that spiritual life which is referred to in the verse, This is life eternal, that they might know thee," etc, This life in its nature and source is more fully revealed to us than to Amos himself.
1. The source of this life is found in God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. No man can create life where it is not, nor restore it where it once was. Christ, by the raising of the dead, showed in a visible sphere what he alone can do in the invisible. "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
2. The nature of this life. It is Divine, and constitutes us "partakers of the Divine nature." Its germ is faith, its inspiration is love, its breath is prayer, its manifestation the likeness of Christ.
3. The vigour of this life. It will live amid the influences of an evil atmosphere, as a hale man walks unhurt through a tainted hospital It will assert itself in streams of benediction to the world around, and it will finally prove itself victorious over death; for the Lord has said, "He that liveth and believeth in me shall never die;" text. - A.R.
I. A REPRESENTATION OF DIVINE GREATNESS AND GLORY.
1. Seen in the creation of the starry host. The Pleiades and Orion are mentioned as two of the most noticeable and most splendid of the constellations of the midnight sky.
2. In the alternations of day and night, in sunrise and sunset, in storm and in eclipse.
3. In the grandeur of the sea, in the torrents of rain, in the floods which pour their waters over the earth; in a word, in all the processes of nature.
4. In the providential interpositions and the righteous rule of the Most High, who does according to his will among the inhabitants of the earth.
II. AN INFERENCE AS TO HUMAN CONDUCT. The poet-prophet is more than a mirror to reflect the visible splendour, the awful forces of the universe. To him nature has a voice of authority, appealing to the understanding and to the conscience of the sons of men. There is a summons to the unrighteous and the irreligious to forsake their ways and to choose a better path. This summons will take a different form according to the character, the moral development, of those addressed.
1. There is what may be called the lower view - a God so great will not suffer iniquity to triumph, or injustice and disobedience to go unpunished. All are in the hands of the Almighty; and he whose power is so evidently revealed in the heavens above and on the earth beneath will not fail to assert his authority over all the creatures of his power. Although wickedness may prosper for a season, the law of righteousness shall be maintained and vindicated.
2. There is a higher view - not inconsistent with the other, but presenting itself to natures more morally cultivated and advanced. Great as God appears in nature, our conceptions of his excellence are enhanced when we reflect upon his glorious attributes and his righteous reign. The eternal law of righteousness administered by Omnipotence demands our lowly reverence, deserves our grateful obedience. - T.
I. THAT GOD OVERRULES THE OUTWARD CONDITIONS OF HUMAN LIFE. "Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion." The words are literally true. Philosophy teaches us to find an adequate cause for all effects, and science acknowledges that the First Cause eludes its search, and is beyond its sphere. Revelation declares, "God made the sun to rule by day, and the moon to rule by night: he made the stars also." More than this primal fact is, however, asserted here. Amos was speaking to those who saw in the stars more than material lights. His hearers believed in astrology, which has been prevalent in all ages, from the very dawn of history. This superstition, which has left its mark on the earliest records of our race, in the literature of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, Hindus, and Chinese, was not without effect on the people of Israel, as many passages in Scripture show. Indeed, it only received its deathblow when the Copernican system was finally established; for even Kepler would not deny that there was a connection between the movements of the stars and the fortunes of men. Now, two constellations so peculiar and brilliant as Pleiades and Orion naturally had special powers ascribed to them. Thus Rabbi Isaac Israel, in his remarks on Job 38:31, says, "Some of the stars have operations in the ripening of fruits, and such is the opening of the Pleiades; and some of the stars retard and delay the fruits from ripening, and this is the opening of Orion." In other words, the Pleiades were associated with the spring, when Nature was bursting into new life, when she was emitting the sweetest influences from every blade and flower, when ships which had been shut up through stress of weather could put out once more to sea. Hence the question, "Canst thou bind the sweet influence of Pleiades?" - Canst thou prevent the outpouring of vernal life? Whether you will or not, the change comes; for it is of God. Similarly, Orion was associated with autumn, when the earth was throwing off her beauty, and the voyages of the ancient times came to an end, and frost bound the streams as in fetters of iron. "Canst thou loose the bands of Orion?" - Canst thou check the storms, and break up the reign of frost? Now, says Amen, look beyond these constellations to him who made them; and when you rejoice in the spring, or dread the approaching winter, when you are glad over the pleasantness of life, or faint under its adversity; - think of him who is above and beyond all material forces and all visible influences. There is a spring and autumn known in human experience which have their sources beyond ourselves and beyond all visible agency; and our hearts rest in the assurance of this. Compare the lot of two children in dissimilar circumstances - the one with every comfort and care, as if "born under a lucky star," and sharing "the sweet influences of Pleiades;" the other in the drunken home, with curses temporal and moral on every side. These children do not choose their lot, they do not appear to deserve treatment so different; yet their circumstances are not the result of chance nor the decree of blind fate, but are to be ascribed to him "who made the seven stars and Orion," and, as the Judge of all the earth, he will do right. (Suggest other examples of seeming unfairness in men's circumstances.) This Divine revelation in Scripture affirms of God that he appoints the lot of each, and this with a view to the training of character, which far outweighs the pleasantness or the painfulness found in mere circumstances. Adversity will by and by appear to be but a small thing to him who amidst it proved himself faithful, and prosperity will seem in the retrospect of little worth to him who, through his thanklessness and prayerlessness, has failed to "lay hold on eternal life." Whatever influences surround us, we are, for our own sakes, called on to recognize God as overruling them. If we are prosperous, it is "the Lord who gives power to get wealth;" if we are in adversity, we are not to blame our luck or our friends, but to seek the comfort and help of him "who maketh the seven stars and Orion."
II. THAT GOD OVERRULES THE INWARD EXPERIENCE OF MEN. "He turneth the shadow of death into the morning," etc. The Hebrew word translated "shadow of death" almost always means more than natural night, however black that may be (see references in Job and Psalms). Admitting this figurative use of the word here, the reference of the prophet would seem to be to the changes from sorrowfulness to joyfulness, and from joyfulness to sorrowfulness, which we frequently experience. These are not dependent on circumstances. The wealthiest men have often said of their surroundings, "I have no pleasure in them;" while the poor and persecuted have sometimes made their miserable abodes resound with praise. We may illustrate this from the life of our Lord. At one time "he rejoiced in spirit" at another time he was "exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;" yet the Father's hand was recognized in both experiences. God inspires the children's songs, and he gives the cup of agony. What abundant reason we have to praise God for certain inward changes - the carelessness turned into serious and sad penitence, and this again into the joyfulness of pardon! To many a weeping penitent, sitting in darkness, he has come and "turned the shadow of death into morning." Others have been in the darkness of doubt. They have cried, "Why hast thou forsaken me?" They have felt around them for some hand to help in their dire extremity; At last the sense of Christ's love has come home to them, and though their questions are not all answered, they believe in him, and enter into rest, and soon they find that "he that believeth does not walk in darkness, but has the light of life." God turns for them the shadow of death into morning. Soon "the shadow feared of man" will come. Yet even the darkness of death shall be transformed into the brightness of heaven; and in the place where "there is no need of the sun or moon to shine," because God himself is the Light thereof, we shall see how God has forevermore turned the shadow of death into morning.
III. THAT GOD TRANSFORMS CURSES INTO BLESSINGS. God "calls for the waters of the sea." They secretly ascend to heaven, and then descend in refreshing showers. The transformation effected in that phenomenon is noteworthy. If we pour sea water on flowers, they will die; but when it is called up into the heavens the pernicious salt is left behind, the water is purged from its destructiveness, and the curse is made a blessing. A transforming influence passes over all that comes to us, if it is caught up to heaven. Suppose prosperity comes to you. It may enervate and destroy your spiritual life, but if praise to God is associated with it, and habitual prayer that you may use this for God, you may become by your very prosperity a more generous, tender-hearted, and Christ-like man. If adversity is yours, and you take all your troubles before the Lord, they will be transfigured before you in the light of God's love and Christ's sufferings, and through your valley of Achor you will enter into deeper rest and nobler hope.- If doubts or temptations try you, they will not curse, but bless you, if they arouse the earnest prayer, "Lord, help me!" Christ was never more precious to Thomas than when, after his doubts, he exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" But his doubts would have ruined him had they kept him from the presence of the Lord. Let all your troubles and joys be wafted, by prayer and praise, into the heaven of God's presence, and they shall be poured down upon you in showers of spiritual blessings.
CONCLUSION. If you would know the comfort of the text, you will only find it in obedience to its first Clause, "Seek him!" "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found," etc.; "Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace." Then, under the quiet light of the stars, or in the splendours of sunset and dawn, or watching the fall of the heaven-sent showers, you will have thoughts of him who rules over all, as of one who through Jesus Christ is your Father and your Friend. - A.R.
I. THE CONNECTION WHICH GOD HAS WITH HIS UNIVERSE. His connection is that:
1. Of a Creator. "He maketh the seven stars and Orion." These constellations are only given as specimens of all the things he has created in different parts of the universe. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
2. Of a Governor. "He turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth." The truth taught is this - that he presides over the revolution of day and night, and the changes of the seasons, and the fortunes of men. All nature is under his control. "He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
3. Of a Redeemer. "That strengtheneth the spoiled against the strong, so that the spoiled shall come against the fortress." The reference is here undoubtedly to his redemptive work in human history.
II. THE CONNECTION WHICH MAN SHOULD HAVE WITH GOD. "Seek him." A phrase of frequent use in the Bible, denoting the duty of man to attain to the knowledge, the friendship, and the fellowship of the Eternal. And in this all true religion consists. The pursuit implies:
1. Faith in God's personal existence. A belief that he is.
2. A consciousness of moral distance from God. We do not seek what we possess.
3. A felt necessity of friendly connection with God.
4. An assurance that such a connection can be obtained.
CONCLUSION. What a grand thing is religion I It is not a thing of mere doctrine, or ritual, or sect, or party. It is a moral pursuit of "him that maketh the seven stars and Orion," etc. - D.T.
I. MAN'S NATURE AND POSITION RENDER NECESSARY A MORAL CHOICE.
1. Man's emotional nature impels him to adopt an object of supreme love. Human affection may be diffused or it may be concentrated, it may be languid or it may be intense. But in any case it exists and acts as a principle of the moral life.
2. Man's voluntary and practical nature requires an object of supreme quest and endeavour. We seek what we love, we avoid what we hate.
II. THE GREAT ALTERNATIVE WHICH PRESENTS ITSELF TO MAN IS THE CHOICE BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL. This is a real and not a fictitious or conventional distinction. It would be as reasonable to deny the distinction between straight and crooked, between light and darkness, as that between moral good and moral evil. The distinction is vital and eternal, connected with the "nature of things," with the attributes and character of God, with the constitution of man. The choice between pleasure and pain, between worldly prosperity and adversity, is as nothing compared with this choice. The appeals of revelation, from the beginning to the end of the Bible, urge men to choose the good in preference to the evil. There are doubtless inducements to another choice; but this remains the choice enforced by reason, by conscience, by God.
III. HOWEVER IT MAY BE REPRESENTED OTHERWISE, THE FACT IS THAT THE PRACTICAL PREFERENCE OF GOOD CONDUCES TO MAN'S WELFARE. The inducements offered to adopt a life of selfishness and of pleasure are many and powerful; there are "pleasures of sin for a season." The way of virtue and religion is a steep and rugged path. Yet it yields a deep and pure satisfaction not to be found in the ways, the broad and primrose paths, of sin. We are not called upon to balance pleasures. The voice of right, of God, is authoritative, and demands obedience without hesitation or calculation. Yet God promises such as listen to and obey his voice that he will "be with" them, that he will be "gracious unto" them, and that they shall "live." - T.
I. IT IMPLIES A SPECIFIC PURSUIT. "Seek good, and not evil." Good and evil are both in the world; they work in all human souls; they explain all history.
1. They imply a standard of right. By what do we determine the good and evil in human life? The revealed will of God. What accords with that will is good, what disagrees with it is evil.
2. Their object is a human pursuit. There are those who pursue evil; they follow it for worldly wealth, animal pleasure, secular aggrandizement. There are those who pursue good; and their grand question is, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
3. The pursuit of good is the specific effort of religion. Good in thought, spirit, aim, habit, as embodied in the life of Christ. To get good requires strenuous, persistent, devout, prayerful effort.
II. IT INVOLVES THE HIGHEST BENEDICTION.
1. The enjoyment of true life. "That ye may live." Without goodness you cannot really live: goodness is life. Everlasting goodness is everlasting life. "This is life eternal, to know thee," etc. (John 17:3).
2. The enjoyment of the Divine friendship. "So the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you." What a benediction is this! "The Lord God of hosts," the Almighty Creator, Proprietor, and Governor of the universe to be with us, to guide, guard, beautify existence! "I will walk among you," says he; "I will be your God, and ye shall be my people." - D.T.
selfishness in terror. Its characteristic is that in seeking protection from one danger it rushes into another. This is often seen -
I. IN COMMERCIAL LIFE. A selfish man in trade often finds himself running down the hill of insolvency, and ruthless bankruptcy appears before him as a lion ready to destroy him. What does he do? Where does he seek protection? Perhaps in absconscion. But he is apprehended, and he finds he has fled from "a lion" to "a hear," enters the house where the "serpent" of enraged justice fastens on him. Or perhaps he resorts to forgery. Here he is detected, and the same result is experienced. He has fled from the lion only to rush into the jaws of the bear.
II. IN SOCIAL LIFE. In few social circles are men not to be found who in some way or other commit a wrong against their members. Indeed, in family life it is so. Children do some injury to their parents, and parents to their children, husbands to their wives, and wives to their husbands. After the commission of the deed, selfish terror is awakened, and they fabricate falsehoods in order to escape the danger. The falsehood is detected, and then it is felt that the man has only fled from the lion to the bear. He has run for protection where he has found the "serpent."
III. IN RELIGIOUS LIFE. Men get convinced of sin, their consciences are roused, and hell appears before them as a ravenous lion, which they endeavour to escape; and they fly for protection to what? To selfish prayers, selfish sacrifices, selfish performances; but to attempt to escape from hell by selfish efforts is only running from the lion to the bear. "He that seeketh his life shall lose it."
CONCLUSION. This subject is capable of endless illustrations. It is an eternal truth that he who seeks protection from selfish fear only rushes from one danger into another. There is no protection for a soul but in self-renunciation, in the entire consecration of self to the worship and service of the great God. - D.T.
I. THE OUTWARD MANIFESTATIONS OF RELIGION WHICH GOD REJECTS.
1. Sacred assemblies are displeasing to him. He does, indeed, love the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob; yet the prophet is inspired to declare that God hates and despises the gatherings of his own people.
2. Solemn festivals are equally distasteful. These, indeed, have been prescribed in the Law; they are commemorative of great mercies, great deliverances; their neglect or omission is viewed with displeasure. Yet here God is indignant that these feasts should be celebrated.
3. The same detestation is extended to the burnt offerings, meat offerings, and peace offerings, which the Hebrews were instructed on proper occasions to present to their Divine King.
4. More remarkable still, sacred songs and strains of music are as discord in the ear of God. The very psalms in which the Divine attributes are celebrated and the Divine gifts acknowledged are no longer acceptable to him who inhabiteth the praises of Israel.
II. THE GROUNDS UPON WHICH GOD REJECTS THE OUTWARD MANIFESTATIONS OF RELIGION.
1. Not because they are themselves an inappropriate tribute of religious emotion and religious consecration.
2. But because they are not expressive of sincere worship, gratitude, confidence, and love. "This people," saith the Searcher of hearts, "draweth nigh unto me with their lips, but their hearth far from me." And our Lord Christ has taught us that "God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
3. And because ceremonial observances may be, and in the cases in question are, consistent with an idolatrous and wicked life. The very men who were punctilious in these ceremonies and sacrifices were tampering with the idolatry of surrounding peoples, and were acting with injustice and selfishness in the ordinary relationships of life.
4. Because, further, these manifestations are as a matter of fact substituted for those feelings and purposes which they are intended to promote. In fact, seeming religiousness hides the absence of real religion, so that this absence is sometimes unnoticed by the apparent but heartless and formal worshipper. - T.
I. THE DIVINELY ABHORRENT. What is that? Mere ceremonial religion; empty ritual. "I hate, I despise your feast days, and 1 will not smell in your solemn assemblies," etc. "The same aversion from the ceremonial observances of the insincere and rebellious Israelites which Jehovah here expresses he afterwards employed Isaiah to declare to the Jews (Isaiah 1:10, etc.). The two passages are strikingly parallel, only the latter prophet amplifies what is set forth in a more condensed form by Amos. It is also to be observed that where Amos introduces the musical accompaniments of the sacrifices, Isaiah substitutes the prayers; both concluding with the Divine words, 'I will not hear.' 'Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.' The singing of their psalms was nothing more to God than a wearisome round which was to be brought to an end. Singing and playing on harps was a part of the worship of the temple (1 Chronicles 16:41; 1 Chronicles 23:5; 1 Chronicles 25.). Nothing seems more abhorrent to the holy eye and heart of Omniscience than empty ceremony in religion. No sacrifices are acceptable to him, however costly, unless the offerer has presented himself. I go psalmody is acceptable to his ear but the psalmody of self-oblivious devotion." "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
II. THE DIVINELY DEMANDED. "Let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream." While no direction is given respecting the regulation of the sacrifices in order that they may be rendered acceptable, here is a special demand for morality in life, moral rectitude in conduct. Thus God once more expresses the idea that "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams," The way to worship God acceptably is not by ceremonial observances, not by religious contributions, not in singing psalms, but in doing the right and loving thing towards our fellow men. The true practical expression of our love to God is that of a virtuous and generous conduct towards mankind. Stud your country with fine churches if you like, fill them with aesthetic worshippers and enthusiastic devotees. But all that is abhorrent to God unless you feel and act rightly towards your fellow men in your daily life. We had rather see justice rolling on like mighty waters, and righteousness as a swelling and ever-flowing stream, than crowded churches. "Show me your faith... by your works." Show me your worship by your morality; show me your love to God by your devotion to your fellow men. "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us." "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for if he loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" - D.T.
I. ITS DIVINE SOURCE. The fountain of rectitude is not to be found in the arrangements of human society, in the laws of human device, in the expediency which aims at human pleasures. We are to look up to the hills, to the heavens, for its source. It wells from the eternal constitution of the moral universe, from the very nature, from the glorious government, of the Eternal.
II. ITS VAST VOLUME. There is no community of men, there is no social relationship, in which righteousness may not be exemplified. Even the heathen philosophers could say great things of justice.
"Nor morning star, nor evening star, so fair!" Ardent religionists sometimes lose sight of this principle and its necessity, thinking justice too sublunary and commonplace to be deserving of their attention. Such a practice is not sanctioned by Scripture, which from beginning to end lays stress upon the faithful and honourable discharge of human duty, as between man and man, in all the varied relationships of life. III. ITS MIGHTY CURRENT. There is a power in righteousness which only the morally blind can overlook, which commands the homage of the observant and the thoughtful. For whilst it is not the kind of power that the worldly cannot but see, and the vulgar cannot but admire, it is nevertheless power - enduring, effective, undoubted power. The state is strong in which justice is administered, in which a high standard of uprightness is maintained in social and public life; whilst injustice, insincerity, oppression, corruption, and deceit are detrimental to the true interests of any community. IV. ITS PERENNIAL FLOW. A river differs from a cistern, a reservoir, in this - that it does not run dry, that it is not exhausted, that it flows on from age to age. And the righteousness that the eternal King desires to see prevail in human society is an ever-flowing stream. Not like the mountain torrent, which is dried up in summer heat; but like the vast river, which is fed from the everlasting hills, and is replenished by many a tributary stream, is the course of Divine righteousness upon earth. Not in one nation, in one age, in one dispensation only, but in every time and place does this river of righteousness flow for the welfare of mankind. V. ITS BENEFICENT RESULTS. From insincere religious observances no good can come; but from justice, from a proper discharge of duty, from right principles, we may look forevery good. God is pleased that his attribute becomes his creature's law. And righteousness exalts nations and establishes thrones. - T.
III. ITS MIGHTY CURRENT. There is a power in righteousness which only the morally blind can overlook, which commands the homage of the observant and the thoughtful. For whilst it is not the kind of power that the worldly cannot but see, and the vulgar cannot but admire, it is nevertheless power - enduring, effective, undoubted power. The state is strong in which justice is administered, in which a high standard of uprightness is maintained in social and public life; whilst injustice, insincerity, oppression, corruption, and deceit are detrimental to the true interests of any community.
IV. ITS PERENNIAL FLOW. A river differs from a cistern, a reservoir, in this - that it does not run dry, that it is not exhausted, that it flows on from age to age. And the righteousness that the eternal King desires to see prevail in human society is an ever-flowing stream. Not like the mountain torrent, which is dried up in summer heat; but like the vast river, which is fed from the everlasting hills, and is replenished by many a tributary stream, is the course of Divine righteousness upon earth. Not in one nation, in one age, in one dispensation only, but in every time and place does this river of righteousness flow for the welfare of mankind.
V. ITS BENEFICENT RESULTS. From insincere religious observances no good can come; but from justice, from a proper discharge of duty, from right principles, we may look forevery good. God is pleased that his attribute becomes his creature's law. And righteousness exalts nations and establishes thrones. - T.
I. THE FACT THAT MEN DO ATTEMPT TO DIVIDE THEIR HOMAGE AND WORSHIP. This is no doubt an evidence of human inconsistency and instability; but it is not to be denied that our nature frequently exhibits these qualities. On the one hand, education, the voice of conscience, the aspirations of better moments, the influence of pious friends, tend to retain the heart beneath the sway of true religion. On the other nd, the example of the pleasure seeking and the worldly, the baser impulses of our nature, the suggestions of our spiritual adversary, all draw our hearts towards an inferior good, towards an ignoble choice. Hence many are found neither renouncing God nor rejecting the allurements of a sinful world.
II. THE GROUNDS UPON WHICH THE SUPREME REJECTS THE DIVIDED HOMAGE AND WORSHIP WHICH ARE SOMETIMES OFFERED.
1. God's just claim is to the whole nature and the whole life of his intelligent creatures. The Father of the spirits of all flesh cannot consent to share his rightful possession with any rival, any pretender, be he who he may.
2. The nature of man is such that he can only give religious reverence and service that shall be worthy of the name to one Lord. Christ has emphatically pronounced upon the case in his words, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
3. The moral degradation and disaster involved in the endeavour are palpable. There is inconsistency, nay, there is opposition, between the two services. A riven heart is a wretched heart. Hypocrisy is a sandy foundation upon which to build the character and life; upon this no secure and stable edifice can possibly be reared.
III. THE URGENCY OF THE ALTERNATIVE CONSEQUENTLY PRESENTED TO EVERY MORAL NATURE. It is the alternative which Joshua urged upon the Israelites: "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve." It is the alternative which Elijah urged upon a later generation: "How long halt ye between two opinions [between the two sides]? If Jehovah be God, serve him; but if Baal, then serve him." - T.