Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. ISRAEL'S ABANDONMENT OF JEHOVAH IS PUNISHED BY AN APPARENT ABANDONMENT OF ISRAEL BY JEHOVAH. It seems a light punishment; really there could scarcely be a harder one. Let the sinner and the backslider consider what their condition would be were God just to treat them as they treat him. Even the mildest phase of such discipline could not be long bearable. Simply to be left to oneself - let alone - what tragic possibilities does that suggest! But when enemies of the most ruthless description overrun our land, and have us at their mercy, how much does abandonment mean! It is in such times we learn how much we owe to Divine inter- position hour by hour. The moral consciousness of Israel was consequently lowered. So of all in like cases.
II. THE MANNER AND EXTENT OF THEIR DISCIPLINE ARE SUGGESTIVE OF THE HEINOUSNESS or THEIR OFFENCE. Things had come to such a pass that only a full experience of the worst of their heathenish and idolatrous neighbours would avail. There is little or no love of God left; let the consequences of their unbelief teach them a bitter hatred of evil; in time it will drive them back to the doctrine and practice of truth for very life. By and by they will learn to love it again. We have but to think of God's loving nature and infinite tenderness to see how desperate such a measure is. If forbearance failed, no other remedy would suffice but this. All unbelief is this potentially. It was a glimpse of the horror of a godless world.
III. IT WAS A SALUTARY DISCIPLINE, BECAUSE IT LED THEM TO REPENTANCE AND PRAYER. God had no pleasure in this long agony; but neither, on the other hand, would he shorten it until due cause appeared. The result justified the severity. Saints often regard their calamities amongst their greatest mercies. How roughly handled have been some of God's dearest ones I But the worst is not ours to bear, since Christ died. There is no calamity we cannot take to him. He will distil sweetness from wormwood itself, and give us help in time of sorest need. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." He may be nearer to us in the affliction than in the prosperity. - M.
I. THE IMMEDIACY OF GOD'S MERCY. "It came to pass, when the children of Israel cried .... that the Lord sent a prophet. There appears to be no interval. God begins to readjust his relations with Israel at once. But the material boon is not granted then. The sting must rankle until true repentance is forthcoming. Deliverance would have been a very questionable blessing under the circumstances. Freedom and independence are responsibilities as well as birthrights. So God hears the cry of the sinner always. Not what we wish, but what we want," that in the end what we wish may be rendered spiritually advisable and blessed. The measure of comfort here was that God was not silent, prayer was not unavailing. There is hope in the opening of mercy's door, even though it be in reproof.
II. THE SUCCESSIONS OF GOD'S MERCY. First the cry of desperation and repentance, then the outward reproof, then the direction, encouragement, and training of a deliverer, then the recovery of national freedom, prosperity, and prestige. Flowerlike. So God adapts his blessings to the moral and spiritual capacity of his people. The Divine view of our misery and its requirements is the reverse of the human; we think of the material suffering, God of the moral defect and sin. These mercies as they come in train are manifestly education, that the work of grace may be effectual. "Grace for grace" is a law of his kingdom. And the dignity of God is never lost.
III. MERCY IN ITS CULMINATION. God did not stop short of ultimate deliverance, although it was not achieved at once. So "he crowneth us with his loving-kindness and tender mercy." It is no mere secular and vulgar deliverance. It is national re-creation. The chivalry of Israel is called forth. It is even more a religious than a military triumph. So the salvation of the soul has its splendours and glories. It is absolute, complete, and magnificent, crowning the life of the faithful. "An abundant entrance will be ministered" into the kingdom of his Son. "We are more than conquerors" through him. - M.
I. THERE IS ENCOURAGEMENT EVEN IN GOD'S CHIDINGS. For -
1. They are better than absolute and final silence.
2. They are meant to bring us back to him, and not to drive us away.
3. His severity is to prepare us for his gentleness.
II. IT IS OFTEN AS NECESSARY AND PROFITABLE TO BE IMPRESSED WITH WHAT WE ALREADY KNOW AS TO RECEIVE NEW TRUTH. Revelation is not primarily intended to satisfy intellectual cravings, but to stimulate and enrich the moral nature. A sermon may be a mere exhortation, an impressive resume of acknowledged truth, and yet more valuable than if it were full of theological discoveries. Knowledge of God becomes religious and living when it is realized and acted upon. In this connection notice -
1. How impressive the personality of the prophet.
2. The heightening of the conscience of sin by contrast with remembered and recited mercies.
3. The tone and style of the discourse. It was short, direct, spoken to the conscience. Its chief message and its sting is in the conclusion. No word of comfort is uttered. The people are left with their consciousness of sin. But this in itself is a gracious work, and preparatory for everything that is good. Thorough repentance is the condition of deep and lasting piety. - M.
I. TROUBLE DRIVES MEN TO GOD. The people forsook God in their prosperity, and neglected his service so long as they enjoyed their comfortable homes in peace. But now they are miserable fugitives hiding in wild mountain caves, they remember his goodness and cry to him for help. This is a common experience. It is to our shame that it must be confessed. We ought to seek God for his own sake, to worship him in the beauty of holiness, not merely to obtain blessings for ourselves. In prosperity we should recognise tokens of his love, and so lift up our thoughts to him in grateful recognition of his goodness. To turn to God only in the hour of our need is a sign of base selfishness. Nevertheless it is better to seek him then than not at all. And if it is disgraceful in us that trouble should be needed to drive us to God, it is merciful in him to send the trouble for that object. The calamity which leads to this result is the greatest blessing. Herein we may see the end of many of the most severe forms of adversity. They are sent to us in our indifference to rouse us to our need of God, and lead us to seek him. Hence we may conclude that if we sought God aright in happy circumstances we might be spared some of the troubles which our spiritual negligence renders necessary to our soul's welfare (Hosea 5:15).
II. IF GOD IS TRULY SOUGHT IN TROUBLE HE WILL CERTAINLY BE FOUND. As soon as the people cried God heard them, and sent them first a prophet and then the deliverer Gideon. If we forsook God in our prosperity it would be reasonable that God should forsake us in our need. But he does not deal with us according to our sins. Our claim does not lie in our merit, in our obedience and fidelity, in anything of ours, but in his nature, and character, and conduct. Because God is our Father he hears us not out of consideration for our rights, but out of pity for our distresses. Therefore we need not fear that he will not respond to our call. To doubt is not to show our humility, but our distrust in the mercy of God and influence of Christ's sacrifice and intercession (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
III. WHEN GOD IS FOUND IN TROUBLE HE DOES NOT ALWAYS BRING IMMEDIATE DELIVERANCE. Israel called for help in need. God did not send the help at once. The people expected a deliverer, God sent a prophet. No word of promise is given by the prophet that relief will be accorded to the temporal distress of the nation. He speaks only of sin, and shows the ingratitude of the people, that they may feel how richly they deserve the calamities which have fallen upon them. They think most of their distresses, God of their sins. They cry for deliverance from the yoke of the Midianites, God wishes first to deliver them from the yoke of iniquity. Therefore the prophet of repentance comes before Gideon the deliverer. So we must expect that when God visits us in our sins he will deal with us so as to save us from spiritual evil before relieving us of physical distress. Christ bore the sicknesses and infirmities of his people, but his great work was to save them from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
IV. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF SIN WHICH MUST PRECEDE DELIVERANCE IS PRODUCED BY A PROPHET'S MESSAGE IN THE MIDST OF TROUBLE. The trouble is necessary to soften the hearts of the people, and make them willing to listen to the prophet. Yet the trouble does not produce repentance. For this a prophet is needed. The prophet does not make any prediction, nor does he give any revelation of God; he simply reveals his hearers to themselves. We need prophets to show to us our own true character. Much of the Bible is a revelation of human nature which would not have been possible without the aid of prophetic inspiration. The call to repentance consists
(1) in recounting the ancient mercy of God, for it is in the light of God's goodness that we see most clearly our own wickedness; and
(2) in directly charging Israel with ingratitude and apostasy. All sin includes the sin of ingratitude. Till we feel this it is not well that God should show us more mercy. Therefore the stern John the Baptist must precede the saviour Christ; but as Gideon followed the prophet, full salvation will follow repentance and submission. - A.
I. THE PERSONALITY AND RELATIONS OF GIDEON ARE A REBUKE TO ISRAEL, A VINDICATION OF THE SOVEREIGN WILL OF GOD, AND A REVELATION OF THE SOURCE OF ALL TRUE POWER. He is the youngest scion of an insignificant family in a secondary tribe. Not only has he had no special religious or political training, he is an idolater, or at any rate belongs to an idolatrous family.. And he is addressed whilst acting in a manner of which he must have felt ashamed. Hidden, helpless, a sceptic regarding Divine existence or intervention. The culture and religion of Israel are ignored. So God always chooses whom he will to act, to preach: to suffer. There was no danger that Gideon would be credited with the work of deliverance as an achievement of his own originality and innate power.
II. THE OCCASION WAS SIGNIFICANT OF THE HELP GOD INTENDED TO GIVE. He comes when things are at the worst. It was a sign that he would work out a radical deliverance. Not partial help, but complete salvation would be due to him.
III. GIDEON IS AN INSTANCE OF THE POWER OF RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE. He has heard in some way or another of God's works in his nation's history. Evidently his thoughts have been occupied with them. A rough interpretation has been arrived at, helping him to grasp the meaning of the situation. His was not total ignorance, but a knowledge preparing for higher revelations and corresponding achievements. Truth smoulders in the mind until it bursts into flame. Inward impressions and realisations of sacred knowledge prepare for the Divinely-arranged circumstances of life, critical moments, and heavenly visitations,
IV. GOD'S MANNER OF DEALING WITH THE DIFFICULTIES AND OBJECTIONS OF HIS INTENDED SERVANT IS VERY INSTRUCTIVE. He accommodates himself to the thoughts passing through Gideon's mind. By his words he drives the brooding mind into distressful paradox. The past achievements of Gideon are remembered, and a corresponding respect shown him. The revelation of himself is gradual. He is considerate, gracious, and painstaking with the heart he intends to make his own. "Have not I sent thee" is sufficient guarantee for God's servant. There ought to be no misgiving when that assurance has been given. - M.
I. THE GROUNDS OF DIFFIDENCE.
1. Adversity. Gideon could not believe in the presence of God and the possibility of relief for his country, because the troubles of the time seemed to preclude all hope. We are tempted to distrust while the prospect is dark. Yet God is often nearest to us when the distress is deepest.
2. The absence of any sign of God's presence. Gideon saw no miracle, and he could not discern the presence of God in less striking events. As sensationalism in religion is a dissipation which unfits the soul for quiet, natural modes of worship, so the habit of depending on marvels and prodigies for faith in Divine truth weakens the sense of the Divine in the calm and orderly movements of nature and providence.
3. Lowly circumstances. Gideon considered himself the least important member of a poor and obscure family (ver. 15). Possibly he was despised in the household for his retiring habits. Men are often taken at their own estimate of themselves until their true character is put to the test. A man's own relatives are sometimes the last to recognise his merits. We are all more or less influenced by surrounding circumstances, and given too much to judge by appearances.
II. THE MEANS FOR OVERCOMING DIFFIDENCE.
1. God knows his servants true nature and powers. He takes no note of outward appearances. Rank, riches or poverty, family honour, count for little with him. He seeks out the right man wherever he is to be found - at the threshing-floor, by the sheep-fold, in the fishing-boat. God never calls any man to any task for which the man does not possess the requisite talents.
2. God is with his servants when they are obeying his voice. He never calls a man to a special task without giving him special grace to perform it. If he commands his servant to undertake a difficult mission, he is certain to go with him and stand by him in the time of need. Diffidence comes from regarding self; true confidence from looking away to God. So Moses was diffident as he thought of his own weakness, but made brave to face Pharaoh by the assurance of God's presence (Exodus 3:11, 12); and Paul dared to stand alone before Caesar with confidence because "the Lord stood with" him (2 Timothy 4:17).
3. God sometimes uses special means to confirm the. faith of his servants. Gideon asked for a sign, and it was given him. To some no sign can be granted (Matthew 12:39). If no special signs are granted us now, we should remember
(1) we are not called to Gideon's work, and
(2) we are not left in the religious obscurity of Gideon's age, but have the revelation of God in Christ, the greatest of "signs." - A.
I. THE DIFFICULTY OF GIDEON. It was to reconcile the assurance of God's presence with the signs of actual weakness and distress all around him. There is something very ingenuous in the identification of himself with his people. "Thee" is altered by him to "us." It is full of promise for the future of the hero. He knows of no blessing in which his country does not share. And that is the right temper in which to face all such problems. The glorious past of Israel rose up before his mind's eye. How different from the days in which his lot had fallen! Had God any favour to his people? Why, then, this utter inaction? this absence of all miraculous intervention? If the old records were to be credited God had delivered his people with a "high hand and an outstretched arm;" now to all appearance the heavens had "withdrawn, and become astronomical." And yet how great and immediate the need for God's help! Day by day deeds were wrought under the sun that could not be spoken of. So there are times in these days when crimes are committed, nascent movements of religious and secular moment are withered, and the dial of civilisation is set back. The great calamities of war, pestilence, earthquake, etc., seem to call to heaven, but it is silent. Is it indifferent? Has the hope of man been a dream?
II. HOW IT MAY BE ANSWERED. Other things being equal, the blessing of God ought to make rich, and happy, and prosperous. But that is not its chief end in the present. It is first to make right. And God is in the seed as much as in the plant. He has many ways of fulfilling his premises. The blessing of Gideon was a potential one. It began even then in him, but it was to be communicated to others. It was as really a blessing for Israel as if the oppressor bad been driven from her borders, etc. Spiritual influences begin deeply, secretly, and mysteriously; but they are ere long known by their fruits. God was with Israel repentant in the moment of her repentance. And yet the external evils of her condition were as yet unchecked. God can be with a man in fulness of blessing and help, even when he is poor, and wretched, and helpless; but he will not continue so if he be obedient to the heavenly will. Spiritual blessing then should be expected to show itself, at least first, spiritually and inwardly; and an individual may be the holder of it vicariously for a nation or the race. - M.
I. THE LIFE IS THEREBY CONSECRATED AND DIRECTED. A man is not at liberty to follow his own private aims when the heavenly voice speaks thus within him. A higher plane of life and action is thereby created. An unseen influence isolates and consecrates him. This usually imparts greater definiteness to his conduct. He does not "beat the air."
II. THE MOST DIFFICULT DUTIES ARE IN THIS FAITH RENDERED PRACTICABLE. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" "All things are possible to them that believe." The fatalists of history - Caesars and Napoleons - have left their mark and proved the strength of a ruling idea. But this conviction is reasonable and of infinite power. The greatest changes the world has seen have been wrought under its influence - apostolic mission, reformation, missionary enterprise at home and abroad, Sunday school origin and extension. And so in the things of the individual life and private sphere.
III. THROUGH ITS INFLUENCE A PRESENT CONSOLATION AND AN ETERNAL REWARD ARE SECURED. Has God sent us? Then he will take note of our behaviour, and sustain our flagging strength. Has God sent us? our service cannot be for earthly gain. He is our Master; and as he sends no man "a warfare at his own charges," so the saint is sustained by the hope of the "crown of glory that fadeth not away." - M.
I. THIS REQUEST AROSE NOT FROM WANT OF FAITH, BUT FROM SELF-DISTRUST. Might not this all be a dream? And who was he himself? It is the doubt of a mind suspicious of its own sanity, etc. All this argues a deep humility than which nothing could fit him better for the work he has to do. God forgives a desire like this, and answers it; but doubts as to himself and his character, etc., are of another sort.
II. GOD ENCOURAGES ALL TRUE SERVANTS BY SOME TOKEN OF HIS PRESENCE AND HELP. Moses at Horeb; Paul in the temple in his trance - "Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles" (Acts 22:21). Many holy men have had such inward urgings and impulses. And all earnest service is accompanied by tokens of the Divine blessing. We are encouraged, therefore, to look for these signs. Their absence ought to cause no concern. Their nature will depend upon the kind of work we are doing. - M.
Judges 13:16), so the visitor betrays his true character as an angel of Jehovah in abstaining from the food. Of the phrase "and they did eat" in Genesis 18:8, the Targum gives the gloss,." they seemed to him to eat." Angels, not having a corporeal nature, do not require mortal sustenance. But the most striking incident in the narrative is the touching of the flesh and cakes with the angel's staff, and their being consumed by fire from the rock. This circumstance betokened not rejection of the gift, but its acceptance in a higher sense; the present becomes a sacrifice.
I. ALL BEST GIFTS ARE SACRIFICIAL. That which is given in order to a return; from gratification of self-love, ostentation, vanity; from custom; or without any real sense of loss, sacrifice, etc., is not accounted great by generous minds, however intrinsically precious it may be. As the sentiment enhances the value of the gift, even trifling in our eyes, so that which has cost pain, effort, loss of loving hearts, is "above rubies." Personality often thwarts the purpose of a well-intended gift; therefore it has often to be effaced ere the true end is attained.
II. How GOD OFTEN DEALS THUS WITH THE GIFTS OF HIS SERVANTS. It is not in a few isolated miracles that this has taken place. The mode of procedure is a principle of his kingdom, and is seen in every true life.
1. In carrying on a spiritual work to unforeseen developments, and so that demands are made the agent did not at first contemplate. Some kinds of spiritual effort are like sinking a shaft for a mine, the ultimate expenditure of labour and means is not ascertainable. That which was almost a pastime becomes a serious task. Consequences are evolved that call for heroism and generous self-devotion.
2. Results which were aimed at in the first instance are withheld, and the labourer has to continue steadfast amidst apparent want of success.
3. The labour itself becomes dear, and enthusiasm makes the greatest efforts easy, and the heaviest burdens light. At first it is "our" work; by-and-bye it is God's work. We lose ourselves m the presence of the "not ourselves that maketh for righteousness," who accepts our feeble labours and turns them towards infinite and inconceivable purposes.
III. WHAT IS SUBSERVED BY THIS CONVERSION.
1. It is educative. The subject of it is being taught a nobler life. He is wooed gradually out of the narrow shell of self into the larger atmosphere and arena of Divine love. At first God provokes us to the disinterested passion for himself, then he surprises us into fitting expression of it. The bridges of retreat are cut.
2. Our vague intention is interpreted to our spirits, and is set free. The alchemy of Divine love turns our dross into gold, our water into wine.
3. The permanent utility of man's work is thereby secured. Like the devotion of Christ, it receives an absolute worth in perfected sacrifice. - M.
I. THE NATURAL FEAR OF GOD, AND ITS CAUSE. The sentiment expressed by Gideon a general one, but peculiar to Israelites. The Greek knew not this fear, because his conception of the nature of the gods was different. They were but as men, only more glorious and powerful. To the Israelite God was the Supreme in holiness and authority. Reverence for the character of God deepened into fear, because of the tradition that a visitation such as he now received meant death, either immediate or near at hand, and because of the sense of sin. No man could see God and live. We have the remnant and echoes of this belief still among us, in the fear of supernatural appearances and intimations. It is the dread of the simple, absolute holiness and goodness of God, deepened by our sense of sinfulness. The culprit trembles in presence of the judge. Had Israel rightly served God, this dread would have disappeared. Were men's hearts right with him, they would welcome his presence and prize his visitations.
II. THE WHISPER OF TRACE. It is a token of good-will. The terror which overcame the strong man is allayed. Christ gives a deeper tranquillity. He fills the breast with the sense of spiritual reconciliation - "the peace of God which passeth all understanding." And this is felt in the trial hours of life, and in the agony of dying. It steadies and evens the spirit amidst the most afflicting circumstances. In conversion the fear of the sinner under conviction is often intense. But who shall tell the rapture when peace is found?
III. THE MEMORIAL. HOW fitting that it should be commemorated, and by such a symbol! The altar is the meeting-place of man and God. The monument. The church. It told to others of an individual, secret transaction and experience. Here was won a victory over self, a triumph of duty more signal than Marathon, Bannock-burn, or Morgarten. It is well to tell men of God's mercies to us; and this intimation was an eloquent appeal to men to draw near and receive a like blessing. - M.
I. IT IS A RELIGIOUS WORK OF INDIVIDUAL AND NATIONAL CONSEQUENCE. An idolatrous sitar to be razed, an altar to the true God to be reared. The plan of the altar of Baal was different from that of the altar of Jehovah, and could not be mistaken for it. The whole neighbourhood knew. How many such substitutions are taking place every day - the symbol of wickedness and unbelief giving place to that of faith. Our works are our true words to men. Much of the Christian religion consists in witnessing. There cannot be too marked a contrast, if it be real. A religious revolution of the most radical description took place. The whole question of religion was once more raised, and settled otherwise.
II. IT WAS A COMPLETE WORK. Not only destruction, but construction; negative and positive. All true witnessing should be such. Negative criticism merely is mischievous. It is not enough to declare ourselves by abstention and inaction, or by rebuke and captious judgment; we must do the works of God. We must build as well as destroy.
III. IT WAS A TEST OF his SINCERITY.
1. It committed Gideon. There could be no drawing back. It was a challenge to the whole people. The hill-top was seen from afar.
2. It required energy. No slight task even as a manual labour. Organisation, leadership, vigorous and timely effort were necessary.
3. Courage was demanded. A new beginning, a great reform, had to be made. Difficult to take the initiative. Many reasons could have been found for conformity to established usages. The most rancorous hatred would be at once aroused. Only high faith and clear, Heaven-informed purpose could have secured his success.
III. IT WAS A PERSONAL, IMMEDIATE, AND DOMESTIC WORK. Joash, infirm as his faith in Baal was, was responsible for the erection and maintenance of the altar of Baal. The worship was popular, and he patronised it. That had to be publicly retracted. How near at hand was the field of Gideon's first work I His own life had to be openly changed; his home had to witness his zeal for God. There are many who profess to be at a loss for something by which to testify their love for God and righteousness. Let them do righteously, love mercy, and walk humbly before God, and there will soon be disturbance and persecution. Our own homes are to be the scenes of our first obedience. What have we done there? And although, apparently, a day intervened between the vision and the work of demolition, yet no time was lost. The first fitting opportunity is sought and utilised, and the interval is occupied with the necessary preparations. So God expects prompt obedience from all his children. The smoke of that new altar - how much it signified I Are we yet his? Let us lose no time in giving our hearts to him. What is our record? Let our deeds speak for us. Time is short. - M.
I. REFORMATION MUST PRECEDE DELIVERANCE. As the prophet of repentance appeared before Gideon the deliverer, so even Gideon did not undertake the work of fighting the Midianites until he had first effected a religious reformation among his own people. It is vain to treat symptoms when the radical seat of a disease is untouched. Spiritual apostasy had brought on Israel national humiliation. The distress could not be safely relieved till the sin was destroyed. God will not deliver us from the trouble into which sin has brought us before we begin to turn from the wicked course which made the trouble a necessary chastisement. It is true that under the gospel we are not made to wait for the return of Divine favour until all sin is destroyed. On the contrary, it is one great characteristic of this new dispensation of mercy that restoration to the favour of God does not wait for, but precedes, and is the chief cause of, a perfect reformation of life. Nevertheless,
(1) this is only possible after repentance, which is the turning from sin in desire, and
(2) when accompanied by faith in Christ as both Master and Saviour, which implies submission to his will, and carries the prophecy of a new life inseparably connected with the spiritual fruits of faith (Acts 3:26).
II. REFORMATION BEGINS WITH THE DESTRUCTION OF EVIL. Gideon's first work is to destroy the altar and idol of false worship. To wrench out the stones of the massive altar of Baal and tear up the "Asherah was no easy work; yet it was necessary. It is pleasant to prophesy smooth things, and we should prefer to trust entirely to the power of light to dispel the darkness, of life to overcome death, of the gospel of peace to supplant all forms of evil. But it is not possible to succeed by this means alone. Evil must be exposed, challenged, resisted, overthrown. Sin must be rebuked; wrong practices must be directly thwarted and frustrated. This implies aggressive action on the part of the Church, and long, arduous, united efforts to throw down the great structures of sinful institutions, and uproot inveterate habits of vice and crime. Intemperance, commercial dishonesty, religious hypocrisy, etc., must be directly met and fought by practical agencies suited to cope with the strength and size of great national sins.
III. REFORMATION IS NOT COMPLETE WITHOUT THE SUCCESSFUL ESTABLISHMENT OF A NEW AND BETTER ORDER. Gideon's reforming work is not complete when he has thrown down the emblems and instruments of idolatry. This is but half his work. He must next erect an altar to the true God and sacrifice thereon. The danger of every attempted reformation is lest it should stay with the work of destruction - lest the iconoclast should not be also a reformer. It is more easy to throw down than to rebuild. The passions of the destroyer are not always joined to the patient, calm wisdom and energy of the renovator. Yet it is vain to cast out the evil spirit unless we fill the place of it with a better spirit (Matthew 12:43-45). Mere negative Protestantism, negative temperance, negative anti-war movements are likely to lead to abortive issues unless they are supplemented by influences which promote and establish positive good. Conviction of sin must be followed by the creation of a new heart if the future life is to be pure (Psalm 51:10). - A.
I. THE WORLD TAKES NOTE OF THE ACTIONS AND LIVES OF THE RIGHTEOUS. The effects of religion are ever an astonishment, a delight or a vexation. There is something in them that piques curiosity and rouses interest. Men tried to explain Christ. Religious questions ever the most keenly discussed.
II. THE REASON OF THIS IS IN THE VITAL IMPORTANCE OF THE QUESTIONS INVOLVED. Temporal convenience and interests are compromised. The craftsmen of Ephesus. Life and death eternal depend upon our conduct here. Christians are a reproof to the unfruitful works of darkness.
III. IT IS WELL WHEN OUR DEEDS ARE INQUIRED ABOUT THAT THEY SHOULD BE GOOD, AND NOT EVIL. The detective usually tracks the criminal. How much better so to act that we shall not fear when men discover our works. So act that when revelation comes "they may be ashamed who falsely accuse our good conversation in Christ." To our own Master we stand or fall. In that day we shall not heed the judgments of men. - M.
I. THE GRAND ARGUMENT AGAINST IDOLATRY. Isaiah (ch. 44.) expresses the contempt of the true Israelite for idols. But no one has formulated the argument better than Joash. It is as forcible to-day in India and Africa as in the days of Gideon. The same is true of the world-powers and principles idols represent.
II. THE LIVING WITNESS TO THE FORCE OF THIS ARGUMENT. No monument could equal himself. It was an instance of a man against a god - yea, against all the gods of heathenism. A heathen convert is such a witness. And the heroes of faith are the grand arguments against the evil principles and influences they overthrew and survived. The gospel reveals an extended view of the same question, beyond death and the grave; "Fear not them which kill the body," etc. - M.
I. THE ENEMY PRESENTS HIMSELF IN SUDDEN, OVERWHELMING FORCE. A remarkable juncture. Esdraelon, the battle-field of Canaan. Here thrones and kingdoms had been lost and won. To the heart of flesh it would have been the death-knell of hope. There was no proportion between the extent of his possible preparation and the magnitude of the crisis. Many would have advised a policy of temporizing inaction. To the sent of God the circumstances pointed all the other way. Elijah at Horeb. Paul at Athens. The Son of man longing for his "hour." Are you in a minority; the only Christian in your office; with everything to discourage and tempt you? "Let not your heart be troubled." Outward difficulties are balanced and overpowered by spiritual reinforcements. "The Spirit of the Lord came upon him."
II. GIDEON'S SUMMONS TO ARMS MEETS WITH UNEXPECTED SUCCESS. "He blew a trumpet," i.e. he used the means. But probably he did not expect anything like the result. He was touching chords that vibrated in unforeseen directions. He didn't know the moral power he had acquired by his first work. We never can gauge the extent of our moral influence. Jerubbaal is the magnet. Strong in God, in himself, at home, throughout the nation. We are all guilty herein; we think God's people fewer and worse than they are. How much one steadfast, heroic soul can effect; how many others he can fire with enthusiasm and endue with courage by his example and actions!
III. SUDDEN SUCCESS OCCASIONS HUMILITY AND DOUBT. Clearly this man is not as others. He becomes strong against odds and vast oppositions, weak and hesitating when all goes well. Adversity and difficulty are plainer in their problems to the spiritual man than prosperity. But perhaps it was the quality of his soldiery he mistrusted. They did not seem of the right stuff for a duel a outrance. Perhaps the very suddenness of his power terrified him.
IV. HE SEEKS FOR WISDOM AND CONFIRMATION OF THE HEAVENLY GRACE.
1. Probably the very scene of his first vision - Association helps an imaginative, spirit. Spiritual associations are mightiest.
2. He proposes a sign that shall reveal his duty. Under ordinary circumstances this is dangerous and misleading. But the whole background of Gideon's career is miraculous, and he had a warrant to expect miracles. We have a complete revelation and a Divine example. The dew abundant in Canaan; the wetting of the fleece a rustic idea. The doubt is then suggested, What if all this be natural? Therefore -
3. The proof is reversed. As in experimental science the test of variations is employed, so here in spiritual divination. God accommodates himself to our weakness that he may vanquish it. Henceforth the path is clear and his mind is made up. Have we done all that conscience and revelation have made plain and obligatory? Have we gone to the Divine footstool for the wisdom and strength we required? - M.