And Rehoboam went to Shechem.
A cause so stated must succeed. There will be difficulty, but the end is assured. The reasonable always triumphs, due time being given for the elucidation of its purposes, and the manifestation of its real spirit. Violence can have but a short day; the tempest cries itself to rest. "Ease thou somewhat the grievous servitude of thy father, and his heavy yoke that he put upon us, and we will serve thee." They wanted ease for service, for loyalty. Where there is no ease how can there be homage, thankfulness, devotion, or any of the high qualities of patriotism? How tempted men are, who are not themselves disquieted, to tell other people to bear their burdens uncomplainingly! The sufferers should sometimes be admitted to the witness-box. There is danger lest our personal comfortableness should disqualify us from judging the case of downtrodden men. Wherever there is weakness the Christian Church should be found; wherever there is reasonableness the Christian sanctuary should offer hospitality. Is there anything more detestable than that a man who has his own way seven days a week, whose footsteps are marked by prosperity, whose very breathing is a commercial success, should stand up and tell men who are bleeding at every pore to be quiet and contented, and not create disturbance in the body politic? If Jeroboam had come with a petition conceived in another tone it ought to have been rejected; it would have been irrational, violent, contemptuous; but the reasonableness of the request will ensure its victory in the long run. How easy it is to think of Rehoboam as the foolish son of a wise father! But are we not unjust to the son in so regarding him? Was Solomon the wise man he is often made out to be? The answer would be "Yes" — and "No." There was no greater fool than Solomon; and he attained his supremacy in folly because there was no man so wise. "If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" If he had not been son of the morning some shallow pit might have held him; but being son of the morning, and detaching himself from the gravitation of God, the pit into which he falls is bottomless. Pliny says no man can be always wise. That is true philosophically and experimentally; for all men have vulnerable heels, or are exposed to temptations to lightness of mind, amounting in some instances almost to frivolity; they are also the subjects of a singular rebound, which makes them appear the more frivolous because when we last saw them they were absorbed in the solemnity of prayer. Solomon himself is not wise in this matter of government. The history shows that the people were appealing, not against Rehoboam, who had yet had no opportunity of proving his quality as a king, but against his father: "Thy father made our yoke grievous." We are prone to copy the defects of our ancestors and their idols rather than their excellences. We are tempted in wrong directions, Folly has often more charms for us than wisdom. Rehoboam made a cautious reply, and therein, he began, well; he said to the petitioners,"Come again unto me after three days." This looked hopeful. King Rehoboam utilised the interval by taking "counsel with the old men that had stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, saying, What counsel give ye me to return answer to this people? And they spake unto him," as old men ought to speak. Rich is the king whose old men talk in such a strain! They were patriots and philanthropists and philosophers; they were Christians before the time. Marvellous is the power of kindness. They will do most in life who "are most considerate. If when the people returned after three days Rehoboam had spoken so, the welkin would have rung with the resonant cheers of a delighted, thankful, because emancipated, people. We have opportunities of this kind: let every man know that in proportion to his kindness will be the quality and the durableness of his influence. Kindness is not weakness. It takes Omnipotence to be merciful, in the largest degree and fullest quality of the term. He to whom power belongs holds in His other hand the angel whose name is Mercy. "But he forsook the counsel which the old men gave him, and took counsel with the young men that were brought up with him, that stood before him" (ver. 8) — showing that he understood the message of the people perfectly; he correctly represented the popular will, and therefore he increased his own responsibility, because he was not the victim of ignorance. "And the young men that were brought up with him spake unto him, saying" (vers. 10, 11). Woe to the nation whose young men talk so! A young oppressor is an infant devil. Young men talking so will ruin any occasion. This may appear to be a very advanced policy, a very spirited policy, home and foreign. It is a spirited policy: but what is the name of the spirit that inspires it? Does a controversy of this kind begin in a question, and end in an answer? Or is there a reply? Are there such things in history as retorts, reprisals, rebounds, consequences? Let it be known, and laid down as the basis-principle of all action, social, ecclesiastical, and imperial, that there is no right of tyranny. Oppression has no veritable and reputable credentials. Men are not at liberty to take counsel whether they shall be gentle or ungentle. The law is unwritten, because eternal, that even righteousness must be administered in mercy. It might be supposed that the king had taken a most patriotic course in consulting the old and the young. He had done nothing of the kind: he had omitted to consult Him who had called his house to the royalty. Rehoboam should have consulted the King-maker whose throne is on the circle of the earth, and whose sceptre toucheth the horizon, and whose will is the law of monarchy and commonwealth. All human consultation is a species of under-counsel, valuable within proper limits, and right as recognising the education, the intelligence, and the political instinct of the times; but all consultation, to result in profoundest wisdom, must be intensely, almost exclusively, religious. Kings should talk to their King. The greater the man the nearer should he stand to God. The gospel never gives liberty to oppression. Employers may adopt this course if they please, but they will find it end in ruin. We must recognise the difference between employing cattle and employing men. A parent may adopt this course if he pleases, but his children will chastise him, sting him, with many a disappointment. The world has been educated by oppression. The Lord Himself has used it as an instrument in His hands. A curious expression occurs to this effect in the fifteenth verse — "for the cause was of God." Rehoboam had not taken Him into account, but the Lord took the matter into His own hand. The ministry of the universe is a ministry co-operative, and is not to be understood in parts and sections, but can only be understood by those who take in the whole circumference on which the Almighty operates; and that cannot be done here and now. The Saviour of the world was not murdered by the Jews, except in a secondary and transient sense; He was delivered up from before the foundation of the world that He might make on the universe an infinite impression and reveal to the universe the law of life and the law of sacrifice. If our movement is towards trust, liberty, leniency, philanthrophy, beneficence, we are entitled to believe that this is the very logic of love, the rigorous reasoning of piety itself. This will apply to nations, to families, to employers, to all men to whom is remitted the question, Shall the policy be severe, or shall it be clement and hopeful? Rehoboam will be punished: have no fear of that. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." You can make your whips thongs of scorpions, but upon your own back shall the lacerating lash be laid; you can play the fantastic trick before high heaven and make the angels weep, but the bitterness shall be yours: the triumphing of such a policy is short, the end of it is everlasting punishment. What could we do without such laws as these? They are the very ribs of the universe, the very security of society, the corner-stone on which God's fabric rests. We are not the subjects of accidents, the changing whims of statesmen; we are not dependent upon general elections for the grand issue of things: the Lord reigneth. Let us be true and calm. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can get at the heart of things; deal with causes, fountains, origins, and purify the spring of all life. Here the Saviour is gentle in His might, mighty in His gentleness; He says, "Marvel not that I say unto you, Ye must be born again." When the soul is right the hands will take to the new policy with skill that might have been learned in heaven and that is inspired by the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We see here on the part of the ten tribes, THE EXPRESSION OF A REASONABLE POLITICAL ASPIRATION.
II. The example of Rehoboam teaches by contrast WHAT OUR SPIRIT AND METHOD, AS CHRISTIAN MEN AND A CHRISTIAN NATION, OUGHT TO BE AT THIS TIME.
III. AND THAT A GENEROUS CHRISTIAN POLICY ONLY WILL EFFECT THE PACIFICATION OF A DISCONTENTED PEOPLE THE EXAMPLE OF REHOBOAM PROVES.
The Chinese Emperor Tehou set out on a journey to visit the vast provinces of his empire, accompanied by his eldest son. One day he stopped his car in the midst of some fields where the people were hard at work. "I took you with me," said he to his son, "that you might be an eye-witness of the painful toils of the poor husbandmen, and that the feeling their laborious station should excite in your heart might prevent your burdening them with taxes!"
THE GRIEVANCE STATED.
1. Reasonable demand.
2. A national demand.
II. THE CONSULTATION HELD.
III. THE DECISION GIVEN.
IV. THE RESULTS WHICH FOLLOWED.
Judge Buller, when in company of a young gentleman of sixteen, cautioned him against being led astray by the example or persuasion of others, and said: "If I had listened to the advice of some of those who called themselves my friends when I was young, instead of being a judge of the King's Bench, I should have died long ago a prisoner at the King's Bench."
I wonder why young people don't make more use of old people than they do. I find it fascinating to hear old sailors talk, and to listen to their many stories of hair-breadth escapes. One Of the privileges of old age is to be a guide to the young. Young men should take warning and instruction from old men, for they have been over the ground and know all the risks and dangers of life.
I propose to use the incident to illustrate the two methods of treating men — the conciliatory and the unconciliatory — the principle applies to all men in some of the relations of life; and the question is, What is the true, and consequently the safe, basis of all government?
1. Social positions are graduated. The strong man will of necessity, sooner or later, go to the front and claim the influence which belongs of right to his powers; and the weak man will be left at the point that exhausts his strength. Democracy does not equalise men.
2. No elevation of rank gives one man the right to tyrannise over another. Tyranny is necessarily associated with littleness of nature, littleness somewhere; there may be many great qualities, but the nature as a whole is of a low type.
3. The whole tenor of the gospel is in favour of magnanimous conduct on the part of those who hold any degree of rulership. This is an incidental proof of the supernatural origin of the gospel, etc.
4. Pass in review a few of the cases in which the two methods of treating men come into operation. Kings, employers, parents, pastors, all have their choice as to which method they will adopt.
5. The maintenance of a conciliatory policy is quite consistent with —
The advice of an ancient French counsellor to his sovereign at his departure was good. Being wished to lay down some general rules for government, he took a paper, and wrote on the top of it "moderation," in the middle of it "moderation," and at the bottom "moderation."
So did our King Richard II., to his utter ruin. So Xerxes despised the grave counsel of his uncle Artabanus, and was led wholly by the young Mardonius to the loss of all. The like is reported of Dionysius, king of Sicily; Croesus, king of Lydia; Nero, emperor of Rome; James that reigned in Scotland in Edward IV's time; and Lantrer, of whom it is reported that he lost the kingdom of Naples from the French king, his master, and all that he had in Italy, because he would not ask nor follow the advice of those who were wiser than himself.
Many a bright scriptural character is set before us for our example; this man is set before us for our warning. There were two things that contributed to make his life a failure.
I. HE WAS BROUGHT UP IN THE LAP OF LUXURY. His father lived in a style of magnificence that has never been equalled. In the midst of this was Rehoboam's youth and boyhood spent. Nothing could have been morally worse for him than that. I ask the head of some large academy, "What is the chief cause of the ruin of many lads belonging to respectable families?" and he whispers, "Too much money," The president of one of the largest educational institutions in America stated that he believed the surest protection to young men against the perils of opening life was poverty. The being free from the necessity of working for a living has been the worst thing in the lot of many a young man. I have personally known youths who were unfortunate enough to start life with a patrimony of £200 a year, and they never came to anything. In the life of Mr. Nasmyth he says: "I often observe in shop windows every detail of model ships and model steam-engines, supplied ready-made for those who are said to be of a mechanical turn. Thus the vital uses of resourcefulness are done away with and the sham exhibition of mechanical genius is paraded before you by the young impostors, the result, for the most part, of too free a supply of pocket-money. I have known too many instances of parents being led, by such false evidence of constructive skill, to apprentice their sons to some engineering firm and after paying vast sums, finding out that the pretender comes out of the engineering shop with no other practical accomplishment than that of glove-wearing and cigar-smoking." The connection between Rehoboam and kid gloves may not at first be apparent, and yet there is a good deal in it, for had he been brought up less luxuriously, had he known something in his early days of real hard work, he might have turned out a more sensible and successful man.
II. HIS REFUSAL OF THE ADVICE OF MEN WHO WERE OLDER AND WISER THAN HIMSELF. Evil companionship proved his destruction. Well might he have said, "Save me from my friends." Their advice may have been meant for the best, yet like the bear which from friendly motives, tried his paw to remove a fly from his master's face, they did more harm than good. Nothing tells upon our life more distinctly than our early choice of companions. We take the colour of the society we keep, as the frogs of Ceylon do that of the leaf on which they sit. Be slow to form your friendships. Have nothing to do with any one — no matter how smart and plausible he be — who jests at sacred things. Be certain you will get no good from one who wants to shake you out of what he calls your old-fashioned principles. Never make a friend of one who avows himself an unbeliever. The fear of God is the root of all true nobleness of character, said a French monarch, when once asked to give his consent to a dishonourable treaty. "The blood of Charlemagne is in my veins; and who dares to propose this thing to me?" Some of you young men have a pedigree still more worthy to glory in. We want no Rehoboams amongst us. We want the sons to be better than their fathers.
Dr. Anderson, of the American Board, told me that a young man once came to the mission-house in Boston as a candidate for the foreign mission field. Dr. Anderson invited him to spend the night with him in Roxbury, and as they were walking together, the young man suddenly said, "I prefer to walk on the right side." Dr. Anderson said to him, "May I ask why you walk on the right side? Are you deaf in one ear?" "No," said the young man, "but I prefer to walk on the right side, and I always will walk on the right side." That young man was not sent abroad. It was evident that a man who was bent on having his own way, without giving reasons, would be likely to make mischief, and his right side would be pretty sure to be the wrong side.
EVENTS OF HISTORY CONTROLLED AND DIRECTED TO ACCOMPLISH DIVINE PURPOSES.
II. In the accomplishment of Divine purposes MEN ACT AS FREE AGENTS.
III. Men thus acting as free agents ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEM ACTIONS.
Nature has her paroxysms. Sir Roderick Murchison affirms that by no possible extension of gradual and insensible causes could huge masses of Tertiary rocks have been so thrown over as to pass under the older rocks of the Alps, out of which they were formed. That operation, he says, must have been paroxysmal, and no slow process could have accomplished it. The crust and outline of the earth are, in short, full of evidences that many of the ruptures and overthrows of the strata, as well as great denudations, could not even in millions of years have been produced by agencies like those of our times.
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