In the twelfth year of Ahaz King of Judah began Hoshea.
I. AS AN UNFORTUNATE INHERITOR OF WRONG. — Upon Hoshea and his age there came down the corrupting influence of no less than nineteen princes, all of whom were steeped in wickedness and fanatical idolatry. The whole nation had become completely immoral and idolatrous. It is one of not only the commonest but the most perplexing facts in history that one generation comes to inherit, to a great extent, the character of its predecessor. Though the bodies of our predecessors are mouldering in the dust they are still here in their thought and influences. This is an undoubted fact. It serves to explain three things —
1. The vital connection between all the members of the race. Though men are countless in number, and ever multiplying, humanity is one.
2. The immense difficulty in improving the moral condition of the race. There have been men in every age and land who have "striven even unto blood" to improve the race. Those of us who have lived longest in the world, looked deepest into its moral heart, and laboured most zealously and persistently for its improvement, feel like Sisyphus, in ancient fable, struggling to roll a large stone to the top of a mountain, which, as soon as we think some progress has been made, rolls back to its old position, and that with greater impetuosity.
3. The absolute need of superhuman agency spiritually to redeem the race. Philosophy shows that a bad world cannot improve itself, cannot make itself good. Bad men can neither hell? themselves, merely, or help others. If the world is to be improved, thoughts and influences from superhuman regions must be injected into its heart.
II. AS A GUILTY WORKER OF WRONG. — Hoshea and his people were not only the inheritors of the corruptions of past generations, but they themselves became agents in propagating and perpetuating the wickedness. So that while they were the inheritors of a corrupt past, they were at the same time guilty agents in a wicked present. Strong as is the influence of the past upon us, it is not strong enough to coerce us into wrong.
III. AS A TERRIBLE VICTIM OF WRONG. What was the judicial outcome of all this wickedness? Retribution came, stern, rigorous, and crushing.
(David Thomas, D. D.)
In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria.
II. is an account of a battle between him and these peoples, which took place near the ancient city of Karkar. Among the enemies vanquished we find "twelve hundred chariots, twelve hundred horsemen, twenty thousand men of Hadadezer of Damascus; two thousand chariots, iron thousand men, of Ahab of Israel." In another inscription of the same monarch there is mention of "Jehu, the son of Omri!" as one of his tributaries. Here Omri appears as the ancestor of Jehu. The anarchy that cursed Israel during its later history seems to have been instigated largely by the monarchs of the East. In one of Tiglath-pileser's inscriptions, where he gives an account of his subjection of the land of Omri, he says: "Pekah their king I put to death, and I appointed Hoshea to the sovereignty over them." The Bible record, 2 Kings 15:30, simply mentions the conspirator, murderer, and successor. The inscriptions tell us who stood behind, shifted the scenes, and directed the actors. Tiglath-pileser was absolute ruler of Palestine. Israel's power was broken, its army reduced, its land partially depopulated.
I. THE CAPTURE OF SAMARIA. Hoshea seems to have been faithful to his Assyrian lord as long as the latter lived. But at the death of Tiglath-pileser and the accession of his successor, Shalmanezer IV., there was probably, as whenever rulers changed at Nineveh, a widespread revolt among their tributaries in the distant provinces. Hoshea, though religiously superior to his predecessors, despairs of the situation under the tyrants of the East, and appeals to So (Sabako), of Egypt, for relief. He withholds his accustomed tribute, thus openly defying the armies of the great king. His appeal to Egypt seems to have won for him only the enmity of the new king of Assyria. Shalmanezer then "came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it three years." He threshed the land right and left, taking captive and devastating, until he had driven the unsubmissive within the walls of Samaria.
II. CAUSES OF THE CAPTIVITY OF ISRAEL. After narrating the catastrophe of Samaria and the disposition of its population, the writer enumerates the causes of the same. The Israelites practised secretly the idolatry of their neighbours, building high places throughout the land, upon which they burnt incense to Canaanitish deities. Obelisks of Baal and the Asherim were set on every high hill and under every green tree. These Phoenician deities were symbols of the generative powers of Nature. They were the objects of the most degrading and licentious forms of worship. They appealed directly to the sensual impulses, and thus easily corrupted and led astray Israel.
III. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CAPTIVITY. The ten tribes revolted against Solomon's successor in order to avoid political oppression. But their anarchistic method of choosing rulers made them for a hundred and fifty years the victims of the most arbitrary kings. By their disregard of political obligations and treachery toward their conquerors, these self-willed monarchs ultimately brought upon their people the just rewards of national rebellion — captivity and servitude. Jehovah had permitted them to exist as a part of his chosen people, but they were under the same conditions as Judah; their continuance depended on their faithfulness to his commands. When all law and testimony were ignored, and Jehovah was insulted and defied, then mercy gave place to justice, prosperity to disaster, blessings to cursings, and peace to captivity. This catastrophe is the strongest kind of corroboration to the truth of the warnings of the prophets. They besought and entreated Israel to turn from all evil ways. They warned and threatened, they accused and condemned them by the word of Jehovah. The threatened fate at length came to pass. With steadfast purpose, Jehovah brought upon his enemies the just fruits of their evil deeds. God is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Disregard of His words, commands, warnings, and threats is just as blameworthy in His sight to-day as two thousand five hundred years ago. Godless living is still the bane of national life. Let each one of us, by the grace of God, so live that the golden text of the lesson may never be true of us, — "Because you have forsaken Jehovah, He hath also forsaken you."
(Ira M. Price.)
For so it was, that the children of Israel had sinned.I. A GREAT NATIONAL PRIVILEGE. We learn herefrom that the Infinite Governor of the world had given them at least three great advantages, political freedom, right to the ]and, and the highest spiritual teaching. He had given them,
1. Political freedom. For ages they had been in political bondage, the mere slaves of despots; but here we are told that God had "brought them out of the land of Egypt." Political freedom is the inalienable right of all men, is one of the greatest blessings of a people, but one which in every age has been outraged by despots. The millions are groaning in every land still under political disabilities. He had given them —
2. A right to the land. Canaan was the common right of all; true, it was divided amongst the ten tribes, but this not for the private interests of shy, but for the good of all.
3. The highest spiritual teaching.
II. A GREAT NATIONAL WICKEDNESS. Possessing all these privileges, how acted these people — not merely the people of Israel, but the people of Judah as well? Was the sentiment of worship and justice regnant within them? Were they loyal to all that is beautiful, true, and good? Nay.
1. They rejected God.
2. They adopted idols, Mark(1) the earnestness of their idolatry. With what unremitting zeal they promoted the cause of idolatry. Mark(2) the cruelty of their idolatry. "And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire."
III. GREAT NATIONAL RUIN.
1. Their ruin involved the entire loss of their country (ver. 23).
2. Their ruin involved the loss of their national existence (ver. 18). The ten tribes are gone, and no one knows whether they are now worth looking after, for they were a miserable type of humanity.
3. Their ruin involved the retributive agency of Heaven.
(David Thomas, D. D.)
(W. L. Watkinson.)
(W. L. Watkinson.)
And the children of Israel did secretly those things that were not right.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
They followed vanity and became vain.Milton that pride wrought division, havoc, and ruin even in a celestial world. You know as well as I do that this has been the vice of the ecclesiastic in all ages, the vice of arrogance, the vice of vanity, the vice of pride. All the resolutions of Convocation, all the seals of your bishops and archbishops can do nothing against this sin. Therefore, if any one here rises up to say this is not a deadly sin I quarrel with him on that ground, that it has attacked what has been most sacred, and ought to be most influential for righteousness in the world. Vanity is the vice of the minister in all ages and in all forms. He need not clothe himself in a mitre with all the pomp and circumstance of ritual, he need not sit upon a throne. Vanity has invaded the Free Church pulpit just as much as it has invaded the home of the higher ecclesiasticism. And when I have said that about the ministry and the temptations inevitable to the ministry, I want to say that so far as I am aware it is also a sin to which young Christians are more particularly susceptible. I say that that affectation of religious superiority is something that makes the sinner outside to scoff, and the saint inside to shudder. And now let me turn from the Church to the outside world. Let me put my question straightly to those who perhaps pride themselves on having nothing to do with the churches. Do you mean that any of you would rise up and tell me that in speaking of the sin of vanity I am not indicating one of the sins of the present day? I do not like to rail against my rage, but is there any one who will not say that I am strictly within the truth when I speak of our present age as pushing, an advertising age, a forward age. Is it or is it not a fact that life all through is being made vicious by this particular sin, that we are victims to-day of the man who is self-opinionated and self-assured, that the man with the loudest tongue and the most brazen front is the man who seems to have the most and the best chances of making his way successfully in the world? Is it or is it not a fact that it is an external age, an age when the outside show counts for more than the internal worth? And is it not a fact that this all springs from certain venomous roots of vanity, that in attacking the immodesty of the age we are putting our finger upon one of its chiefest faults, that this desire for external and outside show is more than something that can be treated as artificial and casual and transient and that will pass away? Now, if I were to say, as I should not hesitate to do, that the greatest of all the apostles felt the insidious character of this vice the most, I believe I should be saying, nothing that Paul himself would not have consented to. Read his letters; see how there he implores himself and others never to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think; how he applies the cross of Jesus Christ to his own life; how he presents himself to people, lest they should begin to flatter him, as the chief of sinners. And if I found there were any of you here, as I should not imagine you would be, adamantine against the reproaches and warnings of the Apostle Paul, then I should say to you there are two other literatures into which I ask you to look. I ask you to take down from your shelves your Pilgrim's Progress, to read over line by line that magnificent description, unparalleled in literature, the description of Vanity Fair, and there let Bunyan tell you the truth. The truth about his age is the truth about yours — Vanity Fair, the place where all merchandise was sold: places, honours, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, husbands, wives, lives, blood, bodies, souls — all marketable in Vanity Fair. If you could resist that and say, "these religious books do not appeal to me," then I should have to ask you to take your Thackeray and read his description of Vanity Fair, and when you had read that, if you had read it in the right spirit, you would know that every word that Bunyan said was true, and you would know that every word that Paul said was true. And the spirit of that, modern Vanity Fair which Thackeray drew is the spirit of the Vanity Fair that prevails to-day. You can keep your decalogue and be a proud man, but you cannot begin to be a Christian and be a proud man. And do you know why? Do you know why Jesus Christ put humility as the foundation of all the virtues? Because, unless it is there, you will not keep any of the virtues. Let me put it to you as strongly as that, virtue cannot embrace vanity and remain virtue. There is nothing of which people so easily become vain as their virtues. I want to put it to you that in the thought of Christ a proud man is further from God, may be further from God, shall I say, than the thief, than the man who has broken the Ten Commandments. Now let me be a little more practical and personal by way of the application of what I am trying to say. I suppose we shall all agree that modern life is the opportunity of the vain man, the democratic life lends itself so easily to positions of prominence. Your modest, retiring man is a man very difficult to persuade to occupy a public position, and indeed only a stern sense of duty, as a rule, will drive him there. But there is the place — places that are multiplied to-day — beckoning and calling to the vain man, the man who believes in himself and always lets you know it. It succeeds, it gets to the top, it occupies the conspicuous position, and therefore I find that young men and young women are quite willing to overlook the voice as being superficial, and to credit virtue which very often does not exist. And even when these ambitions are humbled in our midst, I do not find that with the vain man the humbling goes very deep, because he has always got his vanity to fall back upon. He always says virtue must always suffer. Is there anything more, perhaps, offensive to most people than the intellectually superior person, the person who prides himself upon his intellectual powers? It is so easy to-day to get a reputation of this kind, because this is the day of the little knowledge, and the day of little knowledge is always the day of vanity. Let me take just one further illustration of the pernicious character of this vice in the age in which we live. Some people say that a vain woman is a sad spectacle, but that a vain man is a sadder. I think they are right, but I think also that, perhaps, a vain child is the saddest spectacle of all. And yet how often we find parents misguided enough to encourage and cultivate in their children this particular vice. They repeat the clever and charming sayings of their children before their children's faces, until in a very little while their children come to hold by the creed that probably they are the cleverest children that the world contains. I should like to put in tonight a very simple, humble plea for the encouragement of the simplicity and humility of childhood. It was not for nothing, surely, that our Lord took a little child, and set him in the midst of his quarrelsome, ambitious, avaricious disciples. I have got to pray you, that you will accompany me and let me take you to where Paul went that he might get back to the foundation of Christian virtue, and I have got to ask you whether you dwell enough in the presence of that cross of Jesus Christ. For mark — if that doesn't break your pride nothing will. If you can turn your back upon that cross, and go away a vain man, the disease is incurable. God set that cross in the centre of the universe to humble men. Oh, men and women, to whom the world appeals in its worldly way to-day, in its loud, aggressive, self-assertive spirit, to join its side, and to take up the spirit of vanity, and to resolve that you will make your way as other people do by self-assertion, I want to plead with you. I know the temptation may be a strong one, but I want to ask you to believe with me that the Lord Christ knows better, and that that which is worth while is the humble and the contrite heart.
(C. S. Horne, M. A.)
And Jeroboam drave Israel from following the Lord.I. THE CHARACTER OF JEROBOAM BEFORE HE WAS KING. He early discovered some of those distinguishing natural and moral qualities, which formed him for the extraordinary part which he finally acted on the stage of life. His natural genius was sprightly, bold, and enterprising, which he evidently cultivated, notwithstanding the peculiar disadvantages and embarrassments which attended his education. Though he lost his father in his youth, and was left to the care of his mother, who was a widow, yet by the mere dint of his brilliant talents and close application, he recommended himself to the notice and patronage of his wise and sagacious sovereign, We read, "Jeroboam was the son of Nebat, an Ephrathite of Zereda, Solomon's servant, whose mother's name was Zeruiah, a widow woman. And the man Jeroboam was a mighty man of valour: and Solomon seeing the young man that he was industrious, he made him ruler over all the charge of the house of Joseph." His appointment to such an office, by such a penetrating prince, is an infallible evidence of his popular talents and pleasing address. These excellent and amiable accomplishments, had they been properly directed to the public good, would have rendered him a great blessing to the nation. But it appears from his history that a base, turbulent, ambitious spirit led him to prostitute his fine abilities to the vilest purposes.
II. TO REPRESENT THE STATE OF THE NATION, WHEN A BASE AND UNPRINCIPLED MAJORITY RAISED HIM TO A SUPREME POWER. His two immediate predecessors were great and illustrious princes, who reigned long and prosperously.
III. HOW IT CAME TO PASS THAT TEN TRIBES OUT OF TWELVE SHOULD RAISE SUCH AN IMPIOUS AND DANGEROUS MAN TO ROYAL DIGNITY. Jeroboam had not the least claim to the crown, either by birth or by merit. How then should it ever enter the minds of the nation to make choice of the son of Solomon's servant to reign over them? The answer to this is easy. Jeroboam the son of Nebat had long been a man of intrigue. He had secretly employed every artifice to prejudice the people against the former administration of government, and had openly presumed to lift up his hand against the king. All this he had done before he fled into Egypt; and it is extremely probable that during his residence there he kept up a secret and traitorous correspondence with the disaffected in Israel, and only waited for the death of Solomon to return and seize his throne. It is certain, however, that as soon as Solomon expired, his disaffected subjects immediately sent to Egypt for Jeroboam the son of Nabat, and set him up as the rival of Rehoboam, the proper heir to the crown.
IV. WHAT METHODS JEROBOAM THE SON OF NEBAT EMPLOYED TO CORRUPT AND DESTROY THE PEOPLE WHO HAD GIVEN HIM HIS POWER. It is a melancholy truth that he did "drive Israel from following the Lord," and involve them in a series of calamities, until they were dispersed and lost among the nations of the earth. There is something so extraordinary and so instructive in this part of Jeroboam's conduct, that it deserves the deep attention of both rulers and subjects. The question now is, what methods did he employ to "drive Israel from following the Lord"? His character and conduct before he came to the throne will not admit of the supposition of his acting ignorantly or inadvertently. And it appears from his history that he exerted all his talents to devise the most effectual means of extinguishing every spark of true religion and virtue in the minds of his subjects. Here, then, it may be observed —
1. That he prohibited the worship of the true God, by substituting in the place of it the worship of graven images. The inspired historian gives us a particular account of this bold and impious method to banish all true religion and morality from his kingdom.
2. He appointed new times as well as new places of public worship. These two measures were intimately connected, and calculated to render each other the more effectual. To change the day as well as the places of religious worship, had a direct tendency to distinguish Israel from Judah, and to draw a lasting line of separation between the two kingdoms. His policy clearly appears in what the sacred historian says concerning his appointment of new holy days.
3. To make new appointments to office. As his darling object was to corrupt and destroy the true religion, so he discarded the regular and faithful priests of the Lord, and appointed others to supply their place who were attached to his person and cause, though of the vilest character and of the meanest condition.
4. That he enforced these measures by all the weight and influence of his own example. It appears from his character and conduct in early life that he possessed, in a high degree, the art of captivating and corrupting all sorts of people with whom he conversed. And when he was clothed with the ensigns of royalty his power and opportunity of corrupting his subjects greatly increased. He became the standard of taste, and the model of imitation. His sentiments and manners became a living law to his subjects. In his familiar intercourse with all around him he undoubtedly seized those soft moments, which were the most favourable to his malignant design of seduction. This he could do without departing from the dignity of his station; but it appears that he did more than this, and even stooped to mingle with the priests, and "to burn incense upon the altars of the golden gods of his own making." Improvement:(1) The character and conduct of Jeroboam may lead us to form a just estimate of good rulers. Everything appears in the truest light by the way of contrast. Folly is a foil to wisdom; vice is a foil to virtue; false religion is a foil to that which is true; and wicked rulers are a foil to those who are wise and faithful. These, however, are often despised and reproached, when they deserve to be esteemed and admired.(2) The character and conduct of Jeroboam plainly teach us what a dreadful scourge wicked rulers may be to their subjects. We can nowhere find the character of a hypocritical and unprincipled sovereign so fully delineated as in the history of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.(3) It appears from the intriguing character described in this discourse, how easily any people may be led into civil and religious delusion by artful and designing politicians. The people of God, one would have supposed, were proof against every species of delusion, especially in the days of Solomon, who instructed as well as governed them with superior wisdom and integrity.(4) It appears from the character and conduct of Jeroboam, that corrupt rulers will always aim to corrupt the faithful ministers of religion,(5) We learn from the character, conduct, and history of Jeroboam, that it is the duty of the public teachers of religion to bear public testimony against all attempts of those in authority to destroy the religion and morals of the people.(6) The nature and effects of Jeroboam's conduct show us what we have to fear, should our civil rulers embrace and propagate the principles of infidelity. We have not so far lost our virtuous and religious habits but that wise and virtuous rulers might, under Providence, restrain us from total declension and apostacy.(7) It appears from what has been said in this discourse that civil and religious delusions are the great evils which more especially call for our humiliation and mourning this day. Though we have been uncommonly happy and prosperous under the late administration of government, yet the people have loudly complained of public men and public measures, and by a majority of suffrages, placed the supreme power .in different hands.(8) This subject teaches us the propriety and importance of praying for a general effusion of the divine Spirit. Without this, we have no ground to expect to be reclaimed from our deep declension.
(N. Emmons, D. D.)
And the King of Assyria brought men from Babylon.
I. THE TYRANNY OF MAN. Here we find the Assyrians committing two great enormities on the men of Israel, driving them out of their own land into Assyria, and taking possession of their own country and home.
II. THE RETRIBUTIONS OF LIFE. Probably the lions had been in the land of Samaria before the settlement of the Assyrian colonists, but after their settlement these furious beasts of prey seem to have multiplied. The law of retribution is ever at work in human history, not only in the lives of nations but in the lives of individuals. No man can do a wrong thing without suffering for it in some form or other. Nemesis surely, though silently, treads on the heels of wrong. The lions of retribution track our steps as sinners; stealthily, and are ready to spring at any moment. We are far enough from saying that retribution here is adequate and complete, hence there is within all a "fearful looking for" of some future judgment.
III. THE PROSTITUTION OF RELIGION. The Assyrian king, it would seem, in answer to the alarm which his people, whom he had settled in Samaria, felt concerning the lions, conceived the plan of adopting religion as the remedy. Here you have one of the million examples of that religion of policy that has abounded in all lands .and times. In every page in history, nay, in every scene of life, we find religion taken up as a means to an end, rather than as the grand end of being.
IV. THE THEISTIC HUNGER OF SOULS. All these men, both the colonists and the Israelites, would have their gods; a god seemed to them as necessary almost as their life.
(David Thomas, D. D.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
They feared the Lord, and served their own godsI. The first thought which I think suggests itself to our mind, is of THE CURIOUS INCONSISTENCY OF THEIR CONDUCT. They worshipped the true God; and, along with Him, they worshipped various false gods. Now, this seems strange to us. We cannot imagine a man being at once a Christian, a Mohammedan, a Jew, a heathen, and an atheist. You must make your choice what religion you will profess: you cannot profess several inconsistent religions together. But it is just because Christianity has so thoroughly leavened our ways of thinking, that there appears to us anything strange in the conduct of these inhabitants of Samaria. For Christianity, we all know, is an exclusive religion. It not merely calls men to believe in itself, but to reject every other faith. It not merely claims to be right and true: but it boldly says that every other faith is wrong and false. The God of the Bible not merely commands us to worship Him: He commands us to worship no one else. This is their great characteristic as compared with all other religions. Christianity is a faith which admits no rivals, no competitors: it demands to stand alone. And the true God is not the God of this land or that land: He is the God of all the earth: He tolerates no brother near His throne. But it was not so at all with the gods of false religions: with the gods whom these poor Samaritans worshipped; no, nor with the gods and goddesses who were worshipped by the polished nations of Greece and Rome. It did not follow that because you held Jupiter to be a true god, you held Mercury or Apollo to be false gods. It did not follow because you worshipped Dagon, that you failed to worship Moloch. It did not follow that Beelzebub would feel himself slighted, because you offered a sacrifice to Rimmon. Each false god had his own province, and he held by that. And so you can see that these ignorant Samaritans, when they "feared the Lord, and served their own gods," had no sense at all of the inconsistency, — of the self-contradiction, — of what they did, such as that which we might feel.
II. A second thing worthy of notice in their conduct is this: THE MOTIVE WHICH LED THEM TO OFFER WORSHIP TO THE TRUE GOD. You observe, that motive was pure and simple fear. They worshipped God, because they were afraid of Him. They worshipped Him, because they thought He had done them much mischief already; and because they thought that unless they did something to conciliate Him, He might do them more mischief yet. Good might have come, in any measure; and they would never have seen God in that. But when evil befell them, such was their conception of the Divine nature, they said, Now, here is the finger of God. The lions came prowling about their fields and dwellings; and this neighbour and the other was devoured by them: and then at once their thoughts ran up to a God as the sender of mischief: that was all they knew about Him: and they determined to worship Him, not because He was good and kind and deserving of all worship; but because, unless they affected some measure of regard and respect for Him, He might send them something worse than even the lions who had already come.
III. It is evident from the entire account of them, that the WORSHIP WHICH THEY PAID TO THE TRUE GOD, WAS NOT REALLY SO HEARTY AND REAL A THING AS THAT WHICH THEY PAID TO THEIR OLD IDOLS. "They feared the Lord": they stood in a vague terror of Him, which prompted them to offer Him a sacrifice now and then; to meet for His worship now and then: but "they served their own gods": — they lived day by day in mind of them: they were not merely the worshippers, at long intervals, of these false gods: they were the servants of these false gods, — obeying them, working for them, from hour to hour. When the two things came together: the worship of a Being from whom they simply feared evil, and the worship of beings from whom they expected good: you can easily see which of the two would have the predominance. There is many a man who has that degree of superstitious fear of what God may do to him, that he dare not cast off God's fear altogether; while yet the love of money, or the love of pleasure, or the love of eminence and honour, really sits upon the throne of his heart! He "fears the Lord": and at the same time he thinks to "serve his own gods," — wealth, pleasure, or ambition. The fraudulent trader who adulterates his wares, and yet is never out of church on a Sunday: the greedy farmer, who will tell many lies to get a sound price for lame horse, yet who would not on any consideration be absent from a sacrament: and I say it with sorrow, brethren, I have known several such: what are such men doing but what the Samaritans did: "fearing the Lord, and serving their own gods!"(A. K. H. Boyd.)
Essex Remembrancer.The first source of obligation under which man is laid to constant obedience, is the absolute supremacy and dominion of God. Because He is the author of all things, therefore is He the end of all things. We can assign no reason for the creation of the world, but the pleasure of its Creator: and can conceive of no motive to prompt Him to create, but the display of His own glory. As the glory of God is His object, so it ought to be the aim of every intelligent creature. The moment that man departs from the service of God, he becomes a rebel against his rightful Sovereign; nor can he possibly be restored to the Divine favour, till, feeling his guilt, and acknowledging the rights of the Divine government, he submits all his powers to the governance of God. There is something like a consciousness of this implanted in the mind of man, which forces him to pay some kind of regard to the commands of God, from a slavish fear of His anger, or a desire to be on good terms with so powerful a Being. A striking instance of this is now before us. The people whom the King of Assyria had removed to the land of the Israelites, being plagued by lions, looked upon it as a judgment for not worshipping "the God of the land"; which they could not do, because they knew not how (ver. 27, 28). The King of Assyria took care to have them instructed in the worship of this powerful God, not from any regard to Him, but to save the people from destruction. So a priest came among them, and taught them how they should fear the Lord: and now they unite the worship of Jehovah with that of their own idols. These they loved, but Him they feared. Affection bound them to the service of their gods, while a dread of the God of Israel constrained them to pay some attention to His worship. Now, allowing for the different state of society, how many may be found among us influenced by the same sprat, and adopting, the same conduct as these Assyrians: "they fear the Lord, but serve their own gods." They attend the house of God, and hear with some degree of pleasure the preaching of His Word; they are to a certain extent religious; but they are far from serving God with their whole heart. Their religion amounts to a general commendation of what is excellent; and a compliance with those precepts of God's Word which cost them little trouble and self-denial.
I. THE UNHAPPINESS OF SUCH A STATE OF INDECISION. While you thus endeavour to unite the service of God with the service of the world, there are two forces, of directly opposite tendency, operating upon you, so that the effect of each is obstructed, and you are perpetually disquieted, and receive no real pleasure from anything you do. What can be more wretched than to have a conscience disapproving your conduct, and admonishing you to duties for which you have no inclination? Instead of cheering you with the assurance that the God whom you serve win always be your defence and comfort, it upbraids you with your duplicity and indecision. It speaks so that you would rather stifle, than hear, its voice; and rather run the dreadful risk of eternal misery, than look into your real condition, and enter upon serious reflection concerning your final state. Nor is such a state less unfruitful than it is unpleasant. What advancement in religion do those make who are unfaithful to the light which has been communicated to them? Let me appeal to such. Is it not true, that there has been no improvement, perhaps for years together? What progress have you made in your religious course? Is it not true, that even the light which you once had is darkened? the feelings which were excited, benumbed? and the religion of Christ stripped of much of that glory in which it at first appeared to you? The Gospel, where it is truly received, purifies, but you remain the same: it consoles, but you know nothing of its comfort and joy. Do you ask, What you are to do? If you would enjoy the pleasures of the world as others do, you must serve their gods entirely, and cast off all fear of God, and all thoughts of eternity. If you would be happy in the favour of God, and the enjoyment of true religion, you must serve Him alone, and put away your own gods; for as He is worthy of the whole heart, He will not dwell in any heart that is divided with mammon. And now make the choice; but be determined to count the costs.
II. Such a state of indecision is A STATE OF INCONCEIVABLE DANGER. It strengthens the sinful propensities of the heart; — it deprives the means of grace of their proper efficacy; — and it restrains, and if persisted in, banishes, the Holy Spirit's influences.
1. Be decided. While you halt between two opinions you have the disgrace and disadvantages of both; the supports and joys of neither.
2. Be consistent. Let your conduct prove that your whole soul is engaged in the service of God. Thus will your course through this world be most productive of glory to God, comfort to yourself, and benefit to your fellow-creatures.
3. Be active. Our whole life is but one short day; and too much of that davy has been spent in vanity and sin. Let not the zeal with which we now serve God be surpassed by the ardour with which we have served the world.
How happy could I be with either,
Were t'other sweet charmer away.
It is so with many men and women. They say, "How truly could I serve God, if there were no sin"; adding, "and how delighted I should be to sin, if I knew there were no God." I feel persuaded you can see the inconsistency of having two conflicting opinions which divide your heart, and make your life an unstable as water. Let us, therefore, pray the Lord to give us grace to be decided-for Him; that we may take His principles for better or for worse, in sickness or health; and whatever may happen, to be the Lord's faithful people. Let us pray that we may have grace to resolve thus, and power to carry the resolution out, so that when we have lived our allotted time and finished our work, the Lord shall be able to say, "After all, I did not create that soul in vain." May I give you one or two reasons why there is so much double-dealing? I mean, that while men feel persuaded it is right to worship the Lord and do His will, yet they devote the chief portion of their lives to the service of their own gods.
I. One reason is that we get into the way of PRESUMING ON THE LOVING-KINDNESS OF GOD. Some of the preaching of the last hundred years has done harm. While I hold as firmly as any man can the doctrine of the power of the atonement of Jesus, yet, at the same time, I also hold that the atonement of Jesus is a means to an end; that is to say, Jesus laid down His life for the purpose of making us pure and unselfish. If a man says he believes in Christ, and yet does not act rightly, he does not liver the truth, whether he knows it or not; he is no more a Christian than he was before he joined the church. "Conversion" is repentance, that is, giving up things: that are bad, and doing only those which are good. Unless our faith lead us to, act rightly, and to deny ourselves for the benefit of others, we do not know Christianity, nor have we rightly read the life of Christ. Christianity is, acting purely in every action and at all times, and denying ourselves for the benefit of mankind. A higher religion than this it is impossible to conceive; one more powerful to bless the world cannot be imagined. But it is needful for us to understand it truly. If we say we believe and yet we do not act cheerfully, purely, and honestly, depend upon it we are mistaken. Believing in Christ is trying with our whole heart and mind and strength to do the will of our Heavenly Father as revealed in the spirit of the Gospel. What is "conversion"? Some people imagine that conversion is like a fortune being left us — that we have no more work to do, and have only to enjoy ourselves with the money. But conversion is like being an apprentice on board a ship, where one has to bear hardship and work for many weary years. Conversion is beginning an apprenticeship to eternal life, and serving our time on earth for the enjoyment and employment of angelhood in heaven. Conversion means literally "turning round," changing from a wicked to a holy life; and such a change cannot be effected instantaneously. Of course there is a moment when the turning-point begins, but it takes a long, long time for the conversion to be completed. The work of conversion goes on every hour and minute of our waking life. It is a battle with unseen foes — a man's worst foes being those of his own house, that is, his own nature. The life of every Christian is one long battle, and as a "devout soldier," the qualities he will need in his spiritual warfare are those which elicit our admiration in a British soldier, namely, order, serf-sacrifice, and obedience.
II. Another reason why we have this divided heart, which, while thinking it right to serve the Lord, yet permits us to follow our own gods, IS BECAUSE WE DISTRUST GOD'S LOVING CARE. It is a sin to presume on God's love; but is it not also a sin to despair of His care? So the troubles and buffetings of daily life, and the turmoil and storm which assail us, will prove a blessing in the end. The discipline is painful, as all chastisement is; but, my friend, these light afflictions which oppress you to-day are working out for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. We may be sure that what we have to undergo is for our good.
III. Having shown the reasons why we get into the way of serving our own gods, let me now urge you to follow the steps of Jesus, and to make CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLE YOUR RULE OF LIFE. I have often wondered what made the Apostle John picture the streets of the new Jerusalem as being made of pure gold, as if they were "transparent glass." I think it was because he had seen so much double-dealing that he, in singleness of heart, felt that heaven must be so pure that the very floor is transparent. You can actually see through its pavement; what on earth is dense is in God s home clear as crystal And if the streets are like transparent glass, what must the people be? The lesson is that we must get rid of our double-dealing and duplicity here, for there is nothing but openness and sincerity in heaven. If we are sincere, transparent Christians, our lives shall glorify God, and men shall thereby be attracted to serve their Heavenly Father. Do not feat to act on Christian principles. Perfect love to God casteth out fear. Follow Christ, and give up your life rather than act contrary to the spirit of the Gospel Dare even to die for Christ. Act up to your convictions. Dare to act as Christ would act. Never mind though the entire world be against you if God be with you. If Christ say "Amen" to your life, dare to live it, whatever men may say. Lot your heart and mind be of one aim, that one aim being to follow Christ.
Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10); or rather two forms of the same, which is again repeated in the Book of Psalms (Psalm 111:10). The word "beginning" in all these cases, may be strictly understood as having reference to time. This is the point from which all successful students of true wisdom must set out. Their first lesson is to fear the Lord. "The fear of the Lord," which is thus both the Alpha and Omega of the spiritual alphabet, may be taken either in a generic or a specific sense. The former is, in fact, co-extensive with the general idea of religion or true piety, including, either directly or by necessary inference, every right disposition and affection on the part of man, as a dependent and unworthy creature, towards the infinitely great and holy God. All such affections may be readily deduced from fear, in its specific sense, as signifying not a slavish but a filial feeling, not mere dread or terror, which, from its very nature, must be always tinged with hate, or at least with repugnance, but a reverence impregnated with love. This genuine and spurious fear of God, unlike as they may seem, and as they are, have often been confounded, on account of their having something really in common, to wit, a sense of God's power and an apprehension of His wrath as awaiting all transgressors of His will. But this common element, which justifies the use of the word fear in reference to both these dispositions, is blended in the one case with a consciousness of alienation and hostility, while in the other it is lost, as it were, in the feeling of attachment, confidence, and common interest. The varying proportion, in which these distinctive qualities are blended with the fundamental property of fear, determines the facility with which a filial awe may be confounded with a slavish dread. To discriminate between the two might sometimes be impossible, but for a practical criterion or test which the Word of God has laid down, in accordance with our Saviour's fundamental rule of moral diagnosis, "By their fruits ye shall know them." This intimate connection between genuine fear and obedience is recognised in the law itself, when Moses warns Israel "to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear the glorious and fearful name, the Lord thy God" (Deuteronomy 28:58). The negative aspect of the same truth is exhibited by Job, when he winds up his sublime inquiry after wisdom with the solemn declaration, "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding" (Job 28:28). Here, then, is the touchstone of a genuine and a spurious fear of God. The one disposes us to do His will, from a sincere complacency and acquiescence in it. The other prompts us rather to resist it, except so far as our compliance may seem necessary to escape His wrath, which is the only real object of this slavish dread. The one is a fear of punishment as the consequence of sin; the other a fear of sin itself, as intrinsically evil, or, which amounts to the same thing, as opposed to the will of God, and to His very nature, which is thus assumed as the ultimate criterion of right and wrong, of good and evil. Only a filial fear disposes men to serve God. Selfish and slavish fear disposes them to flee from Him. This distinction, however obvious as it is in Scripture and familiar in experience, is not practically recognised by all men. There seems to be a natural propensity to look upon fear, blank fear, as the essence of devotion, as the whole of what is due to God, the rendering of which absolves from all obligation to believe, to trust, to love, or to obey. Among the heathen this idea of religion is perhaps predominant, or certainly far more prevalent than we frequently imagine. It may well be questioned whether their deities are ever the objects of their love, excepting in those cases where the god is but a personification of some darling lust. Beyond this homage rendered to the unchecked sway of their own appetites and passions, there is strong reason far believing that their devotion is nothing but the tribute of their fears to a superior power which they hate, and which they look upon as hating them. The service rendered under the influence of such a motive is in no ease more than they regard as absolutely necessary to secure them from the wrath of the offended godhead. But this universal and unconquerable sense of guilt may co-exist with an indefinite variety of notions as to the means of propitiation, and the extent to which those means must be applied. Some men may feel it to be necessary to expend their whole time in appeasing the Divine wrath; but by far the greater number, under every known form of idolatry, consider less than this sufficient, and rejoice to appropriate the residue to self-indulgence. They give no more than is extorted by their fears, and have no conception of religious service as a voluntary, cheerful, joyous consecration of the whole man to an object which he venerates and loves, and in the doing of whose will he finds his highest happiness. The only service of this free, spontaneous, and absorbing nature that the heathen devotee pays, is the service rendered to himself, in the indulgence of his own corrupt desires. He gives even to his chosen idol only what he is unable to withhold, his fears; and by so doing proves himself a stranger to all genuine religious fear, which cannot be divorced from the willing and devoted service of its object. An apt illustration of this general truth is afforded by a singular and interesting passage of the sacred history. The King of Assyria had carried into exile the ten tribes of Israel, and supplied their" place with settlers from his own dominions. These were heathen, and brought with them their own idols and idolatrous rites. Having no knowledge of Jehovah, whom their predecessors had professed to worship, even under the forbidden form of golden calves, they had, of course, no fear of His displeasure, till He sent wild beasts among them, and slew some of them. Regarding this correctly as a penal visitation from the God of the land, they procured from their own sovereign the assistance of an Israelitish priest to teach them how to worship Him. He accordingly taught them, as the narrative expresses it, "how they should fear the Lord," and they acted promptly upon his instructions. They took care, however, to provide gods of their own, each tribe or nation for itself, while at the same time they offered to Jehovah a worship of fear prompted more by the recollection of lions than by faith or reason. "So they feared the Lord, and served their own gods." How far the sacred writer was from recognising this as any genuine religious fear at all, we learn from his saying, in the very next sentence, " unto this day they do after the former manners; they fear not the Lord." Why! Because "they feared the Lord, and served their own gods." We may be disposed to smile with some contempt at the absurd and inconsistent conduct of these wretched pagans. But wherein did their folly and their sin consist? Certainly not in being afraid of the displeasure of Jehovah and in seeking to avert it; for in this they acted wisely. But it lay in their imagining that forms of worship, extorted from them by their selfish fears, would be sufficient to propitiate the Most High and secure them from His vengeance; while their voluntary service, their cordial and habitual devotion, was expended on His enemies and rivals. If this is the absurdity which we condemn, our judgment is a just one; but let us impartially condemn it wherever we may find it, whether in ancient or in modern times, whether in Eastern or in Western climes, whether in heathendom or Christendom, whether in our neighbours or ourselves. To make the transition easier from the heathen to the Christian world, we may begin with our own heathen, the heathen at our own doors, in our own streets; I mean those who approach nearest to the heathen both in the positive and negative circumstances of their spiritual state, their ignorance of truth, and their enslavement to sin. Look at the worst part of your population, as it pours its turbid streams along in times of more than usual excitement; hear its muttered or vociferated curses; mark the bestial character of its propensities and habits. All this you have seen, and as you saw it, you have been disposed perhaps to say that here, at least, there is no divided worship or allegiance; here, at least, are men who serve their own gods, but who do not, even in profession, fear the Lord. No, in profession, certainly not; in form, in purpose, not at all; but do you think they never fear Him, that is, feel afraid of Him? Be not precipitate in drawing such conclusions. In the vast mixed multitude of those whom you regard as the most ignorant, and reckless, and besotted of your countrymen, observe, on some occasion of extraordinary concourse, how many haggard faces, and contracted brows, and strangely gleaming eyes encounter yours. Do you believe all this expression of anxiety and dread to be the fruit of poverty, or sickness, or domestic cares? If so, you are mistaken; for the same expression may be seen in those who are not poor, who are not sick, or outwardly distressed at all; and on the other hand, its absence may be marked in thousands who are poorer, and who suffer more from care and sickness than do any of those whom you are observing. There is something back of all these causes to produce this uniformity of countenance, and I will tell you what it is — it is fear. You fear the Lord; you are unwilling to provoke His anger; you acknowledge your obligation to serve Him, and you discharge that obligation by attending on His worship; but is He the master that you daily serve? Where is your treasure and your heart? By whose will do you regulate your life? A man may so far fear the Lord as to frequent His house, and join in the external acts of worship there; but what if he has other gods at home, and there bows down to Mammon or to Belial? What if the world is in his heart, and the prince of this world on the throne of his affections? Will the stain of these habitual idolatries be washed out by patiently enduring the penance of a Sabbath service? Will the Lord, who is thus feared with a slavish dread of His displeasure, be contented, for the sake of this, to pass by all the rest — all that is done, or all that is not done, in defiance of His absolute authority and positive command? The charge which is here brought is not one of hypocrisy. It is one of delusion. I do not say that those of whom I speak pretend to fear the Lord when they know they fear Him not. I say that they believe they fear Him, when in fact they fear Him not. Or rather, which is really the same thing in another form, they do fear Him; but it is not with a fear which honours, or conciliates, or pleases Him, as they imagine; and here, just here, is their delusion. They are sincere enough in thinking that they fear God; but they are terribly mistaken in supposing that they fear Him as they ought. This is a painful truth to those of us whom it concerns; but it is one which, sooner or later, must be told. And it requires not many words to tell it. It may be summed up in this short sentence: If you do not serve the Lord, you do not fear Him. You may attend upon His worship, you may respect religion, you may believe the Bible to be true, you may hope to be saved through Christ, you may expect to die the death of the righteous.
(F. Addison Alexander, D. D.)
I. I shall first call your attention to THE NATURE OF THIS MONGREL RELIGION. It had its good and bad points, for it wore a double face.
1. These people were not infidels. Far from it: "they feared the Lord." They did not deny the existence, or the power, or the rights of the great God of Israel, whose name is Jehovah. They had faith, though only enough to produce fear. They knew that there was a God; they feared His wrath, and they tried, to appease it. So far they were hopeful persons, and under the influence of a feeling which has often led up to better things. It was better to dread God than to despise Him; better slavishly to fear than stupidly to forget.
2. Another good point about these mixed religionists was that they were willing to be taught. As soon as they found that they were not acting rightly towards the God of the land, they sent a petition to their supreme ruler, the King of Assyria, setting forth their spiritual destitution. They were quite willing to be taught the manner of the God of the land, and so they installed this priest at Bethel, and gathered, about him to know what they Should do. We have people around us unto this day who are glad to hear the Gospel, and sit with pleasure under our ministry, and if the Word be faithfully preached they commend the preacher and give a gratified attention to the things that proceed out of his mouth; and yet they are living in known sin.
3. Though these strangers feared Jehovah, and were, willing to learn the way of His worship, yet they stuck to their old gods. "Ah," said the Babylonian, "I listen respectfully to what you have to say of this God of the land; but Succoth-benoth for me; when I go home I shall offer sacrifice to him." The men of Cuthah said, "Verily this is good doctrine concerning the God of Israel; but the god of our fathers was Nergal, and to him will we cleave"; and the Sepharvites, though they wished to hear of the pure and holy Jehovah, and therefore learned from His law the command, "Thou shalt not kill," yet still they passed their children through the fire to Moloch, and did not cease from that most cruel of all religious rites. Thus yon see that this mingle-mangle religion left the people practically where they were: whatever their fear might be, their customs and practices remained the same. Have you never met with persons of the same mongrel kind? If you have never done so, your class of acquaintances must be superior to mine. Persons are to be found, without a lantern and candle, who earn their money by ministering at the altars of Belial, and then offer a part of it to the Lord of hosts. Can they come from the place of revelling to the chamber of communion?
II. Let us now consider THE MANNER OF ITS GROWTH. However came such a 'monstrous compound into this world? Here is the history of it.
1. These people came to live where the people of God had lived. The Israelites were most unworthy worshippers of Jehovah; but, still, they were known to others as His people, and their land was Jehovah's land. If the Sepharvites had stopped at Sepharvaim they would never have thought of fearing Jehovah; if the men of Babylon had continued to live in Babylon they would have been perfectly satisfied with Bel, or Succoth-benoth, or whatever the name of their precious god might be: but when they were fetched out from their old haunts, and brought into Canaan, they came under a different influence, and a new order of things. Something else happened to these Assyrian immigrants which had a stronger influence still.
2. At first they did not fear God, but the Lord sent lions among them. Matthew Henry says, "God can serve His own purposes by which He pleaseth, little or big, lice or lions." By the smaller means he plagued the Egyptians, and by the greater these invaders of His land.
3. But notice, that the root of this religion is fear. There is no love on the right side; that affection is in the opposite scale. Their hearts go after their idols, but to Jehovah they yield nothing but dread.
4. One reason why they dropped into this self-contradictory religion was that they had a trimming teacher. The King of Assyria sent them a priest: he could not have sent them a prophet, but that was what they really wanted. He sent them a Bethelite, not a genuine servant of Jehovah, but one who worshipped God by means of symbols; and this the Lord had expressly forbidden.
III. Thirdly, let us estimate THE VALUE OF THIS RELIGION. What is it worth?
1. It must evidently be feeble on both sides, because the man who serves Succoth-benoth cannot do it thoroughly if all the while he fears Jehovah; and he who fears Jehovah cannot be sincere if he is worshipping Moloch.
2. At first I should think that the mixture of the true with the false at Samaria looked like an improvement.
3. These Samaritans in after years became the bitterest foes of God's people. Read the Book of Nehemiah, and you will see that the most bitter opponents of that godly man were those mongrels.
4. How provoking this adulterated religion must be to God! It is even provoking to God's minister to be pestered with men whose hypocrisies weaken the force of his testimony.
IV. THE CONTINUANCE OF THIS EVIL: for the text says, "As did their fathers, so do they, unto this day." I believe in the final perseverance of the saints: I am almost obliged to believe in the final perseverance of hypocrites; for, really, when a man once screws himself up to play the double, and both to fear God and serve other gods, he is very apt to stick there. One reason why it can be said of most men-so do they unto this day, is because it yields them a sort of comfort; at any rate it keeps off the lions.
V. I shall now close by saying a few words BY WAY OF CURE OF THIS DREADFUL EVIL OF MONGRELISM; this fearing the Lord, and serving other gods.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Blest too is he who can divine
Where real right doth lie,
And dares to take the side that seems
Wrong to man's blindfold eye.
Then learn to scorn the praise of men,
And learn to lose with God:
For Jesus won the world through shame,
And beckons thee His road.