Woe to them that are at ease in Zion.
I. SOME ARE AT EASE IN ZION FROM SELFISH INSENSIBILITY. Such there were in the days of Amos. In a similar way to Amos, Isaiah upbraids the Jews. There are still many whose attention to their own indulgences regulates all their actions. Our dispositions ought always to correspond with the providence of God, and the purposes for which He placed us in the world. For the unfeeling wretch conscience has no kind office to perform. For him no orphan prays, no widow sings. For him the evil day comes on charged with every horror. He has no asylum in the feelings of the community, the happiness of whose members he never sought.
II. SOME FROM INFIDEL PRESUMPTION. If there be any truth in the Scriptures, the dispositions of the generality of mankind are very unsuitable to their state and their destiny. What is this ease which flows from infidel persuasion?
1. It is obtained with difficulty.
2. It is partial, and liable to interruption.
3. The less liable it is to be disturbed, the more awful; for it is penal.
4. This ease is fatal. Its duration is momentary; it must end, and end in anguish and despair.
III. SOME FROM VAIN CONFIDENCE; relying on the goodness of their present state, and on the certainty of their future happiness. There is such a thing as spiritual self-flattery; there is such a thing as a delusive dependence on religion.
1. This confidence keeps them from looking after salvation. They are too good to be saved.
2. This course will terminate in woeful surprise and disappointment.
IV. SOME PROM PRACTICAL INDIFFERENCE. You would much offend persons of this class, were you to inquire whether they believed the Scripture. These persons are not to be charged sentimentally with anti-nomianism or any other error. They know the Gospel in theory; but they are strangers to its Divine efficacy. Of all the various characters we have to deal with in our ministry, these are the most unlikely to insure success. We preach; you acknowledge, and admire, — but you discover no more concern to obtain the one thing needful we propose, than if you were persuaded we called you "to follow a cunningly devised fable." Your life is a perpetual contradiction to your creed: you are not happy, and contrive not to be miserable. Inferences.
1. They are highly criminal, who countenance and promote a state of carnal ease.
2. Let none be troubled when they find their connections distressed and alarmed with a sense of their sin and danger.
3. Nothing is so much to be dreaded as false security in religion.
4. There is consolation for those who are distressed. We do not applaud all their doubts and dejections, but these painful scruples are easily accounted for, and they lie on the safe side.
I. THE STATE OF MIND THAT IS REPROVED IN THIS PASSAGE.
1. It includes carnal security (ver. 1).
2. It includes presumptuous unbelief (vers. 2, 3).
3. It includes sensual indulgence (vers. 4, 5, 6, first clause).
4. It includes selfish indifference (ver. 6, last clause).
II. THE JUSTICE OF THE WOE DENOUNCED AGAINST IT.
1. Such a state of mind indicates a lurking enmity against God.
2. Indicates insensibility to the claims of Jesus.
3. Indicates a deep-seated unbelief of coming judgments.
Essex Remembrancer.I. THE STATE CONDEMNED. God's threatenings had been declared against the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, but the people confided in their fortifications and external advantages, or in their profession of being the people of God; thus they carelessly indulged themselves, and were heedless about consequences, though destruction impended over them. The application of the passage to the conduct of many under the means of grace is natural and easy. The state of mind condemned is —
1. Expressive of careless indifference.
2. It is expressive of false security.The persons warned in the text were regarding themselves as secure on false and uncertain grounds. So many are now found perverting the doctrines of the Gospel, and promising to themselves security in such per version. Or they pretend that they arc waiting for God's time, when He will afford them necessary help. They make their moral inability, or in other words, their unwillingness to receive Christ and His Gospel an excuse for their continued disobedience, and attribute their rebellion and unbelief to the want of God's help, rather than to the state of their own hearts, to the love of sin, and to their unwillingness to yield submission to the Saviour's authority. Others make their moral conduct a ground of hope. Their honesty, their kindness to their neighbours, and the propriety of their general deportment are substituted for faith in Christ, and a cordial reception of His Gospel.
3. It is expressive of a state of sloth. Many professors are thus at ease. Once they were anxious, inquiring, full of apparent desire after the favour of God and the blessings of salvation, and of activity 'in the Saviour's cause. But their zeal, activity, and ardour have passed away. They are slumbering and sleeping.
II. MARK THE PLACE WHERE THIS STATE OF MIND IS EXERCISED. If slothfulness and indifference are unseemly in other spheres, are they less so in Zion, in the house, in the Church of God? If they are injurious to our temporal concerns... are they less so to our spiritual and eternal interests? Restricting the term "in Zion" to the place where God is worshipped, to His sanctuary, we remark —
1. That in Zion the law of God is declared. Its purity, its justice, its spiritual character and extensive requirements are set forth. In Zion we are shown the harmony of the law with the Gospel, while it becomes the means of preparing us to receive salvation.
2. In Zion the Gospel is proclaimed. Here the most constant theme is salvation through the Saviour s blood. Here Jesus is evidently set forth as crucified among us. Can you be at ease in Zion, cold and insensible, with the Cross in view, and indifferent to the Saviour's voice addressing us therefrom?
3. Zion is the special residence of Christ. Jesus is now represented as King in Zion, as the Ruler and Head of His Church.
III. THE DANGER TO WHICH THIS STATE OF MIND EXPOSES.
1. How opposed to all spiritual improvement.
2. How expressive of contempt for spiritual blessings.
3. How ruinous to our eternal interests.
I. CONSIDER THE PERSONS HERE MENTIONED. They are described as being "at ease in Zion." The temple was called Zion. The name was gradually extended to the worshippers, so that it came to embrace all who profess to know and worship God. To be in Zion means to be in a land where the true God is known and worshipped, where religious privileges, similar to those of the Jews, are enjoyed. Taking the word in a more limited sense, to be in Zion is to be among those who statedly meet for the purpose of religious worship. Or it may include only those who have made a public profession of religion. The ease here intended is ease not of body, but of mind; ease relating not to our temporal but to our religious or spiritual concerns. Persons are at ease when they feel neither sorrow nor alarm on account of their sins; when they are seldom troubled by the admonitions of conscience; when they arc not engaged in working out their salvation with fear and trembling, but feel quiet and secure. This unconcern respecting themselves is usually accompanied by at least equal unconcern respecting the salvation of others. Such persons are described as "not grieved for the affliction of Joseph"; that is, for the evils and calamities that afflict the Church. This body may be divided into several classes, corresponding with the various causes to which their ease is ascribed.
1. Those who deny that any punishment will be inflicted on sinners. This includes infidels of every description; those who deny God's government of the world; those who contemn God; and the scoffers. In this class must also be placed those who believe that all men will be saved. False prophets who cry "peace, peace," when there is no peace.
2. Those who allow that sinners will be punished, but who deny, or do not appear to believe, that they are sinners. They find, or fancy that they find none better than themselves, few so good, and very many worse. Hence they conclude that they arc in no danger, that they have nothing to fear, and of course feel easy and secure. Such persons are without the law. They know nothing of its spirituality, strictness, and extent. They have never tried themselves by this rule. They are like a man buried in sleep, totally unconscious of their true character and situation, insensible of their sins, and of the danger to which their sins expose them.
3. Those who acknowledge that they are sinners, and that sinners will be punished; and yet they are at ease, for they contrive in various ways to persuade themselves that though other sinners will be punished, they shall themselves escape. Such persons, though habitually, are not always at ease. They have times of anxiety and alarm. It is their way by promises and resolutions to put off the evil day. They trust to a future convenient season. There is perhaps no class of sinners whose situation is more dangerous. This class also includes all who entertain a false and groundless persuasion that they have already become pious, obtained the" pardon of their sins, and secured the favour of God. The reasons why persons feel such a persuasion are various.
II. THE WOE WHICH IS DENOUNCED AGAINST THEM IN OUR TEXT. The doom is expressed in general terms; in terms which may include curses and threatenings of every kind. Why are such characters thought worthy of a punishment so severe?
1. Because the ease which they feel proves that they belong to the number of the wicked. All who are habitually at ease in Zion know nothing of true religion. They are either careless sinners or self-deluded hypocrites.
2. They are not only sinners, but sinners of no common stamp, sinners whose guilt and sinfulness are peculiarly aggravated, and whose punishment will therefore be peculiarly severe. He who is at ease in Zion must be deaf to God's voice, blind to God's glories, insensible to every spiritual object; he sins against light and against love.
3. There is little reason to hope that they will ever repent. On what grounds can we hope for the salvation of those who are at ease? If they cannot be roused, if their false peace cannot be disturbed, they must inevitably perish; and to rouse them, humanly speaking, seems impossible.
(E. Payson, D. D.)
: — While Amos unveils the transgressions of Israel, he does not spare the sins of Judah.
I. THE PERSONS HERE REFERRED TO. Those who are "in Zion." The class of persons spoken of are the members of the visible Church, the professing people of God. Regard the professing Church —
1. As solemnly devoted to holiness and God.(1) They are so by the immediate and express purpose of God Himself. He has created them anew in Christ Jesus. And He has done this for His own glory.(2) They are so by the intention of their Divine Redeemer. He has done and suffered much for them. To redeem and raise up a holy Church is the object which is the solace of all the Redeemer's labours, the mead of all His sufferings.(3) They are devoted to holiness in baptism. The ordinance of baptism is the expressive type and sign of the sprinkling of the efficacious blood.(4) They are thus devoted by voluntary covenant. Every Christian is such by his free choice.
2. As the appointed instrument in the evangelisation of the world. The Church of Christ is designed to be a benevolent institution. They are appointed "witnesses" for God to an unbelieving and perishing world.(1) They are eminently fitted for this. They are themselves awakened and alive to the dangerous condition of every unconverted man. They know too the way of deliverance. And(2) they have the command.
3. As a mediator with God on behalf of a perishing world.(1) The renovation of the moral world depends upon the agency and operation of the Holy Ghost. The Word of God itself con tains no inherent or independent efficacy to convert mankind.(2) The bestow meat of the Spirit is frequently and distinctly promised, but always in answer to prayer.(3) Hence prayer is made the Christian's primary duty. Jesus both by precept and by example urged it upon His followers.
II. THE SIN CHARGED UPON THEM. "They are at ease." Consider —
1. Their spiritual condition. They are devoted to holiness; are they holy? The spiritual state of Christians generally is not such as to warrant their being at ease. Every scriptural view of their character and duty involves the obligation of strenuous exertion.
2. The state of the world. The Gospel has now been preached over eighteen hundred years, and what is the result? Look at your own family and domestic circle. Look at the inhabitants of your town and neighbourhood. To how small a proportion of our race have even the tidings of the Gospel yet been conveyed.
3. Another reason for uneasiness is that the success of the Word must always arise from the agency of the Holy Spirit.
III. THE JUDGMENT DENOUNCED. Under stand —
1. In the sense of a simple prophecy, as the prediction of a calamity likely and even certain to ensue.
2. It is the language of righteous retribution. That there is an equitable correspondence between sin and its consequences is testified by all experience.
3. It is the language of Divine denunciation. God is a just God, and a terrible. The sceptre of His mercy may become the rod of His wrath. If by our supineness, our unfaithfulness, our inconsistency, our sin, we have caused to be shed the blood of souls, shall we escape, think you, the just judgment of God?
(John G. Avery.)
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THOSE WHO ARE AT EASE IN ZION? Lazy Christians. Christianity is more than profession, it is even something more than faith. It is carrying into practice the truths we profess. The soul that is at ease sits down very contentedly on his mere profession, and mistakes earth for heaven.
II. WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF BEING AT EASE IN ZION?
1. There is ignorance of the nature of Christian life. Christianity is not ease, but labour. It is a daily struggle against unbelief and sin. The man at ease does his religion by deputy, or trusts entirely to the "mercy" of God, or relies on outward service and participation in form and ceremonies.
2. There is a dislike of the duties to be undertaken. Self-denial is not congenial to the natural heart. Labour is hateful, conflict repulsive, and therefore men sit down and dream away their opportunities.
3. Self-confidence. Disaster seems so unlikely. We fancy we are so secure that nothing can move us. Our prosperity, our privileges, our apparent tranquillity deceive the heart and lure the soul to sleep.
III. THE RESULT OF BEING AT EASE IN ZION.
1. It generates sin.
2. It merits the displeasure of God.
3. It will end in entire destruction.
(G. Wood, M. A.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
: — It is not the increase of the outer man and his surroundings and possessions, but the renewal of the inner life and spirit which makes the net profit and abiding wealth. It is the inner life of a nation that determines all things, not the visible, but the more or less invisible, not what can be arrayed in figures and statistics, but what no figures can express — not the show and splendour of prosperous times, the glare of wealth, the blaze of knowledge, the surfeit of luxuries, the pomp of pride, the flaunting of power, but the hidden qualities of patience, faith, self-mastery, courage, righteousness, and purity which lie underneath all this external display. It is the soul of a nation that makes a nation, not its body. If the soul is not sound, the body soon becomes a mass of weakness and decay. France is wealthier than it ever was before. It has more splendid cities, larger armies, greater intellectual resources and material resources than ever before; the outward man was never so fair and strong as now. What of all that if the heart has ceased to beat with honest purpose, if its ideals are lost, if the inner life has become diseased, defiled, corrupt? The outward show slowly rots away, when the inspiring force within degenerates and disappears. It is the continued renewal of the inner man that saves all.
(J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
Pass ye unto Calneh, and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath.
1. The life of the thorough worldling — the man who has no principle to hamper him, and to whom the highest law of life is self-aggrandizement. Such as the spendthrift. The man with an insatiable love of money. The gambler.
2. Those who are determined to make their position in the world. Such an one enters business, or a profession, and considers that it is necessary to adopt certain customs which are not above suspicion, but which become largely respectable by their universal acceptance. Even in such cases there are hundreds of thousands who fail entirely in their attempts. Some undoubtedly do prosper and accumulate wealth; but in how many instances have they lost their good name in the effort!
3. The honest man of the world. Even then business may be allowed to monopolise all his time and all his energy, to the exclusion of higher aims, without Which even an honest life is poor. There is a distinctly spiritual work for man to do. If that Christian work is neglected, and the claims of Jesus Christ along spiritual lines ignored, that man may gain the whole world, but he will lose his soul.
Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near.
Homilist.I. ALL MEN HAVE AN EVIL DAY IN THEIR FUTURE. Calamities and trials are common to all. There is one evil day, it is death; but it need not be evil.
II. SOME MEN ADJOURN IN THOUGHT THIS EVIL DAY.
1. Not because they have any doubt as to its advent.
2. Not because they lack reminders of its approach. Why then do they adjourn the thought? The reason is found —
(1) (2) (3) (4) III. NONE WHO ADJOURN THIS EVIL DAY IN THOUGHT CAN DELAY IT IN FACT. These men so ignored their coming calamities that by their conduct they hastened them on. A general truth is suggested here, — That a man who adjourns all thought of his end, will pursue such a course of conduct as will hasten its approach. (Homilist.)
(2) (3) (4) III. NONE WHO ADJOURN THIS EVIL DAY IN THOUGHT CAN DELAY IT IN FACT. These men so ignored their coming calamities that by their conduct they hastened them on. A general truth is suggested here, — That a man who adjourns all thought of his end, will pursue such a course of conduct as will hasten its approach. (Homilist.)
(3) (4) III. NONE WHO ADJOURN THIS EVIL DAY IN THOUGHT CAN DELAY IT IN FACT. These men so ignored their coming calamities that by their conduct they hastened them on. A general truth is suggested here, — That a man who adjourns all thought of his end, will pursue such a course of conduct as will hasten its approach. (Homilist.)
(Joseph Parker, D. D.)
They are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.
(W. L. Watkinson.)
(L. A. Banks, D. D.)
Shall horses run upon the rock? will one plough there with oxen?
I. MINISTERS LABOUR TO BREAK UP MEN'S HEARTS. They would make hearts ready to receive the heavenly Seed. Many truths are used, like sharp ploughshares, to break up the heart. We must cut into the heart with the ploughshare of the law. If we really love the souls of men, let us prove it by honest speech. The hard heart must be broken, or it will still refuse the Saviour who was sent to bind up the broken-hearted. There are some things which men may or may not have, and yet may be saved; but those things which go with the ploughing of the heart are indispensable There must be a holy fear and a humble trembling before God, there must be an acknowledgment of guilt and a penitent petition for mercy; there must, in a word, be a thorough ploughing of the soul before we can expect the seed to bring forth fruit.
II. AT TIMES MINISTERS LABOUR IN VAIN. In a short time the ploughman feels whether the plough will go or not, and so does the minister. He may use the very same words in one place which he has used in another, but he feels in one place great joy and hopefulness in his preaching, while with another audience he has heavy work and little hope. All labourers of Christ know what it is sometimes to work in heavy soil. There are rocky hearers in all congregations. On some impression is made, but it is not deep and permanent. Certain of these rocky-hearted people have been ploughed for years, and have become harder instead of softer. The sun which softens wax hardens clay, and the same Gospel which has brought others to tenderness and repentance has exercised a contrary effect upon them, and made them more careless about Divine things than they were in their youth. Why are men so extremely rocky? Some are so from a peculiar stolidity of nature. Some are hard because of their infidelity. Worldliness hardens a man in every way. With many hardness is produced by a general levity. There is no depth of earth in their superficial natures; beneath a sprinkling of shifting, worthless sand lies an impenetrable rock of utter stupidity and senselessness.
III. IT IS UNREASONABLE TO EXPECT THAT GOD'S SERVANTS SHOULD ALWAYS CONTINUE TO LABOUR IN VAIN. Labour in vain cannot be continued for ever if we consider the ploughman. Then there is the Master to be considered. Is He always to be resisted and provoked? And there are so many other people needing the Gospel who will receive it. There is a boundary to the patience of men, and even to the patience of God.
IV. THERE MUST BE AN ALTERATION THEN, AND THAT SPEEDILY. The oxen shall be taken off from such toil. It can be effected in three ways.
1. The unprofitable hearer can be removed so that he shall no more hear the Gospel from the lips of his best approved minister.
2. Another plan is to take away the ploughman. Or
3. God may say, "This piece of rock shall never trouble the ploughman any more. I will take it away." The man dies. O Lord, break up the rock, and let the seed drop among its broken substance, and get Thou a harvest from the dissolved granite at this time.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Ye have turned judgment into gall
Homilist.The meaning of this is that they had turned the best things into bad use. See the working of this perverting power in many departments of action.
I. IN PHYSICAL OPERATIONS. Everywhere you see man perverting nature, perverting the metals, the rivers, the fruits, and the chemical elements of the world to bad and mischievous uses.
II. IN CIVIC LIFE. The principle of human government is a Divine ordinance, intended to secure equal justice and protection. But how has man perverted it! He has turned it into an instrument to benefit the few at the expense of the many, an instrument of tyranny and oppression. Man's perversion of the law is proverbial as a hideous enormity. The principle of merchandise, intended to band man together by the exchange of commodities, in mutual obligation and fellowship, man has awfully perverted. He has made it the instrument of cupidity, monopoly, and nameless frauds.
III. IN THE RELIGIOUS SPHERE. Do not let man say he has no power. His moral power is something stupendous. He has power to turn the things of God to the use of Satan, heavenly blessings into hellish curses.
Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought, which say, Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength?
Homilist."Horns" are signs and symbols of power; here they stand for the military resources with which they fancied that they could conquer every foe. "These delusions of God-forgetting pride the prophet cast down, by saying that Jehovah, the God of hosts, will raise up a nation against them, which will crush them down in the whole length and breadth of the kingdom. This nation was Assyria" (Delitzsch).
I. To rejoice in WORLDLY WEALTH, is to "rejoice in a thing of nought."
II. To rejoice in PERSONAL BEAUTY, is to "rejoice in a thing of nought." But is this beauty a thing to rejoice in? Those who possess it do rejoice in it; many pride themselves on their good looks and fine figures. But what is beauty? It is a "thing of nought."
III. To rejoice in ANCESTRAL DISTINCTION, is to "rejoice in a thing of nought." There are those who are constantly exulting in their pedigree. But even had we come from the loins of the intellectual and moral peers of the race, what in this is there for rejoicing? It is truly "a thing of nought." Our ancestry is independent of us, we are not responsible for it. It is not a matter either of blame or praise.
IV. To rejoice in MORAL MERITORIOUSNESS, is to "rejoice in a thing of nought." There are many who rejoice in their morality. Like the Pharisee in the temple, they thank God they are not as "other men." Moral merit in a sinner, is a baseless vision, a phantom of a proud heart. No, our righteousness is "a thing of nought."
(S. B. Meeser.)