For behold the Lord...doth take away...the mighty man. -
1. We need the admonition which precedes this text — "Cease ye from man (whether prince or senator, soldier or orator, counsellor or captain), whoso breath (whatever his strength or genius, talent or fame) is in his nostrils."
2. There is no such thing as chance; whether it be a hair which falls to the ground, or a sparrow that drops in its weary way across the field, or a prince smitten from his throne, or a dynasty broken — God is in them, giving, permitting, overruling, and sanctifying; it is not the shot or shell, the wave or wind, incident or accident, but God that "takes away," and those things which we suppose to have played the principal part, are merely servants sent out by God to lead the soldier from his duty in the field, to receive the crown of glory and war no more.
3. But not only is it the Lord, but He has right and jurisdiction to do so. He not only reigns, but He rules. Unsanctified interpositions of God are the darkest judgments; whilst therefore, we recognise His hand in giving, let us recognise His hand in taking away. A father and his child walk. They pick up a stone with a green substance, which appears worthless, and fit only to be cast away; but they apply the microscope, and this green substance on the stone he finds to be a magnificent though tiny forest. So it is with any fact that occurs. Man looks at it with his own eyes, sees it uninstructive; but when seen in the light of God's truth, he finds in it what is instructive and suggestive.
4. When God removes from a nation its props, pillars, and supports, He does so to lead that nation to see Himself more clearly and to lean on Him more entirely.
5. The Lord thus "takes away" in order to teach men impressively this lesson which man is very slow to learn — that death must come upon all. Death enters the cabinets of princes and statesmen, the camp of the hero, and the hut of the peasant, without paying the least respect to rank or royalty.
(J. Cumming, D. D.)
I. Learn from the death of a great statesman THE WEIGHT OF GOVERNMENT IN A FALLEN WORLD. For when we see the mightiest minds that our country has produced, a Fox, a Pitt, a Liverpool, a Canning, one after another taking the weight of government upon them, and dropping under its weight into the arms of death — can we avoid thinking of the mighty mass of care that has pressed them down?
II. We are taught THE WEAKNESS OF THE SHOULDERS OF MORTAL MEN. However mighty his shoulders may be, he must be a bold man that would venture to take up a burden that has crushed so many: and yet there are many that will venture on it; for there are those who delight in danger, who sport with difficulties, and who delight in doing what no one else can do. And it is well for society that there are men of moral courage. If all preferred the comfort and quiet of domestic life, how could the affairs of government go on? Yet there are some burdens, the weight of which will crush any mind, for the sons of Anak are not omnipotent. And how knows any man how near he is to this point, when he shall be overwhelmed with his own duties, distracted with his own cares, become a prey to the very thing in which he delighted?
III. THE UNCERTAINTY OF ALL HUMAN AFFAIRS. We need to be taught this with a strong hand, for this warm piece of moving clay that is bustling about the earth, ready to drop to pieces every moment, is so swollen with vanity that it would fain fancy it is made of adamant. Therefore God supplies us with strong reasons, at certain seasons, to teach us the contrary.
IV. OUR ABSOLUTE DEPENDENCE ON THE SUPREME GOVERNOR. When we behold the profound counsellor and the mighty orator, and are entranced with their talents and execution, we grow idolatrous, and think these men are more than mortal, and that society could not go on without them; little thinking that He who made them as they are, to be employed as He pleases, and to be laid aside when He pleases, can raise others equally fitted as they are. (Exodus 4:11.)
V. Another lesson which we should learn is, THE SACRED DUTY OF PRAYER FOR KINGS AND ALL IN AUTHORITY OVER US. We should make our supplications that councils may be assisted, that the cares of government may not overwhelm and destroy, that there may be a reasonable spirit prevalent in the public, so that it may be rendered less oppressive.
VI. IN YOUR SUPPLICATIONS ESPECIALLY REMEMBER ZION, THE CHURCH OF THE LIVING GOD. The Church has been compared to a building, and the world to a scaffold placed around it in order to assist in rearing the edifice. VII. LEARN TO PREPARE FOR OUR OWN DEATH.
(J. Bennett, D. D.)
(J. A. Todd.)
(Bishop J. Taylor, D. D.)
I will give children to be their princes.
(J. A. Alexander.)
Ecclesiastes 10:16), it is doubly so when the princes or magnates surrounding end advising him are also youths or youngsters in the bad sense of the term...Varying humour, utterly unregulated and unrestrained, rules supreme.
Justinian II (of Constantinople) — The name of a triumphant lawgiver was dishonoured by the vices of a boy, who imitated his namesake only in the expensive luxury of building. His passions were strong; his understanding was feeble; and he was intoxicated with a foolish pride that his birth had given him the command of millions, of whom the smallest community would not have chosen him for their local magistrate. His favourite ministers were two beings the least susceptible of human sympathy, a eunuch and a monk; the one he abandoned the palace, to the other the finances; the former corrected the emperor's mother with a scourge, the latter suspended the insolvent tributaries, with their heads downward, over a slow and smoky fire.
( Gibbons Rome.)
And the people shall be oppressed.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Judges 9:23), which would make them —
1. Injurious and unneighbourly one towards another. "The people shall be oppressed everyone by his neighbour," and their princes, being children, take no care to restrain the oppressors, or relieve the oppressed. Nor is it to any purpose to appeal to them.
2. Insolent and disorderly towards their superiors. It is as ill an omen to a people as can be, when the rising generation among them is generally untractable, rude, and ungovernable, when "the child behaves himself proudly against the ancient"; whereas he should "rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man" (Leviticus 19:32). When young people are conceited and pert, and carry it scornfully towards their superiors, it is not only a reproach to themselves, but of ill consequence to the public; it slackens the reins of government, and weakens the hands that hold them. It is likewise ill with a people when persons of honour cannot support their authority, but are affronted by the base and beggarly; when judges are insulted by the mob, and their power set at defiance.
( M. Henry.)
Homo homini lupus — man becomes a wolf to man; jusque datum sceleri — wickedness receives the stamp of law; nec hospes ab hospite tutus — the guest and the host are in danger from each other.
( M. Henry.)
A man shall take hold of his brother.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
1. It is taken for granted that there is no way of redressing all these grievances and bringing things into order again, but by good magistrates, that shall be invested with power by common consent, and shall exert that power for the good of the community. And it is probable this was in many places the true origin of government. Men found it necessary to unite in a subjection to one who was thought fit for such a trust, in order to the welfare and safety of them all, being aware that they must be either ruled or ruined.
2. The case is represented as very deplorable, and things come to a sad pass; for —(1) Children being their princes, every man will think himself fit to prescribe who shall be a magistrate, and will be for preferring his own relations.(2) Men will find themselves under a necessity even of forcing power into the hands of those that are thought to be fit for it. Nay, a man shall urge it upon his brother; whereas, commonly, men are not willing that their equals should be their superiors; witness the envy of Joseph's brethren.
3. It will be looked upon as ground sufficient for the preferring a man to be a ruler, that he hath clothing better than his neighbours; a very poor qualification to recommend a man to a place of trust in the government. It was a sign the country was much impoverished, when it was a rare thing to find a man that had good clothes, or that could afford to buy himself an alderman's gown, or a judge's robes; and that the people were very unthinking, when they had so much respect to a man in gay clothing with a gold ring (James 2:2, 3), that for the sake thereof they would make him their ruler. It had been some sense to have said, Thou hast wisdom, integrity, experience, be thou our ruler; but it was a jest to say, Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler. A poor, wise man, though in vile raiment, delivered a city (Ecclesiastes 9:15).
( Matthew Henry.)
Isaiah 30:26; Isaiah 50:6; Isaiah 61:1).
( M. Henry.)
For Jerusalem is ruined.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(R. F. Horton, D. D.)
The shew of their countenance doth witness against them.
1. The condition of sinners is woeful and very deplorable.
2. It is the soul that is damaged and endangered by sin. Sinners may prosper in their outward estates, and yet there may be a woe to their souls.
3. Whatever evil befalls sinners, it is of their own procuring (Jeremiah 2:19).
( M. Henry.)
Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him.
I. Let us inquire what confirmation this doctrine receives from what we know of the present constitution of things, and from what we find to be THE USUAL COURSE OF GOD'S MORAL GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD, If we consult the structure and operations of our own souls, we shall find many striking intimations of this doctrine there. The Author of our nature has made us rational, free, moral, and accountable beings. For the direction and government of our conduct, He has implanted within us a principle, which we call conscience, which distinguishes actions as good or bad, and which always urges us to perform the one and to avoid the other. He has, moreover, enforced the authority of this principle, by annexing present pleasure to obedience to its dictates, and present pain to a violation of them. The passions of hope and fear ever attend on conscience; the one to encourage and reward faithful adherence to its commands; the other to restrain and punish a wilful transgression of them. Now, all this takes place in consequence of that moral constitution which God has given us, and of that intimate connection which He Himself has established between virtue and happiness and between sin and misery. So long, therefore, as the moral constitution of our nature continues the same, and so long as God continues to be the same infinitely wise, holy, and good Being, so long must it necessarily happen that, on the whole, it will be well with the righteous and ill with the wicked.
II. This doctrine receives additional confirmation from THE UNIVERSAL CONSENT OF MANKIND. In consequence of that moral nature which God has given us, by which we cannot but approve that which we know to be right, and condemn that which we know to be wrong, all men are agreed that vice (as far as they know it to be such) should be restrained and punished, and that virtue should be encouraged and rewarded. Hence, in all governments, laws are enacted against wickedness and for the protection and encouragement of the righteous.
III. A further confirmation of this doctrine is derived from what appear to be THE PRINCIPLES UPON WHICH GOD'S PRESENT MORAL GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD IS CONDUCTED. We find that, in most cases, present good is connected by Him with virtuous dispositions and habits; and present evil, with sinful tempers and practices. And although this connection is not always so intimate and inseparable, as that punishment immediately follows transgression, and reward instantly attends obedience, yet the natural retributions or effects of virtue and vice are exhibited with sufficient frequency, to show us in what light God regards them. With certain vices, we find that God has connected terrible physical evils, as their proper consequences. Intemperance, in most instances, induces disease, excruciating pains and premature death. It impairs the mind, and is generally attended with the loss of property, and invariably with the loss of reputation. With some other of the vices of sensuality are connected the most loathsome and destructive maladies, in the endurance of which the victim suffers a dreadful retribution. And with regard to other vices, it not unfrequently happens that the events of providence are so ordered in reference to the perpetrators of them that the wicked man becomes miserable, notwithstanding all his worldly possessions and honours, and all that he has can give him neither joy not quietude. On the contrary, God has connected with temperance and industry, health, cheerfulness, and competency. To the godly there is the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come. This promise we see fulfilled, in part, in the general esteem and love in which the virtuous are held, and in the usual prosperity of their affairs. If they have not abundance, they have a competency; or, if they are abridged in that respect, they have friends and a contented mind. Besides, the events of providence are, in general, so ordered with regard to them, that they find "all things working together for their good." Upon these principles does the course of God's moral government of mankind appear now to be conducted. And from what is now known of the principles of His government, we may confidently infer that, during the whole of man's continuance in being, it will always be well with the righteous and ill with the wicked.
1. "Good and evil are often so promiscuously distributed in the present life, that we cannot with certainty infer what are the principles upon which God's government of mankind is conducted. The fraudulent and wicked are frequently prosperous and rich and flattered, while the righteous are often poor, neglected, oppressed, and despised." This is frequently the fact, and were the present the only state in which mankind were to exist, and were worldly riches and honours the only and the proper reward of virtue, and were they, in themselves, that real good which mankind fancy them to be, then, this fact alone would render this whole doctrine suspicious, and the arguments adduced in support of it inconclusive. But it must first be proved that the present is the only state in which mankind are to exist; a position, which few will pretend to sustain, and against which innumerable arguments array themselves, suggested by the structure and operations of our own minds; the desires and hopes which are ever springing up within us; by our capacity of knowledge, goodness, and happiness, which here are only imperfectly attained, and also by that very unequal distribution of good and evil, in the present life, which has been objected to.
2. It is objected that "the miseries attending upon wickedness in this world are punishment enough for the vicious, and therefore they will be exempted from further suffering hereafter." It is true that, in the present life, there is much misery attending upon wickedness; but this furnishes not the least ground for the supposition that misery will ever cease to be connected with sin, as its natural and necessary consequence. On the contrary, it affords a very strong proof that this connection will ever exist, and that so long as men are wicked, so long will they be miserable. It is agreeable to the nature of things that it should be so. In the natural world, we find that fruit corresponds to the nature of the tree that bears it; the grain that is reaped to the seed that was sown.
3. It is inconsistent with the Divine mercy that the wicked should ever experience any more suffering than what they endure in this world." It savours not a little of presumption for creatures of such limited, weak, and erring minds as ours to undertake to decide, with regard to the various measures of the Divine government, what is and what is not consistent with God's mercy. No one thinks to arraign the Divine government for connecting with sin, in the present life, distress of mind, disgrace, and suffering. And were our stay on earth prolonged to millions of years it would still be thought just and right, and entirely consistent with the mercy of God, that the same evils should attend the wicked, and the same good should attend the righteous. It is an error, common to many, that they look upon the evils which attend upon sin in this life, as a punishment vindictively appointed by God, to be endured by the transgressor, as a penalty for having violated His law, and that after he has endured it, he has paid the price of his transgression; the sin for which he has suffered is expiated. and therefore he thinks it would be unjust that he should be subjected to any more suffering, although his disposition be not changed in the least. There is hardly a sentiment that can be named, more injurious in its influence than this, where it is fully entertained. This error proceeds from misapprehension of the design of God in connecting evil with sin. The miseries which are consequent upon sin are not appointed vindictively, as a punishment; but benevolently, as preventives of it. Our Maker has kindly placed at the entrance of every path of vice, pain, disgrace, and suffering, to deter us from entering therein; or if we have entered, to make us retrace our steps. Every onward step we take in a sinful course, these evils assail us.
I. THE REWARD OF THE RIGHTEOUS.
1. We must, before we contemplate their reward, inquire who are meant by the righteous. The Bible elsewhere tells us, "There is none righteous, no, not one." All our powers and faculties are represented as disordered and depraved. After the Holy Spirit has convinced anyone of sin, humbled his heart, and won his affections to Christ, that man is "accounted righteous" — "righteousness is imputed unto him also," as it was unto faithful Abraham. And "as a refiner's fire" will the Holy Spirit gradually purify all those powers and faculties of the now justified sinner that were once prostituted to the debasing service of the flesh, the world, and Satan.
2. And now we are prepared to notice his reward. We cannot, indeed, imagine that an infinitely glorious Creator can ever become obligated to reward a creature's faith and service: nevertheless, there is a "reward of grace."(1) It shall be well with him in life. Is he young? He shall, in the Spirit of adoption, and through a Saviour's mediation, cry unto the eternal God, "My Father, Thou art the guide of my youth." Is he engaged in the necessary cares and businesses of the world? He shall be "kept in the hour of temptation." Is he "small and of no reputation"? Angels shall minister unto him. Is he poor? "God hath chosen the poor of this world"; riches of grace below, and riches of glory in reversion, far outweigh in excellence and value every earthly good whatever. Is he "in sorrow, need, pain, sickness, or any other adversity"? "The high and lofty One" will "make for him all his bed in his sickness."(2) It shall be well with him also in death. That which to nature is commonly terrible and affrighting, is to the regenerate man — if not always desirable, at least, often so, and never otherwise than safe and happy.(3) It shall be well with him in eternity.
II. THE WOE OF THE WICKED.
I. And, as before we inquired, Who were meant by the righteous? so here we must ask, Whom are we to understand by the wicked? Although, in a general way, people allow themselves to be sinners, yet even whilst making this admission, there is evidently no consciousness of sin, no apprehension of its adequate desert, no sorrow for it, no hatred to it.
2. Their woe. Here the woe of the wicked is called their "reward"; and a reward it is: for while "eternal life" is bestowed as a "gift through Jesus Christ," upon the righteous, the "woe" of the wicked is paid to them as "wages" earned.(1) It shall be ill with the wicked in life. The wicked may, as the Scripture says, "bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my heart, to add drunkenness to thirst"; but "the anger of the Lord and His jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this Book shall lie upon him." The life of the wicked is one "woeful day," nor is there a period of it, however marked either by prosperous or adverse circumstances, wherein it is not "ill" with him.(2) And can it be otherwise in death? "I am not afraid to die," says many a careless man: "I heartily wish you were so," is the mental answer of the pious minister. The stupid insensibility of the unhumbled, unawakened sinner, even death itself can scarcely appall. The same self-delusion prevails in the expiring moments as marked the days of life and vigour.(3) It shall be ill with the wicked forever.
(W. Mudge, M. A.)
I. THE WELL-BEING OF THE RIGHTEOUS.
1. Observe the fact mentioned. "It shall be well with him"; that is the whole of the declaration; but the very fewness of the words reveals a depth of meaning.(1) We may gather from the fact that the text is without descriptive limits; that it is well with the righteous always. It shall be well with the righteous, especially, in futurity. Well, upon Divine authority.(2) It is well, we may rest assured again, with our best selves. The text does not say it is always well with our bodies, but our bodies are not ourselves, — they are but the casket of our nobler natures.(3) When I looked at the text, I thought, — "Yes, and if God says it is well, He means it is well emphatically."(4) It is so well with him that God wants him to know it. He would have His saints happy, and therefore He says to His prophets, "Say ye to the righteous it shall be well with him." It is not wise sometimes to remind a man of his wealth, and rank, and prospects, for pride is so readily stirred up in us. But it is not dangerous to assure the Christian that it is well with him.(5) It is no wonder that it is well with the believer when you consider that his greatest trouble is past. His greatest trouble was the guilt of sin.(6) Then, your next greatest trouble is doomed — indwelling sin.(7) With regard to the Christian, he knows that his best things are safe. As for his worst things, they only work his good.(8) It must be well with the Christian, because God has put within him many graces, which help to make all things well. Has he difficulties? Faith laughs at them, and overcomes them. Has he trials? Love accepts them, seeing the Father's band in them all. Has he sicknesses? Patience kisses the rod. Is he weary? Hope expects a rest to come. The sparkling graces which God has put within the man's soul qualify him to overcome in all conflicts, and to make this world subject to his power in every battle; I mean that he getteth good out of the worst ill, or throweth that ill aside by the majesty of the life that is in him,(9) Then mark how the Christian has, beside what is put within him by the Holy Spirit, this to comfort him, namely, that day by day God the Holy Ghost visits him with fresh life and fresh power. (10) Let me run over a few things which the Christian has, from each of which it may be inferred it must be well with him. He has a bank that never breaks, the glorious throne of grace; and he has only to apply on bended knee to get what he will. He has ever near him a most sweet companion, whose loving converse is so delightful that the roughest roads grow smooth, and the darkest nights glow with brightness. The believer has an arm to lean upon also, an arm that is never weary, never feeble, never ever withdrawn; so that if he hath to climb along a rugged way, the more rough the road the more heavily he leans, and the more graciously he is sustained. Moreover, he is favoured with a perpetual Comforter. It is well with the righteous when he comes to die. It is well with the righteous after death.
2. The ground upon which it is well with the righteous. "They shall eat the fruit of their doings." That is the only terms upon which the old covenant can promise that it shall be well with us; but this is not the ground upon which you and I stand under the Gospel dispensation. Absolutely to eat the fruit of all our doings would be even to us, if judgment were brought to the line and righteousness to the plummet, a very dreadful thing. Yet there is a limited sense in which the righteous man will do this. I prefer, however, to remark that there is One whose doings for us are the grounds of our dependence, and, blessed be God, we shall eat the fruit of His doings. He, the Lord Jesus, stood for us, and you know what a harvest of joy He sowed for us in His life and death.
II. THE MISERY OF THE WICKED. "Woe," etc. You have only to negative all that I have already said about the righteous. But why is it ill with the wicked? It must be ill with him; he is out of joint with all the world. The man has an enemy who is omnipotent, whose power cannot be resisted; an enemy who is all goodness, and yet this man opposes Him. How can it be well with the stubble that fighteth with the flame, or with the wax that striveth with the fire? An insect fighting with a giant, how should it overcome? And thou, poor nothingness, contending with the everlasting God, how can it be anything But ill with thee? It is ill with thee, sinner, because thy joys all hang upon a thread. It is ill with you, because when these joys are over you have no more to come. It shall be ill with the wicked, and let no present appearance lead you to doubt it.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. WHO ARE THE RIGHTEOUS AND IN WHAT SENSE IT SHALL BE WELL WITH THEM.
1. In this mixed state, when men are neither perfectly good nor bad, the exact boundaries are not so easily fixed, especially when an application is made of these characters to particular persons, and we judge concerning ourselves, in which case prejudice and self-partiality often mislead men; and superstition, a very prevailing error among mankind, contributes to these errors by leading them to imagine that there is righteousness and religion in those things which have really nothing to do with it. In general the righteous is he in whose heart the morally good or pious, virtuous and pure affections rule, and whose practice is habitually conducted by their direction; the man who loves God above all things; not the person who is altogether free from any infirmities, which, strictly speaking, may be called sinful, and who never, through the whole course of his life, has by ignorance or surprise been drawn into those indeliberate actions, which upon a review he cannot justify. If this were the sense of righteousness, who could pretend to it?
2. In what sense it shall be well with him. The meaning certainly is not that he shall possess all external advantages in this world, whereby his condition shall be rendered more easy and prosperous than that of the wicked. That is contrary to fact and experience, as well as to many plain declarations of Scripture. The stable uniform desire of the good man, is, that God may "lift on him the light of His countenance," or grant him His "favour, which is better than life." Nor is it to be thought that Divine providence will always interpose to rescue the righteous from those calamities that come upon the world of the ungodly in which they live; it was not the intention of the prophet to assure them, that they should be preserved from the ruin of Jerusalem, and the common fall of Judah, which was to be expected because of their crying national sins, in which the righteous had no share; but that in all events they should be happy, even though they were involved in the common desolation, and perished with the multitude of sinners. We must, therefore, in order to understand fully how it shall be well with the righteous, enlarge our notion of the state of man; we must consider him in the whole of his being, his soul as well as his body and in every condition and period of his existence. It is thus we judge concerning our state within the compass of the present life, and its affairs. A man may be easy and prosperous in the main, when his principal interests are flourishing, although he meets with various disappointments in things which are of lesser moment. In like manner we may justly say, it is well with good men when their souls prosper; they enjoy inward peace and satisfaction, and their future happiness is secured, though they are liable to sufferings in this present time.
II. UPON WHAT EVIDENCE THE PROPHET'S ASSERTION RESTS, or how it appears that there is a connection between righteousness and felicity.
1. Consider the state and constitution of human nature as in fact we find it, abstracting from any inquiry concerning the Author of it and His designs and conduct towards us. Scarcely is there any man not conscious, in some measure, of the satisfaction which arises from morally good dispositions; and that this is stronger and more intense than the enjoyments which any sensible object can yield appears from this consideration, that the latter are frequently sacrificed to the other. Who doth not know, on the other hand, the pains of a self-accusing heart?
2. Consider righteousness not merely as the glory of the human mind, and the naturally felicitating exercise and attainment of its powers, but further, as it is approved and recommended to mankind by the Deity, their rightful and supreme Ruler. We have the clearest evidence that He approves the good actions of men, and disapproves the bad; whence we infer that one part of His own character is moral rectitude, which is a perfection that necessarily appears to our minds amiable, and every way worthy of the most excellent nature; and since He is our natural Governor, by whose will we exist, are preserved, and all the circumstances of our condition are determined, here is a sufficient intimation of the rule, according to which He doth, and will always proceed, in His dispensations towards us, making us happy or unhappy.
(J. Abernethy, M. A.)
I. WHO THESE RIGHTEOUS ARE.
1. A "righteous" man before God is made so by the imputation of Christ's holy obedience, put to his account.
2. He has a righteous kingdom implanted and set up in his soul. A righteous man has proof of his being such.
3. He can feed upon nothing but God's righteous provision. He cannot feed upon his own obedience, or upon the mere letter of the word, or upon his mere judgment. He must have "precious faith" to "eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man."
4. He loves righteous fruits — a holy walk in all godliness and fear.
II. THE VERY ENCOURAGING LANGUAGE SPOKEN RESPECTING THEM. It shall be well with them.
1. In providence.
2. In spiritual things. All thy temptations, all thy darkness, all thy perplexities, all thy disquietudes, all thy wanderings, God will overrule. There shall never be a night, but morning shall come; never a day of adversity, but a day of prosperity shall follow; never an emptying, but there shall be a filling; never a bringing down, but He will raise thee up again.
Homilist.I. WHO ARE THE RIGHTEOUS?
1. Negatively.(1) Not the self-righteous, who have a high opinion of themselves. It cannot be well with them, for they deny the sacrifice of Christ by which sinners are constituted righteous.(2) Not those who deny the necessity and importance of good works (Romans 6:1, 2).
2. Positively. This leads to a very affecting truth, namely, that all by sin are unrighteous. Observe —(1) Every true believer is righteous according to the covenant of grace (Romans 5:1; Romans 4:3, 23-25; Romans 5:18, 19).(2) They have an inherent righteousness wrought in them by the Holy Spirit. They are "born again" — "renewed in the spirit of their minds," and are new creatures in Christ Jesus.(3) They declare by their conduct that they are righteous. "They love mercy, do justly," etc. They "have their fruit unto holiness," etc.
II. WHAT IS THEIR HAPPINESS? "It shall be well with him."
1. Their present state of justification, etc., already described, proves this: they are free from guilt and condemnation. "Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven," etc. This freedom gives hope and is the precursor of blessedness to come.
3. They enjoy all the pleasures of true religion, arising from the possession of Christian graces — the enjoyment of Christian privileges — and the performance of Christian duties.
4. It shall be well with them in all adverse circumstances.
5. In death, the period when the presence of God is most needed.
6. At the resurrection. "They that have done good shall come forth to the resurrection of life."
7. At the judgment day (Malachi 3:17).
8. For ever in heaven. They shall be "with Christ."
I. IN EVERY PERIOD OF LIFE.
II. IN EVERY RELATION IN LIFE.
III. IN EVERY CONDITION OF LIFE.
IV. IN DEATH.
V. IN ETERNITY.
I. THEIR CONNECTION WITH ONE ANOTHER. No action stands alone; each is a link in a chain stretching out to eternity. Take the case of an intemperate and unchaste man; his habits are neither without a cause preceding nor an effect to follow. It is quite possible that several generations backward, some ancestor of his, through some so-called trivial accident, some casual meeting, first gave way to drunkenness. Now look onwards a few steps; we will suppose ourselves in a hospital a generation or two hence: as we pass from ward to ward we come to a descendant of the man before us — a poor creature, more miserable than any we have seen dying of some miserable disease. The cause of his suffering is to be found in the intemperance and incontinency of those who have gone before him. Step by step it may be traced back to the trifle which led his forefather to his first night of revelling and drunkenness. Take an instance on the brighter side — the thought which first hit on the art of printing. This too arose from some so-called trivial accident. We do not know what preceded it; but we may be sure it did not come without some connection in its author's mind. Every great result strikes its roots deep into the past. But what has followed? has it stood alone, unconnected, the act of one isolated mind? is not the world rather full of its consequences, one of which, perhaps the most blessed, is that men of all kindreds and nations may now read in their own tongues the wonderful works of God? Both good and evil actions fructify, and reproduce themselves in various forms. Whither their roots shall extend, and when shoot up again, whither their seed may be carried, where it may fall, and what it shall produce, who can tell? Sometimes the least promising seed will produce the most abundant return of fruit. So that we may not pronounce upon the importance of an action, for we do not see its connection; neither may we think any action trivial, for it may, I had almost said it must, lead to consequences of importance throughout eternity.
II. THE EFFECT OF OUR ACTIONS ON OURSELVES AND ON OTHERS.
1. On ourselves. Every step we take not only brings us forward, but leaves a footprint behind. Every thought, word, action, all we suffer and all we do, not only has its own importance, and leads us forward in the march of life, but also leaves its impression, its foot print upon us, and tends to form, confirm, or change our character. There is a memorable instance in point, illustrating both the weakness of yielding and the nobleness of holding fast to one's convictions, in the visit of Henry III of France to Bernard de Palissy in the dungeons of the Bastille. The King desired to give the celebrated potter his liberty, asking as, the price of his pardon the easy condition of giving up his Protestant faith; My worthy friend, said the monarch, "you have now been forty-five years in the service of my mother and myself; we have suffered you to retain your religion amidst fire and slaughter; I am now so pressed by the Guises and my people, that I find myself compelled to deliver you into the hands of your enemies, and tomorrow you will be burnt unless you are converted." The old man bowed, touched by the goodness of the King, humbled by his weakness, but inflexible in the faith of his fathers. "Sire," he answered, "I am ready to give up the remainder of my life for the honour of God; you have told me several times that you pity me, and now in my turn I pity you, who have used the words 'I am compelled'; it was not spoken like a king, Sire, and they are words which neither you, nor the Guises, nor the people shall ever make me utter: Sire, I can die." By continually yielding, the monarch had become a slave; by continually acting up to his convictions, the potter had become more than a king. "He that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city."
2. Look next at the effect of our actions upon others. Not only our children, friends, servants, but all we have any intercourse with, are more or less affected by us. Everyone knows the force of example, the impulse we have to imitate. Everyone musk have noticed the contagion, as it were, of opinion, which from house to house influences a whole circle of acquaintanceship. How often have you felt the devotion or the carelessness of the person kneeling by your side in church! How frequently must you have noticed the way in which you catch the habits and manners of those you live with; the way in which you too are watched, and observed, and copied by others. So that, if you did nothing directly to influence others, the effect of your indirect influence is yet incalculable. But you have direct influence also to exercise and give account of. Everyone does act directly upon others. Everyone does hinder or encourage, lead into sin, sin with, or lead away from sin, and walk godly with, others. And where is this to stop? You ruin or, under God, save others. This goes on; their influence ruins or saves others, and so on and on forever. Solemn, indeed, are the words of our Saviour on this subject. (Luke 17:1, 2.) On the other hand, it is equally encouraging to know that no virtuous effort is ever lost. It has been said that every pulsation made in the air by the feeblest human effort produces a change in the whole atmosphere; so that the air is one vast library, on whose pages are forever written all that man has ever said or woman uttered. Is it not equally true, that the feeblest effort made for God has an influence on some heart, and that on others onwards and onwards throughout all generations? that, as the air is one vast library of whatever has moved it from eternity, so the hearts and consciences of men are a vast register of every effort made, every word spoken, every influence exerted upon them for God and for His Christ from the beginning to the end of time; a register to be read out on the last great day.
(F. Morse, M. A.)
Adam Clarke was an old man he wrote: I have enjoyed the spring of life; I have enjoyed the toils of its summer; I have culled the fruits of its autumn; I am now passing through the rigours of its winter, and I am neither forsaken of God nor abandoned by man. I see at no great distance the dawn of a new day, the first of a spring which shall be eternal. It is advancing to meet me! I run to embrace it! Welcome, eternal spring! Hallelujah!"
Gates of Imagery.An old gardener said, "I trust I cannot be wrong in believing that year by year, as I grow older, I draw nearer to a garden of perfect beauty and eternal rest, — a garden more glorious than that which Adam lost, the Eden and the paradise of God."
(Gates of Imagery.)
John Bunyan was once asked about heaven, and the glories of heaven, he answered: "If you want to know more about it, you must live a godly life, and go and see for yourselves."
(D. J. S. Hunt.)
Woe unto the wicked!
(1) (2) 1. Men will be held responsible for mercies abused. Hence those things which most please sinners, and which they call their good things, are charged to their account, and they must be held to the strictest accountability for their use or abuse of all their good things. 2. If these are facts, then sinners are getting deeply in debt. Everything, therefore, that now pleases the sinner so much will swell the mass of things that shall agonise him at the judgment day, and throughout his eternal existence. 3. The same principle applies to the entire course of God's discipline towards you, embracing the various rebukes of His providence. All these are measures taken for your good, but if you will not improve them, they will only work out your deeper ruin. How marvellous that wicked men should suppose that these light afflictions are the proper punishment of sin! No; these are only God's means of discipline, employed here in this life for the good of men's souls. Instead of being themselves the retribution due for sin, they are only the guarantees sent on beforehand by the great King, involving His pledge that He will punish sin unless He can secure repentance. 4. All your infirmities and all your sins; also the sins of those who live near you so that you can see the course of God's dealings with them; indeed, the whole history of sin in the universe so far as known to you, — all conspire to heighten your responsibility and aggravate the guilt of your sin. For all these things serve to show you the real evil and wrong of sin; they serve to reveal God's hatred of sin, and to assure you that He must and will punish it. Remarks: —(1) All things work together for good to the Christian, and ultimately, when he comes to see how all things have had this result, he will regret nothing he has ever done, although he may greatly blame himself for all his sins. It is often the case that Christians here learn lessons of deep experience under their sins. They are deeply affected when they see how God overrules even their sins for good to themselves and to others. But nothing of this sort happens to sinners. They are not of those that love God, and they have no reason to expect that God will make all things work together for their good. Hence they must both blame themselves and also regret everything they have ever done.(2) Sinners have never any good reasons for joy.(3) Sinners procure this result to themselves. God gave you voluntary powers, that, on your own responsibility, you might use them for your own welfare. He gave you His Son, and in Him an offered salvation, that you might lay hold of everlasting life. He gave you a Bible, that you might read it and become wise unto salvation. He gave you these and a thousand other blessings, that they might be improved, and if you will not improve them, you have no right to complain of God.(4) Sinners need not be stumbled by any calamities whatever which befall God's real children. Let them not trouble themselves about this matter. The Lord knoweth them that are His, and they shall never lack His constant care.(5) All events that transpire in this world or the next will only make the great gulf fixed between saints and sinners the deeper and the broader — will only make the saints more holy and more happy, the sinners more sinful and more wretched.(6) What an infinite folly is it to judge of things only by their relations to this life!(7) God's conduct in all this is just and righteous altogether. (C. G. Finny.)
(2) 1. Men will be held responsible for mercies abused. Hence those things which most please sinners, and which they call their good things, are charged to their account, and they must be held to the strictest accountability for their use or abuse of all their good things. 2. If these are facts, then sinners are getting deeply in debt. Everything, therefore, that now pleases the sinner so much will swell the mass of things that shall agonise him at the judgment day, and throughout his eternal existence. 3. The same principle applies to the entire course of God's discipline towards you, embracing the various rebukes of His providence. All these are measures taken for your good, but if you will not improve them, they will only work out your deeper ruin. How marvellous that wicked men should suppose that these light afflictions are the proper punishment of sin! No; these are only God's means of discipline, employed here in this life for the good of men's souls. Instead of being themselves the retribution due for sin, they are only the guarantees sent on beforehand by the great King, involving His pledge that He will punish sin unless He can secure repentance. 4. All your infirmities and all your sins; also the sins of those who live near you so that you can see the course of God's dealings with them; indeed, the whole history of sin in the universe so far as known to you, — all conspire to heighten your responsibility and aggravate the guilt of your sin. For all these things serve to show you the real evil and wrong of sin; they serve to reveal God's hatred of sin, and to assure you that He must and will punish it. Remarks: —(1) All things work together for good to the Christian, and ultimately, when he comes to see how all things have had this result, he will regret nothing he has ever done, although he may greatly blame himself for all his sins. It is often the case that Christians here learn lessons of deep experience under their sins. They are deeply affected when they see how God overrules even their sins for good to themselves and to others. But nothing of this sort happens to sinners. They are not of those that love God, and they have no reason to expect that God will make all things work together for their good. Hence they must both blame themselves and also regret everything they have ever done.(2) Sinners have never any good reasons for joy.(3) Sinners procure this result to themselves. God gave you voluntary powers, that, on your own responsibility, you might use them for your own welfare. He gave you His Son, and in Him an offered salvation, that you might lay hold of everlasting life. He gave you a Bible, that you might read it and become wise unto salvation. He gave you these and a thousand other blessings, that they might be improved, and if you will not improve them, you have no right to complain of God.(4) Sinners need not be stumbled by any calamities whatever which befall God's real children. Let them not trouble themselves about this matter. The Lord knoweth them that are His, and they shall never lack His constant care.(5) All events that transpire in this world or the next will only make the great gulf fixed between saints and sinners the deeper and the broader — will only make the saints more holy and more happy, the sinners more sinful and more wretched.(6) What an infinite folly is it to judge of things only by their relations to this life!(7) God's conduct in all this is just and righteous altogether. (C. G. Finny.)
1. Men will be held responsible for mercies abused. Hence those things which most please sinners, and which they call their good things, are charged to their account, and they must be held to the strictest accountability for their use or abuse of all their good things.
2. If these are facts, then sinners are getting deeply in debt. Everything, therefore, that now pleases the sinner so much will swell the mass of things that shall agonise him at the judgment day, and throughout his eternal existence.
3. The same principle applies to the entire course of God's discipline towards you, embracing the various rebukes of His providence. All these are measures taken for your good, but if you will not improve them, they will only work out your deeper ruin. How marvellous that wicked men should suppose that these light afflictions are the proper punishment of sin! No; these are only God's means of discipline, employed here in this life for the good of men's souls. Instead of being themselves the retribution due for sin, they are only the guarantees sent on beforehand by the great King, involving His pledge that He will punish sin unless He can secure repentance.
4. All your infirmities and all your sins; also the sins of those who live near you so that you can see the course of God's dealings with them; indeed, the whole history of sin in the universe so far as known to you, — all conspire to heighten your responsibility and aggravate the guilt of your sin. For all these things serve to show you the real evil and wrong of sin; they serve to reveal God's hatred of sin, and to assure you that He must and will punish it. Remarks: —(1) All things work together for good to the Christian, and ultimately, when he comes to see how all things have had this result, he will regret nothing he has ever done, although he may greatly blame himself for all his sins. It is often the case that Christians here learn lessons of deep experience under their sins. They are deeply affected when they see how God overrules even their sins for good to themselves and to others. But nothing of this sort happens to sinners. They are not of those that love God, and they have no reason to expect that God will make all things work together for their good. Hence they must both blame themselves and also regret everything they have ever done.(2) Sinners have never any good reasons for joy.(3) Sinners procure this result to themselves. God gave you voluntary powers, that, on your own responsibility, you might use them for your own welfare. He gave you His Son, and in Him an offered salvation, that you might lay hold of everlasting life. He gave you a Bible, that you might read it and become wise unto salvation. He gave you these and a thousand other blessings, that they might be improved, and if you will not improve them, you have no right to complain of God.(4) Sinners need not be stumbled by any calamities whatever which befall God's real children. Let them not trouble themselves about this matter. The Lord knoweth them that are His, and they shall never lack His constant care.(5) All events that transpire in this world or the next will only make the great gulf fixed between saints and sinners the deeper and the broader — will only make the saints more holy and more happy, the sinners more sinful and more wretched.(6) What an infinite folly is it to judge of things only by their relations to this life!(7) God's conduct in all this is just and righteous altogether.
(C. G. Finny.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
As for My people.
(E. H. Plumptre, D. D.)
Tytler's History.The celebrated Aspasia, first the mistress and afterward the wife of Pericles, had from her extraordinary talents a great ascendency over his mind, and was supposed frequently to have dictated his counsels in the most important concerns of the State. She was believed to have formed a society of courtesans, whose influence over their gallants, young men of consideration in the republic, she thus rendered subservient to the political views of Pericles...Such were the powers of her mind and the fascinating charms of her conversation, that even before her marriage, and while exercising the trade of a courtesan, her house was the frequent resort of the gravest and most respectable of the Athenian citizens; among the rest, of the virtuous Socrates.
O My people, they which lead thee cause thee to err.
I. IT IS OF THE UTMOST IMPORTANCE THAT THEY WHO ARE ENTRUSTED WITH THE RULE AND GUIDANCE OF OTHERS SHOULD THEMSELVES BE RULED AND GUIDED BY THE FEAR AND WORD OF THE LORD. The text is not the only passage in which the Lord speaks of the misery and ruin brought on the people by the errors, vices, and mismanagement of their rulers (chap. 9). Here you see, not only who the leaders of this people are, and how they are led astray by them, but what are the consequences of being under such an erring influence. The leaders are the "head and the tail; the ancient and honourable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail." Under this two-fold guidance, the people are led astray; and the result is, "they that are led of them are destroyed." Advert again to the case before us. How came "the paths" of the people to be "destroyed" in the days of the prophet? "They that led them, caused them to err." Now, could this have taken place if their lying prophets and wicked rulers themselves had been governed in the fear, and guided by the Word, of God? (Psalm 81:13-16.) Now, does not the same truth apply with equal force to ourselves, to our own rulers and our own people? Should anyone be disposed to object to this statement and say, May not a line of policy be good although not founded upon this principle? or, May not a man be a good ruler who follows no other guidance than his own wisdom or will? — we deny the assertion altogether. We deem nothing to be good which is not done in the fear, or according to the truth, of God. Now, can anyone rule in that fear who does not live under its influence? Can anyone lead others in the right way, who is not himself walking in it! Can anyone enforce on others the maxims and precepts of the Divine Word — the only standard of truth and error, and the only test of good and evil — unless that Word be made the light of his own feet, and the lamp of his own path? Morally speaking, the thing is impossible. Or, if he were to attempt to do so, would not indecision, ignorance, uncertainty, and error characterise all his proceedings?
II. IT IS NO DIFFICULT THING TO ASCERTAIN THE REAL CHARACTER OF SUCH PERSONS, ESPECIALLY IN THEIR PUBLIC CAPACITY, WHETHER THEY ARE UNDER SUCH AN INFLUENCE OR GUIDED BY SUCH A RULE, OR NOT. How are we to ascertain whether they who are entrusted with the rule and guidance of others are men to be confided in, as being themselves under the rule and guidance of the fear and Word of the Lord? We may ask in return, By what means are we to ascertain the true character of any other person or thing, so far as man is authorised and able to judge, which is brought under our notice, and whose real state and condition it may be of importance to determine? By whatever standard we are directed in the one case, by the same should we be guided in the other. We must be guided in our decision by the conduct and actions which are constantly exhibited before our eyes, and not merely by any fair professions which are totally contradicted, or, at least, exceedingly weakened, and continually to be called in question, by the life and conversation.
III. THE MANNER IN WHICH SUCH RULERS AND GUIDES GENERALLY MISLEAD OTHERS IS NOT ONLY PERNICIOUS IN ITSELF, BUT IS OPEN AND MANIFEST TO ALL BEHOLDERS.
1. By the inculcation of dangerous and pernicious principles. A man is what his principles are; and his actions and life will of necessity, be according to the principles by which he is governed. But how are we to ascertain the real character of principles? By the same test as we try men and actions. "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them."
2. By the introduction of a crooked and perverse course of policy. Principles and policy in the affairs of nations, like faith and works in the things of God, will always go hand in hand together; or, at least, they will be so intimately blended with each other that they can never remain far asunder, because, in fact, as the one is the fruitful cause, so the other is the native effect produced.
3. By the exhibition of a wicked and contagious example.
4. By an unwarrantable abuse of their power, and by the countenance afforded to unworthy characters, and sanction given to wicked measures. Here, then, is a loud call —(1) To survey and ponder the imminent peril to which we are exposed.(2) To be humbled for our sins, and to sue to God for His mercy.(3) And how does the subject speak to all those who lead the people astray, and destroy the way of their paths! How great must be their guilt! How heavy will be their condemnation!
The Lord standeth up to plead.
I. GOD HIMSELF IS THE PROSECUTOR.
II. THE INDICTMENT IS PROVED BY THE NOTORIOUS EVIDENCE OF THE FACT (ver. 15).
III. THE CONTROVERSY IS ALREADY BEGUN IN THE CHANGE OF THE MINISTRY. To punish those that had abused their power to ill purposes, God sets those over them that had not sense to use it to any good purposes (ver. 12).
( M. Henry.)
The Lord will enter into judgment.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
The daughters of Zion are haughty.
(A. B. Davidson, LL. D.)
I. THE SIN CHARGED UPON THE DAUGHTERS OF ZION. The prophet expressly voucheth God's Authority for what he said, lest it should be thought it was unbecoming him to take notice of such things, and should be ill resented by the ladies. The Lord saith it. Whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, let them know that God takes notice of, and is much displeased with, the folly and vanity of proud women; and His law takes cognisance even of their dress Such a nice affected mien is not only a force upon that which is natural, and ridiculous before men of sense, but, as it is an evidence of a vain mind, it is offensive to God. And two things aggravated it here —
1. That these were the daughters of Zion — the holy mountain — who should have carried themselves with the gravity that becomes women professing godliness.
2. That it should seem by the connection they were the wives and daughters of the princes who spoiled and oppressed the poor (vers. 14, 15), that they might maintain this pride and luxury of their families.
II. THE PUNISHMENTS THREATENED FOR THIS SIN, and they answer the sin as face answers to face in a glass (vers. 17, 18).
1. They "walked with stretched forth necks." But God "will smite with a scab the crown of their head," which shall lower their crests, and make them ashamed to show their heads, being obliged by it to cut off their hair.
2. They cared not what they laid out in furnishing themselves with great variety of fine clothes; but God will reduce them to such poverty and distress that they should not have clothes sufficient to cover their nakedness.
3. They were extremely fond and proud of their ornaments; but God will strip them of those ornaments, when their houses shall be plundered, their treasures rifled, and they themselves led into captivity.
4. They were very nice and curious about their clothes, but God would make those bodies of theirs a reproach and burden to them (ver. 24).
5. They designed by these ornaments to charm the gentlemen, and win their affections, but there shall be none to be charmed by them (ver. 25).
( Matthew Henry.)
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
1. Much of the worldly costume of our time is the cause of the temporal and eternal ruin of a multitude of men.
2. Extravagant costume is the foe of all Christian almsgiving.
3. Is distraction to public worship.
4. Belittles the intellect. Our minds are enlarged, or they dwindle just in proportion to the importance of the subject on which they constantly dwell.
5. It shuts a great multitude out of heaven. You will have to choose between the goddess of fashion and the Christian God.
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
1. This wholesale extravagance accounts for a great deal of depression in national finances. Aggregates are made up of units, and so long as one-half of the people of this country are in debt to the other half, you cannot have a healthy financial condition.
2. The widespread extravagance accounts for much of the crime. It is the source of many abscondings, bankruptcies, defalcations, and knaveries.
3. It also accounts for much of the pauperism in the country. Who are the individuals and the families who are thrown on your charity? Who has sinned against them so that they suffer? It is often the case that their parents, or their grandparents, had all luxuries, lived everything up, more than lived everything up, and then died, leaving their families in want.
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.).