Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you.I. WHAT IS THE WORD OF THE LORD? His law and Gospel.
II. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN HEARING THE WORD OF GOD?
1. That we attend His ordinances.
2. That we observe what we hear.
3. That we understand what we observe.
4. That we believe what we understand.
5. That we remember what we believe.
6. That we practise what we remember.
7. That we continue in what we practise.
III. WHY SHOULD WE HEAR?
1. Because God has commanded it.
2. Because it is for our great interest, it being the means of repentance, faith, light, comfort, and leads to eternal happiness.
IV. HOW WORTHY OF REPROOF ARE THEY —
1. Who do not come to hear.
2. Who do not hear when they are come.
3. Who do not mind what they hear if they do come.
4. Who do not understand what they give attention to.
5. Who will not believe what they understand.
6. Who will not practise what they believe.
1. Hear God's Word with reverence.
For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest (the work of the hands of the workmanIsaiah 46:7). "They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth." Thus everything can be known about the false gods: we can walk round them; we can tell the very day of their manufacture; we can give their exact weight in pounds and ounces; we can set down their stature in feet and inches; we can change their complexion with a brush: because they are known they are contemptible. In opposition to all this view of heathen deities stands the glorious revelation of the personality and nature of the true God. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent." A conviction of the vital difference between the God of the Hebrews and the god of the heathen seems to have forced itself into the minds even of those to whom the true revelation had not come: "Their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges." All human history would seem to show that men must have either a knowable or an unknowable God. Every thinking man has what to him is equivalent to a god. His thought stretched to the point of perplexity — because so much appeals to it that is beyond absorption or reconciliation — becomes to man a species of deity, or in other terms an unknown and bewildering quantity, which will not allow him to put a full stop to his thinking, saying, Human life ends here, and beyond it there is no field of legitimate inquiry. On the other hand, a child loved to idolatry becomes very near to occupying the position of a god. Be it what it may, either a high conception or a low, it would seem as if we must find some equivalent to God, either in the fog of chance, the temple of art, or the sanctuary of revelation. Even false gods put their devotees to great expense in their service. Take the man who gives himself up to the pursuit of an idea, chimerical or practical, but large enough to be to him a religion. He lives no idle life; he does not rise with the sluggard, or lull his brain with opiates; he sees a beckoning spirit on the high hills, and hears a voice bidding him make haste whilst the light lasts; he writhes under many an inexplicable inspiration; he dares the flood that affrights the coward; he cannot spare himself: he is not his own. Such men are not to be despised. They give life a higher meaning, and service a bolder range. I only say of them in this connection that their worship is neither easy nor inexpensive. Men have to rise early, to run great risks, to deny themselves many temporary gratifications, to say No where often they would be glad to say Yes; they have to abandon the society of wife and children, and the security and joy of home, that they may go afar to learn new languages, face new conditions, and endeavour to subdue oppositions of the most stubborn kind. The highest application of this doctrine is found in the religion of Jesus Christ. Whoever would gain immortality must hate his present life, — whoever would seize heaven in its highest interpretations and uses must hold in con. tempt, as to mere permanence of satisfaction, this little earth and its vain appeals. The service of the true God includes all the grandest ideas of the human mind. This is the supreme advantage which Christianity has over every phase of human thought. It keeps men back from no service that is good: on the contrary, it compels them to adopt and pursue it. Is it a question of high ideals? Then we may boldly ask what ideal can be higher, and morally completer, than that which is presented by the religion of Jesus Christ? That ideal may be expressed as peace on earth, and goodwill toward men, — an idea involving personal righteousness, international honour, the recognition of the broadest human rights, and the possibility of all nations, peoples, kindreds, and tongues being consolidated into one Christian brotherhood, not as to mere accidents, but as to supremacy of purpose and pureness of motive. The followers of Bible godliness are not mere dreamers. They do more for the world's progress than any other men in society can do. The advantage which the Christian worshipper has over all the heathen round about him is in the fact that he himself was converted from social heathenism and from trust in false gods. "Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led." Although this has literally no application to us, its spiritual reference is abundantly clear: we have followed the customs of the world; we have drunk at its fountains; we have wandered in its gardens; we have bought its delights; we have sacrificed at its altars; and today we stand up to testify that the gods of the heathen can neither hear prayer nor answer it, can neither pity human distress nor relieve it. We know also with equal certainty, on the other hand, that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ covers our whole life, answers all its deepest necessities, is a sovereign balm for every wound, and cordial for our fears.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Who would not fear Thee, O King of nations?
(J. Parker, D. D.)
God the only object of fear1. Fear sometimes signifies terror; a disposition that makes the soul consider itself only as sinful, and God chiefly as a being who hateth and avengeth sin. There are various degrees of this fear, and it deserves either praise, or blame, according to the different degree to which it is carried. A man whose heart is so void of the knowledge of the perfections of God, that he cannot rise above the little idols which worldlings adore; whose notions are so gross that he cannot adhere to the purity of religion for purity's sake; whose taste is so vitiated that he hath no relish for the delightful union of a faithful soul with its God; such a man deserves to be praised, when he endeavoureth to restrain his sensuality by the idea of an avenging God. The fear of God, taken in this first sense, is a laudable disposition. But it ceaseth to be laudable, it becomes detestable, when it goeth so far as to deprive a sinner of a sight of all the gracious remedies which God hath reserved for sinners. It should be left to the devils to believe and tremble (James 2:19). Fear is no less odious, when it giveth us tragical descriptions of the rights of God, and of His designs on His creatures: when it maketh a tyrant of Him. Away with that fear of God which is so injurious to His majesty, and so unworthy of that throne which is founded on equity!
2. To fear God is a phrase still more equivocal, and it is put for that disposition of mind which inclines us to render to Him all the worship that He requires, to submit to all the laws that He imposeth, to conceive all the emotions of admiration, devotedness, and love, which the eminence of His perfections demands. This is the usual meaning of the phrase. By this Jonah described himself, even while he was acting contrary to it, "I am an Hebrew, and I fear the Lord the God of heaven" (Jonah 1:9). In this sense the phrase is to be understood when we are told that "the fear of the Lord prolongeth days, is a fountain of life, and preserveth from the snares of death" (Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 14:27). And it is to be taken in the same sense where "the fear of the Lord" is said to be "the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). The fear of the Lord in all these passages includes all the duties of religion. It seems needless to remark what idea we ought to form of this fear, for, it is plain, the mere a soul is penetrated with it, the nearer it approacheth to perfection.
3. But, beside these two notions of fear, there is a third, which is more nearly allied to our text, a notion that is neither so general as the last, nor so particular as the first. Fear, in this third sense, is a disposition which considers Him who is the object of it as alone possessing all that can contribute to our happiness or misery. Distinguish here a particular from a general happiness. It often happens that, all things being considered, a particular happiness, considered in the whole of our felicity is a general misery: and, on the contrary, it often happens that, all things being considered, a particular misery, in the whole of our felicity is a general happiness. It was a particular misfortune in the life of a man to be forced to bear the amputation of a mortified arm: but weighing the whole felicity of the life of the man, this particular misfortune became a good, because had he not consented to the amputation of the mortified limb, the mortification would have been fatal to his life, and would have deprived him of all felicity here. It was a particular calamity, that a believer should be called to suffer martyrdom: but in the whole felicity of that believer, martyrdom was a happiness, yea, an inestimable happiness; by suffering the pain of a few moments he hath escaped those eternal torments which would have attended his apostasy. To consider a being as capable of rendering us happy or miserable, in the general sense that we have given of the words happiness and misery, is to fear that being, in the third sense which we have given to the term fear. This is the sense of the word fear, in the text, and in many other passages of the Holy Scriptures. Thus Isaiah useth it, "Say ye not a confederacy," etc. (Isaiah 8:12, 13). So again, "Who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid," etc. (Isaiah 51:12). And again in these words of our Saviour, "Fear not them which kill the body," etc. (Matthew 10:28). To kill the body is to cause a particular evil; and to fear them which kill the body is to regard the death of the body as a general evil, determining the whole of our felicity. To fear Him which is able to destroy the soul, is to consider the loss of the soul as the general evil, and Him who is able to destroy the soul as alone able to determine the whole of our felicity or misery. In this sense we understand the text, and this sense seems most agreeable to the scope of the place.
I. GOD IS A BEING WHOSE WILL IS SELF-EFFICIENT. We call that will self-efficient which infallibly produceth its effect. By this efficiency of will we distinguish God from every other being, either real, or possible. No one but God hath a self-efficient will. There is no one but God of whom the argument from the will to the act is demonstrative. Of none but God can we reason in this manner: He willeth, therefore He doth. Every intelligent being hath some degree of efficiency in his will: my will hath an efficiency on my arm; I will to move my arm, my arm instantly moves. But there is as great a difference between the efficiency of the will of a creature, and the efficiency of the will of the Creator, as there is between a finite and an infinite being. The will of a created intelligence, properly speaking, is not self-efficient, for it hath only a borrowed efficiency. When He, from whom it is derived, restrains it, this created intelligence will have only a vain, weak, inefficient will. I have today a will efficient to move my arm: but if that Being from whom I derive this will, should contract or relax the fibres of this arm, my will to move it would become vain, weak, and inefficient. Further, the efficiency of a creature's will is finite. My will is efficient in regard to the portion of matter to which I am united: but how contracted is my empire! how limited is my sovereignty! It extends no farther than the mass of my body extends; and the mass of my body is only a few inches broad, and a few cubits high.
II. GOD IS THE ONLY BEING WHO HATH A SUPREME DOMINION OVER THE OPERATIONS OF A SPIRITUAL AND IMMORTAL SOUL. From this principle we conclude that God alone hath the happiness and misery of man in His power. God alone merits the supreme homage of fear. God alone not only in opposition to all the imaginary gods of paganism, but also in opposition to every being that really exists, is worthy of this part of the adoration of a spiritual and immortal creature. "Who would not fear Thee, O King of nations?" God alone can act immediately on a spiritual creature. He needs neither the fragrance of flowers, nor the savour of foods, nor any of the mediums of matter, to communicate agreeable sensations to the soul. He needs neither the action of fire, the rigour of racks, nor the galling of chains, to produce sensations of pain. He acts immediately on the soul. It is He, human soul! It is He who, by leaving thee to revolve in the dark void of thine unenlightened mind, can deliver thee up to all the torments that usually follow ignorance, uncertainty, and doubt. But the same God can expand thine intelligence just when He pleaseth, and enable it to lay down principles, to infer consequences, to establish conclusions. It is He who can impart new ideas to thee, teach thee to combine those which thou hast already acquired, enable thee to multiply numbers, show thee how to conceive the infinitely various arrangements of matter, acquaint thee with the essence of thy thought, its different modifications and its endless operations. It is He who can grant thee new revelations, develop those which He hath already given thee, but which have hitherto lain in obscurity; He can inform thee of His purposes, His counsels and decrees, and lay before thee, if I may venture to say so, the whole history of time and eternity. For nothing either hath subsisted in time, or will subsist in eternity, but what was preconceived in the counsels of His infinite intelligence.
III. If the idea of a Being, whose will is self-efficient and who can act immediately on a spiritual soul, were not sufficient to incline you to render the homage of fear to God, I would represent Him as MAKING ALL CREATURES FULFIL HIS WILL. If tyrants, executioners, prisons, dungeons, racks, tortures, pincers, caldrons of boiling oil, gibbets, stakes, were necessary; if all nature, and all the elements were wanted to inspire that soul with fear, which is so far elevated above the elements, and all the powers of nature: I would prove to you that tyrants and executioners, prisons and dungeons, racks and tortures, and pincers, caldrons of boiling oil, gibbets and stakes, all nature and all the elements fulfil the designs of the King of nations; and that, when they seem the least under His direction, they are invariably accomplishing His will. These are not imaginary ideas of mine; but they are taken from the same Scriptures that establish the first ideas, which we have been explaining. What do our prophets and apostles say of tyrants, executioners, and persecutors? In what colours do they paint them? Behold, how God contemns the proudest potentates; see how He mortifies and abases them (Isaiah 10:5, 7; Isaiah 14:5, 11-15; Isaiah 37:29). Oh, how capable were our sacred authors of considering the grandees of the earth in their true point of light! Oh, how well they knew how to teach us what a king or a tyrant is in the presence of Him by whose command kings decree justice (Proverbs 8:15), and by whose permission, and even direction, tyrants decree injustice!
He is the living God, and an everlasting King.
1. One of the most observable and least questionable principles, drawn from our observation of man and nature, is, that the person, the conscious being, is the chief thing, for the sake of which all else is, and subservient to which all principles operate. The person, the conscious, intelligent, active, enjoying, suffering being, is foremost in importance and honour; principles and laws operate for its support, guidance, and well-being, and therefore are secondary. Some of these principles and laws have their origin in the relations which exist amongst intelligent, moral agents; most of them come into action in consequence of the previous existence of those relations. If there were no such agents, there either would be no such principles, or they would have no operation. Thus, for example, veracity, justice, love, are sentiments or obligations which spring up from the relations subsisting between different beings, and can exist only where there are persons. We may say, indeed, that they exist abstractly, in the nature of things; but, if there be no beings to recognise them, no agents to conform to or violate them, they would be as if they were not. They are qualities of being, and, like all qualities, have no actual existence independent of the substances in which they inhere. They have relation to acts, — voluntary acts of truth, justice, goodness; and acts belong to persons. If there existed no persons in the universe, but only things, there could be neither the act nor the sentiment of justice, goodness, truth; these are qualities of persons, not of things; of actions, not of substances. Suppose the Deity to exist alone in the universe which He has made. Then, from the conscious enjoyment of His own perfections, and the exercise of His power in the physical creation, He must dwell in bliss; but, as He has no relations to other conscious existences, He cannot exercise justice, or truth, or love; they lie in the infinite bosom as if they were not; they have only a contingent existence. Or make another supposition. Upon the newly created earth one man is placed alone. He knows no other conscious existence but himself. What are truth, justice, charity to him? They are nothing to him. He cannot have ideas of them. They are sentiments that belong to certain relations between beings, which relations he does not stand in, and knows nothing of. To him, therefore, they do not exist. Now, send him companions, and the relations begin, which give those sentiments birth and make their expression possible. He is in society; and those principles, which make the strength and order of society, immediately come into action. The necessities of conscious being call them forth. Thus what is chiefest in the universe is conscious, active mind; abstract principles are but the laws of its various relations. This may be illustrated, if necessary, from the analogies of the physical universe. Which is chief, the law of gravitation, or the universe which it sustains? The one is but means, the other is end; and the end is always greater than the means. If you say, No; gravitation is the superior, because it is the universal power of God; then I reply, "You thereby assent to the superiority of the person over the principle; for, as His power, it is His servant; He controls and directs it." But if you take the other ground, and speak of gravitation as a power independent of any being, then you cannot deny that it exists and is active for the sage of the systems and their inhabitants; operating for their sake, it is their servant and inferior; without them, it would be inert and non-existent. Thus the analogy of the physical universe corroborates the position. If there were no material masses, there could be no gravitation; if there were no persons there could be no truth, or justice, or love. There is another way of considering this point. What is it that, in the whole history and progress of man, has proved most interesting to man? What has been the favourite study, the chief subject of contemplation and care? Has it not been men, persons? Have not their character, fortunes, words, deeds, been the chief themes of thought, of conversation, of letters, of arts? Is it not the interest which the soul takes in persons that is the foundation of society, of its activity, its inventions, its advancement in civilisation, its institutions, its laws? Thus the doctrine which denies personality to God is in opposition to the general economy of nature, which sets peculiar honour on persons. In all the other relations of its being, the soul is concerned with nothing so much. Why should it be less so in its highest relation?
2. It also amounts to a virtual denial of God. Indeed, this is the only sense in which it seems possible to make that denial. No one thinks of denying the existence of principles and laws. Gravitation, order, cause and effect, truth, benevolence, — no one denies that these exist; and, if these constitute the Deity, He has not been, and cannot be, denied. The only denial possible is by this exclusion of a personal existence. There can be no atheism but this; and this is atheism. If the material universe rests on the laws of attraction, affinity, heat, motion, still all of them together are no Deity; if the moral universe is founded on the principles of righteousness, truth, love, neither are these the Deity. There must be some Being to put in action these principles, to exercise these attributes. There is a personal God, or there is none.
3. Further, to exclude personality from the idea of God, is, in effect, to destroy the object of worship, and thus to annihilate that essential duty of religion. The sentiment of reverence may, undoubtedly, be felt for a principle, for a code of laws, for an institution of government. But worship, which is the expression of that sentiment, is applicable only to a conscious being, as all the language and customs of men signify. It is praise, thanks, honour, and petition, addressed to one who can hear and reply. If there be no such one, — if the government of the world be at the disposal of unconscious power and self-executing law, — then there can be no such thing as worship. Let this be seriously considered. What a desolation is wrought in society, and in the soul, when the foundation of worship is thus taken away! It is the suppression of a chief instinct; it is the overthrow of a system which has always made an inseparable part of the social order, and in which human character and happiness are intimately concerned. The relation of man, in his weakness and wants, to a kindred spirit infinitely ready to aid him, of the insufficient child of earth to a watchful Father in heaven, is destroyed. There remains no mind, higher than my own, which is knowing to my desires; there is no Parent above, to whom my affections can rise and find peace. I am left to myself, and to men as weak as myself. We must not consent to the injustice which is thus done to the affections. What an instinct is in them, and how they yearn for something to love and trust, is taught us in all the religious history of the race.
4. In the next place, this notion removes the sense of responsibility, and so puts in jeopardy the virtue of man, as we have just seen that it trifles with his happiness. The idea of responsibility implies someone to whom we are responsible, and who has a right to treat us according to our fidelity. We, indeed, sometimes use the word with a little different application; we say that a man is responsible to his country, to posterity, to the cause of truth; but this is plainly employing the word in a secondary sense; it is not the original, literal signification. We hear it said, also, that a man is responsible to his own conscience; and this is sometimes spoken of as the most solemn responsibility. In one point of view, justly; since it is responsibility to that person, whose disapprobation is nearest to us, and whose awards are of the highest consequence to our peace. But why is it terrible? Because it is thought to represent and foreshadow the decisions of the higher tribunal of God. It is the thought of the living Lawgiver and Judge which affects men, — of one whose displeasure they can dread, whose good opinion they can value, whose favour they perceive to be life. And herein is perceived the wisdom of the Gospel of Christ, herein is found its efficacy, — that, casting aside all such abstractions, it appeals wholly to the relations of conscious beings, and subdues, and reforms, and blesses, by drawing the human soul to the soul of its Saviour and its God.
5. If, now, we pass to the declarations of the Divine Word, we find that the doctrine we are opposing stands in direct contradiction to the whole language and teaching of the Old and the New Testaments. Those volumes speak of God, uniformly and distinctly, as possessed of personal attributes. They so describe His perfections and His government, they so recite His words and His acts, they so assign to Him the relations and titles of the Creator, King, Lawgiver, Father. Until language changes its meaning, and all description is falsified, the doctrine of the Divine impersonality is a direct contradiction of the doctrine of revelation.
6. Further still, it destroys the possibility of a revelation, in any intelligible sense of the word. A revelation is a message, or a direct communication, from the infinite mind to the human mind. But, in order to this, there is required a conscious and individual action on the part of the communicator; and this implies personality. So that this doctrine virtually accuses the Scriptures of imposture, since they purport to contain a revelation from God, which, in the nature of things, is impossible. Nay, let us see the worst of it; — it accuses the apostles of Christ. and the blessed Saviour Himself, of deliberate fraud and imposition.
(H. Ware, D. D.)
er: — God never did, and never will receive the homage of a divided heart. Alexander, when Darius proposed that the two great monarchs should divide the world, replied that there was only room for one sun in the heavens. What his ambition affirmed that God declareth from the necessity of the case. Since one God fills all things, there is no room for another.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thus shall ye say, etc.
I. THE PROCLAIMING ITSELF.
II. THE SUM OF THE PROCLAMATION. The proclaiming in these words, "Thus shall ye say unto them." Here are three things —
1. The persons who, namely, Ye Jews, who are the worshippers of the living God; ye captive Jews, carried out of your own land, and living as slaves and vassals under your proud lords the Babylonians; "Ye shall say unto them."
2. The persons to whom, namely, your lordly masters of Babylon.
3. The manner how; "thus," that is, not in cryptic, or mystical terms, or in your own Hebrew mutterings, a language which they understand not, but in the vulgar tongue of Babylon.
4. In the sum of the proclamation are two things contained —(1) A description of false gods in these words, "The gods which made not the heavens and the earth."(2) Their doom in these words, "They shall perish from the earth and from these heavens.
(J. Mede, B. D.)
The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish.I. THE NECESSARY AND UNIFORM EFFECTS OF IDOLATRY, of the worship of "the gods who have not made the heavens and the earth"; and if the fact is granted, which I believe not to be questioned, that this has been the universal practice of pagans, I ask no other principle to enable me to spread before you a scene of dark and pitiable wretchedness, which must excite our commiseration.
1. Where there is idolatry there is no God. All the wants you feel, and which God only can supply, they feel too. You take your wants to God; they take theirs to an idol; and an idol is nothing. You go to the fountain of living water; they, to broken cisterns. They apply parched lips to an empty vessel; they are hungry, and they dream they eat; they awake, and are not satisfied.
2. Where there is idolatry, there are no morals. The true foundation of morals is the will of God. That will is holy, because He is holy; and a holy God being known, His will is known also to be such. There is no knowledge of morals but where there is a knowledge of God; and there is no sanction of them. It is true, that in countries where God is known we may find morals without immediate reference to God and His will. The conduct may be correct out of regard to public opinion and character; but this public opinion as to morals is created by the acknowledged fact, that there is a God that hateth iniquity; and this acknowledgment is produced by the knowledge of His will. From idolatry no morality can issue, because there is no superior will in its favour. Vice meets no check from conscience, none from fear, none from a superior Being watching every act of man, and registering it for judgment. To be like the "gods who have not made the heavens and the earth," is to be unfit for the society of men. The worshippers of idols "are filled with all unrighteousness." This is the language of inspiration and of history.
3. Where there is idolatry there is a fatal mistake on the subject of religion. True religion, indeed, there is not, nor indeed can be. Idolatry and superstition are not, therefore, as they have sometimes been represented, only different means of accomplishing the same end, giving men the control and benefits of religion, though by a different process. This, I fear, has been a too common notion: The same principles of piety have been supposed to be expressed by the worship of God and of idols; and he who has returned from an idol-temple has been regarded as bearing away with him to his home and to his business, a conscience as satisfied, a spirit as refreshed and comforted, as he who departs from beholding the power and glory of God in the sanctuary. What corrective control can be expected except that which results from the presence of a God of purity, of one who hateth iniquity, and who will everlastingly punish it?
4. Idolatry is inconsistent with religious comfort. For polytheism admits no providence. It peoples heaven with gods who war with each other, and each other's worshippers. There is no superintending mind in that heaven, no common plan, no regular discipline; and there can be no trust.
5. Where there is idolatry, there is no hope.
II. IN WHAT ITS REMEDY LIES.
1. Consider the means which human wisdom, resting only upon human resources, has proposed to adopt in order to raise the condition of the barbarous or semi-civilised pagan nations of the earth. Hope has rested —(1) On forms of government. As these improve, and the principles of right and power are better understood, the moral and civil condition of nations is expected to advance. The best forms are vain, where public virtue is wanting; public virtue is the sum of private virtue; and that is the product only of a true and efficient religion. But good government supposes laws; and —(2) From laws the effect has been hoped. Consider then the operation of laws without religion. Allow that you introduce principles of right and wrong between men, restrain violence, correct fraud, establish order. Suppose all this to be done: Can the institutions of law reach the thought? Can the security of law give peace to the conscience? Can human judicature absolve from guilt?(3) But these evils have been traced to ignorance and the revival and diffusion of science have been depended upon as the means of improving the moral condition of the pagan world. There is no moral influence in science, merely as such: It may be an instrument either of good or of evil; but is in itself, and that from its very nature, indifferent. It is an instrument, however, which, if a good agent does not seize, an evil one will; and he who sends the light of knowledge, and consequently power, among the heathen, is bound to send with it that higher science, and those principles of religious fear and hope, by which only it can be employed to moral and beneficial purposes.
2. Where, then, is the remedy? It is in the Gospel of the grace of God. There the deep and pressing want of the world is met.
III. CONSIDER HOW FAR IT LIES WITH US TO APPLY IT. It will not be difficult to show, both that it is laid upon us to contribute with all our power to the moral improvement of the world; and that Christian missions are the means appointed for this purpose, which have the authentication of Divine authority.
1. They unquestionably accord with the standing rule of the Divine government, to help man by man.
2. This is still farther confirmed, by a fact of no small importance in determining our duties on this subject. No nation, lapsed from the light and knowledge of religion, has ever regained it, while left to itself. On the contrary, we see a constant sinking.
3. The Christian ministry is the means Divinely appointed for this purpose.
(J. Mede, B. D.)
I. GOD EXPECTS FROM US THAT WE SHOULD ACKNOWLEDGE BEFORE MEN OUR FAITH AND BELIEF IN HIM UPON ALL PROPER OCCASIONS; and that upon no pretence, and for the fear of no inconvenience and danger, we should deny Him, and act against our conscience.
II. IT IS THE DUTY OF EVERYONE TO PROMOTE VIRTUE AND RELIGION IN OTHERS TO THE UTMOST OF HIS POWER. If our desires to do this be earnest, and our behaviour be upright, we shall in some measure succeed; for goodness is of its own nature communicative, and it commands love and respect, and on both accounts it will have some weight and influence.
III. THE WORDS OF THE TEXT ARE DIRECTED TO AN UNHAPPY PEOPLE, stripped of their possessions, surviving the destruction of their fellow citizens, cast out of their own land, carried into captivity by their proud conquerors, and seemingly forsaken of God. These persons are exhorted to make profession of their faith, and to hold fast their religion. If we apply this direction to ourselves, we may learn that we ought in time of affliction to honour God, and submit to the dispensations of His providence. By this behaviour we both recommend ourselves to God's favour, and do signal service to religion.
IV. The next observation arising from the text is, THAT GOD MAY BE KNOWN BY HIS WORKS, and that the human understanding may discover, upon a serious and careful examination, that there is one God, Maker and Governor of the universe; that all other gods beside Him are gods which made not the heavens and the earth, that is, no gods in reality.
V. The words of the text are a most illustrious and remarkable prophecy, THAT THE GODS OF THE GENTILES WHO WERE THEN ADORED SHOULD ENTIRELY PERISH AND CONSEQUENTLY THAT THE HONOUR WHICH HAD BEEN PAID TO THEM SHOULD BE GIVEN TO GOD ALONE.
1. It was a time when the knowledge of the true God was confined to very narrow bounds, and His dominion was almost become invisible. Upon many accounts, then, and according to human probability, it seemed mere to be expected that the Jews together with their religion should perish, than that the Gentiles should forsake their idolatry.
2. Concerning the accomplishment of the prophecy, we may observe that it hath been in a great measure manifested. For the gods of the Gentiles so often mentioned in sacred and profane history, the gods of Europe and Asia, of Greece and Italy, the gods of Babylon, and of all the nations surrounding the Jews, and with which the Jews were so often concerned, have entirely perished. This great event hath been produced by the Gospel:
(1) (2) (3) 3. But the descriptions which the prophets have made of this revolution are so magnificent, that they seem not yet to have received a total completion. It is generally and justly supposed that a more glorious age shall come; when the Jews shall be converted, and the fulness of the Gentiles shall flow into the Church, and the kingdoms of the earth shall be the kingdom of Christ. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
(2) (3) 3. But the descriptions which the prophets have made of this revolution are so magnificent, that they seem not yet to have received a total completion. It is generally and justly supposed that a more glorious age shall come; when the Jews shall be converted, and the fulness of the Gentiles shall flow into the Church, and the kingdoms of the earth shall be the kingdom of Christ. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
(3) 3. But the descriptions which the prophets have made of this revolution are so magnificent, that they seem not yet to have received a total completion. It is generally and justly supposed that a more glorious age shall come; when the Jews shall be converted, and the fulness of the Gentiles shall flow into the Church, and the kingdoms of the earth shall be the kingdom of Christ. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
(J. Jortin, D. D.)
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
He hath made the earth by His power.
I. It is ORGANISED BY WISDOM.
1. This stands opposed to the idea of —(1) The eternity of the universe. The universe is not eternal in its elements, or combinations. There was a period far back in the abysses of eternity, when there was nothing, — when the Absolute One lived alone.(2) The contingent origin of the universe. It sprang from no fortuitous concourse of atoms: "By wisdom hath He founded the earth," etc. God has hollowed out the oceans, and arranged the systems of clouds.
2. The scientific student of nature sees design and exquisite adaptations in every part of nature: "By His knowledge the depths are broken up. We are raised by science," says Lord Brougham, "to an understanding of the infinite wisdom and goodness which the Creator has displayed in all His works. Not a step can we take in any direction without perceiving the most extraordinary traces of design; and the skill, everywhere conspicuous, is calculated in so vast a proportion of instances to promote the happiness of living creatures, and especially ourselves, that we feel no hesitation in concluding that if we knew the whole scheme of Providence, every part would appear in harmony with a plan of absolute benevolence."
II. It is organised by the WISDOM OF ONE BEING. "He" — the Lord God. It is not the outcome of many intelligences. One intellect drafted the whole.
(David Thomas, D. D.)
Woe is me for my hurt.Psalm 27:5): —
I. THE LAMENT OF THE PROPHET. "Woe is me for my hurt! My wound is grievous: Truly this is a grief." It was not merely an irritation, or an inconvenience, or an annoyance, a disagreeable and disappointing incident, it was a grief — a bitter, crushing overthrow.
1. The overthrow is total. "My tabernacle is spoiled, and all my cords are broken." Victor Hugo tells of a wonderful tent that was given to Napoleon by the Sultan Selim: "From the outside it appeared like an ordinary tent, remarkable only for having in the canvas little windows, of which the frames were of rope; three windows on each side. The inside was superb. The visitor found himself inside a great chest of gold brocade; upon this brocade were flowers and a thousand fancy devices. On looking closely into the cords of the windows one discovered that they were of the most magnificent gold and silver lace; each window had its awning of gold brocade; the lining of the tent was of silk, with large red and blue stripes. If I had been Napoleon, I should have liked to place my iron bed in this tent of gold and flowers, and to sleep in it on the eve of Wagram, Jena, and Friedland." Now, metaphorically speaking, Napoleon did dwell in a magnificent tabernacle, but at length he slept in it for the last time on the eve of Waterloo, for the whole thing fell into awful ruin. Napoleon III shared the same fortune. He slept long in his glorious imperial tent, but on the eve of Sedan he slept in it for the last time, for the splendid fabric vanished as a dream. Within comparatively few years we have seen many rich and illustrious men like General Grant in New York, Secretan in Paris, the Gurneys and Barings in London, reduced to poverty at a stroke — their heirlooms scattered, their estates alienated, their pictures knocked down by auction, their splendid palaces dismantled and sold. And this kind of thing is ever going on. Crops are spoiled, ships founder, property deteriorates, tariffs close mills and factories, fires destroy, clerks embezzle, stocks and shares fall, and lovely tents are brought to the ground. We see these reverses startlingly in fallen conquerors, in exiled kings, in bankrupt millionaires; there the thing is writ large; but in a humbler way financial loss and embarrassment overtake thousands, and bury their delightful, cozy tents in the sand. Sometimes melancholy accidents bereave us and break up our homes.
2. The overthrow is sudden. A tent in the wilderness is suddenly broken, and just as suddenly are the hopes of men laid in the dust. We cannot guarantee anything. Our happy home may be smitten; our children gone forth; our health impaired; our days over. Science has invented a whole system of warning touching the calamities of nature. The seismograph is an alarum announcing the stealthy steps of the earthquake and volcano. Weather charts teach much concerning cyclonic disturbances. Various subtile barometers indicate atmospheric variations, and the mariner on the sea, the miner in the depths, is warned of impending peril. But there are no instruments fine enough to detect the approaching tempests and earthquakes which wreck human fortunes and hopes, no storm drum to warn us into safe harbours.
3. The overthrow is irreparable. "There is none to stretch forth my tent any more, and to set up my curtains." The prophet saw that there was no prince, no warrior, no statesman, no patriot with the requisite capacity and strength, to save the State, to retrieve its shattered fortunes, and to recall its children. The blow was so crushing that the nation was beyond recovery. It is frequently thus in private life. Physical afflictions prove incurable. The earthly tabernacle receives a mortal wound; we may linger, but the result is inevitable. Some financial disasters are absolutely irremediable. Some domestic bereavements are without compensation or hope. There are no compensations or substitutes.
4. The overthrow is personal. "Truly this is my grief, and I must bear it" (R.V.). As Miss McKenny writes in her suggestive book, A Piece of an Honeycomb: "The story of human life is ever the same, though told in new versions and in differing climes. Things go on smoothly with us for years, and we never can believe that the 'trouble' we are 'born to' will some day overtake us. But the hour strikes, and the bounds are removed; the flood gates are opened, and in upon us pours the full, devastating tide of sorrow. Not a new experience in this world of sin and suffering; yet strangely new and terrible to us. We sit in dumb desolation in the midst of our 'spoiled tabernacle.' Hearts which were one with ours are severed from us. It may be by death, or by something which is worse than that. We stand for the time in darkness 'upon the shadow side of God,' and see no light of comfort or of restoration. 'I must bear it,' says the stricken heart, with a wail."
II. THE REFUGE OF THE PSALMIST. "For in the time of trouble He shall hide me."
1. Fly to the living God. Grand dwelling place! Storms and earthquakes it defies; time does not sap its strength; the topmost wave of the deluge fell short of its threshold; burning worlds will not scorch it. Happy thing in the dark day to fall back on the eternal justice, love, and promise. Someone said to Luther: "When Frederic the Elector forsakes you, where will you find shelter? Under heaven," said the heroic saint. And when everything else has gone — the blue, calm, smiling heaven of the all-encompassing God shall be our refuge.
2. Rest in the loving Saviour. We are desolate, weak, our tent dissolved, our strength, our righteousness, our friendships, our hopes are gone; but the merit and love of Christ, like the strong, silken, embroidered curtains of a royal tent, wrap us round and keep us from the fear of evil.
3. Prepare for the heavenly home. Not long since, walking in a church, I observed this epitaph: "And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in Thee!" And now, Lord. Now, when everything is absolutely gone. "In days past," seemed to say the dead man, "I had something to trust to that was tangible and ascertainable. I had the members of the body — eyes to behold, feet to run, hands to fight; but all are now paralysed; I had some gold and silver, but this shroud has no pockets; I had companions and helpers, but lover and friend is put far from me." "Now, Lord, what wait I for?" Not a rag left of all the tent, not a plank of the broken ship; it is absolute ruin and despair, or absolute faith and victory. "My hope is in Thee." And God will not confound us.
(W. L. Watkinson.)
O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself.
I. FORMS OF AUTHORITY SUMMED UP CHRIST.
1. The authority of Nature. Wherever we have law we have authority — a something that either enforces itself, and is obeyed by us in spite of ourselves; or a something that ought to be obeyed, whether we obey it or not. The laws of Nature are so many principles that for the most part enforce themselves. We have the power to violate them, but they enforce themselves not the less. The law breaker does not break the law in the way of setting it aside, or of rendering it non-effective. Strictly speaking, he only breaks himself; as when, ignoring the law of gravitation, he steps over the brink of a precipice. The laws of Nature are universal. They determine the circulation of the planets and the circulation of the blood. They form a constellation and they shape a tear. They are uniform in their operation. The same causes, in like circumstances, are always producing the same results. The laws of health are those we are bound to respect if we would prolong our days upon the earth as far as possible. Now, there is clearly an authority here of a certain external character.
2. The authority of conscience. If now we turn away from that outer authority, and consider what we ourselves are, as having a nature of our own, we find that we are not merely creatures of sensation, capable of bodily pain and pleasure, but that we have a moral nature, capable of feelings of another kind; emotions of joy and sorrow, satisfaction and chagrin, self-approbation and shame, springing out of perceptions of moral good and evil, right and wrong, a something that ought to have been done, and a something that ought not to be done. Who can deny that there is a form of authority here, stamped upon our very being; and that there are laws and rules of moral conduct, which no time can change, to which the most earnest and thoughtful are keenly alive, and to which only the most degraded are insensible.
3. The real authority is not in the impersonal whole of nature without us, which, as impersonal, is inferior to ourselves; nor is it in the conscience within us, which may be very dimly sensible as to what right and wrong really are, but it is in the God above us, of Whose will all that is good in nature and man is the expression; and of whose word, the ideal man, Jesus Christ, is the one realised embodiment. As the eye is made for the light, so is the conscience made for God. A conscience without God is an eye in darkness, or a function without its legitimate object. Man's life attains to perfection, as it consciously approximates to God, and it moves in its legitimate orbit, as the centre of its gravity is in Christ.
II. FORMS OF AUTHORITY DERIVED FROM CHRIST.
1. The authority of the Bible. This is derived from Him. The method is an entirely mistaken one that begins by searching out all the seeming contradictions, and arguing from these as to the worth of the book as a whole. The true method is to take one's stand upon the undeniable truth of the book; and from that point, look at the supposed errors, which will then appear to be utterly fractional, in their relation to the whole, and comparatively non-essential in respect of the exclusive claim of the whole. If that is allowed to be the true method, the question arises: — "In what does the substantial unity of the Bible consist?" We understand it to consist in this, that it testifies in all its parts, when spiritually understood, to Christ, Jesus says: "Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." All the saints and prophets of the old time were looking in this direction; and their inspiration lay in the extent to which they were elevated to see that vision. In like manner, the New Testament finds its unity as pointing in all its parts to the living and incarnate Christ.
2. The authority of the Church. We all know how much this is discounted in our time; and how much there is to justify this disparagement of the Church. There are its divisions, its animosities, and what, in some respects, may be called its failures. But no one whose ideas have been formed along the line of the Divine purpose is much affected by all that, in the way of being shaken in his faith. Faith is just the cultivation of ideas, as opposed to a life that is always buried in what it calls practical affairs. The idea of the Church is that of a body formed and filled by the Word and Spirit of God. Surely a body of that description has some authority? The Spirit of truth is promised to lead us into all truth. The common convictions of the sanctified thinkers of all ages have the authority of all the truth they contain.
3. The authority of the State. This, too, is derived from Christ. When Pilate, speaking in the name of imperial Rome, declared that he had power to dispose of Jesus, the Master said: "Thou hast no power over Me at all, except it were given thee from above." The State, as empowered to enforce its decisions by physical force, is clearly separate from the Church, which has no right to lift the sword. It is no part of the function of the one of those great forms of authority to supersede the other. But there are questions with which both have to deal. There is the question of education, the question of the social condition of the people, the Sabbath question. Questions of this kind cannot be solved apart from the cooperation of both the spiritual and the secular functions.
(P. Ferguson, D. D.)
I. NATURAL ACTION. Man's action in life complex, involving two distinct parts, of which he has only one in himself — the power of natural action.
1. Its ease. Just the simple putting forth of the power of life; going on, without thinking if right or wrong. Danger of forgetting a deficiency in this part progression: mistake a part for the whole. We think we can act aright, simply because we have the power of action at all. It is as if the ship could reach the port just because she has undoubted capacities for sailing, though no helmsman or compass.
2. This mere power of natural action has a tendency to mislead. It makes a man unreflective. Proneness to slight the invisible, because it does not intrude itself upon us, although the things of this life have inseparable association with those hidden from sight in another world. Thus man's "walk" may do much as regards this life, but alas! how little effect for the world beyond. Leads to a waste of strength; for toil where nothing can be taken, and inaction where much might be won.
II. NEEDFUL DIRECTION.
1. Take care to go out of ourselves for direction. Shall not remedy the matter by taking more thought. When we have done much in that way, it will only be "man that walketh," directing his own steps; doing it more carefully, but still doing it himself. Thus going out of self may be humiliating.
2. The advantages of this going out of self. There will flow in upon us wisdom from above.
3. But we must yield ourselves to God to be ordered. Content to be led by ways we know not.
4. Ways are not really open, because apparently so. Nor because we can do this thing or that, is it therefore right. Because of this error, we have often gone into spheres where God is not, and where we should not have been.
5. Success before the world is not, therefore, a proof of our being right, nor of success in our relationship towards God. Failure here leaves our work but as "wood, hay, stubble." Danger of being too eager for success.
6. Learn not to put implicit confidence in energy or action. It is likely to mislead; may make the "man" prominent in us, and not God.
(P. B. Power, M. A.)
Homilist.I. IT IS OF IMMENSE IMPORTANCE THAT MAN'S "STEPS" IN LIFE SHOULD BE RIGHTLY DIRECTED. Human life is but a succession of "steps," and every step is important. You may step into a by path where serpents lurk and savage beasts are in quest of prey. You may step over a precipice from which you will fall to rise no more. One false step may ruin you forever; every step you give you touch a chord which will send its vibrations along the awful future. See then you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise men. The path of life is labyrinthian, cloudy, rugged, perilous, on every hand beset with dangers.
II. A RIGHT DIRECTION OF HIS "STEPS" MUST COME FROM A SOURCE OUTSIDE HIMSELF. "It is not in man." What blunders the greatest sages of all times and lands have made, both in religion and morals! "The world by wisdom knew not God" Instinct rightly directs the brute in his path of life; but man's reason has failed to direct him. Through depravity the eye of reason has become so dim that it cannot see the right path. "We are of yesterday, and know nothing." The right guide, then, must be sought without, and where? In the written word? It is there, but men, through difficulties of interpretation, often fail to find it. Where then? In the biography of Christ. His example is the guide: "Follow Me." What St. said let us all feel. "I am a little child, but my Father is my sufficient Guardian."
I. Consider the conviction here expressed, in its sources.
1. The nature of our condition. It is a dependent one; we are not our own, and therefore we are not at our own disposal.
2. The limitation of our powers. "Vain man," says Zophar, "would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass's colt." When he grows up, even when he comes to what is called years of maturity, of discretion, even then how liable is he to be deceived and deluded! How narrow then is his horizon of vision; and how foggy and cloudy is it! How unable is he to distinguish, in a thousand instances, between appearances and realities!
3. History. You have heard of Robespierre — so famous, or rather so infamous — and the torrents of blood which he shed. Yet he originally seemed an amiable character; so he was deemed in all his neighbourhood. He was a civilian; he published two books, one on electricity, the other on the code of criminal jurisprudence, lamenting that it was so sanguinary, and endeavouring to ameliorate it. But the current of the Revolution laid hold of him, and the flood hurried him away; and he became the reverse of all he had appeared to be before.
4. Experience. Franklin says, "Experience is a dear school," but adds, "Fools will learn in no other." The fact is, that they will never even in this. We ascribe always too much to experience: it is not so influential a teacher as many imagine. "I never," says Mr. Burke, "knew a man who was not wise before, who grew wiser by his troubles." No; things operate upon us according to the qualities which they find in us: they are mistaken, who suppose they can bring these qualities.
5. Scripture is another source of this conviction. In all such cases as these "to the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because they have no light in them."
II. Consider it in its USES. It is not information that we commonly need. We all feel what a difference there is between our creed and our conduct — what a difference there is between our speculative and our practical religion. The certainty of a thing is not that by which we are principally influenced; but the frequent presentation of it to the mind, and the realisation of it by meditation. There is nothing so sure as that you shall die; and yet, by pushing this aside continually, you can live less under the influence of it than perhaps anything else.
1. If "a man's way is not in himself," and "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps," this should produce gratitude. Your advantages and your indulgences, whatever they have been, are wanting in their firmest support, their loveliest ornament, and their sweetest relish, unless you acknowledge the agency of God in them.
2. This should produce submission. You may, indeed, always pray, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me," if you can add, as our Saviour did, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt."
3. You are to use the conviction as a check to presumption with regard to futurity. "Boast not thyself of tomorrow."
4. You should apply this conviction to induce you to repair to God in humble and earnest prayer. Are any of you in perplexity? Wait upon Him; and let integrity and uprightness preserve you the while. And not only wait upon Him, but also wait for Him. Do not act while your mind is in a state of uncertainty: secure the approbation of your conscience by erring, if you do err, unintentionally and conscientiously.
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENTS of this conviction. Though "man's way is not in himself," and "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" —
1. God is able to direct your steps.
2. God is willing to direct your steps.
3. God is engaged to direct them.
i.e., not to embark ourselves into any action of great importance and consequence before we have observed from heaven, not the flight of birds, nor the houses of planets, or their aspects or conjunctions, but the countenance of God, whether it shineth upon our enterprises or not, whether He approves of our designs or not.
O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in Thine anger.I. THE CHRISTIAN'S NEED OF DIVINE CORRECTION.
1. To keep down pride.
2. To Overcome sloth.
3. To chastise sin.
4. To quicken grace.
II. THE CHRISTIAN'S PRAYER FOR DIVINE CORRECTION.
1. How he would have God correct him.
(1) (2) (3) 2. Methods of correction.(1) Outward afflictions. Loss of property. Loss of friends. Death of relatives. Personal affliction.(2) Inward afflictions. Hidings of God's face. Discomfort in ordinances. Inability to pray. 1. To those who are in a declining state. Expect chastisement. 2. To those who are under the rod. Do not repine. Look inward. (John D. Lane, M. A.)
(2) (3) 2. Methods of correction.(1) Outward afflictions. Loss of property. Loss of friends. Death of relatives. Personal affliction.(2) Inward afflictions. Hidings of God's face. Discomfort in ordinances. Inability to pray. 1. To those who are in a declining state. Expect chastisement. 2. To those who are under the rod. Do not repine. Look inward. (John D. Lane, M. A.)
(3) 2. Methods of correction.(1) Outward afflictions. Loss of property. Loss of friends. Death of relatives. Personal affliction.(2) Inward afflictions. Hidings of God's face. Discomfort in ordinances. Inability to pray. 1. To those who are in a declining state. Expect chastisement. 2. To those who are under the rod. Do not repine. Look inward. (John D. Lane, M. A.)
1. To those who are in a declining state. Expect chastisement.
2. To those who are under the rod. Do not repine. Look inward.
(John D. Lane, M. A.)
I. THE PEOPLE OF GOD MUST EXPECT TO BE CORRECTED FOR THEIR SINS.
1. For the good of the soul. It has compelled many to say, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; for before I was afflicted I went astray."
2. For the conversion of the soul. But why does the rod of correction fall upon Christians?
3. To wean the heart from self-righteousness.
4. To make the backslider sensible of his guilt.
5. Moreover, the corrections of Christians are designed to prepare them for greater mercies, and for future glory.
II. SHOULD THE LORD CORRECT HIS PEOPLE IN ANGER, THEY MUST PERISH BEFORE HIM. "The Lord Most High is terrible." If His wrath be kindled, yea, but a little, who can abide the clay of His coming? Hence both David and Jeremiah, "Lord, rebuke me not in Thine anger," etc., were persuaded, that, if the righteous Governor of the world should visit them in His wrath, their spirits would fail before Him. The stoutest heart must tremble at His reproof. The most fearless must be filled with dismay if they fall into the hands of the living God.
III. The text contains THE PRAYER OF AN AWAKENED AND CONTRITE SOUL, that God would correct him with judgment, and not in anger. The word judgment is here used in the sense of discernment, in the same manner as in the seventh Psalm. "God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day": that is, He observes and regards the way of His servants, but His indignation burns against the ungodly and the sinner. When the prophet cries, "O Lord, correct me, but with judgment," he prays that the Lord would correct him with discernment; that is, that He would remember that he was but dust, and so temper the chastisement with wisdom, love, and mercy, that instead of crushing him it may make him a more humble and dutiful child, and a more faithful and devoted servant. There are certain seasons when this prayer is peculiarly suitable and proper.
1. When the mind is deeply humbled before God under a sense of guilt and misery.
2. The supplication in the text is suitable to every returning backslider. True, I deserve to perish, but Thy dear Son is the Saviour of sinners. For His sake, "pardon mine iniquity, for it is great." I crave Thy mercy in His name; and entreat Thee to restore my soul to the paths of righteousness and peace.
3. In the prospect or under the pressure of any temporal calamity we shall need this prayer.
(R. W. Alton.)
(H. W. Beecher.).