Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink.
Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel"—i.e. prepare thyself, if penitent, to meet Him with supplications, prayers, and tears; but if still hardened and impenitent, to encounter His just vengeance and fiery indignation. This warning is no less applicable or necessary for us than it was for Israel. As Christians, as immortal spirits redeemed by the blood of Jesus the Son of God, placed here for a little space on our passage and trial for eternity; preparation is our business, and our only business; preparation, that is, for the great changes which are drawing on upon us, and of which we must all soon be witnesses; but whether in joy or in sorrow, in hope or in despair, it is left to ourselves to determine. Religious preparation implies in it at least these three things: (1) Serious forethought; (2) actual search and inquiry; (3) a resolute course of practice suitable to what appears to be the truth of our condition with respect to the future.
I. Serious forethought. As the great distinguishing mark which at present separates us from the beasts that perish, is the power of exercising reason and reflection, so is this power in nothing more wonderfully shown than in our being capable of looking forward, and ascertaining with a considerable degree of certainty, what will be the consequences of our conduct, both on this side the grave and beyond it. If a person does not live in constant forethought and anxiety about his eternal state, he must somehow or other be going wrong.
II. This forethought and anxiety, if it be sincere, and at all proportionate to the importance of the subject, will lead us to search also and inquire what our prospects really are; what promises and threatenings are before us to be fulfilled in eternity; and in what degree our conduct at present may produce effects to be felt, for good or evil hereafter, forever. It is quite necessary that time should be spent and attention bestowed, in closely examining what may be called the accounts of our souls.
III. We must resolutely maintain a course of practice suitable to the prospect that is before us. As the blood of Christ Jesus is all our hope and dependence, so His will must be all our rule and guidance. And take we good heed lest, while we profess faith in His blood, we forget or neglect His will.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. i., p. 287.
That man has still to learn the real lesson of life, who has not yet been taught to read it, in all its chapters of joy and sorrow, as one great preparation for another world. But between us and that coming state, there lies an event, of which it is impossible to over-estimate the importance and the dignity. For in passing out of this world into another, we must, every one of us, meet God.
I. What the exact character of that meeting shall be, I shall not commit the rash act of endeavouring to unfold. (1) It is likely that at that moment the whole of the past life will re-live and stand out in its clearness; just as pictures which are fading. are sometimes, by certain processes, restored, in a moment, to their original brightness. (2) In that interview with God, the past and the future will come together: the past, to its crisis; the future to its doom.
II. Our view of God, at least our first view of God, will be of the Godhead as it is in Christ. And if in Christ it must be in human form. Christ has never laid aside His body. Never divide the thought of the God you are going to meet, from that of the Man Christ Jesus; but let Jesus in all His exalted manhood, Jesus in all the perfections of His work, be present to you by the eye of faith, whenever you hear the words said, "Prepare to meet thy God."
III. Notice the propriety and the wisdom of the exact words which the Holy Spirit has selected. It is "thy God"—thine own God—whom you are to be ready to meet. For it is He who made you. God—the sinner's God—it is He who has given Himself for you, He in whom all Heaven is thine. And do you only feel him thine—make Him thine by a strong act of appropriating faith—then do not doubt that you will be able to meet Him as thine, and it will leave you nothing else to contemplate. If you can say the last words, you need not be afraid of the first words: "Prepare to meet thy God."
IV. If you would meet God well when you come to die, it must not be the first time. You must have met Him very often before, while you are living down on the earth. By "meeting God," here, I understand two things: (1) To go forth, to respond, with your whole heart, to those approaches, which God is continually making, by His Spirit, to your soul; (2) to have as much intercourse as you can with God, in your own retirement, in thought, prayer, and sacred study of the Bible. Put yourself in frequent converse with the grandnesses of an unseen world. These things will be the rehearsing of that greater meeting which is to come; the practising of that high part which you are one day to take.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 2nd series, p. 195.
An appeal to justice.
I. Justice is a primary element of human thought; but justice presupposes another idea—the idea of right. Justice is the virtue which takes care of the rights of other beings—which not merely avoids interference with these rights, but gives them what they claim; and the right of a being is the claim which it can make in virtue of the law of its nature. Human justice is the assertion of the rights of man; and that phrase, or an equivalent, has been a power again and again in human history.
II. The power of the idea of justice as between man and man is seen chiefly in this, that the present does not satisfy it. There is no room for it in the world at any existing moment, and those who are keen about it, and anxious that its claims should be respected, are obliged to look forward. Read Amos; read him from this point of view. He is so full of the future, because the idea of justice which he possesses, which inspires him, makes him so dissatisfied with the present. In various ways he summons Israel to the work of social and moral regeneration. He bids Israel arise in awe and prepare to meet his God.
III. But there are other rights towards which justice has duties—other rights than the rights of man. The most eloquent defenders of human rights have not seldom forgotten that there are such rights as the rights of God. God has His rights, too, as man has his, and to be just is to satisfy all rights whatever; the rights of man, assuredly, but also not less certainly, the rights of Him from whom all human rights are gifts—the rights of the self-existent and perfect Being who made us.
And this, too, was felt by Amos, for Amos is the prophet of an absolute and adequate justice, not merely of a justice between man and man, but also of justice as between man and God. In the eyes of Amos the accumulating injustice of Israel towards God was ever making it more and more inevitable that Israel and God should meet in judgment. He knew, as we Christians should know, that the ever-swelling tide of mental and moral rebellion against the Ruler of the universe is by a law which cannot fail to assert itself, bringing His judgment, whether temporal or final, nearer and nearer.
H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 1074.
I. Amos is specially the poor man's prophet, for he was a poor man himself; not a courtier like Isaiah, or a priest like Jeremiah, or a sage like Daniel; but a herdsman and a gatherer of sycamore fruit in Tekoa, near Bethlehem, where Amos was born. What was the secret of this inspired herdsman's strength? He believed and preached the kingdom of God and His righteousness: the simple but infinite difference between right and wrong, and the certain doom of wrong, if wrong was persisted in.
II. In the time of Amos, the rich tyrants of Israel seem to have meant by the "day of the Lord" some vague hope that in those dark and threatening times He would interfere to save them, if they were attacked by foreign armies. But woe to you that desire the day of the Lord, says Amos the herdsman. You will find it very different from what you expect. There is a day of the Lord coming, he says, therefore prepare to meet your God. But you are unprepared, and you will find the day of the Lord very different from what you expect. It will be a day in which you will learn the righteousness of God. Because He is good, He will not permit you to be bad. The day of the Lord to you will be darkness and not light; not, as you dream, deliverance from the invaders, but ruin by the invaders, from which there will be no escape.
III. No wonder that the Israelites thought Amos a most troublesome and insolent person. No wonder that the smooth priest Amaziah begged him to begone and talk in that way somewhere else. The two could no more work together than fire and water. Amos wanted to make men repent of their sins, while Amaziah wanted only to make them easy in their minds; and no man can do both at once. When a man dares to preach like Amos, he is no more likely to be popular with the wicked world, than Amos was popular, or St. Paul was popular, or our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave both to Amos and to St. Paul their messages, was popular.
C. Kingsley, Good Words, 1876, p. 195.
I. Prudence,—what is it? Why need I ask the question? Looked at from an every day, from a popular, point of view, prudence is the first, perhaps, of all the virtues—the most needed for the well-being of human life. Prudence in man is not unlike the higher forms of instinct in the animals, only human prudence knows better what it is about than does animal instinct. Prudence in man does two things: it thinks, and it either acts or it decides to abstain from acting. It looks beyond the present moment. It is foresight with a practical object. And when prudence addresses itself to higher matters, it is as before, in this twofold character still thought, still action, only it commands a wider horizon. Its thought reaches away beyond the grave. It acts or it hesitates to act, with an eye to eternity. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in His teaching, continually appeals to that which, if exercised on a sufficient field, will secure to man his truest happiness.
II. Amos is the prophet and the apostle of prudence throughout his book. To Amos, a simple pious soul, caring chiefly or rather exclusively, about questions of truth or falsehood, and right and wrong, and caring little, or rather not at all, about the vulgar glitter of a God-forgetting civilization, it was clear that the state of things in Samaria could not last. While the sky was yet bright and the prospect fair, Amos hears the whispered mutterings of the yet distant tempest. There were past judgments to which he points as earnests of the future. "Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel." What had been might yet be—would yet be—aye, and more also. It was an appeal to prudence.
III. "Prepare for death," surely this is the voice of prudence. The one thing certain about life is that we must leave it. The one thing certain about death is that we must die. Scripture says, experience echoes, it is appointed. "Prepare to meet thy God:" (1) In death; (2) in judgment.
H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 1,060.
An appeal to Desire:—
I. Desire is meant, first of all, to keep man loyal to the Being who made him. God is the ultimate object of desire. He meant to be so. He gave us desire, that it might be so. Just as any small meteoric mass in the near neighbourhood of this earth cannot but draw near to it, in obedience to what we call the law of gravitation, so souls are impelled by desire or love of God, and freely as moral beings, yet incessantly, to move towards Him as their centre of moral gravitation. But human nature, as we find it, is like a beautiful instrument in which everything has been more or less dislocated and put out of gear by some terrible shock; and thus desire in us fallen men, instead of concentrating itself upon God, lavishes itself like a spendthrift upon anything and everything that is not God. The object of religion is, if possible, to restore desire—this fund of motive force—to its true track, its true direction, and having restored it, to maintain it there.
II. "Prepare to meet thy God." When desire is alienated from God, and is spent on created objects, as if they were adequate and satisfactory, these words cannot but carry with them a very solemn meaning. They mean, evidently, at least this: Prepare, O man, for a meeting which will show thee that thy life has been a vast mistake—that thou hast neglected and forgotten the one Being who is really worth its efforts.
III. In order to set desire free to return to its original direction, God has an agency at command in this His human world by which this work is effected. That agency is pain. Pain is the disappointment and the defeat of desire, arising either from the discovery that an object is worthless, or that it is vanishing.
The words of the text bid us wed desire to understanding, that true understanding of the real meaning and conditions of our existence, which God gives to those who keep His law with their whole heart. Desire and understanding are the parents of will. When will is supreme in a regenerate soul even the crooked places are made straight and the rough places plain, as of old across the desert for the passage of God, everything is welcomed because everything, either as an assistance or as a discipline, must further one purpose—that of reaching the supreme object of desire—the vision of God.
H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 1,076.
An appeal to Reverence:—
I. Reverence is not in any sense a fictitious sort of virtue. Like all virtue that deserves the name, it is based on truth. The truth of some greatness which the soul acknowledges must be seriously felt if there is to be real reverence. The lesson of reverence is learned: (1) from the natural world around us; (2) from man himself.
II. Israel was irreverent, and Israel was to meet God in suffering. And therefore Amos says "Prepare." And so, too, with us Christians, as to death and judgment. Is it not true, that in our ordinary lives, God, if I may say so, takes His chance amid a thousand objects of interest? The day is coming when we shall see Him. What must not that sight mean to those who come upon it suddenly, and without having given an hour of reverent thought to it in their whole lives? What should it not exact in the way of preparation from that instinct, that original instinct of reverence, which neither nature nor man, nor the blessings that we have in the Christian Church militant, nor anything short of the unveiled face of God Himself, will lastingly satisfy.
H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 1,064.
I. What it will be to "meet our God," no heart of man can conceive; for what thought of man can ever understand what God is? The sea and mountains speak of Him and of His power and greatness; and the sky above us, and the sun and stars, and storm and thunder: all these speak of Him when they appeal to the heart of man, and make him to be amazed and lost in admiration of them. Every corner of the world which He fills with His awful presence, and the heart of every man in which He is wonderfully present, speak of Him. But what must the Almighty God Himself be? and what must it be to meet Him and to appear before Him? Man cannot know Him, nor comprehend Him, excepting so far as He is taught by the Spirit of God; so far as man does know Him, he must love and fear Him more and more; they who do not fear Him above all things, know Him not, and most miserable are they. Who shall be prepared to meet this pure and holy, this all-knowing and all-powerful God? And yet of all things future none is so certain as this, that we must meet our God, and appear one by one before Him.
II. The thought of meeting God is in itself so awful that we might have been disposed to sit down in despair at the thought of it, were it not for the access to the Father which we have in Jesus Christ, who is Himself the way, the truth, and the life, and no man cometh unto the Father but by Him. He is now set before us as our perfect Example; as our High Priest, to intercede with God for us; as our King; but when He shall appear as our Judge, then we must remember that He will be seen not as man only—concealing, as it were, from our sight His Divine power and unspeakable Godhead; but He will appear as God also, in His own glory and in the glory of the Father, and with all the holy angels with Him.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. vii., p. 225.
References: Amos 4:12.—J. Keble, Sermons from Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, p. 209; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 923; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 361; W. Jay. Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 217. Amos 4:12, Amos 4:13.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 200. Amos 5:8.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 123; W. M. Statham, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 312; G. Bainton, Ibid., vol. x., p. 190; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 85; J. Keble, Sermons from Lent to Passiontide, p. 243. Amos 5:10.—J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 2nd series, p. 56; Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 78. Amos 5:18, Amos 5:19.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xi., p. 332. Amos 6:1.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii., No. 417. Amos 6:1-6.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 139. Amos 6:7-11.—Ibid., p. 140. Amos 6:12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxv., No. 1470. Amos 6:12-14.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 141. Amos 7:7.—Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Ecclesiastes to Malachi, p. 327.
The Lord GOD hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fishhooks.
And ye shall go out at the breaches, every cow at that which is before her; and ye shall cast them into the palace, saith the LORD.
Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years:
And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim and publish the free offerings: for this liketh you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord GOD.
And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered.
So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD.
Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.
For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The LORD, The God of hosts, is his name.