"As one man mocketh another, do ye so mock Him?" -- Job xiii: 9.
Be Not Deceived: God Is Not Mocked.
We have all lived long enough to know what it is to be deceived. We have been deceived by our friends, by our enemies, our neighbors, our relatives. Ungodly companions have deceived us. At every turn of life we have been imposed upon in one way or another.
False teachers have crossed our path, and under pretence of doing us good, have poisoned our mind with error. They have held out hopes to us that have proved false; apples of Sodom, fair without, but full of ashes within. They have told us that there is no God, no future life, no judgment to come; or they have said that all men will be saved, that there is ample time to repent, that we may be saved by doing the best we can.
Sin has deceived us. Every sinner is under a delusion. Sin meets him smilingly, and holds out to him pleasures and delights that are not pure and lasting.
During our meetings in Boston a young man came into the Tabernacle. He looked around, and he thought to himself the people that came there were great fools -- those who had business, and comfortable homes, and good clothes. He had nothing in the world -- he was a tramp, and went in there to keep himself warm. But to think that people who had homes would come and spend their time in listening to such stuff as I preached was more than he could understand.
One night after he had been coming there for two weeks, I happened to point right down where he was sitting, and I said, "Young man, be not deceived!" God used that as an arrow. He began to think about himself. His mind went back to the time when he had a good situation in Boston; when he was a young man getting a good salary; when he was in good society, and had a great many friends.
Then he looked at his present condition. His friends were all gone, his clothes were gone, his money was gone; and there he was, an outcast in that city. He said to himself, "I have been deceived," and that very hour God waked him. He wanted to get friends to pray for him; but as he was not able to buy a piece of paper, or pay for a postage stamp, he got an old piece of soiled paper, stood up in the street, and wrote a request to be read in the Tabernacle, that if God would save a poor, lost man like him, he wanted to be saved. That prayer was answered. As in the case of Nebuchadnezzar, his friends gathered around him again, and the Lord restored him to position and to society. His eyes were opened to see how he had been deceived.
How many men all over the world are being deceived by the god of this world! It has been asserted that during the late Franco-German war, German drummers and trumpeters used to give the French beats and calls in order to deceive their enemies. The command to "halt," or "cease firing," was often given by the Germans, it has been said, and the French soldiers were thus placed in positions where they could be shot down like cattle.
Satan is the arch-enemy of our souls, and he has often blinded our reason and deceived our conscience by his falsehoods. He has often come as an angel of light, concealing his hideousness under a borrowed cloak. He says to a young man: "Sow your wild oats. Time enough to be religious when you grow old." The young man yields himself to a life of extravagance and excess, under the false hope that he will obtain solid satisfaction; and it is well if he awakens to the deception before his appetites become tyrants, dragging him down into depths of want and woe. Satan promises great things to his victims in the indulgence of their lusts, but they never realize the promises. The promised pleasure turns out to be pain, the promised heaven a hell.
Beware lest Satan deceive you as he deceived Eve in the beginning. "There is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar, and the father of it."
But we have been deceived by our own heart most of all. Who has not proved the truth of the Scripture: "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?" How many times we have said that we never would do a certain thing again, and then have done it within twenty-four hours! A man may think he has fathomed its depths, but he finds there are further depths he has not reached. What gross self-deception is due to it! "He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool," said Solomon. Luther once said he feared his own heart more than the Pope and all the cardinals.
Many a weeping wife has come to me about her husband, saying: "He is good at heart." The truth is -- that is the worst spot in him. If the heart was good, all else would be right. Out of the heart are the issues of life. Christ said: "From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness." That is Christ's own statement regarding the unregenerate heart.
Some years ago a remarkable picture was exhibited in London. As you looked at it from a distance, you seemed to see a monk engaged in prayer, his hands clasped, his head bowed. As you came nearer, however, and examined the painting more closely, you saw that in reality he was squeezing a lemon into a punchbowl!
What a picture that is of the human heart! Superficially examined, it is thought to be the seat of all that is good and noble and pleasing in a man; whereas in reality, until regenerated by the Holy Ghost, it is the seat of all corruption. "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light."
A Jewish rabbi once asked his scholars what was the best thing a man could have in order to keep him in the straight path. One said a good disposition; another, a good companion; another said wisdom was the best thing he could desire. At last a scholar replied that he thought a good heart was best of all.
"True," said the rabbi, "you have comprehended all that the others have said. For he that hath a good heart will be of a good disposition, and a good companion, and a wise man. Let every one, therefore, cultivate a sincerity and uprightness of heart at all times, and it will save him an abundance of sorrow." We need to make the prayer of David -- "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me!"
God Is Not Mocked.
Bear in mind, the God of the Bible has never deceived anyone, and never can, and never will; that is the difference between the God of the Bible and the god of this world. He beholds the ways of men; He looks into their hearts; He knows their secret ways; they need not tell Him or try to conceal anything from Him.
However successfully we may deceive or be deceived by ourselves or others, we cannot deceive Him. Adam and Eve tried it in Eden when they hid themselves from the presence of Jehovah amongst the trees of the garden. Saul tried it when he spared the best of the sheep and oxen of the Amalekites under the pretence of sacrificing them to God. Ananias and Sapphira tried it when they kept back part of the price of the land they sold. "Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie unto (deceive) the Holy Ghost? * * * Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God."
Men try it every day. They have got it into their heads that God can be mocked. Because they can deceive their pastor, and their employer, and their friends, they think they can deceive God. They put on false appearances, they use empty words, they perform unreal service, they make idle excuses, they indulge in all kinds of hypocrisy. But it is of no avail. God cannot be imposed upon. He sees the corruption inside the whited sepulchre.
Warning to Christians.
It is worth noticing that this warning was given by Paul to Christian men -- converts in the Galatian church. After all, a man is not all the time deceived about the grosser sins. The drunkard realizes in his sober moments what must be the end of a course of intemperance. Loss of self-respect and of the esteem of friends, the marks he soon begins to bear in his body -- unsteady hands and discolored features -- these things are the quick harvest of drunkenness, and may easily be detected as they ripen. The licentious man, also, reaps the early fruit of his sin in diseases of the body, which are often effective warnings against continuing in such a dangerous path. But with "respectable" sins it is different. A man may be sowing for years, and not even realize it himself.
You remember that in the parable of the sower some seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns sprung up and choked them. Our Master, expounding this parable, said: "He that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word: but the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful." Who would have expected this result of the world or of riches? But it has been said that Christ never spoke of riches except in words of warning. We are not apt to regard them in that light to-day. Men are trampling each other down in the pursuit of wealth. "Be not deceived." He who sets his heart upon money is sowing to the flesh, and shall of the flesh reap corruption. "Adversity hath slain her thousands, but prosperity her tens of thousands."
"What is the value of this estate?" said a gentleman to another, as they passed a fine mansion surrounded by fair and fertile fields.
"I don't know what it is valued at; I know what it cost its late possessor."
An English clergyman was called to the death-bed of a wealthy parishioner. Kneeling beside the dying man the pastor asked him to take his hand as he prayed for his upholding in that solemn hour, but he declined to give it. After the end had come, and they turned down the coverlet, the rigid hands were found holding the safe-key in their death-grip. Heart and hand, to the last, clinging to his possessions, but he could not take them with him.
A man may be proud, and his very sin reckoned a virtue. Hear what the Word of God says: "Haughtiness of eyes and a proud heart is sin"; "every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord."
These are the mistakes men make. They are leading respectable lives, and they think that all is well. They do not recognize the taint of corruption upon many of the most cherished objects of their hearts. Christian professors, most of all, need to beware lest they are being deceived.
How watchful men should be of their thoughts, their practices, their feelings! The reason of deception is, for the most part, neglect. Men do not stop to examine themselves, to lay their hearts and minds bare as in the sight of God, and judge themselves by His most holy will. A man need not shoot himself in order to commit suicide: he need only neglect the proper means of sustenance, and he will soon die. Where an enemy is strong and aggressive, an army is doomed to sure defeat and capture unless a sharp look-out is kept, every man wide awake at his post of duty.
It has been noticed that there are more accidents in Switzerland in fine seasons than in stormy ones. People are apt to undertake expeditions that they would not take under less favorable conditions, and they are less careful in their conduct. And so it is that moral and spiritual disaster usually overtakes men when they are off their guard, careless against temptation. They become proud and self-reliant in seasons of prosperity, whereas adversity drives them to the living God for guidance and comfort.
Dr. Johnson once said that it is more from carelessness regarding the truth than from intentional lying that there is so much falsehood in the world.
Hence the necessity of continual watchfulness. The Persians had an annual festival when they slew all the serpents and venomous creatures they could find; but they allowed them to swarm as fast and freely as ever until the festival came round once more. It was poor policy. Sins, like serpents, breed quickly, and need to be constantly watched.
And we ought to watch on every side. Many a man has fallen at the very point where he thought he was safest. The meekness of Moses has passed into a proverb. Yet he lost the Promised Land, because he allowed the children of Israel to provoke him, and "he spake unadvisedly with his lips." Peter was the most zealous and defiant of the disciples, bold and outspoken; yet he degenerated for a short time into a lying, swearing, sneaking coward, afraid of a maid.
There is an old fable that a doe that had but one eye used to graze near the sea; and in order to be safe, she kept her blind eye toward the water, from which side she expected no danger, while with the good eye she watched the country. Some men, perceiving this, took a boat and came upon her from the sea and shot her. With her dying breath, she said:
"Oh! hard fate! that I should receive my death-wound from that side whence I expected no harm, and be safe in the part where I looked for most danger."
Let danger and need drive you closer to God. He never slumbers or sleeps, and in His keeping you will be safe. Seize hold of Him in prayer. "Watch and pray."
Christianity Not Responsible.
Christianity is not responsible for the deception that exists among its professing disciples. The illustration has been used before that you might just as reasonably hold the Cunard company responsible for the suicide of a passenger who jumps overboard one of their vessels at sea. Had the person remained on the vessel, he would have been safe; and had the disciple remained true to his principles, he would never have turned out a hypocrite. Was anybody ever more severe in denouncing hypocrisy than Christ? Do you want to know the reason why, every now and then, the church is scandalized by the exposure of some leading church member or Sabbath school superintendent? It is not his Christianity, but his lack of it. Some secret sin has been eating at the heart of the tree, and in a critical moment it is blown down and its rottenness revealed.
The Deception Can Not Last Forever.
It is impossible for the deception to last forever. Lincoln had a saying that you may be able to deceive all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you will not be able to deceive all the people all of the time. Death will uncover the deception, if it has not been detected sooner; and the unfortunate victim will stand, undeceived, in the presence of a God who cannot be mocked.