You drink wine by the bowlful and anoint yourselves with the finest oils, but you fail to grieve over the ruin of Joseph.
A herdsman and gatherer of wild figs like Amos, brought into contact with the nobility and the courtiers of a wealthy and luxurious city like Samaria, was likely enough to be shocked and scandalized. The judgments he formed were naturally severe, but they were not unjust or passionate. His language remains a merited and everlasting rebuke to those in high station who live for their own gratification and indulgence.
I. A LUXURIOUS AND DISSOLUTE LIFE IS A SHAMEFUL MISUSE OF PRECIOUS OPPORTUNITIES. It is sometimes judged that those who are "born in the purple," those who inherit great estates, great wealth, are to be excused if they form in youth, and retain in manhood, habits of expensive self-indulgence. But as all men are, above all, the children of God, endowed with a spiritual nature and entrusted with sacred opportunities, it is not to be for a moment admitted that the advantages of high station absolve them from the obligations involved in human nature and human life. A man has no right to pamper the body and exalt it to a lordship over the spirit; he has no right to gratify his tastes as though self-gratification were the great end of existence.
II. A LUXURIOUS AND DISSOLUTE LIFE IS MORALLY DEBASING AND DEGRADING. No one can live below the appointed level of humanity without paying the inevitable penalty, without incurring the inevitable deterioration. The light burns dim; the fine gold turns to clay. The couch of indolence, the feast of gluttony, the voluptuous music, the brimming bowls of wine, the costly unguents, - these are dangerous indulgences. Men may give them fine names, and call them the bounties of Divine providence. And it is quite true that the evil is not in the instruments of self-indulgence, but in the bad uses to which they are put. But none can live merely for bodily, for aesthetic, for social, enjoyment, without injuring his own character, without losing self-respect and the esteem of those whose esteem is worth having.
III. A LUXURIOUS AND DISSOLUTE LIFE ON THE PART OF THE GREAT IS A BAD EXAMPLE TO THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE. Bad habits penetrate from the so called upper to the so called lower class. When the nobility and gentry are self-indulgent, the tradespeople who grow wealthy are likely to follow their example, and the poor are likely enough to grow envious and discontented. The Samaritan chiefs were reproached for misleading the people, and justly. The ignorant and the thoughtless are naturally influenced by an example of selfishness, and none can altogether escape receiving some measure of harm.
IV. A LUXURIOUS AND DISSOLUTE LIFE RENDERS THE GREAT INSENSIBLE TO THE AFFLICTIONS OF THE POOR AND OPPRESSED. The language of the prophet is very touching: the self indulgent "are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph." Wrapped up in their own enjoyments, comforts, and luxuries, the great fail to sympathize with those whom we call "the masses." A self-denying and benevolent and public-spirited course of conduct would have precisely an opposite effect. There is no reason m the nature of things why nobles should not feel with and for the poor and unfortunate; as a matter of fact, they often do so. But those whose absorbing thought is of self have neither heart nor time to give to their less-favoured neighbours.
V. A LUXURIOUS AND DISSOLUTE LIFE OFTEN INVOLVES A SPEEDY AND FEARFUL RETRIBUTION. The table of the epicure is overthrown. The sybarite is dragged from his palace, and sent away into exile. Those who have been worthless members of their own state become banished mourners in a strange land. And the song of pleasure is exchanged for the wail of woe. - T.
When William Burns was asked the nature of his thoughts on finding himself among the Chinese, he turned to his interrogator and answered, "The lost, and a Christ for them." When Henry Venn preached, such was his flaming fervour that "men went down before him like slaked lime." It was the same yearning which drove John Brown to nightly and prevailing intercession for "dead Haddington, and wicked, withered East Lothian"; the same which wrung from Rowland Hill the cry, "Oh that I were all heart and soul and spirit, to tell the glorious Gospel to perishing multitudes!" Would that I burned out for Jesus with the same intense and ardent glow!
They are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.
The term "Joseph" is here employed for the whole of the people of the kingdom of Israel. The term "Ephraim" is usually employed by way of reproach when the sin and rebellion of the whole people are referred to, while the more illustrious name of "Joseph" is apparently reserved for occasions that call for pity and compassion. The idea here appears to have been suggested by the heartless conduct of Joseph's brethren when they made away with their brother, without pity for his youth or respect for his piety. So the prophet, describing the rich men and rulers of his time, says, "They drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments; but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph." In this chapter we have a terrible picture of a corrupt, degenerate commonwealth. The prophet, with a noble plea for patriotism, turning from the miseries of the lower to the heartless luxuries of the higher ranks, sees nothing in the future but national ruin. The principle he establishes is this, — The life of a nation depends on the healthy exercise of sympathy throughout all its parts, all its ranks and classes. How shall we apply this principle, and the warning that accompanies it, to ourselves? I am not one of those who would willingly indulge in reflections upon the character of the age in which we live. I do not see the wisdom of making a disadvantageous comparison between these and past times, as if our forefathers were in all respects wiser and better than we. But I am not bound to shut my eyes to the signs of the times, nor cease to reprove the evils of the times. Is not a want of union and sympathy throughout all ranks of the nation as characteristic of our age as of the age of Amos? Our divisions, political and religious, when taken in connection with our great prosperity and liberty, are the surprise and the ridicule of the whole world. Of all power in the world there is no force equal to the moral force of sympathy. This is the power that takes strongest hold, and enables us to wield empire over the hearts of men. Personal influence and kindness — thus we may form an estimate of tim comparative failure of so many of our benevolent institutions. Tried by these Divine rules of conduct, how does the benevolence of many who have earned a reputation for charity, pale before that which may never be able to go beyond kindly words and secret intercessory prayer. Charity ceases to be charity if it is unaccompanied by tenderness and courtesy. By sympathy is meant an entrance into the circumstances, a true realisation of the position of those whom we seek to benefit. Jesus came down at first from heaven, and still administers His way of salvation by the exercise of sympathy. The same mind that was in Christ Jesus must and will animate every true disciple. He will be impelled to seek out sinners, and lead them to their Saviour by kindly advice and loving persuasion; not by cold reproofs and pharisaic condemnation, but by brotherly sympathy, because he is like that Saviour who came "not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."
We belong to the greatest empire that this world has ever seen, and not only is this the vastest empire, but it is also the most opulent. Ours is an empire teeming with wealth, genius, and splendid possibilities, With this vast empire, with this rich and manifold civilisation, what is our particular peril? Let me say it in a word — selfishness. If historians are to be believed, selfish indulgence ruined the ancient empires; if some of the most capable and dispassionate critics living are correct, selfish indulgence is ruining France. Selfishness in various subtle forms is a far greater menace to this empire than any foe that threatens the silver streak. Selfishness is the worm to spoil your roses, whether they belong to York or Lancaster. Selfishness is the canker upon your gold; selfishness is the moth to fret your purple, and selfishness is the creeping paralysis that may eat out the strength of this empire and spoil its splendour and its fame. Wherein lies our safety? In spiritual magnanimity! If you want to take care of your empire, take care of .your missions. It is a strange thing to say, but the guarantee for your splendour is your sacrifice. You are going to keep your wealth just as you give it away in noble causes. The tonic for your luxury is the generosity that does and dares for the perishing; and if you want to keep your place with the topmost nations you will keep your place at the top by taking a tremendous stoop to those who are at the base — the lost. When you bring your learning, or wealth, or political mastery, and when you associate them with pity, humanity, and magnanimity, you have got a supreme safeguard upon all your greatness and glory.
There is a little pool in a mountain chasm, so completely enclosed within its high and rocky walls that no sound reaches it from the great outer world. Yet the slightest noise started within its environ ment — the cry of the heron, the splash of the muskrat, or the roll of the pebbles under the feet of the deer — reverberates over the water and is echoed from the cliff. Some minds are so enclosed within their own selfishness as to be silent to the great things which stir the world — the calls of human need, the summons of God to public duty, and all the onrolling cause of human progress in many lands. They live only among their own thoughts, desires, and prejudices. To them their little concerns are great.
()I know a beautiful valley in Wales, guarded by well-wooded hills. Spring came there first, and summer lingered longest, and the clear river loitered through the rich pastures and the laughing orchards, as if loth to leave the enchanting scene. But the manufacturer came there; he built his chimneys and he lighted his furnaces, out of which belched forth poisonous fumes night and day. Every tree is dead, no flower blooms there now, the very grass has been eaten off the face of the earth; the beautiful river, in which the pebbles once lay as the pure thoughts in a maiden's mind, is now foul, and the valley, scarred and bare, looks like the entrance into Tophet itself. And this human nature of ours, in which faith, and virtue, and godliness, and all sweet humanities might flourish, in miles of this London of ours, is what bad air, and the gin palace, and the careless indifference of a Christianity bent only upon saving itself, have made it.
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