When I shall bring again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and the captivity of Samaria and her daughters…
What is the meaning of this text? Jerusalem is said to have been a comfort to Sodom and Samaria; and this is mentioned as if it were a fault. Are we not bidden to love even our enemies, and to do good even to them that hate us; and can it then be wrong to be a comfort even to the worst of mankind, — even to Samaria and Sodom? Yes, in such a case as this it is wrong to be a comfort to a bad man or a bad city; because in such a case it is the very reverse of a kind turn to be a comfort to them. It is doing harm to them, and not doing good to them, to be a comfort in this particular way. For Jerusalem had been a comfort to Sodom and Samaria, in such a manner as had encouraged them in their sins. Now, I am sure you will all readily see that there is a great and important principle suggested to us by the text. You know, every Christian is solemnly bound to do all he can to make other men Christians. The knowledge of the Gospel is not a thing which a man may have, and without blame keep to himself. And just as blessed and happy a thing as it is to bring another soul to the belief of the Gospel, — so wretched and wicked and fearful a thing is it when a man who bears the Christian name lives in such a way as positively encourages those around him to contemn and disbelieve Christianity.
1. There is one obvious way in which professing Christians may do this, which we mention only to pass it by, in the hope that none of us who bear even the Christian name are so sorely and shamefully guilty. This is the way in which we understand from the prophet that Jerusalem was a comfort to Sodom; and that was, by being actually as bad as Sodom itself. Would not every swearer and drunkard and liar in the parish quiet his conscience, with the reflection that he was no worse than that wicked professor of religion? Would not such a man be a comfort to all the Sodoms and Samarias in the district? It is easy to say, and it is true to say, that religion is a thing that must be judged of on the ground of its own merits, and quite apart from the conduct of those who profess to believe in it; yet, illogical as it may be, foolish and wrong as it may be, the mass of mankind will always encourage themselves in sinfulness when they find professing Christians going on in sin.
2. If any sincere Christian is present in a company where what is sinful is said or done, and if he permits it to pass without remark, or even appears tacitly to approve it, I do not see how he can clear himself from the charge of having been "a comfort to Sodom." The apparent approval of one true and earnest Christian — even the very humblest in worldly rank — will have more influence to comfort the wicked man, — to keep his mind easy, and his conscience asleep, — than the loudest declarations of his own wicked associates that he is a fine fellow and has done nothing wrong. And I am not forgetting the restraints which the usages of civilised society impose upon our telling a man to his face what is our opinion of his conduct. The Christian is not called upon to go up to a man and tell him that he is a bad man, merely because he thinks he is one. There is a silent, unobtrusive disapproval, by which the humblest may be a check upon the highest; there is a silent, unobtrusive disapproval, expressed without words or demonstration of manner, one can hardly tell how, which even the most hardened sinner will find it very hard, very uncomfortable, to bear.
3. Another way in which a Christian may so act as to encourage and comfort an irreligious man in his godless ways is by seeking his society and acquaintance; showing him that you think him a congenial spirit, and that you feel it pleasant to be with him. How can he think," the unbeliever will judge, — "How can he think that I am going to hell! Is it possible that he should like to be the companion of my walks, — to interchange thought and feeling with me, — to discuss great questions with me, — perhaps often to jest and laugh with me; — and all the while believe and know that, as sure as there is a God above us, I am going down to hell!" Don't you see now what eternal damage you who are Christians may do an unbelieving neighbour? Let them feel that you dare not make those too dear, from whom the grave must part you forever! See that you be not a "comfort" to them!
4. I go on to mention, as a way in which Christians may encourage and countenance ungodly men in their doings, — the cherishing a worldly spirit, — being as eager for worldly advantage, and as unscrupulous as to the means by which it may be attained, as men who make no Christian profession. And, alas! my friends, how much of this them is among professing Christians! Do not many who bear the Christian name show that they are far more eager to get on in life than to prepare for immortality? Is there not as much vanity and pride and grasping at gain and self-seeking and contemptible worshipping of rank and wealth, — even when completely dissociated from worth and goodness, — among many professing Christians and Christian ministers, as in any class of men? The sharp bargain made by the communicant may do worse than levy an unfair tax upon his neighbour's pocket: it may damage his neighbour's soul! It may set him up to "go and do likewise!" It may lead him to think that there is no difference between the Christian and the worldly man at all!
5. I shall mention just one way more, in which a Christian may incur the condemnation pronounced in the text: this is, by never in any way warning his neighbour that he fears or knows he is not a Christian. I daresay some of you have some idea that it would be intruding into the priestly office were you to set yourselves to the work of bringing souls to Christ. But if you saw a friend manifestly stricken by fever or consumption, would it not be your duty to warn him, although you are not a physician? If you saw a friend drowning, would it not be your duty to try to save him, although you are not a member of the Humane Society? If a man be really in earnest about religion he will never bear the sight of a human being whom he daily sees and talks with going to eternal ruin, without a word of warning or advice! It is possible enough he may not like to listen to your warning words; it is possible enough you may make yourself an annoyance and a discomfort to him: he may think you are his "enemy, because you tell him the truth"; but oh! better, better that than to be a comfort to one to whom comfort is the anodyne that will drug to death, to whom comfort is the stream that will bear on to perdition! I have heard of one who on his deathbed said that if, as he humbly trusted, he had been led to yield himself to his Saviour, and so to find hope in death, it was by the simple and solemn warning of one in whom simple earnestness and heartfelt piety gave force to the words of early youth, unsophisticated and sincere.
(A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: When I shall bring again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, then will I bring again the captivity of thy captives in the midst of them: