2 Kings 17:15
And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them…
May I begin by explaining that these words are used as a summary of the reason why the people of Israel were broken to pieces by the attacks of Shalmaneser, the King of Assyria, and how it came to pass that their glory was destroyed, their prestige was shattered, and they were humbled to a life of captivity and slavery. As a nation they became vain, they followed vanity. That is all the explanation that he offers. Vanity led on to a number of idolatries, and the empty inflated life which, when it was pricked by the sword of Shalmaneser, proved to be a mere bubble; and because there was no enduring foundation the whole edifice crumbled and decayed. Because a nation is prosperous, because its life is inflated, because it is pursuing a vainglorious course, it does not follow that the blessing of God is upon it, and it does follow that if that is its life, when first the keen, sharp edge of trial Comes it will be shown to be what it is. And what applies to nations applies with equal power to individuals. There are some people who quarrel with my title. "Vanity," they say, by all means, but not "a deadly sin." Vanity is one of the most harmless of our amusements. Vanity is the kind of thing that the schoolboy talks genially about as "side," and that the man in the street refers to equally genially as "swelled head." Nobody thinks very much about it, and in point of fact a sort of superficial vanity often covers, as we know, substantial and admirable qualities of character. I do not want in denouncing one vice to fall into another, and be guilty of intolerance. I do not want to speak of it in any other way than I think God Himself speaks of it in the pages of Revelation. Everybody knows that this is a vice that has perhaps been more successful than any other in making its way into sacred places. "Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition; by that sin fell the angels," was what Shakespeare said, anticipating that argument of Milton that pride wrought division, havoc, and ruin even in a celestial world. You know as well as I do that this has been the vice of the ecclesiastic in all ages, the vice of arrogance, the vice of vanity, the vice of pride. All the resolutions of Convocation, all the seals of your bishops and archbishops can do nothing against this sin. Therefore, if any one here rises up to say this is not a deadly sin I quarrel with him on that ground, that it has attacked what has been most sacred, and ought to be most influential for righteousness in the world. Vanity is the vice of the minister in all ages and in all forms. He need not clothe himself in a mitre with all the pomp and circumstance of ritual, he need not sit upon a throne. Vanity has invaded the Free Church pulpit just as much as it has invaded the home of the higher ecclesiasticism. And when I have said that about the ministry and the temptations inevitable to the ministry, I want to say that so far as I am aware it is also a sin to which young Christians are more particularly susceptible. I say that that affectation of religious superiority is something that makes the sinner outside to scoff, and the saint inside to shudder. And now let me turn from the Church to the outside world. Let me put my question straightly to those who perhaps pride themselves on having nothing to do with the churches. Do you mean that any of you would rise up and tell me that in speaking of the sin of vanity I am not indicating one of the sins of the present day? I do not like to rail against my rage, but is there any one who will not say that I am strictly within the truth when I speak of our present age as pushing, an advertising age, a forward age. Is it or is it not a fact that life all through is being made vicious by this particular sin, that we are victims to-day of the man who is self-opinionated and self-assured, that the man with the loudest tongue and the most brazen front is the man who seems to have the most and the best chances of making his way successfully in the world? Is it or is it not a fact that it is an external age, an age when the outside show counts for more than the internal worth? And is it not a fact that this all springs from certain venomous roots of vanity, that in attacking the immodesty of the age we are putting our finger upon one of its chiefest faults, that this desire for external and outside show is more than something that can be treated as artificial and casual and transient and that will pass away? Now, if I were to say, as I should not hesitate to do, that the greatest of all the apostles felt the insidious character of this vice the most, I believe I should be saying, nothing that Paul himself would not have consented to. Read his letters; see how there he implores himself and others never to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think; how he applies the cross of Jesus Christ to his own life; how he presents himself to people, lest they should begin to flatter him, as the chief of sinners. And if I found there were any of you here, as I should not imagine you would be, adamantine against the reproaches and warnings of the Apostle Paul, then I should say to you there are two other literatures into which I ask you to look. I ask you to take down from your shelves your Pilgrim's Progress, to read over line by line that magnificent description, unparalleled in literature, the description of Vanity Fair, and there let Bunyan tell you the truth. The truth about his age is the truth about yours — Vanity Fair, the place where all merchandise was sold: places, honours, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, husbands, wives, lives, blood, bodies, souls — all marketable in Vanity Fair. If you could resist that and say, "these religious books do not appeal to me," then I should have to ask you to take your Thackeray and read his description of Vanity Fair, and when you had read that, if you had read it in the right spirit, you would know that every word that Bunyan said was true, and you would know that every word that Paul said was true. And the spirit of that, modern Vanity Fair which Thackeray drew is the spirit of the Vanity Fair that prevails to-day. You can keep your decalogue and be a proud man, but you cannot begin to be a Christian and be a proud man. And do you know why? Do you know why Jesus Christ put humility as the foundation of all the virtues? Because, unless it is there, you will not keep any of the virtues. Let me put it to you as strongly as that, virtue cannot embrace vanity and remain virtue. There is nothing of which people so easily become vain as their virtues. I want to put it to you that in the thought of Christ a proud man is further from God, may be further from God, shall I say, than the thief, than the man who has broken the Ten Commandments. Now let me be a little more practical and personal by way of the application of what I am trying to say. I suppose we shall all agree that modern life is the opportunity of the vain man, the democratic life lends itself so easily to positions of prominence. Your modest, retiring man is a man very difficult to persuade to occupy a public position, and indeed only a stern sense of duty, as a rule, will drive him there. But there is the place — places that are multiplied to-day — beckoning and calling to the vain man, the man who believes in himself and always lets you know it. It succeeds, it gets to the top, it occupies the conspicuous position, and therefore I find that young men and young women are quite willing to overlook the voice as being superficial, and to credit virtue which very often does not exist. And even when these ambitions are humbled in our midst, I do not find that with the vain man the humbling goes very deep, because he has always got his vanity to fall back upon. He always says virtue must always suffer. Is there anything more, perhaps, offensive to most people than the intellectually superior person, the person who prides himself upon his intellectual powers? It is so easy to-day to get a reputation of this kind, because this is the day of the little knowledge, and the day of little knowledge is always the day of vanity. Let me take just one further illustration of the pernicious character of this vice in the age in which we live. Some people say that a vain woman is a sad spectacle, but that a vain man is a sadder. I think they are right, but I think also that, perhaps, a vain child is the saddest spectacle of all. And yet how often we find parents misguided enough to encourage and cultivate in their children this particular vice. They repeat the clever and charming sayings of their children before their children's faces, until in a very little while their children come to hold by the creed that probably they are the cleverest children that the world contains. I should like to put in tonight a very simple, humble plea for the encouragement of the simplicity and humility of childhood. It was not for nothing, surely, that our Lord took a little child, and set him in the midst of his quarrelsome, ambitious, avaricious disciples. I have got to pray you, that you will accompany me and let me take you to where Paul went that he might get back to the foundation of Christian virtue, and I have got to ask you whether you dwell enough in the presence of that cross of Jesus Christ. For mark — if that doesn't break your pride nothing will. If you can turn your back upon that cross, and go away a vain man, the disease is incurable. God set that cross in the centre of the universe to humble men. Oh, men and women, to whom the world appeals in its worldly way to-day, in its loud, aggressive, self-assertive spirit, to join its side, and to take up the spirit of vanity, and to resolve that you will make your way as other people do by self-assertion, I want to plead with you. I know the temptation may be a strong one, but I want to ask you to believe with me that the Lord Christ knows better, and that that which is worth while is the humble and the contrite heart.
(C. S. Horne, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them, that they should not do like them.
WEB: They rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified to them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and [went] after the nations that were around them, concerning whom Yahweh had commanded them that they should not do like them.