I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.
Our text is a promise in the guise of a threat. It is a threat to one nation, but a promise to mankind.
1. A true prophetic insight led to the insertion of this poem in the story of the troubles of Assyria. Babylon was in her full career of conquest when Assyria was trembling to her fall. But the history of Babylon was already written; in that contempt of man, which at the first her pride and lust of possession revealed, was hidden her own doom. The nation so lavish of human life was to die utterly out; the empire which sets no value on men, for lack of men shall perish.
2. How often has this story been repeated! The Italian Campagna was once the home of a multitude of farmers; the conquests of Rome demanded that legions should be hurled against the barbarian tribes. Because there were not men to till the ground, the Campagna has become a foul marshland, the haunt of fevers, desolate and uninhabitable. Spain sent out her brave and stalwart sons to ravage the lands of the Indians, to seize on Mexican and Peruvian gold; and Spain has never since been able to produce and nourish the men who should enable her to hold her place among the foremost nations.
3. There are other ways in which want of regard for men is evinced beside that of conquest, and the doom is ever the same. "Peace hath her victories no less renowned than war"; the victories are, alas! too often equally immoral, equally fatal. In the heat of business competition, professed philanthropists, and men personally humane — these two expressions do not always mean the same thing — become as reckless of lives as the general in the field. We feel a man to be more precious than gold in the face of sickness and suffering; if we did but habitually recognise it, much sickness and suffering would be spared. The ladders are reared against a burning house; one after another of the inmates is rescued; and when the fire is at its fiercest, and all are supposed to be out of danger, the frightened face of a child appears at an upper window. There are tears among the crowd, and wringing of hands. "A thousand pounds," says someone, "to him who will rescue that child!" A few years after, the child is an engine driver, and, drowsy through long hours of work, he misreads a signal, wrecks his train, and dies, himself the involuntary instrument of an appalling calamity. And it may be that the very man who offered the reward, and would have doubled it, made it fivefold, for the saving of the child, is a director of the railway company whose increasing exaction of toil from its servants has been the cause of the disaster. And we all are responsible for these things; we keep up the pressure which compels directors, managers, merchants, to work their business at full strain. We humane Englishmen need to he scourged into habitual practical humanity. God has, by His judgments, to "make a man more precious than fine gold."
4. In our discussions of what we call "the population question," there is a great deal of unconscious inhumanity which will assuredly entail its curse upon our country. The population of these islands is ever pressing more and more on the means of the people's support. In two ways the pressure may be lightened. Emigration is one of them. But we might do much by the amendment of our laws, by alteration of our social customs and personal habits, by a check on extravagant expenditure, and by a juster distribution of the strain of living, to lighten the pressure at home. It is an anxious question whether we are encouraging emigration in the best and wisest mode. Consider whom we are sending out and the result on our future.
5. Our text is prophetic, moreover, of the doom and discipline of the exclusive spirit. Tennyson has given us a parable of this in the "Palace of Art." Browning, too, in his story of Paracelsus, the gifted man who degenerated into a quack, has marked it as one of the sins of that strangely complex soul that he would be a philanthropist, but without sympathy, without dependence upon others. No life of pride or self-sufficiency or exclusiveness is possible to us, either in the Church or the nation. Nothing on earth is valuable when man has lost his value. The worth of wealth is what you can do with it for your fellows. The loftiest prince would gladly mate with the humblest beggar were they cast alone on some desert island.
6. How wonderful is the fulfilment of our text in the Gospel! It is the worth of lost humanity which is revealed to us in the redemption by Christ. Christ will not let us love Him if we love not our brethren for whom He died. If men are not more precious to us than gold, Christ becomes to us of none effect.
7. The passion which Christian humaneness becomes in the heart of Christians is the final earthly fulfilment of our text. The first feeling of the saved man is gratitude for the grace of God which saved him; and it is a feeling that abides. To it is added, in the maturity of Christian life, an abounding confidence that the grace which saved him can save any and every man.
(A. Mackennal, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.