Shall horses run on the rock? will one plow there with oxen? for you have turned judgment into gall…
Shall horses run upon the rock? will one plough there with oxen? The folly of expecting real prosperity by committing acts of injustice or pursuing courses of sin is here forcibly represented by comparing it to the absurdity of attempting to run horses upon a rock or to plough the rock with oxen. The strength of the representation is increased by its interrogative form. Our subject is - Trying the impossible. Men are constantly doing this. Let us furnish a few examples.
I. WHEN THEY ATTEMPT TO DESTROY AN ENEMY BY PHYSICAL FORCE. An individual has an enemy, a man who hates him with an inveterate antipathy. In order to overcome him, what does he do? He disables or perhaps kills him. Or a nation has an enemy, strong and malignant. How does it seek to overcome it? In the same way, by brute force - swords, cannons, bayonets, these are employed. Now, the attempt to destroy an enemy by brute force is as absurd as to make horses run on the peaks of craggy rocks, or to put oxen to plough them. To destroy the enemy's body is not to destroy either him or his enmity. Philosophy and the Bible teach that the body is not the man; it is his, not himself. All the men that have fallen in duels, campaigns, or private assassinations are living, thinking, acting still, and await their murderers in another state. No bullet or sword can touch the man.
II. WHEN THEY ATTEMPT TO MAKE SOCIETY MORALLY GOOD BY MERE SECULAR INSTRUCTION. There are men who imagine that by teaching children the arts of reading, writing, ciphering, and the rudiments of science they will improve the morality of the nation. When you remember that the moral character grows out of the heart and not out of the brain, out of the likings and dislikings, not out of the ideas or intelligence, all this seems as absurd as the attempt to make horses run on rocks. Secular knowledge cannot change the heart, cannot alter a man's likes or dislikes. It may strengthen them, but not alter them. Dishonesty, uneducated, may commit petty thefts; but educated, it will legally swindle a nation. Knowledge, alas! is all in vain.
III. WHEN THEY ATTEMPT TO GET HAPPINESS FROM WITHOUT. All mankind are in search of happiness. "Who will show us any good?" - this is the universal cry. The great bulk seek happiness from without, from what they can see, and taste, and hear, and handle. They look for happiness in the titillation of the nerves and the gratification of the senses. Now, were man nothing but body, this would do. This does for the brute and the bird. But man is spirit; and matter in no form or combination can satisfy spirit. A man's life, or happiness, consisteth not in the abundance of material things. True happiness springs from within, not from without; arises from holy loves. hopes, aspirations, and aims. In one word, love is the well of water that springs up unto everlasting life.
IV. WHEN THEY ATTEMPT TO SAVE SOULS BY MINISTERING TO THEIR SELFISHNESS. There are men in all Churches who give themselves to saving souls, as they say. Salvation is the burden of all their thought and talk. But how do they endeavour to accomplish their object? By everlasting appeals to the selfish fears and hopes of men. Tragic descriptions are given of hell in order to frighten men, and sensuous descriptions of heaven in order to attract them. But can this save the soul? Impossible. It will only aggravate its damnation. Salvation consists in the extinction of all that is selfish in human nature, and in the generating, fostering, and perfecting disinterested, self-oblivious love. "He that seeketh his life shall lose it: he that loseth his life shall find it." A preacher may increase his congregation by appealing to the selfishness of his hearers, but he does not add one to the family of the good. The man who tries to save souls by constant appeals to the selfishness of human nature acts more absurdly than he who attempts to gallop horses upon the sharp peaks of rugged rocks.
V. WHEN THEY ATTEMPT TO CONVERT HEATHENS ABROAD BEFORE CONVERTING THE HEATHENS AT HOME. London abounds with heathens. All the heathens of the heathen world have their representatives in London; besides, the great bulk of the resident population are heathens; they are without God and without hope in the world. The influence of London upon the most distant parts of the world is a thousand times as great as that of all the missionaries from England and America. Under such circumstances, to send a few lonely men to distant peoples, who are ignorant of our language, modes of thought, and habits, with the idea of converting the world, is more absurd than to put horses to run on the rock, and oxen to plough thereon. Are we not bound to go into all the world to spread the gospel? Yes, but is there a greater world than London? and should not our sailors, our merchants, our travellers, and emigrants be the missionaries to foreign lands? Whilst your missionaries carry teaspoonfuls of the gospel here and there, your London pours out floods of depravity on every zone.
CONCLUSION. Alas! how much human effort and sacrifice are lost for the want of practical wisdom and common sense! "Shall horses run upon the rock? will one plough there with oxen?" Yes, more successfully than we poor fools can accomplish some things that we labour to attain. - D.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Shall horses run upon the rock? will one plow there with oxen? for ye have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock: