Therefore they sacrifice to their dragnet and burn incense to their fishing net, for by these things their portion is sumptuous and their food is rich.
I. SUCCESS IS EVER SECURED AS THE BESTOWMENT OR BY THE PERMISSION OF GOD.
1. Temporal success is thus gainful. The age in which we live is an age of earnest toil, of restless activity. It is becoming more and more felt that a man cannot expect to make headway apart from continuous, energetic work. And this is a healthy "sign of the times." It reminds us that life is too valuable a gift to be frittered away. It contrasts, strikingly and pleasingly, with those periods in which ease, luxury, and sloth were deified and adored. There is dignity in labour. The danger lies in the non-recognition of God as the Bestower of the prosperity secured, and in ascribing the success achieved wholly to ourselves. The true spirit is that which prompts the acknowledgment, "All things come of thee" (1 Chronicles 29:14). The Lord is "Giver of all." Success is sometimes achieved by bad men. By fraud, oppression, reckless speculation, and by taking mean advantage, "the portion" of such is "made fat" and "their meat plenteous;" and in such cases all this is through the all-wise although often inscrutable permission of the Most High.
2. Spiritual success is also thus gained. In holy service we are but the instruments employed by God. The power is his, and the honour should all be laid at his feet. Baxter, when complimented at the close of his career upon the usefulness of his writings, said, "I was but a pen in the hand of my God, and what honour is due to a pen?"
II. MEN, FORGETFUL OF THIS AND TRACING TO THEMSELVES THE SUCCESS ACHIEVED, BECOME ELATED WITH THE PRIDE OF HUMAN SUFFICIENCY. "Therefore they sacrifice unto their net," etc. (ver. 16). "They say in their heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17). So Pharaoh said, "My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself" (Ezekiel 29:3). So Nebuchadnezzar said, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built," etc. (Daniel 4:30). Pusey refers in illustration of this to certain North American Indians, "who designate their bow and arrow as the only beneficent deities whom they know;" to the Romans sacrificing to their military standards; and to the French referred to in the Times during the FrancoGerman War as "almost worshipping the mitrailleuse as a goddess." And this is still our peril. Because our possibilities are so great, we think that we can win all blessings for ourselves. Everywhere we see the worship of our human powers and means - the workman worshipping the strength of his arm and the deftness of his fingers, the man of business worshipping his skill and acuteness, and the man of science, human knowledge. Nor is the Church of God free from this spirit: for there is far too much of trusting to forms and ceremonies, to worldly alliances, to machinery and organization, as though these were the great essentials, and far too little of "looking up unto the hills whence cometh her help."
III. ALL SUCH GLORYING IS VAIN.
1. It reveals self-ignorance. For no one who really understands himself could possibly cherish this spirit.
2. It leads to oppression. The man who has exalted notions of his own powers and doings is likely to be proud and overbearing in his conduct towards others.
3. It is offensive to God. "He resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6). "In all our ways, therefore, let us acknowledge him" and as we prosper in our course ascribe the success gained to his favour and blessing. In the language of Keble, let us say - .
"Should e'er thy wonder working grace "To our own nets ne'er bow we down,
"To our own nets ne'er bow we down,
Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense to their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.
1. The most numerous illustrations of this spirit are those which may be found in the conduct of our secular work. The ungodliness of the daily life of men is a fact too manifest to be disputed. They see in every increase of their wealth and power a fresh evidence of their skill and strength; and, intoxicated with pride or vanity, burn incense only to their own net. Among those who bear the Christian name there are evidences only too palpable of its presence and power, now prone are we, in secular matters, to forget the relation in which we stand to God. The precept, "In all thy ways acknowledge Him," is either wholly ignored, or its application restricted to special spiritual exercises and duties. We need a more thorough and pervading sense of God's presence, and our reliance on Him to penetrate our lives. The danger is one to which we are specially liable in an age when the science and industry of man have achieved so much. Science has unveiled so many secrets of nature that we begin to fancy that there is nothing so hidden that the same skill may not drag it from its retreat. It is not wonderful that man should deify intellect, and forgetful of Him from whom comes every talent, should ask, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built?" Everywhere, in fact, do we see men thus exalting themselves and their own wisdom. They would fain put God out of His own world, by enthroning man in His place. To correct these godless views of life, God, from time to time, sends us solemn and emphatic warnings of His power and our dependence. The wise hear the rod, and who hath appointed it. Judgment instructs those whom the gentler voice of mercy did not reach.
2. Mark the development of this spirit in our spiritual life. Much apparently Christian service would not abide the Master's test, because so much of this earthly element enters into the spirit by which it is inspired. Is there not too often a disposition to trust in the wisdom of our plans and the efficiency of our instruments, rather than in that blessing which alone can make rich? Self-reliance, self-conceit, self-exaltation, self-seeking, self-worship, are evils that intrude even into religious institutions.(1) This spirit may reveal itself in the motives that induce activity in the service of the Church. Love to Christ is the only true and enduring motive of all Christian labour. But we may work to extend our party rather than to glorify God. There is danger in mere sectional attachments. Our motives may be more directly personal. We may labour only to gratify our own ambition or fancy. Our vanity may be pleased by the rich incense of flattery. Our desire for power may be gratified by the influence we gain over other men. There are tests which we may all employ with advantage to prove the character of our work.(2) The spirit displays itself in regard to the modes of Christian labour. There are two opposite extremes against which we have to guard. There are not a few who are crying out for a new Gospel. There are those who are sticklers not only for truth, but for the very phrases in which it is set forth. These two parties are wide as the poles asunder, yet they agree in this — they are both burning incense to their own net.(3) This spirit may reveal itself in the way in which we regard the results of Christian labour. In the hour of success we think more of the efficiency of the instrument than of the grace of the Divine Spirit. The greatest talent is insufficient if alone. We want all the power that Christians possess sanctified to Christ. We want to see the most perfect instrumentality, but we want something beyond that. There is no real power unless the Spirit of God be in our midst.
(J. Guinness Rogers, D. D.)
(T. Campbell Finlayson.)— In our times the idolatry of work has replaced the thirst for wisdom; there is no time to fill the treasure-house, and there is no time to dispense its stores. The consequences of this sort of life are sufficiently mischievous before we bring in on it the light of Christ and the Gospel. What was our Lord's teaching in correction of this tendency to an idol-worship of work? He taught that work is not an end, but a means. It may be fruitful or unfruitful, stopping with itself, or producing something. It is essentially of two kinds — it may begin with itself, or it may have a beginning behind it; it may be (so to say) its own life, or it may be the manifestation of a life prior and ancient. Not the work, but the workman, is the all-important thing. All depends, not upon what the man wrought, but upon what he was.
(C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)
I. MEN DO THIS WHEN THEY ATTRIBUTE THEIR TEMPORAL PROSPERITY TO THEIR OWN SKILL AND ENERGY, AND NOT TO GOD. Wealth may, or may not, be a proof of skill and industry. Self-reliance is a noble quality; it is different from self-sufficiency. But we are dependent upon God.
II. WHEN THEY ATTRIBUTE THE DISCOVERIES OF SCIENCE AND THE INVENTIONS THAT HAVE BENEFITED THE WORLD TO THE HUMAN INTELLECT AND NOT TO GOD. Man's discoveries are God's revelations.
III. WHEN THEY ATTRIBUTE THE PROSPERITY OF A COUNTRY TO ANY OTHER SOURCE THAN TO GOD. Patriotism is a virtue. Our prosperity may be ascribed to different causes. Let us honour God; let not our pride weaken us.
IV. IN THEIR TREATMENT OF GOD'S MERCIFUL REVELATION TO THE WORLD.
V. WHEN THEY DEPEND FOR THE SPREAD OF GOD'S RULE ON HUMAN PLANS AND ORGANISATIONS, AND NOT ON THE BLESSING OF THE HIGHEST. "The excellency of the power is of God." Without God's presence and blessing all that we do is in vain.
( John Calvin.)
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