Isaiah 10:15
This passage is most humbling to that pride of man which leads him to say, "I am my own; I can do as I please with my own powers and life." That pride it breaks down by saying," Not so; you are not your own; you are God's; he made you; he gives you all; he uses you for his own high purposes." The proudest, wealthiest, mightiest man on earth may seem to be something. In reality, what is he? An axe, a saw, a staff in the hands of God, to work out his will. How foolish for the axe to boast against the workman, or the staff to resist the living man who uses it! The truth which we propose to illustrate is, that man can never be other than the instrument of God, used by him for the accomplishment of his Divine purposes. We can find nothing else that God has created which is without a purpose and end for its being. Winds and waters, metals and rocks, flowers and trees, sunshine and showers, summer and winter, day and night, disease and death, all are God's tools. Not one insect hums in the summer evening but has received its commission from the Lord of heaven and earth. Not a flower opens its tinted bosom in the hedgerow but is obeying the voice of God. Not a bird fans the air with its waving wing but hastens to do the Lord's bidding. The world is full of tools in the hands of God. As we ascend in the scale of creation we only find that higher beings have higher work to do; they are more subtle tools, set to do more skilful work, but they never cease to be tools. Man may be the crown of creation, but he is only a creature, and set to do God's most delicate and particular work. So far as we can understand the history of our world, we can see that great nations have been raised up to do certain things for God, and they have done them, either with their wills or against them. Egypt was raised up to educate the childhood of God's chosen people. Assyria was raised up, as we see in this chapter, to be the rod of God wherewith he might punish his people for their sin. Babylon was commissioned to guard the years of Jewish captivity. Greece was exalted to show the world that "the beautiful" is not, of necessity," the good." Rome proved to the world that "restraint of law" can never take the place of the" liberty of righteousness." The Gothic nations were commissioned to overthrow a debased and worn-out civilization. France shows how the passion for "glory" can lead men astray. America illustrates the principles of self-government. England tells what can be achieved under the inspiration of duty. Every prominent man, who stands conspicuously out from his fellows, is a tool of God. Of Pharaoh it is said, "For this cause have I raised thee up, to make known my power in thee." Of Cyrus, who was appointed to arrange the return from captivity, it is said, "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." Every man's individuality is precisely arranged for God's purpose in him. It becomes a most oppressive thought that each one of us is not only a tool, but a tool of a specific kind, and shape, and weight, and force, and keenness, adapted and attempered for that precise work which God wants to do by us. What, then, shall we do with this fact, that man is the instrument of God? In what relation shall we stand to it?

I. WE MAY DENY THE FACT, AND MAKE THIS SUPPORT OUR REBELLION. Perhaps no one ever did, soberly and thoughtfully, say, "There is no God." Men say it in the bragging of their pride, as excuse for their wrong-doing; and by the self-pleasing of their lives; but Scripture reveals their secret when it says, "They do not like to retain God in their thoughts." The difficulty is moral, not intellectual. Even a bad man would hardly dare to say, "Even if there be a God, he has no rights in me; I am my own; I rule myself; I shall take care of myself forever." And yet many a man's life does, in effect, say, "I am no axe, no saw, no staff, of God's; I will not be." "The axe boasteth itself against him that heweth therewith, and the saw magnifies itself against him that shaketh it." Scripture refers to such men. Nebuchadnezzar; Jonah; Assyria; Herod at Tyre. And what must always follow when the "potsherd strives against its Maker?"

II. WE MAY ACCEPT THE FACT, BUT PERVERT IT, AND SO MAKE OURSELVES INDIFFERENT TO MORAL DISTINCTIONS. A man may say, "Yes, I am a tool of God's; my life is all planned out for me; it is all fore-ordained where I shall be, what I shall do; therefore there can be no real difference between right and wrong; whatever I do I cannot help doing, I was intended to do; I am only the axe or the saw; the virtue lies only in him who uses me, and whose power I cannot resist." We are all exposed to the temptation of treating this sublime fact of God's relation to us in this most mournful and mistaken way. Losing the distinction between right and wrong out of our lives, we are in peril of losing God altogether as a moral Being, and transforming him into the "cloud-compelling Jove" of whom the pagans dreamed. Cannot we see that when God speaks of men as his axe or his saw, it is as using a symbol, which answers only in part? Man is not according to the nature of the axe or the saw; but his intelligence, his powers, his will, come into a relation of dependence on God and service to him, just as the saw does to man. God's higher will takes into account man's will, and would even work out its gracious plans through that human will.

III. WE MAY RECEIVE THIS FACT, AND MAKE IT NOURISH A DAILY OBEDIENCE. Was the life of the Apostle Paul a free, noble, blessed life? He was but a tool in the hands of God. "Go thy way; thou art a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my Name before the Gentiles." He did not resist; he did not let the fact that he was God's tool lead him to indifference. He cheerfully accepted God's will for him; he fitted his will to God's will, and said, "Yes, the very best thing for me is just the thing that God requires of me, that I should go and preach to the Gentiles." Is there moral glory in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ on the earth? It comes out of the fact that even he, in his earthly manifestation, was a tool in the hands of God, and liked to be a tool. He fitted his mind into the mind of God so as to say, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God;" "My meat and my drink is to do the will of my Father who is in heaven." The truth before us, in this our text, staggers and crushes us if we attempt to resist it. It is one rich indeed in comfort and help if we will accept it, fit our will and pleasure into God's will and pleasure for us, and say, "God's plan for me is my plan for myself. God's place, God's work, God's difficulties, God's sorrows, God's helps for me, are the very things that I would have chosen for myself, if I had wisdom enough to choose." The truth of the text will be a stumbling-block to us until we truly know God. Then it becomes to us a glory and a boasting. Why should the infant of a day be set to steer the vessel when the Lord of winds and seas is on board? Why should a stranger lead himself through the trackless forests of life when the all-seeing, all-knowing Father-God offers the guiding hand? What can be better for us than to be axe, saw, staff, in the hands of him who is good, wise, loving, strong, our Almighty Father? - R.T.







Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith?
All the various orders of creatures, natural and supernatural, animate and inanimate, are under the control of the Divine Being, who uses them for the accomplishment of His own purposes. The Assyrians were not conscious of being the Lord's servants; it was, therefore, no virtue in them to be employed in His service. Mark the speech of the king of Assyria, it is vain and fulsome enough. Here observe —

I. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD.

1. This is a doctrine of Scripture.

2. The term sovereignty is suitable here, since it is significant of the supremacy of the Divine Being. Where shall we go for manifestations of the Divine sovereignty?

(1)To creation.

(2)The moral government of the world furnishes the most striking illustration of the Divine sovereignty.

II. THE SUBJECTION OF MEN.

1. Man is not a merely passive instrument, but an active being, dependent upon and under the control of his Maker.

2. Man is a voluntary agent, has in possession a power which we call will, and an awful power it is either for good or evil. It imports responsibility.

3. Still, whatever may be said about the will of man, or the will of a nation, considered as a power, it must be allowed that man and his circumstances, that nations with all their complicated affairs, are under the control of the Divine Being.

4. The Divine Being is still at the head of the nations of the earth, directing and controlling all their affairs, for the accomplishment of His own ends; just as a man directs and controls the mountain stream, for the working of his mill, or the watering of his lands.

III. THE SIN OF SLIGHTING THE DIVINE BEING.

1. It is obvious that man has no choice as to whether or no he will have to do with his Maker. Man's choice is as to whether or no he will pursue a line of conduct befitting the relation in which he stands to God; whether he will obey or disobey, honour or slight God.

2. It is in the very nature of a creature to be dependent; man is a creature, and therefore dependent upon God for everything essential to his temporal welfare; and certainly not less so for everything essential to his spiritual welfare.

3. It is therefore irrational, and indeed grossly sinful, for those who excel others in station, in fortune, in respect to anything that may be justly deemed an advantage, to ascribe the difference altogether, or even mainly to their own skill and efforts; as though there were no God, or as though He were unable, or unwilling, to interfere with human affairs (1 Corinthians 4:7).

4. God is jealous of His honour. He cannot give His glory to another.

5. The case of Nebuchadnezzar, as recorded in Daniel 4, furnishes a remarkable illustration of the supremacy of the Divine Being, and of the sin of alighting it. We infer —(1) That it is the will of God that there should be various distinctions among men with regard to circumstances; that some should be above others.(2) It is the imperative duty of man, whatever his rank or position in society, to acknowledge the Divine Being uniformly and constantly.(3) The Divine supremacy ought to be cheerfully acknowledged in every, household.(4) Let the nations of the earth acknowledge the Divine authority.(5) The Church especially is bound to honour God.

(W. Winterburn.)

These words describe one of the common temptations of strong men in every sphere of action. Pointing to power in the sphere of human industry, we say, "Shall the earn boast itself against him that heweth therewith?"

I. THE REAL CONNECTION OF HUMAN INDUSTRY WITH GOD. Useful and fine art belongs to the original idea of man as a working being. Man is conformed to the design of his nature when muscle and nerve, mind and heart, are taxed in the productions of human industry.

1. This is made evident by the constitution of man. Sinfulness does not belong to the Divine ides of man. Hence man's inward nature does not approve of sin. But industry produces no such stress and confusion in the soul.

2. This is further seen in the kind of world which God has made our present home. Some things He has hidden, and others so constituted that we must search, discover, adapt, apply, and manufacture, before we can get from the earth (although full of God's riches) what we really need. The toil and sorrow which are now connected with labour do not pertain to the original ordinance of labour. But even this discipline is merciful. In prison labour the criminal is sometimes required to turn a wheel connected with a loaded crank. The power is applied to no useful purpose, but is merely intended to weary the prisoner, and thus to punish him. And one bitter element in this correction is this, the prisoner knows that his labour produces nothing. Now, God has superadded toil to work, but with toil He has connected increase.

3. The mode in which Scripture speaks of the arts sustains the doctrine we now propound. Not one word is written in the Bible against the highest development of human industry. On the contrary, much is to be found in the Scriptures of the nature of sanction. When the desire to possess the products of industry becomes lust, and when the possession involves pride, then the creations of art assume a position and sustain a relation which is of the world, and not of the Father. But this shows that the evil is in the excess, and not in the thing itself. The New Testament confirms our remarks. Jesus Christ was the reputed son of an artisan, and, though He chose a condition of poverty, He did not clothe Himself in sackcloth nor refuse to partake of the luxuries of the rich. Not a word did He say against human industry, although He reprobated and denounced every vice and feller of His times, and at the time of His death He was wearing an entire woven coat, for which Roman soldiers cast lots. The apostles trod in the steps of the Saviour. Paul does not require Lydia, a seller of purple, to change her occupation. Let us learn to separate human handiwork from human sin. Art is safe when God is recognised in it.

II. THE DISCONNECTION OF INDUSTRIAL PURSUITS FROM GOD IN THE MINDS OF MEN GENERALLY. Men have either excluded God entirely from art, or they have worked as if on Divine sufferance. And because God has not been in their thoughts, they have felt that God was not in their craft, and they have taken to themselves all the glory. While idolaters have had a God for every art and for all important branches of human enterprise, Christians have too often thought that they must call art the world, and while they use and enjoy its varied products, verbally abuse them. We do not so read human nature. We do not so read Divine providence. We do not so read our Bible. And we are warned against this spirit by the words before us. Man is made a producer; and when he produces by his labour he fulfils one part of his mission. Now in this shall God be forgotten! God! whose earth this is? God! whose are the precious and the useful metals, and to whom belong the trees of the forest and the cattle upon the hills? Shall God be forgotten? God! we are His workmen; we use His tools; we employ His materials, and we labour in His factory. God forgotten? How unseemly and ungrateful is this!

1. The evil complained of in the text may exist either in a negative or a positive state. Say that God is not in the thoughts. There is no rejection of God, but God is not present. The man thinks of himself — he does not think of God.

2. The sources of this evil are religious ignorance and alienation from God.

3. The forms in which this evil is developed are such as these — God's law is not applied to human labour. Work is not performed in a devotional spirit. God's honour is not sought thereby. And you have one of two things — a man in appearance everywhere irreligious, or a man in appearance religious everywhere but in his business. And then what have you? A whited sepulchre, a man-lie, or a rebel, open and avowed, against God the Creator. Trace this to its results. Banish religion from human industry, and you remove the chief salutary restraint! Then man will hold his brother in slavery; then men will cheat and lie and overreach and keep back the hire of the labourer.

4. The doctrine of what is commonly termed Justification by faith, has a most intimate connection with this subject. The substance of that doctrine is, that when a sinner truly repents and believes in Jesus Christ, God, instead of putting him upon a probation, immediately receives him to childlike communion. This shows that a Christian may at once have communion with God on every subject that concerns him.

5. Pride, covetousness, oppression, and cruelty are the four transgressions, chiefly named as God's reason for the overthrow of Nineveh and Babylon, Egypt and Tyre. Without true religion the progress of art fosters these evils.

6. The duties especially incumbent upon the Christians of this land, in connection with their daily labour, are, the unfailing recognition of Divine providence, humility, justice, and kindness. There are no colours so brilliant, no forms so graceful, no combinations so complete, no products so perfect and abundant as those which exist apart from human skill and toil. Man, in comparison with the Great Worker, has done nothing.

7. You will not have failed to mark God's calling the mightiest by this name, "axe and saw"; also God's intimating the uselessness of all boasting, "as if it were no wood"; and God's threatening to teach the axe and saw their real position; and you will take this lesson — if we do not make God of infinitely more consequence than man, He will make us feel how much lower than man His curse can sink us; and then, when like Nebuchadnezzar, we feel less and lower than man, we may, in this severe school, "learn to praise, and extol, and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and all whose ways are judgment, and who is able to abase those that walk in pride."

(S. Martin.)

God keeps an account of all men's proud and haughty words, with which they set heaven and earth at defiance. They that speak great and swelling words of vanity shall hear of them again.

( Matthew Henry.)

Oh what a dust do I maker said the fly upon the cart wheel, in the fable. What destruction do I make among the trees! saith the axe.

( Matthew Henry.)

Bengel, when a tutor, addressing a letter to an old pupil, said, "Either refrain, dear Reuss, from writing to me, or do not apply to me such superlative expressions. I should quietly, like a fond father, place it all to the account of your love, were I not afraid that my allowing it will bring upon me a heavy responsibility. For the same reason I wish it were not said here at daily prayers 'our most reverend tutors.' I believe that if Herod had been displeased with the acclamation, 'It is the voice of a god and not of man,' he would not have been struck dead in such a horrible manner. God's honour is an awfully tender thing, and may be injured before we are aware."

When Bonaparte was about to invade Russia, a person who had endeavoured to dissuade him from his purpose, finding he could not prevail, quoted to him the proverb, "Man proposes, but God disposes"; to which he indignantly replied, "I dispose as well as propose." A Christian lady, on hearing the impious boast, remarked, I set that down as the turning point of Bonaparte's fortunes. God will not suffer a creature with impunity thus to usurp His prerogative. It happened to Bonaparte just as the lady predicted. His invasion of Russia was the commencement of his fall.

(J. Whitecross.)

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