For My people are among wicked men. They watch like fowlers lying in wait; they set a trap; they catch men.
I. THAT WHICH OUGHT TO BE FOUND AMONGST GOD'S PEOPLE. This is just the thing which makes the whole discovery so inexpressibly sad - that this wickedness is found where there should have been found a character diametrically opposite. It is the scene of the wickedness that indescribably aggravates the wickedness itself. That a good man, a really good man, should be found in a den of thieves is impossible. Vain would it be for him to continue there and yet plead his uprightness. A den of thieves does actually give character to every one who willingly inhabits it, and so, passing from the bad to the good, a certain high reputation must attach to every one who openly ranks himself among the people of God. It was not because these Israelites dwelt in a certain territory or were descendants from certain ancestors that they were reckoned the people of God. There was a covenant, the terms of which were to be taught to every generation and diligently observed by it. And this covenant emphatically required that these people should live among themselves an upright, brotherly, loving life. Without this, worship was vain; indeed, without this, worship, in the true sense, was impossible. In the home, union was to be preserved by subordination and purity; and in society, by the safety of life and property to the individual. God's people are "the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand," and it is manifest that, in the right order of things, a sheep's clothing should cover a sheep and not a wolf.
II. THAT WHICH ACTUALLY IS FOUND. Wicked men are found where none but the devout, the upright, and the gentle ought to be. Further, this wickedness is so marked off by bold and indignant expressions that every one guilty of it may know Jehovah's eye to be upon him. For such a man there lies no way of escape among vague generalities. He cannot get off by alleging, with apparent seriousness, that, while there are undoubtedly deceivers among the people of God, he at all events is not to be numbered amongst them. If a man is behaving himself after the fashion here described, he certainly must know it. With regard to certain actions, the nature of them may come out so openly that it is easy to effect the consequent exclusion and separation of the offender from the people of God. But there yet remain many wickednesses, the worst of wickednesses, which a man may go on committing and yet keep his name written in the human record of those who profess service to God. He may even make his very position a vantage-ground for the laying of his snares and the perfecting of his wiles. He may be able so to conceal his hand and his purpose as to deceive even his victims, who, instead of arguing that because there is great wickedness the doer of it must be a bad man, begin at the other end and say that a maker of long prayers cannot possibly be bad; he may be driven to the infliction of a painful blow, but, that must be reckoned his calamity rather than his fault. Now, the descriptions in this passage make it evident that God sees into all the doings of such men. And at this particular time these men had become very successful, and we must infer very influential. Wherever money is heaped up it makes influence. And even though such oppressors were not numerous, their very position gave them power. But over against them, with all their power, all their wealth, all their pretensions, there is that God who marks every tear and groan and writhing of the oppressed. This passage is but one out of many in which God shows his hatred to all injustice. Some of the so-called friends of humanity, who are never tired of asserting their friendship and pressing their claims, make one of their great claims to be in this, that they oppose all acknowledgment of God. Depend upon it, God is the true Friend of humanity; he first, and afterwards are those whom he inspires with his own indignation against wrong, and endows with the strength, patience, resolution, and all Divine resources needed to destroy it. What wonder is it that God should speak of vengeance against such a nation as permits and extenuates the monstrous evils denounced in this passage? - Y.
As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great and waxen rich.
Helps for the Pulpit.I. GOD HAS A PEOPLE ON EARTH.
1. His creation.
2. Called by Him from darkness to light.
3. Privileged, pardoned, regenerated, adopted.
II. IN THE CHURCH THERE IS AN UNHAPPY ADMIXTURE OF WICKED MEN. This applies to —
1. Those religious establishments whose constitution and discipline offer no restraints to the admission of such characters.
2. Mere hearers of the Gospel.
3. Those who have entered the Church without real conversion.
(1) (2) 4. Those wilfully inactive in the Church. 5. Those who interrupt the peace and harmony of the Church. III. THIS MIXTURE OF THE WICKED WITH THE GODLY IS A FACT. "Are found" — by whom? 1. Frequently by themselves (1 John 2:19). 2. Persecution has, and so has temptation. 3. By Christians, to whom their unholy course is a grief. 4. By God (Revelation 3:18, 23). Odious to Him. IV. THE INJURIOUS INFLUENCE OF THE CONDUCT OF SUCH PROFESSORS. 1. They bring reproach upon religion (Romans 2:24). 3. The Church is in danger of being injured by them (Hosea 5:3). 4. It frequently prevents accessions to the Church. 5. The guilt of such persons is highly aggravated, and their punishment will be awful. (Helps for the Pulpit.)
(2) 4. Those wilfully inactive in the Church. 5. Those who interrupt the peace and harmony of the Church. III. THIS MIXTURE OF THE WICKED WITH THE GODLY IS A FACT. "Are found" — by whom? 1. Frequently by themselves (1 John 2:19). 2. Persecution has, and so has temptation. 3. By Christians, to whom their unholy course is a grief. 4. By God (Revelation 3:18, 23). Odious to Him. IV. THE INJURIOUS INFLUENCE OF THE CONDUCT OF SUCH PROFESSORS. 1. They bring reproach upon religion (Romans 2:24). 3. The Church is in danger of being injured by them (Hosea 5:3). 4. It frequently prevents accessions to the Church. 5. The guilt of such persons is highly aggravated, and their punishment will be awful. (Helps for the Pulpit.)
4. Those wilfully inactive in the Church.
5. Those who interrupt the peace and harmony of the Church.
III. THIS MIXTURE OF THE WICKED WITH THE GODLY IS A FACT. "Are found" — by whom?
1. Frequently by themselves (1 John 2:19).
2. Persecution has, and so has temptation.
3. By Christians, to whom their unholy course is a grief.
4. By God (Revelation 3:18, 23). Odious to Him.
IV. THE INJURIOUS INFLUENCE OF THE CONDUCT OF SUCH PROFESSORS.
1. They bring reproach upon religion (Romans 2:24).
3. The Church is in danger of being injured by them (Hosea 5:3).
4. It frequently prevents accessions to the Church.
5. The guilt of such persons is highly aggravated, and their punishment will be awful.
(Helps for the Pulpit.)
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
My people love to have it so.
1. All of this sort of thing had its counterpart in the story of Israel in the olden time. We have gone beyond the ancient people of God in all sorts of ways; nevertheless, human nature is strangely akin still to what it was in those days.(1) We have a host of prophets in these days. They begin by enlarging, as they call it, the notion of inspiration, so that it may include every one who fancies he has a bit of wisdom all his own to give to the world. Any bright author, or preacher, or poet may be a prophet, and if he is really bright, as men count brightness, his inspiration will not be gainsaid by many. We all love prophets, men of ideas, or great original thoughts. And they have many pleasant gospels to proclaim. For example, There is good in everything, every system, every creed, every earnest deed. It is a great mistake to suppose there is any absolute good, and that such things as do not square with its declarations are evil. There are many prophets of the good-in-everything doctrine. Another message to the world is that God is all mercy. It is a beautiful doctrine, is it not? It is certainly one most acceptable in these days, that there is no hell. get another of the prophecies which we love to hear is that the essence of all true religion is doing good to our fellow men. Charity and philanthropy are going to save souls. We are even told as if it were of direct revelation from out of heaven that God will not ask what a man believed, but only how he lived, when he appears for judgment. And the prophets who proclaim this truth are popular indeed. Still further, we have the gospel of making the most of one's self, the gospel of progress, development. Man has in himself all the possibilities of perfection, and if he will but develop himself on sound lines, the future has no limitations for him. All sacraments and supernatural helps of any kind are child's play, mythical superstitions, unworthy of thought on the part of strong-minded men.(2) And as it was in Jeremiah's time, so also is it true today, that the priests bear rule by the means of these modern prophets. Think of the topics with which our modern pulpits generally deal. The unreality and absurdity of the doctrines of the Christian creed; the falsity of the notion of sin as something to be seriously treated, a moral iniquity, and one to be condignly punished; the nobility of man as a splendid, unfallen creature, called upon to make the most of himself, and so to rise to God-like proportions. What is the explanation of this universal enlargement of the scope of sermon utterance? We are told that preaching of this sort reaches people. Your venerable Gospel, such as the Fathers loved, does not pay in these days; wherever you find it preached you will find dearth of money, dearth of works of mercy. So the pulpit must keep abreast of the times, and the priests can only hope to bear rule, lead their flocks and maintain their influence and position, by heartily accepting the revelations of the new prophets and basing their gospel upon them.(3) Jeremiah added of the men of his time, that God's people loved to have it so. No doubt this is the real explanation of the success of the prophets and the priests; they have hit upon the things which appeal to the popular heart. Once in a while the heart of the God-serving community is fired with a revival of earnestness and breaks away from the degrading embrace of the world, and then the popular voice of the believing community demands a high spiritual tone of the clergy. As a rule, however, the unbelieving world is too strong for the professors of religion, and gradually lowers their moral tone towards its own cynical, utilitarian standards. Then the believers refuse to hearken to a gospel of strictness from their preachers, and demand an easier doctrine at the penalty of refusing to listen at all. This threat almost always brings the priests to terms, and they weakly salve their consciences by the thought that it is most important to keep some hold upon the people, and that half the Gospel is better than none.
2. It is a very common temptation to rail at the degeneracy of our own time, at the shortcomings of our own Church. We are all of us apt to fancy ourselves prophets of the Lord when we know that we are in earnest, and the reason we fancy ourselves so strong in that role is because one cannot easily see all sides of a question at one time. Most earnest people are very one-sided, often very unfair in their judgments. So I would not have you fancy for a moment that I wish to pose as a Jeremiah denouncing and endeavouring to reform the abuses of the Church of his time. We have an impersonal Jeremiah to utter the solemn warnings of the Lord in our ears. It is the voice of the Church herself. Well, we are very much concerned with the rest of the verse, "My people love to have it so." Is that true?(1) Are we quite powerless to prevent things from being so bad as they are? One need not rush into every controversial fray, and yet one may often speak his mind fairly and clearly and so free his soul from the guilt of silence. One can speak in the company of his fellows and say, "I do not believe there is good in everything, for all systems of religion and philosophy which do not emanate from God must be wrong. There can only be one true doctrine about unearthly things, and whatever opposes itself to that which God has revealed is false and bad." There are abundant opportunities in most of our lives for bearing our witness against the fashionable delusion that works of mercy on behalf of our neighbours are the sure passport to heaven, and that nothing else is needed. We can say strongly and firmly, "Nay, that is but the second commandment, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The first and greatest of all is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God. And no one will get to heaven on account of his benevolence to his fellows who neglects to worship and serve his Maker."(2) It is not to be forgotten, however, that there is more than bearing witness in speech. There is the living of the life.
And what will ye do in the end thereof?I. THERE IS AN END. Every step is getting nearer to the termination.
II. IT WOULD SEEM TO BE OF GREAT IMPORTANCE AT THE END, WHAT HAS BEEN THE CHARACTER OF THE COURSE. It is not so much a question with God how the man died, as what the man was when he came to die.
III. IT IS THE PART OF A THOUGHTFUL AND WISE MAN, OFTEN TO CONSIDER THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE PRESENT AND THE ANTICIPATED RESULT. Every one admits this in matters of worldly experience.
IV. THIS QUESTION SHOULD BE FREQUENTLY AND EARNESTLY ENTERTAINED BY YOUNG MEN. It is most important how you begin, so that as you go on habit may be on your side and become your friend.
(T. Binney, D. D.)
I. A QUESTION WHICH EVERY WISE MAN WILL ASK HIMSELF. The consideration of consequences is not the highest guide, or always a sufficient one; or, by any means, in every case, an easily applied one. Do right! and face any results therefrom. He who is always forecasting possible issues will be so afraid of results that he will not dare to move; and his creeping prudence will often turn out the truest imprudence. But whilst many deductions must be made from the principle laid down, that the consideration of circumstances is a good guide in life, yet there are regions in which the question comes home with illuminating force. I believe that, in the long run, condition is the result of character and of conduct, and, for the most part, men are the architects of their own condition, and that they make the houses that they dwell in to fit the convolutions of the body that dwells within them. That being so, there can be nothing more ridiculous than that a man should refrain from marking the issue of his conduct, and saying to himself, "What am I to do in the end?" If you would only do that in regard of hosts of things in your daily life you could not be the men and women that you are. If the lazy student would only bring clearly before his mind the examination room, and the unanswerable paper, and the bitter mortification when the pass list comes out and his name is not there, he would not trifle as he does, but bind himself to his desk and his task. If the young man that begins to tamper with purity could see, as the older of us have seen, men with their bones full of the iniquity of their youth, do you think the temptations of the streets and low places of amusement would not be stripped of their fascination? "What will you do in the end?" Use that question as the Ithuriel spear which will touch the squatting tempter at your ear, and there will start up, in its own shape, the fiend. But the main application that I would ask you to make of the text is in reference to the final end, the passing from life. Death, the end, is likewise death, the beginning. Surely every wise man will take that into consideration. Surely, if it be true that we all of us are silently drifting to that one little gateway through which we have to pass one by one, and then find ourselves in a region all full of consequences of the present, he has a good claim to be counted a prince of fools who "jumps the life to come," and, in all his calculations of consequences, which he applies wisely and prudently to the trifles of the present, forgets to ask himself, "And, after all that is done, what shall I do then?"
II. A QUESTION WHICH A GREAT MANY OF US NEVER THINK ABOUT. "What will you do in the end?" Why! half of us put away that question with the thought in our minds, if not expressed, at least most operative, "There is not going to be any end; and it is always going to be just like what it is today." Did you ever think that there is no good ground for being sure that the sun will rise tomorrow; that it rose for the first time once; that there will come a day when it will rise for the last time? The uniformity of nature may be a postulate, but you cannot find any logical basis for it. Or, to come down from heights of that sort, have you ever laid to heart, that the only unchangeable thing in this world is change, and the only thing certain, that there is no continuance of anything; and that, therefore, you and I are bound, if we are wise, to look that fact in the face, and not to allow ourselves to be befooled by the difficulty of imagining that things will ever be different from what they are? Another reason why so many of us shirk this question is the lamentable want of the habit of living by principle and reflection. They tell us that in nature there is such a thing as protective mimicry, as it is called — animals having the power — some of them to a much larger extent than others — of changing their hues in order to match the gravel of the stream in which they swim or the leaves of the trees on which they feed. It is like what a great many of us do. Put us into a place where certain forms of frivolity or vice are common, and we go in for them. Take us away from these, and we change our hue to something a little whiter. But all through we never know what it is to put forth a good solid force of resistance, and to say, "No! I will not!" or, what is sometimes quite as hard to say, "Yes! though" — as Luther said in his strong way — "there were as many devils in Worms as there are tiles on the housetops, I will!" If people would live more by reflection and by the power of a resisting will, this question of my text would come oftener to them. And there is another cause that I must touch on for one moment, why so many people neglect this question, and that is because they know they durst not face it. What would you think of a man that never took stock because he knew he was insolvent, and yet did not want to know it? And what do you think of yourselves if, knowing that the thought of passing into that solemn eternity is anything but a cheering one, and that you have to pass into it, you never turn your head to look at it?
III. A QUESTION ESPECIALLY DIRECTED TO YOU YOUNG FOLK. It is so because with your buoyancy, with your necessarily limited experience, with the small accumulation of results that you have already in your possession, and with the tendencies of your age to live rather by impulse than by reflection, you are specially tempted to forget the solemn significance of this interrogation. And it is a question especially for you, because you have special advantages in the matter of putting it. We older people are all fixed and fossils, as you are very fond of telling us. The iron has cooled and gone into rigid shapes with us. It is all fluent with you. You may be pretty nearly what you like. You have not yet acquired habits — that awful thing that may be our worst foe or our best friend — you have not yet acquired habits that almost smother the power of reform and change. You have perhaps years before you in which you may practise the lessons of wisdom, the self-restraint which this question fairly fronted would bring.
IV. A QUESTION WHICH JESUS CHRIST ALONE ENABLES A MAN TO ANSWER WITH CALM CONFIDENCE. As I have said, the end is a beginning; the passage from life is the entrance on a progressive and eternal state of retribution. And Jesus Christ tells us two other things. He tells us that that state has two parts: that in one there is union with Him, life, blessedness forever; and that in the other there is darkness, separation from Him, death, and misery. These are the facts as revealed by the incarnate Word of God on which answers to this question must be shaped. "What will you do in the end?" If I am trusting to Him; if I have brought my poor, weak nature and sinful soul to Him, and cast them upon His merciful sacrifice and mighty intercession and life-giving Spirit, then I can say: "As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. AN UNWELCOME QUESTION. As the bankrupt does not dare investigate his affairs, and the man who is contracting intemperate habits or tampering with his employer's property does not dare think of the ruin and disgrace to which he is hastening, so the man whose conscience is not easy, who suspects there is something wrong, dreads to look into the future, and counts that man his enemy who ventures to insist on his doing so. The whisper of this question sometimes comes into the heart of the procrastinator — the worldling — the trifler — the backslider; and, with one horrified glance forward, he too often shrinks back and tries to forget all about it.
II. AN UNANSWERABLE QUESTION. The moment a man stands in thought in the midst of the degradation, ruin, and misery he has brought on himself, all his excuses fly; like the man without the wedding garment, he is "speechless." How mad to persevere in a course that has such an end!
III. AN IMPERATIVE QUESTION.
1. Because no forgetfulness of consequences will prevent them coming. A man may put to sea in a leaky vessel and refuse to consider the remonstrances of friends — he may even be ignorant of the facts; but that will not prevent his foundering in the storm.
2. Because it furnishes the direct antidote to the seductions of sin. The burnt child dreads the fire. The sailor avoids the sunken rock.
3. Because the end may be avoided. "Now is the accepted time."
(J. J. Ellis.).
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