For this is what the LORD of Hosts says: "Cut down the trees and raise a siege ramp against Jerusalem. This city must be punished; there is nothing but oppression in her midst.
God was overruling and directing all that took place. Not that God was the author of the wickedness which seemed triumphant in these events - especially in the "wicked hands ' by which our Lord was "crucified and slain." No, but just as, when a fire has broken forth and is threatening to devour and destroy on all hands, wise and skilful firemen, when they cannot quench it, will contrive to lead it in a given direction, will order the path it shall take as seems to them best, so God, when he sees the raging fire of wickedness has broken forth, guides and orders the path it shall take, the work it shall do. Wickedness is never attributable to God, but the development and form it shall assume are so. Hence in the text, the Lord of hosts is represented as the real Commander of the armies that were to invade Judah and Jerusalem; it was his orders they were in fact obeying, though nothing was further from their thoughts than this. And so we are taught that God is behind all human affairs, ordering and directing them according to his will.
"There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
I. WHY SHOULD NOT THIS BE SO? Many reply that if you find an adequate cause for any given effect, there is no need to look for any other. But, in answer, see, I let this book fall; what causes it to fall? The law of gravity will adequately explain it. But was that the real cause? Was not my will to let it fall that real cause? And so in human affairs, we may see the immediate antecedent, but we have a right to ask, "What lies behind that?" You say, "Sufficiently plain motives led to such and such conduct;" but we ask," Who brought these motives into action? who or what set them at work so that these results have come about?" Further -
II. GOD IS A PERFECTLY HOLY BEING, AND THEREFORE MUST DESIRE TO HAVE ALL MORAL NATURES MADE LIKE UNTO HIMSELF. "Good and upright is the Lord, therefore will he teach sinners in the way." "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness;" hence we are bidden, "Give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness." Hence it is certain that he will employ all means consistent with the nature he has given us to bring our wills into harmony with his own. Therefore when we see a whole system of things, an entire course of events, tending to and actually producing this result - for the Captivity did cure Israel of their idolatry, they went no more after false gods, nor have they done so ever since - we at once put it down to him whose nature and whose will we know.
III. AND OUR INDIVIDUAL CONSTITUTION SUPPORTS THIS VIEW. There are Divine laws for the body, the mind, the affections. And to bring us into harmony with his laws, which are the expression of his will, he has "begirt us round" with safeguards and guides which, if we heed, happy are we, but if we neglect, we suffer. It is certain that the health of our whole nature follows obedience to these laws; and, on the other hand, the misery which results from disobedience declares plainly his will, and shows that he is behind all those facts which we call the causes of these results, and is himself the Cause of them all. Now, this is true in the case of each single person. May it not, therefore, be true in the case of the world at large, and in regard to what we call "causes and effects?" Then note further -
IV. THE UNITY OF PURPOSE WHICH IS SEEN THROUGHOUT THE ORDERING OF THE UNIVERSE, SO FAR AS WE CAN TRACE, SEEMS TO INDICATE ONE MIND GOVERNING ALL. Read history, or such a book as Creasy's 'Decisive Battles of the World,' and note how each great struggle has helped forward the advance of humanity, has bettered the condition Of mankind, so that it is terrible to think what, in many instances, would have been the consequences had the events fallen out in an opposite way. The hand of God in history is clearly discernible by all who believe heartily in the living, all-holy, all-loving God.
V. And, of course, THE WHOLE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE SUPPORTS THIS DOCTRINE. (Cf. the story of Joseph, and his answer to his brethren, "It was not you that sent me hither, but God.")
VI. Learn in CONCLUSION:
1. To cast out from your minds every idea or thought of chance, fate, or any mere haphazard coming about of events.
2. How seriously we ought to look at the events of our own lives, and inquire God's meaning in regard to his dealings with us. We are not to be drawn off from this by the imagination that our little lives are far too insignificant for God to care for or direct. Does not God paint the roadside flower, the wing of the moth? Is there anything minute or insignificant in his esteem?
3. Rejoice and be exceeding glad. "Our Father's at the helm." "What we know not now we shall know hereafter." Therefore "rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him." - C.
Woe unto us! for the day goeth away.
1. Save time in your work. Surely it is "woe unto us" that we have been so half-hearted often in our time of work; so ready to lay down the task that is difficult, or so ready to do it lazily and badly. The great characters in history are mostly the indefatigable, who, while they worked, worked hard.
2. Save time in your leisure. Do not spend it all in amusement, which excites, but does not profit. If you have your evenings free, use some to the glory of God, by helping children, by showing acts of kindness, by improving your own knowledge.
3. Again, save time on Sundays. How can men's religion be real and true if they spend Sunday mornings in bed?
(W. R. Hutton, M. A.)
Homilist.I. Heaven granted these men of Judah an opportunity FOR ESCAPING A GREAT EVIL; so it has to all unconverted men. The evil to which the Jews were exposed was very great: it was captivity, slavery, utter destruction of the country. But this was only a shadow of the moral dangers to which every unconverted man is exposed. He is in danger of losing his soul. To lose a soul is to lose all true liberty, pure sympathies, harmonious affections, real friendships, self-approving conscience, true hopes, and means of improvement. And when these are gone, the worth of existence is gone, for it becomes an intolerable curse.
II. The opportunity which these men of Judah had for escaping their danger was NOW DRAWING TO A CLOSE; so is the opportunity of all unconverted men. The whole day of life scarcely opens before it begins to close.
1. This opportunity is constantly departing to return no more.
2. This opportunity is constantly departing though the work be not done.
III. The closing of the opportunity of these men of Judah was FRAUGHT WITH TERRIBLE CALAMITY; so it will be with all unconverted men. "Woo unto us," exclaims the doomed Jew in bitter anguish. "Woe unto us"; we have not only lost our country and become the slaves of a heathen despot, bug we have shamefully neglected the merciful opportunities with which providence has favoured us. These words remind us of the language of Christ (Luke 19:41-44). Conclusion — "Now is the accepted time." Today is "the day of salvation."
1. Some of you are anxious about your spiritual condition. Take the past year as a whole, and perhaps you may be able to hope that some progress has been made. But it has not been all progress. The picture has its dark side. You have had your temptations, you have had your troubles and annoyances; and you have been forced to see how weak your strength is, how poor your best resolutions, how much you have fallen short of what you had intended a year ago. The day goeth away. But if the past has not been what you wished, must you therefore give up in despair? Nay, you may be thankful if you have advanced at all. You could have made no way whatever but for the grace of God. Believe that He who has been with you hitherto will enable you to live more and more to your Master's glory.
2. Again, the close of the year may suggest its thoughts to those who, as our fellow labourers in the schools, or among the sick and destitute, are trying to do the Lord's work, and to be a blessing to their neighbours in their generation. You look back over the year that is gone, and there are abundant reasons for regret. Opportunities for good have been lost which never will come back again. Some one was lying ill, and you knew of the illness, but you delayed your visit. You would go tomorrow: you had other things to do today. And tomorrow you went, but it was too late. Death had come before you. Or again, you might have taken a bolder and firmer course, had your zeal for God been stronger. You saw some evil done, and you did not protest against it. You heard ill-natured words, and you did not try to check them. You might have spoken for God, and you cowardly held your peace. Yet all has not been failure. Feel as painfully as we may our weakness and want of faith, still we may see and thankfully acknowledge the evident signs of God's presence with His people here.
II. WHAT EFFECT THE CONSIDERATION OF THIS FACT SHOULD HAVE UPON US.
1. It should have this effect, to impress us with the solemn and abiding conviction that it is a fact. We are ever prone to take it for granted that though the end of life is no doubt approaching, it is still distant from us; that though the duration of life is very uncertain to men generally, and to our friends and neighbours around us, we are much less likely to be suddenly removed, and may reassuredly count upon a protracted span being afforded to us is a strange and subtle delusion of the human heart, and sedulously fostered by the enemy of souls, the father of lies. How needful to learn and lay to heart the lesson here taught; how needful to be thoroughly persuaded that it is a solemn fact that our life is a vapour which appears for a little time and then vanishes away; that not with respect to our fellow men merely, but with respect to ourselves also, the days of earth are drawing to a close, and that to any one of us the end may come very soon and very suddenly!
2. But, further, it is of the last importance that we not only really believe this fact, but that we give practical effect to the belief. What are your resolutions for the future? Will you be stirred up to greater diligence and devotedness ere your sun go down! And if you, if any of you, are still far from God, living in carelessness and unbelief, will you not take warning by the lengthening shadows to make your peace with God ere it be too late?
(P. Hope, B. D.)I. THE APPOINTED PERIOD OF GRACE IS COMING RAPIDLY TO A CONCLUSION. "The day goeth away." It has been enjoyed in the fulness of its privileges. It has been for some, far protracted. But while unimproved, it has tended only to increase the guilt and danger of the soul. For fifty years the Redeemer has called upon some now aged sinner to turn to Him and live. How difficult is it to arouse him to a consciousness, or belief, of the privileges which are yet remaining, and of the duty which yet rests upon him! The recollection of wasted opportunities drives him to despair.
II. THE SHORT PERIOD OF GRACE NOW REMAINING. He set out early in the morning to go astray from God. Through the whole day, he has been pressing forward in his course, with unabating rapidity. And now, when the shadows of the evening are stretched out, and exhausted nature is asking for repose; alas, is this an hour in which to commence the journey of a day? Death now stands at the door. The line which separates him from eternity, has dwindled to a hair. And he is tempted to yield to total despair of escaping at all from the ruin which is so close upon him. The difficulty which his own heart presents as thus arising from his shortened remaining period of probation, Satan employs as a temptation to him, to be quiet and careless under his conscious load of sin.
III. THE INCREASED HARDNESS OF HIS OWN HEART. When young, conviction of sin impressed his mind. His eyes could weep under the preaching of the Gospel. He then often felt strongly excited towards a life of holiness and piety. But now he has no such feelings. The rain which descends to refresh others, seems rather to hasten his decay. The summer and the harvest have passed without advantage, and every succeeding day of autumn seems only to dry, and harden, and seal up the earth against the arrival of a frost-bound and cheerless winter.
IV. THE PRIDE OF CHARACTER WHICH IS ALWAYS AN ATTENDANT UPON ADVANCED PERIODS OF LIFE. The heart may be often moved, the conscience awakened, and the emotions aroused, in the bosom of an aged transgressor, and a strong desire be felt, to lay down his burden, and find peace in believing in Jesus. But an assumed dignity and coolness of manner are drawn over a broken, bleeding spirit, because an acknowledgment of these awakened feelings will be so humiliating to the age and station of the individual concerned. But there remains no other course of safety. To this humbling ground, sinful man must be brought, or he will assuredly perish.
(S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
1. Look at the opportunities which the Church affords to all attendants on her service, not only of learning their duty, but also of practising it to the glory of God.
2. Then, again, look at the opportunities for repentance and faith which God has given you in the daily providence of life. You have been rich, perhaps, and He has made you poor — Why? That He may give you spiritual riches, which moth and rust can not corrupt. You have been poor and He has made you rich — Why? That you might "remember the Lord thy God, for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth." You have been well, and He has laid you on a bed of sickness — Why? That you might consider your latter end. You have been sick and He has made you well — Why? That you should love your Divine Healer, and seek for your spiritual healing. Your life is full of the echoes of God's voice speaking to you in His daily providence, as well as in the inspired Word and through the ministry of His Church. Yet hour after hour has glided away, and you have hesitated, procrastinated, put off to a more convenient season. Shall life's sun go wholly down, shall the night of death wrap you in its starless mantle, without one honest effort on your part to secure your soul's salvation?
The shadows of the evening are stretched out.
1. The sun, when it sets, has run a whole day's circuit; his pathway has apparently traversed an entire are of the heavens, and slowly, patiently, but surely, it has done its allotted work. And so the aged Christian, when he dies, is described as having "run his race," as having "finished his course." He has toiled a whole day of life, and has come to his grave in a "good old age," having "finished the work which was given him to do"; and though all his labours have been imperfectly done, though he himself feels more deeply than he can express his unprofitableness before God, yet he looks for acceptance, not to any merit of his own, but only for Christ Jesus sake, who of God and by faith is made unto him "wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." We can contemplate with satisfaction, then, the aged disciple, having "borne the burden and heat of the day," patiently waiting for the stretching out of the evening shadows and the hour of his own sunset.
2. Another point to be considered is, the fact that the setting of the sun is not always like the day which it closes. The morning may have been bright, and the evening hour dark with tempests; or the rising may have been obscured by clouds and mists, which gradually faded away and left a clear sky at sunset. So the sunset hour of Christian life does not always correspond to his previous day. We have seen the last hours of the believer shrouded in impenetrable gloom, and we have seen them gilded with hope and radiant with the forecast glories of the upper world. The way in which a Christian dies is not always an index of his spiritual condition. He is to be judged by his life, not by his death. Self-denial, the mortification of our passions, the resisting of earthly temptations, the putting into active exercise, and amidst opposing difficulties, the whole class of Christian affections which flow out from the simple principle of loving our neighbour as ourselves, and the manifestation of that life of faith, of prayer, of holiness, of zeal, which necessarily results from the constraining love of Christ in the heart all these qualities and tests of character scarcely find a place on a dying bed, so that persons thus situated have few opportunities to develop the true evidences of the work of grace. The varieties of Christian experience are literally innumerable; but whatever their nature, we must not judge of the validity of one's hope, or the genuineness of one's conversion, by his dying hour. Yet, when that dying hour accords with a long life of piety, or a true profession maintained in health and strength; when it is but a concentrating within itself of the glories which have been more or less visible in the whole track of his experience, then is it eloquent in its revelations of the riches, and peace, and joy which God generally gives to those who are faithful unto death: and though we cannot order when or how our lives shall close upon earth, yet it should be our aim so to live as to secure, if God pleases, a serene, if not a triumphant exit, that our setting sun may, like the sun in the firmament, grow larger and more resplendent as it declines, until passing away it shall leave behind a trail of glory spread all over the place of our departure.
3. Another interesting thought connected with this subject is, that the sun is not lost or extinguished when it sets. This may seem a very trite remark concerning the natural sun, but it is not so trite when we speak of the soul set in death. For are we not apt to grieve over the going down of our friends to the grave, as if they were to be forever hidden in its dark chamber — as if the bright spark of their immortality had been suddenly quenched?
4. And this leads us to make one final observation, namely, that when we see the sun set, we know that it will rise again; and so when we see the body of our friends borne to the voiceless dwelling of the tomb, we know that they also shall rise again.
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