How the gold has become tarnished, the pure gold has become dull! The gems of the temple lie scattered on every street corner.
"A poet's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things." His touching and poetic language affords - I. A LESSON OF HUMAN MUTABILITY. The exclamation reminds us of those oft-quoted words, Ilium fuit! Troy was, but is no more! The proudest cities have crumbled into ruins, the most splendid palaces have mouldered into dust. II. A LESSON WHAT PRECIOUS THINGS MAY TURN TO VILE. The homes of kings, priests, and prophets, were possessed by the brutal soldiery; the city of David and Solomon resounded with the ferocious cry of the Chaldeans. Sin can bring the brightest and the most glorious of human societies and institutions into decay and contempt. III. A LESSON THAT SACRED THINGS MAY BE PROFANED. "The stones of the sanctuary" were flung about. The very temple of Jehovah became a ruin, the sacred solemnities came to an end, and the voice of the priests and the Levites ceased in the precincts. Sin can rust even the fine gold. IV. A LESSON OF THE UNSPARING ENMITY OF MAN. The Chaldeans were not deterred by any consideration from carrying out their wrath to the bitterest extremity. The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. Vae victis! is an old cry. V. A LESSON AS TO THE EXACTING NATURE OF DIVER RETRIBUTION. The hand was the hand of the Chaldean, but the judgment was the judgment of God. When men rebel against him, no human power or splendour can preserve them from his righteous indignation and just retribution. - T.
I. A LESSON OF HUMAN MUTABILITY. The exclamation reminds us of those oft-quoted words, Ilium fuit! Troy was, but is no more! The proudest cities have crumbled into ruins, the most splendid palaces have mouldered into dust.
II. A LESSON WHAT PRECIOUS THINGS MAY TURN TO VILE. The homes of kings, priests, and prophets, were possessed by the brutal soldiery; the city of David and Solomon resounded with the ferocious cry of the Chaldeans. Sin can bring the brightest and the most glorious of human societies and institutions into decay and contempt.
III. A LESSON THAT SACRED THINGS MAY BE PROFANED. "The stones of the sanctuary" were flung about. The very temple of Jehovah became a ruin, the sacred solemnities came to an end, and the voice of the priests and the Levites ceased in the precincts. Sin can rust even the fine gold.
IV. A LESSON OF THE UNSPARING ENMITY OF MAN. The Chaldeans were not deterred by any consideration from carrying out their wrath to the bitterest extremity. The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. Vae victis! is an old cry.
V. A LESSON AS TO THE EXACTING NATURE OF DIVER RETRIBUTION. The hand was the hand of the Chaldean, but the judgment was the judgment of God. When men rebel against him, no human power or splendour can preserve them from his righteous indignation and just retribution. - T.
I. THE OUTWARD SIGNS OF SPIRITUAL DECLENSION.
I. THE PROPHETS REPRESENTATION OF MAN. "Gold." "Fine Gold."
How is the gold become dim!
(G. W. Conder.)
1. A thing becomes valuable in proportion as it is so regarded. Gold in itself is useless; it is but as the dust which clings to our feet. But men have come to attach an importance to it, and hence it has become valuable. So man will be valuable or otherwise, just in proportion to our idea of him. God regards man as possessed of an interminable life; as worthy of minute providential inspection; as worth the great redemptive scheme; as fit for a home in heaven.
2. A thing is valuable in proportion to what it can accomplish. Gold can do much. It can make railways all over the world; tunnel the mightiest mountain; fix telegraphy to the most distant countries. What has man done? Measured the mightiest mountain; analysed the floating atmosphere; sounded the deep sea. What has man done? Let Bacon answer as he reveals the laws and operations of the human mind; Luther as he dispels mediaeval ignorance; Clarkson as he pleads for the slave. What has man done? Let Elijah speak as he mounts up to God; Paul as he hears things which human speech cannot reveal; John as he sees celestial visions on Patmos; the humanity of Christ as it pleads in heaven. How great is man! He can partake of God's nature; assist in God's work; share God's glory.
II. THE STATE WHICH THE PROPHET LAMENTS. The gold has become dim. Humanity has lost its lustre. This manifested in —
1. A cruel neglect of parental duty (vers. 3, 4). Physical neglect is treated as a crime. Our moral sense loathes the man who withholds from his child its proper education. But spiritual neglect is far more criminal than either physical or intellectual. Parents, won't you spread your wings of faith and prayer, and bear your children up to God?
2. A sad prevalence of spiritual poverty. Those who once fed on dainties are desolate and perishing, But why this spiritual want? Is there no bread? Jesus gives the answer, "I am the bread of life." Listen! "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink."
3. A fearful prostitution of powers and privileges. Minds which might have rivalled angels sunk below the brute. Hearts which might have throbbed with love to God cherishing hatred.
III. THE CAUSES LEADING TO THIS DIMNESS.
1. Inward listlessness. We are easily moved along by the crowd of evil tendencies within.
2. Influence of example. The liar helps somebody to tell lies; the drunkard helps others on to ruin; the dishonest man leads some one else to cheat.
3. The force of habit. He who once yields to temptation finds it more difficult to withstand the next attack.
1. Love to Christ growing cold. We are all, more or less, amenable to the sympathy of numbers, the force of association; and where the majority are carnal, it is more difficult for the few to continue spiritual. The same danger reaches the Church by another route, namely, when there is an extensive profession of godliness, whether in its forms or phrases.
2. A growing inattention to ordinances. The sentiment of a heavenly-minded man is, "Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth." There is a love of places, as well as of persons and performances, because of their Divine associations.
3. miser and abridged seasons of personal devotion.
4. An easy satisfaction with present attainments. Increase is the condition of success; there is no stagnation in the waters that Christ shall give us; they are either "springing up," or else "the light that is in us is becoming darkness"
5. Religious gossiping. By this is meant a proneness to converse about the accidents, rather than the essence of Christianity. Not that other subjects than religion are excluded from their turn of necessary attention, but when every subject but that wakes an echo of interest, and challenges a general interchange of sentiment and experience, can they be loyal Christians who have nothing to say for Christ?
6. Decreasing sensitiveness of conscience. When men allow themselves in habits of conformity to the world from which they once shrunk, it is not that the world is better, but they worse.
7. Diminished zeal for the glory of God.
II. SOME INWARD SIGNS OF WHICH THE INDIVIDUAL ALONE IS CONSCIOUS.
1. The cessation of secret prayer. The habit has perhaps not wholly ceased, but it is carelessly, cursorily dealt with. There is a shrinking from personal details in communion with God.
2. The neglect of the Bible as a devotional book. If our Bibles cease to be necessary, nay, delightsome to us, there is an internal evidence of decaying grace, which must be looked to, or the devotional neglect of the Book will proceed to the neglect of its Author. Other religious influences will begin to fail, the gold will become too dim to reflect a solitary star of heaven on the shipwreck of our faith, and the fine gold so changed as to be no longer recognised for a precious metal
3. The spirit in which ordinances are entered upon. If the sanctuary be entered without previous prayer, and we should leave it as we entered, we asked nothing, and at least we have what we asked for. If we visit God's house without a settled purpose to honour Him, and only to patronise His minister, as some imagine, we cannot expect to meet Him; for that blessing is limited to them who meet together in His name, not in their own, or some other name.
4. What St. Paul calls "the root of bitterness springing up, whereby many are defiled." The root is concealed under the soil, and its existence is betrayed only by the sucker and the sprout starting from beneath, and indicative of a bad energy at work. Such a sucker robs the sap from the tree, bears no fruit itself, and detracts from the fruitfulness of the other branches. But the image is stronger than this: its metaphor indicates a man bad in doctrine and morals infecting by his evil influence the community of which he is a member.
5. Self-interest, — a tendency to look at what is supposed to become our station, rather than what "becometh saints," as the elect of God.
(J. B. Owen, M. A.)
1. Archbishop Trench in his book upon "Words" has shown this in a very vivid manner in the matter of certain expressions and phrases which have gradually but completely, changed their meaning in English speech and intercourse. He quotes the word "innocent." A word of gold, yea, of fine gold, indicating beauty of character, simplicity of spirit, incapability of double-mindedness or ambiguity of thought and intent; all so plain, so pure, so straight forward. How is the word now employed in many cases? To indicate people who have lost mental strength, or people who never had mental strength; weak-minded people; even those who are little short of imbeciles are described as "innocent" — those having no longer any responsibility; having outlived the usual obligations of life or never having come under them; persons from whom nothing may be expected. "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" A change of that kind does not take place on the surface; changes of that sort have history underneath them as their cause and explanation; the soul has got wrong in order to allow a word like that to be perverted from its original beauteousness. This is not a trick in merely vocal transition; underneath this is a sad moral history. Even words may indicate the moral course which a nation has taken.
2. What is true of words is true also of merely social manners. How different you are now in some of your social relations from what you used to be! Every man will supply his own illustration. How civil we used to be; how courteous; how prompt in attention; how critical in our behaviour; how studious not to wound! "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" How rough we are, and brusque! How blunt — and we call our bluntness frankness! How positive, stubborn, self-willed, resolute, careless of the interests of others! What off-handed speeches we make! What curt answers we return! "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" What if that dimness should so deepen and extend as to lead some persons to question the reality of the gold? In these matters we must as Christian men be careful, thoughtful, watchful, critical. There is nothing little that concerns the integrity and the fulness of Christian character.
3. What is true of words and of manner is also true of the high ideals with which we began life. Let us be thankful for ideals. We cannot always live up to the ideal, but we can still look at it and cherish it; and from our uplifted ideal we may sometimes draw healing when we have been bitten by some flying fiery serpent whose bite has flung us in agony upon the ground for a while, like worsted and mortally wounded things. We cannot have ideals too lofty, too pure, too heavenly. We cannot strike the star. but the arrow goes the higher for the point it was aimed at. What ideals we used to have! Who dares bring back to memory all the ideals with which he started life? Where are they? "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" Let me add to the criticism the Gospel which says, We may every one begin again. What say you to that Gospel opportunity and Gospel challenge? Let each say, "I will arise and go to my Father"; let each one say, "I will arise and go to my Ideal, and say, I have wounded Thee, dishonoured Thee, fallen infinitely short of Thee in every particular. I am no more worthy that Thou shouldst be associated with my poor name."
(J. Parker, D. D.)
1. A gold coin fresh from the mint is an object of beauty as well as of value. It has, in the first place, an actual and intrinsic value, the same, or about the same, as its nominal value as money. Real, as distinguished from representative money, must have this quality, that its actual and intrinsic value is equal to its nominal or representative value, so that it can pass freely from hand to hand throughout the community in final discharge of debts and in full payment for commodities, and be accepted without a reference to the character or credit of the person who offers it. It is this that makes gold so preeminently adapted for use as money, that in it this element of value obtains without too great bulk, and with the stability which is necessary in the commercial interchanges of civilised peoples. That which is of comparatively low value, so that great bulk and weight are involved, or that is of fluctuating value, so that it cannot meet the requirement of stability, does not, and cannot, so well serve this important use. Besides its intrinsic value, gold coin has impressed upon it some design and legend, authoritatively attesting its value; this minting being now, among civilised nations, an exclusively governmental function. But, along with these characteristics, it has also great beauty. The metal, with its rich colour, is capable of beautiful effects; and the process of minting develops the capability, bringing out the rich and brilliant hue, and the image and superscription which it receives being impressed with artistic skill and the most perfect mechanical aids. Such the prophet's figure of Jerusalem in its better days. It was an embodiment of eminent civic excellence. It owned the sway, and bore the image and superscription of the King of kings. There the Temple stood in its stately splendour. There the worship of God was celebrated with devout and elaborate pomp. There the Law of God was recognised and honoured, and the ideal of the holy city, the city of God, the earthly dwelling place of the Most High, was sustained by a befitting government and order, and had effect in a peaceful and happy prosperity. Hence the admiring and rejoicing eulogies of Hebrew poets: "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion: the city of the great King." But we are in a world where even fine gold becomes dim. This is true literally. Notwithstanding its freedom from liability to rust or tarnish, and its resistance to the agents which produce these effects, even gold win lose its pristine lustre. An old gold coin does not have the sheen and splendour of a newly minted one. It becomes dulled and dimmed by circulation. Also, there is an abrasion as it passes to and fro in the uses of the world. Its edges become worn; the design and legend upon it grow indistinct; and its very quantity is reduced, so that in the course of about twenty years, on an average, gold coin needs to be reminted. And there are even yet more serious processes of deterioration conducted with fraudulent design in the various forms of counterfeiting and coin debasement. This is even yet more true of those embodiments of moral excellence of which gold is the symbol. It would seem that this ought not to be, but that moral goodness, excellence, and worth should be the most stable and persistent qualities in the world; that they would be stronger than the opposite qualities and the forces arrayed against them, and that they would resist and subdue them; and also that their good effects would be so apparent and approved that the world would be friendly and favourable to them, and that individuals and communities would cherish and foster them; and so that every virtuous attainment would be a happy and lasting gain. Thus we should expect that truthfulness would become ever more truthful, and more manifestly excellent and beautiful with the wear of use; and that the friction of the world would not dim its lustre, wear down its fine precision, and render its Divine impress less distinct, but give its sheen and splendour and intrinsic worth more superb and glorious effect. We should expect a corresponding history of honesty, fidelity, courage, honour, purity, patriotism, philanthropy, and generosity. This is what ought to be, as every moral intuition affirms. It is what might be, as every revelation and provision, precept and promise, guiding law and gracious succour, assures us. But it is not what actually and uniformly is. Virtue is militant, and maintains itself only by victorious warfare. There is the possibility of deterioration in every nature that is capable of virtue, and innumerable occasions, influences, and agents press to develop the possibility into actual fact. Of nothing perhaps did men ever feel more sure than Jewish patriots did of the stability of Jerusalem, both in its sacred and civil glory. Yet Jerusalem declined into an indescribable corruption and depravity, and the devastation and desolation resulting from Nebuchadnezzar's siege were but the sequel of its moral decadence. How many other institutions and societies have had a similar history! How to nations, churches, and other social federations and organisations there have been what are fitly named "Golden Ages!" And how these have been followed by ages of decline. And by what recastings and renovations the progress of humanity has been realised! This further is to be noted, and it is the great lesson of history, that material decadence has been the sequel of moral deterioration. History teems with illustrations of this truth. But we are more interested in applications and illustrations lying nearer to common life. One of the most beautiful and precious things our human life can know is friendship — I mean real friendship — the alliance for good, and fellowship in good, of congenial souls, and not mere modish or faddish attachments. What help and solace these companioned souls afford each other! What interest and worth they find in each other! In success the joy is insipid until the other shares it. In misfortune the pang is softened by the other's sympathy. And each life is unfolded and enriched by its interest in the other. How sad to see such gold become dim, such fine gold change! And yet how common the instance! So with other relations growing out of our social aptitudes and needs. And yet how poor, and base, even, in actual fact they become!
2. But the most impressive correspondence to this imagery is in the sphere of character and the processes of individual life. With what interest, admiration, and hope we contemplate the splendid possibilities and goodly promise of a fair opening life! Childhood has passed under favourable conditions and good influences, youth has unfolded under judicious nurture and with only the faults incident to youth, and manhood has been attained with no dark stain upon the character and no vitiating habit in the life. Grand equipment for life's work has been won by the processes of general and special education. "Here," we say, "is fine gold. This one will make his mark. This life will count for something, and be among the grander facts and forces in the life of the world." The hope, thank God, is often realised. Notwithstanding debasing influences grand lives are being lived. But it is not always so. In some instances the following years do not fulfil the promises of life's splendid opening. The character, subjected to the hard wear of the world, loses the lustre of its glorious prime. The high ideals, the noble and generous aims, the principled integrity, the delicacy of conscience, and the fine sense of honour, fade under the rough impact of coarser lives. Thus the gold that shone with such noble brilliancy becomes dim. So it is sometimes with a life that has come under the influence of religion, and connected itself with, and set itself to, the highest and best. Sometimes even such a life shows deterioration. The faith, the love, the zeal, the devotion which marked its opening, and made it bright with Divine lustre, decline. By some truancy to duty, some neglect of spiritual culture, or some looseness of living, the heaven-born soul loses the fine quality of its life, the Divine image and superscription upon it are defaced. When gold coin has ceased to be what it ought, by loss of weight, or defacement of its impression, it must be reminted. By that process what is deficient is made up, and what is defaced is restored. This is what deteriorated characters, deteriorated souls, deteriorated lives, need; and this is precisely what Christianity provides for. This is the distinctive feature of Christianity, that it is a converting, transforming, renewing religion. It restores in man the faded image and superscription of God, and it makes the debased nature worthy of the impress.
(J. W. Earnshaw.)
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