Where are your forefathers now? And the prophets, do they live forever?
I. "FATHERS" IMPLIES SUCCESSIVENESS. Changes are constant. Not a whole generation together, but men go, as they come, one by one. Seems common to all existences. Necessary also. If all lived on, there would not be room for the ever-increasing multitudes. Part of God's great plan for the education of the race.
II. "FATHERS" IMPLIES INTERDEPENDENCE. There is a close relationship between fathers and children. Physically, mentally, and even morally, we are to a large degree what others have made us. "How shall a man escape from his ancestors, or draw off from his veins the black drop which he drew from his father's or his mother's life?" (Emerson).
"Tis law as steadfast as the throne of Zeus,
III. "FATHERS" IMPLIES RESPONSIBILITY. "Be not as your fathers." There should be reflection and choice of the good, Whether we are better or worse is a difficult question. The term "fathers" is indefinite. We should fix some point for comparison. But where? Our immediate fathers, or those of earlier times? Besides, difficult to get evidence for a fair comparison. History defective. Tradition unreliable. The "fathers" stand out like hills enshrouded in mist, or as stars that take a glory from being far. Besides, who are to judge? Ourselves. Then risk of partiality. We naturally lean to the party to which we belong. Suppose you take the old. They are apt to side with the past. Their day is over. Their vigor is gone. They dwell on what has been done. Rarely will you find an old man who does not say, "The former days were better" (Ecclesiastes 7:10). Suppose you take the young. They side with the present. The world is all before them. They are eager for the strife. "Yearning for the large excitement that the coming years would yield." But in any case, our judgment is liable to be affected by circumstances. Our own state, the love of society, the spirit of the age, influence us largely (cf. Elijah, 1 Kings 19:4). Are we better than our fathers? There is no question but we ought to be. Progress is the law. We have the higher advantages. The great thoughts and the great deeds of others should inspire us. We are the "heirs of all the ages," In some respects we are certainly better. As to food, clothing, habitations, means of education, political and social rights, intercourse with other nations, and so forth, there has been an immense advance. But what availeth this, if morally and spiritually we stand, not higher, but lower than our fathers? "Christ is our Hope." Individually we are bound to strive after a better life, and thus we can best influence society. There may be much in our past that is bad; but it is past; and let us take hope. If there are sins, they are forgiven. If there are bad habits, they have been broken off. It there are failures, they have been retrieved. We can look on. Stirred with a holy ambition, sustained by precious promises, animated by noble examples, we can press on to the brighter and better days to come. Our standard should be, not the conventional standard of the Church or the day, but the perfect law of Christ (Matthew 5:20-48). - F.
Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever?1. The mortality of the instruments which God employs for carrying on His cause in the world. At the time these words were spoken, the patriarchs of antiquity, the seers of after times, the evangelical Isaiah, the plaintive Jeremiah, the vehement Ezekiel, all had been gathered to the tomb. There is no exemption from the stroke of mortality for the most valuable instruments of God's service. Their death subserves the Divine purposes, and the interests of men, as well as their lives. The removal of ministers makes way for a greater variety of gifts and graces to be exercised in the ministry itself; and thus that irrepressible love of novelty which seems to be one of the instincts of our nature is provided for. How glorious does our Lord Jesus Christ appear, in carrying on His cause, not only in spite of, but in the very midst of, and even by, the ravages of death. It is a bright manifestation of His power, to work by such feeble, fallible, mortal creatures as we are; it is a still brighter display of His wisdom and power to make even their death subserve His cause. There is much in this view of our subject at once to encourage the timid and to repress the vain. Christ can do much with the weakest instrument; and He can do altogether without the strongest.
2. What there is, and how much, which, when these instruments are removed, survives the wreck of mortality, and perpetuates itself through the time to come. It was the proud boast of Horace, "I shall not all die, much of me will escape death"; and it has proved true. What remains of these men?(1) Not only their graves, but their own immortal selves, their deathless spirits. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. We are already come to the spirits of just men made perfect. They are assembled in the presence of their Lord, rejoicing with ineffable delight in their mutual recognition, in their sublime intercourse, in their joint adoration.(2) Their names, their character, and their examples still survive. Eminent piety, combined with eminent usefulness, retains, like the rose, its beauty and its fragrance after death. In their characters and examples we have the best part of themselves. The remembrance of departed piety is sometimes more serviceable than even the contemplation of it was while it was yet living.(3) The principles on which these worthies acted survives. These they derived from the Bible, and not from any human theories of civilisation, philosophy, or philanthropy. Your fathers when they died left you an unmutilated Bible. Not a single promise lies interred in their graves. But, in some eases, the Bible is professed, while its truths are denied; it is, in a certain way, held in gross, while it is rejected in detail. Our fathers dealt not in vague generalities, philosophical speculations, or in evasive reserves.(4) Though the founders of the Society (London Missionary) have long since departed, the cause itself survives.
3. The means to be employed to carry on the work begun by our forefathers. Some fear the cause of missions will not live. Others think public attention will be diverted from the cause by the surpassingly great, various, and absorbing events of the times in which we live. It is a most remarkable, instructive, and impressive feature of the times that there is a conspicuous parallelism between political convulsion and social disorganisation on the one hand, and moral action and reformation on the other, between the destructive and the constructive forces, between the shaking and crumbling of the things that were ready to vanish away and the rising up of those things which cannot be shaken and are intended to remain. Shall we suffer this passing age to draw off our attention from the cause of Christian missions? That would be to lose our interest in the cause, when all things seem preparing the world for its full and final triumph.
4. We must unite appropriate and adequate means to our confidence of final success.(1) A more intelligent apprehension, a deeper conviction, and a more solemn sense, on the part of the whole Church, of the design of God in its erection and continuance in this world, as His witness and instrument for the conversion of the nations. In so far as the Church is a missionary Church, she is a true Church. What is the duty of the whole Church is the duty of every section and part of it. But the Church has not yet done, and is not even now doing, her duty.(2) If our zeal be the offspring of our piety, there is necessary for the continuance and extension of the missionary enterprise, an increase of spiritual religion. We want intelligence warmed with holy enthusiasm: a religion of life, of power, of love, and of a sound mind; a religion combining something of the enthusiasm of prophets, the zeal of apostles, the self-denial of pilgrims, and the constancy of martyrs. Eminent piety is essential to eminent usefulness.
(J. Angel James.)
1. Of our own mortality.
2. Of our own obligations.
3. Of our fathers' principles.
4. Of our prospects of reunion with them.
5. Of the grandeur of immortality.
(G. Brooks.)I. THE LAW OF HUMAN MORTALITY AND SUCCESSION IS FULL OF SUGGESTION. Death is the law of all life, vegetable and animal, as well as human. Had man not sinned, the mortality of his human body would probably have been the same. The death to which sin doomed man was spiritual, not fleshly death. He could scarcely have remained permanently in a world subject to the conditions of this. The death of the body is sorrowful enough, because of our human affections and sensibilities. The prophets die. Even their high vocation does not exempt them from the law of death. It may be that God would teach us that He can do His work without the best and greatest. Instead of Stephen God raises up Paul. A prophet's work may seem indispensable to an age, yet he dies.
II. IS THERE NOT HIGH BENEFIT IN THE PROPHETICAL SUCCESSION? If the wise and experienced die, they give place to the young and ardent, who, with fresh impulse and newer lights, enter into their wealth of wisdom. Else might the prophet become a stereotype. The wisest may outlive their wisdom, and the most useful their usefulness. Sometimes the greatest are the greatest hindrance. Every generation rises to higher and broader spiritual conception than its predecessor. Whether is the greater evil, the mistakes of impetuous youth, or the paralysis of incapable age; the zeal without knowledge of experience, or the knowledge without zeal of over caution; the Radical revolutionist, who would make all things new, or the Conservative revolutionist, who stands still in the stream of advancing thought and spirituality — the one too fast for his age, and the other too slow? Have we not a great law of compensation in the succession of God's prophets, especially as the generations overlap each other, and the Church possesses both at the same time?
(Henry Allon, D. D.)
1. By meditating on the fate of our fathers, we are reminded that we too must die. It is a fortunate circumstance in the nature of man, that, though his Maker hath formed him a mortal being, the idea of his dissolution doth not continually haunt his mind.
2. We learn what are the objects that are most worthy of pursuit. The good which our fathers have done remains forever. It remains to embalm their memory, and to exalt their name.
3. We learn to imitate our fathers. The grave of a good man is a scene of much instruction and improvement.
4. We become reconciled to our own departure. The region beyond the grave is not a solitary land. There your fathers are, and thither every other friend shall follow you in due season. Therefore let your hearts be glad, let your glory rejoice, let your bodies also rest in hope. God will show you the path of life.
(W. Moodie, D. D.)
1. They are not where they once were.
2. They are not where we are.
3. They are where they desired to be.
4. They are in the place for which they made preparation.
5. They are where they never would have been, but for the finished work of Christ, as their Representative and Substitute.
6. They are where they will be forever.
7. They are where they will be very glad to see us.It may be added, and we shall be very glad to see them.
(T. Adam.)I. THE PEOPLE ADDRESSED. The visible Church, who lived in the typical land of promise, and under the Old Testament dispensation. It was declared or delivered, by the prophet from God, toward the close of the Babylonish captivity and exile. The "fathers" are represented as including those with whom the Lord had been sore displeased, and the people addressed are their descendants in the flesh, who inherited from their births their evil nature, were encompassed with their high privileges, and laden with their proportionate responsibilities. The "prophets" appear to signify those really sent of God, who spake His true Word, and no vision out of their own hearts.
II. THE INTENTION OR OBJECT OF THE QUESTIONS PROPOSED. The inquiry is not after the existence of the absent "fathers." It doth not touch the truth of the immortality of the souls of the prophets. It regards the mortal existence of both the fathers and the prophets on earth. The inquiry calls a fact to the recollection of the people addressed, which relates to their immediate or remote ancestors. "Where are they?" Not with you now, to influence you. The Church is suffering the loss of the benefit of their labours. The questions are put for the health and profit of the souls of the hearers, or for their greater condemnation, if they will not receive warning.
III. THE PERMANENT USE OF THE RECORD, AS GOD SPEAKS BY IT TO US, AND IN OUR CIRCUMSTANCES. We have been a highly favoured people, and we have long possessed manifold means and privileges, of a religious and spiritual nature; and in many cases, it is trusted, have, through distinguishing and sovereign grace, derived from the use of them profit unto eternal salvation. Let us make these inquiries matter of admonition for comfort and profit.
(William Borrows, M. A.)
I. THE CASE OF THOSE WHO HAVE DIED WITHOUT PENITENCE AND FAITH.
1. Those who have died without repentance are gone to a state in which the wicked are no longer the prosperous. In this world guilt is often successful, at least for a season.
2. The Impenitent and unbelieving are gone to a state in which they have no longer any hopes of escape, or means of approach to God.
3. Our impenitent fathers are gone into a state in which God is known only as the God of vengeance.
II. THE CASE OF THOSE WHO HAVE DIED PENITENT AND BELIEVING.
1. They are no longer in a state of trial and affliction.
2. They are gone into a world where temptation never enters.
3. Where doubt and despondency never come.
4. Where their infirmities and corruptions cannot follow them. Application —(1) If such are the glories of the one state we have been contemplating, and such the miseries of the other, what thanks are due to that Redeemer who has, of His own unmerited mercy, and by the sacrifice of His own life, rescued us from the anguish of perdition, and thrown open to us the gates of the mansion of God?(2) Remember that, very shortly, the question we are today putting about others will be put about ourselves. Another generation shall soon arise who will ask, with regard to you and me, "Your fathers, where are they?"
(J. W. Cunningham, A. M.)I. SOME GENERAL OBSERVATIONS.
1. No distinction which men wear m society can possibly exempt them from the stroke of death.
2. Although our ancestors have departed this life, we are not altogether to entomb them in oblivion. Many reasons may be assigned why we should preserve them in recollection. To many of them we were bound by the ties of natural affection. To others we are allied by official connection. We have entered into their labours. The monuments of their industry lessen our toil.
3. Though these distinguished deceased have left this world, they are still in some state of conscious existence. Probably the souls of the departed enter at once either into bliss or woe.
II. THE BEST IMPROVEMENT WE CAN MAKE OF PROMINENT PERSONS' DEATHS.
1. By a serious remembrance. Not merely of their persons, but of their characters, and the labours in which they were engaged during their mortal sojourn.
2. Diligent inquiry, as to whether we have reaped any solid advantage from the ministrations in which they were engaged; and as to the manner in which we treated the servants of God while they were fulfilling their course.
3. Imitation of their holy example. There is always a limitation we must put when speaking of human example: "so far as he followed Christ."
4. Earnest prayer in connection with bereavements.
5. By preparation to follow the devoted servants of God to the place where they now dwell.
6. Cherishing a devout expectation of reunion with the departed servants of God, in a world of future glory and perfection.
(J. Clayton.)1. The first thing that the words suggest is obviously the great law, under which we receive and possess existence — that we must die; the law of mortality, under which we were born. We will not enter into the curious question, whether man would have died if he had not sinned. It is better to look at death in its moral and spiritual aspect. It is thus continually represented to us in Scripture. It is not a part of God's plan; it is a thing engrafted upon His original constitution. Death is the shadow of sin. This great, black, dark substance, that we call sin, comes in between man and the bright light of God's countenance, and casts its shadow over man. That shadow is death. Death is but the symptom of a spiritual disease; it is not so much the grand disease of our nature, as it is the symptom of a deeper-seated disease. And God applies His remedy to the core of the disorder. He redeems from sin.
2. Apply remarks specially to the death of a very aged person. Note the amazing power of the principle of life in man. It is so wonderful to think that a human body, with its nice and delicate organisation, should go on sleeping and waking, toiling and working, without intercession and without rest, for ninety or a hundred years. What a thing it would be if any man constructed a piece of mechanism that should go on in that way! But the individual man, though he is a wonderful, complex machine, considered in himself, is only one little wheel in a greater and a larger structure, that is, the whole species; and the species — such is the wonderful power of life — death cannot touch. However we may talk about death, the power of vitality is greater; even in man, and in the present world, life is stronger than death. Another thought is, that though there be this wonderful power of vitality, old age in general is not in itself very desirable. In general, very great age is only an additional affliction put to the ordinary ills of life. Nature does a great deal, independent of religion, to bring men to be willing to die. But where there is religion, and a "good hope through grace," and a trust in the Divine mercy, the language and feeling of a man often is, "I would not live alway." The very aged man stands alone. He outlives his friends; and what is worse, he outlives the capacity of forming new attachments. The fact is, that second childhood is very much like the first. The child is interesting but to a few. The aged cannot very well sympathise with new hearts and new persons, new modes of thought and feeling. How different it is with God! Generation after generation cometh, and He has His fresh and young affection for every generation as it comes. And every generation may come to Him, and look up to Him, with the same cordiality and the same confidence as the first. The last thought is, that we are struck by the death of a very aged person being uncommon. We speak of it as extraordinary. It throws us back upon the general law, that men do not all die at one particular time. There is no day, no fixed date, up to which all men are to live, and beyond which none can survive. If a fixed date for each individual had been assigned, the punishment of sin would have been made unendurable. It is a most beneficent dispensation that there is no fixed date. But the price to pay is that we must be prepared to see death occur at all ages.
2. There are limits to human probation and the Divine forbearance. You will see this by referring to the context. Your fathers and the prophets are dead; their probation terminated. The agents and the objects of the Divine mercy equally die. There is something very affecting in this. Zechariah says, "Remember, you are living under the same law. Probation has limits; forbearance has limits."
3. The power and perpetuity of God's truth, in contrast with the mortality of man. This is seen by connecting the words that follow. The prophet lives in his utterances. A true thought is a Divine and immortal thing. What has come from the breast and bosom and mind of God, and has been uttered, lives, and there is power in it. Men change, their feelings change, their minds alter, their sensibilities and sympathies pass away; but the Gospel is fresh to every generation. The Word of God, in its substantial essence, continues, and is the life and food of the Church.
1. These inquiries of the text seem to furnish a strong intimation of the mortal character of our present existence. The prophet bade the Jews look back, and consider what had become of their fathers. The great and the good, the noble and the mighty, the teacher and the taught, the prophet and the people, have "gone the way of all the earth." There is no exception of age or station, of occupation or condition, to this appointment of the Most High, in consequence of the transgressions of men. There is something painfully affecting in the ravages of death. The fact is painful and humbling, more especially as it is the undeniable proof of the fallen character of our race — of that native corruption which has descended from Adam, who, though created "in the likeness of God," "begat a son in his own likeness," and that a sinful and degraded one.
2. But is the contemplation of death only painful and humiliating? Is there not a light to irradiate the tomb? May we not regard the inquiries of the text as the language of faith and hope? Surely the dark valley will open into the brightness of eternal home. We "sorrow not" as those "who have no hope." A glorious prospect is opened beyond the tomb. Those who have departed in the Lord are in His safe keeping. Our fathers are not taken away forever. They are only removed before us, and anticipate us in the enjoyment of the Lord's presence. The hope of immortality has cheered many a believing soul amid the pains of life and the sufferings of death.
3. Looking back upon the Christian life of our fathers, we should follow their faith, and act up to their teaching, and pray that a double portion of their spirit may rest upon us. We are responsible for the teaching of Divine truth with which we have been blessed.
(John S. Broad, M. A.)
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