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‘AT EASE IN ZION’
‘Woe to them that are at ease in Zion.’
I. There is a great difference between being at ease and being contented.—Every Christian should learn contentment even in pain and suffering. St. Paul said that he had learned in whatsoever state he was therein to be content. Peace, too, is not only a privilege of the Christian, but a duty—peace with God, the peace of God in the heart. The Christian should not be feverish and fretful. He should never worry. This quietness of faith is founded upon obedience and trust.
II. But there is a kind of ease which is full of danger.—It is that ease against which our text warns us. The people of Israel were living at ease in sin. They were neglecting God, paying no heed to His commandments, and yet were giving themselves no thought about the consequences. People live on the slopes of a volcano, build their homes there, make their gardens, cultivate their vineyards, go on with their plans, forgetting that under them sleep the terrible fires which any hour may break out and destroy them. They are at ease in a false security. So are all who live in sin, and have no thought of sin’s guilt.
III. Luxury is not the best thing in this world.—The people of Israel had rich houses, their bedsteads inlaid with ivory, and on their tables the richest and costliest provisions. They thought they were wondrously fortunate. No doubt their neighbours also envied them. But we see here that they were in a state of great danger. Wealth always has its dangers, and luxury very often destroys the soul. There is no time when we need to watch our spiritual life more carefully than when we are prospering in worldly things.
IV. Pleasure is not the best thing in this world.—The people of Israel seemed to have no lack of pleasure. They had their feasts, their revels, with all kinds of musical instruments and other instruments of pleasure. Wine flowed so freely that they drank it not in ordinary cups, but in great bowls. They anointed themselves with the costliest ointments, but meanwhile their souls were dying. Indulgence in pleasure is always perilous.
V. Sin brings its sure and terrible penalties.—All this luxury and indulgence foreboded coming ruin. The people were forgetting God, disregarding His commandments. They forgot that there was any judgment, that God thought or cared about their sins. Then captivity came with all its curse. The course is always the same. If we live in sin we must meet the penalty.
(1) ‘The meaning is “recklessly at ease.” Such ease is the expression of the “don’t care” spirit. A young man says, “Anyhow, I am going to have a good time.” He means an evil time. God’s warnings, the certainties of retributions, he scoffs at. Like Esau, he seizes the mess of pottage, and capitulates to the present. Said an old boatman bewailing his present plight of ignorance and inability, “I played truant when I could have gone to school; I would not learn; now here I am.” He had his foolish ease, now he had his pain. This sensual, pleasure-loving ease, which refuses to look before and after, will bring doom always. Mr. Lowell used to delightingly quote this sentence from Samuel Johnson: “Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses, whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings.” ’
(2) ‘Sinful indulgence brought to Israel captivity; sinful indulgence brought to Rome, Greece, Egypt, Nineveh, Babylon, ruin. Now imagine, as well as you can, what would it be that a man like Amos would call to our attention if he were to speak out in these days. Would not national pride be one of the sins which he would bring to our remembrance?—proud of our size, proud of our inventive genius, proud of our wealth, proud of our power, and now, in these last days, proud of our navy. Bragging is heard on every hand, as though we could beat the world.’
‘Not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.’
Everywhere, on the altar of the priest, on the stall of the trader, on the threshold of the nobleman’s palace, Amos saw the virgin of Israel fallen—saw the great ideals of religion and life rotting like dead and unburied things.
I. What about my business life?—Is its ideal righteousness, truth in speech and in action? This alone it is which turns the secular into the sacred, which gives a spiritual dignity to the humblest calling. Money, success, fame—do not let me seek these, but rather God’s favour and approval.
II. And what about my social life?—Am I ostentatious, idle, luxurious? The fashionables of London and Paris are not so different from the princes of Samaria. Or do I take part with good men in the great works of justice and of love?
III. And my religious life— what about it?—Am I grieved for the affliction of Joseph? Is everything that wounds Jesus, my greater and sweeter and holier New Testament Joseph, sore and terrible to me? All other pleasures are not worth their pains, who carry Christ’s cross, and who are crowned with the sharp thorns of Christ’s sorrow.
By these questions let me test myself.
‘Charles Kingsley used to say, “I will never believe that a man has a real love for the good and the beautiful, except he attacks the evil and disgusting the moment he sees it. It is very easy for us to turn our eyes away from ugly sights, and so consider ourselves refined. The refined man, to me, is he who cannot rest in peace with a coal-mine, or a factory, or a Dorsetshire peasant’s house near him, in the state in which they are.” Charles Kingsley was worn with work. He needed rest and change. He was himself deft with brush and pencil, and a passionate lover of good pictures. There was an exhibition of great pictures at Manchester. He would go; no, he would not go. He could not make up his mind to leave, even for two or three days, a poor sick man who was hanging on his daily visits. Is it not plain that pictures, and all pleasant things could not harm, but would only help Charles Kingsley, because all the time he was grieved for the affliction of Joseph, because he was seeking to use such things for the better help of afflicted Joseph? But when you let pleasant things, their possession and delight, wall you off from poor and troubled Joseph, render you hard, unsympathetic, unmindful of the suffering round you, then, though you may have won for yourself, and may pride yourself upon, the finest culture, you have changed these good gifts of God into moral blight; you have sold yourself to selfishness, and have come under the Divine displeasure. “Inhumanity is impiety.” ’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Amos 6". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13