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THESE words were spoken concerning Jehoshaphat, who "walked in the way of Asa his father, and departed not from it, doing that which was right in the sight of the Lord." He was a man of mature life, being thirty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-five years in Jerusalem. Notwithstanding the ripeness of his experience, and his really substantial character, he entered into a ship-building speculation with "Ahaziah king of Israel, who did very wickedly." Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah was the name of the royal firm of shipbuilders. There is, of course, nothing wrong in ship-building, yet this firm soon fell into adversity. The ships were made they were intended to go to Tarshish but God broke them in pieces, and gave as his reason the fact that Jehoshaphat had entered into alliance with a bad partner, "because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, the Lord hath broken thy works." This is the ancient case which we proceed to modernize. We have partnerships, associations, and divers kinds of contracts in our own time, and it may be well to learn how far God takes notice of our business and our doings generally, lest we also have our ships broken, and our commerce laid in ruins.
Some partnerships are inexplicable. We have seen some strange associations. A church officer, who has led the devotions of the church, has been known to enter into partnership with a grovelling man who never hesitated to use profane language in the warehouse; a generous supporter of good institutions has associated with a man who would have sold his own father if he could have made money by the transaction. And men have wondered who have not known how two could walk together except they were agreed, and who have gone upon the principle that light could have no communion with darkness. Probably there are explanations of the difficulty. It may be very convenient to have a partner who can make promises which he never intends to fulfil; it may smooth some parts of the commercial path to have an associate who can tell lies; it may be profitable to have an ally who can stoop to pick money out of the gutter, and who can wriggle round awkward corners, and use words which admit of two different constructions. All this may be very convenient and profitable, but how about the righteousness of it? How does it look in the light of the sanctuary? Is it honest, true, lovely, pure? Of course it will be said that business is business, and religion is religion, that there is a distinction between the merchant and the man. Very well. Let us admit that, there remains this question: when the merchant is damned for his wicked deeds, where will the man go? A man cannot serve the devil with one hand and God with the other. Where is the evidence that a man may have two characters, as he may have two coats? The principle of ill-associated partnerships works in two ways: the professing Christian finds it convenient to be able to remit all questionable work to the man who has made away with his conscience and honour, and the said man finds it very satisfactory to point to his professing partner as a proof and pledge that all is straightforward and upright. But is this as it ought to be? Do not let us slur over the question; let us face it steadily, honestly with earnest intent to know the right and wrong of the case. You may say, that as partners you do not know each other except in a purely business light; you are strangers until you meet in business; you have no two pursuits in common; your tastes are marked by the strongest differences. That explanation does not touch the point. A man cannot leave his character at home when he goes to business. The character is the man himself; he cannot leave himself behind. We are not referring to some trifling eccentricity of habit, or this particular taste or that; but to the quality, so to speak, of the man's very soul and life; and we marvel exceedingly, and cannot understand how light and darkness, right and wrong, heaven and hell, can enter into business relations.
The young should take this lesson thoroughly to heart. You have your associations yet to form, you have to lay out your life to the best advantage, and it is more than possible that you may be tempted by the dazzling prospects which disingenuous men will not fail to paint for you. Explanations of difficulty will certainly be forthcoming; your conscientious scruples will be contemptuously pooh-poohed. You will be told that in these times men must set their sails according to the wind, and must do as other people do, if they would save themselves from bankruptcy and ruin in general. Let the example of Jehoshaphat be a warning to you. There is something of infinitely greater consequence in the world than making a fortune. What you have to settle first and foremost is, the moral basis on which you are proceeding; you must get the full consent of your judgment, and heart, and conscience before you give yourself up to any commercial course, and, having obtained such consent, according to the law of infinite righteousness, it should be a matter of very small moment to you whether you reach what is known in the world as the point of success, or whether you see little or nothing by way of result of your labour. Wealth is not everything; nay, more a man's wealth may actually be a man's worst poverty. The curse of God rests upon all ill-gotten wealth. You may say that your part of the business is done with uprightness, and with an honest desire to keep the whole law of equity as between man and man, but this explanation is worse than a frivolous excuse when it is offered as a plea for bad partnerships. You are responsible for more than yourself in such a case; so long as you are identified with a man who can speak an untrue word or do a mean deed, you must of necessity be implicated in the whole of his vicious course. Beware of making refined distinctions. It is one thing to have a genius for drawing delicate lines as between yourself and your partner, and another to convince him who sees the heart and tries the reins of the children of men that you are not making a convenience of such distinctions, and gilding the works of unrighteousness. Look at the ship-building speculation at Ezion-geber. The partners were men of immense resources, of the highest social position; their ships were actually built and prepared for the voyage, but God determined that they should never reach their destination; and when God commands the winds and the general forces of nature to beat against any man's speculation, it is utterly hopeless in such cases to fight against God. Have God for your partner, if you would make your business, in the highest sense of the term, honourable and successful. "If God be for us, who can be against us?"
The principle of the text is expansive enough to include other subjects of equal importance with that which we have just discussed. For example, the subject of Marriage is fairly within the scope of its application. "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" "What concord hath Christ with Belial?" It is hardly needful to point out that much of the happiness of human life depends upon the marriage unions which are formed. It is one thing to view the subject of marriage in the light of passion or convenience, and another to regard it as an institution by which human life may be developed and trained to the highest uses and enjoyments. We do not hesitate to lay down the broad principle that where there is incongruity of religious conviction between man and woman, happiness of the deepest and purest kind is entirely out of the question. This principle is impartial in its application, having equal reference to the woman as to the man, and to the man as to the woman. Take the case of a young woman who has deep religious convictions and sympathies: she has been trained under religious influences, her habits have been identified with the sanctuary from very early life; she has taught in the schools, she has served in connection with many agencies of the Church, and altogether her name has become honourably associated with benevolent operations; she is sought in marriage by a young man who has no religious convictions or sympathies, who, in fact, is worldly-minded, grovelling, earthly; he may, indeed, be a man of education, of literary refinement, of good social position, of captivating address; nay, more he may be a man against whom society is unable justly to point the finger of reproach. Wherever he is known he is respected for many social excellences. Viewed in a strictly worldly sense, the young man may be pronounced an eligible candidate for the lady's hand, yet, in the presence of such conditions, we do not hesitate to assert that happiness of the highest kind is impossible in such a connection. There must, on the woman's part, be more or less of sacrifice of the convictions and sympathies which have distinguished her whole life. Her religious emphasis will be modified; more or less of a chill will subdue her Christian zeal; her works of benevolence will be in some degree impaired; there may not be any great outward difference in her manner, but her soul must have felt the desolation of an impoverishing influence. We have to consider, not what she is, so much as what she might have been, had she been united in marriage to one of kindred sympathy. To what an intense glow of love would her religious fervour have been increased! With what accelerated rapidity she might have moved in the ways of godliness! There would have been no secret force drawing her heart in the wrong direction; the whole atmosphere in which she lived would have been favourable to the development of Christian graces, and she would have abounded in all holy fruitfulness as a follower and servant of Jesus Christ. We will not dwell upon cases in which there is direct opposition as between husband and wife on religious questions; but prefer to take an instance in which the woman is a decided Christian in her convictions and habits, and where the man is accounted respectable in a worldly sense. There may never be a harsh word spoken on his part, he may never oppose any of his wife's inclinations, yet, by his own indifference, by his self-enjoyment, by his absence from her companionship when she is seeking the culture of her highest nature, he is, in reality, encountering her with a very dreadful hostility. And here we would impress upon the young who have yet to form their social relationships the necessity of their being at one with each other upon all vitally important questions, if they would really be, not outwardly, but inwardly, sincerely, enduringly happy. You are not to look at physical beauty, at social position, or at personal charms, strictly in themselves considered; all these have their place, and an important place it undoubtedly is; but under all these considerations there lies the great question, What about the heart? If the heart is not right, if the supreme affection be not divine, the whole life will be one continuously downward course, ending in mortification, disgust, and ruin. We know the ordinary excuse that is made when the Christian marries one who has no devotional sympathies: the generous, hopeful, self-sacrificing woman openly avows her belief that in a very little time she will be able to bring her intended husband to a right decision; she knows (poor creature!) that there is something good in him; she has heard (O mocking ear!) him say words which she construed into a noble intention on his part; she is sure all will be right by-and-bye; a little patience, a little humouring, and a little instruction then all will be right! This is the dream of her love, the inspiration of her ill-directed hope, but it will prove an imposition a deceit a lie! Granted that in one case out of a thousand events do prove better than expected; we are not to be governed by exceptions, but by principles; we must get away from the accidental to the essential; and so long as right is right, we are bound to stand by it, how painful soever, how tormenting or destructive soever, the consequences. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?" "Because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience." "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils." "Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
The principle of the text will still further permit an earnest word about evil companionship generally. "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause; let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: we shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse: my son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: for their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood." Amongst worldly men, no one will deny that there may be many flattering and alluring attractions which work mightily upon the imagination and affections of the young. The devil can come to a man in many disguises. He does not always come, so to speak, as the devil pure and simple, but often brings with him a robe of light, and adapts himself to the condition, pursuits, and tastes of his intended victim. It is not to be supposed that any young man who regularly attends public worship is prepared to identify himself with the drunkard, swearer, or thief; of course, no young man is prepared to go to such lengths at once; but the point to be insisted on is this, that if the moral tone of the party seeking our companionship be not right, there must of necessity be a descent into depth after depth of moral degradation. True, you will declare your intention of turning back when you feel that you are going too far. This is a fool's decision. You forget that every step you take on the wrong road involves on your part a loss of power to retrace your way. The man is not the same man after he has gone a mile on the devil's highway. He has lost force; he has gone down in the volume and quality of his manhood; and when he thinks that it is now time to turn round and come back, he will find that his way has been hedged up behind him, and that in all probability there is no way of escape. "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful." Let no young person persuade himself that, though his companions may not be all he could wish, yet he is exerting a recovering influence upon them; we dare not say that your influence is not for their advantage; neither dare we assert that they are not exerting upon you a deep and deadly, though a remote and subtle, influence. Where one good young man succeeds in recovering an evil companion, many young men succumb to the treacherous influences which are brought to bear upon them by vicious associates. It is not necessary to be the bosom companion of a man who is evil-minded in order to save him; you are rather to stand at a distance and to speak from an elevation; you are not to descend to the same moral level with him; you may be found in his society, yet you may be separate from him, as Jesus Christ himself was "separate from sinners." Your laugh at an indecent joke may be a sanction to foul thoughts; your silence in the hearing of profane language may give some countenance to evil-speaking; your want of heroism may be regarded as an encouragement by those who have set themselves to do mischief. Even those who are related to you by nature are to be avoided, when they would invite you towards evil. There is a higher relationship than that of mere blood; even were your own father to tempt you to do that which is unrighteous, you are to resist him, and flee from him as an enemy. "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known,. thou nor thy fathers; namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; thou shalt not consent unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him." From these words, and from others that might be quoted bearing in the same direction, we see that the position of the Christian is to be one of the utmost distinctness. "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." This is the difficulty which every young Christian has to encounter at the very outset of his career, and throughout the whole of his Christian service and testimony. He is not only to avoid the appearance of evil himself, but he is to lift up his voice against those who serve the devil. He is called to be a witness for the truth; he is to lift up his voice, and to say distinctly what is wrong and what is right, and to fight the battles of the Lord against the mighty. He is not only then to abstain from evil companionships and confederacies; much more is required. It is needful that every man should distinctly define his Christian ground, and should constantly utter a testimony against all unrighteousness, and in favour of the things that are true and pure, honest and lovely.
Let us learn this lesson, that "though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished." We may imagine that gathering ourselves together in great numbers, by taking counsel one of another, and by some system of unanimous cooperation, we may be able to set ourselves successfully against the divine government; but God challenges the nations of the earth, and contemptuously defies them. "Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces: and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces." There is no need to recall the instance in which "the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech," and in which men set themselves to do great things by way of protecting their interests from supernatural interposition; we remember that they carried their tower to a certain height, and that God came down and scattered them abroad, and confounded their language, and made them so that they could not understand one another's speech. He will surely do this again if we combine to oppose his way. All our commercial partnerships will be examined; all our social relationships will be subjected to inexorable judgment; all our companionships will be sifted by the divine visitation; none shall be able to stay the wrath of God, when he comes to judge the earth by the light of his infinite and incorruptible holiness. Better stand alone than be found in the association of evil men. Better never hear a friendly voice than be allured by the deceits of evil men! Better be found in unpitied loneliness, yet with a conscience void of offence, than lift up our heads amongst the most influential and illustrious servants of the devil.
Almighty God, our Father in heaven, thou knowest that our life is one daily need; thou dost give unto us one day, but we need more the next. Thou art always giving, thou dost live to give; God so loved the world that he gave gave his only-begotten Son gave all he had. May we come to the fountain that our thirst may be quenched, and may we come to the tree of life that we may eat fruit thereof, and never die. Keep us near thyself; Holy Spirit, remain with us; do not be impatient with our dulness and selfishness, but grant unto us long sojourn, until thou dost fill us with thy light and bless us with all needful grace. Thou hast done great things for us, whereof we are glad: once we were blind, now we see; we not only see, we are put in possession of a light that the apostle, chiefest of us all, called marvellous light. Once we were slaves, now we are free men, or we are in bondage to Christ, and in that bondage we find our liberty; if the Son shall make us free, we shall be free indeed. Grant unto thy ministers everywhere a sense of thy presence, a realisation of thy comfort, a preparedness to receive thine increasing gift of light; may they be true men and good, honourable and wise, faithful stewards, diligent servants, waiting for the coming of their Lord, knowing that he may come at any moment. This prayer we pray at the cross. There all prayer of the heart is answered. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 20". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany