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The True Ministry
Amaziah was no true priest. He mimicked the priesthood and made the best he could of it; he was not called or ordained of God. Amaziah, therefore, was a false priest, and whatever he says will have a note of falsity in it When he says good words they will turn to bad ones upon his lips. No flower retains all its bloom when a bad man culls it; it is ashamed of its ownership.
"Amaziah the priest of Beth-el sent to Jeroboam king of Israel" ( Amo 7:10 ).
A very familiar policy; the very rudest idea that could occur to the commonest quality of mind. Amaziah has no answer in music; he cannot supply a counterpart to the wondrous talk of Amos; therefore he adopts the policy of describing Amos as a conspirator. How the tone of the prophecy changes at this point! Whilst Amos talks we are in the presence of one who with the thunder talks as friend to friend, who lays his hand familiarly on the ocean's mane, and plays with those hoary locks without sign or throb of fear. When Amaziah comes upon the scene all he can say is, that Amos is at enmity with the king, and is seeking to carry out some political idea fatal to the throne. Accuse the man to the king, was Amaziah's simple but base policy.
Before the days of Amaziah, and since, this policy has been, and has become, well known. Jesus Christ was accused of seeking to overturn the throne of Cæsar "If thou let this man go, thou art not Cæsar's friend." That staggered Pilate. He knew he was the friend of Cæsar any Cæsar; he pledged his troth and loyalty to the throne, and not to the passing Cæsar only. He was therefore stupefied, bewildered, lost. And the apostles were pursued by the same charge. There was no other charge that could be understood against them. Their prayers could not be assailed; they were so simple, spiritual, noble, benevolent; they were charged with the spirit of goodwill towards men. Their miracles were all miracles of beneficence; their doctrine was so mysterious that the common mind could not argumentatively handle it or reply to it; there was a ghostliness about it which kept men at bay. All that could be said was that if they succeeded Caesar was no longer king not that they cared about Cæsar; in their hearts they hated him, but any stone will do to throw at an enemy.
Amaziah continues, "Thus Amos saith." How he belittles the occasion! Amos did not say a word of it And yet he said every word. But they were not the words of Amos, and Amos disclaimed them. He said, I never created that music; I was as much surprised at the majesty of the music as anybody who heard it could possibly be: I was an instrument. Amaziah, however, personalises the thing and says, Here is a man talking a fanatical, enthusiastic, ill-regulated man, who has certain things to say, certain babbling that he must utter, and specific declarations that he must speak, and the whole land is tired of his treasonable talk; send word what is to be done with this political heretic. Amaziah was false himself, and therefore he thought it was impossible for any other man to be true. That is the philosophy of all badness. Only goodness can see goodness; only innocence thinks that the dog will not bite; only childlike simplicity can lay its hand on the cockatrice's den, and run out to meet the lion in his rampant fury. It never occurs to the little child's heart that anybody or any beast can propose to do mischief. Contrariwise, the bad man never gives credit to any other man for being good. He says, It looks well enough, but under it all there is a spirit of selfishness and badness. He judges by himself. "Evil be to him who evil thinks." The French language has given us that proverb about the solidest thing it ever gave the world. The evil man cannot get away from himself. When good is done to him he suspects it; when he gets a letter all love he says, There is a thorn somewhere about this rose. A man who is insincere cannot believe in the sincerity of another man. He says that that man is playing a game; he can see the trickster in him; he does not hesitate to describe him as a juggler he knows that the end of it will be bad. How does he come to know all this? Because of the malignity of his own heart As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. The false man never met a true one. We see what we ourselves are; we see our reflection in all things, in all life; the noble nature sees nobleness everywhere. The selfish man cannot believe in the benevolence of any other man; he says, This is an investment; this is done for the sake of publicity; this is a tribute to selfish vanity all this is arranged. The base man cannot talk noble language. The earthly man cannot understand the heavenly. He says, This is fanaticism, this is ill-regulated enthusiasm; here is a man who pretends that he sees spirits, and feels spiritual ministries operating in the heart; here is an individual who looks upon all nature as symbolical, typical, apocalyptic, pointing to something beyond itself; here is a man who sees in time an algebraic sign indicative of eternity; what folly he talks, what folly he perpetrates; instead of standing on the solid earth, and talking about things that can be handled, he moves away above the horizon, and professes to see some other worlds glowing in the unmeasured distance. So earthliness can never understand heavenliness; the lips that are dumb in prayer never can speak a word of appreciation about the man who lives in divine communion. Always get at the character of the critic. Never mind his criticism, pay no attention to it; get at himself, his life, his deepest thought, his highest purpose, and you will find the revelation of all his judgments; be they ill-natured or magnanimous, they are but a portraiture of himself.
"Amaziah said unto Amos... Go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: but prophesy not again any more at Beth-el" ( Amo 7:12-13 ).
Why? "For it is the king's chapel": literally, it is the king's sanctuary. What is the mistake in that statement? The whole statement is a mistake. The high priest at Jerusalem never called the temple the chapel of the king, except he meant by the term king the eternal Majesty of heaven. It was God's temple, the Lord's house, Zion elect and consecrated, and made the home of the people of his choice. This is a fine conception of a State Church "It is the king's chapel." The whole secret is there of a mistaken conception of the Church of God, or the Church of Christ. The king has no chapel, except in the sense of a worshipper, a contrite brokenhearted man, who has left his crown anywhere that would hold it until he went in to say his prayer, and call upon God for mercy. "It is the king's chapel," quoth Amaziah: in other words, and more modern, It is private property; you must not prophesy here; this chapel was built by private money for private purposes, and beyond those purposes it must not be used. So, in modern times, saith the trust-deed, duly enrolled in the High Court of Chancery. This is exactly what is being said to-day. We have to-day what we term denominational property. That is a peculiar expression. The stones are denominational stones; the bricks are Methodistical bricks; the beams are Congregational wood; the roof is Episcopalian slating. We have denominational property; you must not speak here, because you do not belong to us; if you speak here it is by tolerance, by courtesy, by momentary concession, as who should say, Friendliness seems to compel us to allow you to say what may occur to you; noblesse oblige ; you can deliver your soul, but the moment you have done we take up the broom and sweep out your footprints: it is the king's chapel. There is no such house of God. The house of God belongs to every true man. The house of God is consecrated to all truth. If any man were to rise and say, Two and two are five, it is the Church that should correct him. All truth nests under the roof of the sanctuary; all poetry sings within the walls of the Christian temple; all beauty has a right to hang its pictures on the walls of God's house. Never drive music and poetry and beauty away to build secular walls and secular roofs, but welcome them; there is always room if you choose to find it in the Church of God for every lovely song, for every beauteous picture, for every noble exposition of known or unknown truth. The Lord built a sanctuary for Israel not of Israel. We must take great care how we talk about our Church, our property, and our trust-deed, and our denomination, and our theology. It would be a blessed flood of rain, straight down out of heaven, that sunk a good many of these things so that they never could be found any more.
See the policy of Amaziah, and in his policy see the exact stature of the man. Amos is a conspirator; the chapel is private property; if any prophet wants to say anything let him go anywhere else and say it. Has the world got much beyond that? There was one good thing about Amaziah's statement he did see that there was a connection between prophecy and the state; he saw clearly enough that if the principles of Amos took effect, the State could not remain as it was. The State ought always to feel that there is a Church in the middle of it; and that Church should represent itself as a judgment seat, as the fountain and source of much human benevolence, as a critic that ought to be feared not because of its censoriousness, but because of its righteousness. And the State should be made to feel that every preacher that is in it affects its quality and its destiny. You cannot preach truth in the State without affecting the State sooner or later. Every school that is built carries the State inside it; every home that is well conducted will affect the imperial policy in due time. All things should be levelled in this direction, so that they shall not terminate in themselves or in the formation of common sentiments which are to be quoted as parts of rhetoric or copied as specimens of writing; they should be looked upon as ministries, forces, agencies, remoulding, renewing, readjusting all things, with a view to the incoming of the eternal morning called heaven.
It will be well now to hear Amos a fine rugged voice that was at home in the open air; that noble tone that melted into the high wind as if by right of kinship:
"Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son" ( Amo 7:14 ).
Read it emphatically: No prophet I, no prophet's son I. The emphasis is intense. "... But I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit." Amos always kept good hold of his history. Because we let our personal history slip from the memory we lose a great deal of power. Remember your poverty; remember early hardships; remember through what difficulty you had to fight for every inch of foothold you have secured; remember how you were sustained in weakness; recall the time when men were so savage against you that you were not certain whether you would end your days in the workhouse or in the madhouse; recall your history, have it as a daily companion, because keeping fellowship with your memories you can take the next step with the greater ease and grace, and it shall be by the goodness of God a step upward and a step heavenward.
"And the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel" ( Amo 7:15 ).
"The Lord took me": I was passive, I was never expecting such election and elevation an elevation that brought danger; an election that was charged with solemn responsibility. It is the Lord's doing; if I am a prophet at all it is because the Lord hath anointed me. How he lifts the subject to a new level! With Amaziah he is a conspirator, a man arranging a policy of selfishness, talking mysteries that he may bewilder the people. When Amos stands upon the scene he changes the whole perspective, he elevates the entire level; he says, If I am anything at all, I am God's chosen servant; I have only spoken what I was told, I have simply delivered a message; I never sat down in my life to write a sentence, saying, This is shapely, this is classical; the people of Israel will consider this a very polished composition; I never made a sentence in my life. When I opened my mouth the Lord's thunder escaped my lips, and I heard it with surprise, and knew it was the tempest of judgment How his face burns; how his port dignifies; how he conquers a space for himself; and how the caitiff Amaziah, the mimicking priest, falls back into his proper shadow. You know the true man when you see him. If people will listen with their hearts they can easily tell which is the true voice and which is the false voice.
Jesus Christ submits himself to this test; he is willing to be tested in the stress and agony of life. "No prophet I," only an instrument. Have I uttered music? The Lord discoursed it upon me himself. Have I said anything revolutionary? It came from him around whom the lightnings gather, saying always, Here we are: if I have declared any great principle it was given me to declare. This is what the Apostle Paul says: "I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you" I am not a gospel-maker, I am a gospel preacher; I have taken the gospel as I find it, and according to my ability and opportunity I have made it known.
This is the true ministry. Ministers are not self-made. Be very careful how you get up and say the Lord has made you a minister. Let this coming into the ministry be a matter of irresistible pressure; a question of real pain, bringing with it a consciousness of a certain degree of momentary loss, peril, a deep sense of insufficiency, and let your life express great and solemn and reverent conviction. The Lord will find his own ministers. All we have to do is to say, Lord, thrust out labourers into thy harvest. Any men we thrust out are wrong men they are nice, very nice; some of them very nice-looking, and so quiet, and inoffensive, and childlike, and sweet, they would not make a noise in a parlour; they would never annoy any prejudice. There never was a hoary old prejudice in the human mind that could not slumber because it knew they were not talking at it, but only talking about it; so it could keep on napping and slumbering even in the Church that famous dormitory. The Lord will find his ministers. Some of them will be rough; rams' horns will be the only instruments they have, and they will, thanks be unto God, be destitute of theological training; but how they will talk when they come; how they will chop their way through social jungles; how they will burn and denounce on the one hand, and how tender and gentle and shepherdlike they will be on the other! Meeting proud self-righteousness, they will go mad with holy indignation; meeting the outcast and the lonely and the weary and the lost, they will say, Go, and sin no more; or they will say, Arise, the Master hath come, and calleth for thee; or they will say, Return, O wanderer, to thy home, thy Saviour calls for thee. They will not be men who have certain little patent keys which alone can open certain little patent drawers in which eternal enigmas are hidden, and which can only be read by men who have passed through a certain training. God has kept nothing for scholars. There is nothing worth knowing that requires scholarship to know in the kingdom of God. Scholarship has the smallest theatre in which to operate. It is great in mines, in electricity, in biology; great in zoology, great in many ologies; but there is nothing in God's Cross that needs scholarship. Otherwise salvation would be of works; salvation would be a question of intellectual cultivation, capacity, agility; salvation then would depend upon the mind, whereas now it depends upon the broken heart. This is the guaranteed ministry, because it is the true ministry. God will find his men. We are far too meddlesome about this matter of trying to discover men whom we can put forward into a ministry for which they are utterly unfit. Thank God the people are the judges. We may jewel these dear little watches in five holes, but if they will not keep the time, tell the time, people will soon throw them away. Blessed be God for the people!
"Now," said Amos, gathering himself together, "Now, therefore, hear the word of the Lord." Contrast this statement with what Amaziah had said in Amos 7:11 : "For thus Amos saith." Amos says, No: I did not say it "hear thou the word of the Lord." No man must make his own sermon. No man has any right to make a sermon. He is a trickster in the sanctuary who makes sermons. He must simply stand up and say, Lord, at thy call I am here: now thunder through me, or give me the tears that are more persuasive than tempests; I am thy instrument, discourse upon me as thou wilt.
"Thou" [continueth Amos], "Thou sayest, Prophesy not against Israel, and drop not thy word against the house of Isaac. Therefore thus saith the Lord; Thy wife shall be an harlot in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou shalt die in a polluted land: and Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land" ( Amo 7:16-17 ).
They were awful men, the old prophets. Would God they lived now!
Almighty God, thou dost watch our life; there is nothing hidden from the eyes of judgment, or from the vision of love: all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Thou knowest our neglect, our shortcoming, our trespass; all the innermost thought of our mind thou lookest upon as if it were plainly spoken in the words of men. Enable us to know that the eye of the Lord our God continually searches us, and may we be prepared to meet him, not in judgment, but in penitence and self-accusation. We thank thee for thy Word, for its great boldness, for its mystery of power and majesty, and its still greater mystery of tenderness, pity, sympathy, and redeeming love. Truly thou art wonderful; such is thy name, and such thy revelation. We have heard thee roar from Zion, and we have heard thee plead with thy wayward people as if they were little children that could only understand words of love Speak to us as thou wilt, now in this way, now that; only take not from us thy presence, and the assurance of thine interest in our lives. May we know thee to be near, to be looking on, to be taking continual notice of us; mayhap we may be awakened to higher attention, we may turn upon thee the expectation of our heart, and in some moment, suddenly coming, but to be remembered for ever, we may cry, God, be merciful unto me a sinner! And concerning each of us the angels may say, Behold, he prayeth. Look upon us in all our activities, policies, undertakings; sanctify to us all our bereavements, losses, sorrows; make us solemnly joyous, and joyously solemn, so that whatever the air may bring, vision of light, or frown and cloud of judgment, we may know that God is near, and that the Cross of his Son uplifts itself above all the tumults of time. At that Cross we bow, before that Cross we pray; it is the only way to God, to pardon, to purity, to peace. O blessed Cross, rugged, shameful, ghastly Cross, yet to become a Tree of the Lord's right hand planting, and to gather within its hospitable shade the whole universe of men, hear us when we sing, hear us when we pray, and whilst we are confessing our sins before the Cross, may we know that the Lamb has been lifted up, and that by the grace of our dying, triumphing Saviour we have been pardoned and set at liberty. Amen.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Amos 7". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany