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The Glory of the Church
Micah 4:0 , Micah 5:0
We cut up our time into days and years, little spaces and periods, and we magnify them exceedingly by the trifling incidents which occur within them; but to the prophetic gaze the whole question of time was divided into two the first days, and the last days; the days before Christ, and the days after Christ. As to all that went between, it was matter of detail and necessary progress, and sequential development. How much we lose by frittering away our time by a frivolous division into parts, and minor parts, and major parts! Thus we are vexed by detail, exceedingly tormented, and our minds are clouded, and the horizon is shut out, and we are the victims of little views and small conceptions and narrow prejudices. Why do we live in the valley when we might live on the hilltop? The higher we ascend the more distant is the view. There is poetry in distance, there is music in the horizon; but who can find anything in smoke and cloud and fog but depression and fear, and loss of those higher enthusiasms that ought to rule our life. Arise, awake! Climb any hill that you can get your feet upon; it is good to be much in the upper air. Politically and socially, we are always beginning and ending; we are in a circle of elections and depositions and reconstructions, but in the spirit of our Lord we are seated with himself upon the circle of eternity, and oh, how small everything appears far away yonder! Yet what trouble the inhabitants are in! how they are voting and canvassing and knocking at each other's doors, and exciting one another in momentary fury about nothing! Yet if all this inferior and temporary business must be done it can be best done in the spirit of eternity. It is when we have been most in heaven that we can most effectually and successfully handle the affairs of time. All depends upon the point of approach: if we approach the work from below it will be all uphill toil; if we descend upon it from communion with God we shall bring the whole stress of our strength to bear upon it, and a touch will have in it the force of a battering-ram. Why all this toiling, and upheaving, and struggling, and strenuous endeavour, when life might be made a joy; when life might be made to grow the flower of peace and the fruit of plenty, and the whole action might be a movement of triumph? Men will not be right until they are geometrically right; they must have the right point of origin; they must put themselves into proper figure; they must accept something that was in the universe before they came consciously into it; they must receive, and adore, and obey the will of God. The prophets looked forward to Christ, and we do just the same. We talk about ancient prophets there is nothing in the world but prophecy. Yet we have in our transient wisdom classified men into major prophets and minor prophets, and we go to the Old Testament for prophets of all sorts and qualities, forgetting that Jesus Christ is the greatest Prophet of all, and that Christians are still in the region of prophecy, and that if we could get out of the region of prophecy, we should soon get into the region of monotony, and the region of monotony lies close to the region of despair. It is hope that saves us; it is prophecy that gives us all our music and higher cheer and nobler enthusiasm; it is the beyond that holds our home, and it will be the beyond eternities hence. To see the invisible is to live; to lay hold of the eternal is to be safe for evermore.
"But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established" ( Mic 4:1 ).
There is a word wanting there; at least, the word is wanting in the English. The word was in the language of the prophet and in the tone of the prophet. The word "established" may be accepted as conveying a sense of only temporary security. We speak of our establishments, we speak of an established institution; but in so using the term we are aware that the establishment is regulated by certain unwritten and necessary laws, which govern the rise, the flourishing, and the decay of empire and institution. Micah used a word which means abidingly established, for ever firm, eternally secure. Not established even as a mountain is established, for mountains were planted that they might be torn up. Below the mountain there is a fire mightier than they, and that gleesome, grim, playful fire makes toys of the mountains, shapes them and reshapes them, lifts them up and tears them down; and yet we speak of the everlasting hills. Micah is now speaking of an eternal settlement, a position that never can be disturbed, part and parcel of the duration, because part and parcel of the quality of God. Where shall the mountain of the Lord's house be established? on "the top of the mountains." Whatever is on the top of the mountain is higher than the mountain. A child standing on the Andes, or Teneriffe, or Himalayan glories, is higher than they all. The little child looks down upon the mountain it stands upon; the mountain was never so high as that child is. Here is the mountain of the house of the Lord; it is a mountain upon a mountain. The house of the Lord itself is spoken of under the figure of a mountain, and the mountains of the earth have to carry the mountain of God. They are all his; he made the staircase as well as the temple; he made the vestibule as well as the palace; he made the earth first, and then he built upon it; he made the mountain first, and then he set his Church on the top of it. The meaning is, that the Church is to be the uppermost institution, the sanctuary of God is to be at the top of things, and out of it is to come law; out of it also is to come the spirit of righteousness, and out of it, day by day, is to come the spirit of peace, the spirit of benediction. We must be right at the top, or we never can be right otherwhere. Given a proper sovereignty, a rule of righteousness, truth, beauty, love, music, honour, and we shall have a world at peace. Who is on the throne? is the uppermost question. Who reigns? What governs? for the "what" in that case is larger than the "who." Say righteousness is on the throne, and the earth may be at peace; say the highest interests of humanity as a whole are represented by the throne, and no misfortune can befall that symbol of majesty. Every Church that is selfish must be torn down; nay, may we change the phrase, and say, Why tear it down? Time is against it; the ages coming and going are against it; the spirit of liberty is against it; Providence is against it. Distress not thyself, therefore, with any tearing down violence, for all bad institutions, political, ecclesiastical, theological, social, will fall, and no man shall care to look into their dishonoured graves.
What a wonderful forecast was this on the part of the villager Micah! The prophecies of these men seem to my own mind not only to suggest, but to confirm their inspiration. This is not only talk. Here are men that shoot out above us all, miles and miles beyond. They are in the heavens, whilst we are on the earth. Yet they were unlearned men they were rustics, they were villagers; they laid down their credentials, and in those credentials there is nothing of so-called ancestral and hereditary glory. But how they lived! They sat down as guests at the banqueting-table of the ages. Micah, the villager, comes and sits down at the latter-day feast; he is a guest of the Lord, and takes part in the song of festival. We might have more joys if we understood that all things are ours. All time belongs to the children of light. We are not bounded by the little grey dewy morning of the present; we have all the mornings that ever grew in the garden of the horizon. We are only poor because we are faithless. If we had faith we should have all time, all strength, all confidence, and all peace. Lord, increase our faith.
What does Micah see? Whole nations coming to the Lord, and saying to one another,
"Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" ( Mic 4:2 ).
Here is a popular sentiment; here is, indeed, a universal sentiment. At present our ideal Christian life is represented by a one-man ministry. If you close your eyes, and look upon the ideal Church of to-day, it is that there shall be a congregation, and one man shall be addressing it; and that one man shall sustain the position of exhorter, and in high, poignant, hortatory tones he shall call men, and warn men, and bless men. Micah saw a much larger ministry; he said, The time will come when the people will exhort one another; when all the congregations shall mutually excite one another to higher enthusiasm and nobler endeavour. Wherever you meet a man he will say, Come to the mountain of the house of the Lord; wherever you see an assembly of men they shall, with one concurrent and dominating voice, say, Come! and their call will be to festival, to banqueting, to the holy rite of harmonious joy in the living Saviour. What wonder that Micah was rich and strong, and full of peace and gladness! The image is one of an inspiring kind.
What shall happen when this mountain of the house of the Lord is exalted on the top of the mountains? This shall come to pass,
"And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" ( Mic 4:3 ).
How is that result brought about? Not by argument, not by voting, not by overwhelming majorities; it is brought about as a detail it is part of something else, it is the issue of a certain all-inclusive process. The third verse is in the second verse: let the mountain of the house of the Lord be in its right place, and all other things shall adjust themselves to the genius that presides and governs. We have been working at the wrong end too much; we have been trying to do things in parts that were never meant to be done, except as in relation to sublimer movements. Let the temple of the Lord be in the right place; let it be rightly defined as the sanctuary of righteousness and judgment, the abode of law and the home of pureness and peace, and then all other things will fall into harmonic and helpful relation. We cannot carry on our poor shoulders the universe; it is impossible for us to hasten millenniums to any appreciable extent. We lose ourselves so much in false enthusiasm. The thing to be remembered is this, that you never can have peace until you have righteousness; you cannot have a happy earth until that earth is governed by eternal and indestructible principles: if you think you can, then you will have reformations, and insignia, and paraphernalia, and clubs, and arrangements of divers social kinds, all of which may be momentarily pleasant. They will never bring in the millennium. Only one thing can carry the earth, and that is gravitation. Gravitation will pick it up, but your hands cannot, your institutions cannot, your politics cannot; only one thing keeps the universe right, and sends it whirling through its musical revolutions, and that is gravitation. Gravitation can pick up a thousand universes, and hold them all in fact, it can make them hold one another; but we, with our poor shoulders, yea, with both of them, cannot carry the tiniest planet. Better come to an understanding about this whole business of reformation, elevation, education, and progress. Nothing is right until it is religiously right. By religiously right do not understand any mean, detestable, and utterly unworthy sectarian interpretation of the term. Dismiss all meddlers, welcome all helpers; but know that nothing is right until it is right in its soul. All compromises, adjustments, and temporary relationships are but for a moment. That is right which is religiously true; that is right which God pronounces very good.
What comes after peace? Security:
"But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid" ( Mic 4:4 ).
The vine and the fig tree were children of Palestine, they were the typical plants of the country; and every man shall have his own vine growing by his own door, and putting out its leafage so plentifully that it can curl itself around the trellis-work of the portico, and the old grey-haired sire shall sit and think over the past, and forecast the future, and meditate in the law of the Lord, the very air itself being a speechless benediction. There shall be personal security, there shall be a sense of nearness to God; but all coming out of the proper establishment of the house of the Lord. If that house had not been on the top of the mountains you could not have had the vine and fig tree; or if you had the vine and fig tree they would have been no security. If you had no sun you could have no violet. Is that little blue-eyed thing born in the sun? Yes. If you had no solar system you could have no daisies in the meadow, no redbreasts, no larks, no songs in the air. Do not look at the violet and say, "Bless thee, sweet little blue-eyed stranger, we are glad to see thee," and think that it is not part of the solar system: it eats at the table of the angels, it is a guest in the household of the Father; it is a snip of the sun, one infinitesimal glint of his infinite light. So you could not have your vine and fig tree if you had not the mountain of the house of the Lord established on the top of the mountains. Religion carries everything with it. It is a true religious settlement that gives you your home, your cottage, your palace; it is the spirit of righteousness that hangs your walls with pictures; it is the spirit of goodness that makes it possible for the poorest man to have one poor little pot of flowers on his sloping window-sill. Look at things in their right relations. Seize the bigness and unity of all things. Otherwise, what shall happen to you? You will be the victims of detail and accident and incident and hap, and you will say, Chance thus, and thus it fell out. Nothing of the kind. Why do you not live in the sanctuary? Why do you not find your habitation in eternity?
"For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever" ( Mic 4:5 ).
Why not? Do not worldly men excel us in this matter of brute courage? It is difficult for the worldly man to keep down his vulgarity. He will chaffer about the market-place before he leaves the church; he will say his creed. The worldly man is not afraid to speak about his markets, and his bargains, and his chances, his profits and his successes; is the Christian to be a dumb soul that has nothing to say about the living Lord? The worldly man will talk about his unclean little deities, his chance and his fortune, his opportunities and his investments, and his progress and his sagacity, and he will revel in the detestable pantheon of his own imagination and idolatry; and shall Christian men have nothing to say about righteousness and truth, the all-grouping and all-controlling Cross? If dumbness were piety, Christianity may be said to have won the day.
Now comes the great evangelical prophecy. Hear it, and remember who spake it:
"But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" ( Mic 5:2 ).
If we were not familiar with these words they would be amongst the grandest utterances of the ages; we know them so well that we miss their meaning. We are too frivolous. We have seen the sun so often that we now never look at him; we have been so many mornings in the world, that morning comes to us with no song, no poetry, no new testament just written with the blood of the heart of God. "But" should be "And." Nor is the word "and" a simple conjunctive in grammar; it is a conjunctive in history, in genius, in spiritual intent, "And thou, Bethlehem Ephratah." Thus the events are run into one another. We slip up history by our disjunctives. "But" we assign as dividing a sentence; Micah says "and." Many a chapter begins with "and." The little pedantic grammarian says "and" ought not to begin a sentence; but the great grammarians, the spiritual interpreters of ages and eternities, make all grammar bend itself to their uses. Chapter iii. begins "And." Thus we get the unity of history, the solidarity of events. One thing belongs to another: Bethlehem, thou art very little, but out of thee shall come the greatest Man that ever lived; Bethlehem, thou art not worthy to be counted among the Gileads of Judah, but out of thy little thousand there shall stand a man who shall rule all men. There is a wonderful spirit of compensation in providence. God is saying to each of us, Though thou art poor, thou mayest be wise; though thou art slow, thou mayest be painstaking and persevering; thou art though misunderstood by men thou art fully comprehended by thy Father. Look for the "though" in every history; look for the compensation in every life. "... From of old, from everlasting" here is pre-existence; the whole mystery of the Gospel is here; for here we have eternity, personality, a historical point; we have the divine before the human. In the Old Testament language God is called by a very simple term the God of Before. You cannot amend that phrase; do not paint that lily, bring no tinsel to that gold. If we cannot understand the term "Eternity" because of its vastness and its sublimity, we have some inkling of the meaning of the word "before." Of the Saviour, the Nazarene, the Man of Sorrows, of him who was acquainted with grief, whose face was marred more than any man's, it is said he was "before all things." Here is the altar at which we worship, nor are we ashamed to render homage here.
Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? This that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? He is mighty to save; he is the Son of man, who came not into the world to destroy men's lives, but to save them. The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. He is the good Shepherd; he giveth his life for the sheep. We do not know the meaning of all his words, but we feel them as we feel the power of love; we know them without knowing them; they are answered by our hearts: we feel that we need all his speech, all his life, all the miracle of his priesthood. We have done the things we ought not to have done; he alone is the Daysman between the offending soul and the offended law. We have heard of him with the hearing of the ear, and when we have seen him with the eyes of our heart we have fallen down before him as men abase themselves before a great glory. He is the Son of God; he is called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. We love his name; with tears and heart-brokenness we bow down before his Cross; it is the image of law, the image of love, the sign of righteousness, the token of mercy. This is love, this is the condescension of God. We look unto Christ, and are lightened; we bring our sins to him, and never take them away again; he is the Saviour of the world; he puts his arms round about the race he redeemed, and none can pluck a soul from his keeping. We are safe in the arms of Jesus; locked in his hand, we are safe eternally. In such thoughts would we find light, consolation, peace, encouragement; we would not receive them as topics of contemplation, but as stimulants to action, calls to service, challenges to sacrifice. Thus would we have the gospel of Christ in our hearts, a call to labour, to suffering, to heroism, and to all the joy that comes of agony for others. The Word of the Lord is a living Word; the tumults of the ages cannot disturb it; its pulse throbs amid the activities of the generations, and is not to be stilled, for it is the eternal life. May we hear the gospel, now and again a great call, a tender voice, a loving whisper, a martial blast, the very wonder of the glory of God. May thy Word comfort human hearts and direct human steps, and bring all the uproar and shapelessness of life into form and beauty and living colour, so that we may see God in all things, and hear his voice in the storm. Grant consolation unto thy servants according to their daily need; make the home a church; make the market-place a sanctuary; make the chamber of affliction the very nearest chamber in the house towards heaven. May sorrow bring messages which prosperity could never deliver. May all the way of life show itself to have been first trodden by the feet of the Son of God. He is our glory, our redemption, our propitiation; he is the door, the bread of life, the truth, the way to the upper places, the shepherd of the sheep, the vine whose blood is for our hearts' cheering. Help us to know the Saviour more and more, to live more nearly as he lived, to represent him in temper, spirit, purpose, action, in all the course of changeful time. These prayers we pray, where prayers become their own answers, at the Cross of Christ, at the gate of heaven. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Micah 4". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany