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Micah 6:6-8 .
"Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God?" What a delightful state of mind! Here is a man asking himself the greatest of all possible questions. "Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?" The only question which I have to put is, How to come before God? I want to come before him; I long to see him; I wish to do the will of God. "Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?" only let him say how many rams he wants, and how much oil would please him, for my supreme question is, Wherewith shall I come before God, and bow myself before his majesty? How spiritually delightful; how sentimentally blessed; how beauteous in outline; how tender and suggestive in all high colouring of thought and purpose! Not at all. You are as far wrong as you can be. There is nothing of that tone in the text. How stands the matter then? It stands as a picture of hypocritical eagerness. This is all hypocrisy. The figure is very graphic, and may be seen almost by the eyes of the body, certainly by the vision of a fancy that is just beginning to take in the real magnitude, proportion, and colour of historical objects. Here is a people, lacerated, flogged into a kind of religious considerateness, and now they are each asking for himself the question, "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God?" Let me see if I can answer that inquiry; let us take counsel upon the subject if you please. And one says, "Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?" That is a very excellent suggestion. Now what do you say? "Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams?" That is very liberal. What do you say? What would he say to ten thousands of rivers of oil? Well, if that would not overcome him, and make a friend of him, I think the case is absolutely hopeless. Whoever heard of ten thousands of rivers of oil? I am overwhelmed by the thought myself, and I suppose that the Deity cannot be much less overwhelmed than I am. What do you say? "Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" Would you? Yes! What would you do? I would slay every child I have got if that would please the Lord, and I may continue drinking and body-feasting and robbery and oppression; he might take every child in the house. This is the counsel. The question is partly an intellectual one, partly a moral one, and here is a self-constituted conference or debating society, and one man proposes to come before the Lord with burnt offerings and with calves of a year old; another proposes to contribute thousands of rams; and another has conceived the magnificent idea of making a whole Ganges of oil; and last of all, a man comes ready to commit murder, filicide; he will kill his children one by one; the very firstborn that ought to inherit the name and the property may go down under the knife just as soon as anybody else, if the Lord will only allow the murderer to drink and feast and enjoy himself at the devil's table. That is the right explanation of the passage.
Now upon all this inquiry there comes an answer; say if it come not from another world: "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good;" do not make a mystery of it "and what doth the Lord require of thee" calves of a year old, thousands of rams, ten thousands of rivers of oil, thy firstborn for thy transgression? no "but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." That is a right religion. You cannot get behind that. All controversy, all resentful intellectualism, all selfish calculation, all vicious political Christianity, must fall before that sublime revelation. You do not understand the last part of the text until you have really got into the meaning of the former. The answers are contrastive. Consider the case well, and get it vividly before the mind before attempting to press the incident to its highest uses. On the one side you have a number of ceremonialists, hypocrites who are willing to pay for religion, men who are prepared to buy themselves off from the highest duty and the most strenuous discipline. See, they have their hands in their pockets, and they say, What doth God want calves? There is the money to buy a whole field full. Ten thousands of rams? Here is gold, go and buy up the cattle markets of the world. Ten thousands of rivers of oil? Let him have them, Ganges and Amazons, and Mississippis, and let the oil flow like a sullen beauty through all the meads of earth; if he likes oil let him have it. Another man gets to another point, supposed to be still further on, and says, Does he want sons and daughters? I am prepared to play Abraham he can have them all. The Lord says, This is all wrong: keep your calves and your rams and your rivers of oil, and lay not a finger upon any child you have; all I want is that thou shouldst, O man, do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God. My thought is not as your thought, neither are my ways as your ways; for as the heaven is high above the earth, so is my thought high above your thought, and my way above your way. Let the wicked forsake his way, let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. You cannot appease God with calves and rams; you cannot lubricate your way to heaven by ten thousands of rivers of oil: the great settlement must be upon moral bases justice and mercy and humble-heartedness. We thought we had in the first instance a picture of earnest men, really anxious and solicitous inquirers as to the way to heaven. Learn from this the possibility of our repeating this hypocrisy. There are men who are willing to give any number of thousands of pounds to charitable institutions if you will not call upon them for any moral tribute; they will pay handsomely if you will leave their character in their own keeping, and assure them of heaven at the last. And this cannot be done. Behold the severity of the divine requirement, and yet its gentleness, and its thoroughness, and its clemency, and yet its comprehensiveness.
Look at this answer as revealing the character of God himself. We shall know what God is by inquiring what he requires of us. We say water cannot rise above its own level a character cannot rise above itself, though it may make many fantastic and ridiculous attempts to do so; and God will in asking his questions and putting his propositions reveal himself in the very doing of it. What then does God want? Justice, mercy, condescension. Is God just? He wants men to be just; he must therefore be just himself. Let his providence reply. We must not take providence to pieces. There is a vicious and absurd system of analysis which misses the great purpose, by wasting itself upon the incidental and often insignificant detail. God's great scale of measurement must be apprehended before you can estimate any one thing God himself does in the administration of his economy. It is impossible to draw a straight line. We have often shown that men who suppose they are drawing straight lines are doing nothing of the kind; it is only straight within given points; but if we had the right eye, the lens properly adjusted, we should see that any line purporting to be straight is part of a circle. The earth on which the line is drawn is itself a sphere; who can draw a straight line upon a globe? We are victimised by distance and by size, and by much intermediate action of light and cloud and wind, the whole mystery of atmosphere, so that we do not oftentimes know what we are talking about, even when we erect ourselves and say, These are facts. Take care lest facts make fools of you; be sure first of the facts. So in judging the justice of God we must not take this instance or that instance, or some particular decade of history, either favourable or unfavourable; it would seem as if God, when he turned over a page, turned over a thousand years. We must await the sum-total. We do not audit our house every five minutes of the day; we must let the allotted period run its course, and then say, How stands the account? God's appeal is to the everlasting; we must follow him into his own court. Is God merciful? He demands that men should walk in mercy, in the spirit of love, pity, compassion, tenderness. Is God himself merciful? Let history reply; let our own consciences be heard herein, and let us look back upon our own handful of days that we call our life, and who will not say, Goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life? God was good when he gave, and good when he denied; the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, and, now that we have had a little time to think about it, blessed be the name of the Lord? The planted body is a planted flower, the tomb is the richest part of the garden; he hath done all things well. And does he walk humbly with men? He does: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." None has stooped so lowly as God.
Taking the text, therefore, as a revelation of the character of the Speaker himself, we may say that God does in his own economy and sphere what he asks us to do in ours; he has shown thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
What does this revelation do? It does away with all ostentatious piety. Many of us would be glad to buy ourselves off from judgment. We may not put the question into words; it is not, therefore, less a question of the soul. What can I buy my liberty for? No amount of oil shall stand between me and release; no number of calves and rams shall for a moment deter me from paying the fine, if so be I can have the arrow drawn out of my heart and the poison withdrawn from my blood. The Lord will not have this. He does not want your gaiety, but your simplicity; he does not want you to drive up to his door in chariot of gold and with steeds of fire that he may receive your patronage; he sends word down to you by the first and humblest servant he lights upon Go and say all I want is that thou shalt do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God. This will take all the paint off our religion; this will deplete our decoration; this will leave us in ruins as to external appearance; but there are ruins that are true palaces. It will do away with all our ostentation of another kind than that which is merely physical, ornamental, or decorative; it will do away with all our intellectual contributions and displays of patronage in reference to the Cross. The Cross does not want your intellectual homage; the Cross says, with heartbroken pathos, Stand out of the way, that guilty self-condemned sinners may see me. No sooner does the Cross become intellectualised than it breeds infidels by the thousand. The Cross is God's heart. O man, veil thy reason, and make it bend with thee in lowliest reverence and worship; then when it speaks it will speak with finer eloquence, with nobler strength, its self-distrust will be the first element of its majesty and usefulness.
What does this revelation do, in the second place? It vindicates God from the charge of delighting in animal sacrifices. Will the Lord be pleased with burnt offerings and calves of a year old? or will he be pleased with thousands of rams? Does he love to see the smoking hecatomb? No; when he has required blood of a merely animal kind it has always been symbolically, typically, or prefigurately; it was a necessary part of the alphabet of spiritual history. He must begin his lessons where the scholar can begin. He began his account of creation where the babies of the world could begin. If he had told us about fire-mist and protoplasm, he would have defeated his own object, and there would have been no Bible thousands of years ago; so he just set up the heavens and the earth as we could understand them in some little degree, and he said, It is better they should begin where they can rather than not begin at all, and as they go through the ages they will be able to understand figure and type and parable and dream, and find in colour and in music the truest, widest, grandest facts. The Lord is not pleased with the blood of calves and of rams. He turned from it; he said, I cannot away with your ceremonies and oblations rendered only by your fancy or by your hand. Everything the Lord did require of a physical and external kind was only in a temporary sense, the whole thought of God leading up to spirituality. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
What does this answer do, in the third place? It destroys the notion of piety by proxy: "Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" We are always willing to make away with other people; we are exceedingly liberal with the lives of others. We philosophise and theorise with admirable serenity, as if we had abundance of leisure in which to contemplate the tragedy of mankind, and we say, If a thousand perish, and ten thousand be saved, the gain is on the side of salvation. No! That is false; that is a misuse of the principle of majorities. There ought to be no man lost. And no man will be lost but the son of perdition. If after the Lord has dealt with a man by his providence and by his Spirit, and by all the mystery of the Cross, there is found in that man nothing but devil, he must go to his own place and to his own company. But the Lord will do the handling upon a scale we cannot comprehend, and if the Lord gives up any human soul we may well say sadly, Amen.
Reading this passage, does any man say, Then the way is most easy? Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God why, here is alphabetic piety. How foolish is such talk! Is it easy to be just? The question is not, Is it easy to be nearly just, almost just just upon the whole taking in life as it goes, there is no doubt that on the average there is justice? That is not the inquiry at all. To do justly between man and man, to do justly to thyself there is an ease that holds in it all the difficulty of the most complete and strenuous discipline, and we never know how difficult such ease is until we try to work it out in detail. What have you done? Hold up your deeds to the sun. Many things look well in artificial light which do not look well in the noonday blaze. Examine your justice in the light of the sun; not in the light of a clouded sun, but when the sun is in its summer fulness, when there is least of cloud about him, when every beam is a dazzling revelation, then hold up your finest morality and be ashamed of it. Is it natural to be just? Or is it natural for strength to triumph over weakness? Is there not a high and mighty philosophy which says, The weakest must go to the wall; if there is any survival it must be the survival of the fittest; we cannot stop the progress of the world in order to accommodate ourselves to the weakness of imbeciles; we make an offer, we make it in haste; we say, Take it or leave it, and the answer must be given before the clock strikes the next hour? Is that justice? Are there no slow-moving minds? Are there not some minds that do not know themselves, and that require not to be despised, but to be sustained? Is there not a justice that sits down beside ignorance, and says, You do not know all the case; I will show you what you ought to be and to do and to ask? What, is a man to be both buyer and seller in one? Yes, O thou proud, sharp-dealing, clever thief yes! That would put an end to business. So much the better. We have had "business" enough; we want now a little justice and commonwealth and brotherhood and sympathy. That would take away the crown from some men. Better be without it. They are not kings, they are clowns. Let the crown go, and then they will begin to see themselves as they are. But some men are nothing but sharpness; then let them play their sharpness upon themselves. They have no right in the sanctuary; in the sanctuary justice sits down beside ignorance, and helps ignorance to make the best of its little possession. Is it natural to be merciful? Who does not like to assert his mastery? Mercy stops that it may do good; mercy says, Have you had enough, or could you take more? Do you require a softer pillow for your aching head? Shall I stay with you all night until the morning come? then your other friends will gather around you. Mercy has no clock; mercy has no scales by which to mete out the exact pound; mercy is the other name of love mercy is love in tears, mercy is pity that cannot speak because of the sob of its sympathetic grief.
"What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" not intellectually, not as who should say, We understand the mysteries of providence, and if you do not, well, what can ignorance expect? The greatest Christian should be the humblest. There need be no difficulty in going before a great man. "Take those children away," said the disciples: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not," was the word of the Master. There is no difficulty with the Master. You insist upon seeing the Master himself. If you see the little priest at the door he will forbid you, and drive you away; go right past him, and ask for the Master. You will have no difficulty with Jesus. Simon said, This man is not a prophet; if he were a prophet he would know who, and what manner of woman this is, for she is a sinner. And Jesus said, "She hath loved much, and her sins are all forgiven her." The multitude murmured that he is gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner; and Jesus said, He also little rich Zacchæus hath a heart, he also is a son of Abraham. You have never seen the Master perhaps. You have seen the minister, the ecclesiastic, the preacher, the priest, the fool who thinks he has the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and he only can open the door into the light. O man, thou couldst see Christ, thou couldst work thy way to the Cross, and if thy faith be small this thou couldst say: I may not speak, to him, or throw my arms around him, or be on reverential familiarity with him; but if I may only touch the hem of his garment, the little craspedon corner, I shall be made whole. That is the mystery. Christ's Godhead is in every word he spake; Christ's deity is in every look he bestows upon man; Christ's eternity is in every tone of his voice. Oh, touch him touch him somewhere, anywhere, but with the finger of faith, and though thou hast had flux of blood, leprosy, lameness, destitution of soul, whatever be thy complaint, thou shalt be made whole. This is the Gospel. Let us preach it with fearlessness and with tender love.
The Perils of Wealth
Micah 6:9-15 .
Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it." Do not be atheistical in the time of affliction. The "rod" means judgment. Sometimes judgment takes the form of chastening We are not always to suppose that the rod means mere punishment an action of the strong upon the weak, or the righteous upon the wicked; the rod may be an instrument of education as well as of vengeance and of penalty. Do not suppose that the devil holds the rod. The devil is the weakest of all creatures: his is only the strength of boisterousness; there is nothing in it of abiding pith, stability, real power. The devil is a chained enemy. Afflictions do not spring out of the dust. When the rod is lacerating your back, ask, What wilt thou have me to do? When all things are dull and distressing and disappointing, say, This is the ministry of God: he is taking out of me some elements of vanity, which are always elements of weakness, and he is conducting me to the altar by a subterranean passage. We do not always go to the altar along pathways of flowers; not always does God beckon us through a garden to follow him to some chosen place of real communion. Sometimes we are driven to the altar; often we do not want to pray: the soul will take no rest, and give none, until a great, sweet, holy, burdened prayer has gone up to heaven by way of the Cross. Is the rod lying heavily upon your house now? Know ye the rod, and him who hath appointed it; examine yourselves carefully and searchingly, and see if there be any wicked way in you, and drag it out, it will rot in the sunlight. If, on the other hand, you can hold by your integrity like the Psalmist of old, if you can wrestle with God as did Jacob, saying, I cannot tell why this has come upon me, the answer will be more abundant than your petition. Magnify the Cross at midnight.
In this instance, however, there is a good deal of immorality behind everything, and explaining the whole action of divine visitation and penalty. The questions that follow are thunder bolts:
"Are there yet the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is abominable?" ( Mic 6:10 ).
The reason why the rod is lifted up is that the ephah is made lean; that is to say, the measure is cut down a little, even if it be by so much as the rim, so that the poor are paying for goods they do not receive. God will not have this economy. We may even call it political economy, but he calls it robbery. God is very frank; there is no circumlocution in the divine speech. When the thief has shaken down the ephah, so that he can save almost half an ephah in every thousand measures he sells, he says, It is so very small that no one particular customer or client can possibly miss it, and yet when you come to thousands the profit in return to myself is very considerable. I am not injuring any one in particular; I am simply gathering up littles. The Lord says, Liar! thief! They are not polite words, but sin has never entitled itself to be spoken to politely. "Scant measure": that is a minor morality, is it not? As men become metaphysical they become self-deceived; in proportion as men become very clever they become too clever. So we have distributed morality into major and minor; it is an awful thing to steal so that you can be found out, but to make the ephah short, to make the measure scant, and do it so skilfully that nobody will be able to charge you with it, is a minor offence. We are the victims of our own acuteness, even upon the bench of judgment, as well as in the sanctuary of righteousness. Hence we speak of minor offences, first offences, venial offences. Is there any such classification in the Bible? Not to be an inspired book, according to the theory of some, it is wonderfully fierce with wrongdoing: verily it might have been inspired; it is so just, it stands by and says, Put another handful in there. If we reply there is no room for it, the Bible says, Press down what is already in the ephah, and you will find room for it. That is a very curious theology. It is the only theology worth maintaining, unless it be followed to its natural consequence, which means the true worship, devout homage, rendered to God, and a spiritual acceptance of all the mysteries of the Cross of Christ. The Lord will not be content with a fine spiritual, doctrinal orthodoxy. There are men who suppose that if they believe in the supernatural they may plunder anybody. There are those who turn purple in the face when they encounter a denial of the supernatural; yet they have not an honestly gotten sovereign in their bank! Will the Lord be pleased with this defence of the supernatural? It is an aggravation of the original blasphemy. If men would say nothing about religion, and be sheer, pure, simple, out-and-out devils, one might have some hope of them. It is this church-going coupled with church-murder that makes the case hopeless. What a searching religion! Suppose it, dream it, the religion takes up the ephah, the measure, and says, Is this right? And the man says, What have you to do with the ephah? Cross-examine me in the catechism; ask me questions out of the Old Testament; inquire into my acquisitions in the New Testament; interrogate me about the Epistles of Paul: and the Spirit of God says, Not until you have made this ephah right; you have nothing to do with Paul or his epistles, or theological profession, or Christian nomenclature, until you have made the measure right. What wonder that many men should find in correct doctrinal orthodoxy all they want? One of two things is clear: either they are right and the Bible is wrong, or the Bible is right and they are wrong; they cannot both be right.
The prophet goes into detail, saying,
"Shall I [that is, the prophet himself] count them pure with the wicked balances, and with the bag of deceitful weights?" ( Mic 6:11 ).
He was tempted to connive at this whole deception. It would have been an easier life if Micah could have said, Brethren, I am sent to assert certain great metaphysical propositions; as to what you are doing with your weights and measures I know nothing, and really I am not called upon to know anything do you believe in the supernatural? Certainly! Can a man believe in the supernatural, and have a bag of false weights in the house? He cannot. That would indeed be a supreme genius that could be familiar with God, and able to vindicate and defend the mysteries of the Trinity, and yet be using false weights and scales all day long. That never was allowed in the Bible. And this element of morality never can be revised out of the holy Book. And you can never have any family prayer in your house until you make the measure right, and the weight right, and the scale right. You may have to cut down the returns very much let it be so; the moment you have cut them down there will be a highway opened between your soul and heaven, and you can pray all day without feeling the tedium of the homage. No minister dare speak about false weights if he has any regard to his living. There is not a man in any congregation that would not resent a criticism upon the weight or the balance or the ephah, and leave the ministry because it was too personal. If such men are taking the most comfortable road down to darkness, the road will be short, the darkness will be everlasting. Why do not men receive a book that is so pure in its morality, so righteous in its demands; a book that speaks for the dumb, and sees for the blind, and goes before the traveller to make the way open and easy? Take out of our literature the Bible, and you have not only taken out the most mysterious book, but the most moral book, the book of conduct, the book that purifies every relation of life; it nails every bad coin to the world's counter, and calls every man, whatever his ornamental titles may be, by his right definition and name. Honour the Bible, read it aloud; it will disinfect the perdition of society.
"For the rich men thereof are full of violence, and the inhabitants thereof have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth" ( Mic 6:12 ).
Yet there are poor men who are so misled as to wonder if the Bible is inspired. Against whom is the charge made? "Rich men." Why is it laid against them with so much emphasis? Because they might have been so much better. A man who is rich can have education, intelligence, pictures, music, books in the house; he can sit in comfort, and read the finest literature of the age; his opportunities are so many, his advantages are so vast; he has a garden in which he can walk, a library in which he can read, a gallery of pictures in which he can feed the hunger of his eyes. For him to have mean thoughts and low purposes, for him to be bad, is to be bad with infinite aggravation of the original offence. It is difficult for a rich man not to be violent. We are soon swollen with pride. We begin to think that money answereth all things, and men who dare not whimper under other circumstances, yet talk blatantly under the inspiration of their wealth. Wealth will have its own way wealth can pay for it; wealth need not consider the rights of other people; wealth can be violent when its own things are in peril. This is the natural tendency of wealth. How hardly, with what infinite strain and difficulty, shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven! Riches are liars; riches are deceivers evermore. The Apostle Paul speaks of "the deceitfulness of riches." On the other hand, it is possible to have millions, and to be simple, modest, generous, true, magnanimous. There are men who stand upon their property. The Lord bless such men, for the more they have the more the poor will have, the more every good institution will have; they do not carry their property as a burden, they stand upon it in sign of sovereignty.
There is something worse than violence in the charge "their tongue is deceitful in their mouth." There is hope of a violent man, because he will shout himself into sanity; when the fury has passed, he will apologise. Do not interrupt his volcanic folly; let all the lava come out, only you stand out of the way of it. Admire it, wonder about it, look on with attention, and when it is done the volcano will say, Now if you like you can sow me with a garden, build a little cottage on my side, all the lava has gone. But who can tell where a deceitful man begins and ends? He can shake hands with you, and have a grudge against you in his heart; he can meet you as if nothing was the matter, and yet far away back in his soul there is a complaint, a reproach, a bitterness, not to be removed. Can such a man be a Christian? No. No man who has a grudge in his heart can be a Christian. But he may believe in the supernatural, and have quite a bitter feeling against the Unitarians. Possibly, but he knows nothing about the Cross, the agony of Christ.
Who are we that we should have grudges against one another? Poor fools that cannot see over to-night into tomorrow. Who are we that we should play Sir Infallible, and I am the offended man? Indeed! It would do thee good to be cut right in two, so that thy one half could not find the other for a day. If you like to have a grudge, have it, but do not imagine that in your heart you can find guest room for the grudge and for the Cross. Beware of deceit. It broods, it muses, it occupies its nightly sleeplessness in turning one fold more over, and doubling the matter still more thickly; it dreams itself into some new, perforce quiet villainy. The Lord searches the heart, and banishes deceit; he will have frankness, whiteness, purity, simplicity. A Bible that insists upon this quality and degree of conduct was never written by human hand; the hand was but the clerk, the writer was the eternal God.
What is the upshot? "Therefore." We were sure to come upon that word sooner or later. That is God's grand connective word: "Therefore also will I make thee sick in smiting thee." What is the meaning of this sentence? The allusion is to the fact that the oppressors had made other people heart-sick. The poor had come to them and been repulsed; the poor had sought a proper measure, and had been treated to measure that was short; cases of charity and righteousness had been submitted, and had been treated with contempt, and men turned away heart-sore and heart-sick. You can only understand some diseases by having them. There are some persons who cannot understand that you may have some complaint which they never had; they think it is affectation: but if you happen to have just the complaint they have they are not without a certain measure of sympathy. Here are men who made others sick made sick themselves. "As I have done unto others, so hath the Lord requited me": I put out the poor man's fire, and now, though my cellar be full of coals, I cannot open the door, and I who have a colliery at my disposal shiver with cold.
A curious kind of punishment is mentioned in detail,
"Thou shalt eat, but not be satisfied" [We are very learned about diabetes here it is: eating all day long, and the eating ending in nothing. If a man have diabetes he sends for the physician; but what about his diabetes of the soul?]; "and thy casting down shall be in the midst of thee" [there shall be a wolf called hunger in the kennel of thy heart], "and thou shalt take hold" [of thine own property, and cannot claim it or carry it], "but shalt not deliver; and that which thou deliverest" [by thy skill as huntsman] "will I give up to the sword. Thou shalt sow, but thou shalt not reap; thou shalt tread the olives, but thou shalt not anoint thee with oil; and sweet wine, but shalt not drink wine" [everything going to waste in life] ( Mic 6:14-15 ).
Mark the vexation of it sowing, and not reaping; sowing, and somebody else reaping. Here is the uncontrollable element in life. A man says, I certainly did tread out the olives, and I have not a small vessel full of oil with which to anoint myself: working for others, the slave of slaves. We see this every day. We need not invoke the supernatural in any merely metaphysical sense in order to substantiate this as a fact; it is the common experience of life. Men put money into bags, and go for the money, and it is not there. Why is it not there? The prophet explains that there were holes in the bag, and the money went right through. You have heard of a man all day long trying to draw water out of a well with a sieve. How industrious he is! See, the sieve goes down, the wheel is turned, and the sieve is brought up, and there is no water in it. It is a mystery. Not at all. Why is there no water? Because the vessel is a sieve; the water runs out as quickly as it runs in. You have heard of one who was rolling a stone up the hill all day, and the more it was rolled up the more it rolled down, and at night it was exactly where it was before the process of rolling began. Worthless labour, useless labour, vexatious labour. Thus doth God puzzle and bewilder and perplex men. Now, they say, it is done. Where is it? Gone! Do not suppose that wrong can ever come right; do not imagine that God can ever be outwitted. Come into the harmonic relation of things. Do not start some little solar system of your own. Why should you play the fool too much? You can do nothing. All the divine government is fixed, and is moving on to its purpose, and you can do nothing to hinder it; it will just roll over your poor bones, and there shall not be one speck of powder left. It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. It is an awful situation, indeed, to be always going against gravitation. And what a fool is he who says, I will make a little earth of my own, and I will light it by a principle which I have invented and patented, and I will set up an independent empire. The only answer to that man is, Do it. By no means reason with him. A man who can make the proposition is not below reason or above reason he is simply not in reason at all. Tell him to do it, and when he has done it to send for you, and you will look at it. No. There is a scheme of things, a grand sphere, with a wondrous globe symbolising completeness and symbolising motion. Globes were not made to stand still; squares may try to rest on one side, but globes have nothing to rest on, they were meant to whirl and curve. A globe flies; it is a mystery of wings, and the Lord hath set all things in circles. He knows nothing about our straight lines, and our detailed and intermediate geometry, in which we please ourselves with divers figures. He knows the circuit, the sum and mystery of things, and if we will not enter into his circular motion, his wonderful scheme of sun within sun, constellation within constellation, and system within system, we shall be dropped out. And where, where shall we drop to?
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Micah 6". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17