The righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God.
In the hand of God
This is the sober second thought of a wise man who has been sorely troubled in his mind by dwelling on the mysteries of Providence. But the darkness begins to disappear as soon as he allows his mind to rest on the thought of God and of His work in eternity, the end of which no man can see. The first thought suggested is the negative one that “the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hands of God,” and, therefore, withdrawn from the sight of men. It is of great importance for our peace of mind firmly to grasp the thought that we cannot at all infer what God thinks or intends concerning any person or his works from the outward circumstances we observe. Is this man prosperous in the world? It does not by any means follow from this that God regards him with special favour (Luke 13:1-5). But there is a positive truth also in the words of the text--“The righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God”--not only in the sense that they are withdrawn from the sight of men, but in this far better sense, that they are safe. Being in the hand of God they are in the best hand. It is not with the onlookers here that the righteous and the wise have to do. It is with Him who looks on from the side of eternity, and who makes all things work together for good to them that love Him. Are you and your works in the hand of God? First, and most important, are you yourselves in His hand? Are you dwelling in the secret place of the Most High, abiding under the shadow of the Almighty? And you, who yourselves are in the hand of God, see that your works are there also. We know on the best authority that a man may belong to the righteous and not to the wise; he may himself be saved and yet his work be lost. Our work, as well as ourselves, must be built on Christ. (J. M. Gibson, D. D.)
All things come alike to all
The impartiality of Providence
Of what service is a religious life to man since Providence treats all alike?
This statement is--
I. Phenomenally true. To all outward appearance the good and the bad are treated alike. All are subject to the same diseases, bereavements, disappointments, all go down to the grave alike.
1. This a perplexing fact. Antecedently one might have supposed that the God of holiness and rectitude would, in His providence, have treated men according to their moral character, that happiness and misery would be measured out according to the merits and demerits of mankind.
2. This fact is significant. It shows--
II. Spiritually false. “All things” do not “come alike to all.”
1. They do not come in the same character.
2. They do not come with the same influence. Trials irritate the spirit of the wicked; they purify the godly. Prosperity feeds the vanity and ambition of the wicked; but inspires the godly with devout humility and holy gratitude. The same soils, dews, and sunbeams that fill the hemlock with poison, fill the wheat with food for nations. And the same events which transform some men into devils, transform others into seraphs. (Homilies.)
I. For the same things uncertainly and indifferently to befall the righteous and the wicked in this life is unavoidably necessary.
1. Because men have the dominion over their own actions, and do that which themselves choose to do.
2. Because a great deal of prosperity and affliction befalls men, not as the reward or the effect of anything done by themselves, but by descent from their parents, whose virtues and vices have great influence upon the persons and fortunes of their children by the providence of God, and by the laws of men, and by the course of nature.
3. Because they are so mixed together in their persons, interests, employments, and places of abode, that they cannot be distinguished in the events that befall them.
4. For the more evident and certain distinguishing of them one from another.
II. They who make this objection against providence are no competent judges in the case, and suppose in their objection that which is false. It is supposed in this objection that the righteous endure so much grief, and the wicked enjoy so much pleasure, as cannot consist with God’s love to the righteous and anger at the wicked, if He take notice and be concerned in that which happens. The better to judge of this supposition, let two things be considered.
1. That by the outward estate of men we know very little of their present grief or pleasure.
2. If we did know their present grief or pleasure, we cannot infer from thence which is the good, and which is the bad condition.
III. However, the day of judgment is a sufficient answer to the objection. St. Paul, when he felt the smart of his present afflictions, called them light afflictions, for a moment, not worthy to be compared with the glory to be revealed. (Z. Cradock, D. D.)
The sufferings of good men
1. God permits the sufferings of good men for the advancement of the honour and interest of religion. A passive state is the proper sphere of action for the noblest virtues of Christianity; and for this reason the Son of God, when He took our nature upon Him, chose to appear in such a state that His example might be of more powerful and general influence to mankind. And indeed, next to the miracles, whereby the truth of the Christian religion was established, nothing contributed more to the propagation of it than the invincible patience and constancy of its possessors.
2. God has this further wise and religious end in the sufferings of good men: that we may learn by them to moderate our affections to this deceitful world; and to cast our views forward upon a more durable state of happiness, and better suited to the noble faculties and inclinations of human nature.
3. The sufferings of good men are designed to remind us both of our duty and our danger; when it is observed that the righteous fall and no man layeth it to heart, it is implied that this is a proper season of inquiring into the occasions of God’s public judgments, and reforming those sins which provoked them; and this is the more incumbent upon us in proportion to the dignity of the person and the character he sustains.
4. There is no man so good but he is conscious to himself he deserves what he suffers. The world perhaps cannot charge him with any visible or notorious escapes; yet he need only put the question to his own heart concerning the reasons of his sufferings, and it will acquit the justice of heaven in them. (R. Fiddes.)
The heart of the sons of men is full of evil.
Scriptural statement of the doctrines of human corruption, and of the renewal of the heart to holiness
I. Man’s natural corruption.
1. One prevailing misconception on the subject of human corruption respects the seat of the disorder. What is the daily language of numbers? “Our lives, it is true, are not exempt from blame. We are guilty of many indiscretions. But our heart is good.” In opposition to this language, the text asserts that the origin of all the evil is within. “The heart of the sons of men is full of evil.” Not the streams alone are filthy and defiled; but the fountain is polluted (Genesis 8:21; Jeremiah 7:24; Jeremiah 17:9; James 4:1; Matthew 12:34; Matthew 15:19).
2. Another ground of misconception on the subject of human corruption respects the degree and extent of the disorder. The text says that this corruption is not only radical but total. Generosity, gratitude, fidelity, and the exercise of many other pleasing qualities between man and man; the spontaneous applause of virtue; the decided condemnation of immorality may all exist, without any tendency in man to what is truly good (Isaiah 1:5-6; Romans 7:18; Romans 8:7; Genesis 6:5).
3. The declaration in the text is also absolute. No exception is stated or implied on account of any difference of outward dispensation under which mankind may be placed. The Gospel uniformly proceeds on the supposition that man is born in sin; that his corruption is not accidental, but innate; not acquired, but hereditary. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.”
II. The renewal of the heart to holiness. If, as the Scriptures teach, “without holiness no man shall see the Lord,” then every text which points out the nature and extent of human corruption, points out by implication the nature and extent of that moral change which man must undergo.
1. Let us thankfully receive the information vouchsafed.
2. Let us also profitably use the information vouchsafed.
While the text sets before us the picture of mankind in general, let us remember that it sets before us our picture in particular. Let us seek to acquire a deep, an experimental conviction of the truth. Let our experience of the inveteracy of the malady lead us earnestly to seek for help from Him who alone can heal our disordered souls. (E. Cooper.)
The unconverted world
I. Their guilt. “The heart--full of evil” (Mark 7:21). It applies to all. The most peaceable man alive has often probably committed murder in his heart. The man of purity and chastity may often, in the heart, have been guilty of adultery. Passions, vile and loathsome as the pit from which they spring, only wait their opportunity. Is the man provoked? He is enraged. Is he admired? He is proud and puffed up. Does God afflict him? He is rebellious. Does God cross him? He is discontented and impatient.
II. Their madness.
1. It is a well-known symptom of natural madness that the poor creature who is thus afflicted is apt to entertain most extravagant notions of his own greatness and importance. Whilst the chains are on his hands, whilst he is confined within the narrow limits of his gloomy cell, he often struts about, and thinks himself a king. Is this acknowledged to be madness? and is there none, then, in the conduct of those men Who, being spiritually “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked,” are saying of themselves, “I am rich and increased with goods, and I have need of nothing”?
2. Men who are mad, in the ordinary sense of the expression, are, for the most part, utterly insensible of danger, and incapable of fleeing from it. They walk on unconcerned, where men possessed of reason and of foresight would be shifting for their safety. Are those men, then, to be set down for sober who show an equal unconcern when the danger is eternal?
3. But mark another painful symptom of the man who labours under a natural derangement, he knows not his best friend. Those whom, were he in his senses, he would hasten to embrace, he looks on with a cold, unfeeling eye. Nay, perhaps he turns away from them, he counts them enemies. It is also the worst symptom of that spiritual derangement with which the men of this world are afflicted. They also know not their best Friend. They “turn away from Him who speaketh to them from heaven.”
III. Their miserable end. “After that, they go to the dead.” After what? After all the evil and the madness of their earthly course--after having wasted all their years in worldliness and folly--then, “they go to the dead.” Their souls are gathered to the place where all who lived and died like them are gone before. And what place? Can we doubt that hell is meant? Where else do they go “who forget God”? What other wages hath sin, the worldly man’s master, to bestow upon its servants? (A. Robertson, M. A.)
Madness is in their heart while they live.--
There is a worse madness than mental. Many men intellectually sane are moral maniacs. Wherein does the madness of the unregenerate appear?
I. In practically ignoring the greatest being.
II. In ignoring the greatest interests.
III. In ignoring the greatest dignities. The dignity of a pure character, moral conquests, and self-sacrificing deeds. These they never recognize. (Homiliest.)
This affirmation is not made of one or two men, nor of some men merely; but of “the sons of men,” as if of them all.
1. The insanity spoken of in the text is moral, that of the heart. By the heart here is meant the will--the voluntary power.
2. Who are the morally insane? Those who, not being intellectually insane, yet act as if they were. The conduct of impenitent men is the perfection of irrationality. You see this in the ends to which they devote themselves, and in the means which they employ to secure them. An end madly chosen--sought by means madly devised; this is the life-history of the masses who reject God.
3. This moral insanity is a state of unmingled wickedness.
The law he will not obey; the Gospel of pardon he will not accept. He seems determined to brave the Omnipotence of Jehovah. Is he not mad upon his idols? Is it saying too much when the Bible affirms--“Madness is in their heart while they live”? Remarks:--
1. Sinners strangely accuse saints of being mad and crazy. Yet those very sinners admit the Bible to be true, and admit those things which Christians believe as true to be really so.
2. If intellectual insanity be a shocking fact, how much more so is moral? Suppose the case of a Webster. His brain becomes softened; he is an idler I There is not a man in all the land but would feel solemn. What! Daniel Webster--that great man, an idiot I How have the mighty fallen! What a horrible slight! But how much more horrible to see him become a moral idiot--to see a selfish heart run riot with the clear decisions of his gigantic intellect--to see his moral principles fading away before the demands of selfish ambition--to see such a man become a drunkard, a debauchee, a loafer. Intellectual idiocy is not to be named in the comparison!
3. Although some sinners may be externally fair, and may seem to be amiable in temper and character, yet every real sinner is actually insane. Eternity so vast, and its issues so dreadful, yet this sinner drives furiously to hell as if he were on the high-road to heaven! And all this only because he is infatuated with the pleasures of sin for a season. (C. G. Finney, D. D.)
A living dog is better than a dead lion.
Sinners, living and dead
I. Some sinners are more contemptible than others. There is as much difference between some and others as there is between the “dog” and the “lion.”
1. Some sinners are baser in nature than others. There are some who are constitutionally low, and mean, and sordid--like the dog.
2. Some sinners are in baser circumstances than others. Some tenant the hovels of pauperism, others dwell in palaces. Some wear the wretched appearance of starving curs, others the majestic bearing of lions.
II. The least contemptible of sinners must die. There is the “dead lion.” The sinner, however noble in nature or circumstances, must die. Death to the sinner is a terrible thing.
1. It detaches him from all good.
2. It connects him with all evil.
III. The most contemptible sinner, whilst living, has an advantage over the least contemptible who is dead. Why?
1. He is living in a world fitted for happiness. Everything in the natural world is intended and suited to minister pleasure to man.
2. He is living in the sphere of redemptive mercy. (Homilist.)
The delusion of common lily rebuked and corrected
Life is an immense advancement over death. Organization is greatly in advance of inorganized matter; life is an advancement over organization, for one may exist without the other. But a rational life is as superior to simple life in itself, as life is in advance of simple lifeless organization. Reason cannot exist without life, for it is its first and essential condition; but it is different from it, and superior to it; it is an addition to it, an adornment and completion of it, it makes life great, grand, powerful, and Divine-like. The distance and difference between life and death are the difference and extreme distance between principles, viewed in their moral character, relation, and result. As life is superior to death in the power of consciousness, action, and advancement, so are true principles and good character to the false and the bad. On this ground, “a living dog is better than a dead lion.”
I. Some of the principles the words of the text suggest.
1. Life is the period within which all is possible that is requisite and required. A dead lion is helpless and hopeless, a living dog is able and hopeful.
2. Little real goodness is better than much nominal and fanciful. A small living spark will produce a flame, which cannot be done by a large dead charcoal; a small mustard-seed will grow into a beautiful and useful tree, whereas a forest of dead roots cannot produce such results.
3. The small used rightly is better than the great unused. A small candle that gives light is better than a sun covered with darkness. A little water that can be used by the dying or thirsty is better than a river which cannot be so used. We constantly hear complaints and excuses of small possessions, of small means, of small opportunities, and of small powers, and these are made the causes of neglect and misery in the lips of those who make them. What we need, first of all, is not greater quantity, but the power of using faithfully what we have.
4. The past of life will not satisfy and meet the present demands of human need and Divine requirements. Every day creates its duties--every day brings its wants; the provision of the day covers the need of a day, as the work of the day covers the obligation of a day. The present will not cover the future, no more than the future can cover the present--every day must provide for itself; if it does not, it is a day of want, for the blessings of yesterday and to-morrow are partly dead things to us to-day.
5. The small, with evidence and security, is better than much with groundless hope and uncertainty. A little goodness done is better than much in vows and promises; a small portion of solid and real happiness is better than great superficial and uncertain pleasure; a little producing power is better than much that is unproductive; a little of actual reality possessed of truth, virtue, and religion is of far higher worth than much in boastful fancy.
6. The small with contentment is better than the great without. The value and importance of a thing to us is in the fitness of it to satisfy our heart and mind; it may be small and insufficient in its outward form or in the estimate of people relative to it, but it is better than the possession which people call, in outward appearance, grand and glorious. With contentment, which comprehends peace of conscience and tranquillity of mind, a humble position and a small possession are better than a lofty station and magnificent possession.
II. The application and the rebuke of the text to common life.
1. It rebukes that class who trust in fortuitous chances more than in the right conduct of life. It may indeed be, in many instances, that true conduct is often slow in bringing success and happiness, and that the contrary, in many cases in this life, leads to what many call success sooner and with greater certainty; because wrong, in a world of falsehood, has more means and ways at its disposal than truth and law have, for the means and ways of truth must be all true, or else it is no longer true itself. But the success and happiness got any way apart from a right conduct or the order of law, are neither true nor real, they are but things of wrong and misconception, and are neither to be desired nor enjoyed by the true, nor held long by the deluded wrong.
2. It rebukes another class in society, namely, those who trust more in appearance than in high principles of real life. When appearance is sought and loved for its own sake as an end, it is vanity; when it is made to conceal and deceive others, it is hypocrisy. These feelings are found everywhere in society, deforming its beauty and eating up its life and reality; they are the dead lions of society, beginning in vain appearance and ending in death.
3. It rebukes those who will not do the little they can, because they have no means or opportunities to do the great and illustrious. To bury the one talent because we are not possessors of five, or not to use the one until the other four will be possessed, is a vain delusion; and better is the man who uses his little faithfully, than he who thus vainly hopes until he possesses more: one is conscious of life and gives expression to it; the other is dead in heart and action, and notwithstanding his plans and promises, a living dog is better than his dead lion.
4. There is a rebuke here to those who neglect present duties until future time. The thing which should be done to-day, but left until the morrow, is undone, and is virtually never done. The probability is that it will never be actually done; but if it will, it will have lost some of its virtue and beauty, because it ought to have been done before. But everything in the form of a present duty, thus neglected until a future time, is virtually dead, for the future is uncertain; and if the time ever comes, our views and feelings instead of being more inclined to do the thing which thus was neglected in the past, will be more disinclined to do it, and will probably be inclined to throw it to a greater future still.
5. The words rebuke human folly that trusts in shadowy unreality rather than in reality. It is not seldom that people give away their present position and happiness because they fancy something greater and far better, and thus give up the real for the vain, and the certain for the things which too often prove unattainable. This is exemplified religiously in different forms, but is the same thing in character and result. One tries to make a good show to gain approval arid applause, or conceal some purpose which is not made known, which is hypocrisy. In such a case, inward principle is not sought, conscious enjoyment is not known; all is outward appearance, which is not life and reality, but a formal and hard affectation. There is another class, again, who make feeling all their aim. With these, knowledge is of no value, principle of truth and integrity is of no importance; unless a state of vague and excited moral intoxication absorbs all, everything is worthless. Others there are who make all their religious reality dependent upon some few points of belief, which may be nothing better than opinion, and when it comes to the test, there is neither life nor reality in them. There are others, again, who depend upon some secret purpose in God’s mind for all their salvation and heaven, exclusive of all goodness by and in themselves.
6. There is here a rebuke to those who desire their possession to consist in form and magnitude rather than in quality. How feeble and foolish are we! We allow sense to control our reason, and not reason our sense; we too frequently allow fancy to govern conscience rather than conscience fancy; we submit our best judgment to sentimental delusion, rather than be governed according to the laws of truth and equity. How long shall we and others be guilty of pursuing the dead lions of vain ambition and delusive blindness, and be rebuked and punished by justice for the folly of our conduct?
III. The lessons of instructions intended to common life.
1. One important lesson here intended is not to trust in the helpless. The earthly and material are helpless, for they are unfit for our moral and spiritual nature. The perishable cannot help us, for they die behind us, and are insufficient from their nature to satisfy our immortal hope and aspiration. The sinful, whatever it is, is helpless; for instead of improving, it deteriorates, and instead of adding to resources and happiness, it diminishes and destroys. The thing which is not in unity with God’s will and order, with the advancement; of truth and happiness, cannot help us, and must not be trusted in. No finite thing must have all the confidence of our soul, for everything and everybody are in-sufficient to meet the wants of the soul and all its relations and conditions. We must have a living God, a living Saviour, a living Comforter, a living faith, a living hope, a living love--these will comfort and be sufficient when everything else fails and dies.
2. Another lesson intended to teach us, is not to judge things from their forms, but from their character. If we judge from appearance, we go wrong in the most common matters of life. In childhood we should put the penny above the sovereign because it is larger; and judging from outward strength and swiftness we should put the horse above man. Outward appearance, when natural and true, is an index of tile inward character and meaning of things; but we must not take it alone as a final test, for it may not be genuine, and moreover, we may by something not right in us misinterpret it; it must be taken in connection with other things more safe and true as tests of quality and character.
3. We are taught to use faithfully the means and powers we possess, and not excuse our virtue upon the chance of things. What we need is not so much more power, but the use of what we possess more faithfully. In this God has given us useful lessons in the ant, the bee, and the bird; they use what they have, and they answer successfully the purpose of life.
4. There is another lesson of sacred importance taught us, namely, that God looks at the vitality of things in their nature, and not on their outward form of grandeur and greatness. God accepts of a humble publican, with his unassuming manner and confession, rather than the boastful prayer of the Pharisee. He looks at the vitality of the heart, and not at the gorgeous outward manifestation. He accepts the attitude of the inward spirit. He is a Spirit, and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth. What a comfort and encouragement is this to us all I What God thinks of us is the great thing belonging to us all alike. He demands a living thought, a living love, a living faith, and a living devotion; they are suitable in themselves, and accepted by God from all alike.
5. Another lesson of importance given us here is, that the secret of happiness is to enjoy the little we have. However small our blessings, we have more than we use to our own advancement and happiness; the reason of our misery is the non-application rightly of what we possess, and not deficiency in the quality and degree of our possession. This is often beautifully illustrated in life, you often see more happiness in the cottage than in the palace, in poverty than in wealth, in pain and affliction than in ease and health. How is this? It is because one applies and enjoys his little better than the other his greater and richer blessings.
6. I mention one more lesson taught us in the text, namely, that our goodness should be an active,, growing thing; our goodness must live to be active, and active to live. A little living seed is better than all the dead flowers in the country; so a little progressive goodness is more hopeful than all past life of virtue and religion. Growth is a preparation for the future, arising from present life and deep-rootedness. It is not the majesty and largeness of the lion that makes it undesirable, but its dead condition; as such, it is a condition of inactivity and decay rather than one of action and strength. It is not the smallness of the dog that makes it an object of desire, but its life. Under this condition it is competent of useful service, and of growth and activity. The lesson intended to be conveyed to us is, that life, action, and growth are united; and that it is needful to have life before the others can exist. The teaching of truth is, Grow in grace; let us go hence; let us not be weary in well-doing; and these things are incompatible with inactivity, stultification, and death.
IV. The encouragement and comfort intended to common life. Most things contain in them an element of comfort, if we are able to find it, and in a fit state to receive and apply it. All comforts are not of the same kind; they vary in form and diversity, in common with other things. When you assist a man in distress with your material means, it is a comfort, or soothe his bodily pain, or restore him from the verge of death into health and vigour, it is a high comfort. When you tell a friend the way to success, or restore a wanderer from a path of danger and wrong, and put and direct him on in safety, it is comforting. When you solve any difficult problem, or dissipate some doubt and fear, or soothe a heart depressed and cast down, it is no small comfort you impart to their subjects. When you show new light upon any dark picture, or give new means to conquer difficulties, or discover new hope to vanquish the common foes of life, these are no small comforts to those who need them. These are some of the various form of comforts, and they are all valuable and needed, and accepted with gratitude by those who are in such conditions. We have in the text an encouraging comfort for the true and humble ones who are depressed and dejected by reason of their state and condition, or from the smallness of their sacrifice, or the little they can do. They look at the lofty station, splendour, power, and great gifts of others, and are discouraged and ready to flag in the path of duty, and think they have neither a plea nor a hope to be accepted of God, and be among the successful competitors of religion and heaven. But He looks not as man looks, He accepts the small and unadorned sincerity before dead splendour and outward dignified grandeur. You humble dejected ones, be then comforted, that the Lofty One looks on the humble and true ones, and accepts the mean in outward appearance, if it be true, before the most illustrious grandeur and the greatest outward ornament which a combined universe could offer Him. (J. Hughes.)
Reality versus Show
In the estimation of an Oriental, the lion was the symbol of all that was brave and kingly--the dog, of all that was base and contemptible. Between the living dog and the living lion there could be no comparison, any more than you could compare a Christian philosopher with an African slave--there was only a contrast; but the lion dead changes the whole aspect of the thing. Its regal bearing, its voice of thunder, its courage, are gone, and nothing but the appearance is left behind. Than that, the wise man says, the living dog is better. It seems to me that the writer of Ecclesiastes has set before himself the purpose of scourging the people for their vain, pretentious, and foolish display. The great outstanding sin of the nation was a love of mere show. They set little store on the reality of the thing if they were only feasted with the appearance. There must be pomp, pageantry, glare, dazzle, grand outward show--never mind how hollow, never mind how unreal. Artificiality was ruining the nation. They had set up the dead lion, and spurned the living dog. A very foolish nation, certainly, that nation of Jews; and it does seem astonishing that grown-up men and women could have been so childish. But wait; let us ask if there is not something of this here, and now, among ourselves. Here in this Western world, among a people not poetic, not dreamy--now in an age that claims to be intensely practical--it seems to me that we are given over to appearances, and sham is lord of the ascendant. Is it difficult to prove that? I think net. Look at dress. Simple garments with simple lines, simple ornaments, plain but real; nature’s grand simplicity--where will you find it? Only here and there. It is built up with fold upon fold, gaudy extravagance, glaring tinsel, diamonds of pure carbon, or diamonds of cut-glass; ornaments of gold, or ornaments of aluminum; flowers from the garden, if not, then flowers from the toy shop; anything and everything for show. Rich and poor alike are rushing into this foolish extravagance of dress. Simplicity is gone--banished to the wilds of Siberia or elsewhere, and we are given over to the gaudy and the unreal. Then, again, take our social life and customs. In certain circles, party-going and party-giving fill up a large portion of the time. The day is but a wearisome waiting or toilsome preparation for the evening’s festivities. Then there will be songs and laughter--for the most part foolish, sentimental songs, and the most forced and silly laughter. And the secret of much of this party-going and party-giving is the love of display. A week’s honest earnings wasted in a night; charities to the poor and deserving lessened or cut off; children defrauded of a part of their rightful inheritance: and all to show up a dead lion. Better the living dog, I am sure. See all this hard work about you; all this wear and tear of body and mind; all this straining and striving. What does it mean? It means money, money. Men make haste to be rich, that they may have more display, and in their blind eagerness fall into many snares and divers temptations. The hardy virtues are dying; the brave, simple, manly men--the heroes, the giants--are becoming extinct. Let there be some grand effort made to rescue society from this threatened danger; let us put forth our hands, and grasp again those simple, hardy virtues which were the foundation of England’s greatness. Our feasting is destroying us; our luxury is wasting our manhood. Better poverty than this; better the living dog than the dead lion. Take, again, our commercial world, and you will find much worship of the dead lion, and much contempt of the living dog there. It is a maxim that if a man would succeed, he must make a show. A small house in an unpretending place will gain little or no credit. There must be display, or it is nothing. And so you have it all around you--this dead lion worship--this appearance, this shameful and fraudulent display. Everywhere people are asking for brilliance, and care little for the reality. The dead lion is enthroned--that is king, that is priest, that is philosopher, that is statesman; while the living dog, the unostentatious reality, is passed by with contempt or thrust out of sight. But what about the Church--that representative of God’s kingdom on the earth--that grand and heaven-formed institution, which has nothing to do with condition, but everything to do with character? Has she protested against this love of show? Has she stood forth a reality in a world of unrealities, pure gold as compared with things of tinsel, a flower bright and fragrant, unfolding in divinest beauty under the rays of the central sun as against the cut and painted paper of man’s invention? Or has she, too, drank in the spirit of the world and taken the dead lion to her arms? Splendid organizations, elaborate theologies, well-defined creeds, and a goodly array of dogmas, those are the things we have busied ourselves about. We have set too great store upon mere profession and orthodoxy, and too little store upon personal life. “What a good man is Mr. Screw! what a great Christian!” Mr. Screw never had a doubt about religion in his life, and never will. Orthodox! if he were to live through all the changes a thousand years will see, he would never have the charge of heresy preferred against him. Tell him the creed, and he will subscribe it. But he holds his money as dearer than his faith. He is devout on Sunday, and on Monday morning will pull a string and set in motion a whole organization of fraud, and then devour a widow’s house, and say grace after the meal. No matter, he is orthodox, and the Church will have him. Ah! better a living dog than that dead lion. Better a widow’s mite in the box and an honest, loving heart throbbing in the pew. The cry is raised in all our churches for a revival. But the revival will not come until there is more reality in our church life. We must take a pure religion into the streets. The shop, and the warehouse, and the mill, must be conducted upon principles of Christian integrity. (A. J. Bray.)
Lion or dog
I. In respect to the possession of life, We conclude, even under the greatest disadvantages, existence is better than non-existence. To live is to be conscious. To think, to know, to reason, to act is elevation. To possess powers of estimating even misery is a matter for thankfulness. The difficulties of life should be faced courageously. “If we faint in the day of adversity our strength is small.” We should always cherish hope; hope will give life. We should not yield to envy, for that is the foundation of despair. The rich have their annoyances, disappointments, trials, social ignorings and terrible losses; the poor can have their simple pleasures and healthful rest. Where there is the desire to make the best of circumstances it is wonderful how much of joy may be even found in positions that appear most pitiable. We are not wishing to imply that those under conditions of poverty should be content always to remain therein. On the contrary, we wish them ever to be seeking to improve their surroundings and their minds, but ever to remember that “a living dog is better than a dead lion.”
II. In respect to the decisions we may have to arrive at in various circumstances the truth of the text may guide us. If a man seeking employment should find a task that appears to be below his dignity, or the pay below his desert, it is better to accept such a position than to be workless and go perhaps starving, or subsisting on charity. The poor say, frequently, “Half a loaf is better than none,” and this is common sense. Further, in respect to some enterprise in which a man may be tempted to embark by the promise of great profits or interest, but for which he must sacrifice some steady, but less promising occupation, it would be well for him to remember the text. Better the certainty, though small, than the profits of alluring amount, but which are problematical. In bearing certain difficulties, misrepresentations, and evils we may remember that efforts to remove them may only increase them. It is “better to bear the ills we have than to fly to others that we know not of.”
III. In judging of certain systems the principle of the text is applicable. To-day we have to choose either rationalism, agnosticism, ultimate despair, universal suicide, or religion of some kind. We say better any form of religion than none, any vitality rather than death. Even if we have to decide between various forms of religion, we should seek that which promotes intellectual and spiritual life combined; but if we cannot find the spiritual advanced, and only cold formalism or intellectualism cultivated, then we must accept that which has life and warmth and love in it. Christianity is a system of doctrines concerning God and immortality. Anything that will keep alive the knowledge of the one and hope for the other is better than allowing it to die out.
IV. The principle of the text applies in respect to the possession of spiritual life. To have it in however low degree is better than to have to confess to its absence. Spiritual life is characterized by peace through faith in the one great sacrifice, effort after purity, love of the Word, and practice of prayer and charity toward all. Many of the poor and unlearned are rich in this possession. They have that which is a permanent possession, too--something which will not be destroyed at death or dissipated by one’s heirs. Better be the poorest and most despised on earth, with this spiritual life, than the “lion of society” without it. He that is “least in the kingdom of heaven “is greater than the lordliest worldling. Lord Byron sent to a lady who once wrote to him, pressing upon him the necessity of religion, a reply which is in harmony with what we have been saying. He said: “I thank you for your interest in me. I am bound to say that all who entertain a belief in God and religion have a tremendous advantage; for it not only affords consolations in this life, but even if there is no hereafter it smooths the downward course of life and takes from death its darkness and fear.” Yet, knowing that the “living dog was better than the dead lion,” that erratic, that proud, that highly-talented genius turned away and lived for the world and for misery. Alas! many imitate him even now. (F. Hastings.)
For the living know that they shall die.
A funeral sermon
I. Whence it is that the living attain the sure and infallible knowledge of their own death.
1. There be many things from whence we may collect the necessity of dying.
2. Now, though, by these and other such-like considerations, we may arrive at a certain knowledge that we shall die; yet the particular circumstances of the time and manner of our death are known to God only.
II. Whence it proceeds, that men are so stupidly irrational, that, though they all know they. Shall die, yet so few seriously prepare themselves for it.
1. Men are generally so immersed in the businesses and pleasures of life, that these swallow up all serious thoughts of death and preparations for it. They are employed about other things: like a heap of ants, that are busily toiling to get in their provision, without regarding the foot that is ready to crush them. Such are the impertinent and vain cares of men! The riches and honours, which are but the dust and smoke of this world, have so blinded our eyes, that we cannot discern the near approaches of death; and thus, while we, Archimedes like, are busily drawing projects and designs in the dust, and are wholly intent about vainer speculations than his, we mind not the alarm, nor perceive the enemy is upon us, till we are stricken dead through the reins.
2. Men delay serious preparations for death, because they generally look upon it as afar off.
3. Men generally put off serious thoughts of dying” because of the terrors and insupportable dread which such apprehensions bring with them. And therefore death is called (Job 18:14) “the king of terrors”: a king that comes attended with a thousand phantoms and frightful apparitions.
1. If we all certainly know that we must die, this might teach us so much wisdom as not to set our affections eagerly upon anything in this present world; a world which we must shortly leave.
2. Since we all know that we shall die, let this serve to exhort us seriously to prepare for our death. Some sad instances there have been of those who, having neglected this great work till the end of their life, have then spent that little remnant of time which they had in crying out for more. But if we have carefully prepared ourselves for death, it will be to us a repose instead of a terror. (Bp. E. Hopkins.)
Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now aceepteth thy works.
This is one of those passages, so remarkable in the writings of Solomon, in which the words of sinful men in the world are taken up by the Holy Ghost, to be applied in a Christian sense. As they stand in Ecclesiastes, they are intended to represent the sayings of sensual, careless people, indulging themselves in their profane ways, their utter neglect of God and goodness, with the notion that this world is all. It is much the same as the unbeliever’s saying, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” But see the ever-watchful goodness and mercy of God. The words which the dissolute, wild-hearted sinner uses to encourage himself in his evil, inconsiderate ways, He teaches us to take up, and use them in a very different sense; to express the inward joy and comfort which God’s people may find in obeying Him. As thus: suppose a person giving himself up, with his whole heart, to the service and obedience of God; suppose him really Withdrawing himself from the sins which had most easily beset him; suppose him making some great sacrifice, parting with what he held very dear, or submitting to pain or grief for Christ’s sake: then the holy and merciful Comforter seems to say to him in the words of the text, “Go thy way now, thank God, and take courage; the blessing of God is now restored to thee, and will be upon all thou hast, and upon thine ordinary employments and refreshments: now thou mayest eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart, for God now accepteth thy works.” What a heavenly light it would throw over our ordinary works and refreshments, if, being always careful to set about them with a good conscience, we could seriously bring it home to ourselves, that they are so many tokens of heavenly and eternal love; so many reasonable grounds of hope, that God really accepteth our works. But there is yet a higher, a Christian sense of these words. The bread and wine, the white garments, the ointment for the head, are figures and types of our Christian privileges, the blessings and favours of the kingdom of heaven. It is, then, as if the Holy Word had said to us, being, as we are, Christian men, members of the mystical Body of our Lord and Saviour, “Now you have been brought into the communion of saints; now God has set His seal upon you; now you are washed, sanctified, justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. Go your way, then; use your privileges with all reverence, joy, and fear.” And it would seem that if Christians were at all such as they ought to be, the words might be well and profitably understood with a particular reference to this sacred season of Whitsuntide. This is the last of the holy seasons; it represents to us the full completion of God’s unspeakable plan for the salvation of the world. The words have a sound most comfortable to penitents, as well as to those who, by God’s help, have kept themselves from wilful, deadly sin. They sound like words of absolution: “Go thy way, return again to that holy Table, from which thy transgressions had for a time separated thee: eat thy Bread and drink thy Wine with a courageous and hopeful heart; for now there is hope that God accepteth thy works; that He hears thee, since thou hast left off inclining unto wickedness with thine heart. Thy case indeed is alarming, from the continual danger of a relapse; and thy loss at best is great, penitency instead of innoceney being thy portion; yet go on steadily and cheerfully.” Observe, however, the words which follow, which to the hearing of a thoughtful Christian convey a very serious admonition, telling us on what these unspeakable privileges depend, so far as our own conduct is concerned: “Let thy garments be always white, and let thine head lack no ointment.” To say, therefore, to Christians at Whitsuntide, “Let thy garments be always white,” was the same as saying, “Take care that at no time you stain or sully the bright and clear robe of your Saviour’s righteousness, which has just been thrown over you: according to the apostle’s saying, ‘As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.’ As much as possible keep it clear from all spot of wilful sin.” Again, says the wise man, “Let thine head lack no ointment”; and this again is an allusion which would come with a particular meaning in early times to the new-baptized Christians, and those who had been present at their baptism And oil is in Scripture the constant token of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, to say, “Let thy head lack no ointment,” would mean, “Take care that thou stir up, cherish, and improve the unspeakable gift of which thou art now made partaker. Use diligently all the means of grace which Christ has provided for thee in His kingdom, whereof thou art now come to be an inheritor.” (Plain Sermons by Contributors to the “Tracts for the Times.”)
Let thy garments be always white.--
One of the most common beliefs of men concerning heaven is that all are to be robed in white; and it is no idle fancy, for the Bible warrants such a belief. The priestly robes worn in the temple service were white; the apocalyptic vision was filled with the white-robed; the poetry of the Bible teaches that purity and joy in life are symbolized by snowy raiments--“Let thy garments be always white.” “Thy garments.” This is a personal matter. The command is to the end that each is to see that his own dress is clean. The neighbour will take care of his own. And now the emphasis comes on “always.” There must not be a single careless moment. Why is the colour of our garments to be white? Why? Because everybody looks well in white. All complexions can stand white. The plainest are adorned and the most beautiful are made more angelic by wearing it. We love white garments because they are so pure. No impure dyes have disfigured the cloth, and all of Nature’s tints the bleachers have taken away. So white robes remind us constantly of purity. And did you ever think how important it is? The springs that furnish the thirsty with water must be in their fountain-heads pure, or who will dare to use it? The usefulness of anything depends upon its purity. The white garment is an object lesson, then, teaching the vital importance of purity in heart and life. To be able to look God in the face with steady eye and unblanched cheek. O, that is worth all the sacrifice that it may demand! “But it is so hard to keep pure and sweet,” they say. I may be tempted by the allurements of the world. Money, with its shining sunbeams, may twine its fingers about my heart to woo it. Ambition, with her lofty and imposing mien, may awe me to obey her. Shall I give up the white raiment of my soul? I would not dare to soil my raiment now, for the spots in such a light the whole world could see, and how could I ever again look up and cry “Abba, Father,” if on my heart was the stain of evil? But white raiment is the symbol of another quality in the true life. It is joy. Always dependent upon purity for its life, yet a separate quality. No impure life is ever a truly happy life. We put on our clean raiment to honour the joyful occasion. Children, I believe that pure heart is always happy. Then there is a duty attached, the duty to be joyful in being and doing good. How different the world would be to-day if the command about our spiritual toilet were heeded! Let us try hereafter to live in such a way as to teach our friends how blessed it is to have pure, and, therefore, happy hearts. White robes bring great responsibility. They soil so easily. The clean garment shows the dirt at the slightest contact. Keep your hearts clean, for they will soil as easily as the white dress. The little girl who went home from a visit to a neighbour’s by far the longest way, in order to keep her dress from the mud of a certain street, on being asked why she did it since it made her very tired, said: “It kept my dwess tean.” How much better children of our Heavenly Father we should be if we were as particular to keep the raiment of our hearts free from the mud-stains of sin, even though the extra toil makes us very weary. Better be tired, even to death, than soil the raiment of the soul. (G. F. Prentiss.)
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.
Of industry in general
By industry we understand a serious and steady application of mind, joined with a vigorous exercise of our active faculties, in prosecution of any reasonable, honest, useful design, in order to the accomplishment or attainment of some considerable good. Industry doth not consist merely in action; for that is incessant in all persons, our mind being a restless thing, never abiding in a total cessation from thought or from design; being like a ship in the sea, if not steered to some good purpose by reason, yet tossed by the waves of fancy, or driven by the winds of temptation somewhither. But the direction of our mind to some good end, without roving or flinching, in a straight and steady course, drawing after it our active powers in execution thereof, doth constitute industry; the which therefore usually is attended with labour and pain; for our mind is not easily kept in a constant attention to the same thing; and the spirits employed in thought are prone to flutter and fly away, so that it is hard to fix them: and the corporeal instruments of action being strained to a high pitch, or detained in a tone, will soon feel a lassitude somewhat offensive to nature; whence labour or pain is commonly reckoned an ingredient of industry, and laboriousness is a name signifying it; on which account this virtue, as involving labour, deserveth a peculiar commendation; it being then most laudable to follow the dictates of reason, when so doing is attended with difficulty and trouble.
1. Industry doth befit the constitution and frame of our nature; all the faculties of our soul and organs of our body being adapted in a congruity and tendency thereto: our hands are suited for work, our feet for travel, our senses to watch for occasion of pursuing good and eschewing evil, our reason to plod and contrive ways of employing the other parts and powers; all these, I say, are formed for action; and that not in a loose and gadding way, or in a slack and remiss degree, but in regard to determinate ends, with vigour requisite to attain them; and especially our appetites do prompt to industry, as inclining to things not obtainable without it; wherefore in not being industrious we defeat the intent of our Maker; we pervert His work and gifts; we forfeit the use and benefit of our faculties; we are bad husbands of nature’s stock.
2. In consequence hereto industry doth preserve and perfect our nature, keeping it in good tune and temper, improving and advancing it towards its best state. If the water runneth, it holdeth clear, sweet, and fresh; but stagnation turneth it into a noisome puddle: if the air be fanned by winds, it is pure and wholesome; but from being shut up, it groweth thick and putrid: if metals be employed, they abide smooth and splendid; but lay them up, and they soon contract rust: if the earth be belaboured with culture, it yieldeth corn; but lying neglected, it will be overgrown with brakes and thistles; and the better its soil is, the ranker weeds it will produce: all nature is upheld in its being, order, and state, by constant agitation; every creature is incessantly employed in action conformable to its designed end and use; in like manner the preservation and improvement of our faculties depends on their constant exercise.
3. As we naturally were composed, so by Divine appointment we were originally designed for industry; God did not intend that man should live idly, even in his best state, or should enjoy happiness without taking pains; but did provide work enough even in paradise itself.
4. By our transgression and fall the necessity of industry (together with a difficulty of obtaining good, and avoiding evil) was increased to us; being ordained both as a just punishment for our offences, and as an expedient remedy of our needs.
5. Accordingly our condition and circumstances in the world are so ordered as to require industry; so that without it we cannot support our life in any comfort or convenience.
6. Industry hath annexed thereto, by Divine appointment and promise, the fairest fruits, and the richest rewards: all good things are the fruits of industry; ordered to sprout from it, under the protection and influence of God’s blessing, which commonly doth attend it. God indeed could not well proceed otherwise in dispensing His favours to us; not well, I say; that is, not without subverting the methods of things which Himself hath established; not without slighting and voiding His own first bounty, or rendering the common gifts of nature (our reason, our senses, our active powers) vain and useless; not without making us incapable of any praise, or any reward, which suppose works achieved by our earnest endeavour; not without depriving us of that sweetest content, which springeth from enjoying the fruit of our labour. Nothing is more grateful to men than prosperous success in their undertakings, whereby they attain their ends, satisfy their desires, save their pains, and come off with credit; this commonly is the effect of industry, and scarce ever is found without it: nothing of worth or weight can be achieved with half a mind, with a faint heart, with a lame endeavour. Plentiful accommodations for our sustenance and convenience all men will agree to be very desirable; and these are indeed the blessings of Him, who “visiteth the earth and enricheth it”: who “crowneth the year with His goodness,” and “whose clouds drop fatness”: but they are so dispensed by Heaven that industry must concur therewith in deriving them to us, and sloth will debar us of them. Another darling of human affection is honour, or reputation among men: this also plainly, after the common reason and course of things, is purchased and preserved by industry: for he that aspireth to worthy things, and assayeth laudable designs, pursuing them steadily with serious application of heart and resolute activity, will rarely fail of good success, and consequently will not miss honour, which ever doth crown victory; and if he should hap to fail in his design, yet he will not lose his credit; for having meant well, and done his best, all will be ready to excuse, many to commend him: the very qualities which industry doth exercise, and the effects which it doth produce, to beget honour, as being ornaments of our person and state. Another vet more precious good, far surpassing all external advantages of our state; wisdom, I mean, or a good comprehension, and right judgment about matters of highest importance to us, is the prize of industry, and not to be gained without it; it is the offspring of watchful observation and experience, of serious meditation and study; of careful reflection on things, marking, comparing, and weighing their nature, their worth, their tendencies and consequences; these are needful to the getting of wisdom, because truth, which it seeketh, commonly doth not lie in the surface, obvious to a superficial glance, nor only dependeth on a simple consideration of few things; but is lodged deep in the bowels of things, and under a knotty complication of various matters; so that we must dig to come at it, and labour in unfolding it: nor is it an easy task to void the prejudices springing from inclination or temper, from education or custom, from passion and interest, which cloud the mind, and obstruct the attainment of wisdom. What should I speak of learning, or the knowledge of various things, transcending vulgar apprehension? Who knoweth not that we cannot otherwise reach any part of that, than by assiduous study and contemplation? Who can be ignorant that no wit alone, or strength of parts can suffice, without great industry, to frame any science, to learn any one tongue, to know the history of nature, or of providence? But farther yet, virtue, the noblest endowment and richest possession whereof man is capable; the glory of our nature, the beauty of our soul, the goodliest ornament and the firmest support of our life; that also is the fruit and blessing of industry; that of all things most indispensably doth need and require it. It doth not grow in us by nature, nor befall us by fortune; for nature is so far from producing it, that it yieldeth mighty obstacles and resistances to its birth, there being in the best dispositions much averseness from good, and great proneness to evil; fortune doth not further its acquists, but casteth in rubs and hindrances thereto, every condition presenting its allurements, or its affrightments from it; all things within us and about us conspire to render its production and its practice laborious. Indeed the very nature and essence of virtue doth consist in the most difficult and painful efforts of soul; in the extirpating rooted prejudices and notions from our understanding; in bending a stiff will, and rectifying crooked inclinations; in overruling a rebellious temper; in curbing eager and importunate appetites; in taming wild passions; in withstanding violent temptations; in surmounting many difficulties, and sustaining many troubles; in struggling with various unruly lusts within, and encountering many stout enemies abroad, which assault our reason, and “war against our soul”: in such exercises its very being lieth; its birth, its growth, its subsistence dependeth on them; so that from any discontinuance or remission of them it would soon decay, languish away, and perish. Lastly, the sovereign good, the last scope of our actions, the top and sum of our desires, happiness itself, or eternal life in perfect rest, joy, and glory; although it be the supreme gift of God, and special boon of Divine grace, yet it also by God Himself is declared to be the result and reward of industry; for we are commanded “to work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” and to “give diligence in making our calling and election sure,” by virtuous practice. It is plainly industry which climbeth the holy mount; it is industry which taketh “the kingdom of heaven by force”: it is industry which “so runneth as to obtain” the prize, which so fighteth as “to receive the crown,” which so watcheth as to secure our everlasting interest to us. Thus do the choicest good things of which we are capable spring from industry, or depend on it; and no considerable good can be attained without it: thus all the gifts of God are by it conveyed to us, or are rendered in effect beneficial to us; for the gifts of nature are but capacities, which it improveth; the gifts of fortune or providence are but instruments, which it employeth to our use; the gifts of grace are the supports and succours of it; and the very gift of glory is its fruit and recompense. (Isaac Barrow, D. D.)
which is recommended in the text, is a virtue of a very diffusive nature and influence, so that no business or design can be well managed without it: we ought, therefore, to conceive a high opinion of it, and inure ourselves to the practice of it on all occasions.
1. We may consider that industry is productive of ease itself, and preventive of trouble. Sloth, indeed, affects ease and quiet, but by affecting loses them: it hates labour and trouble, but by hating incurs them; but industry, by a little voluntary labour, in due place and season, saves much labour afterwards and great distress.
2. Industry begets ease by procuring good habits, and a facility of transacting things expedient to be done: it breeds assurance and courage needful for the prosecution of business and the performance of duties.
3. We may consider that it will sweeten all our enjoyments, and season them with a grateful relish.
4. Especially those accommodations prove most delightful which our industry hath procured to us; for we look on them with a special affection, as the children of our endeavours.
5. The very exercise of industry immediately in itself is delightful; the very settlement of our mind on fit objects, whereby we are freed from doubt and distraction, ministers content; the consideration that we are spending our time and talents to good advantage, in serving God, benefiting our neighbour, and bettering our own state, is very cheering and comfortable.
6. Industry affords a lasting comfort, deposited in the memory and conscience of him that practises it.
7. Industry argues a generous and ingenuous complexion of soul: it implies a mind not content with mean and vulgar things, but aspiring to things of high worth and pursuing them with courage: it signifies a heart not enduring to owe the sustenance and convenience of life to the liberality of others.
8. Industry is a fence to innocence and virtue; a bar to all kinds of sin and vice, guarding the avenues of the heart, and keeping off occasions and temptations to Vicious practices; whilst idleness is the nursery of sin.
9. Industry prevents the sins of vain curiosity, pragmatical troublesome impertinence, and the like pests of common life, into which persons not diligently following their own business will assuredly fall.
10. Industry is needful in every condition and calling of life; in all relations for our good behaviour and right discharge of our duty in them. Are we rich? then is industry requisite for keeping and securing our wealth, or managing it wisely. Are we conspicuous in dignity, honour, and good repute amongst men? then is industry requisite to keep us fast in that state; since nothing is more frail than honour, which must be nourished by worthy actions; otherwise it will languish and decay. On the other hand, are we poor and low in the world? then do we much need industry to shun the extremes of want and ignominy, and to improve our condition.
11. It may also deserve our consideration, that it is industry, to which the public state of the world, and of each commonweal therein, is indebted for its being advanced above rude barbarism: also for the invention and perfection of useful arts and sciences, the stately fabrics which we admire, and the commodious habitations which we enjoy.
12. Industry is commended to us by all sorts of examples, deserving our regard and imitation: all nature is a copy thereof, and the whole world a glass, wherein we may behold this duty represented to us: examples of all the creatures around us, of rational and intelligent natures, of our blessed Saviour, of the inhabitants of heaven, yea of God Himself. And shall we alone be idle, whilst all things are so busy?
13. If we consider, we shall find the root and source of all the inconveniences, the mischiefs, the wants of which we complain, to be our sloth; and there is hardly one of them which commonly we might not prevent or remove by industry. (Isaac Barrow, D. D.)
On diligence in our general and particular calling
I. Consider the matter of this counsel and exhortation; and that is, that we would use great diligence and industry about that which is our proper work and business in this life; and this may very probably comprehend in it these two things--
1. Diligence in our great work and business, that which equally concerns every man; I mean the business of religion, in order to the eternal happiness and salvation of our souls. This consists in these two things--
2. Diligence in that province and station which God hath appointed us, whatever it be; whether it consists in the labour of our hands, or in the improvement of our minds, in order to the gaining of knowledge for our own pleasure and satisfaction, and for the use and benefit of others; whether it lie in the skill of government, and the administration of public justice; or in the management of a great estate, of an honourable rank and quality above others, to the best advantage, for the honour of God, and the benefit and advantage of men, so as, by the influence of our power and estate, and by the authority of our example, to contribute all we can to the welfare and happiness of others.
II. Some considerations to excite our care and diligence in this great work which God hath given us to do in this world, I mean chiefly the business of religion, in order to the eternal happiness and salvation of our souls.
1. Consider the nature of our work, which is such as may both excite and encourage our diligence and care about it. It is indeed a service, but such as is our perfect freedom; it is the service of God, whom to serve is the greatest honour that man or any other creature is capable of; it is obedience, but even obedience, considering our ignorance and frailty, is much wiser and safer for us than a total exemption from all law and rule; for the laws which God hath given us are not imposed upon us merely for His will and pleasure, but chiefly for our benefit and advantage. So that to obey and please God is in truth nothing else but to do those things which are really best for ourselves.
2. Consider how great our work is, and then we shall easily be convinced what care it requires, what diligence it calls for from us.
3. Consider what incredible pains men will take, what diligence they will use, for bad purposes, and for ends infinitely less considerable. “Thieves will rise and travel by night to rob and kill, and shall we use no care, no vigilance, to save ourselves?”
4. Consider that when we come to die, nothing will yield more true and solid consolation to us than the remembrance of a useful and well-spent life, a life of great labour and diligence, of great zeal and faithfulness in the service of God; and, on the contrary, with what grief and regret shall we look back upon all these precious hours which we have so fondly misplaced in sin and vanity I
5. Consider that the degrees of our happiness in another world will certainly bear a proportion to the degrees of our diligence and industry in serving God and doing good. And it is an argument of a mean spirit not to aspire after the best and happiest condition which is to be attained by us.
6. Consider that this life is the time of our activity and working, the next is the season of retribution and recompense; we shall then have nothing to do, but either to reap and enjoy the comfort of well-doing, or to repent the folly of an ill-spent life, and the irreparable mischief which thereby we have brought upon ourselves. (J. Tillotson, D. D.)
A home mission sermon
If God had willed it we might each one of us have entered heaven at the moment of our conversion. He might have changed us from imperfection to perfection, He might have cut out the very roots of sin, and have destroyed the very being of corruption, and have taken us to heaven instanter, if so He had willed it. Notwithstanding that, we are here. And why are we here? Does God delight to tantalize His people by keeping them in a wilderness when they might be in Canaan? The answer is, they are here that they may glorify God, and that they may bring others to know His love. Taking it, therefore, as granted that the people of God are here to do something to bless their fellow-men, our text comes in very pertinently as the rule of our life.
I. First, I shall explain the preacher’s exhortation. I shall do so by dividing it into three parts. What shall I do?--“Whatsoever thy hand findeth.” How shall I do it?--“Do it with thy might.” And then, why shall I do it?--“For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest.”
1. Are there not some who say, “I hope I love Christ; I desire to serve Him, for I have been saved by His work upon the cross; what then can I do?” The answer is--“whatsoever thy hand findeth to do.” Here we will observe, first, that this refers us to the works that are near at hand. Many a young man thinks if he could stand up under a banyan tree, and discourse to the black faces in India, how eloquent he might be. My dear fellow, why don’t you try the streets of London first, and see whether you are eloquent there? Many a lady imagines that if she could move in a high circle she would no doubt become another Lady Huntingdon, and do wonders. But why cannot you do wonders in the circle in which God has placed you? He does not call you to do that which is leagues away, and which is beyond your power; it is that which your hand findeth to do. I am persuaded that our home duties--the duties which come near to us in our own streets, in our own lanes and alleys--are the duties in which we ought most of us mainly to glorify Christ. Many say, “I wish I could become a preacher.” Yes, but you are not called to be a preacher, it may be. Serve God in that which your hand findeth present. Serve Him in your immediate situation, where you now are. Begin at home. When Jerusalem was built, every man built before his own house. Do you the same. Again, “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,” refers to works that are possible. There are many things which our heart findeth to do that we never shall do. It is well it is in our heart; God accepts the will for the deed. But if we would be eminently useful, we must not be content with forming schemes in our heart, and talking of them with our lips. We must get plans that are tangible, schemes that we can really manage, ideas that we can really carry out; and so we shall fulfil the exhortation, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it.” Do what you can, in your workshop, or shed, or with a needle in your hand; anal if ever you have a sceptre--which is not likely--and you use your needle well, you would be the most likely person to use your sceptre well also. There is another word of exhortation which seems to strike me as being very necessary when addressing God’s people, it is this: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do.” Whether it be the visitation of the poorest of the poor or the teaching of the most ignorant, whether the hewing of wood or the drawing of water, the very lowest work in the Lord’s house, if thy hand findeth it to do, do it. There is a story told in the old American war, that once upon a time George Washington, the commander-in-chief, was going around among his soldiers. They were hard at work, lifting a heavy piece of timber at some fortification. There stood the corporal of the regiment calling out to his men, “Heave there, heave ahoy!” and giving them all kinds of directions. As large as possible the good corporal was. So Washington, alighting from his horse, said to him, “What is the good of your calling out to those men, why don’t you help them yourself and do part of the work.” The corporal drew himself up and said, “Perhaps you are not aware to whom you are speaking, sir; I am a corporal.” “I beg your pardon,” said Washington; “you are a corporal, are you; I am sorry I should have insulted you.” So he took off his own coat and waistcoat and set to work to help the men build the fortification. When he had done he said, “Mr. Corporal, I am sorry I insulted you, but when you have any more fortifications to get up, and your men won’t help you, send for George Washington, the commander-in-chief, and I will come and help them.” The corporal slunk away perfectly ashamed of himself. And so Christ Jesus might say to us, “Oh, you don’t like teaching the poor; it is beneath your dignity; then let your Commander-in-Chief do it; He can teach the poor, He can wash the feet of the saints, He can visit the sick and afflicted--He came from heaven to do this, and He will set you the example.” Surely we should each be ashamed of ourselves, and declare from this time forward whatever it is, be it great or little, if it comes to our hand, and if God will but give us help and give us grace, we will do it with all our might.
2. How are we to do it? “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” First, “do it.” That is, do it promptly; not fritter away your lives in setting down what you intend to do to-morrow as being a recompense for the idleness of to-day. No man ever served God by doing things to-morrow. If we have honoured Christ and are blessed, it is by the things which we do to-day. For after all, the ticking of the clock saith--to-day! to-day! to-day! We have no other time in which to live. The past is gone; the future hath not come; we have, we never shall have, anything but the present. This is our all; let us do what our hand findeth to do. “Procrastination is the thief of time.” Let him not steal thy time. Do it, at once. Serve thy God now; for now is all the time thou canst reckon on. Then, the next words, “Do it with thy might.” Whatever you do for Christ, throw your whole soul into it. Christ wants none to serve Him with their fingers. He must have their hands, their arms, their hearts. We must not give Christ a little slurred labour, which is done as a matter of course now and then; but when we do serve Him, we must do it with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and might. Serve the Master and spend yourself in your strength. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” But where is the might of a Christian? Let us not forget that. The might of a Christian is not in himself, for he is perfect weakness. His might lieth in the Lord of Hosts. It will be well for us if all we attempt to do is done in God’s strength, or else it will not be done with might: it will be feebly and badly done.
3. Why? We are to do it with all our might because death is near; and when death comes there will be an end to all our serving God on earth, an end to our preaching, an end to our praying, an end to our doing aught for God’s glory among the perishing souls of men. There is an old monkish legend told of a great painter, who had begun a painting, but did not finish it; and, as the legend went, he prayed that he might come back on earth that he might finish that painting. There is a picture, now extant, representing him after he had come back to finish his picture. There is a solemnity about that man’s look, as he paints away with all his might, for he had but little time allowed him, and a ghastliness, as if he knew that he must soon go back again, and wanted his labour to be finished. If you were quite sure of the time of your death, if you knew you had but a week or two to live, with what haste would you go round and bid farewell to all your friends; with what haste would you begin to set all matters right on earth, supposing matters are all right for eternity.
II. I endeavour to stir up all professors of religion here present to do whatsoever their hand findeth to do, to do it now, and with all their might. If Christ Jesus should leave the upper world, and come into the midst of this hall this morning, what answer could you give, if, after showing you His wounded hands and feet, and His rent side, He should put this question, “I have done all this for thee, what hast thou done for Me?” Let me put that question for Him, and in His behalf. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Life the season for action
I. An exhortation to present activity--“Whatsoever thy hand findeth,” etc.
1. Based on the fact that particular work is allotted to each life. In the Divine economy nothing has been created without some sphere of usefulness.
2. Urged by the fact that opportunity once lost can never be regained.
3. Limited by the truth that the work appointed to each will take the whole season of life; hence no man can do another’s work.
II. A recommendation to earnestness--“Do it with thy might.” Because--
1. To the earnest life the forces of darkness yield.
2. The work of life is of such infinite importance.
3. The workers of iniquity labour in this spirit, and set an example.
4. In proportion to our earnestness is our real success in life.
5. By this means will human attention be excited, and men be brought to thoughtfulness.
6. In proportion as we are earnest shall we be imitators of the perfect life. “I have finished the work,” etc.
III. A solemn consideration--“There is no work,” etc.
1. The season for active work is limited.
2. In what state death finds our work will it be sealed, after which no alteration can be made. If incomplete, so will it remain to all eternity.
3. This life is a season of probation; hence our everlasting weal or woe depends upon its actions. (J. F. Pridgeon.)
The improvement of present time
I. A serious exhortation.
1. The extent of the duty.
2. The manner of performing it.
II. The arguments to enforce this exhortation.
1. From the incapacities that will befall us in the grave.
2. From our hastening to it. (J. Guyse, D. D.)
Diligence in our spiritual concerns
I. The singular moment and vast importance of this work. It is not possible for the mind of man to conceive a more important event than the gain or loss of a blesssed immortality.
II. The extent and compass of it. It comprehends a great variety of particulars, none of which can safely be neglected; and requires constancy and perseverance to our lives’ end.
III. The shortness and uncertainty of this present life.
IV. How prone we are to deceive ourselves doubly in this important affair--not only about the sufficieney of our preparation, but also concerning the security of our title.
V. Let it be supposed that a man has gone further in the practice of virtue than was strictly necessary to secure his salvation; how will the consequence affect him: has he misspent his time, and lost his labour? No worthy action can be fruitless to the agent, whatever it may be in other respects. Not even a pious thought or a benevolent wish can fail of some good effect. (J. Balguy.)
The duty of diligence and earnestness in religion
Soul-work is at once the most difficult, the most important, and the most urgent.
I. Of the things which your hands should find to do.
1. The first thing that should engage our attention, because it is the most momentous of all, is the salvation of our souls. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” is a Divine command. There is indeed something for you to do, to secure the salvation of your soul from misery and ruin.
2. The next consideration relates to the covenant of redemption. Have you paid close and serious attention to this? Do you know what it expresses and conveys of the Divine mercy to sinful men who repent and believe? What it reveals of the Divine will for our salvation?
3. Observe, you have much to do for the glory of God, for the advancement, of your Saviour’s honour, and for the good of your fellow-men. You must not live to yourselves, but unto Him who died for you and rose again. You must strive to become examples unto others, patterns of purity and goodness.
II. Let me now explain and apply the exhortation to do these things with your might.
1. Do them cordially. Put your heart into them.
2. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it promptly. Why should you delay? There is no promise of Divine assistance, no certainty of success, unless you begin at once to act with decision and earnestness.
III. Consider the solemn and irresistible argument by which the admonition of the text is enforced--“for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou geese.” If in the day of life you will not do your proper work for your salvation, then night cometh--the dark night, when no man can work. (The Evangelist.)
(with John 9:4):--I have taken these parallel texts because the second supplements and completes the first.
1. I want to dwell upon the first verse: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it ‘with thy might’,” etc. We cannot read these words without feeling that they dwell very forcibly upon man’s capacity for work, and his opportunities for service, in this life. The very mention of the word “hand” is significant. The hand is one of the distinguishing gift’s of man. It is his hand that represents much of his power and the secret of many of his triumphs. The hand is pre-eminently the instrument for work: that with which a man tunnels the mountains, steers the ships across the mightiest seas, builds his monument’s, wields the pen. The hand ought to be restless until it has found it’s work. It’ has been given to man wherewith to work. The “loafer” tells us that he has not been able to find work. Yet, after all, even his hollow excuse tells us that down deep in his heart is the consciousness that there is a work: that it is his duty to be dissatisfied until he finds it; and that the hand is that which should find it. It is the instrument not only for work, but that of exquisite feeling and touch. Thus the figure is doubly used here--“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to de,” or, “reacheth out so as to find.” The human arm comes in here in its usefulness. “Reacheth out so as to find”--whatsoever work that hand of yours, with all the advantage that the human arm gives to it, can find in its search for toil and service, do it, and “do it with thy might.” Now, man’s energy or might can express itself in the hand as it cannot in any physical part of his nature. No member of man’s body can express human might like the hand. The hand with the arm as its lever is the universal symbol of power. This is applied even to God. The inspired writers do not hesitate to speak of “the right hand of the Most High”: and no one can mistake what is meant by that. Again, the phrase “thy might” is significant. It is the strength of your body, the force that is behind the hand, and to which the hand gives expression. Only by the dignity of labour can man rise to the true level of manhood; only by using the hand as the instrument of human industry and toil can he fulfil his mission. Observe next the hint given here concerning the transient opportunities of life in respect to life’s work--“For there is no work nor device in the grave whither thou goest.” We are here urged to work while we have the opportunity. The opportunity is transient and will soon be gone. When once allowed to slip, it never comes again in the same form. The greatest sorrow possible to man at the close of life is to realize that he has done nothing worth the doing, that his life is worse than a failure, and that the record of so many years does not include any service which has enriched his nature and prepared him for the higher and nobler service yonder.
2. I have taken the first words as an introduction to those still nobler words uttered by our Lord Himself: “I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work.” Jesus Christ here identifies Himself with man in view of this common responsibility of toil. He does not claim exemption. When we view the life of Christ, even as a human life among men, we are greatly impressed with the amount of work which He condensed into so brief a space of time. Here and there, in the record of one day’s toil, we gain a truer conception than we ‘otherwise should have had of the nature of that ministry that extended over a few brief years; but which was so full of activity and so rich in toil. Moreover, we learn that in all this Christ identified Himself with our race, and thus left us an example that we should follow His steps. When the Son of God became the Son of Man, in no instance did He more fully identify Himself with us than in His consecration to duty and His consciousness of the incessant claims of service. This brings us to a new truth which is here brought into prominence by our Lord--namely, the consciousness of a mission--“I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day.” Now, the consciousness of a mission is a different thing even from the consciousness of labours crowding upon one and demanding one’s attention. Our Lord here emphasized the truth that there was One who had sent Him. There was not only a work awaiting Him, but that work awaited Him which the Father, who had sent Him, had given Him to do. And so there is given to life a motive force which otherwise it would lack. Now it is this consciousness of a mission--not only the consciousness that there is a work to do, but also that this work is that which the Master has appointed for him--that gives an irresistible power to the life of every consecrated man. It behoves us, therefore, not only to realize the truth which is enforced in the verse taken from Ecclesiastes, but also the supplementary truth given us by Jesus Christ in the second text--that we must not only work, but also do the works of Him who has sent us. Now what follows? If the work that we have to do is the work of Him who has sent us into this world; if the service, therefore, that we have to render is a Divine service, or is a human response to a Divine claim, then how dignified does life become, and how noble does all labour appear! Now if you and I could only master this one truth, all our grumblings at the hardness of work would vanish; and we should for ever cease to talk about our self-denials. (D. Davies.)
The labour of life
I. Life is for labour. We are not here merely to theorize, sentimentalize, dream--but to work.
1. The training of Our own spirits for heaven.
2. The training of others for heaven.
II. Life is for earnest labour. “With all thy might.”
1. This work of all works is the most momentous.
2. This work cannot be performed in eternity.
3. Man is on his journey to eternity. (Homilist.)
It is not in his fallen state alone that industry is required of man. It may more properly be said to be the law imposed upon every creature; so that, of whatsoever God hath made, in earth, sea and air, He hath made nothing to be idle. A world without labour might be adapted to a race of angels; but we are sure that a world with much toil is the only fit one for a race of men. There are considerations in abundance which might furnish any thinking mind with matter for a eulogy on industry. It is industry alone which will preserve anything like a healthful content in the spirits. The unemployed man is always dissatisfied and restless; time is a burden; and after all, he is forced to be industrious--industrious in squandering what he will live to regret his not improving. And whilst so much may be said as to the advantages of industry, there are not wanting examples and patterns of the existence and culture of this virtue--the parent of every other, or indeed the main ingredient in every other. Turn where you will, and all is industry. Of course, we must limit the direction to lawful employment; we are not to “do with our might”--for we are not to do at all--what is in any sense or measure opposed to the known will of God. But the phrase must certainly include our various worldly callings.
1. It has passed into a kind of proverb amongst us that whatsoever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well. You frequently meet with persons wile on extraordinary occasions, or stimulated by some special inspection, will exert much diligence and take great pains to produce something excellent and commendable, but who at all other times are slatternly and indolent, caring nothing, so long as a duty be performed, how slovenly may be the performance. It is against this temper that our text delivers its injunction, requiring the putting forth of “might,” whether it be a great thing or a small which “the hand findeth to do.” In place of being content, provided there be diligence where there is a loud call for diligence, it demands that the diligence should be actually the habit, and seems to argue that indolence must be wickedness, let it be ever such trifles on which we are employed. And it is not by reasons of mere human policy that we must defend this position; for our text reasons, as you perceive, exclusively from the future. But there is no difficulty in making the future--the world beyond the grave--demand diligence and denounce indolence even in trifles. The truth is that what a man is in one thing, that in the main will he be in another. If industrious only by fits and starts in business, he will be industrious only by fits and starts in religion. The habits which he contracts in an unconverted state will be almost sure to stamp on him corresponding habits when he is brought to the providing for eternity; so that having become sluggish and desultory, except on great occasions, in his worldly employments, he will in the main be sluggish and desultory in the high duties of piety. There cannot be an individual less fitted for the message or the business of religion than one who has formed habits of indolence and sloth; for the message is one which asks for its auditory a gathering and a centring of the mental faculties, which can hardly be obtained from the habitually indolent; and the business is one which is wholly impracticable, unless there be that individual putting forth of industry, which it is a contradiction in terms to expect from the slothful. There cannot, we are persuaded, be a greater mistake than that of dividing employments into secular and spiritual, if we mean by tile division that the secular has no mixture of the spiritual, or that the spiritual would be defiled through association with the secular. The ordinance of labour, as we have shown you, is of Divine institution; and though, beyond question, our chief business on earth is the seeking the salvation of the soul, it is utterly insupposable that God would have imposed on us the necessity of labouring for the support of the body, if this business were unavoidably a hindrance to the chief--nay, if it were not even an auxiliary and an instrument. There cannot be inconsistency--there must be thorough harmony between the Divine appointments. God is served through the various occupations of life as well as through the more special institutions of religion. It needs only that a man go to his daily toil in simple obedience to the will of his Maker, and he is as piously employed, aye, and is doing as much towards securing for himself the high recompenses of eternity, as when he spends an hour in prayer, or joins himself gladly to the Sabbath-day gathering. I love to consider the manufacturer as he plies the shuttle, the statesman as he guides the wheel of government, the tradesman as he serves his customers, the sailor as he steers his vessel, the ploughman as he turns the ground, as each busied with an employment which may be virtually spiritual if he do not perversely frustrate its design: employment, which may be followed with a spiritual mind, and which, if so followed, has about it all the sanctity, and prepares for all the glory of heaven.
2. There are, unquestionably, duties which are more openly and visibly connected than others with the saving of the soul; and we may justly employ our concluding remarks in urging our hearers to industry in these. It is not the representation of Scripture, however it may be the imagination of numbers in the world, that religion is an easy thing: so that immortality may be secured with no great effort on the part of the sinner. The Christian life is likened to a battle, in which we may be defeated; to a race, in which we may be outstripped; to a stewardship, in which we may be unfaithful. Who, indeed, that thinks for a moment of the virtues required from us as Christians charity, temperance, meekness, patience, humility, contentment--will imagine that a believer may be idle, finding nothing in his spiritual calling to exercise his diligence? These virtues, we may venture to say, are all against nature; only to be acquired through strife with ourselves, and preserved by continued war. “Whatsoever,” then, “thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” Is temptation to be resisted? Resist it “with thy might”: a half resistance courts defeat. Is prayer to be offered? Pray “with thy might”: a languid prayer asks to be unanswered. Is a sacrifice to be made? Make it “with thy might”: a tardy surrender is next akin to a refusal. Be industrious in religion. We can tolerate indolence anywhere rather than here--hero where an eternity is at stake, here where an hour’s sluggishness may be fatal. An indolent Christian--it is a sort of contradiction. Christianity is industry spiritualized. The sluggard in religion would be the sluggard in escaping from the burning house or the sinking ship; and who ever loiters when death is at the door? Work, then, “with your might,” if you profess to work at all; “giving diligence “as an apostle exhorts, “to make your calling and election sure.” “There is no work, no wisdom, no device, in the grave.” The separate state, into which you will enter at death, is a state, whatever it’s employment, whatever its happiness, in which nothing can be done towards gaining heaven or avoiding hell. Your portion must be fixed here; your actions here, and these alone must determine on which side of the Judge you shall stand, and what your exact place in the kingdom, if you inherit it at all. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
I want to show you that our great need is more earnestness in the spiritual life
1. We want more earnestness in the reading of the Bible. What is the Bible? It is a prescription for the worst of all illness. Here is a Divine prescription. Take it and live; refuse it and die. How we ought to hold on to it, and with what earnestness we ought now to take it. It is more than that. Suppose a captain is awakened in the night. The men who have had the management of the ship have been asleep, and not minding their business. The vessel is among the breakers. The captain comes on deck with the chart. With what earnestness he looks at it now. Here is a rock and there is a rock; there is a lighthouse; here is a way of escape. So here is a map setting forth the perils of the sea in which we are voyaging: there are dangers all round about us. If the following of that chart does not get us out of the breakers, nothing will. With what earnestness we ought to examine it, and feel that it is a matter of heaven or hell whether or not we read it, and whether we read it right or wrong.
2. We need more earnestness in the matter of prayer.
3. We want more earnestness in the matter of Christian work. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Much work to be done on earth, and short time to do it
I. We have much work to do. “Yes,” some may be ready to say, “we have to labour for our temporal subsistence, we have to provide for our families, we have to push our way to wealth and station in the world, and that in the face of many obstacles, so that there is no room for trifling. But there is a work greater, more worthy of the powers of a rational and immortal being; it is that by which we may obtain deliverance from future and endless woe, and an entrance into the rest and blessedness of heaven.
1. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. There is here no work to be done by you, as that by which you may merit reward. There is nothing but the acceptance of a free gift. It does not, however, follow that faith in Christ is not in any sense a work, because it is not in reward of its performance, but on the ground of the righteousness which it receives, that we are justified. Must we not labour to get right views and humbling impressions of our wretchedness and danger as sinners? Will it cost us no struggle with our pride, self-confidence, or indifference about our spiritual interests, no watchful care lest we take up with any refuge of lies, no inward and earnest exertion of soul to place an enlightened and firm and entire reliance on Him who hath made atonement by His blood? “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” The avenger of blood is behind you--hasten to the city of refuge.
2. Endeavour to make progress in holiness. Labour to get a deeper, more contrite sense of sin, of your own sins, and a heart turned to hate and to forsake it in all its ways, and at the same time labour to call into exercise holy principles. Is there not much here which you may find to do? This work and warfare is Within; there let the fervent spirit labour.
3. Give yourselves to the works of piety and benevolence. Is there not yet much knowledge to be acquired? Should you not then give yourselves to the study of God’s Word? Is there nothing to do in your families, by the religious instruction of children and servants, by the Christian discipline maintained, by the just and equal yet affectionate treatment of all under your care? Are there no poor or afflicted by you to whoso wants you ear in any way minister, or whom you may cheer by your sympathy in their sorrow?
II. We have but a limited time for the performance of this work.
III. If our work be not done, the work given us to do on earth, before we come to the grave, it must remain for ever undone. (James Henderson, D. D.)
The true idea of life
Some errors are harmless and hardly worth the trouble of refuting; but an error about the nature and the uses of this present life is harmful, and worth an angel’s powers to refute. Why have some persons gone off into sensualism, deriding and disregarding all the claims of religion? Because they have misunderstood life. Why have others renounced the world, and sought in the heart of the desert, or the solitude of a religious house, freedom from the temptations of the world, and the agitations of society? Because they have misunderstood life.
I. This is the world of service. This idea involves necessarily these things--
1. Subordination. I remember that mine is a subordinate position. I am here to do something, and not to talk about doing it. “I must Work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work.”
2. Work. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it.” It is a doing world. “Man goes forth to his labour, and to his work, from the morning until the evening.” Spiritually we need this world; all the varied scenes which make up our life were needful to the right training of our minds into that attitude of creaturely dependence, which not only befits us, but into which, by the very force of circumstances, we shall sooner or later be driven; and which, therefore, we had better make our own by voluntary choice.
II. The service of this world is but for a short time. Learn, then:
1. Moderation in all our earthly pursuits.
2. Earnestness in our religious life. Let us not throw our souls into our business, and our sleep into our religion. (W. G. Barrett.)
It is an address to men, commending to them promptness, determination, and practical earnestness: inasmuch as they have but one life here on earth, they should give diligence to accomplish all the right purposes which they have formed for this world; seeing that once dead they cannot return, neither in the grave can they carry out any of their resolves, they should do quickly what they mean to do.
I. First, we shall give this passage an evangelical voice to the unconverted; and it will be necessary for us to say that there is nothing for the unconverted man to do, by way of work or device with his hand, in order to his being saved, Salvation from sin and justification before God come to us in connection with the work of the Holy Spirit within us leading us to faith in Jesus; and so salvation is entirely and alone of the grace of God. We would say to every unconverted person, “It is high time that you should begin to think about the solemn in crests of your soul, for you will soon pass from the place of saving knowledge and heavenly wisdom into the shades of forgetfulness.”
II. But now I have another task, and that is, to set forth my text as a stimulating voice to God’s own people. You have not the work to do of saving yourselves. “It is finished,” says the Saviour, and that is joy for you: but now you have another work to do because you are saved. The love of Jesus to us must provoke love in our heart to Jesus, and that love must show itself by deeds of service for His name. Our text indicates the” wisest course to follow. It is--Do it, do it at once. If you have not done what you should, up, man, and do what you can! Our text exhorts us to do our work now. Do not talk about doing it to-morrow, do it at once. The impetus of the text carries the thought as far as that; seeing that death may come to-night, do it now, even now. But Solomon says, “Do it with thy might.” There are several ways of doing the same action. One man will do a thing, and he has done ii; another has performed the same action, but has practically done nothing. Jesus Christ ought never to have our second best things--never. Our best is all too poor for Him, let us never put Him off with our inferior fruits. Do it--“do it with thy might.” And, once more, do it all; for the text says, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it”: that is to say, do it all. The pith of the text lies in the next thought, namely, that there is an argument to every earnest Christian for intense zeal in the fact of the certain approach of death; “for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest.” I have read of Dr. Chalmers that one evening he stayed with a company of friends at a gentleman’s house, and they spent the evening, as we are too much in the habit of doing, very pleasantly, but not very profitably, talking upon general subjects, not at all to be forbidden, but at the same time not much to be commended. There was among the number a Highland chief, who had attracted Dr. Chalmers’ notice, and he had talked with him, but nothing was said about the things of God. In the middle of the night a bitter cry was heard in the hospitable habitation, and there was a rush to the bedroom, where it was found that the Highland chief was in the agonies of death. Dr. Chalmers expressed (and he was not the man whom we could blame for laxity in that direction) his bitter regret that he had allowed that last evening of the man’s life to pass over without having spoken to him concerning the things of God. The regret was most proper, but it had been better if it had never been necessary. Such a regret may have occurred to ourselves; do not let it occur again. If you do not die, the person whom you are concerned about may die, therefore, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it,” for death may come on a sudden. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Impulse, will, and habit
Connected with activity and practical life there are three modes or conditions of mind--impulse, will or purpose, and habit. These represent three stages of experience, and a good deal more. Impulse is a sudden development of feeling with degrees of force. The term itself carries with it, latently, an idea of outspring, of force. It is the clear, distinct working of a desire, of whatever kind, primarily of the lower form, and at last of the higher. In the order of time impulse is primitive. It was with the race primitive. There was a time when men were animals of impulse. As civilization dawned, and the civilizing elements were more and more mixed with the waywardness of life, they became creatures of purpose, of design, of will. The higher and the better of them after a time learned the secret, empirically, perhaps practically, of commuting a definite purpose into a fixed habit, which is the last step of evolution--unless you make the final step the inclusion of them altogether in still a higher sphere. Impulse comes in the children before will, and a long way before habit. In rude and early national life we see the same thing. Design is casual: impulse is universal. It works in the lower forms of national life, in the history of the unfolding of the race, as it works in the household in children. It works with fear, with combativeness, with pleasure, with mirth, and with love in its more circumscribed forms. Thus the household, being itself a miniature of that which is taking place upon national life everywhere, we see that in the earlier stages we are children of feeling, of impulse. The second element is will or purpose. What is will? I do not know. I recognize it when I see it or feel it; but what its component elements are, psychologically, I do not know; and after reading multitudes of books, I do not think anybody else does. But that there is a determining state of feeling, together with intellect, in the soul, there can be no doubt: and we may as well call it will, or purpose, or anything else. It is that which gives direction to the mind, and is itself directed by the impulses out of which, or by the combinations of which, it lives. In the state of will emotion turns to intellect, and uses experience. Now, the will, that it may not fade out, forms itself into habit. What is habit? It is to be described, but not to be defined. When a man first sets type he knows what he wants for a letter. That is one process. He is aware that it is in a particular compartment of the case, and he takes it out, and feels for the nick, to know which end up to put it, and puts it that way, performing three several operations. Little by little, as he goes on through the weary days, the process becomes, as it were, absorbed into itself, till seeing an expert compositor at the case to-day, there is no will, no intelligence in it. What is there in it? Habit. What is that habit? It is the parts that are operating it, doing it out of themselves. Without the recognition of the will, or the purpose of the will, it is automatic, self-done. And when an expert puts his hand to the case, your eye cannot follow the rapidity with which he will compose in this way. The beginning of it was at every step a thought and a purpose, but the completion of it has abolished thought and purpose. The muscle and the mind work together automatically. The complex elements, then, necessary for the purpose and the will acquire a tendency to go on without special stimulus. The mind, acting of itself, greatly condenses action and greatly augments facility dud power. This automatic condition which lies at the root of habit is of transcendent importance in physical things, in all industrial matters, in art, in moral relations. The mind becomes like a machine, which, when first started, must have the valves opened by the engineer’s hand, but which has inter-connecting rods, such that when once it has begun it opens and shuts its own valves, and runs night and day, so long as it is supplied with water and fuel. Habit, as in the case of mechanical actions, should, when applied to the foot, to the hand, to the head, or to the mind, condense in itself both emotion and will. It does. But where most we need habit is in the development of moral qualities. A true Christian is like a well-plumbed house. He has but to turn on the light, and it is there always. He has but to turn on the faucet, and rivers and wells are at his service. An untrained man is like a family in the lower countries, where he has to go to a distant spring to bring in every bucket of water that he uses for culinary purposes; and what we want is not to have to pump up right feeling at the right time, but to have the right feeling, as it were, in the very structure of the soul, so that we have it always when needed. A man who has no patience but that which comes from instant reflection will have very little; but a man who has trained his patience so that it acts through habit automatically will, perhaps, not have the reputation of being patient; but if not, it is because the work is so perfect. It is the art of art to conceal art. If this is true in regard to that part of our emotion which develops itself in society, how much more important is it that we should recognize its truth in regard to conscience, the spirit of generosity, benevolence, humility, and meekness! Now, a word or two of criticism and of suggestion arising out of this distinction between impulse, will, and habit. A revival of religion is a revival of impulse in its earlier stages. If emotion, however, is taught in any church to lead on to a higher state, and the church is drilled to it, if the extraordinary work that is performed in a revival of religion is a part of the daily and weekly routine of church life, we can conceive that a church may be in such a state that, so far as its own self is concerned, it will always live in what is better than a revival. The term revival is usually attached to the freshness of the beginning impulse; whereas a condensed methodical church-life ought to have it in the whole force and continuity of habit. I hold that where a church is living a really Christian life there is nothing so converting as for persons from without to come into the community of that church and see its piety. A man listening to the actuality of real religion has a work performed on him that no amount of pulpit exhortation could ever secure. So, impulse ripened is better than impulse raw; but impulse raw is better than nothing; and through every stage of unfolding impulse ought to be continued; there are certain elements in it that are like the leaves of a tree. The fruit could not ripen if it were not for the freshly-coming leaves. When, on the other hand, training without impulse is resorted to, where men have fixed habits of belief, of conduct, and of duty, they are apt to become hard, mechanical, uninteresting, their life being all routine, and no innovation. Indeed, they become afraid of new things. They fear variety. They love to hear the old sounds. They like what is called “sound doctrine,” which, half the time, is the doctrine of sound. They are afraid of any variation for they do not know where it will lead to. It will not lead to somnolency, as what may be called the hard and fixed methods do too frequently. What we want is to unite the advantages that come from all these three elements in the machinery of the mind--ever-fresh variety, springing from impulse; then fixity, or the organization of impulse into practical results; and then will, in the form of automatic conduct. When a man has these he is built up in all the departments of life, so that he serves himself with the greatest ease, and exerts the widest influence upon others--and that, too, with agreeableness, with cheer, which is one of the most beneficent elements of Christian life. (H. W. Beecher.)
Entire devotion to duty
I. How men ought to find out their duty.
1. By reading the Word of God, which points out the duty of all persons in every relation of life, and is able to make all wise unto salvation.
2. By hearing the Word of God explained and enforced by religious instructors.
3. By duly regarding the dispensations of Divine providence towards them.
4. By asking counsel of God in prayer.
II. What is implied in men’s doing their duty, when they discover it, “with their might.” Might signifies power, strength and ability of every kind.
1. Men ought to employ all their powers and faculties in doing what they find they have to do. If it requires bodily strength, then they must exert their bodily strength; if it requires knowledge, then they must exercise the knowledge they possess; if it requires wisdom, then they must exercise their wisdom; if it requires prudence, then they must exercise prudence; if it requires authority, then they must exercise authority; if it requires influence, then they must exercise all the influence they have; or ii it requires the exertion of all their natural and moral abilities, then they must exert them all to their utmost extent.
2. Men’s doing with their might what they find to do implies that they should surmount all the difficulties that lie in the way of doing their duty.
III. Why men should thus exert themselves to do whatsoever they find to do in the world.
1. Because God has given them all their mental and corporeal powers and faculties for use.
2. Because He has a great deal for them to do on the stage of life--for Him, for their fellow-men, and for themselves.
3. Because they have but a short and uncertain time to do it in. They have no time to lose, nor talents to bury. Let them work while it is day, for the night of death is at hand.
1. If men may always find out what they have to do in this world, then they have no right to plead ignorance for the neglect of a duty.
2. If men ought to employ all their powers and faculties in doing what they find to be duty, then they have no right to do anything but what they know to be duty. Whatsoever is not of duty is of sin.
3. If God requires men always to know and do their duty, then they can never retrieve any of their lost time, opportunities, or advantages of doing good.
4. If God requires men to employ all their time and talents in doing their duty, then none can be released from duty as long as their active powers and faculties are graciously continued to them.
5. If God requires men to employ all their time and talents in doing their duty, then there is reason to think they are guilty of more sins of omission than of commission.
6. If men can do nothing for this world after death, then they ought to do all they can while they live, to leave it in a better state than they found it.
7. This subject now calls upon all to inquire whether they are prepared to leave the world, and to commit their bodies to the grave, the house appointed for all living, and where there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, but darkness and oblivion. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
With your might
The injunction to put our might into our work may very easily be misunderstood, and that especially by young people. It does not mean that we are to work feverishly, with hot haste, and without preparation. It means work done with deliberation, with purpose, with calmness, and with strength. All these qualities are eminently illustrated in the life of Christ.
1. Christ prepared for His work. The obscure years were many in comparison with the brief period of His public ministry. Yet, when at last the time came, it was found they were not lost. Every word He spoke then, and every deed He did, tells, and will tell upon the universe for ever. Many young people who wish to give themselves to Christian work are in too much haste. Let them remember how grandly Christ waited. Let them remember that there is no true call to the ministry which is not also a call to full and zealous preparation for the ministry.
2. We must do with our might the things that seem small as well as great, for in truth we do not really know what is small or what is great. Rather, in the work of the kingdom of Christ everything is great.
3. In order to do work with our might we must rest as well as work. If we are to work with our might the energies of the body and soul must not be dulled or blunted, and for that rest is needed.
4. There is all the difference in the world between work done with the might and work that is not. John Ruskin says: “We are not sent into this world to do anything into which we cannot put our hearts.” Charles Kingsley’s testimony is: “I go at what I am about as if there were nothing else in the world for the time being. That is the secret of all hard-working men.”
5. We may apply this principle to preparation and study. There is all the difference in the world between reading with your might and reading without it. The concentration of the mind on the subject enables us to take possession of something new, and to make it part of ourselves. When the mind is relaxed and wandering there is no permanent gain.
6. This applies eminently to preaching. Preaching in every form is impressive just in proportion as a man puts his soul into it.
7. Perhaps there is no more needed application of this lesson than to the business of prayer. Prevailing prayer is wrestling prayer. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” True intercession is the costliest of all things. Intercede for a soul in peril, and God will answer your petition by suggesting to you something you must do or give up for the sake of that soul.
8. For after all it is not with our might that we work. It is with God’s might. Everything we do that is really worth doing is in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Yet we are to put effort, and sacrifice, and longing, and intensity, and fervour, and whole-heartedness, and allegiance into our work just as if it depended upon ourselves. (W. R. Nicoll, LL. D.)
An earnest life
In the Peruvian Exhibit at the World’s Fair there were a number of mummies and relics of the Incas supposed to be more than three thousand years old. It is plain that these ancient people never heard the words of this text “There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge in the grave.” They buried the warrior and his bows and arrows together. Beside the workman his tools were carefully placed, and with the housewife long wooden needles and coarse yarn were laid, that they might be enabled to go on with their work. Hunger and thirst were expected and provided for. Food and drink were placed in the graves with the bodies. Treasures were buried with the owners. Immense wardrobes are found incased with the body of some princess of fashion. But the weapons, the tools, the food, the ready material, the rich toilets, the wealth, have all remained absolutely unused since the day of burial. Vanity of vanities, was it not? How fruitless, how vain all their ignorant expectations! Now let us be sure of this--that no living man or woman will have a chance to use these earthly tools but once. The present is the “nick of time” with us all. None of us can pass through this life and then begin and try it over again. We cannot do that with a single day or even an hour. Ten minutes lost are lost for ever; and a day’s work undone is undone for ever. Now it is this very lesson, and the effect which it should have upon us, which God meant to teach us all by this text. The effect is put first: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest.” That is, whatsoever thy hands find to do, do it; do it now; do it with thy might, and do it for this very reason--that you will never have another chance. Therefore, like the good old Quaker, it is for every one of us to say: “I expect to pass through this life but once; if, therefore, there is any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to my fellow human beings, let me do it now: let me not defer or neglect it; for I shall not pass this way again.”
I. The elements of an earnest life. They are just these two things, earnest faith and earnest love. A man’s visible life is but the expression of his invisible modes of thought and feeling--the outcome of his convictions and his affections--in other words, of his faith and love. As a man loves so he lives; as he believes so he behaves. If he loves God he is godly; if he loves the world he is worldly. If his faith be bright his life will be shining; if his faith be dim his life will be dark. Earnest faith and earnest love--these are the mightiest principles that underlie every true and noble life. For example--given earnest faith in God and earnest love for God, and what a devoted follower of God will any man become I Given earnest faith in the truth and earnest love for the truth, and what a truth-seeker and truth-spreader will any man become! Given earnest convictions of man’s ruin and earnest love for man’s redemption, and what a Christian worker and soul-winner will surely develop! Given earnest faith in the mission of the Church and earnest love for that mission, and to what a degree of heroic self-sacrifice and endeavour will we not go! Earnest faith and earnest level These are the combined elements which make up an earnest life--that is when they are living, active union and com-reunion. But let us bear in mind that they must be combined. By itself alone neither will suffice. Faith alone makes the bigot; love alone the fanatic. The one is the engine without the balance-wheel; the other is the balance-wheel without the engine. The one is the head without the heart; the other is the heart without the head. Neither of itself produces the desirable character--neither all faith nor all love, but both. Only in the union and communion of the two will an earnest life result. There was Paul, for example. He believed man’s ruin and he believed God’s remedy. He believed the inevitable and irreparable destruction that hung over the sinner, and he believed, too, the atonement of Christ as the full and free and only possible salvation for him. And what then? Why, “the love of Christ constrained him” to most unceasing and almost superhuman efforts for man’s salvation. These combined elements--earnest faith and earnest love--gave strength to his weakness, courage to his timidity, point to his logic and fervour to his eloquence. They enlisted him, body, mind, and soul, so that he was willing to become all things to all men that he might by any means save some. And so must it be with us all if we would accomplish much--if we would make our lives tell for God and humanity. We must have faith in something.
We must have love for something.
II. The motives leading to an earnest life. What are they?
1. Well, first, as was intimated in the beginning, is that thought of no repair. “There is no work,” no doing this life’s unfinished work, “in the grave.” Surely if any one thought more than another could make life seem real and earnest to us it must be found in this fact, that we can never go over the ground again to do unfinished work or rectify mistakes. As Jehovah spoke to Israel out on the road from Egypt, so He says to each of us, “Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.” We are told that in one of those splendid pageants in Berlin, not long ago, the wife of the English ambassador unfortunately unfastened the necklace she was wearing and lost a costly pearl somewhere in the roadway. Perhaps it might have been regained if a serious search had been in order at such a time. But the grand procession must hurry along, and a lost place in the ranks was of more account than a lost pearl. They did not return the same way. Lost things are lost. Undone work is undone. Broken things are broken beyond repair, for there is no work, nor knowledge, nor device in the grave whither thou goest. That dropped pearl of opportunity, lost in the procession of our years, lies far back there in the dusty roadway, and we shall not return that way.
2. The second motive is the need of haste. If there is no finishing up of this life’s work in the next, then how rapidly ought we to work now. Like the needle-woman sitting by her last bit of candle, how rapidly ought we to labour lest the light burn down to its socket ere the work be finished. “The King’s business requires haste.” “The night cometh.” (G. B. F. Halleck.)
The Gospel of hard work
Religion won’t spoil you in any kind of secular work, it will make you sacred in the midst of all the dangers of secularity. As I said to a company of working-men’s wives, not long ago, so I say here: there is more polishing-paste in this text than we have ever taken out of it. It would wonderfully scour and brighten everything if we could get it extracted and applied. It is a perfect battery of energy; would God it might get into us I When we go back to our daily task--whatever you are going to do, in work, in purpose, in enterprise, do it--up and do it. Do not merely think, don’t dawdle, do not idle, do not dream. Young or old, rich or poor, mistress or maid, master or man, do not spend thy time in day-dreaming, in star-gazing, in hatching schemes in your imagination, and in thinking marvellous things--of a benevolent nature, for example--that are only castles in the air, and “wee bit fuffin’ lewes” (flickering flames), as our Scotch song says. The Bible gives the best rein to every legitimate ambition and power within. Let go; drive on ahead if only this is your driving-power. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” Then let us apply it to spiritual work. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,” from sweeping under the mats, to taking thy share in the Sacrament, “do it with thy might.” For daily toil--no laziness, no mere scheming, and no jerry-building; it is all condemned in here. And for express spiritual work, the same injunction. But have you got the spiritual hand--have you? Let me illustrate what I mean by that man in the New Testament--you remember him--the man with the withered hand. Do not imagine I am sending you to spiritual work, if you have not the hand to do it, and the heart behind the hand to drive and guide it. But you may get it today. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might,” for the day is hastening to its close, everything is passing away. Do not despair, do not sigh, do not mope, do not say, “This takes all pith and stamina out of me”: it does not. A horse never runs better than when it is running for the stable; and we may all be doing that through God’s grace and mercy. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might,” for the night is coming, and God will put no man on the night-shift, not one of us. He is not a hard taskmaster, tie is kind and gracious, only He knows we are lazy, my brother, and that is why. He speaks like this. He knows that even the best of us need to have the spur. I knew a brother student once who dreamt that in a month’s time he was going to die. He dreamt it three times over in one night, and although he was naturally as prosaic and matter-of-fact as anybody I ever knew, that dream stuck to him. It was burned into him. Now, people would say that that stopped that man’s work, that he simply sat and moped; shut himself in, and sent for the doctor. He did not; he never put in such a month’s work in the district where he was missionary, never. It was a pity the vision faded away. It is a pity it should fade away from any of us. It did him no harm, he never had such a month of personal holiness, and such a month of self-sacrifice; doing things with his might, both secular and sacred, for he had only a month, and then the judgment-seat, and Him who sits thereon. Thus it always comes out, whatever way you like to turn, the great lesson from eternity is: Be diligent, and make the most of the passing day, for yourself, for your character, for your neighbour, for your God; for it will all meet you, and be part and parcel of you through eternity. This is the true “Carpe diem” philosophy. Of Turner, his servant used to say, “I never knew him to be idle.” Oh, how some who give themselves up to what we call worldly ambitions put Christians to shame! When he got an order for a picture, he went home, and the same day on which he got the order he spread the canvas, and he had the whole thing in dead colour before he went to bed. Next morning, early, he was at it again. The Lord put into us the Holy Ghost as the Spirit, of hard work. You will not kill yourself by hard work along the lines of God’s Book. “The more the marble wastes, the more the statue grows.” (John McNeill.)
The lesson of diligence
A few years ago a gentleman who kept a large drug-shop in Boston advertised for a boy. The next day a number of boys applied for the situation. One of them was a queer-looking little fellow. He came with his aunt, who took care of him. Looking at the poor boy, the merchant said promptly, “Can’t take him; he’s too small.” “I know he’s small,” said his aunt, “but he’s willing and faithful. Please try him, sir.” There was something in the boy’s look which made the merchant think again. A partner in the firm came forward and said he “didn’t see what they wanted with such a boy--he wasn’t bigger than a pint pot.” Still the boy was allowed to stay, and put to work. Not long after a call was made on the clerks for some one to stay through the night. They all held back but little Charley, who instantly offered his services. In the middle of the night the merchant came to the shop to see if all was right, and was surprised to find Charley busy cutting out labels. “What are you doing?” he asked. “I didn’t tell you to work all night.” “I know you didn’t, sir; but I thought I had better be doing something than be idle.” In the morning, when the merchant came into his office, he said to the cashier, “Double Charley’s wages. His aunt said he was willing, and so he is.” A few weeks after this a menagerie passed through the streets. Naturally enough, all the hands in the shop rushed out to see it, but Charley stayed in his place. A thief saw his chance, and entered by the back door; suddenly he found himself grabbed by the young clerk, and held down to the floor. Not only was he prevented from stealing, but things taken from other shops were found upon him and returned to their owners. “What made you stay to watch when all the others quitted their work to look?” asked the merchant. “You told me never to leave the shop, sir, when others were absent, and so I thought I ought to stay.” The order was repeated, “Double that boy’s wages. His aunt said he was faithful, and so he is.” Before he left the clerkship he was getting a salary of £500 a year; and now he is a member of the firm. Here is an example of diligence leading to success. And no boy or girl, man or woman, will be long out of a place who learns the lesson of diligence, and practises it in this way. (R. Newton, D. D.)
Do thy best
A young painter was directed by his master to complete a picture on which the master had been obliged to suspend his labours on account of his growing infirmities. “I commission thee, my son,” said the aged artist, “to do thy best upon this work. Do thy best.” The young man had such reverence for his master’s skill that he felt incompetent to touch canvas which bore the work of that renowned hand. But, “Do thy best,” was the old man’s calm reply; and again, to repeated solicitations, he answered, “Do thy best.” The youth tremblingly seized the brush, and kneeling before his appointed work, he prayed: “It is for the sake of my beloved master that I implore skill and power to do this deed.” His hand grew steady as he painted. Slumbering genius awoke in his eye. Enthusiasm took the place of fear. Forgetfulness of himself supplanted his self-distrust, and with a calm joy he finished his labour. The “beloved master” was borne on his couch into the studio to pass judgment on the result. As his eye fell upon the triumph of art before him, he burst into tears, and throwing his enfeebled arms around the young artist, he exclaimed, “My son, I paint no morel” That youth, Leonardo da Vinci, became the painter of “The Last Supper,” the ruins of which, after the lapse of 300 years, still attract annually to the refectory of an obscure convent in Milan hundreds of the worshippers of art.
I returned, and saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.
The client of things not always answerable to second causes
There are some persons so slothful in their own affairs, so hardly prevailed upon to undertake anything that requires labour, so easily discouraged by any appearance of ill success, or so heedless and inactive in the prosecution of whatever they are about; as if they were of opinion, even in temporal matters, what in some systems of religion has been absurdly affirmed concerning spirituals, that God does everything in men and for men, leaving nothing for them to do for themselves; or as if they thought that precept to be literal and universal which our Saviour spake with the latitude of a moral admonition to the apostles only, and upon an extraordinary occasion, “Take no thought for the morrow” etc. There are others, in a contrary extreme, who rely with such confidence on the effects of their own wisdom and industry, and so presumptuously depend upon the natural and regular tendencies of second causes; as if they thought, either there was no superior cause at all, on which the frame of nature depended; or at least, that the providence of God did not condescend to direct the events of things in this lower and uncertain world. And these are proved in the words of my text, “I returned.” Solomon turned his thoughts and observations from one subject to another. In the verse before the text he views the careless or negligent part of mankind, and exhorts them to diligence. And then, “I returned,” saith he; that is, he turned his view the other way, towards the confident or presumptuous; and them he bids to take notice that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; that is, that the events of things do not always answer to the probabilities of second causes, unless the wisdom of God thinks fit by the direction of His good providence to make those causes successful.
I. Doctrinal observations.
1. What men vulgarly call chance or unforeseen accident is in Scripture always declared to be the determinate counsel and providence of God. And it is strictly and philosophically true in nature and reason that there is no such thing as chance or accident; it being evident that those words do not signify anything really existing, anything that is truly an agent or the cause of any event; but they signify merely men’s ignorance of the real and immediate cause. And this is so true, that very many even of those who have no religion, nor any sense at all of the providence of God, yet know very well, by the light of their own natural reason, that there neither is nor can be any such thing as chance, that is, any such thing as an effect without a cause; and therefore what others ascribe to chance, they ascribe to the operation of necessity or fate. But fate also is itself in reality as truly nothing as chance is. Nor is there in nature any other efficient or proper cause of any event, but only the free will of rational and intelligent creatures acting within the sphere of their limited faculties; and the supreme power of God, directing, by His omnipresent providence (according to certain wise laws or rules, established by, and entirely depending upon, His own good pleasure), the inanimate motions of the whole material and unintelligent world.
2. The all-directing providence of God, which governs the universe, does not superintend only the great events in the world, the fates of nations and kingdoms; so that, without the direction of providence, the strongest and most numerous armies are not victorious in battle; but its care extends even to the concerns of single persons, so that, without the blessing of God, neither riches, nor favour, nor any temporal advantage can certainly be obtained by anything that man can do; nay, that even in matters of still smaller moment, not so much as a race is gained by the swift without the hand of Providence directing the event.
3. Things being brought about according to the course of nature by second causes is not at all inconsistent with their being nevertheless justly and truly ascribed to the providence of God. For what are natural causes? Nothing but those laws and powers which God merely of His own good pleasure has implanted in the several parts of matter, in order to make them instruments of fulfilling His supreme will. Which laws and powers, as He at first appointed them, so nothing but the same good pleasure of God continually preserves them. And they neither exist nor operate in any moment of time, but by influence and action derived to them (mediately or immediately) from His all-governing will. So that He foresees perpetually what effect every power and operation of nature tends to produce; and could (if He thought fit) exactly with the same ease cause it to produce a different effect as that which it now does. From whence it follows inevitably, to the entire confusion of atheists, that all those things which they call natural effects are in very truth as much the operation of God as even miracles themselves. And to argue against Providence from the observation of the regular course of natural causes, is as if a man should conclude from the uniformity of a large and beautiful building that it was not the work of men’s hands, nor contrived by any free agent, because the stones and the timber were laid uniformly and regularly in the most constant, natural, and proper order.
4. Since the whole course of nature in the ordinary method of causes and effects, and all those unexpected turns of things which men vulgarly call chance and accident are entirely in the hand of God, and under the continual direction of His providence; it follows evidently that God can, whenever He pleases, even without a miracle, punish the disobedient; and no swiftness, no strength, no wisdom, no artifice shall enable them to escape the vengeance which even natural causes only, by the direction of Him from whom they receive their nature, bring upon offenders. He can punish by fires and famine, by plagues and pestilences, by storms and earthquakes, by domestic commotions, or by foreign enemies. And it is the exceeding stupidity of profane men not to be moved hereby to repent and give glory to the God of Heaven, who hath power over these plagues (Revelation 16:9). The meaning of this whole observation is, not that these judgments are always certain signs of God’s displeasure against all the particular persons upon whom they at any time fall. But whether they be punishments for sin (as they generally, though not always, are); or whether they be only trials of men’s virtue (as they sometimes are designed to be); or whether they be means of weaning them from this transitory and uncertain world; or whatever other end Providence brings about thereby; still they are always effects of the same all-wise Divine providence, which ought to be acknowledged and submitted to as such, and whose designs no power or wisdom of frail and vain men can oppose or prevent.
II. Practical inferences.
1. If these things be so, then let the greatest and most powerful of wicked men consider that they have nothing in this world either to boast of, or to rely upon (Jeremiah 9:23).
2. If nothing happens in the world without the Divine providence, then good men have a sufficient ground of trust and reliance upon God, at all times and under all dangers. Not that God will always deliver them, or cause them to prosper in the present world; for He often sees it better to determine otherwise; but they may rely with assurance that nothing can befall them but what He judges fit, seeing all the powers of nature and of second causes are nothing but instruments in His hand, and under His direction.
3. From this notion of Providence may be given a plain and direct answer to that question of the profane fatalist (Job 21:15). Indeed, if the course of nature, and those things which we call second causes were independent upon Providence, there would be good reason to ask, what benefit could there be either in prayer or thanksgiving? But if, as has been shown, nature is nothing, and second causes are nothing but mere instruments; then it is very plain that prayer and thanksgiving are as much due to God for whatever is brought about by natural causes, as if He had done the thing by any other instruments instead of these, even by the most miraculous ones; which, in that case, being no less constant, would have been no more miraculous than these. (S. Clarke, D. D.)
Success not always answerable to the probability of second causes
Next to the acknowledgment of God’s being, nothing is more essential to religion than the belief of His providence, and a constant dependence Upon Him as the great Governor of the world and the wise Disposer of all the affairs and concernments of the children of men; and nothing can be a greater argument of providence than that there is such an order of causes laid in nature, that in ordinary course everything does usually attain its end; and yet that there is such a mixture of contingency as that now and then we cannot tell how nor why the most likely causes do deceive us, and fail of producing their usual effects. The sum of the Preacher’s advice is this: When thou propoundest any end to thyself, be diligent and vigorous in the use of means; and when thou hast done all, look above and beyond these to a superior Cause which overrules, and steers, and stops, as He pleases, all the motions and activity of second causes; and be not confident that all things are ever so wisely and firmly laid that they cannot fail of success. For the providence of God doth many times step in to divert the most probable event of things, and to turn it quite another way; and whenever He pleases to do so, the most strong and likely means do fall lame, or stumble, or by some accident or other come short of their end. The words thus explained contain this general proposition--That in human affairs the most likely means do not always attain their end, nor does the event constantly answer the probability of second causes; but there is a secret providence which governs and overrules all things, and does, when it pleases, interpose to defeat the most hopeful and probable designs.
I. For the confirmation and illustration of this proposition, that the most likely means do not always attain their end; but there is a secret providence which overrules and governs all events, and does, when it pleases, interpose to defeat the most probable and hopeful designs. “The race is not to the swift.” If we understand this literally, it is obvious to every man to imagine a great many accidents in a race which may snatch victory from the swiftest runner. If we understand it as the Chaldee paraphrase does, with relation to war, that the swiftest does not always overcome or escape in the day of battle; of this Asahel is an eminent instance, who, though he was, as the Scripture tells us, “light of foot as a wild roe,” yet did he not escape the spear of Abner. “Nor yet bread to the wise,” or to the learned. The poverty of poets is proverbial; and there are frequent instances in history of eminently learned persons that have been reduced to great straits and necessities. “Nor yet riches to men of understanding:” by which, whether we understand men of great parts, or of great diligence and industry, it is obvious to every man’s observation that an ordinary capacity and understanding does usually lie more level to the business of a common trade and profession than more refined and elevated parts; which lie rather for speculation than-practice, and are better fitted for the pleasure and ornament of conversation than for the toil and drudgery of business: as a fine razor is admirable for cutting hairs, but the dull hatchet much more proper for hewing a hard and knotty piece of timber. And even when parts and industry meet together, they are many times less successful in the raising of a great estate than men of much lower and slower understandings; because these are apt to admire riches, which is a great spur to industry; and because they are perpetually intent upon one thing, and mind but one business, from which their thoughts never straggle into vain and useless inquiries after knowledge, or news, or public affairs; all which being foreign to their business, they leave to those who are, as they are wont to say of them in scorn, more curious, and too wise to be rich. “Nor yet favour to men of skill.” All history is full of instances of the casual advancement of men to great favour and honour, when others, who have made it their serious study and business, have fallen short of it.
II. Some reason and account of this, why the providence of God doth sometimes thus interpose to hinder and defeat the most probable designs of men:--To bring men to an acknowledgment of His providence, and of their dependence upon Him, and subordination to Him; and that He is the great Governor of the world, and “rules in the kingdoms of men.” God hath so ordered things in the administration of the affairs of the world as to encourage the use of means; and yet so as to keep men in a continual dependence upon Him for the efficacy and success of them: to encourage industry and prudence God generally permits things to their natural course, and to fall out according to the power and probability of second causes. But then, lest men should cast off religion, and “deny the God that is above”: lest they should “trust in their sword and their bow, and say, the Lord hath not done this”: lest men should look upon themselves as the creators and framers of their own fortune, and when they do but a little outstrip others in wisdom or power, in the skill and conduct of human affairs, they should grow proud and presumptuous, God is pleased sometimes more remarkably to interpose, “to hide pride from man,” as the expression is in Job; to check the haughtiness and insolence of men’s spirits, and to keep them within the bounds of modesty and humility; to make us to know “that we are but men,” and that the reins of the world are not in our hands, but that there is One above who sways and governs all things here below.
III. Some inferences from what hath been said upon this argument.
1. From hence we may learn not to account religion, and time spent in the service of God, and in prayer to Him for His blessing upon our endeavours, to be any hindrance to our affairs. For after we have done all we can, the event is still in God’s hand, and rests upon the disposal of His providence. And did men firmly believe this, they would not neglect the duty of prayer, and behave themselves so carelessly, and unconcernedly, and irreverently in it as we see too many do; they would not look upon every hour that is spent in devotion as lost from their business.
2. From hence we may likewise learn so to use the means as still to depend upon God; who can, as He pleases, bless the counsels and endeavours of men, or blast them and make them of none effect. For as God hath promised nothing but to a wise and diligent use of means, so all our prudence, and industry, and most careful preparations may miscarry, if He do not favour our design; for without Him nothing is wise, nothing is strong, nothing is able to reach and attain its end.
3. The consideration of what hath been said upon this argument should keep us from being too sanguine and confident of the most likely designs and undertakings; because these do not always answer the probability of second causes and means; and never less than when we do with the greatest confidence rely upon them; when we promise most to ourselves from them, then are they most likely to deceive us; they are, as the prophet compares them, like a broken reed, which a man may walk with in his hand, while he lays no great stress upon it; but if he trust to it, and lean his whole weight on it, it will not only fail him, but even pierce him through. (J. Tillotson, D. D.)
Many endeavours of the creature are often frustrated of their end when there is greatest probability of success
Here Solomon representeth men--
1. Under several accomplishments of swift, wise, strong.
2. As addressing themselves to some effect to obtain success.
3. As in the issue disappointed. None of these accomplishments alone do give the event intended and hoped for, nor doth it depend absolutely and infallibly upon them.
4. That all things intended, desired, expected by us depend upon time and chance, namely, as they depend upon God’s providence, as and when God will order and determine the time and opportunity, the success and event. Therefore from the whole it appears that instruments most fitted and furnished, and most diligent in their way, are frustrated of the event which they so earnestly intended and hoped for.
I. The best instruments fail out of their ignorance, oblivion, and inadvertency, from which man cannot altogether free himself in this life, not only in matters spiritual, but secular, whether economical in the disposing of ourselves and relations, or family interests and concernments.
II. Because if we have sufficient knowledge, yet God can easily put some impediment from within or without to hinder the use of our wisdom, power, and knowledge.
1. Within he can blast our excellencies in an instant, or obstruct the use of it for the time. As though He did not destroy the property of the fire, yet he suspended the burning, when the three children were in the furnace. So of a sudden can He blast our strength (Psalms 16:5-6).
2. From without. By casting in some casual event which we foresaw not and could not think of.
III. The most able instruments do often provoke God to disappoint them, whilst their abilities of counsel and strength are a means of hardening their hearts in carnal confidence, and often engage in business that proves mischievous to them; I say, in the most lawful businesses they provoke God to disappoint them, because they undertake them without God; but too often being unrenewed and unsanctified, their wit and power is used against God.
IV. To say and do, or to make a thing to be, is the act and name of Jehovah, which glory He will not communicate to any other (Lamentations 3:37). Therefore, whatever preparation of means or likelihoods there are, we must not be too confident of future events. We cannot bring them to pass by our own power, and God doth not always work by likely means; He hides events from men (Isaiah 48:7). “Lest thou shouldst say, I knew them.” Now the event could not be hidden if the Lord went on in a constant course, giving the race to the swift, etc. God carrieth on His providence so as to leave no footsteps behind Him. He goeth not one way so often as to make a path of it, that men may see the plain tendency thereof. The uses follow. It teaches us--
I. The nothingness of the creature, and the all-sufficiency of God.
II. To teach us in this lottery of human affairs to look after surer comforts. This is the whole drift of this book; for Solomon, in his critical search and observation of all things done under the sun, aimeth at this, to direct our hearts to blessings which are more stable and sure. God would leave these things at uncertainty, that our hearts might not too much be set upon them, that we might not pursue after favour, riches, and credit as the best things.
III. What need there is God should be seen and sought unto in all our designs and resolutions about the disposal of ourselves and ours.
1. What will the use of means and second causes do without God?
2. When we have done our duty, and used such good means as God affordeth, then we may quietly refer the success to God, in whose hands are all the ways of the children of men, and upon whose good pleasure the issues of all things depend (Proverbs 16:13).
IV. The wisest and best of men must not expect always to be happy, but must prepare themselves for sinister chances; for the words are brought in upon this occasion of rejoicing in our comforts.
V. Take heed of carnal confidence, or depending upon the sufficiency of any means, though never so likely to produce their effect.
VI. To keep humble men of the best abilities and sufficiencies for any work.
1. Before the event; for many times they meet with more disappointments than those that want them, and their best designs miscarry when meaner persons are carried through their difficulties with less ado.
2. After the event we must look above second causes, not attribute anything to our own strength or gifts, but to God’s assistance and blessing on our labours.
VII. To prevent the discouragement of those that want gifts, or parts, or means. God many times passeth over the strong, wise, and understanding, and gets Himself most glory in protecting the weak, and providing for them. The issue of all is this: Let us bear all things befalling us from the wise hand and providence of the Lord, and encourage ourselves in His all-sufficiency in all straits and difficulties. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Man also knoweth not his time.
“If ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.” This applies to our ignorance in relation to the future. It is mercy that has woven the veil.
I. If we knew our future, enjoyment would be impossible. Suppose we knew all the bereavements, sufferings, adversities that are before us, and the time, circumstances, and place of our death, would there be any pleasure for us on this earth?
II. If we knew our future, duty would be impracticable. With all the dark events of our future clearly marked out before us, we should stand aghast, and be utterly unfit for the ordinary duties of life.
III. If we knew our future, life would be intolerable. It would be utterly impossible for our fragile natures to bear such a vision. (Homilist.)
Man’s ignorance of the time of his death
These words suggest a few thoughts concerning death.
I. It is inevitable. “His time”: that is, his time to die; fixed by an irrevocable decree (Hebrews 9:27). Science, art, wealth, all have been tried, to avoid death; but all have failed.
II. It is insidious. “The fish is pursuing its own course through the waters, in search of its prey, and unconscious of danger, when, all at once, it finds itself hopelessly entangled in the folds, or caught in the meshes of the fisher’s net, and there is no escape. The bird is following its instinct, in quest of food, when the limed twig or the baited trap, on which it alights, robs it of its freedom, and consigns it into the hands of the fowler. As blind, oftentimes, is man himself to the coming stroke which is to smite him to the dust.”
III. It is unexpected. “Boast not thyself of to-morrow,” etc. “Take heed, for in such an hour as ye think not,” etc. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Man knoweth not his time
I. Consider the evidences of the fact--that “man knoweth not his time.”
1. With respect to men in general, they do not know the time of their visitation. This is evidently the case with the impenitent and unbelieving, who disregard the tokens both of the favour and displeasure of God. The founder melteth in vain, and the wicked are not plucked away. The day of opportunity is lost, perhaps never to be regained. Nor can Christians themselves be wholly acquitted of the charge of inattention. Too apt are we to deprive ourselves of the gracious presence of the Saviour for the want of a little more humility and self-denial.
2. Man knoweth not his time as to the seasonable performance of various duties. Sometimes we have had, loud calls to humiliation and prayer, when, like Israel of old, we have given ourselves up to joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine (Isaiah 22:13). Sometimes we have had a favourable opportunity of bearing our testimony to the important doctrines of the Gospel, or the equally important duties of practical religion: yet we have neither had a heart nor a tongue to speak, when a few words might have had a very happy effect.
3. We do not know the time when afflictions will come, or when we shall be delivered out of them. God has an appointed time for both. All events are safe in His hands, but they are at the same time concealed. His counsel shall stand, and He will do all His pleasure. We can no more advance or retard God’s work than we can hasten the rising sun, or hinder its going down (Isaiah 60:22).
4. We know not the time of our continuance in life or departure out of it.
5. We know not the day of judgment, or the final period of all things. Our ignorance in this respect is best suited to that state of subjection to the wisdom and sovereignty of God in which we are placed, and to the nature of that economy which He has established, as well as to the limited extent of our frailties.
II. Inquire the reason why man is left in ignorance of particular times and seasons.
1. It tends to do honour to the Divine government (Proverbs 25:2).
2. The knowledge of times and seasons would be injurious to us rather than advantageous. Hereby faith, hope, and patience, so much adapted to a probationary state, are kept in continual exercise; and by being exercised are strengthened and increased.
1. This subject teaches us to repress a prying and inquisitive temper, and the wish of being wise above what is written (Deuteronomy 29:29; John 21:21-22).
2. Learn to be thankful for that degree of information which God has been pleased to impart. All that is necessary to be known, both as to faith and practice, is sufficiently revealed; and the more necessary the knowledge, the clearer is the revelation. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Expectation of long life unwise
I. Why men are so apt to expect to live long in this world. It needs no proof that they are apt to expect that their lives will be prolonged even to old age. It is the inward thought, hope and expectation of those in the morning, in the meridian, and even in the decline of life, that they shall live many days, if not many years. The health they have enjoyed, the dangers they have escaped, the preservation they have experienced, the means they have used and intend to use to lengthen out their days, all serve to corroborate and confirm their pleasing expectation that their lives shall be long continued. But their dread of death is another strong and powerful reason why they cherish the expectation of living to the latest period of human life.
II. Why it is unwise in persons of all ages, characters, and conditions to harbour and cherish the expectation of living long in this world.
1. Because God has designedly concealed the length of their days.
2. Because they are continually liable to innumerable unknown and unavoidable causes of death.
3. Because God, in His providence, is continually and solemnly warning them against such vain expectations. He is continually taking away the child before the youth, the youth before the man, the man of twenty before the man of forty, the man of forty before the man of fifty, or sixty, or seventy, or eighty, or any of a greater age. He promiscuously takes away the useless and the useful, the learned and unlearned, the rich and the poor, the religious and irreligious.
4. It will appear still more unwise and absurd for men to form and cherish high hopes and expectations of living long in this world, if we consider how expressly and repeatedly God, in His Word, has warned and admonished them against it.
1. Since mankind are so extremely apt to harbour and cherish expectation of the long continuance of life, there is reason to think that they generally die unexpectedly to themselves.
2. It appears from what has been said that death commonly comes to men in an evil time. To die is the great and last act to be done on the stage of life, and extremely solemn and interesting to the dying and to the living; and a sudden and unexpected time is certainly a very evil time to make the solemn and important transition out of this into the invisible and eternal world.
3. It appears from men’s undue expectation of living why bereavements are often so heavy and grievous to be borne. Those who habitually expect to live long in the world themselves are almost equally prone to expect that their relatives and friends will be long-lived; and therefore their sudden and unexpected death brings with it a sudden and unexpected bereavement, which often gives a treble and sometimes a tenfold weight to it.
4. Since death so generally comes suddenly and unexpectedly to the living, we learn the wisdom and importance of early piety.
5. We learn from what has been said why God does cause so many sudden and unexpected deaths to take place in the world. It is undoubtedly designed more for the benefit of the living than for the dying. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The uncertainty of human life
It is an ancient aphorism that every man thinks all men mortal but himself. Rather than encounter a realizing view of death, and engage in a serious preparation to meet it, men will hazard all consequences. They are like soldiers marching up to the battery of an enemy with their eyes and ears closed, and dreaming of safety because they neither see nor hear the motions of the foe. Death will come, however much a stranger it may be to our thoughts; and it will come with double ruin for having been kept out of view so long. It may come suddenly, like the convulsions of an earthquake which at dead of night buries whole cities in ruins. “Man also knoweth not his time;” that is, he is ignorant of the time of his death and the time when overwhelming calamities may come upon him. He may be stripped naked in one day like Job; or in the midst of his dreams of earthly happiness he may open his astonished eyes in the world of spirits. “As the fishes that are taken in an evil net”--while they are wandering securely, or sporting among pearls, or rushing together for food, little thinking of being suddenly drawn up in the concealed net. “And as the birds that are caught in the snare,” while they are skipping sportively without apprehension, or are eager to pick up the grain which is spread to decoy them to death. “So are the sons of men snared in an evil time”--while they are sporting and feeding themselves, secure in conscious health, ignorant of the shaft that is festering in their breast. “When it falleth suddenly upon them.” While they are most secure the arrow of the Almighty reaches their heart. While they are saying, “Soul, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry,” the word comes, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.” Where are now the ancient empires of Assyria, and Babylon, and Persia, and Greece, and Rome? Where are the emperors, statesmen, philosophers, and bards of antiquity? Where is now the immense army of Xerxes, which seemed to darken Asia, and to sink with its weight the land of Greece? Where are now the many millions who have filled the world with noise and contention, with fame and folly for a hundred generations? Kingdom has trodden on the heel of kingdom, and nation has followed nation down to the land of forgetfulness. You hang over the grave by a thread on which the flame has seized, and you may look every moment to fall to rise not again “till the heavens be no more.” Could the veil be drawn from eternity and discover to your astonished eyes the infinitely glorious or dreadful consequences depending on the present life; could then the veil be drawn from the many agents which are constantly striving within you to keep in order your complicated machine, and discover to you the many critical junctures which are daily occurring, which, without making you sensible of it, bring you within a bait’s breadth of death; could the veil be also drawn from the course of nature around you, and disclose the dangers among which you walk by day and sleep by night; could you thus have a view of your hourly exposures and of the eternal interests at stake, you would start from your dream like a man awoke in a burning house, and flee for your life--ah, whither? whither but to the arms of Christ? (E. D. Griffin, D. D.)
So are the sons of men ensnared.--
Snares in the path of the young
The sad truth here declared has been experienced thousands of times, not only by those who are now alive, but by others who have passed away to their great account. No one likes to be deceived in any matter; and yet how sin is constantly deceiving us! No man is willing to be ensnared by an enemy; and yet how Satan leads us captive at his will! and what a disclosure will the judgment-day present, of fraud and subtlety on the side of sin and Satan--of weakness and compliance on the part of sinners! From among the many sources of danger now presenting themselves to my mind I must select several of the most prominent and powerful.
1. There is the danger of speculativeness in matters of religion. Remember, speeulativeness proves nothing--faith “proves all things”: speculativeness deceives--faith cannot; speculativeness enfeebles the mind--faith strengthens it; speculativeness receives nothing truly--faith grasps and retains that which is revealed to faith; speculativeness is the false light of a carnal state--faith is the beacon-blaze of God set up in the soul; and this the apostle knew full well, when he said--“We walk by faith, not by sight.”
2. Another source of danger is indecision with regard to personal religion. Multitudes of young men, we believe, who neither speculate upon the Bible, nor deny or even question its authority, but yield a full respect to religion itself and to the religion of religious friends, are in this sad state of personal indecision. No step of a positive kind has been taken. They wish to be religious--we give them credit for that; but then they are not. They hope to be so by and by--we believe they do; but where is the sustained effort that evidences the reality both of wishes and of hope? Indecision, long persevered in, may at length--and it is a solemn thought--acquire the force of decision, but acting in a wrong direction. It may be decision on the side of ruin, simply because the young man, knowing in a truth, may not have firmness to act on what he knows, nor grace enough, sought in persevering prayer, to decide at once for life, salvation and a glorious immortality, accessible to him at any moment, through faith in Christ Jesus by the Spirit.
3. I have next to set before you the danger of worldly conformity, even when you have been enabled to overcome your natural indecision, and have east in your let with the true people of God. Before this occurs, you are of necessity conformed to the world; it cannot be otherwise; you have no motive for separation from the world till then. In whatever degree a Christian conforms to the habits and principles which govern the world around him, in the same degree is his spirituality in danger of deterioration. And yet how many Christian professors live as like the rest of the world, as if they had never professed to come to a decision on the side of Christi The truth is, that the world makes concessions to religion; and the religion of these modern days is too liberal to withhold compliance to the demands which the world makes in return for its concession. Contact with the world is unavoidable; it is one thing, however, for us to submit to that which must be, but quite another to conform to that which should not be, just because it invites and pleases, or because it threatens. I know it is difficult to maintain your ground when the intercourse between Christians and the world is so familiar; but are you to give way when a difficulty crosses you in the path, and looks you in the face? Are you accustomed to do so in the ordinary pursuits of life? Is there not difficulty in the way of everything that is worth doing? Does not difficulty generally stimulate perseverance? To be aware of difficulty arising from the character of worldly society, with which you cannot perhaps at all times avoid mingling, is, if you will have it so, to be partly armed against it. If you fail in this, the worldly spirit around you will soon cast a successful snare; and you may find by bitter and humbling experience that, “as the fishes are taken in an evil net, and as the birds are caught in the snare, so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.” (G. Fisk, LL. B.)
There was a little city, and few men within it.
The little city and the poor wise man
The little city, as first introduced to our notice, is in sore straits. The legion of the foe seem innumerable, while the garrison is reduced to a mere handful. They are fast being brought to extremities, and in a few short hours the unfortunate little city will be, in all human probability, subjected to all the horrors of capture by storm, and will be ultimately razed to the ground. At first sight it may seem rather paradoxical to compare this great world of ours, with its almost innumerable inhabitants, its vast area, its enormous resources, to the little city with few men within it. But do we not, comparatively speaking, take too exalted a view of this little world? For relatively little it is, after all--but an insignificant fraction of God’s great universe. But further, inasmuch as the city spoken of here is represented as being ultimately delivered from its peril, we are hardly justified in applying the figure to humanity at large, for whom indeed deliverance has been provided, but has not by it been accepted. The little city joyfully accepting the benefit of deliverance is a much fitter type of the spiritual Church of Christ, viewed in the foreknowledge of God as a complete whole, redeemed and delivered by the wisdom and love of the poor wise man who has cast in his lot with her: and this is indeed “a little city, and few men within her.” So that the parallelism thus limited is by no means strained or unintelligible. Now, we know nothing of the circumstances to which the little city owed its danger--it may or may not have been its own fault; but we do know the cause of the peril in which the human family has been involved, and that the blame rests entirely with ourselves. Man has rebelled against the sovereign will of God; the defiant cry of humanity through the long dark ages has still been, “We will not have this Man to reign over us.” The result of all has been that we have forced God into the position of a foe, although He is in His heart our best and truest friend. God would be false to His own position in the universe were He to permit rebellion against His authority: He would be practically abdicating His throne, and this He will never do. Do you know what it is to have reached the point of self-despair? have you found yourself surrounded by the mighty bulwarks? have you felt what it is to have no escape? Not until then, believe me, will you be disposed to value the deliverance procured by “the poor wise man.” To him we will now turn our attention. He was but a poor man; but he had a patriot’s heart and a wise man’s head; and, moved doubtless by love for his compatriots, by some extraordinary and unlooked-for effort of wisdom, he delivered the city. How did he do it? Here again we have no information, but it is suggestive to notice that an incident very similar to the one described here actually took place in the time of Solomon’s father, and must in all probability have made so deep an impression on his own mind that it is scarcely possible that his mind did not recur to it as he wrote these words, though in this case the humble deliverer was a woman, not a man (2 Samuel 20:15). The guilt of one man here had involved the whole town in peril, because his guilt was imputed to them; but at the suggestion of the wise woman, the guilt was laid on the head of one, himself the guilty party, and one man died for the people, and the whole city perished not. But our Wise Man, Himself the Innocent, offered Himself, with a wisdom which was the child of love, that the guilt of our city might first be imputed to Him the Innocent, and that further His innocence might be imputed to our city, so that by His own voluntary self-sacrifice one man might die for the city, and the city itself might be safe. The wise woman saved the city at the cost of another’s life; but our poor Wise Man has saved His Church at the cost of His own; and in the moment of our despair we see the hostile bulwark withdrawn, the engines of war removed. We too are saved by the interposition of One who, “though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich.” He too was found in the city with no outward distinction of rank or title. “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.” Born in a remote province, in an obscure town, brought up in retirement as a peasant’s son, what was He to the Caesars and Herods of His day? But now I hasten on to the sequel, for I am speaking to the delivered ones to-day. What became of the poor wise man? Did they make him king or governor? Did he continue to be the most prominent figure in the little commonwealth which he had saved? Nay, but he disappears again into his old obscurity, he retires to the back street--to his cellar or his garret. “No man remembered that same poor man.” Ah, blood-bought souls, ye ransomed from ruin by the death of the Deliverer, is this true of any of us? Having been delivered from impending ruin by the Christ, have we learned to forget the Deliverer, and to live very much as if we had delivered ourselves? (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
The poor wise man
A very remarkable case this is indeed. Here is a little city, with few inhabitants, in a weak defenceless condition, and a powerful army at the gates; which is rescued out of the hands of its enemies, and snatched from the jaws of destruction just opened to devour it: war and slavery are driven far away, and peace and liberty at once restored. And all this is ejected by one “poor wise man.” What would the behaviour of the people be in such a case? Would not their hearts overflow with gratitude toward their deliverer? Would they not render to him all their service who had rendered to them all his; and vie with each other who should do him most honour? Nothing less I they did not so much as thank him. Nay, after the thing was over, he did not even enter into their thoughts--“No man remembered that same poor man.” This is a very affecting story, considered only in itself: but if we can find an interest in it, and make the case our own, it will be much more so. Let us ask, then, what is to be understood by the city, the great king that besieged it, and the poor wise man that delivered it? The first thing we meet with is “a little city with few men in it.” Is not this a description which suits well with the Church, or society of believers? (Matthew 5:14; Hebrews 11:10; Psalms 87:3). And few and weak indeed we are, in comparison of those that besiege and encompass us round about to destroy us. Who these are, we are next to consider. “There came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it.” That the Christian state, of which this besieged city is a picture, is a state of warfare is known and acknowledged, when it is called the Church militant; and who it is that attacks it we all declare at our baptism, when we promise to fight manfully against “sin, the world, and the devil.” Sin and the world are but two instruments in this war: it is the devil who uses them; and, therefore, he is the great king that besieges this city and builds bulwarks against it. The bulwarks are raised; the city is ready to fall; and the enemy is about to enter: when lo, there is found in the city a poor wise man; and who is he? If we are the city, he that saves the city must be he that saves us; even our Lord Jesus Christ; than whom none ever was poorer or wiser: He was made poor for our sakes; and in Him were all the treasures of wisdom. This is He who by His wisdom delivers the city; who places Himself in the breach, as Moses did. At the sight of Him the infernal host was in an uproar; and for a time they seemed to overwhelm Him; they shouted for victory, and were hasting forward to the prey: the enemy of Israel, the spiritual Pharaoh, said, “I will pursue, I will overtake,” etc. And here, “except the Lord had kept the city, the watchman had waked but in vain.” Had he been an earthly conqueror, the day had been lost. For, to the everlasting confusion of His enemies, He who lay down in his grave the poor wise man, the despised and afflicted Galilean, arose from the dead “the Lord mighty in battle; and of the subject of death became the King of Glory.” And now, would you think it possible that after all this no man should remember that same poor man? that they should entirely forget him? that they should all forget him? Who at the hearing of this monstrous act of ingratitude is not filled with indignation? Yet we have done all this: we have had this mighty deliverance vouchsafed to us--and we have forgotten it! We have forgotten Him, who so remembered us that He forgot Himself, and made no account of all those sorrows and sufferings, from His birth in the manger to His death upon the cross, which He underwent for us men and our salvation. The first thing we ought; to remember and confess is this, “That we got not the land in possession by our own sword,” etc. You have now seen how well this parable of Solomon bears an application to the salvation of us citizens of the Church by Jesus Christ; and how it agrees with the same in every particular. There is another ease of the kind, in which the event was quite contrary; and the case of the one city should never be thought of without the other. You have seen the example of a city saved by a poor wise man. I can tell you of another city lost for want of him. The city of Jerusalem fell into the condition of our city in the parable. A great king came against it and encompassed it with armies, and built great bulwarks against it, and prevailed so as to overthrow it to its very foundations, and scatter all its inhabitants. There was found in it none to save; no poor wise man to prevent its destruction. There had been one; but they had cast him out, and refused to he saved by him: for the sake of his poverty they had despised his wisdom; so their destruction was inevitable. And so will it be of all those who east out their Saviour: yea, the time will come when the whole world shall perish for want of Him. (W. Jones, M. A.)
The words of wise men are heard in quiet.
The superiority of moral to military force
“The words of wise men are heard in quiet”: words of thoughtfulness and conviction, silently dropping from the lips or the pen, are more mighty than the boisterous bombastic utterances of those who rule by force.
I. The one develops the highest elements of mind and character, the other does not. In what does moral power consist?
1. In a correct apprehension of moral truth.
2. An indomitable sympathy with moral truth; such a sympathy as Job had when he said, “Though He slay me,” etc. And as Paul, “I count not my life,” etc.
3. A practical embodiment of moral truth. But what have you in military power? No deep moral conviction, no high sympathies; nothing but tact, cunning, brute courage.
II. The one affords full scope for all the belligerent instincts in man, the other does not.
1. Military forces can only bring man into contact with the mere forms of his enemies. It does not touch the spirit of enmity; moral force does. The words of true moral power, heard in “quiet,” smite dishonesties, enmities, falsehoods.
2. There are hosts of enemies that military force cannot meet at all. What can military force do with ignorance, poverty, carnality, selfishness, diseases of all kinds? Nothing.
III. The one overcomes its enemies effectively, the other does not. Man is made to be subdued and swayed by the appeals of truth, justice, and kindness. We are told that in the East there are people who, by music, can so influence some species of serpent that, while under its spell, the deadly cobra may be handled as if it were utterly harmless. But if the charmer tread on the snake unawares, he is poisoned like any other man. This is something like the influence of moral force, of moral truth and love; it can subdue malignant minds. But military power cannot do this, it cannot touch the soul: no shot nor steel can reach the arena of soul.
IV. The one achieves its conquests without injury to self or object, the other does not. The moral force employed in moral campaigns, either in self-defence or in conquest, does not injure, but blesses the fighter. By it he gets good, his energy is renewed by exercise. Nor are others injured; no wealth is sacrificed, no sufferings are produced. But in military force all is ruined: commerce, governments, wealth, towns, cities, as well as millions upon millions of human life.
V. The one is sanctioned by the example of Christ, the other is not. When “He was reviled, He reviled not again.” From the subject learn:
1. The fearful moral ignorance of the world. Kings, statesmen, all have more faith in swords and bayonets than in moral truth.
2. The encouragement to use moral force in the correction of wrong.
3. The men who are destined to become the heroes of the future. (Homilist.)
One sinner destroyeth much good.
The destructiveness of sin
1. Sin, in itself, is a moral force of tremendous potency. Nothing finite or human can resist it, or counteract its malign influence. Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death. Ah! that is the terrible law of sin.
2. As a social moral force sin works on a broader field, and with the sweep and destructiveness of a cyclone, uprooting and destroying everything in its path. One cholera or fever-stricken man may infect a whole city: so one moral leper may impart the plague to all within the circle of his influence while living, and send the death-current down through many generations. One scoffer or infidel may blast the faith of a thousand souls. One bad book, the progeny of a single brain, may taint the morals of a nation, and, like Paine’s “Age of Reason,” sweep down through the centuries with the destructiveness of a moral sirocco.
3. Confine the view to a narrower social field--say the family, or the little neighbourhood, or the single church--and the same alarming fact is brought to light. The narrower the sphere the more intimate and constant the contact, as a rule the stronger the influence exerted. One evil child often leads astray a whole family group; one evil companion corrupts a whole circle; one bad example suffices to destroy the integrity of the whole body.
1. Be watchful and vigilant in regard to the first appearance of evil--
2. Remember, and act on the fact, that while “one sinner destroyeth much good,” one devout, earnest praying Christian may set in motion moral influences and forces that shall “turn many to righteousness.” (Homiletic Review.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ecclesiastes 9". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter