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When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died.
Two conditions of Ephraim
“Spake trembling,” i.e., there was trembling. “Ephraim was once very awful,” Bishop Hall says, “so as, while he spake, the rest of the tribes were ready to tremble.” The prophet contrasts two conditions of Ephraim, of prosperity and destruction. His prosperity he owed to the undeserved mercy of God, who blessed him for Joseph’s sake; his destruction, to his own sin. There is no period recorded when Ephraim spake tremblingly, i.e., in humility. Pride was his characteristic, almost as soon as he had a separate existence as a tribe. Under Joshua, it could not be called out, for Ephraim gained honour, when Joshua, one of themselves became the captain of the Lord’s people. Under the judges, their pride appeared. Yet God tried them, by giving them their heart’s desire. They longed to be exalted, and He satisfied them, if so be they would thus serve Him. They had the chief power, and were a terror to Judah. But he abused the goodness of his God; his sin followed as a consequence of God’s goodness to him. God raised him, and he offended. The alliance with a king of Tyre and Sidon, which brought in the worship of Baal, was a part of the worldly policy of the kings of Israel. The twenty-two years of Ahab’s reign established the worship. The prophets of Baal became 450, the prophets of the kindred idolatry of Ashtoreth, or Astarte, became 400; Baal had his one central temple, large and magnificent, a rival of that of God. The prophet Elijah thought the apostasy almost universal. (E. B. Pussy, D. D.)
The responsibility of those having authority and influence
When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling. There was a time when Ephraim was very honourable among the tribes, when the very speaking of Ephraim had great power, and took great impression upon whomsoever he spoke to.
1. It is an honour to have respect from others when we speak, to have what we say received with reverence and respect, showing that it impresses the hearts of others, and is not cast out as a vain and worthless thing. Let children, servants, and all inferiors, learn to give due honour to those whom God has set above them.
2. Those who are in place of power over others account it their honour, not only that those under them should regard, but that they should tremble at what they say. Man greatly delights to lift himself above others, and to lord it imperiously over them.
3. The subjection of the hearts of men to those in authority is a work of God, and God is to have the glory of it.
4. The meaner the beginnings of men are, the more imperious they often prove when in power.
5. Sin will bring men’s honour down. Let men take heed of trusting their former repute, for let them have done what they will heretofore, yet if they depart from God, their honour will depart too. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
God’s gifts dependent on man’s mood
s:--Over and over again Hosea denounces Ephraim for their infatuated idolatry. All through the history idolatry, like a hideous disease, disfigured the national life, but yet in varying degree. With their faith went their strength, and in those days individual prophets or pious kings were powerless to stem the wave of destruction that overwhelmed the land. The lesson is for all time. “God matches His gifts to man’s believing.” They who tremble, acknowledge their guilt before Him, are made strong. They who go after idolatry are heavily punished or swept away. Idolatry has changed its symbols, but it has not changed its nature. What are our own temptations to idolatry in England at the end of the nineteenth century? One of our chief dangers is idolatry of the visible. The difficulty of believing that love means something besides ministry to the body and mind. But national benevolence and national progress will never make up for national apostasy. Once lose hold on the unseen, once rest satisfied with our good intentions, and we, as a nation, shall cease to carry on our mission. For a nation to be true to itself is for it to be true to its best. The national faith is the first thing to preserve. (W. R. Hutton, M. A.)
They sin more and more.
Steps in apostasy
There is no stop in apostasy. Let men once apostatise from God, there is no stop then; they cannot tell whither they may go, when once they begin to roll down. Steps in an apostate’s departure from God are--
1. Some slight sin against knowledge, though never so little, for sin of mere infirmity I cannot call apostasy; but if it be ever so little a sin against knowledge, it breaks the bond of obedience. When you will venture to do that which you know is against God, this bond of obedience being broken, no marvel though you fall, and “sin more and more.”
2. Every act of sin tends to increase the habit. Corruption grows by acting; as with grace, every act of grace extends grace in the heart of a man; and the way to grow in grace is to act grace much; so that when you are acting your grace, you do not only that which is your duty, but you are growing in grace: so when you are acting of corruption, you are, not only doing that which is evil, but you are increasing the tendency to it; and therefore every sin that causes us to decline from God, makes us to go more and more from God.
3. Every sin against conscience weakens the work of conscience. The authority of conscience will quickly be weakened when it is once broken; break but off the yoke of conscience, and conscience will be weaker than it was before. The first time a man sins against conscience, his conscience, having a great deal of strength in it, mightily troubles him; but having had a flaw, as it were, it grows weaker. Every sin does somewhat weaken conscience, and therefore one that falls off from God will “sin more and more.”
4. A man loses his comfort in God according to the degree of his departure from Him.
5. When one has sinned against God, holy duties become very unsuitable to his soul. It is a more difficult thing to engage his heart in them than before, and so he comes to neglect duties, and by neglecting them his corruption grows.
6. The presence of God is terrible to an apostate. He cannot think of God without some terror; before he would often think and speak of God, but now he puts off the thoughts of God. It must needs be that he must wander up and down even more and more, be as a Cain wandering away from the presence of God.
7. The thoughts of whatsoever might turn an apostate’s heart to God are grievous to him.
8. One sin cannot be maintained without another. As now, you find when one man has done wrong to another, he knows not how to carry it out but by doing him more wrong, to crush him if he can. And so there are many sins that have other sins depending upon them. If a man be engaged in a business that is sinful, in order that he may carry it on successfully, he must commit a great many other sins, and so fall off more and more.
9. The pride of men’s hearts is such that they will attempt to justify transgression. Men love to justify what they have done; when they have sinned, they will grow more resolute and violent, that all people might think that their hearts recoil not in the least.
10. When men have gone far in sin, they grow desperate. They little hope ever to recover themselves, and therefore “sin more and more.”
11. God in His just judgment withdraws Himself from apostates.
12. God gives up apostates to their corruptions, and to the power of the devil. Oh, stand with all your might against the beginning of sin; tremble, and stop on the threshold! (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Sinning more and more
1. The start in life is fair and promising.
2. There is a wish to be a man before the age of manhood has been reached.
3. There is an aversion to religion, and an appetite for what is evil.
4. There is indulgence in vicious habits.
5. There is the silencing of all the remonstrances of conscience.
6. There is the defiance of irreligion and immorality. (G. Brooks.)
And have made them molten images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding, all of it the work of the craftsman.
Idols wholly human productions
The emphasis is where you would not expect it to be; it is upon the words “all of it.” There is not one sacred spot in any idol; there is not one faint signature of the living God upon anything that man has made with his own hands to worship; it is as if eyes of fire had searched the idols through and through, and as if the hands of critics had written their record, and reported in these words: The idol is all base, all dross, all material; all of it is the work of the hands of craftsmen. Men cannot step from the finite to the infinite. A finite creature cannot make an infinite idol. Whatever is made is less than the maker. If a man has made a god, he is greater than the god he has made. To have genius and power to make it is to have another genius and power equal to condemn it. Men get tired of what they halve made. Ambition may arise and say, Make a better; then comes the displacement of the former god, amid every sign and token of contempt. These words should be cried out poignantly, bitterly, sarcastically. A man is standing before the idol, and he has gone through it atom by atom, so to speak, lineament by lineament, and he says at the end--“all of it” there is not one speck of heavenly gold in all this handful of earthly rubbish. “They say of them, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves.” It was said in Israel concerning the calves, “These be thy gods, O Israel.” To kiss was in the ancient times a sign of homage, either human or Divine. Men kissed their gods. When they could not kiss their gods, as, for example, in the instance of the heavenly bodies, they kissed their fingers, and waved their kissed hands to the objects of worship. The Divine Being does not hesitate to accept this action, and give it its highest meaning, hence in the Second Psalm there is one who says, “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way.” That man should have descended to kiss a god of his own making is the consummation of weakness, and the very climax of ignorance and blasphemy. All this happened in ancient times. That is true, but all this happens letter for letter to-day. Man cannot get beyond the tether of his race. It is man that is tethered; not a man, some man, a particular and dying man, but humanity. We are all in one condemnation; the act of homage has not ceased, the object of desire may have changed. Men live in circumstances, and are lost in details, and therefore it is probable that they may imagine if they have substituted some other object for the calves of Israel, therefore they have left the old idolatry. That is not so. If a man be trusting to his own right arm, he is as great an idolater as any that ever lived in Israel. Whoso says he has money enough to keep out the difficulties of time, the slaves of want, and therefore he need not concern himself with providence in any spiritual or metaphysical sense, is as much an idolater as he who in uncivilised lands bows down to stock or stone, or lifts eyes of wondering ignorance to the blue heavens that he may fix them upon something of which he will make the image of a god. Yet all these heathen practices admit of the highest applications. Let no man reject nature, it is God’s handiwork; no craftsman made the sun; no hireling servant set the stars in their places. If any poor heart, iii at ease, should pick out some fair-faced star and say, Be thou god to me, it might be the beginning of a higher religion, the truer and nobler faith. These are mysteries, and are not to be spoken about scornfully. He does not know the human heart who says to men who know no better, that idolatry is a sin. It was a sin in Israel, because it involved backsliding from the true God; but find a man in a savage land who has never heard of God or Christ, and to whom the words, father, mother, brother, sister, carry no dew of blessing, no colour of poetry, no suggestion of wider and eternal fellowships--find a man there clinging to but a handful of mud in the expectation that there is something in it that can help him, and it is no sin: it should be the business of those who know better to, teach him better: let what he has seized be the alphabet out of which to make words, and music, and wisdom. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The gold god
I was travelling recently with an old Jewish merchant, who had commenced his career in a Western city fifty years ago, and who has been accumulating money all these years until he is now a millionaire, though as hot in the chase for the dollars as in his younger years. His whole thought and being seemed absorbed in the matter of getting money. He told me his wife was very different from himself; she was fond of music and books and art. “She came to me the other day,” said he, “with a book on astronomy in her hands, and said: ‘Jacob, there is going to be a new star; let me read to you about, it’” “But,” said the old man, “I answered her by lifting both hands and exclaiming: ‘Don’t bother me, Rebecca! I care more about the price of overalls than about all the stars in the sky.’” It seemed to me a striking illustration of the power of the moneygetting instinct when given full sway in a man’s life to drown out all desire for higher things. (A. Banks, D. D.)
As the morning cloud . . . early dew . . . as the chaff . . . as the smoke out of the chimney.
The life of the wicked
I. It is deceptive. “Like the morning cloud.” In Palestine and countries of the same latitude, dense clouds often appear in the morning, cover the heavens, and promise fertilising showers that never come. A life without moral goodness is necessarily deceptive. It deceives itself and deceives others. How many lives seem full of promise! But they result in nothing but disappointment.
II. It is evanescent. “The early dew that passeth away.” In such latitudes too, the copious dews that sparkle on the hedges and the fields soon evaporate and disappear. The millions that make up this generation are only as dewdrops, sparkling for an hour and then lost and gone.
III. It is worthless. Like chaff stowed away from the threshing-floor. Chaff, empty, dead, destined to rot. How empty the life of an ungodly man!
IV. It is offensive. “As the smoke out of the chimney.” The ancient houses of Palestine were without chimneys: the smoke filled the houses, and smoke is a nuisance. A corrupt life is evermore offensive to the moral sense of mankind. To what conscience is falsehood, selfishness, carnality, meanness and such elements that make up the character of the wicked at all pleasing? To none. (Homilist.)
I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought.
God knows His people where nobody else will take any notice of them. You do not know a man until you know him in the wilderness. There is but little revelation of character in laughter. So long as a man is living in rioting and wantonness, in great abundance and prosperity, having only to lift his hand to command a regiment of servants, you cannot really tell what his true quality is. Men show themselves in the darkness; men cry out of their hearts when they are in distress; it is in the nighttime of life’s bitter sorrows that men’s true quality is revealed. God never forsakes His people in wilderness and in desert places; He is more God and Father to them there than ever. No man knows God who only knows Him theologically. It is impossible to read much about God; you must read the writing in your own heart The world is within you; you carry the universe in your own bosom. Unless you have the faculty and genius of introspection, and the power to read the small print that is being daily typed upon your inmost life, you can never be scholars in the sanctuary of Christ, you can never attain to high degrees of wisdom in the school of heaven. Men seek God in the wilderness. The wilderness is the school of discipline. In the Bible there lies one great desert land, and it is called “that great and terrible wilderness.” There could not be two such in any globe; there could not be a duplicate experience in any life. Some things can be done only once; no man can be twice in Gethsemane; no man can be twice crucified. There are acts in life which, having been accomplished, enable the sufferer to say, The bitterness of death is passed; come what will now, it is but a day’s march into heaven. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Known in time of distress
God knew Israel in the wilderness--
(1) In respect of their sin, which He visited.
(2) In regard of their wants, which He provided for.
1. Man’s wickedness strangely contrasts with God’s goodness; God knew their sin and yet destroyed them not; they receive mercies, and yet sin.
2. It is a great mercy for God to know a man in time of distress. This is God’s way. Men know in prosperity; but let us make God our friend, He will be a friend otherwise than men win he.
3. We should not be dejected in times of trouble; that is the time for God to know thee: be willing to follow God in any estate.
4. God’s knowing us in distress is a mighty engagement. Let us look back to the times when we were in trouble.
5. Let us know God’s cause when it suffers, and know our brethren in their sufferings.
6. God’s knowledge is operative and working; it does us good. Our knowledge of God should be so too. To sin against our knowledge of God is evil, but to sin against God’s knowledge of us is worse. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
God present with His people in the wilderness
I. The low and wilderness state of God’s people.
1. It refers to their spiritual wants, weaknesses, and troubles. In their first convictions of sin. In their first, beginning to walk in the ways of the Lord. In after temptations. In seasons of dejection.
2. To their temporal wants, weaknesses, and troubles. In poverty and want; in pain and sickness; in the dangers of life.
II. What kind of knowledge or notice is it that God takes of his people in that state?
1. It is with pity and compassion.
2. So as to manifest His love to them.
3. So as to bestow His comforts on them.
4. He grants His presence to them.
5. He affords them help.
III. Lay down the proof and evidence of this.
1. The Word of the Lord often declares it.
2. God’s dealings with His people in all ages further confirm it, e.g., Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Jonah, Hezekiah, ancient Israel.
1. Let us be concerned to have this God for our God.
2. When in a wilderness state, let us trust in our God.
3. Remember God’s kindness in appearing for you.
4. Despise not those who are in a wilderness state, but “weep with those who weep,” etc. (T. Hannam.)
According to their pasture, so were they filled . . . therefore have they forgotten Me.
The conjunction of secular prosperity and spiritual perversity
Here are men in good physical circumstances, in rich pastures well fed, getting thereby proud in heart and forgetful of their God.
I. It is a common conjunction. Wealth in the sinful heart tends--
1. To promote self-indulgence- the pampering of appetites and the gratification of sinful lusts.
2. To foster indolence. It weakens and generally destroys the motive to industry.
II. It is an incongruous conjunction. Secular prosperity ought to lead to spiritual devotion.
1. The more temporal good we have, the more means we have for the promotion of spiritual excellence. Property puts us in possession of a power to procure books, leisure, teachers, and all other aids to spiritual improvement.
2. The more temporal good we have, the more motives we have for the cultivation of spiritual excellence. The Bible urges the mercies of God as an incentive to holy life: “We beseech you by the mercies of God,” etc.
3. The more temporal good we have, the more obligations we have for the cultivation of spiritual improvement. Thus the incongruity of the conjunction.
III. It is a sinful conjunction. The curse of heaven is on it. It is sinful--
1. Because it is an abuse of God’s blessings.
2. It involves an infraction of God’s laws.
He has commanded us in everything, by prayer and supplication, to make known our requests unto Him. (Homilist.)
The grazing land was beautifully green, and appeared most desirable for flocks and herds. A farmer turned his sheep into the meadow, but after a short time some of them fell sick, and eventually all of them were affected. No one could understand the reason, until it was discovered that a flock of diseased sheep had previously occupied the field, the grass of which had become tainted and the pasture poisoned. How careful all should be of the books they read, the companionships they form, and the amusements in which they indulge! Do they taint the mind and poison the soul? For according to their pasture so is their life.
O Israel thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thine help.
Man the self-destroyer, and God the Saviour
I. The lost state of man, both by nature and by practice. Observe to whom the words were spoken. Of His ancient people, the Lord, by His prophet, declares that “they had destroyed themselves.” He had warned them, but they had despised His warnings; He had threatened them, but they had made light of His threatenings; He had reproved them, but they would have none of His reproof. Is it not so now with God’s Israel, His Christian Church? Who is there whose account of sin is summed up in birth-sin only? Who is there that is guilty of imputed guilt only? Who is there that has only sinned in having the inclination to sin--the disposition to break God’s commandments--the capability of doing wrong? We are sinners not only by nature, but by practice. We have sinned in our thoughts. The very principle of mind being corrupt, whatever arises therefrom must be corrupt also. And what have our words been? Often insincere, flattering, proud, corrupt, empty. Words lead on to actions. He cannot act aright who does not first think aright.
II. The means of his recovery and restoration. Can we save ourselves? Let any man try of himself, and by his own unassisted strength, to think but one good and holy thought, and he will find the question answered. Is there no hope? In Me is thy help--in Me, the Almighty Father, the eternal Son, the Holy Spirit, the Creator, the Redeemer, the Sanctifier, the Just, the Merciful, the Holy God. (W. W. Champneys, M. A.)
The sinner his own destroyer
Our text gives the decision of God, who cannot be deceived, and who cannot deceive. Men do not believe His declarations. They cast the blame of their destruction from themselves upon God. Sometimes it is His decree which constrains them: sometimes it is the withholding of His grace which excuses them; sometimes it is the force of temptation and their own inability which exempts them from blame. The destruction of impenitent sinners is procured by themselves.
I. Establish this truth by arguments.
1. Drawn from the attributes of God. Where would His justice, His mercy, His veracity be, if He were the procuring cause of man’s destruction?
2. Drawn from the Word of God. What terms does it use when it speaks of the nature of God? If God be to blame for the sinner’s perdition, all these tender expostulations must be only a pompous display of unreal feelings. God gives many unequivocal assurances that He would “have all men to be saved.” If God is to blame, these assurances must be untrue.
3. Drawn from the conduct of God. Observe the way in which He has acted towards our race in general, or toward each one of us in particular, and we must be convinced that if we are lost, the blame of our perdition must rest entirely on ourselves.
4. The sentiments of all believers establish this same truth.
5. The testimony of believers is corroborated by the confessions of sinners them selves. Nevertheless, sinners object to this truth.
II. Answer the objections.
1. From the decrees of God. This objection is drawn from a subject of which we have very inadequate conceptions, and in which we soon get beyond our depth.
2. The principle on which this objection is founded is not a just one. It is that when two doctrines are affirmed in the Scripture, which to our limited capacity appear irreconcileable, we are authorised to embrace the one and reject the other. Show why this principle is unjust.
3. From the inability of man. It is said that God requires of men certain duties which they cannot perform. But inability is of two kinds, natural and moral. Natural inability consists in a defect of rational faculties, bodily powers, or external advantages. Moral inability consists only in the want of a proper disposition of heart to use our natural ability aright. And this is the essence of sin. If the sinner lies under the first inability, he is excusable; but if under the second, he is inexcusable. Moral inability is viciousness of heart, and depravity of disposition. By reason of wilfully cherishing this moral inability, you are inexcusable, you “destroy yourselves.” (H. Kollock, D. D.)
The sinner’s self-destruction and only remedy
I. His self-destruction. “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.”
1. That the ground of condemnation is personal character. The Bible puts it nowhere else. “ If I had not come and spoken unto them they had not had sin.” “Ye will not come to Me that ye may have eternal life.”
2. God governs every man as a free agent. He is left to choose between good and evil. But God will not force his choice, not even to save him.
3. The provision of grace is ample for all who will accept it. None are excluded from its scope. “Christ tasted death for every man.”
4. Life is tendered to you and urged upon you; the means of enlightenment, of conversion and training for heaven are all in your hands.
II. The only remedy--the only way to escape the eternal doom of the self-destroyer. “In Me is thine help.” The sinner can destroy himself, but he cannot save himself. Salvation from sin and death is all of grace. It is a supernatural provision outside of and independent of human device and human merit. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
The cause of the destruction of impenitent sinners
Others cannot destroy us unless we contribute by our own negligence to our own destruction. The Israelites ought to blame none but themselves if judgments from heaven should overwhelm them, giving them up to the Assyrians in this life, and to punishment after death. Here God condescends to exonerate His conduct in regard to sinners by declaring that they ought to take the whole blame of their oval destruction upon themselves. The difficulties of this subject proceed either from our notion of the nature of God; or of the nature of religion; or of the nature of man.
I. The nature of God. As Creator and Author of every being that exists, and of everything that results from their existence, God seems the only cause of the miseries of His creatures. There are two ways in which we may satisfy ourselves on this subject. One is, to obtain a complete idea of the decrees of God, and to compare them so exactly with the dispositions of sinners, as to make it evident by this comparison that sinners are not under a necessity of committing such crimes, as cause their eternal destruction. The other is, to refer the subject to the determination of a being of the most unsuspected knowledge and veracity, whose testimony we may persuade ourselves is unexceptionable, and whose declaration is an infallible oracle. The first of these ways is impracticable, and always must remain so. Who can boast of knowing the whole arrangement, all the extent and all the combinations, of the decrees of God? Try the second. The question is whether, allowing the decrees of God, God doth any violence to sinners, compelling them to commit sin? God Himself declares that none of His decrees offer violence to His creatures; and their destruction can proceed from none but themselves. He has given this answer in those pathetic expostulations, in those powerful applications, and in those exhortations which He employs to redeem the greatest sinners. He has given the answer by tender complaints concerning the depravity of mankind; by express assurances that He would have all men to be saved; and by such passages as the text, that there are no difficulties insurmountable in our salvation, except such as we choose to seek there.
II. The nature of religion.
1. As to evangelical morality--how clearly it is revealed. Heresy may attack our religious mysteries, but propositions that concern moral virtues are placed in a light so clear that nothing can diminish its brightness. Religion clearly requires a magistrate to be equitable, and a subject obedient; a father tender, and a son dutiful; a husband affectionate, and a wife faithful; a master gentle, and a servant diligent; a pastor vigilant, and a flock teachable. Religion clearly requires us to exercise moderation in prosperity and patience in adversity. Our moral relations are regulated in a manner so clear, distinct, and intelligible that we not only cannot invent any difficulties, but nobody hath ever pre tended to invent any.
2. The next character of Christian morality is dignity of principle. Why did God give us laws? Because He loves us, and would have us love Him. How pleasant it is to submit to bonds which the love of God imposes on us.
3. Another character is the justice of its dominions. All its claims are founded on justice and equity.
4. Another feature is a character of proportion.
5. Power of motive is another.
III. The nature of man. There are implied four vague and erroneous notions of human depravity.
1. When we speak of our natural impotence to practise virtue we confound it with an insurmountable necessity to commit the greatest crimes.
2. We confound the sure virtue that religion inspires with other virtues, which constitution, education, and motives of worldly honour are sufficient to enable us to practise.
3. We confound the natural depravity of a man born a pagan, and with only the light of reason, with that of a Christian born and educated among Christians, and amidst all the advantages of revelation.
4. We confound the condition of a man, to whom God hath given only exterior revelation, with the conditions of him to whom God offers supernatural aid to assist him against his natural frailty. (James Saurin.)
Pandora’s box; or, the cause of all evils and miseries
I should tremble to rehearse the text in your ears, if there were not comfort in it as well as terror. You may discern in it a double glass; in the one we may see our hurt, in the other our help. Israel is destroyed. Who hath destroyed Israel? Why is Israel destroyed?
I. The accident to the subject. “Destruction.” Destruction is opposed to construction, as corruption to generation. In the text destruction is the pulling down of the state, and downfall of the kingdom of Israel. All politic bodies are in some sort subject to the condition of natural bodies. As these, so they, have their beginning or birth, growth, perfection, state, decay, and dissolution. If the state of kingdoms and monarchies is so fickle, what folly, or rather madness, is it for any private man to dream of perpetuities and certainties! To compose the seeming difference between God’s promises to Israel and His threats against Israel, we must distinguish divers kinds of promises made to Israel, and divers Israels to whom the promises may appertain.
II. The subject of this accident. Israel may signify, properly, either the whole posterity of Jacob, or the Ten Tribes which were sent from Rehoboam; figuratively the spiritual kingdom of Christ over the elect. There is a threefold Israel.
1. According to the flesh only.
2. According to the spirit only.
3. According to the flesh and spirit.
Some of the promises are absolute, some conditional, some temporal, some spiritual.
III. The cause of this accident in this subject. Praise God, O Israel, for thy former prosperity, but now thank thyself for thy imminent desolation. Are not all mixed bodies corrupted on the disagreement of elements, and the elements themselves by the strife of contrary qualities within them Are not all metals defaced with their own rust? God is the cause of our woe, and we are the cause of our woe. God punisheth us, and we punish ourselves.
1. Let us then confess our sins to be the fuel of God’s wrath, and the fountain of all our miseries.
2. Let us compose ourselves to endure that with patience which we have brought upon ourselves.
3. Let us forsake our beloved sins; let repentance be our practice, and a speedy reformation our instruction, so God s judgments shall not be our destruction. (D. Featley, D. D.)
The Gospel of our salvation serveth at once to humble and to exalt us. Like certain medicines for the body, it first opens: and searches the wounds which it is intended to heal. The former of these operations is as necessary as the latter, though far from being so pleasing. It is much wiser for us to submit to all the pain which a reflection upon our past conduct may now occasion to us, than to shut our eyes against real danger.
I. Israel is in a state of destruction and misery. Consider this charge with regard to all mankind. If the misery is real, it must be felt. It may be felt, however, and yet not be acknowledged. Men are often ashamed to confess their real feelings on this subject. Can it be denied that man is in a state of wretchedness and destruction?
II. He is himself the author of his own destruction. He hath himself entirely to blame for all the misery which hath come upon him. Sin has brought the curse upon this lower world. “The soul that sinneth it shall die” is an irreversible decree of the Divine government. As long as a man continues a sinner, he must be miserable in the very nature of things. To bring the matter a little nearer us, let each of us put the question to his own breast, Canst thou plead exemption from that general corruption which hath universally affected the human race? (James French.)
Sin a universal disease
With us all the occasional derangements to which persons of the strongest health are liable teach every one the importance of knowing particularly of his own bodily constitution. But why is all this wisdom bestowed on the body, and disregarded in the corresponding case of our spiritual sickness? Every man bears the seed of spiritual disease in his inward frame. How important that he should understand his own symptoms. To brave refection, to despise precautions, to neglect predispositions, to shut his eyes to growing disease, to refuse proper remedies, where the life of the soul is concerned, is no less a blind folly and a fatal rashness in the case of the soul than in that of the body. Are not sins diseases--fatal diseases, if they lead to death? The text is addressed, in the first instance, to a whole people, personified or spoken to as an individual person. In Israel is typified all mankind, for all are concluded under sin, all are guilty before God. Sin is surely the symptom of fatal disorder in the soul, for it is God’s revelation that no sin on God s earth is forgiven without blood shed for it; and that there shall in no wise enter heaven anything that defileth--no sin, small or great, unconfessed, unforsaken, unforgiven. Where there is sin on the conscience, whether known or unknown, that soul has destroyed itself. Where is the soul that has not some time sinned? And where is the conscience that has washed out that stain for itself? And what is the washing that can take the stain of a sin out of an immaterial soul? We do not speak now of open vice and wickedness. We do not address the conscience that is seared with red-hot iron. There are sins which are not so gross, which lie so deep that they may long remain unseen; not so hateful to men, and yet as dangerous to the soul; for the root of dislike to God and enmity to godly things very often lies hidden among such secret forms of sins. How much real godliness of heart do the generality of professing Christians exhibit? Can there be a more fatal disorder of the soul than formality, indifference, hypocrisy, profession without practice, lip-service without heart-service? If you have enmities and cherish hatred, if you love idle gossip and carelessly utter slander, etc. etc., you must admit that these are fatal symptoms of something miserably wrong in the soul. It is a sure sign that persons have “destroyed themselves” when they have no hearts to praise God. Sin is not only the commission of particular stated offences; it is the state of the heart, it is being without a sufficient love, a sufficient liking, for God’s goodness, and having more liking for things. Sin is the transgression of the law. And this is the law--to love my neighbour as myself. But ii we have destroyed ourselves, is there no hope, is there no help? Few words will suffice to disclose that mighty remedy which is in our God alone. “In Me is thy help.” (Brereton E. Dwarris, M. A.)
The sinner his own destroyer
Self-destruction is a crime of awful and unparalleled turpitude. A few facts will make this clear beyond a peradventure.
I. No man is destroyed in hell for ever simply because he is a sinner. All have sinned, and all would inevitably perish had not Omnipotent Love intervened to prevent it. The sinner that dies at last, dies not because he is a sinner, but because being a sinner he refused the pardon and grace offered.
II. A free and full salvation has been wrought out and is proffered to every sinner. The physician is at hand. There is “balm in Gilead” to heal sin’s dreadful malady.
III. God wants long and graciously to welcome the sinner back to life. He restrains His anger. He affords every opportunity. He sends forth His messenger.
IV. God puts no hindrances in the sinner’s way, imposes no restraint on the free exercise of his will.
V. Every impossible inducement is held out, an amazing system of means and agencies is put in force, to morally constrain him to obey and live; so that, if he destroys his soul at last, it can only be by personally resisting and overcoming the combined efforts of God and man to prevent it! (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
There is no more mournful spectacle in history than that of a nation concerning which thins has to be said, “Thou hast destroyed thyself.” It is bad enough when a nation is destroyed by other powers. But there is something sadder, if our eyes were only opened to see it. The sadder spectacle is that of the human soul of whom it can be truthfully said, “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.” It is bad enough to be destroyed by Satan; but it is worst of all to feel that we ourselves are the instruments of our own ruin. There is a whole multitude of different kinds of powers which are brought to bear upon the ungodly man for his ruin. But no existing force can ruin the human soul unless it is false to its own interests. As long as man is true to himself, and therefore true to his God, so long is he invincible. But let that man once turn his back upon that Being from whom he has derived his origin, and on whom he is wholly dependent, then the man is paralysed and stripped of all moral power. Why do I desire to bring the accusation of the text home? Because there is a tendency in the human heart to lay the blame of its own sins on somebody else, and pre-eminently on God Himself. Do not let us try and throw off the blame from our own shoulders on to God. The blame must ever be ours, and because the blame is ours, therefore the pain is ours. Some shift the blame on to God by misrepresenting application of His foreknowledge. Because God foresees a thing, He does not make us perform it. The fact that God foreknows arises from the fact that God inhabits eternity, and that we live in time. The vaster region in which God lives and moves encloses that smaller and more restricted region in which we live. As soon as you think God interferes with your own moral freedom, you may turn round and lay the blame of your sin upon God; but so long as God constitutes you a free, responsible agent, do not add to your other sins the sin of blasphemy, by making the everlasting God the source of the sin which has disgraced your life. How does Christ “help” us? He stoops to the very sepulchre where we are lying, and lifts the poor corpse right up from the very jaws of destruction by the power of His own resurrection. He infuses into our lifeless nature a new vitality, which comes from Himself; and triumphing over our foe, He exclaims: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death.” (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
The sinner self-destroyed
As regards the race of Israel, the prophet’s statement is self-evident. The national ruin of the chosen race was clearly due to national disobedience. But is not man in all eases the author of his own perdition? That it was so with our first parent admits of no doubt. His ruin was chargeable solely on him self. Is man a self-destroyer? Consider this question--
I. In its relation to the nature of God. We cannot comprehend God. Between the Creator and the creature there is an immeasurable distance. If God foreknows that this or-that man will finally perish, how can it be affirmed that he destroys himself? In reply we ask, Does the foreknowledge of God as to any particular action imply that He is the Agent? All that can be said is that God permits these actions to be wrought. We must not confound what God foreknows with what God appoints. The future punishment of the wicked is represented in God’s Word as the product of sin,--sin the grain sown, punishment the harvest to be reaped. If, then, the sin is the sinner’s own, and the punishment is the legitimate product of the sin, is not the conclusion just, that it is the man him self who commits the sin who destroys himself! Suppose that the decrees of God are apparently inconsistent with the doctrine that man destroys himself. There are two methods by which the question might be set at rest. One is through our being made fully acquainted with all those decrees, in all their relations to time and to eternity. But this method is inapplicable in our case, for we have not the capacity to comprehend the decrees of God. The other is our accepting the assurance that the purposes of God are not at variance with our personal responsibility. Life and death are before us, and we can choose. Therefore man’s undoing must be of himself. God’s decrees we cannot comprehend, His invitations we can
II. The question in its relation to the proposals of the Gospel. Some have attempted to show that the requirements of the Gospel are in effect the main hindrances to its acceptance. They are so rigid and unyielding, that practically they operate as a barrier to our embracing the proposals of mercy which the Gospel brings. With the requirements of the Gospel it is certainly no easy matter to comply. No man can comply with them in his own strength. But we must remember that the Gospel is of God. It is the plan which infinite wisdom contrived, and shall feeble man presume to say that the wisdom of Jehovah has erred? Bear in mind that the precepts of the Gospel are framed for the happiness and well-being of mankind; and note how carefully the Gospel adapts itself to our moral constitution in the appeal which it makes to those motives which have the most power to influence human con duct. It may, however, be further objected, that there is such an inherent weakness and depravity in human nature that practically it is impossible to attain to the standard of obedience which the Gospel demands. Least of all will this plea serve. We fully admit the depravity of human nature. But bear in mind the nature has been redeemed. The Son of God has taken our nature into union with the Divine, that He might redeem and sanctify and save it. Say not, then, that it is the nature of man which makes it impossible for him to be saved. The nature has been redeemed, and the redemption would be incomplete if it left any man in this life beyond the reach of being saved. If there had been no interposition in behalf of the fallen; if mankind had been allowed to multiply, and no movement on the part of God had been set on foot for their deliverance, there might then have been ground for the excuse. There is, how ever, nothing in the nature of God, nothing in the proposals of the Gospel, nothing in the moral nature of men, to render salvation impossible. (R. Bickersteth, D. D.)
Israel’s relief from God
“In Me is thy help.” That is--
(1) It might have been. “I would have helped and healed thee, but thou wouldst not be helped and healed.” This will aggravate the condemnation of sinners, that they opposed the offers God made them.
(2) It may be. “Thy case is bad, but it is not desperate. Come to Me and I will help thee.” This is a plank thrown out after shipwreck, and greatly magnifies the power of God, but also the niches of His grace, Dr. Pocock renders, “Presuming upon God and His favour has emboldened thee in those wicked ways which have been thy ruin.” (Matthew Henry.)
Help in God for sinners
When sinners are seeking salvation it is very important that they should know where to find it. There is no subject on which men are so likely to err as the subject of salvation. Nowhere else does the heart exert such an influence over the mind. Men have “carnal minds which are at enmity with God.” Men do not “seek first the kingdom of God,” putting eternity before time. Since unregenerate men are so apt to be dissatisfied with the rules of God everywhere else, we might expect them to be dissatisfied with the plan of salvation, and make many mistakes when they are seeking to be saved. Sinners are apt to lose sight of the essential truth of the text. God says, “In Me is thy help.” The meaning of this is unlimited. The sinner’s only help is in God. He cannot help himself. He will never have a heart that is right with God, he will never be reconciled to Him, he will never be a new creature in Christ Jesus without God’s help. The first proof of this is found in the language of the Bible. The second is found in the nature of the unrenewed heart. The third proof of the necessity of Divine influence is found in the inefficiency of all other influences. The fourth in the inefficacy of all motives. You may not always be sensible of your resistance; but the reason is, that you consider these things so little, and examine your own hearts and lives so little, that you remain in almost entire ignorance of yourselves. Many of you are waiting for stronger motives. Sinners do persuade themselves, and they are able to persuade themselves, that some stronger, more powerful motives would influence them to turn to God. Motives do not convert men. Your help is in God, not in motives. Practical improvement and profitable direction from this doctrine.
1. The folly of those who seek salvation in themselves. It is all very true that the sinner who seeks salvation must strive against sin, shun temptation, deny himself, guard well his heart, or he will not be saved. But when he relies upon himself and not on God, when he seeks to help himself instead of seeking help from God, he is leaning on a broken reed. Man must depend, and work while he depends.
2. The reason why so many of those who are awakened to a sense of Divine things, and begin to seek salvation, never attain it. They wish to take themselves out of the hands of God.
3. We learn why sinners who are making some attempts to be saved sometimes continue so long in affliction and trouble before they find peace with God.
4. We learn what is the great struggle of the sinner in coming to salvation. It is to give his wicked heart to God.
5. Sinners when awakened are often doing, or attempting to do, something directly contrary to what they suppose.
6. They are often guilty of resisting the Holy Spirit.
7. Sinners are their own destroyers. (J. S. Spencer, D. D.)
Man’s destruction, of himself; his salvation, of God
To understand things in their causes, and to trace them back from their first causes into their principles, has always been deemed the highest kind of knowledge. However agreeable and entertaining this kind of knowledge may be, it is not always the most needful and useful. We are now in a world of action, rather than of science. And usually we have more to do with the reality than with the philosophy. But in regard to our destruction and salvation, it is absolutely necessary that we should know the causes, in order that we may be enabled properly to levy the praise and the blame. God must not incur the infamy of our destruction, and we must not usurp the glory of our salvation. Two propositions are derivable from the text.
I. Man’s destruction of himself. What is this destruction? It is not a temporal loss; not the loss of the body, but the loss of the soul. Not the loss of its physical being and faculties, but the loss of its well-being and its happiness and its hope. At whose door is the blame to be laid? We make five appeals.
1. We appeal to the cause of your continuance in the state in which you are. Ii it were so, that you were not accessory to your own depraved and mortal state, surely you are accountable for your continuance in it. God has provided a fountain for sin and uncleanness open and free always; but if you love your pollution better than cleansing, your destruction will be of yourselves.
2. To the nature of Christianity. If in the Gospel call any had been overlooked, you might fear that you were in the number. If hard conditions and meritorious qualifications were required to be performed and possessed, you might despair. If the truths of Christianity were hard to be understood, you might complain of ignorance. If these benefits were sold at a high price, you might complain of poverty. If these duties were to require for their performance a power that was nowhere to be found, or was unattainable by you, you might complain of weakness. If upon making trial you could not succeed, if upon praying you were refused, you might then complain of the providence and the grace of God: but what can you complain of now?
3. We appeal to experience. Your experience: the experience of a sinner, the experience of the true penitent. The true penitent is not only awakened, he is enlightened; and in God’s light he sees light.
4. To the Divine testimony. Let us defer at once to a Being whose judgment is always according to truth. Ask God whether we are compelled to sin, and whether, if we perish, the blame will be our own?
5. To the proceedings of the last day. Then every one must give account of himself to God. What will you do when He rises up, and when He judges? The hour cometh when “every mouth will be stopped, and all the world shall be found guilty before God,” whatever they now allege in their own defence or extenuation.
II. Our salvation is of God, Sinners of themselves cannot repair the con sequences of their transgressions. The reason why so many think of being their own saviours is, because they have such defective views of their fallen state itself, and because they have never seriously and earnestly made the trial of their supposed ability to deliver themselves. God’s help is--
1. The most gracious in its source. Whence did this scheme arise? Compulsion is out of the question. But may not merit have some influence? Alas I all our desert is on the other side. Has desire had no influence? Why, the scheme was not only formed, it was accomplished too, long before we had any being. “According to His mercy, He saved us.”
2. The most wonderful in its procurement. Not only is the agency entirely the Lord’s, but He accomplishes the thing in a way the most peculiar. God does not save us by the mere volition of His will, or a mere exertion of His power. We see the “Word made flesh and dwelling among us,” and suffering for sin, “the just for the unjust.”
3. The most suitable in its supply. Is light adapted to the eye? Is melody adapted to the ear? Is food adapted to the taste? So correspond the blessings of the Gospel with all our wants and woes and weak nesses. Here is wisdom for the ignorant, pardon for the offending, renovation for the depraved, strength for the weak, riches for the poor; a sun if you are in darkness, a shield if you are in danger.
4. The most perfect in its efficiency. He who “speaks in righteousness is mighty to save.”
5. The most extensive and accessible. None of you are excluded unless you exclude yourselves. This subject should preach--
(1) Candour. Persons differ in their opinions, and all are not equally clear in their religious views; but if they keep between the two grand lines of the text they cannot materially or essentially err.
(2) Terror. Self-preservation is the first law of nature. You can “destroy yourselves.”
(3) Encouragement. Not to those who wish to continue in sin, but to those who are desirous of deliverance from it, and of obtaining salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ. What compassion there is in God, who hath remembered you in your lost estate!
(4) Admonition. Though there is help in Him, there is help in Him only. In Him only is the hope of Israel. And there is only help now. “Now is the accepted time.” (William Jay.)
If a man is lost he has only himself to blame. It is told of some poor heathens that, to please their god, they put themselves to death in the following way. They took a little boat, went out into the deep water, then took a little vessel in their hand, put it over the boat, filled it with water, and then poured the water into the boat. So they went on and on; the boat kept filling and filling, presently it began to tremble, and then sank, and thus they died. This is just what the sinner does. He goes on in sin for a month. What is he doing? He is putting water into the boat. He goes on for a year. He is putting water into the boat. He goes on yet longer. Take care! Take care! The boat is filling. The sinner is filling it. Stop! or it may sink for ever. (Thomas Jones.)
What man has to give thanks for
One thing of which the Lord casts the entire blame upon His creatures, and another thing of which He takes the entire glory to Himself.
I. Man hath to thank himself for his own destruction. That man is, by nature, in a destroyed and ruined state is too clear to be denied. Men do indeed try hard to soften down the fact. They strive to put the fairest face they can upon their situation and their prospects. Whatever other charges man is open to, self-hatred surely is not one of them. Yet man is said to be a self-destroyer. Both these things are true--man is a self-lover, and man is a self-destroyer. In proof see this. We have turned our backs on our best friend. We have rushed into the arms of our worst enemy. We have done, with our eyes open, things of which we have been perfectly well aware, that they work the death of the poor soul. And he is of all self-murderers the most determined who, having inflicted the wound, will not let it be bound up.
II. Sinners have to thank God for the work of the salvation. In this work man has no part or lot. What a humbling truth! Why cannot we help and save ourselves? Because we have reduced ourselves so low. The words of the text mean: I am qualified to help you. There is in Me all the sufficiency your case requires.” Nor is it a help up only which the Saviour offers, but a help forward. (A. Roberts, M. A.)
Man his own destroyer; God alone his Saviour
Whatever changes may be made by time, we are sure of one thing, that our God changeth not, and that the principles involved in His counsels and threatenings, in His warnings and promises and invitations, are immutable and everlasting as Himself.
I. Self-destruction is possible to us men; even the destruction of the highest, noblest, and Divinest part of our nature. Man, too, is the only being upon the earth to whom self-destruction is really possible; the being whose capacities are the noblest has the power of self-injury. A man cannot put out his life, but he can blight and blast all that is bright and blessed, happy and holy in his nature and life.
II. The only power by which we can destroy ourselves is the power of sinning. Sin does its work most rapidly and completely. Sinning darkens the understanding, impairs the judgment, makes a man a fool, disorders the imagination, deadens the best susceptibilities of the heart, and sears the conscience. It enslaves the will, and prevents peace of mind. It depraves the whole spiritual nature. And sinning is the breach of God’s law of love. God takes notice of every breach of His law.
III. Every finally destroyed man is self-destroyed. God will not destroy a man except as punishment for sin. The devil cannot permanently hurt you, excerpt as you combine with him to hurt yourselves. Two things are certain. The sin which finally destroys men is sin for which they are responsible. And the sin which inflicts most injury is the sin which men love, and which, because they love, they think lightly of.
IV. The self-destroyed may be saved from destruction. “In Me is thy help”--thy deliverance, thy salvation.
1. A man cannot save himself. All that he can do for himself is to submit to be saved. At first all men try to save themselves.
2. No fellow-man can save the sinner. God never sends a man to His priest; He invites the man to Himself.
3. Think of the encouragement to return to God. While God is speaking to you of salvation, you may have it. Self-destruction by sinning is the natural order. Salvation does not come in any natural order, but as the result of an extraordinary provision on the part of God. If after God has spoken to you, you be finally destroyed, your destruction will be self-destruction--wilful, inexcusable, and unbearable. (Samuel Martin.)
Sinners are self-destroyers, but salvation is of God
I. Sin is a most destructive evil. Sin is the grand disturber of the world. It disturbs the conscience, families, churches, cities, and nations.
II. Sinners are self-destroyers. It will be found that the blame is all our own, that there is an obstinate persistence is sin against the remonstrances of conscience and the admonitions of God.
III. There is salvation in Jesus Christ, even for self-destroying sinners. There is sufficient help for every purpose of our salvation. There is grace abounding for the greatest sinners. (G. Burder.)
The moral ruin and recovery of man
I. Man’s ruin is of himself. Many believe that God is in some way the author of evil. This is impiously false. God is not the author of man’s ruin. Being the first cause of all good, and independent, He is good, and only good. Satan is not the author of man’s ruin. He cannot force the will nor constrain the mind to sin without concurrence and consent on our part, and in the concurrence and consent consists the sin that causes our ruin.
(1) Our personal conduct shows this truth, and evinces that our sins result from the free choice of our wills, because there can be no responsibility where there is no freedom of choice.
(2) The state of our mind shows the same truth. This evidence indeed is cognisable only to our own conscience; but this is as it ought to be. What is the nature of the ruin? Loss of rectitude, or the Divine image; exposure to Divine wrath now, and in the world to come. These are the outlines of the misery we have brought on ourselves through sin.
II. Man’s recovery is of God. “In Me is thine help.” The doctrine here is, that the salvation of man is of the grace of God. “By grace ye are saved.” He delivers us from the evils which involve our ruin. The guilt of conscience, the defilement of the heart, the disorder of the faculties, the dominion of the passions, the bondage of sin. He restores to us the blessings that involve our happiness. (D.V. Phillips)
How sin destroys
One of the most famous pictures in the world is the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Jesus sits at the table with His twelve disciples. It is said that the artist sought long for a model for the Saviour. He wanted a young man of pure holy look. At length his attention was fixed on a chorister in the cathedral named Pietro Bandinelli. This young man had a very noble face and a devout demeanour. Leonardo used him as a model in painting the face of the Master. Soon after this Pietro went to Rome to study music. There he fell among evil companions and was led to drink, and then into all manner of debasing sins. Year after year the painter went on with his picture. All the apostles were now painted save one--Judas, the traitor. Da Vinci went from place to place, looking for some debased man who would be suitable as a model. He was walking one day on the streets of Milan, watching the faces of evil men he chanced to meet, when his eyes fell on one who seemed to have in his features the character he sought. He was a miserable unclean beggar, wearing rags, with villainous look. The man sat as the artist’s model for Judas. After the face was painted Da Vinci learned that the man who sat for him was his old friend Pierre Bandinelli, the same who had sat a few years before as the model for the Master. Wickedness had debased the beautiful life into hideous deformity. Sin distorts, deforms, and destroys the human soul. It drags it down from its greatness until it grovels in the dust. In Me is thy help.
Help for all:--The first thing that a man does after waking up to his sinful condition, is to try to help himself. How are we to come to moral and spiritual health? As long as the heart is wrong the life will be wrong.
I. God is willing to help us by giving us the holy spirit to show us just the position we occupy. What is the use of conviction? Without it, a man does not want Christ and His salvation. The Holy Spirit coming into the heart, a man wakes up to see his true state.
II. God is ready to help us, by giving us repentance. There is a great difference between seeing my sin and turning from it. Conviction and conversion are not the same thing.
III. God is willing to help us, by enabling us to exercise faith in christ. The most exhausting work to which I ever put the energies of my soul was to believe in Christ. Indeed, it is so great an undertaking that no man can accomplish it of himself.
IV. God is willing to help us, by giving us the pardon and peace of the gospel. He can save you. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Man’s destruction and God’s restoration
I. Consider the destruction of sin.
1. Adam ruined himself and all his children by sin (Romans 5:19; Romans 5:21).
2. We have destroyed ourselves by actual transgression (Romans 3:23).
3. The intellect or understanding is ruined (Jeremiah 8:7).
4. The will is become a rebellious faculty (Romans 8:7).
5. The conscience is rendered past feeling (1 Timothy 4:2; 1 Timothy 4:6).
6. The passions and affections of the soul are equally defiled (1 John 2:16).
7. He is destroyed both in body and soul, but for Christ (Psalms 9:17).
II. Christ is our salvation and help.
1. Christ is the true light (Malachi 4:2).
2. He shines in our hearts and understandings (Psalms 36:9).
3. He restores to us an enlightened conscience (Hebrews 10:22).
4. The soul is now sensible of the least transgression (2 Corinthians 1:12).
5. He strengthens our memories to retain Divine things (John 14:26).
6. He rectifies and restores all our affections (Psalms 73:25).
7. Provision is made for the everlasting life of the Church (John 6:37).
8. He is our help in delivering us from the wrath to come (John 14:3).
III. The improvement.
1. This help is omnipotent in its energy (1 Corinthians 1:24).
2. It is prompt in its manifestation (Isaiah 59:19).
3. It is always successful in its undertakings (Colossians 2:15).
4. It will not admit of any co-operation in the work (Ephesians 2:8-9).
5. It is unceasing in its application (Isaiah 41:17). (T. B. Baker.)
Man self-destroyed, but not self-saved
That man is a fallen and ruined creature is generally acknowledged. The moral condition of the world is a certain demonstration of this distressing truth. It is confirmed by the unrighteous propensities, by the vices of character, and by the aberrations from virtuous conduct which are exhibited more or less frequently even in the best of men. Man does not impute his ruin to himself; and yet, for the most part, he expects his recovery from himself. The first of these errors blinds him to the necessity of repentance; the second prevents the exercise of faith.
I. Man’s ruin is from himself alone. Our first father sinned voluntarily. But is it our fault that our natures are depraved If the fault be not yours, it must be imputed to God, or to the tempter, or to Adam. The first would be no less impious than absurd. The second cannot be entertained. Satan cannot constrain. The fault must lie between Adam and yourselves. And you cannot separate yourselves from him.
I. Adam was the head and representative of the entire human race. The consequences of Adam’s sin are witnessed in all his posterity. They all sin, invariably; they all die, invariably. Do you complain that, instead of giving man a general law, God entered into special covenant with him? Then you complain of that which is, in fact, the strongest argument of Divine goodness and condescension; for a law contains no promise. But a covenant holds out the certain prospect of a recompense in case of fidelity. Would it have been better that the fate of the human race should not have been entrusted to the hands of one? It is not only a fact that we are implicated in the first sin, but that fact is demonstrably consistent with the righteousness and goodness of God. Instead of evading the charge, we are called upon to confess its truth.
2. Men have universally followed in the footsteps of the first transgression, and have thus made it their own. The original act is not repudiated and disavowed, but is repeated and imitated. There has never been one individual exception. All have sinned, are sinning every day and every hour. Every individual gives ample ground for his own condemnation.
3. Down to the present day the sins of men are committed of their own free will, and without any external restraint. Consult your own reason. Do you not feel that you are free? You are not conscious of any foreign force, or of the pressure of inevitable necessity. It is true that you are tempted; but the tempter can employ no compulsion. Since men sin willingly and by choice, they cannot be exculpated.
4. Men have added to the guilt of a single act of disobedience an immense multitude and variety of new transgressions, clustering about it from age to age; so that it stands not alone, but is only the first, and yet not the worst, of all sins. It is difficult to conceive how they could have done more to appropriate Adam’s guilt The torrents of iniquity have been deepening and widening from generation to generation.
5. Men choose to abide in their present depraved condition, though a method of recovery is proposed to them in the Gospel. This is the crowning evidence which ought to produce conviction. No sooner was the guilt incurred than redeeming mercy was proclaimed; and how has that proclamation been treated by the world? On the ground of all these considerations, we insist that all transgressed in Adam, and have, in point of fact, made themselves partakers of his sin. Man is the author of his own ruin. The recognition of this truth is necessary to excite repentance, without which there can be no escape from perdition. Whom else can the sinner accuse? Will he lay the blame upon God, because He endued man with a free will? That liberty of choice is the glory of human nature. Or because He subjected man to a test, in token of the homage due to His supremacy? Or because He did not render man immutable in holiness from the very first? Will you quarrel with the permission of evil? Would you lay the fault upon the tempter? Or upon Adam? Vain evasions all!
II. Man’s recovery is from God. This truth meets the second delusion of man. He looks generally to himself for salvation. Four considerations will set this truth in a clear and convincing light.
1. Man wants a proper sense of his own condition and danger, and therefore he never will (even if he could) take the very first step towards his own recovery. There is no adequate motive. If it had been left to man, the least effort never would have been put forth to recover the friendship of God, and to restore His lost image in the soul.
2. Man has lost all his love of righteousness, and, therefore, never would have sought recovery of his own accord. There is a great deal of virtue in the world, but whence is it derived? Take away all that has been wrought for the morals of mankind by the indirect influence of religion,, and how much will be left? There is not to be found, anywhere in the world, any hatred of sin as sin, nor love of righteousness as righteousness, except in the man renewed and sanctified by the Spirit of God, and by the blood of Christ. If a righteous and holy God had not seen and pitied the want of righteousness in man, that want had never been perceived, never lamented; and, for this cause, there could have been no salvation.
3. Man has no means of satisfying the justice of God for his sins; and, therefore, even if willing, he could not be the author of his own recovery.
1. Some satisfaction is necessary.
2. Man has none to offer which can be acceptable.
3. He has not that moral strength which is necessary to the renewal of his heart and the amendment of his life; and, therefore, he cannot be the author of his own recovery.
God alone can awaken the soul to a conviction of danger, implant in it a love of holiness, provide the means of reconciliation, and by the influence of His Holy Spirit renew the heart, the character, and the life. Salvation belongeth unto the Lord.”(Daniel Katterns.)
I have long been convinced that many of our opinions and practices of these days differ enormously from the simple Gospel which Christ preached. I see but little hope for the re-animation of the true Christian ideal until God in His mercy raises up amongst us some prophet like Savonarola or Luther, or John Wesley, or some saint like St. Paul, or St. Francis, who is a saint indeed. Nothing is easier than to forget that religion means a good mind and a good life. Give me righteousness and not talk, conduct and not opinions, character and not ceremonies, love and not shams.
I. Doctrine and practice. In every religion there must be doctrine and practice. Christ came to show us that God’s will is our sanctification. The age, the nation, and the Church, supremely need this lesson. “Get sincerity. Simplify your lives, simplify your religion; return to the simplicity which is in Christ Jesus. Whatever our belief may be, whatever our worship may be, unless we keep innocency, and do the thing that is right, we have missed the one thing, and only thing, which will bring any human being peace at the last.”
II. The bridge of life. There is on every side of us a false life, and on every side of us a sham religion. There is open to us all a blessed life and a real religion. Christianity in nearly all of us produces fruits so crude, so scant, so hunger-bitten, as to be little better than a store of Levitism or a godless heathenism. Christianity smitten through and through with the curse and the blight of our unreality,--that is the reason why it makes such little way, and is losing its hold of the masses of the population. Yet let us not despair. God judges not as man judges.
III. Help in God. Life is short. There is nothing which the world, tile flesh, or the devil can offer us which is not profoundly unsatisfying. Yet God who giveth more grace, can deliver us from that fraud or subtlety of the devil or man, which is the only final irremediable curse of our mortal lives. He can give us holiness; He can give us peace; He can give us happiness in Him. There m nothing to complain of in life, but only in ourselves, who pervert, and dwarf, and degrade, and poison it; and so God ever calls to us, and pleads with us through His Son, our Lord. “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thy help.” (Dean Farrar.)
Christ, the sinner’s refuge
These words bring before us two subjects--man’s state by nature: and his restoration by God.
I. We have destroyed ourselves. Most men, though self-destroyers in a spiritual sense, yet appear to be quite unconscious of it. By many sin is thought to be a thing quite harmless, altogether innocuous; but a more dangerous or poisonous reptile does not exist. You must be judged by the rigorous demands of the law of God, and that law requires obedience, in thought, word, and deed, and that without the smallest deviation. You cannot discharge the debt you owe to this law. You are in this respect helpless, hopeless, remediless.
II. We cannot help ourselves. Our own obedience to the law cannot possibly justify, and consequently cannot save us. This fact the Scriptures declare. Some say, but God is merciful. Will He show mercy at the expense of justice? He delights in mercy when His justice is satisfied.
III. When and how does God become the sinner’s help? When the sinner believes on Christ to salvation. He could not obey the law perfectly, so as to be justified thereby, but when he believes in the Saviour, Jesus becomes to him justification. He could offer no sacrifice to God for his sins. Jesus is to the believer an all-sufficient sacrifice. The sinner could not redeem his soul from death. Jesus becomes to the believer “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” (G. M’Clelland, A. B.)
Man’s ruin and God’s remedy
These words are prophetic of the great disasters and that awful ruin which came upon God’s chosen people, when the Assyrian led them into captivity, and desolated their land with fire and sword. They were spoken in a time of comparative security, when the cities of Israel were teeming with inhabitants, and the broad harvest fields were offering their rich reward to the labour of the husbandman. Amid the glitter and promise of material civilisation, God had discerned and denounced the real tendencies of this rebellious people. He declares that the ruin should be the natural consummation of the nation’s progress, that they should be self-destroyed by the simple operation of the principles which they had adopted, and the institutions which they had founded. This brief address proclaims the solemn truth, that as he stands amid the bounties of God’s providence and the natural arrangements of the world, man is continually perverting them from their Divine intent, and thereby bringing ruin upon his highest interests; and the only remedy for his abuse of mercies and disarrangement of established order is found in the constant interposition of Jehovah’s arm in the processes of nature, providence, and grace. Our subject then is, the destructive tendency of human progress, and the remedy supplied by God to counteract the ruin. A weakness of the present age is the temper in which men are wont to glorify its institutions, its achievements, and its progress. As if by general consent the nineteenth century has been established upon a throne of honour, and around it have gathered the high priests of science and the leaders of opinion, to proclaim its successes and its destiny. But the object of all this idolatry is no less a shadow and a deceit than is that crowned and jewelled mortal whose life is flowing on to death, while his flatterers are extolling his immortality.
I. The natural progress of man in the world is a steady lapse towards corruption and destruction. In spite of the arts, institutions, and triumphs of civilisation, the natural development of the race is a descent towards misrule, oppression, anarchy, and ruin. Reason, revelation, and history make this evident.
1. Consider the nature of the ideas of civilisation and progress as they are held by men, and as they operate in the world. That there is a “law of progress” in relation to man’s material interests cannot be overlooked, and ought not to be denied. On behalf of his various needs, man is a ceaseless worker. Thus there is progress in the art of living, in mechanical inventions, in the range of the fine arts, and the scope of great enterprises, and in the fellowship of nations. One age profits by the mistakes and successes of those which have preceded it. Great results are produced, dazzling to the eye, and flattering to the pride of man. But when this process is closely surveyed, and its real tendencies are accurately noted, what is it more or better than a reconstruction of the tower of Babel, in which railroad iron, and telegraphic wires, and social comforts, are substituted for asphaltic brick, and the fine arts for the builder’s lofty plan, but the intent of which is equally with that of the ancient enterprise, to exalt man upon the earth, and screen him from the scrutiny of God! Expand it, modify it, or disguise it as you will, the fact remains that a process of development which rests upon these ideas and aims at these results is rotten to the core, and from it there can only spring corruption. In material prosperity we have the real end of progress, so far as it is sought by any human institutions, and in this there cannot be a single element of conservative effect, or a single principle of enduring force.
2. This view is confirmed by the lessons of history. “History” is philosophy teaching by examples. In the light of the solid facts of history we learn the real tendencies of that refinement and civilisation of which those who see things in the present only, are so prone to boast. Every nation that has culminated in such a civilisation as has been described, has found thereto the elements of its decay and ruin. Illustrate from Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Rome, India, Ottoman Empire, States of Italy, South American Republics, etc.
3. Refer to our own land, and the influence of our own institutions. We have received a goodly heritage. Our institutions were founded in the hatred of oppression and the love of right. The broad Atlantic rolls between us and the corruptions which have vitiated the older nations of the world. But what has been the direction of our progress Has there been ascent or descent in the march of empire? It is true that, in our national career, we have gained in territory, and increased in revenue, and advanced in culture and refinement, but amid all this the primal vigour and intensity of the nation’s life has wasted. Republicanism does not check depravity. Consider the fierce partisanship of politics, the strife of interests between different sections of the Union, the corruption of our legislators, the apologies for oppression, the insecurity of our cities, our eagerness in the pursuit of wealth for its own sake, the recklessness of our expenditure, and the fearful increase of crimes of darkest hue, and you cannot but acknowledge the general tendency towards license and corruption.
II. Amid these destructive tendencies there is hope for man in the helping hand of God. God is continually averting perils, reconstructing ruined institutions, and infusing new life into the organisms which man has corrupted. Among the vivid creations of the Scandinavian mythology there is one which represents Life under the similitude of a Tree. Igdrasil, the ash-tree of existence, has its roots deep down in the very kingdom of death. At its base sit the three Fates, who water these roots from the sacred well, while its trunk mounts high towards heaven, and its branches spread into every land. Its boughs are the histories of nations. Its rustle is the sound of human life, swelling onward from of old. It grows there in spite of death below, and storms above, the true emblem of man’s life and progress, by means of the forces through which God sustains him in the midst of moral evil. Out of the very elements of death He is evolving a progressive revelation which will change the tendencies of the race: The process by which this is being accomplished is not natural, as men understand the laws of nature. It is a process of miraculous effect, and supremely glorious to the grace of God. The formal statement of this Divine method we find only in the Word of God. It is by implanting living ideas of truth and righteousness, and by renewing sinful human hearts in the Divine likeness, that man’s ruin is turned aside. In the spiritual influences of the Gospel lies the help which His Word has promised, and which His hand affords. Christianity is the one power of real progress in the world. Christianity saves the world from corruption and destruction. By it society would be truly civilised, the State be reared on the great principles of righteousness, and the highest welfare of the world be secured by a prosperity which should be at once material and spiritual, temporal and eternal. (R. R. Booth.)
Men’s misery from themselves--the remedy in God
In the history of the Jewish race are set forth the waywardness and the misery of men under alienation from God. In the mingled tenderness and severity of its treatment, we have a representative instance of the general dealings of providence regarding the disobedient and rebellious. The kingdom of the Ten Tribes had fallen upon evil times. Their sufferings were no doubt judicial--the awarded judgments of the Supreme Ruler; but they were likewise the natural and inevitable consequences of their conduct. These are equally true propositions, that no evil is from God, and that all good is from Him. Help and deliverance upon repentance and amendment are precisely as much in the course of things as is suffering after sin.
I. The first proposition. “We have destroyed ourselves.”
1. By the immediate effect of sin. When once holiness departs from the soul, life itself departs, in its highest sense. The destruction attributable to sin is brought upon us by ourselves. No constraint was laid on man’s will. St. James gives the whole history and progress of iniquity in the heart, in his first chapter. God is so far from being the cause or author of sin, that He has, by an infinity of methods, endeavoured to draw us away from it; and is, on the contrary, the giver of every gift tending to life and holiness. As little can we excuse ourselves by alleging any fatal necessity; there can be no such constraining power, independent of the Divine purposes.
2. By incurring the punishment and misery due to sin. It is an eternal law that misery follows transgression; and that law is God’s law; but His it would not be, were it not founded in justice and benevolence, the essential basis of His holy character; and not in any despotic exercise of bare authority. In this consideration we discover the inconvenience of looking on the means and instruments of the punishment of reprobate sinners, as belonging wholly to a place, and got likewise to a state. There is positive punishment; but the loss of our original privileges, which may be called the negative part of punishment, is not of much less fearful character. It is the state of degradation and ruin, into which, while here on earth, the sinner plunges himself. By the practice of habitual sin, the activity of the conscience is at length suspended, the eye of the understanding is closed, the ear is shut, the heart is hardened, the Holy Spirit retires. But if God withdraws His grace, He must not be thought the cause of the destruction. We “quench” the Spirit--we expel, we drive Him away, when we pollute His temple with sin. The Word of God confirms the fact that the destruction of those who perish is from themselves; and is a thing wholly alien from the intention and desire of the Almighty. This is implied in the precepts and commandments, wherewith Scripture abounds. The same is expressly urged in persuasions, exhortations, entreaties, remonstrances, and reproaches.
II. The second proposition. “In Me is thy help.” Emphasis is put on the word “Me.” It is pointedly exclusive. Can a conscience pierced by guilt be healed by indulgences that will heap upon it more guilt Is it in the power of pleasure effectually to banish remorse? If we have “destroyed ourselves,”--if we have burdened our consciences, corrupted our hearts, ruined our peace, there is but one source whence the remedy is to be obtained; but it is a source deeper than our unworthiness, more abundant than the sins of the whole world; a source ever present and ready to send forth its healing waters. It is the bosom of God. Whatever our distress, God has the power to help. He is almighty, and can do all things; unless the will of the creature be obstinately opposed to His will and influences. And in Him is willingness to help. And He has provided the requisite means and methods of help. They are ever within the reach of those who need and will apply them. His help is never too late, never ineffectual. No case is without hope, if there be repentance. If the destructive workings are but little advanced, God’s help may arrest its progress. Should it, unhappily, have proceeded so far as to have corrupted our hearts and seared our consciences, He can convert, restore, and renew us. (R. Gattermole, B. D.)
Destroyed sinners finding help in God
God’s eye sees at once all events, past, present, and future. Hence He saw Israel labouring under the woes which He had threatened. He saw them scattered and peeled and eating abundantly of the fruit of their own devices, and He tells them that the blame was all their own. Israel, in coming under the stroke of Divine vengeance, fell a victim to her own rebellion and obstinacy. Yet God did not cease to pity them. God had first threatened Israel. Then He views her as overwhelmed by His judgments. He blames her for having brought them upon herself. He laments over her. He opens anew the door of hope, by declaring “in Me is thine help.”
I. The means by which sinners destroy themselves.
1. They do so by departing from God, whose favour is their only safety. Apart from God there is no security for man. The world may pretend to throw over him the shield of its protection, but it will prove as the spider’s web before the wrath of offended heaven. The favour of God is a strong tower, to which the righteous run and are safe. But unregenerate men have turned their backs upon this hiding-place and rock of defence. They are utterly destitute of an asylum as long as they disregard the favour of God. And this destitution is chargeable wholly on themselves; because God has graciously used all kinds of agencies in order to influence them.
2. By indulging in sin, which is ruinous in its very nature. We argue the nature of a thing from its uniform effects. If we find sin always pouring forth streams of misery, we say it is ruinous in its very nature. Wherever sin has trod with unholy foot, there misery in some form and degree has been spreading its withering and deadly influences. Test sin by what it did to the Lord Jesus. See what it has done to man as a race. It has scattered desolation, mourning, and woe, over the face of the whole earth.
3. By exposing themselves to the destructive judgments of God. God has armed Himself against sin with righteous but fearful judgments. Many of these overtake the sinner during his earthly career. All the miseries which come upon men in time are only the first-fruits of the abundant harvest of wrath, which those shall reap who continue to sow to the flesh.
4. By refusing to obey the Gospel, which brings the only remedy for their miseries. Notwithstanding all His wrath against sin, God has set before sinners an open door of escape from its guilt and consequences. The sinner can close this door against himself by rejecting the Gospel of God’s Son. And there is no other way of escape than that God has provided. Sometimes the sinner sets himself to work out a righteousness of his own. Sometimes he comes after the Lord has arisen and shut to the door.
II. Where help is found for us in God. There are many quarters in the Divine character to which we need not look for help. None is to be found in His absolute holiness; or His absolute justice; or His absolute power; or His absolute and general mercy.
1. There is help for us in the gracious mercy, of God. By this we mean His free and undeserved compassion, exercising itself through Christ for the deliverance of lost sinners. Christ has removed all obstacles arising from the absolute holiness and justice, and the general mercy of God. Hence comes to us--along the channel Christ provided--the forgiving and sanctifying mercy of God.
2. There is help for us in the gracious power of God. God’s power, in Christ, is the strong arm sent down from above to draw the sinner from the depths of sin and misery. It is the mighty energy by which his heart is changed, his nature reversed, and by which he is drawn to the Saviour. It is the mighty rod by which God breaks the power of sin in the believer. It is the storehouse out of which God gives the believer strength to perform the duties assigned to him. It is the house of defence in which the believer may obtain protection from every calamity.
3. There is help in the gracious faithfulness of God, whose promises are so numerous and so varied as to suit all our wants and circumstances. The ground on which a man may lay hold on these promises is the faithfulness of God in Christ.
4. In short, there is help for us in the all-sufficiency of God. Learn how lamentable it is that we should have destroyed ourselves. And what reason we have for praising God with all our hearts. If God had not said, “In Me is thy help,” where would we have been? (A. Ross, M. A.)
In God is our help
This gracious declaration of the blessed God involves two truths.
I. That in God is our only help, and that we have no other means of deliverance but in Him. That aversion from God which constitutes our guilt and misery, prompts us to seek relief anywhere else, rather than from Him. That might be prudent, if any dependence could be placed in those refuges which we rely on. That God is our only help is obvious from the circumstance of His having interposed on our behalf. Infinite wisdom can do nothing unnecessary. We could not by any means accomplish our own deliverance. Reason and conscience tell us that no future repentance, though we were disposed to repent, can atone for the guilt of a single transgression. And we do not want to repent; we are unwilling to return to our allegiance, or to be reconciled to our offended Judge. Some say that, under the Gospel, the demands of the moral law are abridged, and that it is now satisfied with a sincere, though imperfect obedience. Can this be true? The fact is that we can do nothing towards relieving ourselves from that destruction and misery in which we are involved by sin. It is not in our power, though we were willing; and we are not willing, although it were in our power. It is impossible that our circumstances should be retrieved by any other means than those which God Himself hath appointed.
II. God is an all-sufficient help, both able and willing to bring us relief. It may be said, Is not God almighty, so that He can do whatsoever He pleaseth? Yes, He is able to effect any natural act whatever. But our circumstances are such that something else than mere power is necessary to bring us relief. The power of God cannot act in opposition to His other perfections. God is not only powerful, but just and holy. A plan must be devised by which all His perfections may be illustrated at once. God must be just, though man should perish. What circumstances render the scheme of redemption, which God hath wrought for us by Jesus Christ, fully sufficient for all the purposes of our salvation? Consider the dignity of the person of the Redeemer and His resurrection. His death was not more necessary to atone for our sins than His resurrection to apply the redemption He had purchased to the souls of His people. He hath not only begun, but completed the work of redemption. (James French.)
God’s help for the sinner
Well, there are those in this audience who not only feel they have a sinful nature, but that they are helpless. I congratulate you, I am glad of it that you feel you are helpless. You say, “That isn’t brotherly; that isn’t humane.” Well, I say that in the same spirit in which Lady Huntingdon said it to a man who exclaimed, “I am a lost man.” She said, “I am glad of it.” He said, “That’s a most unkind remark.” “Ah!” she said, “I am glad of it. Because you must first feel you are lost before you win salvation.” And so if there are those here who not only know that they have a sinful nature, but that they are helpless, I congratulate you. For now comes the clarion voice of my text--it comes like ten thousand thunders bursting from the throne, “In Me is thy help.”
I gave thee a king in Mine anger, and took him away in My wrath.
The Israelites seem to have asked for a king from an unthankful caprice and waywardness. The ill conduct of Samuel’s sons was the occasion, an “evil heart of unbelief” was the cause. To punish them, God gave them a king “after their own heart.” There is, in true religion, a sameness, an absence of hue and brilliancy, in the eyes of the natural man. Samuel had too much of primitive simplicity about him to please the Israelites; they felt they were behind the world, and clamoured to be put on a level with the heathen. Saul had much to recommend him to minds thus greedy of the dust of the earth. He was brave, daring, resolute; gifted, too, with strength of body as well as of mind. Both his virtues and his faults were such as became an Eastern monarch, and were adapted to secure the fear and submission of his subjects. Samuel’s conduct in the national emergency is far above human praise. Personally qualified Saul was for a time a prosperous king. But from the beginning the prophet’s voice is raised both against the people and king in warnings and rebukes, which are omens of his destined destruction, according to the text. Here, then, a question may be raised--Why was Saul thus marked for vengeance from the beginning? The question leads to a deeper inspection of his character. The first duty of every man is the fear of God--a reverence for His Word, a love of Him, and a desire to obey Him. Now Saul lacked “his one thing.” He was never under the abiding influence of religion, however he might be at times moved and softened. What nature made him, that he remained, without improvement; with virtues which had no value, because they required no effort, and implied the influence of no principle. There was a deadness to all considerations not connected with the present world. It is his habit to treat prophet and priest with a coldness, to say the least, which seems to argue some great internal defect. We have no reason to believe, from the after history, that the Divine gift at his anointing left any religious effect on his mind. The immediate occasion of his rejection was his failing under a specific trial of his obedience, as set before him at the very time he was anointed. There was no professed or intentional irreverence in Saul’s conduct. He outwardly respected the Mosaic ritual. But he was indifferent, and cared for none of these things. From the time of Saul’s disobedience in the matter of Amalek, Samuel came no more to see Saul, whose season of probation was over. He finishes his bad history by an open act of apostasy from the God of Israel. He consulted the sorceress at Endor. Unbelief and wilfulness are the wretched characteristics of Saul’s history--an ear deaf to the plainest commands, a heart hardened against the most gracious influences. (J. H. Newman, B. D.)
A gift of God’s anger
You were so set upon it, that you would have a king; if you will, take him, saith God, and take him with all that shall follow after. So that it was (as one speaks) rather from an angry God than from an entreated one. Saul and Jeroboam were both given in anger.
1. God may have a hand in things wherein men sin exceedingly.
2. Things that are evil may yet have present success.
3. God’s gifts are not always in love. Take heed of immoderate desires for any worldly thing.
I. How we may know that what god gives is in anger, not in love. It is a very hard thing to convince men, if they have their desires satisfied, that it is rather from anger than love. Men are so well pleased with the satisfying of their desires that they can be very hardly convinced but that God intends good to them in it
1. When you desire a gift, rather than God in it. When your desires are for the gift rather than the Giver, you can have no comfort that there is love in it.
2. When our desires are immoderate and violent.
3. When God grants men their desires before the due time. They have what they would have, but they have it not in God’s time.
4. When God grants us what we would have, but without the blessing. He grants the thing, but takes away the blessing of the thing, He takes away the comfort and satisfaction of it. “They shall eat, but they shall not be satisfied.”
5. When that which we desire is merely to satisfy our lusts. We do not desire such and such things that by them we may be fitted for the service of God.
6. When men are so eager that they care not whether the gift comes from a reconciled or a provoked God; it is all one to them (Numbers 11:1-35.).
7. When God regards not our preparation for a mercy. Carnal hearts take no great care themselves of it. Let me have it, say they, our fitness matters not. It is your sin and wickedness not to regard the preparation of your hearts for what you have, and it is God’s judgment to give it to you before you are pre pared. A gracious heart, when it would have a mercy, is as careful to get the heart prepared for the mercy as to obtain it.
8. When we rest on the means we use, and seek not God by prayer.
9. When God gives us our desires, but not a sanctified use of them. When God gives you the shell, but not the kernel, surely it is not in love. All the good things that wicked men have, are but shells without kernels.
10. When a secret curse attends what we have.
11. When we regard not what becomes of others, so we have our wants satisfied.
12. When God, in satisfying our desires, makes way for some judgment.
13. When men are greedy of things to the disregard of results; when they would have their desires satisfied in a foolish way, never minding what inconveniences may follow, but merely looking to their present comfort.
14. When men seek to have their desires satisfied, merely because they love change.
15. When our desires of further mercies make us forget former mercies.
16. When men desire new things out of mistrust of God.
17. If we seek to attain our desires by unlawful means. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Answers to improper prayers
The flying fish, says the fable, had originally no wings, but being of an ambitious and discontented temper she repined at being always confined to the water, and wished to soar into the air. “If I could fly like the birds,” said she, “I should not only see more of the beauties of nature, but I should be able to escape from those fish which are continually pursuing me, and which render my life miserable.” She therefore petitioned Jupiter for a pair of wings, and immediately she perceived her fins to expand. They suddenly grew to the length of her whole body, and became at the same time so strong as to do the office of a pinion. She was at first much pleased with her new powers, and looked with an air of disdain on all her former companions; but she soon perceived herself exposed to new dangers. While flying in the air she was incessantly pursued by the tropic bird and the albatross, and when for safety she dropped into the water, she was so fatigued with her flight that she was less able than ever to escape from her old enemies the fish. Finding herself more unhappy than before, she now begged of Jupiter to recall his present; but Jupiter said to her, “When I gave you your wings I well knew that they would prove a curse; but your proud and restless disposition deserved this disappointment. Now, therefore, what you begged as a favour keep as a punishment.” (Evenings at Home.)
I will ransom them from the power of the grave.
For Easter morning
For long ages,, it must have almost seemed as if God had forgotten His challenge. Death reigned from Adam to Moses”; from Moses to David, who “died and was buried”; and from David to Christ. One of the earliest chapters of the Bible (Genesis 5:1-32.) is a cemetery of the old world; and in the case of each the monotonous announcement follows, “and he died.” The generations of mankind spring smiling and beautiful on mother earth, like the clover crops of successive years, as if to defy or with their charms to fascinate the tyrant reaper. But all to no avail. There were only two exceptions to the dread monotony of death--the rapture of Enoch, and the ascension of Elijah; they were like the early crocus or aconite, which announces the coming of the spring. All the rest died. At last He came in human form who had been fore-announced as death’s death, the destined fulfiller of the promise of paradise. At least He will not succumb. He will not see death! Or if they meet, before one glance of His eyes, “which are as a flame of fire,” surely death will wane as the moon when smitten by sunlight! But contrary to all that we might have thought, it was not so. He, too, the Prince of Life, having entered the lists with the fell tyrant, allowed Himself to be led as a lamb to the slaughter. And it might have seemed therefore that none, not even God, could break the thrall of death. Such was the appearance; but not the fact. We are reminded of the old Greek story that when the city of Athens was doomed to supply each year a tribute of youths and maidens to the monster of Crete, the here Theseus embarked with the crew, and accompanied the victims that he might beard the dreadful ogre in his den, sad slaying him, for ever free his native city from the burden under which it groaned. So Christ through death abolished death, and “destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and delivered those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Here was fulfilled the Divine announcement, “O death, I will be thy plagues.” Nor is this all. In the last vision vouchsafed to man of the ascended Christ, the keys of death are said to hang at His girdle, and He has the power to shut so that none can open, and to open so that none can shut. Nor is even this all. The day is not far distant when all His saints “that are in their graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth”; then shall be fulfilled the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” Nor is even this all. The world of men is to participate in the resurrection power of death’s victor. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” They shall come from the ages before the flood; from the foot of the pyramids, where the slaves of the Pharaohs mingled their dust with the bricks they made; from the earliest scenes of life, and from the latest; from the most enlightened races of mankind, and the most degraded; from the most warlike and the most peaceful tribes; cathedral vaults shall split and give up their contents; Marathon, Austerlitz, and Waterloo shall add their contributions; the sea shall give return of the harvest sown through the centuries. Nor is this all. All enemies are to be put beneath His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed by Emmanuel shall be death itself. In what its destruction shall consist we do not know; except that in that world which the King who sits upon the throne shall create, we are told, “There shall be no more death.” No funeral cortege shall wind its way over the golden pavement. How gloriously then will God realise the words that glisten before our eyes this Easter morning! Already in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead we see that the empire of death is doomed. But, in the meanwhile, is there no comfort for us who are compelled to live in the valley shadowed by death? There is, because He goes beside us; and the Psalmist, who had spoken of Him in the third person, addresses Him in the second as that shadow comes nearer: “He restoreth my soul; Thou art with me.” And if this should not be the case, and we were doomed to go down, each alone, to die, yet even then we need not be without solace. Death is abolished! The wasp struck its sting into the Cross of the dying Lord, and lost it there, and is now stingless for ever. The poison fang of the viper has been extracted; Goliath beheaded by his own sword. The teeth of the lion have been drawn. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The paean of victory over the last enemy
These words of mercy are found amidst words of judgment. In wrath God remembers mercy. Ephraim had been sentenced to temporal ruin, but now God speaks of their eternal redemption. Who has not painful associations with the grave! Death is a reaper whose sickle leaves not one sheaf ungathered. How blessed the thought that the gracious Lord Jesus hath entered upon the scene, to become the champion of His trusting people, and the subduer of their enemies. The word “ransom” signifies to rescue by the payment of a price. To “redeem” denotes the right of the nearest kinsman to acquire a thing for himself by the payment of a price. Both words describe what the holy Jesus has done. How may Christ be said to be the plague of death?
1. By the full discoveries He made concerning it.
2. In many of the miracles which He performed.
3. He is the death of death by His own death and resurrection. These were the chief means and instruments of His illustrious triumph.
4. By extending to His people all the benefits of His own death and resurrection. Neither in dying nor in living does He stand alone. He appears as the representative of others, and the fruits of His sufferings and sacrifice He imparts to every believer.
5. “By raising all His people from their graves. This is the first resurrection: blessed is he that hath part in the first resurrection. (A. Clayton Thiselton.)
O death, I will be thy plagues.
The ruin of death
By these words the prophet distinctly sets forth the power of God, and magnificently extols it, lest men should think that there is no way open to Him to save, when no hope according to the judgment of the flesh appears. Hence the prophet says, Though men are now dead, there is nothing to prevent God to quicken them. How so? For He is “the ruin of death, and the excision of the grave,”--that is, “Though death should swallow up all men, though the grave should consume them, yet God is superior to both death and the grave, for He can slay death, for He can abolish the grave.” We learn from this passage that when men perish God still continues like Himself, and that neither His power, by which He is mighty to save the world, is extinguished, nor His purpose changed, so as not to be always ready to help; but that the obstinacy of men rejects the grace which has been provided, and which God willingly and bountifully offers. This is one thing. We may secondly learn, that the power of God is not to be measured by our rule; were we lost a hundred times, let God be still regarded as a Saviour. Should, then, despair at any time so cast us down that we cannot lay hold on any of God’s promises, let this passage come to our minds, which says that God is the excision of death and the destruction of the grave. “But death is nigh to us; what, then, can we hope for any more?” This is to say, that God is not superior to death; but when death claims so much power over men, how much more power has God over death itself? Let us then feel assured that God is the destruction of death, which means that death can no more destroy; that is, that death is deprived of that power by which men are naturally destroyed; and that though we may lie in the grave, God is yet the excision of the grave itself. Many interpreters, thinking this passage to be quoted by Paul, have explained what is here said of Christ, and have in many respects erred. They have said first, that God promises redemption here with out any condition; but we see that the design of the prophet was far different. (John Calvin.)
Death the plague of sinners, and Christ the plague of death
There is no form of death more terrible than what is termed plague or pestilence, which are the names commonly given to any distemper that is peculiarly malignant and deadly in its character, and wide-spreading, or as the phrase is, epidemic in its progress. In the Hebrew language, destruction was another name for the grave, and is sometimes found joined with hell, when that word signifies the separate state of departed souls.
I. Death is the plague of the sinner. A plague denotes anything that is troublesome and vexatious. The idea of death is to the sinner a perpetual source of uneasiness and pain. The sting of death is sin; and therefore the sting, the torment, the curse of a sinful life is death.
1. Contemplate death in connection with its forerunners. By which is meant everything of suffering and sorrow. These all tell us of death’s approach.
2. View death in its attendants. What is death but just the grand unfathomed mystery of wonder and depth and fear which lies under life from its beginning to its close? The anticipated terror of death is dot its only attendant. It is accompanied with pain, the pain of separation and the pain of disease.
3. View death in its consequences. Its future and final consequences. (About which we say much, and know little.)
II. Christ is the plague of death. Where philosophy does nothing, and infidelity worse than nothing, Christianity steps in and does everything. The Lord Jesus has well earned to Himself this most expressive designation, “the pestilences of death.”
1. Christ showed Himself the plague of death, by the full discoveries He made and the clear instructions He delivered regarding it. Until He appeared a thick cloud rested on the state of the dead. As the Sun of Righteousness, He dissipated the clouds which hung over the tomb, He poured a flood of light on the regions beyond it, He disclosed futurity in all its bliss and in all its woes.
2. Christ showed Himself the plague of death in many of the miracles He performed. Are disease and wretched ness “the concomitants of death”? It was His daily work of mercy to make distress vanish, and to chase away misery. But not satisfied with giving repeated checks to death’s ministers, He trampled on the grim monster himself. See cases of raising the little maid, the widow’s son, and Lazarus.
3. Christ showed Himself the plague of death by His own death and resurrection. These were the chief means and instruments of His illustrious triumph.
4. Christ has proved Himself, and will yet prove Himself, the plague of death, by extending to His people all the benefits of His own death and resurrection. Neither in dying nor in living does He stand alone; He appears as the representative of others, and the fruits of His every toil and suffering and sacrifice He imparts to His believing and beloved people. (N. Morrew, A. M.)
The great conqueror of the world conquered
Primarily, these words apply to God’s restoration of Israel from Assyria--partially and in times yet future, fully from all the lands of their present long-continued dispersion and political death.
1. Here is the great conqueror called the “death and the grave.” What a conqueror is death!
(1) Heartless, dead to all appeals.
(2) Resistless. Bulwarks, battalions, castles are nothing before him.
(3) Universal, his eyes fastened on the world.
(4) Ever active.
2. Here is the great conqueror of the world conquered. Who? “I am the resurrection and the life, whoso believeth in Me shall never die.” How has He conquered death? Not by weakening his power or arresting his progress, for he is as mighty and active as ever, but by stripping him of his terror. (Homilist.)
The Saviour’s final conquest
Our text is not all solemnity; it also Wakens within the mind emotions of deep and heartfelt joy.
I. The time is coming when the ravages of death shall be for ever ended. Death is always at work. He is never tired. And all alike are seized by him as his victims. The ravages of death! How the mind sinks in despondency as it contemplates what death has done! And the ravages are sometimes sudden. Then, how blessed is the assurance that the time is coming when the promise of the text shall be fulfilled.
II. Then all the design of the atonement will be fulfilled. When Adam sinned he flung over the sunshine and joy of God’s world the shadow of the tomb. When Jesus entered the world He came to dissipate that shadow, and bring back sunshine and joy by bringing life and immortality to light. The design of the atonement is to be fulfilled; it is not altogether fulfilled yet.
III. Then the gloomy associations of the grave will be all forgotten. Now it is not possible to think of the grave without gloomy thoughts. But that grave shall one day be destroyed, and all its sad memories shall be blotted out.
IV. When these words are fulfilled the whole family of God will be reunited for ever. The family of God is scattered now. Part is triumphant in heaven, and part is still militant upon earth. We shall all meet again, where partings are for ever unknown. (W. Meynell Whittemore, S. C. L.)
Christ, the Conqueror of death
This is bold and striking language. Death has ever shown himself to be no respecter of persons. The wide extent of death’s dominion is so universally admitted that it were a waste of time to adduce any argument in its proof. In order to the right understanding of this passage we must have regard to the early history of man. During the whole period of the Old Testament history intimations were given of a coming Saviour, and every promise, as well as every type, had reference to the blessings of His kingdom. There is something peculiarly striking in the language here employed. Never does death appear in a more terrific form than when, by plague or pestilence, thousands are swept away as in a moment. Under whatever aspect death is presented to our notice in the sacred Volume, it is associated with sin; it appears as its result: It is sin that arms death with all its poison, and renders it so truly dreadful, What is it that gives to sin its condemning power? “The strength of sin is the law.” “Sin is the transgression of the law.” Then, how has the Son of God achieved the victory predicted in our text? For the accomplishment of man’s redemption the Son of God assumed the form of humanity, endured the Cross, and rose again from the dead. For us there is a bright and glorious prospect of final triumph over the darkness and desolation of the grave. (E. Pizey, B. A.)
Life reappearing after death
There are mountain streams which, after flowing a little way in a broken current, are lost to sight. But far down the mountain they reappear, no longer tossed and restless, but peaceful as they flow toward the sea. So our restless lives roll in rocky channels but a little way on earth; but beyond the grave they too will reappear, realising all the peace and joy of Christ, and thus flow on for ever. For since Christ has risen again, all who believe in Him have the certainty of an endless life in His presence. (S. S. Chronicle.)
The land beyond the mist of death
An untaught Englishman, standing at Dover when a mist lies over the Channel, might think an endless ocean was before him. When it lifts a resident tells him that what he sees is not merely France, but Europe and Asia. The intervening sea, though lashed by storms, is but a little thing. There was a mist hanging over the Straits of Death, and people thought them a shoreless ocean; Jesus lifted the mist, and men saw there was a boundless continent on the other side. (Christian World.)
An east wind shall come.
Reverses of fortune in human life
This and the following verse set forth the devastation and destruction of the kingdom of the ten tribes which was to precede the deliverance promised in that which precedes.
I. Reverses in human fortune are sometimes very striking. Ephraim was “fruitful among his brethren.” The very name signifies fruitful ness. Its territory was most fertile; its people the most numerous.
1. Its riches would give way to poverty. Ephraim was at once a rich and a populous tribe; but see the change predicted: “His spring shall become dry He shall spoil the treasure of all pleasant vessels.” The enemy would invade the country, impoverish husbandry, check merchandise.
2. Its populousness would give way to paucity. The enemy would reduce its numbers, and almost depopulate it. Such reverses are frequent. They teach us to hold all worldly good with a light hand, and to settle our interests on the good that is permanent.
II. Reverses are generally brought about by secondary instrumentality. Nations, communities, and individuals may always trace their calamities to certain natural causes. This should teach us to study natural laws, and to be diligent in checking all elements inimical to human progress.
III. Reverses are under the direction of god. The change in the fortunes of Ephraim was under the superintendence of the Almighty. Both true philosophy and religion teach us to trace all the events of life to God. Learn to acquiesce in His dispensations, and to look to Him for all that is good. (Homilist.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Hosea 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13