Then I went to Euphrates, and digged, and took the girdle from the place where I had hid it: and, beheld, the girdle was marred, it was profitable for nothing.
The cast-off girdle
In many instances the prophets were bidden to do singular things, and among the rest was this: Jeremiah must take a linen girdle and put it about his loins, and wear it there till the people had noticed what he wore, and how long he wore it. This girdle was not to be washed; this was to be a matter observed of all observers, for it was a part of the similitude. Then he must make a journey to the distant river Euphrates, and take off his girdle and bury it there. When the people saw him without a girdle they would make remarks and ask what he had done with it; and he would reply that he had buried it by the river of Babylon. Many would count him mad for having walked so far to get rid of a girdle: two hundred and fifty miles was certainly a great journey for such a purpose. Surely he might have buried it nearer home, if he must needs bury it at all. Anon, the prophet goes a second time to the Euphrates, and they say one to another, The prophet is a fool: the spiritual man is mad. See what a trick he is playing. Nearly a thousand miles the man will have walked in order to hide a girdle, and to dig it up again. What next will he do? Whereas plain words might not have been noticed, this little piece of acting commanded the attention and excited the curiosity of the people. The record of this singular transaction has come to us, and we know that, as a part of Holy Scripture, it is full of instruction. Thousands of years will not make it so antique as to be valueless. The Word of the Lord never becomes old so as to lose its vigour; it as still as strong for all Divine purposes as when first of all Jehovah spoke it.
I. In our text we have an honourable emblem of Israel and Judah: we may say, in these days, an emblem of the Church of God.
1. God had taken this people to be bound to Himself: He had taken them to be as near to Him as the girdle is to the Oriental when he binds it about his loins. The traveller in the East takes care that his girdle shall not go unfastened: he girds himself securely ere he commences his work or starts upon his walk; and God has bound His people round about Him so that they shall never be removed from Him “I in them” saith Christ, even as a man is in his girdle. “Who shall separate us?” saith Paul. Who shall ungird us from the heart and soul of our loving God? “They shall be Mine, saith the Lord.”
2. But Jeremiah’s girdle was a linen one: it was the girdle peculiar to the priests, for such was the prophet; he was “the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth.” Thus the type represents chosen men as bound to God in connection with sacrifice. We are bound to the Most High for solemn priesthood to minister among the sons of men in holy things. The Lord Jesus is now blessing the sons of men as Aaron blessed the people, and we are the girdle with which He girds Himself in the act of benediction by the Gospel.
3. The girdle also is used by God always in connection with work. When Eastern men are about to work in real earnest they gird up their loins. When the Lord worketh righteousness in the earth it is by means of His chosen ones. When He publishes salvation, and makes known His grace, His saints are around Him. When sinners are to be saved it is by His people when error is to be denounced, it is by our lips that He chooses to speak. When His saints are to be comforted, it is by those who have been comforted by His Holy Spirit, and who therefore tell out the consolations which they have themselves enjoyed.
4. Moreover, the girdle was intended for ornament. It does not appear that it was bound about the priest’s loins under his garments, for if so it would not have been seen, and would not have been an instructive symbol: this girdle must be seen, since it was meant to be a type of a people who were to be unto God “for a people, and for a name, and for a praise and for a glory.” Is not this wonderful beyond all wonder, that God should make His people His glory? But now, alas! we have to turn our eyes sorrowfully away from this surpassing glory.
II. These people who might have been the glorious girdle of God displayed in their own persons a fatal omission. Did you notice it? Thus saith the Lord unto Jeremiah, “Go and get thee a linen girdle, and put it upon thy loins, and put it not in water.”
1. Ah, me! there is the mischief: the unwashed girdle is the type of an unholy people who have never received the great cleansing. No nearness to God can save you if you have never been washed by the Lord Jesus. No official connection can bless you if you have never been washed in His most precious blood. Here is the alternative for all professors,--you must be washed in the blood of Christ, or be laid aside; which shall it be?
2. The prophet was bidden not to put it in water, which shows that there was not only an absence of the first washing, but there was no daily cleansing. We are constantly defiling our feet by marching through this dusty world, and every night we need to be washed. If you suffer a sin to lie on your conscience, you cannot serve God aright while it is there. If you have transgressed as a child, and you do not run and put your head into your Father’s bosom and cry, “Father, I have sinned!” you cannot do God’s work.
3. The more this girdle was used the more it gathered great and growing defilement. Without the atonement, the more we do the more we shall sin. Our very prayers will turn into sin, our godly things will gender evil. O Lord, deliver us from this! Save us from being made worse by that which should make us better. Let us be Thy true people, and therefore let us be washed that we may be clean, that Thou mayest gird Thyself with us.
III. Very soon that fatal flaw in the case here mentioned led to a solemn judgment. It was a solemn judgment upon the girdle, looking at it as a type of the people of Israel.
1. First, the girdle, after Jeremiah had made his long walk in it, was taken off from him and put away. This is a terrible thing to happen to any man. I would rather suffer every sickness in the list of human diseases than that God should put me aside as a vessel in which He has no pleasure, and say to me, “I cannot wear you as My girdle, nor own you as Mine before men.”
2. After that girdle was laid aside, the next thing for it was hiding and burying. It was placed in a hole of the rock by the river of the captivity, and left there. Many a hypocrite has been served in that way.
3. And now the girdle spoils. It was put, I dare say, where the damp and the wet acted upon it; and so, when in about seventy days Jeremiah came back to the spot, there was nothing but an old rag instead of what had once been a pure white linen girdle. He says, “Behold the girdle was marred; it was profitable for nothing.” So, if God were to leave any of us, the best men and the best women among us would soon become nothing but marred girdles, instead of being as fair white linen.
4. But the worst part of it is that this relates undoubtedly to many mere professors whom God takes off from Himself, laying them aside, and leaving them to perish. And what is His reason for so doing? He tells us this in the text: He says that this evil people refused to receive God’s words. Dear friends, never grow tired of God’s Word; never let any book supplant the Bible. Love every part of Scripture, and take heed to every word that God has spoken. Next to that, we are told that they walked in the imagination of their heart. That is a sure sign of the hypocrite or the false professor. He makes his religion out of himself, as a spider spins a web out of his own bowels: what sort of theology it is you can imagine now that you know its origin. Upon all this there followed actual transgression,--“They walked after other gods to serve them and to worship them.” This happens also to the base professor. He keeps up the name of a Christian for a little while, and seems to be as God’s girdle; but by and by he falls to worshipping gold, or drink, or lust. He turns aside from the infinitely glorious God, and so he falls from one degradation to another till he hardly knows himself. He becomes as a rotten girdle “which profiteth nothing.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Nearness to God destroyed by sin
I. Nearness to God.
1. These Jews were like a girdle bound upon the loins. Should have entwined themselves around God. So nations may be near--
2. Man is near God.
II. His nearness destroyed by sin.
1. Sin is the destroyer of nations as well as individuals. The Jews destroyed by idolatry, lust, selfishness, pride.
2. As of nations, so of individuals: sin will destroy them, unless resisted and cast out.
3. This destruction is voluntary. The sinner is a suicide.
4. God is represented as active in this destruction.
5. This destruction will consist in--
1. The terrible power of sin.
2. To guard against it as our chief enemy. (E. Jerman.)
Good reasons for singular conduct
Good Words contains an excellent story about Professor Blackie by the editor, Dr. Donald Macleod:--“Professor Blackie frequently stayed at my house when lecturing in Glasgow. He was always at his best when one had him alone. One night we were sitting up together, he said in his brusque way: ‘Whatever other faults I have, I am free from vanity.’ An incredulous smile on my face roused him. ‘You don’t believe that: give me an instance.’ Being thus challenged, I said: ‘Why do you walk about flourishing a plaid continually? ‘I’ll give you the history of that, sir. When I was a poor man, and when my wife and I had our difficulties, she one day drew my attention to the thread-bare character of my surtout, and asked me to order a new one. I told her I could not afford it just then; when she went, like a noble woman, and put her own plaid shawl on my shoulders, and I have worn a plaid ever since in memory of her loving deed!’” The prophet Jeremiah must often have been looked upon as a man of eccentric conduct. But like Professor Blackie with his plaid shawl, he was not actuated by whims, fancy, or vanity. Jeremiah’s warrant for the singular use to which he put his girdle was the authority and mandate of the Lord.
This evil people which refuse to hear My words.
Rejecters of God’s word
I. Sensational preaching: in what sense to be approved. The style of this teaching of Jeremiah looks sensational. He is bidden to take a fine, new linen girdle--a most important and ornamental part of an Oriental gentleman’s garments--and bury it for a time near the Euphrates. Taking it up afterwards, he was to exhibit it to the people of Judah and Jerusalem, with all the marks of injury and decay upon it, as a sign and type of the decline and decay that the Lord would bring on them in Babylon, when, parted from Him to whom they had been bound as a girdle to a man’s body, they should be buried under the oppression and contempt of their proud and domineering captors.
II. Rejection of the divine word.
1. Even the most highly favoured persons may reject God’s Word.
2. The transgressors in such cases prefer their own imagination to God’s revelations. Religion says to God, “Thy will be done.” The natural heart says, “My will be done”--“Who is the Lord that I should obey Him?”
3. The moral influence of such perverseness is bad, progressively bad. Having cast off God, the human nature cannot stand up alone. It needs a support. It must worship. So it goes after other, and of course false, gods. Every sin has three distinct effects, apart from the punishment of the future:
4. The effect of rejecting God’s Word is lamentable in the extreme. If the fire of Divine anger burnt up that vine which He had planted, how will it be with the common tree of the forest?
III. By whom is the word of the Lord rejected?
1. In a certain strict and literal sense every unbeliever is an infidel, i.e. he is without faith. But many are without faith who yet assent to the general truths of God’s Word. Many infidels have made it their own interest to impugn and deny Divine revelation. A man has broken its precepts--perhaps suffered socially in consequence--has not repented, but only been embittered, begins to count those who censure or condemn him first bigoted, narrow-minded, then pharisaical, and hypocritical or fanatical. They justify their action by the Scriptures, and he begins to transfer his dislike to the Scriptures, feels a pleasure in any doubt cast on them, flatters himself that to weaken them is to strengthen his case, and that contempt poured on them is respect won back for him. Hence the bitterest scoffers have often been the religiously trained sinners.
2. Sceptics are included among the rejecters of God’s Word. Not that they are necessarily irreligious, or deniers of a Divine Being and of obligation to Him; but they deny the Scriptures as an authoritative revelation from Him and make nature a sufficient teacher.
3. If I include Romanism among the rejecters of God’s Word, it must be with a qualification. That system admits the inspiration, Divine origin, and partial authority of God’s Word, and so far as it can appeal to Scripture does so. Its sins in this regard are:
4. The indifferent and unbelieving reject God’s Word. You have heard it explained, read it, had it urged on you by beloved ones, now praising God in the rest of the saints. Have you believed it? Received Christ? Are you resting on Him? Doing His will? For if not, your condemnation is doubly sure. (John Hall, D. D.)
I. Israel and Judah clave unto Jehovah as a girdle to the loins of a man.
1. Unto His person for favour.
2. Unto His Word for direction and teaching.
3. Unto His promise for encouragement.
4. Unto His worship for devotion.
II. Israel and Judah were then a praise and glory to Jehovah. A girdle of strength and honour before the nations.
1. As opposed to the idolatries of the world.
2. As expressing obedience to Divine law.
3. As exhibiting the beneficial effects of true religion.
III. Israel and Judah became faithless and disobedient.
1. An evil people refusing to hear the Word.
2. A stubborn people going their own way.
3. A deluded people in vain imaginations.
4. An idolatrous people, like the nations less favoured, going after other gods to serve and worship them.
IV. Israel and Judah becoming faithless, became also weak and worthless. Went from prominence to obscurity, from freedom to captivity, from privilege to punishment. (W. Whale.)
Cleaving unto God
In Trinidad there are small oysters to be found that grow upon trees, or rather cluster round the roots of trees, in the river mouths. The little bivalves are so firmly attached that it is usual to saw down the trees in order to obtain the oysters, and such an attachment is typical of the ideal life of a Christian. He should love the Lord his God, and obey His voice, that he may cleave unto Him. God, who is the source of all life, will indeed be his life and the light of his days. As the strength of the tree is placed at the disposal of the oyster, so is the omnipotence of God offered to all who will trust Him. (Christian Commonwealth.)
Which is good for nothing.
Good for nothing
I. Dwell upon a painful fact. All was done for them that could be, and yet good for nothing.
II. Point out the cause of their sad condition.
1. They refused to hear the Word of the Lord.
2. They followed the imagination of their hearts.
3. They became idolaters.
III. Show what they might have been as a people.
1. Separated from the nations as peculiarly the people of God.
2. Before the nations for the glory of Jehovah, as opposed to idols.
3. Among the nations as witnesses and examples.
IV. Proclaim some universal truths.
1. Refusing to hear God’s Word is proof that the people are all evil people.
2. An evil people will substitute a false worship for that which is true.
3. A false worship will produce and foster an erroneous religious life.
4. A people walking according to the imagination of their own hearts must be useless to themselves, to the world, to the Church, or to God. (W. Whale.)
The unprofitableness of a sinful life
I heard the other day a Sunday school address which pleased me much. The teacher, speaking to the boys, said, “Boys, here is a watch; what is it for?” “To tell the time.” “Well,” said he, “suppose my watch does not tell the time, what is it good for? Good for nothing, sir.” Then he took out a pencil. “What is this pencil for?” “It is to write with, sir.” “Suppose this pencil won’t make a mark, what is it good for?” “Good for nothing, sir.” Then he took out a pocket knife. “Boys, what is this for?” They were American boys, so they shouted, “To whittle with,”--that is, to experiment on any substance that came in their way, by cutting a notch in it. “But,” said he, “suppose it will not cut, what is the knife good for?” “Good for nothing, sir.” Then the teacher said, “What is the chief end of man?” and they replied, “To glorify God.” “But suppose a man does not glorify God, what is he good for?” “Good for nothing, sir.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Do we not certainly know that every bottle shall be filled with wine?
Drunk with evil
They are supposed to think that the prophet is merely stating what was the plain meaning of the words, and, under that impression, to reply, What great matter is this, to tell us that bottles which are made to be filled with wine should be filled with wine?--not seeking for any deeper meaning in the Lord’s Word. But, “thus saith the Lord, Behold I will fill all the inhabitants of this land.” These were the bottles truly spoken of, “even the kings that sit upon David’s throne,” etc. Now the drunkenness wherewith they were to be filled was not drunkenness with wine, but drunkenness with an evil spirit, with a mad spirit, with a spirit of discontent, a breaking up of all the bonds of society, a spirit of contempt of God, and of all God’s ordinances. This was the drunkenness wherewith they were to be filled--in consequence of which they were to be falling against, and crushing each other, as happens to a nation in which all subordination disappears, and all is anarchy and confusion, and the people are, as it were, dashed against each other. And this is said to be the Lord’s judgment upon them. It is after the manner of God that, when men refuse the Spirit of God, they should be given up to the spirit of Satan; that, when men refuse to be dwelt in of the Holy Spirit, they should be dwelt in by the spirit of madness and of fury; and this was the judgment threatened upon the Jews, that they should be dashed one against another, even the fathers and the sons together; and then, as if he would say, Do not think that I am not in earnest; do not think that, because judgment is my strange work, it is a work in which I will not engage: be assured that it shall be as I say, “I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy.” Three times God declares that He will not show mercy, but, on the contrary, destroy; because there is a voice which God has put within us to testify that God is merciful; and because there is a bad use which men are apt to make of the suggestions of that voice; and they are apt to feel as if a good and merciful God could not find it in His heart to put forth His hand to judgment. Oh, if men but knew God’s tender mercy, they would indeed feel that that must be a strong reason which could move Him to pluck His hand from His bosom and rise up to wrath. It is as if God were saying--I have so proved My love to you, My unwillingness that you should perish, that ye may be slow to believe that I, even I, will punish. But be not deceived; there are reasons strong enough to prevail--to shut up even My compassions. I will not pity, nor spare, nor have compassion, but destroy. (J. M. Campbell.)
The wine of the wrath of God
1. Every man is being fitted a vessel to honour or dishonour, to good or evil.
2. Every man will ultimately be filled to his utmost capacity by good or evil, according to his spiritual state.
3. The process of adaptation is being carried on by loyalty or disobedience to truth and God.
4. Where all are evil, everyone will be injurious to the others. This will make a hell. The reverse of this is true also.
5. God, who is love, has a time for severity as well as a time for mercy.
6. If God help not, none can aid effectually. (W. Whale.)
I will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together, saith the Lord.--
These words should be spoken with tears. It is a great mistake in doctrine as well as in practice to imagine that the imprecations of Holy Scripture should be spoken ruthlessly. When Jesus came near the city He wept over it.
I. Divine punishments are possible. If we are not destroyed, it is not for want of power on the part of the offended Creator. The universe is very sensitively put together in this matter; everywhere there are lying resources which under one touch or breath would spring up and avenge an outraged law. Now and then God does bring us to see how near death is to every life. We do not escape the rod because there is no rod. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed. Think of that. Do let it enter into our minds and make us sober, sedate--if not religious and contrite.
II. Divine punishments are humiliating (Jeremiah 13:13). Some punishments have a kind of dignity about them: sometimes a man dies almost heroically, and turns death itself into a kind of victory; and we cannot but consent that the time is well chosen, and the method the best for giving to the man’s reputation completeness, and to his influence stability and progress. God can bring us to our latter end, as it were, nobly: we may die like princes; death may be turned into a kind of coronation; our deathbed may be the picture of our life--the most consummately beautiful and exquisite revelation of character--or the Lord can drive us down like mad beasts to an unconsecrated grave. How contemptuous He can be! How bitter, how intolerable the sarcasm of God! “I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh.” The Lord seems now and again to take a kind of delight in showing how utterly our pride can be broken up and trampled underfoot. He will send a worm to eat up the harvest: would He but send an angel with a gleaming sickle to cut it down we might see somewhat of glory in the disaster. Thus God comes into our life along a line that may be designated as a line of contempt and humiliation. Oh, that men were wise, that they would hold themselves as God’s and not their own, as Divine property rather than personal possession! Then would they walk soberly and recruit themselves in many a prayer, and bring back their youth because they trust in God.
III. Divine punishments when they come are complete. “I will destroy them.” We cannot tell the meaning of this word; we do not know what is meant by “destruction”; we use the term as if we knew its meaning,--and possibly we do know its meaning according to the breadth of our own intention and purpose; but the word as used by God has Divine meanings upon which we can lay no measuring line. We cannot destroy anything: we can destroy its form, its immediate relation, its temporary value; but the thing itself in its substance or in its essence we can never destroy. When the Lord says He will take up this matter of destruction we cannot tell what He means; we dare not think of it. We use the word “nothing,” but cannot tell what He means by the nothingness of nothing, by the negativeness of negation, by the sevenfold darkness, by the heaped-up midnight of gloom. My soul, come not thou into that secret:
IV. Divine punishments are avoidable (Jeremiah 13:16). The door of hope is set open, even in this midnight of threatening; still we are on praying ground and on pleading terms with God; even now we can escape the bolt that gleams in the thundercloud. What say you, men, brethren, and fathers? Why be hard? why attempt the impossible? why think we can run away from God? and why, remembering that our days are but a handful, will we not be wise and act as souls that have been instructed? (J. Parker, D. D.)
Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud: for the Lord hath spoken.
Jehovah hath spoken: will ye not hear?
I. There is a revelation. “For the Lord hath spoken.”
1. The voice which we are bidden to hear is a Divine voice, it is the voice of Him that made the heavens and the earth, whose creatures we are.
2. It is a word most clear and plain, for Jehovah hath spoken. He might have taught us only by the works of His hands, in which the invisible things of God, even His eternal power and Godhead are clearly seen. What is all creation but a hieroglyphic scroll, in which the Lord has written out His character as Creator and Provider? But since He knew that we were dim of sight and dull of comprehension, the Lord has gone beyond the symbols and hieroglyphs, and used articulate speech such as a man useth with his fellow: Jehovah hath spoken!
3. Moreover, I gather from the expression in the text that the revelation made to us by the Lord is an unchangeable and abiding word. It is not today that Jehovah is speaking, but Jehovah hath spoken: His voice by the prophets and apostles is silent now, for He hath revealed all truth which is needful for salvation.
4. This revelation is preeminently a condescending and cheering word. The very fact that the great God speaks to us by His Son indicates that mercy, tenderness, love, hope, grace, are the burden of His utterance.
II. Since there is a revelation, it should be suitably received.
1. If Jehovah hath spoken, then all attention should be given; yea, double attention, even as the text hath it, “Hear ye, and give ear.” Hear, and hear again: incline your ear, hearken diligently, surrender your soul to the teaching of the Lord God; and be not satisfied till yea have heard His teaching, have heard it with your whole being, and have felt the force of its every truth. “Hear ye,” because the word comes with power, and “give ear,” because you willingly receive it.
2. Then it is added, as if by way of directing us how suitably to hear this revelation--“Give glory to Jehovah your God.”
III. Pride in the human heart prevents such a reception.
1. In some it is the pride of intellect. They do not wish to be treated like children. Things that are despised, hath God chosen, and things that are not, to bring to naught the things that are: that no flesh may glory in His presence. Oh, let none of us be so proud as to lift up ourselves in opposition to that which Jehovah hath spoken!
2. In some others it is the pride of self-esteem. It is a dreadful thing that men should think it better to go to hell in a dignified way than to go to heaven by the narrow road of a childlike faith in the Redeemer. Those who will not stoop even to receive Christ Himself and the blessings of eternal life deserve to perish. God save us from such folly!
3. Some have a pride of self-righteousness. They say “we see,” and therefore their eyes are not opened: they cry “we are clean,” and therefore they are not washed from their iniquity.
4. In some, too, it is the pride of self-love. They cannot deny their lusts.
5. The pride of self-will also works its share of ruin among men. The unrenewed heart virtually says--“I shall not mind these commands. Why should I be tied hand and foot, and ruled, and governed? I intend to be a free thinker and a free liver, and I will not submit myself.”
IV. Hence there comes an earnest warning. “Give glory to the Lord your God, before He cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains.” Listen, thou who hast rejected God and His Christ till now. Thou art already out of the way, among the dark mountains. There is a King’s highway of faith, and thou hast refused it; thou hast turned aside to the right hand or to the left, according to thine own imagination. Being out of the way of safety, thou art in the path of danger even now. Though the sunlight shines about thee, and the flowers spring up profusely under thy feet, yet thou art in danger, for there is no safety out of the King’s road. If thou wilt still pursue thy headlong career, and choose a path for thyself, I pray thee remember that darkness is lowering around thee. The day is far spent! Around thy soul there are hanging mists and glooms already, and these will thicken into the night-damps of bewilderment. Thinking but not believing, thou wilt soon think thyself into a horror of great darkness. Refusing to hear what Jehovah has spoken, thou wilt follow other voices, which shall allure thee into an Egyptian night of confusion. Upon whom wilt thou call in the day of thy calamity, and who will succour thee? Then thy thoughts will dissolve into vanity, and thy spirit shall melt into dismay. “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will make thee a terror to thyself, and to all thy friends.” Thou shalt grope after comfort as blind men grope for the wall, and because thou hast rejected the Lord and His truth, He also will reject thee and leave thee to thine own devices. Meanwhile, there shall overcloud thee a darkness bred of thine own sin and wilfulness. Thou shalt lose the brightness of thine intellect, the sharp clearness of thy thought shall depart from thee, professing thyself to be wise thou shalt become a fool. Thou shalt be in an all-surrounding, penetrating blackness. Hence comes the solemnity of this warning, “Give glory to the Lord your God, before He cause darkness.” For after that darkness there comes a stumbling, as saith the text, “before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains.” There must be difficulties in every man’s way, even if it be a way of his own devising; but to the man that will not accept the light of God, these difficulties must necessarily be dark mountains with sheer abysses, pathless crags, and impenetrable ravines. He has refused the path which wisdom has cast up, and he is justly doomed to stumble where there is no way. Beware of encountering mysteries without guidance and faith, for you will stumble either into folly or superstition, and only rise to stumble again. Those who stumble at Christ’s Cross are like to stumble into hell. There are also dark mountains of another kind which will block the way of the wanderer mountains of dismay, of remorse, of despair.
V. there remains for the friends of the impenitent but one resort. Like our Lord in later times, the prophet beheld the city and wept over it: he could do no less, he could do no more. Alas, his sorrow would be unavailing, his grief was hopeless. Observe that the prophet did not expect to obtain sympathy in this sorrow of his. He says, “My soul shall weep in secret places for your pride.” He would get quite alone, hide himself away, and become a recluse. Alas, that so few even now care for the souls of men! This also puts a pungent salt into the tears of the godly, that the weeping can do no good, since the people refuse the one and only remedy. Jehovah has spoken, and if they will not hear Him they must die in their sins. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Attention to God’s Word
I. How should we attend to it?
1. With reverence.
2. In faith.
3. Diligently, earnestly.
5. Intending to be governed by it.
II. There is here an implied neglect.
1. Men are filled with other things.
2. They do not know its worth.
3. They do not apprehend the bearing it may have on their well-being.
4. They are not willing to submit to its teachings.
III. Why should we attend?
1. The dignity and glory of the Lord.
2. His wisdom and knowledge.
3. His beneficence, interest, and love.
4. He speaks to us of matters in which we have the deepest interest.
1. To read the Bible regularly.
2. To treasure it in the heart.
3. To honour it in your life. (E. Jerman.)
Be not proud.--
I. Different kinds of pride.
1. Race pride--pride in ancestors.
2. Face pride--pride in outward appearance.
3. Place pride--pride in social position.
4. Grace pride--pride in godliness.
II. The warning. Be not proud--
1. Because we have nothing to be proud of.
2. Because it is abhorrent to God.
3. Because it is unlike Christ.
4. Because it is ruinous.
The warning against pride
Many of the inhabitants of the valleys that lie between the Alps in Switzerland have large swellings, called goitres, which hang down from the sides of their necks, like great bags. They are horrible things to look at. And yet, strange as it may seem, the Swiss get to be proud even of these dreadful deformities. They look down with contempt on their neighbours who do not have these terrible swellings, and call them the “goose-necked” people. And so we see that pride is a sin into which we are all in danger of falling. And here we have God’s warning against pride.
I. Pride brings with it unhappiness. The fable says, that there was a tortoise once, that was very unhappy because he could not fly. He used to look up and see the eagles and other birds spreading out their wings and floating through the air. He said to himself, “Oh, if I only had wings, as those birds have, so that I could rise up into the air, and sail about there as they do, how happy I should be!” One day, he called to an eagle, and offered him a great reward if he would only teach him how to fly. The eagle said--“Well, I’ll try what I can do. You get on my back, and I’ll carry you up into the air, and we’ll see what can be done.” So the tortoise got on the back of the eagle. Then the eagle spread out his wings and began to soar aloft. He went up, and up, and up, till he had reached a great height. Then he said to the tortoise: “Now, get ready. I’m going to throw you off, and you must try your hand at flying.” So the eagle threw him off; and he went down, down, down, till at last he fell upon a hard rock and was dashed to pieces. Now here you see, it was the pride of the tortoise which made him so unhappy, because he couldn’t fly. And it was trying to gratify his pride which cost him his life.
II. Pride brings with it trouble. We never can set ourselves against any of God’s laws without getting into trouble. Two masons were engaged in building a brick wall in front of a high house. One of them was older and more experienced than his companion. The younger one, whose name was Ben, placed a brick in the wall which was thicker at one end than at the other. His companion noticed it, and said--“Ben, if I were you I wouldn’t leave that brick there. It’s not straight, and will be likely to injure the wall by making it untrue.” “Pooh!” said Ben, “what difference will such a trifle as that make? You are too particular.” “My mother used to teach me,” said his friend, “that truth is truth; and that ever so little an untruth is a lie, and that a lie is no trifle.” Now Ben’s pride was offended by what his friend had said to him. So he straightened himself up, and said in an angry tone--“Well, I guess I understand my business as well as you do. I am sure that brick won’t do any harm.” His friend said nothing more to him. They both went quietly on with their work, laying one brick after another, and carrying the wall up higher, till the close of the day. Next morning they went back to go on with their work again. But when they got there they found the wall all in ruins. The explanation of it was this: that uneven brick had given it a little slant. As the wall got up higher, the slant increased, till at last, in the middle of the night, it tumbled over and fell down to the ground. And here we see the trouble which this young man brought on himself by his pride. If he had only learned to mind this Bible warning against it, that wall would not have fallen down, and he would have been saved the trouble of building it up again.
III. Pride brings with it loss. The apostle tells us that “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” So if we give way to pride, we are in a position in which God is resisting us, and then it is certain, that we can expect nothing but loss in everything that we do. When we begin to love and serve God, He says to each of us, “from this day will I bless thee.” And are told that “the blessing of the Lord maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow.” The way in which God’s blessing makes His people rich is in the peace, joy, happiness He gives them; the sense of His favour and protection which they have in this world, and the hope of sharing His presence and glory forever in heaven. But if we give way to pride we cannot love and serve God; and then we must lose His blessing--the greatest loss we can ever meet with in this world. (R. Newton, D. D.)
God glorified in the fall of pride
I. What is it which stops people from hearing the voice of God?
1. One form of pride is shame. Many kept from Christ because ashamed to come and give themselves up to Him. For fear of the paltry scorn, the momentary ridicule, the soul will risk eternity!
2. There is the pride of respectability and social position. Hold apart from religion, because in the one way all must go without distinction. Yet what can justify in a lost sinner any high and vain thoughts of self?
3. There is the pride that conceals a wound. God’s Word has stricken the heart; healing and joy could be had if we humbly go to God, yet hide the grief and unrest within, from man and Heaven.
4. There is the pride of self-righteousness. What say when before the Throne--that you were too good to accept the Gospel?
II. Human pride must effectually be broken down.
1. When pride humbled and man crushed, God speaks. What say? “Give glory to the Lord your God.” “Your” God still, though turned back on Him and grieved Him.
2. The contrite soul cannot realise its inability to glorify God. Broken down, powerless, self-despairing, cast yourself on His salvation.
3. There is a desperate alternative: that you “will not hear.” By and by your feet will “stumble on the dark mountains.” The day of disease will come; life will grow dim; the thin grandeur of a fading world will begin to pass away; all around the gloom will thicken, and on a dying world “gross darkness” of unrelieved despair will cover you. Then the last moment arrives; one terrified “look for light,” but in vain; the soul is “carried away into captivity.” (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
Give glory to the Lord your God.
I. Counsel. “Give glory to the Lord.”
1. Because the Lord’s glory is man’s good.
2. Because in them that glory might appear.
3. Because by them that glory might be obscured.
II. Warning, “Before He cause darkness,” etc.
1. Fading light. No clear vision when God is not glorified.
2. Stumbling feet. No power of progress unless for God’s glory.
3. Bewildering night. Captivity. All lost.
III. Pleading. “But if ye will not hear,” etc.
1. The counsel of tender love.
2. The counsel of utter unselfishness. (J. Fatten.)
God glorified by His people
I. An exhortation. What is meant by giving glory to God? To ascribe glory to His name, to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, to show forth His glory, to confess Him before men, not only with our lips but in our lives, to believe on Him, to fear Him, to put our whole trust in Him, to call upon Him, to honour His holy Name and His Word, and to serve Him truly all the days of our life. But all these can be traced to two fountains.
1. By faith in Christ we glorify God.
2. By repentance we glorify, or bring glory to God. The evidence or characteristic mark of this true repentance is holiness; we give glory to God by a holy spirit,--“Glorify Him,” says the apostle, “in your bodies and spirits, which are His.” We give glory to God by a holy life--“Let your light so shine before men,” etc. We give glory to God by holy lips, for the Spirit, speaking by the Psalmist, says, “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me.”
II. The motive. God never positively causes darkness, for He is not the author of evil--He does so negatively. The clouds and mists ascending from the earth obscure the light of the sun’s beams from our sight, nevertheless, far above those mists and shadows, though invisible to us, that glorious orb is shining as undimmed and unbroken as before. Thus it is with God and His sinful people--our iniquities go up as a thick mist from the face of the earth, and our transgressions as a thick cloud, and separate between us and our God. What then is this darkness?
1. There is a spiritual darkness in man’s soul--of despair.
2. There is a mental darkness caused by disease of the body affecting and effacing the mind.
3. There is a mortal darkness--the darkness of death. To a believer death has no sting, for Christ has plucked it away--to a believer death has no gloom, for Christ has passed through its dark vaults and left a track of light behind Him; but who can paint the darkness that settles round the deathbed of an ignorant or unbelieving sinner, who dies knowing nothing, fearing nothing, hoping nothing!
4. There is an immortal darkness--the darkness of hell. (R. S. Brooke, M. A.)
Giving glory to God by repentance
God is the eternal fountain of honour and the spring of glory; in Him it dwells essentially, from Him it derives originally; and when an action is glorious, or a man is honourable, it is because the action is pleasing to God, in the relation of obedience or imitation, and because the man is honoured by God, and by God’s vicegerent: and therefore God cannot be dishonoured, because all honour comes from Himself; He cannot but be glorified, because to be Himself is to be infinitely glorious. And yet He is pleased to say that our sins dishonour Him, and our obedience does glorify Him. He that hath dishonoured God by sins, that is, hath denied, by a moral instrument of duty and subordination, to confess the glories of His power, and the goodness of His laws, and hath dishonoured and despised His mercy, which God intended as an instrument of our piety, hath no better way to glorify God than, by returning to his duty, to advance the honour of the Divine attributes, in which He is pleased to communicate Himself, and to have intercourse with man. He that repents confesses his own error, and the righteousness of God’s laws; and, by judging himself, confesses that he deserves punishment; and therefore, that God is righteous if He punishes him; and, by returning, confesses God to be the fountain of felicity, and the foundation of true, solid, and permanent joys. And as repentance does contain in it all the parts of holy life which can be performed by a returning sinner, so all the actions of a holy life do constitute the mass and body of all those instruments whereby God is pleased to glorify Himself.
1. Repentance implies a deep sorrow, as the beginning and introduction of this duty: not a superficial sigh or tear, not a calling ourselves sinners and miserable persons: this is far from that “godly sorrow that worketh repentance”: and yet I wish there were none in the world, or none amongst us, who cannot remember that ever they have done this little towards the abolition of their multitudes of sins: but yet, if it were not a hearty, pungent sorrow, a sorrow that shall break the heart in pieces, a sorrow that shall so irreconcile us to sin, as to make us rather choose to die than to sin, it is not so much as the beginning of repentance. But I desire that it be observed that sorrow for sins is not repentance; not that duty which gives glory to God, so as to obtain of Him that He will glorify us. Repentance is a great volume of duty; and godly sorrow is but the frontispiece or title page; it is the harbinger or first introduction to it: or, if you will consider it in the words of St. Paul, “Godly sorrow worketh repentance”:--sorrow is the parent, and repentance is the product. Let us, therefore, beg of God, as Caleb’s daughter did of her father: “Thou hast given me a dry land, give me also a land of waters,” a dwelling place in tears, rivers of tears; “that,” as St. Austin’s expression is, “because we are not worthy to lift up our eyes to heaven in prayer, yet we may be worthy to weep ourselves blind for sin.” We can only be sure that our sorrow is a godly sorrow, when it worketh repentance; that is, when it makes us hate and leave all our sin, and take up the cross of patience or penance; that is, confess our sin, accuse ourselves, condemn the action by hearty sentence: and then, if it hath no other emanation but fasting and prayer for its pardon, and hearty industry towards its abolition, our sorrow is not reprovable.
2. No confession can be of any use, but as it is an instrument of shame to the person, of humiliation to the man, and dereliction of the sin; and receives its recompense but as it adds to these purposes: all other is like “the bleating of the calves and the lowing of the oxen,” which Saul reserved after the spoil of Agag; they proclaim the sin, but do nothing towards its cure; they serve God’s end to make us justly to be condemned out of our own mouths, but nothing at all towards our absolution. Our sin must be brought to judgment, and, like Antinous in Homer, laid in the midst, as the sacrifice and the cause of all the mischief.
3. Well, let us suppose our penitent advanced thus far, as that he decrees against all sin, and in his hearty purposes resolves to decline it, as in a severe sentence he hath condemned it as his betrayer and his murderer; yet we must be curious that it be not only like the springings of the thorny or the highway ground, soon up and soon down: for some men, when a sadness or an unhandsome accident surprises them, then they resolve against their sin; but as soon as the thorns are removed, return to their first hardness, and resolve then to act their first temptation. They that have their fits of a quartan, well and ill forever, and think themselves in perfect health when the ague is retired, till its period returns, are dangerously mistaken. Those intervals of imperfect and fallacious resolution are nothing but states of death: and if a man should depart this world in one of those godly fits, as he thinks them, he is no nearer to obtain his blessed hope than a man in the stone-colic is to health, when his pain is eased for the present, his disease still remaining, and threatening an unwelcome return. That resolution only is the beginning of a holy repentance, which goes forth into act, and whose acts enlarge into habits, and whose habits are productive of the fruits of a holy life.
4. Suppose all this be done, and that by a long course of strictness and severity, mortification and circumspection, we have overcome all our vicious and baser habits; suppose that we have wept and fasted, prayed and vowed to excellent purposes; yet all this is but the one half of repentance, so infinitely mistaken is the world, to think anything to be enough to make up repentance. But to renew us, and restore us to the favour of God, there is required far more than what hath yet been accounted for (2 Peter 1:4-5). We must not only have overcome sin, but we must, after great diligence, have acquired the habits of all those Christian graces, which are necessary in the transaction of our affairs, in all relations to God and our neighbour, and our own persons. It is not an easy thing to cure a long-contracted habit of sin. Let any intemperate person but try in his own instance of drunkenness; or the swearer, in the sweetening his unwholesome language: but then so to command his tongue that he never swear, but that his speech be prudent, pious, and apt to edify the hearer, or in some sense to glorify God; or to become temperate, to have got a habit of sobriety, or chastity, or humility, is the work of a life. (Bishop Jeremy Taylor.)
Give glory to God
I. The command. One way in which we may obey this command is by confession of sin, the humbling of self before God on account of general unworthiness, and also on account of particular acts of sin. Our natural hearts think but little of sin in this light, as dishonouring to God; they are accustomed and inured to sin; and hence it excites no feeling of aversion, unless exhibited in its grosser forms. By the confession of sin, therefore, God is to be glorified, and how full the promises which God has connected with it! (Proverbs 28:13; Psalms 32:5; 2 Samuel 12:13.) Closely connected with this confession of sin there is a way in which we are called upon to “give glory to the Lord our God,” and that is, by receiving God’s offered salvation. The public means of grace have been afforded this year as usual. And yet the fact forces itself upon us, as painful as it is obvious, that there may be an outward participation in these privileges, and at the same time no glory given to God. There is nothing so dishonouring to God as unbelief, for in the solemn words of inspiration, “He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar,” etc. We may observe, also, that when there is this exercise of faith, receiving God’s offered salvation, its tendency is not to exalt the pride of man, but to ascribe all the glory to God: see, for example, Ephesians 1:1-23, where the grace of God is so fully set forth, and three times in that one chapter the expression occurs that every step of that salvation is “to the praise of His glory.” But again, we may obey the command to give glory to the Lord our God by aiming to live according to His will. This can be effected by those only who are obeying the invitations of the Gospel; others have various aims in life, but if Christ is not received into the heart, they cannot live according to God’s will. The Lord has a right to look for obedience in His professing people. We give glory to God, by simple childlike confidence in Him and in His providential care and love, by the discharge of the ordinary duties of life, conscientiously as in His sight, and by thus acting up to the spirit of that command, “Whether therefore ye eat or drink,” etc. So, also, by submission to His will we are to give glory to God, that which is so easy when God’s will runs parallel, so to speak, with our own--so hard when it runs counter to our natural desires. Then to glorify God in the fires, amid the various trials which every year brings in its course, trials which have to do with health, or circumstances, or bereavements; to sin not, nor charge God foolishly; like Aaron to hold our peace in mute submission when the heart is too full for utterance; to receive the gracious assurance given by the lips of our Divine Master, “Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” to know the loving sympathy of Him who has said, “I am He that comforteth you”; one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort thee.” The various other ways in which we are to give glory to God, and live according to His will, may be summed up in the one expression, fruitfulness in good works.
II. The time for yielding this obedience is limited. “Before He cause darkness,” etc. In this figure the present time is compared to the day--the time for work, and for obedience, and for giving glory to God,--the time for guiding us safe through the narrow path that leads to heaven and home. Oh, how solemn is the thought of the uncertainty of life. How fearful that darkness must be when it overtakes the sinner groping about in life’s byways, instead of being at the gates of the heavenly city, where all is light forever; life’s work undone, and no more the call heard to glorify God, but the cry which excludes hope, “He that is unjust,” etc. (J. H. Holford, M. A.)
Giving glory to God
There are two ways of giving glory to God.
I. By giving Him back His own glory. There are three mirrors in which God’s glory is seen. Now, of these mirrors, some are broken and some stained. The first mirror was stained by the sin of man--creation was stained and lost its glory and its beauty by the first stain on it. Oh! the breath of Adam’s corruption comes as a thick fog on the face of the glass, and until that thick fog is removed, we shall not see God’s glory in the creation. The second mirror is the Word. The Word is stained, the steam of our own corruption goes forth, our darkened understandings, our stubborn will, our adulterous affections, our perverse imaginations send forth a filthy effluvia, and the filthy effluvia gathers into a thick and impenetrable mist, and that covers the glass. Besides that, there is the darkness of hell. But when the Holy Spirit removes the cloud and enables you to look into the mirror--into the cleansed and polished mirror,--then you behold the glory of God. Again, there is a third glass, the glass of the Church. This glass is broken, the visible Church now is not presenting the glory of God; the visible Church now is as a mirror shattered into a thousand fragments, and until the Holy Ghost comes and joins together these shattered fragments of the mirror, we never shall see God in the Church. The principal glory of the Church is holiness--there is no glory like that! but there is another glory which the Church has lost--and she ought not to have lost it--she has lost it, however, through unbelief--I mean the glory of power from God. We ought to have the gifts of the Spirit among us now as well as His graces; and I do believe, when you shall be brought to pray for the same--when you shall be brought to expect the promise of the Father, the Lord will respond to your prayer, and all creation shall testify in a moment that He is a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God.
1. Now, to come more closely, we give glory to God when we see Him as He is--when we see Him as a Father--when we do not see the doctrine about Him as a Father, but see Himself as a Father.
2. We give glory to God when we behold His love in Christ, and are delighted with that love.
3. We give glory to God in a third particular, when we yield ourselves to His Spirit.
II. We give glory to God when we give God created glory. The first thing is to catch His own glory and send it back, and the second, to give Him created glory. In giving God created glory, begin with your own heart--that is the centre nearest to you, begin with the hearts of your brethren, the heart of your wife, the heart of your child, the heart of your father, the heart of your servant, the heart of your neighbour, the heart of your landlord, the heart of your tenant, endeavour to get all their hearts given to God, as His throne and dwelling place, and then have the hearts of all you can speak an affectionate word unto, given unto God. Then go out over all creation, and endeavour to give all creation to God; endeavour to take the gold of the world, endeavour to take the fruits and the flowers of the world, and give them to God. You behold the religion of God like the famed river of Grecian song which cannot come to any land without irrigating that laud with golden sands, and you desire to send the stream of God’s religion, which restrains evil and cherishes virtue, which rescues man from sin, and enstamps on him holiness, you endeavour to mend that over the length and breadth of the moral world, that it may go as a stream of richness, a stream of fertilisation, a stream of refreshing and beauty over every part of the wide world. (N. Armstrong.)
God glorified by repentance
I. The repentance demanded of us in Scripture differs widely from a mere transient regret at having done wrong, and a passing resolve, that we will abstain for the future from certain grosser misdoings. The repentance which conducts to salvation is a thorough change of the whole man, commencing with new views of the nature of sin, and of its character as committed against a God of unbounded loving kindness, and gradually overspreading the life and conversation, till all around recognise that fresh creation which undeniably attests Divine interference.
1. Take the sense which a true penitent has of the nature of sin, and the confession, as well by action as by word, which that sense will dictate. There is nothing which more strikingly distinguishes man in his natural state from man in his renewed state, than the difference in the estimates which the two form of sin. The wonder with the natural man is, why sin should be everlastingly punished; the wonder with the renewed man is, how a thing so heinous can ever find pardon. Then if from the present we pass to the future, and observe the alleged consequences of transgression extending themselves like lines of fire through all the spreadings of man’s after existence, why, more than ever the stranger to repentance will be sensible of that recoil and jar of feeling which indicates suspicion that God is not just in thus taking vengeance. But how different is it with the renewed--that is, with the penitent man! God appears righteous in taking vengeance; this is the discovery, this the unhesitating conviction of the individual in whose mind are the workings of genuine repentance. But if it be true, according to these showings, that to exhort a man to repent is to exhort him to pass from the condition in which his notions of sin obscure all God’s dealings, to one in which they illustrate and vindicate those dealings--from the entertainment of the suspicion that the Creator may do wrong, to entertaining the assurance that the Creator does right in exacting everlasting penalties; if this be true, then surely repentance, as including a right sense of sin, may be identified with glorifying God.
2. Consider the confession, as well by action as by word, which a true penitent will make of his sin, and see whether such confession will not give glory to God. “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto Him.” Making confession, you observe, is associated, or rather identified, with the giving God glory. When Achan owned that he had taken of the accursed thing, he publicly proclaimed that God had shown Himself omniscient as having brought to light what no eye but his own had observed. The acknowledgment, moreover, was proof to the nation, that God had not smitten without cause, and that His threatenings always take effect; thus witnessing, so that the whole congregation would understand the testimony, to the justice, authority, and holiness of Jehovah. For he who, moved by the workings of a righteous contrition, falls before his Maker, and confesses himself a sinner, owns to the having forsaken the fountain of living waters, and hewn out to himself cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. When he uses the tongue which is emphatically described as the best member which we have, in testifying to the evil of departure from God, in asserting the truth of what God hath uttered in regard of man’s fallen estate, and the necessity that we return unto holiness if we would attain unto happiness, this confession of sin carries with it an announcement to all who here try the Word by the test of experience, as it would hereafter to the breathless onlookers as the strange work of judgment goes forward, that there is an ascertained righteousness in God’s dealings with unrenewed men as with traitors to that government which extends wheresoever there is moral accountableness. In acknowledging myself a sinner, I acknowledge myself a rebel against the Almighty, and thus out of my own mouth the eternal justice would be vindicated if there were pronounced upon me that sentence of banishment which is yet to be heard by an impenitent multitude; and certainly if that confession of sin which is a fruit or element of repentance can in any degree cause God to be justified when He speaks, and clear when He judges, there can be no debate that in this very degree it brings honour to God; in other words, it explains what is done in the text, where, summoning men to repent, the prophet summons them to give glory to God. And oh! there is a confession which is far stronger, and more productive of glory than that of the lip, even that of the life. Repentance, whatever its internal workings, amounts in its outward demonstration, which is known and read of all men, to a complete change of conduct.
II. The prophet lays down a limitation as to time. “Before.” There is a whole volume of intelligence, and that, too, startling and touching intelligence, in this one word. It is as much as to say, You cannot avoid giving it at one time or another; you must give it after if you refuse to give it before. Give it, therefore, while it may be accepted as an offering, and defer it not until it be exacted as a penalty. And certainly it is a truth which but little reasoning would suffice to establish, that glory will finally be won to God from every section of the universe, and from every member of that intelligent family with which its spreadings are peopled. The power of refusing to give God glory will expire with death, when the day of probation has been followed by the day of condemnation; and beyond all doubt, in the punishment of the reprobate as in the happiness of the righteous, there shall be a perpetual harvest of honour unto God. Hell, as well as heaven, must be the scene for the display of the Divine attributes; and wherever these attributes have place of development, there undoubtedly the Almighty is glorified. And therefore, I do not say of the dying sinner, going hence in his ungodliness, that he has outlived all opportunity of giving glory to God; we rather say of him that he has just reached the necessity of giving glory to God. A moment more--oh! even in that moment he might grasp the Cross; but let that moment be another and the last of dishonour done to God, and infinity is before him, paved with the burning tribute which has here been withheld, so that to die in rebellion is only to transfer to eternity arrears which eternity cannot exhaust. We leave the combination in its inexplicable awfulness: we have no language for a state where the fire is unquenchable, and yet the darkness is impenetrable. We thank God we may yet all give glory before our feet stumble, and before the day closes. We are not yet on the dark mountains; it may be, we are approaching them. The old must be approaching them--the young may be approaching them; but if we seem to behold them on the horizon--the gloomy, frowning masses--still the Sun of Righteousness hath not yet gone down on our firmament; still there needs nothing but the looking in faith unto Jesus, “delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification,” and the beams of that Sun shall edge, as with a line of gold, the dark and dreaded rampart, or rather throw a transparency into the stern barrier, so that it shall seem to us to melt into the garden of hope, the land where the river of life is ever flowing, and the tree of life is ever waving. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The suspension of Divine judgments
“Give glory to the Lord your God before.” We may see a rough image of the suspension of Divine vengeance against sin, and of the real terrors of that suspension, which only a timely repentance can avert, in the mountain torrent swollen by the melting of the winter’s snow. At first a sudden fuller flow announces to the inhabitants of the valley that the thaw has commenced. But the increasing of the waters suddenly ceases, not to the contentment but to the alarm of the inhabitants of the valley below. It inspires their fear and arouses their energies. Instantly they sally out with axe and hook and cord. Mark how eagerly they climb the rugged slippery hill. They know that the present quietude of the torrent tells of future disaster. It is a plain indication to them that some tree has floated down the current, and by the whirling of the waters in a narrow channel has been forced athwart the stream; that there is being rapidly constructed a natural dam, behind which the flood will gather, and seethe and swell and rage with ever-increasing fury, until it carries all before it, and bursts with devastating volume and force on the farms and fields below; and the purpose of these men who are hastening upwards is to let out the flood before it assumes these dangerous proportions. In like manner the guilty and impenitent have as little reason to be at ease “because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily.” On the contrary, that very fact should arouse them to an instantaneous repentance; for while in mercy the long-suffering of God as a mighty dam obstructs the forth flowing of His righteous vengeance, when in judgment it is at length removed, the terrors of wrath will be in exact proportion to the space in which they were treasured up. (R. A. Bertram.)
Before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains.
Darkness and the dark mountains
It is difficult to imagine a more perilous situation than that of a man overtaken by darkness among the mountains of the East. The face of the sky has become suddenly blackened with clouds; the serene light of the stars guides his feet no more; the warring elements threaten his immediate destruction; and, without guide to conduct or friend to comfort him, he can do nothing but anticipate ruin. Should he sit down, he may perish under the cold; should he advance, rocks and precipices rise everywhere around; and, to increase his horror, the wild beasts of the forest fill up with their prolonged roar the pauses of the storm. But if he has himself rushed causelessly upon his fate; if, notwithstanding that, toward evening’s close, he had been assured, by those who knew them well, that all the prognostics of an immediate storm were gathering in the sky, he gave an incredulous ear to the intimation; if, notwithstanding that there were offered to him the hospitalities of a cheerful dwelling; if he still persisted in his own determination; and if, on finding that his purpose was inflexible, an experienced guide was offered to conduct him, whose services he sullenly rejected;--then, indeed, can we easily understand how the remembrance of these things will occasion only additional agony at every moment when his “feet stumble on the dark mountains,” and that, to the other horrors of his perilous state, there will be superadded the bitterest self-reproach for his own infatuation. Yet all this, as the metaphor under consideration suggests to us, is but a faint emblem of the sinner’s wretchedness. To him there is a day of grace; but it too, if unimproved, is succeeded by a night of darkness, and thick gloom. If uncovered by that pavilion which God has erected, he must wander as an outcast on the mountains, uncheered by heaven’s mercy. Hence the earnest counsel of the prophet, “Give glory to the Lord your God,” etc.
I. The darkness of affliction.
1. You are now happy, let us suppose, beyond many around you in the world. Your health is unimpaired, and your strength fails not. But where is your security that this state of things shall continue? May not the pestilence that walks in darkness creep silently into your midnight bed? Give now, then, glory to God ere health is taken from you, and you wander on the dark mountains of disease.
2. Or, it may be, your friendships and connections are all blessed of heaven. Now, then, give glory to God; for, sooner than you apprehend, the days of darkness may fall, and your happiness vanish as a dream. Those little ones who now cheer your dwelling may soon go to swell the congregation of the dead; or, worse even than that, some of them, fair as is now their early promise, may fall in temptation’s hour into follies, or crimes, which shall make you wish rather that they had never been born.
3. Or, once more, your worldly circumstances are fair and flourishing. You have, if not great wealth, what is better, a competent portion of good things; and, while many cry for bread when there is none to give them, you have enough and to spare. But soon, perhaps, your substance shall be dissolved as snow, and your riches take to themselves wings as eagles. Now, then, “give glory to God,” ere your feet stumble on the mountains of destitution.
II. The darkness of insanity. Ye whose reason is now sober, whose judgments are now clear, whose understandings are now acute and comprehensive,--are you sure that so they shall continue to the end? Did you never know any instance of a human creature, once as calm and rational as you, hurried as by a whirlwind into the vortex of insanity? Did you never know a case, where neither hereditary transmission, nor constitutional temperament, nor evil habits, could have made way for reason’s loss? And where, then, is the security that yours shall not be the lot of those who call truth error, and error truth? That would be darkness indeed, yea, gross darkness, and the very shadow of death. Is it not wise, then, now to give glory to God, lest haply your feet should stumble on that dark mountain?
III. The darkness of despair. It is an awful condition that of a human creature at once apprehensive of judgment and incredulous of mercy. Sometimes this mental depression is a constitutional infirmity, and results more from a finely sensitive nature than a habitually depraved heart. Sometimes, too, it is owing to a gloomy system of theology, which would ordain those to be sorry whom God has not commanded to make sad. And sometimes it is the fruit of educational seeds, growing up at length even as the grapes of Sidon. But in the great majority of instances, the cause of the distemper is previous impenitence. The soul, having at length become alive to a sense of its guiltiness and danger, sinks into the depths of despair, says of itself, “No hope, no hope”; and to those who would administer comfort if they could, replies only, “Miserable comforters are ye all!” That which a philosopher has remarked concerning the earthquake, is eminently true of such a state as this. One may escape from pestilence, from famine, and from sword. The storm and tempest may be run from. The cloud that is as yet no bigger than the hand of a man may be seen afar off, and, when discerned, a refuge may be sought from it. The inundation of waters may be escaped by a timely flight; and even the lightning of heaven may be conducted by a safe passage from our dwellings. But the motions of the earthquake arise in a moment, and surprise one into an agony of alarm. Even thus it is with despair, “that worst enemy of the sinner’s soul.” The desponding spirit sits down at the gate of death, and refuses to be comforted. “Give glory then to God, before your feet stumble on the dark mountains.”
IV. The darkness of death and the grave. Between that darkness and you there may be only a single step. The eleventh hour may be about to sound its solemn knell, and the sentence may go forth, “This night thy soul shall be required of thee.” The lamp of life may be well supplied with oil, and yet it may burn only for a brief season. An unexpected breath of wind may extinguish it in a moment; and you know that, in the grave, that cannot be done which has been left undone. Now, therefore, give glory unto God before your feet stumble on the dark mountains. Do bug think how unworthy an offering to Him would be the “relies and refuse” of a wicked life; and consider that, even although the night of death may, in your case, be preceded by an evening of sickness, it is most perilous to delay commencing the work of religion to a season when the memory may have become treacherous, the moral feelings blunted, and the conscience seared. Think, too, even should you retain the use of all your mental faculties to the last, how difficult it will be for you to assure yourselves that your repentance is of the right sort,--that which is unto salvation, and needeth not to be repented of.
V. The darkness of hell. The future torments of the wicked, as well as the felicities of the just, it is far beyond the power of imagination to comprehend. The most calamitous condition in which a human being may be placed on earth admits of some relief: let a man be ever so much afflicted, desolate, or forsaken, there is commonly some comfort to be had. The sympathy of others at least may be extended to him; or, if even this be wanting, he has the prospect of getting his sufferings terminated by death. But in regard to the torments of the wicked in a future life, it is not so. There the misery is unmingled, and the pain undiverted by any soothing application. The fountains of sympathy are there dried up; compassion is unknown; nor can even death itself be looked forward to. Add to this, that all the tormenting passions will then be let loose upon the guilty soul And if even one of these passions, when brought into full action, is maddening here, what shall not the effect be there, when all that is fierce and malignant in its own nature shall war against the soul? Only think what shame does--what sorrow, what despair, what hatred do--in the present life; and then conceive, if you can, what all of them together will do for a condemned spirit in the future state. If this be the end of the ungodly (and that it is so the God who cannot lie has solemnly assured us), give glory to God before your feet stumble on the dark mountains. (J. L. Adamson.)
The dark mountains
I. Contemplate the wanderers. Darkness is used in Holy Scripture to denote that repugnance to God and spiritual things which sin produces in the mind (Isaiah 9:2; Romans 1:21). Talk to them of these things, and their sealed lips and cold indifference will prove that they have not been taught the way of righteousness by the Spirit of truth. And no wonder (1 Corinthians 2:14). But this condition is not forced upon men by any irresistible power. It is true that they are all born in sin and “shapen in iniquity” (Psalms 51:5); but the remedy for their blindness is ever at hand, if they would but receive it. Here, then, we see the culpability of their state; it is willing ignorance; they refuse to be enlightened (John 3:20). No wonder, therefore, that they prefer the dark mountains of sin in order that they may pursue, as they list, the forbidden works of darkness (Job 24:13). And this rebellion against the light may be traced up to the depravity of their hearts. They are not only willingly ignorant, and therefore criminally guilty, but their affections are corrupted. Here, again, we have another idea suggested by the term darkness, It implies the moral pollution of human nature, which is opposed to that inward purity which the light of the Holy Spirit communicates. The heart of the wicked is actually depraved and vitiated; and from that source, as from a contaminated fountain, flow the copious streams of ungodliness and worldly lust.
II. Expose their danger.
1. As we dwell attentively on the scene thus brought before us, we discover that these mountains are overspread with many rough places and pitfalls. No wonder, then, that, encompassed as they are with darkness, without a light or a truthful guide, we see many of those wanderers continually falling. We picture to ourselves that young man, just released from the parental restraints of home, wandering up the side of yonder dark mountain in the depth of night. He does not mean to wander far, and he thinks he can easily retrace his steps at will. But although to those whose eyes are spiritually opened it is dark and sterile ground, it possesses for him a secret and seductive attraction, which leads him on and farther still he goes.
2. They were not happy when they began the dismal journey, and they have never been happy since; but we see them stumbling into greater miseries at every step they take.
3. As we gaze upon these wanderers, we see by the light of the text a thicker darkness overspreading the mountains, and some are rapidly lost to our sight in the impenetrable gloom. At first we see but a comparatively light cloud, the cloud of affliction. That poor wanderer has squandered his health in the service of sin; and now he is brought low, he can enjoy sin no longer. As our vision is still resting on the dark mountains, another cloud arises; see it shooting forth the forked lightnings of God’s judgments, and many are the victims it brings low.
III. Enforce the expostulation of the text. To give glory to God is to honour Him, and God is honoured when we turn to Him with hearty repentance, and submit ourselves in obedience to His authority. (W. D. Brock, B. A.)
I. In the onward way of your life dark mountains lie before you, which you must cross for your further progress. We may travel for a time along the pleasant greensward of youth, but as we advance to our middle life and ripest years, we must expect to ascend acclivities, and clamber up steeps unknown to our earlier career. By and by, if we have not before met with them, we shall espy mountainous heights right across our road, and there will be no avoidance of them. These we must traverse, and they will tax all our strength to the utmost. “Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upwards.” One of these mountains may be that of worldly adversity, an obscure position in society, the want of a suitable opening, and the toil and sadness connected with insufficient means. Or it may be, whilst you are happily exempt from this, you have a more mountainous obstacle in your delicate and precarious health. Disappointments, too, reverses, losses, may trouble you as they trouble others, and make your life way uphill, stony, and rugged. You may find yourself, moreover, ere you are aware, clambering up to the top of a long and toilsome height, and when you gain the summit there yawns beneath you, on the other side, a terrific precipice, down which, if you fall, your destruction is inevitable. This is the hilltop of temptation, and to each of us there comes at intervals an evil day, when a solitary false step on our part will ruin us for this life and the future. We climb, too, a sharp mountain of sorrow when we stand by the bedside of those whom, though we love, we shall see them here no more, and presently follow the form that embodied them in its passage to the grave that shall hide it. Some, and it may be many, of these mountainous acclivities you will have to traverse. Look, and you will see them; then make ready for the steep ascent. There is one mountain height to which I have not referred, up which, if you have not yet crossed it, sooner or later you must travel. You are a stoner. Sin involves punishment. As surely as you have sinned, so surely you must reap the consequences. There will come a time to you, if it has not yet come, when your sin will cause you grief. This mountain, whether of repentance or remorse, may likely prove a steep and high one. It will be hard work for your soul to get up over it. It is these mountain ranges of our way that invest our life here with such awful solemnity and grandeur. The big sorrows that beset us, give a solid reality to our existence, and stamp it with dignity and worth. God’s will is, that each of us shall he equal and superior to the life obstacles He has adapted to us. You must climb them; you can’t help yourself; you must move onward.
II. The natural darkness of these mountains will be alleviated or intensified by our relationship to God. If you are right with God, and are giving Him glory in your life, God will be a light to you as you ascend your difficult way. And that light, too, will give you strength. You will see where you are, and whither you are going; the hilltop will not be so far off, the path thitherward, though meandering and tortuous, will be discernible, and the track of footsteps before you will give you cheer. Ay, and with the light of heaven around you, there will be the strength of heaven within you; and as the natural darkness of the mountain will be swallowed up in the light of heaven, so the weakness of your heart will be forgotten in the strength that is imparted. The Holy Spirit will testify that you are a child of God, an heir of the kingdom of heaven, for what son is he a father chasteneth not? And if, for a moment, you should fail, you will feel a hand helping you upward, and hear a voice cheering you onwards; and should it come almost to the worst, as with Jesus in Gethsemane, there will be an express angel from heaven to strengthen you. Should you, I say, when you come to these mountain troubles of your way, be in close relationship to God, giving glory to Him in your life, you will prove His presence and His help; you will see His light and His favour, and will find needful strength to enable you to prosecute your course. But should this not be so; should you, apart from God and alienate from His love, be pursuing your life career merely by the natural force which is derived from your animal and mental vigour; should you unexpectedly find yourself at the base of a mountainous trouble, whose steep sides ascend with a frightful incline, on whose summit, overhangs a portentous cloud, casting its deep shadows all along your appointed way--your situation will be deplorable indeed.
III. How may these, evils be avoided? “Give glory to the Lord your God.” The Lord is your God, your Creator, your Proprietor, your Sustainer, your Provider, your Defender, your Helper, your Governor, your Guide. On Him you depend, and in Him you live. Without Him you are nothing; in Him you are complete and full. You are so constituted by Him, and have such capacities given you, that you can know Him, admire Him, love Him, and serve Him. He expressly made you that you should do this. It is the design of His creation, the intent of your existence. If you achieve this, you answer His purpose and satisfy His mind. If you fail in this, you thwart His intention and disappoint His expectation. (W. T. Bull, B. A.)
Where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock?
A question for parents and pastors
Here is a flock that is being inquired about, not a flock only, but a beautiful flock.
1. The question comes into our family life, and asks us where all the children are, those lovely children, that banished the silence of the house and made it ring with music. They were fair, they were charming, they were affectionate; what a sweet, merry little fellowship they made!--where are they? Have they been spoiled into evil, flattered into self-idolatry, neglected into atheism? Have they been over-instructed, over-disciplined, wholly overborne, so that the will has not been only broken but shattered? He is no shepherd, but a tyrant, who does not cooperate with his children, lure them, fascinate them, and give them sacred instruction without appearing to do so, and who when offering religious privileges offers them as if offering coronation, yea, and all heaven.
2. The question enters also into our Church life, saying to every pastor, “Where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock?”--not large, perhaps, but so expectant, so sympathetic, so cooperative. What the flock wants is pastoral preaching. The difficulty is to overcome the temptation to preach to somebody who is not there. The preacher must always know himself to be set for the healing and nurture of men. In every congregation there am the broken-hearted, those who are shattered in fortune, feeble in health, spiritually-minded; women who have great home cares; souls that cannot thrive on criticism; lives that need all nourishment and comfort and loving sympathy. (J. Parker, D. D.)
God’s claim on parents
I. What is here shown us respecting the flock.
1. It is not yours in proprietorship, only in charge. Children are peculiarly and specially God’s. Authority over them is God’s gift to parents but He has a claim prior to yours. He continues His work of creation in every child born. Its existence is wonderful. Much more so its capacities--physical, mental, social, spiritual.
2. Christ highly estimates the flock. Christian hospitality to a child is homage to God.
II. The responsibility of parents to whom God has entrusted His flock.
1. They have to impart religious ideas. At home the first principles are instilled: indeed, the child’s mind is there made acquainted with the germ of all truth--sin, forgiveness, righteousness, salvation, love human and Divine: all the ideas involved in religion.
2. Parents represent to their children the character of the Invisible God. The Gospel is a declaration of the paternal love.
3. The inquiry for the flock will be addressed to parents.
III. The way in which this responsibility should be met. If you would prepare to answer joyfully this question, set it before you as--
1. A distinct purpose. The wish for your children’s salvation is not enough. Register a purpose in the sight of God.
2. Intense devotion is necessary. To have converting power over your own children you must love their souls, and hold them fast for God. (A. Davies.)
Where are you
What a question this for ministers and for people! For ministers. Where are the few sheep whom He has put under our care? What have we done for them? And for the flock likewise, God’s people and children. What a question for them! Where are you?
I. You are God’s flock. “The people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” He acknowledges you as His sheep, and like the Good Shepherd, He knows you every one. He looks at you as you are, and thinks of the difference between one and another.
II. His flock is “beautiful.”
1. For what He has made them. Look how beautiful He has made us all in body, mind, and soul.
2. Because of what they are capable of. Look at the wonderful things which man has been enabled to do, and then think what more God may intend him to do. Look at him sailing over the sea, and travelling over land by means of fire and water! And then think what may not man’s mind and body be capable of doing. But look at man sanctified by the Holy Ghost, his soul filled with grace, and bringing forth fruits of righteousness. How beautiful is a Christian, when he is gentle, forgiving, loving, forgetting himself, and seeking to help others, bearing trials without murmurs, and rejoicing even in sorrow!
3. Because of what they are intended for. You, poor creatures that you are, disappointed and disappointing yourselves so constantly, promising yourselves so much and performing so little--God intends you to be lights in this world, to show the way to those around you, and to be His companions in heaven.
III. “Where are you?” “Where am I?”
1. We are here, whilst so many others have been called away.
2. Judge yourselves where you are in spiritual things.
To the minister of Christ, when looking back on the irremediable past, and forward on the dim future, the thought must naturally arise,--How much have we to answer for, and what answer shall we make? But let all seriously minded Christians consider how great is the responsibility of us all, with respect to children and young persons, that they be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Everyone knows that example is more forcible than precept, and especially evil example than good precept. When grown-up persons then, whether parents or others, use themselves to violent and intemperate language, swearing, or indecent expressions, or slander, it is as if they took pains to instruct children in the language of lost spirits. Or, to glance at another case; many there are who, while they preserve a decent exterior of conduct, yet leave their children, or other young persons for whom they are in any manner responsible, to shift for themselves; I mean in religious matters, take no personal care or trouble to give them an education substantially Christian. But I ask, Is not that which is true and good for the parent, true and good for the child? Must not fathers and mothers be answerable for the bringing up of their little flock, the children whom God has given them, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? And can this be true Christian nurture and admonition, to habituate them to those unfixed and unprincipled notions and ways in the great matter of Divine worship, and communion with Christ’s Church here militant, but in heaven triumphant? This responsibility lies on us all--all grown-up persons--all have an influence either for good or evil on the younger; and happy will they be, who shall be found to have exerted this influence to the honour of our Almighty Lord and Master, and the edification of that flock which He purchased with His own blood. Such persons, if parents, have made it a principal matter of their thoughts and cares that their children should be also God’s children. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to the “Tracts for the Times.”)
What wilt thou say when He shall punish thee?
A question to the impenitent
It was in view of certain threatened calamities that were to come on Judah from the hand of the Lord, that this question is asked of her. I put this question to each individual who is not obeying the Gospel of Christ. What wilt thou say, dying as thou art living, appearing before God in judgment as thou appearest to Him now, continuing impenitent, persisting in disobedience to the Gospel, if the character thou carriest into eternity be that which you are now forming for it? But perhaps you have no faith in future punishment; perhaps you do not believe that you, or any sinner will ever be brought into these circumstances. Then you have no faith in the veracity of God, or in the Bible as His Word. You are fulfillers of prophecy, for it is said (1 Peter 3:1-22) there should be such as you. But you say, the belief is unreasonable; it conflicts with all our ideas of benevolence and justice. What! that a righteous moral Governor should punish incorrigible offenders, rebels that refuse to be reconciled to Him, though often invited, and the meanwhile most kindly dealt with by their injured Sovereign, and when the terms of reconciliation are easy as they could be made, and the whole expense of bringing it about is borne by God! The question is not, what now you have to say, for now you imagine you have a great deal to say. And some can speak long and fluently in a strain of self-exculpation; but then, when confronted with your Maker and Judge; and when all things are seen by the clear and searching light of eternity; then, what wilt thou say?
1. You will not be able to say that you were ignorant of the existence of the law, for the transgression of which you are condemned.
2. Nor can you say that this law is unintelligible. Whatever obscurity attaches to the doctrines of the Bible, none rests on its precepts.
3. Nor, again, can you reasonably complain of the character of this law. “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, lust, and good.” Its spirit is love; its tendency happiness.
4. Nor can you complain of any want of adaptation in this law; that it transcends your capacities, exceeds your natural powers of performance. No; you want no new faculty to obey it perfectly. You want only a rectified heart. You want but the will.
5. You cannot plead ignorance of its penalty. You cannot say that you were not warned of the consequences of disobedience; and that God strikes, before He speaks. What has not been done to deter you from sinning? What obstructions have not been thrown in your way to destruction! But you surmount them all. What then wilt thou say, when He shall punish thee? That you have never transgressed this law, or only once, or but seldom, and then inadvertently, through infirmity? This you will not say; you cannot. Who has not sinned many times, and deliberately? Will you say that your sin did no harm, injured no one, no one but God? But you must allow the Lawgiver to be the judge of that. The consequences of a particular sin He alone is able to trace out. Will you be able to say, that, when you had sinned, God hastened the execution of the sentence against you; waited not for a second offence, and gave you no opportunity to evade the stroke; that as soon as you found you had sinned, you were sorry, and penitently sought His face, but was spurned away; and that, seeing your case to be hopeless, you went on sinning in despair? What will you say? That there was an irreversible Divine decree that stood an insurmountable obstruction in your way to heaven, and even impelled you in the downward direction? You will see by the light of eternity that that was not the case, nor indeed the doctrine of those who were supposed to hold it. What then wilt thou say, when He shall punish thee? I can think of nothing, nothing exculpatory, nothing extenuating. You will be speechless, not through intimidation, but from conviction, not as unable to speak, but as having nothing to say; self-condemned, as well as condemned by your Judge; conscience confirming the decision against you, and your own self through all eternity reproaching you, and thus nourishing a worm gnawing within worse than the fire that shall burn about you. And shall it come to this? Shall this be the issue of life? (W. Nevins, D. D.)
I. The punishment supposed.
1. Sometimes it commences in the present world.
2. It will assuredly be inflicted after death.
3. It will be consummated at the judgment day.
4. It will be proportionate (Matthew 19:27; Romans 2:6; Revelation 2:23).
5. That it will be everlasting.
II. The interrogation presented.
1. Will you say it is unrighteous?
2. Will you say it is severe?
3. Will you say that you were not warned?
4. Will you plead for a further period of trial?
5. Will you confess your guilt, and seek mercy?
6. Will you endeavour to resist the almighty arm? (Isaiah 27:4; Nahum 1:5)
7. Will you endeavour to meet your doom with firmness? (Proverbs 1:27; Revelation 6:17.)
1. Future punishment may be averted. Bless God that you are favoured with time and opportunities; with mercy, and with gracious invitations.
2. Timely repentance, and sincere faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, will infallibly preserve you from the wrath to come. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The justice of future punishment
I. Offer three general remarks.
1. All the afflictions to the wicked have the nature of punishment: they are not salutary. Grace turns the serpent into a rod; but sin turns the rod into a serpent. The former turns poison into a remedy; the latter, the remedy into poison.
2. Punishment is the natural and necessary consequence of sin. If we drink of the cup of abominations, God will give us the cup of trembling (Psalms 75:8).
3. Whoever are the immediate instruments of inflicting punitive evils, God is the author of them.
II. Consider the solemn inquiry in our text. “What wilt thou say when He shall punish thee?”
1. Wilt thou charge God with injustice, or say that the punishment is undeserved? To admit such a thought betrays the greatest insolence and pride, as well as an entire ignorance of all the principles of truth and righteousness (Romans 3:5-6; Revelation 15:3; Revelation 16:7).
2. Wilt thou say that God is severe and that though punishment be deserved, yet it is too great for the offence? (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10.)
3. Wilt thou say that thou wast taken by surprise, without being warned; and that, therefore, judgments came unlooked for? The very heathens cannot say this; for as the creatures instruct them, so conscience warns them.
4. Wilt thou desire a further time of trial, that judgment may be deferred, and a longer season of probation be afforded thee? Instead of wishing for a greater extension of Divine forbearance, God might say to the dying and desponding sinner, The measure of thine iniquities is already full, and further forbearance would only make it run over. “Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.”
5. Wilt thou say that thou hast sinned by an inevitable necessity, and that thy ruin was predetermined? But if this be the language of sinners in this world, it will not be so in the world to come. They will then know that if they were the slaves of sin and Satan, they were so voluntarily, and by choice; that if they were sold to commit iniquity, like Ahab, they sold themselves; and that if any spiritual blessing were withheld, it was that to which they had no claim and for which they had no desire (Jeremiah 7:10; Isaiah 63:17; Matthew 23:37, John 5:40; Acts 2:23; John 12:39; John 15:22; Romans 9:19-20).
6. The question proposed in the text implies that the sinner will have nothing to say when he falls into the hands of God. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
A serious question
I. The punishment referred to. A freethinker once said, “I am seventy years old, and have never seen such a place as hell, after all that has been said about it.” A child at once replied, “But have you ever been dead yet?”
1. The punishment itself. This is brought before us--
2. Its infliction.
II. The persons on whom it will be inflicted.
III. The question, “What wilt thou say?” Many can talk now, revile, question, sneer. What will you say then? (Homiletic Magazine.)
Advert to the time when, in the order of the Divine government, ungodly sinners will be punished according to law. What wilt thou say in extenuation of thy guilt, and against the justice of the punishment that He shall inflict upon thee?
1. Will you say that you did not know the law which you had broken? Whose fault was that? Had you not a Bible as your own? Had you not a law in your conscience which acquitted or accused you in the actions of life?
2. That you meant no wrong in what you had done? Then why do wrong? For pleasure? For profit? Was this any justification of wrong-doing?
3. That your sins had not done such evil as to deserve such punishment? Can you be a judge in this?
4. That God might have prevented you sinning, and the results of your sins, if He had been so disposed? Yes, had He destroyed your free agency. But did not God use means to prevent you, and you would not?
5. That you sinned only a short time in comparison with the duration of your punishment? Punishment is not given in its duration according to the time taken in the act of transgression. The act of murder, and its punishment.
6. That you have only done as others have done? A thousand doing wrong is no justification or extenuation of one doing a similar or the same wrong that they have committed.
7. That you have not been so bad as others? The law knows nothing of degrees in crime, so far as exempting from punishment. Besides, he that offends in one point is guilty of all.
8. That while you have done many things that have been wrong, you have done others that have been right? Doing a right will not save you from the punishment of doing a wrong.
9. That you had great temptations to do as you have done? But there were at your command resources of help sufficient to keep you from their power.
10. That you were led into sin by bad examples? There were good examples to follow as well as bad, why did you not follow them?
11. That you were never educated? Education has nothing to do with moral principles and actions.
12. That you were never warned or admonished against sin? Can this be true? If you were not, whose fault was it? Had you not warnings and admonitions of conscience and of the Spirit of God?
13. That the Spirit of God never strove with you? This is false, or God’s Word is, and human experience. Perhaps you so quenched the Spirit as to harden your heart.
14. That you were born into the world with a sinful nature, and could not help sinning? But God made every provision to meet your case in this respect.
15. That the inconsistencies of Christians were a stumbling block to you? If one man walk awry, or if he stumble, is that any reason why you should do so
16. That you were preordained by God to do as you have done? This is false, both in reason and in Scripture.
17. That your punishment is too severe? It is no wonder you should say this. Is it undeserved? Is it against law and justice?
18. That your punishment is more than you can bear? You should have thought of this before. Did you in committing sin think of how others could bear the wrong you were doing them? How God could bear your sins? (Local Preacher’s Treasury.)
Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?
I. The question and its answer.
1. The difficulty in the sinner’s case lies--
2. For all these reasons we answer the question in the negative: sinners can no more renew themselves than Ethiopians can change their skins.
II. Another question and answer.
1. All things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26).
2. The Holy Spirit has special power over the human heart.
3. The Lord Jesus has determined to work this wonder, and for this purpose He came into this world, and died, and rose again (Matthew 1:21).
4. Many such jet-black sinners have been totally changed: among ourselves there are such, and in all places such may be found.
5. The Gospel is prepared with that end.
6. God has made His Church long for such transformations, and prayer has been offered that they may now be wrought. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Evil habits a great difficulty to reformation of life
Habit may be looked on--
1. As a necessary law.
2. As a beneficent law. It is because acts grow easier and generally more attractive the oftener they are performed, that men advance in the arts, the sciences, the morality, and the religion of life.
3. As an abused law. The text is a strong expression of its abuse. The words of course are not to be taken in an absolutely unqualified sense. The idea is great difficulty. Our subject is the difficulty of converting old sinners, men “accustomed to do evil.”
I. It is a self-created difficulty.
1. Habit is but an accumulation of acts, and in each of the aggregate acts the actor was free.
2. The sinner himself feels that he has given his moral complexion the Ethiopian stain, and painted his character with the leopard spots. This fact shows--
II. It is a gradually augmenting difficulty. Habit is a cord. It is strengthened with every action. At first it is as fine as silk, and can be broken with but little effort. As it proceeds it becomes a cable strong enough to hold a man of war, steady amidst boisterous billows and furious winds. Habit is a momentum. It increases with motion. At first a child’s hand can arrest the progress. As the motion increases it gets a power difficult for an army of giants to overcome. Habit is a river, at its headspring you can arrest its progress with ease, and turn it in any direction you please, but as it approaches the ocean it defies opposition, and rolls with a thunderous majesty into the sea.
1. The awful condition of the sinner.
2. The urgency for an immediate decision Procrastination is folly.
3. The necessity of the special prayers of the Church on behalf of aged sinners.
III. It is a possibly conquerable difficulty.
1. The history of conversions shows the possibility of overcoming this difficulty.
2. The mightiness of Christ shows the possibility of overcoming this difficulty, He saves to the uttermost.
Uttermost in relation to the enormity of the sin--uttermost in relation to the age of the sinner. (Homilist.)
Evil habits and their cure
If we compare together these words of Jeremiah with other words on the same subject by Isaiah we arrive at a more complete view of the force of evil habits than is presented to us by this single text. “Come, now, let us reason together, though your sins,” etc. This is the essential message of Christ, that there is forgiveness of sins--that the transgressions of the past can be blotted out and he who has done evil learn to do good. This doctrine was very early objected to. It was one of the arguments that the educated heathen in the first ages of the Christian Church brought against Christianity that it declared that possible which they believed to be impossible. “It is manifest to everyone,” writes Celsus, the first great polemical adversary of Christianity, who flourished in the second century, “that those who are disposed by nature to vice, and are accustomed to it, cannot be transformed by punishment, much less by mercy, for to transform nature is a matter of extreme difficulty,” but our Lord has taught us that what is impossible with men is possible with God, and Christianity proved again and again its Divine origin in accomplishing this very work which, according to men, was impossible. Against the sweeping assertion of Celsus to the contrary, we may place the living examples of thousands upon thousands who through the Gospel have been turned from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God. To trace the steps of such a change in any particular case is one of the most fascinating studies in biography; but no study will ever explain all, for in the work of a soul’s regeneration there is a mystery which can never be brought into the mould of thought. “The wind,” said Christ, “bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth; so is everyone that is born of the Spirit,” but man’s part in the work can be conceived, and this is what we should strive to understand, so that we may work with God, and there are three chief ways in which we may do so:
1. There is resistance. As every yielding to temptation strengthens a bad habit, so every act of resistance weakens it. It was the belief of the North American Indians that the strength of the slain foe passed into the body of the slayer; and in the moral world it is so, for not only does resistance take from the force of habit, it strengthens the will against it, so that in a double way acts of resistance undermine the force of habit.
2. Then there is education. Every man who is not wholly lost to a sense of right-doing feels every time he gives way to an evil habit a silent protest working in his breast, something that tells him he is wrong, that urges him to do differently, that interferes with the pleasure of the sin, mingling with it a sense of dissatisfaction. This protest will generally take the form of urging us towards the good which is opposite to the evil in which we are indulging. And by educating, by drawing out the desire after this good more and more, the evil is more and more put to flight. Thus the way to overcome inattentiveness of the mind is not so much to fix our attention on the fault, as to cultivate and educate its opposite, concentration of mind.
3. Once again, there is prayer. It has been said that to labour is to pray, and that is true in a measure; and those who labour in resisting evil habits and in cultivating good ones are, in a sense, by such actions praying to God; but anyone who has ever prayed knows that that definition does not exhaust the meaning or force of prayer. Prayer is more than labour--it is having intercourse with God. It is one of the chief means by which we are made conscious that we are not alone in the battle of life; but that there is One with us who is our unchangeable Friend, who looks down upon us with an interest that never flags, and a love that never grows cold. (Arthur Brooke, M. A.)
Inability to do good arising from vicious habits
I. To explain the nature of evil habits, particularly the tendency of them, to render men indisposed to moral goodness. No habit leaveth a man in a state of indifference, it putteth a strong bias upon his mind to act according to its direction, as experience showeth in innumerable instances, and in the most ordinary affairs, and even amusements of life; how naturally and easily do we fall into the beaten track, and hold on the accustomed course, though our reason discerneth no importance in it at all! Nay, by the influence of habit, trifles are magnified into matters of great moment, at least they engage the desire, and determine the active powers as if they were, so that we find it very difficult to break them off. Again, the only rational way of reclaiming men from ill practices is, by convincing them that they are ill, and that they must be attended with unhappy consequences to themselves: but the effect of habits is to darken the understanding, to fill the mind with prejudices, and to render it unattentive to reason. How then shall they that are accustomed to do evil learn to do well, since they are biassed against it, being expert in the contrary practice, and since they have made themselves in a great measure incapable of instruction?
II. Consider particularly how we are to understand that disability to do good which is contracted by being accustomed to do evil.
1. That the impotence is not total nor equal to that which is natural, will appear from the following considerations.
2. You see then where the difference lieth, that it is in ourselves, and what that impotence is which ariseth from habits, that it is no more than irresolution which is properly the fault of the mind, and to be charged wholly upon it.
3. God waiteth to be gracious to them, unwilling they should perish, if they are disposed on their part to submit to the remedy which His mercy hath provided. (J. Abernethy, M. A.)
1. Everyone remembers how much of his discipline as a child was connected with points of manner; how often he was reproved for little rudenesses, etc. And if by the neglect of others or by his own he formed any such habit, does he not remember too how much pain and effort it cost him to get rid of it, however little pleasure there might be in indulging it, or however easy it might appear, in prospect, to part with it at any moment when it might become troublesome? And I need not remind any of you of the force of habit as shown, in an opposite way, in matters which, though they occupy much of your time and thoughts elsewhere, must yet be regarded as trifling in comparison with the graver subjects which ought to fill our minds here; I mean, in those exercises of bodily strength and skill which form so large a part of our youthful training.
2. But now go one step farther, and observe the effect of habit, for good or evil, upon the mind. If language be your chief subject of study, the repeated sight of certain symbols, which were at first entirely strange and unintelligible to you, makes them familiar, and associates them forever in your mind with the ideas which they symbolise; and the repeated formation for yourselves of words and sentences in that foreign language, according to certain rules, gives you at last an almost intuitive and instantaneous perception of what is right and beautiful in it. This is the reward of the diligent; their reward in proportion to the original gift of mind for which they are not responsible, and to their diligence in the use of it for which they are. And if this be, in intellectual matters, the force of habit for good, need I speak of its influence for evil? Those repeated neglects which make up the school life of an idle or presumptuous boy; the little separate acts, or rather omissions of act, which seem to him now so trifling; the postponements, half-learnings, or total abandonments of lessons; the hours of inattention, vacancy, or wandering thoughts, which he spends in school; the shallowness and looseness and slovenliness--still worse, the too frequent unfairness--of his best preparations of work; these things too are all going to form habits.
3. The soul too is the creature of habit. Have you not all found it so? When you have for two or three days together forgotten your prayers, has it not become, even in that short time, more easy to neglect, more difficult to resume them? When you have left God out of sight in your daily life; when you have fallen into an unchristian and irreligious state of mind and life, how soon have you found this state become as it were natural to you; how much less, day by day, did the idea of living without God alarm you; how much more tranquil, if not peaceful, did conscience become as you departed farther and farther in heart from the living God! But there is another, an opposite, habit of the soul, that of living to God, with God, and in God. That too is a habit, not formed so soon or so easily as the other, yet like it formed by a succession of acts, each easier than the last, and each making the next easier still.
4. I have spoken separately of habits of the body, the mind, and the soul. It remains that we should combine these, and speak a few serious words of those habits which affect the three. Such habits there are, for good and for evil. There is a devotion of the whole man to God, which affects every part of his nature. Such is the habit of a truly religious life; such a life as some have sought in the seclusion of a cloister, but which God wills should be led in that station of life, whatsoever it be, to which it has pleased or shall please Him to call us. One day so spent indeed, is the earnest, and not the earnest only hut the instrument too, of the acquisition of the inheritance of the saints in light. How can we, after such thoughts, turn to their very opposite, and speak of habits affecting for evil conjointly the body, the mind, and the soul? Yet such habits there are, and the seed of them is often sown in boyhood.
5. It is the fashion with some to undervalue habits. The grace of God, they say, and say truly, can change the whole man into the opposite of what he is. It is most true: with God--we bless Him for the word, it is our one hope--all things are possible. But does God give any encouragement in His Word to that sort of recklessness as to early conduct, which some practically justify by their faith in the atonement? Is it not the whole tenour of His Word that children should be brought up from the first in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
6. I have spoken, as the subject led me, of good habits and evil: there is yet a third possibility, or one which seems such. There is such a thing, in common language at least, as having no habits. Yes, we have known such persons, all of us; persons who have no regularity and no stability within or without; persons who one day seem not far from the kingdom of God, and the next have drifted away so far from it that we wonder at their inconsistency. As you would beware of bad habits, so beware also of having no habits. Grasp tenaciously, and never let go, those few elements at least of virtuous habit which you acquired in earliest childhood in a Christian home. You will be very thankful for them one day. (Dean Vaughan.)
Importance of the rigid formation of habits
I. How far the influence of habit extends. Habit extends its influence over the body, the mind, and the conscience The body, considered merely as an animal frame, is much under the influence of habit. Habit inures the body to cold or heat; renders it capable of labour, or patient of confinement. Through habit the sailor rides upon the rocking wave without experiencing that sickness which the unaccustomed voyager is almost sure to feel. I might now proceed from the body to the mind, only there are some cases which are of a mixed nature, partaking both of body and mind, in which we neither contemplate the body apart from the mind, nor the mind apart from the body; and habit has its influence upon both. Such is the pernicious use of strong liquors, habit increases the desire, diminishes the effect of them. So all undue indulgence of the body increases the desire of further indulgence. The appetite by constant gratifications becomes uncontrollable; and the mind also grows debauched, is rendered incapable of purer pleasures, and altogether unfit for the exercises of religion. Nor is it only through the body that habit has its effect upon the mind. There are habits purely mental, as well as habits purely bodily. Profaneness may become a habit; a man may contract a habit of swearing, a habit of speaking irreverently of sacred things. So the anger of a passionate man is often called constitutional. Further, the Apostle Paul speaks of those whose mind and conscience is defiled. Habit has its effect on the conscience also. One would think that the more frequently a man had committed a fault, the more severely would his conscience upbraid him for it. But the very contrary is the case: his conscience has become familiar with the sin, as well as his other faculties of mind or body.
II. The difficulty of overcoming habits. Even in the case of those who have been soberly and virtuously brought up, and whose life is unstained by a course of profane or licentious conduct, there is a principle of evil which keeps them far from God. They have no love to Him, no delight in Him, no communion with Him. How much more palpably impossible is it for the wretched sinner to break his chains, when sin by long indulgence has become habitual; when the body itself has been made subject to it, the mind polluted by it, and the conscience seared as with a red-hot iron! Does experience teach you to expect that these men will correct themselves! It may be that such men may change one sin for another, a new bad habit, as it acquires strength, may supplant an old one, the sins of youth may give way to the sins of age. But this is not ceasing to do evil, and learning to do well. It is only altering the manner of doing evil. With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible. Divine grace can not only take away the greatest guilt; it can also enlighten the darkest understanding, and sanctify the most corrupt heart.
III. Address two descriptions of characters.
1. Those who are still walking in their accustomed way of evil.
2. Those who have been delivered from it. (J. Fawcett, M. A.)
The formation of habits goes on in part by conscious volition or purpose. Men set themselves at work in certain directions to acquire accomplishments and various elements of power. Thus are habits formed. And the same process goes on under a more general schooling. We are living in society at large. Not only are we influenced by that which goes on in our households, but there is the reflection of a thousand households in the companionship into which we are thrown day by day, which influences us. The world of most persons is a microcosm with a small population; and they reflect the influence of the spheres in which they have had their training and their culture. The influences which surround them, for good and evil, for industry or indolence, are well-nigh infinite in number and variety. Every man should have an end in view; and every day he should adopt means to that end, and follow it from day to day, from week to week, from month to month, and from year to year. Then he is the architect of, and he is building, his own fortune. Out of a careless and unarmoured way spring up mischievous habits which at first are not very striking, nor very disastrous. Prominent among them is the habit of carelessness respecting the truth--carelessness in respect to giving one’s word in the form of a promise. Never make a promise without a distinct and deliberate thought as to whether you can fulfil it; or not; and having made a promise, keep it at all hazard, even though it be to your damage. Do not break your word. Then, aside from that mode of falsifying, men fall into the habit of uttering untruths. The love of truth is not in them. They do not esteem truth for itself’s sake. They regard it as an instrument, as a coin, as it were; and when it is profitable they speak the truth, but when it is not profitable they are careless of it. Multitudes of persons by suppression falsify and they use so thin and gauzy a veil as this: “Well, what I said was strictly true.” Yes; but what you did not say was false. For you to tell the truth so that no one shall suspect the truth, and so that it shall produce a false and illusory impression--that has an evil effect upon others, and a still more evil effect upon your own character. The desire to conform your speech to Yea, yea, and Nay, nay; the desire for simplicity of truth; the desire to state things as they are, so that going from your mind they shall produce pictures in another’s mind precisely as they lie in your own--that is manly. Still more likely are men by extravagance to fall from strict habits of truth. We live in an age of adjectives, Nothing is natural. The whole force of adjectives is exhausted on the ordinary affairs of life, and nothing is left for the weightier matters of thought and speech. Men form a habit in this direction, Frequently it is formed because it is very amusing. When a man has a good reputation for speaking the truth, and he speaks in a back-handed way, at first it is comical; as, for instance, where a man speaks of himself as being a dishonourable fellow when he is known to be the very pink of honesty and scrupulousness; or, where a man speaks smilingly of trying with all his might to live within his income, when he is known to roll in riches. Such extravagances have a pleasing effect once or twice; and not only individuals, but families and circles fall into the habit of using extravagant words and expressions, because under certain conditions they are amusing; but they cease to be so when they are applied to the common elements of life, and are heard every day. They become altogether distasteful to persons of refinement, and are in every way bad. The same is true of bluntness. Now and then the coming in of a blunt expression from a good, strong, honest man is like a clap of thunder in a hot, sultry day in summer--and we like it; but when a man makes himself disagreeable under the pretence that bluntness of speech is more honest than the refined expressions of polite society, he violates good taste and the true proportions of things. Nor is it strange, under such circumstances, that a man feels himself easily led to the last and worst form of lying--deliberate falsification; so that he uses untruth as an instrument by which to accomplish his ends. Closely connected with this obliteration of moral delicacy there comes in a matter of which I will speak, reading from Ephesians, the 5th chapter--“All uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you,” etc. Where men tip their wit with salacious stories; where men indulge in double entendre; where men report things whose very edge is uncomely and unwholesome; where men talk among themselves in such a way that before they begin they look around and say, “Are there any ladies present?” where men converse with an abominable indecorum and filthiness in repartee, jesting with things that are fine, and smearing things that are pure, the apostle says, “It is not convenient.” The original is, It is not becoming. In other words, it is unmanly. That is the force of the passage. And we are forbidden to indulge in these things. Yet very many men run through the whole of them, sink into the depths of pollution, and pass away. I scarcely need say that in connection with such tendencies as I have reprobated will come in the temptation to a low tone of conduct socially; to coarse and vulgar manners, and to carelessness of the rights of others. By good manners I mean the equity of benevolence. If you will take the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians, and, though it be perverting the text a little, substitute for “charity” the word politeness, you will have a better version of what true politeness is than has ever been written anywhere else. No man has any right to call himself a gentleman who is oblivious of that equity of kindness which should exist under all circumstances between man and man. I have noticed a want of regard for the aged. Grey hairs are not honourable in the sight of multitudes of young men. They have not trained themselves to rise up and do obeisance to the patriarch. I have observed that there was a sort of politeness manifested on the part of young men if the recipient of it was young and fair; but I have noticed that when poor women come into a car, sometimes bearing their babes in their arms, young men, instead of getting up and giving them their places, are utterly indifferent to them. The habits of our times are not courteous, and you are not likely to learn from them the art of good manners, which means kindness and equity between man and man in the ordinary associations of life; and if you would endow yourself with this Christian excellence you must make it a matter of deliberate consideration and assiduous education. I will mention one more habit into which we are liable to fall, and toward which the whole nation seems to tend: I mean the habit of loving evil. I refer not to the love of doing evil, but to the love of discussing evil. True Christian charity, it is also said in the 13th of 1st Corinthians, “rejoiceth not in iniquity.” A man ought to be restrained from any commerce with that which is evil--evil news, evil stories, evil surmises, evil insinuations, innuendoes, scandals, everything evil that relates to society. Set yourselves, then, as Christian men and women, to abhor evil and to rejoice not in iniquity, but in the truth. I will speak of one other habit--namely, the growing habit of profanity. Men accustom themselves to such irreverence in the use of words which are sacred, that at last they cease to be words of power to them. Men swear by God, by the Almighty, by the Lord Jesus Christ, in a manner which shocks the feelings and wounds the hearts of truly conscientious people. And they who thus addict themselves to rudeness of speech violate the law of good society. Not only that, but; they do it uselessly. You do not give weight to what you are saying in conversation by the employment of expletives. There is no statement which is more forcible than that which is expressed in simple language. And in giving way to the habit you are doing violence to the Word of God, to your best moral instincts, and to your ideal of the sanctity of your Ruler and your Judge; and I beseech of you who are beginning life to take heed of this tendency, and avoid it. We are all building a character. What that character is to be it doth not yet appear. We are working in the dark, as it were; but by every thought and action we am laying the stones, tier upon tier, that are going into the structure; and what it to be the light of the eternal world will reveal. It is, therefore, wise for every man to pray, “Search me, O God; try me and see if there be any evil way at me.” It is worth our while to go back to the Old Testament again, and say, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy Word.” The cleanest Book, the most honourable Book, the most manly Book, the truest, the simplest, and the noblest Book that ever was written or thought of is this Book of God. In the Psalms of David, in the Proverbs of Solomon, in the whole New Testament, you cannot go amiss. Them is not one place where you will be led down morally, where the ideal is not noble, and where it does not ascend higher and higher, till you stand in Zion and before God. (H. W. Beecher.)
Of the difficulty of reforming vicious habits
I. The great difficulty of reforming vicious habits, or of changing a bad course, to those who have been deeply engaged in it and long accustomed to it. This will fully appear--
1. If we consider the nature of all habits, whether good, or bad, or indifferent. A rooted habit becomes a governing principle, and bears almost an equal sway in us with that which is natural. It is a kind of a new nature superinduced, and even as hard to be expelled, as some things which are primitively and originally natural.
2. This difficulty ariseth more especially from the particular nature of evil and vicious habits. These, because they are suitable to our corrupt nature, and conspire with the inclinations of it, are likely to be of a much quicker growth and improvement, and in a shorter space, and with less care and endeavour, to arrive at maturity and strength, than the habits of grace and goodness.
3. The difficulty of this change ariseth likewise from the natural and judicial consequences of a great progress and long continuance in an evil course.
II. The case of these persons, though it be extremely difficult, is not quite desperate; but after all, there is some ground of hope and encouragement left, that they may yet be reclaimed and brought to goodness.
1. There is left, even in the worst of men, a natural sense of the evil and unreasonableness of sin; which can hardly be ever totally extinguished in human nature.
2. Very bad men, when they have any thoughts of becoming better, are apt to conceive some good hopes of God’s grace and mercy.
3. Who knows what men thoroughly roused and startled may resolve, and do? And a mighty resolution will break through difficulties which seem insuperable.
4. The grace and assistance of God when sincerely sought, is never to be despaired of. (J. Tillotson, D. D.)
The difficulty of repentance
I. From the nature of habits in general of vicious habits in particular. Concerning habits, we may observe that there are many things which we practise at first with difficulty, and which at last, by daily and frequent repetition, we perform not only without labour, but without premeditation and design. Thus it is with the habits of memory. By frequent practice and slow degrees we acquire the use of speech: we retain a surprising variety of words of arbitrary sounds, which we make the signs of things. Thus it is in the habits of the imagination. When we accustom our minds to certain objects, when we call them often before us, these objects, which at first were perhaps as indifferent as any other, become familiar to us, they appear uncalled and force themselves upon us. Thus it is with the habits of sin. They are acquired like other habits by repeated acts; they fix themselves upon us in the same manner, and are corrected with the same difficulty. A sinner by long offending contracts an aversion from his duty, and weakens his power of deliberating and choosing upon wise motives. By giving way to his passions he has made them ungovernable; they rise of themselves, and stay not for his consent, and by every victory over him they gain new strength, and he grows less able to resist them. His understanding and reason become unserviceable to him. At first, when he did amiss, he was ashamed of it; but shame is lost by long offending. Add to this, that vicious habits make a deeper impression and gain faster upon us than good habits. Sin recommends itself to our senses by bringing present profit or pleasure, whilst religion consists frequently in renouncing present profit or pleasure for a greater interest at a distance, and so recommends itself, not to our senses, but to our reason; upon which account it is more difficult to be good than to be bad. One being asked, what could be the reason why weeds grew more plentifully than corn? answered, Because the earth was the mother of weeds, but the stepmother of corn; that is, the one she produced of her own accord, the other not till she was compelled to it by man’s toil and industry. This may not unfitly be applied to the human mind, which on account of its intimate union with the body, and commerce with sensible objects, easily and willingly performs the things of the flesh, but will not bring forth the spiritual fruits of piety and virtue, unless cultivated with assiduity and application.
II. From experience. There are few who forsake any vice to which they are remarkably addicted. The truth of this may be easiest observed in those faults where the body seems not to be much concerned, such as pride, conceit, levity of mind, rashness in judging and determining, censoriousness, malice, cruelty, wrath, moroseness, envy, selfishness, avarice. These bad dispositions seldom forsake a person in whom they are fixed. Besides, many of them are of so deceitful a nature, that the mind entertains them and knows it not; the man thinks himself free from faults which to every other person are most visible.
III. Scripture concurs with reason and experience. When the Scriptures speak of evil habits, they make use of figures as strong and bold as language can utter and the imagination conceive, to set forth their pernicious nature. Persons in that condition are said to be enclosed in a snare, to be taken captives, to have sold themselves to work wickedness, to be in a state of slavery. Even those passages which contain great encouragement and favourable promises to repentance, inform us at the same time of the difficulty of amending. Our Saviour gives a plain and familiar representation of it. A shepherd, says He, rejoices more over one sheep which was lost and is found, than over ninety-and-nine which went not astray. Why so? For this, amongst other reasons, because he could not reasonably expect such good fortune, and had little hopes of finding a creature exposed to a thousand dangers, and unable to shift for itself.
IV. Reflections useful to persons of all ages and of all dispositions.
1. If the words of the text were to be taken rigorously and in the strictest sense, it would be a folly to exhort a habitual sinner to repentance, and an unreasonable thing to expect from him a natural impossibility; but it is certain that they mean no more than an extreme difficulty.
2. There are persons who sincerely profess the Christian religion, who fear God and desire to be in His favour, but whose lives are not so conformable to their belief as they ought to be, who are sorry for their faults, and fall into them again, who make not the progress in goodness which they acknowledge to be justly expected from them, and who have not that command over their passions which by a little more resolution and self-denial they might acquire. Such persons should seriously consider the difficulty of reforming bad habits, and the extreme danger of that state: for though it be not their present condition, yet if they use not timely caution, sad effects may ensue.
3. These sad examples should be a warning to those whose obedience is so incomplete and sullied with so many defects, whose love of virtue is not equal and uniform, and whose affections are placed sometimes on God and religion, and sometimes on the follies and vanities of the world.
4. There are Christians who abstain from known and deliberate transgressions, who strive to make a daffy progress in goodness, and to perform an acceptable service to God. The difficulty of reforming vicious habits may warn them to be upon their guard, that after they have set out well and proceeded well, they fail not at last, nor lose a reward near at hand.
5. They who have wisely and happily preserved themselves from evil habits ought to be very thankful to God, by whose blessing they are free from that heavy bondage, and strangers to the sad train of evils which attend it. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
The sinner’s helplessness
I. If man cannot turn himself to happiness and God, why not?
1. Because of the force of sinful habit. The man who has his arm paralysed cannot use it for his own defence; and sin deprives the soul of power, it paralyses the soul. The man thinks he can pray, but when the time comes, he finds that sinful habits are so strong upon him that he cannot. I well recollect, one winter night, when the storm was raging and the wind was howling, being called up to attend one who was in the agonies of death, and who had long been living an avowed life of sin, but he became anxious at the last to know if it were possible for him to find a place of safety; and never shall I forget the answer which that poor man made to me, when I directed him to pray: “Pray, sir! I cannot. I have lived in sin too long to pray. I have tried to pray, but I cannot, I know not how; and if this be all, I must perish.” A long continued life of sin had paralysed that man’s soul; and it does so, consciously or unconsciously, in every case.
2. Because of the fault of his sinful nature. You know well, that if the glorious sun in the heavens were to shine upon the face of a man who is naturally dead he would neither see it nor feel its warmth. If you were to present to that man all the riches of the world he would have no eye to look at them, no heart to wish for them, no hand to put forth to grasp them. And so with the man who is unconverted. He may be all alive to sin, he may have all the powers of his mind in full exercise, but his heart is alienated from God; he has no wish for “the unsearchable riches of Christ”; he has no desire to become enriched with those treasures which shall endure forever.
3. Because of the enmity of Satan. Do you see that poor man who has been toiling in all the heat of a summer’s day with a heavy burden upon him? His strength is now gone, and he has fallen into the ditch; and when he tries to raise himself, do you see that tyrant who has got his foot upon his back, and who plunges him again into the ditch and keeps him down? You have them a picture of the enmity and power of Satan.
II. If man cannot turn himself, if he be like the Ethiopian who cannot change his skin, why tell him of it? Is it not to pour insult upon his miserable and abject condition? Oh no! It is necessary to tell him of his helplessness.
1. Because God commands it. His eye is upon the poor prodigal in all his wanderings: He knows the desperate wickedness and deceitfulness of his heart; He, the Lord, searches the heart; He knows what it is best for fallen man to know and to be made acquainted with; and He tells those whom He sends to be His ambassadors to preach the Word, to proclaim the whole counsel of God, to keep back nothing whatsoever that is contained in the revealed will of God.
2. Because there must be a sense of need before deliverance can be experienced. If a man were to have an idea, when he was in a building surrounded by danger, that whenever he pleased he could get up and take the key out of his pocket and unlock the door and walk out, then he might indeed sit still and laugh at those who would fain arouse him to a sense of his danger; but if you can tell the man that the key which he fancies he possesses he has lost--if you can get him to feel for it, if you can once bring him to the conviction that he has lost it, and that he cannot get out of the building in which he is, then you rouse him from his state of apathy, then you bring him to the point at which he is ready to welcome the hand of any deliverer.
3. God has promised to give us His Holy Spirit. Here the sinner’s objections are met. If he has no power, yet if he has the wish to be delivered from his dreadful state, God promises to pour out His Spirit; and that Spirit leads to Jesus, convinces of sin, and then takes of the things of Jesus and applies them to the sinner’s soul
1. Without Christ men must perish.
2. Is there not a danger of delay in this matter?
3. Think of the responsibility of this present moment. (W. Cadman, M. A.)
Custom in sin exceeding dangerous
I. The defilement of sin.
1. Its inherence.
2. Its monstrousness.
3. Its multiplication. A beast of divers colours, marks, and spots (Galatians 5:19).
4. Its universality. A deformity in all parts and members (Isaiah 1:5; Genesis 6:5).
II. The entanglements of sin.
1. The qualification or condition of the persons accustomed to do evil. More correctly, “taught to do evil.” Taught--
2. The invincible necessity which follows upon custom in sin: they “cannot do good.”
1. Take heed of having anything to do with sin at first.
2. If any should fall into sin, do not stay in it, but hasten out of it with speed (Romans 6:1).
3. Take heed of relapses, and falling back to sin again (2 Peter 2:20). (T. Herren, D. D.)
The alarming power of sin
I. The habits of men are strengthened and confirmed by indulgence. Even habits which relate to matters of indifference become inveterate, and are with great difficulty modified and overcome. The longer a man continues in sinful courses, the more fully his mind becomes trained in these habits of resistance to all that is good. He is insensibly led on from one course of wickedness to another, till he is under a sort of necessity of sinning. He has taken so many steps in this downward road, and his progress has become so accelerated and impetuous that he cannot resist it.
II. The influence of this world, as men advance in life, usually becomes more perplexing, and a greater hindrance to their conversion. While the eye is pleased, the ear regaled, and all the senses delighted, there is everything to corrupt and destroy. A man in middle life may, now and then, feel powerful inducements to become pious; the grasp of the world may, for a short season, be partially relaxed; and he may withdraw himself for a little from his old companions, to think of the scenes of that invisible world to which he is hastening; but soon his courage and self-denial fail him, and he is soothed or frightened away from his purpose. Some golden bait, some earnest entreaty, some subtle stratagem, some unhallowed influence disheartens him, and he goes back again to the world. The world is still his idol. The concerns of time absorb the attention and exhaust the vigour of his mind. Having thrown himself into the current, he becomes weaker and weaker, and though the precipice is near, he cannot now stem the tide and reach the shore.
III. As years increase, men become less interested in the subject of religion, and more obdurate and averse to any alteration in their moral character. The season of sensitiveness and ardent affection is gone by. The only effect which the most powerful instructions or the best adapted means of grace are apt to have upon such a mind, is increasing insensibility and hardness, and greater boldness in iniquity. They cannot endure to be disturbed in their sins. When you urge the claims of piety upon them, they treat the whole matter with neglect and contempt. They have made up their minds to run the hazard of perdition, rather than be roused to the severe and dreadful effort of forsaking their sins. Here, too, is the danger of men accustomed to impenitence. The scenes of eternity to such men have a melancholy and direful aspect. Everything is conspiring to harden, deceive, and destroy them; and there is little probability that these augmented obstacles to their conversion will ever be removed.
IV. The thought of multiplied and long-continued transgression is very apt to discourage all attempts at repentance. Not unfrequently they will tell you, “Once the work might have been performed, but it is now too late; the favourable opportunity is past; human life is but a dream, and the day of hope is gone by!” It is a dark--very dark problem, whether persons of this description will ever repent and believe the Gospel. It is true that God’s mercies are infinite; that those who seek Him shall find Him; that the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth from all sin; and that while there is life there may be hope; and yet a more hopeless condition this side eternity cannot easily be conceived, than the condition of such a man.
V. There is awful reason to apprehend that God will leave men of this description to perish in their sins. If we look into the Bible, we shall find that most of the prophets and apostles, as well as those who were converted through their instrumentality, were called into the kingdom of God in childhood, or youth, or in the dawn and vigour of manhood. One of the distinctive features of all revivals of religion is, that they have prevailed principally among the young. It has also been remarked, that in ordinary seasons, the individuals who have occasionally been brought into the kingdom of Christ, with few exceptions, have been from those not habituated to impenitence. Almost the only exception to this remark is found in places where men have never sat under faithful preaching, and never enjoyed a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, until late in life. In such places I have known persons brought into the vineyard at the eleventh hour. And this is also true of heathen lands. But even here, there are comparatively few instances of conversion from among those who have grown old in sin. Conclusion--
1. Admonition to the aged. What the means of grace could do for you, they have probably clone; and that your day of merciful visitation has well nigh reached its last limits. God still waits that He may be gracious. And He may wait till the last sand of life has fallen. But, oh, how ineffably important to you is the present hour! Your hoary hairs may be even now “a crown of glory, if found in the way of righteousness.” Let not another hour be lost! This very call rejected may seal our destiny.
2. Our subject addresses those who are in middle life. The period most auspicious to the interests of your immortality is gone. You are now in the midst of your most important designs and pursuits, and probably at the zenith of your earthly glory. Everything now conspires to turn away your thoughts from God and eternity. Better leave every other object unattained than your eternal salvation. Better give up every other hope, than the hope of heaven. Oh, what a flood of sorrows will roll in upon you by and by, when you see that “the harvest is past, the summer is ended, and you are not saved!”
3. Our subject addresses the young. Yours is the season of hope. If you become early devoted to God, you may live to accomplish much for His cause and kingdom in the world; your influence and example may allure multitudes around you to the love and practice of godliness; and you may be delivered from the guilt of that destructive influence, which will plant thorns in your dying pillow. (G. Spring, D. D.)
When in a vacant hour we fall into reverie, and the images of the past come pouring out of the storehouse of memory at their own sweet will, how arbitrary appears the succession of our thoughts! With a rapidity greater than that of seven-leagued boots, the mind passes from country to country, and from century to century. This moment it is in Norway, the next in Australia, the next in Palestine, the next in Madagascar. But this apparent arbitrariness is not real. In reality thought is linked to thought, and for the wildest leaps and most arbitrary turns of the fancy there is in every ease a sufficient reason. You are thinking of Norway; but that makes you recall a friend who is now in Australia, with whom you visited that picturesque country; and so your thought flies to Australia. Then, being in Australia, you think of the Southern Cross, because you have been reading a poem in which that constellation was described as the most remarkable feature of the southern hemisphere. Then the likeness of the name of the cross makes you think of the Cross of Christ, and so you pass over centuries and find yourself in Palestine; and the Cross of Christ makes you think of the sufferings of Christians, and your mind is in Madagascar, where the missionaries have recently been exposed to suffering. Thus, you see, beneath the phenomena apparently most arbitrary, there is law; and even for the most apparently unaccountable flights and leaps of the mind there is always a good reason.
I. The origin of habit. Habit may be conceived to arise in this way. When, in the revolution of time--of the day, or the week, or the month, or the year,--the point comes round at which we have been thinking of anything, or have done anything, by the law of the association of ideas we think of it again, or do it again. For instance, when day dawns we awake. We get out of bed because we have done it at that time before. At a later hour we take breakfast, and go away to business, for the same reason; and so on through the day. When Sunday morning comes our thoughts turn to sacred things, and we make ready to go to the house of God, because we have always been accustomed to do that. The more frequently anything has been done, the stronger is habit, and frequency acts on habit through something else. Frequency gives ease and swiftness to the doing of anything. We do anything easily and swiftly which we have done often. Even things which seemed impossible can not only be done, but done with facility, if they have been done often. A celebrated character tells that in a month he learned to keep four balls up in the air and at the same time to read a book and understand it. Even tasks that caused pain may come to be done with pleasure, and things that were done at first only with groans and tears may at last become a source of triumph. It is not only the mind that is involved in habit. Even the body is subdued to its service. Do we not recognise the soldier by his gait, the student by his stoop, and the merchant by his bustle? And in the parts of the body that are invisible--the muscles and nerves--there is a still greater change due to habit. Hence the counsel of the philosopher, and I think it is a very profound counsel: “Make your nervous system your ally instead of your enemy in the battle of life.”
II. Excessive habit. Habit, even good habit, may be excessive. It tends to become hide-bound and tyrannical. There is a pharisaical sticking to opinions once formed, and to customs once adopted, which is the principal obstacle to human progress. Yet, on the whole, there is no possession so valuable as a few good habits, for this means that not only is the mind pledged and covenanted to good, but the muscles are supple, and even the very bones are bent to what is good.
III. Desirable habits. I should be inclined to say that the most desirable habit which any young person can seek to have is self-control; that is the power of getting yourself to do what you know you ought to do, and to avoid what you know you ought to avoid. At first this habit would be exceedingly difficult to acquire, but there is an enormous exhilaration when a man can do the thing he knows he ought to do. It is moral strength that gives self-respect, and it will very soon win the respect of others. The second habit I would like to name is the habit of concentration of mind. I mean the power of withdrawing your thoughts from other subjects, and fixing them for long at a time on the subject in hand. I am sure many of you know how difficult that habit is to acquire. If you attempt to think on any particular subject, immediately you will think of other things; but by perseverance your mind will become your servant, and then you are on the way to being a thinker, for it is only to people who begin to think in this way that the secret and joy of truth unfold themselves. I mention, as the third desirable habit, that of working when you are at work. I do not care what your work is, whether work of brain or hand, whether well-paid or ill-paid; but what I say is, do it as well as it can be done for its own sake, and for your own sake. Do it so that you can be proud of it. There is one other habit that I should like to mention that is very desirable, and that is prayer. Happy is that man who at some hour or hours every day--the time which he finds to be most suitable for himself--goes down on his knees before his Maker. I say happy is that man, for his heavenly Father who seeth in secret will reward him openly.
IV. The tyranny of evil habit. Evil habits may be acquired through simply neglecting to acquire good ones. Like weeds, they grow up wherever the field is uncultivated and the good seed is not sown. For example, the man who does not work becomes a dissipated loafer. The young man who does not keep up the habit of going to church loses spiritual instinct--the instinct for worship, for fellowship, for religious work, and becomes a prey to sloth on the Sabbath. The tyranny of evil habit is proverbial. The moralists compare it to a thread at the beginning, but as thread is twisted with thread, it becomes like a cable which can turn a ship. Or they compare it to a tree, which to begin with is only a twig which you can bend any way, but when the tree is fully grown, who can bend it? And apart altogether from such illustrations, it is appalling how little even the most strong and obvious motives can turn aside the course of habit. This truth is terribly expressed in our text: “Can the Ethiopian,” etc. I suppose we all have contracted evil habits of some kind, and therefore for all of us it is an important question, Can these be unlearned and undone?
V. How to break bad habits. Moralists give rules for undoing evil habits. Here are some of them.
1. “Launch yourself on the new course with as strong an initiative as possible.” I suppose he means, do not try to taper your evil habit off, but break it off at once. Give it no quarter; and pledge yourself in some way; make some public profession.
2. “Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is rooted in your life.”
3. “Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of habits you aspire to gain.”
4. “Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day.” This writer strongly recommends that every one who seeks moral strength should every day do something he does not want to do, just to prove to himself he has the power of doing it. He would not mind very much whether it was an important thing or not, but he would say, “Every day do something deliberately that you do not want to do, just that you may get power over yourself--the power of getting yourself to do anything you want.”
5. I do not disparage rules like these. We have to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, but the other half of that maxim is equally true, “It is God that worketh in you both to win and to do His good pleasure.” (James Stalker, D. D.)
1. To form a vicious habit is one of the easiest processes in nature. Man comes into a world where sin is, in many of its various forms, originally pleasant, and where evil propensities may be gratified at small expense. Nothing is required but to leave man to what is called the state of nature, to make him the slave of habitual sensuality. But even after the mind is, in some degree, fortified by education, and reason has acquired a degree of force, the ease with which a bad habit can be acquired is not less to be lamented. Vice gains its power by insinuation. It winds gently round the soul, without being felt, till its twines become so numerous, that the sinner, like the wretched Laocoon, writhes in vain to extricate himself, and his faculties are crushed at length in the folds of the serpent. Vice is prolific. It is no solitary invader. Admit one of its train, and it immediately introduces, with an irresistible air of insinuation, the multitude of its fellows, who promise you liberty, but whose service is corruption, and whose wages is death.
2. The effects of sinful indulgence, which make its relinquishment so difficult, are, that it perverts the moral discernment, benumbs the sensibility of conscience, destroys the sentiment of shame, and separates the sinner from the means and opportunities of conversion. The moral discernment is perverted. As the taste can be reconciled to the most nauseous and unpleasant impressions, the eye familiarised to a deformed object, the ear, to the most grating and discordant noises, and the feeling, to the most rough and irritating garment, so the moral taste becomes insensible to the loathsomeness of vice. Another effect of habitual transgression is, to banish the sentiment of shame. It is the tendency of habit to make a man regardless of observation, and at length of censure. He soon imagines that others see nothing offensive in what no longer offends himself. Besides, a vicious man easily gathers round him a circle of his own. It is the society of numbers which gives hardihood to iniquity, when the sophistry of the united ingenuity of others comes in aid of our own, and when, in the presence of the shameless and unblushing, the young offender is ashamed to blush. The last effect of vicious habits, by which the reformation of the sinner is rendered almost desperate, is, to separate him from the means of grace. He, who indulges himself in any passion, lust, or custom which openly or secretly offends against the laws of God or man, will find an insuperable reluctance to those places, persons, or principles by which he is necessarily condemned. One means of recovery yet remains, the reproof and example of the good. But who will long bear the presence of another, whose very looks reprove him, whose words harrow up his conscience, and whose whole life is a severe, though silent, admonition?
3. Do you ask when education should commence? Believe me, it has begun. It began with the first idea they received--the insensible education of circumstances and example. While you are waiting for their understandings to gain strength, vice, folly, and pleasure have not waited your dilatory motions. While you are looking out for masters and mistresses, the young immortals are under the tuition of innumerable instructors. Passion has been exciting, and idleness relaxing them, appetite tempting, and pleasure rewarding them, and example, example has long since entered them into her motley school. Already have they learned much, which will never be forgotten: the alphabet of vice is easily remembered. Is it not time to examine, whether there be not in you some vicious habit, which, notwithstanding your caution, frequently presents itself to their greedy observation, thus recommended by all the weight of parental authority? But, though the doctrine of the early operation of habit be full of admonitions, it presents consequences, also, full of consolation and pleasure. God hath set the evil and the good, one over against the other; and all His general laws are adapted to produce effects ultimately beneficial. If the love of sensual pleasure become inveterate by indulgence, the pure love of truth and goodness, also, may, by early instillation and careful example, become so natural and constant, that a violation of integrity, and offence against gratitude, a breach of purity or of reverence toward God, may prove as painful as a wound. (J. S. Buckminster.)
The force of habit
I. The nature of our habits generally. As we become accustomed to the performance of any action, we have a proneness to repeat it on like occasions, the ideas connected with it being always at hand to lead us on and direct us; so that it requires a particular effort to forbear it, but to do it demands often no conscious act of the will at all. Habits of body are produced by repeated external acts, as agility, gracefulness, dexterity in the mechanical arts. Habits of mind are formed by the repeated exertion of the intellectual faculties, or the inward practical principles. To the class of mental habits belong the moral virtues, as obedience, charity, patience, industry, submission to law, self-government, the love of truth. The inward practical principles of these qualities, being repeatedly called into exertion, and acted upon, become habits of virtue: just as, on the other hand, envy, malice, pride, revenge, the love of money, the love of the world, when carried into act, gradually form habits of vice. Habit is in its own nature therefore indifferent to vice or virtue. If man had continued in his original righteousness, it would have been, what the merciful Creator designed it to be, a source of unspeakable moral strength and improvement. Every step in virtue would have secured further advances. To what point man might at length have reached by the effect of use and experience thus acting on faculties made for enlargement, it is impossible to say, and it is vain to inquire. For we are lost creatures. We are prone to commit sin, and every act of it only disposes us to renewed transgressions. The force of these evil habits lies much in the gradual and almost imperceptible manner in which they are acquired. No man becomes reprobate at once. The sinner at first has difficulties. Shame, conscience, education, motives of religion, example, the unreasonableness of vice, the immediate evil consequences of it in various ways, God’s judgments on sinners, alarming events in His providence, the admonitions of friends and the warnings of ministers, are all barriers to the inundation. But habits, insensibly formed, sap the embankment. The powerful current works its way, and all opposing hindrances are carried before it. It is, indeed, true, that habit, in many cases, diminishes the enjoyment derived from sin. The sense of vicious pleasure is palled by indulgence. But, unhappily, the same indulgence which lessens the pleasure increases the vicious propensity. A course of debauchery, for example, deadens the sense of pleasure, but increases the desire of gratification. The passive principle is in some degree worn away, but the active principle is invigorated. Drunkenness, again, destroys the sensibility of the palate, but strengthens the habit of intemperance. A continued course of impiety and profaneness lessens the lamentable pleasure which the scoffer originally felt in insulting religion, but confirms him in the practical rebellion against its laws. A continued course of worldliness and irreligion takes off from the zest and relish of worldly pursuits, but augments the difficulty of renouncing them. They are become joyless; but are still followed from a sort of sad necessity.
II. The consequences arising from corrupt habits, in our fallen state. Any one transgression, if habitual, excludes from the kingdom of heaven, and every transgression is in the way of speedily becoming so: here lies the danger. Look at yonder criminal, whose hands have violated the property, and perhaps been imbrued in the life, of his fellow creature. His conscience is seared as with a hot iron. Is he ashamed when he commits abomination? Nay, he is not at all ashamed, neither can he blush. What has brought him hither? What has transformed the meek and decent and reputable youth into the fierce and vindictive ruffian? Evil habits. He began with breaking the Sabbath; this led to wicked company; drunkenness followed, and brought every other sin in its train--lust, passion, malice, desperation, cruelty, bloodshed. The road, dreadful as it seems to us, was easy to him. One bad habit prepared for the following. But my design is, not to dwell on a picture too shocking for a calm consideration; but to point out the danger of the same principle in cases by far more common and less suspected; and where the fatal effects of sinful customs in hardening the heart against the calls of grace and duty are less conspicuous perhaps at first sight, but not less fatal to the conversion and salvation of the soul. For what can account for that sober and measured system of sensual indulgence in which the great mass of mankind live, but habit working on the fallen state of mind? How is it that an immortal creature, gifted with reason and destined for heaven, can go insecure, in gratifying, all those earthly passions, which he once well knew to be inconsistent with a state of grace; but which he now pursues, forgetful of God and religion? What has made him morally insensible to the obligations of holiness, purity, and the love of God? The habit to which he has resigned himself. The effect has not been brought about at once. The desire for indolent and sensual gratification has increased with indulgence. Every day his resolutions for serving God have become weaker, and his practical subjugation to an earthly life has been confirmed. He has lost almost all notions of spiritual religion and self-government. He moves mechanically. He has little actual relish even for his most favourite pleasures; but they are necessary to him. He is the slave of the animal part of his frame. He vegetates rather than lives. Habit has become a second nature. If we turn from this description of persons, and view the force of habit in multitudes of those who are engaged in the affairs of trade and commerce, or in the prosecution of respectable professions, we need only ask what can account for the practical object of their lives? Why are nefarious or doubtful practices so frequently countenanced? Why are precarious speculations so eagerly embraced? Why are the aggrandisement of a family, the amassing of riches, the gratification of ambition, so openly pursued? And how does it arrive that this sort of spirit pervades so many thousands around us? It is their habit. It is the force of custom and the influence of the circle in which they move. They came by degrees within the magic charm, and are now fixed and bound to earth and its concerns. Again, notice for a moment the intellectual habits of many of the scholars and philosophers of our age. The world by wisdom knows not God. The pride of our corrupted hearts readily forms the properly intellectual or reasoning part of our nature to habits, as ensnaring and as fatal, as any which have their seat more directly in the bodily appetites. If once the inquisitive student resigns himself to a daring curiosity, applies to the simple and majestic truth of revelation the sort of argumentation which may safely be employed in natural inquiries, he is in imminent peril of scepticism and unbelief. The mind comes within a dangerous influence. A young and superficial reader once fixed in a habit of this sort, comes at last either tacitly to explain away the fundamental doctrines of the Holy Trinity, of the Fall, of human corruption, of redemption, and the work of the Holy Ghost, or openly to sacrifice them to the madness of infidelity, or to the scarcely less pernicious errors of the Socinian heresy. And whence is all this? Habit, working on a corrupt nature, has produced it, confirmed it, riveted it. Habit is as fruitful and as fatal a cause of intellectual disorder as of merely animal or sensual depravation. What, again, seduces the mere external worshipper of God to withhold from his Maker him heart, whilst he insults Him with a lifeless service of the lips? What, but the surprising and unsuspected influence of evil habit? He knows that the Almighty sees everything. He cannot but acknowledge that outward ceremonies, if destitute of fervent and humble devotion, are nothing less than a mockery of God, and abominable in His sight. And yet he proceeds in a heartless round of religious duties,--a mere lifeless shadow of piety. This he has so long allowed himself to offer to the Almighty, that at last his mind is unconscious of the impiety of which he is guilty. A habit of formality and ceremonial observance, with a practical, and perhaps at length an avowed, opposition to the grace of true religion as converting and sanctifying the whole soul, has darkened even his judgment. Nor can I forbear to add that the general indifference to practical religion, which prevails in our age, may be traced back in a great measure to the same cause. Men are so accustomed to put off the concerns of their salvation, and to disregard really spiritual religion, that they at length learn to draw a regular and well-defined line between merely decent and reputable persons, and those who lead a seriously religious life; and to proscribe the latter as extravagant and hypocritical.
III. The extent and magnitude of that conversion to God which is therefore necessary. A state of sin and a state of holiness are not like two ways running parallel by each other, and just parted by a line, so that a man may step out of the one into the other; but like two diverging roads to totally opposite places, which recede from each other as they go on, and lead the respective travellers farther and farther apart every step. What, then, is to bring man back to God? What to break the force of custom? What is to stop him in his rushing down the precipice? What to awaken him in his profound lethargy? What to be the starting post of a new race? What the principle of a new life? What the motive, the master motive, of a thorough and radical moral alteration? There never was, there never can be, any other effectual method proposed for these high purposes but that which the Scriptures reveal, an entire conversion of the whole soul to God by the mighty operation of the Holy Spirit. God alone that created the heart can renew it after His image. When the soul receives this new and holy bias, then the evil habits in which men formerly lived will resolutely be relinquished, and other and better habits will succeed. They will then repent of sin and separate from it. They will watch and pray against temptation. They will believe in the inestimable promises of life in Jesus Christ, trusting alone in His merits, and renouncing their imagined righteousness which was of the law. They will depend exclusively on the graces and influences of the Holy Spirit for every good thought and every holy action. Thus they will stop at once in the course of their former habits, and begin to form new ones. They will now enter on a life of humility and fear, of conscientiousness and circumspection, of mortification and purity, of meekness and temperance, of justice and charity; all springing from faith in the atonement of Christ, and from a genuine love to His name. (D. Wilson, M. A.)
On vicious habits
I. There is in human nature so unhappy an inclination and propensity to sin, that attention and vigilance are always requisite to oppose this inclination, and maintain our integrity. The power and influence of habit is the subject of daily observation. Even in matters merely mechanical, where no attention of mind is required, custom and practice give, we know, an expertness and facility not otherwise to be acquired. The case is the same, however unaccountable, in the operations of the mind. Actions frequently repeated form habits; and habits approach near to natural propensions. But if such be the influence of habits in general, vicious ones are still more peculiarly powerful. If the power of custom be on all occasions apt to prevail, we shall have still less inclination to oppose it where the object to which we accustom ourselves is naturally agreeable and suited to our corruption. Here all the resolution we can summon to our assistance will be requisite, and perhaps ineffectual. We may form an idea of the unhappy situation of an habitual offender from the difficulty we find in conquering even an indifferent custom. What was at first optional and voluntary, becomes by degrees in a manner necessary and almost unavoidable. And yet, besides the natural force of custom and habit, other considerations there are, which add to the difficulty of reforming vicious manners. By vicious habits we impair the understanding, and our perception of the moral distinction of actions becomes less clear and distinct. Smaller offences, under the plausible pretext of being such, gain the first admittance to the heart: and he who has been induced to comply with one sin, because it is a small one, will be tempted to a second, from the consideration that it is not much worse. And the same plea will lead him on gradually to another, and another, of still greater magnitude. Every new sin is committed with less reluctance than the former; and he endeavours to find out reasons, such as they are, to justify and vindicate what he is determined to persist in, and to practise: and thus, by habits of sinning, we cloud the understanding, and render it in a manner incapable of distinguishing moral good and evil. But further: As, by long practice and perseverance in sin, we lose or impair the moral discernment and feeling of the mind; so, by the same means, we provoke the Almighty to withdraw His assisting grace, long bestowed in vain.
II. Yet, notwithstanding this difficulty and danger, the sinner may have it in his power to return to duty, and reconcile himself to God. When once the sinner feels his guilt,--feels just impressions of his own disobedience, and of the consequent displeasure and resentment of heaven; if he is serious in his resolutions to restore himself by repentance to the favour of his offended God; God, who is ever ready to meet and receive the returning penitent, will assist his resolution with such a portion of His grace, as may be sufficient, if not totally, at once to extirpate vicious habits, yet gradually to produce a disposition to virtue; so that, if not wanting to himself, he shall not fail to become superior to the power of inveterate habits. In this case, indeed, no endeavours on his part ought to be neglected,--no attempts left unessayed, to recommend himself to the throne of mercy. Never, therefore, think of postponing the care of your salvation to the day of old age; never think of treasuring up to yourselves difficulties, sorrows, repentance, and remorse, against an age, the disorders and infirmities of which are themselves so hard to be sustained. Let not these be the comforts reserved for that period of life which stands most in need of consolation. What confusion must cover the self-convicted sinner, grown old in iniquity! How reluctant to attempt a task to which he has always been unequal; and to travel a difficult road, which opens to him, indeed, happier prospects, but has hitherto been found impracticable! But if any of us have unhappily lost this first, best season of devoting ourselves to God,--and have reserved nothing but shame, sorrow, and remorse, for the entertainment of riper years;--let the review of former transgressions be an incitement to immediate repentance. (G. Carr.)
The power of evil habits
I. The power of sin, as inherent in our nature.
1. It pervades all our faculties, whether of mind or body.
2. It finds in us nothing to counteract its influence.
3. It receives aid from everything around us.
4. It conceals its influence under specious names. Amusement, conviviality, good breeding, etc.
II. Its power, as confirmed and augmented by evil habit.
1. Its odiousness is diminished.
2. Its power is strengthened.
3. Its opportunities for exercise are multiplied.
4. The powers whereby it should be resisted are destroyed.
5. Everything good is by it put at an unapproachable distance. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
The force of habit
It is, as Mr. Darwin says, notorious how powerful is the force of habit. The most complex and difficult movements can in time be performed without the least effort or consciousness. It is not positively known how it comes that habit is so efficient in facilitating complex movements; but physiologists admit that the conducting power of the nervous fibres increases with the frequency of their excitement. This applies to the nerves of motion and sensation as well as to those connected with the act of thinking. That some physical change is produced in the nerve cells or nerves which are habitually used can hardly be doubted, for otherwise it is impossible to understand how the tendency to certain acquired movements is inherited. That they are inherited we see with horses in certain transmitted paces, such as cantering and ambling, which are not natural to them; in the pointing of young pointers and the setting of young setters; in the peculiar manner of flight of certain breeds of the pigeon, etc. We have analogous cases with mankind in the inheritance of tricks or unusual gestures. As to the domination which evil habit acquires over men, that needs not even a passing allusion. It is remarkable that the force of habit may affect even caterpillars. Caterpillars which have been fed on the leaves of one kind of tree have been known to perish from hunger rather than to eat the leaves of another tree, although this afforded them their proper food under a state of nature. Their conduct might suggest reflection to men who are tempted by habit to risk death by adherence to debauched courses rather than return to a natural mode of living. (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)
Effects of habit
While shaking hands with an old man the other day we noticed that some of his fingers were quite bent inward, and he had not the power of straightening them. Alluding to this fact, he said, “In these crooked fingers there is a good text. For over fifty years I used to drive a stage, and these bent fingers show the effect of holding the reins for so many years.”
How habits are formed
A writer describing a stalactite cave says, “Standing perfectly still in the cavernous hall I could hear the intense silence broken by first one drop of water and then another, say one drop in each half minute. The huge rock had been formed by the infinitesimal deposit of lime from these drops--deducting the amount washed away by the same water--for the drops were not only building, they were wasting at the same time. The increase was so minute that a year’s growth could hardly be estimated. It is a powerful illustration of minute influences. A man might stand before it and say, ‘It is thus my habits have all been formed. My strong points and my weaknesses all come from influences as quiet, minute, and generally as secret as these water drops.’”
No substitute for spiritual renewal
No earthly change whatever can be a substitute for the change which comes from above; any more than the lights of earth will suffice for the sun, moon, and stars; any more than all the possible changes through which a potter may pass a piece of clay can convert it into the bright, pure, stamped, golden coin of the realm. (J. Bates.)
Moral suasion cannot renew the soul
All mere outward declarations are but suasions, and mere suasions cannot change and cure a disease or habit in nature. You may exhort an Ethiopian to turn himself white, or a lame man to go; but the most pathetic exhortations cannot procure such an effect without a greater power than that of the tongue to cure nature; you may as well think to raise a dead man by blowing in his mouth with a pair of bellows. (S. Charnock.)
Washing an Ethiopian
Then the shepherds led the pilgrims to a place where they saw one Fool and one Want-wit washing an Ethiopian, with an intention to make him white; but the more they washed him the blacker he was. Then they asked the shepherds what this should mean. So they told them saying, “Thus it is with the vile person: all means used to get such a one a good name, shall in conclusion tend but to make him more abominable.” Thus it was with the Pharisees; and so it shall be with all hypocrites. (J. Bunyan.)
A change of heart should be immediately sought after
The longer you stay, the more leisure you give the devil to assault you, and to try one way when he cannot prevail by another, and to strengthen his temptations: like a foolish soldier who will stand still to be shot at, rather than assault the enemy. And the longer you delay, the more your sin gets strength and rooting. If you cannot bend a twig, how will you be able to bend it when it is a tree? If you cannot pluck up a tender plant, are you more likely to pluck up a sturdy oak? Custom gives strength and root to vices. A blackamoor may as well change his skin, or a leopard his spots, as these who are accustomed to do evil can learn to do well. (R. Baxter.)
The Divine and human element in conversion
There is produced in a telescope an image of a star. There is produced in the soul an image of God. When does the image of the star start up in the chamber of the telescope? Only when the lenses are clear and rightly adjusted, and when the axis of vision in the tube is brought into exact coincidence with the line of the rays of light from the star. When does the image of God, or the inner sense of peace and pardon, spring up in the human soul? Only when the faculties of the soul are rightly adjusted in relation to each other, and the will brought into coincidence with God’s will. How much is man’s work, and how much is the work of the light? Man adjusts the lenses and the tube; the light does the rest. Man may, in the exercise of his freedom, as upheld by Divine power, adjust his faculties to spiritual light, and when adjusted in a certain way God flashes through them. (Joseph Cook.)
O Jerusalem I wilt thou not he made clean?
The necessity of holiness
I. The question.
1. It is of great importance to be cleansed from the filth of sin, and is what should be sought after with the utmost seriousness (Ezekiel 36:25).
2. Cleansing the heart from sin is the work of God. He that cleanses from guilt, must also cleanse us from corruption; and Christ is made unto us sanctification, as well as righteousness and redemption (Titus 3:4-6).
3. God has much at heart the sanctification of His people (Isaiah 48:18).
4. Our own unwillingness is the great hindrance to our sanctification. When the will is gained, the man is gained; and those who will be made clean are in part made so already.
5. Yet the obstinacy of the will shall not prevent the purposes of grace: God’s design shall be accomplished, notwithstanding all.
II. The various answers which will be made.
1. Some are willing to be delivered from the punishment of sin, but not from its power. Those who would have the former without the latter, are likely to have neither.
2. Others would be cleansed outwardly, but not inwardly. No prayers, lastings, pilgrimages, penances, nor any other external performances, can supply the want of internal holiness. The sepulchre, however painted and adorned, is but a sepulchre still.
3. Some would be made partly clean, but not wholly so.
4. Some would be made clean, but they do not like God’s way of doing it, or the means He uses for this purpose.
5. There are some who would be made clean, but it must be hereafter. Like Saint Austin, who prayed to be delivered from his easily besetting sin, but added, “Not yet, Lord!”
6. More awful still: some speak out and say, they will not be cleansed at all. They prefer sin and hell to holiness and heaven.
7. Put this question to the real Christian, or the truly awakened sinner, whose conscience has been filled with remorse for his past transgressions, and who has found a compliance with the call of every lust to be the severest bondage Wilt thou be made clean? “Yea, Lord,” says he, with all my heart! “When shall it once be?” This very instant, if I might have my wish. It is what I pray for, wait for, and strive after; nor can I have a moment’s rest till I obtain it. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
God is desirous of saving men
I. The woes which impenitent sinners have reason to expect. The punishment that awaits sinners is most tremendous. The loss of heaven is one part of it: and who shall declare how great a loss this is?
II. How unwilling God is to inflict them. He complains of men’s obstinacy in rejecting the overtures of His mercy. Long has He waited to no purpose: yet still “He waiteth to be gracious unto us.” “He stands at the door of our hearts, and knocks.” Address--
1. Those who imagine that they have no need of cleansing. Let none entertain such proud conceits. The best amongst us, no less than the worst, need to be washed in the blood of Christ and be renewed by His Spirit; and without this cleansing, must inevitably perish.
2. Those who are unwilling to be cleansed.
3. Those who desire the cleansing of their souls. It is the blood of Christ alone that can cleanse from the guilt of sin; and the Spirit of Christ alone that can cleanse from the power and pollution of sin. To apply these effectually, we must embrace the promises, and rest upon them, trusting in God to accomplish them to our souls. (Theological Sketchbook.)
1. The great need of the soul.
2. The great helplessness of the soul.
3. The great grace of God.
4. The great drawback on our part.
5. The great work of the ministry.
God’s desire to bless the sinner
I. Man’s uncleanness--
1. In heart;
2. In life;
3. In religion.
II. God’s desire that he should be clean.
III. His expostulation with s.
IV. Our refusal.
V. God’s condemnation. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
A hopeful question
It would seem as if the prophet were speaking the language of despair; but a little rearrangement of the translation will show that the prophet is really not giving up all hope: Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem! wilt thou not be made clean? Shall there not at the very end be a vital change in thee? When the day is drawing to a close shalt thou not feel the power of the Holy One, and respond to it? Shalt thou not be born as a child at eventide? So the spirit of the Bible is a spirit of hopefulness. It will not lose any man so long as it can keep hold of him. It is a mother-like book, it is a most shepherdly book, it will not let men die if they can be kept alive. Here is the Gospel appeal: “Wilt thou not be made clean?” Here is no urging upon Jerusalem to clean herself, to work out her own regeneration, to throw off her own skin, and to cleanse her own characteristic spots and taints and stains. These words convey an offer, point to a process, preach a Gospel. Hear the answer from the leper: “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.” There is a river the streams whereof receive all our diseases, and still the river flows like crystal from the throne of God. We know what the great kind sea is. It receives all the nations, gives all the empires a tonic, and yet rolls round the world an untainted blessing. The question addressed to each heart is, “Wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once be?” Shall it not be at once? Shall it not be at the very end? Shall not the angels have yet to report even concerning the worst, last of men, the festers of moral creation, “Behold, he prayeth!” The intelligence would vibrate throughout heaven, and give a new joy to eternity. (J. Parker, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany