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Arise, and let us go up at noon.
That spirit-stirring call of the text, so needful to arouse the Chaldeans on their march to the ancient, is as needful for us on our pilgrimage to the new, Jerusalem.
1. In other passages, the early years of childhood and youth are pointed out as the special time for God’s service. While the heart is warm and pliant. Ere the hardening influence of a selfish world, having closed it to the Saviour’s call, has swept and garnished it for tenantry of evil.
2. “Arise, and let us go up at noon.” It is midday with you, to whom the text is speaking. It is the period for active endeavour. Now the calls of the world are dinned most loudly into your ears. In the earlier hours, and at the close of your passing day, you were and will be alike incapable of prolonged toil. Now the requirement is made of you, and to what behests does it bid you attend? Make the most of your time. Are you poor? Strive for independence. Are you rich? Strive for place and power. Are you intellectual? Seek a sphere for display, a stage for self-glorification. Thus speaks the world, and were some of its directions pursued in moderation, pursued subordinate to higher and nobler motive, there might be wisdom in our chastened regards. But, alas! how many go to extreme in these observances, and become the slaves of time and sense. Apply those misdirected energies to a nobler cause. The rewards of time are not worth such care as this. In themselves, they are of scarce more value than the withered leaves which crowned the victor in the ancient games. Arise, and go up at noon to seek the incorruptible crown. Ye are soldiers engaged in warfare. The sword is drawn. The banner is spread. Its emblem is the Cross. Your weapons are not carnal. The din of military music shall not spur you to the dangerous assault; but strains of sweetest melody shall speak to you of peace, peace on earth, goodwill to men; peace which the world can neither give nor take away.
3. But have you passed that period of activity, and in your retrospect of its busy hours do you feel how prodigally your energies have been wasted? Have ungodly habits become so confirmed, that now at your journey’s end, being dead to the enticements of the present, you are not alive to the requirements of the future? Shall an appeal, which might impress a heart yet warm and flexible, fall coldly on the worn and weary conscience of the aged? The gracious and long-suffering Master has still this call to summon you, “Arise, and let us go by night.” Ye have heard and disregarded the call throughout the day, and therefore may not be as those who, having never been hired earlier, received every man a penny, but whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. Go by prayer and penitence, by sought and found spiritual guidance, or soon the light of life will be extinguished in outer darkness.
4. But ye have been watchful and faithful. Ye arose, and went up at noon. It is not woeful to you that the day goeth away. It is no cause of regret that the shadows of evening are stretched out. “Behold! I come quickly,” the Saviour says to you; and joyfully ready is your reply, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” All things are yours: love and reverence from all without, peace unspeakable from all within. Ye shall arise and go. The shadows stretched before you shall be dispelled forever, and the brightness of that noon which shall fade no more shall rest upon you. (F. Jackson.)
Woe unto us! for the day goeth away.
“Woe unto us!”
The Babylonians are represented by the prophet as coming to plunder the Holy City, like flocks being led to their feeding ground. They hurry to the work of destruction, yet they are not speedy enough, for work takes time, and time flees fast away. “Prepare ye war against her: arise, and let us go up at noon. Woe unto us! for the day goeth away,” etc. “Arise, and let us go by night, and let us destroy her palaces.” We have no city to destroy, and it is morning; yet, standing, as we do, almost on the threshold of another year, these words are worthy of consideration. The day of opportunity that tills year contained is going away, the shadows of the evening are stretched out. And with the departure of the day and the deepening of the shadows of the night, some among the bravest hearts may well exclaim, “Woe unto us!” For all who are Christ’s servants, as they grow in grace, more clearly come to see the great issues of life, the vast importance of the days and months and years which God has given them to spend to His glory. With this clearer sight comes the consciousness of the awful waste of time for which men are answerable, a waste which can never be repaired. True, that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin; but only if there he true repentance. As you really understand the cleansing and accept it, so you will grow most earnest in guarding the gift of time.
1. Save time in your work. Surely it is “woe unto us” that we have been so half-hearted often in our time of work; so ready to lay down the task that is difficult, or so ready to do it lazily and badly. The great characters in history are mostly the indefatigable, who, while they worked, worked hard.
2. Save time in your leisure. Do not spend it all in amusement, which excites, but does not profit. If you have your evenings free, use some to the glory of God, by helping children, by showing acts of kindness, by improving your own knowledge.
3. Again, save time on Sundays. How can men’s religion be real and true if they spend Sunday mornings in bed? (W. R. Hutton, M. A.)
Opportunities for self-rescue
I. Heaven granted these men of Judah an opportunity for escaping a great evil; so it has to all unconverted men. The evil to which the Jews were exposed was very great: it was captivity, slavery, utter destruction of the country. But this was only a shadow of the moral dangers to which every unconverted man is exposed. He is in danger of losing his soul. To lose a soul is to lose all true liberty, pure sympathies, harmonious affections, real friendships, self-approving conscience, true hopes, and means of improvement. And when these are gone, the worth of existence is gone, for it becomes an intolerable curse.
II. The opportunity which these men of Judah had for escaping their danger was now drawing to a close; so is the opportunity of all unconverted men. The whole day of life scarcely opens before it begins to close.
1. This opportunity is constantly departing to return no more.
2. This opportunity is constantly departing though the work be not done.
III. The closing of the opportunity of these men of Judah was fraught with terrible calamity; so it will be with all unconverted men. “Woo unto us,” exclaims the doomed Jew in bitter anguish. “Woe unto us”; we have not only lost our country and become the slaves of a heathen despot, bug we have shamefully neglected the merciful opportunities with which providence has favoured us. These words remind us of the language of Christ (Luke 19:41-44). Conclusion--“Now is the accepted time.” Today is “the day of salvation.” (Homilist.)
The old and the new year
The old year is dying, the new year is about to commence. And whether the past has been wasted, or redeemed and used for God; whether the work of the past has been done or left undone, still there is a work for all of us. Each day and each year brings its own proper duties, and our conscience needs to be awakened and stirred to the right performance of them. The day goeth away. And you feel that there is something solemn about this passing from one year to another.
1. Some of you are anxious about your spiritual condition. Take the past year as a whole, and perhaps you may be able to hope that some progress has been made. But it has not been all progress. The picture has its dark side. You have had your temptations, you have had your troubles and annoyances; and you have been forced to see how weak your strength is, how poor your best resolutions, how much you have fallen short of what you had intended a year ago. The day goeth away. But if the past has not been what you wished, must you therefore give up in despair? Nay, you may be thankful if you have advanced at all. You could have made no way whatever but for the grace of God. Believe that He who has been with you hitherto will enable you to live more and more to your Master’s glory.
2. Again, the close of the year may suggest its thoughts to those who, as our fellow labourers in the schools, or among the sick and destitute, are trying to do the Lord’s work, and to be a blessing to their neighbours in their generation. You look back over the year that is gone, and there are abundant reasons for regret. Opportunities for good have been lost which never will come back again. Some one was lying ill, and you knew of the illness, but you delayed your visit. You would go tomorrow: you had other things to do today. And tomorrow you went, but it was too late. Death had come before you. Or again, you might have taken a bolder and firmer course, had your zeal for God been stronger. You saw some evil done, and you did not protest against it. You heard ill-natured words, and you did not try to check them. You might have spoken for God, and you cowardly held your peace. Yet all has not been failure. Feel as painfully as we may our weakness and want of faith, still we may see and thankfully acknowledge the evident signs of God’s presence with His people here. (Canon Nevill.)
A New Year’s sermon
I. The fact here indicated. The day glides imperceptibly away, from morning to noon, from noon to eve. Does not this strikingly typify our life in this world? Do not our years glide on like the minutes and hours of the natural day? And, ere ever we are aware, do we not perceive that the shadows are lengthening? Are we not reminded of the flight of time by many things which we see around us? The old men, with whose slow step we were familiar, are disappearing from the scene; those whom we knew in their prime now bear the marks of age. But does not this suggest to us one particular in which the analogy between the natural day and our human life signally fails? We know the very hour, we can ascertain the very minute, when the sun will set. But how different is it with the life of man? Who can tell when, in any individual case, that life shall end? Who but He who knows the end from the beginning, and who is the God of our lives and the length of our days? But whether the period of our sojourn upon earth be brief or protracted, it is quickly passing away. Whether we are to be cut down when the shadows have stretched out far, or while they are yet comparatively short, in the case of every one of us they are lengthening; and in the case of not a few, it approaches eventide, and their sun declines to its setting. But surely there arises here another question. When the day declines and nightfall comes, what then? “After death the judgment.” Death does not reduce us to nothingness, but detaches us from time to land us in eternity. It places us before the tribunal of the Most High to receive the sentence which is to fix unchangingly our final doom. “We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
II. What effect the consideration of this fact should have upon us.
1. It should have this effect, to impress us with the solemn and abiding conviction that it is a fact. We are ever prone to take it for granted that though the end of life is no doubt approaching, it is still distant from us; that though the duration of life is very uncertain to men generally, and to our friends and neighbours around us, we are much less likely to be suddenly removed, and may reassuredly count upon a protracted span being afforded to us is a strange and subtle delusion of the human heart, and sedulously fostered by the enemy of souls, the father of lies. How needful to learn and lay to heart the lesson here taught; how needful to be thoroughly persuaded that it is a solemn fact that our life is a vapour which appears for a little time and then vanishes away; that not with respect to our fellow men merely, but with respect to ourselves also, the days of earth are drawing to a close, and that to any one of us the end may come very soon and very suddenly!
2. But, further, it is of the last importance that we not only really believe this fact, but that we give practical effect to the belief. What are your resolutions for the future? Will you be stirred up to greater diligence and devotedness ere your sun go down! And if you, if any of you, are still far from God, living in carelessness and unbelief, will you not take warning by the lengthening shadows to make your peace with God ere it be too late? (P. Hope, B. D.)
Difficulties of old age
I. The appointed period of grace is coming rapidly to a conclusion. “The day goeth away.” It has been enjoyed in the fulness of its privileges. It has been for some, far protracted. But while unimproved, it has tended only to increase the guilt and danger of the soul. For fifty years the Redeemer has called upon some now aged sinner to turn to Him and live. How difficult is it to arouse him to a consciousness, or belief, of the privileges which are yet remaining, and of the duty which yet rests upon him! The recollection of wasted opportunities drives him to despair.
II. The short period of grace now remaining. He set out early in the morning to go astray from God. Through the whole day, he has been pressing forward in his course, with unabating rapidity. And now, when the shadows of the evening are stretched out, and exhausted nature is asking for repose; alas, is this an hour in which to commence the journey of a day? Death now stands at the door. The line which separates him from eternity, has dwindled to a hair. And he is tempted to yield to total despair of escaping at all from the ruin which is so close upon him. The difficulty which his own heart presents as thus arising from his shortened remaining period of probation, Satan employs as a temptation to him, to be quiet and careless under his conscious load of sin.
III. The increased hardness of his own heart. When young, conviction of sin impressed his mind. His eyes could weep under the preaching of the Gospel. He then often felt strongly excited towards a life of holiness and piety. But now he has no such feelings. The rain which descends to refresh others, seems rather to hasten his decay. The summer and the harvest have passed without advantage, and every succeeding day of autumn seems only to dry, and harden, and seal up the earth against the arrival of a frost-bound and cheerless winter.
IV. The pride of character which is always an attendant upon advanced periods of life. The heart may be often moved, the conscience awakened, and the emotions aroused, in the bosom of an aged transgressor, and a strong desire be felt, to lay down his burden, and find peace in believing in Jesus. But an assumed dignity and coolness of manner are drawn over a broken, bleeding spirit, because an acknowledgment of these awakened feelings will be so humiliating to the age and station of the individual concerned. But there remains no other course of safety. To this humbling ground, sinful man must be brought, or he will assuredly perish. (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
The opportunity for success was lost; the day of action had been misspent, and the result was, captivity and slavery. The day of action was going away; the shadows of the evening which was to cover them with its darkness and sorrow, were already stretched out. Just so it is with multitudes now in reference to the work of their salvation. The Gospel of the Son of God has been preached in their ears, until it has become stale and powerless. They listen to it, but take no heed to its requirements.
1. Look at the opportunities which the Church affords to all attendants on her service, not only of learning their duty, but also of practising it to the glory of God.
2. Then, again, look at the opportunities for repentance and faith which God has given you in the daily providence of life. You have been rich, perhaps, and He has made you poor--Why? That He may give you spiritual riches, which moth and rust can not corrupt. You have been poor and He has made you rich--Why? That you might “remember the Lord thy God, for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth.” You have been well, and He has laid you on a bed of sickness--Why? That you might consider your latter end. You have been sick and He has made you well--Why? That you should love your Divine Healer, and seek for your spiritual healing. Your life is full of the echoes of God’s voice speaking to you in His daily providence, as well as in the inspired Word and through the ministry of His Church. Yet hour after hour has glided away, and you have hesitated, procrastinated, put off to a more convenient season. Shall life’s sun go wholly down, shall the night of death wrap you in its starless mantle, without one honest effort on your part to secure your soul’s salvation? (Bp. Stevens)
An inch of time
“Millions of money for an inch of time,” cried Elizabeth--the gifted but ambitious Queen of England, upon her dying bed. Unhappy woman! reclining upon a couch--with ten thousand dresses in her wardrobe--a kingdom on which the sun never sets, at her feet--all now are valueless, and she shrieks in anguish, and she shrieks in vain, for a single “inch of time.” She had enjoyed threescore and ten years. Like too many among us, she had devoted them to wealth, to pleasure, to pride, and ambition, so that her whole preparation for eternity was crowded into a few moments! and hence she, who had wasted more than half a century, would barter millions for an inch of time.
The shadows of the evening are stretched out.
The setting sun
There is something at once grand and solemn in a setting sun. It is the sinking to rest of the great king of day; the withdrawing from the busy world the light that has called out its activity, and the covering up with the veil of darkness the scenes that glistened with the radiance of noon. There is, however, in the setting of the sun of life, that which is equally grand, still more solemn, and surpassingly sublime.
1. The sun, when it sets, has run a whole day’s circuit; his pathway has apparently traversed an entire are of the heavens, and slowly, patiently, but surely, it has done its allotted work. And so the aged Christian, when he dies, is described as having “run his race,” as having “finished his course.” He has toiled a whole day of life, and has come to his grave in a “good old age,” having “finished the work which was given him to do”; and though all his labours have been imperfectly done, though he himself feels more deeply than he can express his unprofitableness before God, yet he looks for acceptance, not to any merit of his own, but only for Christ Jesus sake, who of God and by faith is made unto him “wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” We can contemplate with satisfaction, then, the aged disciple, having “borne the burden and heat of the day,” patiently waiting for the stretching out of the evening shadows and the hour of his own sunset.
2. Another point to be considered is, the fact that the setting of the sun is not always like the day which it closes. The morning may have been bright, and the evening hour dark with tempests; or the rising may have been obscured by clouds and mists, which gradually faded away and left a clear sky at sunset. So the sunset hour of Christian life does not always correspond to his previous day. We have seen the last hours of the believer shrouded in impenetrable gloom, and we have seen them gilded with hope and radiant with the forecast glories of the upper world. The way in which a Christian dies is not always an index of his spiritual condition. He is to be judged by his life, not by his death. Self-denial, the mortification of our passions, the resisting of earthly temptations, the putting into active exercise, and amidst opposing difficulties, the whole class of Christian affections which flow out from the simple principle of loving our neighbour as ourselves, and the manifestation of that life of faith, of prayer, of holiness, of zeal, which necessarily results from the constraining love of Christ in the heart all these qualities and tests of character scarcely find a place on a dying bed, so that persons thus situated have few opportunities to develop the true evidences of the work of grace. The varieties of Christian experience are literally innumerable; but whatever their nature, we must not judge of the validity of one’s hope, or the genuineness of one’s conversion, by his dying hour. Yet, when that dying hour accords with a long life of piety, or a true profession maintained in health and strength; when it is but a concentrating within itself of the glories which have been more or less visible in the whole track of his experience, then is it eloquent in its revelations of the riches, and peace, and joy which God generally gives to those who are faithful unto death: and though we cannot order when or how our lives shall close upon earth, yet it should be our aim so to live as to secure, if God pleases, a serene, if not a triumphant exit, that our setting sun may, like the sun in the firmament, grow larger and more resplendent as it declines, until passing away it shall leave behind a trail of glory spread all over the place of our departure.
3. Another interesting thought connected with this subject is, that the sun is not lost or extinguished when it sets. This may seem a very trite remark concerning the natural sun, but it is not so trite when we speak of the soul set in death. For are we not apt to grieve over the going down of our friends to the grave, as if they were to be forever hidden in its dark chamber--as if the bright spark of their immortality had been suddenly quenched?
4. And this leads us to make one final observation, namely, that when we see the sun set, we know that it will rise again; and so when we see the body of our friends borne to the voiceless dwelling of the tomb, we know that they also shall rise again. (Bp. Stevens.)
Be thou instructed, O Jerusalem, lest My soul depart from thee.
The way to prevent the ruin of a sinful people
I. The infinite goodness and patience of God towards a sinful people and His great unwillingness to bring ruin and destruction upon them. How loath is He that things should come to this extremity?
II. The only proper and effectual means to prevent the misery and ruin of a sinful people. If they will be instructed, and take warning by the threatenings of God, and will become wiser and better, then His soul will not depart from them, He will not bring upon them the desolation which He hath threatened.
III. The miserable case and condition of a people, when God takes off His affection from them and gives over all further care and concernment for them. Woe unto them, when His soul departs from them! For when God once leaves them, then all sorts of evil and calamities will break in upon them. (Archbishop Tillotson.)
A warning to the nation
I. The caution.
1. Whereby are we to be instructed? By the state of affairs, and by the reason of things, or the right of cases.
(1) God is a being of all perfection, of infinitely vast comprehension and understanding and power: and therefore He is able to attain those effects, and to teach men by all things that fall under His government.
(2) Things managed by Divine wisdom are intensely expressive of notions, because they do partake of the excellency and sufficiency of their cause.
(3) God doth nothing in vain, nor to fewer or lesser purposes than the things are capable to promote, or be subservient unto.
(4) Because the affairs of mankind are the choice piece of the administration of providence: And God doth in a special manner charge Himself with teaching the mind of man knowledge.
2. Wherein are we to be instructed?
(1) In matters of God’s offence. For we are highly concerned in God’s favour or displeasure.
(2) In instances of our own duty: if we have departed from it, to return to it; if we have done the contrary, to revoke it with self-condemnation and humble deprecation.
3. What is it to be instructed?
(1) To search and examine.
(2) To weigh and consider.
(3) To understand and discern.
(4) To do and perform.
II. the enforcement.
1. An argument of love and goodwill, “lest My soul depart from thee.”
2. An argument from fear, “lest I make thee desolate,” A double argument is as a double testimony, by which every word is established (2 Corinthians 13:1).
3. This double argument shows us two things.
(1) The stupidity and senselessness of those, who are made to the perfection of reason and understanding, and yet act contrary to it.
(2) The impiety and unrighteousness of sinners, who are a real offence to God, cause His displeasure, and bring upon persons and places, ruin and destruction. Sin is a variation from the law and rule of God’s creation: it is contrary to the order of reason: and when I say this, I say as bad as can be spoken. In sin there is open and manifest neglect of God, to whom all reverence and regard is most due. By sin there is a disturbance in God’s family: it is an interruption of that intercourse and communication there ought to be amongst creatures; for every sinner destroys much good. By the practice of iniquity we mar our spirits, spoil our tempers, and acquire unnatural principles and dispositions. (B. Whichcote, D. D.)
They have no delight in it.
The impediments to the right celebration of religious ordinances
You will readily admit, that the feeling of delight accompanying the performance of anything is, for the most part, a sign and measure of its profitable accomplishment; that that is usually well done which is done cheerfully and with the heart; and that nothing, on the contrary, is more commonly deteriorated in the performance of it, than what is entered on with the apprehension of its being a piece of drudgery, and gone through as a mere task. How true does this remark hold in the department of religion! If we approach the exercises of religion, whether reading or hearing the Word, or the sacraments, or prayer, as formalists come to them--if we take no lively interest in them--if we are actuated merely by the force of custom, the power of example and other motives of expediency, how can they ever profit us? Are we not changing the sources of heaven’s blessings into empty and broken cisterns?
I. In attending to the circumstances that operate to take away from us delight in Christian ordinances, we observe, that an unfavourable change in the frame of mind, as persons are engaged In religious exorcises, often occurs, at least at times occurs, unavoidably, however our desires and endeavours may be set against it. At one time we will be attending with deep earnestness, at another time listening with cold indifference. There is now a great acuteness in receiving instruction, at another time almost a deadness that blunts the edge of the best directed observations. Now, all such changes as these are still, in so far as they are traceable to constitutional temperament, to be ranked among the class of what the Bible calls our infirmities, and when they are met by meditation on the Word of God, and by prayer, in order that we may be cured, they are not charged as criminalities against us. At the same time, take good heed lest you ascribe to those things over which you think you have no control, what all the while springs from sinful negligence.
II. First, the state of mind I have described, shows that there has not been with us due consideration before we have come to the public ordinances of religion. We do not consider that the services of the sanctuary relate to God in our adoring, or praising, or supplicating Him whom the universe celebrates as its Maker, whom angels, principalities and powers reverently worship--we do not consider that the services of the sanctuary are the appointed means through which the soul is called to discourse with its own original, with Him who is the source of bliss. We do not consider that the services of the sanctuary present the sublimest objects for the exercise of the understanding, the most splendid for attracting the imagination, the most engaging for affecting the heart. Accordingly we do not in our petitions implore that fixedness of heart which is required in the true and spiritual worshipper; we do not enter the sanctuary cherishing the serious thought that we come hither to seek the blessings which the mercy of the Saviour gives to every one who feels his need of them, and asks them. On the contrary, we come to the sanctuary altogether unconcerned; we sit down without offering in our minds one preparatory petition; we possess a frame of mind that is akin to levity; we are chargeable at least with indifference, which can only be excusable in our waiting on an empty ceremonial. Even allowing that the individual still possesses some desire to receive the benefits of religious ordinances in the sanctuary, they are rendered quite impracticable to him, except where the devotional exercises of every day are preparatory to those of the Sabbath. The want of serious consideration before we come to engage in religious ordinances, leads directly to want of due reflection when engaged in the performance of them; for such trains of thought as we have been cherishing, are not easily broken down, and, in fact, we cannot authoritatively dismiss them--they have fastened themselves by innumerable links to the mind, and though many of these links may from time to time be detached by us, still numbers are left which are quite sufficient to rivet the objects of our affectionate concern to our memories and our hearts. Such objects, through long usage, become great favourites with the mind, and hence, it not only attends to them in the season of disengagement from other things, but strives to get back to them, even when occupied in the ordinances of religion. Then when we think how base and degraded our natural dispositions are, surely it is a most unreasonable expectation that we are prepared for the spiritual exercises of the Sabbath, if we have had no preparatory devotional exercises for such a day.
III. Most serious and grievous is the evil of which I am now speaking. Whatever degree of it adheres to us its tendency is to destroy utterly the capacity of religious feeling, and to increase that searedness of conscience which is the forerunner of open profligacy. Let us then be roused to consideration. Let us come to religious ordinances with serious thoughts on their nature, their reasonableness, their awful sanctions, and their inestimable utility; and, having especially in view the example of the serious worshipper who prays for the spirit of prayer, and who is a suppliant in private for the grace of supplication which is to be employed by him in public, let us endeavour when we join in religious ordinances to preserve seriousness of mind. Let us for this purpose devoutly consider the object we have in view, whether engaged in the Word, in sacrament, or in prayer. Let us not give a single moment’s encouragement to thoughts upon other subjects. Let us withstand the inroads of such thoughts--let us cast them out as of Satan, when they enter, and let us try to prevent them entering at all. Let there be prayer, consideration and serious concern; and thus entering into the great truths, into the sweetness of religion, there will be no longer felt the weariness with which we set out. The satisfaction and delight, so conducive to our improvement, will then take the place of the fatigue and irksomeness of the mere bodily worshipper. The Sabbath will be the most acceptable of all refreshments, the Psalms of the sanctuary will be the sentiments of gratitude and joy, the prayers offered will be as the flame which first ascended in holy ardour to its origin, and the Word will be the principal vehicle of calling into action every good resolution. Religion will then become that very privilege it is intended to be; the elements, set upon the table, will appear as the memorials of all that is dear and precious to our souls; the sentiments of holy love will be awakened in commemorating the blessed Friend who gave His soul for us sinners; and thus the sanctuary and its services will become the pledge to us of the noblest benefits, the scene of the most glorious hopes, and an incitement to devoted obedience. (W. Muir, D. D.)
The Gospel unappreciated
Alphonse Kerr heard a gardener ask his master’s permission to sleep for the future in the stable. “For,” said he, “there is no possibility of sleeping in the chamber behind the greenhouse, sir; there are nightingales there which do nothing but guggle and keep up a noise all the night.” The sweetest sounds are but an annoyance to those who have no musical ear; doubtless the music of heaven would have no charm to carnal minds, certainly the joyful sound of the Gospel is unappreciated so long as men’s ears remain uncircumcised.
They have healed also the hurt . . . slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.
Healing our wounds slightly
I. What need we all have of healing.
1. Asserted in Scripture.
2. Confirmed by experience.
II. Who they are that heal their wounds slightly.
1. They who rely on the uncovenanted mercy of God, fatally deceive their souls by expecting mercy contrary to Gospel.
2. They who take refuge in a round of duties; no attainments can stand in place of Christ.
3. They who rest in a faith that is unproductive of good works; but the faith that apprehends Christ will “work by love,” “purify the heart,” “overcome the world.”
III. How we may have them healed effectually.
1. The Lord Jesus has provided a remedy for sin (Isaiah 53:5).
2. That remedy applied by faith shall be effectual for all who trust in it.
1. Those who feel not their need of healing.
2. Those who, after having derived some benefits from Christ, have relapsed into sin.
3. Those who are enjoying health in their souls. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
How mischievous is that false kindness which is afraid of telling you honestly the state of the case, if it happen to be dangerous or desperate! Now, in regard of their eternal concerns, men have a willingness to be deceived, though in regard of their temporal concerns, they are keenly alive to attempts at imposition, and eager to resent them. They commonly prefer the moral physician who will make light of their vices, and not startle them by faithfully exposing their danger, though, were they similarly beguiled by one whom they consulted on a bodily malady, they would denounce him as guilty of the most hateful perfidy. And it may be for your profit, if we look into some of the more ordinary cases. First, we would remind you that, if there be truth in the statements of Scripture, there is a distinction the very strongest between the people of the world and the people of God. Yet, here is the respect in which, perhaps, the danger is the greatest of the moral hurt being only slightly healed, and peace prophesied when there is no peace. The worldly are well pleased to have the differences between themselves and the religious made as few and unimportant as possible, inasmuch as they are thus soothed into a persuasion that after all they are in no great danger of the wrath of the Almighty. On the other hand, those who profess a concern for the soul are often still so much inclined to the pursuits and the pleasures of earth, that they have a ready ear for any doctrine which seems to offer them the joys of the next life, without requiring continued self-denial in this life. Thus it is an unpopular thing, opposed to the inclinations of the majority of hearers, to insist upon the breadth of separation between the worldly and the religious, to represent, without qualification or disguise, that the attempting to serve two masters is the certain serving of only one, and that the master whose wages is death. But if we would be faithful in the ministry, this is what we must do. To do otherwise, would be to play with your souls--to lead you into delusion, which, if continued, must leave you shipwrecked for eternity. Take another case, the case of those in whom has been produced a conviction of sin, whose consciences after a long slumber have been aroused to do their office and have done it with great energy. It is no uncommon thing for conviction of sin not to be followed by conversion. Hundreds who have been stirred for a time to a sense of guilt and danger, in place of advancing to genuine penitence have lapsed back into former indifference. Ah, this is amongst the most alarming of moral phenomena. The signs and earnest, as we thought of life, give a melancholy and mysterious interest to death. Let the ministers of religion take heed that they be not accessory to so disappointing an occurrence, and they easily may be. The spiritual physician may be too hasty in applying to the wounded conscience the balm of the Gospel; and thus he may arrest that process of godly contrition which seemed so hopefully begun. It is no time to speak of free forgiveness till the man exclaims in the agony of alarm and almost of despair, “What must I do to be saved?” Then display the Cross. Then expatiate on the glorious truth, that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” Then point to the unsearchable riches of Christ, and meet every doubt, oppose every objection, and combat every fear by exhibiting the mighty fact of an atonement for sin. But the case suggested by our text is that of a too hasty appropriation of the consolations of Christianity, and this case we cannot doubt is of frequent occurrence. Not, indeed, that whenever conviction of sin is not followed by conversion, the cause is to be found in the premature use of the mercies of the Gospel. We know too well that in many instances the conscience which had been mysteriously aroused is as mysteriously quieted; so that, without a solitary reason, men who had manifested anxiety as to their souls, and apparently been earnest in seeking salvation, are soon again found amongst the careless and indifferent, as busy as ever with chasing shadows, as pleased as ever with things that perish in the using. For a moment they have seemed conscious of their immortality and have risen to the dignity of deathless beings, and then the pulse has ceased to beat, and they have again been creatures of a day in place of heirs of eternity. Still, if there be many instances in which we may not fairly ascribe to a too hasty appropriation of the mercies of the Gospel, the failure of what seemed hopefully commenced, we may justly say that such an exhibition is likely to produce so disappointing a result, and that the probability is that it frequently does. We have further to remark, that the peculiar doctrines of Christianity are strongly offensive to the great body of men, and that on this account chiefly it is that there is so much reluctance to the bringing them forward, and so much readiness to explain them away. You cannot fail to be aware that the offence of the Cross has not ceased, you must be sufficiently aware that these are not days when men are called to join the noble army of martyrs, yet there is an opposition to the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel, an opposition which gives as much cause now as there was in earlier days for the Saviour to exclaim, “Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me.” So that here is a precise case in which the known feelings of the generality of men place the teacher under a temptation to keep back truth, or of stating it so equivocally that its full force shall not be felt, He cannot be ignorant that if he set forth without reserve, or disguise the corruption and helplessness of man, insist on the perfect gratuitousness of salvation, and refer to God’s mercy and distinguishing grace as first exciting the desire for deliverance, and then enabling us to lay hold upon the provided succours, he will have to encounter the antipathies of perhaps a majority of his hearers; and he is consequently and naturally moved to the concealing much, and the softening down more; and if he yield to the temptation, then we have that mixed and diluted theology which does not, indeed, exclude Christ, but assigns much to man, which without denying the meritorious obedience and sufferings of the Mediator soothes our pride with an assurance that by our good works we contribute something towards the attainment of everlasting happiness. By encouraging the opinion that men are not very far gone from original righteousness, that notwithstanding the fall, they retain a moral power of doing what shall be acceptable to God, and that their salvation is to result from the combination of their own efforts and the merits of Christ, we maintain that by encouraging such opinions as these, the teacher flatters his hearers with the most pernicious of all flattery, hiding from them their actual condition, and instructing them, how to miss, at the same time that they think they are securing deliverance. Probably enough has been advanced to certify you not only of the possible occurrence but of the grievous peril which must lie in the substituting in religion what is superficial for what ought to be radical. It is on this that we are most anxious to fix your attention. We want to have you satisfied that there can be no falser kindness than that which should hide from men their real condition, and that it is the very extreme of danger when those who are tottering believe themselves secure. It needs no small courage--we ought rather to say, it needs no small grace--to be willing to know the worst; not to be afraid of finding out how bad we are, how corrupt, how capable of the worst actions, if left to ourselves. This is a great point gained in spiritual things, it is a great point gained to be able to pray with David, “Search me, O God, and try me, and see if there be any wicked way in me.” We call it a great point gained to be willing to know the worst; for so long as we stop short of this, we shall always be trying half measures, healing the hurt slightly, and therefore never reaching the root of the disease. We counsel you then to be honest with yourselves, honest in observing the symptoms of spiritual sickness, honest in applying the remedies prescribed by the Bible. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
I. A false peace, what is it? We do not mean, in describing a false peace, to depict the state of those who are utterly indifferent to religious claims and obligations. We are speaking of another class, in whose minds there has been at some time an anxiety concerning their state in the sight of God. They have felt that sin is within them, that sin is working out terrible results, and, unless some remedy be applied, must work their ultimate ruin. This anxiety has increased upon them; and at length they have found the anxiety soothed; its pressure has been alleviated, and at length it has departed. But it has been soothed by unsuitable means. To be in a state of false peace is to be in a state of composure--not of indifference, but of composure and satisfaction, in a belief that all is well when all is not well. And this may arise from various causes.
1. It may be that some are lulled into this false peace from the fact of never having had clear and scriptural notions of the true nature of sin. They have had their attention perhaps drawn rather more to sins and to sinning than to sin; and in their cases it may have happened that the course of sinning has not been a very atrocious course--that the habitude has never manifested itself in any very formidable way. Now, so long as our attention is fixed upon sins, and so long as our minds are drawing distinctions between the greater and the lesser amount of actual transgressions against God, we overlook the scriptural view of sin, as that fatal principle in the nature of man which taints every faculty, and which renders it utterly impossible that man should live in the light of God’s countenance.
2. But suppose men do entertain scriptural views of sin, as a deadly principle within them, still they may have very inadequate views of the justice of God and of His perfect holiness. Many minds are very apt to measure God, as it were, by a human standard, as if God’s mode of procedure would be governed on the same principles on which man’s mode of procedure is usually governed; and the consequence is, that they invest God with a kind of mercy which is altogether unscriptural. If the sinner views God merely as a God of goodness and tenderness and mercy, and thinks His justice is not to have its full and unrestricted exercise, then we ask, what are we to do with those passages of God’s Word which exhibit all His attributes in their just proportions, and their relations one to another?
3. False peace may also be produced by having obscure notions of the Gospel. If we could sum up the whole Gospel message, the whole of the rich provision of God’s mercy and justice in Christ Jesus, in one sentence, we should say, it is a remedy for sin; but multitudes hear the Gospel, in all its simplicity and fulness, and yet come to the conclusion that the Gospel system only calls us into a greater familiarity of relation to God, that it sets before us a more spiritual walk than the people who lived under the Jaw were accustomed to, that it calls upon us for a higher moral bearing, and that if we do in the main adhere to that, as if it were a second form of law exhibited to us, then all shall be well; but they overlook the fact that there is in the Gospel a remedy for sin--that it contains a provision for the healing, the true healing of the wound which sin has made.
4. This false peace may arise, moreover, out of an imperfect reception of the true Gospel. The doctrines may be received; the matters of fact upon which the doctrines are based may be received; the economy of the Gospel may be received, as far as the intellect goes; but there may be no surrender of the soul to the Gospel--there may be no yielding up of all the perversity of the natural man to the sweet and precious operations of the Spirit of God, seeking to establish His truth in the heart as a remedy for sin. Now we believe, that wherever these four, or any one of these four causes exist, the result is a false peace. And let it be borne in mind, that most men are very much disposed to be satisfied with a false peace. When the testimony of conscience has been stirring, when the burden of sin has been felt to be a heavy burden, there is a disposition to embrace the first offer of peace that presents itself. And why is it so? Because the burden is heavy to be borne, and the anxiety it occasions is a distressing anxiety, which is to be got rid of in any way. Anything, therefore, that can silence conscience, or that can lessen the severity of its testimony, will be resorted to, and will be regarded as peace.
II. The real nature of that only peace which can be relied upon. Let it be remembered, that true peace has relation both to God and to man; that is, it must be a peace on both sides--on the side of a just and holy God, and on the side of man with his “carnal mind” which is “enmity against God.” There must be peace on both sides; and the peace on God’s side must be a peace that shall be in the highest degree honourable to Himself; and in order to be strictly honourable to Him, it must be a peace that shall have magnified His justice, as well as given Him a just occasion for the exercise of mercy. It is plain, therefore, that man himself cannot make and establish such a peace, either by sacrifice or by service. Then the truth is, that God has taken the whole matter into His own hands. He regards man as altogether helpless in this respect; and God undertakes for the establishing a peace that shall be in the highest degree honourable to Himself, and in the utmost degree suitable to man. In graciously revealing Himself, then, in Christ, God has come forth from the light and glory in which He has dwelt from all eternity, and in the person of Jesus, the Eternal Word, has manifested Himself in an attitude of peace--is at peace. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” In that declaration we “see the attitude of peace. God comes not forth, in the Gospel of His dear Son, as an avenger, but He comes honourably forth as a peacemaker. He comes forth, manifesting the strength and severity of His justice, and magnifying the perfection of His justice. He spared not His own Son.”
III. The danger of a false peace. There is present danger, and there is future danger. So long as a false peace is soothing our anxieties in regard to our state as sinners before God, this helps to deaden conscience; it does not always satisfy, but it subdues the activity of conscience, and opens a way for the subtle workings of Satan. Moreover, this false peace disinclines the mind of the deluded one for the definiteness of the Christian state and the Christian character--makes all the peculiarity that marks the Christian and the Christian’s walk distasteful--makes it regarded as too exact, as too minute, as going too far in its restraints upon the natural freedom of man; and the consequence is, that it is said, as it is sometimes said of some ministers of the Gospel, that their views are a great deal too high, that they expect a great deal more of people than they ought, that they are always raising a standard which makes religion appear so impracticable. Lastly, there is the danger of indisposing us to study the depths of the written Word, and to listen to those depths when they are brought out in the public ministry of the Word. So long as the imagination is pleasantly exercised, and the ministry of the preacher is like the song of one who hath a pleasant voice, and playeth well upon an instrument, there is contentedness; but when the depths of God’s truth are brought forth, then it is regarded as a dry matter--a matter in which they have but little concern; and whilst this state of mind exists, the false peace makes the sinner to lie in a perilous abode, like a man whose roof is on fire, and who is pressed down by the weight of slumber. But the danger is also future. If we die in a false peace, then in the day of resurrection and in the judgment we meet God as an avenger, and an avenger during all eternity. (G. Fisk, LL. B.)
Foundation of peace
There is a very true sentence of Lord Macaulay’s, in which he says, “It is difficult to conceive any situation more painful than that of a great man condemned to watch the lingering agony of an exhausted country, to tend it during the alternate fits of stupefaction and raving which precede its dissolution, and to see the symptoms of vitality disappear, one by one, till nothing is left but coldness, darkness, and corruption.” It was just such a situation that the prophet Jeremiah was at this time condemned to fill. We feel that there is real agony in the sentence of doom he is compelled to utter. What aggravated his own personal grief was that he saw the remedy that alone could save them, the thorough, searching, radical treatment of their ease that contained their only hope, and they refused it, and with the very grip of death upon them they turned for comfort to those who had the mildest treatment to prescribe, and who cried, “Peace, peace, when there was no peace.”
I. The prophet here lays his finger on the essential error--the formalist has no adequate idea of the significance of sin. To suppose you have healed the corruption of a man’s nature by the sacrifice of a turtle dove is the merest folly. To suppose that you remove the enmity of a man’s heart against God by crying “Peace, peace” is an incredible mockery. Peace with God is the will, and the heart, and the conscience at one with Him.
II. This ignorance of the priests as to the very nature of the sin they professed to cure reminds us of the truth of Lord Bacon’s saying, that that is a false peace which is grounded upon an implicit ignorance, just as all colours agree in the dark. You may cherish the ignominious ambition to have peace at any price. You may escape the problems of thought by declining to think. You may avoid the responsibility of freedom by voluntary slavery; you may escape the pain of repentance by ignoring the reality of sin; yes, you may refuse to acknowledge the obligations of the light by dwelling ever in the darkness; you may prefer to be the victim of error and superstition to being their victor; you may prefer the cowardly acquiescence of surrender to the glad triumph of conquest; but you will surely not delude yourselves into the belief that you have settled anything, healed any hurt, or that the peace you enjoy is a worthy one, with any elements of desirability at all. For let us be quite sure that true peace--moral or mental--is based upon an honest facing of the truth. It was old Matthew Paris, the last of the old monastic historians, who complained somewhat pathetically that the case of historians was hard, because if they told the truth they provoked men, while if they wrote what was false they offended God. The historian’s art, it appears, must have in it something of the photographer’s, whose bounden duty is well known to be to make men better looking than they are. It has been urged, that if you can persuade a man that he is better than be really is, he will try to live up to the new revelation. Overlook his faults, and explain his errors away, and he will take heart and grow better. The question comes back to an old one that has been asked and discussed again and again, “Can there ever be any moral uses in a lie?” Do we believe in that religious homoeopathy that proposes to cure one immorality by another, conceal corruption by falsehood, and cover sinfulness by lying? Can any possible good come out of such a practice? Can there ever be any moral uses in a lie? I think you will agree with me, that even if it were possible to obtain a satisfactory peace by the suppression of conviction on the one hand, or a misrepresentation of fact on the other, we are not at liberty to take it on such terms. To obtain a worthy peace we must face the facts. (C. S. Horne, M. A.)
A blast of the trumpet against false peace
It is no uncommon thing to meet with people who say, “Well, I am happy enough. My conscience never troubles me. I believe if I were to die I should go to heaven as well as anybody else.” I know that these men are living in the commission of glaring acts of sin, and I am sure they could not prove their innocence even before the bar of man; yet will these men look you in the face and tell you that they are not at all disturbed at the prospect of dying. Well, I will take you at your word, though I don’t believe you. I will suppose you have this peace, and I will endeavour to account for it on certain grounds which may render it somewhat more difficult for you to remain in it.
1. The first person I shall deal with is the man who has peace because he spends his life in a ceaseless round of gaiety and frivolity. You have scarcely come from one place of amusement before you enter another. You know that you are never happy except you are in what you call gay society, where the frivolous conversation will prevent you from hearing the voice of your conscience. In the morning you will be asleep while God’s sun is shining, but at night you will be spending precious time in some place of foolish, if not lascivious, mirth. If the harp should fail you, then you call for Nabar’s feast. There shall be a sheep shearing, and you shall be drunken with wine, until your souls become as stolid as a stone. And then you wonder that you have peace. What wonder! Surely any man would have peace when his heart has become as hard as a stone. What weathers shall it feel? What tempests shall move the stubborn bowels of a granite rock? You sear your consciences, and then marvel that they feel not. Oh, that you would begin to live! What a price you are paying for your mirth--eternal torment for an hour of jollity--separation from God for a brief day or two of sin!
2. I turn to another class of men. Finding that amusement at last has lost all its zest, having drained the cup of worldly pleasure till they find first satiety, and then disgust lying at the bottom, they want some stronger stimulus, and Satan, who has drugged them once, has stronger opiates than mere merriment for the man who chooses to use them. If the frivolity of this world will not suffice to rock a soul to sleep, he hath a yet more hellish cradle for the soul. He will take you up to his own breast, and bid you suck therefrom his own Satanic nature, that you may then be still and calm. I mean that he will lead you to imbibe infidel notions, and when this is fully accomplished, you can have “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”
3. I shall come now to a third class of men. These are people not particularly addicted to gaiety, nor especially given to infidel notions; but they are a sort of folk who are careless, and determined to let well alone. Their motto, “Let tomorrow take care for the things of itself; let us live while we live; let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” If their conscience cries out at all, they bid it lie still. When the minister disturbs them, instead of listening to what he says, and so being brought into a state of real peace, they cry, “Hush I be quiet I there is time enough yet; I will not disturb myself with these childish fears: be still, sir, and lie down.” Oh! up ye sleepers, ye gaggers of conscience, what mean you? Why are you sleeping when death is hastening on, when eternity is near, when the great white throne is even now coming on the clouds of heaven, when the trumpet of the resurrection is now being set to the mouth of the archangel?
4. A fourth set of men have a kind of peace that is the result of resolutions which they have made, but which they will never carry into effect. “Oh,” saith one, “I am quite easy enough in my mind, for when I have got a little more money I shall retire from business, and then I shall begin to think about eternal things.” Ah, but I would remind you that when you were an apprentice, you said you would reform when you became a journeyman; and when you were a journeyman, you used to say you would give good heed when you became a master. But hitherto these bills have never been paid when they became duo. They have every one of them been dishonoured as yet; and take my word for it, this new accommodation bill will be dishonoured too.
5. Now I turn to another class of men, in order that I may miss none who are saying, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” I do not doubt but that many of the people of London enjoy peace in their hearts, because they are ignorant of the things of God. If you have a peace that is grounded on ignorance, get rid of it; ignorance is a thing, remember, that you are accountable for. You are not accountable for the exercise of your judgment to man, but you are accountable for it to God.
6. I now pass to another and more dangerous form of this false peace. I may have missed some of you; probably I shall come closer home to you now. Alas, alas, let us weep and weep again, for there is a plague among us. It is the part of candour to admit that with all the exercise of judgment, and the most rigorous discipline, we cannot keep our churches free from hypocrisy. Oh! I do not know of a more thoroughly damnable delusion than for a man to get a conceit into his head, that he is a child of God, and yet live in sin--to talk to you about sovereign grace, while he is living in sovereign lust--to stand up and make himself the arbiter of what is truth, while he himself contemns the precept of God, and tramples the commandment under foot.
7. There remains yet another class of beings who surpass all these in their utter indifference to everything that might arouse them. They are men that are given up by God, justly given up. They have passed the boundary of His long suffering. He has said, “My Spirit shall no more strive with them”; “Ephraim is given unto idols, let him alone.” As a judicial punishment for their impenitence, God has given them up to pride and hardness of heart. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. How is it persons reach this state of easy confidence?
1. There is a disposition to acknowledge in a general way that they are sinners, though also to palliate the enormity of sin, and to gloss it over with the gentle epithet of an infirmity.
2. Then, to make all right, secure, and comfortable, the sentiment is cherished that God is merciful and will overlook our infirmities. But this mercy, so vaguely trusted in, is not the mercy which has been made the subject of an actual offer from God to man. He has stepped forth to relieve us from the debt of sin.
II. The evils of such a false confidence.
1. It casts an aspersion on the character of God.
2. It is hostile to the cause of practical righteousness, since it tends to obliterate all restraints, on the specious plea of all-availing mercy, and leaves every man to sin just as much as he likes. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Peace, when there is no peace
The value of these Old Testament prophecies for us is that they hold up the mirror to nature. Under different guises we see men grappling with the same problems, encountering the same fears, wrestling with the same difficulties, meeting the same joys and the same disappointments. History is ever repeating itself.
1. The same oppression, the same sin, the same corruptions which are causing so much anguish in our midst, were at work there, and from many a heart there went up the cry, “How long, O Lord, how long?” The means they adopted were not sufficient for the end, and that is just the point at which these Israelites join hands with many reformers in our days. There are fashions in these things as in everything else. With the crowd and with the priests in these far-off days it was sacrifice and burnt offering. With us the favourite nostrums are somewhat different. Let us look at some of them.
(1) There is what has been called the doctrine of culture. “Educate, educate, educate,” some cry, and that will put all right. The exponents of this school are enthusiastic, and talk of great things to be accomplished when the refinement and culture which is fostered in the “upper ten” has filtered down through university extension schemes and settlements to the working classes.
(2) Others, of a more practical turn of mind, think that the world can be set right by legislative means. “Better laws and greater freedom are what is wanted,” they say, “to elevate the people.” Life to them consists in the abundance of things which men possess. They laugh at the notion of a happiness which has not plenty, and ridicule the very idea of comfort or contentment in a one-roomed house.
(3) Another set think that if we could make the people sober all would be well. They tell us that almost nine-tenths of the crime and mischief in the country comes from drunkenness.
2. There is much truth in a great deal of what has been said by the advocates of each of these different systems, and within certain limits they are right. That they will ever reach the root of the matter is another thing. They are no new doctrines. Long have men tried them. And what has been the result where they have had freest play? A perfect cure? An approach to an ideal State? Alas, no. In some cases one or other of them, or all of them together, may have contributed to render life easier, or more comfortable to individuals here and there; but none of them, nor all of them together, have been able to heal the hurt of humanity. They are but the purple patches with which men seek to hide the festering sores. The trouble is in the heart, in the blood, in the innermost centre of our being, and till it is expelled from that citadel, there can be no hope for us, or the world. They who cherish the supposition that man at bottom is a lover of truth and light, of purity and goodness, fondle a vain conceit. Is there no cruelty, is there no lust in upper circles of society? Is there no impurity, no degradation, no oppression among the learned? Is there no misery, no broken hearts in the homes of the wealthy? Are there no tears, no sighs, no wrinkled brows where intemperance is unknown? (R. Leggat.)
In China they have some queer ways of doctoring sick people, and in Pekin, it is said, they have a brass mule for a doctor! This mule stands in one of their temples and sick people flock there by the thousands to be cured. How can a brass mule cure anybody? do you ask. Sure enough, how can he? and yet these poor ignorant people believe it. If you lived there, instead of in this country, it is likely that when you had a toothache your father would take you--to a dentist? Oh no! That is what they do in this country. In Pekin you would probably be taken to the temple where the brass mule stands, and be lifted up so that you could rub his teeth, then rub your own, and then think the pain ought to go away. If you fell down and hurt your knee, you would go and rub the mule’s knee, and then your own, to make it well. They say so many have rubbed the mule that they have rubbed the brass off in many places, so that new patches had to be put on, and his eyes have been rubbed out altogether. But a brand new mule stands waiting to take the place of the old one when that finally falls to pieces. It seems a very simple way to cure pains and aches, but, I fear, the pain is not very much better after the visit to the mule; and I am sure all boys and girls who read of the “brass doctor” will be glad they live in this land, even if dentists do sometimes pull out teeth that ache, and doctors often give medicine that is not pleasant to take.
Your peace, sinner, is that terribly prophetic calm which the traveller occasionally perceives upon the higher Alps. Everything is still. The birds suspend their notes, fly low, and cower down with fear The hum of bees among the flowers is hushed. A horrible stillness rules the hour, as if death had silenced all things by stretching over them his awful sceptre. Perceive ye not what is surely at hand! The tempest is preparing, the lightning will soon cast abroad its flames of fire. Earth will rock with thunder blasts; granite peaks will be dissolved; all nature will tremble beneath the fury of the storm. Yours is that solemn calm today, sinner. Rejoice not in it, for the hurricane of wrath is coming, the whirlwind and the tribulation which shall sweep you away and utterly destroy you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
They were not at all ashamed.
Shamelessness in sin, the certain forerunner of destruction
He who has thus sinned himself past feeling, may be justly supposed to have sinned himself past grace.
1. Extraordinary guilt. “Committed abomination.”
2. Deportment under guilt. “Not at all ashamed,” etc.
3. God’s high resentment of their monstrous shamelessness. “Were they ashamed?”
4. The consequent judgment. “Therefore shall they fall,” etc.
I. What shame is and what influence it has upon the government of men’s manners.
1. Shame is a grief of mind springing from the apprehension of some disgrace brought upon a man. And disgrace consists properly in men’s knowledge or opinion of some defect, natural or moral, belonging to them. So that when a man is sensible that anything defective or amiss, either in his person, manners, or the circumstances of his condition, is known, or taken notice of, by others; from this sense or apprehension of his, there naturally results upon his mind a certain grief or displeasure, which grief properly constitutes the passion of shame.
2. From this, that shame is grounded upon the dread man naturally has of the ill opinion of others, and that chiefly with reference to the turpitude or immorality of his actions, it is manifest that it is that great and powerful instrument in the soul of man whereby Providence both preserves society and supports government, forasmuch as it is the most effectual restraint upon him from the doing of such things as more immediately tend to disturb the one and destroy the other.
3. He whom shame has done its work upon, is, ipso facto, stripped of all the common comforts of life. The light is to him the shadow of death; he has no heart nor appetite for business; his very food is nauseous to him. In which wretched condition having passed some years, first the vigour of his intellectuals begins to flag and dwindle away, and then his health follows; the hectic of the soul produces one in the body, the man from an inward falls into an outward consumption, and death at length gives the finishing stroke, and closes all with a sad catastrophe.
II. By what ways men come to cast off shame and grow impudent in sin.
1. By the commission of great sins. For these waste the conscience, and destroy at once. They are, as it were, a course of wickedness abridged into one act, and a custom of sinning by equivalence. They steel the forehead, and harden the heart, and break those bars asunder which modesty had originally fenced and enclosed it with.
2. Custom in sinning never fails in the issue to take away the sense and shame of sin, were a person never so virtuous before. First, he begins to shake off the natural horror and dread which he had of breaking any of God’s commands, and so not to fear sin; next, finding his sinful appetites gratified by such breaches of the Divine law, he comes to like his sin and be pleased with what he has done; and then, from ordinary complacencies, heightened and improved by custom, he comes passionately to delight in such ways. Finally, having resolved to continue and persist in them, he frames himself to a resolute contempt of what is thought or said of him.
3. The examples of great persons take away the shame of anything which they are observed to practise, though never so foul and shameful in itself. Nothing is more contagious than an iii action set off with a great example; for it is natural for men to imitate those above them, and to endeavour to resemble, at least, that which they cannot be.
4. The observation of the general and common practice of anything takes away the shame of that practice. A vice a la mode will look virtue itself out of countenance, and it is well if it does not look it out of heart too. Men love not to be found singular, especially where the singularity lies in the rugged and severe paths of Virtue.
5. To have been once greatly and irrecoverably ashamed renders men shameless. For shame is never of any force but where there is some stock of credit to be preserved. When a man finds that to be lost, he is like an undone gamester, who plays on safety, knowing he can lose no more.
III. The several degrees of shamelessness in sin.
1. A showing of the greatest respect, and making the most obsequious applications and addresses to lewd and infamous persons; and that without any pretence of duty requiring it, which yet alone can justify and excuse men in it.
2. To extenuate or excuse a sin is bad enough, but to defend it is intolerable. Such are properly the devil’s advocates.
3. Glorying in sin. Higher than this the corruption of man’s nature cannot possibly go. This is publicly to set up a standard on behalf of vice, to wear its colours, and avowedly to assert and espouse the cause of it, in defiance of all that is sacred or civil, moral or religious.
IV. Why it brings down judgment and destruction upon the sinner.
1. Because shamelessness in sin always presupposes those actions and courses which God rarely suffers to go unpunished.
2. Because of the destructive influence which it has upon the government of the world. It is manifest that the integrity of men’s manners cannot be secured, where there is not preserved upon men’s minds a true estimate of vice and virtue, that is, where vice is not looked upon as shameful and opprobrious, and virtue valued as worthy and honourable. But now, where vice walks with a daring front, and no shame attends the practice or the practisers of it, there is an utter confusion of the first dividing and distinguishing properties of men’s actions; morality falls to the ground, and government must quickly follow. And whenever it comes to fare thus with any civil State, virtue and common honesty seem to make their appeal to the supreme Governor of all things, to take the matter into His own hands, and to correct those clamorous enormities which are grown too big and strong for law or shame, or any human coercion.
V. What those judgments are.
1. A sudden and disastrous death; and, indeed, suddenness in this can hardly be without disaster.
2. War and desolation.
3. Captivity. (R. South, D. D.)
The shamelessness of sinners
The legend says that, a sinner being at confession, the devil appeared, saying, that he came to make restitution. Being asked what he would restore, he said, “Shame; for it is shame that I have stolen from this sinner to make him shameless in sinning; and now I have come to restore it to him, to make him ashamed to confess his sins.”
Neither could they blush.
(with Ezra 9:6):--“Just fancy,” said Tom, who had been doing a bit of word study by the aid of his newly-acquired Skeat, “to blush is, in its origin, the same word as to blaze, or to blast, and a blush in Danish means a torch.” “And a very good origin too,” said his sister, who got red in the face and hot all over on the slightest provocation. Yes, youth is the blushing time of life. Said Diogenes to a youth whom he saw blushing: “Courage, my boy, that is the complexion of virtue.”
I. There is the blush of guilt. Who broke the window? All were silent; but one boy looked uneasy. His blush was the blast of his red-hot conscience, condemning the dumb tongue.
II. There is the blush of shame. It was such a mean thing to tell that lie to one’s own father. It was a shabby trick I played my chum. And that nasty word I spoke yesterday to a girl, too, it makes me sick-ashamed of myself to think of it. Yes; you ought to think shame. But “the man that blushes is not quite a brute.”
III. There is the blush of modesty. Tom said nothing about his splendid score at the match, until his sister read aloud at breakfast next morning the flattering report given in the newspaper, at which Tom blushed like a girl. He had his revenge, however, when more than one letter came to Shena from Dr. Barnardo, and Tom protested that he knew now why she had no money to spend on sweets, and poor Shena got very red in the face and went out of the room.
IV. There is the blush of honest indignation at the meanness of the cheat, the cruelty of the bully, the greed of the glutton, and the indifference of selfish souls. This blush of virtuous anger must have come into the meek face of Christ, when He rebuked the disciples for keeping the mothers from bringing their children to Him.
V. Just twice, I think, do we read of blushing in the Bible, and the solemn thing is that the blush in both cases is not before men, but under the eye of God.
1. One of the most remarkable prayers in the Bible is the prayer of Ezra, the scribe--the brave, good, holy man who led a company of his Israelite brethren from Babylon to Jerusalem. It rises hot and passionate out of his very heart; for, like all priestly souls, he makes all the sins of the people his own. “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to Thee, my God.” He loved his people so dearly that their faults seemed to be his own, and he blushed before the Holy God for shame of them.
2. Quite at the opposite pole of feeling is the other place in the Bible where blushing is spoken of. For Jeremiah, the broken-hearted prophet of the Lord, uses it when he has to describe the utter callousness of the people, in spite of all their sins and sorrows. “They were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush.” That is surely the most hopeless state of all, when one has lost the very power to feel shame and sorrow before God. The Florentines used to point to Dante in the street, whispering, “There’s the man who has been in hell.” But hell has come into the heart of the man who cannot blush. Oh, it is better, as Mahomet said in his old age, to blush in this world than in the next. St. John of the eagle eye and loving heart tells us that in the great day of judgment we shall either have the boldness or liberty and confidence of children, or we shall shrink away with shame “like a guilty thing surprised.” (A. N. Mackray, M. A.)
Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein.
The good old way
Were you called together to listen to the present preacher only, courtesy might demand at your hands an attentive hearing for him; but if an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ were the preacher, he would have far higher claims; and if one of the ancient prophets were the speaker, or at any rate, could an angel or an archangel be permitted now to address you, we think you would all admit that to be inattentive to his words would be highly unbecoming: how much more so to be inattentive if the God of the whole earth were addressing you! And is He not? “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see,” etc.
I. To the way recommended in the text. “Ask for the old paths, where is the good way.” The words of the text are metaphorical, and represent true religion under the aspect of a pilgrimage or a journey. If, then, you ask me, “What is the way to heaven?” I refer to the words of the Lord Jesus when speaking to Thomas. “I,” said He, “am the way.” “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” Christ is the way. He is the way from sin to holiness,--from darkness to light,--from bondage to liberty,--from misery to happiness,--from the gates of hell to the throne of heaven. But how is He the way? By His example: for “leaving us an example, we should follow His steps.” By His doctrine: for “we know that He is true, and teaches the way of God in truth.” By His sacrificial death: for “we have boldness to eater into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.” By His Spirit: when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all the truth. How, then, are we to walk in the way? By “repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Except ye repent ye shall all perish.” Believe m the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. “He that believeth shall not perish.” But what are the epithets by which the way is described in our text? The way is not “the broad way” that leadeth to destruction; nor “the hard way,” pursued by transgressors; nor the way that only seemeth right to a man, while the end thereof is death; but it is the good way, and the old path.
1. It is an old way. True, there are persons who more than insinuate that the way, as just described to you, is a new thing. They say the way to heaven is not now what it formerly was, if our definition is correct. But what have we said? Have we not affirmed that salvation is by Christ, and through Him only? Have we not said that repentance and faith are the conditions of obtaining it from Him? And is this new doctrine? Why, this doctrine is as old as the days of Wesley and Whitfield, for they proclaimed it in England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and America. But go a step further back. What were the leading doctrines of the illustrious Reformers? For what were they traduced, slandered, excommunicated, and martyred, but for this? They asserted that penance was a human prescription--that works of supererogation were a delusion--that images, beads, holy water, crucifixes, and relics were but “sanctified nonsense”--that Christ was the only mediator between God and man. But we go further still. What did our Lord and the apostles themselves teach? They preached “repent and believe!” Nor do we stop here. What did the prophets--Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Malachi, and the rest--who flourished from seven hundred to a thousand years anterior to the Christian era teach? Did not they speak of the promised seed, the Messiah, the Redeemer, in whom men should believe, and by whom they should be saved? Go to that splendid treasury of ecclesiastical biography--the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and look at the fourth verse: “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead, yet speaketh.” Well, then, some three thousand years elapsed between the time of Abel’s believing and that of Jeremiah’s preaching, and the way had been tried during the whole of that long period, and was therefore properly called by the prophet “the old path.” Oh no; we bring no new doctrine to your ears, no new way before your eyes. We grant you that some of the circumstantials of religion have been changed since the days of Abel; but the essentials have remained the same. A Saviour, a mediator, a sacrifice, an atonement; repentance, faith, prayer, and holy living--thane all abide ever. The way is called new by the apostle, in reference to that fuller and clearer development of it furnished by the life and death of the Lord Jesus; and even when contrasting it with those ritualistic observances on which the Jews had long laid more than sufficient stress: but in all ages Christ has been the Saviour of men, and faith in Him the prime condition of salvation.
2. The text speaks of this way as a good one. “Where is the good way?” It is not only a good way, but the good way--good emphatically; the only good way, therefore, par excellence, the good way. God is the author of it, and He is good. He is the good Being: His name God implies this, as it is a contraction of the adjective “good.” Christ is the way, and He is good. Pilate’s question, “What evil hath He done?” remains still unanswered. The Holy Spirit recommends this way; and He would not recommend anything evil. The Bible is a good book--all insinuations by scoffers to the contrary notwithstanding,--and it strongly urges us to pursue this way. There have been--and, thank God! still are--some good men in the world, bad as it is; and they have travelled, or are travelling in this way. However vile they may have been ere entering this way, they became virtuous and happy when they began to travel on this path. Men have said the way of salvation by faith in the merits of another is not good, for it will lead to licentiousness--to latitudinarianism. But such men speak without experience. The faith that saves us is not a nominal thing--not merely speculative, but practical, evangelical faith. “Show me thy faith without thy works,” O objector, “and I will show thee my faith by my works.” Ah, there it is. This faith of ours works, and has works; “it works by love, and purifies the heart.” While we repose on the merits of the Saviour, we copy the example of the Saviour; while we believe He died for us, we exhibit the genuineness of our belief by a holy life.
II. The duty the text enjoins. “Stand ye in the ways,” etc.
1. “Stand in the ways, and see.” These words seem to refer to the position of a traveller on foot, who, in prosecuting his pilgrimage, has reached a point where there is a junction of several roads; and who is perplexed by this circumstance, and at a loss which way to pursue. What can he do in this case? The text says, “Stand,” halt, ere you go astray, and try to ascertain the proper direction, or you may lose time in losing your way, and perchance may haw to retrace your steps, amid the jeers of witnesses, and under the self-inflicted penalty of regretful reproach. He takes from his pocket a book and a map, from which he learns that the road to the right goes to one place, that to the left to another, but the one straight on to the place of his destination. He then, after due examination, prosecutes his pilgrimage with pleasurable satisfaction; having no tormenting doubts as to his course, but a strong assurance of reaching, by and by, the desired end. Now, the traveller to eternity--the man in search of “the path of life”--has been graciously provided with an “itinerary”; that is, God’s own road book, the Bible. Hence, says the Saviour, “Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of Me.” Go, then, fellow traveller, to the ever-blessed book; pore over its lessons; study its precepts; imitate its examples; and realise its promises.
2. “Ask for the way.” See that man with his map and book; he is still perplexed somewhat; he wants counsel; he needs a guide; let him ask advice of those who know by experience what he has yet to learn. Ah! up comes a person who knows the road intimately, who has travelled along it these many years, and who loves to give his best practical advice to all inquirers. Well, ask him. He is a Gospel minister, or some old weather-beaten pilgrim, who has borne the heat of many a summer, and the stormy blasts of many a winter; he will be right glad to tell thee the way thou shouldst go. And, if he fail, there is a Guide who never will; for, “when the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all the truth.”
3. “Walk therein.” Yes, it avails not what we read, how much information we acquire, with whomsoever we converse, or even how often we pray, unless we “walk in the way.” John Bunyan tells us of a Mr. Talkative, who was very ready and fluent in religious discussions and conversations; but who left the practical part of religion to others. Alas! that the descendants of that personage are not extinct. Remember that no man can get to heaven by looking at maps of the road, or conversing with those who are journeying thitherward; we must all “walk in the way.”
III. To the blessing promised. “Ye shall find rest for your souls.” The word “rest” is one of the sweetest monosyllables in our language. Robert Hall said he could think of the word tear till he wept; I could think of the word rest till I smiled. After a paroxysm of pain, how delicious is ease and rest after a hard day’s toil, how delightful to retire to rest! And if rest of the body be sweet, sweeter still is rest for the soul. “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmities, but a wounded spirit who can bear?” Rest for the soul we all long to find; we cannot help it. We must be in quest of rest do what we may. Peace, happiness, mental quietude, rest, every man of all things desiderates. But where may it be found? Secularists and quondam socialists say in gratifying our animal passions; the miser--significant name, literally miserable--hopes to find it among golden gains; the ambitious climbs up the rugged heights of power and fame, and hopes to descry it there; but the Christian is the only man who can exclaim with the exulting Greek, Eureka! Eureka! I have found it! (W. Antliff, D. D.)
The ancient paths
Transition is easy from an outward physical path to a moral meaning: roads men walk with their feet suggest the road men’s thoughts habitually walk in, the path in which their feelings are accustomed to move, the way in which their conduct naturally flows. In this secondary sense, use text to point out the necessity, in all who would go right, of keeping upon the old ways, the ascertained ways, which, in the experience of mankind, have been proved beneficial.
I. Our boast of novelty, our glorying in our newness, as if we were in advance of everybody and everything else, is a fanciful mistake. Our thoughts, and all the channels of our thoughts, are the result of the thought and experience of thousands of years that are gone by. Political habits and customs, knowledge of right and equity, have been gradually unfolded from ages past. Combinations are new, elements are old.
II. The present time is noticeable for an extraordinary outbreak of activity along new lines of thought and belief.
1. Men are inclined to doubt generally the social and moral results of past experience, to repudiate long-accepted social maxims and customs.
2. General distrust is being thrown upon religions teachings: not positive unbelief, but uncertainty. And by having confidence in religion its real power is destroyed. Thus thousands are abandoning old paths--old thoughts, usages, customs, habits, convictions, virtues.
III. There are certain great permanencies of thought, character, and custom, especially necessary in our time.
1. Moral and social progress can never be so rapid as physical developments. Men cannot be changed in their principles, feelings, and inner life in the same ratio as external changes go on.
2. There is danger in giving up any belief or custom which has been entwined in our moral sense. Regard as sacred the first principles of truth.
3. In the transition from a lower to a higher form of belief there is peril. Hence, we are not to think it our duty in a headlong way to change men’s beliefs simply because they are erroneous. As if changing from one mode of belief to another was going to change the conscience, reason, moral susceptibility, and character.
IV. The relinquishment of trust or of practice should always be from worse to better. If you want a traveller to have a better road, make that better road, and then he will need no argument to persuade him to walk in it. If you are teaching that one intellectual system is better than another, and that one religious organisation, church, or creed, is better, prove it by presenting better fruit than the other, and men will need little argument beyond. If a Church breeds meekness, fortitude, love, courage, disinterestedness; if it makes noble men--uncrowned but undoubted princes,--then it is a Church, a living epistle which will convince men.
V. All new truths, like new wines, must have a period of fermentation.
1. All truths are at first on probation; must be scrutinised, ransacked, vindicated.
2. Guard against wild and unseasonable urgency in throwing off traditional faiths and truths, for those you can discover for yourselves. Accept what other men construct for you. We are so related, by the laws of God, one to another, that no man can think out everything for himself.
VI. We do well to look cautiously at new truths and those who advocate them. There is a conceit, a dogmatism, a bigotry of science, as really as there is of religion. Application--
1. All the tendencies which narrow the moral sense and enlarge the liberty of the passions are dangerous.
2. All tendencies which increase self-conceit are to be suspected and disowned.
3. Those tendencies which extinguish in a man all spiritual elements, such as arise from faith in God, in our spirituality and immortality, must inevitably degrade our manhood.
4. All tendencies which take away your hope of and belief in another world, take away your motive for striving to reach a higher life. Without this hope men will have a weary pilgrimage in a world of unbelief. (H. W. Beecher.)
The old paths
I. The old paths are to be distinguished from theological creeds and dogmas. Lifted upon the shoulders of many generations, with opportunities for interpreting the Bible in the light of a developing Christianity, it would be strange if our horizon had not increased. Think as those men thought--not necessarily what they thought.
II. A return to the “old paths” does not call us away from vigorous life. Wherever human thought, in obedience to its best nature, essays to got wherever desire for higher and better things reaches out, there are the paths of the Lord. They are as “the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” Treading them, “every power finds sweet employ.”
III. Some of the characteristics of the old paths.
1. They are plain. True, the fogs sometimes hang low upon them as upon worldly ways; but we can always, in the darkest hour, see one step before us, and that taken, we can see another. The engineer cannot see his track all the way from New York to Albany, but in the heaviest night he trusts his headlight and keeps on his way. So let the Christian do.
2. They are unchanging. God’s paths, like Himself, are “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
3. They are paths of righteousness (Psalms 23:3). Old coins lose their royal stamp by much handling. So with some of our grandest words. Righteousness is one of them. It is not formalism, it is not morality. It is right living, with a pure heart as its source.
4. They are paths of mercy (Psalms 25:10).
5. They are paths of plenty (Psalms 65:11). What a struggle men have for mere existence! They rise early and sit up late and eat the bread of affliction. They have left the paths of the Lord. They have chased phantoms. They must endure for the time the fruit of their doings. Yet, notwithstanding these seeming exceptions, the precious promise abides (Psalms 37:3).
6. They are paths of life (Proverbs 2:19). What a path that where Christ is the support of our steps, guide of our way, and the crown of our journey’s end!
7. They are paths of peace (Proverbs 3:17; Isaiah 26:3). There is no peace but in the narrow way where God gives pardon and reconciliation.
8. They are His paths (Isaiah 2:3). It is not possible, in a spiritual sense, that God should give us anything and not give us Himself. Without Himself the graces of the Spirit are only names.
IV. How to find these paths.
1. By standing. How hard it is to stop and stand still and think and search!
2. By seeing. With open eyes we may see whether the path be an old path, whether it is macadamised with living truth, whether they who are upon it wear the livery of the Great King.
3. By asking. Men are ever ready to ask counsel in worldly things. Why not of God and His servants in regard to heavenly things? “Ask, and ye shall receive.”
4. By walking. Having used sight and tongue and thoughts, we are then to act. God has united faith and works, prayer and activity.
V. The promise to those who obey. “Rest.” (E. P. Ingersoll, D. D.)
Novelty in religion exploded
Novelty is a term which, when applied to man, always involves a degree of previous ignorance. The astronomer finds out new stars, the botanist new plants, the linguist new tongues, the geometrician new modes of proof and illustration, the politician new laws, the geographer new islands, the navigator new creeks, anchorages and havens, the tradesman new articles of commerce, the artificer and mechanic new methods of accomplishing the work of their hands. Each successive generation, in a civilised country especially, makes advancement on the experiments of the former. In religious matters, however, it is different. We am to expect no new Bible, no new ordinances, no new Messiah, no new discoveries in the substance of truth and piety, any more than we look for a new sun, moon, and seasons, in the institutions of nature. We allow, indeed, that in ourselves, as we pass from a state of unregeneracy to that of renewal, “old things pass away, and all things become new”; that in the progress of sanctification, there is a succession of discoveries, as we grow in knowledge and grace; that in the pursuit of schemes of usefulness, new modes of operation may be struck out; but as to all the rest, it is established by the Great Head of the Church to be subjected to no alteration until the time of the restitution of all things, when there shall be a “new heaven and earth,” etc.
I. Trace the good old way.
1. There is the way of theory. This will be found in its grand and essential elements in the Word of truth; for this is the chart or map in which the path is laid down in which the pious have walked from the beginning.
2. There is the way of experience, or the application of these truths to the mind by such an influence and in such a way as to render them living principles of activity and enjoyment. Repentance for sin, dependence, devotion, etc.
3. There is the way of practice; and this with regard to God and our fellow creatures.
II. Show what is your duty with respect to the path which has been described.
1. Primarily, to institute a serious, a deliberate and cautious inquiry, that you may ascertain whether you are in the right way. One grand reason why many who profess to make the inquiry “What is truth?” do not succeed, is, that they indulge in a light, trifling temper of mind, quite unsuited to the character of their avowed engagement, and highly offensive to God.
2. Steadily pursue the path you have ascertained to be right. Aim to be established, strengthened, settled on your most holy faith, and guard against that versatility which will be an effective preventive to sanctification, comfort, and usefulness. With walking we always connect the idea, not of habit only, but of progress. Your knowledge, your sacred virtues, your practical obedience should be always on the advance.
1. The lamentable consequences of a refusal to walk in this way.
2. The inestimable advantages of walking in the good old way. (John Clayton.)
The old paths
Perhaps the chief danger attending modem progress is the neglect of antiquity. This does not apply to literature and art, but to science and religion. A man who aspires to excellence in letters or art must go on pilgrimage to the old paths, and having found them must abide in them. Take the single example of sculpture. What has been gained for this art in the advancement of later times? Nothing has been gained, but much lost which can never be recovered. The most celebrated work of recent artists in stone is little more than an imitation of the masterpieces of Athens executed between two and three thousand years ago. The hope of the learner in this profession is to stand in the old paths. With some qualifications the same is true of literature. The Greek and Roman classics are still our teachers; and there is no prospect of the immediate declension of their authority. No liberal education is supposed to be possible without the languages of antiquity and the compositions that adorn them. Scientific culture has been repaid by abundant fruit in recent years: but the losses sustained by science through our ignorance of antiquity are inconceivable. Students in science will be the first to acknowledge and deplore this loss. But while literature cannot neglect the old paths, and science is devoutly engaged in retracing her lost ways, religion is in imminent danger of drifting from her ancient landmarks. The peril I desire to point out is not new in the history of the Christian faith. There is something in his nature which makes a human being feel after a God; and this act of search would be far more likely to touch the object sought when the race was young, when the impressions received were new, uncorrupted by speculation, unfettered by tradition, than at this time when the race is old and our impressions of the self within us, and of surrounding nature, are unconsciously weighted and often made false by hereditary influences, and by misleading ideas that swarm about us in childhood and are the spring of errors which it is the most difficult task of education to discover and correct. This invariable tendency to look for truth and wisdom and goodness, not to the possibilities of the present, not even to the lessons of the immediate past, but to the records and traditions of a remote age, is a striking confirmation of the biblical history of mankind. That wistful looking back on the part of the nations is a pathetic sign that something is missing which once was ours when heaven and truth were nearer to this earth than they are now. When I bring these problems to the ancient ways of God that, setting out from the creation of man and following the race, converge upon Christ, I discover the clue that leads to their interpretation. The old paths ran into Christ. His attitude towards the men who flourished before Him was neither hostile nor independent. He spoke of them with reverence; He quoted their teaching in support of His own claims; He proved that that teaching when divided from Himself was not only incomplete, but in some cases had no meaning; that He, in fact, was the complement of the older wisdom. He dwelt not only with contemporaries, but in the old paths as the Illuminating Presence of the past. “Before Abraham was, I am.” He lighted up the parables of the sages; He harmonised prediction with history, and type with the fulfilling event or person. And as the old paths met in Christ--as He was the “Way” to which all other paths and ways led the traveller, not only thoroughfares defined and laid down in systems of law and belief, but irregular tracks made by earnest but wandering feet in search of the Highway; as He was the “Truth,” in which all moral intimations, ideas, and aspirations found their fulfilment and satisfaction; as He was the “Life,” in which all the nobler elements of the heart attained their highest purity and their perfect expression--so He is now the centre and resting place of all doctrine, of all inquiry, and of all faith. What will be the result of the attempt to make the New Testament a modern publication? We smooth a hardness here, we read in a meaning there, we hide the significance of this doctrine behind the assumed importance of that, on the plea of keeping the Book in touch with a scientific age. There will be no end to this recasting until we end the Bible itself. We share the conquests of science, and partake the renown of scientific men; but theirs is the truth of research, ours is the truth of revelation. Their conclusions are necessarily subject to revision; many of them perish outright; but the Word of our God abideth, and shall stand forever. (E. E. Jenkins, LL. D.)
The old paths
I. Excellent general advice. “Stand, and see, and ask.” I take these words to be a call to thought and consideration. Now, to set men thinking is one great object which every teacher of religion should always keep before him. Serious thought, in short, is one of the first steps towards heaven. There are but few, I suspect, who deliberately and calmly choose evil, refuse good, turn their back on God, and resolve to serve sin as sin. The most part are what they are because they began their present course without thought. They would not take the trouble to look forward and consider the consequences of their conduct. By thoughtless actions they created habits which have become second nature to them. They have got into a groove now, and nothing but a special miracle of grace will stop them. There are none, we must all be aware, who bring themselves into so much trouble by want of thinking as the young. Too often they choose in haste a wrong profession or business, and find after two or three years, that they have made an irretrievable mistake, and, if I may borrow a railway phrase, have got on the wrong line of rails. But the young are not the only persons who need the exhortation of the text in this day. It is preeminently advice for the times. Hurry is the characteristic of the age in which we live. On every side you see the many driving furiously, like Jehu, after business or politics. They seem unable to find time for calm, quiet, serious reflection about their souls and a world to come. Men and brethren, consider your ways. Beware of the infection of the times.
II. A particular direction. “Ask for the old paths.” We want a return to the old paths of our reformers. I grant they were rough workmen, and made some mistakes. They worked under immense difficulties, and deserve tender judgment and fair consideration. But they revived out of the dust grand foundation truths which had been long buried and forgotten. By embalming those truths in our Articles and Liturgy, by incessantly pressing them on the attention of our forefathers, they changed the whole character of this nation, and raised a standard of true doctrine and practice, which, after three centuries, is a power in the land, and has an insensible influence on English character to this very day. Can we mend these old paths? Novelty is the idol of the day. But I have yet to learn that all new views of religion are necessarily better than the old. It is not so in the work of men’s hands. I doubt if this nineteenth century could produce an architect who could design better buildings than the Parthenon or Coliseum, or a mason who could rear fabrics which will last so long. It certainly is not so in the work of men’s minds. Thucydides is not superseded by Macaulay, nor Homer by Milton. Why, then, are we to suppose that old theology is necessarily inferior to new? I ask boldly, What extensive good has ever been done in the world, except by the theology of the “old paths”? and I confidently challenge a reply. There never has been any spread of the Gospel, any conversion of nations or countries, any successful evangelistic work, excepting by the old-fashioned distinct doctrines of the early Christians and the reformers.
III. A precious promise. “Ye shall find rest to your souls.” Let it never be forgotten that rest of conscience is the secret want of a vast portion of mankind. The labouring and heavy laden are everywhere: they are a multitude that man can scarcely number; they are to be found in every climate and in every country under the sun. Everywhere you will find trouble, care, sorrow: anxiety, murmuring, discontent, and unrest. Did God create man at the beginning to be unhappy? Most certainly not. Are human governments to blame because men are not happy? At most to a very slight extent. The fault lies far too deep to be reached by human laws. Sin and departure from God are the true reasons why men are everywhere restless, labouring, and heavy laden. Sin is the universal disease which infects the whole earth. The rest that Christ gives in the “old paths” is an inward thing. It is rest of heart, rest of conscience, rest of mind, rest of affection, rest of will. (Bishop J. C. Ryle.)
Standing in the old paths
I. The dangers of judging of religion, without long and diligent examination. Happy would it be for the present age if men were distrustful of their own abilities.
II. The reasonableness of searching into antiquity, or of asking for the old paths. With regard to the order and government of the primitive Church, we may doubtless follow their authority with perfect security; they could not possibly be ignorant of laws executed, and customs practised, by themselves; nor would they, even supposing them corrupt, serve any interests of their own, by handing down false accounts to posterity. Nor is this the only, though perhaps the chief use of these writers; for, in matters of faith, and points of doctrine, those, at least, who lived in the ages nearest to the times of the apostles, undoubtedly deserve to be consulted. The oral doctrines, and occasional explications of the apostles, must have been treasured up in the memory of their audiences, and transmitted for some time from father to son.
III. The happiness which attends a well-grounded belief and steady practice of religion. Suspense and uncertainty distract the soul, disturb its motions, and retard its operations; while we doubt in what manner to worship God, there is great danger lest we should neglect to worship Him at all. There is a much closer connection between practice and speculation than is generally imagined. A man disquieted with scruples concerning any important article of religion, will, for the most part, find himself indifferent and cold, even to those duties which he practised before with the most active diligence and ardent satisfaction. Let him then ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and he shall find rest for his soul. (S. Johnson, LL. D.)
On the appeal to antiquity in matters of religion
The appeal to antiquity is worth your closest observation, as one which may as well be made in our own days as in those of the prophet Jeremiah. The paths which are to be sought for are “the old paths,” and it is their age which seems represented as giving them safety. Now it were quite idle to assert that this is in all cases a sound view, or that it will necessarily hold good when applied to the businesses and sciences of life. If we attempted, for example, to introduce into natural philosophy, the principle that the old paths are the best, we should only be urging men to travel back to a broad waste of ignorance, and to settle themselves once more in the crudest and most erroneous of opinions. We are quite ready with the like admission, in matters of civil polity. We hold unreservedly that nothing human can come to its perfection at once; and that whilst there are certain fundamental principles which can never be swerved from with safety, the determination of the best form of government for a community demands many successive experiments; so that one generation is not to hand down its institutions to the next, as not to be violated because not to be improved. The legacy of the fathers should be their experience, and that experience should be carried by the children as a new element into their political competitions. But the principle which applies not to sciences or governments may be applicable, without reservation, to religion. Religious truth is matter of revelation, and not therefore left to be searched out and determined by successive experiments; whereas truth of any other description is only to be come at by painful investigation; and until that investigation has been carried to the farthest possible limit, we have no right to claim such a fixedness for our positions, that those who come after us must receive them as irreversible. Yet we would not have it thought, that even in matters of religion, we yield unqualified submission to the voice of antiquity. We hold that there is room for discovery, strictly and properly so called in theology, as well as in astronomy or chemistry. We ourselves must necessarily be more advantageously circumstanced than any of our fathers, when the matter in question is the fulfilment of prophecy. Prophecy is of course nothing but anticipated history; and the further on, therefore, we live, in the march of those occurrences which are to make up the story of our globe and its tenants, the more power have we to find the foretold in the fulfilled, and thus to lessen the amount of unaccomplished prediction. Now when this exception has been made, we do not hesitate to apply our text to the disclosures of revelation, and to assert that in all disputes upon doctrines, and in all debates upon creeds, it is the part of wise men to appeal to antiquity.
1. When we speak of antiquity, we refer to Christianity in its young days, whilst the Church was still warm with her first love, and her teachers were but little removed from those who had held intercourse with Christ and His apostles. It is in this manner, for example, that we introduce the authority of antiquity into the question of infant baptism. Unless apostles baptised infants, and unless they taught that infants were to be received into the Church, it seems well-nigh incredible that those who lived near their times, and must have obtained instruction almost from their very lips, should have adopted the custom of infant baptism. We would advance another illustration of the worth of the witness of antiquity, and we fetch it from a fundamental matter of doctrine. We believe, undoubtedly, that the Bible is adapted to all ages of the world and all ranks of society; and that the Spirit which indited it, is as ready now, as in the early days of Christianity, to act as its interpreter and open up its truths. We are assured, therefore, that the sublime doctrine of the Trinity, if it, indeed, be contained in the Word of inspiration, will be made known to every prayerful and diligent student; and that there will need no acquaintance with the creeds or the commentaries of primitive Christians, in order to the apprehending of this grand discovery of the nature of Godhead. But, at the same time, when all kinds of opinions are broached, diametrically at variance with the doctrine of the Trinity, and men labour to devise and support interpretations of Scripture which shall quite overthrow this foundation stone of Christianity, we count it of no mean worth, that in writings which have come down to us from days just succeeding the apostolic, we can find the Trinity in unity as broadly asserted, and as clearly defined, as in any of the treatises which now professedly undertake its defence. Now you will understand, from these instances, the exact use of antiquity, in matters of religion; and the sense in which it may fairly be expected that the old paths are the right. “Where was your religion till Luther arose?” is the question broached in every dispute between the Romish Church and the Reformed. The Romish Church prides itself on being the old Church, and reproaches the Reformed with being the new. And we admit, in all frankness, that if the Romish Church made good its pretensions--if it could win for itself the praise of antiquity, and fix fairly on the Protestant newness, Popery would gain an almost unassailable position; for we are inclined to hold it as little less than an axiom in religion, that the oldest Christianity is the best. But we are quite ready to meet the Roman Catholic on the ground of antiquity; and to decide the goodness by deciding the oldness of our paths. We contend, that whatever is held in common by the two Churches may be proved from Scripture, and shown to have been maintained by the earliest Christians; but that everything received by the Romish and rejected by the Protestant, can neither be substantiated by the Bible, nor sanctioned by the practice of the primitive Church.
2. There is not one amongst you, who ought not to know something of this appeal to antiquity. We may make the like assertion in regard to the Christian Sabbath. If asked for our authority for keeping holy the first day of the week, in place of the seventh, you cannot produce a direct scriptural command; but we are in possession of such clear proof, that the apostles and their immediate successors made the first day their Sabbath, that we may claim to the observance all the force of Divine institution. This, however, we must all see, is employing the practice of antiquity where we have not a distinct precept of Scripture; in other words, we prove the right paths by proving the old paths. We are not, indeed, able to appeal to primitive Christians, and to show you this union of Church or State as being sanctioned by apostolical practice. Of course, until the rulers of the kingdom embraced the faith of Christ (and this was not of early occurrence), Christianity could not become established. But, as Milner observes, from the earliest ages of patriarchal government, when holy men were favoured with a Divine revelation, governors taught the true religion, and did not permit their subjects to propagate atheism, idolatry, or false religion. There was, as under the Jewish constitution, an unquestionable authority which the magistrates possessed in ecclesiastical regulations: so that union between Church and State, in place of being novel, can be traced up almost from the beginning of the world. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The old paths
I. The denomination.
1. “Old paths.” Way of--
2. “Old,” because--
(1) Ordained from eternity.
(2) Herein all the saints haw walked.
(3) Tried, and found pleasant and profitable.
II. The despot. “Good way.”
1. A path may be “old,” yet not “good”; this is both.
2. When may a path be called “good”?
(1) When safe.
(5) Firm and passable.
III. The directions. They who seek this path should bell.
1. Cautious in their observations.
2. Earnest in their inquiries.
3. Prompt in entering thereon.
IV. The destination.
1. In the journey many blessings of rest will be enjoyed, as contentment, satisfaction, cheerfulness, security.
2. Afterwards there will be fulness of rest: the path leads to eternal repose, happiness, glory. (Sermon Framework.)
The good old path
Men are travellers. No continuing city here; no rest. Days upon earth but a shadow; none abiding. Must go on--from earth, with its cares and sorrows and privileges and joys--either to heaven or hell.
I. A solemn exhortation.
1. We should ascertain what path we are walking in. Men do not think enough about spiritual things. Many a poor misguided traveller would enter the right path and obtain eternal life if he gave heed to the things which make for his peace.
(1) This examination of the path should be made immediately. Not a moment to be lost. Next step may plunge you in some deadly pit.
(2) This examination should be made faithfully. Not superficially. Our being different from those around us is not enough, for we may still be wrong. Must bring our conduct and habits of life to the standard of God’s Word, and compare them with that.
(3) This examination should be made prayerfully. It is useless for us to make it in our own strength or wisdom; but, influenced and guided by the Spirit of Christ, we cannot err.
2. We must not only ascertain if our way be wrong, but inquire for the right path.
(1) It is here termed the old path. The way of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, good and holy of every clime and age. The everlasting Gospel has existed from eternity.
(2) It is to be sought out. Eternity depends on the issue.
3. Having found the right path, we are to walk in it. Knowledge alone is not sufficient; there must be practical application of it.
II. A gracious promise.
1. The rest promised is of the highest kind. For the soul. The soul requires it. Burdened with sin; filled with feverish anxiety; like a ship tossed on a troubled sea.
2. This rest can be bestowed by God alone. It is the fruit of our union with Him, the result of our being His dear children.
3. In what does it consist? In our being forgiven; in our being conscious of the Divine favour; in our having the Spirit of Christ in our souls; in our dependence upon the promises. (H. B. Ingrain.)
The good old way
I. The nature of the old way from which adam so fatally swerved, and all his descendants with him.
1. The way of self-denial. As this principle involves resistance to temptation, control of temper and overthrow of natural inclinations and habits, it is necessarily an important ingredient of true religion; from the nature of the case, from the bare fact of its being amenable to the superior will of the Almighty, an indispensable requisite of finite perfection in all instances whatsoever.
2. The way of implicit dependence upon God. Until the foul spirit of restless discontent took possession of his breast Adam was sufficed to rest and rely for everything upon the wisdom, power, love and benignity of Him who created him content to know no more than what He taught him, and to exercise his mental faculties and reasoning powers in entire subordination to his Superior’s wish, questioning nothing, but taking everything as perfect that came from Him. The knowledge, service and worship of God were the objects of all he thought, saw, or did. Beyond them there was nothing he eared to desire or know.
3. The way of humility. “Knowledge” says St. Paul, “puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” What knowledge? Not the chastened, subdued, heaven-taught and heaven-tempered wisdom which guided the soul and enlarged the understanding of Adam before he fell, but that meretricious counterfeit of it--that now delusive light, whose pride-awakening, man-flattering beams, brought first to bear on his foolish heart by the arch destroyer at the fall, allured him to his destruction.
II. How we may obey the command of the text in returning to this way. Whoever in earnest desires to recover his lost innocence, and the forfeited favour of his Creator, and to return to that better land, that state of ineffable bliss and purity, which was the original birthright of us all, are taught in the Gospel of the grace of God that the first step in that direction is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of sinners; which is nothing else than that filial trust or confidence we have already mentioned as displayed by Adam before he fell.
III. The necessity and advantage, as well as duty, of obeying the advice given in the text. (S. H. Simpson.)
The respect due to antiquity
It has been well said by Lord Bacon, that the antiquity of past ages is the youth of the world--and therefore it is an inversion of the right order, to look for greater wisdom in some former generation than there should be in our present day. “The time in which we now live,” says he, “is properly the ancient time, because now the world is ancient; and not that time which we call ancient, when we look in a retrograde direction, and by a computation backward from ourselves.” There must be a delusion, then, in that homage which is given to the wisdom of antiquity, as d it bore the same superiority over the wisdom of the present times, which the wisdom of an old does over that of a young man. It is in vain to talk of Socrates, and Plato, and Aristotle. Only grant that there may still be as many good individual specimens of humanity as before; and a Socrates now, with all the additional lights which have sprung up in the course of intervening centuries to shine upon his understanding, would be a greatly wiser man than the Socrates of two thousand years ago. But however important thus to reduce the deference that is paid to antiquity; and with whatever grace and propriety it has been done by him who stands at the head of the greatest revolution in philosophy.
we shall incur the danger of running into most licentious waywardness, if we receive not the principle, to which I have now adverted, with two modifications. Our first modification is, that though, in regard to all experimental truth, the world should be wiser now than it was centuries ago, this is the fruit not of our contempt or our heedlessness in regard to former ages, but the fruit of our most respectful attention to the lessons which their history affords. We do right in not submitting to the dictation of antiquity; but that is no cause why we should refuse to be informed by her--for this were throwing us back again to the world’s infancy, like the second childhood of him whom disease had bereft of all his recollections. And so, again, in the language of Bacon, “Antiquity deserveth that reverence, that men should make a stand thereupon, and discover what is the best way; but when the discovery is well taken then to make progression.” But there is a second modification, which, in the case of a single individual of the species, it is easy to understand, and which we shall presently apply to the whole species. We may conceive of a man, that, after many years of vicious indulgence, he is at once visited by the lights of conscience and memory; and is enabled to contrast the dislike, and the dissatisfaction, and the dreariness of heart, which now prey on the decline of his earthly existence, with all the comparative innocence which gladdened its hopeful and happy morning. As he bethinks him of his early home, of the piety which flourished there, and that holy atmosphere in which he was taught to breathe with kindred aspirations, he cannot picture to himself the bliss and the beauty of such a scene, mellowed as it is by distance, and mingled with the dearest recollections of parents, and sisters, and other kindred now mouldering in the dust, he cannot recall for a moment this fond, though faded imagery, without sighing in the bitterness of his heart, after the good old way. Now, what applies to one individual may apply to the species. In a prolonged course of waywardness, they may have wandered very far from the truth of heaven. And after, perhaps, a whole dreary millennium of guilt and of darkness, may some gifted individual arise, who can look athwart the gloom, and descry the purer and the better age of Scripture light which lies beyond it. And as he compares all the errors and the mazes of that vast labyrinth into which so many generations had been led by the jugglery of deceivers, with that simple but shining path which conducts the believer unto glory, let us wonder not that the aspiration of his pious and patriotic heart should be for the good old way. We now see wherein it is that the modern might excel the ancient. In regard to experimental truth, he can be as much wiser than his predecessors, as the veteran and the observant sage is wiser than the unpractised stripling, to whom the world is new, and who has yet all to learn of its wonders and of its ways. The voice that is now emitted from the schools, whether of physical or of political science, is the voice of the world’s antiquity. The voice emitted from the same schools, in former ages, was the voice of the world’s childhood, which then gave forth in lisping utterance the conceits and the crudities of its young unchastened speculation. But in regard to things not experimental, in regard even to taste, or to imagination, or to moral principle, as well as to the stable and unchanging lessons of Divine truth, there is no such advancement. For the perfecting of these, we have not to wait the slow processes of observation and discovery, handed down from one generation to another. They address themselves more immediately to the spirit’s eye; and just as in the solar light of day, our forefathers saw the whole of visible creation as perfectly as we--so in the lights, whether of fancy, or of conscience, or of faith, they may have had as just and vivid a perception of nature’s beauties; or they may have had as ready a discrimination, and as religious a sense of all the proprieties of life; or they may have had a veneration as solemn, and an acquaintance as profound, with the mysteries of revelation, as the men of our modern and enlightened day. And, accordingly, we have as sweet or sublime an eloquence, and as transcendent a poetry, and as much both of the exquisite and noble in all the fine arts, and a morality as delicate and dignified; and, to crown the whole, as exulted and as informed a piety in the remoter periods of the world, as among ourselves, to whom the latter ends of the world have come. In respect of these, we are not on higher vantage-ground than many of the generations that have gone by. But neither are we on lower vantage ground. We have access to the same objects. We are in possession of the same faculties. And, if between the age in which we live, and some bright and bygone era, there should have intervened the deep and the long-protracted haze of many centuries, whether of barbarism in taste, or of profligacy in morals, or of superstition in Christianity, it will only heighten, by comparison, to our eyes, the glories of all that is excellent; and if again awakened to light and to liberty, it will only endear the more to our hearts the good old way. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Steadfastness in the old paths
In what respect should we follow old times? Now here there is this obvious maxim--what God has given us from heaven cannot be improved, what man discovers for himself does admit of improvement: we follow old times then so far as God has spoken in them; but in those respects in which God has not spoken in them, we are not bound to follow them. Now knowledge connected merely with this present world, we have been left to acquire for ourselves. How we may till our lands and increase our crops; how we may build our houses, and buy and sell and get gain; how we may cross the sea in ships; how we may make “fine linen for the merchant,” or, like Tubal-Cain, be artificers in brass and iron: as to these objects of this world, necessary indeed for the time, not lastingly important, God has given us no clear instruction. Here then we have no need to follow the old ways. Besides, in many of these arts and pursuits, there is really neither right nor wrong at all; but the good varies with times and places. Each country has its own way, which is best for itself, and bad for others. Again, God has given us no authority in questions of science. If we wish to boast ,bout little matters, we know more about the motions of the heavenly bodies than Abraham, whose seed was in number as the stars; we can measure the earth, and fathom the sea, and weigh the air, more accurately than Moses, the inspired historian of the creation; and we can discuss the varied inhabitants of this earth better than Solomon. But let us turn to that knowledge which God has given, and which therefore does not admit of improvement by lapse of time; this is religious knowledge. God taught Adam how to please Him, and Noah, and Abraham, and Job. He has taught every nation all over the earth sufficiently for the moral training of every individual. In all these cases, the world’s part of the work has been to pervert the truth, not to disengage it from obscurity. The new ways are the crooked ones. The nearer we mount up to the time of Adam, or Noah, or Abraham, or Job, the purer light of truth we gain; as we recede from it we meet with superstitions, fanatical excesses, idolatries, and immoralities. So again in the case of the Jewish Church, since God expressly gave them a precise law, it is clear man could not improve upon it; he could but add the “traditions of men.” Lastly, in the Christian Church, we cannot add or take away, as regards the doctrines that are contained in the inspired volume, as regards the faith once delivered to the saints. Other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11). But it may be said that, though the Word of God is an infallible rule of faith, yet it requires interpreting, and why, as time goes on, should we not discover in it more than we at present know on the subject of religion and morals? But this is hardly a question of practical importance to us as individuals; for in truth a very little knowledge is enough for teaching a man his duty: and, since Scripture is intended to teach us our duty, surely it was never intended as a storehouse of mere knowledge. Little knowledge is required for religious obedience. The poor and rich, the learned and unlearned, are here on a level. We have all of us the means of doing our duty; we have not the will, and this no knowledge can give. We have need to subdue our own minds, and this no other person can do for us. Practical religious knowledge is a personal gift, and, further, a gift from God; and, therefore, as experience has hitherto shown, more likely to be obscured than advanced by the lapse of time. But further, we know of the existence of an evil principle in the world, corrupting and resisting the truth in its measure, according to the truth’s clearness and purity. Our Saviour, who was the truth itself, was the most spitefully entreated of all by the world. It has been the case with His followers too. The purer and more valuable the gift which God bestows, far from this being a security for the truth’s abiding and advancing, rather the more grievously has been the gift abused (1 John 2:18; 2 Timothy 3:13). Such is the case as regards the knowledge of our duty,--that kind of knowledge which alone is really worth earnest seeking. And there is an important reason why we should acquiesce in it;--because the conviction that things are so has no slight influence in forming our minds into that perfection of the religious character at which it is our duty ever to be aiming. While we think it possible to make some great and important improvements in the subject of religion, we shall be unsettled, restless, impatient; we shall be drawn from the consideration of improving ourselves, and from using the day while it is given us, by the visions of a deceitful hope, which promises to make rich but tendeth to penury. On the other hand, as we cease to be theorists we shall become practical men; we shall have less of self-confidence and arrogance, more of inward humility and diffidence; we shall be less likely to despise others, and think of our own intellectual powers with less complacency. It is one great peculiarity of the Christian’s character to be dependent; to be willing to serve, and to rejoice in the permission; to be able to view himself in a subordinate place; to love to sit in the dust. To his ears the words of the text are as sweet music: “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths,” etc. The history of the old dispensation affords us a remarkable confirmation of what has been argued; for in the time of the law there was an increase of religious knowledge by fresh revelations. From the time of Samuel especially to the time of Malachi, the Church was bid look forward for a growing illumination, which, though not necessary for religious obedience, subserved the establishment of religious comfort. Now, observe how careful the inspired prophets of Israel are to prevent any kind of disrespect being shown to the memory of former times, on account of that increase of religious knowledge with which the later ages were favoured; and if such reverence for the past were a duty among the Jews when the Saviour was still to come, much more is it the duty of Christians. Now, as to the reverence enjoined and taught the Jews towards persons and times past, we may notice first the commandment given them to honour and obey their parents and elders. This, indeed, is a natural law. But that very circumstance surely gives force to the express and repeated injunctions given them to observe it, sanctioned too (as it was) with a special promise. But, further, to bind them to the observance of this duty, the past was made the pledge of the future, hope was grounded upon memory; all prayer for favour sent them back to the old mercies of God. “The Lord hath been mindful of us, He will bless us”; this was the form of their humble expectation. Lastly, as Moses directed the eyes of his people towards the line of prophets which the Lord their God was to raise up from among them, ending in the Messiah, they in turn dutifully exalt Moses, whose system they were superseding. Samuel, David, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, each in succession, bear testimony to Moses. Oh, that we had duly drunk into this spirit of reverence and godly fear. Doubtless we are far above the Jews in our privileges; we are favoured with the news of redemption; we know doctrines, which righteous men of old time earnestly desired to be told, and were not. Yet our honours are our shame, when we contrast the glory given us with our love of the world, our fear of men, our lightness of mind, our sensuality, our gloomy tempers. What need have we to look with wonder and reverence at those saints of the old covenant, who with less advantages yet so far surpassed us; and still more at those of the Christian Church, who both had higher gifts of grace and profited by them! (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
Religion an ancient path, and a good way
I. The instructive view given of religion.
1. It is an ancient path. The Gospel is coeval with the Fall. All the Mosaic rites and ceremonies were typical of the blessings of the Gospel dispensation, and taught the faithful worshipper to look forward to the Saviour.
2. It is a good way.
(1) This is the way which God Himself, of His infinite wisdom and goodness, hath marked out for us.
(2) Those who walk in it may expect all necessary guidance and direction.
(3) In wisdom’s way we have the best of company.
(4) It will afford the purest pleasure, as we advance in it, and will infallibly conduct us to perfect and endless happiness and glory.
II. The duty enjoined.
1. We are to use every endeavour to become acquainted with the ways of religion.
(1) If we are accountable beings, what shall we think of those who seem to have formed a resolution to banish serious reflection from their minds; who plunge themselves into vice, dissipate themselves in pleasure, in vanity, and in every trifle that strikes their imagination; and devote themselves to those things, body and soul, without ever stopping to consider what they are doing, whither they are going, and what the consequences must be of their madness and folly!
(2) To self-reflection we add reflection on the Word of God.
(a) The way therein marked out is a way of holiness and purity.
(b) The superior excellence of the Scriptures, as a rule of life, will be still further evident if we consider their high authority.
2. Our knowledge must be reduced to practice; when we have found the good way, we must walk in it.
(1) We should immediately enter upon a religious course, after due information concerning it.
(2) We should proceed in a religious course with the greatest care and circumspection.
(3) We should endeavour to make continual progress in a religious course.
3. It is our duty to persevere in a religious course, it will not answer a traveller’s purpose, who has a necessary journey before him, to proceed a little way in it, and then give over, or take a different path that leads a contrary way. So, in the ways of religion, he, and he only, who holds out to the end shall be saved.
III. The import of the gracious promise, by which the duty here enjoined is recommended and enforced. The rest here promised consists--
1. In our being delivered from those uneasy doubts and anxieties of mind which arise from an uncertainty as to the way in which we ought to go.
2. Those who walk in the good way of religion find rest to their souls, as they are thereby delivered from the great cause of inward uneasiness--the sense of unpardoned guilt; or, in other words, from the terrors of an accusing conscience.
3. They who walk in the ways of religion find rest to their souls, as they are thereby delivered from those sources of disquietude which spring from sinful and unruly passions.
4. This good way infallibly conducts those who walk in it to uninterrupted and everlasting happiness in the world to come. (James Ross, D. D.)
Reverence for the old things
Jeremiah was the most unpopular of the prophets. First because he was somewhat of a pessimist, uttering predictions which the events proved true enough, but which were painted in too gloomy colours to suit the tastes of the people. Secondly, because he never flattered. And a third, and even greater, reason for the dislike, was that they regarded him as old-fashioned, out of date, an antiquated, obsolete old fogey, with his eyes behind. He was always harping on the old times when people lived simple lives and feared God. And the people sneered at him as a sort of fossil, as a man who had been born a century too late. The people had a disease upon them which might be called Egyptomania. They wanted to form a close alliance with Egypt, and to adopt all their modes of life, their dress, furniture, luxuries, self-indulgences, political ideas, military system, laws, morals, and religion. There was to be a clean sweep made of all that Israel had loved and believed in and by taking heathen Egypt as a model they would speedily attain to Egypt’s greatness and splendour. This was the craze against which the prophet set himself, and protested in vain. For there are times when a people are determined to destroy themselves. Are the old paths always Divine, and the new ways always as dangerous as this prophet thought them? The answer has to be qualified, and there are more answers than one. The Bible does not always speak in the same voice about it. If Jeremiah looked back with lingering affection, St. Paul, who had seen the higher truth in Christ, had his eyes in front, and advised us to forget the things which are behind. And a greater than Paul has told us that every wise man will bring out of his treasury things new and old. The man who sneers at everything which is old, and fancies that wisdom always wears a brand new face, has precious little of the latter article himself. The alphabet and the simple rules of arithmetic are as ancient as an Egyptian mummy, but they are not out of date yet. We still need some of the things which Noah and Abraham prized. On the other hand, the man who sets his face against everything new is shutting his eyes to the light.
I. To bind ourselves to the old paths is, for us at least, in many things impossible. We live in the midst of rapid movement and change, and we are carried along by it in spite of ourselves. And if we could do it, it would be paralysing. It would be the end of all healthy life and action. It is the distinguishing feature of Christian nations to be forever casting off the old and putting on the new. It is a dead religion which stands still and makes men stand still. The spirit of life in Christ Jesus urges the world on, away from a dead past nearer to the golden age which is to be. I hardly dare bring before you the things which are going on in China. And it all comes from a blind, brutal, obstinate clinging to the old paths. The world moves on, and the Chinese refuse to move. God in His mercy has brought us out of all that, and given us eyes to see that through the ages one unceasing purpose runs, and the minds of men are widened with the process of the suns. There are a hundred things in nearly every department of life which we do and know and understand better than our fathers. We should never dream of going back in science, machinery, politics, government, freedom of thought and speech, or in religion.
II. To forsake all the old paths is a folly quite as blind and self-destructive as to cling to them all. Wisdom was not born in the present century. It dwelt with God before the foundation of the world, and He gave some of it to men who lived thousands of years before our time. We are cleverer than the ancients in some things, but not in all. The Greek thinkers were superior to the best thinkers of today. We could not now produce such books as Plato wrote, and the Hebrew prophets and psalmists put all our cleverest writers into the shade. We cannot build temples as the men of old built. We cannot paint pictures or carve statues or create things of beauty as they did. We have no Homers and Virgils, Dantes, Miltons, Shakespeares, Bunyans. In moral and religious things many of those greatest men were far in advance of our best, and we can only reach some of their excellence by learning of them and treading in the old paths. In fact, in the greatest things of life the old ways are the everlasting ways, and the only ways of safety. They have stood the test of time. For the momentous questions of morality and righteousness, worship and reverence, sin and human need, God and immortality, spiritual mysteries and things unseen, we have still to sit like children at the feet of those giants of faith, those great souls from Moses to St. Paul, who walked with God and spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. We cannot dispense with the Ten Commandments yet. And as for the Sermon on the Mount, its very perfection is our despair. If you want to find the highest types of manhood, you will stand rather in the old paths than the new; you will look back rather than around you. If we want to know what sin is, we must go to the Bible and the Cross of Jesus Christ, and not to the modem ideas, which often make light of sin and treat it as irresponsible disease. If we want to learn the depth of penitence we must go to the soul-stricken David or the weeping Peter. And if we would see light beyond the grave we must go all that way back and stand with the women and the disciples before an open sepulchre. Yes, and perhaps above all things, if we would learn how to live and love, to endure and to hope, to suffer and to die, it is only in the old Bible paths that we can get the lesson. The new lights will show us how to get money faster, and to make life smoother and more comfortable, but they will not help us to be brave in difficulties, patient in cross bearing, and fearless in the hour of death. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
The Jesus way
“You must not be discouraged,” said a Kiowa Indian, “if we Indians come slow. It is a long road for us to leave our old Indian ways, and we have to think a great deal; but I am sure that all the Indian people will come into the Jesus road for I see that these white Jesus people are here to help us, and I thank them for coming. Tell the Christian people to pray for us. We are ignorant, but we want to be led aright, that we may come into the Jesus road.” The quaint Indian expressions are very suggestive. It is indeed a “long road” to leave our old ways; and when we feel that we are safe in the “Jesus road,” we should take time to ask ourselves if we are sure we are treading it as we should, if we are sure we are not walking in some path that seems to run parallel with it, but which in reality is leading us farther and farther away. (Christian Age.)
Ye shall find rest for your souls.--
It is the distinguishing mark of the “good” and “old” way that in it men find rest for their souls. You may judge between the true Gospel and the false, between that which is of God and that which is of man, by this one test. As “by their fruits ye shall know them,” so by this one fruit among the rest: Does it bring rest into the soul? If not, it is not of God; but if it brings a clear, sure, true, honest rest into the soul, then it cometh of standing in the good way. Remember that rest was the promise of the Saviour. “Come unto Me”--not to anything else, but “unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I”--Myself personally--“will give you rest” But what next? “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, and ye shall find rest”--that is another rest, still deeper, which you find in service. Oh, what a blessed Saviour we follow, who everywhere giveth us rest! Rest is enjoyed by believers now. But you will never find it anywhere else; as in no other form of religion, so in no other form of pursuit. If you follow wealth you will not find rest there. I spoke some time ago with a gentleman whom I believed to own more than a million, and I ventured to say that I should think after a man had got a million, it would not be worth while to have any more, because he could not get through that lot. “Ah,” he said, “I did not know”; and, truly, I did not know; but yet I knew enough to perceive that if a man had a million millions he would not be content. And if you go in for health and pursue that with all diligence, as you might readily do, yet even in the best health there is no rest. It is a noble gift; they who lose it know how precious it is; but there is no rest in that. And as in honour, or any earthly thing, of themselves they are the occasion of disquiet; they often are a seed plot wherein thorns grow that pierce us. But there is rest in Jesus, there is rest in a solid, simple faith in Him, but there is no rest anywhere else.
I. In thy good way we find rest, if we walk therein.
1. There is the way of pardon by an atonement. What a rest that brings to the conscience! A crushed conscience is but an echo of a truth. There is that in the nature of God and in the necessity of things, of which the conscience is but a faint echo, and when your conscience tells you sin must be punished, it tells you the truth; there is no escape from that necessity, and because Jesus suffered in our room and stead here is a glorious gate of salvation, but there is no other. So the way of pardon by an atonement gives rest to the conscience.
2. The way of believing the Word of God as being inspired of God, and being our authoritative guide, is a great rest to the understanding, “But do you understand it all?” No, sir, I do not; I do not want to. I want to love a great deal more, but I do not care so much about growing in that particular direction of finding out riddles and being able to thread the spheres. But if I could love my Lord better, and be more like Him, I would be happy. “Well, but you do not understand it, and yet you believe it.” Yes, I do; I find it is such a great thing to move my little bark side by side with a great rock, so high that I cannot see the top of it, because then I know I shall be sweetly sheltered there. Well, it is almost as good not to know as it is to know about a great many things, and sometimes better not to know, because then you can adore and consider that when faith bows before the majesty of an awful mystery she pays to God such homage as cherubim and seraphim pay Him before His throne.
3. There is a way which Christians learn of trusting their affairs with God which gives a general rest to their minds. You see, if you are truly a Christian you have not got anything, you have given it all to the Lord. Cannot you therefore trust Him with it? And pray which part of your business would you like to manage yourself? Mark it off and then make a black mark against it, for you will have no end of mischief and trouble there. Oh, happy is that man who leaves everything, soul and body, entirely in the hands of God, and is content with His Divine will.
4. The way of obedience to the Lord gives rest to the soul. He that believes in Jesus obeys Jesus. Oh, if you do right and stand fast in your integrity you shall wear that little herb called “heart-ease,” and he that weareth that is more happy than a king! and if you can go home at night, and that little bird in your bosom, called conscience, can sweetly sing to you that you have done a right thing, you shall rest in peace. And, mark you, even as to temporal things in the long run you shall be no loser; but if you should be, you will count it an honour to lose for Christ’s sake and for the right, and in the end, if you lose silver you shall gain gold. The way of obedience to Divine command gives rest to the soul.
5. The way of close communion with Christ is a way of profound rest unto the soul. Once get to be in Him, and to abide in Him, let your communion with Him be unbroken day after day, month after month, and year after year, and ye shall find rest unto your soul.
II. The rest which is found by walking in the good way is good for the soul.
1. There is a rest which rusts and injures the soul; but Gospel rest is of a very peculiar kind; it brings satisfaction, but it never verges on self-satisfaction. Oh, to be satisfied in Christ Jesus! Full, and therefore craving to be fuller; fed, and therefore hungering to have more.
2. Next, the rest that comes with Christ is a sense of safety, but it is not a sense of presumption. The man that is most safe in Christ is just the man that would not run any risks whatever. Secure, but not carnally secure; in safety, but not presumptuous.
3. This blessed rest creates content, but it also excites a desire of progress. The man that is perfectly content to be saved in Christ Jesus is also very anxious to grow in grace.
4. He that rests in God is also delivered from all legal fears, but he is supplied with superior motives for holiness. The fear of hell and the hope of heaven are poor motives to effort; but to feel “I cannot be lost; the blood of Christ is between me and the everlasting fire; I am bound for the everlasting kingdom, and by the certainties of the Divine promise as a believer I shall never be ashamed.”
III. Rest of this kind ought to be enjoyed now by every Christian. It is enjoyed by many of us, and it is a grievous error when it is not the case with all real Christians. Some of you say: “I trust I am a Christian, but I do not get much of this rest.” It is your own fault. I will tell you one thing, though--you would find more rest if you walked in the middle of the way. The best walking to heaven is in the middle of the road; on either side where the hedges are there is a ditch as well. I do not care to go to heaven along the ditch, on the outside of the road. Have you never heard the American story of a gentleman who invited a friend up to his orchard to come and eat some of his apples--he had such exquisite apples? But though he invited his friend several times, he never came. At last he said: “I wish you would come and taste my fruit--it is wonderful, just in perfection now.” He said: “Well, to tell you the truth! have tasted it, and I was ill after it.” “Well,” said he, “how came that about?” “Well, as I was riding along I picked up an apple that fell over into the road.” “Oh, dear,” he said, “you do not understand it. I went miles to buy that peculiar sort of apple to put round the edge of the orchard; that was for the boys, so that after they had once tasted that particular apple they might not think of coming any farther. But if you will go into the orchard you will find I have a very different sort of fruit inside.” Now, do you know that round the margin of religion the trees of repentance and so forth grow--that fruit not over sweet to some palates. Oh, but if you would come inside, but if you would come into the very centre, what joy you would have! Surely, Christians, you have reason enough for delight. What a happy religion that is in which pleasure is a precept! “Rejoice in the Lord always” is as much a command as “Thou shalt keep the Sabbath day.” Remember that, and do pray God that you may get into the very middle of the road, know you are there, and keep there year after year by Divine grace, for then you shall find rest unto your souls. Well, then, this rest ought to be enjoyed now. We ought to throw aside these anxious cares of ours; if we do not, in what respect are we better than worldlings? An excursion to heaven is the best relief from the cares of earth, and you may soon be there. Last night a friend living in Colombo, Ceylon, said, “Oh, it is a beautiful place to live in. Although it is very hot where we live, yet in a few hours we get up in the eternal snows where we shall be as cool as we wish.” That is just what we are here. It is very hot: the cares and trials of life often parch us, but in five minutes we can be up there in the hill country, and behold the face of Him we love. Why do we not oftener go there? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The bugle call to rest
In nothing has God consulted economy less than in the provision He has made to guard us from danger; and the Divine solicitude to rescue us from ruin is strongly contrasted with our perpetual propensity to rush into it. In the moral constitution of the mind, also, the safeguards against danger are no less remarkable than the provisions for enjoyment. Why is conscience made so acutely wakeful and sensitive, but with a view to guard us against the first approaches of sin? Why is memory made so tenaciously to treasure up the results of past experience and failure, but to repress that inconsiderate eagerness which would hurry us on to ruin? In the Bible God has preeminently placed the strongest guards on the side of danger.
I. The attractive view of religion furnished in this one word “rest.” God might have made religion a state of penance and bondage, and it would still have been such had we been suffered to “escape so as by fire.” Instead of this, tie clothes His religion with attractiveness and tenderness.
1. It brings rest to the understanding by the truths it reveals.
2. It brings rest to the conscience by the pardon it imparts.
3. It brings rest by revealing an adequate object on which the affections can repose. The tendency of irreligion is to dishonour and degrade our nature, by confining us to the world and to time; that of real religion is to exalt and ennoble the mind by connecting us with God and eternity. The one leaves us to mourn, with orphaned heart; the other brings God before us as the object most worthy of our affections, and able to meet and satisfy the vast capacities of happiness which His own kindness has originated.
II. Causes of the rejection of religion by the worldly and inconsiderate.
1. A false estimate of themselves and of the evil and danger to which, in consequence of sin, they are exposed.
2. The unsuspected influence of evil habits, and the progressive and hardening tendency of uurepented sin. As Jeremy Taylor puts it: “Vice first is pleasing, then delightful, then frequent, then habitual, then confirmed; then the man is impenitent, then he is obstinate, then he resolves never to repent, and then he dies.”
3. The injurious and delusive results of a false and formal profession of religion. Despair is a near neighbour of presumption. The system which is founded in fraud must end in delusion. It fails to satisfy, as it fails to sanctify.
4. Because the period is extremely short in which the voice of God, as a Saviour, can be heard at all. “Mercy is like the rainbow which God set in the clouds to remember mankind. It shines here as long as it is not hindered; but we must never look for it after it is night.” (Homiletic Magazine.)
Your burnt offerings are not acceptable.
I. The manifest failure of these Jewish offerings.
1. By these their consecration was to be furthered. But they were foul.
2. By these their repentance was to be awakened. But they sinned shamefully.
3. By these their minds were to be directed to the Messiah. But, in their arrogance and care for mere externals, they lost sight of spiritual lessons.
4. By these God was to be pleased and propitiated. The text indicates their complete miscarriage in this respect.
II. The indignant question and repudiation.
1. God thrusts from Himself the offensive temple offerings. He demands the heart. Nothing is sweet to God without love.
2. God stigmatises them as purposeless and waste.
3. Worship that offends God is waste, but also something more. Heart hardening. Judgment. Punishment.
1. The most important matter about our spiritual things is their acceptableness with God.
2. Our best energies are needed, not for externals, but internals. (W. B. Haynes.)
Ostentatiousness of hypocrisy
Drones make more noise than bees, though they make neither honey nor wax. (J. Trapp.)
The bellows are burnt.
The bellows burnt
I. The prophet himself. The prophet was exhausted before the people were impressed. So also with Noah, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Jesus Himself. Nor since, by apostles, confessors, zeal-consuming preachers, has the iron-hearted world become melted; but they themselves have suffered and perished amid their work.
1. It is the preacher’s business to continue labouring till he is worn out.
2. The Gospel he preaches is the infallible test between the precious and the vile.
II. The afflictions which God sends upon ungodly men. Sent to see if they will melt in the furnace or not. But where there is no grace in affliction the afflictions are sooner exhausted than the sinner’s heart is made to melt under the heat caused thereby--e.g., Pharaoh, not softened by all the plagues. Ahaz, “when he was afflicted, he sinned yet more and more.” Jerusalem, often chastised, yet incorrigible. Sinners, upon whom God’s judgments exert no melting power.
III. The chastisements which God sends upon His own people. The great Refiner will have His gold pure, and will utterly remove our tin. Do not let it be said that the bellows are used till they are worn out before our afflictions melt us to repentance and cause us to let go our sins.
IV. The time is coming when the excitement of ungodly men will fail them. Many activities are kept up by outward energies inciting men.
1. Excitement in pursuit of wealth. Yet how little will the joys of wealth stimulate you in your last moments!
2. Excitement in pursuing fame. Alas! men burn away their lives for the approbation of fellow creatures; and these fires will die down into darkness.
3. Living for pleasure; but satiety follows, and the flame of joy goes out.
4. Hypocrisy is with some their “bellows”; but this feigned zeal and pretended piety will end in black despair.
V. Those excitements which keep alive the Christian’s zeal. In certain Churches we have seen great blazings of enthusiasm, misnamed “revivals,” mere agitations. Genuine revivals I love, but these spurious things are fanaticism. Why was it the fire soon went out? The man who blew the bellows left the scene of excitement, and darkness ensued. Our earnestness is worthless which depends on such special ministrations. Is the fire in our soul burning less vehemently than in years past? Our obligations to live for Christ are the same; our Master’s claims on our love are as strong; the objects for which we served God in the past are as important. Should we grow less heavenly the nearer we come to the New Jerusalem? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The prophet’s consuming zeal and the people’s unresponsiveness
He likens the people of Israel to a mass of metal. This mass of metal claimed to be precious ore, such as gold or silver. It was put into the furnace, the object being to fuse it, so that the pure metal should be extracted from the dross. Lead was put in with the ore to act as a flux (that being relied upon by the ancient smelters, as quicksilver now is in these more instructed days); a fire was kindled, and then the bellows were used to create an intense heat, the bellows being the prophet himself. He complains that he spake with such pathos, such energy, such force of heart, that he exhausted himself without being able to melt the people’s hearts; so hard was the ore, that the bellows were burned before the metal was melted--the prophet was exhausted before the people were impressed; he had worn out his lungs, his powers of utterance; he had exhausted his mind, his powers of thought; he had broken his heart, his powers of emotion; but he could not divide the people from their sins, and separate the precious from the vile. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The lead is consumed of the fire.
We mean precisely the same thing as the Hebrew prophet meant when we say, as nowadays we are so apt to say, that life is a school. People still are puzzled by the punishments of life. The discipline is strict. The rules are rigid. Oftentimes we suffer. It is not by any means all play. But there are lessons to be learned, and forbearance to be used, and suffering to be borne. It seems to us narrow and foolish of Jeremiah to have fancied that the Lord raised up those great Assyrian and Babylonian nations simply for the purpose of trying and testing the Jewish people. It was narrow also of the Jews to fancy themselves the “chosen people,” whom God particularly loved and wished to save. Yet all of us today are similarly narrow in one sense, and we have to be. We cannot free ourselves, you and I and others like us, from the conviction that we, as men and women, by virtue of the very life that is in us, are the centre and meaning of this entire universe. Believe this in some degree we must. Doubt it, and the very heavens are bleak and bare. Every system in philosophy, every article of religious faith, every discovery in science, is based, more or less directly, upon the supposition of this distinct relationship between the outer universe and the life of man. Let us use, for convenience’ sake, the analogy of the prophet. We will suppose that we are placed here as the crude ore is thrown into the furnace, in order to be refined. Along what lines should the process of refinement work? Nothing is more familiar than the claim that sorrow chastens us, and hardships strengthen, and trials test. As Goethe said, “Talent is perfected in retirement, but character only in the stream of life.” They tell this concerning Wendell Phillips. Whenever the great orator tended to become a little prosy in his speeches, and to lose some of his customary fire, certain young Abolitionists used to get together near the door and start a hiss. The note of disapproval never failed to arouse the lion in the speaker, and he was electrified at once into matchless eloquence. The world’s agencies of trial and toil and difficulty are indeed in vain, the bellows of life are consumed most uselessly, if you and I are not made more courageous and calm and self-reliant by the process. And yet the hard things of this world ought not to be the only ones to have this refining influence. We are weak and ungrateful, and made of anything but precious metal, if we are not purified by the privileges of life, hallowed by its happiness, humbled by success. In everyday life most of us are not deficient in gratitude. We appreciate the kindness and generosity of our friends. But how few of us in comparison fall to our knees in an hour of newborn joy, or reverently think of life’s higher meaning, and resolve on a rigider performance of our duties, when success has bathed us in its golden sunshine! There is no much surer test of character than this: What effect has good fortune had? If the person is innately weak to whom some power or privilege has come, he answers it by pride and selfishness and vain indulgence. He feels himself exalted; and, instead of looking up in reverence and humility to his God, he looks down with coldness on his fellow men. Shall I tell you what is to me one of the most inspiring, beautiful sights in all the wide range of human activity and character? It is to see and know of anyone truly great who has been humbled by success, and touched into infinite modesty by the consciousness of superlative ability. It is to find people refined into simplicity and gentle devoutness by the world’s blandishments and distinctions and honours. And this has been the refining influence to which the noblest and the truest ones have answered. You all know, too, the saying of the distinguished, world-honoured discoverer, Sir Isaac Newton,--that he was nothing but a helpless child gathering pebbles on a boundless shore, with the great ocean of undiscovered truth stretching away beyond him. I have spoken of sorrow and of joy--the two extremes of existence--as having properly this purifying influence on life. Let, me now speak broadly of certain phases of refinement which ought to appear as the result of the world’s great processes.
1. First, there is the refining fire of glory, which is so abundant in the outward world. It is for us to answer it by what is known as reverence. We have not the pure metal which is sought, if we are not so refined by the wonders of the world as to kneel in worship, and uplift our souls in awe. “This world is not for him who does not worship,” said an ancient Persian sage; and our kindred souls give back the truth across the centuries, “This world is not for him who does not worship.”
2. Again, there is the burning fact of law. All things around us are done with persistency. Everything is regular. The smallest function is precise. Surely the knowledge of such constancy should have its influence on us. It should take what is pure within us. It should appeal to the clear metal of our better selves, and make us trust.
3. Finally, the fire of utter impartiality surrounds us. The world is laid at each one’s feet. The Divine bounty is not given to this person, and denied to that one; but all of us receive. And the answering refinement which should come from receptive human beings, who may doubt its nature or its need? A suggestive legend comes to us from Mohammedan writings. Abraham, it is said, once received an old man in his tent, who, in sitting down to eat, neglected to repeat a “grace.” “My custom,” he said, in explanation, “is that of the fire worshipper.”--Whereupon the Jewish patriarch in wrath undertook to drive him from his door. But suddenly God appeared to him, and, restraining the churlish impulse, cried: “Abraham, for one hundred years the Divine bounty has flowed out to you in sunshine and in rain; and is it for you to deny shelter to this man because his worship is not thine?” Even thus does nature speak a silent yet severe rebuke to our narrowness, our lack of sympathy, our petty distinctions and rivalries in social life. “Be broad,” she cries. “Let love control your acts; to those who need, extend a helping hand.” (P. R. Frothingham.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 6". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24