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Oh that my head were waters.
Christian anguish over spiritual desolation
There is a solemn beauty in Jeremiah’s devotion to the welfare of his fellow countrymen. Blinded as they were by sin, they could not appreciate his anxiety, and when his loving devotion broke into the tenderest words of warning, they regarded him in the light of an enemy instead of a sincere friend. The depth of his feeling, the tenderness of his words, remind us strongly of another scene which took place more than five hundred years after these events: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets,” etc. The most beautiful sight on earth is unselfish devotion to the social, mental, moral and spiritual interests of humanity. While the less thoughtful may be dazzled by the great military achievements of conquering heroes, the more thoughtful are rather charmed by that self-sacrificing devotion which, losing sight of worldly applause and worldly honour, has thought of nothing but the opportunity of doing good. As the prodigal son, in his ingratitude, profligacy, and sinful wanderings, did not check the pulsations of his father’s heart, but rather intensified them and brought to light the richness of his father’s love, so the unbelief, idolatry, and sinful lives of the Jewish people only served to reveal the strength, the sweetness and richness of the prophet’s nature. The history of the Christian Church is history of men and women who have not counted their lives dear unto themselves, but who have bestowed their warmest affections and divinest endeavours upon those who seemed the least likely to respond to such manifestations of interest and of love. The history of Jewish backslidings, of vows solemnly taken and as readily broken, reminds us in a vivid manner of scenes which have transpired from time to time in the Christian dispensation. For the progress of the Christian Church toward a larger benevolence, a broader charity, a purer morality, and a more intelligent piety has neither been rapid nor uniform. Seasons of great revival have been followed by periods of marked decline. Into the midst of torrid heat comes a wave of arctic cold. A narrow denominationalism has often thrown its dark shadow across the pathway of Christian catholicity. Creeds, catechisms, formulas, confessions of faith have often outweighed sobriety, virtue, benevolence, and all the other graces which adorn the Christian character, while practical unbelief, clothed in the formulas of an accepted dogma, has passed for genuine Christianity without even the semblance of a challenge. As each period of Jewish history was favoured with some that were true and brave--whose words of instruction, reproof, and warning were spoken above the din of the busy multitudes--so each period of the Christian dispensation has been honoured with some John the Baptist, whose earnest words have resounded from valley to valley, from peak to peak, and from land to land, echoing the Gospel of the blessed Lord, and summoning men to self-sacrifice, to holiness, and to purity. Our interest in the human race will depend largely upon our faith in human possibilities. If we see in man simply the possibilities of an animal, possibilities, to be sure, greater than belong to any other earthly creature, but possibilities determined by material conditions, limited to threescore years and ten, possibilities that have no relation to a future world--if we see in man nothing but the ability to trace in the sands of time a few illegible characters, then our interest in his welfare and prosperity can neither be deep nor abiding. But if, on the other hand, we see in man a creature made in the Divine image, with feeling, with thought, with spirituality, with volition, with freedom, with immortal properties, created for a higher sphere and for a better world, capable of companionship with angels, capable of communion with the omnipotent Author of his existence, endowed with power to love and serve the mighty Ruler of the universe, with unlimited capacity for growth and development--if we see in him an intelligent, moral, responsible, and immortal being, then we have an object worthy of our broadest sympathies, our warmest affections and our divinest endeavours. (Ezra Tinker, B. D.)
I. Genuine philanthropy melting with earnestness.
1. Heart intensely earnest concerning the temporal condition of men. Chaldean army among them, etc. Weeps as patriot.
2. Heart intensely earnest concerning the moral condition of men. Their carnalities, idolatries, and crimes affect his pious spirit more than physical sufferings and political disasters. Think of the soul--
(1) In relation to its capacity of suffering and happiness.
(2) In relation to the influences for good or evil it is capable of exerting.
(3) In relation to its power of being a delight or a grief to the heart of infinite Love.
II. Genuine philanthropy sighing for isolation.
1. The sigh of a spiritually vexed soul.
2. The sigh of disappointed love. Nothing is more saddening to generous souls than the discovery of indifference, ingratitude, and growing vice in the very men they seek to bless.
1. The vicariousness of genuine philanthropy. It inspires the possessor with the spirit that will prompt him to sacrifice his very being for the good of others.
2. The abuse of genuine philanthropy. The greatest sin in the universe is sin against love.
3. The imperfection of genuine philanthropy. Like the best of everything human, love is not perfect here. Disheartened, Jeremiah sought isolation. (Homilist.)
Sometimes tears are base things; the offspring of a cowardly spirit. Some men weep when they should knit their brows, and many a woman weepeth when she should resign herself to the will of God. But ofttimes tears are the noblest things in the world. The tears of penitents are precious: cup of them were worth a king’s ransom. He that loveth much, must weep much; much love and much sorrow must go together in this vale of tears. Jeremiah was not weak in his weeping; the strength of his mind and the strength of his love were the parents of his sorrow. It would seem as if some men had been sent into this world for the very purpose of being the world’s weepers. Men have their sorrows; they must have their weepers; they must have men of sorrows who have it for their avocation to be ever weeping, not so much for themselves as for the woes of others.
I. To begin, then, with actual murder and real bloodshed.
II. But I have now a greater reason for your sorrow--a more disregarded, and yet more dreadful, source of woe. “Oh, that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night,” for the morally slain of the daughter of my people. The old adage is still true, One half of the world knows nothing about how the other half lives. Oh, how many of our sons and daughters, of our friends and relatives, are slain by sin! Ye weep over battlefields, ye shed tears on me plains of Balaklava; there are worse battlefields than there, and worse deaths than those inflicted by the sword. Ah, weep ye for the drunkenness of this land! How many thousands of our race reel from our gin palaces into perdition! But there are other crimes too. Alas, for that crime of debauchery! What scenes hath the moon seen every night! Are these the only demons that are devouring our people? Ah, would to God it were so. Behold, throughout this land, how are men falling by every sin, disguised as it is under the shape of pleasure. O members of churches, ye may well take up the wary of Jeremiah when ye remember what multitudes of these you have in your midst men who have a name to live and are dead: and others, who though they profess not to be Christians, are almost persuaded to obey their Lord and Master, but are yea not partakers of the Divine life of God. But now I want, I can, to press this pathetic subject a little further upon our minds. In the day when Jeremiah wept this lamentation with an exceeding loud and bitter cry, Jerusalem was in all her mirth and merriment. Jeremiah was a sad man in the midst of a multitude of merry makers; he told them that Jerusalem should be destroyed, that their temple should become a heap, and Nebuchadnezzar should lay it with the ground. They laughed him to scorn; they mocked him. Still the viol and dance were only to be seen. And now, today, here are many of you merry makers in this ball of life; ye are here merry and glad today, and ye marvel that I should talk of you as persons for whom we ought to weep. “Weep ye for No!” you say; “I am in health, I am in riches, I am enjoying life; why weep me? I need none of your sentimental weeping!” Ah, but we weep because foresee the future. Oh, if today some strong archangel could unbolt the gates hell, and for a solitary second permit the voice of wailing and weeping to come to our ears: oh, how should we grieve! Remember, again, O Christian, that those for whom we ask you to weep this day are persons who have had great; privileges, and consequently, if lost, must expect greater punishment. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Why the righteous should weep for the wicked
I. Because they are infinite blessings.
1. There are many present blessings men lose by rebellion against God. There is a “peace that passeth all understanding,” and a “joy” unspeakable and full of glory, attending belief in, and devotion to, His service. The having one’s passions in subjection gives serenity of mind. But enjoying of God’s favour, and the light of His countenance, is the source of richest blessings mortals possess on earth. But what peace is there for the cursed?
2. But the eternal blessings they lose are beyond imagination.
3. And not these things matters of just lamentation? How must we pity him who, when there is a rest prepared, and a supper spread for him, in heaven, provokes God to swear that he “shall not enter in,” nor even taste of that supper.
II. Because of the influence woes they entail on themselves.
1. How inexpressibly dreadful are the torments which the wicked will endure in hell.
2. And can we view sinners hastening to that place of torment and not weep over them?
III. Because of the aggravated guilt under which they perish. Every offer of salvation aggravates the guilt of those who reject it; and every increase of guilt is followed by increase of misery. Infer--
1. How little true charity is there in the world. Charity to the soul is the soul of charity.
2. How earnest should men be in seeking the salvation of their own souls. (Evangelical Preacher.)
Grief for sinners
There is an anecdote told of a careless Sabbath breaker who stumbled into Mr. Sherman’s chapel one Sunday evening when he was engaged in prayer. He took his stand in the aisle, and, seeing the tears rolling down the minister’s cheeks and falling on the book as he was pleading for the conversion of sinners, he was aroused, and said to himself: “This man is evidently in earnest; there must be something in the condition of sinners that I do not understand.” He remained, was instructed and converted, and became a useful and steady member of the congregation.
Painful solicitude for the souls of others
This concern was incessant with the apostle. “I have continual sorrow in my heart.” The pain was unceasing. His interest in sinners was not spasmodic; it had become blessedly chronic. There are some of us who every now and then get a passing qualm of conscience and a consequent spurt in the matter, but how long does it last? It is a mere emotion, a transient feeling, a spasm that scarcely suffices to stir us for so much as a single Sabbath. Oh, that there were in the pastor’s heart, and in the hearts of all his people, a breaking, a yearning that cannot be satisfied, for the salvation of London, and of all who know not Jesus! I find myself weeping, but I weep because I weep so little. I confess myself this morning grieving, but I fear my greatest grief is that I do not grieve as I should. Well, that is a hopeful beginning. Let us all get to this at least, and we shall reach the other by and by. (Thomas Spurgeon.)
Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men.
Two prayers of Jeremiah
(with Jeremiah 14:8-24.14.9):--In all the fellowship of, the prophets Jeremiah is by far the most unwilling and reluctant. If Isaiah’s watchword was “Here am I--send me,” Jeremiah’s might have been, “I would be anywhere else but here--let me go.” It was out of this besetting mood of his that the prayer rose which I have taken as the first of my texts, “Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men, that I might leave my people and go from them.” That is not a prayer for solitude. It is some wayside caravanserai or hotel which Jeremiah longs for; and there he would have been far less alone than in his unshared home at Jerusalem. No, it is not a prayer for solitude, but a prayer to be set where a man can enjoy all the interest of life without having any of its responsibility. Oh, to have no other work in life than to watch the street from the balcony window, than to feel the interest and glitter of life, and achieve your duty towards your fellows, by a kindliness and a courtesy that are never put to the strain of prolonged acquaintance! But our prayers often outrun themselves in the very utterance; and Jeremiah’s wish, too, carried within it its own denial Look at the words, “That I might leave my people.” Emphasise the last two--“My people.” They are the answer to Jeremiah’s prayer. God had not sent him to earth to be as separate from the life of men as a musing man is from the river flowing past his feet; God had sent him, not to watch life from a balcony, but leaping down to share it; not to live in an inn where a man is not even responsible for the housekeeping, but has only his way to pay. God had begotten Jeremiah into a nation. He had made him a citizen. He had given him a patriot’s lot, with the patriot’s conscience and heart. So he stayed on where he was in Jerusalem, and the world may have lost certain studies in human life in the great caravanserai of the Lebanon or Arabian desert roads, for wherever he went Jeremiah would not have kept his brain and pen idle. We may even have lost a book, something between Job and Ecclesiastes, but we have gained the book of Jeremiah, the book of the citizen-prophet, and who, because he was a citizen-prophet, and not a caravanserai one, was also a citizen-priest, the first man who entered into the true meaning of vicarious suffering, and therefore stands out clear from all the shadows of the Old Testament--so clear a symbol of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Look now at the main elements of Jeremiah’s experience as he thus stood to his post of prophet and priest at Jerusalem. I take these elements to be mainly three.
1. The first was the reality of sin. A prophet has got to begin there, or he had better not begin at all. And he has got to begin there not in order to satisfy some dogma or another, but because the facts are there. There is a kind of preaching about sin far too prevalent in our day, which treats of it doctrinally and not practically, which lays its strength to proving to a man that he must be a sinner, instead of touching his conscience with the knowledge that he is one. But Jeremiah laid his finger on the actual plague spots of the people. He was very definite with these. But there was another note which Jeremiah sounded equally with that on the reality of sin.
2. It was the note of the swiftness and irretrievableness of time where character and salvation are concerned. Live with men in the city, grow old with the same individuals and groups, and learn things--how inexorable habit is; how irrecoverable are the chances of youth; how short and swift is the summer granted to each man’s character to ripen in; learn how even the Gospel of the grace of God is just like the sybil of old coming back each time: you have forced him to return with less power of promise and persuasion; and how even repentance--that great freedom of man, that joy of God and the angels--has its times and its places, which, being missed, are not found again, though we seek them with tears. Upon these thoughts the roll of Jeremiah’s prophecy rises every now and again with a great sob. What distinguished Jeremiah from all the prophets who had gone before him was that he did not stand on the banks while all Israel rushed rapidly past him irretrievably to ruin, but that he was with the people, taking their reproach as his reproach, and sharing the penalty of their sins.
3. This suffering for the sins of others, being the sin-bearer as well as the conscience of his people, is the third element of Jeremiah’s experience. How did he come to it? It is interesting to watch, for in God’s providence he was the first forerunner of Christ in this path. Well, first of all he loved his people; he had a very rich, tender heart, and he loved his people with the whole of it. And then God gave him a conscience about them, that conscience of their sin, and of the penalty to which it was leading. It was in the meeting of such a heart and such a conscience that Jeremiah knew how one man can suffer for others. Oh! it is a terrible fate to be the conscience of those you love, to be their only conscience, to feel their sins as you know they do not feel them themselves, and to be aware of the inevitable judgment to which they are so indifferent. Jeremiah often wondered at it. It perplexed him. After clearly stating the causes why God should smite Israel, he would suddenly turn round in his sympathy with the doomed people, and exclaim, like a beaten animal looking up in the face of his master, “Why hast Thou smitten me?” And again, that strange prayer of his, “O Lord, Thou hast deceived me, and I am deceived. Thou art stronger than I.” What can we answer to the perplexed prophet except this, that if a man have the Divine gift of a pure conscience and a more loving heart than his fellows, there comes with such gifts the necessary, the inevitable, obligation of suffering. The physical results of Israel’s sin Jeremiah did not bear for the people. He bore these with the people in the most heroic and self-denying patience, but he did not do so for or instead of his people. But the spiritual distress, the keener conscience, the agony of estrangement from God, the knowledge of His wrath upon sin--these Jeremiah did bear instead of the dull impenitent Israel. And is it too much to say that it was for his sake that in the end Israel was saved from utter extinction? Now, with this knowledge of what Jeremiah came through, look at his second prayer. The two chief words are exactly the same as before a “wayfaring man”: and “Oh that I were in a lodge of wayfaring men”; and the verb “to spend the night,” is the same word as the noun “lodge” or “inn” of wayfaring men--literally a place to pass the night. Jeremiah’s second prayer, therefore, is just this, that God would be to the people what Jeremiah himself had tried to be. (Prof. G. A. Smith.)
Jeremiah, a lesson for the disappointed
No prophet commenced labours with greater encouragements than Jeremiah. A king reigned who was bringing back the times of the man after God’s own heart. This devout and zealous king was young. What might not therefore be effected in course of years? Schism, too, was at an end since Israel’s captivity. Kings of the house of David again ruled over the whole land. Idolatry was destroyed by Josiah in all the cities. Thus, at first sight, it seemed reasonable to anticipate further and permanent improvements.
I. Everyone begins with being sanguine. Jeremiah did. God’s servants entered on their office with more lively hopes than their after fortunes warranted. Very soon the cheerful prospect was overcast for Jeremiah, and he was left to labour in the dark.
1. Huldah’s message fixed the coming fortunes of Judah: she foretold the early death of the good king and a fierce destruction to the unworthy nation. This prophecy came five years after Jeremiah entered office; so early in his course were his hopes cut away.
2. Or, the express word of God came to and undeceived him.
3. Or, the hardened state of sin in which the nation lay destroyed his hopes.
II. Resignation a more blessed state of mind than sanguine hope.
1. To expect great efforts from our religious exertions is natural and innocent, but arises from inexperience of the kind of work we have to do--to change the heart and will of men.
2. Far nobler frame of mind to labour, not with hope of seeing fruit, but for conscience’ sake, as matter of duty, and in faith, trusting good will be done though we see it not.
3. The Bible shows that though God’s servants began with success, they ended with disappointment. Not that God’s purposes or instruments fail, but because the time for reaping is not here, but hereafter.
III. The vicissitude of feeling which this transition from hope to disappointment produces. Affliction, fear, despondency, sometimes restlessness, even impatience under his trials, find frequent expression in Jeremiah’s writings (Jeremiah 5:3; Jeremiah 5:30-24.5.31; Jeremiah 12:1-24.12.3; Jeremiah 15:10-24.15.18; Jeremiah 20:7-24.20.14).
IV. The issue of these changes and conflicts of feeling was resignation. He comes to use language which expresses that chastened spirit and weaned heart which is the termination of all agitation and anxiety in religious minds. He, who at one time could not comfort himself, was sent to comfort a brother; and in comforting Baruch he speaks in that nobler temper of resignation which takes the place of sanguine hope and harassing fear, and betokens calm and clear-sighted faith and inward peace. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
They are not valiant for the truth.
Valiant for the truth
I. Inquire what is the truth. It is “the glorious Gospel of the blessed God.” Without a knowledge of this, oh! how ignorant is the wisest in the things of time!
1. “The truth as it is in Jesus” was at first but obscurely revealed; a veil was cast over it which prophets and righteous men desired to remove.
2. “The truth as it is in Jesus” is a jewel only to be found in the casket of God’s Word, not in the traditions of men; and that casket--emphatically called “the Word of truth”--must be unlocked for us by Him who is “the Spirit of truth.”
II. How we may be valiant for it.
1. A cordial belief in it must be the first step to a valiant defence of it.
2. Love of the truth, an unalterable and unwavering attachment to it, must follow a firm belief in it. This principle gives courage to the soldier on the battlefield; patience to the wife amid scenes of sickness and misfortune.
3. Next follows an uncompromising advocacy of it. We fear not to give utterance to that in which we firmly believe, and which we ardently love.
4. Valour for Christ, who is “the truth” personified, will further display itself by noble sacrifices for Him, for the dissemination of His truth at home, for its propagation abroad.
5. Valour for the truth is most signally displayed by a consistent, prayerful, and persevering obedience to all its requirements. (J. S. Wilkins.)
Valiant for the truth
I. What is truth, that for it one can be, should be, valiant? Truth is real. Truth is accessible and may be known. Truth is precious. Truth imposes in every direction obligations that cannot be met except by the most genuine and resolute valour. The best philologists of our own generation refer the word to a root meaning “to believe,” and draw upon the whole group of related languages and dialects to show that truth is “firm, strong, solid, reliable, anything that will hold.” It should, seem, then, that we ought not to believe anything but what is firm, established, and that truth is what we rightly believe. For this our highest powers can be summoned into action, while nothing but a poor counterfeit of our best activity can be called forth in behalf of that which is known or seriously suspected to be unreal. The sophist may be adroit, dexterous in disposition and argument, and selfishly eager for victories. The pettifogging advocate in any profession may gain brief successes by natural powers and discipline, aided by sheer audacity. This is a result and proof of the world’s disorder. Man is for truth and truth for man--both real. And truth is accessible and may be known. He who gave us reason and nature, Whose they are, and Whom they should ever serve, has come in pity to the relief of our impotence and bewilderment by the disclosures that His Spirit makes. In the Gospel “the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men.” Here is truth that is real. Here is truth that may be known. Of all precious truth, truth on which souls can be nourished, truth to which lives can be safely conformed, here is that which is most precious--truth that enters most deeply and permanently into character and takes hold of destiny. Of all truth worthy and suited to stimulate man’s highest powers, to the most sustained, and most intense sufficiency, here is that which is worthiest and most stated. Of all truth that is of such kind and in such relations to us that it is not only worth our while, but in every way incumbent upon us to put forth our highest valour to gain it and to hold it, here is the most essential. We are bidden, “Buy the truth and sell it not.” And this is not a mere appeal to our self-interest. Truth, especially this sacred truth, encompasses us with obligations. For this acquisition we do not merely do well to pay the price of toil and struggle; we fail grossly and widely in duty if we withhold the price. And what we have so dearly bought at the price of our humbled pride, at the price of our falling out with the fashion of this world “which passeth away,” what we win by the surrender of our self-sufficiency and imaginary independence, by our resolute self-mastery, our vigorous effort, and whatever besides the attainment may cost, we are to hold against all seductions and all assaults, “valiant for the truth.”
II. What is the manly valour that can find any fair and proper field for its exercise--its fairest and most proper field in connection with truth? It is not mere boldness, bravery, courage, but moves in a higher plane, and is instinct with a loftier inspiration. These may have their source chiefly in the physical and animal, that which we share with the bulldog and the gorilla; while valour is a knightly grace, and makes account mainly of the ideal. We shall esteem that the truest valour in which there is me fullest consciousness and manifestation of manhood, with the clearest conception and the most persistent adherence to worthy ends of manly endeavour. There can then be nothing forced or unnatural in the phrase of our text, “valiant for the truth.” For what should a true man be valiant rather than for the acquisition, maintenance, and service of the truth--truth known as real, judged to be important, valued as precious? And what estimate must we put upon the manhood that can be “strong in the land, but not for truth”--energetic, daring, resolved, and persistent for lower and grosser interests, but not for the truth?
II. By what call from without does truth most authoritatively and effectively summon valour to its aid? Truth is imperial, not only in the quality of the authority which it asserts and the richness of the bounty which it dispenses, but also in the breadth of the dominion to which it lays claim. We have made our first obedience when we have yielded ourselves to the truth. We are to go on proclaiming truth’s rights, and helping it to gain rule over others. We vindicate the rights of the truth, while we secure blessings to our fellow men through truth’s ascendency over them. And this obligation and opportunity subject our manhood to some of the most searching tests by which we are ever tried. Are we capable of taking larger views of truth than those which connect it with some prospect of advantage to ourselves? Do we esteem it for what it is, and not only for what it brings us? And what is the measure of our discernment of the rights and needs of others, and what is our response? The manly and Christian spirit has large conceptions of right and duty. And then truth, while imperial in its rights, is sometimes imperilled by denial and attack, and that at the hands of the very men whose allegiance it claims. Its rights are contested; its very credentials are challenged. It encounters not merely the negative resistance of ignorance and dulness, of low tastes and sensual and earthly preoccupations; it is met by a more positive impeachment. He who is valiant for truth will no more suffer it to fight its own battles than a true knight would have resorted to any such evasion in a cause to which he was committed. And the response which we make to the summons of assailed truth gives opportunity to display some of the finest qualities that belonged to the old knighthood--unswerving loyalty, courage, endurance, self-sacrifice. But there is another call for valour in behalf of Christian truth higher than that which comes from our fellow men and their claims upon it. What Christ is on the one side to the truth and on the other side to us, and what the truth is to Him, supply a new inspiration and strength, and add a new quality to Christian endeavour--a personal quality that was wanting before. He who is valiant for the truth because of what it is in its reality and reliableness shows his discernment. He who is valiant for the truth because of what it is to manhood shows a wise self-appreciation. He who is valiant for the truth because of the claim his fellow men have upon it, and upon him if he has it in his possession, shows that he knows his place, his obligation, his opportunity as a man among men. He who is valiant for the truth for Christ’s sake shows that he knows and honours his Lord, and would make Him indeed Lord of all. Consider what Christ is to the substance of the truth; what He is to the authority and efficiency of the truth; and what the truth is to Him in the assertion and manifestation of His Lordship. The truth is not only Christ’s as its great Revealer; the truth is Christ as its great Revelation. To him who asks, What is the way? we answer, The way is Christ. To him who would know, What is the life? we make reply, The life is Christ. And we proclaim, as that which is of the highest concern to man to know, the truth is Christ. He is the great embodiment of truth--truth incarnate. What He was, over and above all that He said, teaches us what we should seek in vain to learn elsewhere. He was the chief revelation of the nature, the power, the love, the saving grace of God. (C. A. Aitken, D. D.)
Valour for the truth
I. What is comprehended in this important word, “the truth”? It has been remarked that “truth is a relative term, expressing a conformity between the object and the mind, a harmony between the object and the 1des we entertain of it”: thus, truth becomes one of those terms, the precise meaning of which can only be ascertained by determining the subject of which it may be predicated. I propose to regard the scheme of Divine grace, for the recovery of man--the scheme of which we are ministers,--as that which alone deserves the supreme appellation of “the truth.” I proceed, then, to consider--
1. Man’s state as a sinner.
(1) What saith the Scripture as to sin in its nature? (1 John 3:4.)
(2) What saith the Scripture as to sin in its diffusion, its extent? It everywhere, without the slightest discernible qualification, represents human nature as universally and absolutely corrupt (Genesis 6:5; Psalms 14:2-19.14.3; Jeremiah 17:9; Ephesians 2:1).
(3) What saith the Scripture as to sin in its consequences? (Romans 6:23; Psa 9:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-53.1.9.)
2. God’s work as a Saviour. Justice, as one of the attributes of God, is as essentially a part of His nature, so to speak, as His Omnipresence, His Omniscience, His Truth; and, since there is more than a propriety, even a moral necessity, that all the proceedings of the Deity should be such as to bring out the full glory of His entire Name, it is manifest that He can only interpose an arrest of judgment, confer pardon, renovation, and eternal glory, on atonement being made.
II. What is required to constitute the character described by the expression, “valiant for the truth”? Valour is, strictly speaking, a martial term. We are made to feel and deplore that a contrariety of element exists in connection with the spiritual world. This gives rise to severe conflict. Now to be valiant, even in human estimation, requires something more than bravery; yea, more than courage. There must be a combination of both; or, at least, to be valiant, a man must be preeminently courageous. “Bravery,” says an eminent authority, “is a mere instinct; for it depends on mere constitutional temperament.” Courage is a virtue, indeed, for it lies in the mind; it depends on reflection and thought; but he only is valiant, who weighs the whole enterprise deliberately, lays his plans prudently, and follows them out systematically; whom defeat may bow, but cannot break; whilst triumph only stimulates him to renewed effort, inflames him with fresh zeal, and imparts to him a thirst for new glory--a thirst which nothing can satisfy till the last position is taken and the last trophy won! To be “valiant for the truth,” then, requires--
1. That there be a serious and habitual contemplation of the truth.
2. That there be a sincere embracing of the truth, and the practical experience of its power in the heart.
3. That there De active and uniform exertion in our respective spheres, for the spread of “the truth.”
4. That there be solemn and earnest prayer that the Holy Spirit may accompany, with His power, all our efforts for the diffusion of “the truth.”
III. What are the considerations, which are calculated to stir up to the holy emotions, involved in the expression, “valiant for the truth”?
1. Let there be serious reflection as to the value of the soul, and the danger which threatens it whilst uninfluenced by the truth.
2. Let us reflect on the awful rapidity with which souls are passing to their eternal destiny.
3. Let us reflect on the responsibility that attaches to the office to which we have been called, and the awful doom that awaits unfaithfulness in its discharge.
4. Let us reflect on the transcendent joy with which ministerial faithfulness will hereafter be crowned. (John Gaskin, M. A.)
Valiant for the truth
I. What is that which peculiarly merits the appellation of “the truth”? The comprehensive title of “the truth” was applied to revealed religion, alike in its principles and commandments, in order to furnish a broad and emphatic distinction between it and those habits of evil thoughts and practices which had been engendered and fostered by idolatry. By the same appellation of “the truth,” we find pure religion--whether in Patriarchal, or Levitical, or Christian times--is frequently designated in Scripture, in order to furnish a special recommendation of its character, and to illustrate its aspect and intention in the world. It is a communication respecting the being and character of God, the plan of His government, the authority and the sanction of His law--a communication with respect to the moral circumstances and character of man, the tendency by which he is actuated, and the dangers to which he is exposed--a communication respecting the method of grace, and the restoration of the favour of the Almighty, by which his apprehended miseries may be removed--and a communication respecting the high and sublime consecration of human destiny which is reserved for him in that immortality into which he is to be ushered when existence in this world is terminated. The verities which are proclaimed by the Christian system, on topics such as these, plainly possess a value that is perfectly incalculable, comprehending, as they do, the highest interests of our species. In making the assertion that Christianity is to be considered, emphatically, as “the truth,” we must not omit to mention that it is confirmed in a manner that is perfectly conclusive and convincing.
II. What are the state of mind and course of conduct which the truth, as thus defined, eminently deserves?
1. To be valiant for the truth involves a firm adherence to the doctrines it propounds. We well know that many hostile influences are around us, which tempt us to the blighting influence of doubt, and even of positive infidelity; such as the fear of incurring the ridicule and the hatred of others, the personal suggestions of our own in-dwelling unbelief, and, above all, the mysterious, though potent, machinations of him who is the arch-enemy of souls. This of course, at least, requires the exercise of spiritual combat, which must be displayed by a firm and uncompromising resistance to whatever might lead us to impugn, to doubt, and to deny.
2. To be valiant for the truth upon the earth involves a holy conformity to the precepts which it enforces. What holy vigour and boldness are required in order to resist steadily and successfully the multitudinous abstractions from holiness--the accumulated adversaries to the purification of the souls--to repudiate and repel the approaches of Satan--to keep ourselves unspotted from the world, that we may live soberly, righteously, and godly, according to the commandment we have received, to crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts--to cultivate, with devout diligence, the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of God; and, with all the surrounding faithful, to exhibit the power of the truth by the purity of life. This is to be “valiant for the truth”; this is heroism indeed!
3. To be “valiant for the truth” involves the public advocacy before other men of the claims which it possesses. How many noble examples of this spiritual valour have we met with in the annals of the Church! See them in the case of the prophets who were not afraid, though briars and thorns were with them, and though they dwelt among scorpions, and who yet spoke the word of God boldly to the rebellious people, whether they would hear, or whether they would forbear. See them in the apostles, who “counted not their lives dear,” etc. See those examples again in the noble army of martyrs, and in the long and triumphant succession of confessors, and reformers, and teachers, and missionaries, who have dared ignominy, and contempt, and wrath, and murder, for the sake of the overthrow of error, and the triumph of the truth as it is in Jesus.
III. What are the considerations by which this state of mind, and course of conduct, are specially and powerfully commended?
1. A concern for your own personal welfare. “Them that honour Me, I also will honour.” On the other hand, the want of these elements of the spiritual character, which we have set before you,--to hate put God away--to be reckless of the claims of the truth--and to live in a discipleship of falsehood, is, by a necessary vindication of the Divine equity and justice, to live in an exposure to evils the most fearful which man can ever endure.
2. A concern for the welfare and interests of the Church of God. When valour and boldness among the disciples of the truth is exhibited and augmented, then it is an axiom, a thing that needs no proof, in religion, that the truth which has that exercise will grow mightily, and will prevail. (J. Parsons.)
They proceed from evil to evil.
Evil begets evil
One danger of secret sin is that a man cannot commit it without being by and by betrayed into a public sin. If a man commit one sin, it is like the melting of the lower glacier upon the Alps, the others must follow in time. As certainly as you heap one stone upon the cairn today, the next day you will east another, until the heap reared stone by stone shall become a very pyramid. See the coral insect at work; you cannot decree where it shall stay its pile. It will not build its rock as high as you please; it will not stay until an island shall be created. Sin cannot be held in with bit and bridle; it must be mortified. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Progression in sin
In the Rabbinical books of the Jews they have a curious tradition about the growth of leprosy, that it began with the walls of a man’s house, then, if he did not repent, entered his garments, till at last the tatter covered his whole body. And thus it is with the growth of sin. It begins with the neglect of duty, it may be of prayers; or the warning voice of conscience is unheeded. Habits of sin are formed; till at last the soul that lets God alone is let alone by God. (F. G. Pilkington.)
And weary themselves to commit iniquity.
The uneasiness of a sinful life
Though these words were spoken of the Jews more than two thousand years ago, yet I shall endeavour to show that it may be said of all wicked men; that a wicked life is full of weariness and difficulties; that virtue is more easy than vice, and piety than wickedness.
1. Vice oppresses our nature, and consequently, it must be uneasy: whereas virtue improves, exalts, and perfects our nature; therefore virtue is a more natural operation than vice; and that which is most natural must be most easy. Thus, when we would express anything to be easy to a person or nation, we say it is natural to them. Moreover, all vices are unreasonable, and what is against reason must be against nature. And why is it that laws are so severe against vice, but because it destroys and corrupts the members of the commonwealth? So that the punishments which public justice in all countries inflicts upon criminals, are a plain proof how great an enemy vice is to nature, under whose ill conduct, and for whose errors, it suffers sometimes the most inexpressible torments. Every vice also has its own peculiar disease, to which it inevitably leads. Envy brings men to leanness; the envious man, like the viper, is killed by his own offspring. Lust brings on consuming and painful diseases. Drunkenness, catarrhs and gouts, and poverty beside. Rage produces fevers and frenzies. It is owned by all, that nature is satisfied with little, and desires nothing that is superfluous; by this rule all these vices are unnatural which consist in excess, or stretch themselves to superfluity; such as oppression, injustice, luxury, drunkenness, gluttony, covetousness, and the like.
2. Vice is more unpleasant than virtue; and therefore it must be more uneasy and wearisome; for we soon weary of anything which is not attended with pleasure, even though it should bring us some advantage. Without pleasure there is no happiness or ease. There are indeed some vices which promise a great deal of pleasure in the commission of them, but then at best it is but short-lived and transient, a sudden flash presently extinguished. It perishes in the very enjoyment, and quickly passes away like the crackling of thorns under a pot. Thus sinners are like the troubled sea, tossed to and fro, and yet can find no rest or satisfaction. They ramble on in one kind of debauchery until they are obliged to try another for a sort of diversion; they go round from one sin to another, so that their whole life is a course of uneasiness, and vanity in the strictest sense. Nor is this all, the pleasure of sin being exhausted in a moment, leaves a sting behind it, that cannot be so soon plucked out; these pleasures wound the conscience, and occasion uneasy and painful reflections. A thousand instances of the unpleasantness of vice are everywhere obvious. Envy is a perfect torment; it cannot fail to make the man whom it possesses miserable, and fill him with distracting pain and grievous vexation. It never leaves off murmuring and fretting, while there is one man happier, richer, or greater than the envious man himself. It is contrary to all goodness, and consequently to pleasure. Revenge is most painful and uneasy, both in persuading us that these are affronts, which of their own nature are none, and then in involving us in more troubles and dangers than the pleasure of revenge can compensate. Hatred and malice are the most restless tormenting passions that can possess the mind of man; they keep men perpetually contriving and studying how to effect their mischievous purposes; they break their rest, and disturb their very sleep. Covetousness is a most painful and uneasy vice, it makes the covetous man sit up late and rise early, and spend all his time and pains in hoarding up worldly things. Covetousness is unsatiable, the more it gets, the more it craves; it grows faster than riches can do. From all which it is evident, that all vicious persons live the most slavish and unpleasant lives in the world, and this every vicious man acknowledges in another’s case; he thinks the vice he sees another addicted to, most unpleasant and uneasy.
3. The horror of conscience makes vice uneasy. I might show you that no man sins deliberately without reluctancy. But though there were no such disadvantage attending the commission of sin, yet the natural horror which is consequent upon it, is great enough to render it unaccountable, that any man should he vicious. Conscience can condemn us without witnesses; and the arm of that executioner cannot be stopped. And if we consider, that neither the attendance of friends, nor the enjoyment of all outward pleasures, can comfort those whose conscience is once awakened, and begins to accuse them, we cannot but conclude, that vice is to be pitied as well as shunned; and that this alone makes it more uneasy than virtue, which sweetens the greatest misfortunes. The greatest punishment that a wicked man can suffer in this world, is to be obliged to converse with himself. Diversion or non-attention is his only security; he fears nothing so much as reflection: for if he once begins to reflect, and fix his thoughts to the consideration of his by-past life and actions, he anticipates hell himself, he needs no infernal furies to lash him; he becomes his own tormentor.
4. Vicious persons must in many cases dissemble virtue, which is more difficult than to be really virtuous. All men who design either honour, riches, or to live happily in the world, do either propose to be virtuous, or at least pretend it. Now such pretenders and hypocrites have certainly a very difficult part to act; for they must not only be at all that pains which is requisite in being virtuous, but they must superadd to these all the troubles that dissimulation requires, which is also a new and greater task than the other. Not only so, but they must overact virtue, with a design to take off that jealousy, which because they are conscious of deserving, they therefore vex themselves to remove.
5. Vice makes the vicious man fear all men; even as many as he injures, or are witnesses to his vices. (T. Wetherspoon.)
The sinner’s mental war
This is a suffering world in more senses than one. We are subject to toil and labour in consequence of the apostasy, and to perpetual vexation of mind, in consequence of our opposition to the Divine will. The sinner, therefore, is compelled, if he will continue in sin, to maintain a mental war which devours and exterminates from his breast all the elements of vital joy.
I. The sinner must sustain morality without piety. Disgrace; loss of property; of all real friendship; of domestic affection; of the health and life; of self-respect and elevated companionship; all wait around a course of vice. The vicious man sinks deeper and deeper in the mire. He must be moral or miserable. It is hard work, however, to maintain morality without religion. The passions are strong; the world is full of temptation; the soul is liable to be beat off from its hold on morality, unless recovered by grace; its course will be tremendous, the progress of its depravity vehement, and great the fall of it.
II. He must feel secure without a promise. Even the hardest incrustations of sin cannot prepare the soul to look fully at eternal wailing undaunted. There it stands, that never ceasing view; that vivid painting of the future; that dark, shadowy, but distinct, and fearful representation of utter ruin; it is hung out before the soul by the stem truth of God, from behind every scene of guilt, and along every winding of the soul’s weary path. How can he feel secure? Yet how can he bear to face that vision? If he looks to nature, it warns him; to his companions, they are falling into the arms of the monster.
III. He must hope for heaven, while forming a character for perdition. He must hope, and will hope, even if he knows his hope will do no good. Heaven is the only place of final rest; if he miss it he is lost, undone forever. Holy as it is, and much as he hates holiness, he must enter there, or eternally be an undone man. No man can bear the idea of confessed, manifest, public, and hopeless, irrecoverable disgrace. Every man, therefore, clings to the idea of a final heaven, as long as he can. But here the sinner has a hard task.
IV. He must resist Christ without a cause. The claims of Christ are not only just, but compassionate and benevolent. If he will sin, he must contend against the Saviour in the very interpositions of His astonishing, overwhelming, agonising mercy. This is hard work for the conscience the wheels of probation drag heavily; their voice grates fearfully; their cry of retribution waxes loud.
V. He must try to be happy while guilty. This he cannot accomplish, yet he must try. He will choose a thousand phantoms; he will grasp after every shadow; he will be stung a thousand times, yet will he renew the toil, till wearied, hopeless, and sullen, he lies down to die.
VI. He must have enough of the world to supply the place of God in his heart. The heart must have a supreme object; God is able to fill it. On Him the intellect may dwell, and around the ever-expanding developments of His character, the affections, like generous vines, may climb, and gather, and blossom, and hang the ripe cluster of joy forever; but the sinner shuts out God, every vision of His character is torment, and he turns away to fill the demands of his heart with the world.
VII. He must arrange matters for deaths while he is afraid to think of dying. He must work to get property for his children when he is gone. He must put his business in a train, so that it may be settled advantageously when he is gone. He must do all this on the strength and under the impulse of an idea at which he trembles.
VIII. He must read the Bible, whilst he is afraid to think or pray. This is especially true of the worldly-minded professor. If he keeps up the form of family worship, or attends at the house of God, the Bible, the holy and accusing book, is in his way. Its truths lie across his path. He cannot turn aside, he must trample over them, while he beholds them under his feet. He knows that his footsteps are heard around the retributive throne. If driven to console himself by the promises of error, the sinner has to pervert and wrestle with the Bible. Its denunciations catch his eye, and burn him while he tries to explain them away. Concluding thoughts--
1. Have we no compassion for a suffering world?
2. Can we do nothing to relieve this miserable condition of our fellow men? The time for God’s people to pray, and awake, and endeavour mightily, is now--and with most of us, now or never. (D. A. Clark.)
Thine habitation is in the midst of deceit.
Strong indictment of Christian countries
Who has not felt as Jeremiah? “This is a Christian country.” Why? Because the majority are as bent on self-pleasing, as careless of God, as heartlessly and systematically forgetful of the rights and claims of others, as they would have been had Christ never been heard of?
1. A Christian country? Behold its meaningless shibboleths, its two hundred forms or fashions of Christian belief! How this disunion dishonours Christ.
2. A Christian country? Behold the worship of mammon, the rage of avarice. Look at the wonderful baits which the company monger throws out day by day to human weakness and cupidity! The lying advertisements, the countless quacks, raising hopes never to be fulfilled.
3. A Christian country, and God denied on the platform and in the press! Where atheism is mistaken for intelligence, and agnosticism for logic and reason! Where flagrant lust walks the streets, and gambling reigns!
4. A Christian country: where the rich and noble spend their time in horse racing, hunting, and shooting innumerable birds and beasts; where thousands die of need and starvation in fever dens, while untold sums are spent by the wealthy on whims, toys, and gaiety!
5. A Christian country: where there is more than Egyptian worship of Anubis; where a pet dog is fondled and pampered, and helpless children suffer and die! Oh yes! it is a Christian country--the name of Christ has been named in it for fifteen centuries past; and for that reason Christ will judge it. (C. J. Ball, M. A.)
Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, Behold, I will melt them, and try them.
God’s people melted and tried
Observe, here, that God represents Himself as greatly concerned to know what to do with His people. But notice, next, the Lord is so resolved to save His people, that He will use the sternest possible means rather than lose any of those whom He loves. Observe, once more, that God’s concern about His people, and His resolve to use strange ways with them, spring out of His relationship to them; for He says, “How shall I do for the daughter of ‘My’ people? My people.” They were His, though they were so far away from Him through their evil ways. When God has chosen a man from before the foundation of the world, and when He has given that man over to Christ to be a part of the reward of His soul’s travail, He will adopt strange means to accomplish His sacred purpose, and He will carry out that purpose, let it cost Him what it may.
I. First, these principles may be applied to the matter of conversion.
1. There is a very simple way of being saved; it should be, I hope it is, the common way. It is the simple way of following the call of grace. Without any violence, your heart is opened, as with the picklock of grace. God puts the latch key into the door, and steps into your heart without a word.
2. This is the way of salvation, but there are some who will not come this way. There is the Wicket Gate. They have but to knock, and it will be opened; but they prefer to go round about through the Slough of Despond, or to get under the care of Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who leads them round by the house of Mr. Legality, who dwells in the village of Morality, and there they go with their burdens on their backs, which they need not carry even for a single hour, for they would roll off directly if they would but look to Jesus, and believe in Him. But they will not do this. There are some of whom God has to say, “How shall I do for the daughter of My people?” Why is this? Well, some of them have a crooked sort of mind, they never can believe anything straight; they must go round about. But some others are obstinate in sin. They are not happy in it; but they will not give it up. Some others are unwilling to confess sin at all. They think themselves wrong; but they try to make excuses. Then there are some people who are not saved, but who are outwardly very religious. They have never omitted going to Church; they have been brought up carefully, and they have said their prayers regularly, and they have had family prayer, too. The robe of their self-righteousness clings to them, and prevents their coming to rest in Jesus. There are some others who will not come to Christ because they are so full of levity and fickleness. They are all froth, all fun. They live like butterflies; they suck in the juices from the flowers, and only flit from one to the other. They are easily impressed one way and another; but there is no heart in them. And withal, there is another class of persons that are insincere. There is no depth of earth about them. They do not really feel what they think they feel; and when they say that they believe, they do not really believe in their heart.
3. Now, having brought before you these characters, or held up the looking glass of God’s Word so that they might see themselves in it, I want you to notice how God does deal with such people very often. According to my text, they will have to feel the furnace. I have noticed, during a considerable period of time, some of the self-righteous and the outwardly-religious put into the fire and melted, by being permitted to fall into some gross and open sin. I pray God that none of you self-righteous people may be left to go into an open sin; but it may be that the Lord may leave you to yourselves, to let you see what you really are, for you probably have no idea what you are. Some, again, have been melted down by temporal calamities. Oh yes, there are some who cannot be saved as long as they have a silver spoon in their mouths; but when they are brought to poverty, it is the nearest way round to the Father’s house, round by the far country where they would fain fill their bellies with the husks that the swine eat. At other times, without any overt sin, without any temporal trouble, God has ways of taking men apart from their fellows, and whipping them behind the door. They have told me that their sin haunts them day and night; they cannot hope for mercy; they cannot think that God will ever blot out their transgressions. They are ground down, and brought low. This is all meant to work for their good; they would not come to God any other way. It is by such an experience “that God is fulfilling His Word, I will melt them, and try them.”
4. In all this God has one great object. It is just this, first, to hide pride from men. God will not save us, and have us proud. Grace must have the glory of it from first to last. Beside that, God means to take us out of our sin, and to do that He makes it to be a bitter and an evil thing to us. Blessed is the blow that almost crushes you if it breaks off the connection between you and sin.
II. I want to say something to Christians; for, in the matter of Christian life, God seems to say, “What shall I do for the daughter of My people? I will melt them, and try them.”
1. Some Christians go from joy to joy. Their path, like that of the light, shineth more and more unto the perfect day. Why should not you and I be like that?
2. There are other Christians who appear to make much progress in Divine things, but it is not true progress. Whereas they say that they are rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing, they are all the while naked, and blind, and poor, and miserable. The worst thing about their condition is that some of them do not want to know their real state. They half suspect that it is not what they say it is; but they do not like to be told so; in fact, they get very cross when anyone even hints at the truth. Now, there are such people in all our congregations, of whom God might well say, “How shall I do for the daughter of My people?”
3. This is what He will do with a great many who are now inflated with a false kind of grace: “I will melt them, and try them,” says the Lord of hosts. He will put them to a test. Here is a man who has a quantity of plate, and he does not know the value of it, so he takes it to a goldsmith, and asks him what it is worth. “Well,” says he, “I cannot exactly tell you; but if you give me a little time, I will melt it all down, and then I will let you know its value.” Thus does the Lord deal with many of His people. They have become very good, and very great, as they fancy, and He says, “I will melt them.” He that is pure gold will lose nothing in the melting; but he that is somebody in his own opinion, will have to come down a peg or two before long.
4. Now, the result of melting is truth and humility. The result of melting is that we arrive at a true valuation of things. The result of melting is that we are poured out into a new and better fashion. And, oh, we may almost wish for the melting-pot if we may but get rid of the dross, if we may but be pure, if we may but be fashioned more completely like unto our Lord! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Because they have forsaken My law . . . give them water of gall to drink.
The wages of sin
A quaint preacher, addressing miners, drew a picture of two mines. He represented payday at one of the mines, and described the long line of men coming to the cashier’s desk to receive their wages. Presently some men came up whom the cashier did not know. “Where have you been working?” he asked. “We were working in the other pit,” they answered. “Then that is the place to go for your money.” “No,” they said, “we like your pay best; we are tired, and we want rest, and we want peace and plenty. At the pit where we have been working they are treating us cruelly, and we get no pay, but blows and hard words. Won’t you pay us?” But the cashier says, “No; you chose to work in the other pit, and you must take the wages they pay; you cannot work for one employer and get your wages from another.” “That was fair, was it not?” the preacher asked. His hearers answered that it was. “Then,” said he, “don’t you serve the devil unless you want his wages.”
For death is come up into our windows.
Death an invading enemy
1. Strikes at the dearest objects of our affection.
2. Robs us of our most useful men.
3. Drags us from the dearest things of the heart, occupation, social circles, cherished plans, etc.
4. Reduces our bodies to dust.
II. Unremitting. Active in every--
III. Subtle. Fights in ambush, steals into house, poisons food, makes air pestiferous, etc.
IV. Resistless. All that science, art, wealth, and caution can do has failed.
V. Ubiquitous. In waves of air, on billows of deep, in valleys, on mountain, river, and brook, forest and flowers; whole earth his dominion.
VI. Conquerable. Christ has conquered death--
1. In His own resurrection.
2. In His power on minds of disciples. (Homilist.)
Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom.
An idea in this text to which we assign special prominence is this--There is at least so much similarity between the nature of God and the nature of man, that both can take delight in the same thing. The spirit of the text is saying, Take delight in loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness, because I take delight in them; learn the Divinity of your origin, and the possible splendour of your destiny, from the fact that you have it in your power to join Me in loving mercy, righteousness, and judgment. God addresses three divisions of the human family--the wise, the powerful, the wealthy. And is there any other class which may not be placed in one of these categories? Each class is sitting at the feet of its chosen idol--science, arms, wealth; all clad in robes of royalty, if not of godhead. In the hand of each idol is the sceptre of a venerated mastery, and the temple of each shakes with the thunder of heathenish worship. Such is the picture. Now to these temples God comes, and, with the majesty of omnipotence, the authority of infinite wisdom, and the benignity of all-sustaining fatherhood, says, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches.” “Glory!” That is a word which is pregnant with meaning; and it can be better explained by paraphrase than by etymology. Let not man “glory” in wisdom, might, and wealth, so as to be absorbed in their pursuit, so as to make a god of either of them, so as to regard them as the ultimate good, so as to commit to either his present happiness and endless destiny. “Wisdom!” That, too, is a word fraught with large significance. The “wisdom” referred to is not that which cometh from above--beautiful with celestial hues, and instinct with celestial life: it is a “wisdom” which is destitute of the moral element; the “wisdom” of an inquisitive, prying, restless intellect; that eyeless and nerveless “wisdom” by which the world “knew not God,” and which, when looked at from above, is “foolishness”; the “wisdom” which is all brain and no heart; the “wisdom” of knowledge, not of character; the “wisdom” which dazzles man, but which, when alone, is offensive to God. One substantial reason for not glorying in the kind of wisdom which we have attempted to depict, is the necessary littleness of man’s vastest acquisitions. Science is a race after God; but can the Infinite ever be overtaken? Science, perhaps, never got so close to God as when she bound the capitals of the world together with bands of lightning, and flashed the wisdom and eloquence of parliaments from continent to continent. High day of triumph that; she was within hand reach of the veiled Potentate--one step more, and she would be face to face with the King--was it not so? What was there between science and God in that moment of sublimest victory? Nothing, nothing, but--Infinity! “There is no searching of His understanding.” Another point will show the folly of glorying in the kind of wisdom we have delineated, namely, the widest knowledge involves but partial rulership. You say you have found a law operating in the universe. Be it so: can you suspend or reverse the Divine appointment? Have you an arm like God? or can you thunder with a voice like Him? The argument is this,--however extensive may be our knowledge, knowledge can only help us to obey; it never can confer aught but the most limited rulership; and even that sovereignty is the dominion not of lord, but of servant, the rulership which is founded in humility and obedience--the rulership whose seat is beneath the shadow of the Great Throne. Is man, then, without an object in which to glory? It is as natural for man to glory as it is natural for him to breathe; and God, who so ordered his nature, has indicated the true theme of glorying: “But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me.” Here let us rejoin the earnest student of science, supposing now that, in addition to his being ardently scientific, he is intelligently devout. He goes to work as before; the flame of his enthusiasm is not diminished by a single spark; his hammer and his telescope are still precious to him, but now, instead of being in pursuit of cold, abstract, inexorable laws, he is in search of the wise and mighty and benevolent Lawgiver; in legislation he finds a Legislator, and in the Legislator he finds a Father. What we want, then, is personal knowledge of a Person: we would know not only the works, but the Author, for they are mutually explanatory. Know the man if you would understand his actions; know God if you would comprehend nature, providence, or grace. The devout student says he finds God’s footprints everywhere; he says they are on the rocks, across the heavens, on the heaving wave, and on the flying wind; to him, therefore, keeping company with science is only another way of “walking with God.” The text, however, goes still farther; it relates not only to personality, but to character: the Deist pauses at the former, the Christian advances to the latter. “Let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.” The idea would admit of some such expression as this: Any knowledge of God, the Creator and Legislator of the physical creation, should be regarded as merely preparatory, or subordinate to an apprehension of God as the Moral Governor: that if you know God as Creator only, you can hardly be said to know Him at all; that if you tremble at His power without knowing His mercy, you are a pagan; if you seek to please Him as a God of intelligence, without recognising Him as a God of purity and justice and love, you are ignorant of Him, and your ignorance is crime. Let him that glorieth, even glorieth in God, glory in knowing God as a moral Being, as the righteous Judge, as the loving Father. There must not be adoration of mere power; we must not be satisfied with utterances of amazement at His majesty, wisdom, and dominion; we must go farther, get nearer, see deeper; we must know God morally, we must feel the pulsations of His heart--His heart!--that dread sanctuary of righteousness, that semi-eternal fount of love. The whole subject, then, may be comprehended in four points.
1. God brands all false glorying. Upon the head of wisdom, power, and wealth, He writes, “Let no man glory in these.” There is a wisdom which is folly; there is a power which is helplessness; there is a wealth which is poverty. God warns us of these things, so that if our boasted wisdom answer us not when we are on the Carmel of solemn encounter between light and darkness, we may not have God to blame.
2. God has revealed the proper ground of glorying. That ground is knowledge of God, not only as Creator and Monarch, but as Judge and Saviour and Father. Reason, groping her way through the thickening mysteries of creation, may exclaim, “There is a God”; but faith alone can see the Father smiling through the King. It will be in vain to say, “Lord, Lord,” if we cannot add, “Saviour-Friend”
3. God, having declared moral excellence to be the true object of glorying, has revealed how moral excellence may be attained. Is it objected that there is no mention of Jesus Christ in the text? We answer, that loving kindness, righteousness, and judgment are impossibilities apart from Christ; they are only so many names to us, until Jesus exemplifies them in His life, and makes them accessible to us by His death and resurrection. Do we require the sun to be labelled ere we confess that he shines in the heavens?
4. God has revealed the objects in which He glories Himself. “For in these things I delight, saith the Lord.” Let it be propounded as a problem, “In what will the Supreme Mind most delight?” and let it be supposed that an answer is possible, it might be concluded that the attainment of that answer would forever determine the aspirations, the resolutions, and the ambition of the world. We might consider that every other object would be infinitely beneath the pursuits, and infinitely unworthy of the affections of man. At all events, this must be true, that they who glory in the objects which delight Jehovah must be drinking at pure and perennial streams. (J. Parker, D. D.)
What do I glory in
What does a man glory in? At what point does his life leave the plane of indifference and rise into a boast? What is it that provides for him the river of his most exquisite delights? The answer to these questions is fruitfully significant. If we catch a man in his gloryings we take him at his height. Some men’s gloryings are to be found on a purely carnal level; they are sought and proclaimed on the plane of the brute. Other men’s gloryings are found in spiritual realities, among the things of the Eternal. Unworthy glorying is the minister of stagnancy, paralysis, and death. Worthy glorying is the minister of progress, liberty, and life. Let us look at the unworthy gloryings. “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom.” That is a very surprising negative. I did not expect that “wisdom” would be banned from the circle of a legitimate boast. Is there not an apparent contradiction between the counsel of the prophet and other counsellors of the Old Testament Scriptures? “Get wisdom.” “Fools despise wisdom.” “A wise son maketh a glad father.” We know, too, how our poets have spoken of the beautiful thing called wisdom. “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers”; blossom comes, but the fruitage lingers! The wisdom here admired is a ripe and matured product, the ultimate issue of a prolonged process. It is not in this sense that the prophet uses the word; he employs it with quite another content. It is the wisdom of the mere philosopher; the product of speculation and theory; a wisdom devoid of reverence, and detached from practical life. Life can be divided into watertight compartments, having no relationship one with the other. We can separate our opinions from our principles, our theories from our practice. Love of the fine arts can be divorced from the practice of a pure life. Our artistic wisdom can be imprisoned as it were in an iron-bound division, and separated from our moral activities. The musically wise can be the morally discordant. The possession of musical technique does not necessarily make an agreeable man. The wisdom of music can be divorced from the other parts of a man’s life just as the music room in a hydropathic establishment is shut off from the kitchen. A man can be skilled in the decrees of counsel and in traditional lore, and yet he may be morally and spiritually corrupt. The wisdom of a theologian can be a wisdom without influence upon morals. A man may preach like a seraph and live like a brute. “Let not the mighty man glory in his might.” This is a reference to mere animal strength. It includes a bald athleticism in the individual, and a bald materialism in the State. But surely strength is good? Athletic strength and skill are very admirable. But here, again, the prophet is referring to strength which is devoid of reverence, and therefore strength which is detached from service. All right use of strength begins with a deep reverence for it. So it is also with the material might of the State. A sword may be good if it be reverently regarded. “The sword of Gideon”; that is always a curse! “The sword of the Lord and Gideon”; that is an instrument of benediction! “Let not the rich man glory in his riches.” Do not let us relegate this warning to a few millionaires. A man with a small income may regard his money as irreverently as the man with an overflowing abundance. The prophet refers to the spirit in which possessions are esteemed. He refers to riches held without reverence, and therefore not exercised in wise philanthropy. Possessions used irreverently are used blindly, and therefore without a true humanity. But how people do glory in bare and graceless wealth! It is a false confidence. “But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord.” How far are we away from the brutal, the material, and the merely opinionative! Here is glorying which centres itself in the unseen, and fixes itself upon the Lord. “Understandeth.” The relationship is reasonable and intelligent. God wants no blind discipleship. We are to be all alert in our fellowship with the Almighty. We are to worship Him with all our “mind.” “In malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.” “Understandeth and knoweth Me.” That is a profound term, suggestive of certainty and assurance. It has about it the flavour of the familiar friend. We are to intelligently use our minds to discover the thought and will of God, then we are to act upon the will, and in our obedience a deep communion will be established. This, then, is the line of individual progress. We begin in exploration; we use our understanding in discerning the mind of God. Then we pass to experiment, and we put to the proof the findings of the mind. From experiment we shall attain unto experience; our findings will be revealed as truth; our knowledge will mature unto wisdom. “Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord.” What does God want us to know about Him? “That I am the Lord which exercise loving kindness.” We sometimes say concerning a distinguished man whose presence we have met, “I rather feared him, but his first words made me feel at home.” And here is the first word of the Almighty, and the word is not “law” or “statute,” but “loving kindness”! Not only kindness, for kindness may be mechanical and devoid of feeling, but “loving kindness”! A dainty dish is served by affection. What else does He want me to be sure about? “That I am the Lord that exercise loving kindness and judgment.” Do not let us interpret judgment as doom. Judgment is vindication; it is suggestive of sure sequence. When I plant mignonette, and mignonette comes in its season, the sequence is indicative of judgment. Judgment is the opposite of caprice and chance. The Lord is a God of judgment, and all my sowings will be vindicated. All these deeper issues are in the hands of God. The Lord is a God of judgment, and of righteousness. This word is only confirmatory of the preceding word. Judgment is proceeding and the Vindicator is righteous. He cannot be bribed, He is not of uncertain temper. “He changeth not.” (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
On the unreasonableness and folly of glorying in the possession of external privileges and advantages
I. The unreasonableness and folly both of individuals and of communities glorying in the possession of external privileges and advantages. In fact, there is no passion in our nature which so effectually defeats its own end, or so completely mars the accomplishment of its object, as that of pride. Wherever respect is impudently claimed, even where there is real merit at the bottom, it is always reluctantly conferred. Our pride and self-love in turn take the alarm, and are hurt by the boldness of the claim. Competitors and rivals, envious of the merit, feel a malignant pleasure in disappointing the expectations of such candidates for fame. And as most men have a tincture of envy in their composition, it commonly happens that very few regret the disappointment. To obtain real, and, in general, unenvied praise, merit, however transcendent, must not be glaringly displayed, but in some measure exhibited under a veil; at least, it must be so judiciously and delicately shaded, as to moderate its lustre.
II. The knowledge and practice of the duties of religion and virtue, while they are the only true foundation of self-esteem and real glory, are likewise, considered in a national view, the only just objects of public respect and confidence. Great intellectual endowments, and the performances to which they give birth, can only be regarded, when abstractly considered without respect to their application, as splendid monuments of human genius; when applied to bad purposes, they justly become the objects of our detestation; but the qualities of the heart, incorruptible integrity, for instance, disinterested benevolence, exalted generosity, and tender pity, irresistibly command the esteem, and conciliate the affection of all who have either seen or heard of such virtues being exemplified. (W. Duff, M. A.)
Aims of life
Men think too much of themselves on one account or another--either on account of some external condition, or on account of some internal traits and qualities. Now, it is not to be understood from this declaration of the prophet, that a man shall take no thought of, and have no pleasure in, external relations. There is pleasure to be derived from them but there are a thousand secondary things in this life which we are very glad to have, and which we are glad to be known to have, though we do not put our heart chiefly on them. It is a pleasant thing for an artist to have vigorous health; but that is not his power. It is a pleasant thing for a poet to be a musician; but that is not what he glories in. It is a pleasant thing to an orator that he is rich; but there is something that he glories in besides riches. Wealth alone affords a very small compensation of glory. Knowledge is often regarded as the chief and characteristic reason why a man should think much of himself; but here we are commanded not to glory in “knowledge.” There is great excellence in knowledge; but knowledge is relative. Mathematics will exist after we are dead and gone; but knowledge of spiritual elements, knowledge of the highest realm, knowledge of right and wrong, knowledge of character, knowledge of truth--these are all related to our present condition, and are so far affected by our limitations that the apostle explicitly declares that the time will come when the universe will be revealed to us, and when our notions in respect to it will have to be changed as much as the notions of a child have to be changed when he comes to manhood. Our wisdom in this world is so partial that we cannot afford to stand on that. And when you consider what have been regarded as the treasures of knowledge, the folly of it is still greater. Many a man might just as well have been a grammar or a lexicon, dry and dusty, as the man of knowledge that he is, so useless is he. And yet men are oftentimes proud that they know so many things, without any consideration of their use. Go out and see what men know who know something. Men that have useful knowledge, and the most of it, are the men that usually are the most humble, and are conscious of the mere segment of the vast circle of the knowledge of the universe that they possess. Knowledge is a good thing; but a man is a better thing. A man in his essential nature and destiny is larger than any special element or development in this life. Therefore, let not a man glory in his “knowledge.” Especially let him not glory in it in such a way as to separate himself from his fellows, and look down upon them. While it may be supposed that these views, derived from the face of Scripture, are applicable to our modern condition, it is very probable that the glorying spoken of by the prophet was that which constituted a peculiarity in the East. In Egypt, and afterwards in many Oriental kingdoms, knowledge was the prerogative of the priesthood. Those who had knowledge became a privileged class, and received honour and respect; and naturally they plumed themselves on it, as men plume themselves on titles today. “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom.” In other words, let not a man because he belongs to the learned class have contempt for those who have not the privileges that he has. There are multitudes of men who have not very much to boast of in the way of kindness and humility and gentleness, but who are proud of their culture. “Neither let the mighty man glory in his might.” That is, let no man glory in the attributes of strength. In the time of the athlete; in the time of the warrior; in the time when men, being head and shoulders in their stature above all others, as Saul was, gloried in their stature; in the time when men boasted, as David did, of running through a troop, and leaping over a wall; in the time when expertness and skill were in the ascendant; in the time when men were trained to all forms of physical strength and prowess--in such a time men would naturally come to make their reputation stand on these things; and the tendency to do so has not perished yet. Men glory in the fact that they are tall and symmetrical. They glory in their personal beauty. They glory in their grace. They glory in their walking and their dancing. They glory in their riding. These things are not absolutely foolish, although the men who engage in them may be. It is not to be denied that they may be useful, and that they may reflect some credit upon those who practise them. But what if nothing else can be said of a man except that he rides well? The horse is better than he! Low down, indeed, is the man who pivots himself on these inferior and often contemptible qualities. “Let not the rich man glory in his riches.” We may as well shut up the Bible, then. That is too much! Yet a man has a right to glory in his riches, provided the way of his glorying is through his own integrity as well as skill. Such are the competitions of business, such are the difficulties of developing, amassing, maintaining and rightly using wealth, that a man who organises it organises a campaign, and is a general; and when a man of simplicity and honesty has come out from the haunts of poverty, and has, by his own indomitable purpose, and industry, and honourable dealing, and truthfulness, accumulated property, about no dollar of which you can say to him, “You stole it”; when a man by integrity has built up a fortune, it is a testimony better than any diploma. It tells what he has been. The true grounds of glorying are given in the next clause of the text: “Let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me.” The knowledge of God--a knowledge of those supreme qualities or attributes which belong to the higher nature, a knowledge of the great elements which constitute God--this may be gloried in; but men have gloried in their knowledge of gods that were contemptible. There was not a decent god in all antiquity, such that if a man were like it he could respect himself. The passions of men were the basis of their character. Therefore it is not enough that you glory in a god. “Let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.” It is as if He had said, I am the Lord that exerciseth loving kindness without any regard to return, and without any limitation. I am continually developing, through the ages, the good and the bad, the just and the unjust. I am a God of lenity, of goodness, of kindness; but the kindness is not merely superficial--it is kindness springing out from the heart of God” That is the glory of God: and who would not-be-known as glorying in it? Now, knowing this, being penetrated with a sense of having such a God, of living in communion with Him, of beholding Him by the inward sight--having this ideal of life constitutes a knowledge that exalts, strengthens, and purifies men. But take the qualities that make the true man, as set forth in Scripture--the man in Christ Jesus. How many men can glory in themselves because they have conformed their lives to these qualities? If a man, being a mineralogist, has a finer crystal than anybody else, he rather glories in it, and says, “You ought to see mine.” If a man is a gardener, and has finer roses than anybody else, he glories in them. He may go to his neighbour’s garden, and praise the flowers that he sees there; but he says, “I should like to have you come over and see my roses”; and he shows them with pride. Nobody shuts his own garden gate when he goes to see his neighbour’s garden. He carries his own with him. Men glory in such outward things; but how many glory in those diamonds, those sapphires, those precious stones which all the world recognise as the finest graces of the soul? How many men glory because they have the true, universal, Christian benevolence of love? Have you in yourself any ideal? Are you aiming for character, for condition, or for reputation--which is the poorest of them all? It is worth a man’s while to be able to answer to himself the question, “What am I living for?” What is it that incites me? Is it vanity? Is it the animal instincts? Is it the external conditions of life? Or, is it the internal elements of manhood, that take hold upon God and heaven? (H. W. Beecher.)
On the insufficiency of human wisdom, power, and riches
I. The prohibitions contained in the text.
1. “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom.” Men may be wise in their own conceit,--they may be wise and prudent in the opinion of others,--their measures and counsels may be, apparently, wisely devised; yet God can and frequently does frustrate their counsels, and turn the wisdom of man into foolishness.
2. “Neither let the mighty man glory in his might.” What is man, the strongest man, but dust, turned into dust, crushed by the mighty power of God, as a moth is crushed between the fingers? Just consider upon how little the life of the strongest man depends,--on so trifling a thing as the respiration of a little air; that being stopped, he dies. Nor is the combined power of the many, able to stand at all against the will and the power of God.
3. “Let not the rich man glory in his riches.” To hear men talk of their thousands, and to observe them pursuing wealth, one might suppose that riches bestowed every happiness and produced every safety. Yet ask the rich man if he is happy; and he will answer, if he honestly answer, “No.” Is he free from the fear of evil? can he bribe death and prolong his short life? can he redeem his soul from hell?
4. It is not only folly to glory in or boast of wisdom, strength, and riches; but it is also sinful; it is idolatry; it is setting aside the Lord God as our strength and our portion.
II. The command in the text. “But let him that glorieth, glory in this,” etc. That man alone is truly wise in whose heart the knowledge of the Lord is treasured up; and who reduces that knowledge to practice; and that man alone is truly blessed who so far understands and knows the Lord, as to put his trust at all times in the Lord God of Israel. This knowledge and understanding of the Lord God in all His adorable perfections, as revealed in His holy Word, and as He is reconciled in Christ Jesus, are of immensely greater value than all the wisdom, and all the power, and all the riches which this world can bestow.
1. The Lord exerciseth loving kindness in the earth. They who through faith in Christ have Jehovah for their Father,--their portion,--have all that can satisfy an immortal soul throughout eternity. Of His loving kindness they have experience; and their experience teaches them that God’s “loving kindness is better than life,” and therefore their lips praise Him.
2. The Lord also exerciseth judgment in the earth. While He delights in visiting the humble soul, and the penitent soul, and the believing soul, with tokens of His loving kindness, He also visits the impenitent, the unbelieving, the proud, with His sore judgments: and sometimes in this world He makes them lasting monuments of His awful justice.
3. The Lord also exerciseth righteousness in the earth. For the exercise of righteousness, the Lord’s omniscience, hatred of sin, love of holiness, power, and faithfulness, fully qualify Him.
1. To those who trust and glory in human wisdom, strength, and riches. Know we not that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God”? and “that power belongeth unto God”?
2. To those who in some measure know the Lord and glory in Him. Your knowledge is still but small and imperfect: for, “how little a portion is heard of Him! but the thunder of His power who can understand?” Still, enough of Him and of His ways may be known here for every necessary purpose. Walk “as children of light.” Seek also an increase of light by studying the Word of God; by earnest and diligent prayer, that the Spirit of truth may open your mind to behold, to comprehend more and more, the truths which are revealed in that Word. (E. Edwards.)
On the grounds of pride
I. The various forms of pride.
1. High birth is one of those external circumstances which give rise to pride. Ever since civil society has existed, a certain respect for antiquity of descent has been maintained. But if we reflect on the origin of this deference we shall find that, so far from affording a foundation for pride, it suggests many reasons for its exclusion. Do you, proud man! look back with complacency on the illustrious merits of your ancestors? Show yourself worthy of them, by imitating their virtues, and disgrace not the name you bear by a conduct unbecoming a man. Nothing can be conceived more inconsistent than to exult in illustrious ancestry, and to do what must disgrace it; than to mention, with ostentation, the distinguished merits of progenitors, and to exhibit a melancholy contrast to them in character. After all, what is high birth? Does it bestow a nature different from that of the rest of mankind? Has not the man of ancient line human blood in his veins? Does he not experience hunger and thirst? Is he not subject to disease, to accidents, and to death; and must not his body moulder in the grave, as well as that of the beggar?
2. Perhaps the proud man is invested with a title. Remember, however, that this is an appellation of honour, and not of disgrace, and the greatest disgrace any person can incur, is the assumption of sentiments unworthy of human nature. Have you obtained your distinction by your own merit? Continue to deserve and adorn it by your exertions for the common welfare, and by a behaviour which indicates that you consider yourself as a member of society. Has your title been transmitted to you from your ancestors? I say to you, as I said to the man proud of his birth: beware lest their honours be tarnished by your contemptible enjoyment of them!
3. Some are proud of office. Were offices instituted for the general benefit, or for the private gratification of the individuals to whom they are severally assigned? This question the proud man himself will not venture to decide in favour of his own pretensions. With what appearance of justice, then, can the man, who is intrusted with the common interest, pretend to look, with a contemptuous eye, on any honest member of the community?
4. Riches, affording a more substantial and productive possession than either birth, titles, or public office, may seem to lay a better foundation for pride. The man who enjoys them is in some measure independent of others, and may command their services when he pleases. He may, therefore, have some ground for treating them with disdain. I must confess that persons who possess an opulent fortune, as well as those who are placed in the higher stations of society, have many opportunities of observing the servile obsequiousness of mankind, and may, therefore, be tempted to despise them. But this is not, in strict propriety of speech, that contempt of others which arises from external circumstances alone. It is a contempt of contemptible qualities. Are you, in reality, proud of your wealth? Show me what title that wealth gives you to deprive your fellow men of their just portion of respect!
5. Corporeal advantages constitute the subjects of that pride with which many are infected. They value themselves on their strength, or on their beauty. Let the strongest man consider that the horse or the ox is still his superior in point of corporeal vigour; that his individual power is of little avail against the united force of his fellow men, whom he affects to brave; and that a fever will make him weaker than the child in the nurse’s arms. When a man exults in the elegance of his person, although this folly be not uncommon, especially in youth, nothing can be conceived more ridiculous. But this source of pride is more frequent among the daughters of Eve, who seem sometimes to consider personal attractions as the chief distinction of character. Let her, whose pride centres in her beauty, consider what her figure will be in the grave!
6. Sensible of the utter insignificance of external advantages of any kind, as a ground of exultation, there are Who value themselves exclusively on their genius, their erudition, their wit, or even on their religion. Such persons are most ready to laugh at the fool who is proud of anything but mind. The prophet, however, was of opinion, that even wisdom itself is no subject of glory. By the term wisdom, in the text, he understands those mental qualities which attract the admiration of the world. By converting thy abilities into sources of vain-glory, thou displayest thy ignorance of their end, contractest their utility, by limiting them to thy own narrow sphere instead of diffusing their salutary influence through the wide circle of humanity, and subvertest thy own importance by relinquishing the honourable distinction of a necessary part of the great community of mankind. Dost thou boast of thy genius and thy knowledge, abstracted from mildness and benevolence? Reflect that the most miserable and odious being in the universe is also possessed of abilities infinitely superior to those of the most sagacious of the sons of men!
7. Religious pride is, if possible, still more odious and absurd than that just now mentioned. It is a combination of shocking inconsistencies. It unites confession of sin with self-righteousness, humility before God with insolence towards men, supplication for mercy with the assumption of merit, the prospect of heaven with the temper of hell.
II. The only solid foundation of self-esteem. He who understandeth God has his soul impressed with all that is grand and sublime, is capable of contemplating Deity, and beholds every terrestrial object sink in comparison. He that “knoweth” God is acquainted with infinite perfection, and has acquired the conception, though still obscure and faint, of unerring wisdom, of consummate rectitude, of inexhaustible beneficence, of irresistible power, of all that can exalt, astonish, and delight the soul These attributes, brought to his view by frequent adoration, he must admire, and love, and imitate. This is the true dignity of human nature, restored, by grace, to that state from which it had been degraded by sin, nay, raised to higher capacities and expectations than were granted to primitive innocence. The more we aspire after this excellence, the more ambitious of this exaltation we become, the more is our nature improved and our happiness increased and extended. This is the glory of a Christian, of an immortal soul, of an expectant of heaven, of a blessed spirit! (W. L. Brown, D. D.)
Of false glorying
Such is the weakness of our nature, that if Providence hath conferred upon us any remarkable quality, either of body or mind, we are apt to boast ourselves because of it. In our more serious moments we must condemn such vanity; but pride is so natural to man, that we find it difficult to subdue.
I. The natural or acquired endowments of the mind. A great genius, fine parts, and shining talents, are strong temptations to glorying. When a man is conscious that his understanding is more enlightened, his judgment sounder, his invention finer, his knowledge more extensive than that of the rest of mankind, he is in great danger of indulging a little vanity. Yet, still, there is no foundation for boasting. If those accomplishments are natural they are the gift of God, and call Him their Author. If they are acquired we owe them in a great measure to the attention and labour of others, who have contributed to improve them. What a poor figure would the greatest genius have made without books and a master! Like the diamond in the mine, it must have remained in its natural state, rough and unpolished. It is education and letters which enable men to make a figure in life. Besides, is it not Providence which places us in superior circumstances, and enables us to prosecute sciences and arts? After all, what is the so-much-boasted wisdom of the wise? Is it not at best, only a less degree of folly? How shallow is their understanding and how circumscribed their knowledge! Let me add, how liable is the greatest genius and the finest scholar to have his faculties deranged! A fall from a horse, a tile from a house, a fever in the brain, will impair the judgment and disturb the reason of the greatest philosopher.
II. The superior qualities of the body. A fine face and an elegant figure are engaging things, and mankind have held them in a certain degree of admiration. Hence the possessors of those properties have sometimes become proud and vain. But what is beauty? A piece of polished earth, a finer species of clay, regularly adjusted by the great Creator! Those upon whom He hath bestowed it had no hand in the workmanship, and contributed nothing to finish it. Instead of being puffed up more than others, they should be more humble, because they are greater debtors to Providence. How little reason such have to be vain, we have many striking examples; an inveterate jaundice, a malignant fever, a rapid consumption, will spoil the finest complexion and impair the stoutest constitution. It were well if the fairest of this world’s children would aspire after something more durable than looks and dress; even to have the image of God drawn upon the heart, and the life of Christ formed within them.
III. The more elevated circumstances of our lot. It is no doubt natural to prefer independence and ease, to straits and toil. Who does not wish to live in plenty, rather than in penury? Yet what is an immense quantity of gold and silver? It is no better than dust, a little more refined, upon which men have agreed to put a certain value. If it is hoarded up it is no better than stone or sand. If it is wasted and spent it is no longer ours, but the property of another; and how quickly riches change masters, we have every day striking examples. Riches are intrusted to men as stewards, and they are accountable for the use which they make of them. If they employ them for the honour of God and for the benefit of their fellow creatures, they are a valuable talent, and shall receive an ample recompense; but if they minister to pride and vanity, to profusion and luxury, to avarice and oppression, they are to be accounted a curse. Honours and titles are no better foundation for glory than opulence. If they have been transmitted by our ancestors, we have derived them from them; if they have been conferred, directly, by the king, we are indebted to him; and we are under greater obligations for such an act of favour. At best, what are they but an empty name? They may procure a person precedence, and a little more respect; but they can contribute nothing to his dignity of character. Again, the voice of fame is a bewitching thing, and numbers have been strangely captivated with it. Hence they have courted it with the greatest servility, and by the lowest means. There is nothing so humbling to which they have not submitted, to gain this empty sound. Have not some sacrificed the principles of honour, of conscience, of integrity, to obtain applause? And what is so precarious and uncertain as the breath of a multitude? It is fickle as the wind, and variable as the weather.
IV. The religious acquirements which we may have attained. It is the voice of reason, and the language of Scripture, “that every good and perfect gift cometh down from above, from the Father of lights.” “In us dwelleth no good thing!” On the contrary, “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” If then a good work has been begun in us, it hath been imparted to us by the Spirit of God, “the fruit of which is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” Are your understandings more enlightened, your wills more submissive, your affections more spiritual, your morals more pure, you owe it to a Divine influence. There cannot be a stronger evidence that we are entire strangers to grace, than that of thinking of ourselves above what we ought to think. The very nature of grace is to give all the glory to God. The more of it we receive, the more self-denied will we become. The obvious conclusion from this subject is, “that pride was never made for man.” It originated in hell, and is the offspring of guilt. Let us tear it from our bosoms as the most unwarrantable and unchristian disposition which we can possibly cherish. (David Johnston, D. D.)
Human glorying corrected
I. The things in which not to glory.
1. Those which to the natural man seem most desirable--wisdom, strength, riches.
2. Those in which these Jews inclined presumptuously to boast--external, carnal advantages.
II. Every man must have something in which to glory.
1. That which he esteems as his highest blessing and honour.
2. God sets before us the best objects of glorying.
(1) “Me”; both “understood” and “known.”
(2) The qualities in which God delights.
Mercy, or loving kindness, as opposed to their vaunted strength. Judgment, and righteousness, as opposed to their oppression of the weak and distressed. (J. P. Lange.)
A prohibited and a sanctioned glory
I. The glorying which is prohibited by God.
1. Glorying in wisdom is the glorification of self; therefore forbidden. The mind that knows and the subjects known are both from God.
2. Glorying in strength is forbidden as self-glorification. History shows God’s repudiation of this boast: in destruction of Sennacherib’s army, decline and fall of empires founded on mere force, etc.
3. Glorying in wealth is forbidden as self-glorification. Sad to behold a spirit entombed in a mausoleum of gold and silver.
II. The glorying which is Divinely sanctioned. To glory is an instinct in man; is right, therefore, where the object is worthy of him. God here presents Himself. There is a gradation set before us:
1. Understanding God. Early education calls this into exercise; events of life afford it discipline; profound, spiritual verities may be by it examined.
2. Knowing God. This is more than “understanding” Him. Eternity will reveal new deeps of God’s eternal love and being.
3. In the understanding and knowledge of God, the spirit of man glories, and may glory forever. God glories in our glorying in Him. (W. R. Percival.)
False and true glory
I. What we are not to glory in.
1. Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom. Neither in the largeness and compass of his knowledge and understanding, nor in his skill and dexterity in the contrivance and conduct of human affairs.
(1) Because the highest pitch of human knowledge and wisdom is very imperfect.
(2) Because when knowledge and wisdom are with much difficulty in any competent measure attained, how easily are they lost.
2. Neither let the mighty man glory in his might.
(1) If we understand it of the natural strength of men’s bodies, how little reason is there to glory in that, in which so many of the creatures below us do by so many degrees excel us!
(2) Or, if by might we understand military force and power, how little likewise is that to be gloried in, considering the uncertain events of war, and how very often and remarkably the providence of God doth interpose to cast the victory on the unlikely side!
3. Let not the rich man glory in his riches.
(1) Riches are things without us--the accidental ornaments of our fortune.
(2) At the best, they are uncertain.
(3) Many men have an evil eye upon a good estate; so that instead of being the means of our happiness, it may prove the occasion of our ruin.
II. What it is that is matter of true glory.
1. The wisest and surest reasonings in religion are grounded upon the unquestionable perfections of the Divine nature. Divine revelation itself does suppose these for its foundation, and can signify nothing to us unless these be first known and believed: for unless we be first firmly persuaded of the providence of God, and of His particular care of mankind, why should we suppose that He makes any revelation of His will to us? Unless it be first naturally known that God is a God of truth, what ground is there for the belief of His Word?
2. The nature of God is the true idea and pattern of perfection and happiness; and therefore nothing but our conformity to it can make us happy. He who is the Author and fountain of happiness cannot convey it to us by any other way than by planting in us such dispositions of mind as are in truth a kind of participation of the Divine nature; and by enduing us with such qualities as are the necessary materials of happiness: and a man may as soon be well without health as happy without goodness. (J. Tillotson, D. D.)
False and true grounds of glorying
I. False grounds of confidence.
1. The wisdom here meant is not heavenly, but earthly wisdom; that penetration and sagacity which many naturally possess, and some to a considerable degree; or that knowledge of various kinds about the things of this world, which they acquire by study and experience. Why should not the man who has wisdom, glory in it? Because all such glorying is vain; because he has at last no real foundation for glorying; because, after all, his wisdom cannot secure success, and may prove in the end, and if gloried in certainly will prove, to have been foolishness. It is the Lord who gives success, and whose counsel alone will stand.
2. By might we may understand either strength or power; strength of body, or the power of rank, station, or influence. There is no real ground for confidence in these things. As “there is no king saved by the multitude of his host”; so “a mighty man is not delivered by much strength.” The mightiest empires have been suddenly overthrown, and the most powerful monarchs destroyed in a moment.
3. How continually do we see people trusting in their wealth, and boasting themselves in the multitude of their riches! But how vain is such confidence! It is like leaning on a broken reed.
II. Thy true ground of glorying.
1. The knowledge of God, here meant, is a knowledge of Him in His true character and perfections. It is a knowledge of Him as being at once a merciful Father and a righteous Judge; a just God, and yet a Saviour; abounding in mercy, love, and truth; and at the same time hating iniquity, and who will by no means clear the guilty. The knowledge spoken of in the text is an inward, heartfelt, experimental knowledge of Him. It is such a belief of Him in our hearts, as leads us to fear and love Him, to rely on and confide in Him. It is a knowledge founded on trial and experience.
2. They who know the Lord, in the manner that has been described, have a sure ground of glorying. They glory in that which will never fail, deceive, or disappoint them. (E. Cooper, M. A.)
False and true glorying
I. There is a disposition in men to glory and self-confidence on account of the personal accomplishments which distinguish them in the eyes of their fellow creatures.
1. Bodily strength inspires the idea of great actions in its possessors, and frequently makes them arrogant and proud. It induces them to assume what does not belong to them, to violate the properties of life, and to carry about with them a spirit of defiance and insult in their intercourse with their fellow creatures.
2. Worldly wisdom inspires confidence more than that which is attached to the grosser qualities of the human frame; and no men are more in danger of being wise in their own eyes than those who possess this quality.
3. Nothing is so calculated to fill men with insufferable pride as the possession of extraordinary riches. It produces a semblance of homage or respect--it commands the services of mankind--it levies a contribution on all nature and society, and gives to those who possess it a sort of universal empire; and it is not at all to be wondered at that these minds are more tempted by pride and glory than those who seek to be distinguished by worldly wisdom.
II. The false and erroneous basis on which these sentiments of glory and self-confidence are founded.
1. Neither separately taken, nor in their combined form, will they ever teach their possessors their true use; but they frequently turn to hurt, not only to society at large, but to their own possessors.
2. These things are utterly incapable, either separately or combined, of supplying some of the most pressing wants, and avoiding some of the most obvious evils to which our nature is exposed.
3. They are of a very transient duration and possession.
III. There is an object which is of such a nature that it will justify the glory, the confidence, the self-satisfaction, which it is declared ought not for a moment to be connected with those which are before enumerated.
1. True religion will teach us the proper regulation and employment of all these endowments.
2. There is a perpetuity and pledge of future and eternal felicity in the religion of Jesus Christ; not only that which produces present tranquillity and peace, but that which furnishes the pledge of an enduring and eternal happiness. (R. Hall, M. A.)
The Gospel the only security for eminent and abiding national prosperity
The Jewish nation had come to rely on their wealth, power, and political wisdom.
I. The inefficacy of the common grounds of confidence.
1. Reason has been appealed to, but its impotence in the conflict with passion, ignorance, and irreligion is demonstrated on every page of history.
2. Education has been relied upon, but knowledge and virtue are not inseparable. Philosophy, culture, the arts, did not save Rome or Greece from ruin.
3. The efforts of philosophy to reform and elevate mankind have proved signal failures in the past.
4. National wealth is thought to be the perfection of prosperity. But in all ages and lands it has proved the most active and powerful cause of national corruption.
5. Nor is military genius and prowess any safer ground of confidence than wealth, as the history of nations illustrates with solemn and awful significance.
6. Political wisdom, statesmanship, the boast and confidence of nations, is inadequate to secure and perpetuate national prosperity.
7. Our boasted free institutions, bought and maintained at immense sacrifices, and the envy of the nations, are not a guarantee of the future.
II. There is efficacy in the Gospel of the grace of God, and nowhere else, to secure eminent and abiding national prosperity. It was devised and bestowed upon mankind for this purpose; and in its principles, provisions, institutions, and moral tendencies, it is eminently adapted to elevate, purify, and bless nations as well as individual man. The proofs of its power to do this are not wanting. See the effect of Christianity on the laws and institutions of the old Roman Empire--on the social and political life of Germany at the Reformation--on our own history and destiny as a nation by means of our Pilgrim Fathers--on the condition of the Sandwich Islands, and in South Africa among the Hottentots. Hence patriotism demands of the Christian Church today earnest prayer and the faithful application of the Gospel. (Homiletic monthly.)
False and true grounds of glorying
I. The reasons why the wise man should not “glory in his wisdom, nor the mighty in his might, nor the rich man in his riches.”
1. All these things are the gifts of God, and have neither power nor potency without Him.
2. They are all of uncertain continuance. As no man can call them into existence, so no man can command their stay.
3. It ought to moderate our tendency to glory in riches, to remember by what huckstering practices, by what base, material means they are usually got.
4. Further, wisdom, power, and riches are all things which we must leave at death, even if they do not before leave us.
II. In what we may safely glory.
1. The knowledge of God affords a just ground for glorying, first, because God Himself, the object of it, surpasses all created excellencies. He combines in Himself in a transcendent degree whatever is deep in wisdom, whatever is majestic in might, whatever is rich in goodness.
2. This knowledge of God as being actually all that to His believing people which they can need is worthy of being gloried in, as distinguished from human wisdom, might, or riches, because it places man’s confidence on an unshaken basis; and because, moreover, it is a kind of knowledge which elevates while it humbles the mind, satisfies its desires while it invites the exercise of all its powers; fills it with pure, noble, enduring excellence, expires not, but only becomes perfected at death, and fits the soul for the permanent occupations and enjoyments of the eternal state. (Stephen Jenner, M. A.)
True and false complacencies
I. False sources of human complacency.
1. It is a false complacency when men prefer a lower to a higher species of good, when they prefer the material to the moral, the external to the internal possessions. If a man makes the culture of his soul the supreme concern of life, a due regard to riches will not injure him, because they become, in that case, a means to a worthy end. But if, ignoring his inward life, he fixes all his trust, and finds his treasure in something external, the passion for riches must lead in the end to the corruption of his character.
2. There is the preference of the physical or natural to the spiritual attributes of being. What is force without conscience? What is will without righteousness? What is might without mercy? It is like the blind fury of the earthquake, the hurricane, or the avalanche, inspiring terror, wonder, and pity, but no true joy to the rational part of the man.
3. There is the preference of the intellectual to the spiritual. While the pursuit of wisdom is of all the noblest to which we can devote ourselves, provided it be inspired by religion, it is, perhaps, of all the most disappointing if that inspiration be wanting. Of what profit this weariness of the flesh, this aching brow, these nightly vigils, this impaired health? How bitterly have such men, from Ecclesiastes downwards, turned in satire upon the wisdom they had spent a lifetime in acquiring. But it is not wisdom, it is the untrue spirit in which wisdom has been pursued, that deserves the satire. Had they from the first yielded up their souls to intercourse with the Father of Lights, had they cultivated wisdom as a gift and emanation from Himself, to be used in the service of His creatures, these disappointments might have been avoided.
II. What, then, is the true source of the soul’s complacency? It is to be found in the knowledge of the eternal God.
1. We believe in His just and merciful administration of the world’s affairs. He exercises loving kindness, justice, and right in the earth.
2. We believe in the essential goodness of God. “In these things I delight,” saith Jehovah. He governs the world in right and in love, because He is in Himself a righteous and a loving Being. Nowhere does the righteousness of God more impress the conscience, fill the soul with a deeper awe, than at the foot of that cross, where He was made sin for us Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. And nowhere do the beams of the eternal mercy break forth more brightly from the parting sky than above that cross. There the grace that pardons sin, that justifies the sinner, that plucks up the love of sin by the roots, that pours the balm of celestial hope and peace into our wounds, the grace that deeply humbles, yet nobly exalts us, is ever revealed. (E. Johnson, M. A.)
Duty of a prosperous nation
I. What it is for a prosperous nation to rejoice in themselves.
1. It is to rejoice in their own national prosperity because it is their own, and superior to that of other nations.
2. A people rejoice in themselves when they ascribe their national prosperity to their own self-sufficiency.
II. What it is for nation in prosperity to rejoice in God.
1. It is to understand and know that God is the Governor of the world.
2. For a nation in prosperity to rejoice in God implies rejoicing, not only that He governs the world, but that He displays His great and amiable perfections in governing it.
(1) There is reason to rejoice in the judgment or wisdom God displays in the government of the world.
(2) There is reason to rejoice in the moral rectitude and perfect righteousness which God displays in the government of the world.
(3) There is reason to rejoice in the perfect benevolence which God displays in the government of the world. He is continually doing as much good as His wisdom, His justice, His power, and His goodness enable Him to do.
III. This is the duty of all mankind, especially of every nation in the day of prosperity.
1. Because God has given them all their national prosperity.
2. Because He only, in His governing goodness, can promote and preserve their prosperity.
1. We have seen what it is for a people, in prosperity, to rejoice in themselves, and to rejoice in God, and that these two kinds of rejoicing are entirely opposite to each other. The one is right and the other is wrong; the one is pleasing and the other displeasing to God.
2. Have we not reason to fear that our national prosperity will be followed with national calamities and desolating judgments? (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Pride of worldly greatness
As that is a rebellious heart in which sin is allowed to reign, so that is not a very enlarged heart which the world can fill. Alas, what will it profit us to sail before the pleasing gales of prosperity, if we be afterwards overset by the gusts of vanity? Your bags of gold should be ballast in your vessel to keep her always steady, instead of being topsails to your masts to make your vessel giddy. Give me that distinguished person, who is rather pressed down under the weight of all his honours, than puffed up with the blast thereof. It has been observed by those who are experienced in the sport of angling, that the smallest fishes bite the fastest. Oh, how few great men do we find so much as nibbling at the Gospel hook! (T. Seeker.)
Many a man is proud of his estate or business--of the economy, order, and exact adjustment of part to part, which mark its management, who ought, to be very much ashamed of the neglected state of his conscience and heart. Many a woman is proud of her diamonds, who cares little for the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. It is his conscience and heart, not his estate or business, it is her spirit, not her diamonds, which he and she will carry into the eternal world with them; and if God will only induce them to cultivate spirit, and conscience, and heart, by taking their diamonds and possessions away from them, is it not most merciful of Him to take these away, and so quicken them unto life eternal?
The true ground of glorying
The passage assumes that it is right to glory, and the tendency of our nature is to glory in one thing or another. The heart of man cannot remain empty. If you don’t fill it with one thing, it will fill itself with another. If you don’t tell man of the true God to worship, he will worship a false one.
I. A solemn prohibition.
1. Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom.
(1) Primarily, the reference is to the wisdom of statesmen, to political sagacity, and forethought. These are not to be gloried in, as the only way of escaping from political difficulties, or averting impending disaster and coming judgments. Political sagacity is not a thing always to be trusted. It does not always bring peace with honour. It may be another name for ambition--for the power of outwitting your neighbour, and, under some pretence or other, invading another’s country, and destroying his liberty. It may have its root near low cunning, cheating, and chicanery. Let us rest assured that in all schemes of political sagacity, whatever their seeming success for a while, unless they are founded on principles of justice and righteousness, disaster and ruin will ensue. For God--who ruleth all the worlds--will do right; and He has said that, while righteousness alone exalteth a nation, sin is the reproach of any people.
(2) The text refers, secondarily, to glorying in wisdom of all kinds--the wisdom of the student, the scholar, the philosopher. Men are more apt to be proud of mental gifts and intellectual acquirements than of any other thing. There is an innate splendour, an imperial dignity, about them which does not attach to such worldly possessions as riches, gold, silver, jewellery. The man of great wisdom and intellectual gifts may be inclined from his elevated place, from his eyrie heights, to look with pity, with contempt, on the traffickers in small things--the trader, the handler of tools--while he himself is occupied with thoughts big as the infinite, vast as immensity, and long as the ages. And yet his pride may be checked by the thought of his utter dependence for his thinking power on the Divine hand. No gift comes more directly from the hand of God than mental power. A little clot of blood will paralyse the active brain, and fling reason from its throne. Then, how small after all is the sum of his knowledge and his vaunted wisdom. How men now laugh at the astrology, the chemistry, and the physical theories of other days! And so, as truth is infinite and knowledge advancing, the thought that the time will come when our philosophies shall have passed, when succeeding generations will wonder that we ever believed them, when they shall look on our advances in knowledge and wisdom as the groping of children in the darkness, and estimate our present savants and scientific men as the merest sciolists and drivellers, this thought may well clothe us with humility. Besides, unaided human wisdom could not find out God. Men tried the problem long, but it became the darker and deeper. Didn’t Paul find the ignorance of the most enlightened nation on earth registered in the public square when he said--“Whom, therefore, you ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you”?
2. Glorying in might is prohibited.
(1) Military prowess. Other nations might, if they pleased, glory in their vast armaments, but Israel was not allowed to do so. Her strength was in the Lord. Their armaments didn’t preserve those nations. Assyria is overthrown, her glory is gone, and Egypt is this day in the hands of strangers. Have the nations of Europe nothing to learn here? Napoleon I, at the head of his legions, made the world stand in awe of him. He overthrew Austria at Austerlitz, and then sprang upon the Prussian army, and smashed its power at Jena. But he in turn is worsted at Waterloo, and we see him gnawing his heart on a rock at the equator. Napoleon III, little more than twenty years ago, considered himself the arbiter of the peace of Europe. He gloried in his might. In overweening pride he attacked Germany. She turned upon him in righteous indignation, pulled the imperial crown from his head, and sent him an exile to another land. Our military prowess and scientific frontiers, our naval strength and greatness, will do little for us, if God’s arm be lifted up in anger against us. Why, not long ago, the storm seized our guard ship Ajax, one of our most powerful ironclads, and made a play thing of her at the Mull of Cantyre; and more recently the Bay of Biscay grew angry with the Serpent warship, and flung her a shipwrecked thing on the Spanish shore.
(2) The prohibition refers also to the individual. How apt are we, in days of health and strength, when life is a joy, and the movement of our limbs a music, to put the day of sickness far from us, to fancy that the clear eye will never be dimmed, the strong arm never be palsied, and the heart, now so warm, will continue to beat and throb with unfailing vigour. We may see the sick, the frail, and the weak around, but we are inclined to look upon them as a class different from ourselves. Is there not a secret glorying in all this? How foolish is this! For who can do battle with the King of terrors?
3. Then you are not to glory in riches. Nothing is more contemptible than that a man should be proud simply because he happens to have a good account at his banker’s, or a great deal of money in his purse. Why, any man, however worthless, who makes a happy hit may have that--a gambler on the Stock Exchange or a pawnbroker. How uncertain are riches as a possession! How many homes have we seen made desolate! How many households broken up and families scattered during recent years! I am not insisting on the uselessness of money. I am not inveighing against the possession of wealth. I am only cautioning you against making it the source of your happiness, or the ground of your glorying; for it cannot satisfy the deepest needs of the human heart. Didn’t Queen Elizabeth, on her deathbed, say--“I would give ten thousand pounds for an hour of life”? Let not the rich man glory in his riches.
II. An exact direction. “Let him that glorieth,” etc. Here is the subject of glorying. Understanding God, and knowing Him practically, so as to love Him and walk in His ways. To understand Him is now possible, for He has made known His ways to men. His whole dealings with His people are a revelation of Himself. To know God is now possible; for He hath revealed Himself in the person of His own dear Son, who is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person. We may understand and know Him as thus revealed; and if we do, we may glory. If you rejoice in any other, after kindling a few sparks, you will lie down in sorrow; but if you glory in knowing God, that is a thing which, stretching into eternity, casts a shadow over the brightest sublunary splendours, and remains an everlasting possession. (J. Macgregor, M. A.)
He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord
There is a French proverb to the effect that to do sway with one thing you must put another in its place. Men must glory in one thing or other, and so it is not enough that we be told what not to glory in, but we must also be told what we are to glory in. We need a word, “Thou shalt not”; but to give that word force, and make it last, we need another word, “Thou shalt do this.”
I. The false glorying which we are warned against. Glorying here means far more than mere coarse, outward strut and brag. We are all ready enough to blame that, if not to laugh at it. There may be a far deeper, stronger pride, and glorying, which is quiet and calm and hidden. Indeed, if you think of it, the worst sort of pride is not what is shown by outward braveries. The man who parades his finery, and is so anxious to strike us with astonishment and awe, shows so much concern for our opinion, and is so set upon making an impression on us, that we cannot help feeling flattered: his huge effort to stand high in our eyes, and stir our astonishment, must be complimentary. And even when he walks with his chin in the air, or prances proudly past us, or looks down loftily from a great height, we must see in all that proof that he thinks a good deal about us, and is by no means indifferent to the impression he is making. Whereas, a really prouder man, haughtier and more scornful, might be far too careless of us, or our judgment, to take any trouble about us: might scorn to make us feel how high he was, and care nothing whether we appreciated his greatness or no: heeds us no more than he does the birds that fly over his head, or peer at him from the hedges, and would as soon think of showing off before them as of standing on his dignity before common folk like you and me.
1. Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom.
(1) No doubt the chief thought in Jeremiah’s mind is political wisdom, cunning devices of the statesman. At first sight it seems a cheap bargain to snatch the near profit and risk the anger of God. But in the end such wisdom turns to folly. God’s wisdom will last longest. The wisest thing in the end is always found to be the right, duty, obedience. And here is something which puts all men on a level; makes the simple equal to the genius. The differences between mere human smartness and sagacity only reach a very little way. It is so very little of the future that the best can foresee: and how precarious it all is! Whereas, righteousness and duty never change and never fail, and the wisdom of doing God’s will must show itself sooner or later.
(2) Pride of intellect. This is the most tempting of all kinds of pride, and the most stubborn. Often you could pay no greater compliment, and give no greater pleasure to a talented, clever, wise thinker, than to warn him against glorying too much in his intellectual superiority. There is no reaching these men. Raised aloft on a high pillar of self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction, happy and snug in the consciousness of their culture, cleverness, criticalness, they look down on all the world at their feet. In God’s sight what a farce this must be!
2. “Might.” “Some trust in horses and some in chariots.” The might of Israel was the presence and protection of God. What a shame for them to sink into dependence on arms and armies! Here, again, we must seek to apply the warning to our individual case. The apostle John speaks of the “pride of life” as one of the lusts of the world to be overcome. And, perhaps, there is nothing in which men more readily glory than in this hold of life. You may be too superstitious, actually, to boast about it, and may remember dimly the terrible suddenness of change, the chances of death, the risks of sickness, too much for you positively to glory aloud. But yet it is amazing how complacently, when we are in health and strength, we can look on the feeble and ailing, as if they belonged to a set apart from us; as if there was a class of people who were to be sickly and fragile whom we might pity, but to which we did not belong. This quiet, complacent self-satisfaction is really glorying in our strength. And the foolishness of this is seen herein, that there cannot in all the world be anything so certain to happen as the utter collapse of that glory in the case of every man and woman alive.
3. “Riches.” “Money answereth all things,” and is a very likely thing to glory in. It is the readiest power and easiest to enjoy, and therefore handiest for use. And though there is scarcely anything more senseless than purse pride, or haughtiness of heart on account of wealth, still nothing is more natural than trust in the power of the purse. Against this danger comes the prophet’s warning, calling us to remember how insecure is all wealth, and, therefore, all glory in wealth. How precarious our peace if wealth be its basis. Is not the history of our day full of desolate stories of swift and sudden disasters? But, besides, even though no such chance befall, how helpless riches are to heal the wounds and woes of life!
II. Right glorying. The cure of the false is by putting the true in its place. We have good news--a glory to tell of as blissful as the world’s fairy tale, and with this charm of charms, that it is all true, and sure, and everlasting,
1. “Knoweth Me.” How it leaps to the highest height at once! We have been too long lingering about the cisterns, the broken cisterns. And now, in a bound, we go to the wellspring of living waters, God Himself. There is no rest for you till you get there, till God is your portion. What a glad thing it is we can get that I that we all are offered it!
2. But observe what it is that is known about God particularly. The historical meaning, the thought in Jeremiah’s mind, is this--that, instead of fretting, and fighting, and scheming, and sinning to hold their own among the rival nations, they should rather fall back on God the Ruler of all things, comfort themselves in calling on Him, glory in this that they know He is the Ruler among the nations, and will guide for good those who seek and serve Him. “This is life eternal to know Thee.” As a man seeking goodly pearls, sells all to get the one; as a man finding the treasure in the field, sells all else to get that field; so, having got this knowledge, the charm is gone from all else. The bare knowledge of the fact at once disenchants of all else. Think of a poor beggar begging alms, and, gathering them carefully in a wallet, keeping them safe, suddenly told of plenty and wealth come home I How the news, once known and believed, would make him fling away his wretched scraps, secure now of abundance of comforts.
3. “Let him glory.” It is not a mere saying, that it is a blessed thing should a man chance to do it, or be able to do it, but it is a counsel and command to do it. Do not keep propping up your peace with false trusts and props, but cast yourself on God. (R. Macellar.)
The pride of knowledge
Have you ever seen a boy blow up a bladder? It has not grown--it is puffed up! It has become big, but it is filled with wind, as a pin will demonstrate. Now, the apostle says, knowledge blows a man up, and makes him look big, so he seems to himself to be large. Love is the only thing that builds him up. The one swells him out, so that he appears greater than he really is. The other develops him by actual increase. The one bloats and the other builds him. The apostle’s declaration is, that the mere realm of ideas, the simple sphere of knowledge, tends to produce among men immense flabation, and a sense of importance, while love, the Spirit of Christ, is the thing which augments men, enlarges them, strengthens them, with foundations downward and a superstructure upward. (H. W. Beecher.)
Rich in grace rather than in goods
I have read of one who did not fear what he did, nor what he suffered, so that he might get riches; “For,” said he, “men do not ask how good one is, or how gracious one is, but how rich one is.” Oh, sirs, the day is coming, when God will ask how rich your souls are; not how rich you are in money, or in jewels, or in land, or in goods, but how rich you are in grace; which should provoke your souls to strive, in face of all discouragements, to be spiritually rich. (Thomas Brooks.)
Earthly riches unavailing
There are three things that earthly riches can never do; they can never satisfy Divine justice, they can never pacify Divine wrath, nor can they ever quiet a guilty conscience. And till these things are done man is undone. (Thomas Brooks.)
Knowing God-the greatest good
Twelve days before his death, little thinking it to be so near, Coleridge wrote to his godchild a remarkable letter, in which the following sentences occur--“I declare unto you, with the experience that more than threescore years can give, that health is a great blessing, competence obtained by industry is a great blessing, and to have kind, faithful, loving friends and relatives is a great blessing; but that the greatest of all blessings, as it is the ennobling of all privileges, is to be indeed a Christian.”
Let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me.
The knowledge of God
So much emphasis is laid upon knowledge by the writers of Scripture, from its earliest to its latest books, that we might almost say that knowledge is religion. Indeed, the Master Himself did say as much (John 17:3). Yet religious knowledge is not religion. That may be possessed by him who is ignorant of God, and lives without Him. Nevertheless, religious knowledge may be the foundation of religion--the material from which the Spirit draws the living fire of faith and love. A knowledge of the facts of the Gospel history is of infinite moment, because they so clearly, so impressively, so attractively show forth the hidden nature and unspeakable name of the Eternal. Their importance is evidenced by the fact that the whole of the epistles are devoted to an exposition of the purposes and meanings which are infolded in them. Yet we may master all these things intellectually, and not possess the knowledge of God--the knowledge to which the Scriptures attach such great importance, the knowledge which is eternal life. Clearly there is a knowledge within knowledge. So vitally necessary is the inner illumination, that one man may possess but little knowledge of the facts through which God has revealed Himself, and yet may know Him; and another may have an exhaustive knowledge of the facts, and not know Him at all. It is not religious knowledge that saves, but knowledge of God--knowledge of His mind, which is deeper than anything coming from His mind; knowledge of His heart, as heart only can know heart, by an instinct, a sympathy, an appreciation. Here we see the infinite worth of the life of Christ as manifesting God; because the Spirit that was in Him appeared in forms which we can best appreciate, and which are best adapted to impress our minds and hearts. We show ourselves to each other in a thousand ways, consciously and unconsciously, in the tone and manner in which we speak to a child, or give instructions to a servant, or address our equals; in the way in which we cherish or sacrifice our comforts; in the presence or absence of proofs of loving thoughtfulness. So read, the life of our blessed Lord and Master was continually giving some evidence of what God is, and was shedding light all along the pathway of men; into every dark valley and gloomy forest; upon every mystery and sorrow and care. We have “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” But let us try and still further unfold the method by which men come to the knowledge of God. The beloved disciple says: “The Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.” Now, in what way is that understanding given? Partly by the historic Christ, partly by the Christ within. The one operation or manifestation of Christ must never exclude the other. To be with Christ is to acquire the power to know Him. To live in the Gospels is to understand Him who is their central figure, their Divine glory. Christ is the Light without; He also opens the eyes to see. He is the supreme revelation of God given for us to know; He also creates the spiritual understanding which apprehends the truth and glory and divinity of the revelation. Not by logic, then, do we attain to the knowledge of God, but by spiritual perception, by faith. And this knowledge of God is not a comprehension, but an apprehension, of Him, a seizing hold of Him by our spiritual sense, in response to the hold with which He has seized us. (J. P. Gledstone.)
How to learn about God
The knowledge of God is not a thing which can be fixed in the beginning, except in words; in its very nature, the knowledge of God among men must, to a large extent, be progressive; and it must follow the development of the race itself. There has been, and there is recognised in the Word of God from beginning to end, a steady progress in the disclosure of the Divine nature; and we see that in the thoughts respecting God among men there has been a gradual augmentation of the conception of the Divine character, arising from the process which I have already delineated. It is true that in the Bible there is much sublime portraiture representing the character of God; but, after all, no man knows God until he has personally found Him out in such a way as that he feels that God has touched him. No man can say, “I know God as a living God.” except so far as he has interpreted Him out of his own living consciousness. Now, suppose you say of God, “He is just, true, righteous, pure, benevolent, lovely.” Those qualities being enumerated, there will probably be a thousand different conceptions of the personality which they go to make up. What are the circumstances which will make this difference in your conceptions of the Divine nature? I will explain. Some there are who are far more sensible to physical qualities than others. The sublimity of power is to their thought one of the chief Divine attributes. God is omnipotent. That idea touches them. He is omniscient. Their eyes sparkle when they think of that. He is omnipresent. They have a sense of that. He is majestic. He has wondrous power. According to their conception He is God of all the earth. None can resist His might. That is your sense of God. If you only have such a God, you are satisfied. Another person wants a scientific God. He says, “I perceive that there is a law of light, a law of heat, a law of electricity; I see that everything is fashioned by law; and my idea of God is that He must be supreme in science; that there are to be found in Him all those qualities which science is interpreting to me.” His God will be just, generous, faithful; but He will be just, generous, faithful after the fashion of some Agassiz, or some Cuvier, or some Faraday. Another man conceives of God from the domestic side, It is the mother nature that he thinks of--the nature that is full of gentleness; full of kindness; full of sympathy; full of sweetness; full of elevated tastes and relishes; full of songs; full of all manner of joy-producing qualities. Another, who is an artist, will feel after the God of the rainbow--a God of beauty. So every person will be dependent upon the most sensitive parts of his own soul for his interpretation of God. What is it that makes one flower blue and another scarlet? No flower reflects all the light. If a flower is purple it absorbs a part and reflects the rest. If it is blue it absorbs some of the parts and reflects others. The same is true if it is red. And as it is with the colours of flowers, so it is with our conception of God. What you are susceptible of, and what you are sensitive to, in the Divine nature, largely determines what your conception of God is. Each individual puts emphasis on that part of the character of God which his own mind is best fitted to grasp. For instance, God is said to be a God of justice, of truth, and of benevolence. Now, which of those elements is first? Which governs the others? If God is first sternly just, and then suffers and is kind, that is one sort of God. If He is first loving, and then in the service of love is stern, and severe even, that is another kind of God. I hold that the emphasis which you put upon the Divine attributes determines the character of God in your mind; and when you say, “I hold that God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, just, good, true, faithful, benevolent,” you have said what this man says, what that man says, and what I say. We are all agreed, then, are we? Oh, no! If I could take a Daguerrean picture of the conception which each one forms of God, it would be found that one puts more emphasis on justice than love, and that another puts more emphasis on love than on justice. It would be found that one emphasises one attribute, and another its opposite; and that the conception which each one forms of the Divine character depends upon the quality which he emphasises most. The next question which you would naturally propound to me is, “Since these are the ways in which God is conceived of by men, how shall each fashion in himself the living God?” I call the Bible a picture gallery. It is an historical record which is open to all; but it behoves us each to have some conception which we call our God, our Father’s God, the living God. I know of no other way than that which has been practised by the race from the beginning. I know of no other way than for you, in filling out the catalogue which the Word of God gives you of the elements of the Divine nature, to employ the actual perceptions and experiences of this life, in order to kindle before your mind those qualities which otherwise would be abstract to you. Suppose, then, that you have built up in your mind, by some such process as this, a personal God--a God of your own--who fills the heaven with the best things you can conceive of, to which you are perpetually adding from the stores of your daily experience? for it seems to me that God is a name which becomes more and more by reason of the things which you add to it. Every element, every combination of elements, every development which carries with it a sweeter inspiration than it has been your wont to experience, you put inside of that name and you call it God. You are forever gathering up the choicest and most beautiful phases of human life; and with these you build your God. And then you have a living God adapted to your consciousness and personality. Now, let me ask you--for I come back to my text, whether it is not a good text to stand on? “Thus saith the Lord, let not the wise man glory in his wisdom.” Why, he is a savant! He is a philosopher! He is world-renowned. He is bathed in people’s observation. Does not a man rejoice in that? A great many do. Neither let the mighty man glory in his might.” A great many men do rejoice in their might. “Let not the rich man glory in his riches.” If that were obeyed it would upset New York in twenty-four hours. Now and then we are brought to the edge of the great invisible realm, and then we are made to feel that we need something besides wisdom, something besides might, and something besides riches. When a man lies sick in his house, feeling that all the world is going away from him, what can riches do for him? It can be of but little service to him then. When a man is fifty years of age, and he has large estates, and a high reputation as a citizen, if he is going to leave the world, what can his wealth do for him? If he knows that he is going fast toward the great invisible sphere, does he not need something to hold him up when the visible shall have broken down in this life? The great emergencies of your life make it needful that you should have something stronger than wealth, wiser than philosophy, sweeter than human love, mightier than time and nature: you need God. For when flesh and heart fail, then He is the strength of our soul, and our salvation forever. (H. W. Beecher.)
I am the Lord which exercise loving kindness, Judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
God and the earth
These words teach us--
I. The earth is the scene of God’s operations. There is a Divine intelligence, a Divine goodness, a Divine hand everywhere visible to the truly scientific eye, and deeply felt by the devout consciousness of men. Then--
1. Do not be frivolous. Take your shoes from off your feet: an is “holy ground.”
2. Do not be indifferent. His eye is on you.
3. Do not be slothful. Be earnest.
4. Do not be sinful. Do not break His laws in His presence. Do not profane His name, when His ears catch every sound.
II. God’s operations on the earth are marked by rectitude and mercy. Because righteousness is here, sufferings follow crime; because mercy is here, the world itself is kept up: the sun shines, the air breathes, etc.
III. In the exercise of His “righteousness and mercy” on this earth, God himself has delight. God’s happiness is in the exercise of His moral perfections.
1. It is therefore in Himself alone. It is in His own self-activity: happiness is not in quiescence, but in action.
2. Therefore participation in His blessedness is a participation in His perfections. (Homilist.)
God working on the earth
I. God is acting on this earth.
1. He is working in natural phenomena. He is in all, the force of all forces, the impulse of all motion.
2. He is working in human history. He works with individual men, His constant visitation preserveth their lives; He works with families, communities, churches, nations.
II. God’s agency on this earth is characterised by rectitude and love.
1. Who does not see “loving kindness,” or mercy, in the continuation and enjoyments of human life?
2. Who does not see “judgment,” or “righteousness,” in the miseries that follow sin on this earth?
III. In the exercise of these moral attributes the great God is happy. Justice and mercy are but modifications of love; and love in action is the happiness of God as well of His intelligent creation. (Homilist.)
I. The scene of the Divine operations. While there are those who, under the name of science, falsely so called, deny that God exercises any direct control over the forces and circumstances of our earth, we who believe in the Divine Word are prepared to accept this fact as settled. But, while we accept this as a theory, many of us practically deny it. We see the workings of nature around us, and observe the constant and rapid changes that take place in our own and others’ history, and we speak of laws and of chance, of mechanism and of routine, until we forget God, and so leave Him out of our calculations altogether. We have need, therefore, to remind each other now and again, that there is a Divine intelligence and a Divine hand visible in all the operations that are at work in our world.
1. Let us realise that God is at hand, and that He is working around us and in us, and it would put an end to frivolity, and destroy indifference. We would then feel that earth is holy ground, and that life is great and solemn reality.
2. If we were to realise day by day that God is near, exercising His power, and putting forth His operations around us and in us, we would feel that life is too solemn and too real to spend in any other way than with earnestness of purpose.
3. We could not live profoundly and earnestly without realising a purifying and ennobling influence.
II. The character of the Divine operations. He is here not to frown upon and denounce us, but to “exercise loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.” In all God’s dealings with men, love, justice, and fairness of the most perfect kind are blended in the truest harmony. They work one upon the other, so as to maintain the perfect balance of the Divine nature.
1. There is nothing He does, there is nothing He can do, that is not the outcome and result of His love.
2. When He sends sorrow or trial upon us, it is in order to take from us something that He knows will injure us if left in our possession, or to inflict upon us that wholesome chastisement that He sees necessary for our future well-being.
3. Retribution is manifest everywhere, but there is mercy equally, and even more, manifest in supporting the criminal, in mitigating miseries, and in the power of the Gospel to overcome crime itself. Let any one of us here this morning read his own history intelligently, and he will find in every chapter and in every verso loving kindness and judgment blended together and displaying perfect and complete righteousness.
III. The cause of the Divine operations.
1. God delights in exercising these principles Himself. He is love, He is just, He is righteous. He has not therefore to force Himself to their exercise. The spontaneous outgoing of His nature runs necessarily in these channels, and hence He delights in their display.
2. God delights in the exercise of these principles by man. Were we to gather all the teaching of the New Testament upon practical Christian life together we might fairly reduce it all to these elements of “loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness.” This is to be made a partaker of the Divine nature, and to imitate Christ. But we cannot do this by our own strength. We need the inspiration and the power of Christ. On the Cross of Calvary God has shown us this most blessed combination in its fullest and most perfect light. (W. Le Pla.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 9". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany