Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023
the Fourth Week of Lent
the Fourth Week of Lent
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The Biblical Illustrator The Biblical Illustrator
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 106". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ psalms-106.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 106". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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Praise ye the Lord.
The true in praise, religion, and prayer
I. True. Praise and its reasons (verses 1, 2). This call to praise Jehovah is binding on all intelligent and moral creatures, because of--
1. The goodness of His nature.
2. The permanency of His mercy.
3. The immensity of His works.
II. True religion and its blessedness (verse 3). What is true religion? Keeping to the right at all times. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” The only hymn of praise acceptable to the ear of the Infinite is a life of rectitude. Now, this is happiness (Psalms 1:1).
III. True prayer and its desires. What is the grand desire of true prayer? All may be summed up in one sentence--identification with the excellent of the earth (verses 4, 5). A desire to be identified with the rich, the powerful, and the distinguished of the earth is common, is “of the earth, earthy”; but a desire to be vitally associated with the morally excellent of the earth is rare and of heavenly origin. May this be our grand aspiration! (Homilist.)
Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that Thou bearest unto Thy people.
Sharing the blessings of God’s people
I. Who the lord’s people are. They are a people who, deeply sensible of their own guiltiness and vileness, rest simply upon Jesus as their Saviour from the wrath to come. They are a people led also by the Spirit of the Saviour they believe in; actuated by His love; conformed to His image.
II. The favour which the Lord bears unto His people.
1. He sends His Spirit into their hearts to dwell with and abide in them--to work in them both to will and to do what is pleasing in His eyes.
2. He gives them His Word, full of precious things--comforts, invitations, promises, directions.
3. He makes all things work together for their good.
4. He gives them free access to Himself in prayer.
III. The prayer in the text.
I. We are here taught what to do, if we fear that we have no part nor lot in the Lord’s favour to His people. Pray for it.
2. Imitate the fervency of the psalmist in seeking for a clear, personal interest in these privileges. (A. Roberts, M.A.)
The poor man’s prayer
I. This is an admirable prayer for a poor humble Christian. Notice with interest the first fear felt by this poor, trembling Christian. He is afraid that he is such a little one that God will forget him, and so he begins with, “O remember me with the favour which Thou bearest to Thy people.” He is a true believer, but he is a sad doubter. He is on the road to heaven, but he is often afraid he is not, and that makes him watch every step he takes. I almost wish some confident professors were altogether as doubtful as he is if they would be half as cautious. Now, I am not quite sure about this good man’s name,--it may be Littlefaith, or Feeblemind. Or is it Mr. Despondency I am thinking of? Or Miss Much-afraid? Or Mr. Ready-to-halt? Well, it is some one of that numerous family. This poor soul thinks, “Surely God will forget me I” No, no, dear heart, he will not forget you. It is wonderful how God does think of little things. Mungo Park picked up a little bit Of moss in the desert, and as he marked how beautifully it was variegated, he said, “God is here: He is thinking of the moss, and therefore He will think of me.” Observe next, that this poor, trembling heart seems to be in great trouble for fear the Lord should pass it by, but at the same time feels that every good thing it can possibly receive must come from the Lord, and must be brought to it by the Lord. Thou needest not say, if thou hast a broken heart, “Lord, visit me.” Do you not know that He dwells in you, for is it not written (Isaiah 66:2)? Are you not the very person? Poor sorrowing heart, let me say to thee, and say in God’s name, if thou lovest thy Lord, all things are thine. They are thine freely to enjoy even at this moment. The Lord denies thee no covenant blessing. Make bold to appropriate the sacred joys, for if thou be the least child in the family, yet the heritage of God’s children is the same for every one.
II. This is a suitable petition for a poor, penitent backslider. It is clear that this poor, pleading backslider feels that he has forgotten his God. Have you done that? You have been a Church-member, and you have gone sadly astray; have you quite forgotten His commandments? You thought you loved Him. You used to pray at one time: you had some enjoyment in reading and in hearing the Word; but now you find your pleasure somewhere else. You have left your first love and gone after many lovers. But, oh, if the Lord is gracious to you, you are lamenting your forgetfulness; and though you have not remembered Him, the prayer leaps to your lips, “Lord, remember me.” Blessed be His name, He does not so easily forget us as we forget Him. It is He that sets thee weeping, and makes thee sorrow for thy sin. And then, I think, your next trouble will be this: you feel that you have lost your fellowship with Christ: and you are right in so feeling, for “How can two walk together except they be agreed?” How could Christ have fellowship with you in the ways of folly?” Come back, my Lord, and visit me with Thy salvation.” Is not this a prayer made on purpose for you? And, next, you observe in the text that the poor backslider is longing to get a sight of the good things which for a long time have been hid from him He cries, “That I may see the good of Thy chosen. He has been out amongst the swine, but he could not fill his belly with the husks. He has been hungering and thirsting, and now he remembers that in his Father’s house there is bread enough and to spare. The poor backslider praying in the words of my text longs to taste once more the joy he used to feel, and therefore he says, “That I may rejoice in the gladness of Thy nation”; and, again, he wants to be able to speak as he once could--“that I may glory with Thine inheritance.” Come back even now, my brother, and get another application of the blood of sprinkling. Look again to Jesus. Ah, and I may here say, if you have not backslidden, look again to Jesus. We have all wandered to some extent. Come, let us look to those dear wounds anew. Looking, my heart begins to love, and then begins to leap. Looking, I come back again to where I stood before; and now, once again, Christ is my all, and I rejoice in Him. Have you gone through that process, backslider?
III. This is a very sweet prayer for a poor sorrowing seeker. To begin with, it is a sinner’s prayer. The dying thief rejoiced to use the words. This is the best of prayers,--“Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” Trembling sinner, what suited the dying thief may well suit you. Note, again, it is the prayer of a lost one. “Visit me with Thy salvation.” Jesus Christ has not come to seek and to save those who do not want saving, but He has come on purpose to seek and to save that which was lost. Look to Him, and thou shalt find that He is the Saviour thou dost require. Further, remark that our text is the prayer of one who has a dim eye--“That I may see the good of Thy chosen.” We have told the seeker to look to Jesus, but he complains, “I do try to look, but I cannot see.” Beloved seeker, I do not know that you are bidden to see. You are bidden to look; and if you could not see when you looked you would at least have obeyed the Gospel command. The looking, the looking would bring salvation to you. But for dim eyes Christ is the great cure. He can take away the cataract and remove the gutta serena. Then it is a prayer for a heavy heart. “That I may rejoice in the gladness of Thy nation.” The seeking soul moans out, “O that I had a little joy, or even a trembling hope. If it were ever so small a portion of light I should be glad.” Pray for joy. The Lord waits to give it, and if you believe in Jesus your joy shall be full. And in the last place our text, is the prayer of a spirit that is humble and laid in the very dust, which cries to God to enable it to glory with His inheritance, because it is stripped of all other glory, emptied of its own boastings. Practically its plea is, “Lord, give me to boast in Thy mercy and Thy goodness, for I have nothing else to boast of.” Now, this prayer I would most earnestly press upon you, and I would press it upon you for these reasons. Just think for a moment. Supposing you are living now without seeing the good of God’s chosen, without being saved, what a wretched life it is to live! I cannot understand what men do without God: I cannot comprehend how they live. Do you have no cares, men? “Oh,” you say, “we have anxieties in shoals.” Well, where do you take them? Poor man without a God, how do you keep up your spirits? What comfort is there in your life? No prayer in the morning, no prayer at night: what days, what nights! Oh, men, I could as soon think of living without eating, or living without breathing, as living without prayer. Wretched naked spirits, your souls must be with no God to cover them! But if it be bad to live without Christ--and I am sure it is,--what will it be to die without Him? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The abounding prayer
I. The immediate requests.
1. The first solicits a specially loving Divine remembrance. He knew that general providential mercy and visible Church privilege mould profit him but little, if he had nothing more, if he had not over and above a personal interest in a much more special favour, in the Lord’s covenant-favour towards His own elect; and hence it was his earnest prayer, his constant prayer, to be remembered with this favour.
2. The second solicits a graciously saving Divine visit. Come, Lord, and by Thine own finger, write upon my heart the assurance of Thy love. Come, Lord, and by Thine own Spirit witness with my spirit that I am Thy adopted child. Come, Lord, and by Thine own counsel, guide me while I live; and afterwards by Thine own hand receive me, when I die, into everlasting habitations.
II. The ulterior requests.
1. There is the consciousness of gracious well-being. “That I may see the good of Thy chosen.” He desired to see it as the “chosen” do, with the eye of a conscious faith, of a spiritually illumined soul; to see it so as to be sustained, stimulated, rejoiced, and beautified by it; to see it as made over to himself, so that it might become his own, just as when the owner of an estate looks over it and says, “This farm, that goodly mansion, those spacious parks, the domain all round, the whole is mine.” Such was the sight which he desired, the only sight which is ever satisfying.
2. There is the experience of spiritual joy. “That I may rejoice in the gladness of Thy nation.” Not see it merely, but share it too in a way answerable to its high and holy character, singing with grace in my heart to the Lord in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.
3. There is the exultation of holy triumph. “That I may glory with Thine inheritance.” The heirs of an earthly inheritance are but heirs apparent or heirs presumptive, and either in one way or in another they may be disappointed of the inheritance after all. But not so here. The Lord is their inheritance, and they are His inheritance; and there can he no shortcoming of the mutual inheritance on either His part or theirs. What is it to glory with His inheritance in the Lord? It is to exalt Him highest in our affection and esteem; to claim Him as our own and only Lord; to confess Him before men; to place on Him the crown of our salvation; to give all the glory of it from first to last to Him to whom it all belongs. (E. A. Thomson.)
The blessed lot of the saints desired
I. The blessedness of the saints of God. See this from--
1. The names given them.
(1) The people of God.
(2) His chosen.
(3) His nation.
(4) His inheritance.
They are the richest treasures, it says, that God possesses; the prized and the loved of His soul; of all things in heaven and earth the most delighted in.
2. What they may be said to possess.
(1) The good of His chosen (Proverbs 8:20). All the treasures of God--of Omnipotence--are at their disposal.
(2) The gladness of His nation--a portion of the gladness of heaven, vouchsafed to the heirs of heaven before they get there.
(3) The glory of His inheritance.
II. The prayer drawn from the psalmist by the contemplation of this blessedness.
1. Here is, first, a belief expressed both in the existence and in the happiness of God’s people. This is generally the first step a man takes towards obtaining a part in their blessedness. It is a great point gained when we are brought really to believe that such a people exist on the earth as you have now been hearing of. Here is a proof that light is breaking in upon your minds. And what a call is here, Christian brethren, on you, for a conduct consistent with your high profession!
2. We discover in this prayer a tracing of all the blessedness of God’s people to His special “favour” and “His salvation.” “Remember me,” the psalmist says, “with”--what? “That ‘tender mercy’ which is ‘over all Thy works‘? that universal goodness of Thine, which shines in the sun, which falls down in the rain ‘on the evil and on the good‘?” No; with that “favour,” that special favour, “that Thou bearest unto Thy people.” “O visit me,” he says again, “with Thy salvation.” And this special favour and this salvation he asks for, observe, in order that he may obtain and rejoice in “the good of God’s chosen”: letting us see, that all this “good” and all this “rejoicing” and all this “glory” have their origin and spring out of God’s “favour” and God’s “salvation.”
3. We may trace in this prayer an earnest desire of making the blessedness of God’s saints his own. It is, you observe, a personal prayer: “Remember me, O Lord; O visit me with Thy salvation.” This is the turning-point. Such a prayer is indeed an indication of favour already gone forth for the soul that offers it. Such a prayer proceeds from grace already at work in the soul. (C. Bradley, M.A.)
Prayer for the Lord’s favour to His people
The text contains a petition which is very expressive of the desires of the renewed soul; and which no one in truth can really offer who is not under the influence of the Spirit of God.
I. What are the things which the person, who sincerely uses this petition, believes.
1. That the Lord has a people, a people in this world peculiar to Himself, who in an especial manner belong to Him, and in a way different from others, are His property, the objects of His care, and the sheep of His pasture.
2. That the Lord has a peculiar favour to His people.
(1) Gracious and free in its origin.
(2) Active in its operation.
(3) Constant in its exercise.
(4) Unchangeable both as to its degree and duration.
It does not depend upon their feelings, neither is it the less because of their fears.
II. What is the desire which the person who sincerely users this petition, heartily feels and expresses. “Remember me, O Lord,” etc. Believing that the Lord has a peculiar people, and that He beareth to them a peculiar favour, he longs to be included in their number, and to participate in their privileges. Do you feel a lively interest for your own salvation, and do you anxiously pray for your own soul? Do you look upon true religion as s personal transaction between yourself and God? Be then of good courage. If you heartily desire His favour, you have already obtained it. None but those who are His people, and possess His favour, ever thus heartily desire, and sincerely pray for these things. (E. Cooper, M.A.)
O visit me with Thy salvation.
A visit from the Lord
I. The psalmist here prays for salvation. He says, first, that God saved the people out of Egypt. There they were, a nation of captives and bond-slaves; and He began to work with a high hand and an outstretched arm to bring them out of their captivity; and though they did not understand His wonders, yet, nevertheless, He saved them. That is a salvation in which you and I also delight,--salvation by the sprinkled blood,--salvation by the Paschal Lamb,--salvation by the right hand of God and His stretched-out arm,--a salvation which reveals His faithfulness, His mercy, and His power. Let us bless God if we know experimentally what this salvation means; and if we do not, let this be the prayer of each one of us, “O visit me with Thy salvation.” Further on in the psalm, the writer sings of a second salvation when the people were delivered at the Red Sea. Its waves rolled before them, and they could not tell how they were to escape from Pharaoh, who was close behind with all the chariots and horsemen of Egypt pursuing them. So it was when you and I, having cried to God for mercy, at last found it through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Then we saw our sins cast into the depths of the sea, and we were ready to dance for joy as we said, “The depths have covered them; there is not one of them left.” It may be that you and I have gone further on than this. We have been saved from our natural ruin, and saved from the power of despair wrought in us by conviction; and now we are fighting with our uprising corruptions. Our inbred sin is like the deep that lieth under, and perhaps, lately, the fountains of the great deep have been broken up within us. We cannot sin without being grieved and troubled by it; it is a vexation even to hear the report of it. Oh, that we could live without sinning at all! Well, now, if you are struggling against it, let this be your prayer to the Most High, “O visit me with Thy salvation.” Our text may also be used in another sense, for salvation means deliverance from grievous affliction, just as, in this psalm, when the children of Israel were brought into great distress by their enemies, then God came, and saved them from their foes. So, at this time, you may be in great distress. Whether you are suffering in body, or in mind, or in heart, God knows how to deliver you.
II. Vistation. Mark the condescension which the psalmist feels that the Lord will thus manifest. “O visit me with Thy salvation.” Lord, I cannot be saved unless Thou wilt visit me. Visit me not as a saved one, but “visit me with Thy salvation.” I am lost until Thou dost come to me. O come, Lord, and visit me as a Saviour. Come and visit me as a Physician, for I am sick. Pay me a visit of mercy, a visit of grace and tenderness. O thou great and glorious Lord, I beseech Thee, come and visit me. By the remembrance of Bethlehem’s manger, come and visit me. And, as the angels sang when Thou didst thus descend to the lowliest of lowliness, so shall my heart sing yet more sweetly if Thou wilt visit me,--even me. It will be a great condescension on Thy part, but ‘O visit me with Thy salvation.’” And it will be compassion, too, “‘O visit me.’ I am a prisoner; yet come, Lord, and visit me. I am lame and very weak. Lord, I have not a leg to carry me to Thy house; so come to my house, Lord. ‘O visit me.’ My heart is heavy, and sorely burdened; my very wishes lag, my prayers limp, my desires halt. O come and visit me. If I cannot come to Thee, yet come Thou to me, my God.” But there is more in it even than that, there is also communion: “O visit me with Thy salvation.” A visit from a beloved friend,--oh, what a joy it is! Most of you must have some friends who love you so much that, when they see you at their house, they do not want to know when you are going, but, if they could, they would make you always stop there. Dr. Watts went to see Sir Thomas Abney, at Abney Park, to spend a week; but that week lasted through all the rest of his life, for he never went away from there, and he lies buried in Abney Park, and Sir Thomas is buried there also, so that even in death the friends are not divided from one another. They never meant to part after they once came together. That is the kind of visit we want from the Lord, so let us breathe this prayer now, “O Lord, come and visit me; but do not merely pay me a brief visit, but come to stay with me.”
III. Personality. “Visit me.” This petition of the psalmist shows great necessity, great unworthiness, and great concentration of desire. If anybody says that it is selfish to pray for yourself so much, just ask him what he would do if he were drowning? Does anybody say that it is selfish for him to strike out and try to swim, or selfish to seize the lifebouy that is thrown to him? If you were in a fire, and likely to be burned to death, would anybody call you selfish because you looked out for the fire-escape, and climbed on to it as soon as it touched your window? And when your very soul is in danger, it is a hallowed selfishness to seek first its salvation. If your own soul be lost, what can you do for the salvation of other people? If you perish, what benefit can you be to your fellow-men? Therefore, keep to this personal prayer till it is answered, and when it is, then pray for all others as earnestly as you have prayed for yourself.
IV. Notice one thing more in this text, and that is, a speciality: “O visit me with Thy salvation,”--the kind of salvation he has been describing in this psalm, the salvation wrought by omnipotent grace, the salvation of enduring love. The psalmist prayed, “O visit me with Thy salvation,” and by that he meant real salvation, a radical change, a thorough work of grace. God’s salvation includes a perfect cleansing in the precious blood of Jesus, a supernatural work in renewing the heart, a resurrection work in raising the dead, and giving a new life. This salvation is also complete salvation. It saves the man from the love of sin. It not merely saves him from getting drunk, from lying, and from thieving, and from uncleanness; but it saves him within as well as without. It is a thorough renewal,--a work of grace that takes effect upon every part of his nature, Lastly, and chiefly, God’s salvation is eternal salvation. A good old divine was once asked whether he believed in the final perseverance of the saints. “Well,” said he, “I do not know much about that matter, but I firmly believe in the final perseverance of God, that where He has begun a good work He will carry it on until it is complete.” To my mind, that truth includes the final perseverance of the saints; they persevere in the way of salvation because God keeps them in it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The visit of salvation
Looked at from the standpoint of a true and sincere Christian, the one great salvation which runs through all his experience presents to his mind three distinct aspects. He contemplates a salvation of the past, a fact complete in itself, the starting-point of his new experiences, the commencement of his new life. But further, he recognizes a salvation of the present, a salvation that is going forward from day to day, a salvation which is as needful to the development and maintenance of the new life as the salvation of the past was to its commencement. And he looks forward to a salvation of the future, in which the life thus received and maintained will be crowned with glory, honour, and immortality, a salvation which shall lift him into a state in which danger is unknown, and in which therefore salvation is required no longer; so we may say, a state in which salvation shall be merged in glory. Let me offer a very simple illustration. We will suppose that this country is at war with some barbarous foe, and that a soldier, in whom our King is specially interested, has been captured by the enemy and condemned to death. Such a man is in present danger, and requires an instant salvation. Our King hears that he is to be executed, and he represents to the king with whom he is at war that he is particularly anxious that this man should not die, and backs the application with the offer of a large ransom. The terms are arranged, and the ransom is accepted. That moment the man is saved, saved by the King’s grace. Such is the salvation of the past, to which the believer looks back with feelings of joyous certainty and of deep and fervent gratitude to Him who has rescued him from so great a death. But let us carry our illustration further. We will suppose that on his return home from that scene of terribly close danger the soldier approaches his sovereign to offer his thanks, and that he puts it to him, “I have saved you from death; now are you willing to fight my battles for me?” Surely, if the man has a spark of gratitude in his nature, his reply will be, “I am at your service, my King, from this time. My body and my blood are yours, and all my faculties, to my latest breath. Command what you will, I am ready.” “Very well,” replies his sovereign, “you shall go to the battle-field and fight my battles once more.” But here, to complete our figure, we must suppose a thing impossible under the conditions of modern warfare. We will suppose that the King points to a suit of armour hanging mayhap on the wall. “Put on that suit of armour,” he says, “and I will guarantee that as long as you wear it you will be safe, even in the midst of the battle--safe from all danger and death.” Watch that man go forth to the battle. Here he is surrounded by danger. You ask the question, “Is he in danger, or is he not?” Look at him outwardly, and he is in great and unquestionable danger. Can you not hear the whistling of the bullets as they fly around him? At any moment he may fall, so you think, until you are let into the secret of that mysterious armour; but then, when you see him wearing that armour in the midst of every danger, you know that, since nothing can touch him or harm him as long as he wears it, in the midst of danger he is being saved. It is clear, then, that his part in this matter of his continuous salvation consists in the carefulness with which he sees to it that he never omits to clothe himself in the panoply of safety. If he becomes careless and despises his foe, or forgets that his safety is dependent upon the provision which his King has made to ensure it, he may still fall, but the fault will be his own. Even so we are being saved so long as we trust to and appropriate to ourselves the Divine provision for our safety; but when we cease to walk by faith we cease to live in safety; we are no longer being saved. Let us look at another picture. The campaign ends at last in victory; the enemy is crushed and slain; the soldier returns in triumph to his native land. His salvation is complete now, because he is not only rescued, not only armed with an impervious suit, but he is saved from all possibilities of carelessness that might have exposed him afresh to the powers of the foe. He is received into the palace, and becomes a member of the royal household, and his perils are of the past. Even so are we to be saved when the long conflict which has run through all human history comes to its close, and the latest foe is crushed under our great Victor’s feet; then shall we join the great company that no man can number in the cry--“Salvation unto our God and to the Lamb.” (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M.A.)
That I may see the good of Thy chosen.--
The good of God’s chosen
I. God has a chosen people. That God does choose men is beyond question. Why, how, and when He chooses them, are quite a different matter. It will be enough if we point out that the people of Israel were chosen of God, to enjoy as a nation such a good and happy lot as should serve to set forth in a figure the spiritual good of the spiritual Israel of the future. Similarly, even now, God has His chosen ones, who, like the ancient Israel, are brought into a very close relation with Himself; only that those relations with God are spiritual, where the relations of Israel with God were national and ecclesiastical. But who are these chosen ones, and how are they distinguished from others? If any of you to whom I speak imagine that you are in a position to enjoy the good of God’s chosen, just because of your membership in the outward Church and your participation in the external ordinances of religion, this utterance alone is surely enough to undeceive you. Called you certainly have been, but do you wear the wedding garment? Are you clothed with that “righteousness which is of God by faith”? God dwells in hearts that are submitted--willingly and cheerfully submitted--to Him in the obedience of faith. These are God’s peculiar treasures in a world that disowns and rejects Him; they are His “people of possession,” and no wonder that He should reserve for them some special good, of which others can know nothing, until they too join this favoured company.
II. These chosen ones have a special good of their own. It consists primarily in the possession of God. “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Surely in a world where foes are strong, and we are only too conscious of our weakness, it is no small matter to enjoy the help of Omnipotence. And in a world where trials and troubles are so numerous, it is something to have a refuge open unto us whereunto we may always resort. Why should you condemn yourselves to perpetual restlessness, when you have God’s own peace which passeth all understanding within your reach? Why should you prefer the evil of God’s enemies, the cruel Nemesis which they bring upon their own heads, to the good which might be yours if you were His? Have you not had enough of weariness and restless toil? Why not listen to the voice to-night which proclaims, “Peace, peace to those that are far off, to those that are near”? Why not offer the prayer, “O visit me with Thy salvation, that I may see the good of Thy chosen”? (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A. )
Our fathers understood not Thy wonders in Egypt.
Sin: its spring-head, stream, and sea
Great things, whether good or evil, begin with littles. The river that rolls its mighty volume to the sea was once a tiny brook; nay, it started as a spring-head, where the child stooped down to drink, and, with a single draught, seemed as if he would exhaust the supply. The rivulet ripples itself into a river. Sin is a stream of this sort. It starts with a thought; it increases to a resolve, a word, an act; it gathers force, and becomes habit, and daring rebellion.
I. Want of understanding of God’s wonders is the source of sin. Many professing Christians of whom we have a good hope that they will prove to be sincere, never had any deep conviction of sin, nor any overwhelming sense of their need of Jesus: hence they have seen little of our Lord in His glorious offices, and all-sufficient sacrifice, and have gained no thorough understanding of His truth. They are like slovenly farmers, who have ploughed their fields after a fashion, but they have not gone deep, and the land will never yield more than half a crop. We have all around us too much surface work.
II. Failure of memory follows upon want of understanding.
1. Mercies should be remembered. It is a great wrong to God when we bury His mercies in the grave of unthankfulness. Especially is this the case with distinguishing mercies, wherein the Lord makes us to differ from others. Light, when the rest of the land is in darkness! Life, when others are smitten with the sword of death! Liberty from an iron bondage! O Christians, these are not things to be forgotten!
2. Mercies multiplied should never be forgotten. If they are new every morning, our memory of them should be always fresh. Read the story of the ten plagues, and see how the Lord heaped up His mercies upon Israel with both His hands. Even if they had forgotten one wonder they ought to have remembered others. “Forget not all His benefits.”
3. The Lord’s mercies ought to be remembered progressively. We should think more and more of His exceeding kindness.
III. Grievous provocation followed their forgetfulness of God. It is a high crime and misdemeanour to sin in the presence of a great mercy. Abhor the sin which dogs your heel, and follows you even to your knees, and hinders you in drawing near to God in prayer. Oh, the accursed sin which even on Tabor’s top makes us fall asleep or talk foolishly! Lord, have mercy upon us, and forgive the sins of our holy places, and let it not stand against us in Thy book that “They provoked Thee at the sea, even at the Red Sea.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Israelites’ ingratitude to God
I. Their unworthy and ungrateful deportment towards God upon a most signal mercy and deliverance. To provoke, is an expression setting forth a peculiar and more than ordinary degree of misbehaviour; and seems to import an insolent daring resolution to offend. A resolution not contented with one single stroke of disobedience, but such a one as multiplies and repeats the action, till the offence greatens, and rises into an affront: and as it relates to God, so I conceive it strikes at Him in a threefold respect:
1. Of His power;
2. Of His goodness;
3. Of His patience.
II. The aggravation of their unworthy deportment towards their Almighty Deliverer. The baseness and ingratitude of which He casts in their teeth, by confronting it with the eminent obligation laid upon them, by the glorious deliverance He vouchsafed them: a deliverance heightened and ennobled with these four qualifications:
1. Its greatness;
2. Its unexpectedness;
3. Its seasonableness:
4. Its undeservedness.
III. The cause of this unworthy behaviour, which was their not understanding the designs of mercy in the several instances of it: “They understood not Thy wonders in Egypt.” Now, in every wonderful passage of providence, two things are to be considered:
1. The author, by whom;
2. The end, for which it is done: neither of which were understood by the Israelites as they ought to have been (R. South, D.D.)
Nevertheless He saved them for His name’s sake.
Why are men saved?
I. A glorious Saviour--“He saved them.” Who is to be understood by that pronoun “he”? Possibly many may answer, “Why, the Lord Jesus Christ is the Saviour of men.” Right; but not all the truth. Jesus Christ is the Saviour; but not more so than God the Father, or God the Holy Ghost. Thou canst not be saved by the Son without the Father, nor by the Father without the Son, nor by Father and Son without the Spirit. But as they are one in creation, so are they one in salvation. But, note here, how this Divine being claims salvation wholly to Himself. “Nevertheless He saved them.” But, Moses, where art thou? Didst not thou save them, Moses? Thou didst stretch the rod over the sea, and it clave in halves. And thou, Aaron, thou didst offer the bullocks which God accepted; thou didst lead them, with Moses, through the wilderness. Wast not thou their Saviour? They answer, “Nay, we were the instruments, but He saved them. God made use of us, but unto His name be all the glory, and none unto ourselves.” But, Israel, thou wast a strong and mighty people; didst not thou save thyself? Perhaps it was by thine own holiness that the Red Sea was dried up; perhaps the parted floods were frighted at the piety of the saints that stood upon their margin; perhaps it was Israel that delivered itself. Nay, nay, saith God’s Word; He saved them; they did not save themselves, nor did their fellow-men redeem them.
II. The favoured persons. “He saved them.”Who are they? In the first place, they were a stupid people--“Our fathers understood not Thy wonders in Egypt.” In the next place, they were an ungrateful people--“they remembered not the multitude of Thy mercies.” In the third place, they were a provoking people--“they provoked Him at the sea, even at the Red Sea.” Ah, these are the people whom free grace saves, these are the men and these the women whom the God of all grace condescends to take to His bosom and to make anew.
III. The reason of salvation. “For His name’s sake.”
1. He saved them, first, that He might manifest His nature. God was all love, and He wanted to manifest it; He did show it when He made the sun, the moon, and the stars, and scattered flowers o’er the green and laughing earth. He did show His love when He gave the air balmy to the body, and the sunshine cheering be the eye. “How can I show them that, I love them with all My infinite heart? I will give My Son to die be save the very worst of them, and so will I manifest My nature.” And God has done it; He has manifested His power, His justice, His love, His faithfulness, and His truth; He has manifested His whole self on the great platform of salvation.
2. He did it, again, to vindicate His name. Some say God is cruel; they wickedly call Him tyrant. “Ah!” says God, “but I will save the worst of sinners, and vindicate My name; I will blot out the stigma; they shall not be able to say that, unless they be liars, for I will be abundantly merciful. I will take away this stain, and they shall see that My great name is a name of love.” And said He, again, “I will do this for My name’s sake; that is, to make these people love My name. I know if I take the best of men, and save them, they will love My name; but if I take the worst of men, oh, how they will love me! If I go and take some of the offscouring of the earth, and make them My children, oh, how they will love Me! Then they will cleave to My name; they will think it more sweet than music; it will be more precious to them than the spikenard of the Eastern merchants; they will value it as gold, yea, as much fine gold. The man who loves Me best, is the man who has most sins forgiven; he owes much, therefore he will love much.” This is the reason why God often selects the worst of men to make them His. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Salvation entirely free
God is a sovereign and jealous of:His prerogative. Especially is He jealous of the undivided honour of redeeming man from the degradation and ruins of the fall. In the salvation of sinners by Jesus Christ, He has taken, as it should seem, extraordinary pains to establish and illustrate this fact; for this reason; that therein He, or His name, is more deeply interested--that thereby His name is more highly magnified and more abundantly glorified, both in heaven and in earth, than by any other of His most stupendous works.
I. The nature of the salvation granted to the people of God. It is a spiritual and eternal salvation--a salvation of the sinner from the power, the love, the pollution, the practice, and the punishment of sin.
II. Upon what grounds or upon what terms this salvation is vouchsafed. “For His name’s sake.” By the name of God we may understand His person and attributes. For the sake, therefore, of illustrating His power, mercy, wisdom, truth and faithfulness, justice and holiness, He devised the great work of redemption.
III. In opposition to what impediments this salvation is vouchsafed. “Nevertheless He saved them”--nevertheless what? In spite of what, according to the calculations of reason and of conscience, were utterly insuperable difficulties. But, blessed be God, His “thoughts are not as our thoughts.” Notwithstanding therefore the sins of Israel were so numerous and so heinous He saved them; and to judge of their enormity you have only to consult this psalm--by which it appears they were guilty of the most abominable idolatries, of the blackest ingratitude, of the most determined rebellion. Notwithstanding all which God “saved them for His name’s sake.” Yes, and so likewise are we encouraged to hope that He will save us. (Essex Remembrancer.)
He rebuked the:Red Sea also.
Israel at the Red Sea
No doubt the children of Israel supposed that now all was over; the Egyptians had sent them away, entreating them to depart, and loading them with riches. They said within themselves, “We shall now march to Canaan at once; there will be no more dangers, no more trials.” “Not quite so speedily,” says God; “the time is not arrived yet for you to rest. It is true I have delivered you from Egypt; but there is much you have to learn before you will be prepared to dwell in Canaan. Therefore I shall lead you about, and instruct you, and teach you.”
I. The children of Israel just now had three difficulties--three exceeding great dangers. And so I believe that every heir of heaven, within a very short period after the time of his deliverance, will meet with the same.
1. The first they had was a great trial sent by God Himself. There was the Red Sea in the front of them. Now, it was not an enemy that put the sea there; it was God Himself. We may therefore think, that the Red Sea represents some great and trying providence, which the Lord will be sure to place in the path of every new-born child; in order to try his faith, and to test the sincerity of his trust in God.
2. Then the children of Israel had a second difficulty. They would not have cared about the Red Sea a single atom, if they had not been terrified by the Egyptians who were behind them. These are the representatives of those sins of ours which we thought were clean dead and gone. The pangs after we come out of Egypt are at times even more painful than those we feel in the house of bondage; and there is usually a time of trial a little while after the new birth, which is even more terrible and awful than the previous agony of the soul, though not usually so protracted.
3. But there was a third difficulty, which perhaps wrought them more misery than either of the other two; these poor children of Israel had such faint hearts. They no sooner saw the Egyptians than they began to cry out; and when they beheld the Red Sea before them, they murmured against their Deliverer. A faint heart is the worst foe a Christian can have; whilst he keeps his faith firm, whilst the anchor is fixed deep in the rock, he never need fear the storm; but when the hand of faith is palsied, or the eye of faith is dim, it will go hard with us.
II. But, thanks be to God I the children of Israel had three helps. Oh! child of God, dost thou discern this mystery? Whenever thou hast three trials, thou wilt always have three promises; and if thou hadst forty afflictions, thou wouldst have forty measures of grace.
1. The first help they had was Providence. Providence put the Red Sea there, and piled the rocks on either hand, while providence represented by the fiery cloudy pillar had led them to its shore, and conducted them into the defile, and now the same pillar of providence came to their assistance. They had not come thither undirected, and therefore they should not be left unprotected, for the same cloudy pillar which led them there came behind them to protect them. Cheer up, then, heir of grace! What is thy trial? Has providence brought it upon thee? If so, unerring wisdom will deliver thee from it.
2. Again: the children of Israel had another refuge, in the fact that they knew that they were the covenant people of God, and that, though they were in difficulties, God had brought them there, and therefore God was bound in honour to bring them out of that trouble into which He had brought them. “Well,” says the child of God, “I know I am in a strait, but this one thing I also know, that I did not come out of Egypt by myself--I know that He brought me out; I know that I did not escape by my own power, or slay my first-born sins myself--I know that He did it; and though I fled from the tyrant--I know that He made my feet mighty for travel, for there was not one feeble in all our tribes; I know that though I am at the Red Sea, I did not run there uncalled, but He bade me go there, and therefore I give to the winds my fears; for if He hath led me here into this difficulty, He will lead me out, and lead me through.”
3. The third refuge which the children of Israel had was in a man; and neither of the two others, without that, would have been of any avail. It was the man Moses. He did everything for them. Thy greatest refuge, O child of God! in all thy trials, is in a man: not in Moses, but in Jesus; not in the servant, but in the master. He is interceding for thee, unseen and unheard by thee, even as Moses did for the children of Israel. Look! on yonder rock of heaven He stands, cross in hand, even as Moses with his rod. Cry to Him, for with that uplifted cross He will cleave a path for thee, and guide thee through the sea; He will make those hoary floods, which had been friends for ever, stand asunder like foes. Call to Him, and He will make thee a way in the midst of the ocean, and a path through the pathless sea.
III. God had a design in it. And here, also, we wish you to regard with attention what God’s design is, in leading the Christian into exceeding great trials in the early part of his life. “They were all baptized,” says the apostle, “unto Moses, in the cloud and in the sea.” God’s design in bringing His people into trouble, and raising all their sins at their heels, is to give them a thorough baptism into His service, consecrating them for ever to Himself. I mean by baptism this morning, not the rite, but what baptism represents. Baptism signifies dedication to God--initiation into God’s service. It is not when we are first converted that we so fully dedicate ourselves to God, as afterwards, when some great Red Sea rolls before us. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
They soon forgat His works.
God’s praises sung; His works forgotten
The conduct of the Israelites, as here described, affords a striking exemplification of that spurious gratitude, which often bursts forth in a sudden flash, when dreaded evils are averted, or unexpected favours bestowed; but expires with the occasion that gave it birth; a gratitude resembling the joy excited in an infant’s breast by the gift of some glittering toy, which is received with rapture, and pleases for an hour; but when the charm of novelty vanishes, is thrown aside with indifference; and the hand that bestowed it is forgotten.
1. A person unacquainted with human nature, who should witness for the first time some striking exhibition of national gratitude, would not, indeed, suspect this to be its character. Such a person, while listening to the rapturous ascriptions of praise poured forth by the Israelites on the shore of the Red Sea, would have little expected to hear them, within three days, impiously murmuring against that God, whose goodness they had so recently experienced, and so loudly acknowledged. And as little, perhaps, would such a person be prepared to anticipate the scenes, which usually attend, and follow our days of public thanksgiving.
2. Some instances, in which the works and perfections of Jehovah engage our attention; excite our natural affections; and, perhaps, call forth expressions of praise; but produce no salutary effects upon our temper or conduct; and are soon forgotten.
(1) The first, which I shall notice, is furnished by the works of creation; or, as they are often, though not very properly called, the works of nature. In so impressive a manner do these works present themselves to our senses; so much of variety, and beauty, and sublimity do they exhibit; such power, and wisdom, and goodness do they display; that perhaps no man, certainly no man who possesses the smallest share of sensibility, taste, or mental cultivation, can, at all times, view them without emotion; without feelings of awe, or wonder, or admiration, or delight. But alas, how transient, how unproductive of salutary effects, have all these emotions proved!
(2) A second instance of a similar nature is afforded by the manner in which men are often affected by God’s works of providence. In these works His perfections are so constantly, and often so clearly displayed; our dependence on them is at all times so real, and, sometimes, so apparent; and they bear, in many cases, so directly and evidently upon our dearest temporal interests, that even the most insensible cannot, always, regard them with indifference. Here nations and individuals stand on precisely the same level. Both are equally, that is entirely, dependent on the providence of God; and both are occasionally constrained to feel and acknowledge their dependence. But the feeling is usually transient; and the acknowledgment is forgotten almost as soon as it is made. How often have we seen Christian nations, when scourged by war, pestilence, or famine, and when the help of man was evidently vain, addressing public and united supplications to Heaven for relief. And as often have we seen them, after relief was obtained, singing with apparent thankfulness, “Te Deum laudamus,”--Thee, O God, we praise; and then proceeding without delay to repeat those sins, the punishment of which had just been removed.
(3) But once more, let us turn, for further illustrations of this subject, to our families, and to ourselves. On reviewing our personal and domestic history we shall all find too many instances, in which, though we may have sung God’s praises, we have forgotten His works.
3. Men are willing to offer God praises and thanksgivings, because it is an offering which costs them nothing; and because, while it seems to shield them from the charge of ingratitude, it involves the renunciation of no favourite sin; the performance of no disagreeable duty; the practice of no self-denial. But they are not willing to make those constant returns for God’s goodness, which He deserves and requires, because this is, in their estimation, an expensive offering; because it implies sacrifices, which they are not disposed to make, and an attention to duties, which they dislike to perform. (E. Payson, D.D.)
We have here some of the greatest words in human history, and some of the most vivid experiences of human life. We have all believed, praised, forgotten, and tempted. What is now our duty? If that question can be answered directly and solemnly and with due effect in the life, this will be as a birthtime, memorable through all the ages that are yet to dawn upon our life. “Then believed they His words.” When He rebuked the Red Sea, and it was dried up, etc. Any credit due to them? Not one whit. “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.” This brings us into the region of personal providential deliverances, and we have all been in that hallowed region. That such deliverances do occur every man who has read his life with any attention will instantly attest. Our whole life is a providential deliverance. So blind are we, so foolish, that we expect only to see God in the miracle that is occasional, rather than in the miracle that is constant. Now the tone changes, the wind goes round to a bitter quarter--“they soon forgat His works.” How easy it is to forget favours. How possible it is to give so many favours to an ungrateful person as to cause that person to imagine he has a right to claim them as his due. The giving of favours where gratitude is not kept up proportionately with the gift is a heart-hardening process. “They soon forgat.” Religious impression is most transitory. Beautiful as the morning dew while it lasts, it exhales, and we see no rainbow in the sky. It vanishes, it perishes, unless it be diligently seized and wisely deepened, yea, even cultured with all a husbandman’s patient care, until it blooms into flower or develops into fruit, and is fit for the Master’s plucking. Frail is the thread that binds us to heaven, mean and weak the threadlet that attaches us to the altar and the Church--a breath may break it, a little splutter of flame may crack it, and then our life may be lost. Perhaps the catastrophe ended at forgetfulness? No; further reading gives denial to that happy hope. The reading is black, and proceeds thus: “They lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert.” They believed, they lusted, they sang, they tempted. It is such swift oscillation that we find in our own consciousness and experience of religious things. Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. (J. Parker, D.D.)
Evanescent goodness and inveterate carnalism
I. Evanscent goodness (verses 12, 13; Exodus 14:31; Exodus 15:1-19).
1. It leaves the soul with increased guilt. It implies an abuse of the highest influences of God.
2. It leaves the soul with a decreased capability of improvement. The longer a man continues a mere hearer of the Gospel, the less likelihood is there that he will be saved by it. What effect can the beauties of the fair creation have on one whose eyes are sealed in blindness? Or the harmonies of the universe on one whose ears are deeply closed to every sound? And what effect can Christianity have on a soul whose sensibilities are gone?
II. Inveterate carnalism (verses 14, 15). The more you pamper the body, the more you pauperize the soul. A sadder sight know I not than that of an individual, family, nation, surrounded with material abundance, and yet “lean” in soul, matter governing mind, plethoric bodies the residence of starving souls. Conclusion.
Take care of religious impressions. Do not trifle with them. Entertain them and cherish them into holy principles of action. Take care also of material prosperity. Labour not for the bread that perisheth. (Homilist.)
On speculative faith, and ingratitude to God in practice
The same wise and good Being, who hath fitted the whole frame of this world to the various wants of His creatures, hath fitted the events of things to our reformation and moral improvement. Were they to be considered as events only, it would be folly not to learn from them; but as they are lessons intended by Heaven for our instruction, it is impiety also. Now, the obvious method of securing events of importance, both from oblivion and misconstruction, is, by appointing stated and solemn commemorations of them. God Himself hath done this, to preserve a just sense of His works of creation and redemption; but the celebration of His providential goodness He hath left, as it was natural, to human care.
I. The nature of the blessing which we commemorate.
II. What behaviour the great event which we commemorate prescribes; what is the counsel which God hath given us by it. The greatest part of the instruction, indeed, must arise from our sufferings; but the whole power of making advantage of it arises from our deliverance. And our sufferings being caused by mutual vehemence, and our deliverance being effected in peace; both may well dispose us to a mild consideration of what they teach. (T. Secker.)
The unthankful heart
Dr. O. W. Holmes says, “If one should give me a dish of sand, and tell me there were particles of iron in it, I might look with my eyes for them, and search for them with my clumsy fingers and be unable to find them: but let me take a magnet and sweep it, and how it would draw to itself the most invisible particles by the power of attraction. The unthankful heart, like my fingers in the sand, discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day, and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find in every hour some heavenly blessings: only the iron in God’s sand is gold.”
He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.--
Lust and leanness
This passage is not only a masterly interpretation of the motive and movement of certain chapters of undoubted history, but one of those characteristic accurate photographs of human nature with which the Scriptures abound. In the language of the stage here is a transformation scene, a quick transition from joy, hope, praise, to sadness, despair, and bitter complaining. We have no difficulty in discovering the wisdom and tenderness of the Divine dealing when it intervenes for our extrication or harmonizes with our wish; we are equally ready to denounce its injustice and pitilessness when it crosses our plan. The Christian mother, praying for the recovery of her sick child, adds, as she has been taught, “Not my will, but Thine, be done.” If the child recovers she devoutly gives God the praise; if it dies she says, “I cannot understand this.” Yet she believes the other life to be infinitely better than this, and humbly hopes that she and all her family may one day know its joy. I speak not now of sorrow, but of rebellion and bitterness. So is it with every inferior mystery--for every other is inferior to this mystery of death and bereavement--our praises depend upon compliance with our wishes. How small and foolish the petulance and resentments of your child appear when by some denial or exaction you have done what you knew to be best! Did you ever think how exceedingly childish your bitter thoughts and complainings must seem to the Father in heaven? But here is another pregnant suggestion: “He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their souls.” You have looked upon a withered and sunken human form in the coffin, from which disease and the agony of dissolution had driven out almost the last trace of resemblance to the same form in health. Is that the suggestion here?--a shrivelled and shrunken spiritual nature, lean and ghastly, atrophied through ill-usage and neglect, withered by worldliness? Man’s darling desire is often such as to interfere with God’s purpose for him. We need constantly to have emphasized the truth that God’s anxiety is for man’s spiritual fatness and prosperity; and when the human wish refuses to yield to the Divine purpose there can be but one result--leanness of soul. The time is to come when the supreme question concerning human pleasures and pursuits will be, “Will they minister to the spiritual growth--that is, to the highest and best in man?” rather than that most commonly heard query of this day, “How will they affect the physical and material prosperity?” The lesson of this incident in the record of Israel, as well as of the passing years, is, wait for God to prove Himself; see what He will do, His past dealings being an unimpeachable pledge for the future. If we could believe that He knows what is best and will do it, that His ideals are the true ones, and the spiritual is infinitely more to be valued than anything temporal, life would have a new meaning and beauty and richness for us, and out of it would come diviner influences to cheer our fellow-men. (W. L. Phillips, D. D.)
Realized desires often injurious to the soul
The inquiry, “what is good for a man in this life?” is not easily answered, because the answer must be determined by the social condition and material circumstances, by the mental capacity and physical state of those interested in the inquiry--that is to say, what is good for one man will be questionable, or, perhaps, injurious for another.
1. Even the best of men may and do sometimes desire that which is good in itself, but which is not really good for them to receive.
2. God sometimes grants our requests even when they are not in accordance with His will, nor for our good. He permits us to realize the things desired, allows us to climb the heights upon which we had fixed our gaze. He gives us our own way, but our success is no indication of His approval, or of our wisdom, nor is it a guarantee of present happiness or future well-being.
3. Whatever we realize, however good it may be in itself, in answer to desires which have not been submitted to the Divine will, is questionable if not injurious.
I. The operation of this law.
1. The spirit which prompts a desire which we are unwilling to submit to God’s wisdom and disposal, must be prejudicial to religion, whether it is entertained by an ungodly person, by one seeking to know the truth, or by one who has long known the way of righteousness, because the manifestation of such desire is expressed opposition to God, and must alienate the heart, more or less, from Him.
2. The efforts made by us to realize what we desire, but ought not to receive at the time and in the way we wish, are generally unfavourable to religion, if they do not undermine and dissipate it. That which is desired, when realized, being realized under such circumstances, must be injurious rather than helpful to a life of religion, because you have a wish fulfilled in opposition to God’s will--a good received which is not good for you, and this which you desired, and now possess, comes between your soul and God, between your spiritual need and your greatest good. No wonder, then, that you lose interest in religion, tire of the ways of piety, and that your zeal and love and devotion decline, your joys diminish, and your hopes become darkened.
II. The general application of this law. And here comes before us the appalling fact that the law is universal, unvarying and potent; and we can escape it only by submitting our desires and requests to God, and by acquiescing in all His arrangements.
1. This law applies to individuals, whatever be the positions they occupy, or the circumstances by which they are surrounded.
2. This law operates not only in individuals, but in communities, in nations. Let a people thirst for glory, for distinction, for conquest, let them desire to be in advance of all other nations, and all this without consulting God’s will or seeking His glory. Such a nation may realize their desires, but it is more than probable that the manners and lives of the people will be corrupted, and that religious life will sink to a low ebb or pass away altogether.
3. This law is true in respect to churches. Let a people desire a grand and imposing structure for its own sake, to gratify their vanity and pride, and to place them in advance of the churches in the locality, their ambition may be gratified, but it is more than probable that their religious life will wane, and it will be a great mercy if they have not to say in reference to their religion, “The glory has departed.”
III. The teaching of this law.
1. There is much in this world good in itself that we can well do without.
2. Every supposed good does not, when realized, answer all our expectations. “All is not gold that glitters.” Lot knew something of this by a prolonged sojourn in Sodom.
3. It is better to be without the seeming good and retain our piety and interest in religion than to realize that good and lose the freshness and vigour of spiritual things, and endanger our everlasting well-being.
4. We should learn to submit all our desires to God.
5. Let us remember that with an increase of material good we require a corresponding measure of Divine grace.
6. In how many the text has been or will be even everlastingly fulfilled. May our desires be controlled and sanctified by our Father in heaven, and we be ever able to say, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” (John James.)
I. As existing in connection with material prosperity.
1. This combination is general. Everywhere we see great material prosperity associated with spiritual destitution--great physical feasting and spiritual starving, great material wealth and spiritual pauperism.
2. This combination is deplorable. A sadder sight to a holy eye there cannot be than an individual, family, nation, surrounded with material abundance, and yet lean in soul, matter governing mind--bodies living tombs of souls.
II. As existing because of material prosperity. Why should material prosperity bring spiritual leanness?
1. Not because it is Divinely designed to do so. God does not make a man materially rich in order spiritually to starve him. The design of all His goodness to man is to lead him to repentance.
2. Not because there is any inherent tendency to do so. A man in possession of an abundance of material good is supplied with abundance of motives and facilities that tend to spiritual excellence. A condition of material prosperity is, we think, more favourable in itself to a cultivation of spiritual goodness than that of material poverty. The man of a well-fed body is especially bound to have a well-fed soul; the man with material wealth is especially bound to secure spiritual treasures. But in the case before us the material prosperity was the cause of spiritual leanness, and why? Because the material good was sought as the chief end. How general this is here in our England in this age! Desire for wealth is the all-absorbing passion, and hence souls are morally lean and dwarfed. (Homilist.)
I. God has in all ages revealed Himself as the hearer and answerer of prayer. The Lord has not only heard the petitions of His people, and amply rewarded their faith in Him, but He has shown that “He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Just as the clouds of the skies which ascend from the earth in impalpable vapours, revisit the ground in rich and abundant showers, so prayer, which goes forth in weak and imperfect approaches to heaven, returns in full and enlarged answers. “No human creature can believe,” said Luther, “how powerful is prayer, and what it is able to effect, except those who have learned by experience.” Perhaps there is no one direction in which the fruit of successful prayer is so distinctly discernible as in the great sacred peace which it produces in the heart of the suppliant.
II. The wisdom and mercy of God are as real in the delays and even the denials of prayer as in the answers He graciously vouchsafes. Moses earnestly entreated that He might go into the good land, but it was denied him; yet the Lord showed him the earthly country, and then took him to the better land. David prayed for the life of Bathsheba’s child, but he prevailed not; yet his God heard his prayer, and gave him a son honourably born, and rarely endowed. As in the Saviour’s dealings with the Syrophoenician woman; beneath the Lord’s seeming, “No,” so to us often there is hidden a better “Yes” than we have dared to hope or to think. Paul prayed that “the thorn in the flesh” might be removed; but he had to learn that the all-sustaining support of God’s grace is better than exemption from suffering and trial. When our petitions seem changed in the answers we receive to them, it is for our good always. Leighton says, “God regards our well more than our will.”
III. We may well expend our chief importunity on the best gifts, since we have the promise that “all other things shall be added thereunto.” “Covet earnestly the best gifts.” These are enjoyments which are congenial to our spiritual nature: they afford real solid satisfaction, their possession is perpetual, they ennoble and dignify us, they make their subject a blessing to men and glorious to God. In their pursuit we cannot be too earnest, ambitious, or covetous.
IV. Worldly good is dearly purchased at the cost of spiritual gain. “He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their souls.” Many a well-spread table has proved a snare, a trap, and a stumbling-block--often injury to health is the price paid for the poor gratification, or else satisfaction and delight in the enjoyment are removed. Worse still is the case of the unhappy victim who finds worldly enjoyments to be an oil feeding the fires of corruption, which might otherwise have been extinguished. It is natural to us to desire a large measure of worldly prosperity, the gratification of our wishes, and the increase of our possessions. It is gracious to be willing to defer all to the Divine disposal, in the conviction that nothing can be a blessing which is injurious to the soul. (W. G. Lewis.)
Our own way not the best way
It is an awful circumstance, and yet it is true, that our mercies may be our curses; that our desire may prove our ruin. It may strike some of you that it is a harsh, or at least a mysterious feature of the Divine dealings with us that tie may give us, or may permit us to acquire, what will work in us and for us sore mischief; and that it would be more merciful to withhold from us whatever will injure us. But let us see for a moment how far such a principle would carry us. It should be quite enough for us to know that whatsoever God doeth is right. This indeed is involved in our very conception of God, if we invest Him with the attributes of infinite wisdom, justice, and goodness. We can be more certain of the fact that God acts wisely and best, than we can be certain that our interpretations are right of any act of His that seems hard and cruel. Not to believe and trust Him where we cannot comprehend Him, is not to believe and trust Him at all, but to make our own reason the measure of our faith. If, then, we see His gifts becoming curses instead of blessings, let us not accuse Him because they are His gifts. As all man’s toil is profitless without the blessing of God, so it may be said, when man succeeds in his labours and endeavours after any fancied good, God gives him his request. We have now to look at the other side of this picture. The man, you will say, who has obtained the object of his desire, whether through prayer or toil, ought to be happy. Who would not envy him? He sows and reaps abundantly; He casts his nets into the sea, and brings them up full of fish; all his bargains end in gain, he might have in his possession the philosopher’s stone which turns all it touches into gold. But there is a dark set-off against all this. When you come to look down through the man’s circumstances into himself, you find what the psalmist here terms leanness; and by leanness he means waste, emaciation, loss of strength and beauty; the leanness you sometimes see in a body when there is some fatal mischief at work which prevents the assimilation of the food, and day by day reduces the man until the spirit seems ready to leave its frail tenement. What is this leanness of soul? How shall we discover its presence in ourselves or in others?
1. By its trust in outward things. Grace is needed by every man, but great grace is needed by the man who gets his request. It is not easy to carry a full cup, to walk with a steady head and unfaltering step on the high places of prosperity, to have many of God’s earthly blessings, and yet to trust in God alone. The eclipsing power of success is fearful.
2. Another symptom of spiritual leanness, and one of the results of having our request, is self-pleasing. How many men there are who have been earnest labourers in the vineyard of Christ during the early years of their life while they were comparatively poor, but who now are seen nowhere among the vines, who are digging nowhere, planting nowhere, pruning nowhere, training nowhere. And it is not that sickness has disabled them, it is not that old age has called them to enjoy its well-merited rest, it is not that the arrangements of providence have precluded all further active toil. It is nothing but the melancholy consequence of their having received their request. Their very success has been their snare.
3. I will mention but one more symptom, or rather class of symptoms, which may be all ranged under one head, loss of sympathy with all that helps to build up the spiritual life. Is it possible to lose this sympathy? Possible--do we need to ask it? Is it not our besetting danger? Are we not warned against it? Have we not known it? Our text speaks to us as with the voice of a trumpet, and rings out the great and impressive truth that we cannot be too guarded in our petitions, or in our desires for merely temporal things. It is certain that in Scripture we have no encouragement to ask for any great measure of them. The necessaries seem to define the limit, for in that Divine scheme of prayer our Saviour has left us we find the modest petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Beyond these necessaries all else should be sought in very humble and willing subordination to the will of God. For who of us knows what beyond these is good for us? (E. Mellor, D.D.)
Prayer for wrong things
Chactas, the blind old sachem in Chateaubriand’s Wertherion romance, is made to bring the story to an end by relating a parable to his woe-fraught young listener. It tells how the Meschacebe, soon after leaving its source among the hills, began to feel weary of being a simple brook, and so asked for snows from the mountains, water from the torrents, rain from the tempests, until, its petitions granted, it burst its bounds and ravaged its hitherto delightsome banks. At first the proud stream exulted in its force, but seeing ere long that it carried desolation in its flow, that its progress was now doomed to solitude, and that its waters were for ever turbid, it came to regret the humble bed hollowed out for it by nature, the birds, the flowers, the trees, and the brooks, hitherto the modest companions of its tranquil course. (F. Jacox.)
Prosperity and degeneration
A striking incident illustrating the liberty one feels when trusting Christ implicitly to supply all his needs is here related: A rich lady, when asked by her pastor to help a cause dear to her heart in her previous comparative poverty, and to which she gave one pound then, proffered him five shillings. Her pastor called her attention to the surprising and ominous change. “Ah,” said she, “when day by day I had to look to God for my daily bread, I had enough and to spare; now I have to look to my ample income, and I am all the time haunted with the fear of losing it and coming to want. I had the guinea heart when I had the shilling means; now I have the guinea means and the shilling heart.” (Christian Age.)
They envied Moses.
Religious envy and its doom
I. Religious envy.
1. Envy is the chief in many respects of the principalities and powers of darkness in the soul.
2. But for many reasons religious envy is the worst kind of envy.
(1) It is the most unreasonable. For in religious possessions there can be no monopoly. The man who envies another on account of his wealth may reason, “Because he has so much, I have so little”; but not so in spiritual riches.
(2) It is the most impious. The more true religion a man has in him, the more he pleases and honours his Maker. To envy a man on this account, therefore, implies hostility to Heaven.
II. Its doom (verses 17, 18). It is here suggested--
1. That the evil passions of mankind are offensive to the Almighty
2. That nature is every moment at the disposal of its Maker.
3. That material events symbolize spiritual realities. Envy is a ruinous passion. It is like a whirlpool; it draws down into ruinous abysses all the faculties and powers of human nature. (Homilist.)
They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molten image.
The idolatry of man and the indignation of Heaven
I. The idolatry of man (verses 19, 20).
1. The strength of the religious instinct. Man must have a God. If he loses the true one, he will create a false one.
2. An unrighteous compliance with a popular demand. The preacher who ministers to the prejudices and tastes of his people, commits the same sin as Aaron did when he made the “golden calf.”
3. The force of early habit. Before his figure they had been wont to bow in Egypt, and by the instinct of habit they cried out for his figure now in the wilderness. To see God everywhere is one thing; to make everything God, is another. The one is right, binding, and useful; and the other is wrong, sinful, and pernicious.
II. The indignation of heaven (verse 23). All this idolatry and forgetfulness were offensive to Him, and lie determined on their destruction. Why did He not strike the fatal blow at once? “Moses His chosen stood before Him,” etc. See here the marvellous efficacy of prayer. The Bible teaches that “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” and gives us many instances of this; but how it affects God I know not. Let us grasp the fact and live accordingly. (Homilist.)
Yea, they despised the pleasant land.
The persistency of sin, the retribution of God, and the influence of saints
I. The awful persistency of sin (verses 24, 25, 28). You may reason with the sinner, convince him both of the folly and wrongness of his conduct. Trial after trial may come down upon him in consequence of his wicked conduct. You may threaten him with the terrors of death and the terrible retribution of the life beyond, still he continues blindly, and madly he pursues his course (Jeremiah 13:23).
II. The fearful retribution of God (verse 29).
1. It was justly deserved. How great the provocation! The conscience of every sufferer will attest the justice of his fate.
2. It was a warning to others. The punishment that befalls one sinner says to every sinner, “Take care.” God punishes, not for the sake of inflicting pain, but for the sake of doing good. It is to arrest the progress of sin, which is a curse to the universe.
III. The social influence of saints (verse 30). Phinehas interposed as a magistrate to suppress sin and check its progress. This act of his was approved of God as a righteous act. It was rewarded by God by a perpetual priesthood (Numbers 25:10). It is said that “one sinner destroyeth much good,” but one saint may destroy more evil. Not until the last day, if then, shall we know the enormous amount of good that one good man may render to his age and even to his race. (Homilist.)
Contempt of the pleasant land
Take the text as descriptive of the feeling of too many Christians towards that in which we all profess our faith as the life everlasting or the life of the world to come. “They thought scorn of that pleasant land.” Ours is a freethinking and it is an outspoken generation. It is by no means uncommon to hear men say now, Give me earth and I will give you heaven. I cannot realize, and I see no beauty in, the life of that world. You tell me that it has streets of gold and gates of pearl. It is an orientalism of exaggeration which conveys to me no meaning at all. If it did convey a meaning, it would be an unattractive one. I greatly prefer the Old Testament phraseology. I can understand a land of wheat and barley, of fountains and streams, which God cares for, and upon which His eyes are open from the beginning to the end of the year. Such a land, with the addition of a wiping away of tears from all eyes and a cessation of pain and grief and death, speaks for itself. But you have made it so figurative, so metaphorical, so grotesque, that I cannot admire and I cannot long for it. “They thought scorn of that pleasant land.” I can see many things to account for this. I can suggest perhaps a few things in correction of it. Theologians and mystics have so described that land as to make it unlovely. They have painted it to the manly and the vigorous, to the large-hearted and the active-minded, as a world of absolute repose, of perpetual quiescence. They have painted it to the feeble and the invalid and the languid and the weary as a scene of perpetual devotions, of a day never clouded and a night as bright as the day--of a praise never silent, a sabbath never ending, a congregation never breaking up. The one kind of men demanded an activity which is absolutely refused them; the other a repose, spiritual as well as physical, which is resolutely shut out. All these descriptions are quite conjectural. Scripture tells of a new heaven and a new earth, and expressly adds in explanation this particular--“wherein dwelleth righteousness.” How can righteousness dwell in a land of mere inertion, mere torpor, or even unintermitted praise and song? Does not the very choice of the word suggest to us, though without detailing, a multitude of relationships, old perhaps as well as new, which shall give full scope to all the energies and all the activities which have here been coerced and counteracted alike by the weakness of the flesh and by the unwillingness of the spirit? Amongst all negatives and all conjectures, expanding the vision of the great future without stint or limit, we have one certainty and one positive--and with it we conclude. “His servants shall serve Him--they shall see His face--His name shall be in their foreheads.” Whose servants? whose face? whose name? Look above--you will find the answer in that great combination--“God and the Lamb.” Yet not their servants but His servants--not their faces but His face--nob their names but His name. Who now shall dare to think scorn of that pleasant land? God is there--there in a sense in which He is not here. “Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty,” as He can only be seen in “the land that is very far off.” Who shall speak of that land in a tone half of condescension--“Yes, if I must go hence, I will consent to go thither”? Shall any one indeed find entrance there who can only say, I will not refuse--I have no objection? (Dean Vaughan.)
Contempt of the inheritance
I. The pleasant land. Palestine was a country in many views highly desirable--in itself compact, and possessing special facilities of commerce with Asia, Africa, and Europe, all the known quarters of the globe. As to its intrinsic character, we have it portrayed in Deuteronomy 8:7-9. Palestine, in all the glory of culture, must have been a “pleasant land.” We know, however, that this country, with all its distinguishing institutions, formed but a shadow of better things to come; and it becomes us now to be enjoying a land still more pleasant. The Kingdom of God has come to many thousands, has come with power; and its blessings, to which those of Judea were not for a moment to be compared, are brought nigh to the remotest and most unworthy. Its inhabitants He hath delivered from the curse of the law, being made a curse for them. Their depraved and perverse hearts He renovates by the agency of His good Spirit, purifying them unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Whatever fightings they may have, they have peace with God; whatever vicissitudes, an immovable kingdom; whatever sorrows, everlasting consolation; whatever poverty, unsearchable riches; whatever disappointments and repulses, victory at last over sin and death and the grave. But I would point you to another land, in which the emblem of the text finds a more perfect accomplishment. True, we are here favoured with a morning, and the morning star shines bright: yet it is only the morning, and the shadows of the night largely intermingle with the dawning of the day. But in that “better country which is an heavenly,” sunshine is qualified by shadow no longer. There Jesus appears in all that glory which He had with the Father before the world was--the distinctive glory of mediatorial triumph and recompense enhancing His Divine effulgence--and “the nations of them that are saved do walk in His light.”
II. Contempt of the pleasant land. “Every gift of God is good and nothing to be despised.” Nay, not only are manifest mercies to be gratefully acknowledged, but we are forbidden to despise the chastening of the Lord, and enjoined to count it all joy when we fall into manifold temptations or trials. And how, then, can God look upon our conduct without anger when we treat with contempt a promised inheritance? As to the liability to this sin, it might appear that our inheritance being more valuable than that of the ancient and literal Canaan, it would be less readily and less probably disparaged. But alas! the things of God are not so appreciable to natural and unaided perception. The eye sees not their beauty, the ear hears not their melody, the nostrils smell not their odour, the tongue tastes not their deliciousness. We have had samples of heaven itself; its righteousness has come down to us; its celestial truth has been proclaimed to our guilty and perishing world; and humanity has discredited and disrelished all.
III. The source of the Israelites’ contempt. “They believed not His word.” If we had only full confidence in the Saviour, if we but eyed Him with a completion and constancy of trust at all commensurate with His trustworthiness, what distressing apprehensions of Him would vanish, what ravishing views of Him would succeed! How sure would heaven become! We should feel as secure of it as if we were already there, and something like as happy. (D. King, LL. D.)
The Israelites in the wilderness are a recognized illustration of the Christian’s walk through the world. The promised land is a type of heaven. Is it not true, then, of thousands who have set their faces towards a better home, that, after a time, they think scorn of that pleasant land, and give no credence unto God’s Word? Why?
1. Because the land is hard to reach. Yes, it is hard, and it is easy: hard if the heart is absorbed by the world, the flesh, and the devil; easy, if the world has once been despised, the flesh once crucified, the devil put to scorn.
2. Others think scorn of that pleasant land because they cannot see it, and therefore hardly believe that it exists at all. If we are only to believe in what we see, there will be but little to believe in. We cannot see the Father or the Son or the Holy Ghost with the human eye; we cannot see the soul; we cannot see that the dead are living: but Jesus taught us, and our conscience teaches us to believe these things; and Jesus taught us also to believe in heaven. (W. R. Hutton, M.A.)
Despising God’s gifts
There can be no greater slight and dishonour to a giver than to have his gifts neglected. You give something that has perhaps cost you much, or which, at any rate, has your heart in it, to your child, or other dear one; would it not wound you, if a day or two after you found it tossing about among a heap of unregarded trifles? Suppose that some of those Rajahs that received presents on the recent royal visit to India had gone out from the durbar and flung them into the kennel, that would have been an insult and disaffection, would it not? But these illustrations are trivial by the side of our treatment of the “giving God.” (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
They angered Him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes.
A good man suffering for a community, and a community pursuing its way to destruction
I. A good man suffering for the wrongs of a community (verses 32, 33; Numbers 20:3; Numbers 20:10; Numbers 20:13).
1. The conduct of bad men has a strong tendency to disturb the moral temper of the good.
(1) By disgusting the moral tastes.
(2) By shaking the faith.
(3) By disturbing self-control.
2. God holds the best men responsible for the loss of their moral temper. “So that it went ill with Moses for their sakes.” He lost by it. Difficult as it may be for a good man to keep his temper undisturbed, it is his duty to do so, and under God he can do so. “In patience he should possess his soul.” He should “trust in Him that liveth for ever.” “None of these things move me,” said Paul.
II. A community pursuing its course to destruction.
1. Instead of destroying the peoples, as God commanded, they fraternized with them (verses 34, 35).
2. Instead of serving the one true living God, they engaged in the worship of idols (Psalms 106:36-38). (Homilist.)
Sins of eminent men
It was the sin of one occupying a high official position. You know how in armies a sentinel who sleeps on the post is shot, because great matters are weighed in the balance, great interests are at stake. Why, the ancients used to have a plan of taking a builder, and if his building crumbled and fell, they would take away the ruins and bury him there, and let the next builder put the building up upon him. They held him accountable. Persons that are in positions of authority and of office are held severely to account. Just the same way with a policeman, whose duty it is to see that the law is observed; if he violates the law, he is held to sharpest account. And so we have Moses, the great law-giver. There was an appropriateness in the fact that the great law-giver should himself be held to sharpest and closest account when he himself violated the law of God. (E. Judson, D.D.)
Therefore was the wrath of the Lord kindled.
Four solemn thoughts concerning God
I. God’s abhorrence of men’s sins (verse 40). God’s wrath or anger is not a malign passion, but a benevolent principle, antagonism to wrong. Do not blame the sun or the moon because of the shadows they throw upon the earth; rather blame the objects that obstruct their rays. God’s wrath is only the rays of His love obstructed by sin. Remove the obstruction, and all is genial and beaming.
II. God’s dominion over men’s minds (verses 41, 42). As the billows of the ocean in furious battle serve the grand cause of nature as well as the placid river in its majestic flow, so does the rage of wicked spirits serve the Almighty plans as truly as the loyal services of the good. “His purposes must stand.”
III. God’s regard for men’s penitence (verses 43, 44; 2 Chronicles 15:4).
IV. God’s forbearance with men’s wickedness (verses 45, 46). (Homilist.)
He remembered for them His covenant.
God’s remembrance of His covenant
I. Then the covenant exists.
1. The covenant is in its own nature everlasting. By everything that is permanent in the universe, and by everything that is permanent in the Godhead, we are made to know that the covenant of grace is a fixed and settled thing, and abides to-day as it ever has done; for there is no variableness nor turning with Him from whom every good gift comes down. The promises in Christ Jesus are Yea and Amen, to the glory of God by us. Heaven and earth shall pass away; but not one jot or tittle of the law shall fail, much less shall the covenant of Divine grace be disannulled.
2. Well may the covenant of grace be everlasting, for it was made with deliberation and foresight. God made it, knowing all that would happen in time or eternity.
3. The covenant was sealed and ratified in the most solemn manner. Jesus has gone into heaven bearing with Him the blood of sprinkling. Can God deny His promise to His bleeding Son?
4. The Divine glory is wrapped up in it. The Lord cannot break His word, nor forego His designs, nor forget His promises. Think not so. The crown jewels of God are staked and pawned upon the carrying out of the covenant of grace.
5. Furthermore, it is not possible for God to break a covenant. When you and I stand and tremble before a Divine promise for fear it should not be fulfilled, we cast a slur upon the truth, faithfulness, and immutability of God. Has He ever changed? Has He ever been false?
II. This covenant is too often forgotten by us.
1. Are not God’s people at this day chargeable with forgetting the covenant by their unspiritual carelessness?
2. Sometimes, too--and in the case of Israel it was so--we get away from that covenant by wanton sin, or by negligent omission of most delightful duty. This ought to yield in our hearts a harvest of repentance. It should bind us to God with intense affection that should tend towards perpetual sanctification from this day and onward.
3. These people had forgotten their God for another reason, namely, in the depth of their sorrow. A great sorrow stuns men, and makes them forget the best sources of consolation. A little blow will cause great pain; but I have frequently heard in reports of assaults that far more serious blows have occasioned no pain whatever, because they have destroyed consciousness. So do extreme distresses rob men of their wits, and cause them to forget the means of relief. Under the chastening rod, the smart is remembered, and the healing promise is forgotten.
III. Though we forget the covenant, yet God remembers His covenant: “He remembered for them His covenant.” Even though these people had so grievously provoked Him, He remembers His covenant so as to find in it a reason for pardoning their sin, and dealing with them in a way of mercy. He meets the flood of their sins with the flood of His faithfulness. O friend, God must remember His covenant; fur He can never forget what the making of that covenant has cost Him. It cost Him His Only-begotten: the eternal Son, the Well-beloved, must die the death of the cross that the covenant may be established.
IV. If God remembers for us His covenant, let us remember it. What is the covenant? Here is one form of it: “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be thou perfect.” The Lord God Almighty gives Himself up to be our portion, and we are to yield ourselves to Him, to walk before Him in perfect obedience. This also is the covenant: “I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Say not, “I am poor.” Not so, for God is yours, and so all things are yours. Say not, “I am weak.” Not so, God Almighty is yours: when you are weak, then you are strong. “But I have no wisdom.” Is not the Lord Jesus made of God unto us wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification? He that hath God hath everything. Wilt thou belittle thy God and limit the Holy One of Israel? Come, find thine all in God. This is thy part of the covenant, to accept God as being to thee what He says He is. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Let all the people say, Amen.
The word Amen has a history full of instruction and interest. Its original meaning had reference to the material. It signified firm, durable, lasting. “I will build him a sure house.” “His waters shall be sure.” In course of time, like other words, Amen came to have a higher, even a social meaning. As what is firm and secure is able to bear and carry other things, it at length described carrying. “A nursing father”: “Naomi took the child and became nurse.” Next it was promoted to the honour of an intellectual office, and signified trustiness or skill. “He removeth away the speech of the trusty.” Then it was raised to the dignity of an ethical use. As what is truthful and upright is firm, it came to mean trust and faith. “Who hath said Amen to our report?” Finally it acquired an ecclesiastical import, and is now commonly employed in the well-known sense of, “Truly; so be it; so let it be!”
I. To God’s commands, “Let all the people say, Amen.”
1. The Divine commands are wholly right. Were we able to see absolute rectitude, looking at it as upon an elaborate architectural plan, we should find, on comparing it with the edifice of God’s laws, that the latter is a wonderful and minute reflex on the former. What an inspiring thought!
2. The Divine commands are wholly beneficial. “In keeping of them is great reward.”
II. To God’s providence, “let all the people say, Amen.”
1. To do otherwise is thoughtless. In the Divine government there is a “balance of power.” A law of compensation is at work. Weal and woe are more evenly distributed than is commonly imagined. No person, class, or condition has a monopoly of either the blissful or the baleful. One thing is set over against another. A good man in a sea of troubles is in a condition infinitely preferable to that of a bad man nursed in the lap of luxury, housed magnificently, and faring sumptuously every day.
2. To do otherwise is useless. Where is the profit of rebelling against God’s sovereign dealing? It is vain to oppose the inevitable. Nay, it is worse than useless; it is injurious. It increases, instead of alleviating, our misery. An oak that had been rooted up by the winds was borne down the stream of a river, on the banks of which many reeds were growing. The oak wondered to see that things so slight and frail had stood the storm, when so great and strong a tree as itself had been rooted up. “Cease to wonder,” said the reed, “you were overthrown by fighting against the storm, while we are saved by yielding and bending to the slightest breath that blows.” Yes; it is eminently advantageous to say, Amen to the darkest dispensations of Providence.
3. To do otherwise is forgetful. It ignores the oft-repeated doctrine that out of our trials God perfects our good. When we murmur at sorrow, we cease to remember that it is through “much tribulation” that all kingdoms worth occupying are entered.
III. To God’s gospel, “let all the people say, Amen.” The good news of free and full pardon through the sacrifice of Christ and in answer to prayer--be that kept intact. We must take it just as it is. Nothing must be added, nothing removed. It is neither too large nor too small, and woe to us if we attempt to alter it. (T. R. Stevenson.)
St. Jerome tells us that it was the custom, in his time, to close every prayer with such a unanimous consent, that the Amens of the people rang and echoed in the church, and sounded like the dash of a mighty cataract, or a clap of thunder. There are several kinds of Amens.
I. The amen of habit. People have uttered it from their infancy, all unconscious how much was really contained in that single word. No feeling nor earnestness has accompanied the vocal sound. So far as receiving any benefit from such empty mummery, you might as well expect it from swinging the pendulum of a clock, or by winding up the machinery of an automaton.
II. The amen of hope. Melanchthon, once going forth upon some important service for his Heavenly Master, and having many doubts and fears as to his success, was cheered by a company of poor women and children, whom he found praying together for the prosperity of the Church. And so, the Amen of hope is breathed forth by the trusting soul, as it hears the Saviour’s promise, “Behold, I come quickly” (Revelation 3:11).
III. The amen of faith. When the devout Christian who has poured forth his soul in prayer, says, Amen, it is not the mere utterance of earnest desire, but of undoubting faith in Him who is “always more ready to hear than we to pray.” The same gracious Father whose promises we plead in prayer, is able, also, to perform. Faith clasps its arms around the Cross of Jesus, and looks, with undoubting confidence, for an answer of peace. (J. N. Norton.)