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I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem
The blessed community of men yet to appear on the earth
Here is a community specially interesting to the great God. “Again the Word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury.” The rendering of Dr. Henderson is worth citation: “And the word of Jehovah was communicated to me, saying: Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: I have been jealous for Zion with great zeal, yea, with great indignation have I been jealous for her.” Jerusalem was a city on which God had chosen “to put His name”; there was His temple, the ark, the mercy seat, and the memorials of His power and goodness in the history of Israel. This city had been destroyed by the Babylonian invaders. Instead of losing interest in His persecuted people, His feelings were intense concerning them. The Eternal is interested in all the works of His hand, interested in men even in their state of infidelity and, rebellion; but specially interested in those whom He regards as His people. Unto that man will I look who is of a broken and contrite spirit, and who trembleth at My Word.”
II. Here is a community in which the Almighty specially resides. “Thus saith the Lord, I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem.” Jerusalem was in a very particular sense the dwelling place of God (Exodus 29:45; Leviticus 22:12). There are two senses in which the Almighty dwells with good men.
1. By His sympathy. The loving mother dwells with her loved child; yes, though separated by continents and, seas. Jehovah’s sympathies are with His children.
2. By His presence. “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
III. Here is a community distinguished by reality and elevation.
1. Reality. “And Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth.” What is moral reality? A practical correspondence of the sympathies and life with eternal facts. All whose thoughts, affections, and conduct are not in accord with the immutable moral laws of God, live in fiction, “walk in a vain show”; and in this state, most if not all communities are found. Alas! “The city of truth” is not yet established, it is in a distant future. It is distinguished by--
2. Elevation. “And the mountain of the Lord of hosts, the holy mountain.” Where are the communities of men now found in a moral sense? Down in the hazy, boggy, impure valleys of carnalities and falsehoods. But this community is up on the holy mountain, it is in a place of high moral exaltation.
IV. Here is a community in which the very aged and the young live in social enjoyment. “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age.” Beautiful city this! The children not filthy, half-starved, diseased Arabs in crowded alleys, but bright creations gambolling in the sunny streets.
V. Here is a community whose establishment, though incredible to man, is certain to God. “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of the people in these days, should it also be marvellous in Mine eyes?” As if the Almighty had said, The creation of such a social state amongst you may appear an impossibility; but it is not so to Me. (Homilist.)
Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth--
The Church the city of truth
This declaration originally referred to the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the reestablishment of true religion among the Jews after the Babylonish captivity. It had, however, a more particular and ultimate reference to the final conversion and restoration of Israel and Judah, when the glory of the latter days should arrive.
I. The characteristics by which the Church of Christ, or His genuine disciples, are distinguished, as here denominated, the city of truth.
1. It may be called this, because it is founded on Christ, who is Himself the truth (Ephesians 2:19-20).
2. Because in it, and by them, the truth is believed. Faith, in opposition to unbelief, is that which chiefly distinguishes the spiritual citizens of Zion, from the children of the world and sin. The children of Zion dwell in the city of truth. Truth is the object of their faith--the truth revealed by God for the salvation of sinners.
3. Because the truth is obeyed in it. Were true Christians distinguished from other men merely by their speculative opinions, it would be of little importance, comparatively, whether they believed the truth as it is in Jesus, or not. But Christians are characterised by the obedience of faith. Through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, their hearts and consciences are made to bend to the authority of the Divine law, which is “holy and just and good.” They are gradually purified more and more through obeying the truth.
II. The qualities of its worship, as entitling it to the appellation of the holy mountain, or the mountain of holiness. It was on Mount Moriah that the temple stood, so this mountain of the Lord may figuratively signify the worship of God as established there. With the most emphatic propriety, the worship of the Christian Church may be designated the mountain of the Lord of hosts, and the Holy Mountain, on account--
1. Of its exalted nature. In this respect it rises above every other kind of service, as the lofty mountain above the lowly plain. For, in worshipping God as the God of salvation, all the most elevated and noble faculties of the soul are brought into action, and made to bear on the sublimest and most perfect objects.
2. On account of its holy character. It is the service of God, and therefore must partake of qualities which correspond to His nature, which is the perfection of holiness. Likeness to God’s image, to a certain extent, is indeed essential to the enjoyment of fellowship with Him.
3. On account of its purifying influence. Assimilation of character is one of the commonest and most natural effects of friendship. What a purifying effect, therefore, should not the exercise of Christian worship have on the character of the citizens of Zion. Christian devotion is the pure bulwark of Christian virtue.
III. The characters of Christians as the city of truth, and of their worship as the holy mountain, must be ascribed to the effect of the Divine presence in the midst of them. While Israel was captive the city of Jerusalem was inhabited by the profane and idolatrous. The people returned with a better spirit, and the service of the temple was restored when its walls were rebuilt. The heart of man had become the seat of profaneness and sin. The spiritual descent of the God of grace and of mercy into the hearts of sinners has changed this scene, has emancipated the slaves of sin from their galling thraldom. The character of true Christians is the glorious work of Jehovah, the effect of His return to their hearts, Nor is it less true that the holiness of their worship is owing to His presence. It is the realised presence of His majesty that makes it solemn, and the actual manifestation and experience of His grace that renders it pure. (D. Dickson, D. D.)
A city of truth
No other city bears that name: the lie would be too great even for modern speculators. There must always surely be some lie that men cannot tell. By the “City of Truth” understand the home of truth, the address of truth; every citizen has an address, that is, a place where his friends may find him, where his letters may reach him. Jerusalem is to be called the City of Truth: every man is a truth speaker, because every man is a truth lover. A lie could not live in this Jerusalem which the prophet has painted; the lie would be no use. Put a very bad man into the company of very good men, and the man is unhappy; he does not understand the language, he feels that he is a long way from home; he would be glad if the door would open and he could find a way of escape; he says, This is not my native air; I do not understand these people; what are they talking about? I have no interest in their subjects; they do not speak my language; they do not discuss the topic I like best: I would God I were out of their society! It is just the same if we personify falsehood, and send the impudent audacious visitor into the city of truth. Every man would look on with amazement; sensitive spirits would shrink back in fear and horror and shame; no hospitality would be offered to the trespasser. The liar has only to look upon a flower, and the flower is blighted. A false hand has only to touch a little child, and the little child shrinks into old age by reason of inexpressible horror and fear. The liar, therefore, would not find a residence in Jerusalem. No owner of houses would have him. The time will come when the liar will be uneasy, simply because he is false; the stars will fight against him, the earth will try to vomit him into some lower realm of creation, and all pure things will not hate him in the sense of inflicting upon him all the penalties of animosity, but will turn away from him with unutterable disgust. There is no city of truth now. When we read the prophecies of the ancient bards and seers of Israel, we are to understand that they are looking on through centuries, and are gathering flowers from the gardens that are to be, and singing songs that will be sung in the far away but assured time. What city now could live if it were true? What society could exist three days if it were frank? Who would insure human friendship beyond a very limited number of months if man were to speak to man exactly what he thinks of him? An official robe may be a lie; a civic banquet may be an aggregation of falsehoods; what is called business may be a baptised way of swindling one another. Is there any likelihood of a city now becoming a city of truth? Not until it is burned down, and rebuilt, and built upon the foundation stone of righteousness; not until Jesus Christ Himself is the chief cornerstone; not until everything gives way before the presence and persuasiveness of the infinite Gospel of Christ. Herein every city must be its own judge. When we speak of the city, what do we mean? Some outline of stone and brick and thoroughfare? Not at all. The city is only bad because the citizens are not good. When the individual citizens are honest men the total city will be a city of truth. Imagine a beautiful picture; a pilgrim, with a staff in his hand, and with sandals on his feet, has set out upon what he is told will be a long journey, and after he has travelled many days he says to some fellow traveller or wayside friend, Where is the City of Truth? Perhaps the inquiry will awaken amusement in the man who hears it; perhaps it will awaken real pleasure, and the man will answer with a beaming face and an eloquent tongue, There is the home of reality, sincerity, uprightness, genuineness; see, over here, towering like a church, the whole outline beautiful with the sky that bends over it like a benediction. How is it that when men form themselves into cities they live upon compromises, concessions, mutual understanding, and elaborate legal documents which nobody can understand? If we could understand our legal documents we could not live together three months. Yet men speak of the difficulty of understanding the Bible! The lawyers must not speak of this, for they are the very creators of mystery: doctors must not speak of this, for they live in Latin, and without Latin nobody would believe them capable of treating the simplest disease; if they called water “water” some other doctor would be sent for; and even merchantmen must not be too severe against the mysteries of the Bible, for they have their terminology, their significant alphabetic signs, and their masonic tokens, which they can be exchanging with one another whilst the customer is looking at them, and the customer may be innocently “commissioned”--if there is such a word as that; if there is not, let us now make it; the customer becomes the subject of a remunerative “commission,” and yet knows nothing about it, because all the signs are prearranged, and the whole calculation proceeds without the client’s consent. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The holy mountain city
What is its characteristic?--it shall be called . . . ”the mountain of the Lord of hosts, the holy mountain.” Mountains make towns; mountains support hotels. Did not some simpleton say, What a curious thing it is that rivers always come near towns? Some men do speak upside down; they are not wholly to be blamed, every man has not every gift: but the fact is just the contrary, it is the town that goes near the river. The Thames never came near London, but London built itself on the banks of the Thames. And why did the Thames become so very important? Because it is so very clean? I will leave that to the popular judgment. But because the Thames is a fine high road to the sea, and the sea beats upon the farthest shores, offers a still broader highway for the transit of the commerce of the world. As with rivers, so with mountains. Men get as near some mountains as they can. They have not yet built upon the top of the Matterhorn, but they would if they could. I am not aware that there is a hostelry upon the summit of Mont Blanc, but I have no doubt there are men who would put a hostelry there tomorrow if they had the ability to do so. From some mountains you must build at a certain distance. They do not permit familiarities. Sometimes we have to calculate the quality and read the history of a mountain before we build near it. Vesuvius must be calculated with, must be consulted; because Vesuvius is a mountain of proverbially fitful temper, and when Vesuvius does speak we do not want to be present. But there are mountains in the Bible that men would live upon; they are green to the very top, their summits are paradises, if not in the poor, narrow, horticultural sense, yet in some ideal sense of uplifting, as if they would bring us nearer heaven than any other mountains ever brought us. What shall be said of Lebanon and Tabor and Hermon? What shall be said of hills shaggy, with forests, strong with rocks, rich with honey, garnished and carpeted with choicest flowers? When the pilgrim asks his way to the city of truth, the guide will point him to the mountain and say, The city nestles under yonder hill, and that hill is a benediction, a defence, and a stairway to loftier elevations still There are some men who do not see mountains, who do not care for mountains, who cannot interpret mountains, and who consequently prefer what they call tablelands; they like to see a great stretch of sky. Other men could not live without high hills, they say the air gets purified somehow by circulating round these great elevations; besides, they love to climb. Man is surely a climber by nature. What is that singular instinct in him which leads him to look up? When did the ox look up? When did the beasts of the field count the stars of twilight as they leaped within the vision of man? Surely it belongs to man, singularly, to look up, in the fullest sense of the term, significantly, devoutly, wonderingly, and hopefully. Sometimes it comes into us that we must have wings, faculties we have not yet discovered, and if we could but discover them we should flee to some prenatal clime, to some other birthplace, to some long ago and forsaken home. There are other men who cannot be satisfied until they have put down in memorandum books the names of the mountains they have seen. Who gave the mountains these names? The mountains do not know them; the mountains are not dogs to be called by names. Others want to see the mountains as they stood before man was made. Thus we have a variety of nature to deal within the prosaic, the poetical, the hermitage-loving spirit that yearns for solitude and boundlessness and the eloquence of silence; and the other nature that pines for the city, the gaslighted thoroughfare, the rattle and the tumult of public life. When the spirit of the living God comes into us we shall all love mountains, we shall say with the poet, “God made the country, and man made the town,” and in that time of spiritual uplifting, when all our faculties are aglow with Divine fire, mountains will be ways to heaven, and all things growing upon their verdurous sides shall be hints and tokens of the eternal paradise. Religion always works this mystery in a man’s nature; it elevates his taste, it dignifies his imagination, it gives nerve and pith to every faculty he has. No man can be a Christian in reality and remain a little narrow-minded creature. No small mind, in the sense of a mind that loves smallness, can ever love Christ. Every Christian is a great man. We may of course have to redefine the term “great,” and have to make many who are first last, and many who are last first, but if elevation of thought, purity of desire, radiance of hope, dawning immortality, and all the moral inspiration belonging to it--if these enter into greatness, then no man ever called Jesus “Lord” without entering into the possession and the enjoyment of that blessed inheritance. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Old men and old women,. . .boys and girls
Inhabitants of the holy city
What a lovely civic picture, what a charming representation! Dear old travellers, sweet old mothers, each with a staff in hand and leaning upon it for very age, and these making their way through groups of romping boys and girls full of laughter and glee and young joy.
We cannot part with this word “playing.” Whoever thought the word “playing” was in the Bible? Always have great suspicion of any boy or girl who cannot play. See the picture, let it pass like a panorama before your eyes: old men, old women, little boys, little girls, children of every age, crowding the glad city, which is the city of truth, and which is dignified by the presence of the holy mountain. If all were old the city would be depressed, if all were children the city would be defenceless, but having old and young we have also the middle line, the average line, the active business energetic element, and there you have a complete city. It would have been a poor picture if the Lord in distributing His gifts had given to one man five talents, and to another one; the whole pith of the story would have been lost. Who does not see that but for the middle man in that parable there would have been no parable at all? The leap from one to five is too much; contrasts may be too startling; they may be so startling as to be tragical, and so tragical as to be discouraging; but the king gave to one man five talents, to another two, and to another one: preachers are eloquent upon the first and the last, and forget in too many instances that it is the average man that represents society. “Boys and girls playing in the streets.” Many parents are too dainty to allow their children to play in the streets; there propriety draws a line. Poor propriety, it is always drawing lines: that is about the only thing it can do. Whoever saw a boy or a girl who would not play whenever an opportunity occurred? Children must be made to feel that playing is religious. All children should just be as merry as possible. Both boys and girls should be really glad, frolicsome, playful, and therefore simply natural and human. Any young thing that does not play is a paradox. Why do not men relax their strenuous business life sometimes, and be boys again? Especially why do not fathers of families be boys among their own sons and daughters? How commonsense is the Bible? How graphic in its pictorial delineations, how rational in its conceptions of human necessities, and therefore how likely to become the right book when it comes to speak of inner mysteries, and upper possibilities, and further issues, and ultimate destiny. Is it possible for boys and girls to be Christians? Certainly; and almost impossible for anybody else to be Christians. The Church has been fruitful of mistakes, but probably hardly any mistake has been greater than the discouragement of the young in this matter of giving themselves to Jesus Christ. There have been men who have said to children affectionately, You cannot understand these things yet, you must wait a while. I undertake to pronounce that instruction to be unsound and untrue. We are not saved because we understand. If so, then salvation is of works, for understanding is an intellectual work, and men are saved by cleverness, by ability, by mental penetration, because they see certain things through and through. I will not be saved so let me be saved because Jesus wants to save me, loves me, and tells me that when we get together by and by in the long days of eternity He will tell me all about it. The church should be full of boys and girls. At present there are signs that boys and girls are being made more and more welcome to the Church. These signs should be gratefully hailed, for they are the signs of a deepening and widening Christian life. We cannot characterise all boys and girls as good, but surely there is a time when all boys and girls want to be good. This is the time to claim them for Christ. Jesus Himself took children very early; they were children that could not walk, they were “brought”--mark that word, for it indicates a good deal that is not expressed--to Him, and He said, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Boys and girls, there is one difficulty: people are extremely fond of us when we are babies; they would die for us then, or nearly so; they would sit up all night, they would expend their tenderest affection upon us, but when we are seven years of age, and from that to fourteen, we are looked upon somewhat coldly; then we shoot up into young men, and seem to recover part of the attention lavished upon us when we were babies. There is a zone of young life where young life has very much to take care of itself under the guidance of the schoolmaster--that sweet friend, that dear, dear soul that would do anything for us! Then be it ours to see that the young, when very young, are made to feel that there is something that cannot be seen, something better than fatherhood and motherhood as known upon the earth. Never burden a child with religious teaching. Never let a child know that there is such a thing as a Catechism. Never make the Bible a task book, saying, You must commit to memory such and such verses, or suffer my displeasure. Never associate penalty or suffering of any kind with the Bible, with the Sabbath Day, or with church going. In due time the Catechism will have its place, and Bible learning will have its place, and church going will have its place, but do not turn these early into burdens or penalties or associate with them the darkness of a shadow. Let the Sabbath Day be a day of jubilee, wedding day, resurrection day; a time when the joy bells ring their merry peals to call all men to the Father’s house, where there is bread enough and to spare. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Children in the streets
The image here presented is one of great force and beauty. The city rises before us as the glow of sunset begins to steal over Olivet, and the lengthening shadows begin to warn the labourer home. The streets are not silent or deserted, as they have hitherto been, but there sits the old man gazing on the scenes of peaceful beauty before him, while the aged companion of his earlier years sits by his side, to enjoy with him the freshening breeze that comes cool and sweet from the distant sea, while before them and around them are the merry shout, the joyous glee, and glad gambols of happy childhood, whose ringing echoes mingle sweetly with the tinkle of the bells and the lowing and bleating of the flocks that come softly from the hills as they hie them homeward to the nightly fold. There is an exquisite beauty in this picture that would strike a Jewish mind with peculiar force, to which the promise of old age and posterity was one of the richest that could be made. Indeed, the presence of the two extremes of life is one of the usual signs of prosperity. When war, famine, pestilence, or anarchy, have been raging, there are but few of either class, for their feebleness makes them the earliest victims. Hence, in the streets of Jerusalem, there were but few of either in her desolation, for even those who did remain abstained from coming forth their houses through fear. But the time was coming when security would be so general, that old and young would meet in the peaceful streets without fear of molestation or injury. (T. V. Moore, D. D.)
The human society in the city of God
The dear old capital, the centre of their reverential affections, and seat of their worship, beautiful for situation and holy for its history, will put on its thriving look again, and be the same blessed home to them that it was before. Observe that this Jerusalem was the city of God--a city that He has fashioned and filled after His own design, just as He wished it to be. This future Jerusalem was no mere mortal metropolis, bruit by human ambition, or populated by some sordid colony. It was to be modelled after a heavenly pattern. It was to embody the Divine ideal of a perfect, pure, and happy state. There is no mistake, then, in the city’s composition, and no accident in its arrangements. If the Lord does not mean to have old men and old women in it, they will not be seen there; if boys and girls are found playing in the streets of it, we may be sure they did not stray in as vagrants, or get dropped there as foundlings; they are there by the express appointment of the Father of all the families of the earth. We may take these sentences, therefore, as a graphic outline of what God would have a Christian state of society to be, not in heaven, but in this world. In the scriptural imagery of symbolism, Jerusalem is a type of the Christian Church. Where the Gospel of Christ has done its perfect work, where Christianity has realised itself in social institution, and has penetrated all our private and public life with its practical regulation, there the whole of our being will come under its control; all its periods, from childhood to old age, will take the stamp and bear the fruit of this holy and gracious power in the heart; every capacity will be invigorated to its best exercise by Christian faith; our common work will be better and safer and happier work for being done in the name of Christ and for the sake of Christ; done by a Christian will, with a Christian purpose, in a Christian spirit, with Christian hands and brain and feet. Our faith is really the bread of our life. The Church is meant to open straight into your homes. The man and the children in the street, as the text says, should be the constant signs and witnesses of the kingdom of God within them--men about their business, children at their play, so toiling and trafficking, or so playing, as to make it plain that the stamp of the regeneration is upon them, the image of Christ within them. There is nothing in our domestic habits too small to bear this stamp and seal of the law of Christ, nothing too commonplace to be a test of sanctification. In these villages and cities there are many men who treat the whole system of positive Christianity, both doctrine and ordinance, with indifference. They live by the side of Christian institutions very much as they would live by neighbours speaking another language, and following different pursuits. What can break up this strange and heathenish unconcern? It is due largely to the impression men have that religion lies aside of life, and apart from its vital interests. Religion is regarded as a class concern, or a periodical and occasional concern, at any rate a partial and narrow concern. It lays hold on a peculiar and exceptional faculty in the mind. It comes to some, and not to others, and those others must be excused. There is much of this sentiment abroad, and it kills, in not a few, all effort to be Christians. Nothing will be more convincing, in exploding this error, than a daily demonstration, in our own persons and conduct, of the opposite truth Turn and look into the face of Christ as He walks the world in the majesty and beauty of His holiness. Is there anything that looks like a class, piety there? Do you gather from anything He says, that His followers are to have two divided lives, serving mammon a part of their time and God a part, the world with their busy energies, and God only with some sentimental states brought out at special seasons? Analyse the very essence and marrow of the Christian life. What are the parts of it? Faith, hope, charity. Is any one of them a class possession? Christianity intends that every man and woman and boy and girl shall be the better for it, and every corner and instant in the character and life of each shall be the better. It would make strong men more manly, pure women more pure, light-hearted children lighter-hearted, because the love of Christ casts all, fear out. We must expand our ideas, and give them life, by convictions of me “way of coming” to Christ, and being made one with Him in this world. It is a very simple road. Theology becomes only a blind guide when it complicates and mystifies it, and puzzles the unsophisticated mind with metaphysical cross examination. Do you want to be a Christian? Then you have already begun to be one--but you have only begun. The greatest part of salvation on our part is in the being willing to be saved. (Bishop Huntington.)
And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof--
Children for evermore
The prophet is speaking of the restoration of the temporal Jerusalem, of the return of her inhabitants when the long night of their captivity by Babylon’s streams is over. His words may be taken as prophetical of the heavenly Jerusalem. In the golden city there will be children--children for evermore!
“Oh, there’s nothing on earth half so holy
As the innocent heart of a child.”
It would seem to us as if there could be no heaven without the children: and as if we could not wish those that are in heaven to grow up. Shall there be no sweet childlike voices bearing their part in the “Song of Moses and the Lamb”? The children of the heavenly city are described as “playing.” Children are children all the world over. And when we come to speak of the eternal world, we meet wire children there--real children, happy children, “the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof.” (C. L. Balfour.)
Children in the city of God
I. Boys and girls may be in the city of God. They may know about Christ. They may be justified in Christ. They may be converted by the Holy Spirit. They may love Christ. They may imitate Christ--who spent a great part of His time in performing children’s duties.
II. Those boys and girls who are in the city of God are very happy. They are when they look back; when they look forward; when they look down; when they look up. They are happy now. They shall be happy hereafter.
III. Boys and girls who are God’s children are very safe. They are in the streets of a city, walled and eternal. Neither God, the devil, wicked men, poverty, diseases, nor death, will harm them there.
IV. Boys and girls, who are God’s children, must not go out of the city of God to seek amusement. To be very fond of amusement is not good. Duties in variety may often afford amusement. (James Stewart.)
Recreations, false and true
The man who imagines that his instincts for healthy recreation must be either ignored or destroyed if he is to live a Christian life is deluded by a dangerous untruth. I prefer the word “recreation” to the word “amusement.” The latter may be no more than idle rest, the former is definite in its promise of renewal. There appear to be two somewhat different sets of considerations which claim our notice according as one or the other immediate purpose in Christian life presses with emphasis. If self-protection is our main idea, some things do not show themselves within range of vision, which are not only visibly present, but well up toward the front, if our main thought is aggression, conquest, possession of the whole world of human life for Christ. That cannot be a “recreation” which results in mental and moral and spiritual languor. Dissipation is the true name for that. The thing is poison to him, whatever it may be to others, and he must refuse it. Take the case of the children of our Church and homes, still retaining for the present the idea of protection, safety. We know that the circle of social relation, and that of Church relation, are not bounded by the same line. Even if Christian parents were more wisely careful in the matter of their children’s choice of friends than they sometimes show themselves to be, it is not as far possible today as it was thirty years ago to exclude the “currencies” of the world: and it is almost impossible to guard against the penetrative power of current literature, let our will and our watch be ever so resolute. By what attitude, with regard to amusements, can our young people be sent forth most safely into the multitude of men and the tumult of life? My strong conviction is that we should, in full frankness, teach them to distinguish between things that differ. They will understand that evil is evil, and that good is good. We need, then, set up no jealous bar against this or that recreation, or any amusement which is really such, and for all their life they will be capable of judging the wrong and right of things, also of the expediency of this or that, in a way which the most complete quasi-papal Index would never afford. Take dancing. Late hours so spent afford no recreation. Indiscriminate companionships, indelicacy of dress, wastefulness in dress, never under any circumstances can be right. Brand the wrong as evil, claim your children’s verdict, and it will be given without hesitation, and then see, if you like, whether those things need intrude. They seem ridiculously nonessential. There are games which have been and are largely abused for purposes of gambling, and which have been eschewed or regarded as objectionable on that account. Gamblers are ready to turn every occasion into an opportunity for the exercise of their vice. To say that chess, or whist, or billiards is wrong, because betting and gambling have been connected by some men with the game, is scarcely a sensible conclusion. The theatre is often unquestionably poisonous and corrupting. But is it true beyond all doubt that evil is essential to the theatre? Has the theatre, distinguishing it from the drama, ever had a fair chance? The very presence of this power today, to say nothing of former generations and other lands, shows surely that there is not only an instinct to act, but a desire to see dramatic portrayal, such portrayal being an aid to the understanding and realising of a conception admittedly the fruit of a genius which is a worthily-used Divine gift. Must this necessarily injure the man or woman who attempts the task, and the society, in the midst of which such means are organised? Is the case of musical performance essentially different? Mendelssohn’s Elijah is, in the music of it as well as in the libretto, a magnificent drama. Is an organised dramatic portrayal necessarily an evil? I cannot think it. But the principle of cautious self-protection and avoidance is not the whole, or the highest part, of Christian life and duty. The attitude of aggression is a true and necessary one, and aggressive Christianity has a voice and a work in this sphere of amusements and recreations. In the matter before us isolation is not security, and victory is the only safety. Watch as we may, warn as we may, if we do not rescue such amusements from evil surroundings, the temptation they present will again and again overwhelm. Forms of recreation are not the outcome of chance, they are a response to something which is part of us. If the people who organise the standing institutions receive no support from good people in any attempts to respond in worthy ways to the demand for amusement, they will be tempted to degrade their provision to a lower level. We must offer recreative substitutes for that which we condemn. We have to win and conquer and possess the world for Christ, and not be content to say a thing is wrong without, at all events, an attempt to set it right. It is neither Christian nor heroic to hand down difficulties to our children without an endeavour to grapple with them To many devout Christians the very necessity for considering such subjects as have occupied us, is almost a pain. They have never felt unrest. They can scarcely understand the besetment by which others say they are assailed. The fact is that, a generation ago, the majority of people did not occupy their minds with matters which we could not evade if we would. I think even conflict is healthier than stagnation. Work and play are as necessary parts of our life as worship. The greatness of the Gospel, the glory of God in Jesus Christ, is its power of salvation to the uttermost. (D. Jones Hamer.)
Boys and girls playing in the streets of the city
God has a city still. In it live all who love Him and serve Him. They are walled about with God’s love and care. They have the temple of His presence. Like Jerusalem, it is a city of peace; it is pleasant for situation, the joy of the whole earth. The Heavenly Father would have His city full of boys and girls, playing in the streets.
I. Why God would have them in His city.
1. Because He loves them so much. The Heavenly Father will never have the children shut out from anything that He has provided for the people. He does not forget any little one. He does not think that you are too young, or too ignorant, or too weal His city will not be right unless you are there. And He wants you now.
2. Because it is dangerous outside the city. There were in the old days wild beasts prowling about,--jackals and hyenas; and perhaps a fierce old lion came down from the hills to see what he could find. And outside the city today there is the old lion that goes about “seeking whom he may devour.” And there are many robber bands that strip people of everything, and make slaves of them to hard masters, and even kill them. Sins like drunkenness, and vice, and dishonesty, I mean.
II. How may we get into this city? Its gates are shut to keep out all enemies, and the watchmen with spears keep guard above the battlements. A long way off from the city there stands a man looking and longing to enter it. Why does he not come in? He has been an enemy of the King, a rebel against His laws. He could never get in there, at the gate of the law. Then I see that they are making, a new gate. Over it they have written the words, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” No watchmen or archers guard it. But there is One with such tender love and compassion that none could ever shrink from Him. It is the King’s Son. Forth from this gate come messengers, offering free pardon for all. The King’s Son has borne their punishment,--suffered in their stead,--that He might bring them all into the city of God. And now, whoever will, may come.
III. What are the boys and girls doing in God’s city? They are playing; they are very happy. The moment children get unhappy they leave off playing.
1. They are happy because their sins are forgiven, and they know that God loves them.
2. They are happy because of the wall that is about them, the wall of God’s love and care. Have you ever heard of the old woman who always used to pray, “O God, be a wall about us”? It was in the dreadful days of Napoleon Buonaparte. He was driven back from Russia, and fierce Russian soldiers were following him. Everybody was greatly frightened, thinking that the soldiers would come upon them and take all that they had, and perhaps kill them. But when this old woman heard of it, she said, “O God, be a wall about us!” Her neighbours laughed, and even her little grandson said, “What does grandmother mean by talking about God being a wall about us?” “Ah,” said the old woman, “you will see, you will see; He can take care, of us and be a wall about us.” The soldiers had to march close by her house, but in the evening she prayed to God, and went to bed as usual. In the night the soldiers passed; but they did not see her dwelling. There came a very heavy fall of snow, and it drifted against the hedge of the cottage garden so high that the soldiers could not see it, and all passed along without knowing that there was a house there. Thus God really built a wall about her. He sent down the light snow from heaven and piled it up for her defence.
3. They are happy because they can play in the city. If God had not told Zechariah to say this, I am afraid some people would have thought of something very different. They would have said, the children must be very quiet; they must be seen more than heard; they must always be going up to the temple, and always praying, and singing hymns. But when God brought the boys and girls back to His city, the streets were to be full of them, “playing in the streets thereof.” Because they were in the Holy City, they were not to try to be men and women; they were to be boys and girls still, full of fun and fond of playing, and loving to run and shout. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
The children of the king
Zechariah’s heart is plainly in the sight he describes. Gladness grows in him as he watches in vision the children at play, and hears their ringing laughter. And his spirit is the spirit of the Bible, which everywhere shows the warmest interest in the joys of children. Who of the world’s teachers but Christ took children in their arms, laid hands on them, and blessed them? He thinks His praise imperfect when there are no little voices in the choir. The religion of Christ has quite changed the thoughts and feelings of men about children. How do children fare where the Bible is not known? You owe your childhood, all its kindness and happiness, to Jesus Christ, the lover of children. Jerusalem was the city of God on earth, and the picture of the city of God in heaven. In heaven there shall be a mighty multitude of happy children, Illustrations may be borrowed from the last two chapters of the Book of Revelation, which is the book of God’s city.
I. The glory of the city.
1. There is perfect safety in it.
2. It contains everything needed for life and joy.
3. The King is the centre of the city.
Near the Rhine stands the city of Carlsruhe, or Charles’ Rest, so called after its founder. It has the shape of an outspread fan, and all the streets branch out hem the palace, in front of which stands the bronze statue of the grand duke.
II. The citizens of the city. A city derives its glory more from the people than from the places in it.
III. The gate of the city. You do well to ask, “Shall I get into the city?” Penitence is necessary. Those only who have loved holiness on earth can enter into the city of holiness. Thank God that the day of mercy is not past, and that the gate of mercy still stands open; and enter in by hearty faith in the Saviour of sinners. (James Wells.)
The new humanity
This charming word picture is a representation at once vivid and sublime of the new human race. It sets before us a city in the time of prosperity and peace. In time of peace children crowd in the open spaces, and engage in gleeful play. The spiritual idea is--men and women of the Gospel age--their characteristics as represented by the city street scene. Old photographs of new people.
I. The new humanity is characterised by youthfulness. Childhood is peculiar to Christianity. God’s religion is the only one that makes a speciality of children. Jesus made children a type of believers. “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Childlikeness is characteristic of Christians in a state of grace and in a state of glory.
1. In a state of grace. Children are humble, obedient, forgiving, contented, hopeful, loving. So are Christians.
2. In a state of glory. Christianity reveals a future state, where the good are ever young. Heaven is the land of the living. Religion a life of eternal juvenility transfigured with eternal glory.
I. The new humanity is characterised by enjoyment. “Playing.” All young life is playful--the colt, kitten, lamb, child. The Gospel is a system to make men glad. Joy is a duty. God is our best friend--our Father. Christians possess the secret of happiness--relation to Him. Externally, all may be forbidding, but there are hidden springs within. The Christian, though poor, is rich.
III. The new humanity is characterised by safety. “In the streets.”
1. God’s affection for them proves this. He has loved man best of all. His affection is means to an end. All the attributes of God work for His love.
2. God’s sacrifice for them proves this. God willingly sent forth His Son.
3. God’s work in them proves this. His resources are boundless, and His purposes unalterable. To commence is to consummate. He who is Alpha is also Omega.
4. His promises to them prove this. “We severally and jointly promise to pay,”--so reads the promissory note. The Trinity are personally and collectively pledged to save the believer. We can trust them. The bridge of God’s promises grips the Rock of Ages.
IV. The new humanity is characterised by multitude. “Full.” Jesus will save a multitude untold.
1. The plan in operation proves this. “Power of God.” “Mighty through God.”
2. Divine promises to Christ prove this. “Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance.”
3. The expectations of Christ prove this. “Many shall come,” etc. Apply--
(1) Seek the new nature.
(2) Live the new life.
(3) Then will come the new song in the new Jerusalem. (B. D. Johns.)
Should it also be marvellous in Mine eyes?
saith the Lord of hosts
The limits of the marvellous
Here is a prophetic picture of a time of peace and prosperity. To the man of his time the prophet’s picture seemed wholly incredible. They were not prepared for such an optimistic view of things. The scene, however desirable, seemed utterly incredible. Then to their despairing mood comes this soul-inspiring message from God: “If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, shall it also be marvellous in My eyes?” There is no room for marvelling when God is taken into account. Many things that are marvels to men are but the orderly and ordinary carrying out of God’s purposes and plans. The miracles of Jesus were not miracles to Him. They were the spontaneous exercise of His ordinary healing and restorative powers. Finite minds have a tendency to be crushed by consternation in the presence of the marvellous, except they have learned to see God in all events. The only steadying and strengthening principle of human life is God, and faith in His wisdom and power. These disheartened captives were in a despairing mood. Hope had deserted them. They had given up their work in despair. When the prophet assured them that the work would be completed, that Jerusalem would be restored, and that peace and security would yet be enjoyed within its walls, they shook their heads incredibly. They said: “It is too good to be true.” They failed to take God into account, and hence were crushed and disheartened. God comes to them and says: “It may seem incredible to you, but it is not incredible to Me.” And God comes to us all in the same way, and tells us that we are not to limit His power or to doubt His love. He is behind all events, making them work out His own gracious purpose. The true solution of the marvellous is found in the recognition of God. Illustrate by two men who are bent on making the world brighter and better. One yields to despair because he has been limited to means and agencies. The other clings to the belief that a remedy may be found for the ills of society, because he sees God overhead, and recognises His power to regenerate society. The same is true of our own personal experience, especially of the higher experiences of the Christian life. The timid heart often shrinks from claiming the perfect peace that God promises to them that love and trust Him. The true answer to our marvelling mood is that God will do it. He will lift the worried, fretting soul up out of its own feebleness. The same principle holds good in those strange and bewildering experiences that so often surprise and perplex the believer. But the hand of God may be recognised in the times of doubt and darkness. No matter what form the trial may take, the way out of it is the same. And in the matter of service there are many things that surprise and perplex us. We are often sadly perplexed at our failures, and sometimes we are greatly surprised at our successes. Such a view of God, as an ever-present factor in all human experiences, cannot fail to enlarge our lives, and to lift us up above the countless petty perplexities and annoyances that tend to fret and worry the life. We thus learn to look at life as a whole, taking in its entire plan and scope, as seen and known by God. We need this view of God also to steady us and strengthen our faith as we look abroad upon the spiritual life of Christendom. We look for fruit, and behold there is barrenness. What marvellously slow progress the Church is making! But God is the same God still, and therefore we are not to yield to despair, and cease to labour and to pray. The Churches may be dead, but God still lives. We may strengthen our faith and encourage our drooping hearts by remembering God’s gracious dealings with ourselves in early life. He came to our desolate hearts, and filled us with His own fulness, and made us sing for joy. God, who wrought such wonders in us, can do the same in His Church. (Samuel Macnaughton, M. A.)
Things marvellous to men not marvellous to God
This is a wonderful age, not merely in the number of strange and unprecedented things happening in it, and in the strange and unprecedented character that belongs to it as a whole, but also in the prominence of wonder as an element in the view which it takes of itself. It is wonderful, because it is an age full of wonder. It does not seem as if there ever could be a time which so stood off, as it were, and looked at itself, in which so many men lived under a continual sense of the strangeness of their own circumstances. You will see how important such an element must be in the character of an age which possesses it, if you remember what it is to an individual. A child who thinks himself singular and different from other children grows up under the power of that thought more than any other which is in his mind about himself. Whatever kind of effect is produced by it, this is an element in the life and growth of every man--this wonder at the age he lives in, at the world, at men, at himself--this wonder that everywhere pervades our wonderful, our wondering age.
I. Wonderfulness of life. What is the reason that this sense of the wonderfulness of life, this sense of the strangeness and mystery everywhere, has such a different effect upon different men that it brings one man peace and another man tumult, that it brings to one man hope and despair to another? No doubt the reason lies deep in the essential differences there are between our natures, and cannot be wholly stated. One cause of the difference, and not the least one, lies here: in the difference of our ideas as to whether there is any Being who knows what we are reminded every hour we do not know; whether there is any Being in whose eyes this age, so strange to us, is not strange and bewildering, but perfectly natural and orderly and clear. We are too ready to think that God is surprised with this endless surprising strangeness that comes into our human life. Our only hope lies in knowing that there is One whom nothing disappoints and nothing amazes. Wonder is so much a part of ourselves, and such a constant experience, that we can hardly leave out wonder from the thought of any high nature. In the strong remonstrance with which Zechariah met the incredulity of the people there is the substance of what I have been saying. “It is all strange to you,” God by His prophet seems to say; “but does that prove it will be strange to Me? You must not limit My knowledge by your wonder.” Where we are ignorant, God is wise; where we are standing blindly in the dark, He is in the light; where we wonder, He calmly knows. God knows: this should bring us comfort, in a sense of safety and of enlargement.
II. The sense of danger. Where does so much of the sense of danger and the sense of unsafety in life come from? It is from the half-seen things that hover upon the borders of reality and unreality; from things which evidently are something, but of which we cannot perfectly make out just what they are. It is not clear, sound, well-proved truths which frighten men for the stability of their faith; it is the ghostly speculations, the vaguely outlined, faint suggestions that hover in the misty light of dim hypothesis, that make the dim uneasy sense of danger that besets the minds of so many believers. Behind all my conceptions, and all other men’s conceptions, of what things are, and how things came to be, there always must be the first fact about things, about what they are, and how they came to be; and that fact must correspond exactly with the knowledge which is in the supreme intelligence of Him who knows all things accurately and completely. If my conception of that fact, however it was reached, differs today from His knowledge of the fact, danger must be in the persistence of that difference, and safety in its being set right. Ignorance is always dangerous; knowledge is never dangerous. He who believes truth only as the way to God, he who regards opinions as valueless except as they agree with the infallible judgments of God, and so bring him who holds them into sympathy with God and keep him there, he is the man for whom all life is safe, and whose faith faces the changing thoughts and destinies of the world, however astounding they may seem, without a thought of fear.
III. The sense of freedom. Such a man is also free. The safety of life and the enlargement or freedom of life must go together. No man is safe who is not free; no man is free who is not safe. Our effort, our action, our whole life in the thought and will is limited by that which we account possible. The conception of what is possible enlarges and widens as the quality of any being’s life becomes higher; and so the loftier being is able freely to attempt things which the lower being is shut out from if he lives only in the contemplation of his own powers and never looks beyond himself. Freedom to attempt belongs to the larger vision. If He who sits at the centre of everything, and sees the visions of the universe with the perfect clearness of its Maker--if God can really speak so that we can hear Him, and say, “It is impossible to you, but it is not impossible to Me; it is marvellous in your eyes, but it is not in Mine”; if He can say that of any task that is overwhelming men with its immensity, that word of His must snap our fetters, must set free the little strength of all of us to strike our little blows, must enlarge our lives, and send them out to bolder ventures with earnestness and hope.
IV. The essence of faith. It seems to me as if, through all these ages of Christendom, God had been trying to teach the Christian world to enlarge its notions of the possibility of faith by the perpetual revelations of His own. God must be teaching us all that faith is the essential relation of the human soul to His soul faith, the deep rest of the child’s life upon the Father’s love faith, the reception by man of the word of God, which comes to him in voices as manifold as the nature of God Himself,--that faith, a thing so deep, essential, and eternal, is not to be conditioned on the permanence of any one of the temporary forms in which it may be clothed. The fearful believer says, “I do not see how it can be, it is so strange”; but God answers him out of all the richness of Christian history, “If it be marvellous in your eyes, should it also be marvellous in Mine?” Apply this truth to the personal life; for there, most of all, a man needs the enlargement that comes of always feeling the infinite knowledge that God is about him, encompassing his ignorance with Himself. How easily, with our self-distrust and spiritual laziness, we shut down iron curtains about ourselves, and limit our own higher possibilities! This is truest in religious things. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
I will save My people from the East country, and from the West country
A two-fold Divine restoration
A Divine temporal restoration. The reference here is to those Jews who had been scattered abroad over various countries through the Babylonian Captivity and other disastrous causes. The point is, that the restoration here promised is a temporal restoration to their own land and country. God is constantly restoring His people to those temporal blessings they have lost. He restores often--
1. To lost health;
2. To lost property;
3. To lost social status.
In all His people’s distresses He bids them look to Him.
II. A Divine spiritual restoration. This may mean, I will become their God in good faith or in reality, both on their side and on Mine. This is incomparably the most important restoration.
1. Man may lose his God, and be “without God in the world.”
2. The loss of God is the greatest loss. A man separated from God is like a branch separated from the root, a river from the fountain, a planet from the sun.
3. Restoration to God is the transcendent good. He who can say, “The Lord is my portion,” possesseth all things. This restoration the Almighty is effecting now in the world. “He is in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” (Homilist.)
And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem--
The future of the Jews
The terms of this prediction carry us beyond any facts at that time existing, and refer to events then future. It predicts a return of the Jews from the West as well as the East, whilst at this time the only dispersion existing was toward the East in Babylon. Hence an universal dispersion is implied in this universal restoration, the terms, from East to West, being inclusive of the entire earth. This general dispersion did not occur until the final fall of Jerusalem, since which there has been no general restoration of the Jews, either in a literal or a figurative sense. Hence the main facts predicted are yet future. That they include a literal restoration of the Jews to their own land is probable, but that this is the main purport of the prophecy is just as improbable. There is something more than a mere political restoration required by the general drift of the prophecy, which is spiritual, not temporal, and which therefore demands a spiritual reunion to the spiritual theocracy, or the blood-bought and blood-washed Church of God. And this is particularly demanded by the covenant formula of Zechariah 8:8, “They shall be My people, and I will be their God,” which is always the exponent of spiritual blessings, and the fact is put beyond all question by the explanatory addendum, “in truth and righteousness,” which expressly affirms that this restoration and union are not to be outward, visible, and temporal, but inward, invisible, and spiritual. They will be a sincere and justified people, as He will be a true and pardoning God. (T. V. Moore, D. D.)
For before these days there was no hire for man
Society before the temple was built
A neglected temple always means a ruined society.
These words are not to be applied locally or parochially; they express an eternal and unchangeable principle: a neglected God is a frowning heaven, a frowning heaven is a desolated earth. We must more and more insist upon the importance of the religious spirit in its relation to policy and commerce and agriculture, and the whole mechanism and build and meaning of society. Unless we cultivate our own spirituality to a high degree we may soon be tempted to forego this argument, or allow ourselves to be victimised into the belief that it is not an argument but a sentiment. The first thing which the Christian man has to do is to keep up his spirituality to the very highest point. By keeping up spirituality I mean the cultivation of that insight which sees more than surface, more than so called phenomena; that penetrating insight that sees behind all these things a Spirit, a Providence, ruling, moulding, and directing all things. We walk by faith, not by sight: Lord, increase our faith! We see nothing as it really is; the reality is beyond the appearance. Why be satisfied with the door? smite it that it may fly open, and let the opening door be an invitation to enter and partake of the hospitality of God. Always in Biblical history, when men turned from God, God turned away from them: “Therefore it has come to pass: therefore I scattered them with a whirlwind among all nations: he that honoureth Me I will honour, he that despiseth Me I will lightly esteem.” This is not arbitrary, this is not the changeable rule of a changeable court; this is simply the utterance of an eternal necessity. The sun says, He that will not have me shall have darkness and death. Is the sun cruel? Nay, the sun is clement and pitiful by announcing that fact; the sun offers its dower of light and warmth and comfort. So when we speak in Gospel words about the wicked being driven away in his wickedness, and about man neglecting to build the temple, and therefore having no harvest to reap, we are not delivering the arbitrary decrees of some fancy created Jove; we are announcing the law of the universe, whoever made it. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
A Divine call to a Divine work
The call is urged on two considerations--
I. The wretchedness consequent on the neglect of duty. They were then destitute of three elements essential to the well-being of any people.
1. Industry. “There was no hire for man, nor any hire for beast.” The people were purposeless, lazy, and in a state of general lethargy and collapse. No great project inspired their interest, engrossed their attention, enlisted and marshalled their powers. The lack of industry is a curse to any people; it is an injury to health, as well as an obstruction to material and social progress. Another element of well-being of which they were destitute was--
2. Peace. “Neither was there any peace to him that went out or came in because of the affliction.” The lack of earnest occupation naturally led to intestine broils and contentions. Nothing is more natural and more common than for people without employment to wrangle and dispute with one another. Men who are full of business have no time to quarrel.
3. Social unity. “For I set all men everyone against his neighbour.”
II. The improvement which ensues on the resumption of duty. “But now I will not be unto the residue of this people as in the former days, saith the Lord of hosts. For the seed shall be prosperous,” etc. This means, but now, as you have resumed the work and rebuilt the temple, I will bless you. There are three blessings here promised.
1. Temporal prosperity. “For the seed shall be prosperous,” etc. Material nature is in the hands of God, and He can at any moment make it a curse or a blessing to men. Here He promises to make it a blessing.
2. Social usefulness. On the resumption of the great duty which Heaven had enjoined on these returned captives they should be a blessing,
3. Divine favour Where there was Divine displeasure there would be Divine favour. (Homilist.)
But now I will not be unto the residue of this people as in the former days
The danger of resistance to the Divine messages
It is a decisive evidence of sound wisdom to profit by the faults, the errors, and the calamities of other men.
Two sources from whence we ordinarily obtain knowledge and caution. The first is, our own experience, by which we too frequently buy knowledge at a very high cost. The second is, the experience of those who have lived before us; and this knowledge is as good in its quality, and obtained at a much easier rate than the former. In Scripture we have many histories of individuals and histories of communities.
I. A message prom God to the children of men.
1. The immediate agent by whom the communication is made--the Spirit of God. It is this Holy Spirit who is the author, the immediate author, of all communications from God to man. It should give a great solemnity to all that is addressed to us, to recollect that it comes to us by the immediate agency of the Holy Ghost.
2. There are instruments appointed for the communication of this message. “By the prophets.” The ministration of fellow men--ancient prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
3. The nature of the communication thus made. It is a message of instruction, conviction, consolation, and warning.
II. The resistance and opposition which in every age us been made to the message. Mark the varied forms in which this opposition is here described. When is it that resistance may be said to be made to the Spirit, in the Word?
1. When men estrange themselves from the means of grace and salvation, and place themselves beyond the reach of those means, it may be justly feared that they are in the state of those who refuse to hearken. How many do place themselves in such situations!
2. When men perversely act in direct contradiction to the light they have received. All sin is heinous in the sight of God. But that is especially heinous which is committed in direct opposition to the light we have received, whether that light have been communicated by the instructions of an earlier age, by the ministrations of the prophets, or by means of any of the various institutions which have been set on foot in our day.
3. Where there is a determination to persevere in a course of sin, against the remonstrance of conscience and the Word of God. This is surely pulling away the shoulder, and stopping the ears, and hardening the heart.
4. When to the impiety of unbelief is added the iniquity of scorn and contempt, and when ridicule is poured by men of determined minds on things sacred.
III. The tremendous consequences to which such conduct inevitably exposes. To the wrath of God; the Divine displeasure. Here presented as “great wrath”; and “great wrath from the God of armies, the Lord of hosts.” Lessons--
1. Admire and adore the condescension, patience, and grace of God the Holy Spirit. Condescension in that He visits our world with the messages of mercy, and brings home to our ears and to our hearts the sounds of reconciliation and salvation. Patience, in that He still visits us and waits to be gracious; still strives in the hearts of the unregenerate--still visits His people with the dews of the heavenly grace.
2. This subject affords a clear demonstration of the depravity of human nature. If I could find no other proof of human depravity, I should find it in this enmity of man to all that is good and gracious.
3. Learn the debt of gratitude you owe to the Son of God. For you would still have gone on in the way of enmity if He had not visited you. It was the sovereignty of God’s distinguishing grace which gave you eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to feel.
4. We tremble for some of you. Because you have heard these things again and again; you have seen the Cross of Christ reared in your midst--and some of you are still stopping your ears and hardening your hearts; instead of yielding up to the convictions of your minds, you are struggling against them. (George Clayton.)
I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things--
A goodly heritage
Wherever there is the teaching of the Holy Spirit it is sure to convince men personally, in their own consciences, souls, and experiences, of their need of God’s Christ.
I. The possessions. The people will be distinguished by that which they are to possess.
1. The city of freedom, the new Jerusalem. There is no sense in which in this possession freedom is not implied. The Jerusalem that is above all is free for us all. The first feature is freedom from sin.
2. This Jerusalem shall be a city of truth. This truth, that from first to last we are saved entirely by the grace of God. This grace is entirely by the Lord Jesus Christ. The second thing to be careful upon is that regeneration is one part of the work of grace.
3. This city is called “the mountain of the Lord.” So called because the Lord is there.
II. How the people are brought to possess these things. The Jews in their return from captivity, and coming back to their land, and the Lord making the land fruitful, are the things indicated here. It was on Christ’s account,--that was the deep foundation reason why they came back from captivity at all. And how is it you return to Zion? It is because God chose you in Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world. By virtue of the secret relationship existing between you and Jesus Christ you are brought to possess these things. (James Wells.)
So I will save you
Man’s need and God’s provision
Man in the natural and fallen state. “As ye were a curse among the heathen.” Sinners are under the curse of God. Mankind in general, as transgressors, all whose sins are unpardoned, are under the curse of God. Those who are in their natural and carnal state are a curse to themselves. The dispositions which they cherish, the practices which they adopt, injure their health, blast their reputation, often ruin their circumstances, and lead to sorrow and wretchedness and death. And sinners are a curse to others. They diffuse evil, they propagate mischief, they are corruptors.
II. The gracious purpose of God in reference to man, as made known in the Gospel. “So will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing.” This salvation has been procured for man by the atonement and intercession of Christ. This salvation is free to all, without any exception, without any limitation. This salvation can only be experienced by those who exercise “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
III. The gracious and delightful result of this design in connection with the children of men. “Ye shall be a blessing.” Those who are saved inherit the blessing of God. Those who are saved are a blessing to themselves. (J. H. Bumby.)
Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour
Concisely stated, the doctrine of the text is, think truth, love truth, speak truth, and do truth--live in its atmosphere, make it your ruling principle.
Let the clear light which it sheds out throw a radiance on your course, so that your life be transparent as a summer day. The charm of truth is the charm of simplicity. He who knows the value of truth, and strives to exhibit it, bears the mark of God: he cannot be far from the kingdom of God. The text contains two affirmative and two negative precepts--speak the truth, execute judgment, and do not imagine evil in your hearts, do not love a false oath.
I. Presumedly innocent inroads upon the domains of truth.
1. There is innuendo and insinuation. The wise look which says so much, and commits itself to little.
2. Common prattle and gossip, meddling, as it generally does, with the more intimate concerns of third persons, seldom respects the limits of truth. Nowhere is caution more needful than in ordinary conversation.
3. Promises are lightly and readily given, and often as lightly and readily broken.
4. Lack of firmness necessitates sacrifice of truth. One does not like to be singular, one does not like to be disagreeable.
5. In speaking of one’s self or friends, the temptation, not always resisted, is to throw them out in the best light and make great persons of them, that it may be seen how grand, how clever we are, and how choice is the circle of our acquaintance.
6. The species of falsehood commonly called “fibs,” “white lies,” or in the slang diction of the college, “crams.”
7. The unconscientious workman’s dallying with his work is a sin against truthfulness.
II. Flagrant breaches of the law of truth. Open and deliberate lies, intentional and heartless deception. In opposition to all falsehood, whether of the lighter or heavier sort, whether respectable or vulgar, whether in deed, word, or gesture, whether by omission or addition, the Word of God says, “Speak every man truth to his neighbour.”
III. How does Scripture enforce this? By what revelations; by what further precepts?
1. The wrongfulness and fate of untruth are clearly explained.
2. What more would you have to recommend truth than that it is assimilation to the Divine character? He is a “God of truth, and without iniquity.” “Just and right.” If our thoughts, words, and deeds were regulated by the standard of truth this would be heaven upon earth. Be satisfied of a man’s integrity, sure that he ever means to do the right, and would scorn to act meanly, and you may make that man your friend. To work the world out into a society of friends, to transform it into a brotherhood, is, in brief, the aim of Christ. That ideal is the reality of heaven. (A. Hawkins Jones.)
An universal revival of religion
I. The essential prerequisites. Four prerequisites or preparatories for an universal revival of genuine religion.
1. There must be truthfulness in speech. “These are the things which ye shall do, Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour.” Truthful speech is somewhat rare in all social Circles, and in all departments of life. Fallacious statements abound in markets, senates, courts, and even families. Truthful speaking involves two things--
(1) Sincerity. To speak a true thing insincerely is not to speak truthfully. A man must conscientiously believe that what he speaks is true, before he can be credited with veracity. Truthful speaking involves--
(2) Accuracy. A man may speak with sincerity, and yet from ignorance or mistake may not speak according to fact; and unless he speaks according to fact he can scarcely be said to speak truthfully. His speech unintentionally conveys falsehood. Hence truthful speaking requires a strong sense of right, and an adequate acquaintance with the subjects of the speech.
2. There must be rectitude in conduct. “Execute the Judgment of truth and peace in your gates.” In the East the courts of justice were held at the gates of the city; and perhaps the primary reference here is to the pronouncing of judgment on cases that were righteous and tended to peace. But rectitude of life is even more important and urgent than rectitude in judg ment.
3. There must be benevolence in feeling. “Let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour.” We must not only keep our hands from evil, but we must watch over our hearts, that they imagine not any evil against our neighbor.
4. There must be abhorrence of falsehood. “Love no false oath.”
II. The signal manifestations. It is suggested that where these prerequisites are found, i.e. where a revival takes place, three things are manifest.
1. An increased pleasure in religious ordinances. “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; the fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth , and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts.” “The fast of the fourth month was on account of the taking of Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 39:2; Jeremiah 52:5-7); that of the tenth was in commemoration of the commencement of the siege (Jeremiah 52:4). The Jews are distinctly informed that these fasts should be turned into festivals of joy.”--Henderson. The first sign of a true revival of religion in an individual or a community is a new and happy interest in the ordinances of religion. Another sign is--
2. A deep practical concern for the spiritual interests of the race. “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; It shall yet come to pass that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts: I will go also.” There will be a mutual excitation amongst the people to seek the one true and living God. “Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord.” “Speedily,” there is no time to be lost; religion is for all, and for all an urgent duty. Another sign is--
3. An universal “desire” to be identified with the people of God. “In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men--a definite number for an indefinite multitude, indicating many rather than a few--shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew.” Conclusion--When will this universal revival of religion take place? The signs are scarcely visible anywhere. We can only hasten it by attending to the prerequisites. (Homilist.)
Lying and false oath
s:--Honesty and policy cannot live in the same heart. Who can make anything of the liar? He is the worst of all men. He has lost the higher qualities of manhood, yet the base deceiver can shudder when he sees a poor drunken man who may be a saint compared with himself. The liar cannot be converted, unless it be by the whole force of the Deity. He is hollow, he has killed his conscience, he has sold his honour. Never allow a liar to come into your house. The liar is a composite sinner; he sins all round, or would sin in any direction and every direction if it would serve his purpose so to do. Have faith in every man that loves truth. Though he fall seven times a day he shall stand at eventide. Any sins that lie along the line of passion are nothing as compared with sins of deliberation, plan, scheme, thoroughly wrought out, purposed. I have known many a soul overborne by gusts from the bottomless pit, not wanting moral beauty and fine quality, but I have never known a liar that was worth being touched by the point of the longest instrument ever fashioned by human hands. Lying is so subtle, too. It is not vulgar deception in all cases. There is a falsehood that is calculation, a very fine process of putting things together and totalling them up into certain results and considering whether those results are worth realising. Lying may be speechless. It is a mistake to say that lies are always “told”: lies are acted, lies are suggested, lies are inferential. Christ came to give us the spirit of truth. Truth is a spirit. It is not a mere way of stating facts. A man may contradict himself in his statement of facts and be true at the soul. Verbal discrepancies are nothing: the meaning of the heart is everything. When an honest soul corrects itself there’s nobility in the very act of self-correction; you see the candour, you appreciate the withdrawal or the addition or the modification of former statements, as the case may be. A truthful man never thinks of his own consistency; a truthful man cannot be inconsistent. So called inconsistency in his case is accidental, superficial, transient, explicable. The man’s consistency is in his soul: what he means to be, that he is. Of all liars perhaps the young liar is the worst. It ought not so to be. The boy, the young man, should not lie. He should be so heroic and fearless as even to blurt out the truth when he does not tell it in sequential order. It should not occur to his young soul to falsify. Yet if one were to write the history of young hearts in any family and in any city, society could not live; we would fly away from one another as men fly from suddenly disclosed serpents. “Love no false oath,” saith the text. “False oath”--what ironies there are in expression I “False balance”--what an affront to geometry! “False oath”--what an offence to righteousness! “False prophet”--what a shock to the spirit of the sanctuary! “False brethren”--who can live? The Bible grows upon our conscience and our whole moral nature by the sublimity of its criticisms and the loftiness of its spiritual appeals. The Bible will have truth everywhere, because it will first have truth in the soul. Do not treat the symptoms of your case: get at the radical disease. It is poor curing that is done by mere plasters. Only the cure that starts from the centre and works out towards the circumference brings with it summer redness to the cheek, summer brightness to the eyes. God condemns sin and all evil things in detail because they are ruinous to the man. They are spoiling the work of God’s hands, they are overturning the purpose of God’s heart. The sinner is a suicide. “He that sinneth against Me,” saith the Scripture, “wrongeth his own soul.” Think of a man committing plunder upon his own nature, stealing from himself every element that makes him a man! I have known liars that succeeded for a few months; I have before my mind at this moment three liars, all under five-and-twenty years of age, who lied and robbed and did evil with both hands, and tonight they are refuse; they are avoided by all who know the rottenness and pestilence of their character. Thus sin takes a man down line by line, faculty by faculty. Sin sucks the Divine juice out of a man. You cannot allow one evil thought to pass through your sensitive brain without leaving that brain weaker and poorer. The temptation came and left ruin behind. The temptation itself is not sin unless it is yielded to, but if the temptation have hospitality one moment in the brain it takes off some fine film, some subtle veil through which the brain saw somewhat of God. The poet can drink himself into idiocy; the genius, the master magician of words, can so treat his body that his soul will not think for him. It will give up and abandon the altar where once it burned. God sees therefore that sin ruins the man. The sinner himself goes down. The things are not only hateful to God, they are ruinous to the people who practise them. You cannot over eat yourself, and pray; you cannot soak your body in evil liquids, and then sing, you can sound the notes, but the subtle, spiritual, Divine music is gone. When fire has left the altar what is the altar? (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Therefore love the truth and peace
The love of the truth
This solemn admonition may seem to derive additional weight from the consideration that it is almost the concluding message which the prophet Zechariah delivered to his countrymen.
(Probably only the first eight chapters were written by Zechariah.) The admonition was well suited to the particular condition of the Jews at that time. The warning is even more applicable to us, baptized Christians. As Christians it is expected of us that we should “love the truth and peace.” Attend especially to the love for religious truth. Many take for granted that it signifies little whether they embrace the truth or not. Religion is not a matter which comes much into their thoughts. It is a common sentiment, that if a person is but sincere in his religion, it signifies little what that religion is, true or false; if he is but sincere and in earnest, he is, they think, equally acceptable in the sight of God. Others cannot be said to “love the truth,” in that they do not put their hearts and minds to it, but satisfy themselves with shallow and imperfect views on the greatest and most concerning of all subjects.
1. Those who have no care for religious truth. It is a dictate not merely of religion, but even of natural piety and common sense, that we should make such inquiry as we can into the truth of our spiritual condition.
2. Those who think sincerity sufficient. Persons who think one belief is as good as another, strike at the very foundations of all religious truth.
3. Those who do not put their minds and hearts to the truth. Their religion, though good so far as it goes, is yet of a very shallow and imperfect character. Let not serious and thoughtful minds be frightened at the name of bigotry, or any other term of reproach, but steadily cherish in themselves a substantial love of God’s holy truth, always remembering that the truth will stand, and nothing else will. There is a good kind of bigotry, when we resolve to stand firm on faith and obedience, in faith relying on God’s Word, and in obedience on His will, however made known to us. (Sermons by Contrib. “Tracts for the Times. ”)
Love to the truth and peace
Unperverted love is one of the noblest, most useful, and comprehensive affections of the heart. Essential to the moral nature of man, it is, as refined by the energies of the Spirit, and suitably exercised, the fulfilling of the law, the sum of religion, and our assimilation to the God of love. No arguments can be necessary to prove that truth is better than error, and peace than contention. In order that the returned captives might at once express their gratitude for the past, and insure continued and increasing prosperity, the prophet delivers the injunction in the text, “Therefore love the truth and peace.” It is not restrictively the truth of judgment, nor the speaking of truth between man and man, but religious truth in general, or the mind and will of God made known to them in the law and by the prophets, which the house of Jacob are here required to love: and therefore, agreeably to the economy under which she is placed, the truth to be loved by the Christian Church is the entire system of evangelical doctrine, or “the truth as it is in Jesus.” The peace which is to be loved in conjunction with the truth, is that good understanding and spirit of conciliation, which ought to characterise the embodied friends of religion.
I. Truth and peace are subjects of high importance in themselves and to the Church of Christ. That evangelical truth is highly important, and ought to be dearly valued, will be conceded by all, the moment we think of it as God’s revealed will to men for salvation. With the true knowledge of it, eternal life is closely, inseparably connected. In a general view, it is the only appointed and approved means of the world’s moral transformation. To the individual believing sinner, it is the blessed instrument of his illumination and progressive sanctity. An accurate comparison of it with truth of every other kind would only serve to establish its glorious superiority. We learn the unspeakable value of the truth from the wonderful concern that the God of truth Himself has had and uniformly manifested about it. The supereminent importance of evangelical truth might be demonstrated from the evil nature, the ruinous consequences of error. But, in connection with truth, peace also is of high importance in itself and in the Church. Peace of any kind, and particularly peace in the household of faith, if built upon right principles, will be dearly valued by every wise and good mind. In proportion as the friends of religion live peaceably among them selves, they are just what it becomes them to be. Peace of the right kind has a most benign influence on the spiritual interests of the Church.
II. It may be the attainment of the Church to have the possession of the truth and peace at the same time. Absolutely, or without any exception, this has rarely or ever been. Still in some happy degree it may be the attainment of the Church in her aggregate state Christendom, it must be confessed, furnishes at present no very favourable specimen of the point in hand. But this neither disproves our position, nor forbids the hope that it shall yet be realised.
III. Though both are very precious, truth is yet entitled to the first and preeminent consideration of the Church. Rightly do we associate truth with the very idea of the Church. We cannot think of what the Church owes to the truth, and not insist that, next to its Divine Author, it merits her first consideration. To it she owes her very existence. In forming, however, a comparative estimate between truth and peace, it would not be right to exalt truth at the expense of peace. Everything bland in language, and courteous in demeanour--everything comprised in the meekness of wisdom and the gentleness of Christ--every attainable degree of patience and candour in research--these and a thousand other things are to be offered, and willingly offered, at the shrine of holy concord. It is possible to give away too much, even for precious peace. Such a case would occur if amity were purchased by the surrender of any saving truth. For the sake of internal tranquillity, the Church may and ought to give away much of her own; but she has no right to barter the truth of God for peace with man. On the other hand, however, so inestimably precious is truth, that more than its worth cannot be given for it. Such views are, indeed, in letter and spirit at variance with a given species of modern liberality.
IV. The best and surest peace in the Church is that which has truth for its foundation. The precedence of truth is not a mere arbitrary, but, if we would enjoy true peace, a necessary distinction. Truth is as essential to the being of peace as the cause to the effect, and must precede it, as the foundation must be laid before the superstructure.
V. The great things which the Lord hath done for the Church, or engages to do, lay her under sacred obligations to love the truth and peace. Obviously the text assumes the form of deduction. Learn from this subject--
1. The moral nature of the true glory of the Church.
2. That genuine love to the truth and peace would be a presage of good to the Church.
3. That the ministers of religion have a most honourable and delightful employ. In a ministerial sense, peace makers between God and man, and so also between man and man. Our vocation gives scope to all our powers and our unwearied exertions.
4. This subject gives us right to insist that the members of our association should be, without exception, the sincere and ardent lovers of truth and peace. (Robert Muter, D. D.)
On reading works of fiction
When the use and fiction is so general, it would be of little avail to speak against it. God has made the imagination part of our nature for wise purposes, no doubt; and so long as those purposes are ascertained and kept in view, there cannot be much danger. The mind cannot be always on the stretch. If fiction is occasionally used to refresh weary powers, to lift up into the world of fancy for a time, one who is tired of walking on the dusty road of existence, such an indulgence is not to be blamed; nor is it inconsistent with that love of truth which is essential to the mind of a man as well as the character of a Christian. But there is danger of excess in this indulgence; these luxuries cannot be the daily bread of the mind. The effect of these fictions on the mind exactly resembles the effect of rich and stimulating food on the body. That caution is necessary may be seen from the tendency of this taste for fiction to become excessive and engrossing. And fact proves it to be an unhealthy taste, and one which cannot be indulged without injury to the mind. There is no danger that the taste for reading true history will ever become excessive:--it is healthy in itself, and indicates right action in the mind. The taste for fiction dislodges and removes better tastes from the mind. Let your taste for fiction be so much indulged that you can no longer relish reading for improvement, and the injury is done; the mind is no longer healthy. There is another danger, arising from the fact, that the mind is passive, perfectly passive, in this kind of reading. In reading for improvement the mind is active. In reading for ammusement the mind is not in action. It originates no trains of thought; it gains no new strength, nor power of action; but, on the contrary, subsides into a luxurious, dreamy state, very much resembling that produced by narcotics, and which, fascinating though it is, destroys all moral and intellectual energy, and makes self-indulgence the ruling principle within. There is little force in the common saying, that good moral instruction can be given in a fictitious form. Nobody doubts this; but there is another question, Can such instruction be taken in a fictitious form? Emotions which do not lead to action grow less and less every time they are repeated. Tears are shed, as usual, for they cost nothing, but the heart grows cold. Fictions only produce a fictitious benevolence. A reader of fiction becomes the sure victim of the immoral and unprincipled author whom he reads. His moral and religious sensibility will be impaired. Of course all writers of fiction are not immoral. If there are not many writers of this description, if the majority are of a higher order, still the very best of them will do injury, because they will create a taste for fiction which can only be fed by fiction. When the works of the best writers are exhausted, the reader will resort to others less worthy; he will not perceive the degenerating change that goes on within him; he will not be conscious that his moral sense is dead and all his soul in ruins. This unconsciousness of danger is one of the most fearful things in all diseases of the mind and heart. If any one would know the signs of danger, I say, that if he has lost the taste, or never formed the taste for reading for improvement, there is injury already done. If he finds that it gives him no pleasure to exert his powers, that improvement alone has no attractions, that he turns to his fiction like the intemperate man to his glass, then the charge, “Love the truth,” should be a serious sound to him. It reminds him of a perverted taste, of a neglected duty; and of a change, too, which must be made before the purposes of life can be fulfilled. (W. B. O. Peabody, D. D.)
Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord
Nations meeting for prayer
A scene like this has never yet been witnessed upon the earth.
The prophecy was partially fulfilled when, from the time of the rebuilding of the temple to the coming of the Saviour, a more than usual number of Gentile proselytes from the nations around sought admission into the Jewish Church, and attended the annual festivals.
I. The object of this gathering of the nations. “To pray.” The time is coming when the nations will crowd to the feast of devotion. The result of the awakening of the nations will be a universal movement for concentrated prayer.
II. The universality of this gathering of the nations for prayer. They are described as many cities, strong nations, and all languages. Isaiah, wrapt in the vision of the future, beholds all the tribes of mankind, instigated by one common and irresistible impulse, flocking along the road to Zion, panting to be within its holy walls, and to pour out their prayers in her courts.
III. The promptitude of their decision. This heaven-originated movement for universal prayer will be felt to be a matter demanding immediate attention. “Let us go speedily.” When the Spirit is poured out from on high, all the speed and promptitude with which men pursue inferior ends will be consecrated to religion. Universal man will feel it his first duty to serve God.
IV. The personal character of this movement. No mighty movement takes place among masses of mankind until individuals have been moved. The world is but the aggregate of single individuals. Every individual must act his part. If men smother the enkindled fires of ardent devotion in their own breasts, till they see the zeal of others manifested, that day of prayer for all nations will never dawn. Every man is to invite to prayer, and at the same time resolve for himself. Then seek to be distinguished as a devotional Christian--a man of prayer. Then you will seek the society of men like-minded with yourself, and thus the holy flame will be borne onward, till every soul is enkindled, the Church revived, and the world saved. (Evangelical Preacher.)
God everywhere for those who seek Him
1. We are here reminded of our high and distinguishing privileges, as subjects of the Christian economy, in relation to the outward institutions of religion, and all that is commanded in the worship and service of God. When we would offer our devotions in His presence, we need no longer travel from one city to another, ascending to the house of the Lord. Wherever we seek Him, He is equally near, and equally accessible. Great and important purposes were once attained by the selection of a definite abode, wherein to place the sensible demonstrations of His majesty. It was in accordance with the infantile condition of the human mind on the great subject of religion. It repressed the tendency to mingle with the idol worship of the surrounding nations. It secured the permanency of the ordinances of the true God, till the coming of Messiah. By the final cessation of such services, soon after the death of Jesus, it marked that the Messiah had appeared, that the fulness of the times had been accomplished.
2. We are led to reflect upon that singular and elevated relation we now personally sustain to Him who was once known and worshipped only under the appellation of the God of Abraham. We have come to the family and household of the saints. This incorporation of the idolatrous heathen with the seed of the promise--this accession of the Gentiles to the Church--while it presents a subject of gratitude and wonder, is fitted also to expand our sentiments and to confirm our faith; and it leads us to anticipate a day when the Gospel shall universally prevail.
3. An interesting and attractive picture of a period of spiritual prosperity.
(1) The period thus described is marked by the diffusion of the spirit of prayer.
(2) Under the aspect of unity and mutual cooperation.
(3) Signalised by the prevalence of activity, energy, and zeal. “Let us go speedily. Let us go to seek the Lord of hosts.”
(4) The last characteristic of the period so depicted is the inseparable and intimate connection of all its other features with the decisiveness of individual piety. “I will go also.”
4. Apply these reflections to purposes of immediate and practical utility. (R. S. M’All, LL. D.)
Spiritual prosperity described
The text is part of the answer given to the question asked in Zechariah 7:2-3.
1. There are many false notions abroad respecting religious prosperity--crowded Churches--forms in the aisles--full exchequer; such things are taken by some as a sure sign of a Church’s vitality. Flying here and there--doing this, that, and the other in three minutes, and making a great noise, are looked upon by some as signs of saintship, and indications of true religious prosperity. And they may be, but not necessarily so; because outward manifestation is not always a sign of true strength. But we have true signs, unmistakable signs, described in the text.
I. Delight in prayer. “Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord.”
1. Thus there is a gathering together. It is a regular prayer meeting, and it is in answer to united prayer that blessings come. Illustrations: Day of Pentecost. Liberation of Peter. And it is only when Churches feel the importance of this that a true revival comes.
2. Not only must we pray, hut we must seek the Lord as well--give God no rest until He answers prayer.
II. Harmony and cooperation. “And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying,” etc. When will the different Churches of the different denominations learn the importance of united prayer? When shall we have done with our little differences and distinctions, and kneel as one family round the throne? God speed the day.
III. A spirit of zeal. “Let us go speedily.”
1. There will be no lagging behind. It is not, Let us have a prayer meeting tomorrow; let us turn unto the Lord soon; but, Let us do it now.
IV. Personal dedication. “I will go also.”
1. It is no uncommon thing for people to ask others to do what they don’t like to engage in themselves. How inspiring it is to hear the exhortation, “Do this, and I will do it, too” “You go and pray before the Lord; I will accompany you.” When this spirit is actuating the members of a Church, the result will be surely seen--in the earnestness and goodwill which exist--sinners saved--church roll increasing--joy in heaven--comment of the world. “Behold how good and pleasant a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” (Christian World Pulpit.)
Suggesting the benefits of a spiritual revival.
1. That the possession of religious life awakens interest in others. “And the inhabitants, etc., shall go,” etc.
2. That a revived religious life sets value on prayer. “Let us go to pray before the Lord.”
3. This revived life realises the importance and value of time. “Let us go speedily.”
4. Revived life constrains us to seek companionship. “Let us go.” Christians are gregarious.
5. Revived spiritual life ensures a powerful influence over our companions. They said, “We will go with you.” (J. H. Snell.)
We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you
A wise and good resolution
The kingdom of God was to be no longer confined to one nation or people; but multitudes in different climates, and the most distant parts of the earth, should submit to Christ as their ruler, and trust Him as their Saviour.
The term “Jew” in this connection is descriptive of character rather than of person, and is to be understood of any one who is an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile; any humble and sincere believer, who adorns the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. In the days here predicted such characters shall be highly esteemed.
I. The resolution--“We will go with you.” This language implies--
1. Approbation and affectionate regard. When grace opens the eyes of a sinner, and takes possession of his heart, those persons and things are contemplated with delight, which before were the objects of aversion and scorn.
2. Earnest desire and a holy determination, is permitted, to associate with the people of God. The same disposition of mind which causes us to cleave to the Lord makes us of one heart with His people.
3. It implies an union of interests as well as of affection. True religion teaches us to renounce all other interests and attachments, to forsake our own people and our father’s house, and cast in our lot with the people of God.
4. A holy ambition to learn of the people of God and to imitate their example. Congeniality of sentiment and feeling is the foundation of religious union, and where that union subsists there will be a desire after a nearer assimilation.
5. Fellowship and communion in Gospel worship and discipline are also included. To those who properly consult their own interest and the glory of God, fellowship with the saints will not only be an article of faith, but an object of fervent desire. One of the ancient fathers thought it a greater honour to be the member of a Christian Church than head of the Roman Empire. This will not only contribute to our safety, by providing a defence against apostasy, but also to our comfort and usefulness; for communion with the saints is oftentimes a step towards communion with God.
II. The ground of the resolution. “For we have heard that God is with you.” We have heard from the Divine Word, wherein this blessing is promised and declared. We have heard it from yourselves. You have acknowledged His protection and the consolation arising from the Divine presence. We have heard it from others, who observed how your faces shone when you came down from the mount. God is naturally and necessarily present with all His creatures; but He is in a gracious and special manner present with His own people. He draws near and manifests Himself unto them as He does not unto the world. They experience the care of His providence, and enjoy the smiles of His Countenance. He walks with them through the wilderness, He communes with them by the way, He puts His everlasting arms underneath them, and they doubt not of their interest in His favour. Then they can glory in tribulation, bid defiance to the powers of darkness, and look death in the face without fear. We may hence learn--
1. That seclusion from all society is neither the Christian’s duty nor his privilege.
2. As the presence of God with His people is the principal inducement for others to join themselves to their society, how solicitous should they be to improve this sacred privilege, by seeking much communion with God. The ways of Zion would not So often mourn, if Zion’s God were more frequently in the midst of her. When primitive believers were edified, walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, the Churches were greatly multiplied (Acts 9:31).
3. Young converts will learn from hence that it is their duty to unite in Christian society, when the Word and ordinances are faithfully administered. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
I. The attractors. They are called Jews. Generally a very despised people. Were all the countries to come to learn of them? Yes, to learn of them the knowledge of “Him whom to know is life eternal.” Jesus Christ, His disciples, the writers of the New Testament, etc., were all Jews. The word Jew is not used here so as to distinguish Israelites from Gentiles, so much as saints from sinners; the Church of God, whose members may be derived from any nation, as they may live in any period.
II. The subjects of this attraction. “Ten men,” etc. This marks the number and also the variety of the proselytes or converts. It means simply a large and not a definite number. Among the Jews ten was the number of perfection. When they would render a number countless, they did it by attaching the word ten. By the ignorance of some, and the sneers of others, and the bigotry of still more, the people of God are now often improperly diminished. If there be a sense in which they may be considered a few, there is a sense also in which they are many, very many. A time is coming when a “nation shall be born in a day.” Whatever croakers may think or do, there are better days for the world before us, than the world has ever yet seen. Variety is indicated as well as number. “Out of the languages of the nations.” The Jewish religion, though of Divine origin, never could, in the nature of things, have become a general or universal religion. There is nothing in Christianity that is local, nothing that is restrictive. It regards man, not so much circumstantially considered, as essentially. It regards man in his grand wants. The Gospel provides for the whole of these wants.
III. The grounds of the attraction. The Divine presence. As to His essential presence God is with all His creatures. God’s presence in the Way of promise or privilege means something distinguishable from the perfection of His nature. God is surely with such persons as He was not once; surely He is with such persons as these, as He is not now with others.
IV. The medium of this attraction. It is the knowledge of their state and privilege. Nothing can affect us unless it be known. Though others may make known their religion, they must principally make it known themselves; and for this purpose they must not only be religious, but they must appear religious. Never be ashamed of your religion. If you have any religion, it will not be easy to conceal it; it will break out some way or other. Repentance will get into the eye, and be seen in tears. Meekness will sit in a man’s face, and smile like a fine morning in May. It is not easy to restrain powerful emotion. Practically make known your religion to others: actions speak louder than words. Let your tempers tell; let your humility under applause tell; let your liberality with growing wealth tell; let your patience under affliction tell; let your readiness to forgive injuries tell. Let all these tell whose you are, what you are, whence you are born, and whither you are bound.
V. The effect of the attraction. Knowledge is necessary to influence, but all knowledge is not influential. Uninfluential knowledge is worse than none. The knowledge of these people was effective; it constrained them to “lay hold,” etc. This is a simple and striking expression. It reminds of the little child pulling at his mother’s clothes. Man is a social creature as soon as he comes under the power of religion: the social principle will be sanctified as well as other things; and the man will now be able easily enough (though you could not pull him away before) to give up the scenes of vice and vanity. Conclusion--
1. See what it is that makes people valuable, and which should render them interesting and inviting to us.
2. Think of those who, instead of feeling the Divine presence an attraction, feel it to be a repulsion.
3. If such advantages are derivable from connection with the pious, be you concerned to obtain union with them.
4. Let your religion be not only impressive but attractive. Some professors have so much of the repulsive about them that it is not likely any person will ever “take hold of their skirts, saying, We will go with you.” Whitfield says, “God lives with some that I should not live with, and that I could not live with.” (William Jay.)
Our obligations to the Jews
So far from joining in the illiberal scorn, too generally poured by men, called Christians, on the dispersed Jews, I feel for them as I should for a father, who had, indeed, disgraced himself, and whose conduct could not even be palliated; but who, after all, was still a father.
I. Explain and illustrate this wonderful prophecy. The God of the Jews, long unknown, except to that obscure and oppressed people, is now the professed object of worship throughout the mightiest and most distinguished nations in the world! This is a fact which cannot be denied or doubted. Such an extraordinary revolution has taken place; and the prophecy of our text was suited to excite the expectation of it. But in what way, and by what means and instruments was it effected? Unless these also accord with the prediction, the fulfilment must be allowed to be imperfect and dubious. From the text we see that whatever means should be employed by the Jews, compulsion was not one of them; the conduct of the persons concerned was perfectly voluntary and the effect of conviction. Even the persuasion and fascination of oratory, as separated from the conviction of the understanding and conscience, producing the outward profession, would not be an unequivocal completion of the prophecy. The instances of Gentiles converted to Judaism, before the coming of Christ, can by no means be considered as fulfilling this prophecy. But reflect on the events which followed the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of our Divine Redeemer, the “Light of the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel.” Not only did the apostles, and especially the great apostle of the Gentiles, attract the attention of immense multitudes among the heathen, by faithful preaching; by stupendous miracles, as benevolent as powerful; by a holy example; by patient sufferings, “not counting their lives dear unto themselves”; and by indefatigable labours, without any other recompense from man than additional sufferings; not only did evangelists and subordinate ministers prosper, but Jews, converted to Christianity, though not ministers, though obscure in station and of slender abilities, by an union of universal conscientiousness, cheerfulness in poverty, patience under persecution and in the most distressing circumstances, and meekness, with persevering benevolence, amidst all manner of provocations and injuries, won over multitudes of the idolaters to “go with them.” At what other time, or in what other way, has this prophecy been actually fulfilled?
II. The accomplishment of the prophecy has laid us under obligations to the Jews which exceed all calculation. We “owe even our own selves” to the Jews; in addition to the common debt of goodwill, and compassion, and liberal, active love, which we owe to men in general. Shall we then make only feeble and heartless exertions, where the salvation of the Jewish people is concerned?
III. A still more signal fulfilment of the prophecy in the text will most certainly take place, and at no very remote period. In the final event the nation of Israel shall be restored from their dispersions, placed under the government of their promised Messiah, and (as far as I can judge) reinstated in their own land. (Thomas Scott.)
Purpose of God regarding the Jews
Curious inquiry into the future, and confident prediction as to times and seasons, are both to be eschewed. The former is unprofitable; the latter is most presumptuous. But we must not run from one extreme to another. It is as much our duty now to “discern this time,” as it was the duty in our Lord’s day to discern that time. We ought to look behind us, before us, and anticipate the next act of the world’s mighty drama. The dispensation of Gentile mercy has now lasted for nearly 2000 years. But it is not designed to be eternal. We have plainly laid down for us in Holy Scripture the signs which shall mark its closing in, when God shall turn Himself to the Jew again. And we are as much bound to look at these signs now as the Jew was in his day. These signs are four in number. Two given by our Lord Himself, and two by the prophet Daniel.
1. “This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14). Our Lord’s second sign is a painful one. “Iniquity shall abound” (Matthew 24:12). Daniel’s first sign is, “Many shall run to and fro.” His second is like unto it. “Knowledge shall be increased,” Let us look around us, behind us, before us; do we see anything like the fulfilment of these predicted signs? He must be blind indeed who does not see the first sign advancing rapidly to its fulfilment, in the Gospel of the kingdom published to all nations. There are now afloat in the world about two hundred million copies, of a translated Bible. This enormous circulation is seconded by corresponding preaching. But the world is not yet converted? No, for Christ’s sign is not its conversion, but His Gospel preached as a witness. The Christian Church is now gathering the first fruits of the earth. Everyone has the fulfilment before him of Daniel’s sign, “Many shall run to and fro.” In this the prophet gives us exactly the characteristic of the present age. Daniel’s second sign is equally manifest in our time. It is the amazing progress of science which has enabled us to avail ourselves of the powers of nature. With all this running to and fro, and all this advance of knowledge, is the world to go on improving in its spiritual and moral character? Our Lord’s last sign, “iniquity shall abound,” affirms the contrary, And His apostle explains in detail the meaning of His Master’s words (2 Timothy 3:1-4). There are too many signs that these perilous times are already upon us. Never in the experience of civilised Christendom has crime been so audacious as now. As the times of the Gentiles seem closing in, the Jew is coming again into prominence. May we then expect that the Jew will come up once more as a nation, to act his part in the world’s great drama? Distinguished expositors tell us that the prophecies respecting the Jews have all been fulfilled in the past, and no prophecy whatever respects the Jews in the future. When were the solemn words of the text fulfilled? Judah returned from Babylon, indeed, but it was to remain in the midst of the nations, a humbled and despised people. But they shall be fulfilled when, in the words of St. Paul, the Jews shall be as life from the dead to the nations of the earth, and a world’s love and gratitude and devotion shall be their spontaneous and most abundant recompense. (William Tait, D. D.)
Uniting with God’s people
The passage seems primarily to refer to the general conversion of Gentile nations. We consider the text as it may apply to those who, having been awakened to a sense of their ruined condition, resolve to consecrate themselves to God and His people.
I. What is implied in God being with His people?
1. God’s essential presence is everywhere.
2. God’s glorious presence is in heaven.
3. His terrible presence is felt in the abodes of the lost.
4. His providential presence is seen in the government and regulation of the world.
5. His presence referred to in the text is His gracious presence.
He is with His Church in the exercise of His love and favour. As their Head, Friend, Prophet, Mediator, and King.
II. The evidences of God’s presence. External splendour, great wealth, a multitude of members, are not evidence.
1. Scriptural doctrine is an evidence.
2. So is purity of ordinances.
3. So is brotherly love.
4. When Divine changes are produced in the power of the Gospel.
5. When the reproach of the Cross is endured.
III. The influence the presence of God in the Church shall produce on those who are without. “We will go with you,” etc. This resolution implies--
1. Dissatisfaction with their present condition.
2. Earnest desire to be united with God’s people. (J. Burns.)
The supernatural in religion
By supernatural is meant that which is above nature, above and beyond what natural causes, coupled with human agency, might produce. The reason why effort is made to take the supernatural out of religion is that already God is taken out of the universe. Having already taken an intelligent, reasoning, personal God out of the universe, as a matter of course everything supernatural must come out of the Bible, and out of the character of the Lord Jesus Christ; and there is nothing anywhere above nature, and above the power of human agency. This is the philosophy--this is the religion that modern rationalism proposes to give to mankind. But in taking all that is supernatural out of religion, it takes away religion itself. The supernatural may be predicated of religion in two distinct senses.
1. Historical. Every system of religion that has claimed the assent of the human mind, and the acceptance of the human heart, has claimed a supernatural origin. This claim arises out of a law of mind. The effect must be in harmony with the cause. The supernatural of the Christian religion is evinced in the two great branches of evidence--miracles and prophecy.
2. Another depart in religion is more important. Its intrinsic character as it now is. All that is supernatural in religion, whether it be considered historically or intrinsically, arises out of the being or presence of God in it, or with it. If there is a God He may surely do that which is above nature itself; for if He created all things, that act of creation was something above nature. God is the author of nature, the author of its laws, and of its being. The great underlying cause of the supernatural, historically and intrinsically in religion, is, God present with His people. The idea of the Divine coming down to mankind and communing with men runs through every form of religion. If there be a God, He is somewhere, in some relationship; He is with or without the power of fellowship. If He be without it, He is below the lowest living creatures He has made. If He be with it, He is above all. He can speak to an archangel; He can speak to my heart. There is only one possible reason why God should withdraw Himself from men, and that reason is sin. God’s presence among His people will be manifested, will assert itself.
There are several ways in which the presence of God among His people indicates itself.
1. In the superior knowledge of God that prevails among His people. How come we to have a more accurate knowledge of God than the pagan nations?
2. There is an indication of God’s presence among His people in their superior, intellectual, moral, and religious condition. Compare Christian and pagan nations in this regard.
3. There is a manifestation of God’s presence with His people in the direct impression that is made upon the consciousness of men. In the olden time, God revealed Himself under visible forms. God has been educating the race away from its dependence on the senses. Our Lord Jesus Christ formed a point of transition. Now, there is a manifestation of God to the human consciousness, so that when God comes into my soul I can recognise Him, and know that it is God who is coming in.
4. God’s presence among His people is manifested in the works of power accomplished. “No man can do these miracles which Thou doest, except God be with Him.”
5. God manifests His presence and power in the singular experience that He gives to human souls. Take as a practical lesson from this subject, that our greatest need is God, God in Jesus Christ, God by the Holy Ghost dwelling within us, shining out of the eye and out of the life, and God living in us, so that we form part of the Divine life, so that it shall shine out of us. O for the presence of God to be more and more distinctly apprehended among His people. (Dr. Kynett.)
Admission of the Gentiles
The form of this prophecy is highly dramatic. The scope of it is to predict the introduction of the Gentiles into the theocracy, and the consequent enlargement of the Church. This is described by a bold and beautiful personification. To seize the hem of the garment is a gesture of earnestness, importunity, and perseverance, which is emphatic were it done by only a single person, but when done by ten persons, it becomes significant of an intensity of anxiety, and a depth of conviction, of the very highest grade. When this prediction was uttered nothing seemed more hopelessly improbable than its fulfilment. The Jews were a poor, despised, obscure tribe in the heart of Syria, whose existence was only known to the mighty world by their furnishing a trophy to the victorious arms of Babylon. Greece was just rising in the firmament of human history, and as she ascended to her brilliant zenith, her track was marked by the sweeping of the phalanxes of Alexander, and the legions of Antiochus, over the hills and valleys of Judea. And yet this prophecy remained unfulfilled. At length the time arrived, and there came to Jerusalem men out of every nation under heaven”; see Acts 2:1-47. Learn, that all true piety is instinct with the missionary spirit, desire for the salvation of others. (T. V. Moore, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Zechariah 8". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25