Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
GOD'S COMPLAINT AGAINST US
Amos 2:13. Behold, I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves.
THE effect of long-continued provocations is to weary out our patience. Some few occasional offences we can easily forgive: but when they are repeated from time to time, they gall the mind, and produce considerable irritation, and stir us up, either by word or deed, to avenge ourselves. Something of this kind is represented as passing in the mind of God. We must not indeed conceive of him as if he had the same passions with ourselves; but yet he will so suit his dispensations to our conduct, that they shall bear the stamp of retributive justice, and accord, in a measure, with what is produced in the world by human passions. Hence he speaks of himself after the manner of men, in order to accommodate himself to our weak and carnal apprehensions: and, having told his people how greatly their transgressions had been multiplied against him, he declares, as one whose patience was quite exhausted, that he was "pressed under them, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves."
Let us consider,
I. What reason God has for this complaint against us—
We need not enter minutely into the particular accusations brought against the Israelites of old: in a general view, they may be reduced to three; which may with equal justice be laid to our charge:
1. Our disregard of his laws—
God had given his people laws, which they violated without remorse Compare verse 6–8 with 2 Chronicles 19:6-7. 1 Kings 21:3-4. Leviticus 18:8; Leviticus 18:15. Exodus 22:26. And has he not prescribed the moral law as the rule of our conduct? and is it not in all respects "holy, and just, and good?" Yet how have we obeyed it? Have we studied it with a view to find out the will of God? Have we been restrained and regulated by it as far as we knew it? Have we not, on the contrary, transgressed it in ten thousand instances? Have we not been swayed by the considerations of our worldly honor and interest, more than by a regard to God's authority? Where our own will has stood in competition with God's, have we not been ready to say, like Pharaoh, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?"
Do we then suppose, that the Governor of the universe is indifferent about the observance of his laws? Or, if he be not, must he not be "fretted Ezekiel 16:43," "grieved Psalm 78:40," and "vexed Isaiah 63:10," with our rebellions, and even "broken with our whorish heart Ezekiel 6:9." Lot vexed his righteous soul from day to day, on account of what he saw and heard in Sodom 2 Peter 2:8; and must not He who is infinitely holy, and who sees all the iniquity in the world at one view, be overwhelmed, as it were, with grief and vexation at our iniquities? Surely the comparison in the text rather falls short of, than exceeds, the truth: for we have "drawn out iniquity as a cart rope Isaiah 5:18 with Bishop Lowth's note upon it," continually adding fresh materials, and protracting it, without intermission, to an unknown length; and therefore well may God complain, that "we have wearied him with our iniquities Isaiah 43:24," and that he is "pressed under us as an overloaded cart."
2. Our mindfulness of his mercies—
God particularly specifies the mercies he had given to Israel, which had only served to aggravate their guilt verse 9–11. And what innumerable mercies has he conferred on us! How has he formed us in the womb, and made us perfect in all our members; when we might have been hideous monsters, that could not endure the light of day! How has he furnished us with rational faculties, when many of our fellow-creatures are idiots, yes, less rational than the beasts! Above all, how has he endued us with an immortal soul, capable of knowing, serving, and enjoying God to all eternity! How has he kept us through the helpless years of infancy, and brought us in safety to the present hour; while thousands have never lived to receive instruction, or been cut off in the midst of their iniquities! Yet in what manner have we requited him for all his mercies? Have we blessed and adored and magnified him for all his love? Have we endeavored to improve our time and faculties in his service? Have not rather the multitude and continuance of his gifts been the occasion of our entirely forgetting the Donor?
Make this your own case. If you had a servant whom you were daily loading with benefits, and yet could never prevail upon him to testify the smallest sense of his obligations to you, would you not be wearied at last, and think it right to discard such a worthless person from your service? And do you imagine that your heavenly Benefactor is not grieved at your ingratitude? Hear how he complains of it; and judge for yourselves: "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me: the ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master's crib; but Israel does not know; my people do not consider Isaiah 1:2-3." "What could have been done more for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Why, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes Isaiah 5:4." Do these complaints argue no weariness on the part of God? Do they not manifest that he is "pressed under us beyond measure," and scarcely able to sustain any farther load? May we not soon expect him to say, "I am grieved with that generation; and swear in my wrath, that they shall never enter into my rest Psalm 95:10-11."
3. Our contempt of his blessed Gospel—
The summit of Israel's wickedness was that "they said to the prophets, Prophesy not verse 12. Now God has sent his prophets to us, to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation through a crucified Redeemer, and to declare that all who believed in that Savior should receive the Holy Spirit, as their Teacher, their Sanctifier, their Comforter Acts 2:38-39. But how have we received their message? Have we cordially embraced the Savior? Are we seeking yet daily and hourly the influences of the Holy Spirit? Are not many of us rather ready to despise the Gospel, and to dispute against its truths as over-righteous fancies and enthusiastic dreams? Do not even those who profess to embrace the Gospel, show by their lives how little they regard it in their hearts? And do not the very services which they present to God, provoke him to say, "Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them Isaiah 1:14." Is not such a contempt of his Gospel most painful to him, and most destructive to us Matthew 21:37-41. Hebrews 2:3; Hebrews 10:28-29.
See then the grounds of complaint which God has against us; and say whether the assiduity of harvest-men in loading their carts with the sheaves does not too much resemble us, who are thus incessantly loading God with our iniquities, until he can bear no more? Yes, we help and encourage each other in the work, as if we were afraid that we could not otherwise heap up upon him a sufficient load.
The manner in which this complaint is made, calls us especially to consider,
II. What reason we have to be deeply concerned about our state—
Wherever we see in Scripture the word, "Behold," we may be sure that there is something worthy of our most solemn attention. And well may that word be prefixed to the declaration in the text, since an accumulating of such a load of guilt is a "treasuring up of a proportionable weight of wrath Romans 2:5." Let three things then be considered by all who are thus offending God:
1. God is able to vindicate the honor of his injured majesty—
Survey the universe, and ask, Whether he who formed it out of nothing, be not able to avenge himself on such worms as we are? If that be not sufficient, cast an eye into the bottomless abyss of Hell, and ask, 'Who formed it? and, On what occasion? and, Who are the inhabitants of those dreary mansions?' Or, if you choose rather to see what notices of his power and wrath you can find on earth, ask of the antediluvians, and they shall tell you; or of the cities of the plain, and they shall warn you; or of the Jews, who are scattered over the face of the whole earth, as living monuments of his indignation. As God said to his people of old, "Go to my place, which was in Shiloh, and see what I did to it, for the wickedness of my people Israel Jeremiah 7:12;" so would I refer you to all these instances, that you may know what a God "you have to do with;" and that "him who walks in pride he is able to abase Daniel 4:37." If any doubt yet remain upon your mind, go and provide an answer to that question which Job put to his contentious friends; "God is wise in heart, and mighty in strength; who has hardened himself against him, and prospered Job 9:4."
2. As he is able, so is he determined, to avenge himself—
God has warned us plainly, that "the wicked shall be turned into Hell, and all the people that forget God Psalm 9:17." But this is not all. He is like a man bearing with indignities for a time, under a pleasing expectation, that the vengeance which he shall shortly execute upon his enemy shall be signal and complete. See with what firm determination he prepares himself for his vindictive work, "whetting his sword, bending his bow, and making ready the instruments of death Psalm 7:11-13;" and swearing most solemnly by his own life and perfections, that "as soon as he has whet his sword, he will render vengeance to his enemies, making his arrows drunk with their blood, and causing his sword to devour their flesh Deuteronomy 32:40-42." See with what pleasure he looks forward to that period, when, like a man who has thoroughly avenged himself, his wrath shall be pacified by the entire destruction of his foe! "I have set the point of my sword against them, that their heart may faint, and their ruins be multiplied: Ah! it is made bright, it is enrapt up for the slaughter Ezekiel 21:15-17." "Mine anger shall soon be accomplished on them, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted Ezekiel 5:13;" "So will I make my fury towards them to rest, and my jealousy shall depart from them, and I will be quiet, and be no more angry Ezekiel 16:42." Farther, see what delight he expresses when the time for vengeance is arrived! "Ah! I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of my enemies Isaiah 1:24;" "I will see what their end shall be; for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith Deuteronomy 32:20."
Should not such declarations as these appal us? Should they not convince us what "a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God?"
3. The time for retribution is fast approaching—
When the cart is already overladen with corn, the heaping of sheaves upon it must quickly cease. And when our God is already "pressed under us," so that he can scarcely sustain any further weight, we may be sure that "the measure of our iniquities is nearly full," and that the hour of vengeance draws near. Methinks, God is at this moment saying, in reference to us, "My Spirit shall not strive with them any more Genesis 6:3." "To me belongs vengeance and recompense: their foot shall slide in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste Deuteronomy 32:35." What a mercy is it that there is yet an hour's respite allowed us! How should we redeem the time! How should we avail ourselves of the present moment, to flee from the wrath to come! How should we tremble, lest the order should be already given, not to take us to the granary of Heaven, but to cast us into the flames of Hell!
"Behold" then, brethren! "behold," what a God you are offending, and in what danger you stand! One more sheaf perhaps may complete the load: and will you proceed to lay it on? O cease from your fatal work, and cry to your long-suffering God for mercy before it be too late!
1. What a burden ought sin to be to us!
You have heard what a burden it is to God; that he even groans under it, and is weary to bear it. And ought it not to be a burden to us who have committed it? Ought not we to be "weary and heavy-laden" with a sense of it Matthew 11:28. Ought we not to feel it as an insupportable burden; "to be troubled for it; to be bowed down greatly, and to roar for the disquietness of our hearts Psalm 38:4-8." Turn then to God, you people; "be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy into heaviness: humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God James 4:9-10;" "and put your mouths in the dust, if so be there may be hope Lamentations 3:29."
2. What obligations do we owe to Jesus Christ!
Jesus has borne the burden of our sins, not only as our Creator and Governor, but as our Redeemer. Even in the former view, he has been "grieved at the hardness of our hearts Mark 3:5," and has groaned over us John 11:38, and found his burden almost insupportable Mark 9:19. But, in the latter view, O what has he sustained? the guilt of all the human race! the wrath of an avenging God! Go, listen to his cries and agonies in the garden of Gethsemane! See the blood issuing from every pore of his body! Trace him to Golgotha, and behold him expiring on the cross: Ask, What was the cause? and you will find that he was sinking under the weight of your iniquities, and if He was thus overwhelmed with the load, what must become of us, if we, after all, should have to bear the curse due to our sins? Let every eye be fixed on him with humble, grateful adoration. Let every one look to his vicarious sacrifice for pardon and peace. And, as he has thus graciously "borne our sins in his own body on the tree," let us trust in him. Let us "go to him weary and heavy-laden, and we shall find eternal rest to our souls."
REQUISITES FOR FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD
Amos 3:3. Can two walk together, except they be agreed?
IT is not always safe to judge of God, and the things which relate to Him, by the things which take place in our fellowship with men: for the distance between God and man is such as precludes all parallel between them. Yet, in a way of illustration, it is often of great advantage to consider what occurs in common life; because, from observations of that kind, we are enabled to attain a correct judgment with more facility than we could by any labored process of rational investigation. Hence this mode of illustration is frequently adopted by the inspired writers. In the passage before us, the Prophet Amos had delivered this message from God to all the children of Israel: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities verse 1, 2." Then the prophet, anticipating an objection to this, proceeds to obviate it The text, and following context, to verse 8, are the prophet's own words, and not a continuation of his message. The not attending to this has perplexed many, and thrown an obscurity over what is very plain. He supposes an objector to say, 'Your alarm is groundless: for it never can be, that God should so act towards those whom he has chosen for his peculiar people.' To this he replies, 'There is good reason for you to be alarmed: for I appeal to you, Can there be any real friendship between persons (whether they be of the same family or not), if in their general views and habits there be no agreement? You may call yourselves the Lord's people, if you will; but, "if you walk contrary to him, he will walk contrary to you Leviticus 26:23-24;" and this he has both authorized and commanded me to declare. There is, therefore, abundant reason for you to fear and tremble. You well know, "that if a lion roar, or a young lion cry," there is a reason for it. If "a bird fall in a snare, or a snare be taken up by the owner," it is not without a reason: and "if the trumpet be blown in the city to sound an alarm," there is a reason for it. So then is there reason for you to fear and tremble: for God, who reveals his secrets to his prophets, has revealed to me his determination to punish you: and, as sure as effects, whether among the rational or irrational creation, result from causes, and may be traced to them; so surely shall your punishment follow from the indignation which you have excited in the bosom of your God: "The lion has roared: who will not fear? the Lord God has spoken: who can but prophesy?"
The prophet's appeal is indeed very convincing: for as a congeniality of mind is necessary to the existence of friendship among men, so is a conformity of mind to God's revealed will necessary to the maintenance of friendship with him;
I. In this world—
Without a correspondence of taste and sentiment, there can be no friendship among men—
We may occasionally associate with persons, however widely they may differ from us: they may even be numbered among our most intimate acquaintance. But we cannot take them to our bosoms as endeared friends. In order to such communion as that, there must be some resemblance in our general habits, both of sentiment and pursuit; something whereon we can meet, as on common ground; something sufficiently important to us both, to form a bond of union between us. Our favorite employment, whatever it be, will operate as an attraction to others similarly employed: but from persons who have no taste for these occupations we shall feel, comparatively, but little attraction. Those who are immersed in the study of arts and sciences will not very much affect the society of those who have no taste but for trifling amusements; nor will the votaries of pleasure desire an habitual fellowship with them. Still less will those in whom there is a great moral disparity affect the society of each other; the honorable with the base; the pious with the ungodly and profane. Each will form his connections rather among those who are of a kindred spirit with himself, and walk most intimately with those who love to be found in his paths.
Nor can friendship with God exist, where there is no conformity to his image—
Enoch and Noah "walked with God:" and "Abraham was called the friend of God." But in them there was a love to his revealed will, and a desire to be conformed to it. The most difficult commands from God did not excite rebellion or murmuring in their hearts. They loved holiness; and were therefore prepared to move in sweet accord with him. But, had their minds been averse to his holy ways, they would rather have fled from him, like Cain, than have walked habitually as in his presence, and sought all their happiness in him. God has informed us how hateful sin is in his sight; and what is that way in which alone he will receive returning sinners; and what is that heavenly conversation which he expects from all who come to him by Christ. But, suppose a person to think lightly of sin, and to doubt whether it have really subjected him to God's everlasting displeasure: suppose him to disapprove of salvation by faith alone, and to prefer establishing, either in whole or in part, a righteousness by the law: suppose him, further, to complain, of God's requirements as too strict, and to plead for indulgences which he forbids; can we suppose that God will come to him, and find pleasure in him; or that he can really delight himself in God? The point is clear: the diversity of their mind and will forms an insurmountable barrier to their union, and must of necessity produce an alienation of heart from each other; as God has said by the prophet, "My soul loathed them; and their soul abhorred me Zechariah 11:8." To the same effect he speaks also by the Apostle Paul: "What fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion has light with darkness? and what concord has Christ with Belial? or what part has he who believes with an infidel? and what agreement has the temple of God with idols 2 Corinthians 6:14-16."
Here, then, the point is clear. The services of God and Mammon are incompatible with each other Matthew 6:24. Whichever we most affect in our minds, his servants we are Romans 6:16; and friendship with either precludes a possibility of union with the other.
Nor is a resemblance to God less necessary for an enjoyment of him,
II. In the world to come—
There cannot, even in Heaven, be any union between God and an ungodly man—
"There is no repentance in the grave." What a man, in his decided character, is at the time of his death, that he will remain to all eternity: "As the tree falls, so it will lie Ecclesiastes 11:3;" "He who is unjust, will be unjust still; and he who is filthy, will be filthy still Revelation 22:11." Suppose a man to have had no love for holiness here, but rather to have felt an alienation of mind from holy men and holy exercises; how can he, all at once, feel delight in a holy God, and in the employment of the heavenly hosts? How can he, who has never for one single hour been filled with love and gratitude in this world for all the wonders of redeeming love, how can he, I say, join in the songs of the redeemed to all eternity? If there were nothing more than a consciousness of his own state to affect him, he would be glad to recede from a place where there was not a being like-minded with himself, or an occupation suited to his taste. He had a dislike to the exercises of devotion here; and he would dislike them there: he fled from God's presence here; and he would flee from it there. Like our first parents after their fall, they would endeavor to hide themselves from him, instead of going forth to meet him; and Paradise itself would be to them a place of torment.
The manner in which the prophet declares this truth greatly augments its weight—
He does not utter it in a way of simple affirmation; but he makes it the subject-matter of an appeal: "How can two walk together, except they be agreed?" He constitutes every man a judge in his own cause. We need not any of us be told, that to the existence of real friendship there must be a similarity of taste: those who are perfectly opposed to each other in the things that are most agreeable to themselves, can no more become united with each other, in the bonds of endeared friendship, than light and darkness can coalesce. Observation and experience prove this beyond a doubt; nor can any one be so ignorant as not to know it.
Well then, may this teach us,
1. The necessity of true conversion—
"The carnal mind," says the Apostle, that is, the mind of every man by nature, "is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be Romans 8:7." "A new heart, therefore, must be given us, and a new spirit must be put within us Ezekiel 36:26." We must become altogether "new creatures; old things passing away, and all things being made new 2 Corinthians 5:17." This, as our Lord tells us, is so necessary, that "except it take place we can never enter into the kingdom, no, nor ever see it John 3:3; John 3:5." To speak of this as necessarily attendant on baptism, is contrary to fact; for there are thousands who are baptized, as there were thousands circumcised among the Jews, who have never experienced this change. But this change must be wrought in us, if ever we would behold the face of God in peace. "That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit John 3:6." The former being altogether carnal, is incapable of enjoying a spiritual kingdom: it is the latter which alone can fit us for the exercises and enjoyments of the heavenly world. You well know, that if a man had no taste for music, he could not, for any length of time, feel pleasure in the melodies which, to a lover of music, afford the highest gratification. So neither can we, without a taste for the employments of Heaven, or, in other words, without "a fitness for Heaven," ever hope to participate in the blessedness of the just.
2. The importance of separation from the world—
The world wonder at the saints, for standing aloof from them; and often impute it to pride: as though the Lord's people said to them, "Stand off; I am holier than you Isaiah 65:5." But the godly, in associating with the world, do not meet on equal terms. All the sacrifice must be on their part. The world will propose to them to join in every vanity: but if, in return, they were asked to join in reading the word of God and prayer, for the sake of spiritual edification and comfort, they would regard the proposal almost as a symptom of insanity. And, if you were to wait until such a proposal were made, or even approved, by them, you would wait until the sun had ceased to run its course. It is not for nothing that the Apostle says, "Come out from among them, and be separate 2 Corinthians 6:17." There is abundant occasion for it: for friendship with them is constructively nothing less than enmity itself against God James 4:4." We must "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed in the renewing of our minds, if ever we would prove, to the satisfaction of our God, what is his good and acceptable and perfect will Romans 12:2."
3. The happiness of real piety—
Where the soul is really in accordance with the revealed will of God, there will God delight to "dwell, as in a temple 2 Corinthians 6:16." To such persons "he will manifest himself as he does not unto the world John 14:22;" "He will come unto them, and make his abode with them John 14:23;" and "they shall walk in the light of his countenance Psalm 89:15." O! who shall adequately declare the blessedness of friendship with God?: And if in this world the saints have such great advantage, what shall they have in the eternal world? Who shall declare their felicity, when they shall stand in his immediate presence, and behold the full brightness of his glory in the person of his dear Son? If it be so sweet now to have "the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Romans 5:5," what shall it be to behold the Savior "face to face 1 Corinthians 13:12. 1 John 3:2." If a taste of the waters of life, though taken from polluted cisterns, be so sweet, what shall it be to drink of them at the fountain-head? Let those who walk with God in this world know, that they shall, before long, "walk with him in white," where distance and parting shall be no more Revelation 3:4; Revelation 3:12."
GOD THE SOURCE AND CAUSE OF ALL THINGS
Amos 3:6. Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord has not done it?
IT is a generally acknowledged truth, that everything proceeds from God; and we have the authority of God himself for affirming it: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things Isaiah 45:7." The same truth was put in a way of appeal even to the enemies of God; and that, too, at a time when he was denouncing against them the heaviest judgments. As surely as the roaring of a lion betokens that he has seized his prey; or the capture of a bird that the snare had been set for him; or the blowing of a trumpet the approach of danger; so surely should the evils coming on his disobedient people mark the indignation of God against them: "Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord has not done it?"
But as, on the incursion of evil, we are apt to trace it almost exclusively to second causes, and to overlook the hand of God in it, I propose,
I. To confirm the truth which is here intimated—
There is a great variety of evil in the world: but God is the author of it all. From him proceeds all evil;
Of course, we are not to imagine that moral evil proceeds from him in a way of actual efficiency: for "God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man. But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed James 1:13-14." But, as no man would be in a capacity to perpetrate evil, if God did not invest him with the power, and allow him the opportunity to commit it, the Scripture uniformly represents God as concurring in it, even where the agency of men or devils is most manifest in the production of it. For instance;
In the selling of Joseph into Egypt, the envy of his brethren was manifestly the first moving cause: yet, what did Joseph say concerning it? "Be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve life. God sent me before you, to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God Acts 7:9 with Genesis 45:5-8." "You indeed thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good Genesis 50:20."
In the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, we must look further than to the innate depravity of that impious monarch; for God had raised him up to the possession of royal power, that so he might have full scope for the display of all that was in his heart: yes, and he gave him up, too, to the unrestrained exercise of all his evil dispositions; as he had before declared to Moses that he would do. And thus God himself is said, in a qualified sense, to have "hardened Pharaoh's heart," yes, and to harden in like manner the hearts of all whom he is pleased thus to give up to the unrestrained indulgence of their own lusts Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:13; Exodus 9:16 with Romans 9:17-18.
Above all, in the crucifixion of our blessed Lord, where shall we find human depravity so active and so combined as in that tremendous scene? And can we trace any part of that to Almighty God? Yes, the whole of it: for Peter says, that "Jesus was delivered up to his murderers by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God Acts 2:23; and that "Herod and Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel that were gathered together against him," in all that they perpetrated, "did only what God's hand and God's counsel had determined before to be done Acts 4:27-28."
What, then, must not be traced to God, if we are taught to refer to him such transactions as these?
By political evil, I mean such as arises, whether to nations or individuals, in the common course of human events.
The defection of the ten tribes from Rehoboam may well be considered as originating in the tyranny of that weak monarch, and in his following the infatuated counsels of the young men, rather than the judicious counsels of the old. But God himself declares, that it was altogether ordained of him, for the accomplishment of his own designs: "The cause, it is said, was of God, that the Lord might perform the word which he had spoken 2 Chronicles 10:15." And when Rehoboam had raised an army of 180,000 men to reduce the ten tribes to subjection, one single word spoken by Shemaiah, a man of God, to Rehoboam and his army, saying, "You shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren: return every man to his house: for this thing is done of me, says the Lord," was sufficient for the satisfying and disbanding of the whole army: so universally was God's agency in human affairs acknowledged by them at that day 2 Chronicles 11:3-4.
The captivity of Israel by the Assyrians might well be traced to the pride and ambition of the Assyrian monarch; as the captivity of Judah by the Chaldeans might also to the resentment and cupidity of the Babylonish monarch: but both the one and the other are traced to God himself, as stirring up the enemies of his people to execute upon them his sovereign will. Respecting the former, it is said, "The God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, to carry them away 1 Chronicles 5:26." And respecting the latter, it is said, "The Lord sent against Jehoiakim bands of the Chaldeans, and bands of the Syrians, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the children of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it. Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Judah, to remove them out of his sight 2 Kings 24:2-3;" so entirely are men, even when following most freely the dictates of their own minds, unconscious agents of the Deity, to execute his will; "the sword in his hand, and the staff of his indignation Isaiah 10:5-7."
Sometimes God is pleased to send trials in a way of paternal chastisement, as when he stirred up enemies to disturb the peace and quietness of Solomon's reign 1 Kings 11:14; 1 Kings 11:23. And he has told us, that he will deal thus with his children in every age, "visiting their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes, even when it is not his intention utterly to take away his loving-kindness from them Psalm 89:30-33. Hebrews 12:6." But sometimes he executes his judgments upon men in a way of righteous retribution. Go to Sodom; and behold the cities of the plain; and tell me, whose hand was there? See Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with all their families, swallowed up in the earth at the word of Moses; and say by whom was that judgment wrought? Or tell me by whose hand Ananias and Sapphira fell, for lying to the Holy Spirit? Was there any one of these evils which the Lord did not inflict and execute?
Methinks, I have spoken enough for the confirmation of this truth; and may proceed,
II. To show how it is carried into effect—
God is pleased to work in a great variety of ways: for instance,
1. By a visible display of his own Almighty power—
It was thus that he caused the sea to divide its waves, and to leave a dry path for the children of Israel; and presently afterwards to close again, and overwhelm every individual of the hostile army that pursued them. By a similar display of his power, he opened a passage also for his people through the river Jordan, at a time when it had overflowed its banks. Afterwards, in like manner, he caused the walls of Jericho to fall down, at the sound of rams' horns. In such instances as these, no means were used that had the slightest tendency to effect the end; that so his own interposition might be the more manifest, and that he might have all the glory.
2. By the instrumentality of second causes—
David was informed, that, notwithstanding his heinous sin was forgiven, it should yet be visited in this world with evils in his own family, which should embitter all his remaining days. In the conduct of Amnon and of Absalom, we see how God marked David's sin in its punishment. These sons only followed the dictates of their own corrupt hearts: but God wrought by them, and made them his instruments to punish their parent's crimes 2 Samuel 12:10-14; 2 Samuel 13:14; 2 Samuel 16:22. So, by the instrumentality of Jehu, he destroyed the whole house of Ahab, when Jehu himself desired nothing but to advance his own glory 1 Kings 21:19-24 with 2 Kings 10:10-11.
3. By the most trivial, and, as we call them, accidental, occurrences—
Who can read the Book of Esther, and not stand amazed at the trifling circumstances by which the destruction of Haman, and the consequent deliverance of all the Jewish people, were brought to pass? The Persian king cannot sleep—he calls for the records of the nation to be brought, in order to amuse him—a record of a conspiracy, that had long since been defeated, was read to him—he inquires whether the person who had discovered the conspiracy had been suitably rewarded—this, with a multitude of other unlooked-for circumstances, brought Haman to the gallows which he had erected for Mordecai, and were the means of delivering the whole Jewish people from the ruin that had been prepared for them Esther 6:1-3; Esther 7:10. No one can conceive how minute are the links in the chain of Providence, the failure of any one of which would have defeated the counsels of the Most High. But "his counsel shall stand; and he will do all his will Isaiah 46:10;" and it will be found, at last, that "no one thing has ever failed, of all that he, in his eternal counsels, has ordained Joshua 21:45."
4. In direct opposition to all the means that are used to obstruct his will—
He will confound all the Jews by the resurrection of his dear Son. They, on the contrary, are determined to prove Jesus a deceiver. For this end, having put him to death, they roll a stone to the door of his sepulcher, and seal it with Pilate's signet, and set a watch to guard the place; that so it may be impossible, as they think, for Jesus to be taken away, or for the expectations of his followers to be realized. Had they succeeded in this effort, they had proved to demonstration, that Jesus was an impostor. But Jehovah "laughed them to scorn;" and, at the predicted time, restored the Lord Jesus to life, and "proved him to be indeed the Son of God with power, by his resurrection from the dead Romans 1:4." This was in strict accordance with what David had foretold: "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed; saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. But He who sits in Heaven laughed; the Lord had them in derision Psalm 2:2-4." In a word, "He does according to his will, in the armies of Heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; nor can any stay his hand, or say unto him, What do you Daniel 4:35."
Has any kind of evil then occurred to us? Let us Learn,
1. Submission to God's will—
God says to us, "Be still; and know that I am God Psalm 46:10." And if once we learn to see the hand of God in everything, what peace will it bring into the soul, even in the midst of the heaviest trials Psalm 29:8. You will not find anywhere a greater sufferer than Job: men, devils, elements, all conspired against him. But in all his trials he saw the hand of a gracious God; and that composed his mind: "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord! Shall we receive good at the Lord's hands, and shall we not receive evil Job 1:21; Job 2:10." Let us then, in all our trials, the smaller which occur in. social or domestic life, as well as in those of a more overwhelming nature, habituate ourselves to see the Lord's hand: and to say, "It is the Lord; let him do what seems him good 1 Samuel 3:18." This would greatly tranquillize our minds; and take out the sting from ten thousand little occurrences, which wound our feelings, and often pain us far more than heavier afflictions. Let us reply to the revilings of a malignant enemy, "The Lord has bidden him curse me 2 Samuel 16:10-11;" and there will be an end of all the anguish that his hostility has for a moment occasioned us.
2. Inquiry into the design of God in the trial sent us—
"Trouble springs not out of the dust Job 5:6;" "nor does God afflict us without a cause Lamentations 3:33." "Every rod," which he sends, has a voice, which we ought most attentively to "hear Micah 6:9." Perhaps there is some sin which God designs to correct; some corruption to mortify; some grace to improve; or, at all events, some important lesson which he intends to teach us more perfectly. We should, therefore, go to God under our trials, and ask him "why he contends with us Job 10:2." "In the day of adversity we should consider Ecclesiastes 7:14;" and be more anxious to derive benefit from the affliction, than to obtain a premature deliverance from its pressure. If we may but be purged from our dross, and come out of the furnace purified as gold, it should be deemed an ample compensation for all our pains; and should make us thankfully to acknowledge, that "God in love and faithfulness has afflicted us Psalm 119:75."
3. Amendment of life—
This should be our object, under all the diversified circumstances of our lives. Nothing should be of any importance to us in comparison of this: nor should any pain be deprecated, which may be sent to "purge away our iniquity Isaiah 27:9, and which may render us, in a more perfect manner, "partakers of God's holiness Hebrews 12:10." If our "tribulation may but work patience, and experience, and a hope that shall not make us ashamed, and prove an occasion of the love of God being shed abroad in our hearts, we should even rejoice and glory in it Romans 5:3-5." Nor is it merely the mortification of any besetting sin that we should aim at, but an entire conformity of mind and will to God. We should desire to be "made perfect through our sufferings," even as the Lord Jesus Christ himself was Hebrews 2:10; and, whether our tribulation be more or less painful in this world, we should be contented to pass through it as "our appointed way to Heaven Acts 14:22;" and be well pleased to "suffer with Christ, that we may hereafter dwell with him, and be glorified together Romans 8:17."
GOD'S VOICE TO SINNERS
Amos 3:8. The lion has roared, who will not fear? the Lord God has spoken, who can but prophesy?
THERE is not anything more strange and unreasonable than that utter disregard which is shown to the word of God. If we see appearances in the sky, we can form some judgment of the weather: if we take notice of common occurrences in the world, we can draw plain and obvious conclusions from them. The prophet justly observes verse 4–6, that if a lion roar, we conclude he has taken, or is about to seize, his prey: if a bird be caught in a snare, we take for granted that the snare was laid with that design: if an alarm be given in the city, we suppose that there is reason for that alarm: or if any disastrous event have taken place, we consider it as ordered by an overruling Providence. Yet when God speaks in his word, we imagine that there is no occasion for it, nor any need to regard it. But it becomes us to attend with reverence to all his messages, whether of wrath or mercy. Whatever he has revealed to us by his servants the prophets, he will surely do: and they are commanded to make known his determinations, "whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear." Hence the prophet Amos, desirous at once to expose the obstinacy of the unbelieving Jews, and to vindicate his own faithfulness towards them, addresses himself to their consciences in this animated expostulation, this convincing apology.
To bring home his words to our own hearts, we shall consider,
I. What God has spoken to us—
There is no description of persons whose character God has not delineated, and whose end he has not determined. And it would be a pleasing task to exemplify this remark in the Divine declarations concerning the righteous: but God's voice in the text is compared to the roaring of a lion: on which account we must confine ourselves rather to his denunciations of wrath and vengeance which he will execute on the ungodly.
What then has he spoken to profane sinners 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Alas! how numerous their classes! how dangerous their self-deceptions! how awful their end See also Ephesians 5:3-6. And is not such a declaration more terrible than the roaring of a lion? Let us then hear and "fear Deuteronomy 31:12-13."
To self-righteous Pharisees his voice is not less tremendous. In the parable addressed to those who "trusted in themselves that they were righteous," the preference given to the self-condemning sinner is strongly marked; and God's determination to "abase the self-exalting" is plainly declared Luke 18:9-14. Yes; before God, and angels, and men, shall such characters be abased in the day of judgment, when publicans and harlots shall be admitted into Heaven before them Matthew 21:31. Is not this a just ground of fear to those, whose hearts are not broken with a sense of sin?
But more dreadful still are the threatenings denounced against hypocritical professors of religion. Their doom is characterized as the most severe of any Matthew 24:51; and the wrath which they heap up to themselves, while they hold the truth in unrighteousness, is beyond measure great Job 36:13. Let the proud and passionate, the malicious and revengeful, the worldly and covetous, the impure and sensual professor, hear this: and let them know, that the Lamb of God will be a lion to them, if they walk not more worthy of their high calling Psalm 50:16-22 with Hosea 13:6-8.
There is however one description of persons, against whom God's threatenings are more awful still. He declares that negligent and unfaithful ministers shall perish under the accumulated guilt of destroying the souls committed to their charge. The blood of all whom they have neglected to warn shall be required at their hands Ezekiel 33:6. Surely if the voice of God to others be as the roaring of a lion, to these it is rather as the voice of thunder. O, that it might be forever sounding in the ears of all who are in the service of the sanctuary, until there should not be found one negligent or unfaithful minister in the Christian church!
II. What effect it should have upon us—
With respect to ministers, should they not fear? Does it become them, in the very face of such warnings, to indulge a slothful spirit, or to withhold the truth from their people through fear of offending them? Ought they, however their hearers may wish it, to speak smooth things to them, and to prophesy deceits Isaiah 30:10-11. Should they be intent on feeding themselves rather than the flock Ezekiel 34:2-3; Ezekiel 34:10; and be more studious to establish a reputation as preachers, than to save the souls committed to them? Surely, when it is considered whose ambassadors they are, and to whom they must give account, and what must be their doom if any perish through their neglect, they can never study too earnestly to approve themselves to God 2 Timothy 2:15. Acts 20:28, that they may give up their account to him with joy, and not with grief Hebrews 13:17.
With respect to others, of whatever description they may be, it becomes them well to fear, when "the Lord God," the almighty and immutable Jehovah, speaks to them such momentous truths There is a peculiar emphasis in the name by which Jehovah is here called. See also Jeremiah 5:21-22 and Revelation 15:3-4. What is there that can justify any man in casting off the fear of God? Can we deny that he has roared as a lion? or are we stronger than he, that we dare to provoke him to jealousy 1 Corinthians 10:22. Or can we elude his search, when he shall summon us to his judgment-seat Jeremiah 23:24 and Job 34:22 and Psalm 139:7-12. Or have we any reason to doubt whether he will execute his threatenings Ezekiel 24:14.
Let every one rest assured, that it were far better that a roaring lion should rush out of a thicket to devour him, or that the artillery of a whole army should be pointed at him, than that one single threatening of Almighty God should be in force against him: for as his destruction is more certain, so will it be infinitely more tremendous.
1. Be not averse to hear the terrors of God's law—
Though, of themselves, the threatenings of God's word will never produce true contrition, yet it is necessary that all should know what the Lord God says concerning them, in order that they may feel their need of a Savior. In this respect, the law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ Galatians 3:24; and if, by hearing of the wrath to come, we be induced to flee from it, we shall have reason to bless the watchman that sounded the alarm."
2. Be thankful to God for the promises of the Gospel—
Blessed be God, the Gospel is full of "exceeding great and precious promises:" and "to him that trembles at God's word" these promises are made Isaiah 66:2. Let not then a slavish dread of God's wrath keep us from embracing the overtures of his mercy. Let us rather flee to Christ the more earnestly, in proportion as we see our guilt and danger. The Israelites were commended by God himself for making this improvement of his terrors Deuteronomy 5:25-26; Deuteronomy 5:28. And, if we have Christ as our mediator and advocate, we have nothing to fear from Heaven, earth, or Hell.
Amos 4:11-12. Yet have you not returned unto me, says the Lord. Therefore thus will I do unto you, O Israel: and because I will do this unto you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel.
THE various dispensations of providence are intended to awaken our concern for our best interests, and to bring us back to God. But the generality of mankind, satisfied with tracing events to second causes, neglect to make the improvement of them which God designs. Judgments and mercies in constant succession pass unheeded; and, instead of promoting our spiritual welfare, too frequently enhance rather our eternal condemnation. It is certain that God notices the effects which his dealings produce upon us: and, if we continue incorrigible under all the means which he uses for our good, he will sooner or later call us to a severe account. To this effect he speaks in the passage before us; where, having recapitulated the various methods by which he had sought to reclaim his people, he complains, after each, that "they had not returned unto him;" and then he bids them prepare to answer for it at his tribunal.
We may with too much reason apply to ourselves the words originally addressed to Israel, and consider from them,
I. The complaint alleged against us—
God has used various means to bring us to repentance—
In the context he specifies several judgments which he had inflicted on his people Israel, intimating, at the same time, that in the midst of judgment he had remembered mercy. His judgments had been successive, and partial, not universal, or combined. We too must confess that he has visited us with heavy calamities Here may be mentioned any that have recently happened; especially if among them can be enumerated scarcity, or drought, or mildew, or pestilence, or prejudicial lightnings; But yet "he has stayed his rough wind in the day of his east wind," insomuch that we have been like "a brand plucked out of the fire!" War, famine, and pestilence have raged in different parts of the continent; but we, though slightly affected by them all, have escaped without any material injury Written Feb. 1805.
For a long time also has God spared us from that awful pestilence which has raged both in Asia and Europe: but now has it reached our shores, and is spreading widely both in Britain and Ireland July, 1832, and carrying off multitudes with fearful rapidity into the eternal world.
But in the midst of all we have continued impenitent—
We can see nothing of national reformation. Fasts indeed have been appointed from time to time during the late war, and even on the present occasion: but it will be well if these be not numbered among our greatest sins; seeing that they have been little else than an empty form, a hypocritical service, a solemn mockery. As for national repentance, what evidence can be adduced to warrant the hope that it has ever taken place? What national sin has been put away? Have we less pride and arrogance, when speaking of our fleets and armies? Have we ceased from traffic in human blood? Does not the land groan as much as ever under the load of sabbaths wasted, oaths violated, and sacraments profaned; or, if any slight alteration in relation to oaths and sacraments have taken place, has it not been through a political concession to popular clamor, rather than from any regard for the honor and authority of God?
Nor can we boast much more of personal improvement. Are not the young as mirthful and dissipated, as if they had no occasion for mourning and weeping? Are not the worldly as intent upon their gains as if this world were their all? Do not the formal still continue as regardless of the life and power of godliness, as if the service of the heart were not required? Is there any considerable change even in the people of God? Is there much of a spirit of prayer and intercession found among them? Are they pleading, like Abraham for Sodom, or like Moses for the worshipers of the golden calf? In truth, there are few, if any, who lay to heart the iniquities of the nation, or inquire, "What have I done" to increase the sum of our national guilt?
Surely then, since we must plead guilty to the charge, we may fitly also apply to ourselves,
II. The admonition founded upon it—
God threatened the utter extinction of the Jewish nation verse 2, 3. It is in reference to this that God says in the text, "Thus will I do.": and he bids us also to "prepare to meet him,"
1. In increased calamities—
What God has already inflicted on us, is nothing in comparison of what we may expect at his hands, if we continue to provoke him. "Go to Shiloh, and see what he did to it for the wickedness of his people Israel Jeremiah 7:12." Look at the Jews at this day, whom he has dealt with "as a man who wipes a dish, and turns it upside down 2 Kings 21:12-13 with 1 Kings 14:10." He has only smitten us with rods at present; but, if we repent not, he will "chastise us with scorpions:" yes, he will continue to "punish us seven times more for our sins." O that we might cease from our wickedness, before we oblige him to "come forth against us as a man of war," and "his fury burn to the lowest Hell." "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
2. In the day of future retribution—
In this world God calls men into judgment in their national capacity. It is in the eternal world only that he will reward and punish the different individuals. Then all of us must appear before his judgment-seat. And if we die impenitent, every dispensation which God had appointed for our good, shall be brought forth to aggravate our guilt and condemnation. 'I sent you affliction; yet you returned not unto me: I sent you mercies; yet you returned not unto me: I gave you my Gospel to enlighten your mind, and my Spirit to affect your heart; yet you returned not unto me: I continued these mercies to you for so many years; yet you returned not unto me.' Alas! how unanswerable will be his accusations, how just his sentence, how terrible his award!
For this account we must prepare: we must be ready to meet him whenever he shall summon us: and if he call us unprepared, it were better for us that we had never been born.
There are yet two or three considerations, which we would impress upon your minds, to strengthen those which have been already proposed:
1. If you return not to God, there is no hope for you—
From one end of the Bible to the other we cannot find one word which countenances the idea of any person being saved, who dies impenitent. And should not this thought lead us to repentance? O let it have due influence on our minds! and let us be sufficiently on our guard against self-deception. Let us remember, that it is not a sigh, a tear, an acknowledgment, that will suffice: we must return unto God; we must return to him with our whole hearts: we must return in deep contrition, in lively faith, in unreserved obedience.
2. If you return to God, you will find him ever ready to receive you—
As, on the one hand, no one ever found mercy without repentance, so neither, on the other hand, was any true penitent ever rejected. Search the Scriptures; not a syllable will be found to discourage a sinner's return to God. Nations have always found mercy when they sought it earnestly; and of individuals, not one was ever rejected who turned unto God in sincerity and truth. What greater encouragement then can any man desire? There is the word, yes the oath, of Jehovah pledged, that none shall seek his face in vain. Beloved brethren, only seek him with your whole hearts, and he will assuredly be found of you.
3. Inconceivable will be the difference between those who are prepared to meet their God, and those who meet him unprepared—
Think of an impenitent sinner, when summoned into the presence of his God: how glad would he be that the rocks should fall upon him, and the hills should cover him from his sight! But this cannot be. He must appear; he must answer for himself; he must receive his doom; he must take his portion "in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone." View, on the contrary, the true penitent, the humble believer: behold him coming forth with joy to meet his reconciled God and Savior: he stands before his tribunal with unshaken confidence: "he knows in whom he has believed." While the other anticipates in the frowns of his Judge the miseries of Hell, he receives in Emmanuel's smiles a pledge and foretaste of the heavenly felicity. This alone is sufficient to show the importance of being prepared. We need not follow them to their different abodes: their comparative happiness at the first meeting of their God is abundantly sufficient to enforce this exhortation upon all, "Return unto the Lord, from whom you have deeply revolted!"
GOD'S CONDESCENSION AND GRACE
Amos 5:8-9. The Lord is his name; that strengthens the spoiled against the strong, so that the spoiled shall come against the fortress.
IN our public addresses, we feel peculiar satisfaction in entering upon subjects which admit of no dispute, and on which all considerate persons are agreed. That we ought to seek after God, is universally admitted: and as that is the one duty inculcated in the passage before us, the whole scope of our present discourse will be to recommend the performance of it. In the preceding context, Jehovah, speaking to the whole house of Israel says, "Seek you me, and you shall live." Immediately afterwards, the prophet himself enforces the exhortation, and adds, "Seek you the Lord, and you shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it.…Seek him that makes the seven stars and Orion.…the Lord of Hosts is his name; that strengthened the spoiled against the strong, so that the spoiled shall come against the fortress:" that is, 'Seek Him, who, being the Creator and Governor of all things, possesses all power to avenge himself upon you for your neglect of him, or to give success to your feeble endeavors.'
To enforce yet further the prophet's admonition, I will set before you,
I. The character of Jehovah, as here portrayed—
Let us notice,
1. His condescension—
There is no person so low or so despised among men, but God will condescend to look upon him with tender compassion. Human beings can scarcely be conceived in a more degraded situation than the Hebrews in Egypt were: yet of them God says, "I have seen their affliction; I have heard their cry; I know their sorrows Exodus 3:7." And at a subsequent period, when they were reduced to the utmost distress by the Ammonites, we are told, "His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel Judges. 10:16." The same compassion does he exercise towards his oppressed people in every age. So "afflicted is he in all their afflictions Isaiah 63:9," that "the touching of them is like touching the apple of his eye Zechariah 2:8; and he will interpose for them, however low they be: "he will raise up the poor out of the dust, and lift up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit a throne of glory 1 Samuel 2:8." Notwithstanding "he is the High and Lofty One that inhabits eternity," and "humbles himself when he beholds the things that are in Heaven;" yet will he "look upon him that is poor and of a contrite spirit Genesis 17:1," yes, and "dwell with him too, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite."
But that which we are more particularly to notice, is,
2. His power—
As he is Almighty in himself, so is he "the strength of his people Psalm 29:11;" even "the saving strength of his anointed Psalm 28:8." "He is a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall Isaiah 25:4;" nor does he ever interpose for his people with greater pleasure than when he sees them reduced to the lowest possible state of want and misery Deuteronomy 32:36.
Perhaps the particular occurrence referred to by the prophet may be that of the victories granted to Joash over the triumphant and oppressive Syrians. Hazael, king of Syria had so reduced the power of Israel, that "he had left to king Jehoahaz only fifty horsemen, and ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen." To Joash, the son and successor of Jehoahaz, God promised deliverance from Syria: and if Joash had expressed that zeal in his country's cause, and that confidence in God, which became him, his victories over Syria would have been complete. As it was, we are told that "he took out of the hand of Benhadad, the son of Hazael, the cities which Hazael had taken from Jehoahaz by war; that three times did he beat Benhadad, and recovered the cities of Israel 2 Kings 13:7; 2 Kings 13:17-19; 2 Kings 13:25." To this event, I say, the prophet is supposed more particularly to allude. But, in the history of Israel, such instances were without number. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the destruction of Jericho by the sound of rams' horns, and of Midian by the lamps and pitchers of Gideon, clearly show, that God can save equally by many or by few, and that those who trust in him shall never be confounded.
If, on the other hand, we suppose this exercise of God's power to be mentioned with a view to awe the Israelites into submission, it may well be interpreted in that view. The whole nation, both of Israel and Judah, placed an undue reliance on their relation to God, and could not conceive that their enemies should ever be suffered finally to prevail against them. A remarkable instance of this occurred in the days of Zedekiah, king of Judah. The Chaldeans besieged him in Jerusalem: but, on Pharaoh's coming from Egypt to support him, the Chaldeans raised the siege. This departure of the Chaldean army raised the confidence of Zedekiah, that he had no just ground for fear. But Jeremiah was commanded to tell him, that the Egyptian army should soon return to their own land; that the Chaldeans should immediately resume the siege; and that, "though he had smitten the whole army of the Chaldeans, so that there remained none but wounded men among them, yet should they, the wounded soldiers, rise up every man in his tent, and burn Jerusalem with fire Jeremiah 37:5-10."
This latter interpretation of the words seems countenanced by the menace which has been before mentioned; where the prophet says, "Seek you the Lord, lest he break forth like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Beth-el."
According to this twofold view of the character of Jehovah, we must state,
II. The ends for which it is adduced—
1. As a warning to those who seek him not—
To every creature under Heaven must we declare, that "God is very greatly to be feared:" "Forasmuch as there is none like unto you, O Lord: you are great, and your name is great in might: who would not fear you, O God of nations Jeremiah 10:6-7." If he is "able to save, he is able also to destroy." In whatever fortresses any be entrenched, "their refuges of lies shall be swept away, and the flood of Divine vengeance shall overflow their hiding-place Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 28:17." They may in their own conceit "make a covenant with death and Hell;" but "their covenant with death shall be disannulled, and their agreement with Hell shall not stand: when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, they shall be trodden down by it Isaiah 28:18." What is said in relation to Moab may be spoken in reference to all who cast off the fear of God; "they shall be trodden down by him, even as straw is trodden down for the dunghill: and he shall spread forth his hands, as he who swim spreads forth his hands to swim; and he shall bring down their pride, together with the spoils of their hands: and the fortress of the high fort of your walls shall he bring down, lay low, and bring to the ground, even to the dust The image of a swimmer advancing himself, while with his hands he irresistibly sweeps away the waters, beautifully illustrates God's advancing his own glory in the destruction of all his enemies."
To those, then, who are living without God in the world, I would suggest this awful consideration: God is "of great power and of terrible majesty;" and when he rises up, who then can resist him Job 31:14. or who can stand in his sight when he is angry Deuteronomy 4:24. Truly, "He is a consuming fire Psalm 76:7." Who then would set briers and thorns against him in battle? He would go through them, and burn them up together. "Seek you, then, his face:" seek him as he is revealed to you in the Gospel of his Son: seek him as reconciled to you by the blood of the cross: seek him also speedily, and with your whole hearts: for I must declare to you, that "there is no escape to those who neglect his great salvation Hebrews 2:3;" and that, "though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished Proverbs 11:21."
2. As an encouragement to those who desire his favor—
Many are ready to despond on account of their own weakness, and of the power of their enemies. But if God be our strength and our salvation, whom need we fear? "If he be for us, who, with any prospect of success, can be against us?" Hear how he chides the indulgence of a desponding thought: "Why say you, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Have you not known? have you not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding? He gives power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint Isaiah 40:27-31." Let not any one then shrink back from the contest, how weak soever he himself may be, or however potent his enemies. Aided by God, "a worm shall thresh the mountains Isaiah 41:14-15;" and the weakest creature in the universe may say with Paul, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me Philippians 4:13." In truth, a sense of weakness, so far from being any ground of discouragement, is rather a ground of hope; because "God will perfect his own strength in our weakness." We are told that God brings down them that dwell on high; the lofty city, he lays it low; he lays it low, even to the ground; he brings it even to the dust." But whom does he employ in this work? The strong and mighty? No: it is added, "The foot shall tread it down, even the feet of the poor, and the steps of the needy Isaiah 26:5-6." Whoever then you be, go forward. Though seas of difficulty be before you, I say to you, as God did to Moses, "Why cry you unto me? Say unto the children of Israel, that they go forward Exodus 14:15." Do you doubt whether success shall attend your efforts? Look at the example of David: see his triumphs, and his acknowledgments 2 Samuel 22:2-20. This whole passage should be cited. See also verse 30–41; and doubt not, but that if you seek God, and confide in him as David did, like him you shall be more than conquerors, through Him that loves you.
GOD KNOWS OUR SINS
Amos 5:12. I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins.
MANY passages of Holy Writ appear to refer to a particular people only; while in reality, they are applicable to all mankind. Whoever shall consult the passages cited by Paul in the third chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, in confirmation of the total depravity of mankind, and compare them with the places from whence they are taken, will be particularly struck with the truth of this remark. The Prophets David and Isaiah speak of certain individuals whose iniquities were of a most enormous kind; but Paul proves from them the depravity of human-nature in general: and this he does with great propriety: for, though all persons do not run to the same extent of wickedness, all have the same propensities within them: and if persons enjoying all the advantages of revelation abandoned themselves to such wickedness, it must arise, not from the peculiarity of their trials, but from the inward depravity of their hearts. This observation was applicable to the passage before us. The prophet, or rather God by him, is addressing a people who violated all the duties of social and civil life; and is denouncing his judgments against them for the sins which they so openly committed: but the same address may be justly made to every child of man: for all are corrupt and abominable in their doings; "all of which are naked and opened before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do."
Let us consider,
I. The information here given us—
Men conceive of God as not noticing their sins: "They say in their hearts, The thick clouds are a covering to him, that he cannot see." But he does see the sins of all mankind: he sees them,
1. In all their extent and variety—
From infancy to age his eye is upon us. Scarcely do we draw our breath, before we begin to show what fallen creatures we are; how irritable, how self-willed, how querulous, how addicted to every evil which we are capable of committing. As our powers of acting are enlarged, our habit of sinning is proportionably increased; every faculty displaying those corruptions which are most suited to its powers, and to the exercise of which it can most easily contribute. As reason expands, we might hope that it should assume the government of our lives: but it is soon overpowered by passion; and its voice, if heard at all, is lost amidst the pleasures and vanities of a tempting world. So universal is this, that all expect, as a matter of course, to behold increasing corruptions with increasing years; the exhibition of them varying with the successive periods of life: in the young, the passions pleading for indulgence; in maturer age, the desire of distinction urging and impelling us; and, in our latter years, the cares of this life, or the deceitfulness of riches, occupying all our time and thoughts. All this has God beheld; and not a disposition or desire has been hid from him.
The sins of body and of mind have been alike open to him. Each of these has its appropriate lusts: there is a "filthiness both of the flesh and of the spirit," from which we are alike concerned to "cleanse ourselves." Intemperance, lewdness, sloth, have, in different men, their sway, according as education or constitutional propensity incline them. And in the mind, what an inconceivable mass of iniquity resides, ever ready to start forth into action, as occasion may require! Oh the pride, the envy, the malice, the wrath, the revenge, the uncharitableness, which show themselves in our daily life and conversation! Add to these the murmuring, and discontent, and covetousness; the self-confidence and self-dependence; and the entire devotion to self-gratification in the whole of our conduct. What an accumulation of wickedness must arise from a life so spent, when, in fact, "every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts is evil, only evil, continually!"
Of omission, too, as well as of commission, does he behold our sins. He tries us by the standard of his perfect law, which requires that we should love him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength; and that we should live in an entire dependence on his care, and for the purpose only of advancing his glory. But in our whole lives there has not been one single moment in which we have conformed to his law, or come near to the line which he has marked out for us. To his dear Son, also, what gratitude, what affiance, what devotion have we owed! Yet have we been almost strangers to these holy feelings; and, even at the present moment, possess them in no degree comparable to what his love to us requires. Nor have we obeyed the motions of his Holy Spirit, but rather have done despite to him every day we lived. What have the interests of our souls and of eternity demanded? Yet, in what way have we discharged the debt?
Surely, if we put together these things, we must confess that our "transgressions" have been "manifold;" yes, more in number than the hairs of our head, or "as the sands upon the sea-shore innumerable."
2. In all their heinousness and aggravations—
Our sins have been committed against light and knowledge. Though we have not known the extent of our duty to God, we have known far more of it than we have ever practiced. No one of us has been so ignorant, as not to see the importance of eternal things, when compared with the things of time and sense; and, consequently, the duty of giving them a precedence, both in our estimation and pursuit. But have we felt the same ardor in relation to them that we have in prosecuting the vanities of this present world? Alas! If we had paid no more attention to our temporal concerns than we have to those which are spiritual and eternal, we should have had very little prosperity to boast of; or rather I should say, there would have been but one sentiment respecting us, among all who knew us.
Against vows and resolutions, too, we have proceeded in this mad career. I conceive there is not any one among us so obdurate, as not to have formed some purposes of amendment. At the death of a friend or relative, or in a time of sickness, when our own dissolution seemed to be drawing near, or perhaps after an awakening sermon, we have thought that to humble ourselves before God, and seek acceptance with him, was our duty: but the impression has soon worn away, and, like metal that has been fused, we have soon returned to our usual hardness. Possibly we may have begun and made some progress in religion, and given to our friends hopes that we would really turn unto our God: but we have been drawn aside by temptation, and have "turned back with the dog to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."
Above all, we have sinned against all the mercies and the judgments of God. We have seen his judgments upon others, yet have not returned unto him ourselves. We have perhaps felt them in some measure ourselves, yet have made no suitable improvement of them. As for mercies, they have followed us night and day, from our youth up: yet to how little effect, as it regards our souls! That greatest of all mercies, the gift of God's only-begotten Son to die for us, one would suppose that that should have altogether constrained us to live unto our God. But that stupendous mystery has appeared to us only as a cunningly-devised fable, which might amuse us awhile, but which merited no practical regard. Indeed, if Christianity had been altogether false, few of us would have materially differed from what we have been; for we have neither been allured by its promises, nor alarmed by its threats, so as to comply with its dictates in any essential point.
Is this matter over-stated? Do we not know it to be true? and has not God witnessed it in all its parts? Yes: as he has seen "our manifold transgressions," so has he also known "our mighty sins," and recorded every one of them in the book of his remembrance.
Such is the information given us in our text: and it becomes us to consider,
II. The use we should make of it—
Certainly, in the first place,
1. We should beg of God to discover to us the real state of our souls—
We know it not, though it is so plain and palpable. We are ready to account ourselves, if not positively good, yet far from bad. The sins of which we are conscious, appear only like the stars in a cloudy night, few in number, and at great intervals; whereas, if we saw ourselves as we really are, the whole extent of our lives would present to us but one continuous mass of sins, of a greater or lesser magnitude. But who can open our eyes? Who can show us to ourselves? Who can bring us to a becoming sense of our extreme vileness? None but God. It is he alone who can open to our view "the chambers of imagery" which are in our hearts; and show us, that instead of our being, as we vainly imagine, "rich, and increased with goods, and in need of nothing, we are indeed wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."
2. We should entreat him to humble us in the dust before him—
It is God alone who can "give repentance:" he alone can take away the heart of stone, and give us a heart of flesh. Who was it that made the difference between Lydia and the other hearers of Paul? It was "the Lord, who opened her heart to attend to the things that were spoken by him." And it is the same power alone that can turn us from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God. And let us remember, that humiliation for sin is necessary: it is indispensably necessary for our acceptance with God. God himself has declared, that "whoever covers his sins shall not prosper; and that he only who confesses and forsakes them, shall find mercy at his hands."
3. We should look to our Lord Jesus Christ, as our only hope—
If we conceive our sins to have been only light and trivial, we shall easily persuade ourselves that we can make compensation for them by some works of our own. And it is owing to men's ignorance of their own hearts, that they so generally hope to establish a righteousness of their own by the works of the law. But that vain thought must be discarded with abhorrence. We must renounce all hope in ourselves; and "flee for refuge to that hope which is set before us, even to the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that he might atone for our sins, and effect a reconciliation for us with our offended God. Be assured, Brethren, that there is no other way unto the Father than by Christ. If you were to shed rivers of tears, you could never wash away one sin; nor, if you could walk ever so holily in future, could you ever atone for the smallest sin. How then can you hope to wash away or make atonement for all your manifold transgressions, and your mighty sins? Indeed, you must look to Christ as your only hope, and transfer to his sacred head the sins you have committed, exactly as Aaron transferred to the head of the scape-goat the sins of all Israel. It is in this way alone that they can ever be removed from your souls: and if not so removed, they will sink your souls into everlasting perdition.
4. We should walk with all possible circumspection before God—
Having so long exercised the patience of our God, we ought to determine, through grace, that we will offend him no more. However careful we may be, imperfection will pervade our very best services. But let it be imperfection only, and not willful sin, that God shall see in us in future. Let there be no allowed deceit in our hearts. Let us search out our duty in its full extent, and endeavor to fulfill it; attending to it in all its parts, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Let it henceforth be the one labor of our lives to "keep a conscience void of offence before God," if by any means we may approve ourselves to him, and "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God."
CARNAL EASE AND SECURITY REPROVED
Amos 6:1. Woe to them that are at ease in Zion.
ONE would scarcely conceive it possible, that the Jews, with so many instances of God's displeasure before their eyes, could indulge in security, while they were evidently, in the whole course of their lives, provoking him to anger. But the blindness both of Israel and Judah was almost incurable. The ten tribes having wholly addicted themselves to idolatry, were the first monuments of God's indignation. Yet on them the divine judgments fell at first but partially, in order that they might be stirred up to penitence, and avert, by timely reformation, their impending fate. But they continued obdurate, under all the chastisements that were inflicted on them: nor did Judah make any suitable improvement, either of the judgments inflicted on others, or of the forbearance that was exercised towards themselves. God, by the Prophet Jeremiah, complains of Judah thus: "I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also Jeremiah 3:8." A similar complaint was made by the Prophet Amos in our text. God had "begun to cut Israel short;" but neither did they nor Judah lay it to heart, as they should have done: they saw what had been done to nations less guilty and more powerful than themselves; to Calneh, in Chaldea; to Hemath, in Syria; to Gath of the Philistines; and yet "they put away the evil day" from themselves verse 2, 3, as though the cup of bitterness should never be put into their hands. But the prophet denounces against them the heavy judgments of God: "Woe to them that are at ease in Zion!"
It is my intention from these words, to show you,
I. The evil which is here reproved—
We are not to suppose that the mere circumstance of a person's being "at ease" is sinful: on the contrary, it is the privilege of God's people to enjoy that very state, and that, too, in relation both to their temporal and spiritual concerns. In reference to temporal matters, God has said, "Whoever hearkens unto me shall dwell safely, and be quiet from fear of evil Proverbs 1:33." And in the book of Job, Eliphaz states this point at large: "He shall deliver you in six troubles; yes, in seven there shall no evil touch you. In famine, he shall redeem you from death; and in war, from the power of the sword. You shall be hid from the scourge of the tongue; neither shall you be afraid of destruction when it comes. At destruction and famine you shall laugh; neither shall you be afraid of the beasts of the earth: for you shall be in league with the stones of the field; and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with you: and you shall know that your tabernacle shall be in peace Job 5:19-24." Nor is spiritual peace a whit less the portion of the godly: for it is expressly said, "What man is he who fears the Lord? His soul shall dwell at ease Psalm 25:12-13."
Yet, that there is a sinful kind of ease, is evident, from the woe denounced against it. The state, then, that is here condemned, is a state,
1. Of carnal confidence—
"Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria!" Both Judah and Israel were ready to place an undue confidence in the capitals of their respective countries, as being well fortified both by nature and are: and when they had been made to see how weak such fortresses were, when defended only by an arm of flesh, they would "say in the pride and stoutness of their hearts, The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones; the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars Isaiah 9:9-10." In their outward relation to God, also, they trusted; as the reproof administered to them shows: "Trust you not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we Jeremiah 7:4." Because "they had Abraham to their father," they thought that no evil could befall them Matthew 3:9.
And is not this a common evil among ourselves? What is there in which we do not trust, rather than in God? In all our concerns, whether personal or public, we lean on an arm of flesh, and find it altogether foreign to our habits to "cast all our care on God." Even in relation to our eternal interests we find it exceeding difficult to realize our dependence on God. Our own wisdom and strength and righteousness are, for the most part, the objects of our reliance, and the grounds of our ease. But the whole of this is most displeasing to God; according as it is written, "Blessed is the man that trusts in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is; but cursed is the man that trusts in man, and that makes flesh his arm Jeremiah 17:5; Jeremiah 17:7."
2. Of sensual indulgence—
To possess indulgences, or to use them, is no ground of offence; for "God has given us all things richly to enjoy 1 Timothy 6:17;" But to place our happiness in them, is to provoke God to jealousy; since he ought to be to us the one only fountain and source of bliss. The Jews, whom the prophet reproves, were greatly guilty in this particular. When both the sins which they committed, and the judgments which they suffered, were rather "calling them to mourning and to fasting and to weeping Isaiah 22:12-14," they were living in all the indulgences of the most luxurious ease: as the prophet says: "they lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; they chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David; they drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointment verse 4–6." Now this is the very state in which happiness is supposed to consist: it is universally spoken of as the very summit of human enjoyment; and is held forth as an object greatly to be envied and desired. But how different are these things in God's estimation! To all who spend their lives in such a way as this, our Lord, no less than the prophet, says, "Woe unto you that laugh now! for you shall weep Luke 6:25."
Let it not however be imagined that this woe attaches only to the opulent: for the lower classes of society are equally obnoxious to the same condemnation; while, with less refinement indeed, but not an atom less of sensuality, they gratify themselves with those indulgences which every public-house supplies. I forbear to specify their enjoyments with the same minuteness as the prophet does the gratifications of the rich: but your own minds will present you with a detail of the accompaniments of carousals among the poor, and of the gratifications wherein they consume their time, their property, their health, their souls.
3. Of selfish apathy—
Swallowed up with their vain amusements, the Jews "were not grieved for the affliction of Joseph verse 6." They laid not to heart the miseries of others; nor considered either from whom the judgments had come, or for what cause they had been inflicted. "The harp and the viol, the tabret and the pipe, and wine, were in their feasts; but they regarded not the work of the Lord, nor the operation of his hands Isaiah 5:12." And this constitutes a very essential part of that wickedness, which a state of self-indulgent ease invariably brings with it. None feel so little for others, or for the Church of God, as those who are immersed in worldly pleasures. The chief butler, when restored to his office in Pharaoh's household, forgot the interests of the suffering Joseph; as all in prosperity are but too apt to do: so that it is well said by the apostle, "She that lives in pleasure is dead while she lives Genesis 40:23 and Esther 3:13; Esther 3:15 with 1 Timothy 5:6. In truth, such persons are dead to all holy feelings, whether towards God or man. But this is a state of grievous criminality. We ought all of us to consider ourselves as members of one body, and to have the same care one for another, every member participating in both the joys and sorrows of all the rest 1 Corinthians 12:25-26. We should all be able to make to God the very same appeal as Job did: Did not I weep for him that was in trouble? and was not my soul grieved for the poor Job 30:25." But in a more especial manner ought we to be concerned for the souls of men: and when we view the lamentable condition of Jews or Gentiles, or of the souls of nominal Christians, without pity and compassion, we may well tremble, as obnoxious to the displeasure of our God, as being most unreasonably and unmercifully "at ease in Zion." If we would have any evidence that we are right with God, we must be able, like Paul, to appeal to the all-seeing God, that for our perishing brethren, whoever they may be, "we have great heaviness and continual sorrow in our heart Romans 9:1-2."
That we may not think lightly of this evil, I will proceed to show,
II. The equity of the judgments denounced against it—
We are ready to think that nothing but gross and flagrant immorality deserves God's wrath. But the habit of the mind may be as offensive to God as any overt act whatever: and we hesitate not to say, that the evil which is here reproved, deserves the woes that are denounced against it.
The judgments which are threatened in the Old Testament are chiefly of a temporal nature. In truth, nations, as nations, are incapable of sustaining any other. But individuals, so far as they are implicated, will have to bear that wrath of God which, in the New Testament, is fully "revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men Romans 1:18."
That the evil which we have been considering deserves this, will be seen, if we reflect that it implies,
1. A total alienation of heart from God—
How impossible would it be to conceive of an angel in Heaven, or of Adam in Paradise, in such a state as our text imports! Not one of them could for a moment forget his dependence on God. However crowned with comforts suited to their nature, not one of them would rest in those things as his happiness, or cease to seek his happiness in God. And, if we suppose any part of the creation reduced to a state of suffering, not one of them would be indifferent to their welfare, or indisposed, if it were in his power, to promote it. It is in consequence of our departure from God, that all this evil is come upon us; and that we resemble rather the devil in pride, the beasts in sensuality, and the very stones in an insensibility to all around us. And let me ask, Docs not such a state as this deserve the wrath of God? And is not a woe most justly denounced against it? Look at the Savior; do you find any symptom of such a disposition in him? Was not the very reverse manifested by him, when for our sakes "he made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross?" If we are so far from his image, and so far from seeking his glory, as my text implies, it is in vain to hope that we shall have any part with him in the world above.
2. An utter insensibility to all the wonders of Redemption—
Among the ends for which our blessed Lord came into the world, one of prime importance was, "that we should not henceforth live unto ourselves, but unto Him who died for us and rose again." But the sensual life, which we have before described, is altogether foreign from this, or, rather, directly opposed to it. Shall one then "in Zion" be thus at ease? It would be bad enough for those who have never heard of redeeming love to rest in such a state; but, for those who profess to have "come unto Mount Zion," and to belong to the Church of Christ, to be thus lost to all that is good, is an abomination that merits, and will assuredly be visited with, God's heavy displeasure. If we would dwell with Christ in a better world, we must "have the mind that was in him," and "walk as he walked".
3. An entire forgetfulness of the future judgment—
Could any man living on the borders of eternity rest in such a state as is here described? What if we were to see a dying man immersed in carnal confidence, and sensual indulgence, and selfish apathy; should we think such dispositions suited to his state? Would not even an ungodly man judge it better for him to rise above the things of time and sense, and to have his mind occupied with the concerns and interests of eternity? Think, then, of an immortal being thus occupied; not knowing, but that, before another day shall arrive, he may be summoned to the judgment-seat of Christ, and receive his doom, either in Heaven or in Hell, forever: is it not almost incredible that a human being of this description should be found? But so it is, even with the great mass of mankind: they "put far from them the evil day," and scarcely think of eternity until they are constrained to meet it with all its horrors. What, then, shall I say to such persons? What can I say, but "Woe unto them?" I am aware that it must appear harsh; and that it would be more pleasing to the generality, if we were to "prophesy unto them smooth things, and prophesy deceits." But we dare not do so. Our blessed Lord, when addressing such persons—even persons in Zion, who, while they "professed to know God, in works denied him"— repeated no less than seven times, in one short chapter, this solemn warning, "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" and then closed his address with this terrible denunciation: "You serpents, you generation of vipers, how shall you escape the damnation of Hell Matthew 23:13-33." This, by the way, shows us what is meant by the woe denounced in my text. Yes, it is nothing less than "the damnation of Hell" that must be the portion of such self-deceiving professors. I pray you, Brethren, be not satisfied with having it supposed that you belong to Zion, while you really "belong to the synagogue of Satan." To "have a name to live," will be an awful state, if you be found "dead" at last. Indeed, if you would obtain the prize, you must "run as in a race:" if you would gain the victory, you must "fight the good right of faith:" if ever you would have eternal life, glory and honor and immortality must, to the latest hour of your lives, be the one object of your pursuit.
GOD'S CONDESCENSION TO PRAYER
Amos 7:2-3. Then I said, O Lord God, forgive, I beseech you: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small. The Lord repented for this: It shall not be, says the Lord.
IT is very instructive to see, among all the servants of Jehovah, whether Prophets or Apostles, how love was blended with fidelity in the whole of their ministrations. They were constrained to declare all which "God had showed unto them verse 1, 4, 7." But did they "desire the woeful events" which they predicted? They could appeal to God that they did not Jeremiah 17:16. The Prophet Amos had been commanded to foretell that the fruits of the earth, with the exception of those which had been gathered in, should be eaten up by grasshoppers verse 1, 2. But he immediately betook himself to prayer, and, by his importunity, prevailed on God to suspend the threatened judgment. He was directed afterwards to foretell the destruction of a part of the land by fire verse 4; and again, in the same terms as before, he interceded for the land; and obtained for it a similar relaxation of the impending calamity. The judgments had been begun to be inflicted Amos 4:9,11; but at his request they were removed. It is probable that these judgments were also threatened in a figurative sense; and related to the invasions of Pul, king of Assyria, who contented himself with imposing a tribute of a thousand talents of silver; and that of Tiglath-pileser, who took several cities, and carried away the inhabitants captives to Assyria 2 Kings 15:19; 2 Kings 15:29. But, without entering into the history of these events, I wish to fix your attention on the repeated intercessions of the prophet, (for the repetition of them in the same words, and the repeated answer to them in the same words, render them peculiarly deserving of our attention;) and to show you from them these blessed truths;
I. That the judgments we fear may be averted by prayer—
Judgments of the heaviest kind are denounced against us—
Temporal judgments, such as those referred to in the passage before us, would be very terrible: yet are they nothing, in comparison of what we have cause to fear. "The wicked," says David, "shall be turned into Hell, and all the nations that forget God Psalm 9:17." In another psalm he is more explicit still: "Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup Psalm 11:6." Who among us has not forgotten God, days without number? and who, therefore, has not reason to tremble at these awful declarations?
But they may all be removed by fervent and believing prayer—
Look into the Scriptures, and see the wonderful efficacy of prayer! If ever there was a person that had reason to fear his prayers could not be heard, it was David: because he had long known the Lord; had received the most distinguished favors at his hands; and yet committed adultery and murder, and continued impenitent for a long period, until his sin was charged home upon him by the Prophet Nathan: yet, behold, he, the very instant he acknowledged his transgressions, was forgiven. "I have sinned against the Lord," says he: and instantly the prophet replies, "The Lord has put away your sin: you shall not die 2 Samuel 12:13." Hear the prayers which he offered on the occasion: "Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin." "Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, you God of my salvation Psalm 51:2; Psalm 51:14." Hear with what confidence he prayed: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow Psalm 51:7." What! you clean! you whiter than snow? Yes, I, even I. Hear how particularly he himself notices the speed with which his prayer was answered. "When I kept silence (and refrained from prayer), my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. But at last I acknowledged my sin unto you, and mine iniquity I hid not: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and (instantly) you forgave the iniquity of my sin Psalm 32:3-5."
We may notice, also, the instance of Manasseh, who was perhaps the most daring in his impieties of all the human race: "He built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; he reared up altars for Baal, and worshiped all the host of Heaven; he built altars for them all, even in the house of the Lord itself, and set a graven image there; he made his son to pass through the fire; he caused his subjects to do more evil than had been committed by the nations whom God had driven out before them; and to all these impieties he added this, that he shed innocent blood very much, until he had filled Jerusalem with it from one end to the other 2 Kings 21:3-16. Now can we suppose that such a monster of impiety as this could ever be forgiven? Yes: not even his prayer was shut out, when he besought the Lord. We are told, that "in his affliction he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him; and He was entreated of him, and heard his supplication. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God 2 Chronicles 33:12-13." Repeatedly is this noticed in the history respecting him; "his prayer unto his God, his prayer, and how God was entreated of him 2 Chronicles 33:18-19;" and no doubt it is thus repeated in order to show us, that, whatever be our demerits, we shall not be cast out, if, with humble, fervent, and believing supplications, we betake ourselves to the prayer-hearing and sin-pardoning God.
The whole people of Nineveh attest this blessed truth. There was no call to repentance suggested by the Prophet Jonah: the judgments denounced by him were altogether unqualified with the smallest hope of mercy: the Prophet himself seems scarcely to have contemplated a possibility of forgiveness to them; yet were they, even the whole population, spared at the voice of their cry Jon. 3:10.
I say then, without hesitation, to all the sinners of mankind, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord; and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon," and multiply his pardons above all the multitude of their sins Isaiah 55:7. The margin.
My text leads me to notice another most important truth; namely,
II. That the weakness we feel may be urged by us as a plea—
The state of Israel at that time seemed indeed to be very desperate: for "God had already begun to cut them short." But the prophet, instead of desponding, twice urged this very circumstance as a plea with God to grant him his request: "O Lord God, forgive, I beseech you! by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small." And each time the success of his plea is mentioned, "The Lord repented for this: it shall not be, says the Lord Compare verse 2, 3, and 5, 6."
Now such may be our plea before God—
We are ready to make our weakness a ground of despondency before God: "How can I turn to him? How Song of Solomon 1 effect a reconciliation with him? How can I hope ever to emancipate myself from my cruel bondage?" "There is no hope:" 'I may as well continue as I am: I can but perish at last Jeremiah 3:25.' But all this is wrong: for God often delays his interpositions for this very end, that he may bring us to see how destitute we are of help or hope in ourselves: nor is he ever better pleased, than when, with a total dereliction of all hope in ourselves, we cast ourselves wholly and unreservedly on him. Let us once be brought to say with king Jehoshaphat, "We have no might; but our eyes are unto you;" and we may be sure that our deliverance is near at hand 2 Chronicles 20:12. The prophet succeeded thus.
And such success shall we also obtain—
I have said that God orders his dispensations, for the most part, so as to bring us to self-despair. Hear his own words: "The Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he sees that their power is gone, and there is none shut up or left Dent. 32:36. If there were any power in ourselves, we should be ascribing our deliverance to our own arm: but when we see how destitute we are of all strength, then are we willing to give God the glory of all that he effects in our behalf. See this in the Apostle Paul. He was assaulted with some grievous temptation, which he calls "a thorn in his flesh." Thrice he cried to the Lord to remove it: and by his repeated entreaties he obtained this answer; "My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." And what was the effect? His fears are dissipated; his sorrows are dispelled; and instantly he bursts forth into these triumphant exclamations: "Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me: for when I am weak, then am I strong 2 Corinthians 12:7-10." Here is the great truth which I would impress upon your minds; "When I am weak, then am I strong." It is not possible to have too deep a sense of your own weakness." Perhaps in the whole world there does not exist another passage comparable to that in the Prophet Isaiah, where he represents whole mountains of difficulty to be encountered, and Israel, as a mere insignificant worm, groaning under them: "Fear not, you worm Jacob: I will make you a new sharp threshing instrument, having teeth: you shall thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shall make the hills as chaff: you shall fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and you shall rejoice in the Lord, and shall glory in the Holy One of Israel Isaiah 41:14-16." Endeavor to realize this idea. Place mountains before your eyes: then look down upon a poor helpless worm; and then see, through his exertions, the whole mountains beaten to dust and scattered as by a mighty whirlwind; and then you will have some faint conception of the truth inculcated in my text; sins, that reach unto the heavens, scattered to the winds; and judgments, deep as Hell, removed forever from your sight. Bring every threatening which the word of God contains: and to every one in succession I will say, "Respecting this the Lord has repented: and this shall not be;" "neither shall that be."
Let me now, in my application of this subject, address,
1. Those who despise the judgments of the Lord—
Many there are who look upon the threatenings of God with as little concern as if there were no truth in them; and who, like Amaziah in the chapter before us, condemn the preachers as exciting groundless fears; and say to them, "Prophesy not against Israel, and drop not your word against the house of Israel verse 10, 16." But to all such persons I must say, that the word of God shall stand, and not one jot or tittle of it shall ever fall to the ground. Look back, and see, "Did not God's word take hold of" the disobedient Jews Zechariah 1:6. Go to Assyria, and see; or go to Babylon, and see; or look upon them in their present dispersion, and see. You may put far from you the evil day; but it will come at last; and with augmented terror, in proportion as it has been despised. I call upon you, then, yes, on every one among you, to turn unto the Lord, and to cry, "O Lord God, forgive, I beseech you The Text." For where is there one among you that does not need forgiveness? or who can obtain forgiveness, if he will not ask? But, "if you will not turn to God, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and my eye shall weep sore, and rundown with tears, because of the ruin that awaits you Jeremiah 13:17."
If you would ask, "How shall I arise?" gladly do I declare, that there is One able to save, and as willing as He is able. "God has laid help for you on One that is mighty:" and you shall have no want of grace or strength if only you will flee to him for support.
But this leads me to address,
2. Those who are sinking under discouraging apprehensions—
Beloved Brethren, what is that which you are saying? "How shall I arise? for I am small." Hear the answer which God gave to his Church of old. Zion of old labored under your very infirmity: "Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? Yes, says the Lord; even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contends with you; and I will save your children Isaiah 49:24-25." You see how readily God interposed for Israel, at the cry of Amos; and that too for an obstinate and rebellious people: and will he not hear your cry, which is offered for yourselves? Moreover, you have a better intercessor than Amos: the Son of God himself "ever lives" in Heaven, where he is gone on purpose "to make intercession for you." Put your cause into his hands: commit yourselves entirely to him, and you have nothing to fear: for "him the Father hears always." Say to him, as Hezekiah did under the most desponding apprehensions that could be conceived, "Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me Isaiah 38:14;" and be assured, that if, with a renunciation of all self-dependence, you cast your care on Him, he will speedily interpose for your relief: "he will, in love to your souls, deliver them from the pit of corruption, and cast all your sins behind his back Isaiah 38:17."
THE SECURITY OF ALL GOD'S PEOPLE
Amos 9:9. Lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve; yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.
THOUGH God does not see fit to preserve his people wholly from national calamities, yet he interposes, either to lighten their afflictions or to sanctify them to their good. Daniel and the Hebrew youths were carried captive with their nation; yet were they eminently protected by that God whom they served: and Jeremiah, though not raised to any exalted station, was on many occasions marked as an object of God's incessant care and attention. The Prophet Amos was commissioned to foretell the dispersion of Israel which began in the Assyrian captivity, and was completed at the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans: but the God of Abraham promised by him, that he would be mindful of "his hidden ones," and deliver them from the evils to which the profligate and secure should surely be exposed.
There are now, as well as in former ages, sifting times, (if we may so speak,) both to the Church at large, and to the individual members of it: and the same distinguishing regard is still, though less visibly, manifested by God to his dear children; not the smallest of whom shall ever be overlooked. To illustrate this truth we shall show,
I. By what methods God sifts his people—
God sees that a state of perfect ease would by no means conduce to his people's welfare: and therefore he suffers them sometimes to be agitated,
1. By outward afflictions—
Persecution is the common lot of all who live godly in Christ Jesus: and this, together with other trials common to the world at large, is made use of to separate the godly from the ungodly, and to purify them from the corruptions that cleave to them in their present state. While the world smiles upon us we are too ready to seek its friendship by sinful compliances; and when we enjoy an entire freedom from troubles, we are apt to grow careless, and to relax our diligence in seeking "the rest that remains for us." God therefore causes us to he "emptied from vessel to vessel, that we may not be settled on our lees Job 36:8-10 with Jeremiah 48:11.
2. By inward temptations—
By far the sorest trials which Christians experience, are, for the most part, of an inward and spiritual nature: Satan wounds them with his fiery darts, and harasses them with many painful suggestions. That wicked fiend indeed desires to sift them as wheat, that he may prevail against them to their destruction; but God permits him to do it for a very different end, namely, that he may root out all their self-confidence, and stimulate them to greater exertions in their spiritual warfare. This was the effect which it produced on Peter Luke 22:31. compared with 1 Peter 5:8; and it is with the same benevolent intent that our Almighty friend gives licence to our adversary to make his assaults on us. Doubtless such "tossings to and fro" are very distressing to us at the time; but they are overruled for good, in that they separate us move effectually from an evil world, and render us more meet for the heavenly garner.
Doubtless many who make a fair appearance, perish by these means: nevertheless we are assured of,
II. The security of all those that are truly upright—
There is an essential difference between the hypocrites and the sincere—
As chaff and corn may to a superficial observer resemble each other, so may the real and merely nominal Christian. But as there is a solidity in the corn which is not to be found in the chaff, so the truly converted person has something, which clearly distinguishes him from the most refined hypocrite: he is not contented with an appearance of religion, but seeks to possess it in truth: nor can he rest in the performance of duties; but labors to have his heart engaged in them. To be high in the estimation of men is, in his eyes, a poor matter; he would approve himself to God in all he does: nor is there any measure of perfection with which he would be satisfied, while there remained a hope and prospect of attaining more.
Moreover, God will infallibly distinguish the true professors from the false—
Man may easily be mistaken in his estimate of characters: but God will form an unerring judgment: he discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart: he weighs the very spirits of men no less than their actions: "he needs not that any should testify of man, for he knows what is in man:" he will discover sincerity under the most unfavorable circumstances, and hypocrisy under the most artful disguise. Abijah alone of all the house of Jeroboam had some good thing in his heart towards the Lord God of Israel, and God did not fail to notice it with tokens of his approbation, while he poured out the vials of his wrath on all the family besides 1 Kings 14:13. If we were less than the least of all saints, if we were only as "smoking flax," having but one spark of grace and a whole cloud of corruption, God would assuredly observe the latent principle, and discover the workings of his own Spirit amidst all the infirmities of our fallen nature.
Nor will he ever suffer the weakest believer to perish—
From the violence with which corn is agitated, an ignorant person would imagine that much of it must be lust with the chaff: in like manner many that are weak in faith may be ready to cry, "I shall one day perish 1 Samuel 27:1." But God pledges himself for the preservation of every the smallest grain. lie represents himself under the image of a woman, who, having lost a small piece of silver, lights a candle, and sweeps diligently until she find it Luke 15:8; and he assures us, that "it is not his will, that any of Ins little ones should perish Matthew 18:14. We have no reason then to fear: for while he continues possessed of omniscience to discern his people, and omnipotence to preserve them, we shall be as secure amidst all our agitations, as if we were already lodged in the granary of Heaven.
1. How much are we concerned to be found sincere!
There is a day quickly coming, when Christ, the Judge of the living and dead, shall sift and winnow us all. Nor will he merely cause a separation of the precious from the vile, but such a separation as shall be followed with endless happiness or misery Matthew 3:12. Should we not then diligently inquire whether we be wheat or chaff? To what purpose is it that "the tares grow up with the wheat," and sometimes are mistaken for it, if, at the harvest, they must be separated forever Matthew 13:29-30. So it will be of little avail to have been reputed Christians, if, the very instant we die, we are to take our portion with hypocrites and unbelievers. Let us then turn to God now with our whole hearts, that we may "have confidence before him at his coming."
2. How may we welcome afflictions, provided we be truly upright!
What are afflictions but the sieve in our Father's hand, whereby he takes us from among the ungodly, and "purifies us unto himself a peculiar people?" And shall we distrust his skill, or doubt his love? If the countryman, instructed by him, knows how to suit his threshing-instruments to the nature of his corn, shall God be at a loss how most effectually to produce his ends on us Isaiah 28:26-28. Let us then leave ourselves in his hands, and submit cheerfully to the means, that we may at last attain the end.
3. How important a grace is faith!
Under the various trials with which we are harassed, it is faith alone that can keep us steadfast, or afford us any solid comfort. If we be destitute of faith, we shall be tormented with ten thousand fears: but if we be strong in faith, we shall, under all circumstances, "stay ourselves on God, and be kept in perfect peace Isaiah 26:3." However sensible we be of our own weakness and unworthiness, we shall expect the accomplishment of God's promise, and shall dismiss our fears, "knowing that he is able to keep that which we have committed to him 2 Timothy 1:12." May we all be enabled in this manner to trust ourselves in his hands, and to wait quietly for that salvation which he has prepared for us!
CONVERSION OF THE JEWS AND GENTILES
Amos 9:11-12. In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build if as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, says the Lord that does this.
PROPHECIES are of necessity involved in some measure of obscurity; so that the full extent of their meaning cannot be seen at first, nor the precise period for their accomplishment ascertained. To many of them is affixed an apparently determinate, but really indeterminate, date; "In that day." The expression, "In that day," always refers to some signally important time, but not always to the same time: it sometimes refers to one advent of our Lord, and sometimes to another; so that we cannot determine, except by the passage itself, whether it relate to his coming in the flesh, or his coming to destroy Jerusalem, or his coming to reign in the Millennium, or his coming to judge the world. The context however will generally enable us to fix the period intended, if it relate only to one; or to specify the different seasons, if its reference be more extensive. It is with these words that the prophecy before us is introduced: and in it the diversity of their meaning will appear.
Let us consider,
I. The import of the prophecy—
It evidently has different seasons of accomplishment. It speaks of,
1. The return of the Jews from Babylon—
All the prophets who lived before that event spoke of it; to some it afforded very ample scope for the minutest predictions. By their captivity in Babylon, the Jews were reduced to the lowest state of degradation: their polity, both civil and religious, was destroyed; and there were no remains of that grandeur to which they had been elevated in the days of David. But, on their return from Babylon, things were restored, in a measure, "as in the days of old;" and their inveterate enemies of Edom became subject to them Obad. verse 18–21. This however is certainly only a subordinate sense of this prophecy; for it refers much more strongly to,
2. The conversion of the Gentiles—
When we speak of David's kingdom as typical of the Messiah's; and his enemies, of the Messiah's enemies; we perhaps may be thought to lean rather to the side of fancy than of judgment. But fancy should find no scope for exercise in interpreting the word of God: truth, and truth alone, should be the object of our research. The propriety of such representations is strongly marked by an inspired writer; who, when determining a controversy of the utmost importance to the Jews, adduces this very passage against them, to show, that God had, many ages before, decreed the reception of the Gentiles into his Church, without subjecting them to the rite of circumcision: and if that Apostle had imposed a sense upon the passage foreign to its real and received meaning, the Jews would doubtless have objected to his interpretation of it Acts 15:13-17. Here then we have one sense at least, (and that the most doubtful one,) of this important passage, fixed by undisputed and infallible authority. That in this sense it was accomplished, is too plain to stand in need either of proof or illustration: we ourselves, as of Gentile extraction, are living monuments of its truth.
3. The future restoration of the Jews, and their union with the Gentiles in one universal Church—
Though myriads of Gentiles have been converted to Christianity, we are far enough from having seen "all the heathen" subjected to the yoke of Christ; yet it is of all the remnant of the unconverted heathen that the prophet speaks. Nor have the Jews been so brought back to their own land as to be driven from it no more: yet it is to such a restoration of them that the prophet refers verse 14, 15. Both of these events will take place together, or in the nearest connection with each other: "the fall of the Jews has been the riches of the Gentiles," and the fullness of the Gentiles will be as renewed life to the Jews Romans 11:12; Romans 11:15; Romans 11:31; then will both be united under one Head, the Lord Jesus Christ; and he, as the true David, will reign over them forever Jeremiah 30:9. Zechariah 14:9. All his enemies then, whether Jewish or heathen, will he put under his feet; and all the kingdoms of the world become his undisputed possession.
Nor is this a speculative subject merely, but one replete with comfort: this will appear by considering,
II. The encouragements to be derived from it—
Every prophecy admits of practical improvement; and this especially. It affords us rich encouragement,
1. In relation to individuals—
The state of multitudes is altogether as desperate as was that of the Jews in Babylon. What hope is there of the proud infidel—the abandoned sensualist—the cruel persecutor—the hardened backslider Show in each of these states how desperate their condition is.—We should be ready to say concerning them, "There is no hope:" but there is nothing impossible with God; and he who restored the Jews from Babylon, and converted so many Gentiles by the instrumentality of a few poor fishermen, can at any time reclaim the prodigal, convert a Saul, or restore a David: Let none then despair of themselves, as though they were beyond the reach of mercy; nor of others, as though God could not subdue them to the obedience of faith. Though they are "dry bones, very dry, the Spirit may yet enter into them, and they may live Ezekiel 37:1-14."
2. In relation to the world at large—
Who that sees the state of the world at this moment, would conceive it possible that truth and righteousness should one day universally prevail? Yet God has ordained that the little grain of mustard seed which has sprung up, shall become a tree that shall extend its shadow over the whole earth: If we look at the work indeed, we shall sit down in despair: but if we recollect who it is that says, "I, I will do it," we shall see not only the possibility, but the certainty, of that event. Many, from not adverting to this, laugh at the idea of missions: and many whom God has fitted for missionary labors, are afraid to engage in them. But "is there anything too hard for the Lord?" and has he not "ordained strength in the mouths of babes and sucklings?" Has he not said too, "The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this?" Let us then look with pity both on Jews and heathens; and, in humble hope that the time of God's effectual interposition is fast approaching, let us labor, according to our ability, to extend the kingdom of our Lord, and to advance his glory.
THE MILLENNIAL STATE
Amos 9:13. Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that sows seed; and the mountains shall drop street wine, and all the hills shall melt.
IT is gratifying to see what a harmony there is in all the prophets, in their descriptions of the glory of the latter day. The representations which heathen poets have given of what they call the golden age, are more than realized in their predictions. They appear indeed to speak of earthly things; but it is of heavenly things that they speak: and by earthly images they embody truth, and present it to our minds with incomparably greater force than it could by any other means be conveyed. The idea of fertility, for instance, in all its richest luxuriance, is calculated to make a strong impression on the imagination: it is tangible, as it were; and we can apprehend it; and, when it is set before us in glowing language, we can with ease transfer to spiritual things our perceptions with all their clearness, and our impressions with all their force. Most striking is the picture drawn by the Prophet Hosea. He represents the people uttering their complaints to the corn and wine and oil; and they to the earth; and the earth to the heavens; and the heavens to Jehovah: of them in succession conceding to the other the blessings solicited at their hands; Jehovah granting clouds to the heavens; they pouring out their contents upon the earth; the earth yielding its juices to the corn and wine and oil; and they nourishing the famished people Hosea 2:21-23. The Prophet Joel goes further, and describes the effects produced, the mountains dropping down new wine, and the hills flowing with milk Joel 3:18; while the Prophet Amos proceeds yet further, and represents the productions of the earth as so abundant, that there will scarcely be time to gather them in; "the plowman overtaking the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that sows the seed:" in other words, that the successive operations of husbandry will, by reason of the abundance, press so closely upon each other, as almost to interrupt the regular execution of them.
It is with the spiritual import of these images that we are more immediately concerned. It seems indeed highly probable, that agreeably to the promise given by Moses Leviticus 26:5, there will be, as nearly as possible, a literal accomplishment of these things in Palestine, after that the Jews shall have been restored to their own land; (for that event shall certainly take place in the appointed time verse 14, 15;) but infinitely richer blessings await them in that day; for that period shall be distinguished by,
I. Frequent ordinances—
At the first establishment of the Christian Church, the people "continued daily in the temple with one accord, and brake bread together from house to house, eating their meat with gladness and singleness of heart." Thus also will it be in that blessed day, when apostolic piety shall again prevail throughout the Church: there will be no "famine of the word," but frequent ordinances in every place:
In public, ministers will then "give themselves wholly to their work:" they will be "instant in season and out of season:" they will live only to fulfill their ministry, and will "count their lives dear to them" for no other end. The people too will be as eager to receive instruction, as the ministers to convey it. As many followed our blessed Lord for days together to hear his word, and forgot, as it were, the very wants of nature through the insatiableness of their appetites for spiritual food; so, methinks, in that day the people will, as it were, "dwell in the house of the Lord, that they may flourish in the courts of our God."
Then also will social ordinances abound. Friends, when they meet together, will then seek to edify each other in faith and love. In families, all will look for the returning seasons of divine worship, as much as for their regular meals. Parents will "command their children to fear the Lord;" and masters will universally adopt the resolution of Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
In private, too, men will delight in approaching to their God, and in pouring out their souls before the throne of grace. "At morning, and at evening, and at noon-day will they pray," as David did in the times of old; yes, they will be ready to say with him, "Seven times a day will I praise you, because of your righteous judgments."
Thus in the public, social, and private ordinances there will be such a rapid succession, that the "plowman will overtake the reaper; and he who treads out the grapes, the sower." Not that temporal things will be neglected: men will "not be the more slothful in business, because they are fervent in spirit;" but they will carry the fear and love of God into everything, so that they will "be in the fear of the Lord all the day long." "The fire on their altar will never go out."
From this state of things there will arise,
II. Numerous converts—
Now ministers may fish all the day, and take scarcely anything; but then the Lord will direct them where and how to cast their nets; which they shall scarcely be able to drag to land, by reason of the numbers that they shall catch. The days of Pentecost shall be revived. From a small handful of corn shall spring up a crop waving like the trees of Lebanon, and standing as close upon the ground as piles of grass upon the earth Psalm 72:16. Fresh converts shall be continually hastening forwards, as "doves flying to their windows;" yes rather, they shall be like a majestic river "flowing together to the goodness of the Lord," and that too, not as in an ordinary course, but upward, "even to the mountain of the Lord's house that shall be established on the top of the mountains Isaiah 2:2." The church itself shall be perfectly astonished at the increase; which will be so vast and so rapid, that places shall be wanting for their reception Isaiah 49:18-23. In a word, "the fields will be always white ready to the harvest;" and one crop will not be gathered in, before another is ripe for the sickle."
Nor will Christianity be a mere profession then; for all who embrace it shall be distinguished for,
III. Exalted virtues—
All will then "live, not unto themselves, but unto their God; even to Him who died for them, and rose again." The fruit which individuals will then bear will not be thirty or sixty-fold, but an hundred-fold. It will appear as if all the most eminent saints that have ever lived had risen again; on which account it is called, "The first resurrection Revelation 20:5-6." So subdued will be all the evil passions of men in that day, that "instead of the thorn will grow up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier will grow up the myrtle-tree Isaiah 55:13;" "for brass there will be gold; for iron, silver; for wood, brass; and for stones, iron Isaiah 60:17." It will be truly the reign of Christ upon earth: nothing but his will will be done; and it will be done on earth, in good measure, as it is done in Heaven. Godliness will then be, not an act, but a habit; so that one act of piety will be only as a prelude to another; "the very mountains dropping with sweet wine, and the hills melting" into rivers of wine.
Resulting from this state of piety, there will be,
IV. Abundant consolations—
This is doubtless intimated in our text, as in the parallel passage in the Prophet Joel Joel 3:18. Truly "God will then comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places; he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord: joy and gladness will be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody Isaiah 51:3. See also 35:1, 2." The world at this time is only a valley of tears: but then "there will be new heavens and a new earth: yes, God will make all things new Revelation 21:1; Revelation 21:5." What will be the state of men's minds at that time, may be gathered from the description given of it by the Prophet Isaiah Isaiah 12:3-6; Blessed and glorious state! "The peace of all will flow down as a river," and the joy of all be unspeakable and glorified Isaiah 35:6; Isaiah 35:10; "God will cause them universally and without ceasing to triumph in Christ 2 Corinthians 2:14;" and to live as on the very confines of Heaven itself."
Let us inquire,
1. Whence it is that we are comparatively in so low a state?
It is manifest that religion, though perhaps flourishing in comparison of what it was a century ago, is still but at a low ebb. If we look at the ordinances, public, private, and social, they are far from being attended with that life and power that they were in the apostolic age. And whence is this? Are we straitened in our God? No: "we are straitened in our own affections;" we do not pant after the life and power of godliness, as the first converts did: and "we have not, because we ask not." O that we were more earnest and constant in prayer, forgetting all that we have received, and pressing forward for higher attainments!.
2. How we may attain a greater measure of that prosperity which the saints will enjoy in the latter day?
We must all begin with our own hearts. If all would labor for higher attainments in their own souls, the whole Church of God would revive and flourish: But an attention to others also is most desirable. The walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt with incredible celerity, because all, women as well as men, "repaired before their own doors Nehemiah 3:10; Nehemiah 3:12; Nehemiah 3:23; Nehemiah 3:28-29;" and if we labored, all of us in our own more immediate neighborhood, what might we not effect! If only we "had a mind to the work," "the work of the Lord should prosper in our hands," and the kingdom of Christ "should come with power" in the midst of us.