Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
THE HOLINESS OF GOD
Habakkuk 1:13. You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and can not look on iniquity.
MEN do not sufficiently contemplate the character of God. The Psalmist, speaking of some in his day, says, "These things you have done; and I kept silence: and you thought that I was altogether such an one as yourself Psalm 50:21." In like manner, we, if we do not see before our eyes some visible displays of God's displeasure, are ready to imagine that he will suffer our iniquities to pass unpunished. But, whoever he be that commits sin, whether he be an avowed enemy of God, or one that is numbered among his people, let him know that "God is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look upon iniquity" but with the utmost abhorrence. Primarily, these words have respect to the Chaldeans, who were about to invade Judea, and to execute upon the whole Jewish nation the most fearful vengeance Compare verse 2, 3. where the very same terms are used. In reference to them, the prophet calls upon the holy God to arise and vindicate the cause of his people. But the words of my text contain a general truth, which it becomes us all most seriously to consider.
Let me then show you,
I. What evidence God has given us of this truth—
If we look into the Holy Scriptures, we shall find them full of this truth. "Holiness" is that perfection which, above all others, is celebrated in Heaven Isaiah 6:3; and in which God is pre-eminently glorious Exodus 15:11." But not to enumerate passages expressive of this truth, let one suffice: "You are not a God that has pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with you. The foolish shall not stand in your sight: you hate all workers of iniquity Psalm 5:4-5." It is by an appeal to facts that I propose to establish the truth before us. See how God has manifested it,
1. In a way of judgment—
Go back to the very fall of man in Paradise. An offence was committed; an offence against a merely positive command; and which therefore had in it no intrinsic evil, except as a violation of, what I may call, an arbitrary appointment. Yet behold, on account of that one offence were our first parents, and all their posterity, consigned to death; yes, and the whole creation also, rational and irrational, animate and inanimate, was subjected to a curse.
Go on to the time of Noah, when, for the sins of men, the whole world, with every living creature, was overwhelmed with one universal deluge; one single family alone, with a small selection of the brute creation, being saved.
Go on to Sodom and Gomorrah, and to all the cities of the plain; and see them destroyed by fire and brimstone from Heaven; not so much as a new-born infant being spared, or any, except righteous Lot and his two daughters. Are these no evidences of the truth before us? Methinks they declare, in language that cannot be mistaken, God's hatred of sin, and his determination to punish it to the uttermost.
Behold, at a later period, Achan keeping for himself a wedge of gold, and a Babylonish garment, which ought to have been destroyed. No one was robbed; and the offence was not known to any human being; but yet, on account of that, did God leave for a season all the whole nation, and never return to them in mercy, until the offender was sought out and punished with death.
A terrible act of vengeance also was executed on Uzzah, who, to keep the ark from falling, inadvertently stretched out his hand, and touched it; he himself not being of the Levites, who alone were authorized to touch it. Say, brethren, is not God a holy God? and is not sin, of what kind soever it be, "that abominable thing which he hates?"
Take but one more instance; that of David numbering the people. For that one offence were seventy thousand of his subjects slain. What further proof can any man desire of God's irreconcilable abhorrence of all sin?
2. In a way of mercy—
When the whole human race were involved in Adam's guilt and misery, God could no more look upon them with the smallest measure of delight. Before he could cast an eye of love upon so much as one single soul, its sins must all be expiated; and a perfect righteousness must be given to it; and its every desire must be renewed. But how could all this be effected? It could be effected only through the mediation of God's only dear Son, and by the operation of his own Almighty and eternal Spirit. To exercise mercy, was God's desire: and that he might exercise it in consistency with his own immaculate holiness, he determined to give his only-begotten Son, that through him, and in his sacred person, his hatred of sin might be made manifest; and to give his Holy Spirit also, that, through his effectual agency, his love of holiness might be displayed. Tell me, then, whether this does not confirm the declaration in my text? To all eternity, God will not look upon any sinner that is not washed in the blood of Christ, and clothed in his unspotted righteousness: nor will he ever look on one who is not "renewed in the spirit of his mind," and transformed by the Holy Spirit into that very image of the Deity which sin has effaced.
Truly, let these things be considered; and you will say, that "God is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look upon iniquity:" for when sin was found upon his only dear Son, and that only by imputation, the cup of God's indignation must be drunk by him, even to the very dregs: nor, until that was done, should any soul of man find mercy at his hands.
This truth being so clear, let us consider,
II. What lessons it inculcates on every one of us—
Of the admiration which this sublime character of the Deity demands, I shall forbear to speak. I will notice only those more plain and obvious duties, which are of prime importance to every child of man. This view, then, of God's holiness, may teach us all,
1. To repent of our former sins—
Who is there that has not, in instances without number, grieved and offended this holy God?: Look back, my brethren, upon your lives, from the earliest childhood even to the present hour, and consult the records of conscience; and then say, whether God can ever look on you but with just and holy indignation?: O that all of us were duly sensible of our transgressions, and were humbled before God on account of them! To hope for mercy without deep contrition is in vain. We might as well hope that God should cease to exist: for while he continues a holy Being, he never can behold but with anger an impenitent transgressor. He tells us plainly, that, "except we repent, we must all perish Luke 13:5;" and it is "the broken and contrite heart alone that he will not utterly despise Psalm 51:17."
2. To flee to the Lord Jesus Christ for refuge—
Christ is the city of refuge appointed for sinful man: and to him must every human being flee, if ever he would escape the sword of Divine vengeance. As for repentance, though it be necessary to prepare the soul for pardon, it can never of itself obtain pardon. Whole rivers of tears could never wash away so much as one single sin. Nothing but that which satisfied Divine justice can ever obtain for us the remission of any sin whatever: Indeed, Brethren, "no man can come unto the Father but by Christ:" "nor is there any name given under Heaven but his, whereby any man can be saved." Bring then your sins to Christ, and lay them upon his sacred head, as the high-priest laid the sins of all Israel on the head of the scape-goat. Take also to yourselves his perfect righteousness, that in that you may "stand before God without spot or blemish." In that way you may hope for acceptance with a holy God: but in no other way shall any soul of man come up with acceptance before him.
3. To implore of God the sanctifying influences of his Holy Spirit—
To your latest hour will you find, that, in some respect or other, "the law of sin which is in your members will prevail over the better law of your minds," and bring defilement on your souls. In truth, if you be not upheld continually by the Spirit of God, there is not any sin into which you may not relapse. Your own wisdom will not suffice to keep you from temptation; nor will your own strength suffice to preserve you from falling by it. A new-born infant does not more need to be carried in its mother's arms, than you do to be upheld continually by the Spirit of the Living God. Be earnest, then, in crying to God for help: for it is through the Spirit alone that you can mortify the deeds of the body, or bring forth the fruits of righteousness to the honor of your God, And do not presume on God's past mercy to you: for it is an unalterable truth, that "God cannot behold evil:" and, "if you indulge iniquity in your heart, God neither will, nor can, regard you." To be accepted of him, "you must be holy, even as he is holy."
OUR DUTY IN REFERENCE TO THE PROMISES
Habakkuk 2:3. The vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come; it will not tarry.
AS there is no one so secure, but he may fall, so there is no one in so low and afflicted a condition, but God may have mercy in reserve for him. It has pleased God on many occasions to suffer his people to be reduced to the very last extremity before he interposed for them, in order that his interposition for them might be more visible, and might produce in their minds livelier sensations of joy and gratitude. The prophet, having foretold the total destruction of his country by the Chaldean armies, was greatly grieved at the prospect of such extensive and dreadful calamities. He looked therefore to God, to know whether there were any alleviating circumstances which might console the people in their troubles; and he was favored with a vision of their future deliverance from Babylon; and was ordered to write it down in terms so plain, that the most inattentive or superficial observer could not but understand them: but as the promise had respect to a distant period of time, he was told to bid them wait for its accomplishment, in a full assurance that they should not ultimately be disappointed.
But we must not confine the promise to this subject: for in the Epistle to the Hebrews this promise is quoted in a general manner, as applicable to all the distresses with which the Lord's people are tried Hebrews 10:37. The Lord himself stands engaged for their support and deliverance; and he enjoins them to wait his appointed time, in a certain expectation that he will in due season fulfill his word.
We propose then to show,
I. The certainty of the promises—
There is a time fixed in the Divine counsels for the accomplishment of every promise—
The promises of God often have respect to a very distant period: yet that period is fixed; nor can it be either accelerated or delayed. The time for Christ's incarnation, though not revealed from the beginning, was appointed of God from eternity. Thousands of years rolled on before the period arrived; but at the time when, according to Daniel's prophecy, the Messiah's advent was generally expected, he came Daniel 9:25-26. Luke 2:38. The time for detaining Abraham's descendants was fixed, even to a single day: and the accuracy with which the promise was fulfilled, is noted by the historian as a circumstance worthy of most attentive observation; "It came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the self-same day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It is a night to be much observed unto the Lord Exodus 12:40-42." The same remark also extends to every blessing which God has determined to confer upon his people: nor can they use a better plea on behalf of themselves or of the Church at large, than that which the Psalmist urges, "Arise, and have mercy upon Zion; for the time to favor her, yes, the set time, is come Psalm 102:13."
When that period is arrived, the promise, how improbable soever it may appear, shall be fulfilled—
Nothing could be more unlikely, according to human apprehensions, than the deliverance foretold in the text: yet at the appointed time the Chaldeans were subdued by the Medes and Persians, and the Jews were liberated by the very man who had been foretold by name long before he had any existence in the world. The promise made to Abraham and Sarah was delayed, until the accomplishment of it, according to the course of nature, seemed impossible: yet it was not suffered to fall to the ground; in due time it received its completion, and gave a demonstration, that God was true to his word. Thus when God delays to give peace to the contrite, and victory to those who are conflicting with sin, we must not imagine that he has forgotten to be gracious, but that the time for the performance of his promise is not fully come. He has said, that "he will give his people the blessing of peace Psalm 29:11," and that "sin shall not have dominion over them Romans 6:14;" and he will "not suffer one jot or tittle of his word to fail." "His counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure Isaiah 46:10."
Being assured then of the stability of his promises, let us consider,
II. Our duty with respect to them—
As "we know not the times or seasons which the Father has reserved in his own power," it becomes us to wait,
1. In humility—
We can claim nothing at the hands of God. If he were to deal with us as he did with the fallen angels, we should have no more than our desert. The most distant hope of obtaining mercy is a marvelous favor conferred upon us. We should therefore lie low before him, as conscious of our utter unworthiness. We should implore mercy, only for the sake of that adorable Savior who died for us. And we should cheerfully leave to God the time, the manner, the degree, in which he will show mercy towards us.
2. In faith—
We must "not stagger at any of the promises Romans 4:20." on account of the greatness of them, or of our own unworthiness. We should remember who it is that promises; how sovereign HE is in the distribution of his favors, and how mighty to fulfill his word. It is true, a promise of pardon to such guilty wretches, and of everlasting happiness to those who deserved nothing but misery, appears great and incredible: but he has given us his only dear Son; and will he not with him also freely give us all things? Let us not then be requiring signs to confirm our faith Judges. 6:36-40, but believe that it shall be even as God has said unto us Acts 27:25.
3. In patience—
If God should defer granting our requests until the latest moment of our lives, we should wait contentedly upon him: his blessing, if given at the expiration of a thousand years, would amply repay us for all our solicitude and suspense. Let us consider how long he has called, and we have refused to answer; and shall we be impatient if he delay to answer us? We exercise patience in hopes of obtaining in due season the fruits of the earth James 5:7-8; let us do the same in hopes of that grace which shall supply all our wants, and satisfy all our desires Hebrews 10:36.
1. How attentive should we be to the promises which God has made us!
There is not a situation in which we can be, wherein we have not many promises suited to our necessities. Should we not then treasure them up in our minds? Should we not plead them at a throne of grace? Should they not be to us "a light shining in a dark place?" Let us study the word of God with an especial view to the promises; for it is by them that we are to be "made partakers of a divine nature 2 Peter 1:4," and by them to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit 2 Corinthians 7:1."
2. How ashamed should we be of ever yielding to unbelief!
The office of faith is, to give to things invisible and future a present and visible existence. It was by faith that Abraham was assured that Isaac, after he should have been slain and reduced to ashes, would be restored to life; yes, he was as much assured of it, as if he had seen the very transaction pass before his eyes. This honored God as a God of truth. But unbelief dishonors him in the highest degree: it says, in fact, that "the vision will lie." But what ground have we for such a suspicion? When did God falsify any one of his promises Joshua 23:14. To guard against our unbelief, he has confirmed his promise with an oath Hebrews 6:17-18; and shall we still question his veracity? O blush, you unbelieving people, who are doubting whether he will receive you to mercy, or supply all your need! Trust in him with unshaken affiance; and you shall find Him "faithful who has promised."
3. How awful is the state of those, who, instead of being interested in the promises, are obnoxious to the threatenings!
Every word of God is equally true, and equally certain of accomplishment. The threatening that the whole world should be destroyed by a deluge, was executed, notwithstanding the scoffs of unbelievers: and everything which he has spoken against sin and sinners shall be fulfilled in due season 2 Peter 3:3-4; 2 Peter 3:8-9. His vengeance is delayed in mercy; but it shall surely come at last 2 Timothy 2:12-13. Let the impenitent and unbelieving consider this, and "flee for refuge to the hope set before them."
FAITH AND UNBELIEF CONTRASTED
Habakkuk 2:4. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.
THE sense of these words is not very obvious. In truth, the sense of them, as standing in the context, and as quoted in the New Testament, is so different, that we need examine them with great care, in order to find their true and full import. Their literal meaning, I apprehend, is to this effect. The prophet had foretold the captivity of the Jews in Babylon. The Jews would not believe that the predicted events could ever take place Habakkuk 1:5-6. They therefore contended with the prophet; and he, wearied with their perverseness, spread his case before the Lord, and implored direction from him: "I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say to me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved verse 1." The Lord answers him, and commands him to write it in large and legible characters, for the instruction of the whole nation, that the predicted events should take place in their appointed season; and that those who, through pride and hypocrisy, rejected the Divine testimony, should perish; whereas those who, with simplicity of mind, believed it, should be saved.
Had we no further insight given us into these words in the New Testament, we should rest in that exposition of them, and conceive that we had given nearly the full meaning of them. But the captivity in Babylon was a forerunner of a yet more terrible bondage which they would suffer, through their contempt of that great Prophet who should come into the world. Through their pride and hypocrisy, they would reject him, even the Lord Jesus Christ, and would perish in their unbelief Compare Habakkuk 1:5 with Acts 13:41; but those who should believe in Christ, and place their hopes entirely on him, should be saved by him with an everlasting salvation.
Now, if an uninspired man had put this construction upon the passage, we should consider the interpretation as forced. But when an inspired Apostle, not once or twice only, but repeatedly, quotes this passage in this very sense; and not in an incidental way only, as it were by accommodation, but in a way of solid argumentation; we cannot doubt but that, in putting this construction upon the words, we express the mind of the Holy Spirit. Paul shows from these words, that the way of salvation is simply by faith in Christ: "Therein," that is, in the Gospel, "is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith Romans 1:17." Again, in another epistle, he takes occasion from these words to show, that salvation is by faith alone, without the deeds of the law: "That no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident; for, The just shall live by faith Galatians 3:11." In another epistle, he quotes the whole passage, to show that, as our entrance into the way of salvation is by faith, so must also our continuance in it be: "You have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God, you might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he who shall come, will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them that draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul Hebrews 10:36-39. The 37th and 38th verses are quoted from Habakkuk, exactly according to the translation of them in the Septuagint."
I conceive that the large and comprehensive view of this passage is that which we ought to take; and that it will properly give occasion for me to mark,
I. The evil of unbelief—
It was in reference to those who rejected his testimony, and who, by rejecting it, would perish, that the prophet said, "Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him." Here he marks the evil of unbelief in its nature, as the fruit of pride and hypocrisy; and in its tendency, as leading to destruction.
Let us notice, then, the evil of it,
1. In its nature—
Persons would gladly have it thought, that their unbelief arises from want of evidence: but in whoever it is found, provided he have had the means of information fully set before him, we hesitate not to affirm that it is the offspring of pride and hypocrisy. Men will not submit their wisdom to the wisdom of God; and, instead of receiving humbly what he has revealed, they will presumptuously sit in judgment upon him, and teach him, what he shall reveal, and in what manner he shall reveal it. They like not to be told that they are such guilty and helpless creatures as they really are. They like not to have all grounds of self-confidence taken from them; and to be necessitated to found their hopes altogether on another, even though that other be the Son of God himself. They like not that measure of self-denial and of devotedness to God, which the Scriptures require of them. Hence they endeavor to explain away the force of Scripture, if not to set aside its authority altogether. They do not examine it with the candor which they would exercise in the investigation of any other subject: they have a bias within them, arising from their prejudices and their passions: they wish to find occasion against the Scriptures, or an interpretation which shall enable them to evade their force. They do not set themselves diligently to conform to the word of God, as far as they believe it true: so that their whole conduct shows that "their soul is not upright in them." This habit of mind does not prevail in all to the same extent; but in every unbeliever is it found: and it is at the root of unbelief, wherever that baneful evil exists.
2. In its tendency—
It operated to the ruin of those who would not listen to the warnings of the prophets respecting the judgments that would be inflicted on them by their Chaldean invaders. And a similar consequence ensued to those who rejected the Savior of the world. And what other effect can ever be produced by it? Were not the Apostles commanded to declare, through all the world, "He who believes, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he who believes not, shall be damned?" Nor does this consequence result from any arbitrary appointment of God: it is, and must be so, in the very nature of things. "This is the record, that God has given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son: he who has the Son, has life; and he who has not the Son of God, has not life." Now, if this life be in the Lord Jesus Christ, how can we receive it, if we believe not on him? We put it away from us: we do in fact say, 'I will not have life: if God will not save me in any other way, I will not be saved at all.' This is what our blessed Lord himself complained of: "You will not come unto me, that you may have life." It is to no purpose to dispute against this. We cannot alter the Divine appointment. A Savior is given us: a free offer of salvation through Him is sent us: not a creature in the universe is excepted: not any one who comes to God through Him shall be cast out. But, if this Savior be rejected, "there is no other sacrifice for sin;" no other foundation on which we can build;" "no other name whereby we can be saved." We ought to be fully aware of this: for if we persist in our unbelief, "there remains for us nothing but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and of fiery indignation to consume us."
Let us now view, in contrast with this,
II. The transcendent excellence of faith—
Faith is highly commended in the Scriptures of truth. And well it may be; for,
1. It is associated with candor—
"The just," is he who weighs with candor whatever is brought before him, and embraces truth wherever he can find it. This disposition of mind is called, in Scripture, "an honest and good heart:" and wherever that is, the seed of the Gospel which is sown on it will grow up, and bring forth its appointed fruit. The believer will not reject this or that declaration, saying, "This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" nor will he complain of "any commandment, that it is grievous." He will sit at the feet of Jesus, and hear his word: and, if he meet with anything which strikes him as new, he will "search the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things be so:" and when anything exceeds his comprehension, he will go to God in prayer, and implore the gift of his Holy Spirit to "open the eyes of his understanding," and to "guide him into all truth." In this way, his doubts are cleared; his difficulties are removed; his perception of truth is quickened: his submission to it increased; and his faith, which at first was only as a grain of mustard-seed, becomes a large tree, under the shadow of which he can safely repose, and by the fruits of which he is nourished unto life eternal. In a word, his faith unites him to the Lord, "in whom he finds both righteousness and strength." Thus, from his integrity of heart, he is enabled to discern what a jaundiced mind would reject: and, from a readiness to obey the truth, he is put into possession of all those blessings which a proud, unbelieving hypocrite can never attain.
2. It issues in salvation—
"The just shall live by his faith." At the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, the believers availed themselves of a favorable moment, and fled to Pella, and escaped; while the whole unbelieving nation endured the righteous vengeance of an offended God. And who are they that shall be saved in the last day? Believers; and they alone. They will be then acknowledged by their God: they shall stand at the light hand of their Judge: they shall be exalted to thrones of glory: they shall live before him for ever and ever. To this the whole sacred volume bears witness. Not an exception to this truth shall ever be found: however God may suffer his people to be sifted, "not the least grain shall fall to the earth." "It is not the will of our Father, that one of his little ones should perish." No, truly, "they shall never perish, but shall have eternal life."
Suffer you now, Brethren, a word of exhortation—
1. Be candid—
Be aware of the bias that is upon your own minds. You cannot but be sensible that there is in all of us a love of this present evil world, and a distaste for heavenly employments. You cannot but have seen it, both in your hearts and lives, from the very first moment that you began to act. You know that you have, by nature, no delight in communion with God, nor any realizing views of things invisible and eternal. You know that your affections are naturally set on the things of time and sense, and that you look to them with an intensity of interest which you do not feel in the concerns of your souls. How all this must operate on your minds, in relation to the Gospel, is obvious. That, as you well know, calls you to a renunciation of all earthly vanities, a mortification of all corrupt appetites, and a pursuit of holiness as your supreme good. Be sensible of this, when you either hear or read the blessed word of God: and beg of him to "put truth in your inward parts;" and, by the mighty power of his Spirit, to cast down all your lofty and carnal imaginations, and to bring into captivity every thought that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ."
2. Be in earnest—
It is not a mere speculation which I would impress upon your minds. No: it is the very truth of God; yes, "it is your very life." Your rejecting of the truth will "not make void the faith of God." It will stand, whether you reject it or not: and the final judgment will assuredly be in conformity with it. Do not then trifle. Remember how much you have at stake. Lose no time. Hear the threatenings of God, and tremble at them: and listen to the promises of God with lively gratitude and humble confidence. Bear in mind the issue of things with respect to the Jewish people: has not every word of God been fulfilled to them? You shall surely, before long, see the same in reference to yourselves. If you proudly despise the word of God, or hypocritically pretend a submission to it which you do not yield, nothing remains for you but the stroke of God's avenging rod. But if you will believe in Christ, and give yourselves up to him, you shall surely experience all the riches of his grace, and finally inherit all the fullness of his glory.
GOD GREATLY TO BE FEARED
Habakkuk 2:20. The Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.
TO any one who beholds the works of creation, one would suppose that there could not exist a doubt respecting the being of a God: and to any one that contemplates an idol of his own formation, one would suppose it absolutely impossible that he should ascribe to it divine attributes, or worship it as his God. Yet experience shows, that God is thus overlooked, and that idols are almost universally substituted in his place. The very people of God themselves, to whom he had so often manifested himself in the most stupendous acts, were ever prone to renounce him, and to place their trust in idols of wood and stone. But a dreadful woe is denounced against all who so dishonor God, and debase their own souls; and the declaration of God to the whole universe is this, "The Lord is in his holy temple: let the whole earth keep silence before him."
Let us here contemplate,
I. The majesty of Jehovah—
Viewing him in contrast with senseless idols, let us contemplate him,
1. As in the temple of the universe—
He is there as the Creator of all, the Governor of all, the Judge of all. Idols are the work of men's hands: but men themselves, together with everything in the whole creation, are formed by God; who, by a single expression of his will, called them all into existence, and upholds them all by the word of his power. Behold the worlds and systems that are around us, every single star preserving its appointed course, and fulfilling the ends for which it was formed: who can behold them, and not acknowledge a God of infinite wisdom, and power, and grace? Or look at the smallest insect, that is scarcely visible to the naked eye, and can be distinctly seen only through the medium of a microscope; and say, whether the Deity be not as conspicuous in it, as in the universe itself? The whole of this is under his continual care. A poor senseless idol, so far from directing others, cannot even move itself, but is carried wherever the maker of it wills; and, instead of bearing others, is often itself, as the prophet well observes, "a burden to the weary beast." But Jehovah governs all things, both in Heaven and earth; insomuch that not a sparrow tails to the ground, or a hair from the head of any one of his saints, without his special permission. His very enemies, while they think to oppose him, do, in fact, accomplish his will: even the crucifixion of his only-begotten Son, though so horrible an impiety, did in reality fulfill his eternal counsels: nor was there any part of that awful event which was not predicted by God, and "by him determined before to be done."
Nor is there so much as a transient thought in the mind of any man, but it is marked by him, and recorded in the book of his remembrance; and shall be brought forth at the day of judgment, as the ground of that sentence of condemnation or acquittal that shall be passed upon us. He appears, indeed, to be so far removed from us, that he cannot take cognizance of anything that we do: but "all things are naked and open before him;" and "with him is no darkness at all; but the night and the day to him are both alike." As for idols, they are unconscious of what is done even to themselves; and themselves are falling to decay, and may at any time be cast into the fire and be burnt. How unlike are they to Jehovah, who will assign to every one his proper doom; and himself exist forever, the joy of his redeemed people, the terror of his prostrate enemies!
2. As in the person of the Lord Jesus—
It will be remembered by you all, that Jehovah dwelt, as it were visibly, first in the tabernacle, and afterwards in the temple, in that bright cloud called the Shechinah, the symbol of the Divine presence. But yet more visibly, if I may so speak, did he dwell in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ: according as it is said, "The Word was with God, and was God, and was made flesh, and dwelt among us." The expression here used has a direct reference to the tabernacle, which was a type of Christ's humanity: He was made flesh, and dwelt among us, as in a tabernacle John 1:1; John 1:14; and on that very account he is called the image of the invisible God Colossians 1:15; that is, the person in whom the invisible God has condescended to make himself visible to mortal man. In this adorable Savior "dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily Colossians 2:9;" and in him all the perfections of his Father shine forth, insomuch, that he is "the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person Hebrews 1:3." Behold, then, the incarnate Deity, sojourning on earth, to fulfill the counsels of eternal Wisdom, for the redemption of a ruined world. How contemptible are worthless idols in comparison of him! and how must every Dagon fall from its very base before him!
Let us then contemplate,
II. Our duty towards him—
Well is it said, "Let the whole earth keep silence before him." Truly, as surrounded by his majesty, and upheld by his power, and saved by his mercy, we must behold him,
1. With reverential awe—
He is indeed "greatly to be feared, and to be had in reverence of all them that are round about him." If the rocks trembled at his presence when he descended on Mount Sinai Judges. 5:5, much more must his intelligent creation, and still more the sinners of mankind. In Heaven, all his hosts, whether of sinless angels or redeemed saints, fall prostrate before him: and on earth, his most favored people have never beheld his glory, or heard his voice, but they have fallen on their face, as Abraham did, with the profoundest awe, and in deepest adoration Genesis 17:3. Even to a fellow-creature the most respectful reverence has been often shown, and that, too, even by persons of the highest rank, through an admiration of his superior goodness and wisdom Job 29:9-10; what, then, must be due to the God of Heaven, whether as riding on the heavens in his majesty, or walking on the earth in the multitude of his tender mercy?
2. With meek submission—
Many things, of course, occur, which we feel to be painful, and are unable to comprehend: for "our God does whatever pleases him;" "nor will he give account to us of any of his matters." Nor should we for one moment rise against any of his dispensations. However dark or trying they may be, we should say, "It is the Lord: let him do what seems him good." In truth, his dispensations are frequently ordered for this very end, "to humble us, and to prove us," as he proved Israel of old: and he says to us, "Be still, and know that I am God Psalm 46:10." This is our duty, whether we contemplate his majesty or his love; and in every event of life we must learn to say, Not my will, but your be done."
3. With humble affiance—
Great as is our God, he has engaged to interpose in behalf of his people, and to order everything for their good. On him, therefore, we should rely with perfect confidence; not doubting but that he will accomplish for us that which, on the whole, shall be most for our good. The example of David, in this respect, is most worthy of imitation: "In the Lord put I my trust. How say you to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain? For, lo. the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart. If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" What? "The Lord is in his holy temple: the Lord's throne is in Heaven Psalm 11:1-4;" and, as long as he is there to support me, "I fear not what men or devils can do against me." In relation to every concern, temporal, spiritual, eternal, this must be our frame: and this our song, "If God be for me, who can be against me?"
4. With unreserved obedience—
No authority must be regarded in opposition to his; no disposition be harbored that is contrary to his will. Of the angels it is said, "They do his will, hearkening to the voice of his word." Thus should we be listening with deep attention to the manifestations of his will: and, when once we have discovered it, we should fulfill it with our whole hearts. Nothing should deter us, nothing should impede us: we should strive to do his will, with the readiness and constancy that it is done in Heaven.
From this subject we may gather ample matter,
1. For reproof—
It is truly surprising, that, with all our knowledge of God, we should be so regardless of him, as not to have him "in all, or any, of our thoughts." It is not too strong to say of the generality of those who are called Christians, that they are "Atheists in the world Ephesians 2:12. The Greek." But what impiety is this! yes, and what folly too! If, indeed, we could withstand his power, there were some kind of excuse for us: but "will our hands be strong in the day that he shall deal with us? or can we thunder with a voice like his?" Alas! we must assuredly stand at his judgment-seat, and "receive from him according to what we have done in the body, whether it be good or evil." I call you, then, to stand in awe of him, and to tremble at his presence: for, if you refuse to fear him now, oh! think what trembling will come upon you, when you shall be summoned to his bar, to receive your eternal doom. I pray you despise not this warning; but today, while it is called today, implore his mercy, lest he leave you to the hardness of your own hearts, and give you up to final impenitence.
2. For encouragement—
God is, indeed, in his holy temple, ready to hear the weeping suppliant, and mighty to save his repenting people. To the Jews of old, access was denied, yes, was denied even to the high priest himself, except on one day in the year, to the more immediate presence of their God: but for you the way into the holiest is made clear; so that you may come with boldness and confidence to the very throne of God, whenever a sense of your necessities, or of his mercies, inclines you to approach him. When your Redeemer died, the veil was rent in twain, in order to represent to you this delightful truth. In Christ, your God is reconciled unto you: in Christ, he is ever near unto you, and ever ready to impart unto you all the blessings of grace and glory. Nay: He will make even your own hearts his temple; and "will dwell in you," and "manifest himself unto you." To you, then, I will rather reverse the direction in the text, and say, "Keep not silence; but rather plead with him, and give him no rest, day or night Isaiah 62:6-7," until he grant you the desires of your heart. "Be not straitened in yourselves; for you are not straitened in him." "However wide you may open your mouth, he will fill it," and will "give you exceeding abundantly above all that you can ask or think." In reference to his dealings with you, indeed, you must keep the most reverential silence: for "his ways are in the great deep;" "nor are his thoughts" at all in unison "with ours." But I again say, in reference to all your own necessities, you can never ask too much, nor ever expect too much. Only look to him as "your God;" and you shall surely find him "a God unto you."
A REVIVAL DESIRED
Habakkuk 3:2. O Lord, revive your work!
THE ministry of the Prophet Habakkuk seems to have been contemporaneous with that of the Prophet Jeremiah. He foretells the judgments which should be executed on the Jewish nation by the Chaldeans; and the fearful recompense which should come on the heads of the Chaldeans by the instrumentality of the Medes and Persians. But he was not willing that his people should wait so long without a blessing, even the whole period of their threatened captivity; and therefore, in a divine ode, an ode of peculiar sublimity, he implores of God the restoration of his favor towards them, and entreats him to blend his judgments with mercy: "O Lord, revive your work in the midst of the years; in the midst of the years (of their captivity) make known: in wrath remember mercy!"
The petition here offered is highly proper to be presented to God, at all times:
I. For the Church at large—
It is proper,
1. For the Jewish Church—
The captivity of that people in Babylon lasted only seventy years: but that to which they have been subjected, since their dispersion by the Romans, has lasted above seventeen hundred years: and in all this time there has been no material revival among them, in a way of humiliation, or of return to God. But now it seems as if God were about to return in mercy to them, and to restore them to himself: so that we are encouraged to cry unto him, "O Lord, revive your work in the midst of the years!" And certainly we have the same encouragement which the prophet had. He in all the subsequent part of this chapter, reminds God of his former interpositions for them, in Egypt, and in the wilderness; and of the deliverances given to them under circumstances of still greater difficulty than that with which they were encompassed in Babylon: and we may also well call those wonders to remembrance, as an encouragement to plead for them, and to expect from God's hands the most signal interpositions in their favor. For their present dispersion is not more unfavorable than their oppression in Egypt; nor are the manifestations of God's favor, which we look for in their behalf, more glorious than those which were given to them at the Red Sea, and on Mount Sinai. It is not a new work which we have to solicit for them, but only a revival of the former work. And we may hope, that God will yet again, and at no distant period too, take them under his protection, and "reveal unto them more richly than ever the abundance of peace and truth."
2. For the Christian Church—
This is at a low ebb, and greatly needs a revival. Where are the Pentecostal effusions of the Spirit, and the simultaneous conversions of thousands unto God? In great and extensive countries, where religion once flourished, the very name of Christ is now scarcely known. And among those who profess to be followers of Christ, how little is there of real piety, and of vital godliness! Whether among pastors or their flocks, we behold but little of that primitive simplicity, or of that entireness of devotion to God, which characterized the apostolic age. We read of "days of the Son of man;" and those are what we want to behold among us. We want to see the lighting down of his arm among us; and such displays of his power and glory as he gave when "he shook the room where his people were assembled, and filled them all with the Holy Spirit" and with power Acts 4:31-33. In a word, we are looking for "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord:" and for these we should be earnestly pleading with God in prayer; saying, with the prophet, "O that you would rend the heavens, and come down; that the mountains might flow down at your presence Isaiah 64:1." and, with David, "Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your mercy, O Lord, and grant us your salvation Psalm 85:6-7."
But the petition may be offered also,
II. For our own souls in particular—
Who among us does not need to offer it?
We are but too apt, all of us, to experience changes in the divine life, similar to those which take place in the natural world. There are seasons of spring and autumn, summer and winter: and such we find at times within our own souls. In early youth, our feelings are warm and our imaginations lively: and we seem as if it were not possible for us ever to decline from the ways on which we have entered. But, when we have advanced to middle life, how often do we see reason to deplore the loss of those ardent affections which once glowed in our souls! "The cares of this World, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire of other things," have beguiled us, and caused a painful declension within us; so that we have need particularly to cry, "O Lord, revive your work in the midst of my years!".
To the prophet's remedy, then, we should betake ourselves—
Prayer is, of all things, the most effectual. Personal exertions are good in their place, and even necessary: but, to whatever extent they be carried, they will be of no avail without prayer. The gardener may labor day and night; but he can never obtain a crop, without the shining of the sun, and the influences of the former and latter rain. All is under the control of Heaven with respect to him: and so it is with respect to us: and it is by prayer that the Divine blessing is to be obtained. And what would not the prayer of faith effect? Has it closed Heaven for three years and a half, and then opened it again; and shall it not avail for us? Were we but earnest and constant in prayer, there would be little reason to complain of declension, though every day would still bring with it the need of a revival.
And have we not the same encouragement?
The prophet looked back to former days, and pleaded for a repetition of former mercies. And shall not we also look back to the day when he quickened us from our death in trespasses and sins, and created us anew, and translated us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son? We are taught to consider his gifts as earnests and pledges of further mercies: and that is a just mode of arguing which the Psalmist adopts, "You have delivered my soul from death; Will you not deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before the Lord in the light of the living Psalm 56:13." God says to us, "Put me in remembrance: let us plead together: declare you, that you may be justified Isaiah 43:26;" and if we use these means in faith, our success shall resemble that which the prophet describes: "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old! Are you not it that has cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Are you not it which has dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that has made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over? Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and mourning shall flee away Isaiah 51:9-11."
1. Inquire now, I pray you, what is the state of God's work within you?
Has he ever yet wrought effectually in your souls? Has he ever brought you out of bondage to the world, and sin, and Satan; and brought you to live in a state of entire dependence upon him, for guidance in his ways, for protection from enemies, for daily supplies of grace and peace, and for the final possession of the promised land? And are you advancing in the divine life, and "making your profiting daily to appear?": If the work is not yet begun, lose not a moment in pleading with him, that you may obtain mercy at his hands. And if, through the prevalence of temptation, it has declined at all, cry to him with all possible earnestness, "O Lord, revive your work!" and leave nothing undone, if by any means you may "strengthen in your souls what is yet remaining, but is ready to die Revelation 3:2."
2. Let nothing discourage you in your application to the Lord—
See the state of the Jews in Babylon; and judge whether you can be in a more desperate state than they. To Babylon they had been sent by God himself, in token of his heavy displeasure: and there they were oppressed without mercy. No access to God had they in his ordinances; nor had they any hope of deliverance, except what was founded on his word of promise. Let your state, then, be as bad as your imagination can paint it, and the same blessed hope is yours: for God will not shut his ear against the cry of the poor destitute, or disappoint their desire. Go to him with that prayer of David, "Return, O Lord, how long? and let it repent you concerning your servants. O satisfy us early with your mercy, that we may rejoice, and be glad in you all our days Psalm 90:13-14." and you may be perfectly assured that he will return to you, and "give you a reviving in your bondage Ezra. 9:8."
THE CHRISTIAN'S BOAST
Habakkuk 3:17-18. Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
A CHRISTIAN will be distinguished from others, whatever be his situation in life; but the more trying and afflictive his condition be, the more will he cause his light to shine before men, and demonstrate the excellence of the principles he has embraced. The prophet's resolution, in the prospect of the Babylonish invasion and of the calamities consequent upon it, affords a just picture of every child of God: for though all do not possess the same attainments, all determine through grace to make God the exclusive object of their joy and triumph. Taking then the text as expressive of the feelings of all God's people, we shall notice,
I. The Christian's boast—
The Christian is not exempt from the common calamities of life: but though he partakes of the troubles in which others are involved, he feels supports with which others are wholly unacquainted—
1. He views God as his God and Savior—
The Christian contemplates God as the Creator and Governor of the universe, but more especially as the Savior of sinful man. He admires the stupendous method which God has devised for the salvation of sinners through the blood and righteousness of his only dear Son: but that which gives peculiar sweetness to his meditations is, that he is enabled to claim God as his Savior, who has been already the "God of his salvation, and is daily his strength; and will be an effectual Savior, making his feet like hinds' feet, and causing him to walk upon his high places verse 19."
2. He determines, in the want of all other things, to rejoice in him—
In possessing God, he enjoys a suitable good, an all-sufficient good, and an everlasting good; he has that which fully satisfies the desires of his soul Psalm 4:6; which makes him regardless of all his wants or trials Psalm 46:1-4; and which is unchangeable, no less in its operation than its existence: Hence he determines to rejoice in God, no less when bereft of all the necessities of life, than when surrounded with a fullness of all earthly comforts.
Nor is this a vain boast: for it accords with the experience of the godly in all ages of the world Hebrews 10:34. Acts 5:41; Acts 16:23-25.
We shall have a just view of the Christian, if we consider,
II. The insight which this gives us into his real character—
Following the clue which this passage affords us, we shall find that the Christian is,
1. An exalted character—
His thoughts are not engrossed by the things of time and sense; he soars to Heaven, and views God himself in all the perfections of his nature, and in all the wonders of his grace. Nor could he be contented to call the whole world his own: he will be satisfied with nothing but the enjoyment of God, and a well-grounded persuasion of an interest in his favor. In this respect he as much surpasses the wisest philosopher, as the philosopher excels the most illiterate clown; because they who search deepest into the works of nature are circumscribed by the creation, whereas the Christian contemplates the Creator himself. Indeed he emulates even the angels around the throne, who are represented as continually looking into the mysteries of redeeming love 1 Peter 1:12.
2. A happy character—
The Christian is not exempt from trials and troubles; yet is he far happier than any unregenerate man. There is not any earthly bliss of which he has not a higher relish than others, because he enjoys, not the creature only, but God in the creature. A carnal mind cannot form any estimate of the Christian's joys. To know what is meant by communion with Christ, by the witness of the Spirit, and by the love of God shed abroad in the heart, we must experience them ourselves; and without such experience we are as incapable of judging of them as a blind man is of colors, or a deaf man of sounds. No words can fully express the joy with which the Christian is sometimes favored: it is represented as "unspeakable and glorified 1 Peter 1:8."
3. An independent character—
Others, if bereft of earthly supports, are reduced to extreme distress: the Christian may be deprived of all external comforts, and still the source of his happiness will remain entire. He can even derive happiness from his afflictions; he can "rejoice in his sufferings," and "glory in his tribulations." He is independent of the whole world: none can greatly add to his happiness, or materially detract from it. In the fullness of earthly blessings he enjoys God in all; and in the absence of them he enjoys all in God 2 Corinthians 6:10.
1. The careful Christian—
God would "have you without carefulness 1 Corinthians 7:32;" he commands you to "be careful for nothing Philippians 4:6;' and four times in the space of a few verses does our Lord repeat the command, "Take no thought," that is, no anxious thought, "about any earthly thing whatever Matthew 6:25; Matthew 6:28; Matthew 6:31; Matthew 6:34." O you who are "careful and cumbered about many things," see how you live below your privileges. Get your hearts more filled with the love of God, and the cares of this world will be dissipated as the dew before the sun Galatians 6:14.
2. The timid Christian—
Some, though dead to the world, have not that joy in God which it is their privilege to possess. They meditate too much upon their own infirmities, and too little upon the perfections and promises of their God. O brethren, look at God as the God of salvation, as the God of your salvation, and you shall have your fears turned into confidence, and your sorrows into thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
3. The confident Christian—
If your confidence be tempered with humility and contrition, "hold it fast," and "keep the rejoicing of your hope firm unto the end." Such joy in God will recommend religion unto others, and "be the strength of your own souls." While living in this state you will be prepared for every event: you will be guarded equally against the allurements of prosperity, and the terrors of adversity. "Rejoice then evermore; rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice!"