1 Kings Chapter Twenty
1 Kings 20
Benhadad besieges Samaria. (1-11) Benhadad's defeat. (12-21) The Syrians again defeated. (22-30) Ahab makes peace with Benhadad. (31-43)
Commentary on 1 Kings 20:1-11
(Read 1 Kings 20:1-11)
Benhadad sent Ahab a very insolent demand. Ahab sent a very disgraceful submission; sin brings men into such straits, by putting them out of the Divine protection. If God do not rule us, our enemies shall: guilt dispirits men, and makes them cowards. Ahab became desperate. Men will part with their most pleasant things, those they most love, to save their lives; yet they lose their souls rather than part with any pleasure or interest to prevent it. Here is one of the wisest sayings that ever Ahab spake, and it is a good lesson to all. It is folly to boast of any day to come, since we know not what it may bring forth. Apply it to our spiritual conflicts. Peter fell by self-confidence. Happy is the man who is never off his watch.
Commentary on 1 Kings 20:12-21
(Read 1 Kings 20:12-21)
The proud Syrians were beaten, and the despised Israelites were conquerors. The orders of the proud, drunken king disordered his troops, and prevented them from attacking the Israelites. Those that are most secure, are commonly least courageous. Ahab slew the Syrians with a great slaughter. God often makes one wicked man a scourge to another.
Commentary on 1 Kings 20:22-30
(Read 1 Kings 20:22-30)
Those about Benhadad advised him to change his ground. They take it for granted that it was not Israel, but Israel's gods, that beat them; but they speak very ignorantly of Jehovah. They supposed that Israel had many gods, to whom they ascribed limited power within a certain district; thus vain were the Gentiles in their imaginations concerning God. The greatest wisdom in worldly concerns is often united with the most contemptible folly in the things of God.
Commentary on 1 Kings 20:31-43
(Read 1 Kings 20:31-43)
This encouragement sinners have to repent and humble themselves before God; Have we not heard, that the God of Israel is a merciful God? Have we not found him so? That is gospel repentance, which flows from an apprehension of the mercy of God, in Christ; there is forgiveness with him. What a change is here! The most haughty in prosperity often are most abject in adversity; an evil spirit will thus affect a man in both these conditions. There are those on whom, like Ahab, success is ill bestowed; they know not how to serve either God or their generation, or even their own true interests with their prosperity: Let favour be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness. The prophet designed to reprove Ahab by a parable. If a good prophet were punished for sparing his friend and God's when God said, Smite, of much sorer punishment should a wicked king be thought worthy, who spared his enemy and God's, when God said, Smite. Ahab went to his house, heavy and displeased, not truly penitent, or seeking to undo what he had done amiss; every way out of humour, notwithstanding his victory. Alas! many that hear the glad tidings of Christ, are busy and there till the day of salvation is gone.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on 1 Kings》
1 Kings 20
 And Benhadad the king of Syria gathered all his host together: and there were thirty and two kings with him, and horses, and chariots: and he went up and besieged Samaria, and warred against it.
Gathered his host — To war against Israel: wherein his design was to enlarge the conquest which his father had made, but God's design was to punish Israel for their apostacy and idolatry.
 Thy silver and thy gold is mine; thy wives also and thy children, even the goodliest, are mine.
Thy silver, … — I challenge them as my own, and expect to have them forthwith delivered, if thou expect peace with me.
 And the king of Israel answered and said, My lord, O king, according to thy saying, I am thine, and all that I have.
The king said — I do so far comply with thy demand, that I will own thee for my Lord, and myself for thy vassal, and will hold my wives, and children, and estate, as by thy favour, and with an acknowledgment.
 And the messengers came again, and said, Thus speaketh Benhadad, saying, Although I have sent unto thee, saying, Thou shalt deliver me thy silver, and thy gold, and thy wives, and thy children;
Saying, … — Although I did before demand not only the dominion of thy treasures, and wives, and children, as thou mayst seem to understand me, but also the actual portion of them; wherewith I would then have been contented.
 Yet I will send my servants unto thee to morrow about this time, and they shall search thine house, and the houses of thy servants; and it shall be, that whatsoever is pleasant in thine eyes, they shall put it in their hand, and take it away.
Yet, … — Yet now I will not accept of those terms, but together with thy royal treasures, I expect all the treasures of thy servants or subjects; nor will I wait 'till thou deliver them to me, but I will send my servants into the city, and they shall search out and take away all thou art fond of, and this to prevent fraud and delay; and then I will grant thee a peace.
 Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land, and said, Mark, I pray you, and see how this man seeketh mischief: for he sent unto me for my wives, and for my children, and for my silver, and for my gold; and I denied him not.
Seeketh mischief — Though he pretended peace, upon these terms propounded, it is apparent by those additional demands, that he intends nothing less than our utter ruin.
I denied not — I granted his demands in the sense before mentioned.
 And Benhadad sent unto him, and said, The gods do so unto me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me.
And said, … — If I do not assault thy city with so numerous an army, as shall turn all thy city into an heap of dust, and shall be sufficient to carry it all away, though every soldier take but one handful of it.
 And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.
Let not him, … — Do not triumph before the victory, for the events of war are uncertain.
 And, behold, there came a prophet unto Ahab king of Israel, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Hast thou seen all this great multitude? behold, I will deliver it into thine hand this day; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD.
And behold, … — God, though forsaken and neglected by Ahab, prevents him with his gracious promise of help: that Ahab and the idolatrous Israelites, might hereby be fully convinced, or left without excuse, that Ben-hadad's intolerable pride, and contempt of God, and of his people, might be punished: and that the remnant of his prophets and people who were involved in the same calamity with the rest of the Israelites, might be preserved and delivered.
I am the Lord — And not Baal, because I will deliver thee, which he cannot do.
 And Ahab said, By whom? And he said, Thus saith the LORD, Even by the young men of the princes of the provinces. Then he said, Who shall order the battle? And he answered, Thou.
He said, … — Not by old and experienced soldiers, but by those young men; either the sons of the princes, and great men of the land, who were fled thither for safety; or their pages, or servants that used to attend them: who are bred up delicately, and seem unfit for the business.
Thou — Partly to encourage the young men to fight courageously, as being the presence of their prince: and partly, that it might appear, that the victory was wholly due to God's gracious providence, and not to the valour or worthiness of the instruments.
 Then he numbered the young men of the princes of the provinces, and they were two hundred and thirty two: and after them he numbered all the people, even all the children of Israel, being seven thousand.
All Israel — All that were fit to go out to war; all, except those whom their age, or the same infirmity excused.
 And he said, Whether they be come out for peace, take them alive; or whether they be come out for war, take them alive.
Take them — He bids them not fight, for he thought they needed not to strike one stroke; and that the Israelites could not stand the first brunt.
 And they slew every one his man: and the Syrians fled; and Israel pursued them: and Benhadad the king of Syria escaped on an horse with the horsemen.
His man — Him who came to seize upon him, as Ben-hadad had commanded.
Fled — Being amazed at the unexpected and undaunted courage of the Israelites, and struck with a divine terror.
 And the king of Israel went out, and smote the horses and chariots, and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter.
The king went — Proceeded further in his march.
Smote the chariots — The men that fought from them.
 And the prophet came to the king of Israel, and said unto him, Go, strengthen thyself, and mark, and see what thou doest: for at the return of the year the king of Syria will come up against thee.
Mark, and see — Consider what is necessary for thee to do by way of preparation. The enemies of the children of God, are restless in their malice and tho' they may take some breathing time for themselves, they are still breathing out slaughter against the church. It therefore concerns us always to expect our spiritual enemies, and to mark and see what we do.
 And the servants of the king of Syria said unto him, Their gods are gods of the hills; therefore they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.
Said to him — They suppose that their gods were no better than the Syrian gods and that there were many gods who had each his particular charge and jurisdiction; which was the opinion of all heathen nations; that some were gods of the woods, other of the rivers, and others of the mountains; and they fancied these to be the latter, because the land of Canaan was a mountainous land, and the great temple of their God at Jerusalem, stood upon an hill, and so did Samaria, where they had received their last blow: it is observable, they do not impute their ill success to their negligence, and drunkenness, and bad conduct, nor to the valour of the Israelites; but to a divine power, which was indeed visible in it.
In the plain — Wherein there was not only superstition, but policy; because the Syrians excelled the Israelites in horses, which are most serviceable in plain ground.
 And do this thing, Take the kings away, every man out of his place, and put captains in their rooms:
Take the kings away — Who being of softer education, and less experienced in military matters, were less fit for service; and being many of them but mercenaries, and therefore less concerned in his good success, would be more cautions in venturing themselves.
Captains — That is, experienced soldiers of his own subjects, who would faithfully obey the commands of the general (to which the kings would not so readily yield) and use their utmost skill and valour for their own interest and advancement.
 And the children of Israel were numbered, and were all present, and went against them: and the children of Israel pitched before them like two little flocks of kids; but the Syrians filled the country.
And went — Being encouraged by the remembrance of their former success, and an expectation of assistance from God again.
And pitched — Probably upon some hilly ground, where they might secure themselves, and watch for advantage against their enemies; which may be the reason why the Syrians durst not assault them before the seventh day, verse 29.
Little flocks — Few, and weak, being also for conveniency of fighting, and that they might seem to be more than they were, divided into two bodies.
 But the rest fled to Aphek, into the city; and there a wall fell upon twenty and seven thousand of the men that were left. And Benhadad fled, and came into the city, into an inner chamber.
The wall — Or, the walls (the singular number, for the plural) of the city; in which they were now fortifying themselves. This might possibly happen thro' natural causes; but most probably, was effected by the mighty power of God, sending some earthquake, or violent storm which threw down the walls upon them; or doing this by the ministry of angels. And if ever miracle was to be wrought, now seems to have been the proper season for it; when the blasphemous Syrians denied the sovereign power of God, and thereby in some sort obliged him, to give a proof of it; and to shew, that he was the God of the plains, as well as of the mountains; and that he could as effectually destroy them in their strongest holds, as in the open fields; and make the very walls, to whose strength they trusted for their defence, to be the instruments of their ruin. But it may be farther observed, that it is not said, that all these were killed by the fall of this wall; but only that the wall fell upon them, killing some, and wounding others.
 And his servants said unto him, Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings: let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel: peradventure he will save thy life.
He will save thy life — This encouragement have all poor sinners, to repent and humble themselves before God. The God of Israel is a merciful God; let us rend our hearts and return to him.
 So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, Thy servant Benhadad saith, I pray thee, let me live. And he said, Is he yet alive? he is my brother.
My brother — I do not only pardon him, but honour and love him as my brother. What a change is here! From the height of prosperity, to the depth of distress. See the uncertainty of human affairs! Such turns are they subject to, that the spoke of the wheel which is uppermost now, may soon be the lowest of all.
 Now the men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him, and did hastily catch it: and they said, Thy brother Benhadad. Then he said, Go ye, bring him. Then Benhadad came forth to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot.
Thy brother — Understand, Liveth: for that he enquired after, verse 32.
 And Benhadad said unto him, The cities, which my father took from thy father, I will restore; and thou shalt make streets for thee in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria. Then said Ahab, I will send thee away with this covenant. So he made a covenant with him, and sent him away.
Streets — Or, Markets, etc. places where thou mayest either receive the tribute which I promise to pay thee, or exercise judicature upon my subjects in case of their refusal.
So he made, … — He takes no notice of his blasphemy against God; nor of the injuries which his people had suffered from him.
 And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said unto his neighbour in the word of the LORD, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man refused to smite him.
In the word — ln the name, and by the command of God, whereof doubtless he had informed him.
Smite me — So as to wound me, verse 37. He speaks what God commanded him, though it was to his own hurt; by which obedience to God, he secretly reproacheth Ahab's disobedience in a far easier matter. And this the prophet by God's appointment desires, that looking like a wounded soldier, he might have the more free access to the king.
Refused — Not out of contempt of God's command, but probably, in tenderness to his brother.
 Then said he unto him, Because thou hast not obeyed the voice of the LORD, behold, as soon as thou art departed from me, a lion shall slay thee. And as soon as he was departed from him, a lion found him, and slew him.
Slew him — We cannot judge of the case; this man might be guilty of many other heinous sins unknown to us but known to God; for which, God might justly cut him off: which God chose to do upon this occasion, that by the severity of this punishment of a prophet's disobedience, proceeding from pity to his brother, he might teach Ahab the greatness of his sin, in sparing him through foolish pity, whom by the laws of religion, and justice, and prudence, he should have cut of.
 So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face.
With ashes — Or, with a cloath, or band; (as the Hebrew doctors understand the word) whereby he bound up his wound, which probably was in his face; for it was to be made in a conspicuous place, that it might be visible to Ahab and others.
 And as the king passed by, he cried unto the king: and he said, Thy servant went out into the midst of the battle; and, behold, a man turned aside, and brought a man unto me, and said, Keep this man: if by any means he be missing, then shall thy life be for his life, or else thou shalt pay a talent of silver.
He said — This relation is a parable; an usual way of instruction in the eastern parts, and most fit for this occasion wherein an obscure prophet was to speak to a great king; impatient of a down-right reproof, and exceeding partial in his own cause.
A man — My commander as the manner of expression sheweth.
 And as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone. And the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgment be; thyself hast decided it.
Thy judgment — Thy sentence; thou must perform the condition. Either suffer the one, or do the other.
 And he said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people.
Thy life — "What was the great sin of Ahab in this action, for which God so severely punisheth him?" The great dishonour hereby done to God, in suffering so horrid a blasphemer, to go unpunished, which was contrary to an express law, Leviticus 24:16. And God had delivered him into Ahab's hand, for his blasphemy, as he promised to do, verse 28, by which act of his providence, compared with that law, it was most evident, that this man was appointed by God to destruction, but Ahab was so far from punishing this blasphemer, that he doth not so much as rebuke him, but dismisseth him upon easy terms, and takes not the least care for the reparation of God's honour, and the people were punished for their own sins, which were many, and great; though God took this occasion to inflict it.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on 1 Kings》
Ⅰ.Compromising is listening to the enemy instead of listening to God (verses 31-33) . Ahab should not have listened to the overtures of the King Syria in the face of the definite instructions that he had received from God. Neither must the Christian pay attention to the suggestions of Satan, as Eve did; nor listen to the longings of the natural heart, as Achan did when he coveted the forbidden things ; nor must we pay heed to what half-hearted Christians say. We must follow the Lord fully, as Caleb, and be willing to be thought “ eccentric,” “odd,” “extreme,” “faddist,” “peculiar,” ＆c.
Ⅱ. Compromising is receiving favours from those who are God’s enemies (verse 34). It would have been perfectly right for Ahab to have received the cities that from Ben-hadad was wrong. In like manner, for the believer in Christ to receive anything from the world in the shape of money to carry on God’s work (2 John 7; 1. Cor.9:15-18; 2 Cor. 8:5), or to adopt methods that are of the world, is to put the unconverted in a wrong position, and to bring discredit on the name of Christ.
Ⅲ. Compromising is to enter into a covenant with those who are not the Lord’s (verse 34). 2 Cor.6:14-18 is very plain as to the attitude the believer in Christ should maintain. The only place of safety is separation unto Christ. Separation unto Christ ! Not separation for separation’s sake, for that would be Phariseeism, but separation for Christ’s sake, because He commands it; for the cannot have fellowship with Him and the world too.
Ⅳ. Compromising does not pay (verse 42,43). Ahab had to pay very dearly for his self-will and disobedience. To be “ out and out” is the best policy, looking at the question from policy’s standpoint, which is not the Christian’s ground. Better for our own sakes to keep to the lines of God’s truth, for then we shall surely make progress, even as the train does by keeping on the metals.
── F.E. Marsh《Five Hundred Bible Readings》
20 Chapter 20
Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.
Girding on the harness
I. As to the justice and rectitude of our plans. It may give us with effect this plain teaching: that we ought to undertake nothing on our own responsibility which we cannot justify and defend. This great Syrian king is engaged in a wrong thing. He has no right to be here at the gates of Samaria--no more right than a man would have to thunder at his neighbour’s door, and demand his neighbour’s property. It may sometimes, for a wider good, be right to subdue a nation by force, and to annex it or absorb it. But this is not to be done simply at the prompting of ambition or tyrannical self-will. Reason sufficient must be given for it. An old author says, commenting on this passage, “Thus a great dog worrieth a less, only because he is bigger and stronger”; this, however, is hardly just to the great dog, which very seldom, in point of fact, does worry the less without considerable provocation. The point for us as individuals is: that rectitude should lie at the basis of all our express undertakings. There are many things in which we must act, but with greatly qualified and modified responsibility; and some of the finest questions in our moral life, and the most difficult of clear settlement, arise in connection with joint action. The servant is not the keeper of the master’s conscience, although, of course, he is bound to keep his own, and never do what would be to him a wrong thing. The single member of a company, or government, or society, cannot be expected to charge himself with more than his own share of the joint responsibility, and must yield to the will or the majority for the accomplishments of common ends, or must withdraw. If each individual will must rule in everything, there could be no joint action. But all this makes it the more needful that in those matters in which our responsibility is sole, the things which we ourselves expressly initiate, control, or conduct, rightness should be the foundation and the prevailing element. We ought to be able to say concerning our schemes, plans, or endeavours: “This thing is the fruit of my thought, and I can justify it. This thing I have initiated, and I mean, if God will, to finish it, for it is right. This is the fulfilment of my heart’s desire, and I am thankful for it.” Live so, and you will not ever be in Ben-hadad’s evil ease.
II. A spirit of modesty, and self-distrust, and fear. If at all times it be right and becoming in us to clothe ourselves with humility, surely that robe is particularly seemly at the beginning of our undertakings! We are dependent creatures, and when we are beginning what will require from us a great amount of strength, it is meet that we should look towards the Fountain-head of all the strengths. The mere “harness” of life is heavy to many a one. It is not always an easy matter to keep going on even from day to day--watching and waiting, and working by turns! Up at the hour, after a restful or a sleepless night! Ready at call during all the day! decisive in judgment at the opportune moment: Patient and disappointment or delays: And then to be ready to-morrow--and to-morrow--to go through the same strain of service! “Time and chance happeneth to all men.” Life is full of cross-currents, and cross-roads, and cross-purposes; the unexpected is often that which comes. The looked-for is that which is delayed; and the right thing is broken to pieces; and the wrong thing holds on its way!
III. But this kind of reflection may easily be pushed too far, so as to paralyse the very nerves of action in a man, and hinder him, in fact, from ever girding on harness at all. Looking too much on the chances and uncertainties of life, one may come to the conclusion--and especially if he be of an unambitious, or indolent, or selfish habit--“Well, it hardly seems worth while to gird on the harness at all in anything that we can help. If all things happen alike to all--if chance is mistress of practical life--if capricious elements may control, direct, or thwart the purposes we form, and the plans we seek to effectuate--then we had better do nothing, or as little as we may--just enough to get quietly and not ignobly through. To sail right over the sea of life and battle with the storms may be a good thing to those who desire it--to those who are fitted for it. But if one can go coasting to the same destination, always taking the harbours and sheltered places when the storms arise, that will be better. At least, it will be better for us.” No, no; this will not do. This is to restrict and degrade life, or at least to keep it from rising; and it has been made to rise. Gird on “the harness.” Have something on hand worth doing; it is not to be believed that you can find nothing calling for and justifying your exertion. If it is not more, it will be less; and less may be done with so much zest and vigour, that it will seem more, and will really be more. Let us ask now if it be possible for any one to come to this modest, self-distrustful, resigned, and yet resolute state of mind about temporal things, about worldly chances, and fortunes, and family cares, who does not look at all beyond these things, and above them, to a higher world of duty and faith? No, it is not possible. Unless we have regard to the higher things we cannot walk steadily among the lower. Vessels larger and smaller are every day leaving England for east and west, north and south. Would you say to the captain of one of these: “Now, you must attend to your own business. Do not trouble yourself with things too high for you--with magnetic poles, and heavenly bodies-look simply to your ship and get her quick to port”? Yes, but how could he, without chart or compass, or sight of sun or star? The higher always rules the lower; the most stupid, mechanical people in the world cannot do the commonest work, without trusting, although perhaps quite unconsciously and ignorantly, to the great certainties of the heavens, to the things which are stable as the throne of God. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Putting on the armour
I. The general view of life that is implied in this saying. There is nothing that the bulk of people are more unwilling to do than steadily to think about what life is as a whole, and in its deepest aspects is. And that disinclination is strong, as I suppose, in the average young man or young woman. That comes, plainly enough, from the very blessings of your stage of life. Physical, unworn health, a blessed inexperience of failures and limitations, the sense of undeveloped power within you, the natural buoyancy of early days, all tend to make you rather live by impulse than by reflection. There are some of us to whom, so far as we have thought at all, life presents itself mainly as a shop, a place where we are to buy and sell, and get gain, and use our evenings, after the day’s work is over, for such recreation as suits us. But whilst there are many other noble metaphors under which we can set forth the essential character of this.mysterious, tremendous life of ours, I do not know that there is one that ought to appal slumbering heroism, which lies in every human soul, and the enthusiasms which unless you in your youth cherish you will be beggared indeed in your manhood, than this picture of my text suggests. After an, life is meant to be one long conflict. Even upon the lower levels of life that is so. No man learns a science or a trade without having to fight for it. But high above these lower levels there is the one on which we all are called to walk--the high level of duty--and no man does what his conscience tells him, or refrains from that which his conscience sternly forbids, without having to fight for it. We are in the lists compelled to draw the sword. You are a soldier, whether you will or not, and life is a fight, whether you understand the conditions or no.
II. Note the boastful temper which is sure to be beaten. No doubt there is something inspiring in the spectacle of the young warrior standing there, chafing at the lists, eagerly pulling on his gauntlets, and fitting on his helmet, and longing to be in the thick of the fight. No doubt, there is something in your early days which makes such buoyant hopes and anticipations of success natural, and which gives you, as a great gift, that expectation of victory. So I ask, have you ever estimated, are you now estimating rightly, what it is that you have to fight for? To make yourselves pure, wise, strong, self-governing, Christlike men, such as God would have you to be. That is not a small thing for a man to set himself to do. Have you considered the forces that are arrayed against you? “What act is all its thought had been?” Hand and brain are never paired. There is always a gap between the conception and its realisation. The painter stands before his canvas, and, while others may see beauty in it, he only sees what a small fragment of the radiant vision that floated before his eye his hand has been able to preserve. Have you realised how different it is to dream things and to do them? In our dreams we are, as it were, working in vacuo. When we come to acts, the atmosphere has a resistance. It is easy to imagine ourselves victorious in circumstances where things are all going rightly, and are blending according to our own desires, but when we come to the grim world, where there are things that resist, and people are not plastic, it is a very different matter. I suppose that our colleges are full of students who are going to far outstrip their professors, that every life-school has a dozen lads who have just begun to handle easel and brush, that are going to put Raphael in the shade. I suppose that every lawyer’s office has a budding Lord Chancellor or two in it. All us old people, whose deficiencies and limitations you see so clearly, had the same dreams, impossible as it may appear to you, fifty years ago. We were going to be the men, and wisdom was going to die with us, and you see what we have made of it. You will not do much better. Have you ever taken stock honestly of your own resources? You are not old enough to remember, as some of us do, the delirious enthusiasm with which, in the last Franco-German war, the emperor and the troops left Paris, and how, as the trains steamed out of the station, shouts were raised, “A Berlin!” Ay! and they never got further than Sedan, and there an emperor and an army were captured. Go into the fight bragging and you will come out of it beaten.
III. Note the confidence which is not boasting. If there is nothing more to be said about the fight than has been already said, that is the conclusion. “Let us eat and drink,” not only for to-morrow we die, but “for to-day we are sure to be beaten.” But I have only been speaking about this self-distrust as preliminary to what is the main thing that I desire to urge upon you now, and it is this: You do not need to be beaten. There is no room for boasting, but there is room for absolute confidence. “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” That was not the boast of a man putting on the harness, but the calm utterance of the conquering Christ when He was putting it off. He has conquered that you may conquer. There is possible a triumph which is not boasting for him who puts off the harness. The war-worn soldier has little heart for boasting, but he may be able to say, “I have not been beaten.” The best of us, when we come to the end, will have to recognise in retrospect failures, deficiencies, palterings with evil, yieldings to temptation, sins of many sorts, that will take all boasting out of our heads. But, whilst that is so, there is sometimes granted to the man that has been faithful in his adherence to Jesus Christ gleam of sunshine at eventide which foretells Heaven’s welcome and “well done” before it is uttered. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Such was the reply of Ahab, King of Israel, to the vain-glorious boast of Ben-hadad, King of Syria: “The gods do so unto me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall Suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me.” “Tell him,” Ahab said, “Let not him that girdeth on his harness”--that is, his armour--“boast himself as he that putteth it off.” And the result, as you will see from the history, was, that Ben hadad suffered two disgraceful and disastrous defeats, and was compelled to sue for mercy from the king whom he had so insolently challenged. Ahab’s reply, however, was simply a proverb--a homely, pithy proverb of the day, admitting of a thousand applications.
1. There is a certain self-confidence, which is natural to youth, and which sits not ungracefully upon it. It has been cleverly said, “that conceit is a young man’s capital.” A young man has to learn by actual trial what he can do, and what he cannot do; and he requires a certain amount of self-confidence to give him the necessary courage to experiment with his untried powers, until he knows what direction they must take. As Carlyle says, in his quaint forcible way, “The painfullest feeling is that of your own feebleness: ever, as Milton says, to be weak is the true misery. And yet of your strength there is and can be no clear feeling, save by what you have prospered in, by what you have done. Between vague wavering capability and fixed indubitable performance, what a difference! A certain inarticulate self-consciousness dwells dimly in us; which only our works can render articulate and decisively discernible. Our works are the mirror wherein the spirit first sees its natural lineaments. Hence, too, the folly of that impossible precept, Know thyself; till it be translated into this partially possible one, Know what thou canst work at.” For the same reason, youth is the time of criticism. We all know how unsparingly, how unmercifully, the young criticise the proceedings of their elders. The excuse for it is, that they are trying to see or feel their way to action; and they have a keen eye, therefore, and a sharp tongue, for the actions of those around them, upon whom the weight of the world’s work is for the time being falling. As they get under the yoke themselves, this criticising, censorious temper will leave them.
2. One of the great poets of Greece has a saying to the effect, that the reverses of life are sometimes so terrible, that it is impossible to pronounce upon any life, in the way of estimate of its happiness or its misery, until the end is reached. History, both sacred and profane, enforces this lesson with a thousand examples testifying to its truth. Even the noblest lives are often crossed and barred with bands of shadow, nay, of darkness. Think of Abraham; think of David; each falling, in a moment of weakness and temptation, to a point of shame and infamy, in which the true self was lost in the false. And when we pass from the pages of the Bible to the pages of common history, or to our own experience of life, it may well exclude all boasting to mark how hard the actors in life’s busy and varied scene have ever found, and do still find, it to maintain a uniformly lofty level of thought and speech and action. Think of the great Frenchman, Bossuet; of our own great Englishman, Bacon. When such men go wrong, men so gifted and so good, we may well tremble for ourselves. Some of us, who are getting on in life, know what it is, perhaps, to come across letters of twenty or thirty or forty years ago, written by ourselves, or by dear friends and relatives, at a time when our own lives were entirely unformed, and when what was then our future was, in anticipation, as little like as it could well be to what has since become our past. Each stage of life shades, as a general rule, by such imperceptible degrees into the next stage, that it needs an experience of this kind to bring home to our minds the strange uncertainty and the curious waywardness of the future, which lies before the young.
3. Very different views may be taken, and, as a matter of fact, are taken, upon the subject of the ordinance of confirmation. We all know that it is not a sacrament, not an ordinance of Christ’s own appointment, but, simply, an ecclesiastical ordinance; and, as such, one that must justify itself by actual trial. I am asking you, in the interest of the young, to consider the initial principles, which they ought to take with them into the conduct of life. And I value confirmation for this, more than for anything else, that it explains so clearly what those principles are, and brings them home to us so forcibly. It should never be forgotten that confirmation loses the greatest part of its meaning if it is postponed until late on in life. It was intended to meet the young at the very threshold of adult life; just when the first “years of discretion” were beginning to come, freighted with many an anxious thought, to them. And whenever in after years such thoughts come to us, it is well for us to go back to our confirmation, and to welcome its deep yet simple teaching upon the great ruling principles of the conduct of life. Again and again we ask ourselves, not merely at the outset of mature life, but in its onward course, “What am I to God? What am I to the world of men around me?” Let us think for a moment what solid and direct answers the ordinance of confirmation returns to these momentous questions. Our answer, if we will but think of our confirmation and its meaning, is ready at once: “I am the child of God; I am a member of the one great household and family of God; I have a work to do in the world for God, a place to fill, to His glory, and to the good of my fellow-men, who are all co-members with me in the same great world-wide and time-wide family and household.” Time-wide and world-wide, do I say? Nay, rather eternity itself is the true measure of this universal family of God, whose sacred bond death itself is powerless to dissolve.
4. More particularly I would commend to you, one and all, the thoughts which confirmation teaches us to associate with our work in life and our place in life. Both in the Old Testament and in the New, we find the imposition of hands closely connected with a consecration to a particular work, or office, or function. (D. J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Girding on the harness
I. There is in those who newly put on their armour a great tendency to boast.
1. This is not at all remarkable, because, first, it is the nature of all men more or less to boast. Human nature is both poor and proud.
2. Those who gird on the harness are the more apt to be proud, because they often mistake their intentions for accomplishments.
3. It sometimes happens to the young beginner that he mistakes the formation of his ideal for the attainment of it. He has sketched on paper the figure that is to be wrought out of the block of marble. There it is. Will not that make a beautiful statue? Already he congratulates himself that it stands before him on its pedestal. But it is a very different thing--the forming the idea in one’s mind and the realising of it.
4. Boasting in putting on the harness sometimes arises from the notion that we shall avoid the faults of others. We ought to do so, and we think we shall.
5. We also forget when we start in the battle of life that there is a great deal in novelty, and that novelty wears off.
II. Those who put on the harness have good reason to refrain from boasting.
1. They have good reason not to boast if they remember what the very harness, or armour, itself is meant for. What do you want armour for at all? Because you are weak; because you are in danger.
2. Again, it will be well to refrain from boasting, for your harness which you are putting on is meant for use. You are not dressing yourself out that you may be a thing of beauty.
3. You must not boast, again, because if you look at your harness you will see that it has joints in it. You think your armour fits so well, do you? Ah, so thought that man who, nevertheless, died by an arrow which found its way into his heart between the joints of his array.
4. You ought not to boast of your harness, because there are suits of armour which are good for nothing. There is armour about in the world, and some of it the brightest that was ever seen, which is utterly worthless.
5. We should not boast when we put on our armour, because, after all, armour and weapons are of little use except to strong men. The old coats of mail were so heavy that they needed a man of a strong constitution even to wear them, much more to fight in them. It was not the armour that was wanted so much as the strong man who could sit upright under the weight. Think, too, of the sword, the great two-handed sword which the old warriors used; we have looked at one, and said, “Is that the sword with which battles were won?” Yes, sir, but you want to see the arm which wielded it, or you see nothing.
6. We may not boast in our harness, because if it be of the right sort, and if it be well jointed, yet we have received it as a gift of charity. Most valiant warrior, not one single ring of your mall is your own. O Sir Knight with the red cross, no part of your array belongs to you by any fights but those of free gift. The infinite charity of God has given you all you have.
III. He who girds on his harness has something else to do besides boasting.
1. You have, first, to see that you get all the pieces of your armour on. Look ye well to it that ye “take to yourselves the whole armour of God.”
2. Young warrior, beginning with so much hope, I can recommend you to spend your time in gratitude. Bless God for making you what you are, for calling you out from a sinful world, for making you a soldier of the Cross. Boasting is excluded, for grace reigns.
3. You want every hour for prayer. If ever we ought to pray it surely is when we are newly entered upon the Christian life.
4. Remember, young soldier, that you are bound to use your time in learning obedience, looking to your Captain and Commander, as the handmaid looks to her mistress.
5. You have no space for boasting, for your fullest attention will be wanted to maintain watchfulness. You have just put on your harness. The devil will speedily discover that! He will pay his respects to you very soon! As soon as he sees a new soldier of the Cross enlisted, he takes a fresh arrow from his quiver, makes it sharp, dips it in gall, and fits it to his string. “I will try this youngster,” saith he, and before long a fiery dart flies noiseless through the air.
6. The young warrior may not boast, for he will want all the faith he has, and all the strength of God also, to keep him from despondency.
IV. Those who gird on the harness certainly ought:not to glory, for those who are putting it off find nothing to boast of. The Christian man never ungirds his harness in this life; still we may say that the brother is putting it off when there is but a step betwixt him and death in the course of nature. Now, how do you find Christians of that kind when you have attended their dying beds, if you have had the privilege of doing so? Did you ever find a Christian stayed up with pillows in his bed boasting of what he had done? When Augustus, the Roman emperor, was dying, he asked those who were around him whether he had acted well his part; and they said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Clap me as I go off the stage.” Did you ever hear a Christian say that? I remember Addison, about whose Christianity little can be said, asked others to “come and see how a Christian could die,” but it was a very unchristian thing to do, for forgiven sinners should never make exhibitions of themselves in that fashion. Certainly I never saw dying Christians boastful. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The war of life
These are the words of Ahab, and, so far as we know, the only wise thing he ever spoke. The saying was probably not his own, but a proverb common in his time. As a warning to Ben-hadad the words proved true, but Ahab’s own conduct in going up to Ramoth-Gilead where he perished, showed a strange forgetfulness of his own saying.
I. We have all a battle to fight. We all know what is meant by “the battle of life,” but that of the Christian is inward and spiritual--a battle within a battle. Conversion to Christ brings at once peace and warfare. Our peace with God means war with the world, the devil, and the flesh.
II. We have all “a harness” to put on. As the enemies we fight are spiritual so must be our armour. Some prefer an ostentatious profession, pride of intellect, and the weapons of human learning and science “falsely so called,” but experience proves their insufficiency. The Divine armour must be “put on,” we must take hold and keep hold of it, otherwise it is of no avail.
III. We have all a lesson of humility and patience to learn in connection with this warfare. Young converts are apt to think they have gained the victory when they are only commencing the conflict. They are in danger from a mistaken idea of the liveliness of their religious feelings, from an imperfect knowledge of the deceitfulness of their own hearts, and from a limited perception of where their great strength lies. We must learn to depend less and less on ourselves and more and more on Christ. (David MacEwan, D. D.)
Ben-hadad: Boastful beginnings and bitter endings
I. A good start does not guarantee a right ending. The good start is not to be despised, but it is not everything. There are many who, out of defeat, have carved victory. Those very men might have been ruined by premature success, or might have fostered an overweening confidence which would have been disastrous. Those who are conquered by first repulses are weak, but those who gird on their harness again and again, who clutch the sword all the more grimly as they are crowded upon by numbers, are among the noblest of earth’s sons. Without boasting they dare to go down to the battle to brave death; yea, and to drive it into the enemy’s ranks. When returned they ungird themselves, they rest and recount their dangers with humility. Ben-hadad found that to boast and begin was not everything. Yet we find many to-day who think that if they can only make a stars in anything they will be sure to succeed. They boast of what they will do and can do. Again, a man thinks that if he can only get a start in business he is sure to make it pay. Hence, he may borrow money at a high rate of interest, may incur heavy responsibilities by the purchase of goods, in fitting up of premises, in advertising, in engaging assistance, and he feels sure that customers will patronise him. We see the same thing illustrated in the spiritual sphere as well as the commercial. What sort of armour are you buckling on? What principles are you taking with you? Are you going in your own strength into the battle of life? Such questions we might ask. You have girded on the harness. You intend to make the best of life. You have no desire to find yourself crushed and defeated. You say you will not be beaten, that however others may have missed their mark, you mean to gain a real success. Well, and what shall be the character of the success. Shall it be transient or permanent; worldly or spiritual? Will you simply live for self and the present, or for truth, righteousness, Christ and eternity?
II. In every undertaking there are unanticipated difficulties often militating against success. In striving for a livelihood there are difficulties. Others crowd us out. Fortune is no kind mistress tumbling always her gifts unearned into the lap of the indolent and thoughtless. Competency is not generally gained without assiduity and care. Honour comes not naturally to the unprincipled, nor do laurels usually deck the brows of the lazy. Eminence is not reached by the emasculate. A general wins not the battle, saves not his country, without some risk and difficulty. Long voyages, toilsome marches over dreary desert, or rocky mountains, harassing dangers, shortness of provisions, the attacks of disease, the desertion of the trusted, the changing of plans, sharp conflicts and heavy losses, lie in his path and must be taken into account.
III. Our greatest difficulty in the battle of life may come from some little tiling which is accounted as unworthy of notice. Some trifling bit of steel is loose, or buckle unfastened. It is said that the Germans beat the French in their last campaign because the soldiers were better shod. The heavy boots of the Germans protected the men, enabling them to bear the cold and wet better and to march longer. This was not all, but it was one of the things that had not been calculated upon by their opponents. So our defeat in life and failure in spiritual steadfastness may come from some apparently trifling cause, something we even affect to despise. The temptations that beset us may be apparently trifling, but they may nevertheless cause our ruin.
IV. The greatest dangers in the battle of life are often the subtlest and most cunningly concealed. Young Christians are sometimes deceived because at this day it seems much easier to be a Christian than it was formerly. True, no dungeon yawns now for the persecuted; no Smithfield smokes now for the saintly; no cold act of uniformity drives to foreign inhospitable climes, or Armada invades our liberties. Other means are taken to check vital Christianity. It is sometimes strangled by proprieties and slain by prosperity. Christians are not now so anxious as formerly to keep far off from the practices of the world. In many things they act very questionably. Like children, who seem to delight in walking along the side of a precipice and seeing who can go nearest the dangerous edge without slipping over, so many Christians walk as near to the customs of the world as they can without, as they think, endangering their salvation. This practice spreads. Its effect is most prejudicial. When the late American war was ragtag, I was told, by one who had had to endure the horrors of a frightful military prison, that canisters filled with fragments of clothing taken from the bodies of those who had died of yellow-fever or of small-pox were shot into the camp, in the hope that some fragment might spread infection to the enemies’ ranks. Whether there be any truth in the report or not, at any rate it illustrates the fact that there are many subtle temptations that are thrown into our souls that enervate and hinder our final triumph vouch more surely than those that are open. Hence our need to remember that it is not the guiding and starting but the ending and “putting off” that is of the highest importance.
V. The warning given to Ben-hadad is as applicable to those who have lived consistently for years as to the young men just starting. If we have fought through a long day unwounded, we must not be elated. The arrow might lay us low even as the battle is just closing. Many a soldier has perished by strong shots fired after the bugle of the enemy has sounded a retreat. So it might be with some who seem strongest in Christian faith.
VI. The spirit of boastfulness is dangerously liable to grow upon those who indulge it. Ben-hadad’s first invasion had but a poor ending, spite of his boasting. He who had been flushed with past successes, who with his generals and men were given up to revelry and drunkenness, had to flee. While all are carousing in their tents, Israelitish hosts are dashing into the battle and dealing deadly blows on the helmets of their adversaries. Even with this check to his boasting, Ben-hadad learned nothing. On the contrary, he only needed revenge and repeated the following year his invasion. Again he was repulsed. Again he had to flee. Look to the ending then. Pleasures, business, life must end. We must all put off the harness of this mortal life. Oh that we may put on immortality! Believe in Him, trust in His sacrifices, trust in His love, His help, and His presence. Begin life with Him and end it with Him. Charge any sin or temptation that besets you with the same earnestness that the Scots Greys showed when they dashed against the columns of Napoleon the First, making him exclaim, “How terrible are these Greys!” Let there be no hesitancy in our blow when we strike at any sin in ourselves or the world. Then, when as good soldiers we reach the city of our God, we shall have a welcome that will make us forget every weary march, every painful wound, and every bitter sorrow. (Fredk. Hastings.)
All up and down history we see such too early boasting. Soult, thy Marshal of France, was so certain that he would conquer that he had a proclamation printed, announcing himself King of Portugal, and had a grand feast prepared for four o’clock that afternoon, but before that hour he fled in ignominious defeat, and Wellington, of the conquering host, sat down at four o’clock at the very banquet the Marshal of France had ordered for himself. Charles V. invaded France, and was so sure of the conquest that he requested Paul Jovius, the historian, to gather together a large amount of paper on which to write the story of his many victories, but disease and famine seized upon his troops, and he retreated in dismay. Dr. Pendleton and Mr. Saunders were talking in the time of persecution under Queen Mary. Saunders was trembling and afraid, but Pendleton said: “What! Man, there is much more cause for me to fear than you. You are small, and I have a large bodily frame, but you will see the last piece of this flesh consumed to ashes before I ever forsake Jesus Christ and His truth, which I have professed.” Not long after, Saunders, the faint-hearted, gave up his life for Christ’s sake, while Pendleton, who had talked so big, played coward and gave up religion when the test came. Wilberforce did not tell what he was going to do with the slave trade; but how much he accomplished is suggested by Lord Brougham’s remark concerning him after his decease: “He went to heaven with eight hundred thousand broken fetters in his hands.” Some one, trying to dissuade Napoleon from his invasion of Russia, said, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” Napoleon replied, “I propose and I dispose.” But you remember Moscow and ninety-five thousand corpses in the snow-banks. The only kind of boasting that prospers was that of Paul, who cried out, “I glory in the cross of Christ”; and that of John Newton, who declared, “I am not what I ought to be; I am not what I wish to be; I am not what I hope to be, but by the grace of God I am not what I was.” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
And the young men of the princes of the provinces went out first.
Young men encouraged to band together for the holy war
I. The mighty enemies to be opposed.
II. The glorious monarch under whom we fight.
III. The instruments employed on this occasion in his service. “The young men of the princes of the provinces.” Such it was, that God selected on this occasion, that His hand might be more clearly revealed. Thus the faith of His people was called forth and exercised; thus bold zeal in His cause would be encouraged. Nor is it only in the history of Israel, that young men have been employed. There have, in our own country and in our own Church, been in past days associations of young men, that have been eminently blessed of God. The societies for the reformation of manners originated with young men; and from 1668, for nearly a century, their associated efforts greatly blessed our country. Vice was discouraged and put down; and innumerable books of piety, circulated by the young men of that period, produced a great reformation of morals, especially in the city of London, but which spread also through other parts of the country.
IV. The victory obtained. (E. Bickersteth, M. A.)
Step in anywhere
During a great battle, a recruit who had lost his company in the tumult of strife, approached the general in command, and timidly asked where he should “step in.” “Step in?” thundered the general. “Step in anywhere; there’s fighting all along the line.” A heavy piece of machinery was being moved into a building by means of a block and tackle. Suddenly one of the ropes parted, and the machine began to slide backward. The two men who had charge of the work sprang to stay its progress. “Give us a lift!” one of them shouted to a bystander. “Where shall I take hold?” asked the man thus addressed, unmindful of the fact that there was net a second to lose. “Grab hold anywhere!” yelled the mover. It may be that we are in a field where we are unaccustomed to work, and are timidly asking where we shall “step in.” We may find our answer in the words, “Step in anywhere; there’s fighting all along the line.” Are you waiting to be called into some special Church work? “Step in anywhere.” If you are willing, you can be used. This is not the time to pick and choose as to what work we shall do. The need is so great, the force against us so strong, that only one duty awaits the Christian disciple--to “take hold anywhere.” (Signal.)
Go, strengthen thyself
Made strong for life’s battle
Israel had Just been at war with Syria, and had come off
Naturally they were feeling very happy and triumphant and were congratulating themselves on their success. Then it was that God sent His prophet to the King of Israel with this sobering message. It was a call to wisdom. The king was reminded that life before him was a struggle, and that because he had won this victory he was not to take it for granted that he could live carelessly as though he had no enemies. A still greater struggle was ahead of him, and unless he strengthened himself by careful preparation he was sure to meet with defeat. Our theme is very plain. This is a message which God sends to every man and woman to-day. It should come to Christians with great emphasis. Perhaps you have had spiritual victory. God has been giving you gracious blessings. Nevertheless, I would come to you as God’s messenger and say to you in the midst of your congratulation, “Go, strengthen thyself, and mark, and see what thou doest: for on a day when you are not looking for it, at a time when you are least expecting it, Satan will come against you, and unless you have made yourself strong in the strength of God you will be overcome.” God had given David many victories. But it was after all that, after David had congratulated himself a thousand times on the victories which God had given him, that Satan came against him with a new temptation, a temptation unexpected and insidious, which led him into a sin so terrible that he came near losing his soul. It was after Peter had had many victories and many marks of the signal favour and love of Jesus Christ; after he had been on the Mount of Transfiguration and had been permitted to look on the inner glory of the Son of God; after he had been chosen to go into the Garden of Gethsemane and witness the supreme agony of the atoning love; after he had sworn that though all men should forsake Jesus he would remain faithful; it was after all this that Peter, assaulted unexpectedly by Satan, was overcome and denied his Lord. Now these Syrians were idolaters and had no real conception of the true God in whom was the only strength of Israel. The officers of the King of Syria thought they had found a solution of the problem as to why Israel was able constantly to defeat them, although they had the superior numbers. They said to the King of Syria, “Their gods are gods of the hills; therefore they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” Let us see how that turned out. You see that, after all, the only thing Israel could do to prepare for the fight against the overwhelming numbers of the Syrians was to strengthen themselves in God. So long as they obeyed God, and had Him for their friend, they were stronger than all that could come against them. But without God they were weak and helpless and easily overthrown and destroyed. There is but one way to intrench yourself in the strength of God, and that is by repentance and obedience. We cannot fight God; we cannot make compromises with God; there is just one way open--we can surrender unconditionally at the mercy-seat. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
The source of strength
It is said of Pitt that “he breathed his own lofty spirit into his country. No man ever entered his room who did not feel himself a braver man when he came out than when he went in.” How much more true, and in the very highest sense, is this of our inspiring Lord. Fellowship with Him makes the timid strong, the fearful brave, the tempted mighty to resist. (Helps to Speakers.)
And the children of Israel pitched before them like two little
flocks of kids.
The coming religion
1. With thirty-three kings intoxicated in one tent this chapter opens. They were allies plotting for the overthrow of the Lord’s Israel. You know that if a lion roar a flock of kids will shiver and huddle together. One lion could conquer a thousand kids. The fact that throughout Christendom there are hundreds of printing-houses printing the word of God without the omission of a chapter or a verse, proves that the Bible is popular; and the fact that there are more being printed in this decade than any other decade proves that the Bible is increasing in popularity. I go through the courtrooms of the country; wherever I find a judge’s bench or a clerk’s desk I find the Bible. By what other book would they take solemn oath? What is very apt to be among the bride’s presents? The Bible. What is very apt to be put in the trunk of the young man when he starts for city life? The Bible. Voltaire predicted that the Bible during the nineteenth century would become an obsolete book. Well, we are pretty nearly through the nineteenth century, the Bible is not obsolete yet; there is not much prospect of its becoming obsolete; but I have to tell you that the very room in which Voltaire wrote that prediction, some time ago, was crowded from floor to ceiling with Bibles for Switzerland.
2. Our antagonists say that Christianity is falling back in the fact that infidelity is bolder now and more blatant than it ever was. I deny the statement. Infidelity is not near so bold now as it was in the days of our fathers and grandfathers. There were times in this country when men who were openly and above board infidel and antagonistic to Christianity could be elected to high office. Now let some man wishing high position in the State proclaim himself the foe of Christianity and an infidel, how many States of the Union would he carry? How many counties? Infidelity in this day is not half so bold as it used to be. If it comes now it is apt to come under the disguise of rhetoric or moral sentimentality. Do you suppose such things could be enacted now as were enacted in the days of Robespierre, when the wife of one of the prominent citizens was elected to be goddess, and she was carried in a golden chair to a cathedral, and the people bowel down to her as a Divine being, and burned incense before her, she to take the place of the Bible, and of Christianity, and of the Lord Almighty? And while that ceremony was going on in the cathedral, in the chapels, and in the corridors adjoining the cathedral, scenes of drunkenness and debauchery and obscenity were enacted such as the world had never seen. Could such a thing as that transpire now? No, sirs. The police would swoop on it, whether in Paris or New York. Infidelity is not half as bold now as it used to be.
3. But, say our antagonists, Christianity is falling back because science, its chief enemy, is triumphing over it. Now, I deny that there is any war between science and revelation. There is not a fact in science that may not be made to harmonise with the statements of the Bible. Joseph Henry, the leading scientist of America, better known and honoured in the royal societies transatlantic than any other American, lived and died a believer in the religion of Jesus Christ. He knew, Joseph Henry knew, all the facts of geology, and yet believed the Book of Genesis. He knew all the facts of astronomy, and yet believed the Book of Joshua, the sun and moon standing still. Joseph Henry knew all the anatomy of man and fish, and yet believed the Book of Jonah. If the scientists of the day were all agreed, and they came up with solid front to attack our Christianity, perhaps they might make some impression upon it; but they are not agreed. Agassiz saw what we all see, that there are men who talk very wisely who know but very little, and that just as soon as a young scientist finds out the difference between the feelers of a wasp and the horns of a beetle, he begins to patronise the Almighty, and go about talking about culture as though it were spelled c-u-l-c-h-a-r--culchar!
4. But my subject shall no longer be defensive; it must be aggressive. I must show you that instead of Christianity falling back, it is on the march, and that the coming religion of the world is to be the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ ten thousand times intensified. It is to take possession of everything--of all laws, all manners, all customs, all cities, all nations. It is going to be so mighty, as compared with what it has been so much more mighty, that it will seem almost like a new religion. I adopt this theory because Christianity has gone on straight ahead, notwithstanding all the bombardment, and infidelity has not destroyed a church, or crippled a minister, or rooted out one verse of the Bible, and now their ammunition seems to be pretty much exhausted. They cannot get anything new against Christianity, and if Christianity has gone on under the bombardment of centuries, and still continues to advance, may we not conclude that, as the powder and shot of the other side seem to be exhausted, Christianity is going on with more rapid stride? Beside that the rising generation are being saturated with Gospel truth as no other generation by these international series of Sunday-school lessons. Formerly the children were expected to nibble at the little infantile Scripture stories, but now they are taken from Genesis to Revelation, the strongest minds of the country explaining the lessons to the teachers, and the teachers explaining them to the classes, and we are going to have in this country five million youth forestalled for Christianity. Hear it! Hear it! Beside that you must have noticed, if you have talked on these great themes, that they are finding out that while science is grand in secular directions, worldly philosophy grand in secular directions, they cannot give any comfort to a soul in trouble. Talking with men on steamboats and in rail-ears, I find they are coming back to the comfort of the Gospel. They say, “Somehow human science don’t comfort me when I have any trouble, and I must try something else”; and they are trying the Gospel. There is another reason why I believe that the religion of Jesus Christ is going to conquer the world, and that is, the Bible in fifty different places sets forth the idea that Emmanuel is to take possession of this whole world. If He is going to conquer the “whole world,” that means also this country, the greater including the less. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Because the Syrians have said, The Lord is the God of the hills.
God of the hills and God of the valleys
I. We may limit the Lord by mistrusting the success of His cause. The temptation is at times heavy upon us to think that the Gospel cannot conquer the world, that the truth of Jesus cannot spread in the midst of the thick darkness which surrounds us, that the good old cause is falling into a desperate condition, and that, mayhap, the victory we have looked for will not come after all. Here let us convict ourselves of having thought God to be the God of the hills and not the God of the valleys, for we have generally based our fears upon our perception that the front of the battle has changed.
II. We may commit the sin of syria by doubting the help which the Lord will render to us. Sometimes we are brought into sore trouble, and then we imagine that the Lord will not help us as he helped the old saints, of whom we read in the Bible. We can believe all about Abraham and Moses and David, but we question whether the Lord will help us. We look at those men as the great hills, and we regard ourselves as the valleys, and we dare not hope that the Lord will deal with us as He did with His servants in the days of yore. Now, is not this making God to be a local God, think you? Ought we not to have the same faith in God as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had? I have even known Christians say, “I cannot go to God about my trials, they are so ordinary and commonplace. I can pray about spiritual things, but may I pray about temporals? I can take my sins and burdens of serious care to Him, but may I pray about little domestic troubles?” How can you ask that question? He tells you the hairs of your head are all numbered: those are not spiritual things surely. You are told to cast all your care on Him. He is the God of the hills of the higher spiritual interests of His children, and is He not the God of the valleys of their hourly troubles? Does He not bid us ask Him to give us day by day our daily bread?
III. It is very easy to fall into this sin by comparing and contrasting the experiences of ourselves and others. The thoughtful soul may often hear the rustle of the skirts of Jehovah’s garments in the stillness of those lone hills. God is in rugged souls, in the ravines of a broken heart, and in the caves of dread despair: He overrules the whirlwind of temptation and the tempests of satanic blasphemy, and anon He is seen in the bow of hope and the sunshine of full assurance. The Lord is in every heroic struggle against sin, and in that eager clinging to His word which is seen in so many tempted souls. Yet men judge their fellows and say, “The Lord cannot be there,” even where He is most mightily. On the other hand, I have known persons fashioned in this rough mould look down on the gentle, quiet life of the useful, less thoughtful, and perhaps less intelligent Christian, who is “like” the valley, and they have said, “Lord, what shall this man do? He does not sympathise with my soul troubles, he has had little or no law work, he does not understand my grand conceptions of truth, he enters not into the deep things of God.” Remember that this may be true, and yet the brother may be a far better man than you are.
IV. A very common shape of this sin is limiting the power of the Gospel. I have known you limit the power of the Gospel by supposing that it will only save certain sinners. You heard of a great drunkard who was converted, of a swearer who turned to God, and you said to yourself, “I do not wish to be a drunkard or a swearer, but I have seen many of that sort of people saved, and I, who have led a moral life, have not been renewed in heart: it makes me envy them.” Why should not you also obtain salvation? Is Jesus the Saviour of open and gross sinners and not of the more secret offenders?
V. We can, after the fashion of Syria, limit the power of God by not expecting his Divine aid to be given to us in His service, (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A mistaken inference
I. The words may be used in a cynical sense. I refer to the spirit of those who imagine that religion has no real hold, and will win no real victories, apart from certain favouring facts, certain propitious agencies, helpful as the hills were to Israel. They think it is the creature of environment, the product of place. Detach it from that environment, transplant it from that place, and its power and reality will vanish. You find a sneer of the kind on the lips of two classes--those who wish to break down religion as a faith, and those who wish to break it down as a practice. Or, to put it otherwise, you find it in those who would have you careless of belief, and those who would have you careless of conduct. Let; us descend from the highlands of prejudice, and take our stand on the lowlands of reason, the arena of impartial logic, the fields of honest and unfettered debate, and see what the issue will be. Your conception of God is a phantom of the mountains; bring it to the clear air and the dry light of the plains, test it by the rules of a sound philosophy, look at it with the eyes of an enlightened intelligence, and phantomlike, it will vanish away. What is this but a reproduction of the words of the Syrians, expounded and applied as modern cynicism knows how: “The Lord is a God of the hills, and not a God of the valleys”? So, too, with the other class I spoke of, those who endeavour to rob you of character. Sad that there should be such. And wherever they do exist, they speak and act with the same idea, that the religion they assail is a matter of circumstance. It is to be explained, they tell us, by the oversight of watchful eyes, the rule of firm hands, the influences of the fear of punishment and the hope of reward, the discipline and attachments of home. Yet, but let the life be cut loose from all this, away from a father’s authority, away from a mother’s solicitude, away from a minister’s advice, away from the whole set of circumstances that make purity and probity, temperance and truthfulness, matters of everyday counsel and everyday practice, and see what its principles are worth. The man may retain his character so long as he lives on the heights, but once let him join us on the plains, on the platform of a wider existence, amidst the elbow-room of a freer sphere, he will yield, take his swing, and comport himself just like the rest of us. Such is the assertion of the cynic, thinking religion the outcome of locality, and Providence the genius of place.
II. Again, the words may be used in a superstitious sense. We are to speak of its falseness now when applied to religious worship, associated as that worship often is with certain fixed and unbending conditions that are hurtful to the health and hostile to the spontaneity of the “life indeed.” Of course, the tendency that I speak of finds its crowning type in the ritualist. As much as any one, the ritualist attempts to limit God, tying the operations of His grace to given and definite places, given and definite agencies, given and definite channels. And yet the superstitious spirit may exist, the spirit that attaches undue importance to places, associations, and forms. Not, of course, that places and associations are without their value in worship. They have their own impressiveness, their own significance, their own power to stimulate and help. But when all has been said, we are not to set limits to God. He who is the God of the hills, with their majesty, their variety, and their poetic associations, is also the God of the valleys, with their tameness, monotone, and commonplace features, And when He keeps you down in the valleys, be sure He can meet you there, in the homeliest religious services, in the humblest religious fellowship; and not only there, but amidst the dullest and most prosaic routines of everyday worldly life, till the fireside, the shop, the counting-room, the mart, become for those who wait and who watch for Him a very Bethel, a house of God, the gate of heaven.
III. There words may be taken as descriptive of a worldly spirit--a spirit of worldly compliance and worldly compromise. Passing at this point from the subject of God’s help and worship to the subject of God’s claims, we find a tendency that is just the opposite of the one we have now been speaking of. In that case the error was that of over-separation in religious matters; in this case the error is that of over-concession--concession to the time-spirit, concession to the place-spirit. “Your God is a God of the hills; He vanishes when the hills are left, and the valleys take their place.” How often does the cynic’s taunt find colour and excuse in the professing Christian’s conduct! Some people do speak and act as if the authority of God were a matter of locality, and as if the leaving of the locality meant the leaving, or at any rate, the lowering, of the authority. I take the case of professing Christians in their seasons of recreation--let us say during foreign travel. Do not some put off their home religion with the same regularity with which they put off their home broadcloth, and put on tourist religion with the same sense of release with which they put on their tourist tweeds? The thought might be carried further. Is not this at the root of a good deal of the unrest that is otherwise puzzling to see? Children discontented in happy homes, apprentices discontented with kind employers, servants discontented in comfortable places, young men and young women discontented with evangelical ministries and a watchful and attentive Church fellowship, all on the outlook for change, where to the outward observation there does not seem much reason for change: how shall we explain it? Sometimes, I fear, in this very way. The atmosphere of restriction does not suit such. They want to be surrounded with a slacker personal oversight, a lower local tone. They want to break free from religions restraints; and in breaking free from religious restraints they imagine they get quit of religious obligations. You do not get quit of them. Right is right, and wrong is wrong, whatsoever be the circumstances, whatsoever the customs, whatsoever the observation.
IV. These words, too, may be taken as descriptive of a rationalising spirit. Here we pass from God’s help, worship, and claims to the subject of His truth. And what is the error to be noticed here? Just the error we have been endeavouring to trace all along, the error of those who set bounds to God. We believe, do we not? that the Gospel is universal. We believe that as it is universal in intention, it is universal in fitness. We believe that both in precept and in promise it is the power of God to every one that believeth. But there are those who deny this. They deny it on the grounds of capacity, deny it on the grounds of race. And it is interesting to notice that this rationalising spirit we speak of, in limiting the adaptability of the Christian religion, limits it from two different standpoints, for two different reasons. Some object to the Christian faith as being too elementary, characterised by elementary conditions, suitable to an elementary stage. The God of the Christians, they say, may serve for the simple, the inexperienced, the emotional--women with their capacity of belief, children with their childish dreams. But He will not serve for others--the scientist with his love of truth, the artist with his love of beauty, the artisan with his love of independence. Others, again, speak of the Christian faith as a something that is too advanced, at any rate for certain circumstances and certain classes. The God of the Christians, they say, may serve for the cultivated and progressive, those whose minds have been opened, and whose consciences have been trained. But He is altogether too exalted in His standard, too strict in His principles, and too exacting in His demands, for the common and unenlightened, the barbarous and embruted. What is the notion of both classes but the notion of a limited God--a God, as some say, for the hills, a God, as others say, for the valleys, yet in each case a God that is less than universal, a God who is bounded in His presence, bounded in His power, and bounded in His claims? We hold by a higher idea. We cling to a nobler and more inspiring faith. We believe that the God of the Bible is the God of the hills and the valleys alike, wheresoever His religion has had full play. (W. A. Gray.)
The universal God
This was the profound mistake which the Syrian soldiers made. We fear that the whole world is making the same mistake. What, if on inquiry it should be proved that we have a partial religion, a religion useful here but useless there, an admirable contemplation for Sunday, but a grievous burden for Monday? What if we practically reverse the Syrian conception, and say that the Lord is God of the valleys but not God of the hills? That we want Him in dark and dangerous places, but we can fight for ourselves in open places and on the tops of the breezy hills?
1. There are those who confine Him to the hills of speculation, but exclude Him from the valleys of daily life. They are the intellectual patrons and flatterers of God. He is too great to be realised. He is the Supreme Thought, the Infinite Conception, the Unconditioned Absolute, and various other magnificent inanities. According to their view, He cannot be brought down to daily experience, or take any immediate part in the common progress of life. He is grand, but useless. He is glorious, but unapproachable, His sanctuary is on hills that cannot be climbed, or in clouds that cannot be entered; but He has no agency in the valleys.
2. Then there are those who recognise God in the valleys of trouble, but ignore Him on the hills of strength and joy. They call Him in professionally. He is kept for the hour of distress. They use religion as a night-bell which they can pull in times of exigency.
3. It is the very glory of religion in its most intelligent conception that it comprehends and blesses the whole life. What is this life for which any religion that is true has to provide? It is no easy riddle. It is easy enough to invent a theory or an outfit for one side of it; but we want a doctrine that will involve and ennoble its entirety. What is this life? What is its origin? Look at the impulses which excite it; add up into some nameable total the forces which operate upon it; and bring under one law the ambitions which lure or goad it into its most daring activities. Here is a hunger which no bread can satisfy. Here is an imagination which conquers the visible and longs to penetrate the unseen. In the breast is an eager suppliant that will not be forbidden to pray. And what is the hereafter of this multiplied life? Does it go out like a spark? The false religion is God of the hill but not God of the valleys. The superficial theory is excellent in fine weather, but useless in foul. It is pleasant in prosperity, it is helpless in adversity. It can swell our laughter, it cannot dry our tears. This is the proof of the true religion--that it encompasses with infinite sufficiency the whole life, is equally strong at every point. It can run with the footmen; it can keep pace with the horses; and it can subdue into peace the swellings of Jordan. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Now the men did diligently observe whether anything would come from him, and did hastily catch it.
Observing the king’s word
I. It is a pity that awakened sinners do not copy the example of these men.
1. There is far too little of diligent observance of what God says in His word.
2. The same thing ought to be done when you are heating the Gospel preached; for God has been pleased, in order that His truth may be brought home to your hearts, to choose certain of His servants to speak His word; and, so far as they speak in accordance with His mind and will, they speak for God to you.
3. Then, again, while there is too little of diligent observation of what God has said, there is also far too little of hastily catching at the word.
II. It is very strange that sinners act thus, for it is not consistent with the usual ways of mankind.
1. We have a proverb which says that “drowning men catch at straws.” So they do; and when a man is in peril, he will usually grasp at anything that seems to offer him a hope of escape. How is it, then, that, with a Bible full of promises, and a Gospel full of encouragements, the mass of people with troubled consciences do not at once catch at what God says? There is another proverb of ours which says that “the wish is father to the thought.” Sometimes, a man wishes for a thing so long that, at last, he believes it is really his; but how strange it is that, in spiritual things, men wish, and wish, and wish,--or say that they do,--and yet they do not believe that it is as they wish! The more they wish, the further they seem to be from the blessing they desire to possess.
2. This is the more strange, too, because you can continually see how sinners catch at everything else. See how they cling to their own righteousness. A thousand tons of it are not worth a farthing; it is neither fit for the land nor yet for the dunghill, yet they prize it as if it was a heap of diamonds. See what confidence many put in utterly worthless forms and ceremonies.
III. When we are dealing with God, there is very much to catch at. Many years ago, when I was in great distress of soul, and could not find Christ for a long while, I would have been glad if I had heard anybody speak about how much there is for a troubled soul to catch at. Perhaps I did hear something about it; but, if so, I did not catch at it, though I think I should have done so if it had really been made plain and clear to me. Until God the Holy Ghost enlightens the soul, the truth may be put very plainly, but we do not see it. I will try, now, to set it before any one here who is willing to catch at it.
1. Now, poor troubled soul, if it had been God’s purpose to destroy you,--if He never intended to hear your prayers--if He never meant to save you--let me ask you, very earnestly--Why did He give you the Bible? I want you to catch at this thought.
2. Again, why has God raised up a ministry, and given you the opportunity of listening to it? Why are you continually being warned to flee from the wrath to come? Why are you constantly being instructed in the truths of the Gospel?
3. I remind you also that you are still on praying ground.
4. See, next, if you cannot catch at this great truth--God has given Jesus Christ to die for sinners. You are a sinner, so catch at this glorious fact: “He gave Himself for our sins.”
5. There is another truth that I think some’ of you might catch at; it is this one: “God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” This was the message that our Lord Jesus Christ Himself preached, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
6. Then, again, what can be the meaning of that other command, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” except that if, as a guilty sinner, I come and trust in Christ, I shall be saved? It is even so; indeed, I am saved as soon as ever I do believe in Jesus.
IV. There is much greater encouragement for you and for me, than there was for those messengers from Ben-hadad.
1. For, first, suppose Ahab did utter a hopeful word, he was very deceitful.
2. Then, again, when those men listened to Ahab, he might have uttered a friendly word without meaning it.
3. These messengers from Ben-hadad said that the Kings of Israel were merciful kings; and we know that God is much more merciful than they were, for “His mercy endureth for ever.”
4. Those messengers from Ben-hadad might have believed be: tar of Ahab than would have been true, but you cannot believe better of God than will be true. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Lying at the catch
Sinner, whoever thou art coming to Christ, believe it, thou wilt not injure Christ at all, if, as Ben-hadad’s servants served Ahab, thou shalt catch Him at His word. “The men did diligently observe whether anything would come from him,” to wit, any word of grace, “and did hastily catch it.” And it happened that Ahab had called Ben-hadad his brother. The men replied, therefore, Thy “brother Benhadad”: catching him at his word. Sinner, coming sinner, serve Jesus Christ thus, and He will take it kindly at thy hands. When He in His argument called the Canaanitish woman “dog,” she catched Him at it, and said, “Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” I say she catched Him thus in His words, and He took it kindly, saying, “O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee as thou wilt.” Catch Him, coming sinner, catch Him in His words; surely He will take it kindly, and will not be offended at thee. (J. Bunyan.)
As thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone.
Ahab had a chance of doing God’s will; he neglected to use it, and judgment descended upon him.
I. We have each and all something to do for God’s glory.
1. In the case before us Ahab should have destroyed Ben-hadad. We ought to outlive all evil--to overthrow all that opposes the spread of truth and righteousness.
2. God’s glory would have been manifest in the destruction of the Syrian king. That glory is revealed in a yet greater degree when souls are saved, and in this we may be instrumental.
3. What, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Even so, it devolves upon you to do all you can to save those who are unsaved. This work for God’s glory, can only be performed by adaptability in teaching--the exercise of a loving spirit--earnest prayer--a humble dependence on the Divine power.
II. We too often neglect to embrace the opportunities presented. The prophet, in his parable, said, that while he was busy here and there, his prisoner had escaped; that was the excuse he made. Christian people often make excuses for not doing their duty, here is one.
1. I am too timid. I can’t speak to my children, to my servants, to strangers about their souls, and their duty to the Great Creator. Why can’t you? You can talk to them about their bodies and temporal things. Why not about Divine?
2. It is not my business. Whose then? Ministers are paid to do this work, and they ought not to trouble us. So, then, if you knew a man had poisoned himself, you would not try to save him (although you knew well enough what to do), all you would say would be “Go to the doctor.”
3. I am too much engaged. And, perhaps, there never was an age in which men are so busy as they are to-day. “Express speed” is far too slow. Men must beat the lightning, or at least equal it. They are “too busy” to give a little time to the consideration of the best means for spiritual work; too busy to engage in that work themselves; and what does it all mean?
III. Opportunities once lost never return. “Opportunity for doing good is like a favouring breeze springing up around a sailing vessel. If the sails be all set, the ship is wafted onward to its port; but if the sailors are not there, the breeze may die away; and when they would go they cannot, and their vessel stands as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.” Think for a moment of the opportunities each has neglected; let the thought stimulate you to improve the present.
IV. All such neglected opportunities will have to be accounted for. (A. F. Barfield.)
Gone. Gone for ever
This story was originally told in order to tough the conscience of King Ahab, who had allowed Ben-hadad, King of Syria, to escape when Providence had put the cruel monarch into his hand on purpose that he might receive his doom. Ahab is no more, but this Scripture is not, therefore, like a spent shell--there is truth and power in it yet. Its teaching is applicable to us also.
I. The obligation which the text suggests, that we may solemnly own that we are under a higher obligation still. This man being engaged in warfare, was bound to obey the orders of his superior officer; that officer put into his custody a prisoner, saying, “Keep this man,” and from that moment he was under an obligation from which nothing could free him.
1. That we are bound to serve God is dear, because we derive our being from Him.
2. It was for this end that the Almighty made us, and for nothing short of this, that we might glorify God and enjoy him for ever.
3. To the service of God a thousand voices call us all
4. A great argument for our obligation to glorify God is found in the fact that in this service men find their highest honour and their truest happiness.
5. Let this, also, never be far from our memories, that there is a day coming when we must all of us give an account of our fives, and the account will be based upon this inquiry--How have we served and glorified God?
II. A confession: “He was gone.” The man was under obligation to take care of his prisoner, but he had to confess that he was gone.
1. We have lost many opportunities for serving God which arise out of the periods of fife. I hope you will not have to say, “My childhood is gone; I cannot praise Jesus with a girl’s voice or a boy’s tongue now, for my childhood passed away in disobedience and folly.” You cannot talk to your son now, as you might have done when you could take the fair-haired boy upon your knee and kiss him and tell him of Jesus.
2. Another form of regret may arise out, of the changes of our circumstances. A man had once considerable wealth, but a turn of Providence has made him poor: it is a very unhappy thing if he has to confess, “I did not use my substance for God when I had it. I was an unfaithful steward, and wasted my Master’s goods, and now I am no longer trusted by Him, my property is gone.” Another may have possessed considerable ability of mind, but through sickness or declining vigour he may not be able now to do what he once did.
3. As time has gone so also have many persons gone to whom we might have been useful.
4. Sometimes, however, the confession of the thing gone concerns noble ideas and resolves. You had great conceptions, and if they had but been embodied in action something good would have come of them; but where are the ideas now? Were they not smothered in their birth?
5. And there may be some from whom a vast wealth of opportunity has passed away. They have been blessed with great means and large substance, and if these had been laid out for Jesus Christ year after year many a lagging agency would have been quickened, and many a holy enterprise which has had to be suspended for want of means might have gone on gloriously.
III. The excuse which was made--“As thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone.”
1. The excuse is, “I was so busy”; which, first of all, is no excuse, because a soldier has no business to have any business but that which his commander allots to him.
2. When the man said he was “busy here and there,” he cut away the only excuse he could have had, because that showed he had ability.
3. Then, again, what he had done was evidently done to please himself. He was “busy here and there.”
IV. The unalterable fact. “While I was busy here and there, he was gone.” Could you not seize him again? “No, he is gone.” Is there no making-up for past neglect? No recapturing the missing one? No, he is gone, clean gone.
1. With the time, remember, your life has gone, and there is no living it over again.
2. Remember, also, that future diligence will not be able to recover wasted time. I suppose Luther was past forty before he began his life-work, and yet he accomplished a splendid result for Christ; but even Luther could not get back his years of unregeneracy and superstition. Time is on the wing; use it now. Do not loiter, for thou canst pluck no feather from the wing of time to make it loiter too. It flies, and if thou wouldst use it, use it now. Arouse thyself, and sleep no longer. If thou wouldst indeed be true to God who made thee and to Christ who bought thee with His precious blood, use thyself now to the fullest conceivable extent for the glory of thy Lord and Master. What shall we do? Let us all fly to Jesus, who can forgive the guilt of the past. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The opportunity which escaped
Arab had been faithless to his trust. He had had the opportunity to crush out the enemy of Israel, but he had let him live for his own selfish purpose, and in sentencing the pretended soldier who had been faithless he was in reality uttering sentence against himself. It is my purpose to compare the opportunities of life to a prisoner given to us to keep, in which if we are faithful to our trust we shall secure eternal promotion and blessing;. and if we are careless and indifferent and neglectful, our opportunities will all escape and leave us poverty-stricken indeed. Every period of life has its special opportunity, which if not used at that time escapes for ever. It can never be recaptured. Youth has opportunities peculiar to itself; it is like the spring-time in nature. If a farmer lets spring-time escape him, and leave his fields unploughed and his gardens unplanted, however remorseful he may be about it he cannot capture that opportunity after spring-time has passed. Youth is like that--a time for sowing, a time when the mind readily grasps its lessons, and seizes with firm hold upon new truths; it is the time when we make most of our friends, and when the affections have the strong grip that hold for ever. It is a terrible thing to let youth go by and not become a Christian. To return to the parable of which our text is a part, one would suppose that a man having been put in charge of a prisoner to keep, with so terrible a warning that his life depended upon his being faithful to his trust, would have seen to it that the man did not escape. But when we compare it to our own lives, we can see how easy it was for the man to become careless, and to be taken up with other things which may have amounted to very little indeed, but which took his mind off the matter of greatest importance to him and thus endangered his life. The story is told of Henry IV. of France, that he asked the Duke of Alva if he had observed the eclipses happening in that year. He replied that he had so much business on earth that he had no leisure to look up to heaven. What sad folly it is for men born with the possibility of immortal Joy to so bend themselves towards the earth and so set their hearts on the things of this world as scarcely to cast a look to the things belonging to the world to come. How much wiser was Zeuxis, the famous painter of his day, who, when somebody observed that he was very slow at his work, and let no painting of his go abroad into the world to be seen of men until he had tried it in every light and given it long consideration to see if he could find any fault in it, replied to an inquiry as to his conduct, “I am long in doing what I take in hand because what I paint I paint for eternity.” So what we do has to stand the test of eternity. If it is rubbish, it will be burned up in the judgment fires. An old historian tells us that Alexander the Great, being much taken with the witty answers of Diogenes, bade him ask what he would and he should have it. The philosopher demanded the least proportion of immortality. “That is not my gift,” said Alexander. “No?” asked Diogenes. “Then why doth Alexander take such pains to conquer the world, when he cannot assure himself of one moment to enjoy it?” What the cynic said to this great conqueror might well be said to every man who is giving himself so earnestly to the business of this world that he is running the risk of losing the infinitely greater values of eternity. Comparatively few men and women deliberately set out to make great fortunes, or to win for themselves great worldly triumph at the cost of their spiritual welfare. The great majority who are fatally deceived by the enemy of their souls are seduced into evil ways and into fatal neglect by the desire for the simplest physical pleasures and adornment. There is only one way to make sure of your salvation, and that is to improve the present opportunity and thus make certain that it will not escape. A friend of mine overheard one young girl saying to another in the saddest tone, thinking about her friend: “I think she regretted it afterwards; she said it should be different next time. But then,” with a little sigh, “so many things haven’t any next time.” If it should happen to be that way with you that there should be no “next time.” with the offer of mercy to your soul, I want to so speak and so do my duty by you that I shall not be responsible for your failure to gain heaven. (L A. Banks, D. D.)
A lost opportunity
The parables of the New Testament are so speakingly real, so beautiful in their conception, and so manifestly the touches of a Master-hand, that we are liable to overlook--if not, indeed, to neglect--the minor parables of the Old Testament. And yet these minor parables, like the minor prophets and poets, possess--especially for the student of literature--a charm and fascination peculiarly their own. They are not wanting either in colour or finish, but are, in fact, bits of beautiful workmanship well worth framing and hanging up in honoured places of the mind and memory. Amusingly quaint, touchingly tender, they belong in a conspicuous degree to the hoary past, more so even than do the allegories of the Great Teacher Himself. In one particular, however, they closely resemble His, they never fail to hit the target of their aim. Now, our text is taken from one of these minor parables and in its aim it resembles Nathan’s. The teaching here is that Ahab had a fine opportunity of serving God and his country, but he threw it away and it did not return. Let us discuss together this subject of opportunities--more especially lost opportunities.
1. And, first, this word opportunity springs from an old root signifying “at port,” or “in the harbour,” suggestive of the welt-known and oft-repeated lines:--
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
Thus we think of the trader watching the market, ready to pounce upon every opportunity that presents itself, so that he may turn it to gold; ready to snatch every chance of striking a good bargain, and thereby winning success. Indeed, it would appear--as a suggestive writer has remarked--“as though it were a part of the Divine discipline to put large opportunities in men’s way, and leave it with themselves whether they will use or neglect them. There is no coercion to compel us to turn them to account, and the wheels of time shall not be reversed to bring them back once they are gone. If we neglect them we shall be permanent losers in this life; how much more in the next we cannot say.” True it is, however, that thousands fail in life through neglect of such chances, and through want of energy and enterprise, so that when the Blucher of opportunity presents itself, they have not “pluck” enough to arise and charge, and so win their Waterloo. There are great national opportunities which present themselves once or twice in the lifetime of a country or community and never come again. Such an opportunity the Church of Rome had when some of her most noble and faithful sons and servants pointed out, before it was too late, the sins and excesses which led to the Reformation. Such an opportunity old Jerusalem had nineteen centuries ago; but she spurned it, rejected it, and finally quenched it in the blood of the innocent. “And when He drew nigh, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto peace, but now they are hid from thine eyes.”
2. But, in the second place, there are opportunities which belong to certain periods of life. Saith Seneca: “Time is the only thing in which it is a virtue to be covetous, and for this reason, that it is the only thing that can never be recovered. Lost riches may be regained by patience and industry; forgotten knowledge may by hard work be conjured back again into the brain; departed health may return through the skill of the healer; the consistency of many years may blanch again the sullied snow of character; but time once gone is gone for ever.” Now if this be true with regard to the physical and mental--how much more with regard to the moral and the spiritual? Says the poet: “Heaven lies near us in our infancy.” The heart has not become stained and soiled; the conscience has not become seared and hardened through the deceitfulness of sin; the moral faculties have not become blunted and atrophied through bad habits, but on the contrary, the whole being is fresh and hopeful and buoyant.
3. Let us consider next our opportunities of usefulness. Take the home, for example; what a splendid chance it presents to Christian parents of influencing their children goodwards at the very gateway of life! If you have neglected to do this, then you have missed a great opportunity, and one that will never again present itself under the same favourable conditions. So, again, with regard to servants. Now, as a Christian master or mistress, God has placed within your reach a fine opportunity of doing real home mission work, and so cause your servants for ever to bless the day when they came to reside under your roof. And to a certain extent the same thing holds good with regard to visitors. When Lord Peterborough lodged with Fenelon for a season, he said, on leaving, “After this I shall be a Christian in spite of myself.” Oh, there is a day coming when these lost opportunities will appear in a clearer light, and with more terrible and startling distinctness; when the opportunity of years ago--calling us to the service of others, and to the service of our Master, Christ, will again reappear, and, like the Hebrew seer, take up its parable against us. “Because I have called, and ye refused,” etc. “Consequences are unpitying.” So, then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith. (J. Dymond.)
Busy here and there
In this parable we find a man busy about everything, but at the cost of neglecting his duty. There are plenty of men who are very busy in the world, but who never do their duty. They are not idle: some people are too idle to do anything; but those of whom I now speak are not idle. They are always on the move, and are busily engaged at different things; but they never keep to the same things long. They do not seem to have any aim in life. It is not enough for us to be always doing. What God requires of us is, just to do what He wants us to do. We have to learn, first of all, what God would have us do, and then do it. Now here is one man who attaches the greatest importance to making his fortune, to heaping together money. He makes provision for the,few years that he has to spend here; but for meeting his God, and for rendering an account of the way in which he has lived and served his Lord and Master, he has made no provision. Well, that is a man who is busy here and there, but who nevertheless misses the one great duty which, above every other, he has to perform. Now I want you children, not only to be busy, but always to have an aim in life, and that aim to glorify God. We glorify Him by living just as He would have us live. Christ Himself has given us an example. The great thing is to give Jesus the first place in our hearts and lives, and never do anything that is not well-pleasing to Him. (D. Davies.)
I. The trust of our time. Each new day that dawns upon us, each hour that rests with us in its rapid flight, each of the moments which together make up the sum total of our existence, each of these is a trust, not to be used at our mere caprice, not to be cherished or lost just as the passing fancy takes us. Each day, each hour is golden with possibilities of good; of good for ourselves, of self-discipline, of self-culture, of deepening spirituality, of a nearer vision of God; of good for others, of gentle words and kindly deeds, of some task begun for the blessing of our fellows, of some seed sown which shaft ripen at last to a harvest of beneficent achievement. And if the parts of our life are thus a trust, what shall we say of life itself in its entirety? What tremendous possibilities of weal or woe are bound up in the small compass of a single life! But if this be true, as it is, of the life that is bound within the two shores of birth and death, what shall we say of the trust of the soul itself--the soul whose unending life reaches far on into the unknown eternity beyond the grave--the soul, that spark flashed forth from the fire of Eternal Being, ray of light let down to earth from the Central Sun of Universal Existence? Oh, what a trust is this!
II. The failure of the trust. “As thy servant was busy here and there, and he was gone.” “He was gone,” what a sad story these words suggest; a charge neglected, a duty unfulfilled, a bitter loss sustained, a dire doom incurred. “It is gone,” what a suggestion of inconsolable regret there is in these words, Some trusts once gone may be recovered: lost health may be restored, friends alienated may be won back again: but in life there are some utterly irreparable failures. A young man grieves the fond heart of a loving mother by carelessness or sin; he wanders away, perhaps, into other lands, and by silence and neglect breaks the tender heart he has so deeply shadowed; and then, perhaps, he comes to himself, and he says, “I’ll go home, and make up for my hard neglect by special tenderness and care”; and when he gets home he finds that she is gone; that there is now no chance for his late atonement.
III. The excuse for failure. “Thy servant was busy here and there, and it was gone.” Now, mark you, the excuse was not, “Thy servant was busy.” That would have been in one sense a justifiable plea, and not a lame excuse. For life, for the best and the noblest, is always a busy thing. We are in a busy world. Around us we hear on every side the breaking of the unresting waves of human industry and human toil It is plain that the having been busy is not the excuse that we have to consider. Now notice what the excuse really was, “Thy servant was busy here and there.” I think that this being busy here and there may fairly be taken to mean that desultory and utterly unsatisfactory kind of being busy in which so many waste their days and miss their chances of good; the busy idleness of the restless child, not the busy industry of the thoughtful and high-purposed man. Now is it not. Just this serious trifling, this spending of our energies on lesser and lower objects, and so withdrawing them from higher and truer and more lasting occupations--is it not just this that will account for half the failures of life? The two great wants in this habit of life are the want of a continuous purpose and of a true and worthy object--a purpose that shall bind all our multiplied actions into one, and so give to our energies and our life that true unity in which alone lies strength; an object great enough and good enough to lend inspiration to flagging energies, and attractiveness to the most trivial tasks needed for its achievement. And this, in the saddest sense of all, is the excuse that will make thousands at the last miss utterly their chances of eternal life. Of those who make what Dante calls “the great refusal”; of those who fail to accept the offers of salvation held out to them in the Gospel of Christ, there are not many, I fancy, who do so deliberately and of set purpose. (Canon O’Meare.)
The value of opportunity, and our obligation to improve it
How much wisdom was there in the charge of Pythagoras to his disciples: “Be mindful of opportunities”! We live in a world where all are busy. Many busy for themselves; many for the Church. All around us in nature is busy--full of action. All in commerce and life says--“Do something, do it.” And in one sense all mankind do something, but many are busy without an object, a rule, or a motive, and consequently without a beneficial result. Their actions are made up by a collection of shreds and patches; they move in a circle, busy in moving, but arrive at the point whence they started--no progress, no attainment, no benefit is visible. Activity is the law or the habit, of the human mind, and never is mind easy but as it is in action; but without a suitable motive, rule, and end, can no degree of activity be of real benefit.
I. Opportunities generally.
1. Opportunity is in some cases unmistakable; it presents itself and presses on us so plainly, that we must be blind if we will not see it, deaf if we will not hear it, dead if we will not regard it. It lies in our path, and we must push it out of our way, or pass over it to escape. If, however, it is not in our way, we should seek it. If the door is not open, we must open it. Where opportunity cannot be found, it must be made. What must be done can be done. Impossibilities are not insurmountable in real duties to God, to ourselves, or for others. It is admirable to see how a persevering mind creates opportunities, and lamentable to see how the timid pass them by.
II. I shall now give these remarks a practical bearing:. It is important to inquire--For what purpose did God create me? What is life? It is not a dream of pleasure, or it would not be a passage through a vale of tears. It is not a whirl of business, or it would have been lengthened and not doomed to loss and disappoinment, to the most devoted men of trade. God’s end is more worthy of Himself; He has blessed you with such faculties for a great end, or, as John Howe says, “It would be like clothing a man in purple to send him to feed swine.” Are all our faculties given to us to be employed on the wisdom which is “earthly, sensual, devilish,” or for business or pleasure, or the honour which cometh from man? No, but for God, for gaining and enjoying heaven. Let us notice a few causes which operate to the neglect of what would ensure man’s everlasting salvation.
1. Actual idleness--some are literally slumberers, nothing rouses them--“A little more sleep, a little more slumber,” is all they utter.
2. Inconsiderateness is another cause--such are not careful or wise to use the power or cultivate the habit of reflection.
3. Frivolity of mind. Many are turned away from seeking salvation by what is as insignificant as the chirping of a grasshopper.
4. But not less fatal than these is that ruiner of thousands--procrastination. There is a world of importance in the monosyllable “now.” Fortunes, blessings, and souls without number have been lost for want of minding this word “now.” Duties cannot clash. God does not require two things which are opposed to each other of any man, at any time; but the language of God to you at this moment is this--“Now is the accepted time,” that is, the best opportunity. Some continue during the whole of life, from the dawn of reason to the feebleness and inactivity of its closing hours “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,” oh, living man! “do it with thy might”--do it, “for there is no device in the grave”--do it, for thither thou goest, and all your opportunity is confined to this world. True, there may be posthumous good, as seen in legacies and founded institutions, and books which survivors may not suffer to be lost when we are gone; but these things, so far as we are concerned in them, are done in this world.
2. Youth is the prime and flower of opportunity. Youth! Many of you hear and feel it to be the season of joy. Yes, it is best for piety too. Unencumbered by the cares of a master or father, your time is at your own disposal. Oh, now seek salvation. Suffer not the season of youth to pass, lest you in age say, I have lost my opportunity and cannot seek salvation now. Seek it with earnestness.
3. Health is an important opportunity to do good to others. What can an invalid do compared with the healthy? Such may do something. I would not add to their affliction by suggesting they cannot. God does not add to their sorrow by discharging them from all opportunity to do good. (J. A. James.)
The parable of the wounded prophet
I. The very remarkable condition necessary to this parable.
II. The signification of the parable. It is not very clear in all its details, but “so much is indisputable that the young man who had gone out into the battle is the representative of Ahab, and the man entrusted to his keeping, but allowed to escape through carelessness, is the representative of Ben-hadad.” “Israel had just endured a hard, bloody fight, and had carried off the promised victory; but now, in the person of Ben-hadad, it had let the arch-enemy, whom God had given into their hands, go free and unpunished.” It is especially to be noted that as the man in the parable is represented as having a prisoner entrusted to his care by another, so Ben-hadad had been given into Ahab’s hand by god as His prisoner. God was captain, Ahab only keeper.
1. The overthrow of kings and rulers proceeds from the Divine hand, and is often necessary for the preservation of those whom they rule.
2. That when God gives men power over others, it is at their peril if they do not use it according to His will. For man to deliver where God condemns is to affect to be more merciful than God. To question the decision of a human judge is to cast a doubt upon either his ability or his character. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Shall criminal reverse the sentence of another with impunity?
3. Weakness of purpose and lack of character may be mistaken for generosity: A man who uses money for the benefit of others which has been entrusted to his care by his master, is not generous, but dishonest. God gave Ahab place and power to use in His service; to employ them for other purposes was to rob God.
4. Those who are displeased at the truth of God are on the high road to ruin. The sentence which Ahab passed Upon the man of God was soon executed upon himself. Those who reject the remedy which would heal their disease must not complain if they have to suffer from the consequences. The truth is intended to lead to repentance.
5. Those who are ruled by the Word of God will sometimes have to suffer temporal pain for obeying it. The servant of God will sometimes find himself, like the prophet who spoke the parable, wounded “by” or “in the Word of the Lord.” (Outlines from Sermons by a London Minister.)
The parable which touched the heart of the discontented king was meant for us. We are anxious about too many things, and while we are busy here and there, lo, the principal thing is gone. We live in a hurrying age. We ask questions, and are in too much of a hurry to wait for an answer. In religious service from soul to soul nothing counts like personality. A Christ undertakes the reformation of a planet. It is a task to quail the stoutest heart, but He never hurries. His calm is ever unruffled. And when we come to think it over and count it up, we find that Jesus Christ did more work than any man who ever lived upon this earth. Science is not the enemy, but the ally of religion. Theologians are beginning to apply the methods of science to their department of knowledge. Beyond science and beyond theology is the heart of consecration for his fellow-man, which he who would do the work assigned him must have; without which, like the man who was “busy here and there,” one will lose the whole object of his life. We ought, moreover, to see that the things that we do are worth the doing. The man in our story missed the relative importance of the things he had to do. What is the one thing we are to do above all others? To him who is busy in money-getting, to the lawyer, whose sole thought in this world is the law, to the doctor, who thinks little beyond his patients and their medicines, to each one wholly absorbed in his worldly occupation comes the voice while he is “busy here and there,” and the man, like the king, is heavy and displeased. (G. Hedges, D. D.)
Losses arising from absorbtion in business
We are so “busy here and there”--busy in commerce, in letters, in politics, in domestic, social, and ecclesiastical matters, that things, oftentimes invaluable, pass away from us without our knowing it.
I. Means of improvement pass away from men in this way. “Whilst men are busy here and there,”
II. Opportunities for usefulness pass away prom men in this way. The father is so absorbed in his business, that he neglects the spiritual culture of his children, and they reach a stage of depravity without his knowing it. Whilst men are busy, those around them who need their instruction drop into their graves, and pass beyond their reach. How many merchants in London, professing Christianity, carry on their daily avocations in the city with a soul so absorbed in their business, that they are unconscious of the thousand sinning, wretched, and dying spirits that teem around their warehouse.
III. The days of grace pass away from men in this way. Through this absorbing spirit of business, men lose their years without knowing it,--feel themselves old and grey-headed before they are aware. This subject serves to impress us.
1. With the fact that man has evidently fallen. It can never be that the human soul, with its moral sensibilities, its noble faculties, its fountain of affection, was made to be thus engrossed with the material concerns of a few short years. No, we have fallen. This subject serves to impress us:
2. With the fact that change is a resistless law of life. It matters not whether we are busy or asleep, change proceeds in its resistless march. While we are “busy here and there,” men are dying, the outward scenes of life are changing, our own life is decaying, our end is approaching. We may be so busy on the shore as to think of nothing but the few shells we are gathering, but the billows are rolling on, and will bury us and our business soon. This subject serves to impress us:
3. With the fact that a religious life is a wise life. A religious life is a life that subordinates the body to the soul, matter to mind, business to virtue, time to eternity, all to God. “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all to the glory of God.” (Homilist.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》