Ezekiel Chapter Nine
A vision denoting the destruction of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the departure of the symbol of the Divine presence.
Commentary on Ezekiel 9:1-4
(Read Ezekiel 9:1-4)
It is a great comfort to believers, that in the midst of destroyers and destructions, there is a Mediator, a great High Priest, who has an interest in heaven, and in whom saints on earth have an interest. The representation of the Divine glory from above the ark, removed to the threshold, denoted that the Lord was about to leave his mercy-seat, and to pronounce judgment on the people. The distinguishing character of this remnant that is to be saved, is such as sigh and cry to God in prayer, because of the abominations in Jerusalem. Those who keep pure in times of general wickedness, God will keep safe in times of general trouble and distress.
Commentary on Ezekiel 9:5-11
(Read Ezekiel 9:5-11)
The slaughter must begin at the sanctuary, that all may see and know that the Lord hates sin most in those nearest to him. He who was appointed to protect, reported the matter. Christ is faithful to the trust reposed in him. Is he commanded by his Father to secure eternal life to the chosen remnant? He says, Of all that thou hast given me, I have lost none. If others perish, and we are saved, we must ascribe the difference wholly to the mercy of our God, for we too have deserved wrath. Let us still continue to plead in behalf of others. But where the Lord shows no mercy he does no injustice; he only recompenses men's ways.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Ezekiel》
 He cried also in mine ears with a loud voice, saying, Cause them that have charge over the city to draw near, even every man with his destroying weapon in his hand.
He — The man whom he had seen upon the throne.
Them — Those whom God hath appointed to destroy the city: perhaps angels.
Every man — Every one; 'tis an Hebrew idiom. Each of these had a weapon proper for that kind of destruction which he was to effect; and so, some to slay with the sword, another with the pestilence, another with famine.
In his hand — Denoting both expedition in, and strength for the work.
 And, behold, six men came from the way of the higher gate, which lieth toward the north, and every man a slaughter weapon in his hand; and one man among them was clothed with linen, with a writer's inkhorn by his side: and they went in, and stood beside the brasen altar.
And — As soon as the command was given, the ministers of God's displeasure appear.
Men — In appearance and vision they were men, and the prophet calls them as he saw them.
The north — Insinuating whence their destruction should come.
One man — Not a companion, but as one of authority over them.
With linen — A garment proper to the priesthood.
They — All the seven.
 And the glory of the God of Israel was gone up from the cherub, whereupon he was, to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed with linen, which had the writer's inkhorn by his side;
The glory — The glorious brightness, such as sometimes appeared above the cherubim in the most holy place.
Gone up — Departing from the place he had so long dwelt in.
He was — Wont to sit and appear.
Threshold — Of the temple, in token of his sudden departure from the Jews, because of their sins.
 And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.
That sigh — Out of grief for other mens sins and sorrows.
Cry — Who dare openly bewail the abominations of this wicked city, and so bear their testimony against it.
 And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity:
The others — The six slaughter-men.
 Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.
At my sanctuary — There are the great sinners, and the abominable sins which have brought this on them.
 And he said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and slew in the city.
And slew — The slaughter also was in vision.
 And it came to pass, while they were slaying them, and I was left, that I fell upon my face, and cried, and said, Ah Lord GOD! wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel in thy pouring out of thy fury upon Jerusalem?
Was left — Left alone, now both the sealer, and the slayers were gone.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Ezekiel》
09 Chapter 9
One man among them was clothed with linen.
Christ the Commander of the angels
1. Elect Jews under the law were saved by the mediatorial work of Christ incarnate, as we are under the Gospel. Christ frequently appeared as man, intimating thereby His future incarnation, and that that nature must concur to the making up of His mediatorship: He did not mediate for them as God, for us as man; but He mediated then as man promised, now He mediates as man manifested.
2. The Lord Christ is the chief commander of all angelical and human forces. He was in the midst of these six military angels that were to bring in the Chaldean forces at the several gates of the city; He was their General.
3. When judgments are abroad, and the godly are in danger, Christ mediates and intercedes for them.
4. Christ hath a special care of His in times of trouble; He appears with an inkhorn to write down what is said and done against them, to make known the mind of God to them, to seal and discriminate them from others.
5. Those who are upon great and public designs should begin with God, and consult with Him. These seven here go in and stand by the altar, inquire of God what His pleasure is. So have the worthies of God done (Ezra 8:21).
6. Those who are employed by the Lord must be careful that they countenance no corruptions in worship. Neither Christ nor the angels would come at the false altar, which Ahaz had caused to be set up; but they go to God’s altar, the brazen altar; by this they stood, not the other.
7. In times of judgment, as God discountenances false worship, so He discovers and countenances His own way of worship. (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
With a writer’s inkhorn.--
The man with the inkhorn
(to young men):--This man with the inkhorn may stand for a class--the whole class of writers and literary men. I would start from the position that the powers of literature belong of right to Jesus Christ, and that literature is included among those things of which Paul said to the Christian man: “All are yours, for ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”
I. The close relation that exists between Christianity and literature.
1. One fact that meets us on the very threshold is this, that, humanly speaking, the Bible itself is a literary product. Had there been no such thing as literature there never could have been a Bible; for no one would have been able either to write or to read. As our Lord Jesus glorified the human body by His inhabitation of it in the Incarnation, so we may say literature is transfigured and glorified by this special inhabitation of the Divine Spirit in the books of the Old and New Testaments.
2. But, passing beyond the pages of the Bible, we see again how Christ-loving men have used the powers of literature for the advancement of God’s kingdom in the world. In the early days of the Church, Christianity owed very much to the literary gifts of men like Origen and Chrysostom, Tertullian and Augustine. And when we see the great days of the Reformation dawning upon Europe, there is no doubt that we must associate that marvellous spiritual revival with the previous Revival of Letters. Luther was indebted for his knowledge of Greek to those Greek scholars who, after the Fall of Constantinople, came flocking to the West, and who spread abroad that interest in the Greek language and literature which by and by sent men back once more to the neglected pages of the Greek New Testament. And so we see Luther sitting all alone through the midnight hours in his high tower of the Wartburg Castle, in the very heart of the great Thuringian Forest. Before him lies his open Bible, and from the closest study of its pages he is seeking to apprehend the very mind of his Lord. When I was in the Wartburg some years ago I was shown the place on the wall which was struck by the famous inkhorn that Luther flung at the Devil. Luther did discomfit the devil with an inkhorn; but it was by that translation of the Bible which came from his pen, and which is still one of the masterpieces of German literature, and by those other writings which shook the hearts of men like a mighty trumpet blast, and destroyed, in most European lauds, the awful domination of Rome.
3. But, when we speak of literature, we have to go beyond the Bible, and beyond all purely religious writings. We have to think of that great world of books which includes history and science, philosophy, poetry, and fiction. And may we not say that the best books in those various departments, whether written by Christian men or not, are all of them full of facts and principles that really illustrate and corroborate the teaching of the Bible?
II. Some friendly counsels which are suggested by this subject.
1. First, let me put the old apostolic injunction which Paul addressed to a young friend, “Give attendance to reading.” All around us there is a great and growing devotion to athletic interests, which threatens in many cases to swallow up all interests of a higher kind. Now, bodily exercise is profitable, without doubt; but it cannot be profitable to exercise the body until we have no time or strength left for the cultivation of the mind. You must read diligently, eagerly, carefully, if you would enlarge and enrich and strengthen your mind. And let me exhort you here to begin to form a little library of your own as early as possible. Do not be content with borrowing books, but have your favourite authors around you in your own room. “A young man,” says one, “may lodge in a very small room. But what do you mean by a small room? When I go into a young man’s room, and see on the wall a shelf of books; when I take down Shakespeare, or Dante, or Tennyson, or Carlyle, I do not know the size of that room. The walls are nothing, for that man holds the ends of the earth. For every taste like literature, or art, or science, or philosophy, is a window in the smallest room, and through the windows a man can see anything, right on to the throne of God.”
2. Next, I would say, take heed what you read. The world is full of bad books, as well as of good books, for the man with the inkhorn, in not a few cases, has sold himself to the service of the Devil. Beware of bad books! If a book fills your mind with evil thoughts, or leaves a bad taste in your mouth, cast it from you at once. Why should a man feed his soul on filth and garbage, when he is free to walk through the garden of the Lord, plucking all manner of pleasant fruits? And, apart from what is positively bad, do not spend too much time on what is scrappy or ephemeral. There are diversities of gifts, and diversities of taste. Provided you confine yourself to what is wholesome, whatever interests you most will be likely to profit you most. But do not forget that the Bible must come first.
3. Let me remind you that, as Christian young men, you should consecrate to Christ all the knowledge that you gain, and should use it as far as possible for the benefit of others. Remember, after all, that life is more than literature, and that Christianity is greater even than the Bible. Mohammedanism is the religion of a book, for above Mohammed himself stands the Koran. But Christianity is not the religion of a book: it is the religion of a life. Jesus Christ Himself is the Alpha and Omega of it, and it is love to Jesus, loyalty to Jesus, the service of Jesus, that are the true marks of a Christian. (J. G. Lambert, B. D.)
The writer’s inkhorn
No one ever had such Divine dreams as Ezekiel. In a vision this prophet had seen wrathful angels, destroying angels, each with a sword, but in my text he sees a merciful angel with an inkhorn. The receptacle for the ink in olden time was made out of the horn of a cow, or a ram, or a roebuck, as now it is made out of metal or glass, and therefore was called the inkhorn, as now we say inkstand. We have all spoken of the power of the sword, of the power of wealth, of the power of office, of the power of social influence, but today I speak of the power for good or evil in the inkstand. It is a fortress, an armoury, a gateway, a ransom, or a demolition. “You mistake,” says someone, “it is the pen that has the power.” No, my friend; what is the influence of a dry pen? Pass it up and down a sheet of paper, and it leaves no mark. It expresses no opinion. It gives no warning. It spreads no intelligence. It is the liquid which the pen dips out of the inkstand that does the work. Here and there a celebrated pen, with which a Magna Charta or a Declaration of Independence, or a treaty was signed, has been kept in literary museum or national archives, but for the most part the pens have disappeared, while the liquid which the pens took from the inkstand remains in scrolls which, if put together, would be large enough to enwrap the round world.
1. First, I mention that which is purely domestic. The inkstand is in every household. It awaits the opportunity to express affection or condolence or advice. Father uses it; mother uses it; the sons and daughters use it. It tells the home news; it announces the marriage, the birth, the departure, the accident, the last sickness, the death. That home inkstand, what a mission it has already executed, and what other missions will it yet fulfil! May it stand off from all insincerity and all querulousness. Oh, ye who have with recent years set up homes of your own! out of the new home inkstand write often to the old folks, if they be still living. A letter means more to them than to us, who are amid the activities of life, and to whom postal correspondence is more than we can manage. As the merciful angel of my text appeared before the brazen altar with the inkhorn at his side in Ezekiel’s vision, so let the angel of filial kindness appear at the altars of the old homestead.
2. Furthermore, the inkstand of the business man has its mission. Between now and the hour of your demise, O commercial man, O professional man, there will not be a day when you cannot dip from the inkhorn a message that will influence temporal and eternal destiny. There is a rash young man running into wild speculation, and with as much ink as you can put on the pen at one time you may save him from the Niagara rapids of a ruined life. On the next street there is a young man started in business, who through lack of patronage, or mistake in purchase of goods, or want of adaptation, is on the brink of collapse. One line of ink from your pen will save him from being an underling all his life, and start him on a career that will win him a fortune which will enable him to become an endower of libraries, an opener of art galleries, and builder of churches.
3. Furthermore, great are the responsibilities of the author’s inkhorn. When a bad book is printed you do well to blame the publisher, but most of all blame the author. The malaria rose from his inkstand. The poison that caused the moral or spiritual death dropped in the fluid from the tip of his pen. But blessed be God for the author’s inkhorn in ten thousand studies which are dedicated to pure intelligence, highest inspiration, and grandest purpose. They are the inkstands out of which will be dipped the redemption of the world. The destroying angels with their swords seen in Ezekiel’s vision will be finally overcome by the merciful angel with the writer’s inkhorn. Among the most important are the editorial and reportorial inkstands. You have all seen what is called indelible ink, which is a weak solution of silver nitrate, and that ink you cannot rub out or wash out. Put it there, and it stays. Well, the liquid of the editorial and reportorial inkstands is an indelible ink. It puts upon the souls of the passing generations characters of light or darkness that time cannot wash out and eternity cannot efface. Be careful how you use it. While you recognise the distinguished ones who have dipped into the inkstand of the world’s evangelisation, do not forget that there are hundreds of thousands of unknown men and women who are engaged in inconspicuous ways doing the same thing! How many anxious mothers writing to the boys in town! How many sisters writing encouragement to brothers far away! How many bruised and disappointed and wronged souls of earth would be glad to get a letter from you! Stir up that consolatory inkhorn. All Christendom has been waiting for great revivals of religion to start from the pulpits and prayer meetings. I now suggest that the greatest revival of all time may start from a concerted and organised movement through the inkhorns of all Christendom, each writer dipping from the inkhorn nearest him a letter of Gospel invitation, Gospel hope, Gospel warning, Gospel instruction. The other angels spoken of in my text were destroying angels, and each had what the Bible calls a “slaughter weapon” in his hand. It was a lance, or a battle axe, or a sword. God hasten the time when the last lance shall be shivered, and the last battle axe dulled, and the last sword sheathed, never again to leave the scabbard, and the angel of the text, who Matthew Henry says was the Lord Jesus Christ, shall from the full inkhorn of His mercy give a saving call to all nations. That day may be far off, but it is hopeful to think of its coming. Is it not time that the boasted invention of new and more explosive and more widely devastating weapons of death be stopped forever, and the Gospel have a chance, and the question be not asked, How many shots can be fired in a minute? but how many souls may be ransomed in a day? Hail, Thou Mighty Rider of the white horse in the final triumph! Sweep down and sweep by, Thou Angel of the New Covenant, with the inkhorn of the world’s evangelisation! (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh.
The protected people
I. God has a people of His own in a world of sinners, who feel for His honour, and desire to sustain His authority. These are the salt of the earth; the preservation of men. Set apart by the Lord, for Himself; made by the Holy Spirit, new creatures in Christ Jesus; standing with His robe of righteousness, complete in Him; instant in prayer; fruitful in holiness; and preferring the reproach of Christ to the treasures of the world; they are at once the ornament and the defence of mankind. And it imports an amazing amount of corruption and guilt in a land, when it is proclaimed that such men can but deliver their own souls, and shall be no longer the instruments to convey Divine blessings to others. These people of God have not sighed in listless idleness, or wept tears of fearful indolence, without an effort to stop the progress of man’s iniquity. No. They are those who have first done all in active effort which they could do to restrain the wickedness of others; and who now, while they are mourning for their sins, are bearing their testimony with fidelity against them. Jealous for the honour of God, happy in the acceptance of a Saviour, knowing the comforts of the Holy Ghost, believing the revealed responsibility and destiny of sinful men, they long to the end of life for the salvation of the ungodly; and sigh and cry unto God, while they live, over a destruction in which they have no participation, and which men bring wholly upon themselves.
II. This people are entirely protected in the destruction which God brings upon the ungodly. Amidst surrounding ungodliness, the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will hide them in His tabernacle, until the danger be overpast. They are marked by His infallible determination, and are sealed by His Spirit unto the day of redemption. Known by the mark of grace--grace which loved them, bought them, found them, brought them back, kept them, and crowned them--they stand before God, sanctified and secured. Happy in their eternal enjoyments. Happy in all their earthly sorrows. Happy, peculiarly in this, that they sighed and cried for the abominations of men, in their zeal for the honour of the Lord of hosts.
III. While the people of God are thus distinguished and protected, the destruction of the ungodly will be entire. Long has God endeavoured to lead them to repentance; long has the Saviour stood waiting to receive them; long has the Divine Spirit exerted Himself to bring them back to Christ. And while all this was passing, they might have found a refuge in the Gospel, and have gained eternal life. But now the dispensation of mercy has been closed, and they are left, as they have chosen to be left, to the unbending operation of law. They die without mercy. They perish without redemption. They are destroyed forever. This destruction will begin with those who are most highly favoured with religious privileges. “Begin at My sanctuary,” says the Lord to the angels of destruction. “Judgment must begin at the house of God,” says the apostle Peter, as if in reference to this very passage of our text. Neither the pulpit nor the sanctuary; neither profession nor self-complacency shall afford protection to the sinner’s soul. There is no respect of persons before the tribunal of the living God. The hypocrite shall be unveiled; the false professor shall be exhibited as he is; the self-righteous man shall be held up to view in his own deformities and unrepented sin shall everywhere see the destroying weapon, with an irreversible energy, coming upon itself. (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
The mark of life
The mark in this case was, as the Hebrew verb indicates, to be the letter Tau, the oldest form of which, as in Phoenician and earlier Hebrew alphabets, was that of a cross. Such a mark had been in use from the time of the Book of Job, as the equivalent of a signature (Job 31:35); or, as in later Arab use, was branded on sheep and cattle as a sign of ownership. To assume that there was any reference in it to the significance which was to attach to the sign of the cross in Christian symbolism would be, perhaps, too bold a hypothesis; but the fact that such a symbol appeared in the crux ansata (the cross with a handle to it) of Egyptian monuments, as the sign of life, may possibly have determined its selection in this instance, when it was used to indicate those who, as the people of Jehovah, bearing His stamp upon them, were to escape the doom of death passed upon the guilty. (Dean Plumptre.)
Safety in time of destruction
I. The description here given of those persons whom the man with the writer’s inkhorn was commanded in the day of wrath to mark upon the forehead. Idolatry, infidelity, mockery of God, appear to have been the principal part--the head and front of Israel’s offending, and for this the destroyer was sent forth, and the hand of unrelenting, unsparing vengeance commanded to do its work. Are we individually and unfeignedly sighing and crying for England’s abominations? Are we confessing our sins, and feeling the weight of personal transgressions, and acknowledging the power and faithfulness of God in pardoning and removing them? Are our hearts and hands uplifted for the land we dwell in? Are our voices as loud in prayer to God for mercy towards the guilty as they are to our fellow creatures in reprobation of them?
II. What is the nature of that mark to which the prophet in the text refers? We find similar language used by St. John in the Apocalypse (Revelation 7:3-4). Of whatever nature, then, the mark may be, it is expressive of, and a security for preservation. The allusion may be to the ancient custom of branding slaves upon the forehead, by which it was known whose property they were, or probably to that signalising mark of blood seen upon the door post of Israel, in Egypt, which secured them in the hour that the destroying angel smote the first-born of her oppressors. Both ideas may be involved, and from both we shall compound our idea of the mark.
1. There will be the blood, the mark of the blood, which blood, sprinkled upon the heart, disarms just vengeance, and secures it against the wrath of God. Is the blood upon your heart?--in plain terms, do you know its character, estimate its worth; rest upon its merits, and consider it as the mark of distinguishing grace and the security for certain preservation?
2. There is the mark of servitude.
III. God’s command to the destroyers. First the man with the inkhorn goes forth to secure God’s chosen, and then goes forth the command unto the men with the slaughter weapons. “Begin at My sanctuary,” slay, spare not. Christendom, generally, is His professed house, and England, in peculiar, is His sanctuary. The other nations have tasted a little of these judgments, and war and pestilence and forebodings of fresh evil are now among the bitter ingredients of the Continental cup of vengeance. But the time is come when judgment in her severest form must begin at the house of God--begin with us, and shake with its most appalling force, not merely those institutions which papal and schismatical revenge are bent on destroying, but the imposing fabric of evangelical profession. This sanctuary needs cleansing. This amalgamation of wheat and tares under the common aspect of wholesome grain needs sifting. (H. J. Owen.)
The distinguishing signs of the righteous
I. The characters described.
1. The characters are those who inwardly feel and lament on account of the abominations of men. They thus feel--
2. The evidence of this inward feeling for souls.
II. The mark appointed.
1. A mark of distinction.
2. A Divine mark.
3. This mark is prominent. “In the forehead.” Grace, in its essence, is secret, but always visible in its effects.
4. This mark is essential.
III. The deliverance secured.
1. From destruction.
1. The subject furnishes a test of Christian character. Do we sigh and cry, etc.
2. It should be a stimulus to increased exertion.
3. Urge upon the exposed sinner the necessity of immediately obtaining the mark. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The mark of deliverance
When God visits the world, or any part of it, with His desolating judgments, He usually sets a mark of deliverance on such as are suitably affected with the sins of their fellow creatures.
I. What is implied in being suitably affected with the sins of our fellow creatures? That we are naturally disposed to be little or not at all affected with the sins of others, unless they tend, either directly or indirectly, to injure ourselves, it is almost needless to remark. If our fellow creatures infringe none of our real or supposed rights, and abstain from such gross vices as evidently disturb the peace of society, we usually feel little concern respecting their sins against God; but can see them following the broad road to destruction with great coolness and indifference, and without making any exertion, or feeling much desire to turn their feet into a safer path. This being the case, it is evident that a very great and radical change must take place in our views and feelings before we can be suitably affected with the sins of our fellow creatures, if the conduct of the persons mentioned in our text is the standard of what is suitable.
1. If we fear sin more than the punishment of sin; if we mourn rather for the iniquities than for the calamities which we witness; if we are more grieved to see God dishonoured, His Son neglected, and immortal souls ruined, than we are to see our commerce interrupted, our fellow citizens divided, and our country invaded it is one proof that we resemble the characters mentioned in our text.
2. Being suitably affected with the sins of our fellow creatures implies the diligent exertion, by every means in our power, to reform them. This attempt must be made--
3. Those who are suitably affected with the sins of their fellow creatures will certainly be much more deeply affected with their own. While they smart under the rod of national calamities, they will cordially acknowledge the justice of God, and feel that their own sins have assisted in forming the mighty mass of national guilt.
II. On such as are thus affected, God will set a mark of deliverance, when those around them are destroyed by His desolating judgments. This may be inferred--
1. From the justice of God. As they have separated themselves from others by their conduct, it requires that a mark of separation and deliverance should be set upon them by the hand of a righteous God. Hence the plea of Abraham with regard to Sodom, a plea of which God tacitly allowed the force. Witness the preservation of guilty Zoar for the sake of Lot, and the declaration of the destroying angel, I cannot do anything till thou be come thither.
2. From God’s holiness. As a holy God He cannot but love holiness; He cannot but love His own image; He cannot but love those who love Him. But the characters of whom we are speaking evince by their conduct that they do love God. His cause, His interest, His honour, they consider as their own. A holy God, therefore, will, nay, He must, display His approbation of holiness by placing upon them a mark of distinction.
3. From His faithfulness. God has said, Them that honour Me I will honour. (E. Payson, D. D.)
The character of Zion’s mourners
In the text we have two things.
1. A party distinguishing themselves from others in a sinning time. And this they do by their exercise, not by any particular name of sect or party, but by their practice.
2. Here is God’s distinguishing that party from others in a suffering time, seeing to their safety when the men with the slaughter weapons were to go through.
(i) To go through the midst of Jerusalem, the high streets. The mourners would be found there, by their carriage among others, testifying their dislike of the God-provoking abominations abounding among them.
To set a mark upon them. This is to be done before the destroying angels get the word to fall on, to show the special care that God has of His own in the time of the greatest confusion.
To set it in their foreheads. In the Egyptian destruction the mark was set on their door posts, because their whole families were to be saved; but here it was to be set on their foreheads, because it was only designed for particular persons.
I. Times of abounding sin are heavy times, times of sighing and groaning to the serious godly, Zion’s mourners. I am to give the import of this exercise, and therein the character of Zion’s mourners, to whom times of abounding sin are heavy times, times of sighing and groaning.
1. Zion’s mourners are godly persons, who in respect of their state have come out from the world lying in wickedness, and joined themselves to Jesus Christ (1 John 5:19).
2. Waking godly persons, not sleeping with the foolish virgins.
3. Mourners for their own sins (Ezekiel 7:16).
4. Public spirited persons, who are concerned to know how matters go in the generation wherein they live: how the interest of the Gospel thrives, what regard is had to the law and honour of God, what case religion is in,--whether Satan’s kingdom is gaining or losing ground.
5. Tender persons, careful to keep their own garments clean in a defiling time, and dare not go along with the course of the times (Revelation 3:4).
6. Zealous persons, opposing themselves to the current of abominations, as they have access (Psalms 69:9).
7. Persons affected at the heart for the sins of the generation, to the making of them sigh and groan on that account before the Lord, when no eye sees but the all-seeing One (Jeremiah 13:17).
II. Why such times are heavy times, times of sighing and groaning to Zion’s mourners.
1. Because of the dishonour they see done to God by these abominations (Psalms 69:9).
2. Because of the wounds they see given to religion and the interest of Christ by these abominations, and the advantage they see accruing to the interest of the devil and his kingdom thereby (Romans 2:24).
3. Because of the fearful risk they see the sinners themselves run by these their abominations (Psalms 119:53).
5. Because of the judgments of God which they see may be brought upon those yet unborn, by reason of these abominations. Hence says the prophet (Hosea 9:13-14).
6. Because of the Lord’s displeasure with the generation for these abominations (Jeremiah 15:1).
7. Because of the common calamity in which they see these abounding abominations may involve themselves and the whole land. (T. Boston, D. D.)
Mourning for other men’s sins
I. It is a duty. If we are by the prescript of God to bewail in confession the sins of our forefathers, committed before our being in the world, certainly much more are we to lament the sins of the age wherein we live, as well as our own (Leviticus 26:40).
1. This was the practice of believers in all ages. Seth called the name of his son, which was born at the time of the profaning the name of God in worship, Enos, which signifies sorrowful or miserable, that he might in the sight of his son have a constant monitor to excite him to an holy grief for the profaneness and idolatry that entered into the worship of God (Genesis 4:26). The rational and most precious part of Lot was vexed with the unlawful deeds of the generation of Sodom, among whom he lived (2 Peter 2:7-8). The meekest man upon earth, with grief and indignation breaks the tables of the law when he sees the holiness of it broken by the Israelites, and expresseth more his regret for that, than his honour for the material stones, wherein God had with His own finger engraven the orders of His will. David; a man of the greatest goodness upon record, had a deluge of tears, because they kept not God’s law (Psalms 119:136). Besides his grief, which was not a small one, horror seized upon him upon the same account (Psalms 119:53). How doth poor Isaiah bewail himself, and the people among whom he lived (Isaiah 6:5). Perhaps such as could hardly speak a word without an oath, or by hypocritical lip service, mocked God in the very temple.
2. It was our Saviour’s practice. He sighed in His spirit for the incredulity of that generation, when they asked a sign, after so many had been presented to their eyes (Mark 8:12). The hardness of their hearts at another time raised His grief as well as His indignation (Mark 3:5). He was sensible of the least dishonour to His Father (Psalms 69:9). He wept at Jerusalem’s obstinacy, as well as for her misery, and that in the time of His triumph. The loud hosannas could not silence His grief, and stop the expressions of it (Luke 19:41).
3. Angels, as far as they are capable, have their grief for the sins of men. They can scarce rejoice at men’s repentance without having a contrary affection for men’s profaneness. How can they be instruments of God’s justice if they are without anger against the deservers of it?
II. It is an acceptable duty to God.
1. It is a fulfilling the whole law, which consists of love to God and love to our neighbours.
2. It is an imitating return for God’s affection. The pinching of His people doth most pierce His heart; a stab to His honour, in gratitude, should most pierce theirs.
3. This temper justifies God’s law and His justice. It justifies the holiness of the law in prohibiting sin, the righteousness of the law in condemning sin; it owns the sovereignty of God in commanding, and the justice of God in punishing.
4. It is a sign of such a temper God hath evidenced Himself in Scripture much affected with. A sign of a contrite heart, the best sacrifice that can smoke upon His altar, next to that of His Son.
III. It is a means of preservation from public judgments.
1. Sincerity always escapes best in common judgments, and this temper of mourning for public sins is the greatest note of it.
2. This frame clears us from the guilt of common sins. To mourn for them, and pray against them, is a sign we would have prevented them if it had lain in our power; and where we have contributed to them, we, by those acts, revoke the crime.
3. A grief for common sins is an endeavour to repair the honour God has lost. When we concern ourselves for God’s honour, God will concern Himself for our protection. God never was, or ever will be, behind-hand with His creature in affection.
4. The mourners in Sion are humble, and humility is preventive of judgments. God revives the spirit of the humble (Isaiah 57:15). They that share in the griefs of the Spirit shall not want the comforts of the Spirit.
5. Such keep covenant with God. The contract runs on God’s part to be an enemy to His people’s enemies (Exodus 23:22). It must run on our parts to love that which God loves, hate that which God hates, grieve for that which grieves and dishonours Him; who can do this by an unconcernedness?
6. Such also fear God’s judgments, and fear is a good means to prevent them. The advice of the angel upon the approach of judgments is to fear God, and give glory to Him (Revelation 14:7).
IV. The use.
1. Reproof for us. Where is the man that hangs his harp upon the willows at the time the temple of God is profaned? It reproves, then--
2. Of comfort to such as mourn for common sins. All the carnal world hath not such a writ of protection to show in the whole strength of nature, as the meanest mourner in Sion hath in his sighs and tears. Christ’s mark is above all the shields of the earth; and those that are stamped with it have His wisdom to guard them against folly, His power against weakness, the everlasting Father against man, whose breath is in his nostrils.
3. Mourn for the sins of the time and place where you live. It is the least dislike we can show to them. A flood of grief becomes us in a flood of sin.
I. Some of the grounds we have for humiliation before God, for sighing and crying, because of iniquity. God is entitled to the love and service which He receives from us. He made us, and in requiring that we should devote those powers and faculties with which He has endowed us, to Himself and to His service, He only requires that property which is His own, and which should be employed in a way that is agreeable to the great Author and Owner of that property. Jehovah is also infinitely worthy of the supreme love and devoted obedience of His people. He is possessed of every possible perfection--He is distinguished by every moral excellence in a degree that is infinite. God has also been exceedingly kind to us. He has heaped upon us unnumbered benefits. He supplies our daily, our hourly, wants, and He has not only made provision for us in time, but at the expense of His own Son’s life; He has provided also for our eternal happiness. Besides all this, the service to which God calls us is not only obedience to which He has a right, but it is also obedience of a kind that is calculated to confer upon those who render it the highest degree of satisfaction. This, then, being the case, this the relation in which we stand to God, these the benefits we have received at His hand, this the nature and character of the service He demands from us, how utterly inexcusable on our part any kind, any degree, of transgression! One transgression is directly opposed to the nature of His kingdom. Thus, then, have we ample grounds of humiliation were we this day chargeable in the sight of God, with having only once deviated from the moral path of God. But, oh! how often have we wandered from it! Never once have we given to God the holy sense of love He is entitled to receive at our hands. Every moment of our conscious or waking existence we have been guilty of coming short of what it was our imperious duty to have rendered. But besides these shortcomings which have been thus innumerous, oh! how numerous, and also how aggravated our actual positive transgressions! Seek, oh! seek the contrition, the humiliation of soul, which a sense of sin ought to inspire. But besides iniquities within, do not iniquities also prevail around us, of a very heinous and aggravated character; iniquities in a high degree insulting to the name of God; iniquities in a high degree calculated, if we would have the Lord’s indignation averted, and if we would be distinguished by the state of mind with which such prevailing iniquities should be contemplated by us all, to lead us to sigh and cry because of them?
II. A mark is still stamped upon every child of God. They have the impress of God’s own image upon their character,--they have those moral lineaments of character stamped upon them by which God Himself is distinguished; they are thus marked as Jehovah’s property, as in a very peculiar and special manner His own; and, regarding all such, it may unhesitatingly be affirmed, that because of prevailing abominations they sigh and cry. Oh! how desirous that we should seek to have the spirit that is here adverted to by the Lord! Is calamity at any great distance from us? Are there no threatening clouds lowering above us? (J. Marshall, M. A.)
The care of Christ over His mourners
I. God at all times narrowly inspects the state of His Church. “Go through the midst of the city,” etc. His eyes are in every place, but especially upon the Church, His pleasant land, from the one end of the year to the other. He distinguishes with an accuracy peculiar to Himself, her true members from hypocrites. He knows her enemies, and restrains or destroys them. He knows when her members are in right exercise, and when they are in the wrong. How should this inspire fear and reverence, faith and hope, simplicity and godly sincerity in all her members!
II. Christ’s principal work is in the Church. Christ is head over all things, for His Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. He worketh as God in all places, but the particular sphere of His work is in His Church. He executes all His offices in her, and nowhere else, and He has appointed ordinances as tokens of His gracious presence with His people.
III. Christ’s errands to His Church are generally in mercy. “Set a mark upon the foreheads,” etc. There are indeed exceptions to this rule. Sometimes He comes to unhinge her constitution, to remove His ordinances, to bid a farewell to her, and to execute His judgments upon her, as in the case of the Jewish Church afterwards, and of the seven Churches of Asia. His design, notwithstanding these and other instances, is to save and deliver, when He cometh to His Church. He is the Saviour of His body, the Church, and all He doth for her is for her eternal advantage.
IV. In times of great and general defection God has a mourning remnant. He had so at Jerusalem at the time specified, wicked as it was. These were few in number, and unknown to the prophet, perhaps unknown to the angels, and to one another; but they were known to Christ. He found them out, and it was His delightful work to signalise His mercy, and the mercy of His Father, in setting a mark upon their foreheads. He is infinite in wisdom, and cannot commit a mistake; He is infinite in power, and nothing can obstruct His design of mercy towards His own elect. These mourners may be few in number, but they are reckoned by Christ as equal, and superior to a generation of other men. They are sometimes a third part, sometimes a tenth, and at other times as a few berries on the top of the uppermost branches; but still these few are mourners.
V. Sin is always hateful to a holy soul. He sighs and cries for it. Every good man, like Hannibal against the Romans, has sworn eternal war against sin. It is bitter to him, because contrary to the nature, the will, and the law of that God whom he supremely esteems and loves; because it killed the Lord Jesus, and grieves the Holy Spirit of God. It is bitter in his heart, in his closet, in his family, in all places and circumstances.
VI. Saints not only hate sin, but sigh and cry for it. The first refers to the affection of mind, and the last to the expressions of it in tears and other signs of grief. Grief for sin made the saints in Scripture water their couch with tears, to eat no pleasant bread, to keep them waking, to make them roll in dust, because God was dishonoured, and sin was committed by themselves and others. Alas! how few are now found in such exercise!
VII. Good men mourn, not only for their own sins, but for all the abominations done in the midst of the land. They grieve, first for their own sins, and then for the sins of others. It were rank hypocrisy to invert this order; to do so is insufferable in the eyes of God and man. They who live in sin, who never grieve for their own sins, and yet pretend to bewail public crimes, are most detestable characters. As far as the knowledge of sin extends, good men loathe and grieve for it. When robberies, murders, and other crimes which tend to dissolve society are committed, when the sword of the magistrate is stretched forth in vain, then it is time for God to work, and for saints to be dreadfully afraid of His judgments.
VIII. In times of judgments for sin, God generally sets a mark upon his mourning remnant. He did so here, and in other instances innumerable. He is the guardian of the Church, the protector of the poor. He issues out a writ of protection in their favour, as in the 91st Psalm. He invites them to flee from danger, as in Isaiah 26:1-21. He delivers the island of the innocent, He saves His righteous Lots in the destruction of the wicked. His Calebs and Joshuas live still. His fruit-bearing trees are spared, while the barren trees are struck with His lightning. (Christian Magazine.)
Godly sorrow for abounding iniquity
I. When, or upon what occasions, the exercise of godly sorrow for sin is in a peculiar manner seasonable.
1. When transgressors are very numerous; when the body of a people is corrupted.
2. The call becomes still more pressing when transgressors are not only numerous, but likewise bold and impudent; sinning, as Absalom did, “before all Israel, and in the sight of the sun.” This is fatal presage of approaching vengeance; for God will not always tolerate such insolent contempt of His authority.
3. Especially when sinners are not only numerous and impudent, but likewise guilty of those grossest abominations which in former ages have been followed with the most tremendous judgments. If you read the Scriptures you will find that profane swearing, perjury, contempt of the Sabbath, theft, murder, and adultery are all of this kind.
4. When the persons that commit them are resolute and incorrigible. When the wicked are forewarned of their sin and danger; when, by the preaching of the Word, their duty is plainly and faithfully set before them; when they are exhorted by others and rebuked by their own consciences; when they are smitten with such rods as bear the most legible signature of their crimes; or when, in a milder way, they are admonished and warned by the punishments inflicted upon others for the same crimes; when, after all or any of these means employed to reclaim them, they still hold fast their iniquities, and will not let them go: then should the godly lament and mourn, and pray with redoubled earnestness for those miserable creatures who have neither the ingenuity nor the wisdom to pray for themselves.
II. A few obvious remarks relative to the time and place in which our lot is cast. It is too apparent to be denied, that the vices I mentioned under the former head, intemperance, lewdness, the most insolent abuse of the Christian Sabbath, lying, cursing, and even perjury itself, are more or less practised in every corner of the land. However, as they cannot be strictly accounted the peculiar reproach of the present age, I shall remind you of some other instances of departure from God which, with greater and more evident propriety, may be termed the distinguishing characteristics of the times in which we live.
1. I begin with Infidelity, which of late hath spread itself through all orders of men, the lowest not excepted.
2. Again, is there not a visible contempt of the authority of God?
3. Further, we seem, in a great measure, to have lost any proper sense of our dependence upon God. “When His hand is lifted up we do not see.” We forget Him in prosperity; and in adversity we look no higher than the creature.
4. To all these I must add the luxury and sensuality which have now spread their roots and branches so wide that they may truly be said to fill the whole land. Pleasure is at length become a laborious study; and with many, I am afraid, it is their only study: for it leaves them no room to pursue any other. While the poor are striving, while many who are willing to labour can find no employment, and not a few have abandoned their native country to seek that sustenance in foreign parts which they could not earn at home; still is pleasure pursued with increasing ardour, and no price is deemed extravagant that can purchase an addition to it.
III. A few of the genuine symptoms and proper effects of the gracious temper I mean to recommend.
1. We can never be assured that our grief for the sins of others is pure, and of the right kind, unless our hearts be duly affected with grief and sorrow for our own transgressions. Godly sorrow is just and impartial; it always begins at home, and makes few visits abroad, till domestic sins are first bewailed.
2. Our grief is of the right kind when it leads us to pray for transgressors: and when it hath not this effect, we have not only cause to suspect, but may conclude, without hesitation, that it is spurious and counterfeit.
3. Our grief for the sins of others, if pure and genuine, will be accompanied with proper endeavours to reclaim them. Every true mourner will consider himself as “his brother’s keeper,” and will leave no means unattempted to prevent his ruin. He will set his guilt and danger before him in the most prudent and affecting manner he can; and though he meet with many repulses, nay, though his labour of love should be requited with scorn and hatred, yet he will repeat his application again and again, and take hold of every favourable opportunity that presents itself.
4. If we are in truth possessed of this gracious temper, if our grief for abounding iniquity flows from the pure fountain of love to God, and zeal for His glory, we shall own His cause in the most perilous times, and reckon nothing too dear to be hazarded in His service. We must be doing in a humble dependence upon His grace; and then we may both ask, and hope to obtain, His blessing upon our endeavours. But if we pray, and sit still; if we lie howling upon our beds, when we should be abroad at our labour, we offend God instead of pleasing Him, and can look for no other answer but this, “Who hath required these things at your hand?” (R. Walker.)
Mourning over the sins of the city
I. The persons mentioned. Those that sigh and cry, etc. From whence we may observe, that such persons there are that do so, and it is their duty so to do, even to sigh and cry for the abominations, all of them, that are done in the midst of the city.
1. Out of their inward hatred and antipathy, even to sin itself.
2. Out of love to God, and a tenderness of His honour and glory.
3. Out of respect to themselves, and their own advantage. The more sin there is abroad, the more are all men concerned in it; not only evil men but good, who are from hence in so much the greater danger; and that in a twofold respect, both as to matter of defilement and of punishment. They are more in danger from hence to be polluted, and they are more in danger from hence to be afflicted; and this makes them to be so much troubled at it.
4. The servants of God have herein also a respect to others, even sometimes to wicked men themselves, whom considered as men they lament for, while they are guilty of such and such miscarriages. Those that cannot mourn for themselves, through the obstinacy of themselves; yet they have in those cases others better than themselves to mourn for them.
II. A special care or regard which is had of them. Go and set a mark upon the foreheads of them that, etc.
1. It is a mark of honour and observation; such persons as these are, they are highly esteemed and accounted of by God Himself.
2. It is a mark of preservation likewise, and that especially; it is such a mark as whereby God does distinguish them from other persons in the execution of His judgments, which He does graciously exempt them from. Now, the reason of God’s indulgence to such persons as are thus affected is especially upon this account--
III. There are divers sorts of persons in the world, which come short of this duty.
1. Those that practise the abominations are far enough from mourning for them, and so consequently far enough from this privilege here mentioned in the text, of having a mark set upon them.
2. Such that do encourage others in wickedness, and not only not restrain them, but rather countenance them, and further them in it.
3. Which is a lower degree of it, which do not lay the sins and abominations to their heart, which are not humbled for them, when it concerns them, and becomes them to be. As we desire that God should not judge us, it concerns us to judge ourselves. (T. Herren, D. D.)
The safety mark in troublous times
I. The search.
1. It is no surface search which God institutes. Were it so, who would not have “the mark”? how few would there be on whom “the slaughter weapon” shall do its work.
2. It is a house search whereby we must be proved. Look well to what goes on within thy habitation, if thou wouldst have “the slaughter weapon” pass and touch thee not. Hath God His altar in thy house, so that thy family cannot be classed amongst those “that call not on His name”? Is the Word of God read within thy walls, and is that Word made the court of decision from which there is no appeal? It is a heart search. God “trieth the reins and the heart.” It was the sad confession of one, at an hour, too, when he needed every stay, “that though he had kept up the profession of religion in his house, he had never had the reality of it in his heart.” Let not this conviction be yours. “Keep thy heart with all diligence.”
II. The sigh and the cry. “Set a mark on the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done,” etc. Men account those as poor and pitiful that, looking for the signs of the times, are solemnised at heart, because of “the things that are coming on the earth”; but grant me, O Lord! the contrite heart, “the sigh and the cry” for the evil that is in the world. This attracts the eye of God.
1. This disposition of mind includes an insight into sin, some perception of the mystery of iniquity; such see that with all the fair surface sin presents, it is hateful in God’s sight, ruinous to the soul in which it dwells, that it is of hell, and leads to hell.
2. Love of God, and hence desire for His glory, is the mainspring of that grief of heart spoken of in our text.
3. Know we this blessed sorrow, this “sigh and cry” of our text? Loud are the calls for it; do they find an answer within us?
III. The safety mark. “Set a mark.”
1. This is the protecting mark which men should seek in troublous times. The world hath its places of safety, its towers of strength, its carnal weapons, its wise plans, but “like a dream when one awaketh,” so do these disappear, and fail them in the hour of need.
2. This mark is indelible, it cannot be taken away. Kings have their marks, their orders of merit, their distinctions and titles to distribute, but a breath of popular outbreak may sweep them all away. Death certainly removes them, breaks the staff of office, “man being in honour abideth not”; but this safety mark of which our text speaks, who shall deprive us of?
3. It shall be recognised and acknowledged at the last day. Woes may come on the earth, but they cannot injure you; death shall come, but it shall prove life to you; the judgment day shall but gather you to glory. (F. Storr, M. A.)
God’s care of His people in time of peril
1. The Lord looks upon the world with a discriminating eye; some He looks upon to be marked, and some to be left unmarked. His eye distinguisheth between the precious and the vile (Psalms 34:15-16).
2. When the Lord proceeds to judgment of cities, churches, people, kingdoms, He doth it judiciously, considerately. He doth not pour out wrath from heaven at all adventures, let it light where and upon whom it will; but He makes inquiry who are fit to be punished, and who are to be spared.
3. In the worst times God hath some who are faithful, and serve Him. God had His Huss, Jerome of Prague, and Luther, in times bad enough.
4. The number of men to be saved in Jerusalem is few.
5. The Lord hath a special care of His saints when dreadful and destroying judgments are coming upon others.
(i) Men. It is put indefinitely, not confined to noble, wise, rich, learned, but any condition of men that were godly; any poor man, any servant, any child, any little one, let their grace be never so mean, if they had any grace at all, they should have the seal as well as the best.
6. It is the Lord Christ who is the marker of the saints.
7. God and Christ are not ashamed of theirs in the worst times and greatest dangers.
8. The faithful are so far from complying with the wickedness of the times, that they sigh and cry for the abominations thereof. (W. Greenhill, M. A.)
Christians a living protest against sin
I. God’s people described.
1. They are sighing ones, sorrowing.
2. They are crying ones, protesting.
II. Their peculiar mark, a mark of--
3. A visible mark.
4. A mark of safety. (W. W. Whythe.)
Let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity.
I. The chief distinction between men is moral. Upon what principle were these two divisions (verses 4, 5) made?
1. Not unreasoning caprice.
2. Not any material characteristics.
3. Not any mental qualities.
4. Simply the moral character.
The “great gulf fixed” is the spiritual difference between the impenitent and the devout, the selfish and the loving, the Christly and the Christless.
II. The results of this distinction are tremendous. To be on the wrong side of this dividing line meant to be doomed to the six slayers, and means ever destruction. Lust is a fare, love of money is a cancer, intemperance is a flood, self-love is a petrifaction; and these are ever burning or eating out or drowning or hardening the manhood of sinners. And there is, moreover, “the second death.” Goodness is safety now, and forever.
III. The Divine superintendence of human destiny is perfect. Every detail of this judgment was given by God. Through Him the angel knew whom to seal, and the others knew whom to slay. So is it ever; the arrangements for man’s retributive future are securely safe, because--
1. The moral character and condition now are conspicuous. The seal is on the forehead.
2. The arrangement is Divine. There can be no mistake or injustice. (Urijah R. Thomas.)
I was left.
I. A pathetic reflection, which seems to invite us to take a solemn retrospect - “I was left.” You remember, many of you, times of sickness. You walked among the graves, but you did not stumble into them. Fierce and fatal maladies lurked in your path, but they were not allowed to devour you. The bullets of death whistled by your ears, and yet you stood alive, for his bullet had no billet for your heart. “I was left”--preserved, great God, when many others perished; sustained, Standing on the rock of life when the waves of death dashed about me, the spray fell heavy upon me, and my body was saturated with disease and pain, yet am I still alive--permitted still to mingle with the busy tribes of men. Now, then, what does such a retrospect as this suggest? Ought we not each one of us to ask the question, What was I spared for? Why was I left? Was it that mercy might yet visit you--that grace might yet renew your soul? Have you found it so? Say, sinner, in looking back upon the times when you have been left, were you spared in order that you might be saved with a great salvation? Let us change the retrospect and look upon the sparing mercy of God in another light. “I was left.” You were born of ungodly parents; the earliest words you can recollect were base and blasphemous, too bad to repeat. You grew up, you and your brothers and your sisters, side by side; you filled the home with sin, you went on together in your youthful crimes, and encouraged each other in evil habits. You recollect how one and another of your old comrades died; you followed them to their graves, and your merriment was checked a little while, but it soon broke out again. Then a sister died, steeped to the mouth in infidelity; after that a brother was taken,--he had no hope in his death, all was darkness and despair before him. And so, sinner, thou hast outlived all thy comrades. And now thou art left, sinner; and, blessed be God, it may be you can say, “Yes, and I am not only left, but I am here in the house of prayer; and if I know my own heart, there is nothing I should hate so much as to live my old life over again.” As you have served the devil through thick and thin, until you came to serve him alone, and your company had all departed, so by Divine grace may you be pledged to Christ--to follow Him, though all the world should despise Him, and to hold on to the end, until, g every professor should be an apostate, it might yet be said of you at the last, “He was left; he stood alone in sin while his comrades died; and then he stood alone in Christ when his companions deserted him. Thus of you it should ever be said, ‘He was left.’” This suggests also one more form of the same retrospect. What a special providence has watched over some of us, and guarded our feeble frames! Why are you spared? are you an unconverted man? an unconverted woman? To what end are you spared? Is it that you may at the eleventh hour be saved? God grant it may be so. But art thou a Christian? Then it is not hard for thee to answer the question, Why art thou spared? Tell it out, tell it out, thou aged man; tell the story of that preserving grace which has kept thee up till now. Tell to thy children and to thy children’s children what a God He is whom thou hast trusted.
II. A prospect. “And I was left.” You and I shall soon pass out of this world into another. This life is, as it were, but the ferry boat; we are being carried across, and we shall soon come to the true shore, the real terra firma, for here there is nothing that is substantial. Great God, shall I stand there wrapped in His righteousness alone, the righteousness of Him who sits my Judge erect upon the judgment seat?--shall I, when the wicked shall cry, “Rocks hide us, mountains on us fall,” shall this eye look up, shall this face dare to turn itself to the face of Him that sits upon the throne? Shall I stand calm and unmoved amidst universal terror and dismay? shall I be numbered with the goodly company who, clothed with the white linen which is the righteousness of the saints, shall await the shock, shall see the wicked hurled to destruction, and feel and know themselves secure? Shall it be so, or shall I be bound up in a bundle to burn, and swept away forever by the breath of God’s nostrils, like the chaff driven before the wind? It must be one or the other; which shall it be?
III. A terrible contrast. There will be some who will not be left in the sense we have been speaking of, and yet who will be left after another and more dreadful manner. They will be left by mercy, forsaken by hope, given up by friends, and become a prey to the implacable fury, to the sudden, infinite, and unmitigated severity and justice of an angry God. But they will not be left or exempted from judgment, for the sword shall find them out, the vials of Jehovah shall reach even to their heart. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Wilt Thou destroy all the residue of Israel?--
Zeal and pity
The prophet passes from one state of feeling to another. Sometimes he is in sympathy with the Divine resentment, and is himself full of fury against the sinful people (Ezekiel 3:14), and of scorn that rejoices at their coming chastisements (Ezekiel 6:11), but when the judgments of God are abroad before his eyes he is appalled at their severity, and his pity for men overcomes his religious zeal. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great.
The evil and its remedy
(with 1 John 1:7):--We can learn nothing of the Gospel except by feeling its truths,--no one truth of the Gospel is ever truly known and really learned until we have tested and tried and proved it, and its power has been exercised upon us. No man can know the greatness of sin till he has felt it, for there is no measuring rod for sin except its condemnation in our own conscience, when the law of God speaks to us with a terror that may be felt. And as for the richness of the blood of Christ and its ability to wash us, of that also we can know nothing till we have ourselves been washed, and have ourselves proved that the blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God hath cleansed us from all sin.
1. I shall begin, then, with the first doctrine--“The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great.” Some imagine that the Gospel was devised, in some way or other, to soften down the harshness of God towards sin. Ah! how mistaken the idea! There is no more harsh condemnation of sin anywhere than in the Gospel. Nor does the Gospel in any way whatever give man a hope that the claims of the law will be in any way loosened. Christ hath not put out the furnace; He rather seemeth to heat it seven times hotter. Before Christ came sin seemed unto me to be but little; but when He came sin became exceeding sinful, and all its dread heinousness started out before the light. But, says one, surely the Gospel does in some degree remove the greatness of our sin. Does it not soften the punishment of sin? Ah, no! Stand at the feet of Jesus when He tells you of the punishment of sin, and the effect of iniquity, and you may tremble there far more than you would have done if Moses had been the preacher, and if Sinai had been in the background to conclude the sermon. And now let us endeavour to deal with hearts and consciences a moment. There are some here who have never felt this truth. But come, let me reason with you for a moment. Your sin is great, although you think it small. Follow me in these few thoughts, and perhaps thou wilt better understand it. How great a thing is one sin when, according to the Word of God, one sin could suffice to damn the soul. One sin, remember, destroyed the whole human race. Again, what an imprudent and impertinent thing sin is. Behold! there is one God who filleth all in all, and He is the Infinite Creator. He makes me, and I am nothing more in His sight than an animated grain of dust; and I, that animated grain of dust, with a mere ephemeral existence, have the impertinence and imprudence to set up my will against His will! I dare to proclaim war against the Infinite Majesty of heaven. Again, how great does your sin and mine seem, if we will but think of the ingratitude which has marked it. Oh, if we set our secret sins in the light of His mercy, if our transgressions are set side by side with His favours, we must each of us say, our sins, indeed, are exceeding great! And again, I repeat it, this is a doctrine that no man can rightly know and receive until he has felt it. Hast thou ever felt this doctrine to be true--“my sin is exceeding great”?
2. “Well,” cries one, turning on his heel, “there is very little comfort in that. It is enough to drive one to despair, if not to madness itself.” Ah, friend! such is the very design of this text. We turn therefore from that terrible text to the second one” The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” There lies the blackness; here stands the Lord Jesus Christ. What will He do with it? Will He go and speak to it, and say, “This is no great evil, this blackness is but a little spot?” Oh, no; He looks at it, and He says, “This is terrible blackness, darkness that may be felt; this is an exceeding great evil.” Will He cover it up, then? Will He weave a mantle of excuse, and then wrap it round about the iniquity? Ah, no; whatever covering there may have been He lifts it off, and He declares that when the Spirit of truth is come He will convince the world of sin, and lay the sinner’s conscience bare, and probe the wound to the bottom. What then will He do? He will do a far better thing than make an excuse or than to pretend in any way to speak lightly of it. He will cleanse it all away, remove it entirely by the power and meritorious virtue of His own blood, which is able to save unto the uttermost. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Dwell on the word “all” for a moment. Great as are thy sins, the blood of Christ is greater still. Thy sins are like great mountains, but the blood of Christ is like Noah’s flood; twenty cubits upwards shall this blood prevail, and the top of the mountains of thy sin shall be covered. Just take the word “all” in another sense, not only as taking in all sorts of sin, but as comprehending the great aggregate mass of sin. Couldst thou bear to read thine own diary if thou hadst written there all thy acts? No; for though thou be the purest of mankind, thy thoughts, if they could have been recorded, would now, if thou couldst read them, make thee startle and wonder that thou art demon enough to have had such imaginations within thy soul. But put them all here, and all these sins the blood of Christ can wash away. Nay, more than that. Come hither, ye thousands who are gathered together to listen to the Word of God; what is the aggregate of your guilt? Could ye put it so that mortal observation could comprehend the whole within its ken, it were as a mountain with a base, broad as eternity, and a summit lofty almost as the throne of the great archangel. But, remember, the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth from all sin. Yet, once more, in the praise of this blood we must notice one further feature. There be some of you here who are saying, “Ah! that shall be my hope when I come to die, that in the last hour of my extremity the blood of Christ will take my sins away; it is now my comfort to think that the blood of Christ shall wash, and purge, and purify the transgressions of life.” But, mark! my text saith not so; it does not say the blood of Christ shall cleanse--that were a truth--but it says something greater than that--it says, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth”--cleanseth now. Come, soul, this moment come to Him that hung upon the Cross of Calvary! come now and be washed. But what meanest thou by coming? I mean this, come thou and put thy trust in Christ, and thou shalt be saved. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The land is full of blood.--
I. The utter want of moral training in thousands of homes is one cause of the prevalence of crime. What cares the fashionable mother or the father deeply immersed in business for the moral culture of their children? Hence they grow up in ignorance of all those moral and virtuous principles which are the great safeguards against crime. Then, in thousands of homes the overworked mother has no heart for the duties which she owes to her poor neglected children.
II. The almost universal desecration of the holy Sabbath is another fruitful source of crime. This is God’s day, and man has no right to appropriate it to pleasure or to business.
III. Intemperance is constantly adding to the long list of criminals. It is itself a crime, and the prolific source of every form of iniquity.
IV. The laxity with which the laws are enforced invites to their violation.
V. Another source of crime is the low, vicious literature.
VI. With shame we utter the truth, that many of the crimes of this age may be traced to the pulpit. It is too tender of crime. It is afraid or ashamed to denounce sin. (R. H. Rivers, D. D.)
And the city full of perverseness.--
Temptations peculiar to Christians in great cities
As this is a state of moral probation, it is the design of God to allow us to be surrounded by temptations while we live in this world. Sometimes these come from our intercourse with our fellow men, sometimes from our own corrupted hearts within us, and sometimes from the wiles of the great tempter. There are also certain periods or situations in life when we are exposed to particular kinds of temptations. Those which beset the young man, those which beset the middle-aged man, and those which beset the old man, may be unlike, and yet each is adapted to the particular period of life. There are also particular places in which temptations are heavier than in others.
I. Christians in great cities are peculiarly tempted to overlook the guilt of sin. We all know that familiarity with anything has a wonderful effect upon our feelings; and that it is a principle in human nature, that what is in itself revolting will, by familiarity, cease to disgust. The first time the medical student enters the dissecting room he has a feeling excited very nearly allied to that of shuddering. The mangled dead are strewn around, and those who hold the dissecting knife are there, silent as the dead, as if that were no place for cheerfulness. The images which he sees haunt him after leaving the room. But in a few years this same man can shut himself up there for days, and have scarcely a feeling of revolt, or an unpleasant image remain upon his mind. The young soldier, who first joins his company, has never voluntarily inflicted a wound upon any human being. He has never seen human blood flow, and has never beheld distress created by design. The first oath of his comrade startles him. At the beat of the drum, which, for the first time, calls him to face the enemy, he turns pale. But he need be in the army but a very few years, and he can witness the falling of men around him--see the mangled remains of his fellow--hear the groans of death, and see all the cruelties of the battlefield, and even close with the enemy, bayonet to bayonet, and slay his foes man by man, and yet, at the close of the day, take his meal, and lie down to sleep with as much indifference as if he had been engaged in reaping the harvest of wheat. This is almost literally getting hardened to misery and woe, and is a clear illustration of the principle. Now, in great cities it is nearly impossible not to have the mind in almost constant contact with sin and crime. There the Sabbath is trampled upon, fearlessly, constantly, and shamelessly, by the high and the low. And do you need proof that this familiarity with Sabbath breaking destroys something of the sacredness of that day? In great cities, too, the temptation to feel no responsibility to God how money is spent is very great and very distressing. Familiarity with sin, too, begins early in large cities; and if God, in His providence, should take off the veil which covers all, we should be astonished at the crimes which the children of Christian parents practise in early life, and at what practices are allowed, with hardly a trembling for the consequences.
II. Christians in large cities are peculiarly tempted to engage in worldly amusements. By worldly amusements I mean such as are the greatest delight of people who profess to live only for this world. If I specify cards, balls, and theatres I shall be sufficiently definite to be understood. Now, when the doors are wide open--when the world around--the great mass of mankind--say there is no harm in those exciting amusements, though they know that they are most thronged by those who live farthest from God; when they are so fashionable that you can hardly mingle with genteel society, unless you fall in with them; when they are precisely adapted to our natural and strong desire for excitement, is there anything strange that the Christian should feel it hard that his Bible warns, “touch not, taste not, handle not”? Is it wonderful that some think it is a little sin--a sin, to be sure, but so small that God will not notice it--that many feel that they may pluck the fruit this once; that many think they are not known to do it, and think it is all buried from the eye of their fellow Christians?
III. Christians in great cities are peculiarly tempted to neglect the religion of the heart. It requires much more labour to roll a stone up a steep hill than up a hill whose angle of ascent is less; and if the stone be a very smooth one, and the ground very slippery, the labour is still more increased. Who that has lived in the great city only a few years need be reminded that all good impressions fade away almost as soon as made? Perhaps the very habits of business, so essential to your prosperity in the city, have an unhappy influence upon the religion of the heart. You rise at a stated time in the morning; open your store at a given moment; know to a moment when the mail arrives and closes; must meet your accounts at a given moment; and thus you are in the habit of being punctual and exact. When the moment arrives for you to do this or that, you do it, and then throw it off the mind. And is there not a temptation to treat the duties of the closet in the same way? And thus we may have the name of religion and the form of religion, while the heart is a stranger to its power; and when we place religion on the cold level with business, we may be sure that it will have too slight hold of us either to subdue the soul or console it. It is to my purpose here to remark, how very seldom personal, experimental religion is made the subject of conversation between Christians. The fact will not be questioned. How can it be accounted for? Is it because there are so many other topics floating, that we are never at a loss to hear or tell some new thing? But why is not religious experience one of the first topics of conversation? Or, if not among the first, why is it wholly banished? Do we need it less here than elsewhere? Or is it because we are very prone to neglect the heart, and find it more agreeable to tread upon the surface, than to go as deep as the heart? Then as to reading, how much stronger is the temptation to lay the hand on the fresh morning paper, and spend some time over that, than over the Book of God! To keep along with the tide of human events, and yet not have eternal things weigh upon us! The temptation to neglect the heart, too, from the fact that our time is so completely absorbed, is very great. This makes superficial Christians--Christians who cannot stand against temptation; and who, when temptations come, inquire not what God will now have them do, and how He would have them meet them, but how they can shift off responsibility, and make everything turn to their own advantage.
IV. Christians in great cities are peculiarly tempted to be uncharitable towards one another. Character, strained, and in full action, is ever before you, and you see all its defects. The joints of the harness are constantly opening, and any man can throw in an arrow, though he draw the bow at venture. Character is the easiest thing in the world to talk about. We know, and we must know each other most fully, situated as we are in large cities; but this, instead of making us uncharitable, censorious, and severe towards each other, ought to lead us to remember that every man lives in a glass house, and that therefore we ought to be very watchful and very careful.
V. Christians in great cities are peculiarly tempted to be jealous of one another. No Christian is sanctified but in part; and very few are so sanctified that they can bear to be overlooked or unnoticed. Hence, when they see that one of their number is, by any means, attracting attention--is considerably noticed, and they are left behind, the feeling of jealousy is very likely to be awakened. Does such a one give more liberally than others--does he pray or speak more acceptably in public--does he, on any account, receive more notice than others--does he exercise any acquired influence--the feeling of jealousy is awakened, and, almost unconsciously to himself, the complaining Christian takes the sharpest of all weapons by which to remove the envied one, and that weapon is the tongue. (John Todd, D. D.)
Duties peculiar to Christians in great cities
I. Christians, in the large city, should constantly bear in mind that they are continually surrounded by great temptations. Some may prefer to remain in ignorance of their dangers, because responsibility and duty come with knowledge. But is this wise or safe? A father sends a son to a distant city on business. When the young man reaches it he finds the plague is there. It is all around him, and daily, in every street, death is doing his work. What is safe for this young man? to remain in ignorance of his danger, or to know it all, and, by care, abstinence, and medicine, do all in his power to preserve his life and health? A valuable ship, freighted with a rich cargo, is just passing through a winding channel, amid rocks and shoals, islands and reefs. Would you have her captain sleep in his berth, or would you have him, though accompanied with painful anxieties, on the watch, eyeing and shunning these dangers? In all such cases, the answer is plain enough. If God has made it the duty of a man to live in a large city, He will shield him and protect him, if faithful to his God. But even the Son of God must not tempt His Father, by throwing Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, and then claiming the promise that He would give His angels charge over Him. The mercy of God may follow a man who throws himself in the way of danger, and may pluck him out; but no man has a right to rely upon this. And what shall we do, say you--and how shall we be safe? Ah! it would be comparatively easy to answer this question, could I first make you sensible of the fact that the temptations of the crowded city are great in number, and powerful to resist. Oh! could you see the spots where Christians have fallen, all marked with blood, you would be almost afraid to walk the streets.
II. Christians in great cities should feel that they are peculiarly bound to act from principle, and not from impulse, fashion, or popularity. That man only has a correct standard of action and of life who makes the revealed will of God his standard. In all places and circumstances, all other standards will vary, and especially is this the case in the large city. Here new things are constantly coming up, and what is in vogue and popular today may be the very reverse tomorrow. What comes in on the flood tide today may be left on the sand when the tide comes to ebb, and nobody will think it worth picking up. It is painfully amusing to notice how things, men, and measures, which are popular beyond description today, and of which it seems as if we could never tire, will, in a few days, have passed away and be forgotten. The reason is, that which decides a thing to be good or bad, desirable or otherwise, is public opinion; and that is as variable as the wind. Men, and communities of men, are governed, moved, and guided by it, and even the Christian is in great danger of allowing himself to be guided by it too. To do this or that, because public sentiment says so, and make this a rule of action, will save much reflection, much thought, and much prayer for direction. But this is not that standard which God has revealed, and which never varies. How much easier, too, to act from impulse, and to go forward in a certain course as long as the impulse sets us that way, and then to go backward if a counteracting impulse sets us the other way, than to do right, and go right at all times, without waiting for impulses, and without being driven out of our proper orbit by them!
1. Be familiar with the Bible. The book of God is so full of biography--it places men in such a variety of situations, and all under the strong light of inspiration, that it is almost, if not literally, impossible to find a situation in which a man can be placed where all his relations to God and to man are to be drawn out, for which a parallel may not be found in the Word of God.
2. Habituate yourself to read sound and thorough works in practical theology, and by this means strengthen the mind and heart, and the purposes of the soul, in what is correct and right.
3. Make every decision of moral conduct the subject of individual and fervent prayer. A conscience intuitively knowing what is right and what is wrong is what God gives only in answer to prayer.
III. It is peculiarly the duty of Christians in large cities to set their faces against extravagance. But do not such and such families, who profess to be Christian, do so and so? Yes; but do they show that the Gospel of Christ, and the glory of God, is the ruling passion of their lives? If not, are they safe models for us? But my neighbour does thus and thus. Very likely; and your neighbour may be better able than you are, or he may be doing what he ought not to do, and what he cannot do long. But, say you, can you draw the limits, and go into the particulars, and say whether this and that is wrong? No; nor have I any wish to do it. But am I not safe in saying, that so long as Christians are so extravagant that they are not known from the world--so long as, in consequence of extravagance, they fail in business as often as the world, in proportion to their numbers, there must be something wrong in their slavery to fashion?
IV. Christians in great cities are peculiarly bound to become attached to the cause of Christ. The soul, without any doubt, was formed for strong attachments. We love those who are bound to us by the ties of relationship; and the last ties which the hand of death shall sever are those which bind us to the beings whom we love. But this is not all. In most situations we become attached to inanimate objects. The man who spent his childhood in the country loves his native hills--he loves the fields which lie in sight of his father’s door. Every tree and shrub is connected with some pleasant recollection of childhood. Now, in a great city there are no such attachments. You live in a street, or in a particular house, for years, and you leave it without regret and without sorrow. You go into another without reluctance, and without emotion. The unceasing hurry and perpetual pressure for time prevent our forming those deep attachments which we do in country life. Our attachments, so to speak, are to things in general--to the general excitement which surrounds us. The waves roll too rapidly to allow us to love anyone very strongly. And the danger is, that these same feelings and associations be applied to the cause of Christ; that the habits of mind and of situation lead us to place the cause of God just where we do everything else; and that we feel an attachment to that no stronger than we do to other things. Now we reach the point at which I am aiming, and I say that though you are so situated in Providence that you form no very strong attachment to your dwelling, to your street, to your business, to the family pew in the church, to the changing mass of human beings around you, yet it ought to be a matter of deep interest, of study, and of great effort, to have one set of attachments that are strong, permanent, and which make a part of your very existence--and these should be your attachments to the cause of Jesus Christ. You will ask how you can thus become attached to the cause of Christ, and exercise towards that a set of feelings so entirely different from what you do towards other things? My reply is, Be in the habit of doing something for the cause of Christ every day, and you will soon find that you love that cause above all other things. What makes you love the flower that stands in your parlour, meekly curling its graceful form towards the window, to drink in the beams of light? Not because it is helpless or beautiful. The china vase may be all that; but because you every day do something for it. You give it water--you remove it, when it requires more heat or more air--you watch its budding--you study its nature and its wants. What makes the stranger, who takes the helpless infant to her home, so soon attached to it? Because she is every hour doing something for it; and God has made it impossible for us not to love anything which we aid--an unanswerable argument for the benevolence of Him who formed the human heart! Let the Christian be in the daily habit of making sacrifices, in order to be punctual in his closet--to be daily growing in a knowledge of his Bible--to be prompt and faithful in attending the meetings for prayer, keeping his heart warm and solemn--to give of his property to build up the cause of Christ cheerfully; let him aim to do something that shall be a self-denial, every day, in order to aid the cause of Christ, and he will love that cause; and, while mingling in the tide of men that is passing away, and where everything is changing, he will have his heart and hopes bound to the throne of God, and his soul will have an anchor that is sure and steadfast. Perhaps the very fact that his attachments to other things are loose may render these the stronger.
V. It is peculiarly the duty of Christians, in great cities, to feel a high responsibility. By the talents which Christ puts into the hands of His servants we understand all the opportunities which we have of doing good to ourselves, or to others; and if, at the great day, our responsibilities are to be commensurate with our opportunities, in those respects, they will be great indeed. (John Todd, D. D.)
Dangers peculiar to worldly men engaged in business in great cities
I. Success in business in the great city requires close attention, severe application, and engrossing watchfulness; and this tends to shut eternal things from the mind and to endanger the soul. But perhaps you will say, this very devotedness of heart and mind is necessary in order to success in business here, and any diversion of the attention will endanger success; and therefore, if a man have his attention so diverted and engrossed that he becomes a religious man, he will be less likely to succeed in business. I reply, that does not follow; for if he did, God could not assure us that godliness is profitable for the life that now is, as well as for the life to come. It does not follow, also for three very plain reasons; namely--
1. If you become really a religious man, your weary spirit will be periodically bathed, cooled, and refreshed, by turning off your thoughts, and having them come in contact with the Bible, with the Sabbath, and with God’s Spirit.
2. The community will have confidence in a conscientious, holy man, and will do much to aid, to sustain, and to encourage him.
3. The blessing of God will more surely attend him; and His blessing can make rich.
II. The object for which the worldly man comes to a great city, and for which he stays there, is to acquire property--and this tends to lead him to shut God away from his thoughts. Suppose a man were to go into some distant part of the world, for the express purpose of making money; and if he found that spot very unfavourable to meditation, to prayer, to finding eternal life, what would he say? Would he not be apt to say, I cannot here attend to religion--it is a poor place for that; but I will give my whole time and attention and soul and mind to the business which brought me here, and as soon as possible I will return to my home, where I shall have time and opportunity and everything favourable to my finding eternal life. I will therefore give it no thought at present. And is not the man of the world, in the great city, tempted to do this very thing? Is he not in danger of feeling that the great, the absorbing object for which he is here is to acquire property; and till this end is gained he has no time, no heart, to give to his soul? In all that he does he wishes to keep that plan uppermost--to be sure that every sun that shines, and every breeze that blows, has something to do in promoting that great plan--that one plan.
III. The sympathies of all around him tend to carry his feelings in the channels of earth--and these endanger the soul of the worldly man in the great city. You speak with perhaps fifty men during the day, and five hundred during the week, and among them all you hear not a word about the interests of the soul. And you will say, we must not only he men of business, but we must talk and think about business, about commerce and politics, the light and the grave news of the day, to show that we are men of business. All this may be true, and I mention it because it is true, and because the great impression which this great crowd of immortal beings makes upon each other is adverse to their finding eternal life. Oh! if you lived in a world where everything, from the fresh daily paper that you find in the morning on your table, to the late partings at evening, tended to remind you of God, and to call forth your sympathies towards Him, it would be very different. But the living mass around you, so alive, and so awake to everything relating to this world--so eager for something new--so delighted with anything that can excite--so anxious to live in the swollen tide of human sympathies, seek to turn all this tide in a channel that leads from God.
IV. Dangers attend the man of the world, in his business, before and after the question of his success is settled. Is it not so, that a man in the full tide of business--while straining every nerve to reach the point of certain success and entire safety, so chases the world all the week--so courts it, in all possible ways, that when the Sabbath arrives he is so exhausted that he has no energy of body, no energy of soul, no elasticity of spirit, to meet the duties of that holy day? Is it not so, that he can hardly rise on the Sabbath morning in season to find the house of God; and when he does go there, does he not too often come much like an exhausted machine, and has no power to gird up his mind to sober thought, to deep reflection, to manly discussion, or to close and thorough reasoning? But suppose he has passed the point alluded to, and is sure to succeed in business, and to become an independent man. The dangers to his soul may now be increased tenfold. There may now be some relaxation to that keen, intense, anxious pursuit of business; hut his very relaxations become dangerous, inasmuch as they tend to animalism. How often do we see a man, as soon as it is decided that he will be successful in business, commence a course of stimulating his system, till it becomes overburdened, and is destroyed by its own fulness. What creates that riot in the blood, which cuts off such men at a stroke, and with a suddenness that would be painfully surprising were it not so common? All this animalism, which leads the man to yield to good eating and good drinking continually, is certain to drive God from the heart, while it destroys the powers of the body; and experience will testify that, as a general thing, such men are the very last that are brought into the kingdom of God. Then there is that loftiness and pride of feeling which is almost inseparable from success in business, and which makes us look down upon those beneath us with feelings allied to scorn, and upon ourselves as great and wise, or we could not have succeeded. How few who are successful in business are willing to ascribe it all to God’s good providence which favoured them!
V. The man of the world, in the great city, is in fearful danger of having his soul ruined by the money spirit of this age. Wherever you turn you will see proofs of the universal presence of this spirit. You have heard it in the murmurs of the street--you have seen it written on the golden splendours of those who have not fallen--you have seen it upon the tarnished glories of the fallen and falling--in the blasted hopes of thousands--and you will read it on the anxious brow of your acquaintance. You have heard the proof of it sighed from the massy prison; it is read in the glance of the fugitive from justice;--it is summed up in startling numbers at the bottom of the daily expense book. Now, what have been the inevitable consequences of this race in the fashions of earth? One very plain one is, that everybody must be in debt! It is the order of the age that all must make as much show as possible; and money is desired only for this end. Of course, every man will calculate to live up, fully up, to his income. Then others, and many, too, will go beyond their income--beyond what they can earn. The next result is, that those who are honest cannot get all their honest income, because all by which a dishonest man exceeds his income must come out of the honest: And as very few calculate to live under their supposed income, and as many will live over theirs, the consequence must be that everybody runs in debt. This must be the result to all who do not live as much within their income as will make up for what others exceed theirs. Now, the very spirit of the age tempts the man of business to graduate his expenses, not by what he has in his hand, but by what he ought to have. A man in business this year makes sales, the profits of which are some five thousand dollars. He sells to some fifty different people, and at the end of the year he is to receive the profits. Now, what is the temptation? Is it not to consider the five thousand dollars as already his own, to graduate his expenses accordingly, and to forget that he has virtually been insuring on the honesty and success of the fifty men to whom he has made sales? And when at length he finds that he is disappointed--that instead of obtaining profits, he has lost fully to that amount--what does he do, or rather what is he tempted to do? To contract and curtail expenses? Or is he now tempted to become reckless, and to plunge headlong into almost any speculation which promises relief? Hence we have an evil arising from the spirit of the age worse than any and all yet mentioned; and that is, men are tempted to use dishonest means and reckless measures to obtain money to keep up in the race which all around them are running.
VI. The man of the world, in the great city, is tempted to undervalue truth. The buyer pretends that he is quite indifferent whether he purchases or not; and the seller is quite indifferent whether he sells or not; and so these two indifferent men will contrive to meet every few hours, and throw out baits to each other, and yet both professing not to desire the trade! The purchaser decries the goods--he has seen better, has had cheaper offered him--can do better elsewhere; and yet, when he cannot cheapen them any further, to oblige the seller, he takes them! “It is naught, it is naught,” saith the buyer, “and straightway goeth away and boasteth.” It is not for us to say how much news is manufactured for particular purposes--how many letters are conveniently forgotten to be delivered, till too late to take advantage of the news--how many letters are received which were never written; but it is for us to say that the man of business, in the great city, is awfully tempted to exaggerate good qualities, to point them out where they do not exist, to conceal defects, and to gloss over imperfections, without recollecting that the eye of God is upon him. If he says it is difficult to get along without doing so, I reply, that this very difficulty constitutes his danger--that it will be more difficult to bear the indignation of God forever; that “lying lips are an abomination to the Lord”; and that no apology will be accepted by Him. (John Todd, D. D.)
Reported the matter, saying, I have done as Thou hast commanded me.
The completion of the work of mercy
We do not find that those who were commissioned to destroy reported what destruction they had made, but he who was appointed to protect reported his matter, for it would be more pleasing both to God and to the prophet to hear of those who were saved than of those that perished. Or this report was made now because the thing was finished, whereas the destroying world would be a work of time, and when it was brought to an end then the report should be made. See how faithful Christ is to the trust reposed in Him. Is He commanded to secure eternal life to the chosen remnant? He has done as was commanded Him. Of all that Thou hast given Me I have lost none. (M. Henry.)
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