REQUISITES FOR FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD
Amos 3:3. Can two walk together, except they be agreed?
IT is not always safe to judge of God, and the things which relate to Him, by the things which take place in our intercourse with men: for the distance between God and man is such as precludes all parallel between them. Yet, in a way of illustration, it is often of great advantage to consider what occurs in common life; because, from observations of that kind, we are enabled to attain a correct judgment with more facility than we could by any laboured process of rational investigation. Hence this mode of illustration is frequently adopted by the inspired writers. In the passage before us, the Prophet Amos had delivered this message from God to all the children of Israel: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities [Note: ver. 1, 2.].” Then the prophet, anticipating an objection to this, proceeds to obviate it [Note: The text, and following context, to ver. 8, are the prophet’s own words, and not a continuation of his message. The not attending to this has perplexed many, and thrown an obscurity over what is very plain.]. He supposes an objector to say, ‘Your alarm is groundless: for it never can be, that God should so act towards those whom he has chosen for his peculiar people.’ To this he replies, ‘There is good reason for you to be alarmed: for I appeal to you, Can there be any real friendship between persons (whether they be of the same family or not), if in their general views and habits there be no agreement? You may call yourselves the Lord’s people, if you will; but, “if you walk contrary to him, he will walk contrary to you [Note: Leviticus 26:23-24.]:” and this he has both authorized and commanded me to declare. There is, therefore, abundant reason for you to fear and tremble. You well know, “that if a lion roar, or a young lion cry,” there is a reason for it. If “a bird fall in a snare, or a snare be taken up by the owner,” it is not without a reason: and “if the trumpet be blown in the city to sound an alarm,” there is a reason for it. So then is there reason for you to fear and tremble: for God, who reveals his secrets to his prophets, has revealed to me his determination to punish you: and, as sure as effects, whether amongst the rational or irrational creation, result from causes, and may be traced to them; so surely shall your punishment follow from the indignation which you have excited in the bosom of your God: “The lion hath roared: who will not fear? the Lord God hath spoken: who can but prophesy?”
The prophet’s appeal is indeed very convincing: for as a congeniality of mind is necessary to the existence of friendship among men, so is a conformity of mind to God’s revealed will necessary to the maintenance of friendship with him;
I. In this world—
Without a correspondence of taste and sentiment, there can be no friendship amongst men—
[We may occasionally associate with persons, however widely they may differ from us: they may even be numbered amongst our most intimate acquaintance. But we cannot take them to our bosoms as endeared friends. In order to such communion as that, there must be some resemblance in our general habits, both of sentiment and pursuit; something whereon we can meet, as on common ground; something sufficiently important to us both, to form a bond of union betwixt us. Our favourite employment, whatever it be, will operate as an attraction to others similarly employed: but from persons who have no taste for these occupations we shall feel, comparatively, but little attraction. Those who are immersed in the study of arts and sciences will not very much affect the society of those who have no taste but for trifling amusements; nor will the votaries of pleasure desire an habitual intercourse with them. Still less will those in whom there is a great moral disparity affect the society of each other; the honourable with the base; the pious with the ungodly and profane. Each will form his connexions rather amongst those who are of a kindred spirit with himself, and walk most intimately with those who love to be found in his paths.]
Nor can friendship with God exist, where there is no conformity to his image—
[Enoch and Noah “walked with God:” and “Abraham was called the friend of God.” But in them there was a love to his revealed will, and a desire to be conformed to it. The most difficult commands from God did not excite rebellion or murmuring in their hearts. They loved holiness; and were therefore prepared to move in sweet accord with him. But, had their minds been averse to his holy ways, they would rather have fled from him, like Cain, than have walked habitually as in his presence, and sought all their happiness in him. God has informed us how hateful sin is in his sight; and what is that way in which alone he will receive returning sinners; and what is that heavenly conversation which he expects from all who come to him by Christ. But, suppose a person to think lightly of sin, and to doubt whether it have really subjected him to God’s everlasting displeasure: suppose him to disapprove of salvation by faith alone, and to prefer establishing, either in whole or in part, a righteousness by the law: suppose him, further, to complain, of God’s requirements as too strict, and to plead for indulgences which he forbids; can we suppose that God will come to him, and find pleasure in him; or that he can really delight himself in God? The point is clear: the diversity of their mind and will forms an insurmountable barrier to their union, and must of necessity produce an alienation of heart from each other; as God has said by the prophet, “My soul lothed them; and their soul abhorred me [Note: Zechariah 11:8.].” To the same effect he speaks also by the Apostle Paul: “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-16.]?”
Here, then, the point is clear. The services of God and Mammon are incompatible with each other [Note: Matthew 6:24.]. Whichever we most affect in our minds, his servants we are [Note: Romans 6:16.]: and friendship with either precludes a possibility of union with the other.]
Nor is a resemblance to God less necessary for an enjoyment of him,
In the world to come—
There cannot, even in heaven, be any union between God and an ungodly man—
[“There is no repentance in the grave.” What a man, in his decided character, is at the time of his death, that he will remain to all eternity: “As the tree falls, so it will lie [Note: Ecclesiastes 11:3.]:” “He that is unjust, will be unjust still; and he that is filthy, will be filthy still [Note: Revelation 22:11.].” Suppose a man to have had no love for holiness here, but rather to have felt an alienation of mind from holy men and holy exercises; how can he, all at once, feel delight in a holy God, and in the employment of the heavenly hosts? How can he, who has never for one single hour been filled with love and gratitude in this world for all the wonders of redeeming love, how can he, I say, join in the songs of the redeemed to all eternity? If there were nothing more than a consciousness of his own state to affect him, he would be glad to recede from a place where there was not a being like-minded with himself, or an occupation suited to his taste. He had a dislike to the exercises of devotion here; and he would dislike them there: he fled from God’s presence here; and he would flee from it there. Like our first parents after their fall, they would endeavour to hide themselves from him, instead of going forth to meet him; and Paradise itself would be to them a place of torment.]
The manner in which the prophet declares this truth greatly augments its weight—
[He does not utter it in a way of simple affirmation; but he makes it the subject-matter of an appeal: “How can two walk together, except they be agreed?” He constitutes every man a judge in his own cause. We need not any of us be told, that to the existence of real friendship there must be a similarity of taste: those who are perfectly opposed to each other in the things that are most agreeable to themselves, can no more become united with each other, in the bonds of endeared friendship, than light and darkness can coalesce. Observation and experience prove this beyond a doubt; nor can any one be so ignorant as not to know it.]
Well then, may this teach us,
The necessity of true conversion—
[“The carnal mind,” says the Apostle, that is, the mind of every man by nature, “is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be [Note: Romans 8:7.].” “A new heart, therefore, must be given us, and a new spirit must be put within us [Note: Ezekiel 36:26.].” We must become altogether “new creatures; old things passing away, and all things being made new [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:17.].” This, as our Lord tells us, is so necessary, that “except it take place we can never enter into the kingdom, no, nor ever see it [Note: John 3:3; John 3:5.].” To speak of this as necessarily attendant on baptism, is contrary to fact; for there are thousands who are baptized, as there were thousands circumcised amongst the Jews, who have never experienced this change. But this change must be wrought in us, if ever we would behold the face of God in peace. “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit [Note: John 3:6.].” The former being altogether carnal, is incapable of enjoying a spiritual kingdom: it is the latter which alone can fit us for the exercises and enjoyments of the heavenly world. You well know, that if a man had no taste for music, he could not, for any length of time, feel pleasure in the melodies which, to a lover of music, afford the highest gratification. So neither can we, without a taste for the employments of heaven, or, in other words, without “a meetness for heaven,” ever hope to participate in the blessedness of the just.]
2. The importance of separation from the world—
[The world wonder at the saints, for standing aloof from them; and often impute it to pride: as though the Lord’s people said to them, “Stand off; I am holier than thou [Note: Isaiah 65:5.].” But the godly, in associating with the world, do not meet on equal terms. All the sacrifice must be on their part. The world will propose to them to join in every vanity: but if, in return, they were asked to join in reading the word of God and prayer, for the sake of spiritual edification and comfort, they would regard the proposal almost as a symptom of insanity. And, if you were to wait till such a proposal were made, or even approved, by them, you would wait till the sun had ceased to run its course. It is not for nought that the Apostle says, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:17.].” There is abundant occasion for it: for friendship with them is constructively nothing less than enmity itself against God [Note: James 4:4.].” We must “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed in the renewing of our minds, if ever we would prove, to the satisfaction of our God, what is his good and acceptable and perfect will [Note: Romans 12:2.].”]
3. The happiness of real piety—
[Where the soul is really in accordance with the revealed will of God, there will God delight to “dwell, as in a temple [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:16.].” To such persons “he will manifest himself as he does not unto the world [Note: John 14:22.];” “He will come unto them, and make his abode with them [Note: John 14:23.];” and “they shall walk in the light of his countenance [Note: Psalms 89:15.].” O! who shall adequately declare the blessedness of friendship with God? — — — And if in this world the saints have such great advantage, what shall they have in the eternal world? Who shall declare their felicity, when they shall stand in his immediate presence, and behold the full brightness of his glory in the person of his dear Son? If it be so sweet now to have “the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost [Note: Romans 5:5.],” what shall it be to behold the Saviour “face to face [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2.]?” If a taste of the waters of life, though taken from polluted cisterns, be so sweet, what shall it be to drink of them at the fountain-head? Let those who walk with God in this world know, that they shall, ere long, “walk with him in white,” where distance and parting shall be no more [Note: Revelation 3:4; Revelation 3:12.].”]
GOD THE SOURCE AND CAUSE OF ALL THINGS
Amos 3:6. Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?
IT is a generally acknowledged truth, that every thing proceeds from God; and we have the authority of God himself for affirming it: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things [Note: Isaiah 45:7.].” The same truth was put in a way of appeal even to the enemies of God; and that, too, at a time when he was denouncing against them the heaviest judgments. As surely as the roaring of a lion betokens that he has seized his prey; or the capture of a bird that the snare had been set for him; or the blowing of a trumpet the approach of danger; so surely should the evils coming on his disobedient people mark the indignation of God against them: “Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?”
But as, on the incursion of evil, we are apt to trace it almost exclusively to second causes, and to overlook the hand of God in it, I propose,
I. To confirm the truth which is here intimated—
There is a great variety of evil in the world: but God is the author of it all. From him proceeds all evil;
[Of course, we are not to imagine that moral evil proceeds from him in a way of actual efficiency: for “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed [Note: James 1:13-14.].” But, as no man would be in a capacity to perpetrate evil, if God did not invest him with the power, and allow him the opportunity to commit it, the Scripture uniformly represents God as concurring in it, even where the agency of men or devils is most manifest in the production of it. For instance;
In the selling of Joseph into Egypt, the envy of his brethren was manifestly the first moving cause: yet, what did Joseph say concerning it? “Be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve life. God sent me before you, to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God [Note: Acts 7:9. with Genesis 45:5-8.].” “Ye indeed thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good [Note: Genesis 50:20.].”
In the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, we must look further than to the innate depravity of that impious monarch; for God had raised him up to the possession of royal power, that so he might have full scope for the display of all that was in his heart: yes, and he gave him up, too, to the unrestrained exercise of all his evil dispositions; as he had before declared to Moses that he would do. And thus God himself is said, in a qualified sense, to have “hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” yea, and to harden in like manner the hearts of all whom he is pleased thus to give up to the unrestrained indulgence of their own lusts [Note: Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:13; Exodus 9:16. with Romans 9:17-18.].
Above all, in the crucifixion of our blessed Lord, where shall we find human depravity so active and so combined as in that tremendous scene? And can we trace any part of that to Almighty God? Yes, the whole of it: for St. Peter says, that “Jesus was delivered up to his murderers by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God [Note: Acts 2:23.]; and that “Herod and Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel that were gathered together against him,” in all that they perpetrated, “did only what God’s hand and God’s counsel had determined before to be done [Note: Acts 4:27-28.].”
What, then, must not be traced to God, if we are taught to refer to him such transactions as these?]
[By political evil, I mean such as arises, whether to nations or individuals, in the common course of human events.
The defection of the ten tribes from Rehoboam may well be considered as originating in the tyranny of that weak monarch, and in his following the infatuated counsels of the young men, rather than the judicious counsels of the old. But God himself declares, that it was altogether ordained of him, for the accomplishment of his own designs: “The cause, it is said, was of God, that the Lord might perform the word which he had spoken [Note: 2 Chronicles 10:15.].” And when Rehoboam had raised an army of 180,000 men to reduce the ten tribes to subjection, one single word spoken by Shemaiah, a man of God, to Rehoboam and his army, saying, “Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren: return every man to his house: for this thing is done of me, saith the Lord,” was sufficient for the satisfying and disbanding of the whole army: so universally was God’s agency in human affairs acknowledged by them at that day [Note: 2 Chronicles 11:3-4.].
The captivity of Israel by the Assyrians might well be traced to the pride and ambition of the Assyrian monarch; as the captivity of Judah by the Chaldeans might also to the resentment and cupidity of the Babylonish monarch: but both the one and the other are traced to God himself, as stirring up the enemies of his people to execute upon them his sovereign will. Respecting the former, it is said, “The God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, to carry them away [Note: 1 Chronicles 5:26.].” And respecting the latter, it is said, “The Lord sent against Jehoiakim bands of the Chaldeans, and bands of the Syrians, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the children of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it. Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Judah, to remove them out of his sight [Note: 2 Kings 24:2-3.]:” so entirely are men, even when following most freely the dictates of their own minds, unconscious agents of the Deity, to execute his will; “the sword in his hand, and the staff of his indignation [Note: Isaiah 10:5-7.].”]
[Sometimes God is pleased to send trials in a way of paternal chastisement, as when he stirred up enemies to disturb the peace and quietness of Solomon’s reign [Note: 1 Kings 11:14; 1 Kings 11:23.]. And he has told us, that he will deal thus with his children in every age, “visiting their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes, even when it is not his intention utterly to take away his loving-kindness from them [Note: Psalms 89:30-33.Hebrews 12:6.].” But sometimes he executes his judgments upon men in a way of righteous retribution. Go to Sodom; and behold the cities of the plain; and tell me, whose hand was there? See Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with all their families, swallowed up in the earth at the word of Moses; and say by whom was that judgment wrought? Or tell me by whose hand Ananias and Sapphira fell, for lying to the Holy Ghost? Was there any one of these evils which the Lord did not inflict and execute?]
Methinks, I have spoken enough for the confirmation of this truth; and may proceed,
To shew how it is carried into effect—
God is pleased to work in a great variety of ways: for instance,
1. By a visible display of his own Almighty power—
[It was thus that he caused the sea to divide its waves, and to leave a dry path for the children of Israel; and presently afterwards to close again, and overwhelm every individual of the hostile army that pursued them. By a similar display of his power, he opened a passage also for his people through the river Jordan, at a time when it had overflowed its banks. Afterwards, in like manner, he caused the walls of Jericho to fall down, at the sound of rams’ horns. In such instances as these, no means were used that had the slightest tendency to effect the end; that so his own interposition might be the more manifest, and that he might have all the glory.]
2. By the instrumentality of second causes—
[David was informed, that, notwithstanding his heinous sin was forgiven, it should yet be visited in this world with evils in his own family, which should embitter all his remaining days. In the conduct of Amnon and of Absalom, we see how God marked David’s sin in its punishment. These sons only followed the dictates of their own corrupt hearts: but God wrought by them, and made them his instruments to punish their parent’s crimes [Note: 2 Samuel 12:10-14; 2 Samuel 13:14; 2 Samuel 16:22.]. So, by the instrumentality of Jehu, he destroyed the whole house of Ahab, when Jehu himself desired nothing but to advance his own glory [Note: 1 Kings 21:19-24. with 2 Kings 10:10-11.]
3. By the most trivial, and, as we call them, accidental, occurrences—
[Who can read the Book of Esther, and not stand amazed at the trifling circumstances by which the destruction of Haman, and the consequent deliverance of all the Jewish people, were brought to pass? The Persian king cannot sleep—he calls for the records of the nation to be brought, in order to amuse him—a record of a conspiracy, that had long since been defeated, was read to him—he inquires whether the person who had discovered the conspiracy had been suitably rewarded—this, with a multitude of other unlooked-for circumstances, brought Haman to the gallows which he had erected for Mordecai, and were the means of delivering the whole Jewish people from the ruin that had been prepared for them [Note: Esther 6:1-3; Esther 7:10.]. No one can conceive how minute are the links in the chain of Providence, the failure of any one of which would have defeated the counsels of the Most High. But “his counsel shall stand; and he will do all his will [Note: Isaiah 46:10.]:” and it will be found, at last, that “no one thing has ever failed, of all that he, in his eternal counsels, has ordained [Note: Joshua 21:45.].”]
4. In direct opposition to all the means that are used to obstruct his will—
[He will confound all the Jews by the resurrection of his dear Son. They, on the contrary, are determined to prove Jesus a deceiver. For this end, having put him to death, they roll a stone to the door of his sepulchre, and seal it with Pilate’s signet, and set a watch to guard the place; that so it may be impossible, as they think, for Jesus to be taken away, or for the expectations of his followers to be realized. Had they succeeded in this effort, they had proved to demonstration, that Jesus was an impostor. But Jehovah “laughed them to scorn;” and, at the predicted time, restored the Lord Jesus to life, and “proved him to be indeed the Son of God with power, by his resurrection from the dead [Note: Romans 1:4.].” This was in strict accordance with what David had foretold: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his Anointed; saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. But He that sitteth in heaven laughed; the Lord had them in derision [Note: Psalms 2:2-4.].” In a word, “He doeth according to his will, in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; nor can any stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou [Note: Daniel 4:35.]?”]
Has any kind of evil then occurred to us? Let us Learn,
1. Submission to God’s will—
[God says to us, “Be still; and know that I am God [Note: Psalms 46:10.].” And if once we learn to see the hand of God in every thing, what peace will it bring into the soul, even in the midst of the heaviest trials [Note: Psalms 29:8.]! You will not find anywhere a greater sufferer than Job: men, devils, elements, all conspired against him. But in all his trials he saw the hand of a gracious God; and that composed his mind: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord! Shall we receive good at the Lord’s hands, and shall we not receive evil [Note: Job 1:21; Job 2:10.]?” Let us then, in all our trials, the smaller which occur in. social or domestic life, as well as in those of a more overwhelming nature, habituate ourselves to see the Lord’s hand: and to say, “It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good [Note: 1 Samuel 3:18.].” This would greatly tranquillize our minds; and take out the sting from ten thousand little occurrences, which wound our feelings, and often pain us far more than heavier afflictions. Let us reply to the revilings of a malignant enemy, “The Lord hath bidden him curse me [Note: 2 Samuel 16:10-11.];” and there will be an end of all the anguish that his hostility has for a moment occasioned us.]
2. Inquiry into the design of God in the trial sent us—
[“Trouble springs not out of the dust [Note: Job 5:6.]:” “nor does God afflict us without a cause [Note: Lamentations 3:33.].” “Every rod,” which he sends, has a voice, which we ought most attentively to “hear [Note: Micah 6:9.].” Peradventure there is some sin which God designs to correct; some corruption to mortify; some grace to improve; or, at all events, some important lesson which he intends to teach us more perfectly. We should, therefore, go to God under our trials, and ask him “wherefore he contendeth with us [Note: Job 10:2.].” “In the day of adversity we should consider [Note: Ecclesiastes 7:14.];” and be more anxious to derive benefit from the affliction, than to obtain a premature deliverance from its pressure. If we may but be purged from our dross, and come out of the furnace purified as gold, it should be deemed an ample compensation for all our pains; and should make us thankfully to acknowledge, that “God in love and faithfulness has afflicted us [Note: Psalms 119:75.].”]
3. Amendment of life—
[This should be our object, under all the diversified circumstances of our lives. Nothing should be of any importance to us in comparison of this: nor should any pain be deprecated, which may be sent to “purge away our iniquity [Note: Isaiah 27:9.], and which may render us, in a more perfect manner, “partakers of God’s holiness [Note: Hebrews 12:10.].” If our “tribulation may but work patience, and experience, and a hope that shall not make us ashamed, and prove an occasion of the love of God being shed abroad in our hearts, we should even rejoice and glory in it [Note: Romans 5:3-5.].” Nor is it merely the mortification of any besetting sin that we should aim at, but an entire conformity of mind and will to God. We should desire to be “made perfect through our sufferings,” even as the Lord Jesus Christ himself was [Note: Hebrews 2:10.]: and, whether our tribulation be more or less painful in this world, we should be contented to pass through it as “our appointed way to heaven [Note: Acts 14:22.];” and be well pleased to “suffer with Christ, that we may hereafter dwell with him, and be glorified together [Note: Romans 8:17.].”]
GOD’S VOICE TO SINNERS
Amos 3:8. The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?
THERE is not any thing more strange and unreasonable than that utter disregard which is shewn to the word of God. If we see appearances in the sky, we can form some judgment of the weather: if we take notice of common occurrences in the world, we can draw plain and obvious conclusions from them. The prophet justly observes [Note: ver. 4–6.], that if a lion roar, we conclude he has taken, or is about to seize, his prey: if a bird be caught in a snare, we take for granted that the snare was laid with that design: if an alarm be given in the city, we suppose that there is reason for that alarm: or if any disastrous event have taken place, we consider it as ordered by an overruling Providence. Yet when God speaks in his word, we imagine that there is no occasion for it, nor any need to regard it. But it becomes us to attend with reverence to all his messages, whether of wrath or mercy. Whatever he has revealed to us by his servants the prophets, he will surely do: and they are commanded to make known his determinations, “whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear.” Hence the prophet Amos, desirous at once to expose the obstinacy of the unbelieving Jews, and to vindicate his own faithfulness towards them, addresses himself to their consciences in this animated expostulation, this convincing apology.
To bring home his words to our own hearts, we shall consider,
I. What God hath spoken to us—
[There is no description of persons whose character God has not delineated, and whose end he has not determined. And it would be a pleasing task to exemplify this remark in the Divine declarations concerning the righteous: but God’s voice in the text is compared to the roaring of a lion: on which account we must confine ourselves rather to his denunciations of wrath and vengeance which he will execute on the ungodly.
What then hath he spoken to profane sinners [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.]? Alas! how numerous their classes! how dangerous their self-deceptions! how awful their end [Note: See also Ephesians 5:3-6.]! And is not such a declaration more terrible than the roaring of a lion? Let us then hear and “fear [Note: Deuteronomy 31:12-13.].”
To self-righteous Pharisees his voice is not less tremendous. In the parable addressed to those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous,” the preference given to the self-condemning sinner is strongly marked; and God’s determination to “abase the self-exalting” is plainly declared [Note: Luke 18:9-14.]. Yes; before God, and angels, and men, shall such characters be abased in the day of judgment, when publicans and harlots shall be admitted into heaven before them [Note: Matthew 21:31.]. Is not this a just ground of fear to those, whose hearts are not broken with a sense of sin?
But more dreadful still are the threatenings denounced against hypocritical professors of religion. Their doom is characterized as the most severe of any [Note: Matthew 24:51.]: and the wrath which they heap up to themselves, while they hold the truth in unrighteousness, is beyond measure great [Note: Job 36:13.]. Let the proud and passionate, the malicious and revengeful, the worldly and covetous, the impure and sensual professor, hear this: and let them know, that the Lamb of God will be a lion to them, if they walk not more worthy of their high calling [Note: Psalms 50:16-22. with Hosea 13:6-8.].
There is however one description of persons, against whom God’s threatenings are more awful still. He declares that negligent and unfaithful ministers shall perish under the accumulated guilt of destroying the souls committed to their charge. The blood of all whom they have neglected to warn shall be required at their hands [Note: Ezekiel 33:6.]. Surely if the voice of God to others be as the roaring of a lion, to these it is rather as the voice of thunder. O, that it might be for ever sounding in the ears of all who are in the service of the sanctuary, till there should not be found one negligent or unfaithful minister in the Christian church!]
What effect it should have upon us—
[With respect to ministers, should they not fear? Does it become them, in the very face of such warnings, to indulge a slothful spirit, or to withhold the truth from their people through fear of offending them? Ought they, however their hearers may wish it, to speak smooth things to them, and to prophesy deceits [Note: Isaiah 30:10-11.]? Should they be intent on feeding themselves rather than the flock [Note: Ezekiel 34:2-3; Ezekiel 34:10.]; and be more studious to establish a reputation as preachers, than to save the souls committed to them? Surely, when it is considered whose ambassadors they are, and to whom they must give account, and what must be their doom if any perish through their neglect, they can never study too earnestly to approve themselves to God [Note: 2 Timothy 2:15.Acts 20:28.], that they may give up their account to him with joy, and not with grief [Note: Hebrews 13:17.].
With respect to others, of whatever description they may be, it becomes them well to fear, when “the Lord God,” the almighty and immutable Jehovah, speaks to them such momentous truths [Note: There is a peculiar emphasis in the name by which Jehovah is here called. See also Jeremiah 5:21-22 and Revelation 15:3-4.] What is there that can justify any man in casting off the fear of God? Can we deny that he hath roared as a lion? or are we stronger than he, that we dare to provoke him to jealousy [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:22.]? Or can we elude his search, when he shall summon us to his judgment-seat [Note: Jeremiah 23:24 and Job 34:22 and Psalms 139:7-12.]? Or have we any reason to doubt whether he will execute his threatenings [Note: Ezekiel 24:14.]?
Let every one rest assured, that it were far better that a roaring lion should rush out of a thicket to devour him, or that the artillery of a whole army should be pointed at him, than that one single threatening of Almighty God should be in force against him: for as his destruction is more certain, so will it be infinitely more tremendous.]
Be not averse to hear the terrors of God’s law—
[Though, of themselves, the threatenings of God’s word will never produce true contrition, yet it is necessary that all should know what the Lord God saith concerning them, in order that they may feel their need of a Saviour. In this respect, the law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ [Note: Galatians 3:24.]: and if, by hearing of the wrath to come, we be induced to flee from it, we shall have reason to bless the watchman that sounded the alarm.”]
2. Be thankful to God for the promises of the Gospel—
[Blessed be God, the Gospel is full of “exceeding great and precious promises:” and “to him that trembleth at God’s word” these promises are made [Note: Isaiah 66:2.]. Let not then a slavish dread of God’s wrath keep us from embracing the overtures of his mercy. Let us rather flee to Christ the more earnestly, in proportion as we see our guilt and danger. The Israelites were commended by God himself for making this improvement of his terrors [Note: Deuteronomy 5:25-26; Deuteronomy 5:28.]. And, if we have Christ as our mediator and advocate, we have nothing to fear from heaven, earth, or hell.]