THE SECURITY OF ALL GOD’S PEOPLE
Amos 9:9. Lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve; yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.
THOUGH God does not see fit to preserve his people wholly from national calamities, yet he interposes, either to lighten their afflictions or to sanctify them to their good. Daniel and the Hebrew youths were carried captive with their nation; yet were they eminently protected by that God whom they served: and Jeremiah, though not raised to any exalted station, was on many occasions marked as an object of God’s incessant care and attention. The Prophet Amos was commissioned to foretell the dispersion of Israel which began in the Assyrian captivity, and was completed at the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans: but the God of Abraham promised by him, that he would be mindful of “his hidden ones,” and deliver them from the evils to which the profligate and secure should surely be exposed.
There are now, as well as in former ages, sifting times, (if we may so speak,) both to the Church at large, and to the individual members of it: and the same distinguishing regard is still, though less visibly, manifested by God to his dear children; not the smallest of whom shall ever be overlooked. To illustrate this truth we shall shew,
I. By what methods God sifts his people—
God sees that a state of perfect ease would by no means conduce to his people’s welfare: and therefore he suffers them sometimes to be agitated,
1. By outward afflictions—
[Persecution is the common lot of all who live godly in Christ Jesus: and this, together with other trials common to the world at large, is made use of to separate the godly from the ungodly, and to purify them from the corruptions that cleave to them in their present state. While the world smiles upon us we are too ready to seek its friendship by sinful compliances; and when we enjoy an entire freedom from troubles, we are apt to grow careless, and to relax our diligence in seeking “the rest that remaineth for us.” God therefore causes us to he “emptied from vessel to vessel, that we may not be settled on our lees [Note: Job 36:8-10. with Jeremiah 48:11.]
2. By inward temptations—
[By far the sorest trials which Christians experience, are, for the most part, of an inward and spiritual nature: Satan wounds them with his fiery darts, and harasses them with many painful suggestions. That wicked fiend indeed desires to sift them as wheat, that he may prevail against them to their destruction; but God permits him to do it for a very different end, namely, that he may root out all their self-confidence, and stimulate them to greater exertions in their spiritual warfare. This was the effect which it produced on Peter [Note: Luke 22:31. compared with 1 Peter 5:8.]; and it is with the same benevolent intent that our Almighty friend gives licence to our adversary to make his assaults on us. Doubtless such “tossings to and fro” are very distressing to us at the time; but they are overruled for good, in that they separate us move effectually from an evil world, and render us more meet for the heavenly garner.]
Doubtless many who make a fair appearance, perish by these means: nevertheless we are assured of,
The security of all those that are truly upright—
There is an essential difference between the hypocrites and the sincere—
[As chaff and corn may to a superficial observer resemble each other, so may the real and merely nominal Christian. But as there is a solidity in the corn which is not to be found in the chaff, so the truly converted person has something, which clearly distinguishes him from the most refined hypocrite: he is not contented with an appearance of religion, but seeks to possess it in truth: nor can he rest in the performance of duties; but labours to have his heart engaged in them. To be high in the estimation of men is, in his eyes, a poor matter; he would approve himself to God in all he does: nor is there any measure of perfection with which he would be satisfied, while there remained a hope and prospect of attaining more.]
Moreover, God will infallibly distinguish the true professors from the false—
[Man may easily be mistaken in his estimate of characters: but God will form an unerring judgment: he discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart: he weighs the very spirits of men no less than their actions: “he needs not that any should testify of man, for he knows what is in man:” he will discover sincerity under the most unfavourable circumstances, and hypocrisy under the most artful disguise. Abijah alone of all the house of Jeroboam had some good thing in his heart towards the Lord God of Israel, and God did not fail to notice it with tokens of his approbation, while he poured out the vials of his wrath on all the family besides [Note: 1 Kings 14:13.]. If we were less than the least of all saints, if we were only as “smoking flax,” having but one spark of grace and a whole cloud of corruption, God would assuredly observe the latent principle, and discover the workings of his own Spirit amidst all the infirmities of our fallen nature.]
Nor will he ever suffer the weakest believer to perish—
[From the violence with which corn is agitated, an ignorant person would imagine that much of it must be lust with the chaff: in like manner many that are weak in faith may be ready to cry, “I shall one day perish [Note: 1 Samuel 27:1.].” But God pledges himself for the preservation of every the smallest grain. lie represents himself under the image of a woman, who, having lost a small piece of silver, lights a candle, and sweeps diligently till she find it [Note: Luke 15:8.]; and he assures us, that “it is not his will, that any of Ins little ones should perish [Note: Matthew 18:14.]. We have no reason then to fear: for whilst he continues possessed of omniscience to discern his people, and omnipotence to preserve them, we shall be as secure amidst all our agitations, as if we were already lodged in the granary of heaven.]
How much are we concerned to be found sincere!
[There is a day quickly coming, when Christ, the Judge of (piick and dead, shall sift and winnow us all. Nor will he merely cause a separation of the precious from the vile, but such a separation as shall be followed with endless happiness or misery [Note: Matthew 3:12.]. Should we not then diligently inquire whether we be wheat or chaff? To what purpose is it that “the tares grow up with the wheat,” and sometimes are mistaken for it, if, at the harvest, they must be separated for ever [Note: Matthew 13:29-30.]? So it will be of little avail to have been reputed Christians, if, the very instant we die, we are to take our portion with hypocrites and unbelievers. Let us then turn to God now with our whole hearts, that we may “have confidence before him at his coming.”]
2. How may we welcome afflictions, provided we be truly upright!
[What are afflictions but the sieve in our Father’s hand, whereby he takes us from among the ungodly, and “purifies us unto himself a peculiar people?” And shall we distrust his skill, or doubt his love? If the countryman, instructed by him, knows how to suit his threshing-instruments to the nature of his corn, shall God be at a loss how most effectually to produce his ends on us [Note: Isaiah 28:26-28.]? Let us then leave ourselves in his hands, and submit cheerfully to the means, that we may at last attain the end.]
3. How important a grace is faith!
[Under the various trials with which we are harassed, it is faith alone that can keep us steadfast, or afford us any solid comfort. If we be destitute of faith, we shall be tormented with ten thousand fears: but if we be strong in faith, we shall, under all circumstances, “stay ourselves on God, and be kept in perfect peace [Note: Isaiah 26:3.].” However sensible we be of our own weakness and unworthiness, we shall expect the accomplishment of God’s promise, and shall dismiss our fears, “knowing that he is able to keep that which we have committed to him [Note: 2 Timothy 1:12.].” May we all be enabled in this manner to trust ourselves in his hands, and to wait quietly for that salvation which he has prepared for us!]
CONVERSION OF THE JEWS AND GENTILES
Amos 9:11-12. In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build if as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the Lord that doeth this.
PROPHECIES are of necessity involved in some measure of obscurity; so that the full extent of their meaning cannot be seen at first, nor the precise period for their accomplishment ascertained. To many of them is affixed an apparently determinate, but really indeterminate, date; “In that day.” The expression, “In that day,” always refers to some signally important time, but not always to the same time: it sometimes refers to one advent of our Lord, and sometimes to another; so that we cannot determine, except by the passage itself, whether it relate to his coming in the flesh, or his coming to destroy Jerusalem, or his coming to reign in the Millennium, or his coming to judge the world. The context however will generally enable us to fix the period intended, if it relate only to one; or to specify the different seasons, if its reference be more extensive. It is with these words that the prophecy before us is introduced: and in it the diversity of their meaning will appear.
Let us consider,
I. The import of the prophecy—
It evidently has different seasons of accomplishment. It speaks of,
1. The return of the Jews from Babylon—
[All the prophets who lived before that event spake of it; to some it afforded very ample scope for the minutest predictions. By their captivity in Babylon, the Jews were reduced to the lowest state of degradation: their polity, both civil and religious, was destroyed; and there were no remains of that grandeur to which they had been elevated in the days of David. But, on their return from Babylon, things were restored, in a measure, “as in the days of old;” and their inveterate enemies of Edom became subject to them [Note: Obad. ver. 18–21.]. This however is certainly only a subordinate sense of this prophecy; for it refers much more strongly to,]
2. The conversion of the Gentiles—
[When we speak of David’s kingdom as typical of the Messiah’s; and his enemies, of the Messiah’s enemies; we perhaps may be thought to lean rather to the side of fancy than of judgment. But fancy should find no scope for exercise in interpreting the word of God: truth, and truth alone, should be the object of our research. The propriety of such representations is strongly marked by an inspired writer; who, when determining a controversy of the utmost importance to the Jews, adduces this very passage against them, to shew, that God had, many ages before, decreed the reception of the Gentiles into his Church, without subjecting them to the rite of circumcision: and if that Apostle had imposed a sense upon the passage foreign to its real and received meaning, the Jews would doubtless have objected to his interpretation of it [Note: Acts 15:13-17.]. Here then we have one sense at least, (and that the most doubtful one,) of this important passage, fixed by undisputed and infallible authority. That in this sense it was accomplished, is too plain to stand in need either of proof or illustration: we ourselves, as of Gentile extraction, are living monuments of its truth.]
3. The future restoration of the Jews, and their union with the Gentiles in one universal Church—
[Though myriads of Gentiles have been converted to Christianity, we are far enough from having seen “all the heathen” subjected to the yoke of Christ; yet it is of all the remnant of the unconverted heathen that the prophet speaks. Nor have the Jews been so brought back to their own land as to be driven from it no more: yet it is to such a restoration of them that the prophet refers [Note: ver. 14, 15.]. Both of these events will take place together, or in the nearest connexion with each other: “the fall of the Jews has been the riches of the Gentiles,” and the fulness of the Gentiles will be as renewed life to the Jews [Note: Romans 11:12; Romans 11:15; Romans 11:31.]: then will both be united under one Head, the Lord Jesus Christ; and he, as the true David, will reign over them for ever [Note: Jeremiah 30:9; Zechariah 14:9.]. All his enemies then, whether Jewish or heathen, will he put under his feet; and all the kingdoms of the world become his undisputed possession.]
Nor is this a speculative subject merely, but one replete with comfort: this will appear by considering,
The encouragements to be derived from it—
Every prophecy admits of practical improvement; and this especially. It affords us rich encouragement,
1. In relation to individuals—
[The state of multitudes is altogether as desperate as was that of the Jews in Babylon. What hope is there of the proud infidel—the abandoned sensualist—the cruel persecutor—the hardened backslider [Note: Shew in each of these states how desperate their condition is.]?—We should be ready to say concerning them, “There is no hope:” but there is nothing impossible with God; and he who restored the Jews from Babylon, and converted so many Gentiles by the instrumentality of a few poor fishermen, can at any time reclaim the prodigal, convert a Saul, or restore a David — — — Let none then despair of themselves, as though they were beyond the reach of mercy; nor of others, as though God could not subdue them to the obedience of faith. Though they are “dry bones, very dry, the Spirit may yet enter into them, and they may live [Note: Ezekiel 37:1-14.].”]
2. In relation to the world at large—
[Who that sees the state of the world at this moment, would conceive it possible that truth and righteousness should one day universally prevail? Yet God has ordained that the little grain of mustard seed which has sprung up, shall become a tree that shall extend its shadow over the whole earth — — — If we look at the work indeed, we shall sit down in despair: but if we recollect who it is that says, “I, I will do it,” we shall see not only the possibility, but the certainty, of that event. Many, from not adverting to this, laugh at the idea of missions: and many whom God has fitted for missionary labours, are afraid to engage in them. But “is there any thing too hard for the Lord?” and has he not “ordained strength in the mouths of babes and sucklings?” Has he not said too, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this?” Let us then look with pity both on Jews and heathens; and, in humble hope that the time of God’s effectual interposition is fast approaching, let us labour, according to our ability, to extend the kingdom of our Lord, and to advance his glory.]
THE MILLENNIAL STATE
Amos 9:13. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop street wine, and all the hills shall melt.
IT is gratifying to see what a harmony there is in all the prophets, in their descriptions of the glory of the latter day. The representations which heathen poets have given of what they call the golden age, are more than realized in their predictions. They appear indeed to speak of earthly things; but it is of heavenly things that they speak: and by earthly images they embody truth, and present it to our minds with incomparably greater force than it could by any other means be conveyed. The idea of fertility, for instance, in all its richest luxuriance, is calculated to make a strong impression on the imagination: it is tangible, as it were; and we can apprehend it; and, when it is set before us in glowing language, we can with ease transfer to spiritual things our perceptions with all their clearness, and our impressions with all their force. Most striking is the picture drawn by the Prophet Hosea. He represents the people uttering their complaints to the corn and wine and oil; and they to the earth; and the earth to the heavens; and the heavens to Jehovah: of them in succession conceding to the other the blessings solicited at their hands; Jehovah granting clouds to the heavens; they pouring out their contents upon the earth; the earth yielding its juices to the corn and wine and oil; and they nourishing the famished people [Note: Hosea 2:21-23.]. The Prophet Joel goes further, and describes the effects produced, the mountains dropping down new wine, and the hills flowing with milk [Note: Joel 3:18.]; whilst the Prophet Amos proceeds yet further, and represents the productions of the earth as so abundant, that there will scarcely be time to gather them in; “the plowman overtaking the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth the seed:” in other words, that the successive operations of husbandry will, by reason of the abundance, press so closely upon each other, as almost to interrupt the regular execution of them.
It is with the spiritual import of these images that we are more immediately concerned. It seems indeed highly probable, that agreeably to the promise given by Moses [Note: Leviticus 26:5.], there will be, as nearly as possible, a literal accomplishment of these things in Palestine, after that the Jews shall have been restored to their own land; (for that event shall certainly take place in the appointed time [Note: ver. 14, 15.]:) but infinitely richer blessings await them in that day; for that period shall be distinguished by,
I. Frequent ordinances—
At the first establishment of the Christian Church, the people “continued daily in the temple with one accord, and brake bread together from house to house, eating their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.” Thus also will it be in that blessed day, when apostolic piety shall again prevail throughout the Church: there will be no “famine of the word,” but frequent ordinances in every place:
[In public, ministers will then “give themselves wholly to their work:” they will be “instant in season and out of season:” they will live only to fulfil their ministry, and will “count their lives dear to them” for no other end. The people too will be as eager to receive instruction, as the ministers to convey it. As many followed our blessed Lord for days together to hear his word, and forgot, as it were, the very wants of nature through the insatiableness of their appetites for spiritual food; so, methinks, in that day the people will, as it were, “dwell in the house of the Lord, that they may flourish in the courts of our God.”
Then also will social ordinances abound. Friends, when they meet together, will then seek to edify each other in faith and love. In families, all will look for the returning seasons of divine worship, as much as for their regular meals. Parents will “command their children to fear the Lord;” and masters will universally adopt the resolution of Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
In private, too, men will delight in approaching to their God, and in pouring out their souls before the throne of grace. “At morning, and at evening, and at noon-day will they pray,” as David did in the times of old; yea, they will be ready to say with him, “Seven times a day will I praise thee, because of thy righteous judgments.”
Thus in the public, social, and private ordinances there will be such a rapid succession, that the “plowman will overtake the reaper; and he that treadeth out the grapes, the sower.” Not that temporal things will be neglected: men will “not be the more slothful in business, because they are fervent in spirit;” but they will carry the fear and love of God into every thing, so that they will “be in the fear of the Lord all the day long.” “The fire on their altar will never go out.”]
From this state of things there will arise,
[Now ministers may fish all the day, and take scarcely any thing; but then the Lord will direct them where and how to cast their nets; which they shall scarcely be able to drag to land, by reason of the numbers that they shall catch. The days of Pentecost shall be revived. From a small handful of corn shall spring up a crop waving like the trees of Lebanon, and standing as close upon the ground as piles of grass upon the earth [Note: Psalms 72:16.]. Fresh converts shall be continually hastening forwarsd, as “doves flying to their windows;” yea rather, they shall be like a majestic river “flowing together to the goodness of the Lord,” and that too, not as in an ordinary course, but upward, “even to the mountain of the Lord’s house that shall be established on the top of the mountains [Note: Isaiah 2:2.].” The church itself shall be perfectly astonished at the increase; which will be so vast and so rapid, that places shall be wanting for their reception [Note: Isaiah 49:18-23.]. In a word, “the fields will be always white ready to the harvest;” and one crop will not be gathered in, before another is ripe for the sickle.”]
Nor will Christianity be a mere profession then; for all who embrace it shall be distinguished for,
[All will then “live, not unto themselves, but unto their God; even to Him who died for them, and rose again.” The fruit which individuals will then bear will not be thirty or sixty-fold, but an hundred-fold. It will appear as if all the most eminent saints that have ever lived had risen again; on which account it is called, “The first resurrection [Note: Revelation 20:5-6.].” So subdued will be all the evil passions of men in that day, that “instead of the thorn will grow up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier will grow up the myrtle-tree [Note: Isaiah 55:13.]:” “for brass there will be gold; for iron, silver; for wood, brass; and for stones, iron [Note: Isaiah 60:17.].” It will be truly the reign of Christ upon earth: nothing but his will will be done; and it will be done on earth, in good measure, as it is done in heaven. Godliness will then be, not an act, but a habit; so that one act of piety will be only as a prelude to another; “the very mountains dropping with sweet wine, and the hills melting” into rivers of wine.]
Resulting from this state of piety, there will be,
[This is doubtless intimated in our text, as in the parallel passage in the Prophet Joel [Note: Joel 3:18.]. Truly “God will then comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places; he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord: joy and gladness will be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody [Note: Isaiah 51:3. See also 35:1, 2.].” The world at this time is only a vale of tears: but then “there will be new heavens and a new earth: yea, God will make all things new [Note: Revelation 21:1; Revelation 21:5.].” What will be the state of men’s minds at that time, may be gathered from the description given of it by the Prophet Isaiah [Note: Isaiah 12:3-6.] — — — Blessed and glorious state! “lthe peace of all will flow down as a river,” and the joy of all be unspeakable and glorified [Note: Isaiah 35:6; Isaiah 35:10.] — — — “God will cause them universally and without ceasing to triumph in Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:14.];” and to live as on the very confines of heaven itself.”]
Let us inquire,
1. Whence it is that we are comparatively in so low a state?
[It is manifest that religion, though perhaps flourishing in comparison of what it was a century ago, is still but at a low ebb. If we look at the ordinances, public, private, and social, they are far from being attended with that life and power that they were in the apostolic age. And whence is this? Are we straitened in our God? No: “we are straitened in our own bowels;” we do not pant after the life and power of godliness, as the first converts did: and “we have not, because we ask not.” O that we were more earnest and constant in prayer, forgetting all that we have received, and pressing forward for higher attainments! — — —]
2. How we may attain a greater measure of that prosperity which the saints will enjoy in the latter day?
[We must all begin with our own hearts. If all would labour for higher attainments in their own souls, the whole Church of God would revive and flourish — — — But an attention to others also is most desirable. The walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt with incredible celerity, because all, women as well as men, “repaired before their own doors [Note: Nehemiah 3:10; Nehemiah 3:12; Nehemiah 3:23; Nehemiah 3:28-29.]:” and if we laboured, all of us in our own more immediate neighbourhood, what might we not effect! If only we “had a mind to the work,” “the work of the Lord should prosper in our hands,” and the kingdom of Christ “should come with power” in the midst of us.]