And they covet fields, and take them by violence
Greed is the spring and spirit of all oppression.
Here rapacious avarice is presented in three aspects.
I. Scheming in the night. When avarice takes possession of a man, it works the brain by night as well as by day. What schemes to swindle, defraud, and plunder men are fabricated every night upon the pillow!
II. Working in the day. The idea esteemed most is the worldly gain of avaricious labour. So it ever is; gain is the God of the greedy man. He sacrifices all his time and labour on its altar. Shakespeare compares such a man to a whale which plays and tumbles, driving the poor fry before him, and at last devours them all at a mouthful.
III. Suffering in the judgment. For judgment comes at last, and in the judgment these words give us to understand the punishment will correspond with the sin. “Because they reflect upon evil,” says Delitzsch, “to deprive their fellow men of their possessions, Jehovah will bring evil upon this generation, lay a heavy yoke upon their necks, under which they will not be able to walk loftily or with extended neck.” Ay, the time will come when the avaricious millionaire will exclaim, “We be utterly spoiled.” “Go to, now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you,” etc. (Homilist.)
The wrong which Micah attacks
Micah scourges the avarice of the landowner, and the injustice which oppresses the peasant. Social wrongs are always felt most acutely, not in the town, but in the country. It was so in the days of Rome, whose earliest social revolts were agrarian. It was so in the Middle Ages; the fourteenth century saw both the Jacquerie in France and the Peasants’ rising in England; Langland, who was equally familiar with town and country, expends nearly all his sympathy upon the poverty of the latter, “the poure folk in cotes.” It was so after the Reformation, under the new spirit of which the first social revolt was the Peasants’ war in Germany. It was so at the French Revolution, which began with the march of the starving peasants into Paris. And it is so still, for our new era of social legislation has been forced upon us, not by the poor of London and the large cities, but by the peasantry of Ireland and the crofters of the Scottish Highlands. Political discontent and religious heresy take their start among industrial and manufacturing centres, but the first springs of the social revolt are nearly always found among rural populations. Why the country should begin to feel the acuteness of social wrong before the town is sufficiently obvious. In the town there are mitigations, and there are escapes. If the conditions of one trade become oppressive, it is easier to pass to another. The workers are better educated and better organised; there is a middle class, and the tyrant dare not bring matters to so high a crisis. The might of the wealthy, too, is divided; the poor man’s employer is seldom at the same time his landlord. But in the country power easily gathers into the hands of the few. The labourer’s opportunities and means of work, his house, his very standing ground are often all the property of one man. In the country the rich have a real power of life and death, and are less hampered by competition with each other, and by the force of public opinion. One man cannot hold a city in fee, but one man can affect for evil or for good almost as large a population as a city’s, when it is scattered across a country side. This is precisely the state of wrong which Micah attacks. This is the evil, the ease with which wrong is done in the country. “It lies to the power of their hands; they covet and seize.” Micah feels that by themselves the economic wrongs explain and justify the doom impending on the nation. (G. A. Smith, D. D.)
Therefore, thus saith the Lord: Behold, against this family do I devise evil
The great antagonist
Here is Micah, the flesh child of the country, who has communed with the Lord God in the ploughed field in the flagrant vineyard, amid the primeval forest, in lonely wilderness, and in secluded height.
He comes to human affairs with keen and unblunted perceptions. Through this man’s eyes we may gaze at the outlines and colours of the golden age, we may look upon the causes of lukewarm and congealed affection, and we may also contemplate the fated and inevitable consequences of sin. It is this latter awful vision which I want to bring before yore “Behold, against this family do I devise an evil.” Let us get the connection of this word. In an earlier chapter I come upon this indictment: “Woe to them that devise iniquity upon their beds.” The people are busy devising, planning, plotting, scheming. They are building upon falsehood. They are arranging the items of their life in evil sequence. But there is a Counter plotter! “Against this family do I devise an evil.” The human schemer is confronted by a great Antagonist, God. The Antagonist evidences His working in adversities, disappointments, dissatisfactions, in failures, in fundamental and ignominious defeat. Micah’s initial teaching is therefore this: Every sin has its deliberately planned penalty. We cannot isolate the bacillus of sin; it makes its appointed ravages, and no human ministry can fashion an escape. Man devises iniquity; God devises the appropriate issue. One is as certain as the other. Prussic acid is not more certain in its ravages than sin, Now, with this expression of a general and unescapable law before us, let us see what this sharp-eyed prophet regards as some of the inevitable consequences of sin. “Uncleanness that destroyeth with a grievous destruction.” All sin is uncleanness, and uncleanness is a monster of destruction. As sure as a moth eats away the fabrics of a garment, so sin consumes the robes and habits of the soul. As sure as rust corrodes an instrument of steel, so sin destroys the implements of life. What does sin destroy? Our philosophers arrange the powers and endowments of man in a heightening scale. They begin with mere animal vitality, sheer naked energy, the basal aptitudes and passions, and they ascend through the senses, the intellectual perceptions, the powers of reasoning, the aesthetic tastes, alp to the moral realm, and higher still to the peerless sphere of reverence and veneration, where life looks out upon God! It is all-important that we remember this range of endowment when we are considering the destructiveness of sin. And I will tell you why. When sin breaks out in the life there are parts of this extensive range which appear to be untouched and if a man looked at these alone it might appear that sin has committed no ravages at all. Let us look at this. When a noxious gas gets into a greenhouse the most delicate things are the first things to suffer. When the coarser plants are smitten the finer, ones have long been dead. It is so in the life. When destructive uncleanness enters, the coarsest thing is the last to be hit. The body preserves its life the longest. Let us assume that a man has become ridden by lust. When that man’s body begins to shake the more delicate things of the soul are already destroyed. When the passion for drink shows itself in the face, other parts are already in ashes. The fire of sin always begins to flame in the upper chambers, and burns down towards the basement. The first thing to suffer is our affection. When purity goes out of life love droops like a bird whose cage is near the ceiling, and which faints amid the accumulated fumes of the burning gas. Let a man live an impure life, for one day; let falsehood, passion, malice, bear down upon him, and let him watch the effect upon his affection for wife and child. “Uncleanness,” according to this prophet, “destroyeth with a grievous destruction.” “It shall be night unto you, and ye shall have no vision. You will not be surprised to he taken this second step under the guidance of the prophet Micah. The sentence is descriptive of a second penalty. What is that? It is the loss of spiritual perception. In the higher realms of our being we are like instruments to be played upon by the Spirit of God. But what is the worth of the harp when the strings are eaten away? What is the use of a piano when the wires are corroded? The executant is unable to convey his message because the instrument is unable to receive it. And when the instrument of our higher self is corrupted or impaired we cannot perceive the approaches of the Spirit or discern the whispering counsels of our God. This is a law whose working I have proved by sad experience in my own life. There have been days when the Book of Scripture seemed closed before me. The page appears commonplace; it does not glow with the heavenly Presence. But on the day of moral alertness and strenuousness of spiritual nearness to my God the common bush is aflame, and His word becomes “a light unto my path.” Sin spoils our spiritual eyes and ears, and makes us poor receivers. “Thou shalt eat and not be satisfied.” This is the third of the penalties of sin. Sin issues in deep-seated weariness and unrest. The man makes money, but he sighs amid his abundance. His friends speak of him in terms of admiration: “He has got everything that heart could wish.” Ah, that is just what he has not got! He has got everything that flesh could wish, but the heart is mourning in secret impoverishment. These dissatisfied souls are all about us, in the pulpit and out of it. But our very dissatisfaction is more than the issue of sin; it is the merciful judgment of infinite grace and love. If our Father left us in satisfaction our perdition would be hopeless and complete. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
O thou that art named the house of Jacob, is the Spirit of the Lord straitened?
The criminality and folly of limiting the Holy Spirit
1. Amongst the numerous instances in which Christians conduct themselves as if they imagined that the Spirit of the Lord is straitened, notice the following.
(1) Their conduct is of this description, when they expect little or no benefit from the Word of God and the ordinances of His worship.
(2) When they shrink from the discharge of necessary duty.
(3) When they are unduly afraid of their enemies.
(4) When they sink under the pressure of adversity.
(5) When they limit the operations of the Spirit to particular periods of time, or to any particular denomination of professed Christians.
2. The unreasonableness of such conduct. It is at once sinful and selfish, unreasonable and absurd. Consider--
(1) That the Spirit of Jehovah is a Spirit of unbounded intelligence and power. Dependent and limited creatures may soon become straitened.
(2) He is a Spirit of infinite goodness and love.
(3) He is a Spirit sent forth by the Father and the Son.
(4) The Scriptures contain rich promises of the continued agency of the Holy Spirit.
(5) The gracious and mighty works which have already been effected by the Spirit of Jehovah. Let us all be impressed with a sense of the necessity and importance of the Spirit’s agency. It deeply concerns us to inquire whether or not it is our privilege to have the Spirit dwelling and operating in us. (D. Fraser, D. D.)
The influence of the Spirit,--the doctrine abused by straitening the Spirit
1. The work of the Lord, the Spirit, is wide, extended, and extensive. He is emphatically the “Comforter”; this is His principal work. He comforts the soul, made conscious how little there is in himself to nourish and strengthen; stripped, in a sense, of his self-wisdom, self-power, self-importance, and self-complacency. He testifies of Jesus as having “all fulness” in Him. He comforts the poor, tried, and harassed soul, in the midst of its trial, sorrow, and affliction, by unfolding the man of sympathy, the sympathy of the God-man Mediator. He comforts the soul by revealing the character of God; in His gracious character; in His sin-forgiving character; in His tenderness, compassion, gentleness, and holiness. He comforts His saints as they pass through the changes of a changing world, by revealing the covenant, “ordered in all things and sure.” He unfolds the gracious promises of the God of grace. He is called “the Comforter,” because it belongs to Him especially to comfort the saints of the Most High. But He is a Rebuker as well as a Comforter. Here it is to be feared that He is not glorified as He ought to be. He is a “Spirit of judgment” in our souls. There is no court that a natural man so dislikes as the court of an enlightened conscience. It is a solemn place. Not only in the first awakening of the soul, but in all after revealings of the Lord Jesus Christ to our hearts, there is still something of a rebuking Spirit. We have to learn out our truths in the school of God, who will be a light to guide in the way.
2. God’s Word yields to the spiritual pilgrim food and nourishment, as well as light.
3. As the pilgrim’s way lies through an enemy’s country he is liable to various assaults, and the Word of God will furnish him with armour of defence. It is his shield and buckler, to ward off and repel the fiery darts of the wicked one.
4. When the Christian begins to be weary and faint in his mind, God’s Word becomes his stay and support.
5. It is a comfort to travellers to have a prospect, though a distant and imperfect one, of the place whither they are going. The Divine Word is both a map of the heavenly country and a perspective glass through which we may view it. It is the prospect of that better country which cheers the Christian by the way, and quickens his steps through the wilderness. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The plenitude of the Holy Spirit’s influence
The prophet is reproving the people for their opposition to the servants of God, and their attachment to false prophets. Their rulers would silence the prophets of the Lord, because they wished to hear no more of their alarming predictions, but to be told only smooth and flattering things. Micah is therefore commissioned to declare that they should be deprived of this privilege.
I. The work of the holy spirit in our salvation. The recovery of fallen men to the love and likeness of God is usually expressed by the word “salvation.” Salvation is ascribed in Scripture to the love of God the Father, in whose infinite benevolence it originated. It was, however, necessary that an adequate atonement should be made for human transgressions. This work, assigned to Christ in the economy of redemption, He voluntarily undertook, and He alone could execute it. All the blessings of salvation are ascribed to Him. But the death of Christ would have been fruitless without the work of the Holy Ghost. Without this there could be no conviction of our need of salvation, no discernment of the way in which alone it can be obtained, no desire to possess it, no faith, no hope, no love, nothing of that purity of heart, destitute of which no man can see the Lord. The Spirit proceedeth from the Father. He gave His Son that He might send His pure and Holy Spirit into our depraved hearts to form us for communion with, and the everlasting enjoyment of Himself. We are equally indebted for the Spirit to the love of God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
II. The work of the holy spirit in the plenitude of his influence. It is perfectly consistent with the practical design of Scripture to apply a truth spoken on a particular occasion to the general purposes of the Christian life. Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened? No; we are to set no bounds to His power; we are not to circumscribe the measure of His influence; our expectations and our endeavours should correspond to the fulness of His grace. We may infer that the influences of the Holy Spirit are not straitened from the extent and merit of the Saviour’s sufferings, and the greatness and design of His exaltation; from the abundant measure in which the gifts of the Spirit were communicated on the day of Pentecost; from the predictions of Scripture concerning the future prosperity of the Christian Church, and from the eminence in piety and usefulness to which many have attained. The truth we press on attention is, that every one may, through faith in the Saviour, and in answer to prayer, certainly obtain all the assistance from the Holy Spirit which he needs. This is evident from a multitude of promises. The subject calls for an admonitory application.
1. It condemns an undue dependence on instruments.
2. It forbids an exclusive attachment to particular subjects.
3. It censures those who despair of the conversion of others.
4. It remonstrates with such as are ready to abandon their efforts to do good from a feeling of their own insufficiency.
5. It should urge us to unite in all scriptural plans of usefulness, instead of confining ourselves to particular methods.
6. It frowns on a bigoted party spirit.
7. Beware of resisting and grieving the Spirit. (Essex Remembrancer.)
The straitened Spirit
Regard the Holy Spirit as that most glorious and blessed agency by which our depraved nature is purified, our bondage of evil turned into freedom, our spiritual darkness enlightened, our penitent sorrows exchanged for feelings of joyousness, and our rugged path on life’s upward journey made smooth and plain. In the time of Micah the inspiration of prophecy was regarded by the people of the Jews as the result of this agency; but they were not always pleased with it. The prophets who were faithful were men who did not seek to please the public ear by prophesying what was most palatable to its pride and luxury, but what was calculated to humble and alarm. And if this offended some, was their offence to be the guide and rule of the prophet’s teaching? Was the Spirit of God to be straitened or limited in His operations because His inspired messages were not acceptable? Hence the question of the text.
I. The Spirit of the Lord acts with unlimited sovereignty. He is not bound by human laws and human opinions, neither is He fettered in His movements by any dogmatic assumption or priestly power. What is to hinder Him from doing His Will? An earnest seeking for His aid, an humble trust in His love, a devout prayer for His deliverance, and a persevering hold upon Christ as our Sacrifice and Mediator may soon bring to the soul that bright light of life which speaks of His indwelling presence and resurrection power.
II. The Spirit of the Lord acts with an unchangeableness of love. And who can give any bounds to this love, not only in its objects but in its intensity? It never changes. Time can never alter it, and nothing in the great universe about us can either divert it from its course or weaken its power.
III. Though the Spirit of God is not straitened, it is possible that it may appear so. But this arises from our own disobedience. We may have stifled His convictions. We may have deserted His counsels. We may have rejected His offers, His promises, and His invitations.
IV. Some wish the Spirit of the Lord to be straitened to their own view of things. Some would straiten the Lord in the execution of His judgments. To the fainting, weak, and doubting spirit of the Christian there is something very exhilarating in the thought that the Spirit of the Lord is not straitened in His power and love and wisdom. Troubled as He oftentimes is from a deceitful heart and powerful temptations, how great a privilege to feel His nearness and to realise His inspiration in the prayer that goes up like incense to the throne of heaven. In the infinitude of the Spirit’s power there is liberty--a vast ocean of life, that seems to spread out more and more before the eager and aspiring soul. But, on the contrary, this very truth of the Holy Spirit’s illumitability will be a cause of condemnation to those who continue to reject Him. (W. D. Horwood.)
The Spirit of the Lord not straitened
Here God is expostulating with His Church, when in a low and languishing state, as to the cause of this. He is vindicating Himself from all share of blame in the matter,--He is showing them where the blame lies, even with His professing people themselves, in their want of faith and prayer. It is their unbelief that mars all. This straitens, shuts up, in prisons their spirits, so that their desires do not flow forth with any enlargement after Divine communications. It is not the Spirit of the Lord that is straitened. There is a straitening, but it is all on their part.
I. The question in the text implies that the Spirit is not straitened in the sense which our unbelief would suggest.
1. The Spirit is not straitened in respect of His own inherent sufficiency. All grace, wisdom, might, and faithfulness are in Him. The creature is limited in duration; He is eternal. The creature is limited in respect of knowledge. “The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” The creature is limited in respect of power; not so the Spirit. The creature is limited in respect of moral excellence; the Spirit is distinctively and supereminently the Spirit of holiness.
2. In respect of the Saviour’s purchase of Him for the Church. As the Head of His Church, Christ is its source of spiritual influence. In Him, for the use of His Church, the Spirit dwells in immeasurable degree. Mark the encouragement afforded us by the death of Christ to expect free and full communications of the Holy Spirit.
3. In respect of the offer of Him in the Gospel.
(1) He is offered universally.
II. The question implies that He is often straitened or diminished in respect of His actual communications to the Church. It is a fact that the presence and power of the Spirit are not enjoyed by the Church at some periods as much as at others. Point out some of the characteristics of a Church from which the Spirit has withdrawn much of His presence and power.
1. In such a Church the truth will not generally be preached with evangelical purity, faithfulness, and power.
2. There will be a general departure from the simple and scriptural principles of government and discipline on which the Church is founded.
3. There will be a sad lack of zeal in propagating religion and extending the means of grace. The missionary spirit will be all but extinct.
4. There will be few conversions.
5. Even the people of God themselves will not be possessed of so high a tone of spirituality as they ought to be. In short, there will be little personal piety and family prayer; but, on the contrary, much worldliness, much unGodliness, much hostility to anything like zealous Christianity. In the same proportion as the Spirit departs will spirituality decay and carnality increase. What should we learn from this but our entire dependence upon this blessed agent?
III. The question is intended to convey a rebuke to the Church for its not having sufficiently valued, and therefore asked and received, the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is restrained in His actual communications, this must be either because He is unwilling to bestow His influences upon us, or because we are unwilling to accept of them. It cannot be the first; it must be the last. Apply--
1. To the unconverted; there are some who are entirely destitute of any work of the Spirit of God upon their hearts. Dare they say that they have long been willing to receive Him, but have found it impossible? Their consciences would not suffer them to say so.
2. To those who have in some measure received the Spirit. They often complain of the low state of religion in their own hearts, and in the world around them. Hard thoughts of God suggest themselves to them, as if He had become careless of the interests of His Church. But they will find reason to exonerate God of all blame, and to place it to their own account. Have they cherished, as they ought to have done, the visits of this Divine Person to their own souls? Is it not true that they have, in a great measure, ceased to realise their dependence on Him? Thus religion decaying in their own hearts, they become less concerned about the progress of religion in the hearts of others.
IV. The question is intended to convey an encouragement to us to ask Him--to ask Him confidently and largely. The encouragement is twofold, drawn--
1. From the form of the question itself. It is evidently designed to teach us that the Spirit of the Lord is not straitened, not limited nor confined in the sense our unbelief suggests. It is as if it were said--Set no bounds to your desires; ask more and more; ask again and again.
2. Notice to whom the question is addressed. “O thou that art named the house of Israel.” It is addressed to the professing Church and people of God, and it is designed to put them in mind of the relation God bears to them as their God, and the warrant thereby afforded them to ask and expect the Holy Spirit. There must be a want, and what can that want be but the want of sufficiently earnest and believing prayer? Immediately, then, let this want be supplied. (A. L. R. Foote.)
Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened
I. The promise of Pentecost. What did it declare and hold forth for the faith of the Church?
1. The promise of a Divine Spirit by symbols which express some, at all events, of the characteristics and wonderfulness of His work. The “rushing of a mighty wind” spoke of a power which varies in its manifestations from the gentlest breath that scarce moves the leaves on the summer trees to the wildest blast that casts down all which stands in its way. The natural symbolism of the wind, to popular apprehension, the least material of all material forces, and of which the connection with the immaterial part of a man’s personality has been expressed in all languages, points to a Divine, immaterial, mighty, life-giving power which is free to blow where it listeth, and of which men can mark the effects, though they are all ignorant of the force itself. The twin symbol of the fiery tongues which parted and sat upon each of them speaks in like manner of the Divine influence, not as destructive, but full of quick, rejoicing energy and life, the power to transform and to purify. Whithersoever the fire comes, it changes all things into its own substance. Wherever the fiery spirit comes there is energy, swift life, rejoicing activity, transforming and transmuting power which changes the recipient of the flame into flame itself. In the fact of Pentecost there is the promise of a Divine Spirit which is to influence all the moral side of humanity. This is the distinction between the Christian doctrine of inspiration and all others which have, in heathen lands, partially reached similar conceptions--that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has laid emphasis upon the Holy Spirit, and has declared that holiness of heart is the touchstone and test of all claims of Divine inspiration. Gifts are much, graces are more. An inspiration which makes wise is to be coveted, an inspiration which makes holy is transcendently better. There we find the safe guard against all the fanaticisms which have at times invaded the Christian Church. The Spirit that came at Pentecost is not merely a spirit of rushing might, and of swift flaming energy; it is a Spirit of holiness. Pentecost also carried in it the promise and prophecy of a Spirit granted to all the Church. “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” Further, the promise of the early history was that of a Spirit which should fill the whole nature of the men to whom He was granted. Each man, according to his character, stature, circumstances, and all the varying conditions which determine his power of receptivity, will receive a varying measure of that gift. Yet it is meant that all shall be full.
II. The apparent failure of the promise. Will anyone say that the religious condition of any body of believers at this moment corresponds to Pentecost? Do any existing Churches present the final perfect form of Christianity as embodied in a society? Estimate by three tests.
1. Does the ordinary tenour of our own religious life look as if we had that Divine Spirit in us which transforms everything into its own beauty, and makes men, through all the regions of their nature, holy and pure? Does the standard of devotion and consecration in any Church witness of the presence of a Divine Spirit?
2. Do the relations of modern Christians and their churches to one another attest the presence of a unifying Spirit?
3. Look at the comparative impotence of the Church in its conflict with the growing worldliness of the world.
III. The solution of the contradiction. It is sometimes urged that the Spirit of the Lord is straitened. Some say, Christianity is effete. Others say, God in His sovereignty is pleased to withhold His Spirit for reasons which we cannot trace. But there is always the same flow from God. There are ebbs and flows in the spiritual power of the Church. It is our own fault, and the result of evil in ourselves that may be remedied, that we have so little of this Divine gift. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Why is the Spirit straitened
In view of the large effusion of religious knowledge in our days, we inquire, Why does not the fear of God more abound? Whence is it that, even where true piety really exists, it is so little deep, spiritual, and full of love, warmth, and holy unction? Shall we reply that the blessing must be from above, and that God alone can remodel the human heart? This indeed is true; but then occurs the question, “Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened?” If He be not straitened, whence comes it to pass that His gracious influences are not more fully manifested? Is the fault in ourselves or in God? The influences of the Holy Spirit are His miraculous and His ordinary manifestations. Is He straitened in either of these?
I. Is He straitened in His miraculous influences? Miracles, we say, are not now to be expected. They have done their work. But God is not therefore straitened. He could, if He saw fit, revive His miraculous influences. And even now we have remarkable effusions of grace, as in revival times. He could, if He so willed, bring back even a second day of Pentecost, with all its miraculous outpourings.
II. Is He straitened in those ordinary promised influences under which we ourselves live? Take the following influences--as a Teacher, as a Sanctifier, as a Comforter. Is the Holy Spirit less an Enlightener, a Sanctifier, and a Guide now than He was in the days of Abraham, or David, or St. Paul? Is He less powerful? Is He less willing? Is He less gracious in His promises? Whence, then, comes it to pass that, after so many centuries of nominal Christianity, more spiritual good has not been effected? In particular, what are the causes which impede in our own age, our own country, our own families and congregations, and above all, in our own hearts, the operations of the Holy Spirit? The Spirit of the Lord may be straitened, on account of the finite capacity of the recipient. If the Holy Ghost consecrates our hearts for His temple, He chooses a shrine in which He can exhibit, so to speak, but a small portion of His glory; it will be enlarged in heaven, but even there it will be finite. Take the love of St. John, the fervour of David, the heavenly mindedness of St. Paul; these fruits of the Spirit in those blessed men were eminently great; but they were bounded by the mortal mould, and for them to be enlarged to the elevation of a Gabriel death must intervene. But the littleness of the human heart is not the only cause why the Divine manifestations appear straitened. Its corruption and sinfulness are far more powerful causes. Think of the innate workings of human depravity; the stubbornness of the soil which is to be broken up and cultivated; the natural enmity of the human heart to God, and all that is like God; the prejudices which exist against the Gospel of Christ; the evil devices of Satan; the “infection of nature” which remains “even in them that are regenerate.” In addition to the deadening effects of sin generally, every age and country has its own special temptations, which in a peculiar manner seem to restrain the effusion of the Divine influences at that particular place and season.
1. Being satisfied with a low standard of spiritual attainment. Look at apostles and prophets; look at saints and professors and martyrs. Are we like them?
2. Another cause of check to the Spirit’s work in our day is excitement, Not religious excitement so much as the rush and hurry and worry of modern business and social life. The Spirit needs quiet times and moods in which to carry on His hallowing work. (Samuel Charles Wilks, M. A.)
The Holy Spirit not straitened
(marg., “shortened”):--The meaning is, not limited, bound, restrained, but free to work and bless at all times, and in unlimited measure. We pray and act as if God were subject to metes and bounds,--confined to times and seasons--unable or unwilling to do for His cause and people on a scale commensurate with His own infinite grace and power and purpose.
I. God the Spirit is not straitened in Himself. This were impossible, as His nature and all His attributes are infinite; His love, mercy, grace, power are unbounded.
II. He has not tied His own hands, by His decrees, or in any other way, so that He cannot work to save even to the uttermost all that will come to Him. His arm is never shortened that it cannot save. If the Church is in a feeble state, the fault lies at her own door.
III. God is not straitened by reason of any lack of provision in the gospel economy, or efficacy in the atoning sacrifice, or fulness of the Spirit’s power.
IV. Neither is the Spirit straitened by reason of the unbelief and obstinacy of sinners. Or the abounding infidelity and wickedness of the times. The power that could change Saul of Tarsus into Paul the Apostle; that could plant and maintain flourishing Christian Churches in such corrupt heathen cities as Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome; that could resurrect the Church of the Reformation from the grave of the dark ages and the corruptions of Rome; that is achieving such glorious conquests today, not simply in heathen lands, is equal to any emergency, any work, that prayer and Christian endeavour can compass. If God is ever straitened, it is in His people. Their unbelief, supineness, inaction, serve to restrain the Spirit’s power, and block the wheels of salvation. What a tremendous responsibility! Who is willing to share it? (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
The straitened Spirit
The Lord’s people were now so far degenerated as to continue and oppose God’s messengers, as if they might limit His Spirit to speak only what pleased them; or as if His Spirit were straitened to do them good. Doctrine--
1. It is a deplorable case, and sadly to be lamented, when men stand in opposition to the Word of God, and the carriers thereof. So much doth this expostulation and these pressing interrogatories imply.
2. Men may both think and do many things with great boldness, which yet, if they would seriously think upon, they would be forced to condemn, and find a witness against in their own bosoms. For these questions put to their consciences imply, that God had a witness for Him there, and they durst not say or do as they did if their consciences were put to it, as in His sight.
3. Many have and study to keep up a name which they are ill worthy of, and no way answerable to it.
4. God can discern betwixt shows and substance, and will see a fault in such as glory in fair titles; for He calls them as they are. “Thou art named the house of Jacob, and hast but a name.”
5. It is an evidence that a visible church is degenerated, whatever show they have, when they turn opposers of the Word of the Lord in the mouth of His servants.
6. Such as oppose and fight against the Word of God and His messengers do in effect fight against the Spirit of the Lord, whose Word it is. These opposers are challenged as “straitening the Spirit of the Lord.”
7. It is a high presumption and injury clone to the Spirit, to think to imprison and deny Him liberty in the mouth of His servants, to speak anything but what men please. It is not seemly that men should limit God in giving commission to His servants.
8. The Lord hath a storehouse of Spirit “to bring forth comforts, and of power to produce mercies, if His people were fit for them.
9. When the Lord sends forth sad threatenings in the mouths of His servants, it becomes a people seriously to examine their ways. (George Hutcheson.)
Do not My words do good to him that walketh uprightly?--
The privileges of the upright
Weary of correction and reproof, the house of Jacob refused to receive instruction, and said to the prophets, “Prophesy ye not.” The Lord appeals to them that the messages sent by His servants were intended for their good, that even the threatenings were designed to correct and to reclaim, that He was ready to pour out of His Spirit upon them, but for their impenitence and unbelief and rejection of His testimony; and that His words were acceptable and profitable to the upright, how much soever they might be despised by the apostate house of Jacob.
I. The characters to whom the Word of God is profitable are the “upright.”
1. The truly upright are those whose hearts are right in the sight of God; Israelites in whom is no guile. They are no dissemblers in religion; truth is stamped upon their words and actions. Their faith is unfeigned, and their love without dissimulation. An upright man is what he appears to be.
2. The upright are such as walk by a right rule, the Word of God, making this the guide and standard of their actions. He who is continually gadding about to change his way cannot be in the right way. Uniformity of conduct is essential to uprightness.
3. The upright are represented as “walking,” or making progress in the way to heaven. True religion means not only persevering, but making some proficiency in the good ways of God. Hence we learn that--
(1) True religion is practical.
(2) It is personal.
(3) It is free and voluntary.
(4) It is imperfect at present, though tending to perfection, and there is room for continual improvement.
II. The advantages which the truly upright derive from the Word of God. To him that walketh uprightly, the word of real experience, and we are taught them oft in the school of painful experience; it is in this way He applies them. All His rebukings are for our sanctification.
II. The cause for caution on our part, that we turn not away from a whole consideration of this wide, extended, and extensive work of the Spirit. Do not imagine that a man can really “straiten the Spirit of God.” I might as well imagine that a molehill could change the course of the planets. Our blessed Spirit is Jehovah, omnipotent. Some attempt to straiten the Spirit of God by confining their ideas of His operation on the soul to that which is pleasant on1y, to that which is refreshing, to that which is comforting, to that which is elevating. They see not that there is as much the work of the Spirit in that which humbles, in that which reproves, in that which cuts down, in that which dries up, in that which lays low, and keeps the soul as in a low place. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
Upright walking, the condition of profiting by the ministry of the Word
The greatest blessings when perverted become the greatest curses. An unimproved or an abused privilege becomes a positive evil. It were easy to adduce a host of illustrations to confirm the justice of these observations. There is hardly a temporal blessing to be named, in respect of which it may not be shown that its abuse becomes a curse to the possessor. Take the endowment of intellect or of reason. Or the case of one to whom providence has allotted a more than common abundance of this world’s wealth. Spiritual mercies may be equally abused with temporal, and the result which ensues from their misuse is to the full as disastrous. The prophet, speaking in the name of God, demands, “Do not My words do good to him that walketh uprightly?” But the form of interrogation clearly implies, that to such as walk not in uprightness, the words of the Almighty will rather do injury. It was in reply to the solicitations of those who entreated of the prophet not to prophesy that he delivered the emphatic appeal which we have in the verse containing our text. We are, however, concerned with the broad principle which it seems to imply. There is pointed out the condition of all profitable hearing of God’s words. It is--upright walking. The precept must be embodied in practice, or it will not only be useless, it will be positively injurious.
I. What reasons there are for expecting that the hearing of God’s words will injure, rather than benefit, the individual who walks not uprightly. Some qualification is necessary at the outset to obviate an erroneous conclusion which might be drawn. It might be said, “What, then, becomes of the utility of the proclamation to the disobedient? And what remains of the office of the Word to convince and to convert the soul?” The apparent contradiction is easily explained. The prophet is clearly speaking of such persons as, under the hearing of God’s words, refused to repent and be obedient. The message he had to deliver was calculated to reclaim and convert them, but they refused submission to the authority of Him in whose name the messenger spake, and it was in this case that the tidings injured, in place of benefiting. The guilt and the responsibility were all their own; the fault was not in the Word. The prophet was not to desist from proclaiming that Word, simply because, when its statements were rejected, moral injury would result. And we are not to be deterred from communicating God’s words to the disobedient, simply because there is a possibility that they will continue to be disobedient, and in that case be injured and not advantaged by the message, Now take the case of one to whom God’s words are sent, but they have never yet led him to a walk of uprightness. God’s words have been practically a dead letter. This is the ease in which we are prepared to contend that the words of God are turning to that man’s injury; the blessing is being converted into a curse. We assume that every man’s real and highest enjoyment, his greatest moral advantage, depends upon his conformity to the precepts of God’s Word. Each instance in which God’s words are heard, and no result towards holiness produced, diminishes the probability of ultimate obedience. He is becoming more hard and inflexible, and less likely ever to become the subject of genuine repentance. It is a law of man’s moral constitution, that feelings once aroused, which are not carried out into practice, gradually become feebler and less capable of being wakened afresh. There is no case in which there is greater cause for apprehension than that of an individual who has long been accustomed to the ministrations of the Gospel, without being converted beneath them;
II. The positive good which results to the upright from hearing God’s words.
1. Look at the knowledge which revelation imparts.
2. The words of God accomplish a most important purpose with reference to the believer’s sanctification, or his actual preparation for heaven. The promise cannot advantage any but the Consistent disciple. No man has a right to appropriate a single promise of God’s Word, who is not resolved upon striving after obedience. It is the “upright” walker to whom alone the promise in reality belongs. May we carry away with us the recollection of this great truth,--that in order to profit by God’s words, whether as communicated to us on the page of inspiration, or by the ministrations of the Gospel, there must be an endeavour on our parts to walk uprightly, or to walk in agreement with what God’s Word prescribes. (Robert Bickersteth, B. A.)
The Bible vindicated by its good effects
There are some difficulties to be found in the Bible, no doubt. There are a good many things that you do not understand in nature, but you do not dismiss them. Whatever may be said against this planet, it is our best standing ground at present. And so long as the Bible vindicates itself in its practical, moral, and spiritual effects, that is enough for us. Look today at the nations that do not read the Bible--Turkey, China, India,--they belong to the ruined civilisations. Scientists have used the spectroscope lately, and they have found a good deal in the sun that they did not expect. They have found a good many terrestrial elements there. But, so long as the sun keeps on ripening harvests and painting summers, and filling the planet with loveliness and music, we shall respect the sun. And whatever may be the technical defects, or alleged defects of Scripture, so long shall we stand by it whilst it lifts up fallen men into righteousness, and makes the great wilderness of the nations to blossom as the rose.
The social evils of Christendom are not sanctioned by the Bible
These are the indignant questions proposed by the inspired man of God when he contemplated the corruption and depravity which had spread themselves throughout the whole Church and nation of the Jews.
I. Explain what I mean by the social evils of Christendom. Some would tell us that religion is a Social evil; marriage, private property, and equitable laws, social evils. We can all see that ignorance and credulity, superstition and imposture, tyranny and oppression, war and persecution are among the social evils which all good men ought to deplore.
1. Ignorance and credulity. That the inhabitants of those nations who possess a Book that contains a revelation from God of all the great principles of faith and duty, should be in a state of ignorance, seems most extraordinary. Up to comparatively a very recent date, throughout the whole of Christendom the common people were in a state of deplorable ignorance. We count ignorance to be a fearful social evil. Credulity is always the result of ignorance; and thus originates that moat baneful maxim, that “ignorance is the mother of devotion.”
2. We account superstition and imposture to be great social evils, as they have existed in Christendom. Christianity, as established by the apostles, was a religion of extraordinary simplicity. It had no temples, no altars, no sacrifices, no priests, no pageants, no festivities, no holidays. It was a simple religion, plain and unadorned, addressing itself to the judgment and to the affections of men. To meet the prejudices of the vulgar, and to gratify the corrupt taste of the multitude, pompous ceremonies were introduced, which easily reconciled the pagans to a worship that appeared so like their own. It is a matter beyond all controversy that the old demigods of paganism were worshipped under new names by these very questionable Christians,--worshipped at the same wells, on the same mountain sides, in the same groves, and with the same rites,--and that nothing was changed but the name. Surely these things do not result from God’s Holy Word!
3. Tyranny and oppression, as they have existed in Christendom, are social evils which must be deplored. They are as old as the apostasy of man from God. When man would not submit to God, he soon sought to usurp authority over his brethren. In private and in public life it will be found that those who are least disposed to submit are most disposed to usurp. Those persons who are least patient of restraints themselves, are most willing to put restraints on others. We refer, however, not so much to oppression and tyranny in civil affairs, as to that spiritual usurpation which arose in the Church, when the humble presbyters became priests, patriarchs, and popes. We lament over all proofs of spiritual tyranny and oppression.
4. Wars and persecutions are amongst the social evils that have afflicted Christendom. Some of these have been political contests--wars undertaken upon questions of international polity. But religious wars now demand our attention. The history of Christian nations is like Ezekiel’s roll, “written within and without with lamentations and mourning and woe.”
II. These social evils are not sanctioned by the Bible, but corrected by it. It must he conceded, however, that there are some facts connected with the history of the Jews in the Old Testament which appear at first sight to sanction at least some of these acts of violence and bloodshed. Some are explained by God’s right to visit and punish guilty nations, as well as guilty individuals. These are reserved and excepted cases, and those who now dare to plead for the extirpation and oppression of their enemies, or for acts of violence and persecution from the facts of the Old Testament, are altogether beside the mark, unless they can show that they possess the power of working miracles to sustain the assumption.
1. We account the Bible to be the enemy of ignorance and credulity. That which is a revelation necessarily supposes the dissipation of ignorance. The very communication of a Book that must be read, studied, and illustrated by various other critical, scientific, and historical inquiries, compels intelligence, and shows that the Word of God is the friend of knowledge, the fountain of wisdom.
2. The Bible is the enemy of superstition and imposture. There were many ceremonies in the Jewish Church, but these were “a shadow of good things to come,” and were only to continue until the substance should appear. When Christianity was revealed, Judaism passed away. Primitive Christianity and the Word of God are not answerable for the accumulated ceremonies and superstitions of the modern Christian Church.
3. The Bible is the enemy of tyranny and oppression. The Word of God professes to be the Word of the Most Upright; just and right is He! Rectitude characterises the mind and government of God. That Word would be inconsistent with its Author if it were found to sanction tyranny and oppression in any form.
4. The Bible is the enemy of war and persecution. Our Lord inculcated in His disciples a spirit of forbearance, a disposition not to resist evil, not to take offence. Then if we desire important changes in human society, it is that there may be more equal happiness. Let us then become Bible Christians. If we really take the Book as our guide, we shall not be ignorant or superstitious or tyrannical. We shall avoid the mischiefs by which the Christian name is dishonoured, and we shall exhibit to those around us the blessed influence of the religion of Jesus on the character and lives of men. (John Blackburn.)
God’s Word good to the upright
Micah says, You are trying to do the right thing in a wrong way: you are wasting the bread of the kingdom of heaven: you have mistaken the right beginning and the right continuance of all this ministry of revelation. My sun will never do good to a dead creed; every beam of that sun is a sword striking at that poor outcast dead thing. “Do not My words do good?” To whom? To the man who wants them, longs for them, represents their purpose, walks uprightly. Literally, Do not My words do good to him that is upright? You must not only have right food, you must have the right appetite and the right digestion. God’s revelation is lost upon the man who cares nothing for it. It is within the power of the eyelid to shut out the midday. The Bible has nothing to say to the froward soul. The revelation of God never talks to the critic. Intellect, unless a servant, has no business with things spiritual, supernatural, ineffable. Let every man then test himself by this one standard. The Word of the Lord is meant to be good to the upright. Not necessarily to the personally perfect. There are no such people, except in their own estimation, and therefore there are none perfect at all. What is it to be upright then? To be sincere: to mean to be right. There is a middle line in every man’s thought and life and purpose. Do not judge him by the higher line, or by the lower level; you will find the average thought, and tendency, and pressure--judge by that. When a man says, 1 want to be right, though I am failing seven times a day,--he is right. .. To walk uprightly is not to walk pedantically, ostentatiously, and perfectly in the estimation of the world; but to walk uprightly is to have the stress of the soul in the right direction. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
“Thou called house of Jacob, is the patience of Jehovah short then? or is this His doing? Are not My words good to him that walketh uprightly?” Such is a modern translation. We prefer the translation of Henderson, as follows: “What language, O house of Jacob! Is the Spirit of Jehovah shortened? Are these His operations? Do not My words benefit him that walketh uprightly?” These words seem to be a reply to an objection raised against the prophets in the preceding verse. The objector did not approve of predictions so terribly severe. “It is not strange,” says Matthew Henry, “if people that are vicious and debauched covet to have ministers that are altogether such as themselves, for they are willing to believe that God is so too.”
I. That the Spirit of Divine truth cannot be restrained. “Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened?” There is no limit to truth; it is an ocean that has no shore, a field whose everspringing seeds are innumerable. “The Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from His Word.”
II. That the practice of Divine truth cannot but do good. “Do not My words do good to him that walketh uprightly?” Though you have never heard the particular truth before, though it may be too severe to please you, though it may clash with all your prejudices and wishes, if you practise it, it will do you good.
1. It is to be practised. It is not merely for speculation, systematising, controversy, and debate, it is for inspiring the activities and ruling the life. It is a code rather than a creed. It must be incarnated, made flesh, and dwell in the land.
2. When practised it is a blessing. “Do not My words do good to him that walketh uprightly?” Yes, they do good. When they are translated, not into languages and creeds, but into living deeds. A man gets good only as he builds up a noble character. (Homilist.)
An upright man reaps the full benefit of God’s Word
The leading circumstances which gave rise to these words was the degeneracy of God’s ancient people, the Jews. This degeneracy was very prevalent in the days of Micah, both in the kingdom of Israel and that of Judah. Let it be remembered that the covenant engagements into which the Divine Being enters with man by no means preclude His hatred and condemnation of sin; neither do our covenant engagements with Him exempt us from the liability of falling into sin. Nothing that was said to them by God and His servants met their approbation. Everything was wrong, and, in their vitiated judgment, unlike what it had been. And, to make good their own case, they were presumptuous enough to charge the cause of all their woes upon God; but He nobly vindicated Himself, and tacitly condemned them in these words, “Do not My words,” etc. The drift of the text, or the doctrine contained therein, is this,--that however painful and offensive God’s Word may be to those who live in the love of sin, it is highly beneficial to those who walk uprightly; and that if it does not please and profit the soul, it is not owing to any defect in the Word, but to some defect in us.
I. To the character of an upright man. The husbandman, in winnowing his grain for the market, divides one heap into two. The one he calls corn, the other chaff. And thus does the Bible deal with the human family: it divides the whole into two classes--and into two only, as to kind. The one it calls good, the other bad. But the husbandman, by putting his corn through another process or two, divides it into three or more portions, according to its quality. The best he calls saleable; the next best, hinderends; and the rest, hen corn. After the same way does the Bible divide the righteous into classes; and in the same way will they be disposed of at the last day. Nearly all the good men we read of in the Bible and elsewhere excelled in one or two branches of piety; but few excelled in all. Christ, however, did this. An upright man is one who strives to know as much of the will of God as he can, in order that he may live according to it. His main object is to live well and die happy.
1. He is a religious man. Not a mere professor of religion, not one whose opinions have undergone a change for the better, nor one whose morality is of a high and refined order; but a man whose heart and mind, principles and practices have been changed by Divine grace.
2. He is a considerate man--Sensible of the many evils with which he is surrounded, and the proneness of human nature to fall into them, he ponders well the path of his feet. He plans with his head what he executes with his hands. He thinks before he acts. “Thou God seest me” is indelibly engraven on his memory. That he may be found a wise and safe man at last he, at present, considers his ways in his heart (Haggai 1:15).
3. He is a conscientious man. Conscience is prompt in commanding, and he is as prompt in obeying. It speaks, and the upright, God-fearing man responds, “How, then, can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
4. He is a consistent man. He is actuated by principle rather than passion.
II. We purpose to show whether such a man is benefited by the Word of God. By the Word of God we understand the Bible. It contains the revelation of His will to and concerning man. And every man who can have the Bible is expected to understand and practise it so far as is essential to his salvation. To an upright man the Word of God proves--
1. An instructive Word. The Bible is professionally a book of instructions. Its instructions relate to the highest subjects--to soul matters and matters of eternity. And, apart from its teachings, we cannot gain the same instructions elsewhere. The upright man is quite alive to this; hence he prizes the Bible, and evinces a peculiar aptness for its teachings. By a prayerful perusal of its sacred pages he becomes possessed of much spiritual and Divine knowledge. And Bible light is the best of light. The knowledge that comes from God is the purest of knowledge. It makes us acquainted with God and His will--with man and his ways--with sin and its consequences--with redemption and its effects. These things are spiritual in their nature, and by the upright man are spiritually discerned.
2. It is a corrective Word. Not only are all men liable to err, but all men have erred; for, “to err is human.” Hence all men need correction. But all are not willing to be corrected; Some, however, are, and among these may be ranked the upright. The corrective lessons of the Bible are received by him in the same spirit and with the same thankfulness, as what a traveller who has missed his way evinces when put right. It is in this light especially that God’s “words do good to him that walketh uprightly.”
3. It is a pacific Word. The midday sun does not bring its rays more gently to bear upon the virgin flower than are the soothing truths of God’s Word brought to hear upon the good man’s troubled spirit. The gentle rain is not more acceptable to the vegetation of spring than are God’s promises to the tried Christian. The healing balm is not more alleviating to the wounded traveller than is God’s Word to the expiring pilgrim.
In conclusion, observe three things--
1. The Word of God is full of truth and goodness. Its sole object being to make men wise and happy.
2. That it may “not return unto God void, but accomplish that which He pleases, and prosper in the thing whereto He sends it,” we must be upright.
3. All may become upright, and thereby enjoy all the blessings of the Bible. (J. Fawcit.)
My people is risen up as an enemy
Sin an antagonist
This chapter refers to the character and doings of Israel during the last nine years of Ahaz.
A very dark period in Israelitish history was this. “We are told in 2 Chronicles 28:24-25, that Ahaz shut up the doors of the temple and erected altars in every corner of Jerusalem. We may safely conclude, from the language of Micah (chap. 2) and Isaiah (chap. 11), that when he did so, abominations of every kind overran the land. A prophet like Micah was no longer permitted to speak. The testimony of Isaiah (chaps. 7, 8) had borne no fruit; the fruitlessness of invoking the aid of Assyria had taught him no better. Ahaz did not repent, like Manasseh, but persisted in his evil ways. What a melancholy course of conduct! Like Uzziah, Ahaz was denied honourable burial (2 Chronicles 28:27). The prophet here, in denouncing the sins which were then most prevalent in Judah and Ephraim, alludes expressly to the acts of oppression and violence then common, and tells them that for these they would be driven out of the land.” The verses lead us to look at sin in the aspect of an antagonist, and suggest--
I. That it is an antagonist to the Divine. “Even of late [marg., ‘yesterday’] My people has risen up as an enemy.” “It is not stated,” says Delitzsch, “against whom the people rise up as an enemy; but, according to the context, it can only be against Jehovah.” Sin is an antagonist to God; it lifts up the soul in hostility against its Maker. Unregenerated men say that they are not conscious of any enmity in their hearts towards their Maker; on the contrary, sometimes they feel a passing glow of gratitude and adoration for Him. But it is the conduct of a man that proves the settled state of his heart.
1. This enmity is most unjustifiable. Enmity sometimes admits of justification, but never in this case.
2. This enmity is most wicked. It is against reason and justice.
3. This enmity is most miserable. Enmity to God is the fountain of all the misery in the universe. The words suggest another idea concerning sin--
II. That it is an antagonist to the human. “Ye pull off the robe with the garment [marg., ‘over against the garment’] from them that pass by securely as men averse from war.” Not content with the outer garment, ye greedily rob passers-by of the ornamental robe fitting the body closely and flowing down to the feet; and this you do, not to enemies, but to friends, to those who are “averse from war.” More: “The women of My people have ye cast out from their pleasant houses.” The widows of the men slain by you in battle you have deprived of their homes. They “devoured widows’ houses.” This was not all. “From their children have ye taken away My glory for ever.” The orphan children you have despoiled. In all this there is the manifestation of sin, as an antagonist to human rights and human happiness. Sin puts man against his brother; hence the slanders, quarrels, litigations, wars that are rife in every human scene. (Homilist.)
Arise ye, and depart: for this is not your rest; because it is polluted
No rest, and the reason why
Above all lands the land of Canaan seemed most adapted for a place of rest.
And the people whom God had so wondrously led into it, appeared most likely to find a place of rest. Yet to this people, and in respect of this very country, God says, “Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest.”
I. Our territorial position. “This is not your rest.” The body is not the resting place of the spirit. It is a house of dust, a tenement of clay, and it is more like to a tent than to a substantial dwelling. While we are in the body, and while we are resident on the globe, there is very little permanent besides change. If it is true that this is not our rest, no man should try to rest in his temporal condition. And no man should suffer himself to rest. And no man should murmur when he is disturbed. No man should live unprepared for change and disturbance.
II. The echo of a voice we often hear. “Arise ye, and depart.” In events that happen, in circumstances that arise, we hear this voice. Hourly do we listen to it. Do not neglect events. See that the voice calls you not only to submit to change, but to acquiesce in it.
III. A reason for such exposure to charge. “Because it is polluted.” The body is born in sin, and is an instrument of unrighteousness, and this is the reason why the body is doomed to die. God could, if necessary, have changed the body without death. The earth has been the theatre of transgression, and it must be destroyed. Everything we touch we pollute. Nothing is really right here. Everything must be changed until everything becomes right. The removal of sin is essential to rest. We may, from Jesus Christ, find rest within. And there shall be rest in a glorious body, rest in a perfect paradise, rest in an incorruptible inheritance, and rest in the eternal God. (Samuel Martin.)
This world is not a state of happiness
This world is not and never was designed to be the place of our happiness or long abode; and it highly concerns us, whilst we are in it, to raise our hearts above it, and prepare to leave it.
I. As this world is not our rest, or the scene of our happiness, our souls should rise above it.
1. Prove the truth of this proposition. All men profess to believe this proposition, and yet look at their pursuits, views, and cares, and you would think they believed nothing less. The truth is that they do not attend to what they believe, or pursue it into its proper and practical consequences. The proposition is not the less certain for the inattention and disregard which some men pay to it, or for their practical contradiction of it. That this world is not and never was designed to be our state of rest or happiness, appears--
(1) From the certain nature and properties of all our earthly enjoyments.
(2) From the nature and circumstances of our condition in it; which is in every view a state of imperfection and trial.
(3) Setting aside all the distasteful ingredients which the many moral and natural evils of life throw into its cup of pleasures, and suppose them ever so pure and constant, yet they are by no means suited to a soul, an immortal soul, conscious of capacities which such delights can never fill, and of cravings they can never gratify. Objects of sense are ill adapted to the wants of the mind.
(4) Appeal to personal experience for a proof of the proposition before us. Did you ever taste a pleasure of earth that fully satisfied you? If this world is not our rest, we should take care not to be over fond of it. How are we to live above the world? The only way is to get our hearts fixed on heaven.
II. We must be continually endeavouring after a heavenly disposition. To have our minds habitually attempered to that blessed world. The true temper of the blessed consists of love and purity. Then let us seek that the love of God may have a prevailing influence on our hearts. The Divine image, or moral likeness to God, which consists in righteousness and true holiness, does in a degree enter into the character of all true Christians now. The more we are fit for a better world, the more we shall be out of love with this. (J. Mason, A. M.)
The soul’s exodus
This injunction does not mean either of the three following things.
1. It does not mean the termination of our mortal life. Life is a talent which we should guard.
2. It does not mean neglect of material interests and duties. We are commanded to be “diligent in business,” etc.
3. It does not mean absolute retirement from the world.
1. There is no rest for the soul in a dominant materialism. “This is not your rest.” There are four forms in which this dominant materialism exists amongst us, and in neither of which can the soul find rest.
(1) There is the gross, sensual form. The sensualist and the voluptuary live in this, but they have no rest. Ask the epicurean and the debauchee.
(2) There is the thoroughly secular form. The man who is absorbed in the work of “making money” lives here; but in it he finds no rest. Ask the man who has become the creature of business, etc.
(3) There is the intellectual form. The region of mere “fleshy wisdom”:--fleshy arts and fleshy literature;--poetry and novels that appeal to the flesh. There is no rest for the soul here. Ask Byron, Burns, Dryden, etc.
(4) There is the religious form. There is a fleshly religion amongst men:--a religion of pictures, music, pompous rites and ceremonies;--all appealing to the senses. There is no rest for the soul here. Let it “arise then and depart.” Another reason here suggested is--
2. There is pollution for the soul in it. To allow the material in any form to rule us is a sin.
(1) Reason shows this. Mind was made to govern matter--the senses were made to be the servants, not the sovereign of the soul.
(2) Conscience testifies this. Conscience is everlastingly protesting against the dominion of the flesh.
(3) The Bible declares this. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.”
3. There is danger to the soul in materialism. “It shall destroy you.” “For to be carnally minded is death.” The work of soul destruction is going on every moment; the soul decays in this state. Force of intellect, discrimination of judgment, freedom of will, sensibility of conscience, elasticity of soul, are being destroyed. “Arise,” then. The voice of philosophy, the voice of history, the voice of the Bible, and the voice of departed saints, all combine in the injunction, “Arise and depart.” (Homilist.)
Liberalism in religion
Cardinal Newman says that liberalism in religion is an error, overspreading as a snare the whole earth; it is sweeping into its own ranks great numbers of able, earnest, virtuous men, elderly men of approved antecedents, young men with a career before them. The Cardinal calls this condition of things “a great apostasy.” He thus defines “liberalism in religion.” “It is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion,--that one creed is as good as another,--that all are to be tolerated, as all are matters of opinion; that revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste.” But this condition of mind is not very widespread in England. Take each mark of this liberalism in religion, and ask, “Does it denote large numbers?”
1. The doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion. The Cardinal says, “Every dozen men you meet in the streets represent one or other of as many as seven religions.” Then, on this statement, we must conclude that seven out of twelve profess a definite religion. These seven do not hold that there is no positive truth in religion. And what may we say of the other five? They may be indifferent to religion, but they do not disbelieve it. Positivists are a very small class indeed, and even positivism has developed a religion.
2. The doctrine that “one creed is as good as another.” Are there many who hold this doctrine? Manifestly, if men choose one form of religion instead of another, it must be because they think one better than another. It is the deep feeling that a man has truer views of God to put before his fellows which gives him power to push his way through obstinate dulness or obstructive narrowness.
3. The doctrine that all creeds are to be tolerated because all are matters of opinion. That all are to be tolerated is certainly now a very widespread conviction. Yet for centuries coercion was the invariable custom, and not toleration. Why do the different Christian com munities now all approve of toleration? Is it because they think the faiths of the sects are all matters of opinion? They know that, in their own case, their faith is a matter of deep conviction; and if they do justice to their neighbours, they know that their faith is equally matter of deep conviction with them.
4. The doctrine that revealed religion is not a truth but a sentiment or taste. Who is it that professes this? It is almost confined to a single person, if indeed even he would admit it,--Mr. Matthew Arnold. If religion fundamentally is a sentiment, it is a sentiment towards something; that something is something we believe exists; we believe in that something, and that is the beginning of a creed; the sentiment postulates an object; the sentiment is love, and the great object is God. Religious liberalism does cling to positive truth, but she will away with positive lies. It does teach that though all creeds are not equally good, there is some good in all creeds, and this is a very different thing. (W. Page Roberts, M. A.)
This is not your rest
Canaan was given to Israel on condition of their faithful obedience. That obedience they had failed to render. It is allowed by commentators that these words may be properly applied to the state of men in the present world. Expand them thus--
1. This world would have been a rest had sin never entered it: but since it is polluted, there is neither contentment nor continuance here, neither solid happiness in the enjoyments it offers, nor an abiding city in any of its domains. It is no longer our permanent abode, but our passage to another country; our inn, not our home.
2. To attempt to rest in the creature after God has commanded us to give it up is sinful. To rest in a connection with unrighteous men--satisfied with a world corrupt through “divers lusts”--is still more polluted.
3. Through the selfish passions and oppressive conduct of men, through the numerous troubles which beset this vale of tears,--the pilgrim can find no rest on earth. It is a relief to think of departing to that world where “the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.”
I. This is not our home. Our life is as a “handbreadth.” Regular and rapid, like the waves of the sea, one generation sweeps off another into the gulf of oblivion. This is but the threshold of your being, and all before you is a boundless eternity.
II. The world cannot satisfy. Never were the things of the world intended to fill the human mind. In the original formation of man he received a capacity which nothing but God could fill: and though by the fall he lost his relish for God, the same capacity still remains, and all creation cannot fill it now. Many minds, broken loose from their centre, have wandered in search of rest in the creatures; but none have ever found it.
III. An attempt to rest in the creature is sinful. The first command is, “Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me.” To make a God of anything, is to set the heart supremely upon it, and to attempt to rest in it as a chief source of happiness. To love “the creature more than the Creator.” and to look to that for our chief comfort, is to idolise the creature. We may value the creature for the purposes for which it is given to us. To attempt to rest in the creature is to seek a guilty rest.
IV. No alliance can be formed with men of the world without hazard of pollution. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” A great part of the feelings, opinions, conversation, and customs of the world are opposed to the genuine spirit of the Gospel.
V. No rest can be found in a world full of injustice and oppression. The collisions of selfish passions keep the world in a flame, and drench it in blood.
VI. No rest can be found in a world inundated with the floods of affliction. Ever since sin entered, this world has been a vale of tears, a house of correction, to break stubborn spirits to submission, to drive wayward children to obedience by the rod, to humble the proud, and to discover God’s severity against sin. Why then should we wish to continue here? (E. D. Griffin, D. D.)
The prophecy of Micah stands conspicuous for the bright anticipations it gives of Messiah’s days. It is to the desolation of the ten tribes add their scattering among the nations that the text refers.
I. A truth which we are all very reluctant to admit. “This is not your rest.” A just estimate of human life is a very rare thing, and seldom attained but at the price of painful experience.
1. It was never designed to be our rest. We are not forbidden to seek happiness; we are only forbidden seeking it in the wrong direction. The grand mistake of human nature is to suppose that there is some other good, some higher path to happiness than that which God has made coincident with human duty. God has given us on earth every requisite for our pilgrimage, but nothing adequate to our home. Things on earth are too poor to make us rich; too low to raise us to happiness; too limited and shortlived to fill the capacities of our nobler nature. Life, there fore, is a scene of progress towards something better.
2. It is never found to be our rest in actual experience. At our very best estate the world is altogether vanity. All experience tells us, “This is not your rest.” Every broken hope, every unsatisfied desire, every withered rose, every opened grave, says, “This is not your rest.”
3. Our religion tells us that this is not our rest, for it is polluted.
II. A change for which we are most reluctant to prepare.
1. Our love of life induces us to linger. Like Lot’s wife in Sodom. Trials, disappointments, bereavements, and the heaviest personal afflictions, instead of teaching us to take wing, by a perverse alternative seem to root us faster to the soil.
2. Our fears of death induce us to linger. We aim to put the subject far from us. Because the future is dreadful, and the realm unknown.
3. Our neglect of the great salvation heightens our reluctance.
III. It is a command which it is our interest to obey. Because the command comes from One who is the Lord of both worlds, and who has the highest interest in our welfare. He knows us better than we know ourselves, as He loves us better too. He knows how poor is this world, and how rich is the next. (Homiletic magazine.)
The true resting place
The land of Canaan is here spoken of as a land not designed for the rest of the people that dwelt in it. Apparently, if any land was properly designated a “land of rest” Canaan was. It is evident that the land had been defiled, polluted by the people, by their idolatries, and by their rebellion against the Most High; and therefore it could no longer be their rest. We may apply the text to ourselves in regard to our own land. Life upon this earth cannot be regarded as man’s rest or resting place.
1. Because man’s life on it is brief and short. Scripture images are--fleeting as a shadow; vanishing as the vapour; unsettled and shifting as a pilgrimage; swifter than the transit of a weaver’s shuttle, or the arrow that is directed to its mark; transient as a tale that is told, as a dream when one awaketh. To the young, entering upon life, it presents an interminable vista--something in their eye like a little eternity that will hardly ever be passed; and before they have time to realise it, the frost of age is upon their heads, and they count the graves of the companions of their youth.
2. Because even that short life is so changing. External circumstances and relationships are ever changing.
3. Look at the images by which life is repre sented, and we come to the same conclusion. A pilgrimage, a journey, a warfare, a voyage.
4. Look at man’s pursuits, what do they bring? Do they satisfy the wants and cravings of man’s immortal soul? One man’s pursuit is wealth; another man is bent on enjoying life. Another man’s desire is fame. Where then shall rest be found? There can be no consistency between sin and real rest or happiness. The text says the land was polluted, therefore it was not a place of rest. There can be no rest--true, real, abiding rest--except that which is found in God, its only source. (Joseph Bardsley, M. A.)
In deep anger Amos intimated that the Lord would command Israel to arise and go forth into a land of captivity; their own land should no longer be their rest and quiet habitation, for they had polluted it by their idolatry, excess, and iniquity. He would bring upon them enemies who should be His instruments for removing them from their then quiet habitation. Canaan is, when spiritually applied to the condition of the children of God, a very apt type of the heavenly country; and the rest which the children of Israel therein enjoyed, is a type of that “rest which remaineth for the people of God.” Regard then the text as addressed to every one of us in reference to our present condition in this fallen world, and our future condition in the kingdom of glory.
I. The meaning of rest. By rest we understand cessation from labour, accompanied with peace, quiet, ease, and everything that can mark and constitute comfort, happiness, security. When in a state of rest we do not expect to be troubled with the ordinary perplexities of life. To enjoy rest is to enjoy quietness, security, ease, and peace.
II. The certainty of not finding rest here. How stands the case with us in this world, fallen, and shattered, and disorganised as it is, beautiful though it be in its very ruins? Can we be said to find substantial, solid rest in this world? Has the world no disappointments to meet our best laid schemes? Nothing here is certain. And should worldly possessions and worldly enjoyments remain undisturbed, yet to the man who sets his heart on them, and wishes to be satisfied with them, there is one evil ever near and calculated to mar his enjoyment, and that is the fear of death, which is to such an one a monster evil, which he can find no means of averting.
III. The promise of rest to the people of God. The rest is complete and substantial; it is rest from sin. The departed saint is at once removed from the influence of sin and the power of Satan; nothing can then disturb his tranquillity; no counteracting agency can then affect him; he is in God’s keeping, he is safe and safe forever. This rest the redeemed soul is capable of enjoying.
IV. The way in which this rest is to be obtained. The Israelites had one leader given to them to lead them into the land of Canaan. A Joshua has been given to us. He leads those who will submit to His guidance into the heavenly rest prepared for the people of God. To effect this He condescended to take our nature upon Him, and to become man. As such He went in and out among His creatures; and after a life of self-denial and active benevolence, died upon the Cross to make atonement for man’s sin. The door to this rest has been thrown wide open by Him. (T. R. Redwar, M. A.)
This world not our rest
Human beings seem universally characterised by a spirit of restlessness. This spirit, existing either as an obvious passion or as a smothered feeling, is inseparably connected with our fallen state, and though very liable to abuse, is yet very capable of producing excellent effects. It excites a propensity to look forward, and to go forward. Hence, the soul refuses to settle into inactivity, and is ever pressing on to the attainment of some future good, real or imaginary. It is very desirable, then, that this restlessness should always be excited by a right cause, and always urge us forward to a right end.
I. Why we never can have our rest in this world.
1. Because our continuance on earth is short and uncertain. “What is our life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”
2. Even while life lasts it is full of trouble--it has many changes, labours, disappointments, and sorrows. To what changes are we exposed here below! This is not a place of rest but of labour. Think, too, of the disappointments and reverses of life. In view of these various forms of bodily distress, how foolish it appears to look on this state as a state of rest! Can it be said that though we are exposed to trouble ourselves, we may find rest in our friends? But though it is our duty to love them, and to be grateful to them, we shall suffer for it severely if we idolise them as the authors of our happiness, or look to them as our ultimate resource. Instead of finding rest in them, we may suffer doubly in sympathising with them, and the time is coming when we must part.
3. Though our whole life were steady, prosperous, honourable, and pious in the highest degree, still it would not be a satisfying portion to the soul. Some seem to be, almost through life, free from trouble. But we cannot be sure of this. “Each heart knoweth its own bitterness.” And when there are no real troubles men are sure to find imaginary ones. And he who lives many days, and rejoices in them all, yet fears at times that the days of darkness will be many. To be altogether at rest we must be sure that our rest will never be disturbed. Nor can the continuance of positive prosperity and ever-increasing wealth satisfy the mind. Equally unsuccessful is the pursuit of mental tranquillity in scenes of frivolity and mirth. Nor is the more rational pursuit of human knowledge found to secure rest to the soul. As speculation and theory cannot satisfy the mind, so neither can great works, in their undertaking, progress, or accomplishment. It is necessary to add that even the people of God, however spiritually-minded and however advanced in the Divine life, cannot find rest here. However happy they may be, they are still subject to some uneasiness; however calm they may feel, their quiet is sometimes disturbed.
4. We never can have our rest in this world because of the prevalence of sin, because “it is polluted.” By an unalterable decree of heaven, sin is inconsistent with happiness. As this is a world of rebellion, it cannot be a world of peace. How can they whose minds have been enlightened to see the evil of sin, and in whom its power is in a great measure broken, be at rest while living in such a world as this?
II. Address to you the exhortation, “Arise ye, and depart.”
1. Arise and depart in the spirit of your minds. Depart from the idea that the world can give you rest. From all trust in others. But the mind must have something whereon to rest. Without some prop it would sink down into utter despondency. Arise and depart and seek rest directly from God in Christ. Set your hearts on heaven. So depart in the spirit of your minds as to be willing to depart literally from this life, whenever God shall call you. Cultivate that spirit of faith and hope which, when death is comparatively at a distance, will sometimes fill you with a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better.
2. Arise and depart in the tenor of your conduct. Depart from all such pursuits as interfere with the concerns of eternity. Cease from excessive eagerness in the pursuit of worldly gain. Be found at last actively engaged as becomes those who profess that this is not their rest.
III. Address three different classes of persons.
1. Congratulate those who have ceased to seek their rest in the world--who have arisen and gone to God through Jesus Christ for rest. Recollect that you are only on the way to perfect happiness. Endure, without murmuring, the hardships of the way.
2. Speak to those who are still seeking rest on earth. Boast not of your happiness. The outward appearance is not always the genuine index of the heart.
3. Address those who have lost their former rest and have not found another. We would not have you look again to the world for rest. We would not have you remain where you are. Why not proceed another step and lay hold of those consolations that never fail? In order to this, it is necessary that you do indeed receive the Gospel, and positively join the company of pilgrims. If you would be happy, be decided. Yield yourself up, without reserve, to the Lord Jesus Christ, and He has pledged His Word that He will give you rest. (James Foote, A. M.)
No rest here
This was the drum beat of a prophet who wanted to arouse his people from their oppressed and sinful condition; but it may just as properly be uttered now as then. Our great want is rest. God did not make this world to rest in. This world would be a very different world if it were intended for us to lounge in. It does right well for a few hours. You and I have seen men who tried to rest here. In trade. In seeking fame. If there is no rest on earth there is rest in heaven--perfect rest, unending rest. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
The economy of renewal
The arising and the departure, as the passage stands, referred to a visible residence; there was to be a literal change of place. But even there the act was required as part of a religious discipline and for a Divine purpose. The national condition that made such a migration necessary was one incident in a peculiar providential history. The outward removal was the result of an inward state,--a state of moral deterioration and danger. Domestic comfort must be abandoned for the sake of the spiritual safety, purity, and progress of a corrupt, imperilled people. The call is made in the name and by the Spirit of the Lord God. There is no violence in transferring it from a Hebrew to a Christian age. The need that a self-absorbed heart should bestir itself and arise--should go forth and follow God’s call, should be moulded into a new form and born into a new life, through separation, travail, and sacrifice, is as independent of the differences of time and country as any attribute of humanity. Indeed, this permanence of the essential realities of life through all social changes, wherever a human soul lives, sins and suffers, furnishes the starting point in this subject.
1. The true growth of every really progressive character is made through a succession of decided departures out of positions, habits, estates of thought and feeling, which have once been familiar, into untried territories. There is the passage from the com paratively irresponsible, and dependent period of early childhood, into the greater self-determination of youth. Within the safe enclosures of a guarded external innocence the moral purposes will not stay any longer. They would not be fulfilling the Creator s design if they did. That is not their rest; they must arise and depart. Youth must see its visions, dream its dreams, and taste its awful liberty. Again, later, there is a transition from youth into maturity. The dream is broken. That graceful, airy tent which the uncommitted thought reared for itself at will is dissolved. A more real habitation, of severer shape, supplants it. Or rather, it is now a field of outdoor service. Chilly as the future looks, the least enterprising must go to meet it. In some vague, indefinite way this decree of departure makes itself felt in all thoughtful souls. Beyond these early and successive departures, from one period of our age to another, there are a great variety of other changes, having the same general purpose and illustrating the same plan of God. Sometimes the dissolution of our former order of life is made unavoidable by conditions beyond our control. A particular line of employment is found to have furnished all of opportunity, or stimulus, or trial, that the great former of our characters intended, and it is broken off. A particular place of residence has exhausted all its helps and ministries upon us: and we must take up the little parcels that we call our goods, and go to be schooled in some new neighbourhood, etc. In other cases, with less visible signals, but not less effectually, we are moved out of our moral and mental habitations. So long as we are in them nothing seems more fixed than our opinions, tastes, and estimates. But they may become too fixed. Estimates of men and things stiffen into prejudices. And hence by one process and another we are led to give many of them up, or to modify them. Events are ordered to that end.
2. These turns of the inner life will often be painful, demanding something more than a natural, or Stoic courage. Religious indifference wishes only to be let alone. But no. Pain comes. The insensible heart must be startled. The earthly and the Divine fight together within us, and we suffer under the conflict. Sometimes this separation from familiar evil is a struggle as between life and death, shaking the whole soul, and tearing its shrinking quick in torture. And yet, such is the power of the conviction of the spirit of truth when humility has once begun its holy and honest work within us, how many even go out to meet that saving sorrow! Blessed is the mind that springs with alacrity and thanksgiving to its better ministry!
3. All true souls, really touched with the Spirit and consecrated to the fellowship of Christian obedience, will be ready for this sacrifice. Not all equally. This, in fact, is the test of the sincerity of faith: the willingness to give up all that has been precious, but not holy, and launch out upon the future, trusting only to an unseen hand. So, through familiar analogies, we are led to see how the sacred provision is made, in our fallen but still aspiring nature, for that one only radical and complete transformation which changes the governing motive of life,--the “regeneration” of the Gospel. It has been said that no period of our life becomes quite intelligible to us till we quit it for the next. And there is certainly truth here. But retrospect is not all our outlook: Our best wisdom is not gained from what is behind us, but from what is above. When the heart is really made new, and is filled with all the holy life of its Lord, it matters nothing what the outward place or scenery may be. To this, then, we are brought, that there is one migration of the soul more complete and adventurous than all besides: that which takes it over from every kind of self-direction into a pure self-renunciation to the Spirit of God; one “going forth” more decisive and sublime than all journeys and discoveries--from the miserable effort to satisfy ourselves into the liberty of the sons of God; one central and all transforming change--that which refashions us, by a new principle of life, from the likeness of sinful men into the likeness of God’s Son. All other transitions touch us at certain points or parts of our nature: this transfuses another spirit through the whole; old things pass away, because the old evil is gone, and all things are new. (F. D. Huntington, D. D.)
A resting place for the soul
Years ago there came to the late Canon Hoare, of Tunbridge Wells, a rich man, then in his old age, to arrange with him about his burial place, and after they had gone carefully over the churchyard, and had chosen the spot where he was to lie, Canon Hoare turned to him and said: “You have chosen a resting place for your body, but have you yet found a resting place for your soul?” Turning round, and looking him full in the face, the old man answered: “You are the first clergyman who ever asked me that question.” He went with Canon Hoare into his study, and, to make a long story short, he gave his heart to Christ, and found his resting place, and in Canon Hoare’s study to the day of his death a well-known picture representing the saving of a life from a wreck hung. It was the gift of the grateful man, who had found a resting place not only for his body but for his soul. Ask yourself the question now, before you turn to another page: “Have I found a resting place for my soul?”
If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie,.. .he shall even be the prophet of this people
Israel’s popular preacher
This is Micah’s idea of the kind of prophet (or, as we should say, pulpit) the men of Israel would willingly and unanimously accept.
The sketch is marked by two things which always tend to make a preacher generally acceptable to thoughtless men in every age.
I. By emptiness of mind. He has nothing in his mind but wind, vain conceits, vapid notions--no deep thought, no rich store of information, no well-digested belief or profound conviction.
II. By ministering to please. “I will prophesy unto thee of wine and of strong drink.” These prophets would accommodate themselves to their tastes and habits, and sanction their indulgences. They would not disturb their consciences nor strike against their prejudices, but talk to them in such a way as to leave them satisfied with themselves. (Homilist.)
I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee
The prophet here passes from threats to promises.
The future was to embrace two things.
1. A grand gathering. Jacob and the remnant of Israel was to be ‘gathered’ as a mighty flock in the fruitful and lovely region of Bozrah.
2. A triumphant deliverance. “The breaker is come up before them.” Who is the breaker? If reference is here made to Jewish bonds, it was to Moses; if to Babylonish captivity, it was to Cyrus; if to the bondage of the devil, it was Christ. We shall apply the words to illustrate the grand work of the Gospel. “The fulfilment of this prophecy,” says Delitzsch, “commenced with the gathering together of Israel to its God and King by the preaching of the Gospel, and will be completed at some future time, when the Lord will redeem Israel, which is now pining in dispersion, out of the fetters of its unbelief and life of sin. We must not exclude all allusion to the deliverance of the Jewish nation only out of the earthly Babylon by Cyrus; at the same time, it is only in its typical significance that this comes into consideration at all, namely, as a preliminary stage and pledge of the redemption to be effected by Christ out of the spiritual Babylon of this world.” Taking the words, then, as an illustration of Gospel work, two thoughts are suggested.
I. Unification. “I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah.” Men are morally divided; there is a schism in the great body of humanity. Men have not only lost interest in their fellows, but an antipathy prevails amongst them. They are scattered abroad in different countries, under different governments, and in connection with different religions and interests. The great work of the Gospel is to bring men together, to gather them together in some moral Bozrah, to unite them in the fold of Christ. There is only one way, and that is the presentation of an object of supreme moral attraction to all men. That object the Gospel presents: it is Christ. And He Himself said: “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” As a mater of philosophy, I proclaim that there is nothing but the Gospel that can hush the discords, heal the divisions, and terminate all wars and strifes amongst men; and historically.
II. Emancipation. “The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up and passed through the gate.” Men everywhere are in moral bondage. They are the slaves of sin and the devil. “Carnally sold unto sin.” Moral bondage is the worst of all bondage; it is a bondage--
(1) Connected with self-compunction; it is a bondage
(2) Of the soul, the self; it is a bondage
(3) That death cannot terminate.
Who shall free us from this bondage? There is One, and but One, who can. Christ, the Breaker. (Homilist.)
The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have passed through the gate, and are gone out by it
Christ, as the Breaker, opening all passes to glory that were impassable
It is agreed not only by Christian, but even by some Jewish interpreters, that these words have a principal and ultimate view unto the glorious Messiah, and the great work of salvation that lie was to accomplish in the fulness of time.
The prophet here prophesies that Christ should rid the way, and clear the passage, and make mountains as a plain.
I. The way of the Lord’s ransomed opened up by the great Redeemer. “The breaker is come up before them.”
1. The designation given to the glorious Messiah. “The breaker.” Cyrus was an instrument in the hand of God for breaking the Babylonish yoke. Herein he was a type of Christ, by whom the yoke of our spiritual captivity under sin and Satan is broken.
2. We have the courageous appearance of the glorious Redeemer in His breaking work. He “comes up,” He appears upon the field with an undaunted and heroic courage.
3. The party that He heads, or those in whose quarrel this Breaker appears. Enquire upon what account Christ is called the Breaker.
(1) In general, because of the great opposition He had to break through.
(2) He breaks up a new and living way, by which we have access to God and glory.
(3) He breaks through the storms of Divine wrath, the rage of men and devils, in order to accomplish our redemption.
(4) In a day of power He breaks the enmity of our hearts against Him.
(5) Those who will not bow unto His royal authority He breaks in pieces.
6. He may be called a Breaker because of the breaking trials He brings on His own people, and the judgments and calamities that He brings on an offending Church or nation.
II. The upcoming of Christ as the Breaker. Understand of His coming up to avenge the quarrel of His children and people. Like a mighty champion He takes the field. Tell of some seasonable upcomings.
1. He appeared in our quarrel in the council of peace.
2. He came seasonably immediately after the fall of man.
3. Really and personally in His incarnation.
4. In the power of His Spirit in the dispensation of the Gospel.
5. In the outward dispensation of His providence.
6. When He revives His own work in a backsliding land and church.
7. In every display of His grace and love to a particular believer; when He seasonably interposes for the relief of a poor soul sinking under the burden of sin, temptation, affliction, and desertion.
8. At death.
Question--In what manner doth He Come up in our quarrel, to the help of the weak against the mighty?
1. All His appearances for the help and relief of His people have been well-timed.
2. He comes up solitarily. He alone comes up. It is His own arm brings salvation.
3. With the greatest alacrity and cheerfulness.
4. Speedily, with no lingering or tarrying.
7. His coming to His breaking work is irresistible. And--
8. It is with much awful greatness and majesty.
III. What is implied in His “coming up before them”?
1. It imports that He has them and their case deeply at heart.
2. It implies that their way is hard and difficult.
3. It implies His authority to rule and govern them.
4. It implies strength and ability to support authority.
5. It implies their inability to break up their own way.
6. As the Breaker is gone up before them, it implies that He has paved the road, and travelled the way before them. He goes before His people in obedience, in suffering, in going through death into glory.
7. It implies His routing and discomfiting all the enemies that stood in the way of our salvation: Satan, sin, the world, death.
8. It implies that the way to heaven is patent.
9. It implies that, whatever dangers, difficulties, or opposition be in their way, they are in absolute safety under His conduct.
IV. The grounds and reasons of this dispensation, or why doth Christ break up the way to His people?
1. Because they were gifted to Him of the Father, as a heritage and possession.
2. Because they are the purchase of His blood.
3. Because His faithfulness is engaged to lead them in their way.
4. Because He has to give an account of them to the Father.
5. Because they cannot break up their own way.
6. Because they trust in Him as Leader and Commander.
7. Because of the near and dear relation that He has come under unto them. (E. Erskine.)
Micah lived near the time of the Babylonish Captivity. It is a prominent subject in the prophetic writings. Resembling, as it did, the spiritual captivity of God’s people, it is made the groundwork of many glorious predictions relating to the Lord Jesus Christ and His salvation. In this light commentators regard the prediction of the text. It has a reference to the captive Jews, and their liberator Cyrus; but it looks further. In Christ and His ransomed people it has its real, complete fulfilment. It sets forth the Lord Jesus--
I. As interposing for His people in a peculiar character. “The breaker.” The demolisher. One who beats down before them all barriers and impediments that obstruct their way. The figure places us where we really are, far off from God and His kingdom, with many obstructions lying in between God’s kingdom and us; with more than distance to be got over--with barriers and obstacles to be surmounted. What are these? Some of them lie out of us, some within us. Out of us is--
1. The judicial displeasure of God. It is our guilt which has subjected us to His wrath.
2. The opposition of Satan. By Satan is meant, not one being, but a numerous host of beings in the spiritual world opposed to our happiness. Through this difficulty Christ breaks. Not, as we might have supposed, by exterminating these enemies of our salvation, scattering them out of our path; but in first making His own way to heaven in man’s form through them, and then by communicating strength to His people to do as He has done--withstand these enemies, force their way through them, and tread them down. Within His people, what is there to impede them in their way to heaven? We may say that everything within them is an impediment to them in their way. There is nothing within fallen man, naturally, that does not tend to carry him away from God, rather than to lead him to God.
1. The natural self-sufficiency and pride of heart, which we may call self-righteousness. But Christ comes, and touches the proud heart of man, and this barrier in it falls down.
2. There is the unGodliness of the heart. Almost as stiff a barrier in the way of our salvation as its pride. Here too the heavenly Breaker comes in. He opens the sinner’s heart, communicates to it a holy principle; and this principle, warring against the unholiness in him, gradually breaks its strength, masters and dethrones it.
3. The unbelief of our hearts. This leads to hesitation and delay, under one excuse after another.
II. The escape of God’s Israel in consequence of Christ’s interposition for them. Two remarks.
1. A great change has taken place in the spiritual condition of Christ’s people, in consequence of what He has done for them.
2. The people really delivered by Christ cooperate with Him in their deliverance. You must be warned against imagining that you have one particle of spiritual ability or strength of your own. But you must be warned as earnestly against taking up with what may be termed a passive religion.
III. The high privilege of these escaped liberated men after their escape. “Their king shall pass before them, and the Lord on the head of them.” This is more than saying we shall have the Lord for us, we shall have Him with us. It indicates not merely the presence, but the near presence of the Lord. It may be a figure taken from the cloudy Pillar hanging over Israel, overshadowing them. It is an assurance at once of discipline and of safety on our way to heaven. (Charles Bradley, M. A.)
Names appropriate to the offices which He was afterwards to fill were bestowed upon the promised Messiah. This is one of them. The name answers to what we call a “pioneer,” one who clears the way before an army in its march.
1. It is appropriate to the Lord Jesus, because it was through His agency alone that the power of sin was broken. Our redeemed broke the strength of the law, by obeying its rigid requirements in our stead.
2. This title marks the character and office of the Messiah when, by His death, the destruction between Jews and Gentiles was forever removed.
3. The title is appropriate, since by His death Christ destroyed death, and by His triumphant resurrection He has given an earnest of what He will one day accomplish for all who fall asleep in Him.
4. Appropriate also when we notice the steady inroads which His kingdom has made upon the widespread dominions of the Prince of Darkness. In vain does infidelity attempt to account for the improvement in morality and refinement by attributing them to the advance of civilisation alone. Stubborn facts, drawn from the history of nations, contradict the assertion. Civilisation, unless animated and directed by the religion of Christ, has uniformly corrupted and deteriorated public morals. We must look to a higher source than the wisdom or ingenuity or strength of man for the agency which has vanquished the powers of darkness, and redeemed the world from bondage; and we need not look for it in vain. (John N. Norton, D. D.)
I. In what respects may Jesus Christ be called a Breaker? Because of the great opposition He had to break through in the work of our redemption. Because He breaks up a new and living way, by which we may have access to God and glory. Because He breaks the enmity of our hearts against Him. Because of the breaking judgments He brings on the world, and the breaking trials on His people.
II. In what respects may He be said to “come up”? When our first parents sinned, He came up in the promise. He came up really and personally in the incarnation, etc. In the chariots of a preached Gospel. In every display of His grace and love to such as believe.
III. What may be implied in His coming up before them? He comes before them as a Shepherd, as a General, as a King. It imports that the way to heaven is patent.
IV. The escape of the ransomed by this way. They have broken up, etc., out of darkness into light, out of bond age into liberty. They have passed through the law gate of conviction, and the gospel-gate of conversion. (T. Hannam.)
The Lord Jesus as the Leader of His people
I. The Lord Jesus in the character of a Breaker. By breaker understand one who burst through all obstacles.
1. What are the difficulties to be broken through?
2. Jesus, as the Breaker, has burst through every difficulty.
II. His people following in His steps. Allusion is to the entrance of a victorious captain, with his troops following. Every act of Christ was done for His Church. How great will be the final glory of the Saviour! How blessed is the lot of the people of God! How awful it must be to be a stranger to Christ. (J. G. Breay, B. A.)
The matchless beauty of Jesus
Apply the words to the spiritual and eternal salvation of the Israel of God. Consider--
I. The captivity, implied in the promise of deliverance. The people are described as sheep, but their salvation is spoken of in language which implies they are captives, and such captives that no other than the Lord Jehovah can effect their freedom. It is a captivity to sin. It is a willing captivity. They have sold themselves.
II. Their glorious redemption. Who is it that undertakes their cause, and as their Redeemer is mighty to set them free?
III. The making effectual of the redemption thus obtained in the release and liberty of the captives. They break through their unbelief; they break through the barriers of sin, guilt, and death, and lay hold on eternal life. They break, also, from their sins, from the world, from its ungodly ways, and from whatever would withstand them in their following their glorious Lord and King, who goes before them, and whom they obey as their Leader and Commander. A threefold application.
1. Warning to such as go on still in their trespasses.
2. Encouragement to all that are sensible of their sins, and concerned about their souls.
3. Comfort for all such as are following after the Lord. (J. T. Parker, M. A.)
Christ the Breaker
I. The great work of our Divine Redeemer, by which He has broken for the captives the prison house of their bondage. Many of us know not the bondage in which we are held. We are chained by sin, chained by the habit of evil with a strength of which you never know till you try to shake off.
II. Jesus Christ as the Opener, and the Path, to God. Our condition is not only one of bondage to evil, but also one of separation from God. We do not know God as He is, except by Jesus Christ. It is only the God manifest in Jesus Christ that draws men’s hearts to Him. That God that is in Christ is the only God that humanity ever loved. He, by the fact of His Cross and Passion, has borne and borne away the impediments of our own sin and transgression which rise forever between us and Him, unless He shall sweep them out of the way.
III. Christ is the Breaker as the Captain of our life’s march. “When He putteth forth His sheep, He goeth before them.”
IV. He is the Breaker for us of the bands of death. Christ’s resurrection is the only solid proof of a future life. It is not possible that we should be holden of the impotent chains that He has broken. (A. Maclaren, D. D.).