The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
It came to pass after this also, that the children of Moab, and the children of Ammon, and with them other beside the Ammonites, came against Jehoshaphat to battle.Whose Is the Battle?
2 Chronicles 20
JEHOSHAPHAT, the fourth king of Judah, was a man of high religious character, of much zeal in the right way, and of true and noble instinct in all political and religious controversy. Yet there was in his character a remarkably weak side; this man, like many others, had a vulnerable heel. There was in him what is exceedingly interesting and precious in personal character and social intercourse, but what is not always in such good place in a king or public man—a strong vein of amiability. Amiability may lead to many and grievous faults. Under certain circumstances the king of Judah was too easily persuaded. When he fell into the hands of the impious and crafty Ahab, who occupied the rival throne of Israel, he too readily succumbed to his seductive power. Jehoshaphat fell a good deal into the hands of Ahab, and it was probably not unnatural, when it is considered that Jehoshaphat's eldest son married Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab. So the tenderest bonds of society may harden into the chains of the worst slavery. Having been schooled by Ahab, Jehoshaphat joined his successor Ahaziah, who also did, according to the history, very wickedly. Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah went into a ship-building partnership, which ended disastrously, the ships being all broken and never able to reach Tarshish. Jehoshaphat then joined Joram, the next king of Israel, in an expedition against Moab, and then there opens a most tragic and exciting history. The war exasperated the Moabites, and impelled them to retaliate upon a great scale. Their kinsmen, the Ammonites, the Syrians, and the Edomites, combined in one tremendous offensive alliance, and, entering Judah, openly defied Jehoshaphat its king.
All this hostility of the Moabites developed to the full the deeply religious nature of Jehoshaphat. He feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. The towns of Judah hastened to Jerusalem; the whole nation became as the heart of one man. When the concourse assembled, under circumstances so touching, so terrible, Jehoshaphat the king stood in the midst of his people in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and offered the following sublime appeal to heaven:—
"O Lord God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee? Art not thou our God, who didst drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and gavest it to the seed of Abraham thy friend [Historically, this is the first use of this remarkable expression, which is repeated by Isaiah (Isaiah 41:8.) and St. James (James 2:23)] for ever [see Genesis 13:15; Genesis 17:8, etc.]? And they dwelt therein, and have built thee a sanctuary therein for thy name, saying, If, when evil cometh upon us, as the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we stand before this house, and in thy presence (for thy name is in this house), and cry unto thee in our affliction, then thou wilt hear and help. And now, behold, the children of Ammon and Moab and mount Seir, whom thou wouldest not let Israel invade, when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them, and destroyed them not; behold, I say, how they reward us, to come to cast us out of thy possession which thou hast given us to inherit. O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us, neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee" (2Chronicles 20:6-12).
A king's prayer for his people in the time of national disaster. There was one spokesman, but he pleaded for the whole nation. All Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives and their children. It was a nation in extremity; yet in the crisis of its peril, it showed the sublimity of childlike trust in the merciful and Almighty God of heaven.
After Jehoshaphat had concluded his prayer, a strange scene occurred. There fell upon one man in the company of Jehoshaphat the Spirit of the Lord, and instantly, with a voice like the trump of God, he said:
"Be not afraid [These were words familiar to the people, and connected with several great deliverances (Deuteronomy 1:21; Joshua 1:9, etc.,)] nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God's.... Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord [The prophet used words almost identical with those which Moses had addressed to the Israelites on the shores of the Red Sea immediately before the destruction of Pharaoh's host (Exodus 14:13), thus indicating that the deliverance would now, as then, be wholly from God] (2Chronicles 20:15, 2Chronicles 20:17).
There can be no doubt that this shows to men, in the most graphic and impressive form, the value of the religious element in national affairs. We have a common saying, much lauded, "Trust in God, and keep your powder dry." That saying is not entirely without foundation in common sense; it comprehends a large amount of prudence. No doubt that, as used by certain men, it is a very sensible thing to say. At the same time, it is not in the mouth of every man so admirable an injunction after all. It will not bear (as used by the men now specially referred to) examination in the light of an incident like this. If we trusted God more we should give him greater scope for intervention. We have taken everything upon ourselves. We have mounted a gun wherever we could; we have worked with the desperation of atheists. Many a time, indeed, we have asked God to bless our arms; but when did we ask him to bless our simple, childlike, holy trust? It is perfectly possible for a saying like the popular expression which has just been quoted, to be used as the expression of a sneer. It is very possible for the expression also to cover a latent atheism. We are not so fanatical as to deny the use of means, and we would resent the charge of seeking peace at any price, and succumbing to overwhelming circumstances. But we do hold this, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, that if we gave God more scope, he might more obviously interpose in our national affairs. Of one place it was said, "He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief."
If we take our own affairs upon our own shoulders, work like atheists, and if only when we are in extremity, begin to pray, we cannot wonder that God should allow us oftentimes to be smitten with our own weapons, and to feel how poor a thing it is to depend entirely upon our own sagacity and power. Here we have Judah in obvious peril; we have the king standing in the holy place, invoking the presence and care of God. What does God do under such circumstances? He set the men who had come to fight Judah one against another.
"And when they [the people of Jehoshaphat] began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah, and they were smitten. For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir utterly to slay and destroy them, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another" (2Chronicles 20:22-23).
[Upon this passage Canon Barry, in Ellicott's Old Testament Commentary, remarks:—The marvellous result, marvellously predicted, was brought to pass by a perfectly natural sequence of events, just as was Elisha's prophecy of plenty to famine-stricken Samaria, though at the time when it was uttered fulfilment seemed impossible, unless the Lord were to "make windows in heaven" and pour down supplies from thence by a visible miracle. In neither case was the course of events foreseen by the prophet, but only their issue. (See 2 Kings 7)]
God turned the armies one upon another—turned them against themselves—and the army that came out to fight Jehoshaphat committed suicide. God hath many ways at his disposal of which we know nothing. We look at the things that are seen and temporal; we make calculations; we depend upon things that are visible and substantial; we eliminate the spiritual element and supernatural consideration, and it is possible to be atheists in practice whilst we are religious in mere sentiment. God can touch the reason of men; God can touch the eyes of men, so that a man shall mistake his brother for an enemy; God can send a blight upon this tremendous host—and these great, wonderful, mighty, boastful, and tremendous powers may be withered like the grass under the touch of the Almighty. Very possibly some nations do require nothing short of the physical sword. Very likely nothing else would meet their case—they must have social humiliation. Let us admit all that, and still it remains true, that they who have God as their captain, have victory as the sure result.
"The battle is not yours, but God's." Let us remember that, through all the strife, and contention, and unrest, and apprehension, which falls to every lot. It rebukes our selfishness; it humbles our powers; it shows us that patience and trust are better than edged weapons and engines of destruction.
In the training of our highest life we want principles as well as detailed laws. A law may apply to a particular point. Law may be merely local and temporary. In addition to laws which relate to the details of life, and which are exceedingly admirable for daily use and reference, we want great principles which encompass all time, touch all circumstances, which never vary in their value, and which are always certain in their application. We do not deny that a man may be clever, sagacious, inventive, full of resources as respects daily difficulties and daily trials, without having any deep religious life. But such men, as it were, may be all the while living from hand to mouth. Having no fontal spring, nor any sure place from which they can draw water all the year round, whatever may be their conditions and schemes, they are simply shrewd, sagacious men. Full of maxims, proverbs, and precepts, they want the solidity, the grasp, the grander light and mystery of love, which can only be given to men in proportion as they lay hold of great religious principles, which do not change according to policies or situation or climate or conditions or circumstances of any kind, but which go right through to the end of a man's life, and which rejoin him in eternity as surely as they ever came unto him. Now this is the one principle referred to. The battle of life is not yours, but God's. God is far more concerned about us than we can be about ourselves. We make a great deal of fuss about our position. We make all the noise, but he does all the work. We make tumult and demonstration, and show great anxiety and great distraction, and, after all, our Father which is in heaven, and who is looking down upon our daily strife, is really more concerned in our highest welfare than we can be ourselves. We see portions of things. We see edges of life. We mistake the fraction for the whole number; we mistake the decimal for the integer. He sees the whole circle of relations, proportions, and bearings of the inward parts of our life; and when we think him least careful to us, he may at that very moment be preparing for us, for our enjoyment and strength, some of his richest and best gifts.
In the culture of our highest life we must regard extremity as one phase of divine discipline. Jehoshaphat was driven into a corner. Me said openly in the hearing of his people, "We have no might against this great host." We have no resources of our own in this critical, terrible emergency, but "our eyes are upon thee." And have we not reason to be thankful for the extremities into which we have been driven? So long as we had one single inch on which we could stand, we have been self-reliant, boastful, and almost atheistically hopeful. So long as we have had one hair's breadth that we could call our own, we have said, Even yet we may work this thing out and right the mystery ourselves; and it was not until that hair's breadth was taken away from us and we were altogether in extremity that we began to feel how terrible a thing it would be if there were no God in the heavens, and if no Father's heart were brooding over the earth. It was when business became imperilled, impoverished, we began to cry out for the living God. It was when physicians had given us up, and our best friends had bidden us adieu, that we began to think whether there was not, after all, some secret in religion we had not yet known, and some safety in piety of which we had been up to that time heedless. And so in many relations of life we have found in extremity what we never found in prosperity, and our weakness has become our strength. And in the consolidation of our highest life we must remember that repose, not strife, is the last result of piety. We want most succour when we are most effusive. We are only half-trained and probably ill-trained men, so long as we show the signs of anxiety, fear, suspicion, apprehension about the future. Repose, quietness, is the last phase of the highest life. Rest is the ultimate condition of motion. If the earth were to go one mile less in a thousand years she would stagger in her course: her velocity is her safety, and the last result of her motion is rest, and so it must be with us. The true test of our growth is the depth and reality of our rest and repose. When fear comes upon a nation, in proportion to the depth of piety in that nation will be its calmness. Is there some great cloud lowering and darkening over our dwelling place? In proportion to our piety will be the depth, calm, and placidity of our hearts. We shall not be going about here and there, rushing hither and thither, as if depending upon ourselves. We shall feel the time has now come in which our strength is to stand still, and in which we shall be most happy doing nothing. That is a hard lesson for some natures to learn—for men who believe in what they term variety, for men of energy, men of great enthusiasm of spirits. It is a difficult lesson to learn that strength is to stand still and patiently wait for the coming of God. Calmness is not weakness; rest does not display want of ability. Men do not stand still in a true sense of that term, simply because they have nothing they can do; but they stand still with most grace, with complete and impressive dignity, when they are simply waiting for the coming down of God to their rescue.
In the text we find encouragement:
(1) For all who are trying to live in the fear and love of God under discouraging circumstances. Their business associations are worldly; the influence of these associations is chilling, depressing. To such the message is: "The battle is not yours, but God's." They that be with you are more than all that can be against you. If you are trusting in God, God will work out his victories in your experience; but if you take the case into your own hands, and manage your own affairs in your own way, God will very likely leave you to see how poor are your best resources and how fruitless is your utmost vigour. Your strength is in the power of Almighty God!
(2) For all who are bearing Christian protest against evil. There is a time in which men can do nothing else but protest; a time when fighting ceases, and what man does amounts to nothing; when all that a man can do is to set himself as the prophet commanded Jehoshaphat to do. "Set yourselves, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you." You know what the meaning of this doctrine is. Many a time you would like to go forward into battle and strife, to challenge men to open fight, to test the power of your arms as against their arms, and yet it cannot be done. You know, also, what it is to be in circumstances where everything is dead against you. If you speak you are put down; if you offer to move you are driven back. You are one in a multitude, and your feeble voice is drowned by the voice of opposition. Under such circumstances you can but set yourselves; your face may be in the right direction, your protest may be sound, though you cannot go forward into battle and win victories. From this we have to learn the power of faithfulness and the strength of reliance upon God.
(3) For all who are undergoing severe temptation. Some are beset from time to time by temptations of a special severity. What, then, are we to consider that the whole answer is in the heart? Are we not to take into account God's watchfulness over our life? Arc we to forget the great doctrine, that in these matters of temptation and trying discipline, the battle is not ours, but God's? Then we conic to the doctrine that God is more careful for the salvation of our hearts than we can ever be ourselves. His whole sympathy is with us in the struggle, his whole resources are at our command. When the fight goes most terribly against us, there is nothing in his heart that he is not willing to communicate in the time of our spiritual extremity.
(4) For all who are labouring for the good of the world. There are some who have undertaken to do what they can for the evangelisation of all nations. Some are missionaries, some Sunday school teachers, some ministers of the gospel, others arc heads of houses who are doing their utmost to bring other men to a knowledge of the Lord and obedience in his way. Others are engaged in various ways for the extension of light, purity, and peace. What is our guarantee? Is it in our wit, our own strength, our own power of endurance? No; "The battle is not yours, but God's." What is our hope that the world will one day be subdued to the sceptre of Jesus Christ? It is not in the number of our instrumentalities; it is not in the number of men we send forth into the field to do the Lord's work. What is our guarantee that from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same there shall be one kingdom, and the king of that empire shall be the crucified Christ? What is our hope? It is this. The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it: "The battle is not yours, but God's." And when we go up to fight, he will work out the victory.
(5) To all who are engaged in controversy on behalf of Christian doctrine. It is to be feared that we sometimes exclude God from our Christian controversies. There is a danger of thinking it is a battle of one man against another. There is a good deal of striving for mere victory in words. The anxiety of the Church is oftentimes the disgrace of the Church. If our faith in the living God were what it ought to be we should rest very calmly in the midst of all doctrinal controversy and contention. Are we told that all science is against faith—that some man has made a very wonderful discovery which will have a hostile effect upon Christian position and Christian service? What becomes us under such intelligence? Anxiety, whimpering, and weakness? Not at all! The battle is not ours, but God's. If any man has succeeded in discovering anything that will throw a light upon any portion of Christian revelation, or that will destroy any portion of Christian revelation, let us receive it with calmness. Be calm in receiving bad intelligence, and do not jump at conclusions which are against the history of the ages and the history of the Church. Let us wait patiently if men are working in this corner or that, in this field or in yonder field. Wait until they get their results put together; till they make a complete case; because after all the battle is not ours but God's, and these men cannot get beyond God's kingdom for any evidence and for any results wherever they are, high as heaven, deep as hell, down in the sea or flying in the air upon the wings of the morning. They are still within the boundaries of the divine empire, and if God is sending any message by them, let us wait patiently till they tell it all, till they tell it in their best manner and let us quietly and nobly take it into our devoutest consideration. Our anxiety is our disgrace; our fear is a charge, an accusation against God himself. If we had to defend everything, and to fight everything in our own strength and for our own ends, the case would be perfectly different; but when God says to us, "Ye have the treasure in earthen vessels, the excellency of power is of God and not of man,"—when he teaches us that we are servants and not masters, creatures and not creators, with no grasp of eternity,—it becomes us patiently to wait, to stand still, and to see the salvation of the Lord.
Let us dwell upon this word continually in all our endurances. Let us, as Christian thinkers, Christian workers, Christian sufferers, take it into the family, into commerce, into politics, and into all the relations of life,—remembering that where there is a contest between right and wrong, virtue and vice, heaven and hell, nobleness and ignobleness, generosity and meanness, The battle is not ours, but God's. It is God's fight and it will be God's victory. Resting upon great principles like these, delivering ourselves from the ignominious captivity of little details and petty laws, let us rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him!
Almighty God, thou art always giving thyself to us. We live and move and have our being in God. We were made in the image and likeness of our Creator, and we feel this to be so, though not always. Sometimes we feel that we belong to the angels and to heaven, to some far-away but lost home; sometimes we feel we have no right to think of thy heavens, so high are they and pure, and unlike our life: yet we bless thee for a better thought, for an uplifted feeling, for a sacred emotion, and for an ever-ennobling aspiration. Encourage us in all our quest after thyself; give us to feel that thou hast made us for thyself, and that only in thee can we find the completion and crown of our being. We delight to pray at the cross; when we feel that there is an open way between ourselves and our Father, then how the heart warms and expands, and how the tongue pours forth all its praises, and psalms, and wants, and confessions! Give us this holy liberty, and we ask no larger freedom; to talk to God, to commune with God through his only begotten and well-beloved Son, God the Son—surely this is liberty, this is joy, this is immortality. Help us to read the signs of the times; enable us to distinguish between hypocrisy and sincerity; may we not look upon the Pharisee but upon the hypocrite; and then in other cases not upon the hypocrite, but upon the sincere man: grant unto us this spiritual penetration, this power of distinguishing between right and wrong: surely this is a gift of the Holy Ghost. Make our weariness less by making our strength more; turn our sighings into hymns of praise; and us for our tears, may they be as telescopes through which we sec afar, and know that there is much beyond yet to be realised and enjoyed. We pray at the cross, we confess our sins at the cross; without the cross we arc without hope, but with the cross we defy sin and death. Amen.
"And when Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away the spoil of them, they found among them in abundance both riches with the dead bodies, and precious jewels [Literally, vessels of desirable things, i.e., costly articles; a phrase only met with here], which they stripped off for themselves [Or, 'and they spoiled them,' i.e., the enemy (Comp. Exodus 3:22)], more than they could carry away [Literally, 'until there was no loading or carrying']: and they were three days in gathering [i.e., taking away; plundering. Comp. Judges 8:24-26 (the spoils of Midian)] of the spoil, it was so much."
Plundering the Dead
WE speak pathetically against robbing the dead: but how can the dead be robbed? Probably there is hardly a more humiliating revelation of our boasted human nature than the spectacle which this incident presents. What are Jehoshaphat and his people doing? Taking away the dead bodies tenderly that they may bury them under the greensward, and set up memorial stones as if to preserve the recollection of brave men? Nothing of the kind. Jehoshaphat and his people have come to take what they can get of jewels, stripping off the jewels from the dead flesh, "more than they could carry away." Can man, noble man, generous, gifted man, in whom alone the lamp of genius is lighted, do that? We must not say that other men could do it, if what other men have done we have done. We have committed every theft that ever was perpetrated, and every murder. Until we get to know that in the vitality of its meaning, we shall be ruined by our own respectability. No respectable man, as such, can be saved. It is in vain that we mourn over the crucifixion of Christ, when we are guilty of the very deed. If we mourn because we did it, then in our mourning there is the beginning of redemption, pardon, release from remorse, and pledge of heaven. There is nothing historical in morals, in any sense that relieves the contemporary reader. We are parties to all the moral history of the race. "There is no man so bad as I am," should be the accusation which every man brings back upon himself. My name," let him say to his boasting pharisaic self, "my name is Barabbas—Iscariot." That is the difficulty of all Christian teaching and praying and direction. The pastor is cursed with the burden of having to tell every man that consults him that he is a respectable person. Starting with that lie, what can any pastor do? So we shudder politely, as if in subtle vindication of our own magnanimity, at the idea of Jehoshaphat and his people taking the jewels from dead fingers. What sin any man ever committed that any other man may be brought to do. There is no man that liveth, and sinneth not. When a man imagines that he never could have done such and such a thing, he is going to do it almost immediately. This is the devil's trump, this is how he gathers all our little cards into his keeping: let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
There are pious people who would scruple to rob the dead, who are spending all their time in robbing the living. Our feeling is very eccentric and incalculable in its action. There are men who would do some things in the light they would never do in the dark, and in the darkness things they would never do in the light; and some men would do in Lent what they never would do out of Lent, and out of Lent what they never would do in Lent,—as if Lent were part of the calendar of eternity! How difficult to be good all the year round, in and out, through and through, just as good in one field as in another! This is impossible now, but if we are aiming in that direction, resolutely persevering along that line, who knows but that some day there may be what to our ignorance will appear to be a sudden access of strength, and out of our child-age we shall pass into our manhood? It is not difficult to conceive of persons of a certain marvellous constitution wondering that people should go into a battlefield for the purpose of taking jewels off the hands of dead soldiers, and yet these very people who so wonder are robbing their fathers and mothers and relations and clients and customers and patrons all the year round. Should not the dead body protect the jewels? There comes a different rule of estimate into our thinking, so that the soldier who would have hailed his brother soldier with salutes truly military and courteous will, when he is down and dead, take the ring off his finger. How brave some persons arc when the adversary is dead! How singularly military and chivalrous some people arc the day after the battle! This matter of robbery is a very subtle one. Will a man rob God? Certainly, night and day: for God is a Spirit. We arc theists in doctrine, we arc atheists in practice: we are orthodox intolerably in metaphysics, and as heterodox as the devil in action.
Almighty God, mercifully save us from the counsels and devices of wicked men: they lie in wait to deceive us, and to turn our profession of righteousness into an instrument of evil; but thou canst enable us to discover their intent and bring discomfiture and humiliation upon them. May we be saved from all morally incongruous partnerships, how profitable soever they may appear to be: help us in all such things mightily to resist the devil. Help us to feel the blessedness of bearing a distinct testimony on behalf of truth; and if we are called to suffer for it, may we surely know the enduring riches of an honourable poverty. Help the young who have put their trust in thee to cut off the right hand and to pluck out the right eye rather than bring discredit upon the name of the Holy Saviour. If they have thoughtlessly entered into relations which are condemned by thy word, give them such strength and grace as will enable them, in the right spirit and the right manner, to put away from them all evil things. May the spirit of crucifixion be magnified even to rapture and triumph in their souls, and by the power of the one blessed cross may they beat down the forces that would work their destruction. Teach us all the divine meaning of suffering; show us that our loss is our gain, if we endure it for Christ's sake; reveal the glory that gathers around the head of every cross which is borne in the Spirit of the Son of God. O Son of God, Child of the Virgin, coming to us in a strange loneliness, yet accompanied by singing angels, teach us that all loneliness which is brought upon us by love of things pure, and noble, and lovely, will be succeeded by the blessed companionship and perfect joy of heaven. Blessed Son of the Eternal Father! as thou wast separate from sinners, so may thy followers be; not in pharisaical self-love and self-honour, but in all meekness, quietness, and charity. Deepen our distaste for things that are merely earthly; refine our affections, and gather them as undivided homage offered to thyself. Teach us as thou wilt. Break our ships in pieces; send a whirlwind to smite the four corners of our banqueting halls; kindle a fire in our palaces; send a plague upon our flocks and a blight upon our fields; do these things, if thou so pleasest, only save our souls, and take not thy Holy Spirit from us! Let the Father hear us, let the Son show himself mighty on our behalf, let the Holy Ghost baptize us with fire. Amen.
THESE words were spoken concerning Jehoshaphat, who "walked in the way of Asa his father, and departed not from it, doing that which was right in the sight of the Lord." He was a man of mature life, being thirty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-five years in Jerusalem. Notwithstanding the ripeness of his experience, and his really substantial character, he entered into a ship-building speculation with "Ahaziah king of Israel, who did very wickedly." Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah was the name of the royal firm of shipbuilders. There is, of course, nothing wrong in ship-building, yet this firm soon fell into adversity. The ships were made—they were intended to go to Tarshish —but God broke them in pieces, and gave as his reason the fact that Jehoshaphat had entered into alliance with a bad partner,—"because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, the Lord hath broken thy works." This is the ancient case which we proceed to modernize. We have partnerships, associations, and divers kinds of contracts in our own time, and it may be well to learn how far God takes notice of our business and our doings generally, lest we also have our ships broken, and our commerce laid in ruins.
Some partnerships are inexplicable. We have seen some strange associations. A church officer, who has led the devotions of the church, has been known to enter into partnership with a grovelling man who never hesitated to use profane language in the warehouse; a generous supporter of good institutions has associated with a man who would have sold his own father if he could have made money by the transaction. And men have wondered who have not known how two could walk together except they were agreed, and who have gone upon the principle that light could have no communion with darkness. Probably there are explanations of the difficulty. It may be very convenient to have a partner who can make promises which he never intends to fulfil; it may smooth some parts of the commercial path to have an associate who can tell lies; it may be profitable to have an ally who can stoop to pick money out of the gutter, and who can wriggle round awkward corners, and use words which admit of two different constructions. All this may be very convenient and profitable, but how about the righteousness of it? How does it look in the light of the sanctuary? Is it honest, true, lovely, pure? Of course it will be said that business is business, and religion is religion, that there is a distinction between the merchant and the man. Very well. Let us admit that, there remains this question: when the merchant is damned for his wicked deeds, where will the man go? A man cannot serve the devil with one hand and God with the other. Where is the evidence that a man may have two characters, as he may have two coats? The principle of ill-associated partnerships works in two ways: the professing Christian finds it convenient to be able to remit all questionable work to the man who has made away with his conscience and honour, and the said man finds it very satisfactory to point to his professing partner as a proof and pledge that all is straightforward and upright. But is this as it ought to be? Do not let us slur over the question; let us face it steadily, honestly—with earnest intent to know the right and wrong of the case. You may say, that as partners you do not know each other except in a purely business light; you are strangers until you meet in business; you have no two pursuits in common; your tastes are marked by the strongest differences. That explanation does not touch the point. A man cannot leave his character at home when he goes to business. The character is the man himself; he cannot leave himself behind. We are not referring to some trifling eccentricity of habit, or this particular taste or that; but to the quality, so to speak, of the man's very soul and life; and we marvel exceedingly, and cannot understand how light and darkness, right and wrong, heaven and hell, can enter into business relations.
The young should take this lesson thoroughly to heart. You have your associations yet to form, you have to lay out your life to the best advantage, and it is more than possible that you may be tempted by the dazzling prospects which disingenuous men will not fail to paint for you. Explanations of difficulty will certainly be forthcoming; your conscientious scruples will be contemptuously pooh-poohed. You will be told that in these times men must set their sails according to the wind, and must do as other people do, if they would save themselves from bankruptcy and ruin in general. Let the example of Jehoshaphat be a warning to you. There is something of infinitely greater consequence in the world than making a fortune. What you have to settle first and foremost is, the moral basis on which you are proceeding; you must get the full consent of your judgment, and heart, and conscience before you give yourself up to any commercial course, and, having obtained such consent, according to the law of infinite righteousness, it should be a matter of very small moment to you whether you reach what is known in the world as the point of success, or whether you see little or nothing by way of result of your labour. Wealth is not everything; nay, more—a man's wealth may actually be a man's worst poverty. The curse of God rests upon all ill-gotten wealth. You may say that your part of the business is done with uprightness, and with an honest desire to keep the whole law of equity as between man and man, but this explanation is worse than a frivolous excuse when it is offered as a plea for bad partnerships. You are responsible for more than yourself in such a case; so long as you are identified with a man who can speak an untrue word or do a mean deed, you must of necessity be implicated in the whole of his vicious course. Beware of making refined distinctions. It is one thing to have a genius for drawing delicate lines as between yourself and your partner, and another to convince him who sees the heart and tries the reins of the children of men that you are not making a convenience of such distinctions, and gilding the works of unrighteousness. Look at the ship-building speculation at Ezion-geber. The partners were men of immense resources, of the highest social position; their ships were actually built and prepared for the voyage, but God determined that they should never reach their destination; and when God commands the winds and the general forces of nature to beat against any man's speculation, it is utterly hopeless in such cases to fight against God. Have God for your partner, if you would make your business, in the highest sense of the term, honourable and successful. "If God be for us, who can be against us?"
The principle of the text is expansive enough to include other subjects of equal importance with that which we have just discussed. For example, the subject of Marriage is fairly within the scope of its application. "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" "What concord hath Christ with Belial?" It is hardly needful to point out that much of the happiness of human life depends upon the marriage unions which are formed. It is one thing to view the subject of marriage in the light of passion or convenience, and another to regard it as an institution by which human life may be developed and trained to the highest uses and enjoyments. We do not hesitate to lay down the broad principle that where there is incongruity of religious conviction between man and woman, happiness of the deepest and purest kind is entirely out of the question. This principle is impartial in its application, having equal reference to the woman as to the man, and to the man as to the woman. Take the case of a young woman who has deep religious convictions and sympathies: she has been trained under religious influences, her habits have been identified with the sanctuary from very early life; she has taught in the schools, she has served in connection with many agencies of the Church, and altogether her name has become honourably associated with benevolent operations; she is sought in marriage by a young man who has no religious convictions or sympathies, who, in fact, is worldly-minded, grovelling, earthly; he may, indeed, be a man of education, of literary refinement, of good social position, of captivating address; nay, more—he may be a man against whom society is unable justly to point the finger of reproach. Wherever he is known he is respected for many social excellences. Viewed in a strictly worldly sense, the young man may be pronounced an eligible candidate for the lady's hand, yet, in the presence of such conditions, we do not hesitate to assert that happiness of the highest kind is impossible in such a connection. There must, on the woman's part, be more or less of sacrifice of the convictions and sympathies which have distinguished her whole life. Her religious emphasis will be modified; more or less of a chill will subdue her Christian zeal; her works of benevolence will be in some degree impaired; there may not be any great outward difference in her manner, but her soul must have felt the desolation of an impoverishing influence. We have to consider, not what she is, so much as what she might have been, had she been united in marriage to one of kindred sympathy. To what an intense glow of love would her religious fervour have been increased! With what accelerated rapidity she might have moved in the ways of godliness! There would have been no secret force drawing her heart in the wrong direction; the whole atmosphere in which she lived would have been favourable to the development of Christian graces, and she would have abounded in all holy fruitfulness as a follower and servant of Jesus Christ. We will not dwell upon cases in which there is direct opposition as between husband and wife on religious questions; but prefer to take an instance in which the woman is a decided Christian in her convictions and habits, and where the man is accounted respectable in a worldly sense. There may never be a harsh word spoken on his part, he may never oppose any of his wife's inclinations, yet, by his own indifference, by his self-enjoyment, by his absence from her companionship when she is seeking the culture of her highest nature, he is, in reality, encountering her with a very dreadful hostility. And here we would impress upon the young who have yet to form their social relationships the necessity of their being at one with each other upon all vitally important questions, if they would really be, not outwardly, but inwardly, sincerely, enduringly happy. You are not to look at physical beauty, at social position, or at personal charms, strictly in themselves considered; all these have their place, and an important place it undoubtedly is; but under all these considerations there lies the great question, What about the heart? If the heart is not right, if the supreme affection be not divine, the whole life will be one continuously downward course, ending in mortification, disgust, and ruin. We know the ordinary excuse that is made when the Christian marries one who has no devotional sympathies: the generous, hopeful, self-sacrificing woman openly avows her belief that in a very little time she will be able to bring her intended husband to a right decision; she knows (poor creature!) that there is something good in him; she has heard (O mocking ear!) him say words which she construed into a noble intention on his part; she is sure all will be right by-and-bye; a little patience, a little humouring, and a little instruction—then all will be right! This is the dream of her love, the inspiration of her ill-directed hope, but it will prove an imposition—a deceit—a lie! Granted that in one case out of a thousand events do prove better than expected; we are not to be governed by exceptions, but by principles; we must get away from the accidental to the essential; and so long as right is right, we are bound to stand by it, how painful soever, how tormenting or destructive soever, the consequences. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?" "Because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience." "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils." "Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
The principle of the text will still further permit an earnest word about evil companionship generally. "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause; let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: we shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse: my son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: for their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood." Amongst worldly men, no one will deny that there may be many flattering and alluring attractions which work mightily upon the imagination and affections of the young. The devil can come to a man in many disguises. He does not always come, so to speak, as the devil pure and simple, but often brings with him a robe of light, and adapts himself to the condition, pursuits, and tastes of his intended victim. It is not to be supposed that any young man who regularly attends public worship is prepared to identify himself with the drunkard, swearer, or thief; of course, no young man is prepared to go to such lengths at once; but the point to be insisted on is this, that if the moral tone of the party seeking our companionship be not right, there must of necessity be a descent into depth after depth of moral degradation. True, you will declare your intention of turning back when you feel that you are going too far. This is a fool's decision. You forget that every step you take on the wrong road involves on your part a loss of power to retrace your way. The man is not the same man after he has gone a mile on the devil's highway. He has lost force; he has gone down in the volume and quality of his manhood; and when he thinks that it is now time to turn round and come back, he will find that his way has been hedged up behind him, and that in all probability there is no way of escape. "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful." Let no young person persuade himself that, though his companions may not be all he could wish, yet he is exerting a recovering influence upon them; we dare not say that your influence is not for their advantage; neither dare we assert that they are not exerting upon you a deep and deadly, though a remote and subtle, influence. Where one good young man succeeds in recovering an evil companion, many young men succumb to the treacherous influences which are brought to bear upon them by vicious associates. It is not necessary to be the bosom companion of a man who is evil-minded in order to save him; you are rather to stand at a distance and to speak from an elevation; you are not to descend to the same moral level with him; you may be found in his society, yet you may be separate from him, as Jesus Christ himself was "separate from sinners." Your laugh at an indecent joke may be a sanction to foul thoughts; your silence in the hearing of profane language may give some countenance to evil-speaking; your want of heroism may be regarded as an encouragement by those who have set themselves to do mischief. Even those who are related to you by nature are to be avoided, when they would invite you towards evil. There is a higher relationship than that of mere blood; even were your own father to tempt you to do that which is unrighteous, you are to resist him, and flee from him as an enemy. "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known,. thou nor thy fathers; namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; thou shalt not consent unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him." From these words, and from others that might be quoted bearing in the same direction, we see that the position of the Christian is to be one of the utmost distinctness. "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." This is the difficulty which every young Christian has to encounter at the very outset of his career, and throughout the whole of his Christian service and testimony. He is not only to avoid the appearance of evil himself, but he is to lift up his voice against those who serve the devil. He is called to be a witness for the truth; he is to lift up his voice, and to say distinctly what is wrong and what is right, and to fight the battles of the Lord against the mighty. He is not only then to abstain from evil companionships and confederacies; much more is required. It is needful that every man should distinctly define his Christian ground, and should constantly utter a testimony against all unrighteousness, and in favour of the things that are true and pure, honest and lovely.
Let us learn this lesson, that "though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished." We may imagine that gathering ourselves together in great numbers, by taking counsel one of another, and by some system of unanimous cooperation, we may be able to set ourselves successfully against the divine government; but God challenges the nations of the earth, and contemptuously defies them. "Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces: and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces." There is no need to recall the instance in which "the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech," and in which men set themselves to do great things by way of protecting their interests from supernatural interposition; we remember that they carried their tower to a certain height, and that God came down and scattered them abroad, and confounded their language, and made them so that they could not understand one another's speech. He will surely do this again if we combine to oppose his way. All our commercial partnerships will be examined; all our social relationships will be subjected to inexorable judgment; all our companionships will be sifted by the divine visitation; none shall be able to stay the wrath of God, when he comes to judge the earth by the light of his infinite and incorruptible holiness. Better stand alone than be found in the association of evil men. Better never hear a friendly voice than be allured by the deceits of evil men! Better be found in unpitied loneliness, yet with a conscience void of offence, than lift up our heads amongst the most influential and illustrious servants of the devil.
Almighty God, our Father in heaven, thou knowest that our life is one daily need; thou dost give unto us one day, but we need more the next. Thou art always giving, thou dost live to give; God so loved the world that he gave—gave his only-begotten Son—gave all he had. May we come to the fountain that our thirst may be quenched, and may we come to the tree of life that we may eat fruit thereof, and never die. Keep us near thyself; Holy Spirit, remain with us; do not be impatient with our dulness and selfishness, but grant unto us long sojourn, until thou dost fill us with thy light and bless us with all needful grace. Thou hast done great things for us, whereof we are glad: once we were blind, now we see; we not only see, we are put in possession of a light that the apostle, chiefest of us all, called marvellous light. Once we were slaves, now we are free men, or we are in bondage to Christ, and in that bondage we find our liberty; if the Son shall make us free, we shall be free indeed. Grant unto thy ministers everywhere a sense of thy presence, a realisation of thy comfort, a preparedness to receive thine increasing gift of light; may they be true men and good, honourable and wise, faithful stewards, diligent servants, waiting for the coming of their Lord, knowing that he may come at any moment. This prayer we pray at the cross. There all prayer of the heart is answered. Amen.