Then Abner called out to Joab: "Must the sword devour forever? Do you not realize that this will only end in bitterness? How long before you tell the troops to stop pursuing their brothers?"
I. THE QUESTION. The feelings which it indicates are excited in view of:
1. The nature of war. The mutual slaughter of each other by those who are "brethren." This aspect of the slaughter of one part of the chosen people by another presented itself to Abner. But in the light of Christianity all men are brothers, and war is a species of fratricide. They are all children of God, brethren of Christ, redeemed by his blood, and capable of sharing his eternal glory and blessedness. In this view of war, not only the actual conflicts, but all the elaborate preparations made for them, appear very dreadful
2. Its causes. "Whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts?" (James 4:1). The evil passions of men are their cause - lust of territory, of dominion, of glory, of money; the spirit of revenge and retaliation; even the love of excitement and adventure. Not less, but if possible more hideous, is the cool, calculating policy of rulers, which sets armies in motion with no regard to the lives which it sacrifices or the misery it occasions; or, again, the desire for active service, with its opportunities of distinction, promotion, and other rewards, which springs up amongst the officers, if not the rank and file, of standing armies, and which takes no thought of the dreadful evil which "active service" inflicts.
3. Its effects. "Shall the sword devour forever?" War is like a huge wild beast which "devours." It eats up human beings by thousands or tens of thousands at a time. It was a small consumption of men which took place in the battle and pursuit of which this question was first used. Only twenty men had fallen on the one side, and three hundred and sixty on the other. Modern wars "devour" on a far greater scale, partly in actual battle, more from wounds received in battle, and from the diseases which the hardships of war produce. War not only devours men in vast numbers, and thus occasions incalculable sorrow and misery; it consumes the substance of nations, the creation of peaceful industry; it wastes their mental and physical energies. And still more sad to contemplate are the moral effects both on the actual combatants and on those who employ them; the hateful passions excited and strengthened, the deterioration of national character produced.
4. Its universal prevalence. Among peoples in every part of the world, in every stage of civilization, and down through every age. However men differ in other respects, they are alike in this practice. Whatever changes take place, this survives. The progress of science and art, of discovery and invention, and of mechanical skill, seems to have no other effect in regard to war than to increase the power of mutual destruction. War lays them all under tribute to enlarge its ability to "devour" and destroy more easily and rapidly, and on a larger scale. In view of all these considerations good men may well sigh and cry, "Shall the sword devour forever?" There have doubtless been wars on which, in spite of all the evils they occasion, lovers of their kind could look with sympathy and satisfaction so far as one party was concerned. Such are wars of defence against unjust aggression, wars undertaken by a people to obtain liberty as against some crushing tyranny, wars against hordes of barbarians who threaten devastation and destruction to hearths and homes, and all that civilized men value. But even in such cases we may well ask - Will it ever be necessary to use so dreadful an instrument as war in the endeavour to obtain rights or abolish wrongs? Will men never be amenable to reason? Must there ever be retained the power to resort to the violent methods of war?
"The cause of truth and human weal,
II. THE REPLY WHICH MAY BE GIVEN TO THIS QUESTION. No. The sword shall not devour forever. Wars will at length come to a final end.
1. Divine prophecy assures us of this. (Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 11:6-9; Micah 4:3, 4; see also Psalm 72:3, 7; Zechariah 9:10.) Not only shall wars cease, but there shall be such a feeling of universal security that the arts of war shall cease to be learnt.
2. An adequate power for effecting this change is in the world. Christianity - the gospel of Jesus Christ, with the accompanying might of the Holy Spirit. The revelation of God in Christ, especially of the relation of God to all men and his love to all; the redemption effected for all; the precepts of the gospel, inculcating love even to enemies, and the doing good to all; the example of him who was Love Incarnate; the dignity and worth of men, and their relation to each other, as seen in the light of the gospel; the sacred brotherhood into which faith in Christ brings men of all lands; the prospect of a heaven where all Christians will be united in service and blessedness; - these truths go to the root of the evil in the hearts of men. They cannot be truly received without subduing the passions which lead to war, and implanting the affections which insure peace.
3. Experience justifies the hope that this peace-producing power will at length be triumphant. That it will be in operation everywhere, and everywhere effectual. So far as it has been experienced, it has made its subjects gentle, loving, peaceful, more willing to suffer than to inflict suffering. Multitudes exist in the world so ruled by the gospel and the Spirit of Christ, that it is simply impossible they should on any account take to killing each other. What has transformed them can transform others. Let vital Christianity become universal, and peace must be universal too. It is on the way to become universal, though its advance is slow to our view. The effect of Christianity, so far as it has prevailed, on war itself encourages hope. It has become humane in comparison with wars recorded in this Book and in the pages of general history. And amongst civilized nations there is a growing indisposition to resort to war, an increasing willingness to settle their differences by peaceful methods. This is doubtless partly the result of the tremendous costliness and destructiveness of modern warfare, but partly also of the growth of a spirit of reasonableness, equity, and humanity. In conclusion:
1. Cherish the spirit and principles of peace, i.e. of Christ and Christianity.
2. Endeavour to diffuse them. And do this earnestly and hopefully, with the assurance of a final success in which you will participate joyfully.
3. Use your influence as citizens to discourage war. "And the God of peace shall be with you" (2 Corinthians 13:11). - G.W.
Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end?
I. One of the ingredients in the cup of bitterness which the wrong-doer will assuredly drink is THE CONSCIOUSNESS THAT IT WAS HIS OWN DOING. "Thou hast destroyed thyself!" will be the taunting cry of the demon. The easy, good-natured world has a nice way of smoothing over such things, and saying, "He is not very steady, poor fellow; but, then, he does not mean any harm." And the same mistaken spirit of charity adds, "He is nobody's enemy but his own!" The Bible teaches a different lesson: "The enemy of God, by wicked works" (Colossians 1:21). Inwardly and outwardly, the impenitent sinner is hostile to God.
II. Another reason why bitterness must be the portion of the transgressor will be, that HE RISKED SO MUCH AND RECEIVED SO LITTLE. The cup of worldly pleasure had a very small flavour of sweetness in it, after all. The most seductive forms of sensual indulgence are always followed by bitterness. Let any one study that terrible picture, sketched from real life, "The Man about Town," in "The Diary of a London Physician," and as he turns with a shudder from the sight, he will discover a new meaning in the prophet's words, "It is an evil thing, and a bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God" (Jeremiah 2:19).
III. Another ingredient of bitterness to the lost will be THE MEMORY OF EVIL-DOINGS. Hell is a place where the condemned will be shut up with themselves. Moreover, there will be a development of character in its inmates — no longer kept under any degree of restraint, by better surroundings — which imagination cannot conceive of. It would be well for them to remember that the devil is daily administering anodynes to keep men stupefied and inactive. Among these narcotics, are —
1. The business and distractions of life.
2. Another anodyne which the devil offers to his unsuspecting victim is the cup of worldly pleasure. If one has swallowed an overdose of laudanum, he must be kept moving about briskly, or he will sink down into the sleep of death. So, too, with those stupefied by Satan's arts, we must give them no peace, until they are fully aroused to a sense of their danger.
(J. A. Norton.)
Homilist.These are the words of Abner, a near relation of king Saul, and a distinguished general of his armies. They are addressed to Joab, one of David's nephews and a commander of his army, a man valiant it is true but bounding with ambition and burning with vengeance. A course of wrong conduct ends in bitterness.
I. That SIN DOES NOT ANSWER IN THE LONG RUN. A course of sin may and often does answer for a certain time; it may yield profit and pleasure to its author for years.
1. Unrighteous avarice may answer for a certain time. The greedy and over-reaching man of the world may be wondrously successful. He may see his fortune rising higher and glittering brighter as the result of his unscrupulous and unremitting efforts. In all this he may for a time find great, pleasure. Success keeps his brain active and his blood warm.
2. Unbridled sensuality may answer for a certain time. A young man gives himself up to the gratification of his animal appetites and lusts. He finds an elysium in purely sensual indulgences.
3. Unscrupulous ambition may answer for a certain time. In all men there is more or less a love of power; in some it is a dominant passion. These men, working out their passion, struggle upward in the social realm; their course yields them pleasure.
4. Social impositions may answer for a certain time. There are men who have a passion for deceiving, they live for imposture, and by imposture. Now, whilst in all these courses of conduct there is a certain kind of pleasure, the pleasure only runs on to a certain period. From an inevitable law in the moral universe, the time comes when the sweet becomes bitter, when all the pleasure becomes poison than rankles in every vein of the soul. We infer —
II. That WE DO NOT FINISH WITH LIFE AS WE GO ON. The brute perhaps finishes his life as he proceeds; his yesterdays affect him only materially. Not so with man. We have not done with any of the conscious periods through which we have passed, not even with the earliest. Our first actions will vibrate on the ear a thousand ages on; the first scenes will unfold themselves to the eve in ages far on in the future. Two laws render this certain: —
1. The law of moral causation. Our consciousness is ourselves; and this consciousness is the product of the past. It is to-day the cause of what it will be to-morrow.
2. The law of mental association. There is a faculty within us we call memory, and this memory gathers up the fragments of our past life so that nothing is lost. How often, by the principle of contrast, resemblance, and proximity, are the past actions of our lives called vividly up before us! Memory is the course of the wicked, the paradise of the innocent, and the common resort of all souls. We infer: —
III. That A SINNER'S MORAL SENSE IS DESTINED TO A GREAT REVOLUTION. What was sweet once, becomes hitter in the future. Physically, the man who at one time felt an article of food delicious which afterwards he found to be nauseous, has had, of course, his natural palate greatly altered. Just so in morals: when a man finds that the things which at one time gave him highest delight yield him intense pain, some great change must have taken place in his moral sensibility. Ah, it is so. The time hastens when he will see with different eyes, hear with different ears, feel with different nerves, taste with different palate. The silver which Judas clutches with delight, through a change in his moral sensibility, becomes so red-hot that he throws it away as unbearable. The fact is, that all the pleasures connected with sinful life are dependent upon a torpidity of conscience; let the conscience be aroused to a sense of its guilty condition, and these pleasures vanish, nay, turn into wormwood and gall.
1. This question may be put to every man who is pursuing evil courses: — Say to the indolent, "Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end?" — say to the drunkard the same thing; say to the debauchee, whose whole thought is taken up with the satisfaction of his passions, the same thing; say also to the gambler, the adventurer, to the man who is boasting immediate success founded upon immoral courses, "Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end?" Remind every one that there is a latter end; that there is a war in which there is no discharge; that there is an audit in which we must give up every account, every voucher, and undergo Divine judgment. The whole of our life should be conducted under the consciousness of its latter end.
3. This need not becloud our prospects, depress our spirits, or take the inspiration out of our action: a man may so contemplate his latter end as to know nothing of melancholy; he may rather see in it the beginning of the blessedness that is pure and immortal. We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be bad.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(T. Guthrie, D. D.)
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