Shall the ax boast itself against him that hews therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shakes it?…
These words describe one of the common temptations of strong men in every sphere of action. Pointing to power in the sphere of human industry, we say, "Shall the earn boast itself against him that heweth therewith?"
I. THE REAL CONNECTION OF HUMAN INDUSTRY WITH GOD. Useful and fine art belongs to the original idea of man as a working being. Man is conformed to the design of his nature when muscle and nerve, mind and heart, are taxed in the productions of human industry.
1. This is made evident by the constitution of man. Sinfulness does not belong to the Divine ides of man. Hence man's inward nature does not approve of sin. But industry produces no such stress and confusion in the soul.
2. This is further seen in the kind of world which God has made our present home. Some things He has hidden, and others so constituted that we must search, discover, adapt, apply, and manufacture, before we can get from the earth (although full of God's riches) what we really need. The toil and sorrow which are now connected with labour do not pertain to the original ordinance of labour. But even this discipline is merciful. In prison labour the criminal is sometimes required to turn a wheel connected with a loaded crank. The power is applied to no useful purpose, but is merely intended to weary the prisoner, and thus to punish him. And one bitter element in this correction is this, the prisoner knows that his labour produces nothing. Now, God has superadded toil to work, but with toil He has connected increase.
3. The mode in which Scripture speaks of the arts sustains the doctrine we now propound. Not one word is written in the Bible against the highest development of human industry. On the contrary, much is to be found in the Scriptures of the nature of sanction. When the desire to possess the products of industry becomes lust, and when the possession involves pride, then the creations of art assume a position and sustain a relation which is of the world, and not of the Father. But this shows that the evil is in the excess, and not in the thing itself. The New Testament confirms our remarks. Jesus Christ was the reputed son of an artisan, and, though He chose a condition of poverty, He did not clothe Himself in sackcloth nor refuse to partake of the luxuries of the rich. Not a word did He say against human industry, although He reprobated and denounced every vice and feller of His times, and at the time of His death He was wearing an entire woven coat, for which Roman soldiers cast lots. The apostles trod in the steps of the Saviour. Paul does not require Lydia, a seller of purple, to change her occupation. Let us learn to separate human handiwork from human sin. Art is safe when God is recognised in it.
II. THE DISCONNECTION OF INDUSTRIAL PURSUITS FROM GOD IN THE MINDS OF MEN GENERALLY. Men have either excluded God entirely from art, or they have worked as if on Divine sufferance. And because God has not been in their thoughts, they have felt that God was not in their craft, and they have taken to themselves all the glory. While idolaters have had a God for every art and for all important branches of human enterprise, Christians have too often thought that they must call art the world, and while they use and enjoy its varied products, verbally abuse them. We do not so read human nature. We do not so read Divine providence. We do not so read our Bible. And we are warned against this spirit by the words before us. Man is made a producer; and when he produces by his labour he fulfils one part of his mission. Now in this shall God be forgotten! God! whose earth this is? God! whose are the precious and the useful metals, and to whom belong the trees of the forest and the cattle upon the hills? Shall God be forgotten? God! we are His workmen; we use His tools; we employ His materials, and we labour in His factory. God forgotten? How unseemly and ungrateful is this!
1. The evil complained of in the text may exist either in a negative or a positive state. Say that God is not in the thoughts. There is no rejection of God, but God is not present. The man thinks of himself — he does not think of God.
2. The sources of this evil are religious ignorance and alienation from God.
3. The forms in which this evil is developed are such as these — God's law is not applied to human labour. Work is not performed in a devotional spirit. God's honour is not sought thereby. And you have one of two things — a man in appearance everywhere irreligious, or a man in appearance religious everywhere but in his business. And then what have you? A whited sepulchre, a man-lie, or a rebel, open and avowed, against God the Creator. Trace this to its results. Banish religion from human industry, and you remove the chief salutary restraint! Then man will hold his brother in slavery; then men will cheat and lie and overreach and keep back the hire of the labourer.
4. The doctrine of what is commonly termed Justification by faith, has a most intimate connection with this subject. The substance of that doctrine is, that when a sinner truly repents and believes in Jesus Christ, God, instead of putting him upon a probation, immediately receives him to childlike communion. This shows that a Christian may at once have communion with God on every subject that concerns him.
5. Pride, covetousness, oppression, and cruelty are the four transgressions, chiefly named as God's reason for the overthrow of Nineveh and Babylon, Egypt and Tyre. Without true religion the progress of art fosters these evils.
6. The duties especially incumbent upon the Christians of this land, in connection with their daily labour, are, the unfailing recognition of Divine providence, humility, justice, and kindness. There are no colours so brilliant, no forms so graceful, no combinations so complete, no products so perfect and abundant as those which exist apart from human skill and toil. Man, in comparison with the Great Worker, has done nothing.
7. You will not have failed to mark God's calling the mightiest by this name, "axe and saw"; also God's intimating the uselessness of all boasting, "as if it were no wood"; and God's threatening to teach the axe and saw their real position; and you will take this lesson — if we do not make God of infinitely more consequence than man, He will make us feel how much lower than man His curse can sink us; and then, when like Nebuchadnezzar, we feel less and lower than man, we may, in this severe school, "learn to praise, and extol, and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and all whose ways are judgment, and who is able to abase those that walk in pride."
Parallel VersesKJV: Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood.
WEB: Should an axe brag against him who chops with it? Should a saw exalt itself above him who saws with it? As if a rod should lift those who lift it up, or as if a staff should lift up someone who is not wood.