To you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.
We are told, in a simple allegory, that when man was made in the image of God, one of the bright angels about the throne was appointed to wait upon him, and to be his constant companion. After this beautiful image had been marred by sin, Happiness could no longer recognise the Heavenly Father's likeness upon earth, and pined to go back to her happy home on high. Fallen and wretched man now wandered about searching for a friend to make good his loss. He looked on the fair face of Nature, and saw her gay and cheerful; but Nature assured him that she could offer no alleviation for his misery. Love appeared so bright and joyous, that man, in his disappointment, turned next to her; but she timidly shrank back at his approach, while her tender eyes overflowed with tears of sympathy. He now sought friendship, and she sighed and answered, "Caprice, anxiety, and the fear of change are ever before me." Disappointed at these repeated failures, man followed after Vice, who boasted loudly, and promised great things; but even while she talked with him the borrowed roses dropped from her withered brow, and disclosed the wrinkles of sorrow and the deep furrows ploughed by pain. Retreating in haste from the haunts of the vile enchantress, he now sought for Virtue, hoping that the secret of happiness might be learned from her; but she assured him that Penitence was her proper name, and that she was powerless to bestow the boon he craved. Brought down at last to the verge of despair, man applied to grim Death, who relaxed his forbidding aspect, while he answered with a smile: "Happiness can no longer be found upon the earth. I am really the friend of man, and the guide to the blessedness which his heart yearns after. Hearken to the voice of Him who died on the Cross of Calvary, and I will, at last, lead man through the shades of the dark valley to the delectable mountains, where Happiness makes her perpetual abode." The allegory which I have thus tried to .repeat, is a mere expansion of the text. God does not secure happiness to His people —
I. BY MAKING ALL OF THEM RICH. Instead of saying, "Blessed are ye rich," He says, "Blessed are the poor." The only really happy rich man is the one who acts as God's steward, paying his lawful tithes to the Church, and dealing kindly with the suffering poor. Dr. Guthrie says: "Money will buy plenty, but not peace; money will furnish your table with luxuries, but not you with an appetite to enjoy them; money will surround your bed with physicians, but not restore health to your sickly frame: it will encompass you with a crowd of flatterers, but never promise you one true friend; it will bribe into silence the tongues of accusing men, but not an accusing conscience; it will pay some debts, but not one, the least, of your debts to the law of God; it will relieve many fears, but not those of guilt, the terrors that crown the hour of death."
II. By bestowing on us the empty honours of the world. It is true, multitudes imagine that happiness is to be found in them; but experience always proves how grievously they were mistaken. The devil seems to have persuaded himself that even the Son of God could be tempted by such a bribe. A mandarin puffed up with a sense of his high position was fond of appearing in the public streets, sparkling with jewels. He was annoyed, one day, by an uncouth personage, who followed him about, bowing often to the ground, and thanking him for his jewels. "What does the man mean?" cried the mandarin; "I never gave you any of my jewels." "No," returned the other; "but you have let me look at them, and that is all the use you can make of them yourself. The only difference between us is, that you have the trouble of watching them."
III. BY AFFORDING THEM A LARGE SHARE OF WORLDLY PLEASURE. Most of the things which are called "worldly pleasures " not only fail to make people happy, but leave positive misery behind them. And then, the terrible phantom, which, in moments of solitude and silence, must disturb the minds of the most frivolous — the end; when God shall bring all these things into judgment. When the Chevalier Gerard De Kampis, a rich and proud man, had finished his magnificent castle, he gave a great entertainment to all his wealthy neighbours. At the close of the sumptuous banquet, the guests made speech after speech, lauding their host to the skies, and declaring him to be the happiest of men. As the chevalier loved flattery, this fragrant incense was most acceptable; and nothing disturbed his equanimity, until one of the guests who had, thus far, kept silence, gravely remarked: "Sir Knight, in order that your felicity should be complete, you require but one thing, but this is a very important item." "And what thing is that?" demanded the astonished nobleman. "One of your doors must be walled up," replied his guest. At this strange rejoinder several of the guests laughed aloud, and while Gerard himself began to think the man was mad, he preserved self-control enough to ask: "Which door do you mean?" "I mean that through which you will one day be carried to your grave." The words struck both guests and host, and the proud man saw the vanity of all earthly things, and began from that moment to lay up treasure in heaven.
IV. BUT BY SENDING HIS SON JESUS, "TO TURN AWAY EVERY ONE OF THEM FROM HIS INIQUITIES." There can be no salvation for us, unless we are delivered from our sins. God only makes men happy by making them holy (Matthew 1:21). Lycurgus would allow none of his laws to be written, insisting that the principles of government must be interwoven with the lives and manners of the people, as the only sure way of promoting their happiness. He who would abide by the commandments of God must be able to say with David, "Thy word have I hid within my heart." He who will be received into the presence of God and enjoy the blessedness of heaven, is "the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). We are made heirs of glory only by putting on Christ; but we are "made meet for the inheritance of the saints" through a studied and careful conformity to the Divine precept: "Be ye holy, for I am holy." Say of no sin, however trivial it may appear, "Is it not a little one? " but following after holiness, let evil under every possible disguise be your abhorrence.
(J. W. Norton, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.