Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' Hear now, O house of Israel: Is it My way that is unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?
I. THE FIRST STEP HEAVENWARD IS THOUGHTFUL CHOICE. The chief folly of men is their thoughtlessness. They sink into mental and moral indolence. They will not investigate truth, nor ponder the demands of duty, nor forecast the future. But when "he comes to himself," he begins to reflect. "Because he considereth" (ver. 28), he turns over a new leaf. The man allows intelligence add wisdom and reason to prevail. He resolves to seek his real good. He chooses the best course, and determines to pursue it.
II. WISE DECISION LEADS TO NEW ACTION. Having made an intelligent resolve, the man "turns away from his transgressions." He begins with known sins. He abandons these. That is only a sham decision which does not lead to action. The will may be a slave to feeling and appetite; in that case no real decision has been made. The soul is divided. There is strife and war within! But if the man has decided upon a line of conduct, new action will at once follow.
III. ACTIONS REACT UPON THE AFFECTIONS. It is a known fact that necessary work which was at first repulsive ceases to be repulsive. We grow to love actions which are oft repeated. Especially if such actions are right in themselves, if they have a moral loveliness, if others approve them, if they produce good effects, we learn to love them. Our actions develop and strengthen our affections. The heart is benefited. The tone and temper of our spirit are improved. True, it is God that renews and purifies the heart; but he works through our own activity. He gives Divine efficacy to the means employed.
IV. THE AFFECTIONS OF A MAN FASHION HIS CHARACTER. As a man's sentiments and affections are, so is he. "A new heart, and a right spirit" go together. The character follows the affections. The man that loves purity will become pure. The man that loves God will become God-like. So long as man is on earth, he never is, he is always becoming, good or bad, great or mean. Character here is in a state of fusion.
V. MAN'S SUPREME GOOD IS IDENTICAL WITH GOD'S PLEASURE. God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner; he has pleasure from his ransomed life. If my heart and life are right, I afford pleasure to God, I add to his joy. On the other hand, my sin diminishes his joy. For his own sake, therefore, he will hear my prayer; he will help me in my struggles against sin. Why, then, should we die? It is unreasonable. Every argument, every motive, is against it. To continue in sin is folly, madness, suicide. - D.
I. If we had to find an IMMEDIATE AND DIRECT ANSWER to this question, "Is not My way equal?" we should be disposed to say, "Decidedly not." From the beginning to the end of life there seems to be inequality, not equality. Consider, first of all, how men are born. Birth is something so entirely removed from the region of personal responsibility that no one of us is to be held accountable for anything belonging to it. Yet how much depends on being well born! Some thinking men have said that half the battle of life is won or lost according as an individual is well or ill born. Now, when we examine into the facts of life, how very many people seem to be anything but well born! God's ways do not seem equal in this respect. Certainly not on the surface. There are thousands of children born from vicious parents. Very little chance do these seem to have to be good men and women. Compare their heredity with that which belongs to some of our friends here present, in whose ancestry has been no known criminal of any kind, no unvirtuous man, no impious woman. When we make such comparison, it does not seem as if God's ways are equal. Take a step forward, and again ask the question when nurture begins to tell. The word "education" covers a very much larger area of life than we ordinarily assign it. The home in which we live, the company we keep, the books we read for fun and not as tasks, all are contributory to education. The word "environment" comes in here. In regard to that, God's ways do not seem equal. The opportunities of a pure and wise education which come to some, contrasted with the vicious ignorance and coarse immoralities by which others are surrounded, do not enable us easily to find an affirmative answer to this question, "Are not My ways equal? saith the Lord." Once more, the child is born and schooled; educated, as we say, by all through which he has passed in these impressionable years of youth. And now the time comes for sailing out on the ocean of enterprise. One young man finds his boat ready built and ready manned and abundantly victualled, and he has only to step aboard and sail off. A second casts about hither and thither, applying to one and another to take him aboard, and let him scrub decks or do anything, and almost loses heart before he can get any kind of start in life. Things do not seem equal here, any more than in the other stages of life.
Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not My way equal? Are not your ways unequal?
1. In the first place, you will readily allow it to be highly conducive to our piety and devotion that the dispensations of Almighty God Himself, which are unconnected with any human virtues or vices, should be, as becomes him, everywhere distinguished by marks of kindness, beneficence, and bounty.
2. In the next place, it is highly conducive to our religious and moral improvement, that virtue should not, in this life, be attended with its distinct and immediate reward. The magnificent idea held forth by Christianity, of the value in which virtue ought to be held, would be totally done away; it would be to appreciate that which is beyond all price; to demand prematurely a momentary reward here, for that which, in the sight of God, and through faith in the merits of Christ, no earthly enjoyment and immortal happiness alone can repay.
3. In the last place, it is highly conducive to our moral improvement that vice, on the contrary, should in many cases be attended with immediate punishment. It is evident that this is not an instance of God's severity, but rather of His clemency and mercy. It restrains the sinner, in kindness, before it is too late, from "treasuring up wrath," etc. It tends to check no one virtue which we have, and is the school in which we are best taught the virtues which we have not.
(W. Pearce, D. D.)
II. Yet the more carefully we look into these facts, and the longer we dwell upon them, the more copiously will they supply us with something suggestive of THE NECESSITY OF CAUTION in dealing with them. We begin to think in this way: "Let me not be too rash in lay affirmatives. This is not God's perfect world. This is very far from an ideal condition of society. It is a society disturbed by sin. I cannot judge of the kingdom of God from what I see in society, every member of which is under condemnation as belonging to a sinful race. So I must be careful in forming my judgments. There are modifications and compensations discernible even now." First of all, it does not do to assume that happiness and unhappiness are in the ratio of external possession or non-possession. The man who has enough for all the legitimate uses of life is not at a disadvantage. He has no real wants. The artificial wants of society have nothing to do with the physical and mental necessities of life. Health, intelligence, aspiration, all that is wholesome and good, do not depend upon anything artificial. The disposition in our day, even among Christianised people, to make too much of externals needs to be studiously guarded against when we are speaking of equality and inequality. Has it not come to be one of the commonplaces of existence that poverty is not always a curse, and wealth is not always a blessing? When a child is born into the midst of the surroundings supplied by a luxurious home, he is at a considerable disadvantage in seam ways. You say he need not trouble about his future, so far as it consists in the providing for the necessaries and the comforts of life. Now, if some of these comfortable conditions are not as favourable to the putting forth of energy or the developing of strength of character as are the other less coveted conditions, immediately the question of equality becomes a little harder to answer. I say the more we investigate the facts of life the less disposed are we to say that all inequalities are of the nature of injustice. Often and often the rich man's son becomes indolent and ineffective, a mere lazy loafer on life's highway, through want of that stimulus which comes naturally to the son of the poor man. It would be interesting to investigate that region more thoroughly. We must leave it for another remark bearing upon the answer we shall give to the question, "Are not My ways equal? saith the Lord." The idea of responsibility comes in here. It becomes us ever to remember the words, "To whom much is given, of him much will be required"; and, "To whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more." The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel for all, but it is especially a gospel for the weary and heavy-laden, for the man who has been badly born, for the man who has been handicapped in the race of life, for the man whose chance has been of the poorest. There is a future, and it is not far off. There Lazarus gets his chance, and Dives learns the lesson he refused to learn here and now.
(R. Thomas, D. D.)
(A. J. Macleane, M. A.)
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