Therefore strengthen your limp hands and weak knees.
I. THE LIABILITY TO FAINTNESS AND INFIRMITY IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. This condition is variously described in the text. "The hands which hang down," relaxed, enervated, incapable of vigorous or healthy action. "The feeble knees," tottering and paralyzed. "That which is lame" indicates, says Afford, "that part of the Church which was wavering between Christianity and Judaism." Christians are often faint and feeble in our own times. Piety may be sincere yet deficient in strength. A genuine Christian may suffer with lameness in some element of his character or some faculty of service. This feebleness may arise:
1. From the discipline to which we are subjected. We may faint when we are corrected by him (ver. 5). The first effect of discipline may be to discourage us, and this will probably lead to lack of earnestness and vigor in Christian life and service. Discipline misunderstood or resented may disable us for a time.
2. From the difficulties of our counsel.
3. From the neglect of the means by which hope and effort are sustained.
II. THE DANGER ARISING FROM FAINTNESS AND INFIRMITY IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.
1. Cessation of Christian effort. Relaxed hands and tottering knees may cause the Christian runner to give up running, and to relapse into ignoble ease. Instead of imitating Gideon's heroic three hundred who were "faint, yet pursuing" their fleeing foes, the feeble may relinquish the pursuit altogether. Thus faintness may lead to failure.
2. Deviation from the Christian course. If the way be very rugged and tedious, requiring painful effort to walk in it, those who are lame may be turned out of it. The Christian race is easy when the runners are strong and the course is smooth. But oh, it is very difficult when the hearts are heavy, and the hands nerveless, and the limbs are lamed, and the way is rough and steep! Under such conditions it requires no little patience and heroism to keep moving onwards even at any pace; and the temptation to turn aside is very great.
III. THE DUTY TO BE PURSUED IN FAINTNESS AND INFIRMITY IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE.
1. To seek renewal of strength. "Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees." How shall we do this?
(1) By believing prayer to God. "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength," etc. (Isaiah 40:29-31).
(2) By the recollection of former mercies. Memory may be used as an inspiration of hope and courage. "Because thou hast been my Help, therefore under the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice."
(4) By contemplation of the great multitude who have reached the goal and won the prize (cf. ver. 1).
(5) By contemplation of "the prize of our high calling." Exercises such as these are calculated to inspire moral courage, and increase spiritual strength, and promote Christian progress.
2. To seek to keep each other in and help each other onward in the way. "Make straight paths Tot your feet, that that which is lame be not turned out of the way, but rather be healed." "The meaning seems to be," says Alford, "let your walk be so firm and so unanimous in the right direction, that a plain track and highway may be thereby established for those who accompany and follow you, to perceive and walk in (cf. Isaiah 35:8). If the whole congregation, by their united and consistent walk, trod a plain and beaten path for men's feet, these lame ones, though halting, would be easily able to keep in it, and, by keeping in the 'straight tracks,' would even acquire the habit of walking straight onward, and so be healed; but if the tracks were errant and confused, their erratic steps would deviate more and more, till at length they fell away out of the right way altogether."
1. Let not the faint yet sincere Christian yield to discouragement.
2. Let not the vigorous Christian despise the feeble and halting, but rather cheer and help them.
3. Let all Christians in the strength of God press onward to the goal and to the crown. - W.J.
Lift up the hands which hang down.
Theological Sketch Book.The words of the text are taken from Isaiah 35:3, 4, and are addressed to the believing Hebrews as an admonition to comfort and encourage one another. The disheartened among them are compared to such as had been running in a race, or sustaining a protracted conflict till their knees began to tremble, and their hands to hang down: and in this condition, those who are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak.
I. NOTICE THE RELIGIOUS STATE OF THOSE WHO ANSWER TO THE DESCRIPTION GIVES IN THE TEXT. Were we to compare Christians in general of the present day with those of the first ages, it would appear that they are grown weak and faint. We have but little of the zeal and activity which characterised the primitive Church. The description, however, is more particularly applicable to certain individual cases and characters amongst us, who need the compassion of their brethren, under their various difficulties and discouragements.
1. Some are ready to faint under difficulties and troubles of a worldly nature.
2. Some are discouraged through distrust, and groundless fears of future ills.
3. Others are distressed not only with the difficulties of life, but from being under the chastening hand of God.
4. Some are disheartened by repeated opposition from the enemies of religion.
5. Some are greatly discouraged by inward conflicts, arising from the evil propensities of their own hearts.
6. A departure from evangelical truth has weakened the strength of some by the way, and left them shorn of their dignity and glory.
7. The despondency of some good people arises no doubt from a natural gloominess in their constitution, which disposes them to dwell on the dark side of every subject rather than on the other.
II. THE DUTY OF CHRISTIANS TOWARDS ONE ANOTHER UNDER THESE DISCOURAGEMENTS. "Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees."
1. In order to perform this duty aright, it is necessary to exercise much tenderness and forbearance towards those who are labouring under great discouragements. Let the strong bear the infirmities of the weak, remembering that they are a part of the mystical body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:21, 25). The compassionate tenderness of the great Shepherd of the flock is left as a pattern for our imitation (Isaiah 40:11; Matthew 12:20).
2. Another way in which our compassion may be exercised is to point out to one another the directions and consolations of the gospel, according as the case may require; and here the tongue of the learned is necessary to speak a word in season to him that is weary.
3. Let us be concerned to remove the stumbling-block out of the way, and so to "make straight paths for their feet."Let us learn from hence:
1. That all our difficulties and discouragements in the ways of God arise from ourselves, and from the evil that is in the world. His ways are ways of pleasantness, and all His paths are peace.
2. How lovely and how interesting is Christian society, whose object it is to strengthen and encourage each other in the way to heaven; and how wretchedly defective must it be, if it has not this tendency!
3. How essential to the Christian character are brotherly kindness, charity, and a disinterested but affectionate concern for the spiritual and everlasting welfare of our fellow-Christians!
(Theological Sketch Book.)
I. WHY DISCOURAGEMENT SOMETIMES IS.
1. Ill health is a very frequent reason for a discouraged mood.
2. Necessary reaction from a great strain is a frequent reason for discouragement.
3. The slighter disappointments of life in most real way shadow the spirits. There are days when the sky wears a steadily disappointing grey, and when an east wind of discouragement blows steadily through all its hours.
4. The haunting fear that in some great matter which vitally affects us we have made mistake is a frequent cause of discouragement.
5. Hostile circumstances are causes of discouragement.
6. A frequent cause of spiritual discouragement is allowed sin. We talk about the hiding of God's face from us. Oftener we have ourselves hidden ourselves from God by doing what we know He cannot smile on.
II. SOME OF THE WAYS IN WHICH WE MAY TRIUMPH OVER THIS SO COMMON MOOD OF DISCOURAGEMENT. And we must triumph over discouragement. If we do not triumph over it, it will triumph over us. And no man can be well or do well who is in the perpetual gloom of a shadowed heart. "It is safe to say that no great enterprise was ever yet inaugurated, sustained, or completed in any other spirit than that of hope. The Suez Canal was not built, nor the ocean cable laid, nor the great war of a quarter of a century ago brought to a successful termination by men who were easily discouraged." All these undertakings, and all undertakings of any sort, must have their root in hope. There are two ways of conquering the discouragement.
1. By the law of opposites. For example, if one finds himself shadowed by ill health, he will increase both his ill health and the shadows which it casts by perpetual thought of it and constant attention to its symptoms. The way is, as far as possible, to front health, and in all right ways to determine to reach it. The man who persistently thinks toward sickness is the man who will gather about himself the gloom of sickness. The man who persistently thinks toward health is the man who will soonest get both into it and into its sunshine. I read once of a woman who said that she always went through at least two hours of worry and despondency about her trials, and when she had cried until she had a wet handkerchief spread out to dry on every chair in the room, she thought she might cheer up a little, but she never expected to be happy in this life. "Why," she said, "if I were happy I should think I had lost all my religion." Too often such is the Christian notion. But God wants us to be happy; and the way out of the gloom of petty disappointments is by thought of Him and our many blessings. For example again: Nobody need be discouraged by sin, if only one will repent of it. "There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared."
2. Also, we can overcome discouragement by the law of faith. One tells how, in his youth, he and a young companion became lost in the maze at Hampton Court; they wandered about tired and discouraged, but they felt sure that they would find their way out presently, and they thought it would seem foolish to ask direction, though they saw an old man working not far off. They utterly failed, however, in getting out, and at last came to ask the old man if he could possibly tell them the path out of the maze. "Why," he answered, "that is just what I am here for. Why did not you say you wanted to get out before?" And he put the young men at once on the right track. And that is what our Lord Jesus is for. The steady asking of Him and the following of His directions will deliver from many of life's mazes and from its gloom.
(W. Hoyt, D. D.)
(H. O. Mackey.)upon the dejected as April airs upon violet roots. Gifts from the hand are silver and gold, but the heart gives that which neither silver nor gold can buy. To be full of goodness, full of cheerfulness, full of sympathy, full of helpful hope, causes a man to carry blessings of which he is himself as unconscious as a lamp is of its own shining. Such a one moves on human life as stars move on dark seas to bewildered mariners; as the sun wheels, bringing all the seasons with him from the south.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Make straight paths for your feet.I. THE CHRISTIAN'S CORRECT WALK. Beasts, birds, and fishes make different tracks, and in a museum you will find specimens of each in the rocks which have been strata of the earth, made probably before the creation of man. And we do not have to ask which were tracks of birds or quadrupeds — it is evident. And if, in the future, somebody should find your footprints, will they be tracks of a worldling or a Christian? "He left half a million when he died," it will be said of one. "He turned many to righteousness," it will be said of another. Ah! that is a Christian's track. "He toiled to destroy the works of the devil." "He gave his goods to feed the poor." There is one Example — Christ. He never swerved a single iota. Straight as the path of a sunbeam was His journey from the footstool to the throne.
II. THE CHRISTIAN'S HELPFUL INFLUENCE. HOW tenderly the Lord cares for the lame! You are strong, and have no need to be afraid of rough places; but perchance there is a weak and crippled brother coming after you, who will stumble and fall where you tread firmly. Think of him, and act accordingly. A father, climbing up a steep and precipitous cliff at a summer watering-place, says that, to his astonishment, he heard his little boy calling out behind him, "Take a safe path, father, for I am coming after you." What was safe for the strong nerves and sturdy strength of the father, might be exceedingly perilous for the weak and unpractised step of the child. Therefore, the father must "make straight paths for his feet," &c. It is a lesson running through all life and conduct.
(A. J. Gordon, D. D.)
I. IN GOD'S FLOCK WHERE ARE ALWAYS SOME LAME SHEEP. There is a peril intimated here; "lest that which is lame be turned out of the way." This is only too likely to happen. Lame sheep will commonly be found even in the tiniest flock. It will be necessary, then, to be tender of their infirmity. Some of these people of God who are compared to lame sheep seem to have been so from their birth. It is in their constitution. Do you not know some friends of yours who naturally incline to despondency? For them the road is always rugged, the pastures unsavoury, and the waters turbid. You will find such unhappy souls in all our Churches; people who seem from their very conformation to be lame as to the matters of faith, and full of doubts and fears. Besides, have you never noticed a constitutional tendency in some professors to stumble and get lame? If there is a slough, they will fall into it; if there is a thicket, they will get entangled by it; if there is an error, they will run foul of it. Good people we trust they are, and they do believe in Jesus, but somehow or other they do not see things clearly. Can you not detect, too, some who are lame in point of character? They seen to have been so from their very birth. There is a something about their gait that is unsteady. With some it is a cross temper; with others it is a general moroseness, which it does not seem as if the grace of God itself would ever cure in them; or it may be a natural indolence oppresses them; or it is quite possible that habitual impatience harasses them. Now, the grace of God should eradicate these vices; it can and will, if you yield to its influence. Other sheep of Christ's flock are halt and lame because they have been ill-fed. Bad food is the cause of a thousand disorders. Many a sickly man, instead of being dosed with drugs, needs to be nourished with wholesome meat. Had he something better to feed upon, he might conquer his diseases. May God supply us constantly with strong meat, and sound health to digest it. Full many of the Lord's sheep are lame because they have been worried. Sheep often get worried by a dog, and so they get lamed. It may be I am addressing some poor child of God who has been beset by Satan, the accuser of the brethren, and frightfully tormented. Oh, what trouble and what terror he can inflict upon us! Others, too, have been harassed by persecutors. Many a poor woman has lost her cheerful spirits through a harsh, ungodly husband, who has excited her fears or vexed her with sneers; and not a few dear young children have been broken down for life through the hard treatment they have had for conscience sake to endure at home. Some precious saints I have known have grown lame through a rough and weary way, just as sheep can be lamed if they are driven too fast, or too far, or over too strong a ground. To what an excess of trouble some children of God have been exposed! The Lord has graciously helped them through all their adversities. Still the trouble they have had to endure has told upon their hearts. Perhaps more still are lamed through the rough road of controversy. If you are a child of God, and you know your bearings, keep always as much as ever you can out of the jingle-jangle of controversy. Little good ever comes of your subtle disputations, but they do gender much strife. Full many of the Lord's sheep have become lame through negligence, faintness, and the gradual declension of spiritual health. They have backslidden; they have been remiss in prayer, and forsaken communion with God, so it is no marvel that their walk betrays their weakness. Beware of catching a chill in religion. Lameness is not unfrequently the result of a fall. Saddest, most sorrowful, of all the causes of lameness this which comes through a fall into any sin. Heaven spare us from turning aside to folly!
II. DO YE ASK, THEN, WHAT HE SAYS WE ARE TO DO FOR THESE LAME ONES? Evidently, we ought to comfort them. Lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees. Cheer the hearts when the limbs are weak. Tell the doubting that God is faithful. Tell those that feel the burden of sin that it was for sinners Christ died. Tell the backsliders that God never does cast away His people. Tell the desponding that the Lord delighteth in mercy. Tell the distracted the Lord doth devise means to bring back His banished. But will you please give heed to the special instruction. We are to make straight paths because of lame people. You cannot heal the man's bad foot, but you can pick all the stones out of the path that he has to pass over. You cannot give him a new leg, but you can make the road as smooth as possible. Let there be no unnecessary stumbling-blocks to cause him pain. Do you ask me how you can observe this precept? If you have to preach the gospel, preach it plainly. Would you make straight paths, then take care that your teaching is always according to the Bible. And, in all our walk and conversation let us make straight paths to our feet as those who aim at holiness of life. Unholy Christians are the plague of the Church. The inconsistencies of professors spread dismay among weak, desponding believers. Once more let me admonish you. Do not be negligent when your Lord is so vigilant. The Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, evidently cares for the lame ones. The charge He gives is a proof of the concern He feels. He bids us to be considerate of them, because He Himself takes a warm interest in their welfare.
III. WHAT NOW SHALL I SAY TO YOU WHO FEEL YOUR OWN WEAKNESS AND INFIRMITY? YOU lame ones who cannot walk without limping, I know bow you complain. "Ah," say you, "I am no credit to Christianity. Though in all sincerity I do believe in Jesus, yet I fear that after all he will disown me." When Mr. Greatheart went with Muchafraid and Feeblemind on the road to the celestial city, he had his hands full. He says of poor Mr. Feeblemind, that when he came to the lions, he said, "Oh, the lions will have me." And he was afraid of the giants, and afraid of everything on the road. It caused Greatheart much trouble to get him on the road. It is so with you. Well, you must know that you are very troublesome and hard to manage. But then our good Lord is very patient; He does not mind taking trouble. In the Divine economy the more care you require the more care you shall have. Besides, you know somewhat of our blessed Redeemer's covenant engagements. Did our Lord Jesus Christ fail to bring His weak ones home, it would be much to His dishonour. In your weakness lies your great strength. Jesus Christ will be sure to cover you with His power, so that when you are utterly defenceless you shall be most efficiently defended. "Ah," says another, "I have had a weary life of it hitherto." Yes, but you have brighter days to come.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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