Put no more trust in man, who has only the breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?
I. OUR STRONG TEMPTATION. We are very strongly tempted to "put our trust in man," to "make flesh our arm;" for:
1. We see signs of strength in man. And that which is visible has most influence on our human nature. "If a man loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (1 John 4:20). In like manner we far more readily trust the man who is before us with visible signs of health, riches, power about him, than any unseen force which may really be more reliable.
2. Human affection invites trust in man. There are loving hearts around us, enclosing our spirits in the embrace of their affection; it is natural to us to respond to their kindness, and to offer them the full confidence of our souls. We love those who love us; and whom we love we trust.
3. Confidence is often directly offered to us and urged upon us. Those who wish - perhaps for their own purposes - to secure our confidence in them know how to employ successful arts to win our assurance. They virtually say to us, "Trust me, I will ensure your good, I will lead you in the path of honor, of enjoyment, of prosperity;" and it is all too likely that their blandishments or their importunity will prevail.
4. Trust in man is contagious. We find our fellows on every hand, in every circle, leaning the whole weight of their well-being upon the arm of men, confiding wholly in their friends and neighbors, risking everything on their integrity; and what others do we are tempted to do also. The frosts may have been very few and the ice may seem very thin, but many are skating on its surface, and we think that where they have gone we also may go with impunity.
II. OUR WISDOM IN ITS PRESENCE.
1. We should never trust man absolutely. We are to "cease from man;" he is "not to be accounted of" in such way as to be worthy of our implicit trust. Of this we may assure ourselves if we will remember:
(1) His liability to mistake. The cleverest, the most learned, the most thoughtful, the most esteemed, are wrong in some things, are often found wrong in great and grave things; there is no man whose judgment is always sound.
(2) His spiritual insecurity. The man who is held in highest regard may be overtaken by a storm of temptation in which even he will make shipwreck. Men have fallen on whose security their companions counted with unbounded certainty. Before the friend whom we honor above all others, there may prove to be a course which will end in spiritual declension, or even in moral degradation. The painful facts of life pierce our theories while they break our hearts.
(3) His physical fragility. "Man, whose breath is in his nostrils." Hale, strong, capable of noble work to-day, he may be brought down to utter weakness and incapacity to-morrow; nay, before the sun goes down he may have drawn the last breath of life!
2. We should trust the only One who is trustworthy - even him who is the "Truth," who is the "Holy One," who is the "Immortal One." - C.
. — Our text speaks in a two-fold manner: there is in it warning pointedly expressed; also instruction indirectly conveyed —
I. CEASE YE FROM EXPECTING TOO GREAT PERFECTION IN MAN. Many are sadly mistaken on this point. They have higher ideas of the excellency of human nature than the Word of God warrants. It is sad that our experience of life should chill its generous sympathies, and that the heart should become cold and selfish as our knowledge of mankind increases. We ought so to live that the more we become acquainted with human wickedness, the more our compassionate feelings should be enlarged; and that person has a Christian spirit whose experience of man's depravity and love for man have increased in the same ratio.
Cease ye from man.Isaiah 26:3). To produce in us this two-fold feeling is the constant aim of Holy Scripture. The grand scheme of redemption is founded on the principle here laid down. Man is sinful, ignorant, impotent to good, and of himself inclined only to evil, and that continually. God, in His infinite mercy, wisdom, and power, hath provided the only means by which he can be restored to holiness, to the favour of his God, and to life everlasting. But while there is in all religiously instructed people a readiness to concede to Christ the merit of salvation, there is too much disposition to rely upon ourselves and our own arrangements for success in temporal and physical things, and to claim the merit of it if we do succeed. There are various things that have a tendency to produce within us a feeling of self-dependence, and lead to the ignoring of the Divine power and efficiency. There is in us too often an idolatry of human agency and natural or artificial instrumentalities, and too often these occupy in our souls the place of God. In the order of nature causes produce their legitimate effects, so that if we can secure certain antecedents we feel confident of corresponding results. To use all wisdom and discretion in the use of means is a plain duty. But the difficulty with us is, that in our reliance on secondary agencies we too often leave God out of the account. We forget that He is above all means, that He can work without them, or He can frustrate all our means and all our best-concerted plans. There is nothing that men are more disposed to confide in than superiority of intellect. Yet God has given us reasons sufficient to abate our idolatry of human talent. For —
1. The largest capacity of man is really very small. Knowledge with all men is very limited, even in those that know the most.
2. Men of great capacity and uncommon attainments seldom, perhaps never, bear to be examined very closely. If one excel in one thing he is deficient in another. Sir Isaac Newton, great as he was in science and philosophy, failed in the common affairs of life. Laplace, whose extensive range of thought took in the whole mechanism of the planetary universe, did not at all justify the high opinion formed of him by Napoleon, when he, at the emperor's invitation, undertook the business of the statesman.
3. Men of the largest pretensions to mind have been and are still guilty of the puerile, the absurd, the degrading crime of idolatry. E.g., , , , modern Hindoos.
4. The comparatively few specimens of unsullied, religious character.
5. We see in the record which God has given of His dealings with our race, a series of illustrations of man's inefficiency and God's supremacy. He has seldom used the means to accomplish an end that man would have selected or supposed. Egypt saved from perishing by a seven years' famine by a young, falsely accused slave, wrongfully cast into prison. Naaman. Deliverance of Israel from the Midianites (Judges 7). Destruction of Spanish Armada, Waterloo, etc., Lessons —(1) Because means sometimes fail, that is no good reason why we should expect the end without them God ordinarily works by means.(2) We should not rely on the means as being effectual in and of themselves.(3) After having used all the agencies and all the discretion which wisdom and sagacity prescribe, we must still rely upon God for the issue.(4) Apply the same rule to spiritual things. We are to use all prescribed and prudential means; frequent the means of grace, etc. But these are only the means which bring us to God.
(J. Holdich, D. D.)
II. THE RULE OF OUR TEXT WILL APPLY ALSO TO CHRISTIANS. Cease from expecting perfection in them.
1. The Bible teaches us to regard a Christian as different from others only as the man recovering from disease differs from one who is still under its full power, not as one in perfect health and strength.
2. As Christians we may learn to cease from expecting too much from our fellow Christians.
3. We should cease, too, from making any fellow Christian our model, or measuring our faith by his faithfulness.
4. And let us cease from expecting too much from Christian friendship. Christ was forsaken by the twelve, and at St. Paul's first answer before the Roman emperor, no man stood with him, but all forsook him.
III. CEASE YE FROM THE FEAR OF MAN is another appropriate application of the text.
1. The Word of God warns us against this. Who can say that he pursues just that path which conscience approves without being drawn aside by the fear of man? And how strong is the antidote to such a fear which the text presents! His breath is in his nostrils!
2. We should be careful, however, that our ceasing from man be not attended with evil feelings towards him. If a poor man is fearless in the presence of the rich because he scorns them, that is wrong. If we go forward in the path of duty, undeterred by the opinion of the world, because we are self-opinionated, and care nothing for any conclusions except our own, that is wrong.
IV. CEASE YE FROM MAN AS A SOURCE OF HAPPINESS. We build our enjoyments on relatives and friends. We gather around us those who are worthy of our love; our hearts begin to knit with theirs, and we say, This is comfort, here is happiness. But one touch of death crumbles all to the dust, and leaves us to mourn over our disappointed expectations.
(W. H. Lewis, D. D.)
I. REGARDING THE CONDITION OF MAN.
II. REGARDING MAN'S DELIVERANCE AND SALVATION.
III. REGARDING THE CONVERSION OF EVERY SAVED SINNER. Man cannot save you, whatever he may pretend to do.
IV. REGARDING THE CHARACTER OF THE GOSPEL. Such is man that he will hold the truth with the head, and think he can be saved whilst his heart is in the world.
V. REGARDING THE MAINTENANCE AND PROMULGATION OF DIVINE TRUTH IN THE EARTH. How frequently the necessity of this warning is seen in missionary enterprises! "Oh," say some, "you have got the right missionaries now; their heads are full of learning; they have very strong bodies, able to stand any climate; there is plenty of money in the missionary exchequer"; and away they go. Ah, "let not the rich man glory in his riches; let not the strong man glory in his strength; let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; but let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, saith the Lord God Almighty." And then, there is not only work to do abroad, but at home too. If you speak to some men about the infidelity and superstition at home, they will say, the government should do so and so, and make such and such an act of parliament. Do you think that men can be converted by acts of parliament? Oh! "cease ye from man." The text does not mean —
1. That any unconverted person is to say, I will wait till God thinks proper to convert me.
2. That there is no necessity for men to preach the Gospel. Preaching is necessary, because God has ordained it.
3. That it is wrong for rulers or governments to give their legitimate aid to God's truth. Finally, we are taught the great duty of prayer to God.
(Hugh Allen, M. A.)
1. That God wills our seclusion from the society of man.
2. That we are not to give any confidence to man.
3. That we are to withdraw from the appointed means of grace as being superior to them, or standing in no need of them.
II. WHAT THE EXHORTATION DOES IMPLY.
1. That we should cease from all that vain admiration of the external appearance in the character and condition of men in which we are so prone to indulge.
2. That we should not indulge the desire of applause from man.
3. That we should not envy man — his popularity, prosperity, etc.
4. That we should cease from all such confidence in man as would supersede confidence in God.
5. That we should cease from the fear of man.
6. That we should cease from all expectations of perfection in the character of men, even of those who profess religion.
7. That we should cease from all inordinate attachment to creatures.
III. THE ARGUMENT BY WHICH THIS EXHORTATION IS ENFORCED. Cease from man —
1. Because he is a depraved creature, subject to violent and dangerous passions.
2. Because he is a deceitful creature, often deceiving himself as well as others.
3. Because he is a fickle and changeable creature.
4. Because he is a weak and helpless creature.
5. Because he is a dying creature.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. Our first inquiry is, WHAT IS MAN? This question is asked many times in Scripture, end it has been frequently answered with a copiousness of instruction.
1. What is man? He is assuredly a very feeble creature. He must be weak, for "his breath is in his nostrils." We measure the strength of a chain by its weakest link. See, then, how weak man is, for he is weakness itself in a vital point.
2. Man, moreover, is a frail creature. It seems as though his life in his breath stood at the gates, ready to be gone, since it is in his nostrils.
3. Man is also a dying creature. Contemplate the dead! What think you now of your idol?
4. The text also reminds us that man is a very fickle creature. His breath is in his "nostrils." As his breath is affected by his health, so is he changed. Today he loves, and tomorrow he hates; he promises fair, but he forgets his words.
5. If you read the chapter through, you will also find that man is a trembling creature, cowardly creature, a creature, indeed, who, if he were not cowardly, yet has abundant reason to fear. (Read from ver. 19.) "They shall go into the holes of the rocks," etc. Think of the days of Divine wrath, and especially of the last dread day of Judgment, and of the dismay which will then seize upon many of the proud and great. Are you going to make these your confidants?
II. WHAT IS TO BE OUR RELATION TO MAN, or what does the text mean when it says, "Cease ye from man"? It implies, that we very probably have too much to do with this poor creature man already. We may even require to reverse our present conduct, break up unions, cancel alliances, and alter the whole tenor of our conduct.
1. "Cease ye from man" means, first, cease to idolise him in your love. It is very common to idolise children. A mother who had lost her babe fretted and rebelled about it. She happened to be in a meeting of the Society of Friends, and there was nothing spoken that morning except this word by one female Friend who was moved, I doubt not, by the Spirit of God to say, "Verily, I perceive that children are idols." She did not know the condition of that mourner's mind, but it was the right word, and she to whom God applied it knew how true it was. She submitted her rebellious will, and at once was comforted. Cease ye from these little men and women; for their breath is in their nostrils, and indeed it is but feebly there in childhood. A proper and right love of children should be cultivated; but to carry this beyond its due measure is to grieve the Spirit of God. You can idolise a minister, you can idolise a poet, you can idolise a patron; but in so doing you break the first and greatest of the commandments, and you anger the Most High.
2. "Cease ye from man ": cease to idolise him in your trust.
3. Cease to idolise any man by giving him undue honour. "Honour all men." A measure of courtesy and respect is to be paid to every person, and peculiarly to those whose offices demand it; therefore is it written, "Honour the king." Some also, by their character, deserve much respect from their fellow men; but there is a limit to this, or we shall become sycophants and slaves, and, what is worse, idolaters. It grieves one to see how certain persons dare not even think, much less speak, till they have asked how other people think. The bulk of people are like a flock of sheep; there is a gap, and if one sheep goes through, all will follow. God's people should scorn such grovelling. If the Son shall make you free, you will be free indeed.
4. Equally does the text bid us cease from the fear of man.
5. Once more, cease from being worried about men. We ought to do all we can for our fellow men to set them right and keep them right, both by teaching and by example; but certain folks think that everything must go according to their wishes, and if we cannot see eye to eye with them, they worry themselves and us. Let us not be unduly cast down if we cannot set everybody right. The body politic, common society, and especially the Church, may cause us great anxiety; but still the Lord reigneth, and we are not to let ourselves die of grief. He only requires of us what He enables us to do.
6. "But they say." What do they say? Let them say. It will not hurt you if you can only gird up the loins of your mind, and cease from man. "Oh, but they have accused me of this and that." Is it true? "No, sir, it is not true, and that is why it grieves me." If it were true it ought to trouble you; but if it is not true let it alone. Nine times out of ten if a boy makes a blot in his copy book and borrows a knife to take it out, he makes the mess ten times worse; and as in your case there is no blot after all, you need not make one by attempting to remove what is not there. All the dirt that falls upon a good man will brush off when it is dry: but let him wait till it is dry, and not dirty his hands with wet mud. Let us think more of God and less of man. Come, let the Lord our God fill the whole horizon of our thoughts. Let our love go forth to Him; let us delight ourselves in Him. Let us trust in Him that liveth forever, in Him whose promise never faileth. Cease ye from man because you have come to know the best of men, who is more than man, even the Lord Jesus Christ, and He has so fully become the beloved of your souls, that none can compare with Him. Rest also in the great Father as to your providential cares: why rest in men when He careth for you? Rest in the Holy Spirit as to your spiritual needs; why need to depend on man? Yea, throw yourself entirely upon the God all-sufficient, El Shaddai, as Scripture calls Him.
III. WHY ARE WE TO CEASE FROM MAN? The answer is, because he is nothing to be accounted of. Every man must cease from himself first, and then from all men, as his hope and his trust, because neither ourselves nor others are worthy of such confidence. "Wherein is he to be accounted of?" Compared with God man is less than nothing and vanity. Reckon him so, and act upon the reckoning.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
( M. Henry.)
Baxendale's Anecdotes.A Sultan, amusing himself with walking, observed a dervish sitting with human skull in his lap, and appearing to be in a profound reverie. His attitude and manner surprised the Sultan, who demanded the cause of his being so deeply engaged in reflection "Sire," said the dervish, "this skull was presented to me this morning, and I have from that moment been endeavouring, in vain, to discover whether it is the skull of a powerful monarch like your Majesty, or of a poor dervish like myself."
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