Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so the hope of the godless will perish.
I. THE PLANTS SPRING FROM WATER. Both of these plants grow in marshes or pools, and by the banks of rivers and canals. They both need an abundance of water. man can only live when nourished by the goodness of God. The Christian can only grow to maturity when planted by the unfailing streams of the river of life.
II. THE PLANTS FLOURISH LUXURIANTLY. This is one of the characteristics of succulent plants in moist soil. They grow rapidly and flourish greatly. So, as the goodness of God is no mere sprinkling of refreshment, but a great river with abundance of water, they who live upon it will not be in a meagre and stunted state, but will make great progress and will grow in grace.
III. THE FLOURISHING CONDITION OF THE PLANTS IS PROOF OF THE PRESENCE OF NOURISHING STREAMS. They may be so abundant and so rank in their growth as to hide the water from which they spring; but their very splendour of health and development is a certain sign that they are surrounded by plenteous streams. We know that their roots must be in the water because their stems and upper growth are so green and vigorous. So the existence of prosperity is a sign of Divine goodness. We cannot go so far as Bildad, and take it as a proof of God's approval, for God is gracious to bad men; but it is a proof of God's kindness. The spiritual flourishing of Christian people is a certain sign that they are drinking of the living waters. They may be reserved, and may not reveal to us the springs from which they draw, hiding the roots of their spiritual life. Still by their fruits shall we know them, and learn that they must be in vital relations with the Divine source of all spiritual experience.
IV. THE PLANTS FLOURISH FOR USEFUL END. The reed referred to by Bildad is an edible plant; and the papyrus is the material from which paper was anciently made. The prosperity which God gives to man is a talent to be used in the service of life. Spiritual growth should lead to spiritual productiveness. We receive grace from God in order that we may minister to the work of God.
V. WHEN THE WATER DRIES UP THE PLANTS WITHER. These plants are not like the thorns of the desert, which can endure a terrible drought without suffering seriously. They are distinctly denizens of watery places, and without water they must perish. Man's prosperity must cease when God ceases to bless him. He may ignore the Divine source of his good things, but he must fail if that source is stopped. The Christian more especially will suffer in his better life if he is deprived of the streams of grace. He is like the tree planted by the rivers of water. He in particular needs streams of grace if he is to flourish. He cannot thrive on his own goodly proportions. The most advanced Christian must go back and even utterly perish if he loses the constant supply of grace. We must be in Christ to live the Christian life. - W.F.A.
1. The hypocrite is a forgetter of God.
So are the paths of all that forget God.I. CONSIDER THE SIN OF FORGETTING GOD.
1. It is a very common sin. Thousands never think of Him except in times of trouble.
2. It is an inexcusable sin. They are dependent upon Him. He is constantly revealing Himself to them.(1) In nature. Physical sequences have a living agent behind them; link after link of causation, but held and moved by a living hand. Law has no life. Natural agitations are the rustling of God's garments as He works.(2) In events. They are the tramp of the Everlasting. History is full of the interpositions of the Supreme.(3) In Christ. Here, God became as one of us, that we might know Him.(4) By His Spirit. Men's souls are disturbed by His presence within them.
3. It is a sin of God's children (Jeremiah 11:31). We should live to Him every waking hour. Nothing should be too trifling about which to talk to Him.
II. TO FORGET GOD IS RUINOUS. Our life paths fade away like the rush without mire and the flag without water.
1. The path of inner progress. Men feel that without God they make no moral advancement. True manliness withers; they become moral skeletons. Truth, moral vitality, courage for the right, honour, integrity, all fade away from them, and they are like a withered rush. No one is self-adequate. God is the fountain of life. The highest archangel would cry, as he looked towards the Life-giver of the universe, "All my springs are in Thee." The forces of death within us surely conquer, unless they are subdued by the incomings of God's life.
2. The path of outward actualities. The way of life yields little true joy if God be forgotten. There may be worldly success without it. A man may get rich or high-positioned, but he fails to gain the highest satisfactions.
3. The path of posthumous influence. The way of life is impressionable. We all leave footprints upon it. The footprints of the good are more lasting than the evil. Evil is everywhere to be rooted up. It is a fact that the influence of the good is more permanent than the evil. Compare the influence of Alexander and Socrates, Nero and Paul, Queen Mary and Knox, Voltaire and Wesley, etc. The good parent and the wicked one. The name of the wicked shall rot. Think of the folly of forgetting Him. Why should you do this, and die? The withering of a flower may awaken a sigh; the fading away of an oak a tear; but what sorrow should there be over a man fading away into a demon!
(W. Osborne Lilley.)
2. Forgetfulness of God (howsoever it seems no great matter, yet) is exceeding sinful, a wickedness of the highest stature. Forgetfulness of God is therefore a great wickedness, because God hath done so many things to be remembered by.
3. Forgetfulness of God is a mother sin, or the cause of all other sins. First, a forgetfulness that there is a God. Secondly, a forgetfulness who, or what manner of God He is. Thou thoughtest that I was such an one as thyself (Psalm 50). Thirdly, to forget God, is to forget what God requires; this forgetfulness of these three sorts is productive of any, of every sin.
4. They that forget God shall quickly wither, how great and flourishing soever they are.
The hypocrite's hope shall perish.
I. THE ORIGIN OF HYPOCRISY, or the assumption of a character which does not belong to us. In the first instance it comes from low notions of God, arising out of our deceived understanding. Hypocrisy argues a sense of obligation on the part of the hypocrite. He knows his responsibility, but having no clear notion of the purity and all-seeing eye of God, he puts on a form of religion while destitute of the power; he thinks that God is like himself, and therefore that he can deceive Him. These persons are without a relish for that state of mind which religion requires, the new heart, the right spirit, the single eye, the death unto sin, the life unto righteousness. Man must have a religion, so a religion he assumes.
II. THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF HYPOCRISY. How can we avoid setting down as a hypocrite the man who, devoid of Christ in his heart, attends religious services? One characteristic is self-deception. A man begins by dissembling with God; he proceeds to deceive his fellows; at length he palms the cheat upon himself. Nothing is so irksome even to the sincere Christian as the duty of self-examination. Where self-love is predominant, it is easy to believe that the man will, in the first place, shut his eyes to his faults: a false standard of holiness being set up, he will soon find others worse than himself; this will comfort him; he will substitute single acts for habits, or momentary feelings for abiding and governing principles of conduct.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF HYPOCRISY. The scoffer laughs at what he considers a satisfactory proof that there is no such thing as true religion. The careless or indolent content themselves with their present neutral (as they suppose it) condition, and think it better not to go any further in their profession. The child of God trembles and feels cast down. Yet there is good brought out of all this by God. The best method of avoiding the sin of hypocrisy is to have this constantly in our minds, that we have to deal with a God who is about our path, and about our bed, and spieth out all our ways, one on whom there can be no deception practised. Let us then seek to have that oneness of spirit by which only we can serve Him. In our religion let the heart agree with the head, the hands, and the feet.
(C. O. Pratt, M. A.)
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE HYPOCRITE. All hypocrites belong to the class of those who forget God. In outward appearance, to the eye of man, they appear to remember God. Their outward services; their regular observance of everything that is external in religion; the words which they use; the subjects on which they converse — all appear to mark them out as those who remember God. But, in all this, as the very word hypocrite indicates, they are but acting a part. There is no reality in their services; no correspondence between their outward lives and the state of their heart; the two are altogether at variance. They are anxious for the praise of men; and so they are careful to adapt their outward lives — that which is seen of men — to a religious standard. They care not for the praise of God; and so they neglect their hearts, and withhold them from Him to whom they are due. All is show; there is no fruit. We meet with solemn examples of this character in the Scriptures. It is the motive; it is the power of godliness; it is Jesus dwelling in the heart; it is walking as in the presence of God, — it is this that constitutes the difference between the true Christian and the hypocrite; between him who serves God in truth, and him who serves in appearance. Then let us seek truthfulness of character and reality.
II. THE HOPE OF THE HYPOCRITE. The Christian's hope is laid up in heaven. It is an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast. The hypocrite's hope fastens itself on some vain thing in the present life, some worldly gain, the praise of man, or some pecuniary benefit. And there is no single character in which there is so little hope of any real and saving change as in that of the hypocrite. But what is the issue and end of the hypocrite's hope, and of himself? The hypocrite, being destitute of the grace of God, cannot grow, but must wither away. Without the grace of God we are but as some succulent plant, when the moistened mire and water are withdrawn from its roots. It needs not to be cut down by the hand of man, but withers speedily in consequence of the lack of moisture. We may, however, explain the "mire" and the "water," not of inward grace, but rather of outward prosperity; and then the meaning will be this — It is only in circumstances of outward prosperity that the hypocrite can appear to flourish. Let these be changed let sifting trials come, as they will come, to try the heart, and he is as a rush or flag from which the "mire" and "water" are removed; he suddenly disappears, his hope vanishes, and he himself is lost. Another illustration is used. The hypocrite's hope is compared to a "spider's web." Beautifully formed as such a web is — a masterpiece of ingenuity and arrangement — it is easily swept away. A gust of wind, or the hand of man may carry it away in a moment. The poor spider may cling for safety to his house or web, woven out of its own body, but it cannot shelter him (ver. 15). What a vivid picture of the hypocrite's trust! His confidence of success rises high, when suddenly the hand of God sweeps away the spider's web, and the poor deceiver falls, clinging to its ruins Our subject has led us to speak of the thorough hypocrite, but we ought to remember that there are many degrees of this sin short of downright hypocrisy. Simplicity and transparency of character — one of the most beautiful graces of the Christian character — may be wanting.
1. That of the bulrush growing in a marshy soil. Rush and flag may represent any plant which demands a marshy soil, and imbibes a large quantity of water. When the hypocrite is compared to a rush which cannot live without mire, and the flag that cannot grow without water, we are instructed as to the weakness and unsubstantial nature, of his confidence; and when it is added that "while yet it is in greenness, it withereth before any other herb," we are reminded of the brevity and precariousness of his profession. Take the reed out of the water, and plant it in any other soil, and you will see it hang down its head and perish utterly. You have no need to tear it up by the roots, or to cut it down as by a reaping hook. All that you have tot do is draw off the watery substance on which it depends for nourishment, and which it copiously imbibes. Thus too it is with the profession and confidence of the hypocrite. To prove the worthlessness of his hope, it is enough that you abstract from him the enjoyments of his past existence — the mire and moisture from which he derived his fair show of appearances in the flesh. But for the favourable condition in which he happened to be placed, he would have never appeared religious at all, and that being changed, his declension is rapid and inevitable. "The hypocrite's hope shall perish." He is himself frail as a reed, and that which he leans upon is "unstable as water." Has then the hypocrite hope? Yes, for such is the deceitfulness of the human heart, that it can even cry peace when there is no peace. Thinking the Deity to be altogether such an one as himself, he has accustomed himself to call evil good and good evil. As the man is, so is the god that he creates for himself. And hence it is that even the hypocrite has a hope. But it is a hope which must perish.
2. That of the spider's web, swept away in a moment by the breath of the storm. The web of the spider is carefully and ingeniously constructed; but nothing is more easily brushed aside. The insect trusts to it indeed, but in a moment of time, he and it are carried away together. The hypocrite, too, has reared for himself what he supposes will be a comfortable habitation against the storm and rain. Not more slender is the thread spun by the spider than is his fancied security. Let trial or calamity come, and it will avail him nothing.
3. A plant that has no depth of earth for its roots, but which seeks even among a heap of stones for wherewithal to maintain itself. The metaphor is drawn from an object with which the observers of nature are familiar. When the roots have only a slender hold of a heap of stones, they are easily loosened, and the tree falls prostrate. Such is the attachment of the hypocrite to the place of his self-confidence. Into every crevice of his fancied merits does he push the fibres of hope. On the hard rock of an unconverted heart he flourishes awhile. Learn —(1) Human nature is very much the same in all ages.(2) It concerns us all to endeavour after that well-grounded hope which will stand against every storm, and give composure to us in our latter end. Hope is the grand engine that moves the world. How desirous we ought to be that our hope of heaven should be well grounded and sure. For this purpose be much in secret prayer; and study to be more conformed unto Him who is the author of your hope.
(J. L. Adamson.)I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE HYPOCRITE? All hypocrites may be comprehended under these two sorts.
1. The gross dissembler, who knowingly, and against his conscience, pursues some sinful course, endeavouring only to conceal it from the eyes of men. Such an one as Gehazi, or Judas.
2. The formal, refined hypocrite who deceives his own heart. He makes some advances into the practice of holiness; but not being sound at the heart, not being thoroughly divided from his sin, he takes that for grace which is not sincerity, and therefore much less grace; and being thus deceived, he misses of the power of godliness, and embraces only the form (Matthew 7:26, 27). Both these hypocrites agree in this, that they are deceivers. One deceives the world, the other deceives himself.
II. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE HYPOCRITE'S HOPE? Those persuasions that a man has of the goodness and safety of his spiritual condition, whereby he strongly persuades himself that he is now in a state of grace, and consequently shall hereafter attain to a state of glory. This hope is not in the same proportion in all hypocrites. Distinguish in it these two degrees.
1. A probable opinion. This is but the lowest degree of assent.
2. A peremptory persuasion. This is its higher pitch and perfection. It seems seldom to be entertained but where hypocrisy is in conjunction with gross ignorance, or judicial searedness. Proposition —
I. A HYPOCRITE MAY PROCEED SO FAR AS TO OBTAIN A HOPE AND EXPECTATION OF A FUTURE BLESSEDNESS.
1. Hypocrites have and do obtain such hopes. Evinced by two arguments. From the nature and constitution of man's mind, which is vehement and restless in its pursuit after some suitable good. It is natural for man, both in his desires and designs, to build chiefly upon the future. Man naturally looks forward. Every man carries on some particular design, upon the event of which he builds his satisfaction; and the spring that moves these designs is hope. Hopes of the future are the causes of present action. It follows that the hypocrite has his hope, for he has his course and his way, according to which he acts, and without hope there can be no action. The other argument, proving that hypocrites have their hopes, shall be taken from that peace and comfort that even hypocrites enjoy; which are the certain effects, and therefore the infallible signs of some hope abiding in the mind. Assuredly, if it were not for hope, the heart of the merriest and most secure hypocrite in the world would break.
2. By what ways and means the hypocrite comes first to attain this hope. By misapprehending God. By his misunderstanding of sin. By mistakes about the spiritual rigour and strictness of the Gospel. By his mistakes about repentance, faith, and conversion.
3. By what ways and means the hypocrite preserves and continues this false hope. Those methods by which he first gets it, have in them also a natural fitness to continue, cherish, and foment it. Three ways more. Especially —(1) By keeping up a course of external obedience, and abstaining from gross and scandalous sins.(2) By comparing himself with others, who are openly vicious, and apparently worse than himself. There is no way more effectual for a man to argue himself into a delusion.(3) By forbearing to make a strict and impartial trial of his estate. No wonder if the hypocrite discerns not his condition, when he never turns his eyes inwards by a thorough, faithful examination. The foulest soul may think itself fair and beautiful till it comes to view its deformity in the glass of God's Word. Proposition —
II. THE HYPOCRITE'S FAIREST AND MOST PROMISING EXPECTATION OF A FUTURE HAPPINESS WILL IN THE END VANISH INTO MISERABLE DISAPPOINTMENT.
1. Prove this proposition. From clear testimony of Scripture. A spider's web may represent a hypocrite's hope in the curious subtilty, and the fine artificial composure of it, and in the weakness of it; for it is too fine spun to be strong. From the weakness of the foundation on which the hope is built.
2. Show what are those critical seasons and turns in which more especially the hypocrite's hope will be sure to fail him.(1) The time of some heartbreaking, discouraging judgment from God.(2) At the time of death.
III. MAKE SOME USE AND IMPROVEMENT OF THE FOREGOING DISCOURSE. It shall be to display and set before us the transcendent, surpassing misery of the final estate of all hypocrites, whose peculiar lot it is to hope themselves into damnation, and to perish with those circumstances that shall double and treble the weight of their destruction. In this life the heart of man is not capable of such absolute, entire misery, but that some glimmerings of hope will still dart in upon him, and buoy up his spirits from an utter despondency. But when it shall come to this, that a man must go one way, and his hopes another, so parting as never to meet again, human nature admits not of any further addition to its sorrow; for it is pure, perfect, unmixed misery, without any allay or mitigation. Those appetites and desires, the satisfaction of which brings the greatest delight; the defrauding of them, according to the rule of contraries, brings the greatest and the sharpest misery. Nothing so comfortable as hope crowned with fruition; nothing so tormenting as hope snapped off with disappointment and frustration. The despairing reprobate is happier than the hoping reprobate. Both indeed fall equally low, but he that hopes has the greater fall, because he falls from the higher place.
(R. South, D. D.)
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