Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Amos 4

Verses 1-3

Amos 4:1-3

Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria.

God the champion of the oppressed

I. The character of these men. “Ye kine of Bashan,” etc. The feminine, “kine,” marks their effeminacy; the reference to Bashan, where the richest pasture-land of Israel lay, shows that they had grown fat with luxurious living. It is not rare to find such men the most unscrupulous and cruel Here they are seen in characteristic fashion oppressing the poor, crushing the needy (Amos 2:6-7), and crying out for new gratification of the!r lusts. “Bring, and let us drink.”

II. Their punishment.

1. The Certainty of this is assured by an oath. “The Lord hath sworn by His holiness.” Such men were a fester in the creation of God, an offence to His love for purity. God had espoused the cause of the poor and taken them under His wing. His holiness forbade Him to keep any truce with such men.

2. The punishment is both complete and ignominious. Every one should seek to escape by the nearest breach in the walls, and as God threatened to do with Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:28), these luxurious nobles should be taken away with hooks, and their posterity with fish-hooks. The oppressor must reckon with the great Champion of the oppressed. (J. Telford, B. A.)

Verses 1-3

Amos 4:1-3

Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria.

God the champion of the oppressed

I. The character of these men. “Ye kine of Bashan,” etc. The feminine, “kine,” marks their effeminacy; the reference to Bashan, where the richest pasture-land of Israel lay, shows that they had grown fat with luxurious living. It is not rare to find such men the most unscrupulous and cruel Here they are seen in characteristic fashion oppressing the poor, crushing the needy (Amos 2:6-7), and crying out for new gratification of the!r lusts. “Bring, and let us drink.”

II. Their punishment.

1. The Certainty of this is assured by an oath. “The Lord hath sworn by His holiness.” Such men were a fester in the creation of God, an offence to His love for purity. God had espoused the cause of the poor and taken them under His wing. His holiness forbade Him to keep any truce with such men.

2. The punishment is both complete and ignominious. Every one should seek to escape by the nearest breach in the walls, and as God threatened to do with Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:28), these luxurious nobles should be taken away with hooks, and their posterity with fish-hooks. The oppressor must reckon with the great Champion of the oppressed. (J. Telford, B. A.)

Verse 4-5

Amos 4:4-5

Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression.

Ill-spent service

I. The scenes of this idolatry. “Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression.” Idolatry was flourishing in the seats of their most hallowed memories. “Come,” he says, “to Bethel.” Here, where everything spoke of God’s mercy, they were to transgress. At Bethel the founder of their race, fresh from his home in Haran, had “builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord “ (Genesis 12:8). Here, on his return from Egypt, he had received the promise that all the land on which he looked should be given to him and his seed for ever (Genesis 13:1-18.). There was no spot in the land so rich in memories of God’s great goodness as Bethel, yet here they transgressed. Think of a man calling the Duke of Wellington a coward at Waterloo, or forgetting Nelson in Trafalgar Bay. Even this is a faint picture of the insults which Israel offered to God in the place of His richest mercy to the nation. At Gilgal too they multiplied transgressions. Hosea (Hosea 9:15) even says “all their wickedness is in Gilgal.” It was the spot where Joshua, just installed as leader after the death of Moses, placed the twelve stones which they had taken out of Jordan (Joshua 4:24). Strange and sad is the story of human sin! In Gilgal they were despising their Champion and Deliverer. The city had another memory which might have saved them. They kept their first passover in the land in Gilgal (Joshua 5:10-12). Sin has a short memory. It tries hard to escape from the remembrance of God’s mercy, and can transgress without remorse in the places where heaven has multiplied blessings. Learn, if you would escape the misery of grieving God, to recall His mercies. Every step of life’s journey is rich in proofs of His mercy. Barrow says in one of his sermons, that as men choose the fairest places in great cities for monuments of national deliverance, so we should erect in our hearts “lively representations of, and lasting memorials, unto the Divine bounty.”

II. The spirit of their idolatry. For once they were whole-hearted in worship. They seem to have been prompt to do everything for their idols, though they refused to do anything for God. Sacrifices every day; tithes of their substance every three years; thank-offerings, even freewill offerings, were readily presented at Bethel and Gilgal. Nothing seems to have been too much for them to do. They withdrew from business and pleasure that they might offer their morning sacrifices, etc. To whom? To the idol calf of Bethel, which was soon to be carried--a curiosity of the plundered land--as a present to king Jareb (Hosea 10:6). For God they would do nothing. Their whole strength and wealth were devoted to idols that were powerless to help them, and to priests who were blinding them to the doom which was near at hand. It is a true picture of many still. They will do nothing for God, they are ready to do anything for sin.

III. Reason for this determined transgression. “This liketh you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord.” Their hearts were wrong, therefore they multiplied transgression. There was no call to think in this false worship. The idol priests sought to drown the voice of conscience and to silence any faithful reproof which might have led to reformation of life. Men came from their houses of ivory, which had been built up with oppression, from the palaces where “robbery and violence” were stored up, and there was no Baptist voice to cry as they entered into the idol temple, “Bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” The reason for the alacrity which men show in sin is written here: “this liketh you.” But let every man of reason consider! Are we children that “like” should rule? (J. Telford, B. A.)

Worship abounding with abounding sin

Crimes ran riot among the people at this period, and yet how religious they seemed to be!

I. Abounding worship often implies abounding sin. This is the case when the worship is--

1. Selfish. Men crowd churches, and contribute to religious institutions purely with the idea of avoiding hell and getting to a happier world than this.

2. Formal. Abounding worship is no proof of abounding virtue and abounding godliness.

II. Abounding worship often springs from abounding sin, It may spring from--

1. A desire to conceal sin. Sin is an ugly thing; it is hideous to the eye of conscience. Hence efforts on all hands to conceal.

2. A desire to compensate for evils. Great brewers build churches and endow religious institutions in order to compensate in some measure for the enormous evil connected with their trade.

3. A desire to appear good. The more corrupt a man is, the stronger his desire to appear otherwise. Do not judge the character of a nation by the number of its churches, the multitude of its worshippers. ( Homilist.)

A sinful people resisting the chastisements of God

No sterner picture of an utterly rotten social state was ever drawn than this book gives of the luxury, licentiousness, and oppressiveness of the ruling classes. This passage deals with the religious declension underlying the moral filth, and sets forth the self-willed idolatry of the people (Amos 4:4-5); their obstinate resistance to God’s merciful chastisement (Amos 4:6-11); and the heavier impending judgment (Amos 4:12-13).

1. Indignant irony flashes in that permission or command to persevere in the calf worship. The seeming command is the strongest prohibition. The lessons of this burst of sarcasm are plain. The subtle influence of self creeps in even in worship, and makes it hollow, unreal, and powerless to bless the worshipper. Obedience is better than costly gifts. Men will lavish gifts far more freely in apparent religious service, which is but the worship of their reflected selves, than in true service of God. And the purity of willing offerings is marred when they are given in response to a loud call, or when given, are proclaimed with acclamations.

2. The blaze of indignation changes into wounded tenderness. Mark the sad cadence of the fivefold refrain. “Yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord.” To Amos, famine, drought, blasting, locusts, pestilence, and probably earthquake, were messengers of God, and Amos was taught of God. If we looked deeper we should see more clearly. To the prophet’s eye the world is all aflame with a present God. Amos had another principle. God sent physical calamities because of moral delinquencies, and for moral and religious ends. These disasters were meant to bring Israel back to God, and were at once punishments and reformatory methods. Amos’s lesson as to the purpose of trials is not antiquated. Amos also teaches the awful power which we have of resisting God’s efforts to draw us back. The true tragedy of the world is that God calls and we refuse.

3. Again the mood changes, and the issue of protracted resistance is prophesied (verses 12, 13). Long-delayed judgments are severe, in proportion as they are slow. The contact of Divine power with human rebellion can only end in one way, and that is too terrible for speech. The certainty of judgment is the basis of a call to repentance, which may avert it. The meeting referred to is not judgment after death, but the impending destruction of the northern kingdom. But Amos’s prophetic call is not misapplied when directed to the final day of the Lord. The conditions of meeting the Judge, and being “found of Him in peace,” are that we should be “without spot and blameless”; and the conditions of being so spotless and uncensurable axe repentance and trust. Only we have Jesus as the brightness of the Father’s glory to trust in, and His all-sufficient work to trust to for pardon and purifying. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Israel often reproved

The Book of Amos is one of the simplest in the Bible. The gist of it is found in Amos 3:2. This is the prophet’s theme. It contains three distinct thoughts: the love of God for Israel; the fate in store for them; and the sins by which they had forfeited the one and merited the other. The rest of the book is largely a series of variations on this theme.

1. “Come to Bethel,” cries the prophet. The words are hortatory only in form, for Amos adds in the same breath, “and transgress.” It is not very clear why the prophet condemned the worship at Bethel. It is probable that Amos was thinking of the character of the worshippers. They certainly, if they had been only h all a§ bad as he describes them in the second chapter, would have been sadly unfit to appear before a holy God. Amos did not condemn sacrifices and offerings as such. They mean that the man who is impure in his life, or unjust to his neighbour, whatever else he may he or do, is yet in his sins: that if he continues such as he is no amount of zeal in the forms of religion will make him acceptable to God; that in fact the attempt to substitute anything for moral character is an insult to the Holy One of Israel.

2. “Yet have ye not returned unto Me.” There is a note of surprise and disappointment in the words by which the second thought is introduced. They indicate that the condition of Israel was not what was to be expected. The words following explain why a different state of things ought to have existed--because God had repeatedly afflicted them. Amos here clearly teaches that the calamities which he describes were sent upon Israel on account of their sins, and for the purpose of turning them to God. It would be interesting to know just what was his idea with reference to what we call “misfortunes.” Probably he saw some connection between the afflictions which befell Israel and their moral condition. We are not satisfied with the simple views of God and His relation to the world which once prevailed. We know that, though we cannot explain why, the guiltless as well as the guilty arc sometimes overtaken by misfortune. But Israel did not heed the lesson that God would have taught them.

3. “Therefore thus will I do unto thee” (verse 12). There is no picture of coming terror. Amos could at most but dimly outline what they were to expect. The summons, “Prepare to meet thy God,” is usually misunderstood. The words are not an appeal, but a challenge. Persistence in sin means nothing short of an encounter with the Almighty. We have dwelt upon the goodness of God so much that we have almost lost sight of His severity. There is, however, a severe side to His character. And can a man contend with his Maker? The fate of Israel is an illustration of the fatal consequences of persistent disobedience of God. (Hinckley G. Mitchell.)

Israel of ten reproved

This entire prophecy is one of denunciation. Only once or twice is there even hinted the possibility of better things, and only at the very close, like a gleam of sunset glory at the end of a day of gloom, is the full promise given of a restoration of Israel to goodness and to glory. The prophecies against the six enemies of the chosen people and against Judah, with which the book begins, are only preparatory to the full description of the sin of Israel and the punishment which is to come upon its people. Israel, so far as it is like the nations that know not God, is exposed to the same judgments as they.

I. The prophecy is addressed to those who abuse their privileges. Israel was the chosen people, having the oracles of God. They knew the spiritual being and holy character of Jehovah. They had entered into covenant with Him. They had been taught both how to worship Him and how to please Him in their lives. And yet they did not walk as children of the light. They sinned even in their worship. The shrines at Bethel and at Gilgal were the centres of a mingled idolatry and Jehovah-worship. Though they brought sacrifices every morning and tithed their increase or possessions every three days, though they offered not only unleavened bread, but the leavened also, though they encouraged one another to multiply their free-will offerings; however much they might increase their devotion to such religious forms as pleased them, all this was only the increase of their sin, according to the taunting exhortation of the prophet. Mere religiousness never will save a people or a person. External forms grow more rigid when the life has gone out of them, and so announce the loss. To worship the Lord and serve our own gods is the height of impiety. The calf-worship was worse than Baal-worship, because it was a mare conscious defiance of Jehovah. Israel was a prospered people. These days of Jeroboam

II. were at the very summit of its prosperity. The northern kingdom extended to the limits reached under Solomon. Damascus was taken; Moab was reconquered; Israel was powerful and rich. But Israel, instead of making of this richness a very garden of the Lord, suffered all the weeds to grow out of it which so easily find root in such a soil. The sins which mark prosperity are the sins of the prosperous classes. Those who were high in position and rich in possessions in Israel were indulgent toward themselves and oppressive toward the poor. Nations and men need to be warned in their prosperity. It is not easy to tell the truth to the rich and the high. It takes the sense of a prophetic mission to give one courage so to do. Let us beware! What prophet has a message for us like that of Amos the herdsman from Judah for court and priest and people of Israel? Prophets enough, but how many, alas, with no message from the Lord! Our ears are filled with the teachings of political economists contradicting and confounding one another. The air is strident with the harsh cries of the false prophets of materialism.

II. The prophecy is addressed to those who neglect the discipline of adversity. Israel had had its share of that. Jehovah could not vindicate His Fatherhood unless He corrected the faults of His children by reproof and punishment as well as by the encouragement of prosperity and the stimulus of opportunity. By a famine of food and a famine of water, by a failure of crops, by the scourge of pestilence, by general destruction brought upon them in many ways He had sought to rouse the thoughts of His people and to turn their attention to their evil ways. But it had all been to no purpose. “Yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord.” When all the discipline which the wise father has been able to devise has failed, his heart is sad and disappointed. We have heard a great deal about probation in the pulpits of the past and in the theological discussions of the present. And yet the term and thought are often misused and distorted. We are not set out upon this earthly life that God may put us through its various experiences to see what is in us, as though He were an assayer to whom each human life was brought that He might determine its value and use by an application of the most efficient tests. We are God’s children in our Father’s house, and He is trying to educate and discipline us for our proper place and part in the home life as we come to our maturity. We must learn self-restraint and submission to others; we must grow into fuller sympathy with His ways and plans. All this is discipline, not probation. It is education, not testing. True, it does all test us, but in no peculiar sense. Everything tests us. Each command and each caress equally, by the response which it elicits, shows our quality and fibre. But you neither kiss your child nor send him on an errand to test him. But there comes a time, where all has been done that love and wisdom can devise, when the father says, and the mother sits by consenting through sorrow too deep for tears and moans, “We have done all that we can for him. He abuses all his privileges and misuses all his opportunities. He profits nothing by the consequences of his evil doing or by the punishments we have inflicted. We are only making him worse by trying to help him. We have done all that we can do, ‘yet he has not returned unto us.’” That is just the case with the mass of the people, both of Israel and of our time and nation.

III. The prophecy is addressed to those who have still an opportunity to return. The language of the prophet is stern and severe, and yet it is not an unrelenting severity, nor the sternness of a final sentence. There is this contrast between the threats against the Gentile nations and those spoken to Israel. Nothing is said of a relenting there, but here it is always implied or expressed. The threat against the chosen people is all the more severe by reason of its vagueness: “Thus will I do unto thee, O Israel”; as though could not bear to put into words the terrible things which He foresaw would become necessary. But the threat is relieved by the command which has in it both the elements of terror and of comfort: “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel!” There could be no escape from that encounter. But there was yet time and opportunity for them to make the needed preparation for that meeting. It could not be a preparation to meet their doom which they were bidden to make. It could only be a making ready by penitence and amendment of their lives to meet their God without fear that they might receive His pardon and be restored to His favour. Indeed, the very announcement of a purpose to punish implies a possibility of averting the threatened wrath. The thunderbolts of God are to arouse the attention of the rebellious ones, and the flashes of His lightning show the path which leads to Him. Yes, one more opportunity is given to every one to whom either the threatening of the law or the invitation of the Gospel comes; to every one to whom at least it has a meaning. Law and grace are but the two hands of love. It behoves the men of the nineteenth century, whether they are in the enjoyment of proud prosperity or in the endurance of humbling discipline, to remember that the purpose of both is to draw or drive them back to God. (George M. Boynton.)

Verses 6-11

Amos 4:6-11

And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities.

Afflictions providential

There is a material difference between what may be called permissive and active providences; and between such as are disciplinary, and such as are strictly punitive. The afflictions enumerated here were sent by the direct visitation of God for disciplinary purposes. Hence the people were responsible to God for the moral effect of His providential visitations upon them. Just so with every man under God’s government. A thousand evils may come on me, and I may be personally innocent in relation to them; but God will judge me as to the uses I make of these visitations--the moral effects they produce upon me in the way of chastening and reformation.

1. Consider, then, that God’s hand or purpose is in every providential visitation.

2. That God has a specific moral end in every visitation that He lays upon us.

3. That these providences are sure to accomplish their mission upon us, namely, to chasten, soften, reclaim, or else to harden, render obdurate, and ripen for final destruction, as in the case of Pharaoh, ancient Israel, and a multitude of others.

4. Afflictions of every kind should humble us, awaken us to serious reflection and earnest inquiry as to their meaning. They are never sent in vain. A gracious purpose is behind them, or a fatherly rebuke is in them, or the dark cloud is ominous of coming wrath if we haste not to repent. (J. M. Sherwood.)

God’s government of the world a chastising government

In these verses the Almighty describes the various corrective measures which He had employed for effecting a moral reformation in the character of the Israelites.

I. The chastisements are often overwhelmingly terrific.

1. He sometimes employs blind nature, famine, drought, blight, pestilence, sword.

2. He sometimes employs human wickedness.

II. They are designed for moral restoration.

1. Men are alienated from God.

2. Their alienation is the cause of all their misery. See the benevolence of all these chastisements. They are to restore souls.

III. The chastisements often fail in their grand design. “Yet have ye not returned unto Me.” This shows--

1. The force of human depravity.

2. The force of human freedom. Almighty goodness does not force us into goodness. He treats us as free agents and responsible beings. (Homilist.)

Chastisement--its purpose and failure

I. The character of the chastisement.

1. It touched them in their temporal comfort, Nothing else would reach such obstinate sinners. To a good man the Divine love and favour is the highest of all blessings: Israel could only be reached by loss of temporal comfort.

2. The chastisement took various forms in order to reach them all.

3. Stroke after stroke fell upon them, that if their hearts were at all softened by the troubles they had just known, the new trouble might lead them to true repentance; and so that every class of the community might be reached and won for God. A glance at the five forms which the visitation took will show how it reached every circle.

II. The purpose of their sorrows. God wanted to bring them home to Himself.

III. The failure of this chastisement. God had done all that even He could do to make it impressive. Chastisement may fail. “Many meet the gods, but few salute them.” Sorrows which might purify are lost upon us because they do not make us acknowledge Him. God can do nothing more, He must leave men to their sin till the blow fall and the ruin irretrievable has come. (J. Telford, B. A.)

Unavailing chastisements

I. The design of God, in all his dispensations, is to bring men from their wanderings back again to himself. No truth can be clearer than that we have departed from Him. Being anxious for our restoration, God is pleased to chastise us. He does not afflict willingly, as is evident from--

1. His nature. He is a Being of boundless compassion.

2. The patience He exercises.

3. The warnings He gives.

II. That these dispensations frequently fail to answer the end for which they were intended. Happily it is not so in all cases. It is in very many. They are chastised in vain, and the complaint from heaven is heard. “Yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord.” In the visitations here referred to, three things appear.

1. They are fearful in their character. Some light stroke might be unheeded.

2. Frequent in their infliction. If a single trial is unavailing, surely one coming after another would bring them to consider their ways, and turn to Him that smote them.

3. Marked by certain features which showed the hand of God in the clearest manner. “Rained on one city, and not on another.”

III. When such dispensations are disregarded the most disastrous consequences are likely to ensue. “Therefore, thus will I do unto thee.” (Expository Outlines.)

God varies His instruments of punishment

One day, seeing some men in a field, I went up to them, and found they were cutting up the trunk of an old tree. I said, “That is slow work, why not spilt it asunder with the beetle and wedges?” “Ah, this wood is so cross-grained and stubborn that it requires something sharper than wedges to get it to pieces.” “Yes,” I replied, “and that is the way God is obliged to deal with obstinate, cross-grained sinners; if they will not yield to one of His instruments, you may depend on it He will make use of another.” (G. Grigg.)

Verse 10

Amos 4:10

Your young men have I slain with the sword . . . yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord.

God’s dealings with us nationally, and their object

While we are in this state of trial and probation God does not punish us, individually or nationally, in the spirit of vindictiveness” or vengeance, but out of love and compassion, and with the view of working in us that which is needful for our temporal prosperity and eternal welfare, and which His good gifts and past mercies have failed to effect.

I. The parties here addressed. Primarily the children of Israel. If we can trace a resemblance between our conduct and theirs, we must undoubtedly consider the words of the text equally addressed to us.

1. Pride was a striking characteristic of God’s people of old. What was the return they made for all the signal blessings bestowed on them? “Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked.” Have not we, nationally and individually, acted like them in this particular? How have we requited the good and gracious Benefactor for His great mercies? Have we not been lifted up in pride? Is it not the prevailing sentiment that it is to our own wisdom we owe our constitution, to our own exertions our wealth, and to our superior institutions our freedom from rebellion and revolution?

2. Israel had drawn down God’s judgments for their hypocrisy. They were very zealous in the profession of their religion. But their hearts went after their idols, and their hands were full of blood. Therefore God refused their worthless profession. And, nowadays, there is a vast deal of outward profession of religion, yet but very little real, practical, influential religion. Where is the self-discipline, “the self-denial, the self-sacrifice which our holy religion calls upon us for?

3. Forgetfulness of God, their great Benefactor, was a striking characteristic of the Israelites of old. And do we acknowledge God’s hand in the productiveness of our land, or in the failure of our crops?

4. Our sin and rebellion against God fix us with the applicability of these words to ourselves. Who can fathom the demoralisation and wickedness of the dense masses of our great cities, etc.!

II. God’s dealings with them in like connection with his dealings with us. Unexampled favours demand a higher standard of holiness and devoted obedience, and proportionately increase the heinousness of guilt. Trace the dealings with which God had visited the Israelites, in chastisement for their sins, which are referred to in this chapter. Scarcity, disease, war, etc.

III. What is the object of these dealings of God towards us? His yearning over us is that we should become a people fearing Him, and working righteousness. The nation is made up of individuals; and as far as individual responsibility is concerned, it will be by individual practice, example, and influence that we must severally promote that reformation amongst us which is needful to restore us to the Divine favour. (Edward T. Cardale.)

Verse 11

Amos 4:11

Ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning.

The firebrand plucked out of the burning

A large portion of the sacred writings sets forth God’s exhibitions of kindness towards men as their Protector. Men in every age should study to preserve in their memory the Divine procedure, both in providence and in grace, as being adapted to secure their highest welfare. Here God magnified His mercy by interposing when justice appeared about to consummate its work in their destruction. “I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning.” Those who are the subjects of God’s grace under the Gospel may properly be thus addressed.

I. Here is indicated a fearful danger.

1. This danger in its nature. It arises under the moral government of God consequent upon the character of man as a sinner. Man in his original state is everywhere under the Divine displeasure, condemned and exposed to punishment. The punishment does not extend merely to the infliction of temporal calamity and sorrow, it extends also to the life which is to come. The punishment incurred through sin is illustrated in the text by the metaphor of fire; the figure being taken from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Bible representations of future punishment set forth the intensity of that punishment. They are not to be interpreted literally; they are intended to denote most powerful and supreme intensity of mental suffering; the recollections of the past, the consciousness of the present, and the anticipations of the future, being united in one unmitigated torment and agony.

2. Its imminence. It is represented as being on the eve of consummation. The firebrand is spoken of as being close upon the element that is to consume it, nay, as being already seized. There are few metaphorical expressions more adapted to set forth extreme imminence and exposure to danger. All men, without exception, are in imminent danger of the doom appointed as the consequence of sin, because of the fact that their state of sin constitutes a moral fitness and preparation for it; because of the fact that they are condemned in their sinful state already; and because of the fact that their lives--the season of their probation and trial--are evanescent, frail, and uncertain.

II. A delightful rescue. The source from which the rescue is derived. They are not saved by themselves, or by any finite agency whatever. The only Deliverer of the human soul from the burning is God. And the deliverance is wrought out by a sublime redemptive scheme, the agents being the Divine Son and the Holy Spirit.

III. The characteristics by which this deliverance is distinguished.

1. Observe the freeness of it.

2. The permanence of it.

3. The blessedness of it.

4. The powerful effect which the contemplation of the rescue from the danger should secure.

In this contemplation there will be involved astonishment, gratitude, and compassion for those who are still in the place of burning. (James Parsons.)

A fast sermon for the fire of London

I. The severity of the judgment. “I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.” Observe--

1. The nature and kind of it. The suddenness and unexpectedness of it; the force and violence of it; the sad train of circumstances which attend and follow it.

2. Consider it in the series and order of it. It comes in the last place, as a reserve, when nothing else would do any good upon them.

3. The causes moving God to so much severity in His judgment. These are the greatness of the sins committed against Him. But it is not enough in general to declaim against our sins, we must search out particularly those predominant vices which by their boldness and frequency have provoked God thus to punish us. Three sorts of sins are here spoken of. Luxury and intemperance; covetousness and oppression; contempt of God and His laws

4. The Author of the judgment. God challenges the execution of His justice to Himself, not only in the great day, but in His judgment here in the world. When God is pleased to punish men for their sins, the execution of His justice is agreeable to His nature now, as it will be at the end of the world.

II. The mixture of his mercy in it. “Ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning.” Note--

1. The nearness they were in to the danger. Like a brand, the greatest part of which is already consumed by fire. This shows the great difficulty of their escaping.

2. The unexpectedness of such a deliverance. They are not saved by their own skill and counsel, nor by their strength and industry, hut by Him who, by His mighty hand, did pluck them as firebrands out of the burning. Though we own the justice of God in the calamities of this day, let us not forget His mercy in what He hath unexpectedly rescued from the fury of the flames. Let us then not frustrate the design of so much severity mixed with so great mercy. Let it never be said that neither judgments nor kindness will work upon us. We have cause enough for mourning and lamentation. Let us meet God now by our repentance, and return to Him, by our serious humiliation for our former sins, and our steadfast resolution to return no more to the practice of them. (Bishop Stillingfleet.)

The fire of iniquity

Many figures are employed to represent the evil of sin. But even the most suggestive are inadequate. “Fire” is very suggestive.

I. Both fire and sin are involved in much mystery. No inspection, or speculation, can determine the weight, colour, consuming power, etc., of fire. Thus with the “fire of iniquity,” there is much that is unaccountable connected with its origin, constitution, and processes of ruin; but none can doubt the terrible fact of its existence.

II. Both find ready and abundant food for the flames. Matter universally possesses the property of heat in various degrees. Human nature is morally of an inflammable character, and universally so. It is only a question of time in the instance of every life, when the hidden properties of sin develop in active, visible form.

III. The most disastrous fires are often from smallest beginnings. A sweeping conflagration that in two hours transformed an American town into a waste of smoking ruins, had its beginning in an unseen flame in a small upper storey. It is in the apparently harmless beginnings of impure thoughts, and unholy desires, and little sins that the desolating fires of iniquity have their rise.

IV. Superior worth of objects does not exempt from attack and ruin. Everything succumbs to fire. This is as sadly true of the fires of sin. It would seem that the brightest genius, the noblest heart, and the most promising talent were the especial victims of the arch-fiend. Satan is no respecter of persons, for the rich and poor, high and low, ignorant and intelligent, useless and useful are drawn upon as fuel to feed his merciless flames.

V. Means of defence are provided against the ravages of this monster. Fire-engines, fire-escapes, etc. Neither has God left humanity destitute of means for the defence of the soul exposed to Satan’s flames. A fountain has been opened, the waters of salvation, the means of grace, the Church, and the Holy Spirit, all these are given us in liberal provision, that the fires of sin may be quenched. Have we been rescued? There are many others yet enveloped in the flames of sin. “Pulling them out of the fire” is the work of next importance. God demands this at our hands. (W. G. Thrall.)

The strange parallel between fire and sin

All nature has its lessons. Fire is a most expressive emblem. What is there in the moral world to which it answers? It is a terrible agent; it is all activity. It tends to consume and to ruin whatever it touches. All life perishes when involved in it. But before that end comes it inflicts the keenest torture. And its inherent tendency is to spread. Let it alone, and with a field before it, its ravages will be terrible and complete. It must be resisted, fought with, mastered, and over come. One thing in the moral world answers to it. Sin against God, sin in a man’s life.

I. The analogy between fire and sin.

1. You cannot weigh fire in the scales. You cannot grasp it. Yet you would call the man absurd or a fool who should deny its existence. So it is with sin. You cannot take hold of it, but you can see the desolation and the ravages it makes. It is a fact which no man can dispute.

2. Fire sometimes becomes almost invisible. At noonday its flame grows indistinct, but the pillar of cloud rises over it and marks the spot. So it is with sin. Some, in the glare and noonday of their busy life, fail to see it. The dimness of religious truth to their minds is a terrible monitor of what sin is doing in their hearts.

3. Sin is like fire in its attractions. A little child loves to play with fire, careless or unconscious of the danger. So it is that men toy with sin. They see its brilliant forms, its beautiful but deadly blaze, and fall in love with it. The moth loves the flame. Men are drawn to sin by its pleasing, winning aspect. It has indulgence for appetite; mirth, wit, and humour, to amuse and gratify; feasts for gluttons; splendour for pride; revelry for the reckless.

4. Sin is like fire in its consuming power. In a short time the flames will turn the grandest and most imposing fabric of human hands into a heap of smouldering rubbish. Sin will do the same thing, only it burns down men. The soul cannot be burned. But what no furnace seven times heated can do, sin will. It can burn the soul down to an eternal ruin. It has done it. It can set it all ablaze with unholy desires; with lust, envy, pride, selfishness, avarice, malice, and all manner of iniquity. It can burn out of it all the elements of reflection, sensibility, principle, and reverence for God. And it is not gross passions alone that will burn down the soul. You can kindle with shavings as well as with pitch and tar. You can desecrate the soul by vain and selfish thoughts as well as by criminal deeds.

5. Sin is like flame, because it spreads, and tends to spread. One spark is enough to kindle a fire that would burn down all London. And so one wicked thought, or evil suggestion or temptation, has been the spark that has kindled the fires of sin in the soul till it glowed like a furnace, or has set the whole community in a blaze of passion. A bad man is always going on from bad to worse.

6. Sin is like fire in the pain it inflicts. What bodily smart or anguish is like that of fire? It is the most perfect of all kinds of torture. Lay a wicked deed on a man’s conscience, and how it blisters it! It burns, and stings, and agonises its victim. It overwhelms him with anguish and remorse. Nothing can make a man so unhappy as his sin.

7. Sin is like fire, because it defaces whatever it touches. Everything fair and beautiful withers before fire. So sin blights the fairest landscapes.

8. Sin is like fire, because it must be resisted. Sin is an evil to be contended with in heart and in life. It must be resisted, or it will consume the soul.

9. Sin is like fire, because if you wait too long before you attempt to bring it under, the attempt is useless. The time comes when fire gets the upper hand. So the soul may be left till sin has got the mastery.

II. It is the sinner that is the fuel

1. A firebrand is a combustible material. It could be burned. So it is with the sinner’s heart. It can burn with unhallowed passions.

2. A firebrand has been already exposed to the fire. So is the sinner’s heart. Unruly desires and unhallowed aims have burned into it, and you can find no one who has not sinned.

3. A firebrand has offered no effectual resistance to the flames. And the sinner has not resisted the fires of sin as he should have done.

4. A firebrand is ready to be kindled anew, even after it has been once quenched. And a spark of temptation may set the sinner ablaze again. It needs to be kept and guarded well.

5. A firebrand is already in the process of being consumed, and a little longer time will finish it. So with the sinful heart; the progress of the fire has been rapid, and its work will soon be done.

6. A firebrand needs only to be let alone, and it will burn to ashes. Leave the soul in its sin--leave it to the ruinous, consuming power of its own lusts, and its ruin will be complete.

7. A firebrand is a dangerous thing if its sparks and coals come in contact with anything else; and so Scripture declares that one sinner destroyeth much good.

III. But even firebrands may be saved. Desperate as their condition is, they are sometimes plucked from the burning, and their flames are quenched. So it is with sinners. How were they delivered? Did they save themselves? As well might the firebrand put out its own fires. The work is God’s. The converted soul is a miracle of grace. He interposes. It is by His Word enlightening the mind, His Spirit convincing of sin, and His grace renewing the soul that the work is accomplished. (E. A. Gillett.)

Verse 12

Amos 4:12

Prepare to meet thy God.

Preparation for judgment

We will endeavour to enforce the exhortation of the text in a series of arguments, illustrating the reasons why due obedience and attention should be given to this command of the great Omnipotent.

1. Because we shall most certainly be summoned to His tribunal, a We must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.” Do you believe this awful fact? You shall meet God, to give an account of every thought, word, and deed. Are you seeking a preparation for this dreadful period? The very idea of standing before the judgment-seat of Christ should so overpower the mind with its awfulness that every moment should be busily employed in preparing for that hour.

2. Because we shall then receive our everlasting destiny. Then we shall know our irreversible fate. The condition after judgment is unchangeable.

3. Because our time on earth is short and uncertain.

4. On account of the promised blessedness and happiness of heaven. The reward of glory, honour, and eternal life awaits those who have made due preparation to dwell in the celestial kingdom. (J. M. Burton.)

A call to remember God

To prepare to meet Him implies a firm belief of His approach, and careful consideration in what way best to receive it. This precept is often applied to the idea of meeting God in another world. But we may, apply the lessons of this teaching to what goes on in this world. How may we ‘“prepare to meet our God” as He comes near to us?

I. During our probation on earth.

1. In the way of repentance. God reveals Himself to us as willing and waiting to be gracious; He calls on the careless and impenitent to meet Him in mercy, and tells them to do so--

2. In the way of temporal blessings. Then we should meet Him in a spirit of gratitude and praise.

3. In the way of temporal sorrow. Sorrow is often represented in Scripture under the idea of the clouds, the whirlwind, and the storm.

4. In the use of the means of grace, Men often lose much from not preparing to meet God in His own ordinances. Prepare to meet Him--

5. In the works of righteousness.

II. After the time of our probation is over.

1. Very solemn and awakening is the thought of meeting God at that moment, when every earthly prop will have been taken away from the soul, and the veil of flesh removed, and every delusion will have vanished for ever. Remember this in the midst of the engrossing concerns of this uncertain life. Realise that you are only,, strangers and pilgrims here.

2. After death comes judgment, when we must be made manifest “before the tribunal of Christ. Prepare for that day. Judge yourselves now. (Vincent W. Ryan, M. A.)

The great meeting

I. God meets us now, and we meet him at sundry times and in divers manners. If in His own appointed ordinances we draw nigh to Him, it is our privilege to feel assured that He will most certainly draw nigh to us. But there must be antecedent preparation. God meets us in the time of trial, and we should prepare to meet Him. We should carefully and honestly examine ourselves--search, as before Him, our thoughts, feelings, opinions, and habits. There are temporal blessings in which God meets us, and in which we should prepare ourselves to meet Him, by habitually cherishing a contented and thankful spirit.

II. God meets us hereafter. That meeting is certain. The doctrine of a future judgment is, no doubt, peculiar to Divine revelation, but it receives the strongest confirmation from the natural conscience. It well-nigh overwhelms the mind to think of the disclosures of the great day. The final inquisition shall be spiritual. We all admit that the character of an act is determined by the motive in which it originates. God will then “make manifest the counsels of our hearts.” There is in this much call for alarm, but there is also abundant consolation. To the ungodly there cannot but be something terrible in these words, “Prepare to meet thy God.” How unbearable is the thought when it flashes even for a moment on the guilty conscience, “Thou God seest me”! We must remember that our Probation is limited to this present life. We must prepare to meet our God now or never. (R. W. Forrest, M. A.)

Prepare

How often have these words been turned into words of terror; how many noble discourses have been preached from this text which had no relation whatever to its meaning! This is the voice of love. All punishment, has failed--what now is to be done? Something larger, nobler. Prepare to meet thy God.” “Prepare”: there is forewarning. When God forewarns He means to give us every opportunity of repentance; if He were not determined upon giving us every opportunity He would plunge upon us without warning, and carry us away as a flood in the night-time, The very word “prepare,” so used in,, this relation is itself a Gospel term. Prepare to meet thy God. Still it is thy God.” Men give up God, but does God give up them? They forget that there is a double relation. Imagine not that God is moved by your fickle changefulness. You may have renounced God, but God has not renounced you. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)

Reverence and preparation

The words of Amos, as they are understood by Christendom, bidding us prepare for a final and extraordinary meeting with God, appeal to our sense of prudence and to our sense of justice. The words rouse these original instincts of the human soul to a new activity. Behind the sense of justice and of prudence there is in the soul of man another feeling, more indefinite, yet not less real than these--the sense of awe or reverence. Fear, love, and admiration enter into reverence in different proportions, but it cannot be identified with any one of them. It is the virtuous emotion whereby the soul of man sincerely acknowledges the presence of greatness. Reverence is not in any sense a fictitious sort of virtue. Some think reverence is the upshot of artificial circumstances, of artificial and stinted convictions, a fruit of narrow associations, of subjection to characters and to traditions of a particular type. But, reverence, like all virtue that deserves the name, is based on truth. And it is not exclusively, or even chiefly, ecclesiastical excellence. It is true that the Church of Christ is the great school of reverence, because, within it, the highest and most commanding greatness is continually presented to the soul of man. But reverence, as a human excellence, is older than the Church, older than Christianity, older than revelation; it is as old as the idea that there is anything in existence that is greater than man. The first school of reverence which has been provided for us is the natural world around us. I an feels, behind nature, a higher power of some kind, which appeals to his sense of greatness. In the absence of revelation, the mystery of the natural world has led to abundant error and degradation. Nature is, in a way, God’s first revelation to man. It is our first teacher of that practical sense of a higher greatness which we call reverence. The lesson is learned more effectively from man himself. Man becomes an object of reverence whenever a higher greatness than his own rests upon him; and it may do this in one of two ways, as the greatness of office, or the greatness of character. High office, always and everywhere, is a shadow of the majesty of God. But character commands reverence more than orifice. Office is in a sense outside a man, character is himself. Conspicuous goodness, in every age, compels reverence. Aristides, by his justice; Scipio, by his chastity; Cato, by his inflexibility. Nor is reverence less due to great names because it has been exaggerated. Exaggeration becomes impossible when we remember that the true object to which reverence is due is nothing in the man himself, as it is not anything in nature herself. It is that higher greatness which in both may be discovered beyond. Reverence is no mere inoperative sentiment when it is sincere. It carries with it practical consequences. Hence the extreme importance that the objects of reverence should be, as far as may be worthy of it. That one human form, one human character might command a boundless reverence, the Infinite Being submitted Himself to bonds, and appeared among us m a created form, that in Him all Christian reverence might centre. Below the throne of Jesus Christ reverence is always paid to a greatness distinct from and beyond the object which immediately provokes it; it is paid to God. Behind nature we find the omnipotence of God; behind human office the authority of God; behind human character, in its highest forms, the holiness of God. We do not vet see God, we feel God. Amos knows the difference between that sort of apprehension of God which is common among men; between talking about Him as men do, and “meeting” Him. Israel was irreverent, and Amos bids Israel prepare to meet its God in quite a different sense to that in which He had been met either at Bethel or Samaria in the prosperous days which were drawing to their close. Israel was to meet Him in suffering. Suffering strips off from the eye the conventional films which hide out God; it brings us face to face with Him. So, too, with us Christians as to death and judgment. How are we to be educated for the sight of God after death? Chiefly by worship. Religion is neither morality nor worship. It is the relation which binds the soul to God, of which religion morality is a necessary symptom, and worship a necessary exercise. But who ever heard of anything that could be called religion which was without a worship? Worship is the highest expression of reverence. Worship is an education for the inevitable future, a training of the soul’s eye to bear the brightness of the everlasting sun. (Canon Liddon.)

Prepare to meet God

Mere belief in the existence of the Deity may be the belief of the basest sinner. If my faith in God is not influencing my heart and my conduct Godward, so far as my spiritual condition is concerned, I might just as well have been born a heathen. Why should you prepare to meet God?

1. Because you must meet Him. There are a thousand things we can refrain from doing. Men can refuse to pray; refuse to repent and reform their ways; refuse to make confession of Christ: but there is one thing they cannot refuse to do,--they cannot refuse to meet God. The call of death all must hear and obey.

2. Because you may have to meet Him soon. The time is uncertain. Delay in other matters is sometimes prudence; but in all that relates to the safety of the soul, delay is dangerous, and indifference is inimical to the highest well-being of man.

3. Because you will have to meet Him alone. We meet in crowds now; but as individuals then. We must all die alone; we must all meet God alone. 4 Because to meet Him unprepared will be the greatest calamity, of your being. How will you meet your Maker if you neglect the preparation. What shall be the end of them that obey not the Gospel?” (Enoch D. Solomon.)

The solemn warning

I. An interview between god and man is inevitable,

II. preparation is necessary to make these meetings salve and happy

1. A preparation of sincere repentance.

2. A preparation of faith in the Lord Jesus.

3. A preparation of regeneration.

4. The preparation of good works.

Not works of merit; but works of goodness, produced in us by His Holy Spirit. Works of devotion to God, and beneficence and compassion to men.

III. Urge the admonition of the text.

1. Prepare scripturally.

2. Prepare earnestly.

3. Prepare immediately.

4. Let all prepare. (J. Burns, D. D.)

Preparation for meeting God in the afflictions and judgme

nts of His hand:--

I. Prepare to meet thy God, o Israel, acknowledge who it is that is come out against thee. Stop not at second causes--dwell not and trifle not about petty and subordinate excuses. Acknowledge God to be the author of the calamity. It is His providence--His hand--His voice.

II. Acknowledge thy inability to meet him. How can man meet and bear and endure and sustain the judgments of his Creator? Our weakness being too great--our guilt too apparent--our folly too monstrous.

III. the abasing of ourselves before god in true penitence. Abase thyself before Him--return from all thy transgressions--cast away your idols--return unto God, and seek His face.

IV. We must cast ourselves upon his grace and mercy in jesus christ. Prepare to meet thy God by throwing thyself at the foot of the Cross--and by relying on justification and acceptance in the atoning blood and meritorious propitiation and sacrifice of the eternal Son of God. (D. Wilson.)

God’s message to Israel

Our consideration is called to the coming of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, as God manifest in the flesh. In the language of Scripture, the design of Almighty God in any way to bless or to punish mankind is often represented by the declaration of His coming among them for that purpose. In His own existence God necessarily fills all space, and is at all times equally present in every portion of the universe which He hath formed. Yet He speaks of Himself as dwelling among His people, departing from them, etc. All these forms of expression arise from the peculiar government which He exercised over the Israelites, often called a theocracy. Because every instrument, either of good or evil, was powerful and effectual only as employed by Him. God is also said to have personally done that which was done by His permission. While God warns His people of His approach, either for purposes of mercy or judgment, He commands them also to prepare for His reception; to be ready to meet Him with that reverence and gratitude and submission which comported with His high authority, and with their dependence upon His power. It seems that the afflictions of Israel had not been allowed by them to produce their proper effect, in bringing them to repentance. God threatens them therefore with further execution of His determinations for punishment, and solemnly admonishes them to be prepared for His coming.

I. The events which may be referred to as the coming of God. Two great events referred to under this peculiar designation. The advent of God in His Incarnation, for the redemption of His people. And the second personal advent to judge the world in righteousness.

1. The first advent of God, to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, in some of its aspects, may be considered as a past event. But, in regard to its final object, the accomplishment of man’s salvation, it must be considered as enduring until every ransomed soul has been brought home, converted from the world, and fully devoted to God. The great purpose of this coming He is affecting every day. But to the heart yet unchanged, the real advent of Christ, for man’s salvation, is as much a future event as it was to Abraham.

2. The second advent is, for all who live now, a future event; and it will be for the full salvation of His people, for the universal judgment of the world, and for the final settlement of His glorious and everlasting kingdom. How far removed this day is neither men nor angels know.

II. The state of mind which is implied in this call for preparation.

1. In regard to His first advent, a Divine messenger was sent to make ready His way. The same work of preparation must be finished before your hearts can find peace with Him. The world and self are to be forsaken and denied. Your own righteousness, as a ground of hope, is to be relinquished.

2. In regard to the second coming of Christ, the exhortation of our text becomes still more solemn and important. What progress in holiness shall be too large a preparation for that momentous hour of the soul’s existence? What life of faith can be too elevated? What heavenliness of character can be too exalted? Personal holiness and active beneficence constitute the whole amount of pure and undefiled religion, as exemplified in the character which is required of the people of God. And though no worth can appertain to either, as proceeding from an imperfect and sinful being, yet undoubtedly, the higher are our attainments in both, the more full of peace and comfort will our souls be, at the coming of our God. In all the duties of a holy, active life, the spiritual Israel is to be prepared to meet their God.

III. The character under which God will come to his spiritual Israel. “Thy God.” Whether He comes in His first, or in His second advent, He comes as a Saviour who is welcome to His people; He is their God.

1. God the Saviour is ours, by His own election of us to be His people. When we knew Him not, He called us to receive the fulness of His grace.

2. By a voluntary donation of Himself for us. By this donation of Himself, He purchased for Himself a peculiar people, who shall glorify Him on the earth, and become partakers of His glory in heaven.

3. By our voluntary acceptance of His mercy.

4. By the personal consecration of ourselves to His service. This is the fourfold ground of that reciprocal property which subsists between God and His people. But we must consider Him, not only as theirs, but as their “God.” We may be joyful in our King, because of the glorious character of the Being whose coming is proclaimed.

IV. What will be the results of his coming to them?

1. His first advent is to their hearts, with the demonstration of the Spirit, and with Divine power, and its result is, that they are born again and made new creatures in Christ Jesus. The acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the great offices which He exercises for men, is the characteristic distinction of the people of God; the grand discriminating mark of converted souls.

2. Then, being redeemed, there will be nothing disheartening or terrible in His second coming to finish His purposes of love for us. The text having thus far been applied to spiritual Israel, may now be applied to idolatrous Israel.

To this class it is the solemn warning of an approaching judgment.

1. This text, as a warning, was addressed to those whose service and affections had been voluntarily withdrawn from the living God, and devoted to objects prohibited by Him. The Israelites had openly established idolatrous worship in the land; and had secretly withdrawn their hearts from God, even while professing outwardly to serve Him. Every unconverted man is really an idolater. The covetousness of the world is idolatry. The proud, the vain, the envious, are all idolaters. It is the voluntary idolatry of men’s hearts which forms the guiltiness of their unconverted state.

2. The exhortation of this text was addressed to those who had experienced many chastising visitations from Almighty God without effect. Every painful providence dispensed to man is either a blessing or a curse. If it merely hardens us in a state of sin, it is a punishment.

3. The warning of the text was addressed to those who had been the peculiar objects of Divine forbearance, without repentance.

V. What will render the day of God’s coming intolerable to those who have done evil, and who must be judged for the evil which they have done.

1. In that day of God’s coming, you will think of the clear and inestimable manifestations of Divine love which you have neglected.

2. You will think of the laborious and expensive system which was devised and executed for your redemption.

3. The recompense of that dreadful day of God’s coming will be further aggravated by a clear view of the dignity of that holy and merciful Being who has been thus despised.

4. You will reflect upon His long-continued forbearance, which has been abused and exhausted by your perverseness in sin. Then I entreat you to look at the character of your own lives, and see if you are prepared to meet your God. Whatever be the outward habits of your lives, whatever the opinions which men entertain of your characters, without the power of godliness in your souls renewed by the Holy Ghost, you are weighed in the balance, and found wanting. Acquire, then, this spirit of true religion. Consider the value of your eternal interests. (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)

Preparation to meet God

Is this to be considered the language of irony or of seriousness? We view the words seriously. Not as an insultation over their weakness, but as an expression of kindness designed to hinder the misery it foretold. The Divine threatenings are always conditional; either stated or implied. If God ever takes a sinner by surprise, it is after the rejection of a thousand warnings addressed to him. God strikes before He destroys, and He speaks before He strikes.

I. God is coming. Coming to apprehend, and to punish, without repentance. This may be applied to any of His awful dispensations. To destroy nations, in ways of spiritual judgment. God’s coming to judgment is rendered reasonable and probable by the testimony and terrors of conscience. And this coming to judgment is rendered certain by the Word of God. Here is an event in which we are not to be mere spectators, but parties deeply concerned.

II. We ought to be prepared to meet him. Attend to three questions.

1. Can you escape?

2. Can you contend with Him?

3. Can you endure Him?

III. There is a preparation which will enable us to meet him in safety and peace. The Bible tells us what we should do, and assures us of full provision for all that we are required to do.

1. You must go forth with the world behind your backs.

2. With tears in your eyes,

3. With ropes upon your necks.

4. With a petition in your hand.

5. With Christ at your side.

Go forth thus to meet Him, and He will fully pardon you and welcome you. (William Jay.)

Preparation to meet God

I. To whom may this command be considered as addressed? All who have made no preparation for meeting God.

1. Those who have designedly crowded the whole subject from their minds.

2. Those who have deferred the subject with an intention to prepare at a future time. They have some sense of the importance and necessity of making preparation.

3. Those who spend their time in preparing for other things, so as to crowd this subject out, though without any specific or settled intention to do so.

4. Those who have given some slight attention to the subject, but have settled down on that which will, in fact, constitute no preparation when they come to appear before God. They are relying on some delusive views and hopes, some erroneous doctrine or opinions; some vague, unsettled, and unsubstantial feelings. These classes embrace a large portion of the human family.

II. Why should preparation be made to meet God?

1. Because it is to be our first interview with Him face to face.

2. Because we shall meet Him in very solemn circumstances.

3. Because we go there on a very solemn errand.

4. Because God has solemnly commanded such preparation.

5. Because when we are brought before Him, it will be too late to do what is necessary to be done.

III. What is necessary to be done in order to be prepared to meet god? Mere bravery or courage is not a preparation to meet God. Not more is he prepared to meet God who bids defiance to death. Nor is studied insensibility in death the proper preparation.

1. It is necessary to be reconciled to God. No one is prepared to meet Him to whom He is a stranger or a foe.

2. To be born again; to be renewed by the Holy Ghost.

3. There must be true repentance for sin, and true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The sum of what I say is this,--To be prepared to meet God, we must comply exactly with what He requires. We must meet His terms. No one need ever to have made any mistake on this point.

IV. When we should prepare to meet God. We must attend to it to-day; we must defer it no longer. The Bible requires it to be done at once; it demands that everything else should give way for it; that this day may end your probation; and that there is slender probability of preparation being made on a dying bed. (A. Barnes, D. D.)

The advent message

These words contain the two elements of all advent thoughts, the promise of a coming, and the exhortation to prepare for that coming. The one great difference between Christianity and all other forms of life and thought is, that the former has an advent in it, and that the latter have not. Christ taught men to look forward. In other life there is no such definite spirit of anticipation. The plans of those who consider themselves progressive men are often more destructive than constructive. All true progress, either conscious or unconscious, voluntary or compulsory, can be defined as God and man meeting together. To some advent lessons of preparation for meeting our God let attention be given. There is always a generation that is growing up, preparing for the world, as we say. But what is this for which they are preparing? “Prepare to meet thy God” presents a very different ideal It supposes that the world of men and women, of events and circumstances, was made and is controlled by God. He is in it. Behind all its more evident aspects He exists as a great power which is unlimited in its plans, and unmeasured in its force. Into such a world we are called to enter, and for preparation toward such a destiny are needed spiritual acquirements,--the power of patience and self-denial, the accurate perception of what is for and what is against God’s glory, the possession of firm principle and courageous faith to resist the wrong and to assist the good. How many men have failed in the world for want of just those things! The whole moral aspect of life was obscured to them. The advent message brings back the true ideal. Its message is--Before us is God. Do not treat life as an earthly and insignificant thing; but at every step be sure that there is present the power of God, demanding our most complete preparation for what it lays upon us. The preparation for such daily meetings with God is a wide one. It neglects none of the ordinary preparations, in body, mind, and spirit; for every emergency requiring wisdom and power, it adds to that, it crowns it all, with that preparation of spirit, trained by intercourse with God Himself, in the closet, in the Church, by prayer, and by meditation, that we may be able to recognise His coming, and to do His will. “Prepare to meet thy God” is a command which, when we have once heard it clearly in Christian revelation, can be heard re-echoed from all the surrounding points of human life. The words of the text also relate to death. Religion did not make the grave; it only found it, and declared how it could be received. Something besides earth claims us, and we must go forth to meet it. It is the Gospel which says, “Prepare to meet thy God.” Let that day not come upon you unawares, as a thief in the night; refuse to be snared by and identified with that bodily life which must fail you; live by the power of Him who came from heaven, and took flesh upon Him, only that by that life in the flesh He might do the will of His Father, and call men back to Him. (Arthur Brooks.)

Preparation to meet God

The whole business which we have in the world is this, to prepare to meet God. This is the meaning of the whole Bible, to warn us that we must meet God, and to afford us every assistance and encouragement in this preparation. It is this in which mankind differs from all other creatures of God which we know of. Angels have not this call made to them. Brute creatures have not to appear before Him. Every man that is born must at last come into His presence. “Who may abide the day of His coming?” Our Lord’s warning is, “Be ye ready!” What it will be to “meet our God” no heart of man can conceive; for what thought of man can ever understand what God is? But we may come to know Him even in this world far more than we think we can, as He is revealed to us in Jesus Christ. The thought of meeting God is of itself so awful, that we might have been disposed to sit down in despair at the contemplation of it, were it not for this access to the Father which we have in Jesus Christ. It is of infinite consequence that we should be prepared, “lest that day should overtake us unawares.” And we know in what way we are to be prepared, what the things are which will be required of us. We cannot undo the past, which must all come before the all-seeing eye of the Judge; but during the little time that remains to us we can earnestly ask forgiveness, with lastings, and prayers, and tears, for the sake of Christ; and thus we may, with God’s mercy, gain some hope and comfort before we die. (Plain Sermons by Contribution to “Tracts for the Times. ”)

Preparation for eternity

I. To whom this command applies. It is applicable to all those who have not made any preparation.

1. There are those who have not made religion a personal matter.

2. Those who defer the subject with the intention of preparing at some future time.

3. Those who are so engrossed with other matters as to banish this subject from their minds.

4. Those who have given some attention to religion.

II. In what does such preparation consist This is an important question. It does not consist in courage or bravery. Not in infidel stoicism. Not in beauty, wealth, etc. Not in amiability, honesty, justice, a fair character. Two great difficulties stand between a sinner and heaven: a legal one--man is a condemned sinner; a moral one--man is unholy. Justification will remove the legal difficulty; and regeneration will remove the moral one. Justification is that which God does for us; regeneration, that which He does in us.

III. Some reasons for preparing to meet god. (J. D. Carey.)

Preparation for heaven

Every one knows that this life is but the childhood of existence. A great many, and not such as pass for bad men either, are making no sort of preparation for another life. In all that respects this world’s gain, the eye of the lightning is not sharper than theirs. And nothing can exceed the thoughtfulness and attention they bestow in preparing the comfort of their declining years. But take one of these deliberate and sagacious men, ask him what duty he is doing because Christianity requires it; ask him if he makes a point of doing, not what pleases himself, but what will please God. If he tells the truth, lie will reply that he thinks of no such things. He is contented if he preserves a good moral character, and does not materially injure others. He is quite easy as to his last account with God. But after giving all the praise due to this conduct, the great question returns, What is there in all this that you can call preparation for another existence? All this begins and ends with the present world. In all this there is nothing serious, nothing devoted, nothing high, nothing which could not be done as well without Jesus Christ as with Him. So many are in error. They are moving on in the voyage of life as if they were sure of drifting to the right harbour. What is the preparation required? Devotion and benevolence constitute the preparation;--in better words, the preparation is to love God with all the heart, and our neighbour as ourselves. Devotion does not consist in solemnity. The solemnity Christianity wants is that of a heart deeply engaged, interested, busy in its duty. I call that man devout who feels, and tries to feel, the presence of God; who is not afraid nor unwilling to have the eye of God upon him. Such a man prays, to make his requests known unto God; praises, because praise is the feeling of his heart; and his greatest endeavour is to bring his thoughts and deeds into subjection to the Christian law. Devotion means devotedness, readiness to do and suffer everything that pleases God. Devotion means something more than prayer. I would judge of the devotion by the life, and not of the life by the devotion. And the benevolence that makes part of the preparation is an active desire to do good to men. Mark the words “active desire”; for the mere desire is nothing. Very often there is a selfishness in the midst of benevolence. There are those who are willing to do good, but will to do it in their own way. Even the benevolent must be on their guard; they are far too apt to take as much with one hand as they give with the other. Mere feeling will do good as long as it is pleasant, and no longer. Principle is something worth having; it is patient, not easily discouraged, and enduring. (W. B. C. Peabody, D. D.)

God’s voice to humanity

I. There is a period to dawn upon mankind when they shall come to a particular contact with God. This period is--

1. Certain. Nature teaches the fact. Conscience indicates the same truth.

2. Uncertain, as to its time.

3. The greatest of all periods of importance.

Then the actions of the life will be brought to the test.

II. This period which is to dawn upon mankind requires preparation on man’s part.

1. Man, in his natural state, is not in a condition to meet God.

2. Man is in a state of possibility to prepare.

3. Man’s agency is necessary to his preparation.

III. God feels deep interest in the world’s preparation. He desires the salvation of the world.

1. From what He has done for humanity.

2. From what He is doing in man.

3. From what He has promised to do for us in future.

Attention to God’s voice will secure our everlasting happiness. (J. O. Griffiths.)

Preparation for judgment

I. Every one of the human family must stand before God. In the world of spirits we shall all meet God.

1. When the soul is dislodged from the body.

2. In the judgment at the last day. Note--

II. The nature of the preparation necessary to enable us to meet god with comfort.

1. The justification of our persons.

2. The sanctification of our nature.

3. The improvement of the talents entrusted to our care.

III. The necessity of attending to this important precept. Consider--

1. The awful character of God.

2. The mighty purposes for which this meeting is convened.

3. The vast importance of this duty, compared with the utter insignificance of all earthly pursuits.

4. The means of attaining this great end are abundantly supplied.

5. We beseech you to act upon this advice, from the assurance that on it depends your everlasting happiness or misery.

Address--

1. Those who have made no preparation for leaving this world.

2. Those who see the need, but delay.

3. Those who are diligently making preparation.

The more they arc like God, the better prepared they will be to meet Him. Only by a diligent attendance on the means of grace can this be secured. (R. Treffry.)

The great interview

The Jews were incorrigible. God had tried for their correction, captivity, famine, too much rain, too little rain, universal sickness, lightning, and war, No good result. He now tells them that greater judgments are to come. With God we must meet.

1. In the misfortunes of life. Times of sickness, disaster, etc.

2. In the bereavements of life. We cannot escape then, unless man stands all alone--fatherless, motherless, brotherless, sisterless, childless.

3. An interview of this kind will take place in our last hour.

4. We must meet God in the great day. Common sense teaches us that there must be a judgment-day. How are we to prepare to meet God? Two words will tell you. Repent. Believe. That is, give up your sin, and be sorry for it. Take Christ for your Saviour. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)

Face to face with God

The late Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, one of the most serious minded and earnest men whom England has produced in this century, was suddenly summoned to meet death and judgment. In the midst of perfect health he was attacked with spasm of the heart, and learned that in a moment he would be called into the infinitely holy presence of his Maker. He knew what this meant; for the immaculate purity of God was a subject that had profoundly impressed his spiritual and ethical mind. He felt the need of mercy at the prospect of seeing God face to face; and as he lay upon his deathbed, still, thoughtful, and absorbed in silent prayer, all at once he repeated firmly and earnestly: “And Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed; blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.” (W. G. T. Shedd.)

Ready to meet God

He who simply trusts the Saviour, he who faithfully performs every known duty, he who keeps a clear account with conscience, is always ready to enter heaven. There is deep truth in John Ruskin’s words: “The only place where a man can be nobly thoughtless is on his deathbed. There ought to be no thinking left to be done there.” Yes, we know how to die if we know how to live. (Sunday Companion.)

We have to do with our Maker

As a cathedral built in the heart of a great city rises with the other buildings round about it, keeps company with them a certain distance, and then leaves them all behind, soars away skyward, and at last, solitary and alone, looks up into the infinite spaces, so every man lives among men. He rests with them upon the same political and social foundation; he stands with them in a wide and important fellowship; he rises with them in a certain way, and then he goes beyond them all, and the last look and reference of his spirit is to the Eternal. We draw our being from God, we live and move and have our being in God, and at death we breathe back our life into God’s hands. The first thing in our existence is our Maker, and when we have done with all others we have still to do with Him. (G. A. Gordon, D. D.)

Verse 13

Amos 4:13

He that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind.

Backgrounds and foregrounds

The mountains made, for the Hebrew, the background of every landscape in which they stand. The foreground of the plain-land rests upon the background of the hills. From them it gains its lights and shadows. The two depend on one another. The background and the foreground together make the complete landscape in the midst of which a human life is set. And this is also true in the world of inner life. There is a foreground and a background to every man’s career. There are things that press themselves immediately upon our attention;--the details of life; these are the foreground of our living. And then, beyond them, there are the great truths which we believe, the broad and general consecrations of our life which we have made, the large objects of our desire, the great hopes and impulses which keep us at our work. These are the mountain backgrounds of our life. They are our reservoirs of power; out of them come down our streams of strength. In the perfect picture you cannot leave out the foreground of immediate detail, nor the background of established principle and truth. The danger of our life is not, ordinarily, lest the foreground be forgotten or ignored. The details of life command us and attract us. The backgrounds of life we are most likely to forget. To most men the actual immediate circumstances of life are so pressing that they forget the everlasting truths and forces by which those circumstances must be made dignified and strong. We are troubled by the superficialness and immediateness of living. There is a need of distance and of depth. And the distance and the depth are there, if men would only feel them.

1. Behind every foreground of action lies the background of character, on which the action rests, and from which it gets its life and meaning. It matters not whether it be an age, a nation, a Church, a man; anything which is capable both of being and of acting must feel its being behind its acting, must make its acting the expression of its being, or its existence is very unsatisfactory and thin. What is all your activity without you? How instantly the impression of a character creates itself, springs into shape behind a deed. If this were not so, life would grow very tame and dull. An engine has no background of character. Its deeds are simple deeds. Man, being character, will care for nothing which has not character behind it, finding expression through its life. Here is the value of reality, sincerity, which is nothing but the true relation between action and character. Expressed artistically, it is the harmony between the foreground and background of a life. What will be the rule of life which such a harmony involves? Will it not include both the watchfulness over character and the watchfulness over action, either of which alone is woefully imperfect? When will men learn that to feed the fountain of character, and yet never neglect the guiding of the streams of action, is the law of life? All the perplexing questions about the contemplative and active life, about faith and practice, about self-discipline and service of our fellow-men, have their key and solution hidden somewhere within this truth of the background and foreground. What culture is there by which the human life can be at once trained into character, and at the same time kept true in active duty? Only the culture of personal loyalty, admiration for a nature and obedience to a will opening together into a resemblance to Him whom we ardently desire, and enthusiastically obey. I recall what Jesus said, “You must be born again,”--that is His inexorable demand for the background of character. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments,”--that is His absolute insistence on the foreground of action. And the power of both of them--the power by which they both unite into one life--lies in the personal love and service of Himself. Closely related to the background of character, yet distinguishable from it is what I may call the background of the greater purpose. A man’s purpose in life lies behind, and gives dignity and meaning to everything that the man does or says. The greater purpose may be bad or good, horrible or splendid. In the smaller world, it is a man’s profession which makes the most palpable background of his life. But the great purpose is ruled by the man, as well as the man by the great purpose, and it is the complicated result of the mutual ruling that makes the life. Both the great purpose, and its immediate activities, are provided with their safeguards, that they may not be lost. A closing word upon another of the backgrounds of life. Prayer. The foreground of prayer is the intense, immediate desire for a certain blessing; the background of prayer is the quiet, earnest desire that the will of God, whatever it may be, should be done. What Christ’s prayer was, all true prayer must be. Remember that it is only in personal love and loyalty that life completes itself. Only when man loves and enthusiastically obeys God does the background of the universal and the eternal rise around the special and temporary, and the scenery of life become complete. Therefore it is that Christ, who brings God to us, and brings us to God, is the great background-builder. (Phillips Brooks.)

He declareth unto man what is his thought.

The Lord showing to man his thought

Our first inference from these words naturally is, “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man.” How little do we realise this truth, and, in consequence, how little restraint do we exercise over our thoughts! We may be careful in our doings, we may even try, by God’s help, to watch over our words, but our thoughts, the action of the highest part of man, the workings of the immortal soul, how often do we suffer them to wander ungoverned, to indulge in vanity, to exercise themselves in sin! What would our neighbours think of us could they read our thoughts, all our thoughts? All our thoughts are known to God. Many of us are earnestly trying, by the grace of God, to rule and govern our thoughts. The Christian may dare to lay open his thoughts before God, to call God’s attention to them, to sanctify them. The text reminds us that He who knows the thoughts of man also declares to man what they are. He teaches him to discern between good and evil thoughts, between those that are the fruits of the Spirit and such as proceed from the corrupt fountain of the human heart. And this He is pleased to do in different ways and for different purposes. God declares unto man his thought by His Holy Word, to produce conviction of sin, or to speak peace and comfort, according to his need. And God will declare unto man what are his thoughts at the last day. (F. J. Scott, M. A.)

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Amos 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/amos-4.html. 1905-1909. New York.