The Biblical Illustrator
A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth.
God devoutly addressed
This chapter presents to us God in three aspects, as devoutly addressed, as poetically portrayed, and as triumphantly enjoyed.
I. It was composed for general use. It is not an extemporaneous address; it is a settled form of devotion. Pre-arranged forms of devotion are both scriptural and expedient. There is a set form given to the priests for blessing the people in Numbers 6:2-3. Psalms 92:1-15. is called a psalm for the Sabbath, and 102. a prayer for the afflicted. Hezekiah commanded the Levites to “praise the Lord in the words of David and of Asaph the seer,” which is Psalms 106:1-48. And Christ Himself gave His disciples a form of prayer. Whilst it is scriptural it is also expedient. To get a whole congregation into the channel of devotion, a pro-arranged form seems desirable.
II. It was in prospect of a terrible calamity. “O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid.” Terrible was the calamity now looming on the vision of the prophet. The Chaldean army was approaching; the ruthless troops would soon be in his country, sack Jerusalem its metropolis, and bear his countrymen away into captivity. In view of this the prayer is addressed. “Call upon Me in the day of trouble,” etc. Surely, if men fully realised the predicted judgments that will fall on this world, prayer would be the habitude of their souls.
III. It was for a revival of divine work. “Revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.” Kiel thus renders the passage--“Jehovah, Thy work in the midst of Thy years call to life, in the midst of the years make it known.” This may mean, Perfect the work of delivering Thy people; let not Thy promise lie as it were dead, give it new life by performing it. Do it now, in the midst of the years, when our calamities are at their height, when Thy wrath seems to be at high tide and terrible. Now “revive Thy work.” Three thoughts are suggested--
1. The work of human deliverance is the work of God.
2. This work of God may appear to decline.
3. This decline of God’s work can only be overcome by His intervention. “Revive Thy work.” (Homilist.)
O Lord, revive Thy work.
I. What is meant by the work of the lord, and its revival?
1. It may mean the work of creation. Or the preservation and government of the world. At other times it means the works of Christ; or the work of the ministry.
2. What is meant by a revival of this work?
(1) A deeper work of grace in the hearts of those who are the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.
(2) When the number of believers increases. When conviction seizes the hearts of sinners, and causes them to become true penitents; when that conviction ends in true conversion.
II. What is comprehended in this prayer?
1. That the Lord would pour out of His Spirit upon His people, and accomplish in them His gracious promises.
2. That the Lord would have mercy upon sinners.
3. That the end may be answered for which Jesus Christ came into the world, the Spirit was given, and ordinances instituted.
III. What induces the saints thus to pray?
1. The love they have to the children of God.
2. The love they have to sinners.
3. The hatred they have to sin.
4. A desire that all those evils may be removed out of the world which are the consequences of sin.
5. The promises of God.
IV. What manner of person ought he to be who thus prays? In order to ensure a suitable correspondence between his prayer and practice--
1. He himself must abstain from every appearance of evil.
2. The person who prays for a revival must use all the means in his power to do good. By example, reproof, speech in season, etc.
3. He must cultivate a spirit of tender affection for all his Christian friends, that love and unity may reign in the Church. (B. Bailey.)
Revival of the Lord’s work
This prophecy was probably written during the reign of the good King Josiah, who attempted a serious religious reformation. It proved to be only partial and temporary. It was reluctant and counterfeit on the part of many of the people; as was evinced by their speedy return to idolatrous practices after the untimely death of the distinguished reformer. What was the “burden” the prophet saw? It was intimated to him that the decree of God was unalterable, and that the day of visitation was at hand; and the very people are named who should be the instrument of God’s righteous judgments on treacherous Judah. Turn now to the exercise in which the prophet engaged, in the certain anticipation of national calamity. It was the exercise of prayer. In his prayer there were three special petitions. Although the condition of his countrymen was dangerous, and their banishment inevitable, yet so long as a remnant was preserved, their case was not desperate. If he could not see his friends reformed and regenerated in their native country, he would plead for their conversion in a foreign land. “O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years.” This is an earnest supplication for the revival of God’s work of grace, in the hearts of His people, in the time of outward distress. Do this “in the midst of the years,” that is, during the seventy years of captivity. While these melancholy years pass heavily along, let the work of repentance commence; let the tears of godly sorrow flow. The second petition is, “In the midst of the years make known.” Make known Thy character, and perfection, and grace, during the years of captivity, to those now estranged from Thee. If they were unmindful of Thee in the time of prosperity; in the day of adversity let them consider. Make Thy faithfulness known as a God still in covenant with them, as still willing to be reconciled to them. The third petition is, “In wrath remember mercy.” Wrath is incurred, judgment is threatened, the sword is unsheathed, and vengeance must be inflicted. But see how the man of God perseveres in prayer. If judgment may not be altogether averted, it may be mitigated. We must bear the indignation of the Lord, in submitting to slavery in a foreign land, and in being deprived of the soul-refreshing ordinances of religion. But, gracious Father, “in wrath remember mercy.” It were easy to prove that all the petitions in this prayer were literally and remarkably fulfilled. That there was a revival of religion during the captivity, may be proved from the grateful and devout sentiments of the captives in the announcement of their enlargement. “When the Lord turned again the captivity,” etc. We find a confirmation also in the character of those who returned from Babylon. God had evidently granted them, in the words of Ezra, “a little reviving”; and their first care on their return to Palestine was to rebuild the temple, which was lying in ruins. And as a decisive proof that the prayer of the prophet had received a gracious answer during the captivity, we find that the Jews were henceforward cured of what may be called their hereditary and besetting sin--the degrading and God-dishonouring sin of idolatry. The second part of the prophet’s prayer was not less clearly answered. Was not much made known to Ezekiel, by the spirit of prophecy, during the captivity? Was not much made known to Daniel? Behold then the efficacy and fruit of prayer. The third part of the prayer was as remarkably answered as the other two parts. “In wrath remember mercy” In every circumstance that tended to mitigate the rigour of their bondage, God was fulfilling the prayer of the prophet. Learn--
1. That sin incurs the displeasure of God.
2. That prayer is the only way of averting the judgments of God.
3. That the extension of religious knowledge is the only rational means for effecting a national reformation.
4. That while Jehovah is the Supreme Governor of the universe, religion is His great work in the world. (James Glen, A. M.)
On revivals of religion
I. What, in a Christian sense, is a revival of religion? It cannot better be described than by a representation of its origin and effect in the case of individuals and Christian communities. When is there a revival of religion in individuals? Suppose such as need this revival to consist of two classes. One made up of such as have a “form of godliness.” They have a general faith in Christianity, and educational relations with it, and they do not openly violate any of its moral rules. Still, these persons may be examples of a sort of negative religion only. They may be spiritually inanimate and drowsy. If these men are the subjects of a genuine religious revival, their lukewarmness is abandoned. Then there is in them a consistency of character. The other class is formed of the notoriously abandoned and corrupt. In these, there is a general abdication of restraint, both moral and religious. When these are the subjects of a revival, their moral taste is changed. Their hatred of sin is excited. Their respect for Divine ordinances is enkindled. Survey the operation of a revival of religion on Christian communities. Since the first age of the Gospel, Churches and societies have been found in the lukewarm condition of the Church in Laodicea. A more awful state of a Christian community is supposable, a state not merely of lukewarmness, but of positive corruption and wickedness. If a revival of religion take place, there will be an united, vigorous, persevering effort, on the part of the members, to display in all its excellence and worth the Christian character. Nor is this revival manifest in things exclusively religious. It will appear in their worldly and social state; in their habits of industry and sobriety, etc. Give the reasons why the class of Christians, denominated liberal, have not thought favourably of, nor promoted revivals.
1. The means used to bring them about do not appear to be in accordance with the spirit and instructions of Scripture.
(1) These means are heated and impassioned addresses to the feelings and passions, tending to produce an unnatural excitement of the imagination, and of the whole man, which interrupts cool reflection, and a sober and edifying attendance on religious duties. What an entire contrast do these means exhibit to those adopted by the Saviour and His apostles!
(2) The persons who are held up to the world as having experienced a revival of religion, too often display fruits which are equally at variance with the test of character established by Him who spake as never man spake. Review the lessons of Jesus, enforcing secret devotion, guarding His disciples against ostentation and vain boasting, inculcating upon them humility. We cannot persuade ourselves to believe that a suspension of Christian charity is evangelical proof of advancement in religion.
(3) The reason which has equally operated with others, is a knowledge of the unhappy consequences which have followed. Review the state of our Churches and towns. Where such revivals have been brought about, there will be seen a multiplication of religious societies; Christians engaged in bitter contentions and controversies; members of families alienated from each other.
II. What are the means by which a truly Christian revival of religion may be brought about?
1. Every member of society, however ignoble and obscure, may have an agency in this great work.
2. Those more elevated either by wealth, rank, education, etc., have a still greater degree of responsibleness. See in this matter the importance of family religion, and the value of attendance on the duties of the Sabbath, habitual piety, and the solemn act of prayer. (W. Thayer.)
Revival of the Lord’s work
The writer of this book mourned over the spiritual degeneracy of his times, and was apprehensive of the entire removal of the privileges which were so much despised. The “years” mentioned were years of spiritual declension and backsliding, and prevailing wickedness, and consequently years of God’s righteous displeasure; and therefore he says, “O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years.”
1. In what does this work consist? By the “work of the Lord” we are to understand the redemption and recovery of this ruined world. This is the work which the Holy Spirit, through the medium of His enlightening, renewing, and sanctifying influence on the human heart, is ever active in promoting. Surely it is a work of the greatest interest and importance. This work may be said to be making progress in the world, when a general interest is felt in matters of religion.
2. What is the object of the prayer in regard to the work of the Lord? In the moral government of God, there exists an inseparable connection between the offering of prayer and the obtaining of spiritual blessings. In answer to prayer we find that in Scripture God has often promised the richest manifestations of His grace. But nowhere has He warranted us to suppose that without prayer these blessings can be obtained. The object of the prophet in this prayer was that God would grant a revival to the Jewish Church. And we have no reason to doubt that in answer to prayer, God will yet arise, and plead HIS own cause in the world, and revive His own work. Whatever be the relationship in which we stand to those around us, we have, as Christians, a message given us to all, and that is the message of God the Father’s love, and of God the Son’s death, and of God the Spirit’s sanctifying grace, a message so plain that none can mistake it, so imperative that none with impunity can neglect it, and so pressing that none can delay it. (John Lindsay.)
God’s work in the midst of the years
Time, like eternity, is full of God, and of the glory of His power. God’s ceaseless work in nature is maintained unchanging “in the midst of the years.” But there is a work of God to which everything in nature is subordinate. It is His work of grace; His work of redemption and recovery in this lost world; His work of establishing His own kingdom in the hearts of men. In the mind of the prophet, this work of God was identified with the welfare of that chosen nation, that peculiar people, which God had placed in covenant relation with Himself. What lessons may we gather from the prophet’s words? In the first and second chapters of his prophecy, the prophet sees God’s judgments coming upon Israel, then upon Israel’s oppressors. We see what years those were of which the prophet speaks in the text. They were years of declension and prevailing wickedness, and years of God’s displeasure. The prophet’s first and foremost thought is that of the paramount importance of God’s spiritual and saving work. Then he knows--the spirit of faith assures him--that God’s great work will live, and will outlive every catastrophe. He not only prays that God will make His work to live, but that He will make it known. Learn--
1. The prayer for the revival, or the keeping alive of God’s work, is the spontaneous utterance of a heart touched by God’s Spirit.
2. God’s work is often going on in the world when it is not seen or made known, when even His own people are not permitted to discern its progress.
3. Sometimes it is necessary for God to carry on His work by dispensations of wrath.
4. Blessed are the years in which God makes known His work as a work of power and mercy. (Leonard Bacon, D. D.)
Revival in the midst of the years
The utterance of God made the prophet afraid. The period of chastening must be fulfilled. But one thought fills the prophet’s mind: during this period of suffering the work of God might be revived. God in His wrath remembers mercy most when He does not stay His chastening, but deepens penitence, stirs up prayer, creates heart-searching and earnest endeavours after a new life.
I. The first part of the prayer is that God would revive His work. We believe in a God who works, now and always, both in the natural and in the spiritual. God not merely wills, He works. Work occupies a foremost place in the Divine arrangement. God’s works on matter illustrate and explain His working on mind. There is one feature common to both the natural and the spiritual sphere, the requirement of human co-operation. God waits on man’s working. On account of the sin and sloth and heedlessness of man, God’s work declines, and God seems to withdraw. It is here that a place for revival is found. And explanation of it includes both the Divine sphere and the human. God’s working in nature goes on in cycles. So does man’s working all through. Uniformity of action would not be adapted to man. The fluctuation which covers the regions of politics, literature, science, and art, extends also to religion. Religious earnestness is under the same law. An enthusiasm is awakened at times for the supreme object of religion which it is not in human nature to sustain. The departure of such a period may be either the deepening and broadening of the channels of life, or it may be a period of stagnation. This is true of the individual, as well as of society at large. Revival is a fervour or intensity resolved on the highest aims, a deeper sense of the meaning of life, a determination to subordinate all to God. The fact that such times in a community are often characterised by excitement, and by a kind of contagion in which religion seems to be less a matter of individual conviction than a diffused influence is, again, only in accordance with the laws of human nature. Why should the spread of religious conviction not be aided by the contagion of feeling? May not genuine and deep feeling be aroused in this way? Why may not the surging of a vague enthusiasm through the hearts of men work great things in religion as in other matters? If religion is a genuinely human thing; if it is in the true sense the most human of all, must it not partake of the usual characteristics of human feeling? What a force there is in the expression of the text, Make Thy work to live: put life into Thy work. How often the work seems to have everything but life. Life comes, and all is changed. God’s working is the hope of the natural world, and equally of the spiritual. We wait for God. And our waiting utters itself. It is an eager, earnest feeling that pours itself out in supplication. It is in this way that our energy most fully unites itself with the Divine.
II. The prayer is also that God would “make known.” That is, reveal Himself and Divine truth. The prayer is, that God would not only work but reveal; that God would show men the reality. Clouds lie between them and the spiritual and eternal. It is well that these two things are joined together, reviving of God’s work, and making known.
III. What weight is given to the prayer by the addition, “in the midst of the years”? There is an argument, or plea, in the thought, that many years are gone beyond recall, and that so many years fewer are to come. The irrevocable past, as it rises before us, brings bitter regrets. How different those years might have been! The words seem suggestive of the confusion and darkness of time. And the fleetingness and evanescence of the years rise before us in contrast to the immutable and eternal of the Divine life. (J. Leckie, D. D.)
The necessity of a great spiritual change throughout the
I. As to the state of the professing Church of Christ.
1. Note the ignorance of the Church.
2. The divisions of the Church.
3. The worldly conformity of the Church.
4. The want of activity in the Church.
5. The deadness of prayer in the Church.
II. As to the state of the unconverted and ungodly world.
1. In relation to civil governments, and to publicly recognised social institutions and authorities. Refer to despotism, corruption, war, etc.
2. In direct relation to religion. Nominal Christians. Note the positive crimes by which the country is stained; Sabbath-breaking, profane-swearing, fraud, drinking, etc.
III. Certain systems which must by. Swept away. Such as popery, Judaism, infidelity, Mohammedanism, heathenism. Surely we may well pray, “O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years.” (James Parsons.)
Means of promoting the revival of religion
1. Does the man of sincere goodness observe vice prevalent, and spreading its unhappy influence through all ranks and degrees of the community? This is a powerful inducement to desire and to work for its reformation.
2. The decay of religion is not more owing to open wickedness than to inconsiderate negligence. A good man, who has the happiness of the species at heart, will offer up his most fervent petitions to the Father of Lights, that He would be pleased to spread abroad in the breasts of the people a spirit of prayer and reformation. (James Rudge, D. D.)
The revival of the Lord’s work
1. The prayer of the text rises to heaven in the time of affliction.
2. The prayer of the prophet is founded upon need.
3. Observe whose work it is that is implored to be revived--it is the work of God. And He alone can accomplish it.
4. Consider the use of certain means for the spread and establishment of the Divine work. He has commanded us to call upon His name, to trust in Him, to seek Him, to repent of our misdoings, to do battle against evil wherever found, and to assemble ourselves together for Divine worship. (W. Horwood.)
Nature and origin of revivals
I. The state calling for a revival. A revival is a return to life and vigour from a state of languor and decay. The Church of Christ needs revival. It is not in a lively state as to deep and practical godliness. There are comparatively few flourishing Churches. There is much disunion. There is a low standard of devotedness to Christ. This state of things calls for a revival in the Church generally. As individuals is our condition satisfactory? Is there not a state of worldliness, lukewarmness, and formality? The apostle speaks of many in his day as having “the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” This surely is a state calling for a revival.
II. The nature of the revival of God’s work. What is God’s work in the heart of man? It is very different from man’s work. It is marked by a new birth. It is marked by Christian graces. It is marked by walking in all good works. It is the work of grace in the heart of man. What is the revival of this work?
1. An increase of zeal on the part of God’s people.
2. An awakening among careless sinners.
III. The only source from which it can flow. “O Lord, revive Thy work.” The Holy Spirit is the great source of the revival of the work of grace in the heart of man. If you desire revivals, the means must be diligently used--reading God’s Word, prayer in secret, social prayer, public worship, self-examination; but if you stop at the means you deceive yourselves; this is the proper posture for the Christian, “My soul, wait thou only upon God, for my expectation is from Him.”
IV. The time in which it should be sought. “In the midst of the years.” Before the day of sickness comes. Before the day of old age comes. Before the judgments of God come on the world. Before the Saviour appears Before the final sentence is pronounced. Seek a revival, while the day of grace continues; while God’s ministers invite you. While opportunity is afforded. Then--
1. Search into the state of your own hearts.
2. Seek revival from God by prayer in private. Devote yourselves afresh unto God. (E. Bickersteth, A. M.)
God’s work revived
I. The work itself. The salvation of the sinner is the peculiar work of Jehovah. It implies the exercise of infinite mercy. It requires Divine care.
II. Why may it very properly be called God’s work? Because it glorifies God.
III. When may God be said to revive his people? When His people are preserved alive. When His people grow in grace. When His people axe led to surmount trouble, affliction, and sorrow. When the backslider is restored. (Hugh Allen, M. A.)
Lent, a season of revival to the soul
The Christian life has its ebb and flow, like the currents of the ocean, and no one need hope to preserve the same uniform frames and feelings at every step of his earthly probation. If we are ever enabled to do right, it is because tim good Lord has helped us. There is a revival which we all need; such a revival as shall lead us to forsake our sins, and crucify our corrupt affections and lusts; such a revival as shall render us more devout and devoted to God’s service. I mean nothing akin to the unwholesome modern system of revivals. The Church has a revival system of her own, which has been practised with most abundant success from the earliest days of Christianity until now. Her revival season begins with the four weeks of Advent, when she calls men to repentance and amendment, that they may make themselves ready to welcome the Saviour afresh on the return of His birthday. Another revival season is the forty days of Lent; when the motive appealed to is the love of God, manifested in the gift of His only Son. Throughout the whole sacred season, His life, His teaching, His miracles are kept constantly before us, deepened in its penetrating power by lastings and prayer. (John N. Norton.)
I. The chief need of the world to-day is a general revival of the Christian religion. The preconceptions of most of us are not favourable to revivals. Theories, however, cannot stand for a moment against stubborn facts. There is one fact which renders a revival necessary for a vast number of people. All scientists recognise that retrogression is as much a fact of nature as is evolution or progress. History is full of illustrations of the decay of races and the decline of nations. Only one remedy is open to us, when the decay concerns our religious life. It is a revival--the regaining, by a supreme moral effort, of the spiritual heights which have been lost.
II. Revivals are normal. We are inclined to think that with the world and the Church in an ideal state, a movement closely corresponding to revivals would still take place. Life moves in periods or cycles.
III. Both the history of the church and the bible confirm this view of Christian progress. The Church has always made her great conquests under revival influences. Revival of religion was inaugurated by the Wesleys and Whitefield. Puritanism was a great religious revival. The Reformation began as a revival of religion. The Christian Church was born in a revival which swept three thousand souls into the kingdom on the day of Pentecost.
IV. How may we promote a revival?
1. By earnest prayer.
2. By determined, personal effort. (J. W. Bashford.)
Lessons of the Reformation
1. The Reformation was providential. It was the handwriting of God visible to men.
2. It was a reformation of the Church. It was a conten tion raised within, about, and by the Church.
3. It was a reformation of doctrine. It began on a point of doctrine. Its weapons were argument and learning.
4. It was a reformation of public worship. Here, most especially, it came in touch with the people.
5. It was a reformation of personal piety. If it had not led to this, all else would have been of little moment. But this it did. Upon us it devolves not to be heedless of the lessons of the Reformation, but to profit by them, and transmit them to others. (J. B. Remensnyder, D. D.)
Religious revivals -
I. Genuine religion is the work of God in the soul. “Thy work.” What is genuine religion? Not theology, not ceremony, but simply this, supreme love to God. The production of this in the soul is the work of God. He produces it, it is true, by means; nevertheless, no one else can or does produce it but Himself.
II. This work of God in the soul is liable to decay. There are many things in and outside of man that tend to impair, weaken, and destroy this supreme love. Carnal impulses, impure associations, social influences, engrossing worldly cares, these are all detrimental. They are to it like a blighting atmosphere to vegetation.
III. This decay should be overcome by a revival. “Revive Thy work.” Revive this supreme love--quicken, energise it, give it more force and influence in the soul! This is the true revival. (Homilist.)
The revival of God’s work implored
I. Some particulars respecting this work.
1. The work itself; or what is meant by the work here spoken of? It is certainly the work of Divine grace in the souls of mankind.
2. Why it may be called God’s work. Because no one but God can effect it.
3. When God may be said to revive it. God revives His work when souls are raised from the death of sin to the life of righteousness; and when they grow in grace.
II. How we may and should contribute towards its revival.
1. We should labour for it.
2. We should live for it.
3. We should pray for it.
III. Why we should thus interest ourselves in its revival.
1. We are excited to this by piety.
2. We are urged to this by philanthropy, or love to mankind.
3. We are obligated to this by prudence.
4. We are animated to this by a well-supported hope. Applications--
(1) The state of God’s work among us should excite correspondent affections in us.
(2) We should consider and deplore our deficiencies.
(3) We should improve our convictions by renewed application to God; for pardoning mercy, and gracious help. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Following closely upon Jeremiah, Habakkuk was face to face with the woes which were hastening for the dissolution of the kingdom of Judah. He, more than any other of the prophets, represents the perplexities, not of the nation, but of the individual soul, the peculiar trial which tormented so many exalted spirits of his day. He saw with grief the increasing contrast of sin and prosperity, innocence and suffering--this was his burden. It is essentially personal: he takes it all upon himself. Our text is always a good, a wise, a necessary prayer. The work of the Lord is never so forward that we need not pray, for its further advance. But what is to be said about the movement known as Revivalism”? It begins with, and proceeds upon the assumption that man can only be reconciled to God in one particular way. It recognises but one type of religion, and that the most delusive one. It repudiates the idea that God is ever pleased with a dutiful, earnest, moral life. It regards as positively dangerous a mere intellectual grasp of the Christian faith. Revivalism tells you that, unless at a certain time, and at a certain place, and under conditions that you can recall and define, you have undergone an emotional process which has changed the whole drift of your life, and given you an assurance of nearness to God hitherto unfelt, you are not a Christian at all. Revivalism confronts you like a spiritual footpad, and holds to your head the pistol of modern pharisaism: “Are you a Christian? Is your soul saved? Have you found the Lord?” The answer involves an awful alternative. You must either surrender the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free to the monstrous claims of this pretentious crusade, or consent to be branded as an outcast from the flock of the Good Shepherd. This barrier of separation between converted and unconverted has no sanction to which any follower of Jesus Christ is called upon to submit. We must not, however, cease to pray, “O Lord, revive Thy work.” Revive it, O Lord, in politics, in public life, in commerce, in trade, in toil of every kind, so that in all places and at all times men shall realise Thy presence. (R. H. Haddew, B. A.)
The law of revivals
Are revivals of religion under law, or the result of any previously operating and well-defined cause? By the revival of religion we mean a quickened state of religious activity and prayer, resulting in the conversion of sinners, the increased efficiency of the Church, and all the effect of the Divine Spirit in conjunction with the appointed means of grace. Our position is, that it is a rule of God’s economy to bestow His grace or Spirit upon the employment of means, just in proportion as those means are adapted to the result. Observe that the results are predicated, not of the means as a power in themselves, but of the Spirit’s conformity to this law of operation.
1. In favour of our position our first argument is from analogy. There is such a law of adaptation in all the world of nature--an established and reliable connection between means and end, and results correspond with the nature--the perfection or imperfection of the antecedent cause. This law is observable in all the world of industry, science, and art. It is fair to infer that the same law is observed in the spiritual world, and that the results--the quickened graces, the conversions, the ingatherings to the Church--will be in proportion to the wise, diligent, and prayerful use of the means of grace.
2. The second argument is derived from the facts of Christian experience. The early apostles and Christians were successful, in a very remarkable degree, in producing moral changes, in the conviction and conversion of sinners. Everything objective and visible seemed to forbid success. But they were filled with the Spirit. They went forth to their work with an ardour unparalleled. They preached to save, they were wise to win souls. We can trace the connection between appropriate means and the sublimest results. This principle of wise adjustment of means to ends is universally acknowledged.
3. This law must be acknowledged as true, else there is no ground of confidence in the use of Gospel means.
1. As Christian workers, to graduate our success. As a general rule it will be in proportion to the aptness, skill, persistency, and prayerfulness of our labours.
2. The responsibility and guilt of those Churches who reap no fruit of their labour. There must be responsibility and guilt somewhere. (S. D. Burchard, D. D.)
The “work of the Lord” means the salvation of immortal souls, and the extension of our Redeemer’s kingdom.
I. The prosperity of God’s work is the chief business of God’s people. The prophet sees into the future, and instead of being overwhelmed by coming calamities, he realises how immeasurably greater is the welfare of the soul than the welfare of the body, and his earnest, heart-prompted entreaty is, “O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years “
II. The work of God in the soul may so decline as to stand in need of revival. Does our spiritual life still retain all the freshness and charm of its birth? Is it, as it ought to be, more real, more intense, more earnest, more fully developed by the lapse of time?
III. Although the work of God within us may decline, yet there is a power that can revive it. God can make the dry bones to live, and God can breathe a new life even into the soul that seems to be dead, so deathlike is its sleep. Why does God every year perform the miracles of the spring-time? That we may have perpetually before our eyes illustrations of His reviving power. Then axe you not anxious that a mighty revival of this spiritual life should be experienced in your own souls, and in the souls of those who are dear to you? If you are, pray for it. (John F. Haynes, LL. D.)
Literally, to revive is to live again. It supposes life possessed, life departed, life restored. Sometimes it means to infuse fresh vigour, increased animation, where life is weak and drooping, though not extinct. When Habakkuk says, “O Lord, revive Thy work,” he does not imply that God’s work had died out, only that it was in a low and declining state. Mercy he implores--pardoning, restoring, reviving mercy. This is the object we seek when we ask God to revive His work in us and amongst us. A revival of religion supposes it to exist, but to be in a low and declining state. Let every Church be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain. The Divine favour will be restored, and the Church will be revived. Such a Church God will own and bless. What is necessary to a revival?
1. To recognise the fact that a revival is needed. Well satisfied with our present need, we neither desire nor seek anything better.
2. We must know and feel that guilt is incurred by our lukewarmness and worldly-mindedness. Are we in a declining state? Then it is not simply our misfortune, but our sin, for which God will call us to account. We must see, too, the individual and personal character of our responsibility and guilt.
3. If a better state of things is to be brought about, we must sincerely and heartily repent of our sins, confess and forsake them all, and look to Him who has graciously promised, “I will heal their backslidings.” The invitations and promises of our God are all based on this principle, “Draw nigh unto God, and He will draw nigh unto you.” This humility, this repentance, this brokenness of heart generally precedes a revival of religion in our Churches.
4. There must be faith in God, in Christ, in His Holy Word. Faith in God’s character, His perfections, His excellences. Faith in the promises of God.
5. Faith must lead to prayer. Each must pray, all must pray; only ask in faith, nothing doubting. If there be an increase of real prosperity in the Church, there must be an increase of believing prayer. When once Christian Churches and Christian ministers shall thus wrestle with God in prayer, depend upon it, God is on His way, and soon shall they behold the wonderful workings of His power. (Thoughts for Week Evening Services.)
The symptoms and evidences of spiritual life in possession and active operation, on the part of the Church collectively and of the individual believer, are many, and are such as may be easily recognised.
I. A deep sense of the need of revival. It is in this as in regard to personal spiritual concerns. There must be felt need before there can be fervent prayer. Let us now consider more particularly what is really needed at the present time, or in what respects revival may be said to be needed.
1. We require a revival of personal religion. The influence and power of personal religion and of well-founded, deeply rooted convictions of the efficacy and power of the Word of God, and of the Gospel of His Son in the hand of the Holy Spirit, cannot be overestimated.
2. We require a revival of family religion. Let there but be a revival of personal holiness vouchsafed throughout the land, and religion in a more open and public form would be sure to follow.
3. We require a revival of national religion.
II. An acknowledgment of God as the Author of this much needed revival. The prophet calls it His work. Yes, the revival of the work of grace in the individual soul, of spiritual vitality in the Church, and of real and lively regard for the glory of God and the supreme authority of His law, in the supreme and subordinate legislative assemblies of the nation, is the work of God. Hence God alone can revive it.
III. The necessity of prayer to produce the revival of God’s work. As well as Zerubbabel, the prophet Habakkuk knew that this great work was not to be accomplished by might or by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord; but clearly as he understood this, no less strongly did he feel his obligation to pray for it. (A. Stirling.)
How can a Church be brought into a revival condition
This is a very important question; for the conversions in any Church will generally be in proportion to the average spiritual life of the Church. This is the law. Of course, there are exceptions. Men fish through the ice in midwinter and catch a large supply; and so it is possible for a pastor to dip right through the crust of worldliness and formality, with which the Church is covered, and bring out converts by the score. But a fisher of men that can do this must be endowed with a powerful personality and an uncommon zeal. But taking it for granted, then, that the first thing is to bring the Church into a revived condition, how shall we proceed? Now, we remember that in physics it is said, that, in thawing a cake of ice, all the heat which you pour in below the melting point becomes latent and disappears, but that having raised the whole temperature up to the melting point, it takes but little heat to keep it thawing. It is exactly so with a Church. There is what may be called the zealothemial point in the spiritual thermometer. When the temperature of the body is below that point, you may pour in sermons and prayers and pleadings, and all will soon be absorbed and lost. But once bring the condition above that point, and a little effort will keep converts coming constantly. (A. J. Gordon, D. D.)
Stimulants not required for a revival
Use nourishments instead of stimulants in your efforts to bring up the spiritual tone of the Church. By stimulants, we mean frantic appeals, severe denunciations, stinging rebuke. These rouse for the Sabbath on which they are employed, but their effect is exhausted before the week is over, and the application must be repeated next Sunday, and so on, week after week. By nourishment, we mean the Scriptures unfolded, expounded, and steadily applied. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (A. J. Gordon, D. D.)
Revivals commence with the few
Begin with a part of the Church instead of attempting to move the whole mass together. Those of us who were country boys know how impossible it is to make a fire out of green logs alone; but if we can get some dry sticks kindled around and underneath these green logs, we can make a very hot fire with them. Don’t begin your revival by trying to rouse the whole unseasoned mass of Church members, but begin with a few of the most spiritual, and from these work out towards the others. Lyman Beecher said, in answer to the question, How can we promote a revival in the Church?--“First get revived yourself, then get some brother Church member revived, and the work has begun.” That is practical wisdom. (A. J. Gordon, D. D.)
In wrath remember mercy.--
The limitations of Divine wrath
What the prophet now subjoins is intended to anticipate an objection; for this thought might have occurred to the faithful--“there is no ground for us to hope pardon from God, whom we have so grievously provoked, nor is there any reason for us to rely any more on the covenant which we have so perfidiously violated.” The prophet meets this objection, and he flees to the gracious favour of God, however much he perceived that the people would have to suffer the just punishment of their sins, such as they deserved. He then confesses that God was justly angry with His people, and yet that the hope of salvation was not on that account closed up, for the Lord had promised to be propitious. Since God then is not inexorable towards His people,--nay, while He chastises them He ceases not to be a Father,--hence, the prophet connects here the mercy of God with His wrath. The word “wrath” is not to be taken according to its strict sense, when the faithful or the elect are spoken of; for God does not chastise them because He hates them; nay, on the contrary, He thereby manifests the care He has for their salvation. Hence the scourges by which God chastises His children are testimonies of His love. But the Scripture represents the judgment with which God visits His people as wrath, not towards their persons, but towards their sins. Though then God shows love to His chosen, yet He testifies when He punishes their sins that iniquity is hated by Him. When God then comes forth as it were as a judge, and shows that sins displease Him, He is said to be angry with the faithful; and there is also in this a reference to the perceptions of men; for we cannot, when God chastises us, do otherwise than feel the accusations of our own conscience. Hence then is this hatred; for when our conscience condemns us, we must necessarily acknowledge God to be angry with us, that is with respect to us. When therefore we provoke God’s wrath by our sins, we feel Him to be angry with us; but yet the prophet connects together things that seem wholly contrary--even that God would “remember mercy in wrath”; that is, that He would show Himself displeased with them in such a way as to afford to the faithful at the same time some taste of His favour and mercy by finding Him to be propitious to them. Whenever, then, the judgment of the flesh would lead us to despair, let us ever set up against it this truth--that God is in such a way angry that He never forgets His mercy--that is, in His dealings with His elect. (John Calvin.)
Wrath and mercy are here put in juxtaposition the one to the other. The wrath spoken of is the wrath of a holy, omnipotent God, Who can dare to meet that wrath? If we want to know the extent, the fury, the power of that wrath, we have only to look to the Saviour, the very Son of the very eternal God, the Father’s co-equal, co-eternal Son, when He stands as the substitute of His people, as the representative of His Church, the sword of God’s wrath falls upon Him. This wrath will come upon a guilty and sinful world in the last days. It will come as the messenger of God to purge His Church from its alloy, and its imperfections, and its impurities, and the fire shall burn them up. But in the text there is a word of mercy for God’s Church. Say ye to the righteous that it shall be well with him. Whatever judgments may come upon us, nothing can come beyond what we deserve. What then have we to do? To pray for mercy. Nothing can be done without mercy. (T. Mortimer, A. M.)
God came from Teman.
God poetically portrayed and practically remembered
The Bible contains many grand songs and odes. But this song of Habakkuk stands in peerless splendour amongst them all.
I. Poetically portrayed. God is here presented, not as the Absolute One, whom “no eye hath seen or can see,” nor as He appears to philosophical or logical minds, but as He appears to a lofty imagination Divinely inspired. To the prophet’s imagination He appears as coming from Teman and Mount Paran, which refers to the visible display of His glory when He gave the law upon Mount Sinai amidst thunders and lightnings and earthquakes. Then indeed His glory covered the heavens. But whilst we take this as a poetic representation, we must not fail to notice some of the grand truths which it contains.
1. That God’s glory transcends all revelations. The brightness of the Shekinah, in which He appeared on Sinai and elsewhere to the Jews, however effulgent, was but a mere scintillation of the infinite splendour of His being, the mere “hiding of His power.” All His glory as seen in nature, both in the material and the spiritual universe, is but as one ray to the eternal sun.
2. That God’s power over the material universe is absolute. He makes the mountains tremble, and the seas divide, and the orbs of heaven stand still
3. That God’s interest in good men is profound and practical. All His operations, as here poetically described, are on behalf of His chosen people.
II. Practically remembered. Why did the prophet recall all these Divine manifestations to the Hebrew people in past times? Undoubtedly to encourage in himself and in his countrymen unbounded confidence in Him, in the critical and dangerous period in which they were placed. The Chaldean hosts were threatening their ruin. Under these perilous circumstances he turns to God, he calls to mind and portrays in vivid poetry what He had been to His people in ancient times.
1. He recalls the fact that God had delivered His people m ancient times from perils as great as those to which they were now exposed. From the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Philistines, etc.
2. That God had done this by stupendous manifestations of His power. Manifestations of His power in the sea, in the mountains, in the orbs of heaven, etc.
3. That what God had done for His people, He would continue to do. “His ways are everlasting,” or, as Kiel renders it, His are ways of the olden times. The idea perhaps is, that He has an eternal plan, fixed and settled. What He has done for them, He will still do. Thus the prophet remembered the days of old and took courage. (Homilist.)
He had horns coming out of His hand.
The horn as a symbol
The use of the word “horn” as a metaphor to express strength and honour is of very ancient origin. It appears to have arisen from the expression in Exodus 34:29, Moses’ “face shone,” or, literally, “emitted rays,” where the Hebrew word karan--from keren, a horn--means “to shoot forth horns,” hence applied to the horn-like rays of light. But it was frequently translated, as in the Latin Vulgate, “put forth horns”; and from this absurd translation arose the belief that Moses actually had horns, and, as we know, he is always so depicted in mediaeval paintings when bearing the tables of stone, and the grotesque error has been too often followed by modern artists. The horn was naturally a symbol of strength; for in its horns lay the strength of the aurocks or bison, long since extinct, erroneously translated “unicorn” in our version, and which was the strongest and mightiest land animal known to the Israelites. When represented as worn by Moses, horns became naturally an emblem also of honour, and thus of royal power and dignity. One of the daily prayers of the Jews at the present day is, “Soon may the Branch, the Root of David, spring up, and His horn be excellent.” This petition may have been in use before the time of Zacharias, and may have suggested this utterance. The metaphor was also used among others than the Jews. An Arabic expression speaks of the sun’s rays as the horns of a deer. The horn on either side of the head is employed on the coins of Alexander the Great, and of some of his successors, the Seleucid kings of Syria, as well as by the Ptolemies. From his well-known coins is doubtless derived the Arabic epithet of Alexander the Great, “the two-horned king.” In the prophetical books of the Old Testament, as well as in the Apocalpyse, the horn is frequently used as a metaphor for a king or kingdom, as in this song of Zacharias; for example, the two horns of Media and Persia, the horn of the king of Grecia, the ten horns or kingdoms, the horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake great things. In former times, a single horn, generally of silver, fastened over the forehead, was not an uncommon Syrian decoration of great men; but the fashion now lingers only in the Lebanon, where on gala days the married women of rank wear a silver horn about a foot long, fixed upright on the head, over which is thrown the veil. I have only once seen the horn worn, though specimens have several times been offered to me for sale by the villagers. In the vision in Habakkuk 3:4, “He had horns coming out of His hand,” the rendering should be, as in Exodus, “ rays of light, or lightnings, darted from His hand.” (H. B. Tristram, D.D.)
And there was the hiding of His power.
God’s reserved power
The prayer with which this prophecy concludes is one of the most remarkable pieces of composition ever written with pen, whether inspired or uninspired. The imagery employed is an impassioned setting forth of God’s majesty and beneficence as He led His people through the wilderness. The prophet comforts himself in the assurance that the same Jehovah is the God of Israel still The chief interest of the text lies in its concluding words--the hiding of His power. The thought is, the Divine concealments which accompany all Divine revelations.
I. What do the words mean, as applied to the events he mainly has in mind? The imagery here may have been suggested by the pillar of cloud and flame which led the host. When God’s hand was stretched out to work some miracle of deliverance, to feed the famishing multitude, to make rivers for them in the desert, or to smite the foe that withstood them, a glory streamed from it wholly Divine. In the imagery of the prophet, these rays of glorious manifestation were as horns, so often, in the poetical and prophetical Scriptures, used as symbols of power and sovereignty, coming out of His hand. And yet, so far from all these great acts of God constituting a full display of Him as He is, in reality they were but as hidings of His power. If you study closely those manifestations of God’s goodness and power which were then and thus made, you will see that this was so. Look at them--
1. As His providences on behalf of His people. Behind the providences there was a grace--more mighty, more amazing than the providences: Incidents then which seemed to intend some present deliverance, or some national restitution merely, we find now to have meant far more. Of even the smitten rock we read, “That Rock was Christ.” Concerning the manna, we find Christ declaring, “I am that Bread from heaven.” And the innocent victim from the flock, brought for sacrifice, led one, in the power of inspiration, to point to Jesus and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
II. This of which we speak cannot be a merely arbitrary thing in God. Something in His dispensations without an adequate Divine reason. It results partly from the fact that in all the Divine dealings with us, it is God dealing with man. It must be the Study of a whole eternity for man to find out God or God s doings unto perfection. He must be full of concealments. And this applies even to the most common events and exigencies. It is impossible that God should, at each stage in our onward course, make us understand all things as He understands them. God leads us blindfold. God’s concealments are not arbitrary; they are a necessity; and while they are so, they serve, in a most Divine way, the purposes of human instruction.
III. What is meant here by the hiding of God’s power is the key to much of the mystery of His dispensations, both in providence and in grace. It is easy to say that what we see is the result of the operation of instituted laws and conditions. But this cannot be an exhaustive theory of the universe and of man’s relation to it. The difficulties of providence have their solution, if not in any of our expedients for accounting for events, still in what we know of God’s infinite power and resources. What a hiding of power it was which the world saw in Jesus;--a wonderful manifestation indeed, yet a far more wonderful concealing, with the great reality breaking through only as the fit occasion served. (J. A. Smith, D. D.)
The hiding of His power
They saw marvellous light, exceeding power and magnificence; but, after all, there was even then only a partial display. Omnipotence had not shown itself, more was concealed than was unfolded.
I. In the realm of nature there are hidings of God’s power. When the geologist, physiologist, chemist, have told us all they know, we find they have left wondrous secrets unrevealed. Concerning the world of creation there is more unknown than known. We have not exhausted, and surely we cannot exhaust the resources of God.
II. In the revelations of spiritual truth there are hidings of God’s power. The universe is a revelation. But by “revelation” we understand direct knowledge of the character and the will of God, His relation to His creatures, His purposes and work in them, and their future destiny. Revelation, like all other things, has been progressive. While much was given, much was withheld for the “fulness of time.” What an enor mous difference is perceptible between the knowledge of God which the earliest people possessed and that which shines full orbed m Jesus Christ! And is it not still true? Do we know all, though we know so much? Are there not fresh revelations to come, through the power of the promised Teacher of the Church in every age?
III. In his providences there is the hiding of His power. By Divine providence is meant the foresight and control which God exercises over national and individual life. He does not reveal all He has in store for us at any one moment. There are reserves, hidings of Divine help until want presses, then the help will come, and come in fullest measure. As individuals we do not know for what we are now being prepared. God is educating and disciplining us by various processes. What truths should we learn from this? Reverence; confidence; hope. (William Braden.)
God’s hidden power
Habakkuk seems to have been wonderfully impressed with a sense of God’s majesty and power. And well he might be. We are astonished at the exhibitions of His creative power. But there is an unseen power--an invisible and subtle agent in the Divine arm, and in the Divine government. The Almighty often works in disguise, in a way, at least, in which we do not at the time recognise His hand. He often throws a thick cloud around His plans, and a mask about His operations which even the eye of faith cannot penetrate. Behind a screen He devises His most stupendous purposes. Look at some manifestations of hidden power.
I. As natural and physical forces. Illustrations in nature. Acorn. Corn grains in mummy cases. Elements of gunpowder. Steam, or power concealed in water-drops. Electricity. Telephone.
II. As moral and spiritual forces. The latent power there is in the simple Gospel of Christ and its institutions. There is power sufficient in the Gospel to evoke a spirit of faith and Christian heroism that will lead a million martyrs to the stake. How small and feeble in the beginning was the Church! The little mustard seed was the fit emblem to represent it. Is not the thought of the concentration of God’s vast powers--His hidden resources, as they shall be developed and brought to bear upon the Church and the world in the next century, well-nigh overwhelming? When art, science, and philosophy shall walk hand in hand with religion, there will be such a revealment of power as snail astonish corn men and angels. (J. L. Harris.)
The hiding of God’s power
In this chapter we have Habakkuk’s earnest prayer for deliverance from the foes of his people. He describes Jehovah’s revelation of Himself at Sinai and at Gibeon as ground for believing that He will again interpose in behalf of Israel.
I. In the works of creation God’s omnipotence is hidden. God never makes display; in all His works we have evidences of restrained power. In nature nothing is forced to its utmost tension. All the objects of creation around us show marks of deliberate wisdom and restrained strength. The fruits of the earth. The flowers of the garden, the seasons, etc. Through all nature we see horns coming out of His hand--rays from the central sun of His omnipotence. But with regard to omnipotence, in all its essential grandeur, there is the “hiding of His power.”
II. In God’s providential dealings with the race there is the hiding of His power. There are many wrongs on earth that need righting. All things in providence proceed according to an eternal plan. His worlds circulate, so do His providential dealings. God’s worlds circulate quietly and without clashing; so do His providences; issuing from the source of all harmony and light they are gradually evolving light out of darkness, harmony out of discord, life out of death, happiness out of grief.
III. In Christ’s redemptive work there was the hiding of His power. Through our Saviour’s life there was “the hiding of His power.” Two methods are used to impress people with the idea of power. The passive method. The stock in trade of some public speakers is the trick of appearing wise. The demonstrative method of manifesting power is more popular. But how remarkably free from all display was the life of Christ. The death of Christ brings out this idea very forcibly. Lessons--
1. The hollowness of mere religious display.
2. That God has no absolute need of man’s help in forwarding the interests of His kingdom.
3. Our need to get into sympathy with God. (Alex. Macfarlane.)
The hiding of Divine power
“It is the glory of God,” says an inspired writer, “to conceal a thing.” “He holdeth back the face of His throne, and spreadeth a cloud upon it.” Up to a given point all is clearness, beyond that all is mystery. It is revelation so far, it is reservation onward. And this, not to keep our curiosity and sense of wonder on perpetual stretch of seeking to pry into the hidden, but out of pity to our feeble finite eyes, which would be blinded for ever were the infinite blaze to be outpoured upon us. Concealment is absolutely necessary: “the holding back” is a boon. Full unfoldment would be cruel on the Divine Side, and inevitable death on the human side. Mystery, however, is a comparative term: what is mystery to a child is plain to a man. What is mystery to a peasant is intelligible and simple to a philosopher. What is mystery to a philosopher is easy reading to the saint in glory. The finite will never outgrow mystery. The depths of infinity, whether of power, of wisdom, or of love, can never be sounded by any human plumb-line of thought. However vast and rich may be the revelations given, Deity ever must be hidden in the abstract and absolute sense. Seeing God in His works is not seeing Him in His essence; beholding Him in His Word is not beholding Him as He is; even gazing on Him as incarnated in His beloved and sinless Son is not to see Him in the unclouded majesty and mystery of His Being. As the sun conceals more power than it can ever display, so Jehovah hides more might in the abysses of His nature than He can ever show. Bright beamings He gives apportioned to our strength of vision, but beyond that there is gracious reservation, there is merciful “hiding.” “Power!” Habakkuk was awed and impressed by the “horns” and “hidings” of this glorious attribute. “Once have I heard this,” says the Psalmist, “yea, twice have I heard it that power belongeth unto God.” A God without power--power to will, to think, to act, to create, to conserve, to govern, to reward and punish--would be, could be no God at all. Almightiness is an essential of Godhood, Omnipotence as well as eternity must inhere as an attribute in a Being existing from necessity. Its evolutions are vast, varied, minute, and majestic. In type of careering worlds and wheeling systems Jehovah has written the language of His power on the glorious page of the heavens. And what voluminous emblems and evidences of mightiness we have in the world of mind, and what in the universe of truth! Next to God Himself, man wields a power almost omnipotent; and through him Jehovah is bringing to bear upon races, tribes, nationalities, soul-worlds, evolutions of His almightiness, which effect magnificent reforms in mind and morals, and lead them up to imperial heights of moral and immortal honour, holiness, and truth, or sink them by wilful obstinacy and rebellion to depths of ruin and woe. Are storms and earthquakes, and rolling seasons and fruitful showers, and quickening Sunshine the result of wilful rebellious forces of caprice, or rioting powers of accidentalism? Do they look like it? Is it in the nature of caprice to be so unerringly regular in its freaks and doings as the revolutions of the seasons? Could an unconscious energy--a blind force--which is only another name from the vocabulary of scepticism for “Chance.”--could it possibly be so transcendently wise in its exploits and infinitely clever in its achievements as the miracles and manifestations of the power to be witnessed on the theatre of our globe? A thousand times no! These are the workings of Omnipotence through the medium of the material by which humanity may learn and receive constant assurance that verily there is a God to whom power belongeth, and that despite the most astounding manifestations thereof there still is and ever will be what the prophet has declared, “the hiding of His power.” But, I am asked, does creation apart from revelation afford proof that this power, the effects of which we see, is centred in and exercised by a person? Decidedly so. I would ask, in reply, do the effects beheld show evidences of thought, intelligence, wisdom? “Laws” argue a lawgiver, and a lawgiver argues an intelligent, personal being. Therefore nature does afford presumptive evidence that power, the effects of which we see, has behind it personality--that it is wielded by an imperial will, governed by an all-wise mind, and obedient to an infinite spirit. To supplement nature, Jehovah has graciously given us revelation. Power uncentred in an intelligent Personality, supposing it were possible, would be lawless, reckless, ruinous! Power is centred in the Living God. And His presence and power in nature is the source of all force, energy, and law, and the necessary condition of any course of events. While omnipotence in Jehovah is one as an attribute, nevertheless it is varied in its exertions and manifestations according to the mediums through which it operates. Seen in creation over matter, it is physical; in prophecy over mind, it is intellectual; in providence over events and circumstances, it is sovereign and judicial; in religious influences on conscience, character, life, it is moral. The seat of power is the Will. According to the teaching of this sacred book, the infinitude of power has been hidden in Jesus Christ. God, so to speak, has compressed Himself into the limits of the human. Omnipotence, with every other attribute of Divinity, has been presented in mysterious condensation in the person of the Loges. “Christ,” says St. Paul, “is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). What demonstrations thereof He gave when tabernacling in human form. From His look and touch and word outbeamed the “horns,” while behind the veil of flesh were the “hidings” of Onmipotence. The Cross is the centralisation of the highest power--the concentrated power of love! Christianity is moral plenipotence. “The Gospel is the power of God.” It creates not new worlds, but clean hearts. It subdues not earthly kingdoms, but rebel wills. Yes; the world is what it is to-day through the living revolutionising power of Christianity. “Without Jesus Christ,” says Pascal, “the world would not even exist; for either it would have been already destroyed, or it would have become like a hell.” Remember, it is not the human, but the Divine through the human, which has produced such effects. It is not the instrumentality, but the God-power through which it has wrought such supernatural changes in all lands where it has had full and unfettered sway. The age of physical miracles may be among the vestige of the past, but moral miracles, perhaps, were never so plentiful and constant as to-day. This, indeed, is the mighty power of God. The power of truth over mind, light over darkness, love over hate, divinity over human sin, sorrow, woe. Nothing can withstand it. What? I am not quite so sure of that. Moral power with Jehovah is powerless to effect a moral change in man if there be no concurrence of will. Physical might with Him is illimitable, nothing can withstand it; but moral might can only successfully work when and where there is voluntary acquiescence on the creature-side in the Divine will. Hence the slowness of Gospel progress of which our sceptical enemies accuse us, far from being evidence of failure, is a glaring and terrible illustration of man’s deep-seated depravity and stubborn unwillingness to accept salvation. Did He proceed on the principle of coercion in the realm of truth, human hearts and wills would bend in subjection before Him as golden grain before the breeze; but it would be the subjection of trembling slaves, and not the loyal, loving homage of sons. Compulsion makes serfs, but not saints. From “the hiding of His power”--His grand reserve of forces--at His bidding, shall yet sally forth battalions of might to accomplish His purposes and promises of love, or execute His threatenings of wrath; for the “kingdoms of this world” are to become “the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.” (J. O. Keen, D. D.)
Was the Lord displeased against the rivers?
The destruction of forests
We secure dominion over the forces of nature only through recognition of the laws that govern them. The floods that have made so great havoc in Europe and America this season are the natural results of violated law.
1. The forests of the hills and mountains are God’s natural check on the overflow of streams.
2. As a nation we are guilty of violation of this law for protection of the valleys. The plunder of the leafy wealth of the hills has been most wanton. The penalty has been visited upon the valleys.
3. The protection must be secured through the dissemination of knowledge upon the subject, and through the State and national law. Otherwise the floods will augment each year until they become immeasurable calamities. (Homiletic Review.)
The bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even Thy Word.
--The prophet’s closing prayer is that God would, in wrath, remember mercy. For this he is encouraged to hope by a remembrance of God’s past dealings with His people, which he reviews in a strain of sublime eloquence, lifting up his heart to God with devout acknowledgment of past help, he exclaims, Thy bow was made quite naked, etc. Apply
I. To the defence of God’s people against their enemies. There is allusion to the Eastern mode of warfare. The bow was taken out of its case, and placed upon the string ready to go forth on its errand of destruction against those who assailed the servants of God.
1. The opposition of the ungodly. There has always been a wide distinction between those who serve God, and those who serve Him not. The latter have always set themselves in fierce antagonism against the former. But God’s people have never wanted an avenger in God.
2. The designs of evil spirits. We have enemies in the invisible world. One arrow from the bow of the Almighty will put to flight the hosts of Satan.
3. The plague of our own hearts. We often carry our most dangerous enemies within us. If we allow sin to dwell unmolested within us, we carry about with us a combustible material. Until you get rid of these, you can have no abiding peace. The blood of Christ can wash them all away, the fire of the Holy Spirit can consume them all.
II. The triumph of God’s truth over every form of error.
1. The abominations of idolatry.
2. The delusions of superstition.
3. The fallacies of human reasoning.
Intellect alone is insufficient to guide us in our search after truth without some directing power from heaven. But the issue of conflict with all error is certain. These things will surely be accomplished “according to the oaths of the tribes,” that is, the covenant of God with His people, according to His infallible Word. (W. J. Brock, B. A,)
And I trembled in myself.
Horror of God
I. It is an abnormal state of mind. The benevolent character of God, and the moral constitution of the soul are sufficient to show that it was never intended that man should ever dread his Maker or be touched with any servile feelings in relation to Him. Unbounded confidence, cheerful trust, loyal love, these are the normal states of mind in relation to the Creator. How has the abnormal state arisen? The history of the Fall shows this. “I heard Thy voice in the garden and was afraid.”
II. It is an unnecessary state of mind. God is not terrible. There is nothing in Him to dread. His voice to man--
1. In all nature is, “Be not afraid.”
2. In all true philosophy. Things show benevolence of intention.
3. In all true Christianity. The Christianity of Christ reveals Him as love, and love only.
III. It is a pernicious state of mind. It is pernicious to the body. Horrific feeling is inimical to physical health. But dread of God is even more pernicious to the soul.
1. It destroys its peace.
2. It depresses its powers.
3. It distorts its view.
It is fear that has given men that Calvinian Deity which frightens the millions away from the glorious Gospel of the blessed God. (Homilist.)
I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble.
Trembling into rest
We know things which do tremble that they may rest--the magnet, the planet, the bird, the heart. Do not regard this text as any melancholy and prophetic foreboding. It is a wise repression of a too vehement self-consciousness--the assurance that our labour is not guaranteed by our present exuberance, but by a wise and thoughtful fear. Wise fear is forethought and safety. This prayer of Habakkuk grounds the hope of future mercy on the remembrance of the past; it is the history of a state of humbled feeling, and a hope from this to rest in the day of trouble.
I. The principle of fear is excited by the sense of God. Job said, “When I consider, I am afraid of Him.” When we think wisely and thoughtfully of God we may well tremble. It is the dictate of natural religion.
II. There is a use in this trembling which the Holy Spirit recognises. The apostle says, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men”; and this is ever the effect of this. Fear not to paralyse. There is a wise and healthy trembling. We are often shaken by undefined terrors. There seems nothing to make us afraid; but the spirit is overwhelmed--all within us sinks. You may tremble beneath some highly wrought sermon; but this is different to trembling beneath the Spirit’s touch of power.
III. What is the issue? Rest in the day of trouble. Holy fear is the guardian of the soul; it bears us into real life, into a soothed life. This trembling is a sense of the soul, the vision and knowledge of the soul,--it is all the soul,--it is within, it is ourselves. And as we tremble so we rest. Rest in the day of trouble means that a kingdom of peace is set up in our soul (E. Paxton Hood.)
The prayer of Habakkuk
1. Unfold the maxim which these words contain. Fear, excited by the threatenings of God, issues in “rest,” followed by the mercies of God. As a moral proverb only this maxim is susceptible of much powerful and practical illustration. The maxim presents itself in accordance with the whole Gospel of Christ.
2. The use which the Holy Spirit makes of the threatenings of the Word--the sinner is brought to tremble in himself. It was never designed that the threatenings of the Word should seize on a man with a paralysing grasp. They were intended to subserve the purpose of solemn and salutary warning. Threatening preaching is not in general effective preaching. He who trembles beneath the Spirit’s teaching, trembles in himself. It is an internal shock. There may be no outward sign. The converted man is one who must have trembled in himself.
3. The state into which such trembling conducts a sinner. There is a close connection between the “ trembling” and the “resting.” Let the empire of Satan be overthrown, and the empire of Christ is instantly set up. “The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” And must there not be resting then? (Henry Melvill, B. D.)
Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, etc.
United prayer for removal of temporal afflictions
We are called in a special manner to humble ourselves before God, on account of a great national calamity--an outbreak of cattle plague. So far as we can see, it comes directly from God. Some will say that the remedy is proper attention to the conditions of the disease, and not humiliation or prayer. But shall we admit the uselessness of prayer? Shall we say prayer must be confined to spiritual things? Surely we may ask what we need, “both for the body and the soul.” We must not ask God to alter the laws of nature, or work miracles for our deliverance. God does not take away a plague, either from nations or from individuals, simply because they asked Him to do so. In relation to such a plague, human endeavour can find appropriate spheres, and yet room be left for prayer. Our praying, and humbling ourselves before God, is sure to do us good, if we engage in it with sincerity of heart. (G. G. Lawrence, M. A.)
It is easy to understand how a soul should, in poverty and great straits, be induced to seek after God; indeed, the goad of want more frequently drives men to Him than the enjoyment of plenty draws them. There is no doubt that if, in times of want, either an individual or a nation desires to find Him, and secure His help, He will hear their prayer and deliver them. We shall never get forward until we see what Habakkuk saw--that God is our strength, and that He will uphold us through the trial by which we shall come into the possession of our purer blessings. No experience is so uniform among the people of God, as that they enjoyed more of the presence of God in their trouble than at any other time. But there is more than the experience of the nearness of God, more than a vision of His glory and grace. There is deliverance out of our straits. (J. P. Gledstone.)
Man facing calamity
This passage sets down the entertainment which the prophet gave to a sad prediction. He entertains it with fear, and with faith and confidence. A sweet combination. These are the two blessed entertainments of any threatened judgment. A deep humiliation, and a steadfast faith and consolation.
1. The supposition. The strength and comfort of the creatures may fail us. In their production and breeding there is a great deal of uncertainty. And also in their use. And the very being and substance of these natural helps, carry with it this condition, that they are vanishing and fading. When scarcity and want come as a judgment from God, then it is extreme and extraordinary, and beyond the course of nature. God’s displeasure oft breaks out in this kind of judgment. God sometimes vouch safes a special exemption to His Church and children: but the saints have their share and portion in these calamities upon divers reasons. The privileges of God’s people are not temporal, but spiritual. The saints are members of those societies and people who are thus punished. The servants of God are often contributors to the common heap of sin that brings down judgments.
2. The resolution. “Although,” forecasts the misery. “Yet,” forelays the remedy. The piety of the prophet appears in two degrees. Here is the low degree of the affliction, and the high degree of the affection. He will suffer patiently and meekly. He will not only be content with it, he will be well pleased with his condition. He knows how even to rejoice in affliction. (Bishop Brownrigg.)
The possibilities in the life of a good man
I. The greatest material destitution is possible to a good man. It is possible for the fig-tree not to blossom, etc. Man lives by the fruits of the earth. They may fail from one of two reasons.
(1) From human neglect. It is the eternal ordination of God, that what man wants from the earth for his existence he must get from it by labour--skilful, timely, persevering labour. They may fail
(2) From Divine visitation. The mighty Maker can, and sometimes does wither the fruits of the earth, destroy the cattle of the fields.
II. The highest spiritual joy is possible to a good man. “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” “Spiritual joy,” says Caleb Morris, “is a free, full, and overflowing stream, that takes its rise in the very depth of the Divine Essence, in the immutability, perfection, abundance, munificence of the Divine nature. While there is a God, and that God is happy, there is no necessity that there should be any unhappy Christians.” What is it to “joy in God”?
1. It is the joy of the highest contemplation. The joys of contemplation are amongst the most pure and elevating which intelligent creatures can experience. These rise in the character according to their subjects. The highest subject is God, His attributes and works.
2. It is the joy of the most elevating friendship. The joys of friendship are amongst the chief joys of earth; but the joys of friendship depend upon the purity, depth, constancy, reciprocity of love; and friendship with God secures all this in the highest degree.
3. It is the joy of the sublimest admiration. Whatever the mind admires it enjoys, and enjoys in proportion to its admiration, whether it be a landscape or a painting. Moral admiration is enjoyment of the highest kind, and this in proportion to the grandness of the character. Admiration of Divine excellence is the sublimest joy. “I will joy in God.”
III. The highest spiritual joy in the midst of the greatest material destitution is possible to a good man. “Although” every material blessing is gone, “I will rejoice.” Good men have always been enabled to do so. Like Paul they have “gloried in tribulation,” etc. All things have been theirs. In material destitution they felt--
1. In God they had strength. “The Lord God is my strength.” “As thy day, so shall thy strength be.”
2. In God they had swiftness. “He will make my feet like hinds’ feet.” The reference is here perhaps to the swiftness with which God would enable him to flee from the dangers which were overtaking his country. It is, however, a universal truth, that God gives to a good man a holy alacrity in duty. Duty to him is not a clog or a burden, but a delight.
3. In God they had elevation. “He will make me to walk upon mine high places.” “They that wait upon God shall renew their strength, and shall mount as on the wings of eagles,” etc. (Homilist.)
I. The apprehension of great suffering any want. Our apprehensions concerning the future are of a totally different character to the prophet’s. Ours are not national, but personal and relative afflictions.
II. The expression on the prophet’s confidence and joy. Here is a very wonderful exhibition of a devout and holy character. This language of hope and joy is a striking contrast to three things--
1. The language and conduct of idolaters.
2. The low, dull, heavy feeling of the man who does not believe in the providential government of God.
3. The faint and feeble feelings of confidence in God which distinguish many real Christians. (W. O. Barrett.)
On the influence of religion under privations and afflictions
We may learn that nothing should withdraw us from our trust in God and the consolations of His Divine Word.
I. Cherish a proper sense of the Divine providence and our own dependent state. Perfect and unbounded confidence in God, in the wisdom, power, and mercy of God, must be the ground of all our religious hope.
II. Admire the cheerful homage of the prophet, and consider some of the practical uses of adversity.
1. Consider it as opening to us a new field of virtue and of knowledge.
2. As effectually curing the insolence of pride and the follies of prosperity.
3. As proving the sincerity of some, and laying bare the treachery and baseness of others.
4. As teaching us to estimate, as we ought, the many blessings which the Divine love has showered upon us. (J. Hewlett, B. D.)
The great calamity
I. The Divine rule is to make an abundant provision for man’s physical wants. The Great Creator gives him the fig tree, the vine, the olive, the fields, the flock, and the herd. Observe--
1. The vastness of God’s wealth.
2. His supreme regard for man’s comfort.
II. The good man recognises the possibility of a total failure in this provision. “Although the fig tree,” etc. Such a failure is fearful to contemplate.
III. That in the very face of this great calamity the good man triumphantly confides in God. “Yet will I rejoice in the Lord.” The wisdom of this conduct is seen in two things--
1. In the Divine immutability.
2. Great calamities afford scope for the development of great principles.
Trials, if very heavy, kill little men, but make great ones. Just as an Altantic billow bears the reeling ship aloft, so does the mighty wave of trouble lift to notice a true son of God. Trials strengthen and develop love and faith.
IV. That this sublime confidence is exercised by the good man because he has experienced a great deliverance. “I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
1. This is a deliverance from the greatest evil.
2. This is a deliverance to the possession of the greatest good.
This man has in him the elements of immortality. He is a King’s son, and an heir of heaven. Heaven is his future residence, and the universe his estate. (Homilist.)
A daring faith
I. A mournful supposition. Every sentence in this verse is pitched in the minor key. Every symbol is fringed with mourning.
1. The prophet supposes a condition in which he is deprived of the common luxuries of life. The Jews were a favoured people. God had made special provision for their welfare. But the prophet foresaw that He who gave these possessions could take them away. All the agencies of nature and providence were in God’s hand.
2. The prophet supposes a condition in which he will be deprived of the common necessaries of life. Some of the fruits of the earth are for enjoyment, and others for our support. We can do without the former, we cannot do without the latter. The prophet supposes a time when not only the luxuries but the necessaries of life might fail, when the tree should be without fruit, the fields without pasture, and the stalls without herd. It is foolish to brood over imaginary troubles, and to magnify the evils of life. Fear not only weakens our strength, but it intensifies our misery. But it is wise to consider how uncertain all material possessions are, and to fortify the heart against the probable calamities that may overtake us.
II. A cheerful resolution. “I will rejoice in God.” How could there be inward joy amidst so much outward sorrow?
1. This was a Divine joy. “Rejoice in God.” There is a great difference between a human and a Divine joy. One arises from without, but the other from within; one comes from the creature, the other from the Creator. If our joy depended upon our wealth, it might fail; if upon our friends, it might change; if upon our health, it might be broken. But it depends upon God, and we know that “He will supply all our need according to His riches in glory, through Jesus Christ.”
2. This was an experimental joy. It refers to the present, and includes forgiveness, fellowship, and expectation.
III. A delightful expectation. “The Lord God is my strength.” That is experience. “He will make my feet like hinds’ feet.” That is expectancy. The Christian life is both a service and a hope; an experience and an expectation. (J. T. Woodhouse.)
Faith triumphant in the day of calamity
The text exhibits a season of peculiar distress, and the exercise of a gracious heart in the time of calamity.
I. A season of peculiar distress.
1. Such seasons are effected by the hand of God. He is not a mere spectator, He is the great agent in bringing these things to pass.
2. Such seasons are the consequence of man’s sin. Sin introduced this and every other misery.
3. Such seasons are designed by Infinite Wisdom to answer some important end. To manifest His absolute right over all creatures and things. He claims them all as His own. And He makes it manifest that they are His own, by taking them away at His pleasure. To convince us of our entire dependence upon Him for all our temporal enjoyments. Without the Divine blessing, all men do is ineffectual. To prove to us that earthly comforts are uncertain and perishing. The design of God, in bestowing temporal benefits, is to help us through life, not to make us too much in love with it. To lead us to the exercise of gratitude, when temporal blessings abound, and for the exercise of Christian graces in the hearts of His people. Now is the trial of their faith, patience, and resignation.
II. The exercise of a gracious heart in times of calamity.
1. Gracious souls have a source of joy, when those of the ungodly are all dried up.
2. This rejoicing in God, in the midst of calamity, is the fruit of our Divine faith. If the promises were not believed, the soul would not rejoice.
3. It is a view of the gracious character of God, as a Saviour, that causes the sinner to rejoice in Him. Improvements--
(1) God can as easily take away the whole of our possessions as part of them.
(2) You will continue strangers to true happiness, while you remain strangers to the spirit of the prophet.
(3) In such seasons beware now you endeavour to add to your own enjoyments at the expense of any others’ comfort.
(4) Let the oppressed poor remember to whom vengeance belongeth.
(5) If you can rejoice in God, you shall soon be in a country where neither famine nor scarcity can ever be experienced. (T. Hannam.)
The triumph of piety over adversity
Pleasure and pain are the alternate companions of every man through the journey of life. Surrounded by uncertainty, prudence would suggest the propriety of being prepared for calamities which cannot be avoided, so as to contemplate them without alarm, and to bear them with becoming fortitude. Religion proposes no exemption from sorrow, but promises that support under the troubles of life, which reconciles the mind to every event. The prophet’s anticipation of evils proceeded not from a melancholy disposition, but was intimated to him by the sins of the People,--the complexion of the times,--and above all, by the Holy Spirit, which dwelt in him.
I. The exposition of the text. He supposes, in the first instance, the fig-tree to fail in its accustomed produce. The failure of the vines is the next calamity. Then the usual supply of the oil-olive trees is cut off. Then the “fields may yield no meat,” and as a consequence, the “flocks may be cut off from the field.” Merciful God! In the midst of distress like this, where shall the wretched flee? The prophet’s ardent soul breathed the trustful language of our text.
II. Reflections suggested. The text reminds us of the uncertainty of temporal enjoyments, and of the peculiar felicity of a good man. The text reminds us of the insecurity of our temporal enjoyments, as it respects the produce of the earth. It is the privilege of good men not to be wholly dependent for happiness upon temporal things. Joy in God is the peculiar and the supreme delight of a pious mind. Let us learn that it is of unspeakable importance that we stand prepared for trials which cannot be avoided. (S. Lowell.)
Joy in the face of adversity
I. The object of our joy. Our God in whom we rejoice. He is Lord. Jehovah is both His name and His description. He is “God of salvation.” He is the God of my salvation. Our joy is spiritual joy; it comprehends in its object the characters and offices of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in the administration of redemption. The essence of this joy is complacency in its object. The joy is nourished and increased by the Spirit, with scriptural discoveries of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And joy in the Lord God of our salvation hath little in it which is vehement, but much that is operative and practical.
II. Forming resolutions to abound in this joy. Such resolutions have been formed. Such resolutions may be formed. Such resolutions should be formed. They are always formed under spiritual influence. Bold professions are founded on the revealed glory of God’s faithfulness and all-sufficiency, He is the Almighty God, and His faithfulness is engaged to support the people of His love and care. These bold resolutions look out of countenance all the evils that would intimidate and shake the confidence of God’s people. Of these bold resolutions we have some eminent and illustrious scriptural examples. Such resolutions are neither formed nor executed without a conflict. Then suffer the word of exhortation. Be not surprised that the word is, “Rejoice evermore.” Nothing in the subject should hinder our joy. And the honour of our profession calleth us to rejoice. Attend to the following instructions--
1. Be well assured of the solidity of the foundation on which the joys of faith are built.
2. Seek to attain clearness concerning your interest in the God of salvation, through union with Christ in effectual calling.
3. Be followers of that which is good.
4. Look to the Lord in the administration of providence, and submit to His will manifested in it. (A. Shanks.)
Rejoicing in God
Mr. Garrett preached again in the afternoon. The text was Psalms 128:12. Again the preacher drew several lifelike pictures. He took his hearers to the mansion of the rich, to the study of the learned, and to the palace of royalty, in search of true happiness, but found it not. Then we were conducted to a little straw-thatched cottage, the lowly home of a humble Christian toiler, who had a sick wife and child and no work to do. As we approached it, the preacher paused and cried, “Hark! he is singing. What is it?” Just before we reached the cottage door, the preacher again cried, “Hark!” We listened, and heard the verse beginning, “I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath.” The effect was simply overpowering. (Memoir of Rev. C. Garrett.)
Bishop Tucker, on the occasion of his recent visit to Tore, ordained a native of Uganda who has worked for five years on the edge of the great pigmy forest. “This remarkable man,” says the bishop, “has been beaten, imprisoned, put in the chain gang, had his house-burnt down, and all his property destroyed; and yet he has borne it all with a smile upon his face and a song upon his lips!” Opalescent men: In ancient times, before men learned to cut the diamond, the opal was the most fashionable stone, most highly prized, and most costly. There are not lacking men in modern times who still hold to this ancient estimate of that beautiful stone. No jewel, in all the range of precious stones, displays a finer range of splendid colours--the brightest tints of the rainbow, softened as if seen through a silver haze. As you look at it from different angles, or as you turn the stone, there come glimpses of the richest azure, the deepest emerald, the most fiery ruby, yet all of them mellowed by the opal’s own charm, and very different from the dazzling brilliancy of the diamond and sapphire. Whence comes this beautiful play of colour that takes its name from the opal, and is called “opalescence”? It is not in the stone. Hold the opal up to the light, and it has nothing but a yellowish tinge. Besides, the colours shift and vary, as the stone is changed in position. Let me tell you the secret of the opal s beauty. The stone is filled with fissures--minute rifts in its substance, too small to be seen by the eye, yet not too fine to be seen by the light. These fissures catch up the light, beat it back and forth between their sides, and break it up into its constituent colours, very much as a prism would do. And so the stone, out of what might seem to be a flaw or blemish, draws its wonderful crown of beauty. Have you ever seen opalescent men and women? They are all around you, shining with loveliness in many a Christian home. They are men and women whose lives are fissured with poverty, seamed with sickness, cleft with some deformity, shattered by blindness, or deafness, or ugliness; and yet these opalescent Christians make the very shattering of their body, and the flaws in their fortune, a trap for God’s sunlight They catch in these clefts of misfortune the rays that come from heaven. They toss them back and forth and from side to side of their seamed and fissured lives, and lo! we see them glowing with a beauty far more wonderful than any opal of earth, or any rainbow of heaven. (Amos B. Walls.)
Satisfied with the best
“I was going down town in a car, one day,” says a New York merchant, “when I heard somebody cry out, ‘Hallo, Mr. Conductor, please stop your car a moment; I can’t run very fast.’ The car stopped, and presently there hobbled into it a little lame boy, about ten or twelve years old. His face told such a tale of suffering, and yet he was bright and cheerful. He put his crutch behind him, and placing his leg in an easier position, he began to look round. A happy smile played over his pale face, he had seemed to take notice of everything. Presently I got a seat next to him, and had a little talk with him. I found that he knew and loved the Saviour, and it was this which made him so contented and cheerful. He told me that the doctor said his leg would never be any better. ‘Well, my dear boy, I said, how can you be so happy and cheerful?’ His reply was, ‘Jesus, my Saviour, has sent this trial for me to bear. Father tells me He would not have sent it, unless He knew it would be best for me. And don’t you think, sir, that I ought to be satisfied with the best?’ When I said good-bye to the boy, I thanked him for the lesson he had taught me, which I shall never forget.”
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.
Joy in being in God’s hands
The prophet teaches us what advantage it is to the faithful assembly, seasonably to submit to God, and to entertain serious fear when He threatens them, and when He summonses them to judgment: and he shows that, though they may perish a hundred times, they yet would not perish, for the Lord would ever supply them with occasions of joy, and would also cherish this joy within, so as to enable them to rise above all their adversities. Though the land was threatened with famine, and though no food would be supplied to them, they would yet be able always to rejoice in the God of their salvation; for they would know Him to be their Father, though for a time He severely chastised them. We now perceive more clearly, that the sorrow produced by the sense of our guilt is recommended to us on account of its advantage: for nothing is worse than to provoke God’s wrath to destroy us; and nothing is better than to anticipate it, so that the Lord Himself may comfort us. We shall not always escape, for He may apparently treat us with severity; but though we may not be exempt from punishment, He will give us reasons to rejoice; and then in His own time, He will mitigate His severity, and by the effects will show Himself propitious to us. During the time when want or famine, or any other affliction is to be borne, He will render us joyful with this one consolation, for relying on His promises, we shall look for Him as the God of our salvation. We may hence gather a most useful lesson,--That whenever signs of God’s wrath meet us in outward things, this remedy remains to us,--to consider what God is to us inwardly; for the inward joy, which faith brings to us, can overcome all fears, terrors, sorrows, and anxieties. (John Calvin.)
Religion the secret of contentment
There is nothing here of the exuberance of Oriental imagination. It is absolute matter of fact, capable of being proved by countless witnesses. Various lessons are to be drawn from it, but the most valuable of all for these times is the overwhelming testimony borne by it to the religious nature of man, and to the high degree of probability of the existence of a God of love who can inspire such absolute trust in Himself under the most crushing temporal misfortune. It places the efforts to uproot all faith in God in the light of an inexpressible folly, not to say of a flagrant crime. Is it not folly to take away from any man the power by which he becomes able to behave in a more manly way than he could have done without it? Viewed even from atheistic ground, mankind at large are all the better for the calm and resigned behaviour of those who suffer adversity. We go further, and say, it verges closely on criminal blindness to the interests of humanity to proclaim an atheism which, if accepted, would leave the souls of the afflicted absolutely without anything to cling to, without consolation, without hope; worse still, to deprive them of that conviction by which all the nobler part of their nature is sustained and called into vigorous exercise. How shall we bear the storm of adversity when it breaks upon us? Shall we prove our sovereignty over things of time and sense, or shall we disclose our shame in exhibiting ourselves as their slaves? The alternative depends upon what is the ground of our daily hopes. Not in Stoicism is to be found the normal type of manliness under adversity. Contentment is a virtue of soul which, when healthy, exercises itself in various ways. A great deal of so-called contentment is nothing more than physical indifference or mental inactivity. Habit is the parent of such contentment, and where the habits have been always moderate and temperate, contentment with a small portion is easy and natural. But the virtue of contentment is something much higher than this. Virtue is always active; when it is passive it ceases to be virtue, and becomes only an admirable quality, or enviable habit. Contentment, to be virtuous, must spring from opposition to our wills and desires, can only exist in circumstances which are trying and painful. It is our task to show how certain virtues can best be attained by those who are deficient in them, to point out by what spiritual forces the native weakness of our nature may be justified, and what relation true religious faith bears to the necessities of our lot, and the exigencies of our moral character. I would show, if I could, whence the blessed springs of virtue can be drawn; to whom we may look for the light and warmth needful for its birth and fertility. If a discontented man would fain possess the virtue of contentment, he will never get it by altering the conditions of his lot, but by the elevation of his soul above them, by finding, in a will higher than his own, complete and boundless satisfaction. This virtue is largely begotten and cultured by faith in the living God. But what is this faith in the living God? It is not merely the assent of our intellect to certain propositions about God, though it must be such as the reason entirely endorses. First, it implies the possession of a soul which cannot be satisfied with earthly good or animal pleasure. He who believes in God hab a life of conscious existence, of hopes, and fears, and appetites, which find activity and satisfaction in a purely spiritual region of its own. To such a soul God is not less a reality than the earth on which the body treads, or the sun shining in the heavens. Out of this conscious communion with God grow two important constituents of faith--perfect acquiescence in the Divine will, and a supreme desire to obey its behests. The former of these is the essence of contentment. It differs by a whole heaven from the contentment of the fatalist. No supreme power has a right to demand the assent of man to wrongs and injuries which are the result of blind chance, or inflicted by caprice, still less to wrongs which will not issue in final good. But how different must be the feeling and conduct of man, when the power which seems to crush him is invested with all the attributes of justice and fatherly love. He promptly surrenders, because he knows, at least, that there is a higher wisdom than his own which guides the forces of pain and destruction; more perfect goodness than his own is the cause of misfortune, and best of all, that a love infinite in its benevolence, is the impulse from which every motion in the universe has sprung. This is faith; to see what is invisible to the senses, or to the immature mind. God does not wish us to bear a single sorrow that we can by righteous means avert; all He asks is that we will trust in His wisdom and greater love when trouble comes which we cannot prevent. And if faith consoles us, still more does it purify and refine us. (Charles Foysey.)
Joy in God
Worldly men do not rejoice in God.
I. Joy in God is well grounded.
1. Because it is a joy in God considered as the God of salvation. If a man were found joying in an absolute God, he might well be esteemed foolish; for he would be rejoicing in the contemplation of a strong and irresistible enemy. It is in the God of salvation that the believer greatly rejoices. There is the best of all reasons for holy satisfaction. He perceives in Him justice satisfied, and truth magnified; he discerns that, instead of fury, there is overflowing love, and mercy to pardon all his transgressions; he sees in Him omnipotent power, not armed for his perdition, but engaged to preserve his soul through faith unto salvation; he beholds eternal faithfulness to be to him a shield and buckler; he perceives also, that God is omniscient to see all the dangers which may threaten him, and all-powerful to protect in every case. Who is the God of salvation? The Triune God, the one God subsisting in three persons.
2. Joy in God is well grounded, because God is on the side of the believer. This was not always the case. Since he has been justified by the blood of Jesus, there is no longer any condemnation for him. If God acquits, who shall condemn? If God defends, who can injure?
3. Joy in God is well grounded, because of what God has done for the believer. Do we not delight in a deliverer? Here is an unspeakably great Deliverer; and has He been so at little expense? Following the great deliverance are many lesser deliverances; both temporal and spiritual.
4. Joy in God is well grounded, because of what God is now doing for the believer. Do we not rejoice in a healer?
5. Joy in God is well grounded, because of what God will yet do for His people. He will make all things work together for their good.
6. Joy is well grounded, on account of what God has provided for the believer, and on account of what He/8 to the believer. He has righteousness in Him, and also strength, counsel, provision, and promises. And He is the portion of the believer; a sure portion; an enduring portion; a never-falling portion; an unchangeable portion; and a satisfying portion.
II. To point out some properties of joy in God.
1. It is a supernatural joy. It springs not from the world, but is derived from above.
2. It is a real joy. Earthly joys have no substance. They cause a momentary flow of spirits, but they only skim the surface of the heart, and do not take full possession of it. There are degrees in the Christian’s joy.
3. It is a joy which this world can neither give nor take away.
4. It is a joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
5. It is an everlasting joy. In consideration of the nature and grounds of joy in God, we invite believers to lift up the hands that hang down. Be not cast down on account of the trials of life. (A. Ross, M. A.)
Religious joy surmounting temporal adversity
That the world is insufficient for our happiness, who does not confess, or, at least, who does not feel? The insufficiency of external objects to furnish the soul with rational fruition or exercise, is demonstrated in the disappointment of those who have made the acquisition of those objects the chief study of their lives. Were they ever content? Things earthly are too fluctuating to be built on with assurance. They want stability, and leave those who rely on them, in a little while, destitute and spoiled of peace. The Christian has something more solid and unchanging on which his soul reposes. Let none imagine that these sentiments were peculiar to Habakkuk, or may be entertained only by an eminent few among the saints; by prophets, apostles, or men favoured with special distinctions from above; for there is not a reconciled sinner at this day upon earth, who, in the exercise of faith, love, and hope, may not and will not cherish and express sentiments essentially similar. Ye on earth who have known the Lord, fail not to exercise your souls in the same way as the prophet. (J. Sieveright, A. M.)
Joy amidst earthly sorrow
The sentiment is--That no extremity of earthly sorrow should prevent the Christian rejoicing in the God of his salvation.
1. There is implied in the adoption of this truth, a firm belief in the superintending providence of God. Could we set aside the doctrine of a particular providence, the circumstances of life would change their character. Affliction would double her sorrows, and prosperity lose half her joys.
2. There is also implied a well-founded hope of interest in the God of salvation.
The doctrine of providence would be a poor substitute to perishing sinners for the grace of the Gospel. Why should the Christian rejoice in God under affliction? It is not necessary to rob the world of any of its beauty, or to disparage the happiness it is capable of communicating. But it is the nature of riches to take to themselves wings and flee away.
1. Consider the sanctifying tendency of afflictions. Sometimes they are sent for the purposes of trial; to prove the integrity of our principles, and to bring into exercise our latent virtues. But for the most part afflictions are corrective, and not for purposes of discipline. They are either to preserve or to extricate you from danger.
2. Affliction does not injuriously affect our best interests. We live for a higher and nobler object than worldly wealth.
3. The Christian may rejoice because he knows his afflictions will have a happy issue. The transitory character of suffering is powerfully calculated to sustain the mind under it.
4. In every conceivable extremity of woe, God is an all-sufficient portion. The enjoyment of God will constitute the happiness of heaven.
5. The joy of the Christian in the season of affliction is the fruit of the Saviour’s mediation. It was in the God of salvation that Habakkuk rejoiced. It is only in this character that He is an object of confidence and joy to us. The mediation of Christ is the ground of our hope towards God. But for His interposition, afflictions would have been unmixed evils. They would have possessed no ingredient of mercy, nor given any indication of kindness. (S. Summers.)
Spiritual joy does not consist in mere placidity; it is not like the water, which in fertilising showers descends, and does not depend on our volition or agency; but it is like the water we draw from the well, there must be activity and labour. There can be no happiness without thought. Habakkuk thought of God, of His nature, His moral perfections, His covenant, His promise; he not only thought of God generally, but in the particular relation which He sustained to him. “I will joy in the God of my salvation.” I understand Him in some measure, I feel an interest in Him and He in me. The mere fact of the existence or benevolence of God cannot make any creature happy; it is the conviction, the intelligent, deeply rooted, legitimate conclusion that He is our God, can produce joy. This was the case with Habakkuk, and must be so with every true believer.
I. True religion (i.e., its doctrines, prospects, emotions)
does impart joy. Because--
1. True religion gives decision to the mind. Indecision or dubiousness is always painful, and painful in exact correspondence to the value of the object to which it refers.
2. True religion imparts true liberty to the mind. While bodily bondage is a great evil, spiritual bondage is greater; religion alone imparts to man the charter of freedom--the moment man receives true freedom he is happy, and not before.
(1) Freedom from eternal punishment. When we are brought under the influence of religion, we are led first to perceive our liability to it, and then to accept of deliverance through Christ.
(2) Freedom from the government of depravity. The moment a man feels that he is dependent for happiness upon God, he feels desirous to know, love, and please that Being.
(3) Freedom from the evils of affliction. Afflictions in themselves are evil, they make a man morose, unkind, bitter, despairing,, devilish: it is only when applied by God that they become useful to the believer s mind.
3. True religion imparts exercise and expectation to the mind. In order to be happy, there must be a right end in view--the glory of God; proper rule to guide--the Bible; and right motives to actuate--love to God and love to men.
II. The nature of this joy.
1. It is always pure. When does the soul experience it! Only when it is pure. This is a question not only of facts but of degrees; not only the pure mind can be happy, but it is happy in exact proportion to its purity. When is it enjoyed? When the soul is raised to contemplate holy objects.
2. It is personal and progressive. It is secret, “I will rejoice in the Lord”; and when seen, seen only in its effects. (Caleb Morris.)
Rejoicing in God
The language is that of faith, hope, patience, and fortitude.
I. The nature of the Christian’s joy.
1. It is spiritual. Arising from saving knowledge of God: from pardon: from adoption: from the habitual indwelling of the Holy Ghost.
2. It is satisfying. The Almighty is suited to our capacities; adequate to our necessity; durable as our existence.
II. The object of the Christian’s rejoicing.
1. In the perfection of His nature, we rejoice in God.
2. In His works of creation, providence, and grace.
3. In His Word.
4. In His ordinances.
III. The particular seasons when a true Christian can rejoice in the Lord.
1. In seasons of poverty.
2. In seasons of persecution.
3. In seasons of national commotion.
4. In the season of death. (Homilist.)
The prophet’s joy
1. The sombre background from which the joy of the prophet sprang.
2. The sublime height to which the joy of the prophet leaped. Habakkuk supposes the loss of all things, and yet he had unwavering faith in God, and supreme love to God.
(1) We may rejoice in the works of God’s hand.
(2) In the bounties of His providence.
(3) In the amenities of society.
But the highest joy we can know is to “joy in the Lord.” His loving-kindness is better than life. (Homilist.)
1. The conditions. “Yet.” In spite of what Habakkuk 3:17 describes--apparent failure of our efforts for God, or apparent desolation of His cause around us. Deep reality of such trials. Success is to be sought and prayed for; we are not to ask for the discipline of failure. But it may come, and in one degree or another it will, in every deep Christian experience, whether as personal failure or as a sense of surrounding failure. On its external side the Lord Jesus Christ’s work partook of the pain of failure.
2. The resolve. “I will rejoice in the Lord.” The will is called up. Believers “will to do His will” only by His special grace preventing them; but they do really will, the act of willing is their own. We must not sit down passive, and wait for a sensible impulse. It will come through our own will when it comes. Let us, in this spirit, cultivate the habit of holy resolves, as well as holy desires. It is the joy of personal appropriation, of objective pardon and peace--“my salvation.” Comp. Micah 7:7 for a rich parallel. The soul, outwardly tried and tired, goes to Him who is “my hiding-place,” and there is “compassed about with songs of deliverance” (Psalms 32:7).
3. The result. Not selfish sloth. Some say personal enjoyment of present salvation is selfish.” On the contrary, it is the spring of deepest sympathy with souls, and of love-animated efforts for them. Personal joy compels affectionate work. (Handley C. G. Moule, M. A.)
A woman who had had many sorrows and heavy burdens to bear, but who was noted for her cheerful spirits, once said in explanation: “You know, I have had no money. I had nothing I could give but myself, and so I made the resolution that I would never sadden anyone else with my troubles. I have laughed and told jokes when I could have wept. I have always smiled in the face of every misfortune. I have tried never to let anyone go from my presence without a happy word or a bright thought to carry with them. And happiness makes happiness. I myself am happier than I would have been had I sat down and bemoaned my fate.”
Cheerfulness:--Cheerfulness is a duty we owe to others. There is an old tradition that a cup of gold is to be found wherever a rainbow touches the earth, and there are some people whose smile, the sound of whose voice, whose very presence, seems like a ray of sunshine, to turn everything they touch into gold. Men never break down as long as they can keep cheerful. “A merry heart is a continual feast to others besides itself.” The shadow of Florence Nightingale cured more than her medicines; and if we share the burdens of others, we lighten our own. (Sir John Lubbock.)
The Lord God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds’ feet.
Strength, buoyancy, devotion
The expressions are of a highly metaphorical and imaginative character, but they admit of being brought down to very plain facts, and they tell us the results in heart and mind of true faith and communion with God. It is to be noticed that a parallel saying, almost verbatim, the same is that of my text, occurs in the 18th Psalm. I note that the three clauses of our text present three aspects of what our lives and ourselves may steadfastly be if we, too, will rejoice in the God of our salvation. First, such communion with God brings--
I. God to a man for his strength. The 18th Psalm gives a somewhat different and inferior version of that thought when it says, “It is the Lord that girdeth me with strength.” But Habakkuk, though perhaps he could not have put into dogmatic shape all that he meant, had come further than that, “The Lord is my strength.” He not only gives, as one might put a coin into the hand of a beggar, while standing separate from him all the while, but “the Lord is my strength.” And what does that mean? It is an anticipation of that most wonderful and highest of all the New Testament truths which the Apostle declared when he said: “I can do all things in Christ which strengtheneth me within.” “My grace is sufficient for thee, and My strength is made perfect in weakness. Ah! do not let us deprive ourselves of the lofty consolations and the mysterious influx of power which may be ours. That is the first blessing that this ancient believer, out of the twilight of early revelation, felt as certain to come through communion with God. The second is like unto it. Such rejoicing communion with God will give--
II. Light-footedness in the path of life. “He makes my feet like hinds’ feet.” The stag, in all languages spoken by people that have ever seen it, is the very emblem of elastic, springing ease, of light and bounding gracefulness, that clears every obstacle, and sweeps swiftly over the moor. And when this singer, or his brother psalmist in the other psalm that we have referred to, says “Thou makest my feet like hinds’ feet,” what he is thinking about is that fight and easy, springing, elastic gait, that swiftness of advance. What a contrast that is to the way in which most of us get through our day’s work! The monotony of trivial, constantly recurring doings, the fluctuations in the thermometer of our own spirits; the stiff bits of road that we have all to encounter sooner or later; and, as days go on, the diminishing buoyancy of nature, and the love of walking a little slower than we used to do; we all know these things, and our gait is affected by them. It is the same thought, under a somewhat different garb, which the apostle has when he tells us that the Christian soldier ought to have his “feet shod with the alacrity that comes from the Gospel of peace.” We are to be always ready to run, and to run with light hearts when we do. That is a possible result of Christian communion, and ought, far more than it is, to be an achieved reality with each of us. Of course, physical conditions vary. Of course, our spirits go up and down. Of course, the work that we have to do one day seems easier than the same work does another. Unless that is true, that Christianity gives to a man the Divine gladness which makes him ready for work, I do not know what is the good of his Christianity to him. But not only is that so, but this same communion with God, which is the opening of the heart for the influx of the Divine power, brings to bear upon all our work new motives which redeem it from being oppressive, tedious, monotonous, trivial, too much for our endurance, or too little for our effort. All work that is not done in fellowship with Jesus Christ tends to become either too heavy to be tackled successfully, or too trivial to demand our best energies; and in either case will be done perfunctorily, and, as the days go on, mechanically and wearisomely, as a grind and a plod. If we live in daily communion with God, another thought, too, will come in, which will, in like manner, make us ready to run with “cheerfulness” the race that is set before us. We shall connect everything that befalls us, and everything that we have to do, with the final issue, and life will become solemn, grave, and blessed, because it is the outer court and vestibule of the eternal life with God in Christ. The last of the thoughts here is, communion with God brings--
III. Elevation. “He will make me to walk upon my high places.” One sees the herd on the skyline of the mountain ridge, and at home up there, far above dangers and attack; able to keep their footing on cliff and precipice, and tossing their antlers in the pure air. One wave of the hand, and they are miles away. “He sets me upon my high places.” Communion with God does not, only help us to plod and to travel, but it helps us to soar. If we keep ourselves in touch with Him we shall be like a weight that is hung on to a balloon. The buoyancy of the one will lift the leadenness of the other. Are you and I familiar with these upper ranges of thought and experience and life? Do we feel at home there more than down in the bottom, amongst the swamps and the miasma and the mists? It is safe up there. The air is pure; the poison mists are down lower; the hunters do not come there; their arrows or their rifles will not carry so far. It is only when the herd ventures a little down the hill that it is in danger from shots. But the elevation will not be such aa to make us despise the low paths on which duty--the sufficient and loftiest thing of all--lies for us. Our souls may be like stars, and dwell apart, and yet may lay the humblest duties upon themselves, and whilst we live in the high places, we “may travel on life’s common way in cheerful godliness.” So we may go on until at last we shall hear the Voice that says, “Come up higher,” and shall be lifted to the mountain of God, where the living waters are, and shall fear no snares or hunters any more for ever. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
And will make me to walk upon mine high places.
“High places” are the best things in life and experience. They lift a man up to God.
I. High places of vision. On a mountain we see more clearly. There are seasons when we get clear views of Divine truth, when they appear in a new glory. True, the revelation is made,--it is all in the book. But so the landscape exists. Yet unless your feet ascend the high places it is as though it were not there. So the revelation is in the book, but you must get up the mount of vision to see it.
II. The high places of faith. On “high places” we see things farthest, and so the mount of faith. Not only is there nothing between you and the distant object, but through a rarefied atmosphere there is the least possible obstruction. Moses on the heights of Pisgah saw the goodly land of promise spread out before him. It is a beautiful type of faith, Gazing upon the land which lies across the “narrow stream,” a man may take out his title-deeds and contemplate his possessions.
III. The high places of enjoyment. In “high places” men breathe more freely, so pure and exhilarating is the rarefied air. So it is with the soul. Drink in the quickening, inspiring influence of the Spirit. “Yield yourselves to God.” “If you live in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit.” Be spiritually minded.
IV. The high places of exertion. On the heights a man can do more than on the low places of ordinary life. This is an image of spiritual life. God makes a man’s feet like “hinds’ feet”; that is, He makes the heavy, sluggish mortal into a light active being. To reach these heights we must climb. God will lead, but we must walk. If we would be great or high we must bear in mind they must depend on our own labour. (Homilist.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Habakkuk 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24